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Suns’ Mike James a two-way trailblazer

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DETROIT – When the Suns offered Mike James a two-way contract last summer, he was intrigued.

There was only one problem.

“I didn’t know what they were talking about,” James said. “I never heard of such a thing in my life.”

So, James researched the contract, a device of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In addition to 15 players on standard contracts, each NBA team is allowed two two-way players. Two-way players earn a prorated minimum NBA salary while with the parent club and a prorated minor-league salary while with the affiliate. They can spend up to 45 days in the NBA.

James’ 45th day will be Wednesday. He has spent the entire season in Phoenix, the clock starting once the Northern Arizona Suns opened training camp.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has already said he wants to get James onto a standard contract so he can stay in Phoenix. The Suns can unilaterally convert his deal to a one-year standard minimum contract, or they could reach a new multi-year agreement. Similar to second-round negotiations, the team would offer additional guarantees in exchange for James locking into a multi-year minimum or near-minimum deal.

Either way, it’ll be an awesome achievement for James, who started at Eastern Arizona community college, transferred to Lamar, went undrafted in 2012 then worked his way up through Croatia, Israel, Italy, Greece, Spain then Greece again.

His whirlwind journey continued to Phoenix, where he became starting point guard in game four – immediately after the Suns fired Earl Watson and banished starting point guard Eric Bledsoe. James provided a much-needed spark, scoring 18 points and hitting the go-ahead shot in the Suns’ first win:

The only two-way player to start in the NBA, James ceded his starting spot after 10 games to Tyler Ulis. But James remains an rotation regular, and he has scored nearly as many points (260) as all other two-way players combined (284). The leaderboard:

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James is unquestionably the biggest success story for a two-way player so far.

“I don’t really think about it,” James said. “I just think I’m regular player.”

Contract status aside, the 27-year-old rookie must relish just being in the NBA, right?

“To be honest, I didn’t think about it as much as everybody else thought about it for me,” James said. “I think I just kind of played, and then this opportunity came, and I took it. I didn’t really think about, ‘Oh, I might never go’ or ‘I might never do this.’ It just didn’t bother me.”

Even now, the Portland native says he appreciates being the NBA because he’s closer to family more than he cares about the status of reaching the peak of his profession.

James says he dislikes attention. He even appreciated the cloak implicitly provided by the former NBA player who shared the same name – the now-42-year-old who played for the Heat, Celtics, Pistons, Bucks, Rockets, Raptors, Timberwolves, New Orleans Hornets, Wizards, Bulls and Mavericks in a 12-year NBA career that ended in 2014.

Now, the Suns’ James is starting to make a name for himself.

“I think it’s starting to pick up a little more,” James said. “I don’t know. I hope it doesn’t get too big.”

Austin Rivers opting in for $12.65 million with Clippers

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Austin Rivers‘ three-year, $35,475,000 contract caused resentment within the Clippers when his father – Clippers coach and then-president Doc Rivers – gave it to the guard in 2016.

But don’t think for a moment that will bother Austin into bypassing $12.65 million next season.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

That high salary will put a target even more squarely on Rivers’ back, but he’s used to it.

He’ll be overpaid, but he can still help the Clippers. Maybe that’s as an expiring contract used to facilitate a larger trade. Maybe that’s on the court. L.A. will reportedly drop guard Milos Teodosic. The Clippers, with the Nos. 12 and 13 picks in tonight’s draft, could select another guard, but few rookie point guards are reliable.

Report: Spurs ‘shut the door’ on Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard trade inquiry

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After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.

Except from the Lakers.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.

The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).

Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.

But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.

There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.

Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.

League buzz: Kings will take Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, Luka Doncic gone at three

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It’s hard to see through all the smoke and tell if things around the 2018 NBA Draft are solidifying as we get to fewer than three hours before the Phoenix Suns go on the clock.

The Suns are a lock to take DeAndre Ayton at No. 1.

After that, the Kings more and more seem to be leaning toward taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, according to multiple reports of those close to the team.

At three things really open up. Atlanta is listening to trade offers but one way or another is likely to pick Luka Doncic. There are rumors that multiple teams — Dallas, Orlando, others — would then trade their pick plus some other asset (young player/future pick) to the Hawks for Doncic. Who the Hawks reportedly really want is Trae Young, but they can move down to get him.

If the Slovenian is off the board, it’s more likely that Memphis trades the No. 4 pick, according to sources. However, there are questions about whether Memphis can get what it thinks is fair value for selling the No. 4. So maybe they just take Jaren Jackson Jr.

How is it going to shake out?

That follows my final mock draft, which was put together Wednesday for the video above. It has:

1. Phoenix: DeAndre Ayton
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba
6. Orlando: Trae Young
7. Chicago: Michael Porter Jr.
8. Cleveland: Wendell Carter Jr.
9. New York: Kevin Knox
10. Philadelphia: Mikail Bridges
11. Charlotte: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
12. LA Clippers: Robert Williams
13. LA Clippers: Collin Sexton
14. Denver: Miles Bridges

The problem with any mock draft now is accounting for trades, and those are coming.

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.