If LeBron James returns to Cleveland, salary plus tax could top $300 million

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I know what Dan Gilbert is going to do with his money from the recent tax cut…

The current highest payroll in NBA history is the 2013-14 “we’re moving into a new building so spend like mad” Brooklyn Nets at $193 million. Next season a couple NBA teams could blow that out of the water — to the tune of $300 million in salary and tax. One is the Oklahoma City Thunder if Paul George returns on a max deal and if, as expected, Carmelo Anthony opts into the $28 million he is owed on his current contract (remember the Thunder already gave Russell Westbrook a max extension).

The other is the Cleveland Cavaliers if LeBron James returns.

A couple of weeks ago that seemed as likely as a Nigerian bobsled gold medal, but after the roster shakeup at the trade deadline, LeBron is playing with a renewed energy and the Cavaliers look like they again are the team to beat in the East (it’s just two games, I’m not fully buying yet, but they’re improved). There’s a chance LeBron stays in Cleveland. How big a chance depends right now on who you ask, and at the end of the day will depend on how the new-look Cavaliers fare in the playoffs, but there is a chance again.

But if he stays, it gets crazy expensive, as Brian Windhorst laid out at ESPN.

Focusing on the future, if James remains and accepts a new max contract or picks up his option and the Cavs re-sign Hood — who will be a restricted free agent — they will break all current records.

It is hard to predict the market for restricted free agents. This summer is especially challenging because teams are expected to tighten spending. If James stays and Rodney Hood remains with Cleveland and lands a long-term deal that starts at $12 million or more, the Cavs would likely crest $300 million in total spending based on the contracts they have on their books. That would include roughly $150 million in luxury tax alone.

Gilbert has said he will pay it — and it’s worth it to him. With that level of expense the Cavaliers might lose money on the balance sheet for the year, but the franchise valuation will remain high (Forbes just estimated it at $1.3 billion). If LeBron leaves the franchise worth will drop down to one of the lower numbers in the league (around $1 billion), so a small loss year-over-year is worth it. Especially if Gilbert decides to get out and sell.

It’s something to watch this summer — two middle-to-small market teams may have the highest payrolls in NBA history. All in the pursuit of a title (and higher franchise values).

Report: Warriors investigating how practice video was leaked to TMZ

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The video changes how things feel, even if it doesn’t ultimately change the outcome.

The Warriors went from “there was an altercation at practice” to a video showing Green rapidly escalating a standard shoving match with a quick and vicious punch to the face of Jordan Poole. This was something the Warriors thought would fade away and was out of the news cycle to something at the top of the sports news cycle they will have to deal with for a while.

The Warriors are now trying to find out how this practice video got leaked, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN were first.

Two thoughts here.

First, the Warriors absolutely should investigate who leaked this video. Players around the league’s reaction to the public video shows how they feel practice is a safe, private space for them, and to make it public crosses a line. It’s possible a Warriors or Chase Center staffer went for the bag (TMZ pays for this kind of video/story) and violated the Warriors’ policy and practices in the process. Simply put: Someone should get fired over this.

However, the more interesting scenario is the Warriors can’t determine where the leak came from. That could lead to all kinds of speculation about someone wanting to make Green look bad — the who and why of that possibility can go a lot of different directions.

Second, we see this in politics all the time — use the search for the leaker to distract from what was leaked. Blame the messenger. The video shows a vicious, borderline sucker punch from Green (he was facing Poole, but nobody saw that coming), and it’s fair to question if the Warriors are handling it “internally” was the right move and if they have done enough to chastize Green. There is a history of crossing the line with him.

Wherever you fall on how the Warriors are handling it, they would much prefer a discussion of how it was leaked to discussing that footage and the impact on the team.

That’s the big problem for the Warriors — this is no longer just fading away as they hoped.

NBA world reacts to video of Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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“How did that video get leaked?”

That was the primary reaction of players on Twitter after TMZ got ahold of the practice video showing Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole during a Warriors practice. The video has gone viral in NBA circles and brought an issue the Warriors hoped was in the rearview mirror front and center again.

Trae Young played the instigator on Twitter with his response (although the rumor of Green wanting to join the Lakers if the Warriors don’t extend him has been floating around the league for a while).

While some other players talked about the incident, most players were focused on how something they consider private — a practice — became public.

Former Grizzlies executive John Hollinger posted the response of the 29 other teams.

Leaked video of Draymond Green punch of Jordan Poole means incident not just going away

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The Warriors thought they had the situation handled. Sure, Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole during practice but Green apologized to the team and discipline was being handled “internally.” Nothing to see here, move along.

Then TMZ got ahold of a leaked practice video that shows things being much uglier than most imagined.

It shows Green and Poole had their beef and were talking, Green walked up on Poole, then Poole pushed him away with two hands and Green came back with a vicious punch to the face that was a massive escalation.

The Warriors do not practice on Friday and nobody from the organization is scheduled to speak to the media. Green is expected to rejoin his teammates in practice on Saturday, coach Steve Kerr said previously.

The Warriors likely will say this changes nothing, they had already seen the video before settling on a punishment. Plus, punches have been thrown in NBA practices more times than anyone could count — including Kerr getting punched by Michael Jordan in a legendary Bulls practice.

But there was never video like this leaked before.

The Warriors reportedly are investigating the leak of the footage to TMZ.

The video being public increases the inherent tension around the situation, keeps the news cycle alive and gives fans (and media pundits) some context and facts to discuss whether the Warriors are letting Green off easy.

It will also bubble up the subtext to all this about the Warriors’ future spending, something NBC Sports Bay Area’s Dalton Johnson and I discussed on a PBT Podcast previewing the Warriors’ season. Co-owner Joe Lacob has said that the Warriors’ salary and tax limit will make it hard to extend all three of Andrew Wiggins, Poole and Green at the prices they expect. Poole, the youngest of the group and a bridge to the future, is going to get his money (probably a little more than Tyler Herro just got from the Heat). There’s been speculation that Green would be the odd man out, be forced to opt-in for less than he wants, or he can opt-out and be a free agent this summer.

The Warriors thought this fight was in the rearview mirror. Green and Poole would have to address it with the media at some point, but the Warriors wanted to move on and focus on the season and their upcoming ring ceremony.

The leaked video changes that dynamic. The controversy remains on the front page and the Warriors will have to deal with it.

The only thing that is certain in all this is that the Warriors will fire whoever leaked this video, if they can find out who it was.

 

Adam Silver hopes teams don’t tank for Wembanyama. Good luck with that.

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Victor Wembanyama came to Las Vegas this week and put the hype machine into overdrive: In two games against the G-League Ignite he scored 73 points with 15 rebounds, nine blocks, hit 9-of-18 3-pointers (and 22-of-44 overall). He is a 7’4″ freak that LeBron James called an “alien” and a “generational talent,” and Stephen Curry said he was a “2K create-a-player.”

Combine that with the play of the Ignite’s Scoot Henderson — who had scouts using a young Derrick Rose comparison because of his athleticism, body control and skill — and the reaction in NBA circles was clear: There will be a “race to the bottom” this season. With multiple franchise cornerstone players available (and a deep draft at the top beyond those two), tanking will be an epidemic in the NBA.

Adam Silver, speaking in the United Arab Emirates before an NBA preseason game between the Bucks and Hawks, does not want to see teams tanking for Wembanyama.

Good luck with that, Adam.

The league office hates tanking and even a discussion of it. They hate the idea of a fan base being told — or, worse yet, actively rooting for — their team to lose games. This season there will be an epidemic of it around the league. In a typical year, a front office may want to tank but their challenge is getting buy-in from ownership. Not this year — Wembanyama could add $500 million to the value of a franchise, one league executive told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It could make the NBA trade deadline in February wild as teams that started the season thinking playoffs but were out of the mix (due to injury or just not being good enough) pivot to tanking. For example, think Portland from last season after Damian Lillard had surgery. Of course, the Trail Blazers also can serve as a cautionary tale — they had the sixth-worst record in the league last season but fell to seventh in the draft. Tanking doesn’t always work.

There were already were teams clearly in rebuild mode and racing to the bottom this season — do you think it’s a coincidence Danny Ainge blew up the Jazz this past summer? — and some other teams with some promising young talent (Houston, Orlando) that are fine losing a lot of games while those guys learn on the job. But the bottom of the standings could get crowded.

The NBA flattened out the lottery odds a few years ago to discourage tanking: The teams with the three worst records have a 14% chance to get the top pick and the odds drop from there (fourth is 12.5%, fifth is 10.5%, and it keeps on going down). However, this year, because the prize at the top of the draft is so huge, more teams than ever could try to get into that top three, or at least do what they can to fatten their odds.

However, with the prize being Wembanyama this season, a lot of teams may be willing to take that risk.

Despite what Adam Silver wants.