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Hornets’ offseason not quite a joke, but not much better than that

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

At least Mitch Kupchak avoided the most biting wisecracks at his expense.

After getting fired by the Lakers in part for giving Mozgov a ridiculous four-year, $64 million contract, Kupchak’s first roster move as Hornets president was… trading for Mozgov. And maybe Kupchak is that delusional about Mozgov.

But Charlotte later flipped Mozgov to the Magic for Bismack Biyombo, who’s much better and paid only slightly more. That deal might have just fell into Kupchak’s lap, as Orlando is overloaded at center anyway and needed to aggregate salary to acquire Jerian Grant.

Still, Kupchak’s original sin with the Hornets stands. He traded Howard’s expiring contract and wound up with Biyombo, who’s due $17 million each of the next two seasons. That extra year of high salary could be disastrous.

Kemba Walker will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Charlotte has even fewer means now to upgrade its roster around him. Maybe a max contract and loyalty will convince him to stay, but at this point, Walker’s max salary might push the Hornets into luxury-tax range. That has always been a no-go for owner Michael Jordan, which means Walker returning could force downgrades elsewhere.

How appealing is any of this to him?

Charlotte could argue just shedding Howard’s presence will help, and it might in some ways. But he was also pretty productive on the court, and that counts, too.

Charlotte could also point out it got a couple second-rounders (plus $5 million) in the Howard-Mozgov trade and a couple more in the Mozgov-Biyombo trade. (The Hornets also got two more-second rounders by taking known Clippers target Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 then trading him to L.A. for the No. 12 pick, used on Miles Bridges.) But those second-rounders don’t near the going rate for accepting $17 million of 2019-20 salary. The Hornets would have been better off just buying out Howard and ending their salary commitment after this season.

At least all those second-rounders are already going to good use. Charlotte traded two for No. 34 pick Devonte’ Graham, who looked good in summer league.

Graham could help with the Hornets’ biggest weakness, backup point guard. So could Tony Parker, who received $5 million guaranteed with an unguaranteed salary next season.

But that’s a high price for the over-the-hill Parker, and that money probably could have lured a more productive player. Surely, part of Parker’s appeal was his ability to help new Charlotte coach James Borrego – hired from the Spurs – install his system.

Borrego replaces Steve Clifford, who’s a good coach but wasn’t Kupchak’s guy. Kupchak is clearly putting his stamp on this team.

Kupchak is one of the most accomplished general managers of all-time. He built multiple championship teams in Los Angeles. But he also appeared out of touch late in his tenure there. Is he a good general manager whose bad breaks just happened to have come most recently, or has he fallen behind? It’s a question he’ll settle in Charlotte.

The early returns are not encouraging.

Offseason grade: D

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.