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Cavaliers lose one star, lock up another, sure don’t break even

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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.

It’s nice to feel wanted.

Particularly if you’re the Cavaliers, a small-market team that has been shunned by most stars. LeBron James was the shining exception, but even he left again.

LeBron’s second exit didn’t hit as hard. He already made good by leading Cleveland to the city’s first championship in several decades. Experiencing his departure once already also softened the blow, as Cavs fans and personnel seemed more primed and accepting this time. It’s difficult to summon that much outrage twice.

Still, in the aftermath of LeBron signing with the Lakers, the Cavaliers were in a certain state of mind when they found another star who wanted to stay. That’s when they signed Kevin Love to a four-year, $120,402,172 contract extension.

Admittedly, that’s hard to turn down. When a star picks a market like Cleveland, there’s a logic to the team just signing him then figuring out the rest later.

But it’s such a fleeting victory. If 30-year-old Love declines significantly during the next few seasons, as many players do at that age, fans will forget all about him embracing this team. That’s why the Cavs should have resisted indulging in that instant gratification.

Love’s extension could work. Out of LeBron’s shadow, maybe Love shows the all-around excellence he did with the Timberwolves. Maybe he leads the Cavaliers to the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, which would be quite the satisfying result the season after LeBron leaves. Maybe, even if Love is overpaid, Cleveland trades him for value like the Clippers did with Blake Griffin.

But it’s such a narrow path to success. After years of aging and injuries, I’m not convinced Love still possesses the athleticism necessary to play like did with in Minnesota. The supporting cast that was holding back LeBron doesn’t seem like a playoff outfit to me. And I don’t like the idea of holding out hope for a sucker/risk-taking team, especially with one potential Love suitor already having traded for Griffin.

Still – despite high enough disaster potential and low enough upside that I wouldn’t have given Love this extension – I get it. It could pay off long-term, and it definitely made the Cavaliers feel better right now.

They sure didn’t find a star small forward who wanted to join them, though. So, they took fliers on Sam Dekker and David Nwaba. The prices were cheap enough. The Clippers paid a portion of Dekker’s salary to trade him to Cleveland, and Nwaba signed for the minimum.

But Dekker and Nwaba are slight downgrades from the previous small forward.

No. 8 pick Collin Sexton might lead the Cavs into a new era. For now, he’s the big youthful exception on a team that’s relatively old for its limbo position.

The Cavaliers are probably at least a couple seasons from finding a direction, and this offseason didn’t help.

Rodney Hood accepting the qualifying offer is a step toward the Cavs squandering an asset. That’s not to say they should have paid him whatever it took to lock him up long term. He might not be worth what he demanded. But this is a negative outcome for Cleveland. Only one player – Spencer Hawes with the 76ers – has ever accepted his qualifying offer then re-signed with the same team the following year. And Hood can now veto any trade, making it more difficult to get value for him before his 2019 unrestricted free agency.

Even if Hood doesn’t want to stay, at least Love did. And in another feel-good story, Channing Frye returned on a minimum contract. The respected veteran seemingly could have had his pick of better teams, and he chose Cleveland.

But likely overpaying Love and attracting a nice guy can’t paper over the biggest development of the offseason.

LeBron is gone.

Offseason grade: F

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Boston, Philadelphia, Denver? (And some playoff talk)

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Will Kyrie Irving stay in Boston? If not, what is Plan B?

Is Jimmy Butler back in Philadelphia next season? If he is will Tobias Harris be back?

What are the next steps to turn Denver into a contender?

I get into all of those things with the wise Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports (and Celtics Blog, and Real GM), we break down those three teams recently turned out of the playoffs. We also start off talking about teams actually in the playoffs, particularly Toronto’s comeback in the Eastern Conference Finals, and how those teams can take advantage against the Warriors with Kevin Durant out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

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Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.