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Anthony Davis: “It’s just about winning for me, being the most dominant player in the league”

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Anthony Davis is a top three player in the NBA — and he would be the first to tell you that ranking is too low.

Most people (myself included) would have Kevin Durant and LeBron James ahead of Davis on the list. Why? Because they have done it longer, and their otherworldly gifts and work have lifted their teams to titles. Davis is elite on both ends, but his team has made the playoffs just twice in the past six seasons (something not wholly, or mostly, his fault) and last season was the first time Davis and his Pelicans made it out of the first round of the playoffs.

Davis is tired of waiting around to win and to be the best player — he wants his time to be now, he told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

Two big topics came up in the interview, let’s get to the one most of you readers care about first.

There are 29 teams preparing themselves for if the Pelicans make Davis available via a trade, and after that when he would become a free agent (the summer of 2020). This summer, Davis switched agents to Rich Paul, LeBron’s agent, which sparked a lot of rumors. Davis went to the expected place of “I ignore all that stuff” when asked about it.

“I think that’s a big part. Winning definitely helps everything, helps with your legacy, helps [you] be on the top of the list. But going to the playoffs every three years doesn’t help my case. At this point, it’s just about winning for me, being the most dominant player in the league, and whenever that time comes, I have a great team behind me that advise me on some decisions but my focus is on this year…

“You hear it everywhere, it’s funny, how did [the Lakers rumors] even happen? How does that correlate? You know, in my head, I don’t pay attention to it, I keep going back to it but it’s the truth, I look at what I have now and what I can do now and that’s helping my team win. You can’t listen to what somebody else is saying, all the white noise, ‘AD’s going here, AD’s going here,’ — AD’s playing for the Pelicans this year… the rest will take care of itself.”

How did the Lakers’ rumor start? You hired LeBron’s agent. Even before that, right now the Lakers are big game hunting, so their name is going to come up with every free agent superstar, even if it’s not going to happen (*cough, Kevin Durant, cough*).

What I’ve heard from sources is the Pelicans are not trading Davis anytime soon, they are going all in to win with Davis this season and then, next summer, will slap the five-year, $230 million designated player veteran extension in front of him and dare him to say no. You don’t switch agents to Rich Paul if the plan is to automatically sign whatever is put in front of you, but that is A LOT of money to walk away from, and we shouldn’t just assume Davis will. It’s more than $30 million more than Davis can make if he forces a trade to another team and they re-sign him at the max, and if in 2020 he jumps teams as a free agent he leaves $84 million guaranteed on the table. Again, that’s a lot of money, even for rich NBA players. The Pelicans are right not to move to trade him unless next summer Davis says he will not re-sign with them and to trade him while they can. So hit pause on your trade machine efforts for now.

The other key thing out of this interview: Davis wants to be seen as the NBA’s best player. Today.

“Honestly, I see myself as the best player in the league, most dominant player in the league. I just think it’s time for that step, you only get a short window, I don’t want that window to close so I think my time is now.”

Um… LeBron and KD?

“Those two are great players, I bring something unique to the table. My game is different from both of those guys, both ends of the floor. MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate so that’s why I feel like my name should be at the top of the list.”

Maybe he should be. He’s my prediction for MVP this season. He’s right there.

But ultimately, winning is part of the equation. Davis knows that, and he thirsts to win. Which makes the entire first part of this conversation more intriguing.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.