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Nets could have point guard conundrum between D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie

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DETROIT – With D'Angelo Russell sidelined by a knee injury much of last season, Spencer Dinwiddie stepped in as the Nets’ starting point guard and played better than the more ballyhooed Russell ever has. Russell could do nothing but watch as another viable contender emerged for the job everyone assumed was Russell’s to grow into.

But Russell says he wasn’t fazed by Dinwiddie’s breakthrough season, which earned Dinwiddie third place in Most Improved Player voting.

“Guys are thirsty for opportunity in this league,” Russell said. “You give guys an opportunity that have prepared for it, they’ll take advantage of it.”

Russell might as well have been talking about himself, too.

After years stuck losing and surrendering its first-round pick, Brooklyn suddenly has two young point guards with potential to handle the starting job long-term. Big decisions near on both players.

Russell has the better pedigree. He was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft and acquired for a haul – the No. 27 pick last year’s draft (which the Lakers used on Kyle Kuzma), Brook Lopez on an expiring contract and cap space used to absorb Timofey Mozgov‘s toxic contract.

Dinwiddie was a second-rounder in 2014. He washed out with the Pistons and Bulls then played in the D-League.

But Dinwiddie has closed the gap. While questions swirled about Russell’s maturity and work ethic in Los Angeles, Dinwiddie was grinding with a motivation to return to the NBA.

Yet, Dinwiddie said he doesn’t see himself competing with Russell.

“Not at all,” Dinwiddie said. “No. 2 pick. Franchise PG. Future and all that good stuff.”

Maybe Dinwiddie is just toeing the company line. Russell has reclaimed his starting role entering the season, sending Dinwiddie to the bench.

That’s probably the right move. Russell’s ceiling his so much higher. While Dinwiddie’s virtue is his steadiness, Russell brings dynamic scoring and playmaking ability. He can create shots and throw passes Dinwiddie would never dream of.

But Russell also gets himself into trouble with turnovers and forcing jumpers. His creativity and shot-making lag behind his perception of those skills. Dinwiddie is also a much stauncher defender.

Maybe it’s just fine 25-year-old Dinwiddie is ahead of 22-year-old Russell. Point guards tend to develop later, and Russell’s leap could be coming this season.

That’s why it’s hard to see Russell agreeing to a rookie-scale contract extension before Monday’s deadline. There’s a canyon between his production and potential. Most likely, he’s heading toward restricted free agency this summer.

Dinwiddie will become eligible for a contract extension Dec. 8, three years after he signed his current deal. But unlike Russell – who could theoretically sign an extension for a max salary – Dinwiddie’s extension is capped at about $47 million over four years. Though it’s possible he could draw more in unrestricted free agency next summer, Dinwiddie – who has only once and only barely exceeded a minimum salary in his career – sounds open to locking in sooner. Not that he expects an offer.

“If Sean Marks calls to give me a contract extension, I’ll take it,” Dinwiddie said. “But until he does, I’m looking forward to being a free agent.”

Dinwiddie’s doubts about the Nets general manager’s plan seem valid. Even if Brooklyn wants to keep Dinwiddie, there’s value in doing it through free agency. If not extended, he’ll count just $3,146,575 against the cap until re-signed. The Nets could use their cap space then exceed the salary cap to re-sign him to a higher salary through Bird Rights. If extended, he’d immediately count next offseason at his 2018-19 salary.

Russell said playing for a new contract “always” motivates him. He’s definitely positioned to cash in with a strong year. One of the big external threats who could override even major progress from Russell – Kyrie Irvingeffectively took himself off the market.

Dinwiddie, on the other hand, said he’s more focused on the court than motivated by his contract situation.

“That’s all I can really afford to look at,” Dinwiddie said. “You look at my role – second-round pick, out the league, now back in the league, obviously good season, don’t matter, back on the bench, all that other stuff. So, all I’ve got to do is continue try to help our team win games.”

If he isn’t discouraged by his move to the bench, Dinwiddie should do that and press Brooklyn’s decision-makers.

Would you rather have Russell or Dinwiddie? (Yes, that’s a real question.) If Russell and assuming Dinwiddie would come cheaper, would you rather have Russell or Dinwiddie plus the additional salary-cap flexibility?

The Nets could keep both beyond this season. They have plenty of room to spend. Maybe Russell emerges as the starter and Dinwiddie settles in as backup. Or, even if it’s harder to see Russell accepting it, vice versa. The two can play together at times.

More likely, the Nets are heading toward a decision between their point guards. It could be revealed through contract extensions, in free agency or even later. But based on where Dinwiddie was last season and where Russell wants to get, Brooklyn might not be big enough for the both of ’em.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

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The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.