Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis give Pacers non-stop production, long-term conundrum at center

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Last fall, the Pacers made Myles Turner a centerpiece by signing him to a four-year contract extension worth $72 million-$80 million. Turner has made good on that deal, even in a league overflowing with solid centers. He belongs in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation thanks to his strides in recognition. He has become a more reliable 3-point shooter. He’s delivering on his promise as a modern center.

“Knowing your future is set, knowing you don’t have to worry about numbers or anything crazy like that, just go out there and play,” Turner said, “it lifts a burden, for sure.”

Yet, Indiana backup center Domantas Sabonis has arguably outperformed Turner this season.

Sabonis said he was happy for Turner when Turner got his extension. However, the Pacers allocating all that money for Turner meant there might not be much left for Sabonis, who’ll be eligible for his own rookie-scale extension this offseason.

Or Indiana could pay both.

The Pacers have a good problem – too many good players. But it’s particularly complicated with multiple centers. That’s the position where it’s most difficult to play two simultaneously.

So, what will Indiana do with Turner and Sabonis?

The Pacers have enough financial flexibility to keep both. They could give Sabonis a sizable extension and continue to always play at least one quality center.

Yet, that could eventually come with drawbacks down the roster. Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans will all be free agents this summer. Decisions on those players must come in conjunction with a decision at center.

Turner, who seems more comfortable in the locker room since securing his long-term deal, said he has talked to Sabonis about Sabonis’ potential extension. Both players sound eager to continue together.

“I’m very happy here,” Sabonis said. “They play me in the way I want to be played. I feel like I’m effective. We’re winning. That’s the most important thing. And the culture – everybody here is like family.”

For now, the results are certainly impressive. Here are Indiana’s offensive, defensive and net ratings by center:

Player Off. Def. Net
Just Turner 106.8 103.5 +3.2
Just Sabonis 108.8 102.8 +6.0
Both 100.1 96.6 +3.5
Neither 102.9 105.0 -2.2

Turner is more of a pick-and-popper, Sabonis more pick-and-roller. So, the Pacers’ guards adjust depending on the screener, but the team’s scoring remains similarly effective with either center.

Turner protects the rim in a way Sabonis can’t. But Sabonis has gotten into better shape this season, and his higher energy level shows up on defense.

Sabonis will get outsized credit come award season as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Averaging 14.1 points and and 9.3 rebounds per game, he definitely deserves consideration. But if Turner (who averages 13.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game) came off the bench, he’d contend for the award.

Turner (29 minutes per game) and Sabonis (25 minutes per game) each warrant enough playing that it’s impossible to avoid them playing together. When they share the court, they wall off the paint, allowing Indiana to reach an elite defensive level.

But the Pacers score just well enough to keep their heads above water in those two-big lineups. Despite Turner’s and Sabonis’ differing offensive styles, there’s too much overlap in the space they like to use. Here are their shooting heat maps on shots from at least 10 feet:

shotchart (1)shotchart

The Pacers already do an excellent job of staggering Turner and Sabonis as much as possible. Those two increasing their minutes would mean much more time playing together. They’d inevitably more frequently face an opponent capable of exposing them, especially if Indiana advances in the playoffs.

Is it worth paying both?

No decision is necessarily imminent. Even without an extension, Sabonis won’t become a restricted free agent until 2020. On his relatively cheap rookie-scale contract, he’s a very affordable backup. The Pacers can keep him and Turner another season without compromising the rest of the roster.

But it’s often better to get out ahead of these things. The 76ers infamously kept Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor until trading Noel and Okafor for very little.

Of course, Philadelphia wasn’t any good with those three centers. There was no balance worth preserving.

The Pacers are 46-32 and tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with Turner and Sabonis playing major roles. Turner just turned 23, and Sabonis is only 22. Indiana is in a good place.

Eventually, though, the Pacers must determine how they’ll proceed at center.

Heat, Tyler Herro agree to four-year, $120 million extension (with $10 million in incentives)

Miami Heat Media Day
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Tyler Herro was frustrated — he saw players he felt he was better than getting paid.

Now he has a contract he will have to live up to.

The Heat have signed Herro to a four-year, $120 million extension of his rookie contract, with up to $10 million in incentives) a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and now confirmed by the team.

Herro went to Twitter to confirm the deal himself.

“Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years,” Heat President Pat Riley said in the statement announcing the signing. “His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better.”

This is a straight four years, no options for either side.

Signing an extension takes Herro off the table for any trades to upgrade the Heat roster this season. Herro had been at the heart of the rumors about the Heat and Kevin Durant, as well as other teams.

Herro’s new contract extension is a big bet on the wing taking another step forward this season and beyond. The deal is a little larger than expected (the conventional wisdom had Herro coming in close to the $107 million RJ Barrett got with the Knicks). Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel and I have discussed Herro’s price before and didn’t quite picture it this high, but with the rising cap over the next few years this deal may not look out of line.

Miami stepped up and paid the reigning Sixth Man of the Year high-level starter money — now he has to earn that job and that paycheck.

Mostly, he has to improve on defense so Eric Spoelstra can trust him at the end of games and deep into the playoffs (while Herro has had big playoff games, his role shrunk deeper in last postseason because of his defense).

Herro puts up numbers — 20.7 points a game on 39.9% from 3 last season — and is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but does this new deal move him up in the Heat offensive pecking order with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler? Probably not in crunch time (and if Kyle Lowry bounces back this season, there could be games where Herro is option No.4).

This locks up part of Miami’s roster going into the season, but they are still on the look for depth at the four. Don’t consider this roster settled.

 

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game; when will it be more?

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SEATTLE — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.