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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.

Report: Players argued to Adam Silver they would’ve been punished for tweet as costly as Daryl Morey’s

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league is suffering “fairly dramatic consequences” economically from Daryl Morey’s tweet, which supported Hong Kong protestors (who are trying to maintain and expands their freedoms) and angered many in China.

Silver also said the Rockets general manager won’t face punishment from the league.

ESPN:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a tense meeting with players from the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers last week when he arrived in Shanghai, sources told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

During the meeting with the players, sources said, Silver was directly asked whether anything would happen to Morey, as several players said they believed that if a player had cost the NBA millions of dollars because of a tweet, there would be repercussions.

We already knew LeBron James spoke up in this meeting and later criticized Morey for sending the tweet when/how he did. Good luck convincing anyone LeBron wasn’t among the players who said a player would’ve been treated differently.

Are they right?

We can’t know, but I don’t think so. The financial damage in China likely would’ve been similar, but it would have been an even bigger public-relations mess in the United States to censor a player. Players are far more familiar and have bigger fan bases than general managers. The domestic backlash against the league would’ve been even stronger, deeper.

Management sometimes gets a pass that labor doesn’t, and the players’ suspicions are understandable. Again, we can never know what statements would’ve followed a player’s pro-Hong Kong tweet. But I think Silver meant what he said in his third remarks on the issue:

However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.

PBT Podcast: Lakers? Clippers? Jazz? Rockets? Breaking down race out West

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What are the odds that one of the teams from Los Angeles is in the NBA Finals?

Could the Utah Jazz surprise the Lakers and Clippers, returning to the Finals for the first time since Stockton and Malone?

Or is it Denver’s turn to step up? Maybe James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston’s turn? How about Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum?

The NBA’s Western Conference really is the Wild West this season where anything can happen, and Mark Medina of the USA Today joins me to break down the conference, who could come out and make the Finals, and how, in a very deep conference, there will be no easy path forward.

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.

Knicks’ Julius Randle’s goals this season: First All-Stars, then playoffs

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Two seasons ago, Julius Randle broke out as a scorer with the Lakers when he stopped trying to be what everyone else wanted him to be and started just playing bully ball getting to the rim. Last season he took that to another level in New Orleans, while the Pelicans’ team fell apart around him he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

Now he’s got a three-year, $63 million contract in New York — and the Knicks are counting on him to be a leading scorer for them. While R.J. Barrett develops, the Knicks are banking on Randle and Dennis Smith Jr. to go get buckets.

Randle wants to get them and more — he wants to be an All-Star (the Knicks’ first since Carmelo Anthony), then lead the Knicks to the playoffs. That’s what he told Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“I just feel like situation and opportunity. Everything I’ve been through in the past, all the work I’ve put in in the past has prepared me for this opportunity now,” Randle said. “So [All-Stars] just a goal of mine. Eventually you feel like you have an opportunity. I feel like I do.”

“(The playoffs are) extremely important. I’m not going to sit here and talk about every day but it’s extremely important,” he said. “That’s what you work hard for. You talk about opportunity, this is my opportunity to be a real leader.

“So I just want to make sure everybody’s connected and we get better every day. I like our team compared to a lot of other teams. We do what we need to do every day to get better, that mental focus, lock in, stay connected, I like our team.”

Making the All-Star team could happen. Randle is going to put up numbers and get plenty of exposure in Madison Square Garden, and there’s space on the roster. Guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are All-Star locks, but the second tier of East frontcourt players — Blake Griffin, Khris Middleton, Nikola Vucevic — is one it feels like Randle could crack.

To do that, the Knicks need to find a way to win enough to make Randle look good compared to other guys trying to get in the All-Star club (Lauri Markkanen, for example).

Will that be enough wins to make the playoffs? Well… maybe just focus on the All-Star part first. To be fair, I wouldn’t want a player on my team who went into the season thinking his team had no shot at the postseason. Reality will hit Randle and the Knicks soon enough.

Before it does, at least Randle has set his goals high.

 

LeBron James says Daryl Morey was “not educated on the situation” with China Tweet

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When Stephen Curry was asked about how the NBA moves forward in its relationship with China, he gave an answer backing Commissioner Adam Silver’s second position and playing it straight down the middle.

LeBron James was a little more aggressive, saying he didn’t have the necessary information to comment, and suggesting Rockets GM Daryl Morey had no idea what he was getting into. Via Marc Spears of ESPN and Ben Golliver of the Washington Post.

LeBron’s comments quickly blew up on Twitter, and soon after he clarified what he meant, saying he was referring to the backlash from the Tweet.

This issue will not die.

Both the NBA and China would like it to, and both are working on relaxing tensions, including NBA preseason games being shown in China again. Both sides want to move on. It’s not good for the NBA’s bottom line, and in China the NBA is incredibly popular with younger generations.

But the questions about relations between the NBA and China are not going away, and issues are going to flare up again.