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Three Things to Know: Westbrook dedicates historic 20-20-20 night to Nipsey Hussle

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook dedicates historic 20-20-20 night to Nipsey Hussle. Russell Westbrook so often puts up ridiculous stat lines we’ve almost become numb to it. There was a time when Oscar Robertson’s averaging of a triple-double for a season seemed like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak — an untouchable record in the modern era — but Westbrook did it. Then did it again. And is about to do it one more time.

Yet what Westbrook did Tuesday night was mind-boggling by even his standards.

Westbrook had 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 21 assists — the NBA’s second-ever 20-20-20 game. Wilt Chamberlain was the other one.

After the game, Westbrook dedicated the game to slain rapper Nipsey Hustle, who was shot outside his Los Angeles’ clothing store days ago. Westbrook is a Los Angeles guy, and the players from the city know how Hustle gave back and was committed to his neighborhood, trying to lift people up, in a way few celebrities are. He meant a lot to people and the city.

We could nitpick the accomplishment — Westbrook shot just 8-of-23, and he was hunting those rebounds in the final minute — but we shouldn’t try to diminish this singular accomplishment. It is a mind-boggling effort.

Westbrook did this and lifted his team up when the Thunder needed the win, the Thunder beat the Lakers handily. This victory keeps the Thunder tied with the Spurs (who beat the Hawks) for the 7/8 seed in the West. OKC wants to avoid that eight seed and getting the Warriors in the first round because…

2) Golden State flips the switch, dominates Denver, all but secures top seed in West. In this week’s PBT Podcast, Mark Medina — Warriors writer for the San Jose Mercury News and Bay Area News Group — had a great line about the Warriors’ up-and-down effort this regular season:

They care and play hard when it’s convenient for them.

Tuesday night it was convenient.

The Warriors needed a win over Denver to lock up home court throughout the West playoffs, and so they came out and flipped the switch, dominated the game leading by 30 in the fourth (the Nuggets are just a poor matchup with the Warriors), and reminded everyone that the Warriors have gears nobody else in the NBA can hit.

And now they have DeMarcus Cousins at center now — he overwhelmed Nikola Jokic and every other Nugget defender in the paint on his way to 28 points and 13 rebounds. In recent games Cousins has seemed to find a comfort level playing with the Warriors, and that should scare teams heading into the postseason.

Kevin Durant pitched in 21 points in less than three quarters before he got ejected.

(Durant and Draymond Green each have 15 technical fouls this season, if either picks up one more before the end of the regular season they will be suspended for a game.)

Stephen Curry pitched in 18 points. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA when they want to be — when it’s convenient for them. During the playoffs, they will flip the switch most nights, and when they do no team in the West is a genuine threat to them. And the Warriors know it.

3) Wizards finally fire Ernie Grunfeld as team president/GM. Next step is big one for Wizards. One could make a very good case that Ernie Grunfeld should have been fired back in the day when he put together a roster with Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, and Nick Young on it. The team where a gun was pulled in the locker room. Of course, one could make the case Grunfeld should have been fired a lot of times, like when he cleared the books and planned around Kevin Durant coming home in 2016 when that was never a realistic option. There was no “Plan B” after Durant went West, not East.

However, it took 16 years and a season where owner Ted Leonsis thought this was a 50-win, conference finals roster — the Wizards never came close to that dream and are going to finish well out of the playoffs — for him to see the light and let go of Grunfeld. That happened on Tuesday.

What’s next is hard.

Whoever is next in the GM chair inherits a mess of a roster. John Wall’s $171 million supermax extension kicks in next season — a season he will miss much of with a torn Achilles — and runs four years. It is the most untradable contract in the NBA right now. Beyond that there’s Ian Mahinmi‘s $15.5 million, Dwight Howard‘s likely will be on the roster (at $5,6 million), and the talented Otto Porter is gone because Leonsis doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax. Oh, and Bradley Beal may well make an All-NBA team and be eligible for a $199 million four-year extension on top of the two years on his current contract — and the Warriors need to lock him up. He’s their best player (whether Wall returns to form or not).

It’s unclear who comes in. Denver’s Tim Connelly is reportedly a target, but would Washington settle for Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas? There are the guys next in line such as Gersson Rosas of the Rockets, Troy Weaver of the Thunder, and Mike Zarren of the Celtics (Zarren is a much longer shot, he will be hard to pull out of Boston). David Griffin’s name will come up. Wizards interim GM Tommy Sheppard deserves a look. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What the Wizards need is a creative mind, because it’s going to take one to build anything competitive around Wall’s contract (even when Wall returns he may well not be the same player). Just as importantly, they need a GM who can manage Leonsis, get him to buy in on what could be some painful next steps. In Washington, that may be the hardest part of the job.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.