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Eight players/teams, hundreds of millions of dollars and one high-stakes All-NBA vote

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NBA award votes were cast at least 40 days ago. The regular season being judged ended even before that. After rounds of high-level playoff basketball, it’s easy to lose interest in these honors.

But All-NBA selections – which the league plans to release this week – can’t be overlooked.

They could determine the fates of several players and franchises.

In 2011, the NBA began allowing a higher max salary for certain young players. The Collective Bargaining Agreement got updated in 2017 to allow certain veterans to earn super-max salaries. The most common route to eligibility: Making an All-NBA team.

Here are eight players and teams with a lot riding on these results:

Kemba Walker, Hornets

The Hornets haven’t given Kemba Walker a playoff-series victory. They haven’t given him an All-Star teammate. They didn’t even give him Marc Gasol before the trade deadline.

But they can potentially give him a super-max contract.

It might be a necessary tool to retain the greatest player in franchise history.

A year-and-a-half ago, Walker said he’d be “devastated” if Charlotte traded him. A couple months ago, a rumor emerged Walker was likely to leave in free agency. This has gone south quickly.

Yet, don’t rule out Walker re-signing – especially if the Hornets can offer him a super-max contract projected to be worth $221 million over five years. That’s far larger than Walker’s projected max if leaving, $140 million over four years.

Heck, if he doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Walker might even return for his regular max, projected to be $190 million over five years.

That begs the question: How badly do the Hornets want Walker back? Their outlook is bleak either way.

Keeping Walker would make them far more competitive in the short term but carry serious downside risk with the 29-year-old point guard. Maxing out, let alone super-maxing out, Walker would also force Charlotte to clear salary unless Michael Jordan is willing to make an unprecedented trip into the luxury tax. So, a lackluster roster would get even further depleted.

Walker leaving would invite other problems, namely the loss of the team’s best player. The capped-out Hornets would have no mechanism to adequately replace him. They’d be heading into a year of purgatory then rebuilding from near rock bottom.

It’s hard to see Walker settling for the regular max if he’s eligible for the super max. But if Walker misses All-NBA and constrains Charlotte’s offer, the regular max could be enough.

Walker seems to take pride in representing the Hornets and living in Charlotte. He also appears fed up with the franchise’s losing.

These opposing forces will pull at him this summer.

A giant bag could soothe everything. Or its absence could be the final straw.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns signed a five-year contract extension last fall that projected to be worth $158 million or $190 million.

Why the $32 million difference? It depends whether Towns makes All-NBA this season.

Eventually, he pushed to trigger that extra money.

Towns averaged 28-13-4 after the All-Star break, up from 23-12-3 prior. Minnesota didn’t suddenly start winning more. But Towns posted shiny numbers.

The Timberwolves would love if Towns maintained that urgency. For all his talent, he has too often failed to assert himself on the court.

But they also might quietly like if he misses All-NBA this season. With Andrew Wiggins already on a max contract, paying Towns an extra $6 million or so per year would further squeeze flexibility.

Towns still looks like he’d be worth the super-max over the next five years. But he could be a bargain at the regular max.

Klay Thompson, Warriors

The near-consistent expectation since the season began: Golden State will sign Klay Thompson to a max contract this summer. If the Warriors offer any less, he’d take it as a sign of disrespect and explore the market.

That implies Thompson will demand the super-max if eligible for the projected five-year, $221 million contract (up from a projected $190 million over five years with the regular max). The difference could be quite costly for Golden State.

If they re-sign Kevin Durant, waive and stretch Shaun Livingston and fill their roster with minimum players, the Warriors’ projected luxury tax depending on Thompson’s contract type:

  • Regular max: $128 million
  • Super max: $161 million

Considering Thompson’s salary, this All-NBA vote could cost Golden State an additional $38 million next season alone.

Of course, Durant might not stay. If he leaves, the Warriors could even avoid the dreaded repeater tax altogether.

But the issue looms next year, when Draymond Green will be up for a big raise. There’s no easy way maintain a championship contender without it getting very expensive.

Thompson’s All-NBA status will go a long way toward determining just how much it costs Golden State to remain elite.

Bradley Beal, Wizards

Washington knows the danger of offering the super-max to someone who has made only one All-NBA team and won’t hit free agency for another two years. John Wall is the poster child for the super-max gone wrong. His extension hasn’t even taken effect yet, and his contract is arguably the NBA’s worst.

You think Bradley Beal is willing to let that become his problem?

Beal stepped up while Wall was injured and earned serious All-NBA consideration. Beal is extolling his loyalty to the Wizards. Even as he says he wouldn’t rush to sign the super-max if offered, Beal sounds ready to get paid.

Washington should be reluctant. A projected $193 million over four years is a lot of money for a player of his caliber, and it could doom the franchise for years. A super-max extension would also prohibit the Wizards from trading Beal for one year, taking him off the market while his value remains high. Plus, with Wall already on the books, Washington has less margin for error.

I can’t imagine it’d go over well with Beal if the Wizards spurned him because Wall got overpaid first – especially considering the history of friction between those two.

Yet, it’d be incredibly risky for Washington to commit so much to Beal now. There’d be only a narrow path for Beal to lead the downtrodden team to meaningful winning next season. All the while, he’d be ineligible to be traded. Longer term is hazier, which is treacherous uncertainty when someone could get paid so much.

If Beal makes All-NBA, there’s a good case the Wizards shouldn’t offer him a super-max extension. If they don’t offer him the super-max extension, there’s a good chance he’ll resent it.

Where this all leads: If Beal makes All-NBA, that could prompt Washington to trade him.

That wouldn’t be just an unintended consequence of the super-max. It’d be the exact opposite of the super-max’s intended design.

Maybe Beal won’t make All-NBA, which would create its own set of complications. Beal would be just two years from unrestricted free agency, and a non-super-max extension seems unlikely. But at least doors would be open.

If he makes All-NBA, suddenly there’d be a lot of pressure on the Wizards to commit one way or the other on him. Not an ideal situation, especially for a team without a general manager.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans

Anthony Davis made a trade request.

David Griffin has indicated he might not honor it.

That’s probably a combination of hope and bluff. Griffin obviously wants Davis in New Orleans, but if Davis remains intent on leaving, it’s tough to keep him. However, by announcing a plan to sell Davis on the Pelicans over the next year, Griffin improves his trade leverage.

Of course, Griffin might actually follow through and keep Davis into 2020 free agency. That plan becomes much more tenable (or improves the viability of Griffin’s bluff) if Davis makes an All-NBA team this year.

The Pelicans can already offer Davis a super-max extension this offseason. But if Davis makes All-NBA this season or next, they could also re-sign him to a super-max contract in 2020 free agency. The extension or fresh contract would have the same terms – projected to be five years, $235 million.

That’s a lot more than Davis’ projected max with other teams in 2020 ($156 million over four years).

If Davis misses All-NBA this season and next, New Orleans would still have a financial advantage in its 2020 offer for Davis (projected max of $202 million over five years). Davis could still qualify for the super max with the Pelicans in 2020 free agency by making All-NBA next season.

But that’s obviously a smaller guaranteed edge without him clinching super-max eligibility this season. It’d be incredibly risky for the Pelicans to keep him into 2020 free agency without knowing they’d have the bigger upper hand.

It’s probably too risky to keep him, anyway.

Davis has said the extra money won’t sway him. His trade request affirms that.

But people change their minds.

More money only helps.

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

Lillard will make an All-NBA team, but the playoffs would always go a long way toward answering questions that remained.

Would Portland commit now to paying Lillard a projected $193 million from ages 31-34? Would Lillard lock into team control for six more years?

After the Trail Blazers’ run to the Western Conference finals, the answer is clear: Yes.

This is the designated-veteran-player extension everyone should be watching. If it doesn’t work with Lillard – an excellent player and even better leader – it could prompt changes in the next CBA.

Nikola Vucevic, Magic

I see six centers as legitimate All-NBA candidates: Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis and Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic’s case is surprisingly strong.

Among those six, Vucevic ranks second in real-plus-minus-based wins, third in PER-based estimated wins added, fourth in win shares and fourth in value over replacement player.

Plus, there are the factors that shouldn’t matter, but often do. Vucevic has the narrative of working his way into first being an All-Star in his eighth season and ending Orlando’s six-year playoff drought. There will definitely be no voter fatigue with him.

I don’t expect Vucevic to make All-NBA, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if, as voters researched their picks, he holds up well. If he gets on some ballots and many voters are divided on other candidates, it’s possible for Vucevic to sneak onto the third team.

Even if that happened, though, is it possible he’d actually get a super-max contract?

It’s hard to see the Magic – whose front office inherited, rather an acquired, Vucevic – paying him that much. He’s 28 and has made the All-Star team only once. Orlando barely snuck into the playoffs in the East with him. He had a very fine season, but that doesn’t mean his long-term trajectory has completed changed.

I’d be quite surprised if the Magic gave him a regular-max contract (projected to be $190 million over five years). A super-max contract (projected to be $221 million over five years)? That’s barely even imaginable.

[Correction: Newly signed designated-veteran-player contracts, as opposed to extensions, must cover precisely five seasons.]

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo seems happy in Milwaukee.

The Bucks can secure him in 2020.

Antetokounmpo is too inexperienced to sign a veteran-super-max extension this offseason. But because he made All-NBA last year and will certainly make it again this year, he’ll already clinch eligibility to next year sign a super-max extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years.

A lot can change in year, including Antetokounmpo’s desire to stay in Milwaukee. But the Bucks can do their part to keep Antetokounmpo happy between now and then. That starts with advancing from the Eastern Conference finals, where Milwaukee is tied 2-2 with the Raptors. The Bucks can also pay the luxury tax to keep their strong supporting cast intact next season. Follow that with another deep playoff run next year, and Antetokounmpo seems highly likely to stay.

Still, the only certainty once Antetokounmpo makes All-NBA this year, will be in his eligibility for a super-max extension next year. His and Milwaukee’s views on it once it can actually be signed can’t be known until then.f

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Wizards (shoulder)

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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Giannis Antetokounmpo is on track to repeat as Most Valuable Player.

So, any game he misses is notable.

Bucks:

Expect to see more Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson. With the trade deadline approaching, this could even be a showcase game for Wilson.

Milwaukee is still favored over the Wizards. The Bucks have outscored opponents by 7.8 points per possession without Antetokounmpo this season. They’re deep.

Of course, anything can happen. It’s only one game in a long NBA regular season.

Which might something to do with Antetokounmpo sitting. Even if he plays in Milwaukee’s next game, vs. the Nuggets on Friday, he’ll get six straight days off. That’s a nice break.