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Kemba Walker: Hornets ‘definitely my first priority’ in free agency

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Kemba Walker has gone to the playoffs just twice and never won a series in eight seasons with the Hornets. He was reportedly “really deflated” Charlotte didn’t trade for Marc Gasol this year, to the point a rumor emerged Walker was likely to leave in free agency this summer. The Hornets have never gotten him an All-Star teammate. Despite a late push, they again missed the postseason this year.

But perhaps Walker’s All-NBA selection – which makes him eligible for a super-max contract projected to be worth $221 million (up from $190 million) over five years – could save the relationship.

Walker, via Jared Weiss of The Athletic:

“I just cried. Tears came straight from my eyes,” Walker, who landed third-team All-NBA, told The Athletic over lunch at the Coast 2 Coast basketball café in Tokyo’s iconic Harajuku shopping district. “I was a little kid from the Bronx, so it’s just crazy to me. I still can’t believe it. I just didn’t know if I would get it, because we didn’t make the playoffs. It goes like that sometimes.”

“Oh no question, Charlotte’s definitely my first priority,” he said. “That’s where I’ve been for eight years and that’s all I know. Not many people get a chance to play for one NBA team throughout their career. When I go on my Instagram, I see, ‘Kemba leave! Kemba get out of Charlotte!’ People don’t understand, when they say you need to go ‘here’ and win, that winning is not guaranteed anywhere.”

The big question: Will the Hornets offer the full super-max?

That’s a lot for the small 29-year-old point guard who had never made an All-NBA team before. Walker is a good player. He’s probably not worth that much based solely on his play.

Unless Hornets owner Michael Jordan is suddenly willing to pay the luxury tax, paying Walker the super-max would mean depleting the rest of the roster. Charlotte could try to dump helpful, but overpaid, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and/or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It’d probably require sweeteners to trade those players or Bismack Biyombo, and stretching anyone would incur long-term cap hits.

In other words, if they sign Walker to the super-max, expect the Hornets to immediately worsen his supporting cast and inhibit their long-term position.

I hope Walker knows what he’s getting into.

But I also hope he chooses to re-sign. Of course, players should sign wherever they want based on whatever criteria they deem important. But I’d like that there’s someone content getting paid and making the best of his situation. Not every star has to chase rings or move to big markets.

Walker has endeared himself to Charlotte through his production, positivity and loyalty. He might already be the greatest player in Hornets history, and if he stays another five years, he certainly will be.

If Walker re-signs, he’ll probably never win a championship. Heck, even making the playoffs will be an uphill battle.

But there are plenty of other ways to define success. It seems Walker could choose to prioritize leaving an even bigger imprint on Charlotte and making that super-max money. That sounds like a success story to me.

Potential No. 1 pick James Wiseman suspended by NCAA 11 more games

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Starting on Jan. 12, James Wiseman can return to playing for the University of Memphis.

The NCAA — the self-appointed arbiters protecting the myth of amateurism — have investigated the fact that then high school coach Penny Hardaway, paid $11,500 to help Wiseman’s family move to Memphis. Hardaway, a graduate of Memphis, has since become the coach of the Tigers, and before that was considered a booster. That made helping Wiseman move an illegal benefit, and the NCAA has made its ruling to punish Wiseman for this.

Memphis reportedly plans to appeal the ruling. Wiseman had this reaction to the decision:

Here’s why fans of certain teams near the bottom of the standings — and the front offices of those teams — care: Wiseman has the potential to be elite.

He could be the top pick in next June’s draft and is a lock top-three selection. He is by far the best big man in a guard-heavy draft class coming up.

Wiseman was ranked 37th by the basketball writers here at NBC in our “50 Best Players in Five Years” project this past summer. Here is what College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster wrote about Wiseman for that project:

Wiseman has a chance to be really good. He stands 7-foot. He has the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow him to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. He is a capable defender with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And he is skilled enough where he has the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens…

If Wiseman embraces the fact that he can be a top five center in the NBA doing the four things I listed above at an elite level, then he’ll make himself a lot of money while making some NBA GM very, very happy.

Wiseman also has worked on a face-up game and wants to add some Greek Freak like skills to his game. We’ll see how that goes, but his floor seems to be a very good NBA big man. A lot of teams could use that.

Rob Gronkowski, Venus Williams dance with Laker Girls (video)

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Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said he doesn’t plan to play football this season.

How is he spending his time?

Dancing with the Laker Girls cheerleaders along with tennis legend Venus Williams. They put on quite a show. I’m sure comedians James Corden and Ian Karmel, mostly off camera, were also great.

But the most-impressive stoppage entertainment in Los Angeles last night? That might be Maxx.

Portland waives Pau Gasol as he tries to recover from foot surgery

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Portland signed Pau Gasol to a one-year contract this summer, hoping the aging Spaniard could help the team stay afloat while Jusuf Nurkic recovers from surgery on his leg.

It didn’t work out that way. Gasol suffered a foot injury that required surgery and he has yet to recover enough to get back on the court. Meanwhile, an injury to Zach Collins left Portland even more shorthanded up front. Wednesday, the Trail Blazers waived Gasol, something the player confirmed.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news and had more details.

Is this the end of Gasol’s Hall of Fame career? He’s 39 years old, and last season with the Bucks he looked like a shell of the All-NBA big man who joined forces with Kobe Bryant to win the Lakers a couple of titles. Injuries limited him to 30 games last season, he doesn’t move like he once did, and he averaged a career-low 3.9 points per game.

If so, one of the good guys of the NBA will be missed.

If not, if he can get healthy, some teams certainly would be interested in having him for depth and his locker room presence during a playoff run.

Report: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George to play first game together on Wednesday

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The way they tell it, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard wanted to play together on the Spurs in 2017.

They’ll finally share the court as teammates tonight.

The Clippers signed Leonard and traded for George this summer. But alternating injuries have prevented the forwards from playing together. That’ll change against the Celtics tonight.

Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

George dominated three games without Leonard, scoring like crazy and hitting a game-winner against the Thunder. Leonard excelled before his knee injury.

It’s scary to imagine how Leonard and George will perform together.

Boston could provide a stiff first test. The Celtics have plenty of wings – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye – to throw at the Clippers stars.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an adjustment period for Leonard and George. They have similar styles, and that can create complications. But Leonard and George are so versatile and talented. I expect them to thrive together in the long run.

There’s certainly excitement surrounding tonight’s game, but it’s only one night in what should be a long season in L.A.