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NBA reportedly investigating if teams offered ‘improper inducements’ to free agents

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The rumors circulated not long after Kawhi Leonard agreed to terms with the Clippers: Had Leonard’s close advisor Dennis Robertson (known as “Uncle Dennis” around the NBA) really requested guaranteed sponsorship money, houses and more as part of Leonard signing a contract with a team?

A team providing any of those “improper inducements” would violate the CBA. Whether Robertson really made those requests is not yet known — rumors and gossip are not facts, and there are a couple of proud and spurned franchises that may be trying to save face — and him asking and a team giving him those inducements are two different things.

However, that is one of the things the NBA is investigating, reports the New York Times (which provides new details to the earlier reports the NBA was investigating the start of free agency).

The N.B.A. has begun an investigation into how teams handled free agency this summer, focusing on whether improper inducements were offered to players to circumvent the salary cap, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation.

The issue was raised by multiple team owners at a meeting of the league’s board of governors this month in Las Vegas, according to the person, who requested anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak publicly on the subject.

The league also is investigating something that is clearly happening across all 30 teams: Tampering, and contracts being worked out before the start of free agency.

The N.B.A. is also exploring whether it needs to change its rules against tampering. Several players committed to signing with a team as soon as free agency negotiations officially opened at 6 p.m. on June 30 — even though teams were not allowed to begin recruiting before then. League rules prohibit players, coaches and front office executives from enticing an athlete under contract with another team to come play for their franchise.

“I think it’s pointless at the end of the day to have rules that we can’t enforce,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said after the spirited Board of Governors’ meeting. “I think it hurts the perception of integrity around the league if people say, well, you have that rule and it’s obvious that teams aren’t fully complying, so why do you have it. I think the sense in the room was we should revisit those rules, think about what does make sense for our teams so that ultimately we can create a level playing field among the teams and that the partner teams have confidence that their competitors are adhering to the same set of rules they are.”

More than fines or some other punitive punishment, rule changes are what is likely to come out of all this. Every team tampers on some level, as do plenty of agents. Players do recruit each other (although that fall short far more often than is made public, largest contract offer still wins the day most of the time).

However, nobody wants the NBA to go full NSA and start monitoring texts between players. The NBA’s tampering and free agency rules were written in a bygone era and need to be updated to things the league both can and is willing to enforce.

This investigation likely will take most of the summer or longer to complete.

Jamal Murray lived in “Schitt’s Creek” Rosebud Motel for two years

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A once-rich-now-suddenly-poor family adjusting to living cramped together in a roadside motel is the premise behind “Schitt’s Creek” — the Canadian comedy that just annoyingly dominated the Emmy comedy categories. (It’s not that “Schitt’s Creek” isn’t deserving, I enjoy the show, it’s just annoying when any single show/movie dominates an awards broadcast.)

Jamal Murray watches that show and sees his former home.

Murray, Denver’s breakout superstar and a Canadian, lived in the “Schitt’s Creek” Rosebud Motel for two years, reports Chris Halliday of the Orangeville Banner, via the Toronto Star (hat tip to Hoopshype).

The real-life motel is owned by Jesse Tipping, who also is the president of the Athlete Institute Basketball Academy and Orangeville Prep.

Tipping purchased the motel in 2011 to house recruits for what’s become the most successful prep school basketball program in Canada. Former Orangeville Prep alum and budding NBA superstar Jamal Murray, of the Denver Nuggets, lived there for two years — so did Miami Heat training camp invitee Kyle Alexander.

It’s also been a filming location for a number of things, including “The Umbrella Academy” and “A History of Violence.” “Schitt’s Creek” has used the place for about a month every year for the past six years.

The popular comedy, which just ended its run, features veteran comedic actors Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, plus Eugene’s son Dan Levy, plus many more. “Schitt’s Creek” was first produced by the CBC for Canadian television, came to America on POP TV, but exploded when it got to Netflix and people discovered it.

Jamal Murray went from the “Schitt’s Creek” to Kentucky for a year, before being drafted by the Denver Nuggets as their point guard to pair with Nikola Jokic. Murray has had a breakout playoffs, leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals. He’s made ridiculous plays on the court and powerful statements off it about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rumor: 76ers could hire Mike D’Antoni to lure James Harden

Mike D'Antoni and James Harden at Rockets-76ers game
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni seemingly has a good relationship with James Harden.

The 76ers are reportedly interested in hiring D’Antoni.

Coincidence?

John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

If this is the 76ers’ plan, it’s foolish. Stars don’t pick teams to play for a specific coach.

Stars want, among the things in Philadelphia’s control, winning environments. Pick the coach who can help build and maintain that.

Maybe that’s D’Antoni. He had plenty of success with the Rockets and Suns. But choose him for the right reasons – not some Harden pipe dream.

Harden can become a free agent in 2022, but he’d have to decline a $47,366,760 player option for his age-33 season. Otherwise, he’s headed toward 2023 unrestricted free agency. The 76ers would have a tough time clearing max cap space in either offseason.

A trade is possible. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are intriguing chips if Philadelphia becomes willing to trade one. Harden has the cachet to have some say in a trade destination. But Houston has been committed to winning around Harden. With an older team built around Harden, the Rockets couldn’t simply pivot into a new direction with Simmons or Embiid.

In fairness to the 76ers, this is the type of rumor that spreads baselessly. People see D’Antoni’s awkward fit with Philadelphia’s roster and make wild guesses about the team’s motivation. That doesn’t necessarily match the 76ers’ internal reasoning.

Jamal Murray is having a great playoffs. Has he arrived for good?

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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Jamal Murray shot 4-for-18 in the Nuggets’ Game 7 loss to the Trail Blazers last year.

“I didn’t have the game I was supposed to have,” Murray said.

Supposed to have. What a telling glimpse into Murray’s mindset. He was raised to be an NBA star. Anything less was just… wrong.

Well, Murray is having the games he’s supposed to have now.

The Denver guard is the breakout star of the playoffs. He’s averaging 27 points per game while shooting 54% on 2-pointers and 47% on 3-pointers. He’s passing better and playing sharper defense, helping the Nuggets reach the Western Conference finals

Not bad for someone who not only has never been an All-Star, but hasn’t drawn much serious All-Star consideration.

Is this sustainable? Has Murray made The Leap? Or is a streaky player having a well-timed hot stretch? Is he somehow particularly benefitting from the unique conditions of the bubble?

Murray has increased his PER from 17.7 in the regular season to 24.7 in the playoffs. That’s one of the biggest jumps in NBA history – especially among players on such a deep postseason run.

Marcus Camby posted a PER of 17.8 as a rookie with the Raptors and hovered around that mark with the Knicks in his third season. Then, he broke out during New York’s run to the 1999 NBA Finals. The big man played well off the bench then really elevated his game once Patrick Ewing got hurt. He finished with a postseason PER of 24.8.

Camby had several productive seasons with the Knicks and Nuggets afterward. But he never quite matched the hype he built during the 1999 playoffs.

Which is the norm for players who made postseason surges like that.

Here are the largest PER increases from a previous regular-season high to a postseason (minimum: 500 minutes in each segment):

Just four of the 15 players on that chart matched their breakthrough playoff PER in a future regular season:

  • As a rookie, Oliver Miller came up big off the bench for the Suns in their run to the 1993 NBA Finals. He continued to improve in his second season then signed a lucrative contract with the Pistons in 1994. But amid weight issues, never sustained his production.
  • Anthony Mason began his professional career overseas then spent a couple seasons hopping between minor leagues and deep-bench roles in the NBA.  He signed with the Knicks in 1991, played well and got a bigger role the next season. By the 1993 playoffs, he was really clicking. That was truly a sign of things to come. Mason became a quality starter for the Knicks, Hornets and Heat, even making an All-Star team with Miami.
  • Danny Ainge really stepped up during Celtics’ legendary run to the 1986 championship. He was in his fifth season and seemed to understand his capabilities as a player. His prime continued from there with Boston then the Kings, Trail Blazers and Suns.
  • Gail Goodrich began his career with the Lakers, grew steadily, got picked by the Suns in an expansion draft, made an All-Star team while shooting a lot for a lousy Phoenix team then got traded back to the Lakers. That’s when he really found himself. Goodrich parlayed his strong 1971 playoffs into a higher level of play and four straight All-Star selections with Los Angeles.

Otherwise, these were blips – magical runs that couldn’t be repeated. LeBron James is great. He can’t sustain the 37.4 PER he had during the 2009 playoffs. (For perspective, Giannis Antetokounmpo broke the single-season PER record with a 31.9 this season.)

But could Murray be another exception?

Maybe.

For one, this wasn’t completely out of left field. The Nuggets already gave him a max extension expecting this type of growth. (That might have turned into a super-max extension if All-NBA included the playoffs).

Murray is just 23. This looks somewhat like natural progression.

He has excelled against tough defenses in the Jazz, Clippers and Lakers. Murray wasn’t merely taking advantage of favorable matchups. He’s producing, regardless – though the challenge is rising.

Murray also appeared on the chart last year (as did teammate Nikola Jokic). Murray is clearly improving. Maybe there’s something in his ability to rise to the occasion in the playoffs, too.

On the other hand, some of this is clearly unsustainable. Though Murray is good at making difficult shots, his 47% shooting from beyond the arc will come back down to earth.

Denver’s playoff run will likely end soon, too. Despite the easy 3-1 jokes, the Nuggets will probably fall to the Lakers. There’s a reason Denver’s comebacks against the Jazz and Clippers were so impressive. Teams down 3-1 almost always lose. That’s still true.

But Murray’s run could be just beginning.

Report: Danuel House apologized to Rockets before leaving bubble

Rockets forward Danuel House
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Rockets forward Danuel House left the bubble after the NBA determined he “had a guest” – reportedly a female coronavirus tester – “in his hotel room over multiple hours on September 8 who was not authorized to be on campus.”

House reportedly maintained his innocence.

At least to NBA investigators.

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

From what I understand, House apologized to the entire team before exiting the bubble.

I wonder what exactly House apologized for. An apology isn’t necessarily an admission of wrongdoing. But this at least implies he came clean in the end.

Houston missed House, who had been playing very well off the bench. The Rockets split the first two games of their second-round series against the Lakers then dropped three straight without him.

Was that slide all because of House’s absence? No. Would Houston have beaten the Lakers with House? Probably not.

But the Rockets had a chance at a championship this year, and their odds shrunk sans House. With James Harden, Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker aging, these opportunities won’t keep coming around forever.

House – who has two more seasons left on his contract – might need to regain trust of this team. He’s not good enough to get preferential treatment. Role players must do their part to fit in.