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Nene’s contract gives Rockets valuable trade chip

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Under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, players’ full salaries counted toward trades. It didn’t matter whether the salary was fully guaranteed, partially guaranteed or unguaranteed. Teams are generally required to match salary in trades, but this offered a workaround.

A team could trade someone with a guaranteed $10 million salary for someone with a $10 million unguaranteed salary then waive the unguaranteed player. The salaries technically matched, but one team added $10 million in payroll while the other team shed $10 million in payroll. That hardly met the intention of matching salaries.

The current CBA closed that loophole. Now, only the guaranteed portion of a player’s salary counts as outgoing for matching purposes while the full salary counts for incoming. That’s why J.R. Smith – who signed under the previous CBA and therefore still fit under the previous rules – looked so valuable.

But the Rockets have found another way to get a similarly helpful player. (Of course, Daryl Morey cooked this up.) Houston’s deal with Nene makes him one of the NBA’s most intriguing trade chips.

Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights:

Nene and Houston signed a two-year contract that will pay him the minimum in each year in base salary and enough likely bonuses to take him to $10 million in total salary each season.

Bobby Marks of ESPN:

The bonuses in his contract are broken down into 3 categories; 1) $2.435M for playing at least 10 games and 52+ wins; 2) $2.5M for playing at least 25 games and 52+ wins; 3) $2.5M for playing at least 40 games and 52+ wins.

Incentives are deemed likely or unlikely by whether or not they were met the previous season. Nene played 42 games for the 53-win Rockets. So, these incentives are likely. The only limit on likely incentives is a max salary. (Unlikely incentives are capped at 15% of base salary.)

Nene re-signed through Bird Rights, meaning Houston could give him any salary up to the max. His base salary plus likely incentives count as his cap number.

So, that’s a $10 million trade chip. The key: His team can pay only the guaranteed portion of his salary. These technically likely bonuses are realistically unlikely ever to be triggered. It’s a great way for another team to trim salary.

Nene can be traded Jan. 15. The trade deadline is Feb. 6. That’s the window to watch.

Here’s the big catch: Trading Nene this way would likely push the Rockets into the luxury tax. The main idea is using his contract to acquire a better, more expensive player. Will owner Tilman Fertitta go for that? He has talked big but delivered less.

Only base salary plus met incentives count toward the luxury tax, which isn’t assessed until the final day of the regular season. Houston controls his playing time and surely won’t let him trigger too many, or any, bonuses. So, if they don’t trade him for value, the Rockets should easily enough avoid the tax if desired.

Whatever money Nene earns this season will be a nice windfall for a player who seemingly planned to retired. Remember, an important aspect of this scheme is him not playing much. That could explain why he didn’t retire. Will the Rockets even make him show up?

This type of contract isn’t completely unprecedented. The Laker structured Yi Jianlian’s contract similarly in 2016. But that was under the previous CBA, when a simpler unguaranteed deal would’ve brought the same trade upside. Los Angeles waived Yi before the season.

This too could amount to nothing. But this opens the door for big spending to improve the team. We’ll see whether Houston steps through it.

Jaylen Brown: Celtics nicknamed Grant Williams ‘Ben Simmons’ due to missed 3s

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Celtics rookie Grant Williams on 3-pointers in his first 20 games: 0-for-25.

0-for-25!

Nobody else has ever started a season that cold.

Of everyone else to attempt at least 25 3-pointers in their first 20 games, nobody made fewer than two. Of everyone else to miss all their 3-pointers in their first 20 games, nobody attempted more than 17.

Finally, Williams made a 3-pointer in Boston’s win over the Cavaliers yesterday.

Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, via NBC Sports Boston:

We were calling him Ben Simmons for the longest. But he knocked one down, and knocked them down, too. So, shoutout to both of those guys.

Yes, 76ers guard Ben Simmons barely shoots, let alone makes, 3-pointers. But it seems as if Brown realized mid-answer he shouldn’t provide bulletin-board material to a rival.

Too late.

Simmons has gotten called a coward numerous times by people in Boston due to his refusal to shoot 3s. Becoming the butt of the joke with fellow NBA players? That’s something else entirely.

We’ll see how Simmons responds, but many around him – including Philadelphia coach Brett Brown – have been urging him to hoist more 3s. It’s hard to see this inspiring Simmons to actually change his game.

Paul George says there’s more to his Pacers exit: ‘I promise you, I’m not the one to boo’

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In 2017, Paul George told the Pacers he planned to leave in free agency the following year. It wasn’t a trade request, but George knew his message would likely prompt Indiana to deal him. He wanted out.

George said he preferred the Spurs. (Or was it the Lakers?) The Pacers dealt him to the Thunder.

Now with the Clippers, George returned to Indiana and got booed.

George, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“You know, someday I’ll do a tell-all and tell the leading events of how I left Indiana,” George said. “And I promise you, I’m not the one to boo.”

“… I’m not gonna share the teaser,” George later added. “… I like being the villain. I’m here two nights out of the year. The people they should boo is here a lot longer than I am.”

Maybe George felt he got wronged. Maybe George actually got wronged.

But fans generally side with their favorite team over a star player who chose to leave.

It’s hard to imagine a set of circumstances where Pacers fans would boo someone other than George for his exit. My hunch: His grievances are significant to him but wouldn’t persuade Indiana fans. Still, I’m at least curious about his full story.

LeBron James on 2011 NBA Finals: ‘I lost my love for the game’

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LeBron James became a villain by leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat on The Decision in 2010. He arrived in Miami promising “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championships.

By the end of his first season with the Heat, he was beaten down. The Mavericks topped Miami in the NBA Finals, winning the last three games of the series. While Miami blew its 2-1 lead, LeBron averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 turnovers per game. He shot 2-for-12 on 3-pointers and 4-for-10 on free throws.

After Game 6, he callously mocked his critics:

“All the people that were rooting for me to fail… at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same life that (they had) before they woke up today,” James said. “They got the same personal problems they had today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do.”

ESPN:

LeBron emerged from his funk and led the Heat to consecutive titles. He returned to Cleveland and won another title there. He’s now with the Lakers leading another championship pursuit.

He plays well. He plays smartly. He plays with joy. He often rises to the biggest occasions.

LeBron probably had to go through a setback like the 2011 Finals to sharpen his mental edge. But it’s incredible how far he has come from the defeated player who left that series against Dallas.

Tristan Thompson on Cavaliers anonymously griping about John Beilein: ‘Y’all better find them names ‘cause I’ll pull up on ‘em right now’

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The Athletic – quoting at least three unnamed players – reported the Cavaliers are rebelling against John Beilein’s collegiate coaching style.

Cleveland big Tristan Thompson, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“Y’all better find them names ‘cause I’ll pull up on ‘em right now,” Thompson said. “You can’t do that s—.

“At the end of the day if you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that Chatty Patty s— going on. That s— is whack to me. Everyone’s got to look in the mirror, there’s only so much coach can do and there’s only so much we can do. Do we have the best roster in the NBA? No. But we’re going to go out there and compete every night. Guys got to look in the mirror. So I hope whoever reported that was just bulls——g and blamed it on a player.”

That’s quite the rhetoric from Thompson. I wonder whether he has the same energy in the locker room.

Thompson confronting his teammates would certainly raise the stakes. And make no mistake: His teammates are among the unnamed sources. The report not only specifically cited players, it said “Veterans and younger players, from all corners of the roster” are having issues with Beilein.

Even if he supports his coach, that’s a lot for Thompson to take on.

But if he’s looking for a place to start, I have a guess.