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Rumor: Clippers eyeing Suns’ center Aron Baynes

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Thrust into a larger-than-expected role because Deandre Ayton earned a suspension, Aron Baynes has had a breakout season in Phoenix. The big man is averaging 13 points and 5.7 rebounds a game, shooting 37.5 percent from three on four attempts a night, spacing the floor on offense and playing solid defense in the paint on the other end.

That has caught the eye of the Los Angeles Clippers who would be interested in swapping centers with the Suns, something Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus said he heard at the G-League Showcase in Las Vegas just before Christmas.

Baynes is believed to be a prime target for the Clippers. Zubac’s four-year, $28.5 million salary would work straight-up for the Phoenix center, but the Suns may not want to take on a long-term salary for a true center to back up Deandre Ayton.

“They would need a third team,” one Eastern Conference executive said.

The Clippers also would likely need to give up a pick in this scenario.

This rumor speaks to one truth clear to sources around the league: The Clippers are going to be aggressive at the deadline. Los Angeles knows its a contender and with a potentially short window (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can be free agents in the summer of 2021), and Steve Ballmer’s crew will do what it takes to win now (they hope that gets the stars to re-sign). While Los Angeles sent a lot to Oklahoma City to get George, the team still has its own 2020 first-round pick and players such as Moe Harkless that could entice teams.

The Clippers have been linked to Thaddeus Young, but an upgrade at center is another consideration. The Clippers love Montrezl Harrell but he is an energy big off the bench, not a starting center. Is Ivica Zubac the starting center on a championship team? One could ask the same thing of Baynes, but with his floor spacing he could be played next to Harrell, something the Clippers can’t do with Zubac.

The real issue for the Clippers is the Suns may want to keep Baynes and make upgrades themselves, looking for a playoff push. Robert Sarver’s Suns have always thought short term and the team is just half-a-game out of the last playoff spot in the West.

Instead, Phoenix is looking to add to its roster. Kevin Love could be a possibility, but the team is believed to have more interest in Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari.

What I heard in Las Vegas is a lot of teams interested in Gallinari — he tops my “player most likely to be traded” list. Even though the Thunder are a playoff team right now and have made no decisions on direction, they are not letting one surprising season change their long-range thinking. The Thunder and Suns could talk Gallinari trade, and/or point guard Dennis Schroeder, and Cleveland would like to lean into those talks and put Kevin Love on the table.

The Clippers are a team to watch at the deadline. Any series between the Los Angeles teams is going to be tight — plus teams such as Denver are not far behind — and if the Clippers can gain an advantage with a trade, they will do it. Whether they could land Baynes is another discussion.

Rockets to add Spurs buyout DeMarre Carroll, free agent Jeff Green

Spurs forward DeMarre Caroll
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that DeMarre Carroll and the San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a buyout. Carroll will then sign with the Houston Rockets:

ESPN’s Tim McMahon added in a subsequent report that the Rockets will bring in free agent forward Jeff Green:

Green will first sign a 10-day contract with the Rockets, so he can get used to their system and see if there is a fit, Woj reported.

Carroll signed a three-year, $20.65 million contract as part of a sign and trade from the Brooklyn Nets to the Spurs this past summer. That agreement was part of a three-team trade that saw San Antonio send forward Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards. The 10-year veteran is owed $7 million for this season, $6.65 million for 2020-21 and $1.35 million guaranteed for 2021-22. San Antonio will incur a cap hit for each of the three seasons as part of the buyout process with Carroll. How much of a cap hit will depend on how much money Carroll gave up as part of the buyout agreement.

Carroll was added via sign and trade after Marcus Morris spurned the Spurs in free agency. Morris had originally agreed to sign with San Antonio, but backed out after the New York Knicks offered him $15 million as a free agent. The Spurs moved on to Carroll as a backup plan, but he was never able to crack the rotation. He’s played only 135 minutes over 15 games with San Antonio.

Green was with the Utah Jazz earlier this season, before being waived to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker. The 11-year veteran Green averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances with Utah. The Rockets will be the ninth different franchise Green has played for.

In Houston, Carroll and Green will join Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball crew as big man depth. Carroll and Green will likely back up P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington up front. Their experience at both forward spots will give the Rockets additional depth for their playoff run. Carroll and Green are also likely be to asked to play some center, as Houston has downsized dramatically at that position, including trading Clint Capela at the trade deadline.

NBA players’ union votes to support formation of G-League union

Kyrie Irving
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Better pay. Better working conditions. Not to be treated as disposable parts by their employers.

The players in the G-League want the same thing out of a union that auto workers, teachers, and (most obviously) NBA players do. As had been expected (talks had been going on for a while), on Monday the National Basketball Players Association (the NBA players’ union) voted to support the formation of a G-League union, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The G-League players are expected to support this. Sources have told NBC Sports that team and league officials will not oppose the players unionizing, they believe there will be benefits, too.

The primary issue will be pay. Most players in the G-League earn a $35,000 salary, unless they’re an elite high school prospect, or on a two-way contract (which means they are tied to an NBA team and can be called up for 45 days a season). Some players make more through an Exhibit 10 contract with a team — meaning they go to training camp with a team, then get a bonus ($50,000 or so) if they sign with that team’s G-League team.

Other issues would include freedom of player movement, work benefits, and giving the players a voice in other matters like discipline issues.

The NBA continues to push toward each of its teams having a minor-league affiliate. Right now, only the Trail Blazers and Nuggets do not. As the G-League grows, it’s understandable the players want a larger voice in how things are run.

In other news out of the players’ union meeting, Kyrie Irving was voted in as vice president, replacing Paul Gasol. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Chris Paul remains the union president.

Check out Dr. Dre’s Kobe Bryant tribute

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CHICAGO — In a weekend filled with spectacular tributes to Kobe Bryant, this one stood out.

Legendary rapper, songwriter, record producer, and businessman Dr. Dre — a guy who grew up in Los Angeles — released a tribute that stood out (and was highlighted on TNT). Dre did this with Gibson Hazard and Jackson Bannon.

Kobe’s public memorial service takes place Feb. 24 at Staples Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on team’s All-Star plan: Attack James Harden

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
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CHICAGO – James Harden has griped about Giannis Antetokounmpo winning Most Valuable Player last year.

After his team lost to Harden’s in the All-Star game Sunday, Antetokounmpo got in a dig at Harden.

“Offensively, we were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding,” Antetokounmpo said of his team’s strategy late. “That’s who we thought we’d have the opportunity to score on.”

Harden is not a good defender. But this is playing right into his hands. He’s at his best in isolation, especially in the post. He faces far more difficulty when run through actions off the ball or trying to keep up in transition.

Down the stretch, Harden defended more effectively than usual. Not great, but above his usual standard. Good enough for LeBron James‘ team to win.

At least, as Giannis previously noted, the MVP trophy is at his house.