Knicks forward Maurice Harkless
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Maurice Harkless keeps getting traded. He’s unbothered

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Maurice Harkless is a solid NBA starter. He works hard. He fits in. He produces. Just last season, he was starting in the Western Conference finals.

In fewer than nine months since, Harkless has technically been traded two times – effectively three times, and it easily could have been four times. He started this season with the champion-contending Clippers and got sent to the lowly Knicks just before the trade deadline.

None of the deals were primarily about Harkless’ on-court ability. His $11,011,234 salary on an expiring contract just made him highly exchangeable as teams sought to achieve greater objectives.

A prominent casualty of the NBA’s transactions era, Harkless has elicited sympathy. Told of that sentiment, Harkless stared blankly before chuckling.

“Don’t feel bad for me,” Harkless said, breaking into full laughter.

Harkless is a true professional. He has perspective both outside the NBA (“A lot of people that have got worse things to deal with”) and inside the NBA. He has been traded four (effectively, five) times in his eight-year career.

Heck, the first trade came before his career really began.

Harkless is one of just six players in the last 20 years who signed his rookie-scale contract then got traded before the ensuing season.*

The 76ers drafted him No. 15 in 2012 then included him in the blockbuster four-team Dwight Howard trade, which landed Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia.

*The other five:

For the 76ers, the trade as a disaster. For Harkless, it came just in time. He was set to sign a lease his next trip to Philadelphia.

He joined the Magic and showed promise his first couple seasons. But his role shrank his third year.

Still, Harkless left an impression that season on a rookie teammate named Elfrid Payton, who now reunites with Harkless in New York.

“Everybody comes from a position where they’ve always been The Man, so to speak, quote unquote,” Payton said. “But when you get here, everybody’s like that. So, somebody has to sit down. Even when he was in those situations, he still works hard, came to the gym on time, put in extra work.”

After the season, Orlando traded Harkless to the Trail Blazers for a top-55-protected pick – literally the smallest-allowable return, what amounted to nothing. He didn’t take offense.

“All I cared about was I was in a new situation,” Harkless said. “I didn’t care how I got there.”

Harkless blossomed in Portland. He re-signed for four years, $42 million in 2016 – the only big contract the Trail Blazers didn’t quickly regret from that summer’s spending spree.

That contract contained a $500,000 bonus if Harkless made 35% of his 3-pointers in 2016-17. In the final week of the season, Harkless was at 35.1%. Another miss would drop him to 34.9%.

Harless – who’d been attempting a 3-pointer every 11 minutes of playing time – finished the season going more than 100 straight minutes without shooting a 3 to clinch the money.

What an all-time classic example of a player understanding the business.

Harkless helped the Trail Blazers reach the 2019 Western Conference finals and figured the team would remain intact.

Instead, with starting center Jusuf Nurkic injured, Portland landed longtime-target Hassan Whiteside from the Heat last summer. Harkless’ salary got him included in the trade.

But Miami didn’t want Harkless. In order to complete their sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler, the Heat re-routed Harkless – and a first-round pick! – to the Clippers in what became a four-team deal.

Harkless played well in L.A. as the third forward behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. It’s incredible the Clippers got a first-round pick for taking Harkless, a contributor on an expiring contract.

That contract also made Harkless key matching salary when the Clippers upgraded before the trade deadline. They sent him (with draft picks this time) to New York for Marcus Morris.

The Knicks are heading to the lottery and don’t have a clear need for a veteran like Harkless. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they flipped him before the deadline for a worse player and a pick. Maybe they just didn’t have enough time to work out that deal, especially given their chaotic front-office situation.

New York would accommodate a Harkless buyout if he wants, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. Harkless would be playoff eligible elsewhere if waived by March 1.

For now, Harkless – a New York native who played at St. John’s – is excited about joining the Knicks.

There can be a lot of distraction and hassle with playing on a hometown team. It isn’t for everyone. But Harkless just saw firsthand how Leonard and George are handling playing in their native Southern California.

“They love it,” Harkless said.

This is a new experience, even for the veteran Harkless.

So is getting traded during the season. His previous trades all happened during the summer.

Last week, Harkless went from L.A. to New York for a physical then joined his new team in Detroit. Still learning the playbook, he didn’t play against the Pistons. The Knicks continued to Atlanta, but Harkless didn’t play against the Hawks, either, due to illness. New York will host the Wizards on Wednesday.

“It’s a whirlwind,” Harkless said.

Report: DeMar DeRozan unhappy with Spurs

Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan
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Facing the Kawhi Leonard trade saga, the Spurs had a clear objective: Remain competitive. That’s why they traded Leonard to the Raptors for veteran star DeMar DeRozan rather than accepting a pick-heavy offer. That wasn’t optimal for the franchise’s long-term health, but it at least paid short-term dividends. San Antonio made the playoffs last year, qualifying for a record 22nd straight season.

Now, the bottom has fallen out.

The Spurs are just 27-36 and will almost certainly miss the playoffs. DeRozan has a $27,739,975 player option that he’ll reportedly decline if the Spurs don’t sign him to a contract extension.

Jabari Young of CNBC on ESPN San Antonio:

Listen, I don’t have to sugarcoat anything. DeMar DeRozan is not happy in San Antonio, OK? The offense is not running as smoothly as one should think with a guy like him in the lineup, and there are problems are there, right? And so you have to decide if you’re going to take that money of if you’re going to come back to a situation that’s just not suitable. I mean, it didn’t work. They got the deal done. It’s over. I mean, the experiment is not working.

This report came before the NBA’s coronavirus shutdown, which could significantly decrease next season’s salary cap. That makes DeRozan (and everyone else with a player option) more likely to opt in. Base on the prior report, DeRozan is willing to stay in San Antonio for the right price. It’s increasingly likely that option-year salary is the right price.

DeRozan is a good player whose scoring – and, at times, passing – can be central in building decent offense. But he has a tandem of deficiencies that make it difficult to fit him onto a good team:

1. He doesn’t shoot 3-pointers to space the floor.

2. He doesn’t defend adequately.

That means his team must surround him offensively with other outside shooters. That’s doable.

His team must also surround defensively with other sound defenders. Again, that’s doable.

But it’s difficult to do both. Players who both shoot 3s well enough to attract attention AND defend well are obviously scarce.

Though DeRozan definitely has fans around the league, it’s another thing for him to expect an offer next offseason that justifies declining his player option. He and the Spurs could be stuck in this imperfect arrangement another year.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri worried about coronavirus in Africa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Raptors president Masai Ujiri
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Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is worried about the places currently hardest-hit by the pandemic, and especially worried about the places that haven’t been hit yet.

Ujiri told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that he’s been in contact with some leaders in Africa, plus has spoken with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his talks with other African heads of state about their level of preparation for the new coronavirus .

“I think a lot of leaders are ahead of it, and the ones that aren’t are starting to pay attention because this is an unknown, this is an unseen enemy, and we have to really, really pay attention,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri is of Nigerian descent and founded Giants of Africa, a group that organizes camps and other events to use basketball as a way to promote education and growth for children on the continent. He says he’s unsure yet if his programs will go on this summer as planned.

“We’re just concerned about people, about health, about listening to what the directions are going to be moving forward,” Ujiri said.

When it comes to the NBA season, Ujiri said he’s hopeful play can resume. The Raptors won their first NBA title last season.

Report: Knicks interested in hiring 76ers’ Elton Brand as GM

76ers general manager Elton Brand
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The 76ers’ eventful offseason has fallen flat so far.

Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) has generally underwhelmed and especially struggled to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid. At 33, Horford faces even more issues as he ages.

Though Tobias Harris has been fine, it’s hard to feel good about his five-year, $180 million deal. That contract makes it difficult to build a quality bench, even if ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax. Every team has spending limits, and Philadelphia has tied significant capital to a merely solid forward.

Josh Richardson isn’t shooting as well as he did while looking like a burgeoning star with the Heat. It’s also hard not to notice Jimmy Butler thriving in Miami.

The cumulative results are also concerning. Creating enough spacing around Embiid and Simmons was always challenging. This group isn’t coming close to answering that call. That has produced some strain throughout the season.

Will 76ers general manager Elton Brand take the fall for Philadelphia’s problems?

If so, he could have a fallback job under new Knicks president Leon Rose.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

According to a league source, Elton Brand has been targeted by Rose as a candidate for Knicks GM. Brand, 41, is currently the Sixers GM and is under contract next season, complicating any designs of bringing him to New York. The source said Rose wanted to see if Brand was dismissed after the playoffs.

It’s nearly impossible to see Brand going to New York unless the 76ers fire him. Though the titles in each franchise would be the same, they’re very different roles. He holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. With the Knicks, Brand would work under Rose.

Would the 76ers fire Brand? Maybe. It could depend how they do in the playoffs, and this team still has a championship upside this season.

Even with an early-round loss, Philadelphia seems more likely to fire coach Brett Brown than make a larger change. But it’s not as if Brand – who held minimal front-office experience when hired in 2018 – has done much to instill confidence. There’s not a great affirmative case for keeping him.

The Knicks have Scott Perry as general manager, but he’s a holdover from the Steve Mills regime. After all the handwringing about Steve Stoute saying the Knicks will hire a new coach while they still had Mike Miller as interim coach, this more reflects reality. Professional sports are a cutthroat business. It’s perfectly fine for the Knicks to seek a new general manager while still having someone in that position running out the clock.

Could that be Brand? He’s smart and connects well with people. His long playing career provides invaluable experience. He’d fit well as No. 2 in an NBA front office.

But, right now, he has an even better job.

Carmelo Anthony: Nuggets should have won 2009 championship

Carmelo Anthony in 2009 Lakers-Nuggets Western Conference finals
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Carmelo Anthony said he would’ve won multiple championships if the Pistons drafted him in 2003.

Of course, Detroit picked Darko Milicic No. 2. Anthony went to the Nuggets No. 3.

But Anthony still had a big opportunity to win a title.

Denver – led by Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin – reached the 2009 Western Conference finals. Facing the Lakers, the Nuggets lost Game 1 by two points then won Game 2 by three points in Los Angeles. The Lakers then won Games 3, 5 and 6 to take the series.

Anthony on Instagram with Dwyane Wade:

I was sick, because we were supposed to beat them that year. I don’t like saying “We should have.” I don’t like saying all that. But when you re-evaluate everything. We really wanted Orlando in that Finals that year. We was like, “If we get Game 1 in L.A. or Game 2, we’re going back to Denver, we’re sweeping them.” We was going to beat them. We was going to beat them that year if we would’ve won in L.A. If we would’ve won both games, we would’ve beat them. And we would’ve swept Orlando that year.

Wade:

Orlando was alright, but they weren’t –

Anthony:

No, would’ve swept them. We would’ve swept them that year.

Yes, Denver would have likely won the series if taking the first two games in Los Angeles. The Nuggets also would’ve had a strong chance against the Magic, whom the Lakers beat in five in the Finals.

But it’s a major leap just to give Denver another win in Los Angeles. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets throughout the season. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets in that series. The Lakers were better than everyone. They had just reached the NBA Finals the prior season and were on their way to winning consecutive titles. This wasn’t some unfortunate break for Denver.

And even if the Nuggets won Game 2, the series wouldn’t have been over as Anthony says. The Lakers were led by Kobe Bryant and had savvy veterans like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. They wouldn’t have just folded with a 2-0 deficit.

Sometimes, lesser teams beat better teams. The Nuggets COULD have beaten the Lakers.

But SHOULD have? Nah. Not even close.