Maurice Harkless keeps getting traded. He’s unbothered

Knicks forward Maurice Harkless
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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 was 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.

Bamba suspended four games, Rivers three for fight Friday night

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The NBA came down hard on Mo Bamba and Austin Rivers (in a way they didn’t with Dillon Brooks).

The Magic’s Bamba was suspended four-game and the Timberwolves’ Rivers got a three-game suspension — both without pay — for their part in a fight between the teams Friday night.

In addition, Magic guard Jalen Suggs was suspended one game for “escalating the altercation by aggressively grabbing Rivers around the neck and pulling him to the floor.” The Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels was fined $20,000 for running into the scrum and pushing Bamba in the back.

As for why the relatively stiff penalties in this case, the NBA said: “Following the incident, Bamba attempted to continue to engage with Rivers in a hostile manner in the corridor outside the locker rooms where he also aggressively shoved a security representative. Both Bamba and Rivers continued the escalation on social media following the game.”

Friction between Bomba and Rivers started a few plays earlier when Rivers — who was in the game — missed a corner 3 in front of the Magic bench, and there was jawing from Bamba and others. Rivers came over and confronted and the fight started soon after, with Bamba coming off the bench. After an official review, five players were ejected: Rivers, McDaniels and Taurean Prince from the Timberwolves; Bamba and Suggs from the Magic.

Banba and Rivers did continue the fight on social media, which added to their time off.

The suspensions will all start on Sunday, Feb. 5.

Kyrie Irving trade request update: Clippers make offer, LeBron says “duh” Irving helps Lakers

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Nets fans booed Kyrie Irving when he was put up on the jumbotron at Barclays Center before the game Friday night (Irving was out vs. the Wizards).

Irving requested a trade out of Brooklyn before the Feb. 9 trade deadline, and the Nets are talking to several teams about a potential deal, with the Lakers, Suns and Mavericks at the front of the line. This trade could come together in the next few days, allowing the teams involved to make other moves before next Thursday’s deadline.

Here are the latest Kyrie Irving trade rumors:

• The Los Angeles Clippers have thrown their hat in the ring and made an offer for Irving, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by Law Murray of The Athletic.

There is pressure from ownership on down for the Clippers to win big this season — the team’s fourth with Kwahi Leonard and Paul George — and they need help at the point guard spot (they are interested in the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet if he becomes available as well). The Clippers have a lot of salaries between $10 million and $20 million — Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum — who can be packaged in different configurations, plus they have young talent that can be added in Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr.

Bringing in Irving would be a massive gamble by the Clippers — do they need another mercurial star prone to missing games? — but the Clippers want to win and will push all their chips into the middle.

LeBron James was asked after the Lakers’ loss Saturday night if Irving is the kind of player that can get the Lakers to the finish line and have them thinking championship.

“Obviously that’s, the word you use, ‘duh’ question when talking about a player like that.”

• Whatever you think of Irving the person, his trade demand is a smart business move — the Nets were not going to give him the max contract extension he wants, so he is trying to force his way to his next team, one that will pay up. And by pay up, that’s a four-year, $198.5 million contract. Wojnarowski of ESPN said this on NBA Countdown Saturday.

“Irving, who is in the final year of a deal that pays him $36.9 million, has been seeking in the neighborhood of a four-year, $198.5 million maximum extension available to him until June 30, sources said. If Irving is traded, he is eligible to sign a two-year, $78.6 million extension with his new team until June 30.”

Any team that trades for Irving will have to pay up this summer when he is a free agent — he’s too expensive to be a rental. There are reports the Lakers and Mavericks are hesitant to give Irving that kind of long-term deal.

• If Irving doesn’t get traded before the deadline, he could hold out for the rest of the season, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN reports.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
36

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,352

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors
Feb. 13 at Trail Blazers

When is LeBron projected to break the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 9 at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, although a hot game on Feb. 7 against the Thunder could make that game a possibility.

How long has Kareem held the scoring record?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the all-time scoring record — too less fanfare than is happening with LeBron (although Wilt Chamberlain was unhappy with all the attention KAJ was receiving) — on April 5, 1984, when he scored his 31,420th point, breaking the record which had been held by Chamberlain. This was the height of the Showtime Lakers era and the team made the Finals that season but lost in seven games to Larry Bird and the Celtics. The Lakers would win the NBA title three of the next four years and Kareem would keep adding to that point total and his legacy until he retired after the 1989 season.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron tuned out the Lakers’ Kyrie Irving trade speculationat least until after the game — and dropped 27 points on the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night, shooting 10-of-22 overall but 1-of-7 beyond the arc. It wasn’t enough as the Pelicans snapped their 10-game losing streak, 131-126, behind 35 points from former Laker Brandon Ingram. This was a tough loss for a Lakers team trying to climb up in the West standings, but it puts LeBron within striking distance of the record next game.

• LeBron scored 26 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists on Thursday night. He also gave the Lakers their first lead of the game on a 3-pointer with 2:35 left, and the Lakers held on to beat the Pacers 112-111. LeBron shot 11-of-19 from the floor and 2-of-5 from 3 for the game.

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Kings active before trade deadline, looking to add defense

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
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The Sacramento Kings will make their first playoff appearance since a Bush was in the White House (2006).

If the 29-22, third-seeded Kings will do damage in the postseason, their bottom 10 defense has to be better. The Kings are being active at the trade deadline with the focus being on a defensive upgrade, sources told NBC Sports. As bait, they are dangling their reserve bigs — Richaun Holmes and/or Alex Len — but the problem is the backup big market is busy at the trade deadline.

The Kings have been linked to the 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle, with Marc Stein confirming those talks are still ongoing (but the Hawks are chasing Thybulle, too). Stein added a new rumor, as well.

Sources say Sacramento has inquired about the availability of Charlotte’s Mason Plumlee.

Charlotte is selling and Plumlee would be an upgrade behind All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

One way or another, expect the Kings to try and make a move at the deadline.