Brandon Ingram
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Brandon Ingram blooming ahead of restricted free agency

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Was Brandon Ingram even open to signing a contract extension worth less than the max last offseason?

“Absolutely not,” Ingram said.

And that’s about as far as negotiations went with the Pelicans.

It was a daring stance from Ingram. He missed the end of last season with a blood-clot issue, drawing comparisons to Chris Bosh’s career-ending situation. Ingram had an up-and-down first three seasons with the Lakers. And he was joining a new team in New Orleans, where No. 1 pick Zion Williamson was the main draw. Considering Ingram’s uneven fit with LeBron James, questions swirled about how Ingram would complement Williamson.

“I have expectations for myself that are a little bit higher than everybody else’s,” Ingram said.

Good thing he didn’t settle.

Having an unprecedentedly strong season for someone entering restricted free agency, Ingram will almost certainly get a max contract this summer – maybe even a super-max.

Modern restricted free agency began with the 1999 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which set a standard timeline for first-round picks:

  • Sign four-year rookie-scale contract
  • Play first three seasons
  • Negotiate contract extension
  • If no extension is signed, enter restricted free agency after fourth season

For second-round picks and undrafted players whose contracts end, they can be made restricted – meaning their prior team has the right to match any offer sheet – after each of their first three seasons.

Most successful first-round picks get an extension after their third season. Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray and Pascal Siakam signed max rookie-scale extensions last offseason.

Now, Ingram is proving he belongs on that level.

Ingram’s 24.9 points per game this season are the most – by far – by someone entering modern restricted free agency:

Brandon Ingram

That alone would probably fetch Ingram a max contract – which projects to be worth $167 million over five years from New Orleans or $124 million over four years on an offer sheet elsewhere. Points draw attention on the market.

Ingram isn’t just a volume scorer, though. He has made major strides in his all-around game, becoming a Most Improved Player candidate and an All-Star.

The only players to make an All-Star team entering modern restricted free agency:

Ingram could do even better by making an All-NBA team, which would make him the first super-max-eligible restricted free agent. (Drummond also made an All-NBA team in 2016, but that was when different super-max criteria existed.) A super-max contract projects to be worth $200 million over five years.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard look like All-NBA locks. That leaves two openings.

Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam, Khris Middleton and Jayson Tatum are also All-Star forwards. Fellow All-Stars Bam Adebayo and Domantas Sabonis are bigs who play some forward. Paul George will be in the mix if he’s healthier the rest of the season. Jaylen Brown could also get consideration at either forward or guard.

So, the odds are against Ingram in a crowded field. But even putting himself in the race is such an achievement.

This breakout year comes just as outside expectations were beginning to fade.

Ingram was a highly rated recruit who drew Kevin Durant comparisons. Ingram starred at Duke, one of college basketball’s most prestigious programs. One of the NBA’s most prestigious franchises, the Lakers drafted him No. 2. The hype grew and grew.

But the production didn’t quite match.

Ingram’s lankiness resembled Durant’s. The shooting ability wasn’t close. Ingram showed flashes on the ball, a role he could rarely fill with LeBron in Los Angeles. Then, Anthony Davis requested a trade, and the Pelicans hired David Griffin, who – working as a TV analyst – had effusively praised Ingram.

“I knew I was going to be in the center of everything,” Ingram said.

The Lakers sent Ingram to New Orleans in the Davis deal. Suddenly, Ingram was on a new team just as his extension window was opening.

But his blood-clot issue loomed over talks.

“I understood everything that went on with the contract and everything, because they wanted to know if I was going to be extremely healthy, if something was going to come back,” Ingram said. “Once I figured out the reason why they didn’t want to do the extension, we didn’t go any further with it. I knew it was not going to be the number we wanted.”

It can be unnerving to play without long-term security. But Griffin’s prior comments reassured Ingram. A report of the Pelicans’ sustained commitment to re-signing the forward has only added more belief.

Ingram has spent most of the season looking like a franchise player.

“My success is bigger than this year,” Ingram said before All-Stars were named. “I look forward in trying to be an All-Star, trying to be a superstar, trying to be a leader of the team, trying to be the best teammate, trying to be everything I can to be the best basketball player that I can be.”

Of course, New Orleans had another franchise player – Williamson – waiting in the wings. Now, the Pelicans have two players who’d each be the envy of many teams around the league.

If William and Ingram can flourish together.

It’s too early to make any sweeping conclusions. The teams to pair an All-Star with a No. 1 pick rookie in the last 20 years:

  • 2020 Pelicans: Brandon Ingram & Zion Williamson
  • 2018 76ers: Joel Embiid & Markelle Fultz
  • 2014 Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving & Anthony Bennett
  • 2008 Trail Blazers: Brandon Roy & Greg Oden
  • 2007 Raptors: Chris Bosh & Andrea Bargnani
  • 2005 Magic: Grant Hill & Dwight Howard
  • 2003 Rockets: Steve Francis & Yao Ming
  • 2002 Wizards: Michael Jordan & Kwame Brown
  • 2001 Nets: Stephon Marbury & Kenyon Martin

None of those duos won even a single playoff series together.

But Williamson is so tantalizing, and Ingram is just 22. Their shared future appears bright.

Williamson has been particularly dangerous at center, where he gets more spacing around him. Ingram hasn’t played much in those lineups. But he looks like a ready fit – which wasn’t the case entering the season.

Ingram is shooting 40% on 3-pointers, up from 33% in prior years. That outside shooting might be unsustainable. This still isn’t a large sample. But Ingram is also shooting 86% on free throws, up from 66% in prior years. That suggests a genuine improvement in his shooting stroke. There’s room for Ingram to regress from beyond the arc and still spread the floor.

Another factor working in Ingram’s favor: His confidence. He says that never waned, even when he didn’t get his desired extension.

“You go out and play the game the right way and you just go out just and playing and just playing with your teammates and having fun, winning basketball games and putting up the numbers or whatever,” Ingram said, “everything takes care of itself.”

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).