Three Things to Know: Harden and the freedom a couple hundred million dollars can bring


Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) James Harden and the freedom a couple hundred million dollars can bring

Seventy million dollars may not be enough.

When the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was hammered out, the league and owners demanded extra incentives so teams — especially small and mid-market teams — could retain their stars. Teams with Bird rights for a player can offer larger raises, an extra guaranteed season, and a super-max deal for some younger players. It all looked good on paper.

Then came the new television deal for the league. Revenue skyrocketed and with that so did player salaries. It blew up the owners’ plans.

Enter James Harden. He is reportedly unhappy and considering bolting Brooklyn at the end of the season (he has a player option for next season). Tuesday saw a report saying Harden doesn’t like living in Brooklyn, he’s not the center of the universe he was in Houston (on and off the court), and the part-time nature of Kyrie Irving frustrates him. When asked about it after the Nets’ loss to the Lakers (more on that, or read item No. 2), Harden gave the non-denial denial of “did you hear it from me?” Which isn’t “I don’t want to go anywhere” or even “that report is not true.” Harden admitted he is frustrated, via the New York Post.

“Of course I’m frustrated because we’re not healthy where there’s been a lot of inconsistency for whatever reason, injuries, COVID, whatever you want to call it. I think everyone in the organization is frustrated because we’re better than what our record is.”

That frustration is where the $70 million comes into play.

Because they have his Bird rights, whether Harden opts into his final year with the Nets and extends, or becomes a free agent and re-signs with them, he would make about $270 million over the next five seasons.

If Harden left as a free agent — or agreed to a sign-and-trade to go to Philadelphia or any other team — he will make $200 million over four years.

That $70 million guaranteed is a lot of money. But it’s not enough.

In that financial stratosphere, money isn’t everything. Agents have told NBC Sports that once a contract gets big enough — say the $200 million range — the extra $70 million (or whatever number) does not always weigh heavily on a decision. There is so much money in play, true generational wealth, that getting every last scrap isn’t more important for some players than work environment, location, or a chance to win. (Plus, in Harden’s case, that $70 million is guaranteed money mostly from the extra year the Nets can offer, but if he plays that fifth year somewhere else he makes some of that back.) One agent said he would encourage his client to take the bag, stay and get the bigger contract, then force his way out in a season or two, but for some clients, they would be happier moving on now.

He is already set to make another $200 million at least — on top of the $268 million in career earnings he will have by the end of this season, not to mention endorsement money. Harden doesn’t have to chase every last dollar. The massive size of NBA contracts has set him free. He can go where he wants, chase the situation he wants.

Maybe that’s in Philadelphia. Maybe it’s somewhere else. Maybe it’s still in Brooklyn (if they make a Finals run, would he bolt?). But the owners’ plan of using financial leverage to retain superstars has been blown up by modern NBA salaries.

2) Anthony Davis returns, but it’s still all about LeBron as Lakers beat Nets

The Lakers got one of their stars back, while the Nets were down to just one.

Anthony Davis played for the first time after missing 17 games with a knee injury, but that didn’t change the Lakers’ storyline: The Lakers go as LeBron James goes.

LeBron had 33 points, shot 14-of-21 overall, plus had seven rebounds and six assists to power the Lakers to a win over the Nets. He also worked to keep Davis involved from the opening tip, and Davis finished with eight points and more importantly had four blocks.

A frustrated Harden did what he could, putting up a triple-double of 33 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, but he didn’t get enough help. That is particularly true of the bench, which shot 11-of-32 (34.4%) and was outscored by the Laker bench by 10, primarily thanks to Malik Monk scoring 22.

Davis’ return is the critical first and most significant step in the Lakers turning their season around. The team was 7-10 in the games he missed, and Davis is critical to their small-ball lineups because he’s the best center they have — especially defensively — and it allows LeBron to move to a point-forward position. It may have been a shorthanded Nets team, but the Lakers played their best defense in weeks — LeBron, in particular, gave great effort on that end — and Los Angeles held Brooklyn to a 99 offensive rating for the game. It’s a start; that is the end of the court the Lakers have to clean up.

If you’re a Laker fan looking for hope it starts here: The Lakers’ big three of LeBron, Davis, and Russell Westbrook had played just 10 games together before Tuesday night, and never more than three consecutive games. When those three are on the court together, the Lakers outscore opponents by +5.1 per 100 possessions. If the Lakers are going to fix what is wrong with them, it will come from inside the organization, and that starts with some continuity and building of chemistry. And some defense.

3) Clippers come from 35 down to beat Wizards on Kennard four-point play

Somewhere in Las Vegas, a distraught gambler probably ripped up his Clippers moneyline bet to beat the Wizards. Los Angeles had made a little run in the final minute of the first half to cut Washington’s lead from 35 down to 30. This game should have been over.

But in the third quarter the Clippers got out and ran more, hit their threes, got into the paint and put up a 40 spot — which only cut the lead to 17. Washington should have been in control.

The Clippers kept pushing, but still needed luck at the end — luck in the form of Luke Kennard. First, he hit a 3-pointer with nine seconds to go that cut the lead down to three, 115-112. Still, all the Wizards had to do was inbound the ball and hit their free throws… except they couldn’t inbound the ball. The Wizards took a timeout after Kennard’s three, but then couldn’t inbound the ball as Kyle Kuzma took a five-second violation and a turnover.

Then this happened.

Ballgame. The Clippers completed a historic comeback and got the win in Washington.
Give Tyronn Lue credit for how hard he has this shorthanded team playing. Amir Coffey scored a career-high 29 points, while Terance Mann and Isaiah Hartenstein each had 16 points. The Clippers have kept their heads above water with their play, going 7-10 in games without Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. They are finding a way.
The Wizards have lost four in a row.

Highlight of the Night: Jonathan Kuminga is ferocious at the rim

I still have no idea what kind of player Jonathan Kuminga will be in three years, but there is no doubt the teenager has freakish athleticism. Tuesday night, he unleashed that on a helpless rim (and Mavericks defense).

Last night’s scores:

Denver 110, Detroit 105
Toronto 125, Charlotte 113
LA Clippers 116, Washington 115
Philadelphia 117, New Orleans 107
Boston 128, Sacramento 75
LA Lakers 106, Brooklyn 96
San Antonio 134, Houston 104
Golden State 130, Dallas 92
Minnesota 109, Portland 107

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.

Heat guard Gabe Vincent reportedly to play in Game 6


Officially, Heat guard Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He missed Game 5 due to a sprained ankle suffered late in Game 4 but was a partial participant in Saturday’s shootaround, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

However, a report from Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports points to what everyone expects: Vincent will play in Game 6.

Miami needs him back if they are going to win Game 6 at home and end this series (the Heat lead the series 3-2).

Not just because Vincent has averaged 17.5 points per game this series, but because of his ball handling and shot creation. In the second half of Game 4 and through Game 5, the Celtics changed their defensive game plan, becoming aggressive at jumping passing lanes, bringing doubles on drivers, and trying to force turnovers. During the regular season the Celtics were a bottom-five team in forcing turnovers by design — they bet that their impressive one-on-one defenders could make shots difficult and so off-ball defenders largely stayed home on guys off the ball and didn’t take risks. That changed and Miami struggled to adjust in Game 5, with Kyle Lowry — starting in place of Vincent — having three costly early turnovers.

Vincent back in the lineup could help counter the Celtics’ defense. Miami also needs great games from Jimmy Butler (who looked tired in Game 5) and Bam Adebayo, who also had an off game in Boston.

The Heat want no part of a Game 7, they need to close this series out Saturday night. They need Vincent to do that.

Coaching carousel update: Nick Nurse has strong, not universal, support in Milwaukee


Five open coaching jobs remain around the NBA: Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons.

Here is the latest on the searches to fill those openings.

UPDATE: The Milwaukee Bucks will hire Adrian Griffin as their new head coach.


• Nick Nurse may be the first domino to fall with him having drawn interest from the Suns, Bucks and 76ers. Nurse has strong support in Milwaukee, but it’s not universal, reports Ian Begley of

So it’s worth noting that, as of earlier this week, Nick Nurse’s candidacy had strong support within the organization. Though not all key stakeholders in Milwaukee were aligned on Nurse, per SNY sources.

• Nurse has interviewed in Phoenix as well. Their top target was current Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, according to multiple reports, but Begley reinforces what has been reported here at NBC Sports and other places: The Clippers are not expected to part ways with Lue. Even if they do, the Clippers will not let their coach walk to a division rival in Phoenix.

• Momentum appears to be building behind Suns’ assistant coach Kevin Young getting a promotion in Phoenix, with Marc Stein reporting he got a key endorsement.

Word is Young, who has also interviewed for the head coaching vacancies in Milwaukee and Toronto, has received a strong endorsement from Suns star Devin Booker.

• It would be risky to put a first-time head coach in charge of a contender in Phoenix. If new owner Mat Ishbia goes that route, look for the Suns to get a former NBA head coach to be his assistant (don’t be surprised to see that in Boston next season as well, where Joe Mazzulla is expected to remain as coach).

• Nurse, former Nets’ head coach and current Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, and Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin remain the finalists for the Bucks head coaching job. Stein reports Giannis Antetokounmpo is “intrigued” by Griffin.

• Toronto’s coaching search could be influenced by which direction team president Masai Ujiri decides to take the roster, something else up in the air. From ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“In talking to folks that have been in touch with the Raptors recently, the Raptors don’t seem to know which direction they’re going to take. Whether or not they are going to focus on re-signing Fred VanVleet, extending Pascal Siakam, potentially making other roster upgrades. Or whether or not they’re going to send Fred VanVleet in a sign-and-trade, maybe investigate moving other players be it OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam.”

• Multiple reports have Bucks’ assistant Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as the frontrunners to be the next head coach in Detroit. Pistons’ ownership reportedly backed the Brinks truck up to Monty Williams’ house but he was not interested, Stein reported. The buzz has been that GM Troy Weaver is backing Ollie.

• The only coaching vacancy filled so far this offseason is Ime Udoka taking the job as the Rockets’ head coach.

Karl Malone pulls in $5 million with auction of 1992 Dream Team memorabilia

USA Men's Basketball Team vs Croatia, 1992 Summer Olympics
Richard Mackson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

At one of Karl Malone’s car dealerships in Utah, the Hall of Famer used to display some of his memorabilia from the 1992 Dream Team — game-worn jerseys from Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, among other items.

Wednesday night, Malone auctioned off 24 pieces of that memorabilia, netting him a cool $5 million, something reported by Darren Rovell at the Action Network.

The biggest seller was a game-worn Michael Jordan jersey from the USA’s 127-76 thrashing of Lithuania in the medal round, it went for more than $3 million.

Other items sold include $360,000 for a Larry Bird game-worn jersey and $230,400 for a Charles Barkley uniform.