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Powerful agent Rich Paul strikes deal to become head of United Talent Agency Sports

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Creative Artists Agency is a powerhouse entertainment agency with an impressive basketball division led by agents Aaron Mintz, Austin Brown, and Leon Rose. They can offer a long list of clients — Paul George, Chris Paul, Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell, Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell, and many more — branding opportunities through their entertainment industry ties.

Now Rich Paul — the agent for LeBron James, Anthony Davis 21 other NBA players — is getting in the same field after striking a deal with United Talent Agency, another big Hollywood powerhouse. Marc Stein of the New York Times broke the story.

The alliance calls for Klutch, with Paul as chief executive, to operate as United Talent’s sports division while retaining its own branding.

“We’ve been looking for the right sports opportunity for quite a while,” said Jeremy Zimmer, the talent agency’s chief executive. “We have taken a significant stake in Klutch, but Rich retains very substantial controls because we want it to be his business and we love what he’s doing.”…

The growing influence athletes have in music, fashion and content creation made adding a sports division an “urgent” priority to Zimmer.

“All these things have a connectivity and a power in the culture today like we’ve never seen before,” Zimmer said. “And so, for U.T.A. to be a fully built media company, we had to be directly connected to the athlete — not just through sponsorships and endorsements but directly to them in every aspect of their life in a real way.”

The days of Paul being dismissed as just LeBron’s friend are long gone. Paul has buried that idea.

Paul has a reputation as one of the more aggressive, harder negotiating agents in the NBA, for example how Anthony Davis forced his way out of New Orleans and ultimately landed with LeBron and the Lakers. That has vilified Paul with some fans, but for a player an agent that pushes hard to get his clients what they want and where they want is attractive. (That said, Paul did lose some clients this summer, including Marcus Morris.)

Now Paul has new ties and even more opportunities to offer clients — e-sports opportunities, book deals, opening doors to different kinds of businesses — and it makes him just that much stronger a player in the NBA game.

 

NBA 2K20 ratings: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard earn 97s to lead way

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Via 2K Sports
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How do NBA players measure respect? There are a few ways, with the size of the paycheck being at the top of the list. Awards and accolades fit in there.

However, few things rile guys up like their NBA 2K rankings. Most play the game, and their ranking (out of 100) is seen as a measure of status among fellow players and fans.

2K Sports unveiled the top rankings for NBA 2K20 in a live-streamed show on Monday night, and LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard got the top honors. Here’s the top 20:

1. LeBron James 97
2. Kawhi Leonard 97
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo 96
4. Kevin Durant 96
5. James Harden 96
6. Stephen Curry 96
7. Anthony Davis 94
8. Paul George 93
9. Damian Lillard 92
10. Joel Embiid 91
11. Kyrie Irving 91
12. Nikola Jokic 90
13. Russell Westbrook 90
14. Klay Thompson 89
15. Karl-Anthony Towns 89
16. Jimmy Butler 88
17. Kemba Walker 88
18. Donovan Mitchell 88
19. Rudy Gobert 88
20. Blake Griffin 88

The highest-rated rookie: Of course it was Zion Williamson (81).

Anthony Davis is on the cover of NBA 2K20, which will be released on Sept. 6. Sorry, you’ve got to wait until then to play it, but here is an early teaser video.

Report: 76ers signing Ben Simmons to five-year, $170M max contract extension

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The 76ers owe big money to their top players – Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million), Joel Embiid (four years, $122,242,800), Al Horford (four years, $109 million).

Now, Philadelphia will invest even further into locking in a core with Ben Simmons.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If this is a true max contract, the exact amount won’t be known until the salary cap is set next year. The $170 million is based on the current projection.

The big question: What stipulations does this contract include for super-max qualification? If Simmons makes an All-NBA team this season, the extension could be worth more, as negotiated between him and Philadelphia. The super-max projects to be about $204 million.

If the 76ers would have let him hit restricted free agency next summer, Simmons would have drawn his choice of max offer sheets. He’s so young and talented.

But by guaranteeing him life-changing money now, Philadelphia had leverage to haggle on things like super-max criteria and a player option. We’ll see whether the team pushed on those.

There are still questions about Simmons’ fit with Embiid, the 76ers’ franchise player. Really, until he develops his jumper, Simmons will face fit issues with nearly anyone. There’s downside risk here.

Still, Simmons should hold positive trade value on this deal. There’s a benefit to securing him long-term.

Philadelphia’s roster becomes quite expensive for years to come. Will ownership pay the luxury tax in future years? Or will the 76ers trim costs down the roster?

Those questions can mostly wait, as Simmons remains on his relatively cheap rookie-scale contract this season. The extension will kick in next year.

But this is a huge long-term move that will shape Philadelphia for a long time.

Ten 2019 free agency moves/trades that changed face of NBA

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It seems like we say this every off-season, but this time we really, REALLY mean it:

That was the wildest NBA off-season ever.

Superstars shifted teams — and teamed up — and with that contenders for the crown rose and fell (including the team with the crown). It was a summer where elite players, the ones who have true power, flexed that muscle and forced their way to where they wanted to go — in the middle of a contract or not, to a team that had cap space or not. It was an offseason of drama that has the NBA reconsidering its free agent negotiation rules. It was everything fans have wanted.

It was a lot to digest, but here are our 10 biggest moments of the NBA offseason.

1) Kawhi Leonard chooses to join Clippers, gets Paul George to join him

That Kawhi Leonard ultimately chose the Clippers was not a total shock (at least not to anyone paying attention). The Clippers had all but stalked Leonard during last season, to the frustration of the Toronto Raptors, and sources had told me (and other reporters) all season long this was a two-team race between the Clippers and Raptors. In the days leading up to Leonard’s decision, there was tremendous confidence coming out of the Lakers’ camp —they thought LeBron James and Magic Johnson making separate pitches that they thought went incredibly well, and besides who had ever chosen the Clippers? — and they felt a little blindsided by the move. But in the end, Leonard wanted to come home to Southern California, something the Raptors simply could not compete against even though they did everything right, and Leonard did not prefer to play with LeBron on the Lakers.

The shocker was Paul George being recruited by Leonard then forcing a trade play for the Clippers. That came together fast. Leonard wielded his superstar power and tried to recruit several stars to join him — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving got calls — but George listened, liked what he heard, and demanded a trade. Nothing leaked because critical parts of the Clipper front office, starting with GM Michael Winger, came out of Oklahoma City and knew their GM Sam Presti.

Then suddenly the bombshell landed: The Clippers got Leonard as a free agent and George in a sign-and-trade (which sent a massive package of players and picks back to Oklahoma City).

No other move this summer changed the NBA landscape like this one. The Clippers are now legit title contenders, and maybe the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Lakers were left scrambling to fill out their roster. Oklahoma City got a massive haul of picks and players and is now embarking on a rebuild that likely will include the trade of Russell Westbrook at some point (they hope before the season, but it’s a complicated deal to pull off). And Toronto, when it sobers up from its title celebrations, has some tough decisions to make about what’s next, but they fall out of title contention in the East.

2) Anthony Davis traded to Los Angeles Lakers

At the trade deadline in February, this is what Davis and his agent Rich Paul had pushed for, and what the highest levels of Pelicans ownership had pushed back against — Davis being traded to the Lakers to team up with LeBron. When David Griffin came in as the new VP of basketball operations with the Pelicans he brought in a new mindset: If the Lakers put the best offer on the table, we have to take it. It’s about what’s best for New Orleans, not spite. Kyrie Irving leaving Boston meant the Celtics would not put out the offer the Pelicans most wanted, so the Lakers became the best deal available. The Pelicans got a great haul of players and picks to jump-start the rebuild — around Zion Williamson, winning the Draft Lottery cushioned the Davis blow in the Big Easy — and the Lakers got their star.

The Lakers have two of the top seven players in the NBA, pus Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins and an interesting assortment of veteran role players. The Lakers may not be a great regular season team in the deep West (four seed?), but if LeBron and Davis are healthy this team is incredibly dangerous in a playoff series.

3) Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving team up in Brooklyn. Or, will, eventually.

Four years ago, Sean Marks took over as the GM of the Brooklyn Nets and the toughest rebuild job in the NBA. The previous regime had traded away draft picks and left the cupboard bare. Marks made smart decision after smart decision — finding Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie, trading for D’Angelo Russell and giving him the room to become an All-Star — and built a strong cultural organization with coach Kenny Atkinson. They got to the playoffs in the East last season without a true No. 1 option on the roster.

All that impressed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant enough to come be the elite stars Brooklyn craved. The pair had decided to team up as free agents even before the NBA season started — certainly long before Durant tore his Achilles in the NBA Finals — and while the Knicks had been the rumored destination all season, when the pair surveyed the landscape they realized the Nets were the better choice right now. They took it. Brooklyn is now a contender… or should be in a year when Durant returns from his injury. This season it’s Irving leading a young team again, which could get interesting.

4) Jimmy Butler chooses Miami, forces sign-and-trade there

Philadelphia wanted to keep Jimmy Butler for obvious reasons — at the end of playoff games last season it was Butler with the ball in his hands as the playmaker for the team, while Ben Simmons was floating around in the dunker’s spot. Butler, a wandering soul trying to find the right home for himself the past couple of years (we can safely say it was not Minnesota), decided he wanted to be in Miami. And the Heat wanted him — Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra are grinders of the top order, and there was a great cultural fit.

The problem: Miami was capped out. This had to be a sign and trade and it became a complex four-team one that at its core sent Hassan Whiteside to the Trail Blazers, Josh Richardson to the Sixers, Maurice Harkless and a future first-round pick to the Clippers, and Meyers Leonard to the Heat with Butler. Butler signed a max contract in Miami, and the Heat are a dangerous team again (and one on the hunt for another star to join Butler).

Philly comes out of this well because…

5) Al Horford chooses to join Philadelphia

The Sixers lost Butler, but they may just have gotten better this summer. In part because Josh Richardson is a very good player — he was asked to be a No. 1 in Miami last season and he’s not that, but ask him to play a role and he will do it at a very high level, plus he’s a good wing defender — and in part because that freed up the cap space to get Al Horford.

Horford is the ultimate glue guy who can do everything well — shoots threes (36 percent last season), can score in the post, protect the rim, play a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, play the five when Embiid is resting, and be a bit of a playmaker from the elbow. He gives them versatility, as does the re-signing of Tobias Harris. This is going to be a contending team in Philly, one with a great defense, but one that has to answer a few questions over the course of the season. The big one: One minute left in a close game, who has the ball in their hands has a shot creator?

6) Kemba Walker signs in Boston

Charlotte confused the NBA. Again. They let Kemba Walker walk for nothing. If they were not going to re-sign him at or near the max, then they needed to trade him last summer or at the trade deadline (despite the All-Star Game coming to Charlotte). Or, pull a Clippers/Blake Griffin and re-sign him to the max then trade him in six months. But to get nothing for him? Confusing.

It is Boston’s gain. Walker was a Third Team All-NBA guard last season who carried the Hornets averaging 25.6 points and 5.9 assists per game, he can take over, but he’s also a smart facilitator with the right players around him — and he has that now with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. He’s a better fit culturally for Boston than Irving because Kemba is the “come on guys, you’re with me, let’s do this together” kind of leader they need. Walker is going to have a strong year in Boston and some fans are going to realize just how good he is. (The Celtics are going to miss Horford more than Irving.)

7) Warriors get D’Angelo Russell back from Brooklyn in sign-and-trade

Golden State didn’t want Durant to leave and get nothing back, and they worked out a sign-and-trade that worked for both sides. The Warriors get an All-Star point guard in Russell who can soak up a lot of minutes this season while Klay Thompson is rehabbing his ACL. While a lot of observers are not sure about the Russell/Stephen Curry fit (*raises hand*) the Warriors are committed to try to make this thing work, and they dream of a three-guard lineup where Thompson can slide down the three (he can guard that spot). If it doesn’t work, they trade Russell at the deadline or next season, but for now he keeps them competitive in the deep West.

8) Utah trades for Mike Conley, lands Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency

Utah is perpetually overlooked, and this may be too low on these rankings for the summer they had. The Jazz front office had coveted Conley for a while and now they were able to trade for him, providing a massive upgrade over Ricky Rubio and giving the Jazz a much-needed second shot creator next to Donovan Mitchell. Then, Utah went out and got Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency to play the four — he can defend, shoots threes, is 6’8″ and is one of those guys fans don’t know but front offices love. Bogdanovic averaged more than 20 points per game in Indiana last season after Victor Oladipo went down.

Utah may be the second-best team in the West going into next season, they have an elite defense and now have added offense. They are unquestionably contenders, whether fans realize they are or not.

9) Malcolm Brogdon leaves Bucks for Pacers

Indiana wanted an upgrade at point guard and another shot creator next to Victor Oladipo (when he returns, which looks to be around Christmas or after). They got it in Brogdon, who averaged 15.6 points per game and shot 42.5 percent from three for the Bucks last season. Brogdon can play on or off the ball and has the versatility that will fit well with the Pacers, making them better. The Pacers had to pay big to get the restricted free agent, but it was a smart move (especially considering the slim free agent class next year).

Just as importantly, losing Brogdon is a blow to the contending Bucks. They leaned on Brogdon for secondary shot creation in key moments. Milwaukee kept Khris Middleton as a free agent, have Eric Bledsoe (who needs to have a good playoffs now), and of course there is the MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. But losing Brogdon will hurt a little.

10) Knicks strike out with big free agents… then don’t do so bad

Expectations were high among Knicks fans (fueled in part by radio comments from owner James Dolan), and when Durant and Irving chose Brooklyn, and New York couldn’t get a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, Knicks fans did not take it well. At all. To the point team president Steve Mills had to put out a “relax, we’re still working on building this thing up” message to fans.

Thing is, he’s right. The Knicks were not getting the top free agents because the Nets and Clippers had built better cores, better stockpiles of young players that made up playoff teams even without a true alpha dog. Free agents liked those teams’ cultures, they liked they could step in and win now. The Knicks are not there. But the Knicks also didn’t do what the Knicks of a decade ago would have done and thrown good money after bad to sign any star free agent to save face. They kept their powder dry. They made a nice signing with Julius Randle and from there did a bunch of short deals that keep them flexible to chase the next star that comes available (they are not in the Westbrook hunt, nor should they be). That’s how to build a team the right way. The Knicks may finally be getting there, but more patience is required (not usually a strong suit of New Yorkers).

DeMarcus Cousins is still available, switches agents in effort to get signed

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The center position is one NBA teams believe they can fill without spending too much money now. Sure, if you have a Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert or Nikola Jokic at the five teams will back up the Brinks truck, but the Warriors brought back Kevon Looney at $5 million a season, and more and more it’s a position where teams are reluctant to pay big money without knowing they have an elite player at the position.

DeMarcus Cousins was once that elite player. However, after an Achilles tear that seemed to slow him when he did return last season, then a quad tear during the playoffs, not to mention some teams being scared off by his reputation as a locker room challenge (fair or not), there has not been much of a market for Cousins. Players such as Dewayne Dedmon (two years, $25 million) and Robin Lopez ($4.8 million) have found homes, and Cousins still waits.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN put it this way on the network’s air Tuesday:

“There’s not a market for him. I think he hoped that some big market teams would strikeout, they’d have cap space and he could get a one-year, $12 (million), $15 (million), $18 (million), $20 million deal. That’s not happening. The mid-level exception he got in Golden State last year? I don’t think that’s there.”

Trying to shake things up, Cousins is switching agents, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Once the Kawhi Leonard decision comes down there will be teams with some cap space to spend, but that may not help Cousins market much.

The Warriors brought back Looney and then signed Willie Cauley-Stein on Tuesday, ending the idea Cousins could return to the Bay Area. Celtics’ and Knicks’ rumors floated around, but neither team has yet made a move.

Cousins averaged 16.3 points and 8.4 rebounds a game for Warriors in the 30 games he played last season after coming back from his Achilles tear. He did so playing with good offensive efficiency, but he did not move terribly well (to be expected, considering the injury) and struggled when teams forced him to defend in space.

Cousins could be forced to take a minimum contract somewhere, or maybe a little more at best (there are rumors he would consider that with the Lakers if Kawhi Leonard goes there). If that happens, he will do it on a one-year contract hoping to find more suitors next summer in what will be more of a down free agent class.