Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Anthony Davis will re-sign with Lakers but don’t expect five years. Wednesday’s “big” NBA story out of Los Angeles was the Lakers offered Anthony Davis a max extension of his current contract — four years, $146 million — and Davis turned it down. Except that wasn’t a surprise. As most stories on the issue explained, if Davis becomes a free agent this summer and re-signs with the Lakers he can get five-years, $202 million.
That is true. That is also not how this is going to go down.
Davis unquestionably will re-sign with the Lakers. I know zero sources around the league who think otherwise. That is why the league’s free agent/trade focus is now on Giannis Antetokounmpo (who probably signs a five-year super-max extension with the Bucks this summer, but there is more wiggle room than with Davis) and how unhappy Karl-Anthony Towns is in Minnesota.
Just don’t expect Davis to sign for five years with the Lakers. Expect a three-year contract with an opt-out after two.
This is right out of the LeBron James/Rich Paul playbook (Paul is Davis’ agent, too) and it works for two reasons. First, it keeps pressure on the Lakers organization to put a contending team on the court, something that will be a challenge once LeBron decides to step away (whenever that comes). Second, after two more seasons Davis will reach 10 years of service, making him eligible for a full 35 percent of the salary cap. In the summer of 2022 Davis could opt-out, then re-sign an even larger five-year contract with the Lakers.
All of which means a lot of “nothing to see here, move along” with the story of Davis passing on the Lakers’ extension offer, just know what comes next is not what a lot of pundits were selling.
2) Tristan Thompson led Cleveland to a feel-good win amidst controversy. As trade speculation swirled around Tristan Thompson last month, the Cavaliers put out word they want to keep him because they value his leadership that much.
They might have never needed it more than yesterday.
The Cavs spent the day at the forefront of the national sports conversation, because their coach – John Beilein – called his players “thugs” then said he meant to say “slugs.” The story was the right mix of sensational, serious and silly to capture attention. Even for a team accustomed to drama, this provided plenty.
The center scored a career-high 35 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, made the game-tying free throws in the fourth quarter, slammed the dagger dunk in overtime and finished a game-high +10 in a 115-112 win over the Pistons last night.
Did Thompson know his 35 points set a personal best?
“Uhhh,” Thompson said, seemingly deliberating how to answer a question that could make him look vain.
“Hell yeah!” Kevin Love, who had been exchanging friendly obscenities with Thompson throughout the interview, shouted across the locker room. “I was reminded by the bench!”
“Hell yeah!” Thompson said. “They was telling me on the bench, and s—, I ain’t stupid. I know!”
Love continued to rile up Thompson.
“I know what I’m talking about! I ain’t stupid! I’m a basketball savant! I know everything!” Thompson said, becoming increasingly profane and then comparing himself to The Schwab.
At the end of a long day, Beilein clearly appreciated his team’s enthusiasm.
“Go into a college locker room, and everybody is jumping around. Pro locker room, everyone is chilling after win,” Beilein said. “That locker room is hopping around right now.
“If they’re excited, then the coaching staff is really excited. Because we want to have fun. And the way you have fun is you win, and we won tonight.”
—Dan Feldman, from the Cavs/Pistons game in Detroit
3) Joel Embiid will miss a couple of weeks following finger surgery, but even without him Philadelphia’s defense locks-up Boston. Is it really a surprise that Joel Embiid needs surgery — did you see what happened to his finger earlier this week? The ring finger on his left hand was bent in a way fingers are just not meant to bend. At the time Embiid had it popped back in, taped up, and returned to the game (a win against Oklahoma City).
However, it should be no surprise he needs surgery for a torn ligament in that finger. Embiid is having surgery and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. He, averaging 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds a game for the Sixers, but his bigger impact is on the defensive end, where the Sixers are 8.2 points per 100 possessions better when Embiid is on the court.
Except against Boston on Thursday night. With Al Horford as center — and after an early-game adjustment playing more aggressively out high on the pick-and-roll, rather than Embiid’s drop coverage — the Sixers shut down the top-10 Boston offense and got the win, 109-98. Philly got a spark from Josh Richardson’s 29 points, and Ben Simmons added 19, but it was mostly the Philly defense that stole the show.
We’ll see if the Sixers can sustain this level of defense with Embiid out, but this was an impressive start.
BONUS THING TO KNOW: They still love Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook returned to the franchise where he played the first 11 seasons of his career, where he grew up in a lot of ways, where he won an MVP-award and racked up triple -doubles. To say Thunder fans welcomed him back with open arms is an understatement.
First, there was a video tribute.
Then came the raucous standing ovation.
Then Westbrook went through his traditional pregame routine — fist bumps for the stat crew, shooting arrows, a sprint to the corner — to the joy of the crowd.
That crowd also loved the way Chris Paul and the rest of the Thunder played that night, spoiling Westbrook’s return and raking up a 113-92 Thunder win.