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Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes record 11th player with 50-point game this season

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During the entire 2012-13 season, three players scored 50 points in a game.

By the end of last October, four players – Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Derrick Rose – already had 50-point games this season.

James Harden has since scored 50 six times. Kemba Walker, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard also dropped 50 in a game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s 52-pointer yesterday made him the 11th different player to score 50 points in a game this season – a record. Ten players scored 50 in a game each of the last two seasons.

This is definitely a record geared toward modern times. Scoring is up. There have never been more games (30 teams playing 82-game schedules). Those conditions give individuals a chance to shine.

And so many of them have taken advantage with a big scoring night, at least once.

Harden is the only player with multiple 50-point games this season, so this year won’t come close to the record for total 50 point games. The 16 this season are fourth-most all-time – behind 1961-62 (57), 1962-63 (34) and 2006-07 (18). Wilt Chamberlain alone had 45 in 1961-62 and 30 in 1962-63. Kobe Bryant had 10 in 2006-07.

But in terms of variety of 50-point games, this season is unmatched.

Here are how many different players had a 50-point game each season, followed by a list of them all:image

2018-19: 11

James Harden (HOU), 6

LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS), 1

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Derrick Rose (MIN), 1

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Blake Griffin (DET), 1

Kevin Durant (GSW), 1

LeBron James (LAL), 1

Kemba Walker (CHA), 1

2017-18: 10

James Harden (HOU), 4

C.J. McCollum (POR), 1

Lou Williams (LAC), 1

DeMar DeRozan (TOR), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Kevin Durant (GSW), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN), 1

LeBron James (CLE), 1

Bradley Beal (WAS), 1

2016-17: 10

Russell Westbrook (OKC), 4

James Harden (HOU), 2

Jimmy Butler (CHI), 1

Devin Booker (PHO), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Isaiah Thomas (BOS), 1

DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), 1

John Wall (WAS), 1

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

2015-16: 8

Stephen Curry (GSW), 3

Damian Lillard (POR), 2

DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), 1

Kemba Walker (CHA), 1

Jimmy Butler (CHI), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

James Harden (HOU), 1

2014-15: 6

Kyrie Irving (CLE), 2

James Harden (HOU), 2

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

Mo Williams (MIN), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Russell Westbrook (OKC), 1

2013-14: 5

Kevin Durant (OKC), 2

Terrence Ross (TOR), 1

Carmelo Anthony (NYK), 1

LeBron James (MIA), 1

Corey Brewer (MIN), 1

2012-13: 3

Kevin Durant (OKC), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Carmelo Anthony (NYK), 1

2011-12: 3

Kevin Durant (OKC), 1

Kevin Love (MIN), 1

Deron Williams (NJN), 1

2010-11: 2

Carmelo Anthony (DEN), 1

LeBron James (MIA), 1

2009-10: 3

Andre Miller (POR), 1

Carmelo Anthony (DEN), 1

Brandon Jennings (MIL), 1

2008-09: 7

Dwyane Wade (MIA), 3

LeBron James (CLE), 3

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

Kevin Martin (SAC), 1

Tony Parker (SAS), 1

Jamal Crawford (GSW), 1

Brandon Roy (POR), 1

2007-08: 3

LeBron James (CLE), 2

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 2

Allen Iverson (DEN), 1

2006-07: 6

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 10

Gilbert Arenas (WAS), 3

Michael Redd (MIL), 2

Jamal Crawford (NYK), 1

Ray Allen (SEA), 1

Richard Hamilton (DET), 1

2005-06: 6

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 6

LeBron James (CLE), 2

Paul Pierce (BOS), 1

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL), 1

Vince Carter (NJN), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

2004-05: 6

Allen Iverson (PHI), 3

Damon Stoudamire (POR), 1

Jermaine O’Neal (IND), 1

Amar’e Stoudemire (PHO), 1

LeBron James (CLE), 1

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL), 1

2003-04: 4

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 2

Jamal Crawford (CHI), 1

Rashard Lewis (SEA), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

2002-03: 4

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 3

Allan Houston (NYK), 2

Jamal Mashburn (NOH), 1

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 1

2001-02: 6

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 1

Shareef Abdur-Rahim (ATL), 1

Michael Jordan (WAS), 1

Tim Duncan (SAS), 1

2000-01: 7

Allen Iverson (PHI), 2

Antawn Jamison (GSW), 2

Chris Webber (SAC), 1

Tony Delk (PHO), 1

Stephon Marbury (NJN), 1

Jerry Stackhouse (DET), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

1999-00: 4

Clifford Robinson (PHO), 1

Vince Carter (TOR), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

Shaquille O’Neal (LAL), 1

1997-98: 3

Tracy Murray (WAS), 1

Karl Malone (UTA), 1

Shaquille O’Neal (LAL), 1

1996-97: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 2

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

1995-96: 5

Hakeem Olajuwon (HOU), 1

Alonzo Mourning (MIA), 1

Michael Jordan (CHI), 1

Karl Malone (UTA), 1

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (DEN), 1

1994-95: 7

Michael Jordan (CHI), 1

Dana Barros (PHI), 1

Glen Rice (MIA), 1

Jim Jackson (DAL), 1

Jamal Mashburn (DAL), 1

Cedric Ceballos (LAL), 1

Willie Burton (PHI), 1

1993-94: 2

David Robinson (SAS), 2

Shaquille O’Neal (ORL), 1

1992-93: 4

Michael Jordan (CHI), 4

David Robinson (SAS), 1

Nick Anderson (ORL), 1

Reggie Miller (IND), 1

1991-92: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 2

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 1

1990-91: 5

Bernard King (WSB), 2

Vernon Maxwell (HOU), 1

Michael Adams (DEN), 1

Patrick Ewing (NYK), 1

Charles Smith (LAC), 1

1989-90: 8

Michael Jordan (CHI), 3

Karl Malone (UTA), 2

Tom Chambers (PHO), 2

Terry Cummings (SAS), 1

Patrick Ewing (NYK), 1

Hakeem Olajuwon (HOU), 1

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Dale Ellis (SEA), 1

1988-89: 3

Michael Jordan (CHI), 5

Clyde Drexler (POR), 1

Alex English (DEN), 1

1987-88: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 4

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 2

1986-87: 3

Michael Jordan (CHI), 8

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 3

Moses Malone (WSB), 1

1985-86: 3

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 1

Alex English (DEN), 1

1984-85: 5

Bernard King (NYK), 3

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Kevin McHale (BOS), 1

Purvis Short (GSW), 1

Moses Malone (PHI), 1

1983-84: 3

Bernard King (NYK), 2

Kiki Vandeweghe (DEN), 2

Purvis Short (GSW), 1

1982-83: 4

Kelly Tripucka (DET), 1

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Joe Barry Carroll (GSW), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

1981-82: 4

Moses Malone (HOU), 1

George Gervin (SAS), 1

Ray Williams (NJN), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

1980-81: 4

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 3

Bernard King (GSW), 1

Moses Malone (HOU), 1

Billy Knight (IND), 1

1979-80: 5

George Gervin (SAS), 2

Freeman Williams (SDC), 1

Larry Kenon (SAS), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

Mike Newlin (NJN), 1

1978-79: 3

George Gervin (SAS), 1

Truck Robinson (NOJ), 1

John Drew (ATL), 1

1977-78: 5

Rick Barry (GSW), 2

Calvin Murphy (HOU), 1

George Gervin (SAS), 1

David Thompson (DEN), 1

John Williamson (NJN), 1

1976-77: 2

Pete Maravich (NOJ), 4

Phil Smith (GSW), 1

1975-76: 2

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 2

Phil Smith (GSW), 1

1974-75: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 2

Rick Barry (GSW), 1

Gail Goodrich (LAL), 1

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 1

1973-74: 3

Rick Barry (GSW), 3

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 1

Fred Brown (SEA), 1

1972-73: 5

Tiny Archibald (KCO), 3

Geoff Petrie (POR), 2

Rick Barry (GSW), 1

Spencer Haywood (SEA), 1

Phil Chenier (BAL), 1

1971-72: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 5

Pete Maravich (ATL), 2

Tiny Archibald (CIN), 1

Chet Walker (CHI), 1

1970-71: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 2

Dave Bing (DET), 1

Walt Wesley (CLE), 1

Elvin Hayes (SDR), 1

1969-70: 2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 1

Lou Hudson (ATL), 1

1968-69: 2

Wilt Chamberlain (LAL), 2

Elvin Hayes (SDR), 1

1967-68: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 4

Earl Monroe (BAL), 1

Willis Reed (NYK), 1

1966-67: 2

Rick Barry (SFW), 6

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 1

1965-66: 4

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 5

Jerry West (LAL), 2

Sam Jones (BOS), 1

Rick Barry (SFW), 1

1964-65: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW/PHI), 9

Oscar Robertson (CIN), 2

Jerry West (LAL), 1

1963-64: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW), 9

Hal Greer (PHI), 1

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1962-63: 2

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW), 30

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 4

1961-62: 7

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 45

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 5

Jerry West (LAL), 2

Richie Guerin (NYK), 2

Cliff Hagan (STL), 1

Rudy LaRusso (LAL), 1

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1960-61: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 8

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 5

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1959-60: 4

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 5

Elgin Baylor (MNL), 2

Jack Twyman (CIN), 1

Richie Guerin (NYK), 1

1958-59: 4

Bob Pettit (STL), 2

Jack Twyman (CIN), 1

Elgin Baylor (MNL), 1

Dolph Schayes (SYR), 1

1957-58: 2

George Yardley (DET), 2

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1953-54: 1

Neil Johnston (PHW), 1

1951-52: 1

George Mikan (MNL), 1

1949-50: 1

George Mikan (MNL), 1

1948-49: 2

George Mikan (MNL), 2

Joe Fulks (PHW), 1

Report: Mavericks’ top target in free agency will be Kemba Walker

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Hornets point guard Kemba Walker is rumored to leave Charlotte in free agency this summer.

Where could he go?

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Two sources with knowledge of the Mavericks’ thinking expect Walker, the Hornets’ three-time All-Star point guard, to be that team’s top target when NBA free-agency begins July 1.

Dallas projects to have about $30 million in cap space. Walker’s max starting salary projects to be about $33 million.

Maybe that’d be enough to get Walker, who’ll turn 29 in May. He’s very good right now, but he might not be worth a max contract over the next four years.

If they need to clear extra cap space for Walker, the Mavericks could try to trade players like Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Dwight Powell and Justin Jackson. A max contract projects to be worth about $141 million over four years. A starting salary of $30 million with max raises would pay Walker $129 million over four years.

For what it’s worth, Walker’s max contract with the Hornets projects to be $190 million over five years (or $221 million over five years if he makes an All-NBA team this season).

But Charlotte has never gotten Walker an All-Star teammate. In Dallas, Walker would have two teammates on the star track in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

Doncic makes this tricky, though. He’s a lead playmaker from the wing. Should he just be the point guard? If not, what type of point guard fits best with him? Signing Walker would be an expensive way to find out.

Walker can work off the ball. He drills catch-and-shoot 3-pointers at a good rate. His dribble-drives still work in secondary actions. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle likes to use two point guards, anyway.

But much of Walker’s value comes from his ability with the ball. If he’s not consistently initiating the offense and running pick-and-rolls, is he worth the salary he’ll surely command?

On the other hand, whom could Dallas get instead? Maybe a not-fully unleashed Walker is still the best option. After trading multiple future first-round picks, the Mavericks can’t just patiently roll over their cap space. Their imperative is to win soon, and Walker would help.

NBA Power Rankings: Houston rockets up to second spot with nine-game win streak

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Houston has Rocketed up to No. 2 in the rankings (see what I did there?) and right now look like the biggest threat to Golden State. They haven’t knocked the Bucks out of the top spot, at least not yet.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (51-17, last week No. 1). The defense has slipped since the All-Star break — 110.1 net rating, 16th in the league — but the Bucks are still 8-3 in that stretch because their offense has gotten even better. Everyone in Milwaukee is looking ahead, the Bucks in the Giannis Antetokounmpo era have never won a playoff series, that will change in the first round this year. But the second round… on paper this team is a contender but will Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe perform on the biggest stages. Good benchmark Sunday vs. Philly.

Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (42-25, LW 6). Winners of nine in a row, the Rockets look like the second-best team in the NBA again. A team that may be a threat to the Warriors (as much as anyone). Not just because Chris Paul is playing well (although he is playing closer to last year’s version), or because Clint Capela is healthy and running the floor hard again, but because they are defending well for the first time this season. Since the All-Star break, Houston has a defensive net rating of 106.4, seventh best in the NBA (better than Utah in that stretch). Can they sustain it? If so, the Warriors will be looking over their shoulders.

Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (48-20, LW 2). Toronto didn’t pick up Marc Gasol expecting an eventual Serge Ibaka suspension, but it helps with Ibaka missing three games after throwing hands with Marquese Chriss. This is not a team making a strong playoff push (5-4 since the All-Star break) but it’s hard to read them because Kawhi Leonard has gotten a lot of rest and because their playoff position has been essentially set (the No. 2 seed) removing urgency in games. One thing to bet on, Pascal Siakam is going to win Most Improved Player.

Warriors small icon 4. Warriors (45-21, LW 3). For one game, against Denver on the night the Nuggets could have tied the Warriors with a win, we saw what the fully-functional Death Star can do. It was awe inspiring. Then the Warriors turned around and lost to the Suns. Expect to see Kevin Durant (ankle) and other key players rest down the stretch, and expect more erratic performances, but does anyone doubt they can play like the Death Star team four times in any seven game series?

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (44-22, LW 4). Isaiah Thomas has struggled to fit in off the bench so far, which is why coach Mike Malone is shrinking his role and minutes (IT got a DNP-CD on Tuesday). Through nine games he’s averaging 8.6 points a night but is shooting 27.3% from three (where he takes 44% of his shot attempts), and even when he gets to the rim he’s only finishing 50% of his attempts. Monte Morris bounced back with a good game against the Warriors and coach Mike Malone will need to lean on him and not IT when the playoffs start.

Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (43-25, LW 5). Joel Embiid’s return Sunday had Philadelphia looking like a team that could come out of the East again — he had 33 and 12 in a key win over the Pacers, he anchored their defense and bullied the Pacers in the paint on offense. The Sixers need that Embiid to be a real threat. Big test Sunday at Milwaukee, a chance for both teams to make a statement they are contenders for the East crown.

Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (41-27, LW 11). They went a strong 3-1 on a West Coast road trip and looked like the team we expected coming into the season (don’t read into the loss to the Clippers, last games of a trip get mailed in sometimes). Much like it has been recently in the regular season, Boston’s chances in the playoffs will swing with how Gordon Hayward plays — when he scores in double digits off the bench, the Celtics become a much more dangerous team.

Thunder small icon 8. Thunder (41-26, LW 8). Russell Westbrook’s interaction with a fan in Utah got the NBA community finally talking about an issue that needed to be in the spotlight — there are too many fans crossing the line of what is said to players, and there is little the players can do about it. Westbrook got fined for it, but my guess is he’s good with that if it sparked a real discussion (which it did). The Thunder went 2-2 on their recent road trip and things do not get easier now, they have their next six games against playoff teams.

Blazers small icon 9. Trail Blazers (41-26, LW 7). Coach Terry Stotts shot down a question about the playoffs, saying he is not thinking about matchups or seeding yet, but Portland wants to climb up to the four seed and have home court in the first round (they are tied with Oklahoma City for that spot as of this writing). Portland is 25-9 at home this season and 16-17 on the road — if they are going to advance pat the first round playing at home would be a big boost.

Clippers small icon 10. Clippers (39-30, LW 12). Wins over Boston and Oklahoma City recently show why this Clipper team is going to be a tough out in the playoffs. Spend time around the Clippers and you sense a confidence amongst this team despite all the roster changes this season — they like each other, they joke around in the locker room, and on the floor they know who they are and they play hard. Lou Williams is making a push for Sixth Man of the Year with his play of late, but the loss to Portland shows just how much Danilo Gallinari’s shooting and ability to create looks matters to this team (he rested that game).

Spurs small icon 11. Spurs (39-29, LW 13). Winners of six in a row (they needed that after a brutal rodeo road trip) and the streak has solidified their playoff position. The Spurs have done it with good defense — 105.1 net rating in this stretch, sixth best in the NBA — and enough offense from DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge to make it all work (they combined for 61 Tuesday night to beat the Mavs).

Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (43-25, LW 9). The Pacers need to play better (they have lost 6-of-9) if they are going to hold on to home court in the first round. The Pacers are tied with Philly for the 3/4 seed with Boston just two games back, but Indy has a brutal schedule coming up — Oklahoma City at home Thursday then 6-of-7 on the road including the Nuggets, Clippers, Warriors, Thunder again, then Celtics. It’s going to be tough to find wins in there.

Jazz small icon 13. Jazz (37-29, LW 10). With the softest remaining schedule in the NBA, it should have been time for Utah to make its push up the Western standings and maybe even get home court in the first round. Instead, they have lost 3-of-4 (including to Memphis and New Orleans). More concerning, Julius Randle and Jonas Valanciunas have punished the Jazz in the paint. Utah is still in the playoffs as the eight seed, but their lack of focus against teams they should beat is going to have them starting the playoffs on the road.

Nets small icon 14. Nets (36-33, LW 15). Winners of four in a row, the last one against Detroit to keep them ahead of the Pistons and in the six seed. Spencer Dinwiddie had 19 against Detroit, continuing his run of good play — he is going to get some Sixth Man of the Year votes. But now the Pacers have seven in a row on the road and every one of their remaining games this season except one (Lakers) is against a team over .500.

Pistons small icon 15. Pistons (34-32, LW 14). Detroit has leaned a little too much on fourth-quarter comebacks lately, but they had won 8-of-9 before the loss to the Nets Monday. Still, because of the Nets’ schedule, expect the Pistons to finish the season as the six seed in the East. Give coach Dwane Casey credit for pulling this team together in his first season in Detroit, finding an offense that works, and getting this team into the postseason.

Kings small icon 16. Kings (33-33, LW 16). The Kings have had the most surprising season in the NBA, and that will mean Coach of the Year votes for Dave Joerger and Most Improved Player votes for De’Aaron Fox. Both well deserved (although neither are likely to win the award). However, the surprising season is not going to end with a playoff berth, the Kings are four out with 16 games to play. The key this offseason is to stick with the building plan and not to become impatient and make win-now moves.

Heat small icon 17. Heat (31-35, LW 21). Miami’s new starting lineup — Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters, and Kelly Olynyk — has led the team to win 4-of-5 and hang on to the final playoff slot in the East. In the seven games they have started (91 total minutes) that lineup is +7.1 per 100 possessions, with a high powered offense leading the way. Miami has a tougher schedule than Orlando (one game back) and Charlotte (1.5 back) the rest of the way and will need more out of that lineup if the Heat are going to get an invite to the postseason dance.

18. Timberwolves (32-36, LW 20). Karl-Anthony Towns continues to be on a tear — in his last 10 games he’s averaging 32.9 points per game on 59.6 percent shooting overall, 48.3 percent from three (on 5.8 attempts a game), plus grabbing 12.8 boards a night. Is that going to be enough to get him an All-NBA center spot in a crowded field (Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis) — if he does it’s worth a cool $32 million on his rookie contract extension that kicks in next season (thanks to the Rose rule).

Magic small icon 19. Magic (31-37, LW 17). Playoff teams take care of business against lesser opponents, which is why the Magic are in danger of missing the postseason after their big push to get back in it. Orlando has lost 3-of-4 including the the Cavaliers and Grizzlies. The Magic struggle in tight games, which is part of the problem. I’d say they have a soft section of the schedule ahead, but that doesn’t seem to matter to Orlando. They just need wins.

Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (30-40, LW 18). Jrue Holiday being out is a big blow, he has been playing at a near All-NBA level and off the court has become more of the face of the franchise (after the Anthony Davis situation). Rookie guard Frank Jackson has stepped up with some strong games in Holiday’s absence, which is about all there is to root for if you’re a Pelicans fan.

Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (30-37, LW 19). The vultures are circling. Needing to make a playoff push the Hornets have instead lost 7-of-9, and now the rumors about Kemba Walker being unhappy and wanting out are growing louder (I had heard from sources right after the trade deadline he was frustrated the team didn’t make a move. Charlotte plays Miami in Sunday, one of the teams they are battling with for the last playoff slot in the East, they need that win.

Grizzlies small icon 22. Grizzlies (28-40, LW 24). Memphis’ first-round pick this year is top 8 protected, and considering it’s a softer draft (and the Grizzlies are just starting their rebuild) they wouldn’t mind letting Boston have it this year (and keeping it in the future). That means winning more now, and the Grizzlies have done just that, with victories in 5-of-7 (thanks to the best defense in the league in that stretch, a 100.3 net rating). Currently, they have the seventh-worst record in the league (85.8% chance they keep the pick) but keep winning and the odds Boston gets it climb fast.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (28-39, LW 23). Washington’s playoff chances are not dead — it is 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot (Miami) but they have a 10% chance of making up that ground and getting in, according to fivethirtyeight.com. That makes Wednesday’s game against Orlando and Friday against Charlotte critical — all three of those teams are in the same playoff chase, a couple of wins there and the Wizards chances get much more realistic. Lose both and they can book the hotel in Cabo for mid-April.

Lakers small icon 24. Lakers (31-36, LW 22). Luke Walton is going to take the fall for this Lakers’ season, which is not completely fair because the roster he was given to work with by management was flawed and needed perfect health and some breaks to make the playoffs. That didn’t happen (Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are shut down for the season now). The question becomes, where do the Lakers get their next coach? Who can they get that LeBron James will respect and buy into? There is not an obvious upgrade just sitting on the open market, but this will be the first big test for management in a summer it has to nail.

Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (23-45, LW 25). Here’s what should have Atlanta fans pumped about the future: In their last 10 games, the Hawks are +5.9 points per 100 when Trae Young and John Collins are on the court together. That pair is the cornerstone of the future for the Hawks, and it’s looking promising. In the loss to the Nets last weekend, Young had his first triple-double and Collins added 33 points and 20 rebounds in the game. The Hawks are going to take a step forward next season, just watch.

Mavericks small icon 26. Mavericks (27-40, LW 26). The long season seems to be catching up with Luka Doncic. In his last five games he’s still averaging 20.4 points per game, but he’s shooting just 27.8% from three and 37.5% overall. Against San Antonio Tuesday he had his worst game of the season, 5-of-18 shooting, 1-of-7 from three, and even 1-of-9 from the free throw line. What you had to like is the frustrated Doncic went in and worked on his game immediately after that showing, vowing it would not happen again.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (16-52, LW 29). The Suns are not taking for Zion — they have won 5-of-7 and that includes beating the Warriors and the Bucks. The biggest key is that Kelly Oubre has been a fit, and averaged 18.9 points a game since put in the starting lineup, providing another shot creation and scoring option for Phoenix.

Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (19-50, LW 27). What has Zach LaVine done to step up his game this season? Get to the rim. Before his injury (his three seasons in Minnesota) LaVine took 33% to 35% of his shots at the rim, but this season that is up to 49% (stats via Cleaning the Glass). He can get to the rim whenever he wants and is finishing a solid 61% of those shots. He’s taking fewer midrangers also and has found a steady stroke from three (although he should get and take more corner threes, he’s deadly there).

Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (17-51, LW 28). Collin Sexton was not the instant star some of the other guys in the last draft have been, but he has steadily improved throughout the season. Last week he broke Kyrie Irving’s franchise record for triple-doubles as a rookie. He’s got work to do, particularly on the defensive end, but he’s taking steps in the right direction.

Knicks small icon 30. Knicks (13-55, LW 30). Zion Williamson will return from injury to play in the ACC Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament for Duke. While have been fans and pundits calling for him to shut it down, it speaks to his makeup and desire that he wants to play and wants to win with his teammates, not just sit back and wait until he gets paid. With him, and particularly how Zion improves their defense, the Blue Devils have a real shot to win it all. What… you want to talk about the Knicks? Come on.

Failure of LeBron’s Lakers this season piles on pressure to win offseason again

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LOS ANGELES — It was a surreal moment:

LeBron James — sitting in front of his locker with his feet in an ice bucket, more ice wrapped around his knees and lower back — was talking about something unthinkable in his previous 15 seasons: shutting it down early because he needs to think long-term.

“Well, I mean, that’s a conversation that would probably be had between me and Luke [Walton]…” LeBron said. “We didn’t take care of business, so you kind of look at the rest of the games, and the percentages of what’s going on there in the future, and see what makes more sense not only for me but the team itself as well.”

At one point Monday night in a crushing loss to the across-the-hall Clippers, LeBron grabbed his groin (the injury that sidelined him for 17 games) and asked out. That loss leaves the Lakers playoff chances are all but dead, which leads to reflection about what is best now for the 34-year-old LeBron.

Father time seems to be winning the race (as he always does). What we have not seen this season, particularly since his return from injury, is the LeBron who just takes over games. The guy who carried the Cavaliers to the Finals last season. LeBron has put up good numbers — he had 27 points on 18 shots against the Clippers Monday — but he has rarely been able to summon up his otherworldly dominant self that just wins games by force of will.

What the Lakers also lack is a team that can lift LeBron up when he stumbles — and that goes back to decisions made last July that prioritized maintaining cap space for the summer of 2019. From the start the Lakers called this a multi-year process and prioritized having the cap space to bring in another star next to LeBron over everything.

However, missing the playoffs in year one of the LeBron era was not part of the plan. It just piles on the pressure on the Lakers’ brain trust of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to repeat what they did last summer and win the offseason. Again.

If not, the LeBron experiment in Los Angeles likely ends without banners and parades.

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The Lakers won the last offseason on July 1, the moment LeBron announced he was coming to Los Angeles. LeBron didn’t drag out the process and listen to everyone’s pitches as he had in the past, he made his call early then hopped on a plane with his family to go on vacation.

What followed was a plan that had the NBA shaking its head — surround the Lakers’ new star with playmakers, not shooters as had been the case during LeBron’s eight straight trips to the finals. LeBron reportedly pushed for this, he wanted someone else (or someones else) to be able to create shots, he didn’t want to be the only focal point of the offense. Magic and Pelinka bought in.

Except that the Lakers also needed to preserve max cap space to potentially get LeBron a running mate in the summer of 2019, so they were only handing out one-year contracts. In their minds, that meant letting Julius Randle walk, now he is averaging 20.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game for the Pelicans, setting himself up for a healthy pay raise next summer. It meant letting Brook Lopez walk, and he has been critical in turning the Bucks into the NBA’s best regular season team.

It meant one-year deals for the free agents who had no choice but to take one-year deals — Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Michael Beasley. When you look at who has struggled for the Lakers during this recent critical stretch of losses, it’s those guys, not the young stars like Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball. The hand-picked veteran playmakers have let the Lakers down. Well, except for Michael Beasley, because he’s out of the league and playing in China.

•••••••••••••••••••

It’s a fun parlor game among league front offices, and especially among Lakers fans: The blame game with the Lakers for missing the playoffs again.

Luke Walton will be the fall guy and deserves a slice of the blame pie. His lineups have been odd, he’s leaned on veterans even when they have not been good, and when adversity hit he could not get everyone to pull the rope in the same direction.

Injuries certainly have played a big role, although every team battles injuries and the best keep winning (Denver’s starting five has played fewer than 200 minutes together this season, the Thunder have never had Andre Roberson, etc). LeBron himself is taking more heat than he has seen in years. In Cleveland (and to a lesser degree Miami), he got credit when the team won but the losses just rolled off his back and the blame hit teammates or the front office. Not in Los Angeles. Healthy or not, LeBron has not been as dominant.

However, the largest piece of the blame pie for this season has to go to Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka — the president and general manager, the brain trust of Lakers basketball operations. Their roster construction doomed this team.

They prioritized maintaining cap space for next summer to land another star.

Then, at the trade deadline, came the very public process of chasing Anthony Davis. Not only did the Lakers never really get close in negotiations, but every young Laker on the roster also heard their names in trade talks. As it does with virtually every young NBA player, it shook them. The players were questioning if LeBron wanted to play with them. The hustle and spark of the Lakers has not been the same since.

It has all come together to form a tidal wave of uninspired play that has the Lakers about to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, a franchise record.

But the Lakers have that cap space.

•••••••••••••••••••

The failure to make the playoffs both ramps up the pressure to bring in another star and makes it a little more difficult. Is there really an elite free agent looking at the Lakers situation from the outside right now — the roster construction, the bright lights of media scrutiny for the franchise, the impatient fan base — and thinking it is the most desirable place to be?

That said, the Lakers are still a draw. The chance to capitalize on the marketing opportunities in Los Angeles, and the chance to win with LeBron, will still tempt free agents.

Just maybe not the guys at the top of the free agent board.

Kawhi Leonard has been predictably mum on free agency, but Toronto has a chance to retain him. Plus, I had heard from sources as far back as Summer League that he didn’t like the idea of the brighter spotlight and drama that comes with playing next to LeBron on the Lakers, which is why he was leaning Clippers if he leaves Canada.

Kevin Durant called the media and environment around LeBron “toxic,” which is a clear indication he’s not thinking Lakers if (or more likely when) he bolts the Bay Area. (It should be noted Durant didn’t mean that as a shot at LeBron as much as the social media and noise around LeBron right now.)

Nobody thinks Klay Thompson is leaving the Warriors unless they lowball him, and with Durant eyeing greener pastures, there is no way the Warriors don’t max Thompson out, according to reports. He stays put.

Who is left? Is Jimmy Butler a fit next to LeBron? Kyrie Irving and LeBron have patched up their differences, but that’s very different from joining forces again. Kemba Walker might be the best fit of this tier of players, but does he want to leave Charlotte and come West?

The Lakers also are not out of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. What happens in the East playoffs, particularly with slumping Boston, could have a big say in that team’s offseason moves and how much they would throw into a trade for Davis. Also, which team wins the draft lottery and the right to draft Zion Williamson can be a player in the trade talks. Most importantly, will the new GM of the Pelicans, whoever that may be, value the young Laker players differently than the former GM Dell Demps, who was unimpressed? Can the Lakers flip a couple of those young players into a player/players the Pelicans do want?

There are a lot of moving parts. This summer is going to be wild and unpredictable, and it’s going to take deft management to sail through those turbulent waters.

Do Magic and Pelinka have that in them?

Lakers fans need to hope they do. If the Lakers don’t dominate the off-season again, the surreal and disappointing moments around the team will only multiply.

Pat Riley: Heat will pursue two max players in 2020

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In the 1995-96 season, the Heat traded for Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

In 2004, the Heat traded for Shaquille O’Neal.

In 2010, the Heat signed LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Will Miami makes its next star splash in 2020?

Near-star Josh Richardson is locked into a relatively cheap contract for two more years. Bam Adebayo has two more seasons on his relatively low-paying rookie-scale deal. Justise Winslow, who’s maybe finding his groove, is guaranteed two more seasons on his rookie-scale extension.

That core could appeal to free agents in 2020, when Hassan Whiteside‘s, Ryan Anderson‘s and Goran Dragic‘s contracts expire.

Heat:

Heat president Pat Riley, in an interview with Jason Jackson:

We’re chasing a playoff spot when we’re young. And then we’re going to be chasing some players that can come in. If we can get one or two players to come in with this group, this young group, then I think the sky’s the limit for this team in the next couple years.

We’ve done this four times now, had a good group of players, young players, and then either through free agency or through trade brought the superstar in.

In 2020, we’ll have a lot of room. We’ll also have the possibility to have enough room to go after two max contracts. And we’re going to do that. So, we’re planning that 2020 will be the room year.

We’re very fluid. We’re very on top of it. And we are a destination place, Jax. The tax, the sun, the beautiful city. It’s a very progressive city, diverse city. So, we are a destination place. And we’re going to be moving in that direction.

That’s quite ambitious. But Riley has executed grand plans before. That will only embolden him to pursue this one.

It won’t be easy.

Miami projects to have just $34 million of cap space in 2020. A single max salary that summer projects to be $30 million-$41 million, depending on the player’s experience.

James Johnson ($16,047,100) and Kelly Olynyk ($13,598,243) have player options for the 2020-21 season. It’s difficult to see a 33-year-old Johnson or 29-year-old Olynyk declining those options. The Heat also owe Dion Waiters $12,650,000 that season.

Of course, there’s plenty of time to unload contracts. If this is Riley’s vision, keep an eye on those three players between now and next year’s trade deadline. Miami could also move its next two first-round picks to unload salary.

But even if the Heat clear double-max cap room, whom would the spend it on?

Anthony Davis is the big prize in 2020 free agency. After that, it’s slim pickings.

Most of this year’s All-Stars are already under contract for 2020-21. Several more – Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker, D'Angelo Russell and Nikola Vucevic – will be free agents this summer. While some could sign a one-year or 1+1 contract to return to free agency next summer, I wouldn’t bet on that. Dwyane Wade will be retired by then and is already in Miami. Dirk Nowitzki will also likely retire by then, but even if he doesn’t, he’s neither leaving the Mavericks nor commanding a substantial salary.

That leaves Ben Simmons, Kyle Lowry and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Simmons will be eligible for a contract extension this offseason. Even if he doesn’t sign one, he’ll be restricted in 2020. It’s nearly impossible to see him getting away in free agency that year.

Lowry will be 34. The Heat showed interest in him before, but that was five years ago. As he leaves his prime, he won’t draw nearly as much attention.

Aldridge will become a 2020 free agent only if waived. His $24 million salary for 2020-21 is $7 million guaranteed. But if his team would rather pay him $7 million to leave than $24 million to stay, that’d say something about his value.

Other players will emerge. This is far from set in stone. But a little more than a year out, the 2020 free-agent class looks very weak.

Is that really the year the Heat want to splurge?

Riley has already once admitted he regretted saying he planned to go whale hunting. I wonder whether his 2020 plan will eventually inspire a similar evaluation.