Getty Images

Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook makes history, Paul George has 47 in comeback win

1 Comment

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) Russell Westbrook makes history, Paul George scores 47 in Thunder’s dramatic comeback win. There was a point, right when Oklahoma City’s Terrance Ferguson missed a three with 7:16 left in the game keeping Brooklyn ahead by 16, that the Thunder’s win probability was down to 1.4 percent — there was a 98.6 percent chance the Nets would pull the upset.

But this was to be OKC’s big night.

It was that night because Russell Westbrook would finish with 21 points, 15 rebounds, and 17 assists — his 108th career triple-double, moving him past Jason Kidd into third on the all-time list.

It was OKC’s night because Paul George — having arguably the best season of his career so far — dropped 47 points, including hitting the game winner. (As a side note: How do both Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson go with Westbrook and nobody slides over with George when George slips the pick> He was wide open because of it.)

The Thunder are one of the NBA’s hottest teams, having won four in a row and 9-of-11, with the NBA’s best defense as the cornerstone of what they do. Built on that defensive foundation, and between their two superstars, the Thunder find a way to get enough offense to rack up the victories. This was the Thunder team management there pictured a season ago, and this year they still get Andre Roberson back at some point.

The Thunder are one of the best teams in the West and look to be a threat next April and May when the playoffs roll around.

2) Toronto’s win shows they are the current class of the East, while Philadelphia has work to do. In the latest PBT Podcast we did a deep dive on the Sixers with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters — the team’s sideline reporter if you are watching on League Pass — and I asked her if the Sixers believed that they were right there with the East’s best. She said the team felt like right now it was half a step behind the elite, but that they could get there before the season ended.

Wednesday night that played out.

Toronto was clearly the better team in a 113-102 victory. It was a lot of things adding up.

• Philadelphia turned the ball over 21 times — 20.4 percent of their possessions or one in five trips down the court — as Toronto’s length and athleticism on defense threw the Sixers off their game.

Kawhi Leonard had his best game as a Raptor, looking like an MVP-level player again, scoring 36 points on 24 shots, hitting 5-of-6 from three, and on the other end disrupting Ben Simmons on offense and making five steals. Leonard was the best player on the floor.

• The Raptors have three big men they can throw at Joel Embiid, giving the Sixers cornerstone both different looks and keeping a fresh body on him at all times, plus really make Embiid work on both ends of the court. Embiid finished the night with 10 points on 5-of-17 shooting. In contrast, Jonas Valanciunas had 26 points in 17 minutes of play.

• The Toronto guards — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, and in spots Fred VanVleet — also did a great job of digging down and helping on Embiid in the post and still getting back out to challenge J.J. Redick and other Sixers shooters.

• Toronto’s bench was back to its dominant ways for a night, outscoring the Philadelphia bench 41-18, led by OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and VanVleet.

There were bright spots for the Sixers — Jimmy Butler had 38 points and impressed.

As Winters’ said, the Sixers can get to the level of the elite by the end of the season, maybe with more time for their core to gel, maybe with some trade/waiver wire pickups just to bolster the depth. Philadelphia is good and they are close.

But right now, Toronto is the class of the East.

3) LeBron James takes over the fourth quarter for Lakers, but is that part of the problem in L.A.? Magic Johnson may want a more egalitarian offense for the Lakers, with multiple playmakers and scorers, but that ignores one fact:

Nobody takes over a game like LeBron James.

LeBron had 20 points in a dominant fourth quarter, leading the Lakers past the struggling Spurs 121-113. The Lakers have won four in a row and are 15-9 now on the season because LeBron is playing at a level that puts him in the MVP conversation.

The question Thursday became: If LeBron is that dominant, does it make it harder for the Lakers to attract a second superstar?

Kevin Durant said yes it can, for some players. It wasn’t a dig at LeBron, it was an honest statement — not every superstar in the NBA is at a place in their careers where teaming up with LeBron in Los Angeles is what’s best for them. It wasn’t for Paul George, who last summer decided he wanted to stay in Oklahoma City, when one summer before his people were saying he was destined to be a Laker.

More importantly, the Lakers may not be a fit for free agents coming up this summer. Look at Durant, for example. He struggled to find a balance of alpha status in OKC with Westbrook, in Golden State he may well be their best player (he has been in the last two NBA Finals) but that is Stephen Curry‘s culture and team. If KD wants to carve out his own legacy now is playing next to LeBron how to best do that? Durant notes playing with the greatness of LeBron forces even elite players (Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, etc.) to change their games to fit around him. Plus, the combination of LeBron in the celebrity culture of Los Angeles creates an off-court environment that is not for everyone (Durant called it “toxic”).

The Lakers will get their next superstar to pair with LeBron. Maybe next summer, maybe in 19 months, but it will happen. Just don’t assume that every superstar wants to rush to play with LeBron on the Lakers — it’s just not a fit for everyone.

No matter how amazing it is to watch LeBron take over games in the fourth quarter.

Watch Jimmy Butler hit another game-winning three to beat Nets (VIDEO)

9 Comments

Jimmy Butler did it again for the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

As time wound down during a high-scoring game against the Brooklyn Nets, Butler again took over in the fourth quarter and used his nerves of steel to hit the shot of the game.

With the 76ers down by one point and just 10 seconds left on the clock, Butler did what he does best from the same spot on the floor where he beat the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 17.

In a simple 1-4 flat set, Butler isolated for the win with a step back 3-pointer over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Here’s how the play looked on the floor.

Via Twitter:

That’s clutch.

Philadelphia is now 5-2 since trading for Butler.

Watch Caris LeVert’s game-winning layup lifting Nets over Knicks 107-105

Associated Press
2 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) —  Caris LeVert‘s driving layup with a second left gave him a career-high 28 points and the Brooklyn Nets their first victory of the season, 107-105 over the New York Knicks on Friday night.

LeVert surpassed the 27 points he scored Wednesday night in Detroit, when the Nets fell just short. He made sure they pulled this one out, driving right into the lane and putting up the tiebreaking shot over Tim Hardaway Jr.

D'Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen each added 15 points for the Nets. They improved to 6-1 in home openers since moving to Brooklyn in 2012.

Hardaway and Enes Kanter each scored 29 points for the Knicks, who were trying for just their third 2-0 start in 20 years. Kanter tied it on a three-point play with 15.9 seconds remaining but all they could manage for a final shot after LeVert’s basket was a long 3-pointer by Hardaway that wasn’t close.

The Nets were still without starting forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who just became a father, and DeMarre Carroll, who had right ankle surgery. But they did get back Allen Crabbe, their normal starting guard who came off the bench after missing the opener while recovering sprained left ankle.

They started fast, shooting 70 percent in the first quarter, and were in control until early in the second half. Then, Kanter and Frank Ntilikina had a couple of baskets apiece in an 11-0 run that wiped out a 10-point deficit and gave the Knicks a 66-65 lead on Hardaway’s 3-pointer.

New York was ahead 76-74 after three quarters and neither team led by more than six in a back-and-forth final 12 minutes.

Nets come out ahead in busy summer

AP Photo
4 Comments

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Timofey Mozgov, Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Isaiah Whitehead and Jared Dudley are real people with real thoughts, real feelings and real basketball abilities. But to Brooklyn this summer, they were mostly just contracts to be shuffled. After all their wheeling and dealing with that group, here’s where the Nets stand:

  • Draft picks (give or take): +1 first rounder, -1 second-rounder
  • 2018-19 salary: +$13,697,024
  • 2019-20 salary: -$16,720,000

That’s right: Brooklyn cleared more 2019-20 salary than it added in 2018-19 salary while still coming out ahead in draft picks. That is incredible – especially because the Nets’ cap space should go further with desirable free agents next summer than it would’ve this year.

But just because stars aren’t ready to consider Brooklyn doesn’t mean Brooklyn is ready to punt the season. The Nets, possessing their own first-rounder for the first time in five years, refuse to tank. They’ve already come too far building a culture to intentionally plummet in the standings now.

To that end, Brooklyn re-signed Joe Harris to a two-year, $16 million contract. That might be a little steep for him, but he’s a glowing example of the Nets’ player-development program, and his salary descends. This was a deal worth doing.

Brooklyn also signed Ed Davis (one year, $4,449,000 room exception), Shabazz Napier ($1,942,422 guaranteed this season with the minimum unguaranteed next season) and Treveon Graham (minimum guaranteed this season with minimum unguaranteed next season). I doubt they lift the Nets significantly, but those three are all worthy pickups. Napier and Graham, with those unguaranteed seasons, look especially valuable. Napier is just finding himself as an NBA player, and Graham has potential as a 3-and-D wing in a league starving for players like that.

The Nets also drafted Dzanan Musa No. 29 and Rodions Kurucs No. 40. There are a lot of pieces here.

The next step is evaluating which are keepers.

Brooklyn projects to have more than $61 million in cap space next summer. Some could go toward keeping D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and/or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but that still leaves plenty to add a star or two.

The Nets endured years of pain – losing without reaping the rewards of a high draft pick. The light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight.

Thanks to this summer, it’s brighter.

Offseason grade: B+

Rookie contract extensions: Devin Booker got paid, who else is likely to sign?

Getty Images
2 Comments

At this point in the summer, NBA rosters are settled, save for maybe a final spot at the end of the bench or a two-way contract. Front office personnel are taking vacations or just getting back from them, while players are in the gym getting ready for training camp to open.

However, one bit of unfinished business hangs out there: rookie contract extensions

The draft class of 2015 is eligible for an extension this summer — one player has his money, a couple of others are likely to, and then there are a lot of question marks. The deadline is Oct. 15, players need to sign an extension by then or become a restricted free agent next summer. Extensions can be for up to 25 percent of the salary cap (or 30 percent if the player meets the Rose Rule) but most are for less than that.

It’s going to be an interesting set of negotiations: For any player not locking down a max, looking ahead to all the cap space available next summer, will these rookies (and their agents) want to push teams for a big contract, and if they don’t get it bet they can on the open market next summer?

One player has already got his extension, here’s a list of who else will get one and who to watch as negotiations start.

SECURED THE BAG

Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns). The shooting guard out of Kentucky fell to 13th in the 2015 draft but ended up being the biggest steal in it. Knowing they have a franchise cornerstone, in early July the Suns locked him up with a five-year, $158 million max extension. As they should have. While we can debate if Booker is as good as he or the Suns think he is, the guy averaged 29.4 points per game last season, shot 38.3 percent from three, has been the best player on the team and a borderline All-Star (he would be but he plays in the ridiculously deep West). Booker deserved a big payday and the Suns are banking on him and Deandre Ayton to return them to the playoffs and more.

PAY THE MAN HIS MONEY
(Players going to get max extensions)

Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves). The No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft has become the cornerstone in Minnesota, and the two sides have already started talking extension (while those talks went quiet this summer it will get done). The only question is will it be a $158 million extension, or will Towns make another All-NBA team (as he did this past season) and thereby trigger the Rose Rule making him eligible for up to a $186 million deal. Either way, this signing will work out better than the massive extension Minnesota gave Andrew Wiggins (the Timberwolves tried to test the trade waters for him this summer, to no avail). What a Towns extension means for the future of Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau with the Timberwolves is another question, there is tension in the ranks, shakeups are coming, and the Timberwolves are about to place their bet on Towns.

• Kristaps Porziņģis (New York Knicks). Selected fourth by the Knicks (don’t forget Phil Jackson tried to trade that pick away rather than take him), Porzingis has become more than just the best player on the Knicks, he is the beacon of hope for the future in the eyes of fans. There is some concern because he is coming off an ACL tear that will keep him out for at least part of this coming season — it’s fair to question if you want to give him $158 million off that injury. But the Knicks have a star and a cornerstone to their rebuild, they have to pay up here. And they will.

WE’RE WATCHING YOU
(Other players who could land extensions, we’re doing this in order of the draft).

D'Angelo Russell (Los Angeles Lakers, traded to Brooklyn Nets). Los Angeles didn’t love his fit, drafted Lonzo Ball, and shipped Russell to Brooklyn as the sweetener in the Timofey Mozgov salary dump. The Nets think they have something in Russell — just not something they are going to lock up yet, so don’t expect and extension. Two reasons for that: 1) The Nets want to be sure Russell has matured into the player they saw for part of last season who averaged 20.9 points and 5.7 assists a game, a high-quality point guard; 2) the Nets want to be big players in free agency next summer and a Russell extension would tie up some of that money.

Willie Cauley-Stein (Sacramento Kings). He was drafted to be a modern defensive force, a shot blocker/rim protector who could switch out on smalls on the perimeter and hold his own. It hasn’t really worked out that way. He has shown more offensive skill than expected (he passed the ball well last season) and his individual defense in the post and rim protection have been good. Some nights. He’s been inconsistent. The Kings are betting on Marvin Bagley III (and are excited about the progress and return of Harry Giles), meaning if Cauley-Stein gets an extension it will be at a discount, at a number the team likes.

Stanley Johnson (Detroit Pistons). Don’t expect to see an extension here unless Johnson does it at a very team friendly number. The past couple of seasons Johnson has been inconsistent, and with a new coach and front office in Detroit, they are more likely to watch him for a season then let the market set his price as a restricted free agent next summer. However, it’s not impossible a deal gets done.

Justise Winslow (Miami Heat). It’s hard to see an extension getting done for two main reasons. One, what is Winslow’s value? He’s versatile — by the end of 2016 he was closing games as the team’s center, but last year he was playing backup point guard for them — and he is a strong defender. However, he’s not consistent and has not come near his potential, how much would the Heat want to bet he does? Second, Miami already in the tax this season and likely to be again next season unless they find a new home for Hassan Whiteside and/or Tyler Johnson. With that the Heat likely don’t want to be locked into more money for Winslow, they can let the market set his price as a restricted free agent.

Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers). This is Victor Oladipo’s team but the Pacers are betting on improvement from Turner to help them take the next step forward. Turner averaged 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game, showed he can hit the three now (35.7 percent last season) and he has been a good big man. Can the two sides find a compromise number that works for them, something less than the max? Or, would Turner rather bet on himself and count on a good season heading into restricted free agency? Expect there to be talks, whether the sides can agree is another question.

Kelly Oubre Jr. (Washington Wizards). He can get lost in the shadow of Otto Porter, but Oubre has developed into a solid NBA rotation player on the wing. There is not going to be a max offer, but can the Wizards and Oubre find common ground on a figure that keeps him with the team for years to come? Or would Oubre rather test the market?

Terry Rozier (Boston Celtics). He boosted his value at the end of last season and through the playoffs when Kyrie Irving went down injured. With the future of Irving in Boston a little uncertain, GM Danny Ainge would like to keep Scary Terry around this season. However, an extension is unlikely. The Celtics just gave Marcus Smart a chunk of change (four years, $52 million) and they see the big deals for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum looming on the horizon, so how much are they going to commit to Rozier? Most likely he’s a restricted free agent next summer, but this is at least worth watching.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Brooklyn Nets). Last season he averaged 14.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and some nights was the best Nets player on the court. His name comes up in trade rumors all the time, but would the Nets rather keep him around if the sides can agree on a number? He has real value as a quality rotation player.

Larry Nance Jr. (Cleveland Cavaliers). This is an extension that could get done, sources say there is interest from both sides to keep the son of a Cavaliers’ legend as part of whatever is next for this team post-LeBron. Drafted by the Lakers 27th and sent to Cleveland in the Isaiah Thomas trade, Nance was a steal in the draft and can be a quality rotation player on both ends. It’s not a max deal, but don’t be surprised if this one gets done.