Spencer Dinwiddie

Associated Press

D’Angelo Russell willing to be patient during free agency

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Brooklyn’s D'Angelo Russell is a free agent point guard coming off an All-Star season. He averaged 21.1 points and seven assists per game, showing off improved shooting (36.9 percent from three, plus hitting floaters and jumpers opened up the rest of this game), and he helped lead the Nets to the playoffs.

Usually, that would make him highly sought after and one of the big fish in the pond.

Not this year. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler combine to create a ridiculous tier at the top of free agency. For a lot of teams, including Brooklyn, what those big guns decide will impact the decisions on the next tier down.

Russell gets that, he told Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

“It’s more of just the waiting game as far as chess moves have to be made,” Russell told The Post via phone while on vacation in Spain. “There’s a lot of big fish out there that have to find their destinations so I think I’ll [fall in line after that].

“There are a lot of fish out there that need to find destinations. So whenever that time comes then I have decisions to make on my own, I think I’ll be well ready for it.”

The Nets, who have the rights to match any offer for Russell, are one of the teams big game hunting this summer. Brooklyn has been linked to Kyrie Irving, with the idea of pairing him with Russell. Plus, the Nets already reached a deal to keep backup point guard Spencer Dinwiddie on the roster.

The question for Russell is, of course, money.

Russell is eligible for a $27 million max salary, and the Nets are reportedly hesitant to pay that much. They would love to get him for closer to $20 million a season. However, if a team with cap space and in need of a point guard comes in hot with a max offer for Russell, the Nets will have to decide whether to match or not.

But that likely doesn’t happen until the big fish are off the board.

Rumor: Nets very interested in trading for Anthony Davis

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The Nets are reportedly interested in Kyrie Irving.

They could even try to pair him with Anthony Davis.

Chris Broussard of Fox Sports 1:

Brooklyn is going as hard after Anthony Davis as anybody. A package of like D'Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen, who’s a nice piece, shot-blocker, athletic at the rim, nice for this day and age in basketball. They’ve got the 17th and 27th pick. Now, Brooklyn, their dream is to pair AD with Kyrie. They really only want to try to get AD if they got Kyrie, because that will help them keep AD.

Davis will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and signing him to an extension before then is unrealistic. So, any team trading for the Pelicans star would be taking a major risk.

Obviously, that risk would be somewhat mitigated by the presence of Irving. Davis is more likely to stay with a co-star.

But the timing here is extremely difficult.

Russell will be a restricted free agent this summer. So, he’d have to agree to a sign-and-trade to New Orleans. Likewise, it sounds as if  Brooklyn’s offer for Davis is predicated on getting Irving first. That’s a lot of moving parts.

Plus, the draft is before free agency. So, if the Nets are sending 2019 picks to New Orleans, who makes those selections? Would Brooklyn pick on behalf of the Pelicans just in case the teams later trade? Would the Pelicans reject other trade offers before/during the draft in case this scenario comes to fruition?

This seems very difficult to pull off.

More likely is the reverse: The Nets try to trade for Davis in June and use him as a draw for Irving. But Russell couldn’t be part of that deal. Still, Brooklyn could built an intriguing package from Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and picks.

But if the Nets trade all those assets for Davis then don’t sign Irving or another star, how likely would Davis be to stay in 2020?

From every direction, this plan will be extremely difficult for Brooklyn to execute.

Report: Kyrie Irving’s advisors urging him to strongly consider Nets

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The inescapable rumor: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the Knicks in free agency this summer.

Marc Stein of The New York Times and Stephen A. Smith of ESPN discussed that on Smith’s podcast.

Stein:

Right before the playoffs started, someone I trust very much told me, they might be a package deal, but they’re going to look at the Nets just as hard as the Knicks. But again, this is third-, fourth-hand stuff.

Smith:

I heard that about Kyrie, not about KD. That Kyrie and his folks – his folks are trying to convince him to look heavily at the Nets.

This is why tracking free agency is difficult. Everyone within a player’s camp doesn’t always unanimously agree on what’s best. Differing agendas get leaked by different people.

But it’s not difficult to view this situation as:

  • Irving would sign with the Knicks if Durant joins him.
  • Durant could still re-sign with the Warriors.
  • If Durant stays in Golden State, Irving would consider other options, including Brooklyn.

I also wouldn’t be shocked if Irving re-signs with the Celtics. But the Nets have been interested for a while.

Strong seasons from D'Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie (who signed a contract extension) reduce Brooklyn’s need for a point guard. But Irving would be a clear upgrade. The Nets are surely hoping Irving listens to the advisors Smith cited.

Still, luring Irving won’t be easy.

Brooklyn is better than New York. Unless the Knicks get Durant, Brooklyn is also better-positioned long-term than New York.

But the Nets aren’t the Knicks.

Prestige matters, and that’s an obstacle Brooklyn must overcome.

Three things to Watch in Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors

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There are other good ones: Boston vs. Milwaukee, Houston vs. Golden State.

But no other second-round series is quite the measuring stick, nor comes loaded with the pressure of what a loss will mean this summer than Philadelphia vs. Toronto does.

Elton Brand, the Sixers GM, ended “the process” and traded for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris because Philadelphia wanted to win now. The Sixers pushed all their chips into the middle of the table, hoping that chemistry would develop quickly, winning would follow, and Butler and Harris would agree to stay when they become free agents in July. A second-round exit changes that equation.

Toronto also went all-in to win now, trading DeMar DeRozan and more away to get Kawhi Leonard and the chance to woo him for a year, to develop a relationship and bond, then to win and convince him to stay. The Raptors have rested Leonard’s body (he missed 22 games this season, most for “load management”), given Leonard whatever he wanted, yet nobody knows what the quiet is going to decide this July. However, a second-round exit after all of that could have Leonard packing his bags for Southern California.

This is as high-stakes as it gets in the second round, and this series is going to hinge on just a few things — like Philly winning a game in Toronto for the first time since 2012. Here are three things that will help determine the outcome of this series.

1) Watch the Marc Gasol on Joel Embiid matchup. The Raptors traded for Marc Gasol at the deadline just because of this matchup.

The numbers support Toronto’s move. Look at NBA.com’s matchup data and over four games in the past two years Gasol held Embiid to just 10-of-29 shooting (34.5 percent), and just 16.3 points per 100 possessions (about half Embiid’s average production). In two meetings this season when Gasol was with Memphis, Embiid had a dreadful 40.4 true shooting percentage and averaged 14.5 points and 15 rebounds a game (he averaged 27.5 points per game for the season).

Embiid’s knee and how well he moves are also remaining question marks.

Embiid is critical to Philly’s offense, the team was 5.4 points per 100 possessions worse this past season when he was off the floor (they have been better with him off the court in the playoffs, but that speaks more to Brooklyn and matchups than what will happen this series). The Sixers are going to have a hard enough time scoring on the Toronto defense, they need peak Embiid, getting buckets inside, throwing down dunks, dominating the glass, and drawing in defenders to open up shots and lanes for others. If Gasol can continue to keep Embiid in check, Philly is in trouble.

2) Which team can find an offensive advantage in what will be a defensive slugfest? If you’re looking for offense, wait for the Houston/Golden State playoff series. This series will not be that, it is two good defensive teams that have length and lock-down defenders that will cause matchup problems the other way. Scoring will be at a premium.

In two meetings this season (both before the trade deadline), Kawhi Leonard stole Ben Simmons’ lunch and bullied him all over the yard. Leonard remains one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, and Toronto can switch Leonard onto Jimmy Butler or any Sixers getting hot (outside Embiid). It’s not a one-man show, they also have long and active defenders in Danny Green and Pascal Siakam who can take guys like Tobias Harris or J.J. Redick and make their life difficult. Toronto was the fifth best defensive team in the NBA this season and is the second best so far in the postseason. They will take away driving lanes from a Philly team that already struggles with floor spacing, making good looks at a premium.

The reverse is true as well — Butler will get time on Leonard in what will be an old-school physical battle, making life hard for the guy Toronto turns to in the clutch. Simmons’ length will take things away for Siakam or anyone he is matched up on, Harris and Redick are solid team defenders, and Embiid is one of the best defensive centers in the game anchoring the paint.

Which team can hit contested, difficult jumpers? Which team will turn defense into some (relatively) easy transition buckets?

Which team’s coaching staff will come up with a way to free up their scorers best? Scoring will be at a premium and whichever team can find a way to break through a defensive stalemate will have a massive advantage.

3) Can Toronto’s bench win them the series? This year’s Raptors bench — Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, and OG Anunoby (if/when he returns from his emergency appendectomy right before the playoffs) — is not as good as the Raptors best-in-the-league bench from a season ago. The Raptors averaged 35.8 points a game from bench players this season, down from 41.2 last season, and the unit’s effective field goal percentage dropped by nearly 10 points.

But it’s still better than Philly’s bench. By a longshot.

Philly’s starting five — Simmons, Redick, Butler, Harris, Embiid — was a ridiculous +62 points per 100 possessions against Brooklyn in the first round. However, they only played 12.3 minute per game as a unit (remember Embiid also missed one game due to his sore knee). When the Brooklyn bench, led by Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert, got on the floor, the tide turned.

Philadephia’s best bench player, Mike Scott, is out for at least Game 1 with a sore heel. That means a lot of T.J. McConnell, James Ennis, and Boban Marjanovic for as long as he can stay on the floor before the Raptors play him off. None of that is good for Philly.

Against Toronto, look for Brown to lean on his starters more, maybe up to 20+ minutes a game (depending on what Embiid can handle with his knee). Brown did a good job with rotations and getting those starters out there at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters — against the Nets second unit — and it had tremendous success. Toronto will be prepared for that.

The Sixers need to dominate when their starters are in and the bench groups (staggered with starters) need to just hold the fort. Whether they can against a Raptors bench that knows its role is another question.

PREDICTION: Toronto in five. Maybe the Sixers can take this series seven games, they have the raw talent. They need Embiid to play at an MVP level to have a shot in this series. However, Philly’s lack of depth limits Brett Brown’s options to adjust when things do not work, while Nick Nurse has much more variety at his disposal. Toronto will make adjustments Philadelphia cannot match, and that will decide the series.

Ben Simmons scores 31 points, 76ers beat Nets without Joel Embiid

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NEW YORK — Ben Simmons scored a career playoff-high 31 points, Tobias Harris added 29 points and 16 rebounds and the Philadelphia 76ers shook off the absence of Joel Embiid to beat the Brooklyn Nets 131-115 on Thursday night for a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

Without their All-Star man in the middle, the 76ers relied on Simmons slashing to the basket, and Harris and JJ Redick shooting from the perimeter.

“We have the pieces to get games, to complete games and I think everybody in the organization knows that,” Simmons said.

Simmons was 11 for 13 from the field, repeatedly getting to the rim even with the Nets sagging well off him in hopes he would shoot a jumper. He added nine assists and eventually quieted a crowd that loudly booed him every time he touched the ball early.

Harris had his playoff highs in both points and rebounds, and was 6 for 6 from 3-point range. Redick was 5 of 9 behind the arc and finished with 26 points.

“Listen, I think their big players came to play,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Ben had a great game, I thought JJ was great, Tobias also hit some big 3s.”

Embiid warmed up before the game but the 76ers announced shortly before the start that the All-Star center wouldn’t be available because of a sore left knee. Greg Monroe started in his place and had nine points and 13 rebounds.

“Just came in, obviously with Joel down that’s a big scoring loss that we had there,” Harris said. “So just had to be aggressive from the start.”

D'Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert each scored 26 points for the Nets. They have dropped the last two games after surprising the No. 3 seed in the opener in Philadelphia.

Energized by a lively Brooklyn crowd seeing playoff basketball for the first time since 2015 and perhaps by the absence of Embiid, who averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in the first two games, the Nets started well but then stalled. They went about 4 1/2 minutes without a basket and Philadelphia took advantage to lead 32-24 after one.

The lead quickly went into double digits in the second before LeVert got going. He scored six straight points and had Brooklyn’s first 14 of the period to tie it at 38. The 76ers regained control and opened an 11-point lead with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining before halftime, but LeVert had another burst to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 65-59 at the break. He finished with 19 points in the period.

Redick hit a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around Harris’ three-point play, pushing it to 81-67, and another 3 by Redick had the Sixers leading 97-81 with 1:16 left in the third. But a four-point play by Spencer Dinwiddie highlighted Brooklyn’s run of nine straight points to end the period and trim it to 97-90.

The Nets cut it to six in the fourth on Russell’s 3-pointer, but the 76ers soon pulled away again.

TIP-INS

76ers: Simmons was 5 for 5 on free throws when the Nets fouled him intentionally with 3:38 remaining. He missed both, but hit two on the next possession and finished 9 for 11. … Monroe didn’t even make his Sixers debut until April 6.

Nets: Brooklyn was 8 for 39 (20.5%) from 3-point range. … LeVert’s 19 points were the most he scored in any quarter of his career. … The Nets had won their last three Game 3s.

UP NEXT

Game 4 is Saturday in Brooklyn.