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Kyle O’Quinn takes dig at Knicks on way out

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Kyle O'Quinn was a great signing by the Indiana Pacers (who have quietly had a really good summer, no superstar moves but landing Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott was smart). O’Quinn is a distinct upgrade over Al Jefferson (who will play next season in China) and he comes at a $4.4 million deal that will not break the bank.

O’Quinn spent last season in New York and couldn’t resist a shot at the Knicks on the way out the door.

Ouch.

That’s also pretty accurate. While rookie Kevin Knox has had a nice start in Summer League, with Kristaps Porzingis out for most if not all of the season, New York is going to struggle. The Knicks won 29 games last season and with KP out it’s hard to imagine the 14-game jump (give or take) it would require to get invited to the postseason dance.

On the other hand, the Pacers won 48 games last season, got better this offseason, and will be a second-tier team in the East this season. They are playoffs bound.

Quinn got what he wanted.

Five things we’ve learned through four days of free agency

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In the free agency of 2018 players were grabbing the bag. Fast.

Ordinarily free agency — especially for the big names — plays out over the first week of July as players meet with various teams, try to play teams off one another, and push for the best offer out there. Not in 2018. Not with most teams cash-strapped (only nine teams had more than $10 million in pure cap space to spend signing free agents before free agency). Knowing the market was tight, players grabbed the deal in front of them. Fast.

What did we learn from the first four days of free agency? Here are the five big takeaways.

1) Everyone — players and teams — are focused on 2019. As of this writing, there have been 52 contracts handed out to NBA players this free agency period — 29 of them (56 percent) have been one-year deals, or contacts with an opt-out after one year (stat courtesy Marc Stein). For comparison, the previous couple of years about 30 percent of contracts were one-year deals. This year’s the list of short deals includes big names such as DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors, as well as the more expected ones, such as Raymond Felton staying with the Thunder.

Why? Money. As mentioned in the intro above, not a lot of teams had money to spend on free agents — the majority of teams were over the cap and/or into the luxury tax, many didn’t even have the full mid-level exception to offer. That changes next summer when many of the contracts signed during the drunken sailor spending spree of 2016 (when the cap spiked) come off the books.

The end result is players are reading the marketplace, then taking one-year deals to get back into free agency when there is more money out there. Cousins did it. Derrick Favors did it with Utah. Tyreke Evans did it. Rajon Rondo. The list goes on and on.

Teams also are biding their time, looking to make a splash in 2019 rather than in this market. Teams are trying to avoid long-term contracts that impact next year’s cap space.

One caveat now for 2019 — the market is going to be saturated. There always will be money to pay the top guys (Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, etc.), and in 2019 that money will trickle down couple tiers below those guys, but there is not going to be enough big money for everyone. Some players who think they are going to get paid next summer will be disappointed.

2) The Lakers won free agency by getting LeBron James, but they are focused on 2019, too. LeBron wasted no time making his call — no formal meeting with the Cavaliers, his agent had a perfunctory one with the 76ers basically just to let them know he wasn’t coming, and that was it. Before free agency was 24 hours old LeBron had made his call and let the world know — he was going to the Lakers.

More than just that, he signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, showing Magic Johnson and company the kind of trust he showed Pat Riley in Miami but never gave to Dan Gilbert or anyone in Cleveland.

With that trust, the Lakers are not overpaying to win now. They have ignored the line thinking that with LeBron at age 33 they can’t spend a year building and must win immediately. Talks to trade for Kawhi Leonard cooled, and the Lakers didn’t throw their remaining cap space at long-term deals for the best players available. Los Angeles didn’t even keep Julius Randle. The roster the Lakers have put together for the 2018-19 season coming up — the young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, plus now veterans (and interesting personalities) Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee — will be good, it’s a playoff team, but it’s no threat to Golden State or Houston. Even with the greatness of LeBron, this is a team that will hover around 50 wins in a brutally deep Western Conference, and at best make the second round of the playoffs.

The focus is on getting another superstar, another All-NBA level player. Maybe Leonard, via trade or as a free agent next summer. Maybe another star free agent they can sign into cap space (Jimmy Butler or Klay Thompson). Maybe another star unexpectedly becomes available via trade. Maybe a lot of things, but the Lakers have prized flexibility above all, the ability to sign guys or make deals. They want to contend for titles, but they — with LeBron’s blessing — are thinking a season or two down the line. As part of that plan, they want to get LeBron working off the ball more.

3) Yes, the Golden State Warriors got better, but it was more than DeMarcus Cousins that fell their way. The Golden State Warriors got better this summer. No doubt. Not in the “they formed the Death Star” kind of way that NBA Twitter freaked out about, but Cousins — despite his expected mid-season return and being less than 100 percent, lethargic defense, ball-stopping offense in the post — is an upgrade over JaVale McGee or Zaza Pachulia. Cousins will hit some threes, make some passes, and fit in as best he can in the Warriors’ system.

However, the list of things that have given the Warriors a better shot at a title now goes way beyond just Cousins. For one, the only team that was a real threat to them last playoffs, the Houston Rockets, got a little bit worse when Trevor Ariza took Phoenix’s cash. LeBron James came to the West on a team that is not yet a threat. The Spurs are dragging their feet on the Kawhi Leonard situation, keeping on the bench a player who (if healthy) could help form a contender somewhere. The list goes on. Things have gone right for the Warriors this offseason, but it is more than signing a guy coming off a torn Achilles.

4) Restricted free agents have been left hanging. Clint Capela should have some team offering him a max or near max contract to try to poach him from Houston. Marcus Smart has no offers yet. Nor does Jabari Parker. Or Zach LaVine. Or Jusuf Nurkic. Or Kyle Anderson. Or Rodney Hood.

In a tight financial market, teams have spent on the guys they could get rather than tie up their cap space for a few days trying to snag one of the NBA’s restricted free agents. Remember, these are the guys where the team they played for has the right to match any contract. In the case of Capela, Houston GM Daryl Morey has made it abundantly clear he would match any offer and that has scared off potential suitors. In the case of Parker or LaVine, injury concerns have teams hesitant to jump in with the level of commitment it would take to scare off the Bucks or Bulls. And so on and so on down the list.

The bad news for these restricted free agents is there are not a lot of teams with money left — Sacramento, Atlanta, a few others — and those teams are not looking to spend a lot and win more right away. Those teams are more likely to take on a bad contract for a future asset than overpay to try to steal a player away. The options for the restricted free agents are not getting any better. Expect a few to play for the qualifying offer then become free agents next summer (see item No. 1 on this list).

5) Oklahoma City got the band back together, but they are going to pay a lot to do it. The number is staggering — $300 million. The Thunder got their man — Paul George will be back on a new max contract. As expected, Carmelo Anthony opted in to his $28.7 million. Jerami Grant will return and sign a three-year, $27 million contract. Combine all that with Russell Westbrook‘s max contract that kicks in, plus the repeater tax, and the Thunder are lined up to pay the largest salary plus tax bill in NBA history. That $300 million bill would make the Lakers or Knicks blush.

Is it worth it to run back a 48-win team that was bounced in the first round of the playoffs?

In OKC, they know that in the past nine months two stars have chosen them, chosen to stay in their market over going to Los Angeles or New York or wherever. That’s a big win. This team believes it was better than it showed down the stretch and into the playoffs. Ownership says its worth whatever price and they will pay it for a year.

Around the league, other teams expect the Thunder to make a couple of cost-savings moves. Just something to keep an eye on.

Report: Lakers passed on signing DeMarcus Cousins for salary similar to Warriors deal

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DeMarcus Cousins signing with the Warriors for just the taxpayer mid-level exception sent shockwaves through the NBA.

But Cousins was Golden State’s at least second choice. Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

(Tyreke Evans will sign a one-year, $12 million contract with the Pacers.)

And the Warriors – even after the Pelicans pulled their larger offer and Cousins came to terms with accepting a relatively low salary this season – apparently weren’t Cousins’ first choice, either.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

Word also reached us Monday night that LeBron’s Lakers, after signing Rajon Rondo away from New Orleans and then losing Randle to the Pelicans, had an opportunity to sign Cousins at a one-year price point similar to the one that landed him in Golden State. But I’m told the Lakers passed, clearing the way for the Warriors to infuriate the basketball public yet again.

The Lakers have $5,681,934 of cap space left – enough to match or even slightly exceed Cousins’ $5,337,000 salary in Golden State. Los Angeles also has an underwhelming center rotation comprised of JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Mo Wagner.

Why pass on Cousins?

His Achilles injury and attitude scared off many teams. Maybe we shouldn’t single out the Lakers.

But we didn’t know which other teams could have signed Cousins so cheaply. The Warriors provided an elite opportunity to win, and that obviously appealed to Cousins.

Yet, the Lakers – in the Los Angeles market with LeBron James there – drew consideration from Cousins before Golden State. So, the Lakers warrant extra attention for passing.

The Lakers just don’t seem that committed to winning a title with LeBron this year. Their other free-agent agreements – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee – collectively underwhelm. They haven’t traded any of their young players – Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart – for better veterans (like Kawhi Leonard), at least yet. Maintaining flexibility for 2019 appears to be the priority.

But Los Angeles has LeBron James! It seems foolish to throw away a year in his prime. Cousins would have increased the Lakers’ variance, helpful considering the Warriors’ supremacy. He also would have accepted a one-year deal that keeps Los Angeles’ options open for 2019.

What downside with Cousins could justify turning down that upside?

Report: Pacers signing Tyreke Evans to one-year, $12 million contract

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Victor Oladipo‘s takeoff season hit turbulence when the Cavaliers double-teamed the Pacers star in their first-round series. Oladipo shot 7-for-35 in Game 4 and Game 5 losses. Though Oladipo wasn’t used to being trapped to that degree, Indiana also lacked a reliable secondary playmaker to exploit the advantage situation if Oladipo passed ahead.

Enter Tyreke Evans.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Evans was the top unrestricted free agent available. That crown now goes to Isaiah Thomas if you’re swinging for the fences or, if you prefer a safer bet, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wayne Ellington or Brook Lopez.

The Pacers also agreed to terms with Doug McDermott on a three-year, $22 million contract. They eagerly spent their cap space to upgrade a surprising 48-34 win team and still have the $4,449,000 room exception to use.

Taking another step forward could pay off even bigger next summer.

Evans, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph all have expiring contracts. Oladipo ($21 million salary) and McDermott are the only Indiana players due more than a rookie-scale salary. The Pacers could hit free agency hard again next year.

In the meantime, Evans can play all three perimeter positions, though he’s probably primarily a wing on this team. He might start at small forward, though I suspect Bogdanovic or McDermott will. The Pacers struggled whenever Oladipo sat, and Evans fits as a spark off the bench.

Which tanking owner berated his coach for winning?

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An NBA owner reportedly berated his coach for winning.

That speaks to the league’s tanking epidemic, even if Adam Silver is just moving toward acknowledging it. This is part of a much larger debate about the league’s incentive structures.

But it’s also a single case with a very important question: Which owner did it?

We can limit our search to eight teams that clearly tanked this season: Suns, Grizzlies, Hawks, Mavericks, Magic, Kings, Bulls and Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski reported the win came on the road over a “pretty good team” in the “last several weeks of the season.” Even if we broadly limit opponents to the NBA’s 18 winning teams and dates to all of March and April, that eliminates half the tankers. The Suns, Mavericks, Magic and Bulls beat no winning teams on the road in March or April.

Unfortunately, we can’t simply say it’s one of four owners. Teams have many minority owners, and Wojnarowski doesn’t specify it’s a controlling owner. Having access to a coach and using it to berate him for winning would be quite on-brand for a minority owner.

But we can size up which team that owner – principal or minority – came from. The candidates and their suspicion-raising wins:

Grizzlies (controlling owner: Robert Pera)

Beat Timberwolves on March 26

Why it was a Grizzlies owner: Robert Pera reportedly wanted to fire Dave Joerger as coach when a one-one-one game between the owner and Tony Allen fell through. If that were enough to warrant firing the coach to Pera, certainly a harmful win would cause some outrage.

Memphis also has plenty of owners. It takes only one. I want to believe it was Grizzlies minority owner Justin Timberlake, and without much clear evidence pointing at anyone else in particular, why not just choose to believe that?

Why it wasn’t a Grizzlies owner: The Grizzlies’ owners with the biggest shares – Pera, Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus – had bigger fish to fry. They were involved in hashing out a complex buy-sell option when Memphis beat Minnesota.

Pera, who retained his controlling interest, is reportedly open to keeping interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff. That’d indicate Pera approved of Bickerstaff’s performance, maybe including the win over the Timberwolves (though Bickerstaff did plenty of losing otherwise).

This is also the team that somehow didn’t trade Tyreke Evans and refused to entertain trading Marc Gasol. Were the Grizzlies really that dedicated to tanking?

Hawks (controlling owner: Tony Ressler)

Beat Jazz on March 20

Beat Wizards on April 6

Beat Celtics on April 8

Why it was a Hawks owner: With three road wins over winning teams in March and April, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer provided the most opportunities to enrage his owner.

Tony Ressler is a relatively new owner, so we don’t know much about him yet. But he merely inherited Budenholzer (who seemed tanking-averse while running the front office) and actively hired general manager Travis Schlenk (who executed a teardown).

Though he’s still under contract with the Hawks, Budenholzer is talking to the Suns about their vacancy. Perhaps, that speaks to a disconnect with Atlanta’s ownership.

Why it wasn’t a Hawks owner: Again, we don’t know much about Ressler or his group. He’s the NBA’s newest controlling owner outside Houston. Many of the suspect teams were tanking because years of poor ownership – which can be shown through things like berating a coach for winning – left little other choice. Lacking a clear positive or negative track record, Ressler is ahead of other owners on this list.

Kings (controlling owner: Vivek Ranadive)

Beat Warriors on March 16

Why it was a Kings owner: Vivek Ranadive. Where to start? He’s not shy about sending his ridiculous ideas down the pipeline. Looking at you, 4-on-5. Ranadive has also repeatedly blamed underlings for his franchise’s problems. In a chaotic front office, Vlade Divac seems unlikely to filter a message from Ranadive to Sacramento coach Dave Joerger.

The Kings’ minority owners are also known to complain aggressively. It easily could have been one of them.

These are desperate times in Sacramento. This is the Kings’ last chance to draft a top talent before sending their 2019 first-round pick to the 76ers or Celtics. By 2020, Sacramento’s deep young core (that sorely misses an elite prospect) could have developed enough to stay out of the NBA’s absolute basement and the high pick that comes with being there.

Why it wasn’t a Kings owner: Ranadive previously owned a share of the Warriors. I’m guessing he would appreciate beating a team he’s trying to emulate and one full of people he knows.

This is also the earliest game of the plausible qualifiers, stretching Wojnarowski’s description of “last several weeks of the season.”

Knicks (controlling owner: James Dolan)

Beat Wizards on March 25

Beat Cavaliers on April 11

Why it was a Knicks owner: James Dolan is easily agitated and has repeatedly inserted himself at all the wrong times. He often acts like a jerk.

New York also fired Jeff Hornacek immediately after that Cleveland win. Cause and effect?

Why it wasn’t a Knicks owner: Dolan has gotten involved more often to rush winning, not take the long view.

Hornacek also seemed on the outs even before New York beat Washington or Cleveland. That doesn’t mean Dolan wanted to win those games, but that’d work against a clear connection between those victories and Hornacek’s firing.