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76ers exercising T.J. McConnell’s team option


T.J. McConnell has kept up with the 76ers’ ascension. The point guard has gone from a capable rotation player on a tanking team to a capable rotation player on a good team. He’s definitely worth keeping at his minimum-salary team option for next season ($1,600,520).

But by Philadelphia exercising his option, McConnell would become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. If the 76ers declined his option, they could make him a restricted free agent this summer and more tightly control his long-term future.

So, there was a real decision to make.

Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday the Sixers will exercise McConnell’s contract option.

Unlike the Nuggets, who should decline Nikola Jokic‘s team option in a similar cheap-or-restricted scenario, Philadelphia right to exercise McConnell’s.

Because of his physical limitations, the 6-foot-2 McConnell tops out as a solid backup. He’s already 26, suggesting he’s near his ceiling if he hasn’t hit it already. Better to guarantee another bargain year out of him, especially because that saved money can go toward bigger goals. If he walks in 2019, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The 76ers might even prefer he walk by that point.

McConnell stepped up during an arduous rookie year for No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz. But Fultz has far more upside as the traditionally sized point guard who sometimes pairs with Ben Simmons and sometimes initiates the offense himself. Ideally for Philadelphia, Fultz would seize that role and make McConnell expendable.

In the meantime, McConnell will finish off his Hinkie Special contract and provide the 76ers with insurance behind and next to Simmons.

Report: Knicks still planning to stretch Joakim Noah on Sept. 1

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Joakim Noah‘s feud with former Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek got so bad, New York sent Noah away. But the Knicks since fired Hornacek and hired David Fizdale, and Fizdale said Noah texted him.

Does that clear the way for Noah playing for the Knicks again?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Sources indicate the likeliest scenario still is Noah becoming a stretch-provision waiver at the Sept. 1 landmark date

Noah is guaranteed $18,530,000 next season and $19,295,000 the following season. By waiting until Sept. 1, the Knicks would pay Noah’s entire 2018-19 salary that season (when they don’t project to have cap space, anyway) and then take $6,431,667 cap hits each of the following three seasons.

This route would be a favor to Noah, allowing him to find his next team before the season. He wants to play, and the 33-year-old doesn’t fit New York’s rebuild.

If the Knicks keep him, they could use his contract to facilitate a trade. That’s unlikely until 2019, when his expiring contract might prove useful. It’s no guarantee, but keeping him on the roster keeps that possibility open. If the Knicks want to stretch him to maximize 2019 cap space, they always could that summer. It’d be the same cap effect as stretching him this September. If they strike out in 2019 free agency, they might even decide to pay his full 2019-20 salary that season and avoid cap hits in 2020-21 and 2022.

Waiving and stretching Noah in September would close all those possibilities. His salary would be locked onto New York’s cap sheet, untradeable.

Rockets present historically strong test for defending-champion Warriors


As the Warriors entered the season trying to win their second straight NBA title, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, “The biggest challenge is complacency.”

How about the Rockets?

The Warriors certainly looked apathetic throughout the regular season. They played lax defense, showed an abundance of caution with injuries and meandered to a 58-24 record that nobody believes reflects their true ability. Complacency certainly is a challenge.

But so is Houston.

The Rockets are good. Really good. They went 65-17, scored like gangbusters and defended effectively. James Harden will win MVP, and Chris Paul is an elite secondary star. Led by Clint Capela, Houston’s rotation is full of solid role players.

Golden State, without being complacent, could lose to the Rockets.

Houston has the fifth-best record of any playoff-series opponent faced by a defending champion. Here are defending champion’s top postseason foes, series the defending champ won in blue and series the defending champ lost in red:


Kerr was reasonable before the season to call “complacency” the Warriors’ biggest challenge.

They’re so talented – Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson! – so cohesive and so versatile (reasons Golden State will probably beat the Rockets). For teams anywhere near this successful – two championships in the last three years with a 73-win season and NBA Finals appearance sandwiched between – the main threats are often internal.

Challengers as good as Houston rarely emerge.

But the Rockets are here, and they’re a genuine obstacle to the Warriors repeating as champions.

Report: Raptors and Bucks focusing on Mike Budenholzer in coaching searches

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Two playoff teams – the Raptors and Bucks – are looking for coaches.

Apparently, both want former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Toronto and Milwaukee will already known to be interested in Budenholzer. It sounds as if that interest has only intensified.

Budenholzer is a former Coach of the Year. In Atlanta, his offenses were sophisticated and varied, his defenses usually sound. He has a strong record of player development.

He’s exactly the type of coach good teams like the Raptors and Bucks should covet and can attract. If it comes to it, which would he choose?

Toronto has been so good in the regular season, and nearly its entire rotation – led by stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan – is locked up. Only sixth man Fred VanVleet will be a free agent (restricted), though luxury-tax concerns also loom.

Milwaukee has a young superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo and even lower expectations. The Bucks haven’t won a playoff series in 17 years. With Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, it won’t be terrible difficult to produce the best season Milwaukee has seen in nearly two decades.

This all shapes up nicely for Budenholzer – and the Hawks. They agreed to pay his full remaining salary minus a portion of what he makes on his next job. A bidding war between the Raptors and Bucks would be a windfall for Atlanta.

Supreme Court strikes down sports-gambling ban, which is good news for NBA

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The NBA wants widespread legalized sports betting.

The NBA will get widespread legalized sports betting.

Pete Williams of NBC News:

The U.S. Supreme Court acted Monday to bust Nevada’s monopoly on legal sports betting, allowing more states to get in on the action and reap the tax benefits.

The court struck down a federal law that required states to ban gambling on the outcome of sporting events. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was highly unusual: it did not ban sports gambling nationwide as a matter of federal law, but it said the states were not allowed to permit it.

New Jersey and then-Gov. Chris Christie challenged the law, arguing that it violated the Tenth Amendment, which the Supreme Court has said prohibits federal laws that compel states to carry out federal dictates. The gambling law, Christie said, commandeered the states by forcing them to prohibit sports wagering.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the problem with the federal law is that “state legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress.”

“A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine,” he wrote.

This a good ruling for the American people. Let the states decide. (And, psst, hey states, let people bet on sports.)

It’s also, incidentally, a good ruling for the NBA. The league is pushing for a cut of the action, and increased betting on basketball will drive interest in the games themselves. People with money on the line are more likely to watch, either by buying tickets or watching on television.

States will set up sports betting at different paces. New Jersey appears nearly ready. Others will follow.

But this is coming – to the delight of the NBA.