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Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas on 2018 free agency: “They’ve got to bring the Brinks truck”

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Isaiah Thomas — the cornerstone of the Boston Celtics’ offense, an All-NBA player who averaged 28.9 points per game last season — will make $6.3 million next season. Which by NBA standards is an absolute steal. Thomas has never made more than $7.2 million for a season and has career earnings after last season of $22.9 million.

Next summer Thomas is a free agent, and he wants to get PAID. As in he could make more in the 2018-19 season than he had in his career up to that point. He told CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely it’s time for Boston to make things right.

“I’m a max guy. I deserve the max… my time is coming, they know they’ve got to bring the Brinks truck.”

The max for Thomas would be five years at around $172 million, starting at about $30 million a year (we don’t know the exact numbers because we don’t know next year’s salary cap number, but it is expected to be similar to this year’s). For most All-NBA players, that’s not even a question, they get maxed out, but Thomas could be different.

Boston is not going to want to go five years, maybe not even four. Thomas will be 29 at the time, and the history of undersized players in the NBA suggests that when their skills start to fall off the decline happens fast. Combine that with all the money Boston is now spending to bring in Gordon Hayward and the fact Marcus Smart needs to get paid next summer as well, and Boston may be looking for a deal, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

The Celtics are eyeing all of this, confident they can retain Thomas on a deal well below his max.

Could Boston get Thomas on a three-year, $80 million contract? That is below the max and a reasonable number of years, plus Thomas makes a lot of money. Would he go for it? He’s a free agent, other teams could jump in, although next year’s free agent market is expected to be very tight, with only a handful of teams having max contract money, and those teams will be targeting other guys (LeBron James, Paul George, Russell Westbrook) before Thomas. It’s hard to picture a team coming in with a four-year offer at the max, but it only takes one.

Thomas’ free agency is a year away, and that’s a lifetime in the NBA. Next summer, things could look quite different for Thomas and the Celtics, but his free agency is going to be something to watch.

 

LaVar Ball on Lonzo’s debut: ‘His worst game ever’

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — It took Lonzo Ball 20 seconds to get a near-capacity crowd off its feet in his first summer league game.

Just like LaVar taught him.

Ball’s highly anticipated Los Angeles Lakers debut on Friday night started with a flourish on a perfectly timed lob pass to Brandon Ingram. But that was one of the few bright spots for a player Magic Johnson has dubbed as the new face of the Lakers in a 96-93 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The No. 2 overall pick scored just five points and missed 13 of his 15 shots, to the disappointment of a near-capacity crowd that came out to see him. Leave it to his father to sum up the night with some of his trademark straight talk.

“He don’t be discouraged because that’s the worst he can do,” LaVar Ball said. “He can’t go but up. And he still kept them in the game playing his worst game ever. That’s what I like about it.”

Lonzo Ball was 1 for 11 from 3-point range, including a bad miss from well beyond the line – the kind of daring pull-up the Ball family is known for – with 1:16 to play in regulation.

He was also a little slow to react on defense, including when Brice Johnson made a quick spin past him for a dunk. The Clippers posted the highlight on their Twitter account, calling it a “pretty baller move.”

That’s the kind of target that LaVar’s antics have painted on his son’s back. And it’s much bigger than the purple No. 2 under his name.

“Tough game. We didn’t get the job done,” Lonzo Ball said. “I need to be better.”

Scouts do wonder how that unorthodox shooting stroke will translate to the NBA game. What is not up for debate is the Lakers’ return to must-see status with the pass-first point guard on the trigger and his carnival barker father on the mic.

While LaVar Ball has dropped hints that he could tone down the bombastic comments and unending marketing of his Big Baller Brand apparel that turned him into an internet villain of sorts during Lonzo’s lone season at UCLA, he was totally in character for his son’s debut.

“The Lakers fans are coming and my boy is gonna bring `em out,” LaVar Ball crowed at halftime. “Because there’s excitement for the game. It’s entertainment. That boy is going to entertain. He’s been doing it all his life.”

LaVar Ball entered the Thomas & Mack Center to a raucous ovation, flanked by more than a dozen family members. They watched the game from a raised stage behind one baseline, and as he ascended the stairs for the first time, he raised his hands and pumped his fist to the crowd.

Lonzo Ball got off the bus wearing a black Big Baller t-shirt, red shorts and black Big Baller ZO2 shoes – yes, the ones with the $495 price tag – and did two television interviews before he even changed into his Laker uniform. A bedazzled, patent leather backpack draped over his shoulders and established NBA players including DeMar DeRozan, D'Angelo Russell and Isaiah Thomas were all in attendance for the game, while Johnson, the new Lakers president of basketball operations, sat courtside.

Lakers games have always been well-attended here in Vegas, just a four-hour drive from Los Angeles. But this one reached another level, with fans piling into the arena three hours before game time and sitting through a Bucks-Cavaliers game before finally getting to the main attraction. And when Lonzo found Ingram for the alley-oop on his first possession, it looked like things were going to come easy.

“I always said get `em out their chairs on the first play,” LaVar Ball said. “That’s how we used to play with his brothers. Either hit a long 3-pointer from halfcourt or a dunk.”

But it became clear very quickly that things wouldn’t always go smoothly. The sophomore Ingram shined with 26 points in 31 minutes, playing with more assertiveness than his celebrated rookie teammate. Lonzo finished with five assists, four rebounds and two steals.

“It’s got nothing to do with him,” LaVar Ball said. “He’s going to make this team come up and make everybody start passing the ball. And that’s when that chemistry comes in and that’s when that winning comes in. That’s when the winning comes in. Once you start winning, everybody starts feeling good.”

In that way, LaVar is right on the money.

Lonzo’s clothes are flashy, and the first play was quite a highlight. But the rest of his game was decidedly understated, much like his personality. Magic may have dubbed him the new face of the NBA’s marquee franchise and his father says the rookie is on the Lakers because he spoke it into existence. But there is nothing “look-at-me” about him.

He speaks quietly and with a straight face, nothing like the mega-watt smile Johnson brought to Hollywood from Michigan State. Surrounded by cameras after the game, he couldn’t wait to move on.

“The only way to go now is up,” Lonzo said. “That’ll probably be the worst game I’ll have all week so hopefully I keep getting better.”

Warriors GM credits Kevin Durant with keeping team together

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant helped the Warriors win an NBA championship during his first year with Golden State. General manager Bob Myers is also crediting the Finals MVP with keeping the core of that team together.

Myers met with reporters Friday for the first time since a parade in downtown Oakland celebrating the Warriors’ second championship in three years. During the 20-minute session, Myers touched on several topics but repeatedly turned the conversation to Durant’s decision to take a pay cut and sign a team-friendly two-year deal worth approximately $53 million rather than go for a max deal.

That, Myers said, was the instrumental move in Golden State’s ability to re-sign key veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

“His gesture of taking less gave us the ability to be very aggressive in pursuing Sean and Andre,” Myers said. “I can pretty much unequivocally say without it, we’re not looking at the team we have right now. What Kevin did shows who he is, shows what he’s about and I think it’s clear that that’s winning.

“Without him doing that it would have been a different roster, and clearly to me, a roster that wasn’t as good as the one we have right now.”

Durant, 28, had been adamant about his desire to keep the heart of the Warriors roster together after he left Oklahoma City to sign with Golden State a year ago. His new contract will net Durant $25 million in 2018, with a player option for 2019. Durant is expected to decline the option and sign for the max then.

A seven-time All-Star, Durant could have earned as much as $36 million had he signed a max deal this season. As it is, Durant will earn even less next year than he did this year.

That opened the door for the Warriors to bring back 2015 Finals MVP Iguodala (three years, $48 million guaranteed), Livingston (three years, $24 million) and David West (one year, $2.3 million).

Additionally, Golden State signed shooting guard Nick Young to a one-year, $5.2 million contract.

All of it made possible, Myers said, because of Durant.

“He did it on his own volition, which makes it that much more impactful and impressive to me,” Myers said. “He’s a max player for the foreseeable future forever. For him to do something like that is commendable. Without him doing that other sacrifices as far as roster would have had to be made.

“That’s why people enjoy watching our team, the selflessness of the way we play on the floor. But that’s also the selflessness of who our team is as witnessed by what Kevin did and what other guys have done. That’s what people love seeing. Nobody likes seeing greed and individuals grab attention.”

Myers noted the rapid player movement in free agency as teams maneuvered to try to keep up with Golden State.

“That’s why it’s so important to keep our team together and stay as strong as we can,” Myers said. “I was worried, to be honest, that we would not be able to bring back the same guys. My thought was we were likely to get worse. I thought we were not going to come back as strong, and if we hadn’t, people are coming for us.”

Young gushed about joining the reigning NBA champs after spending the past four seasons with the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers. Young’s decision came after he met with Durant, Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Draymond Green during a recruiting trip in Los Angeles.

Green followed up with numerous text messages before Young signed.

“At first I was like, `Y’all don’t need me, y’all got too much,”‘ Young said. “He said, `Ain’t no such thing as too much. We need all the firepower that we could get.’ I thought that was pretty cool.”

 

Lakers Lonzo Ball era begins… and he looks every bit the rookie

Associated Press
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The Lonzo Ball hype machine in Los Angeles is close to overheating (in no small part thanks to his father). After hearing for years — remember, Ball grew up in L.A. and went to UCLA — unfair comparisons to Jason Kidd and how he is the best passing Laker guard since Magic Johnson, many Lakers fans expect… you know.

Those fans sold out the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas Friday night to see Ball and the Lakers open Summer League against the Clippers. Every time he touched the ball early in the game, there was a roar.

His strengths were on display — he has great court vision and passing instincts, and he showed that on the first play of the game connecting with Brandon Ingram.

As the game wore on… Ball looked like a rookie.

His potential weaknesses were on display as well — his unconventional shot was 1-of-11 from three, and as he tried to set up others the Clipper defense started trying to make Ball a scorer, and he didn’t fill that role. He also got torched defensively at times, unable to stay in front of his man at the top of the key.

It’s one Summer League game, it means about as much as “proof” the Earth is flat.

What this game can do is give us an idea of the journey Ball will need to take as a professional to live up to the hype (or at least come close to it, his hype man/father makes it hard to live up to all of it).

Ball did a number of things well, things he can build upon. My personal favorite is that he didn’t need to bring the ball up himself and control the action, when he could he threw the ball ahead to forwards who ran the court, which allowed guys like Ingram to operate in space, kept the tempo up, and it led to easy baskets. The Lakers ran and moved because he would get them the rock.

Ball finished with five assists, but that undersells the number of shots he created for Lakers teammates with hockey assists and those hit-ahead passes. His passing set the tone, and as a team the Lakers pushed the pace and moved the ball. Those are good signs going forward.

The biggest concern was the shooting — he knocked it down in college, but not every scout was convinced his shot would translate. He struggled with his shot in his first game, took some poor ones, and finished 2-of-15 overall and 1-of-11 from three. He missed all his shots in overtime.

“I liked the looks, I just missed them,” Ball said after the game, sounding like a shooter.

(The Lakers eventually lost to the Clippers in OT. If you care about the final score of a Summer League game it was 96-93, but if you really care you need to re-evaluate parts of your life.)

Ball is going to have to prove to teams he can knock down shots when they go under picks, or things will be far harder for him. The Clippers laid back on him and took away driving/passing lanes playing off him more as the game went on, Ball couldn’t make them pay this night. Part of his development needs to be doing just that.

Other notes from this game:

• One of my favorite barometers in Summer League is: How much did a guy who got regular NBA run last season improve from a year ago? Summer League is about development, this league is a measuring stick.

In that front, Brandon Ingram was fantastic. His ball handling skills were much improved (even from the second half of the season), which opened up his face up game and attacking the rim. He’s gotten stronger, but he’s gotten smarter about how to use his body to create space. The result was he was the best player on the court, finishing with 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Ingram did not take part in overtime after mildly tweaking his knee late in the game — Magic Johnson was courtside and after the play signaled to the Laker bench Ingram was done for the night. After the game the Lakers said it was nothing serious, he wanted to go back in, but the team is understandably being overly cautious.

• Lakers’ second-round pick Bryant showed potential as an energy big off the bench, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds. He had a very good night.

• The Clippers did not run out anyone likely to see a lot of time on the court with the big club next season. Maybe the one exception is Sindarius Thornwell, the rookie who turned heads at South Carolina last season, as he finished with 26 points on 13 shots and had a good night. NBA vet Brice Johnson added 23.

Report: Shelvin Mack reaches two-year, $12 million deal to play for Orlando

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The point guard market seemed to be drying up, few guys were left on the market and fewer decent contracts seemed to be available.

Then the Orlando Magic said, “hold my beer” and went into action.

Shelvin Mack was a decent backup point guard for the Utah Jazz last year in the 55 games he played, he’s not much of a shooter (30.9 percent from three last season) but he’s a good floor general and an energetic defender. He’s a solid backup point in this league coaches can trust. Most of the time, the $6 million per year number would be a little high but not unreasonable for him. That said, in a tight market the Magic could have signed him for less.

I still don’t mind this much. The Magic likely start Elfrid Payton at the point again and have D.J. Augustin behind him. With that, Mack can be a good locker room influence and play fairly well in the minutes asked.