Paul George

Northwest Notes: George, Schedules, Rose

As we’ve already touched upon, fans in Los Angeles who hope to see Paul George don a Lakers uniform next season serenaded the five-time All-Star with chants during this past weekend’s All-Star festivities. And while Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook would obviously like to see George remain in Oklahoma City, the speculation about George’s future likely won’t stop until a decision is made this summer, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman.

George, who is scheduled to make $20.7MM next year on the final season of his current contract, has the ability to opt out and become a free agent this summer. Doing so would afford him the chance to make upwards of $30MM next season in the first year of his new contract, whether it be with the Thunder or another team.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reports that while some NBA executives still feel that George is drawn by Los Angeles and will leave unless the Thunder reach the NBA Finals, others have become increasingly skeptical that he’ll depart Oklahoma City. Regardless of what happens, George says he wants wherever he ends up to be a long-term commitment.

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career,” George said. “The decision I make will ultimately be to build something. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Some members of the Timberwolves believe that the new NBA schedule, implemented this season to reduce the number of back-to-back games and ensure teams now don’t play four games in five nights, is actually making the season feel longer, reports Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. “You can tell there’s a big difference,” says Taj Gibson. “A lot of guys are getting hurt. The fatigue is there.”
  • The Jazz, on the other hand, have one of the most favorable slates in the whole league going forward after drudging through a 5-10 December that saw them play the toughest schedule in the NBA. And Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News opines that the favorable schedule could see Utah, now 10th in the Western Conference standings, move as high as the No. 5 spot by the time the playoffs roll around.
  • In another article for the Star Tribune, Zgoda writes that Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler, while a fan of free agent guard and former teammate Derrick Rose, will not try to influence the team to sign Rose. “That’s not my job,” Butler said. “Is he a hell of a player? Yeah. But that’s up to Thibs and everybody else to figure if he has a place on this roster and this team. Obviously, I’ve played with him before. I know the talent he has. (But) It’s not my job to say.”

NBA Players Weigh In On 2018 Free Agency

With a big offeason looming once the 2017/18 NBA regular season comes to an end, several ESPN writers spoke to NBA players to get their predictions on where they expect some of this summer’s top free agents to land. In total, 48 players weighed in. Here are some highlights from the results of ESPN’s survey:

  • LeBron James is considered likely to return to the Cavaliers, with 59% of the respondents picking Cleveland as his free agency destination, while 22% chose the Lakers. “He won’t leave after all the moves they made last week,” one Eastern Conference forward said of LeBron, referring to the Cavs’ trade-deadline deals. Asked where James should sign, even more respondents (66%) voted for Cleveland.
  • If James does decide he wants to join the Lakers, the LaVar Ball show won’t be a deterrent, according to 89% of the players surveyed. “If LeBron comes to L.A., then it’s the LeBron show. Not the Ball show,” said one Eastern Conference center.
  • Most of the survey respondents (80%) believe DeMarcus Cousins will re-sign with the Pelicans.
  • Only 33% of the players surveyed expect Paul George to be in the Thunder‘s opening-night lineup for 2018/19.
  • The respondents are slightly in favor (59%) of maximum salary contracts existing in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. “LeBron, Steph and KD, all those guys bring a lot more than what they’re getting paid,” said one Western Conference guard. “But being a lower-tier salary guy myself, if you pay those guys even more, the lower guys on the totem pole don’t really get anything.”
  • Asked which teams make the best pitches to free agents, players chose the Celtics (27%), Heat (15%), Lakers (12%), and Warriors (9%), with nine other clubs receiving votes. One Eastern Conference guard on Boston: “If you bring Tom Brady? That’s pretty damn cool.”

Pacific Notes: George, James, Jackson, Warriors

It has been evident for the past few years that there is mutual interest between the Lakers and hometown All-Star Paul George. The Pacers and Lakers discussed George in a trade this past offseason and L.A. was even fined for openly discussing its interest in the All-Star forward.

This is just the latest chapter in the Lakers coveting not just top free agents but native free agents, Bill Oram of the Orange County Register writes.

Just two summers ago, DeMar DeRozan – a Compton product – was linked to the Lakers before he re-signed with the Raptors. Two summers from now, Klay Thompson, a Los Angeles native, is expected to hit free agency and the Lakers will almost certainly be in the mix. Kevin Lovewho played at UCLA, was expected to be a Lakers target in 2015 before the Cavaliers acquired him a year earlier. There is a noticeable pattern with the Lakers: pursue big names and if they happen to be from the area, pursue them even harder.

“I think that’s just the media,” George said about his impending free agency. “They see a headline and immediately they jump to conclusions. It’s funny but at the end of the day I know where my decision lands, or what my decision is, and that’s all that matters.”

Check out other Pacific Division news below:

  • Tonight’s All-Star Game takes place in Los Angeles and the Lakers‘ free agency targets — in addition to George — have been a major talking point, Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports writes. The Lakers cleared considerable cap space by trading away Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. at the deadline with eyes toward George and possibly LeBron James. Russell Westbrook, a California native himself, already shot down the notion of George wanting to jump ship over the summer. “That’s out! Paul ain’t going nowhere,” Westbrook told reporters as Lakers fans chanted for George. “It’s over for that.” As for James, his decision is still up in the air.
  • Josh Jackson‘s defense has always been strong but his recent surge on offense could make him a major threat for the Suns, Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype writes. Since January, Jackson has averaged 16.1 PPG for the Suns.
  • Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports examines the Warriors‘ success and how it has become a part of the team’s identity in both wins and losses.

Thunder Notes: Durant, Westbrook, George, Technicals

Kevin Durant is taking the blame for the strained relationship with former teammate Russell Westbrook, according to an article on NBC Sports Bay Area. Since Durant left the Thunder in July of 2016, he and Westbrook have been engaged in a simmering feud, and Durant believes he could have handled the situation better.

“Well I just got outta my own head, got out of my own ways and stopped thinking it was even a thing,” he said when asked about the topic at today’s All-Star Weekend press conference. “… I feel like I made it a thing when it a thing when it shouldn’t have been. It’s cool to kind of get past that and just appreciate these guys for who they are and what they do. And it’s all love at the end of the day.”

Westbrook seemed less open when asked about his feelings toward Durant. “Communicatin’, that’s about it,” he responded. “All the other stuff is kind of irrelevant. Just keeping it cool, talking when we need to and just moving forward.” Durant and Westbrook are All-Star teammates for the second straight year, this time on the squad captained by LeBron James.
There’s more Thunder-related news tonight:
  • Fans in Los Angeles, hoping to see Paul George sign with the Lakers in free agency this summer, serenaded him during the press conference with chants of “We want Paul,” tweets Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript. Westbrook quickly dismissed that possibility, shouting at the crowd, “Paul ain’t goin’ nowhere! It’s over for that,” relays Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times (via Twitter).
  • When reporters asked George if he knows what he will do when he becomes a free agent, he responded, “I don’t,” then paused and said, “I know what I feel is best.” (Twitter link)
  • Thunder players understand better than anyone the on-court tensions that led to today’s meeting between representatives of the players’ and referees’ unions, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. OKC leads the NBA in technical fouls with 41 in 59 games. Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams each has seven, with George close behind at six. “The reality is, the officials have a really hard job, and our players have a hard job, and it’s a very, very competitive game,” said coach Billy Donovan, who has seven technicals of his own. “There’s going to be emotions that get in there. The communication part is really important. The officials want that, the players want that. … But the reality is, you have to have a coexisting relationship there. I think it’s important you have to control your emotions and you can deal with them, because again, they do have a hard job.”

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Thompson, Jackson

There’s no denying that the Lakers are set on making a push for Paul George and LeBron James this summer, but what if things don’t go according to plan? Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus recently broke down the club’s alternative options if one or both of those stars decide against a move to Los Angeles.

If James decides not to sign with the Lakers, it’s expected that the franchise will continue to make a push for George. What the team would do with its second max slot in that scenario remains to be seen, however. Given that the next-best reasonably available options could be an injured DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, the Lakers may opt hold onto their cap space until the summer of 2019 in that situation.

If neither of the two sign in L.A., the Lakers would almost inevitably have to hold onto their cap space until the summer of 2019 when players like Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker hit the market.

If the latter happens, the Lakers will need to be tactful in how they manage players like Isaiah Thomas, Julius Randle and Brook Lopez, all set to have their contracts expire at the end of June.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Although he won’t hit free agency until the summer of 2019, Warriors guard Klay Thompson has every intention of remaining with Golden State, Mark Medina of the Mercury News writes. “Anything I can do to stay with the Warriors is first and foremost. God willing, it happens. If not, I don’t even think about that,” Thompson said.
  • If a player needs to be convinced to play for the franchise and carry on the Lakers legacy, they’re not the right person for the job, Kobe Bryant said. The Hall of Fame-bound shooting guard discussed his role in recruiting free agents for the only franchise he ever played for with ESPN’s Jalen Rose.
  • Since the new year, Suns rookie Josh Jackson has averaged 16.1 points per game. That’s a notable increase from the 9.0 he averaged through the first three months of his NBA career. Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype recently shed light on the Kansas product’s in-season improvement.

And-Ones: George, Lakers, Team USA, 2019 Draft

It was overshadowed last week by the excitement of the NBA trade deadline, but Thunder forward Paul George once again addressed his 2018 free agency, this time during a conversation with Sam Amick of USA Today. The last time George weighed in on his upcoming decision, he was telling ESPN that Russell Westbrook‘s advocacy for George’s spot on the All-Star team was making his free agency choice easier.

This time around, George continued to praise the Thunder – an organization he called “smart” and “savvy” – and laid out a strong case for why he might end up re-signing with Oklahoma City. However, he didn’t close the door on heading west to Los Angeles either.

“I’ve been really happy,” George told Amick. “(The Thunder are] a great organization to be a part of, but again, you know, I don’t want people looking at this and (saying) like, ‘Hey, because he said it’s his happiness at the end of the day (that he’s definitely re-signing).’ I don’t know whether I’m going to LA, or what I’m going to do this offseason. But I can say I am happy about being here. I’m happy with playing with Russ, happy with playing with Melo, and this organization. This front office has shown what they can do to go get pieces and how active they are about winning.”

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • RealGM has the unusual protection details on the first-round pick acquired by the Lakers in their deadline deal with the Cavaliers. The 2018 first-rounder is top-three protected, so it’s a virtual lock to change hands this year. But if the Cavs somehow fall out of the playoffs and jump into the top three in the lottery, the Lakers wouldn’t have another shot at the pick until 2023, when it’s top-10 protected.
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer identifies several players who would be top candidates for a Most Improved Situation of the Year award, if such an award existed.
  • USA Basketball recently announced the 14 players who will participate in training camp for the next World Cup qualifying event. Former NBAers like Terrence Jones, Semaj Christon, and Alonzo Gee are among the players looking to represent Team USA.
  • Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Insider link) takes an early look at the 2019 draft class, which currently projected to be headed by a trio of Duke commits, R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish, and Zion Williamson.

Lakers’ Free Agency Focus Shifting To 2019?

The Lakers are recalibrating their free agency focus, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski, who report that the L.A. front office is “looking through a longer lens” as it explores ways to upgrade the roster. Although the Lakers would still like to make a big splash in free agency, they may now be prioritizing the 2019 class over this summer’s group, per Shelburne and Wojnarowski.

Ever since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka assumed control of personnel decisions in Los Angeles, the team’s desire to pursue free agents in 2018 has been no secret. During the 2017 offseason, the Lakers limited themselves to one-year deals for free agents so as not to cut into their potential cap room for the 2018/19 season.

However, as Shelburne and Wojnarowski detail, there’s still no guarantee that the Lakers will have enough cap space for two maximum-salary free agents this summer, and even if they do, no star players are viewed as locks to head west. The Pelicans are considered the frontrunners for DeMarcus Cousins, who is sidelined with an Achilles injury, while Paul George has hinted recently that he’s leaning toward sticking with the Thunder. And according to Shelburne and Woj, LeBron James is believed to be hesitant about the idea of joining the Lakers without another established star joining him.

The Lakers haven’t ruled out the possibility of landing a big-name player this July, but shifting their focus to the summer of 2019 would reduce the urgency to clear cap room right away. It would also give L.A.’s young prospects more time to develop into the type of players that would attract veteran stars. The 2019 free agent class includes several intriguing potential targets, with Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler among the players expected to be up for new contracts.

While the Lakers could still end up moving players like Jordan Clarkson or Julius Randle this week in an effort to create more flexibility for July 2018, one league source suggested to Shelburne and Wojnarowski that the odds of a meaningful deal are “50-50 at best.” The Lakers have received some offers for Clarkson and Randle, but none of those offers would create significant cap space going forward and give them the sort of draft picks they’re seeking, sources tell ESPN.

Thunder Notes: Roberson, George, Abrines

A top-five ranked defense took a major hit Saturday evening when Thunder swingman and 2017 NBA All-Defensive Second Team member Andre Roberson had his season end abruptly after rupturing his left patellar tendon. Erik Horne of The Oklahoman opines that the team has two good options: make a trade, or seek a difference maker on the buyout market later this month.

A trade may be difficult, as the Thunder don’t have a first-round pick to trade until 2024, and not many attractive assets with whom the team would be willing to part. The Thunder do have two trade exceptions acquired in the Paul George trade, but the larger of the two exceptions is only worth $2.5MM – an amount unlikely to fit a salary equal to Roberson’s value.

Should the team test the buyout market, Horne mentions Andrew Bogut as a potential option to maintain the team’s defensive prowess, with more names to materialize after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • George initially being omitted as an All-Star ending up working out in the Thunder’s favor, writes Royce Young of ESPN. George, who will make his fifth All-Star Game appearance in his hometown of Los Angeles on Feb. 18, received an outpouring of support from teammate Russell Westbrook after being overlooked for this year’s event, and George clearly noticed. Now, the two L.A. natives will be teammates on Team LeBron, and it stands to reason that the closer the two become, the more likely it is that George will remain in Oklahoma City.
  • If the Thunder are unable and/or opt not to replace Roberson via trade or free agent acquisition, look for second-year player Alex Abrines to step up his role for the team, reports Brett Dawson of the The Oklahoman. Head coach Billy Donovan stated before yesterday’s game that he “definitely” wants to find more minutes for Abrines, saying of the Spaniard, “I’ve got to find ways to get him on the floor and help him because I think he can help our team.”
  • In his latest piece for Bleacher Report, NBA Capologist Eric Pincus analyzes whether the Thunder will dole out the cash necessary to keep George in Oklahoma City should he wish to stay. Facing the repeater tax and Carmelo Anthony‘s all-but-assured decision to opt in next season, the Thunder could be faced with a roster costing somewhere between $250MM and $300MM.

Reaction To The Blake Griffin Trade

The Pistons and Clippers agreed to the biggest blockbuster trade of the season on Monday, with star forward Blake Griffin as the centerpiece.

Here’s how some top columnists from around the country view the deal:

  • Acquiring Griffin is more likely to be the beginning of the end for Stan Van Gundy’s regime with the Pistons than it is to turn the franchise around, Kelvin Pelton of ESPN opines. Detroit will hard-pressed to make any moves after the season because Griffin’s contact will push the team close to the luxury-tax line, Pelton points out. The Pistons also weakened themselves at the wing spots by trading Avery Bradley, while the Clippers added another quality starter with an affordable contract in Tobias Harris, Pelton continues. Trading Griffin also gives the Clippers a better chance at creating max cap space next summer to pursue top free agents, though trading a star player at the beginning of a long-term deal won’t help the Clips build trust with those free agents, Pelton adds.
  • The Clippers have positioned themselves to be major players in the 2019 free agent market, according to Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kevin Love and Kemba Walker could be available and the team will have just one guaranteed contract on the books for the 2019/20 season, Bontemps notes. LeBron James and Paul George could also be available if they sign one-year deals with their current squads, Bontemps adds.
  • The Pistons paid a king’s ransom for Griffin and it’s unlikely to work out in their favor, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News opines. Griffin’s injury history is a major concern, particularly his left knee issues, and he has missed one-third of his team’s games since the 2013-14 season, Deveney notes. He’s also a questionable fit next to Andre Drummond, since Griffin is a subpar three-point shooter and has also struggled with his mid-range game this season.
  • Detroit hasn’t landed a big-time free agent since Chauncey Billups in 2002, so the Pistons can only acquire an All-Star talent through trades, according to Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. The Pistons need Griffin to make the playoffs, while the first-rounder is the biggest piece the Clippers landed. That likely gives L.A. two first-rounders in the next draft during a time when picks are highly coveted, the USA Today duo adds.
  • The Clippers clearly seem to believe they can make a serious run at LeBron James when he enters free agency in July and this trade will facilitate that goal, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Potential trades involving DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams will be aimed in helping them in that quest, Stein adds.

Paul George To Replace DeMarcus Cousins In All-Star Game

Thunder forward Paul George will replace DeMarcus Cousins in the All-Star Game, the league office announced. He will be part of the team captained by LeBron James.

This is the third straight All-Star appearance for George and the fifth of his career. He is averaging 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals in 45 games with the Thunder.

Under league rules, when an All-Star is injured, as Cousins was with a season-ending rupture to his left Achilles, commissioner Adam Silver will select a replacement from the same conference. George had the most points among players who weren’t chosen as reserves this week in a vote by coaches.

George is in his first season with the Thunder after being acquired from the Pacers in a July trade. He is expected to opt out of a $20.7MM salary for next season and test the market in free agency.

 

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