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NBA AM: Bledsoe Remains Stranded In Limbo

Eric Bledsoe is arguably the best free agent remaining but there’s no deal imminent for his services next season.

Lang Greene

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Bledsoe, stranded in restricted free agency, awaits next move

It isn’t often you see a potential future All-Star player under 25 years old wallowing in the loneliness of free agency as we approach September, but Eric Bledsoe is seemingly in a never-ending holding pattern as he awaits his new deal.

There are numerous barriers that led Bledsoe to this position. For starters, the talented guard missed almost half of last season recovering from a knee injury. Bledsoe is also a restricted free agent and the Phoenix Suns can match any offer received for his services. Lastly, there just aren’t teams around the league swimming in the cap space needed to offer Bledsoe what he wants (reportedly a maximum-level deal). Of course a sign-and-trade can be leveraged, with a potential suitor, if there was interest but the market surrounding Bledsoe has been dry.

The Suns have firmly stood by their four-year, $48 million offer to Bledsoe presented very early in free agency. Phoenix has also been reluctant to entertain trade offers for the guard but according to recent reports, the franchise may be changing its tune and might be more receptive to a deal providing solid assets in return.

“I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported,” local sportscaster Jude LaCava said on Fox Sports 910. “I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.”

“That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.”

“I think it’s safe to say ‘open for business’,” LaCava said. “The decision makers, [managing partner Robert] Sarver and [president of basketball operations [Lon] Babby and hopefully [general manager] Ryan McDonough, they are open to that possibility. It’s got to be right. It’s got to be the right return in what they are looking for. It’s to the point that if they can accommodate Bledsoe and get something they want in return, trade possibilities are very, very real and they have been discussed.”

Despite the previously mentioned barriers, Bledsoe does have some leverage in the process. The guard can opt to take the qualifying offer, worth $3.7 million, which would allow him to re-enter the free agency market next summer. But this is risky given Bledsoe’s injury history and the amount of money he would be leaving on the table next season in pursuit of his max deal.

Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 43 games last season. The guard shot a career best 48 percent from the field during the 2013-14 campaign.

Commissioner addresses risk of NBA players playing internationally

By now, everyone has seen or is at the very least aware of the gruesome leg injury suffered by All-Star forward Paul George as he prepared for the upcoming FIBA World Cup with the U.S. Men’s National Team. Naturally, you’ve probably also heard strong arguments made against using international athletes, or elite NBA players, in international competitions.

The topic has sparked numerous debates this summer on whether changes are necessary to limit NBA players from competing in international play.  NBA commissioner Adam Silver has continued to publicly maintain the decision is a personal one for the players to make during their offseason.

“I’ll only reiterate that ultimately it is a personal decision for these players,” Silver said according to ESPN New York. “I should point out that it is not just U.S. players we are referring to. Collectively we have close to 50 NBA players participating in this World Cup on behalf of their national teams.”

Despite the loss of the talented George, Team USA is still an overwhelming favorite heading into FIBA World Cup competition, which begins on August 30.  The team has also lost the commitments of All-Star forwards Kevin Durant and Kevin Love this summer, who both primarily left the squad driven by off the court financial matters.

Silver doesn’t believe additional incentives are needed to persuade top level guys to represent their respective countries during summer competition.

“No concern,” Silver said. “It is an individual player decision and for these young men we recognize that playing in the NBA is a job and they have responsibilities to their team and their teammates as well. Ultimately they have to make that very personal decision as to whether they want to play in the summer, whether it makes sense for their bodies, whether it makes sense for their families. Ultimately, there is risk as I commented on Paul George earlier. I am enormously sympathetic to him and his family because of his injury. But as he said himself, he had no second thoughts about having participated.

“[Pacers president] Larry Bird said it well: Injuries happen. In sports, it could have happened outside the context of our national team as well. To the extent that players are participating, it is the very best coaching in the world, the very best trainers and very best facilities. On balance, there are various factors to be weighed, they come out better young men as a result of having participating in these events.”

Spain is expected to be the biggest challenge for the Americans during the World Cup. Their roster includes proven NBA-caliber talent headlined by Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol. Lithuania also figures to be in the mix with promising Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas in the fold. Lithuania and Span have both dominated exhibition play leading up to World Cup and have played more games than Team USA in preparation.

Thursday Ten Pack

These are the dog days of the NBA offseason, but there are still plenty of stories worth reading. Here are some consolidated for easy convenience.

Rajon Rondo rumors and the trade process

Can Larry Sanders bounce back?

Will the Miami HEAT truly contend in 2014-15?

Early look at the 2015 NBA free agency field

Derrick Rose overcomes his injury fears

Phoenix Suns looking to trade Eric Bledsoe?

The next wave of NBA superstars

NBA releases schedule for 2014-15 season

Out of bounds: Boogie for America

Derrick Rose in danger of being cut from Team USA?

Check out the biggest rumors of the day in our NBA Rumor Round-Up. For more rumors and news, check out Basketball Insiders’ headlines, which are constantly being updated.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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