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NBA AM: Extensions Not Always What They Seem

Sometimes not reaching a deal is better than it seems. For Orlando’s Tobias Harris he has a chance to control his own future in many ways… Kobe Bryant remains committed to the Lakers.

Steve Kyler

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Not Always What It Seems:  As the season wound down last year, an NBA player posed the question to me, “What do you think the Magic will offer Tobias Harris?” The question was more about trying to gauge his own value, but it also framed the question of what is a guy that averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game on a team that won 23 games really worth?

Just around Labor Day, the Magic reached out to Harris’ camp to start the conversation and offer up the idea of a deal in the $9 million per year range. Harris’ camp was seeking something more substantial. Those talks were cordial and ended without any sense of progress. The two sides never talked numbers or negotiated again.

The Magic’s stance is that failing to reach a deal with Harris means very little. They’ll have the right to issue a qualifying offer in July and restrict his free agency, giving them the option to match any free agent offer Harris receives. They tried to get a deal done at a number that made sense to them, but that number didn’t make sense to Harris’ camp.

For Harris, the fact that the Magic never really negotiated with him was the hardest part.

“You know it’s a part of the game,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of the business. I think right now I’m just focused on winning. Focused on my team and just focused on getting better. You know it’s a little disappointing, but it’s a part of the game.”

Harris finds himself among a few other players at his position looking at free agency next summer. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard did not reach a deal, although it’s assumed that the Spurs opted to wait to preserve what would amount to $8 million in salary cap flexibility next summer before doing a deal with Leonard.

Chicago’s Jimmy Butler was initially offered something similar to Harris, a deal in the $8-9 million range. The Bulls’ final offer was said to be in the neighborhood of $11 million per year. However, there was a sense around the extension deadline that Butler could receive that kind of number in restricted free agency, so why not roll the dice and see if he could play his way into a better deal?

Harris’ camp views his situation in a similar fashion; what he was offered by the Magic is likely there for him this summer, and he too has a chance to play his way into a better deal either in amount per year or in how the deal is structured. Doing a deal now would have been entirely on Orlando’s terms and waiting until July offers the opportunity for a better frame work of a deal.

“I think it’s a big year for me,” Harris said. “Not just because I didn’t get an extension but because I work my tail off all summer to have a productive year for my team. It could happen like that and god willing it does; but like I said, I’m just here for my teammates to help us win games.”

The Magic indicated to Harris’ camp that they would likely match any free agent offer sheet, which is a common stance for teams with players in Harris’ situation. However, as last summer proved, other teams can affect the price and the structure of a deal, so nothing is guaranteed.

“I still come out here and play this game with my teammates,” Harris said. “Just focus on trying to win. All that stuff, like I said, it’ll handle itself eventually. We weren’t able to get a deal done now; you never know what could happen at the end of this year. My focus is just to play my game and help my teammates.”

As the details of Harris’ contract talks have surfaced, there has been some commentary from fans that Harris was “greedy” or was asking for too much, which is something Harris takes seriously.

“No not at all,” Harris said. “Like I said before, my agent was handling a lot of that situation. There was no negotiations that went down, so with that being said you can’t really control that type of stuff.

“I didn’t take it or nothing, being greedy? No, that’s not me at all. I’m for my team and like I said I just want to win.”

There will of course be questions about Harris’ future in Orlando. Will the Magic try and trade him before the February trade deadline rather than get drawn into a bidding war for his services?

For Orlando’s part, they continue to say they can’t envision Harris not being part of their future. However, without a deal in place, there will be rumors and speculation for sure, especially with the log jam the Magic have at the three and four spots on their roster.

As one insider pointed out about this situation, waiting allows both sides to know more about the future. Orlando will know if Harris is the franchise-type player his side would like to be compensated as and Harris can ensure that he is paid market-value for his services, whatever that number ends up being.

Failing to reach a deal doesn’t means anything more than that. The solution to the problem likely doesn’t happen until July, it’s just not as neat and tidy as all parties would have liked.

Kobe Doesn’t Want A Trade:  The Los Angeles Lakers are off to their worst start since moving to Hollywood and matching the franchise’s worst start during the 1957-58 season while in Minneapolis.

The 0-4 start has prompted some to suggest that the Lakers and Kobe Bryant should consider a divorce. Bryant is one of the few players in the NBA with a defined “no-trade” clause in his contract, something that was carried over from the last collective bargaining agreement, so a break up would have to be approved by Kobe.

“I hear the chatter of Kobe should ask out and he should go and play for a contender in this latter stage of his career,” Bryant told Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports. “But that’s not what I do. I’m extremely loyal to the Lakers.

“I believe in fighting through the tough times as well as enjoying the good times. It’s my responsibility to get us to be the best that we can be. It’s important that we approach that on a day-to-day basis.”

Bryant finds himself on roster without a lot of high level talent, making the dream of another NBA Finals run seem extremely farfetched. No one could seriously blame Bryant for wanting a better situation at this point in his career.

“I’ve enjoyed a great amount of success here,” Bryant said. “You can’t just enjoy the successful times and then run away from the bad ones. No, I don’t even think about [departing]. I’m a Laker.”

Bryant has come under fire as being part of the reason major free agents have opted against the Lakers. Bryant has laughed off the notion he was the reason guys like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James didn’t consider the Lakers.

“It was really tough to land those free agents just because of the opportunities that they had,” Bryant said. “You got ‘Melo going back to New York, LeBron going back home to Cleveland. The odds just weren’t in our favor. But I took comfort in the fact that the Lakers did absolutely everything possible to make it happen. Absolutely everything possible.

“We offered Pau an incredible deal. I saw them put the work in. It’s much different than in 2007 when I felt like they were just sitting on their hands. This is not that case. They were going after it and being aggressive. I will fight for that till the end. They tried, tried and tried and it didn’t work out. I stand behind them 110 percent. I bleed purple and gold.”

Bryant has two seasons remaining on his deal including $23.5 million this season and $25 million next season. Bryant has indicated that while he has two years left on his deal, he is not entirely sold these will be the last two years of his career. Given how well Bryant has played so far this season, the window for another championship run isn’t completely closed; it just isn’t going to happen this year and for now Bryant seems to want to stay where he is at. Time will tell if that will change down the road.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler

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Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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