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NBA AM: NBA Free Agency Rolls On

Raptors reach a deal with Kyle Lowry… Carmelo heads to LA… The Clippers are being aggressive.. The Pelicans are looking at deals.

Steve Kyler

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Day 3, And Mostly Quiet:  The build up to NBA Free Agency is always followed by something of a letdown in the number of agreements that get reached early. This is not at all unusual. Since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kicked in in 2011, there is an ever increasing amount of money becoming available each summer due to much shorter contracts. As a result players are hitting free agency faster and teams are clearing space faster, creating an environment of lots of cash and lots of players.

The problem this year is that four teams are sitting on a mountain of cash or the potential for a mountain of cash and are waiting for free agents Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James to come off the board before locking into deals.

The one thing to keep in mind is that the lack of noise does not mean teams are not being active and aggressive in trying to get players in or get players committed.

Here are some of things we know today:

Lowry Gets His Deal:  After meeting with a few teams, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry agreed to terms on a four-year, $48 million deal. The deal has an Early Termination Option after the third year, so Lowry will likely have a chance to cash in on one more major contract in his career.

This deal was not altogether unexpected. Toronto came hard and aggressive and did not hold back on the money they were offering. As much as Houston and the Lakers were of interested, neither were offering Lowry what he has in Toronto – a young team that he can run completely.

Lowry has said repeatedly that his primary goal is to win a championship, and it seems Raptors GM Masai Ujiri convinced him that the franchise will make the kind of moves necessary to get there.

Lowry told several media outlets last night that he felt Toronto was the right place for him. He will officially sign his new contract on July 11 when the July Moratorium on contract signings is lifted.

No Fire Sale in NOLA:  Early on in the free agency process several league sources had pegged the New Orleans Pelicans as massive sellers in the trade market.

However, as that news reached the Pelicans, they were quick to deny it. Like most teams in the NBA, the Pelicans are actively engaged in talks with other teams and are looking to make some moves not only to shore up their roster, but to give them flexibility to improve.

There is a sense around the league that the Pelicans would be open to moving Eric Gordon and possibly Austin Rivers; however, deals involving Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans or Jrue Holiday are not of much interest to the Pelicans and without question former top pick Anthony Davis is off the board.

Two of New Orleans’ top free agents – Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith – are drawing interest from other teams. Smith would love to be back in New Orleans and told Basketball Insiders in December that it wouldn’t take a crazy contract to keep him in the Big Easy.

As things stand now, the Pelicans have $54.08 million in hard salary commitments, giving them almost $9 million in space if they renounce the rights to their own free agents.

In order to keep all the parts they would like to keep the Pelicans may need a trade, hence the chatter that NOLA is in the market.

The Melo Dance Continues:  After almost ten hours in Chicago, Carmelo Anthony spent the entire day yesterday in Texas with an easy day stop in Houston and then a mid-day stop in Dallas.

Much like Chicago, Houston pulled out all the stops adorning the Toyota Center with mock ups of Anthony in a Rockets jersey. They sold him the idea of competing for a championship next season and the chance to be part of the new core in Houston. Things were said to go extremely well, however the Houston side of things said they had no sense of what Carmelo was going to do after their meeting.

In Dallas, the Mavericks played their visit with Carmelo low-key. The meeting was held at Mavericks owner Mark Cuban house. Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki was said to be a part of the group that meet with Carmelo. Their pitch to him was the fact they have won a championship. They have a fairly fleshed out roster with guys Carmelo knows and they have the coach that can get him there and an owner that is committed to spending to return to the Finals.

After a full day in Texas, Anthony is scheduled to meet with the Lakers today. Laker star Kobe Bryant is expected to be part of the meeting. The Lakers pitch is said to be built around Bryant and Carmelo as a championship combo with a re-signed Pau Gasol in the mix. The Lakers drafted an impact player in Julius Randle who was completely cleared for basketball by one of the top foot specialists in Indiana. So they have a solid core in this plan.

After meeting with the Lakers today, Carmelo is expected to meet again with Phil Jackson and the Knicks for their final proposal, which could take place over the weekend.

Carmelo has told the teams he’s met with he hopes to make a quick decision so they can move forward.

The Chicago Bulls have started looking at Plan B options, which includes Gasol and others, but the primary focus is still Carmelo.

A couple of things did surface in both the Bulls and Rockets meetings and that is the fact that neither team can open up the full salary he can receive from Dallas, the Lakers or the Knicks.

The Bulls pitch to Carmelo included forward Taj Gibson remaining on the team, meaning to get to the full value possible for him, the Bulls would have to dump everything on the roster to get there, and that would be tough to do. The Bulls’ pitch was said to center around a $19-$20 million starting salary.

It’s being reported that the Chicago Bulls have notified Carlos Boozer that if the team cannot find a trade for his contract that they will use their one time amnesty roster cut on his final contract year worth $16.8 million, effectively removing him from the Bulls’ salary cap. Boozer will be paid all of the money owed to him.

Boozer’s deal alone clears a huge chunk from Chicago’s salary cap, but not enough to sign Anthony without other moves.

Houston’s cap position is not much better; they too can get to about $20 million if they dumped Jeremy Lin in trade, which is expected. Fortunately the Rockets can re-sign Chandler Parsons after signing a player like Carmelo and exceed the cap, but they would have to hang on to his $2.8 million cap hold to do it.

Both teams are more than willing to engaged the Knicks in a sign-and-trade, however the Knicks at least initially are saying they would have little interest in doing so; that may change when Carmelo makes his final decision.

Orlando Is Still Shopping:  The Orlando Magic have been purging their roster for the last couple of days, releasing veteran guard Jameer Nelson, paying his $2 million guarantee to be rid of the remaining $6 million on his deal. The Magic also did not issue a qualifying offer to E’Twaun Moore, making him a free agent and yesterday they waived veteran guard Ronnie Price. Veteran forward Jason Maxiell is expected to be waived as well if the team cannot find a trade for him before July 10.

The Magic got its first free agent commitment yesterday, agreeing to a two year, $9 million deal with veteran guard Ben Gordon, which was something of a head scratcher. The second year of Gordon’s deal is a team option, so in essence this is a one year contract. Magic executives Matt Lloyd and Scott Perry are both very familiar with Gordon as they both had him on their previous teams, Lloyd in Chicago and Perry in Detroit.

There have been reports that the Magic had contacted the agents for restricted free agents Greg Monroe and Patrick Patterson. Both are more likely to be matched by their current teams in Detroit and Toronto respectively, although the Magic have the cap room to make things interesting if they wanted to.

Clippers In Sale Mode:  The LA Clippers are not sitting out free agency either. The Clippers have been after Nets free agent Paul Pierce and are reported offering a sign-and-trade package said to include Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes and last year’s first round pick Reggie Bullock. The Nets seem uninterested in such a package.

Pierce isn’t the only notable name the Clippers are dangling sign-and-trade deals for. They have reached out to Wizards free agent Trevor Ariza, Memphis free agent Mike Miller and Cavs free agents Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes.

The Clippers are also believed to have Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford on the trade market as they try and add another impact player, specifically at small forward, to the roster.

Crawford’s camp has made it clear that given the flurry of dollars being thrown around that any team acquiring him should be prepared to guarantee the final year of his contract. Crawford has the upcoming season and the following season left on his deal, with both years only being partially guaranteed.

The Clippers have also been in contact with free agent Darren Collison, who opted out of his deal, about a return to the Clippers. He is said to be weighing his options.

The Clippers have also reached out to unrestricted free agent Ed Davis and seem to be gaining traction on a possible deal, however Davis is said to have on-going conversations with several teams.

If you are looking for the very latest news, notes and deals surrounding 2014 NBA Free Agency – check out the Free Agency Diary – it is updated throughout the day with all the news in one easy to find place.

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NBA

Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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Covington’s Contract Extension Adds Value On and Off the Court

Robert Covington cashed in for himself while also allowing the Sixers to potentially cash in this summer.

Dennis Chambers

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The Philadelphia 76ers are keeping their X-factor in town for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday night, hours before the Sixers were set to tip off against the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Covington and Philadelphia were finalizing a contract extension for four-years and $62 million.

But what the Sixers did to preserve their financial flexibility for the future, while still rewarding Covington, was potentially what makes this deal so valuable. In addition to his current $1.57 million salary this season, the Sixers will renegotiate an additional $15 million into Covington’s salary for this year.

As Wojnarowski reported, that chunk of change the Sixers coughed up this season allows them to still have $25 million in salary-cap space next summer. Along with paying a large portion of the deal upfront, the four-year extension Covington will wind up agreeing to pays him around $45 million over the duration, as reported by The Athletic’s Derek Bodner.

For Covington, coming from his undrafted status out of Tennessee State, to being sent down to the D-League after a short stint with the Houston Rockets, to a team-friendly Sam Hinkie special four-year contract with the Sixers back in 2014, now finally culminating in a big payday as one of the NBA’s premier 3-and-D players, is nothing short of an amazing story.

It’s duly noted what Covington brings to the table for the Sixers on the court. After leading the league in deflections last season, along with his ability to guard 1-4 spots on the court, Covington secured votes in the Defensive Player of the Year race. This season, without sacrificing any of his defense (registering the same 105 defensive rating as last season), Covington is experiencing a renaissance on the offensive end.

Along with averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game, Covington is shooting an absurd 49.5 percent from deep on 7.2 attempts per game. Believe it or not, he has made more threes than Stephen Curry and is shooting a higher percentage from beyond the arc—Covington is 50-of-101 from three-point range, while Curry is 47-of-121.

It’s only the second week of November, but that is nonetheless impressive, and a testament to how on-fire Covington has been this season.

Playing along Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and another sharpshooter like J.J. Redick gets Covington open looks. He’s learned to maximize those opportunities.

Now, with his new extension, Covington is just as big of an impact off the court, as well.

By renegotiating his salary for this season, the Sixers are left with enough money to be serious players next summer when some marquee free agents will hit the open market. It was a stroke of genius for the front office, and also a rare occurrence, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out that a move similar to this has occurred just seven times since 1998.

As reported last season, the Sixers made a significant push to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers at the trade deadline. Part of that package included Covington. Although they love Covington in Philadelphia, they believed giving him up for George would have been worth it. Obviously, that didn’t pan out, but the good news now is that the Sixers will have the cap space to pursue George should he opt for free agency this summer.

It’s been no secret that George would like to test the open waters and find the best fit for himself. Although George is playing alongside the most talented players he’s ever had by his side with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, he is just one of many impact free agents on the market.

Covington’s brilliant extension gives Philadelphia the option to meet with a player like George, and not only offer him the promise of playing with budding stars like Embiid and Simmons, but with quality starters like Covington. And if George isn’t amenable to the possibility, someone else might be.

On a personal level, Covington embodies “the process” in Philadelphia. From his humble beginnings to now being a multi-millionaire whose efforts are being handsomely rewarded, his story is a good one. 

Not only for him, but for the Sixers, too.

Yes, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hold the keys to the Sixers’ championship hopes, but once again, Covington is proving to be the X-factor.

This time, he’s extending his intangibles off the court as well.

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