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NBA AM: Are The Lakers Still A Desired Destination?

Are the LA Lakers still a desirable free agent destination? Kobe Bryant thinks so, but will free agents?… Is Rajon Rondo ready to lead the Celtics?

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The Harsh Truth Of The Middle:  There is little doubt that where a player plays matters. As much as teams try and make it a money discussion there does come a time when money is not the only motivator, especially in free agency.

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant did his part yesterday to keep the pot stirring with regards to New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, suggesting that everyone wants to play in LA.

“Everybody wants to play in Los Angeles,” Bryant said with a chuckle. “I mean, New York’s a beautiful place, but don’t get me wrong, it’s colder than sh*t out here. Palm trees and beaches, obviously, are a little more appealing. But all jokes aside, I think that players, when that time comes, will have to make the best decision for them and their families. If he wants to call me for advice, later, as a friend, I’ll be more than happy to give it to him.”

If the last two offseasons have taught us anything, it’s that players often think about themselves during free agency and that leaving what appears to be an ideal situation for something else is the new normal in the NBA.

Proponents of big markets tend to over-look that while in Orlando Dwight Howard became a household name, garnered all of the major gems of the endorsement world and logged the most All-Star votes by a single player. Thunder forward Kevin Durant leads all NBA players including LeBron James in the number of commercial endorsements and more importantly television commercials featuring his likeness. He plays in one of the smaller NBA markets in the league.

»In Related: The 2014-2015 NBA Free Agent Class.

Who you are matters a lot more than where you are.

Market appeal is a factor, but it’s not nearly the factor that it was even 10 years ago because of the digitalization of sports media and the global appeal the NBA has.

Fans no longer consume NBA products based on what’s shown each week on national television. For years, that was the primary outlet for NBA stars, so being on one of the teams on national television mattered, it mattered a lot.

But with more emphasis on League Pass, prime time availability of non-local games and the ever increasing game night presence of outlets like NBA TV and the internet, the national game isn’t what it used to be.

Large market teams have deeper pockets, that’s for sure, but with a new economic system in the NBA leveling the playing field, major market teams don’t have the ability to outspend their lesser populated counter-parts. In fact those lesser teams have learned they have to overspend a little to get players and we have seen over the last few years teams outside the top ten in terms of media markets, spending more or giving bigger contracts than other teams, simply to get or retain talent.

We have also seen major market teams opt not to sign players for monetary reasons, something that was unheard of even five years ago.

It is naïve to believe money does not play a factor in where a player chooses to sign, but once the money becomes equal – or close to equal – that’s where lifestyle and the chance to really win factor in. Players, especially ones coming to a team as a free agent, talk about a franchise’s history or legacy, but almost none of them weigh that part of the equation when picking their next team. Where a team is going and what role they will play tends to trump everything.

It’s nice to talk about Anthony heading to the Lakers as a free agent, and he very well might. But the truth of the matter is he won’t be picking his next team because of palm trees and warm weather, he’ll be picking his next team because they can pay him a top tier rate and most importantly they can give him a real chance to win a championship.

»In Related: The Modern History of Trades In The NBA.

When it’s time to sit down and talk about where Anthony plays next, there will more than just the Knicks and Lakers sitting at the table and some of those situations may have palm trees and warm weather too.

The NBA landscape has changed, and we’ve seen dozens of cases where players have left one situation for another, and we have seen major players leave major markets.

It’s fun for someone who has played his entire career in LA to say “everyone wants to play in LA”, but is that really true? That will likely depend on how quickly the Lakers can rebuild themselves into a contender.

The Lakers have historically been a contender in more years than not and that has no doubt added to their appeal. But based on the construct of the roster today and the lack of youth and trade assets tomorrow, the Lakers might be less desirable than at any point in their history.

It will be interesting to see how free agents really look at the Lakers and if palm trees can really sway a major player LA’s way.

» ICYMI: Moke Hamilton caught up with Laker guard Kobe Bryant in New York this weekend. Kobe believes everyone wants to play in LA. Bill Ingram wonders is Rajon Rondo the answer to the Rockets championship puzzle? Nate Duncan and Tommy Beer go ‘Head-To-Head’ on who the third best team in the East really is. Moke Hamilton surveyed the Basketball Insiders team to find out who the 2014 All-Star Reserves might be. You can always find what you missed from our team here: http://www.basketballinsiders.com/category/nba-news/

Is Rondo Ready To Lead?:  It’s been an interesting week on the Rajon Rondo front for Boston. First Celtics president Danny Ainge revealed his team unsuccessfully tried to get Rondo to agree to a contract extension. Then Rondo countered saying he hoped to end his career in Boston.

As former Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett made their return to Boston, now as members of the Brooklyn Nets, both gushed over their former guard and his new role as leader of the Celtics locker room.

“When we were here, I think he took notes,” Garnett said to Ben Watanabe of New England Sports Network. “[Saturday] night, when we were talking to him, we stressed setting the tone, being the example, even when he doesn’t want to. I always talk to him about being a professional, and as a professional you don’t get to pick and choose when you want to do that.”

The former teammate spent some time together on Saturday night, including a dinner, in which all three shared memories and experiences.

»In Related: The Boston Celtics Team Salary Page.

“I think he’s ready now,” Pierce said. “Rondo is mature. He understood what was coming and I think he’s ready. Before, he had me and Kevin to lean on. Now, he’s the guy. He’s the captain. He’s who everybody looks to for leadership. He’s grown. He’s matured. He’s seen the bottom, he’s seen the top and he’s got to understand this is his team to lead, through good and through bad. I think he understands that and he’s ready for that role. He’s ready to deal with it.”

The Celtics are clearly in rebuild mode, but for Garnett he thinks that Rondo can be part of getting the Celtics back to the playoffs and into contender status.

“It’s the pedigree of a champion,” Garnett said. “You don’t let losing become something usual. You keep the mentality up. Some are not going to follow, but most will. And Rondo’s ready. He’s very comfortable in his role here. I think he understood the transition once it was happening and he’s the type of person that has the type of mentality, with the personality, to do just that. He’ll be all right.”

Rondo logged a season high 30 minutes against the Nets last night, something head coach Brad Stevens said was part of the plan as he works his way back from an ACL tear last year.

The Celtics are currently 15-31 and have lost eight of their last ten games. If the season ended today, the Celtics would be in a three-way tie with Sacramento and Utah for the fourth worst record in the NBA.

»In Related: The Current NBA Standings.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @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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Mike D’Antoni to step away as Nets assistant coach

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On Wednesday evening, the Brooklyn Nets organization announced that assistant coach Mike D’Antoni would not be returning to Steve Nash’s coaching staff for the 2021-22 NBA season. Coach D’Antoni is deciding to step down from his position after one season spent with the organization. The reason D’Antoni is deciding to leave the team is unknown. In late June, D’Antoni met with the Portland Trail Blazers for the vacant head-coaching position; he was interviewed twice.

From ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the 70-year-old veteran coach is still seeking to pursue another job as head coach. Coach Nash commented on the story stating, “I will forever be grateful for his guidance and will carry on a lifetime of lessons from the many years we’ve spent together. Our players and staff all benefited from this time in Brooklyn and we wish Mike, Laurel, and their family the very best in what lies ahead.” This news has personally shocked Nash, considering their history together.

In his 16-year NBA head coaching career, D’Antoni’s W-L record is 718-555 (.564). Despite never winning an NBA championship, D’Antoni won the 2005 Coach of the Year award with the Phoenix Suns when Nash was his star point guard, and he won his second award while coaching the Houston Rockets in 2017. The 2004-05 Suns finished 62-20 (.756), ranking first in the Pacific Division and first overall in the Western Conference. However, the Suns went on to lose four games to one against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

The 2017-18 Rockets ended their season 65-17 (.793), ranking first in the Southwest Division and first in the Western Conference Finals. Though, once again, D’Antoni’s team came up short, losing in Game 7 versus the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Coach D’Antoni was also the NBA All-Star Game head coach in 2007 and 2018. Moreover, the Nets lost another assistant coach this offseason after the Boston Celtics hired Ime Udoka to become their next head coach. On July 9, 2021, the Nets hired former Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool to their coaching staff.

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NBA Draft: Déjà Vu in Detroit

Tomorrow night the Detroit Pistons will make the first overall selection in the NBA Draft for just the second time in team history. They selected a Hall of Famer with that pick 51 years ago. Chad Smith details why it might happen again, this time with a player that resembles a guy that was once the face of their franchise.

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It has been 18 years since the Detroit Pistons had a top-three pick in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, it was arguably the worst selection in the history of the event as they took Darko Milicic second overall ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. It was a night that everyone in Detroit would love to forget, and now they might be able to do just that.

Detroit will kick off the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday night in what has been labeled as a loaded draft class, especially at the top. The last time the Pistons had the top overall pick, they did well by selecting Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier out of St. Bonaventure in the 1970 draft. The organization is hopeful that history will repeat itself.

Cade Cunningham is the consensus number one pick this year, which speaks volumes when considering the other candidates. While Detroit has not publicly hinted that they will take Cunningham, it would be an absolute shocker if he does not end up in the Motor City. It is a place that Cunningham has already grown fond of.

Should things go according to plan on Thursday night, there could be some déjà vu in Detroit. Aside from the Darko debacle, the last top-three selection by the franchise came in 1994 when they took Grant Hill out of Duke. The physical attributes are quite clear. Both players are listed at 6’ 8” tall and around 220 pounds. Just as their build is the same, so too is their demeanor on and off of the court.

Both Cunningham and Hill have similar playing styles and share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. They have incredible vision and passing ability that allows them to create for teammates. They use their size and strength against smaller defenders near the basket and are incredibly versatile with the ball in their hands. They are able to initiate offense from anywhere on the floor and have a complete all-around game that includes defense.

Hill recorded 29 triple-doubles in his career. That is something that Detroit hopes to get out of the 19-year old playmaker. Unlike many situations where the top overall pick finds himself on a team lacking talent, the Pistons have done a marvelous job of transforming their roster under Troy Weaver. Most of their core is already under contract for next season and will be earning less than $6 million.

Cunningham will join Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, as well as two All-Rookies in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. With Killian Hayes missing much of his rookie season due to injury, the Pistons have plenty of talent surrounding their new floor general. With some more talent and veteran leadership possibly coming onboard during free agency, Detroit should be able to return to the postseason next year.

As gifted as Cunningham is, he is not the most explosive athlete for his size. He won’t blow by defenders on the perimeter or leap over them for a highlight dunk, but that doesn’t stop him from attacking the basket. Like Hill, he has shown the ability to either create for teammates, create for himself, or simply finish at the rim. He makes the right reads against traps and hard hedges, making him even more difficult to defend.

The versatility is on full display whether it be on offense or defense. Cunningham’s seven-foot wingspan adds another element to his game as a physical defender with active hands. His high basketball IQ allows him to capitalize on filling passing lanes and his timing on shot-blocking. His improved jump shot has also elevated him as a true dynamic threat, scoring from all three levels.

As a Freshman at Oklahoma State, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor. He plays under control and never looks rushed or uncomfortable. It may take him some time to adjust to the NBA game but he has all of the tools and attributes you would want a top prospect to possess.

The fit in Detroit is tailor-made for the versatile guard. Cunningham can do a little bit of everything and elevates the play of his teammates. Whether he is facilitating, scoring, or playing off the ball, his impact on the court is significant. Despite not being an elite athlete, he can initiate the offense and get his own shot when needed.

Detroit clearly lacked guard play last season, with Hayes out of the lineup. They relied upon Grant and Plumlee to fuel their offense, with the rookies filling in at times. With the addition of Cunningham and the return of Hayes, the Pistons will have a sensational young backcourt to go along with their already established frontcourt.

There is also the potential for Detroit to have one of the most improved defenses in the conference. With their length and athleticism, this young core fits right in with the culture of a blue-collar team built around defense. Much of their success will ride on the shoulders of Dwane Casey, as he returns for his fourth season in Detroit.

Both Hill and Cunningham are from Texas and their birth dates are just ten days apart. Hill spent his first six seasons in Detroit, where he enjoyed the prime years of his playing career that included the Rookie of the Year Award. Five of his seven All-Star seasons came as a member of the Pistons and he was often seen as the next great superstar.

While injuries derailed his career, Hill’s journey ended with a trip to the Hall of Fame. While it is too early to put those expectations on a 19-year old, it is safe to say that the Pistons are in good hands for many years to come.

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Draft Kings

Team Argentina vs. Spain – Preview, Prediction, & Betting Picks

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On Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST), Argentina will take on Spain in this Group C preliminary round matchup. The Spaniards will enter this game as the selected favorites, while the Argentinians embrace their underdog role, as they lost their opening game 118-100 against Mavericks’ guard Luka Doncic and the Slovenian team. The last time Spain won the gold medal for the men’s team was at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where they defeated Argentina 95-75.

Game Details

Date & Time: Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC Sports Network (delayed)

Spread: Spain -8.5 (+100) (per DraftKings Sportsbook) 

Over/Under: 167

Best Moneyline: Spain -400, Argentina +300

  • Table odds retrieved from DraftKings

Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Team Argentina’s starting lineup in Thursday morning’s game consists of Facundo Campazzo, Luca Vildoza, Patricio Garino, Luis Scola, and Marcos Delia. In the team’s 118-100 defeat versus Slovenia, in 27 minutes played, forward Scola led the team on the stat sheet, accumulating 23 points, four rebounds, one assist, and one block. Guard Campazzo also earned 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. According to Bovada’s Olympic futures odds, the Argentinians have the eighth best odds to win the gold medal, with +8000 futures odds. Argentina has the third best odds (+2000) of winning Group C.Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Moreover, the starting lineup for Spain consists of Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Hernangomez, Victor Claver, and Marc Gasol. Their bench also includes two-time NBA champion center Pau Gasol. In the Spaniards’ 88-77 victory over Japan, Rubio led the team all across the board, leading the team with 20 points, two rebounds, and nine assists. Forward Claver finished his performance with 13 points, nine rebounds, and one steal. Additionally, with +1000 futures odds, Spain has the fifth best odds of winning the gold. Spain has the second best odds (EVEN) of winning Group C.

Prediction: Spain wins by 8 points

Team Spain are the more trustworthy, superior bet in this matchup. Pau Gasol, the seven-foot-one six-time NBA All-Star, is 41-years-old. Marc, his brother, is also 36. Leading into the Tokyo Olympic Games, basketball experts and bettors were wondering if age would be a significant factor for the Spaniards. However, thus far, it has been quite the contrary. Ricky Rubio has also proven to be an important piece for helping the team to become legitimate title contenders. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Rubio averaged 8.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 6.4 assists.

As for Argentina, Scola and Campazzo are carrying the team right now. In their 18-point loss to Slovenia, the Argentinians shot 5-for-31 (16.1 percent) from beyond the arc. To add insult to injury, the team was out-rebounded 59 to 32 overall. This cannot happen against the top contenders, such as versus Slovenia, France, Spain, or the USA. Sooner or later, the wheels on the wagon will eventually fall off. There are bettors giving Spain a -12.5 point spread in this matchup, but it might be best to stick with the -8.5 spread, first provided by DraftKings. In this game, some bettors are anticipating a 20-point blowout repeat of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Final.

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