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True or false: The Golden State Warriors look more vulnerable now than they have at any time in the last four seasons.
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David Aldridge: True. The bench is a major question mark at present, with Shawn Livingston not looking/playing like himself, and Andre Iguodala unable to hit the broad side of a barn. Maybe both of them are pacing themselves for the playoffs and it won’t matter in June, but right now, Golden State looks like it will have to ride its starters major minutes — always a gamble — in the postseason. I don’t see a Warriors’ defensive lineup, even one with KD at center, that can dramatically limit Houston’s offense. Now, it’s true Golden State could still outscore Houston; Luc Mbah a Moute and/or P.J. Tucker are going to have to prove they can make shots in the playoffs, though Joe Johnson’s presence will ameliorate that need somewhat. But the Warriors’ margin for error is smaller than it’s ever been since Steve Kerr took the gig.
Steve Aschburner: True. But that’s only relative to how invulnerable they looked from the 2014-15 season till now. Golden State’s run has been remarkable and surely exhausting, both physically and mentally. There’s been slippage in focus and slippage defensively, with what looked for much of the season like an increased edginess. But the Warriors can hit the reset button now and, in my opinion, remain prohibitive favorites to win the NBA championship. Whoever puts them out – from Houston to the eventual East representative – is going to earn it. I still just see green rocks, no Kryptonite in sight.
Tas Melas: False. During the 2015 playoffs, in the Western Conference semifinals, the Memphis Grizzlies lead the Warriors 2-1. I remember TNT’s Ernie Johnson coming over to me and asking: “Who’s winning the title?” At that point, I had no idea if the 67-win Warriors could come back. My answer was, “Whoever wins this series,” but Memphis looked to be in total control before that very important Game 4. Important because Game 4 is where the Warriors found themselves, and at this point, they have not lost what they found. Vulnerable? No. Slightly bored? Yes. (And if I cheated by picking a playoff moment, I cannot help a good name drop.)
Shaun Powell: Actually, the Warriors look more bored than ever in the last four years. I’m not buying the vulnerability stuff. I just think there’s no regular-season urgency with a team that’s still stacked and built to last through June. We can nitpick and say Nick Young has vaporized a bit and say Andre Iguodala is slowly becoming a corpse before our very eyes (although he’s saving himself for The Finals, like every year, where he earns his money). They still have what it takes, by far, to win a title than anyone else. They still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and all the rest.
John Schuhmann: False, because they didn’t have Kevin Durant in the first two seasons under Steve Kerr. Their defense has not been up to their standards over the last couple of months, and we’ll soon learn soon enough if they just needed the All-Star break to start defending at an elite level again. The Houston Rockets are better than any team they faced last season, with an offense that’s been nearly as potent as that of the Warriors and a lot of versatility beyond their star guards. But the champs still have the ability to be both the league’s best offensive team and its best defensive team when they’re locked in. They remain a better team than they were without Durant, and we shouldn’t forget how close they were to losing to Durant’s team two years ago. It took an amazing performance from Klay Thompson in Game 6 vs. Oklahoma City in 2016 to save them, and then they couldn’t finish the job in The Finals.
Sekou Smith: False. I remember the looks on their faces when they trailed the Oklahoma City Thunder 3-1 in 2016 and appeared to be on the brink of elimination in the Western Conference finals — before Klay Thompson went nuclear to save them. That’s what vulnerable looks like. What they are right now is a team that simply seems exhausted with the process after trying to grind its way back to The Finals for a fourth straight season. They’re mentally and emotionally exhausted more than anything. The focus required to do what the Warriors have done over the past four seasons is tremendously taxing on the body and the mind, and it’s showing right now in their performance. But they have the rest of this regular season and the playoffs to find whatever spark they need to rejuvenate themselves. And I don’t doubt that they will do exactly that.
Report: Dallas Mavericks set to chase DeAndre Jordan after opt out
DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks are making another run at DeAndre Jordan, three years after the center jilted them in free agency to stay with the LA Clippers.
Jordan has opted out of the final year of that contract he signed with LA in 2015, and the Mavericks intend to pursue him as an unrestricted free agent, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Friday.
Dallas also intends to decline the $5 million club option on Dirk Nowitzki’s contract and re-sign him once its salary structure is more settled, the person told the AP on condition of anonymity because the sides are not publicly commenting on moves ahead of free agency opening Sunday.
The move on Nowitzki is designed to create more room under the salary cap, as were the decisions to rescind qualifying offers to shooting guard Doug McDermott and center Salah Mejri, making both unrestricted free agents.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 30, 2018
Jordan was set to make $24.1 million under the four-year, $87.6 million contract he signed to stay with the team that drafted him in 2008. Seven years later, the Mavericks made a strong play for Jordan, who agreed to sign with them as a free agent.
The Houston native changed his mind, and the saga played out on social media the day before Jordan could sign. Former teammate Blake Griffin and coach Doc Rivers were part of a contingent that went to his house and stayed with him until the deal was official.
The reversal was a stunning setback for Dallas, which made the playoffs without Jordan the following year but lost in the first round and now is coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Circumstances are much different now, with the former All-Stars who helped persuade Jordan to stay no longer around. Chris Paul engineered a trade to Houston last summer, and the Clippers shipped Griffin to Detroit in January in a sign that rebuilding years could be ahead.
The Mavericks are two years into their own reconstruction, with 2017 first-round pick Dennis Smith Jr. joined by another player who will begin his NBA career as a teenager in European standout Luka Doncic.
Dallas moved up two spots in the Draft last week to get the Slovenian guard, who was taken third overall by Atlanta while the Mavericks selected former Oklahoma scoring sensation Trae Young for the Hawks.
Reports: Kevin Durant to sign 2-year deal with Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant has decided to sign a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Saturday because the deal cannot become official until the league’s offseason moratorium ends on Friday. The deal comes with a player option for 2019-20, so Durant can — and likely will — become a free agent again next summer.
It’s a win on multiple levels for the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors. Not only do they get to keep the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP, but they also get some financial flexibility in the deal.
Durant will be paid about $30.5 million this coming season, about $5 million less than he could have commanded if the deal was structured differently. That savings will give Golden State options for other moves this summer, as the Warriors look to bolster their bench for a run at what could be a fourth title in a five-year span.
The New York Times first reported Durant’s intention to sign the deal.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers said after his team won the 2018 Finals that he expected swift negotiations to re-sign two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP.
“Sometimes you don’t negotiate. I’d love to have him for 10 years. Kevin Durant, look what he did for us last year, he did us a great service,” Myers said on June 12. “He’s earned the right to sign whatever deal he wants. I just want him to sign a deal. But want him to be happy and want him to know that we want him as long as he wants to be here. He’s earned that, to kind of lay out the terms. He can do whatever he wants. That shouldn’t be a long negotiation. Our goal, to be honest, is to try to keep the whole thing together, so that’s the pieces of the puzzle we’ve got to try to figure out.”
Myers wants to keep as much of the core of the two-time defending champions intact while also realizing the Warriors will be a younger team without the same veteran presence as the group that swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers out of The Finals. Myers said after The Finals that working to try to extend the contracts of Draymond Green and Klay Thompson could be discussed as well.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report
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LeBron James returns to Los Angeles to plot next move
CLEVELAND — LeBron James flew back to Los Angeles from a family vacation in the Caribbean. He could be there longer than usual.
Hours before NBA free agency opened with the three-time champion as its most coveted prize, James returned Saturday to Southern California, where he has two homes and a film production company. The Lakers are hoping they can persuade him to sign with them and return them to glory.
Los Angeles is among the teams in the mix to land James after his agent told the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday that he will not exercise his $35.6 million contract option for next season. At 12:01 a.m. Sunday, James will be an unrestricted free agent, and agent Rich Paul is expected to contact several teams with the Lakers and Cavs atop his list.
By declining his option, James positioned himself to be able to choose where he’ll play next, and Cleveland, just up the road from his home near Akron, remains a strong possibility. But there are at least three other teams – and maybe an outsider or two — with legitimate shots at landing James, who made it clear following this year’s NBA Finals that he’s still driven to win championships.
While every team dreams of being ruled by King James, only a few have a legit chance of signing him.
Here are the cases — for and against — the leading contenders:
WHY: Home; money.
James came back four years ago to a hero’s welcome, something that seemed unimaginable when he left in disgrace four years earlier for Miami. But he vowed to do everything he could to deliver a title to championship-starved Cleveland. He delivered in 2016, erasing past sins and raising James to a worshipped level few athletes in any sport have experienced. His family is comfortable here and it’s where he has complete control.
The Cavs can also offer him the most lucrative package, a five-year, $209 million contract.
WHY NOT: Flawed roster; blemished relationship with owner Dan Gilbert.
Last summer’s stunning trade of guard Kyrie Irving left the Cavs without a quality running mate for James, who was forced to carry a heavier offensive load throughout the regular season and playoffs. Cleveland has deep salary-cap issues – partially caused by James’ failure to commit long-term – and the Cavs currently lack enough talent to unseat the champion Golden State Warriors.
Gilbert and James mended some fences for his return in 2014, but they remain distant other than a shared commitment to winning. Gilbert has gone above and beyond financial barriers to appease James, but the well could be running dry.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
WHY: Salary-cap space; business interests; iconic franchise.
With some savvy moves, the Lakers are poised to potentially add two superstars – James and Paul George and maybe Kawhi Leonard – to a team featuring up-and-coming talents like Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, who is reportedly dealing with a knee injury. James loves the Hollywood lights, and with two homes in the Los Angeles area as well as a film production company, he has already established some roots in the land of movie stars and slow-moving traffic. The appeal of playing for one of the league’s most storied teams is another allure.
WHY NOT: Youth; the Western Conference.
There’s little doubt James has some quality years ahead of him. But does he have enough time to let a group of unproven players with no postseason experience develop into a title contender? And if he jumps conferences for the first time in his career, the path to the Finals is far more treacherous.
WHY: Rising team; staying in the East.
In Sixers guard Ben Simmons, James sees a younger version of himself and he’d relish the chance to play alongside the 21-year-old while mentoring him. The Sixers also have center Joel Embiid, 24, projected to become the game’s next dominant big men. Philadelphia would instantly vault from conference contender to favorite with James, who could make a strong run at his ninth straight Finals in Year One.
WHY NOT: Too young; front-office dysfunction.
Much like the Lakers, the Sixers lack postseason experience and James would be surrounded by players who have barely tasted the postseason. General manager Bryan Colangelo’s resignation following an investigation into whether he created Twitter accounts to criticize his own players, has given the impression that the team isn’t operating in concert and then would turn off James quickly.
Houston: While the Rockets once seemed a good fit, James declining his option all but eliminated the chances of him joining up with close friend Chris Paul and MVP James Harden. If James had opted in with the Cavs, they could have worked out a sign-and-trade with Houston.
San Antonio: James reveres Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, but living in Texas doesn’t seem appealing to the star’s family and the Spurs are still trying to figure out what to do with Leonard, who can become a free agent after next season.
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