* * *
Your top three candidates for Kia Most Improved Player?
* * *
David Aldridge: 1. Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers. Across the board career-highs — points (23.6), rebounds (5.3), assists (4.3), steals (a league-leading 2.2), field goal percentage (.472), 3-point percentage (.369) — and, he’s shooting 80.4 percent from the line. Per NBA.com/Stats, among all regular guard starters this season (60 or more games), Oladipo is second in the league in Defensive Rating (101.7, behind only Boston’s Jaylen Brown). He looked like a high-volume, low production player his first four seasons in the league. He’s changed that narrative with one outstanding season, and looks for all the world like a building block for Indy with Myles Turner going forward.
2. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets. He’s embraced being the every day point guard for the Nuggets, seemingly with very little adjustments or problems, while raising his averages (16.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game) and shooting the ball much better this season on twos and 3-pointers.
3. E’Twaun Moore, New Orleans Pelicans. It’s hard to judge with certainty whether he’s just benefiting playing off of Anthony Davis (and, for half the season, DeMarcus Cousins), but Moore has been terrific in his first season as a full-time starter at the two, solidifying New Orleans’ lineup. He’s been outstanding behind the arc (41.6 percent on 3-pointers) and pretty efficient shooting overall, while guarding his position — he’s seventh among starting two guards this year in Defensive Rating.
Honorable Mention: I didn’t think you could give MIP to a guy with eight years in the league coming into the season, but Jrue Holiday has also been really, really good in New Orleans this season.
Steve Aschburner: Victor Oladipo is going to win this award and it won’t even be close. Oladipo turned whatever pressure he felt from being traded by OKC and stepping into Paul George’s sneakers in Indiana into extreme motivation and a laser focus on this season. The results have been astounding, with Oladipo playing his way to an All-Star selection while leading the Pacers to a 40-28 record that a lot of us figured would be more like 28-40 by now. For my second and third slots, I like a couple of big men: Houston’s Clint Capela, who is the indispensable third side of that Rockets triangle (they’re 35-2 when Chris Paul, James Harden and Capela play together). And the Lakers’ Julius Randle, who since Jan. 1 is averaging 18.3 points on 57.4 percent shooting with 9.1 rebounds, compared to last season’s 13.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg and 48.8 percent.
Shaun Powell: First: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers. He went from riding shotgun in OKC to being the top gun in Indiana and made himself into a steady and reliable first option. Second: Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets. The Pistons gave up on him once. The Bulls gave upon him twice. He began the season coming off the bench in Brooklyn. Then, everything changed once he was elevated to starter, averaging 13 points and 6.9 assists per game. Third: Clint Capela, Houston Rockets. His development from a raw and gangly center to a more polished finisher and rebounder has given the Rockets a much-needed inside guy on a team of shooters.
John Schuhmann: 1. Victor Oladipo, who has been better (more efficient) in a much bigger role than he had with the Thunder. He has seen the league’s second biggest increase in usage rate (among players that have played at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons), has increased his scoring efficiency (true shooting percentage), and has seen just a minimal drop in assist-turnover ratio. In short, he’s gone from sitting in the back seat for the Russell Westbrook Show to being the leading man for a team that has been just as good as his old one. 2. Domantas Sabonis. I prefer not to look at second-year players for this award, but Sabonis makes too compelling of a case. He’s seen the league’s eighth biggest increase in usage rate, the league’s biggest increase in rebounding percentage, and the league’s third biggest increase in true shooting percentage (among players who have taken at least 300 shots each of the last two seasons). He went from being an afterthought in the OKC offense to being a fulcrum on a team that’s been better offensively than his old one. 3. Spencer Dinwiddie’s poor shooting of late (he has the league’s worst effective field goal percentage over the last five weeks) has this spot on my ballot up for grabs. Other candidates include Ed Davis, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Ingram, Trey Lyles and Tomas Satoransky.
Sekou Smith: Clint Capela is the first name I’m putting on my list, which values organic improvement as opposed to say, a change in scenery that produces better results. The Rockets, as devastating as they’ve been this season with Chris Paul in the fold, have gotten a huge lift from Capela’s breakout season. There’s a reason the Rockets got out of the Dwight Howard business a couple years ago. They clearly saw something in Capela and it’s paying huge dividends this season. I know some people have probably forgotten about it already, but before he went down for the season with that torn ACL, Kristaps Porzingis was showing signs of being a potential two-way superstar. Who knows how he bounces back after a 10-month, or more, recovery? But he’s second on my list. And finally, while he doesn’t have the raw numbers on his side, it’s hard to ignore the boost the Boston Celtics get when Terry Rozier is in the mix. The player-development component in Boston is sound and Rozier, who is third on my Most Improved list, is proof.
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
* * *
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.
NFL6 days ago
Patrick Mahomes leads Chiefs on methodical opening drive for a 1-yard touchdown run
NFL6 days ago
Defense stars as Tampa Bay Buccaneers reach conference championship in Tom Brady’s first season in NFC
Boxing4 days ago
Boxing news: Billy Joe Saunders 'close' to Canelo Alvarez agreement
NFL6 days ago
Rob Gronkowski says he wants to play for Tampa Bay Buccaneers again in 2021
NFL6 days ago
Pondering retirement again, Drew Brees has ‘no regrets’ about coming back this season
Soccer6 days ago
Man Utd boss Solskjaer clashes with Roy Keane over Paul Pogba Liverpool performance
NFL6 days ago
Los Angeles Chargers’ new coach Brandon Staley is the latest coaching wunderkind
Cricket6 days ago
Sydney Thunder vs Hobart Hurricanes, BBL 2020-21, Fantasy Pick, team predictions