LeBron James Says He Didn’t Start Superteams in Response to Draymond Green

The 2017 NBA Finals may be over, but that’s not stopping the feud between Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green from continuing.

During an appearance on the Road Trippin podcast hosted by Cavs teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, James denied Green’s claims that he’s responsible for starting the NBA’s superteam era, via ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin:

“No. I mean in 2003, the Lakers combined Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaq and Kobe. In ’96, when Jordan was retired, the Rockets joined Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler all on the same team.

But I don’t look at it as … I definitely didn’t start the superteam, if that’s what he’s trying to say. But I just feel like that it’s great that on the day you’re celebrating your championship, my likeness and my name is in your head. I love that.”

  

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Complete the Process: Sixers Must Do What It Takes to Draft Markelle Fultz

If the Philadelphia 76ers have been missing anything from their ongoing rebuild during the “Trust The Process” era (aside from health and overall good fortune), it’s a long-term point guard. T.J. McConnell has looked nice for stretches, and who could forget the promise that Michael Carter-Williams once showed as the 11th pick in 2013. But this roster has desperately needed a game-changing, franchise-saving floor general—something that may finally be within its grasp.

With news that the Boston Celtics are willing to trade the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Sixers must do whatever it takes to seal the deal knowing they’d have first right of refusal to select Markelle Fultz.

According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Zach Lowe, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge will want the No. 3 pick and a package of more selections, likely future first-rounders. Philadelphia owns the Los Angeles Lakers‘ first-round pick in 2018 and the Sacramento Kings‘ first-rounder in 2019. And chances are, Ainge is going to demand both.

For the Sixers, now is the time to use those future assets and build for the present, and they couldn’t ask for a better, more fitting building block than Fultz. Scouts all year pegged him as the nation’s top prospect ahead of Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson.

With textbook tools, exciting athleticism and high-level scoring and playmaking skills, Fultz brings explosive offensive firepower to a backcourt that doesn’t have any. This is the guard they’ve been waiting for while passing on so many for big men draft after draft.

The difference between No. 3 and No. 1 this year could also be significant. If Fultz goes No. 1 and Ball right behind him, the Sixers will be forced to choose (if they can’t swing a deal) between poor fits or weaker talents.

Jackson’s shaky ball skills and jumper may not help a team like Philadelphia in need of offense. Jayson Tatum would force the Sixers to play big with Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric when the rest of the league is going small. De’Aaron Fox’s ball-dominant style and poor shooting clash with Simmons. Malik Monk fits, but he isn’t worth selecting as high as No. 3.

Even with Simmons handling the ball, it shouldn’t take away from Fultz, who’s flexible enough to play 2-guard with his size, length and shooting ability.

Either way, teams need multiple ball-handlers. And even with Simmons playing the LeBron James point-forward role, there should still be room for Fultz to do his thing, just as there is for Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.

Simmons also doesn’t project as a volume scorer. His game is all about facilitating. Creating his own shot in the half court isn’t one of his strengths.

Shot-creating and scoring are what separate Fultz—who turned 19 years old this month—from every prospect in this draft and previous ones.

He’s highly advanced off the dribble, capable of generating offense off ball screens or isolation, both for himself and teammates. The James Harden comparisons are a reach, but that’s the style of scoring playmaker the Sixers would be getting.

And don’t forget—he finished with a higher assist percentage than Ball, Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. Fultz is a terrific and willing passer. With Fultz and Simmons in the same lineup, the Sixers should start seeing a lot more open looks at the basket.

Even if the Celtics are able to shake down Philadelphia for all their extra picks, passing on the chance to add Fultz requires courage.

Trading up, however, shouldn’t require as much for the Sixers. This is a chance to grab an All-Star-caliber floor general at a time when scoring lead guards are in and the franchise lacks backcourt talent.

Fultz would finally give the roster, which the Sixers have been trying to build since 2013, a more balanced look from top to bottom. With a Fultz-Simmons-Embiid core, Philadelphia would have multiple go-to options, facilitators and rim protection.

The Sixers would officially have their foundation if they got the deal done. The next step would be easier—plugging the holes between their cornerstones with supporting players.

Apparently, Ainge feels hesitant about Fultz‘s fit with their trio of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Or maybe he’s turned off by the teenager’s laid-back approach.

By making the top pick available, Ainge would be giving the Sixers an opening they would regret not taking.

Fultz would be the key to unlocking Philadelphia’s potential and the ultimate payoff from trusting the process.

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Jimmy Butler Trade Rumors: Celtics May Deal for Draft Picks to Get Bulls Star

The Boston Celtics are reportedly attempting to stockpile first-round picks in the 2017 NBA draft in an effort to land Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler

Adam Zagoria‏ of ZagsBlog provided details of the Celtics’ potential plans Friday.

 

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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76ers Reportedly in Talks with Celtics to Trade Up for Markelle Fultz in Draft

With the 2017 NBA draft less than one week away, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are reportedly in discussions about a trade involving the No. 1 overall pick. 

Per ESPN’s Marc Stein and Zach Lowe, the teams are in “serious talks” about Boston’s top pick June 22.      

The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the 76ers are “deep” into talks with the Celtics and awaiting medical information on Washington’s Markelle Fultz.

Wojnarowski noted the discussions between the 76ers and Celtics are “are far enough along that Fultz could be on his way to Philadelphia for a meeting Saturday.”

While attending a game between the 76ers and Brooklyn Nets at the Wells Fargo Center in April, Fultz said he could see himself ending up in Philadelphia. 

“Oh, man, I can see it happening,” he told CSNPhilly’s John Clark. “I think it would be a great atmosphere, so it would be cool.”

Fultz has been the presumptive No. 1 pick throughout the predraft process. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman has the Celtics selecting the point guard with the top choice in his most recent mock draft.     

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Lakers Reportedly Weighing Trading Julius Randle to Land Markelle Fultz in Draft

In the wake of NBA draft prospect Markelle Fultz‘s workout with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, L.A. is reportedly considering maneuvering in order to land him.

According to Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson “is in love” with Fultz and may offer the Boston Celtics the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft and forward Julius Randle for the No. 1 overall pick.

Givony added that Fultz’s workout may have been the best the Lakers have seen during the predraft process thus far.

Despite Fultz’s status as the favorite to go No. 1 overall, ESPN’s Chad Ford reported Thursday that Boston is considering other options, including Kansas swingman Josh Jackson.

Givony still believes Fultz will go first, but he could see the Celtics potentially moving him in a trade.

In a hypothetical deal of Fultz for Randle and the No. 2 pick, Boston could get a promising big man as well as an elite prospect such as Jackson or Lonzo Ball.

Randle is still coming into his own, but he performed well in 2016-17, as he shot 48.8 percent from the field while averaging 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

Passing up Fultz could be foolhardy, though, as he put up a remarkable 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per contest in his one collegiate season at Washington.

For the Lakers, Fultz could develop into the superstar they so desperately need in order to go from the basement of the Western Conference to title contention.

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Warriors Clearly Loaded for Title Defense, but Uncomfortable Decisions Loom

As the Golden State Warriors paraded through the streets of Oakland, with their “Quickie” shirts, cigars and signed toasters in tow, there was no shortage of reasons to celebrate.

They finished off the best playoff run (16-1) the sport had ever witnessed. They avenged the Finals loss from a year ago. They established the dawn of a new NBA dynasty.

But it’s on that last point where team executives will soon turn their undivided attention.

For a team as loaded as the Warriors, myriad questions still abound. There are free agents to woo, payroll to plan for, contingencies to consider.

Let’s start at the top.

Who’s back, for sure? Klay Thompson is signed for two more seasons. Draymond Green has three more on his contract. Patrick McCaw, a high-upside, second-round pick who made a couple of critical plays in the deciding Game 5, has just one year left on his initial deal, but he’ll be in Oakland at least through the 2017-18 season.

Little-used backups Kevon Looney (one more year) and Damian Jones (two) also have time remaining on their rookie-scale deals. More importantly, they’ll be cheap. That matters a lot.

That’s five players for certain. Now let’s consider Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Though technically free agents, they are as good as any earthly certainty to agree to terms on respective new deals as soon as free agency opens July 1.

Curry will get his super-max contract and make around $205 million over the next five seasons. Durant will opt out of his player option and likely sign a new deal using his non-Bird rights, meaning he’ll make some $31 million next season. To sign a max deal, the Warriors would have to dip into their cap space, as they did this season to sign him, and that would have a devastating domino effect on bringing back any number of players.

Once Curry and Durant officially sign, team owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber can breathe a lot easier knowing that at least Curry, Durant and Green will be around to form an elite team that will open the spanking-new Chase Center in San Francisco with the 2019-20 season. (It’s not farfetched that Thompson will also be re-signed in time for the opening, but the financial cost to Lacob and Guber, especially factoring in the cap and a potential repeater tax penalty, would be massive.)

This is where the most interesting questions surround the Warriors—the ones that hinge most on the wisdom of people like general manager Bob Myers and other top executives such as Larry Harris and Kirk Lacob, and it largely has to do with those residing farther down the bench.

Let’s glance at the Warriors roster—aside from the core four—as it stands heading into summer. (Player ages have been updated one year to reflect 2017-18 season.)

Andre Iguodala 34 Likely to re-sign
Patrick McCaw 22 Under contract
Kevon Looney 22 Under contract
Damian Jones 22 Under contract
David West  37 Possible re-sign
JaVale McGee 30 Possible re-sign
Ian Clark 27 Likely gone
Shaun Livingston 32 Likely gone
Zaza Pachulia  34 Likely gone
Matt Barnes 38 Toss-up
James Michael McAdoo 25 Toss-up

 

The Warriors’ deep roster has been a hallmark of the Lacob era. After winning a title two years ago, they brought back what was essentially the same roster and won a record 73 regular-season games.

That all changed last summer with the arrival of Durant. The bench had to be rebuilt. A longtime veteran had to play for the minimum. A reclamation project had to pan out just right.

Even in what was commonly viewed inside the walls of the team’s practice facility as a “year one” proposition, the Warriors (thanks to Myers’ down-roster acquisitions) played as deeply as any team in the league, embodying the ethos of “strength in numbers” that head coach Steve Kerr has championed.

Andre Iguodala, who accepted a bench role when Kerr came in and was rewarded with a Finals MVP, is a free agent but likely to re-sign. The question will be how much Iguodala (who is well-entrenched in the Bay Area tech scene and no doubt makes significant income from such investments) elects to sign for. Expect a three-year deal in the $50 million range. That’s still a bit undermarket for what he could get elsewhere, but it’s hard to see him finishing out his career in any other market.

It’s a different situation for Shaun Livingston, another second-unit stalwart hitting free agency.

He’s arguably the most reliable and important backup point guard in the NBA. At 6’7″, he has length for days. His mid-range jumper is about as automatic as any go-to move in the league. He has experience, having just wrapped up his 12th professional season. Livingston is quiet, easygoing, competitive and the consummate teammate.

What Livingston doesn’t do is space the floor—he was 1-of-3 on three-pointers in the regular season—and that deficiency can be amplified at times in Kerr’s motion-reliant lineup, which is so devastating in its ability to stretch the floor regardless of position. To have a point guard who can’t shoot threes is an immediate, obvious target for opposing defenses.

It would be gutting to lose Livingston, but they may not have the payroll space to keep him, just as someone else may come along with an offer he can’t refuse.

Ian Clark, who showed tremendous growth this season as an offensive-minded backup to Thompson, may also have played his way out of Oakland. With career highs this past season in just about every category—most notably a 37.4 percent mark on threes—Clark made just a smidge over $1 million and is in line for a sizable raise.

It’s easy to see someone throwing, say, four years and $42 million at the 26-year-old guard. Clark’s defense isn’t great and he’s only 6’3″, but his shot improvement is undeniable, and he’s a positive locker room guy. If Clark departs, the Warriors will hope that McCaw (who is five years younger and 6’7″) can fill the void.

Then there’s the hodgepodge of bigs: starter Zaza Pachulia and backups David West and JaVale McGee. Collectively, that trio earned less than $6 million this past season, and the Warriors will be hard-pressed to find that same level of production at the same cost, especially if they bring back more than one of the group.

West turned down many millions to join the Warriors in the hope of earning a ring, and it’s easy to see him doing something similar to stay, although someone may dazzle him with two years and $16 million. With his leadership and solid play, especially late in the playoffs, it’s not impossible to see someone shelling out one last time for the 36-year-old’s services.

There were many points throughout this season, especially in the spring, where it looked like McGee had played himself into a ridiculous contract—something in the three-year, $36 million range. Between his height and athleticism and newfound team-first attitude, all of his progress seemed to point toward a huge payday next season.

But to hear Kerr and other Warriors speak glowingly in the days since the title run was completed, the chances of McGee’s return to Oakland feel higher than ever, even if it’s for a significantly undermarket value.

The truth is McGee has to battle through bouts of asthma that limit him to five- to six-minute stretches of playing time. He doesn’t match up well versus many opponents (he didn’t play at all in Game 5 against Cleveland). And he can rack up fouls in a blink.

Still, the Warriors love having him around. You can argue this is the only environment that would allow him to thrive in such a way, and it’s in both player and team’s interests to find common ground on a new deal. It looks like McGee—a veritable Warriors folk hero at this point—sticks around on a two-year deal.

Pachulia is likely gone. His athleticism is far below what the Warriors need, and his debatably reckless play on Kawhi Leonard in the conference finals served as an unnecessary distraction. It’s not unreasonable to see him agreeing to a new deal, but the Warriors may believe they can attract another veteran big who can start, eat up 16 minutes a night and exhibit some modicum of jumping ability. Nene is an intriguing possibility, as is 30-year-old Roy Hibbert, if the team wants another full-on reclamation project. 

Matt Barnes and James Michael McAdoo are clear toss-ups to return. They’re end-of-the-bench guys who can play garbage-time minutes and spell certain starters in case of sudden foul trouble. McAdoo is an undervalued rebounder, and Barnes can be streaky on outside shots, but there are likely other free agents who can be had for the same price and provide a little more dependability.

Especially in the likely event of Livingston, Clark and Barnes all leaving, the Warriors will be looking to restock with solid backup wings who have height, can space the floor, play competently in motion-style actions and won’t disrupt the locker room harmony the club so readily protects. Free agents like Luke Babbitt and Anthony Morrow could fit that mold.

But no matter who Golden State loses, there’ll be no shortage of available players hoping to get a few minutes of Myers’ attention in a sit-down.

Even though the team doesn’t have a pick in next week’s draft—the Warriors’ first-rounder goes to Utah to complete the three-way sign-and-trade in 2013 that brought Iguodala to the Warriors from Denver—there’s a strong chance they may buy their way into the second round, as they did last year with Milwaukee, paying $2.4 million for the draft rights to McCaw.

As usual with this club, its margin for error is immensely comfortable. The Warriors just need a few fresh faces that are eager and motivated to keep this run of dominance going and they’ll be off and running toward their third title in four years.

It’s good to beat the king.

         

Erik Malinowski covers the Warriors for B/R. His bookBetaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History, will be published in October. Follow him on Twitter: @erikmal. 

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Markelle Fultz, Nike Agree to Multiyear Endorsement Contract

Potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz announced Friday that he agreed to an endorsement deal with Nike.

The former University of Washington guard made it official on Twitter:

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Fultz and Nike came to terms on a multiyear contract.

Fultz is widely considered the best overall prospect in the draft, and he is the top candidate to go No. 1 overall to the Boston Celtics.

In one season with the Huskies, Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.

ESPN’s Chad Ford reported Thursday that while Fultz is among the players Boston is considering at No. 1, it also likes Kansas swingman Josh Jackson.

In his latest mock draft, however, Ford projected that Boston will indeed add Fultz to a backcourt that already includes Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart.

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