LaMarcus Aldridge Extension Likely Takes Spurs out of LeBron James Sweepstakes

LOS ANGELES — The San Antonio Spurs appear to be out of the LeBron James hunt.

On Monday, the franchise agreed to sign forward LaMarcus Aldridge to a three-year, $72.3 million contract extension. As part of the deal, ESPN.com reports Aldridge will opt into his $22.3 million salary for the 2018-19 season.

With Aldridge locked in, the Spurs have invested in the core of their roster for next season, which will include Kawhi Leonard at $20 million, Pau Gasol at $16.8 million and Patty Mills at $11.6 million.

San Antonio projects to have up to $18 million in cap space next July—not nearly enough to chase the Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star.

Would James walk away from a $35.6 million option in Cleveland to sign with the Spurs for half that amount?

That’s quite the reach.

Just to get to that (relatively low) figure, the Spurs would need both Danny Green ($10 million) and Rudy Gay ($8.8 million) to opt out of the final years on their contracts. The Spurs would then need to find a home for Gasol in trade, if they hoped to afford James at his full price.

Instead of derailing one of the best teams in the highly competitive Western Conference, the Spurs are choosing to stick with the core that has carried on at a high level since Tim Duncan retired in 2016.

On the Aldridge deal, a competing executive mused it seems like teams are simply battling for second place behind the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs may challenge the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, but Golden State remains the clear favorite and will continue to be the favorite through next year with a James-Spurs fantasy unlikely to happen.

Looking ahead to next summer, San Antonio is likely to stay over the NBA‘s projected $101 million salary cap like most of the league. The Spurs would then have their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions (at about $8.6 million and $3.4 million, respectively) to add quality (but not elite) talent like Gay, who joined this summer at a starting salary of $8.4 million.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers still hope a strong season will keep James local. The team recently traded Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and draft considerations, while adding veteran guard Dwyane Wade to try and help the team get past the rival Golden State Warriors in June.

One positive for Cleveland: Few teams will have significant spending power next summer.

The Chicago Bulls can get to $40-49 million (depending on Zach LaVine’s status) but does James want to carry on his career with a rebuilding squad? The same could be said of the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers and several teams in transition who don’t quite have enough money, but may be able to get there with a few strategic trades (like the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings).

The Utah Jazz may be the only playoff-level team that can chase James, assuming they stay in the top eight after losing Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics this summer. If the Jazz let go of pending free agents Derrick Favors, Joe Johnson and others, they’d near $33 million in space.

A franchise’s best chance at luring James may be opening a second max slot for another All-Star, like Paul George of the Thunder who can opt out his contract before July.

The Dallas Mavericks may have the most money to spend if Wesley Matthews opts out (at $18.6 million) but at about $50.2 million, they’d need to make a trade to near the $65 million in space needed to land James and George.

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has insisted the Lakers have the space to get two max stars but they’re currently projected to have $47 million in room. He’ll need to find a way out of the contracts of players like Jordan Clarkson and Luol Deng to get there.

Perhaps Joel Embiid, who recently signed a long-term extension, is enough to entice James to join the Philadelphia 76ers. They are about $3 million short of the $35 million for James but that’s certainly within range.

Given general manager Daryl Morey’s track record for creativity, the Rockets should be included as a possibility; although they’d certainly need to get out of the contracts of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon—and possibly Chris Paul as well.

Finally, it may be worth noting that the Clippers might be able to afford James in July, but that depends on the player options for DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers, Milos Teodosic and Wesley Johnson. James would get the Los Angeles experience and the chance to play for owner Steve Ballmer, but is Blake Griffin without Jordan a workable pairing alongside James?

The Lakers would seem to have the advantage over the Clippers in Los Angeles, but when James weighs his options next summer (options unlikely to include the competitive Spurs), Cleveland may still end up the favorite.

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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Dante Exum to Undergo Surgery on Shoulder Injury Suffered in Preseason

Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum will undergo surgery on his separated left shoulder.

On Monday, the Jazz announced Exum would undergo the surgery in an effort “to stabilize the AC joint of his left shoulder” after he separated it in an Oct. 6 preseason contest against the Phoenix Suns.

The announcement noted the surgery will happen Oct. 24 and “further updates will be provided when appropriate.”

This comes after Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported Saturday the point guard was “weighing rehabilitation options…that could preclude him from undergoing season-ending surgery.”

Health problems have largely prevented the No. 5 overall pick in 2014 from living up to his potential with the Jazz.

He played all 82 games as a rookie, averaging 4.8 points and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 34.9 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from three-point range. However, he suffered a torn ACL while playing for the Australian national team and missed the entire 2015-16 season.

Exum bounced back some in 2016-17 with 6.2 points and 1.7 assists per game behind 42.7 percent from the field, but he will not have the chance to build on that in the immediate future following this setback.

As for the Jazz and their quest for a second straight spot in the playoffs, they will likely rely on the combination of Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto to handle the point guard role. What’s more, Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell are capable of handling the ball or playing on the wing and can utilize their versatility to help overcome Exum’s injury.

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Richard Jefferson, Nuggets Reportedly ‘Closing In’ on 1-Year Contract

Richard Jefferson‘s whirlwind journey continued on Monday as he reportedly is “closing in” on a one-year, $2.3 million contract with the Denver Nuggets, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

To make room on the roster, the Nuggets are expected to waive guard Jameer Nelson, per Wojnarowski.

Jefferson was traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 13, four days before the 2017-18 regular season started, in a move the 37-year-old seemed to anticipate coming. 

“I’m sacrificing my way out of here,” he said during an episode of his Road Trippin’ podcast with Channing Frye (via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin).

Wojnarowski had reported the Hawks were going to waive Jefferson, who was due to make $2.5 million this season. 

The Cavs needed to get their roster down to 15 players by the end of the preseason. The late signing of Dwyane Wade left them with one player too many heading into the 2017-18 season. 

Jefferson has proved himself to be a valuable role player, especially over the past two seasons coming off Cleveland’s bench. He shot 38.2 percent from three-point range during the Cavs’ 2015-16 championship season. 

In Cleveland’s one victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals, Jefferson was the main defender against Kevin Durant. He held the Warriors’ superstar to 1-of-7 shooting in that game when he was the primary defender on Durant. 

“[Durant’s] one of the best talents that this league has seen,” Jefferson told reporters about Game 4. “It’s the same with guarding LeBron. I had to do that. All the high-level small forwards. Carmelo [Anthony]. These are guys that are very different players. They’re all very unique talents, and so you have your hands full when you get that opportunity to guard them.”

With 16 years of experience already under his belt, Jefferson has shown he can play multiple roles. His minutes have to be carefully managed due to his advanced age, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to give the Nuggets 15-20 solid minutes on both sides of the ball each night. 

Jefferson’s arrival in Denver should not be a surprise. He played for the Golden State Warriors for two seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13 when Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was an assistant for Mark Jackson. 

The Nuggets are a team that can use an established veteran like Jefferson, who has won an NBA championship and has seen everything in his 17 seasons, to help their young talent continue to take steps forward as they look to make the playoffs after just missing out last season with a 40-42 record.

Denver’s success depends on Nikola Jokic continuing his evolution into one of the NBA’s best centers and Gary Harris taking another step after averaging 14.9 points per game last season while shooting 42 percent from three-point range. 

Jefferson gives the Bucks depth at small forward to ease some of the burden on veteran Wilson Chandler and a versatile defender who is capable of shutting down the opposing team’s best player on a given night. 

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Draymond Green Questions Rockets: ‘I Don’t Know How Serious They Take Defense’

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green questioned the defensive prowess of the Houston Rockets leading up to the 2017-18 season in a Monday interview.  

Mark Medina of the Mercury News noted Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni discussed the Warriors with ESPN, saying, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either.”

Green heard the quote and said, “I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” per Medina.

If anyone knows about defense, it is the 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year and three-time member of the All-Defensive first team.

It is hard to argue with Green’s assertion considering the Rockets were a mere 18th in the league in defensive efficiency last season, per NBA.com, and 21st in 2015-16. By comparison, the Warriors were second in 2016-17 on their way to a second title in three years and fourth in 2015-16 on their way to an NBA-record 73 regular-season wins.

D’Antoni has been known for his fast-paced style of offense throughout his coaching career, and he has a backcourt tandem of James Harden and Chris Paul who will look to push the ball when given the opportunity this season.

Green seemed perfectly fine with that strategy.

“They want it to be a shootout, which is fine,” Green said, per Medina. “But we’re going to play some defense. We scored pretty well. But we’re a damn good defensive team too. So we’re going to play some defense.”

Paul will add an extra defensive dimension to the Rockets in 2017-18 considering he is a nine-time member of an All-Defensive team, but he is also 32 years old. What’s more, opponents shot 1.2 percent better than their normal averages overall and 10.6 percent better within six feet when Paul guarded them last season, per NBA.com.

The Rockets don’t appear well-equipped to slow the Warriors, but Green’s comments promise to add even more drama to Tuesday’s season opener and a potential meeting in the playoffs.

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Jabari Parker, Bucks Fail to Agree on Contract Extension, Will Become RFA

The Milwaukee Bucks have been trying to negotiate a contract extension for Jabari Parker, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that no deal will be reached before Monday’s deadline.

Talks have ended, and the small forward will become a restricted free agent next summer. 

Parker is recovering from a torn ACL that will cause him to miss the start of this season.

        

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

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Marcus Smart, Celtics Fail to Agree Contract Extension, Guard to Become RFA

Guard Marcus Smart‘s time with the Boston Celtics could be limited after the two sides reportedly failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension Monday.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported the news, although he granted Smart and the Celtics “were relatively close in talks.” The lack of an extension means Smart will become a restricted free agent following the 2017-18 campaign.

The news came after Wojnarowski previously noted Monday that Smart and Boston were “engaged in talks” before the 6 p.m. ET deadline.

Smart has been with the Celtics his entire career since they drafted him out of Oklahoma State with the No. 6 overall pick in 2014. He has increased his scoring every season from 7.8 points per game as a rookie in 2014-15 to 9.1 points per game in 2015-16 and 10.6 in 2016-17. He also dished out a career-high 4.6 assists a night in 2016-17 as the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

While Smart has become an important piece of Boston’s rotation, there are concerns regarding his offensive efficiency. He shot just 35.9 percent from the field and 28.3 percent from three-point range last season.

However, he helps make up for the shooting woes with his defensive prowess. According to NBA.com, opponents shot 1.9 percent worse than their normal averages when Smart guarded them last season, which helped him earn playing time for a title contender.

He is just 23 years old and would immediately bolster the backcourt of another team if it were able to land him in free agency down the line.

Boston’s rotation is crowded on the wing with Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier, which could help account for the potential loss of Smart in the future if it keeps the majority of its core together.

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Kay Felder Reportedly Claimed by Bulls After Cavaliers Trade, Hawks Release

Kay Felder is headed to the Chicago Bulls after the team claimed the second-year point guard off waivers, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical.

Felder was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Atlanta Hawks this week alongside Richard Jefferson and two future second-round picks. The Hawks waived both players on Saturday.

Center Diamond Stone and forward Jarell Eddie were waived to make room for the point guard and set the 15-man roster, per Charania.

Felder, who was a third-team All-American at Oakland, was taken by the Cavs in the second round of the 2016 draft. He was expected to play a significant role as a backup point guard behind Kyrie Irving, but struggled to get consistent playing time during his rookie season.

He appeared in 42 games, averaging 4.0 points, 1.4 assists and just 9.2 minutes per game.

His inability to lead the second unit forced Cleveland to bring in Deron Williams last year and then Derrick Rose during the offseason. Even after trading away Irving, he clearly wasn’t worth keeping on the roster.

On the other hand, he could provide some much-needed depth in the backcourt for Chicago with Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Cameron Payne dealing with injuries. Jerian Grant should get the majority of minutes at point guard at the start of the year, but Felder has a clear path to playing time.

After the 5’9″ guard averaged 15.5 points per 36 minutes last season, he has a chance to be a valuable contributor to the Bulls in 2017-18.

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