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  1. NBA Awards Night: Westbrook, Rockets and Bucks are Big Winners

    Oklahoma City?s do-everything guard Russell Westbrook was the biggest winner in the first ever National Basketball Association Awards Night held last June 26 at the Basketball City in Pier 36, New York.

    Westbrook, who became the first player in 55 years to post a triple-double season average with an NBA-leading 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and league third-best 10.4 assists in 81 games, romped away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy that goes to the NBA?s Most Valuable Player in a landslide balloting by a 101-member media panel.

    The 6-3 Westbrook, who has spent his entire nine-year pro career with the OKC Thunder, received 69 first-place votes, far outdistancing Houston?s James Harden (who had 22), San Antonio?s Kawhi Leonard (nine) and Cleveland?s LeBron James (one).

    I have no idea yet what the final points total were for the four men in the MVP race. A voter needed to select five players according to ranking with points assigned for first to fifth choices on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis and the MVP winner is determined by the total points he accumulates. There is no criterion in the selection of the MVP, not even a player?s statistics.)

    Westbrook, who captured his second NBA scoring title (the first came in 2014-15), broke a pair of 55-year-old triple-double NBA records previously held by ?The Big O? Oscar Robertson. The 28-year-old UCLA product racked up 42 T-D games ? one more than the 6-5 Robertson?s output with the Cincinnati Royals (the predecessors of the Sacramento Kings) in 1961-62 ? and joined him as the only players to register a triple-double season average. That year, Robertson normed 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg and 11.4 apg in 79 appearances as a second-year pro out of the University of Cincinnati.

    Be that as it may, my personal choice for MVP was ?The Beard? Harden. The 6-5 left-handed playmaker, who was Westbrook?s Thunder mate for three seasons (2009-12) before being jettisoned to the Rockets in late October 2012, finished second in the NBA in scoring behind Westbrook and first in assists. He is the first player ever to both score and assist on at least 2,000 points in a single season and accounted for the most points in league history with 4,554, surpassing Nate (Tiny) Archibald's 4,539 total in 80 games (2,719 points and 910 assists) with the Kansas City-Omaha Kings (now Sacramento Kings) in 1972-73 when the left-handed court general became the first and only player in NBA annals to pace the league in both scoring and assists in the same campaign. (Note that the three-point shot was not introduced until the 1979-80 season.)

    In his long, emotional NBA MVP acceptance speech wherein he thank just about everybody from the Thunder organization to his brother, wife and family (Pambansang Pabati, in short), I would have thought that Westbrook would graciously also acknowledge the great season turned in by his MVP rivals Harden and Leonard. That would have been great from a public-relations (PR) standpoint.

    In the Rookie of the Year derby, a long shot (at least to some non-media voters), Milwaukee?s little-known Malcolm Brogdon defeated a pair of Philadelphia freshmen in Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.

    A 6-5 backcourter, Brogdon averaged 10.2 points in 75 games (28 of them starts) and topped all rookies in assists (4.2 apg) and steals (1.1 spg) while also grabbing 2.8 rebounds in 26.4 minutes every time out. The 24-year-old Brogdon, a lowly second-round pick (36th overall) in the entire 2016 NBA draft after spending five years (including one sitout) at the University of Virginia, joined Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) as the only players in Bucks history to earn the ROY honor. He is also the first player not drafted in the first round to win the award since 1966 when the modern-day draft system was instituted (and the ?territorial first-round selection? rule abolished).

    Brogdon was one of only two unanimous choices by a media panel on the NBA All-Rookie First Team, along with the 23-year-old Saric, a 6-10 power forward who posted averages of 12.8 points, 6.3 boards and 2.2 assists in 81 games (including 36 starts) with the 76ers and led all rookies with five 20-point, 10-rebound performances. Saric, the 12th overall selection by Orlando in the 2014 draft whose rights were shipped to Philly in return for co-first-rounder guard Elfrid Payton on draft day, is a member of the Croatian national team.

    Embiid would have been a runaway ROY winner if he had stayed healthy throughout the season. The 7-foot center from Cameroon, who was sidelined for two seasons due to a pair of surgeries on his right foot, was limited to 31 appearances due to a torn meniscus in his left knee (an injury that was sustained in mid-February and sidelined him for the remainder of the regulars) and averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in just 25.4 minutes a game. The 23-year-old ...
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  2. NBA: Russell, Howard Traded

    The first major off-season transaction struck by new Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Earvin (Magic) Johnson Tuesday is not geared for the 2017-18 National Basketball Association (NBA) season but rather for the summer of 2018.

    In a cost-cutting move, the Lakers shipped guard D'Angelo Russell and center Timothy Mozgov to the sad-sack Brooklyn Nets - who finished with the NBA's worst record this past campaign at 20-62 - in exchange for the Nets' one-time All-Star center Brook Lopez, sophomore-to-be swingman Caris LaVert and their 27th overall selection (which originally belonged to Boston) in the 2017 NBA draft on June 23 Manila time (7:00 a.m.) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

    (The Nets agreed to swap first-rounders with the Celtics this year as part of the July 12, 2013 trade involving Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.)
    The 7-foot, 29-year-old Lopez, who was born in North Hollywood, California, is in the final year of his three-year Nets contract worth $22.64 million in 2017-18 - which frees salary cap space for the Lakers in the summer of 2018 to go after a prominent free agent.

    Russell, a shoot-first, pass-later point guard, has a year remaining on the original three-year rookie-scale deal he inked with the Lakers as a No. 2 overall choice in the 2015 NBA draft.
    The Lakers were not about to pick up the option on the rookie pact of the 6-5, 21-year-old Russell in 2018 and probably has an insurance anyway with the drafting of UCLA playmaker Lonzo Ball with the second overall in the college grab-bag on Friday.

    El-Ay, which also owns the No. 28 overall choice (via Houston) and now the No. 27 pick following the trade with the Nets for back-to-back selections, has a plethora of backcourters with Jordan Clarkson and Nick Young still under contract.

    The 7-1 Mozgov, who turns 31 next month, has three years left on the four-year, $64-million he signed with the Lakers as a free agent last summer.

    However, the Lakers shut down a healthy Mozgov for the remainder of the 2016-17 season in mid-March - along with another high-priced free-agent acquisition last summer in 6-8 forward Luol Deng - officially to give the majority of playing time over the final 15 games to the team's younger players but more for "tanking" to secure a higher draft position with their frigid 26-56 record.

    The 32-year-old Deng, signed to a four-year, $72-million deal under the unlamented regime of former Lakers president Jim Buss - elder brother of Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and now-deposed general manager Mitch Kupchak - is also a "white elephant" and may be moved as well during this off-season.

    With Russell, Mozgov out and Lopez's contract to expire in a year's time, the Lakers will have around $64 million in salary-cap room in the summer of 2018 to go after two maximum-contract free agents.

    Could one be Cleveland's Lebron James, who seem disgruntled after the team opted not to renew the contract of general manager David Griffin, whose deal expires on June 30. The King still is under contract with the Cavs for the 2017-18 wars but can opt out of the final year his three-year pact with Cleveland.

    James' wife Savannah wants to live full-time in Los Angeles, where they have a house there. Scuttlebutt has it that James may depart for either of the teams in the LA area and that the Clippers recently pried The Logo Jerry West away from newly-minted NBA titlist Golden State for an identical executive consultant post to lure James to the team.

    And what was before purely speculations is fast becoming a reality in the case of Indiana's Paul George. George has already declared that he won't renew ties with the Pacers once his contract expires in July 2018. A native Californian, the 6-8 27-year-old wingman has two years and $40.2 million left on his contract but could option out after the 2017-18 seasons.

    Rather not get any compensation if he eventually walks away, the Pacers have opened trade talks with the Lakers, George's preferred destination, this early.

    A deal for George could be struck before the NBA draft.

    Meanwhile, it was also announced yesterday that Atlanta is jettisoning over-the-hill center Dwight Howard after just one season with the Hawks along with their first pick in the second round of the 2017 NBA draft (No. 31 overall, via Brooklyn) to Charlotte for the Hornets? Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and the club?s 41st selection overall.

    The 6-11 Howard, who turns 31 in December, has two years left on a three-year, $70.5-million pact he inked with his hometown Hawks in July last year.
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  3. NBA Draft: Fultz is No, 1, Ball is No. 2

    After acquiring four days earlier the No. 1 overall selection in this year?s National Basketball Association college/international draft from the Boston Celtics in exchange for their own No. 3 pick and another future first-rounder (2018 or 2019), the Philadelphia 76ers expectedly corralled University of Washington?s much-coveted freshman Markelle Fultz with the first pick during the annual college/international grag-bag at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York last June 22.

    It was only the fourth time in franchise history that the 76ers got to make the first dance in the draft party, having also picked No. 1 in 1973 (Illinois State?s Doug Collins, a member of the ill-fated U.S. national team that dropped a controversial 51-50 verdict to the old Soviet Union in the gold-medal game of the 1972 Munich Olympics for the Americans? first ever Olympic defeat), 1996 (Georgetown?s Allen Iverson) and 2016 (Louisiana State?s Melbourne-born Ben Simmons).

    The Sixers, who now have drafted first overall in the last two years, is the first team in NBA history to own a pair of rookie No. 1 overall picks on the same team as Simmons, last year?s selection, was sidelined for the entire 2016-17 wars due to a broken bone in his right foot he sustained in training camp. (In April 2017, it was reported that the 6-10 Simmons, who turns 21 on July 20, had grown two inches taller since being drafted to stand at 7 feet.)

    Fultz, an athletic, high-scoring 6-4 playmaker, averaged a Pacific-12 Conference-best 23.2 points ? which was tops among freshmen and sixth highest among NCAA Division I players ? in his lone seasons with the woeful Huskies. A third-team All-America selection by the Associated Press, the 19-year-old Maryland-born Fultz also averaged 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds and shot 41.3 percent from three-point range.

    Fultz?s selection marked the first time ever that both the top choices in the NBA and Women?s National Basketball Association (WNBA) drafts have come from the same school in the same academic year. The San Antonio Stars tabbed former Huskies standout, Kelsey Plum, a 5-8 guard who is the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I women?s basketball history, with the No. 1 overall choice in the 2017 WNBA draft. A 5-8 guard, the 22-year-old Plum is the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I women?s basketball history, with the No. 1 overall choice in the 2017 WNBA draft.

    The Los Angeles Lakers, in the midst of a four losing and non-playoff seasons (27, 21, 17 and 26 victories), did secure much-publicized Lonzo Ball out of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) with the No. 2 overall choice after speculations that the Hollywood City outfit would jettison the first-rounder in return for a veteran player such as the Indiana Pacers? Paul George, a native of Southern California who plans to exercise his early-termination option in 2018 and become an unrestricted free agent.

    New Lakers president of basketball operations Earvin (Magic) Johnson was convinced that Ball was the right guy for the team following a second four hours-plus pre-draft workout in his dad LaVar?s palatial Chino Hills, California home on June 16, an individual workout that was witnessed by Johnson and new LA general manager Rob Pelinka on the Lakers? side and LaVar, trainer Darren Moore and agent Harrison Gaines on Ball?s side and included running hills (near their home), weightlifting and on-court drills.

    Magic was impressed with Lonzo?s work ethic leadership skills. He believes the 6-6 point guard?s competitive fire fits the young Lakers team and that he is likely to flourish in Lakers coach Luke Walton?s up-tempo style.

    Ball, who turns 20 in late October, topped the NCAA Division I in assists at 7.6 a game (breaking the Bruins? all-time record for most assists in a single season) and registered averages of 14.6 points (on shooting clips of .551 from the field and .412 from beyond the arc), 6.0 boards and 1.8 steals every time out in his lone season at Westwood.

    Ball was named the Pac-12 Conference Freshman of the Year (over Fultz) and earned first-team AP All-America honors.

    The Boston Celtics grabbed Duke frosh Jayson Tatum with the No. 3 draft pick. The 6-8 small forward normed 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.1 shot blocks per game with the Blue Devils.

    At No. 4, the Phoenix Suns snared Kansas freshman Josh Jackson, a 6-8 small forward who made it to the AP All-America Third Team after contributing 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals for the Jayhawks.

    The Sacramento Kings (following a swap of first-rounders with Philadelphia after the draft lottery) got Kentucky?s De?Aaron Fox with the No. 5 selection. A 6-4 point guard, Fox averaged 16.7 points with the wildcats and topped the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in assists ...
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  4. NBA Draft: Fultz is No, 1, Ball is No. 2

    After acquiring four days earlier the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s National Basketball Association college/international

    Updated 07-08-2017 at 11:11 PM by Henry Liao

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  5. The NBA Salary Cap Explained by Brian Mahoney

    NBA signing day brings salary cap, luxury tax questions

    By Brian Mahoney (Associated Press) | Updated July 7, 2017 - 11:26am

    NEW YORK ? Free agency in the NBA can be so complicated that even teams mess it up sometimes.

    The Houston Rockets and Nene had to negotiate two deals because it turned out the first contract they agreed to wouldn't have been legal in NBA circles.

    All the talk about salary caps and luxury taxes is when the game of basketball becomes a business. It's one of the reasons more and more front offices are being led by former stat analysts instead of former stat stuffers.

    So now that free agent signings have commenced, here's a look at the salary cap, how it's determined, and how teams get around it:

    Q: Why are deals that were done days ago being announced today?

    A: The NBA has a moratorium period during which teams and players can negotiate and agree to deals, but nothing can be completed until the moratorium ends, which is now the afternoon of July 6. The salary cap used to be computed during the moratorium and announced just before it ended, which was sometimes confusing to teams in trying to negotiate contracts without knowing exactly how much they could spend. The cap is now announced when free agency opens on July 1.

    ***

    Q: How is the salary cap determined?

    A: It's a formula based on the projected basketball-related income of that year. For the 2017-18 season, the cap has been set at $99.1 million. That's the highest it's ever been, though it didn't take anywhere near the huge leap of a year ago following the extension of the league's national TV deals. As a result, teams haven't spent quite as extravagantly ? or perhaps foolishly ? as last July.

    ***

    Q: Are there penalties for exceeding the cap?

    A: Yes, there are penalties. And they can be severe, depending on how much a team goes over the cap and how often. Teams pay a luxury tax this year if they exceed $119 million. It starts with $1.50 for every $1 they are over, and rises at various levels from there if they soar $5 million or more past the tax. But that starts at $2.50 for every $1 if a team is a ?repeater,? having been a taxpayer for the previous three seasons.

    ***

    Q: Is $99.1 million the most each NBA team can spend in payroll next season?

    A: No, teams can exceed the cap. Unlike the NFL, the NBA has what's considered a ?soft? cap, allowing teams to exceed the cap through the use of various spending exceptions. In some cases, the more a team spends, the bigger its tax break. Teams can use one of three mid-level exceptions this season: There is a $5.2 million exception granted to teams with payrolls exceeding $119 million, an $8.4 million exception for teams with payrolls under $119 million, but over the $99.1 million cap; there is a $4.3 million exception for teams with a payroll under $99.1 million.

    ***

    Q: Will teams that signed players to big free agent deals now have to make trades because of the luxury cap?

    A. That's a yes and no answer. Yes, if teams that are in danger of paying the luxury tax want to avoid penalties, they will have to make deals. The answer would be no if teams don?t mind paying the luxury tax. Before signings picked up momentum Thursday afternoon, there were two teams with payrolls over the $119 million payroll that triggers the luxury tax ? Cleveland and Portland. Once free agency ends, there likely will be several more. But teams have the upcoming season to adjust payrolls via trades, buyouts and other moves as the luxury tax won't kick in until the end of the 2017-18 season since it is based on players' salaries.

    ***

    Q: What does the cap have to do with player salaries?

    A: Veteran players can get a percentage of the cap to determine the first year of their salaries in a contract. For a player who has been in the league 10 or more years, that can be 35 percent of that season's salary cap. The cap doesn't really impact contracts for rookies or minimum-salary players. Their salary levels are determined.

    ***

    Q: How did the Warriors sign Nick Young after giving Stephen Curry a $200 million deal and re-signing Kevin Durant?

    A: The Warriors will be one of those teams over the cap once all their deals are completed. The reigning champs went on a spending spree with Curry's big deal, re-signing Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and everything else they're doing. Their payroll will exceed $119 million, so they will use the $5.2 million mid-level exception available to them to slot in Young.

    ***

    Q: Are only legitimate championship contenders willing to pay the luxury tax?

    A: Not necessarily. Portland, ...
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