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Lakers take home-run swing at trade deadline, open door for LeBron James, Paul George

I don’t know if whether I’m going to LA, or what I’m going to do this offseason. But I can say I am happy about being here. I’m happy with playing with Russ, happy with playing with Melo, and this organization. This front office has shown what they can do to go get pieces and how active they are about winning.

The work is just beginning for Magic and the Lakers. Their young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma needs to keep improving this season, as that hope for the future will make Los Angeles a desirable destination for free agents in 2018 and beyond.

Of course, the reality is that nothing has changed for the Lakers heading into Thursday’s trade deadline. No matter when they are able to land a major player in free agency, they still have to contend with two years (after this one) of Luol Deng at $37 million and Jordan Clarkson at $26 million. No one is taking on Deng, and Clarkson could still be had for an expiring contract and a draft pick. The market for him as been limited, though, and if he can’t be moved, LA can’t give out two max deals. And there is still the possibility of moving Julius Randle along before he hits restricted free agency.

Boston’s switch-heavy defensive system fits Randle’s skill set, and another big man would help the Celtics’ second unit (as well as other lineups). In addition, Ainge could see Randle and/or Hood as likely victims of a narrow restricted market like Smart, meaning the team holds some potential of securing their services at a reasonable price moving forward, and those players’ presumably higher salaries than McDermott or the others means easier matching salary in that potential trade whenever the opportunity presents itself.

It would also be possible to do a modified version of this with a pending unrestricted free agent using full or early Bird rights, but an unrestricted free agent’s ability to go where he wants makes it much harder to secure a team-friendly contract. As such, a member of that 2014 draft class makes the most sense.

Acquiring a player with the intention of making him essentially a human trade exception in the future is not exactly a common path, but Ainge and the Celtics have the unique circumstances and incentives to make that bold step worth it.

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It’s normal for the Cavaliers to dominate headlines as LeBron James moves the needle more than maybe any athlete in the world, but on deadline day Thursday, they made news for a different reason.

Cleveland decided two things coming into the day: they were going to go for it this season, and they needed an entirely different team to do it. What resulted was three trades, involving five teams, 11 players and two draft picks. Cleveland dealt a former MVP candidate, a future hall of famer and the 2011 NBA MVP. It was an eventful day.

At the league’s current $101 million estimate for the 2018-19 season salary cap, $60 million is just about enough for two max contracts for players with 7-9 seasons of NBA experience and about $6 million short of the $65.7 million necessary to sign one 30 percent max player and one 35 percent max player. If they have a need to move that extra money, the Lakers could stretch the final two seasons of Luol Deng’s contract and create an extra $10.6 million that would be more than enough.

Those same tools help Ball make plays around the basket. The only point guards to have blocked more shots than Ball this season are Simmons, Wall, Jrue Holiday and James Harden, and they have each played in more games than Ball. Being able to block shots isn’t as important for backcourt players as it is for frontcourt players, but it adds to his value as a help defender because he can make the occasional play at the rim when the defense collapses.

The franchise can’t afford to have Oladipo as a one-and-done All-Star. Thus, you’re not going to hear coach Nate McMillan toot Oladipo’s horn all that much.

We’re still looking — we’ll still look and evaluate our guys for the entire season, McMillan told Sporting News. We knew he had potential, and we are seeing some of that potential and development and growth from the start of the season to now. But we’ll still continue to work to develop and hopefully he will continue to show even more growth, leading us down the stretch here.

It is different, O’Neal told Sporting News this weekend. You got guys from LA, like (DeMar) DeRozan and Russell Westbrook, and I am sure they are going to try to put on a show. I know I would if I was them, and you have family members there, you have all your people there. It’s a great opportunity to make a name for themselves.

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CJ McCollum speaks out on 3-Point Contest snub, Fox News’ criticism of LeBron James

I think LeBron said it best, McCollum said. Having money doesn’t change your color or race �� you still are either a white man, a black man, a European man, an Asian man, you still have experiences in your life that are different than the next person, regardless of how much money you have.

So I think that, to just write somebody off because they play a sport is ludicrous. You still have a right to your opinion, regardless of what you do in your day-to-day life. I think that’s disrespectful, to tell somebody to shut up and dribble.

McCollum won’t be around at All-Star weekend much longer, but at least he’s representing the NBA well in the short time he’s here.

The big problem, so far, has been that the Lakers can’t find a way to clear out the cap space for this summer. The solution: just ahead of the trade deadline, they make the claim that they were never all that focused on 2018 in the first place. Ahem.

It’s fun competition. I get excited when they say my name and the fans go wild. I know I have to not only beat the guy but put on a show when I do it. Most importantly, my son gets to see me. It feels like the tours. We packed out NBA arenas. It gives me a chance to have one more run to show off my greatness. I get to show that I’m the greatest ankle breaker not in the NBA of all time.

HS: Those moments when you know the defender knows exactly what you’re going to do, and then you do it anyway. You still pull the move off. The fans standing every time I touched the ball. It was a performance as well as the game. The competition �� we went at each other hard. I also had to step my defense up. Guys wanted to embarrass me like I did them, so I had to be ready.

HS: I’m involved with NBA Cares. I’m doing training sessions with kids and raising my son. I really enjoy life. I’m fortunate that I’m able to do things I love and help people. The Hawks and Kumho have been wonderful partners to work with. I’m enjoying this and getting the chance to inspire the youth. I love working with kids.

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Sporting News caught up with Hot Sauce at Philips Arena and watched as his son, Orion, played on the Hawks’ court after a game against the Pistons.

This is a special day for me. It’s the first time my son and I have shared the same court, Hot Sauce said. I did the challenge and he’s playing. This is wonderful.

We talked about the fan challenge, his son and what he remembers most from the AND1 mixtape tour.

He did some good things, going toward the basket in the pick-and-roll, cleaning up offensive rebounds, using his hook shot. He did some bad things — failing to convert an easy look over 6-5 Wes Matthews in his first possession, then dribbling into a double-team from the left wing for a poor shot on his second — and by 4:42 of the first quarter, he was on the bench, with eight points on 4-for-9 shooting and six rebounds.

Whiteside would make all six of the shots he took over the rest of the game, and add five free throws. He finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds, and the Heat won the game. But Whiteside was on the floor, in total, just 26 minutes.

That’s been the story of Whiteside’s season. And it’s the reason his name keeps coming up — too often, according to league sources — in trade rumors.

This year, if Oladipo has chosen not to be so nice, it’s working. He comes into the All-Star break averaging 24.4 points, a huge lift over his career average of 15.9 points. He is shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from the 3-point line, both career highs. He has the Pacers eight games over .500, the biggest surprise team in the East, if not the league.

The payoff comes this weekend in the NBA’s All-Star Game, Oladipo’s first such appearance. It’s been the result of work, Oladipo says, but it’s also been a change of mentality, what he called his understanding of being an Alpha Dog.

Of all the players here for the NBA’s All-Star festivities, the 24 players in Sunday’s game and 24 in Friday’s Rising Stars game, the four participants in the Slam Dunk Contest, the eight shooters in the 3-Point Contest and eight ball handlers in the Skills Challenge — 68 players altogether — just four represented this city’s two franchises, the Lakers and the Clippers.

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Five NBA buyout candidates from past decade who prove small signings make big difference

In the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12, Fisher joined the Thunder after being waived by the Rockets, who acquired him at the trade deadline. Having won five NBA titles prior to signing with the Thunder, Fisher brought championship experience to a young Oklahoma City team featuring Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant.

Their teams rebound better when they are on the floor. That is, umm, not the case for Maker. The Bucks secure 78 percent of opponent misses when Maker is on the bench, but only 73.8 percent when he plays, per NBA.com. That is the difference between a top-10 defensive rebounding team and one that is even worse than the worst one in the league (Atlanta).

Maker’s biggest physical advantage — speed — doesn’t mean much when he has inside position, as centers typically do on defense; there is no one to scoot around. But he’s so skinny, with such unrefined rebounding instincts, that players of all sizes and speeds can scoot around him. Behemoths shove him out of the way.

The score was still tied at the end of those three minutes, but it served as a reminder of what Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is capable of when he puts it all together. Ball had experienced more downs than ups in the 25 games leading up to the Lakers’ nationally televised game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, so much so that some were already wondering if he was a bust.

It all came together Saturday night when Ball posted a line of 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds while shooting 6-of-10 from the 3-point line in a 116-112 win over the Spurs. Ball hit half of his 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the game, pushing the Lakers to victory behind a 36-21 advantage in the fourth quarter.

He went from hitting the side of the backboard to he can’t miss now, Randle said after the game (via ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk). [Ball is] just confident out there, making plays, making huge, huge shots down the stretch for us.

And it’s not all about Ball’s offense — last year’s No. 2 overall pick has been an active, pesky defender for much of the season. LA’s defensive rating jumps from 102.0 when Ball is on the floor to 108.1 when he is on the bench (roughly the difference between a top-five defense and a bottom-five mark), and the team’s defensive rebounding percentage drops nearly two percent when he sits. Ball causes problems with his long arms and active hands with 2.7 deflections per game, a number right behind Marcus Smart (2.8) and Draymond Green (2.9).

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When shopping for new destinations, NBA free agents have a few things in common with real estate agents and teenagers seeking prom dates �� you don’t want to appear too desperate. The more desperation, the less attractive.

What the Cavaliers did on Thursday in pulling off a roster overhaul that saw the team bring in three players heading into their prime years �� Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood �� without coughing up the team’s right to Brooklyn’s pick in this year’s draft puts them in an enviable situation heading into this summer.

Before the deadline, the entire future of the Cavs was latched to LeBron James’ 2018 free-agency decision. The moves they made, though, allow them to stay afloat as a franchise no matter what James does �� and that could make James more likely to stay.

The new format is a response to the lack of competition in recent years; the Western Conference has won six of the last seven games, with the East’s last win coming in 2014. This change is one of many reasons to tune into this year’s game. In addition to the All-Star draft, the NBA has increased winners’ earnings to restore high-level competition.

James and Curry drafted their teams from the pool of All-Stars, playground style. Here’s a look at each All-Star roster.

Of course, wherever James lands, that team becomes an immediate contender. The Cavs are a long way from a championship without him. But quite suddenly, they have assets on hand and a glimmer of a future even without James. They’re not desperate for James to stay. Maybe that’ll be enough to keep him in place.

While it will initially be lost in the whirlwind of the Cavs’ massive overhaul, the Lakers did an overhaul of their own in terms of their future obligations.

In the first big move of deadline day, the Lakers traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavs for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Cleveland’s own 2018 first-round pick.

While Thomas and Frye can absolutely contribute to the Lakers for the remainder of this season �� though Frye makes sense as a buyout candidate �� both of them are on expiring contracts while Clarkson and Nance will make a combined $14.8 million next season. Cleveland’s first-round pick will take a little less than $2 million off the total, but that roughly $13 million is absolutely massive for a team looking to clear cap space for this summer.

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