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Phil Jackson made Dennis Smith Jr. eat an octopus at Knicks pre-draft meeting

Before a team selects a player in the draft, they want to get to know everything about them. Is there anything about their past they should know about, what kind of leader are you, what will you bring to this team, and can you wolf down on some octopus tentacles?

The 7-foot center had opted out of the final year of his contract in late June, reportedly to give the team greater salary flexibility to pursue a top-end free agent. That option was worth $16.2 million.

As it turned out, the Spurs, who lost out in their bid to land free-agent guard Chris Paul, didn’t need the cap space.

Gasol, a six-time All-Star, averaged 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his first season with the Spurs.

In 1,119 career NBA games (1,081 starts), the 2002 NBA Rookie of the Year has averaged 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.65 blocks while shooting .510 (7,651-15,008) from the floor and .754 (4,569-6,062) from the free throw line in 34.7 minutes. He has appeared in 131 career playoffs games, averaging 15.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.77 blocks in 36.1 minutes.

And that’s without mentioning the huge defensive gap between Irving and Rubio. Irving was one of the worst point guards in the league in terms of ESPN’s real defensive plus-minus (-2.30), whereas Rubio finished just outside of the top 10 at the position (0.76).

This is not to say Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau can’t fix some of Irving’s deficiencies on the defensive end or that Irving isn’t worth chasing. He’s a spectacular player and one of the league’s best offensive weapons. He’s a threat to score 30 or more points every night.

That’s why these teams are in hot pursuit. Despite all of the controversy surrounding Irving, he has the potential to boost a team up a tier in the NBA’s hierarchy. We’ll see how much a franchise is willing to send the Cavs to get him.

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Stephen Jackson says Gregg Popovich told him he had to quit smoking weed to join Spurs

Stephen Jackson and Gregg Popovich are straight shooters.

Just ask Cap’n Jack, now a popular NBA analyst on ESPN, what he thinks of current Nets wingman DeMarre Carroll’s comments about the Raptors, his former employer, or bring up President Donald Trump around the Spurs coach.

Knowing that, it’s no surprise Popovich’s pitch to Jackson was as clear cut as they come when the two crossed paths back in 2001. Popovich knew he could use the 6-8, 220-pound Port Arthur, Texas native, but he also knew there was one obstacle keeping San Antonio from acquiring Jackson’s services.

It’s about trying to get used to each other. Of course we knew what each other can do from when we matched up against each other when he was in Sacramento, but it’s different now, learning where he likes to be and where I can get my shots from, or where he can get his shots. We didn’t want to waste training camp trying to figure that out. We’re going to both use this to be ready and try to improve the team.

New Orleans also acquired Rajon Rondo earlier this month on a one-year contract worth $3.3 million shortly after he was waived by the Bulls. Davis was impressed with Cousins’ ability to recruit his former Kings teammate during the 2015-16 season and praised him for helping build onto the Pelicans’ offense with the addition of Rondo.

[Cousins] played with him in Sac, and he definitely knows him very well, as well as from Kentucky, Davis said. He definitely was a key part in getting Rondo. We’re just happy we got him. It goes back to DeMarcus just trying to help the team in whatever way possible. Helping us to go get Rondo was one of those things.

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NBA to adjust schedule to decrease rest days for stars

The NBA wants its star players on the court as much as possible and is taking measures to ensure that happens.

The league sent all 30 teams a memo, obtained by ESPN, detailing how it will build rest into the schedule.

The schedule changes include:

This probably won’t go over well with the fans in Los Angeles, for obvious reasons. But Ball’s comments aren’t really that hot of a take. James is a better overall player than Bryant, and has him beat in every single major career statistical average.

And despite being six seasons behind Bryant, James already has more career rebounds and assists than the Lakers legend. He also has four NBA MVPs compared to Bryant’s one, and has him matched on All-NBA First Teams (11). James also has a better career field goal percentage and 3-point percentage than Bryant.

Oh, and that’s just regular season. James also has Bryant beat in playoff averages, too.

So Ball may not please the L.A. crowd with his decision, but at least he’s right.

Out West, Houston picked up nine-time All-Star and four-time assists leader Chris Paul to partner with James Harden (29.1 ppg, 11.2 apg, 8.1 rpg) in the backcourt. Paul George was shipped to Oklahoma City to give MVP Russell Westbrook an All-Star caliber running mate after lone-rangering last season in the immediate aftermath of the departure of Kevin Durant.

That’s not to mention the Warriors, fresh off a cakewalk through the playoffs, locked down Durant and Stephen Curry, winners of three of the last four MVP awards, for the foreseeable future. They also scooped up Nick Young, a 40.4 percent 3-point shooter and one of the league’s best gunners in spot-up situations in 2016-17 to strengthen a lineup that also includes 2016 3-point contest champion Klay Thompson.

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Kyrie Irving reportedly not taking calls from Cavaliers

Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers reportedly aren’t on speaking terms right now, according to the Athletic.

That sentiment was echoed by ESPN Thursday morning.

Warriors forward Draymond Green is never without a comeback, and he came right back at Lillard after comments he saw as maybe a bit misguided.

If the Rockets, who finished third in the West last year and added Chris Paul, aren’t yet considered contenders for the Western Conference title (and still wouldn’t be even if they added Anthony), why would the Blazers, who were an eighth seed in the West, be considered a contender with the addition of Anthony?

And while Lillard may have complained in the aftermath that he was misquoted in the tease by Bleacher Report, he probably should pump the brakes a touch because it’s going to take far more than Carmelo Anthony to make the Blazers contenders.

The championship run has its roots in forgiveness, and it started with the prodigal-son player forgiving the hair-trigger owner, for getting into his feelings, letting his petty fly and raising the bar for all time on sour grapes. For a knee-jerk reaction that made a city of jersey-burners seem measured and reasonable.

It only took three years for everything to return to normal in Believeland, though, that being a buffoonish owner doing buffoonish-owner things. And as carefully as he worded his reaction to Gilbert running off general manager David Griffin, at this time and place and after this run … LeBron James knows it.

He trusted the wrong guy. He told himself Dan Gilbert being Dan Gilbert wasn’t going be that bad, and now he knows that that’s always going to be bad, even when things are good.

James was the frog, and Gilbert was—and is—the scorpion.

MORE: LeBron tweets support for Griffin (and takes shot at Gilbert?)

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NBA trade rumors: Anthony Davis to Celtics not true

Anthony Davis loves it in New Orleans. He said as much to the Times-Picayune this week. But the more important thing to come out of that interview was his quote on a potential trade that got the NBA rumor mills swirling. The rumor that the Celtics had their eyes on Davis in a trade.

Davis heard the same rumors, but he put the kibosh on those rumors.

Irving reportedly made his request in a meeting with Gilbert more than two weeks ago, with the Spurs, Knicks, Heat and Timberwolves emerging as his preferred landing spots. The mood in Cleveland has only gotten worse since that meeting, as Irving reportedly thought LeBron James leaked his trade request and stopped taking calls from the Cavs. James was also forced to deny reports saying he is eager to see Irving moved.

Griffin believes Irving’s decision ultimately came down to a desire to find out how he can operate as the leading man on his team, not LeBron’s sidekick.

I think this is a guy who wants to know how good he can be, Griffin said. LeBron casts a very large shadow over an organization, and most of it is really, really positive. You know you’re expected to win a championship, by way of example. But what that doesn’t always allow is for a player like Kyrie to test his boundaries a little bit and see how good he can really be, and can I actually be the front man of a team like that?

You can watch the full segment about the Irving trade drama with Griffin and ESPN’s Amin Elhassan and Dave McMenamin below.

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Timberwolves have not offered Andrew Wiggins to Cavs for Kyrie Irving

The Timberwolves are not willing to send Andrew Wiggins back to Cleveland.

According to Minnesota’s KSTP-TV, Wiggins has not been involved in trade talks with the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving, but even if he was, it would take more than just Wiggins to facilitate a deal.

That information comes from someone named Mal, who said Harden had his jersey retired at one of the more popular clubs because of the amount of money he spent there.

With that kind of money, the club may eventually have to line the walls with Harden jerseys.

The former Kentucky star had a breakout season in 2016-17, increasing his scoring by nearly 10 points per game (13.8 to 22.1) and seeing a major spike in usage (23.0 to 28.6 usage percentage) from his rookie season. Irving would swallow up many of those possessions, especially considering he becomes a better scorer the more he dribbles. As noted in Sporting News’ evaluation of Irving’s fit with the Timberwolves, he’s not known as a creator for others. This could stunt Booker’s natural growth as a player.

And when you look at the Suns’ roster, it’s clear Irving would be tempted to take more shots than ever before. Bledsoe (21.1 ppg), T.J. Warren (14.4 ppg) and Brandon Knight (11.0 ppg) were the three players other than Booker to hit double-figures on a per-game basis. Bledsoe would be gone in that trade, and Knight is expected to miss the entire 2017-18 season with a torn ACL.

The role players aren’t providing space for Irving to operate, either. The Suns shot 33.2 percent from 3-point range as team, the fourth-worst mark in the league, and 36.7 percent on spot-up opportunities, third-worst in the league. They also had the third-worst defensive rating last season, and Irving is certainly not helping on that end.

If he wants to be The Man, this would be an opportunity for Irving, but he’d take a ton of L’s in the process. To point out the obvious, Marquese Chriss is not LeBron James.

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Paul Pierce takes credit for Brandon Jennings leaving NBA to play in China

Brandon Jennings began his career with a bang, but quickly faded into obscurity as he’s averaged single-digit points for two straight seasons. He’s now gone even lower, heading to play in China where he’ll make less (1-year, $1.5 million) than the NBA minimum salary.

The point guard, who played for the Knicks and Wizards last season, caught some headlines earlier this year when he decided to bash Paul Pierce. The veteran announced his retirement before the season and during his final game Jennings tweeted, 1 ring don’t mean you get a farewell tour.

Harden finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals, while Paul finished with 13 points, 10 assists and this highlight 3-pointer.

It was a capacity crowd in the Los Angeles gym as NBA players DeMar DeRozan, Nick Young and Julius Randle played earlier in the day.

There were hundreds of people outside waiting, coming and going because they couldn’t get in, Drew League commissioner Chaniel Smiley told ESPN.com. Today’s crowd had to be on my top-two list.

Paul is now eligible to play with LAUNFD in the Drew League playoffs. The team also features Rockets guard Bobby Brown, former NBA player Pooh Jeter and the top high school player in the class of 2018, Marvin Bagley III.

And there’s the system. Anthony played in Mike D’Antoni’s offense before, of course, for parts of two seasons in 2011 and 2012 with the Knicks, and his unwillingness to embrace the ball-sharing flow of D’Antoni-ball was a major factor in D’Antoni’s ultimate ouster from New York.

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Charles Barkley can’t have it both ways with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant

The NBA season ended nearly two months ago, so it’s been a while since basketball fans have heard from Charles Barkley. But rest assured, Sir Charles has something to say about Kyrie Irving’s trade request.

During an interview on NBA TV, Barkley described Irving’s desire to be the man as stupid. Irving reportedly told Cavs owner Dan Gilbert he wants to be the focal point of a team and no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James. That confused Barkley, to say the least.

So, what’s the problem here? Should players avoid the gravy train and find their own way to a title without joining super teams? Or are players silly not to consider joining star-studded rosters?

Griffin’s extensive injury history including offseason foot surgery that might force him to miss the start of training camp this fall didn’t stop the Clippers from doing what they had to do and committing to their All-Star power forward. That commitment, in turn, made Griffin’s decision to stay really easy.

In the end, I realized this was a no-brainer for me, Griffin told reporters, per the Los Angeles Daily News. This was the best place for me.

The money is great, but there are other reasons Griffin should like his situation. The biggest: He’s poised to reach his apex on the court in his new role as LA’s point-forward. The role suits him; he’s one of the best-passing big men in the NBA and he still has freakish athletic ability at 28.

With Griffin taking over a lot of the ballhandling from Paul, the Clippers will gain something important, coach and team president Doc Rivers told reporters.

Some might view that as a shot at Paul, but it wasn’t. Rivers was simply being honest. Paul needed the ball in his hands.

Now it will be Griffin distributing to DeAndre Jordan, Paul’s replacement Patrick Beverley, and everyone else who will be playing alongside him.

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Mortified ball boy picks up fair ball, immediately regrets decision

A Cardinals ball boy made the biggest faux pas of his job on Wednesday and played it off like a pro.

Poor kid was so amped to do his job that he picked up a fair ball and realized what he did when an entire stadium was staring at him. Everyone has had a moment like this and while we’re laughing at this total brain fart, let’s also appreciate what a bad ass this kid was in the first inning earlier in the game.

Maybe that’s too much for you, and I understand that. I’ve generally felt that right now isn’t the time to be heavily investing in the present, but at the least I wouldn’t criticize the Cardinals for making either of the above deals, which seem fair without sacrificing all that much future value.

Maybe you think the price might be higher than that. That could easily be the case. These valuations are based on the best public estimates and aggregations, but all that really matters is the opinions of the organizations involved. This is intended to be a good over/under.

Maybe you think the Cardinals should go over and above that price to finally get a superstar. If the Cardinals happen to be in a position at the deadline where they could realistically win the division, I’d probably agree. If it means mostly just increasing their chances of gaining entry to the Wild Card game, it’s a little less worthwhile in my opinion. Either way, I think the math here gets us pretty close to the potential price of acquiring Josh Donaldson. At this point, let’s just hope the Cards have a good enough record to buy at the deadline.

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Adidas apologizes to female referee after removing her for LaVar Ball technical

The saga involving a female referee and LaVar Ball continues.

Adidas, which replaced the woman after she issued Ball a technical during an AAU tournament game, said it made the wrong decision and apologized to the referee.

The referee substitutions made during our tournament last week are not in line with our company values, Adidas said in a statement Monday, via ESPN. It was the wrong decision. We regret the situation and are looking into the matter to make sure our standards for sportsmanship, equality and fair play are met in the future.

The ratings for these three players, who are aligned with the company for the marketing campaign, have also been unveiled. George is a 91 Overall (no change from 2K17), DeRozan is an 89 (no change) and Thomas is an 89 (down from 90).

Interestingly, this is also the first look at the NBA’s new Nike jerseys along with the debut of advertisements, which many teams will have in this first year. The league recently described how every team will have four different themed uniforms and showed off one of the options for the Warriors. The screenshots feature the Association Edition jersey for the Thunder, Celtics and Raptors.

Those with NBA 2K17 don’t have to wait until 2K18 to play with rookies and all the offseason transactions. Here’s how to utilize user-created files which feature up-to-the-minute rosters.

NBA 2K18 will release on Sept. 15 to those who pre-order. Shaquille O’Neal is featured on the two pricey special editions of the game, which will be sold for $150 and $100, and Kyrie Irving is on the cover of the standard edition. No features or improvements have been revealed, but the extensive soundtrack was recently detailed.

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