Tweet of the Day: Kobe Bryant Among Many NBA Players Reflecting On Season’s End

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Wednesday is the final night in the NBA regular season.

It brings with it a lot of fun and excitement, as all 30 teams are in action. It also features quite of a few games of great import, seeing as there are more than a few teams jockeying for position in the playoffs.

More than anything, for a lot of NBA athletes, it brings a moment of reflection:  An entire year of hard work is coming to a close. For some, the reflection is less inviting:  An entire season has seemingly gone to waste.

Don’t believe me on the latter? Check out Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant’s response to this season.

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Gambling on the Western Conference: A Free-For-All

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The Western Conference is absolutely nothing like the Eastern Conference when it comes to championship odds.

We have what I call a two-horse race in the East versus what I am going to call the six-plus team race in the West.

In the 15 previous seasons, only four teams (the Lakers, seven times; the Spurs, five times, the Mavericks, two times; the Thunder, once)  have won the Western Conference, which is a similar concept to what the Eastern Conference has gone through recently, as I outlined in this column laying out the loooong odds on anyone not from Miami or Indiana winning the East.

Bernucca: No extensions will be best thing for Bledsoe, Vasquez

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Ryan McDonough GM SunsWhen the deadline for contract extensions came and went Thursday night, point guards Eric Bledsoe and Greivis Vasquez didn’t get paid.

But don’t shed any tears for them. Because when the summer rolls around, they will get their money. And it might be GMs Ryan McDonough of Phoenix and Pete D’Alessandro of Sacramento who are crying.

As reluctant as McDonough and D’Alessandro may have been to pony up for point guards with plenty to prove, they should have done so. Both GMs are relatively young, so they may not remember this commercial from the early 1980s that came with good advice.

You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.

Both GMs chose to potentially pay their players later, and it may cost them millions, given the numbers Bledsoe and Vasquez have a chance to put up this season as they enter a fallow free agent market.

Yes, there’s plenty of big names headed to free agency next summer – Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph, just to name a few.

Notice anything about the guys on that list?

None are point guards.

Here are the best veteran free agent point guards on the market next summer: Mario Chalmers, Devin Harris, Ramon Sessions, Kirk Hinrich, Rodney Stuckey, Steve Blake, Beno Udrih, Luke Ridnour and Kyle Lowry. In addition, Jameer Nelson could be available if Orlando (or another team) buys out his $2 million guarantee for 2014-15. All capable players – with a combined two All-Star berths among them.

Bledsoe turns just 24 next summer and Vasquez will be 27. Even as restricted free agents with shorter resumes, they immediately go to the top of that list.

The Suns snared Bledsoe in the summer, when the Clippers realized they wouldn’t be able to pay him and decided Phoenix Suns vs Maccabi Haifato get something for him now rather than later. Apparently, Clippers GM Gary Sacks has seen the commercial. McDonough smartly saw him as an ideal piece to his rebuilding project in the Valley, a young player with a high ceiling.

But Bledsoe had never been a starter, and McDonough was understandably apprehensive about giving him starter’s money. The GM also had the more established Goran Dragic’s three remaining years as an insurance policy, so he decided not to pull the trigger on a deal that probably would have cost him anywhere from $32 million to $40 million over four years.

Less than 24 hours later, Bledsoe began his salary drive by scoring Phoenix’s final 14 points vs. Utah, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final second.

The Kings also acquired Vasquez in the summer as part of the sign-and-trade deal that sent Tyreke Evans to New Orleans. Last season – his first as a starter – Vasquez averaged 13.9 points and 9.0 assists. The only point guard with better numbers in both categories was a guy named Chris Paul.

But D’Alessandro had to drop $62 million to extend DeMarcus Cousins, whom new owner Vivek Ranadive anointed as a cornerstone. He also had an insurance policy in point guard Isaiah Thomas and chose not to extend Vasquez, probably at around $10 million per year.

Both GMs can match any offer Bledsoe and Vasquez get from other teams next summer. And there are going to be offers, because plenty of teams need point guards.

Like Toronto, which can let Lowry walk and put some of its young assets in a sign-and-trade.

Or Milwaukee, where Brandon Knight is not the long-term guy. The Bucks can get down to about $48 million if they don’t make a qualifying offer to the immortal Ekpe Udoh.

Or Orlando, which can get to about $34 million by buying out Nelson, declining some options and deciding if they are serious about making Victor Oladipo a point guard.

Want better landing spots? How about Miami, where Norris Cole is the only player on the books right now. The Heat could let Chris Bosh walk and target Bledsoe.

Or New York, where Raymond Felton really isn’t the answer. The Knicks don’t have any room, but that has never Steve Nashstopped them before.

Or Los Angeles, where Steve Nash could be moved into a backup mentor role in the last year of his deal while giving the reins to Vasquez or Bledsoe.

If Bledsoe gets a big offer next summer, McDonough can easily match because he could have as much as $25 million in cap room. But D’Alessandro can only get his payroll down to about $57 million – and that doesn’t factor in Thomas, who will be unrestricted.

In the NBA’s new financial age, teams are more reluctant to commit to long-term deals of any value because of the punitive repeater tax – which is exactly why McDonough should have signed Bledsoe and D’Alessandro should have signed Vasquez.

It’s hard to imagine either player costing less next summer.

TRIVIA: Who is the only active NBA player with championship rings from different teams? Answer below.

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StatBox Free Agency Breakdown: Bucks, Mavs, Pelicans had most puzzling offseasons

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bjenningsDid your NBA team confuse you this offseason? Were moves made that left you asking questions? Scratching your head? Leaving you angry and befuddled? This column is for many of you. It discusses the three teams with the most puzzling offseasons.

After a lot of thought and consideration, there were three teams that really stood out and left this writer really question their thought processes. The first is easily the Milwaukee Bucks.

After trading an interesting long-term asset in Tobias Harris for two months of J.J. Redick just to make the eighth seed in the East, Bucks general manager John Hammond was expected to choose between unrestricted free agents Redick, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. He ended up keeping none of these players.

Why? How?

If the Bucks wanted to ditch Redick and concentrate on keeping one of the other two players, it would be understandable. Milwaukee was 11-17 with Redick during the regular season and 27-27 without him.

Redick

Games

Minutes

FG %

3 FG%

PER

WS/48

ORL

50

31.5

45

39

16.1

0.097

MIL

28

28.7

40.3

31.8

11.9

0.078

 

Whatever the reason, Redick was a lot worse with the Bucks and he just never seemed like a good fit with the team. Knowing that Redick wouldn’t return, Milwaukee traded him to the Clippers for a pair of second-round picks, which was fine. What Hammond and the front office did afterward is where it really went sour.

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SH Blog: Wall believes he can be better than any PG, Jamison says there was too much nonsense with Lakers

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JohnWallservingWhen a player signs a maximum contract in the NBA, everything changes in that moment, as he is automatically recognized as the face of a franchise. The responsibilities grow on and off the court, and whatever he does – big or small – is suddenly put under a microscope.

That’s what Washington Wizards point guard John Wall can expect after signing a maximum contract worth $80 million over five years on Thursday, and he appears to expect nothing less. On Friday, Wall spoke on what it meant to sign the deal and how different he feels now, transcribed by Michael Lee of The Washington Post:

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