Gordon Hayward’s free agency is being fought through Twitter emojis

The Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat are in the midst of a frantic bidding war for free agent Gordon Hayward, who is taking meetings with all three over the first three days of free agency. There’s no clear favorite right now, so players on those teams have taken to tweeting their own arguments for Hayward joining those teams. Emojis only, though.

Luke [Walton]’s a helluva coach, but I thought [Russell] was just looking for a fresh start, he told SB Nation. So we’re like a fresh program, fresh start, and I really hope that can jumpstart him.

For Atkinson, a Northport, N.Y. native, coaching the Nets has been a dream too good to be true. But he can’t stop to pinch himself. Atkinson’s a go guy; it’s how he’s risen up the ranks from an assistant coach in France to an assistant coach with both the Knicks and the Hawks before landing his dream job at home.

That’s why pacing back-and-forth along the Thomas & Mack Center sidelines, Atkinson has the demeanor of a man who knows his work is cut out for him. Because the Nets aren’t competing for the now; they’re pacing themselves for the future.

Then there are the good players with question marks. Really good players future or current stars don’t make it to restricted free agency, and if they do, their teams lock them up immediately. The best young players usually sign rookie extensions after their third seasons. Some don’t, and become restricted free agents ever so briefly after mutually agreeing to a new contract (as happened with Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Draymond Green) or being yanked into a new max contract (as happened with Jimmy Butler). Below the star level, it’s not so simple.

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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the latest victim of NBA restricted free agency

Van Gundy’s rash move may have been foolish we’ll see how Caldwell-Pope pans out, but renouncing valuable players you could still extract value from is usually a bad idea but it had a huge impact on how the player’s summer will wrap up. There are two routes: A one-year balloon contract with a team preserving cap space for 2017 (hello, Lakers) or a more reasonable, closer-to-market-value multi-year deal (perhaps with the Hawks).

Getting out of restricted free agency has its benefits. But Caldwell-Pope’s foray into the market was damaged heavily already. What a weird system.

There’s good and there’s bad, one agent who recently had a client sign a two-way contract told me. On one hand, when teams are looking to make call-ups, you’re locked into the one team. But on the other, if the team really likes you, you have to do anything you can to get your foot in the door.

It cements in place the opportunity to have guys in a development situation where they really are connected to the NBA organization and affiliate organization, Kent Lacob, general manager of the Santa Cruz Warriors, told me. It really provides more synergy and opportunity for guys to be integrated into both. I think that aids in the development of not just improving as a player, but specifically catered to the system, and the culture, and the team that they’re with.

Likewise, Rio Grande Valley Vipers head coach Matt Brase told me he sees the two-way contract as an awesome new addition.

Last year’s free agency was centered around whether Kevin Durant would stay with Russell Westbrook or bolt for the Bay Area. This summer, on the other hand, has a wider variety of players that can make moves and create the chaos NBA fans long to see. While Durant is again a free agent, it’s known he plans to re-sign with Golden State, so we can’t expect much drama there.

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Sue Bird comes out as gay, is dating Megan Rapinoe

Sue Bird won Olympic gold in Rio with the U.S. women’s basketball team. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
WNBA player and Olympic champion Sue Bird has come out publicly in an article with ESPNW. Bird told Mechelle Voepel that her sexual orientation isn’t a surprise to anyone who knows her. From ESPNW:

I’m gay. Megan’s my girlfriend … these aren’t secrets to people who know me, Bird says. I don’t feel like I’ve not lived my life. I think people have this assumption that if you’re not talking about it, you must be hiding it, like it’s this secret. That was never the case for me.

After averaging a career-high 19.6 points per game two years ago with Phoenix, Knight struggled last season. He averaged only 11 points per game while shooting just under 40 percent from the field, also recording a career-low 2.4 assists per game. It looked like there was a path for Knight to bounce back this season, but the injury derailed any chances to do that.

For the Suns, this is an unfortunate blow. Phoenix has been rumored to be in the market as a third team in a Kyrie Irving or Carmelo Anthony trade, taking on assets in exchange for a veteran like Eric Bledsoe. One reason Bledsoe was likely seen as expendable was Knight, however, and now his absence for most of the season could potentially change the mind of the Suns front office. For now, that’s just speculation, especially since the Suns haven’t been definitively linked in any deals. However, it’s a possibility that Knight’s injury has bigger ramifications.

Knight’s injury opens up a larger role for Tyler Ulis and perhaps second-round pick Davon Reed, whom the Suns selected with the 32nd overall pick last month.

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How Danny Ainge brought the Celtics here and delivered Gordon Hayward

Their frontcourt is awfully thin and there are still the other transactional shoes to drop. By using cap space to sign Hayward they won’t have the more valuable exceptions to pad out the roster. Depending on what they can get back in trade, they’ll be relying on rookies and near-rookies to play meaningful roles. Free agency looms for Isaiah Thomas after next season, as well.

That’s alright for now because Ainge and the Celtics are still primed for the future. No doubt there will be more interest about those draft picks and no doubt there will be a million more rumors between now and whenever this incredible string of assets has finally run its course. Ultimately what getting Hayward does is buy even more time for that vision to materialize.

Give Danny Ainge this: He’s walked down all three roster avenues to build this team and he’s not done yet.

So far, 11 such contracts have been officially announced, and both Milwaukee (Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig and Utah State’s Jalen Moore) and Washington (Florida’s Devin Robinson and Pittsburgh’s Michael Young) have already filled both spots. On the surface, it seems like a win for everyone involved.

A couple of agents I spoke to at NBA Summer League last week said they would not encourage their clients to sign two-way contracts this coming summer. Their pleas, in some cases, will fall on deaf ears, while other agents don’t have the same negative feelings about it.

That addition was only possible because Payton had autonomy to sign with any team rather than being tied into the Rockets.

If your goal is to play in the G-League and you want to have the freedom of movement, then yeah, maybe it does make sense to have freedom of movement in signing instead, Lacob said.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is sitting out EuroBasket 2017, and Greece is livid for some reason

Against all odds, Giannis Antetokounmpo, an NBA wunderkind, was slated to play with the Greek national basketball team at EuroBasket 2017 this summer. EuroBasket has essentially become an exhibition tournament played for pride: It no longer figures in qualification for the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup. EuroBasket simply crowns the champions of Europe every couple of years.

On the surface, it’s just a bag of course. It’s meant to carry school supplies, which isn’t a small thing, but it’s also very common. But each year now, for four years in a row, Wall has mattered in some child’s life. He’s showed them that they matter, and that they can make a difference given the proper tools. They don’t have to resort to other, sometimes more dangerous, means to make ends meet.

I just want these kids to understand that no matter where you start at or what you go through, you always can accomplish anything in life, Wall said. It might not be a professional basketball player. It might be a doctor, it might be a nurse. It might be whatever you want it to be. But if that’s what you want to be, lock in and set your goal for it and work hard every day for it.

So, even if it seems trivial, a little backpack goes a long way. Wall is showing children there is another way, through what he does and through what they can do in school. And for this community, that means the world.

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The Suns are a blank canvas. Here’s their plan to paint a masterpiece

Like other young teams, Phoenix values its own brand of character. Team personnel call it the Suns fit, Watson says good guys who play with a chip on their shoulder, even if it means picking up the occasional technical foul.

Phoenix won’t be a playoff team for some time. But the Suns feel like they have the three pillars in place as the foundation to a contender down the road.

Booker has already emerged as a future star in this league. They hope Chriss and Bender keep developing the chemistry needed to form one of the more unique 4-5 tandems the NBA can offer. They’re encouraged that Jackson has shown flashes of dominance on both ends of the floor in Summer League.

But the other reason agents are wary of two-way contracts is that it restricts the player’s freedom of movement. Players who once could be called up by 30 different NBA teams now are linked exclusively with just one and on a limited basis, at that.

Sure, there are technically 60 more players in the NBA. But it will only be at a specific team’s discretion, with no lateral movement until the contract is up. Before, the G-League’s most convincing selling point was how easily any player could be called up for a 10-day tryout. That goes away for players who sign two-way contracts.

For some prospects, a two-way deal will make sense. Players looking for more money but who can’t go overseas have a more lucrative G-League option. Prospects who believe an organizational investment in them as players is more beneficial to their development than floating around unattached will likely love the new structure.

The two-way contract is an attempt to keep the G-League moving toward a true minor league system, which is important to the NBA, and deservedly so.

But the new system isn’t a universally beneficial one, even if it improves the G-League in certain places.

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3 winners and 2 losers from a surprising week in the WNBA

The best team in the WNBA had their worst week yet, while the worst team had their best. That’s where we’re at in this year’s WNBA season, which only has a few weeks left to play.

Here are the winners and losers from the WNBA this past week, featuring good times in San Antonio, a bad few days in Minnesota, and an excellent day for dancing.

The Stars were a dreadful 3-21 on the final day of July, drifting aimlessly through a lost season with little to show for it, not even from their thrilling rookie Kelsey Plum who barely played. That’s how you lose a locker room and why fans stop showing up. You can be bad, but you have to give them something.

The Wizards and the Celtics playing at noon should have been a given, so I didn’t even try to get around that. But we could have started to shake things up in the afternoon with a Kyrie vs. LeBron matchup. We needed a quick break from Cavs-Warriors so this will suffice.

Then, we would have seen a solid Texas matchup between the Spurs and Rockets, which would have taken place while you absolutely have to pay attention to your families. The night could have started with Russell Westbrook taking his new best friend Paul George right into the Bay Area to see how they stack up against the Warriors. The score of this game doesn’t matter. It’s the drama that we need.

Then, the night would have finished with a fun game between the youngest stars in the game.

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Lonzo Ball wears Kobes in Summer League game, drops 36 points and 11 assists

Lonzo Ball had far and away his best game of Summer League Wednesday night, putting up a stat line of 36 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, and five steals in a Lakers win against the Sixers.

Aside from the shoes, Ball really did play a brilliant game. He scored all of his 36 points in the final three quarters. He started the game dishing out assists to all of his teammates, finishing with six assists after the first quarter.

Ball had a three-point play that put the Lakers up one with 5.9 seconds left. The Sixers would score again, giving the Lakers one last chance to put the game away. Ivica Zubac was fouled on the inbounds pass and hit both free throws to win the game.

Rose feels like empty calories at this point. With the right coach and teammates, he could turn into a top-drawer back-up point guard. You just wonder if he’s ready to follow that path or if he still believes he can still be an all-star (which he cannot). Seeing what market develops for him this summer should be fascinating.

Collison has actually been solid for the Kings over the last couple of years, and he’s quite a shooter. There’s a strong possibility Sacramento will re-sign him to help bring De’Aaron Fox along, but he could end up as a back-up somewhere for $10-12 million per season.

Shan Livingston and the Warriors agreed to a 3-year, $24 million deal that begins to keep the Warriors bench in place. Livingston doesn’t put up numbers, shoot threes, or set up his teammates too much. But he’s a fierce defender, a high-character teammate, and the post-up god of point guards. Livingston probably could have taken a bigger payday elsewhere but winning with the Warriors was more important.

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Kristaps Porzingis is being groped by a giant honey-soaked arm in this Latvian Visa commercial

A commercial for a new Visa card in Latvia has given us one of the most confusing, bizarre, awe-inspiring pieces of video ever to star Kristaps Porzingis. Pour yourself a stiff drink for this one, because you’re going to need it:

It opens with an uncomfortably long arm extending through the clouds and reaching out to us. The arm is covered in an extremely long sleeve, the maker of which we’re never introduced to. Conceivably, it’s from a God-like tailor of unimaginable skill in the arts of tensile strength and textile flexibility:

The arm swims with dolphins and strokes a vintage car before making its way to a very good dog alone in a field:

There are no clouds in this world. Humans have no deign to build in the pupper’s realm. It is alone, waiting to be touched by human hands and is sadly met with a hellish nightmare arm.

While they have been linked to every star player to come along, Ainge has been a discerning shopper at the moment of truth. He was nowhere near the DeMarcus Cousins fire sale and he held off on Jimmy Butler’s draft night trade to the Wolves.

He wanted Paul George, but he wanted to do it on his terms and his timetable. The Pacers said no and we’ll see if that was a wise move or impulsive. For his part, Ainge wasn’t giving up on the Brooklyn pick or the Sauce Castillo Swap (as Ziller has termed it) and he wasn’t giving up their young guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown either.

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De’Aaron Fox tweets and deletes response to Lonzo Ball missing their rematch at Summer League

Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball and Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox had a heated rivalry during their stints in college, and the feud could carry over to the NBA. However, even though the Kings and Lakers will collide in the Summer League on Monday, fans will have to wait for both players to compete against one another at the next level.

According to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne, Ball will not play Monday night against Sacramento because of a groin injury he suffered. Shelburne noted that the 19-year-old guard has been dealing with groin issues since last week.

The Mavericks and Knicks were also teams that showed interest but Holiday ultimately signed back with Chicago. Holiday was part of the Derrick Rose trade in 2016 that sent Rose and Holiday to the Knicks. His choice to go with Chicago in free agency could be that it gives him an opportunity to be a starter as the Bulls are in rebuilding mode after trading away All-Star Jimmy Butler on draft night. Holiday has bounced around with many teams in his career but this is his first big day and hopefully a good fit for the future.

As such, the only teams that get into the restricted free agency business are those with already existent cap space. Few teams are willing to perform cap sheet gymnastics just to submit an offer sheet, and rightly so.

One more minor twist: RFA offer sheets must be at least three years in length. So teams with one year of cap space to burn aren’t in the game. This is why the Lakers weren’t available to RFAs L.A. wants to retain its cap space for next summer.

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