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2023 FIBA World Cup – Josh Hart’s N.Y. decision, Austin Reaves’ L.A. plan and Steve Kerr’s expansion thoughts

LAS VEGAS — Heading into NBA free agency this summer, there was little chance Josh Hart would be playing anywhere but with the New York Knicks for the 2023-24 season. Two paths existed for how Hart and the Knicks could stay together.

One was to have Hart opt into the $12.9 million contract he had for the upcoming season, giving New York additional salary cap flexibility to use its full midlevel exception in free agency — and to leave open the option for Hart to sign a contract extension later this summer. The other was for Hart to opt out of that deal and set himself up for a hefty raise ahead of the season.

Hart chose to opt-in — and, in doing so allowed the Knicks the flexibility to add his former Villanova teammate Donte DiVincenzo to the roster on a four-year deal for the vast majority of that full midlevel exception.

Hart said the decision was an easy one.

“Obviously, when you’re in that situation, you know all of the possible outcomes,” Hart said Thursday after Team USA’s opening practice ahead of the FIBA World Cup (Aug. 25-Sept. 10).

“I wanted to stay in New York, I wanted to give this team the best chance to be the best that you can be, to go out there and compete. And opting in was definitely something that was going to help the team to help us build and continue to build.” DiVincenzo, the third member of the 2018 national champion Wildcats team, spent last season with the Golden State Warriors. He joins Hart and fellow Team USA member Jalen Brunson in New York.

“(It definitely was) In the back of my mind,” Hart said of the possibility of adding his former college teammate. “Obviously (Donte) is someone JB and myself are very familiar with. He’s someone who has been very productive in the league. He’s someone that can shoot the ball, can handle, guard multiple positions, tough, scrappy player.

“Everyone needs guys like that. It’s not always about your one or two stars. It’s about building around them and he’s definitely a piece that can help us be the best that we can be in the future.”

While Hart has yet to sign an extension with the Knicks, there’s a reason for the delay: up until Aug. 10, he is able to only sign a two-year extension with the franchise, but on that date and after, he is eligible to sign a four-year deal.

And while Hart joked about how the rest of the Team USA roster is on longer-term deals, the smile on his face pointing this out — coupled with the way he’s worked together with the Knicks throughout this process — points to the two sides coming to an agreement once they’re able to next week.

“(It was) a little bit in the back of my mind,” he said, referring to his one guaranteed year remaining on his contract.

“But hopefully we’ll be able to get something done.”

Other notes from Thursday’s Team USA practice and availability:

Reaves: Staying in L.A. was his preferred plan

One of the players Hart was referring to in terms of getting a new deal this summer was Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves, who signed a four-year, $54 million deal as a restricted free agent last month.

Reaves, 25, said his goal was always to return to the team that brought him in as an undrafted free agent two years ago, and for whom he has become a critical player.

“The whole time it was, ‘Get back to L.A.,'” Reaves said. “That’s where I want to be. It feels like home to me. I’ve said that multiple times before the free agency stuff, but it was different. I had a stressful probably 10 hours, but after that, when it was done, couldn’t be more excited with the situation, with the team that we got, going back to L.A.” Part of the stress, he said, was figuring out the kind of deal he would be getting. The Lakers could only offer him a four-year, $54 million contract due to Reaves being an early Bird restricted free agent, meaning one with only two years of service. Another team with cap space could have given him more money on a four-year deal, but ultimately none of them decided to sign Reaves to an offer sheet the Lakers would’ve been expected to match, setting up a return to Los Angeles — the outcome Reaves was always hoping for.

“We played out every scenario,” Reaves said “My agents, we talked probably literally like 10, 11 hours straight that night about what we wanted in the contract, years, whatever. “But like I said, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”


Kerr: Las Vegas, Seattle are ‘smart’ options for expansion

The topic of franchise expansion has been a hot one in NBA circles over the past few years — and NBA commissioner Adam Silver only added fuel to that fire last month when he again indicated that expansion is on the horizon, and that Las Vegas and Seattle are prime targets.

Thursday, when asked about the possibility of Las Vegas being home to an NBA team, Team USA coach Steve Kerr enthusiastically supported the idea, adding he felt similarly about the league returning to Seattle.

“It feels right,” Kerr said. “Obviously it’s not my department, but Vegas and Seattle seem to be such smart franchises. It’s a shame that we ever lost the Sonics in the first place. But as you look forward and you think of what we need, we need a couple of Western time slots. Think about all the doubleheaders on TV you have where the second game is starting at 8:40 central time. We lost a couple of West Coast time slots back when Seattle and Vancouver left the league. It hurt the TV schedule, which hurt the whole league schedule.

“You factor in Vegas for the time slot. But also just how great of a venue this is for summer league, USA basketball, the fans here have proven they’ll come out, they love the Aces. The Knights just won the Stanley Cup, the Raiders are filling it up every Sunday. So this seems like a really good next team.”

Kerr’s answer led to a funny exchange with a reporter who brought up to the coach that the Final Four would be held in Las Vegas this upcoming season.

When Kerr said he didn’t realize the NCAA tournament Final Four would be in Las Vegas, it was quickly clarified by the reporter that the final four in question was actually the NBA’s first in-season tournament, with the semifinals and championship game set for Dec. 7 and 9.

With a sheepish smile and ensuing laughter from the assembled media, Kerr said, “I forgot about that.”

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