Once upon a time, Shane Larkin was a wanted man.
In fact, through his first three NBA seasons, Larkin had improved with each successive effort, excelling in doses as a high-energy player both as a starter and off the bench. Following a solid year with the New York Knicks in 2014-15, Larkin was even called at midnight on the day free agency opened by Billy King, the Brooklyn Nets’ former general manager.
With the Nets, Larkin averaged 7.3 points, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game and started the final 12 contests of the season under interim head coach Tony Brown. In a late-season defeat to the Washington Wizards, Larkin poured in 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists, one of his best-ever single-game performances to date. Objectively speaking, Larkin was on the rise.
So, after a career year in 2015-16, Larkin did what most do with a player option and an upward trajectory: He opted out.
All summer, Larkin waited for a new deal, one that he thought he had definitively earned with his improved play and increased role with Brooklyn. Even for a poor Nets team, Larkin figured that his positive development would almost certainly get him another contract. But as the summer crept toward its conclusion, no franchise had offered him a deal better than a low-commitment training camp invite.
“It was tough having that type of season and just going into the summer thinking: ‘Yeah, I’m gonna sign a deal for x amount of money and [all that] and then it just doesn’t happen,” Larkin said as he recalled the toughest offseason of his young career.
Larkin mulled over the training camp invites, but balked at the rough realities of trying to earn a team’s final roster spot. As he put it at the Celtics’ media day: “You can be there one day and gone the next.” It was then that Larkin made the decision to jump overseas for a year in hopes of proving himself once again. On Monday, Larkin, who signed a fully guaranteed contract with the Boston Celtics in late July, discussed how difficult the reality check was to handle.
“I thought – both me and my agents – [going] into that summer, I averaged [7.3] points, [4.4] assists off the bench in 20 minutes, so we were very confident thinking: ‘Oh, we’re gonna get a good deal somewhere,’” Larkin said. “Then I was sitting there in August and I still hadn’t signed and it was kinda like: ‘OK, now where do I go from here?’”
The answer was Baskonia, one of Spain’s top franchises and frequent dark horse contenders in EuroLeague competition. On a roster full of former NBA players that, at one point or another, featured Ricky Ledo, Andrea Bargnani and Chase Budinger, it was Larkin that emerged as the team’s No. 1 option, a role he openly relished.
“When you go over there, it’s your job as the American guy to be the point scorer, ‘the man,’ [and] I hadn’t been that guy since college,” Larkin said. “To be able to go over there, play 30 minutes a night and just have that responsibility again, it gives you that confidence again.“
During ACB league play, Larkin led Baskonia in points (14.2), assists (4.9), steals (1.4) and the team finished with the second-best record before bowing out to the eventual champions, Valencia, in the postseason semifinals. In EuroLeague, a competition that pits the best professional teams across the continent against each other, Larkin thrived there as well and averaged 13.1 points and 5.7 assists to go along with 1.5 three-pointers over 33 games.
Athletic as ever, Larkin made a name for himself in Spain by taking defenders off the dribble and using his speed to finish effectively around the rim. But while that’s always been a skill of Larkin’s, his confident, improved shooting should have Boston eager to utilize the crafty point guard in head coach Brad Stevens’ nuanced offense. Whether his points came via step-back jumpers or sneaky back-door cuts, the Larkin that carved up Spain en route to an All-Liga ACB Second Team berth is a much different player than he was during his last NBA stint.
“I’m a competitive guy, I’m a competitive player. I believe when I went overseas last year, I came back and I’m much better player than I was my first couple years in the league,” Larkin said. “You just got to come in every day ready to work and when your opportunity is there, you’ve got to take advantage.”
For Larkin, his opportunities have come and gone in spurts, but they’ve always motivated him to evolve as a player. From a broken ankle that disrupted his rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks in 2013-14 to former Knicks’ president Phil Jackson stating that Larkin’s “tiny hands” made it tough for him to control the ball, the point guard’s journey to where he stands today hasn’t been easy.
However, those early bruises can bring out the best in a player and his past disappointments and one-year pit stops have fueled Larkin time and time again.
“Like I said, all of that whole transition, going overseas, playing all those minutes, not getting that contract, having those teams not believe in you, it’s definitely a wake-up call and it changes your mindset,” Larkin said.
With the Celtics, Larkin will continue to grow under Stevens, an opportunity the 5-foot-11 playmaker is looking forward to immensely. Although he’s behind both Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier – as well as Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown if the Celtics want to continue their development as ball handlers – on the depth chart, Larkin could flourish after his successful season overseas.
Of course, Larkin will not be his team’s go-to scorer anymore, but his matured game, improved shooting and renewed confidence make him an exciting addition to the Celtics’ bench unit. Whether he plays five minutes or 15, Larkin is up for the challenge of contributing to one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
“Obviously, we have a lot of guys on our team that are very talented, done a lot in their careers thus far,” Larkin said. “But I’m not gonna sit here and say anybody is better than me – that’s just who I am as a player.”
While we’ll have to wait and see if Larkin can carve out a consistent role with Boston, he’s just thankful to be back in the NBA at all. After playing for three teams in three years, Larkin took the road less traveled and went to Spain to prove that he still belonged at the game’s highest level.
“[It sets you] back and you really got to dig deep – if you love basketball, you really got to fight for it.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”