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Minnesota Timberwolves 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders

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The Minnesota Timberwolves’ young core is widely regarded as the best in the NBA. Not only do they have a superstar in the making in Karl-Anthony Towns and a potential second star in Andrew Wiggins, they have other up-and-coming talents surrounding their cornerstones such as Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Shabazz Muhammad among others.

As if this core wasn’t scary enough, the Timberwolves managed to land Tom Thibodeau as their president of basketball operations and head coach. Thibodeau was arguably the best head coach on the market and it’ll be very interesting to see what he can do with this squad. It’s worth noting that Thibodeau never missed the playoffs in his five seasons as coach of the Chicago Bulls. In fact, he’s never finished with less than 45 wins in a season (and he has a .647 career winning percentage).

In other words, there’s a lot to be excited about in Minnesota. The team is almost certainly still a year or two away from seriously competing in the Western Conference, but progress is expected this year and the group believes that making the playoffs is a realistic goal.

Basketball Insiders previews the Timberwolves’ 2016-17 season.

FIVE GUYS THINK

The Timberwolves will be a trendy pick for many as a sleeper this season, but history has taught us to never count on consistency from a team that relies heavily on its young core. Sure veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau has the pedigree to get the maximum amount of effort from his players. But that isn’t the point. Sure we can see the future All-Star potential just oozing off of guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. But that isn’t the point. Learning how to win at the NBA level has humbled many kids on the rise and history hasn’t been kind to young and inexperienced units. While the Timberwolves have a core filled with future high performers, the team is still another 20-24 months away from being a legitimate challenger for a playoff berth in the Western Conference.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Lang Greene

Beware of the Timberwolves! Tom Thibodeau himself could probably squeeze 10 additional wins out of any basketball club, but with Kris Dunn joining up with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, Thibodeau has some pieces to work with.

The Northwest Division may be one of the most difficult to predict in the NBA season. With Kevin Durant taking his talents to Oakland and the Trail Blazers continuing to grow, the only thing that we know for sure about the Northwest is that there will be some stiff competition there. I think I lean toward the Timberwolves as being the third best team in the division, narrowly edging out the Jazz, but I don’t say so with absolute conviction. One thing I can say, though, is that Thibodeau has made a career out of defying odds and getting the most with the least, so if for no other reason than his presence, you should expect the T-Wolves to take a major step forward this season.

3rd Place – Northwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

There are several teams that have a nucleus of young, exciting talent to build on. But there is no team that has a core quite as exciting at the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, along with other still relatively young players like Ricky Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad. It can be argued that other teams have more young players, but with Towns and Wiggins, the Timberwolves have two of the best young prospects in the NBA. This is especially true with Towns, who put up monster numbers as a rookie and looks like he could be one of the best overall players in the league sooner rather than later. If Tom Thibodeau can harness this group of young talent into a cohesive unit on both ends of the court, this team could make a big leap forward this upcoming season.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

It’s tempting to put these guys higher up in the division standings because new head coach Tom Thibodeau certainly has done more with less, but this is one of the tougher divisions in basketball. It’s hard to imagine an upstart Wolves team suddenly upending Portland, Oklahoma City and Utah in the Northwest just because of a flashy new name at the helm. That said, Thibs should make some serious progress with this group, as he tends to milk every drop of success possible out of his rosters and there’s plenty of talent to milk this year. He’s got the last two Rookies of the Year in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but it’s not like that’s the only talent on the roster. Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones and Ricky Rubio should keep the backcourt rotation entertaining, and we’re all hoping to eke one more year out of Kevin Garnett. This should be a fun team to watch this season, and this time next year we could very well be talking about them as a Northwest Division leader, not just a Northwest Division competitor.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Joel Brigham

My in-depth thoughts on the Timberwolves can be found below throughout the rest of the preview, but I’ll try to sum them up a bit. Karl-Anthony Towns seems poised for superstardom. Andrew Wiggins continues to showcase his impressive two-way game and shouldn’t be slept on. The supporting cast has promising pieces, particularly in the backcourt with Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Tom Thibodeau is an excellent fit for this squad. Simply put, Minnesota should be very, very good soon (barring unexpected setbacks).

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Karl-Anthony Towns

Andrew Wiggins actually led the Wolves in scoring last season with 20.7 points per game to Towns’ 18.3. However, Towns was far more efficient, shooting better than Wiggins from the field (54.2 percent to 45.9 percent), three-point range (34.1 percent to 30 percent) and the free throw line (81.1 percent to 76.1 percent). Towns also had the higher PER (22.5 to 16.5), offensive rating (112 to 106) and offensive win shares (5.4 to 3.4). The big man can score inside and out, and he should only continue to get better as he continues to gain experience and work with Kevin Garnett (assuming he’s back; more on that in a bit).

Top Defensive Player: Ricky Rubio

You could make the case for Towns here as well and it would be excellent for the Wolves if Wiggins develops into the team’s top defensive player under Thibodeau. Kris Dunn may eventually fight for this distinction too. However, let’s show some love to Ricky Rubio’s defense. He has developed into a shutdown defender, which isn’t easy for a point guard in today’s NBA since he faces a star opponent on more nights than not. Last season, Rubio led the NBA in steals per game (2.1), steals per 48 minutes (3.35) and steal percentage (3.5 percent). And as my colleague Jesse Blancarte pointed out in a recent article about Rubio’s defense, these steals come as a result of his excellent positioning, awareness and length rather than reckless gambling. Another reason why Rubio’s defense is so important is that his great plays on that end typically lead to easy points for Minnesota since he is excellent in transition and has Towns, Wiggins and LaVine among others running alongside him. Which leads us to our next category…

Top Playmaker: Ricky Rubio

In addition to playing very good defense, Rubio ranked fifth in the NBA in assists per game (8.7) and assist percentage (41.4 percent) last season behind only Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and John Wall. Rubio is the kind of passer who creates easy buckets for his teammates and he can make some jaw-dropping plays with the ball in his hands. Rubio’s shooting remains an issue (37.4 percent from the field last year) and some have questioned what the future holds for him with younger floor generals like Dunn and LaVine on the Wolves’ roster, but the soon-to-be 26-year-old deserves credit in these two categories.

Top Clutch Player: Karl-Anthony Towns

Because Towns is so efficient and effective all over the court, it’s safe to assume that the ball will be in his hands if Minnesota is in need of a clutch bucket. Last April, Towns hit a game-winning turnaround hook shot to beat the Portland Trail Blazers. After the game, he thanked his teammates and coaches for trusting him in that position and said he knew the shot was good the moment it left his hand. He has the confidence that’s necessary to be a clutch threat, and he’s poised beyond his years. Expect to see more of Towns in the clutch going forward since the Wolves should have more close games and all signs point to Towns continuing to get better and consistently having the rock in late-game situations.

The Unheralded Player: Gorgui Dieng

Last season, Dieng averaged 10.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals in 27.1 minutes per game. He made the most of his minutes and remains one of the more underrated big men in the league entering his fourth NBA season. Dieng was an important piece for Minnesota last year, ranking second on the Wolves in offensive rating (113), defensive rating (106), win shares (5.9) and value over replacement player (2.5). Also, he finished first on the team in true shooting percentage (60.1 percent). At 26 years old, Dieng is a bit older than other members of Minnesota’s core and doesn’t have the same upside. However, he is a key part of their supporting cast who has done well on both ends of the court when given meaningful playing time.

Top New Addition: Kris Dunn

One could make the argument that Tom Thibodeau is actually the Wolves’ best new addition since he’ll have a huge impact on the franchise moving forward. However, if we’re focusing solely on players, Kris Dunn is clearly the team’s top offseason acquisition. Dunn was the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft and he’s one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft class. The 22-year-old guard is a terrific defender who should thrive under Thibodeau and, as previously mentioned, his arrival has some wondering about Rubio’s future in Minnesota. Last year, Dunn averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.5 steals while leading Providence to 24 wins. He shot 44.8 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from three-point range. Among all college players, he ranked third in assist percentage (41.8 percent), sixth in steal percentage (4.3 percent) and 16th in Box Plus-Minus (11.3). In other words, Minnesota has added another extremely talented young player to their already scary core.

– Alex Kennedy

WHO WE LIKE

1. Andrew Wiggins

Towns is now viewed as the Timberwolves’ franchise player because his game is a perfect fit for today’s NBA and he was fantastic as a rookie, but Minnesota is also relying heavily on Wiggins going forward. He’s a cornerstone of this team too and he may even be flying under the radar a bit due to Towns overshadowing him. It’s worth noting that Wiggins played very well during his sophomore campaign, averaging 20.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, two assists and one steal per game. He needs to become more efficient and consistent (especially with his shot and defense), but keep in mind that he’s still just 21 years old. He’s younger than incoming rookie Kris Dunn. Also, Thibodeau’s arrival should be great for Wiggins, who could become a two-way star in the same way that Jimmy Butler did under Thibs’ guidance. Towns’ ascent to stardom may have taken some attention off of Wiggins, but he also removes some of the pressure off him and makes the forward’s life easier by giving Minnesota a great player in the paint. Wiggins still has a ridiculously high ceiling and watching him develop should be fun.

2. Zach LaVine

LaVine’s athleticism is obviously off the charts, but his overall game has significantly improved since he entered the league. Last year, he averaged 14 points on 45.2 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three-point range. As my colleague Tommy Beer pointed out recently, LaVine was the only Minnesota player to hit more than 65 threes last year and he shot a very impressive 43.3 percent from behind the arc (87-202) over the final 50 games of the season. Also, LaVine cut back his turnovers (from 2.5 per game as a rookie to 1.9 last year) even though he was playing more minutes and was more involved offensively. That’s exactly what the Wolves want to see from him, and it’s worth noting that he is still just 21 years old.

3. Kevin Garnett

Garnett hasn’t indicated whether he’ll return to the court next season. Like he has done in recent summers, the veteran big man is contemplating retirement. However, he is under contract for the 2016-17 season with a $8,000,000 salary so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back. Either way, he has indicated that he’d like to be involved with the organization in some capacity moving forward and that’s great for all of the young players in Minnesota. Karl-Anthony Towns, in particular, has really enjoyed learning from Garnett and is soaking up the future Hall of Famer’s advice like a sponge. At this stage in his career, the 40-year-old doesn’t make much of a difference on the court (he averaged just 3.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game last year and appeared in just 38 contests). But that’s not really important. Think of him more like a very well paid assistant coach who has the respect of every single person in the organization. Having him around can only help the young squad, especially as they look to take their defense to the next level under Thibodeau (who was an assistant coach in Boston when Garnett won his lone championship in 2008).

4. Tom Thibodeau

As stated earlier, he was a terrific addition for the Wolves this summer. During his time in Chicago, Thibodeau was consistently named one of the top coaches in the NBA by general managers in their annual survey and his teams produced on the court. Defense is obviously his specialty and he has the personnel to make the Wolves very good on that end of the floor (although it may take some time). Even if the Wolves need one more year of development before seriously competing, it’s hard not to like this hire for Minnesota. Thibodeau has been criticized for playing his guys big minutes (which may have contributed to injuries and declined production), but it’s possible that he learned from his experiences in Chicago and could alter his approach.

– Alex Kennedy

SALARY CAP 101

With 15 guaranteed players, the Timberwolves will need to open roster space if they want to keep invites Toure’ Murry and/or John Lucas. Minnesota can get to $13.4 million NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap. Given teams are required to spend at least $84.7 million this season, the Wolves are likely to start the seasons at $3.9 million under that mark. Any shortfall will be paid out to the team’s rostered players at the end of the year.

It’s not entirely clear yet if Kevin Garnett will play through his 22nd season. He’s in the final year of his contract at $8 million. The Wolves also need to decide on rookie-scale options for Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne and Tyus Jones before November – all likely to be picked up. The team also has until the end of October to give extensions to Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Looking ahead to next summer, Minnesota could have roughly $31 million in spending power.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Towns’ potential is off the charts, but he’s far from a project. In fact, one could make the case that he’s already one of the better big men in the league. Few teams have a seven-footer who’s quite so well-rounded and efficient; he averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.7 blocks while shooting 54.2 percent from the field last year as a 20-year-old. He certainly gives the Wolves an advantage in the paint and causes match-up problems. The team’s athleticism is also a big strength. But perhaps the best thing that the Wolves have going for them is Thibodeau, who should win the coaching battle most nights.

– Alex Kennedy

WEAKNESSES

With any up-and-coming team, the group’s inexperience will lead to common mistakes. The hope is that Thibodeau can clean up the team’s play, especially defensively, but that may take time. Minnesota ranked near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories in recent years. Shooting and defense are two areas where they need to make big strides if they want to compete at a high level, especially with the direction the league is moving.

– Alex Kennedy

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Timberwolves make the playoffs in the 2016-17 season?

Earlier this week, Karl-Anthony Towns made headlines when he said that he expects Minnesota to crack the Western Conference’s top eight this upcoming season.

“We’ve got to make the playoffs,” Towns said in an interview with Jared Zwerling of NBPA.com. “We’ve got to do something special, and it’s up to us to continue to work and to make that happen.”

This would be quite the jump in the standings, considering the team won just 29 games last year. However, with internal development, a terrific new coach in Tom Thibodeau and some new immediate-impact players like Kris Dunn, Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill among others, it’s reasonable to expect the Wolves to be better.

Also, it is true that the conference is coming off of a down year in which the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets won just 41 games (as opposed to the 45 or more wins it typically takes to make the postseason in the West).

Still, Minnesota must fight off last year’s playoff teams plus fellow up-and-coming squads like the Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans (who were depleted by injuries last year), Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns among others. It remains to be seen if they can make the leap this season and keep Thibodeau’s postseason streak intact.

Alex Kennedy

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman

Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Spencer Davies

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Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?

Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.

Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.

BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?

Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.

BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?

Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.

BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?

Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.

Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.

BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?

Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.

I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.

BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?

Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.

That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.

BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?

Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.

BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?

Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.

BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?

Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.

BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?

Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.

BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?

Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.

The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.

BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.

Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.

BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?

Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.

I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.

BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?

Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.

BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?

Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.

BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?

Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.

Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.

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James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture

James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.

Michael Scotto

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James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.

Over the summer, Johnson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Miami, as first reported by Basketball Insiders. The deal included a fourth-year player option.

“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”

Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).

Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.

“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?

“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”

Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.

“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”

While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?

“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”

Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.

Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.

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