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NBA AM: Bounce-Back, Redemption or Decline?

Lang Greene looks at which players and teams are poised to bounce-back, redeem themselves or decline.

Lang Greene

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At the start of every NBA season, outside of the mainstream headlines there are always other storylines and subplots simmering below the surface. The 2016-17 campaign will be no different and throughout the season, there will be plenty of stories of individuals experiencing bounce-back campaigns, guys overcoming hurdles in search of redemption and players or teams inevitably facing a decline after years of success and productivity.

In today’s space, we’re going to evaluate some players and teams that potentially fit these narratives. Let’s get to it and, as always, leave your comments below if you have any other suggestions.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Forward, Charlotte Hornets
Status:
Bounce-Back

Kidd-Gilchrist suffered through a tough season physically in 2016. The promising forward entered the season hurt, came back for a relatively short period of time and played well, but ultimately ended up re-injuring himself and sitting out the rest of the 2016 campaign. All in all, Kidd-Gilchrist played just seven games. But heading into this season, Kidd-Gilchrist is on tap for a huge bounce-back campaign. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” comes to the forefront when referencing Kidd-Gilchrist at this point. The 22-year-old has the potential to be an All-Defensive team type of performer during his prime years.

The Hornets lost a lot of pieces this offseason with guard Jeremy Lin heading to Brooklyn, center Al Jefferson now Indiana and guard Courtney Lee headed to the Big Apple. Kidd-Gilchrist will reenter the fold with plenty of opportunities to contribute.

Bradley Beal, Guard, Washington Wizards
Status:
Bounce-Back

Beal is a player with All-Star potential. This is undeniable, as the talent is clearly evident. But what has been missing is Beal’s ability to stay healthy since entering the league. In four campaigns, Beal has logged more than 70 appearances just once. But armed with a new and very lucrative contract, Beal has the potential to shake off those injury concerns for good. In Washington, beside All-Star guard John Wall, Beal will have every opportunity for a bounce-back campaign. Beal averaged a career-high 17.4 points per contest in 2016 so it might be a tough sell to market him as a bounce-back candidate, but the guard played in just 55 games and the Wizards missed the playoffs. There is plenty of motivation here to reference.

The Milwaukee Bucks
Status: Redemption

The 2015 Milwaukee Bucks were one of the league’s biggest surprises, making the playoffs and putting up a huge fight against the Chicago Bulls before ultimately being eliminated in the first round. The Bucks followed up that performance during the summer by seemingly striking gold, luring big man Greg Monroe into town via free agency. Monroe seemingly solidified the Bucks’ interior attack, but the 2016 campaign was one to forget for the franchise as the team never fully got on track and subsequently missed the playoffs.

Headed into the 2017 season, the Bucks have the necessary pieces to get back into the mix and make some noise and show last year was just a blip on the radar and not indicative of things to come. For this reason, the Bucks are headed down the road of redemption after a troubling 2016 campaign.

Pau Gasol, Center, San Antonio Spurs
Status:
Decline

Listen, Gasol has had a surefire Hall-of-Fame-level career. But how long can a player continue fighting off the inevitability of Father Time? Headed to San Antonio, Gasol will be put into a program that doesn’t overwork its players and for this reason alone, Gasol may have extended his career a season or two. But heading to the Spurs also means Gasol will see his statistical numbers continue to decline. In fact, don’t be surprised that if in the established system of the Spurs, Gasol ends up averaging some of the most pedestrian numbers of his career.

Dion Waiters, Guard, Miami Heat
Status:
Redemption

Waiters is a player with an extremely high self-belief in his talent. If self-belief were a tangible skill on the court, Waiters would contend for First Team All-NBA honors in confidence. There were probably more lucrative destinations and opportunities for Waiters in free agency this summer, but the Miami Heat, still reeling after the departure of Dwyane Wade, could be a strong fit.

Miami is a team that leads with its defensive tenacity and, at times, the Heat’s offense can become rather stagnant. Usher in a guy like Waiters who is known for having the ability to fill up the offensive stat sheet and Miami may have found themselves a steal in free agency this summer.

Waiters has bounced around the league after entering it as a lottery pick full of big dreams and high expectations. Miami will offer Waiters every opportunity to become an offensive dynamo, the question is, as it’s always been, can Waiters finally take advantage of the opportunity?

The Houston Rockets
Status: Bounce-Back

The 2016 campaign got off on the wrong foot for the Rockets and the carousel of underachieving never subsided. Last season, the Rockets were marred by coaching changes and internal locker room turmoil, but Houston is in a position to quickly change the narrative of their franchise in 2017.

The team was active in free agency this summer by signing productive veterans such as Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Houston also inked star guard James Harden to a long-term extension, guaranteeing stability at the top of the lineup. The Rockets also hired a head coach in Mike D’Antoni whom they believe helps them get to the next level.

On paper, the Rockets are primed for a bounce-back campaign. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and think title contention, but for a team that went through all of its drama and still made the playoffs last season, a jump into the top five or flirting with the top five in the West is not a far-fetched possibility.

Joakim Noah, Center, New York Knicks
Status:
Redemption

Noah’s last season in Chicago is one to forget. The former All-Star was relegated to a bench role under new head coach Fred Hoiberg and then got injured and had to sit out the majority of the campaign.

It became clear as the season progressed that Noah and the Bulls were going to be a thing of the past once free agency began in July. In New York, Noah has a big-time opportunity for redemption and to silence critics who believe he will never return to an All-Star level. Noah will have the minutes, a starting role and plenty of high expectations to perform. In short, Noah gets another shot to prove he can handle the rigors of the 82-game season, as a starter, and regain his form. The 2016-17 season is shaping up to be one of redemption for Noah, on paper, if his body allows him to deliver.

Kyle Korver, Guard, Atlanta Hawks
Status:
Decline

Korver is the rare player who spent the majority of his career as a role player and was able to develop into an All-Star level performer later on. But now in his mid-30s and coming off a sub par campaign, for his recent standards, there’s a strong possibility that Korver never gets back to the level he was at during the 2015 campaign.

Korver is still one of the most feared shooters in the league, but 2016 was a sometimes painful wake-up call that Father Time has seemingly pulled his card. In Atlanta, Korver will enter training camp as the favorite to lock up the starting shooting guard spot, but any Hawks fan expecting a return to 2015 levels of production from Korver should temper their expectations.

The Oklahoma City Thunder
Status:
Decline

Not to throw any more salt in the wounds of the Thunder fan base, but losing former league MVP Kevin Durant for nothing in return in free agency is a tough adjustment to handle. Realistically, the Thunder franchise is headed for a decline without Durant. The only reason Durant’s departure wasn’t an even more devastating blow is that All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is still on the roster and is arguably one of the top five players in the game today.

So Oklahoma City has enough firepower to remain relevant and possibly even flirt with a playoff berth. But there are just so many questions in Oklahoma City right now, such as whether Westbrook is in it for the long haul as he approaches unrestricted free agency next summer. The team could decide to trade him and receive some assets in return, but even doing that would mean a further spiral down the Western Conference pecking order. Even if Westbrook decides to stay, the Thunder are now a far cry from a team that was just one win away from returning to their second NBA finals appearance in the past five seasons.

Which other players and teams are you expecting to bounce-back, redeem themselves or decline next season? Leave a comment below.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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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

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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.

Jesse Blancarte

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“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.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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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.”

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