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NBA AM: Chaos Consumes Free Agency

There was a plane, a meeting, a pickup game and hundreds of reports that tossed NBA free agency on its head yesterday, here is the latest as well a notes from Orlando Summer League.

Steve Kyler

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LeBron, The HEAT and The Circus:  The moment of truth is coming, the problem is it may not be today. After what could only be described as a circus of a day yesterday, things in South Beach took an interesting twist after a private jet said to be carrying a front office contingent from the Cleveland Cavaliers landed in Ft. Lauderdale for a supposed meeting with HEAT free agent LeBron James.

Immediately following said meeting, reports surfaced that James would be meeting with Pat Riley this week to resolve the situation and bring closure to the rampant speculation about James’ future in Miami.

There have been countless tweets and “sources” claiming to have it on authority that James would do this or James would do that, but the truth of the matter is that no one has a real sense of what James is going to do. Unlike 2010’s trip through free agency, where there was a wealth of information flowing from his side, this go around James’ camp has been mostly quiet, extremely guarded and absolutely non-committal to everyone on every subject.

Several NBA executives that are in Orlando for Summer League that tried to get an audience with James said frankly that they did not believe there was a window to obtain James away from Miami and that all the meetings and posturing from James’ side was more about agent Rich Paul using this uncertainty to get meetings for his other clients including restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe.

The holding pattern James has placed not only the HEAT but other would-be suitors in is real. No one wants to close off cap space or flexibility and then find that LeBron wants to seriously shop for a new team.

Equally, LeBron’s teammates in Miami have been holding the line on other conversations until James decided where he wants to be. There have been reports that HEAT forward Chris Bosh is in demand, and while that may rightly be so, Bosh himself has not taken any meetings or held any conversations.

Bosh’s agent Henry Thomas, who also represents Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem spoke with Ira Winderman in Orlando yesterday and did not seem to be buying into the hype surrounding the HEAT’s potential demise or more importantly his clients going elsewhere. Agents in their nature are not always the most honest and open people with the media, but there was a real ‘be careful what you buy into’ vibe.

There have been a lot of salary “demands” that have made their way into the process via the media that simply do not appear to be real, and league executive after league executive cautioned that everyone should slow down on this front and that the race to be in the front of the line on this story seems to be breeding some inaccuracies.

The prevailing thought around the HEAT as of yesterday was that Miami was not trying to clear cap space, that re-signing Wade, Bosh and James to large, market reflective contracts was always in the plan and that filling the roster out with cap exception type players was going to be the outcome. The HEAT still hold the Bird rights to all of their players, so exceeding the salary cap, including getting over the luxury tax line was always on the table.

The HEAT did approach players with a salary space based plan, but that was contingent on getting top tier guys to come to Miami. Plan A likely had the Big Three in Miami taking less to add a fourth upper tier player, but Plan B, which is likely what gets executed, is built around some of the names that have surfaced recently taking deals based on possible cap exceptions. That’s why guys like Marvin Williams, Anthony Morrow and Jameer Nelson are being linked to the HEAT because those guys could be had on Mid-Level and the Bi-Annual cap exception based deals.

The two most important things to know on this front are that nothing has been decided and there is a real rush to fill the void.

Closure on this subject is coming, hopefully this week, however there is no real sense of how this is going to play out, just a lot of people talking, and that’s not expected to stop until a decision is reached.

There is a void and it must be filled, because in the 24-hour news cycle, there can be no down time.

Carmelo, The Lakers and The Answer:  So stop me if you heard this one. Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love walk into a gym together…

No, it’s not the set up for a joke, it’s the set up for a speculation filled day regarding the future of the Los Angeles Lakers and a free agent named Carmelo.

As much as things went chaotic in Miami yesterday, the same happened in LA when tweets and reports surfaced that Bryant, Anthony and Love all played a pickup game together at UCLA. The fine folks at UCLA, never missing a chance to use such a workout to help their recruiting, gladly tweeted about it.

And with Anthony still undecided, there was renewed enthusiasm that he could be seriously leaning towards taking a maximum contract from the Lakers and joining up with Kobe full-time.

Anthony has said from the beginning of the process that he would be taking the holiday weekend to mull his options before making a decision; most have believed that to mean a Monday decision, although there were no hard fast commitments made on an answer to the teams Anthony has met with.

The Bulls, Rockets and Mavericks have started conversations back-up plans if they miss out on Anthony. The Mavericks are targeting Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, while Houston is trying to catch Chris Bosh if he falls out of Miami. The Bulls have shifted to Pau Gasol in some ways and have tried to reengage Luol Deng.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported last night that should Bosh really have interest in Houston, that the HEAT would look to Anthony as his replacement in Miami, casting more clouds and doubt on an Anthony decision today, especially with James not expected to meet with HEAT president Pat Riley until later in the week.

Lost in all the hype of Anthony and Lakers, is the continued prevailing belief that the Anthony frontrunner is still the New York Knicks.

The redoubtable Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com is reporting that the Knicks see the Lakers as a real threat to land Anthony, but at the same time also acknowledge that the Knicks seem to be in the front seat regarding Anthony.

The Lakers are pitching a win-now scenario built around a core of Anthony, Bryant, a re-signed Gasol and incoming rookie Julius Randle. On paper this sounds great, however the total number of NBA games played by those players over the last two seasons minus Anthony is hardly confidence inspiring. Bryant missed all but six games last season, and logged 78 games the season prior. Gasol was good for 60 games last season and just 49 games the season before.

Much like James and the HEAT, the Lakers are in something of a holding pattern waiting on Anthony, and given the very fluid nature of what’s happening around the league, nailing down what he’ll do still remains very unclear and more importantly there is no real sense of when he’ll make his decision either.

Notes From Summer League:  The annual Summer League in Orlando is entering its third day today and while it hasn’t been the prettiest basketball, it is basketball. In many cases, it’s been a chance to see some of the rookies get some run, and to see some of the second-year guys play bigger more expanded roles.

Basketball Insiders will drop a daily “Studs and Duds” for each day of Summer League, you can check out Day One here, and Day Two here.

With a large chunk of the league’s executives in one place, getting fresh intel is one of the by-products of enduring summer ball.

The Sixers’ Plan:  The Philadelphia 76ers have a plan. They have a plan for pseudo rookie Nerlens Noel and for first round draft pick Joel Embiid.

Last year, the 76ers traded for Noel, knowing that he may not play his first season in the NBA as he recovered from an ACL tear in college. The 76ers mapped out a set of milestones with Noel, and they worked towards them aggressively. Noel could have played the final 10 games or so of the regular season, but both Noel and the 76ers decided that it would be better to take the entire offseason and prepare from a fresh start with Summer League.

The Sixers are not going to be foolish with Noel in Summer action; they sat him yesterday simply to give his body time to recover from his first game action in 18 months. There is no point in throwing too much at Noel in Summer League, instead they’re going to ease him into game action over the course of the next few weeks. Philadelphia is playing in both Summer Leagues, so Noel is expected to log some significant game time, but not at the expense of over doing it.

The Sixers’ plan to use the same approach with Joel Embiid. The plan is to craft a series of accomplishments and milestones and when Embiid has cleared all of those milestones, he’ll play. There is no artificial timeline for that. It will happen when it happens and it will happen when its complete – other factors will not be a consideration as the Sixers take a long-term view of Embiid’s rehab and plan to be ultra conservative.

The sad news of Summer League is always injuries and the Sixers suffered a massive one to Pierre Jackson who ruptured his Achilles after about six minutes of game action on Day One.

The 76ers have flown Jackson back to Philadelphia to see their doctors and develop a plan for potential surgery and rehab. The Sixers are somewhat limited in what they can do for Jackson without signing him to a contract. The Sixers will likely take care of all of Jackson’s medical and rehab, but the question remains will they sign him to a contract and guarantee him a little money? That is very much up in the air at this point, but the expectation is that Jackson will get taken care of and given an opportunity to showcase for Philly once he’s healthy.

Ben Gordon And The Magic:  On the surface, the pending signing of Ben Gordon in Orlando did not make a lot of sense. However, after talking with Magic sources and with Gordon himself, the decision makes a little more sense.

The Magic had identified an offseason need for a veteran shooter, someone they could put on the floor in limited minutes that could knock down shots. After watching guys like Jodie Meeks land monster paydays, the Magic sensed a pricey market for shooting was coming and made the deal with Gordon.

Gordon has some history with Magic executives, who had him in Chicago and Detroit respectively. There was a real comfort level with Gordon as a person, and they really felt like he would fit into their locker room without much issue.

There is no doubting that this is a low-risk contract even at $4.5 million, with the second year being an option year. The two comments that rang true about the pending deal is that Orlando does not expect Ben to play the veteran leader role, that’s just not who Gordon is as a player. They also don’t expect that he’ll play a ton of minutes.

There is a sense that Gordon needs this to work for his future in the NBA as much as Orlando needs the signing to pan out.

If Gordon becomes a problem, which the Magic don’t expect, they could always waive him or send him away, but both sides are coming into this with their eyes wide open and with an honest understanding of what is needed and what is happened in the past and the Magic seem to be giving Ben a fresh start.

Gordon talked with several reporters yesterday in Orlando including our own Alex Kennedy about his decision and what he expects from his time in Orlando.

Brooklyn’s Roster Spots:  There were a couple of prevailing thoughts around the Brooklyn Nets’ summer squad. The first thought being that Brooklyn is going to have some open roster spots; and given where they are capwise, filling those spots with NBA minimum guys is expected.

Several guys on the summer squad commented that they were told that its possible Paul Pierce is gone, although Pierce is still weighing his future. Guard Shaun Livingston has already agreed to a deal with the Warriors and free agents Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson are questionable on their return as well.

The Nets have nine guaranteed contracts on their roster for the upcoming season worth a whopping $88.4 million. Any new money they give out to their free agents would be taxed, so that is said to be weighing on how aggressive the Nets will be in retaining guys from their roster last season.

Basketball insiders will keep you up-to-date on all things Summer League including news, notes and interviews. You can find all the summer league action here: 2014 NBA Summer League.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

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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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