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NBA AM: Nets’ Rebuild Begins With Lin Running Point

The Brooklyn Nets’ rebuilding era begins with Jeremy Lin running the point. Is he up to the challenge?

Lang Greene

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The previous Brooklyn Nets front office regime, led by Billy King, swung for the fences in a series of moves back in 2012 and 2013 by trading for aging veterans Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The deals, in theory, led to some title talk at the time. However, the reality is that the moves didn’t result in anything remotely close to a championship and in the aftermath, the team was left with a cupboard bare of draft picks and a roster largely devoid of above-average talent.

Enter new general manager Sean Marks and his detailed vision for the future.

Marks hired Kenny Atkinson as head coach and the two put together a spirited effort over the summer in attempting to rebuild the roster. Brooklyn attempted to lure restricted free agent guard Tyler Johnson away from Miami with a four-year, $50 million deal. Most believed the Nets had a strong chance in ultimately landing Johnson, but in a surprise twist future Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade bolted Miami for Chicago and the HEAT subsequently matched Brooklyn’s offer.

But at the beginning of free agency, the Nets had already secured their floor general to begin the rebuilding era by signing veteran Jeremy Lin to a three-year, $36 million deal.

Lin was coming off a successful season in Charlotte, where he averaged 11.7 points, 3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 78 appearances (13 starts). Lin turned heads in those 13 starts by averaging 17.5 points, four rebounds and 4.5 assists in 34.4 minutes.

Brooklyn is banking on Lin being able to immediately fill a leadership role and former All-Star center Brook Lopez was one of the players in the contingent during the guard’s free agency recruitment.

Lopez believes Lin was exactly what the Nets needed moving forward and says the guard will make things easier for him on the inside.

“We were showing the positives of playing out here,” Lopez said on Lin’s recruitment, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN. “Obviously, he knows that firsthand from playing with the Knicks, but just how we can benefit from him and how he can benefit from us — that sort of symbiotic relationship. We just kept harping on the differences in our organization and the franchise as a whole from the top down.

“It’s so huge for me, just having a guy who’s such a downhill driver. He draws so much attention that it makes it easier for everyone else on the floor since he’s such a willing passer.”

Lin reportedly eyed the New Orleans Pelicans and had exploratory interest from the Houston Rockets before accepting Brooklyn’s pitch and the 28-year-old veteran is relishing the opportunity to lead a franchise.

“I’m just embracing it,” Lin said of his current opportunity. “There are days where I come back from practice and the only thing I do is I just start thanking God for this opportunity. It just feels good to be a leader, because when you say something there’s a different level of respect and guys look to you to lead.

“That’s kind of what I’ve been my whole life, is the starting point guard and the leader of the team, and for me to be back in that position, I’m just like, ‘Man, this is really cool.’ And it feels natural again. The last three years, I’ve kind of been a backup or lost in the mix. Here, everything just seems so much more clear.”

Brooklyn finished last season 21-61 and are playing under their sixth head coach since 2012.

Splitting the Difference

The Atlanta Hawks announced Tuesday that veteran center Tiago Splitter would miss at least the next four weeks with a grade two hamstring strain. Splitter reportedly suffered the injury at a recent practice and a MRI confirmed the extent of the injury.

If the current timeline holds up Splitter, 31, will miss the beginning of the regular season. Keep in mind that Splitter only appeared in 36 contests last season before undergoing season ending hip surgery back in February. Overall, Splitter has missed 95 games over the past three campaigns.

The Hawks acquired Splitter in 2015 from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for a protected 2017 second round draft pick and the draft rights to Georgios Printezis. The Spurs were looking to create salary cap space in order to sign All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, while the Hawks were looking for interior depth behind Al Horford in the rotation.

But the trade hasn’t panned out for the Hawks as planned. Aldridge led the Spurs to the league’s second-best record in 2016 and Horford is now in Boston via free agency. However, Splitter was still expected to play a nightly role behind recently signed center Dwight Howard.

For now, the Hawks have to play the waiting game and see if Splitter can ever get back to full strength. The veteran, owed $8.6 million this season, will be an unrestricted free agent next summer when the salary cap is expected to rise north of $100 million.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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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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