With the NBA’s post-season in full swing and historic playoff games being played almost nightly, there are some storylines to watch as the race to a championship unfolds.
Here are a few things to watch, especially if some of the ongoing series don’t play out as some had hoped when the season started some seven months ago:
Kyrie And The Celtics
During the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, all of the turmoil in Boston seemed to have cleared. For months the Celtics looked like a group forced together more nights than night, with All-Star Kyrie Irving looking more and more likely to exit the situation than re-sign as he had pledged to season ticket holders back at the start of the season.
With the Celtics now looking a second-round exit in the eyes, things in Boston seem right back where they were, with Irving posting arguably the worst playoff series of his career. Which re-opens the questions of will he stay or, worse yet, would it be smart for the Celtics to hitch their wagon to what’s become a mercurial player for what would likely be a new deal worth more than $200 million and five more years?
While the Celtics are never a team known to tip its hand, the vibe from around the league is still that Boston is committed to a future with Irving and surrounding him with complementary players. An early exit may change that, but there isn’t a lot coming from the Celtics to suggest they want out of Irving.
On the Irving side, there is more belief in league circles that he’ll look at his options in July rather than just re-up with the Celtics. The money will matter, especially with Irving’s injury history, but there is also a belief that he’ll want the peace of mind of knowing he looked before blindly locking in.
While the New York Knicks are often cited as a desirable situation for Irving, most NBA insiders believe he looks and listens to more than just the Celtics and Knicks and, as weird as it may seem, Irving’s renewed relationship with LeBron James could have him considering the Lakers when he takes meetings.
The idea that Irving and Warriors forward Kevin Durant have already decided on New York has been shot down by both people close to Irving and people close to the Knicks. The Knicks remain hopeful they can pair two elite stars with their promising young core, but they haven’t been given any assurances from anyone, including Irving, according to sources close to the Knicks.
The Celtics had hoped for a run at the Eastern Conference crown when the season opened, so a second round exit would be a big miss for the Celtics. That said, it doesn’t seem like they are ready to panic, but it absolutely is a situation to watch.
Kawhi and The Raptors
If you haven’t been paying attention, Kawhi Leonard has turned in an impressive performance for the Toronto Raptors so far in this post-season. The fact that he can be an unrestricted free agent in a few months continues to linger over his performances, mainly because he could very well walk away in July.
The vibe from the Raptors is one of optimism. They feel like they have done everything the right way to not only gain the trust of the reclusive Leonard, but to make sure he understands how things could play out if he were to commit beyond this season. As crazy as that seemed last summer when the Raptors obtained Leonard, it seems they may have a legit shot at keeping him.
The general vibe around the NBA is that Toronto and the LA Clippers are the front runners for Leonard, although more than a few NBA insiders believe if Leonard takes a meeting, he may listen to more than just those two teams.
Given how different Leonard’s motivations are from the average NBA player, predicting what he’ll really do is challenging, but if the tea leaves of the season are painting the picture accurately, Leonard may be a hair on the side of staying in Toronto versus leaving, and that would be a massive win for the Raptors regardless of how the post-season plays out.
One thing does seem pretty real for the Raptors, if Leonard does opt to leave, sweeping changes could hit the franchise as a result and that includes dealing point guard Kyle Lowry and shedding some of the ugly cap money on the books.
Durant and The Warriors
As much as fans bemoaned the formation of this current Golden State Warriors Super team, there is a reality that every dynasty in the NBA has ended at one point or another, and the clock on this Warriors roster looks to be winding down. The Warriors are still the prohibitive favorites to win the Western Conference, and despite how impressive the Milwaukee Bucks have been, the Warriors are still the more likely NBA Finals winner – but what’s also very real is the gap between the Warriors and everyone is not the chasm it used to be. In fact, the Houston Rockets have shown they could be the dream killer if Steph Curry can’t find his mojo.
The worst kept secret in the NBA is that Warriors forward Kevin Durant wants to look at his options this summer, and if the rumors hold true, he could be taking his talents to the New York Knicks. Sources near the situation have been emphatic that Durant isn’t talking about anything beyond the season. However the same was said back when Durant was in Oklahoma City, and he did exactly as everyone predicted he would do, which leaves a lot hanging in the balance for the Warriors.
Their number one priority is to keep this starting core intact, which means guard Klay Thompson will get a max contract offer the very second the Warriors are allowed to offer it. The Warriors will also offer the same full max deal to Durant, hoping that all of that guaranteed money will at least sway him into staying for another year or two. Warriors ownership is on the eve of a brand-new building in San Francisco, which came with hefty seat license revenue that basically fronted the Warriors the cash to eat even the biggest of luxury tax bills for the next couple of seasons.
The Warriors have a complete understanding of the Durant situation and understand he may walk. They are hoping to sway him but understand he may want precisely what LeBron got last summer – complete control of his own franchise in a major market, something the Warriors have never been able to offer with Steph Curry being the darling of the franchise. As petty as that may seem, the same thing is what ultimately drove James out of Miami — no matter how much James did personally, the fan base still viewed the team in Miami as belonging to Dwyane Wade. The same issues hold true for Durant, and with Championships and MVPs under his belt and his place in NBA history firmly secured, what more can he do in Golden State? That’s something the Warriors will have to convince him of this off-season.
It seems the end of this particular dynasty may be closer than anyone expected when Durant joined the Warriors.
Davis and The Pelicans
You have to hand it to Gayle Benson, the controlling owner of the New Orleans Pelicans — if there was a home run hire to make, she did it in landing David Griffin to run the team. Unlikely previous leadership groups, Griffin was given the proverbial keys to the franchise and empowered to do whatever he deemed necessary to place the Pelicans among the elite in the NBA. Before you giggle at that goal, did you see the Milwaukee Bucks winning the most games in the NBA this year? Things can change fast with a few great decisions.
The first big move Griffin made was to try and bridge the divide with Anthony Davis and his agent Rich Paul, who is still collecting commissions off of huge contracts Griffin wrote to his clients in Cleveland.
Sources close to that situation said Griffin pulled no punches with Paul, pledging to do whatever it took to be elite in the NBA, and wanted him and Davis to buy in. It seemed at least on the surface Griffin may have moved the needle with both, but he’ll have to back that up around the draft.
That doesn’t mean the door is closed on Davis being traded, that very well could still happen. But unlike previous leadership that had lost the faith of Davis and his inner circle, Griffin at least has credibility, which buys him a little time to work the market and see what makes the most sense.
One thing Griffin did make clear both publicly and privately — he is not open to a half-measured commitment. He is willing to pay Davis the Supermax contract he is eligible for but wants a full-throated commitment to the long-term in New Orleans.
The situation is still far from ideal given what’s been said and done, but it at least seems the Pelicans may have bought themselves a window that almost no one thought could exist at the trade deadline this past February.
LeBron and The Lakers
Are you not entertained?
The LA Lakers may be many things, but boring is not one of them. Just when you think something sillier couldn’t happen in Lakerland it does. Whether it’s Magic Johnson abruptly stepping down, the firing, then not firing, then firing of Luke Walton, to the botched interview process that led to the hiring of Ty Lue as the next Lakers head coach, to reports that Kurt Rambis will join the staff with Lue after Tom Thibodeau reportedly turned down a spot on Lue’s staff. And let’s not even get into the failure to hire the obvious choice in Monty Williams or not even reaching out to David Griffin to fill their President of Basketball Operation post.
The Lakers are a hot mess, but even that level of dysfunction hasn’t seemed to change LeBron James’ commitment to the team. Although in a recent episode of his TV show on HBO filmed just days after Johnson stepped down, LeBron admitted he felt slighted by Johnson for not even reaching out, but that hasn’t changed his commitment to being a Laker or his relentless recruiting of a second star to join him this summer.
The truth in everything about the Lakers’ issues is it’s never nearly as bad on the inside as it seems on the outside. And while it’s easy to take shots at the Lakers (they continue to provide plenty of ammunition), the storylines for them never line up with the truth.
Johnson was a part-time leader at best that was way more prone to rash reactions than measured, deliberate processes. His personnel decisions were suspect at best, and while time will tell if Rob Pelinka will do any better on his own, he at least has James in the boat.
The hiring of Lue may not have been ideal, there are a few things worth saying; Lue does have the support of James and it does seem Lue is at least trying to secure a top-flight assistant staff that will likely include former Pacer and Magic coach Frank Vogel. The Lakers do have a mountain of options come July, and they will have a reasonably decent draft pick.
All things considered, the Lakers are still in good shape and if history has taught us anything about James, he thrives in chaos.
Brooklyn, The Clippers and The Pacers
For as much fanfare as teams like the Lakers and Knicks are going to garner this July in free agency, there is a growing belief in agent circles that the LA Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, and Indiana Pacers could all be far higher on would-be free agents list than most would imagine.
The Clippers for one have done an incredible job building a team infrastructure that has caught the attention of a lot of players. The Clippers are poised to walk into July with an impressive roster of supporting players, a mountain of free agent dollars, Doc Rivers as head coach and Steve Ballmer as a passionate, committed, deep-pocketed owner with eyes on a brand-new arena. The Clippers have laid the groundwork around the league to not only get meetings with the top tier free agents, but they may even be the front runner on Kawhi Leonard and the dark horse on Kevin Durant.
Much like the Clippers, the Nets have an impressive story to sell come July. Not only do the Nets have an enviable front office, and their roster is loaded with supporting young guys that could be stars of their own. The Nets have an incredible practice facility, the lure of the New York media market and a player-first message that has caught the attention of agents and players alike. There are some that believe Kyrie Irving would look at the Nets before the Knicks, and some believe if Durant looks at the Knicks, he may listen to the Nets too.
The dark horse in free agency may be the Indiana Pacers, and they have some wiggle room to make noise and a team that made the postseason without injured guard Victor Oladipo, who is preparing to get back after it later this month in Miami once he is cleared for court work. The Pacers don’t look to be a max contract player in all of this, but Pacers president Kevin Pritchard has made it clear he is not resting on his laurels. The Pacers are a team to watch in the Mike Conley/Memphis situation.
These are just a few situations to watch as the NBA playoffs roll on. You can expect a lot more trade and free agent chatter next week as the NBA converges on Chicago for the annual Pre-Draft Combine. Basketball Insiders will be there, so stay tuned for player interviews and workout notes as the 2019 NBA Draft class starts to showcase their wares.
NBA Daily: Veterans Influencing Spurs Youngsters
Having NBA veterans that can ease young players into the league can be very helpful, which is why Thomas Robinson and Darius Morris have been nice additions to the Spurs’ summer league roster.
The Summer League is a time for many things.
It’s a time for young players to get a taste of what professional basketball is like. It’s a time for teams to evaluate what young talent they have their roster. Most importantly of all, it’s a time for growth.
The Summer League, whether it be in Salt Lake, Sacramento or Las Vegas, serves as a transition for the new blood. Most are either fresh out of college or just arrived into the country, who are also either just beginning or have recently begun their NBA career. Making that transition isn’t always seamless. As talented as some of these kids are, they are prone to make mistakes. That’s where having a veteran who has been around the block can help.
For this year’s summer league. San Antonio brought in two who fit the profile: Thomas Robinson and Darius Morris.
Morris has bounced around between the NBA and the G League since being drafted 41st overall by the Lakers back in 2011. He’s been around the league long enough that playing in the Summer League wasn’t originally in the plans. That all changed when the Spurs called him.
“They actually reached out to me and told me they were interested,” Morris said. “When an organization like the Spurs calls you, you can come in and show that you can blend in and the high character is going to follow you the rest of the way.”
Robinson has also been a journeyman since being selected sixth overall by the Kings back in 2012. Now that he has found himself on the Spurs, he praised the organization for its player development.
“To even get any type of time under anybody on this staff is helpful for any player,” Robinson said. “Whether it’s summer league, mini-camp, or the real roster, it’s always helpful to learn from these guys. They’re like the Mecca of NBA basketball.”
Not many can say that they are the veteran of a summer league team, but Morris not only has that role but also appears to have embraced it since coming on for the Spurs. So much so that even though he takes that responsibility seriously, he and his teammates can have a laugh about it.
“I joke with the guys that I’m transitioning to that vet stage like a little baby vet,” Morris said. “To be able to extend whatever knowledge to the young guys, and kind of getting me in that mode as opposed to being that guy that was drafted, just transitioning to being a mentor and just helping where I can.”
There are various ways in which those are designated as mentors decide to use their role. Some give very little advice while others give nothing but advice. For Morris, he has implemented a “trial by fire” strategy for his younger teammates.
“First, you want them to go out there and play freely,” Morris said. “You don’t want to give them too much advice at first. You just kind of sit back and just watch… You don’t want to put too many things in their ear. Everything is already going 100 miles per hour for you out there and as they go along, just give my advice as we go along.”
As the other veteran/mentor on the squad, Robinson’s approach is simple on the court – just being himself for the Spurs.
“I’m not trying to show that I can do anything different,” Robinson said. “I just want to show that I’m doing everything that they ask me to do the first time.”
Since coming to San Antonio, Robinson has gotten to know some of the Spurs’ young talent. He even took the time to praise some of the Spurs’ young talent – in particular, one of the Spurs’ most recent first-rounders, Keldon Johnson.
“‘Baby Russ’. That’s what I called him” Robinson said. “He doesn’t get tired. He’s super aggressive… He’s big, athletic. I definitely see the makings of a superstar.”
Both Morris and Robinson are leaving impressions with the younger players on their squad. The Spurs other first-rounder this season, Luka Samanic, spoke highly of what they’ve been able to do for him primarily with how he handles his mistakes.
“If I do one quick mistake in the beginning, then it affects my game later,” Samanic said. “So they’re all about ‘Don’t worry about mistakes. You’ll miss shots. It’s all normal here.’ So they helped me a lot with that.”
Blake Ahearn, who coached the Spurs at the Utah Summer League, praised both Robinson and Morris for the calming influence they have on the team.
“It’s huge,” Ahearn said. “Having some of those calming-presence guys on the floor helps those younger guys… That’s a good luxury for coaches to have.”
Spurs assistant Becky Hammon also heaped praise for the two veterans primarily for what they have been able to do for the Spurs’ young players off the court while also reiterating the value guys like that have on these teams.
“They’ve been talking to them in their ear the whole time about what it takes to be a professional and get opportunities,” Hammon said. “Their leadership on the court, off the court has been very helpful. Obviously, having guys like that in a situation like that is very helpful and invaluable.”
Now, undoubtedly, the goal for Robinson and Morris is to be in the NBA again. They’ve been there before and their willingness to play in the summer league shows that they’re not giving up on their dreams.
Regardless of whether they make it, they can take comfort that, in the end, they positively impacted the Spurs of tomorrow.
NBA Daily: Carsen Edwards Sending Good Vibrations in Las Vegas
Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards took Las Vegas by storm not only earning a multi-year contract but likely a significant role in Boston this coming season.
Las Vegas can be a scary place; just ask Carsen Edwards.
“Not to be dramatic, but I really thought I was about to die.”
Edwards, among a number of other players and NBA-related persons, found himself in the midst of two earthquakes – magnitude 6.7 and 7.1 – that rocked southern Nevada and California last week. “I was in my room by myself,” Edwards said, “and I’m on the 16th floor so, right then I’m thinking – and I know this sounds deep – how am I going to survive?”
Fortunately, for Edwards, his days reading about covering online betting odds in the Silver State may be numbered.
While the earthquakes may have shaken Las Vegas, the Purdue University product has sent the Boston Celtics his own good vibrations. Edwards has impressed mightily during his stint with the Summer League Celtics, so much so that, while fellow second-round pick Tremont Waters recently agreed to a two-way deal with Boston, the Celtics have reportedly are negotiating a full-time deal with the Edwards. And, while he has remained humble when questioned about his high-quality play, it’s hard to imagine that Edwards will see much more time in Las Vegas beyond the coming Summer League Tournament.
“My first experience was a blessing, man” Edwards told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so happy to be here, just to have this opportunity and put on that jersey and be out there.”
Edwards, a standout Boilermaker, has been a certified bucket-getter in his short Summer League tenure. Through four games (and two starts), the diminutive combo-guard has averaged 18 points to go along with 2.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and a steal in just 23 minutes per contest. Edwards has gotten to his spots on the floor with ease – when it hasn’t been easy, he’s simply put his head down and bullied his way there – and he certainly hasn’t been afraid to pull up from deep.
Edwards has also come along as a shooter since his last showing in the NCAA tournament. In three seasons with Purdue, Edwards posted field goal and three-point percentages of 41.2% and 36.8%, respectively. Since Edwards has proven himself one of the Summer League’s best and most consistent shooters; he has shot 52% from the floor and 48.4% from three-point range.
“I just try to make the right decisions,” Edwards said. “I just try to get into my space, places where I’m comfortable.”
Despite his relative inexperience against NBA-level competition, a continued ascent for Edwards – and an end to his Summer League career after just his rookie appearance – shouldn’t be put out of the question as players and teams head into next season and beyond.
And, while he may not have wanted to slip into the second round of June’s 2019 NBA Draft, Edwards may have hit the jackpot in landing with Boston.
While Head Coach Brad Stevens has struggled with certain aspects of coaching, he has never had a problem with maximizing the production of his guards. 2011’s Mr. Irrelevant, Isaiah Thomas, was a Most Valuable Player candidate in 2017, while Kyrie Irving, despite the reported unrest, posted arguably the two best statistical seasons of his career with the Celtics. Others, including Avery Bradley, Evan Turner and Jordan Crawford have flourished under his watch, and Edwards may be the next player to benefit from Stevens’ system.
Still, Edwards’ work is far from over, and he knows it. “It’s not the same [as in college],” he said as he pointed out that he still needed to focus on his defense, decisions making and consistency. “I’m still learning so much.”
“I know [the Boston Celtics] just want me to improve. Help the team win, but continue to try and improve and be consistent every game.”
Edwards isn’t the perfect prospect or one without his deficiencies by any means. They have yet to do so in the Summer League, and his strong, stocky build should help counteract this to a degree, but NBA competition will take advantage of Edwards’ 6-foot-flat height. And, if it wasn’t already obvious, Edwards is a score-first, pass later type of guard; while that necessarily isn’t a bad thing, given the role he should serve with the Celtics, Edwards’ passing ability must improve as he transitions to the NBA game.
“[NBA players] are more athletic, they have more length,” Edwards said. “Playing against those guys, it’s tough.”
As Edwards pointed out, it will, in fact, be tough for him. But, between the roster and coaching fit and his own talent, it’s as if everything has started to come together for the talented guard and it is there for the taking.
After his debut, Edwards noted his primary Summer League goal was to win. “I just want to make an impact on the team and just help us win,” Edwards said.
Should he take advantage of what’s in front of him, Edwards has the chance to be something special in the NBA, and he could help the Celtics do just that for a long time.
NBA Daily: Karl-Anthony Towns Confident About What Lies Ahead
David Yapkowitz sits down with Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns to discuss the injury-filled finish to last season, the moves the organization made this offseason and what lies ahead.
After making a huge trade for Jimmy Butler one year ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves had just broken one of the NBA’s longest playoff droughts when they made the postseason.
Fast forward to the present – Butler was traded, Tom Thibodeau got let go and the Wolves failed to reach the postseason with a 36-46 record.
There is room for optimism, however. Minnesota is still led by Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the top rising stars in the league with the prime of his career ahead of him. He’s arguably the best big man in the NBA at the young age of 23 years old.
The Wolves locked Towns up for the foreseeable future after he signed a Supermax contract extension back in September. He believes his game will definitely expand and grow as head coach Ryan Saunders continues to work with him.
“I feel that I’m going to be able to do a little more,” Towns told Basketball Insiders in an exclusive interview. “I got more freedom, I got a head coach that’s going to use my talents a little better. It’s going to be good.”
The major changes to the Wolves organization didn’t stop with the roster or the coaching staff. Thibodeau had a dual role as head coach and president of basketball operations. To replace his front office duties, the team brought in longtime executive Gersson Rosas, who comes from the Houston Rockets with 16 years of executive duty experience.
After taking over head coaching duties back in January, Saunders will now have a full offseason and training camp with the team to implement his style of play. All of this combined is something that Towns believes will be helpful to the team.
“It’s going to be big,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “I think not just only Ryan [Saunders] but having such a different culture, a different team. I think that’s going to be a big change for us. It’s going to be a very beneficial change.”
The Wolves are hoping part of that change is going to be a healthy roster. The team struggled with key injuries, especially late in the season when they were trying to mount a late playoff push. Robert Covington, who had emerged as a great compliment to Towns, missed a big part of the second half of the season. Jeff Teague was also in and out of the lineup all year.
Minnesota was firmly in the playoff picture for most of the season, even when they were hovering near the bottom, but the key injuries really took a toll as the year came winding down.
“We had a lot of change. That constitutes to that and our season. We didn’t make the playoffs because we just ran into the injury bug. Injuries really hit us and took our spark out of us,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “We were in a great spot before the injuries, but it happens. That’s just how the league works. You got to find ways to win, we just came up a little short.”
Luckily, there are some added reinforcements on the way. The Wolves acquired highly touted prospect Jarrett Culver out of Texas Tech in a draft-night trade. Culver has the ability to play multiple positions, especially on the defensive end. Although he is being held out of summer league, there’s no denying his potential.
In the second round, the Wolves drafted Jaylen Nowell, a high-scoring guard who shot 44 percent from three-point range last season at Washington. He’s only 19 years old and has plenty of unlocked potential as well for a second-round player.
“I see him [Culver] bringing a lot of versatility. I see him bringing length, I see him bringing a hungriness to the team, he wants to prove himself. We’re going to have a very, very good rookie on our hands,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “And let’s also not forget Jaylen Nowell. He’s a high IQ player and we’re very fortunate he fell to us.”
The draft isn’t the only area where the Wolves improved their roster. They made a couple of solid free agent moves as well, signing a trio of versatile forwards in Jordan Bell, Jake Layman and Noah Vonleh.
Bell has seen sporadic playing time the past few seasons with the Golden State Warriors, but he’s still young and has already shown an ability to switch defensively from guards to bigs. Layman had a solid year as one of Portland’s key contributors off the bench. Vonleh has bounced around the league a bit, but was one of the lone bright spots for the Knicks last season.
“They’re going to bring a lot of experience from great organizations,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “They bring a lot of playoff experience as well, and they’re also going to bring us a lot of talent. They’re all very versatile and they bring a lot to the table.”
And as the 2019 NBA Summer League is now in full swing with free agency winding down, Towns is happy with the steps the Wolves have taken. He’s confident in this team and what lies ahead.
“We’ve already taken the next step, there is no next step, we’ve already taken the next step,” Towns told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve made the changes to our team that we needed to make and we’re ready to go.”
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