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NBA PM: Players Poised to Return from Injury

Cody Taylor looks at a number of players who will be returning from injuries this season.

Cody Taylor

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With the Olympic games officially in the rear-view mirror, things will largely slow down (at least in regards to the NBA). Players will continue their offseason training and then head back to their respective NBA teams toward the latter half of September.

By now, players have had the better part of the offseason to take some time off and recharge their bodies. All of the little nicks and bruises suffered last season have likely healed and most guys are closer to 100 percent.

As we look ahead to next season, several players will be returning from injuries that sidelined them for a significant amount of time. Here’s a look at several players who are poised to return to full strength next season:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets:

Last season was one that Kidd-Gilchrist would like to forget. The Hornets forward was rewarded with a four-year, $52 million contract extension in August, but then played in just seven games all season after suffering two torn labrums in the same shoulder.

Kidd-Gilchrist has made a name for himself as one of the better perimeter defenders in the league and was greatly missed last season. He joked at a youth basketball camp in Kentucky last month that he’s currently “200 percent” healthy and ready to go for next season.

Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers:

While rehabbing from a groin injury, Griffin broke his hand by punching an equipment manager and was suspended for four games. He was cleared to play from the groin injury by April and returned from suspension on April 3 against Washington.

Griffin lasted just nine games between the regular season and playoffs before aggravating that same left quadricep injury. He’ll be looking to return next season as the same dominant player that we’ve seen in the past and will be determined to put last season’s problems behind him. Griffin can become an unrestricted free agent next summer so this upcoming season is big for him.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies:

Gasol was one of the many Grizzlies players who suffered an injury last season. The team was decimated by injuries and forced to rely on several inexperienced players down the stretch. Gasol broke his right foot in February and missed the remainder of the season. News regarding his progress has been scarce recently, as the last update at the end of June stated that Gasol still hadn’t received medical clearance to return to basketball activities.

He was held out of the Olympics in order to ensure he’ll be back to 100 percent next season. The team has said they don’t want to rush him back as foot injuries for big men can prove to be very serious if not handled correctly. Rehab updates should surface in the coming weeks as Memphis gets ready for training camp. Once Gasol does return to full strength, the Grizzlies will welcome him back with open arms since he’s still a big part of their team.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers:

News of Embiid’s recovery from a second surgery on his foot has been very encouraging over the past few weeks. Sixers head coach Brett Brown said recently on a podcast with Zach Lowe that “everything is pointing in the right direction” regarding Embiid’s progress. Brown added that Embiid is on track to play in the preseason.

Embiid’s addition to the 76ers this season should be a great sign for the future of the franchise. With Embiid seeming likely to be in the picture at some point this season, he joins Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Sergio Rodriguez among others as 76ers set to play their first game with the team. Video of Embiid training has surfaced in recent weeks and it should definitely have Sixers fans excited.

Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns:

Bledsoe suffered a knee injury back in December and missed the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery. Bledsoe is said to be progressing well and on track for the beginning of the Suns’ season. He had been playing the best basketball of his career prior to the injury, averaging a career-high 20.4 points, 6.1 assists, four rebounds and two steals per game.

The Suns appear to be a team on the rise with the addition of several young players and some veterans through free agency. The team has spent much of the summer together between a San Diego mini-camp in June, the Las Vegas Summer League in July and a charity basketball game a few weeks ago.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans:

News surfaced last season that Davis had been playing through a shoulder and knee injury. He underwent knee surgery in March and it was determined that he didn’t need surgery to repair his torn labrum. Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said on The Jim Rome Show last month that Davis will be 100 percent when training camp starts.

Like the Grizzlies, the Pelicans were another team that suffered many different injuries throughout last season. In addition to Davis, key players like Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Quincy Pondexter among others also suffered injuries as well. The Pelicans will be counting on Davis to lead the team next season as he has in the past. When healthy, he’s proven to be among the best players in the league.

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers:

The Clippers received a huge blow during the playoffs when Griffin aggravated his quad injury and Paul suffered a broken hand. Both players would miss the remainder of the playoffs and the Clippers were eliminated in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said in June that his right hand is fully recovered and he’ll be good to go by the start of the season.

John Wall, Washington Wizards:

Wall underwent surgery on both of his knees during the offseason and told reporters over the weekend that he is right where he needs to be in his rehab, but didn’t promise that he’d be ready by the start of the regular season. Wall said that he can run and jump and is doing two-a-day workouts, but hasn’t been cleared for one-on-one drills.

Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers:

Leonard battled a shoulder injury during the second half of last season and underwent surgery in April to repair it. Leonard is hopeful he’ll be ready to go by the start of the regular season, but said that he could be limited during training camp until he’s fully ready to go. Leonard turned in his best season last year, averaging a career-high 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

*****

Injuries are part of the game, but these players will be looking to put their ailments behind them and return to full strength. All of these individuals play a huge role for their respective team and will be greatly missed until they are able to return to the lineup.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls

Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.

James Blancarte

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The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.

LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.

“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”

The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.

So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.

In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.

At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.

LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.

“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”

LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.

“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”

In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.

Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.

Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.

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NBA Daily: Lopez’s Enjoys “Old Guy” Role on Young Team

Robin Lopez is the old man on a very young Chicago Bulls team, but he says the camaraderie is a big reason why he’s happy there, and why the team is overachieving so much this year.

Joel Brigham

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When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest. (more…)

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