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NBA Sunday: Keep An Eye on July

Will Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love be on the move this summer?

Moke Hamilton

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Is it time for the Chicago Bulls to trade Derrick Rose? Can the Cleveland Cavaliers win with Kevin Love? Should Doc Rivers consider trading Blake Griffin? Will the Houston Rockets re-sign Dwight Howard?

Typically, during the season, we pay very close attention to the February trade deadline, as it is the final chance for a fringe contender to make a move that puts themselves over the top. However, with all that we are seeing unfold before our very eyes, this summer may be one of unprecedented movement. There are a number of teams that have a lot at stake and may opt to make a move or two, depending on how things shake out.

And in the end, that is one of the greatest things about the National Basketball Association: you simply have to watch. The same can be said for all professional sports, of course, but before the 2015-16 season began, if someone were willing to bet you that not one of the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls would make the playoffs, how quickly would you have taken the bet?

If one were to tell you that the Los Angeles Clippers would have proven to be a pretty good team even without Blake Griffin or that LeBron James would have told the public that he would rather be playing with Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade as opposed to Love and Kyrie Irving, would you have believed that?

How did we even get here?

And more importantly, where do we go now?

Dwight Howard

When Dwight Howard decided to take his talents to Houston during the summer of 2013, he did so with the expectation that Kevin McHale, James Harden and Hakeem Olajuwon would help him get to the next level in his career. Howard’s decision to sign a four-year, $88 million contract with the Rockets saw him leave about $30 million in guaranteed money on the table. At the time, the thought was that Howard would sign his four-year contract with an opt-out clause after the third year. With his Bird rights fully vested, the hope was that Howard would re-sign a new five-year, maximum contract with the Rockets when he was eligible.

Today, that seems like a long shot. Earlier this season, rumors and reports surfaced that Howard and the Rockets were not exactly seeing eye-to-eye, and it was well documented and chronicled that he was being shopped at the deadline.

With free agency approaching for Howard and a rising salary cap, it is possible that he is nearing the end of his Rockets career. At this point, what the Rockets need to determine is what exactly they feel Howard is worth and whether or not he can still be a key contributor to a championship team. Objectively speaking, it certainly appears as though his better days are behind him, but who knows what a fresh start may bring. Remember: we once said the same thing about Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo.

Blake Griffin

The Los Angeles Clippers have been deemed a legitimate contender for the past few years and seemed to have gotten an infusion of talent and leadership this season. Unfortunately, Blake Griffin hasn’t exactly shown that he has grown to the point where he can be fully depended on.

Heading into this season, there were some around the Clippers organization that felt that if the existing core wasn’t able to get over the hump this season, that Doc Rivers would look to make drastic changes. Chris Paul has proven to be more durable than many thought he would be at this point in his career, but as he closes in on his 31st birthday, Rivers needs to—and probably does—understand that Paul isn’t getting any younger.

As it relates to Griffin, there are some that feel that he is still one of the top power forwards in the game, while there are others that feel that his lack of a post-up game may be fatal to the Clippers’ odds of overthrowing the Golden State Warriors atop the Western Conference.

There probably isn’t a team more eager to begin the postseason than the Clippers, and there isn’t anyone more eager to see what Rivers opts to do with his franchise if they don’t end up walking away with some evidence of progression.

The Chicago Bulls

There’s a thin line between dynasty and dud, and the Bulls have slowly but surely learned that. After sending Tom Thibodeau on his way, and years after the cast of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Omer Asik had the team in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and doing battle with the Miami HEAT, fans of the Bulls can only ask themselves what went wrong since then.

Now, as the 2016 NBA Playoffs are set to begin and the Bulls have, surprisingly, not secured a spot, the only question that matters now is where the franchise goes from here.

We have heard of some passing rumors surrounding both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. The bottom line for this team is that they are not closer to winning than they were five years ago, and although Rose has shown some signs of improvement over the past few years, he is still nowhere near the player he was when he became the youngest MVP in league history.

If the Bulls fail to make the playoffs this season, it will be obvious that some drastic changes are needed in Chicago. I would expect the front office to reassess their commitment to Fred Hoiberg and then follow suit with Rose.

LeBron James

Truth be told, LeBron James probably enjoys being the center of attention. A simple maneuver such as unfollowing the Cavaliers franchise on social media caused an unnecessary stir, but James did little to help quiet the speculation. Because James has traditionally kept his moves and his thoughts to himself, it has caused those of us in the media to have to read tea leaves to try to figure out his mindset.

With the Cavaliers closing in on their second straight regular season Eastern Conference title and James attempting to reach the NBA Finals for a sixth consecutive year, he added a bit more flame to the fire by suggesting that he wanted to play with Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony is currently under contract with the New York Knicks, but with that team facing question about its future, it’s quite possible that Anthony could seek a trade this summer.

What makes this situation even more intriguing, though, is the fact that James will likely opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. In doing so, James has the ability to structure his next contract in a way that is beneficial to the Cavaliers, ask for a five-year, maximum contract, or go to a new team all together.

That’s the beauty of following LeBron James—you simply never know what he’s thinking. Everything is always seemingly in play.

* * * * * *

With the way this season has played out, it is difficult to imagine anyone other than the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs winning the championship. And with teams like the Rockets and Knicks seemingly regressing since adding Howard and Anthony, respectively, we may be on the precipice of a summer that is marked by blockbuster moves and high-profile acquisitions.

In the end, as we approach the 2016 NBA Playoffs with the Warriors proving that they are head and shoulders above the rest of the league, we may end up witnessing more drama unfold this summer than we will leading up to it.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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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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