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Q&A: Kent Bazemore on Hawks, Contract, Top Scorers

Basketball Insiders

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Kent Bazemore of the Atlanta Hawks was recently a guest on the Basketball Insiders Podcast. Alex Kennedy and Michael Scotto interviewed Kent and the Q&A can be found below. To the listen to the podcast in its entirety, click the play button above.

Question: Kent, first off, thanks for joining us. It’s always good to talk with you. I just want to start by talking about this Atlanta Hawks team. Right now, you’re in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. When you look at the conference from top to bottom, there’s such a jumble that the number four and the 12 seed are only separated by three to four games at this point. What’s your take, so far, on the Eastern Conference as a whole and where you guys fit in right now?

Bazemore: “First of all, thanks for having me. The Eastern Conference is tough. It’s early on in the year and there are a lot of teams without an injury, a lot of teams have a new look and are still trying to figure it out. Positioning is still prime, if you can steal games here and there you still give yourself a good chance of being in the thick of things. We did our work early in the season, getting off to a 9-2 start, then we hit a little rough patch there. But we’re coming off winning three straight, [including] a big home win against San Antonio a few nights ago. Things are starting to pick back up for us. We’re a very, very, very talented group, there’s a high ceiling for us. That’s the beauty of the season, there’s so much that happens within a season, not only within the season but within the first few months. You’ve got to stay the course, keep your head down and keep working.”

Question: You mentioned the overtime win over San Antonio. You guys have had some quality wins lately, beating the Spurs, the Pistons, the Knicks, the Thunder, the Raptors, the Bucks. How much does that help your confidence and do you guys feel like you’re starting to gain some momentum?

Bazemore: “Yeah, we know we’re a good team. It’s just doing it consistently, doing it on a consistent basis. That’s what the great teams in the NBA do, they go in every night and they’re all about their business. We’ve had some setbacks and had some tough losses – we got swept by the Timberwolves, we got swept by the Lakers. It hasn’t been all of those good games we want, we’ve slipped up. That’s just facts, that’s everything thrown in your face. We can be a really, really good team or we can be just a middle-of-the-pack team, it’s totally up to us. Coach [Mike Budenholzer] has done a great job of helping us weather the storm. He’s been uber positive, he’s been super supportive of certain guys and whatever they’ve been going through on the court. Hindsight being 20/20, starting the way we did and to go through that little rough patch, it’s been great for us. We’ve seen the best and the worst, and now we’re starting to really figure it out again. It’s kind of rewarding, to go through that stuff and refocus and start winning some games.”

Question: To reach that ceiling of what you guys could ultimately be, who or what is the ‘x-factor’ for the Atlanta Hawks to make that happen and for you guys to click on all cylinders?

Bazemore: “Honestly, I don’t think it’s one person, it’s the collective group. Obviously, having Dwight Howard has been amazing for us. It’s giving us a chance every night. The fact that he can rebound and really change the game really impacts the game a certain way. I think Paul Millsap is starting to pick up steam. I think Dennis Schroder is starting to really find his groove. Kyle [Korver] is starting to make shots. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been playing well. We’ve got [talented] guys, Mike Muscala, Kris Humphries, I can go all the way down the roster, but we’ve got a ton of guys that can really bring it and that’s what makes our team unique. You never know who it’s going to be [that steps up]. You can’t really go into a game, game planning around one person. The ball’s starting to move, a few nights ago we had like 29 assists, and that’s really, really good. There’s only a few teams in the league that pass the ball that well and win games. You see the Warriors, they have so many games over 30 assists, they’re very successful that way and that’s the way we want to play. It’s not really one person you can pin it on because no one has had a ‘great’ year to date on our team – everyone’s been up and down. Whatever we’ve done, it’s been done collectively. It’s not really a person, it’s a team thing.”

Question: Any time you have new starters, there’s always an adjustment period. When Michael interviewed you earlier in the season, he talked about the chemistry and adjustment. Obviously, with Dennis stepping into the starting lineup and Dwight joining the team and getting acclimated, you guys had to learn how to play with each other. Now, 30 games into the season, how comfortable are you guys together and where is the chemistry level at?

Bazmore: “I think we’re getting comfortable, the chemistry is starting to get there. Earlier in the year, we turned the ball over too much and that was from having the right intentions but not quite knowing, not quite getting it, not quite having that chemistry and synergy. Now, you see Dennis and Dwight connect on lobs. You see Dennis finding Thabo Sefolosha on slashes. Tim Hardaway Jr. running the floor, him and Malcolm Delaney have a good connection on the second unit, and Kyle Korver as well. There are certain plays that you see that we’re making now that we weren’t three or four weeks ago. It’s all starting to come together for us and, defensively, we’re getting our confidence back on that end of the floor, really making it tough for opposing teams and making it hard for them. Our defense has always been our staple; we put so much pressure on ourselves, struggling to score offensively or taking bad shots or whatever. Now we’re ironing things out. The pie is starting to bake, and that good old smell of sweet potato pie is in the air. (Laughs)”

Question: When you talk about you guys having a little bit of pressure, how about you individual pressure? You’re now a $70 million man. With that type of money comes different responsibilities, different pressure, different perception around the league about you. Have you felt, at all, since putting pen to paper on that contract, any added pressure for yourself and a different perception of yourself around the league from other players to this point?

Bazmore: “I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself, unknowingly. Going into my fifth year, I’ve been around a little bit, I wanted to take the leap as a player. Regardless of what I got paid, I want to be great. Having a deep playoff run and playing in the playoffs the last three seasons, I feel like it’s time for me to take the leap. This year, these first 30 games, I’ve been pressing a ton and it’s all coming from a good place, but that’s the growth, for me as a player. I’m really taking my time and continuing to be who I am.

“I’ve said this when I went back and got my jersey retired at Old Dominion. I didn’t have the best career in Old Dominion history. I didn’t average 25 and wasn’t an All-American in college. I was a great teammate, I was a great student, I was just a great, well-rounded person. And that, I think, plays a lot into why I was paid so much. I’m a great teammate, I work hard, I play the game the right way. It’s just getting back to who I am and not trying to be something I’m not, and it’s coming. As a competitor, you want to prove the naysayers wrong and shut people up, but there’s a way of going about it and it’s not going out and trying to score every basket or get every assist. It’s just being who you are, staying true to who you are, especially when things get rough. [That’s when] your character really starts to show and if you can stay close to your roots and get through the storm, you really start to shine.”

Question: Now you mentioned ODU and getting your jersey retired. If I were to tell that Kent Bazemore, who was a senior back at the time, a guy that, you and I will laugh about this, but that was a guy who couldn’t shoot the rust off of a gym and now you can shoot a little bit better and you really found a niche. Being a $70 million player, would you have foreseen that for yourself at that time?

Bazmore: “No. I honestly didn’t know what the future held. I always knew I wanted to play basketball, and everyone wants to go to the NBA. The percentages are minimal, it’s such a finite, small window for guys that really get the opportunity. I think it’s been 4,100 guys that have ever worn NBA jerseys or something like that. It’s crazy. It’s small and I was never on any draft boards. I had a great, great profile pic on MaxPreps in high school (laughs), but I was never a guy that was jumping off people’s radar. I always knew it was a long shot, but I can honestly say that my agent, the people around me, really helped me gain a belief, and my head coach at the time, Blaine Taylor, from Old Dominion, always preached about my length and athleticism and always said I had NBA athleticism. My agent, Austin Walton, is a beast at getting me opportunities. They helped me get my foot in the door and I just kept climbing. The first Summer League I played in, I got the record for blocks in a game or something like that. It’s, like I said, just being who I am, being the long length kid that couldn’t shoot the rust off the gym, but just continuing to work. I can honestly say, even with all the faith and believing in myself 110 percent, this is far and beyond anything I could ever have imagined, for sure.”

Question: Kent, one thing I’ve noticed when talking to guys who are fringe NBA players, whether it’s at Summer League or around the draft when guys go undrafted, a lot of guys point to you and say, ‘Look what Kent Bazemore did, he was undrafted, now he’s got a big contract. I can do the same thing.’ What does it mean to you to be an inspiration to so many of those guys? I think before, those guys would point to Wes Matthews or Jeremy Lin or guys like that, but now you’re the guy everyone points to and says, ‘If he can do it, I can follow in his footsteps.’ How cool is it to be an inspiration for so many players?

Bazmore: “It means a lot. One of my greatest goals I could achieve in life, one of the things I want to do in life, is to inspire. Being undrafted, being a fringe guy, it’s a different motivation. And even before that, if you come from a mid-major school, you probably weren’t that highly touted. We all have something to climb to, we all have that fire that’s burning and, not to take anything away from the McDonald’s All-Americans or the Jordan Brand All-Americans, not to take anything away from those guys because they’re special athletes too. But, when you aren’t [one of those guys], when you’re always looking at them, always looking up at them, looking at where they are on the boards or how people look at them, you get this fire inside of you. Once you step foot in the NBA, all that stuff goes out the window. Everything you’ve gotten, [you battled for]. Is he going to dive for this loose ball because he’s a first-rounder and he got guaranteed money for the next three or four years? For me, my rookie year, I had a $90,000 guaranteed contract to the Ukraine, which I knew nothing about, so there’s this discrepancy and want and desire and I think those guys, if they can really tap into that, they can blow the doors off anything. You really don’t have any expectations as a fringe guy, you may be the 15th man. They may bring you in and see what you can do, but if you go in and really, really work and try to bug your coaches and learn and work and train, just do all the right things, be a great teammate, then the sky’s the limit. I was blessed to have some of the best veterans ever my rookie year: Richard Jefferson, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, David Lee, Steph Curry and all of those guys. They really got behind me and helped me navigate and I listened, I was coachable. I love the fact that I can inspire and I really hope that I’m opening doors for a lot of people.”

Question: You mentioned that there were no expectations, initially. What’s it like going from being a guy that people don’t really expect a lot from and you can sneak up on people, to now being someone that teams game-plan for because of your production? How different is that, now that everyone knows what you can do?

Bazemore: “It’s tough, it’s hard. That’s why you applaud guys like the Kobes, Durants, Stephs, LeBrons. You applaud those guys because every night, for 82 games, Kobe Bryant for 20 seasons, they knew he was coming and they designed defenses for him, but he still overcame it. It’s tough. It’s gratifying that you go from being the 15th man to being on someone’s scouting report, but, at the same time, teams guard you different. It’s a challenge. You figure it out slowly, you bring your game every night and you see if you can find that crease. You’re patient, you’re just like that panther that’s waiting to pounce on your opportunity. It teaches you a lot of patience because, once you get this deep into the season, you may make changes at the All-Star break to the playbook but, right now you’re pretty much running the same things and teams have such advanced scouting, they know every play that comes up. They probably know what you’re going to run after a timeout and your rotation, so you really have to play a game within a game and keep teams honest and really evolve your mind. Basketball is becoming a game of chess, for me, it’s setting up a move two moves from now. That’s the long story, but it’s fun. It’s real fun.”

Question: Kent, one of the ways you had to make a niche for yourself in a way to get time off the bench from when you first started your career was with defense. Going back to college, you were a two-time CAA Defensive Player of the Year, you won a Lefty Driesell Award. Now that you’ve been in the league for awhile, from your perspective, who have been some of the toughest guys that you’ve had to guard?

Bazemore: “Manu Ginobili is tough. There’s constant movement, he never stops moving, and he’s left-handed. Night in and night out, I guard a ton of right-handed people. There’s two times a year where you’ve got a guy who rips the opposite direction and you think it would be easier, for me, guarding lefties, but he’s just so cerebral on the court and he passes it so well. He can shoot it, his pump fake [is great] and he has his game down pat and he plays it well to a T. Another guy would be DeMar DeRozan, who has excelled this year. He had a hot start and he’s been winning games for Toronto. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, those offensive juggernauts, the guys who are in the top 10 to 15 in scoring. They’re special. They’ve got guys that want to get them open, they’ve got coaches that run plays for them, and you’ve got to guard him and help your teammates, so it’s a tough task. Those are the guys that come to mind right now. Obviously, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, the list goes on. But it’s fun, it’s a challenge. I go to sleep every night with a smile on my face knowing I get to guard some of the best players in the world. It’s gratifying.”

Question: Are you ever a trash talker?

Bazemore:  “Not really. Talk’s cheap, especially in this game. These guys are so savvy at using your aggression against you, so you’ve got to talk to yourself. These guys get to the free throw line at such a crazy clip, you out there trash talking, he’s talking to you, he pump fakes, you jump, gets you in the air, he’s shooting free throws and you’ve got two fouls in the first five minutes and you sit on the bench. I learned that the hard way, so, not really. I’m just more about empowering my teammates and channeling the trash talking into positivity for my team.”

Question: So, Kent, now that you’ve done the ‘Bazemoring’ off the bench, you’ve done the ‘Bazegaze,’ what’s next after that?

Bazemore: “(Laughs) I don’t know. All of this stuff, it’s just natural, it just happens. ‘Bazemoring’ was something, actually, Charles Jenkins had a hand in it. We were sitting at the end of the bench in Detroit my rookie year and Steph and Klay were just making it rain from three and we had a front row seat to see it and I just started doing all of this crazy stuff. It’s nothing that I planned to do, it just happens. The ‘Bazegaze’ was originated from my college best friend. We’d be talking and if he thought you were lying, he’d give you that look like, ‘Come on bro.’ So, that’s where that came from. So, who knows what’s next, the people love it in Atlanta, so I’ll just keep trying to think of something else.”

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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