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DeJuan Blair may play in Russia, perceived injury risks be damned

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Among the flood of reported signings, flirtations, explorations, and interest between overseas clubs and NBA players, DeJuan Blair’s name and news don’t create much of a ripple. He’s no Deron Williams, after all; Blair isn’t even a steady NBA regular at this point in his career, having squandered some of the opportunity given him as a member of San Antonio’s limited frontcourt. Yet thanks to Blair’s injury history, the news that he may play professionally in Russia (per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski) has raised a few eyebrows and inspired the internet peanut gallery to take their best collective shot.

The primary risk of international basketball to NBA players is the potential for injury involved. Strange things happen on a basketball court; it’s honestly amazing that serious injuries don’t occur more often with all of the leaping into occupied space that goes on in a competitive game between hyper athletic ballplayers, but those tweaks, sprains, strains, and breaks that do happen are costly nonetheless. Not only does Blair run the risk of a freak injury by playing in Russia, but also the natural wear and tear that comes from a player with no ACLs hitting the non-NBA hardwood. The domestic logic could deem Blair insane; he’s labeled as being injury-prone as it is, and yet he’s likely chosen to spend his time away from the league playing for a team that is not his own while risking serious injury in the process.

Yet injury is an odd reason for Blair or any other player to forgo the chance to play elsewhere during the lockout. The risk of injury/lack of insurance argument can logically apply to NBAers suiting up for their national teams during a typical off-season, but this summer (and now fall) is anything but typical. The void left from a lack of team workouts, training camp, and preseason ball gives players even more incentive to ready their skills in preparation for an NBA campaign that may or may not come. There is no existing schedule or guide for players to ready their bodies for the regular season; negotiations could take a turn on a moment’s notice, and it will be up to Blair and all of his peers to be ready to play professional basketball again, be it in November, in January, or worse.

This decision, should Blair make it, would be a means to that end. Plus, lest we forget, the schedules of foreign leagues aren’t all that different from the NBA’s. Blair will be playing and training, but only in the lack of the playing and training he’d be doing with the Spurs as part of his typical NBA regimen. He — and every other NBA player interested in alternative lockout employment — would be drilling, lifting, or scrimmaging, and all it would take would be the pop of a medicine ball, an awkward fall, or a hard collision to send a training camper to the training room. Basketball is not without its risks, regardless of whether it’s being played in a foreign land or an NBA team’s practice facility. The fact that such an injury would otherwise happen under the watch of an NBA team is functionally irrelevant.

NBA fans have been conditioned to look at extracurricular basketball as an additional risk for NBA players, but let this serve as a reminder that on a normal schedule, American pro ballers would still be putting in work and minutes while risking injury. There’s nothing terribly unique about the risk that Blair runs, while the payoff is rather straightforward. Maintaining good health is crucial for Blair, but so is development, and doesn’t logging floor time — even in another country — make quite a bit of sense at this stage in his career? Particularly when the lockout is depriving him of putting in team-driven developmental time on his home floor?

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.

NBA rookies name Kevin Durant their favorite player

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses with his new jersey during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant faced tremendous backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

But not from NBA rookies.

In the league’s annual rookie survey, a plurality of first-year players voted Durant their favorite player:

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State — 29.7%

T-2. Carmelo Anthony, New York — 9.4%

LeBron James, Cleveland — 9.4%

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City — 9.4%

T-5. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio — 6.3%

Kobe Bryant (retired) — 6.3%

Paul George, Indiana — 6.3%

Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers — 6.3%

T-9. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota — 4.7%

Others receiving votes: Vince Carter, Memphis; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland

This is the third straight year Durant has claimed the top spot, matching LeBron and Kobe for combined wins in the six years this question was asked of rookies:

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This is further evidence: If you resent Kevin Durant for exercising his right to switch employers after nine years with a company that acquired him by producing an awful product, you’re out of touch. Follow the kids’ lead and get with it.

Jason Terry: Luke Walton ‘utterly declined’ my offer to provide Lakers veteran leadership

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19:  Guard Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 19, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Before signing with the Bucks, Jason Terry said he reached out to multiple contenders.

He also spoke with the Lakers.

Terry tried to leverage his relationship with Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played at Arizona (though their time there didn’t overlap).

Terry on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

I called my good friend Luke. I told him if he needed any help, veteran leadership, in that capacity – Lakers – with an ability to coach at the end of my deal, then that was something I would be looking forward to. He utterly declined, and I respect him for that.

Gotta love a guy who announces to the world his pitch of providing veteran leadership was “utterly declined.”

The Lakers should be just fine with Jose Calderon and Luol Deng.