Miami Heat James smiles after making a basket against Charlotte Bobcats during their NBA game in Charlotte

100 early season observations

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We lost basketball this year. Precious, sweet basketball. And even though most of the lockout happened in the offseason, those days were still slogs through disappointment and frustration. So to mourn those days and celebrate the first week of professional basketball this season, here are 100 observations on the early season.

1. Lob City’s a work in progress like all teams thrust together are, but there are also career developments that have to happen with Griffin and Jordan’s defense.

2. The Bulls are going to be really great when they win, which is most of the time, and really ugly when they lose.

3. The Heat are just going to be really great even when they’re losing. Sorry, it’s true.

4. The Cavaliers are a lot better than we thought they’d be. They’re going to lose a metric ton of games when the rush of early season wears off, but they’ve got a foundation there to build on.

5. Boston has problems that go beyond Pierce, on both ends.

6. But Boston also has some things going for it, especially the play of Brandon Bass.

7. James Harden has not locked up the 6th Man of the Year by any stretch of the imagination, it’s been three games for crying out loud. But he definitely looks like the strongest candidate early on.

8. The Blazers are much better than I expected. They’re not getting bullied inside and they’re doing the bullying on the perimeter. It’s a strong combination of players.

9. The Lakers will be winning, but they’ll be winning ugly. Mike Brown is getting the most out of a weak roster outside of the Big 3, but that means playing some ugly basketball the Staples faithful might not enjoy.

10. Vinny Del Negro has some done some bizarre things early on. Running pick and rolls with Blake Griffin as ball-handler and putting Griffin on Joakim Noah are only a few examples. It’s a learning process for him as well and I’ve never been as down on Del Negro as others, but some of it is just perplexing.

11. Tristan Thompson is going to be better than most of us thought. Lots to learn, though.

12. Enes Kanter is going to be worse than most of us thought, at least for a while. Lots of rebounds, though.

13. LeBron James’ post game has improved maybe just enough for him to not rely on it but to make a significant difference.

14. Wade, at least early on, is the tip of the spear for Miami’s offense, which is what makes James’ scoring totals so outrageous.

15. The Kobe Bryant you’ve seen is what you’re going to get. Nights of sheer brilliance and a lot of of inefficient scoring nights where he handles the load.

16. That said, Bynum could make all the difference. If he can get to the arena with all the traffic tickets he gets.

17. The Pacers have a really good team that can play consistently, score, and defend, and may still wind up a five seed.

18. Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks keep winning games and no one stops to notice how well they’re playing.

19. Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks play really well for long stretches and still don’t make an impact in the playoffs.

20. If the Wizards had any sense of poise whatsoever, the Nets would be the worst team in the league in just about every category right now.

21. Deron, big market Brooklyn, owner that wants to win, I get it. But if Howard looks at this roster and says “I can win with those guys this year” he’s out of his mind. Unless he wants an early summer vacation, no way he should go to Brooklyn.

22. Chris Bosh is more aggressive than I’ve ever seen him, even in Toronto.

23. Speaking of which, early on, the Raptors aren’t bad. Competitive, playing hard, rebounding, and some balance. Long way to go, but I like what Casey is doing there.

24. Memphis will figure it out eventually, but this team is going to have to find the gear it had from February on last year and that’s really difficult. Missing Arthur hurts.

25. The Sixers, despite a loss to Utah, are one of the most impressive teams I’ve seen. There’s something to be said for experience together.

26. Flip Saunders, here’s some ice for that hot seat.

27. Andrew Bogut doesn’t look healthy, but he doesn’t look injured, you know?

28. John Wall has to play better.

29. Taj Gibson does an unbelievable amount for the Bulls off the bench.

30. Phoenix has looked really bad at both ends. Maybe they’ll get it together, but the lack of offense is a huge concern. That’s what they’ve got. If they don’t have that, they’re in trouble.

31. New Orleans’ effort under Monty Williams is admirable, even if the performance isn’t sustainable, which, who knows?

32. All of these observations are based under a handful of games and only a small amount will seem valid in March.

33. Ricky Rubio: Worth the hype.

34. Rick Adelman: Worth the hire.

35. Michael Beasley: Worth neither of the two above.

36. Charlotte has the effort and has a lot of guys improving.

37. Diaw has been particularly impressive considering, you know, Diaw.

38. Kemba Walker and Jimmer both have a place in the league when I had reservations about both. The place may not be big, but it’s there.

39. Mark Jackson storming out of the gates is not something I expected.

40. The Warriors’ defense with that roster is yet another sign that defense in this league is as much systemic as personnel dependent.

41. Carmelo Anthony at point forward is a disaster.

42. And the worst part is it’s limited Amar’e Stoudemire’s role which hurts just about everything.

43. San Antonio looks like it’s gotten the defense back in its gameplan early on. That’s big.

44. Conditioning has been a lot better than most expected.

45. Defensive 3-seconds, not so much.

46. Shaun Livingston has impressed in limited minutes for Milwaukee. His first game was the best I’ve seen since before the injury.

47. The Kings are about what you’d expect. Fun to watch, losing every night.

48. Denver has been monstrous.

49. Al Harrington shooting better? Expected. Al Harrington defending better? Not expected.

50.  DeMar DeRozan has not started as well as I thought he might.

51. Ty Lawson is a speed demon and you should probably get a hand up on him.

52. Nene has struggled offensively. He’s making an impact defensively but the Nuggets need a pick and roll partner.

53. Danilo Gallinari needs to find his range, like, right now. Great aggressiveness, but missing the arc.

54. LeBron James won’t average a triple double. It’ll just feel like it.

55. Lawrence Frank has not gotten through to Detroit yet.

56. Which means Lawrence Frank has lost about 22 games in a row.

57. The Pistons’ refusal to play younger lineups is baffling.

58. The problem in OKC isn’t Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant, there is no Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant.

59. The problem is Russell Westbrook vs. being No.2. He’s not and will not be.

60. Gerald Henderson has shown a really impressive ability to find space in the flow of the offense. He’s not going to create off the dribble much outside of layups, but he spits around screens and catches and shoots really well.

61. Luol Deng looks just about as good as he did last season, if not better, which should terrify everyone.

62. DeJuan Blair is still not a good enough interior defender.

63. Tiago Splitter might be, though.

64. It’s not so much what David West is giving the Pacers as what he’s allowing them to do.

65. I’ve crowned Paul George Mega-Man. The guy came into the league with very few abilities and it seems like every game he defeats and gains the powers of his opponent. I’m expecting him to have a buzzsaw for an arm soon.

66. Gerald Wallace has been good at just about everything involved with playing basketball. Shooting, scoring, defense, steals, blocks, rebounds, you name it.

67. Ryan Anderson, Most Improved Player?

68. Turns out Stan Van Gundy can still coach a team up. Even one featuring Chris Duhon in a big role.

69. Luis Scola, pretty good.

70. Denver is 26th in points allowed per game, but 10th in defensive efficiency, which is points per 100 possessions. Stats are good, people!

71. Jason Kidd is shooting a lot of threes, which is not how the Mavericks offense should work, even if his clip is pretty good the last few years.

72. Kevin Love drawing fouls is just weird.

73. Kyle Lowry has been even better than last year, and that’s saying something.

74. Greg Stiemsma, block machine.

75. Marvin Williams is averaging 14 points per game and 20 per 36. My mind = blown. I don’t care if it’s three games.

76. The Hawks are first in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency. Weak schedule, but still. Impressive for three games.

77. It’s been really good to see Anderson Varejao back on the floor.

78. I’m trying to think of something that the Jazz do well. I’ll be back in an hour.

79. Russell Westbrook has had an emotional rollercoaster of a first week.

80. Would the Celtics have been better if they’d worked out together this summer? Or is it just Pierce?

81. I miss Jeff Green. I know most of you don’t, but I do.

82. Ben Gordon is actually passing really well and running an offense. It’s like Soviet Russia. Ben Gordon should be point guard and Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey should be shooting guards.

83. Tyreke Evans hasn’t made the jump and that’s disappointing considering the injuries healing were supposed to help.

84. MOAR JEREBKO.

85. Imagine how good the Nuggets will be offensively when they find their range?

86. The Knicks slid back so severely after such a good first game. Says more about Boston than them.

87. The Bulls are 20th in defensive efficiency. Small sample sizes for the win!

88. Manu Ginobili got healthy, which is, you know, death to defenses.

89. At one point this week, Renaldo Balkman was guarding Kobe Bryant. That went about as well as you’d think.

90. Teams are not handling back to backs well early on. Good thing they’ve only got 30 more of them.

91. The Heat are a flying death machine.

92. Deron Williams doesn’t look right, whether it’s injury, fatigue, or disinterest.

93. And the Nets’ problems go so much further than Brook Lopez’ absence.

94. Caron Butler has played better than most thought he would. Hasn’t been a difference maker but has played well.

95. Jeremy Pargo has been better than expected.

96. Defending LeBron James right now is exceptionally difficult. Even more so than usual.

97. Timofey Mozgov has actually played pretty smartly for as inexperienced as he is.

98. John Wall is really struggling at just about everything. He’s just not able to make the plays he should be able to.

99. Brandon Rush…?

100. And in conclusion, Iman Shumpert. Get better soon, rook.

Report: In wake of Mo Williams’ retirement Cavs reach out to Kirk Hinrich, Mario Chalmers, others

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At the last minute — literally the day of the start of training camp — Mo Williams told Cleveland he was going to retire and will not be Kyrie Irving‘s backup point guard.

With all due respect to Kay Felder, the Knicks need a new backup point guard. They have started to reach out, reports Joe Varden at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

While Griffin said he felt “comfortable” with the Cavs’ current point guard situation — behind Kyrie Irving now is only rookie Kay Felder — the team has on its radar free agents Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, and Kirk Hinrich.

The Cavs have been in contact with all three players this summer, a source said, in anticipation of Williams’ move.

LeBron hasn’t yelled at anyone on the court in a long time, having Chalmers back on his team might be a nice release for him. Chalmers and Cole have experience playing with LeBron before in Miami, and both are athletic enough to play up-tempo like coach Tyronn Lue likes.

While all three of those come with flaws, they would be playing limited minutes behind Irving and would make reasonable backups (so long as they accepted their roles). Certainly upgrades over Felder. Expect the Cavaliers to make a signing before too long.

Grizzlies healthy, excited for training camp with new coach

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33), of Spain, poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Marc Gasol‘s surgically repaired right foot is healthy, and the Memphis Grizzlies center insists he’s back – perhaps better than ever.

Point guard Mike Conley is healthy too, his aching Achilles a distant memory. Jarell Martin‘s own left foot is as healthy as it’s been in a long time.

Chandler Parsons, the Grizzlies’ big free agent signee this summer , is the only person still recovering from his own knee surgery as the Grizzlies held media day Monday. It’s a welcome change for a franchise that set a dubious NBA mark last season playing 28 different players due to injuries that ravaged the roster, giving new coach David Fizdale a healthy roster for the start of training camp Tuesday.

The Grizzlies still reached the playoffs only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

“Last year, man it was tough with all the injuries, especially the playoffs not having a full-strength team, so it was very tough,” forward Zach Randolph said Monday. “Now we all healthy, and now we looking at the big picture and that’s getting a championship and getting a ring.”

Losing Gasol was the biggest hit. Memphis was fifth in the Western Conference on Feb. 8 when Gasol last played and slipped to the No. 7 seed as the injuries mounted. He had surgery to repair a non-displaced fracture in the navicular bone of his right foot Feb. 20, starting a long rehabilitation process to return him to the court.

Recovery kept Gasol from playing for Spain during the Olympics, though the center wanted to play. He followed all the doctors’ orders and stuck with his rehabilitation. Gasol said he’s never felt any discomfort in his foot, which makes him confident the repair worked. He’s now ready to help lead the Grizzlies back to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2013 and even further to a place Memphis has never been: the NBA Finals.

“I’m confident that I have the capability of not just being the same player, but better,” Gasol said. “Better player, more productive, more consistent. Hopefully a better rebounder. … It’s going to be a challenge for me, but I’m up for it. I’m up for any challenge. I love challenges, and this year’s going to be another one.”

Guard Tony Allen said Gasol looks like he’s added to his game, noting the man nicknamed Big Spain knocked down six straight 3s in a pickup game recently.

Being healthy isn’t the only difference for Memphis from the end of last season. The Grizzlies start training camp Tuesday with a new coach in Fizdale , a long-time Miami Heat assistant who Memphis hired in late May after firing Dave Joerger who was then hired by Sacramento.

The Grizzlies also announced Monday they hired a new medical director in Allen Gruver, promoted Jim Scholler to head athletic trainer and added Eric Oetter as director of performance. Conley said the Grizzlies have bolstered the staff to help players, even adding massage therapists to help with recovery.

Fizdale also suggested to the Grizzlies that they show up a couple weeks early and play together to start building chemistry and conditioning. Fizdale said he couldn’t make them do it, and he liked how they listened. Managing Gasol’s minutes will be a big focus for Fizdale who plans to pull him early from some practices and keep him out of some games through the season.

“I’m definitely going to preserve him,” Fizdale said. “I don’t want to kill him throughout the year and don’t have him for the playoffs so it’ll be very mindful of how I attack him coming back from an injury.”

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Life without Tim Duncan begins for the new-look Spurs

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich addresses the media during an NBA basketball news conference, Tuesday, July 12, 2016, in San Antonio, the day after Tim Duncan announced his retirement. Popovich wore a T-shirt with the likeness of Duncan as he reflected on his relationship with the 19-year Spurs veteran and talked about his contributions to the team and to him personally. (Kin Man Hui/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Life without Tim Duncan has officially begun for the San Antonio Spurs, even if they aren’t quite ready to accept it.

For the first time since Bill Clinton was in the White House and “Men In Black” was a box office hit, the Spurs will open training camp without Duncan.

During the team’s annual media day Monday, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich joked that Duncan is being fined daily – “$2,500 a day, every day that he does not show up.”

“I wasn’t here with him that long so it’s not as dramatic for me as it will be for everybody else, but it definitely feels like he should walk in any moment but he hasn’t yet,” Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge said.

Duncan retired in July after 19 seasons as arguably the greatest power forward of all time. A two-time MVP, Duncan led San Antonio to five NBA titles and helped set a selfless, team-first standard that is the envy of many sports franchises.

The transition from the Spurs’ reliance on the Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili began in earnest last season with the addition of Aldridge and the continued growth of Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio continued the makeover in the offseason with the signing of Pau Gasol, but that doesn’t soften the blow of losing Duncan.

“I think it’s going to hit me more tomorrow when we get on the court,” Parker said. “We’re definitely going to miss him. You can’t replace a guy like that. He’s been the face of the franchise for the last two decades. It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be weird without him, especially now that we have a lot of young guys, a lot of new faces and so it’s going to be a lot of teaching to do at the beginning of the season.”

Duncan will attend some practices to assist with coaching, but it will be up to Parker, Ginobili and the other veterans to acclimate the largest number of new faces in Popovich’s 20 seasons as Spurs coach.

San Antonio added 11 new players to its training camp roster, including rookies Dejounte Murray and Davis Bertans and free agents like Gasol and David Lee.

“It’s a lot of fun just to think about new bodies and new blood in the gym,” Popovich said. “Not just the players, the staff. I don’t know half of the names of the new staff we hired in the film room, interns and management and all that kind of thing. A lot of people walking around, both players and staff. It will be exciting who comes up with what ideas, who plays well and who fits together.”

Gasol is the most critical addition. Entering his 17th season, the 7-foot center has won two NBA championships and made his sixth All-Star appearance last season while with the Chicago Bulls.

Stepping into Duncan’s place in the starting lineup will be one of the biggest challenges of his career.

“Tim has been so exceptional and unique,” Gasol said. “He is considered by most of us the best power forward that has ever played the game. So, I’m not coming here to fill his shoes and the spot that he left, but I’m here to make the best that I can to fit in as best as I can and to work with the guys that are here to win a title and work as hard as I can to do that. It’s an opportunity, it’s a privilege but at the same time, it’s a huge challenge.”

Gasol’s presence will help ease the burden on Leonard and Aldridge.

The All-Star forwards led San Antonio to a franchise-record 67 victories last season before falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.

“I think everybody has to take on that burden,” Aldridge said. “It’s not a one-player’s job, no one can be Tim Duncan. It’s going to be everyone’s job.”

Jason Kidd plans to bring Greg Monroe off Bucks’ bench, which is news to Monroe

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 20:  Head coach Jason Kidd of the Milwaukee Bucks stands on the court during introductions to the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 20, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Bucks defeated the Suns 101-95. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Bucks spent most of the summer trying to trade Greg Monroe, and the asking price was rumored to be so low most of the buzz around the league was a deal would get done. Except to trade Monroe another team had to want Monroe, and therein lied the rub.

Monroe was at Bucks media day on Monday, and coach Jason Kidd announced he plans to bring Monroe in off the bench. That got interesting. From Gery Woelfel of the of the Racine Journal Times:

It shouldn’t be news, Kidd brought Monroe off the bench for part of last season, too.

If Monroe doesn’t start, it means John Henson or Miles Plumlee will start (unless Kidd wants to go crazy small and start Mirza Teletovic).

The real takeaway here: Don’t draft Monroe on your fantasy team. And expect him to get traded at some point this season.