Bill Walton feeling good… and predicts a Lakers/Heat finals

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Bill Walton is a guy with his priorities in the right place.

Three years laying on your back will do that — he told me again that he thought his life was over at points during that time — and now that he is back up after an innovative surgery his outlook on every day is one that would make the world a better place if we all could have it.

“I haven’t been this healthy since high school,” Walton said from his home in San Diego last week. “I had 36 orthopedic operations, I’ve got two fused ankles; my knee, hands and wrists don’t work; I’ve now got a fused spine, but other than that everything is fantastic. I’m excited every single day.”

Walton is up and active with his trademark energy again. You can hear it in his voice and see it in his daily schedule, which starts with a 4:30 a.m. workout. He is involved in a number of business opportunities, plus he is donating time and opening up his home to a charity event to benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation, helping disabled athletes get a new outlook as he has. Walton is auctioning off a party at his home to raise money for this. (Keep on reading, we get to that more at the end.)

And of course, he is involved with and watching a lot of basketball. The sport that helped give him a lot of the opportunities he has had. He was at the Hall of Fame inductions last year to welcome Arvydas Sabonis to the Hall.

And as a guy who has fought to overcome injuries and adversity, he is drawn to Kobe Bryant, who Walton called “staggeringly magnificent.”

“Kobe Bryant, this guy is just phenomenal,” Walton said. “For him to be able to sustain this at such a remarkably high level. Right now I’m looking at a Lakers/Heat finals. And Dallas will be good, Oklahoma City will be good, the Clippers will pose some problems, Chicago is very good.”

But Walton also sees what many of us have, that there is a coming changing of the guard in the NBA.

“But this is a changing league out there,” Walton said. “It’s always been a young man’s game and time has caught up with some of the legends…. We’re glad the Knicks are putting together a roster that can compete at the highest levels. And to see Miami’s regroup from last year’s collapse at the end, when the championship was theirs to be had. To come back with such spirit and fire.

Still, it takes experience to win.

“What experience teaches you is just how hard it is (to win). And how much it takes…” something Walton relates to his own story of physical challenges. “The vision, the sacrifice, the willingness to put it all out there. That is what it takes every single day. As these young teams — Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, New York — as they fight with everything they have to get to that promised land, they have to realize what is really important…. All the great teams, it is about the foundation, the commitment of the players to the team, and the leadership. Who is going to get the job done?”

Walton, a former Clipper player and broadcaster, also has enjoyed the renaissance of that franchise.

“I am so happy for Clippers fans and I am so happy for (long-time Clippers broadcaster) Ralph Lawler, who is such an enjoyable listen. And just to be able to turn on the games and listen to Ralph, and to see how much fun they are having…

“That guy Chris Paul. That guy is really, really good. Plus he’s my wife’s favorite player. His level of creativity, his level of imagination, his level of determination…. he makes other people better at what they do, he makes other people’s dreams come true, he puts a smile on other people’s faces.”

Walton’s theme or rebirth in his life ties into his work with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which works to provide equipment, opportunity and everything needed for soldiers injured in Afghanistan or Iraq, or maybe a person injured in a car accident at home, to help find their way again through sport.

To help raise money, Walton is opening up his home in San Diego for a party. Through CharityBuzz.com, there is an auction and the winner gets to come with all their friends or co-workers, or whomever they want to invite for an evening of food, music and conversation with Walton.

“We are opening our house to an event… Bring whoever you want. Bring the family, bring your team, bring the company, your organization over to the house,” he said. “We’ve been in this house 33 years near Balboa Park in my home town of San Diego, we love our home and we’re going to share it with other people willing to make a difference in the lives of people involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation.”

When he talks about it you can hear the energy in his voice. The energy that made him a big-time broadcaster and that made him the player he was. It’s just good to hear that passion again.

Sixers’ Ben Simmons fully cleared to play basketball

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Finally, some good news on the health front for Philadelphia.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick a year ago, has been fully cleared for basketball activities about a month before training camp opens, reports Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times.

Simmons was healthy enough to dominate a random pickup game in Australia against a bunch of 5’10” guys this week. We’re desperate enough for good signs that we will take that as one.

Also, Markelle Fultz is expected to be fully healthy for training camp after his ankle sprain.

So much for the good news. There is no updates on the status of Joel Embiid, which is concerning only in that all health news about Embiid feels concerning.

The source said center Joel Embiid hasn’t been cleared for fullcourt scrimmaging “as of yet.” Embiid, who is from Cameroon, worked with children as part of the NBA Africa Game earlier this month, but didn’t play in the Aug. 5 game.

For the sake of the game, we need the Sixers healthy this season and starting to show us how a team with so much promise and potential starts to pay off. Please let us see it. The Basketball Gods need to smile more fortune and the feet and ankles of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Report: Cavaliers called Warriors about Kyrie Irving-Klay Thompson trade

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The Warriors rejected a Klay ThompsonPaul George trade offer from the Pacers.

What about Thompson for Kyrie Irving, who’s younger than George and locked up for an additional season (the same amount of time as Thompson for a similar price)?

Apparently, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman inquired before sending Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

It would be hard to believe that Altman could have landed a better trade than the Boston one. He did call the uninterested Warriors about Klay Thompson, a source said.

I’m not sure what this trade would’ve accomplished for either team.

The Warriors obviously already have a point guard in Stephen Curry. Though Irving isn’t the best distributor, his handles and defense push him to point guard. Curry and Irving would have been a tough fit together. Golden State knows Curry and Thompson are a championship-caliber pairing.

Thompson would have been a big upgrade at shooting guard in Cleveland, but the Cavs would have been woefully undermanned at point guard. Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder wouldn’t cut it. At least the Cavaliers have decent options at shooting guard with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver.

The Warriors would’ve never said yes, which is fortunate for the Cavs. They did better in their trade with Boston, anyway. Thomas can step in at point guard while Crowder still provides much-needed wing depth – plus Zizic and that sweet, sweet Nets pick.

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.