And at long last, the NBA goes to sleep for a month

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The lockout had a lot of effects. One beat writer told me last week that because of the frequency of the games, stacked on top of each other, it didn’t feel like a 66-game season, but a 120-game season. Then there were the playoffs, with back-to-backs in the second round. The conference finals whizzing by every other day, then the Finals, jammed in. As soon as they were done, a week, and then the draft, just like that. A mad scramble to get our bearings around the rookie class. Two days later, free agency started, and one of the wildest periods in NBA history began. While that was going on, not after, during, Team USA began its march towards gold.

The NBA, like the NFL, is evolving towards a 365-day story. But now, mercifully, for the players, coaches, managers, and yeah, the keyboard fanatics among us, there’s a break.

The NBA goes into hibernation officially Sunday night, not to resume until media day and preseason in September. It’s a time to reflect on everything that’s gone on, and what’s to come.

The Heat won the title, validating the super-team model. Oddly enough, what became the difference in a team that failed to convert on its starpower was not the collective force, but the overwhelming brilliance of the best player in basketball, LeBron James. Yes, Wade and Bosh were huge reasons why they were there. But what LeBron James pulled together in that final month of play? Astonishing. Boston remains both headed towards the grave and firmly clenching the ground above, refusing to go down. Oklahoma City’s future is bright, still. But the “they’re still young” will only last so long before the money or the frustration gets them, whichever comes first. The Spurs are either the best sub-elite team in the history of the NBA or the worst powerhouse, and it’s impossible to tell which.

The Bobcats are terrible.

Then the draft, and Anthony Davis brings hope to New Orleans. A team that was supposed to be awful for so long, who made such a big mistake in the Clippers trade, now looks to be back in playoff contention within three seasons. Davis will remake them, and his experience and showing with Team USA proves he’s already on the path. The Wizards got their shooter, the Pacers took another white guy, and the Bobcats went with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who will be a big part of their future and a player the fans will love.

The Bobcats are still terrible.

Free agency kicked off the most insane period many have ever seen. Deron chose Brooklyn, the money, and Joe Johnson over Cuban, Dirk, and Dallas. The Nets proved that Mikhail Prokhorov may have 99 problems but a luxury tax ain’t one. The Hawks blew themselves up. The Knicks were going to get Steve Nash, so the Raptors overpaid Landry Fields to block that, then neither the Knicks nor the Raptors got Steve Nash, and the Lakers walked away with him, in a move that just feels… wrong. So Jason Kidd went to the Knicks to back up Jeremy Lin, right? Only… not. Houston gets him, and no one understands what happens there but for some reason it’s Melo’s fault. Lin and Asik and 1900 combo forwards make up Houston’r roster. Ray Allen “betrayed” the Celtics before they could trade or bury him, while JET went to Boston. Raymond Felton’s a Knick again, Goran Dragic is a Sun again, and Camby is a Knick again. We’re somehow going backwards in time.

Michael Beasley’s a Sun and I’m not sure what that’s about.

The Suns tried and missed for Eric Gordon, the Hornets landed Ryan Anderson. The Magic let Anderson walk, but re-signed Jameer Nelson, and we really don’t know what that’s about.

The Nets deal for Dwight Howard fell apart. Nine times. Like Edward Rooney says, niiine. Times.

And then Dwight went to the Lakers. The best center in the league, joining a team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Gasol, who two years ago was considered the best big man in the league, is now the fourth option on a team. It would be disgusting in terms of its overt opulence if we hadn’t become so used to seeing it from the Lakers. The Dwightmare is over, Orlando is in ruins, and Bynum’s a Sixer? Seriously?

And guess what. The Bobcats, despite getting Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, are still terrible.

Then Team USA. An epic, historic performance against Nigeria. A tough one against Lithuania. A statement made against Argentina, and a thriller against the Spanish who gave them the fight everyone thought they would. But in the end? Gold. LeBron, Kobe, Durant, Anthony, Chandler, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, all added to their legacies. Coach K walks away a winner.

Now the GM’s are all headed for vacations. Players are enjoying their money and time.The media is settling into a time to remember who these strange people they live with that are supposedly called “families” are. It’s a time for rest, to try and get used to this new universe where LeBron’s a champion, Dwight’s a Laker, and the Sixers might be relevant.

The 2012-2013 season will be 82 games. There will be no lockout. There will be no disappointed press conferences. No hijacking, no accusations, no “enormous consequences.” We get basketball in the fall, after this brief respite. It will be thrilling, more exciting than ever, even if the gap between the haves and have nots has never been greater. 2012-2013 is something to look forward to. We’ll enjoy the time, and still bring you stories and analysis every day at PBT, as we move ever closer to October 30th and the tip of Boston and Miami.

Enjoy this time, get acquainted with this new universe, get excited for what’s to come. A lot’s happened in the last few months, and it will still take some time to take it all in. But there’s so much to be excited about, because no matter what, in 79 days, the 2012-2013 season tips off, and it will be rocking.

But the Bobcats will still be terrible. (But maybe not as terrible, if Gordon gets his shot back and MKG surprises offensively, and they can… see? Here we go again…)

What does Boston do without Gordon Hayward? Five things to watch

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Gordon Hayward’s injury sucked the air out of Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday night. Cavaliers fans were buzzing, gave Hayward a standing ovation as he was carted off the court, and never got back to booing Kyrie Irving with the same venom, as it seemed petty after what had just happened.

Hayward is in Boston, will soon have surgery to fix things, and start a long road of recovery.

What do the Celtics do the rest of the season? (Or, until he gets back if you want to be an optimistic Celtics’ fan.) How much does this hurt Boston?

• Long-term, not too much changes. That comes with the caveat: So long as Hayward is able to recover and be himself again. With Danny Ainge at the helm, the Celtics have always taken the long view. They have not been in a rush to challenge LeBron James and the Cavaliers for East supremacy this season, thinking more about next season and beyond. That doesn’t change now. By next season Hayward should be back and healthy (*knocking on wood*) and the plan does not change.

• Welcome to the Kyrie Irving show. Boston’s offense could resemble last season’s “turn Isaiah Thomas loose” offense at times because the Celtics are back to having one primary shot creator. Hayward was going to be the glue guy who could be a secondary shot creator, a guy who would keep the ball moving, and the new guy used to playing in Brad Steven’s motion offense. Now, it’s the Kyrie show.

Stevens will try to get Irving and the team to buy into his motion offense (Irving did move well off the ball in the opener) but last season there was a lot of IT isolation plays, and we may see that at points with Irving (one of the games’ best iso shot creators). Irving had 22 points and 10 assists in the loss opening night, and he got them in the flow of the offense without stopping the ball to go isolation. He’s going to be asked to continue to do that and put up similar numbers or better, and to take the clutch shots for this team.

• Small Ball lineups. With or without Hayward, this was always part of the plan — have Al Horford at center, Irving at the point, and a bunch of 6’6” to 6’9” interchangable wings, play fast and shoot threes (count Marcus Morris in that group when he returns). The goal was to space the floor and create driving lanes for Irving and Hayward, but the plan still works for Irving.

It didn’t work ideally late in the opener, but LeBron James and the Cavaliers create unique challenges no other team in the East does. (Jaylen Brown played hard and had a great game, but he can’t stop LeBron down low late in games, only a couple of players in the entire league stand a chance at that.) The real question for the Celtics’ small ball lineup is they have to knock down their threes or defenses will sag off. Brown was 2-of-9, Marcus Smart 0-of-4, and as a team the Celtics shot 25 percent from three for the game. That has to improve for the small ball lineups to thrive.

• Can they get enough stops? This was the biggest question about the Celtics before one of their better wing defenders on the roster went down. They don’t have a classic rim protector (Aron Baynes did a little of that off the bench, but he’s mostly a big body) and their defenders tend to be either young and inexperienced or disinterested.

Boston’s defense wasn’t going to be that good before, but how big a step back they take in wins after the Hayward injury will be more about defense than offense. Boston will miss Hayward on this end of the court.

• Young players get a lot of run, team gets to evaluate roster. Just how good is Jayson Tatum, who can make tough, contested shots but needs to find a way to get easy buckets, too? How big a step can Jaylen Brown take? Has Marcus Smart developed to the point the Celtics will pay to keep him next summer? What kind of player can Semi Ojeleye develop into?

There’s going to be more data, more minutes, more eyeball tests to answer these questions now. Brown led the Celtics with 25 points in the opener, and Tatum scored all 14 of his points in the second half. Those were promising stars, but the tests for these young Celtics stars will be season long.

Smart is the biggest question in that list, and he’s going to get the biggest minutes bump with Hayward out. He’s a restricted free agent next summer and is playing for his paycheck now. He’s going to be one guy to watch on this team.

Fake Klay Thompson almost steals show in Golden State

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Klay Thompson was everywhere Tuesday night for the Warriors.

He had 16 points, knocked down four threes, and had six boards. He was also chillin’ in the stands enjoying the game.

Well, that was “fake” Klay Thompson in the seats — fully decked out in a Golden State uniform and sitting almost right behind the team bench at Oracle — but the cameras loved him.

Heck, “fake Klay” even had a take on real Klay’s first-half performance.

I wonder if I can get fake Klay to sign my toaster?

76ers’ Markelle Fultz to make NBA debut close to home in Washington

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Markelle Fultz gets to start the next chapter of his career in a familiar setting.

The No. 1 pick in the draft will make his NBA debut for the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night at the Washington Wizards, about a half-hour from home. Fultz grew up in nearby Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in Prince George’s County and played at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville and will have many friends, family members and former coaches in attendance.

“Being able to have his first game in his backyard, I’m so happy for him,” said Keith Williams, Fultz’s AAU coach, trainer and mentor. “It’s perfect. It couldn’t have worked out better.”

Not wanting to throw Fultz “into the fire,” Sixers coach Brett Brown is easing the 19-year-old in by bringing him off the bench after missing portions of the preseason with shoulder and knee injuries. Fultz will be just the third top pick since 2003 to be active and not start his season opener, joining Anthony Bennett and Andrea Bargnani.

Fultz said he’s OK with the decision to come off the bench and considers opening in Washington “almost the best thing that could happen” to him. Expectations are high on the University of Washington product, so starting in his backyard is a substantial positive for Fultz, who was cut from his high school team as a sophomore and came back to become a blue chip prospect.

“The world’s going to spin pretty quickly here,” DeMatha coach Mike Jones said. “Sometimes things are going to seem like they’re a blur to him. Him being able to get started on that journey here in front of a lot of people that supported him and looked up to him I think is a great thing.”

Fultz will face 2010 top pick John Wall, and Williams hopes Fultz doesn’t feel too many jitters in his first pro game. Because Brown said Fultz “didn’t play” enough in the preseason, perhaps getting to come off the bench eases some of the pressure.

“At the end of the day, I want to do whatever I got to do to help my team win, so if that’s coming off the bench, I’m fine with that,” Fultz said. “Just contribute in any ways I can.”

Fultz is joining a young Philadelphia team featuring Joel Embiid and 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, who will also be making his NBA debut after missing all of last season with a foot injury. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Fultz is expected to share the ball-handling duties with Simmons, and there’s plenty of intrigue about how he’ll handle the jump.

“I know he’s a strong, athletic point guard that brings a lot of toughness to the game,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “I like what I’ve seen so far, regardless of limited playing time. But he has great size. He has great size, and you can’t teach that. He’s a strong point guard that’s going to have a bright future.”

Williams thinks Fultz, if given opportunities, could average 18 to 20 points a game as a rookie. After seeing Fultz think the game beyond his age, Jones has high expectations for him.

“He’s capable of being one of the best guards in the NBA,” Jones said. “Every year he’s going to get better and better and better. I know that’s his goal, and I’ve learned through the years to never bet against him. I know that he wants to be the best player he possibly can be, and with each passing month of this season, his rookie year, he’s going to push himself to that.”

 

LeBron James on boos Kyrie Irving faced: “It was nothing”

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LeBron James knows about being booed by Cleveland fans — there was more venom thrown his way upon his return to Cleveland after bolting for Miami than Jack Tatum at a Steelers’ or Patriots’ fans bar.

He heard the boos rained down upon Kyrie Irving, upon return to Cleveland after forcing his way off the Cavaliers, and LeBron shrugged. Here is a video of his comments.

“That was nothing. What do you want me to say? I’ve experienced big boos before. That was like a pat on the back. It could never… I love our fans to death. That was nothing.”

To be fair to Cavaliers fans, the gruesome Gordon Hayward injury sucked the air out of the building and made booing someone for changing teams seem petty. The energy in the building was understandably never the same after that.

But even before the injury, this wasn’t the same level of hatred that had been reserved for LeBron before in Cleveland. In part because LeBron handled his exit poorly (not that Irving was smooth, but there were no television shows to broadcast the decision) and LeBron was the native son seen as deserting his family. It was different.

Kyrie Irving had 22 points but, with LeBron guarding him, missed a three-pointer to tie the game, and the Cavaliers won 102-99.