Billy Hunter defends self in face of rising tide to remove him

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It seems every time you turn on your computer, another NBA player or agent has come out calling for Billy Hunter to be removed as head of the National Basketball Players Association, or what we just call the players’ union.

Recently it was Paul Pierce. Today it was Jerry Stackhouse. And not shockingly agent David Falk thinks it is time for Hunter to ride off into the sunset.

But Hunter continues to defend himself and told Howard Beck of the New York Times why he should be able to hold on to the job he has had since 1996 despite a recent audit by an independent legal team that raised a number of red flags surrounding issues of nepotism and questions of where money was spent. Oh, and there’s the matter of a joint federal investigation by the United States attorney’s office and the Labor Department. Which is never a good sign.

Hunter maintained he did nothing wrong and bristled at the idea he put personal and family interests ahead of the players.

“That’s not true,” he said. “Never. Absolutely not true. Absolutely not true.”

These couple graphs seemed to sum up what Hunter faces and his reaction.

Among the more significant concerns cited in the audit were Hunter’s hiring of family members; his receipt of a $1.3 million vacation payout that was inadequately documented; the decision to spend $80,000 in “due diligence” on a possible investment in a failing bank that had ties to his son; and questionable travel expenses. Hunter called the report “just a lot of little things.”

“It’s almost like you put enough together, and you throw it up against the wall, hopefully something will stick,” he said. “But when you look at them each individually, we can rebut them.”

One other thing Hunter made clear in the interview — he intends to get paid. He has $10.5 million remaining on his contract and while the independent report questioned if the contract was properly approved, Hunter and his attorney said it was and implied they were ready to go to court to make sure he gets his money.

You get the feeling the buyout is the key. It’s hard to see how Hunter survives in his job with a rising tide forming against him. He likely gets voted out All-Star weekend. The question is simply how much is the union is going to have to pay him to make this all go away and let them move on to whomever is next in that seat.

Reports: Cleveland, Boston in “serious” trade talks for Kyrie Irving

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Among the list of teams that have the pieces to offer Cleveland everything they are asking for in a Kyrie Irving trade, the Boston Celtics might be at the top of the list. They can send back a quality point guard in Isaiah Thomas, they have a number of rotation players who can help now, they have the Brooklyn pick next year or the Lakers’ pick (protected), and they have young stars such as Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum who could be thrown in a deal.

The question is, would the two top teams in the East want to do business with each other, potentially helping the other out? Can you see Dan Gilbert helping the Celtics? Danny Ainge helping the Cavaliers?

The two sides are at least talking seriously, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

I get why Boston would want Irving over Thomas — he’s younger, taller, and has a couple of years left on his current contract. Plus, if Boston is going all in for a ring Irving is a fit. I get why Cleveland would want Thomas back in an Irving trade, it puts a scoring point guard next to LeBron James and keeps them as the team to beat in the East next season.

The unprotected first-round Brooklyn pick would have to be part of the deal as well for the Cavs, although maybe the Lakers’ pick works, depending on who else is involved.

But it would be a mistake for Boston to give up Jae Crowder in the deal — they need his wing defense against Cleveland and, theoretically, Golden State. Plus he’s on a good contract. Boston would prefer to send Thomas, Ante Zizic, whichever pick, and some players to round out the deal. That may not be enough for Cleveland. To my eye, Boston would be getting similar production next season from Irving as they would Thomas, and they are giving up a lot of other assets in that swap. Is it really worth it?

Danny Ainge has a long history of getting serious in talks, asking for a lot, then deciding it wasn’t enough and pulling back.

That said, the pieces can be made to work. But do these teams want to deal with one another? Maybe so.

Mike D’Antoni thinks “synergy” between James Harden, Chris Paul will be beautiful thing

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It’s been one of the most interesting questions of the offseason — how will Chris Paul and James Harden share the ball and control of the Rockets?

In particular, how will they do it in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system that made Harden an MVP candidate and is not the calculated, surgical style that CP3 uses to carve defenses up?

Mike D’Antoni isn’t too worried about it. In an interview with our old friend Matt Moore of CBS Sports, the 2017 NBA Coach of the Year said the greats figure out how to work things out.

Team USA is an interesting example. Mike Krzyzewski wants to play fast (the USA is far more athletic than any team they face, they should take advantage of that) but he gives his players freedom within that outline to do what works. D’Antoni sounds like he wants to give Paul and Harden some space to figure out how to play together, what works for them. (The advantage is Team USA plays inferior opponents, often vastly inferior, and that will not be the same case for the Rockets in the NBA.)

Do the same rules apply if/when Carmelo Anthony gets traded to Houston? Probably.

D’Antoni is rightfully high on the Rockets’ offensive potential.

The real question is on the other end of the court. The Rockets were a middle of the pack defensive team last season (18th in points allowed per possession), but they have added quality defenders in Paul, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute. Can the Rockets become a top-10 defensive team, one with players who can match up with Golden State? Because we know the Warriors are going to finish the season top three on both ends of the court.

It’s going to be a fascinating season in Houston.

Morris twins have day in court next week on 2015 assault charge

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Back in 2015, brothers Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris — both then playing for the Suns — were investigated and eventually charged with felony aggravated assault joining three other men to allegedly beat up Erik Hood at a recreational basketball tournament in the Phoenix area (hood ended up in the hospital with a broken nose and other injuries). The motivation allegedly had been Hood sending “inappropriate” text messages to the Morris brothers’ mother. From the start, both brothers have denied any involvement.

Next week, the brothers will get their day in court. The Boston Globe has the details (Marcus now plays for the Celtics, Markieff for the Wizards).

Celtics forward Marcus Morris and his brother Markieff, each facing aggravated assault charges stemming from an incident in 2015, will get their day in court on Aug. 28 in Arizona.

Often cases like this are pled down to a lesser charge that the defendant accepts, and that usually happens close to trial. However, it is unclear if the Morris twins would be willing to do that — any admission of guilt would likely come with some level of suspension from the NBA in addition to whatever punishment is ordered by the court. If convicted of a felony, each Morris brother would face a minimum 10-game suspension from the NBA.

If the Morris twins were not involved, they are right to fight this. Either way, it will head to court next week.

Watch Lonzo Ball dodge relentless stream of LeBron James questions (video)

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Shortly before the draft, Lonzo Ball was asked in a televised interview to pitch LeBron James on joining the Lakers – and did.

A couple months and a tampering investigation into the Lakers later, Ball learned his lesson.

Sports Illustrated:

Rohan Nadkarni’s questions were all in good fun, and he couldn’t trick Ball into tampering, anyway. The NBA has essentially decided it won’t punish players for tampering with each other.

Ask Ball an honest LeBron question, and he’ll give an honest answer.