Reviewing the Air Jordan XX9, after testing the shoes at Michael Jordan’s house

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Jordan Brand touted ground-breaking performance and innovative design when the company unveiled the latest version of its flagship basketball shoe back in April, and now that we’re less than a month away from the release of the Air Jordan XX9, it was time to see if the company kept its promise.

A group of media members were invited to Chicago recently to get a first look at the shoes in person and test them on the court — but this was no ordinary wear test experience.

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THE EXPERIENCE

We were told to dress for basketball in the base layers that were provided the night before, even though we would be outfitted in additional gear once we arrived to the court. After breakfast at Wishbone, a spot in Chicago’s West Loop frequented by Michael Jordan in his playing days and one which came personally recommended by the brand’s namesake, we were loaded onto a minibus to be transported to what turned out to be a very special location.

The ride of more than 40 minutes out of town didn’t seem suspicious, considering that Jordan Brand’s open run they hosted in New Orleans during All-Star weekend was a similar distance from the town’s center. Once we exited the freeway and took a couple of turns into a residential area, however, things began to fall into place — especially once we came to our stop.

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We had arrived at Michael Jordan’s house.

Jordan no longer lives here, and his former home is currently on the market; he spends his time these days in Charlotte in an ownership role with the Hornets. But the sprawling estate still has many of his personalized touches — including a regulation-sized indoor basketball gym where the day’s festivities would take place.

As we walked down the long and winding pathway, we passed the main home and were ushered into a guest house. Once inside, two quick right turns landed us into a locker room space that was specifically created for our special event.

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Once everyone was in uniform, it was time to head into Jordan’s personal gym, where he spent so many hours perfecting his game. It was left untouched by the folks handling the event, because as one staffer quipped, “you don’t paint the Sistine Chapel.”

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THE SHOE 

The Jordan XX9 had big shoes to fill, so to speak, because it was going to be extremely difficult to improve upon the performance provided by the Jordan XX8. The company introduced its Flight Plate technology into the sole of the shoe, and by almost all accounts, the XX8 and XX8 SE were routinely reviewed as some of the best basketball shoes to play in over the past 18 months.

The Flight Plate returned for the XX9, but was rotated and adjusted slightly in hopes of providing even better overall cushioning in the forefoot of the shoe. And, a “tendril” was added to bridge the front and the back of the sole to provide what the company hoped would be a smoother heel-to-toe transition. You can see the differences here, with the XX8 on the left and the XX9 on the right.

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The adjustments to the Flight Plate gave the shoe a different feel than its predecessor, but that was only a minor tweak from the previous iteration. The real change in the XX9 is the woven upper, which feels more like a snug slipper than it does a traditional sneaker.

“The performance-woven upper delivers superior abrasion resistance, along with an entirely new look on the outside of the shoe,” the company described at April’s unveiling. “The structure and fit of the shoe are engineered through Flight Web tunnels, and strategic panels of stiffer and softer flex to enhance natural motion. The absence of numerous layers and adhesion technologies creates an incredibly comfortable, sock-like interior lining with superior breathability.”

Michael Jordan and the shoe’s designer, Tinker Hatfield, discussed the woven upper at April’s event, while explaining its significance and the way it affects performance.

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THE REVIEW

My initial impressions of the Jordan XX9 haven’t changed much since the first couple of games I played in them, even though I’ve tested them out many times since.

I originally thought my normal size might have been too small when I first put them on, and actually checked to see if a half-size up was available. It wasn’t, and that was fine, because it didn’t take more than a few minutes for the upper to stretch a bit, to the point where it was extremely comfortable and didn’t feel like there was anything there at all.

The word “sock” was thrown around a lot that day to describe the feel of the upper, but after discussing it with others at the event, we agreed that term simply doesn’t do it justice. The fabric is firm enough to provide support when you need it, but doesn’t feel too tight or constricting, and it’s undoubtedly the shoe’s key feature.

As previously mentioned, the Flight Plate has changed a bit in the XX9, and for those who enjoyed the feel of the extreme level of forefoot bounce in the XX8, it’s worth noting that in the newest model, that has been downgraded a bit, and is much more subtle. There isn’t a greatly noticeable difference once you begin playing in them from a performance standpoint, but you will notice it when first putting the shoes on, which may be viewed as a negative by some.

While the Flight Plate was the game-changer in the previous version, the fact that it’s now combined with this woven upper is what will keep players reaching for this shoe time and again when heading to the court. There are obviously tons of factors that go into declaring which shoe is the best to play in, and ultimately, it comes down to a player’s individual game, body type, and personal preference. But it’s tough to envision anyone playing in the Jordan XX9 and coming away with anything other than positive overall thoughts.

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Timberwolves working on (max?) extension for Andrew Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is eligible for a contract extension that projects to be worth $148 million over five years. The Timberwolves could even include a clause that increases Wiggins’ compensation up to a projected $153 if he makes an All-NBA team or wins Defensive Player of the Year next season.

Jerry Zgoda of the StarTribune:

The Wolves have until October to complete a negotiation that shouldn’t take all that much negotiating if Wiggins accepts a contract that’s expected to approach $150 million.

Timberwolves president/coach Tom Thibodeau appears to be talking just generally about an extension. Zgoda brings up a max offer. It’s unclear whether Zgoda is reporting or supposing Minnesota has offered/plans to offer that much.

I’d hesitate to offer Wiggins the full max.

He’s a high-volume scorer with below-average efficiency (carrying enough of a load where that tradeoff is helpful). But his rebounding and defense lag WAY behind where his athleticism suggests those skills should be. For someone who dominated the ball, he’s not much of a distributor.

On the other hand, Wiggins is just 22 and possesses the physical tools to grow into a complete player. It’s reasonable to bet on him getting there, and an extension should be based on what Wiggins will do in future seasons, not what he has done already.

Plus, a max salary is the only allowable rate for a five-year extension. Offer any less, and the Timberwolves would be limited to a four-year extension. Do they really want to face his unrestricted free agency – in the midst of his prime – a year sooner.

It’s not as if they’d lose him now by forgoing an extension, though. Wiggins would be a restricted free agent next summer, and Minnesota could always extend a maximum qualifying offer, which would mean any offer sheet must be for three or four years (not including option years). The Timberwolves would also have a five-year max contract on the table (which would carry the same terms as a five-year max extension signed this offseason). Wiggins could accepted the $9,846,619 one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but that would be an unprecedented risk with so much money on the table.

Minnesota can all but guarantee locking him up for the next four seasons (including the final year of his rookie-scale contract this year). A max extension would secure him for the five (six if it doesn’t include a player option).

Ultimately, I’d lean toward offering Wiggins less than a max extension. It’s a tight market with the salary-cap stagnating in coming years, and a max offer sheet might not be available to him in restricted free agency. The Timberwolves could evaluate him another season and offer Wiggins the max next summer if he deserves it. If Wiggins wants security now, he can take a slight discount. That might come with complications down the road, but so would overpaying a one-dimensional player. A five-year max extension wouldn’t be terrible – if Minnesota doesn’t grant a player or early termination option.

By the way, don’t worry about another Kevin LoveRicky Rubio situation. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows teams to sign two designated-player rookie-scale extensions, so the Timberwolves could still offer Karl-Anthony Towns (who more clearly deserves it) one after giving Wiggins one.

Celtics add toughness with Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris

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WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris are happy to be coming to Boston at the same time, if only so they don’t have to play against each other.

Baynes signed with the Celtics as a free agent on Wednesday, and he already has a familiar face in the team’s locker room: Morris, who was acquired in a trade for Avery Bradley on July 7. Baynes said Morris “brings a lot of toughness” to the court, and Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren said the 6-foot-10 Australian can do the same.

“Red Auerbach said, `Get the instigators, not the retaliators,”‘ Zarren said before introducing Baynes to the media. “He’s definitely an instigator.”

The two former Pistons shared the day, with the Celtics announcing Baynes’ signing an hour before a media call with Morris. Bradley, the longest-tenured member of the team and the only remnant from the New Big Three era, needed to go to clear the salary cap space for prize free agent catch Gordon Hayward.

Baynes and Morris join a team that earned the No. 1 seed in the East last season but lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals in five games. Baynes, who averaged 15.5 minutes last season for a team that missed the playoffs, said coming to Boston was “a basketball decision.”

“Hopefully, I’m a piece that helps them bring the puzzle together,” he said. “You always want to be able to play more. I didn’t see myself having much bigger a role than I’ve had the past two years.”

An undrafted free agent who won an NBA title with the Spurs in 2014, Baynes averaged 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in his five-year career. He played in 75 games last year for the Pistons, starting two, averaging 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds.

After working out at the team’s facility in the morning, Baynes came out to greet children at a basketball camp taking place on the practice court. A noted BBQ enthusiast who tweeted out a request for recommendations in the area, Baynes said he hadn’t tried the local offerings yet.

“There’s a few lobster rolls around here,” he said.

Morris averaged 14 points last season in Detroit, where he was a mainstay in the starting lineup. He saw the Celtics up close while watching his twin brother, Markieff, play for the Wizards in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series against Boston last year.

Morris said coming to Boston cushioned the blow of being traded.

“How can I be upset about being a Boston Celtic?” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m a competitor. I want to play against the best. I want to play for championships.”

Morris said he reached out to longtime Celtics star Paul Pierce after learning he was traded.

“He said I’m going to love it,” said Morris, who like Pierce went to Kansas. “That’s all I needed to hear.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Adam Silver on sports gambling: “My sense is the law will change in the next few years”

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This isn’t new ground for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He has called legalized sports gambling in the United States “inevitable” and advocated in the New York Times for the federal government to put in a framework to control it. He’s not been shy about telling the heads of the other major sports leagues what he sees coming. Mark Cuban has Silver’s back on this one.

The commissioners of the four major sports were all on hand for a panel called “GameChangers: Creating the Future of Sports” in New York on Wednesday, and Silver’s position hasn’t changed, reports ESPN.

“My sense is the law will change in the next few years in the United States,” Silver said when asked about gambling.

He also stressed the importance of in-game wagering to fan engagement, noting, “People want to bet throughout the game … It results in enormous additional engagement with the fans.”

I’m not sure about “the next few years” timeline. I would rather be forced to watch The Emoji Movie than try to predict what the current Congress will do, but with its current conservative makeup legalizing sports betting seems unlikely.

But in the next decade or two… it feels like Silver may be right. The Supreme Court is taking up the case of whether the federal government can block states — in this case, New Jersey specifically — from allowing sports gambling. That could open the door for other states to follow.  Governments state and federal will not see it as a moral issue so much as a new revenue generator — they can tax it. So it will happen. Eventually.

With that Silver is right, professional sports leagues need to be prepared for that reality. The NBA seems to be out in front of that, ready to ride the wave when it crests. For now, they are just paddling around waiting for the right wave to ride.

Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis: “My prediction is John Wall will sign his extension”

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John Wall is one of the handful of NBA players who qualifies for the new designated veteran “super max” contract extension — and the Wizards want to give it to him. A four-year, $170 million extension of his current deal is on the table (it would kick in after the two years, $37 million on his current contract).

Wall has yet to sign it. He said at the time it was offered he wanted to talk about it with his family and see what the Wizards did this offseason. He’s not unhappy, he just wants to be sure before he locks himself in with Washington through his prime.

Washington owner Ted Leonsis told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post he thinks Wall will sign.

Maybe, but there’s not a lot of motivation for Wall to sign right now. Wall can bet on himself that he will make the All-NBA team again next year — there’s a deep class of guards but if he stays healthy he stands a good chance — at which time he’s still eligible for a designated veteran “super max” contract extension that would be five-years, roughly $200 million (and would kick in after the one year on his current deal).

That delay would also keep pressure on the Wizards to find ways to improve the roster. Washington is largely capped out and didn’t make any major moves this summer other than re-signing Otto Porter to a max extension (they matched a Brooklyn offer sheet). Washington is good, likely the third or fourth best team in the East, but a notch below Cleveland and Boston right now. Wall wants to push them to get another star and help Washington move up into contender status — he pushed for the Wizards to chase Paul George and have him replace Porter (a deal that was never going to happen, but you can see what Wall is thinking about being one star player short).

Ultimately, I think Leonsis is right, Wall will sign. It’s just a matter of when. Does he take this deal now, or wait until next summer and do it?