Semi Ojeleye

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: All-Star starters named, who should be in reserve?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) All-Star Starters named, but the decisions much tougher with reserves. Not everybody took their jobs seriously (unless you think Semi Ojeleye, Cedi Osman, and Royce O'Neale earned starting All-Star slots). Not everybody liked the results — Damian Lillard felt snubbed.

Still, it was mostly the usual suspects and there were no surprises as the NBA All-Star Game starters were announced. They were picked by a vote of the fans (50 percent), players (25 percent), and selected media members (25 percent). Here’s the list.

Western Conference: Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, Houston’s James Harden, and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Eastern Conference: Cleveland’s LeBron James, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

Remember it is not East vs. West this year. LeBron and Curry, as the top vote-getters, will be the captains and select teammates in a playground-style draft, first from the starters listed above, then from a pool of reserves selected by the coaches to be announced next Tuesday. LeBron chooses first and what is Curry going to do when LeBron goes with Durant?

Picking those reserves is where someone will get snubbed — there is no way to pick just seven players per conference and not leave out deserving guys. Damian Lillard didn’t deserve to be an All-Star starter no matter what he thinks, but is he even an All-Star this year in the loaded West? There must be two backcourt, three frontcourt, and two wild-card selections for each conference. Here’s who I would pick:

Eastern Conference: Victor Oladipo, John Wall, Al Horford, Kristaps Porzingis, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry. That leaves out Kevin Love, which was hard as he’s been very good after being pushed to center this season.

Western Conference: Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler, LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, Karl-Anthony Towns, Klay Thompson, Lou Williams. This was brutal, leaving out Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Nikola Jokic, and Paul George completely, even though they fully deserve an All-Star slot. So much talent moved West this season that the conference is overloaded. I could easily be talked into CP3 and Lillard ofer Thompson and Williams, it’s almost a toss up, and Lillard has been overlooked in recent years.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers win… over the Orlando Magic. By one point. After blowing a 22-point lead. “Right now we’re in Strugglesville,” is how LeBron put the Cavaliers right now. He’s right. Cleveland had lost four in a row and was 2-8 in their last 10 coming into this one, but Thursday night they were facing one of the flat-out worst teams in the NBA in Orlando, so easy win? Nope. It took a couple Isaiah Thomas free throws with 11 seconds left — then Elfrid Payton missing a contested layup with a couple of seconds left — to give the Cavaliers a 104-103 win.

Cleveland was up 22 in this one, but once again their defense isn’t good and when the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders they can be beaten by anyone. The Cavs shot 1-of-17 from three in the second half and were outscored by 16 in the third quarter, blowing another good first half effort.

There were bright spots for the Cavs. Derrick Rose returned to the lineup and after missing two months due to a sprained ankle, and he had nine points in 13 minutes on the court. And Isaiah Thomas had a strong night.

However, the play of the night — and maybe the assist of the season — went to LeBron.


3) James Harden returns, Rockets pick up win over Timberwolves.
The Houston Rockets picked up a quality win at home over a Minnesota Timberwolves squad that is playing good basketball — and that’s not really the big news out of this one.

James Harden was back and starting for the Rockets. He missed seven games with a strained hamstring and the Rockets went 4-3 without him, which is not bad but they were not the same dominant team. Harden had 10 points and seven assists in limited minutes, and he understandably showed a little rust. His return this fast is a boost for his MVP chances if he can return to form — he and LeBron have been neck-and-neck as the frontrunners for the award this season, and the injury gave LeBron the chance to take charge of the race, but instead the Cavaliers have stumbled badly of late. Harden has a chance to take hold of this race, something that does matter to him.

Finally having Harden and Chris Paul healthy moved Eric Gordon back to his sixth man role and he thrived, dropping 30.

Gordon would be the frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year, but he started too many games due to injury (half of them, coming into this game). If Paul and Harden can stay on the court, Gordon could repeat as Sixth Man winner.

What does Boston do without Gordon Hayward?

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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.

Jae Crowder told Celtics of concern about so much wing depth before trade

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Jae Crowder saw himself as part of a crowded wing spot in Boston. Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were obviously going to start at the two and the three, but after them Crowder, Jayson Tatum, at times Marcus Smart, and even Semi Ojeleye could get some run on the wing. Were there enough minutes to go around?

At his introductory press conference in Cleveland Thursday, Crowder explained what happened when he told the Celtics about his concerns.

“I had a little concern because we had a lot of wing players stacked up. I was a little concerned, and I made it clear to the organization that I was concerned about it and I just wanted some more direction, you know? I think they gave it to me with the trade. They gave me what they wanted to do. They showed me what they wanted to do. I respected it.”

Boston is betting big on Tatum and Brown to develop and take up the 3&D role that Crowder filled well. That could take another year or two of development, but Danny Ainge has always had the Celtics playing the long game. The Celtics have so many picks and assets, they can still get players to fill roles (perimeter defense, as well as rim protection, are still question marks).

The Celtics could afford to move on from Crowder, despite his skills and great contract. But getting him is a big win for Cleveland.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-

NBA Summer League Sunday notebook: Dallas’ Dennis Smith is turning heads

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LAS VEGAS — There is so much going on at Las Vegas Summer League — it’s not all just the Lonzo Ball story — and we can’t get to it all, so here are some thoughts from my notebook on Sunday, in the time-honored tradition of bullet points.

• Dallas’ Dennis Smith has been a Las Vegas standout — he has been maybe the most buzzed-about player through the first weekend by media and team officials. Sunday, the rookie out of North Carolina State had 25 points on 14 shots (3-of-5 from three), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and the numbers don’t tell the story. He’s a floor general.

Of course, Mark Cuban says he knew this was coming, but Smith fell to Dallas at No. 9 in the draft because of questions about his ceiling. Coming off an ACL he hadn’t shown a ton of explosiveness last year in college, but he has plenty of it here — in his first game he finished an alley-oop pass that few guys here could have gotten, let alone a guy 6’1”, then on Sunday he absolutely blew by Dragan Bender to get into the paint. He is strong and has been aggressive, fearless, and willing to set guys up. You never want to read too much — positively or negatively — into a couple of Summer League performances, but Mavs fans optimistic. He has turned heads in Vegas.

Check out some highlights of his matchup with Josh Jackson, who was less impressive with 15 points on 18 shots.

• Josh Jackson also got rejected by the rim Sunday (a battle he has lost before, kind of stunning for a guy with his athleticism.

• On the flip side, Boston’s Jaylen Brown threw down the dunk of Summer League so far.

• Portland’s Zach Collins has potential, but he’s got to get stronger. He tried to back down second-round wing pick Semi Ojeleye (who is stout) at one point Sunday to create space and it was like he bumped up against a wall, which led to an ugly fadeaway.

“He’s a hard-working kid, he listens, he pays attention, he does what he’s told,” Blazers Summer Leauge coach Jim Moran said. “I’m excited that when he kind of gets around our weight staff and kind of has the chance to hit the weight room and bulk up, he’s really going to be able to expand his game.”

Collins struggled with his shot Sunday, going 1-of-7, but nobody doubts that will come around. On the bright side, he has shown real mobility and put that to work contesting shots on the perimeter, plus he will put the ball on the floor and drive if guys close out hard on him at the arc.

“I feel like my defense is going to be there consistently because that’s an effort thing, something I can control,” Collins said. “I think I got a lot of good looks offensively, sometimes I was rushing it, I rushed a couple shots under the rim, I think I need to get to the basket a little bit more, but that will come.”

• Best stat line of the day goes to the Spurs’ Bryn Forbes, who had 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three.

• He has been highly anticipated by Celtics fans, but Ante Zizic has work to do to find his way in an NBA-style game. He has a below-the-rim game that’s about skill, and that’s not easy to adapt to the speed and athleticism at Summer League (which is not NBA level). He showed some craftiness to his game, he hit a running hook and drew some fouls. He pulled down 11 boards and gets in good position, but got beat to some (even by teammates) who were just able to elevate higher.

For guys with his style of game, it’s tough to judge them at Summer League, which often resembles a glorified pickup game. The big men who stand out are bouncy. Zizic may fare better in a regular NBA setting, but it still looks like he has some work to do to figure out how to fit his style into a more athletic league.

“He’s going to be fine,” Jaylen Brown said of Zizic. “If he just does his job, starting the roll, rolls hard, rebounds the ball, I think he’s a good rebounder.”