Dan Feldman

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Kyrie Irving touts Boston as ‘real, live sports city’

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Kyrie Irving wanted to leave Cleveland – whether that was because of LeBron James, the Cavaliers’ direction or whatever other reason – and the Cavs traded him to Boston.

Irving, via Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

“It’s exciting to be back on the East Coast,” said Irving, who grew up in New Jersey. “It’s fast-paced. A lot of different cultures, food and people. You get it all, especially in Boston.

“You would go to Cleveland, and it would be at nighttime, and things would be going on, but you just see a vast difference.”

A difference, too, Irving said between Boston and Cleveland as sports cities: “Boston, I’m driving in and (thinking), ‘I’m really playing in a real, live sports city?’ ”

Boston fans, obsessed with the idea that they’re the nation’s best fans, will eat this up. No matter how Irving intended it, this will go over terribly in Cleveland.

And the rest of us will shrug and let those two cities, each fine in their own right, slug whine it out.

Jahlil Okafor: I was drunk during Boston fight, unsure how I fit with 76ers now

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Joel Embiid just got a max contract extension.

Another 76ers center, Jahlil Okafor, is still trying to rehab his image after he got caught on video fighting on the streets of Boston in 2015 (and getting in another fight and speeding and allegedly trying to use a fake ID and playing ineffective defense and…).

Okafor opened up about that Boston fight and his place in Philadelphia.

Okafor, via Jordan Brenner of SB Nation:

“We were almost about to win that game against the Celtics and it ended up getting away from us in the fourth quarter,” Okafor says of that night in Boston. “I remember just being upset because I thought we were about to get our first win. And I just decided I’m going to go out that night. I don’t remember a lot of it, because I was really intoxicated. And me being drunk, I wasn’t in my right state of mind. I remember being taunted — just random stuff I would hear all the time on the court. I just reacted differently.”

Those early experiences hardened Okafor. He was shocked when the speeding ticket became major news, then again when a rumor spread that he’d used a fake ID at a bar near his house, an allegation he vehemently denies.

“I’m unsure if I’m still on the team,” Okafor says now. “Am I really a part of this process? Am I really a part of this culture? That’s why the guys have been out there on social media, but I’ve just kind of been in the dark. I’ll go to a Sixers event, smile, take pictures with the kids and stuff like that, but I’m still thinking, ‘am I a part of this team?’”

The 76ers are openly shopping Okafor. They signed Amir Johnson when they already had Okafor and Richaun Holmes behind Embiid.

I don’t blame Okafor for feeling lost.

He obviously hasn’t always handled it the optimal way, but his anguish is understandable. He’d probably be better off with a fresh start elsewhere, and Philadelphia clearly wants to move on. It’s just a matter of finding the right trade.

For now, Okafor should focus on controlling what he can control. Easier said than done, though.

Jusuf Nurkic wants Trail Blazers to fix ‘trash’ defense, become like Bad Boys

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — In the loaded Western Conference where the Warriors rule, center Jusuf Nurkic suggested the Portland Trail Blazers can be the Bad Boys.

Think of the Detroit Pistons of days past.

“All we can do is put all we can together and be Bad Boys,” the 7-footer known as the Bosnian Beast said. “I mean, we are Bad Boys. When you come to Portland you know you’re not going to have wins easy.”

Nurkic came to the Blazers in a trade last February and quickly developed chemistry with his teammates. He averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with the Blazers, who were 14-5 with him in the starting lineup.

His season was cut short by a non-displaced right leg fibular fracture. Now fully healed, Nurkic is again embracing his role with the Blazers. He dropped 34 pounds this summer in an effort to be quicker and more agile.

Portland finished last season at 41-41 before being eliminated by Golden State in the opening round of the playoffs. But a late-season surge after Nurkic’s arrival was encouraging.

Portland didn’t make a lot of changes in the offseason. The team remains anchored by the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McColllum. Lillard finished last season with a career-best average of 27 points per game, along with 4.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists. McCollum finished the season with a career-best 23 points per game.

Nurkic believes the key to the Blazers’ success this season is defense.

“Our defense was trash, to be honest, before,” he said. “We’re going to be better. When I came it was better and we’re going to keep improving that. It’s simple: If you want to win, you need to play defense.”

And he’s correct, last season Portland struggled at times defensively. Although the D improved after Nurkic arrived, the Blazers finished 25th in the league for average points allowed.

Here are some other things to watch for with the Blazers:

PEAK PORTLAND: Lillard revealed that he’s trying out a vegan diet, an effort that’s got him down to about 190 pounds – close to his rookie weight. The idea – much like it was with Nurkic’s weight loss – is to be a little lighter on his feet.

There’s just one problem. Wendy’s. Oh, and Five Guys. Lillard passes both of them on his way home. But the benefits outweighed the drawbacks, he said.

“Not only did I feel lighter moving around the court, but when I got winded and I got tired, it wasn’t the same. I felt stronger. I felt good on the court. It might have its issues as far as recovery once we start really getting into the season, and I’ll address that,” he said. “But it’s truly made a difference.”

LOOKING AT LEONARD: Meyers Leonard knows he didn’t do well last season so he rededicated himself to his craft over the summer, working out in Los Angeles with respected NBA trainer Drew Hanlen. Nukic’s arrival takes some of the pressure off the 7-foot-1 Leonard as he enters his sixth season with the Blazers, but he still must prove he’s a solid reserve.

“At the end of the day he’s going to have to do it on the court,” Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said. “Because at some point – it is still about development – but it’s about production. I think Meyers knows that and his commitment in the offseason has put him in a position where he’s ready to compete.”

IMPRESSIVE ROOKIES: Both of Portland’s rookies have been drawing praise in the preseason. Portland acquired forwards Zach Collins out of Gonzaga and Caleb Swanigan out of Purdue on draft night.

Swanigan, the former Big Ten Player of the Year last season as a sophomore, was named to the NBA Summer League First Team after averaging 14.9 points and 10.4 rebounds through the first seven games.

LEARNING CURVE: For two seasons in a row, the Blazers have had second-half rallies that helped put them in the postseason. But coach Terry Stotts acknowledges that perhaps Portland missed out on the lesson the first time. “I think from my perspective last year is that we forgot how hard it is to do what we did in the second half of the season,” he said.

JERSEY PATCH: This is the first season the league will allow teams to display sponsor patches on the left shoulder of their uniforms. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers will feature a Goodyear logo on their uniforms. But the Blazers have yet to strike an agreement. Team President and CEO Chris McGowan said Portland was very close to a deal but it fell through at the last minute.

 

Jimmy Butler used business phone number in planned stunt

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What was Jimmy Butler thinking when he revealed his phone number during his introductory press conference with the Timberwolves? Did he not realize how big a star he’d become?

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

On the eve of his introductory press conference in Minnesota, Butler stewed over reports claiming he had been a stormy presence and abrasive leader in Chicago, the kind of accusation big-market franchises traditionally leak about exiled alphas after mindless trades. “I ought to go out there tomorrow and be like, ‘If you got a problem, here’s my number, call me,’” Butler vented. Ifeanyi Koggu, a close friend who handles Butler’s business phone, laughed nervously. “That would be funny,” Koggu replied, “but not a good idea.” Butler commandeered the iPhone 7 in their suite at the Loews the next morning and changed the outgoing voice-mail message from an automated greeting to a personal one. “Jimmy Butler, sorry I couldn’t get to the phone, but leave your name and number and I’ll hit you back. If you got any beef, definitely leave a message.” During his presser at Mall of America, in front of 2,500 hungry souls waiting on the second coming of Kevin Garnett, Butler broadcast the digits to the world.

“Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” he began. “But with that being said, my phone is in my back pocket. Whoever has anything to say to me, feel free: 773-899-6071.” The phone was not actually in Butler’s back pocket. It was in the front pocket of Koggu’s jeans. “Once he got to the last digit, I could feel my hip vibrate,” Koggu recalls. “And it didn’t stop.” Within five minutes, the mailbox was full, and within 10, he couldn’t answer a call if he tried. “There were too many coming in at the same time,” Koggu explains. “Calls and texts, but also cameras popping up with Facetime requests. You could never get to the main screen.” The phone became too hot to hold, so Koggu shut it down before restarting it. On a private plane to Los Angeles, Butler chatted with two fans on Facetime, including a boy who spent 45 seconds running around his house hollering for his older brother. Then the device froze for good.

That’s part of an excellent profile on Butler, and it’s not even the corniest thing Jenkins uncovered about Butler:

on all his homework assignments, he wrote Tracy McGrady’s name atop the paper instead of his own.

I highly recommend reading Jenkins’ article in full.

Tyronn Lue says he’s unsure whether LeBron James will play in Cavaliers’ opener against Celtics

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Cavaliers-Celtics is an awesome opening-night matchup. A rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, a meeting of the two teams still presumed to top the East and, best of all, Kyrie Irving and Jae Crowder (though unfortunately not an injured Isaiah Thomas) facing their old teams.

But Irving’s nemesis, at least narratively, might not play.

LeBron James has been dealing with a sprained ankle he suffered in practice a couple weeks ago, and that will keep him out of Cleveland’s preseason finale against the Magic on Friday.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

As for James’ availability against the Celtics next week, Lue said James “got treatment all day today, so I’m not sure if we should be concerned or not.

“But it’s pretty sore today so we’ll just see what happens.”

Obviously, the Cavs aren’t going to chance LeBron in a preseason game if he’s sore – which just makes it harder to get a read on the situation. LeBron missing Friday’s game reveals little about his status for Boston on Tuesday.

But, hopefully, LeBron gets healthy. His individual matchup with Irving is highly anticipated after the point guard spent the summer distancing himself from LeBron.