Kurt Helin

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Cavaliers’ coach thinks LeBron James will be “okay” for opener against Celtics

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LeBron James has been sidelined for days now with a sprained ankle, and while teams are far more cautious with stars during the preseason the fact that LeBron was questionable for opening night raised some eyebrows. Would he really miss the first game of the season, against Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics?

Friday, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue sounded optimistic his star will be on the court for the opener. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I think he’ll be OK, though. That would be a tough one for him personally to miss. There’s a lot of hype behind the game but like I told him, we got to be smart about it. It’s just one game, but I think he’ll be OK.”

LeBron said he was frustrated with the injury.

Ankles can be tricky, the ligament becomes looser and if not allowed to fully heal it is much easier to re-injure. The Cavs are right to be cautious. LeBron on the bench slows the Cavaliers down a little bit, integrating a new player in Dwyane Wade, and trying new looks with Kevin Love at the five, but still, this is a veteran team that knows each other and how to play together. They’ll be fine.

Besides, did anyone really think LeBron was sitting out the NBA season opener? Against the guy he thinks deserted him over the summer?

Three questions the Sacramento Kings must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 32-50, missed the playoffs for the 10th straight season.

I know what you did last summer: Their “summer” really started last February at the trade deadline when they moved DeMarcus Cousins for Buddy Hield. The Kings had an active summer, and that included moving on from a lot of guys on the roster: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo, and Ben McLemore among others were gone. To replace them they drafted De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, rolled the dice on Harry Giles, the Kings finally got Bogdan Bogdanovic to come over, then in free agency landed some solid veteran free agents in George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter.

THREE QUESTIONS THE KINGS MUST ANSWER

1) How do the Kings balance the minutes between their best young players and their veterans? George Hill is clear and away the best point guard option on the Kings, but they just drafted the speedy and talented De’Aaron Fox. Zach Randolph, while his skills are fading, is a solid four coach Dave Joerger can trust, but Skal Labissiere could become the most skilled power forward on this roster. Kosta Koufos is a solid veteran big who will not beat you with mistakes, but the Kings are trying to season the talented Willie Cauley-Stein at center.

It’s the biggest question coach Joerger has heading into the season, how to balance out the minutes and opportunities for the veterans on this team vs. the best young prospects on the Kings’ roster. It’s easy to say “George Hill is there to develop guys like Fox and Buddy Hield” but that doesn’t mean Hill is just another coach riding the pine most of the time. The Kings aren’t going to win a lot of games, but veterans like Vince Carter can show young players how to compete (Carter, who has been in the league since roughly the Taft administration, may well be the best three on this roster still). The hope has to be that as the season goes along, as the young players get minutes and good developmental coaching, their role grows as the veterans take a step back, but will it work out that way?

Tied to this: How long are these veterans going to be Kings? Part of the reason for bringing in a guy like Hill is that at some point a team hurting at the point guard spot due to injuries or whatever reason come calling. These teams will want Hill, and in return the Kings can get a quality young prospect or a good pick. The question is how long before the calls come, and how much demand will there be (especially for the aging Randolph and Carter)? It may happen this season, at or before the trade deadline, or it could be next summer, but expect the Kings to make a move.

2) Which young players on this roster develop into quality NBA players? The Kings have eight guys on rookie contracts plus a couple other young players — they have 10 players 25 and younger. The Kings are in the player development business now, and the question is which ones will find their way to become NBA players of some level — stars, starters, rotation players, whatever?

There are interesting questions up and down the young roster. Harry Giles will be out until at least January (if not the season), but can he get healthy and if so how much can he contribute? Skal Labissiere showed promise at the end of last season, can he build on that (he didn’t at Summer League)? Can Justin Jackson get stronger, develop his shot and become a rotation player at the three? Just how good is Willie Cauley-Stein? Same question for Malachi Richardson? A lot of these questions could get answered on the Reno Bighorns, which is where some of these players will go to get run.

For me, the most interesting battle to watch is at the two. The Kings got Buddy Hield back as the main piece from New Orleans in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and in 25 games with the Kings he averaged 15.1 points per game and shot 42.8 percent from three. However, the Kings are also very high Bogdan Bogdanovic, who Vlade Divac called the “the best player in Europe” and he is going battle for that starting spot. Which one of these two develops into a starter and takes the job, and who does not. We’ll see how Hield develops, but watching him as a rookie — and his both lack of understanding and interest on defense — and I saw a sixth man. A gunner in the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford mold — which is not a bad thing, those guys have had good careers and helped a lot of teams. Is Hield on that path, or can he develop into something more?

3) Can management and ownership be patient? The Kings have a good plan in place. They have young players with potential — De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, and more — and some veterans were brought in to mentor them and set a tone. Whatever you think of the young talent (I like the potential) or how many veterans they brought in (more than I would have) it’s a solid rebuilding plan. One that’s not going to yield a lot of wins short term (they retain their first round pick next draft) but is a respectable and reasonable path.

The problem is the Kings have never stuck to a plan long enough to let it play out. Look at it this way, since they drafted Cousins in 2010 the Kings coaches have been Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Ty Corbin, George Karl, and Dave Joerger. That’s not counting the three different GMs and a change of ownership. With each successive move the plan shifted, and with that, the roster and the style were never settled.

This falls to owner Vivek Ranadive — he has to be patient. It’s not in his nature, but he needs to be. I don’t know that I would have chosen Vlade Divac to run my team, but now that Ranadive has let the basketball people make the basketball decisions. Divac and the staff there have planted a garden, let it start to grow and blossom, and know that it’s going to take years to bear fruit. The biggest mistake the Kings could make right now would be to at the All-Star break (or next summer) change plans, bring in a new GM and coach, and completely change directions.

Report: NBA teams now staying away from Trump Hotel properties

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NBA players on the road stay in the kind of high-end hotels you don’t tell friends coming to town about because why should they spend that much? Ritz-Carltons, Four Seasons and the like are the norm. Some hotels that want to be regular NBA team stops have made adjustments for them such as taller shower head placement or ordering longer than standard beds.

In New York, and some other cities, that included a stop at Trump SoHo, a hotel both not too far from Madison Square Garden and not far from NYC nightlife.

No more. As NBA players have clashed with President Trump, NBA teams are voting with their dollars and staying elsewhere. From Tim Bontemps and David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post:

(When Trump was running for president), the Pacers stopped staying at Trump SoHo. A spokesman blamed problems with bus access. So did the Dallas Mavericks, whose owner, Mark Cuban, became one of Trump’s loudest critics in 2016. Cuban declined to comment about the team’s decision.

In 2016, after Trump had captured the GOP nomination, more NBA teams left. The Memphis Grizzlies quit Trump SoHo. No connection to politics, the coach said. So did the Thunder. The team would not comment on why.

The Milwaukee Bucks stopped being Trump customers the following year — after first trying, and failing, to pull out of a Trump Chicago reservation during the preseason, according to team officials. When the Bucks returned to Chicago in the regular season, they had a new hotel.

There is nothing wrong with this, people should vote with their pocketbooks (lord knows corporations do). Conservatives should vote with their dollars and avoid Pepsi or Oreos or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and whatever other companies don’t fit with their values. I never eat at Chick-fil-A for good reasons in my mind. NBA teams should do the same, they have options other than the Trump hotels if they don’t like his policies.

There have been other reports across the financial media that the Trump presidency has hurt his hotels and brand.

Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man, and more: Our NBA awards predictions

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Yesterday, the PBT staff gave you our MVP predictions for the upcoming NBA season. There was a lot of love for LeBron James.

Today, we turn our attention to the other end-of-season NBA awards, pull out our crystal balls, and make predictions we will look back on as foolish come April.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
This feels like a wide-open year for the award because a lot of rookies will have the ball in their hands and the opportunity to put up numbers. Lonzo Ball will be good in Los Angeles, Dennis Smith Jr. will be explosive in Dallas, but Simmons will rack up numbers (especially highlight assists) on a team that will make the playoffs (if the Sixers can get 50+ games out of Joel Embiid). That will put him over the top.

Dan Feldman: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Simmons is highly talented and will have a big role. Plus, an extra year of seasoning doesn’t hurt.

Dane Carbaugh: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Simmons is finally healthy for the Philadelphia 76ers and it seems like he is in a position best to stand out on a team that could be without some of its stars due to injury. Simmons should be a good penetrator, dribbler, and passer in transition. If guys like JJ Reddick can hit the 3-pointers after Simmons scoops them a dish, I think the LSU product grabs it.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)

Once again Draymond Green will be incredibly versatile and key to what the Warriors do. Once again Kawhi Leonard will be the best perimeter defender in the game. But with Gordon Hayward now in Boston, Utah will not take as big a step back as many people think and the reason will be their elite defense anchored by Gobert. That credit will get him this award.

Dan Feldman: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
It took a pointed effort by Draymond Green and bad luck for Leonard for the Warriors forward to unseat Leonard last season. Odds are against that happening again.

Dane Carbaugh: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Gobert probably should have been the recipient of this award last season. He is the best defensive center in the NBA, and with Hayward now in Boston he is now the franchise centerpiece for the Jazz. Gobert will be a monster just like he was last season, and with added responsibility and visibility, the Utah big man should grab it this year.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Kurt Helin: Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)

This is the hardest award to predict preseason because it is basically the guy who surprises us with his improvement. It often goes to a guy who was good and just got an opportunity, and that is sort of the case with the improving Turner, who averaged nearly 15 points a game last season when Paul George was on the team and is now going to have the offense run through him.

Dan Feldman: Rodney Hood (Utah Jazz)
The Jazz guard is in line for a bigger role with Gordon Hayward gone. It will also help that Hood’s season will be compared to last year’s injury-plagued campaign, not 2015-16, when he showed more of the promise I think he’ll build upon this year.

Dane Carbaugh: Karl-Anthony Towns (Utah Jazz)
It’s sort of ridiculous to say that a guy like Towns will be the most improved player given his already stellar track record. However, that is typically where is this award has gone in recent seasons. Think CJ McCollum. With a better roster around him and a playoff spot for the taking, Towns should be the head and shoulders favorite for this one.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat)

Another award that could go a lot of different directions. Andre Iguodala has been the most important sixth man for a few seasons now. We know Jamal Crawford will put up numbers in Minnesota, same with Lou Williams in Los Angeles, and what about Rudy Gay getting into the Spurs system and running their second unit. But I’m going with an unconventional pick where the player — Olynyk — has a skill set that perfectly fits his new team. He’s going to get minutes (mid-20s), play the four and the five, and space the floor. I think he could surprise with the numbers he puts up.

Dan Feldman: Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors)
Iguodala has been the NBA’s best sixth man the last few years. Will the 33-year-old remain so? Will he impact the game as much as others with more to prove? There’s at least a clear path for the Warriors forward.

Dane Carbaugh: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers)
The Clippers will absolutely need a top performance this year from former six man of the year Lou Williams just to fight their way through the Western Conference. If LA makes it to the playoffs and Williams is a big piece of that, I think he should be the one to garner this award.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
This award either goes to the coach whose team most outperforms expectations, or a sort of “lifetime achievement” award. While Tom Thibodeau’s team will make a leap in Minnesota, and while Gregg Popovich is always the man in San Antonio, it feels like Stevens turn for his work in Boston. This is a talented Celtics team I think will come together more in the second half of the season and get him the award.

Dan Feldman: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Brad Stevens is widely regarded as one of the NBA’s best coaches, but he has never finished better than fourth in Coach of the Year voting. Keeping the Celtics, who have so many new faces, humming could be his ticket.

Dane Carbaugh: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Stevens is slated for a big year in Boston after adding Gordon Hayward and Kyrene Irving. The Celtics will be a good team in the Eastern conference the season, which has been severely weakened. The team will rely on young players to help them When it comes to depth, and if they are successful that could be the tipping point for Stevens.

Joel Embiid says he wanted to stay another season at Kansas

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It’s an annual dance brought on by the silly one-and-done rule: Elite college basketball players talk about how much they love their school, how tough it would be to leave (even as they are skipping classes in the spring semester that they don’t intend to finish), but their dream has always been to go to the NBA and they are going to pursue it.

Joel Embiid was a one-and-done player for Kansas. Except he says he almost wasn’t one-and-done, he came very close to staying a Jayhawk for another season, as reported by David Skretta at NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“It was a great feeling,” Embiid said of Kansas after the workout, sweat still dripping from his face. “When I was here, I don’t think anybody knows this story, but I actually decided to stay. I loved this place so much. I was actually pushed to leave. But I loved this place so much.”

So who did the pushing?

“I’m not going to say,” he said with another smile, “but it was a tough choice. I still have a lot of love for Kansas, and every time I have a chance to represent, I’m going to do it.”

That doesn’t sound like hyperbole. Embiid landed at Kansas fairly fresh out of his native Cameroon and started to develop there, and he averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. There’s also a sense of unfinished business, remember a stress fracture in his back late in the season kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and the NCAA tournament. He may well have wanted to return.

But having just signed a $148 million contract extension with the Sixers, he’s probably pretty happy with his decision to head to the NBA.