Kurt Helin

Michele Roberts, the Executive Director of National Basketball Players Association

New players’ union’s nearly-completed new Manhattan home sounds impressive

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Because players always find it difficult to locate places to hang out and things to do in Manhattan….

The National Basketball Players Association — the NBPA, commonly called the players’ union — had been headquartered in Harlem for many years but recently started working on a move to a larger, better-equipped space in midtown Manhattan.

Better equipped as in players’ union’s nearly-completed new New York home is a lot nicer than your apartment. Let Jared Zwerling lay it out in a story on the union Web site about the NBA rookies getting a tour of the facility as part of the Rookie Transition Program.

Around 80 players visited the new office in midtown Manhattan, which covers 47,000 square feet over two floors. It’s the only location in Manhattan that resembles an NBA training center.

The rookies got a tour of the gym, locker room, soon-to-be-completed basketball court and hydroworks area (hot/cold tub and underwater treadmill). They also checked out the players’ lounge (with pool and ping-pong) and multiple business rooms (technologically-equipped) where they can conduct meetings to advance their careers on and off the court.

These new facilities likely could see a lot of use in the off-season, when guys are often looking for spots with good run against other NBA level players. There are places in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and other gyms around the nation where these games are regular occurrences, this facility could join the list.

By the way, as part of that program the rookies also met with union president Chris Paul and executive director Michelle Roberts.

The union and NBA owners are currently still talking about restructuring the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which would impact these players as they move through their NBA careers (but could dramatically impact next summer’s crop of rookies if a new deal is in place).

Report: Jordan Farmar signs deal with Sacramento Kings

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 13:  Jordan Farmar #4 of the Memphis Grizzlies passes the ball in the first half against the Golden State Warriors during the game at ORACLE Arena on April 13, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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As the injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies searched for anyone healthy enough to take on some minutes late last season, they turned to journeyman point guard Jordan Farmar, and he played solidly. He averaged 9.2 points per game, shot 35 percent from three, and had a PER of 13.2 (below the league average but not unreasonable for a backup).

The coach there was Dave Joerger, who is now with the Kings. Sacramento could be scrambling for point guard depth the first couple months of the season as anointed starter Darren Collison pled guilty to a domestic violence charge and is expected to face a lengthy (20+ games) suspension to start the season.

You see where this is going. From the well-connected David Pick.

The Kings have 14 guaranteed deals on the books right now, they can add one more. I’d be surprised if this deal is fully guaranteed for the entire season, but it is reasonable to think Farmar could be on the roster opening day.

After Collison, the Kings have Ty Lawson and Isaiah Cousins at the point. Lawson likely gets the start, but Joerger will be looking for someone who can give him consistent, quality minutes.

Reggie Jackson on Pistons: ” I think we’ll be scary this year”

Reggie Jackson, Shane Larkin
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The Detroit Pistons should take a big step forward this season.

The only question is how big? A top-four seed in the East? Then advance to the second round of the playoffs?

As you would hope, Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson has high expectations for Detroit this season, and he wants to lead a team he thinks made some solid additions this off-season, as he told Pistons.com.

“It’s time for us to step up,” he said. “You don’t find too many guys like that who are very team oriented and who have had success in the league and who are still about the success of the team and the success of the individuals around them, especially willing to give back so much knowledge of the game and sharing with the guys. Me and a few of the other guys, it’s kind of like they forced (leadership) upon us. I feel it’s forced upon me to lead now and now’s the time to really step up. This is the year to do it….

“I think people are looking for huge names and that’s not necessarily what Detroit’s ever done,” he said. “We do it collectively. We don’t need anyone to believe in us. We’ll still find a way. But I think we shored up our second unit and added some more versatility and some more depth. I think we’ll be scary this year. But you know what? I don’t want to talk about it too much. We’ll let the season speak for itself.”

Shaq ramps up hype machine, says Ben Simmons is “a LeBron-type player”

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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It is wildly unfair to compare a 20-year-old who has never set foot on an NBA court to a man who will go down as one of the best and most gifted players the game has ever seen. It puts a burden of expectations on a young player that should not be his to cross bear.

It happened plenty before the draft, the Ben Simmons to LeBron James comparisons. Then fellow rookie Denzel Valentine said the same thing at Summer League.

Now Shaquille has added to that, speaking Hall of Fame weekend, as reported by Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“He’s a LeBron-type player,” O’Neal said. “What I mean by that, LeBron does a nice job of making everybody else around him better — passing the ball, doing the small things — and Ben is that type of player.”

He is — potentially.

But when you bring in LeBron to the conversation is implies more than just passing and doing the little things, it hints at a ridiculous level of skill and accomplishment. LeBron is a three-time NBA champion, a four-time league MVP, and for years has been the best player walking the face of the earth.

Simmons may someday evolve into a great player, one where we start discussing his legacy and place in the pantheon long before his career arc is even on its way down — as we have done with LeBron more than any other player — but when you bring up LeBron you lay out a ridiculous level of expectations. All before Simmons even had his first training camp.

Like LeBron — and Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and the other recent batch of great players entering the league — Simmons has a boatload of talent but he also has a long, long way to go to realize it.

I watched him closely at Summer League, and his court vision and passing skills are the kind of thing you can’t teach. He finds the open man, and because he does guys play hard next to him, something you see with LeBron, Ricky Rubio, Chris Paul and a handful of other great passers. Sixers fans are going to love watching Simmons play.

But he’s also got a long way to go to fulfill his potential.

Through six Summer League games in Utah and Las Vegas, he is shooting 36 percent from the floor (and he attempted just one three in six games, missing it). He’s got some moves, but he doesn’t have counters to his go-to moves yet, which is going to make it hard for him when the longer and more athletic defenders he will face hone in on him. He has to physically get stronger. He has potential on defense, but he has a lot of learning to do on that and as well.

Patience is the word of the day with Simmons. The tools are there, but will he learn to use them?

Maybe he has the mentality, the drive, the work ethic to live up to all of that potential. For his and the Sixers sake I hope he does. But even in a “he makes teammates better” way, this comparison is just raw. Let Simmons become the first Ben Simmons, and we’ll see how good he can be.

51 Questions: Can Toronto repeat its franchise-best season?

TORONTO, ON - MAY 15:  Kyle Lowry #7 and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors look on in the first half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Can Toronto repeat its franchise-best season?

The Toronto Raptors won a franchise record 56 games last season. Then they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. After the season had ended, they put two players on the gold medal winning USA team at the Rio Olympics. All that in a year the city also hosted the NBA All-Star Game. Through it all, the Raptors’ large fan base rallied around the team like never before.

Best. Season. Ever. At least in Raptors’ history.

As we head into training camp the question becomes, can they do it again?

On one hand, it’s tempting to say yes, because they are bringing back all the core pieces from a year ago.

Toronto’s goal No. 1 in the summer was keeping DeMar DeRozan — which wasn’t that hard, he didn’t want to leave (sorry Lakers fans, it’s true). When the Raptors came in with the second largest contract in NBA history at five-years, $139 million the deal was sealed. DeRozan’s shortcomings, specifically his willingness to take or ability to make threes, becomes bigger in the playoffs, and that’s a concern. Still, we’re talking about a guy who can get to the rim and score averaging 23.5 points and 4 assists per game last season. He’s an All-Star and an Olympian. He’s a great second option for the Raptors and they needed to keep him at any price.

Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, and DeMarre Carroll were already all under contract, as were reserves like Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph. The Raptors off-season losses — Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo — were ones they could live with. (It would have been nice to keep the shot blocking of Biyombo, but not at the four-year, $72 million price tag Orlando put out there.)

The Raptors needed to upgrade at the power forward position, and they did that with the stopgap measure of Jared Sullinger. Boston fans would be all too happy to discuss their frustrations with Sullinger — the lack of conditioning, his inability or willingness to live up to his potential — but the fact is he’s better than Scola right now. What the Raptors need next to Valanciunas is a stretch four, and Sullinger is a poor man’s version of that. He took 41.5 percent of his shots from 16 feet and beyond last season, he just doesn’t hit them often enough to be a real threat (28.2 percent from three, for example). Still, he can rebound, pass well, defend one-on-one down low, all skills the Raptors can put to use.

The Raptors are also going to lean heavily on rookie Jakob Poeltl to back up Valanciunas at center. Norman Powell will have a larger role off the bench on the wing.

Considering all that, it’s possible the Raptors could win 56 games again.

But I expect a small step back. More like 51-53 wins.

There are a few reasons for this. One, the Raptors had the point differential of a 53-win team a year ago, they just outperformed that number (something the Raptors have done a few years in a row). Second, both Lowry and DeRozan had career-best years, not just in terms of points scored but in terms of efficiency doing so, and it is safe to assume one or both take a small step back. Also, both guards were relatively healthy all season, and that could change as well.

But the biggest reason to expect a small step back is that the East is getting better — it’s going to be harder to win games. The 48-win Celtics added Al Horford to the mix. The Indiana Pacers added Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young, they should take a step forward. Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons are improving. So it goes through large swaths of the East. Even if the Raptors are as good a team as they were a season ago, reaching 56 wins again would be a tall task.

That said, I expect Toronto and Boston to be battling it out for the two seed in the East. (Seed matters, teams want to be the two or three seed in the East, because the four seed will get Cleveland in the second round.)

The Raptors could very well reach the Conference Finals again. It’s impossible to predict in September who will be healthy come May, who will have found the rotations that work best, and how the playoff rounds will shake out in the East. If it were to come down to Boston and Toronto in the second round for the right to advance, on paper it looks like a must-watch series. But teams such as Detroit and Indiana (and maybe Atlanta, if you believe in the rejuvenation of Dwight Howard) could have a say in all of it.

Regardless, Raptor fans are in for another of the best seasons in franchise history, something to get them through the cold winter months and the Maple Leafs’ struggles. This is a very good Raptors team. There’s a reason Masai Ujiri just got a contract extension.