Kurt Helin

Tony Parker becomes top scorer in Eurobasket history

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BERLIN (AP)Tony Parker became the all-time leading scorer in European championship history when he made France’s first basket in the game against Poland on Monday.

Parker hit a jumper with 6:34 remaining in the first quarter to make it 2-2 in Montpellier.

That gave the San Antonio Spurs guard a total of 1,032 points, two more than former Greece star Nikos Galis. Parker tied the total in France’s 81-54 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday.

Parker has previously played 61 games in eight separate European championships and averaged 17 points in his opening two games in this tournament. Parker led France to its first title two years ago.

Galis was on the Greek side that won the European title in 1987 and played in 33 European Championship games during his career.

51 Questions: Who is the second best team in the East?

NBA Play-offs. Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors
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51 Questions in 51 Days. PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27.

In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers set the bar — and set it clearly above every other team. The defending conference champs are going to be healthy and deeper. That brings us to today’s question:

WHO IS THE SECOND BEST TEAM IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE?

Kurt Helin: Washington Wizards

The second tier of the Eastern Conference is one of the fascinating storylines to watch this season, as the Wizards, Hawks, Bulls, Raptors and Heat could finish in about any order and I wouldn’t be shocked. Nor would I be shocked if the Bucks or Celtics jumped into the top six (especially if one of those other teams stumble). But enough caveats:

I’ll take Washington.

I’m not completely comfortable that pick, but I’m higher on the Wizards than most — this is the season they take a step forward and reach the conference Finals. For that to happen, I’m betting on Bradley Beal staying healthy all season and playing like the guy from the playoffs who looked like he deserved a max contract. I’m expecting Beal and John Wall to take a step forward together as clearly the best backcourt in the East. I’m betting on Otto Porter playing like the guy from the playoffs (actually better than that, it’s been overstated how well he played). I’m betting on Porter, Jared Dudley, and Alan Anderson being able to fill Paul Pierce’s shoes. I’m betting on (and expecting) coach Randy Wittman to play a lot more small ball with Porter/Dudley at the four, spacing the floor and allowing Wall to penetrate and break down defenses. I’m betting on Nene being healthy for the playoffs (I’m not crazy enough to expect an injury-free season from him).

That’s a lot that has to go right, but I think the odds of those things happening are better than rookie coach Fred Hoiberg being the missing ingredient in Chicago, or everything going right in Miami, or Atlanta playing as well as they did the first half of last season.

Dan Feldman: Chicago Bulls

This is a wide-open race with about five legitimate contenders and another few teams capable of surprising in a weak conference beyond the Cavaliers.

I’ll take Chicago, because the team is flush with talent, and I don’t think Tom Thibodeau’s defensive culture will erode overnight. I very well could be overrating Fred Hoiberg after watching Steve Kerr’s masterful job with the Warriors, but a new coach could do wonders in raising the Bulls’ ceiling. Simply splitting up the Joakim NoahPau Gasol combo and pairing each with one of Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson would go a long way.

An interesting side question: How many teams would you need to answer this question and feel you had at least a 50% chance of being right. It’s definitely at least two — probably three, but maybe even four.

Sean Highkin: Miami Heat

There’s no sure thing in the Eastern Conference once you get past Cleveland. All the likely candidates either lost a key player (DeMarre Carroll for the Hawks, Paul Pierce for the Wizards) or have major injury concerns (Chicago and Miami). But none of them are more intriguing — or have a higher ceiling — than the Heat. The starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside was one of the on-paper best last season, but they never actually got to play together after Bosh was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs immediately following the deadline trade for Dragic. This year, they will. There’s a lot of versatility in that lineup: everyone can defend, and the presence of Dragic and a healthy Bosh will limit the offensive burden on Wade. Even factoring in the 20-plus games he will inevitably sit out (that’s just his reality at this point), there’s enough scoring firepower there to get by.

Pat Riley has also done a good job retooling the bench. Justise Winslow fits the profile of a long-term replacement for Deng; even if he doesn’t start in his rookie season, he can still contribute, especially on the defensive end. Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green were smart minimum signings who can still help a team in limited minutes. All of this could fall apart if one of the starters misses an extended period of time, or if Whiteside can’t sustain his out-of-nowhere success for a full season. But all the pieces are here for a team that could be dangerous.

Tony Parker will break all-time EuroBasket scoring record Monday

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We’ve talked before about how Tony Parker is playing for legacy at this point in his career. The future Hall of Famer already is a four-time NBA champion, Finals MVP (2007), six-time All-Star, four time All-NBA second team, and European champion.

Monday you can add to that EuroBasket all time leading scorer to the list.

Parker put up 11 points Sunday in just 20 minutes as France blew out Bosnia and Herzegovina on the second day of the tournament. That gives Parker 1,030 points in his EuroBasket career — tied for the most all time with 1980s Euro star Nikos Galis of Greece.

Monday, against Poland, with his first points Parker will become the EuroBasket all time leading scorer, having done that in 59 games (17.5 points per game). Parker told the media that all he cared about was defending France’s EuroBasket title and with that he wants to get the record out of the way.

That matchup will be one of the more entertaining so far of EuroBasket as both France and Poland (led by Marcin Gortat) are 2-0 in round robin play.

But first, that game will start with a milestone.

Report: Cavaliers will give Sasha Kaun two year deal, first year at $1.2 million

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On one hand, you can say the Cavaliers really don’t need Russian big man Sasha Kaun because they are loaded along the front line — Timofey MozgovAnderson Varejao, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson (he’ll be there, the question is the payday).

On the other hand, that’s a lot of guys who battle injuries. Varejao is coming off a torn Achilles, Love off shoulder surgery, and Mozgov’s knee is keeping him out of EuroBasket this month.

Which means Kaun could be pressed into duty, kind of a utility big man. The two sides reached a deal, but that has yet to be officially signed and announced, but Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has a few details.

I hear the Cavs will give Sasha Kaun a two-year deal starting at $1.2 million for 2015-16. Not sure how much the second season of the contract will pay the 6-foot-10 Russian center.

The two years is smart as well. Mozgov is a free agent next season, Varejao’s $10 million is not fully guaranteed and the Cavs likely take the buyout, and the Thompson situation is up in the air and he could potentially be gone after this season.

Which is to say, whether this year due to injury or next due to roster turnover, Kaun could be pressed into regular duty — he could be a rotation player for the Cavs. At age 30 he is who he is and should be able to adapt to the NBA game fairly quickly, but if nothing else he’s a good insurance policy at a minimum salary.

One Miami Heat player on the bubble: James Ennis

Philadelphia 76ers V Miami Heat
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Last season, James Ennis showed promise with Miami. After a year playing in Australia, he showed NBA athleticism and the possibility to develop into a “3&D” guy early on, then took advantage at times of his opportunity later in the season. If he could develop consistency with his shot (32.6 percent from three) and defense, he could be a rotation player.

But at Summer League and through workouts, Ennis seems to have plateaued, if not outright regressed. That leaves the Long Beach State grad in danger of not making the Miami roster, reports Barry Jackson at the Miami Herald (adding to what others have said).

Barring trades involving Mario Chalmers or Chris Andersen, forward James Ennis appears the only incumbent Heat player at risk of being cut, with his $845,059 salary becoming fully guaranteed on Oct. 28. Ennis, who disappointed the Heat in summer league, is fortunate that the Heat hasn’t used its roster spots on an established veteran who wants to be here (such as Rasual Butler, who expressed interest).

The Heat players who have been signed to spots 16 through 19 are viewed as D-League players, though forward Greg Whittington could challenge Ennis. If Ennis struggles in camp, the Heat will consider keeping the 15th roster spot open until something intriguing comes along.

NBA training camps tend to be without “Hard Knocks” kind of drama (thanks to mostly guaranteed contracts) but Ennis in Miami is the exception. That said, his potential and showing last year could land him a spot on another roster willing to take on a bit of a project, a team that knows how to develop players.

Of course, Miami can be that kind of team, too. Ennis just needs to take advantage of the situation.