Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Rumor: Despite big-name dreams, Celtics more likely to land Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor


The Boston Celtics have been in the middle of the swirling vortex of NBA trade rumors this summer: Danny Ainge has been reaching out to Oklahoma City about Russell Westbrook, the Sacramento Kings about DeMarcus Cousins, the L.A. Clippers about Blake Griffin, and any other star he could pair with just signed Al Horford.

Except, none of those are likely if you talk to people around the league. The Kings are not moving Cousins in the short-term — certainly not before they move into a brand new building, plus they want to make it work and are counting on new coach Dave Joerger to pull the pieces together. The Thunder want to rebuild around Westbrook and bring in another star, they just can’t get him to commit to an extension. The Clippers are a win now team that is only going to move Griffin if they get another star back, someone who will help keep Chris Paul in house next summer when he can opt out.

Despite all their assets, the Celtics do not have the pieces to get those guys right now, despite what some Celtics fans think. The fantastic A. Sherrod Blakely laid out both the reasons and a more likely scenario at CSNNE.com.

“You win with players, not picks,” one assistant GM told CSNNE.com. “Boston has lots of picks and some good players. But there’s not a great player on that roster. And the players you (media) guys keep writing and talking about that they’re interested in, are great players. [Celtics president Danny Ainge] will tell you, it’s not easy making trades. And when it comes to great players, it’s even harder to acquire them no matter how many picks you offer up.”

The consensus among league executives spoken to by CSNNE.com is that the most likely trade for Boston will be one in which they wind up with Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor.

“From the moment Philly drafted Ben [Simmons], everyone around the league knew that they would have to trade a big, either Okafor or Nerlens [Noels],” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com. “Okafor is the better scorer; it’s not even close really. But Nerlens has that ability to run the floor and can protect the rim. Those two qualities . . . you can’t have enough guys in the frontcourt who call those two skills, strengths. That’s why Okafor is the more expendable player.”

That potential and rare skill set are why more teams are asking about — and willing to give up more for — Noel.

Does Boston want Okafor? Depends on the price. The Sixers, if they are not blown away by an offer, may go through training camp and into the season with all those bigs (including Joel Embiid, who is expected to play in the fall), put them together in different pairings, and see what works. Then they will trade the guys that don’t fit as well. The Sixers are not under pressure to get a deal done now.

The most likely big name to move before the season starts is Westbrook, but he also can be a free agent next summer. If he’s not going to commit to the team where he’s traded — whether it’s Boston or Los Angeles or anywhere else — then teams are not going to give up too much for a rental. It leaves Oklahoma City in a tight spot, one where they may well choose to go into the season with him, let Westbrook rack up insane scoring numbers, and try to plot a future with him and another major free agent like Griffin.

All of which means, Boston fans still need to be patient. Which suck for fans, but it’s reality.

Kevin Durant says Brandon Ingram further along than he was at that age

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — It is completely, wildly unfair to compare a top draft pick with one of the better scorers the game has ever seen. Fans and draft evaluators need to stop doing things like saying “Ben Simmons is the next LeBron James” or whatever. Nobody is the next LeBron.

Yet, because he is an incredibly skinny, long and lanky scoring forward, there have been a lot of comparisons of Lakers’ rookie-to-be Brandon Ingram to Kevin Durant.

Kevin Durant was asked about that comparison and was kind to Ingram.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski also praised Ingram and said he loved the kid — who happened to play at Duke.

“He’s strong minded. And he’s stronger physically than people would think,” Coach K said.

Maybe, but after watching him at Summer League where Ingram was buffeted around by physically stronger players, it’s something he has to work on.

Ingram is more polished coming out of college than Durant was — Ingram has a smooth, fluid game — and he is a better three-point shooter than young Durant. But even then KD was a better raw scorer in college — again, we are talking about one of the better pure scorers the game has ever seen. And Durant over the years polished those skills and took them to levels very likely beyond what Ingram is going to reach. That doesn’t mean Ingram is destined to fail — I’m talking to you, overly sensitive Lakers’ fans — but the Durant comparison was never realistic or fair.

One other note on the positive statements: At the USA camp, there is nothing but praise for everybody. Nobody says a negative word about a player publicly — not the coaches, not the guys on the team. Nobody. It’s a love-in. Part of that is that this is as impressive a gathering of basketball talent as you will ever see and so there is a lot of respect for everyone in the room. Part of it is these guys are media savvy and know better, they stick to their talking points.

Judge: Jail for Puerto Rico ex-NBA player Jose Ortiz

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)  — Former NBA player Jose Ortiz has been sentenced to 45 days in jail in Puerto Rico for a probation violation involving community service.

Ortiz was accused of not serving all 600 hours of community service after pleading guilty to drug charges. A judge ordered Tuesday that Ortiz serve the remaining 278 hours after his release from jail. He has until May 2017.

Ortiz was arrested in June 2011 after federal agents seized 218 marijuana plants at his house.

The 6-foot-10 athlete is one of the best basketball players the U.S. territory has produced. He played two seasons with the Utah Jazz, the last in 1989-1990. He was on the Puerto Rican national team for more than 20 years and played in four Olympics.

Gregg Popovich working with Coach K this go around as he prepares to take over Team USA

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LAS VEGAS — This is Mike Krzyzewski’s last go around as the coach of USA Basketball.

Paul George talked about how important it was for him to be here for that — Coach K was by his bedside in Las Vegas two years ago when George suffered a devastating leg injury, then stayed in regular contact with him for the past two years over recovery and return. Kyrie Irving talked about how important it was for him to be part of this — as a former Duke star who never got to win a title in college with Coach K, he had to be there with him now.

More than just a victory lap for Coach K, this is a summer of transition for USA Basketball.

Gregg Popovich, the next Team USA coach, is at these practices — and much more than that.

“It’s not just him being here (at practice), he’s at every meeting. At night we go out to eat and talk,” Krzyzewski said. “First of all, his input on NBA players for me is incredible. And for asking him what is he thinking about what we’re doing, he sees what we’re doing.

“It’s called succession. The fact we’re both military guys, we understand that I have the unit right now, he’s going to take command over the unit, and we both want the unit to do well. So, we understand that. We’ve been good friends, but this has been great for me, and I think for him too, just for us to bond even more.”

Popovich is honored just to be in the building.

“Being a former military guy, if you can represent your country in any way, that’s always pretty important,” Popovich said. “This is one of the best ways to show that. Our country is a little bit divided in various ways, as we all know. And this is a shining example of teamwork and togetherness and people all focused on one goal. And playing together and just being empathetic for each other, understanding each other, loving each other.”

This transition is going to be smooth, in part because both Krzyzewski and Popovich are both consummate professionals, and also in part because they are great basketball minds.

Also, they both possess the two things beyond basketball acumen that are needed to succeed as Team USA coach. One, guys have to want to play for you. Second, you need the stature to push aside the petty noise and pressure from agents/shoe companies/sponsors to do what is best for the team.

Popovich is going to be great for USA basketball.

After Krzyzewski wins one more gold.

Team USA sticking with system that has worked: High-pressure defense, get out and run

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LAS VEGAS — The core of the Argentinian team have played together since they were young teens. Same with the Spanish side. And Lithuania. And Croatia.

“A lot of other teams, other countries, have been playing together since however long,” Team USA’s likely starting point guard Kyrie Irving said. “For us, we all have our regular season games, then of course the playoffs, and after that we go straight into (Team USA camp). So we have to come together a lot quicker than other teams.”

While USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski have put in a culture and a structure — eight of the 12 Team USA members played on the USA Select team that grooms potential future Team USA members — developing chemistry is still the challenge of the Las Vegas camp and ensuing tour and practices in the run-up to the Rio Olympics tip-off Aug. 6.

“I’m not sure it’s a challenge, it’s an opportunity,” Krzyzewski said, using some classic coach-speak. “Bringing in a lot of guys that want to do well and play for their country, to find a chemistry. Today was a really good day for us. We got a lot done today, the guys love one another, they are very unselfish, we got a lot done today.”

The players are a little more realistic.

“We’ve got to make adjustments, we’re all playing different styles of basketball right now…” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s going to take a little work to get some chemistry down, you’re not going to get the full chemistry down (of an 82 game NBA season). You’re just not going to get it. But we’ll get enough to be one team. We got some guys who can play; who can get up and down and make plays.”

That’s where Krzyzewski’s system works — the USA can just overwhelm every other country’s team with depth of athleticism. Coach K puts that to use: A high pressure, aggressive defense designed to force turnovers and rushed shots, which become transition opportunities for those USA athletes going the other way.

It’s worked to the tune of a 75-1 record for Krzyzewski as the USA coach, and that includes a couple of gold medals.

“Basketball is fun when you’re getting stops,” Irving said. “You’re getting out, just playing a free motion basketball. For me, I love it, because I know I’m out pressuring the ball and I know I’ve got Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins — I have all these guys behind me on defense. That’s just an exciting game to watch and play.”

Two guys who have looked good through the first days of camp — and could have monster games in the Olympics, is the big men Cousins and DeAndre Jordan. No other country in the world has athletic seven footers like that (France is probably closest with Rudy Gobert in the paint).

“DeAndre is incredibly unique,” Krzyzewski said. “One, he’s a great teammate. Second, he’s seven feet tall, keeps balls alive on the offensive end, he’s a willing screener, everybody loves playing with him. And he’s a heck of an athlete, not just going up and down, he’s a heck of an athlete going sideways, and so his defense of the ball screen is incredibly important. He reminds me a little bit of how Chris Bosh defended the ball screen in Beijing, where he really comes out and he’s so athletic and moves his feet well.”

Those bigs make everyone else’s jobs easier.

“(Cousins and Jordan) can move,” Lowry said. “It’s going to help us a lot that they can get up and down, move, pace their game and we can throw the ball into them. It’s always a challenge when you got DJ runnin’ the floor like he do, it’s a problem (for opponents).”

The entire USA team is a problem for opponents with their talent and athleticism. As long as they can all get on the same page.