Kurt Helin

Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose to start (as will LeBron James) in season opener Tuesday

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The NBA is getting its wish — the stars will be suiting up for the tip-off of the NBA season Tuesday night.

Well, not Kyrie Irving (knee), but the rest of them.

We knew LeBron James would play for the Cavaliers as they travel to take on the Bulls, something he confirmed after practice on Monday. Kevin Love will be ready to go also (although Love and LeBron got no time on the court together in preseason games).

Now comes the word from our own Sean Highkin that Derrick Rose — coming back wearing a mask after an orbital bone fracture — will not only play but start for the Bulls.

This is good news for Chicago — they need Rose to play, find a comfort level in Fred Hoiberg’s new offense, and mesh with Jimmy Butler in the backcourt if they are going to challenge the Cavaliers when it matters in the postseason. This is just the first step in that direction.

To me, the following confirmation of the expected is the more interesting Bulls news:

Hoiberg is doing the right thing breaking up the Pau Gasol/Joakim Noah pairing that was a disaster last season. However, every pairing he’s got has challenges — starting Gasol and Nikola Mirotic together has the potential to be a horrible defensive combination. And that would pile on top of a poor defensive showing by the Bulls in the preseason (because it’s the preseason we’re not taking it too seriously). Hoiberg has all season to mix and match Noah, Gasol, Mirotic and Taj Gibson to both see what works best and get the older guys some rest. We get to see the start of that experiment on Tuesday.

I’m just happy all but one of the big stars is healthy and ready to go.

Lakers waive Jabari Brown, will keep Metta World Peace on roster

Metta World Peace, Norman Powell
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Is this the move a rebuilding team should make?

The Lakers have waived Jabari Brown, the young scoring guard who spent most of last season with the D-Fenders of the D-League, meaning Metta World Peace is back in the NBA and has made the Lakers’ roster.

This certainly makes the Lakers more entertaining (World Peace and Nick Young in the same locker room!).

World Peace had been working out at the Lakers facilities this summer and bonded with rookie Julius Randle, serving as an on-court mentor. Because their size and styles are relatively similar, there is something to this bonding. World Peace can’t provide much on the court — he doesn’t move laterally well enough to defend much outside the post, and his shot is an issue (he was playing in Italy and China the last couple years for a reason), but he can be a fit at the end of the bench.

The question is why the Lakers would take the older player at the end of his career over the second year player — that’s not how rebuilding teams do things. Parker may not pan out, there were questions about his ability to play off the ball in the Lakers offense, but he certainly has a better shot at being part of the future than MWP. The Lakers decided to give their last couple roster spots to veterans World Peace and Robert Sacre over Brown Robert Upshaw (in large part due to Upshaw’s personal issues).

You can try to defend the individual moves, and they are smaller moves, but this is not the pattern of a team attempting to build itself up to be a place that top free agents will want to come and play. Players and free agents notice this stuff.

Will Sixers approach to rebuild keep big free agents away?

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Sixers GM Sam Hinkie has not waivered from his rebuilding plan — nor from his belief that when the time comes and they look to spend on free agents money will talk.

He’s right in one sense, money does talk in the NBA — offer the most money, you get they guy 95 percent of the time (there are the David West exceptions). But with the elite free agents where they are getting max money regardless, other things come into play. How good is the team and can it win? Do you trust the team management? Weather and other lifestyle questions play in as well, but agents will have the ears of their clients through this process.

Agents right now don’t like how the Sixers are building their team. Could that come back to bite the Sixers in a few years when they chase top free agents? Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer asked a number of agents and the answer was yes.

One agent said he doesn’t want his max-level players in Philadelphia. He’s open to his midlevel players signing with the Sixers only if they overpay. The agent also said the Sixers are viewed as a landing spot for clients without any other NBA options….

 

“The only way an agent will deal with the Sixers is the Jimmy Butler situation,” said a league source, noting that the restricted free agent identified the Sixers as possible destination this summer before he re-signed with the Chicago Bulls.

“They’ll use the Sixers and [general manager Sam] Hinkie to get leverage for other teams,” he added. “They said, ‘OK, the Sixers have max money,’ and they’ll use that and put it out there in the press or whatever just to get leverage.”

That is true now. In a couple seasons things may look very different.

If Jahlil Okafor turns out to be the cornerstone piece he looks to be, if Nerlens Noel can be a defensive anchor next to him inside, if they can find a decent point guard somewhere, if coach Brett Brown can keep building a defensive identity, then in a couple of years this team may look like it has the foundation of a future winner (sort of like we see that foundation in Milwaukee now). At that point, Hinkie can make his pitch and players — and their agents — will listen. But the issue of trust could still loom.

My biggest question remains will owner Joshua Harris (and his less happy minority owners) continue to stick with the rebuilding plan for that long? So far Harris is saying the right things, but how long will he remain willing to wait?

If he does, and if the Sixers have money, they will get free agents. Just don’t expect it to be Kevin Durant next summer, that’s not even close to reality.

When will Danny Ainge leave Celtics? “I don’t see a finish line”

Danny Ainge
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Danny Ainge has won a title as the president of basketball operations — the decision maker — for the Celtics. He has seen some rough rebuilding years as well.

Now there seems to be a foundation coming together in Boston — a well-liked young coach in Brad Stevens, a group of nice young rotation players that buy into the system, a lot of draft picks coming their way — and Ainge intends to stick around for it. He’s been with the Celtics for 13 years, and Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald asked him how much longer he planned to be around.

“I don’t see a finish line . . . at all,” Ainge said. “I guess there’s a finish line for everybody, but I don’t see it. Listen, I’ve been around the NBA long enough to know that you never know how things are going to play out. I don’t expect anything. I never really think about it. When I took this job and we came back, my wife wondered how long we would do it, but we really didn’t know. Still don’t. I still don’t think about it, or worry about it….

“I’m having too much fun,” he said. “I like working with the guys. I feel like right now, after 12 years, I think what we’ve sort of built with our data people, our sports science people, our training staff, our medical staff and our coaching staff, it’s come a long way. I love working with the guys I work with. I still like the players of today. I’m not one of those people that think, ‘Oh, the players of today aren’t what they used to be.’ I don’t see that at all. I love the young kids. I love how hard they work. They work harder than we ever worked. They energize me. I love being around this group of guys.”

I love that last thought. So many veteran players — and older fans — love to think today’s generation of players are self-centered, don’t know the game, and couldn’t hang in the ’80s or ’90s or whatever era they grew up watching. That’s a load of crap. A lot more players than people remember didn’t know the game back then. Today’s players are longer, more athletic and better conditioned. Plus the game has changed — Hall of Famer Gary Payton has told PBT he doesn’t know how he would function in today’s NBA where he can’t touch a guy on the perimeter. Too many people view the past through rose-colored glasses and hazy memories — today is a great and golden age of the NBA. And in 25 years we can hear Stephen Curry talk about how the young players today couldn’t have hung with him.

I like what Ainge has started to build in Boston, he’s got a solid foundation. The challenge is that to win in the NBA you need a couple of Top 15 players, and that’s what Boston lacks right now. Whether through the draft, free agency or trade, Ainge has to land the star that can lift the rest of that roster up. And that’s always the hardest part.

But Ainge has done it before.

NBA coaches will wear lapel pin honoring Flip Saunders

Flip Saunders
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The passing of Flip Saunders on Sunday caught the NBA off-guard. From his players, other coaches, other front office staffs around the league came stories with the universal theme of him being one of the good guys (and that was my experience in limited interactions with him).

This season his fellow NBA coaches will honor his memory in games, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

That’s a nice nod by the coaches to a fallen colleague.

What people around the league can do that would be even more appropriate is make a donation to cancer research (he died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and help us move a step closer to wiping that disease off the list killers in this nation (and around the world). It has robbed us of too many people who were too young.