Brandon Bass' polite, tasteful frustration

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This past off-season, Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith wanted it all. He wanted a talented, versatile swingman to work the offense in place of Hedo Turkoglu, so he traded for Vince Carter. He wanted another big, sweet-shooting forward to plug in at the 4, so he demanded the inclusion of Ryan Anderson in the Carter deal. He wanted depth, toughness, and shooting on the wing, so he signed Matt Barnes. He wanted to fortify the back-up point guard position, so he signed Jason Williams. And he wanted to match the Dallas’ Mavericks offer sheet to then-restricted free agent Marcin Gortat while simultaneously wooing the Mavs’ Brandon Bass for the mid-level exception, so he did that too.

All a pretty decent plan, and a flurry of activity that most fans could only dream coming from their team’s GM.

Despite the kid-in-the-candy-store look of Smith’s approach, there was calculation there. He picked his targets, went after them strategically, and assembled one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league. But among all of those moves, Smith made one pretty sizable misstep; how would the newly signed Brandon Bass find minutes in a front court featuring Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard, Gortat, and Anderson? You don’t willingly pay $4 million a year for bench filler, which is essentially what Bass has become. Brandon has played in just 30 of Orlando’s 53 games, with many of those opportunities coming due to injuries in the rotation.

Smith could have picked between Bass and Gortat, and everything would’ve been peachy. But Otis Smith is finding out the hard way that you can’t have your talented, young big man cake and eat it — …okay it’s an imperfect metaphor, but you see what I’m getting at.

To Bass’ credit, he hasn’t made much of a ruckus. There could be some brooding and resentment behind the scenes, but any confrontations have stayed well within the confines of the locker room, despite there being plenty of media interest in Brandon’s growing frustration.

That is, until now. And even then, the message conveyed by Bass through his agent is hardly one of rage or bitterness; this is just a guy looking for a place to play basketball, and if he can’t do that with regularity in Orlando, he’d like to be relocated somewhere else. Please and thank you. From Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:

Bass, admittedly frustrated and disappointed, was asked if he still wanted to be in Orlando. “Do I want to stay here? If they feel like I can help them, sooner than later, I’d love to stay here. If something changes. … If they say I can’t help the team and they don’t want me here … then maybe I have to do what’s best for myself,” said Bass, who also was courted last summer by Charlotte, Detroit, Chicago and Portland, among others. “I signed here because I wanted to win championships. I took less dollars because I wanted to win. But it eats at me, because I can’t contribute to the team.”

[Brandon Bass’ agent, Tony] Dutt said he plans on speaking with Magic General Manager Otis Smith sometime during the upcoming all-star break to get a feel for Bass’ future in Orlando. Dutt is not actively seeking a trade for Bass, 24. He said it could be “premature” to demand that Bass be moved, considering Bass’ role could change. Dutt said that Smith says that there’s still a place for Bass — and Smith told the Sentinel as much on Thursday. “I like Brandon. He’ll get his opportunity,” Smith said.

But Dutt is still baffled by how little Bass has played. “The consensus is that they see a role for him. Maybe it’s just taken longer for that to happen. But to bring him in and not play him. … It doesn’t make any sense,” Dutt said.

Despite the inconsistent play of the Magic this season, Bass has refused to make demands or give ultimatums. That may not be to his immediate benefit (it’s unlikely he’ll be moved before the trade deadline), but it certainly is to the team as a whole. 2009-’10 may end up being a regrettable season for Bass, but at least he hasn’t taken the Magic down with him.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.