NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: ProBasketballTalks' prediction post

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Laker_Celtics_logos.pngApparently nobody in Boston will be buying the team on this blog a beer next time we visit. They’ll be all too happy to serve us crow, however.

We’ve decided to put our predictions out there, to make them official and public and all that. And for possibly the first time ever (well, outside of wondering if Marco Jaric scored over his head with his wife) we all agree on something.

Kurt Helin: Lakers in 7. I believe in the Celtics. Now. I didn’t for the last two rounds. I thought it a fluke, and I was wrong. They are for real. They are back and playing defense like beasts again. And they are still going to lose this. Barely, but lose. I’ll take the Lakers because of home court (their role players just are more comfortable in Staples Center), having Andrew Bynum (even in his limited condition) which will open things up for Pau Gasol, and in the end Kobe Bryant remains the best player on the court, and he happens to be playing his best ball.

Matt Moore: Lakers in 6. They’ve beaten Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Steve Nash. Can they beat Rajon Rondo? They’ve beaten Jeff Green, Carlos Boozer, and Amar’e Stoudemire. Can they beat Kevin Garnett? They’ve beaten Kevin Durant, Andrei Kirilenko, and Grant Hill. Can they beat Paul Pierce? They’ve beaten Scott Brooks, Jerry Sloan, and Alvin Gentry. Can they beat Doc Rivers? They can because of three little letters. TMT. Too Much Talent.

Rob Mahoney: Lakers in 7. I’ve spent the last few days trying to convince myself that the Celtics will take this thing, but they won’t. They can, but they won’t. Kobe Bryant is simply operating on a different plane of existence, in which defenders seem to be challenging his shots, but fail to contest the ethereal. Behind him are a number of talented players that can’t all be negated; maybe the Celtics can take away Bynum’s impact, but not Gasol’s, maybe they can take away Odom’s impact, but not Artest’s. Boston may have upset Orlando by proving how delicate the Magic’s offense really was, but L.A.’s attack is far too balanced to crumble under the Celtics’ defensive pressure. It’s been fun, Boston, but it’s time to go home.

John Krolik: Lakers in 6. The Celtics should be a much tougher test for the Lakers than either the Jazz or the Suns were, simply because of the way Boston plays defense. Remember how the Lakers looked vulnerable against the Thunder, even though the Thunder struggled to score for most of the series? Well, the Celtics are a whole lot better defensively than the Thunder are. They don’t have a Sefolosha or a Durant to slow down Kobe on the perimeter, but they’re capable of guarding that massive Laker frontline. That has the potential to change everything — expect this Laker team to have some very rough stretches over the course of this series. Ultimately, though, fatigue and that 2-3-2 format are going to be too much for Boston to overcome. Boston hasn’t been consistent enough at home for me to think they can win three in a row in Boston, and I don’t see any team winning two out of seven games at Staples. The Lakers will get tested, but I think they’ll pass with flying colors.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.

Pat Riley: Dion Waiters not recovered for start of training camp, “unlikely” for start of season

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This is a setback.

When Dion Waiters had ankle surgery 30 games into last season, the hope was that he would be healthy for the start of this season and return to the post All-Star form of 2017, when his hot play (15.6 points per game, 41 percent from three and carrying a heavy offensive load) led the Heat to offer him a four-year contract.

Turns out, that’s not going to happen.

It was Pat Riley who made the announcement, speaking to the media.

Waiters was not healthy last season, and while he averaged 14.3 points a game he was not nearly as efficient — 30.6 percent from three, shooting 39.8 percent overall, a PER of 10.5.

This could move Dwyane Wade into the starting lineup to open the season. Beyond that, the Heat have the guard depth to survive this with Wade and Wayne Ellington at the two, plus Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Malik Newman, and Briante Weber heading into camp.

Waiters being out also is bad news for the player but could save the franchise money on another front: Waiters receives a $1.1 million bonus if he plays in 70 games this season. If he misses the start of the season, he becomes far less likely to make that threshold.