The gift-giving guide for NBA Christmas Sunday

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Wait, so we’re going to have actual, real-life games on Sunday? Like, for real? With defense and actual coordinated playsets (as opposed the summer exhibitions) and everything?

BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER.

And since ’tis the season and all, we thought it would be good to put together what the teams playing in Sunday’s season openers really want under the tree.

Miami Heat: A Chemistry Set

It’s amazing that everyone acts like the Heat were the greatest disappointment last year. Teams who finished ahead of the Heat: the Mavericks. That’s it. By two games. Still, the same questions haunt the Heat in regards to chemistry and how they will fit together. The Heat need to find those keys that will enable them to play more cohesively as a team in order to win on Sunday. The Mavericks aren’t the same team they were last year, but they’ll still have more cohesion than most teams. The Heat have added Shane Battier but against the Mavericks they need more than individual abilities. The same problems the Heat had in the Finals will be present, down to how to guard Dirk and how to keep men out on the shooters. But if they can improve their chemical combos, revenge might be theirs even on a day when the Mavericks will raise their banner.

Los Angeles Lakers: A Self-Help book by Phil Jackson

The Lakers need some spiritual guidance. They’re having a rough month. Busted on a trade for Chris Paul, lost Lamar Odom to bad feelings, thin in the frontcourt, Bynum on suspension, Kobe Bryant injured and facing divorce. Mike Brown may wind up a better overall coach than Phil Jackson in terms of in-game adjustments, tactical design, and you, know, doing things during the game, but there’s no question Jackson was the master of motivation. The Lakers need some spiritual and mental healing, and Jackson could provide it. He understands this team, even if he lost it last season. The Lakers are facing a Bulls team that has advantages at multiple positions. They need to find their center, not their actual center, he’s suspended, if they want to start off 1-0.

Boston Celtics: A nice new shiny whirlpool

My first thought was Ben Gay, but that seemed mean. Instead, this team just needs to try and stay as healthy as possible with their age and injuries, especially facing what is going to be a meaner, tougher Knicks team with Tyson Chandler. Even with the Knicks’ defensive non-existence outside of Tyson Chandler, there are some big mean players on that squad. It’s going to be a battle for the Celtics all season and they need what they can get to stay healthy right off the bat.

Orlando Magic: Super-glue.

The Magic are trying to keep Dwight Howard. They’re facing starting off the year against a young contending team featuring multiple stars that has drafted well and made no serious gaffes in personnel management. So they could use something to try and hold Superman to their roster. Plus, against the Thnder, who are one of the most active teams in the NBA defensively, they could use it to limit their turnovers.

Los Angeles Clippers: “Precious memories” scrapbook

You only debut the best team in franchise history once.  The Clippers are ready to unleash the CP3-Blake Griffin combo on the world, and the Golden State Warriors are a suitably terrible defensive team to allow them to run roughsod. A loss would be the ultimate buzzkill. But most likely this is the start of one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. They should just enjoy the ride.

New York Knicks: Temporary tattoos.

The Knicks need to change the perception of their attitude. They need to become a tougher defensive squad. But since they’re mostly made up of poor defensive players and they’re facing of the biggest bully teams in the NBA, they need to do some window dressing. I’m thinking some fake barbed wire or an anchor with “Mom” on it. The Knicks are going to have to get tough buckets. It’ll be a stiff first test for Tyson Chandler who is charged with changing the whotenter. le culture for the Knicks. But at least the Celtics are thin down low, with Kevin Garnett expected to play significant minutes at center. If the Knicks are going to make a statement, they have to believe they are tough enough. You know, pretend.

Chicago Bulls: A new bulletin board

The Bulls are the latest team to post the best regular season record and advance to the Conference Finals while boasting the MVP to claim that they are disrespected. The Bulls feed off of doubt, and with most people not putting Derrick Rose in the running for MVP, nor putting the Bulls in the Finals, they can use a bigger bulletin board to put all their motivational material, especially since they’re so favored on Christmas. The Lakers are in disarray, so it might be easy for the Bulls to get complacent… much like they became after blowing out the Heat in Game 1 of the ECF last season. The Bulls need their edge and to approach the game Sunday with the same level of “why not us?” that helped them to such a great season last year, including a big win over the Lakers.

Golden State Warriors: A 2013 Calendar

This is a team in transition. 2012 doesn’t even help them. Better to look ahead to a full year and get them something to look forward to when the team looks dramatically different. Mark Jackson wants a tough, defensive, veteran team, and this is a young, offensive, inexperienced team. So it’s going to be rough going, especially against a Clippers team that looks ready to go. It’s best to keep an eye on the long-term, the big picture, the hope of 2013.

Oklahoma City Thunder: A Spalding basketball. 

See, because they need two for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, you see. More overrated: the Durant v. Westbrook struggle, or the characterization of that struggle as overhyped? It’s so meta. The reality is that Westbrook isn’t a pure creator, and Durant isn’t great at creating space for himself in key situations. That’s been the lost element throughout this debate. Durant struggles in creating separation, Westbrook blows past everyone. Durant rarely comes off a screen clean for a catch-and-shoot, Westbrook is able to create offense on his own. This is going to continue to be an issue until they resolve that. But in the meantime, maybe they can just both shoot at the same time. Westbrook with layups and pull-up jumpers and Durant with heavily-guarded, fading away 35-footers.

Dallas Mavericks: Nothing.

They get to raise the banner of a championship. What can be better than that?

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

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If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.