Bill Walton feeling good… and predicts a Lakers/Heat finals

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Bill Walton is a guy with his priorities in the right place.

Three years laying on your back will do that — he told me again that he thought his life was over at points during that time — and now that he is back up after an innovative surgery his outlook on every day is one that would make the world a better place if we all could have it.

“I haven’t been this healthy since high school,” Walton said from his home in San Diego last week. “I had 36 orthopedic operations, I’ve got two fused ankles; my knee, hands and wrists don’t work; I’ve now got a fused spine, but other than that everything is fantastic. I’m excited every single day.”

Walton is up and active with his trademark energy again. You can hear it in his voice and see it in his daily schedule, which starts with a 4:30 a.m. workout. He is involved in a number of business opportunities, plus he is donating time and opening up his home to a charity event to benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation, helping disabled athletes get a new outlook as he has. Walton is auctioning off a party at his home to raise money for this. (Keep on reading, we get to that more at the end.)

And of course, he is involved with and watching a lot of basketball. The sport that helped give him a lot of the opportunities he has had. He was at the Hall of Fame inductions last year to welcome Arvydas Sabonis to the Hall.

And as a guy who has fought to overcome injuries and adversity, he is drawn to Kobe Bryant, who Walton called “staggeringly magnificent.”

“Kobe Bryant, this guy is just phenomenal,” Walton said. “For him to be able to sustain this at such a remarkably high level. Right now I’m looking at a Lakers/Heat finals. And Dallas will be good, Oklahoma City will be good, the Clippers will pose some problems, Chicago is very good.”

But Walton also sees what many of us have, that there is a coming changing of the guard in the NBA.

“But this is a changing league out there,” Walton said. “It’s always been a young man’s game and time has caught up with some of the legends…. We’re glad the Knicks are putting together a roster that can compete at the highest levels. And to see Miami’s regroup from last year’s collapse at the end, when the championship was theirs to be had. To come back with such spirit and fire.

Still, it takes experience to win.

“What experience teaches you is just how hard it is (to win). And how much it takes…” something Walton relates to his own story of physical challenges. “The vision, the sacrifice, the willingness to put it all out there. That is what it takes every single day. As these young teams — Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, New York — as they fight with everything they have to get to that promised land, they have to realize what is really important…. All the great teams, it is about the foundation, the commitment of the players to the team, and the leadership. Who is going to get the job done?”

Walton, a former Clipper player and broadcaster, also has enjoyed the renaissance of that franchise.

“I am so happy for Clippers fans and I am so happy for (long-time Clippers broadcaster) Ralph Lawler, who is such an enjoyable listen. And just to be able to turn on the games and listen to Ralph, and to see how much fun they are having…

“That guy Chris Paul. That guy is really, really good. Plus he’s my wife’s favorite player. His level of creativity, his level of imagination, his level of determination…. he makes other people better at what they do, he makes other people’s dreams come true, he puts a smile on other people’s faces.”

Walton’s theme or rebirth in his life ties into his work with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which works to provide equipment, opportunity and everything needed for soldiers injured in Afghanistan or Iraq, or maybe a person injured in a car accident at home, to help find their way again through sport.

To help raise money, Walton is opening up his home in San Diego for a party. Through CharityBuzz.com, there is an auction and the winner gets to come with all their friends or co-workers, or whomever they want to invite for an evening of food, music and conversation with Walton.

“We are opening our house to an event… Bring whoever you want. Bring the family, bring your team, bring the company, your organization over to the house,” he said. “We’ve been in this house 33 years near Balboa Park in my home town of San Diego, we love our home and we’re going to share it with other people willing to make a difference in the lives of people involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation.”

When he talks about it you can hear the energy in his voice. The energy that made him a big-time broadcaster and that made him the player he was. It’s just good to hear that passion again.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

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Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.

Annual GM survey predicts Bucks vs. Warriors Finals, Doncic MVP

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The NBA’s annual GM survey is more of a snapshot of the conventional wisdom around the league than a good predictive tool — last season the GMs overwhelmingly picked the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Durant as MVP. Didn’t exactly work out that way.

Still, it’s an interesting view into where things stand — and where it stands is a Bucks vs. Warriors NBA Finals. When asked who would win the NBA title, 43% predicted the Bucks, 25% the Warriors, 21% the Clippers and 11% the Celtics (a number that unquestionably fell since the news of Ime Udoka’s suspension came out).

Here’s how the GMs see the top six in each conference, courtesy of Jon Schuhmann and NBA.com who did the survey:

EAST
1. Bucks
2. Celtics
3. 76ers
4. Nets
5. Heat
6. Cavaliers

WEST
1. Clippers
2. Warriors
3. Suns
4. Nuggets
5. Grizzlies
6-T: Mavericks and Timberwolves

Here are some other highlights from the survey:

• Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP and the choice of the GMs, with 48% of them picking the Dallas star to win the award. Second was Giannis Antetokounmpo (34%) followed by Joel Embiid (14%).

• But ask GMs if they were starting a franchise today and could sign anyone, and they take Antetokounmpo (55%) over Doncic (45%). Those are the only two names on the list.

• Asked the player most likely to have a breakout season and the Cavaliers Evan Mobley led the way with 21% of the vote, followed by Cade Cunningham and Anthony Edwards tied for second (17%).

• The most athletic player in the league? The GMs voted for Ja Morant (38%) over Antetokounmpo (31%) and Anthony Edwards (24%).

• When asked which team had the best offseason, 41% of the GMs picked the Cavaliers, with Donovan Mitchell being named the player changing teams who would have the biggest impact this season.

• The most underrated offseason pickup: Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, according to the GMs (28%).

• Most surprising move of the offseason for the GMs was Rudy Gobert to Cleveland (47% of the vote), but Mitchell to the Cavaliers was a close second (43%).

Paolo Banchero is the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year (79%).

• Antetokounmpo was voted the best defensive player in the NBA (45%), with Draymond Green a distant second (24%).

• Gobert, however, was the runaway winner of the best interior defender (83%).

• Best coach in the NBA? Erik Spoelstra led the way with 52% of the vote, followed by Steve Kerr at 22%. The Clippers’ Tyronne Lue, however, won the vote for best in-game adjustments by a coach.

• The Toronto Raptors were voted the team with the best home court advantage (21%), with Boston and Denver tied for second (17%).