Even in preseason, risks of small ball begin to show

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In Shanghai we saw it — Chris Bosh and the assortment of other Heat centers could do little to slow the bigger, stronger DeAndre Jordan short of fouling him. With Chris Paul feeding him the rock, Jordan shot 8-for-8 in a Clippers win.

In Hartford we saw it — the Knicks went to the Raymond Felton/Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll early and the Celtics with their smaller lineup couldn’t contain Chandler, who racked up 16 points.

Two of the best teams in the NBA this season — the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics — are leading a “small ball revolution.” Which is less revolution and more reaction to the kind of players coming into the NBA now — 30 years ago mobile bigs like Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett, guys who can step out and stroke an 18-foot jumper like it was a layup, were basically nonexistent.

So some of the NBA’s elite teams are going with what would be untraditional lineups, ones that count on what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to call “position-less” basketball. You can post up Bosh or you can post up Dwyane Wade, whatever creates the mismatch. If that means Bosh is at the three-point line drawing the opposing big man out of the paint, then good. Use the versatility of sometimes smaller players.

And they are doing it because it works — Miami won a ring last year and Boston took them to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals going small.

But there are ways to attack “small ball” for the handful of teams have mobile or hard to defend traditional centers.

In the East, the Heat and Knicks will have to deal with 76ers and Andrew Bynum, and New York and Chandler (who is an often underrated pick-and-roll big man). This isn’t a simple matter of putting Bynum on the block and making the Celtics bring a double team, it’s also dealing with pick-and-rolls when both size and speed come into play.

Put another way, Jared Sullinger can’t handle Chandler rolling to the basket. Boston can counter that by going with Darko Milicic, but he doesn’t have the foot speed to play that way. It’s a hard matchup for them that will require much better pick-and-roll coverage from the Celtics guards, something Doc Rivers pointed out Saturday.

Not a lot of teams can play the Heat and Celtics this way — mobile traditional big men are still hard to find — the problem is some very elite ones can. We mentioned the Knicks, Clippers and Sixers, but there are more. The biggest threat is the Lakers who run two very mobile big men out in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. They will be a load for every team (because they have great point and wing play, too). Then there is Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

It will be interesting to see how over the course of a season, in games that matter, how Boston and Miami deal with these challenges. They might just overwhelm some teams with offense. The Celtics can run Garnett out there longer (not ideal long term but for a game here and there it is doable). There are counter measures.

The bigger challenge will be in the postseason, when teams can scheme, set up matchups they like and run those plays until the other team stops them. Smart money is still on Boston and Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but it won’t be easy because there are ways to attack them

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.