Wednesday night NBA grades: Greg Oden is back — that is a story worth celebrating

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering what kind of Little League coach sues one of his 14-year-old players

source:  Greg Oden, Miami Heat. He made it back, and that is the story. Tonight he had six points on 2-of-3 shooting in 8:24 on the court — what matters is that he was on the court at all. Greg Oden, the modern poster child for how knee injuries (three microfracture surgeries) can derail a career, showed what happened when he refused to give up. He may not be what was expected of a No. 1 pick but that he’s here seeking a measure of redemption is great for the game nonetheless. More than four years since he last set foot on an NBA court he was back out there for the Heat, playing in an NBA game.

We as fans celebrate the amazing athleticism in the NBA, the intelligent play we see, the drama of the game, the beauty of it, as we should. But there will be no better human story in the NBA this season than the fact Greg Oden made it back on the court — most people would have taken the money (more than $23 million in salary from his rookie deal) and spent the rest of their life on the couch bemoaning what might have been. Or, they might have crawled into a bottle. Oden had some rough years but he didn’t give up, he worked diligently through more rehab than you or I would tolerated, and he made it all the way back. That is something we should be celebrating as fans, as lovers of the game, and as caring human beings.

source:  J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers missed J.J. Redick (he just got back Friday from a broken wrist). Los Angeles likes to start games running Redick off a few picks to get a quick catch-and-shoot (think how Doc Rivers’ teams used Ray Allen in Boston) and it worked against Dallas as Monta Ellis is not exactly fond of chasing a waterbug around the court. Redick hit is first few and his confidence back — he had 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half, and 33 points for the game on 14 shots. That included a key three late to make it a one-point game during the Clippers comeback. “I’ve not seen a lot of guys that missed the amount of games that he’s missed and come back this sharp,” Doc Rivers said after the game. “When you think about it he had a broken wrist, so it’s not like he’s been hurt shooting, he’s not been able to shoot through this time and yet he comes back and… he’s a tough dude.”

source:  Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic. It was the best game of the rookie’s season — 35 points on an impressive 15-of-24 shooting. He picked up 14 of those in the second quarter on 5-of-6 shooting — he was attacking the paint in the quarter and getting to the line, then he showed his range and knocked down a three. Oladipo is one of three guys seriously in the Rookie of the Year running (Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke are the others) and it is games like this that make you think he might be the best of the group in a few years.

source:   Miami Heat. That’s three losses in a row to below .500 teams: the Knicks, Nets and now they fell by 17 to the Wizards. Dwyane Wade should have taken the night off, he was terrible at both ends of the court. Really this losing streak is part of a bigger trend — 9 of Miami’s 11 losses this season are to teams below .500 (Indiana and Golden State are the exceptions). With all due respect to the Wizards and the two teams out of New York (they are all playing better lately) this is as much about where the Heat are at mentally right now, and it’s not where they should be. They will still be the East’s two seed, the issue is they are not building good habits toward the postseason. Indiana is.

source:   Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls. This is an “A” for effort. Butler gets to be first in line for the ice bath — he played 60:20 in the Bulls triple-overtime win over the magic. That is the most by any NBA player since Jalen Rose played 61 for the Pacers back in March 2001. In all that time Butler racked up 21 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

source:   Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics. Boston snapped its nine-game losing streak and Jared Sullinger was the reason — 25 points on 7-of-14 shooting, plus 20 rebounds. Maybe it was a trade bump, maybe it was Boston being more focused on the defensive end, but whatever the reason the team looked better and Sullinger looked the best he had all season.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.