67RIEFNS No. 6: Return of injured players


The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the doldrums of the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

It’s always fun to see familiar faces back on the court. Usually, that means watching someone you haven’t seen since the end of last season.

But for a few players, it’s been much longer.

Here are some injured payers I’m especially looking forward to seeing back in action, sorted by the date of their last game:

Danilo Gallinari – April 4, 2013

Gallinari tore his ACL late  in the 2012-13 season, missed all of last year and might not be ready to start this season.

But, man, the Nuggets’ offense sure runs more smoothly when he plays.

Kenneth Faried’s contract extension has hinged on several questions, maybe chief among them: How large a role can he fill offensively? He’s not a traditional go-to payer, which is a fair criticism for someone who might command a max contract. But that matters a whole lot less when Gallinari plays.

Gallinari can drive to the basket and spot up from the perimeter, allowing him to contribute both on and off the ball. His skilled versatility allows Faried freedom to focus on hustle plays, what he does best.

In the last three seasons including the playoffs, Denver has gone 80-41 with Gallinari and 56-66 without him.

JaVale McGee – Nov. 8, 2013

Whenever someone makes the case Masai Ujiri is overrated as a general manager, McGee is Exhibit A. Ujiri dumped an overpaid Nene on the Wizards for McGee, but he also gave McGee a big contract extension.

McGee has started a grand total of 10 games for Denver. Some of that is due to injury, but the center has also underwhelmed when healthy.

The Nuggets are committed to making McGee look good so they look good, and I doubt they let up now. McGee has the physical talent to annually make an All-NBA team, but his focus often drifts.

Can he come closer to reaching his potential? That eternal struggle will resume soon.

Derrick Rose – Nov. 22, 2013

Rose has played just 50 games, including the playoffs, since becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history.

It’s been a rough few years.

Rose is back to playing. We saw that in the World Cup, though the results weren’t impressive.

Will Rose ever return to his previous levels? I’m not so sure. If he lost any athleticism, his game takes a major hit. Rose is definitely skilled, but his explosiveness made him special.

There’s no shame in being “just” a good point guard, but Rose was more than that. Even fully healed, he might no longer be on that track.

Kobe Bryant – Dec. 17, 2013

Kobe is 36, and he played six games last season.

I don’t care how strong willed he is. The odds are stacked highly against him ever finding major success again.

However, I can’t wait to watch him try.

Kobe can channel stubbornness and anger nobody can match. Either he’ll will himself back to stardom, or his downfall will be steep.

Al Horford – Dec. 26, 2013

When Horford got hurt, the Hawks were the third-best team in the East. Without him, they barely slipped into the playoffs with a losing record.

Of course, Atlanta was just 16-13 with Horford. Other teams in the conference grew throughout the season and/or upgraded this summer.

Horford and Paul Millsap are one the NBA’s most skilled big-man tandems, but they’ll have their work cut out to lead the Hawks back to the playoffs.

Having Horford helps, though. He’s a potential All-Star when healthy.

Brook Lopez – Dec. 20, 2013

Before going down, Lopez was having the best season of his career. He was averaging 20.7 points per game on 56.3 shooting, and his PER (25.4) would have ranked seventh in the NBA behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Chris Paul.

But the Nets played better without him, as Jason Kidd shifted to a small-ball scheme.

Lionel Hollins brings his own system, and it should welcome back Lopez. But there’s that lingering curiosity: Is Brooklyn better off without Lopez?

I don’t think so, but if he defends and rebounds a little better, it would be easier to prove his scoring provides more than an empty contribution.

Ryan Anderson – Jan. 3, 2014

Want to pressure a defense? Play Anderson and Anthony Davis together.

Davis can pull defenders all over the court, and Anderson can stretch them even further. In 324 minutes together last season, they posted a 115.4 offensive rating.

But they’re nearly as bad defensively, where neither is beefy enough to bang inside for too long. Omer Asik should help, and that will allow the Pelicans to more selectively deploy the Davis-Anderson tandem.

Everything in New Orleans revolves around Davis, and Anderson fits well offensively. Asik makes it so Anderson’s defensive fit is less of an issue, and as Davis grows into his frame, maybe he and Anderson can click on both ends. This season should reveal more.

Jrue Holiday – Jan. 8, 2014

If the loss of Anderson didn’t damage the Pelicans’ playoff hopes, Holiday’s injury really set them back.

New Orleans invested heavily to make Holiday its point guard of the future, and while his play still falls short of star level – yes, I know he made an All-Star Game with Philadelphia – he’s still just 24. There’s still plenty of time for Holiday to sand his rough edges.

Mainly, he needs to get on the court and get better. Last season interrupted his progress, but if the Pelicans want to make the playoffs quickly, they’ll need Holiday to surge forward.

Larry Sanders – Feb. 8, 2014

Technically, Sanders returned late last season to serve his marijuana suspension, but he didn’t actually play.

It was a regrettable year for Sanders, who got demoted, got injured in a bar fight, argued with teammates, got hurt again and then failed a drug test. In the first season of a large contract extension, there’s worry Sanders isn’t handling his payday well.

But he’ll be back Milwaukee, because the Bucks can’t won’t trade him.

Sanders came up from the bottom once before. He’ll have to do it again if he wants to avoid another embarrassing season.



Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

The league is still finalizing some details for the tournament, but each team is expected to have a representative, sources said.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)


Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.