51 Q: Which team takes biggest step back this season?

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51 Questions in 51 Days. PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

WHICH TEAM WILL TAKE THE BIGGEST STEP BACK THIS SEASON?

Kurt Helin: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is the clear and obvious choice — they lost or traded LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, and Nicolas Batum. That’s four starters out the door (plus guys like Arron Afflalo), and the guys they brought in are not of the same quality — many are not good jump shooters. When Aldridge chose to take his talents to San Antonio, the Blazers wisely decided to rebuild — and it’s a lot easier to rebuild when you start with a piece like Damian Lillard. But it’s going to be a process, at times a painful one. What they do offensively now must change — they loved the pick-and-pop with Aldridge, but now their big guys can’t shoot with range, so they are going to roll and that will draw defenders into the paint, meaning things will get clogged. It’s going to be a rough season in Portland.

One team that will push Portland for the crown? The Atlanta Hawks. They won 60 games last season and I expect a healthy step back for a few reasons: 1) They weren’t as good as their record last year, they had the point differential of a 56-win team; 2) They are going to miss DeMarre Carroll on the wing, especially with Thabo Sefolosha still trying to come back from injury; 3) Last season in the regular season they were fortunate to be largely healthy, odds say they will not be that lucky again. The Hawks are still a quality playoff team, they made some quality pickups in the offseason such as Tiago Splitter, but they will fall back to reality this season.


Dan Feldman: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland — largely by design, once LaMarcus Aldridge left — has chosen to take a step back. And it should be a large step. The Trail Blazers SLUMPED to a 51-31 finish last season. When everyone was healthy, they at least belonged in the championship-contender conversation. Now, it’d be a minor miracle if they won 51 games, let alone seriously enter the playoff race. They let Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo walk in free agency, and they traded Nicolas Batum. That’s just too much attrition from a team that values continuity, especially when the replacements are so young and unproven. I like what the Trail Blazers are doing. I just don’t expect them to win much this season.

Sean Highkin: Boston Celtics

Boston was the surprise of the second half of last season, going 20-11 after the All-Star break and sneaking into the playoffs as the seventh seed. It’s to Brad Stevens’ enormous credit that this roster of mostly spare parts played as well as it did down the stretch. And none of the moves they made this summer were bad, per se — it’s just hard to see where they got definitively better, at least to the point where they can definitely be penciled in as a definite playoff team. They re-signed Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko to good value contracts and signed Amir Johnson to fortify the paint, but they still lack an identity beyond “scrappy overachievers.” They have four point guards now, and none of them (save for maybe Marcus Smart) are the clear long-term answer. Danny Ainge is still waiting for the day when the years of asset collecting translate into a star. It’s certainly not anybody on this roster, which is full of players who are the fourth or fifth-best player on a good team. Boston should be right around where they were last season: in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the East, but without a clear path forward.

Mike Tirico hosts new NBC Sports’ daily talk show ‘Lunch Talk Live’

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We’re all missing our connection to sports right now.

A new show on the NBC Sports Network is here to help restore some of that connection. Today “Lunch Talk Live” hosted by Mike Tirico launches at noon ET on NBCSN, or you can stream it by following this link or on the NBC Sports app.

Lunch Talk Live focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

“In these challenging times, we are all missing sports and the people who make sports memories,” said Tirico. “Hopefully, we can bring a midday connection with some of them to help fill the void.”

“We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports,” said Sam Flood, NBC Sports Executive Producer & President of Production. “This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.”

Guests on the first show Monday will include Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Peter King, Cris Collinsworth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and more. Later in the week the guests will include NASCAR drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Petty, and Dale Jarrett, announcers Al Michaels and Doc Emrick, plus many more.

The hour-long show — hosted remotely — debuts today and will be on five days a week in that time slot.

For updates on guests and to keep up with the show, you can follow along on Twitter.

 

Another pessimistic report that this NBA season may be lost

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Nobody knows what happens next, because nobody knows where we will be as a nation in fighting the coronavirus in six weeks, 10 weeks, or even September. Not Adam Silver, not Dr. Anthony Fauci, and certainly not politicians or pundits. As Fauci puts it well, the virus determines the timeline.

That said, there is a real hunger from the NBA league office, its owners and players, to find a way to finish off this season.

There’s also a growing pessimism that is going to happen. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski went on SportsCenter Sunday and echoed that idea but using the term “realism,” reports Adam Zagoria of Forbes.

“There’s still hope around the league and there’s a tremendous amount of planning and contingencies and brain-storming going on with the league office, with teams, executives, sports science, medical staffs for the league and for teams, as well as the Players Association.

“But there’s also a level of realism that is starting to sink in it, that it’s going to be difficult to return to play this season, that a runway for how many days it would actually have to be able to have a representative rest of the season, a few regular-season games at minimum and then a playoffs that would crown a legitimate champion, that would have a playoff structure, that would be enough to have someone to wear that crown and do it without an asterisk, that’s the challenge around the league right now. And they know they’re up against it, they’re up against the clock and there’s certainly a lot of concern about whether this league will be able to return to play or not.”

The sense I get talking to people around the league is the regular season is all but dead. As much as the league wants to play even a few regular-season games, getting 14 teams to go through everything it would take — getting the players and staffs to self-quarantine for a couple of weeks, get tested, then go through a three-week training camp — to play five or so games that will not change the standings much at all is asking a lot.

There is still discussion of trying to create a “bubble” somewhere and doing a condensed playoffs, but as Wojnarowski notes that would come with an implied asterisk, something the league doesn’t want. Even if the league only brings in 16 playoff teams — or 12, or 8 — the logistics of creating a bubble in Las Vegas (or wherever) are daunting. There would have to be COVID-19 tests for everyone involved (not just players but coaches, trainers, equipment managers, cooks and cleaning staff at the hotel, and many more), and there is a big concern about false negatives in existing tests. Would player families be allowed in the bubble or are you going to separate players from their families for at least a month, likely longer? There would need to be medical staff on-site for these games, is that a good use of medical resources?

Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg, and yet that model is a much faster way to get games going again — who knows when we can have games in front of 18,000 fans again?

We all want to see basketball back as soon as possible, but it’s hard to keep the optimism about this season up right now.

Kentucky sophomore guard Ashton Hagans declares for NBA Draft

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University of Kentucky sophomore Ashton Hagans has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft.

Hagans has started at point guard for the Wildcats for the majority of two seasons. He started 30 of 37 games as a freshman and 29 of 30 games as a sophomore.

The six-foot-three guard struggled some when asked to carry a larger offensive load as a sophomore. He scored 11.5 points per game, but shot just over 40% from the field. Hagans also averaged 3.4 turnovers per game.

On the plus side, Hagans is a solid rebounder for his position and dished out 6.4 assists per game. Hagans has also shown the ability to be a good defender. He’s quick enough to stay in front of most opposing guards, while also possessing the ability to switch onto bigger players. Hagans also has good instincts for when to jump passing lanes.

Most draft analysts have Hagans pegged as a mid-to-late second round pick. Players have until Sunday, April 26 to declare for the 2020 draft as Early Entry candidates.

Jalen Rose in touch with Chris Webber to end well-publicized feud

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In a wide-ranging interview with Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe, Jalen Rose says he and Chris Webber are in touch and plan to privately settle their differences.

“We’re in contact currently and we’re brothers,” Rose said of Webber. “So I always feel like anything that we need to say needs to be face to face, eyeball to eyeball, without any distractions, without any hype, without any camera. That’s the big-boy way to do that. That’s my brother.”

Rose and Webber started to make amends after former University of Michigan teammate Juwan Howard was named head coach of the Wolverines.

Rose said the only change he’d make to the 2011 “Fab Five” documentary he directed for ESPN is that he’d love to have an interview with Webber in there. “The only change would be to get a 2011 interview from C-Webb,” Rose said. “Other than that, it was the bible.”

Rose also touched on his desire for Michigan to honor the “Fab Five” in some way. The team’s two Final Four banners from that era were removed because of NCAA violations. Rose feels that the school should still honor those teams.

“None of our jerseys are retired, but one of us is the coach of the team,” Rose said. “I watch a lot of college basketball, I see their numbers get retired, and I’m happy for them. I did three years at Michigan, they have to do one black banner, put the maize and blue on the outside of it, and put the five numbers up there and still let the people wear the numbers. Make it a Fab Five banner. I hope it doesn’t take something to happen to one of us in order for it to take place. And the Basketball Hall of Fame, too, we can’t get a plaque in there? Give us our flowers while we’re still here.”