Dragic more settled now, as Heat prepare to open camp

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MIAMI (AP) — Goran Dragic is still house-hunting in Miami. Other than that, everything is exactly the way the Miami Heat point guard wants.

That’s a far cry from how things were last season.

When Dragic came to the Heat in a trade with Phoenix last February, just about everything in his life seemed unsettled. He was about to enter free agency. His wife was going through a pregnancy that was sometimes difficult. He had to learn a new team, a new system, a new city – without knowing if he was going to be in Miami more than a couple months.

Those days are over. He got the five-year deal he wanted from the Heat. He and his wife’s second child, Viktoria, arrived safe and sound in their native Slovenia earlier this summer. An array of aches and pains that dogged him down the stretch last season is no longer an issue. So when the Heat head to Boca Raton, Florida on Monday for a team dinner that precedes the start of training camp there Tuesday, Dragic will be able to play with a clear mind.

“It was a lot of pressure on me,” Dragic said. “But I just wanted to play basketball and right now I’m in a happy place. I’m done with all those things. I only have to focus on the team, on basketball and my family. I think that’s what’s most important and I’m very happy right now.”

His family will remain in Slovenia for a couple more months, meaning the daily Skype calls will be how they stay in touch. Before year’s end, everyone will be together in Miami, presumably in a new home and with Dragic running the point for a team that’s expected to return to contention in the Eastern Conference.

Miami’s probable starting five this season – Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside – were all with the Heat last season, yet never played a second together. Dragic arrived on the same day that Bosh was ruled out for the season with a blood clot on his left lung, so in some ways there is an element of newness to this team.

“Chris makes a huge difference,” Dragic said. “With him it’s a totally different team.”

Dragic said he can’t envision someone better-suited to work with him in pick-and-roll situations than Bosh. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has also raved about those prospects – after all, it’s what Miami had in mind when it made the deal to bring Dragic aboard – and Bosh said he’s spent plenty of time studying film of his point guard’s tendencies.

“I’ve played with players that are similar, that have similar games,” Bosh said. “With his talent level, I think we’ll just be able to read and react off each other, through conversation of course and time on the court. I think it’s going to be pretty good when we get to collaborating and talking about things and I think it’ll show on the court.”

Everything isn’t perfect, yet. There’s still that house to find, still some team-building to go through, and Dragic expects camp to have some trial-and-error regarding what works and what won’t for the Heat.

Compared to a few months ago, it’s all good.

“These are nice problems to have,” Dragic said.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.