Associated Press

Newly empowered Kevin Pritchard ready to use aggressive approach on Pacers’ revamp

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Pritchard spent the last six seasons speaking his mind privately.

He shared his crazy ideas with Larry Bird, occasionally agreed to disagree with the boss, and might have even tried to persuade Bird to be more aggressive with player moves. Now, the Indiana Pacers are about to see if Pritchard can live up to his word.

“I think you have to be bold in this position,” Pritchard said earlier this week after being given the team’s president of basketball operations job. “I like interchanging pieces, I like moving around in the draft, I want to be aggressive, I want to make deals.”

Pritchard’s attitude may be just what the Pacers need as they enter a transformational offseason.

He has played this game before, though his wheeling-and-dealing ways cost him the general manager’s position in Portland after a little more than three seasons. But the man who was hired to replace Bird acknowledges he’s not the same guy who was fired on draft night in 2010.

Pritchard credits Bird with teaching him about the importance of continuity. After returning to his home state in 2011, Pritchard said he understood that great minds don’t always have to think alike – until a final decision is made and then everyone must present a unified front. He developed an affinity for Bird’s ability to speak plainly, bluntly and meaningfully, and he’s even changing his mind about the thought of Lance Stephenson playing point guard.

But Pritchard still intends to be aggressive with trades, in free agency and with a budget that even made Bird reconsider his plan to step down as the team’s lead decision maker.

“After seeing next year’s budget, I almost want to stay,” Bird joked on Monday. “I think he’s the right guy.”

While the Pacers have a pretty good notion of what they have in Pritchard, it’s the Indiana native who is waiting to see what cards he’s dealt.

Former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague, forwards C.J. Miles and Lavoy Allen, and backup guard Aaron Brooks can all become free agents. Four-time All-Star Paul George has one year left on his contract and could become trade bait if he refuses to commit to playing in Indiana next season. Pritchard said he expects to keep George well beyond 2017-18 and will do almost anything to make it possible.

That will require Pritchard to put a better supporting cast around George, who has made no secret of his desire to bring the Pacers their first NBA title.

Pritchard, born in Bloomington, Indiana, grew up in suburban Indianapolis, and understands.

“This team has been to the playoffs 22 of the last 29 years and we want to be successful,” Pritchard said. “The message (from George) was that he wants to win. We want to win. So we’re on the same page.”

The conventional wisdom last summer, after the Pacers acquired Teague and forward Thaddeus Young in trades, was that they might be on the cusp of returning to the Eastern Conference finals. Instead, they needed to win their last five regular-season games just to make the playoffs, and were swept by defending champion Cleveland in four games.

So Pritchard will begin the revamp from inside the organization.

He’s encouraging promising center Myles Turner to come back bigger and stronger. Pritchard wants Stephenson to get healthy so he can energize the Pacers in a way others cannot. Of course, Pritchard wants to re-sign Teague and George, and he wants the Pacers to get back to some of their more traditional traits.

“Look, we have to be a tougher team,” Pritchard said. “We won at home last year, but when you look at what it takes to win on the road, you have to be physical and you have to play tough. So toughness is what I want to add to the team. We used to be known as a lunch pail team, and we have to get that back.”

And now it’s Pritchard who must finish the job.

“As the No. 2 guy, you make all sorts of recommendations and some are crazy, and then you move into this role,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s OK being the No. 2 guy, too. But Larry and I have had a lot of conversations and he just said `It’s time for you.”‘

 

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

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If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.