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Danny Ainge’s leadership in spotlight as Celtics chase 18th title

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BOSTON (AP) — When you work for the Boston Celtics, there’s no need for daily reminders about your motivations. They’re constantly casting shadows overhead.

“There’s only one goal in Boston,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens recently said. “There’s 17 banners hanging above us. We only go for one goal here.”

And few people are as keenly aware of that chase as Danny Ainge.

Boston’s front office chief has already been to the NBA’s mountaintop; first as player winning a pair of championships in the 80s and then as the architect of the Big 3 that brought the Celtics their 17th NBA championship in 2008.

He’s since progressed from Kevin Garnett’s triumphant “Anything’s possible” declaration in `08, to believing in the possibilities of the present with a corps of young talent that’s two wins away from returning the franchise to the conference finals for the first time since 2012.

But with the East’s top seed locked in 2-2 tie with Washington, the outcome of this series could go a long way toward affirming the recent moves Ainge has made, or exposing the holes that still exist as his team chases banner No. 18.

Ainge, who has shown willingness to make big moves, stood pat at February’s trade deadline despite holding a wealth of coveted assets. It’s a decision Ainge hasn’t second-guessed.

“Make no mistake that we did try to improve our team,” Ainge said. “But we do have a lot of confidence in our team and the guys that don’t get a chance to play. It doesn’t seem really fair when we have guys that are healthy and that we like and aren’t even getting on the court to bring in other guys just because they’re playing and everyone assumes they’re better.”

After brushing off initial overtures, Ainge was lured back to Boston as the president of basketball operations in 2003 with the endorsement of none other than Celtics’ legend Red Auerbach.

The way Ainge once told the story to a church group, Auerbach called Ainge “the luckiest guy I know” in recommending him to owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca.

While Ainge has acknowledged some fortunate outcomes to get the Celtics back to this point, such as the rise of Isaiah Thomas into an All-Star, there have also been plenty of pivotal moves by Ainge.

One of the league’s most-tenured front office heads, he has recently used that experience to his advantage.

It started with the hiring of Stevens, then just a 37-year-old college coach at Butler, in 2013. That was followed by the trade of Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, which netted the Celtics three first-round picks and the right to swap picks with the Nets this season.

That led to the drafting of rookie Jaylen Brown last summer and a wealth of possibilities with this year’s Brooklyn pick, which has the best odds of being No. 1 overall.

It’s a bargaining chip that only still exists because of Ainge’s decision to not make any trade deadline in each of the last two years.

Though Boston did miss on wooing Kevin Durant to town last summer, it was able to land big man Al Horford, who has since credited Ainge’s vision as one of the major factors that swayed him to sign.

Horford’s addition has not only has provided the Celtics with needed veteran leadership, but he’s been one of the sustaining elements for a group that was able to rally behind Thomas after his sister’s sudden passing on the eve of the playoffs.

“I think that that showed the character of all the players involved,” Ainge said. “I think the first two games (of Chicago series) there was a little bit of a cloud because one of our family was hurting really, really bad…It was like no one knew how to really react to the whole situation. Credit goes to Isaiah, first and foremost, for inspiring his team and the team for fighting for Isaiah.”

TNT analyst and former NBA coach Kevin McHale played alongside Ainge as a player and later saw him in action as an executive. He said while the word patient didn’t used to be one he’d have used to describe his friend, it is one example of how his style has evolved.

McHale said Ainge has also shown a willingness to bring tools like analytics into how he looks at his roster – even if at the end of the day he ultimately still relies on his instincts.

“He’s not a pigeonhole guy,” McHale said. “He uses everything and I think you have to…He has a good eye for grit and toughness. None of that analytics can show that.”

Whether it’s luck or skill, Ainge isn’t waiting for an 18th banner to fall in his lap.

“It’s like being player…You don’t sit around and wait for luck,” Ainge said. “You work your way into having good fortune go your way. You behave and act certain way with integrity and character so that when opportunities present themselves you’re ready.”

 

Report: NBA opened investigation into free agency tampering

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Summer in the NBA is always the most interesting time in the league. Free agency lets us see where players have not only decided to land, but which have schemed together in order to play with each other.

The term “preagency” has been coined to mark the period in which teams and players work out deals before free agency officially opens, and well before the moratorium ends.

It’s been thought that these rules have been circumvented as part of a gentlemen’s agreement between all teams with equal ability to navigate around the written rules. But according to a new report, several team owners are upset about the way things are going in the player empowerment era.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst reported on the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meeting this week, saying that the league has even opened an investigation into what went on this summer in terms of potential tampering.

Via ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, speaking as the head of the labor committee, discussed the possible need to revisit free-agency rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, sources said.

I have two thoughts about this.

First, even if something does come of this, the fine has to be puny. Adam Silver has not strayed on the disciplinarian side the way David Stern did — much to his credit — and any reprimand is unlikely to satisfy upset parties.

Second, there will definitely be sweeping changes in the next CBA. So much has changed since the last lockout, and the money has gotten so big it’s inevitable that people want to make things better for their side. The players got themselves in a hole since 2011. They mishandled the cap jump in 2016, and the max contract rules didn’t create a rising tide that floated all boats. Star players benefited, but low-level guys are even more disproportionately compensated.

This stuff seems like the most boring part of the league, but in reality it’s what makes everything tick.

I won’t be surprised if the NBA levies tampering charges against one or even several teams. I’d be surprised if the league did much about it, though.

Wizards owner says John Wall ‘probably won’t play’ in 2019-20

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It was always likely that Washington Wizards star John Wall would be out for much of next year’s regular NBA season. The team has even filed for a disabled player exception for the 2019-20 season.

Now we have confirmation that the team is expecting Wall to miss significant time.

According to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said that they are going to take things slow with Wall, and that he will miss serious time.

Via Twitter:

Washington is still trying to figure out what to do with Bradley Beal, and with Wall’s contract on the books, they don’t really have much of anywhere to go. The Wizards used their No. 9 overall pick on Rui Hachimura, which raised a few eyebrows.

But the team at least does have a GM in Tommy Sheppard, and they’ve made several hirings in the front office to try and out-think their competition. Washington has made a few moves, including trading for Davis Bertans and signing Isaiah Thomas.

Expect to see the Wizards at the bottom of the East next year. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.