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While rest of NBA goes West, Gordon Hayward heads East to try and dethrone LeBron, Cavs

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If you’re a basketball fan, you have to love that Houston decided to go right at Golden State, Game of Thrones style. They add Chris Paul and are trying to load up for an assault to take the throne, not backing down from a team that could go down as legendary. San Antonio is still right there and wants a healthy shot at the Warriors. Minnesota added Jimmy Butler and more to step into “we got next” mode — and also be much better now. The Nuggets just improved dramatically with the addition of Paul Millsap, too. The Western Conference is stacked.

While the rest of the NBA zigged West, Gordon Hayward zagged East.

Hayward is going to be a Boston Celtic — and Boston just became a very legitimate threat to make the Finals next season. And for a lot of seasons after that.

While much of the NBA decided to go at Golden State, Hayward joined up to go at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

It wasn’t an easy call for Hayward, leaving the only NBA city he’s ever called home, and a city and fan base he genuinely loved.

However, the lure of a good path to the Finals, his former coach, and the history of Boston proved too much.

It also is the bold, smart, long-term basketball play. Hayward set himself up well for the future (and it’s not just the max money contract he will get) — winning in a major market sets up the endorsements, shoe and otherwise, that can really drive income.

Celtics fans were dreaming of grand slam scenarios that were never likely, but the target all along was to get an All-Star level NBA wing entering his prime and put him on a team that already won 53 games last season. A team that already had an All-Star level center (Al Horford) and an All-NBA point guard (Isaiah Thomas) — and they add an elite player to that without giving up many assets (not ones that really impact the win column much).

Danny Ainge pulled that off, and he deserves kudos. Boston is set up beautifully for the future.

Boston is poised now to seriously challenge Cleveland in the East in 2018 — their motion offense gave the Cavs defense problems last playoffs (even with Thomas injured), and Hayward fits in perfectly with that. Hayward averaged 21.9 points per game last season, shot 39.8 percent from three, grabbed 5.4 rebounds, plus is a quality playmaker for himself and others. He can play the three or some small-ball four (he played the four about 30 percent of the time last season). Boston just got a lot better, filling in a position of need.

Cleveland also seems poised to crumble, maybe not next season but certainly beyond 2018 — maybe LeBron leaves, but even if he stays this team is older, slower and capped out. They don’t even have a GM right now setting up an overall vision. Also, LeBron can’t keep playing like this forever, right? (Who knows, conventional wisdom and timelines do not apply to him.) Boston’s roster already has win now guys plus two likely top top-10 picks the next two years to keep adding quality players (Brooklyn’s unprotected pick in 2018; and the Lakers 2018 first rounder if it falls 2-5, otherwise the better of the Sixers or Kings pick in 2019). Jaylen Brown is just getting started, as is Jayson Tatum. The Celtics can keep guys will need to ultimately move guys such as Avery Bradly and/or Marcus Smart, but they can do so for other players that fit. The picks could be traded. Boston has options — and that’s not an accident. That was always the plan. Boston was never only aiming for 2018, they were more focused on 2019, 2020 and the years beyond that. Ainge was working to build something sustainable.

This is a punch to the gut of Utah — sometimes in life you do everything right and it still doesn’t work out. The organization has drafted well, has arguably the best player development program in the NBA and built up guys such as Rudy Gobert, they have a smart and well-liked coach, the fans have embraced the players, and the team was on the rise. They even added Ricky Rubio and re-signed Joe Ingles to show how serious they were. Utah also could offer more money than any other team and an extra guaranteed year. (The only mistake, in retrospect, was not offering more money and years on Hayward’s last deal, which would not have been up yet, but that wasn’t the main issue here.) All that and the emotional lure of the only NBA city he has ever played in was not enough.

Utah still has a good team, but one without a shot-creating alpha, and it will be difficult to lure one to Utah. They need to step back, think about the next step, and go from there.

For Boston, this is the not the end goal, but they just got a lot closer to it — and closer to banner No. 18.

For Hayward, going East when the rest of the NBA went West was smart, bold, and set him up for the future.

Now just comes the task of living up to the hype.

Mavericks sign second-round pick Jalen Brunson to first-rounder style contract

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Dallas is excited about the potential of Jalen Brunson.

The point guard who led Villanova to a national championship last April fell to the 33rd pick in the draft last June, high in the second round, and Dallas traded up a spot to get him from Atlanta. The Mavericks were ecstatic, and to the surprise of nobody they have reached terms on a contract with him.

What is a bit of a surprise is the Mavericks gave him a first-rounder style contract — four years with some guaranteed money for the first three of them — reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

At Summer League in Las Vegas Brunson showed the qualities that Dallas liked in him — he’s a high IQ player with polish, and he’s a pass-first floor general — but his weaknesses were also exposed. He has to shoot better (23 percent in Summer League) and his defense needs to improve.

Both of those can happen, Summer League is more of a chance for teams to benchmark players than make decisions about them. Brunson reportedly has a great work ethic, he can figure the NBA game out.

Dallas is betting that he will.

Kemba Walker: “As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it”

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Kemba Walker is an All-Star level point guard who is heading into a contract season — he is a free agent in 2019. Walker is also a New York native, born in the Bronx he attended Rice High School in Harlem.

Combine all that with the fact both the Knicks and Nets will have enough cap space for a max (or more than one max) contract next summer, and you’ve got yourself a rumor.

One Walker shot down talking to Michael Scotto of The Athletic.

“As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it,” Walker replied. “I’m a Hornet, and I’m planning on being a Hornet for a long time, so, yeah, I’m not sure about that (New York).”

Walker has said many times he wants to stay in Charlotte (providing they pay the market rate and are trying to compete).

That said, this is the NBA, so never say never.

A lot of NBA teams have been poised, waiting to see if new Hornets’ GM Mitch Kupchak — with the approval of Michael Jordan — decided to go full rebuild and trade Walker this summer. He has not, talking only about keeping this squad together. The Hornets are a solid team with Walker and Nicolas Batum leading the way, one that could make the playoffs in the East if things break right for new coach James Borrego. However, they will not be anywhere near contenders and if things don’t fall their way they may well miss the playoffs next season. Again. The Hornets also are not a bad team, meaning they are not going to get a high pick (without some lottery luck). They are stuck in the NBA’s middle ground, a place most GMs want to avoid.

Trading Walker could jump-start the rebuild in Charlotte, but the Hornets don’t seem to be going that direction. Yet. This summer they signed Tony Parker, Malik Monk looked good in Summer League, and they got Dwight Howard out of the locker room. They say they are a team poised to make a playoff push.

If that push falls apart early in Charlotte, watch and see if their plans change. And what that could mean for Walker. And the Knicks.

However, as of now, Walker wants to remain a Hornet, and they want to keep him. Which crowds New York out of the picture.

 

Report: Philadelphia tried to recruit Daryl Morey as new GM, was rebuffed

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The analytics movement is not dead in Philadelphia.

The Sixers are still searching for a new general manager to replace Bryan Colangelo (who had to resign in the wake of a Twitter scandal), and the rumors have always been about the big guns. David Griffin, the former Cleveland GM inexplicably let go by that franchise, is a name that kept coming up.

But the home of “The Process” wanted to jump back into the analytics waters and try to land the Rockets’ Dayrl Morey, the face of the NBA’s analytics movement. That was shot down, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

The Sixers are swinging for the fences right now — they met with LeBron James in free agency, they have tried to get in on the Kawhi Leonard trade sweepstakes, they wanted to meet with Paul George — and landing Morey fits in that mold. Philadelphia already has Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in house, and feels they are on the verge of contention for years, but that they need one more piece. Morey is not that piece, but the guy who traded for James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston could get someone to come to Philly.

Morey is happy in Houston, however, and he’s staying put.

Instead, the Sixers search will continue. In the interim, coach Brett Brown is filling in a dual role (and doing a solid job, but with the recent run of struggles for teams that had a coach filling both positions it’s unlikely they keep this arrangement long term).

French World Cup star Antoine Griezmann interrupts post-win interview to shout out Derrick Rose

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Antoine Griezmann was one of the stars for France’s World Cup victory — he scored on a penalty kick against Croatia in the Final, helping France to the 4-2 win. He had four goals over the course of the tournament, all scored with his left foot. The Atlético Madrid star is one of the world’s great strikers.

And he is a MASSIVE Derrick Rose fan.

How big? Not long after winning the World Cup, he interrupted an English interview with Paul Pogba to express his Derrick Rose love.

Griezmann may be a bigger Rose fan than Tom Thibodeau… nah, not possible. But Griezmann is second on the list.

This is not some out-of-the-blue joke. Griezmann has said before he would only leave Madrid to play with Rose, and back in 2013 called Rose his No. 1 idol.

The Timberwolves need to get that man a Rose jersey fast.