NBA’s 2nd Africa Game comes to Johannesburg

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
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MIAMI (AP) — Erik Spoelstra got on the telephone and apologized for having a raspy voice. He’s had a lot to say in Africa.

The Miami Heat coach has been part of a sizable group of NBA players, coaches, and executives in Johannesburg this week for a Basketball Without Borders camp for kids, all building up to Saturday’s second edition of the NBA Africa Game that will benefit charities like UNICEF and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

“The first meeting that we had here, it was overflowing,” Spoelstra said from South Africa this week. “There weren’t enough tables and chairs to fit everybody in here. You’re seeing some of the icons in the league that are in this ballroom, here to help, here to help grow the game, but here to help create more opportunities for kids on this continent. It really is just an honor to be part of this and it’s a humbling experience.”

For the game, Team Africa will be players who were either born there or second-generation – a list that includes Luol Deng, Thabo Sefolosha, Bismack Biyombo, Clint Capela, Gorgui Dieng, Joel Embiid, Serge Ibaka, Luc Mbah a Moute, Salah Mejri, Emmanuel Mudiay, Victor Oladipo and Dennis Schroder.

Team World’s lineup includes Dirk Nowitzki, Kemba Walker, Leandro Barbosa, Jaylen Brown, Wilson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Courtney Lee, Kyle Lowry, CJ McCollum and Kristaps Porzingis.

“I just think there’s so much potential here on this continent,” Nowitzki said. “You’re getting the best out of it. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

The first NBA Africa Game was in 2015, when Deng played for Miami and was coached by Spoelstra. Deng, a native of South Sudan, came back loaded with stories about his experience and Spoelstra’s interest was more than piqued – so much that he didn’t think twice about flying the 8,000 miles from Miami to Africa for this.

He also said seeing the work that NBA icon Dikembe Mutombo and Toronto executive Masai Ujiri have done in Africa compelled him to be part this time.

“I just want to be able to give and serve,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a great game that we all feel so grateful for. I’ve done a lot of the NBA programs in the Philippines and other places in South Florida, but I’ve always wanted to be a part of BWB in Africa. I’ve always really admired Dikembe and Masai and everybody who’s done so much great work over here. I just wanted to be a part of it and offer my services for the week.”

NBA coaches and players have been working the BWB camp, running games and offering instruction.

“This is, to me, a dream come true as a young African player that grew up here dreaming about the NBA, dreaming about coming to Basketball Without Borders,” said Biyombo, an Orlando Magic player who hails from the Congo. “And when I see all these kids, the look on their face, the excitement on their face, it’s beyond amazing.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association head Michele Roberts are also expected to attend Saturday’s game.

Spoelstra has been involved in many NBA events before in his mother’s homeland, the Philippines. He said he continues seeing global growth in the game and understands the value the programs provide.

“The kids that are here at camp, they’re really so grateful that so many different NBA personnel are over here: players, coaches, front office executives, NBA personnel, over here just to help,” Spoelstra said. “I think the NBA’s done a tremendous job creating programs and academies to give kids from over here opportunities they didn’t have before.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.