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LeBron James undercurrent of Celtics introducing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward

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A restricted free agent in 2014, Gordon Hayward visited Cleveland. Kyrie Irving – who had just signed a contract extension with the Cavaliers – recruited him.

“Then LeBron came, and that kind of squashed that whole thing,” Hayward said today at the Celtics’ introductory press conference for their newest stars.

That was first mention of the elephant in the room: LeBron James, who seemingly played a large role in Irving requesting a trade from the Cavs before that 2014 extension completed.

Irving just laughed and held up his hands as Hayward spoke of LeBron, whom Irving had sidestepped in questions about why he wanted to leave Cleveland and what Boston needed to do to overtake the Cavaliers in the East. It wasn’t until the final question that Irving finally addressed LeBron.

“No, I haven’t spoken to him,” Irving said. “And my intent, like I said, was for my best intentions. And to look back at the amount of ground we covered in the last three-year span – or even before that, because we had a prior relationship – and to really realize how special that was and how much growth happened in that amount of time, I’d be sitting up here and telling you guys a lie if I didn’t tell you I learned so much from that guy. The perfection of the craft comes in a variety of forms. And you watch, and you watch, and you ask a lot of the great players, “What does it take to be great?” And I’ve had the unique opportunity to play with one of the greats, and it was awesome. At times, it was all over, just like it is in any other team. And when you look back and you’re eternally grateful for the moments that you’ve had and you’ve shared, you’re able to put peace with that journey and start anew. And this was a very, very challenging decision at first. But after a while, when you understand, and you have that confidence yourself to understand the magnitude of what you actually can accomplish and potentially can do with other great people. And now that I’m sitting here, it just echoes in terms of me just being very appreciative of, not only the Cleveland fans, all of Ohio, but as well as Bron incorporating me into that special team that we had in Cleveland. Because three Finals in a row, all the shared memories, all the individuals, with T-Top, Swish – I could go down the line with the guys that I played with in Cleveland. But they all know how I feel about them individually, as well the amount of love that we have for one another. The brotherhood exists, even without all this, and it will continue. So, that’s exactly where it is. And I’m very appreciative of it.”

The rest of the press conference was more of the same – Irving bloviating and Hayward, who lasted fewer than two months as Boston’s splashiest new addition, an afterthought.

Even in an offseason Celtics press conference he obviously didn’t attend, LeBron was the subtext that drove interest. If you want to read into them, there were a few times prior to his final answer that Irving addressed LeBron:

  • “I just knew that I wasn’t going to come up here to specifically point at individuals, specifically point at what issues here, whatever. Because that’s not important to me. At all.”
  • “Is there ever such thing as one person carrying a whole team? I don’t think so.”
  • “There is no such thing as putting the team on your shoulders.”

Irving kept attempting to steer the conversation back to his talking points – his commitment to teamwork and affinity for Boston, including Brad Stevens. The point guard also praised Hayward, repeatedly calling him “a bad dude.”

“He’s been working with a common guy between us, which is pretty awesome in L.A.,” Irving said.

Everyone wanted to hear more about LeBron-Irving, and those questions won’t stop – especially if the Celtics and Cavaliers continue their expected course toward an Eastern Conference finals rematch.

But at least Irving knew, in Boston, it was probably better for him not to talk more about that “common guy between us.”

Report: Knicks interested in hiring 76ers’ Elton Brand as GM

76ers general manager Elton Brand
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The 76ers’ eventful offseason has fallen flat so far.

Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) has generally underwhelmed and especially struggled to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid. At 33, Horford faces even more issues as he ages.

Though Tobias Harris has been fine, it’s hard to feel good about his five-year, $180 million deal. That contract makes it difficult to build a quality bench, even if ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax. Every team has spending limits, and Philadelphia has tied significant capital to a merely solid forward.

Josh Richardson isn’t shooting as well as he did while looking like a burgeoning star with the Heat. It’s also hard not to notice Jimmy Butler thriving in Miami.

The cumulative results are also concerning. Creating enough spacing around Embiid and Simmons was always challenging. This group isn’t coming close to answering that call. That has produced some strain throughout the season.

Will 76ers general manager Elton Brand take the fall for Philadelphia’s problems?

If so, he could have a fallback job under new Knicks president Leon Rose.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

According to a league source, Elton Brand has been targeted by Rose as a candidate for Knicks GM. Brand, 41, is currently the Sixers GM and is under contract next season, complicating any designs of bringing him to New York. The source said Rose wanted to see if Brand was dismissed after the playoffs.

It’s nearly impossible to see Brand going to New York unless the 76ers fire him. Though the titles in each franchise would be the same, they’re very different roles. He holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. With the Knicks, Brand would work under Rose.

Would the 76ers fire Brand? Maybe. It could depend how they do in the playoffs, and this team still has a championship upside this season.

Even with an early-round loss, Philadelphia seems more likely to fire coach Brett Brown than make a larger change. But it’s not as if Brand – who held minimal front-office experience when hired in 2018 – has done much to instill confidence. There’s not a great affirmative case for keeping him.

The Knicks have Scott Perry as general manager, but he’s a holdover from the Steve Mills regime. After all the handwringing about Steve Stoute saying the Knicks will hire a new coach while they still had Mike Miller as interim coach, this more reflects reality. Professional sports are a cutthroat business. It’s perfectly fine for the Knicks to seek a new general manager while still having someone in that position running out the clock.

Could that be Brand? He’s smart and connects well with people. His long playing career provides invaluable experience. He’d fit well as No. 2 in an NBA front office.

But, right now, he has an even better job.

Carmelo Anthony: Nuggets should have won 2009 championship

Carmelo Anthony in 2009 Lakers-Nuggets Western Conference finals
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Carmelo Anthony said he would’ve won multiple championships if the Pistons drafted him in 2003.

Of course, Detroit picked Darko Milicic No. 2. Anthony went to the Nuggets No. 3.

But Anthony still had a big opportunity to win a title.

Denver – led by Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin – reached the 2009 Western Conference finals. Facing the Lakers, the Nuggets lost Game 1 by two points then won Game 2 by three points in Los Angeles. The Lakers then won Games 3, 5 and 6 to take the series.

Anthony on Instagram with Dwyane Wade:

I was sick, because we were supposed to beat them that year. I don’t like saying “We should have.” I don’t like saying all that. But when you re-evaluate everything. We really wanted Orlando in that Finals that year. We was like, “If we get Game 1 in L.A. or Game 2, we’re going back to Denver, we’re sweeping them.” We was going to beat them. We was going to beat them that year if we would’ve won in L.A. If we would’ve won both games, we would’ve beat them. And we would’ve swept Orlando that year.

Wade:

Orlando was alright, but they weren’t –

Anthony:

No, would’ve swept them. We would’ve swept them that year.

Yes, Denver would have likely won the series if taking the first two games in Los Angeles. The Nuggets also would’ve had a strong chance against the Magic, whom the Lakers beat in five in the Finals.

But it’s a major leap just to give Denver another win in Los Angeles. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets throughout the season. The Lakers were better than the Nuggets in that series. The Lakers were better than everyone. They had just reached the NBA Finals the prior season and were on their way to winning consecutive titles. This wasn’t some unfortunate break for Denver.

And even if the Nuggets won Game 2, the series wouldn’t have been over as Anthony says. The Lakers were led by Kobe Bryant and had savvy veterans like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. They wouldn’t have just folded with a 2-0 deficit.

Sometimes, lesser teams beat better teams. The Nuggets COULD have beaten the Lakers.

But SHOULD have? Nah. Not even close.

Parents: Obi Toppin wants to play for Golden State Warriors

Obi Toppin and mother, Roni Toppin
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Dayton star Obi Toppin declared for the NBA draft. The Warriors will have a high pick (whenever the draft is held).

Could it be a fit?

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Golden State,” Toppin’s mother, Roni, said when asked by Dell and Sonya Curry who Obi wants to play for on an episode of the “Raising Fame” podcast.

“Let’s go to the Bay.”

Toppin’s father, Obadiah, was a well-known street baller in Brooklyn who played for several semi-professional teams. He seconded his wife’s declaration, and praised Dell and Sonya’s son, Warriors superstar Steph Curry.

“I got my few point guards that I always dreamed of playing for, just because they were the truest point guards — like Steph Curry,” Obadiah said. “I think Obi would be great playing with Steph Curry.”

These are Toppin’s parents, not Toppin himself. The elder Toppins might also be just flattering their interviewers, Stephen Curry‘s parents.

But I bet many top draft picks want to play for the Warriors.

Golden State is a sleeping giant with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Highly picked rookies rarely join a contender. This is a special opportunity.

Players have extremely limited control of where they get drafted. After all, the draft is a mechanism designed by teams and for teams. But draft prospects can choose when and where to work out, whether to share medical information with certain teams. They can even threaten to be disgruntled if drafted by a certain team.

The most common strategy for controlling draft destination – choosing workouts – might be limited this year. It’s possible there are no workouts anywhere.

But if Toppin wants to join the Warriors, best of luck to him making that happen.

Washington big man Isaiah Stewart declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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University of Washington forward/center Isaiah Stewart had declared for the 2020 NBA Draft.

The six-foot-nine big man averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as a freshman for the Huskies. He possesses one of the longest wingspans in this draft class at seven-foot-four. That length, combined with his strength and athleticism, makes Stewart an ideal defender at the NBA level.

Stewart shot 57% from the floor and 77% at the free throw line. ESPN currently ranks Stewart at 26th on their draft board.

The 250-pound Stewart earned All-Pac-12 first team honors. These honors came after winning the Naismith Award for national high school player of the year in 2019.

The 2020 NBA Draft remains scheduled for Thursday, June 25. That date, as are all dates associated with sports, is up in the air as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.