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Marcus Smart takes on role as longest-tenured Celtic, stable veteran

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NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Marcus Smart is walking around a lot more with his shirt off. And it may be a positive sign for the Boston Celtics this season.

The fourth-year guard developed a reputation as one of the Celtics’ toughest players in his first three years in the NBA. While filling primarily a sixth man role during the past two seasons, he was often called on to be an energy guy and defensive stopper.

But carrying at a less-than-svelte 240 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame started to take a toll on him last season. Throughout Boston’s entire postseason run Smart found himself dogged by back problems.

“Before games, during games, after games – it was hard for me to go to sleep,” he recalled.

He also didn’t like what he saw in the mirror.

“I remember times putting on my shirt and having to tuck my stomach in because I didn’t like the way it looked,” he said. “That pain (his back) was causing me, I was tired, I wasn’t as explosive.”

He also found himself needing more energy just to do the things that had once come so effortlessly during his basketball career. It served as a wakeup call for the 23-year-old entering the offseason.

“I wasn’t too fond of that,” Smart said. “I didn’t like it one bit and I knew I had to change.”

Change he has. He got a personal chef this summer, changed his diet, and arrived for training camp 20 pounds lighter. That midsection flab he once hid is now all muscle.

It’s a welcomed sight not only for Smart, but for president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. The Celtics’ front office chief said part of the organization’s goal for Smart was to see him slim down.

“Umm, yes,” Ainge said when asked if they wanted Smart to lose weight. “But, listen, Marcus wanted to also. He’s worked extremely hard … on his eating and his sleeping and his basketball development. I credit Marcus, mostly, for just really wanting it and putting in the time.”

The weight loss has also given Smart more confidence.

“He’s wearing his tank top around. Sometimes takes his shirt off. `Hey Marcus, put your shirt back on. We see the six-pack,”‘ Ainge said. “But seriously, it’s fun to see. He’s got guys throwing alley oops to him in pickup games … I’m hoping that leads to a great year for him.”

Part of Smart’s tough guy persona is the result of his propensity to get under the skin of some of the NBA’s best players. One example came last season during the playoffs, when he had a brief dustup with Jimmy Butler during Boston’s first-round matchup with Chicago. It led Butler to accuse Smart of being a fake tough guy.

Smart laughed the incident off and responded the next game with probably his most complete outing of the series: Eight points, eight assists, three rebounds, a steal and a block. For the season he also averaged career-highs in points (10.6) assists (4.6) and minutes (30.4).

It why after all of the massive changes Ainge made to his roster this summer, it was no coincidence that Smart was one of the four holdovers, along with Al Horford, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown.

Brown said Smart is hardly recognizable.

“He looks good, man. He’s moving a lot faster. He’s jumping a lot higher. It’s kind of weird to see him like that,” Brown said. “Just imagine, you see him and he’s like 25 lighter. It’s like, `Man, who is this guy?”‘

Coach Brad Stevens thinks the changes will help Smart take his game to the next level.

“Marcus is a critical part of our team,” Stevens said. “I think ultimately we want our identity to be a team that gets better every day. And I think his mindset, his competitive spirit, his toughness, his will – all of those things make teams better.”

One thing that won’t change, Smart said, is how he plays the game. His physique has changed, along with many of the players around him. But the goals are the same, even has he prepares to take on a new role as one the Celtics’ veterans.

After all the offseason changes, he is now the Celtics’ longest-tenured player.

“That’s still a shock to me. I’m 23 years old,” Smart said. “I never in a million years would have thought about that, but it’s definitely an honor. And it’s a big responsibility. I take that head on … I’m ready to get to work.”

 

Cavaliers reportedly talking trade sending Kyle Korver to Sixers

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Philadelphia struck out going big game hunting this off-season — LeBron James, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard all ended up elsewhere. The Sixers decided to trade for Wilson Chandler (absorbing him into their cap space) and re-signed J.J. Redick, but they have continued to look for the right trade.

That could involve adding Kyle Korver.

From Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

According to a league source, the team has had discussions about trading Jerryd Bayless to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyle Korver.

That move would enable the Sixers to bring back a fan favorite who’s one of the league’s top three-point shooters.  He would be an upgrade from former Sixer Marco Belinelli, who signed as a free agent  with the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month.

This trade is still in the talking phase.

That this was leaked means an agent of one of the teams involved wants to see the deal done and hopes leaking it puts enough pressure on one or both sides to get it done.

For the Sixers it makes sense on the court, they get out of a contract in Bayless they have tried to trade for a year, and they bring in a sharpshooter who can fit within their system and add bench scoring.

For the Cavaliers, they have to be getting a pick or picks of some kind back in this trade (probably a second round or multiple second-round picks, of which the Sixers have several besides their own in the next couple of drafts).

Something to watch as we head into the weekend, to see if this deal can get done.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t believe in the NBA 2K cover curse

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Milwaukee Bucks superstar at Giannis Antetokounmpo will bless this year’s cover of NBA 2K19. It’s a big deal for the Greek Freak, who has come a long way since be a heralded prospect after being drafted in 2013.

Antetokounmpo is also apparently aware of the noted curse from the 2K franchise. That is, that former players who have been on the cover in years past have notoriously ended up in different jerseys shortly after getting selected for the honor.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, and Kevin Durant all left their respective teams shortly after being featured on the cover.

Antetokounmpo signed a contract extension in 2016 that runs through the 2020-2021 season. Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s no reason to think that he will be gone anytime soon.

But is the cover curse real? People certainly seem to think the Madden one is.

Lakers fan paints another LeBron James mural in Los Angeles (PHOTO)

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There was already one LeBron James mural in Los Angeles. Several people decided to attack it with paint, ruining a nice gesture by a local artist in Venice and proving how annoying (presumed) Kobe Bryant fans can be.

Now, there is another mural in LA and this time it paid a little more attention to former Lakers legends. Hopefully this time around the subject matter will help stave off would-be vandals.

Via Twitter:

This LeBron piece was done by another Venice muralist, Gustavo Zermeño Jr., who posted photos of his work. In it, LeBron is seen looking up at Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

No doubt that should satisfy some Lakers purists around the area, at least enough to keep them from throwing white paint all over it and ruining and impressive piece of artwork that took the artist a long time to create.

Lakers fan should just be happy that LeBron is in their state.

Clippers sign free agent Luc Mbah a Moute for second stint

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LOS ANGELES — Luc Mbah a Moute is back with the Los Angeles Clippers, signing a free-agent deal.

The 31-year-old forward averaged 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.18 steals in 61 games for Houston last season.

Mbah a Moute played two seasons for the Clippers from 2015-17, averaging 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 155 games, including 137 starts.

He was selected 37th overall by Milwaukee in 2008 after three seasons at UCLA. Besides the Clippers and Rockets, Mbah a Moute has played 10 seasons with Milwaukee, Sacramento, Minnesota and Philadelphia.

Terms of the deal announced Thursday were not announced.