NBA sends memo to teams offering suggestions, reminding of rule to stand for anthem

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The NBA has a rule that players have to stand — “in a dignified manner” — for the national anthem.

With the first NBA exhibition games this weekend, and a lot of players who feel that locking arms as was done a year ago may not be enough of a statement, the league — from ownership through the league office, the players union, and of course the players themselves — are discussing how to deal with the wish to protest.

With that, the NBA sent a memo to teams both offering suggestions on engaging the community, ideas such as addressing fans before games, and noting the NBA’s rule players have to stand for the anthem, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN. (NBC Sports also has obtained that memo.)

The memo, distributed by deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, instructs teams that “the league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach, or trainer does not stand for the anthem.” The memo states that individual teams “do not have the discretion to waive” the rule that players, coaches and staff must stand for the anthem. The league has the discretion to discipline players who violate the rule…

In the memo, Tatum suggests teams might address the current political climate by having players and coaches give a joint pregame address at their first home games.

“This could include a message of unity and how the team is committed to bringing the community together this season,” the memo states. The memo also suggests teams might prepare a video tribute or public service announcement featuring “team leadership speaking about the issues they care about.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said this on Thursday at a press conference.

“On the anthem specifically, we have a rule that requires our players to stand for the anthem. It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem.”

It should be noted this is a league issue, not one where teams have discretion.

The league has sent multiple memos to teams about ways to engage their community and make a difference rather than just a statement. The majority of the memo sent Friday is the same — it talks about having conversations within the organization, from ownership through the front office and to the players, and finding ways to be active not just protest.

On media day this week, a number of players (and a few coaches) were direct and very critical of President Donald Trump, who has made kneeling at NFL games an issue. Stephen Curry and LeBron James were front and center both criticizing the president on social media and on Sports Illustrated’s “unity” cover. Some NBA owners have concerns about alienating supporters of the president and the NBA has several teams in very red states.

While the memo, when read in its entirety, is not a top-down, authoritarian document, however the parts released may come off that way to players. In some way the leak of the memo made it more powerful a statement to take a knee (or leave during the anthem, as the LA Sparks of the WNBA have done through the playoffs) and even more defiant an act.

Players taking a knee or leaving the floor during an anthem an NBA game would cause a media firestorm and fuel talking heads — particularly on the political right, who can stir their base with this issue — but it would not have the same impact among NBA fans as it did in NFL stadiums. As we have noted many times before, NBA fans trend younger, more urban, and more multicultural than NFL fans. Most NBA fans would look at guys kneeling during the anthem and nod, not boo. Also, it should be noted that the NBA owns the WNBA and there has been no punishment of the Sparks for their anthem protests.

Will NBA fans see guys protesting on Saturday? It’s going to be interesting.

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.