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Three Things to Know: Andre Drummond, Pistons show start no fluke in Boston

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) East shakeout: Andre Drummond, Pistons show start no fluke in Boston; Cavaliers remind 76ers who is the power right now. There are no statement games in November. Not really. We are four-and-a-half months away from the playoffs even starting, teams will evolve and grow between now and mid-April. Any “statements” made now are long forgotten by the time the second season starts.

What we did see Wednesday was some shakeout in the East: Detroit’s start is no fluke and they proved that in Boston behind a monster game from Andre Drummond; and Cleveland reminded upstart Philadelphia who is the team to beat in the East.

Drummond has saved some big games for the Celtics in the past, but Tuesday night he looked like the best traditional center in the game (which he might just be the way he’s played this season): 26 points on 83.3 percent shooting, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He was a beast, quieting the Boston faithful when he his 6-of-8 free throws, and the Celtics had no answers.

Drummond had a lot of help. Tobias Harris continued his impressive season with 31 points on 68.8 percent shooting (including 5-of-6 from three) and eight rebounds. Avery Bradley reminded the Celtics he is one of the best on-ball defenders in the game and pushed Kyrie Irving into a 6-of-16 shooting night. It was an all-around game from Detroit that said they belong in the top half of the East, and that this 13-6 start to the season is no fluke.

Down the Eastern seaboard a little in Philadelphia, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers came to town as a measuring stick for the upstart 76ers… and the Sixers were reminded they are still a young and developing team.

Ben Simmons was assigned LeBron James to start the game, and LeBron put up 15 points in his first 10-minute run of the game as he attacked aggressively from the start. Simmons was overwhelmed, and so were the Sixers as a whole. LeBron finished the night with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and he got to rest the end of the fourth because the game was out of reach.

Cleveland has won eight in a row and that has been sparked by better defensive play, something Philly saw first hand. Of course, the Sixers helped out going 0-of-11 from three in the first half (that wasn’t all Cavs’ defense). Cleveland’s bench was dominant (Dwyane Wade had 15 points, Jeff Green 14), and the Sixers’ Simmons finished the night with 10 points on 11 shots. Joel Embiid was the lone bright spot, he had a monster third quarter on his way to 30 points and 11 boards on the night.

2) Grizzlies shock NBA world, fire coach David Fizdale. There had been long-simmering tensions between coach David Fizdale and his star center Marc Gasol in Memphis, and those bubbled to the surface Sunday when Fizdale benched Gasol during the fourth quarter of an ugly loss to a shorthanded Brooklyn team — Gasol made it clear he was not at all happy watching the end of the game.

Less than 24 hours later, Fizdale was fired.

Gasol isn’t the kind of player who goes to management and says “him or me,” but Grizzlies management took the opportunity to show who it backed. The Grizzlies have lost eight in a row and are fading from the playoff picture, even in a West where a lot of teams are stumbling, and management was sending a message that they still want to win. Memphis management thinks this thing can be turned around, that they put together a playoff team (one that has been beset by injuries). From the outside, there are a lot of “do the Grizzlies trade Gasol and/or Mike Conley?” questions, looking ahead to a rebuild. Internally, this move says Memphis isn’t there yet.

Around the league there was a lot of support for Fizdale, who is well-respected by players and coaches. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Damian Lillard and others expressed surprise at the firing. Gregg Popovich said Fizdale “did a helluva job, and I don’t think he’s going to have any problem landing someplace.” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said “It’s not right. He’s done a great job, take that team to the playoffs last year and was in a dogfight with San Antonio. Did an unbelievable job, especially when no one expected them to even make the playoffs.”

Apparently, Memphis management did — and they expect to make the playoffs again. Realistic or not. Fizdale is out because the Grizzlies were losing — even though that falls more on management and the roster he was given, which was thin and can’t handle being without the injured Conley — and combine that with he didn’t have a great relationship with the team’s best player and you have a recipe for a firing. That’s happened to a lot of coaches in the NBA.

The questions about the future and what kind of team Grizzlies management is trying to build remain. Their rebuild-on-the-fly thing hasn’t impressed so far, and that wasn’t about the coach. But management has sent its statement.

3) Warriors without Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, Kings have Bogdan Bogdanovic so they get win. Sacramento isn’t a better team than Golden State (not by a long shot), but they took Monday night’s meeting more seriously. Golden State was short handed without its two former MVPs due to injury — Curry and Durant — and that opened the door.

Bogdan Bogdanovic walked through it when, with the game on the line, he isolated against Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green and got the bucket.

There’s no big-picture takeaway from this game, but the Kings are a feisty team and the Warriors are not invincible. At least when not at full strength.

Jazz ending sponsorship deal with Papa John’s

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are ending their sponsorship agreement with Papa John’s Pizza after the company’s founder and spokesman used a racial slur.

A person with knowledge of the team’s decision confirmed the move Friday and said it was because of the controversy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the organization will not make a formal announcement.

A number of professional and college teams have cut ties to the company over Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s comment during a company conference call in May. Among them are the Orlando Magic, Seattle Seahawks, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, University of Louisville,  and numerous others.

Schnatter apologized and stepped down as chairman but remains on the company’s board. He’s since said his decision to step down was a “mistake.”

The company says it’s also investigating allegations reported in Forbes that Schnatter oversaw a work culture where women were subject to sexist behavior.

 

Report: Nemanja Bjelica agrees to three-year contract with Kings

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Nemanja Bjelica wanted some stability. That got pulled out from under him when  Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves rescinded his qualifying offer. He quickly agreed to a one-year, $4.4 million offer, with Philadelphia, but then came to regret it because he wanted more security than that single season. Bjelica was considering Europe.

Then the Sacramento Kings stepped in. Friday night, the two sides reached a deal.

The Kings have signed both players who backed out of verbal agreements with teams this summer, Bjelica with the Sixers and Yogi Ferrell with the Mavericks.

Bjelica is a floor-spacing big man who should fit in well with the Kings’ frontcourt rotation that includes Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Willie Caulie-Stein, and others. Bjelica provides shooting — he hit 41.5 percent from three last season (where he took nearly half his shots). Bjelica has a solid all-around game that a lot of teams could have used. Including Minnesota and Philly.

Suns acquire Richaun Holmes from 76ers, Darrrell Arthur from Nets

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns have acquired power forward Richaun Holmes from Philadelphia and forward Darrell Arthur from Brooklyn.

The Suns sent cash considerations to the 76ers on Friday for Holmes, and got Arthur from the Nets for forward Jared Dudley and a protected 2021 second-round pick.

Philadelphia made the Holmes deal to help clear salary cap space to sign 2017 second-round pick Jonah Bolden to a $7 million, four-year contract. Holmes averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in four seasons with the 76ers.

The Suns are expected to buy out Arthur’s $7.4 million contract to clear enough salary cap space for Holmes.

Arthur has played nine NBA seasons, the last five with Denver before being dealt to the Nets on July 13. He has appeared in 503 games with Denver and the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Dudley, an 11-year NBA veteran, spent the last two seasons with the Suns in his second stint with the team.

 

Celtics’ Smart ‘ecstatic’ to have summer in limbo over

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BOSTON (AP) — There was a moment during the past month in which Marcus Smart wasn’t sure where he’d be playing basketball this upcoming season.

A day after signing a four-year deal to remain in the only NBA jersey he’s ever played in, Smart said he’s focused on doing what he can to help the Celtics win their 18th championship.

“I’m ecstatic. This is a blessing,” Smart said Friday.

After being in limbo since the start of free agency, Smart cemented his pact with the Celtics on Thursday. A person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press that Smart will be paid $52 million over the next four years. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose the terms of the contract.

Boston brings back a 6-foot-4 defensive cornerstone who has developed a reputation for toughness and doing the little things that help the Celtics win. Smart is also the longest-tenured player on the roster.

The confidence that general manager Danny Ainge is showing in his abilities is not lost on Smart, who acknowledged he knew he was entering a tough free agent market this summer.

“To be honest, I didn’t know where I was gonna end up. I was just enjoying this whole process,” he said. “It is a business, so things aren’t perfect. That’s why it’s called negotiations. You guys come together and you finally agree on something. We both agreed. Boston loves me and I love Boston. Boston wants me here and I want to be here. I am here. So we made it work.”

Barring any late changes, Smart’s return also means Boston will be bringing back the core of the team that won 55 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals while battling numerous injuries and being without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward the entire postseason.

Smart was a huge part of the run, stepping in to a starter’s role after returning from thumb surgery late in the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game as Boston pushed LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals.

Now, James is in the West with the Lakers, and given the emergence of youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Smart said he doesn’t see any reason why the Celtics shouldn’t be a favorite to come out of the East.

“We demonstrated the talent and ability we had to do that last year with a few missing pieces. With those missing pieces back in action, I think it really makes it hard for teams,” Smart said. “I think we have a real shot.”

The signing also will allow Smart to shift his attention back to his mother, 63-year-old Camellia Smart, who continues to undergo treatment for the bone marrow cancer she was diagnosed with in April.

“When you kind of go through adversity and something like this hits you and your family, it kind of puts everything in perspective and everything else kind of becomes a blur to you and really not that important,” he said.

He has been with her in Texas since the season ended and said she’s stable and doing well.

“She’s hanging in there,” Smart said. “This is a hard time. But at the same time, it’s an exciting time for my family. So, with the signing, it kind of brings a little joy to a situation and lightens up the situation that was a little darkened for me. … As of right now, she’s doing great.”

As far as basketball is concerned, he’ll continue trying to improve.

“I’m just gonna be working on all aspects of my game. The uniqueness about me is I don’t do one thing perfectly or great. I do a little bit of everything. That’s what makes me so unique. I’m just trying to master a little bit of everything. … If I could just get better a little bit each year, then I did my job.”