Meet Chris Brickley, the man behind the summer’s most stacked NBA run

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Monday night in Santa Monica, the NBA handed out its annual awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and on down the line.

Next year’s award winners are being made right now — it’s off-season work that separates the good from the great, that introduces new skills, that lets talent shine in the NBA.

Right now, a lot of that is happening in Chris Brickley’s gym in New York — he is the go-to trainer around the NBA. His NBA summer “Black Ops” runs (which start next week) are legendary. Brickley’s ability to connect with players and form a relationship — then from that place of trust push them physically and to develop new skills — has players flocking to his gym.

He sat down with NBC Sports to tell his story — one of hard work and perseverance — and you can see that in the video above.

Brickley’s workouts right now are stacked with a who’s who of the NBA — if you don’t believe me just check out his Instagram feed.

“(Players work) extremely hard, they dedicate every day, four or five days a week to it, they schedule their day around the workouts,” Brickley told NBC Sports. “We schedule, we plan, we text back-and-forth every night about what we’re going to work on. To them, it’s their full-time job.”

This is Brickley’s busy season. While fans obsess over free agency and where LeBron James will go or where Kawhi Leonard will get traded (and players care about that, too), the best players are in the gym at least five days a week now getting ready for next season.

“They all take about three or four weeks off (after the season), so the first week he’s in you can’t push a guy too hard because that’s how you get them injured,” Brickley said. “Then, as they get back into the shape they want to get in, you just push harder and harder and by the time August and September comes you’re doing full-blown workouts and they’re in unbelievable shape and ready for training camp.”

Conditioning is part of what he does, but what separates the top players is the skills they add, and improving their weaknesses during the off-season. Brickley watches a lot of film, talks to players and their teams, about what they need to develop to fill a new role or take their game to the next level.

“It’s always skill work first and foremost, and some guys you focus a little more on conditioning,” Brickley said. “Some guys come in shape and you focus less on conditioning and more on skill work.”

But what the guys like best is the run — high-level scrimmages that can’t be found many places. The best NBA players want to be pushed, which means playing against each other in the off-season as well.

“They’re all competitive, they got to the NBA because they’re competitive athletes. It’s the off-season, so you might as well, if you can, play against some elite talent, they do it…” Brickley said. “It’s personal. Certain guys have certain rivalries against other guys, whether they are superstars or not superstars, so when it’s time and that other player is guarding them, they’re not going to want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. There’s 10-15 other NBA players in there…

“I think some days it is personal, and they play as hard as if it’s a playoff game.”

Brickley was a college walk-on player whose eye as a trainer and developing talent ultimately landed him a job with the Knicks. It was there that he became a favorite workout trainer/partner of Carmelo Anthony.

“I was with the Knicks for five years, that first year we clicked,” Brickley said. “That second year… we became really close friends. As we traveled around the country he let me network with other players — Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden and everything — and through ‘Melo I got those relationships and that really helped me out.”

Now those relationships are paying off now and made him the hottest trainer in the NBA, a summer go-to for a lot of players. He gets to know these players as people, they know he cares about them and relates to them, and it’s from that place that he can push them in the gym. The connection matters.

It’s that connection, and his story, that has his gym full all summer long.

 

Report: Jimmy Butler wanted Timberwolves to add four years, $155 million to his contract this summer

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Jimmy Butler rejected the largest-possible extension the capped-out Timberwolves could offer him this summer – a four-year deal worth $100,514,631 ($25,128,658 average annual salary).

After all, his projected max in free agency this summer is about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually) if he re-signs or about $141 million over four years (about $35 million annually) if he leaves.

But Minnesota’s extension offer wasn’t technically the largest possible this summer. Theoretically, the Timberwolves could have cleared cap space to renegotiate his salary upward then offered a richer extension based on his new salary.

And apparently that’s what Butler wanted – and didn’t get – before requesting a trade.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

Butler was hoping for a renegotiation and extension of his contract this summer, one that would have raised his salary for 2018-19 to $30 million and added another four years and $145 million on to that.

The Timberwolves could have trimmed their roster to only their starters – Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns. That would have meant using sweeteners to unload Gorgui Dieng‘s negative value contract, dumping recent first-round picks Justin Patton, Tyus Jones and Josh Okogie and not using the mid-level exception on Anthony Tolliver. Only players who signed for the minimum could have still wound up on the roster.

Minnesota still wouldn’t have had enough cap space to renegotiate Butler’s salary up to $30 million.

Perhaps, Butler wanted the Timberwolves to take more drastic measures like trading Wiggins for little to no returning salary. But they clearly weren’t going to do that, and they’d long gone down the opposite road of adding salary. They weren’t coming close to clearing the $10 million of cap space necessary to raise Butler’s salary that much.

This is all raises questions about timing. Nearly every report on Butler’s wishes has gone out of its way to say contract concerns – not problems with Wiggins and Towns – were the primary driver of the trade request. But if that were the case, why now? Butler had to know for months he wasn’t getting his desired extension.

While his brother spars online with Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins takes up fight with Stephen Jackson

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Jimmy Butler lit a fuse by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

Then, Andrew Wiggins‘ brother, Butler, Stephen Jackson and Wiggins himself all fanned the flames of the resulting fire.

Butler reportedly had problems with Andrew Wiggins last season, specifically Wiggins’ work ethic and defensive approach. Want corroborating evidence the Minnesota teammates aren’t simpatico? Wiggins’ brother, Nick Wiggins, tweeted (and deleted) “Hallelujah” to news of Butler’s trade request:

Butler – probably not coincidentally while working out – responded via Instagram:

Butler:

Hallelujah, keep that same energy

Then the retired Jackson acted out an elaborate scene in which Andrew – played by Jackson – copped to having no heart:

The real Andrew Wiggins didn’t like that and posted on Instagram:

Jackson responded:

If he didn’t like Butler giving him grief, Wiggins darned sure isn’t ready for heat from Jackson.

Mark Cuban explains some, though not all, of his role in Mavericks’ hostile work environment (video)

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As a result of the investigation into his team’s hostile work environment, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will donate $10 million “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.” The Mavericks will also report to the NBA on structural changes to their organization.

And Cuban showed accountability by granting an interview to Rachel Nichols of ESPN:

I appreciate Cuban sitting for this interview with Nichols, who grilled him. I appreciate him apologizing to the actual victims. I appreciate him taking responsibility for the wrongdoing that happened beneath him. I appreciate him explaining what he did wrong and what he learned. I appreciate him, along with Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, explaining the changes they’re making to rectify the situation.

But, though he explained his logic and subsequent lesson from handling Earl Sneed’s domestic violence, Cuban gave no real answer to how he let former CEO Terdema Ussery – found to be an serial sexual harasser – remain in power for 15 years. Taking Cuban at his word – that he was blind to the sexual harassment prevalent in the Mavericks business office – means shattering his image as a great businessman. The sharp and in-charge owner Cuban presented himself as would never grant Ussery such unchecked power for so long. “If I was in our business office five times in 15 years, that was a lot,” Cuban told Nichols. “I mean, it’s embarrassing to say.”

And that’s the benign explanation. Embarrassing is nothing compared to the alternative – that Cuban was as involved as he portrayed, which would mean he knew about Ussery’s misconduct and excused it. The choices are that Cuban’s first-rate businessman image was fraudulent or that he’s directly complicit in Ussery’s sexual harassment.

More than anything, hopefully Cuban has truly learned how not to repeat his prior errors.

Report: Clippers emerging as frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard

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Does Kawhi Leonard prefer the Clippers or Lakers in 2019 free agency? Reports have been mixed, though credible journalists have increasingly favored the Clippers since LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Yet, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN held out on the Lakers being Leonard’s top choice.

Now – with Jimmy Butler reportedly preferring a trade to the Clippers – Wojnarowski appears to be coming around on the Clippers.

Wojnarowski:

The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July, and are emerging as a front-runner for Toronto’s All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard when he becomes a free agent in July, league sources said.

Leonard and Butler would form a tantalizing tandem.

Butler reportedly wants to showcase himself in a big city while Leonard seemingly wants both to be in Los Angeles but remain out of the spotlight. Together, maybe they could both get what they want.

Though Butler’s demanding style has worn on teammates in Minnesota, nobody has ever accused Leonard of lacking work ethic or competitiveness. I bet Butler would respect Leonard.

They’re both elite defensively and at least very good offensively. There could be issues with how often each likes to isolate, but get all that talent to L.A. then figure out the rest later.

The question for the Clippers: Do they trade for Butler now or wait to try signing both stars in free agency next summer? The latter option carries more upside, allowing the Clippers to preserve assets. But it also risks Minnesota trading Butler and his Bird Rights to another team and him re-signing there.

The Clippers have several veterans – Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari – who might appeal to Tom Thibodeau, who seemingly wants to win now. L.A. could also offer 2018 lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Alexander. However, the Clippers can’t convey a first-round pick until 2021 at the earliest.

I don’t know whether they’ll trade for Butler, but if the Clippers do, I know we’ll crank up the Leonard-Clippers speculation even higher. There’s value in putting that in Leonard’s mind while the Raptors are trying to woo him first-hand over the next year.