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Gordon Hayward makes first return to Utah since leaving Jazz in free agency

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two seasons in the making, Gordon Hayward‘s return to Utah will finally go down Friday night, giving Jazz fans the first chance to let their collective feelings known.

Hayward bolted from the Jazz to the Celtics as a free agent following the 2016-17 season in a somewhat awkward departure that much of Salt Lake City learned about in the forward’s own story written in the Player’s Tribune.

Rejection letters sting, no matter the format.

Gordon’s presence Friday, after seven seasons with the Jazz, will be more than just a side note when the Celtics play in Utah on Friday night. At least call it equal billing with the Celtics’ curious play of late, their first-half struggles and late rally Thursday at Phoenix notwithstanding.

Hayward’s much-anticipated return did not happen last season after the Butler product was injured in the Celtics’ season opener and he missed the remainder of the year.

“Obviously he did so much for this organization, for this state,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell told reporters after Wednesday’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks. “He’s a great player.”

Mitchell has become the main object of affection for Jazz fans these days. His 23-point performance Wednesday, with multiple highlight-reel dunks, is evidence as to why.

But taking over the star-player throne from Hayward has not been easy. Hayward averaged 15.5 points per game in his seven years in Utah, but that final season he poured in 21.9 per game and became an All-Star. Then poof, he was gone.

“Gordon, he’s a good guy. It is what it is,” the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert said, according to the Deseret News. “Sometimes you make choices that you think are good for you and we’re not here to judge anyone. It’s just a game. We’re just going to go play basketball and that’s it.”

As far as the game goes, the Celtics will arrive in Utah with a positive outlook after that rally to defeat the Suns on Thursday, but needed overtime to do it on the first night of back-to-backs. It was a remarkable turnaround in a game where only one starter — Kyrie Irving — scored a point in the first half as Boston trailed by 20 points after two quarters.

The Jazz, is also feeling a whole lot better about its situation after a convincing victory Wednesday that ended a four-game skid.

Mitchell was able to get things going for the Jazz after returning from an ankle injury. He sat out two of the Jazz’s previous three games.

The Jazz will try to figure out a way that Mitchell can expose the Celtics’ defense much like Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray did, when he scored 48 points against Boston this week. Celtics players bristled when Murray tried to pass the 50 mark on a long 3-pointer at the buzzer of a game that had long been decided.

“We stopped moving the ball, we started settling, a lot of iso stuff,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said after Monday’s defeat, according to the Boston Globe. “Missing some easy ones. We still could have won this game. We just have to find ways to win when it comes down to the end, rebounds, stops. That mentality is going to get you a W.”

It got better Thursday at Phoenix, but only in the second half. Not only did the Celtics erase that 20-point deficit after the break, they had a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter before forcing overtime and earning a 116-109 victory.

Even with Hayward playing again, the Celtics are in somewhat of a transition period. Hayward still has not come close to returning to the player he was during his Utah days and has been on monitored minutes. Irving is also returning from a knee procedure in April that ended his season and he played 43 minutes Thursday.

The Celtics are expected to be a force in the Eastern Conference, but are only 7-4 as they search for consistency. They have been solid overall on defense, entering play Thursday third best in the NBA after allowing 101.3 points per game. But have been vulnerable in key stretches, leading to defeats such as Monday when Murray ushered them out of Denver.

“We tried a lot of different guys, a lot of different coverages, we tried to go small and switch, tried to do a lot of different things,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, according to nba.com. “He pretty much cooked us all night. He had a heck of a game.”

Heat: Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic doubtful for Game 2 of NBA Finals

Heat players Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic
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Bam Adebayo‘s and Goran Dragic‘s injuries… not looking great for the Heat approaching Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Heat:

This is a disaster for Miami. The Lakers dominated Game 1, and now the Heat have two starters hobbled at best. At worst and more likely, Adebayo and Dragic are out.

Adebayo would be the bigger loss. Miami was completely overmatched when facing Anthony Davis without a center. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard can try to keep up, but they’re far from great solutions.

At least the Heat have more options at point guard. Kendrick Nunn can get an elevated role (especially after excelling in garbage time of Game 1). Jimmy Butler can become the de facto point guard. Tyler Herro can also play the position. But Dragic was playing so well during Miami’s run through the Eastern Conference. This is also a major setback.

 

Report: Tyronn Lue ‘early favorite’ to become Clippers head coach

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Doc Rivers is gaining momentum in the 76ers’ coaching search.

As for the job Rivers left behind with the Clippers… Clippers assistant and former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, unsurprisingly, has the inside track.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Clippers are planning to interview other candidates, starting soon, sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are planning to interview Lue in the near future too, sources said.

Lue would be a sensible hire. He has championship experience, which would help the Clippers hit the ground running in a make-or-break season before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can become unrestricted free agents. Lue managed stars in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Clippers must improve their chemistry around their stars. And the last time Lue got promoted from assistant to head coach, his team won a title.

New Orleans also has an appealing job. But the Clippers are far closer to championship contention. And if both teams want Lue, I bet Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would outspend Pelicans owner Gayle Benson.

Still, the Clippers are conducting a coaching search. Other candidates could emerge. This isn’t necessarily Lue’s job for the taking.

How long would he wait on L.A. if the Pelicans make an offer? Lue has shown he values being entrusted.

Report: 76ers focused on Doc Rivers and Mike D’Antoni in coaching search

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The 76ers appeared focused on Mike D’Antoni in their coaching search.

Then, Doc Rivers surprisingly became available.

The former Clippers coach met with the 76ers and is now in the center of the conversation.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

For the Sixers now, the focus is on Rivers and D’Antoni, a source told ESPN. A decision is expected this week.

Rivers would be an easier fit with this roster than D’Antoni, whose style doesn’t appear to work as well with both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Rivers also looks like he’d help Philadelphia take the next step.

But that seemed like it’d be true with the Clippers and wasn’t.

Tyronn Lue’s candidacy with the 76ers has clearly faded. Could he join the Clippers, Rockets or Pelicans? If Philadelphia hires Rivers, maybe D’Antoni still lands with the Pacers?

Rivers’ availability has definitely thrown a wrench in the coaching carousel.

Victor Oladipo denies trade rumor he wants out of Indiana

Victor Oladipo
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It was a trade rumor that kind of came out of nowhere — maybe more as a thought exercise for Celtics fans hoping to move on from Gordon Hayward — but it got traction: Victor Oladipo reportedly wanted out of Indiana.

Not true, Oladipo said.

Oladipo jumped on Instagram Live with rapper Fat Joe and shot down the rumors (hat tip Clutch Points):

“I’m a Pacer. I’m a Pacer…

“Those rumors on the internet, I don’t know where they’re coming from, I’m just focused on getting my knee right for next year.”

He said later in the interview he wants a ring, he wants “hardware” because that is needed to show you are one of the greats, and he would consider leaving the Pacers to get it. But that wasn’t a short-term thing. (Also, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, John Stockton, Elgin Baylor and a lot of other guys would like to talk with you about that attitude.)

Oladipo returned mid-season from his knee injury to a Pacers’ team that finished as the four seed in the East but got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.

Oladipo never quite returned to his All-NBA form after coming back from injury and averaged just 14.5 points a game in the 19 regular season games he did play. Oladipo is owed $21 million next season, the last year of his current deal.

Whether he wants out of Indiana or not, at $21 million and with questions about just what level of player he is post-injury, there is not much of a trade market for Victor Oladipo. Indiana more than likely runs it back under a new coach — who has yet to be chosen — and banks on a healthy Oladipo helping the team make the next step.