Associated Press

Michael Jordan returns home, meets with hurricane victims

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WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Stephanie Parker isn’t quite sure how her family of six would have managed the last two months without the help of Michael Jordan and the American Red Cross following Hurricane Florence.

So when Parker met Jordan on Tuesday she couldn’t hold back giving the owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets a big hug and a thank you.

“It means he hasn’t forgotten,” Parker told The Associated Press about Jordan’s visit to Wilmington, North Carolina. “It means we are important.”

Jordan returned to his hometown wearing North Carolina Tar Heels blue and met with some hurricane victims, many of whom have benefited from his $2 million donation in September. Jordan gave $1 million each to the Red Cross and the Foundation for the Carolinas Hurricane Florence Response Fund.

“I can give money all day long, but at some point you want them to understand you’re human,” Jordan told AP.

Jordan handed out Thanksgiving dinners at a home improvement store and gave away Jordan Brand shoes at a Boys & Girls Club Tuesday where he once played as a child.

Parker has lived the nightmare that’s become all too familiar for hurricane victims around the country.

She, her husband, and their four children ages 3 to 8 heeded the warnings to evacuate the area. They took refuge in a Red Cross shelter, but when they returned, their apartment was flooded with two feet of water and their minivan crushed by a fallen tree. They spent nearly two months in shelters until recently being placed in a hotel while they await permanent housing.

“It’s been stressful,” she said, taking a long, deep breath. “At first it was really, really hard to realize that you lost everything. But people like Michael Jordan donating to the Red Cross and donating to people who have gone through what we’ve gone through is an incredible blessing. We are so very, very thankful.”

Jordan broke into a wide smile when asked about his meeting with Parker.

“You really want to trust that money goes to the right people,” Jordan said. “And when you see it goes to the right people, it makes me feel good that I did the right thing.”

Jordan said he’ll continue to monitor the hurricane recovery efforts and would consider partnering with others to continue to help improve living conditions.

American Red Cross executive director James Jarvis said at the height of the storm the Red Cross sheltered more than 20,000 people in 172 locations. They provided 1.3 million meals and snacks. They’ve also distributed money to more than 6,500 families, doling out more than $3.8 million to help families get on the road to recovery.

“I wanted to be an igniter to the process,” Jordan said of his initial donation. “But it’s going to take a long time before things get back to normal. Whatever way I can contribute I will.”

He also hopes that Charlotte hosting the All-Star game in February will provide an impetus for more financial aid to the region.

“I am pretty sure that the league will have some support systems that will reach out to this community,” Jordan said. “And we are going to do a lot in Charlotte, too. But the overall game is about helping other people, so I can see it reaching all the way down to this area.”

Natalie English, the president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said it’s still too early to estimate the financial damage to the area.

But she said Jordan’s donations resonated in the community.

“I think it means a lot to people here that Michael remembers his home and that he cares about where he was for his formative years and he is giving back to help restore the community,” English said.

This is not a one-time deal for Jordan.

Fred Lynch coached Jordan when he was 15-year-old freshman playing on the junior high school basketball team at Laney High School in Wilmington. He sustained minor damage to his nearby home, but said several neighbors only a block away suffered total destruction as a result of flooding and wind damage to Hurricane Florence.

Lynch said Jordan has visited Wilmington periodically since leaving to play college basketball at North Carolina and embarking on an NBA career that included six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, five league MVP honors and 14 All-Star game appearances.

The 55-year-old Jordan still has an aunt, cousins and friends here and his nephew who attends college at UNC Wilmington. Jordan was most recently here in April at his high school filming a Gatorade commercial.

Lynch said he wasn’t surprised when Jordan stepped up to help the people of Wilmington and the surrounding areas – donating money and his time.

“From the time I coached him as a ninth grade, he was always looking out for people,” Lynch said. “He’s always trying to do the right thing and always trying to better himself and his community. That’s pretty much what he’s been about his entire career.”

 

Ryan Saunders reportedly likely to stay on as Minnesota head coach

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When Glen Taylor, the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, said this a few weeks back, it was pretty clear interim coach Ryan Saunders was probably staying on after the season and getting the job full time.

“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]. It’s like everything, we’re going to wait until we play out these last 20-some games and I think we’ll know and he’ll know at that time if it works out. But he is off to a good start. I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”<

Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler sabotaged the team’s season early on in a push to get out of town, a move that came with a high price coach/GM Tom Thibodeau. Remember Thibodeau wanted to speed up the winning and to get Butler traded Zach LaVine and just drafted Lauri Markkanen, but when Butler didn’t work out in Minny Thibs was doomed.

If you want more evidence that Saunders is staying on, there is this reporting from the well-connected Marc Stein of The New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

Saunders, who turns 33 in April, is known to have a strong relationship with the All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, who has played some of the best basketball of his career since the departures of Butler and Thibodeau.

The growing expectation around the league is that the credit Saunders will get for his impact on and the buy-in from Towns will more than offset ownership’s disappointment about returning to the draft lottery.

Towns is the franchise cornerstone, one of the top centers and top 10-12 players in the league, if Saunders can get the most out of him — and so far he has — then that is a good reason to keep him around.

When Sauders got the coaching job, Scott Layden took over as GM. His job is not as secure. There have been rumors about Taylor wanting to go big game hunting — specifically Chauncey Billups — but it seems the Timberwolves are likely to go another direction.

Calvin Booth, a Denver executive who the Nuggets hired away from the Timberwolves before the 2017-18 season, is increasingly mentioned as a strong candidate to replace Layden if Taylor does make a change.

Whoever gets the GM job, retooling the Timberwolves roster around Towns will now be difficult — Thibodeau showed no patience and now they are paying the price. Towns’ well-deserved max extension kicks in next season and that gives Minnesota two of max deals for young players — Andrew Wiggins is maxed out as well and an anchor on any rebuild (he has four years at the max after this season, good luck trading that). Don’t forget Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million next season. If Jeff Teague opts into his $19 million for next season, the Timberwolves will have very little room to maneuver and shore up the roster.

All of that will make Saunder’s job a real challenge.

Report: Knicks talked Kristaps Porzingis for De’Aaron Fox trade with Kings last draft

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The Knicks had made their minds up and were considering moving on from Kristaps Porzingis long before this trade deadline (when he was sent to Dallas), they were testing the waters all the way back to last June and the draft.

Last draft, the Sacramento Kings had a decision to make, too: How much did they believe in De'Aaron Fox? As a rookie, Fox had shown flashes and promise, but at No. 2 the Kings could pick Luka Doncic (or even Trae Young) and have gone in another direction.

That led to an interesting story from last June’s draft: The Knicks reached out to the Kings about a possible Porzingis for Fox swap, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN (in a fascinating piece on how this season changed things in Sacramento).

Sacramento moved up in the lottery again — to No. 2 — and faced a pivotal moment: the chance to reorient their team around Luka Doncic. Rivals sensed the dilemma and made offers for Fox — including a template from the New York Knicks centered around Kristaps Porzingis that would have required Sacramento to either send something beyond Fox or take unwanted Knicks salary (or both), sources say.

The Kings might have been able to leverage Doncic fever by trading down, but they wanted a guaranteed chance at Marvin Bagley III. The pick doubled as a vote of confidence in Fox. They didn’t need another ball handler. They wanted a springy big who could run with perhaps the league’s fastest player.

The Kings bet big on Fox. In the short term, that has worked out incredibly well for them, Fox made the kind of leap this season that will earn him a lot of Most Improved Player votes. He found his identity in pace and dragged the Kings with him to maybe the most surprising season of any team (and they were everyone’s league pass favorites). Bagley started to come on the second half of the season as he figured out how to fit his game in the NBA. How it works out long term for both teams remains to be seen, but the Kings have to feel good about how things look now.

Talks like this happen more than fans think — a lot of things are explored, very become trades. Kings fans should be glad this one didn’t.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic undergoes surgery to repair leg, full recovery expected. Eventually.

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As expected, Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday repair the frightening leg injury he suffered on Monday night, a fractured left tibia and fibula that left his leg bending in a way that no leg should ever bend.

The good news is the surgery went as well as could be hoped, according to the team and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even with a successful surgery, this is going to take a long time to come back from.

As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, the only comparable injury like this in the NBA was Paul George‘s frightening leg injury with Team USA. George made a full recovery, but it was eight months before he got back on the court and much longer until he was comfortable enough to be the MVP candidate he is this season.

Nurkic had made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting. The advanced stats loved him — his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was serving as a playmaker on offense: When he’d set a high pick for Damian Lillard, teams would trap the guard, Lillard would pass to Nurkic, and the Bosnian had become a good passer or he just take it in and scores himself

All of that came after Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer.

His injury also devastates the Blazers heading into the postseason, where they could have been a tough matchup but have now lost a key piece of their puzzle.

 

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving to rest against Cavaliers, his former team

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving said returning to Cleveland tonight won’t mean anything to him.

He won’t even play.

The Celtics will rest rest the star against his old team, the Cavaliers.

Irving is averaging 23.8 points and the Celtics want to keep him as fresh as possible going into the postseason.

The Celtics have lost four straight and are fifth in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland.

Irving played his first six seasons with Cleveland. The six-time All-Star demanded a trade following the 2016-17 season and was dealt to Boston. He hasn’t played in Cleveland since the 2017-18 opener.

Celtics center Al Horford (sore left knee) and forward Jayson Tatum (back contusion) could return Tuesday. Coach Brad Stevens said both were “questionable to probable” at the team’s shootaround.