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Three Things to Know: LeBron James passes idol Michael Jordan on all-time scoring list

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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) LeBron James passes childhood idol Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. “[Michael Jordan] is somebody I looked up to and always believed was the greatest. It’s pretty cool. I have no idea how I’ve been able to do it.”

That was LeBron James during All-Star weekend. On Thursday night, he did it — LeBron James passed Michael Jordan to become fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

At the next timeout (as mandated by the league), LeBron was celebrated for his accomplishment with a video tribute.

It was an emotional moment for LeBron, who all but said 12-year-old him would not believe where he is now.

LeBron, at age 34, is not done, he has several more years of high-level basketball in him. If LeBron can stay healthy, he likely moves past Kobe Bryant into third on the scoring list next season. Jordan averaged more points per game than LeBron — career averages of 30.1 points per game to 27.1 — but LeBron has played more games. Longevity is part of it — that’s why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is on top of this list, because at age 40 he was averaging 14.6 points per game (starting on a championship team).

The GOAT conversation is a fun bar stool argument that we’re not going to get into, but here is the thing that shows why these two have to be part of the conversation — they are 1-2 all-time in player efficiency rating (PER). We can pick apart the flaws of Hollinger’s stat, but it’s a good offensive snapshot of a player and these two are the tops ever. Jordan was the better scorer, LeBron the better passer and playmaker.

In what has been one of LeBron’s roughest seasons (the Lakers fell to the Nuggets on Wednesday and are now five games below .500) this is a reminder he belongs on the league’s Mount Rushmore, and he is in the GOAT conversation. LeBron is an all-time great. Nothing is ever going to take that away from him.

2) While nobody’s been watching, the Bulls have become good, beat Sixers on Zach LaVine game-winner. Early in the season, the Bulls were a mess. Chicago went 3-12 in November being outscored by 9.6 points per 100 possessions (second worst in the NBA), with an offense scoring less than a point per possession. December wasn’t much better (-8.4 net rating).

Things slowly started to change. The most significant difference was Lauri Markkanen got healthy and returned to action. Zach LaVine scored at a high rate all season but he started to become efficient. Fred Hoiberg was out as coach after going 5-19, Jim Boylen was in. The Bulls traded for Otto Porter at the deadline to give them another athletic wing.

The Bulls are a good team now — 8-7 in their last 15 games with a +1 net rating. It’s the kind of massive improvement in a season young teams hope to see, it provides hope for the future.

But the Bulls can win now, too. Just ask the Sixers, a team that needs wins because they are in the middle of a playoff seedings chase (they and Boston don’t want to finish 4/5 and face off in the first round). Jimmy Butler put Philadelphia up by a point with two free throws with 4.8 seconds left, but then Zach LaVine capped his 39 points on the night with this.

That was some bad defense by Philly — how much do they miss Joel Embiid in the middle? He was out a seventh straight game resting a sore knee, he hasn’t played since those 21 minutes in the All-Star Game.

The Bulls got the win — after they re-played the final 0.5 seconds a couple of times, the second one without Porter. The Bulls aren’t making the playoffs this year, in fact they will be drafting high again thanks to those first few months. But they are a solid team right now and there is genuine reason to feel warm about the Bulls during this cold Chicago winter.

3) Gordon Hayward gets redemption in game-winner to beat Kings. Boston was set up to lose: Second night of a back-to-back against the fastest pace team in the NBA in Sacramento, and Kyrie Irving was out with a bruised thigh.

Hayward almost blew it for the Celtics, who were up three late after a couple of Jayson Tatum free throws. Then on the next play Hayward fouled Buddy Hield on a three-point attempt and a trio of free throws later, the game was tied.

Then Hayward saved the day.

The question after Boston’s impressive win in Golden State was can they build on it? Just one game, but so far so good.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Miami moves into eight seed in East with a win against Charlotte. Can they hold it? There’s a real battle to make the playoffs at the bottom of the East, with three teams — Miami, Charlotte, and Orlando — all within a game of each other for the final playoff slot. Only one gets an invitation to the dance.

After Wednesday night, the Heat are in front. Kelly Olynyk dropped 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as Miami went into Charlotte and won. Miami, at 30-34, is a game ahead of Orlando (30-36) and Charlotte (29-35).

Who is going to win the race? My money is on Orlando, simply because they have a much easier schedule the rest of the way and have been playing well of late. But it’s wide open, and another factor is Brooklyn is the seven seed, 3.5 games up on Orlando/Charlotte, but the Nets have a very difficult schedule down the stretch. They could come back to the pack.

Marcus Morris explains his change of plans from Spurs deal to Knicks

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Marcus Morris‘ move built up some hard feelings around the NBA. Players have verbally agreed to contracts with one team only to change their mind before, but in this case the Spurs had made roster moves — including trading Davis Bertans go to the Wizards — to clear out space for Morris, leaving San Antonio in a tough spot when Morris changed his mind and signed with the Knicks. The Spurs were pissed at the Knicks about this. Executives with other teams did not like the potential precedent the move set.

Morris offered his first explanation of what happened to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

It starts here: Morris’ agent at the time Rich Paul negotiated a three-year, $41 million offer from the Clippers at the start of free agency. Morris turned it down, and he admitted that was against Paul’s advice.

“All this stuff that (Paul) didn’t want me to go to the Clippers and didn’t want me to go against LeBron (James), that’s not true,” Morris said. “He never told me not to take the deal. For as long as I’ve known Rich — and that’s still someone I have love for and that’s still my guy — he has been great in terms of advice. He told me he wanted me to take the Clippers deal. He gave me his advice. It was my decision and I had to make the best decision for me and my family.”

Things moved very fast at the start of free agency (more than 50 contracts were agreed to in the first 24 hours) and that left Morris not wanting the music to stop without him having a chair. That’s when he accepted the two-year, $20 million offer from San Antonio. Morris said he didn’t expect another offer, but when the Knicks came through with one year, $15 million he wanted it and tried to be up front about the situation.

“I have a good relationship with those guys and I have so much respect for (head coach) Pop (Gregg Popovich), (general manager) RC (Buford) and (assistant GM) Brian Wright,” Morris told The Athletic. “The first thing that I did when I knew I would be going another direction, I called and made sure they knew. There was no shade. There’s no disrespect. I had great conversations afterward, and as long as I feel that I’m clear with them and gave them my truth, I feel good about moving forward.

“I was under the impression that I didn’t have anything left. I thought at the time that the Spurs deal was all that I had. The process wasn’t what I expected and it didn’t go the right way.”

Morris has split ways with Paul as an agent, reportedly over this incident.

Morris has now essentially bet on himself. The Knicks are not going to win a lot of games, but Morris is going to have a significant role and should get a lot of touches. Have a strong season and he will enter a much weaker free agent class next summer as one of the better players in it. That could lead to a bigger payday. Plus he makes more per year now.

 

 

Karl-Anthony Towns: “I’m planning to be in Minnesota for a long time”

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A few years back, Minnesota looked like a team on a fast rise in the West, mostly because Karl-Anthony Towns looked like a young dominant force starting to come of age in the league.

It hasn’t worked out that way, even though Minnesota finally made the playoffs back in 2018. Andrew Wiggins has not developed into a No. 2 options (even though he is getting paid like a No. 1 option), Towns has not consistently owned the defensive end, and under Tom Thibodeau there were a lot of chemistry issues highlighted by Jimmy Butler blowing up last training camp and essentially torpedoing the season before it started.

In today’s NBA news cycle, driven by rumors and speculation about player movement — and the player movement itself — all those issues in Minnesota has people looking at Towns. That despite the fact his five-year max extension just kicks in this season.

Towns isn’t looking to move. There’s a new coach (Ryan Saunders) who Towns has a good bond with, there’s a new head of basketball operations (Gersson Rosas) who is aggressive and who Towns likes, and the two-time All-Star center told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic he is happy right now in Minnesota.

“The biggest thing when you have that conversation [about a star switching teams] is you say, ‘Is he happy here?’” Towns said. “I’m tremendously happy. I love my front office. I love my coaching staff. I think we’ve made great moves and great changes. I love the culture we have here. If you want to leave, you have to be miserable somewhere. I am not there. I’m planning to be in Minnesota for a long time.”

What makes Towns happy is he can see the plan now — and it’s finally to build around him. Towns is the top dog and this summer the Timberwolves made a push to land D'Angelo Russell to be his No. 2 (since it’s not Wiggins). That, however, fell short as Russell is in Golden State. (For now at least, if the fit with Stephen Curry is not right Russell could be on the move, and Minnesota would be interested.) Still, there was an organized plan of attack and a shuffling around of players to give Minnesota more flexibility. Towns says he is comfortable this is a franchise on the right path. Even if it’s going to take some time to get there.

In a deep West, Minnesota looks to be a team on the outside of the playoff chase that needs a lot of things to go right to get in it. They have some good players, but also a lot of youth and questions.

“We all can’t rush in and think we’re going to win 75 games right now,” he said. “We have to take it day by day. We have to be patient with the process and accept the process and go through the cycles. I think we’re going to have a really good team and we have to go out there every single night and try to accomplish it. My job as a leader, I’ve got to get the best out of every single player.”

Marcus Smart, Thaddeus Young reportedly added to USA Basketball training camp roster

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Elite NBA players have not dropped out of playing for Team USA like this since 2004, when nobody wanted to play for Larry Brown and rumors of potential terrorism in Athens had the NBA’s best backing out.

For the 2019 World Cup in China, USA Basketball has watched James Harden, Anthony Davis, Tobias Harris, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon, and CJ McCollum all back out, robbing the American team of a lot of star power. Zion Williamson, who was projected to be part of the “select team” of young stars Team USA goes against also dropped out.

The Americans were down to 14 players heading into training camp (12 will be chosen to travel to China), and they needed more players. Enter Boston’s Marcus Smart and Thaddeus Young, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Don’t be surprised if another veteran name or two is added before training camp opens.

Smart and Young are a couple of smart selections, elite defenders who can shut down the best wing players on other teams (and in FIBA competition only a couple of teams have more than one top-flight wing player to handle).

So who is on the USA roster now? Let’s break it out by position:

GUARDS:
Damian Lillard
Kemba Walker
Kyle Lowry (questionable coming off thumb surgery)
Marcus Smart

WINGS:
Khris Middleton
Donovan Mitchell
Jayson Tatum
Harrison Barnes
Kyle Kuzma
Thaddeus Young

BIGS:
Andre Drummond
Myles Turner
Brook Lopez
Kevin Love
PJ Tucker
Paul Millsap

(We could argue about whether Mitchell is a guard or a wing, or other guys positions, but you get the basic picture.)

After Lillard, that roster does lack star power.

But the USA talent pool is so deep that it will overwhelm all but a couple of teams in the tournament. Serbia — led by Nikola Jokic and Bogan Bogdanovic — is the biggest threat to the USA and has good depth. Spain is impressive as well, but older.

The USA is and should be the World Cup favorite, but an improved rest of the world and a depleted USA roster is going to make things a lot more interesting in China.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

Tim Duncan joins Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with Spurs

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The Tim Duncan era in San Antonio is over quite yet.

The future Hall of Famer has been added full time to Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with the Spurs, the team announced Monday.

“It is only fitting, that after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor,” Popovich said.

Duncan was around the Spurs practice facility a lot last season, helping out informally. Now it is formal.

Expect more bank shots from the Spurs big men next season.

Duncan was at the heart of the Spurs historic NBA dynasty the past couple of decades. The future Hall of Famer is a five-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP, 15 time All-NBA teams, 15 times NBA All-Defensive teams, 15-time All-Star, and way back when the Rookie of the Year. However, his impact was greater than just that insane resume, he was the guy who set the tone and the work ethic for those Spurs teams. Duncan worked as hard as anyone, won as much as anyone, but did it without trying to draw attention to himself. If fact, he wanted to deflect it.

The Spurs will be competitive for a playoff spot in the deep West this season — they still have LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, plus Dejonte Murray gets healthy and returns — but are poised to start a rebuilding process in the coming years.

We will see if Duncan wants to be part of that, or if he is only around while Popovich remains the coach (somebody has to go to dinner with Pop). But he has earned the right to pretty much any role he wants.

The Spurs also announced that Will Hardy will be added to the bench as an assistant coach.

“Will Hardy is a talented, young basketball mind who has earned a great deal of respect from everyone in the organization thanks to his knowledge, spirit and personality,” Popovich said.