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Three Things to Know: Orlando, Brooklyn reach milestones by making playoffs

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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) Orlando, Brooklyn reach milestones in turnarounds by making playoffs. The last time the Brooklyn Nets made the playoffs, Kevin Garnett was on the roster.

The last time the Orlando Magic made the playoffs, Dwight Howard was their leading scorer.

On Sunday, the Nets and Magic punched their tickets to the playoffs again with wins. Those wins deserve some celebration because both franchises had long roads back from decimated positions to get here.

In Orlando, after Dwight Howard forced his way out of town in the summer of 2012 (going on to become a Lakers “legend” then entering a journeyman phase), the Magic franchise was lost in the wilderness with blown draft picks and missed opportunities. A couple of years ago, new management led by Jeff Weltman changed the direction and put Orlando on a playoff path (although we’ll have to see how that Mo Bamba pick works out). Weltman’s best move may have been hiring Steve Clifford, who improved the Orlando defense to top 10 and leaned heavily on Nikola Vucevic — that has proven a winning formula.

Vucevic, remember, came to the Magic in the four-team Dwight Howard trade. Things have come full circle.

Next season, the Magic will add Markelle Fultz to their mix, and if he can bounce back things start to really look up in Orlando. (Vucevic is a free agent this summer, which is the other storyline to watch.)

In Brooklyn, GM Sean Marks inherited a team devastated by the ownership push to win fast when the team moved out of New Jersey, which led then GM Billy King to make some lopsided trades. Marks walked in the door and had not only a decimated roster but also not many draft picks going forward to rebuild with.

Marks searched for undervalued players who could be part of something and found guys such as Spencer Dinwiddie. He traded for young players such as Caris LeVert.

However, two big Marks decisions set this team on a playoff path. The first was hiring coach Kenny Atkinson to establish the culture and develop players — the Nets play hard, move the ball, are unselfish, and it’s all a reflection of Atkinson. The second move was taking on the bad Lakers’ contract of Timofey Mozgov to get D’Angelo Russell. That move was no sure thing, Russell had shown flashes of talent but also a real lack of maturity in Los Angeles, and his inconsistent play continued into his early time in Brooklyn.

However, this year Russell blossomed into an All-Star and leader (just in time for his contract season), and the Nets are going to have to play him because Russell is now a cornerstone of what is being built in Brooklyn.

There’s still work to do in Orlando and Brooklyn to get to the top half of the East and the places both franchises want to go. However, making the playoffs is an important milestone along the way. It should be celebrated.

2) Houston breaks own record, hits 27 threes against Suns to set a new single-game mark. The Rockets are not coasting into the playoffs. Winners of six straight, they still have a shot at the two seed, they are just half a game back of the Nuggets for that spot.

That means the Rockets are still launching threes — and hitting them. Houston broke its own record on Sunday hitting 27 threes in a game.

The Rockets were 27-of-57 (47.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Houston got the win 149-113, with one more win they secure the three seed in the West. They can still get the two seed, but the Rockets will need a little help from the Nuggets to get there.

3) Warriors play last regular-season game in Oracle Arena in Oakland. No doubt the new Chase Center in San Francisco, which the Warriors will call home starting next season, will be a beautiful, gleaming new building with all the bells and whistles of a modern arena.

But it won’t be “Roar-acle.”

Sunday, the Warriors bid farewell to one of the loudest, most raucous arenas in the NBA, Oracle Arena. They did it with class, wearing the throwback jerseys of the 2007 “We Beleive” Warriors, and raising a banner celebrating the 47 years in Oakland that will hang in the Chase Center.

The Warriors also got the win and locked up the No. 1 seed in the West on Sunday.

Which means there are more memories to be made in Oracle, the Warriors should be making another deep playoff run, all the way to the Finals. The journey of that building is not yet done. But take a look back at the memories.

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
PJ Tucker
Thaddeus Young

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

(We could argue about whether Mitchell is a guard or a wing, if Tucker is a big or a wing, 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.

Report: Tobias Harris won’t play for Team USA in World Cup, either

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The theoretical lineup of players who’ve withdrawn from consideration for Team USA’s FIBA World Cup roster just gained frontcourt depth.

So far, we had:

Add Tobias Harris.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Harris is a real loss. He’s a good player whose ability to blend with other good players – as he showed with the 76ers last season – would’ve made him particularly helpful on Team USA.

The Americans still have other forwards available – Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Harrison Barnes, Kyle Kuzma, Paul Millsap, P.J. Tucker. But none match Harris’ combination of talent and frontcourt versatility.

USA Basketball is down to just 14 players for its training camp next month:

The U.S. almost must add more players to the pool.