Associated Press

Celtics boss Danny Ainge back at work after ‘mild’ heart attack

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving can opt out of his Celtics contract and become a free agent. Gordon Hayward might never play like he did before his injury. It’s possible Brad Stevens won’t figure out a way to deploy all of the team’s talent.

There’s one thing, though, that Boston boss Danny Ainge was able to rule out as he returned to work following his second heart attack: “My role’s not going to change.”

A 60-year-old former All-Star and NBA executive of the year, Ainge was in Milwaukee for the Celtics’ second-round series against the Bucks last month when he suffered what the team described as a “mild” heart attack. Doctors said at the time he was expected to make a full recovery.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since he fell ill, Ainge said Wednesday that he had complete faith in assistant general manager Mike Zarren, scouting director David Lewin and player personnel director Austin Ainge.

“I know our organization is in great hands,” he said at the team’s practice facility.

But he’s not ready to turn the reins over yet.

Ainge said he will work to eat better, exercise more and minimize stress. He didn’t do so well at that during the playoffs, when he tried to watch the second game of the East semifinals against Milwaukee.

“I’ve just got to be in a setting where I’m not screaming and yelling and my veins aren’t sticking out all over my neck,” he said.

This summer, that won’t be easy.

The Celtics went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2018 despite losing Irving and Hayward to injuries. With the two All-Stars back last season – and LeBron James moving out of the conference – the team was one of the favorites to reach the NBA Finals.

But piecing it all together proved more difficult than expected.

The Celtics managed just a No. 4 seed in the playoffs and lost to Milwaukee in five games. Irving shot 30% during the four-game losing streak that ended the season, and Boston fans began openly rooting for him to exercise his option and become a free agent.

Ainge said Irving was taking too much of the blame for the team’s disappointing season.

“It’s unfortunate that one person gets credit or blame for a team’s failures,” Ainge said. “We had a lot of reasons the team did not succeed this year. Kyrie deserves his share of the blame, but not any more than anybody else.”

Ainge said there were players who questioned their roles or otherwise struggled to fit into the role that Stevens put them in. Although Ainge did not single him out, guard Terry Rozier has complained publicly about what he “put up with” in a season when his minutes dropped for the first time in his career.

“There’s a lot of guys that didn’t handle things the right way, and didn’t make the sacrifices that needed to be done for the benefit of the team,” Ainge said. “We didn’t have 100% buy-in from 100% of the team. I did not anticipate that.”

And though it was Stevens’ job to work that out, Ainge said he had no doubts about his coach.

“Brad, he’s the least of our concerns,” Ainge said. “I wish every one of our players would put the time and effort in that Brad does.”

Ainge is doing his best to keep up. He said his illness didn’t hinder preparations for the June 20 draft, when the Celtics have four picks, including Nos. 14, 20 and 22 in the first round. They will have worked out nearly 100 players “of all shapes and sizes.”

And he’s trying to follow doctors’ orders.

Ainge said he was told to exercise more and lose weight. He also needs to improve his diet, but he won’t be looking to former teammate – and noted marijuana enthusiast – Bill Walton for recipes.

“I’m eating more plants,” he said. “Not the kind of plants in Walton’s garden, by the way.”

 

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.

NBA’s Steph Curry helps Howard U. start Division I golf team

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WASHINGTON (AP) Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is helping Howard University launch a Division I golf program.

The Golden State Warriors star guard and the school announced the six-year partnership Monday.

The specifics of his contribution were not disclosed.

Howard officials say they plan to have women’s and men’s golf teams for the 2020-21 academic year.

The school had a Division II golf program in the past, along with intercollegiate and intramural club teams.

The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Warriors, says he decided to get involved after meeting a Howard student who had been trying to get the university to have a golf team.

Curry says “it’s tough” to hear about students “who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game.”

Cameron Reddish quadruples Zion Williamson’s vote total for ‘best career’ in NBA rookie survey

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Zion Williamson is the NBA’s most-hyped rookie – for good reason. He was incredibly productive at Duke, and his jaw-dropping athleticism should help his game translate with the Pelicans. He wasn’t just the consensus No. 1 pick this year. He was viewed as the best prospect in years.

His peers seem less enamored.

Williamson tied for fourth in the NBA’s annual rookie survey when rookies were asked which member of this class would have the best career. The full results:

1. Cam Reddish, Atlanta — 19%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 16%

3. De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta — 11%

4. R.J. Barrett, New York — 5%

Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans — 5%

Coby White, Chicago — 5%

Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 5%

Others receiving votes: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans; Jarrett Culver, Minnesota; Carsen Edwards, Boston; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Rui Hachimura, Washington; Keldon Johnson, San Antonio; Mfiondu Kabengele, LA Clippers; Romeo Langford, Boston; Cody Martin, Charlotte; Eric Paschall, Golden State; Tremont Waters, Boston; Dylan Windler, Cleveland

Reddish – the No. 10 pick – is a surprising top choice. He has plenty of talent and fluid athleticism, but he really struggled at Duke last season. That was a dispiriting development that wouldn’t happen to most players bound for NBA stardom.

I wouldn’t read too much into these results. Of the 42 polled rookies, 81% picked someone other than Reddish.

Still, it’s jarring to see Reddish so far ahead of Williamson.

Williamson didn’t get a majority of votes for Rookie of the Year prediction either, though he at least led that category:

1. Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 35%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 27%

3. R.J. Barrett, New York — 5%

Cam Reddish, Atlanta — 5%

Others receiving votes: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans; Goga Bitadze, Indiana; Brandon Clarke, Memphis; Carsen Edwards, Boston; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Kyle Guy, Sacramento; Rui Hachimura, Washington; Romeo Langford, Boston; Coby White, Chicago; Grant Williams, Boston

It’s close between Williamson and the field for Rookie of the Year. But if picking only one player, how do you pick someone other than Williamson?

Not every rookie takes these questions seriously. Clearly. Here, I think there’s especially an element of wanting to be different. Williamson is such an obvious answer to these questions, I bet many players gave their next answer. When too many do that, it looks silly.

At least the rookies chose Williamson as most athletic. In the only question where someone got a major of votes, Williamson topped 87% of the ballots.