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Kawhi Leonard, Paul George (Clippers), Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving (Nets) form pop-up super teams

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Five years ago…

The Clippers were embroiled in Donald Sterling’s scandal. There was talk of players boycotting. The whole franchise seemed toxic.

The Nets were entering years of pain. They’d traded several future first-round picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who promptly declined and left the team in the basement. Brooklyn looked hopeless.

Suddenly, the Clippers and Nets are the NBA’s freshest powers after major offseason coups. Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers and convinced Paul George to request a trade to accompany him. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined Brooklyn through free agency.

This level of star grouping in a single summer is unprecedented.

A team has added two reigning All-NBA players in the same offseason just three times:

  • 2019 Clippers: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
  • 2019 Nets: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
  • 2014 Cavaliers: LeBron James and Kevin Love

In 2014, LeBron returned home to Cleveland and pitched Love on joining him. The Cavs traded for Love with assurances he’d re-sign the following year.

The stories look similar in L.A. and Brooklyn this year.

Leonard wanted to return to his native Southern California, and he got George – another California native – to come along. Durant might resent the notion he was recruited, but playing near New Jersey is a homecoming for Irving. It seems Durant prioritized playing somewhere with Irving.

The big difference between this year’s situation and the Cavaliers in 2014: No incumbent star attracted Leonard, George, Durant and Irving to their new teams. Cleveland had Irving as a draw for LeBron and eventually Love.

The Clippers were starless. The Nets had no All-Star until D'Angelo Russell was named an injury replacement, and they weren’t keepinh him if landing Durant and Irving. (Russell got sent to the Warriors in a double sign-and-trade.)

That’s another way these situations are unprecedented.

Just eight teams have added multiple reigning All-Stars in the same offseason since the NBA-ABA merger. The preceding six already had an incumbent star who helped build the appeal:

Year Team Stars added Incumbent star
2019 LAC Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
2019 BRK Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving
2017 OKC Paul George, Carmelo Anthony Russell Westbrook
2017 BOS Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward Isaiah Thomas*
2014 CLE LeBron James, Kevin Love Kyrie Irving
2012 LAL Dwight Howard, Steve Nash Kobe Bryant
2010 MIA LeBron James, Chris Bosh Dwyane Wade
2007 BOS Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen Paul Pierce**

*The Celtics traded Thomas for Irving, but Thomas was integral in recruiting Hayward in the first place.

**Pierce wasn’t an All-Star in 2007 due to an early injury, but he was an All-Star the five preceding and five following seasons and played like one while healthy later in 2006-07. Not counting him as a star in 2007 would be true only as a technicality.

Yet, Leonard and George chose to be the stars on the Clippers. Durant and Irving chose to be the stars on the Nets. They didn’t follow anyone already in place.

This is an unintended consequence of the shorter contracts owners pushed for. They give players more opportunities to change teams and value new situations like this. This is also a continuation of LeBron exercising his power, first by joining Wade and Bosh on the Heat then by closing up shop in Miami and forming a new super team in small-market Cleveland.

Maybe it can’t happen anywhere. It’s no coincidence the Clippers and Nets play in the two largest markets.

But the Lakers and Knicks are still the most prestigious franchises in Los Angeles and New York. The Clippers an Nets didn’t even win a playoff series or get one star first to lure others.

It’s a new era in the NBA – one where top talent is ready to come together and assert itself.

Wherever that may be.

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.