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Zion Williamson signs three-year endorsement deal with 2K

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The past few weeks have been a blur to Zion Williamson.

Picked No. 1 in the NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans. Signed his first pro contract that could be worth as much as $45 million over the next four years. Went to summer league and got hurt after nine minutes. Considered playing for USA Basketball in China this summer. Landed a massive endorsement deal with Jordan Brand. Became very rich very quickly.

And now, a video game deal.

Williamson has signed with 2K, he and the video-game giant announced Tuesday, and the former Duke standout will make his video-game debut in NBA 2K20 when it launches on Sept. 6.

“It’s crazy,” Williamson said. “None of this will ever seem normal to me.”

A person familiar with the terms said Williamson and 2K agreed on a three-year contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details of the deal have not been released. It’s the latest major deal in a rapidly growing off-court enterprise for Williamson, perhaps the most celebrated No. 1 pick to enter the league since LeBron James in 2003.

“When I put the CD in the console, I don’t have to create me as a player,” Williamson told the AP at a party in Las Vegas to commemorate the game’s release, moments after NBA players like Portland’s Hassan Whiteside tried the game for the first time. “I’m there as a player. That’s going to take some getting used to. This is not normal. I can’t even put it into words. I’m honored.”

Williamson is an imposing figure already – 6-foot-7, 284 pounds, blessed with the combination of size and strength that leaves backboards shaking for many seconds after he unleashes a powerful dunk.

He’s also a young man who remains a work in progress. His fitness has been called into question, and he’s spending the weeks leading into his first NBA training camp – now less than two months away – getting his body ready for the rigors of his first 82-game season, after a minor knee issue ended his summer league experience in Las Vegas earlier this month after just one half of one game.

“Zion represents the best of the NBA’s up and coming talent and we are excited to welcome him to Team 2K. … We’re excited to grow with him,” NBA 2K Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Jason Argent said.

Even with all these things coming at him at once – he already had fame, and now he has the fortune that can come with it – Williamson insists that he is remaining grounded.

He didn’t arrive for his video-game coming out party with a massive entourage, just his dad and a couple members of his management team. He didn’t immediately gravitate toward the bigger names in the room high above the Vegas skyline, but rather some young kids who were busy playing the game. And he cringed at the notion that he’s already considered a star.

“I just turned 19, I have yet to play an NBA game and I know I still have to prove that I belong,” Williamson said. “I’m a rookie. I have a lot to prove.”

Williamson is fond of saying that he’s merely living his dream, and he knows it sounds a bit cliche.

He stands by it anyway.

“You say things when you’re 5 years old like `Yeah, I’ll go to the NBA,’ but I’m really going to be playing against superstars this year,” Williamson said. “LeBron, Kevin Durant the year after, Anthony Davis. I’m going to be playing with great NBA players like Jrue Holiday, players that I played with in this video game. That’s my new normal. I’m looking at something I’ve dreamed about and now it’s my normal life.”

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.