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Pau Gasol has new team and new role, mentor to young Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Pau Gasol is already having an impact in Portland without even taking the court: The 7-foot Spaniard has become something of a mentor for the younger Trail Blazers.

What a mentor to have.

He’s a six-time All Star and one of just four players with over 20,000 points, 11,000 rebounds, 3,500 assists and 1,500 blocks in his career, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. He’s got a pair of NBA championship rings from a stint with the Lakers.

About to embark on his 19th NBA season, Gasol is hoping for a fresh start with the Blazers. He came to Portland as a free agent in the offseason but he’s been limited at the start of training camp as he makes his way back from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot.

Gasol played just three games for the Milwaukee Bucks last season before the surgery. The Bucks signed him in March after he reached a buyout agreement with the San Antonio Spurs. In total, he played in just 30 games last season, averaging 3.8 points and 4.6 rebounds.

“I hope to add leadership on and off the court, experience and also quality of play. I’m excited after a difficult health year, frustrating. I’m excited to just work on my body and be healthy so I can do what I do on the floor and just have fun with the guys and compete, and play as hard as I can,” he said.

Zach Collins, a fellow 7-footer heading into his third season with the Blazers, texted Gasol the moment he learned Portland had signed him. Collins told Gasol he was going to be a “sponge” when it comes to the veteran’s knowledge.

“A guy like that, he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s a legend, someone that has gone against the best in the biggest moments and shown out,” Collins said. “He’s an extremely good player, and extremely good dude.”

Skal Labissiere said he’s never been on a team that has had a player as accomplished as Gasol at his position.

“I grew up watching him. I remember being in Haiti, in front of my little TV and just watching Pau Gasol,” said Labissiere, who is in his second season with the Blazers. “I told him already, I’m like, `Man, I want to work with you throughout the year and learn some things.'”

Gasol, who prides himself on his longevity and ability to change with the game, is embracing the new role.

“I’m excited to work with these guys, with Zach, with Skal, and kind of share the mindset and attitude that I’ve had throughout my career as far as getting better, as far as going out there and giving your best, knowing that some nights it’s gonna go better than others, putting in the work, taking it seriously, doing whatever it takes, handling the emotions the ups and downs of the season – which you know sometimes can be challenging,” he said. “So within all that I’m gonna be there.”

Gasol’s addition to the Blazers roster was widely seen as a smart move, based on the team’s recent history with its big men.

The Blazers were hurt last season when Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg in a game against Brooklyn on March 25. Fortunately, the team had signed Enes Kanter just before the All-Star break and he was able to help fill in for Nurkic as Portland played its way into the Western Conference finals for the first time in 19 years.

Kanter moved on to the Boston Celtics in the offseason, and Nurkic – now with a steel rod in his leg – is expected to be sidelined by his injury until the new year.

So, the Blazers shored up the position in the offseason, adding not just Gasol, but also Hassan Whiteside. Collins will likely see time at center, too.

Gasol is hopeful he’ll be ready to go on opening night. But he’s also aware it’s a long season, and the finish matters more than the start.

“My mindset and motivation is really to get back on the court and feel well and play well, and play the game that I love to play,” he said. “But, also, with really the goal in mind to help this team have the best possible chance at the end of the year. And that requires being ready from today on. Whatever it is that I need to do, and that I can do, I’m willing to do.”

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).