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Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown front and center for Celtics

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This story is part of our’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Two Celtics landed on our list of the top 50 players in 5 years: Jayson Tatum (No. 12) and Jaylen Brown (No. 27).

They would have ranked even higher if we made the list a year earlier.

Tatum was coming off an inspiring first season, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. After showing promise in his first season, Brown took the next step and finished seventh in Most Improve Player voting. Both forwards played key roles in Boston’s historic run to the conference finals while Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injured.

Then, last season happened.

The Celtics had terrible chemistry and flopped with a second-round loss. Kyrie Irving took the brunt of the blame and deserved plenty.

But Tatum and Brown both backslid. Though Irving’s clumsy leadership and selfish play might have factored, that doesn’t totally absolve the two forwards. When Celtics president Danny Ainge said some young players were too focused on becoming All-Stars rather than winning, Tatum and Brown were prime suspects.

Now, Irving is gone, and Tatum and Brown get a fresh start. The forwards are still young and talented, and without Irving, key to unlocking the brightest possible future in Boston.

Tatum impressed with his decisiveness as a rookie. He launched open 3s when open, attacked the rim, drew fouls and defended hard. He lost some of that his second season, instead over-dribbling and forcing bad shots. Iso scoring is a valuable skill, but Tatum overly relied on it. If he can find a better balance between his approaches, the sky is the limit.

After a slow start, Brown improved throughout last season. He carried that momentum into the FIBA World Cup, where he often looked like Team USA’s best all-around player.

Whatever problems were their own fault last year, Tatum and Brown have an opportunity to scapegoat Irving. Retroactively, as we still try to deconstruct what happened to Boston last season, bounce-back years by Tatum and Brown would point to Irving as the culprit. That might be particular motivation for Brown, who stuck up for the young Celtics when Irving criticized them.

Brown will also likely be playing for a new contract. He’s extension-eligible until the season starts and likely headed toward restricted free agency next summer.

Will that help Brown or distract him? Even without Irving, Boston could still be prone to chemistry issues. Brown and Tatum, still trying to establish themselves in the league, still have incentives to play for themselves. The root of Ainge’s concern didn’t dissipate overnight. Though he should be much better for morale than Irving was, Walker needs plenty of touches. Gordon Hayward might also be ready for a bigger role – especially complicated because of his history with Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Plus, Hayward is another forward.

Boston should be good next season and good for a while. But Irving was supposed to put this team over the top. He’s a proven deep-playoff star and friends with Anthony Davis. That plan is out the window.

Tatum and Brown are the Celtics’ next hope. This season could go far in determining the viability of building a championship team around those two.

Report: Stephen Curry targeting return for Warriors-Wizards on March 1

Stephen Curry
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Stephen Curry has been busy since breaking his hand in the Warriors’ fourth game – challenging Chris Mullin in pop-a-shot, recruiting Giannis Antetokounmpo, sideline reporting and nothing else.

When will Curry return to his main role?

Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

The question is not if Stephen Curry is coming back this season, but when. And, from what I’ve been told, you might want to clear your schedule for March 1. The Warriors host the Washington Wizards that night.

That’s not set in stone, of course. More like a target date. But expect a return by the face of the franchise before next season.

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the exact date. That’s a ways off. But Curry having a specific target in mind speaks to his progress.

Golden State is the only Western Conference team not in the playoff race. It’s too late for Curry to change the arc of the Warriors’ season. They’re headed toward excellent draft position.

But Curry is a basketball player, and if he’s healthy enough to play, he’ll play. Returning this season could set him up to thrive next season, when Golden State – with Klay Thompson healthy plus whatever D'Angelo Russell and a high pick become – will again hold big-time potential.

Curry returning would also make the Warriors more entertaining the last month and a half of the season. It’s important for them to keep their big-spending fans satisfied.

Watch Klay Thompson’s emotional jersey retirement at Washington State

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Klay Thompson will forever be No. 1 at Washington State.

In his three seasons as a Cougar, Thompson set the school record for three pointers — 242 — and set the school’s single-season record for points scored (733), became the school’s third all-time leading scorer (1,756) and averaged 17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals a game.

We all know what happened next: He was drafted No. 11 by the Warriors and went on to an NBA career that includes three NBA titles with the Golden State Warriors, twice being named All-NBA and five times an All-Star, he holds the NBA record for most made threes in a game (14), and he has a gold medal from the Rio Olympics. And he’s still adding to that legacy.

Saturday, Thompson had his No. 1 jersey retired by the school.

Stephen Curry was in Pullman for the ceremony.

Even LeBron James shouted it out on his Instagram story.

Thompson is the second men’s basketball number retired by WSU, the other being Steve Puidokas’ No. 55 (the school’s all-time leading scorer, he played there in the 1970s).



Luka Doncic on Kings: ‘I honestly thought they were going to pick me’

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Luka Doncic, in just his second season and at age 20, is an MVP candidate who is showing himself to be an elite, franchise-changing player.

Which lead fans in Phoenix and Sacramento to ask, “How did we pass on this guy in the draft?” He was the MVP of the second-best league on the planet at age 18, what led two teams to pass on him and a third — the Atlanta Hawks — to trade him on draft night in June 2018.

Doncic himself thought he was going to the Kings’ at No. 2, he told Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“They came to Madrid (to see him play for Real Madrid and to share a dinner on June 5, 2018),” the 20-year-old Doncic told The Athletic about the Kings’ contingent’s visit during the draft process. “They came with the owner. Everybody came, so I honestly thought they were going to pick me.”

So, I asked, was it ever made clear to him why they didn’t?

“I mean, I think it’s because of Euroleague; it’s different basketball,” Doncic said.

Kings GM Vlade Divac instead drafted Marvin Bagley III, believing the Duke big man would be a better fit next to emerging point guard De'Aaron Fox. Bagley has put up nice numbers this season, 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds a game, but missed 30 games with a foot injury. He has not looked like a franchise-changing player.

Sacramento isn’t the only team where fans have questions about the top of the 2018 draft. In the Suns case, they drafted Deandre Ayton out of in-state Arizona, a move that it is rumored to have been pushed by owner Robert Sarver (and a number of teams had Ayton and Doncic rated close to equal, which is a misread of the increasingly positionless direction of the NBA, but that’s another topic). Atlanta drafted Doncic third and traded him to Dallas, but got back Trae Younghimself on an All-Star trajectory in his second season — and another first-round pick. Young says it is still too early to judge that trade.

Meanwhile, the Kings appear on track to miss the playoffs for a 14th straight season. The luster of the beautiful new Golden 1 Center arena is starting to wear off, and fans in the California capital want some wins. Hard to blame them, but they may need to be patient. Again.

Royce O’Neale agrees to four-year, $36 million contract extension to stay in Utah

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Royce O'Neale is a name casual NBA fans may not recognize.

However, GMs around the league recognize him is the kind of role player teams need to win. O’Neale is asked to guard the opposing team’s best wing player nightly, while on the other end of the court he’s shooting 44.3 percent from three. He’s become a critical part of Utah’s rotation.

So the Jazz have locked him up with a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Jazz — who have won 16-of-18 — just got Mike Conley back in the rotation, and have jumped up to a top-four seed in the West (as of this writing). Things are looking up, and also they have set themselves up well financially for the future.

Bigger bills are coming in Utah, in the summer of 2021 the Jazz will need to max out Donovan Mitchell with an extension plus re-sign Rudy Gobert. Which is why locking in a quality role player like O’Neale at a fair price now is a smart move.