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Three Things to Know: Markelle Fultz is making plays, getting buckets for Orlando

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Don’t look now, but Markelle Fultz is making plays, getting buckets for Orlando. The Washington Wizards were going to dare Markelle Fultz to use that long-broken jumper.

Midway through the first quarter, Nikola Vucevic brought the ball out to the left wing above the arc, handed the ball to Fultz and set a pick, but Washington defender Isaiah Thomas instantly backed a couple of steps off. Fultz set his feet and drained a three. One minute later, almost the exact same scenario played out in an early shot clock opportunity. After that, Wizards’ defenders started to come out and contest Fultz from beyond the arc, and that opened lanes for what Fultz really wants to do, drive to the rim. He was in attack mode for the rest of the night.

Fultz had his best NBA game Sunday — scoring a career-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting — capped off by this steal and slam to seal the win.

Fultz is playing solid, respectable ball for Orlando — and he’s improving seemingly game to game. On the season he is averaging 10.5 points a night on 48.6 percent shooting (21.4 percent from three), plus 3.1 assists and 2.2 rebounds.

Not All-Star numbers, not the numbers teams hope for from No. 1 overall picks. However, for Fultz this is a marked improvement from the player with a combination of an injury and a clear mental block — call it a case of the yips if you want — we saw the first two seasons. Fultz was the top pick of the 76ers back in 2017 (they traded with Boston to move up to get him), but by the start of training camp had seemingly just lost the ability to shoot the basketball. He played only 14 games that season. During his second season he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome (a pinching of the blood vessels and/or nerves around the collarbone), and the Sixers threw in the towel and traded Fultz to Orlando. Fultz never got on the court the second half of last season.

This season, out of the spotlight and pressure of being on a contender in a major market, Fultz has started to find his game again. He talked about it after his play on Sunday.

“I never lost confidence. I’m just feeling better. I took the time this summer to rehab and get everything right physically. Each game out there, I’m feeling more and more better. It’s showing in my play and I’m just going to keep going.”

Fultz’s jumper still has a lower release and he pushes it more than you’d like, it’s not a form dad’s would have their children mimic. But, it’s going in more and more. Fultz is looking comfortable when he drives, and his comfort level seems to be growing every time he steps on the court. The Magic like what they see (they should, considering they picked up is $12.4 million option for next season) and Fultz has moved into the starting lineup.
It’s all good signs for someone who a lot of people in the media and around the league are rooting for — and that includes fellow Washington alumnus Thomas, who watched the improved Fultz first-hand on Sunday.

2) Boston’s 10-game win streak rolls off the rim with Marcus Smart’s attempted game-winner. This looked every bit the game-winning shot by Marcus Smart. Until it wasn’t.

That shot ended Boston’s 10-game win streak on a night they just were not as sharp as they had been. Boston had six players in double digits led by Jaylen Brown’s 18, but this was a game where they missed Gordon Hayward’s playmaking and scoring. With the game on the line, it was Smart — who was 2-of-15 shooting up to that point — forced to drive and take the shot.

Also, Sacramento had Buddy Hield and he seemingly could not miss — he had 35 points, including seven three-pointers.

Don’t look now, but after an ugly start to the season the Kings are 5-2 in November, and the two losses were to the Raptors and Lakers by a combined 6 points. Luke Walton’s team is figuring it out.

3) Kobe Bryant shows up to Staples Center, Lakers show out and roll Hawks. The Lakers are the best team in the NBA to start the season and the stars were out Sunday night to watch them: Kevin Hart, Chance the Rapper, and…

Oh, Kobe Bryant.

He was getting a lot of love from the Lakers’ stars.

Even Dwight Howard and Kobe were all good.

Part of the draw for all those stars was Trae Young, who has been putting on a show this season and had 31 against the Lakers, plus handed out seven dimes.

But this was no contest, with the Lakers up 12 after one quarter and then 28 at the half. LeBron had 33 points, 12 assists, and continues to play at an MVP level no matter who is in the house. Kyle Kuzma had a solid 17 off the bench. Los Angeles is now 10-2 on the season and look like the force of nature Lakers nation had hoped for before the season.

Mark Cuban’s plan for a restart, “I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way”

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Wild, fanciful ideas for restarting the NBA that would never fly in a typical year — 1-16 seeding, or maybe a soccer World Cup-style group stage — are getting an airing this season because everything is on the table. As the NBA moves closer to a restart plan, countless ideas are being floated.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his own plan.

Shocking, I know. But it’s interesting.

“What I proposed is that we extend the playoff format to 10 teams from each conference, and play at least five games prior to going into playoffs,” Cuban said laying out is plan to NBC’s Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And if we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance to make the playoffs, and all but two in the Western Conference would do it [Ed. note: Golden State and Minnesota].

“Then, what I would do, once we got 10 and 10, I would reseed them, and 17 would play 20, and 18 would play 19, in a one-game series. The winner then would take on the eighth-place seed in a five-game series, while the No. 1 seed in each conference would get a bye. Then you go ahead normally from there.

“That gives us a chance to have more meaningful games, it gives almost every team a chance when we come back for whatever is left of our regular season. I think we’ve got to change it up some, I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way.”

Cuban later added, speaking to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, that he wants to see all 30 teams come to Orlando for regular season games, building excitement for the NBA’s return in every market. This dream, however, seems a long shot, and Damian Lillard spoke for a lot of players when he said he’s not playing if there is not a path to the playoffs for Portland.

Cuban’s point that this is the year to try something different, not to play it safe, has real validity. This season is already upside down due to the corona

Cuban’s plan is a long shot, but is it any longer a shot than any of the other ones out there?

 

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: Thunder considered trading James Harden for me on draft day 2012

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The first three picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, which was held in June:

1. New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans): Anthony Davis

2. Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

That August, the Thunder reportedly offered to trade James Harden to Washington for Beal. Washington reportedly rejected the offer due to Harden’s desire for a max contract extension (which Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied). The Rockets were more than willing to pay Harden, and Oklahoma City dealt him to Houston that October.

Apparently, Washington had a chance to land Harden earlier that offseason.

Beal on “All The Smoke:”

We’re sitting in the draft room. Sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, “It’s possible you might go to OKC.” I said, “Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t even worked out for OKC.” I only worked out for three teams – Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte.

So, the deal was to trade James to Washington, right? OKC gets the third pick. It was either the second or third pick. They were going to trade up to 2 or 3, get me, trade James to Washington.

I would have been in OKC with KD and Russ.

That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.

I can’t tell whether Beal is also revealing a Harden-to-Charlotte offer or just got mixed up on which teams held the Nos. 2 and 3 picks. Obviously, if Beal was the main prize to the Thunder, they would’ve cared only minimally whether they got him with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick. So, there might have been trade talks with Charlotte, too.

But I’m not convinced Oklahoma City valued Beal that way.

The Thunder were a championship contender. They had just lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat. Oklahoma City couldn’t have depended on a rookie Beal to contribute on that level.

That’s why – in addition to picks/young player acquired from the Rockets for Harden – the Thunder also got Kevin Martin. The veteran Martin was much better than Beal in 2012-13. (Ironically, the open title window was also a strong argument for just keeping Harden, whatever his contract status).

But the 2012-13 season didn’t go as planned for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook got hurt early in the playoffs, and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round. Martin left for a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves the following summer.

Even with the long runway Kevin Durant and Westbrook provided, Oklahoma City never got back to the Finals. Beal could have grown into a third star whose shooting complemented the duo. The Thunder might have won a championship with this trade (or, again, just keeping Harden).

The Wizards almost certainly would have won more. Harden has perennially gotten the Rockets to the playoff. (They’ve gone further in years he has had more help.) Beal hasn’t singlehandedly carried Washington like that.

So, this is an interesting “what if?” – if you take it at face value.

Beal’s agent warning him of a trade possibility means something. But we don’t know which other pieces were involved.

The Thunder didn’t trade Harden until just before the rookie-scale-extension deadline, suggesting they wanted to give themselves time to extend him themselves before taking the drastic step of trading him. Would Beal have been enough of a return to give up in June (or even August) on keeping Harden? Maybe. Harden didn’t fully blossom until reaching Houston. But I’m skeptical. At minimum, Harden had already established himself as young and good. Beal was young, promising and under greater team control. There’s significant value in the certainty of a player being at least a near-star, and Harden – not Beal – had that.

Even in hindsight, we’re still revisiting the situation with only limited information.

Report: NBA games could resume in August, not July

Bucks center Brook Lopez and Raptors center Marc Gasol
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A week ago, the NBA was looking to resume games in July at Disney World.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In fact, there’s a possibility the first games played in Orlando could be in August, not July, sources said.

It’s good the NBA is being flexible on a start date. The coronavirus presents so much uncertainty.

The league is approaching its most lucrative time – the playoffs. The NBA should make every effort to play the postseason, whenever that can be done safely.

Everyone can figure out next season later, especially because there’s a willingness to delay the start.

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
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The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.