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Three Things to Know: Brash, ‘good a**h***’ Joel Embiid is back, leads 76ers to win

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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) Brash, “good a**h***” version of Joel Embiid back, leads 76ers past Clippers. Joel Embiid says he was turning over a new leaf this season: A little less smack talk, a little more zen. Not stirring the pot. He didn’t like the results, so the old Embiid is back (quote via NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“This year I made a decision to change and I guess it hasn’t worked out. So, it comes with the good and bad. If it helps us win and it helps me help the team in a better way to win games, then I’m going to be that guy.”

“That guy” as in the guy who gets into it with Marcus Morris on the court.

The guy who’s a “good a**h***” on the court and social media.

Also the guy who puts up 26 points, had nine rebounds, and fit together well with Ben Simmons for a night leading the 76ers to one of their best wins of the season, 110-103 over the Clippers (another home win, but still). Simmons had a triple-double of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, but it was the way everything fit — with Furkan Korkmaz starting to provide more shooting (except he went 0-of-5) and Al Horford coming off the bench — that was impressive. This looked more like the Sixers team we expected before the season.

Simmons and Embiid seemed to be looking for each other more than usual, we’ll see if that continues. Other teams are still watching that pairing like vultures.

Embiid “shushing” the Philly crowd then taking it to social media — where overreaction and baseless conspiracy theories thrive — had the entire situation overblown. The version of Embiid who thinks all this is fun and uses it as fuel is back.

“They’ve been going at me,” he said of Sixers fans. “I went back at them. We’re all human beings. If I can take it, then everybody else can take it, too. We learn from it, we move on. I’ve gotta do a better job, they’ve gotta do a better job. I understand where they come from, but then again, if you dish it, you’ve gotta be able to take it back.

“But at the end of the day … it’s all love. I love my city. I’ve been here for a long time now. We have a special relationship. I’m happy to be here and I can’t wait for the future, especially this year. I think we can accomplish something great.”

2) James Harden and Russell Westbrook combine for 78 points, Rockets snap Celtics seven-game win streak. Houston’s small-ball lineup is fun. Unless you’re trying to defend it.

James Harden scored 42 points, Russell Westbrook added 36, and it all comes together like that the Rockets are hard to beat. Boston couldn’t, and Houston won 116-105. Harden sparked a 15-2 run in the fourth that sealed the game for Houston.

We’ll see if Houston’s commitment to small ball gets them wins and moves them up the West standings (and we can debate if it will work in in the playoffs), but when it all comes together is fun to watch. We are entertained.

3) The NBA’s television ratings are down, and that may not matter. On Tuesday, Forbes’ annual NBA franchise valuations came out, and it’s a reminder that the rich get richer — the average team value went up 14 percent in the past year. No team went up less than 6 percent in value, and no team is worth less than $1.3 billion, according to Forbes. If you care, your top five most valuable franchises are:

1. New York Knicks: $4.6 billion
2. Los Angeles Lakers: $4.4 billion
3. Golden State Warriors: $4.3 billion
4. Chicago Bulls: $3.2 billion
5. Boston Celtics: $3.1 billion

That’s not what caught my eye in Forbes’ report.

NBA television ratings are down this year, which has led to a lot of hand wringing in certain quarters, especially looking ahead to the next NBA television deal (2025). Maybe those concerns are overblown. Fewer people are watching NBA games the way your father and grandfather did, but in a streaming world are fewer people watching? From Forbes:

Yet as viewing gravitates more seamlessly to a streaming-centric world, the NBA’s younger demographic will be key. The NBA’s average viewership age is 43 versus 52 for the NFL and 59 for MLB, according to Nielsen. Streaming viewership of NBA games on ESPN and TNT is up more than 30% this season.

“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.”

The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.

Double. And that’s just domestic rights.

Predict where the media landscape will be in five years at your own peril, but maybe the bubble on broadcast sports rights is not about to burst. At least not for the NBA. Not yet.

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).