Just rounding into form before league shut down, Victor Oladipo back to training, waiting

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INDIANAPOLIS — Victor Oladipo was just rounding into form when the NBA season was suspended.

His expected increased playing time, his hopes of chasing a home playoff series and taking the Indiana Pacers on a deep postseason run went on hold — at least a few more weeks.

Now, 14 months after suffering a serious knee injury, he’s back home in Miami again, away from teammates again, doing what he can to be ready when games resume.

“It hurt just because it took me a while to come back and then, obviously, this happens and now you miss more,” Oladipo said Thursday on a conference call. “I was out there playing, going as best I can, as hard as I can. To say if I was 100 percent out there, I don’t know if I could say that. I’m just going to try and do my best to get better and get stronger.”

A year ago, the two-time All-Star Oladipo went home to rehab from surgery on a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee. The grueling recovery took a full year to make it back to NBA games and another month to start looking like his old self.

In his last five games, Oladipo averaged 18.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals while shooting 47.1 percent from the field. His best game was his: 27 points on 9 of 16 shooting and 5 of 7 on 3-pointers with seven rebounds and four assists.

But even if the season restarts, the Pacers know they can’t just hit the go switch. Oladipo must work his way back.

“I think we could adjust as we go but there will be some limitations,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said Wednesday, noting 40 minutes per game would be too much. “We want to put a plan in place for Victor to come back. But you know me, we will err on the side of caution with Victor, and the long term, every day. We do that with all of our players. But Victor’s situation does create some special, unique circumstances.”

Oladipo has adapted by making some changes around the house.

He converted his garage into a gym, where he lifts weights regularly along with any other work assigned by the team’s staff, trainers or his physical therapist.

There are also one or two Zoom meetings each week with his teammates and coaches, the next one coming Friday.

No, it’s not basketball — but it’s all they can do at the moment.

“I would say the way you stay in game shape is you play games,” Pritchard said. “Our strength and conditioning staff is checking in on them, they have given (workout) programs to every player. I think one of the things that has been most challenging is finding a gym and being the only one in that gym.”

That’s why Pritchard hopes to get as many Pacers players back to Indianapolis when states do reopen. If nothing else, they would at least have workout facilities, face-to-face communication and some semblance of togetherness.

Oladipo can’t wait.

“Even before this surfaced, I was dealing with trying to come back, trying to get my quickness back, learn how to walk again,” he said. “But I found a way and I’m going to keep finding a way until I think I fulfill my potential. And to be honest, I’m not going to stop even when I’ve done that because I always think I can do more.”

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.