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NBA coaches preach flexibility as first real practices about to begin

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Practice facilities in the NBA have been open for a couple of months, with one major element missing from them.

No team has had an actual practice yet.

Most of the work that has gone on in those buildings during the NBA’s shutdown has been voluntary, and all of it has been of the individual variety – one player working at one basket with one ball. That changes starting Thursday, when the first handful of teams at the Disney complex will be permitted to have full-fledged practices again.

“Every day will be an adventure, a little bit of, `OK, here’s where we are today, this practice will reflect this, tomorrow’s practice might be totally different,”‘ Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And that’s what makes it interesting. It makes it fun. But it’s a little bit like a training camp. Every year you know you lay out all these grand plans and about the third practice you go, `Ooop, they’re out.”‘

The teams that arrived at Disney on Tuesday, assuming quarantines are completed and other issues haven’t popped up, will likely be permitted to practice sometime Thursday. More teams arrive Wednesday and Thursday, so their first practice sessions, in theory, would be as early as Friday and Saturday respectively.

Teams will be assigned a three-hour window and be able to run practice on a pair of side-by-side courts, with training and weight rooms nearby. Disney staff will clean and disinfect everything after one team leaves, preparing it for the next team to arrive.

“Just like with probably everything the league is doing, I think it’d be wise to have a degree of flexibility sprinkled in with everything that you’re planning, a degree of being able to either back off or turn it up a little bit, either way,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But to be honest with you, that happens a lot even in the normal season. There’s a plan for the first practice and we’ll see how it goes.”

Players haven’t even been allowed to play 1-on-1 yet at team facilities, per the rules of the individual workouts. That all changes at Disney, where teams will be able to practice for about two weeks before a series of three scrimmages begin on July 22.

The season resumes on July 30. Players have said throughout the shutdown that having only three weeks of actual practice to get ready for game action may not be enough – but that’s what the league ultimately decided the schedule would allow.

Most NBA coaches – D’Antoni, Budenholzer, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle and more – are going into this believing that plans have to be flexible.

“It’s not going to be a typical training camp where you jump in on Day One and just go full-bore,” Carlisle said. “Our players have done a great job of working on their individual conditioning with individual workouts with the coaches on the floor on a 1-to-1 basis … so I feel really good about where we’re at. But this is a different situation, it’s a different time, it’s a different set of circumstances.”

Toronto, the reigning NBA champion, has been on the road for a couple of weeks already, getting their individual work in at a pre-camp of sorts in Fort Myers, Florida. The Raptors couldn’t get their pre-Disney work in at home because of travel restrictions that would have applied to players coming into Canada from the U.S.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse said his players haven’t dreaded the 1-on-0 work that they’ve been limited to so far, saying his team has approached these weeks with “great professionalism” and that his plans for Disney are fairly loose right now.

“I don’t really know where we’re at,” Nurse said. “I can see individually. I think we look really good. But, what will that translate to when we get back into, you know, calling plays and running defenses and doing some things? … I know that I’m sensing they really want to play basketball.”

The Los Angeles Lakers arrive at Disney on Thursday, and while coach Frank Vogel isn’t looking forward to weeks and potentially months away from his family, he believes the individual workouts have gotten the Western Conference leaders ready.

He said those solo sessions have been designed in large part to get players back into some sort of practice shape, with the hope of being able to hit the ground running when everyone can finally be together again at Disney.

“We just want it to be as high as possible to minimize risk of injury and just further the conditioning along as much as we can,” Vogel said. “So, guys have been able to work pretty diligently the last few days or so. And, you know, we’re looking forward to wrapping this up and getting on that plane.”

76ers star Ben Simmons leaving bubble for surgery

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Ben Simmons injured his knee, and the 76ers didn’t hide their concerns.

This is serious.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Obviously, the surgery itself is a setback. If Simmons becomes healthy enough to return before Philadelphia gets eliminated, he could be required to quarantine in his hotel room – which would limit rehab and training.

And of course it will be difficult for Philadelphia to advance deep into the playoffs without Simmons.

There are even graver concerns beyond this season. Will Simmons now be more susceptible to future injuries? This could derail a budding championship contender with Joel Embiid and Simmons.

Embiid already has long-term health concerns. It was always uncertain how long Philadelphia’s window would remain open despite Embiid and Simmons being so young.

Even next season could be perilous. How long will Simmons take to recover? Next season could be right around the corner (or not). If the 76ers’ outlook looks worse – especially amid the economic downturn caused by coronavirus – they could no longer follow through on their plan to pay the luxury tax. Slashing payroll could further reduce the roster’s effectiveness.

Already, expectations shrink this season without Simmons. Philadelphia appears increasingly likely to land the No. 6 seed and a tough first-round series against the Celtics (rather than a spot in the 4-5 series against the Heat or Pacers).

Will these difficult circumstances give 76ers coach Brett Brown more leeway to keep his job? Or do they just make it more likely the 76ers lose early in the playoffs and fire him?

He has plenty of options for proceeding without Simmons. Simmons was a multi-positional star who spent most of the season at point guard but had been playing power forward in the bubble.

Without Simmons, Al Horford moved back into the starting lineup, and Mike Scott – who had been out with a knee injury – joined the rotation. Glenn Robinson III could also get an expanded role once he’s healthy.

Many sans-Simmons lineups could give Philadelphia more spacing around Embiid, which makes the star center even more dangerous.

But this loss of talent can’t be offset and significantly lowers the 76ers’ ceiling this season and maybe reduces their odds of reaching their ceiling in future seasons.

NBA announces finalists for awards, including MVP and Rookie of the Year

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson
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We made our award picks months ago.

Now, the NBA is finally getting around to the official versions.

The league announced finalists for Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year and Coach of the Year (based on regular-season, not seeding, games):

Most Valuable Player

Antetokounmpo is heavy favorite to repeat as MVP and should win the award. But LeBron certainly has his supporters. Really, I had a tougher time choosing between LeBron and Harden for second place than between Antetokounmpo and LeBron for first place.

Defensive Player of the Year

Antetokounmpo could and should join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to win MVP and DPOY in the same season. Gobert and Davis would be worthy runners up. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis – playing for the Los Angeles Lakers – wins this award.

Rookie of the Year

Morant will and should run away with this award. Williamson was awesome when on the floor, but that was too rare. A breakout player in his second professional season (but first playing in the NBA), Nunn could finish ahead of the better but less-available Williamson.

Most Improved Player

This was an incredibly deep field. Ingram is the most likely winner with his major strides just ahead of restricted free agency. My choice, Doncic improved enough to become a finalist despite a bias against second-year players, especially highly drafted ones. Though Adebayo didn’t make Rising Stars his first two seasons then became an All-Star his third season – an incredible jump – his candidacy is wrongly boosted by him being underrated previously. That Hornets guard Devonte' Graham‘s out-of-nowhere season didn’t land him in the top three is somewhat surprising. But again, it was a deep field. Hawks guard Trae Young didn’t get enough consideration, either.

Sixth Man of the Year

Harrell had the strongest overall season and has drawn plenty of acclaim for it. But Schroder led reserves in points per game, and scoring tends to have an outsized role in award voting. See Williams being a finalist (though it’s not as if there an absolutely clearly better choice).

Coach of the Year

  • Mike Budenholzer (Bucks)
  • Billy Donovan (Thunder)
  • Nick Nurse (Raptors)

Budenholzer and Nurse split the award from their peers. Here’s betting Nurse gets this official NBA recognition. He deserves it for keeping the Raptors humming without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and amid numerous injuries. Nurse’s defensive creativity is particularly impressive.

Report: Teams in playoff race bothered by Jazz resting starters vs. Spurs

Spurs forward Rudy Gay vs. Jazz
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The Jazz sat four starters – Mike Conley (right knee soreness), Donovan Mitchell (left peroneal strain), Royce O’Neale (right calf soreness) and Rudy Gobert (rest) – against the Spurs yesterday. Five if you count Bojan Bogdanovic, who underwent season-ending surgery before the bubble.

That cleared the way for San Antonio to get a 119-111 win and boost its chances in the Western Conference playoff race.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Were those teams chasing the Western Conference’s play-in tournament thrilled with the Utah Jazz’s decision to sit four starters with injuries and rest center Rudy Gobert in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs?

Among teams trying to catch the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed, they were somewhere between displeased and livid, sources said.

Winning seeding games doesn’t matter much to the Jazz, who are in the tightly packed 4-6 range in the Western Conference. There’s no home-court advantage in the 4-5 series. In fact, Utah might prefer to drop to sixth. That’d likely mean facing the Nuggets – rather than the Rockets or Thunder – in the first round and avoiding the Lakers in the second round. Though Denver could move up and leave the Clippers in the No. 3 seed, and the Clippers are no easy second-round opponent either, it’s at least a viable strategy for Utah.

The Jazz also play the Nuggets today in the second leg of a back-to-back. Whatever its ideal standings, Utah definitely prioritizes having its players healthy and ready for the playoffs.

It also can’t be lost: Jazz lead executive Dennis Lindsey came up in the Spurs organization. That connection surely fueled the strongest paranoia.

Utah isn’t alone in appearing to put its finger on the playoff-race scale.

The Clippers will sit Kawhi Leonard against the Trail Blazers today and play him against the Nets tomorrow.

Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times:

Maybe this is just about timing. Obviously, it’s normal sit Leonard in one leg of a back-to-back.

But the Trail Blazers look like the strongest team among those chasing the No. 8 seed. Think the Clippers might want to give the Lakers the toughest-possible first-round matchup? The possibility is impossible to ignore when considering which weekend game Leonard is playing.

These are all variations of a common problem: Too few NBA regular-season (or seeding) games matter.

To be fair, the situation differs in the bubble. Home-court advantage would solve some of these problems. The play-in offers a new wrinkle. The long layoff before seeding games increases injury risk.

But it also feels especially absurd to go to all the trouble of playing basketball amid the coronavirus pandemic – separating players, coaches and other staff from their loved ones for at least several weeks – just to a play a game a team prefers, or at least doesn’t mind, losing.

Drymond Green praises Devin Booker’s play ‘but get my man out of Phoenix’

Devin Booker Draymond
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When there are fans again in NBA buildings, Suns fans are going to let Draymond Green have it.

The outspoken Green was on Inside the NBA on TNT this Thursday — he’s got the time, the Warriors weren’t invited to the restart — and the topic of Devin Booker‘s play in the bubble came up. Green had nothing but praise for the All-Star guard who has led the Suns to a 4-0 record at the restart, then he said the thing that is going to get him booed in Phoenix.

“It’s great to see Book playing well and Phoenix playing well, but get my man out of Phoenix It’s not good for him, it’s not good for his career. Sorry Chuck, but they’ve gotta get Book out of Phoenix. I need my man to go somewhere that he can play great basketball all of the time and win, because he’s that kind of player.” r

Is that tampering? Ernie Johnson asked, Green laughed and said, “maybe.”

The league rarely enforces player tampering, and beyond that Green didn’t try to get Booker to come to Golden State directly, he just said Booker needs to be in a better situation.

On a more practical note, Booker has four years left after this one on his max contract extension. The Suns are building around him and Deandre Ayton — and right now it looks like it’s working (coach Monty Williams should get a lot of credit for that). No way the Suns are trading Booker for the foreseeable future.

This is not the first time Green has taken shots at the Suns. When former Sun Marquese Chriss, who went on to have a career year with the Warriors this season, Green said, “He’s been in some pretty tough situations. No one ever blames the situation, though. It’s always the kid. No one ever blames these s**** franchises.”

The Suns deserve some credit for developing Booker — and they are not getting rid of their All-Star anytime soon. Now they have to carry this momentum over to next season.