Three things to know: NBA players discuss legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) NBA players speak on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

The words of Martin Luther King Jr. resonate — and in these times, in this year, they matter more than ever.

“His name and his words and his legacy still live on,” LeBron James said Friday after a Lakers win. “He’s shining his light on us every day. As NBA players, we continue to voice what he was talking about. We continue to move forward. As someone who has a platform like I do, I will continue to live by a lot of his messages.”

The NBA has long embraced MLK Day and once again this year rolls out a strong slate of games. But those are an opportunity for more than entertainment — it’s a chance to talk about the message of Dr. King and how there is still a long way to go for our nation to live up to his vision.

Most players consider it an honor to play on this day, and they will warm up in T-shirts honoring Dr. King and will use their platform to discuss his legacy. But in this past year — with the Black Lives Matter movement — it has been about more than words. It has been about embracing action and pushing for genuine change.

Maybe nobody in the league has pushed for change as much as Jrue Holiday, who donated his salary from the bubble in Orlando to help Black-owned businesses and organizations. He has continued and expanded that after being traded to Milwaukee. He talked about it to ESPN:

“I felt like I kind of needed a reason to go back and play [in the bubble] — and my wife just said it. It kind of just hit her,” Holiday said. “There were other ideas we were thinking about. Obviously, I couldn’t go protest — my wife was pregnant and in L.A., the pandemic [made it] one of the hardest-hitting places… [Donating my salary] wasn’t even like a question. It was kind of like, ‘Man, that’s what I’m supposed to do.’ Right when she told me, it just felt like it was right.”

In recent days, NBA players and coaches have spoken a lot about Dr. King’s legacy and their own Black Lives Matter activism in the past season.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum was one of those.

“I think this year it’s even more important that we honor that day, that we raise awareness and bring attention to that, just with everything that’s happened, really in the last six-to-12 months.”

Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce on using his voice and platform in the city where Dr. King was born, via NBA.com:

“I think as a Black man I’m frustrated and saddened by what I see for people of color, saddened for what I see when you think of politics and power and how it impacts our country. But I also realize I have a voice, and our players realize they have a voice. So with their voice they want to work with people who want to do right and create change for people like us, people like me, people in impoverished communities who don’t have health care access and don’t have political access. So I don’t know if anyone is politically savvy in the NBA, but I do know that we are extremely passionate, and I am committed to helping the people of Atlanta and helping people who look like me understand that there’s representation at many levels and how do we help them get there. That’s what’s driving me and I think that’s what’s driving our players as well.”

Jae Crowder, speaking on the NBA’s role in keeping the conversation going, via ESPN.

“[The NBA] started the conversation and that’s a beginning step to change, just addressing what needed to be addressed. We got to continue to stay on that, obviously. It’s easy to go back to feeling like things are normal. A lot of people look up to our sport and our league, so just continue to represent and spread positivity and unity throughout every game.”

2) De’Aaron Fox put up a monster 43 and 13 games, but the Pelicans still beat the Kings

Sacramento has stumbled out of the gate, and their dream of ending a 14-year playoff drought seems farther and farther away in a deep Western Conference. De’Aaron Fox single-handedly tried to change the team’s course on Sunday against the Pelicans, putting up 43 points with 13 assists.

Even that could not overcome a Kings’ defense that is the worst in the NBA right now (and on pace for historically bad) — for the eighth straight game, a team put up more than 122 points on Sacramento. Zion Williamson bullied his way to 31 points and led the Pelicans to a 128-123 win.

3) Kemba Walker returns, but Knicks rout Celtics in a sloppy game

Sunday day games — played in large part because it provides better international broadcast times — are traditionally sloppy affairs. Players are creatures of habit, their routines are set up for night games, and this throws everything off. The Knicks are often involved, and after teams had a night out in New York these games could be just hard to watch.

Turns out, coronavirus restrictions shutting down New York nightlife didn’t change anything for the Celtics.

The Knicks blew out the Celtics 105-75. Julius Randle continued his strong start to the season with 20 points and 12 rebounds, while RJ Barrett had 19 and 11. However, the real story was the Celtics were dreadful, shooting 29.8% as a team for the game. Boston was 7-of-46 from three.

The good news for Boston is that Kemba Walker returned to action after missing the first 11 games rehabbing his knee and working on a strength program. The bad news is he had to leave in the third quarter with a rib injury. Still, it doesn’t seem serious, and the Celtics now have another key part of their offense back.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: If you read one thing, it should be Nekias Duncan’s categorization/breakdown of types of dunks over at Basketball News (then you should follow Duncan on Twitter).

I personally have a soft spot for putback dunks (because the defender often doesn’t see it coming) but it’s hard to argue with this breakdown. Or giving Vince Carter his own category.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.