LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers get some much-needed time off

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The Los Angeles Lakers don’t resume their season until Friday, a day or two later than most clubs, and that was a very smart move by the NBA schedule-makers.

For the Lakers, and for the NBA, these few days are critical.

This is LeBron James’ time to recharge.

Since the NBA’s restart bubble that saved last season opened last July, no player has logged more minutes, scored more points, handed out more assists, made more shots, taken more shots or finished off more fast breaks than James.

He doesn’t mind the workload, even though he’s 36 and the fourth-oldest player to appear in a game so far this season behind only Miami’s Andre Iguodala, Portland’s Carmelo Anthony and New Orleans’ JJ Redick. And he’s still elite, still an MVP candidate, still in the eyes of many the best player in the world. But even the best need rest, and that time is now.

“Is it enough time? I’ll take any time, obviously,” James said. “So, I’ll take full advantage of the time that we have. Is it enough time? No, it’s never enough time, but we’re not on the side of time. I’m not on the side of time. I’ll take full advantage of what I have and be OK with it.”

Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is the two-time reigning MVP and now the reigning All-Star MVP, Washington’s Bradley Beal is leading the league in scoring, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are back in the playoff mix, the Utah Jazz have the league’s best record to this point and the Brooklyn Nets have added Blake Griffin to their Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

They’re all creating buzz. And so are others.

But LeBron James is still unquestionably the one who carries the biggest part of the NBA flag. His jersey remains the most popular in terms of sales, the Lakers lead the league with 17 national television appearances to this point and they draw the best national ratings. People might watch because they love him. People might watch because they hate him. Either way, people watch.

Other players — even other elite players — do as well.

“It’s interesting to me how LeBron is still in one of the best shapes of his life and being the best player in the world and still be in Year 18,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s really interesting. I want to know how.”

He’s not kidding. Antetokounmpo said at All-Star Sunday in Atlanta that he wants to pick James’ brain and learn whatever the four-time MVP is willing to share.

“He’s been consistent for 18 years,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s always there. He’s always showing up. He’s unbelievable. He obviously gets credit but I think we’ve got to give him even more credit. Doing it for 18 years, guys, that’s hard.”

There were any number of players who weren’t thrilled with the notion that the NBA had an All-Star Game during a pandemic and during an already jam-packed season. But once again, it seemed all about James — as if he was the only one who voiced his displeasure.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver didn’t mind. He was just thrilled James was part of All-Star events.

“It would be incredibly hypocritical of me to say to LeBron that you should speak out on issues that are important to you, but not ones when you’re critical of the league,” Silver said. “We’re all part of a community. I respect him and his point of view. Also, at the same time, I appreciate his professionalism. If you had a chance to see him, as captain and general manager of his team, proceed with the draft, he did it in good humor. He took it very seriously.”

James went to Atlanta, played 12 minutes, checked out in the middle of the second quarter, became a cheerleader for the rest of the night and improved to 4-0 as a captain.

His All-Star break, such as it is, started there. He flew home to Los Angeles after the game, said he was looking forward to a couple days with his family, and preparing for what comes next.

“There’s no concern for me,” James said. “I just try to continue to put my body in the best condition, to be able to endure anything, shortened offseason, shortened regular season, shortened All-Star break. It’s all about my mind, personally. Keeping my mind mentally sharp, keeping my mind mentally fresh.”

When the season restarts, LeBron James will be there. There’s half a season left, then the playoffs and a title to defend.

These days will be his last time to really exhale for a while.

The Lakers need him at his best. The NBA would benefit from that as well.

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

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
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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.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

San Antonio Spurs v Denver Nuggets
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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.