Three things to know: One year ago today the NBA world shut down

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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) One year ago today the NBA world shut down

Nothing has been the same — not our lives, not our priorities, and certainly not the NBA — since what started one year ago tonight.

Just before tip-off of a nationally televised game with Utah at Oklahoma City on March 11, 2020, the Thunder team doctor sprinted on the court to talk to the referees, letting them know that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus — the first known case of an NBA player with the disease. Soon after, the game was called off.

By the end of the night, Mark Cuban was getting news on his phone that left him dumbfounded and the NBA was releasing this statement:

“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice.”

For many in a nation yet to feel the virus’s impacts, the NBA shutting down was a wake-up call. The reality was the disease that had devastated parts of China and Northern Italy had come to the heartland of America and forced a popular sports league to close its doors — many were not ready for it. By Adam Silver’s own admission, the NBA was not ready for it.

A source I spoke to the night of the incident thought this could shut the NBA down for a month — we were all so naive back then. Nobody was completely sure of all the ways the virus was transmitted, and nobody could come close to envisioning the idea of more than 500,000 lives lost in the coming year. Nobody foresaw the upending of American life that would leave businesses closed, people scrambling to find food (and toilet paper), multiple stimulus boosts by the government to keep the economy afloat, and a nation of people wearing masks (except for some defiant fools).

Nobody in the NBA league office — nor players, fans, or media members — could have foreseen the bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, that would make the NBA a model organization for some.

The devastation of the disease reached deep into the NBA family — Karl-Anthony Towns lost his mother and six other family members to the disease. He was far from alone among players who saw loved ones pass away. Recently, we in the media felt a punch to the gut when Sekou Smith died (it’s hard to put into words how much he was loved in the NBA writing community — he was the guy with the smile on his face you were always excited to see at a game, or during the Finals or Summer League). Everyone around the league — like everyone around the nation — has their own stories of loss.

But because the coronavirus hit Black and other minority communities harder, the NBA community felt the pain more acutely. Hundreds of players and NBA staffers tested positive for the disease over the past year, so many more lost loved ones to the disease.

One year later, the NBA reflects society as a whole — games and business go on, but things are not the same.

Arenas are either empty or have a few thousand people in them, yet the games go on (with a reduced and compacted schedule). Players, coaches, staff, and everyone else goes through testing to stay safe, yet the virus continues to spread, and players continue to test positive. The vaccine provides light at the end of the tunnel, but things are still pretty dark and people are still dying.

There is hope. Adam Silver made it clear during the All-Star festivities — which were far smaller and less festive — that the plan is ultimately to return to something close to traditional next season. The hope is a full 82-game schedule with fans filling arenas and travel.

However, nothing will feel normal again. Not for a long time.

Yet the NBA and its games keep rolling along…

2) Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge agree to part ways

LaMarcus Aldridge signing with the Spurs in 2015 was huge — free agents didn’t come to San Antonio. The Spurs’ success had always been homegrown (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard). It felt like the Spurs were transitioning to a new era.

That era has come to an end. Gregg Popovich announced Wednesday the Spurs are working with Aldridge to find a new home, ideally via trade (but it most likely will end up as a buyout). Aldridge is not with the team and will remain that way until the situation is resolved.

The reality is Aldridge has been beaten out as a starter by Jakob Poeltl (that’s not a knock on Poeltl, who has played well this season for the Spurs, rather a picture of where Aldridge is in his career arc). San Antonio will look for a trade, but Aldridge makes $24 million this season, and that’s a lot of salary to match for a player who can only help a team as a role player, then will be a free agent come the offseason. Maybe a trade can be found, but more than likely this ends with Aldridge being bought out and becoming a free agent (at a league minimum salary there will be multiple suitors for Aldridge).

3) NBA games return — and Luka Doncic is still must-watch television

The NBA returned from the All-Star break Wednesday with two games — not coincidentally featuring four teams with a lot of games to make up in the second half of the season due to COVID-19 postponements.

Dallas and San Antonio are fighting for playoff seeding in the West (right now the two would meet in the 7/8 play-in game), so their matchup carried weight.

It also featured Luka Doncic, who finished the night with a triple-double of 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists to help Dallas pull away late for the 115-104 win. Doncic also stuck the dagger in the Spurs with a ridiculous crossover step-back-to-the-left three.

That’s just not fair.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game, when will it be more?

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SEATTLE (AP) — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
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The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.