Three things to know: LaMelo Ball will be a superstar, Giannis shows him one path

0 Comments

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) LaMelo Ball will be a superstar, Giannis shows him one path

LaMelo Ball will never be Giannis Antetokounmpo, because nobody else will ever be Giannis Antetokounmpo. LaMelo will never be a 6’11” ball-handler with unreal athleticism and DPOY skills who is a freak of nature/unicorn.

LaMelo could be like Giannis in the sense of a future All-NBA player (maybe MVP… maybe?) who is the franchise cornerstone of a contender. LaMelo has the skills. Look what the man did to Jrue Holiday.

To ultimately reach that level, eventually LaMelo will have to win a ring. Or rings. We’re years and a lot of development away from that conversation with LaMelo, but there comes a point for the game’s biggest superstars when legacy becomes about the ability to win a ring. That’s not fair, this is a team game, and you can’t convince me Karl Malone is less of a player or person because he kept running into that Jordan guy and his legendary teams in the Finals. But the reality is rings will matter.

Wednesday night, LaMelo Ball and Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a show, with LaMelo scoring 36 and Antetokounmpo finishing with 40.

Antetokounmpo had the last word.

The respect was there, and after the game the two stars talked and exchanged jerseys.

There are a lot of paths to a ring, but Antetokounmpo showed Ball one of them: Stay where you are in a smaller market, become the best version of yourself, trust management to build a winner around you, trust ownership to spend when it is time, and win one where you are.

That path doesn’t always work out (see Anthony Davis in New Orleans, although that divorce got ugly). But it’s an option.

Right now, the Hornets are League Pass darlings and that’s all they need to be. Miles Bridges shows potential and will be part of whatever the future in Charlotte looks like, and P.J. Washington shows flashes. We will wait to see what James Bouknight and Kai Jones become. Ball is in just his second season, and while we see the potential, he has a long way to go to reach that.

But as he does, Antetokounmpo shows one path forward.

2) Injuries are piling up: Bam Adebayo, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker to miss time

We could have spent this space talking about tampering, but honestly, if the NBA league office doesn’t care about it — and their actions with a slap on the wrist of the Heat and Bulls show they don’t on a fundamental level — then why should we?

Instead, let’s get into two significant injuries around the NBA.

Damian Lillard hasn’t been himself. Not in the Olympics when he was not the logo Lillard we expected to be Kevin Durant‘s right-hand man. Certainly not at the start of this season where he is shooting 30.2% from 3 (down from 39.1% last season), and he hasn’t shown the same bursts and quickness. Lillard will be out for at least 10 days due to lower abdominal tendinopathy, the team announced. It’s the abdominal issue that has bothered him all along, and it may take more than 10 days to get right. Portland just has to find a way to stay afloat without him.

Lillard’s Olympic teammate Bam Adebayo will miss time following thumb surgery.

Miami has been stumbling a bit lately and this doesn’t help, Adebayo is a lynchpin for the Heat on both ends of the floor. He averages 18.7 points and 10.2 rebounds a game, plus anchors the Miami defense.

If Adebayo (and Jimmy Butler) are healthy come the playoffs, the Heat have a shot in the East. Get the surgery now, rest, get right, and he can come back as the player the Heat need.

One other Olympian will miss some time, the Suns announced that Devin Booker is out with a hamstring injury. This is considered mild as hamstrings go, but they are slow to heal and teams are rightfully cautious when a star tweaks one. There is no timetable, but Booker likely misses a week or two for the Suns, including Friday’s rematch with the Warriors.

3) Break up the Rockets: Houston wins fourth straight

The Rockets organization may still be tanking, but their young players have started to win a few games — four in a row after beating the Thunder Wednesday night.

Jae'Sean Tate scored 32 on 11-of-15 shooting for the Rockets. Although, the most interesting thing at this random NBA game between two of its worst teams is that Drake showed up.

Highlight of the Night: Kevin Love has still got some game

The Cleveland Cavaliers want to trade Kevin Love. The rest of the NBA sees the $60.2 million he is owed between this season and next and says, “nah, we good.” But Love went out Wednesday and showed he still has some value, hitting six 3-pointers on his way to 22 points on the night.

Not sure there’s a trade for him at the deadline, but next summer… maybe.

Last night’s scores:

Atlanta 114, Indiana 111
Orlando 108, Denver 103
Washington 115, Minnesota 107
Boston 88, Philadelphia 87
Cleveland 111, Miami 85
Milwaukee 127, Charlotte 125
Dallas 139, New Orleans 107
Houston 114, Oklahoma City 110
Sacramento 124, LA Clippers 115

Lillard poised to pass Drexler as Trail Blazers all-time leading scorer

2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Damian Lillard could have done what a lot of NBA stars have done — what a lot of them told him to do while recruiting him — and has chosen to stay in Portland. He wants to be remembered as the greatest Trail Blazer ever.

One good way to do that: Become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Sometime around Thanksgiving or a little after, Lillard will do just that, passing Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and his 18,040 points (Lillard is 531 back).

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports spoke to Lillard about when he knew the record was within reach, during Trail Blazers training camp in Santa Barbara, California (go Gauchos!). It was when Lillard got to 10,000 points.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I got 10,000 already?’ ” Lillard told Yahoo Sports he recalled at the time. “It was my sixth season in the league. That’s when I started thinking, if I could be consistent, I could score into the high 20,000-point range. As a scorer, 20,000 points is always looked at as a special mark. From that moment, I knew it was possible, but it’s also when I first researched Clyde Drexler’s [scoring] record with the team.”

Drexler is good with being passed by Lillard.

“You and I know records are made to be broken, but I can’t think of a better player or person to break the record than Dame,” Drexler told Yahoo Sports. “He exemplifies being a team player and going about his business in a professional way. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him. When he comes close to getting the record, and if our schedules align, I would love to be there to help out in any way I can. That’s a nice milestone to achieve. I am looking forward to him accomplishing that.”

Lillard is on a lot of front office people’s watch list this season, as in “how long before he is unhappy and asks for a trade?” The thing is, Lillard has been on that list for years and he keeps choosing Portland — he isn’t looking to leave. Of course, the $120 million extension and a retooling of the roster around him helped with that decision, but Lillard always had other options if he wanted them (and at times it felt like he would take them).

The Trail Blazers brought in Jerami Grant, re-signed Anfrenee Simons, and will put them with a solid core of others such as (a finally healthy) Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and others. It’s a good roster, the question is how good in a deep West?

There are a lot of questions about how this season shakes out in Portland, but the one seeming sure thing is Lillard becoming the Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer. And that seems fitting.

Suns update: Ayton blames Sarver for contract, Crowder conflict, Johnson to start

0 Comments

Phoenix went to the NBA Finals two seasons ago and had the most wins in the NBA last season, yet dark clouds seem to be blocking out the Suns heading into this NBA season.

Here’s the latest on three situations with the Suns: Deandre Ayton‘s contract frustration, why Jae Crowder is asking out, and who starts at the four now.

• Ayton ended up signing a four-year, $132.9 max contract and will be back with the Suns to start this season, but the road to get there was rocky. The Suns would not offer Ayton a max five-year contract extension, his name kept coming up in Kevin Durant trade rumors, so Ayton went out and got a four-year max offer from the Pacers — which the Suns instantly matched. Phoenix saved $40 million and a guaranteed year, but the process left Ayton a little bitter.

Ayton blames outgoing owner Robert Sarver — a notorious penny pincher as an owner (among other, much worse things) — Marc Spears and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN discussed on NBA Today (hat tip Real GM).

“That is certainly something that caused the ire of him,” said Marc J. Spears. “I was told that it was Robert Sarver who didn’t want to give him that fifth year, who wanted to save the money.”

“My understanding from talking to people close to Deandre is that he thinks this was Robert Sarver’s decision as well. And Robert Sarver’s not going to be the owner anymore. So there is some healing that can happen there. But I know there were some hurt feelings over that contract and how that played out.

“If they were going to instantly match an offer sheet that he signed, why not just give him the max contract? Yes, it saved them a year and $40 million but as somebody close to Deandre told me ‘There’s a karma to this. Why do that to your No. 1 overall pick?'”

Shelburne hit the nail on the head — the NBA is a business, but it’s a business of relationships. Not only did the Suns sour theirs with Ayton, but you can also be sure every other agent around the league noticed how that was handled. It doesn’t help when recruiting players. The eventual new owner, whoever it ends up being, has a lot of work to change the franchise’s perception.

• Jae Crowder remains away from the Suns during training camp awaiting a trade (which reportedly will not be to Dallas). Crowder started 109 games for the Suns during the past two seasons and was a key part of their run to the NBA Finals, so how did things deteriorate so quickly? Marc Stein lays it out in his latest Substack newsletter.

Entering the final season of his current contract at $10.2 million, Jae Crowder let the Suns know that he was seeking a contract extension. League sources say that the Suns’ messaging, in response, was to let Crowder know that, at 32, he was no longer assured of starting or finishing games ahead of Cam Johnson. That gulf between the parties led Crowder to seek an exit from the desert that has landed him on indefinite mutual leave from the team until Phoenix can find a trade for him.

While Miami gets mentioned as a suitor a lot, it’s next to impossible to put together a trade that works for both sides right now (at the trade deadline, maybe, but Crowder isn’t going to be with the Suns that long). Cleveland is currently the hot name in league circles when talking Crowder trades, and Stein also mentions the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been looking for a P.J. Tucker-like replacement for P.J Tucker. But, do any of these teams want to extend Crowder at age 32?

• Suns coach Monty Williams confirmed what Crowder heard — Cameron Johnson will start at the four for the Suns this season.

Johnson brings better shooting to the table — 42.5% last season on 3-pointers — and is more athletic at this point, but Crowder brings better defense, toughness, and veteran savvy that can be trusted in the playoffs. The Suns may miss that when it matters, but Johnson will get the chance to prove us all wrong.

Blake Griffin agrees to join Boston Celtics on one-year deal

0 Comments

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Blake Griffin has agreed to join the Boston Celtics on a one-year contract which will be fully guaranteed.

The Celtics were desperate for frontcourt depth following injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams, as Luke Kornet was even getting some run with the starting group at training camp.

You do have to wonder just how much the 33-year-old Griffin has left in the tank though. Last season with the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin only managed to play 17.1 minutes per game and his 3-point percentage dropped like a stone to 26%. He was also a major liability on defense, and the Celtics surely know that after Jaylen Brown drove by him with ease time and time again during the postseason.

Griffin was still an effective playmaker and that may make him a good fit with the second unit alongside the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams with all of these capable of handling the ball. Injuries and Father Time have zapped Griffin’s athleticism, but if anyone can squeeze the last bit of value out of him, I’d bet on Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

Highlights from Japan Game: Hachimura and Wiseman put on show, plus Suga and Curry

Golden State Warriors v Washington Wizards - NBA Japan Games
Jun Sato/WireImage
0 Comments

The NBA preseason is officially here — and it started in Japan. The Golden State Warriors faced the Washington Wizards in front of a sold-out crowd at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. In case you didn’t wake up at 6 am Eastern to watch a meaningless preseason NBA game (and if you did, we’re worried about you), here are a few highlights and notes from the night.

• The Wizards were there because they have the biggest Japanese star in the NBA, Rui Hachimura, and he was given a chance to shine. The crowd erupted when he did anything.

• The leading scorer on the night was the Warriors James Wiseman with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus nine boards.

• Dunk of the game goes to Kyle Kuzma.

Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things.

• Stephen Curry also met Suga of BTS and gave him some game-worn kicks. This will win Twitter for the day.

• Oh, by the way, the Warriors won 96-87. As for the level of basketball, it looked like the first preseason game after a flight halfway around the world. The teams combined to shoot 11-of-47 in the first quarter (23.4%) and both were under 40% for the game.

Klay Thompson is sitting out both Warriors games in Japan.

TRIVIA TIME: Can you name the other two players currently in the NBA born in Japan?

Cam Thomas (Yokosuka) and Yuta Watanabe (Yokohama), both of the Brooklyn Nets (Watanabe is on a training camp deal and is not expected to make the roster). Both were raised much of their lives and went to high school and college in the United States.