Nets: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving cleared of coronavirus

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant at Brooklyn Nets Practice in The Park
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Kyrie Irving is a step closer to making his season debut.

The Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets announced Tuesday that Irving, along with Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, have cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols — a major step toward getting them back on the court.

Irving has not played this season, largely because of his decision not to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and the Nets initially not being willing to have the perennial All-Star with them on a part-time basis. Irving has not been eligible to play home games because of a local rule in New York requiring vaccinations, and he and the Nets decided earlier this month that having him back — even if only for road games — will allow the team “to more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster.”

Durant hasn’t played since Dec. 16, but he has missed only three games so far because the Nets had three others postponed due to their virus issues. Aldridge has not played since Dec. 12, missing five games.

While the Nets were closer to becoming whole again — and it was not clear when any of the protocols-clearing players would actually be able to play again — other teams were still in the throes of serious virus-related depletion. Atlanta added three players to its list of those in the protocols, giving the Hawks 13 currently dealing with a virus-related issue.

And Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault became the latest NBA coach to enter health and safety protocols, joining the Los Angeles Lakers’ Frank Vogel, Chicago’s Billy Donovan, Portland’s Chauncey Billups and Phoenix’s Monty Williams.

Daigneault was ruled out from coaching the Thunder game Tuesday against Sacramento. Mike Wilks will be the acting coach for that game, the team said.

Another notable addition to the protocols Tuesday: Miami’s Udonis Haslem, who has had to play far more than usual lately because the Heat have been without centers Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon because of injury. Haslem was ruled out of the Heat game Tuesday against Washington, a matchup where the Wizards were bracing to miss at least a half-dozen players for virus issues alone.

The league began Tuesday with about 120 players in the protocols. Numbers tend to change frequently as players test in and out over the course of each day, and the league updated its protocols Monday to allow shorter return-to-play procedures for players provided they meet certain criteria related to symptoms and test results.

That should mean some players who are on the current protocols list could be back on the floor quicker than first planned.

With so many players in protocols this season, the NBA has allowed teams in need to sign players to hardship contracts in recent weeks without the burden of adding those unplanned salaries to salary cap and luxury tax totals. That is the biggest reason why the NBA has already seen more players appear in a game this season than in any other year in league history — 546 and counting, entering Tuesday, with the season not even to the midway point yet.

The previous record for players used in a full season was 540, last season.

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

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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.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

Pregame of Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers
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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.