Westbrook reportedly to attend LeBron-run preseason mini-camp, be with Lakers to open camp

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Lakers fans, are you comfortable with another season with Russell Westbrook in Forum blue and gold?

It looks more and more like the Lakers have grown comfortable (to use Dan Woike’s word from the LA Times) with the idea of at least starting the season with him. After spending the summer looking for a trade that moved Westbrook out of town (they haven’t stopped but a deal appears unlikely in the short term), the Lakers are readying to move into training camp with Westbrook in a key role. The latest reports along those lines come from Marc Stein, who reports Westbrook will attend LeBron James‘ traditional pre-season minicamp.

Word is that another Lakers minicamp is likely in coming days and that Russell Westbrook would indeed attend if it comes together. Any sort of pre-camp gathering involving LeBron and his fellow purple-and-gold vets would represent a key step in the Lakers’ efforts to move past all the tension that bubbled throughout last season’s rocky 33-49 campaign, bringing James and Anthony Davis together with Westbrook and the newly acquired Patrick Beverley before the Lakers report for their first practices under new coach Darvin Ham on Sept. 26.

And no, the Lakers are not going to do with Westbrook what the Rockets did with John Wall last season and ask him to go away from the team.

…two well-placed sources have expressed to me with even greater conviction that the Lakers lean very strongly against the concept of sending Westbrook home a la John Wall in Houston last season in the event that they can’t find a trade for him. Sources maintain that Ham is determined to establish a real role for Westbrook if he remains a Laker.

Westbrook and his Lakers teammates are trying to heal any wounds from last season and beyond, including Westbrook and Patrick Beverley talking recently (their beef goes back nearly a decade).

Starting with new coach Darvin Ham at his initial press conference to team owner/governor Jeanie Buss through that Beverley Tweet, everyone with the Lakers has said the right things about bringing Westbrook back and finding him a role that works. As tends to happen with all teams heading toward the start of the season, everyone is optimistic and promising to do whatever it takes to win.

However, saying all the right things and doing them can be two different things. Two big questions hang over the Lakers and Westbrook this season:

First, will Westbrook willingly accept a role? In clutch minutes is he willing to be a decoy in the corner or work out of the dunker’s spot, so as not to crowd the lane for LeBron or Anthony Davis? Along those same lines, how well will Westbrood defend, and what happens the first time Ham benches him in the clutch to get Beverley and better defenders on the court?

Second, what happens when adversity strikes? Everyone saying the right thing can become finger-pointing quickly when losses pile up. The Lakers first six games include the defending champion Warriors, a finally healthy Clippers team that is one of the favorites to come out of the West, two games against Nikola Jokic and the finally healthy Nuggets, plus the improved Timberwolves. How does everyone in the locker room react if the Lakers get off to a slow start?

The Lakers will also have other questions to answer, including will Westbrook be on the team past the trade deadline — but if they don’t answer the ones about integrating Westbrook through good times and bad, it will be another long season in Los Angeles.

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

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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

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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.