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Trainer: Markelle Fultz will be All-Star next season if 100 percent

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Those rumors about trainer Drew Hanlen fixing Markelle Fultz‘s jumper?

Hanlen sure isn’t downplaying them.

Fox Sports 1:

Hanlen:

I literally think that, if he’s back to 100 percent, I think he’s immediately an All-Star. I know that’s a bold statement, but I work with a lot of other All-Stars. So, I think I have the right to say that.

Fultz won’t technically be a rookie next season, but he’s pretty close to warranting that status. No active player has made the All-Star game in his first NBA season. Only Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Vince Carter did it in their second.

This is an extremely high bar for Fultz to clear.

Hanlen has a business to run, and provocative quotes like this generate publicity. But I’m not sure it’s good for Fultz, and I mean that with all sincerity. There isn’t much history for a player so dependent on his jumper to, as Hanlen himself described it, get the yips.

76ers teammate J.J. Redick tried to shield Fultz. Hanlen went the opposite way by raising expectations. To his credit, Fultz spoke candidly  about about his struggles early in the season (though I talked to him before the scope of the problem might have set in).

I really don’t know the right approach for him.

No matter what’s said now, Fultz will have to make jumpers with millions watching during games if he’s ever going to fulfill his potential. He could do that next season. I hope he does.

But I’m not sure even a confident and healthy Fultz is an All-Star yet, and it’d be a shame if tremendous progress is deemed not good enough because we expected too much.

Report: Lakers prioritizing ‘tough-minded playmakers’ who’ll allow LeBron James to post up more

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After adding LeBron James, the Lakers have since agreed to sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo.

What the heck are the Lakers doing?

Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Cavs were a team of specialists — many of them shooters — who were placed around the league’s ultimate Swiss Army knife. But at times, especially during the playoffs, it did have the feel that James was playing 1-on-5 and needing to play 48 minutes because he was the team’s only true creator and playmaker.

Cleveland also prioritized shooters and offense-minded players ahead of defenders and steadily sunk in the defensive rankings over the past three seasons, bottoming out as the No. 29 defensive efficiency team last season. This became a liability at times, particularly against the juggernaut Warriors.

What Johnson pitched to James was a team stocked with tough-minded playmakers like Stephenson and Rondo who could free up James to finish in the lanes and from the post, rather than having to create the lion’s share of the offense himself. Rondo and Stephenson are also defensively versatile as their length enables them to be effective defenders in switches. That also follows with the talents of the 6-foot-6 Ball, who showed the ability to be an elite rebounder and defender for a guard in his rookie year.

James, who will turn 34 in December, had studied the careers of all-time greats such as Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan and noted how they moved from the wing to the post as they approached their mid-30s.

Playing more like Bryant and Jordan will take time and patience and James told Johnson that some habits will be hard to break, sources said. But James knows moving to playing more inside and giving up some control of the ball is important as he ages and his athleticism starts to fade.

Maybe the idea is playing in the post on this team will ideally train LeBron for the new challenge. If he can do it with the poor spacing Los Angeles will have next year, he can do it in any system. It’s like a donut on a baseball bat in the on-deck circle.

But I fear the Lakers believe this iteration will work.

It’ll be an uphill battle.

Lebron needn’t be his only team’s playmaker, but he’s arguably the greatest playmaker of all-time. Taking the ball out of his hands is self-defeating in the micro.

In the macro, perhaps that’ll allow him to preserve energy. LeBron reportedly wants to play off the ball more.

If that allows him to expend more energy on defense, it could pay off. The Cavaliers’ defense was awful, and LeBron’s laziness on that end factored both directly and indirectly, setting a tone for his teammates. Given LeBron’s massive offensive burden, that approach made some sense. But it had major drawbacks.

The problem now: Rondo and Stephenson aren’t good enough.

Their defensive reputations far exceed their production anymore. Stephenson has struggled outside Indiana, and Rondo dials it up only in the playoffs.

Rondo remains a plus-passer, and Stephenson brings creativity offensively. But it’ll be harder for both to operate on this spacing-challenged team. And they’ll be taking the ball from LeBron freaking James.

I’m also skeptical this is a massive departure from LeBron’s situation in Cleveland. The Cavs were at their best when surrounding LeBron with specialists. But they also spent enough time last season partnering LeBron with another ball-dominant perimeter player – Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade or Jordan Clarkson – to expose the failings of those lineups.

The Lakers are definitely prioritizing more defense, and their experiment deserves a chance to unfold. But I’m doubtful.

At least the Lakers have the young players (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart) and cap space next summer to re-tool if this plan fails.

Thibodeau reportedly bringing Derrick Rose back to Timberwolves on one-year deal

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In NBA free agency, there really are no terrible one-year contracts. Well, unless you’re Tyus Jones in Minnesota and you just want some playing time.

Tom Thibodeau loves his veterans and is loyal, and he is running it back with Derrick Rose for one more year, according to multiple reports.

For Rose, this is a much bigger financial deal than just his salary.

Rose played nine games and a total of 112 minutes for the Timberwolves, scoring 5.8 points a game when he did get on the court. When he was on the court, he played as more of a two-guard, off the ball next to Jones (who should get more run) and he had a couple of good games (against Houston and Memphis) and some disastrous ones as well. In the playoffs he shot 50.9 percent, hit 7-of-10 from three and was at the very worst solid.

That’s not to say there are no issues. He’s had series of injuries (he missed six games with Minnesota after a sprained ankle) and the fact he left his team in the middle of both of the past seasons to attend to personal matters.

With Jamal Crawford likely gone as a free agent, Rose may absorb some of his minutes, but he is not the scorer Crawford is. Can Rose sustain what he showed in the playoffs? I seriously doubt it. Will Tom Thibodeau keep playing him anyway? Probably. If that starts to take away minutes from more effective and efficient players, that’s not good.

But one year at basically the minimum, that’s not a bad deal, either.

Report: Minnesota’s Tyus Jones considered asking for trade, Thibodeau eased concerns

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If there was one thing at the top of the list that set off Timberwolves fans on Twitter last season — and that is a long list — it was the burying of backup point guard Tyus Jones on the bench.

Jones played well on the floor — he is an excellent pick-and-roll ball handler, knows how to run an offense, is strong in transition, and can knock down a spot-up jumper — and the Timberwolves were 5.8 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when he was on the court. Yet coach Tom Thibodeau jerked Jones’ minutes around — he leaned heavily on starter Jeff Teague and backup guard Jamal Crawford, then mid-season brought in Derrick Rose and gave him run. Jones’ minutes were up and down when they never should have been — even Teague went to Thibodeau and said to play Jones more.

It got to the point that after the season, the third-year guard considered asking for a trade, reports Sean Deveney of The Sporting News.

But sources told Sporting News that Jones met with team management after the playoffs, and Thibodeau reasserted his support of Jones and his development. Even if the Wolves re-sign Rose, Jones was assured, his minutes and opportunities would increase because Crawford is not expected to return to the team. Rose mostly played shooting guard with the Wolves last season, so there’s a chance Jones could play alongside Rose as a backcourt bench unit.

Jones had considered requesting a trade, but the meeting with the team defused that notion before it arose. And for now, at least, the Wolves have no intention of dealing him.

Thibodeau is saying the right things, we’ll see if his actions back up his words. Jones will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019 and he has a lot of fans around the league in other front offices. If Minnesota doesn’t give him enough burn he will hunt out a place that will (and may pay more than Minnesota wants to match).

It’s one of a number of issues around the Timberwolves that could derail, at least temporarily, a team that is on the rise in the West.

Kevin Durant: I could retire at age 35

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Kevin Durant was a skilled scorer from the moment he set foot in the NBA, but he never settled for that. He has meticulously expanded his game – rebounding, distributing, perimeter defense. This year, he developed the tools of a more-traditional big man.

The Warriors’ dominance only pushes Durant to challenge himself more. Other teams aren’t challenging him. At times, he seems bored with outside obstacles, focusing on self-set benchmarks.

Durant, 29, will probably continue to test himself this way until retirement. When will that be?

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“This game, your craft, you have to continue studying it,” said Durant. “No matter how much you enjoy it, nobody wants to be in school that long. I know I don’t. At some point, you have to be ready to graduate. Thirty-five, that’s just a number in my mind.”

Rich Kleiman, Durant’s business partner, said Durant had previously shared with him that he might walk away at 35. “I heard him say that, but I’ll believe it when it happens,” Kleiman said.

I’m with Kleinman. This sounds like something someone just says. When push comes to shove, I doubt Durant walks away that soon.

There’s too much money involved, too much fame, too much comfort in the routine. Would Durant really walk away from that?

Most players don’t stick in the NBA until age 35. But Durant would be declining from such a high peak, and his game – with a sweet jumper and distinctive length – should age well.

Of MVPs in the last 40 years, only Allen Iverson (34) retired younger than 35, and only Larry Bird was even 35:

 

Player Age for last game
Russell Westbrook 29*
Stephen Curry 30*
Kevin Durant 29*
LeBron James 33*
Derrick Rose 29*
Kobe Bryant 37
Dirk Nowitzki 39*
Steve Nash 40
Kevin Garnett 39
Tim Duncan 40
Allen Iverson 34
Shaquille O’Neal 39
Karl Malone 40
Michael Jordan 40
David Robinson 37
Hakeem Olajuwon 39
Charles Barkley 37
Magic Johnson 36
Larry Bird 35
Moses Malone 39
Julius Erving 37
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 42

*Current player

Iverson’s style of play left him vulnerable to breaking down. Bird had longstanding back issues.

Neither applies to Durant.

He probably won’t be as good at age 35 as he is now, but he’ll likely belong in the NBA. Most players good enough for the NBA choose to be in the NBA.