Jaylen Brown

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Chinese corporate boycott reportedly could cost Rockets $25 million this season

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With the Lakers and Nets back on American soil, the storm around Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey’s Tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors is dissipating. While a few politicians are still trying to use this for lazy points with their base, most of the involved actors on both sides are ready for this controversy to fade away.

The impacts are real and will linger, however.

The Rockets, in particular, will feel a $25 million financial hit from sponsor pullouts, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times.

An extensive sponsor and media boycott of the Rockets soon spiraled. China’s punitive response could cost the Rockets around $25 million in sponsorship losses this season, according to one person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

A hit in team revenue also would mean a hit to the league’s “basketball related income” on some level, which has teams scrambling to figure out the impact on the salary cap for next season. While teams may be running doom-and-gloom scenarios with a 10-15 percent lowering of the salary cap (just in case), sources I have spoken to, and others reported by Stein (and others) expect it to be far less than that. Maybe next to nothing.

However, there could be a lowering of the projected $116 million salary cap by as much as a couple million. That impacts teams in the next week as they near the deadline for offering rookie contract extensions to players such as Boston’s Jaylen Brown or Sacramento’s Buddy Hield. Teams are asking the league for more information, but the league is still trying to assess the potential damage themselves.

The fraught issue of American/China relations is also not going away soon.

Protests continue in Hong Kong — if nothing else, this storm did raise awareness of the issue in the United States — and China’s record and habits with human rights violations are not going away. There will be future issues, and in a league where players and team officials are encouraged to speak out and make their voices heard, there will be a temptation to wade back into these waters. There may be situations where they should.

Now, however, the league and its players — especially the stars who make money selling shoes in the massive Chinese market — understand what the reaction and potential consequences would be. Chinese government officials also understand now how popular basketball in general, and the NBA in particular, are with the youth in China. It’s not a situation where the government can just cut the league out and have no backlash or repercussions.

Everyone has a better idea of how things could play out for future issues, but like China wanted this storm will make NBA players and officials more cautious next time.

Al Horford: Last year’s Celtics group ‘just wasn’t going to be able to coexist’ if retained

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Al Horford wants to win a championship.

One way or another, he determined that wouldn’t happen in Boston.

Kyrie Irving was the lynchpin, both central to the Celtics’ terrible chemistry last season but also a highly talented player whose departure lowered their ceiling.

After Irving left for the Nets, Horford signed with the 76ers.

Horford, via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

“And then I’m looking at my career and myself and the years that I have left. There were certain things that we wanted to accomplish as a team and things that we needed to make that happen. We got all those pieces last year, but it didn’t happen for us, and moving forward I didn’t know if it was going to be a two-year wait or whatever it was going to be. It was that and the financial reasons. When we started with the team trying to come up with things and we couldn’t agree on certain numbers, that’s when I decided, you know what, I’m going to have to open my free agency. I believe not only that I am worth a certain amount of money, but also I want to be in a position that I have a really good opportunity to win now. You know, my window is now. That’s how I feel.”

“I just think that if Kyrie would have stayed, I don’t know if it would have worked. There would have had to be some major changes as far as players, because it was just clear that the group that we had just wasn’t going to be able to coexist.”

I appreciate Horford acknowledging the money factored. So many players deny that. It almost always matters, but it has become uncouth to say. The 76ers guaranteed him $97 million with an additional $5 million if he makes the NBA Finals in the next three years and another $7 million if he wins a championship in that span.

Boston can still have a bright future with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But those forwards are young. As Horford said, it could take a couple years for the Celtics to fully ramp up. At 33, Horford doesn’t have that kind of time.

Remember, Boston couldn’t have re-signed Horford and acquired Kemba Walker without other major moves. The cap space vacated by Horford was essential to landing Walker. If Horford had re-signed, he would’ve returned to a team far different than the current Celtics.

As for a scenario where Irving stayed, I disagree with Horford that it couldn’t have worked. It probably wouldn’t have worked. But couldn’t have? That’s too strong.  The people involved could have overcome their differences.

Of course, that would have been even more difficult with so many of those players viewing chemistry problems as inevitable. After last year’s trying season, it seems most – if not all – Celtics had given up on trying to get along.

So, the star free agents left, and everyone appears happier for the change in environments.

Jayson Tatum focusing on taking more efficient shots this season

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Last season, Jayson Tatum was spending a growing amount of time in isolation sets and he was settling for long twos — 30.5 percent of his shots were from the midrange, and 16.9 were from 16 feet out to the arc. He shot 34.9 percent on those long twos, which means a lot of inefficient offense.

Like every holdover Celtic on the roster, they want to flush last season — the chemistry issues, the disappointing record — down the toilet and move on. Tatum wants to get back to being the guy who showed so much promise during the playoffs his rookie season, when he didn’t overthink things and just attacked the rim.

Tatum’s plan this season is to shoot threes and get to the rim, reducing the long twos, he told Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

“Last year was kind of funky in all aspects,” Tatum said. “I understand that. I acknowledge that, and I’m just trying to be better this year.”

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown front and center for Celtics

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Two Celtics landed on our list of the top 50 players in 5 years: Jayson Tatum (No. 12) and Jaylen Brown (No. 27).

They would have ranked even higher if we made the list a year earlier.

Tatum was coming off an inspiring first season, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. After showing promise in his first season, Brown took the next step and finished seventh in Most Improve Player voting. Both forwards played key roles in Boston’s historic run to the conference finals while Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injured.

Then, last season happened.

The Celtics had terrible chemistry and flopped with a second-round loss. Kyrie Irving took the brunt of the blame and deserved plenty.

But Tatum and Brown both backslid. Though Irving’s clumsy leadership and selfish play might have factored, that doesn’t totally absolve the two forwards. When Celtics president Danny Ainge said some young players were too focused on becoming All-Stars rather than winning, Tatum and Brown were prime suspects.

Now, Irving is gone, and Tatum and Brown get a fresh start. The forwards are still young and talented, and without Irving, key to unlocking the brightest possible future in Boston.

Tatum impressed with his decisiveness as a rookie. He launched open 3s when open, attacked the rim, drew fouls and defended hard. He lost some of that his second season, instead over-dribbling and forcing bad shots. Iso scoring is a valuable skill, but Tatum overly relied on it. If he can find a better balance between his approaches, the sky is the limit.

After a slow start, Brown improved throughout last season. He carried that momentum into the FIBA World Cup, where he often looked like Team USA’s best all-around player.

Whatever problems were their own fault last year, Tatum and Brown have an opportunity to scapegoat Irving. Retroactively, as we still try to deconstruct what happened to Boston last season, bounce-back years by Tatum and Brown would point to Irving as the culprit. That might be particular motivation for Brown, who stuck up for the young Celtics when Irving criticized them.

Brown will also likely be playing for a new contract. He’s extension-eligible until the season starts and likely headed toward restricted free agency next summer.

Will that help Brown or distract him? Even without Irving, Boston could still be prone to chemistry issues. Brown and Tatum, still trying to establish themselves in the league, still have incentives to play for themselves. The root of Ainge’s concern didn’t dissipate overnight. Though he should be much better for morale than Irving was, Walker needs plenty of touches. Gordon Hayward might also be ready for a bigger role – especially complicated because of his history with Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Plus, Hayward is another forward.

Boston should be good next season and good for a while. But Irving was supposed to put this team over the top. He’s a proven deep-playoff star and friends with Anthony Davis. That plan is out the window.

Tatum and Brown are the Celtics’ next hope. This season could go far in determining the viability of building a championship team around those two.

Ranking all 30 NBA teams by pressure entering this season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Pressure can be external. Pressure can be internal. Pressure can land on players, coaches, general managers and even owners.

Here’s how every team ranks by pressure faced next season:

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Anthony Davis will be a free agent next summer. LeBron James will be a year older. This is the time for the Lakers to capitalize on their championship promise. Consider the internal combustibility of the coaching staff and a massive fan base with high expectations, and pressure comes from every direction.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are good enough to win a title this season, and that always carries pressure. Adding to it: Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a super-max extension next offseason. If Milwaukee doesn’t impress him enough to stay, this contender could fall apart quickly. With a successful season, the Bucks can depend on Antetokounmpo for another half decade. The stakes are incredibly high.

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are openly acknowledging their situation: Their championship window is open but will close soon. Houston pushed further in for the present by trading lightly protected distant future first-rounders for Russell Westbrook. The Rockets better quickly optimize the remaining primes of James Harden and Westbrook – two stars who don’t simply mesh. Oh, and Mike D’Antoni’s lame-duck status could add stress on the whole team.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers remade their starting lineup after winning 51 games and pushing the eventual-champion Raptors to seven games in the second round. Philadelphia is not content with merely good accomplishments. The 76ers are going for great. And with young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, why not? Still, plenty of potential pitfalls loom – luxury tax, Embiid’s health, Al Horford‘s aging and Brett Brown’s job security. A strong season could go a long way toward fending off storms.

5. L.A. Clippers

The Clippers opened a two-year window by signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George. But pressure always comes with championship expectations, and no teams has better title odds than the Clippers.

6. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors open a new arena this year, and they’ve bragged about how much revenue it will produce. But will those dollars still come if Golden State falls too far from its dynastic status and fun style? With Kevin Durant gone, Klay Thompson injured and D'Angelo Russell causing fit concerns, expectations have dropped for next season. Still, the Warriors must maintain a certain level of entertainment (of which winning is the most important component) to appease their deep-pocketed fans.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are only on the fringe of the championship discussion, but they’re still in it. After getting swept the previous two first rounds, Portland redeemed itself with a run to the Western Conference finals last season. Damian Lillard (four years, super max) and C.J. McCollum (three years, $100 million) were rewarded with large contract extensions. It’s important to maintain the good feelings.

8. Miami Heat

In the five years since LeBron James left, the Heat have made the playoffs only twice and won a series only once. So, they paid substantial costs to get Jimmy Butler. The only way to maintain a winning culture is to win, and Butler can help with that. But for how long? He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has heavy mileage. Still, if he helps enough, Miami could make a splash in 2021 free agency.

9. Orlando Magic

A middling Eastern Conference playoff team doesn’t generate national buzz. But the Magic were so proud of their last season – their best in seven years – they spent big to keep their core intact. That pays off only if the winning continues.

10. Utah Jazz

By trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz showed they’re serious about winning now. Those veterans could have a limited shelf life. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert offer a longer window, but again, there’s more pressure on good teams.

11. Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ championship hopes likely left with Kyrie Irving. But next season is a great opportunity to pin their problems on him. If young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown suddenly get right back on track, that’d reflect poorly on Irving (perhaps somewhat unfairly). With Kemba Walker, Boston could be quite good – just probably with a lower ceiling.

12. Phoenix Suns

Few outsiders expect much from the Suns, but that’s rarely the case inside Phoenix. Owner Robert Sarver is notoriously impatient. The Suns messed around in the draft, but credible point guard Ricky Rubio fills a massive hole, and other veterans are also incoming. Expect Phoenix to improve. Enough to satisfy everyone there? Who knows?

13. Washington Wizards

The Wizards kept Bradley Beal despite a ton of outside trade interest. He sounds happy in Washington for now, but his 2021 unrestricted free agency is rapidly approaching. The Wizards appear headed toward a lousy season. Will they do enough to keep Beal happy? This year could define the next era of Washington basketball.

14. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are the best team this low on the list. But they’re so young, and their core is locked in. It’s always important for good teams to win, but next season is far from make-or-break for Denver.

15. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets’ window opens next year, when Kevin Durant returns from his Achilles injury. In the meantime, Brooklyn would like to celebrate its coup in free agency with improvement next season. That especially shines the spotlight on Kyrie Irving, who gets another crack at leading a young supporting cast. If he fails again, that could expose the Nets to real cultural concerns before they even get rolling.

16. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers got younger and probably slightly worse this summer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff, one that comes with reduced expectations for next season. However, if Indiana falls further than expected, that could create real problems for the people responsible for the disapointment.

17. Detroit Pistons

Ho hum. They’ll likely be mediocre – maybe good enough to make the playoffs, maybe not. Same as always. A looming potential shakeup adds some pressure.

18. Sacramento Kings

The Kings’ breakthrough season prompted them to fill holes with savvy veterans. The hope is everyone coalesces into a winner. But even if Sacramento regresses, most of those new contracts look reasonable. More importantly, the young core still provides long-term hope.

19. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has its top tandem in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. But both are young, and Porzingis is just coming off injury. There will be patience. The deep Mavericks could play well enough for pressure to build throughout the season.

20. New York Knicks

After striking out in free agency this summer, the Knicks left themselves the ability to open major cap space in 2020 or 2021. For now, the roster is full of spare parts unlikely to win much. The large New York fan base won’t quietly accept yet another losing season. Knicks owner James Dolan, who has frequently shifted between plans, is the big wildcard in the franchise’s overall patience level.

21. Charlotte Hornets

They stink. Their future looks dim. Everyone knows this. Still, losing stresses everyone involved.

22. New Orleans Pelicans

After Anthony Davis’ trade request, the Pelicans got a new lease on life with No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. New lead executive David Griffin adds credibility, and he has already added significant talent around Williamson. If this year goes well, great. If not, that’d be disappointing, but New Orleans still has time to establish a winning identity.

23. Chicago Bulls

Maybe the Bulls are good now. Maybe they’ll be better later. Maybe neither. But there enough avenues for Chicago to show progress that this season doesn’t present much stress. The Bulls could make the playoffs, have their young players show progress and/or tank to add another blue-chipper. It’s unlikely they miss on all three.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

Near rock bottom, the Cavaliers just want to boost the value of a few key players. Cleveland’s top two young prospects – Collin Sexton and Darius Garland – are both point guards, and that could create complications. Kevin Love is on an expensive contract, and more injuries/aging could sink him as a trade chip. As far as winning, that’s barely a consideration.

25. San Antonio Spurs

The Tim Duncan era was so long and the handover to Kawhi Leonard so seamless, the Spurs still feel like they’re in the honeymoon of their five championships in 16 years (1999-2014). It’d be nice to break the consecutive-playoff-season record. But it’s just hard to get too worked up about this late-stage Gregg Popovich season that holds only modest expectations.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves

New team president Gersson Rosas inherited an inflexible, losing – but talented – team and did little with it. That means little expectation of a quick breakthrough, but a path toward overachieving exists. Well-liked Ryan Saunders getting his interim tag removed is just another reason to view this as a reset year.

27. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in the thick of rebuilding. It’s too soon to expect much from Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

28. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have such a deep young base – Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, Cameron Reddish plus a couple extra future first-round picks. Atlanta can patiently let this group grow together without even moderate expectations yet.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City willingly entered rebuilding by trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook for a whole bunch of other teams’ picks. Though tanking themselves could help their long-term outlook, the Thunder can do whatever they want and let those picks roll in from the Clippers (including potentially lucrative ones originally belonging to the Heat) and Rockets. Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams even give Oklahoma City a chance to overachieve.

30. Toronto Raptors

Toronto can happily enjoy its championship – no matter what happens this season. Kawhi Leonard’s exit ended any expectations of a repeat. The Raptors should still be solid, but even if they’re not, that banner will hang forever.