Jusuf Nurkic

Jazz center Rudy Gobert
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Rudy Gobert to replace name on jersey with ‘Equality’ as first social justice messages leak

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“Equality” and “Vote” have proven popular among the first social justice messages on the back of NBA player jerseys have been leaked to the public.

The choices of nine NBA players were leaked by Chris Haynes of TNT and Yahoo Sports on Tuesday during Inside the NBA on TNT. Here is the first list:

Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz) – “Equality”
CJ McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers) – “Education Reform”
Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers) – ‘Equality”
Kent Bazemore (Sacramento Kings) – “Education Reform”
Matisse Thybulle (Philadelphia 76ers) – “Vote”
Pat Connaughton (Milwaukee Bucks) – “Equality”
Meyers Leonard (Miami Heat) – “Equality”
Ivica Zubac (Los Angeles Clippers) – “Enough”
Moe Wagner (Wizards) – “Vote”

The NBA is a multi-billion dollar business, so it wanted to allow for social justice messages on jerseys — but not any social justice message. It had to come from a pre-approved list (read: things that felt “safe” and would not offend the core audience). That did not sit well with players, but everyone is headed to Orlando for the restart for financial reasons, so of course this was a business decision. The list of approved messages is:

Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; Mentor.

NBA players will be arriving in Orlando through Thursday as the NBA starts to form its bubble and begin practices.

Report: Trail Blazers’ Trevor Ariza sitting out to spend time with son

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NBA players will arrive at Disney World between July 7-9. The second round of the playoffs are scheduled to begin Aug. 31. Only teams advancing that far will have family present in the bubble.

Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza deemed that setup unacceptable for him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Based on Ariza’s $12.2 million salary, this will cost Ariza $1,053,996 plus $131,749 for each play-in and playoff game Portland plays (up to a total of $1,844,492 in lost wages). However, that doesn’t account for the salary withholding all players face with league-wide revenue way down.

With just $1.8 million of his $12.8 million salary guaranteed next season, Ariza could become an unrestricted free agent at age 35 this offseason. He has proven to be a helpful glue guy on good teams.

Fair or not, this will increase concerns about Ariza’s commitment to losing teams. But Ariza can set his own priorities. Basketball isn’t everything. His son clearly matters significantly to him, as he is proving with this drastic and commendable step. Let teams considering signing Ariza decide what that means to them. That’s their issue, not Ariza’s.

For Portland, this a key loss. Since being acquired in January, Ariza had been starting at small forward, a position where the Trail Blazers have little depth. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins provide frontcourt depth, and Carmelo Anthony can slide up from power forward. But Ariza was suited for his role. Portland’s road to the playoffs just got tougher.

Portland’s Zach Collins cleared by doctors, will play in Orlando restart

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Zach Collins is back.

Portland is one of the most interesting teams heading down to Orlando. The Trail Blazers won 53 games and reached the conference finals a season ago, only to follow it up with a painful 29-37 campaign this season with a 27th ranked defense. Orlando is a chance a redemption — the Trail Blazers are just 3.5 games back of eighth-seeded Memphis heading into the eight seeding games, and the Trail Blazers have a percentage-points advantage over their West rivals that could matter.

Most importantly, Portland got healthy and look like the 53-win team from a season ago on paper. They got Jusuf Nurkic back as their center, a critical part for them on both ends of the court.

And they got a healthy Zach Collins along the front line, too. He has been medically cleared from the surgery to repair his separated shoulder, he told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. He’s able to fully join in practices down in Orlando.

“When my doc came in and said my shoulder feels like a normal shoulder, that I was good to go, it was like a weight was lifted,” Collins said. “I tell people all the time that he whole rehab process isn’t difficult. It’s just very long and boring. The worst part is not being on the road with the team, not being around them every day, feeling disconnected. It’s weird. Odd. So, mentally, it’s a big struggle. I’m just super excited to be back and know that I can do everything again.”

And Portland’s chances?

“We’re healthy,” Collins said. “Well, we’re not fully healthy — we don’t have Rodney (Hood) — but we have Nurk and me and a lot of guys that had to step up and play more minutes than expected during the season. Put all that together, combined with guys coming back and the time off and everybody’s body being ready and recovered, and I think we have as good a shot as anyone.”

Even healthy, even with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland has a tough task to make the playoffs. They have to beat out New Orleans and Sacramento (and technically San Antonio and Phoenix, but those are much longer shots) to earn the nine seed, then beat Memphis in back-to-back games. Not impossible, but not easy either.

But with Collins and Nurkic back and the roster healthy, Portland has the best shot of anyone in the West of pulling it off.

Carmelo Anthony on playing in Orlando: ‘I’m still up in the air a little’

Carmelo Anthony playing in Orlando
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There have been a lot of questions and some pushback from a faction of NBA players about the league’s restart plan in Orlando. Some players question if starting now slows the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement (a league with many Black players gathering to entertain the masses at a place the team owners will not be). Numerous players just want more details about the league’s health and safety protocols.

‘Melo is in that second group. Carmelo Anthony questioned playing in Orlando while speaking to Ernie Johnson on #NBATogether.

“As far as actually playing and going back down into Orlando, I’m still up in the air a little bit because I really don’t, we don’t have all the details. We don’t know a lot of information, so until we have that, it’s hard to just commit to that 100%.”

Sources have told NBC Sports that is the sentiment most widely heard among players hesitant to go into the NBA’s bubble — they want to know details before they say they’re in.

Players want to know how long they would be in the bubble — anywhere from 35 days to three months — and they want details on the protocols once inside the bubble. That has not been released by the league yet. Players understandably want to know what they can and can’t do once on the Walt Disney World property, they want to know what life will be like on the campus/in the bubble. The league is preparing a reportedly 100-page outline to the restart that answers those questions, but it has yet to be sent to teams or players.

The league and players’ union have said players who do not want to go to Orlando can sit this one out without punishment — but they don’t get paid, either. That paycheck, ultimately, will likely bring all but a handful of players to Orlando.

Carmelo Anthony isn’t sure about playing in Orlando, but if he goes he may also find his role is smaller. Anthony started 50 games for the Trail Blazers this season, averaging 15.3 points a night and playing solid ball, but with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins both healthy, there is depth along the Portland front line now — and guys who will play better defense. Anthony will still be part of the rotation, but his role likely shifts. If he’s willing to accept it.

First, however, he wants his questions answered before Anthony commits to playing in Orlando.

NBA Championship odds: Lakers, Bucks favorites as NBA plans restart

NBA Championship odds
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It’s all about LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo when it comes to NBA Championship odds.

At least for the gambling public. With the return of the NBA set for July in a 22-team format, the NBA futures odds to win the title have gone up at sportsbooks. Not surprisingly, LeBron and the Lakers, and Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, are the betting favorites. Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers are close behind, with a considerable drop off after that.

Here are the current odds (with money won on a $100 bet):

Los Angeles Lakers +200 +270
Milwaukee Bucks +275 +240
Los Angeles Clippers +325 +340
Houston Rockets +1500 +1200
Boston Celtics +1500 +2000
Toronto Raptors +1700 +2400
Denver Nuggets +2200 +2500
Miami Heat +4000 +2700
Philadelphia 76ers +2500 +2700
Utah Jazz +6000 +2900
Dallas Mavericks +3500 +3600
Brooklyn Nets +6000 +6000
Indiana Pacers +12500 +10000
Oklahoma City Thunder +6000 +10000
New Orleans Pelicans N/A +12000
Memphis Grizzlies +50000 +21000
Portland Trail Blazers +7500 +21000
San Antonio Spurs +100000 +21000
Orlando Magic +75000 +25000
Phoenix Suns +50000 +25000
Sacramento Kings +200000 +25000
Washington Wizards +100000 +25000

A few quick thoughts on these NBA Championship odds:

• Brooklyn is only at 60/1 odds because of Kevin Durant‘s possible return to the court — except that’s not happening. Even if he could, Kyrie Irving is not recovered from his March surgery yet, and no way KD is coming back without Irving.

• Along those same lines, John Wall is not returning for the Wizards this season.

• The best bet on the board? I would say the Clippers.

• If I had to bet who will end up with the eighth seed in the West, I would take Portland. New Orleans and Memphis both have a legitimate shot, but Portland gets Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins both back, and that was a 50+ win team with those two the season before.

• I’m basing my thoughts on what happened before March 11, and all of that feels somewhat irrelevant heading into this unprecedented situation.