Kemba Walker

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Three Things to Know: Well-rested Kawhi Leonard takes over fourth, leads Clipper win

Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Well-rested Kawhi Leonard takes over fourth with 18 points, leads Clipper past Blazers. Kawhi Leonard doesn’t care what you think. Or what the league office thinks. Or what Michael Jordan thinks.

What he cares about is staying healthy and winning basketball games — which are exactly the things he did in the last 48 hours.

There was a storm of criticism in some quarters (and from ESPN personalities) after Leonard sat out Wednesday night’s Clipper game against the Bucks, the first half of a back-to-back, to make sure he stays healthy for the playoffs. You know, the formula he used last year to lead Toronto to a title. But some people seem to care more about being entertained than Leonard’s health and wanted to see Giannis Antetokounmpo and Leonard face off — not so coincidentally on ESPN. Leonard’s reaction to that has been frustration the league detailed his injury publicly — Leonard is a private person — but beyond that, he just shrugs and goes about his business.

“I’m not a guy that reads the media anyway. We’re going to manage it the best way we can to keep me healthy and that’s the most important thing, me being healthy moving forward.”

Then on Thursday against Portland — a game that is more important to the Clippers because it is in conference — Leonard showed what he can do when healthy. Leonard scored 18 in the fourth quarter, took over the game, and led Los Angeles to a 107-100 win against Portland.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts had the line of the night.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum each had 22 points on the night but were shut down and scoreless in the fourth — credit Patrick Beverley for blanketing Lillard, who was 0-of-4 in the final frame. Anfernee Simons scored 16 of his 17 points in the fourth to keep the Blazers in it.

What makes the Clippers so dangerous — aside from the fact they haven’t even added Paul George into the mix yet, that likely comes next week — is that Leonard has help. It was Lou Williams that sank the dagger into the Trail Blazers.

That gave Clipper coach Doc River’s 900th win of his career — an impressive milestone. He and the Clippers cared more about that than the $50,000 fine the team got for Rivers’ comments having Leonard’s back and saying he was healthy.

Rivers has the Clippers focusing on the big picture — this is a team in title contention and everything needs to be focused on that goal. Which means Leonard is going to keep taking nights off. No matter what anyone else cares or thinks.

2) Ben Simmons out Friday night with a sprained shoulder, could miss more games due to injury. Officially, Philadelphia point guard Ben Simmons is out for one game, Friday night against Denver, with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. He will be re-evaluated Sunday before the Sixers take on the Hornets.

However, don’t be surprised if he misses more time than that.

Is this a big deal long-term? No. It’s not severe, and it’s Simmons off-arm. This doesn’t change the arc of the season in Philadelphia and Simmons will be back in a week or so at worst.

Short term, it’s a little bit of a problem. Brett Brown has played Josh Richardson out of position as the backup point guard behind Simmons (clearly not trusting Raul Neto or Trey Burke). Richardson played that role a lot in Miami, but he’s a natural wing. He’s okay at the point but turns the ball over a little too much.

Philadelphia hosts Denver Friday night, Charlotte Sunday night, Cleveland Tuesday night, then travel to Orlando on Wednesday. If Simmons misses all those games, the Sixers are still going to be racking up wins.

3) Kemba Walker scores 14 in emotional return to Charlotte. One thing was clear Thursday night: Kemba Walker loves Charlotte and the fans in Charlotte still love Kemba.

Walker left Charlotte last summer after a below-max offer and signed in Boston, but Hornets fans don’t hold that against him. Nor did the organization, which put together a fantastic video tribute.

That was followed by a standing ovation for the clearly emotional Walker.

Walker scored 14 points on the night but was picked up by his teammates — Gordon Hayward had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Jaylen Brown returned to action scoring a dozen. The Celtics cruised to a 108-87 win to 6-1 on the season.

Emotional Kemba Walker gets video tribute, standing ovation in return to Charlotte

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kemba Walker loves the city of Charlotte.

The fans in Charlotte love Kemba Walker.

Last July, Walker moved on from Charlotte (after a below-max offer) and signed in Boston, but the love between the fans and Kemba was on full display Thursday night when Walker returned to Charlotte for the first time.

There was a fantastic video tribute.

That was followed by a standing ovation for the clearly emotional Walker.

Walker had 14 points and the Celtics were comfortably in charge of this game heading into the fourth quarter.

Danny Ainge: Celtics offered Marcus Morris three-year extension before last season

Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Marcus Morris begrudges the Celtics not even contacting him during free agency.

Celtics president Danny Ainge has additional evidence to present.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

Morris came out ahead this season. He’s earning $15 million on a one-year contract with the Knicks. The highest 2019-20 salary Boston could’ve offered in an extension was $10,605,600.

The Celtics could’ve guaranteed Morris an additional $19,362,144 over the next two seasons (a total of $34,362,144 on a three-year extension). But we don’t know whether Boston offered the highest-possible amount. So, we can’t determine whether Morris will come out ahead financially.

This also barely addresse Morris’ point: After a productive season with the Celtics, he’s bothered they didn’t even reach out during free agency. It’s not about whether or not they once wanted to keep him.

To be fair, Boston did well to use the cap space vacated by Morris and Al Horford to acquire Kemba Walker. Also re-signing Morris would’ve likely required signing-and-trading Kyrie Irvinga possibility, but one that would’ve required sending the Nets a sweetener. That probably wasn’t worth it considering the Celtics have several other key forwards in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.

After leaving Hornets for Celtics, Kemba Walker expects positive reception in Charlotte

Omar Rawlings/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kemba Walker said he held no hard feelings toward the Hornets after they declared him their top priority, offered him way less than his max then even had the gall to say they were blindsided by him making an All-NBA team/qualifying for the super-max.

But how do Hornets fans feel about him?

Now with the Celtics, Walker will return to Charlotte tonight.

Walker, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“Nothing but positive things, I hope,” Walker said ahead of the Boston Celtics’ morning shootaround at Spectrum Center, hours before his first game against the Charlotte Hornets. “I don’t think I did anything wrong. I did an interview yesterday and they asked me the same question, and I’m not sure why that question should even be brought up, honestly. I think it should be all positive reactions.

“It’s going to be great. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a great feeling, and like I said, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve done plenty of good things here. … I’ve always interacted with the fans, I’ve always signed autographs, I’ve always taken pictures and I was always nice to everybody. So I don’t think there will be no negative reactions.”

Walker is a star who left a small market for a bigger market in free agency. That usually turns players into villains in the small market – and often beyond.

But I think Walker is right to believe he’ll be an exception. He poured his heart and soul into Charlotte while getting minimal help. Fans can recognize that.

Former Celtics forward Marcus Morris: ‘I refuse to do anything with Boston’

Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Marcus Morris provided steadiness amid a chaotic Celtics season.

His reward?

A turbulent summer that included deals with the Spurs (reneged upon) and Knicks (signed) – but, according to Morris, no contact from Boston.

Morris, via Jay King of The Athletic:

“I just refuse to watch any Boston Celtics games,” Morris said. “I refuse. I’m in New York now. I thought it was a great possibility of me coming back here. So, by me not even getting that opportunity or getting that chance to have that, I refuse to do anything with Boston.”

Morris does not necessarily hold a grudge against Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, but wishes the organization at least would have contacted him when free agency opened on June 30. Morris thought he deserved at least that much.

It’s unsurprising the Celtics didn’t try to re-sign Morris. They used the cap space vacated by him and Al Horford to sign Kemba Walker, a star point guard who replaced Kyrie Irving. Boston already had a few higher-priority forwards – rising stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown plus Gordon Hayward, whose big salary practically necessitates giving him opportunities to get back on track.

Perhaps, the Celtics could have signed-and-traded Irving to stay over the cap and maintain Morris’ cap hold. But by acquiring Walker in a sign-and-trade, Boston hard-capped itself. In that scenario, the priority clearly would’ve been retaining Horford. Fitting both Horford and Morris under the hard cap seems unrealistic.

Morris wears his emotions on his sleeve. I don’t blame him for resenting the Celtics, and I’m unsurprised he’s saying so. He still talks about the Suns mistreating him. He holds grudges and uses them for motivation. It’s part of why he has become an NBA success.

New York sounds happy with Morris, and – losing aside – he seems happy to be there. This saga worked out fine for everyone involved.

Of course, Morris is on only a one-year contract. We’ll see what he thinks of the Knicks after next offseason. Just a few months ago, he was content with Boston.