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Marcus Morris smoked marijuana to deal with anxiety while with Pistons

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When the Suns traded Marcus Morris to the Pistons, he called it “betrayal.”

It wasn’t that, but it’s also worth understanding why he felt that way – and what it means in a greater context.

Marcus signed a below-market contract extension to stay with his twin brother Markieff Morris in Phoenix. That was foolish, because it made Marcus more tradable – and the Suns dealt him. Marcus just didn’t understand enough about how the NBA operated.

Why did he make that error? At least in part because he was blinded by a very understandable loyalty to Markieff.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

When the twins were in high school, their house burned down with their family cat trapped inside. Their mother, Angel, moved them and their brother Blake into a small home in Hunting Park with their maternal grandparents, a tight squeeze for teenage boys who would grow to be nearly 6-foot-10. They lived in the basement and slept on a mattress, with no heat and a ceiling that was only 6½ feet high, which made it impossible for them to fully stand up. Yet they were grateful, because at least they had family who cared. Only one in 20 of their friends had a father around — the twins’ dad was nowhere to be seen, either — and their mother worked long hours so she could pay for their basketball shoes and something to eat at supper. The twins leaned on each other for companionship, solace and courage.

“We were just trying to survive every day,” Marcus says. “As a kid, it’s fun for a minute. You don’t see yourself in any danger. Once you become a teenager, you’re unprotected. Now you’re a target. If you’re wearing some Jordans, they’re coming for you. There were plenty of times I had to protect myself. You walk out the door every day looking around, watching your back, just trying to stay out of the line of fire.

“You see shootings, pistol whippings. One wrong decision, one wrong word, and it escalates so quickly into a full-blown war. It’s like that in Philly. You’re trapped in a box. Your opportunity is so small, so once a person gets ahold of something, they protect it with their life. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived it.

“We just walked out stressed all the time. I said to my brother once, ‘You know, this is no way to live.'”

The Morris’ situation is unique, but it’s not totally atypical. The black experience in America has always been subject to large amounts of violence. Redlining continues to keep black people in more violent neighborhoods with more poverty, worse schools and harsher policing – elements that continue the cycle.

Those stressors contribute to mental-health issues, and if the NBA – whose players are predominantly black – is concerned about mental health, it can’t ignore this greater context.

The Suns didn’t sound like they empathized. Marcus began his pro career in Houston, and it didn’t sound like Rockets general manager Daryl Morey – who doesn’t have the best track record of discussing mental health – knew how to relate to Marcus, either. MacMullan:

That summer, he refused to go to Houston for offseason workouts and wouldn’t answer calls from the Rockets’ staff. “[Rockets general manager] Daryl Morey is telling me, ‘You’re hurting your career,’ but I was thinking, ‘Well, you guys are hurting my career,'” Morris recalls. “I didn’t trust them. I didn’t trust anybody.”

The results weren’t better in Detroit, either. MacMullan:

Morris couldn’t sleep because his mind was racing all the time. The Pistons tried to make him feel welcome, but he wasn’t very responsive. He was often up all night replaying a missed shot or a mistake on the floor, and his play was suffering. He seriously considered quitting, but what would he do? Go back to Philly? That notion led to more anxiety, more stress. He tried sleeping pills. He smoked marijuana. Nothing granted him peace.

I’m very curious how this will be received. White coaches Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson admitted to smoking marijuana to help with pain after back surgeries, and people were generally understanding. Black player Larry Sanders – trying to cope with anxiety, depression and mood disorders – essentially got run out of the league for using marijuana and espousing its benefits.

White people get more benefit of the doubt on drug use. Physical pain is taken more seriously than mental pain.

Marijuana isn’t the answer for everyone dealing with anxiety and stress, because there is no single answer for everyone. But criminalizing marijuana – banned legally in many places and by the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement – isn’t the answer. The appropriateness of marijuana for NBA players should be explored.

Perhaps it will be as we remove the stigma around mental health. Players like Marcus Morris opening up about their issues is a huge step forward – and especially important one considering the NBA’s majority-black demographics.

It sounds as if Morris is getting far better help from the Celtics. I highly recommend reading MacMullan’s full article for more on that and how mental health and race intersect as it pertains to the NBA.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens: ‘We’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters’

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The Celtics might be too deep.

They won 55 games last season with Gordon Hayward missing nearly the entire season. They reached the conference finals without Kyrie Irving and Hayward in the playoffs.

All five regular-season starters – Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes – return. So does playoff starter Terry Rozier. So does Hayward. So does Marcus Smart, whom Boston coach Brad Stevens has called the team’s “sixth starter” for years. So does Marcus Morris, who started in Detroit before joining these stacked Celtics and remains in his prime.

Make no mistake: Teams around the league envy this challenge. But it’s still a challenge.

Stevens on the “Yahoo Sports NBA: Chris Mannix” podcast:

I think all of our guys realize that we have a really good thing going.

Part of being on a team is all being understanding that there’s nothing like experiencing winning together.

For me, it’s more about, we have a unique thing, and I think we all have to recognize that. The starting thing, the finishing and everything else – we’re going to have different lineups  out there, and everybody’s going to get an opportunity and lots of opportunities to make an impact.

We’ll just do it like we’ve always done it. Marcus Smart has come off the bench for two years, and I’ve never considered Marcus Smart to be a non-starter. I just think that you – we’re fortunate enough on our team that we’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters. So, we’ll figure that out as the time comes.

And I do I think that our guys have a recognition overall about that’s not what it’s about. It’s about trying to be the best that we can be collectively. If we all do what we do to the best of our ability, it will benefit everybody individually.

But you only get so many chances to be part of a special group. And we’re pretty fortunate to be in this position. We need to take advantage of it.

Ten is probably pushing it. But the Celtics might actually have nine starting-caliber – i.e. top-150 – players.

How will that work?

Boston’s team success will help plenty. It’s harder for players to grumble about playing time when the team is winning.

Stevens also does a great job of giving players roles and getting them to buy in. These players fit different positional archetypes, allowing Stevens to give them each turns depending on situation.

And maybe only Rozier and Morris are playing for their next contract. As long as he stays healthy, Irving will likely command a max contract in free agency next summer no matter what. Horford ($30,123,015) and Baynes ($5,453,280) will probably opt in, though there’s a chance they’re playing to prove they deserve new contracts. Hayward, Tatum, Brown and Smart are locked in for multiple years.

Rozier has consistently struck the right tone in balancing his personal ambition with playing his role in Boston. That’s contagious. Stevens is adding to the culture with preemptive positive reinforcement.

The Celtics could get tangled in playing-time disputes, but they’re at least off to the right start for making this work.

Report: Celtics trade Abdel Nader to Thunder

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Abdel Nader was one of those second-round gambles by the Celtics — the No. 58 pick in the 2016 NBA draft — that paid off better than expected. Nader was the D-League Rookie of the Year, then last season the wing got into 48 games for the big club in Boston, showing some potential as a three-point shooter (but also struggling with his efficiency in other areas).

Boston wanted to trim some salary now, so Nader is on his way to Oklahoma City (once the Carmelo Anthony trade goes through and they have cap space).

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the story.

That cash will undoubtedly cover Nader’s $1.4 million salary, plus some more to help offset the crazy tax bill the Thunder still have coming. The Celtics will waive Purvis, who does not have a guaranteed deal.

All of this will save the Celtics about $450,000, getting them closer to going under the luxury tax line, they are about $2.5 million over it currently. (With this roster the Celtics are eventually going to pay a huge tax bill, but if they can avoid paying the tax this season that delays the painful repeater tax by a year, helping down the line. Expect to see more cash saving moves, don’t be shocked if Marcus Morris is the one on the trade block.)

While Andre Roberson and Paul George will start on the wing for OKC, Nader may be able to find minutes behind them. The Thunder have a mix of guys — Terrance Ferguson, Alex Abrines, Timothe Luwawu, Kyle Singler — who have yet to fully establish themselves in the league. Nader will have a chance to crack that group and get some run, if he can take several steps forward with this game.

GM Danny Ainge calls Celtics’ blockbuster trade “unlikely”

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The San Antonio Spurs want the Celtics to go all-in on the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes — an offer of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris (for salary balancing), and next year’s Kings’ first-round pick (No. 1 protected only) could win the bidding.

Danny Ainge and the Celtics are not moving fast on this — nor should they be. Do nothing this summer and the Celtics are still probably the team to beat in the East next season (let’s see how free agency shakes out before getting to formal with rankings). Sources say that Boston is not eager to include Brown in any deal, and they are not doing anything without both fresh medical reports on Leonard’s quadriceps tendonitis, and talking to the man and his representatives. Which is wise.

Boston president Ainge also admitted it makes a deal getting done unlikely. Here is what he said, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“If I feel like it’ll help our team — we explore every trade of players of certain magnitude or superstar, first-ballot Hall of Fame-type of players,” Ainge said Friday after the Celtics formally introduced first-round pick Robert Williams at the Auerbach Center. “We’re going to take a look and kick the tires and see if there’s something there. But that’s all.

“I think those things are unlikely.”

Right now the Lakers and Sixers are the teams pushing hard to get a deal done, both feeling pressure because they believe that if they land Leonard, LeBron James will shortly follow.

The Lakers appear to be the frontrunner. Los Angeles is trying hard not to put all their best assets on the table — reportedly they have been slow to offer Brandon Ingram. It’s going to take him to get a deal done (I have been told the Spurs do not want Lonzo Ball), and probably Kyle Kuzma as well, plus a third team to absorb Luol Deng‘s contract (and that team will want a serious sweetener in the mix). For the Lakers, that is worth it if it lands Leonard and LeBron, but they are rightfully trying to extract the best deal they can. Los Angeles is also reported to be talking to Denver and other teams looking to unload a bad contract and would surrender a first-round pick the Lakers could give the Spurs as well, but taking on that contract would likely mean no Paul George (who, according to sources, is seriously considering a short contract to stay in OKC).

Philadelphia’s offer is reportedly Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and the Miami Heat unprotected 2021 pick. The Sixers ould include Markelle Fultz instead of Saric, if the Spurs wanted, and they have other picks and options to throw in the mix.

It’s in the Spurs hands right now, and they are going to be patient and wait for the best offer they can get. They can afford to wait on Boston, putting pressure on L.A. If the Lakers think they can get Leonard and not give up Ingram or other key assets, this could drag out. Complicating LeBron’s decision.

Still, things are trending the way Lakers fans want.

Another report Spurs will not trade Kawhi Leonard within West

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The people around Kawhi Leonard made it clear (through leaks to the media, not by talking to the Spurs at first): Leonard wants out of San Antonio, and he wants to go to Los Angeles. Specifically, the Lakers.

Almost as quickly, the Spurs leaked that they were not going to trade Leonard to the Lakers or any team in the West.

Sam Amick of the USA Today echoed that sentiment in his discussion of LeBron James‘ offseason options on Saturday.

But in the days that followed, the Spurs wasted no time in sending this message all around the NBA: The only Western Conference team he might be playing for is theirs.

Fellow West teams have been told, in essence, to get lost – none moreso than the Lakers, according to ESPN. As it stands, the Spurs are determined to either fix the situation or trade Leonard to an Eastern Conference team.

Leonard has leverage here: He can tell teams he will not re-sign with them and will leave as a free agent. That will scare off most teams who don’t want to put in

Would it scare off Boston or Philadelphia? The rumor is no. Those teams have real interest in Leonard, and both have the assets to get a deal done and make the bet that a year in their cultures, with their coaches and top players, a year contending, and with their fans and city would win Leonard over. Just like Oklahoma City made that bet with Paul George. Also, whoever trades for Leonard will be able to offer a five-year, $188 million contract, while as a free agent the max will be four years, $137 million. For a guy who just missed almost an entire season with an injury, that guarantee can matter.

Boston could go all in on an offer — Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, the Kings first-round pick next season (top one protected) and the Clippers first round pick next year (lottery protected). Philadelphia could put together an offer of Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, and Miami’s unprotected 2021 pick (the first year high schoolers likely re-enter the NBA draft, making it a deep one).

The question is would those team put in all those assets on a bet they would win Leonard over?

The other big looming question, when the offers start to come in will a rational Spurs front office reconsider and look at a trade from the Lakes of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, a future first, and the contract of Luol Deng to balance out the numbers. Would they consider it superior because they like Ingram? (That trade may require a third team to take on Deng’s contract, and the Lakers might need to throw in Lonzo Ball or some other sweetener to get a team to take on Deng’s $36 million remaining.)

Expect the Spurs to take their time with this, try to win Leonard back over, then consider all their options. They are in no rush, in fact, they’d love to create a bidding war for Leonard. Any offer from Boston and Philadelphia on the table in July will be on the table in September when training camps open. The Lakers, however, may be in a very different space.

It’s going to be a very interesting next few weeks.