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After four months off, first NBA teams practice in restart bubble

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Nikola Vucevic had to raise his voice a bit to answer a question. He had just walked off the court after the first Orlando Magic practice of the restart, and some of his teammates remained on the floor while engaged in a loud and enthusiastic shooting contest.

After four months, basketball was truly back.

Full-scale practices inside the NBA bubble at the Disney complex started Thursday, with the Magic — the first team to get into the campus earlier this week — becoming the first team formally back on the floor. By the close of business Thursday, all 22 teams participating in the restart were to be checked into their hotel and beginning their isolation from the rest of the world for what will be several weeks at least. And by Saturday, all teams should have practiced at least once.

“It’s great to be back after four months,” Vucevic said. “We all missed it.”

The last eight teams were coming in Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers among them. Lakers forward LeBron James lamented saying farewell to his family, and 76ers forward Joel Embiid — who raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restarting the season in a bubble — showed up for his team’s flight in what appeared to be a full hazmat suit.

“Just left the crib to head to the bubble. … Hated to leave the (hashtag)JamesGang,” James posted on Twitter.

Another last-day arrival at the Disney campus was the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples, Florida — they’ve been there for about two weeks, training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers — for the trip to the bubble. The buses were specially wrapped for the occasion, with the Raptors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the sides.

Brooklyn, Utah, Washington and Phoenix all were down to practice Thursday, along with the Magic. Denver was originally scheduled to, then pushed back its opening session to Friday. By Saturday, practices will be constant — 22 teams working out at various times in a window spanning 13 1/2 hours and spread out across seven different facilities.

Exhibition games begin July 22. Games restart again for real on July 30.

“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brooklyn interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson less than a week before the March 11 suspension of the season because of the coronavirus. “I think that was the most exciting thing. We got a little conditioning underneath us. Didn’t go too hard after the quarantine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a little bit and feel the ball again.”

Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days after arriving before they could get on the practice floor.

Many players have passed the time with video games; Miami center Meyers Leonard, with the Heat not practicing for the first time until Friday, has been giving fans glimpses of everything from his gaming setup to his room service order for his first dinner at Disney — replete with lobster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.

The food has been a big talking point so far, especially after a handful of players turned to social media to share what got portrayed as less-than-superb meals during the brief quarantine period.

“For the most part, everything has been pretty good in my opinion,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “They’ve done a good job taking care of us and making sure to accommodate us in every area as much as possible.”

Learning the campus has been another key for the first few days, and that process likely will continue for a while since teams will be using all sorts of different facilities while getting back into the practice routine.

“We have to make the best out of it,” Vucevic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re going to try to make the best out of it. I really think the NBA did the best they could to know make this as good as they can for us. And once we start playing, you’re not going to be thinking about the little things.”

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

Jazz center Rudy Gobert
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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.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Hawks, Hornets, Heat, Magic, Wizards

Mock NBA expansion draft
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division and Northwest Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southeast:

Atlanta Hawks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Hawks protections are very straightforward. Every player they are protecting is either a rotation player, under team control for a while or both. No hard decisions here.

That means that Atlanta is leaving their restricted free agents and Brandon Goodwin unprotected. No major concerns over losing any of the four.

Charlotte Hornets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Charlotte’s decisions were fairly easy. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are all core pieces. Despite his suspension, Malik Monk still has upside. And the three young forwards (Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels) are locked in on low salaries for a while.

Keeping the three minimum salary forwards meant leaving Dwayne Bacon unprotected. Bacon had been out of the rotation and sent to the G-League, so he’s out of the plans for now. As for Nic Batum or Cody Zeller, the Hornets would welcome getting either big salary off the books.

Miami Heat

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 6

Analysis: Miami was really helped by having six players ineligible because they are unrestricted free agents this summer. That left just this decision point: Andre Iguodala vs KZ Okpala vs Kelly Olynyk.

Okpala is a minimum salary player, so that means he stays. Iguodala was just added and given an extension. He stays. That means Olynyk and his $13 million salary are left exposed.

Orlando Magic

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Orlando had seven fairly easy protections. Their five starters, sixth man, and their promising young big man in Mo Bamba.

That left Khem Birch vs Al-Farouq Aminu vs Wesley Iwundu. Aminu was left unprotected due to salary and coming off a knee injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected and the Magic will be happy to have him back. That means it came down to Birch vs Iwundu. It’s more likely Birch will be selected, given his low salary and skill as a big man, so Iwundu was left unprotected.

Washington Wizards

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

  • John Wall – $41,254,920
  • Isaac Bonga – $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Anzejs Pasecnicks – $1,517,981 ($250,000 Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Wizards are taking a gamble. Most of the protections were pretty easy. Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant are key players. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, Mo Wagner and Jerome Robinson are all on their rookie scale deals.

Then things get interesting. Leaving John Wall unprotected may seem crazy, given he’s a former All-Star. But Wall is coming off two lost seasons due to injury and will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He’s also owed $133 million over the next three seasons. Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield stay and the Wizards throw caution to the wind. It’s unlikely Wall will be selected, but just the chance of clearing that salary off the books is a gamble worth taking for Washington.

Andre Iguodala trade to Miami reportedly could grow to include Danilo Gallinari, OKC

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Andre Iguodala will be a member of the Miami Heat, with Justise Winslow and more coming back to Memphis. That part of the trade is done and agreed to, and Iguodala will sign a two-year, $30 million extension to stay with the Heat.

However, that trade is close to growing into a three-team deal that includes Oklahoma City and also would send Danilo Gallinari to Miami as well, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The deal was expected to bleed into Thursday, hours before the trade deadline, before it got done.

Gallinari is a 6’10” sharp-shooting forward, averaging 19.2 points a game for the Thunder this season and shooting 41 percent from three. He could start for Miami at the three (he spent more than half his time in that role for Doc Rivers with the Clippers) next to Bam Adebayo and Meyers Leonard/Kelly Olynyk in a big front line; or, he could start at the four with Adebayo sliding over to the five. Erik Spoelstra would have options to play with.

There are a lot of moving parts here and we don’t know all the details — for example, we know Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill are also in the trade heading out of Memphis, but are they going to Miami or Oklahoma City? — and that means it could still fall apart. Miami is up against a hard-cap (due to the Butler sign-and-trade) so it can’t take on salary, plus the Heat have no draft picks to speak of they can trade, which makes these kinds of deals difficult.

If this deal comes together, however, the Heat just made themselves the biggest threat to the Bucks in the East. Right now, Miami sits as the four seed in the East, in a mix with Boston and Toronto chasing Milwaukee, but the addition of Iguodala and Gallinari would vault the Heat up to being the second-best team in the East, at least on paper. Pat Riley will have recognized the opportunity and seized it.

It’s all just one more thing to watch on what will be a crazy Thursday in the NBA.

 

Miami, Memphis reportedly finalize trade that sends Andre Iguodala to Heat

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UPDATE: The trade has been finalized and the sides have agreed (although it will still need to be approved by the league office) — Andre Iguodala is headed to Miami.

And if you wonder whether he wanted to be there or not, he has agreed to a two-year, $30 million contract extension, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That extension has a team option on the second year, which allows Miami to create cap space should a major player in the 2021 free agent class — *cough* Giannis Antetokounmpo *cough* — want to come to Miami.

As for what other players are in the trade, Justise Winslow is part of it, but it will take more and this could be a trade with multiple players going both ways.

Still, this looks like a win for Memphis, too.

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Iguodala has been sitting at home all season — surrounded by his three championship rings and Finals MVP trophy — collecting checks from the Memphis Grizzlies, and waiting for Thursday’s trade deadline, trying to make sure he ended up on a team in position to do damage in the playoffs.

The Miami Heat seem close to winning the Iguodala sweepstakes, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Lakers and Clippers were the two most mentioned teams, with Iguodala being part of the arms race in between the West powers, but both seem to have struck out (but neither team loses Iguodala to a rival in the West, either).

Miami is hard-capped because of the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade, plus they have few future draft picks to send out, so the construction of this trade to match Iguodala’s $17.1 million salary will be interesting. James Johnson and Duncan Robinson would work, as would Justise Winslow and Tyler Herro (although the Heat have shot down teams calling about Herro before). Also, the Grizzlies could make this a Josh Jackson and Iguodala for Meyers Leonard and Winslow. There are options.

This is not Miami’s only move, the Heat also are in talks about OKC’s Danilo Gallinari.

Iguodala was traded by Golden State to Memphis last July (in what was a cost-cutting move for the Warriors). Iguodala talked buyout with Memphis but would not give up significant money towards it, plus the Grizzlies wanted another or young player. So the sides agreed to wait, with Iguodala away from the team and working out on his own.

Now Miami has come calling and Iguodala is taking his talents to South Beach.