Morning shootaround — Sept. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

League, teams hoping to create social change | D’Antoni needs buy-in from Rockets | Lue’s hesitation was worth more than $25 million | Road back-to-backs most dangerous

No. 1: League, teams hoping to create social change — In the wake of more deaths of black men at the hands of police and protests in Charlotte, the NBA and the Player’s Association sent out a joint letter to players about plans to take action and promote social change. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan released a statement calling for peace in the city. And talking with the media on Thursday, Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers said that his team will put together a panel to discuss the issue. Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle has the story…

As police-involved fatal shootings of black men continue to rock the nation and spark protests in cities and on playing fields, Myers recognizes that Golden State has a unique platform to create positive change.

But before players and coaches can be part of the solution, they must understand the issues. Myers and head coach Steve Kerr recently brainstormed ways to raise awareness of social injustices. Among the ideas is a panel of civic leaders, a list of names for which already has begun.

“We need to practice to play basketball,” Myers said. “But if one day, Steve walked in and said to (our players), ‘We’re not practicing today. We’re actually gonna go meet with these four people.’ That’s much more important and the players, we feel, will carry that with them.”

“What’s happening out in society, that’s not good,” Myers said. “It’s much more important than dribbling the basketball and making shots. What we’re going to try to do as an organization is take some opportunities to try to have these conversations.”

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No. 2: D’Antoni needs buy-in from Rockets — After a successful, five-year run in Phoenix, Mike D’Antoni had less-than-mediocre results in New York (where he went 121-167) and L.A. (67-87). Now D’Antoni is in Houston and as it does in every other NBA gym at this time of year, optimism abounds. The key for the Rockets, according to D’Antoni, is getting the players to buy in and believe in the system. Bleacher Report‘s Maurice Bobb spoke to the coach and Rockets GM Daryl Morey about their hopes for the season …

D’Antoni says he doesn’t think too much about his time in L.A. and New York, but he’s certainly aware of the main issues that plagued those locker rooms.

“I could never get the guys from the beginning to buy into the way we want to play,” D’Antoni told Bleacher Report. “We never got everybody going into the same direction. That was my fault. It happened. That’s in the past. This is a new team. Guys want to play the way we all want to play.”

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is betting that a change of scenery is all D’Antoni needs to flourish again. To Morey, a career .650 winning percentage over five years in Phoenix speaks louder than the well-publicized flameouts in the NBA’s biggest markets.

“The players are improved under him, the teams have improved,” Morey told B/R. “After he’s left, the teams have done worse. We also have had a lot of success playing an uptempo, spread-floor style. Our players fit that, and having his level of experience and knowledge added to our personnel, which is already set up for his style of play, was a huge factor in us hiring him.”

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No. 3: Lue’s hesitation was worth more than $25 million — When the Cavs fired David Blatt with a 30-11 record in January, they didn’t want to just make Tyronn Lue an interim coach. They offered him a three-year contract. But Lue never signed it, and it wasn’t necessarily because he thought he could get more money if he won a championship. As Joe Vardon writes for Cleveland.com, Lue wanted to make sure the job was right for him. And his hesitation resulted in a much more lucrative deal after the Cavs won their first title…

Lue, 39, knew what he was getting into when he took over for David Blatt last January. He knew Blatt was fired (Lue was Blatt’s chief assistant) despite a 30-11 record and a trip to the 2015 Finals.

He knew of the heightened scrutiny and brighter lights that come with coaching a team led by James, whose every word is dissected by media and fans and who can set off a firestorm with a simple Tweet.

That’s why Lue, born in little Mexico, Missouri, never signed a three-year, $9.5 million contract he had verbally agreed to with the Cavs when they promoted him to take Blatt’s job.

It wasn’t so much that Lue was betting on himself, although the gamble paid off handsomely. He steered Cleveland to the largest comeback in Finals history to win the franchise’s first title, and thus earned an annual raise of more than $4 million.

Lue held off, he said, because “I wanted to make sure it was the “right fit.”

“Was I right for this job?” Lue said, rhetorically. “I hate being on TV, hate dealing with media on TV. All that stuff, I don’t like that. Being with LeBron, who draws all kinds of attention, I knew I was going to see myself on TV. I hate that. I like to fly under radar. I wanted to make sure the fit was right.”

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No. 4: Road back-to-backs most dangerous — ESPN‘s Tom Haberstroh has the numbers on the increased frequency of occasions where healthy players get a day off to rest, from 19 in 2012-13 to 146 last season. He also talks to professor Masaru Teramoto, who has done a study on injuries in the NBA…

In a study provided to ESPN.com that will be published publicly in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport later this month, Teramoto researched three seasons of NBA injury data, from 2012-13 through 2014-15, in an attempt to determine if certain aspects of the schedule — in particular, back-to-backs and travel — led to players getting injured in games.

What Teramoto found surprised him: Back-to-backs alone are not associated with greater instances of in-game injury, but back-to-backs that are played on the road are significant predictors of in-game injury, generating 3.5 times the injury rate as those played at home.

The problem? Two out of every three back-to-backs are on the road.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap has a knee issue that will keep him sidelined for the next few weeksThe Kings have questions at point guard … Grizzlies.com caught up with a few of the team’s key players to get an update on their recovery from last season’s injuriesDorell Wright is going to camp with the Clippers … and Jason Terry doesn’t think Klay Thompson is in James Harden‘s league.

Millsap gets a checkup

It’s never a good time to get medical attention but at least Paul Millsap won’t miss any regular season time while the Hawks addressed issues with his right knee.

The team announced that Millsap just underwent a “preventative procedure” to reduce swelling and already declared him out of the team’s first two preseason games. That essentially means Millsap is on the shelf for three weeks at minimum.

“We agreed … that this was the best method and time to ensure his complete readiness for the start of the regular season,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer in that statement.

That’s good news for the Hawks and Millsap, who was an ironman last season, missing only one game (rest) and hasn’t had a significant injury in his time with the Hawks. Millsap is also in a contract year, with the option of nixing next year’s guaranteed money ($21 million) and becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The only downside of Millsap missing half of the Hawks’ preseason is timing; Dwight Howard has replaced Al Horford in the starting lineup and needs to develop chemistry with Millsap.

Millsap led the Hawks’ in scoring and rebounding last season in what was yet another solid season in Atlanta.

 

Bucks get Beasley from Rockets

The Bucks say they were already working on a deal before Khris Middleton suffered a torn hamstring that will keep him on the shelf for six months. But a timely trade that brings in forward Michael Beasley from Houston could help fill that sudden hole in the offense.

The trade that sends point guard Tyler Ennis to the Rockets was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

Beasley, 27, the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, will be joining his fifth NBA team. After washing out in his second go-round with the Heat in 2015, Beasley resurrected his career in China last season, averaging 31.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals for the Shandong Golden Stars. He was signed by the Rockets in March and averaged 12.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in 20 games.

Ennis was the 18th pick in the 2014 draft by Phoenix. Last season, he appeared in 46 games with seven starts for the Bucks.  Over the final 18 games, he averaged 7.6 points, 3.7 assists and 2.8 rebounds in just 23.6 minutes per game while shooting 48.3% from the floor.

With the signing of free agent Matthew Dellavedova over the summer, 6-3 point guard was going to have a tough battle for playing time in Milwaukee. Ennis will provide the Rockets with depth behind veteran Pat Beverley at the point.

The trade of Beasley could be a signal that the Rockets are confident in reaching a deal with restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas, who is still unsigned less than 24 hours before the club’s media day on Friday.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers committed to George | Wall’s health a question | Sixers not shopping

No. 1: Bird says Paul George going nowhereLarry Bird drafted Paul George and has helped him blossom into an All-Star and the foundation of the Pacers franchise. Now the team president says he has no intention of letting George play anywhere but Indiana with a flat declaration that the team is ready to step up and pay the forward whatever it takes. Bird told the Indianapolis Star that the ball is in George’s hands:

The Indiana Pacers president wants to sign George to a max contract – and he’ll do it as soon as his star player is ready.

“I know he don’t want to talk about it all year and I don’t either,” Bird said. “We want Paul here and we know what it’s going to cost and what it’s going to take. If Paul wants to get a deal done, we will. It’s a max deal. There’s no others, so there’s no use talking about it. If he wants it, he’s got it.”

George would not discuss his contract situation Wednesday but is expected to give an update Monday during the team’s media day. Before George left for the Summer Olympics in August, he had conversations with Bird and the front office about his renegotiation options. George said then that the conversations were a good sign, but that a new deal was not close to being reached.

George, 26, is entering the prime of his career and is under contract for $18.1 million this upcoming season. He is set to earn $19.3 million next season with a player option for $20.5 million in 2018-19, according to HoopsHype.com. George can decline the player option and sign a four-year extension beginning Sunday, as Houston Rockets star James Harden did earlier this summer.

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No. 2: Brooks not sure if Wall will be ready — With just days before the start of his first training camp as coach of the Wizards, coach Scott Brooks says he is not sure if All-Star point guard John Wall will be healthy enough to go. Following a pair of offseason knee surgeries, Wall has been cautiously preparing for the 2016-17 season, according to the Washington Post:

When asked if Wall would be available for the Wizards’ first training camp practice, Tuesday on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Brooks expressed uncertainty, though he didn’t appear too concerned at this point.

“Don’t know that but he’s doing some one-on-one, he’s doing some three-on-three. Not really worried about that,” Brooks said. “Like all of our athletes, I want them to be ready but he’s definitely moving towards that direction.”

Before arriving for his meeting at The Post, Brooks said he had watched Wall that morning in a workout. Wall, who had two knee operations this offseason, has progressed from playing against younger assistant coaches to facing off against teammates, going one-on-one for roughly 25 minutes. In spite of the improvement, Brooks hesitated to provide a date when Wall will be cleared for five-on-five contact.

“I don’t like to put a timetable [on it] because if he doesn’t meet it [then] we’re saying, ‘Oh, he’s still hurt,’ ” Brooks said. “He’s improving. His body looks great [but] his conditioning is going to be behind.

“Once you step into an NBA practice, the level goes way up,” Brooks continued. “Especially in a training camp situation where you have guys trying to make it, guys trying to fight for minutes, trying to fight for starting jobs, but we have to make sure [about Wall] because that’s when things can go sideways. I saw him this morning for an hour, he looked great, but I don’t know -– we’ll find out soon.”

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No. 3: Colangelo denies shopping big men — Despite all the talk, rumors and his own previous statements that have filled the offseason, Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo says he has not been shopping Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor or Joel Embiid as the team faces a logjam of big men for the upcoming season. In a wide-ranging interview with The Vertical, Colangelo said he is now comfortable letting things play over 2016-17:

“Making a statement that absolutely something will be done is not necessarily the case,” Colangelo said during the podcast, which was released Wednesday morning. “I think what I said over the course of the summer is there is no doubt that we got three talented players. It’s a high-class problem to have.” He appeared to back off the absolutely-not-comfortable statement.  Colangelo pointed out that the unknowns regarding the three centers’ health – in particular, Embiid  (foot) – put the Sixers in a situation in which they will entertain trade discussions if they make sense.

“But I never felt compelled that we have to do something, because it will work itself out over the course of time,” he said. “Some of it will work itself out with contract negotiations and free agency. There’s different things that are staggered in terms of time line.”

“First up, Nerlens Noel. Second up, Joel Embiid. Third would be Okafor, in terms of contract staggering. So there’s some of that that’s in play.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mo Williams says he’s returning to the defending champion Cavaliers for one final NBA season…LeBron James and Mark Wahlberg are talking about making a movie together…Former All-Star and current Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson took a pie to the face on Wednesday…Robert Horry didn’t hesitate to say that Hakeem Olajuwon was better than Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan…Metta World Peace signs another one-year deal with the Lakers…Tyronn Lue says he already misses J.R. Smith...

Garnett talking buyout with Wolves

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kevin Garnett‘s career may be over.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves are in talks about a contract buyout.

Garnett, who missed the last 37 games of last season (and the last 21 games of the previous one), had one more year (at $8 million) on a contract he signed with the late Flip Saunders last summer. His Instagram feed indicates that he’s been working out, but he’s been silent publicly.

Earlier on Wednesday, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Garnett was talking to Wolves owner Glen Taylor about his future.

“Glen and Kevin and his representatives are in discussions,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll keep that private for now, and we’ll see how it unfolds. But, obviously, what Kevin has meant to our league, the organization, he’s earned the right to have those discussions with Glen.”

Garnett played less than 15 minutes per game last season, but was a mentor for Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns. The 2003-04 MVP and ’07-08 Defensive Player of the Year ranks 17th on the all-time scoring list and ninth in career rebounds.

If Garnett has indeed decided to retire, he will join Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in the prospective 2021 Hall of Fame class.

Bucks lose Middleton for six months

HANG TIME, N.J. — The first major injury of the 2015-16 season has hit, and training camps haven’t opened yet.

The Milwaukee Bucks announced Wednesday night that Khris Middleton is out six months with a left hamstring injury that will require surgery.

The Bucks signed Giannis Antetokounmpo to a $100 million extension on Tuesday, but Middleton (entering his fifth season) is still their best player. Last season, the team was 12.4 points per 100 possessions better with Middleton on the floor than they were with him on the bench. That differential ranked 10th in the league among players that logged at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.

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In his absence, Bucks coach Jason Kidd will have to get creative with his perimeter rotation. Second year guard Rashad Vaughn and rookie Malcolm Brogdon should see more playing time than previously expected.

The Bucks are reportedly making calls, looking for more help.

The list of free agent wings who are still available includes P.J. Hairston, who worked out for the Brooklyn Nets (who chose to sign Chase Budinger instead) this week. Because the Bucks are above the cap, they wouldn’t have the ability to outbid the Cleveland Cavaliers for the still unsigned J.R. Smith.

After a surprise trip to the playoffs in 2015, the Bucks took a big step backward last season, especially defensively, where no team saw a bigger jump in its points allowed per possession. Even if they are able to come up with a Plan B, Middleton’s injury will prevent them from getting completely back on track.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 249) Featuring Joel Meyers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This time a year ago Anthony Davis saw his name included in any legitimate MVP conversation. Alvin Gentry‘s arrival from the Golden State Warriors’ championship team was hailed as the game changer for a New Orleans Pelicans squad that everyone assumed was on the cusp of big things in the Western Conference.

But as often happens in the NBA, reality interrupted that story. Injuries to Davis and others along with the transition to a new system led to a humbling season in the Big Easy.

That would explain the absence of hype and the tempered expectations for the Pelicans’ 2016-17 season. Sure, there a lots of new faces (Solomon Hill, Terrence Jones, Buddy Hield, E’Twaun MooreLangston Galloway and even Lance Stephenson, for starters) and Davis is sure to return with a chip on his shoulder.

Still, there are issues Gentry will have to deal with to start his second season. He won’t have veteran point guard Jrue Holiday, who is out indefinitely to care for his wife Lauren Holiday, who is pregnant and dealing with a brain tumor. Another veteran guard, Tyreke Evans, is also returning from injury.

And there is a culture change that has to take place in that Pelicans locker room, one that will rest as much on Gentry’s leadership as it will that of Davis and the other veterans on the team. Joel Meyers, the play-by-play voice of the Pelicans, joins us to break it all down on Episode 249 of The Hang Time Podcast.

 

We also have NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow to break down the radical changes to the WNBA playoff format, unearth a big beef with NBA 2K17 (Langston Marbury in the house) and more.

Check it out on Episode 249 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Joel Meyers.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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Blogtable: Which two teams are most intriguing in the East?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> As the start of Eastern Conference training camps near, which two teams are you most intrigued by? And what depth chart battle/storyline/offseason move(s) by those teams will you be watching most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Two? Thought you said there wouldn’t be math on this. Well, I’m curious about a pair of East also-rans, New York and Milwaukee. The Knicks have undeniable buzz now, and I’m curious to see (in order of intrigue) how “back” Derrick Rose really is in his new surroundings as he eyes next summer’s free agency, how high of a priority Kristaps Porzingis‘ development remains on New York’s to-do list and to what degree Joakim Noah can put the paddles to that team’s collective heart. The Bucks, meanwhile, need significant bounce-back because they messed up the ramp-up of their rebuilding (you aren’t supposed to go from 15 victories to 41 to 33, especially when healthier and sporting an alleged big free-agent “get” in Greg Monroe). Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s nine-figure contract extension signed this week is the latest step toward a season that’s showtime now rather than any more dress rehearsals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Celtics and the Magic, for different reasons. (Among the many possible answers.) Boston has a chance to push into the top three and be in good position if the Cavaliers falter. Brad Stevens is a leading preseason candidate for Coach of the Year. Orlando won’t play at the same level, but several offseason moves (especially up front, and hiring Frank Vogel as coach) definitely qualifies as intriguing. The Magic sorting through options and now without Victor Oladipo should be a good watch wherever they are in the standings. The depth-chart battle among Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka will get the most scrutiny.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Bulls and Knicks. And not exactly a coincidence. The defections of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah this summer will have a measurable impact on each team; we just don’t know whether it’s positive or negative and to what degree. Both teams will give off some hints during camp about their identity and what we might expect at least for the first month or two. The Bulls need to address their power forward spot with either Nikola Mirotic or Bobby Portis, while the Rose-Courtney Lee dynamic will bear watching.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Indiana and Philadelphia. The Pacers could see a boost in their offense with the additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, along with the development of Myles Turner. But their defense is likely going to take a big step backward with the departures of George Hill, Ian Mahinmi and Frank Vogel. Can Nate McMillan find the right balance, and how much longer will Monta Ellis be around? And of course, it will be fascinating to see just how good the Sixers’ trio of rookies — Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons — is and how Brett Brown is going to work out the frontcourt minutes while he still has all those guys plus Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Chicago Bulls and their three-alpha attack should provide for a fascinating chemistry experiment for Fred Hoiberg and his coaching staff. We all know what Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler bring as individuals. How they mesh together and whether or not they can make the Bulls a top-four contender in the conference playoff chase remain the outstanding questions regarding this trio. The Boston Celtics swung for the fences in free agency and came away with a seemingly perfect fit in Al Horford, a veteran center/power forward who should stabilize things in the frontcourt immediately. He helped make Atlanta one of the top teams in the conference the past two seasons. I’m curious to see if Horford can do the same for the Celtics now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Heat have enough talent to contend for homecourt advantage in the East — if they can resolve their many issues, including the absence of Dwyane Wade’s leadership, the medical uncertainty of Chris Bosh’s future, the chemistry between Bosh and Hassan Whiteside, and the potential of Goran Dragic to become a go-to star, which at age 30 he must fulfill this year. This looks like an entirely different franchise because Wade is no longer there to accept the responsibility of making things right. It was his team and he took it personally when the team struggled. How do they replace that level of authority? The other fascinating team is Indiana, which will be playing in a hurry after surrounding Paul George with Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young. How quickly can 20-year-old Myles Turner emerge as their No. 2 star while creating mismatches at center? Another intriguing addition is backup center Al Jefferson, whose low-post game could enable Indiana’s second unit to change and control the pace.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Atlanta, for one. I know bringing in Dwight Howard to replace Al Horford was made with an eye on the box office, but what kind of result will it have on the win column? I also wonder if enough attention is being paid to the change at the point, with Dennis Schroder replacing Jeff Teague and being asked to take on a starting role. Another Eastern Conference team I think may be interesting is Orlando. I’ve always admired Frank Vogel‘s ability to get a team to play a cohesive style of play. The Magic are still staffed with a lot of youth, but I wonder if Ibaka playing a more central role will get him back to being the dominant player he was a few years back?

Blogtable: Which two teams are most intriguing in the West?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> As the start of Western Conference training camps near, which two teams are you most intrigued by? And what depth chart battle/storyline/offseason move(s) by those teams will you be watching most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Golden State and Oklahoma City, largely for the same reason. It’s impossible not to go full gawker on Golden State to see how Kevin Durant fits in, as well as how the Warriors’ other scorers and staff adapt to areas of redundancy while plugging holes opened primarily by departing bigs Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili. Curious to see how they go 83-0 too. For OKC, it’s all about addition by subtraction (not just Durant but Serge Ibaka), Russell Westbrook unleashed as an early MVP favorite for all he’ll be asked or freed to do, the ongoing, entertaining saga of Steven Adams‘ NBA journey, Victor Oladipo‘s ascending star and Billy Donovan forced to work in his second pro season without one of the league’s top 3 players.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors and the Timberwolves. Golden State is obvious — fans love the addition of Kevin Durant, enemies will make it the reason to hate the defending West champions even more, but no one can deny it will be amazing to watch the adjustment play out. Win or lose, the Dubs are changing and what happens next is captivating. While I wouldn’t make Minnesota a preseason pick for the playoffs, tracking the next step on the very promising future is mandatory viewing. So is the depth chart at point guard, with veteran Ricky Rubio and rookie Kris Dunn.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Wolves and Warriors. So much is expected of both teams, to different levels of course, and training camp will unlock some mysteries. How will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, a pair of MVPs, develop harmony? And Durant and Klay Thompson, for that matter? All three are terrific shooters and you wonder if they’ll be too unselfish initially. Meanwhile in Minnesota, camp comes down to one position and two names: Point guard, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Houston and Minnesota. Putting James Harden‘s pick-and-roll playmaking in Mike D’Antoni‘s offense seems ideal, and having Ryan Anderson at the four only makes the Rockets more difficult to defend. But I’m curious to see if they can be an average defensive team or better. They still have some good defenders on the perimeter, but took a big step backward on that end of the floor last season, lost Dwight Howard, and will obviously need better defensive effort from Harden. I just want to know if Donatas Motiejunas is going to get a contract (or sign his qualifying offer), because D’Antoni could make good use of his skills. In Minnesota, I think Tom Thibodeau will take the Wolves from 27th in defensive efficiency to at least average on that end of the floor. And that, along with the development of their young talent, should have them in the playoff picture all season. They shouldn’t be shopping Ricky Rubio just yet, because he’s proven to be a key for them on both offense and defense. Zach LaVine should only be considered a two (he was a much improved shooter playing alongside Rubio), so there’s room for both Rubio and Kris Dunn at the point.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This isn’t fair to the rest of the teams in the Western Conference. With Kevin Durant joining that All-Star cast the Golden State Warriors already had in place, the Warriors are easily the most intriguing team in basketball. They’ll have to redefine their chemistry, of course, and work through whatever issues that will arise from adding a player on KD’s caliber. But it should be loads of fun watching it all go down. A surprise team last season, the Portland Trail Blazers return this season with some fresh faces and plenty of momentum (generated by their impressive playoff showing). We know Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the real deal. That underrated supporting cast that showed up in the playoffs last season is the question mark. I want to see how Evan Turner fits in that mix and see how the competition for rotation spots works out among all of that young talent.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHow quickly will Kevin Durant adapt to the move-the-ball style of the Warriors? Will their new bench serve as an extension to that style, or will we see the personality of the Warriors becoming more traditional this season? The 82 games are going to serve as a kind of extended preseason for the Warriors, in the sense that nothing can be proved until the playoffs. As fascinating as it will be to watch the Spurs and Thunder move on without their franchise stars, I’ll be focused more on the Clippers. Is this the year it all comes together for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? They have the talent and depth — their bench looks like a strength now — but do their leaders have the necessary resolve? Have their troubles of the last couple of years strengthened them to outfight the Warriors and other contenders?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Utah Jazz, and I choose them not only because they drafted me in the franchise mode of NBA 2K17. I really love the addition of Joe Johnson to provide a steadying veteran influence, as well as George Hill. (And if I learned anything else from 2K, it’s that Michael B. Jordan is no Michael Jordan.) For a second squad, I’m really interested to see what the Grizzlies do this season under new coach David Fizdale. They’re finally healthy, and the addition of Chandler Parsons should give them some scoring help which it feels like they’ve needed forever.

Blogtable: Which rookie would you take slow approach with?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> Lakers coach Luke Walton says he plans to bring rookie Brandon Ingram along slowly and not start him immediately. Is there another rookie you’d take a similar approach with and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kris Dunn, Minnesota. Why? To tamp down some of the raging expectations (Dunn is the rookies’ Rookie of the Year pick), to provide more classroom and simulator work at point guard before tossing him the keys for behind-the-wheel training, and to make sure this team gets the most out of Ricky Rubio before rushing or forcing a transition. Rubio is a unique offensive talent — OK, he’s a preternatural playmaker with shooting issues — and an underrated defender. He’s still young (26 on Oct. 21). And if he’s not going to hang onto his job — he is not new coach Tom Thibodeau‘s preferred type of point guard — he at least needs some time to demonstrate his trade value. As a four-year guy out of Providence, Dunn might not need much time, but I’d give him some regardless.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: First of all, Walton saying he plans to bring Ingram along slowly doesn’t mean anything. “Slowly” could mean bringing the rookie off the bench for the first two weeks before making the move. Or the first two games. Ingram has a lot of developing to do, but could also hold his own as a rookie. And, sources say, the Lakers need talent. He will get an opportunity. Another rookie is a better candidate for a similar approach: Dragan Bender in Phoenix, at 18 years old and after a limited role in Europe last season. I don’t like the topic as a whole, though. This isn’t baseball, where teams will limit the innings of a pitcher selected in the first round and maybe even keep the prospect in the minors just to make sure he is not being rushed. Bender or Ingram are not going to throw out their arms. How much they play will be determined by how well they play, along with team needs. I guess in that sense, Joel Embiid is the ultimate example of an NBA rookie who should be brought along slowly.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I think the Sixers would be wise to do the same with Joel Embiid. Sure, he hasn’t played a meaningful game in two years, which is why there could be a tendency to press the gas pedal, especially by Embiid. But there’s nothing to gain by shoveling him 30 minutes a night. Ease him in, get him comfortable and confident, and allow his body and performance to dictate future playing time.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Obviously, Joel Embiid’s work load shouldn’t be too heavy early on. The guy hasn’t played real basketball in more than two years. The Nets, we know, are in no rush and will take it easy with Caris LeVert as he recovers from foot surgery. And it will be interesting to see how Brad Stevens uses Jaylen Brown, given how many solid guards and wings the Celtics have otherwise.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Ask Byron Scott how that easing the rookie into things theory works. And no, there isn’t another rookie that needs this same specific plan Walton and the Lakers have in mind for Ingram. In most cases, being cautious with a talent like Ingram would make sense. But the Lakers and Los Angeles don’t constitute most cases. There is a pressure that comes with the market that suggests it will be tough to ease Ingram into the mix. Every rookie is going to adjust to his situation and the NBA game differently. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to develop a young star. The Lakers don’t have to turn things over to Ingram now, not with other players like D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson already in line for increased roles with Kobe Bryant no longer a part of the process.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The same long-term patience should be applied to every rookie in this class except Ben Simmons. The 76ers have no quarterback, and so they need to develop their new identity through the playmaking of Simmons this season. All of the other players in this draft should be brought along more slowly because none of them is ready to take on a major role — including Ingram, whose young Lakers will be struggling now that Kobe Bryant won’t be there to shield them from the pressure and criticism.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Considering how well it worked with D’Angelo Russell, I am against the whole “bringing guys along slowly” idea. You’ve just made a significant financial investment in a player, and the clock is ticking on when your contractual control is going to run out. If they can’t play right away, unless you’re a team like the Warriors or Spurs, why waste a pick? So that being said, I wish the Lakers would just throw Ingram out there and let him play from the start. Then again, I suppose if he’s good enough, he can force that to happen.