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The 2018-19 NBA season officially got underway on Monday, as the league’s teams kicked off the campaign by bringing players, coaches and executives together to meet the media in their annual Media Day festivities. Media Day tends to be equal parts silly and hopeful, a moment when optimism springs eternal and everybody — or, almost everybody — is just sort of excited to see one another.
And now, a collection of some of the more interesting, notable and/or eyebrow-raising things that were said or done as the NBA kicked off its fall semester, and everybody compared notes on what they did during their summer vacation:
Kawhi Leonard and the laugh heard ’round the world
So that’s what that sounds like. Huh.
Tom Thibodeau is totally calm, Dude, calmer’n you are
Sure, Jimmy Butler wants to leave the Twin Cities on the first thing smoking and owner Glen Taylor is eager to punch his ticket. But that doesn’t mean the Minnesota Timberwolves’ head coach and president of basketball operations is just going to take any ol’ deal that one of the dozen (or more) teams reportedly interested in procuring the services of the Wolves’ disgruntled four-time All-Star swingman brings to the table:
This, like last week’s story about Thibodeau continuing to hold the line on entering the season with Butler on the roster despite his owner’s entreaties, feels like posturing and an attempt to create leverage where there otherwise isn’t any, but it’s also just about the only thing Thibs can do, at this point. Things didn’t explode into messiness and new rounds of drama at Monday’s media session in Minnesota, but the longer this goes on, the weirder it’s going to get for everybody. Good luck with all that, Thibs.
Enes Kanter continues to do entirely too much
The New York Knicks’ brass might be content to use this season as a slow-and-steady developmental opportunity, taking the time to see what they’ve got in young guys like Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina. But their famously outspoken Turkish center certainly seems to find the prospect of making a surprise playoff push, um, exciting:
I’m going to go out on a limb here: while I do not expect the Knicks to seriously contend for a postseason spot, even in a watered-down East, I also kind of get the feeling that this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Enes Kanter’s nipples this season. It’ll be something to keep an eye on as the year wears on … and by “it,” I guess I mean Enes Kanter’s nipples. Off to a rollicking start, NBA!
Your non-update update on Kristaps Porzingis
One complicating factor in the Knicks’ drive to turn Kanter’s fantasy into reality: nearly eight months after he had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, we’re still no closer to knowing when New York’s 7-foot-3 franchise tentpole might return to the court.
All that’s in keeping with what team president Steve Mills told reporters earlier this week: “When he feels 100 percent comfortable, and we do, and we’re not taking any risks with him, he’ll come back.” That makes all the sense in the world for both player and team.
The Latvian big man surely doesn’t want to come back too early, risk re-injury and jeopardize his chances of securing the kind of full-freight five-year maximum-salaried rookie contract extension that fellow 2015 draftee Karl-Anthony Towns just got. A Knicks team intent on keeping its powder dry and Playing The Kids in Year 1 under David Fizdale ahead of another expected high lottery landing next summer wouldn’t really benefit from getting its best player back any sooner than absolutely necessary. It’s a bummer to know that we’re probably still many months away from seeing Porzingis back on the floor and doing things people that big aren’t supposed to be able to do, but if it’s in the service of ensuring he is, as he said Monday, “110 percent” when he actually does return, then discretion is the better course of valor for all parties involved. (Except maybe Enes.)
A new day dawns in Northeast Ohio
Listen, just because LeBron James left town, that doesn’t mean Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue is just going to concede the Eastern Conference crown after three straight trips to the NBA Finals.
And, from the sound of it, they won’t lose again!
Sure, things are going to have to change a bit …
… but that just means Lue and company will have to get creative! Nature abhors a vacuum, necessity is the mother of invention, and all that.
Kyle Korver’s right about that much: filling James’ shoes will be an all-hands-on-deck kind of job. As they get ready for the season, though, at least the Cavs have already accomplished the task of filling his locker.
It’s still not That Time yet for Carmelo Anthony
After a summer of slow movement toward his intended destination, Carmelo Anthony is now officially a member of the Houston Rockets. The big question on the board as last year’s Western Conference No. 1 seed enters training camp: will he join James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela in Houston’s starting five, or will Anthony, for the first time in his Hall of Fame career, come off the bench?
The answer? Well, nobody knows, because the topic just hasn’t come up!
It remains to be seen whether head coach Mike D’Antoni thinks bringing the 34-year-old Anthony in with the second unit is the best way to maximize his value as an isolation scorer and offensive hub, or if he believes that slotting him in alongside top-flight performers like Harden, Paul and Capela offers a preferred path to leveraging his catch-and-shoot talents while minimizing the damage opponents can do by targeting him on the other end of the floor. Anthony, to his credit, has fielded inquiries on the topic with a bit more equanimity than he did last year in Oklahoma City, which could indicate that when That Time comes — and it could come soon — he’ll be more willing to consider the change than he was during his lone season with the Thunder.
Deandre Ayton just wants to clarify what is, and is not, part of his rookie hazing
Sorry, big guy: yeah, it’s part of the gig, year in and year out. (Well, unless you can finesse your way out of it, but that might wind up being more trouble than it’s worth.) The good news, though, is that there’s probably nothing in your contract that says which specific voice or persona you have to use, so feel free to let Alejandro, Josh, Eric, Rodrigo or any other Willem Dafoe-inspired characters you’ve been workshopping handle a few questions here and there as needed.
‘The Last Stance’ seems pretty dangerous, tbh
Eight days after his forever teammate Dwyane Wade cranked up the production value to announce that this will be his final season as an NBA player, Miami Heat forward and cultural talisman Udonis Haslem decided to go the practical effects route to make his own statement at Media Day:
I mean, Wade’s video was equal parts glitzy and heartwarming, but I’m not going to lie: a 38-year-old with nearly 25,000 NBA minutes doing that kind of Spider-Man stunt is a lot more impressive to me. Thankfully, Haslem also stuck his landing, descending safely so he can go about the business of continuing to provide leadership, menace and the occasional stiff screen in his 16th, and final, pro season.
Kyrie Irving believes ‘Boston is the place for me’
Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving helped calm the nerves of anyone in Boston who is concerned the All-Star might leave in free agency, openly discussing his future with the organization at media day.
(Ben Rohrbach has more on Irving’s impending free agency and the risks of waiting to re-sign.)
Doc Rivers: ‘We have to go vote’
When thinking of the more outspoken figures in the NBA, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers isn’t usually one of the first to come to mind.
Yet Rivers — who is entering his sixth season in Los Angeles — urged his players who are eligible to go vote in next month’s midterm elections at the Clippers’ media day on Monday.
“We have to go register. We have to go vote,” Rivers said, via Justin Jett of Vice Sports. “Black men have to go vote. I think seven percent of black men voted for the president. Seven percent — and we have to do better. I talked to my players about that.”
According to a report from Politico last year, only 59 percent of black citizens voted in the 2016 elections, down from 66 percent in 2012. The BBC reported that eight percent of those black citizens voted for Donald Trump. Overall, only 61 percent of United States citizens casted a ballot in the 2016 elections.
Rivers told the Associated Press that he’s always been political, just that he doesn’t talk about it much. He also cited the current nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court as one of the main reasons that players should go vote.
“It’s more important now than ever,” Rivers said, via the AP.
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