Category Archives: NBA

Rick Pitino hired as Greece´s national team coach

Rick Pitino is back in the coaching world after settling to take over as head coach of Greece’s national team. 

This marks Pitino’s first head-coaching gig since he turned down an offer to return to Panathinaikos in June. He went 10-9 and made the playoffs before being swept 3-0 by Real Madrid in his lone season with the team. 

The 67-year-old American coached Greek club Panathinaikos last season and guided the team to victory in the country’s cup competition before returning to the United States. He persists popular among Greek fans despite his outspoken criticism of smoking and rowdy behavior by spectators at games.

Pitino has served as head coach of the Puerto Rican national team in 2015 for the FIBA Americas Championships. That squad progressed to the second round in the tournament but was unable to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. 

Per Dionysis Aravantinos of EuroHoops.net, Thanasis Skourtopoulos will remain as Greece’s head coach for the EuroBasket tournament in February with Pitino taking over for the pre-Olympic tournament in the summer as the country attempts to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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Taking over the Greek squad could give Pitino an opportunity to coach reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who most recently played for his home country this summer in the FIBA World Cup.

The Greek basketball federation said Friday that Pitino will be formally presented on Monday, when details of his agreement will be announced.

”Really honored to be coaching the Greek National team,” Pitino wrote on Twitter. ”Have a lot of work and preparation ahead but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo both play for Greece and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Greeks narrowly missed out on reaching the quarterfinals at the World Cup in China in September. Pitino spent much of his career jumping between the college ranks and the NBA, coaching the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks as well as Kentucky and Louisville.

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Clippers beat Spurs as Leonard scored 38 against former team

Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard traded some laughs and pleasantries after Leonard’s new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, overpowered his former coach and the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.

If Leonard has any more nights like that against his former club, the normally irascible Popovich won’t be smiling again.

Leonard scored 38 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Clippers’ 103-97 win, which handed the Spurs their first loss. It is Leonard’s first points-rebounds, double-double this season. It is also his first double-double in three meetings versus San Antonio, where he played seven seasons (2011-18) before being traded to Toronto in July of 2018.

The 38 points ties for the fifth-most Leonard has scored in a regular-season game in his eight-year career. He took a career high 32 shots.

”It was something I look forward to,” Leonard said about facing the Spurs. ”Just to be able to play against a great coach and my old teammates is always fun.” Leonard is 2-1 versus his former team. While his departure from San Antonio wasn’t amicable, Leonard said his relationship with Popovich is good, for the most part.

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Popovich didn’t have much to say about Leonard postgame other than: ”I thought he was great.” When someone tried to get Popovich to expound, he replied: ”Doc’s coaching him, I’m not. I just said he had a great game, there’s nothing else to say.”

Another thing going well is Leonard’s start with the Clippers, the team he signed with as a free agent during the offseason.

He has scored 30 or more in three of his first five games and is the first Clipper since Blake Griffin in 2015 to have at least 38 points and 12 rebounds in a game.

”Tonight was a great night for him to do his thing. We just followed his lead,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said. Leonard – who sat out Wednesday’s game at Utah due to load management – took control of the game in the second half, when he had 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Los Angeles went on a 9-1 run to take a 64-55 lead with 6:55 remaining in the third quarter. Leonard scored five of his 10 third-quarter points during the rally, including a dunk after a steal of DeMar DeRozan at midcourt.

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Suns’ Deandre Ayton tests positive, gets 25-game ban

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton released an apology for what he labeled an “unintentional mistake” after the NBA handed down a 25-game suspension to the second-year player on Thursday evening for violating the terms of the league and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) anti-drug program.

According to the league’s statement, Ayton tested positive for a diuretic, which is banned by the league as diuretics can be used to hide or cleanse the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“I do understand the unfortunate impact that this has on so many others, and for that, I am deeply sorry,” Ayton said in a statement. “I’m extremely disappointed that I’ve let my team down.”

With the 25-game suspension, Ayton will lose roughly $2 million in salary.

Ayton, 21, entered the season expecting to earn approximately $116,620 per game in 82 regular-season outings, which totals about $9.5 million for the 2019-20 season.

According to ESPN, the NBPA is planning to appeal Ayton’s suspension with the thinking this occasion falls under the “unintentional ingestion” provision of the collective bargaining agreement.

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“On behalf of the Phoenix Suns organization, (coach) Monty Williams and I are disappointed in the actions by Deandre Ayton that led to his testing positive for a banned diuretic and subsequent suspension by the NBA,” Suns GM James Jones said in a statement. “This does not uphold the standards and principles we have set for the team.”

“Deandre has expressed his deepest remorse,” Jones continued. “While he is suspended we remain committed to his growth and development on and off the court. His actions are not taken lightly, and we are committed to ensuring that Deandre understands the profound impact it has had on the team, organization, and Suns community.”

Drafted No. 1 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Suns, Ayton, a former University of Arizona standout, ended with 18 points and 11 rebounds in his season debut, helping the Suns beat the Sacramento Kings, 124-95 earlier this week. In his rookie season, Ayton averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 71 games.

Ayton’s suspension will start Friday as he will miss the Suns’ contest against the Denver Nuggets. As of now, he will be eligible to return to the lineup on Dec. 17 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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76ers top Celtics in 1st battle of East Favorites

Joel Embiid was popped in the mouth by an elbow that drew blood, rattled teeth, and stunned the Sixers’ big man.

Embiid shook off the knock after a short stint on the bench, then Philadelphia took off and secured the first round in a bruising matchup between two teams expected to fight for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Embiid had 15 points and 13 rebounds, Ben Simmons scored 24 points and the 76ers beat the Boston Celtics 107-93 on Wednesday night.

The season opener had a May feel from the opening tip.

Boston and Philly roughed up each other, combining for more than 60 fouls. They each showed off their prized free agent assets.

But it was the Sixers who turned in a leading fourth quarter.

”It felt like a playoff atmosphere, already,” Philadelphia guard Josh Richardson said. ”It was ready to pop from the jump.”

Philly’s superstars can only do so much, and the other Sixers were clutch in the fourth when they needed them. Furkan Korkmaz and Tobias Harris buried consecutive 3-pointers – after the Sixers had missed 21 of 24 through three quarters – to stretch the lead to 10.

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Even without that scrutinized jumper in play, Simmons was smooth and sensational as he attacked the hoop for easy baskets. He used a nifty spin move in the paint to hit Kyle O’Quinn for a basket that made it 90-74. The packed house went wild as the backups, a weak spot in the postseason, put the Sixers on the decisive run. Simmons also had nine assists and eight rebounds, though he played his 161st career game without a 3.

”I’m skilled, I’m gifted, I’m pretty good at what I do,” Simmons said.

Gordon Hayward guided the Celtics with 25 points. Jayson Tatum had 21.

Kemba Walker scored 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting in his Boston debut, and Al Horford had 16 points in his first game with the 76ers. Horford spent the last three seasons with the Celtics and was one of the few defenders that gave Embiid fits. Horford signed a four-year deal to come to Philly and quickly became a popular teammate. Walker was signed to a four-year, $141 million deal, the most Boston could offer, but $80 million less than the Charlotte Hornets could have paid him over five seasons.

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Jaylen Brown agrees to 4 year deal with Celtics

Negotiations may have been contentious, but Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics succeeded to get on the same page before Monday’s rookie contract extension limit. 

Brown agreed to a four-year, $115 million contract extension with the Celtics, his agent Jason Glushon confirmed. That deal is a far cry from the four-year, $80 million pact Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that Boston was offering. The sides typically start far apart on negotiations like this, but bridging such a large gap so close to the deadline is an impressive feat. Brown’s deal includes no player or team options. 

This is the first rookie extension that Boston has signed any player to in a decade. The last Celtic to extend prior to hitting free agency was Rajon Rondo in 2009.  Brown is now locked in through the 2023-24 season with the Celtics. Assuming Jayson Tatum re-signs next offseason as intended, Boston will have Brown, Tatum, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart signed for at least three more years in total. For a Boston team that has experienced significant roster turnover during the last several seasons, that kind of continuity is going to be critical. 

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Brown’s numbers declined last season from their heights during the 2017-18 campaign.

His points, assists and rebounds per game all fell along with his 3-point and effective field goal percentages. But Brown was forced to the bench for much of the season in a locker room whose chemistry was notably poor. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported in June that Brown did not have a strong relationship with Kyrie Irving, and in January he openly refuted comments Irving made that were critical of teammates. 

Irving is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, but having Brown go into the season without a long-term contract could have proven just as destructive in the locker room. Now that he has been taken care of financially, the Celtics have every reason to believe that their team’s camaraderie will be enriched this season. If he returns to the starting lineup on a full-time basis, which will likely be the case with Marcus Morris and Al Horford gone, Brown’s numbers should bounce back. 

If they do, Boston’s bright future is back on track. It may have been a tumultuous year, but with Brown and Tatum in place, the Celtics should be able to contend for a long, long time. 

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Lakers Kyle Kuzma to miss season opener against Clippers

The team declared Sunday that Kuzma will miss opening night versus the Los Angeles Clippers. A statement from the Lakers that came earlier this month disclosed that Kuzma was still not cleared to take the floor after the left foot injury he sustained during his time with USA Basketball.

“There’s still progression to be had,” said Vogel. “He was very limited with what he did today, and it was all non-contact in limited duration. It’s going to take some time for him to get his legs under him and build up to the point where he’s playing live with contact, and then some time where we want to see him perform in that and respond well to that before we clear him to play.”

Kuzma played in just one exhibition game in late August with Team USA before sitting out the remainder of the summer in order to heal.

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The lingering nature of the injury isn’t ideal for the Lakers, who are entering their first season with Frank Vogel as head coach and obtaining Davis — and making a plethora of other moves over the offseason — and they expect Kuzma, 24, to play a major role in their success this season. Thus, they would obviously like to have him healthy and out on the floor during camp to gain familiarity with the system and his new teammates. 

Kuzma averaged 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33.1 minutes of action per game for the Lakers last season. 

The Clippers will be without superstar forward Paul George as well, making opening night an unusual battle of attrition.  Kuzma is in his third NBA season after being drafted out of Utah in 2017. The Lakers declined to trade him this summer when they acquired Anthony Davis from New Orleans, and Kuzma is now the only player drafted by the Lakers before 2019 to remain on the team.

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Zion Williamson to miss Pelicans’ preseason finale with knee soreness

The New Orleans Pelicans stated Thursday that rookie Zion Williamson will miss his team’s final preseason game versus the New York Knicks on Friday.

The forward is dealing with knee soreness, but this will give him an opportunity to rest up for the regular season, which initiates for the Pelicans next Tuesday on the road versus the defending champion Toronto Raptors.

Williamson enters his first season with high expectations as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, and so far he hasn’t disappointed.

After scoring 16 points in his preseason debut versus the Atlanta Hawks this month, the Duke product has been on fire. Williamson has appeared in all four of the Pelicans’ preseason games, averaging 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing 27.3 minutes. He also shot an extremely impressive 71.4 percent from the floor. 

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On a team featuring veteran players like Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick as well as other promising players like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, Williamson is already establishing himself as a go-to option offensively.

However, the latest knee problem could raise concerns if it forces him to miss more time. The 19-year-old didn’t travel with the team and is set to undergo further testing, according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

Nicolo Melli, a 29-year-old rookie and nine-year Euroleague veteran, could see extra playing time with Williamson unavailable.

Williamson hadn’t missed any time in training camp and was seen walking around Pelicans practice on Wednesday afternoon.

While at Duke last season, Williamson suffered a mild right knee sprain when his sneaker gave out seconds into a game versus North Carolina. He missed six games total. New Orleans opens the regular season Tuesday in Toronto versus the defending champs.

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Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine focused on becoming NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine set out his objectives for this upcoming season with the Chicago Bulls, aiming on winning and making the All-Star team. 

With All-Star Weekend set to come back to Chicago for the first time in three decades this February, the two-time slam dunk champion is certainly eyeing this year’s festivities. But not just the ones on Saturday night.

Which is why even after a career-best 2018-19 season with the Chicago Bulls, he knows what needs to be done in order to reach his goal of becoming an NBA All-Star.

LaVine, 24, averaged career highs of 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists with 46.7 percent shooting during his fifth season, but the Bulls were an afterthought with a 22-60 finish.

He appeared in 63 total games while battling an ankle injury and pushing through drama within the organization that resulted in Jim Boylen being promoted to head coach after the firing of Chicago’s previous sideline leader Fred Hoiberg.

Although they didn’t fully see eye to eye in the beginning, Boylen surely has faith in LaVine’s offensive ability, after finishing in the top-20 of NBA scoring, but he is now challenging LaVine to regularly commit to the other end of the court.

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“What I’d like him to be is a two-way player, and I’d also like him to be a guy that shoots eight, nine, 10 free throws a game,” Boylen said.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young didn’t make the final cut from the Team USA roster this summer to compete in FIBA Basketball World Cup action, but he was able to interact with several of the league’s rising stars such as Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Myles Turner through that experience.

Young sees a common thread between LaVine and that level of talent. Chicago posted the league’s sixth-worst defensive rating last season (112.8), so it’s not only LaVine who is looking to improve defensively but also the team, which gets back to his point of team and individual success being intertwined.

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Nets’ Irving suffers facial fracture in pickup game

Brooklyn Nets star point guard Kyrie Irving suffered a left-side facial fracture after being elbowed in the face during a workout at the team’s practice facility, the team announced Wednesday.

Brooklyn sent Irving to the hospital for further evaluation Tuesday after he was injured during a pickup game. League sources told the New York Daily News that Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson accompanied him to the hospital following the injury.

The Nets signed Irving in July after two seasons with the Boston Celtics.

He had to wear a protective mask during games to protect a previous facial fracture, including early in the 2017-18 campaign after he was elbowed by former teammate Aron Baynes.

The good news for the Nets is that the injury doesn’t seem too serious, and Irving shouldn’t miss any significant period of time. Still, you never want your best player dealing with a broken face a few days before training camp is about to begin. That’s not a good way to get the season started. 

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However, even if Irving has to miss a few days of practice, the signing is already paying dividends for the team. During a press conference on Tuesday, which was already scheduled before the incident, Nets GM Sean Marks praised Irving’s professionalism and commitment to the team, saying the “leadership, the work ethic and the competitive nature that he has brought to the group has been terrific.”

The Nets will start training camp on Sept. 28, a few days earlier than most teams due to their preseason trip to China. They’ll be playing two preseason games against the Los Angeles Lakers in Shanghai and Shenzhen on Oct. 10 and 12. Assuming no further complications, Irving should be ready to go for those contests.

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Wizards’ Brown out for a month with hurt calf

When players report early to build chemistry with their teammates ahead of training camp, it is usually a good thing. For the Wizards this summer, it has led to an unfortunate string of bad injury luck.

First Isaiah Thomas tore a ligament in his left thumb, on his shooting hand, and required surgery that will keep him out of all of the preseason and likely the start of the regular season as well. Now, as the Wizards announced on Tuesday, Troy Brown Jr. is dealing with a left calf strain. His timeline is four weeks.

That will put the start of the regular season in jeopardy for Brown as well.

The news broke four weeks and one day before the Wizards’ first game, on Oct. 23 at the Dallas Mavericks. These injuries are on top of forward C.J. Miles’ foot surgery in July. He was at a Mystics’ playoff game last week still in a walking boot, which is not a great sign for his availability in training camp, which begins Tuesday. When he had the surgery on July 25, the Wizards said he would be re-evaluated in six weeks. It has now been two months.

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Thomas, Brown, and Miles are three rotation players. The Wizards are also missing John Wall, who remains sidelined as he rehabs from a ruptured Achilles. The injuries are piling up and they haven’t even held their media day.

Brown’s injury is extra pertinent because he figures to be in the same position mix as Miles. If you are filling out a starting lineup for the Wizards, those are probably your two best choices at small forward. And the Wizards don’t exactly have a lot of depth behind them.

Up next could be Justin Anderson, who is a roster-fringe journeyman at this point. Second-round pick Admiral Schofield is probably not ready for important minutes. First-round pick Rui Hachimura seems more suited to play the four. And Jordan McRae seems to be a better fit at guard.

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