10 NBA players off to a hot start

The NFL is the biggest and most-watched professional sports organization in North America each October and November. Nothing the NBA does will ever alter that reality. With that said, basketball diehards could legitimately claim the Association has been responsible for the better and more entertaining storylines between the two leagues since the start of the 2019-20 campaign. 

Stephen Curry is out indefinitely after suffering a broken hand in late October, and the Golden State Warriors plummeted to the basement of the Western Conference standings. LeBron James once again looks like the best overall player on the planet. The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t a complete disaster as of mid-November. Seemingly everybody has a take on load management and what it means for the NBA now and in the future. 

Association experts, observers and fans promised the most open and competitive season of the decade, and the league didn’t disappoint as Halloween decorations made way for Christmas lights and holiday music. Granted, not every player off to a hot start this fall will be in meaningful basketball games come April. Some even may be moved before the trade deadline. But at least a few are early contenders for honors such as Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player, and a certain 24-year-old may finally be in the infancy of a long-awaited breakout year. 

Who is off to a hot start so far this season?

Trae Young 

Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young tallying five steals during a Nov. 8 loss to the Sacramento Kings was an aberration. To put it nicely, the 21-year-old remains a liability on defense and often appears disinterested with that aspect of playing. Young also made history, per Hawks PR, by becoming the first player to ever notch at least 38 points, nine assists and seven boards across his team’s opening two regular-season contests. He drained 14-of-28 three-point attempts in four October games, and he’s shooting over 46 percent from the field. With John Collins suspended for 25 games, Young is tasked with carrying Atlanta’s offensive burden more than at any previous point of his 90-game career.

Kyrie Irving 

Nobody who has followed Kyrie Irving’s career was shocked by the report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that claimed Irving lapsed “into a funk” and was responsible for an episode that left “everyone scratching their heads as to what precipitated it” during the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason trip to China. Irving likely will always be enigmatic off the court to those outside of his inner circle, but even his detractors located in Boston and Cleveland can’t ignore his scoring over the season’s first 10 games. Irving posted 29.7 PPG, roughly seven points better than his career average, over his first stretch of contests in Brooklyn colors. As Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News wrote, Irving set a franchise record by accumulating 222 points through Brooklyn’s first seven games. The one-time champion who grew up in New Jersey says he’s happy living and playing in the Big Apple. Time will tell. 

Gordon Hayward

Basketball, like life, is often unfair. For the first time since Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome and horrific leg injury minutes into the 2017-18 season debut, the 29-year-old showed glimpses he had located his previous All-Star form. Hayward averaged 18.9 PPG and career-bests in REB (7.1) and field-goal percentage (55.5) over eight appearances. On Nov. 5, Hayward torched the Cleveland Cavaliers for 39 points while going 17-of-20 from the field. He was back. Then he suffered a broken hand on Nov. 9. That latest setback will sideline him for at least six weeks, according to Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press. 

Tristan Thompson 

Tristan Thompson and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t get the memo the team is tanking. Thompson finished Cleveland’s 10th game of the season third on the team in scoring, and he averaged career highs in PPG (16.5), REB (11.4) and BLK (1.4) over those outings. He’s even making threes for the first time in his pro career!
The 28-year-old is out of contract following the campaign, and the rebuilding Cavs have little reason to consider paying him beyond that deal. Thus, Thompson is auditioning for would-be contenders between now and Dec. 15 when offseason signees become trade-available.  
New Cleveland head coach John Beilein deserves praise for guiding a lackluster roster to a 4-6 start. The franchise nevertheless cannot exist in a state of denial. Thompson is currently worth more on the market than in the Cavs lineup. 

Thomas Bryant 

The Washington Wizards lost six of their first eight games en route to what is practically guaranteed to be a woeful season but center Thomas Bryant was one bright spot. The former Los Angeles Lakers castoff hit the 20-point mark in three of those eight outings, and he converted at least 60 percent of his attempts in three straight games from Nov. 4 through Nov. 8. Bryant began Nov. 13 averaging 2.3 BLK, 11.3 defensive rebounds and 14.8 total rebounds per 100 team possessions. If he can get back to his 33.3 percent three-point shooting from a season ago (he was at 26.1 percent after eight games), he can evolve into more than just a stat compiler for an awful team. 

Aron Baynes

During the 2019 FIFA World Cup , Boston Celtics salary cap casualty and Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes shot 52.4 percent (11-21) from beyond the arc while averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.5 REB. The 32-year-old carried that form over to the start of the NBA season. In 10 games, nine starts, Baynes averaged career-highs in PPG (16.2), REB (5.8), AST (3.1), BLK (0.9), three-point percentage (50.0), field goal percentage (59.0) and MIN (24.3). Guard Devin Booker is making those around him better en route to taking a necessary career leap, but Baynes is playing well enough to potentially keep Deandre Ayton a spectator once the 21-year-old serves his 25-game ban. 

Andre Drummond 

Can the Detroit Pistons win with Andre Drummond? The same question many within the basketball community asked on Oct. 1 hovers over the club in the middle of November. The 26-year-old center is good for 20 points and 20 rebounds whenever the mood strikes him. As of Nov. 13, nobody had scored more two-point field goals (reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had played in two fewer games heading into that evening), and Drummond led the Association in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total boards, and total rebound percentage.  As Michael Pina of SB Nation explained, however, Drummond’s inconsistent efforts and obvious offensive limitations coupled with the fact the Pistons don’t have enough horses to make anything resembling a deep postseason run raise concerns about Drummond’s future. He can either test free agency next summer or exercise a player option worth over $28.7 million for 2020-21. As cruel as it is to suggest, the Pistons may require a top-tier team to lose a starter at Drummond’s position to move the big man before the trade deadline. Both player and club could benefit from such a transaction. 

Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins was a punchline for much of his side’s season opener vs. the Brooklyn Nets, even though he made a couple of clutch shots during the overtime period. Few are laughing at the 24-year-old after 10 games. Wiggins is averaging career marks in PPG (25.5), AST (3.3), BLK (1.1) and field goal percentage (47.3), and as Danny Cunningham of SKOR North wrote, he also has drastically improved his shot selection, and the six-year pro is attacking the rim unlike at previous times during his underwhelming “empty points” periods.  Can this version of Wiggins last through the harsh winter months? Will he put forth more than half-efforts on defense minus the occasional solid outing? If “yes” is the answer to both questions, Wiggins will contend for Most Improved Player honors. 

James Harden

Houston Rockets guard James Harden heard your offseason jokes about his inability and unwillingness to share the ball with Russell Westbrook. Per Justin Kubatko of Statmuse and Basketball-Reference, the one-time regular-season MVP is only the third player in league history to average at least 37 PPG through the opening 10 games of a campaign. (Harden was at 37.3 at the start of Nov. 13.) The 30-year-old also scored the most points across 10 contests (373) than any player since Rick Barry tallied 381 points in the fall of 1966. Most frightening for opposing defenses is that several signs point to Harden heating up rather than peaking ahead of Thanksgiving. He shot under 13 percent from three-point land in three of his first five games before returning to form from long distance over the subsequent four outings. From Nov. 4 through Nov. 11, Harden averaged 40.25 PPG in four games. 

LeBron James 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James turns 35 years old in December, but one wouldn’t know that by watching him this fall. USA Today, Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype, Nemanja Vukasinovic of Fadeaway World and Forbes’ Tommy Beer all mentioned James as an MVP candidate in early November, and the King averaged 24.0 PPG, 11.0 AST, 8.2 REB and 1.1 STL in his first 10 games. He shot 47.1 percent from the field over that period.  James isn’t a fan of load management. “If I’m hurt, I don’t play. If not, I’m playing,” he told ESPN earlier this month. Lakers coach Frank Vogel should approach the situation differently. Los Angeles is built to win a title next spring. Limiting James’ involvement in relatively meaningless games this winter is vital to achieving that goal. 

Last season, the Toronto Raptors featured Kawhi Leonard in 60 regular-season contests. Leonard entered the playoffs fresh, and he was the Association’s top two-way player throughout the postseason. The Lakers require James’ best beginning next April, not in January. 

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/10_nba_players_off_to_a_hot_start/s1_13132_30528971

By: Zac Wassink

NBA free agency: Winners and losers from Day 1

NBA free agency officially tipped off around the league Sunday evening. It’s been one of the most highly anticipated free agent classes in modern history.

We got answers to some pretty big questions as free agency got going on Day 1. The Boston Celtics netted All-NBA guard Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie Irving, who ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic retained star center Nikola Vucevic on a less-than max contract. More than anything, the Nets’ ability to team Kyrie Irving up with Kevin Durant changes the entire dynamic around the Association.

It’s in this that we give you the biggest winners and losers from the first day of NBA free agency.

Winner: Kemba Walker

Walker traded the small market of Charlotte for the bright lights of Boston. While that’s going to come with a lot of pressure as the face of the Celtics’ franchise, Walker appears to be more than up for the task. He also joins a championship contender after toiling in mediocrity with the Hornets over the past eight seasons.

Equally as important, Walker netted a max four-year, $141 million deal from Boston after the Hornets low-balled him with a five-year, $160 million contract. Now the face of a contending team, Walker is a major winner.

Loser: Free agent big men

Nikola Vucevic receiving less than the max from Orlando represented a major hit for other free agent big men. In fact, his four-year, $100 million contract is well below market value. The same thing can be said about the three-year, $45 million contract Jonas Valanciunas signed with the Memphis Grizzlies.

This does not bode well for other free agents at the center position. Specifically, the market is going to be bare for DeMarcus Cousins.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

Even after both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered serious injuries in the NBA Finals, it was reported that Golden State would extend max-contract offers to both free agents. While Durant ultimately signed with Brooklyn, the Warriors did in fact offer him a five-year, $221 million deal. Meanwhile, Thompson committed to a five-year, $190 million max deal with Golden State.

It’s rare in today’s sports landscape to see a team show this type of loyalty to players. Thompson’s ACL injury is less severe than Durant’s ruptured Achilles. But both are serious. Offering up $411 million in guaranteed cash represents a major commitment for a team that’s facing billions in payroll over the next few seasons, even with Durant on his way to Brooklyn.

Loser: Kyrie Irving

Irving might have received a max contract from the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. But it did not come without his reputation being tainted big time. Reports of his diva-like mentality ruining the Boston Celtics gave way to Irving’s former team not showing any real interest in re-signing him. That’s a major black eye for the NBA champion.

It’s also important to note that Boston did not waste any time replacing Irving with fellow All-Star Kemba Walker. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Should Walker lead Boston to championship contention with Irving’s Nets struggling while forming a super team, it would represent another major hit for the veteran.

Winner: Brooklyn Nets

Irving as a loser with the Nets as a winner? Both can be true. Brooklyn targeted Irving immediately after the 2018-19 season. It culminated in a max contract agreement Sunday evening. It also represents the biggest free-agent signing in Nets history.

Well, that was until later on Sunday when Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Nets . He’s going to be joined by best bud DeAndre Jordan to form a new big three in the Big Apple. While KD is out for all of next season, the Nets still have a team worthy of competing in the Eastern Conference until he returns the following season. It was a memorable day Sunday in the Mecca of the basketball world. That’s putting it lightly.

Loser: Charlotte Hornets

Michael Jordan’s tenure as the Hornets’ owner has been an unmitigated disaster. The latest example of this is Charlotte offering Kemba Walker a five-year, $160 million contract, about $61 million less than it could have offered the All-NBA performer.

Instead, the Hornets head into next season with Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller counting a combined $71-plus million against the cap. That’s just horrible stuff right there. And it’s certainly enough to make MJ and Co. major losers in free agency. But hey, at least they’re now paying Terry Rozier nearly $20 million annually.

Full Article

By: Vincent Frank

Frustrated Kyrie Irving gives terse press conference after latest loss

All is not well with the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics have now lost five of six games after their 115-104 defeat at home to the Houston Rockets on Sunday, with the home team being booed at various points by the crowd. Guard Kyrie Irving made it pretty clear how fed up he was with the team’s recent play in his postgame press conference, which featured terse, somewhat pessimistic answers and lasted barely more than a minute.

The “we’ll see” when asked if the Celtics can come together on their upcoming road trip is not an exceptionally optimistic response. The fact that fans in Boston are starting to taunt him can’t help.

Initially expected to be the class of the East after LeBron James’ departure, the Celtics now sit fifth in the conference and wouldn’t even have home court advantage if the playoffs started today. Something needs to change quickly.

Original Article

By: Grey Papke

Celtics’ locker room reportedly split amid recent struggles

The Celtics’ disappointing season may have split the locker room between veterans and some of the young players who helped reach the conference finals last year, suggests Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated (hat tip to Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston).

The Eastern Conference favorites heading into the season, the Celtics are in fifth place at 25-17 as some players have been resistant to accepting new roles with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injuries.

“It does seem like there’s a divide in that locker room between the veterans on that team and the younger players on that team,”  Mannix said Saturday on the Celtics’ post-game show. “I don’t know how big that divide is, how significant it is, is it fractured? But there does seem to be kind of a chasm that exists between those two sides.”

Boston is coming off a disastrous trip to Florida that included two losses and a pair of incidents that brought the internal conflicts to light. Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown exchanged words during a timeout Thursday in Miami, and Irving was visibly upset after an unsuccessful play at the end of last night’s game in Orlando.

here’s more today from Boston:

  • Irving seemed to take a shot at his younger teammates in post-game comments Saturday, saying the Celtics are lacking the “experience” it takes to compete for a title, relays Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. “You’ve got to appreciate being out there and just competing,”  Irving said as part of a long answer on why the team has gone through peaks and valleys. “It doesn’t matter who you’re going against. It matters the type of preparation you have, what you’re going out and trying to accomplish. What’s the big picture? What are we doing here? These are things I don’t think some of my teammates have faced just every single day. It’s not easy to be great.”
  • Morris’ brand of leadership is exactly what the team needs, contends A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. In addition to being the Celtics’ most consistent player throughout the season, Morris has lived up to his reputation for being willing to confront teammates who he believes aren’t giving their best effort. “To be the team we want to be, we have to be open with each other and be able to discuss things that are going on, on the court,” Morris said. “If it leads to a little bumping, pushing and shoving … it’s nothing. You move past that type of stuff and keep going.”
  • Terry Rozier had another bad performance last night, missing all five of his shots in 17 minutes, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge may have missed his best chance to trade him, writes Keith Smith on CelticsBlog. Rozier will be a restricted free agent this summer.

Original Article

By: Arthur Hill

Kyrie Irving Don’t Care Bout LeBron

Written by Ben Rohrbach at YahooSports.com

Why Kyrie Irving subjected himself to ESPN’s “First Take” is beyond me, but the All-Star point guard spent 90 minutes on Monday morning cryptically answering questions from Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman about his reasons for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and his relationship with LeBron James.

Inquiries about Irving’s trade request, reports he wanted out from LeBron’s shadow and the league-wide drama that ensued were met with responses along these lines from the newest member of the Boston Celtics: “I don’t really have an ego. I have a presence and aura about me that’s very reality-based,” and, “Oh, if you’re very much woke, there’s no such thing as distractions, especially all this.”

Except, Irving answered one line of questioning with the very clarity we’ve sought since the trade:

Smith: Did you speak to LeBron James before you and your representatives met with ownership and let them know that you wanted out?

Irving: “No.”

Smith: “Why not?”

Irving: “Why would I have to?”

Smith: “If you don’t speak to somebody about that, they might take it personally.”

Irving: “Yeah.”

Smith: “Do you care about that at all?”

Irving: “No.”

Irving then elaborated:

“I think we’re forgetting one important thing. … I don’t think that you owe anything to another person in terms of figuring out what you want to do with your life. It’s not anything personal. I’m not trying to tirade anybody. I’m not here to go at any particular person or the organization, because I have nothing but love for Cleveland. I have nothing but love for the times that I spent there. There’s nothing about that.

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Cavs Shopping First Rounder From Kyrie Trade

Written by Kyle Boone at CBS Sports.com

The Cleveland Cavaliers squeezed the Celtics of assets when they shipped Kyrie Irving to Boston. Now it seems one of the biggest assets acquired in the trade, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, could be on the trading block.

According to Joe Vardon of cleveland.com, the Cavs have already begun taking calls about the pick, which could be in the top five depending upon Brooklyn’s season.

As owners of Brooklyn’s No. 1 pick, which could be a top-five pick in next year’s draft, Cleveland has fielded numerous calls already about a potential trade. It could be a part of a major trade package for the Cavs later this year, or, conceivably, the Cavs could make that pick next June.

So why in the world would Cleveland — a team that just shipped out its second best player — trade away the most valuable draft asset it owns? Simple: Cleveland could flip that future asset into a current one, as in a player who could help the team win now rather than later.

This is a very smart strategy by new GM Koby Altman, who is well aware that the upcoming season could be LeBron James’ last in Cleveland. James will hit the free agent market in 2018, so for Cleveland to show its willingness to take an outside-the-box approach to improving the roster could make a good impression.

Although some might say Cleveland would be potentially wasting an asset by trading away a potential top-five pick, it’s important to remember just how much it acquired in the Irving trade. In addition to the Brooklyn pick, Cleveland also acquired Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Isaiah Thomas and a 2020 second round pick.

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Due To IT’s Injured Hip, Cavs Expected To Ask For Tatum or Brown

Written by Colin Ward-Henniger at CBS Sports.com

The Cleveland Cavaliers are reportedly asking for more pieces from the Boston Celtics following the blockbuster trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick.

After giving Thomas his physical, the Cavs weren’t convinced that the Celtics were fully forthcoming about the extent of Thomas’ hip injury, so they’re looking to restructure the trade with added assets. We don’t know exactly what assets Cleveland is asking for, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowki reported on SportsCenter on Sunday that they’ll definitely ask about rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year wing Jaylen Brown.

“Now, Cleveland is going to try to inquire about a couple of the Celtics’ young players, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, who they tried to get in the original trade, that is very unlikely,” Wojnarowski said. “But Boston still has a war chest of future first-round picks of their own, and some picks they control from other teams, and Cleveland is going to try to get one more of those to finalize this deal.”

As Wojnarowski mentioned, the Cavs acquiring either Brown or Tatum in addition to the haul they’ve already received is next to impossible. Boston already gave up more than most expected to get Irving, so throwing in one of their consecutive No. 3 picks in the last two drafts is likely out of the question.

In fact, Boston is reportedly resisting adding any pieces at all, saying they were fully up-front about Thomas’ injury throughout the negotiations.

“Boston is resisting, and will initially at least, resist this idea,” Wojnarowski said. “Boston believes that it was completely transparent with Cleveland about where Thomas was physically, his rehab. Cleveland’s version of this is that they didn’t realize how long Thomas could potentially be out this season, he’s in the final year of his contract, and obviously, that matches up with what will likely be the final year of LeBron’s current deal, and so there’s going to be a showdown between these two teams that may last a couple more days.”

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Cavs Trade Kyrie For IT And Others

Written by Jeff Goodman and Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN.com

The Boston Celtics have acquired All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers for point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first-round pick, the teams announced Tuesday night.

Irving, 25, requested a trade during a July meeting with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. At the time, Irving said that he wanted to play in a situation in which he could be more of a focal point and that he no longer wanted to play alongside LeBron James, sources said.

Tuesday night, in response to a fan’s video on Twitter thanking Irving, James tweeted:

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge noted the bittersweet nature of Tuesday’s trade.

“This has obviously been a roller coaster of a day for us, trading away Isaiah and Jae and Ante, especially Isaiah and Jae, who have been such a big part of our team and our success and our Celtic culture as leaders of our team. Very, very difficult day,” Ainge said. “At the same time, a very exciting time [to add] one of the best offensive players in the league.”

Ainge said that it was a very tough phone call to inform Thomas, who had emerged as the face of the franchise since he arrived at the trade deadline in February 2015.

Ainge also said the Celtics did their homework on Irving after his falling out with James in Cleveland and said Irving is “excited” to be joining the Celtics. Ainge also acknowledged that Irving’s price tag was high.

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Kyrie Open To Extension With Spurs

Written by Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.com

It had been a while since we’d heard any update on the bombshell trade request Kyrie Irving made to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that changed Tuesday morning with Adrian Wojnarowski’s monster report that brought everything up to speed.

The biggest update was that the Cavs are operating on the assumption that LeBron James is leaving next summer, which is driving their desire to get a young star back in return for Irving, instead of say, a few solid veterans to put around James. Related to that, the Cavs are reportedly keyed in on Kristaps Porzingis in any potential deal with the Knicks.

As for the San Antonio Spurs, another team that was reportedly on Irving’s shortlist, Wojnarowski reported that the All-Star guard is willing to sign an extension in San Antonio should he be traded there. Via ESPN:

The Spurs have interest in Irving, league sources say, and Irving’s willingness to commit to an extension with the Spurs makes for legitimate win-now deal possibilities for Cleveland.

That Irving is willing to sign an extension is good news for the Spurs, but unfortunately for them, the Cavs’ current insistence on getting young talent back in any deal is problematic for San Antonio.

Aside from Kawhi Leonard — who the Spurs are absolutely not trading — there is no one young and talented enough to work as the centerpiece of an Irving trade.
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Kyrie Could’ve Gotten Cavs Chris Paul and Paul George

Written by Ben Rohrbach at YahooSports.com

Soon after news broke that Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving requested a trade and no longer wants to play in the LeBron James’ shadow, the man who broke the story, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, appeared on WKNR-AM radio and questioned the timing of Irving’s demands last week:

However, the man who confirmed Windhorst’s initial report, NBA.com’s David Aldridge, wrote, “Another league source said that Irving made his initial trade request before last month’s draft” — before the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers traded All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Chris Paul, presumably players who could be swapped for Irving and keep Cleveland in contention.

It’s entirely possible that Irving merely hinted at a trade request last month and made a more formal demand last week, and it’s also possible the Cavaliers believed he was posturing about wanting out several weeks ago, only to realize more recently the severity of his desire to play elsewhere.

Either way, the Cavs should not have been blindsided by last week’s request. There is no doubt whispers about Irving’s growing frustration in Cleveland were growing louder in NBA circles leading up to the draft, and it would be difficult to imagine the Cavaliers brass was unaware of those rumblings.

The real question should be whether or not Cleveland’s front-office upheaval caused the Cavs a shot to land one of the three All-Stars who changed teams in trades over the past month. The team parted ways with popular general manager David Griffin on June 19 over a contract dispute, and then reportedly lowballed prospective president of basketball operations Chauncey Billups early in July.

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