No. 1:Thomas says Celtics can 'make some legitimate noise' -- As our David Aldridge pointed out in his Morning Tip yesterday, the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear No. 1 team in the East. But who is No. 2? The list of hopefuls is decent-sized and if you ask Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, his squad should be near the top of that list. ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg has more:
Quiet, at least by last season's All-Star standard, through the Boston Celtics' first five games of the preseason, Isaiah Thomas put together a near-perfect first half on Monday night against the Brooklyn Nets and promptly declared himself ready for real basketball to start.
Thomas, who made all six shots he took while putting up 19 first-half points, passed time in the second half by excitedly cheering big moments for Boston's youngest players, sitting in the front row with fans trying to get on the JumboTron, and grooving when "Gino Time" rolled toward the end of a breezy 120-99 triumph at TD Garden.
After displaying the sort of basket-attacking aggression that distinguished his play last season and after another excellent showing for Boston's starting group, Thomas was asked to assess the prospects for the 2016-17 Celtics.
"We have a pretty good team -- a team that can make some legitimate noise," Thomas said. "And if we put it together and play the right way, we can make a lot happen this season. We don’t ever want to put a ceiling on it, but we have a really good team. I know that."
While Celtics coach Brad Stevens has stressed his team has a long way to go to get where it desires to be, the potential for this team has been on display throughout the preseason. With a toy chest of versatile guards, Stevens has experimented with multiple small-ball lineups and found success with many of them.
Like in the first quarter Monday, Stevens made Marcus Smart the first sub, replacing Amir Johnson. Boston zipped the ball around with three guards -- Smart, Thomas, and Avery Bradley -- as Jae Crowder shuffled to the forward spot alongside Horford. In the second quarter, Stevens came back with a three-guard lineup that had Thomas playing alongside newcomer Gerald Green (that tandem that had success two seasons ago in Phoenix) and Terry Rozier, a second-year guard who has made the most pronounced leap on the team and is ready for rotation minutes.
Rozier adds a combination of athleticism, ball-handling, shooting and, most notably, quickness to the floor. As Stevens offered after Monday's game, "I'm a big fan of speed."
Will the bite-sized chunks of positive play translate to the regular season? Thomas and his teammates seem to believe so. Many of Boston's biggest concerns coming into the preseason -- such as the departure of sixth man Evan Turner -- have been eased by the play of Rozier, Smart and No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown (a player Boston selected with the Nets' 2016 draft pick).
No. 2:Kings meet with Lawson, clear his return to team -- Sacramento Kings guard Ty Lawson is trying to get his career back on track after a series of fits and starts the last few seasons. He recently was late for a team shootaround and missed a flight to Kentucky for a preseason game. But as ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports, the Kings and Lawson have talked and all is OK now:
After a morning meeting with management following a missed team flight last week, Sacramento Kings guard Ty Lawson was cleared to rejoin the team and practice Monday.
General manager Vlade Divac told reporters in Sacramento that the team is satisfied with Lawson's explanation that a "personal issue" caused him to miss the flight Friday from Las Vegas to Kentucky for the Kings' Saturday night preseason game against the Washington Wizards at Rupp Arena.
ESPN.com reported Sunday that Lawson was late for a team shootaround before Thursday's preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Vegas, and then missed the flight to Kentucky.
"We handle it inside [the] house," Divac told local reporters in reference to Monday's meeting with Lawson.
"He got the message, and we move forward."
Kings coach Dave Joerger insisted after practice that there is "no situation" with Lawson, who signed with Sacramento one month before the start of training camp after a string of legal woes.
"Ty had a personal issue, and that stuff is non-basketball-related," Joerger told reporters Monday.
"It's in my hands. The decisions that were made of the plane and all this stuff, that's on me. It's a personal issue. It's, I think, been very inaccurately reported."
The Kings also recently signed veteran point guard Jordan Farmar, who played in Memphis last season under Joerger, to help them cope with Collison's absence.
For much of training camp, the Kings have been publicly optimistic about Lawson's ability to contribute, with Joerger praising Lawson's defense in a recent exhibition outing against the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and saying: "He has good leadership qualities. You can tell why he's been a winner."
Lawson, 28, has been arrested four times for driving under the influence, including twice in a seven-month span in 2015. He didn't last a full season with the Houston Rockets in 2015-16 before his March release, and then finished last season with the Indiana Pacers.
Through his first six seasons, Lawson was a key member of the Nuggets, earning a contract extension in 2013 that was $4 million richer than Curry's four-year, $44 million deal that expires after this season.
In a July interview with The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears, Lawson said: "It would be big to be back to my old self again. Also, it's not for just me, it's for my parents. They have had a hard time seeing what I've been going through. I know they hear the little comments at NBA games. To make them proud again would mean the world to me."
No. 3: <Prince hoping for one last contract -- The Detroit Pistons of the early-to mid-2000s wouldn't have reached the heights they reached without small forward Tayshaun Prince. He was a key piece to the Pistons' 2004 championship team and combined with Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace to form a fantastic starting five. Prince spent last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and is still hoping for another contract -- and championship shot. Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated has more:
Perhaps in one of the coolest text message group chats around, former Detroit Pistons stars Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince talk regularly. And one of the biggest topics of discussions as of late is about when Prince — the only one still playing — will sign with an NBA team.
“We have a group text,” Prince told The Undefeated. “Every time something happens or someone has something brewing or whatever, or someone does something, we always text … They check in and say, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ to me. ‘Have you talked to anybody? … Know where you stand as far as what you are trying to do.’
“Obviously, Rip, Rasheed, Ben and Chauncey at this point in their career, they were in a situation where they were trying to go to a contender or at least be in a playoff-type atmosphere, so at least when you go out there you have something to play for. They have an idea of what I am going through right now.”
Prince has earned a very respectful resume during his 14 NBA seasons, most notably with some storied Pistons teams that won a 2004 NBA championship, played in two NBA Finals and also played in six straight Eastern Conference finals.
Detroit selected the former University of Kentucky star with the 23rd overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft. The Pistons were so enamored with the slender 6-foot-9, 215-pounder that the small forward they passed on drafting in 2003 was Carmelo Anthony. Prince averaged 12.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 12 seasons with Detroit, including 23 games during the 2014-15 season. He also won a 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal with USA Basketball while a member of the Pistons.
Prince said the highlight of his days with Detroit was the success and fun he had playing with Billups, Hamilton and both Wallaces.
“Just the camaraderie I had with those guys was something special. It’s something I never had when I was not playing with them [in Detroit] or I was playing with different teams.”
Prince signed to play for his former Pistons coach, Flip Saunders, with the Timberwolves on a one-year veteran’s minimum deal on Aug. 20, 2015. Saunders, then the Wolves’ head coach and team president, told Prince that if he wasn’t happy with his veteran mentor and defensive role on the young team, he would allow him to get a buyout before the trade deadline. Saunders, however, died of Hodgkin lymphoma on Oct. 25, 2015.
Prince averaged career lows of 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds while being used primarily in a defensive and mentoring role with the Timberwolves last season. The young Timberwolves squad had a 29-53 record despite having the NBA Rookie of the Year for two straight seasons in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, respectively. The death of Saunders really hurt him, as well.
“With all due respect, it was an organization that was really trying to turn things around, and then all of a sudden with what happened to Flip, [interim head coach] Sam [Mitchell] had to take over,” Prince said. “We had a tough situation. Everything was kind of doomed from the start. The hardest part with that situation was playing with so many young guys, so many supertalented young guys, who just didn’t know how to play together.”
Prince told his longtime agent Bill Duffy that he would like to sign as a free agent this past offseason with a team that was at least competing for a playoff spot. While Prince said there has been interest, there have been no contract offers from any NBA teams. He’s not interested in playing overseas and is patiently waiting for an NBA offer to come soon.
Prince is now on the outside looking in during training camp and the preseason for the first time since entering the NBA in 2002. He said it’s odd not being in training camp enjoying “camaraderie and building the chemistry.” The good news is he has more time at the moment to spend with his wife and son.
“The hardest part about the wait is that there are a lot of teams out there that know what I bring to the game,” Prince said. “I know I have good leadership, and they know I’m a great locker room guy. Obviously, some of the assistant coaches that you’ve played for are dispersed around the league. A lot of them are accustomed to what I do and what I bring to teams …
“Now is the time where teams are checking out their roster with 18 or 19 guys. They are trying to see if some of these guys can make the roster. After all that settles, I hope to hopefully hear something.”
No. 4: Anthony wants NBA D-League rebranded -- The NBA Development League has been around since the 2001-02 season and has gone through a variety of changes since then. As well, many players called up from the NBA D-League -- from Los Angeles Lakers guard Lou Williams to Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry -- have gone on to success in the NBA. Current New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony is vice president NBPA and told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne he has ideas about what the D-League should do next:
Carmelo Anthony thinks the NBA should "rebrand" the D-League and invest more in "developing our own players" in the next collective bargaining agreement.
"If I had it my way, I'd rebrand the whole D-League," Anthony told ESPN. "I'd rebrand it so it's not seen as a punishment."
As vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, Anthony said he has been pushing for a major investment in and overhaul of the D-League to create more jobs for young players and strengthen the NBA's player development system.
Anthony said a major issue he has been emphasizing in collective bargaining talks is increasing the number of "two-way contracts" that allow players to play for both D-League and NBA teams, thereby creating 44-60 more jobs. He said he also has been addressing increasing pay for D-League players to make it as lucrative to play domestically as abroad, and language that will encourage all 30 NBA teams to have a D-League affiliate.
The D-League will grow from 19 to 22 teams this year, but the players eventually would like to see all 30 teams with their own affiliate, Anthony said.
"I'm a big advocate of developing our own players. If you look at soccer, for example, a lot of those clubs have top-notch academies," said Anthony, who co-owns a professional team in Puerto Rico. "By me being in soccer now, I've started to understand the dynamics of developing your own players. We've got to keep our players here. We don't want them to have to go overseas."
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr says JaVale McGee has a "good chance" to make the team ... The LA Clippers aren't fretting over Chris Paul's thumb injury ... The Houston Rockets and Donatas Motiejunas remain at a contract impasse ... All things considered, Marc Gasol says his foot is feeling pretty good ...