New stars in new places headline busy 2017-18 NBA media day

Matt Petersen, NBA.com

The calm before the storm that is the NBA regular season is full of smiles and optimism. Nearly everyone is healthy. Glass-half-full takes are doled out and gulped down faster than coffee at Starbucks on a Monday morning.

Not that important concerns weren’t addressed either. How will new arrivals fit in different systems, with different teammates? What did Player B think of Player A’s statement last week? Just how much weight did Player C lose?

Here’s a look around the league at the more notable statements and takeaways from Monday’s media days as teams begin gearing up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Big Faces In New Places

Consider the following players who swapped teams during the offseason:

  • Chris Paul (Houston)
  • Carmelo Anthony (Oklahoma City)
  • Isaiah Thomas (Cleveland)
  • Kyrie Irving (Boston)
  • Jimmy Butler (Minnesota)
  • Paul George (Oklahoma City)
  • Gordon Hayward (Boston)
  • Paul Millsap (Denver)
  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte)

That’s not including DeMarcus Cousins (traded in February of last season) or No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz (Boston traded that pick to Philadelphia just a week before draft night).

That meant a lot of new photos in new uniforms, with questions about how all this talent would adapt to the newness of it all. No, Anthony doesn’t hold bad blood towards the Knicks. Yes, Irving knows how much the Celtics gave up to get him. No, James Harden doesn’t think he and Paul are too “ball-dominant” to play together. No, Thomas won’t be back on opening night.

It may take fans a few weeks to get used to such a drastic reorganization of NBA talent. There will be no shortage of fun, however, in the process.

Youth Served With Hype

Magic Johnson, who guided the Lakers to five championships and has his No. 32 hanging in the rafters of Staples Center in Los Angeles, told prize rookie Lonzo Ball, “We expect a Ball jersey hanging up there one day, all right? Good.”

That was a day after Ball was drafted. In the three months since, nothing has changed the old guard’s opinion of the new guard.

“He’s a natural leader,” Johnson said on Monday. “When you’ve won a state championship, he turned UCLA around … he makes everybody around him better. He gives you a pass that you can score.”

Then Johnson paused, and added with a grin, “Some other guy use to do that. I don’t know his name, but some other guy used to do that.”

Rare is the draft class that inspires such immediate confidence — or from which production is expected so soon. That doesn’t just go for Ball. Phoenix head coach Earl Watson dubbed fourth overall pick Josh Jackson a “superstar waiting to happen.” Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle confirmed what fans already think of Mavs rookie Dallas Smith Jr.

How their actual play meets offseason expectations won’t be known until the season tips off for real. The fact that those standards already exist for this crop of rookies, however, sets it up for a chance to be considered one of the best.

Answering Questions

The Cavaliers will be gunning for their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference crown, but they’ll do it without Irving at point guard. The parting of ways between Cleveland and Kyrie drug out all summer long until the latter’s trade request was ultimately granted.

James, invited by a reporter to choose the first line of questioning, opted for Irving’s departure. He denied any feelings of anger or resentment, but did address what Irving’s future in Cleveland would have been had he stayed.

“I tried to give him everything and give him as much of the DNA as I could,” James said, “because like I told you guys throughout the season, at some point, when he was ready to take over the keys, I was ready to give them to him. The only thing I’m upset about is he took a lot of the DNA and the blueprints out to Boston.”

Irving is already sharing those elements with the Celtics, who likely pose the biggest threat to Cleveland’s supremacy out East. When asked what Boston’s biggest challenge would be, he referenced the intangible mental state that defines championship teams.

“The biggest challenge for us is understanding how much of a difference it is between a good and a great team,” Irving said.”

Cleveland, already having signed veteran point guard Derrick Rose during the offseason, could further fortify its Irving-less backcourt. Dwyane Wade has reportedly come to buyout terms with the Chicago Bulls, leaving him free to sign with whatever team he wishes. Several parties are already in pursuit, including one-time teammate LeBron James.

“I would love to have D-Wade as a part of this team,” James said. “I think he brings another championship DNA, championship pedigree. He brings another playmaker to the team… It would be great to have him here.”

As for the Cavs’ current players, a status update revealed that newly acquired All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas could be out until at least January. The former Celtic is rehabilitating from a right him impingement which forced him to miss the last three games of last year’s playoff run.

Speaking of health, Sixers fans were likely thrilled to hear 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons answer every question with overwhelming confidence, including those about his recovery from foot surgery.

“I’m ready to go,” Simmons declared. “One-hundred percent. Ready to play.”

As to whether his fellow 2016 draft classmates have forgotten him, Simmons didn’t mince words.

“They’ll remember. They’ll remember.”

Sports And Rights

Players, coaches and teams in general responded to the weekend’s interactions between the Golden State Warriors and President Donald Trump. In short, the league is siding with the defending champions by defending the rights of free expression and speech.

The biggest names came to the forefront, including LeBron James. Days after ridiculing Trump’s decision to rescind Curry’s invitation to the White House, the four-time MVP lamented the president’s use of sports to “divide” citizens.

“He doesn’t understand the power that he has for being a leader of this beautiful country,” James said. “He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the President of the United States for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement. He doesn’t understand that. That’s what makes me more sick than anything.”

Others chimed in, including Westbrook, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. The latter added that his players, “have our full support and no matter what they might want to do or not do is important to them, respected by us, and there’s no recrimination no matter what might take place, unless it’s ridiculously egregious. There’s a line for everything.”

At the very least, a vocal line has been drawn between much of the league’s expectations of the president and what is actually taking place.