Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Oct. 3) -- Boston Celtics showcase penchant for passing in preseason opener

This morning’s headlines:

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Unselfish Celtics give taste of what’s to come — One thing was certain last night: passing, passing and more passing marked the Boston Celtics’ preseason debut. At times, the Celtics — with their new superstars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — were looking to pass too much, but overall Boston showed what it might be able to do once it fires on all cylinders. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald has more:

In the 94-82 win over Charlotte, the Celts were true to the lessons of both Brad Stevens and their kindergarten teachers. They shared. A lot.

The crisp movement of the ball warmed the hearts of basketball purists, including one who was wearing No. 42.

“That was great, man,” said Al Horford, who, along with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, played just the first half. “That gets me excited. That’s the way I like to play. I think it was contagious from the very early stages of this game, and the bench guys just kept it going. It’s early. It’s only a week. But we understand that when we move the ball and we play like that, we’re just a better team.”

“We have a lot of space, a lot of guys that can make plays,” said Hayward. “It felt like we got some really good looks that once we get clicking, we’ll be even better.”

Stevens certainly isn’t sweating the numbers.

“I don’t really care about the shooting,” he said. “I just care about the shots we’re getting, and we got some great looks in the first half especially. I mean, I used to always, even in college . . . in your first exhibition game, you’re ready for there to be some real bricks early, because everybody’s so excited to be out there playing against somebody else. So that’s nothing new, and, you know, I thought that we got pretty decent looks.”

It was fun basketball to watch. While power dunks will still get the greatest rise out of the audience, Boston is one of the cities where five-pass verses are music to the eyes of the masses.

“That was awesome, man,” said Irving. “It’s beautiful to be a part of. It was beautiful to watch — you know, purposeful cuts, understanding what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively, just executing at a high level.”

At times, it seemed the Celtics may have even over-passed, but coach Brad Stevens denied the existence that concept, at least relative to the calendar.

“Not on Oct. 2 there’s not,” he said. “I think that you’re trying to build a sharing mindset and a high-motor mindset at both ends of the floor. When you play defense, you play defense hard as a team. You cover for one another. When you play offense, you play hard as a team. Hopefully we’ll continue to build that. So far they’ve really tried. It’s just a matter of, I think, getting a little but crisper.”

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James out for Cavs’ preseason opener; Thompson eyes Kia Sixth Man Award — The Cleveland Cavaliers open up their preseason slate Wednesday night in Atlanta (7 ET, NBA TV) and will do so without star LeBron James. Although he will miss the game, the Cavs will sport a new starting lineup with Kevin Love at center instead of Tristan Thompson. That move is being made on a permanent basis and its a role change that Thompson is embracing, per Joe Vardon of

LeBron James will miss the Cavaliers’ preseason opener Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks because of the left ankle injury he suffered last week.

James stepped on a teammate’s foot while dribbling in transition at practice last Wednesday evening and turned his ankle. He hasn’t practiced since.

Following the Cavs’ Wine & Gold scrimmage Monday at The Q, coach Tyronn Lue said James would be out against the Hawks but would play at some point during the preseason.

James has yet to play with friend Dwyane Wade since Wade joined the team last Wednesday. Wade said he was playing with the second unit when James suffered his injury.

“We haven’t played together still in like four years,” Wade said.

As for Thompson’s push for Kia Sixth Man of the Year, here’s more from Vardon on that:

Tristan Thompson is headed for the bench, with his eyes set on stardom.

His goal is to be Sixth Man of the Year.

“I’m going to go for Sixth Man of the Year, put myself in position to do that,” Thompson said Monday, after coach Tyronn Lue confirmed that Kevin Love would start at center and Thompson was on the second unit.

“I told him I’m one guy you don’t have to worry about,” Thompson said. “I’m a team-first guy. I understand that at the end of the day it’s about winning and if you win, we all look good — whether you come of the bench or you start.”

This isn’t a demotion for Thompson in so far as he is not being punished for something he did wrong. Lue wants floor spacers in his starting lineup, and Love shot .373 from 3-point range.

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Wizards thinking big in 2017-18 — Last season, the Washington Wizards rebounded from an awful 2-8 start to win their first division title since 1978 and nearly made the Eastern Conference finals. As a new season looms, John Wall, Bradley Beal and company aren’t shying away from expectations — both external and internal — that lie ahead. Brian Windhorst of has more:

“I feel like we’re the best team in the East, I really do,” Bradley Beal said. “That’s how we feel coming into the season.”

“I feel like I am the best point guard in the Eastern Conference,” John Wall said. “Maybe people didn’t get to see me on national TV as much last year, but they will this year.”

“There’s a confidence to our team,” coach Scott Brooks said. “But we still have to get better.”

Thanks to a huge financial outlay to Wall, who signed a four-year, $170 million extension, and to Otto Porter, who got a $106 million deal, the Wizards are generally all paid. Beal is in the second year of a $128 million deal, and Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris, the other expected starters, have multiple years left on long-term deals.

“I admire [general manager] Ernie [Grunfeld] and [owner] Ted Leonsis for their loyalty and trust in us,” Beal said. “They’ve taken care of us. Now they expect big things from us too, and we put that same pressure on ourselves.”

They believe, and there’s little use convincing them otherwise, that the Cavs tanked down the stretch last season so they would be on the opposite side of the bracket in the East playoffs. Cleveland lost its final four games, sliding from the No. 1 seed to No. 2 and didn’t have to face Washington.

“To be honest, I think they said [to themselves] if we’re going to see them, we don’t want it to be until the East finals,” Wall said. “We were the team that gave them the most trouble in the East. That’s my opinion, some people might not agree with me.”

With an overall weaker East, there’s reason to believe the Wizards will break that 50-win drought and position themselves better for the postseason. But they’re going to have to do a lot of playing to back up their September words.

“I feel like we’re the team to beat,” Beal said. “But we’ve got to prove it.”

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Thibodeau admires Warriors’ blueprint — The Minnesota Timberwolves are in China to play the Golden State Warriors in Shenzhen (Thursday) and in Shanghai (Sunday). As such, the Wolves will get a close look at the team that has dominated the Western Conference for three seasons and counting and to coach Tom Thibodeau, there’s much Minnesota can learn from how Golden State was built. Mark Medina of The Mercury News has more:

While the NBA defending champions will command attention for obvious reasons, the Timberwolves will try to steal some of the spotlight as a developing team. Incidentally, the Warriors were in the Timberwolves’ position when they played against the Lakers in China in 2013. Since then, the Warriors have two NBA titles in the past three years.

“When they made the commitment to defense, they went to an entirely different level,” Thibodeau said after practice on Tuesday at Shenzhen City Arena. “Not only were they great on offense, they were also great on defense. That’s what makes them so special. With all the success they’ve had, they’ve remained very hungry.”

And with the success the Warriors had, Thibodeau sees different things the Timberwolves could emulate.

“The thing I like about looking at the Warriors is they did build it from scratch,” Thibodeau said.

“You can see why they are they way they are,” said Thibodeau, who was an assistant coach for Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green with USA Basketball. “They’re always driven to do more and get better.”

Thibodeau likened that process to the Warriors signing Iguodala and veteran forward David West, who took a paycut last season to sign with the Golden State to win his first NBA title of his 14-year career. West re-signed for another one-year deal this offseason.

“That’s what makes them who they are; they’re all unselfish,” Thibodeau said. “They’re all hard playing. They’re all high character. The new guys come in and become part of the culture.”

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Ballmer opens up about Paul’s exit, new arena and more — The “Lob City” LA Clippers of years ago are long gone, their ending sealed by the offseason trade of point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets. As they enter a new era (and perhaps eye a new arena for themselves in the years to come), owner Steve Ballmer talked with Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times about Paul’s exit, the Clippers’ place in L.A.’s basketball pecking order and more:

Are you happy with your marketing efforts in the Los Angeles market and do you believe you’ve made inroads on the Lakers?

We’re a little grittier. I think it’s OK. I think there is a whole side of L.A. that’s hard-working, tough-minded. There’s certainly some flash. Even if you look at folks in the entertainment business, we have our own fans. … I love it when [actor] Anthony Anderson shows up religiously at our games. James Brooks. Billy Crystal. It’s pretty cool for us. I think we’ve got plenty of space to identify ourselves as guys who love being in L.A., we love how cool it is in L.A. and we’re just going to ride it out and show L.A. what it means to be tough. … We are persistent. We are diligent. We are hard core. We’ll have our day in the sun.

When did you find out Chris Paul wanted to be traded to the Houston Rockets and how do you now sell your fans on your team being exciting and relevant with perhaps your best player gone?

I started getting a hint earlier in the spring from Chris. I have a good relationship with Chris. I can’t say he said anything. But I was getting a little bit of a vibe and I knew we had to work hard to keep him. After our season, I sat down with Chris right away. We talked, we had breakfast and we stayed in continuous touch on the topic. I knew we were not in the best of shape and I was working my ass off [to keep him], as was everybody else, because he is a Hall of Fame player.

The final decision I got from Chris; I was actually talking to him when I was on vacation. I’m on some ship in the Greek Isles talking to Chris. He called me when I was in these ancient ruins. I sat there looking at these ruins. And he was very emotional as well. We had a heart-to-heart kind of conversation. I’ve had dinner with him since. There’s no reason not to be friendly with the people as people. I’m not rooting for him when he plays us. J.J. [Redick] and Jamal [Crawford], I’ve seen them all since they’ve moved on. I had dinner with J.J. in New York and I went to Jamal’s Pro-Am [in Seattle].

I don’t know if we’re going to be worse than we were last year. I don’t know that. Chris is an awesome player. But we’re such a different team. We are younger. We are more athletic than we were. We are longer than we were. … But we’re different and we’ll see whether we’re different good or not.

What is your vision for the arena project in Inglewood? Where do things stand in the process?

We have our exclusive negotiating agreement with the city, which is great. [Inglewood] Mayor [James] Butts has been welcoming and inviting. That’s been a good, good process. It’s our sense, and we’ll learn more as we start, there is a process where we’ll get out in front of the community. But our sense is the community would like to have the Clippers in Inglewood. It’ll be a good place for the community in addition to us. We’re certainly committed to make appropriate contributions in the community when it comes to the space and welcoming the community into some of the structures that we build up, which we have some ideas about to do. … Got to go through the process of approval, permitting, environmental.

There has been some opposition from the community. Did you expect that sort of pushback?

I think it’s fair to say there are some folks who don’t want us to build an arena. The citizens, I think we can work with. I think we had some pushback by other businesses.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Klay Thompson may be open to a discounted contract in the coming years … Heat big man Kelly Olynyk doesn’t own a car and walks to practice and games every day … Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says Tony Parker is a month away from playing in contact situations … Knicks forward Michael Beasley says that ‘talent-wise’ he matches up with LeBron James and Kevin Durant … Zach Lowe of unveiled the first part of his League Pass Rankings … Why Dewayne Dedmon could be a useful player for Atlanta … Marcus Smart is OK for now with being the Celtics’ sixth man … The Pistons are still getting used to their new digs at Little Caesars Arena …