Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Sept. 29) -- Trip home provided needed boost for Sacramento's Labissiere

NBA.com staff reports

This morning’s headlines:

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Trip home provided needed boost for Sacramento’s Labissiere — Skal Labissiere’s second NBA season could be pivotal for the long term development of young player who at one time was considered by pundits as a potential No. 1 pick in his Draft class. A critical part of Labissiere’s preparation for his second NBA season involved some introspection on his part and an all-important return to his homeland of Haiti. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee provides some details:

Skal Labissiere looks different as he prepares for his second NBA season.

Gone is the rookie who was instructed by the training staff to eat everything in sight to add weight to his slight frame. Now he’s looking more like a player who can rightfully call himself a “power” forward.

“We buffed him up pretty good last year, and by the end of the first week he was back (slim),” Kings coach Dave Joerger joked. “But he’s buffed up and he’s kept it throughout summer league and all the running. During the season you’re going to get smaller but he’s keeping that strength on.”

That’s not all that’s different about Labissiere, who is listed at 6-foot-11 and 225 pounds. The second-year pro said he’s “refreshed” thanks to a trip to his native Haiti in July. Labissiere had not been to the island in seven years since he came to the United States following a devastating earthquake.

He called the trip, which included a basketball camp that also emphasized life skills, “my highlight of the summer.”

“It was a reminder that you have to be thankful,” said Labissiere, whose Twitter handle is “OneBigHaitian.” “Going back and seeing how people were living there and just seeing I can make a big difference out there.”

He said it was “crazy” to return as adult and feel the love from children who now look up to him. He also reunited with people he had not seen since leaving for U.S. and becoming one of the top basketball prospects in the country at Kentucky.

“I’ve always had a different perspective, but it was a good reminder,” Labissiere said.

The trip was so invigorating, he’s already looking forward to returning. It won’t take seven years next time.

“I’m already thinking about next summer,” Labissiere said. “What we can do better next year, as far as the camp goes and how we can give back to the community out there.”

Labissiere spent most of his rookie season with the Reno Bighorns of the G-League before the trade of DeMarcus Cousins set the franchise into a full rebuilding mode and gave young players more playing time. He averaged 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 25 games after the trade.

The added strength will help him deal with matchups in the paint that were tough last season.

“I’m still getting to know the NBA,” he said. “I’m going into my second year but I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”

Joerger understands there’s still a learning curve for Labissiere. He was patient with the rookie through last season’s ups and downs and knows there will be more to come.

“He won’t be a finished product this year either,” Joerger said. “It’s three, whatever number of years from now, when he fills into his body completely.”

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Boston’s search for a defensive stopper could lead to Brown — The defensive building blocks in Boston exited the premises in the offseason when Avery Bradley was traded to Detroit and Jae Crowed was traded to Cleveland. Celtics coach Brad Stevens is using training camp and the exhibition season to locate replacements. As Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald writes, that search could lead to second-year swingman Jaylen Brown:

Danny Ainge sent a lot of defensive talent out the door to bring in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are gone, but as two of the three players most responsible for setting the defensive edge on this team under coach Brad Stevens, they won’t be forgotten any time soon, especially if the Celtics start hemorrhaging points.

Though Jaylen Brown begins his second year with a need for improvement in all areas, the young forward’s next big step may very well come on the defensive end. Brown will draw many of the high-octane stars taken on by Crowder, like LeBron James.

And for that, according to the Celts’ last remaining defensive tone setter, Brown has to “slow down” from the sometimes frantic rookie who missed assignments because of his unfamiliarity with the NBA game.

“You actually let your instincts take over, and do what you’re supposed to do,” Marcus Smart said of what he means by slowing down on defense. “You’re in the right spots. Last year (Brown) was out of place a lot, because he still didn’t know what he was doing, so he was rushing trying to do things instead of letting his instincts take over. He has to trust in his instincts and trust in the techniques that he’s learned.

“(But) he’s slowing down on both ends, offensive and defensive,” added Smart. “I thought he did a really good job last year with what he was assigned. But this year he understands a little more that we don’t have Avery, and we don’t have Jae, so he does have to come in and take on that role.”

Smart, more than anyone, is going to give the Celtics their defensive juice this season. Even with Bradley and Crowder, Smart has generally been the Celtic most likely to change a game with his hell-bent style of play.

But he’ll need lots of help, and he sees Brown as an inevitable part of the solution.

“He’s 20 years old. I’m only 23, but he’s coming into his second year as a guy who is still learning, but he’s picking it up fast, and he’s gonna be really good,” said Smart. “(Losing) Avery and Jae just opens up opportunities for guys like Jaylen to step up and take over that responsibility. Gives him a chance to show what he can do. His size (6-foot-7, 225 pounds), his body, his wing span; he can be a really great defender. That helps him a lot, helps him to do things a lot of guys aren’t able to. With his physique and his athleticism he’s going to be a great defender.”

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Carmelo’s trade truth finally comes out — At one point earlier in the summer Carmelo Anthony thought he was headed to Houston and at another he thought he was going to Cleveland. But neither of those deals came to fruition, Anthony said, after he was told they would. Anthony’s final designation, Oklahoma City, didn’t become an option until just hours before he would have had to report for training camp with the New York Knicks, something Anthony said he simply had no desire to do. Marc Berman shines some light on the drama that was Anthony’s summer:

During an interview on SiriusXM, Anthony said he was under the impression “a trade was in place’’ with Cleveland and “got called off” on draft night in which both he and Paul George were headed to the Cavaliers. It was unclear whom the Knicks or Pacers were getting back, but ESPN reported it was a five-team deal that fell through when no one wanted Kevin Love.

Anthony also said he was told by his reps earlier this summer “a deal was done’’ with Houston.

According to NBA sources, the Knicks say no deal was done with Houston, but his agents and the Rockets were pressing the Knicks hard to accept their offer, which included Ryan Anderson. The Knicks eventually pulled out of talks altogether as no other club was willing to take Anderson, and his long-term contract didn’t meet the club’s rebuilding plan.

“They were never close to a deal with Houston,’’ an NBA source said. “That’s a fact.’’

“I think it was within the last week, week and a half, before training camp,’’ Anthony said. “A deal was done with Houston early, then for some reason, whatever happened behind the scenes, it didn’t go through. It fell through, then we had to really start paying attention and thinking about other options. But then believe it or not I felt like I was going to be back in training camp, and I would show up to media day in New York.”

Mills and Perry guaranteed last Friday that Anthony would show up for media day Monday. Anthony revealed he sat with his reps that night and got a call from the Knicks saying they probably could do a deal with the Thunder if he gave the OK to add them to his wish list to go along with the Rockets, where talks had ceased for weeks.

“Me and my team sat down on Friday night and was like, ‘Man, we best prepare for going back to media day on Monday and training camp that week,’’’ Anthony said. “And then we got the call that said, ‘Would you open it up to OKC?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, at this point, yeah.’

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Sixers have a short time to figure themselves out — For all of the hype about the process in Philadelphia, time is of the essence for the 76ers. With just weeks until the start of the regular season, Sixers coach Brett Brown and his staff have to figure out what they have in youngsters like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and the rest of a talented but extremely inexperienced roster. David Murphy of PhillyNews.com explains:

How are all the pieces going to fit together?

It’s one of the more intriguing questions surrounding the Sixers as they continue preparations for the season opener in Washington in a few weeks. When they opened their gym to the media on Thursday for the last few minutes of a five-on-five drill, the array of possibilities was remarkable to consider. There was Ben Simmons, first posting up against a guard underneath the basket at one end of the court and then, at the opposite end, beating a big man with his first step from the wing and slashing to the basket. There was Jerryd Bayless spotting up from the left corner and later gliding to the hole, Amir Johnson knocking one down from the left side of the arc.

The general manager had said a couple of days earlier that he expected a competitive gym, and there it was: Richaun Holmes slapping the padding on the hoop after failing to finish on a pick-and-roll, T.J. McConnell landing on his stomach and pounding the court with the fleshy ends of his fist while barking at referee running in transition the opposite way.

The man responsible for fashioning all of it together into something presentable has a lot of work to do. It is a challenge that is diametrically opposed to the ones he confronted in his first four training camps, when the season’s objectives were individual evaluation and development. Now, the Sixers are three weeks out from a murderous start to the season, with 12 of their first 16 games against playoff teams, their first three coming against three of the best point guards in the game (Washington’s John Wall, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry). In previous years, the Delaware Valley would shrug and find something else to watch. This year, Brown is responsible for fielding a team that competes, if not wins.

“We feel like the base of how we want to play is there, and now you start moving the furniture around in the house to suit the family,” Brown said. “J.J. obviously has a skill package, Amir has a skill package, Ben with his size needs to be put in position where we can exploit that,” Brown said. “And so, that’s part of NBA coaching, is trying to help these guys score, put ’em in really good spots, put the defensive and key players and teams in situations where they’ve got to think a little bit about how they game-plan for that. But the house is there. The pieces underneath the roof are going to be a little different.”

There are so many potential combinations that it is impossible to project how the flow of personnel might look over the course of a game. In Simmons, they have a player capable of guarding anyone on the court, and scoring with his back to the basket or off the dribble from the wing. Johnson is 6-foot-9, 240 pounds and coming off a season in which he shot 41 percent from three-point range (on 66 attempts). J.J. Redick has shot nearly 45 percent from downtown over the last three seasons, averaging nearly three three-pointers made per game. But he’ll be dipping from the same pool of minutes as Bayless, who has been a meaningful part of three playoff rotations in his 11 years in the league.

“The versatility and depth of this roster, I think, is going to be our strong suit,” president and general manager Bryan Colangelo said earlier this week.

But it’s also going to shine a spotlight on Brown, both with how he uses that versatility to the team’s advantage on the court, as well as how he manages the temperament of his locker room regarding the distribution of minutes.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Durability issues regarding Kristaps Porzingis are already surfacing, less than a week into training camp … Tony Allen is on a mission to bring his “rough and rugged” style to New Orleans … Alec Burks is healthy and ready to play a much bigger role for the Jazz this season … Count Suns GM Ryan McDonough among those on board with lottery reform … Will Charlotte’s bench make the difference this season for the Hornets? … In the wake of the NCAA basketball scandal, John Wall reflects on his time as a hot-shot recruit … The Spurs are raving about their new addition … The big boys are wooing the Greek “shoe free agent” Freak.

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