Jalen Brunson

Thibodeau: Randle “Fresh And Ready” For Camp

Julius Randle will be “ready to go” in training camp after undergoing offseason ankle surgery, head coach Tom Thibodeau told Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.

Randle had arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in early June. Randle was nagged by an ankle ailment late in the regular season and the postseason.

“Just steady progress. He’s had a very good offseason,” Thibodeau said of Randle. “He’ll be fresh and ready to go.”

Thibodeau touched on several other topics in the interview with Aschburner:

  • Thibodeau is glad that Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart played for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup and hopes that experience will help them during the upcoming Knicks season: “I think it’s great for younger guys when you look at the history with the Olympics, the World Cup and Team USA. When Derrick Rose came back, that year he won the MVP. He was 22 years old. The fact that it’s a different style, I like that too, because you’re adapting. You can learn from playing that way and playing against international players. It allows you to hit the ground running in training camp, too.”
  • The veteran head coach gives the front office high marks for targeting Donte DiVincenzo in free agency. The Knicks signed him to a four-year deal. “Adding Donte is great for us. He’s a great team guy and he’ll fit in seamlessly.”
  • Thibodeau believes he’s a much different coach than he was in Chicago at the start of his head coaching career during the 2010/11 season: “In the ‘90s, a wing pick-and-roll was played basically one way. Now there’s spacing, there are slips and go-screens. You have to adapt to how the game is changing. And defensively, you understand what’s hard to guard, so you implement that into your offense.”

Atlantic Notes: World Cup Effects, Knicks, Schröder, Porzingis

The Knicks and Nets may benefit from having star players involved in the World Cup this summer, writes Ian Begley of SNY.tv. New York’s Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart were both starters for Team USA, while RJ Barrett was an important member of the Canadian squad that captured the bronze medal. Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges also started for the Americans and Cameron Johnson was on the team, although he didn’t play as much.

Begley cites research from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton (subscription required), who studied the NBA performance of players from 2010 to 2021 after they took part in international competitions. Pelton found they averaged 2.1 points per 100 possessions above the league average.

At last year’s training camp, Begley talked to Evan Fournier, a veteran of international basketball with the French team, about what it’s like to go straight from a tournament to an NBA season with almost no rest in between.

“It really hits you in December; you have the first wave of fatigue,” Fournier said. “It’s not my first time dealing with it, so I know how to manage myself. I know being in the weight room is going to be very important. Sleep is going to be very important, but … I’ll be all right.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Knicks are optimistic after advancing to the conference semifinals last season, but a lack of height at the wings could be a concern, observes Zach Braziller of The New York Post (subscription required). Apart from Barrett, New York has to rely on undersized options such as Hart, Quentin Grimes and Donte DiVincenzo.
  • Dennis Schröder told “NBA Today” that new head coach Darko Rajakovic played an important role in his decision to sign with the Raptors (Twitter link from ClutchPoints). “I think Darko, the head coach,” Schröder said. “… I met him five years ago in OKC. We became friends. … I definitely said to my agent, ‘I want be there.’ … I think it’s a great fit.”
  • The Celtics‘ trade for Kristaps Porzingis was the best offseason move in the Atlantic Division, David Aldridge of The Athletic contends in a discussion of the division with other Athletic writers. However, Aldridge, Josh Robbins and Jared Weiss all agree that Boston took a risk regarding team culture by parting with Marcus Smart in the deal and not keeping Grant Williams. Robbins and Weiss cite the Sixers‘ coaching change, replacing Doc Rivers with Nick Nurse, as the most impactful move.

Team USA Notes: First Loss, Banchero, Brunson, Bridges

Former Team USA coach Gregg Popovich used to talk about “appropriate fear,” which is what current coach Steve Kerr said his team should be feeling after losing to Lithuania on Sunday, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. After going unbeaten through exhibition play and the first four games of the tournament, the Americans now understand they’re not invincible as they enter the quarterfinals.

“It makes it real,” Austin Reaves said. “Obviously, now, it’s (win) or go home. We see the reactions. We obviously know that everybody wants to beat us in particular. We see the joy that they get from that. That taste in your mouth, it don’t feel good.”

Although the U.S. remains favored to win the tournament, it will have to play significantly better for that to happen. Sunday’s loss came after a close call Friday against Montenegro in which Team USA had to stage a late rally to pull out a victory.

Reynolds notes that Kerr has been through this experience twice before as a member of Popovich’s staff. The U.S. dropped its first game against France in the last Olympics, but didn’t lose again on the way to a gold medal. In the 2019 World Cup, the team lost in the quarterfinals and wound up finishing seventh.

“Every player that plays for USA Basketball, they have to recognize what they’re up against and it’s not enough for us to just tell them. They’ve got to feel it,” Kerr said. “I think they’ve felt it in the last couple games.”

There’s more on Team USA:

  • Tuesday’s matchup with Italy will be especially significant for Paolo Banchero, Reynolds adds. With an Italian father and an American mother, Banchero had a choice of representing either nation, but he chose the U.S. because that’s who his mom once played for. “I’ll treat it like any other game,” he said.
  • Jalen Brunson is accepting blame for the troubling pattern of slow starts, per Aris Barkas of Eurohoops. Lithuania dominated the early part of Sunday’s contest, building a 31-12 lead after one quarter. “They executed their game plan and we just started too slow. We played way better in the second half and we waited too long to come to play,” Brunson said. “That’s on me, I have to come ready to play, I have to have everyone else ready to play. Respect to them, they played great.”
  • Mikal Bridges vows that the U.S. squad will be more focused for the rest of the tournament, Barkas adds in a separate story. “We just have to be ready for the next one, add more fuel to the fire,” he said. “We are not getting sent home. We just have to keep playing with our talent, we have to keep our guys out there.”

And-Ones: Executives, Value Deals, Super-Max, Milestones

Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports recently ranked 25 of the NBA’s top decision-makers in terms of how successful they’ve been at drafting, making trades, and signing free agents over the course of their respective careers. The other five lead executives were not evaluated due to a small sample size.

As Rohrbach writes, with how his system is set up, having a high score over a long career is more impressive than an executive who performed similarly with fewer years of experience. Still, there’s an obvious caveat: his evaluation process is subjective.

Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison is ranked No. 25, followed by Hornets president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak and Bulls executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas. The top three executives in Rohrbach’s system are Jazz CEO Danny Ainge (No. 1), Raptors president Masai Ujiri, and Spurs GM Brian Wright.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype created three all-contract-value teams comprised of players at each of the five positions. Players on rookie deals and those with maximum salaries were excluded from consideration. Gozlan’s first team features four members of the United States’ World Cup roster — Jalen Brunson, Austin Reaves, Mikal Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen takes the final spot.
  • Signing players to a Designated Veteran contract, also known as the “super-max,” is a polarizing topic among NBA executives, according to Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com. “Super-max isn’t a guarantee of the result you’re looking for,” one general manager told Heavy Sports. “Just because you qualify doesn’t make you that guy. Inflated contracts are even harder to move. The additional penalties in the new CBA should slow the roll of everybody giving out a super-max deal the first time a guy qualifies for it. Just because a guy qualifies for it doesn’t necessarily make him entitled to it. That’s become the issue in the league. If you’re going to call yourself a franchise-level player, which is what I think the super-max number says, you’ve got to have more than just putting up numbers.”
  • ESPN.com lists some noteworthy milestones and anniversaries to watch for the 2023/24 season, noting that Lakers superstar LeBron James is on track to surpass 40,000 career points if he maintains his stellar production and stays healthy. James became the league’s all-time leading scorer last season.

World Cup Notes: Quarterfinals, USA, Canada, Fontecchio

Four teams at the 2023 World Cup punched their tickets to the quarterfinals with victories on Friday, as the U.S., Lithuania, Germany, and Slovenia all pushed their records to 4-0 and secured their spots in the eight-team knockout round, eliminating Montenegro, Greece, Australia, and Georgia.

As Armando Caporaso of Sportando tweets, that leaves four win-or-go-home games set for Sunday to determine the other four World Cup quarterfinalists. Those matchups will be Italy vs. Puerto Rico, Brazil vs. Latvia, Serbia vs. the Dominican Republic, and – perhaps most intriguingly – Canada vs. Spain.

Any European team that doesn’t advance to at least the quarterfinals will fail to clinch a spot at the 2024 Olympics in this event and would have to win a qualifying tournament next year in order to try to claim one of the last four Olympic berths.

Puerto Rico, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Canada would keep themselves in the running for an Olympic spot with a win on Sunday. If just one of those four teams makes the quarterfinals, that club would join Team USA as the two Americas clubs that will qualify for the Olympics through the World Cup.

As we wait to see how the second round of the World Cup plays out, here are a few more notes on the tournament:

  • Team USA earned its spot in the quarterfinals by defeating Montenegro in what was its toughest test yet. Montenegro led at halftime and kept the game close until the final minutes, but a closing lineup that included reserve guards Tyrese Haliburton and Austin Reaves helped the U.S. put the game away, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Haliburton and Reaves took the place of starters Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart while Anthony Edwards scored all 17 of his points in the second half to help lock up the victory.
  • Team Canada head coach Jordi Fernandez had harsh words for his players after Friday’s upset loss to Brazil, tweets Oren Weisfeld.Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) has to score the ball and play-make and he didn’t,” Fernandez said. “And I can go down the line. Kelly (Olynyk) has to play-make, rebound and score efficiently – he didn’t. RJ (Barrett) has to run the floor and score efficiently and defend and he didn’t.”
  • As Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca notes (via Twitter), a loss on Sunday for Canada would ensure that Brazil finishes ahead of them in their group standings, regardless of whether the Brazilians win or lose on Sunday. So the Canadians will need a victory if they want to hang onto a chance to clinch an Olympic berth this year.
  • Italian forward Simone Fontecchio played a limited role for the Jazz in his first NBA season in 2022/23, but he showed in Friday’s upset victory over Serbia what he’s capable of. As Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops details, Fontecchio led the charge in Italy’s comeback win over the Serbians, pouring in 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting.

World Cup Notes: Towns, Team USA, Barrett, Doncic

Karl-Anthony Towns‘ decision to represent the Dominican Republic in the FIBA World Cup is a way to honor his late mother, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, a Dominican native, died from COVID during the early stages of the pandemic. She helped to inspire the commitment from Towns, who hasn’t played in an international tournament for more than a decade.

“There was a lot that went into the decision,” the Timberwolves‘ forward/center said. “The timing is right. I didn’t put as much stress on my body this last season because of the (calf) injury. I’m feeling great now, I’m 100% and feeling like myself again. It’s a perfect time to work on some things in my game. And with my mom’s passing, I felt an urgency to do it.”

The Dominican team won’t have Al Horford or Chris Duarte, but Towns’ presence will give them a chance of advancing. They’ll start out in pool play with Italy, Angola and the Philippines, which will host the Americas region when the tournament begins August 26.

Towns is also hoping to use the World Cup as a springboard to a better season with Minnesota. He missed 51 straight games with the calf issue, and his late-season return wasn’t enough to help the team get past the first round of the playoffs.

“The (Wolves were) very supportive when I came to them to talk about playing,” Towns said. “There’s a lot of commitment to get better this season, and for all of us this will be a head start.”

There’s more on the World Cup:

  • Team USA got its first taste of adversity in Sunday’s game against the top-ranked Spanish team in Malaga, notes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. The Americans faced a rabid crowd as Spain erased a 10-point halftime deficit to take the lead in the third quarter. “Atmosphere is contagious,” Mikal Bridges said. “And that’s funny. I was talking to my teammates about playing in the national championship, playing in the finals is just a different type of atmosphere. And this is like one thing that you dream of, and we aren’t even in the stadium in the Philippines (for the World Cup). But even coming here and being in Spain, this is ridiculous, man. I’m happy I’m a part of this, happy I’m going through this.”
  • While Jalen Brunson made all nine of his shots from the field as the U.S. pulled out a victory, Knicks teammate RJ Barrett scored 31 points in Canada’s overtime win over Germany in the finals of the DBB SuperCup tournament, per Christian Arnold of The New York Post. “(Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), (Kelly Olynyk) and the guys are out there making it easy for me to do my thing, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Barrett said.
  • Luka Doncic told reporters, including Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops, that he feels he has something to prove after Slovenia’s early exit in last year’s EuroBasket. “I disappointed my team. I let my whole country down. It was my fault,” Doncic said. “I’ll be back. I will always play for Slovenia if I am not injured.”

World Cup Notes: Doncic, Brunson, Ntilikina, Kerr

Luka Doncic isn’t playing for the Slovenian national team when they take on the United States in tonight’s showcase game, the club announced (Twitter link). Doncic isn’t playing for precautionary reasons after suffering a blow to his left knee in the second quarter of a game against Spain on Friday.

Doncic’s injury likely isn’t serious, given that he completed the second half of the game in which he suffered the injury, finishing with 17 points in about 25 minutes. Still, it’s a disappointing result for Doncic, his team and even USA Basketball. Jalen Brunson, who is on the USA’s World Cup roster and played with Doncic from 2018 to 2022 on the Mavericks, was looking forward to squaring off against his former teammate.

That’s my brother,” Brunson said of Doncic, per The Athletic’s Joe Vardon. “We got drafted together. I’ve been watching him grow since meeting him for the first time, seeing the player he is now. He’s gotten better and better each year to the point where he’s a top-five player, an MVP candidate, year in and year out, so whenever I get a chance to share the court with him, either with him or against him, it’s always been special. I’ve got nothing but love for him.

The exhibition game between Slovenia and the United States tips off today at 3:30 p.m. EST. Former NBA players Zoran Dragic and Mike Tobey are among the Slovenian players who will take the floor against the United States.

There are other notes from the World Cup:

  • New Hornets guard Frank Ntilikina will miss the 2023 FIBA World Cup after suffering an injury in a friendly between France and Lithuania, Eurohoops reports. Ntilikina injured his hamstring and no timetable was given for his return to play. Ntilikina signed a one-year contract with the Hornets earlier this month.
  • Thirty-seven years ago, Steve Kerr was a player for the 1986 USA Basketball World Championship Team, the precursor to the modern World Cup. Kerr’s team played in Malaga, Spain, where the USA is scheduled to play over the coming days. In another piece from Vardon, Kerr reminisces over the time he spent as a player in Malaga and said he wants the Team USA players he’s now coaching to take this experience all in. “Part of this experience has to be the cultural part of it,” Kerr said. “We’re getting to travel the world and see places we may never see again. So, you know, we are going to encourage our guys to get out. A lot of them have family in. Most of them went out to dinner with their families and friends last night. Yeah. We encourage that. It’s a great time to see the city of Malaga, but also prepare for a couple of important games.
  • In case you missed it, Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t be playing in this year’s World Cup because he’s still recovering from a minor knee surgery.

Atlantic Notes: Brunson, Long Island, Petrusev, Sixers

Jalen Brunson faced plenty of questions last summer entering his first season with the Knicks. He not only answered all of the questions, he “raised the bar” for the franchise and now he’ll face a different kind of pressure in 2023/24 as the “unquestioned leader” of the team, according to Zach Braziller of The New York Post (subscriber link).

As Braziller writes, Brunson put up career highs in nearly every major statistical category last season, but teams will be more focused on slowing him down in ’23/24. As Team USA’s probable starting point guard ahead of the World Cup, Brunson hasn’t shown any signs of being impacted by enhanced external expectations — if anything, he seems to thrive under increased scrutiny, which could be a boon for the Knicks, per Braziller.

Here’s more from the Atlantic:

  • The Nets‘ NBA G League affiliate in Long Island recently announced a series of coaching changes. Shawn Swords, who was an assistant last season, has been promoted to associate head coach under Mfon Udofia, while Travis Voigt, Andrew Cobian and L.D. Williams were named assistant coaches.
  • In an interview with Antonis Stroggylakis of Eurohoops.net, Sixers big man Filip Petrusev discussed signing his first NBA contract, expectations (or lack thereof) for his rookie season, playing for the Serbian national team in the World Cup, and escaping the wildfires in Greece while he was vacationing with his girlfriend.
  • Appearing on NBA Today (YouTube link), ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne says the Sixers are still in a stalemate with former MVP James Harden, with no real trade talks at the moment. Shelburne also says Joel Embiid is motivated to enter 2023/24 in tip-top shape and is excited by the upside of Tyrese Maxey, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract but isn’t expected to receive an extension. It may seem like the franchise is in turmoil from the outside given Harden’s trade request, but Shelburne hears Embiid is in regular communication with the front office. While this season will undoubtedly be vital, next summer might be even more important for Embiid’s future, according to Shelburne, who notes that the reigning MVP is waiting to see what the roster looks like in ’24/25 with so few players under contract.

Eastern Notes: Livers, Bridges, C. Johnson, Brunson, Celtics

After being limited to 19 games in 2021/22 — his rookie season — due to a right foot stress fracture he sustained in college, Pistons forward Isaiah Livers now realizes he may have done more harm than good with his strenuous workout regimen last offseason. He appeared in just 52 games during his sophomore campaign in ’22/23, having dealt with multiple injuries.

As Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press writes, Livers has taken a different, more measured approach this summer in an effort to prepare his body for an 82-game schedule.

I’ve built a new friendship with the weight room,” Livers told Sankofa. “I feel a lot more explosive, bouncier, and I feel more in control of my body. It’s no secret, the No. 1 thing about me is just avoiding injuries. It’s been some small injuries. I tweaked my workout plan to the point where I won’t have those wear-and-tears, those nagging injuries. I’ve been put on a smart plan where I’m not overworking myself. This is the season. I’m excited and we have big things to look forward to.”

A relentless worker, Livers admits it hasn’t been easy to take a step back, but he knows ’23/24 will be a key season for his future. As Sankofa notes, the former second-round pick will be headed to restricted free agency next summer after Detroit exercised its team option on his contract at the end of June.

Livers also spoke to Sankofa about the return of Cade Cunningham and new head coach Monty Williams, among other topics. It’s an interesting, thoughtful interview and worth checking out for Pistons fans.

Here’s more from the East:

  • Both Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson are thrilled to be able to represent Team USA in international competition, and the Nets are fully supportive of their choices, Brian Lewis of The New York Post writes in a subscriber-only piece. “It seems so much fun,” Johnson said. “You know, I’ve talked to people that have played, I’ve talked to people that have been a part of it. They said it’s such a valuable experience for your career, and you can learn a lot from it. And then you just get the experience to see high level basketball across the world in a different type of environment. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
  • Knicks guard Jalen Brunson believes playing for Team USA in the World Cup this summer will be beneficial for him entering the 2023/24 season, according to Ethan Sears of The New York Post. “I think it’s another way to get ready for training camp,” Brunson said. “You gotta look at it and see the positives that come out of this, going towards the NBA season. I know I’ll be ready for that. I think for me, my mindset is focused on this and not really worrying about what’s going on ahead right now.”
  • Brian Robb of MassLive.com covers a number of Celtics topics in a mailbag article. Most of the questions are centered around how the team should fill out the end of the roster. Robb would take a patient approach and thinks free agent big man Christian Wood is an unlikely target for a variety of reasons.

And-Ones: Team USA, Contracts, EuroBasket Qualifiers, BIG3

Team USA got revenge on the Select Team during Saturday’s scrimmage, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, who writes that the senior team won 84-61 after three periods, which were 10 minutes each.

As Vardon notes, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Brandon Ingram and Jaren Jackson Jr. started both days for Team USA. On Friday, Cameron Johnson was the fifth starter, while Anthony Edwards received the nod on Saturday.

Given that the team performed much better yesterday, it seems like Edwards might have the edge for a starting nod, though head coach Steve Kerr still isn’t ready to commit to anything.

Despite what he’s said publicly in terms of the lineup, it’s clear that Kerr has a major role in mind for Brunson, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

I think Jalen is such a natural leader,” Kerr said. “Because he’s a point guard, he immediately comes to mind. He’s the one who’s leading the ‘1, 2, 3 USA’ chant. Some guys just, it just comes naturally to them.”

With the Select Team heading home and the Americans having a non-contact practice on Sunday, the next test for Team USA as it prepares for the 2023 World Cup will come during Monday’s exhibition game against Puerto Rico, Vardon adds.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Which NBA players have benefited the most from the salary cap rising 10% each of the past two years? ESPN’s Bobby Marks provides a chart (via Twitter) of salary comparisons over the past four league years, and notes the highest earners have actually received the biggest bump in terms of relative volume.
  • The 32-nation qualifying field for the 2025 EuroBasket tournament has been set, as Ennio Terrasi Borghesan of Sportando relays. The qualifiers will take place over three different windows between February 2024 and February 2025.
  • BIG3 co-founder Ice Cube has a handful of former NBA veterans on his wish list, including DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Dwight Howard and Jamal Crawford, he tells Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe (subscriber link). The 12-team 3-on-3 league started at the end of June and runs through August 26, with the championship held in London, England.