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76ers coach says no one has worked harder than Joel Embiid ahead of NBA’s return

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown said no one has worked harder than Joel Embiid as he hailed the All-Star ahead of the NBA’s return.

The 2019-20 NBA season is set to restart via a 22-team format at the Disney World complex in Orlando, Fla., on July 30 after the campaign was halted due to COVID-19 in March.

Embiid’s fitness has always been a topic of discussion, and all eyes will be on the three-time All-Star center when the NBA returns following the coronavirus pandemic.

Philadelphia’s first game back will be against the Indiana Pacers, who share identical 39-26 records to be fifth and sixth respectively, on Aug. 1.

And Brown had high praise for Embiid’s training and conditioning midweek.

“Let’s start with the respect and applause I give him for putting in time. There is nobody on our team that has put in more time than Joel Embiid,” Brown told reporters on Wednesday.

“Forget what he has actually done in the gym for a minute, just go to the man hours and consecutive days and the amount of days he has put in over the past few months. I’m proud of him, I respect him. He needed to do it. We understand the impact he can have on our team.”

Embiid had been averaging 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game this season.

“We’ve got a three-week runway to deliver him to the regular season,” Brown said. “I’m looking for Joel to come in in as good of shape as he’s been in since I have coached him.

“I think the three weeks we have together is an inverted sort of luxury we haven’t had. I’m excited for Jo to get back into this and show what he has been doing the last few months.”

The 76ers — 14 games behind the Eastern Conference and NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) — are also set to be boosted by the return of fellow All-Star Ben Simmons.

Simmons has been sidelined since February due to a back injury, but Brown added: “He’s good to go. He’s put in a tremendous amount of work for me to be able to confidently say that.

“As you search for silver linings with this pandemic and the way things have shaped up, it would be hard-pressed for me to find something more obvious than this: It’s enabled Ben to reclaim his health. He’s good to go, and we look forward to watching him with what I’m told is effectively 100 percent health.”

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Why Denver Nuggets’ Mike Malone is confident about reopening facility, resuming season with full roster

The Denver Nuggets closed their practice facility this week for a simple reason.

“We had multiple people in our traveling party test positive” for the coronavirus, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Wednesday in a conference call.

Therefore, the Nuggets could not hold the first day of mandatory individual workouts as 21 other NBA teams did beginning on Wednesday. Nonetheless, Malone said “there is a chance we can open up the gym” before the team departs for Orlando on July 7.

That depends on when/if the Nuggets receive all negative tests for COVID-19 after initially testing on June 23. Nonetheless, Malone and Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly have had varying conversations with players in recent days about their pending participation in the resumed season beginning on July 30.

“There has been no indication that any of our players are not planning on attending Orlando,” Malone said. “With that said, if one of our players or a few of our players or coaches did not feel comfortable going, I would fully support them.”

Malone respectfully declined to name who currently has COVID-19. But Nuggets star Nikola Jokic has been one of them. Jokic has been in his native Serbia. NBA players who were overseas were scheduled to report to their team by June 15, but Jokic was granted an exception.

“He feels great. We’re working on getting him back here,” Malone said. “But the hope is he will be with us next Tuesday as we depart for Orlando the hope and expectation is Nikola Jokic will be with us as we head our plane down to Orlando. From everything I’ve heard and talking to him, he feels great and feels fine and is excited to get back.”

Malone said he feels the same way. He had felt symptoms on March 20, but he had not taken a test because of the state’s supply shortage.  He discovered around Memorial Day weekend that he had the virus after taking an antibody test. Afterwards, Malone joked with a CBS’ Denver affiliate, "I like to say that I got coronavirus and I kicked its butt.

“I was embarrassed. I made light of something that has devastated families,” said Malone, who has not seen his parents during quarantine. “It is definitely not something that should be taken lightly. It’s something I’m making jokes about how I kicked its butt. That was way off base. I feel bad about it. We as a family have dealt with it by staying together and relying on each other.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Lakers won’t replace Howard, ‘hopeful’ he’ll play

  • Lakers and NBA reporter for ESPN.
  • Covered the Lakers and NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.

LOS ANGELES — Lakers coach Frank Vogel says the team will not seek a replacement player for Dwight Howard for the Orlando restart. And, according to Vogel, the team will not ask the replacement player that it did add, JR Smith, to play like the player he replaced, Avery Bradley.

Speaking on a video conference call with reporters Wednesday at the start of the Lakers’ “pre” training camp comprised of individual workouts before the team flies to Florida next week, Vogel restated L.A.’s commitment to the backup center.

“We’ve been in communication with Dwight the whole way with supportive phone calls and text messages,” Vogel said. “We don’t know what the level of participation is going to be yet. He wants to play. We’re hopeful that he’s able to join us.”

Howard is currently with his family in Georgia, where he is satisfying the NBA’s home quarantine and testing protocol required of all players who will participate in Orlando, a league source told ESPN.

Howard’s 6-year-old son, David, is in his care. David’s mother, Melissa Rios, died of an epileptic seizure on March 27 at her home in Calabasas, California.

Not only is Howard juggling his responsibilities as a father with preparation for the finale to the season, but as a Black man he has also been deeply affected by the social unrest facing this country, according to Howard’s agent, Charles Briscoe.

“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction,” Howard said in a statement issued to CNN through Briscoe last month.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters this week that the team is working with Howard, Briscoe, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association in order to find a workable path for the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year to eventually report to the team.

All 22 teams participating in the restart were required to submit to the league their 36-person traveling party list — including their roster of up to 17 players — by Wednesday. Vogel said “we don’t have any intention” of keeping Howard off the Lakers’ list.

“He has an extenuating circumstance that he’s working with the league on in terms of what that is ultimately going to look like,” Vogel said. “But we’re hopeful and optimistic that he’ll be able to join us in Orlando.”

The NBA has already assessed player circumstances on a case-by-case basis, as players have tested positive for COVID-19 before returning to their teams. Sacramento Kings forward Jabari Parker, for example, will remain in Chicago before joining his teammates in Orlando as he recovers from the coronavirus, rather than trek to the West Coast beforehand.

As for Smith, he officially signed a contract with the Lakers on Wednesday, giving L.A. another option at guard after Bradley opted out of playing in Orlando last week because of family concerns. The 34-year-old, who hasn’t played in the league since November of 2018, will wear No. 21 for the Lakers.

“In terms of what he brings to the table, just the experience factor,” Vogel said of Smith, who paired with LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers to win a championship in 2016. “I mean, this guy is a big-time player. He’s proven it over the course of his career. We know he can help us.

“We almost added him earlier in the year when we added Dion Waiters and now we have the luxury of having both. We’re not going to ask him to come in and be Avery Bradley. He’s going to come in and be JR Smith. He’s going to just fill that position, more than fill that role.”

The Lakers’ Instagram account posted photos of three players working out at their El Segundo, California, facility Wednesday: James, Anthony Davis and Alex Caruso.

Caruso, who averaged 17.8 minutes before the season was suspended to Bradley’s 24.2, said he hopes to pick up some of the slack created by Bradley’s absence.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to be the sole provider of everything that Avery did,” he said on a video conference call with reporters. “That’s a lot to ask for just because of how good he is at what he does. But I’m definitely going to be ready to fill part of that gap and that need.”

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Lillard has doubts on players following all rules

  • Covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for ESPN.com

As teams prepare to depart for Orlando in the next week, entering into the campus “bubble” environment, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard expressed serious doubt all the protocols and rules will be strictly followed by players.

“My confidence ain’t great,” Lillard said with a laugh on Wednesday. “My confidence ain’t great because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom everybody don’t follow all the rules. I don’t have much confidence. But hopefully it’ll be handled to a point where we’re not putting everybody at risk or in a dangerous position.”

The 22 teams that are part of the NBA restart will arrive in Orlando beginning on July 7 and will be tested, isolating for up to 48 hours, and then tested again. From there, it will become a bubble environment, with interaction between the outside world basically eliminated. Close family members will eventually join the bubble beginning with the second round of the playoffs.

In Florida, COVID-19 cases are rising sharply, which has led to questions about the NBA’s plan.

“The fact that we’re going to be in a bubble, it kind of knocks it down and limits the chance of us being exposed to everybody else outside the bubble in Orlando,” Lillard said. “I think it is a safer situation. But I don’t think it’s possible for them to protect us 100 percent. I think everybody’s going there understanding that.”

The league gave teams a 113-page document outlining all the protocols and rules of the bubble. A player who breaks the bubble and leaves campus will be quarantined for at least 10 days and have to undergo deep-nasal testing. Players can’t go into each other’s rooms but can eventually socialize with video games, one-on-one ping-pong and golf.

Lillard said his plan for handling the circumstances will be simple: basketball and chill.

“I know they’re going to activities for us and all that stuff, but I mean, I’m gonna be chilling. I feel like there’s still a possibility for something to spread within that bubble, just with so many people doing so many different things that we’ve got to follow to be safe, even though we’re not exposed to the public. So for me, it’s going to be what time is practice, what time can I get in the weight room, what time can I get some shots up, what’s the plan for gameday. And then I’m gonna be in the room. I’m gonna have my PS3, my PS4, I’m gonna have my studio equipment, my mic, my laptop, I’m gonna have all my books. That’s it, man. I’m gonna be in the room, chilling.”

When facilities re-opened for voluntary workouts, there wasn’t an official restart plan in place and Lillard said following the protocols were challenging — no locker room access, can’t help a teammate with long rebounds, specific towels and water bottles, no weight room or showers.

“It was just so many rules where everybody was like, ‘Man, are we even playing? Is this even worth it?'” Lillard said. “And when they were like ‘Alright, we’re playing, this is where the location is,’ it seemed like it was rolling at that point. Guys showing up more consistently … Just having something to look forward to, something to work for helped a lot.”

Lillard said he’s going in with an open mind, but won’t know how good the plan really is until he sees it in action.

“We’ll see if it was really well thought out and if they really had our best interests once we get there,” he said.

The Blazers enter the restart in a difficult position, 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies for the 8-seed. The Blazers need to be within four games of the 8-seed to at least force a play-in round.

“It’s basically an eight-game season and we’re starting off behind,” Lillard said.

But the Blazers do have one thing working in their favor: health. They expect to have center Jusuf Nurkic back, who missed the last year recovering from a gruesome broken leg, and Zach Collins, who missed three months early last season because of shoulder surgery.

Lillard was vocal before the league’s plan was announced, saying he wasn’t interested in participating in a restart if the Blazers didn’t have anything to play for. But he said with the way things are set up, he’s excited for the chance to go play again.

“The only thing I asked for was the opportunity to make it,” he said. “And we’ve been given that, so we’re going to show up and do what we gotta do. Simple as that.”

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Sixers’ Simmons ‘effectively 100%’ for restart

Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown said Ben Simmons’ back is “effectively 100 percent” as they prepare to head to Florida for the NBA restart at Disney World.

“He’s good to go. He’s put in a tremendous amount of work for me to be able to confidently say that,” Brown said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“As you search for silver linings with this pandemic and the way things have shaped up, it would be hard-pressed for me to find something more obvious than this: It’s enabled Ben to reclaim his health. He’s good to go, and we look forward to watching him with what I’m told is effectively 100 percent health.”

Simmons hasn’t played in an NBA game since Feb. 22, when he suffered a back injury early in the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks. However, after months of speculation, it appears the Sixers can expect to have Simmons available when they resume their season on Aug. 1 against the Indiana Pacers.

In addition to the positive report about Simmons’ health, Brown said none of the Sixers have tested positive for the coronavirus and none have opted out of going with the team to Orlando for the restart.

He said he’s also very pleased with the shape that Joel Embiid is in.

“Let’s start with the respect and applause I give him for putting in time. There is nobody on our team that has put in more time than Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “Forget what he has actually done in the gym for a minute, just go to the man hours and consecutive days and the amount of days he has put in over the past few months. I’m proud of him, I respect him. He needed to do it. We understand the impact he can have on our team.”

After he accidentally collided with Markelle Fultz and suffered a facial fracture two years ago and then dealt with illness and flu-like symptoms throughout a second-round loss to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors last year, the Sixers are hoping Embiid will be fully healthy and ready to go for the playoffs.

Brown said the team has a plan in place to ramp up Embiid’s activity.

“We’ve got a three-week runway to deliver him to the regular season,” Brown said. “I’m looking for Joel to come in in as good of shape as he’s been in since I have coached him. I think the three weeks we have together is an inverted sort of luxury we haven’t had. I’m excited for Jo to get back into this and show what he has been doing the last few months.”

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Adam Silver suggests NBA restart may need tape delay for potty-mouthed players

The 2020 NBA restart: Rated TV-MA?

While NBA commissioner Adam Silver is largely focused on how the coronavirus (COVID-19) could impact the league’s return to play, he also recognizes the importance of finalizing the smaller details surrounding game broadcasts.

With no screaming fans in attendance, viewers would be able to hear just about everything players and coaches are saying on the court. If you’ve ever attended an NBA game, then you know some of those conversations aren’t exactly family-friendly.

“I think there’s got to be some limits on the language,” Silver said in a TIME100 interview with Sean Gregory. “I think often players, they understand when they’re on the floor, they’re saying certain things to each other because it’s so loud in the arena, they know a lot of it is not being picked up.

“They may have to adapt their language a little bit knowing what they say will likely be picked up by microphones and in all seriousness, we may need to put a little bit of a delay.”

A portion of the NBA’s audience would certainly love to witness every second of trash talk between players as it happens. Donovan Mitchell is part of that group.

Unfortunately for the Jazz star and others who agree with him, the almighty dollar and corporate sponsors will likely reign supreme here.

All games are set to be played at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. Cursing wasn’t exactly a key part of “Toy Story,” though it would be fun to hear Giannis Antetokounmpo shout, “To infinity and f—ing beyond!” after posterizing a defender.

But hey, maybe we’ll get lucky and one of the baseline microphones will pick up Carmelo Anthony’s classic catchphrase.

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Rating the latest NBA moves: Playoff and play-in implications

  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
  • Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
  • Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system

How different will NBA rosters look when the season resumes at the end of this month?

Tuesday marked the end of the NBA’s transaction window ahead of teams heading to Orlando for eight seeding games, followed by potential play-in tournaments and the 2020 playoffs. Now the only roster moves allowed will be substitute contracts for players who have chosen not to participate in the restart or are unable to do so after testing positive for COVID-19 — some of which have already been reported.

Let’s break down how the rosters shape up now — including the return of players from injuries, the effect of players dropping out and the moves we’ve seen over the past week — in contrast to what we last saw from NBA teams in March.

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Zion named one of 3 NBA 2K21 cover athletes

Growing up playing NBA 2K games, Zion Williamson dreamed of one day being on the cover. After just one season in the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans rookie has turned that dream into a reality.

Williamson was named one of the three cover athletes for NBA 2K21 on Wednesday morning.

“It’s one of those emotions I’m still processing,” Williamson told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears in a video interview. “It’s a dream come true. At those AAU tournaments, you’re looking at the cover thinking, ‘That’s gonna be me.’ For it to happen that fast, it’s a huge honor.”

Williamson will be the cover athlete for the next-generation systems PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. He joins Damian Lillard, who will be featured on the current-generation systems, as one of the announced cover athletes. The final cover athlete will be announced Thursday.

During the PS5 reveal event June 11, Williamson was featured to show off the game’s new graphics.

“My first thoughts on the commercial was this is super dope,” Williamson said. “It’s crazy that it’s me. Then the thoughts after when I let it process was, ‘Man, that was really me.’ They chose me to be the guy to introduce 2K21. It’s just an honor. It’s like a dream come true.”

Williamson said 2K takes him back to his days on the AAU circuit and all the hours he put in playing the game.

“It’s always been a fun game, especially when you’re with your friends at AAU tournaments,” Williamson said. “It’s nothing but 2K, 2K tournaments and whoever thinks they’re the best. Sometimes it’s meeting up with other teams at the same hotel and seeing how far your 2K skills carry.”

Williamson becomes the third player from the New Orleans organization to grace the cover after Chris Paul did so for 2K8 and Anthony Davis for 2K16.

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WATCH NOW: Sky Sports Heatcheck – June 22

Three-time NBA champion BJ Armstrong joins Ovie Soko, Mo Mooncey and Jaydee Dyer for the latest episode of Heatcheck Sky Sports’ NBA debate show.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=bJs51q8Xe4g%3Ffeature%3Doembed

Armstrong was part of the all-conquering Chicago Bulls team in the early 1990s, so he will have plenty to add to the debate on all-time starting fives – including his own selection.

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Don’t forget LeBron’s astounding on-court legacy in Miami

    Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) is a professor and an NBA analyst for ESPN.

By the time LeBron James made The Decision, he was already the best basketball player in the world. He was 25 years old and had just won his second consecutive MVP award.

Ten years later, James is still at the top of the NBA, and that decision to take his talents to South Beach stands as arguably the most impactful transaction in NBA history for two reasons:

1. The GOAT conversation

  • In 2010, James displayed the potential to be the greatest player of all time. These days, it’s a legitimate debate thanks to the astounding resume he built after his first Ohio departure. There were 10 NBA Finals in the 2010s, and James had a strong case as the single best player in eight of them (in a row). That’s one of the most impressive stats of this basketball era. The move to Miami made it possible.

2. Player empowerment

  • The Decision sparked a movement that has rewired the fundamental relationships between NBA teams and superstars. Franchises need more than just max salaries to lure the league’s top free agents — they need attractive basketball situations, too. Now, it’s more like the front offices are the free agents and the league’s best players are the power brokers.

Looking back at James’ four years in Miami leaves little doubt that he made the right choice. On top of those two primary effects of his move, there’s a third, slightly underrated legacy: James entered an ideal environment to improve his game and fully took advantage of it.

He obsessed over improving his scoring efficiency numbers each year. After converting 47.6% of his shots in 2006-07, James worked to improve that number for seven straight seasons, embracing the emerging concept of efficiency that culminated in a ridiculous final two years in Miami, when James peaked from a pure scoring perspective.

Sure, James had become an efficient overall scorer prior to 2010, but he climbed to another plane entirely in Miami. And he did it through addition by subtraction.

His chosen teammates and coaches deserve some credit here. Simply being around a better talent pool enabled James to trim out the most difficult shots from his shot diet. To this day, his shot activity in his final two years in Miami remains his least active. They are the only two seasons in which James averaged fewer than 17 shots per 36 minutes.

And the shots he did take during those two seasons were cleaner than the ones he was hoisting up back in Cleveland. He shot fewer long 2s, and he dominated the paint. In the seven seasons before James got to Miami, around 35% of his shots came at least 10 feet from the rim but inside the 3-point line. That dipped to 30% in 2012-13 and slipped all the way to 25% in 2013-14. Since then, James’ midrange volume has continued to decline — all the way down to 17% of his attempts when the 2019-20 season was paused.

Opposing defenses couldn’t zero in on him like they did in Cleveland. Not only did Miami have Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, they also featured a rotating group of catch-and-shoot threats including Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Ray Allen. These sharpshooters helped Miami open up the floor and keep the middle clean for James.

Although his tenure in the league will always be associated with the pervasive rise of 3-point shooting and analytics, James became the greatest player of his generation with an old-school scoring approach: Attack the rack. LeBron became the NBA’s best interior scorer during the Heat years, thanks in part to a great system.

The Heat morphed Chris Bosh, one of the NBA’s best young interior scorers, into a spacey pick-and-pop threat. Bosh’s versatility helped turn the offense inside out, forcing opposing bigs to abandon the paint.

“It becomes a matchup problem,” James said in 2013. “Anytime you can bring one of the best defenders out of the paint — you know, like Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, or any of these guys like Marc Gasol that protect the paint so well — that allows driving lanes for myself and [Wade] to come much easier.”

James’ time in Miami coincided with the mainstreaming of basic analytical discourse in pro basketball. Franchises began hiring more and more analysts and statisticians. Concepts that Dean Oliver introduced a decade prior started to escape nerdy message boards and infiltrated basketball discussions at the highest levels. The word efficiency started showing up everywhere, even when I asked James in March 2013 to describe how his game had shifted since his rookie year:

“Efficiency,” he said. “I’m just a more efficient player. I take no shots for granted. When you’re a young player, you cast up low-percentage shots, and you’re not really involved with the numbers as much as far as field goal percentage and things of that nature. As I’ve grown, I’ve made more of a conscious effort to become a more efficient player, and I think it’s helped my team’s success over the years.”

After the Heat sputtered against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, James used that offseason to rework his scoring approach. In his worst postseason moments against teams such as Boston and Dallas, James would listlessly orbit around the perimeter. When he came back in 2011-12, that tendency was eliminated. The passivity was gone.

In his last year in Cleveland, James tried 4.7 3s per game. In 2011-12 that number shrunk to 2.3. He traded in mediocre jumpers for more ferocious rim attacks. He famously visited Hakeem Olajuwon for training in Houston, and he started posting up more on the left block.

Prior to 2011-12, James had never logged an effective field goal percentage (eFG) higher than 55%. In his nine seasons since, he has done so eight times. And that eFG soared above 60% in his final two Miami years. To put that into context, consider these two nuggets.

  • Of the 40 most prolific NBA shooters in 2012-13, only one player logged an eFG above 56%. It was James at 60.3%. Kevin Durant ranked a distant second at 55.9%. Stephen Curry ranked third at 54.9.

  • The following year, James did it again. He posted a 61.0% eFG, while Curry ranked second at 56.6%.

Following the 2012 championship, James again went back to the lab. This time he worked on his 3-pointers. In 2012-13, he wasn’t just the best paint scorer in the league — he also made 40.6% of his 3s. James finally aligned the all-world athleticism that helped him muscle his way to rim with a reliable jumper. He was unstoppable.

Was this peak LeBron? I think so.

By the time the Heat reached the most pivotal game of that season, James was ready to put it all together on the biggest stage. Just 48 hours after Ray Allen’s 3 kept the Heat alive in a Game 6 win over the San Antonio Spurs, James and his teammates still had work to do.

Earlier in his career, James had struggled to meet these definitive moments. But in Game 7 of the 2013 Finals, James played one of the finest games of his life, propelling the Heat to another title with 37 points on 23 shots. (By the way, has there been a more impressive Finals win? If the 2012-13 Spurs weren’t the best team to lose the Finals in the 2010s, then the 2015-16 Warriors were. Who beat them both?)

The Decision has many lasting legacies, but as it pertains to James’ basketball career, the lessons are clear. James proved that even great players need help to get to the mountaintop. His move to Miami showed a generation of superstars that it’s more important to be loyal to your own career than to any ownership group. And his on-court evolution displayed how the most promising players could take their skills to another level.

Last summer, when Celtics wing Jayson Tatum was attempting to rebound from a shaky second season, he saw a clear path to get back on track.

“Focus on getting to the basket much more,” Tatum said. “Shoot more 3s, and layups, and free throws.”

In short: Be more efficient. Sounds familiar.

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