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#pounditSunday, August 7, 2022

Basketball

Michael Jordan pays tribute to late Bill Russell

Michael Jordan in a suit

Dec 21, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan unveils the new Charlotte Hornets logo at halftime during the game against the Utah Jazz at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Jordan shared a poignant statement in reaction to the death of NBA and Boston Celtics icon Bill Russell on Sunday.

Russell died peacefully at the age of 88 with his wife by his side.

The NBA community showed an outpouring of love and support for Russell on Sunday. That included Jordan, who lauded Russell’s impact in a statement via the Charlotte Hornets.

“Bill Russell was a pioneer – as a player, as a champion, as the NBA’s first black head coach and as an activist,” Jordan wrote. “He paved the way and set an example for every black player who came into the league after him, including me. The world has lost a legend. My condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.”

Russell, a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team, was regarded as one of the great winners in the history of sports. He won 11 NBA championships with the Celtics and two college basketball national titles with San Fransisco. Russell, a 12-time All-Star and five-time MVP, has the second-most rebounds in NBA history (21,620). He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1975 and as a coach in 2021.

Unlikely school reportedly making push to recruit Bronny James

Bronny James looking on

Dec 7, 2019; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Sierra Canyon School guard LeBron James Jr (0) against Millennium High School during the 2019 Hoophall West basketball tournament at Chaparral High School. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Despite it likely being a halfcourt prayer, one less-heralded school is shooting their shot with Bronny James.

Billy Witz and Adam Zagoria of the New York Times reported this week that Rutgers University is making an unexpected push to recruit Bronny, eldest son of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. The report adds that Rutgers is hoping that head coach Steve Pikiell’s strong track record of developing lightly-regarded recruits will appeal to Bronny.

Rutgers went 18-14 last season and qualified for the NCAA Tournament but lost to Notre Dame in the First Four. Pikiell will be entering his seventh year on the job next season and has gotten a couple of his former Rutgers players to the NBA such as Ron Harper Jr. (who recently signed a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors) and Eugene Omoruyi (who got a two-way deal this summer from the Oklahoma City Thunder).

As for Bronny, he is about to be a senior in high school and will turn 18 in October. Though he is a four-star prospect, questions have begun to arise about just how good an NBA prospect Bronny will be. But both Bronny’s family name and the hype surrounding him should draw the attention of several marquee schools. We already know of a few such schools, though Rutgers is now hoping to crash the party as well.

NBA legend Bill Russell dead at 88

Bill Russell giving a speech

Feb 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; NBA legend Bill Russell speaks during a special tribute to him during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game Legends Brunch at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

NBA icon Bill Russell died Sunday at the age of 88, his family announced.

In a statement posted on social media, Russell’s family said the Boston Celtics icon died peacefully Sunday at the age of 88 with his wife Jeannine by his side. Details regarding a memorial service will be announced “soon.”

Russell is regarded as one of the finest basketball players ever and one of the sport’s greatest winners. He won 11 NBA titles with the Celtics, two of which came in a player-coach role. He also won two NCAA championships with San Francisco in 1955 and 1956. He did some broadcasting work following his playing career, but was best known for his social activism after his retirement from the sport. He also had a good sense of humor judging by his “comeback attempt” a little over a year ago.

The NBA recognized Russell as a member of the league’s 75th Anniversary team last year. The NBA Finals MVP award is also named after him.

Is NBA trade market collapsing?

Rudy Gobert warming up

Feb 24, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) warms up before the game against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA trade market has slowed significantly in recent weeks, and one significant factor may be to blame for the relative lack of movement.

Despite the perceived availability of stars like Donovan Mitchell and Kevin Durant, no major trade appears to be close anywhere across the NBA. This is largely down to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ acquisition of Rudy Gobert, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic. Minnesota’s decision to trade three unprotected first-round picks, as well as another with top five protections, to acquire Gobert from the Utah Jazz has changed the trade market. Prices for the likes of Mitchell and Durant are so inflated that teams are unwilling to match them.

Gobert is regarded as an elite defender, but is not a big offensive threat. Mitchell and Durant are franchise cornerstones and should theoretically command more than Gobert. The problem is that few teams can even afford to give up more than Minnesota did for Gobert, and would struggle to put together a competitive team around each star if they did make such a move.

The Utah-Minnesota trade has reportedly been a huge source of frustration for GMs around the league. It essentially broke the trade market, and there may be no way to reset it this offseason.

Paolo Banchero gets charge dropped stemming from incident at Duke

Paolo Banchero at a press conference

Jun 24, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic first overall draft pick Paolo Banchero speaks during a press conference at the Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Paolo Banchero is starting his NBA career with a clean slate in more ways than one.

Steve Wiseman of The Raleigh News & Observer reports this week that the Orlando Magic rookie forward has gotten the aiding and abetting DWI charge against him dropped. The charge stemmed from an incident last November while at Duke University. Banchero’s then-teammate Michael Savarino, who is the grandson of legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, was pulled over in Orange County, NC and arrested on suspicion of DWI. Banchero, Savarino’s passenger at the time as well as the person to whom the vehicle was registered to, was hit with the aiding and abetting charge.

The catalyst for Banchero’s charge getting dropped was Savarino formally pleading guilty this week to DWI. Orange County assistant district attorney Maren Hardin told The Raleigh News & Observer that it is “not unusual for a person charged with aiding and abetting DWI to have his or her charge dismissed upon the disposition of the principal’s DWI.”

You can read about the terms of Savarino’s plea agreement in Wiseman’s full story here.

Both Savarino and Banchero played for Duke when the incident occurred, the former as a junior and the latter as a star freshman. Savarino has since transferred to New York University, and Banchero is now with the Magic after going No. 1 overall in last month’s NBA Draft. We also already knew some details about the incident that authorities had revealed at the time.

Lakers looking to reunite with unlikely player?

Rob Pelinka at a press conference

Jun 6, 2022; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka speaks before introducing head coach Darvin Ham at UCLA Health Training Center Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers could be bringing back a player who even predates LeBron James’ tenure with the team.

Veteran NBA writer Marc Stein revealed during a Spotify Live session on Saturday that the Lakers might be interested in reuniting with New York Knicks big man Julius Randle.

Stein said that the Lakers may potentially engage the Knicks in a deal for Randle if the Knicks successfully trade for Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. Stein added that the Lakers would not mind taking on the long-term money that Randle is owed (as transcribed from the Spotify Live session by Lakers Twitter figure @RichStapless).

The 27-year-old Randle was drafted by the Lakers back in 2014 and played the first four seasons of his NBA career with them. Randle developed into a reliable 16-8 player in L.A., but the Lakers let him walk in 2018 free agency, in part to create room for James to sign. Randle would eventually become a 24-10-6 guy in New York, making the All-Star team in 2021.

Granted, there is a strong argument now in the summer of 2022 that Randle is a negative asset. He is owed $117 million over the next four seasons, is an inefficient volume shooter, lacks both size and rim-protecting ability, and has recently faced questions over his maturity level.

That doesn’t exactly sound like the type of player who would help the Lakers at this stage. But for a team that went 33-49 last year and now has a roster that still looks substantially the same, they may be willing to try anything.

Ex-NBA All-Star has great response to viral video

A little baller

Former NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas had a funny response to a video that went viral this week.

The video in question was a highlight reel of a young kid. The kid is much shorter than everyone else on the court, but he is not deterred. He dribbles through and around his opponents and makes shots from all sorts of angles.

Take a look:

The video went viral not just because of the impressive highlight compilation, but also because of the humorous caption.

“Never-before-seen footage of Isaiah Thomas from 2016-17 with the Celtics,” the caption said.

That’s a very appropriate joke since Thomas is 5-foot-9, which makes him much smaller than anyone else on the court when he faces against NBA teams.

Thomas saw the tweet and commented on it.

“The person who typed this is probably the same height as me lol… the funniest thing about this is if it really looks like this in nba games the guys I’m playing against should be embarrassed LOL,” Thomas wrote.

There’s nothing embarrassing about getting schooled by Thomas, regardless of the guard’s height. Thomas comes from an athletic family and is a heck of a talent. He averaged 28.9 points per game in 2016-2017, which was his best season.

Thomas has made two All-Star teams during his career. The 33-year-old averaged 8.4 points per game last season playing 22 games for three different teams.

LeBron James’ son Bryce now reportedly listed at surprising height

Bryce James in a T-shirt

Bryce James shoots baskets as LeBron has some halftime advice for his oldest son Bronny in a AAU game at LeBron James Arena on Friday, July 2, 2021 in Akron, Ohio. Credit: PHIL MASTURZO via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Bryce James appears to have eaten some magic beans this summer.

Reports circulated this week that Bryce, the 15-year-old son of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, now measures 6-foot-6. That would put Bryce at three inches taller than his older brother Bronny, who is two years older.

The source of the information appears to be a graphic that aired on ESPNU during one of Bryce’s recent games for his Strive For Greatness AAU team.

That marks a serious growth spurt for Bryce, who only turned 15 last month. He plays guard and is about to begin his sophomore year at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, Calif. (where Bronny also attends and will be entering his senior year).

Bryce clearly inherited the height gene from his father, who stands 6-foot-9. Bryce’s 6-foot-6 listing makes perfect sense too in the context of the recent photos of him that went viral.

Kyrie Irving hinting at when he could retire from NBA?

Kyrie Irving looks on during a game

Mar 15, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) during the second half against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in the Kyrie Irving circus of the last year-plus is that the man himself is now in his 30s. Now Irving may be hinting at when he could call it quits.

The Brooklyn Nets star tweeted a video on Friday of the late Kobe Bryant praising his game back in 2018.

When a fan responded that Irving was “gassing [himself] up” (slang for hyping himself up), the seven-time All-Star replied with a lengthy message.

“I don’t ever have to Gas myself up,” wrote Irving. “I am going on my 12th year in the best league in the world and I am only getting better. When I am 38 years old and have time to reflect on my career truly, I will do so, but until then, I am enjoying every moment.

“And no I won’t be done playing basketball at 38 years old lol,” Irving added. “I’ll be in leagues all over the world playing and teaching the youth all that was taught to me.”

38 is an oddly specific age and seemed to many to be Irving hinting at when he sees himself being retired. He will turn 31 next year, so playing until 38 (if does do so) would give him roughly seven more years in the league.

Of course, Irving is notoriously fickle and could retire tomorrow without it being totally surprising. But Irving did seem to hint back in 2017 (when he was just 25 years old) that he was open to retiring early.

Death of ex-NBA first-round pick officially ruled homicide

Adreian Payne with the Timberwolves

Jul 18, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Adreian Payne (33) looks on during a free throw attempt during the NBA Summer League final against the Chicago Bulls at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The death of a former NBA player last May is now formally a homicide.

According to an autopsy report obtained this week by E! News, ex-Michigan State star Adreian Payne’s death has officially been ruled a homicide. The report further states that Payne’s cause of death was a “gunshot wound of the arm and chest.”

Payne, who was just 31, was shot and killed on May 9 in Orange County, Fla. during an alleged dispute. Lawrence Dority was identified as the shooter and was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. At the time, authorities revealed details of the alleged dispute, which you can read here.

The 6-foot-10 Payne was a four-year senior at Michigan State from 2010 to 2014, making three Sweet Sixteen appearances with the Spartans over that span. He also became known in college for his close friendship with 8-year-old cancer patient Lacey Holsworth.

Payne later went on to be drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round in 2015 (No. 15 overall). He spent four seasons in the NBA before enjoying a fairly successful career overseas that included a Pro A championship and a French Cup victory in 2019 with French team ASVEL Basket.