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The torn ACL suffered by San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray during Sunday’s preseason game, confirmed by the Spurs Monday after Murray underwent an MRI, couldn’t have come at a worse time. Not only does it end what looked like a possible breakout season for Murray before it even started, it also compromises San Antonio’s depth at point guard as the organization bids for a 22nd-consecutive playoff appearance, which would tie the NBA’s all-time record.

How will the Spurs replace Murray? And what impact might the injury have on his long-term development? Let’s take a look.

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Klay Thompson knows Lakers needed big player like LeBron James
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Klay Thompson illustrates playing against LeBron James in a Lakers uniform for the first time. (0:56)

9:11 AM CT
Nick Friedell
ESPN Staff Writer
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OAKLAND, Calif. — Klay Thompson was born in Los Angeles, watched his father, Mychal, play for the Lakers and spent his high school years in Southern California. He understands more than most just how much passion for the game there is in the area. As his Golden State Warriors get set for their first meeting with LeBron James and the new-look Lakers on Wednesday in Las Vegas, Thompson can appreciate just how big a deal it is that James will be calling Hollywood home for at least the next few years.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said of seeing James in a Lakers jersey. “I don’t think you would have guessed it when he was with the Cavs when he started his rookie season, but it’s adding a ton of interest in the league, and the Lakers are about to get the usual media coverage that I was used to growing up.”

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Having played against James and his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in four straight NBA Finals, Thompson knows the intensity level will be ramped up now that the former league and Finals MVP is in the Western Conference.

“Well, the times we’ve seen him he’s always been at the top of the East during the Finals,” Thompson said. “And those games are always intense. I expect him to greatly improve the Lakers and they’ve obviously got a bunch of guys who are proven now. So I just expect it to be intense. Any time you play against arguably the best player in the world, no matter what sport, you want to measure yourself against him so you play as hard as you can, and that’s why guys like Steph [Curry], KD [Kevin Durant], Kobe [Bryant], LeBron, James Harden, any [top] guys face their opponent’s best game every night, so it will be no different when we play the Lakers.”

Both Thompson and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr are looking forward to the budding rivalry between the Lakers and Warriors this season, especially with James in the fold.

“This is probably the first time it’s lined up,” Kerr said after Tuesday’s practice. “Did Sleepy Floyd get his 29 against the Lakers in one quarter? That would probably be the biggest moment. So for Warriors fans, that’s probably the biggest moment of the Laker-Warrior rivalry. I’m sure the Lakers never really looked at it as a rivalry all those years when they were dominating, but this will be fun.

“We’re in the same division, obviously both teams have a lot of talent and the atmosphere is going to be great. Even in the preseason, I think people are going to be really looking forward to it.”

Thompson believes the rivalry between Northern California and Southern California — between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles — will only grow now with the Warriors coming off two titles and James expected to lift the Lakers back to prominence.

“Bay-L.A. in any sport is always great,” Thompson said. “It will definitely carry over to basketball, that’s for sure.”

Thompson said he has been having the NorCal/SoCal debate with friends for years.

“The music, art, movies, destination,” Thompson said. “There’s always a NorCal/SoCal debate, and that’s what makes it so great … high school sports, pro sports, musicians, athletes, we always had a debate where the talent was at.”

After Wednesday’s game in Las Vegas, the Warriors and Lakers will face each other in another preseason tilt on Friday in San Jose, California. Their first regular-season matchup is scheduled for Christmas night at Oracle Arena, the Warriors’ home court.

Kerr knows the emotions in all the arenas, including the Lakers’ Staples Center, will be charged up when the teams face each other.
“Staples is a different vibe,” he said. “It’s not like an Oklahoma City or a Salt Lake, where it’s just noise and intensity. It’s more like, ‘Man, this is the cool place to be in L.A. tonight.’ Obviously, it’s been a very star-driven franchise. So for them to have LeBron makes Staples the place to be and you’ll feel that vibe, we’ll feel that vibe as a visiting team when we’re in there. I look forward to it.”

Warriors forward Draymond Green will not play in Wednesday’s game against the Lakers as he continues to rehab a sore left knee.

“Draymond’s not going to play,” Kerr said. “We’re going to be cautious. He’s still improving, but we feel comfortable giving him one more day … and then we’ve got six days ’til the opener; so the plan is to start practice and play him on Friday and he’ll be ready for the opener.”

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Zhou Qi ruled out of Rockets’ preseason game with knee sprain
10:33 AM CT
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Rockets forward Zhou Qi was ruled out of Tuesday’s preseason game in Houston against the Shanghai Sharks with a left knee sprain.

Zhou collided with Sharks forward Luis Scola late in the first quarter and was taken off the court in a wheelchair after trainers and staff helped him up.

The 7-foot-2 Zhou, who had played just four minutes before suffering the injury, was making his first preseason appearance.

When asked how serious the injury to Qi was, coach Mike D’Antoni said: “I think it’s just a sprain. That’s what they’re saying. Obviously he’ll get an MRI and hopefully that stays the same news. But just a sprain.”

A 2016 second-round draft pick out of the Chinese Basketball Association, Zhou made his NBA debut just less than a year ago, on Oct. 21, 2017, with the Rockets.

Zhou, 22, played in 18 games last season, averaging 6.9 minutes in those contests.
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Lonzo Ball returns to Lakers lineup for preseason game
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Lonzo Ball discusses his return to the Lakers’ lineup and having the opportunity to play with LeBron James. (0:58)

5:23 AM CT
Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPN Staff Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Lonzo Ball will return to the court and play alongside LeBron James for the first time this preseason on Wednesday night against Golden State.

Ball, who has been eased back into action after undergoing surgery for a torn left meniscus, said he will come off the bench.

Ball could play between 10 to 30 minutes when the Lakers and Warriors meet in Las Vegas, according to coach Luke Walton. If all goes well, Ball expects to play again in the Lakers’ preseason finale, also against Golden State, in San Jose on Friday.

Fellow second-year guard Josh Hart, who tweaked a hamstring in practice on Monday, is listed as questionable to play Wednesday.

“Feels like a long time,” Ball said before the Lakers left for Las Vegas on Tuesday. “So I am very happy to get back on the floor finally, and it all starts with tomorrow.

“It’s frustrating when you play basketball your whole life and then it gets taken away from you for a little bit. But I am happy to be back.”

Ball has not played in a basketball game since March 28 against Dallas. He missed the final eight games of his rookie season with a left knee injury and then rested the knee for much of the beginning of the offseason. Ball also underwent platelet-rich plasma injections to strengthen his left knee and try to avoid surgery, but the point guard eventually had an arthroscopic procedure in mid-July.

Ball participated in contact practices early in training camp but has been building his conditioning as the team played it safe with his recovery. Walton and James raved about how Ball looked in the contact practices early in camp, despite the long layoff.

“You see him on the floor and it doesn’t seem like he had anything done with his knee in the offseason,” James said, reiterating something he said earlier in camp when Ball first participated in contact practices.

Ball said he has added about 15 to 20 pounds to his wiry 6-foot-6 frame after spending much of the summer in the weight room and film room while rehabbing his knee.

“You can feel a big difference,” Ball said of his added strength. “Last year I was 190, now I am at 205, 210. It helps a lot. Just get to the basket easier, you can switch better, guarding bigs. Me, I am [going to be a] 1-through-4 switch, so it helps me a lot.”

“Just being more consistent, hitting open shots and being able to guard whoever they want me to guard,” Ball added of what will be different in his game this season.

Ball will take to the floor this preseason under much different circumstances than last preseason, when the 2017 No. 2 overall pick was coming off a sensational Las Vegas Summer League debut. Ball went into last preseason as the most hyped rookie in the NBA thanks in part to his draft position, playing for his hometown Lakers and the attention generated by his outspoken father, LaVar.
If anyone understands the scrutiny and spotlight that Ball has faced early in his career, it’s James, who also was drafted by his hometown team, Cleveland, and had to play with enormous expectations as the No. 1 overall pick in 2003. James posted an Instagram picture of Ball guarding James in a practice on Monday with the caption, “It’s about that time Young King. Let’s Get It, you was born for this moment!”

“When you are drafted that high and you are a local kid, people have seen you grow your whole life, so they expect you to be great every night,” James said. “So in that sense, I understand [what Ball has experienced coming into the league].”

Ball is eager to play alongside James, who was his basketball idol.

“I am looking forward to having a lot of fun and winning a lot of games,” Ball said. “He’s the best player in the world; [I'll] do what I can to help him out.

“We will be playing fast, I will be getting the ball to him a lot. He can do the same, get out and push it, so that will be a very interesting dynamic.”

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Suns leaning toward promoting James Jones to full-time GM
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Adrian Wojnarowski
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Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver is leaning toward hiring interim general manager James Jones as the franchise’s full-time GM, league sources told ESPN.

Sarver fired GM Ryan McDonough on Sunday night and issued a statement on Monday that assigned Jones and assistant GM Trevor Bukstein to share oversight of basketball operations on an interim basis. Jones had been working under the title of VP of basketball operations.

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In his initial conversations around the league, Sarver has left little, if any, doubt that Jones will be leading Phoenix’s basketball operations in the future, league sources said.

Nevertheless, Sarver has been known to change his mind — often without warning — on personnel matters. The most recent evidence was his decision to fire McDonough nine days shy of the Suns’ opening night.

Last year, Sarver hired Jones to apprentice under McDonough and prepare him for a larger role in the organization.

Sarver has never shown an inclination to spend for an experienced, successful top basketball executive, and recruiting an elite candidate is only further complicated by Sarver’s poor leadership reputation.

Jones fired several of McDonough’s organizational allies and hires Monday, including assistant GM Pat Connelly, director of scouting Courtney Witte, director of international scouting Emilio Kovacic and G-League GM Louis Lehman.

McDonough had two years left on his contract, league sources said.

Jones had already started work on assembling his own scouting staff, league sources said.

Sarver hired Jones to a front office that had struggled with its relationships and communication with its players. Jones was fresh off a 14-year NBA career that included three championships and a longtime partnership with LeBron James. Jones also served as an executive with the players’ association.

Sarver has earned a long-standing reputation for aggressively involving himself in basketball decisions, but it’s become harder for coaches and front-office staff to manage in the past two years after the Suns became Sarver’s primary business interest.

Suns coaches became accustomed to regular beratings and demands of strategy and lineup changes, league sources said. Rival executives could sometimes hear Sarver yelling in the background on negotiation calls with the Suns’ front office. Agents tell stories of private conversations involving Sarver without the front office’s knowledge.

As the Suns search for a starting point guard on the trade market, they already own a solid nucleus that includes center Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, guard Devin Booker and small forward Josh Jackson on the roster.

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Steve Kerr tossed after Warriors whistled for sixth offensive foul
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Steve Kerr jokes he wanted to get back in the locker room early for the buffet and had enough of seeing his guys picking up offensive fouls. (1:15)

8:29 PM CT
Nick Friedell
ESPN Staff Writer
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OAKLAND, Calif. — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr was ejected early in the third quarter of Monday night’s preseason game against the Phoenix Suns.

The incident came just nine seconds into the period after Warriors guard Stephen Curry was called for his second offensive foul of the game and the Warriors’ sixth. After exchanging words with referee Ben Taylor, Curry was given a technical foul.

Kerr came to the defense of his star guard, coming onto the floor to protest Taylor’s whistle. Kerr was promptly ejected, and replays showed the coach telling the referees, “I don’t want to be here anyway,” as he continued to protest the calls.

Kerr waved at the referees on his way off the floor and then high-fived some of his players on his way back to the locker room.

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After the game, Kerr drew laughter from the assembled media when asked if he wanted to be there.

“No comment,” he said.

Kerr acknowledged that he came out on the floor with the purpose of being ejected from the game.

“Yes,” Kerr said. “I was trying to make a point and I was trying to back up my guys. We had all these offensive fouls, one after another. And I finally had enough.”

After joking that he wanted to be the first person at the Warriors’ postgame food spread, the veteran coach said the referees were right to toss him from the game.

“I was in the wrong, obviously.” Kerr said. “I got what I deserved.”

Curry appreciated the fact his coach was willing to stand up for the team.

“I love it,” Curry said. “Love it. We got a good vibe going about what we’re doing. It’s never too early to get that fire going, so we’ll see how we sustain that throughout the year. But when obviously a blatant call, we think, should go one way goes the other, he’s going to have a reaction to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s preseason, regular season or playoffs. It’s nice for him to have that fire for sure.”

Like many in the Warriors’ locker room, Curry enjoyed seeing the replays of Kerr’s outburst and subsequent wave after the game.
“We’re all in this together,” Curry said. “And obviously we have to have each other’s backs. It’s kind of one of our core principles — so he has opportunities to try and influence things with outbursts if he needs to or stuff that he says to us in the locker room or whatever the case is. So knowing that we’re out there giving it everything we got throughout the year that a coach has your back, not pinching his wallet when he has the opportunity to kind of speak his mind, it means a lot.”

Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who also received a technical foul in the first half, said Kerr’s outburst was a “top five” ejection that he had seen in his career.

“I guess he’s getting ready for the regular season,” Warriors forward Kevon Looney said. “I expect one ejection each year. I think he beat KD to it. I thought KD was going to get ejected [first].”

As for Kerr’s much replayed words about not wanting to be at the game, Looney couldn’t help but chuckle.

“I feel him,” Looney said. “Steve’s been around a lot of basketball his whole career, so I think he didn’t care for this game.”

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Bucks sell team-record 10,000 season tickets
2:01 AM CT
Darren Rovell
ESPN Senior Writer
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The Milwaukee Bucks sold a team-record 10,000th season ticket Tuesday, 10 days before their home opener in Fiserv Forum, their new arena.

The previous record came 30 years ago; they sold 8,985 season tickets for the 1988-89 season, when the team opened the Bradley Center.

“This is such a major moment for the Bucks organization,” said Jamie Morningstar, Bucks senior vice president of ticket sales and service. “There’s an incredible buzz about the team and Fiserv Forum, and people from all over Wisconsin are excited to be part of it.”
The Bucks are opening a new arena, the Fiserv Forum, this season. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have made a big business turnaround under the ownership of Wes Edens and Marc Lasry. When the two bought the team in May 2014 for a then-record $550 million, it ranked last in the league in season tickets at below 2,500 sold. Sources say the sale of 10,000 full-season tickets puts the Bucks at No. 11 in the league, their highest position ever.

The team hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2001, bowing out last year in Game 7 versus the Boston Celtics. But with one of the most dynamic players in the league in the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo and new coach Mike Budenholzer, optimism is high.

When the Bucks play their regular-season opener on Oct. 19 against the Indiana Pacers, all suites and lofts will have been sold out at prices significantly higher than the premium spaces in their previous home.

The Bucks raised season-ticket prices by 12 percent in each of the previous three seasons leading up to this one. Morningstar said that the blended average of the increase in season-ticket prices from last year to this year is 26 percent.

The team has revitalized the area around Fiserv Forum with a plaza and a beer garden.

The 10,000th season ticket was sold to Andrew Wagner, a 26-year-old from Milwaukee who works in the industrial lighting industry. Wagner said he has been a fan since the Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson days, but he felt the need to own two lower-level season tickets with the momentum the team had generated.

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Tristan Thompson sees LeBron-less Cavs as still the team to beat in East
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Tristian Thompson defends why the Cleveland Cavaliers are still the Eastern Conference favorites. (0:20)

6:43 AM CT
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The Cleveland Cavaliers may not have LeBron James this season, but Tristan Thompson says they remain the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re still four-time Eastern Conference champions, so until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say. Boston, Philly, they ain’t got much to say,” Thompson told reporters on Thursday. “Boston had homecourt Game 7 and lost. Philly, you guys almost got swept. Toronto — we already know that story. So until someone takes us down, there’s not much they can really say.”

With James, the Cavaliers swept the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the playoffs and beat the Boston Celtics in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals before being swept by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

James left Cleveland over the summer to sign a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, so many observers expect the Cavaliers to struggle this season. Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook set the Cavs’ over/under win total at 30.5. The over/under win totals for Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia at the sportsbook are all above 50 games.

Expectations are particularly high in Boston due to the addition of a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Hayward missed much of last season after fracturing his ankle in the opening minutes of Boston’s first regular-season game. Irving missed a significant portion of the regular season and the entire playoffs due to a knee ailment that required surgery. Both are healthy heading into the season.

On Thursday afternoon, Celtics veteran Marcus Morris responded to Thompson’s thoughts via Twitter.

“Cut it out. Get that vacation ready early this year fam! Ain’t s–t going through the Cavs this year! #facts,” Morris wrote on his verified account.

Philadelphia guard and 2018 Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons also commented from his Instagram account.

“@realtristan13 hah yeh ok buddy see you soon,” Simmons wrote.

ESPN’s Ian Begley contributed to this report

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Timberwolves’ asking price holding up Jimmy Butler trade
12:59 AM CT
Adrian WojnarowskiZach Lowe
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The Minnesota Timberwolves’ asking price to trade All-Star forward Jimmy Butler remains quality veterans, top prospects, future assets and salary-cap relief, which is presently too steep of a package for interested teams, league sources told ESPN.

Throughout trade talks, Minnesota Timberwolves president and coach Tom Thibodeau has continued to try to recruit Butler to ease off his trade demand and return to practice with the team, league sources said. Butler has yet to attend a Timberwolves workout and wants to sit out until the franchise executes a trade for him.

Teams pursuing Butler remain skeptical of Thibodeau’s desire to execute a trade, believing that he’s making counterproposals that Thibodeau knows teams will never accept.

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In less cynical terms, front offices believe that Minnesota minimally wants to fully recoup the assets that Thibodeau gave up in the 2017 trade with Chicago for Butler. Nevertheless, there is sympathy for Thibodeau’s predicament. He was hired with a mandate to win, reached the playoffs for the franchise’s first time in 13 years last season, and wants to continue on that path with his current core of players. Many do understand why he’s asking for a significant return on Butler instead of moving him out quickly in a deal.

So far, there has been no team close to willing to meet Thibodeau’s massive return for a Butler deal. Butler can become a free agent in July, and teams recognize that he already has asked for a trade from Minnesota and a coach he has enjoyed a long, prosperous and close relationship with — and Butler could be a risk to leave them in summer free agency. Butler, 29, wants a trade and a full five-year, $190 million contract extension with a new team, sources said.

The Miami Heat have been the latest to aggressively pursue a deal for Butler, but Minnesota’s counter was a non-starter for Heat president Pat Riley, league sources said. Along with Butler, Miami had been willing to accept Gorgui Dieng and the remaining $48 million left on his contract under the right circumstances, sources said.

The Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers are among teams interested with Butler, league sources said. The Brooklyn Nets have interest, but they haven’t been engaged recently with Minnesota, sources said. Washington and Dallas are among teams who’ve gauged the asking price on Butler too, league sources said.

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Klay Thompson on Warriors future: ‘You just want to stay on the train as long as you can’
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Klay Thompson calls San Francisco home as he fields questions about his free agency coming up next summer. (0:33)

11:34 AM CT
Nick Friedell
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OAKLAND, Calif. — All-Star swingman Klay Thompson again made it clear that he would like to stay with the Golden State Warriors for a long time and is cherishing the current run he and his teammates are on as they enter the collective prime of their careers.

“It’s awesome,” Thompson said after Thursday’s practice. “Makes you want to win now, though, that’s for sure. Makes you want to make the most of it. I think we have in the last two years.

“It’s crazy because we are back-to-back champs, but at the same time I feel like we’re all relatively young and we can still get to another level and keep winning. Not just this year, but years beyond. Not a lot of guys can do that with their team. So I love coming to work every day because I realize this is a special group and a special time to be a Warrior.”

When asked if he would be weighing in that factor more heavily as he approaches free agency this summer, the 28-year-old didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, definitely,” Thompson said. “I think it would be stupid not to be. It’s hard to walk away from something — you were here when it started and yeah, you just want to stay on the train as long as you can.”

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Draymond respects Kyrie saying Celtics can dethrone WarriorsDraymond Green says as a leader Kyrie Irving should believe Boston can beat Golden State in the NBA finals.
The topic of just how long the Warriors’ run can continue has been a constant throughout the first few days of training camp. Having won three of the past four NBA championships, head coach Steve Kerr says he wants his players to understand just how special their run is, even as the uncertainty surrounding the futures of Thompson and All-Star Kevin Durant hovers over the organization.

“It’s rare,” Kerr said. “We know we have a bigger window than most teams do in this position. That’s the benefit of winning in 2015 with a very young team and gaining that experience. Obviously adding Kevin. This has been an incredible run that’s going to be very difficult to match. But we want to just keep it going for as long as we can. We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about where we stand historically; we’re just enjoying the process.”

Since Monday’s media day, the constant mantra from both players and coaches is to enjoy the moment and embrace the journey toward another potential crown this season.
“We’ve had some success and when you have some success in the NBA it’s just always a great time,” Durant said. “This stuff comes and goes so fast. Me and Steph [Curry] were talking, you look up and you’re in double-digit seasons in the NBA after feeling like we just got drafted, so things happen so fast I think we’re all just enjoying the moment, not really thinking about anything else. It’s good that we’re all young and experience this. It’s only going to make us better in the future.”

As far as his own future is concerned, Thompson says he is confident he will be able to stay with the team he loves. He knows he’ll probably get asked about his future many times as the Warriors travel through the league, but it appears as if he’ll have a similar response. He doesn’t care about the chatter because he knows where he wants to be.

“It’s just how I feel to be honest,” Thompson said. “This place, it’s home. I love living in the Bay Area.”

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Hornets’ James Borrego: Hope to inspire as first Hispanic NBA coach
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Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego, citing the NBA as a model for uniting a cross-section of people and cultures, says he wants to use his position as the league’s first Hispanic head coach “to be an inspiration for young men and women, to show you can be anything you want to be.”

Borrego, hired by the Hornets in May to replace the fired Steve Clifford, said in an essay he wrote for Sports Illustrated that he was long motivated by the disappointments of early-career dead ends but that the pride he feels in his ancestry, background and upbringing has driven much of his success.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how you were brought up, the color of your skin,” Borrego, who is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote in the 652-word essay. “That’s the lens I look at this through.”

Borrego joined the Hornets on a four-year contract with Charlotte holding a team option on the fourth year, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski after the coach’s hiring.

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The Hornets were sold on Borrego’s strong credentials as one of Gregg Popovich’s longtime assistants with the San Antonio Spurs, including his abilities in player development, devising game plans on the offensive and defensive ends, and building relationships with players.

“I’d been disappointed a couple times before. Not getting the Orlando job, getting close on the Houston job, getting close on the Memphis job,” Borrego wrote in the essay. “All that disappointment really fueled me. Until the moment happens, until you hear the words, ‘You’re our guy,’ it’s just not real.”

Borrego said in his introductory news conference that it was up to him to develop the players on the Hornets roster, including Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, who saw limited playing time last season as rookies. Borrego also pointed toward getting more out of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was the No. 2 pick in 2012, and Frank Kaminsky, also a first-round draft pick.

Borrego will also have the leadership of former veteran Spurs guard and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker, who signed with the Hornets as a free agent in July.

“I really don’t think about myself as the league’s first Hispanic coach,” Borrego wrote. “As I climbed the coaching ranks, my focus was always just on getting better. I never thought about my heritage, my last name or where I’m from. I’ve never really sat back to think about how this all happened. I’m proud, but I don’t want to be satisfied with where I am now. I want to be a valuable part of the community in Charlotte. I want to lead this group. And most of all, I want to win games.”

 

And Borrego knows what it’s like to win. The 40-year-old spent 15 seasons as an assistant coach in the NBA, including 10 with the Spurs working under Popovich, a stop where he won two NBA championships and went to four Western Conference finals. Borrego has been a part of staffs that have led teams to the playoffs 11 times with stints in San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando.

“Our game has become such a global game,” Borrego said in the essay. “There’s nothing like sports to unite people. Nations look to the NBA as an example. We’re a league with a voice, leading the charge on inclusion and diversity. I’m an example of the NBA opening up to more people. I’m proud to be a part of that.”

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In order to put your team in the best possible position to win your league, you’ll need to make the most of your draft. That includes finding good values in players who will exceed their average draft position, landing at least one player who takes his game into the upper echelon and avoiding players who flop miserably.

With that in mind, our fantasy basketball experts (Jim McCormick, Joe Kaiser, John Cregan, Eric Karabell and André Snellings) offer their top sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2018-19 campaign.

Sleepers
Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2018-19 season.

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Jim McCormick — John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Heading into the new campaign with nearly no real competition for minutes and touches from the power forward spot for the Hawks, Collins has all the requisite ingredients to outperform what should be a midround draft price. Even crude per-36 data from his quietly strong rookie season reveals an ascendant player, as he tallied 15.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG and 0.9 SPG per 36 minutes. One of the more impressive players from summer league, Collins lead all players with 24 PPG while flashing improved perimeter scoring skills. A rising talent atop a thin depth chart, I’m confident Collins will be one of the better values in drafts this fall.

Joe Kaiser — Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

The second-year big man won’t sneak up on anyone this season; he’s a well-known commodity after putting up 15.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 2.1 3PG as a rookie last season. Still, I don’t see him going until the fifth or sixth round of most 10- and 12-team leagues. I know that Wendell Carter Jr. is now in the picture in that frontcourt along with Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, but Markkanen’s impact rookie campaign tells me that he has a lot more to offer. If he can raise his field goal percentage (43.4 FG% as a rookie) and make gains statistically this season, he could be one of the steals of the draft in the middle rounds.

John Cregan — Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls

Coming off an injury-marred 2017-18, Dunn is primed to deliver midround value on a late-round ADP. With little to no competition for the starting point guard role in Chicago, he should average low-to-mid 30s in MPG. His shooting has improved over the past couple of seasons, and he should provide close to league-average percentages while averaging close to 7.0 assists per game. And while you’ll be lucky to get 1.0 3-pointers per game from Dunn, you will get near-elite steals production (expect more than 2.0 per game).

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Eric Karabell — Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets

This real-life, late-first round selection was statistically quiet for the first several months last season, but when provided the opportunity for real minutes on a poor club, Allen intrigued. He averaged 9.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and more than two blocks per game after the All-Star break when he became a full-time starter, and while plenty of big men struggle to hit their free throws, Allen hit at a 77 percent clip in his age-19 season. He already hits his field goals, and word is he is working on his outside shot, so perhaps he can contribute the occasional 3-pointer as well. The Nets are not good, and Allen figures to be one of the bright spots this season. The best part is you will not need to invest a top-50 selection to get him!

André Snellings — Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz

Rubio was once considered one of the premier point guard prospects of the future, but after years of spinning his wheels in Minnesota, some of the luster had gone off him. However, he showed sparks of promise in his first season in Utah, including a shiny new jumper that was more effective than ever in his career. Rubio came alive in a major way late in the season, averaging 16.6 PPG, 6.9 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.2 3PG and 1.2 SPG during a 15-game stretch from Jan. 30 through March 11, then followed that with a nine-game burst averaging 18.9 PPG, 5.8 APG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 3PG and 2.2 SPG from mid-March to early April. If he harnesses that ability this season, Rubio should far outperform expectations.

Breakouts

Look for this pair of Denver Nuggets — Jamal Murray and Gary Harris — to break loose in fantasy in 2018-19. Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Breakout: A player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared to his previous seasons.

Jim McCormick — Tobias Harris, LA Clippers

Harris produced top-30 caliber production during a 32-game sample with the Clippers last season that saw him slash a smooth 19.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 3.1 APG. Add in 1.8 “stocks” (steals plus blocks) per game along with 2.2 3PG on sparkling percentages and you get about 90 percent of Paul George’s production at a reasonable price point. For the price of a fourth-round pick, you can secure an efficient scoring wing who commands healthy usage (~24 percent) on a team that ranked eighth in offensive rating and seventh in pace last season. It’s easy to forget Harris is just 26 as he heads into his eighth season on his fourth team, but I buy that he’s entering what should be a rewarding statistical prime.

Joe Kaiser — Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Booker just had a procedure done to his hand, but as long as he recovers in time for the start of the season, I think he could become a top-15 fantasy player. The additions of veterans such as Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson give the Suns a few proven role players who can boost Booker’s assists without cutting too much into his scoring (24.9 PPG in 2017-18). Speaking of that, he has increased his scoring in each of his three seasons in the league and seen similar yearly improvements in assists, rebounds, 3-point shooting and free throw shooting. He has been an impact player since he first stepped on a NBA court, and now in season four, we have a player ready to be a fantasy star.

John Cregan — Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets

Shooting guard is (as always) a relatively thin position. It’s also a position where the valuation tends to be a bit bipolar, since raw scoring and 3-point production tend to obscure efficiency. You’re going to overpay for an elite shooting guard, but there is value to be had in the middle rounds. Harris is a prime example of a mid-draft, hyper-productive 2-guard who does a little bit of everything … but flies under the radar due to his drab points-per-game average (18.3 PPG in 2017-18).

Relative to shooting guards you’ll grab in Rounds 1-4, Harris delivers near-elite production in two key categories — In 2017-18, he averaged 2.3 3PG and 1.8 SPG. His shooting metrics (59.7 TS%) will lift your squad. Entering his age-24 season, Harris should top all of his career volume-based highs due to his escalating minutes (34.4 MPG in 2017-18) and usage rate (20.7 in 2017-18).

Eric Karabell — Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Murray might not seem like a valuable point guard with his modest assist numbers, but there is a lot to like here from someone on the verge of becoming a top-50 player. Murray averaged 17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 24 games after the All-Star break, along with more than a pair of 3-pointers per game. He is durable and rarely misses a free throw. As for the assists, the presence of passing center Nikola Jokic limits the upside for Murray, but he did register seven assists in three of his final six games of the season, so perhaps that was a harbinger that he can average five per game on a consistent basis. All the other numbers are in place.

André Snellings — Second year point guards

Lonzo Ball can be the official pick for this slot, but each of Dennis Smith Jr. De’Aaron Fox and Markelle Fultz could fit just as easily because all four project to move way up the rankings ladder as sophomores. Ball was injured for 30 games, had one of the most publicized broken jumpers in basketball, and of course was surrounded at all times by the LaVar Ball circus, but he still came within sight of averaging a triple-double with almost two blocks-plus-steals per game as a rookie. Fox and Smith both showed major explosiveness but lacked the experience and physical ability to fully lead their teams. Fultz, of course, spent most of the season injured. All four project to fantasy starters this season, with Ball in particular as a top-35 prospect.

Busts

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Bust: A player who is expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues but will fail to live up to those expectations this season.

Jim McCormick — Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

Safe and steady for the past six seasons in Orlando, there is now considerable risk present, given what will likely be steep declines in Vucevic’s opportunity rates. The team has spent the past two high-leverage draft picks on frontcourt prospects, with Mohamed Bamba presenting the biggest threat to his playing time and utility in the post. As a high-floor offensive player with little room for growth as a defender, I’d rather pursue the likes of Collins or Allen for what it will likely cost to acquire Vucevic in drafts.

Joe Kaiser — Chris Paul, Houston Rockets

Paul has always been an incredible talent, even if injury prone in recent seasons. I just have learned from many years of watching the NBA to sell 33-year-old point guards in their 14th NBA season. Every year that passes, I wonder if it’s the one where Paul finally falls off a cliff statistically, and every year I think the chances increase. It’s going to take a second-round pick to get Paul this season, and I’m not risking it at this stage in his storied career. He played 61 and 58 games, respectively, the past two seasons, and his 7.9 APG in 2017-18 was his lowest since his rookie campaign way back in 2005-06, and his 1.7 SPG was a career low. Even if he avoids injury and plays 75-plus games this season, there’s a real chance his scoring, assists and steals continue to trend downward.

John Cregan — Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Thompson isn’t going to be a classic bust as much as he’ll be a slight disappointment. If you want Thompson, you’ll probably need to spend a second-round pick for his services. His name value and attendant high-profile Splash Brothers rep overinflates his value by 1-2 rounds. Just don’t be surprised that come April, he’ll deliver only third- to fourth-round value against the high ADP.

Despite a rise in minutes in 2017-18, Kevin Durant’s presence dinged Thompson’s volume-based stats. Thompson posted his lowest averages in points (20.0 PPG), 3s (3.1 3PG) and FGA (7.1) since 2014-15. Playing in a stacked starting lineup, don’t expect Durant’s numbers to suddenly climb (even in a contract year). Another red flag: Thompson’s games played have been in decline since 2015-16. He played only 73 games last season, which is on the edge of officially “concerning.”

Eric Karabell — Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons

Griffin is mildly disappointing every season because the last time he played 68 games was five seasons ago. Griffin’s newfound love for the 3-point shot was helpful, but also did damage to what had been a safe field goal percentage, so it might not be worth it. In addition, Griffin’s days as more than a modest rebounder are long gone and not returning on a Pistons roster with Andre Drummond. The points and assists are always nice, but I have doubts about him getting 6.2 assists per game again as long as point guard Reggie Jackson is healthy (though he hasn’t been for much of Griffin’s time as a Piston). Ultimately, this comes down to durability and draft status, and I have a hard time investing one of my top-three selections on someone who misses so many games.

André Snellings — Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls

Parker was the big free-agency acquisition for the Bulls during the offseason, and some pundits have speculated that he will be the “man” for the Bulls this season as a former No. 2 overall draft pick with a well-known name. However, Parker’s game is predicated purely on scoring, as he has never shown himself to be a plus in any other category. The Bulls, though, are full of talented young scorers at their respective positions, led by second-year power forward Markkanen, a fully healthy Zach LaVine, point guard Dunn and rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. There doesn’t seem to be space for Parker to average the type of monster scoring volume that would make up for his lack of contributions in the other categories. He is also a major injury risk after having played more than 51 games only once during his four-year career thus far.
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