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Overheard on NBA media day: New-look Bucks, LeBron’s understudy and … a green alien?



The 2023-24 NBA season is just weeks away, and as the players and coaches prepare for training camp, our NBA insiders are breaking down some of the biggest things we overheard from this season’s media days.

The San Antonio Spurs‘ highly anticipated rookie, Victor Wembanyama, is no stranger to the media as the first overall pick prepares for his first NBA training camp amid expectations he will help lead San Antonio alongside Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson.

Other teams got to introduce their biggest offseason additions. The Milwaukee Bucks debuted recently acquired seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.

But there are still some organizations with serious questions to address heading into the season. The Boston Celtics will face some growing pains with a revamped coaching staff on top of the offseason additions of Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. The Memphis Grizzlies, who grabbed media attention for all the wrong reasons last season, will be confronted with questions about navigating Ja Morant‘s 25-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the league.

And most notably, the Philadelphia 76ers will try to manage the drama surrounding James Harden, who did not attend media day as he continues to seek a trade.

Here’s what players, coaches and teams are talking about as media day kicked off across the league.

76ers media day provided a blend of emotions

Like everywhere else around the league, it had a lot of “first day of school” energy. There also was a healthy dose of optimism about contending with a roster that includes the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, a championship coach in Nick Nurse and versatile veteran talent.

But the specter of James Harden’s absence — and when or if the disgruntled point guard will return to the team — hovered over it all.

It made for a confusing scene that likely won’t get much clearer as the team shifts to Colorado State’s campus in Fort Collins, Colorado, for training camp the rest of this week.

76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey opened his presser by declaring the team needs to be given time to prove it can achieve its lofty expectations. Embiid, meanwhile, questioned an assertion that Milwaukee and Boston had “surpassed” the 76ers with their acquisitions of Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, respectively.

“You can do whatever you want off the court,” Embiid said, “but you still gotta go out there and put the ball in the hoop. I believe that any team that I’m on, we’re always going to have a chance.”

No one had any idea when Harden would return.

Instead, those questions were met with shrugs or hope that last year’s NBA assists leader would return to the fold.

“That ain’t for me to answer,” 76ers forward P.J. Tucker said. “I hope they figure it out soon. But if not, it’s going to be what it’s going to be.”

Unlike the Ben Simmons situation two years ago, there is seemingly no animosity between Harden and his teammates, which is partly why the 76ers believe there’s a path to him returning to the court. The fact there’s no obvious trade partner for Harden doesn’t hurt, either.

But it’s also clear that, without Harden, the 76ers have little chance of keeping up with the East’s elite. It’s a task that will be difficult even if he does eventually rejoin Philadelphia’s ranks.

— Tim Bontemps

The NBA’s first look at the Giannis-Dame duo

Less than a week after being traded for the first time in his 11-year NBA career, reality was still setting in for Damian Lillard, the Milwaukee Buck.

But it was easy for him to get excited about his new running mate, two-time MVP and 2021 Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and all the ways they would make life easier for each other on the court. It’s the first time either player, both named to the NBA’s list of the top 75 players of all time, will play alongside another superstar.

“My whole career has been off-the-dribble 3s, pick-and-roll pull-up 3s, contested [shots]. Double-teamed. Trapped,” Lillard said. “I’m curious to see how that can be possible with a player as dominant as [Antetokounmpo] is. I’m excited for an opportunity to play with him. I’m excited for the opportunity to be freed up and the opportunity to have more space and opportunity to play. It’s going to be fun.”

Lillard and Antetokounmpo have long admired each other from afar — Antetokounmpo made Lillard the No.1 pick during the 2023 All-Star draft — but what struck them both following their first phone conversation after the trade was how similar their personalities were.

Antetokounmpo said it was like they were both the same person, if different sizes.

So even though this pairing comes with heightened expectations, both stars are approaching the season in similar fashion.

“We got to stay locked in,” Antetokounmpo said. “There’s going to be so much hype around us, lot more TV games, lot of conversation about us. But at the end of the day, you don’t win a championship by making a move.”

Added Lillard: “It made me feel good to see that he thinks that way.”

Jamal Collier

A summer of change for the revamped Celtics

The Celtics spent the past three months getting used to a new normal. There was a total change in locker room voices with Marcus Smart and Grant Williams departing. Joe Mazzulla replaced most of his coaching staff. The arrival of Kristaps Porzingis was a planned adjustment to playing with two big men on the floor most of the time.

Then, boom, Jrue Holiday got traded 24 hours before the start of media day and the snow globe was shaken up again. Down the line, Celtics players were excited about the deal and praised what they know about Holiday, but there was no doubt the team was a little rocked by the adjustment to the adjustment.

For example, guard Derrick White talked about how new assistant coach Sam Cassell came to Colorado this summer to spend some time getting to know him and preparing him for taking over as starting point guard — and then Boston acquired a new All-Star point guard.

Porzingis had been in Boston for two weeks working out and getting to know big man Robert Williams III, a defensive anchor whom Porzingis was preparing to play a lot with — and now will not.

“I already could see how Rob is that charismatic guy for this group,” he said. “So it definitely hurts for this organization that he’s not here anymore.”

Mazzulla doesn’t seem sure what his starting lineup or his rotations will be yet. The team has two roster spots open and is now hunting for another player, likely a big man. Holiday is living out of a suitcase.

The Celtics have great promise, but this might take a little time.

Brian Windhorst

The Clippers’ final year as the “third tenant” in L.A.

Since 1999, the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers have shared the same downtown venue — formerly Staples Center, currently Crypto.com Arena. But that partnership ends after this season, as the Clippers’ new arena, the Intuit Dome located in Inglewood, is slated to open just before the 2024-25 season. Clippers star Paul George, for one, is eager for the switch.

“Yeah, I’m ready for us to have our own space,” he said during Clippers media day Monday. “I think I can speak to the whole [team] of saying we’re tired of all these early games, and so it’d be nice [for] the schedule be a little bit in our favor.”

George was referencing how the Clippers are often described as the “third tenant” at Crypto.com Arena, behind the Lakers and the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, meaning that their schedule has often been sorted out after those of the other teams, which has led to plenty of early-morning tipoffs in the Clippers’ schedule. (In 2016, ESPN reported that the Clippers’ lease agreement meant that they not only have a lesser say in scheduling but receive a smaller share of proceeds from suites and club seats than the Lakers and Kings.)

Clippers players and coaches have railed about this arrangement for years. That said, George said it has been a pleasure to play in Crypto.com Arena, given that it’s the same building where Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, whom George admired for years, once played.

“It’s been awesome, but that was short-lived,” he said. “Now, that I’ve been here for a couple of years, [I’m] not looking forward to the early games. So, again, it’d be nice to have our own space next year.”

Baxter Holmes

“I’m not here to babysit”: What D-Rose brings to Memphis — and Morant

Derrick Rose delivered a simple message during a recent conversation with Ja Morant:

“I’m not here to babysit you. I’m not here to follow you around. I’m not here to cheerlead. … I’m here to push you.”

Rose’s potential to serve as a mentor to Morant, who will practice and travel with the team while serving a 25-game suspension to start the season, was among the factors that made him attractive to the Grizzlies. The 34-year-old Rose has a résumé that commands respect — highlighted by the 2010-11 MVP award — and a level of wisdom gained through a 15-year career that has featured plenty of trials and tribulations, both on and off the court.

But Rose didn’t sign a veteran’s deal to return to Memphis, where he played his lone college season before getting selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, to assume the responsibility of preventing Morant from sabotaging his career with continued off-court foolishness.



Grizzlies GM talks about importance of Ja being with team during suspension

Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman speaks about the significance of Ja Morant being allowed to travel with the team during his 25-game suspension.

He’s happy to give advice if Morant is willing to hear it — such as emphasizing the importance of having the “discipline to remind yourself or be mindful of the places you’re at, who you’re with and your actions” — but Rose’s focus is on the basketball floor.

Rose, who played only 27 games for the New York Knicks last season, believes he still has “a lot left in the tank” and looks forward to being able to prove it. He will have a chance to get significant minutes with the Grizzlies, especially early in the season while Morant is unavailable. Rose also anticipates being able to help Morant rise to new levels as a point guard whose high-flying style is reminiscent of Rose’s before his career-altering knee injury. “I’m very fortunate to be in this situation where a lot of people look at his game, they kind of compare our games together, but he’s on a whole another level,” Rose said. “So really seeing that it’s our job to push him and let him know in times whenever he’s being reckless to calm down.”

A few seconds later, Rose interrupted another question with a clarification: “When we saying reckless, I’m talking about on the court, guys. On the court.”

Tim MacMahon

‘I call him my understudy’: What LeBron taught Rui this summer

After countless hours spent this summer working out alongside LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura was a little taken aback when he saw how small he looked compared to James when the team posted snapshots on social media.

“My weight was fine,” Hachimura said with a chuckle at the Lakers’ annual media day Monday. “But they put the picture next to [LeBron].” While Hachimura admitted that his body might be more “defined” since we last saw him in May when the Lakers were being swept out of the Western Conference finals by the Denver Nuggets, he is planning to punish opponents in the paint much the same way James has mastered.

“I just watched him closely and he taught me a lot of little tricks, pointers, the footwork.” Hachimura said of the joint workouts organized by Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy.

As the 38-year-old James enters his 21st season, some drop-off in production from the lofty standard he has set for himself is expected, if not inevitable. But by pouring his knowledge into Hachimura in the summertime, it could mean Hachimura will be better equipped to support him as a teammate during the season.

“I see a lot in him,” James said of Hachimura. “I call him my Daniel-san and I’m Mr. Miyagi. And I call him my understudy.”

Hachimura already showed signs of being ready for a starring role last postseason. He opened up the playoffs with 29 points on 11-for-14 shooting against the Grizzlies to help L.A. steal Game 1 of their first-round series on the road.

He stayed hot through L.A.’s playoff run, averaging 12.2 points on 55.7/48.7/88.2 shooting splits — a significant uptick from his efficiency during the regular season after being acquired in a trade with the Washington Wizards in January.

Now armed with a three-year, $51 million contract extension signed in the offseason, Hachimura is ready for more with the Lakers. Be it as a starter, as James’ backup or whatever else he’s asked to do — like when he played some minutes at the 5 against Nikola Jokic in the Denver series.

“Playing time is more important for me,” Hachimura said, “and I want to finish the game. That’s my main thing. And whatever the coaches decide, I’m here for it.”

Dave McMenamin

The champs aren’t satisfied with one ring

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray sat down, reunited not only with each other after the shortest offseason of their pro careers but also with the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

It didn’t take the Nuggets stars long to get on the same wavelength yet again.

“I just think we can do it again,” Murray said.

Jokic later added: “Like Jamal said, why not win again?”

Repeating will be even more difficult for Jokic and Murray than bringing Denver its first NBA title. Not only have other contenders like Milwaukee, Phoenix and Boston reloaded, but Denver will have to offset its own locker room losses.

Already, coach Michael Malone has challenged his two stars. He wants to see Jokic and Murray take “ownership” of the team with vocal vets like Jeff Green and Ish Smith gone.

And he wants to see Murray take his postseason tear and apply it to the entire upcoming regular season and become a first-time All-Star and All-NBA performer. Murray averaged 26.1 points, 7.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds and shot 39.6% from 3 last postseason.

If his two stars do that, Malone might find himself trying to top his parade performance next June.

“Last season is over,” Malone said. “If we’re serious about being a team that can repeat, if we’re serious about trying to be a team that can be a dynasty, we have to bring our best every single day starting [Tuesday] in practice.”

Ohm Youngmisuk

Goal for playoff-hungry Pistons: “82 meaningful games”

After a league-worst 17-65 finish last season, Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver says he feels the team is “ready to go” and compete for a playoff spot.

Weaver says “there was never any excuses” for the lack of success, but he feels like the Pistons are better with the addition of new head coach Monty Williams and the return of former No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, who missed all but a dozen games last season after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg.

While examining the Eastern Conference landscape in the aftermath of the star player movement such as Lillard’s trade to Milwaukee, Weaver doesn’t feel that changes the goal in Detroit, which is to return to basketball relevance after finishing .500 or worse in seven consecutive seasons.

“I like what Boston and Milwaukee and the rest of those teams do. That’s more fuel to what we’re trying to do. Realistic goal for our team? Is to play 82 meaningful games,” Weaver said during media day.

“We want to go down to the wire every game with us playing for something. We don’t want to just look at the last 25 games and not be in contention. We want to be in contention for 82 games, the entire season.”

Eric Woodyard

Wemby Fever is in full effect in San Antonio

On the final day the San Antonio Spurs occupied their old facility on 1 Spurs Lane, about a dozen fans stood outside the players exit hoping for an autograph. They were holding the typical items you’d see, such as basketballs and jerseys.

But with 2023 No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama in town, there was a new offering awaiting Wembanyama’s signature: a 6-foot green inflatable alien wearing a black Spurs Wembanyama jersey.

Wembanyama, who LeBron James called “an alien” last year and who Nike dubbed “The Extraterrestrial” in a new ad, has taken San Antonio by storm ever since the Spurs won the draft lottery in May.



Wemby on his rookie season: ‘I know it’s going to be a beautiful year’

Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama discusses how he’s prepared for his first season in the league and what he’s looking forward to most in the NBA.

There are murals going up around town, including one Wembanyama posed in front of in his latest Instagram post in which he declares himself a “Certified San Antonian.”

“Man, it’s just been so comfortable to have people welcome you like this, and I’m very thankful,” Wembanyama said Monday. “I’m a very lucky, lucky human.”

Not only has Wembanyama started to acclimate himself to his new city, but he also has done so with his new teammates.

“We often have team dinners and team meetings, so I’m really glad everything’s happening the way it’s happening,” Wembanyama said. “And yes, as I was saying, I feel very lucky. I know I’m in a good environment from every aspect.”

Andrew Lopez

Do the Warriors need another big? Draymond isn’t sold

The Golden State Warriors have become synonymous with small ball, and with the addition of guard Chris Paul and the possibility he could be a starter, the Warriors could have the smallest starting lineup in the NBA.

That being said, would they want more options with size? Draymond Green has heard that before.

“They said we didn’t have enough size in 2022, and we won,” Green said Monday. “I’ve been told I wasn’t the right size forever, and I’ve won. …

“I can show you where we didn’t have enough size and we won. In saying that, I’m not totally against having another big.”

The Warriors brought in Dwight Howard for a set of workouts a few weeks ago, but nothing materialized. Golden State did add Usman Garuba on a two-way contract and Rudy Gay on a non-guaranteed training camp deal to add some more size.



CP3 is ready to help the Warriors however he can

Chris Paul says he’ll do “whatever to help our team win” as he heads into his first season with the Warriors.

The two players will surely get more run time in the preseason with Green sidelined for at least the next two weeks with a left ankle sprain — but the Warriors still don’t have a traditional center to back up Kevon Looney.

“At the end of the day, I think [Warriors GM] Mike Dunleavy has done an incredible job of filling impossible shoes,” Green said. “The No. 1 thing that Mike has to do is come in and create trust with every move that he’s been making and moves that he hasn’t made. But communicating with us and making sure we’re in the know — that we know certain things — is incredible.”

Green reiterated the Warriors don’t need another big, stating anything they need they already have. But he had a small caveat:

“[The] Lakers are huge. That’s who we lost to. So if you look at someone and you’re like, ‘This is who we lost to, where do we need to improve?’ Probably need a little bit more size. Doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to lose again if we don’t get the size. But it may help.”

— Kendra Andrews

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