MIAMI – Training camps for most NBA teams open Tuesday, and with the season fast approaching, here’s 10 items of note as the league heads into the 2018-19 campaign:
As media days were ending Monday, Jimmy Butler was still with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s likely temporary. The first big saga of the 2018-19 season is Butler and his trade request. “Our job is to seek out the best opportunity for us,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If something’s good for us, then we’re interested in doing it. If not, we’re ready to move forward the other way.” Several teams – including Miami, Cleveland, Brooklyn – have interest, as would be expected when talking about a four-time All-Star.
The Warriors have won three of the last four NBA titles and added DeMarcus Cousins over the summer, making a great roster even greater. But Cousins, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and more could all be free agents next July 1, meaning Golden State may be changing more than its address (the Warriors are moving into a new arena in 2019) after this season. “The idea is to really focus on how lucky we are to be here together in this era, this time and place,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re well aware it’s not going to last forever.”
For the first time since 2010, the Eastern Conference team in the NBA Finals will not be led by LeBron James – since he’s now with the Los Angeles Lakers. So while Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia are clearly good, the East race is as open as it has been in a decade. James helped Miami win the East from 2011 through 2014, and Cleveland in each of the last four seasons. “A `LeBron-less East.’ That’s a good way to put it,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s gone. He got a lot of players cut, traded, coaches fired.”
Carter is now with Atlanta, his eighth NBA team. He has an Olympic gold medal from 2000, but no NBA championship yet – though instead of ring-chasing in a season where he’s turning 42, Carter decided to join a young team in Atlanta and simultaneously be a player and a mentor. “I’m trying to wring the towel all the way out,” Carter said. The Hawks might not have a great chance at the playoffs this season, but if they get there and Carter plays, he would become the third-oldest player to appear in a postseason game.
San Antonio has been to the playoffs in each of the last 21 seasons. The NBA record is 22 straight, set by Philadelphia from 1950 through 1971. If the Spurs get there this season, it’ll be the first time they do so without any of their Big Three – Tim Duncan (retired two years ago), Manu Ginobili (retired this summer) or Tony Parker (now in Charlotte) – on the roster. “It’s a great opportunity for a new challenge,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who took Ginobili along for San Antonio’s preseason coaching retreat last week and picked his brain on strategy for the coming season.
There are seven active MVPs in the NBA right now – LeBron James has won it four times, Stephen Curry twice, and Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and reigning MVP James Harden all have claimed the award once. All seven now play in the Western Conference, and Harden plans to do his part to keep the trophy on that side of the league. “I’ve got to take it to another level,” the Houston star said. “Every single year, I’ve got to improve and make sure that I’m a leader.”
No. 1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton goes into his rookie season with the Phoenix Suns with a rookie (at least, an NBA rookie) coach in Igor Kokoskov. Suns guard Devin Booker raves about what he’s already learned from Kokoskov, and Ayton is duly impressed. “Coach Igor is a smart coach, a very smart coach,” the Suns’ new center said. “He’s all about fundamentals and really taking your time in the post, taking care of your body and really all about conditioning, as well and studying the game.”
Memphis veteran Omri Casspi enters this season with a distinction nobody wants – no player in the NBA right now has been in more regular-season games without playing in a single playoff contest. Casspi has been in 552 games, none of them of the postseason variety, and that makes his playoff drought 17 games longer than Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins. But Casspi has made a career out of being patient; the first Israeli to play in the NBA remembers a time when few people thought he’d ever reach the league. “If you believe in yourself,” Casspi said, “good things will happen.”
It’s hard to find an NBA all-time list of anything where the Lakers’ LeBron James isn’t one of the leaders, and that includes earnings. James will pass Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki and climb to No. 4 on the league’s career salary list this season, the $35.5 million he’ll be getting in his first season with Los Angeles pushing him to about $270 million for his 16 seasons. He’s on pace to pass Shaquille O’Neal for the No. 3 spot in the 2019-20 season, and would then pass Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett for the No. 1 all-time spot in 2020-21.
This will be the 21st and possibly final season for Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, and two guys he faced in the 2006 and 2011 NBA Finals against Miami are among those who are going into a season for the last time. Dwyane Wade said earlier this month this is his “last dance,” and Heat forward Udonis Haslem made the announcement Monday that his 16th season is his finale.
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