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Shootaround (Aug. 6): Isaiah Thomas Focused On A Championship; Says Hip Is ‘Great’

Shootaround (Aug. 6): Isaiah Thomas Focused On A Championship; Says Hip Is ‘Great’ News

Plus, New York gets to know its new GM, Miami turns attention toward Richardson, and much more

Isaiah Thomas is staying focused on winning in Boston— So much will be made this season about Isaiah Thomas and his future with the Boston Celtics, as you might expect with an All-Star heading into a contract year. But Thomas is keeping his focus on winning and staying locked into what the Celtics can accomplish this season with a tweaked roster and a great opportunity to continue their chase of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Stephen Hewitt of the Boston Herald has more:

Isaiah Thomas never has been one to be shy about his own abilities, but as he looks around the landscape of the Eastern Conference, and sees what the Celtics have done this offseason, he doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.

The Celtics guard sees the additions of Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum to a team that was the East’s No. 1 seed last season. He knows something is going on in Cleveland, the team’s biggest road block to the NBA Finals, but he doesn’t want to put much stock into it.

Thomas is optimistic, but he’s cautious.

“We never put a ceiling on what we want to do,” Thomas told the Herald yesterday at Boston University, where he hosted more than 400 campers on the first day of his annual basketball clinic. “The ultimate goal is to win a championship, and that’s the only goal. So, whatever we have to do to try to get to the Finals, and try to get a championship, is what we’re going to do. We definitely have a really good team. We know that, the world knows that, and we just have to back it up.”

Part of blocking out any noise that will come with heightened expectations this season may include ignoring what’s going on in Cleveland. Rumors of dysfunction — amplified by reports that Kyrie Irving wants out — could put the Celtics in a more comfortable spot for conference supremacy.

But Thomas isn’t fueling that fire.

“I don’t really want to comment on that, I don’t know what’s going on over there,” he said. “I know just as much as everybody else knows. If (Irving) leaves, he leaves. If he doesn’t, then we know how good of a team they are, and we know how good of a player he is.”

Instead, Thomas is keeping to himself this offseason. He was off the court and shut down from basketball activity due to an injured hip since early in the Eastern Conference finals. His recovery from the lingering injury is progressing nicely and he said he should be ready by the start of training camp.

He opted not to have surgery, so he’s been resting for two-plus months. He recently got back in the gym as he tries to get into shape for the season.

“The hip is great,” said Thomas, who didn’t seem bothered by it as he played with campers yesterday. “It’s a real slow rehab process, but it’s getting better and that’s what it’s all about.”

WATCH: Isaiah Thomas records 33 points and nine assists against the Washington Wizards.

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Does Clippers’ change signal end of coach/ruling class? — The Los Angeles Clippers summer of change continued late last week with the word that Doc Rivers would be surrendering his front office duties to Lawrence Frank and focus solely on coaching a revamped team that doesn’t include Chris PaulAdrian Wojnarowski of ESPN suggests it is the inevitable end to a trend in the league of concentrated power in the hands of the man who has to coach and put together the same roster:

Looking back, Rivers represented a shift into a new autocracy in the NBA, the centralized power of the championship coach to rule the organizational day. Miami’s Pat Riley had created the image of the bigger-than-life free agent recruiter, but the reality of running a franchise’s basketball operations is a far less dramatic ideal. It is a job of incremental progress and long-term strategic planning, gathering and cultivating assets to pursue the big deals. It is tens of thousands of hours of relationship-building, information-gathering and deal-making in the shadows. The impulsiveness of a coach can be ruinous, and it’s no model for sustainability.

On Friday, Ballmer relieved Rivers of his role as president of basketball operations. Rivers’ losing his front-office duties isn’t so much an indictment of his individual fitness for the duties, but the fact that it is suited for no one coach in this modern era. For everyone trying to replicate the San Antonio dynasty, understand this: The Spurs have the greatest coach (Gregg Popovich) and greatest executive (RC Buford) of a generation. As much as it’s the ultimate model, it’s the ultimate aberration too. Popovich (also the president of Spurs basketball) defers to the expertise and judgment of Buford (the president of sports franchises) in ways that Minnesota president and coach Tom Thibodeau will likely never do with a GM.

“The job is enormous,” Ballmer told ESPN on Friday.

It is two separate and distinct jobs, and that’s largely why Rivers was so instrumental with elevating Lawrence Frank into the front office a year ago. Frank has started building out a serious-minded, process-oriented group that is trying to reflect the changing day in the NBA, where long-term strategic planning separates sustainability of success and the occasional spasm of success.

Rivers remains an elite coach, and it’s a misjudgment to believe that Ballmer moving him out of the front office is a prelude to running him out of the organization. If the Clippers’ new top basketball executive had been anyone else but Frank, Rivers might have walked himself. There’s trust there, and a bond. This structure can work for the Clippers, and Rivers could end up signing a coaching extension beyond the two years, $23 million left on his contract.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver believes that Rivers did a great service to the franchise’s value, and to the NBA, with how he held together the organization and its star players through the tumult of the Sterling nightmare. Silver wasn’t necessarily against Rivers’ ascension to the top of the Clippers masthead, but the commissioner has privately expressed concerns to owners and senior franchise officials in several instances, case by case, about the dynamic of the coach-in-charge model, league sources said.

The president-coach model has cycled through several incarnations, including the failed regimes of Rick Pitino and John Calipari, who never accepted that the players are the stars in the NBA; dictatorships work only on campus.

Four years ago, Rivers told me: “The risk is all mine. To go to an organization that hasn’t won but [two] playoff series in their entire history, in a town where the other team is the best franchise in sports history — that’s risk.

“But the opportunity — for me — gives me life. If we get this right, it will be the story of stories to tell. At this point in my life, the gamble is worth it.”

Four years later, Chris Paul is gone, and so is the absoluteness of presidential power. This doesn’t need to be the end for Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, but rather only a reset on an experiment that had run its course. Perhaps this will be seen only as a demotion to everyone else, but maybe it’s this too: How the structure should’ve always been, a championship coach on the floor with two All-Stars and a mandate to integrate nine new players, and a front-office structure with an eye on the long game.

The Clippers are back to the natural push-and-pull of management and coaching, Ballmer’s new choice for honoring a $2 billion franchise investment. Looking back and looking ahead, it was inevitable.

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

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Who is Scott Perry? — As much as Knicks fans preoccupy their time with the daily doings of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis and their respective futures with the franchise, there is a more pressing concern for some in New York. They want to know what the new man running the team’s daily basketball operations, Scott Perry is planning. Even more, they’d like to figure out who Perry really is? Marc Berman of the New York Post digs in on that front:

The 53-year-old Detroit native and former college coach has worked for four NBA organizations — most notably the Pistons, where he became a voice during a run to two straight Finals, including winning the 2004 championship.

“He’s not a trumpeter,’’ said Williams, who ran the front office of the Bulls and Sixers in the 1970s and 1980s before becoming the driving force behind the Magic’s expansion arrival in 1989. “But he works and works hard. He’s constantly about his business and gets along with people, has good people skills. He’s had many, many stops. Wherever he was, it was a behind-the-scenes guy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his picture in the Orlando paper. Now it’s reversed. He’s going to be in the limelight in New York.’’

Twenty five years ago — after the Magic won the draft lottery, delivering them Shaquille O’Neal — Williams was on stage shaking hands with then-commissioner David Stern. Through all the lotteries in Perry’s time in Orlando, the pingpong balls never bounced their way.

“They did not have the great luck of winning lottery in that period,’’ said Williams, who is now in more of an emeritus consulting role in Orlando.

In recent Orlando drafts, the Magic netted Victor Oladipo at No. 2 in 2013, Aaron Gordon at No. 4 and Elfrid Payton at No. 10 in 2014, Mario Hezonja at No. 5 in 2015 and traded the rights of their 11th pick in 2016, Domantas Sabonis, to the Thunder in the failed Serge Ibaka deal.

“They greatly overvalued Payton,’’ one NBA executive said. “He was a bad shooter, and a lot of teams viewed him as a backup and not a starter.”

Oladipo panned out well enough, but Magic brass dealt him to Oklahoma City in a curious trade for free-agent-to-be Ibaka, whom they promptly dealt for pennies on the dollar when Orlando knew it couldn’t re-sign him.

Williams said Perry deserves something of a pass on the draft, noting Orlando’s director of college scouting, Matt Lloyd, held massive influence on their picks.

Instead, Williams commended Hennigan-Perry for their very first maneuver: forced to accede to Dwight Howard’s trade demand in 2012. Orlando came out best in the four-team deal, netting Evan Fournier and Arron Afflalo. It has been downhill since.

“Scott was advising on trades, and some worked out well, some didn’t,’’ Williams said. “I think I give him a B-minus/C-plus. We never coalesced, got over the hump, and our fans were restless. We had to do something.’’

After three years of utter chaos around the Knicks under team president Phil Jackson, the Mills-Perry tandem has been well-received. Jackson’s colossal failure, Williams said, demonstrates that being a superstar head coach does not translate to being a smart front-office executive — as they are entirely different occupations. Few, save Pat Riley, make the transition smoothly, Williams said.

Perry’s “humility,” Williams said, makes this a workable tandem. They are both 53.

“Bottom line: It’s a good hire,’’ Williams said. “Steve needs somebody. A two man operation, it’s a trend now. He needs people around him working with him, not to overpower or outdo him. He’s not going to worry about Scott undercutting him or topping him. His roles with NBA teams has not been lead voice but secondary voice. As far as submitting to authority of Steve, it won’t be a problem. He’s done that his whole career. Many executive-types can not handle that secondary role. It’s a smart hire and effective one.”

Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

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Richardson situation deserves Heat’s attention — Heat swingman Josh Richardson remains top of mind for the organization heading into the 2017-18 season, for plenty of reasons. He’s a key piece on an emerging young roster and his contract situation, he’s eligible for an extension, will surely be a factor for the all involved going into training camp. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel reminds us that Richardson’s situation deserves the Heat’s undivided attention:

Erik Spoelstra calls it “the microwave society,” the hunger to know right now what time eventually will reveal.

For the Miami Heat coach, it remained a mantra through what started with the pain of 11-30 last season and ended with the comfort of the opposite record over the second half of the schedule.

And now the start button again has been pressed for the Heat, this time with Josh Richardson’s eligibility for an extension, a window that opened Thursday, on the two-year anniversary of his rookie agreement.

It is a worthy debate, whether two seasons from his selection at No. 40 out of Tennessee in 2015 Richardson is deserving of what could be a four-year, $42 million extension that would kick in starting in 2018-19.

“We’ve got many ways to get around it.”

There also is absolutely no rush, unless there is concern about the futures market by either side.

Why? Because the deadline for reaching such an extension is June 30.

This is not the mid-October deadline the Heat face on Justise Winslow’s 2018-19 team option.

Nor is it the opening-night deadline on the 2017-18 guarantees for Rodney McGruder and Okaro White.

So, for the moment, consider this moment.

Based on the current NBA climate, the Heat would be wise to push pen and paper in front of Richardson sooner rather than later.

Consider that when Richardson’s extension would kick in for 2018-19 his new deal would start at $9.4 million. As a matter of perspective, Kelly Olynyk will earn $11.1 million that season, Dion Waiters $11.6 million, Goran Dragic $18.1 million and Tyler Johnson $19.2 million. Heck, Wayne Ellington’s qualifying offer for that season is $8.2 million.

It basically is the cost of doing business these days, even if you’re not a guaranteed starter going forward.

Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Charles Oakley takes the deal … The Pacers would love to see a lot more of the Victor Oladipo that was on display during Saturday’s BWB-Africa showcase … The Hawks continue their peculiar summer franchise makeover with the addition of Luke Babbit … ICYMI, Damian Lillard’s No. 1 jersey is headed for the rafters at Weber State … JJ Redick explains why he didn’t sign with the Houston Rockets