Phil Kessel takes shot at Maple Leafs after winning another cup

After winning his third Stanley Cup title — this time as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights — Phil Kessel took the opportunity to take his latest shot at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night after starring for them years ago. Kessel, 35, played for the Maple Leafs from 2009 to 2015 and became a somewhat polarizing figure during his tenure with the team.

Dealt to Toronto in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Bruins, the Maple Leafs experienced little success around him. The Maple Leafs made the playoffs just once in Kessel’s six seasons with the team, and Kessel himself faced individual criticism for a lack of winning and a perceived lack of commitment to physical fitness.

While speaking to Toronto-based reporters on Tuesday night, Kessel made certain to remind the city that he hadn’t forgotten what was said about him during his time there.

“Takes me back to my Toronto days. You guys said I couldn’t win, and now I’m a three-time champ,” Kessel said, per Mike Stephens of The Hockey News. “Remember that.”

Kessel was traded from the Maple Leafs to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015, and he would go on to play on the Penguins teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

This time around, an aging Kessel’s contributions to the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup win were more muted: He scored just 14 goals in 82 games this season and played only four games in the playoffs before being a regular healthy scratch.

Drexel basketball player Terrence Butler found dead in on-campus apartment

Drexel basketball player Terrence Butler was found dead in his apartment Wednesday morning, the university announced. Butler was entering his third season at Drexel and was enrolled in the university’s engineering college after starring in high school at Bishop McNamara in Forestville, Maryland.

“On behalf of the entire Drexel community, we extend our deepest sympathy to Terrence’s family, friends and teammates,” Drexel president John Fry said in a statement. “In addition to being a student-athlete, Terrence was involved in numerous activities and organizations at Drexel and was a friend to many throughout the University community.”

Butler appeared in eight games over his two seasons with the Dragons as the 6-foot-7 forward was hampered by injuries that limited his on-court impact. He claimed a spot on the CAA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll in each of his two seasons with the program.

In high school, Butler was a McDonald’s All-American honoree and named Bishop McNamara’s 2019 most valuable player. He followed sisters Tasia (James Madison) and Tiara (Syracuse) in playing Division I college basketball. The university did not reveal a cause of death.

“We hope that all in need of healing can find solace int he days ahead,” Fry wrote.

Vicente Luque bests Rafael dos Anjos in first fight since brain bleed

Vicente Luque did not live up to his reputation as a ruthless finisher, but he showcased important new wrinkles to his game and overcame a year’s worth of adversity. A well-rounded Luque stifled the gameplan of Rafael dos Anjos to earn a unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Saturday’s combatants had a lot to fight for. Luque was sidelined for a year after suffering a brain bleed in his first career knockout loss against Geoff Neal. Dos Anjos, a former lightweight champion, recently made the move to welterweight permanent in pursuit of being world champ again.

All respect to these two after going all 5 rounds 👏 #UFCVegas78

— UFC (@ufc) August 13, 2023
Luque has finished 13 opponents in 14 UFC fights — the third highest finish per win percentage in UFC history — but stopping one of UFC’s most experienced and battle-tested veterans is a tough ask. Dos Anjos’ gameplan was rather straight forward: punch his way inside and take down the younger, harder striker.

Luque not only showed significant improvements in his takedown defense but he also displayed poise and maturity in scoring his own takedowns. RDA finally opened up in Round 5 with his striking and was doing rather well, but it was too little too late. Luque scored a career-best five takedowns.

“It’s a miracle I’m here. I’ve never feared anything but I feared never coming back in here,” Luque said in his post-fight interview. “In the first round, I was afraid of being hit. It’s been a year. I didn’t know how I’d react.”

Luque bounced back from the first consecutive losses of a professional career boasting more than 30 fights. Dos Anjos is 1-1 in his last two as he closes in on 50 pro bouts at 38 years old.

Luque called for an opponent ranked inside the UFC’s official top five as he makes a run towards UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards.

Details emerge on why 76ers star called Daryl Morey a liar as NBA continues investigation

James Harden publicly called Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey “a liar” at a recent event in China, and now, we at least have some idea about why. As the NBA continues its probe into the drama in Philadelphia, Shams Charania is reporting that Harden told the league that his comments referred to his trade request earlier this offseason.

Harden said that Morey promised to trade him quickly following his decision to pick up his $35.6 million player option for next season, according to Charania.

Instead, the 76ers have now ceased trade discussions involving Harden and plan to keep him into the season. Morey has said on the record that he would only trade Harden for “either a very good player or something that we can turn into a very good player.” No such offer is known to have materialized, and discussions with the Los Angeles Clippers, Harden’s preferred destination, have seemingly gone nowhere.

Harden will turn 34 this offseason, and has now requested three trades since the 2020 offseason. He is coming off of yet another playoff disappointment and has never been known for his conditioning or defense. His trade value, for now, appears limited.

Notably, however, the NBA’s investigation was focused on whether or not the Harden situation involved any salary cap circumvention. Last offseason, Harden took a one-year deal with that $35.6 million player option in an effort to give the 76ers more flexibility to improve the roster around him. Rumors have suggested that the arrangement would eventually be followed up by a long-term contract this offseason, though there has been no credible reporting suggesting that Philadelphia made an illegal agreement with Harden about a future contract.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne have reported that Harden plans to report to Philadelphia’s training camp in September. Of course, Harden has never actually held out while seeking a trade. He has, however, displayed a history of playing poor basketball while awaiting a deal. He arrived at training camp for the 2020-21 season with the Houston Rockets late and visibly out of shape. In his final game with the Brooklyn Nets, he scored just four points in a loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Harden’s future in Philadelphia remains murky, but Morey’s history suggests that he will not make a poor deal just to get rid of Harden. He kept the disgruntled Ben Simmons for most of the 2021-22 season as he awaited a suitable trade. He eventually found one with Brooklyn that landed him Harden. That deal certainly didn’t come together quickly. Harden claims Morey promised him that this one would, but for now, it appears to be on hold until something changes.

Heat star Bam Adebayo criticizes NBA players who miss games due to load management

I don’t think we’ll be seeing Bam Adebayo sitting out games due to load management any time soon. The Miami Heat All-Star forward recently shared his opinion on players around the league who often miss games due to load management, and he’s certainly not a fan of the concept.

During an appearance on the “To Inspire” podcast, Adebayo shared why he doesn’t agree with load management.

“A lot of guys sitting, like load management, that kind of bothers me in a sense,” Adebayo said. “You have a lot of kids and parents who want to see you play. You have kids who probably come from the inner city, and their parents make a way to put them all the way up in the stands, and then for you to find out you’re not playing. And it’s because you feel like ‘I gotta load manage and be prepared, ready for this.’ I remember as a kid, I would’ve gave my last dollar and my foot to go see Kobe Bryant play. I know if I felt like that it’s a lot of other kids that felt like that.”

It’s not surprising Adebayo thinks that way about load management, because over his six years in the NBA he averages 70 games a season. He’s only played fewer than 60 games just once, and that was due to injury which forced him to miss a month-and-a-half. Adebayo also isn’t the only player who has spoken out in opposition of the practice, Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star guard Anthony Edwards also shared a similar opinion during All-Star Weekend in February.

However, load management often doesn’t come from a player necessarily wanting to sit out of a game, it’s typically a decision made by several parties including coaches, the training staff and player. Golden State Warriors MVP guard Stephen Curry shared back in January the misconception around load management when this debate was at its height.

“I campaign to play every game,” Curry said. “That’s the misconception about load management and how it goes. It’s never the player that’s saying, ‘Hey, I want to sit.’ For all those people worried about that part of our league and all that, it’s usually not the player that’s going to the training staff and saying, ‘Hey, I don’t have it tonight.’ It’s usually the other way around and there’s a lot of science involved.”

Kawhi Leonard is regularly criticized for load management, however he’s struggled with injuries for several years, so not playing every back-to-back game makes sense. The same goes for someone like LeBron James, who despite incredible durability for most of his career, has dealt with injuries in recent seasons. That’s resulted in James missing games due to load management so his body isn’t overworked during the regular season.

It’s admirable that Adebayo is thinking about the fans who could potentially miss their favorite player in action, but it’s not as if most guys want to just sit out. This might be one of those moments where once a player has been in the league for over a decade you start to see the value in trying to preserve your body in order to extend your career. So perhaps we’ll revisit this when Adebayo is in Year 15 and see what he thinks then.

Lonzo Ball says time with Bulls has been a big ‘what if’ moment, is ‘on track’ to return after this season

When the Chicago Bulls tip off the 2023-24 season they’ll be doing so, once again, without their starting point guard in Lonzo Ball. It’s a familiar feeling for the Bulls, who were without Ball for all of last season as well due to setbacks while recovering from multiple surgeries to his left knee.

Ball’s injury has been one of the more disheartening storylines over the last couple seasons due to Chicago’s success with him on the floor. While it was only 35 games, Ball was an essential piece in the Bulls starting out the 2021-22 season so strong, climbing as high as the No. 1 seed in the East prior to Ball going down with the injury.

The former No. 2 overall pick called it a “what if” moment in his career during an appearance on the “From the Point Podcast by Trae Young,” while also feeling bad for the Bulls front office.

“It’s gonna be a big what if,” Ball said. “I feel bad just for the GM, just because I feel like they made the perfect team around me. That was the most I’ve ever been involved in an organization and I finally got the perfect team that I felt like could fit my game, play my way and really just do what I wanted to do. That injury — I’m still going through it right now — but that one messed me up early just because I feel like we really had a chance and never got to see what it was.”

Chicago had a potent offense centered around Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Ball was the initiator of Chicago’s offense, dishing the ball to LaVine and DeRozan. He also had a solid pick-and-pop game with Vucevic, and was amongst the most reliable 3-point shooters on the roster, connecting on 42.3% of his shots from deep on over seven attempts a game. But it was Ball’s defense that really made the Bulls go. Together with defensive pest Alex Caruso, the duo were constantly disrupting opposing offensive schemes and helping Chicago get out in transition and push the pace.

During those 35 games that Ball played, the Bulls went 22-13, including a 6-1 start to open the season. However, once Ball was sidelined the Bulls fell from first in the East to sixth and lost in five games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bulls felt Ball’s absence even more last season as the team finished ninth in the East with a 40-42 record and lost in the play-in round to miss the playoffs. But while Ball will miss the entirety of the upcoming season, the guard said he is on track to make a return.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” Ball said. “I just had a really big surgery, hopefully the last one I ever have to get but it’s a long process. I’m already out this whole next season — when I first got hurt we didn’t really know what it was. I’ve seen all types of different doctors and stuff and I was kind of just going up and down. That was really hard for me because I just didn’t know what the next day was going to be like. At least now I got the surgery, we got a plan moving forward, we’ve been on plan and I’m on track. Hopefully everything works out.”

While the Bulls will still miss Ball’s presence on the floor, the team is at least better equipped to withstand his absence after signing guard Jevon Carter in free agency. Carter will certainly bring the defensive intensity needed in Chicago’s backcourt, and he’s coming off a season where he shot 42.1% from deep on four attempts per game. Between him, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White, the latter two of which Chicago re-signed this summer, the Bulls should have some depth in the backcourt to hold things together while Ball continues his lengthy rehab process.

Knicks suing Raptors over former employee allegedly taking proprietary information, per report

The New York Knicks have sued the Toronto Raptors and several members of their organization, according to SNY’s Ian Begley. At the center of the suit is former Knicks employee Ikechukwu Azotam, whom Toronto began recruiting in June and ultimately hired this offseason. The suit alleges that Azotam “illegally procured and disclosed proprietary information” from the Knicks upon leaving the team and shared that information with the Raptors.

“These files include confidential information such as play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files and materials and more,” according to a statement issued to Begley. “Given the clear violation of our employment agreement, criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this action.”

Azotam, a former assistant video coordinator for the Knicks who held multiple positions between 2020-23, started getting recruited by Toronto in June and informed the Knicks that he was offered a position in July, according to Begley. The lawsuit alleges that he “conspired to use Azotam’s position as a current Knicks insider to funnel proprietary information to the Raptors to help them organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff” under first-time head coach Darko Rajakovic.

Begley reported that the suit claims that the Raptors “directed Azotam to misuse his access to the Knicks’ subscription to Synergy Sports to create and then transfer to the Raptors over 3,000 files consisting of film information and data.'” Synergy Sports is a video and analytics tool frequently used by both teams and media companies (including CBS Sports).

Following the report, the Raptors released this statement:

“MLSE and the Toronto Raptors received a letter from MSG on Thursday of last week bringing this complaint to our attention. MLSE responded promptly, making clear our intention to conduct an internal investigation and to fully cooperate. MLSE has not been advised that a lawsuit was being filed or has been filed following its correspondence with MSG. The company strongly denies any involvement in the matters alleged. MLSE and the Toronto Raptors will reserve further comment until this matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”

Typically, disputes between teams are handled internally within the league. However, due to the possible legal violations at play here, the Knicks seemingly believe that what allegedly happened here exceeds the scope of league discipline and needs court intervention.

Warriors’ Stephen Curry says he’s the best point guard ever, but let’s put the debate in some context

At this point, most people can agree that there are two options in the “best point guard ever” debate: Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry. On Monday, Gilbert Arenas, on his podcast, asked Curry point blank to answer the question for himself.

“Are you the best point guard ever?” Arenas asked. Curry, after some thought, answered, “Yes.”

“It’s me and Magic, is that the conversation?” Curry said.

Yes, that’s the conversation, and it’s one in which reasonable minds can disagree. Magic has a lot of points on his side of the ledger, starting with the five championships to Curry’s four. Johnson possessed extreme positional size. He was arguably the greatest passer to ever live and one of the most unstoppable transition players period. You can’t remove nostalgia from the equation. It’s part of it. And it’s on Johnson’s side.



— Gilbert Arenas (@GilsArenaShow) August 21, 2023
For Curry, obviously he’s the greatest shooter and one of the best scorers ever. A lot of people think that removes Curry from the “traditional point guard” conversation, but I’m not one of them. A point guard’s responsibility is to get his team the best shot possible as often as possible. If you happen to be the best guy to take a given shot, giving it to someone else for the sake of being a “real point guard” is ludicrous.

In effect, we pump Magic up in this particular conversation because he wasn’t a good shooter. If he was, he would’ve shot more. Curry taking advantage of his best skill is no different than Magic taking advantage of his, and a traditionalist docking Curry points in this debate because he’s equally capable of playing off the ball makes little sense when we so often laud Jonson’s versatility as a guy who famously played center in the Finals as a rookie.

In the end, it’s hard to argue that Johnson, factoring everything in, had more impact on the game as an offensive player than Curry does. Also, we forget that Johnson was an awful defender. This was known. James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, so many of these great modern point guards suffer in some way in these conversations because of their defensive limitations, but oddly that hole in Magic’s game almost never gets mentioned.

Curry has become a legitimately good team defender, which is what matters most, and he holds up better one on one far better than his reputation would suggest. The eras are different, and everyone will weight that factor differently. That notwithstanding, clearly I think the answer here is Curry, especially when you consider that he’s far from done.

But again, reasonable minds can disagree on this. It’s Magic Johnson for crying out loud. You’re not crazy if you still think he’s the standard. Curry himself acknowledged that much, and most importantly, Curry was asked this question. What else is he going to say? There are at least 10 players in the league right now that if you asked them if they’re the best player in the world, they would say yes. The level of self belief athletes of this magnitude possess is largely what makes them what they are in the first place.

“Obviously I have to answer [myself],” Curry said, “but to your point, Magic’s resume is ridiculous. So the fact that we’re even having that conversation is a place that I never thought I’d be in.”