Heat’s Jimmy Butler takes on Carlos Alcaraz in US Open charity match, wins point against world No. 1

It’s never been a secret that Jimmy Butler is one of the more competitive athletes around. On Wednesday, he displayed that competitive streak when he took a different kind of court.

During the US Open’s “Stars of the Open” charity event, Butler was serving as the ball boy for a match between Frances Tiafoe and Alcaraz, and he even ended up subbing in for a brief period. Alcaraz ended up serving to Butler, and the six-time NBA All-Star scored a point against the world’s top player.

Jimmy Butler just showed the world how to beat Carlos Alcaraz 👀 pic.twitter.com/k8WJYlY5Xh

— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 23, 2023
After a few volleys, Butler returned a forehand shot following a drop shot from Alcaraz. While Alcaraz wasn’t exactly playing at his top speed, it was still a very impressive effort from the Miami Heat star.

Butler has developed a reputation of being a very big tennis fan as he’s attended several tournaments, including Wimbledon last month. He’s also established a relationship with tennis star Coco Gauff in recent years, and he even invited her to the NBA Finals this past season.

Butler obviously isn’t going to pick up the racket in place of a basketball anytime soon. However, he’s clearly picked up a few things since he was able to score a point on Alcaraz.

Alcaraz — along with Grammy-nominated singer Sebastián Yatra — defeated Tiafoe and Butler in a tiebreak set, 15-13. However, Butler left the match feeling extremely good about his tennis skills. After all, he did go from ball boy training to getting a point against the tennis world No. 1 in a very short amount of time.

“It was great, like a dream come true for me,” Butler said during his on-court interview. “I feel as though some people are top-ranked in the world, and my confidence, I feel like I’m one of those players.”

‘It’s not our first rodeo’

The first few years of a young player’s career should, in a perfect world, be the least eventful. A rookie contract should serve as an opportunity for a young player to acclimate into the league and slowly develop his skills. Nowadays, such opportunities are growing increasingly rare. Just ask Tyrese Maxey, who hasn’t even started his fourth season, but has already watched two superstar teammates make ugly trade demands.

In 2021, right after Maxey’s rookie season, Ben Simmons made it clear that he would not be returning to the Philadelphia 76ers. General manager Daryl Morey refused to acquiesce to his demands, and Simmons remained on the roster without playing until February 2022. Morey only dealt Simmons when he was offered a suitable replacement in James Harden.

Now, it’s Harden seeking the trade, and Maxey, having already been through this once before, is remarkably unphased by the situation. “It’s crazy to say this, but it’s not our first rodeo, honestly,” Maxey said on his Maxey on the Mic podcast (h/t Liberty Ballers). “That’s funny to say, but that’s life. James is his own individual and he’s able to do whatever he pleases. I’m preparing right now to play with him or without him. … and I love James. If James decided he’s going to come back and play for us, there’s nobody in this organization that would be upset about that.”

Maxey was a reserve as a rookie but saw his scoring leap from eight to 17.5 points per game as a sophomore with Simmons out. Once Harden was acquired, though, he handed over the role of primary ball-handler to the former MVP. In other words, he doesn’t need to prepare to play with or without Harden. He’s already proven that he can cycle between the two roles within a season comfortably.

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Yet it’s still somewhat jarring to hear such a young player speak of a superstar’s trade request as if it’s a standard obstacle players and teams need to overcome. In the modern NBA, he’s right. Almost every team has experienced either the loss or acquisition of a star in the past decade or so. Star movement can uproot half a dozen players or more in a single trade, and it is becoming so common that players need to be prepared for it. Even those who don’t directly change teams in the process need to learn to work with new players. Surviving the whims of a superstar, today, is an essential NBA skill.

Maxey learned it the hard way already. Newer members of the 76ers will have to figure it out on the fly, but even if they hadn’t in Philadelphia, they would have eventually. There’s no such thing as stability in the NBA of 2023. Maxey has realized it, and the rest of the league likely has as well.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says winning another championship is his goal, even if that isn’t with the Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo was once among the most sought-after superstars in basketball. Prior to his 2020 contract extension with the Bucks, teams like the Heat, Mavericks and Lakers all spent years clearing salary cap space hoping to pursue him as a free agent. Instead, he stayed with the Milwaukee Bucks and won the 2021 championship. The rumor mill quieted down… for the time being.

But the past two seasons haven’t gone quite as well for the two-time MVP. Milwaukee hasn’t returned to the conference finals since 2021, and last season, they were upset by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat in the first round of the postseason. Now Antetokounmpo has a decision to make. Later this offseason, he will become eligible for a contract extension. If he doesn’t sign it, the clock leading up to his possible 2025 free agency will only tick louder, and in an interview with Tania Ganguli for The New York Times, he indicated that he does not plan to re-sign with the Bucks this summer.

“The real question’s not going to be this year — numbers-wise it doesn’t make sense,” Antetokounmpo said. “But next year, next summer it would make more sense for both parties. Even then, I don’t know.”

Financially speaking, Antetokounmpo is correct. If he re-signs this offseason, he will only be able to add four years to the deal. Next offseason, he can add five, and with the way the salary cap is increasing, that extra year will likely prove quite lucrative. Of course, this isn’t only a financial decision for Antetokounmpo. It’s a basketball decision as well, and after two disappointing seasons, he made it clear to Ganguli that his priority is to get back to winning championships.

“But at the end of the day, being a winner, it’s over that goal,” he said. “Winning a championship comes first. I don’t want to be 20 years on the same team and don’t win another championship.”

Antetokounmpo, still only 28, has plenty of time to continue competing for championships. The rest of the Bucks, however, likely do not. Milwaukee has, arguably justifiably, chosen to retain the bulk of its core ever since it won the 2021 title, but in the process, the Bucks have gotten old. Sidekick Khris Middleton, who has dealt with a number of injuries in recent years, is now 32. Jrue Holiday, who is 33, says that he plans to retire at the end of this contract. Brook Lopez is 35 and needed back surgery during the 2021-22 season. Lopez and Middleton were re-signed to multi-year deals this offseason.

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Former head coach Mike Budenholzer, however, will not be back. The Bucks fired him after losing to Miami and replaced him with Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin. Antetokounmpo reportedly endorsed Griffin for the role, but acknowledged the uncertainty of bringing a new coach into such an established locker room.

“You’ve got to see the dynamics,” he said. “How the coach is going to be, how we’re going to be together. At the end of the day, I feel like all my teammates know and the organization knows that I want to win a championship. As long as we’re on the same page with that and you show me and we go together to win a championship, I’m all for it.”

The Bucks should be firmly in the championship mix this season. They likely will be for another year or two after that. But Milwaukee’s best players are getting old quickly. The Bucks do not control any of their own first-round picks until 2028, and their emphasis on experience during the Antetokounmpo era has deprived them of youth in the pipeline. If Antetokounmpo’s goal is to compete sustainably moving forward, there’s a strong argument to be made that he’ll need to do so outside of Milwaukee. It is now up to the Bucks to convince him otherwise.

Damian Lillard confirms trade request to Heat, but ‘prefers not to speak on the Trail Blazers’

With just about a month remaining until NBA training camps begin, the prevailing unsettled matter is the future of Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard, who issued a trade request in July, according to Blazers general manager Joe Cronin. As it became clear that a trade to Lillard’s preferred destination, the Miami Heat, wasn’t going to happen any time soon, Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, made public comments suggesting that he had warned teams that his client only wanted to play in Miami.

That led to the NBA issuing a memo to all 30 teams threatening discipline if either Lillard or Goodwin contacted teams privately or publicly to suggest that Lillard would not “fully perform the services called for under his player contract in the event of a trade.” The trade chatter died down a bit after that, but on Thursday we finally heard from Lillard himself about the status of his demand.

Well, sort of.

For the first time, Lillard publicly confirmed that he did, in fact, request a trade to Miami, in a conversation with Andscape’s Marc J. Spears. Outside of that, however, Lillard declined to offer details about his future or his current situation.

“I’m not going to speak on the Blazers,” Lillard said. “It’s lot of love and respect, but I won’t speak on the Blazers. … I can say that there was [a trade request to the Heat], and I would just prefer not to speak on the Trail Blazers.”


— Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) August 24, 2023
Lillard has spent his entire 11-year career with the Blazers, earning seven All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA selections and a spot on the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. He’s also coming off arguably his best season, in which he averaged a career-high 32.2 points along with 7.3 assists, while shooting 37% on over 11 3-pointers per game.

Adding a point guard of Lillard’s caliber to a Miami Heat team coming off its second NBA Finals appearance in four years would send shockwaves through both the Eastern Conference and the NBA at large. However, Cronin has remained steadfast in his desire to find a deal that delivers premium assets for Portland, even if it comes from another team.

“If you look at the history of me speaking about loyalty, I’ve always said that I’m loyal to who I am and I’m going to do what I feel like is the right thing to do,” Lillard told Andscape. “For me, I know what I want for myself and I’m going to be loyal to that. When I feel like this is the vision I have for myself, this is what I see being fit for me at this moment, I’m going to ride that until the wheels fall off but anything that I’m a part of, it all has to be connected.”

 ‘We don’t have a Kobe’

Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Anthony Edwards has quickly established himself as one of the go-to players on Team USA as they prepare for their FIBA World Cup opener on Saturday against New Zealand, averaging a team-best 19.2 points in their five tune-up exhibition games. But, for a time, the 22-year-old wasn’t even penciled into the starting lineup.

Team USA head coach Steve Kerr’s original vision was to have Edwards coming off the bench, with Brooklyn Nets sharpshooter Cam Johnson getting the starting nod. Edwards said that Kerr contacted him heading into camp, suggesting that he could be just as impactful as a reserve and citing the sacrifice of Dwyane Wade, who agreed to come off the bench to back up Kobe Bryant on the 2008 Olympic team.

Edwards admitted that he wasn’t exactly receptive to Kerr’s comparison.

“I mean, of course I wasn’t cool with it,” Edwards said on Thursday. “If that’s what it takes, I mean, I am willing to do it, but nah, I’m never cool with that. … He said Dwyane Wade came off the bench when Kobe played. I was like, all right, we don’t have a Kobe, but all right. But it was cool.”

This clearly wasn’t intended to be a slight at Edwards’ teammates, who aren’t aren’t exactly the household names we saw on the 2008 Redeem Team. While that roster featured legends like Bryant, Wade, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, the 2023 Team USA squad is comprised of up-and-coming talents like Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Austin Reaves and Brandon Ingram.

Edwards cemented his position as Team USA’s alpha with a 34-point performance, including 12 in the fourth quarter, in a 99-91 exhibition win over Germany on Sunday.

Afterward, Kerr said that his young forward had “become the guy,” a sentiment echoed by forward Mikal Bridges and assistant coach Erik Spoelstra.

“Anthony Edwards, that’s gonna be a household name,” Spoelstra said Wednesday. “(Maybe) it already is.”

Team USA’s first FIBA World Cup game against New Zealand will take place on Saturday at 8:40 a.m. ET, followed by group play matchups against Greece and Jordan on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. You can see the full schedule and results here.

‘It would be maddening as a teammate’

One of the greatest and, shall we say, scrappiest point guards of all time, John Stockton was never shy on the basketball court, and in recent years he certainly hasn’t been shy about sharing his opinion off the court either.

During a recent appearance on the DNP-CD podcast, Stockton — among many other topics, including why he was hesitant to appear in The Last Dance if it was just going to be a Michael Jordan “puff piece” — was asked for his thoughts on LeBron James using his superstar influence to dictate the rosters of his teams.

“It would be maddening as a teammate to know that you can be expendable for one of his guys that he thinks he needs to play with,” Stockton said.

You can listen to the full interview here (go to the 16-minute mark for the LeBron comments):

Stockton was careful to say he doesn’t know for sure that LeBron is actually sitting in the office of his GMs and dictating roster moves, only that it “appears” he has done so in the past. Indeed, nobody would argue that LeBron, almost certainly directly but at least through his agent, Rich Paul, and the vast power network he has established across the league, has thrown some of his weight around in this way before.

Let’s be clear, LeBron is not alone here. Almost all superstars have a front office voice. It’s a matter of the degree to which they use it. When LeBron came back to Cleveland in 2014, he wasn’t interested in playing with Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Instead, he wanted Kevin Love. So he got Kevin Love. Wiggins began his career in Minnesota, and the Cavs won the 2016 title.

When LeBron came to the Lakers in 2018, he said he was cool playing with the young nucleus they had constructed of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. But that wasn’t true. He wanted Anthony Davis, also a Rich Paul client. A year later, Ingram, Ball and Hart were sent to New Orleans for Davis. A year after that, the Lakers won the title.

This isn’t to say LeBron is some kind of personnel genius. These are obvious moves for a team in win-now mode. LeBron, potentially, just leaned on his franchises to make them happen.

Still, Stockton’s point isn’t without merit. Just because breaking up a roster ends in a championship doesn’t mean it was any less of a gut shot to the guys whose lives got upended. For months these guys have to sit in the dark with the rest of us wondering where they’re going to be playing, and living, a day from now, or a week from now, or a month from now. It’s a tough spot to be in as a teammate, with the power of a guy like LeBron swinging over your head.

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I think ultimately the narrative that LeBron is pulling all the roster strings is overblown. No doubt he has had his share of influence in the past, and he wants to play with certain guys. He wanted Russell Westbrook as a teammate. Bad call. But the Lakers did it anyway, and it more or less cost them Alex Caruso. It happens. Most superstars don’t stick entirely to their job on the court, as Stockton said he did throughout his career, letting the front office do their jobs independent of his.

Stockton also weighed in on the modern movement of players chasing championships — a shift in thinking most people attribute to LeBron’s infamous 2010 decision to form a super-team in Miami after falling short of a title in Cleveland for seven years — with different teams instead of sticking one place and “climbing the mountain.”

“I like where guys just tighten their belt up and say, you know what, let’s go to work. We’ve just got to get better. We gotta play harder. We gotta play smarter,” Stockton said. “Instead of just, where’s the grass greener? I’m gonna go there and win a championship. I think it devalues that. You’re not climbing the mountain. You’re taking a helicopter to the top.”

anada, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stomp France in statement win to open FIBA World Cup

Two teams stood out as the biggest threats to Team USA at the FIBA World Cup, and sure enough, they wound up facing off on the very first day of the tournament. In one corner stood France, the reliable contender that pushed Team USA to the brink at the Olympics and wound up coming six points short of the gold medal. In the other? A surprise threat in Canada, which has never medaled in the World Cup and hasn’t reached the Olympics since 2000.

What Canada lacks in experience, it more than makes up for in talent. Led by All-Star point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Canadians brought seven NBA players to the tournament: Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Lu Dort, Dwight Powell, RJ Barrett, Kelly Olynyk and Dillon Brooks. That talent won out on Friday against a French team many expect to medal at this tournament.

France led for most of the first half, and Canada had only a three-point edge at 43-40 when the two sides returned to the locker rooms for halftime. But the second half was another story. Canada decimated France 52-22 in the final two frames to secure a 95-65 statement victory. As you’d expect, Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showed out in Canada’s #FIBAWC opening win 🔥

27 PTS, 13 REB, 6 AST pic.twitter.com/OONcGL9s5h

— NBA (@NBA) August 25, 2023
The move immediately puts France on the back foot. In the opening round of the tournament, teams are placed into groups of four with the top two teams advancing. Not only has Canada taken a critical victory over France, but the blowout nature of the win could matter from a tiebreaker perspective. Canada and France should both be favored over Latvia and Lebanon, the two remaining teams in Group H, but Latvia’s 39-point victory over Lebanon could also come into play from a tiebreaker perspective.

Though France is far from out and Canada has a long way to go, the victory represents a changing of the guard to some extent. France’s three NBA players (Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum) are all in their 30s, whereas Canada’s best players are all relatively young. France obviously has a young star in Victor Wembanyama waiting in the wings, but the face of international basketball is changing. The dominant French and Spanish teams of the past decade are starting to age out, and new contenders are beginning to emerge.

Canada is not at full strength in this tournament, either. Jamal Murray initially planned to play in the World Cup, but recovery from his championship run ultimately knocked him out. Brandon Clarke’s season-ending injury cost him a chance to represent Canada as well, and the status of Andrew Wiggins remains a persistent question for the Canadian team. This is a group loaded with young NBA talent, and if wins like Friday’s are any indication, it will be a major threat on the international stage for years to come.