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Celtics star Paul Pierce and longtime player, coach, and broadcaster Doug Collins lead the first-time nominees announced Tuesday for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2021.

Also making their debut as candidates are Michael Cooper, Howard Garfinkel, Lou Henson, Val Ackerman, Yolanda Griffith, and Lauren Jackson. Finalists are scheduled to be announced in early March — in the timeframe of NBA All-Star weekend, the Hall of Fame said, though it’s unclear if an actual All-Star event will take place — and those elected would be unveiled in early April, at the NCAA Final Four, if that happens as planned.

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Other returnees to the ballot, the Hall said, include Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Richard Hamilton, Bob Huggins, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, Jay Wright, Swin Cash, and Becky Hammon.

The Class of 2021 Enshrinement ceremony is scheduled to take place in Springfield next September. The Class of 2020 ceremony, headlined by Lakers star Kobe Bryant, was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and has been rescheduled for May 13-15 in Uncasville, Conn.

Lakers receive championship rings in fanless ceremony

The Los Angeles Lakers received their NBA championship rings in an empty arena that still felt filled with warmth from their families, friends, and millions of fans worldwide.

And while they put the blindingly brilliant jewelry on their fingers, the Lakers promised to hold a real party for their 17th championship as soon as everyone can attend.

“I’m going to take a second to speak directly to Lakers fans: We miss you so much,” Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said. “The team misses you, but someday soon, we’ll be together. And when we are together, we have something special to celebrate.”

Just 72 days after LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and their teammates finished off the Miami Heat in the NBA bubble, the Lakers returned from the shortest offseason in league history to get their reward. The coaches, executives and 11 returning players from last season’s championship team received their rings at Staples Center in a brief, warm ceremony before their regular season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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The raising of the banner honoring their 17th championship is going to wait until fans are in Staples Center to enjoy it with them. The spot where it will hang eventually on the arena walls is currently occupied by a black banner reading: “STAY TUNED, LAKERS FAMILY.”

“You showed last year what a talented group of individuals can accomplish if they buy into being a team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel told his players. “To our fans, we cannot wait until it is safe enough for you guys to be back at Staples Center so we can perform in front of you and celebrate all this stuff with you guys. We thank you and we love you.”

Buss and Vogel also made sure to thank the Lakers who moved on during the brief offseason, including Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, and former Celtics Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley.

“I was actually texting Kyle Kuzma this morning,” said Bradley, who passed on joining the Lakers in the bubble last summer (citing family health concerns) and signed with Miami. “He’s pretty excited about the ceremony. I’m excited for those guys. . . . There was a lot of work I put in last year with that team and it’ll be a memory that I have forever.”

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Kevin Love out for Cleveland’s opener

The Cavaliers officially ruled out forward Kevin Love from their season opener on Wednesday night against Charlotte because of a strained right calf. The five-time All-Star got hurt during the first preseason game against Indiana earlier this month. He missed Cleveland’s next three games and hasn’t been cleared to practice.

Larry Nance Jr. will likely start in place of Love, who has said he felt physically refreshed as he enters his 13th season.

The 32-year-old Love is seven points shy of 13,000 in his career. He’ll soon become the ninth player in league history to have 13,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 1,000 3-pointers, joining a list that includes Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

The Cavs will also be without second-year swingman Kevin Porter Jr., who hasn’t joined the team since having some off-the-court issues.

NBA eager to resume international games in Europe, China

The NBA is still looking at scenarios that could allow teams to play in Europe and China again next season, deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said Tuesday.

Tatum also said the NBA’s season-opening doubleheader Tuesday night would be shown in China on Tencent, a league streaming partner. But the coronavirus pandemic is preventing the league from playing any games outside the United States this season, except possibly a return by the Toronto Raptors to Canada — something that won’t happen before March.

Typically, the NBA has played preseason games in China and takes some regular-season games to Mexico and Europe. This season’s plans called for a game in Paris, though the pandemic forced those to be tabled.

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“We do anticipate that once it becomes healthy and safe to be able to do that that we’ll return to a schedule of international preseason and regular-season games,” Tatum said on a call with international reporters.

NBA games were available on Tencent last season even while the league and the Chinese government worked through a very strained relationship — an October 2019 tweet by then-Houston general manager Daryl Morey showing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong prompted major fallout, including state broadcaster CCTV not showing any NBA games for a full year. CCTV put the NBA back on its channel lineup for the last two games of the NBA Finals last fall.

Commissioner Adam Silver said at the All-Star break this past February that the league’s issues with China would lead to perhaps as much as $400 million in lost revenue — and that was before the pandemic struck and led to even more revenue missed leaguewide.

“There’s no doubt that we have a long history in China, a more than 40-year history of doing business in China, and that we remain committed to people-to-people exchange with the hundreds of millions of fans that we have there,” Tatum said. “Playing global games has been and will continue to be an important part of how we engage with our fans in China and in other parts of the world, as well.”

Tatum’s comments came on the day the NBA revealed its roster breakdown of international players for this season; 107 such players from 41 countries made opening-night rosters, including a record 17 Canadian players and a record-tying 14 African players.

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NBA keeping expansion on the table

The NBA’s mounting losses from the coronavirus pandemic have the league considering an option that’s long been discounted: Expansion.

Commissioner Adam Silver brought up the possibility during a conference call with reporters on Monday, signaling an about-face from previous statements indicating that adding teams probably would not happen in the foreseeable future.

“It’s sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point,” Silver said. “We’ve been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic. But certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.”

There’s a simple allure to adding teams at a time when the NBA has seen revenue dip by more than $1 billion in 2020, with further losses expected during the new season. Prospective owners of a new team are expected to pay in excess of $1 billion to secure the rights to a franchise — National Hockey League’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, agreed to pay a $650 million expansion fee in 2018 — and the levy does not need to be shared with players.

Although expansion might appear to be a quick fix for an unexpected loss in revenue, some NBA owners have their doubts.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said on Bill Simmons’s podcast last week that he favors expansion, but argued that counting on the fee to fill shortfalls does not make sense. The fee is essentially a loan that needs to get paid back through revenue sharing, the billionaire said.

“So here’s the math of it: I voted against the Charlotte expansion [in 2003], and the reason I voted against it is the $300 million we took as an expansion fee — now all of a sudden Charlotte gets 1/30th of all of the shared revenue,” said Cuban. “And so, if that was $30 million — just to pick a number out of the air — and they’re getting $30 million every year. Well, in 10 years, they get all their money back.”

That means the expansion fee is just a loan to the league, he said.

“I tried to explain that to some of the old-school owners that were involved and it just didn’t resonate with them — they just didn’t understand it. Now, that $300 million looks like the bargain of all time.”

Major League Baseball apparently does not share the impulse. Part of Dave Dombrowski’s decision to lessen his involvement with the Nashville group trying to gain an MLB team was being told expansion would not be on the table for multiple years.

Raptors ready for the Florida flavor

The Tampa era — it’ll last until at least early March, maybe the full season, nobody knows for certain yet — of Toronto Raptors basketball formally opens Wednesday night, when the team plays host to the New Orleans Pelicans. Unlike last season, when more than 20,000 fans crammed into Scotiabank Arena on opening night, Wednesday’s matchup is expected to draw a socially distanced 3,800, the maximum permitted right now at Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

For the Raptors, it feels like home. It looks like home. It is home, for now.

“We are all creatures of habit. Familiarity is where we thrive,” said Teresa Resch, the Raptors’ vice president of basketball operations and one of the guiding forces behind the team’s move to Tampa. “And the more familiar you can make it, the more comfortable you are, the better you are able to perform and ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to grow as an organization and perform our best.”

The Raptors and those who are assisting them in Tampa have tried to simulate the comforts the team has at home in Toronto, at least as much as possible. “We The North” signage is everywhere in the hotel that the Raptors will use as a practice facility, from the elevator doors to the ballroom wall behind one of the baskets. The court that the Raptors will use for games came from Toronto. And there’s a 2019 world championship banner swaying from the rafters — alongside the Tampa Bay Lightning’s retired jerseys for Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis — at the same end of the court as the Raptors’ bench.

The banner immediately caught the eye of Raptors coach Nick Nurse when he checked out the surroundings.

“Hey, the banner! It’s kind of cool,” Nurse said.

The Raptors needed a new home because the U.S.-Canada border remains closed to almost all non-essential crossings because of the pandemic. They apparently got a good one: Players are raving about the arena setup. The practice facility, constructed in a hotel ballroom — very similar to what the NBA put into use during the summer restart at Walt Disney World — has many of the same things that the team has in Toronto. The Raptor mascot is performing at games, the starting lineups are announced the same way, and Nurse can walk to work now, which he enjoys.

“There’s little things that we don’t have that we do at home,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said, “but the people who put this together did a great job.”