BOSTON -- The NBA has more than its share of players who use their platform as professional athletes to raise social awareness about issues that are near and dear to their hearts.
There’s fighting for a just cause, and then there’s Enes Kanter whose political beliefs seem to be gaining an increasingly powerful following as we saw on Christmas Day when he was able to play with his Boston Celtics teammates in Toronto - the first time in years he has dared to venture outside of the United States to play a game for fear of being arrested or worse … killed.
The native of Turkey has been an outspoken critic of the Turkish government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the fall-out from that has been undeniable.
Kanter has been stopped and detained at airports, had his Turkish passport revoked in addition to, according to Kanter, the government of Turkey requesting an Interpol “Red Notice” which could potentially lead to Kanter’s arrest outside of the United States.
Family members have been harassed and in some instances arrested, for what Kanter believes is them simply being affiliated with him.
He even had a run-in at a nearby mosque in Boston.
Kanter being able to play in Toronto on Christmas Day was a huge win in his efforts to continue raising awareness for what has been a series of human rights concerns in Turkey under Erdogan’s leadership.
It also signaled that Kanter’s base of support is expanding, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being the latest political figure to lend his support to Kanter by assuring Kanter he could travel with the Celtics to Toronto and would not have to worry about being arrested.
Of course Kanter wanted to be with the Celtics and help them win, which they did over the Raptors, 118-102.
And Kanter had a strong game as well, finishing with his second double-double of the season (12 points, 11 rebounds) and fourth straight game with 10 or more rebounds.
But as important as his actually play was, his presence - with the Celtics, in Canada - was an even bigger deal.
“Now, it’s not just about basketball. It’s something bigger than that,” Kanter said. “Now, world leaders have my back. So definitely, it’s like, “Take that Turkish government!”
ISAIAH THOMAS TAKES A STAND, BY GOING INTO THE STANDS
You knew Isaiah Thomas going into the stands to confront a heckler at a game in Philly was not going to end well for all involved.
The fan was banned for the rest of the season and Thomas was hit with a two-game suspension.
The NBA had little choice but to hand down punishment for Thomas for going into the stands.
As someone who was at The Palace of Auburn Hills during the “Malice at the Palace,” the league did was absolutely just in punishing Thomas.
But watching the interaction between Thomas and the fan - there was no yelling or any hint of aggression from Thomas or the hecklers - suspending him for a couple of games seemed a bit harsh.
A hefty fine seemed more appropriate considering the level-headed approach that Thomas took in dealing with the individuals.
And to think, it was all over a damn frosty. A frosty!
IN-SEASON TOURNEY ON THE WAY?
The much-talked-about midseason tournament that the NBA is considering, is gonna need some work if it’s going to get approval, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Boston.
While there’s likely to be support for reducing the regular season to 78 games to add a mid-season tournament, bigger concerns loom along the lines of salary cap implications and draft pick incentive for the winning team.
The proposal as it stands now, would involve a $15 million pot for the winning team, but it’s not clear what impact that will have on a team’s salary cap.
As reported by the New York Times’ Marc Stein, there has been some discussion that could include an additional first-round pick for the winning team.
On the surface, adding a mid-season tournament sounds like a good idea.
“It does sound good, but what if a player gets hurt in such a tournament which is possible,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “Can you imagine the fan fall-out from that, especially if it’s one of the league’s top players on a team that’s supposed to contend for a title. And if teams decide to go “load management” with their best players during the tournament, how is that going to look? Will there be fines if key players don’t play?
The executive added, “I love the fact that the NBA is always looking for ways to make a really good product we have, better. But I’m not sure this is the way to go.”
DONCIC LEADS LIST OF FIRST TIME ALL-STAR HOPEFULS
This season is shaping up to be a banner year for first time All-Star wannabes, particularly in the Eastern Conference.
The departure of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard to Los Angeles - James to the Lakers, Leonard to the Clippers - created two all-star slots.
And injuries to Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving could potentially open up a couple more slots.
This has indeed been a breakout season for a number of players in the East, among them being Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon.
But the leader of the pack when it comes to first time all-star hopefuls, is Dallas’ Luka Doncic who returned to the Mavericks lineup after missing four games with an ankle sprain.
One of the league’s top scorers this season, Doncic is in the conversation for league MVP and is a virtual lock to be named an all-star this season.
Other first time all-star hopefuls in the East include Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris and Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie. Out West, some notable hopefuls include Phoenix star Devin Booker, Denver’s Jamal Murray, Sacramento’s Buddy Hield, Los Angeles Clippers big man Montrezl Harrell and New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram.
JAZZ LOOKING TO TUNE UP THEIR SCORING
The Utah Jazz trading Dante Exum and a pair of second-round picks to Cleveland for Jordan Clarkson, received positive reviews from league executives.
“They have a good defensive foundation, but not enough scorers especially off their bench,” an assistant GM told NBC Sports Boston. “Jordan has a lot of Lou Williams in him; a different kind of scorer than Lou, but a scorer nonetheless who comes off your bench and doesn’t need much to get going.”
Another league executive added, “it was a good trade for both teams. Utah got the scorer they really needed, and the Cavs have a couple more assets with the draft picks and a young player in Exum who’s pretty good when healthy. Both sides should feel good about this deal.”
However, both noted that the Jazz are likely to see the benefits sooner because they are in more of a win-now mode than the Cavs.
- Zach Randolph tells TMZ that he’s giving up on making an NBA comeback to instead retire after 17 seasons in the league. He has not played in the NBA since the 2017-2018 season.
- Victor Oladipo’s return appears to be sooner rather than later, with an ESPN report recently confirming what Indiana Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and the Pacers have been indicating for weeks, which is Oladipo’s return would likely be sometime in January or early February.
- Look to see less LeBron James in the coming days after he re-aggravated a groin injury that sidelined him for one game earlier this year, but according to reports is different than the groin injury that put him on the shelf for a month last season.
- Look for the New York Knicks to move one of its point guards between now and the Feb. 6 trade deadline, with Dennis Smith Jr. the most likely target.
- Dion Waiters is back practicing with the Miami Heat after a third suspension this season. The Heat has had a slew of injuries, so his return does provide some much-needed depth. It also doesn’t hurt that having him back on the floor can potentially increase his trade value.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Raptors-Celtics, which tips off Saturday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.