First Cup: Thursday

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
5:22
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: James Dolan is guaranteeing a hugely successful season this year for the Knicks without actually making a guarantee. Instead, he’s bouncing around town tooting his own kazoo to his selected media friends to make sure that the fledgling blues singer is first in line to get credit if and when Phil Jackson turns this thing around. The message is quite clear: “Remember cable customers, without me there is no Zen Master. And pay your bill on time.” Of course, you no longer hear Dolan praising his man crush, Eagles manager Irving Azoff, for recruiting Jackson to New York as he did repeatedly during his previous media victory tour last March. Dolan oversold that one to the point where you weren’t quite sure if Dolan or Azoff was in charge at Madison Square Garden. (I heard that Azoff was going around telling fellow power brokers that he was “running the Garden.” And that is just awesome on so many levels.) The strategy for Dolan and his trusted advisers is to distance themselves from Azoff and make Jimmy D the face of the Garden again. Put it this way: Dolan is fine with being the warm-up act for the Eagles, but when the day arrives for the media and fans to dish out praise, Dolan wants to be the headliner.
  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: It's about time for the Suns to get moving, put their priorities in order, take the advice of LeBron James and "break bread." But not with Eric Bledsoe. With Goran Dragic. Dragic is about to enter the third year of a four-year contract he signed with the Suns, but he has a player option at the end of the upcoming season. If anybody is going to get a maximum contract or anything close to it, then it should be Dragic when he opts out. It's time that the Suns make it clear that Dragic is their top priority, the cornerstone of their future. Maybe, internally, they already have, considering their recent reported conversations with his brother, Zoran. It always has been known that, financially, the Suns were in a pickle with two starting point guards who would soon have to be paid. ... If Bledsoe can pump up his free-agent value coming off the bench, then good for him. If that happens to make him attractive to other teams at the trade deadline, then good for the Suns. Either way, there's only one player in this equation who has earned the kind of money Bledsoe is seeking. And it isn't him.
  • Bill Oram of The Orange County Register: You’ve heard of NBA players going back to college in the offseason. And this story is sort of like that. Except while Wesley Johnson is just a few credits shy of his earning his degree from Syracuse, the Lakers forward found himself in a different kind of summer school this year. Classes ran from Easter through July, with instruction beginning nearly daily at 7 a.m. The tests were grueling. There were take-home assignments. The professor? Kobe Bean Bryant. Call it the Fundamentals of Mamba. To outsiders this summer, Bryant has operated primarily in a shroud of secrecy. The rest of us watched YouTube videos of Kobe schooling some poor kid in China. We read the Sports Illustrated article in which he called himself “70 in basketball years.” While we’ve wondered what it all means, Bryant has been maintaining a typically grueling workout schedule, planning to disprove any notion that he’s in a sharp decline. And perhaps no one has a more intimate view of Bryant's labor than Johnson, the second-year Laker who is a candidate to start at small forward. Others who have seen Bryant work out, including Coach Byron Scott and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, have said he is 100 percent healthy.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The addition of Jason Terry, 37, brings a guard with a track record to a backcourt crowded with players (Troy Daniels, Isaiah Canaan, Ish Smith and Nick Johnson) who have not played nearly as many games between them as Terry. "I definitely look at it as a situation when Jason Kidd came to the Dallas Mavericks, what he did for me on and off the court, teaching me how to play the game the right way and how to take care of your body, putting the extra work in," Terry said. "I'm not saying they don't know, but there are things I've picked up … that I can show them. I'm going to be there to provide that type of leadership." Still, Terry said he is coming to Houston to play. He was surprised by the deal, but he became excited when he spoke with Rockets coach Kevin McHale. Hoping to play at least to 40 years old before going into coaching, Terry wanted to chase another title. "Hearing his voice assured me I was heading to the right destination and that I was in a winning situation," Terry said. "That's all you ask for when you're at this stage of your career, having an opportunity to win a championship. I think that's what the Rockets have presented to me.
  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: If you took a right out of Gregg Popovich's office in the practice facility last season, and you walked past the offices of the assistant coaches, you couldn't miss it. Straight ahead, prominently displayed on a wall, was a framed picture of the Game 6 scoreboard. Popovich couldn't walk in that direction without seeing the image. Neither could any player who left his office. Popovich wanted his guys to be as bothered as he was, but he also wanted to remind them of the circumstance that night in Miami. The picture didn't display the final score. It didn't freeze time at 28.2 seconds. It showed a moment late in the third quarter — when the Spurs led by 13 points. This was what Popovich wanted the Spurs to remember. They didn't lose in 2013 because of a missed free throw, or because of a Ray Allen 3-pointer. They lost because of a series of fixable missteps. Last month they took down the picture. And now, after wowing the world and themselves, what will Popovich want to frame this time around? “I've been thinking about that,” Popovich said.
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The Heat’s offseason makeover extended to its coaching staff Wednesday with coach Erik Spoelstra adding Keith Smart and former Heat player Chris Quinn as assistant coaches. Quinn played for the Heat from 2006 to 2010 and most recently worked as director of player development at Northwestern University. He begins his tenure with the Heat focusing on player development. Smart has been a head coach for the Cavaliers, Warriors and, most recently, the Sacramento Kings. A valued defensive mind, Smart will join Spoelstra on the bench along side assistants David Fizdale and Juwan Howard. Quinn and Smart are taking the places of longtime Heat assistants Bob McAdoo and Ron Rothstein. McAdoo and Rothstein retired from coaching this offseason to take other positions within the franchise. McAdoo, a Hall of Famer, will work in the scouting department and Rothstein will split time between broadcasting and corporate relations.
  • Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press: Center Andre Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons representative in Spain for the FIBA World Cup. First-year general manager Jeff Bower was there, too. “It was a great basketball experience,” Bower said. “It was a wonderful opportunity for Andre to play with Team USA, and he represented both himself and the organization very nicely.” ... Drummond scored six points on 3-for-3 shooting and collected two rebounds in 4 minutes. He played in eight of the team’s nine games, averaging three points and 1.5 boards in nearly 6 minutes per game. But look beyond the stats, Bower said, and that’s where the real value of Drummond’s participation was. “I think the opportunity to be closely connected with some of the best players in the game is always a terrific opportunity,” he said. “Obviously, Andre had a chance to learn from them and experience that and spend time with his peers, so those were all opportunities to grow and build on his awareness and understanding of things.”
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: When Steve Kerr was tabbed to take part in the “Read to Achieve” portion of the Warriors’ back-to-school week at Longfellow Elementary in San Francisco, it wasn’t by accident. The Warriors’ head coach is an avid reader. He tackled a 608-page book on legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden this summer and has moved on to a biography of University of North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, who has won 21 of the 31 NCAA women’s soccer championships. Each day, Kerr has a Warriors staffer bring him a non-NBA article to read, with recent subjects ranging from Al Pacino to water parks to Melbourne, Australia. “I want to keep stimulating my mind and keep fresh ideas coming,” Kerr said after the event Wednesday.
  • Staff of The Oklahoman: Esquire Magazine recently interviewed Kevin Durant on various topics including his influences growing up, his career and talking to the younger players. Turns out, Durant doesn't only look to his mother in tough times ("She's always on my side being positive and letting me know that it's going to be alright.") He also has a friend in The Mailman - Karl Malone. "I've gotten close with Karl Malone, who's called me numerous times when he can see on TV that I'm struggling, feeling bad after a loss," Durant said. "He can tell." Some other highlights from the interview: There were plenty of times when I wanted to quit because I was working too hard, but he knew I could handle it, and he was confident for me when I couldn't be confident for myself.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Will Marcin Gortat live up to his five-year, $60 million deal? ... he key for Gortat will be accuracy. He tends to fade away on a lot of shots rather than attack the rim. As a starter, he has never shot better than 55.5%. Closer to 60%, or above that for a center, is ideal. Gortat is 30 and by the time he gets to the fifth and final guaranteed year of this deal his production will taper off as it does with every player at that stage.

TrueHoop TV Live

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
11:37
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Join the chatter at 2 p.m. ET.

First Cup: Wednesday

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
5:11
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Michelle Jarboe McFee of The Plain Dealer: LeBron James isn't just coming back to The Q. He also could return to the intersection of Prospect Avenue and Ontario Street in downtown Cleveland, where Gigantic Media and the Sherwin-Williams Co. are seeking approval for a banner dedicated to Northeast Ohio's favorite prodigal son. Images submitted to the Cleveland City Planning Commission on Tuesday show James with his arms stretched, once again, across the eastern face of the Landmark Office Towers, the Sherwin-Williams headquarters complex at the back of Tower City. The LeBron banner would replace a brightly toned sign depicting Cleveland landmarks and bearing the paint company's logo. The new image harkens back, of course, to the iconic Nike Inc. banner of James that greeted drivers entering downtown until mid-2010.
  • Scott Agness of VigilantSports.com: When the Pacers lost out on Lance Stephenson in free agency, they had to go to Plan C. They signed Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Damjan Rudez, and Shayne Whittington. A few weeks later, Paul George went down — changing the team’s outlook for the upcoming season. From contender to fringe playoff team. There is no plan to replace George’s contributions. Heading into the 2014-15 campaign, Frank Vogel and his entire staff are back for their second full season together. Media day will be held on Monday, Sept. 29th with camp opening the following day. For the record, I’m officially calling this season “The Year of Discovery.” ... Frank Vogel is on the last year of his second deal. Almost two years (Jan. 7, 2013) after becoming the interim head coach (and taking over for his mentor Jim O’Brien) on Jan. 30, 2011, team officials extended his deal through the 2014-15 season. This upcoming season, without George and Stephenson, will be his toughest test yet. Should he receive an extension prior to the season or will management let the year play out?
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Brandon Jennings emerged from the informal workouts at The Palace practice facility, looking somewhat similar to the figure who departed to California after last season’s disappointing, playoff-less finish. Playful swagger? Check. Rare introspection? Check. Twenty-five extra pounds? Check…wait, that wasn’t here last season. “I’m about 185, 190 on my good days,” said Jennings, noticeably thicker but still wiry. Training camp doesn’t begin until the first day of October but Jennings and his other 14 teammates have all been at The Palace for a few weeks, per new coach/president Stan Van Gundy’s request. “Usually guys come in and you don’t see them until media day,” Jennings said. “It’s good, we’ve been together for three weeks strong, preparing for the season.” He said Van Gundy reminds him of his first coach in Milwaukee, Scott Skiles (Michigan State). ... He admits buying in is easy, but what he doesn’t want to experience again is the lack of accountability within the locker room that occurred at the slightest hint of adversity. “This year will definitely be different. But I feel like as players, I’ll be the first one to say, ‘I (bleeped) up. I missed up,’ ” Jennings said.
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: "Houston is like my second home," Ariza said, "and I liked what was happening here - the pieces that are here, the big goals they had set. "Plus I love this city. I love the people. I love the weather. I love it here. I'm so happy to be back." Ariza spent the 2009-10 season with the Rockets and had the highest scoring average of his career with 14.9 points per game. He also averaged 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists that season. ... Within a short time, Ariza has established himself as a leader. After his time in Washington, it's a role he is comfortable with. "I noticed that I could have a positive effect on people during my time in Washington," he said. "I watched the younger players around me grow, and it was a satisfying thing to see and a great feeling to know that I had something to do with it."
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Wolves have agreed to contract terms with one of the last unfinished pieces to a remade roster: A source with knowledge of the situation confirms a Yahoo!Sports report this afternoon that Robinson has agreed to a guaranteed contract. Once considered a first-round pick, Robinson was drafted 40th overall by the Wolves in the June draft and played for their Vegas Summer League team without being signed until now. His signing to a contract that is at least partially guaranteed means the Wolves they'll have to make a personnel move by opening night Oct. 29 to get to a 15-man roster, either by waiving Robinson if he doesn't win a spot in camp or, probably more likely by trading or buying out reserve guard J.J Barea by the start of training camp on Sept. 30 or by the season opener at Memphis.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: But having that family connection won't do Tyler Zeller any good unless he delivers on the court. The 24-year-old big man makes no secret about his goal this season is to be the Celtics' starting center. "I hope so," said Zeller, who is 6-foot-11. "That's the goal anywhere you go and that's my goal this year. But I have a lot of work to be able to earn that spot. I expect to have to earn it. It is a great opportunity and I'm going to do everything I can for that." Just like the Cavaliers were in a rebuilding process when he arrived there in 2012, he understands that the Celtics are in a similar situation which is why he knows as well as anyone the importance of being patient throughout the course of what will be a long season. "It helps a lot," Zeller said of his experience from Cleveland.
  • Garrett Thornton for CSNNW.com: The medal wasn’t the only accomplishment Nicolas Batum took home from Spain. Batum was also named to the All-Tournament All-Star team. Alongside Kyrie Irving, Milos Teodosic, Kenneth Faried, and Pau Gasol, Batum shared the pleasure of being recognized as being the best players in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Not a bad was to end the summer for Batum. If NBA fans haven’t started to notice Batum, international fans certainly have. What’s next for Batum? He will join his Trail Blazer teammates in Portland for the start of training camp in a couple weeks. The expectations continue to rise for this team. A lot of the success of the Blazers may be dependent on whether or not Batum can elevate his game and become a better-rounded and consistent basketball player. Let’s hope to see that Batum’s international coming-out party can translate to a banner year in the NBA.
  • Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune: Last Saturday night, Booker watched the Floyd Mayweather fight with new Jazzmen Carrick Felix and Rodney Hood. The goal is simply to develop a chemistry before the season starts, instead of trying to do so on the fly. "He’s worked diligently at doing the little things that we want our players to do," Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey said. "He’s really brought into what we want to do, and we are really excited at how he’s embraced the community and the team." Before free agency began, Lindsey spoke of adding what he called a young veteran, meaning someone on their second contract, but a few years away from entering his prime. The 26 year old Booker certainly qualifies as that. He’s expected to come in and be one of the first front court substitutes off the bench, someone who can even play major minutes when called upon. For a Jazz team that’s one of the youngest in the league, Booker provides a guy who has playoff experience, having been a cog in the Washington Wizards’ engine that last spring advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Tim Duncan, after all those championships and individual awards, has finally made it. The Spurs’ resident comic book geek will be featured on a special batch of variant covers for an upcoming issue of Marvel Comics’ The Punisher, whose trademark death’s head logo adorns one of Duncan’s knee braces. (Duncan is also a fan of another Marvel character, Deadpool, a wise-cracking mutant mercenary.) The cover was rendered by Mike Choi, a Judson and University of Texas graduate who, according to his biography, spent three years as an IT consultant before quitting to pursue a career in art. He’s since done prominent work for both DC and Marvel, including the upcoming cover featuring his hometown’s biggest athletic hero as a grease monkey. (Notice that Choi took care to give Duncan’s championship ring prominent placement.)
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: If you're like me, the idea of Paul Pierce wearing a Wizards jersey remains odd. That's even though the future Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics legend signed with Washington two months ago and has since been show in the red, white and blue gear in real life and animated form. At some point reality will kick in especially with the start of training camp less than two weeks away. Rather than wait, perhaps we should overdose on the latest pics of Pierce from a photo shoot this week for Spalding on the campus of Western Kentucky.
  • Andrew Joseph of The Arizona Republic: Back in August, Suns forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris gave fans an opportunity to vote on their next tattoo on Twitter. And a winner has been chosen. In a video released by ESPN The Magazine, the Morris twins can be seen getting their fan-selected ink. As many know, the twins have all the same tattoos, and it appears that the winning tattoo was the #GMA option, honoring their grandma. I personally thought that the #FOE option would win, but I can't fault the twins' fans for going with different family-inspired ink.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Dominique Wilkins will get his statue. The Basketball Hall of Famer and Hawks legend will have a statue of his likeness erected outside Philips Arena next year. A group has contracted Hall of Fame sculptor Brian Hanlon to do the art work many believe long over due. Hanlon worked with Wilkins when he created the bust for his 2006 enshrinement. The sculpture will be unveiled on March 6, the day the Hawks host LeBron James and the Cavaliers. “The first thing that comes to mind is that it immortalizes you,” Wilkins told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday. “There is no better feeling in the world to know that you will be recognized for the rest of your life and even after you are gone it’s still going to be there. “One of most important things, not just for me but for the city of Atlanta, is it’s a sign of appreciation for what they’ve done for me. This city made me who I am.”

What's next for Greg Oden?

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
12:21
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden is facing domestic violence charges and perhaps the end of his NBA career. ESPN.com's Michael Wallace discusses the state of Oden.

video

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
5:08
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Andrew Keh of The New York Times: In May, Deron Williams had a bone chip removed from his right ankle and underwent an arthroscopy to remove spurs from the front and back of his left ankle. Williams laughed and paused for a second when asked if he felt that much of a difference now. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.” The Nets begin training camp on Sept. 27. Assuming all goes well during the next couple of weeks, it should be the first time in at least two years that Williams will start a season without a worrisome injury issue. “I practiced one time, played nine minutes in a preseason game and was thrown into the fire at 60 or 70 percent,” Williams said of the 2013-14 season. “It’s definitely different this year, and I think it’s great.”
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The defining story of the NBA offseason could have been LeBron James’s triumphant return to his home state to heal the hurt of his previous defection. But while that homecoming dominated the early days of the summer, the predominant theme has now shifted from a reunion to a rift. With Donald Sterling removed from the NBA and forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson voluntarily selling his franchise and General Manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence, this offseason is forcing the league to confront the delicate issue of race. The situations with the Clippers and Hawks differ in scale and context but have brought to light the complicated dance for a league in which more than three-quarters of the players are black while coaching, management and especially ownership is overwhelmingly white. While complicated, it’s a dance the NBA has performed gracefully for some time. “If those things had taken place in any of the other leagues, I would be significantly more concerned than I was about that being some trend in the NBA,” said Richard Lapchick, founder and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: A midcourt pile of money to the US Airways Center ceiling has sat untouched this summer, awaiting Eric Bledsoe to come from his baseline and meet the Suns. It has been a trying, bewildering and exasperating process to fathom how Bledsoe, with 78 career starts and $7.4 million in career earnings, would balk at the Suns' four-year, $48 million offer when there have been no competing bids the past 10 weeks. He has his reasons, but we can only guess. Bledsoe is a restricted NBA free agent — the last one — who appears headed toward accepting a one-year, $3.73 million qualifying offer by the Oct. 1 deadline (if he waits until Oct. 1, he will not be part of the Sept. 29 media day or be aboard the bus to training camp). Bledsoe and his agents have lost this case in the court of public opinion by nolo contendere. League executives, agents, fans and media judged the Suns' offer to be fair — and the qualifying offer to be a risk and a financial sacrifice that takes years to make up. There has not been a peep from the defense, other than the reserved guard's July comment that the Suns were "using restricted free agency against me, but I understand that." His "big brother" and fellow agency client, LeBron James, appealed to the Suns via Instagram to "break bread" for Bledsoe as he and Bledsoe trained in Cleveland this month. James' plea and the early Bledsoe maximum-contract request appear to indicate he wants to be in Phoenix, even though he has never said it or entered negotiations that could still draw a larger offer.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: Brandon Bass still remains the most versatile defender among Boston's big men, able to contend with true centers or switch out and hold his own against the likes LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. If the Celtics elect to keep Bass around, he will not average 27.6 minutes per game for a third year in a row. In fact, his playing time will likely drop if the Celtics don't trade him. But Bass remains confident he can build off the gains he made last season. "I just want to make sure I'm prepared well enough to be great at both ends of the floor," Bass told CSNNE.com earlier this summer.
  • Scott Agness of VigilantSports.com: As if Shayne Whittington needed more motivation. Now he’s got it. ESPN began releasing their annual rankings of NBA players on Monday and the Pacers’ rookie center dead last. Just call him Mr. 500. ESPN had its panel to “predict the overall level of play for each player for the upcoming NBA season. This includes both the quality and the quantity of his expected contributions, combined in one overall rating.” Whittington, out of Western Michigan, received a 1.12 rating. Boston’s Chris Babb, who was slotted at 499, scored a 1.31. Whittington is progressing in rehab of a broken left fibula and torn ligament in his left foot suffered in a workout prior to the 2014 NBA Draft in June. Shayne shook off the rankings in a tweet, but he certainly can use it as fuel to prove he can play in this league. "Feels great being the worst player in the NBA."
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Brandon Rush would be the first to tell you that he doesn’t enjoy public speaking. But there he was Monday afternoon, standing at a podium in front of 275 students at Markham Elementary in Oakland and — with more than 500 eyes staring at him — Rush effectively breezed through a speech. It’s easier to find comfort in uncomfortable situations when you feel at home, and Rush is finally back home. “This is a great situation for me to be able to come back and to be with a winning team,” said Rush, who signed a two-year deal worth more than $2.4million to return to the Warriors this offseason. “I’m just going to try to help the team out with little things: rebounding, shooting and playing defense. I’m in a good mood. My head is on straight. I’m happy with where I’m at.”
  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: By the time the final horn sounded on the New Orleans Pelicans' 2013-2014 season, they were figuratively and literally limping off the court. In a freakishly disappointing year, the Pelicans wrapped up a 34-48 campaign with five of their top six scorers having been sidelined by season-ending injuries. But as the start of training camp for the upcoming season is nearing, the Pelicans appear to be returning to relative health, as four key members of the rotation are all nearly 100 percent after undergoing surgeries. "I've never seen anything like it last year," Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday said.
  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: Outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has made his opinion on tanking quite clear. He was adamant about not losing games on purpose to improve the Mavericks' draft position because "when too many teams do the same thing, it’s not such a good strategy anymore," he said in February. The 56-year-old billionaire put it in some different terms during an email interview with Men's Health Magazine to better complement his business background. "In all markets, people copy success," he wrote in response to Jeff Weiss. "The NBA is no different than the stock market. If it worked for them, it will work for me. Right? I don't think so. One of my favorite sayings came from Warren Buffett. He said, and it applies to the NBA and tanking and how we play the game as much as it applies to business: 'First, there are the innovators, then there are the imitators, then there are the idiots.'"
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Timberwolves will have a new D League affiliate this season after having an arrangement with the Iowa Energy last season and the Sioux Falls Skyforce for the seven seasons before that. This year, they will send players to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in Indiana. That's right, the Mad Ants. And if... If the Fort Wayne team has room for that Wolves player or players. See, the Mad Ants are the only independent D League team left, that is the only one that doesn't have a single affiliatation agreement with a NBA team. The Detroit Pistons (Grand Rapids), Memphis Grizzlies (Iowa), New York (Westchester), Orlando (Erie), Phoenix (Bakersfield) and Utah (Idaho) are entered into affiliations with D League teams this summer. That leaves Fort Wayne as the only one left for the other 13 NBA teams. The NBA has implemented a new "flexible assignment system" that will allow those 13 NBA teams to still send players in the D League.
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Before Monday, Rockets G/F Trevor Ariza didn’t know much about chess. But after a visit to Ryan Middle School’s Baylor College of Medicine Academy for the Rockets’ Clutch City Checkmate Challenge, he is more confident in his game. Ariza, along with guard Troy Daniels and general manager Daryl Morey attended the event at the middle school where Morey spoke about strategy to the school’d chess club and then all three joined the players to play against American Chess Grandmaster Susan Polgar. Ariza was the last Rocket standing as he and his partner, Amanda, made it deep into the competition. Ariza was visibly enjoying the intense game, high-fiving his partner, making game-face expressions at Polgar and drawing a crowd. “I feel like I learned a few things today,” Ariza said. “I had a great partner. She definitely carried us.”

The Fortunate 500: Don't hate -- motivate

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
2:00
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Bryant/AnthonyRobyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have both felt the cold sting of their #NBArank positions.
#NBArank isn't just a window into how all the league's players might stack up against one another. It's also motivational fuel for the athletes who feel slighted.

It's funny how players take umbrage about a score based on a collection of surveys. There's no one person to get angry at -- unless you subscribe to the belief that "ESPN" is a discrete individual.

Professional athletes are good at this, though. They're masters at taking dry, detached assessments and converting those into grievous insults that must be disproven. Write something that you think is a mostly positive assessment of an athlete and you're liable to get "I'll show you" where you might have expected "That was a balanced take on me." Getting to the top comes with a fair amount of pride and a gnawing need to prove oneself. As someone more defined by "laptop" than "the top," I'm often surprised by how reflexively athletes take negative information to heart.

Perhaps, per the rankings, there's just something so cold about a man listed as a number. It's tough, in a way, to see Kobe Bryant's entire career reduced to "25" in last year's NBA rank results. "Just a number" describes how people are treated in vast, impersonal systems. It seems as if a few NBA players strive to be more than just their allotted ranking number. Maybe they don't even have a specific goal. They would just like to shed the unflattering numerical definition of their talent.

Kobe Bryant appeared to include his "25" ranking in his Twitter handle. The vast majority of caterwauling over Kobe's ranking was done by fellow players and fans. Another way of defining those offended by Kobe's ranking is, "People who dismiss the importance of the Achilles tendon."

The Mamba didn't come out and prove all the #NBArank haters and doubters wrong. Unfortunately, Kobe's human, and his hasty return from a devastating injury resulted in uneven play and another injury.

Even other superstars aren't immune. In 2011, Carmelo Anthony saw himself outside the top 10 (at No. 12!) and took to social media to tell the world of his newfound motivation. (It didn't necessarily take. Melo has yo-yoed in #NBArank, falling to No. 17 in 2012 and rising to No. 15 in 2013.)

Ranking rancor went a bit better for Kent Bazemore, who wrote his 2012 #NBArank listing of "499" on his shoe. Thanks in part to a Summer League MVP performance Bazemore was able to move up 167 spots. He thanked the rankers for his progress, while expressing hope that he could prove us wrong once again.

Lavoy Allen was a temporary #NBArank motivation success story. After getting tagged with the dreaded rank of "500" in 2011, Allen helped the Sixers on a strong playoff run. Actually, I shouldn't say "temporary." Last year, Allen managed to finally escape what's become of the Sixers. That's a certain kind of success.

Jeremy Lin's trainer was yelling his 2011 #NBArank number ("467!") at Lin during workouts. Such tactics must have worked because Lin made the biggest jump of any player to 76 the next season. Oh, also Linsanity happened.

There might have been a correlation between that national phenomenon and the ranking boost. Last season, Lin slid back into a ranking of 106. It might be time for his trainer to revisit old routines.

All these players should be content to be in the top 500 and to simply be involved in the world's best basketball league. But if these guys were content with such a distinction, they wouldn't have gotten this far in the first place.

TrueHoop TV Live

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
12:48
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
We're talking #NBArank and more, starting at 2 p.m. ET.

Why #NBArank hates big men

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
12:45
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Why are so many quality big men at the bottom of ESPN.com's #NBArank list? We ask Ethan Sherwood Strauss.

video

First Cup: Monday

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: Knicks star Carmelo Anthony believes racially charged statements attributed to Atlanta owner Bruce Levenson and GM Danny Ferry will dissuade NBA free agents from signing with the Hawks in the future. “(There) ain’t nobody (who) would want to go there,” Anthony told reporters Saturday at his basketball camp in Manhattan. “At the end of the day, Atlanta, I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint. Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere. But as far as the comments (that) were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.” Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence on Friday, after comments he made earlier this summer about then-free agent Luol Deng surfaced this week, and the Hawks issued an open letter of apology to their fans and the city of Atlanta on Saturday.
  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: Having covered the league up close and peripherally for 20-plus years, nowhere have those conversations been more transparent than the NBA. Sterling’s removal as owner of the Clippers was a no-brainer. He had a long, documented history of racist remarks and discriminatory behavior in his businesses. But if the goal suddenly becomes playing “Gotcha,” lopping off heads for the sake of finding every potential racist among us, we miss a huge opportunity to drive deeper conversations about the very elements of society that polarize us. ... I don’t know if Danny Ferry has a sinister element inside him that has affected his personnel decisions over the years. But making him go away forever is not going to help anyone find out. I found it ironic, for instance, that Ferry basically ascribed being “African” to also being “two-faced,” when, in fact, part of any NBA general manager’s job is being duplicitous with his peers. If Danny Ferry allowed every other GM to know exactly what he wanted at the draft and the trade deadline, he would be snookered out of the league.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: And in a strange twist, new executive director Michele Roberts begins her term Monday, having to deal with unsavory comments by a general manager about a player and an owner who made racial remarks discussing attendance at Hawks games. Former executive director Charles Grantham, who served from 1978-95, had some strong opinions about potential reaction from the NBA Players Association just months after then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s statements during the playoffs. Sterling was forced to sell the franchise. ... Grantham believes this issue is a lack of diversity in management and ownership. ... Roberts, who was named to her post in July, has been preparing for her tenure and will be greeted with two racial issues before training camps even begin. Atlanta has never been a highly desirable destination for premium free agents, and now could be completely discounted if Ferry remains. “And going forward, how many players, since we’re an 80 percent black league, are going to be poisoned in a similar way?” Grantham said. “And is this a collusive moment to maintain or reduce his value in the marketplace?” In other words, are teams sharing negative information on players to reduce their free agent worth? That is a serious charge, and Ferry reportedly received that information on Deng from another club and then mentioned it on a recorded conference call.
  • Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca: Big crowds of fans from non-traditional basketball countries like Korea, New Zealand and Finland gave the event an international taste as well. But it’s hard to imagine the FIBA World Cup capturing the attention of sports audiences with a fervor approaching soccer — well, ever to be frank — but particularly until some other basketball countries emerge as realistic challengers to the current world order. Even in the U.S. there wasn’t all that excitement about Team USA – the gold-medal final was swamped by NFL coverage. In contrast, the World Cup of soccer had the U.S. in rapt attention even after Team USA lost. I would argue the nature of soccer — low scores, the opportunity for weaker teams to clog up the game and the puncher’s chance provided by set pieces or penalty kicks — means that an upset is always possibly, even if unlikely. As well, the lack of a single dominant country means a much higher level of engagement globally. Every World Cup has four to six teams that could realistically win and twice as many that can fantasize about it. Basketball only has countries dreaming of second place. Could it ever change?
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: Gordon Hayward has never been one to hesitate giving props to Brad Stevens, his not-so-old college coach at Butler who now coaches the Boston Celtics. So it shouldn't come as that big a surprise that when discussing this past summer with Team USA, he had to slip in a line or two about Stevens. "It was great being able to work with some of the talented players and coaches on the team," Hayward said on his website. "Coach Krzyzewski and Coach Thibodeau are very detail oriented — very similar to Brad Stevens, my coach at Butler. They make sure you’re focused on everything being sharp and precise. When we practiced, they weren’t necessarily long practices, but it was intense. I like that. When you practice, it should be focused and tough training."
  • Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com: Ricky Rubio has gotten stronger and sturdier in his upper body, per the request of Timberwolves officials. It'll be interesting to see how much Rubio improved this offseason. He spent the summer playing with fellow Spanish stars Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and others (although Spain lost in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup, which was considered a huge disappointment). Rubio's scoring production was underwhelming in the tournament (he shot just 32%), but he averaged 10 assists, 9 rebounds and 7 steals per 40 minutes. If Rubio can make more shots at the rim and add some semblance of a mid-range game, he'll have a chance to be one of the better point guards in the NBA. But those are big ifs.
  • Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune: Derrick Favors knows that it’s time to turn potential into production. But it’s easy to forget that he’s still young. There are incoming rookies — former Pleasant Grove star C.J. Wilcox for one — who are older than Favors. But heading into his fifth season, the Jazz big man knows that he needs to expand his offensive game and continue to evolve into a defensive and rebounding force at the other end of the floor. To that end, Favors’ off-season has been dedicated to expanding the range on his jumper, adding moves with his back to the basket and losing weight. Favors is expected to play center in Snyder’s new offense. Largely gone are the days of him occupying the low post. Much of his time will be spent playing pick-and-roll basketball with the guards. "When I was younger, I would try to dunk on everyone," Favors said. "But I know that’s not possible all the time." Favors is also morphing into a team leader. He showed up at Utah’s summer league scrimmage this year, sat in on film sessions with that team and has been a regular at the practice facility.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: A Heat official said even beyond Erik Spoelstra’s staff changes, “you will see some tweaks in how we play.” The team’s gambling defense, which left open too many three-point shooters, needs addressing. “We can’t just show up and expect to win it in the fourth quarter any more,” the Heat official said. Haslem said he, Chalmers, Wade, Norris Cole and Josh McRoberts had a productive recent bonding session, over several days, in Bloomington, Ind., doing on-court work with Hoosiers coach Tom Crean, Wade's friend and former coach at Marquette. “I’m sure there are a lot of people counting us out, a lot of people not expecting much from us,” Haslem said. “We still think we can be highly competitive. We still think we have a chance to compete for the Eastern Conference title. I’ve spoken to D-Wade and CB. We’re excited about the challenge. We are highly motivated. But we are motivated in a good way. It’s not being bitter. It’s about ‘LeBron’s gone’ and we’ve got to pick up the slack."

The sneaker wars

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
3:41
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Sneaker expert Eddie Maisonet joins us to explain the shoe wars over top talents like Kevin Durant.

video

Is basketball really a global game?

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
3:04
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
videoTeam USA has been squashing the competition at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and with Spain knocked off, Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has an easy road to the title.

Really, I should be celebrating on behalf of my countrymen, praising Tom Thibodeau’s defense, heralding America’s ability to persevere through injuries and absences. Instead, I’m lamenting over how overmatched the rest of the world is.

It’s one thing when Team USA’s Olympic juggernaut (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Kevin Love) runs roughshod over its FIBA foes. Anthony Davis was the 12th man on that squad two years ago. But to do this while half-trying? To best the earth with your C team? It speaks to how basketball might not be as global as we were promised.

There was a time around the mid-2000s when America’s basketball decline was a fait accompli. “The rest of the world has caught up,” is what we told ourselves. In 2002, Team USA finished sixth in the FIBA World Championship. The 2003 NBA All-Star Game featured a record five international players, including Yao Ming, symbol of China’s imminent growth into a world basketball power. A year later, Team USA suffered a humiliating defeat in the Olympics, somehow failing to win gold despite featuring plenty of Stephon Marbury. In the 2006 FIBA World Championship, the U.S. was upset by tiny Greece.

America’s basketball demise wasn’t exactly framed as a failure, either. David Stern was keen to promote his promotion of basketball on the global level. This was the natural consequence of the game conquering abroad. Blame the Dream Team, for they had dazzled the world into jerseys and sneakers.

The NBA tells a certain story about itself, about how it’s a global sport on the march. Today, China. Tomorrow, India. Basketball is constantly engaged in a benign imperial conquest of people across the ocean. That story lives on because it’s in part true -- there are basketball leagues over all the world. The story also lives on because it’s vague. We don’t quite have a handle on TV ratings abroad.

Can that story stand up to recent scrutiny, though? The onslaught of international superstars hasn’t arrived. Last year’s All-Star Game featured three internationals, and two also claim American citizenship (Tony Parker, Joakim Noah). It seems that Yao Ming was more a generational talent than a harbinger of China’s fast-approaching hoops dominance. After Yao retired, many of his countrymen found hobbies that weren’t televised hoops.

It is difficult to measure world interest in basketball, but these FIBA games may hint at how invested these other countries are in the sport -- just as our relative weakness in soccer is indicative of how we care relatively less about it.

The story the NBA tells itself about the emerging, globalizing force of basketball is a good one, and I wish it were completely true. I love how the 2014 champion San Antonio Spurs dominated with an international approach. The sport is better for diversifying, for absorbing perspectives and approaches from all over. AAU camps now teach American kids the Eurostep because Manu Ginobili brought his diagonal stylings to the NBA.

As thrilling as the collectivist Spurs are, they don’t boast potential international stars. Kawhi Leonard is from the Inland Empire. The horizon isn’t replete with young Manus, Yaos and Dirks.

Sadly, Team USA’s success represents a failure of basketball on the global level -- for now, at least. The sport hasn’t grown by leaps as it seemed it would in the mid-2000s. The NBA still uses the story of world conquest as a bulwark for the insecurity caused by football’s stateside dominance. That narrative can’t survive so many Team USA victories.

First Cup: Friday

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
5:10
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: No matter how much player personnel reps for teams warn players of missteps such as this on social media with hot-button issues such as Rice's, they continually happen. A few years ago Kenyon Martin, who later claim his account was hacked, wished his alleged "haters" to "catch full blown AIDS and die." When Michael Vick went through his issue the federal government regarding dog fighting that led to jail time, athletes kept stepping into land mines with comments and social media in defense of Vick and by criticizing him. Despite traveling the globe, a lot of players, especially the young ones such as Paul George (24), aren't as savvy or as informed as you'd think. Social media probably isn't the best place to engage in off-color chatter with friends about sensitive and complex issues such as race, domestic violence, politics or even world peace. ... At least George took responsibility for his comments and didn't claim that his account was hacked. The rule of thumb is if you're not comfortable shouting it in front of a group of mostly strangers, which is what social media is, then it's not a good idea to tweet it.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Katherine Redmond Brown has come to expect the attitude reflected in Paul George's tweets regarding suspended NFL running back Ray Rice on Thursday morning. "Professional and college athletes have a very different culture than the rest of us do," said Redmond, who founded the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes after reaching a settlement with the University of Nebraska due to an attack by a football player and is married to a former NFL running back. "That's what I try to get across." ... Redmond said the best way to change someone's attitude towards domestic violence is to expose them to victims. She shares her story when she speaks to athletes. She says she was attacked by former Nebraska football player Christian Peter during her freshman year at the school in 1991, but waited several months after the attack to notify authorities and no criminal charges were filed. Redmond later filed a Title IX lawsuit against the school and Peter, and reached a settlement in 1997. She started the ACAVA a few months later. Two years ago, she returned to her alma mater — which she graduated from in 3 years despite battling bulimia — and spoke to the football team. Her husband is a former teammate of Peter's at Nebraska. She said her own story often proves powerful enough, but she will bring along other victims if needed. She suggests the Pacers and other pro teams try the same thing. "I've had (players) come up to me with tears in their eyes and say, 'My sister or my mom went through this,' " she said, " 'and I minimized it.'"
  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Maybe you believe that Michael Gearon Jr., one of the Atlanta Hawks’ many owners, is waging a campaign to oust Danny Ferry as general manager. Even if we concede that point, we’re left with this: Ferry spoke insensitive words in a business setting about Luol Deng, whom the Hawks were considering for employment. The audio tape obtained by esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore underscores what Adrian Wojnarowski’s review for Yahoo! Sports of a written transcript of the June conference call suggested: It doesn’t sound as if Ferry was, as the Hawks have maintained, reading from a background report. If that was the entirety of the Hawks’ defense — and by “the Hawks,” we mean in this case CEO Steve Koonin and Ferry, as opposed to the splinter group of Gearon and the team’s other Atlanta-based owners — the audio tape renders it inoperative. Hearing the tape, it’s hard to believe Ferry was speaking words someone else had written. Ergo, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he remains general manager. ... But I do think Ferry, who a week ago I considered the best GM this franchise has had over the 30 years I’ve worked here, will be leaving soon. I see no way back from this.
  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: This tourney has been the Manimal's coming-out party. Hello, world. The name recognition might well force him into future all-star consideration. And it will get Faried paid. If center JaVale McGee's salary with the Nuggets is $11.25 million this season, how can Faried possibly be worth a penny less? For Team USA, Faried does all the dirty work, from cleaning the boards to sprinting out on the break. His relentless, happy pursuit of a gold medal makes you proud to be an American. Heck, when a chippy semifinal game, punctuated by Lithuanian center Jonas Valaciunas throwing an elbow at the neck of DeMarcus Cousins, erupted into a heated little tussle during the postgame handshake line, Faried came to the rescue, pulling 67-year-old coach Mike Krzyzewski from the fray. "He's too old for that stuff," Faried said. "I told him: 'Just chill. I've got you, Coach.'" The World Cup championship is one victory away. Sleep easy, America. The Manimal's got your back.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: The Celtics added some legit NBA talent this offseason via trades (Marcus Thornton, Tyler Zeller), the draft (Marcus Smart, James Young) and free agency (Evan Turner). But of those five players, the biggest surprise may wind up being Thornton for several reasons. For starters, many assume he'll be traded because he's in the final year of his contract and the Celtics have way, way, WAY too many guards to speak of. But as you look at this roster and look at all those guards, keeping Thornton around for a while - OK, at least past Christmas - makes a lot of sense. Reflecting upon last season, one of the biggest problems Boston had was finding someone to score the ball. Jeff Green had his moments as most - including LeBron James - can attest to. Ditto for Avery Bradley who parlayed a strong season shooting the ball into a four-year, $32 million contract this summer. So with a lack of scoring consistency in the starting lineup, the punch delivered by the reserves was just as erratic. It remains to be seen if Thornton is the answer to the Celtics' scoring woes, but one thing we do know. He can only help.
  • Michael Florek of The Dallas Morning News: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hasn’t been shy with his opinion that NBA players shouldn’t be playing in international competition. Yet, Chandler Parsons, his new addition, went to the USA basketball training camp this spring and was one of the last players cut from the team that’s currently playing in the FIBA World Cup. It was simply something Parsons wanted to do. According to Parsons, Cuban explained his feelings directly to the forward. “He made that clear to me,” Parsons said. “He did. He’s great. If there’s any issue or any conversation that needs to be had I’m having it with Mark. … He obviously told me how he felt. He told the world how he felt about his guys playing for USA basketball. But at the same time he understood it was something that I was really passionate about and it was something that I really wanted to do. I think I got better going there and I got in shape. Just being able to play against those guys every single day, it’s not often that you get to learn and play and practice with those type of players every single day in the summertime.” When asked whether he would consider playing in international competition in the future, Parsons was noncommittal.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Imagine this: Davidson didn’t record Stephen Curry’s turnovers in 2006-07, and the college didn’t differentiate between the future Warriors point guard’s offensive or defensive rebounds or count his personal fouls through 2008-09. Five years later, that sounds absurd. Everything is charted these days. Every box score number is mandated, advanced statistics are commonplace, and optical analytics are all the rage in the NBA. The evidence of the rising importance of analytics stood out this week, when 11 NBA teams sent 27 representatives to the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit in San Francisco. Of the 27 reps, 12 were at the director level or higher, and Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen was a mainstay taking notes in the second row.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Jason Kidd said he and his family have enjoyed the Milwaukee summer and early fall weather while learning the city. "It's going to change; we know that," Kidd said. "But it gets cold on the East Coast, no matter where you are. The beauty of coming here, the people have been wonderful. "You hear about the buzz of the Bucks. When you have new ownership that's going to be aggressive about trying to put a contender together and young talent that's going to take the floor, there's a lot of reason to be excited." The couple has sampled several Milwaukee restaurants already, including Screaming Tuna in Walker's Point and Carnevor in the downtown area. And they have received a sampling of Midwestern hospitality that stunned Porschla. "My neighbors baked us brownies," she said. "That's the first time that's ever happened to me."
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: LeBron James and Johnny Manziel were two of the spectators who gathered inside the Capitol Theatre in Cleveland on Thursday night for a private screening of "Survivor's Remorse," a new comedy series from Spring Hill Productions, a company co-owned by James and business partner Maverick Carter. "To be able to do things that we have in our head and to have so many people around us support our ideas, it's a huge stepping stone for us," said James, an Executive Producer for the six-episode series. Set in Atlanta, the show follows a basketball player's rise to stardom after signing a multi-million dollar contract with a professional basketball team.
  • Mike Sielski of The Philadelphia Inquirer: So on Friday, 76ers power forward Nerlens Noel will pretend to be a greasy-fast Eye-talian tank. Kind of. As part of a feature for NBA TV, Noel plans to emulate Sylvester Stallone’s runs through Philadelphia in the first two “Rocky” films. A camera crew will track Noel as he works out at 11 a.m., goes through a shootaround session at noon, and grabs lunch. Starting between 1 and 1:30, Noel will run at the various spots around the city that Stallone used in his movies’ iconic training sequences, including the Italian Market, Independence Hall, and Kelly Drive. Noel’s “run” will culminate around 3 p.m. at the Art Museum, where 100 to 15 middle-school and high school students will join him as he sprints up the steps. Then everyone will have Papa John’s pizza, since Papa John’s is one of the event’s sponsors. Noel’s plan, according to a person close to him, is to use Friday’s event as a springboard for an annual “Nerlens Noel Rocky Run 5K” to raise money for charity.

Ujiri writes column about Ferry comments

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
7:34
PM ET
By Staff
ESPN.com
Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri has penned a column for the Globe and Mail in regard to the comments made by Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry. Ujiri, from Nigeria, was stung to hear that Ferry had said Luol Deng, of South Sudan, "has a little African in him."
When I first heard it, I wondered, “What does that mean?” I am an African from Nigeria. Luol is an African from South Sudan. We’ve worked together across our home continent, holding our own basketball camps, as well as in those organized by the NBA.

I remember an instance, in Kigali, Rwanda, when Luol honoured a commitment to show up despite being seriously ill. He didn’t want to disappoint any of the children who were expecting him.
Is that “a little bit of African”?

His fellow NBA players have named him the NBA’s top sportsman. Last year, his work for charity earned him the league’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award.

Is that the “African” he means?

Luol has made two all-star teams. A couple of years ago, he had a terrible reaction to a spinal tap. He lost 15 pounds in the hospital. I was texting with him during that ordeal, which was very serious. He always remained humble and full of personality. When he got out, he still tried to play for his team during a playoff series.

Is that “African”?

Ujiri goes on to say explain why he can bring himself to forgive Ferry.

Diaw passes on lessons learned from Spurs

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
3:23
PM ET
By Mark Woods
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
videoMADRID -- Boris Diaw ran into the locker room just after midnight, his elation unrestrained. France, without Tony Parker, without Joakim Noah, had sent the FIBA Basketball World Cup into a tailspin by knocking off Spain with a quarterfinal performance that defied the law of probabilities.

"We savored it for one minute after the game," the captain of Les Bleus said. “Then it was over, and completely switched off. You have a competition to continue, there’s a World Cup semifinal. That’s something else historic. We’ve always said what our objective is: that’s to go in search of a medal.”

It was Diaw speaking. The words, though, came straight from the mantra of Gregg Popovich. You could almost hear the echoes of the voice of the San Antonio Spurs head coach around the room. No hype. No needless self-congratulation. Not, at least, until the mission has been accomplished.

Next up for the reigning European champions is Serbia in Friday’s second semifinal in Madrid with the chance to fight for gold on Sunday at stake. That would be game No. 102 -- not including exhibitions -- for the 31-year-old in a 12-month spell which has already delivered one title and in which the dream of a second has not yet been extinguished.

If Parker’s absence has been felt, then it is his childhood friend Diaw who has filled the emotional void, soaking up the knowledge acquired with the Spurs over the past two seasons and bringing it back home.

Against Spain, when their old rivals threatened a recovery in the third quarter, he was quick to invoke the San Antonio state of mind.

“Experience makes you grow up and more mature, having that experience from the NBA, winning a European championship last year, makes you know how to win games,” Diaw said.

“I didn’t do anything special during the game. I just told everyone to focus on defense and I said it over and over, so there was no letdown. Because experience has taught me that even a letdown for a few minutes, when you can lose your concentration, when you don’t defend as hard as you can, it can be fatal.

“You can lose a game with taking off three plays in a row. And so the main thing was to keep the intensity of the defense up the whole game.”

Trademark Popovich. But also copyright Diaw, whose commitment to his national team has seen him pull on the blue and white jersey every single offseason since 2000 when he was a teammate of Parker’s at INSEP, the country’s national sporting academy near Paris.

Imagine what Coach K could do with that kind of continuity. Having a player whose commitment is unquestioned and whose voice demands to be heard. That is, France coach Vincent Collet declared, an invaluable presence -- best illustrated by the way his instructions were backed up amid the conquest of Spain.

“Before the game, I explained the way we had to play to have a chance to go win,” Collet said. “He was repeating it several times in the briefing the day before and during the game.

“Every timeout, I was talking and the last 10 seconds, he was taking the players around him and going over the same thing, saying ‘focus’ or ‘we have to do that.' For me that’s so important. We have built a chemistry.”

The players from France, like Spain or Serbia or Lithuania, are simply invested in international play in a way those from the United States have never appeared to be. Some, like Parker, opt out on occasion. But he will -- barring injury -- be back in blue for next year’s European championships and the 2016 Olympics.

“I was talking about it with LaMarcus [Aldridge] and Damian [Lillard] because we were sure they would be representing the USA,” said Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum. “But it is now 10 years for me this summer. I started playing on the national team when I was 15 years old.

“Every summer since then, I’ve been on the team. Those memories, it’s a great thing to represent your country. And when you win, it’s a great feeling. You feel proud. To make my country proud is a great feeling.”

They would be elated further if they defeat Serbia. It will not be simple.

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica, whose NBA rights are held respectively by the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves, have been stellar since France knocked off the Serbs 74-73 in preliminary-round play in Granada, courtesy of a last-second free throw from young center Joffrey Lauvergne, whose maturation here will likely enthuse the Denver Nuggets, who hold his NBA rights.

Collet will challenge his players to defend for their lives and to rise up again. “It’s my main concern, to make everybody understand, especially the young guys, that to do it one time doesn’t mean you’ll do it every time," he said. "We did it because we took the good pass. The main thing for us is to remain consistent, to remain serious and not dream.”

It is, you can be sure, a message that will be drilled home repeatedly by the first among France’s equals.

“It’s never done, until it’s done,” Diaw said with a smile. “You can have confidence in your team, the confidence that you can go as far as possible.

“We’ve got two chances to win a medal but we want to try to win one through the next game.”

Pop, somewhere, will be nodding in approval.

Krstic giving all for Serb cause


Nenad Krstic will push himself to the limit to give Serbia the assist it needs to get past France, but the former NBA center hopes his contribution can be measured in more than numbers.

The 31-year-old, whose Stateside trip took in stops with the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Jersey Nets, is battling past a chronic thigh injury which has left one leg weaker than the other and which kept him out of the previous meeting with France here in Spain.

“My knee was not stable,” he told ESPN.com. “I’m getting better but I’m not in much shape. I’m playing through pain sometimes. I have good days and bad days.”

As team captain, Krstic has seen Serbia restore some of the luster it shared as part of the former Yugoslavia, with fourth place at the 2010 FIBA world championships in Turkey, in addition to a second place at the 2009 EuroBasket.

With a mix of veterans and youth, this might be their time. “We had some ups and downs,” he said. “In 2011, we were close to the [EuroBasket] semifinal. Last year we were close to the semifinals. Hopefully we can make that next step.

“I’m trying to help my team. Not just on the court but off the court, talking in the hotel, talking in the locker room, trying to be a positive guy and a leader and a good captain.”

NBA schedule leaves suspense out of sport

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
1:44
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
video

Tom Haberstroh writes about how lack of rest for players harms the NBA product. I suggest you read that, given that it’s good. Of particular interest (to me, possibly to you) is Tom’s section on research done by the ever-sharp Neil Paine:

"Briliant research by 538’s Neil Paine found that we learn as much about the true abilities of an NBA team after 22 games as we do about an MLB team after they play their full 162-game slate. Let that marinate for a second. Twenty-two games. That’s all it takes.”


Tom goes on to remind us of where teams ended up after Christmas Day, an unofficial marker of when the NBA season really gets going.

“Go ahead and pull up the NBA’s standings on Christmas Day last season. There you’ll find the six division leaders were Toronto, Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio. Yes, the exact same ones at the regular-season’s end.”


The NBA season ends before it really begins, apparently. I hate telling you this because hey, I’d prefer you pay attention to whatever I’m babbling about after December. Unfortunately you have license to tune out my, and any other, basketball commentary when we change the calendar. You don’t even need to necessarily watch the games, either. Sure you’d miss a lot of highlight plays, but you’d be about as informed as regular viewers regarding which teams are the best in their conferences.

The games are fun to watch, but they lack the urgency that comes with a loss actually derailing a season and mattering in a broader context. These fun-to-watch games would be even more fun to watch if they carried such suspense.

Moreover, the NBA season is just plain l-o-n-g. If variety is the spice of life, scarcity is the spice of sports. And basketball isn’t scarce at all. There’s a steady stream of televised games, nearly every night, for six months.

What’s funny is that Nike, the apparel company making the most money off basketball, totally gets how important scarcity is. For years it has been artificially producing fewer specialty shoes than demand calls for.

Maybe you like having 82 games. I understand that, as someone who can feel lost without the comforting metronome of a basketball thudding through my TV speakers. I don’t think we’re normal for that inclination, though, and the NBA’s probably turning off a whole bunch of casual sports fans who would be drawn in if regular-season games were big events. Imagine the ratings if the NBA adopted the Arnovitz plan of a 44-game season, with games landing only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and an added nationally televised showcase game on the weekends. All-time records would be impacted by a shortened season, but Michael Jordan managed to convince people of his pre-eminence without ever catching Kareem in scoring.

Here’s where you say, “What about the lost revenue in cutting all those games?” I hear that, but the NFL makes more TV money off its 16-game season than the NBA makes off 82 games.

The NBA might not want the NFL’s current headlines, but it certainly wants its success. It’s no coincidence that the league is installing NFL-like replay review and bowing before the altar of parity. What the NBA isn’t willing to do, though, is take that which actually fuels its bigger brother’s success. It’s not willing to cut back on an overlong season in the interest of driving interest.

As a once-huge NFL fan, I remember going to a preseason Chargers-Seahawks game and getting struck by how boring it was when deprived of stakes. There’s a lot of dead time in football, dull moments that are pregnant with tension when the result matters. Divorced from suspense, from coaches clinging to their jobs, from star quarterbacks facing down the heat of media scrutiny, from the entire season hanging on a single play, the action on the field isn’t intrinsically all that interesting. You can watch some guys play basketball in the park and be reasonably entertained. That’s partially why the league can trudge along with its overlong season and get by. Football needs stakes. I would argue that much if not most of football’s entertainment factor lies in the sense that one sudden play can mean a lot.

The NBA’s regular season lacks that, and frankly, so do the first couple rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Basketball starts in the fall and has no stakes until it gets to the spring. NBA owners are making money, as nearly all major sports are in the DVR era, so perhaps the status quo satisfies the powers that be. But this wonderful sport is likely a lot less popular than it could be, given that its season is roughly four times longer than it needs to be. If NBA owners were a bit more bold, they’d discover that less is more.

SPONSORED HEADLINES