First Cup: Friday

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
By Nick Borges
  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony, of course, had a rather hectic summer, which included his decision to re-sign with the Knicks for five years, $124 million, rejecting considerably less financially from Chicago, but also spurning the chance to join the Bulls, the team many view as the favorite in the East. Instead, he chose to stay with the rebuilding plan of Knicks president Phil Jackson. It was, however, a close call. “As far as me staying here, a lot went into that decision. At the end of the day, I did have to believe in Phil, I did have to believe in my teammates. So that’s all that matters,” Anthony said. “It was close, it was close. I don’t even like to talk about that. This is home. There is no place like New York. Although the other situations were very intriguing, there is no place like New York.” The slimmed-down forward has been in touch with teammates all summer. He cited the offseason regimens of Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Cleanthony Early and Iman Shumpert. “Everybody is just putting in the proper work. I think with the new energy that we have now with the team and the coaches, everybody is just excited to get back,” said Anthony, who added “I can’t wait” — or a variation thereof — about 30 times. Everybody’s antsy, waiting to get back,” he said. “And I can’t wait. I look forward to this season.” But before you purchase playoff and Finals tickets, Anthony cautioned there will be an adjustment period. There are new players (Samuel Dalembert, Jose Calderon, Jason Smith, Early, Travis Outlaw, Shane Larkin, Quincy Acy), a new coach (Derek Fisher), a new system (the triangle offense). Learning the triangle will take time.
  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: The first time the Timberwolves traded their franchise player, the plan was to rebuild a team that would be back in the postseason in two to three years. It's now 10 and counting, the longest active postseason skid in the NBA. "I think that when you give up a top-10 player, it's the exception to the rule that you survive," said George Karl, an ESPN analyst. The question now is whether the Timberwolves can be the exception. Last time, they weren't. Minnesota got five players and two first-round draft picks when they sent Kevin Garnett to Boston in July 2007. The Celtics got an NBA title in 2008; the Timberwolves, as their fans well know, got nowhere. Since then, the Wolves are on their fifth head coach, third front-office boss and no playoff appearances. Yet they're again on the verge of trading one of the NBA's best players as soon as Saturday, the first day they can finalize a deal to send sweet-shooting, big-rebounding power forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for 19-year-old Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: There’s a powerful person behind Derrick Rose’s participation with USA Basketball who prefers to remain behind-the-scenes. Jen Swanson, whom the Bulls hired last summer as their Director of Sports Performance, is more qualified than anyone to monitor Rose’s rehabilitation, knees and body. And the fact she is traveling with USA Basketball and in consistent communication with Rose, who returned to practice Thursday after three days of rest, is an important security blanket for the Bulls, who still believe reward outweighs risk in this endeavor. ... The Bulls hired Swanson away from Athletes’ Performance in Los Angeles after she worked extensively with Rose during his rehabilitation from his May 2012 surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee. She quickly developed a strong rapport with players during her first season and then unexpectedly developed an even stronger bond with Rose when he tore his right meniscus in November 2013. ... Whether the Bulls win or lose depends largely on Rose staying healthy. Swanson, who is scheduled to travel to Spain for Rose’s participation in the FIBA World Cup, will be critical in that goal.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: It will be hard to truly define Tim Leiweke’s legacy with the Raptors because the things the departing chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment provided are not quantifiable. But in his first year at the top of the pecking order in the organization, his contribution was to infuse the franchise with a sense of importance and watch it gain momentum, not only among fans here but with people throughout the league. His most significant move was also his biggest and his first, one that should resonate for years. Disposing of former president and general manager Bryan Colangelo in an awkward and not-well-handled transition period allowed Leiweke to pluck Masai Ujiri from the Denver Nuggets. Leiweke gave Ujiri carte blanche to do with the roster what he saw fit and it started the Raptors on a course that returned them to relevancy in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. It was Leiweke’s aggressive nature — too blustery and aggressive at the start, he will attest — that gave Ujiri the feeling he could do whatever was necessary to get the franchise headed in the right direction. It was as if, in some ways, Leiweke picked a clone to run an NBA team that hadn’t sniffed the playoffs in half a decade. The two men are equally driven to win. They can be demanding and they are both adamant that the Raptors will command respect around the league. And it worked.
  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: The first decade or so of his basketball career, Lin was just a guy. The pinnacle of his career was supposed to be when he led Palo Alto High to a Division II state title in 2006. Those days are gone. As much as he may miss the anonymity, the luxury of being the underdog, that's not his lot anymore. The low-key kid has accepted his calling to the big time. So he heads to the Lakers, on the final year of his contract, needing to produce under the heat of the magnifying glass. "It's incredible. It's a blessing," said Lin, who turns 26 on Saturday. "I am a lot more comfortable now than I was in the beginning. Going into my fifth year, I'm able to handle that now more than ever. I put more pressure on myself now than what I feel from the outside." It's a raw deal in some respects. Lin will probably never be appreciated nationally the way he actually should be -- as a productive NBA guard. Like many others, he has some bankable skills to go with some weaknesses.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of One of the youngest players in this year's draft, James Young should benefit to some degree from being coached by Stevens, whose coaching career has been at the college level minus last season as the Celtics' head coach. Just like John Calipari challenged Young to continue improving in his lone season at Kentucky, the 6-foot-7 guard/forward is finding it's not all that different with the Celtics and Stevens. "Coach Stevens has really been on me about defense," Young told CSNNE. "That's how coach Cal was, too." Because of Young's 7-foot wing span, his potential as a solid defender is clear which can only increase the chances of him seeing time on the floor sooner rather than later.
  • Matt Velazquez of the Journal Sentinel: With his long strides, Giannis Antetokounmpo looks as if he can go coast-to-coast in a just two dribbles. He nearly did just that on Thursday while playing for the Greek national team against Turkey in Athens. Did Antetokounmpo travel on the play above? After watching the clip too many times to count — mostly because it was too impressive to just watch once or twice — I'm convinced he didn't. Even if he had, do you think any NBA referee would blow the whistle? No way. Regardless, this is just the latest in a long series of head-scratching, hard-to-believe highlights from the Bucks' 19-year-old star. Overall, Antetokounmpo led Greece with 12 points and added six rebounds in a 70-56 win over Turkey. Nick Calathes of the Memphis Grizzles also had 12 points for Greece.
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: Drew Gooden will not be able to represent Finland in the upcoming FIBA World Cup because his application for dual citizenship will not be cleared in time for the tournament, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The Wizards big man, whose mother is Finnish, was not on the 12-man roster Finland submitted Wednesday for the competition, according to reports out of Finland. The tournament will begin Aug. 30 in Spain. Finland’s first game will be against the United States. In a recent phone interview, Gooden explained that he grew up with his father, Andrew, in Oakland, Calif., but made summer-long trips to Finland every two years to spend time with his mother’s family. He roamed his grandparents’ farm — situated about four hours north of the Finnish capital of Helsinki — milking cows, hunting, fishing, and tending to chicken coops. The biennial visits left an impression on Gooden, who identifies as Finnish.
  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: On what he feels like being the only owner speaking out about international basketball -- Mark Cuban: “I’ve never had an owner come up to me about the subject and say I’m wrong. Never. They all thank me. And that’s typical of my role. It’s just not a lot of the owners’ nature to say anything publicly. You better believe OKC was breathing a sigh of relief when Kevin Durant stepped down. There was nobody in Oklahoma saying, ‘Darn. What about the USA and the Olympics?’ Everyone understood that it was the right decision for Kevin Durant. It is about money. We accept that it’s about money.”

First Cup: Thursday

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
By Nick Borges
  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: There has been little scuttlebutt about the 76ers' potential involvement in the impending Timberwolves/Cavaliers trade since multiple outlets said the Sixers could end up sending Thaddeus Young to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins deal. One report indicated the Sixers could end up getting Anthony Bennett, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, as part of a package for Young. But Jerry Zgoda, Timberwolves beat writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, tweeted this Wednesday: “Just a reminder: if you keep reading Bennett is headed to Philly for Young in forthcoming trade . . . don't believe it.” ... If the Sixers cannot land Bennett, general manager Sam Hinkie could opt to swap Young for a pair of Minnesota players with expiring deals. Any two of these three guys — Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea — would work under the league's salary-cap rules. The Sixers could also wind up with a protected first-round pick.
  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: OK, Derrick, just stop. Quit Team USA and call it a day. Or a week. Or whatever. Rest your right knee. Rest your left knee. Rest everything. Have yourself cryogenically frozen and then thawed in two months, ready to play NBA basketball. That’s when the regular season starts, and that’s all we really care about. That’s what the Bulls are paying you $100 million to do, after all. That’s what Adidas is paying you $200 million to do. Missing time with knee issues has become so common for Rose since 2012 that we don’t know whether the guy can play anything remotely like a full season without hurting himself. ... When does fatigue become "I’m hurt again”? I know this is hard for Rose to take. An elite, driven athlete is never sated just by tons of money. He wants to play. He wants to dominate. That’s what he was put on earth to do. But for Bulls fans, the wait to see a healthy, resilient Rose has been like dripping water torture.
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: Before LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland and prior to David Blatt being named the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, owner Dan Gilbert had eyes for Kentucky head coach John Calipari. ... "David Blatt can really coach," Calipari told Frank Isola and Malik Rose during an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio. "He's a better choice than me to coach that team. I coached against him. I'm not sitting here just saying it. I coached against him in FIBA basketball. I watched him coach Russia, the guy can coach, OK? Those players, all they want is respect. If they respect you as a coach they're going to play like crazy." Calipari, who had one stint as a head coach in the NBA before returning to the collegiate ranks, believes the Cavs will return to prominence. "Dan Gilbert is a great guy who wants it for the right reasons, that's why Cleveland will win," Calipari said. "Now you just have to have really good players. Guess what? Cleveland has really good players." They could be adding one more in the near future when a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves becomes official, making All-Star forward Kevin Love the newest member of Cleveland's talented roster.
  • Rebecca Salinas of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs' Larry O' Brien trophy has jetsetted across the world this summer, traveling more than 47,270 miles since its takeoff from San Antonio. But just like any traveler knows, sometimes you just need a vacation from your vacation. The trophy got just that when it was Kawhi Leonard's turn to take the trophy to San Diego for three days. Leonard told the San Diego Union-Times that the trophy stayed in his condominium the first two days, Aug. 7-8. "I didn't have any time to do anything with it," Leonard told the newspaper. "My workout schedule is crazy." So, even the 2-foot beauty wasn't enough to break his commitment to starting the season off strong, which starts in October. "I'm just a low-key guy," he told the newspaper. "I'm just happy we won it. I don't even care about the trophy. The title matters the most." That is OK, though, the trophy's chaperone, Spurs communications coordinator Mitch Heckart, was able to relax too... at his hotel's pool. The trophy did get back to work on the third day, Aug. 9, when Leonard took it to his youth skills camp in his hometown of Moreno Valley. There, fans were able to take photos with the trophy, which is documented on the Spurs' website.
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: The Nets will be getting a visibly thinner Brook Lopez when training camp begins next month. Lopez, who arrived at training camp last fall weighing around 290 pounds before playing at a weight several pounds lighter, looked noticeably thinner while participating in a youth healthy lifestyle clinic at Barclays Center on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m at my playing weight,” Lopez said with a laugh. “I can attribute that to laying in bed for months, but I’m back to the weight that’s normal for me. Last I checked, I was just under 275 [pounds].” The Nets center said last year’s bigger frame had nothing to do with the fractured fifth metatarsal he suffered in Philadelphia on Dec. 20. “I may have been five pounds heavier, but that’s not what injured me,” he said. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe the two aren’t at least partially related. Even if Lopez is a few pounds lighter, there’s no reason to believe he should have any trouble moving around players in the low block as he has while developing into arguably the best-scoring big man in the NBA.
  • Marc D'Amico of It’s a well-known fact that the Boston Celtics are in rebuilding mode. In order for them to take the next step in that process, they need several of their players to take a personal step forward this season. Many refer to this individual progress as “the leap,” and that leap can occur on many different levels. The most important leap of all is from great to superstar. Then there’s the jump from good player to great player, and from role player to featured player. Boston has players who fall into each of those categories, and Rajon Rondo is the man who headlines that list. He is ‘the man’ on this team. The Celtics need him to be a superstar. Let’s not forget that Rondo has been such in the past. He is a four-time All-Star, an NBA champion and a triple-double machine. However, he was none of those last season. Rondo returned to Boston’s lineup on Jan. 17 after missing nearly a year of action with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was a very good player during his 30 appearances, averaging 11.7 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 9.8 assists per game. Those numbers are solid, but Rondo would never admit to being satisfied with them. He wants to be a superstar – the best point guard in the league. That’s what he expects out of himself.
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: For one month earlier this summer, Wizards forwards Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. spent a couple of hours a day working on the Verizon Center practice floor. They hustled through ball-handling, shooting and defensive drills with oversight from former Wizards assistant coach Ryan Saunders and David Adkins, hired later in the summer to serve as the Wizards’ player development assistant. It was the beginning of a crucial offseason for Porter and Rice. Both registered limited playing time during their rookie campaigns, unable to crack the Wizards’ rotation as the team soared to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season. They will compete against each other to become the primary three-man off the bench this season, but they first envisioned forming a potent tag team in the Las Vegas summer league. “We were talking about it before we went,” Porter said in a recent phone interview. “‘Hey, this is a great opportunity for us. We got to make the most of it.’ And that’s when we started working out together, getting better. And it definitely showed.”
  • Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: For those around Greg Oden, the news was startling. As modest and reserved as he may have seemed growing up, Oden never knew normal. He stood out from his peers from an early age — first because of his size, then his skill. Perhaps it was the weight of his crumbled career, some reasoned, and all the frustrations of not being able to meet the hype. "Greg's the type of guy that was really hurting from the fact he wasn't able to live up to the expectations people set for him," Shelt said. In recent years, Oden has admitted to battling depression and alcoholism as his career dissolved. After playing a reserve role for the Miami Heat last season, he's a free agent. It appears unlikely any NBA team would take a flier on him after this month's events.

First Cup: Wednesday

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
By Nick Borges
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Kevin Durant is in New York this week headlining at least two events, receiving the type of attention befitting a reigning MVP. But the NBA’s scoring champ won’t be playing for Team USA at the Garden — including Wednesday’s contest against the Dominican Republic — after surprisingly withdrawing from the squad earlier this month. Sitting at a panel Tuesday at Baruch College to promote basketball videogame NBA 2K15 — which features him on the cover — Durant reiterated that his decision to leave Team USA was based on rest and staying fresh for the upcoming NBA season. Durant attended the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas, only to pull out before the exhibitions leading up to the FIBA World Cup in Spain next month. He announced his decision less than a week after Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury during a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage, but was not asked by the moderator Tuesday whether that played a role in his withdrawal. Without Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, Team USA won’t have the NBA’s top four scorers from last season. Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin also withdrew before training camp. “It was definitely tough. But I think for myself it was best to step back and rest up,” Durant said.
  • Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press: Brandon Jennings’ Twitter bio says that he is “in the lab.” And today, the Detroit Pistons’ point guard emerged from the lab with this conclusion: Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan. Jennings explained his case in a series of tweets which started this morning, continued this afternoon and garnered a lot of buzz on the social media network. “Micheal Jordan had more ‘Help’ winning his rings then Kobe. #debate #yallfightingthat” he began. Kobe had Shaquille O’Neal, Jennings pointed out. But Jordan, he had Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong. What is he trying to say, someone asked. “Kobe really the greatest ever” Jennings tweeted. “Look at the facts” he tweeted. “Kobe is The Goat” he tweeted. Jennings’ argument centered on the “help” that Jordan received while winning his six championship rings, the same help that Bryant, in his eyes, didn’t get. “Mike got a lot of help!!!!” he tweeted. “MJ never won without Pippen.” he tweeted. “Kobe won 2 rings without another great on his team.” he tweeted. Jordan won six championships. Bryant has won five. “It’s only one player compared to MJ, and that’s Kobe. Now Kobe change the mindset of a lot of players today!!! #Fact #SitUpinClass” Jennings tweeted. He has won zero championships. Back to the lab.
  • Adam Wexler of CSN Houston: Team USA boasts just two players who won gold medals with Team USA in the 2012 Olympics, the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and the Rockets' James Harden. Davis has just two years of NBA experience, while Harden will be entering his sixth NBA season next year in Houston. Harden's also coming off a season that landed him a spot on the all-NBA first team, the only player with Team USA to earn such honors. His scoring potential is obvious, having averaged a shade under 26 points per game in his Rockets career and having finished fifth in the NBA in points per game both seasons. But it's his leadership and maturity that are huge assets to the group, according to U.S. Men's National Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "James has been as good a leader as we’ve had for this team. He has a great personality. He is an upbeat guy, smart, and he’s obviously very, very talented," Krzyzewski said. "With this group, especially after Kevin (Durant) left, he has asserted himself even more as an older guy. I know him, he knows me, because we have worked together. He’s really one of our key guys. There is no question about it."
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Sam Presti talks glowingly about Reggie Jackson and says the magic words that signal no bull. Terms like “DNA” and “fits the profile of a Thunder player” and “competitive will.” Keeping Jackson is a Thunder priority. But it won’t be easy. It’s not easy for anyone these days. Of the players picked in the first round of the 2011 draft, only Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving so far has signed a contract extension. The Cavs tied up Irving for five years and $90 million, beginning in 2015-16. And it’s not like that draft hasn’t produced some talent: Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kenneth Faried, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Alec Burks, the Morris twins. Jackson. Lots of guys who matter to their teams. Lots of guys who would be gold for their franchises to keep another five years. Yet only Irving has signed. Last year, only five players from the 2010 draft signed contract extensions: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Derrick Favors and Larry Sanders.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: The Heat is serious about adding another shooting guard and a big man if it can find two good ones willing to take the veteran’s minimum. After recently working out Jordan Hamilton (who signed with Toronto) and Chris Douglas-Roberts, the Heat also has inquired about Leandro Barbosa and Jordan Crawford, who both hold appeal to Miami. Among power rotation players, the Heat has shown interest in Emeka Okafor and has considered Ekpe Udoh. Preliminary inquiries were made on Andray Blatche and Jason Maxiell. Agent David Falk said he talked to the Heat about Elton Brand but that Brand is unlikely to end up here. Dwyane Wade said on social media that he has spent the past few days working out with Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem and Josh McRoberts at Indiana University, which is coached by Tom Crean, Wade's friend and former coach at Marquette.
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: Warriors guard Nemanja Nedovic, who suffered a foot injury earlier this month while playing for Serbia’s national team, will miss the FIBA World Cup, according to his agent. “After last medical check, there is no doubt,” agent Misko Raznatovic tweeted Wednesday. “Nemanja Nedovic, unfortunately, will miss World Cup in Spain. He needs to travel to Usa, on Sat.” The Warriors said Friday that Nedovic was suffering from right foot inflammation as they looked to make a further review of the guard’s condition. Serbia coach Aleksandar Dordevic told reporters on the same day that the injury was a “delicate” one.
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: The Cleveland Cavaliers have finalized their coaching staff for the 2014-15 season. First-year head coach David Blatt will be joined by associate head coach Tyronn Lue, who was lured away from the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this off-season, and assistants Jim Boylan, Bret Brielmaier, Larry Drew and James Posey. ... The team also announced Phil Handy, who joined the Cavs in 2013 after a two-year stint with the Lakers, will continue to serve as Director of Player Development with Vitaly Potapenko staying as the team's Assistant Director of Player Development.
  • Dave Zarum of Matt Bonner is in Toronto this week speaking to players at Nike’s Americas Team Camp, which features 60 of the best high school-level players in this hemisphere. Not long after he delivered a welcoming address to the campers, I caught up with Bonner to talk about his biggest non-basketball passion, sandwiches comedy. SN: Off the court, you’ve made some forays into the world of comedy, which got me thinking: From Coach Popovich on down, it seems a lot of guys on the Spurs are legitimately funny. Is that just a coincidence or does comedy play a role on the San Antonio Spurs? Bonner: "I think when you talk about our team and our players, you ask the question, “Is he a Spur?” When you go ahead and define what a ‘Spur’ is, most people would say hard-working, puts the team first, high character—everything you associate with the Spurs brand. But really, another characteristic of being a Spur is having a sense of humour. It’s a long season with a lot of ups and downs. Having a sense of humour is a good way to deal with stress and relieve tension and keep our team on an even keel. And just because you have a sense of humour off the court doesn’t mean you don’t have a killer instinct on it."
  • Vaughn Johnson of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has attempted to make contact with Rihanna and Kim Kardashian on Twitter, but to no avail. On Tuesday night, however, Embiid was finally successful in having a celebrity reach out to him. No, this wasn’t a beautiful woman. In fact, this wasn’t even a woman. It was WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik. The Iron Sheik is known for being very outspoken on Twitter and will waste little time in making you humble, but the former WWE Champion humbly asked Embiid an interesting question: "hello @JoelEmbiid you have the kush bubba?" Oh, Sheiky Baby. Please don’t ever change. And Embid, for the sake of every Sixers fan in Philadelphia, please do not take him up on his offer.

Stages of accepting Paul George's injury

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
By Michael Rubino
Paul GeorgeAP Photo/Darron CummingsPaul George is on the road to recovery after breaking his leg, but what about Indiana Pacers fans?
Paul George described the pain associated with breaking his right leg in two places -- a sickening compound fracture suffered during the fourth quarter of a USA Basketball exhibition game in Las Vegas on Aug. 1 -- with turns of phrase every bit as grotesque as the now-viral video of the injury. “It felt like gasoline was on my leg and someone lit a match,” Indiana’s budding superstar forward said at a news conference last week. “Just internally, my leg felt like it was in flames.”

Pacers fans can relate. In a sense, it seems as if someone has done the same to the hopes of their team winning an NBA title any time in the near future. But just like the ill-fated exhibition game that was called off, on-court things feel at once unimportant and unresolved.

Their first thoughts were of heartsick sympathy for George. Here was a guy -- their guy -- representing his country, hustling back on defense, for crying out loud, and the next thing you know he’s crumpled on the floor with a career in jeopardy and his teammates holding their hands over their mouths and doubled over in agony. The scene was better suited to the "Saw" franchise or "Hostel" than "SportsCenter."

Too young, too talented, too sturdy (George said in the news conference he might have rolled an ankle once or twice before), the injury seemed improbable. Denial, that was the first reaction. From there, fans zoomed through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief.

They lingered on anger for a bit, looking for someone to blame for the freak injury. USA Basketball seemed like a good target for a while. So did the court at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center, where some found fault with the distance of the basket supports and a too-crowded baseline.

Bargaining? There was a good deal of that, too -- the ex-post-facto kind. Revisionists revisited the Lance Stephenson negotiations from July and suggested the absurd: This was karma for letting the talented but troubled guard leave for Charlotte. If only Pacers president Larry Bird had sweetened the five-year, $44-million deal, they argued; the franchise would’ve had a cushion for George’s fall.

[+] EnlargePaul George
AP Photo/Darron CummingsWith Paul George on crutches, Indy's title hopes are on hold.
And now the Indiana faithful find themselves smack-dab in the middle of depression, torn between tanking the upcoming season in hopes of securing a lottery pick and playing for pride. Both seem like rotten short-term options given the Eastern Conference landscape that existed just a few months ago. Despite the balance of power shifting from Miami to Cleveland with LeBron’s return home, Indiana, a conference finalist two years running, remained a contender with its nucleus intact. That, of course, was before this summer of agony.

Tanking -- or at least temporarily being good enough at losing to secure a top pick with your superstar on the IR -- has worked in these parts before. In 2011, with a franchise-tagged Peyton Manning out for the season with a neck injury, the Colts looked to the three-headed quarterback monster of Curtis Painter, Kerry Collins and Dan Orlovsky to save the day. Indy finished 2-14, blew up the team in the offseason, and drafted Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick.

The ball’s never bounced that way for the Pacers -- or at least as directly in a line from tragic injury to silver lining.

After two straight Eastern Conference finals appearances, Reggie Miller led Indiana to a 52-win season in 1995-96. But in April of that season, Miller collided with Detroit’s Otis Thorpe and Allan Houston, fell to the floor and broke his eye socket. That kept the Pacers’ leading scoring on the bench for three weeks, including all but the team’s final first-round game against Atlanta, a series Indiana lost. The Pacers went 39-43 the next season, coach Larry Brown resigned, and Bird came aboard to coach the team, eventually leading it to its first-and-only NBA Finals appearance in 2000.

Bird, of course, is the man in charge at another critical juncture, and he seems as likely of throwing the upcoming season as he does getting a sleeve of his basketball accomplishments tattooed on his arm. At a news conference with Bird and coach Frank Vogel a few days before George spoke to the media, a reporter asked Bird if the team had plans to wear a uniform patch this season to honor their injured teammate. “Patch?” Bird said, laughing in disbelief. “He’s still alive.”

True, but the team’s hopes of making a third straight Eastern Conference finals appearance are dead as long as George has two metal rods in his leg and is walking around on crutches.

George held out hope that he might return this season, but he admitted it seemed unlikely. In his stead, Bird and Vogel have outlined a plan that relies on guys such as the C.J.’s (Watson and Miles) and Shayne Whittington surprising, George Hill stepping up, and David West and Roy Hibbert posting up more. (It could be a long depression stage.)

Bird also admitted having an eye toward the future, discussing expiring contracts and options in vague terms. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “But we’re starting to look at all that right now. We’re always looking ahead. We always try to look two to three years down the road. Whatever happens we’ll be competitive. We know that. But losing a Paul George is definitely going to hurt you for a while. But when he comes back, you want to make sure you have the pieces around him.”

In the interim, George will rehabilitate -- and re-brand. He changed his number from 24 to 13 to facilitate a new PG-13 nickname, which he said is about coming into his own. “I feel like I’m at that stage where I’m ready to embrace everything that comes with being one of the young stars in this league,” George said.

That sounded an awful lot like hopeful acceptance, but a local T-shirt-maker here in Indy is even more optimistic. Last week, Hayes and Taylor added a new shirt to its line, featuring a George-inspired silhouette about to dunk alongside the tagline from "The Six Million Dollar Man": Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. Bigger. Stronger. Faster.

The words are a blast from the past, but right now, the future feels just as far away.

First Cup: Tuesday

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
By Nick Borges
Fred Kerber of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony already has claimed Knicks fans should not expect a championship this season. But the playoffs are another matter. In fact, Anthony on Monday asserted his belief the Knicks “absolutely” will be back in the playoffs after missing out last season. “Yeah, I think so for sure. Absolutely,” an impressively slimmed-down Anthony said of the Knicks’ playoff chances before entering a Midtown gym for a late morning-to-early afternoon workout with a group of NBA players. Anthony snuffed an attempt to establish any goals for the revamped Knicks, who will enter their first full season under team president Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher. “I can’t wait to get started,” said Anthony, who missed the playoffs for the first time in his career when the Knicks stumbled to a 37-45 record last season. “No goals. Not setting any goals, but I just can’t wait to get it back on.” And Anthony showed some of that desire Monday in the closed, high-caliber workout with assorted NBA players.

A. Sherrod Blakely of Greg Monroe signing a qualifying offer with the Pistons creates realistic hope that next summer, Boston will at the very least be on his short list of teams to consider considering their need and the fact they will have significant salary cap space. The appeal for both the player (Monroe) and the franchise is undeniable. ... Even with all the additions Boston made this summer, which includes 7-foot Tyler Zeller, the Celtics still could use a big man such as Monroe. He immediately becomes their most polished center offensively, which would open up more driving lanes for Boston's bevy of perimeter players. In terms of how he would fit in to the Celtics culture, that would be the least of Boston's concerns. And remember, his agent is David Falk, who already has a trio of clients (Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner) on the Celtics roster. That in itself won't get a deal done, but there is a tremendous amount of respect between Falk and the Celtics, which has a way of making negotiations go a lot smoother.

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: During an hourlong event that featured appearances by Coach Doc Rivers, eight Clippers players and even Mayor Eric Garcetti, Steve Ballmer stole the show with a boldness that included everything from a guaranteed victory to a gratuitous shot at the Lakers. In referring to the team's opening-night game Oct. 30 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that was transplanted from
his beloved Seattle, he shouted, "I'm going to love beating the old Seattle basketball team, get our first win in the first game of the year." ... In all, it was perhaps the most bizarre yet appropriate introduction for an owner in this town's history. The players seated on the stage, including stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, looked as bemused as inspired. The post-rally buzz from Lakers fans was typically negative, with Ballmer's rant being compared to those of the late Chris Farley's Matt Foley character from "Saturday Night Live." Certainly, at times Ballmer came across as awkward and overbearing. Indeed, it felt strange to welcome the new owner of a championship-type professional basketball team with a high school pep rally. But of all the things that might have been lacking Monday, one thing existed in abundance. It was unabashed Clippers pride. For the first time, it seemed as if the Clippers were embraced not as the second team in town, but as the only team in town. There was enough pride that they filled up the lower bowl end zone on a Monday in the middle of August — "It was awesome, I was shocked, I really was," said Rivers. "In the middle of the summer, no basketball going on?"

Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Bruno Caboclo still has that beaming smile, those shockingly long arms and more long-term promise than all but a handful of teenage basketball prodigies. His English is coming along slowly but surely, and his summer of development both personally and professionally is going according to script. He’s been in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Vancouver working on his game and his body. His footwork is better, his shot more consistent. He is stronger and quicker. Those are all good things for the 18-year-old Raptors prospect, and those close to the team are quite confident in his long-term future. He does not, however, yet have the one thing he needs more than anything else: The experience of being beaten on and beaten up by NBA players on a regular basis. Until that happens, the teenage Brazilian will remain little more than a long-term project. ... Caboclo will head to Los Angeles for some workouts next week and is scheduled back in Toronto for good right after. He knows how far he has to go, but he also knows how far he’s come. “I’m more comfortable, yes. Shooting, I am more fast, more strong, just better everywhere,” he said. “I am learning the game, the language — it’s coming a little bit, that’s all.”

Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: If Anthony Bennett is worried about a move to a new address expected to come as early as Saturday, he is doing a good job of hiding it. “I’m just a young man just ready to work,” Bennett said at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre on Monday, where he is serving as a guest at the four-day Americas Team Camp. Wherever I end up, doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to play the game of basketball.” He will not get the chance to atone for a rough rookie season in Cleveland. The Toronto-born and raised (with some time in Brampton as well more recently), 2013 No. 1 overall pick is expected to be shipped from the Cavaliers to Minnesota, along with 2014 No. 1 Andrew Wiggins, of Vaughan in the near future. Some reports have Bennett being redirected to Philadelphia in the deal, though nothing is certain at this point. ... Bennett insists that he has tuned all of the chatter out. “Not distracting at all, just still focused on what I have to do, just working hard, keep my body healthy, just watching what I eat,” Bennett said repeatedly, in a bit of a mantra on Monday. Last summer I couldn’t really do anything, just was pretty much out from the jump. This summer I was back on track right after the season, just watching everything I do, watching what I eat, just making sure everything is right for Summer League. I’m continuing more so I can be ready for the season.”

Brendan Savage of The Detroit Pistons have officially signed free agents Cartier Martin and Aaron Gray, the club announced Monday. MLive reported in July that the pair would be joining the Pistons. Martin, a 6-foot-7 forward, signed a two-year deal worth $2.4 million. During six NBA seasons, he has played for Charlotte, Golden State, Washington, Atlanta and Chicago. The Pistons are hoping he can help provide them with the type of outside shooting they've been lacking the last several seasons. ... Gray, a 7-foot, 270-pound center, signed a one-year deal worth $1.27 million with a player option for a second season.

Dwight Jaynes of I'm not picking on the Portland Trail Blazers here at all, because they are far from the only NBA team to do this kind of thing over the last several seasons. In fact, Maccabi Haifa plays three other NBA teams on its North American tour this season. All I'm saying is this: Why would you play this team? ... Portland General Manager Neil Olshey put it in perspective: "Maccabi Haifa is a top international team and we're looking forward to a competitive preseason game with them," he said. "This matchup gives our fans the unique opportunity to experience international basketball, and friendly exhibitions like this go a long way in further advancing the game globally." A league source put it similarly for me: "The NBA is very committed to advancing the game globally," he said. "Teams are asked periodically to play games like this in order to aid that cause." The way I look at it is that if your team is asked to help advance the game globally, this is a whole lot better than having to fly halfway around the world to play somebody.

Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: On the surface, they couldn’t be any more different: Matt Bonner, a flannel-wearing, Indie-rock loving white man from New Hampshire, and Kawhi Leonard, a cornrow-favoring, Air Jordan-sporting African-American from the Los Angeles area. Yet at their core they share a similar value set, particularly as it relates to cars. Bonner is legendarily thrifty. Despite more than $27 million in career earnings, his current ride is a Chevy Impala, the replacement for his beloved Pontiac Grand Prix that was totaled in an accident. “The leg room is far superior, which is basically No. 1,” Bonner explained. “And it still gets 29 MPGs, which is pretty good for a mid-size model.” Leonard has the same kind of mentality with his rides. He does own a Porsche — but only because of peer pressure from his family and friends. Given his druthers, he prefers tooling around in the same silver Chevy Malibu he drove in college, well before he put himself in line for a massive contract after his bravura performance in the Spurs’ championship victory over Miami. “It’s paid off,” Leonard told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I don’t have a car note on it. It’s good on gas. It’s a good commuter car if you don’t want to drive your luxury car.”

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Two years ago, the Suns produced a fun video that featured Tom Chambers crashing a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame golf tournament in Litchfield Park to pitch his candidacy. Chambers wore a T-shirt with the back reading "T.C. FOR H.O.F." and the front featuring a photo of his 1989 knee-in-face dunk over Mark Jackson. ... Chambers made light of the notion and still thinks his chances are slim but he at least has a distinction now. When Mitch Richmond was inducted into the Hall of Fame this month, Chambers moved to first on a certain Hall of Fame list. Chambers scored more points in the NBA than any Hall of Fame-eligible player who has not been inducted. Now that all of Golden State's "Run TMC" is in, "Dunk TC" has entertained the idea. "These guys are all my era and did similar things," Chambers said of Richmond, Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway. "Have I thought about it? Yes. Do I expect it? No. I really don't." Chambers ranks 38th on the NBA career scoring list with 20,049 points, making him the only 20,000-point scorer who is not in the Hall of Fame besides active and ineligible players. Richmond went in with 20,797 but he had more All-Star appearances (six to Chambers' four) and All-NBA selections (five to Chambers' two).

First Cup: Monday

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
By Nick Borges
  • Joe Drape of The New York Times: It was not until September 2012 that Rich Paul told LeBron James he was ready to strike out on his own. Ten days later, Klutch Sports Group was open for business, and its first client was the most coveted in all of sports: LeBron James. Thompson and Bledsoe, along with San Antonio guard Cory Joseph and Washington Wizards forward Kevin Seraphin, signed with Paul as well. But the doubts and badmouthing among the tribe of 4-percenters were immediate and nasty. The griping dismissed Paul as merely a frontman for James. Critics questioned how someone with only a high school diploma could become a certified agent, and they wondered how hard it could be to represent LeBron James. Paul shrugs it all off. He insists that Klutch is all his and that he is off James’s payroll. The N.B.A. Players Association does not require a college degree, and most agencies bring on legal teams to handle the contracts, as Paul has. (Paul has brought in the veteran agent Mark Termini to oversee contract negotiations, and he works with the lawyer Fred Nance, once a finalist for the N.F.L. commissioner’s job, and a battery of lawyers at his firm, Squire Patton Boggs.) And to the question of how hard is it to represent LeBron James: “Ask the other two guys he had,” Paul said. No one was surprised when James chose to become a free agent this summer. What few people knew was that James wanted to come home. ... James has been lauded for his faithfulness to his roots. But Paul deserves some of the credit for making the return possible. “The organization wants to win a championship for the city and Northeast Ohio, and LeBron wants to win more championships,” Griffin said. “But we wouldn’t be where we are today if Rich hadn’t handled things the way he did.”
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The 2015 Basketball Hall of Fame Class won’t be determined until April, but Robert Horry’s case will be very interesting in the next few months. Horry won seven titles as a player with three teams, tied for the seventh most in NBA history. Horry won more championships than Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and had an uncanny ability to make monumental shots in postseason games. Horry told the Globe two years ago he felt as if he was a Hall of Famer. Although Horry never made an All-Star team and was never the best player on his team, his Hall of Fame case could make for great debate.
  • Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer: While Marion is 36, he has only missed an average of five games per season over the last five years. He averaged 31 minutes a game in that span. His strengths are passing and defending, along with shooting 36 percent from 3-point range. But the Cavs also like his durability. Starting with the 2010-11 season (the first for James in Miami), James has played the most minutes in the NBA. This is according to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, and it included the playoffs. That makes sense because James has been in the last four NBA Finals. As he approached the age of 30 and starting his 12th season, James wants to cut back some of his minutes -- especially in the regular season, where he averaged 37.7 minutes. That's why Marion is important. Here's something else to consider, and a peek into the big-money world of the NBA. Why would Miller take less money from Cleveland than Denver? According to, Miller has already been paid $76 million during his NBA career. As for Marion, it's $133 million for his career. Ray Allen is at $184 million. Yes, that's before taxes -- but it's certainly enough money to give these men plenty of options. And that is another reason why Miller and Marion have followed James to Cleveland -- and perhaps, why Allen may eventually do the same.
  • Max Cohen of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Wherever we're together, it's home," Markieff Morris said. "We just go out there and have fun. The game isn't the same when we're apart." But soon, they will arrive at a crossroads. Their rookie deals expire after the 2014-15 season and free agency will present challenges. The twins want to stay together, but will an NBA team accommodate them? "It's a unique situation," Marcus said. "We're just trying to do enough so teams can see us as players, as players, and as a tandem." The twins aren't necessarily tied together during free agency. They haven't yet contemplated specific destinations and said they haven't considered a return to Philadelphia. Marcus said they would be willing to negotiate separately if the need arises, but the top priority is to make teams eager to sign both players. They can help do that this season by accomplishing their goal of helping the Suns make the playoffs. But after that, the pursuit of their long-term goal will continue. "That was our dream growing up - it's our life dream to play with each other in the NBA," Marcus Morris said. "We're together now. We try to make the best of it. Hopefully, we retire together."
  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: Michael Carter-Williams isn’t 100 percent, but expects to be ready for the late September start of 76ers training camp. During a five-minute interview Sunday at the Michael Carter-Williams Basketball ProCamp, he said he hasn’t scrimmaged, though he’s shooting and working out, and his right shoulder “still gets a little tight here and there” from the May 13 surgery to repair his labrum. He estimated the shoulder is “probably 80, 85 percent.” “It’s going great,” said MCW, noting he won’t play fullcourt ball under he’s medically cleared. Carter-Williams looked OK shooting free throws with some of the 250 campers at Competitive Edge Sports during the second and final day.
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Andre Drummond’s days on the U.S. men’s national basketball team might be numbered. Despite a knee injury to DaMarcus Cousins and the defection of Kevin Durant because of physical and mental fatigue, the Pistons’ center never got off the bench Saturday night in a 95-78 Team USA victory over Brazil at the United Center in Chicago. While Derrick Rose made a triumphant return, playing in front of his home fans for the first time since November 2013, Drummond sat, not even garnering mop-up minutes. Apparently Mason Plumlee, a former Duke center under Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, is a better fit for the team than Drummond at this point. Plumlee played 15 minutes and hit all three of his shots from the field. ESPN reporter Marc Stein said Drummond is the 15th man on the roster. The final 12 will be selected before the team leaves for Spain for the Basketball World Cup, which starts Aug. 30. With Plumlee playing well Saturday and Anthony Davis and Cousins almost locks to make the team, Drummond appeared to be the odd man out.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Derrick Rose and USA Basketball traveled to New York on Sunday, setting up their base for a week of preparation that includes two more exhibition games in advance of the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Rose did know and mention that travel itinerary, no small detail for a player who claimed last week not to know the Bulls opened against the Knicks and Cavaliers and that he played the entire third quarter of Saturday's exhibition victory over Brazil at the United Center. Whether such moments were focus or feigned ignorance matters not. What matters moving forward is that Rose, a surefire starter for Team USA, continues to stay healthy, build his conditioning and hit the ground running come the Bulls' training camp in October. "It's piling up, but I'm used to it by now," Rose said of Team USA's schedule.
  • Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post: As of mid-June, Nuggets guard Nate Robinson was on track to return to the team for the start of training camp after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in January and undergoing surgery. “Hopefully August,” Robinson told The Post. “I’m trying to sway the doctors to give me a little more leeway.” Well, based on an Instagram video posted to his account Saturday, it seems he wasn’t messing around. Robinson, all 5 feet and 9 inches of him, is back to throwing down dunks, this one on his outdoor court at his home in Seattle.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Meanwhile, the Thunder let starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha and mid-season acquisition Caron Butler walk in free agency, while also losing Derek Fisher to retirement. In the draft, OKC selected promising big man Mitch McGary but also came away with two players who are headed for the Development League in Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon. None are moves that will get the Thunder over the hump. But take a moment to compare the Thunder’s summer to the rest of the conference. You’ll see that few West competitors found the success that allegedly eluded OKC. And, remember, with the exception of defending champion San Antonio — which has had an even quieter summer than the Thunder despite battling injuries and an increasingly aging roster — everyone else is playing catch up. ...No team supplanted the Thunder as the conference’s most talented team this summer, which is why last week predicted Oklahoma City to secure the No. 1 seed in the West next season. Championships, of course, aren’t won in the regular season. But the Thunder didn’t do anything to take itself out of contention in the offseason. And that’s the most important thing.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: If the cap rises as much as projected, the Heat would have enough to sign one max-caliber player and a pretty good player (or two good but not max players) in 2016 to complement Chris Bosh and Wade. But signing two new max-caliber players would be unrealistic because max contracts would rise significantly if the cap rises. Cap expert Larry Coon said max contracts will increase from $3.8 million to $5.3 million per year (depending on years of experience) if the cap jumps by $15 million in 2016. That would make James and Howard eligible for potentially $27 million in 2016-17. And with teams flush with cap space in 2016, there would be little incentive for a Horford or DeRozan to take substantially less to sign anywhere. Besides Bosh at $23.7 million and Josh McRoberts at $5.7 million, the Heat’s only other cap commitments for 2016-17 are Shabazz Napier (team option at $1.3 million) and James Ennis, if still around, with a non-guaranteed $980,431. The Heat’s flexibility will depend, to an extent, on whether Miami adds any long-term salary next summer (probably not much, if any) and whether Wade --- who’s curious to see what he can command with a higher cap --- would take another big cut from the $16.1 million he’s due in 2015-16. Another factor: Will Bosh and Wade still be top players at that point, to the point that other stars want to join them here?
  • Staff of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings signed New Mexico State center Sim Bhullar on Friday, making him the first player of Indian descent under contract to an NBA team. “Dreams do come true!” Bhullar posted on his Twitter account. “Officially signed my first NBA contract with the @sacramentokings!!” Bhullar, a 7-foot-5, 360-pound center, was on the Kings team that won the summer league title last month in Las Vegas, but he averaged just 2.5 minutes in four games. He will compete in training camp to back up starting center DeMarcus Cousins but more likely will play for the team’s NBA Development League affiliate in Reno, where he would get more playing time to develop his skills. “I’ve long believed that India is the next great frontier for the NBA, and adding a talented player like Sim only underscores the exponential growth basketball has experienced in that nation,” Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive said in a statement.

First Cup: Friday

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
By Nick Borges
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: The new Carmelo Anthony wants to be the consummate leader this season. And according to his trainer, that’s what has spurred his startling offseason transformation. Idan Ravin, Anthony’s personal trainer since he left Syracuse after winning the NCAA title 11 years ago, said his client’s dramatic offseason weight loss stems from his desire to lead the Knicks vocally and by example. Ravin, like Anthony a product of the Baltimore area, said the hiring of Phil Jackson as Knicks president also has inspired his longtime client. But Ravin also said in an interview with The Post Thursday his offseason work with Anthony is not done and there’s not always assurance weight loss will translate into greater basketball performance. “Amazing people have been hired over there and he wants to come in as the leader and a top-three player in the world," Ravin told The Post, adding Anthony wants the Knicks to follow his lead. “If [he’s] being meticulous, you should not just follow [his] word, but follow [his] actions."
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: The Wizards are banking on Joseph Blair taking that success into this season after exchanging the rights to Emir Preldzic, a 2009 second-round pick, for Blair last month as part of a sign-and-trade deal. Listed at 6 feet 7, 265 pounds, the undersize Blair joins a deep front court that also includes Nene, Marcin Gortat, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden, and Kevin Seraphin. “I was very excited when I got the news. It was like a dream come true,” said Blair, who is signed to a three-year contract worth $6 million. “Last year, I saw what type of team they had. The youth, the big men coming up, the ingredients around the team. And I think I’ll be a great addition.”
  • Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: Last season, they entered the year as the leading candidate to topple Miami in the East. This season, with Paul George sidelined by a crushing injury, and Stephenson defecting to Charlotte? It's anyone's guess. Will the fans fill Bankers Life Fieldhouse as they have the past few years, when Indiana enjoyed an attendance surge on par with the team's sharp ascent into the league's elite? "I don't think there's any sense of doom and gloom," said Bill Benner, the Pacers' senior vice president for corporate, community and public relations. "We're not having people bail on us. The immediate reaction from our season ticket holders was that they're rallying behind this team." Before George's injury, the team saw a season-ticket renewal rate of 90 percent, according to Benner, and they expect that figure to be among the top 10 in the NBA. Benner added that since the season is still months away, the team could not provide additional numbers. "I think we're still looking at really good sales," he added. "You look at the popularity of NBA basketball overall. Cleveland is a good example. They weren't a marquee team before. Now, they very much are."
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Greg Monroe is expected to sign a qualifying offer of $5.479 million for the 2014-15 season by October and can’t be traded without his consent once the deal is signed under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. But with agent David Falk in his corner and a bushel full of teams needing a big man, if Monroe doesn’t want to play for the Pistons beyond next season, it would be in their best interest to trade him to get some type of value for the 6-foot-10 power forward. It might be one of the biggest decisions Pistons president of operations and coach Stan Van Gundy has to make this season. ... Allowing Monroe to walk away without compensation would be a major setback for a struggling organization. If Van Gundy could make Monroe happy and see the vision of the organization, he might have until the trade deadline to persuade Monroe’s camp to stay. The Pistons could still pay him more than any other team, but another losing season could sour Monroe on the organization and taking less money could be a way out of a losing culture.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: But seeing Paul George on his back, his right tibia and fibula fractured and his 2014-15 NBA season over before it began, won't deter Derrick Rose from his commitment to USA Basketball and his own comeback. The Bulls star stated as much on Thursday following Team USA's practice at Quest Multisport, Rose's first public comments since George's horrific injury cut short an intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas on Aug. 1. “I have no fears, I have faith,” Rose said. “I know that I'm going to be fine. I know that I busted my ass the entire two summers — you can say two seasons — to get back to where I am right now. Just try to keep it moving, stay positive every day, do everything consistent like I've been doing. “I think everything will go my way.” The Bulls certainly hope so. They see the positives this summer's commitment offered for a player who has logged just 10 NBA games since April 2012. They know the last time Rose participated in international competition, he followed it up by becoming the youngest most valuable player in NBA history.
  • Erik Horne of The Oklahoman: Some interesting quotes came out of Chicago today from USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo. ... You can read into “contractual situation” about 100 different ways, from an ongoing endorsement battle between Under Armour and Nike, to some contract we don’t even know about. But what’s interesting is that Colangelo said that Durant “found himself in a situation where he had no choice.” ... The sentence “I could not fulfill my responsibilities from a time and energy standpoint” doesn’t quite jive with Colangelo’s “contractual situation” reason for Durant dropping out. Also worth noting: The “contractual situation” mentioned can’t involve the Thunder because the NBA isn’t allowed to keep players out of international competition (unless it’s in the case of “reasonable medical concern,” as it was with San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili).
  • Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: The Portland Trail Blazers are one of three NBA teams that have never been given the opportunity to host the league's All-Star Game. The franchise took a major step toward changing that Thursday, submitting a bid to host the 2017 or 2018 game at the Moda Center. Team president Chris McGowan, who spearheaded the bid, said the game, along with the numerous activities that surround it, would be a major high point in the state's sports history. "It's going to be the biggest event from a sports perspective hosted in Oregon's history, I think," McGowan said. Earlier this year, the NBA sent out a memo saying it was opening bidding for the 2017 and '18 All-Star games. The 2015 game will be played at New York's Madison Square Garden, co-hosted by the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, and the 2016 game has been awarded to Toronto, with the Raptors hosting for the first time. McGowan said the league sent teams bid packets that asked for information on hotel availability, arenas, airports, sites that could host events and other data. "It's very comprehensive," McGowan said.

Stephen Curry on Steve Kerr

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Steph Curry on what he expects from the Warriors and new coach Steve Kerr in 2014-15.


First Cup: Thursday

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
By Nick Borges
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony took a $5 million pay cut on his new contract, but it appears he took a bigger cut in weight. According to an Anthony confidant, Anthony has done so in order to resemble his physique as a rookie with the Nuggets and to be more viable in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. A photo of Anthony this week on his Instagram showed what appeared to be a dramatic weight loss since the season ended. Anthony, who turned 30 on May 29, looks younger with the weight loss. “He wants to be as athletic as he was when he was a rookie," the confidant told The Post. “Plus he wants to be a facilitator in the triangle and speed will help that." Anthony was listed at 230 pounds as a Denver rookie in 2003 and appears to be close to that goal. Last season, the 6-foot-8 Anthony was listed in the Knicks preseason media guide at 240, but likely played at least 5-to-10 pounds heavier as the season wore on.
  • Bob Sansevere of the Pioneer Press: Now that the NBA has rid itself of Donald Sterling as an owner, it’s time for the league to do a bit more house cleaning. This has nothing to do with dumping more owners. It has to do with abolishing a few stupid rules. The draft lottery needs to go. It was instituted because teams were dumping games at the end of seasons to get better draft picks. In other words, teams were cheating. The NBA team with the worst record should get the first overall pick, as is done in other professional leagues. If you’ve got the second-worst record, you get the second overall pick, and so on. The way to deal with cheating is to let it be known that any team suspected of dumping games will lose its first-round pick. That will take care of the cheats as well as take care of the need for a draft lottery. Another thing that has to go is the asinine rule that forbids a rookie to be traded until 30 days have passed after he signs a contract. That rule is why Kevin Love still is with the Timberwolves and Andrew Wiggins remains with Cleveland. There are other changes that need to be made, but giving the heave ho to the draft lottery and that ridiculous 30-day rule are a good start.
  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Jason Collins is probably done with professional basketball. And he should be. He's still undecided about attempting a return for his 14th NBA season. And he does have some interest in becoming a coach or joining a front office. But right now, he is already fulfilled and has never been more relevant to the sports landscape. Collins, the first openly gay active player in major pro team sports, is thriving as an ambassador for acceptance and peace. After existing in a world girded with overt machismo and sexism, Collins' best role is clear. He can lead professional athletes from the dark ages and inspire a population of hurting young people. ... Many athletes struggle with life after sports. Collins is well into his next stage despite not having officially hung up his sneakers. More than ever, Collins is in his wheelhouse. He has always stood out because of his height and skin color. He has always fit in because of his personality and intellect. Now he has a story to tell, and NBA credibility to make people want to hear it. ... Collins isn't just advocating for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He's championing opportunity for the underprivileged, encouragement for the broken, better eating habits for kids. Sure, he could return to the paint to collide with the Dwight Howards of the world. He can contribute 7.8 minutes per game, as he did last season, and serve as an example of professional for a team's youngsters. But he can make greater impact elsewhere. And he knows it.
  • Michael Grange of If the NBA really cared about Drake publicly encouraging Kevin Durant to join the Toronto Raptors as a free agent two summers from now, they would have fined him a lot more than $25,000. Or, they would abolish the salary cap, and neither of those is happening. ... And tampering? Please. The NBA is a $5-billion business. There is almost no financial penalty they could levy on a business as lucrative as MLSE that really matters. When the league fined the Toronto Raptors $25,000 because Drake encouraged the crowd at his recent concert to let the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder star “hear what it would be like if he played in Toronto,” they weren’t really trying to prevent future instances of Drake reaching out to star players as the Raptors’ global ambassador. They were just trying to help Oklahoma City save face. ... With nothing really to lose, Drake should take the $25,000 fine he earned and the rare penetration he helped the Raptors make into the NBA’s summertime consciousness as a sign to keep up the good work. If I’m him, I’d write a song about Kevin Durant, and pay him a bajillion dollars to shoot the video at his house while wearing the Raptors hat he used to rock when he was a kid and a Vince Carter fan. There is plenty to gain, and absolutely nothing to lose.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: This weekend, Bulls fans will get their first look at the hype when Derrick Rose and the U.S. national team resume training in Chicago for the FIBA World Cup and play an exhibition Saturday night against Brazil at the United Center. All eyes will be on Rose, who has played in only 10 regular-season games since the 2012 playoffs. As good as he looked in the first week of camp, you can expect Rose to keep it simple. “We just have to keep talking to each other, keep giving each other confidence," Rose said recently. “The thing is jelling quickly, learning players’ tendencies. “I usually say whatever the game needs, that’s what I’m going to put into the game. I learned that by actually playing through my mistakes with the first injury, just seeing that I was forcing everything."
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: In 10 seasons, Kris Humphries only has been to the playoffs three times. He has never been past the first round either, but who would've thought coming to the Wizards could get him closer to his goal? "There are sacrifices all the way around when you try to work for something greater," Humphries said via conference call from Los Angeles on Wednesday. "From guys who are there to guys coming in, when you're on a team like this -- I feel blessed to be in this situation -- everything you do is important and you feel important. ... Whatever you do on a winning team is magnified. You feel better about doing stuff when you're working toward something. It's a little tougher when you're playing the right way, making sacrifices and your team doesn't have a chance to make the playoffs." ... With the Wizards, he'll be on a team that won 44 games last season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. They also have made other offseason acquisitions in DeJuan Blair and Paul Pierce, a small forward who can slide successfully over to the power spot in a small-ball lineup. Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin re-signed, too.
  • Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: Former Rockets assistant Dean Cooper has been hired to coach the Jazz's D-League affiliate in Boise. Cooper has spent the last two years in Houston on Kevin McHale's bench. But he crossed paths with Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey earlier in his career; he was hired by the Rockets in 1999 as a video coordinator and worked his way up to an assistant under Rudy Tomjanovich, before moving to the front office. In Boise, Cooper will the man responsible for developing talent for the Jazz. "Having coached in the D-League for three seasons, I learned what an extension your affiliate is of your NBA program," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said in a press release. "Dean has a proven history of player development which is an integral aspect of my coaching philosophy. As an extension of our staff, he will work hand-in-hand with us to establish a clear, seamless connection to ensure we are stressing the same principles in Utah and Idaho."
  • Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee: There’s probably no turning back now. Downtown Plaza started coming down in chunks early Wednesday, the first visible sign of demolition as much of the moribund shopping mall is transformed into a new arena for the Sacramento Kings. After nearly two weeks of prep work, demolition started a little after 7:30 a.m. A giant excavating machine started knocking down the exterior walls of Downtown Plaza’s southernmost building, at Fifth and L streets. Among its former tenants were Grebitus & Sons jewelers, a Morton’s steakhouse, LensCrafters and the Pre-Flite Lounge. In contrast to the ceremonial kickoff Aug. 1, attended by Mayor Kevin Johnson and other dignitaries, only a small crowd witnessed the destruction of the building at Fifth and L. Reporters outnumbered regular spectators. Commuter traffic passed by on L Street, with some motorists barely pausing to watch the spectacle. A few Kings employees were present. Kings President Chris Granger stopped by briefly, pronounced the start of demolition “exciting,” and moved on to a meeting.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: With roughly six weeks until the start of training camp, NBA players are well underway with their summer workout regimens. Marco Belinelli, fresh off various trips to tropical locales, is among them, taking a crossfit approach to gear himself up for the Spurs’ upcoming championship defense. Among his favorite apparatuses: Trucks, large tires and good, old-fashioned cones. Makes me queasy just looking at these pics from Belinelli’s facebook page.

Ten of the best games in 2014-15

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Henry Abbott and Royce Young look ahead to what could be ten of the best games in upcoming 2014-15 NBA season.

Stephen Curry's street cred

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
Abbott By Henry Abbott
He golfs in Scotland. His wife has her Martha Stewart-style YouTube channel. But Stephen Curry insists none of this causes him grief at work.


Quizzing Stephen Curry

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
Abbott By Henry Abbott
TrueHoop TV sits down with Warriors star Stephen Curry and puts him to the test.

video video video

Seceding from superstition

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
Han By Andrew Han
Special to
Blake Griffin, DeAndre JordanAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezNeither an injury "scare" nor a hang-up in the sale of the franchise can stop the Clippers these days.
Small fracture in his back” is the type of phrase designed to minimize anxiety. It’s no big thing. A little something. Don’t pay any mind to “fracture” or “back” because “small” is the operative word. The phrase implicitly creates context from a cloudy condition. “Stress fracture in his back”? That’s the kind of notification alert that sets bells off, injects doubt. Ask former consensus No. 1 overall pick Joel Embiid.

When Blake Griffin withdrew from Team USA training camp and this summer’s FIBA World Cup, fleeting murmurs bubbled as to whether he played too concussive a style of basketball, whether this was the harbinger to his athletic deterioration. Is this the beginning of the end for Griffin and the Clippers?

It turns out that there was an answer; it was no. Griffin continued his offseason workout regimen, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It's less than a hairline, and my back is not fractured. Everything is still intact.” In a summary assessing the repercussions for Team USA,'s Brian Windhorst went as far as to suggest that, while Griffin and the team are appropriately treading carefully with the injury, nearly 70 percent of big men growing up experience a fracture similar to the one Blake is rehabbing. This was more precaution than cautionary tale.

So it goes for the Clippers these days. For a franchise that has had its share of unusual occurrences, even in recent memory -- a water main bursting during a game in Memphis? -- unfortunate events most would attribute to “karma” or “luck” have had more logical explanations come to their defense. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the team’s two stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, who repeatedly claimed upon their arrival that the past was of no concern. Their ambition was to seize control of the future. It was an odd juxtaposition for a franchise that viewed fate as a four-letter word.

And yet here we are, a half-decade later with perceptions shifted and the couching and parsing of words to mitigate unreasonable speculation. The downplay of injury to a top-10 player on a contender. Nary a mention of the “Clippers curse.” Barely a whisper of such superstition in the past few years. In the span of marveling at in-air acrobatics to hating the team’s brashness to begrudgingly accepting their ability, the Clippers have inched further and further away from the self-defeating stigma and, frankly, excuses of a moribund franchise.

In fact, the du jour topic after last season was whether Griffin had quietly surpassed Paul as the best player on the team.

Now with Donald Sterling officially excised from the organization, any vestigial hexes have eroded and the Clippers are reborn in a new space: win (or lose) on their own terms.

Fans have observed a slow but methodical transformation: have a young star legitimize the team, bring in a superstar to introduce lofty aspirations, attract a championship-winning coach to validate those aspirations, inject stability via ownership swap. Star, coach, front office, owner; every component has been replaced and rejuvenated in the past four years. What else is there?

It’s a scary thing to have beaten a curse. Gone is the comforting “it’s the Clippers” catch-all. Banned is the caricature of a villain typically situated courtside -- although Shelly Sterling still retains her own set of courtside seats as a stipulation of the sale, and it seems she has every intent on using them. A goodbye wave to the perpetual anxiety cloud that floated over Staples Center, source of constant trepidation for fans, reminding them not to get their hopes up.

It’s always easy to find excuses for losing. And none of the changes guarantees the Clippers will win a championship. The only thing it means is they’re accountable for their own fate. Isn’t that all anyone really wants?

Andrew Han writes for ClipperBlog. Follow him @andrewthehan.

First Cup: Wednesday

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
By Nick Borges
  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: As for Paul George, he's been back in Indianapolis since last Tuesday, and Frank Vogel has visited him. "He's obviously frustrated and know the road ahead, it's going to be a tough process recovering from this," Vogel said. "But his spirits are good. He's encouraged that a full recovery is expected. It's just a matter of time and a lot of hard work to get back." For a final time, there will be no thought of tanking. You want to tell David West to take a dive? Not me. They will fight and claw and they will be competitive. And that's about all Pacers fans can hope to expect for at least one season.
  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: The Knicks won’t have long to wait to find out how they stack up in the East. The revamped Knicks, who were 37-45 last season and missed the playoffs by one game, will open their 2014-15 NBA season with a back-to-back set against two of the Eastern — and league — powerhouse teams, the Bulls and Cavaliers, according to league sources. The Knicks will start their season on Oct. 29, at home against the Bulls. With Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, the Bulls came closest to prying Carmelo Anthony away from the Knicks this summer. The following night, Anthony will see fellow slimmed-down-through-carbohydrate-reduction All-Star LeBron James when the Knicks visit Cleveland in what is likely the Cavs’ home opener, sources said. ... The official NBA regular-season schedule will be unveiled Wednesday at 6 p.m. on NBA TV, a show that will highlight the season’s most anticipated matchups.
  • Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY: Greg Monroe has informed the Pistons he plans to sign the qualifying offer ($5.479 million)for one season, spend 2014-15 in Detroit and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Once Monroe signs the qualifying offer, he cannot be traded without his consent. Monroe, 24, decided to take control of his free agency rather than let free agency control him. In a sense, Monroe is purchasing free agency for the price of the qualifying offer. He didn't want to sign an offer sheet and give the Pistons a chance to match and he has declined to sign any offer from the Pistons. Now, don't rule out a sign a trade between now and the start of the season, but that seems unlikely as the Pistons have exhausted trade scenarios. He plans to sign the qualifying offer before the Oct. 1 deadline. Monroe didn't make the decision lightly. He has been discussing options with his agent David Falk for the past two offseasons, and Falk has been impressed with Monroe's analytic, intelligent and unemotional approach to free agency. ... It's not unprecedented for a Falk client to turn down or resist offers one year for the chance at something better the next. Alonzo Mourning, Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert turned down offers with the idea of having more or better options at another time.
  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: And by completing construction of the remarkable bridge that delivers the Clippers from the incompetence of Sterling to the brilliance of new owner Steve Ballmer, the NBA didn’t just remove a hideous stain. It turned its weakest link into one of its strongest. But now comes a new set of problems. By ridding itself of Sterling and officially welcoming Ballmer into the club, the NBA has awakened a sleeping giant. One whose reach and impact will be felt as close as across the hall at Staples Center — that would be the Lakers — all the way to TD Garden in Boston. With the former Microsoft CEO as the new sheriff in town, a new day might be dawning across the NBA. ... Make no mistake, Los Angeles is and always will be a Lakers town. It will take years before that changes, if it ever will. But a cluster of events have converged so perfectly that the Clippers are finally poised to penetrate the Lakers’ powerful foothold. Sterling was always the Clippers’ greatest opponent. They would never rise to greatness with him poisoning the water at the very top. But he is no longer a concern.
  • Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: A valuation earlier this year by Forbes Magazine estimated the Jazz were worth about $525 million, but in light of recent sales of the Clippers, Sacramento Kings and the Milwaukee Bucks, some experts believe that number to be much lower than what the Jazz might be worth. "I could see the Jazz going for somewhere between $650 million and a billion, depending on just how competitive the bidding process was," says Pat Rishe, an economic professor at Webster University and the owner of a sports consulting firm. While the Clippers’ massive sale price will have some impact around the league, experts agree the price tag was an aberration. "If you look at it financially, it doesn’t make any sense," said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College, who has been involved in multiple franchise valuation cases. "There’s no way it makes any sense. In my view, what he’s doing is buying a toy. He’s using a fraction of his assets to have some fun. The same way you or I might buy a bicycle or a new TV set, he’s buying the Clippers." But the sale of Kings for $534 million in May 2013 and the sale of the Bucks for $550 million earlier this year have helped raise the bar. "Salt Lake City is, I think, more comparable to Milwaukee in terms of market size. I would argue it’s a greater brand than Milwaukee or Sacramento because of their history, although that’s weakened some in the past few years," Rishe said.
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: Warriors guard Stephen Curry indicated Tuesday in an interview on The Dan Patrick Show that he believes he is the better offensive player compared to Cleveland's LeBron James. Asked by Patrick who is the better offensive player, Curry said he had never before been asked that question. "Me," Curry then said, chuckling. "Gotta be, right?" Told the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James is the better scorer and that Curry is the better shooter, Curry said, "I don't know because he obviously demands a lot attention on the floor, but I like to say I can distribute, get my teammates involved and be a playmaker as well." Patrick then asked Curry how he'd answer the question if in a game it'd be a contest of which player could score more points, and the 6-foot-3 point guard again expressed confidence. "I'd like to say my shot would help me in that situation," said Curry, who averaged a career-high 24 points per game and led the NBA with 261 made 3-pointers. "If I get a double-team, I could hopefully shoot from farther out." ... Curry in an apparent response to the attention his comments received tweeted, "That's funny. Anything is news these days lol."
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Clint Capela is just the second player from Switzerland to make it to the NBA along with Thabo Sefolosha, who now plays for Atlanta. Theren Bullock said the fact that there are two players from the country at that level is mind-blowing. “The youth programs there really don’t do very well and there are very few facilities that allow these kids to properly train,” he said. Bullock’s facility allows player development and workouts, but because there are more players than facilities, he has to select players every year to work out. After Capela went to a school in France to play basketball at 15 – a move that Bullock said was best for Capela’s chances to play basketball – he would work out at College Du Leman in the summers. “Every summer, he got better and better,” Bullock said. “I knew he was going somewhere.” When Capela’s name was called in the NBA Draft in June and Bullock heard he would be heading to the Rockets, he was thrilled.
  • Dwight Jaynes of But this has turned out to be such a sad story. Greg Oden's comeback season with Miami last year didn't turn out well. He never could fill just the 15-minute-per-game role the Heat envisioned for him. He spent a good portion of games in his familiar seat -- behind the team bench in street clothes. And now this -- a vicious attack on a woman that left her needing surgery and stitches. All the time I watched Oden in Portland, I never saw that kind of emotion or fury out of him anywhere near a basketball court. And it left me wondering how it all would have turned out had he invested the sort of ferocity in his frequent rehab sessions that he did while assaulting that woman. Maybe it could have somehow all turned out a little better for him. It couldn't have turned out much worse. And there are no excuses left for him.
  • Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: The Major League Soccer All-Star Game was played in Portland last week and received rave reviews. This morning, reports out of Charlotte said that the Hornets have put in a bid to host to the NBA All-Star Game. This, naturally, leads to the question: When will Portland, which has had a popular franchise in the Trail Blazers since 1970, get the NBA All-Star Game? A Blazers spokesman reiterated Tuesday what team president/CEO Chris McGowan has said numerous times: that the team is very interested in bringing the NBA All-Star Game to Portland. In addition to running the Blazers, McGowan oversees operations of the team's arena, the Moda Center. The game is booked for the next two seasons, with the 2015 version set to be co-hosted by the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, and the Toronto Raptors hosting for the first time in 2016. Charlotte is bidding to get the 2017 or 2018 game. ... The NBA typically needs about 6,000 hotel rooms for the All-Star Game, but it isn't just the number of room, but the location of them, as well. The league needs centralized blocks for rooms in several hotels to house groups such as league executives, VIPs and media. Portland is getting closer to being able to fulfill that need.
  • Erik Horne of The Oklahoman: The Oklahoma City Thunder is auctioning off a pair of historical shoes. Nick Collison’s game-worn shoes from the April 3 game against the San Antonio Spurs are up for bid as part of the Thunder Cares August Auction. You might ask: What’s so special about these particular shoes? Well, for starters, they have NICK COLLISON’S BLOOD ON THEM. ... That’s right. The Thunder is auctioning off an autographed pair of sneakers from that Collison classic. And you might want to hurry – the highest bid was at $700 as of Tuesday night. You can clearly see the specks of blood in the photos. ... In addition to Collison’s battle gear, you can also bid on a 2013-14 Kevin Durant game-day worn shooting shirt and a Thunder fan pack with an autographed photo from Reggie Jackson. All proceeds from the online auction benefit the Thunder Cares Foundation to support the team’s community outreach efforts.

Another Love lost for Minnesota

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
By Ross Marrinson
ESPN The Magazine
LoveBrace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsLike all good Minnesota sports stars before him, Kevin Love's departure was only a matter of time.
We knew this was coming. Minnesota sports fans always know it’s coming. Watch one of the local teams long enough, and you'll see it: the bitter departure of a franchise superstar to a better, more functional team.

Every market has its losers -- look at the Knicks -- but in Minnesota, we've come to expect it from every pro franchise. We're consistently asked to believe in management that rarely, if ever, warrants it, and we’re consistently asked to believe in meaningless words such as “potential” and “future.” It’s the booze they feed us. And it’s the booze we guzzle.

In the past decade-plus alone, the Minnesota Twins attempted to coach David Ortiz to be an opposite-field bloop hitter, only to watch him carve a Hall of Fame career in Boston. The Vikings traded Randy Moss to Oakland for Napoleon Harris and a first-round pick that became Troy Williamson, who was so inept the team thought he had vision problems. The Twins sought a bidding war between the Red Sox and Yankees for two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana -- whom they of course decided they couldn't afford even though the owner, Carl Pohlad, was worth a reported $2.6 billion -- only to have both teams decide the price was too high, leaving the Twins with a Mets package led by then-35th-ranked prospect Carlos Gomez, who was so terrible in Minnesota they traded him to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

The worst departure of them all, of course, was Kevin Garnett, whose career with the Timberwolves came to an end after 12 seasons of Kevin McHale’s criminal mismanagement, which included, in no particular order: horrible drafts, horrible signings and attempting to illegally sign Joe Smith -- Joe Smith! -- to an $86 million deal.

So the story of Kevin Love’s departure didn’t begin in May, when he reportedly told the Wolves’ brass he intended to opt out of his deal after the 2014-15 season. That happened some 3 1/2 years earlier, when Love signed a four-year, $62 million max deal to stay in Minnesota.

In Love’s first season, coach Randy Wittman demanded Love stop shooting 3s, even though the 6-foot-10 forward had shot 35 percent from outside in college. After the 24-58 campaign, the fourth consecutive season with fewer than 35 wins, Wolves owner Glen Taylor finally fired McHale and hired David Kahn, somehow replacing the worst general manager in the NBA with an even worse one.

In his second season, after Love topped all rookies in PER (18.3), led the league in offensive rebound rate and posted a per-36-minute line of 15.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, coach Kurt Rambis, whom Kahn hired before the season, refused to start Love. It was a 15-67 season that began with the draft in which, yes, the Wolves selected four point guards, one of whom wouldn’t arrive in the country for two years.

Then came the 2010 draft, when Kahn drafted 23-year-old Syracuse wing Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Paul George and others. A starting lineup of Luke Ridnour, Johnson, Michael Beasley, Love and Darko Milicic (whom Kahn had signed to a four-year, $20 million deal) led to a dramatic two-win improvement. The 22-year-old Love? Merely 20.2 PPG, a league-leading 15.2 RPG, a PER of 24.3 and a 42 percent 3-point percentage.

In 2011-12, Love’s contract year, he was even better, averaging 26 and 13 with a PER of 25.4, trailing only LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant. At 23 years old, readying for his first max contract, Love was a superstar. A No. 1 piece on a championship team. A cornerstone.

What Love deserved, what he desired, was a five-year deal (not the four-year deal he signed), the same one Russell Westbook, whom Love had outproduced in almost every raw and advanced statistic through their first four seasons, had signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder just a week earlier. (What he got, reportedly, was an offer sheet thrown at him by Kahn in the trainer’s room after a loss.) Love wanted to stay in Minnesota longer. A young star wanted to sign a maximum deal to stay in this cold, small market, the snow-swept Midwestern city we’re told no one wants to visit, let alone reside in.

[+] EnlargeLove & Rubio
Brad Rempel/USA TODAY SportsDavid Kahn's early commitment to Ricky Rubio was perhaps the final straw for Kevin Love in Minnesota.
But Kahn, perhaps viewing this as his last chance to save his job, supposedly preferred to save that five-year deal for Ricky Rubio, who, by the point Love signed his extension, had played a grand total of 18 NBA games and was known more for charming grandmas across the upper Midwest. We didn't even know if Rubio could shoot yet. (Spoiler alert: He can’t.) But it was his five-year deal. His “franchise player” designation.

Sometime during all of this, Wolves owner Glen Taylor -- who in 2007 accused Garnett of “tanking” -- said Love wasn’t a star because he hadn’t led the team to the playoffs, a sentiment so delusional it begs the question of if Taylor had ever looked at his own roster.

If you were Love, and you saw your franchise value unknown potential and floppy-haired adorableness over known superstardom, and show absolutely no aptitude for franchise-building in four noncompetitive seasons, wouldn't that leave you wanting something more? Wouldn't you have demanded that player option after Year 3?

To blame Love for this -- the departure of the team’s second franchise player in seven years -- is as unfair as it is disingenuous.

But that’s Minnesota sports. We like the future. Potential. Flying under the national radar. Kitten photos on Instagram. We're flyover country. We're Midwesterners. We're uncomfortable with stars and attention.

In May, Love informed Taylor and new coach and president of basketball personnel Flip Saunders that he planned to opt out after this season, forcing the team to once again entertain the notion of trading its best player, this time a 25-year-old entering the prime of his career. And there was Love, smirking his way across the country, visiting the likes of Boston and claiming intrigue at the thought of joining the moribund Knicks, as if either of those franchises were closer to winning than his own.

And now, some three months later, a deal seems to be in place to send Love to another small, snow-swept Midwestern market, Cleveland, for No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round pick.

It’s unquestionably the best haul the team could’ve received, and Saunders handled the situation perfectly, waiting patiently to increase the price of his most-prized asset. The process, shockingly, seemed measured -- controlled, even.

So are we excited about Wiggins? Sure. Will we embrace him? Of course we will. He plays defense, seems like a hard-working kid and has a nice smile. We love that stuff. And whatever Wiggins ends up to be -- a Tracy McGrady or a Corey Brewer or somewhere in between -- the Wolves win: If he’s close to the top of that range, they’ve got yet another chance to build around a franchise player, and on the cheap for the next five seasons. If not, if he’s an energetic sixth man, they'll once again find themselves at the top of the draft -- familiar territory for a team that’s made 20 lottery picks in its 25-year history.

It’s a win-win for the Wolves.

Except it’s not. In reality, they've already lost.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Ross Marrinson is an associate editor with ESPN The Magazine. Follow him @RMarrinsonESPN