Is one trip to the free-throw line enough?

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
WestbrookAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe action stalls out when it's free-throw time. Would the NBA be better off granting just one shot?
I went looking for a photo of a free throw to accompany this story. Finding an appropriate image is tougher than you’d think.

A search for “Free Throws NBA” on Getty Images yields about 25,000 results, the majority of which are close-ups of the individual shooter, usually a name player. In a good number of those pictures you see a guy looking at middle distance wearing more than a blank look but less than a game face. A foul shot is one of the few moments during a game when a photographer can snap an unobstructed shot of a star. Absolutely nothing of substance or style is going on -- no acrobatics, broken ankles or rare feats. It’s a scene that could be re-enacted by any 10 fans in the crowd.

About 26 times per game last season, the action screeched to a halt and players shuffled to their spots to watch a 15-foot set shot. An NBA game featured 47 of these moments on average. It creates a world, as HoopIdea described more than a year ago, in which exhilaration quickly gives way to deflation.

Intelligent people can debate the virtues of the free throw, whether it’s an appropriate deterrent, a necessary evil, etc. But it’s hard to argue that the 15 to 20 minutes it takes to administer several dozen free throws in an NBA game aren’t the most forgettable moments of the night. Any editor charged with trimming the fat from the story would inevitably tag these blocks as the place where the narrative drags. There’s a reason rebroadcasts often skip over free throws, and why at games thousands of fans almost reflexively check their smartphones the instant a foul is whistled.

Around last season’s All-Star break, preliminary chatter began among the league’s basketball operations folks and rule geeks about the prospect of reducing all trips to the free-throw line to a single foul shot. D-League president Dan Reed and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey were the closest thing to co-sponsors of a bill. Nobody was proposing anything to be fast-tracked, but an imperative to figure out ways to shorten pro basketball games gave the idea some life as something to consider implementing in the D-League.

The concept was this: A player fouled in the act of shooting or in a penalty situation would attempt only a single free throw. If that player was shooting a 2-point shot or in a penalty situation at the time of the foul, the free throw attempt would be worth two points. If that player was fouled in the act of launching a 3-point shot, he’d go to the line for a single shot worth three points.

By doing so, those 47 attempts per game would be whittled down to about 26. There’s no hard data on the average length of time it takes to shoot a pair of free throws, but my stopwatch clocks it at approximately 45 seconds from the sound of the whistle to the second shot reaching the rim. A trip to the line for a single technical or an and-1 situation, though, takes about 30 seconds. These numbers vary wildly. (Walking from one end of the floor to the other after a loose-ball foul takes an eternity, whereas a shooting foul in the paint is a short commute. You also have a fair share of Dwight Howards who can be timed with a calendar.) But we can fairly approximate a second or third free throw as a 15-second exercise. Using that estimate, scrapping 21 free throws from a game would shave more than five minutes of stoppage from the average NBA or D-League game.

“We’re an entertainment product, and the more free flow in basketball, the better,” Morey said. “All the surveying supports that. Basketball is better when basketball players are playing basketball. Stoppages mean less basketball, which is boring. It also means an over-instrumenting of the game. It’s a beautiful game and the closer you can get to two well-prepared teams playing back and forth without interruption or over-management, the better.”

Four rules last season ranging from reducing the number of timeouts to demanding that teams facilitate quicker substitutions trimmed a total of two minutes from D-League games. That’s not insignificant, but it’s a fraction of the five minutes that would be saved if the D-League went to a single free throw. And those five minutes come entirely during a stoppage of live play, unlike, for instance, a measure to shorten a quarter from 12 to 10 minutes, which would snip eight minutes of game action.

Reed kept the conversation about free throws alive on calls and informal conversations through the spring, and the D-League’s Basketball Rules Committee took up the issue at their August meeting. By that point Reed had departed for a position at Facebook and, without a vocal advocate, the committee decided not to pursue the idea any further.

“It’s an interesting concept,” said Chris Alpert, the D-League’s vice president of basketball operations. “But as we discussed it further with the basketball guys, we just felt it would be compromising the integrity of the game and players’ statistics. We didn’t want to skew a player’s free-throw shooting percentage and we didn’t want to compromise the purity of the game.”

In support of the skewed stats argument, the D-League brandished stats that showed that players convert the second of a pair of free throws at a better rate than the first (for D-Leaguers, 71.1 percent vs. 76.3 percent; for NBA players, 73.2 percent vs. 77.7 percent). The trend holds for three-shot trips, as well, as players get progressively more proficient from the first to third attempts. On single attempts -- which would be every trip to the line under the proposed reform -- the D-League shot 71.8 percent, while the NBA shot 72.8 percent.

Would eliminating second and third free-throw attempts drop the league’s overall free-throw percentage? If you believe the data would translate to a single-attempt system, then yes, slightly. But a reform would have absolutely no bearing on the competitive dynamics of the game. The foul line isn’t being moved out or in, and scrapping a second and third free-throw attempt would affect both teams equally. Free-throw percentages have been variable throughout time (they were added after the advent of basketball, and even then, their current point value and the location of the shot weren’t settled until 1895), floating from the low to high 70s for the last 50 years or so. Meanwhile, the D-League instituted international goaltending rules in 2010, which has resulted in additional field-goal and blocked-shot opportunities at the rim, particularly for big men. Individual stats have undoubtedly been affected.

A degree of randomness that didn’t previously exist would be introduced into individual games. For instance, a 75 percent shooting clip at the stripe wouldn’t necessarily yield 75 percent of the available points on a given night. Let’s say a guy makes four trips to the line -- three of those attempts for two points each, but one for only a single point (an and-1 situation). Hitting three of four (75 percent) might only yield 71 percent of the available points (if the miss comes on one of the two-point attempts). Or it might yield 86 percent of the available points (if the miss happens to come on the and-1 attempt).

But over the course of the season, this stuff evens out and the overall mathematical effect is close to nothing.

The more likely reasons the proposal didn’t gain more traction are more cultural than empirical. Apart from being at least marginally profitable for those who invest, the D-League has two central mandates as an enterprise:

  • Provide an environment in which talent can develop the skills to succeed in the NBA
  • Serve as the NBA’s research and development lab

These two missions are in no way mutually exclusive, but they coexist with an occasional degree of tension. Certain voices in the game place a higher degree of import on one objective over the other. A basketball lifer who experiences the game as a former player and is rooted in certain fixed truths might place a higher premium on continuity than a blue-sky thinker whose appreciation for pro basketball are driven by a passion for innovation and imagination for what basketball should look like two decades down the road. We’ve tackled many of these ideas over the last few years at HoopIdea.

[+] EnlargeDan Reed
Gregory Shamus/NBAE/Getty ImagesDan Reed is officially out of the NBA innovation game. Will another big thinker take his place as D-League commissioner?
Reed was squarely in the innovation camp and his departure has been met with some sadness among the league’s futurists. Morey and others have characterized Reed as a guy who understood how to fashion new ideas and how to temper the anxieties of those who might be nervous about their implementation.

That’s a difficult balance to strike and one reason why identifying Reed’s replacement is a very big hire for the NBA and the D-League. The hope in midtown Manhattan is to have a new president of the D-League in place before its season begins in mid-November. A bias toward innovation is essential, because the gravitational pull among much of the league still veers toward institutional tradition, even if new commissioner Adam Silver is a change agent at heart.

The dead-ball free throw conversation is instructive of these conflicts between tradition and innovation, development and research. It’s far easier to believe that this particular idea got shot down because a radical proposal that feels alien to the game we know and love requires some time to marinate before cautious people upset our perception of what a pro basketball game is supposed to look like. An idea often needs to work its way through the cycle of discussion and consideration a few times before a level of comfort can be achieved. Once decision-makers turn the concept over in their heads a few times, they can form a fact-based argument for or against.

For instance, those 15 or 20 minutes of dead time during free throw attempts could be vital to in-game recovery for players. That may or may not be true, but it makes more sense as a suggestion than the idea that eliminating dead-ball free throw would ruin the statistical integrity of the game.

The league could certainly get away with a safe hire and opt for a “weak executive” model in which decisions are made by the collective opinion of the most powerful voices. There are no shortage of people in the NBA world who feel they have the expertise to run a satellite league that exists almost entirely to accommodate the NBA.

But the NBA and D-League’s current momentum is all the more reason to double down on the success. New York should find a forward-looking influencer who will continue to see the D-League as an incubator for experimentation, not because incubating ideas is more important than incubating basketball talent, but because the NBA and its affiliate already have plenty of smart people who develop players. Developing the consensus for change is far more challenging.

First Cup: Wednesday

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
By Nick Borges
  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: A month ago, Ferry was regarded as the best thing the Hawks had going for them. He’d remade the team in the Spurs’ image and hired Budenholzer, who could be the NBA’s next great coach. He’d built a competitive team without overspending to do it, and he’d positioned the Hawks to have the financial wherewithal to land any big-name free agent at any time. To date they hadn’t, and that was before the franchise had to defend itself against charges of racism. After the AJC’s Vivlamore obtained a tape of the infamous phone call, Carmelo Anthony — who was discussed as a potential target in free agency before the talk turned to Deng — told Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: “Nobody would want to go there now. At the end of the day ... it puts Atlanta back even further, from that standpoint.” At the end of the day, that’s still where we are. For as much as Ferry can say he’s sorry and as much as people insist they believe him, it will be very hard for him to remain in a job that requires him to attract free agents. I’m not discounting Ferry’s powers of persuasion — indeed, that’s why I say he has a 15 percent chance, as opposed to zero — but his task remains daunting.
  • Staff of Rajon Rondo broke the third metacarpal bone in his hand and walked around Celtics media day with his arm in a sling. The team's All-Star point guard is set to miss at least six weeks of action, with possibly up to eight weeks. That means he'll miss the first few weeks of the season ... or will he? "Hopefully I won't miss any games this year," Rondo said in an exclusive interview with CSNNE's Mike Gorman. "Lord willing I heal correctly and I'll be back in no time. "They're telling me 6-to-8 [weeks]. But that means nothing to me." Gorman then asked if Rondo would be a possibility for Opening Night at the end of October. "Always," Rondo said.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Paul Pierce has to be smiling like a proud Poppa. The rivalry between the Wizards and the Cleveland Cavaliers is taking on a fever pitch, and it only took one day of training camp to do it. John Wall, in a dismissive tone, said Dion Waiters is hardly qualified to offer an opinion about anything regarding which team has the NBA's best backcourt. "Why he thinks that? They haven't seen a playoff game yet so when they make one they can start talking," said Wall, who took the Wizard to the second-round of the postseason for the first time in his four-year career and became a first-time All-Star, when asked about Waiters' comments. The Cavs, despite having an All-Star point guard in Kyrie Irving and Waiters together for two seasons, have won an average of just 28 games per year. "If you're going to be the best backcourt, he has to start," Wall said. "This is a year he's probably starting, so let's see if they can be the best backcourt. You've got to be a starting backcourt to say you're the best backcourt." ... These teams meet Nov. 21 at Verizon Center in a nationally televised game and again five days later in Cleveland. There'll likely be some technical fouls called, and maybe even an ejection. Or two.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Steven Adams turned heads and raised eyebrows when he arrived at media day with an epic mustache. A day later, it was gone. The second-year center has shaved his hilariously-thick whiskers. Adams told reporters Monday that the look was inspired by actor Tom Selleck but was solely a media day joke that never was intended to be taken into the season. “Honestly, that’s all it was — so when they call out my name, it’s just ‘Stache,’ or when someone opens up the (media guide): ‘Stache.’ It’s gonna be so good,” Adams said.
  • Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: J.R. Smith wasn’t bothered by Phil Jackson’s recent public assessment that the volatile guard reminded him of Dennis Rodman with his antics on and off the court. “Last time I checked Dennis Rodman’s got what three, four rings?” Smith said Tuesday about the Worm, who actually won five NBA titles with the Pistons and Jackson’s Bulls during his career. “I'm not offended by that. It’s an honor. He’s a Hall of Famer. And to be put in the same words as a Hall of Famer is something special. So I’m not offended at all.” Former Knicks coach Mike Woodson said last season that the 29-year-old Smith “needs to grow up” after Smith was fined for making threatening tweets about Detroit’s Brandon Jennings and for twice untying the shoelaces of an opponent during games. He also was suspended for five games to start the season for violating the NBA’s drug policy.
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Center Dwight Howard said the next few days are all about getting things together. "It's just practice, practice, practice," he said. "We have to get our timing down and get some work done." Howard, who is entering his second season with the Rockets, said as he walked into practice Tuesday, he felt prepared and was thrilled to be back in the gym. "It's just really good to be around these guys again," Howard said. "I think we are all on the same page and that we are ready for the grind." Howard said he and James Harden talked several times throughout the summer about this season and the team's goals. Harden said heading into camp with Howard this season felt a lot more comfortable than it did last year.
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Every team seems to have a built-in scapegoat. In Cleveland, that man has always been Dion Waiters. Anything that went wrong on the Cavaliers, Waiters seemed to get the blame. Cavaliers forward LeBron James wants all that to change. “I told him he can’t get involved in that, what people say about you” he said. “It’s not what people think of you, it’s about what you think of yourself. The only way to rewrite the notion of whether Dion can fit is to play the right way and dominate the opposition every night. That’s all he should worry about.” Even though James didn’t rejoin the Cavaliers until this summer, he has heard all the scuttlebutt regarding the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Waiters. “Can Dion play alongside Kyrie (Irving)?” he said. “When I came, can Dion take the role that D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) took? Is he a selfish player? Is he not a selfish player? Can he move without the ball? I’m not saying stuff that hasn’t already been said.”
  • Dei Lynam CSN Philly: "Career best fitness" is one of Brett Brown's favorite phrases. Brown uses it often when setting goals with his players for the season. When addressing the media after a practice, it is a given we’ll hear "career best fitness" in some capacity. The phrase falls under the umbrella of sports science. It is a subject that captivates Brown's imagination. Brown strongly believes a strict regimen involving one's diet, sleep and hydration helps the body’s performance during physical activity. Sports science makes for interesting conversation, but for a 20-year-old coming from a college environment, implementing the ideas can be challenging. "I play a lot of video games so maybe sleeping at night is hardest," Joel Embiid said. "I know I need to get healthy. I know my diet is going to help me a lot. I need to lose weight, but sleep is always going to be hardest because I play video games all the time."
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: The light, as David West describes it, may no longer flicker, and he admits that he doesn't know the source of his motivation to jump back into his 12th season – "Honestly, when I got back here, that's what I'm looking for. I'm looking for some energy from camp and getting to know Rodney (Stuckey) and C.J. (Miles) and some of the new guys we have," West said. However, in preparation for the season, West still trained like he has in previous summers and showed up ready for camp like he has every other year. West never dogged it during those full-court sprints at the end of Tuesday's practice. And don't expect West to slack off this season. Though the team's chase may have changed, his marathon continues.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t always see the glass as half-empty. Sometimes, he sees it as completely empty. OK, maybe he’s not that much of a pessimist. Let’s just say he is cautious with his optimism when analyzing any situation. That means his attitude going into the Mavericks’ new season is proof that an old Dirk can learn new tricks. Or at least allow some good old-fashioned positive vibes to flow through his veins. With the infusion of new players led by Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons and Jameer Nelson, Nowitzki seems genuinely upbeat about his 17th season. “We got all the talent in the world,” the future Hall of Famer said. “We just got to make it work. The chemistry has got to be there. The top teams in the league are loaded and stacked. We have to work hard during the season and get the highest seed possible, and we’ll go from there.”
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Will small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ever have a reliable jump shot? Kidd-Gilchrist, a third-season pro who turned 21 last week, would just as soon talk about the great condition he’s in entering training camp or his excitement over new teammates Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams. But he knew the question was coming Monday and he was ready with an answer. “Does it feel that different? Well, it’s going in a lot more,” Kidd-Gilchrist said with a big grin. “I believe in the process. I started in April and it feels great." “Process” is the buzzword in this topic. Kidd-Gilchrist used it three times during a 10-minute discussion. Assistant coach Mark Price used it a constantly during another interview at media day Monday. Process is code for “If this were easily fixed, it would have been a long time ago.” Consider the numbers: Over his first two NBA seasons Kidd-Gilchrist attempted 18 3-point shots. He made three of those, a gruesome 16.7 percent success rate.
  • Peter Socotch of Jumping into the NHL as a potential owner has never looked more attractive, especially with the $2 billion TV contract the league signed with NBC last year. So, with all of the talk of expansion in the NHL, is it possible that professional hockey will grace the Moda Center anytime soon? And would Paul Allen be the owner? "It's something we look at from time to time," Paul Allen said. "Obviously we'd probably need to have a strong partner in terms of the ownership of the team and those things and the financial picture would have to all pencil out. There are a number of hurdles to get over and the price of NHL teams keeps accelerating. It's something we look at but there's certainly nothing imminent at this point." A Trail Blazer source told Dwight Jaynes that "Allen continues to be very supportive of investing in things that are good for the Portland market."

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
By Nick Borges
  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: The Grizzlies kept the core together by signing Randolph to a new deal in July. They signed Allen to a new deal the summer before that. Next summer, Gasol will be a free agent, and every Grizzlies fan is hoping he chooses to stay in Memphis. In the meantime, there is another year. With new players in town to replace some of the old. Mike Miller, James Johnson and Ed Davis have given way to Vince Carter, Jarnell Stokes and Jordan Adams. Could these Grizzlies win it all? There was a lot of bold talk about that Monday. And, I guess, you never know. Dallas won the title three years ago and nobody ever thought that would happen. But it’s not just about titles, no matter what you hear. It’s about the whole exhilarating chase. It’s about winning hearts in pursuit of those elusive titles. So Tuesday at practice, that pursuit begins again. For the fifth straight year, it is led by four players who will forever be known by their first names in this town, by Marc and Mike and Tony and Z-Bo. “We’ve done some good things,” Gasol said, “but there’s more good things to do.” All of Memphis is counting on it.
  • Scott Cacciola of The New York Times: If any doubt lingered over whether Carmelo Anthony had finally emerged from the dungeon of despair that was the 2013-14 season, he seemed determined to squash it on Monday when he took the dais at the Knicks’ training center. He used words like “excited” (six times), “fun” (four times) and “rejuvenated” (once). He talked about embracing the opportunity to start fresh in a new system. He cited recent conversations about the triangle offense with N.B.A. luminaries including Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. He spoke of his improved conditioning, his belief in his teammates and the long journey before them. With the Knicks set to begin training camp Tuesday at West Point, Anthony sounded as if he had just returned from an ashram. “I have a lot of clarity,” he said. "A lot of understanding."
  • Roderick Boone of Newsday: Derek Jeter's farewell tour touched the Nets' Kevin Garnett, who at 38 is weeks away from tipping off his 20th season in the NBA. "Watching Jeter and his whole thing has been inspiring," Garnett said Monday, "and what I took from it is to enjoy this because you never know when it's going to be your last." Garnett has been heeding that mind-set in his first three days of training camp. He's still the same exuberant trash talker whose voice sometimes reverberates around the gym. He runs a few plays in a halfcourt set before coming out and standing on the baseline. He talks with assistant coach Joe Wolf for a few moments. Seconds later, as Bojan Bogdanovic starts getting into position on a play, Garnett tells the newcomer where to go. Like a kid who can't sit still, Garnett wraps Mirza Teletovic's torso with a playful bear hug. He bounces over to pick up Deron Williams after a spill, but others beat him to it. He walks to a different part of the court, watching as coach Lionel Hollins puts players through another halfcourt drill. Mindful of his elite company -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis are the only others in NBA history to play 20 or more seasons -- Garnett isn't taking what may be his final year for granted. He's backing up his comment to the man who drafted him No. 5 overall in 1995 for the Timberwolves.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Paul Pierce has been here less than two weeks, and already he's exercising control of the Wizards as they were wrapping up Media Day at Verizon Center on Monday. "Last question," he kept shouting to a sizable media horde around Wall. "Let's go." And like that, it ended. Pierce had to do a photo shoot with him. Pierce spoke for the first time since joining the Wizards as a free agent this offseason. His teammates are getting to know him. And even though he's 37 and won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics, this still is John Wall's and Bradley Beal's team. Even Pierce admitted that much. So what have Wall and Beal learned from him in this short time? Beal: "I'm going to take his cockiness, his arrogance, his trash-talking implement it all into my game and try to be like him. ... For us to be able to have him on this team, it's a great look for us. It just shows what we're capable of doing. This is a young team on the rise and he wanted to be a part of it. "This is John's and (my) team. It starts with us. We have to lead by example and be vocal leaders as well. The ship doesn't move unless we both move. For Paul to say that, it's a little bit of pressure but it's expectations we've already put on ourselves."
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Evan Turner will get a third opportunity to prove worthy of being the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, and he fully understands the perception that he has been a bust through the first four years of his career. While he flourished at times with the 76ers, he never became the expected cornerstone. And the Pacers’ acquiring him last February as perhaps the missing piece for a title run failed miserably as he spent most of the playoffs on the bench. So he is now with the Celtics, having officially signed a two-year contract for just under $7 million to compete for minutes at both guard positions and small forward. When at his best, Turner is a versatile scorer with a formidable post game, but his career has been marred by inconsistency and he’s had solid, but not stellar, numbers. “I just think the bigger thing, whatever is with the numbers and stuff, I think sometimes I get misunderstood,” he said Monday at media day.
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Wolves have until October’s end to sign Ricky Rubio to a contract extension. If they don’t, he’ll become a restricted free agent next July. “I want to respect that, and I don’t want to talk to the media about my contract situation,” Rubio said. “My agent’s dealing with that.”
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: It wasn't as dramatic as man's first steps on the moon, but as Paul George walked gingerly Monday afternoon, it was a giant leap for Indiana Pacers' fans. George, who severely broke his leg nearly two months ago and is expected to miss the 2014-15 season, walked without the assistance of a boot on to the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court to pose for photographs during the team's media day session. Though George was likely sans boot only for the photos, these latest steps show the progress he has made since the injury. On Aug. 1 during a USA Basketball exhibition game in Las Vegas, George suffered a fracture so gruesome that bone pierced through his skin. However, George has recently been seen moving without a crutch. Last Thursday, George participated in the team's annual golf outing and walked around a putting green on his own power. Now, George has another milestone, as Monday marked the first time he has walked without the protective boot over his lower right leg.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Ask Larry Sanders if this is a redemption year or he is undertaking a personal rebuilding plan, and the Milwaukee Bucks center is not inclined to agree. The 25-year-old Sanders has a different philosophy on how he can react to a disappointing 2013-'14 performance that stemmed from injuries he suffered on and off the court. "I wouldn't say rebuild," Sanders said during the Bucks media day held Monday at the Cousins Center. "I'd just say pushing through and learning from things that have happened. You learn from situations on the court and off the court, and it's all about growth. "Nothing grows without pain; nothing grows without struggle. You just have to pick apart the lessons within the struggle." The Bucks clearly missed his defensive presence as they struggled to a league-worst 15 victories last season.
  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: Why should he seriously consider moving? The building is paid for. He's the owner. Why become a tenant? "Congratulations to the Ilitches," Tom Gores, the Pistons' owner, said during the team's media day Monday. "I have a lot of respect for them. They have a great legacy in Detroit." But Gores quickly added: "We already have a home. And it's a great home." ... Dan Gilbert said last summer that the Pistons should move downtown. New Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy didn't hesitate telling Gilbert, the Cleveland Cavaliers' owner, that he should worry about his own team. "I think Stan said it right," Gores added Monday. "Maybe Dan should run his own team. I've been real nice to Dan. But Stan took on that fight and I appreciate it. We've got a great venue. This is our home today. Anybody building a new home, that's great. But that's another three or four years away.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Jimmy Butler and the Bulls have until the end of October to work out a contract extension to keep the shooting guard from becoming a restricted free agent. Both sides seem willing to get that deal done. According to general manager Gar Forman, the two sides are talking, but he wouldn’t elaborate. “We value Jimmy," Forman said. “And Jimmy is an important player to us. We’ve had conversations, and we’ll continue to have conversations. The deadline still is the end of October. Obviously, we don’t talk about specifics of negotiations. But it is something we’re talking about now."
  • Nick Groke of The Denver Post: He wasn't marking days off a calendar with big, red X's. But Danilo Gallinari can tell you the exact day he disappeared. "Last game I played was April 4, 2013 — so you make the count," said Gallinari, the high-scoring forward who hasn't worn a Nuggets uniform since this was George Karl's team. That's the night Gallinari tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. It was like a death announcement for the Nuggets' hopes that postseason. Without Gallinari's 16.2 points and 5.2 rebounds, the No. 3 seeded Nuggets got bounced by Golden State in the first round of the playoffs. And Karl got fired. And never mind last season. Gallinari underwent three surgeries — including a failed experimental procedure that he now regrets agreeing to — and missed the entire season. The Nuggets tanked, going 36-46 in Brian Shaw's first season as coach. And the Nuggets missed the postseason for the first time in 11 years. "I'm very, very excited about returning," he said Monday at the Nuggets' Pepsi Center practice court during media day. Gallinari, after 18 months away, will finally return Tuesday when the Nuggets open training camp. And he'll need to catch up to Shaw's system.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Marcus and Markieff Morris opened negotiations for contract extensions with the Suns on Friday and signed two days later after an unprecedented negotiation. Because the twins' lives are so intertwined to the point of basketball unity, Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby first negotiated a cumulative figure of $52 million over four years for the Morris twins with their agent, Leon Rose. ... "It didn't matter if it was me getting $5 million and Mook (Marcus) getting $8 million," Markieff said. "We told them it didn't matter. If they just put $13 (million) a year for the Morris twins, that would've been great. They wouldn't even have to say our names. We're $52 million players."
  • Joel Odom of The Oregonian: Call it a no-brainer, but the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday exercised their team option to extend All-Star point guard Damian Lillard's rookie contract to a fourth year. The extension locks in Lillard with the Blazers through the 2015-16 season, when he will make about $4.2 million as part of his rookie-scale contract. Blazers general manager Neil Olshey announced the extension to reporters at Blazers media day at the Moda Center. Olshey also said that decisions on the Blazers' other three players with extension options — Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum — won't be made until late October.

Doug McDermott's future in Chicago

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Abbott By Henry Abbott
The key to Doug McDermott playing this season will depend a lot on how well he plays defense, says Amin Elhassan.


First Cup: Monday

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
By Nick Borges
  • Roderick Boone of Newsday: That forgettable performance by Deron Williams in the second game of the Nets' playoff series against the Heat in May elicited many opinions. Even Kobe Bryant chimed in, questioning whether Williams "psyched" himself out after clanking his first nine shots, causing him to shy away from taking shots the rest of the night. In response Sunday, Williams cited the difference in the positions they play, making it crystal clear that hoisting a bevy of shots when his stroke is off doesn't exactly equate to success in his world. "I'm a point guard," Williams said. "If I'm 0 for ... 9, I'm not shooting 20 more shots. Not going to happen. I'm a point guard. I'm going to find somebody else. Kobe Bryant, that's what he's supposed to do. He's got that mentality. That works for him. I got my mentality, it works for me."
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Knicks rookie coach Derek Fisher said he is not a Phil Jackson clone or puppet and has learned plenty from other marquee coaches. Fisher played for Jackson on five Lakers championship teams, but he also has played for Jerry Sloan, Rick Carlisle, Del Harris and finished his playing career in June under the Thunder’s Scott Brooks. “I’m not Phil Jackson, that’s for sure,” Fisher said Friday in Tarrytown. “I am not going to try to be or even pretend to be. I’ve for sure taken a lot of the basketball experiences and knowledge and life experiences and knowledge from working for Phil for so many years. So there will for sure be some things I will try and channel. At the same time, I’ve learned a lot from other coaches, other men, other people that inspire me, other great leaders, other great athletes, great people that I’ll also channel."
  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Rondo’s slip in the shower last week and emergency hand surgery punched a two-month hole in all sorts of plans. ... Brad Stevens begins training camp without his best player for the second straight year, and any chance Ainge had of measuring or building Rondo’s trade value is again on hold. The same can be said of Rondo’s own plan — one that has him heading into free agency next summer with the legitimate hope of a max contract. The Marcus Smart era, though, may arrive sooner than expected. There’s no reason not to expose the rookie point guard to as much of the league’s fire as he can handle, quite possibly in a starting role. Perhaps Smart’s initial growth is also where Stevens begins to build this team in his image and according to his principles. That wasn’t going to happen with last year’s turnstile mix of journeymen, veterans and youth. But the coach who admitted that everything from the schedule to expanded timeouts forced him to think differently last season is now more grounded. Stevens can start implementing a culture on a team that hasn’t had one since the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Ten years ago, the Suns were undergoing the second ownership change in franchise history when Jerry Colangelo weighed two leading bidders aiming to succeed him as the franchise's managing partner. Colangelo knew more about Jeff Moorad, a baseball agent who had represented Luis Gonzalez and would later become a minority partner in replacing Colangelo's Diamondbacks ownership. Colangelo knew the other, banking and real estate magnate Robert Sarver, about as well as Sarver knew the NBA at the time — but Sarver's group bid had weight. With a then-record $401 million bid that later grew by a few million for success escalators, Sarver became the Suns' managing partner with nobody knowing what to expect. A decade has changed Sarver's NBA expertise — about as much as how time has changed the three little boys in a 2005 Steve Nash MVP photo outside Sarver's office. The boys now are teenagers who grew up with the franchise, just as their father grew into it. Sarver learned from missteps in a different business world while remaining part of the new breed of hands-on owners who want to apply their business savvy to franchises with rapidly growing value.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: With media day Monday heralding the start of training camp, every Derrick Rose jump shot, dribble, quote and ice pack soon will be scrutinized. The additions of Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic and the subtraction of Carlos Boozer are all well and good, but this boat sinks or sails into the Eastern Conference finals because of Rose. Two season-ending knee surgeries since the 2012 playoffs, however, have raised questions about Rose’s ability to even be around in May. A better supporting cast puts even more pressure on Rose, who says he has never been surrounded with as much talent.
  • Kirkland Crawford of the Detroit Free Press: Former Pistons leading scorer Richard Hamilton was a recent guest on ESPN2's "Highly Questionable" with Miami-based journalists Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones. Hamilton mentioned several teammates in the interview, including funny stories about how well Rasheed Wallace can dress and how big of a competitor Michael Jordan really is. But it was the third member of the "Highly Questionable" crew, Le Batard's father, who asked the question that drew the most interesting response. Papi asked Hamilton for his honest reaction when the Pistons drafted Darko Milicic with the second overall pick in 2003. "When you've got Carmelo Anthony out there, aw man, it was hard to pass up on him. I think I had the same reaction everyone else had, and that was ..." followed by a befuddled, puzzled stare that Hamilton held until the end of the interview. The show hosts giggled as Hamilton stayed stone-faced as they went to commercial.
  • Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press: Contract talks that could make Ricky Rubio the second-highest-paid Timberwolves player will take place in person this week, and both the 23-year-old point guard and the Wolves seem ready to make a deal. Rubio and Wolves owner Glen Taylor spoke several times by telephone last week, with each expressing hope a contract extension can get done soon. Rubio is to be paid $5.08 million this season. A new deal, expected to be for four years, could be worth $11 million annually. Center Nikola Pekovic is the highest-paid Wolves player at $12.1 million a year. If there is no deal before Oct. 31, Rubio could become a restricted free agent after the season, but the Wolves would have the right to match any offer. Rubio's representation has been seeking a five-year maximum contract that could be worth about $75 million. The Wolves are willing to wait if Rubio decides a four-year deal isn't enough.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Gregg Popovich joked on media day — at least, we think he was joking — that the Spurs have started a pool on Boris Diaw’s weight, with the minimum bet starting at 275 pounds, during his excused absence from the first week of training camp. Obviously enjoying his time off after leading France to third place at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Diaw reached out via social media on Sunday to assure his head coach he’ll be ready for action when he rejoins the team upon their arrival in Europe later this week for their two-game preseason tour. The caption, which isn’t showing up for whatever reason, reads: No worries pop only one glass of wine and daily workouts! But really, the picture speaks for itself.
  • Chris Haynes of The Plain Dealer: It's a pivotal year for the Cavs, as so the case for Tristan Thompson, individually. He is entering the final season of his rookie-scale contract and the Cavs can reach an extension with their young forward by the Oct. 31 deadline. If not, he will become a restricted free agent next summer with the Cavs having the ability to match any offer sheets competitors throw his way. Thompson would surely have no shortage of suitors entering free agency because of his tremendous upside and high character. As of now, Northeast Ohio Media Group is told, "there have been no communication" between the Cavs and Thompson's agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group. That doesn't mean much. Quite frankly, it's simply too early. "In terms of contract, I'm not worried about that at all," Thompson said to NEOMG. "My main focus, especially with this new team, is how we can gel and trying to pick up coach [David] Blatt's philosophy. My mindset is solely on how I can help this team win and help us grow as a franchise. As long as we win, that's all that matters and everything else will take care of itself."
  • Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer: Lance Stephenson can remember well the moment he felt on top of the basketball world. He was 12 years old, ranked the No. 1 sixth-grade player in the country by Hoop Scoop, a national basketball player-ranking service. Hoop Scoop editor Clark Francis said Stephenson was the best middle schooler he had ever seen. “When I got 1, I was like, ‘Yo, I’m nice,’” Stephenson said. “...I always played two levels up. When I played with my age group it was like walking in the park. Going up for a layup was easy. From that day on, every time I played with my age group I was like, they’re too little for me. That’s when I knew I could be good.” As a Coney Island teenager given the nickname “Born Ready,” he became New York City’s best high school basketball player. After a quick stop in college, he has toiled in relative obscurity in the Midwest up until last season with the Indiana Pacers. Now, Stephenson, the Charlotte Hornets’ big free-agent signing this offseason, is poised for a breakout with his new team. But his talent has always been belied by his outbursts.
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Chris Bosh is starting to realize just how much offensive freedom he’s going to have this season. And it’s a little intimidating. Bosh is looking forward to being the focal point of the Heat’s offense this season, but losing LeBron James also means Bosh is going to have to be a two-way franchise player. He’s going to have to lead the team defensively as well. It’s something he has been preparing for mentally throughout the offseason and through the first few days of training camp. “Right now it’s easy,” Bosh said Sunday. “Everybody is supposed to win a championship, everybody wants to win a championship right now, everybody is undefeated, but when those back-to-backs come and those long road trips come, it’s going to be a big-time challenge. “And especially those nights when you’re going to have to put the extra effort for the team and to lead them in a certain way that I wasn’t doing before. It’s going to be hard.”
  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: With training camp set to open Monday for Los Angeles’ two basketball teams, it seems right to take a deep breath and ask the only logical question. That magical dark force is responsible for this Freaky Friday body switch? The goals for Southern California’s NBA teams can be broken down in one sentence: The Clippers want the Lakers’ past, and the Lakers want the Clippers’ future. Weird, right? How’d this happen? The Clippers got a combination of getting it right and luck, while the Lakers got old without much luck or getting it right.
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Mehmet Okur is back with the Utah Jazz. Not as a player, though. The lovable, sharpshooting Turkish big man isn't leaving the retirement life anytime soon. Rather, Okur has agreed to be a team ambassador in an official capacity for the NBA team he played for from 2004-11. Jazz CEO Greg Miller complimented Okur because, he said in a statement released by the team's PR crew, the center "has always carried himself with class and dignity." Miller said Okur will work with players, sponsors and fans. The 2007 NBA All-Star will also help with the organization's alumni, community and fan relations efforts; the Jazz's business development; and perhaps even with basketball operations, according to the press release.

Chicago Bulls rising

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Marc Stein on why this summer was critically important to Derrick Rose and the Bulls.


First Cup: Friday

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
By Nick Borges
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Training camp hasn't even started, but Paul Pierce already has laid down the law in the locker room for the 2014-15 season: Protect home court. It happened earlier Thursday, before Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter arrived at The Unseld School to promote an Oct. 20 preseason game at Baltimore Arena. "You like competitive guys that take things serious. He's not the type of guy that has a lot of friends in the NBA. Like the old days," said Otto Porter, a rising second-year player who'll be Pierce's backup at small forward and has been taken under his wing. "That's good. That's what our team needs. Today I heard him say, "Hey, we got to protect home court this year. Anybody who come up here, they're going to get beaten up.' I was like, 'That's what I'm talking about.' I hadn't heard that in here. I'm about that. That's how it was at Georgetown. Protect home court, always. ... That's going to change."
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: On Oct. 30, 2013, Michael Carter-Williams torched the Miami Heat for 22 points, 12 assists, 9 steals, and 7 rebounds in his inaugural regular-season game. There's a chance that the 76ers' second-year point guard won't get a chance to duplicate the feat in his second season opener. "I don't know," coach Brett Brown said Thursday regarding Carter-Williams' availability for the start of the regular season. "But at the start of our preseason games, I expect to give Tony [Wroten] the ball" at point guard. Carter-Williams, last season's rookie of the year, had surgery May 6 to repair the labrum in his right shoulder. He will not be a full participant at training camp, which begins Tuesday at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township, N.J.
  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: There is never a good time to get arrested on a charge of domestic assault. But Jeff Taylor might have picked the absolute worst. Taylor was arrested Thursday morning at a Marriott hotel in Michigan. The Charlotte Hornet forward was arraigned in East Lansing District Court and charged with one count of domestic assault, one count of assault and one count of malicious destruction of property. He was released from jail on a $5,000 bond. There isn’t much more detail than that as of yet, but there’s no doubt Taylor is in trouble. The NFL just showed everyone exactly how not to handle a domestic violence case with Ray Rice, and the fallout from that “punch in the elevator” video has reverberated nationwide. The Panthers let defensive end Greg Hardy play in Week 1, but then the video of Rice punching his fiance surfaced and everything changed. Hardy, embroiled in his own case, is going to miss at least 10 games this season (and get paid $770,000 a week anyway). Now the NBA and the Hornets get to try and avoid the mistakes of the NFL, and the best way the league can do that is to make sure it punishes violators severely. ... Taylor was mostly known as an injury-prone leaper, defender and 3-point shooter for the Hornets. Now he has made headlines for something else. And there’s no way it’s going away quickly.
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Is Chris Bosh a franchise player? According to his bank account, he most certainly is, but Bosh has plenty to prove to himself, his teammates and the NBA at large when the season begins on Oct. 29 against the Wizards. No one doubts Bosh’s ability, versatility and unique skill set, but he did average fewer than 15 points per game in the 2014 NBA Finals. There is room for improvement. Bosh was a franchise player before he joined the Heat, and he led the Raptors to the playoffs twice. More will be expected of him in Miami as the franchise’s front man, but only because he has improved and evolved so much since those Toronto days of “CB4,” long hair and made-for-YouTube sketch comedies.
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The early deadline looms. The James Harden memory lingers. But Sam Presti refuses to panic. “We want to invest in Reggie Jackson,” Presti stated firmly. “There’s not a lack of clarity in that regard.” This time around, despite the obvious similarities to the Harden scenario — an emerging guard feels he’s ready for more minutes, shots, money and shine — Presti and the Thunder feel there’s a better chance they can find a way to get it done. Not a guarantee, but certainly more plausible. Jackson’s value spiked during last year’s breakout season, when he morphed into one of the league’s best bench players. And his price tag increased even more this offseason, when comparable peers such as Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoe got massive deals. Jackson has openly admitted to following those negotiations closely. It’ll undoubtedly make him harder to keep. But Jackson, unlike Harden, is not a max player. He’ll come a bit cheaper. And he wouldn’t fetch as much as Harden did in a trade, making it less likely the Thunder would be persuaded to deal him before he’s tossed into restricted free agency next summer. ... “These things aren’t easy to do,” Presti admits of a possible extension agreement in the next month. “But we’re gonna give it our maximum, best chance to make it happen, knowing that if it doesn’t, we come back at it next summer and pick it up again.”
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The hordes of fans waited patiently outside the store, hoping they could either scream Jeremy Lin’s name or touch his hand. But instead of further inciting a mob scene near the Foot Locker at Westfield Mall in Culver City on Thursday, Lin slipped through the back entrance. Will Lin navigate his first season with the Lakers just as easily? “I just got to by myself and play my game. Everything else will take care of itself,” Lin said shortly before promoting his Adidas shoes and signing autographs for fans. “Going into my fifth year in the league, I’m not too worried about all the unknowns and uncertainties. I’m just focused on my own performance.” Lin’s shoe unveiling attracted both heavy turnout among fans and Asian media outlets and reinforced his following stays strong after sparking “Linsanity” amid a breakout season with the New York Knicks three years ago. As the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese descent, Lin’s global appeal only heightened his breakout season. Yet, Lin dismissed any ensuing hype, including whether he could win the starting point guard spot over Steve Nash. “I’d be just as excited as if I didn’t (start),” Lin said. “I honestly believe it’s more about what my role looks like in the grand scheme of things. I’ve started and not played in the fourth quarter. Then I haven’t started and I played the last 16-18 minutes of the game. For me, starting is pretty irrelevant.”
  • Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press: Greg Monroe hadn't talked all summer. Not about free agency. Not about his DUI arrest. Not about his new coach or his new teammates or his new contract. To his credit, he met with reporters after the ribbon-cutting ceremony to answer questions at the elementary school. "I understand I made a mistake," he said. "I also understand that doesn't define me." Let's hope it doesn't, because if it does, that means he has made the same mistake again. We can debate whether our society penalizes drunken drivers as it should. There is no debate about what drunken driving is. Until this summer, Monroe never has created negative headlines off the court. He deserves the chance to show what happened last winter was an isolated decision, but only a chance. As Monroe pointed out, he has fulfilled every obligation the state asked of him. Now he must do the same for the Pistons. His future contract is at stake, and so is the Pistons' success this winter.
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Even as the newest Indiana Pacers were making their first appearance together Thursday morning at the Brickyard Golf Course – C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, Damjan Rudez and Shayne Whittington looking like quite the foursome in matching white zip-up jackets – the one who wasn't there at first dominated much of the conversation. That would be the injured forward Paul George; just call him the elephant in the green pavilion during the Pacers Foundation golf outing. While coach Frank Vogel shared an encouraging update about George's broken leg, he also took to the microphone and boldly stated that Indiana won't fold without its All-Star. "Paul's going to be OK. Equally as important, we're going to be OK, too," Vogel said. Since George broke his right leg on August 1 – he is expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season – the Pacers have roundly been forgotten as a contender in the Eastern Conference. But the Pacers believe that giant absence can lead to greater opportunities. "We still got the mindset that we're going to come out, we're going to play hard and we're going to win games," said Miles.
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: For the first time since he bought the team in 2010, the Nets reduced payroll in an attempt to suppress monetary losses. It’s hard to imagine he’ll think about binge spending again until the summer of 2016, when the Nets will try to make a run at Kevin Durant. But what if the Nets get to the trade deadline with a chance to make a run? Will Prokhorov throw more money into this team, perhaps jeopardize that precious cap space for 2016? There is a lot of uncertainty with Brooklyn’s ownership. Bruce Ratner is trying to sell his percentage of the team. Prokhorov was testing the market last season to see how much his majority stake is worth.
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: A year later, former Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald has dropped much of the bitterness and has moved on. Grunwald now is the athletic director of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He’s back in Canada, where his sports executive career started with the Raptors. However, Grunwald takes exception with one item from his stunning firing by the Knicks a year ago Friday — four days before training camp. Grunwald’s Knicks were coming off a 54-28 season. He had just made the final tinkering to the roster by signing center Cole Aldrich, still a Knick. Owner James Dolan, in rehiring Steve Mills for a second stint with the team, told The Post’s Mike Vaccaro soon after the firing that Grunwald wasn’t well-versed in basketball’s new age of sabermetrics and technology, calling him “a classic GM." Dolan didn’t mention Grunwald also has a law degree and formerly ran the Toronto Board of Trade. "I think I’ve been one of the most involved in basketball’s advanced analytics since the late 1990s," Grunwald told The Post. “I don’t agree with [Dolan]. Everyone is entitled to their opinion."
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer sat down with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for an exclusive interview. Budenholzer spoke about a wide range of topics including the current controversy facing the Hawks, his new role of assuming the general manager duties and the health of Al Horford. Q. What was your initial reaction when the news broke about the comments made by owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry? A. It’s really unfortunate and you feel for the people who are hurt and the community. It’s really unfortunate on a lot of different levels. You are hoping we can come together from something like this and learn from something like this. Your initial reaction is you are not sure where this will all go but you feel for everybody that has been hurt in this process. Q. What has been the most difficult to deal with? A. It has been difficult. Danny is a friend and somebody I care about. I think he’s made mistakes and I think he’s acknowledged them and he wants to learn and grow from this. He put me in this (coaching) position and I have strong feelings for him. I understand that he has made mistakes and I understand that we need to build and repair the trust. He’s a friend of mine.
  • Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee: The Sacramento Kings announced Thursday they will add the Uber ride-sharing service to the team’s mobile app this fall, allowing fans to tap in for rides to and from Sleep Train Arena. The service will start with the team’s home-opening game this season on Oct. 29. Uber, a San Francisco company that’s operating in 45 countries, is a smartphone-based service that connects riders with drivers, offering variable rates depending on rider demand and car availability. The Kings said in a news release that they are the first professional sports franchise to include Uber on their team mobile app. Kings President Chris Granger called the collaboration a step forward in fan service.

Why Kyrie Irving won the NBA offseason

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
Mason By Beckley Mason
Special to
IrvingGonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesThough he and the Cavs stalled out in 2013-14, Kyrie Irving bounced back in a big way this summer.
"The third year is a big year for a person in my position -- kind of on the cusp, on the fence between being good and great."

That’s Kyrie Irving, just before his disappointing 2013-14 season. Like just about everyone else, Irving saw himself in the lineage of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose: young players who became MVP candidates and led their teams to the playoffs in their third seasons.

Irving accomplished neither in 2013-14. His personal production and his team's performance both stagnated, and the rancor among Irving, his teammates and his coaches could be felt through the TV. Instead of ushering in an era of dominance as a do-it-all point guard, he ranked 37th in WAR at his own position. By summer 2014, Cleveland Cavaliers expert Brian Windhorst was calling his attitude "defeatist," and statistics guru Nate Silver used him as an example of a player who shouldn't receive a max contract.

For someone who had so many trophies -- rookie of the year, All-Star MVP, 3-point Shootout champion -- Irving had won very little. His Cavaliers have never had a record over .500 other than starting the past two seasons 1-0. There were even rumors that LeBron might not want to come to Cleveland unless the Cavaliers dealt Irving. Routinely characterized as selfish, weak spirited and overrated, the Kyrie Irving brand limped into the 2014 offseason.

Yet after this summer, it's almost hard to remember that Irving was so recently so ridiculed. The tsunami of coverage the accompanied James and then Kevin Love joining the Cavs washed that all away.

Irving has helped himself, too. His performance in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup was in step with the paths current NBA greats have taken -- most notably Durant, who torched teams throughout the same tournament four years ago.

Irving has a knack for shining brightest when he's next to other stars. Even among luminaries such as Stephen Curry and James Harden, Irving's talent stood apart. Though his coordination and quickness are undeniably special, Irving has impressive but not exceptional explosiveness -- he's no Rose. Instead, he has an unmatched gift for deceptive dribbling and Steve Nash's ability to carve into the heart of the defense even when he doesn't appear to be moving full speed. He just gets where he wants. Irving's elusiveness is such that defenders can appear to be participating in a choreographed routine that ends with Irving at the rim.

It's untrue to call Irving's international play a revelation; this guy was a better rookie than James was. It was a reminder, in both a good and a bad way. He controlled the pace and mesmerized his defenders. He pressured the ball and sprinted into closeouts. In his committed, commanding performance leading a team full of stars, Irving showed why the Cavaliers and their fans had a right to be disappointed in his previous season.

So maybe he still takes bad angles on defense and it's possible that he is drawn to screens as though by magnets, but is there anything better than Irving walking down his man at the top of the key with a live dribble? There's a certain definition of talent that focuses more on what a player can do rather than what he does. In Irving's game, as in no other young guard's, unexpected method mingles with seemingly inevitable result.

This summer Irving didn't prove he is ready to carry an NBA team (how could he?), but there is no doubt his talent is unmatched among his generation of guards. With Love and James by his side for the foreseeable future, will anyone even remember Irving's underwhelming seasons?

You would forgive the casual fan who really has no idea what Irving's game is about. The Cavaliers played on national TV a total of 10 times in his first three seasons, a rust belt team struggling in obscurity. This season Irving's game will be broadcast nationally 24 times, including five of the 15 showcase games on ABC.

No one outside of Cleveland, and likely few die-hard Cavs fans, will remember Irving slumping his shoulders after a bad turnover or getting torched by D.J. Augustin. These moments, like Kobe Bryant's demands to be traded from the Los Angeles Lakers, will likely end up as blips in Irving's professional legacy.

It’s not exactly an NBA title, or even a playoff berth, but you can add The Summer of 2014 to the list of things Kyrie Irving has won.

First Cup: Thursday

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
By Nick Borges
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: When Coach Randy Wittman walked into the Washington Wizards’ locker room at Verizon Center on the night of May 15, he expected to find some satisfaction from a group of players that had blasted expectations to record the franchise’s most successful season since 1982. Wittman didn’t see any such fulfillment. What Wittman saw was frustration after the Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The disappointment was encouraging. ... More than four months later, the lofty expectations aren’t limited to within the Wizards’ locker room. With training camp less than a week away, the Wizards are widely regarded as the favorites to win the Southeast Division and contenders for a top seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s new territory for a franchise that went five seasons without a postseason appearance and nine without winning a playoff series. “We accomplished some good things last year, but that’s behind us,” General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said. “Our players at the end of the season were not satisfied. They were not happy with the way the season ended and they put in some good work and we want to build on what happened last year. The pressure comes internally. We want to win. We want to be a competitive team and we want to keep improving.”
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of When prompted to discuss his thoughts on the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season, Danny Ainge was quick to mention Washington which added former Celtic legend Paul Pierce to their roster this offseason. There's the Chicago Bulls and what they hope will be a healthy Derrick Rose. And of course there's Cleveland which significantly ratcheted up their superstar quotient with the return of LeBron James and the addition of Kevin Love. A reporter pointed out that Ainge had left out the Boston Celtics. "Yes. Yes I did," Ainge said, smiling. "Good observation. But I do believe the extraordinary is possible." Which is why when it comes to gauging how good this group will be, he's leaving that open-ended ... for now. While he thinks they have a shot at getting to the playoffs, "I don't want to set those parameters."
  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: The Suns scored a big victory on Wednesday. They signed Eric Bledsoe to a five-year, $70 million contract, ending a dangerous game of chicken with their star point guard. This is important for many reasons. One: Bledsoe is the team's best player. While Goran Dragic had a better season last year, Bledsoe is more powerful, more athletic and a much better defender. Two: If Bledsoe had opted to sign a one-year qualifying offer, it would've torn apart the team. How could Bledsoe share the full trust of his teammates if his commitment was not the same as their commitment? We have all learned how important chemistry is to a basketball team. The Suns were on the brink of having a tension-filled season with zero chance of great camaraderie. Three: This proves that the stalemate was all about money. And while that paints Bledsoe as greedy, it's much better than the alternative. ... Finally, this is a big deal for Suns management. Instead of drawing a line in the sand and losing a key player like they did with Joe Johnson many years ago, they opened their wallets and made Bledsoe happy. That's an important move for an owner who needs to prove he'll go to the wall to win a NBA championship.
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: Is Cleveland's new Big Three better than the one Miami formed in the summer of 2010? One of the team's many free-agent additions, James Jones, was a part of it all in South Beach. He knows the kind of pressure that will build this season and sees the talent Griffin has assembled. But Jones is not ready to make the comparison to the Heat. "They're all names on a piece of paper," Jones said Monday at the Cavaliers' annual golf outing. "At the end of the day, you don't find out anything until you actually get out on the floor. You can build a super team on paper, but so much of what goes into building a championship team happens behind the scenes during tough practices and tough film sessions."
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: The current state of Roy Hibbert's mindset after struggling through the playoffs? Frank Vogal: "I think he's really encouraged about what's ahead of us. Those conversations were two-way conversations from the standpoint of every time he struggled, I tried to assume responsibility on some level and make sure that he understood that we're in this together and we always were, we always are. So, he never wavered on the defensive end. He had some struggles on the offensive end and that comes along with a reduced role which is what happened to him last year with the emergence of Lance Stephenson and Paul George. So, this year obviously those two guys are not here. I think he's going to return to having a more increased role on the offensive end and just being more a part of the offensive flow. I think it'll help him get a rhythm and I think he'll have a tremendous bounce back year all the while, while still anchoring our defense and hopefully one of the best defenses in the league again. We've got a great relationship. Nobody wants to see one of your best players and one of your friends struggle the way he did down the stretch and we're working tirelessly to make sure that he bounces back in a big way."
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs are bringing the band back together. Backup center Aron Baynes, a restricted free agent and the last remaining unsigned member of last season’s NBA championship squad, is in town to take a physical and is expected to re-up with the club before the start of training camp Saturday. The news was first reported on Twitter by the Express-News’ Buck Harvey. Baynes, a 27-year-old Australian entering his third NBA season, attracted interest overseas before apparently agreeing to return to San Antonio. Baynes has appeared in 69 career games for the Spurs, averaging three points and 2.6 rebounds. His decision to return gives the Spurs the maximum 15 guaranteed contracts heading into camp. The only newcomer is rookie Kyle Anderson, who fills the roster spot last held at the end of last season by journeyman Damion James.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks rookie Jabari Parker was interviewed on Sirius XM NBA Radio on Wednesday and said he has "a little bit of anxiety" about training camp opening next week. ... Parker was asked about playing small forward or power forward in the pros and answered candidly: "As of right now I'm more comfortable with the 4 position," he told interviewer Nancy Lieberman. "That's where I played previously, before getting drafted, at Duke. I played a lot of 4. Even in high school. I know this is a different level. But in coach's style of play, it's more a stretch 4. That's where I like to play my game, even though I like to post up a little. Just being on the perimeter, setting screens and popping, that's what we've been doing so far. That's what coach Kidd has been anticipating me playing that role."
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: If you are fall in line with Rick Carlisle and believe that defense will be the determining factor for whether this season’s Dallas Mavericks have a chance to be special, then continue reading. The defensive end of the court has never been called a strength for newcomer Chandler Parsons. But that doesn’t mean a player can’t change – at least to a point. Owner Mark Cuban said he noticed on film of Parsons and other Mavericks that they ad never even been taught some basic defensive principles in their previous NBA stops. That’s going to change. “I’m going to give you a perfect example,” Cuban said. “We actually have Jeremy Holsopple, I don’t even know his official title. He works on explosiveness side to side – defensive stance, explosiveness, with bands, without bands, testing strength, working on different muscles that help you improve as a defender – whereas most teams don’t even work on the defensive stuff.”
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The only basketball executive to survive last year’s purge under the Kings’ new ownership could be out now, too. Shareef Abdur-Rahim is no longer with the Kings, league sources told The Bee on Wednesday. The Kings declined to comment. Abdur-Rahim wasn’t a visible presencewith the rest of the front office during the NBA Summer League, leading some to question if he was still with team. But he was credited with adding many of the players that won the summer-league championship. Abdur-Rahim, a former NBA All-Star forward, was the Kings’ director of player personnel and general manager of the Reno Bighorns, the Kings’ NBA Development League affiliate.
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: The comparison of the preliminary design of the Warriors' new arena in San Francisco to a toilet seat is "unfortunate" because it does not reflect the final result, a team spokesman said Wednesday. Architectural drawings of the oblong 18,000-seat arena scheduled to open for the 2018-19 season attracted widespread attention -- and plenty of toilet humor -- since their release by the city last week at Mission Bay Citizens Advisory Committee meetings. Warriors spokesman PJ Johnston said the design for the arena that replaces Oracle Arena as the team's home will "absolutely" change in the coming months, emphasizing that the drawings created by MANICA Architecture were not detailed renderings. "I guess that's the perils of the Internet," Johnston said of the reaction to the drawings, adding that they were created to offer citizens information on the height, bulk and context of the arena.
  • Erik C. Anderson of The Oregonian: Former Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis will have his jersey number retired by the Lithuanian basketball club Zalgiris on Saturday. It's the first number the club has ever retired. Sabonis spent the prime of his career playing overseas, beginning professionally in 1981 with BC Zalgiris, winning three Soviet League titles and reaching a Euroleague final in 1986. The Trail Blazers selected Sabonis with the 24th pick of the 1986 NBA draft, but the 7-foot-3 center did not make his debut in the NBA until 1995-96 season. He's been inducted into the FIBA and Naismith Memorial Basketball halls of fame.

TrueHoop TV Live

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Join the chatter at 2 p.m. ET.

First Cup: Wednesday

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
By Nick Borges
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Grizzlies’ training camp roster is full with the addition of free-agent forward Michael Beasley on a non-guaranteed deal. Beasley, the No. 2 overall pick by the Miami Heat in 2008, was in town earlier this week playing pick-up games at FedExForum. Beasley, 25, spent the past few weeks working out for squads such as the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. Teams have been reluctant to commit to Beasley because of his immaturity and off-the-court issues. Memphis has one open roster spot given it already has 14 guaranteed contracts for the season. Beasley will compete with NBA journeymen Earl Clark and Hassan Whiteside, Luke Hancock, Kalin Lucas and Patrick Christopher when Griz camp begins Tuesday in San Diego. The Griz will have an NBA maximum 20 players for camp.
  • Staff of Chris Gasper and Gary Tanguay played a game of ‘Truth Meter’ where they debated a couple topics. Is Wyc Grousbeck telling the truth about wanting to keep Rondo? "I think he's telling the truth in that they want Rondo to be a Celtic," said Gasper. "I think Rondo wouldn't mind being a Celtic. Here's the disconnect though, Rondo wants a max deal. The truth that Wyc is not telling you is they don't want to give him a max deal, and they're not going to give him a max deal. He's gone."
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns brass and the Eric Bledsoe camp are negotiating again. That, in itself, is major progress. League sources confirmed that there have been renewed contract talks between Suns executives and Bledose's representatives since the weekend. Yahoo! also reported that the progress was significant enough that a deal could be in place by the start of training camp. There could be resolution as early as the end of business Wednesday. NBA players report officially on Monday, when the Suns will leave Phoenix for their Flagstaff training camp. Bledsoe has been a restricted free agent since July 1 but his agency and the Suns had a two-month stalemate. Bledsoe was seeking a maximum-level contract and the Suns offered a four-year, $48 million offer sheet in early July. Bledsoe did not receive an offer sheet from another team, although Minnesota had recent interest in a sign-and-trade deal but the available return packages were not appealing for Phoenix. Without the renewed negotiations, Bledsoe appeared to be willing to sacrifice initial earning and risk potential health issues by accepting a one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer by Oct. 1. That would make him an unrestricted free agent in July.
  • Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune: Over the course of one summer, the narrative around Rudy Gobert has changed. Thanks to his breakout performance for France in the recent World Cup, the Jazz’s spidery 7-foot-2 center has chucked the ‘project’ label and evolved — perhaps — into a player who could contribute to Utah in a meaningful way this season. Gone is the gangly youngster. In his place is a sometimes snarling shot-blocker, a serious deterrent to guards and forwards with the audacity to drive into the paint. Will the Jazz benefit from their young center’s seeming improvement? Gobert certainly thinks so. "I feel way more confident than I did last season," he said. "I feel like I can help my team win. I feel like I can make a defensive impact, and help the team maintain. I was motivated to play in the World Cup. We had a good run and we finished high. I’m proud of what we accomplished." Gobert was dominant defensively in Spain, swatting shots, grabbing rebounds, erasing mistakes made by his guards. He made life easy for countrymen such as Boris Diaw and Nic Batum. He rattled home dunks and finished with flair as much as he could around the rim. The result? Gobert is itching to get started when the Jazz open training camp on Monday. Gone is the wide-eyed rookie from last season who professed that he was unsure he could hack it in the NBA. He’s been replaced by a guy who knows that he belongs.
  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It seems like so long when Miami Heat center Chris Bosh claimed he was done playing in the post. Last May he said his time on the low block was in the past. In his words, “I don’t bang anybody anymore.” It was his way of saying he was no longer a presence in the paint. Four months later, things have changed. The backtracking process has begun. A revamped roster, highlighted by the departure of LeBron James, has Bosh once again thinking about playing with his back to the basket. “I had to play a role,” Bosh said Tuesday, speaking at an appearance at a Warren Henry Auto Group event in Kendall. “I had to play the role for the championships. I feel that I’m back to doing what comes naturally for me, which is being back in the post, being more aggressive. I’m really excited to show the city of Miami what I have.”
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Fresh from the experience of winning a gold medal and enduring a nine-hour flight back from Spain to Detroit, Andre Drummond decided sleeping in wasn't the example he wanted to set for his teammates working out in Auburn Hills. When they strolled in for group workouts that Monday morning after, they saw Drummond's face, a step that he believes is crucial to his growth in becoming a leader. "I got in at about 2 a.m.," Drummond said. "I came in Monday morning and joined the guys. I felt it was necessary to show my face. To let them know I'm ready to take the team over." Training camp is usually the birthplace of such rhetoric, particularly from young players, especially those on teams that haven't yet established themselves. It's common, but the fact Drummond spoke those words unprompted perhaps displays what his goals are in the context of team. "Even though I was exhausted — I didn't get that much sleep — I decided to tough it out and be here," Drummond said. "I don't plan on taking any days off. I want to be a winner this year."
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Focusing on the court, the Rockets would have the typically large to-do list, but it would seem the most important preseason/camp development would be the development off the bench. Eventually, the play of Dwight Howard and James Harden will of course be most vital to the Rockets’ long-term goals, but that won’t be measured in the preseason. They will only be measured by postseason success. The development of Terrence Jones, particularly defensively, will be tested, but that will be a question answered in the regular season. With veterans like Trevor Ariza or Garcia the preseason is about getting ready, not demonstrating abilities they have already shown. A case could be made that if seeking to pick one aspect of the Rockets’ preseason to consider most important, the play of Joey Dorsey could top the list. The Rockets defense was terrible the past two seasons when either Howard or Omer Asik was not on the court. But Dorsey’s ability to avoid foul trouble probably won’t be measured until the regular season.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs announced a raft of promotions and additions to their basketball operations staff on Tuesday, including the re-assignment of Sean Marks from the bench, where he served for one season as an assistant coach, back to the front office to aid general manager to R.C. Buford. Standing out among an otherwise dry release was the title “applied sports scientist,” a post that Xavi Schelling will fill as part of the Spurs’ medical staff. It makes sense that they’d add such a job given the nature of their roster, with aging cornerstones like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and head coach Gregg Popovich’s almost pathological focus on keeping his players fresh through the grueling NBA season. Indeed, Buford suggested last season that the Spurs haven’t learned as much about tactics and strategies from the high-tech tracking system in the AT&T Center rafters as they have how to better negotiate the physical wear and tear their players are exposed to. Whatever the Spurs are doing — and of course, they’re loath to talk about it publicly — it’s working.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The summer was one of turmoil for the Hawks’ ownership and management. Bruce Levenson’s controlling interest of the team is for sale. General manager Danny Ferry is on an indefinite leave of absence. The coach is acting as general manager, although much of the work assembling the roster is complete. The team will have to deal with the sensitive issue of the racially inflammatory remarks made by the front office. Ownership is still divided. The players and coaches will no doubt be questioned often at home and on the road during the exhibition and regular season. The offseason issues are out of the control of the players and coaches. There focus must be on the court. However, that focused will be taxed.
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: The Nets may be sharing All-Star weekend with the Knicks this season, but they’re doing their best to make it their own. To promote the fact the Nets will be hosting the events on Friday and Saturday night of All-Star weekend, the team will be wearing a Brooklyn-themed patch (pictured) on their jerseys at home games at Barclays Center throughout the first half of the season — beginning Nov. 7 against the Knicks — and also will have a Brooklyn-specific logo displayed on each baseline inside Barclays Center up until All-Star weekend in February. “First and foremost, we’re in the big event business,” Nets CEO Brett Yormark said. “The All-Star Game is a global event, one of those events you circle on the calendar if you’re a sports fan, and we want everyone to know it’s in Brooklyn.The fact we’re hosting it and have the ability to magnify the messaging around it, why not start early, and it just felt right [to do so].”
  • Staff of the Chicago Tribune: Ron Artest, uh, Metta World Peace, uh, The Panda's Friend -- you know who we mean -- either really takes his name-changing seriously or has struck marketing gold with this one: panda athletic shoes. World Peace, who's calling himself The Panda's Friend while he plays for the Sichuan Blue Whales of the Chinese Basketball Association, unveiled the new kicks to in a press release. "... before every game, I will be wearing the white or black shoes. The top part of the shoe has a panda on it. I will be throwing it to a friend in the crowd. The person who catches it will be the Panda’s Friend of the day,” the former Bulls forward said in the statement. World Peace tweeted on Tuesday, "The bear is not detachable. The Teddy bear is a permanent and is the pandas friend! The ears on the side are also not detachable." He later tweeted an Instagram video of his arrival in China: "No announcement to keep crowd at a minimum."

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
By Nick Borges
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Nothing went right for Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova last season. It started in the opening preseason game when he suffered a severe right ankle sprain, an injury that hampered him throughout the 82-game schedule. His production and shooting suffered, and it wasn't easy to keep his spirits up as the Bucks struggled to a league-worst 15-67 record. But big changes happened over the summer. Enter coach Jason Kidd, new owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry and a bunch of new players, including No. 2 overall draft pick Jabari Parker. Amazingly, the 27-year-old Ilyasova is still with the Bucks, the only NBA team he has played for after being drafted in the second round by Milwaukee in 2005. He did go to Barcelona to play two seasons before returning in 2009 to sign a new contract under new Bucks management. He currently is starting the third year of a four-year, $32 million deal signed in the summer of 2012. Ilyasova did not play international basketball for Turkey this summer in an effort to regain full health, and he said at Monday's annual team golf tournament that he is "100% healthy" entering next week's preseason training camp.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Often calm in the eye of the storm, Chauncey Billups was an unlikely orchestrator for an unlikely Pistons team that found itself contending every year during his prime. Days before turning 38 years old, Billups knew it was time for his long, winding journey to end, as opposed to latching onto a contender for one more shot at a title. He admitted he could often fight off the stress of high-intensity playoff basketball but Father Time is undefeated. "My body, it's the best I've felt in three years," Billups said. "It's ironic. It's how I hoped and prayed I would feel like this when I walked away. It feels weird, but it's a relief. His number 1 jersey hanging in The Palace rafters should be part of his near future, along with conversation that should merit consideration for nomination to the Naismith Hall of Fame. "It's just time."
  • Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: Was fortunate to spend quality time with Mavericks athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple for Sunday’s story about tracking technology in sports. As is often the case, the information-gathering netted more than what could be included in the print story. Let’s call this blog post “The part I most wish I could have included in the story, but didn’t.” When I sat down with Holsopple, he had recently returned from a two-week visit to Wurzburg, Germany to train Dirk Nowitzki. Holsopple spent some working alone with Nowitzki, 36. Holsopple also spent considerable time working in tandem with Nowitzki’s mentor, Holger Geschwindner, to fine-tune Dirk’s preparations for training camp, with starts Sept. 30. Now, mind you, Holsopple says Nowitzki has been on a workout program most of the offseason. His on-the-court track record and legendary work ethic indicate he doesn’t need to be prodded off the couch _ even after giving the Mavericks a massive hometown discount, signing a 3-year, $25 million extension this summer. Still, the Mavericks franchise deemed it worthwhile to send Holsopple to Germany for a couple of weeks _ and Nowitzki embraced the extra help. “We spent an hour, hour-and-a-half each day lifting weights, sprinting, agility, different things that he needs to do to continue (playing) for so long,” Holsopple said. “He’s on a program and texts me, or we talk, almost every day, but it’s not the same as being pushed by someone. So that’s why I was over there, for the physical training.”
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: Shooting has been a target all off-season and even after adding Mike Miller and James Jones, the Cavs would be willing to make room for more. It just so happens one of the best ever is still a free agent. Ray Allen has yet to decide whether he will play another year, but the Cavs are ready if he does. "I think in his case when he decides this is something he's passionate about we are going to be more than willing to let him know how passionate we are about him," Griffin said. ... Other teams may be able to offer Allen more money. Some may be able to give him a bigger role after he played 26.5 minutes last season in Miami while averaging 9.6 points. But the possibility of reuniting with Jones, Miller and James has some believing Cleveland will be his home this year. "I don't need to say how much I want him here, how much we'd like for him to be here," Jones said. "That goes without saying." Allen has maintained publicly that he is still considering retirement, and a decision might not come until after training camp begins. "He's in no hurry to make a decision," David Griffin said. "They told us from the very beginning he was not going to be so we will let that play out as far as we can."
  • Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: The final countdown is underway before the Knicks open training camp next Tuesday in West Point, Derek Fisher’s first as a head coach following an 18-year NBA career. “It’s different,” Fisher said Monday at an NBA Cares event in Staten Island. “I won’t be out there on the court playing, but a lot of the things factor into the NBA season that still have to be managed. And so, now just being in a position to make a lot of the decisions that go into managing a season, that’s different, but I’m enjoying it.” “We can’t wait for next week to come,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said later Monday at a Garden of Dreams event in Harlem. “Everybody’s very serious and taking everything to heart.... It’s great to have (Fisher) as the coach, everybody respects him. It’s great to have him there and a great mentor like Phil Jackson."
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed will meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Friday in New York City to discuss the ownership of the Hawks. Reed indicated at a press conference last week that he would meet with Silver. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has confirmed the day and location of that meeting. Reed has pledged his support, including public funding, to help keep the Hawks in Atlanta with the sale of the controlling interest in the team. Controlling owner Bruce Levenson, who individually owns 24 percent of the Hawks, will sell his share in the franchise following the discovery of a racially inflammatory email he sent in 2012. Reed said Levenson’s business partner Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman, the Washing ton-based owners, will also sell their shares in the team making 50.1 percent of the franchise available.
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: Stephen Curry is pleased with how the Warriors shored up their bench with offseason signings and is open to playing off the ball more often in new coach Steve Kerr's offense. Kerr and his staff are looking to reduce Curry's workload and have others help create easier scoring opportunities for the point guard who last season averaged career highs of 24 points and 8.5 assists. "A lot of people talk about the load I had last year," Curry said Monday at his ThanksUSA Golf Tournament. "Obviously I didn't feel it on the court. You love having those opportunities to make decisions, but when you're able to use every piece of talent we have on the roster that can make each others' jobs a little bit easier, that goes a long way." ... The Warriors, after struggling to find a backup point guard fit last season, signed reserve guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa, additions Curry said were "great pieces."
  • John DeMarzo of the New York Post: Let’s hope his second attempt at a career in professional sports goes better than his first. According to, former NBA center Darko Milicic — who was the No. 2 overall pick in a loaded 2003 NBA Draft — signed a contract to become a professional kickboxer in his native Serbia. Milicic’s first fight will be announced Wednesday. The 29-year-old Serb arrived in the United States amidst much fanfare, getting picked No. 2 by the Pistons behind LeBron James and ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. However, Milicic had a middling NBA career, averaging only 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. After spending two-plus seasons in Detroit, he was traded to Orlando, and then signed as a free agent in Memphis before the 2007-08 season. He was then traded to the Knicks for Quentin Richardson before the 2009-10 season, and then shuffled along to Minnesota for Brian Cardinal.
  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Caldwell Jones, a rail-thin frontcourt player who helped the 76ers reach the NBA Finals three times, died Sunday of a heart attack in Decatur, Ga. Mr. Jones, 64, was one of four brothers to reach the NBA after playing at Albany State College. He began his career with the San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA in 1973 before joining the 76ers in 1976. Mr. Jones, who retired from the NBA in 1990, played six seasons with the Sixers before he was traded to the Houston Rockets. He also played for Chicago, Portland and San Antonio in a 14-year NBA career. Mr. Jones averaged 6.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in the NBA. His most productive seasons were in Philadelphia, where he averaged 7.2 points, 9.2 points and 1.9 blocks.

First Cup: Monday

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
By Nick Borges
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Will John Wall be an All-Star again? No. That doesn’t mean, however, that Wall won’t deserve to be an All-Star. The road is just significantly tougher. Last season, Derrick Rose (Bulls) wasn’t active because of injury. Even if Wall is able to have a better season than the 2010-11 MVP, Rose likely will win the popularity contest with the fan vote. Now that the Cavs have Kevin Love and LeBron James, Irving no longer is the leader and his role could be minimized. Of course, he’s finally going to win given the pieces around him which should give him the edge in a close race with Wall. It's a stacked deck. If Wall is going to make it, he can't just be a little bit better. He has to blow away the competition, and that includes Kyle Lowry (Raptors).
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of As much as I want to count Gerald Wallace out of the rotation because of who's ahead of him (Green and Turner), I can't count him out because of who's ahead of him. Wallace is all about hustle, heart and tough play on the court all the time. Getting rid a player who brings those qualities to the floor consistently is not an easy thing to do. And when you look at his numbers in limited minutes last season in Boston, it's clear that Wallace's presence more often than not is a good thing for the Celtics. But he's 32 years old, and he's coming off surgery to his left ankle and knee that ended his season in March. No one knows for sure just how long it will take him to get close to where he was last season, and even then he was a step or two slow compared to where he was just a couple years prior.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Michele Roberts has officially taken over as executive director of the NBA Players Association and has several arduous tasks to accomplish. She is inheriting an uncomfortable situation in Atlanta where a general manager uttered racially motivated insults about Luol Deng; the commissioner’s office wants to address the age-limit rule and raise the minimum age of entering the NBA Draft to 20; and there is speculation the NBPA will opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2017, which is likely because of the new television contract that is expected to earn the league billions in 2016. Former executive director Charles Grantham said it will be significant responsibility for the neophyte executive director. “The biggest challenge for [the NBPA] is the [potential] lockout,” said Grantham, who teaches at New York University and Seton Hall. “The question is for the last three times, there has been probably 15 or 16 givebacks or concessions that [the players’ union] made over this period of time that puts them at the bottom. It starts with preparation and being prepared for this thing [a lockout] that we all know is coming. After three successive collective bargaining negotiations from management side, all that began with the [1998] lockout and put the union in a concessionary bargaining position. The day is gone when you used to be able to tell players to save money. You can’t do that."
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Suns play-by-play announcer Al McCoy might have even more reason to exclaim "Oh, brother!" this season. The Suns have become the leader in the pursuit of shooting guard Zoran Dragic, the younger brother of Suns star guard Goran Dragic. One other NBA team remains in serious pursuit but negotiations for a contract and a buyout from Dragic's Spanish club have progressed to the point that a deal could be finalized early this week. Dragic, 25, has been talking to Phoenix about a two-year contract or a three-year deal with the third year as an option for the player or team. ... Zoran Dragic's addition would give the Suns 14 guaranteed contracts, leaving one regular-season roster spot open for restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe. Signing both would give the Suns seven guards on the roster, although Gerald Green is a small forward too.
  • Michael Kaskey-Blomain of The Philadelphia Inquirer: How will Michael Carter-Williams look in his sophomore season? Has his shooting improved, both from beyond the arc and overall? Will his assist numbers go up with the addition of a true post presence like Nerlens Noel? What about Noel himself; how does he look? Is he as dominant defensively as he has been advertised to be? What position looks to be the best fit for him? Does he look like he could be a frontcourt fixture of the future? It is questions like those that will be central to the Sixers in 2014-15 as the franchise continues to keep the future in the forefront despite looming loses this season. ... The Sixers will again be out of the playoff picture in 2015 as the losses will mount in the name of development, but outside of the win-loss column, there is a lot to look for from the Sixers season.
  • Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press: The Detroit Pistons signed some free agents over the off-season. You might've heard. More likely, you might've heard and forgot because ... Cartier Martin? Aaron Gray? "They were all brought here for different reasons and different objectives," general manager Jeff Bower told the Free Press last week. "They all have strengths that we felt were needed for our team to make progress and improve so we look for all of them, just like we look for every player on the roster, to make a contribution." In addition to Martin, a forward, and Gray, a center, the Pistons added more known quantities in guards D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks and forward Caron Butler. Bower said the team was looking for players with competitive toughness and competitive character. From a skill standpoint, he said they were looking for shooters.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Logic told Kostas Papanikolaou the time was right for him to make the jump to the NBA, but he wasn’t listening. He didn’t need to. There were many strong arguments to be made had doubt caused him to argue. At 24-years-old, he was ready to take that step, but young enough to wait out the growing pains of the transition. He had won consecutive Euroleague championships. He had the recommendations about the Rockets from Luis Scola and Omer Asik and even former Greek national team teammate Vassilis Spanoulis, who bolted the NBA after one horribly unhappy season. He also had an offer worth $4.8 million next season, the largest salary in the first year of a contract ever for a second-round pick and more than enough for him to afford his buyout from FC Barcelona Basquet. Yet, none of that led him to a deal with the Rockets this month or his move to Houston this week. Any of that could have convinced him to take the leap, but he could not resist it, anyway. “Actually, what I was thinking was I didn’t want to be thinking like five years later that I had this opportunity and didn’t do it,” Papanikolaou said. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I didn’t want to miss it. I thought, ‘This is the time.’ I spoke with the GM (Daryl Morey). The coach himself (Kevin McHale) called me. That means a lot to a player. But I just didn’t want to be stupid and lose this opportunity to be here, to live this dream to go to the NBA.”
  • Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News: A new NBA season approaches this week when the Spurs report for duty Friday for media day and practices before heading overseas for preseason games in Germany and Turkey. Kawhi Leonard knows he'll be in the spotlight. Less than a week after earning the Finals MVP, Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant created a mini-Twitter dustup when someone suggested choosing Leonard over Indiana Pacers star Paul George. The tweet said Leonard would perform at the same level, if not better, in Indiana than George. Durant disputed that, saying Leonard was a product of the Spurs system. He later deleted the tweet and clarified his stance, offering a vague apology. Leonard never spoke on the issue until his clinic. He said Durant's opinion didn't bother him. In fact, Leonard doesn't pay attention to social media. “My team won the championship,” he said, “that's the goal. That's where everybody wants to be at, so ... I got my own expectations ... I don't ever try to reach anyone else's.” Asked about the Spurs' offseason moves, Leonard approved.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The player whose contract situation Reggie Jackson has said he is paying close attention to this summer could be about to get paid. And if Eric Bledsoe signs a maximum contract with Minnesota, which has reportedly put that offer on the table, it could have a direct impact on the future of the Thunder’s sixth man. Jackson has made it clear that he desires a starting role, while also suggesting that he seeks the salary that comes along with that. The Thunder has until Oct. 31 to find some sort of middle ground, and if no extension is agreed upon by that date Jackson will become a restricted free agent next summer. ... No matter how it plays out, the Wolves just armed Jackson and his representation with more information about the type of money available to big, explosive young point guards on the open market. It’s a development that boosts Jackson’s value but inspires less confidence that a deal with the Thunder will be consummated before the upcoming deadline. It was one thing when Gordon Hayward received the same max offer as Bledsoe from Charlotte, which saw Utah match to retain him.

First Cup: Friday

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
By Nick Borges
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of Jeff Green has been in town for a couple days, long enough to get in the practice facility to work out with some of the Boston Celtics' new faces. But it is a familiar one - Rajon Rondo - whose healthy return this season should pay off with improved play by both Green and the Celtics. ... The 6-foot-9 forward is on point in acknowledging how Rondo being further removed from a torn ACL injury suffered in January of 2013, can improve Boston's chances for success. But the same can be said for him playing with more consistency. Although he led the Celtics in scoring with 16.9 points per game, the highs and lows he experienced on the floor were ridiculously high and absurdly low in comparison to others with similar talent. He opened the season with 25 points last season at Toronto, but managed to total just 20 points in Boston's next two games.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Will Otto Porter play like a No. 3 overall pick? ... Porter will play 65 games or more, average at least 20 minutes per game, 8-10 points and possibly work his way into the starting lineup pending how quickly he develops. Paul Pierce signed here as a free agent, but he’s not going to log starter’s minutes all season (and Martell Webster coming off back surgery). The plan is for the Wizards to spread playing time with a deeper bench, preserving the likes of Pierce, 36, for the long run in an 82-game season. If all goes well, Pierce could sit late in the season to rest while Porter eats up the minutes heading into the postseason. That way both players would be in top form.
  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: Timberwolves general manager Milt Newton said he's optimistic that the team and point guard Ricky Rubio will negotiate a contract extension but insisted there is no urgency. "If we can get something done sooner, great. If not, we're not necessarily in a rush," Newton said Thursday after a pre-training camp workout. The Wolves and Rubio's agent, Dan Fegan, have been able to negotiate since July 1 and have until Oct. 31. Newton said the sides are in "constant contact" but stopped short of calling that "negotiations." "Knowing Ricky the person, he wants to be here," Newton said. "We just have to deal with his agent." The maximum deal allowed under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement would be five years, $90 million. Given Rubio's shooting struggles and the time he spent on the bench in the fourth quarter last season, a more likely offer would be a four-year deal in the ballpark of $40 million. "Until that right number comes up, I guess we will continue to talk," Newton said. Rubio will receive $5 million this season, and if the sides don't agree to a long-term extension, the Wolves will have until July 2015 to offer him a one-year qualifying offer for 2015-16.
  • Perry A Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Jodie Meeks was happy for Detroit Pistons teammate Andre Drummond and the U.S. for winning the FIBA World Cup championship with a resounding victory over Serbia on Sunday in Madrid. It's something he'd like to be part of, eventually. The Pistons' new shooting guard has dreams of making the 2016 Olympic team. "I'm happy for him," Meeks said of Drummond. "It's a great honor to play on the USA team, and I know he put in a lot of hard work. He has improved a lot between his first and second (NBA) year, and hopefully, he'll do the same in his third year. Hopefully, one day, I'll get a chance to participate in that and be with him." Meeks would have to beat out a bunch of American shooting guards, but by moving to Detroit from the Los Angeles Lakers, he'll get a chance for plenty of playing time.
  • Dave Zrum of If you’re into dunking (and who isn’t?), February can’t come fast enough. That’s because with Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine headlining a rookie crop featuring some of the most explosive athletes to hit the NBA in years, there’s a strong chance that this might be the season the dunk contest at All-Star Weekend ceases to suck. But it turns out that if you’re in Minnesota you won’t have to wait that long. Not even close. Earlier this week, the Timberwolves announced they will be holding a Midnight Madness-style team scrimmage on the eve of the pre-season at a university campus near Minneapolis. Taking a page out of the college text book, the event will feature a dunk contest between Wolves rookies Wiggins, LaVine and Glenn Robinson III. ... The event goes down on September 29th and will be aired live on NBATV.

First Cup: Thursday

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