First Cup: Wednesday

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
5:16
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: But Glen Taylor said he never expected Love’s offensive skills to develop as much as they have in the past 2 years and he was reluctant then to guarantee Love more than $80 million because of an injury history that at the time included a broken hand and suspect knees. Since then, Love played only 18 games during the 2012-13 season after he broke that same left hand not once, but twice in fewer than three months. “The only thing I still have a question mark about is his health,” Taylor said. “I had that concern then. I still have that concern, and Cleveland should have that concern, too: if he can keep his health. If they sign him to a five-year contract like they’re thinking about, that’s a big contract on a guy who’s had some times when he has missed games.” Taylor then questioned more than Love’s health. He questioned how he’ll fit in Cleveland alongside superstar LeBron James and guard Kyrie Irving. “I question Kevin if this is going to be the best deal for him,” Taylor said. “I think he’ll be the third player on a team. I don’t think he’ll get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he’ll get the blame if they don’t do well. He’ll have to learn to handle that. He’s around a couple guys who are awful good. Now I’m not saying Kevin isn’t good. I think where he maybe got away with some stuff not playing defense on our team, I’m not sure how it’s going to work in Cleveland. I guess they will ask him to play more defense.”
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Mike Krzyzewski is done asking Derrick Rose how he feels. The Team USA coach made that evident Monday night before Tuesday’s 101-71 win over Slovenia in the final exhibition game at the Gran Canaria Arena in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain. "I asked [Rose on Monday], and he said, ‘I feel great,’ " Krzyzewski told reporters. "He did everything. He’s full-go. I think there’s a part of him that’s like, ‘Quit asking me how I feel. I’m good.’ So I’m not going to ask him anymore." You’d hope someone would because while FIBA World Cup tournament play doesn’t start until Saturday, Rose continued to look like a guy whose game never made it through customs. Coming off the bench behind Kyrie Irving for a second straight game, Rose looked unsure with the ball, evident in three turnovers in his 20 minutes. He was a pedestrian 3-for-6 from the free-throw line, missed an uncontested layup and seemed passive on offense (0-for-3) and inconsistent on defense (minus-4 in the plus/minus category). He wasn’t the player who first showed up to Las Vegas last month, wowing teammates and coaches on both sides of the ball. But for now, Rose gets a free pass.
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Because Kevin Love’s No. 42 was retired with the Cavaliers, he will become just the fourth player in franchise history to wear No. 0 (the others are Lari Ketner, Jeff McInnis and C.J. Miles). "All respects to Nate Thurmond,” he said. “I really appreciate him and pay my homage to him for having the conversation of allowing me to wear the No. 42. But I thought this was a chance for me to one, start fresh, and two, pick a new number that would suit me. So I went all the way back to my grass roots and my first number I ever played with.” Love was more of an inside player early in his career. Last year, 36 percent of his field-goal attempts were from behind the arc. “I just think that’s where the game is going,” he said. “You’re seeing that European influence over the past 10 to 15 years in the NBA. I always looked at that type of player, No. 41, Dirk Nowitzki. I loved his game. He was able to rebound, was able to shoot the ball and be able (to play with his) back to the basket. I knew I’d be a better commodity for any team in any system if I was as tall as I am and also being able to play inside and outside. I just mentioned I can fit any system, and I think I will fit in (Cavaliers coach David) Blatt’s.”
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: On Tuesday afternoon, the Thunder traded its third-string center to Philadelphia for a $1.25 million trade exception. OKC also received a 2015 second-round pick in the deal, but it is heavily protected -- a phantom pick -- and will likely never make its way into OKC's hands. With Steven Adams' emergence last season and the first round selection of Mitch McGary in this past June's draft, Thabeet became expendable. Behind Adams and incumbent starter Kendrick Perkins, Scott Brooks has become increasingly more comfortable going small, meaning Nick Collison, McGary and even Serge Ibaka can play center at times. So it was a numbers game for Thabeet, with his departure opening up a roster spot and a bit more financial flexibility heading into the season. Thabeet was due $1.25 million next season, a contract that would have been guaranteed on Sept. 1. OKC is now around $2.9 million under the luxury tax, with its roster at 14.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Carlos Delfino still will be owed $3.25 million but the Clippers may be able to use a "stretch provision" to delay some of the salary cap hit, the newspaper reported. It's uncertain if the deal could mark the end of Delfino's NBA career, given the serious nature of the foot injury he suffered during the 2013 playoffs when he was with the Houston Rockets. He will turn 32 years old Friday. Delfino worked tirelessly over the past few months with Bucks trainer Scott Barthlama, but a league source said the bone has not healed properly and the Argentine player might be out for another season.
  • Howie KKussoy of the New York Post: Iman Shumpert has spent the summer working on a lot of little things, honing different elements of his offensive arsenal, in preparation for what he expects to be a bigger role in the Knicks offense. Having spent the majority of his young career playing in Mike Woodson’s perimeter-heavy attack, Shumpert said he believes the switch to Derek Fisher’s triangle offense finally will allow him to be properly utilized on the offensive end. "There’s constant action going on," Shumpert said. "I think I’ll be able to capitalize off that and I’ll be able to use my athleticism a lot more than standing in the corner." After tearing his ACL during the 2012 playoffs, missing much of the following season and spraining his MCL in the same knee last season, Shumpert said the biggest focus of his offseason training has been strengthening his left knee back to the level it was during his breakout rookie season.
  • Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer: In other Sixers news, Hinkie said that rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, who underwent right-shoulder surgery May 6, was shooting and "working out hard" but had not been cleared for five-on-five contact. Hinkie said he was happy with the progress of center Nerlens Noel, who missed all of last season while recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery but played with the Sixers in the summer. It's too early to tell whether Embiid will play this season, Hinkie said. Embiid had surgery June 20 for a stress fracture in his right foot. As they were with Noel, the Sixers will likely be cautious with Embiid, who tweeted Tuesday that he signed his NBA contract, although the team had not released the information.

Will Jared Dudley trade help Clippers?

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:55
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Jared Dudley has been traded to the Bucks after just one year with the Clippers. Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Amin Elhassan break down the trade.

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David Blatt vs. LeBron James

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
1:12
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The Cavaliers' new head coach is no wallflower. He's loud, frank, controlling. But is David Blatt destined to butt heads with his new superstar, LeBron James?

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Warriors rest future on feats of Klay

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
11:14
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
videoKevin Love has finally been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a Midwest exchange that, on the face of things, shouldn’t turn stomachs in California. That’s not how the social media age works, though. We know of unconsummated trade talks between the Warriors and Timberwolves and understand that Golden State getting Love was indeed feasible. So this is how a Minnesota player’s move to Cleveland has the potential to haunt fans in the Bay Area, possibly for a decade or more. Everybody saw the path Golden State took when the road forked before it.

The Warriors are finally good enough that one extra piece could make them a real contender. Now, fans are more disappointed than if Golden State had never bothered to try in the first place. The pain of coming up just short of greatness has the potential to burn more acutely than years of prior mediocrity, even though the alternate reality, the one where the Warriors aren’t good enough to even make getting Love a possibility, is a bleaker picture of a more sickly franchise -- something resembling the Chris Cohan era.

[+] EnlargeKevin Love, Klay Thompson
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsInstead of trading for Kevin Love, the Warriors are counting on Klay Thompson to take a leap forward.
Love reportedly did have interest in joining the Warriors but couldn’t and didn’t promise to stay beyond the year left on his contract. The Warriors did have interest in getting Love but couldn’t bring themselves to part with Klay Thompson. There were many components to the potential deal, but this is the reductive summary: Golden State could have gotten Love had it been willing to part with Thompson before the draft. But after LeBron James chose Cleveland, the Warriors' reluctance to part with Thompson became a moot point, as the Wolves decided they preferred Andrew Wiggins anyway. There was a window for a while, and LeBron closed it.

The Warriors' decision to refuse that window is the source of some confusion around the league. Why couldn’t they part with a rotation player for an All-Star, especially when said rotation player is up for a big contract extension in a year? Love would have been an ideal complement to Stephen Curry on offense, given how both players give teams fits in the pick-and-roll. How could keeping Thompson be worth it?

If the Warriors indeed erred in keeping Thompson, his likability could be partly to blame. It’s easy to forget that workplace drudgery exists behind the exciting, televised game, and the people making decisions must deal with the personalities attached to the talent. Thompson is regarded as the epitome of a good soldier. If he was anything less, he might be buying winter clothes right now.

Love can be viewed as a cantankerous teammate; apparently even Ricky Rubio has had his gripes. Las Vegas Summer League practically doubled as a whisper campaign against the All-Star power forward, perhaps driven by teams attempting to depress his trade value.

In contrast, it’s difficult to uncover complaints about Thompson, who committed to Team USA and made its 12-man roster. Even though last season’s Golden State coaching staff was engulfed in internecine warfare, feuding sides could always agree on their shooting guard. Coaches just love Klay. Mike Krzyzewski is the latest such example.

While the shooting slumps frustrate fans, coaches mostly rave about his work ethic and low-maintenance manner. Thompson plays with a blank expression that can read as apathy, but he is reputed to have an uncommon competitive streak, especially on the defensive end. He is known to keep obsessive track of the impact his defense has on opponents’ offensive stats. Further endearing him to some coaches, he cares little for credit or attention. I’ve personally seen Warriors officials stop Thompson from sneaking out of the building after big scoring performances. He either dreads postgame interviews or is wholly apathetic toward them.

Last season, Thompson was trusted with the toughest defensive assignments, tasked nightly with forcing ball handlers from the middle of the floor. The Warriors coaches believed him to be a better defender than Andre Iguodala, who made the All-Defense first team, even though the on-court/off-court numbers strongly sided with Iguodala.

How Golden State planned its future has much to do with these coaches who no longer work there. Last season’s coaching situation was such a bloody mess that Warriors management isn’t sure of what it has with this current roster. Specifically, it isn't sure of how good Thompson and Harrison Barnes (who was also dangled in talks) are. But there’s an internal expectation that both players are better than what they have shown and will demonstrate that going forward.

Management believes the coaching staff that loved Thompson so much didn’t do enough for him offensively. The Warriors were last in the league in passes per game -- a stat Jerry West likes to derisively cite. Golden State is optimistic that next season will be different. Steve Kerr, another coach who happens to be a big fan of Thompson's, sweeps in with talk of Spurs-style motion offense and triangle-spacing principles.

Plays were almost never called for Thompson last season, but he would sometimes end up with the ball in isolation situations simply because the defense had thwarted the action. Critics would point to Thompson's lack of playmaking and pedestrian true shooting mark. His supporters at Warriors HQ would cite a situation that wasn’t conducive to his catch-and-shoot skill set. The Hawks revolve much of their offense around Kyle Korver. The Warriors weren’t nearly that intentional about using Thompson.

While there is a perception that certain pro-Thompson forces won out within the organization, the Warriors insist that final decision-making rests with majority owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers. Myers makes the ultimate recommendation, and Lacob holds veto power. The Warriors debate such matters with their other core basketball operations people (assistant GM Travis Schlenk, assistant GM Kirk Lacob, West and Kerr), but this is by design. This is part of what management considers its "internal due diligence," a process of many voices informing the final choice. Myers has the technical authority to ignore these perspectives but trends toward courting many opinions.

[+] EnlargeSteve Kerr
Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesNew coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors front office see ways to open up Thompson's offensive game.
Is this a chaotic “too many chefs” problem or simply an open-minded organization that favors inquiry over ego? It really depends on how successful you deem the decisions.

What's curious about Golden State’s wisdom-of-crowds approach is it produced a different result from what a majority of NBA observers (including yours truly) would have advocated. In our ESPN Forecast polling, the Warriors would have roughly tripled their title chances with a Love acquisition.

It’s not like Lacob is apathetic at the prospect of winning a championship. He’s a maniacal presence on the sideline of every home game. He’s laying the groundwork for a stadium in San Francisco. He has every incentive to triple Golden State’s title chances, if such a thing is possible.

“Only we know all the details of such discussions that may or may not have occurred,” Lacob wrote in an email discussing the trade. “And, if it even needs to be said, nobody wants to win as badly as we want to win. We have invested our money, our time, our reputations.”

Fair or not, those reputations are in the hands of Klay Thompson, the good soldier. If he fails to markedly improve and Love thrives in the spotlight, this summer will be viewed as a disaster.

It wouldn’t be that way in a bygone era. We never would have known of this almost-deal, or at least wouldn’t have cared so much. This is the new reality, though. By doing nothing at all, the Warriors have made a big, risky trade for their own player.

Theory of gravity

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:24
AM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
video

The shooting ability of LeBron's new Big 3 have the potential to make life on offense whole lot easier for him.

First Cup: Tuesday

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:12
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: The Greek agent for Knicks draft pick Thanasis Antetokounmpo said he’s “amazed’’ his client chose to play in the NBA’s D-League for the $25,000 cap and turn down an offer from an A-Division team in the Italian League, calling it “a big sacrifice." According to agent Tim Lotsos, the Italian club, Varese, offered Antetokounmpo a two-year deal worth $550,000 with an opt-out to join the NBA after one year. Olympiakos in Greece and Sevilla in Spain also offered him deals. “Amazing isn’t it?," Lotsos told The Post in a phone call from Greece. “To my surprise, he passed on it. He’s very ambitious and determined to make the NBA. It’s a big sacrifice. It could’ve really put him ahead of schedule in his career. I didn’t try to force him. I wanted him to make his own decision." ... His agent said Thanasis is still “hopeful’’ a roster spot could open late in the season via trades.
  • Matthew Glenesk of The Indianapolis Star: Frank Vogel continued that he was confident George Hill will rise to the challenge, noting the former IUPUI and Broad Ripple star has worked harder this offseason than at any point in his career. So what exactly does that hard work look like? The folks at PEAK Sports USA posted a video of the Pacers point guard working on all facets of his game in the gym and in the weight room. The name of the workout is 'Monster Discipline', which shouldn't be confused with Hill's affinity for Animal Planet's 'River Monsters.' Hill averaged 10.3 points, 3.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game last season, starting all 76 games he appeared in. Hill will get some help in the backcourt from Donald Sloan, C.J. Watson and new signings C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Larry Drew said he was "blindsided" by the way he lost his job as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Commenting at length for the first time since he was fired by the Bucks' new ownership June 30, Drew said his firing was "definitely mystifying." The veteran coach lasted just one season in Milwaukee and was replaced by former Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd. Even as Drew was taking part in draft preparations with the Bucks management staff in late June, team owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry were starting their talks with Kidd. ... Maybe the most embarrassing snub Drew suffered was having to sit at the introductory news conference with No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker at the Milwaukee Public Market on the day after the draft, even though the owners already had talked to Kidd by that time. "The whole Jabari thing, putting me in that position, I don't think it was very professional," Drew said. "I wish it wouldn't have happened that way, but it did. If I had been a new coach, I might have reacted differently (to the firing). But because I've been in this so long and I've had friends who have had these type things happen to them, I was OK. This is the life we choose and sometimes you have to expect the unexpected." Last week, Drew was hired as an assistant by Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt. The Bucks will continue to pay Drew for the next two seasons and that compensation will be offset by whatever pay he is receiving from the Cavaliers.
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: Zydrunas Ilgauskas thinking about a comeback? Ilgauskas is 39 and has been retired for three years. Last season, the Cavs had a touching ceremony, attended by LeBron James, where Ilgauskas had his number raised to the rafters inside Quicken Loans Arena. But now that James is back, Ilgauskas could be ready for a return, according to ESPN Cleveland radio host Tony Rizzo, who first talked about an Ilgauskas return on his TV program, The Rizzo Show, late Sunday night. Rizzo then reiterated it on Monday morning.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: For Suns-starved fans, the sight of Goran Dragic playing basketball again Tuesday would be satisfying if it was not August and a meaningless friendly game between Dragic's Slovenian national team and the U.S. That chance to see him on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. Arizona time might conjure images of Dragic's ankle bending like a green twig last season. Dragic's extensive offseason of national-team work was blamed, in part, for his injuries and fatigue. ... Dragic still might be seen more than Derrick Rose on Tuesday, but the agreement has been for Dragic to be kept to one practice per day and no more than 25 minutes of playing time in exhibition appearances. The Suns and his agents agreed to bump his exhibition appearances from three to five, which still keeps him out of most of Slovenia's 16 exhibitions. "You have to be ready and be fair," said Rade Filipovic, who represents Dragic along with agent Bill Duffy. "We don't want him to be burned out or injured. Everyone is concerned or cautious." ... Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough talked Monday to Dragic, who also said that he is "fresh." McDonough said Filipovic, Duffy, the Slovenians and the Suns have cooperated to execute a mutually beneficial plan.
  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: USA Basketball cut Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and kept Derrick Rose. Tough decisions have to be made. But what I'm most interested in is what happens next. Because if I know Lillard as well as I think I do, I'm thinking USA Basketball just did Portland an interesting favor. Some athletes are motivated by money, marketing and exposure. Some are driven by legacy. But anyone who has followed Lillard's story from Oakland to Weber State to the NBA All-Star team knows that he is a man driven by proving himself. I think Lillard needs to elevate his game, especially on defense. He's a sensational offensive player, with great vision and feel that you just can't teach. He's quick, he has an excellent shot, and he possesses outstanding instinct. But I'm most fascinated by his work ethic, and the fact that he appears most motivated when he's doubted.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden offered a moment of candor about how he thinks, about how top players have to think. ESPN’s Scoop Jackson asked “In your mind, who is the best basketball player alive right now?” Harden answered “myself.” In his mind, he is supposed to think that way. He might not even be the best basketball player on his team (Howard was a much better offensive player than Harden was a defensive player last season), but he is expected to think of himself as unstoppable. He is expected at times to convince himself that no one can be his equal, no matter what mental gymnastics it takes to come to that conclusion. This was no slip on unintended candor. Later that same day, while doing an interview to promote the NBA 2K15 video game, Harden declared more directly “I’m the best all-around basketball player in the NBA.” This is actually nothing new for the Rockets. There was a segment of fans that believed that the Rockets had the best basketball player alive on the roster last season, too, but he has since been traded to the Lakers. Harden, however, actually said it. And unlike his little talk about the Rockets’ offseason, when he seemed to diminish teammates as “pieces” around the cornerstones, he did not even have the out of his declaration being true. Humility has its place, but the Rockets are better off with Harden seeking greatness on the highest levels of his sport.
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Spencer Dinwiddie was “The Mayor" at Colorado. When it came to his college choice, though, the Pistons’ 6-foot-6 rookie point guard had to decide between the Buffaloes and Harvard. Either pick would have been great, but the competition in the Pac-12 was too much for the Los Angeles native to pass up. He recently talked with former Piston Rick Mahorn and discussed his decision on the Pistons’ website. “Both of those schools recruited me in depth, and I loved both programs,” Dinwiddie said. “I wanted to test my talents against the Pac-12. I wanted to stay closer to home, and I wanted to prove to people that didn’t recruit me as hard that I was the player me and my family thought I was. Obviously, growing up on the West Coast, the Pac-12 is the conference you think about going to. When only a couple of them came calling and a lot of them didn’t like me in the same fashion, and when it came down to those two choices, I said: ‘You know what?’ I felt like I was an NBA player, and that was something I wanted to prove." The Pistons took a chance on the big point guard, drafting him but holding him out of the summer league in hopes of having him ready for the start of training camp. With Dinwiddie and 6-5 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons could have their backcourt of the future.
  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: Now you can truthfully say the K-Love traded from Minnesota to Cleveland is all arms. Not all arms and legs, mind you, just arms. That’s because “K-Love,” the name for an octopus that was named after forward Kevin Love, has been traded from SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium at the Mall of America to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, which surrendered rights to the name of its octopus, Ocho. On the surface – and even underwater — this trade looks like Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas all over again. The real Kevin Love went from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Cleveland Cavs as part of a blockbuster three-team trade also involving Philadelphia over the weekend. So while that Kevin Love gets to play with LeBron James, the all-arms K-Love, a giant Pacific octopus, will sleep with the fishes. The folks at SEA LIFE noted “the name, K-Love, should follow his human counterpart in the trade to Cleveland. The memories Kevin Love has given the Timberwolves will stay in Minnesota, and the octopus will be staying at SEA LIFE Minnesota as well.” So the deal was for the name only, thus avoiding what could have been a very emotional clutch-and-grab farewell. Already there is talk the name “Ocho” will be disbanded by the Minnesota aquarium in favor of something to honor Andrew Wiggins, the biggest return in the trade for Minnesota. Under consideration: Sqwiggins, Iggy and A-W. Not surprisingly, no one proposed “Andrew” or “Andy.”

Religious issues on the court

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
1:01
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
video

FIBA rules ban some forms of religious wear, including the hijab. ESPN's Chad Ford, an expert on such issues in his day job as a professor, says repealing the ban would be a great idea.

First Cup: Monday

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
5:13
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Having spent an injury-free summer working out and feeling rewarded by the Celtics’ surprising long-term investment, Avery Bradley said he is determined to live up to expectations. “I’m motivated to be the best teammate I can be,” he said. “One thing I want to improve this year is I want to get my teammates involved a little bit more [by passing the ball]. I know that’s something I can get better at, especially because the game’s slowing down for me. I’m willing to do whatever it takes.” Bradley came into the NBA following his freshman season at the University of Texas a bright-eyed 19-year-old, but he is now the second-most tenured Celtic behind Rajon Rondo. And he laughs when told that rookie Marcus Smart is 3 years his junior and James Young is nearly five. “I remember KG [ Kevin Garnett] and those guys would tell me, 10 years is going to go by like that and I’m already five years in,” he said. “It hits home for sure because I’m taking a leadership role. I’m open to taking it and not only that, I’m excited to take it. I feel like I can teach the younger guys a lot, all the stuff that I’ve been through, all the stuff that I’ve learned from the amazing players I was blessed enough to play with.” Bradley and Rondo are the Celtics’ projected starting backcourt and the two have grown closer over the years.
  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: The three-team trade that became official on Saturday, sending Thaddeus Young to the Minnesota Timberwolves and bringing the Sixers two expiring contracts and a first-round draft pick, enhanced the plan that general manager Sam Hinkie has put into place. There is no now. There is only the future. ... How does this transaction help the Sixers for the upcoming season? Probably not much. How will it help them in the future? It's another stockpiling of assets by Hinkie. When those assets will pay dividends is anyone's guess right now.
  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: While most of the local media attention in the Timberwolves’ trade of Kevin Love to the Cavaliers has focused on the arrival of No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, Flip Saunders believes that Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young will play crucial roles with the team, as well. Bennett was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 but had a rough rookie year. Saunders believes a lot of that is in the past. “He has good potential,” said the Wolves president and coach. “He played very well this summer, was one of the better big men really at Vegas at the Summer League.” ... But Saunders said Young was about more than just production. “He is a borderline All-Star,” he said. “There has been a lot of speculation about why would you trade for him and give up a first-round pick that is in the 20s to bring him in? Here are the things, we didn’t have a power forward on our board that had started an NBA game. The other thing is, going back I saw how [Kevin] Garnett developed, how [Stephon] Marbury developed, how [Wally] Szczerbiak developed, we always had mentors with those players." ... Saunders added that while Young, who is only two months older than Love, can be a free agent next season, he hopes he can convince him that Minnesota is the best place for his career. But the Wolves will have flexibility either way, because if Young departs, they can use his loss of salary to add another free agent.
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: It was something neither Mike Miller nor James Jones wanted to admit when they were introduced as free agents for the Cleveland Cavaliers two weeks ago. LeBron James has dodged it, instead hoping to focus on the "process." General Manager David Griffin won't say it either. But after the Cavs' most recent move in what has become a landmark off-season, there's only one thing that will make the 2014-15 season a success: an NBA championship. ... Thanks to biggest transformation the league has seen in one off-season, the Cavs, winners of 97 games the last four years, have gone from Eastern Conference doormat to the upper echelon of the NBA, and there's no reason for them to not win the title this season. Getting to the playoffs is not enough. Neither is getting to the Finals. The talent has been acquired. The pieces fit perfectly. Now there's one thing left, and it's something the franchise has never done before: win the NBA championship. Anything less would be a disappointment.
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: More than any other NBA franchise, the Thunder has steadily utilized its D-League program the past six years. And it’s produced a ton of success stories. But that hasn’t just been limited to the players who have made brief stops. It extends to the sidelines, where a handful of the coaches and support staff have used Thunder U as a career springboard. On Friday afternoon, the Thunder announced the hiring of Florida assistant Mark Daigneault as the next head coach of its D-League team, which relocated from Tulsa to OKC this offseason and has yet to determine its name. ... Most signs would indicate Daigneault might not be long for this position. He’s a rapid riser. And that’s just how the Thunder likes it. The three guys who held this gig before Daigneault – Nate Tibbetts, Dale Osbourne and Darko Rajakovic – all immediately ascended to assistant coaching positions in the NBA. Tibbetts and Osbourne are currently with the Blazers. Rajakovic was hired as the Thunder’s newest assistant this offseason. It’s a ton of turnover for one position. But it’s the good kind.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: One veteran NBA scout said Michael Beasley is a far better player than journeyman Shawne Williams and questioned the Heat for signing Williams to guaranteed money. So why hasn’t the Heat tried to re-sign Beasley when it could use his offense? A person with direct knowledge cited several reasons for the Heat's lack of interest: Inconsistency, lack of trust in his defense (and ability to execute the Heat's defensive system), and maturity/focus issues, which are still a concern even though he improved somewhat in that regard last season. I would give Beasley another shot at the minimum; he ranked in the top 52 in points-per-48 minutes last season and the Heat might regret not having his offense this season if Dwyane Wade or Danny Granger is injured. Beasley would have interest in returning if the Heat calls. But essentially, this comes down to lack of trust by the Heat coaching staff after working with Beasley for nine months. It spoke volumes that the Heat instead prefered a player (Williams) who has had just one good NBA season (2010-11 for the Knicks) and spent much of last season in the Developmental League.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: With the likes of Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Matt Bonner having earned new contracts, the lone member of the Spurs’ 2014 championship team yet to re-sign is restricted free agent center Aron Baynes. Well-known Turkish sportscaster Ismael Senol tweeted on Sunday that while Baynes hopes to return to San Antonio, he’s also begun to explore options overseas in the hopes of signing for at least $1.5 million Euros. Baynes, 27, has been a marginal contributor since joining the Spurs in Jan. 2013. He averaged 3.0 points and 2.7 rebounds with a 9.7 Player Efficiency Rating — 15.0 is average — in 53 appearances last season. ... They commonly keep a slot open for flexibility. Indeed, that same approach that could spell the end of Baynes’ stint in San Antonio is what allowed the Spurs to add him in the first place as a project from Europe.
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: If the idea of going to the gym on a Saturday morning sounds comparable to having root canal procedure during a tax audit, here's some motivation from one of the newest Washington Wizards: Paul Pierce posted video of himself running sprints uphill on sand dunes in Malibu. ... If you can't tell, the Los Angeles native is working out in Wizards gear. ... Training camp opens next month. What are you waiting for?

Free, Love: The liberated T-Wolves

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
5:50
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
The only thing we know with certainty is that Aug. 23, 2014, marks the date of the liberation of the Minnesota Timberwolves. We don’t know yet if it will go down as the day the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired their final championship component, or the day the Timberwolves landed the Next Big Thing. Too many variables involved to be sure. But go ahead and rejoice in the freedom of the Timberwolves. They’re freed from expectations, freed from conventional NBA style and most of all freed from that most hellish of NBA locales, the Cape of Mediocrity.

There was all of this pressure to get good or lose Kevin Love. Fret no more. Now they’ve lost him, even though it turned out they weren’t that good with him. Their best record in Love’s six seasons in Minnesota was this season’s 40-42 -- and there’s not much worse in the NBA than being 40-42. That’s not good enough to be a contender, not bad enough to have a good shot at getting a top draft pick in the lottery.

Now there’s no need for them to get good right away. Flip Saunders is in his first year back as coach. He also happens to be the GM. He’s not on the hot seat, he just did the ice bucket challenge.

With Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine flying through the air and Ricky Rubio throwing them lob passes, the Timberwolves have a chance to be the most entertaining team in the league. They never were going to be that with Love. Even though I could spend entire summer afternoons watching this Love outlet GIF -- it’s that mesmerizing -- Love doesn’t make you jump out of your seat and immediately start texting your buddies.

And if the best thing the Timberwolves have to offer is style, maybe they can play in a way that runs counter to the NBA trend of jacking up 3-pointers all the time. Last season they were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA (ranking 26th), but that didn’t stop them from attempting just as many 3s as the league leader in 3-point percentage, the San Antonio Spurs. Love was the biggest culprit, and his 505 3-point attempts were more than all but five players in the league.

Wiggins wasn’t a stellar 3-point shooter in college and Anthony Bennett made only 10 as a rookie last season. They should be attacking the hoop and leaving the 3s to Kevin Martin. Scrap the layups/3s/free throws model the rest of the league operates under and go for dunks/dunks/more dunks.

Minnesota’s good luck should be our good luck ... and it all starts with Cleveland’s good luck. Has anyone ever benefited more from someone else’s good fortune than the Timberwolves? Usually premium talent becomes available because something went wrong. Clashes with management, attitude issues, contractual stalemates. In this case Minnesota had a chance to cash in because so much went right for Cleveland. The Cavaliers landed No. 1 pick after No. 1 pick, and then the best player in the game returned because he got homesick. So the Cavaliers had the motivation to accelerate their winning window and the means to get Love with that ultra-rare offer of back-to-back No. 1 picks.

I’d much rather have rookie contracts than expiring contracts (which is primarily what Minnesota sent to Philadelphia, along with a first-round pick from Miami, to get Love fill-in Thaddeus Young). If the Timberwolves so desire, they can have Wiggins and Bennett for a combined $53 million over the next four years. Compare that to, say, Eric Gordon on a $58 million deal over four years.

When the Timberwolves first came to grips with the likelihood they’d have to trade Love they couldn’t have imagined they would end up with the top pick in the most anticipated draft in years. They’ve got a player with the talent to become a star. Even if Wiggins’ potential goes unfulfilled, at least the Timberwolves are unburdened.

Spurs picked as title favorites in 2014-15

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
5:26
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Gregg Popovich's team was the fifth-most likely to win it all last season, but with hardly any roster changes, they're the favorites this time around.

video

Team USA bringing the pressure

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
1:32
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe has been watching Team USA, and one thing's for sure: Mike Krzyzewski's team will pressure ball-handlers. Even James Harden is active on defense.

video

Old Cavaliers

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
1:17
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
When the Cavaliers hired David Blatt they were one of the youngest teams in the league, but not anymore.

video

First Cup: Friday

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
5:19
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony, of course, had a rather hectic summer, which included his decision to re-sign with the Knicks for five years, $124 million, rejecting considerably less financially from Chicago, but also spurning the chance to join the Bulls, the team many view as the favorite in the East. Instead, he chose to stay with the rebuilding plan of Knicks president Phil Jackson. It was, however, a close call. “As far as me staying here, a lot went into that decision. At the end of the day, I did have to believe in Phil, I did have to believe in my teammates. So that’s all that matters,” Anthony said. “It was close, it was close. I don’t even like to talk about that. This is home. There is no place like New York. Although the other situations were very intriguing, there is no place like New York.” The slimmed-down forward has been in touch with teammates all summer. He cited the offseason regimens of Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Cleanthony Early and Iman Shumpert. “Everybody is just putting in the proper work. I think with the new energy that we have now with the team and the coaches, everybody is just excited to get back,” said Anthony, who added “I can’t wait” — or a variation thereof — about 30 times. Everybody’s antsy, waiting to get back,” he said. “And I can’t wait. I look forward to this season.” But before you purchase playoff and Finals tickets, Anthony cautioned there will be an adjustment period. There are new players (Samuel Dalembert, Jose Calderon, Jason Smith, Early, Travis Outlaw, Shane Larkin, Quincy Acy), a new coach (Derek Fisher), a new system (the triangle offense). Learning the triangle will take time.
  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: The first time the Timberwolves traded their franchise player, the plan was to rebuild a team that would be back in the postseason in two to three years. It's now 10 and counting, the longest active postseason skid in the NBA. "I think that when you give up a top-10 player, it's the exception to the rule that you survive," said George Karl, an ESPN analyst. The question now is whether the Timberwolves can be the exception. Last time, they weren't. Minnesota got five players and two first-round draft picks when they sent Kevin Garnett to Boston in July 2007. The Celtics got an NBA title in 2008; the Timberwolves, as their fans well know, got nowhere. Since then, the Wolves are on their fifth head coach, third front-office boss and no playoff appearances. Yet they're again on the verge of trading one of the NBA's best players as soon as Saturday, the first day they can finalize a deal to send sweet-shooting, big-rebounding power forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for 19-year-old Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: There’s a powerful person behind Derrick Rose’s participation with USA Basketball who prefers to remain behind-the-scenes. Jen Swanson, whom the Bulls hired last summer as their Director of Sports Performance, is more qualified than anyone to monitor Rose’s rehabilitation, knees and body. And the fact she is traveling with USA Basketball and in consistent communication with Rose, who returned to practice Thursday after three days of rest, is an important security blanket for the Bulls, who still believe reward outweighs risk in this endeavor. ... The Bulls hired Swanson away from Athletes’ Performance in Los Angeles after she worked extensively with Rose during his rehabilitation from his May 2012 surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee. She quickly developed a strong rapport with players during her first season and then unexpectedly developed an even stronger bond with Rose when he tore his right meniscus in November 2013. ... Whether the Bulls win or lose depends largely on Rose staying healthy. Swanson, who is scheduled to travel to Spain for Rose’s participation in the FIBA World Cup, will be critical in that goal.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: It will be hard to truly define Tim Leiweke’s legacy with the Raptors because the things the departing chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment provided are not quantifiable. But in his first year at the top of the pecking order in the organization, his contribution was to infuse the franchise with a sense of importance and watch it gain momentum, not only among fans here but with people throughout the league. His most significant move was also his biggest and his first, one that should resonate for years. Disposing of former president and general manager Bryan Colangelo in an awkward and not-well-handled transition period allowed Leiweke to pluck Masai Ujiri from the Denver Nuggets. Leiweke gave Ujiri carte blanche to do with the roster what he saw fit and it started the Raptors on a course that returned them to relevancy in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. It was Leiweke’s aggressive nature — too blustery and aggressive at the start, he will attest — that gave Ujiri the feeling he could do whatever was necessary to get the franchise headed in the right direction. It was as if, in some ways, Leiweke picked a clone to run an NBA team that hadn’t sniffed the playoffs in half a decade. The two men are equally driven to win. They can be demanding and they are both adamant that the Raptors will command respect around the league. And it worked.
  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: The first decade or so of his basketball career, Lin was just a guy. The pinnacle of his career was supposed to be when he led Palo Alto High to a Division II state title in 2006. Those days are gone. As much as he may miss the anonymity, the luxury of being the underdog, that's not his lot anymore. The low-key kid has accepted his calling to the big time. So he heads to the Lakers, on the final year of his contract, needing to produce under the heat of the magnifying glass. "It's incredible. It's a blessing," said Lin, who turns 26 on Saturday. "I am a lot more comfortable now than I was in the beginning. Going into my fifth year, I'm able to handle that now more than ever. I put more pressure on myself now than what I feel from the outside." It's a raw deal in some respects. Lin will probably never be appreciated nationally the way he actually should be -- as a productive NBA guard. Like many others, he has some bankable skills to go with some weaknesses.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: One of the youngest players in this year's draft, James Young should benefit to some degree from being coached by Stevens, whose coaching career has been at the college level minus last season as the Celtics' head coach. Just like John Calipari challenged Young to continue improving in his lone season at Kentucky, the 6-foot-7 guard/forward is finding it's not all that different with the Celtics and Stevens. "Coach Stevens has really been on me about defense," Young told CSNNE. "That's how coach Cal was, too." Because of Young's 7-foot wing span, his potential as a solid defender is clear which can only increase the chances of him seeing time on the floor sooner rather than later.
  • Matt Velazquez of the Journal Sentinel: With his long strides, Giannis Antetokounmpo looks as if he can go coast-to-coast in a just two dribbles. He nearly did just that on Thursday while playing for the Greek national team against Turkey in Athens. Did Antetokounmpo travel on the play above? After watching the clip too many times to count — mostly because it was too impressive to just watch once or twice — I'm convinced he didn't. Even if he had, do you think any NBA referee would blow the whistle? No way. Regardless, this is just the latest in a long series of head-scratching, hard-to-believe highlights from the Bucks' 19-year-old star. Overall, Antetokounmpo led Greece with 12 points and added six rebounds in a 70-56 win over Turkey. Nick Calathes of the Memphis Grizzles also had 12 points for Greece.
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: Drew Gooden will not be able to represent Finland in the upcoming FIBA World Cup because his application for dual citizenship will not be cleared in time for the tournament, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The Wizards big man, whose mother is Finnish, was not on the 12-man roster Finland submitted Wednesday for the competition, according to reports out of Finland. The tournament will begin Aug. 30 in Spain. Finland’s first game will be against the United States. In a recent phone interview, Gooden explained that he grew up with his father, Andrew, in Oakland, Calif., but made summer-long trips to Finland every two years to spend time with his mother’s family. He roamed his grandparents’ farm — situated about four hours north of the Finnish capital of Helsinki — milking cows, hunting, fishing, and tending to chicken coops. The biennial visits left an impression on Gooden, who identifies as Finnish.
  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: On what he feels like being the only owner speaking out about international basketball -- Mark Cuban: “I’ve never had an owner come up to me about the subject and say I’m wrong. Never. They all thank me. And that’s typical of my role. It’s just not a lot of the owners’ nature to say anything publicly. You better believe OKC was breathing a sigh of relief when Kevin Durant stepped down. There was nobody in Oklahoma saying, ‘Darn. What about the USA and the Olympics?’ Everyone understood that it was the right decision for Kevin Durant. It is about money. We accept that it’s about money.”

First Cup: Thursday

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
5:02
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: There has been little scuttlebutt about the 76ers' potential involvement in the impending Timberwolves/Cavaliers trade since multiple outlets said the Sixers could end up sending Thaddeus Young to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins deal. One report indicated the Sixers could end up getting Anthony Bennett, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, as part of a package for Young. But Jerry Zgoda, Timberwolves beat writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, tweeted this Wednesday: “Just a reminder: if you keep reading Bennett is headed to Philly for Young in forthcoming trade . . . don't believe it.” ... If the Sixers cannot land Bennett, general manager Sam Hinkie could opt to swap Young for a pair of Minnesota players with expiring deals. Any two of these three guys — Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea — would work under the league's salary-cap rules. The Sixers could also wind up with a protected first-round pick.
  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: OK, Derrick, just stop. Quit Team USA and call it a day. Or a week. Or whatever. Rest your right knee. Rest your left knee. Rest everything. Have yourself cryogenically frozen and then thawed in two months, ready to play NBA basketball. That’s when the regular season starts, and that’s all we really care about. That’s what the Bulls are paying you $100 million to do, after all. That’s what Adidas is paying you $200 million to do. Missing time with knee issues has become so common for Rose since 2012 that we don’t know whether the guy can play anything remotely like a full season without hurting himself. ... When does fatigue become "I’m hurt again”? I know this is hard for Rose to take. An elite, driven athlete is never sated just by tons of money. He wants to play. He wants to dominate. That’s what he was put on earth to do. But for Bulls fans, the wait to see a healthy, resilient Rose has been like dripping water torture.
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: Before LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland and prior to David Blatt being named the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, owner Dan Gilbert had eyes for Kentucky head coach John Calipari. ... "David Blatt can really coach," Calipari told Frank Isola and Malik Rose during an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio. "He's a better choice than me to coach that team. I coached against him. I'm not sitting here just saying it. I coached against him in FIBA basketball. I watched him coach Russia, the guy can coach, OK? Those players, all they want is respect. If they respect you as a coach they're going to play like crazy." Calipari, who had one stint as a head coach in the NBA before returning to the collegiate ranks, believes the Cavs will return to prominence. "Dan Gilbert is a great guy who wants it for the right reasons, that's why Cleveland will win," Calipari said. "Now you just have to have really good players. Guess what? Cleveland has really good players." They could be adding one more in the near future when a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves becomes official, making All-Star forward Kevin Love the newest member of Cleveland's talented roster.
  • Rebecca Salinas of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs' Larry O' Brien trophy has jetsetted across the world this summer, traveling more than 47,270 miles since its takeoff from San Antonio. But just like any traveler knows, sometimes you just need a vacation from your vacation. The trophy got just that when it was Kawhi Leonard's turn to take the trophy to San Diego for three days. Leonard told the San Diego Union-Times that the trophy stayed in his condominium the first two days, Aug. 7-8. "I didn't have any time to do anything with it," Leonard told the newspaper. "My workout schedule is crazy." So, even the 2-foot beauty wasn't enough to break his commitment to starting the season off strong, which starts in October. "I'm just a low-key guy," he told the newspaper. "I'm just happy we won it. I don't even care about the trophy. The title matters the most." That is OK, though, the trophy's chaperone, Spurs communications coordinator Mitch Heckart, was able to relax too... at his hotel's pool. The trophy did get back to work on the third day, Aug. 9, when Leonard took it to his youth skills camp in his hometown of Moreno Valley. There, fans were able to take photos with the trophy, which is documented on the Spurs' website.
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: The Nets will be getting a visibly thinner Brook Lopez when training camp begins next month. Lopez, who arrived at training camp last fall weighing around 290 pounds before playing at a weight several pounds lighter, looked noticeably thinner while participating in a youth healthy lifestyle clinic at Barclays Center on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m at my playing weight,” Lopez said with a laugh. “I can attribute that to laying in bed for months, but I’m back to the weight that’s normal for me. Last I checked, I was just under 275 [pounds].” The Nets center said last year’s bigger frame had nothing to do with the fractured fifth metatarsal he suffered in Philadelphia on Dec. 20. “I may have been five pounds heavier, but that’s not what injured me,” he said. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe the two aren’t at least partially related. Even if Lopez is a few pounds lighter, there’s no reason to believe he should have any trouble moving around players in the low block as he has while developing into arguably the best-scoring big man in the NBA.
  • Marc D'Amico of Celtics.com: It’s a well-known fact that the Boston Celtics are in rebuilding mode. In order for them to take the next step in that process, they need several of their players to take a personal step forward this season. Many refer to this individual progress as “the leap,” and that leap can occur on many different levels. The most important leap of all is from great to superstar. Then there’s the jump from good player to great player, and from role player to featured player. Boston has players who fall into each of those categories, and Rajon Rondo is the man who headlines that list. He is ‘the man’ on this team. The Celtics need him to be a superstar. Let’s not forget that Rondo has been such in the past. He is a four-time All-Star, an NBA champion and a triple-double machine. However, he was none of those last season. Rondo returned to Boston’s lineup on Jan. 17 after missing nearly a year of action with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was a very good player during his 30 appearances, averaging 11.7 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 9.8 assists per game. Those numbers are solid, but Rondo would never admit to being satisfied with them. He wants to be a superstar – the best point guard in the league. That’s what he expects out of himself.
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: For one month earlier this summer, Wizards forwards Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. spent a couple of hours a day working on the Verizon Center practice floor. They hustled through ball-handling, shooting and defensive drills with oversight from former Wizards assistant coach Ryan Saunders and David Adkins, hired later in the summer to serve as the Wizards’ player development assistant. It was the beginning of a crucial offseason for Porter and Rice. Both registered limited playing time during their rookie campaigns, unable to crack the Wizards’ rotation as the team soared to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season. They will compete against each other to become the primary three-man off the bench this season, but they first envisioned forming a potent tag team in the Las Vegas summer league. “We were talking about it before we went,” Porter said in a recent phone interview. “‘Hey, this is a great opportunity for us. We got to make the most of it.’ And that’s when we started working out together, getting better. And it definitely showed.”
  • Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: For those around Greg Oden, the news was startling. As modest and reserved as he may have seemed growing up, Oden never knew normal. He stood out from his peers from an early age — first because of his size, then his skill. Perhaps it was the weight of his crumbled career, some reasoned, and all the frustrations of not being able to meet the hype. "Greg's the type of guy that was really hurting from the fact he wasn't able to live up to the expectations people set for him," Shelt said. In recent years, Oden has admitted to battling depression and alcoholism as his career dissolved. After playing a reserve role for the Miami Heat last season, he's a free agent. It appears unlikely any NBA team would take a flier on him after this month's events.

First Cup: Wednesday

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
5:14
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Kevin Durant is in New York this week headlining at least two events, receiving the type of attention befitting a reigning MVP. But the NBA’s scoring champ won’t be playing for Team USA at the Garden — including Wednesday’s contest against the Dominican Republic — after surprisingly withdrawing from the squad earlier this month. Sitting at a panel Tuesday at Baruch College to promote basketball videogame NBA 2K15 — which features him on the cover — Durant reiterated that his decision to leave Team USA was based on rest and staying fresh for the upcoming NBA season. Durant attended the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas, only to pull out before the exhibitions leading up to the FIBA World Cup in Spain next month. He announced his decision less than a week after Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury during a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage, but was not asked by the moderator Tuesday whether that played a role in his withdrawal. Without Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, Team USA won’t have the NBA’s top four scorers from last season. Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin also withdrew before training camp. “It was definitely tough. But I think for myself it was best to step back and rest up,” Durant said.
  • Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press: Brandon Jennings’ Twitter bio says that he is “in the lab.” And today, the Detroit Pistons’ point guard emerged from the lab with this conclusion: Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan. Jennings explained his case in a series of tweets which started this morning, continued this afternoon and garnered a lot of buzz on the social media network. “Micheal Jordan had more ‘Help’ winning his rings then Kobe. #debate #yallfightingthat” he began. Kobe had Shaquille O’Neal, Jennings pointed out. But Jordan, he had Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong. What is he trying to say, someone asked. “Kobe really the greatest ever” Jennings tweeted. “Look at the facts” he tweeted. “Kobe is The Goat” he tweeted. Jennings’ argument centered on the “help” that Jordan received while winning his six championship rings, the same help that Bryant, in his eyes, didn’t get. “Mike got a lot of help!!!!” he tweeted. “MJ never won without Pippen.” he tweeted. “Kobe won 2 rings without another great on his team.” he tweeted. Jordan won six championships. Bryant has won five. “It’s only one player compared to MJ, and that’s Kobe. Now Kobe change the mindset of a lot of players today!!! #Fact #SitUpinClass” Jennings tweeted. He has won zero championships. Back to the lab.
  • Adam Wexler of CSN Houston: Team USA boasts just two players who won gold medals with Team USA in the 2012 Olympics, the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and the Rockets' James Harden. Davis has just two years of NBA experience, while Harden will be entering his sixth NBA season next year in Houston. Harden's also coming off a season that landed him a spot on the all-NBA first team, the only player with Team USA to earn such honors. His scoring potential is obvious, having averaged a shade under 26 points per game in his Rockets career and having finished fifth in the NBA in points per game both seasons. But it's his leadership and maturity that are huge assets to the group, according to U.S. Men's National Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "James has been as good a leader as we’ve had for this team. He has a great personality. He is an upbeat guy, smart, and he’s obviously very, very talented," Krzyzewski said. "With this group, especially after Kevin (Durant) left, he has asserted himself even more as an older guy. I know him, he knows me, because we have worked together. He’s really one of our key guys. There is no question about it."
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Sam Presti talks glowingly about Reggie Jackson and says the magic words that signal no bull. Terms like “DNA” and “fits the profile of a Thunder player” and “competitive will.” Keeping Jackson is a Thunder priority. But it won’t be easy. It’s not easy for anyone these days. Of the players picked in the first round of the 2011 draft, only Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving so far has signed a contract extension. The Cavs tied up Irving for five years and $90 million, beginning in 2015-16. And it’s not like that draft hasn’t produced some talent: Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kenneth Faried, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Alec Burks, the Morris twins. Jackson. Lots of guys who matter to their teams. Lots of guys who would be gold for their franchises to keep another five years. Yet only Irving has signed. Last year, only five players from the 2010 draft signed contract extensions: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Derrick Favors and Larry Sanders.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: The Heat is serious about adding another shooting guard and a big man if it can find two good ones willing to take the veteran’s minimum. After recently working out Jordan Hamilton (who signed with Toronto) and Chris Douglas-Roberts, the Heat also has inquired about Leandro Barbosa and Jordan Crawford, who both hold appeal to Miami. Among power rotation players, the Heat has shown interest in Emeka Okafor and has considered Ekpe Udoh. Preliminary inquiries were made on Andray Blatche and Jason Maxiell. Agent David Falk said he talked to the Heat about Elton Brand but that Brand is unlikely to end up here. Dwyane Wade said on social media that he has spent the past few days working out with Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem and Josh McRoberts at Indiana University, which is coached by Tom Crean, Wade's friend and former coach at Marquette.
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: Warriors guard Nemanja Nedovic, who suffered a foot injury earlier this month while playing for Serbia’s national team, will miss the FIBA World Cup, according to his agent. “After last medical check, there is no doubt,” agent Misko Raznatovic tweeted Wednesday. “Nemanja Nedovic, unfortunately, will miss World Cup in Spain. He needs to travel to Usa, on Sat.” The Warriors said Friday that Nedovic was suffering from right foot inflammation as they looked to make a further review of the guard’s condition. Serbia coach Aleksandar Dordevic told reporters on the same day that the injury was a “delicate” one.
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: The Cleveland Cavaliers have finalized their coaching staff for the 2014-15 season. First-year head coach David Blatt will be joined by associate head coach Tyronn Lue, who was lured away from the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this off-season, and assistants Jim Boylan, Bret Brielmaier, Larry Drew and James Posey. ... The team also announced Phil Handy, who joined the Cavs in 2013 after a two-year stint with the Lakers, will continue to serve as Director of Player Development with Vitaly Potapenko staying as the team's Assistant Director of Player Development.
  • Dave Zarum of Sportsnet.ca: Matt Bonner is in Toronto this week speaking to players at Nike’s Americas Team Camp, which features 60 of the best high school-level players in this hemisphere. Not long after he delivered a welcoming address to the campers, I caught up with Bonner to talk about his biggest non-basketball passion, sandwiches comedy. SN: Off the court, you’ve made some forays into the world of comedy, which got me thinking: From Coach Popovich on down, it seems a lot of guys on the Spurs are legitimately funny. Is that just a coincidence or does comedy play a role on the San Antonio Spurs? Bonner: "I think when you talk about our team and our players, you ask the question, “Is he a Spur?” When you go ahead and define what a ‘Spur’ is, most people would say hard-working, puts the team first, high character—everything you associate with the Spurs brand. But really, another characteristic of being a Spur is having a sense of humour. It’s a long season with a lot of ups and downs. Having a sense of humour is a good way to deal with stress and relieve tension and keep our team on an even keel. And just because you have a sense of humour off the court doesn’t mean you don’t have a killer instinct on it."
  • Vaughn Johnson of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has attempted to make contact with Rihanna and Kim Kardashian on Twitter, but to no avail. On Tuesday night, however, Embiid was finally successful in having a celebrity reach out to him. No, this wasn’t a beautiful woman. In fact, this wasn’t even a woman. It was WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik. The Iron Sheik is known for being very outspoken on Twitter and will waste little time in making you humble, but the former WWE Champion humbly asked Embiid an interesting question: "hello @JoelEmbiid you have the kush bubba?" Oh, Sheiky Baby. Please don’t ever change. And Embid, for the sake of every Sixers fan in Philadelphia, please do not take him up on his offer.

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