Big and bigger in Sacramento

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins is listed at 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds. By any standard, he is a huge human being. It takes a lot to make him look small. Sim Bhullar is officially "a lot."

Bhullar is listed at 7-foot-5 and 355 pounds. He went undrafted last month, but he signed with the Kings after the draft and has been working with them in advance of the Las Vegas Summer League, which starts Friday. Bhullar, who was born in Canada and is of Indian descent, averaged 10.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 2.9 blocks per game in two seasons at New Mexico State.

First Cup: Wednesday

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
By Nick Borges
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: This is Carmelo Anthony’s “dream” — play in New York with LeBron James this season. That’s right. New York. Not Miami. Too bad it’s a long shot to happen. According to a friend of Anthony’s, Melo has held out faint hope Knicks president Phil Jackson can pull a miracle and clear out the necessary salary-cap space to get it done, but he is running out of time. Anthony’s decision could come in the next couple of days. It would require Jackson to ship out Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani’s expiring contracts, and for Anthony and James to take less than the max. Iman Shumpert might have to be dealt, and the rights to Jeremy Tyler renounced. One report said Jackson conceivably can move $40 million under the cap with a flurry of moves — as long as he doesn’t take back salary. “He really wants LeBron to come to New York," the source said. “That’s his dream right now. Phil is trying to get it done."
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Right now there’s nothing more than a possibility that Bosh, James or both don’t return to Miami. But it’s a very, very dark possibility. Here’s the Heat roster right now if James and Bosh depart: Wade (because no other team is going to pay him what an indebted Miami can and inevitably will), McRoberts, Granger, Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shabazz Napier. The free agent market isn’t going to replenish losses of that magnitude. And Miami doesn’t have attractive assets it could afford to trade. The Heat could go from a four-year NBA Finals streak to a black hole. So, Riley’s task is easily stated if not easily executed. To maintain his kingdom and his ever-present cool, he needs to keep James, Bosh and Wade together.
  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: It's like this: If Lance Stephenson, the Pacers' 23-year-old free agent shooting guard, doesn't want a five-year, $44 million contract, if that's not enough to keep him in one of the few places where he's still accepted whether he's "Good Lance" or "Bad Lance," let him go. See ya. Au revoir. Nice knowing you. Listen, if Stephenson can get $10 million a year on the open market — and that's what his agent is paid to do — the more power to him and his family. But I'm saying this now: Stephenson will never have as good a support system (read: Bird) as he has now in Indianapolis. He will never find a group of teammates more willing (however grudgingly) to put up with his antics, both on the practice court and in games. He will never find a fan base more willing to embrace him, a fan base that loves him despite all his warts, much like Ron Artest, the former Pacers All-Star now named Metta World Peace. If I'm Bird, I'm not moving off that offer. I'm not budging because the contract offer fully reflects Stephenson's worth. Yes, he is a tremendous raw talent who led the league in triple-doubles. He's also enigmatic, which is a nice way of saying he can be a complete knucklehead at times. He's a time bomb in the same way Artest was forever poised to explode.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: The patience of the Bulls’ front office continued to be tested Tuesday, with free agent Carmelo Anthony’s indecision still seemingly keeping them from pursuing a Plan B. According to a source, the Bulls feel that if Anthony goes elsewhere, they are one of the leading candidates to land free-agent big man Pau Gasol — unless Anthony happens to choose the Los Angeles Lakers, which could start the dominos falling and convince Gasol to re-sign with the Lakers. "It’s frustrating for [the front office], but it’s free agency," the source said. That’s one way to describe it. Besides the Bulls, Gasol was being targeted by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Miami Heat, the Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: This is the NBA's silly season, when trade rumors fly. As expected, 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie is the most popular guy at the Orlando Pro Summer League. That's what happens when your club is $30 million under the salary cap and teams looking to shed salaries are lining up to make trade offers. "This time of year, there are way more [offers] leaked than real, and way more postured by one team or another than there's any legs to," Hinkie said Tuesday before the Sixers' 92-71 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Amway Center practice court. "We are involved in a lot of conversations. We are not involved in as many as has been reported." The Sixers have received phone calls from just about every team in the league. The most buzz surrounds the report that the team was discussing a trade for Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: LaMarcus Aldridge has decided he wants to finish his career with the Trail Blazers. But he will delay that commitment for one summer. Aldridge on Tuesday told The Oregonian he has opted to postpone signing a contract extension with the Blazers until next summer, when he can sign for more years and significantly more money. The three-time All-Star made it clear his decision had nothing to do with his commitment to the franchise or his happiness in Portland. Quite simply, he said, it was a business move. "I'm happy to stay, happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or two," Aldridge told The Oregonian in a phone interview. "This has no impact on my interest in staying in Portland. I just want to get a five-year deal. I feel like that's the best decision on my part."
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: If the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, then during free agency, it goes one step further. As in: How can I make life a little more miserable for the competition. The Mavericks are trying to do just that to the Houston Rockets, and it might qualify as a pretty decent chunk of payback. The Mavericks are taking dead aim at restricted free-agent small forward Chandler Parsons, whose stock has risen to the point that he takes a back seat to no free agents after LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. If the Mavericks sign Parsons to an offer sheet that starts in the $10 million to $12 million range, then the Rockets will have three days to match it. The problem is if the Rockets are able to sign Chris Bosh to a maximum contract, as they have offered the Miami Heat big man, that would give them three players making in excess of $14 million per season. Add Parson’s $12 million, and the Rockets would quickly be creeping into the luxury tax by the time they filled out their team. This could be called the Dwight Howard rule.
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: After scoring 26, 30 and 26 points this week – all Detroit Pistons victories – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope doesn’t have much left to prove. So it would be understandable if the Pistons decide to shelve the second-year shooting guard with two games remaining after his winning triple Tuesday beat the Miami Heat, 80-78. It’s doubly understandable considering he tweaked his ankle in the first half. “We’re going to be very smart about that because he’s played incredibly well, hard and passionate. We’ll kind of evaluate that (today),” assistant coach Bob Beyer said. You can tell if Caldwell-Pope has his way, he will be in the lineup Wednesday against the Celtics. He said it never crossed his mind to come out of Tuesday’s game.
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Coach Quin Snyder already thought highly of Dante Exum when the Utah Jazz drafted him fifth overall last month. But those impressions came from seeing game tape of Exum, and there wasn’t a whole lot of footage considering the young Australian didn’t play college ball and had limited experience and exposure outside of an international all-star game (Nike Hoop Summit) and two FIBA world tournaments for teens. Tuesday marked the first day Snyder got to observe the soon-to-be 19-year-old Exum in an up-close working environment, as the rookie point guard and 14 other players began a mini-camp to prepare for the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. So, coach? “He’s fast,” Snyder said. “I think more than anything he really looks like he knows how to play.”
  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: There were some who thought taking LaVine, a 19-year-old coming off an up-and-down freshman season at UCLA, was something of a reach. LaVine can run like the wind and jump out of the gym. But, critics said, he is raw and will need a lot of work. Turns out LaVine, unlike many pro athletes, readily admits to reading everything written about him that he can find. He knows what people are saying. So, when asked what his goals were for the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas – the Wolves’ entry plays its first game Saturday – this is what he said: “Whenever I step on the court I want to be the best player,” LaVine said. “I have a lot of high goals for myself. There are still a lot of doubters out there. I read all of the things on Twitter. I keep those in my back pocket. I feel I turned a lot of heads since I came out (of college). I’ll still continue to do that.” Again, it’s a short sample size, but LaVine played a lot of point guard Monday, and will do so in Vegas, too. After Monday’s workout Saunders said he had no question in his mind that LaVine could play both shooting guard and some at the point.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of The Boston Celtics would love to add a big man with the skills of Detroit's Greg Monroe. But all indications are that the Pistons are going to do whatever they have to do in order to re-sign the restricted free agent this offseason. "He's more important than anyone else on the free agent market to us, to the Detroit Pistons," Stan Van Gundy told reporters on Tuesday. "He's extremely important." Talented big men are hard to find, and just as hard to keep in the fold. Van Gundy is well aware of this, which is why he's preparing for any and all potential scenarios involving the 6-foot-11 big man. "I'm not going to get into the business side of things, and certainly not help other teams in terms of building their strategy or anything else," said Van Gundy.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Last season's NBA Summer League laid an ideal foundation for a newly constructed Suns team to begin building its eventual success. Alex Lenis ready for his turn. After surgeries on each ankle following the end of his collegiate career last year, Len lost the usual rookie opportunity at the Summer League to get the NBA equivalent of new employee orientation. Unable to do much beyond set-shooting last offseason, last year's No. 5 overall draft pick is making the most of this summer. The Suns' summer team started two-a-day practices Tuesday, but it is just a continuation of offseason work for Len. He kept Phoenix as his home during the offseason and spent five days a week working out at US Airways Center. The proof is in his noticeably stronger upper body. Len said he has added 10 pounds to his 7-foot-1 frame since the season ended, putting the 21-year-old at 260 pounds. "I just feel more comfortable on the court and more confident and just a little stronger," Len said. "Defensively, it's easier. Overall, I move better because my ankles are better, too." Len had setbacks early last season due to ankle issues, but a midseason respite helped.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Longtime Chicago Bulls athletic trainer Fred Tedeschi, hired by former general manager Jerry Krause in August 1998, has left the organization. Tedeschi twice won the NBATA's Joe O'Toole Trainer of the Year award. According to a team spokesman, he has accepted a position at Oregon State, where his daughter is enrolled in graduate school. After enduring recent injury-plagued seasons, the Bulls last summer hired Jen Swanson as director of sports performance to oversee the training and strength and conditioning staffs. Swanson had worked extensively with Derrick Rose at a Los Angeles-based rehabilitation clinic during his recovery from ACL surgery.

Orlando Summer League: Day 4 notables

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
By Jordan White
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 4 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

The second of the Magic's first-round picks continued his upward trajectory in terms of improvement, looking nothing like his jittery first-game self. Payton admitted that the speed of the game bothered him a bit initially, but he seemed well adjusted Tuesday. He ran the pick-and-roll about as well as can be expected, creating opportunities out of it both for himself and his teammates. His one-on-one ability was also on full display, taking his defender off the dribble several times, getting into the lane with little turbulence. Payton's clearly playing to his strengths so far, as he's yet to shoot from distance, which was one of the biggest knocks on him coming into the draft.

Jamaal Franklin, Memphis Grizzlies

Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes, the Grizzlies' draft picks this year, have been the main story for Memphis so far, but Franklin, the team's high second-round pick in 2013, is also here for the Grizzlies. Unfortunately, he hasn't played nearly as well as the other parts of the team's youth movement. Franklin was always going to be a development project, but he hasn't really shown any discernible progress from last summer. He only shot 2-of-8 Tuesday, and most of the ones he took from any sort of distance were well short. He's not much of a ball handler, either, as he turned the ball over three times. Obviously, no one expected Franklin to completely transform into a useful player in just a year, but it's a bit disheartening to see a lack of progress on the offensive end.

DeAndre Liggins, Detroit Pistons

Summer League is an opportunity for those who had a brief taste of the NBA to prove they still belong at the table. They know they'll never be stars, but they want to show teams they can contribute in some valuable way. Liggins is one of those players. Tuesday, he displayed what he can bring to an NBA team: first was his defense, as he guarded both point guards, shooting guards and even some small forwards. Second was his shooting. He was 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, each shot coming from good movement without the ball. Third was his ball movement. Liggins will never be asked to run a team, but today he made several nice passes that showed you can trust him to not kill your team with turnovers.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

It wasn't KCP's best day in terms of shooting, as he went just 8-for-20 from the field, but he showed great perseverance. Caldwell-Pope must have been knocked down a half dozen times, including one scary fall that saw him leave the game momentarily with an apparent ankle injury. Every time, however, he got up and kept playing, going hard to the rim since, at least at first, his outside shot wouldn't fall. The ankle injury may have been KCP's personal lowlight of the game, but his highlight was a nice slam that finished a nice alley-oop on the break.

Tony Mitchell, Detroit Pistons

The Pistons drafted Mitchell in 2013 in hopes that his basketball IQ would catch up to his immense physical gifts. And while Mitchell was 4-for-5 from the field Tuesday, it still seems like Mitchell has a long way to go before he can be counted on to produce at the NBA level. He often looks lost on the court if he doesn't have the ball in his hands or if he's not at least heavily involved with the offense. His two blocks were certainly nice, especially one he had at the rim, but the other nuances of defense -- footwork, positioning, timing -- seemed mostly lost on him. Mitchell's case is similar to that of Franklin, in that while a one-year transformation was never a possibility, some sort of development would have been nice to see.

Kalin Lucas, Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies went with a different look at point guard Tuesday, starting Lucas in place of Scottie Wilbekin. The result of the move was a steadier offense and more production at the point guard position on both sides of the ball. Steady may not sound exciting, but it's how Lucas needs to perform if he's going to make the team. He played mostly mistake-free, posting just one turnover to his three assists. Lucas is undersized, listed at just 6-1, but he has a knack for getting into the teeth of the defense and, once he's in the paint, scoring with a nice array of floaters and layups.

Hollis Thompson, Philadelphia 76ers

There's so much to like about Thompson's game. He's a tweener, but in a good way, able to play both the three and the four depending on the matchup. He's a good defender, a great rebounder (he had 14 in his first game in Orlando), a much-improved shooter and an able passer. He seamlessly morphs and shifts from role to role, depending on what the Sixers need him to do. His stat sheet reads like a poor man's Andrei Kirilenko -- a few blocks and steals here, double-digit rebounding and scoring here, and who knows, maybe even a few assists. Thompson emerged last season as a diamond in the rough unearthed by Philadelphia. The key to him sticking in the league now is consistency. He struggled with his shooting in his first game (hitting none of his 3-pointers), but flourished Tuesday, hitting four of them. If he can consistently perform at this level, filling up the stat sheet as he does, he won't be a one-year wonder.

First Cup: Tuesday

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
By Nick Borges
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: In the wake of Jason Kidd’s maneuvering, it’s good to know that Lionel Hollins isn’t angling for something other than his well-paid gig on the sideline. And here’s the thing about Hollins that already gives him a leg up over his predecessor: You can believe what he says. “It’s just nice to be able to do your job. That’s all I want to do. I’m a basketball coach. I don’t want to do (GM Billy King’s) job,” Hollins relayed Monday. “I don’t want to do anybody else’s job in the organization but the one I’m hired to do. That’s important to me. I’m very low maintenance.” The Nets are trying to cleanse themselves of that stench left by Kidd, who has taken his front-office ambitions to the Bucks. His jersey remains in the Barclays Center rafters, but he has been hilariously cropped out of pictures on the team’s website. ... No nonsense from Hollins. It was a refreshing first impression.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: On the opening night of free agency, the Celtics reached out to more than two dozen players, getting caught up in the open-market frenzy, expressing their admiration for players, many of whom they realized they never would sign. A week later, the Celtics are eerily quiet. They only have signed their own restricted free agent, Avery Bradley, on the second day of signings. An NBA source said they are backing off their pursuit of free agent Kris Humphries. However, a league source said Monday that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is attempting to gather assets to acquire Kevin Love, convinced he can devise a package that would entice Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to move the three-time All-Star, who will be a free agent next season. Ainge admitted that things have been quiet so far, and of course was reluctant to discuss anything dealing with free agency.
  • Scott Cacciola of The New York Times: In some ways, though, the public narrative has had less to do with choosing among three teams — or five, if the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks are still considered to be in the mix — than it does with picking between his bank account and his legacy. It goes something like this: If Anthony is really all that interested in chasing championships, he will choose the Bulls. If he wants the biggest bucks, he will stay with the Knicks. If he wants the aura of the Lakers, he will decamp for Los Angeles, where he has been offered the maximum $96 million over four years, according to multiple reports. It is an either/or situation that rubs some people the wrong way, and perhaps for good reason. Count Charles Grantham, a former head of the players union, among them. His argument: At age 30, having put in ample years of service, Anthony has every right to capitalize on his earning power, and should not have to take less — either by choosing to go elsewhere or by being pressured to agree to a hometown discount to stay in New York. "It’s ridiculous," Grantham said by telephone. "If I have a unique talent that I want to sell here, why should I be expected to take less? And if I don’t take less, why am I being greedy? Are you being selfish because there’s a salary cap that’s been imposed? That’s not your fault."
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets had not been told they were out of the race for Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, but always considered Anthony, Bosh and LeBron James their top targets. Amid reports that Anthony was choosing between the Knicks and Lakers and James might consider leaving Miami to return to Cleveland, the Rockets made their move on Bosh. They had been in talks with Bosh’s representatives, but had not spoken directly with Bosh until Monday. The Rockets had been the first team to meet with Bosh in 2010, but never were close to signing Bosh when he had the chance to join forces with Dwyane Wade and James in Miami. Bosh had been outspoken about his intention to remain with the Heat, but with uncertainty about James’ plans, Bosh began lining up an option to form another Big Three with the Rockets’ James Harden and Dwight Howard.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: If LeBron James ultimately decides to return to the Cavaliers, it won’t be because of a mysterious plane that landed Sunday evening in South Florida. Contrary to popular belief, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was not on that plane. Neither were Cavs General Manager David Griffin nor owner Dan Gilbert. Griffin was in Cleveland on Sunday, Gilbert was at home in Detroit and Ilgauskas never boarded the private jet that flew from Detroit to South Florida, several sources with knowledge of the situation have confirmed to the Beacon Journal. One source with knowledge of Gilbert’s inner workings said the Cavs owner, who has a hand in more than 70 companies, has regular business in South Florida. Twitter erupted Sunday when it was learned a Gulfstream jet registered to Gilbert’s Rock Construction Co. was scheduled to fly from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Nerlens Noel was back on the court and in the weight room yesterday, so fear not, Sixers fans. Not playing in Sunday's game after his successful debut on Saturday was just a precaution taken by the team. "I felt a little sore [all over] but not much really," he said. "We had a pretty tough training camp the week before so I felt conditioned for that. It's all just real precautionary. I was just glad I got out on the court and I know there aren't any limitations. We're just being steady on this Summer League, making sure we're not overdoing it, working on my game." Noel said he will play tonight when the team plays the Houston Rockets at 7. After that, the Sixers will decide whether he'll go again on Wednesday or take another day off.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Jabari Parker will make his debut as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, and it promises to be a high-profile first act. Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in the June 26 draft, will face off against top overall pick Andrew Wiggins as the Bucks meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in their NBA Summer League opener in Las Vegas. There was plenty of drama on draft week in New York about which player would go No. 1 overall. In the end, it was Wiggins going to Cleveland and Parker landing in his preferred destination with Milwaukee. ... Jason Kidd, in some of his first comments as Bucks coach, praised the 19-year-old Parker and even made a comparison to LeBron James. That was high praise indeed for the former Duke player and Chicago native who led his high school team (Simeon) to four consecutive state titles. The summer league will give Kidd a chance to evaluate the Bucks' young talent, including Parker, second-year forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and second-year point guard Nate Wolters.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: It took two summer-league games for the Orlando Magic to learn something about their rookie point guard, Elfrid Payton. He bounces back well. Two days after Payton played shakily in his pro debut, he nearly recorded a triple-double Monday as the Magic beat the Houston Rockets 87-69. Payton scored 12 points, gathered eight rebounds and dished out nine assists to go along with four turnovers. "I was just coming out and trying to be the aggressor and be more aggressive," Payton said. "That's something that I think separates me, and I need to do a better job of doing that."
  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: What P.J. Hairston did Sunday afternoon – punching a high school basketball player during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA – was outrageous. It was ridiculous. It was dumb. And the question we must all wonder about this newly minted Charlotte Hornet now is: Was that punch the end of something for Hairston? Or was it just the beginning? He just made himself and the Hornets look very bad. If he’s not going to start making better decisions soon, it will happen again. Couple that with the loss of Josh McRoberts on Monday to Miami, and it was a terrible 24 hours for the Hornets. Their third-best player just flew the coop in McRoberts, whose passing and unselfishness will be sorely missed. And one of their 2014 first-round draft choices – the one with all the character concerns – just slugged a teenager. Everybody agrees Hairston threw at least one punch. Beyond that, it is unclear. According to 17-year-old Kentrell Barkley, he was hit twice by Hairston with little to no provocation.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings shooting guard Ben McLemore used his Twitter account to congratulate Nik Stauskas and welcome him to the team after he was selected eighth in last month’s NBA draft. But that doesn’t mean McLemore, drafted seventh overall last year, wasn’t surprised the Kings selected a shooting guard. “I wasn’t expecting that,” McLemore said after a quick laugh. “At the same time, they felt he was the best available draft pick, so I’m fine with it. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and I’m just going to do what I have to do to get better as a player.” McLemore has plenty to prove after struggling for most of his rookie season that started with a trying stint during summer league. He believes he will play much better this summer when the Kings open Friday against the San Antonio Spurs.
  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: After a sophomore slog in which his stats and his sentiment suffered, Timberwolves shooting guard Alexey Shved has accepted his new job duty as a point guard. "It doesn't matter -- point guard, shooting guard," said Shved after the Wolves' first minicamp practice before the Las Vegas summer league. "I just want to play." On draft night, Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said Shved's longevity in the NBA likely relied on his ability to play the point. On Monday, Saunders said the switch wouldn't be full time. The bigger point, Saunders said, is reinstating his confidence, which waned a year ago.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Spencer Dinwiddie is so in tune with his rehab that he sounds like a physician, speed-rapping the process he’s been through since his January surgery. Platelet-Rich Plasma, hyperbaric chambers and muscle atrophy fall off his tongue as if he’s heard those terms dozens of times since his injury, and done nothing but press his doctors for answers, and for ways to push himself beyond his limits. “I don’t have any movement pattern restrictions,” Dinwiddie said. “Obviously they’re not letting me play but there’s nothing I can’t do, running, jumping, anything.” He uses the chamber so the ACL will heal faster but he acknowledges there’s no shortcut to getting back on the floor. “Other than that it’s been regular hard work,” he said. “Squats, lunges, step-ups, things like that. Being really dedicated. When they clear me, I’ll push myself, I’m not the type to be scared. When they said I could jump, I was like, alright, it’s time to dunk, not hop.”
  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: So, it wasn’t surprising that when Herb Kohl recently sold his NBA franchise, he didn’t forget about the people who worked under him. You may have read where Kohl gave gifts of $500 to employees at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, where the Bucks played their home games. What you haven’t read, though, is that Kohl’s generosity extended much further. He also bestowed significant financial gifts to others in the organization, from secretaries to sales personnel to basketball operations officials. The amount Kohl gave those employees varied and was based on different criterion, not the least of which was longevity with the organization. Some Bucks employees received $40,000 while others received nearly $100,000. And there were even some individuals who were given checks that one person close to the situation described as “life changing.”

Orlando Summer League: Day 3 notables

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
By Jordan White
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 3 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

Much like Shabazz Napier on Sunday, Payton was much more comfortable in his second game than his first. On Saturday, Payton struggled even to bring the ball up the court against pressure from even a smaller guard like Casper Ware. Monday, he had a much better command of his dribble, and was miles more confident in taking his man one-on-one. Defensively, Payton used his massive wingspan to bother the likes of Nick Johnson and Jahii Carson, forcing them to initiate the offense farther out than desired or even into taking a timeout. Payton also displayed his impressive vision and passing skills, including one perfectly lofted lead pass to his big man for an easy layup.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

Athleticism is a wonderful boon to any NBA hopeful. However, it can carry one only so far. Just as important as that exceptional athleticism is the ability to harness it in such a way that it actually impacts the game. Gordon is a special athlete, and he uses that athleticism to augment his natural defensive and cutting instincts. His cuts to the basket were sharp, precise and perfectly timed. As a ball handler, Gordon is further along than most expected, but he still had a few issues Monday. He brings the ball up too high, has a tendency to dribble without a purpose and can get too fancy. However, once Gordon corrects these issues, something that he should be able to do quickly, he'll be dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Phil Pressey, Boston Celtics

We'll start with where it went wrong for Pressey, because it's the only way to understand where it went right. Near the end of the third quarter, Pressey found himself matched up on defense against the Pacers' Donald Sloan, who crossed over the diminutive guard and sent him skating to the floor (Sloan then knocked down a pull-up jumper, just to add insult to injury). Some players, after suffering such humiliation, have the impulse to forsake the game plan in favor of one-upping the offender. Pressey, however, shook off the Annie Oakley instinct on the Celtics' next offensive possession, with Sloan defending, and calmly got the Celtics into their set. It's a small moment in the grand scheme of things, but it helps to illustrate Pressey's poise and maturity.

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

So far, the Celtics' experiment with Smart playing off the ball has yet to yield any sort of promising results. Then again, neither has Smart playing at his normal point guard position. Smart shot just 3-of-15 from the field, including 1-of-5 from deep. While Smart's struggles from deep aren't necessarily surprising, given that it was seen as a weakness before the draft, that a third of his shots came from beyond the arc isn't encouraging for his shot selection. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Celtics try to play Smart exclusively at point as the week goes on, just to see if he gets into a better rhythm at his more natural position.

Willie Reed, Indiana Pacers

In truth, the entire Pacers frontcourt deserves mention for its performance Monday, but Reed gets the nod for his breakout showing. His 18 points came mostly around the rim, both on opportunities he created and ones his guards created for him. He showed a nice ability to move without the ball in the post, flashing to the basket at just the right time. Defensively, he bothered the Celtics' less athletic frontcourt to the tune of four blocked shots and several more altered.

Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City Thunder

When you don't get to see a player for an entire year, it's easy to forget what made him so enticing in the first place. Rather than focus on his strengths and weaknesses, or how he's grown in the year, all teams are able to focus on are the lingering doubts regarding injury or character. Through two games, McGary's reminding everyone why he was projected as a lottery pick last year. He's shown no ill effects from the back injury that sidelined him last season at Michigan, bounding up and down the court easily (at times even running the break) and diving for loose balls. While his stance isn't great, he moves his feet on defense very well. Monday, McGary showed flashes of another aspect of his game, hitting his teammates with several nice passes both on the break and in the half court.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

Did someone Space Jam Kelly Olynyk's talent? Last year, Olynyk was the best rookie at Summer League, probably even the best non-Andre Drummond player. He was Dirk Nowitzki-lite, hitting jumpers from all over the place and even dominating the boards despite his T-Rex wingspan. Even though there were better athletes than Olynyk, he succeeded despite their advantage. Monday, Olynyk couldn't overcome that superior athleticism, fouling six times, nor could he find a shooting rhythm, evidenced by his 5-of-13 performance from the field. Here's hoping Olynyk rediscovers his lost talent. (An aside: No offense to Olynyk, but if aliens truly did possess the power to steal talent, why would you target Olynyk?)

Tarik Black, Houston Rockets

It's not easy being a big man at summer league, given the guard-dominated play. It's even tougher when you're not a featured big, but rather a lunch-pail, energy guy just fighting for a spot on the team. Yet, in spite of all of these built-in disadvantages, Black has been able to show just what he can bring to a team. He won't wow you with his athleticism, he won't take your breath away with his defense and he should never be allowed to shoot the ball outside of 10 feet. But his motor never stops, he sets good screens and muscles post players while also showing enough athletic ability to stick with more mobile bigs. Summer League is all about finding the non-stars, the end-of-the-bench guys who, at the very least, will always bring the intensity. Black, at least Monday, looked the part.

Melo Ball goes back to the future

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Carmelo AnthonyAP Photo/Seth WenigOnce a poster boy for an outdated, iso-based game, Carmelo Anthony is a face of change in the NBA.
There was a time when it didn’t look as if Carmelo Anthony would be so sought after at age 30. When he was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks in February 2011, he was the bane of the advanced-stats community, his reputation sliced sharpest by cutting-edge analysis.

With his less-than-super-efficient high scoring average, Anthony might well have symbolized how casual fans get snookered into worshipping false idols. His volume shooting was the past, and players of more balanced yet subtle skill sets were the future. That iso ball that the "eye test" loves was so early Iverson era. It had no place in the NBA’s version of a Moneyball revolution.

Less than four years later, Anthony plays host to a vigorous recruitment effort from advanced-stats godfather and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. Melo is the missing piece in Chicago, the foundation of a new era in Los Angeles. Yes, there are still concerns over whether Anthony will be worth a five-year max contract, and there remains criticism of Anthony's defense. But ultimately, Anthony’s New York adventure has seen a rehabilitation of his game, if not his reputation.

It took some unfortunate injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire, but the Knicks managed to stumble upon a Carmelo Anthony better suited for this era. Playing power forward, Anthony received better spacing, and he ultimately started making better choices. In the season before his trade to the Knicks, fewer than 14 percent of Anthony’s shots were 3-pointers. Last season, 25 percent of his shots were from behind the arc.

By shifting his shot selection from the dreaded “long 2” zone out to where shots count for an extra point, he moved to the forefront of basketball. Shooting is in, "stretch-4s" are in. The game had seemingly left isolation scorers behind, but Melo, one of the shiniest examples, has persevered.

After a shaky, injury-addled first full season in New York, Anthony notched his two best seasons according to player efficiency (PER) and win shares. Not only did the numbers look better, but his game got more aesthetically pleasing. Decisions were quicker, the ball stuck less often. He turns the ball over far less than he did back in Denver. There are still bouts of grinding iso-ball, but it’s not like the old days, when Anthony would average more turnovers than assists.

You can blame him for the lack of options (the Knicks were strip-mined because Anthony forced a trade to New York), but it’s getting harder to find fault with his offensive approach. His game has matured from headstrong to nuanced. Guard him with a mobile wing and he can post that guy into some pain. Guard him with a burly big and he can lose that guy for many an open 3-pointer.

“Olympic Melo” is the nickname for that sweet-shooting forward we’ve seen in international competition. He thrives in an environment where the ball is shared around the arc and shot from behind it. That’s where basketball is heading, if this latest, emphatic San Antonio Spurs championship is any indication. The NBA is trending toward a drive-and-kick international style that just so perfectly fits the guy who, earlier in his career, was the caricature of American-style hero ball. Melo was the past before he took a few steps back and became the future.

First Cup: Monday

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
By Nick Borges
  • William C. Rhoden of The New York Times: Four years ago, LeBron James set a new tone for free agency when he left Cleveland, using his leverage to determine where he would play and with whom. His move to Miami showed how valuable he was not just to his team but to an entire region, with Cleveland’s economy seeming to take a hit. Anthony should keep that in mind and not accept a nickel less than he feels he is worth. Athletes are conditioned early on to feel grateful to be on the team. The reality is that their schools, and, later, their franchises, depend on the athletes to have a program. Athletes are the show. If the Knicks ask Anthony to take a pay cut, or when Pat Riley appeals to James’s sense of loyalty, the Clippers’ pending sale should be a glowing reminder to say no. In an often coldblooded industry focused on the bottom line, players still invariably lead with their hearts, often to their detriment. The new rules of engagement should be, simply, money first.
  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Pat Riley called adding a Carmelo Anthony-type max-salary player to the Heat "a pipe dream," and so far during free agency the Heat president has been proven correct. Marvin Williams, formerly with the Hawks and Jazz and considered a third-tier free agent, is the latest player to be recruited by the Heat, which on Sunday was still waiting to get a commitment from LeBron James. But James, in turn, is waiting to see what Riley gets in the free-agent market before he reups for perhaps only one more season. And so far, it can’t be very encouraging for the four-time MVP. The Heat hasn’t added anyone, although Miami has gone after Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng, Marcin Gortat, Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza. If Riley doesn’t get moving, James just might start looking at teams that have already visited his agent, Rich Paul, in Cleveland. Those teams include the Lakers, Suns and Cavaliers. As they’ve found out in Miami, the Heat simply doesn’t have the cap space to be able to afford big-name talent, so it’s been busy talking to the likes of Williams, who was drafted No. 2 overall by Atlanta in 2005.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: LeBron James' future in South Florida is expected to be decided this week in a face-to-face meeting with Miami Heat President Pat Riley. A source close to the situation told the Sun Sentinel late Sunday night, "there is an in-person meeting being scheduled for next two, three days."Confirmation of the meeting came amid a wild flurry of media reports that ranged from the Cleveland Cavaliers surpassing the Heat as the free-agency front-runner for James, to the Cavaliers working to create salary-cap space to accommodate James, to fellow Heat free-agent teammate Chris Bosh being poised to a move to the Houston Rockets amid the James uncertainty, to ESPN speculation of Carmelo Anthony replacing Bosh alongside James with the Heat. The most-recent wave of conjecture began hours after agent Henry Thomas, who represents Bosh and Heat free-agent guard Dwyane Wade, told the Sun Sentinel that previous speculation about his clients had been wildly off-base. While James has maintained a low-key presence since Tuesday's start of free agency, Riley has been scouring the free-agent market for players to bolster James' supporting cast, including recent meetings with Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng and Marvin Williams.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The news of Ben Gordon’s impending signing has shocked some fans and analysts who think the Magic will overpay for a player who didn’t crack the Bobcats’ rotation during the 2013-14 season. Charlotte released Gordon shortly after the trade deadline after he had appeared in just 19 games. “I just want to be successful like any other basketball player,” Gordon said. “Whether people are happy with what I do or not, I can’t really control that. But I’ve just got my goals that I want to live up to and as long as I prove that to myself, then I’ll be satisfied.” But Orlando is far under the projected salary floor of $56,880,000 for the 2014-15 season. Teams that finish the season below the floor must pay a surcharge for the amount they are under the floor, and the money collected from that surcharge is distributed to the players on the roster. After the draft-day trade of shooting guard Arron Afflalo, the team’s best scorer and long-range shooter, as well as the decision to waive point guard Jameer Nelson, the Magic desperately need someone who can contribute on offense. Team officials will not comment about Gordon, but it’s believed they view Gordon as a low-risk signing because the second year of Gordon’s contract won’t become guaranteed until July 1, 2015. Gordon should have a lot to prove with the Magic.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: This is known: As of Sunday evening, the Bulls hadn't been informed of any decision from Carmelo Anthony. And unlike some who are living and dying with each speculative twist and turn to this saga, Bulls management merely methodically kept working on contingency plans to improve whether or not Anthony comes. Some of those have been documented. The Bulls met with Pau Gasol, who turned 34 Sunday, on Thursday in Los Angeles. They have begun preliminary negotiations with Nikola Mirotic, their 2011 draft-day acquisition who is now more likely to join the Bulls this season than next. And they kept dialogue open with representatives for a multitude of small forwards should they fail to land Anthony. The Bulls have touched base with agents for Chandler Parsons, Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion, Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza, among others.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: As has been the case since well before free agency recruiting began, the Rockets’ chance at Chris Bosh could be triggered by LeBron James leaving Miami. While that has seemed more likely than a week ago, he too has no meetings scheduled, other than a sit down this week with Heat president Pat Riley reported by USA Today in which Riley could give a roster-building progress report. Those potential twists came after a weekend of reports that Anthony was choosing between the Lakers and Knicks, Anthony and Kobe Bryant reportedly stopped by UCLA for some pickup ball. Though it turned out they were never there at the same time, or with Kevin Love as some Tweets suggested, the tale quickly went viral, as if Anthony needed to see Bryant in action as he had Derrick Rose in Chicago. Things were odder earlier in the day when Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert’s plane was tracked heading to South Florida, moving him to announce that he was relaxing happily in his backyard. Still, strange as it has been, if Anthony does choose to take his talents to Westwood or keep them on Broadway, the Rockets would happily go through the whole thing again with James or Bosh, if either was so inclined
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of As the Boston Celtics summer league players took to the court to start practice on Sunday, James Young remained a spectator on the sideline. And it may stay that way for the rest of summer league. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said he expects to get more information on Young's status on Monday. "I don't know if he'll play this week," Stevens said. "From everything I know, it's from unlikely to probably not tomorrow (against the Indiana Pacers), and then from there we have another day off and we'll see about later in the week." Young, selected by Boston with the No. 17 pick in the June 26 NBA draft, was involved in a car accident a couple weeks prior to draft which resulted in him canceling a handful of workouts for teams that included the Boston Celtics. Since arriving in Boston, the 19-year-old guard/forward has been limited to non-contact work such as riding a stationary bike and some light shooting.
  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: Saturday's action was just 26 minutes of hopefully thousands of minutes that the 20-year-old Noel will log in a long NBA career, just one game of hopefully the hundreds he will play at a high level for the Sixers. There were glimpses of why the Sixers felt it was worth the risk when they traded a young All-Star point guard for the high-ceiling potential of an injured young big man. Noel's amazing athleticism and quickness for a player his size are obvious. The injury does not appear to have taken anything away. "No mental blocks," Noel said. "It's been 18 months out. I haven't been thinking about the knee for many months now. I'm definitely going to continue to get it strong, as strong as possible, and continue working. I was nervous at the beginning, but I seemed to play a little better when I'm anxious. [The dunk] definitely helped the jitters and set the tone for the game. It's very validating. I'm real happy, but I can't get too happy because it's a long road ahead of me." Breaking down Noel's positives and negatives will be an ongoing process that is just starting this week in Orlando. Still, if a first impression is what you are looking for, the competitive fire that appears to rage within Noel is a perfect start.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is playing the part of “Mr. July,” hoping it’ll translate into November. The second-year guard scored 30 and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Pistons’ 85-82 win Sunday over the Memphis Grizzlies. Before a pass made its way to Caldwell-Pope in the right corner, Peyton Siva could be heard saying, “Bang, bang!,” signaling the ensuing triple. Siva, who played another heady game with 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes, was already backpedaling downcourt. Considering Caldwell-Pope began the game with a rare six-point trip, where he was fouled on a triple make, grabbed the rebound off his missed free-throw and hit another three, it’s not surprising to see everyone having supreme confidence in a player who had a disappointing rookie season.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Steven Adams could return to Oklahoma City with a new weapon. A back-to-the basket game. The Thunder has spent the first two days of the Orlando Pro Summer League running a ton of offense through the post, and Adams, the second-year center, got ample chances to go to work from the low block Sunday. Adams finished with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting, showing off a pretty jump hook with his right hand on one possession and another nifty finish with his left later. “That’s something that we want to add to Steven’s game,” said Thunder assistant and summer league coach Darko Rajakovic. “He’s a great defender, a great rim protector. But we want to have more possessions and more touches for Steven in the low post. That’s what he needs to work on and continue to develop to add to his game."
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: League sources said Saturday that restricted free agent P.J. Tucker of the Phoenix Suns, a one-time Raptor, has caught Toronto’s interest. Tucker made less than $1 million last season and the Suns might match any offer he gets but Phoenix is also chasing the big game of this year’s free agent crop and has bigger issues to deal with. Whatever happens, the mastery of what Ujiri has done is that he hasn’t put in jeopardy a chance a year from now to make some significant noise on the free agent market. The salary cap machinations of Friday’s trade of Steve Novak to the Utah Jazz for the waivable Diante Garrett should leave Ujiri with the ability to offer a maximum value contract to a free agent year from now, even with a potential Vasquez signing. And if Ujiri’s short history in Toronto has shown anything, it’s that any addition he makes now will come on a team-favourable short-term contract that won’t limit that summer of 2015 cap flexibility.

Orlando Summer League: Day 2 notables

July, 6, 2014
Jul 6
By Jordan White
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 2 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
It's amazing the difference a year makes. Last summer, KCP lacked any semblance of rhythm or comfort. He was tentative driving, content mostly to pull up or spot up and shoot. More often than not, he'd miss. This year, KCP looks to be completely reinvented, the player the Pistons thought and hoped they were getting when they drafted him. KCP continued his scorching start to Summer League, scoring 32 points -- including 21 before halftime -- and hauling in 12 rebounds. His confidence has returned, and with it, a playing style that's smooth, less labored than it ever looked last season. Already Jodie Meeks' three-year, $19 million deal has looked questionable, and if Caldwell-Pope carries this momentum into the regular season, it'll look like an even more puzzling move.

Jarnell Stokes, Memphis Grizzlies
There is perhaps no better fit in terms of player and team ethos than Stokes and the Memphis Grizzlies. He simply outworks the competition, refusing to relent an inch of space. You underestimate him because of his height, right up until the point where he either swats your shot or dunks on you with his condor-like 7-2 wingspan. Sunday, Stokes posted a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds, bullying the block on both ends. He even showed flashes of a developing jumper, hitting a nice turnaround from just a few feet beyond the block. Right now, Stokes relies too much on his strength and, for lack of a better word, grit. He'll bully teams down low, but more than a few times, he has been caught without a plan.

Jordan Adams, Memphis Grizzlies
The biggest knock on Adams coming into the draft was his glaring lack of athleticism. Sure, he could score with the best of them. But could he do it in the NBA, where the level of athleticism far surpasses anything found in the collegiate ranks? Granted, this is Summer League we're talking about, but in the second day, Adams has continued to answer that question with an emphatic yes. Adams sports terrific body control, contorting himself on the way to and around the rim to maximize his scoring chance while minimizing the potential for the shot to be blocked. He knocked down only one of his three 3-pointers today, but all of them came within the rhythm and the flow of the offense -- they weren't forced. With the Grizzlies desperate for scoring, it's easy to see why they took a chance on Adams.

Josh Huestis, Oklahoma City Thunder

When the Thunder selected Huestis in the late first round, it was one of the more puzzling picks of the draft, especially with some of the other, presumably better talent still on the board. The Stanford product didn't do much to shed those doubts, going just 1-for-6 from the field, including 0-for-4 from deep. Worse, defense is supposed to be Huestis' calling card, but he didn't inspire confidence on this end either. Some thought Huestis would be Thabo Sefolosha's replacement as the Thunder's three-and-d guard, but he has yet to show he's capable of doing either of those here in Orlando.

Casper Ware, Philadelphia 76ers

If we're being nice, if we're being extremely kind, Casper Ware, on a good day, is 5-foot-11. Here's the thing about Ware, though: It's not that he doesn't know he's short, it's that he simply couldn't care less. Ware doesn't necessarily play taller than his height, he plays to his height -- he's pesky on defense, getting right into, sometimes even under the body of whomever he's guarding, while on offense he skitters all over the court. Summer League's guard-oriented, fast-paced setting is the perfect place for Ware, who showed off his complete offensive arsenal to the tune of 20 points, including three 3-pointers and five assists. If he makes the NBA, it's likely as the third point guard on the team, so let's enjoy this summer league explosion while we can.

Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Huestis pick was even more bizarre because the Thunder basically made the same selection last year with Andre Roberson, who sports a near-identical skill set as Huestis. However, whereas Huestis struggled on Sunday, Roberson flourished. He had a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, using his length and athleticism to bother players on the perimeter. His activity level was terrific, too, as his hustle was nearly non-stop.

Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat

Saturday was a disaster for Napier, who looked completely out of sorts and frustrated, bringing forth reminders of Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke, both of whom struggled mightily last year in Orlando. However, it seems as if Napier's malady was of a milder sort than whatever afflicted his predecessors, as the UConn product looked completely different on Sunday. The poise for which he was famous, absent on Saturday, was apparent in the second game. He handled pressure much better, not being bothered by the likes of Marquis Teague, ably running the Heat's offense (or at least what passes for offense in Summer League) by striking a nice balance between passing and scoring.

Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets

Plumlee wins this year's Andre Drummond award, given to the player who really has no business playing in Summer League because he is just so much better than anyone else on the court. His dominance isn't as apparent as Drummond's, as he doesn't have the Pistons center's sheer size, but every time Plumlee gets the ball, something good happens, whether that's a dunk or getting his defender into foul trouble. Already a great athlete by NBA standards, Plumlee's faster than anyone here at his position, allowing him to fly up and down the court without a defender draped over him. As an added bonus, he's shown good passing ability out of the post and from the elbows, such as his nice find to a streaking DeJuan Summers for a wide-open dunk.

Orlando Summer League: Day 1 notables

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
By Tom Westerholm
Special to
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 1 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Aaron Gordon, Magic
Let’s begin here: Gordon grabbed a shot out of the air in the fourth quarter. It was breathtaking in person, the type of play that wakes up everyone watching after nearly six hours of basketball. Then Gordon followed up his highlight-reel play by trying to take two defenders off the dribble down the court and wound up turning it over. The sequence is probably going to be a solid metaphor for Gordon’s first couple of seasons. He will simultaneously thrill and frustrate -- cutting hard back door and rising for a massive slam at one moment, then taking a step-back 3-pointer that comes up well short another. But he is what was advertised: athletic, solid passer, great defender and good ball handler. He finished 3-for-11 from the floor with seven points and five rebounds.

Marcus Smart, Celtics
Playing basketball against Smart does not look fun. The Celtics’ rookie plays brutal on-ball defense and uses his size and his athleticism to bully his offensive opponent. His off-ball defense is somehow tougher -- he picked off two entry passes and seems to have an excellent understanding of passing lanes and where the ball is going. His jumper, which was supposed to have a hitch, looked smooth, though he didn’t shoot particularly well. Smart finished 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-5 from behind the arc, but his shot selection improved as the game went on, and he appears to have a good understanding of how to get to his comfort zones out of the pick-and-roll.

Nerlens Noel, 76ers

Much will be made of the fact that in the first possession of Noel’s NBA career, he faked an opponent into the air, pivoted and slammed home a one-handed dunk. But Noel’s offensive game (6-for-11 from the floor, 7-for-7 from the free throw line) isn’t as exciting for the Sixers as his defense. Noel looks even longer and more athletic than advertised. His arms stretch for miles, break up passing lanes and stop rolling big men in pick-and-rolls. Meanwhile, his incredibly quick feet help him cut off ball-handlers, which makes him an ideal trapping big. Playing within a system takes time, but Noel appears to be an NBA-caliber defender already.

Victor Oladipo, Magic
Orlando started pressing against Philadelphia in the second half, and it was extremely effective, in large part due to Oladipo’s individual defense against Philly’s ball handlers. Oladipo defended like a junkyard dog, aggressive and snarling, and put heavy pressure on whichever unfortunate point guard was trying to bring the ball up the court for the Sixers. Oladipo’s combination of length, size and lateral quickness made him a nearly impossible roadblock to circumvent. He also shot well: 6-for-11 for 18 points and 2-for-4 3-point shooting.

Shabazz Napier, Heat
Napier’s Summer League career started horribly, as an 0-for-10, eight-turnover drought spanned three quarters. Phil Pressey’s pressuring on-ball defense and quickness bothered him off the dribble, and Napier didn’t appear prepared for Smart’s size initially. But in the second half, Napier appeared to find his rhythm and knocked down a pair of threes and a tough spinning layup in transition that almost brought the Heat back into the game. He showed flashes, but much like Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke this past season, Summer League might be a necessary-but-difficult transition period for Napier. He finished 3-for-15 from the floor and 2-for-9 from 3-point range.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Pistons
This version of KCP looked absolutely nothing like this past season’s tentative version. Caldwell-Pope scored a game-high 26 points on 8-for-19 shooting and was an impressive 8-for-9 from the free throw line. He was never hesitant looking for his shot and knocked down two jumpers from behind the arc, several from midrange and a variety of swooping layups around the basket that also got him to the line. He also made a difference on the defensive end and came away with six steals.

Elfrid Payton, Magic
The learning curve from Louisiana-Lafayette might be a little stiff for Payton, if first impressions are to be believed. Payton struggled in his debut; he turned the ball over four times in 17 minutes and scored just two points on 1-for-4 shooting. He showed plenty of athleticism, however, and dished out a game-high five assists. But he struggled at times to bring the ball up the floor against smaller guards such as Philadelphia’s 5-foot-10 Casper Ware, and Payton never looked particularly comfortable running a half-court offense. Like Napier, we might see an upswing in production from Payton as the week goes on and Orlando’s offense begins to gel.

Kelly Olynyk, Celtics
Olynyk dominated Summer League last year, so it’s not particularly surprising that he picked up where he left off against Miami. Olynyk scored 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He never moves particularly fast, and that can get him in trouble. Defensively, Miami’s Jeff Hamilton found space on the floor frequently, and Olynyk struggled to recover and contest. But defense has never been Olynyk’s specialty, and he moves effectively on offense and utilizes a variety of spin moves and dribble drives to find space and score around the basket.

Don't go just yet, Timmy

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
Serrano By Shea Serrano
Special to
Tim DuncanAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesTim Duncan will be back for 2014-15, but his eventual retirement is becoming harder to ignore.
For my entire life, I'll remember that the Spurs won their fifth NBA championship on a Sunday, because that particular Sunday was Father's Day, and that was the dopest thing of all. Here's how I would currently (and likely forever) rank the top three of the all Father's Days I've experienced as a dad:

3. Father's Day 2007

My twin sons were born. Oh, man. I couldn't believe that this happened like this. These were my first kids, they were the first boy grandchildren my parents had, they were twins, and they CAME OUT ON FATHER'S DAY. That's Disney movie stuff. They actually weren't due for another five or six weeks, so they had to spend some time in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital while their lungs developed or whatever, but it was totally worth it because they got to listen to Game 4 of that year's NBA Finals between the Spurs and Cavs, which is why they came so early, I'm assuming.

2. Father's Day 2011

I received a copy of Bloodsport on DVD.

1. Father's Day 2014

The Spurs won the championship, their greatest ever, erasing from history the stink of 2013's Finals loss (and also, FYI, erasing my desire to put my head in an oven, which is a thing I'd thought about doing at least once every day after they lost the way they lost).

Here's another thing I'm always going to remember from that day, though: The real possibility that Tim Duncan would now retire.

Prior to two Sundays ago, I'd never really considered that Tim Duncan would eventually stop playing professional basketball. I mean, I understood that it was something that would eventually happen, but I'd never considered it more tacitly.

But after Game 5 of the Finals, after they won and everyone was asking him if this was it, if that was the end of his career, he ducked the question. He dodged the question. He sidestepped the question. He never said yes. But he also never said no. And I remember watching it and suddenly becoming overwhelmed with terror and appreciation.

Tim Duncan is going to retire.

Of course, it didn't happen. He recently announced that he's going to play out this final year of his contract -- but for the first time, it hit me:

Eventually, he will. And that’s devastating.

Two things about this realization:

1. I don't want Tim Duncan to retire by winning an NBA championship. I don't imagine he does either. "Going out on top" is the dumbest romantic ideal that I can think of.

I mean, I'd for sure like to see him win another one. I'd like to see him win 50 more, really. But I want him to play until someone beats him, until someone tears his trophy away from him. That's how you die. That's how you finish a career. You don't win and then retire, unless you’re David Robinson and you’ve never done anything wrong in your whole entire life.

You win until someone murders you and becomes champ.

There was this interview Michael Jordan did with Ahmad Rashad last year (or maybe the year before that) for NBA TV in which, when discussing the end of the Bulls' run, he alluded to that:

"It was a very sad situation because we never lost in the Finals," Jordan said. "I never knew what it felt like. At least if you're gonna -- if you're gonna be king of the hill, [be the king] until someone knocks you down and shake their hand and say, 'You enjoy it.'"

I'm inclined to agree with him. Tim Duncan is one of the greatest winners in the history of the NBA. I hope he finishes his career trying to win. That's super noble, and that's the only way I've ever known him to be. That said:

2. I don't even know how to handle the thought of Timmy retiring.

The Spurs drafted him when I was 16 years old. I'm 33 now. I now have a wife and three sons, and Timmy's been with me longer than all of them (and he's way better in the post than they are, too).

I've rooted for him, cheered for him, celebrated with him and commiserated with him for more than half of my life. Ours is a one-sided relationship, but it's one I care about deeply nonetheless. He has, for almost the past two decades, defined my existence as a basketball fan, which, if I really think about things, is probably a sizable part of my existence as a human.

What do I do when he's gone?

What do I do when he's no longer protecting the rim? What do I do when he's not gobbling up rebounds? What do I do when he's not banking in jumpers from the left block? What do I do when he's not throwing down that same one-handed dunk from right underneath the basket? What do I do when he's not protesting foul calls? What do I do when he's not putting his arm around Tony or Manu or Kawhi or any other Spur on the way back to the bench during a timeout after they've done something really great or really terrible? What do I do when he's not on national TV with a bad haircut (or, in most instances, no haircut at all)?


Oh my god, and what about the Spurs? What about MY Spurs? What do THEY do when he's gone?

For so long, being a Spur has meant the same amazing/beautiful/predictable thing. As soon as Timmy retires, with Pop following behind him, all of that is going to change. I'm sure they'll try to keep their systems in place, but I'm also sure it won't be the same. Basically everything I've known about my favorite sports franchise, the one team that I've cheered for my whole entire life, is going to be different.

The Spurs will be different.

San Antonio will be different.

I'll be different.


Go, Spurs, go.

Stay, Tim, Stay.

Tim Duncan willing to pay the price for titles

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Bryant/DuncanNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesWhile Kobe Bryant keeps cashing massive checks, Tim Duncan is using salary to "buy" more rings.
Four days after lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the fifth time, Tim Duncan quietly opted in to make a team-friendly $10,361,446 next season. Which reminds us: Wait, Tim Duncan made roughly three times less than Kobe Bryant did last season? How could this happen?

The answer to the question of how can Duncan make so much less than Bryant while being more valuable these days is, paradoxically, “Because Duncan earned it.” After he garnered more than $200 million over the course of an illustrious career, Timmy splurged on his own team. Anyone who’s arguing that the Spurs are “built, not bought” ignores how the buying is part of the building. Duncan didn’t “sacrifice” for his squad so much as he used his money the way he wanted.

Duncan didn’t just help buy the Spurs a few more title chances, though. He purchased pressure on other stars around the league, stars who might hear calls to “pull a Duncan” for the good of the team. You can almost hear fans and media chiding, “Why can’t you be more like Duncan?” the way a parent might remind an imperfect son of his perfect older brother.

We’re already seeing this in Miami, where Dwyane Wade’s biggest supporters would urge him to conspire against his bank account. Because of a CBA designed to kill super-teams, big-money players have greater incentive to consider philanthropy as a means to legacy.

With that in mind, the Heat and Wade stand at a crossroads. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade have opted out of their contracts after a Finals in which “Big Three plus scraps” certainly wasn’t up to the task. The first two could recoup their money on the open market, but Wade almost certainly cannot. At age 32, he’s staring down either the Kobe path or the Duncan path. It remains to be seen if he opts for the superstar money that hinders his team, or elects to conserve his body and his team’s cap space the way Duncan has. What Wade chooses might say a lot about how he thinks about himself in relation to his franchise.

The contracts Duncan and Bryant took on the “back nine” of their careers spoke to what made them great in their primes. Duncan was celebrated as the selfless teammate, whose mastery of his craft was viewed as more utilitarian (“fundamental”) than artistic. He is heralded as a man who wins for the sake of winning, as though you would learn some ineffable truth of how a win happens if only you could read his mind. The below-market deal is illustrative of how Duncan was willing to subsume for victory.

Bryant was celebrated for being a brilliant “alpha dog” who won on his own terms. Perhaps Kobe would never have become Kobe if he was so willing to sacrifice. After Shaquille O’Neal left, Kobe fandom replaced some of what had been fandom for a title contender in Los Angeles. The Lakers were hopeless, but entertainment and drama could be found in whether Bryant put together a streak of 50-point scoring performances.

Then the Lakers got Pau Gasol, won two titles, and Bryant’s status reached another echelon. Though succeeding with his team, “The Mamba” developed a cult of personality that was based on self as opposed to team. Bryant’s brand of machismo was about embracing the big shot and consuming the spotlight that came with that responsibility. This isn’t to say Bryant was a bad teammate -- just that a Lakers fan might wear a shirt showing Kobe’s five rings as though his accomplishment superseded the squad’s.

Eventually, Bryant’s body betrayed his brand of triumphant individualism. The Achilles tear took him down, and took down the Lakers. Perhaps his massive post-injury contract can be rationalized as paying a star for past good works -- cue Jurgen’s disapproving glare -- but Bryant had already been well-compensated in his time with the Lakers. The cap-killing extension looked more like a franchise eating itself because it ceased knowing how to be anything other than a vehicle for its star’s fame.

It’s a testament to the power of Bryant’s play and status that the Lakers bid against their own future in paying homage. It’s also a testament to how denial can be corrosive to goals. The Lakers (and Bryant) suffered an inability to accept that Bryant’s body couldn’t cash the checks his legend kept writing. In contrast, the Spurs (and Duncan) have long accepted that Duncan can’t keep functioning as the main reason for success, that his minutes need lessening, that his roster needs furnishing. An acceptance of reality, combined with Duncan’s willingness to play the part of someone who wins at his own literal expense, extended San Antonio’s title window.

With these two examples before them, can the Heat and Wade accept reality? Even if Wade does the hard work of accepting his limitations, there’s no guarantee he blesses that admission by giving up millions. Being a Duncan is hard, expensive work.

First Cup: Thursday

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
By Nick Borges
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of There are those who see the signing of Avery Bradley as a waste or too much money on a player who doesn't quite provide the sizzle many hope the Celtics will be able to have this summer. (note: It's been two days, folks! Two days of free agency!) Others believe the Celtics should go into Tankapalooza 2.0 and do everything they can to gut this roster, guarantee another trip to the NBA lottery, and maybe the basketball gods will reward them with the No. 1 overall pick even when such efforts around these parts in the past have turned up futile, every time. But the Boston Celtics didn't come to terms with Bradley just so he could help sell t-shirts with his name and face on them, or bring the TD Garden crowd to their feet the minute he enters the building. The Celtics are trying to put together a winning puzzle and Bradley is just another piece; a talented piece but just a piece nonetheless. ... The deal he has agreed to recognizes his proven track record as an elite defender and an emerging scoring threat, while recognizing the potential he has shown going forward to improve in those areas and others.
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: The Knicks have made Lakers coaching candidate Kurt Rambis a four-year offer of roughly $4.8 million to be rookie coach Derek Fisher’s top assistant, according to an NBA source. Rambis, a triangle guru and Lakers assistant last season, remains in the mix for the Lakers’ head-coaching vacancy and still is mulling a cross-country move to New York. The offer is close to what was billed as the largest assistant’s contract in NBA history, given by the Cavaliers to Tyronn Lue, who signed a four-year, $6.4 million pact.
  • Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Thus far, in three years the master plan to have financial flexibility under the NBA’s salary cap has resulted in one first-round playoff exit, no postseason at all, and an additional first-round series loss. The sports crime in all of this is that Cuban whiffed huge on his gamble to surround his meal ticket with top-tier players. Dirk Nowitzki is the best basketball thing to ever happen to Cuban, and his time as a prime player and in the NBA in general are fading quickly. The only way this can be undone is if Melo says yes to Cuban’s pitch, and then we can see if the plan could actually work. Right now, the idea of the plan looks silly. No one can say the Mavs don’t try and are not creative. But no one can say this plan is working, or is even plausible if the big fish continue to eat elsewhere. Cuban is entrenched with this plan and plans to continue to pitch it to the big fish. He is sure one of them will say yes. For the sake of every Mavs fan, and Dirk, hope he is right. Right now, Cuban looks like he is a contestant on his own TV show, and the sharks are devouring him.
  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: The new Milwaukee Bucks coach avoided direct answers Wednesday like he once eluded defenders during a Hall of Fame playing career. Jason Kidd's dais manner was closer to Congressional-testimony evasive than happy-talk effusive about, say, Jabari Parker's place in the pick and roll. ... For now, I'll take them at their word that Kidd's awkward and troubling hiring was more about nave mistakes than future intentions to meddle heavily in basketball operations, although it is difficult to believe that a couple of savvy businessmen didn't anticipate the story being leaked from Moscow to Brooklyn. They say they've learned their lesson and claim henceforth all basketball decisions will go through the GM's office. That, of course, may be subject to Kidd's vaulting ambitions. But that's the reality of professional sports, where professionalism doesn't always enter into the equation. Kidd is never going to win Mr. Nice Guy awards, but none of this matters if he is able to turn a young roster into winners. The Bucks haven't had this much creative tension since they hired George Karl, another big-name ambitious schemer who brought attention and success to the franchise by taking it to within a game of the 2001 NBA Finals.
  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: In the end this is what both sides wanted. The contract will include an early termination option (ETO) that will allow Lowry out after three years if things go sideways here, but either way he is being handsomely compensated. For the Raptors they get the guy they want without having to fork over the kind of five-year $60-million figure their Eastern Conference rival Washington Wizards did to retain Marcin Gortat. Lowry will be 32 when this contract ends assuming he doesn’t exercise the ETO. He won’t be in his prime anymore but it’s hard to believe his skills will have diminished much by then. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri had one must-do on his summer work list. Lowry was it. Now it’s just a matter of surrounding him and DeRozan and Valanciunas with a strong supporting cast and see where they take things.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: While Oklahoma City is thought to be the front-runner followed by several other suitors, free agent forward/center Pau Gasol is pondering life in San Antonio after the Spurs reached out to the multi-skilled Spaniard in the early hours of free agency.’s Marc Stein described Gasol as giving the Spurs “legit consideration” despite the massive pay cut he’d have to take to join the defending champions. Jeff McDonald of the Express-News confirmed Gasol’s interest, but characterized initial conversations as exploratory.
  • Derek Wetmore of The celebrity softball game at Target Field will have one fewer participant but immeasurably less awkwardness. The Twins on Wednesday announced a revised lineup for the game. Kevin Love is no longer scheduled to appear in the game. The Wolves are entertaining trade offers for Love, who will more than likely opt out of his contract next summer. The popular belief is that the Wolves must trade him before they lose him for nothing. Love, who by now could have put out the fires of rampant trade speculation, instead has fanned the flames. Although Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders contends it's possible Love starts the season with the Wolves, it appears outwardly to be a virtual lock that the superstar will not remain with the Wolves beyond this season.
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: There is a compromise. Monroe and the Pistons could agree on a two- or three-year deal with a player option for the final season. Under such a scenario, he would give it his best and if things are still trending downward, he can hit the open market at age 26. The Pistons are in a holding pattern until the matter is resolved. There won’t be any decisions made on Smith’s future until they know Monroe’s address next season. But the ball is in Monroe’s court.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Officially, the Bulls still have several weeks to decide if they want to invoke the amnesty provision for Carlos Boozer. But they don’t need it. A source said Wednesday that Boozer’s departure is a “done deal,” adding that Boozer’s camp already has been informed. There haven’t been any takers on a sign-and-trade for Boozer, and the Bulls also want the money to go in a different direction, whether Carmelo Anthony is in the mix or not. Under the amnesty provision, Boozer still will be paid the $16.8 million he’s due next season, but it won’t count against the salary cap.
  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: In league circles, Denver's name is mud. Or worse, it's viewed as next to Sacramento at the dead end of the league road. Nothing against coach Brian Shaw or Connelly, but the Nuggets need a better basketball recruiter. I've got the man for the job: Chauncey Billups. At age 37, Billups is reluctant to hang up his sneakers, but his playing career is over. And what a career it was: 17 seasons, 15,802 points, NBA Finals MVP, five times named to the All-Star Game. If you ask me, Billups belongs in the Hall of Fame. And now it is time to bring the King of Park Hill home. The Nuggets should make Billups an offer he can't refuse to become the team's assistant general manager if Connelly wants to begin painting the team in a better light. ... Billups owns a great basketball mind. He has the desire and the ability to build a champion as an executive. What better place for Billups to do so than his hometown?
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: The Cleveland Cavaliers might be the first team to make a bid in the Gordon Hayward Sweepstakes. Or maybe the won't. Or maybe they will. But not yet. Then again? Whew. Keeping up with this free-agency drama? Here's what is certain: Hayward met in Cleveland with Cavaliers' management on Wednesday. Things get a bit less certain after that, though.
  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: NBA veteran Josh Howard will be among the players participating on the New Orleans Pelicans summer league team, the team announced Wednesday afternoon. Howard, a 34-year-old former Dallas Mavericks standout small forward, will join group that also includes rookie guard Russ Smith, a second-round pick who was obtained in a trade last week with the Philadelphia 76ers, and holdovers Jeff Withey, Luke Babbitt and James Southerland. Howard, 6 feet 7, played 11 seasons in the NBA and made the All-Star team in 2007. He averaged 14.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in his NBA career. He spent last season in the NBADL.

Another summer on the sidelines?

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
Young By Royce Young
DurantLayne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesWill Kevin Durant have the same patience Thunder GM Sam Presti has shown in free agency?
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, July has traditionally meant a month of light bookkeeping and a jaunt to summer league. While other teams around the league catch transactional fever, the Thunder operate with a fervent reluctance to chasing available players.

Some have characterized that as a small-market franchise being stereotypically cheap. But the reality is there has rarely been a potential move that made sense to act upon. The Thunder are rigid about their core values, and free-agent discernment is prominent among them.

Here’s general manager Sam Presti’s free-agent history (not counting 10-day contracts):

  • Signed C.J. Miles to an offer sheet in 2008 (Utah matched)
  • Signed Nenad Krstic in December 2008
  • Signed Kevin Ollie in 2009
  • Signed Royal Ivey in 2010
  • Signed Derek Fisher in March 2012
  • Signed Hasheem Thabeet in 2013
  • Signed Derek Fisher in February 2013
  • Signed Derek Fisher in July 2013
  • Signed Caron Butler in March 2014

That’s it. That’s all of it.

Presti has historically spent to keep the players he either drafted or acquired. There’s more control, especially financially, in building a roster away from free-market competition.

This summer feels different. With league revenues soaring, the luxury tax -- a well-known enemy for the Thunder -- has unexpectedly climbed to around $77 million. With 12 guaranteed contracts adding up to $69,677,141 (not counting player bonuses), the Thunder have a greater ability to crack the checkbook and, for the first time ever really, a need to do so.

Thabo Sefolosha, the team’s starting shooting guard since 2009, is an unrestricted free agent and is almost a lock to sign elsewhere. Fisher is now the head coach of the Knicks. Butler, a late-season addition, surely isn’t returning. That’s two rotation spots, and one starting job, vacant on a contending team that’s clawing on the wall to break through. The draft isn’t really a place to address present needs -- at least not all of them -- as the Thunder once again kept the future in focus by drafting forward Mitch McGary, a likely successor to 33-year-old Nick Collison, and Josh Huestis, a potential wing stopper in the Sefolosha mold.

Then there’s the issue of Reggie Jackson. The Thunder desperately want to keep him, and with Jackson eligible for an extension this summer, they’re intent on avoiding another James Harden situation. Presti already has said he hasn’t and won’t give any consideration to trading Jackson, but obviously that’s not set in stone until Jackson’s name is signed on a contract. If a deal isn’t executed before October, he’ll hit restricted free agency, a place no Thunder youngster has ever reached.

But Presti doesn’t always operate within the confines of general assumption. The market isn’t exactly saturated with helpful players, and look no further than bit player Jodie Meeks getting a reported $19.5 million over three years from the Detroit Pistons to see why Presti actively resists playing the free-agent game.

Instead, he has meticulously assembled a roster that parlays present into future at all times. As Kendrick Perkins enters the final year of a tumultuous contract, 20-year-old bruiser Steven Adams is waiting to step in. As Sefolosha likely jettisons off somewhere else, Andre Roberson, a 6-foot-7 guard with enough wingspan to make Jay Bilas pass out, is potentially a replacement. As Butler and Fisher move on, Jeremy Lamb enters his third season after showing bright signs before a late-season swoon amplified by Butler’s signing.

Trusting internal development isn’t splashy. It doesn’t make any July headlines. And it certainly frustrates fans and confuses observers as opposing teams try to load up each summer. They think the Thunder are being too conservative, unwilling to take advantage of a clear window of opportunity presented by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s general awesomeness. Kind of hard to argue with that.

Though in some ways, Presti does acquire new players every summer. It’s just that you can’t restage news conferences for players you already have under contract. The idea within the Thunder is pretty simple: Build a young roster and expect its members to come back better in October. Adams improved game by game last season, capping it with an incredibly impressive double-double in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Lamb completed what was essentially his first full season as a regular, posting per-36-minute numbers of 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists, 43.2 percent shooting. (For fun, Harden’s second season, per 36 minutes: 16.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 43.6 percent shooting). Perry Jones III got seven starts. Roberson started 16 games last season and with him on the floor, the Thunder allowed 99.3 points per 100 possessions.

When you look at the construction of the roster, the teams sits more in a position of strength than reeking of desperation to fill significant structural needs. The Thunder already have a superstar, a co-superstar, a shot-blocking monster who shoots almost 50 percent from midrange and a dynamic bench option. They have intriguing youth and hold additional assets. If Presti lacked those things, he would have been roaming the aisles of the NBA swap meet searching for them just like other GMs. There are pieces needed on the periphery, but in terms of flashy signings, the Thunder are in a good place. It allows Presti to be selective, and for lack of a better word, stingy.

Signing players for the sake of it can actually compress your roster, too. Additions don’t always actually add. Look at the San Antonio Spurs. After losing Gary Neal in free agency, they didn’t rush to sign a new backup point guard. They trusted in their internal structure, allowing Patty Mills an opportunity. If Lamb is ever going to sniff his potential and become anything more than some dude the Thunder got for James Harden, he actually has to, you know, play.

Relying on youth and development does come with risk, because you’re putting unproven players in a position to produce for a team with title hopes. But consider this: The Thunder allowed 78.0 points per 100 possessions with a net rating of plus-24.9 in nine games last season with a starting five of Westbrook, Roberson, Durant, Ibaka and Adams. The sample size is obviously small, but there might be enough there for Presti to maintain his picky free-agent nature and trust in what he already has.

The big question, though, is how Durant will feel about all this. He probably won’t appreciate another quiet summer, especially after last July ended with the Thunder coming up empty-handed on a number of players he wanted. Durant grew frustrated as the Thunder whiffed on Dorell Wright, Francisco Garcia and Mike Miller, a player he personally recruited. All OKC ended up with was Fisher, for a third time. Will free agents avoiding Oklahoma City combined with the Thunder’s selective shopping be something on his mind in 2016, when he’s set to hit the free-agent market himself?

Maybe, but Presti can’t operate under the the assumption that some arbitrary clock is ticking toward 2016. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Thunder have avoided the luxury tax vigorously, but not to save dollars in the present. Their hyper-diligence stems from a tangible fear of the repeater tax, an escalator set into motion if a team crosses the threshold three out of four years. So as 2016 approaches, Presti is putting together a plan to not just re-sign Durant, but also Westbrook and Ibaka a year after. Overextending now and compromising the future roster is step one to losing your cornerstone player. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers. Durant may leave the Thunder if they fail the next two seasons, but that’s his decision. Nothing says he’d stay even if they won a title, or two.

Still, the Thunder will be semi-active this July. They’ll make calls, have meetings, probably make some offers. Probably sign a player or two. But they’re shopping in the bargain bin. They aren’t breaking over the tax this season, nor are they likely to hit the “apron” that locks them into a hard cap (about $4 million away). That commitment to the plan, unwavering despite a changing landscape, paints Presti as stubborn to some, but the identity and culture he has created within the organization is something a lot of other franchises are trying to mimic. The Thunder are really good. But the past three seasons, they haven’t been quite good enough. Question is, what’s it going to take to close that gap, or better yet, what’s it going to cost?

Process makes perfect

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
Han By Andrew Han
Special to
Doc RiversAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesDoc Rivers spent his first season in L.A. selling a "process." Will the Clippers keeping believing in it?
Chris Paul calls it winning time -- the closing frames of a tight game, every possession drawn out, each play stretched to its breaking point. It’s when Paul purposefully pounds the hardwood, drawing the defender onto his hip, slapping the lead hand away. He pivots his body, extends the off leg to buffer the ball from the guard, turns the foot outward to open his stance and flip the corner, pinning the would-be thief to his back while he skates into the lane for a layup before the rotation realizes what’s happened.

Winning time can also be slow time. For the Clippers, the shift in relativity from Games 4 to 5 of their second-round playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder to the eventual elimination of Game 6 would bend even the sturdiest of psyches. To lead only for 59 seconds of Game 4 and somehow divine a miraculous victory. To lead for 45 minutes and 59 seconds in Game 5 and crumble in a stunning defeat.

Before Game 6, Doc Rivers expressed how he assuaged the team’s exposed confidence.

“I wanted them to know how well we played. We played 44 pretty much flawless minutes, and I thought they needed to hear that,” Rivers said. “You know, we’ve had this thing; I talk about it in life, but I’ve talked about it with our team all year. And, especially with the stuff that’s happened, about not playing the victim role. And I said to them, ‘we’re not going to have that.’ And I just wanted that to be clear. That we’re either going to win it because we earned it or we’re going to lose because they beat us. But we’re not going to play the victim role.”

Curious but telling phrases popped up in Rivers’ lexicon this past season: “emotional hijacking,” “victim role.” Euphemisms with an emphasis on what can be controlled. And there’s a lot the Clippers can’t control.

They couldn’t control Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in crucial moments of back-to-back games. They couldn’t control whatever questionable officiating colored their playoff run. They certainly can’t control the erratic actions of a seemingly anosognosic owner.

The Clippers lacked agency in so many areas, but one they’re able to take possession of is the on-court shortcomings. How do they address those personnel failings though? What is the offseason edict for Los Angeles Clippers basketball?

It reads like a carbon copy of 2013 training camp needs. Concerns remain eerily similar to last July: an unsteady perimeter defense faltering over shallow frontcourt depth. For all the praise Doc Rivers the coach received on retrofitting his strong-side pressure defense and streamlining a stagnant offense, the results of Doc Rivers the senior VP are more convoluted. Sure, when a veteran buyout hits the market, Rivers has his pick of the litter. After all, Doc is offering the chance to play under his tutelage.

But the splashy move to usher in Rivers’ tenure bore middling fruit. J.J. Redick was immediately penciled in for the Ray Allen role and, barring the unforeseen injuries, he’s filled that function neatly. Jared Dudley, thought to be an ideal floor spacer, ended the season more prominently featured as wall decoration.

In the finale, Rivers played a rotation that averaged 56.22 games in a Clippers uniform for the season; i.e., just two-thirds of a season. Injuries robbed the team of consistent playing time and the opportunity to develop the telepathic chemistry featured by some of the longer-tenured contenders. But it was also the product of a front office constantly shuffling through non-guaranteed contracts, hoping to plug gaps across the bench.

That’s not to say front office blame lay exclusively at Doc’s feet. Donald Sterling’s public vacillation between selling the team and standing down only hints at the amount of indecision that has plagued the Clippers. Simply the subtraction of such a dodderer would relax Rivers’ restraints. Doc struggled with ownership several times throughout his maiden season, beginning with the very first deal and all the way up to the trade deadline, where the Clippers’ charter sat on an LAX tarmac, stewing while yet another consummated deal collapsed under the insecure gaze of Sterling.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul and Blake Griffin
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesWith few moves to make this summer, the Clips will rely on their stars to take them to greater heights.
A franchise can only know so much about where it’s going with constant uncertainty hovering overhead.

The Clippers’ identity resides in one of process, and in the first season under Rivers the team consolidated those principles nicely. But what the Clippers had finally started to recognize in the playoffs was, frankly, they were a scoring juggernaut. Los Angeles shredded the the Nos. 3 and 5 defenses to ribbons in the first and second rounds of the playoffs. While the key players for the Clippers ranged from mildly subpar to adequate defenders, they are all sublime offensively.

Does a firmer grasp of “Clipper basketball” actually exist? Eighty-two regular-season games followed by 13 playoff appearances and the most identifiable roundball feature is still the improvisational moniker Blake Griffin coined upon Paul’s arrival three seasons ago: “Lob City.” It’s the middle pick-and-roll, CP with his choice of a rolling Griffin, who spawns a decision tree unto himself, or turning the corner and hanging the sphere up above the box for DeAndre Jordan to pluck.

What gets conflated in discussions about champions and title worthiness is that a contender has to be not simply defensively inclined, but defensively oriented. But what’s the brand of basketball most typically associated with the two members of this year’s NBA Finals? The Miami Heat’s pace-and-space system. The San Antonio Spurs’ ball movement and elegant off-ball design. Defense is the thread used to pick apart would-be contenders. With rare exception, offense is typically how a franchise is defined.

In this sense, maybe the Clippers can draw upon the San Antonio Spurs for guidance. Imitating the newly crowned champions is no easy endeavor. But when confronted with an agonizing loss in the 2013 Finals, the Spurs simply ran it all back, swapping players on the periphery that would become costly with similar stock. Nebulous and intangible things like “familiarity under pressure” and “time to experiment with the lineup,” those were the key differences for San Antonio a year later.

Los Angeles has its core players secured. There isn’t an ocean of cap flexibility for it to remake the roster. And, in truth, there is no need. For all their flaws, the Clippers had figured out who they were. They ran even with the elite in the NBA postseason.

But at some point, the difference in winning time is all simply a matter of pressure and time.

Andrew Han writes for ClipperBlog. Follow him, @andrewthehan.

First Cup: Wednesday

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
By Nick Borges
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets did not wait to make their presentation to Knicks free agent forward Carmelo Anthony to get busy with players and their agents, starting with their late-night reunion with former Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry in Philadelphia. The focus, however, entirely shifts to Anthony, scheduled to be at Toyota Center on Wednesday for the second stop of his tour of suitors. Anthony spent his first day of free agency with the Bulls and will go from his session with the Rockets’ welcoming committee to a meeting Wednesday afternoon with the Mavericks in Dallas. He will also meet with the Lakers this week in Los Angeles and the Knicks can come in with an offer that no other team can approach. The Rockets, however, have confidence in their message and presentation, combining the successful pitch to Dwight Howard last summer with the $7 million worth of new facilities stuffed assorted state-of-the-art bells and whistles that have been geared to put on a show. There will be some similarities in the presentation Anthony saw in Chicago and will receive in Houston.
  • Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News: Give the man this much: He was probably right to snub Deron Williams after all. Rude, but right. Jason Kidd wanted to coach the Nets just because of D-Will, and now Kidd’s in Milwaukee. Wouldn’t hurt my feelings if Cuban actually put on his dog-and-pony show this time, just for appearances, as long as it yielded the same results. Hey, Cubes, you had me with Tyson Chandler. Now add a two-way small forward like Luol Deng and an improving all-around threat such as Washington’s Trevor Ariza. Bring back Vince Carter and Devin Harris. Give Rick Carlisle a little more youthful, wide-ranging roster, no matter what Barry Larkin says about Uncle Ricky and the kids. First things first, though. Let’s try to make Melo’s visit a pleasant one. Do it up right, Dallas. And if he decides to pass because it’s too hot or too football or somebody asks what’s with the headband, anyway, well, you can’t say we didn’t try.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: There were electronic signs and images of Carmelo Anthony in Bulls whites, and even Derrick Rose made an appearance for the courting of the seven-time All-Star on Tuesday at the United Center, but the most important person in the welcoming committee didn’t arrive until after 2 p.m. That’s when forward Taj Gibson strolled in. So why all the hype about a career backup who finished second in this year’s Sixth Man of the Year voting? Because the selling of the Bulls to Anthony includes Rose, coach Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah, but Gibson’s role should not be overlooked. A source said Gibson would be prominent in the talks with Anthony because the Bulls are trying to sell the idea of a "Big Four" in the Eastern Conference. Since Noah started recruiting Anthony at the All-Star break, his sales pitch included Gibson as part of the package to play alongside Anthony. But here’s the rub: If the Bulls can’t get the Knicks to do a sign-and trade for Anthony, Gibson’s presence would mean that Anthony only can be offered $14 million to $15 million for the first year of the deal instead of $19 million to $20 million. Then again, if Anthony is a man of his word, it’s not a big deal.
  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Quick thoughts on the Warriors‘ free-agent acquisition of point guard Shaun Livingston for three years at the full mid-level exception, which adds up to $16M. ... ivingston can run a talented offense, he can pair with Stephen Curry, and he has a lot of years in this league while still being relatively young. Those are all important things for the Warriors, who want all of their guards to help out defensively against the guys they would prefer to keep away from Curry (similar to what Brooklyn has to do with Williams). General conclusion: Livingston is going to be better than Blake, Crawford and Douglas, and will be very useful for the Warriors. He will be the Warriors’ best back-up PG since Jack… and in a few ways he’ll be better than Jack. In several ways, he will be worse. I just think Livingston came fairly expensively, but if he’s a 20-25-minute a game guy, and a plus on defense, I will revise that opinion.
  • Jason Reid of The Washington Post: The Wizards and Gortat agreed Tuesday night to a five-year, $60 million deal, a move that kept the player known as “The Polish Hammer” from going elsewhere — namely the Miami Heat, which was expected to have more than just a passing interest in the big man. Coach Randy Wittman and senior vice president Tommy Sheppard traveled to Gortat’s home turf in an effort to reaffirm the organization’s commitment to him. The gesture was the right move for the right player. Although the Wizards hope to retain Gortat and reinvigorated forward Trevor Ariza — another important member of the Wizards’ entertaining ensemble cast — getting Gortat’s signature on a contract was their top priority in free agency. You don’t have to understand the intricacies of pick-and-roll defense to realize that Gortat was at the center of the Wizards’ revival. The rest of the NBA noticed, too.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: With LeBron James anticipated to sign a contract that starts in the $20 million range for next season, the ultimate givebacks apparently will come from Wade and Bosh. The Portland Oregonian on Tuesday reported Bosh has agreed on a five-year contract that starts at $11 million next season, with Wade having agreed to a four-year deal that starts at $12 million. Henry Thomas, agent for both Bosh and Wade, later denied to the Sun Sentinel such agreements with his clients. No deals can be finalized before July 10, the first day contracts can be signed this offseason, with several league insiders questioning the extent of such givebacks from players who otherwise would have earned in excess of $20 million had they not invoked early-termination options by Monday's deadline. Such massive concessions would leave the Heat positioned to not only meet their salary obligation to forward Udonis Haslem, but possibly also satisfy Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and others with the remaining cap space and a $2.7 million salary-cap exception that also would be available.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: After spending Tuesday entertaining overtures from multiple NBA teams, Spencer Hawes remains "very interested" in the possibility of joining the Trail Blazers as a free agent, a source with knowledge of Hawes' thinking told The Oregonian. The Blazers' top free agent target met with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, according to Yahoo Sports, soaking in sales pitches from Bob Myers and Doc Rivers. But, the source said, the meetings did nothing to knock the Blazers out of contention. "He likes everything about the Blazers," the source said. ... What's more, unlike some free agents, playing in the Northwest is a draw for Hawes, who is from Seattle.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The latest rumor came before last Thursday’s NBA draft. It had Jason Thompson headed to Detroit as part of a deal for forward Josh Smith. Still, all the speculation hasn’t stopped Thompson from spending time in the Sacramento area during the summer. For the second consecutive year, Thompson’s JT Elite Basketball Camp is hosting 300 youngsters, ages 6 to 18 at Hardwood Palace in Rocklin. ... “Trade talk happens before the draft,” Thompson said at his camp Tuesday morning. “But I’m a man, I’m true to my word and regardless of what happens I still want to keep it out here. I still have a lot of support.” Thompson, 27, is the longest-tenured King as he prepares to enter his seventh season, which also means he’s been mired in Sacramento’s losing ways more than his teammates. His contract has three years and more than $19 million left, and Thompson understands he will be involved in trade talk. The Kings want to shake up the roster, and dealing Thompson’s contract would provide future financial flexibility.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: As we wait for the Thunder to strike in free agency, it’s important to remember one name. Reggie Jackson. He remains Oklahoma City’s top priority this summer. For all the handwringing over upgrades, Jackson stands as the most likely player to provide a bigger impact next season, simply through an increase in minutes. For that reason, it can be argued that keeping Jackson in the mix and happy going forward is more pivotal than any personnel addition Oklahoma City can make. The Thunder can now negotiate a contract extension with its top reserve and backup point guard, and Oklahoma City more than likely touched based with Jackson’s representatives in the opening hours of the free-agency period to discuss the next steps toward hammering out a deal.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Saturday's summer-league opener against the Magic in Orlando can't come soon enough for Nerlens Noel. After 17 months as a spectator, the 76ers rookie center is eager to play in an organized game. "I've been ready for a while," said Noel, who missed last season while recovering from knee surgery.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: NBA free agents are being advised by union leadership to have paychecks from their new contracts spread over 18 months rather than 12 in preparation for a possible work stoppage after the 2016-17 season, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday. Bloomberg obtained an e-mail sent to players and agents by acting union executive director Ron Klempner. “As we have learned in the past, the owners have made provisions with the TV networks to continue to receive rights fees throughout a work stoppage, and there is no reason the players should not make every effort to take the same precaution,” Klempner wrote said. ... The players had a provision to have their checks spread over 18 months included into the agreement for the first time during the last lockout. That would allow players to receive payments well into a work stoppage.