Did #NBArank overrate Kobe?

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
12:44
PM ET
Webb By Royce Webb
ESPN.com
Archive
video

It’s time to take “respect” out of the NBA vocabulary, and Kobe Bryant proves it.

Look at what is happening with the announcement that Kobe finished 40th in this year's #NBArank. The same thing happened a year ago when we predicted Kobe to be the 25th-best player in 2013-14. The reaction both years was easy to predict, and it was ugly. Many fans were outraged, even ESPN folks were apoplectic, and Kobe himself mocked us, saying anyone who thinks he’s 25th “needs drug testing.”

The most common reaction was that we were crazy. OK, hard to refute that one.

The second-most common reaction was that we had disrespected the Mamba.

And that reaction was just plain incorrect. In fact, our problem was that we overrated Kobe tremendously, out of “respect.”

But “respect” is one of the most useless concepts in the NBA when it comes to player evaluation. If we had treated Kobe like any other player, we would’ve said he was no longer a top-25 player, or even close to that.

Let’s be blunt: Kobe Bean Bryant was one of the very worst players in the NBA last season -- a $30 million disaster. He was closer to the 425th-best player than the 25th-best player.

He played six games, in which he was mostly just terrible, with negative win shares -- that’s right, he was taking wins off the floor. The Lakers had a winning record before he arrived and immediately hit the skids. The team played worse with him on the floor, and on top of that, he insulted his teammates.

And this was entirely predictable. More than 1,000 men have played the guard position in the NBA. You can count on one hand the number of guards, from all of history, who have been notably productive after playing as many NBA minutes as Bryant has.

So why did we rank him as high as 25th? Out of respect. Too much respect, really.

In the NBA, “respect” is often a code word. It means different things to different folks, but when it comes to evaluating players, it often means that we agree to lie. We don’t like the truth, so we lie and call it “respect.”

Is this a polite impulse? It can be. We respect our elders, and in the NBA, we respect our veterans, even boorish guys like Kobe.

But if “respect” becomes a weapon to shut people up, what’s that about? If “respect” is a word used to bully people, that’s not real respect.

Why did Kobe get a $48.5 million extension from the Lakers before he proved he could play after the Achilles injury? Why didn't they just cut him using the amnesty clause, given that he’s probably done as a winning player?

Because the team believed it couldn't afford to “disrespect” Kobe. They knew he could make life difficult for them by appealing to his fans and supporters around the league. They knew he could bully them into “respect.”

You know, we shouldn't be forced to “respect” Kobe any more than he earns our respect. We can respect his career, sure, if we want to reminisce about the good ol' days.

But respect is earned, and the current version of Kobe is not much of an NBA player.

And when it comes to an evaluation system like #NBArank, it should be just that simple.

TrueHoop TV Live

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
12:11
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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We're talking hoops at 2 p.m. ET. Join us!


Spreecast is the social video platform that connects people.


Check out ESPN NBA Live Chat - Episode 79 on Spreecast.

Preparing for life without Kevin Durant

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
11:12
AM ET
Young By Royce Young
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin DurantAP Photo/Brett Deering, FileIt's hard to picture the Thunder without Kevin Durant, but the team is prepared for the possibility.
Scattered last year along the three interstates that surround downtown Oklahoma City were billboards featuring different duos of Thunder players. Reggie Jackson with Serge Ibaka. Russell Westbrook with Thabo Sefolosha. Kevin Durant with Nick Collison. Never, though, would you see one with Westbrook and Durant, the faces of the franchise, together. And you definitely wouldn’t see Durant, the soon-to-be league MVP, by himself.

On the surface it seems like innocuous, inclusive marketing. But it was all very intentional and very purposeful. The moment the franchise loaded the trucks and relocated from Seattle to Oklahoma City, sporting a new name and new colors, there was a plan in place for when Durant left -- whether it happens in 2016 or 2026 or 2036.

Operating in such a small market, the Oklahoma City Thunder organization has a vision to remain an entity unto itself. The team still sells its electric superstars to keep the ticket booths busy, but there has been a clear effort to keep the city aware that the Thunder aren’t just Kevin Durant’s team. They’re Oklahoma City’s team.

The reasoning is simple: players come and go, but the franchise is forever. Spend years presenting the team as the Oklahoma City Durants and you’re left without any identity when he retires, or, gasp (!), leaves. And in a place like Oklahoma City, hardly the glitziest or most glamorous NBA destination, it’s a sound and necessary strategy.

In just six seasons, the Thunder have etched themselves into the fabric of the city and state. One of the main motivations for the city approving tax after tax to entice an NBA team to relocate here was so when you Googled “Oklahoma City” the browser would autofill with something other than “bombing.” In less than a decade, the franchise has not only overcome the SEO robots, but it's also loosened the stranglehold the state’s two biggest colleges have had the past century. Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder draw equal amounts of attention and adoration as any Heisman Trophy winner or legendary college football coach. Which, around here, was once unthinkable.

But although the franchise is certainly enjoying the spoils of Durant’s rise on the court, it’s created a potential problem off of it: He’s become so popular that he has outgrown even the Thunder’s best efforts to redirect focus toward the organization.

Durant is reaching Peyton Manning-level commercial exposure. Jay Z is (sort of) his agent. He was honored with the league’s highest individual award last season and pulled in the second most All-Star fan votes. He had his own movie, is on the cover of basketball’s biggest video game and has an HBO reality special coming this fall. At this point, he may be worth more than the franchise itself -- Clay Bennett and his ownership group purchased the SuperSonics in 2006 for $350 million; Durant signed a 10-year deal with Nike in September that will pay him upward of $300 million.

Given how identifiable Durant has become with the Thunder, it’s hard not to wonder what would happen to the franchise if he did indeed leave. The intricate plan of general manager Sam Presti, the bond with the Oklahoma City community, the endless sellouts and profit margins -- does any of that stuff continue without No. 35? Heck, even the team’s name and logo seem decent because of Durant and how cool he is. What would the Thunder be without the guy who, for all intents and purposes, is the Thunder?

For six to eight weeks, they’re going to find out. A “Jones fracture” in Durant’s right foot will sideline the Thunder star for at least the first month of the season. The injury marks the first time Durant will miss double-digit games in his seven seasons in the league, giving Oklahoma City its first look at life without KD.

The Thunder, of course, have options to fill the void. While no player can recreate what they’ll lose from Durant, the succession plan in OKC is a well-established and important one to the team's long-view approach. Instead of making big splashes in free agency, Presti has put his faith in drafting and development, sometimes to the chagrin of fans. While that has meant missing out on the likes of Pau Gasol, despite Durant’s best efforts, it has allowed the small-market franchise to prepare in advance for the potential departures of its own players. Sefolosha, a long-time starter, signed in Atlanta this offseason, but the Thunder drafted a similar player in Andre Roberson in 2013. Mitch McGary was drafted in this year’s first round as a potential replacement for Collison, who is 33 and in the final year of his contract.

[+] EnlargeKevin Durant
AP Photo/Eric GayKevin Durant's broken foot will give Oklahoma City its first look at life without its superstar.
But replacing an MVP in his prime for good simply can’t be done. And while the pending free agency of their superstar in 2016 is already exhausting, recent comments -- both by Durant and others -- have made the possibility of him bolting to a franchise other than the one that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2007 a very real one.

A summer of speculation has split the fan base into those in denial that Durant would ever actually leave and one beset with crippling fear that it might happen. Presti, on the other hand, said this past summer that he’s “looking forward” to the star’s free agency. He sees it as an opportunity to lock up a foundational player long-term.

“We know it’s there, and we are looking forward to it -- the opportunity to re-sign a legacy player -- especially when you consider where our team could be at that point, with two more years of experience and cohesion and taking that into account,” Presti told USA Today. “We have to honor the season in front of us, because we have a tremendous opportunity to win right now and continue to build the tradition of the Thunder. We are fortunate to be in this position, and we want to capture and respect this moment. We have to put that anticipation in its place for now and not allow ourselves to get distracted from the present, regardless of what the future could look like for Kevin and the organization he has built with us, brick by brick.”

Presti’s perspective is admirable, and given Durant’s history -- specifically his history of success -- with the team, it seems as though the Thunder will be able to make the best case to him. But the shadow cast by that decision will only grow larger as we get closer to 2016. And any injury is a piercing reminder of just how fragile title windows can be.

But it's more than the wins and losses. Durant's hasn't only evolved into a brand maybe bigger than the Thunder itself, but he’s essentially become Oklahoma’s global ambassador. He's been in the community about as much as he’s been on the court, ready to step up in the state’s weakest moments. He's been the face of change, turning a place known for tragedy and turning it into something of a burgeoning destination of young business types.

The fan base has had it pretty good in the franchise’s short tenure in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have made the playoffs five times in their six seasons of existence, and they’ve advanced past the first round in four of those postseason appearances. The one season of bad basketball Oklahoma City did watch came in the Thunder’s inaugural season, when simply having a team was more than enough.

What would happen if Durant did leave and the franchise was forced to endure several more like it?

The Thunder have been preparing for that possibility since the beginning.

Royce Young covers the Thunder for ESPN.com. Follow him, @royceyoung.

Wizards not wavering places

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
9:15
AM ET
By Conor Dirks
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
WizardsChris Covatta/Getty ImagesIs the Wizards' time now? An accelerated rebuilding plan has Washington thinking big (for a change).
In late September of last year, just before the 2013-14 regular season, Emeka Okafor sat in a fold-out chair and looked across the practice arena floor with a neutral expression, waiting for an interview to begin at the Washington Wizards’ media day.

The excitement that normally greets a new season had been dulled just days earlier by the news of Okafor’s disconsolate diagnosis: a herniated disc in the neck. Okafor told the Washington Post: “It’s awkward. I was looking forward to starting this year and getting things kicked off right. Sometimes, you have plans and it doesn’t work out, man, so you have to make other ones and just roll with it.”

It turned out that the team, harried by years of inadequacy and premature announcements of arrival, wasn’t willing to wait.

Less than a month later, and mere days before the start of the season, team president Ernie Grunfeld took Okafor’s advice and traded his starting center and a 2014 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Marcin Gortat. The trade was rightly described as desperate (more a statement of fact than a value judgment), and many worried that Grunfeld, who has shown little ability to mine Round 1 for NBA talent outside of no-brainers such as Wall and Bradley Beal, had made a mistake common among executives fighting for their jobs: trading potentially franchise-altering assets for rented improvement.

But Gortat’s addition did more than save Washington’s season. It liberated the Wizards. With the playoffs in sight, the youthful rebuild -- the mythical adherence to an ambitious model popularized by Oklahoma City -- was abandoned. Former lottery pick Jan Vesely and offseason acquisition Eric Maynor were eagerly traded for the relatively ancient “Professor” Andre Miller. Again, it reeked of desperation, and again, the realness of that desperation did not necessarily invalidate the risk.

Days later, team owner Ted Leonsis and Grunfeld welcomed another veteran, Drew Gooden, to the team, first on a series of 10-day contracts and later for the rest of the season. In a way, it was brilliant electioneering; the public faces of the franchise (Wall and Beal) remained precariously young, while the rest of the team quickly transformed from a mixture of unrealized potential, youth in regress and abandoned project players to a smattering of seasoned veterans ready to prop up the product, if only for a limited time.

For the most part, the behind-the-scenes vintage went unnoticed. Although Wall and Beal were the only two young, inexperienced players in Washington’s rotation (Trevor Ariza and Gortat were even on opposite sides of the 2009 NBA Finals), the team seemed to project that mirage of youth and inexperience during and after their emphatic first-round playoff series win against the Chicago Bulls.

Now, entering the 2014-15 season, Washington inconspicuously carries the league’s oldest roster.

As a result of the team’s paradigm shift towards veteran, rather than peer, support for its young stars and subsequent postseason success, a discussion of Washington’s notable draft and development failures is no longer at the forefront of the conversation about the Wizards, even if some are still anxious to see Otto Porter Jr. show the “NBA-readiness” attributed to him before he was drafted third overall in 2013.

Fortunately for Porter Jr., and the Wizards, the former Georgetown star won’t be rushed into the starting lineup following an offseason back surgery for forward Martell Webster. The Truth is in town.

Paul Pierce’s signing was, at the very least, tentative validation of the philosophy behind the Gortat trade -- a trade that catalyzed this era of D.C. basketball. Pierce, both advocate and proof, told the media in late September that Washington was “becoming a destination.”

Although Pierce told David Aldridge that he feels familiar enough with what Ariza -- who left this offseason for a big payday in Houston -- provided to replicate it, he also touted an added versatility that could help unclog Washington’s inflexible and underdeveloped half-court offense. John Wall will keep his shooters well fed in transition, but he desperately needs a player like Pierce, who can create something out of the final five seconds of a shot clock after a broken play.

Still, it wouldn’t be a Wizards offseason without a setback. Injuries to Webster and Beal -- who will miss at least the first month of the season -- aren’t catastrophic because of the projected brevity of each player’s absence. But combined with Ariza’s departure, what was a strength (Washington was the fourth-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA last season) becomes a massive uncertainty: The team will start the season without a proven ace.

[+] EnlargeNene and Marcin Gortat
Chris Covatta/Getty ImagesTrading for Marcin Gortat was a risk, but he and Nene have given the Wizards some needed muscle.
At full strength with the additions of Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair, these Wizards still aren’t quite stacked enough to challenge Cleveland for the Eastern Conference crown, are older than you might think and remain helmed by a limited coach who --- outside of the Chicago series -- didn’t show the ability to turn what was one of the best starting lineups in the NBA into a consistent winner.

But what separates this team from the fun but deficient Wizards of the mid- to late aughts is that, if they aren’t up to the task, there is an escape route that doesn’t involve starting from scratch.

Instead of re-signing Ariza long-term and committing to a good, but not great, roster, Washington structured each of its offseason contracts to terminate neatly before the summer of 2016. In 2016, with Wall and Beal coming into their prime, the Wizards will have money for a franchise-altering talent (or two, considering the NBA’s prodigious new TV deal). It’s been suggested, with no semblance of subtlety (even in self-conscious satire), that D.C. native Kevin Durant might be that talent.

For once, the Wizards are both good and not hamstrung indefinitely. That flexibility will allow Grunfeld to pivot when an opportunity emerges from the fog. That flexibility allows for joy, rather than obligation, in chasing increasing expectations.

The since-abandoned Oklahoma City model was never much of a “model” at all. Mimics in the method, such as Washington, Charlotte and Orlando, have discovered that Sam Presti’s rebuild of the former Seattle Supersonics was a process to pull ideas out of rather than trace from a template.

Having top-six lottery picks in four consecutive drafts was not enough. Youth, with all of its compelling vibrancy, was not enough. Especially when the losses piled up and fans became aware that the overused “rebuild” term was more of a branding effort than prima facie evidence of smart management.

After losing in overtime to Charlotte in the last week of the 2013-14 regular season, the Wizards, inconsistent as ever, seemed destined to be surpassed by a surging then-Bobcats team, fall prey to Miami in the first round of the playoffs and cease mattering long before anyone outside of D.C. started paying attention.

A loss from Charlotte to the struggling Celtics, stars resting in Brooklyn and four straight Washington wins to end the season changed this team’s trajectory, setting the stage for a playoff series win that gave the Wizards something they’ve sorely lacked since Wall arrived: relevance.

Conor Dirks writes for the TrueHoop Network. Follow him @ConorDDirks.

First Cup: Friday

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
4:58
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The supporting cast changes. The headliners do not. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the charge, just like always. Scotty Brooks coaching, coming upon his sixth anniversary of being hired. Sam Presti presiding. Clay Bennett chairing. The Thunder is a bastion of stability. Continuity is a Thunder calling card. Presti calls it a lost currency in the NBA. A stable roster is hard to find. Stable leadership is, too. Only three NBA coaches have been on their job longer than has Brooks, can you believe it? And two of those (Erik Spoelstra, Rick Carlisle) have him beat by less than six months. Presti, who still could pass for student body president at Emerson College, is eighth on the general manager list. Heck, Bennett is moving up the owners’ list; 13 NBA franchises have been sold since he bought the Seattle SuperSonics eight years ago. “Continuity has become a lost currency,” Presti said. He was talking about players, too, but there OKC also rules. Who has a franchise cornerstone that trumps Durant in seniority? The Lakers and Heat, with Kobe and Dwyane Wade barely hanging on. San Antonio with the ancients. Dallas with Dirk. Portland with LaMarcus Aldridge. That’s it.
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: While he has alternated playing on and off the ball so far this preseason, guard Jimmer Fredette displayed good court awareness on a pair of assists Thursday night. First, Fredette threaded a cross-court pass to find an open Darius Miller for a layup with 1:43 to go in the first quarter. On the Pelicans' first possession of the second quarter, Fredette bounced a nice pocket pass to Alexis Ajinca inside.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: With the Suns leading San Antonio by 33 near the end of a preseason points parade, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver apologized to the few faithful fans remaining for a depleted version of the visitors. The Spurs left Coach Gregg Popovich, said to be ailing, and five players at home for the preseason game. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili did not travel to Phoenix to rest while Kawhi Leonard (eye infection), Patty Mills (torn rotator cuff) and Tiago Splitter (calf strain) were out for health reasons. During a time out with 2:31 to go in the Suns' 121-90 victory at US Airways Center, Sarver came to scorer's table to get on the public address system. "Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight," Sarver said. "This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I've got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you." The game's official attendance was 13,552, although many of those paid tickets were unused. After the game, Sarver said the fans who mail in a ticket stub or proof of attendance would receive a gift certificate for tickets, merchandise or food. The amount had not been determined.
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: A four-time Euroleague champion, Ettore Messina had certainly coached in bigger games than the one he experienced Thursday night at U.S. Airways Center. NBA preseason games, after all, are typically short on meaning. That is doubly true when it involves the defending champion with 14 players back from the season before. With Gregg Popovich back home in San Antonio, Messina — the 54-year-old Italian coaching legend who joined Popovich’s bench in July — took control of the Spurs’ joystick for a 121-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns. ... Messina has found a warm welcome with the Spurs so far, and that’s not surprising. With nine foreign-born players, they are the most internationally flavored team in NBA history. As such, Messina arrived in San Antonio with instant respect. “He’s a winner, won everything in Europe,” said guard Marco Belinelli, who played under Messina in Bologna. “It’s going to be another motivation for us to be better.” One sign Messina is fitting in: Like most everybody else in the Spurs’ locker room, he refers to the Spurs’ most decorated player as “Timmy.” “He’s been great,” Parker said. “Obviously, he’s been watching a lot and learning our stuff. I’m sure as we go forward, he’ll talk more and share his ideas and his vision.” Handed the reins of the Spurs on Thursday night, Messina had little other choice but to take control. Even in a blowout loss, even on what otherwise would have been just another night in the NBA preseason, it made for a momentous occasion.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: There was a huge promotional poster of the Warriors’ third-year forward on the outside of the Wells Fargo Arena, and he purchased about 250 tickets for friends and relatives to attend Thursday’s 104-101 preseason win over Denver. “I know NBA players make a lot of money, but he might need to take out a loan to get the number he’s looking for,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “He had more than 200 people here tonight, which is awesome. It doesn’t surprise me. He’s such a great guy and well-loved.” But those same fans had to leave the arena with some newfound love for little-known Ognjen Kuzmic, too. The second-year center stole some of the spotlight from hometown hero Barnes (2-for-8, five points), putting up 10 points, four rebounds and an assist in 17 minutes. He barked out orders as the anchor of the defense and was 5-for-6 from the field. He had a dunk, an athletic tip-in, a contortionist finish of an alley-oop and showed nice touch on two short jumpers. It made Kerr’s comments from last week seem a little less hyperbolic. While in Southern California for three games and three practices last week, the coach told a tale of Kuzmic dominating a quarter of an intrasquad scrimmage with 14 points and five boards
  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: The question, as it seemingly always has been for the Nuggets, is can they play fast and still play solid defense? Early on in camp, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw predicted defense to be one of the areas his team will experience the most growth. “I think the biggest area of improvement that you’ll see is going to be on the defensive end,” Shaw said. A lot of that had to do with adding personnel – shot blocking in JaVale McGee, perimeter defense in Arron Afflalo and Gary Harris. But will the speed with which the Nuggets want to play get in the way? Can the pace be high yet, points and field goal percentage allowed remain at low levels? The Nuggets aren’t the only team looking to figure it out. The L.A. Clippers are desperately trying to achieve that double as well. Their coach, Doc Rivers, has a stifling defensive background, with his title-contending and title-winning Boston Celtics teams being high-level defensive units.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott started for the Hawks in Thursday’s exhibition against the Bulls and nearly delivered a victory. They were done in when Jimmy Butler hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Bulls an 85-84 win over the Hawks in Chicago. Schroder hit a driving layup with 1.5 seconds left that gave the Hawks a two-point lead, 84-82. It was short-lived. The Bulls played three starters for the fourth quarter, including Butler who had a game-high 29 points including 20 in the final period. The Bulls also used Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah in the fourth quarter as they erased a 20-point deficit and outscored the Hawks’ young reserves 38-18 in the period. ... The Hawks have three exhibition games remaining, including Saturday’s home game against the Pistons.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Mike Dunleavy might be moved to the new-look bench crew. Don’t call it a demotion; it might have to be done out of necessity. With newcomers Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks still finding their way with that second group, coach Tom Thibodeau has been kicking around the idea of promoting first-round pick Doug McDermott to the starting lineup so that Dunleavy can help stabilize the bench, which was outscored 38-24 by the Hawks, including an 11-4 run in the second quarter that put the Bulls in a hole for most of the game. “I don’t want to overlook what Mike’s done, either," Thibodeau said of the switch. “Mike has shot the ball extremely well. He helps that first unit function well, so I’m not locked into it. As I said, that’s the great value of Mike — he’s started before, he’s come off the bench, he’s comfortable in both roles. We’ll see how it unfolds."
  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: When Sixers draft pick Dario Saric didn't play in his first two games for Anadolu Efes in Turkey this week, rumors that he was close to coming to Philadelphia swirled faster than litter during a storm. But, even before getting benched, it was always highly improbable that Saric would make an NBA appearance anytime before he plays at least two seasons in Turkey. For Saric to be able to play for the Sixers before he fulfills two of the three seasons of his contract, all three parties involved - Anadolu Efes, Saric and the Sixers - would have to come to an agreement. Anadolu Efes paid a lot of money for the 6-10 forward's services, "so just letting him go isn't probable," according to a source. After two seasons, if Saric wants out and the Sixers agree to help with the buyout, then Anadolu Efes really is no longer in play, so only two of the three parties need to be on board. "He is still a very young player in a league that is a lot older, older than the NBA," the source said. "It isn't uncommon that he sat. He could play the next few games and be one of the best players on the team, and all will be well again." Translation: Don't bank on Saric being here until at least 2016. He did play in his first Euroleague game yesterday and scored nine points in 22 minutes.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: Avery Bradley had the kind of first half on Thursday night few players experience, especially those with a well documented reputation as an elite defender. But as much as the talk following Boston's 111-91 win over Philadelphia was about Bradley's 20 points - all in the first half - which included six 3s, it's his play at the other end of the floor that remains at the heart of any success the 6-foot-2 guard has on the floor. "The biggest thing that he can do, is he needs to let his defense fuel his offense and not the other way around," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters following Boston's victory. "Tonight, I thought he really did that." Bradley has steadily improved his game offensively every year, which includes a career-high 14.9 points per game last season. As impressive as Bradley was on Thursday night, he's wise enough to know his shot isn't going to fall with that kind of consistency all the time. "I might not make 3s every single night," Bradley, who was 6-for-9 on 3s, told reporters following the win. "But I know I can go out there and give my all on the defensive end every single night."
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: While in Southern California for a preseason road trip, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward had a chance to reunite with perhaps the most popular Utah Jazz teammate they’ve ever had. And it happened, of all places, on the set of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." The two Utah players were invited to participate in a five-minute segment featuring JP Gibson, the 5-year-old with leukemia who signed a one-day contract with the Jazz last week. The family didn't know the players were going to surprise them and be part of the show, which aired Thursday afternoon. “It was a great experience for me and Gordon,” Favors said. “That was my first time being on national TV like that.” It was also the 23-year-old’s first time “even watching … or knowing about the show.” Ellen might’ve won over a new viewer. “It’s an amazing show,” Favors said. “I’m pretty sure a lot of females watch it. I’m not sure a lot of men watch that show.”
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: A smirk formed on Kobe Bryant’s face. Then, the Lakers star chuckled. A panel of ESPN media members ranked Bryant as the 40th-best NBA player. If Bryant found his 25th ranking last year “silly” and “laughable,” which adjectives will the Lakers star use to express his disgust about his latest standing? “I’ve known for a long time they’re a bunch of idiots,” Bryant said. A smile widened on Byron Scott’s face. Then, the Lakers’ coach shook his head trying to process it all. What does Scott make of Bryant’s ranking after professing his rookie year that he would soon become the NBA’s best player? “I think he probably gets a kick out of it. I do too,” Scott said. “I would hate to be one of the guys who doubted him.” Bryant’s latest ranking likely stems from playing only six games last season because of recurring injuries to his left Achilles tendon and left knee. But Bryant scoffed that he would use this slight as fuel to accelerate his motor. “I tend to use things as motivation,” Bryant said, “that tend to be in the realm of reality.”

Is Kobe's #NBArank right?

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
11:23
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Last year, when #NBArank rated Kobe Bryant the NBA's 25th-best player, there was outrage. This year, he's ranked much lower.

video

Can the Clippers own the future?

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
11:00
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
ClippersNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Clippers, once L.A.'s indie darlings, have gone mainstream. Is the future theirs for the taking?
The Ballmerization of the Clippers and the rejection of “eternal Clipper hell” doesn’t mean Los Angeles isn’t still a Lakers town. Clippers fans know that, and many of the lifers wouldn't want it any other way. The team has long been an expression of sports counterculture, a dive bar for NBA-crazed Angelenos who can't tolerate the velvet-rope club, Team Bukowski. Tribal identities are difficult to shake, no matter how much history evolves.

One of Los Angeles’ newer tribal identities is “eastsider.” Much of the cachet that used to belong to the city’s westside has moved that way, and these neighborhoods on the downtown side of Western Avenue have caught fire. Westsider Baron Davis could see it coming three years ago.

This year’s cult television comedies, “You’re the Worst” and “Transparent,” are set in Silver Lake and neighboring environs, and their thirtyish characters claim eastside citizenship as an element of their urban identity. Ryan Gosling and James Franco have planted stakes in the neighborhood. Are these real and fictional people Clippers fans? Unknown, but spiritually that’s where they live. If they’re not, their kids, unburdened by the past, will be.

There has long been a civic obsession in Los Angeles about the future, probably because there isn’t as much of a past. The city has been playing a game of catch-up with its eastern brethren and San Francisco for more than a century, and has never stopped building. That’s a nice ethic for a city to have, but it also encourages Angelenos to get lost in a fantasy of what the city will look like. The most alluring feature of Spike Jonze’s “Her” last year was his imagination of Los Angeles’ near future -- a dense urban paradise, greener, walkable; a warmer, more communal place that still gets more than 300 days of temperate sunshine.

Given current trends, would the Clippers be a better representative of that future Los Angeles than the Lakers? It’s hard to say, but the normalization of the Clippers under Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul means this is a legitimate question for the first time. According to an ESPN Sports poll, NBA fans are far more likely to switch allegiances -- OK, bandwagon hop -- than fans of other sports. Los Angeles is a young and diverse market that's obsession with the future only compounds the possibility a championship-caliber Clippers team could make up ground, especially if the Lakers swing and miss on the league’s marquee free agents and stop playing basketball in May and June. At least that’s the thought.

The Clippers as the city’s team of the future isn’t a bad piece of casting. When a glossy mag wants to showcase the next-wave American athlete on its cover, it brings Griffin in for a shoot. With Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan in the leads, the product on the court is fast, physical ... modern. Meanwhile, the Lakers limp to the starting line with a couple of aging, brittle Hall of Famers seven seasons or so past their prime and a few adhesives.

Under an owner who, as a matter of principle, believed that capital investment is a gimmick, the Clippers lagged behind most of the league in areas of innovation. With Ballmer and Rivers presiding, the organization has expanded its analytics operation, pushed its way to the front of the line for snazzy tools that used to be the domain of the Texas triumvirate and are listening to cutting-edge health specialists. With no real guiding principle other than the preservation of tradition for its own sake, the Lakers were the lone holdouts at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and still regard the European market as a novelty.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
AP Photo/John LocherCan Blake Griffin become the face of Los Angeles sports once Kobe Bryant cedes the throne?
Los Angeles’ core is more dynamic than most, but power and wealth are still concentrated in the 310. The Clippers are beginning to gentrify the basketball landscape in town, but it’s not as if Paul, Griffin and Rivers are moving next door to Jimmy and Gretchen from "You're The Worst" or hanging out on York Boulevard -- they live west. And no matter how unsightly the freak show gets, the Lakers will continue to rule, at least for a good while. Fifty-two percent of NBA fans in Los Angeles call the Lakers their favorite team. The Clippers draw only 12 percent. Kobe Bryant is the favorite of 55 percent of those fans, while Griffin checks in at 4 percent. Those numbers will move in the coming years -- and they already are. The Clippers clocked in at only 2 percent to 3 percent just three seasons ago, while the Lakers have tumbled considerably from 70 percent. But turning Los Angeles into a Clippers town still might not occur in Ballmer’s lifetime.

The Loy Vaught-Michael Cage contingent in Clippers Nation might not care if the team closes the gap, but the silent majority would love to see counterculture turn mainstream in Los Angeles -- and so would the organization. Pioneering new territory is all well and good, but you still need somewhere to eat in the neighborhood, a reliable grocery, some decent coffee and a dry cleaner that’s worth a damn. Ballmer didn’t spend $2 billion for a boutique storefront; he wants to own the block.

What will that take? Aside from hanging some fabric alongside the sleek new LED fixtures at Staples Center, Griffin evolving into an iconic star. As the old trope goes, the NBA is a superstar league and the Lakers’ dominance is as much an expression of Magic and Kobe as it is the rings. Bryant will soon retire, and when he does that 55 percent will come off the board and it’s Griffin’s for the taking if he can parlay his crossover appeal into broad approval.

Demography and rivalry aside, maybe the better question is whether it matters at all. Does a team need to win the popular vote in its market to affirm itself or its fans? The revenue from a more robust local cable deal would be nice, especially since Ballmer figures to be spendy, but Clippers fans might just prefer to keep the chains out of the nabe, and Griffin as their indie hero.

First Cup: Thursday

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
4:44
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: The ups and down of Dion Waiters: The third-year shooting guard was terrific in the first three preseason games, averaging 18 points on better than 50 percent from the field. But Wednesday was a rough night. Waiters scored eight points on 4-of-14 shooting and received a technical foul for arguing with one of the referees. One of his makes was a breakaway dunk with no one from Indiana around him. Waiters' shot selection and approach were the biggest issues. Going into attack mode, Waiters played too much one-on-one, only looking to create for himself off the dribble and settling for outside shots, which weren't in the flow of the offense. He also didn't let his teammates set him up for open shots. It was a complete 180 from one night earlier. ... Finishing with the most shot attempts on a night when he shared the court with LeBron James and Kevin Love is not a recipe for success. Hopefully Wednesday night will be a learning experience because Waiters has a chance to be a major weapon on offense with the Big Three drawing so much attention. Waiters needs to let that happen and understand his role better moving forward.
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Ian Mahinmi missed the first week of training camp while recovering from a left shoulder injury. On Wednesday, the other side gave him problems. Mahinmi played a little over 19 minutes before leaving the game with what was first believed to be soreness in his right shoulder. However, after the game, Mahinmi said that though his right arm went numb, the problem area was actually in his neck. "That's why I was on the floor for so long because I couldn't feel my arm," Mahinmi said. "I already got it checked. The doctor and the trainer. I'm good, it's just a game injury." Mahinmi said he plans to undergo his last battery of tests on the left shoulder on Thursday. Mahinmi initially injured the shoulder while practicing for the French national team.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Tobias Harris loves sweets. And, like the rest of us, he enjoys bread and pasta, too. This summer, however, he cut all of those foods out his diet. The goal, he says, was to arrive at Orlando Magic training camp leaner and in better shape. The 6-foot-9 combo forward weighs 235 pounds, and although that was his playing weight last year, he traded bad weight (fat) for good weight (muscle). He also is fully healed from the high-ankle sprain he suffered last October — an injury that stuck with him throughout the entire 2013-14 season. "I feel good out there," Harris said. "I think the biggest thing is I'm healthy, and God-willing, I can stay healthy throughout the whole season. My conditioning is at a high level right now, so I think that's really helped me offensively and defensively, and I feel great." Harris scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds Wednesday as the Magic beat Flamengo of Brazil 106-88. In four preseason games this month, Harris is averaging 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He's made 55.3 percent of his shot attempts. Harris always has run the floor well, but this preseason, he's been more active on both ends of the court.
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: On Tuesday, the NBA announced Sunday’s preseason matchup between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics will be a 44-minute game with four 11-minute quarters — four fewer minutes than the typical NBA contest. The NBA’s goal is “to examine the flow of a short game as compared to the standard 48-minute game.” Don’t count Washington Wizards Coach Randy Wittman as a supporter of the idea. “Yeah, you don’t want to hear my thoughts,” Wittman responded when asked for his thoughts. “I’m old school. I mean, are you going to have a whole new set of records? And how are you going to dictate who averaged more points LeBron James or Michael Jordan?” Wittman offered three suggestions to cut game times: Play the standard 48-minutes with one fewer timeout for each team, find a way to streamline the game’s final two minutes, and revisit instant replay. “I think we’ve extended the games a little bit with instant replay,” Wittman said.
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Josh Smith and Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy had a good talk during the weekend. The discussion was about what the forward does well, and both came up with the same general answers. One thing not on the list is three-pointers. He doesn't need to shoot many this season. "I think Josh has a very good understanding of the shots he needs to shoot that are not only best for him, but best for our team," Van Gundy said. "He's one of the elite guys in the league around the basket. Last year, stuff inside, right at the rim, in two straight years, he has been 71% and 77%. There's very few guys at that level. So he needs to get more of those. He knows that. He also understands he really doesn't need to shoot threes for this team. Will he get some? The other night, late in the shot clock, throw it back … you have to take that shot. He's going to shoot some. It's not a matter of number, one a game, less than one a game. It's when are you shooting them? There might a game where he might take three." Both agreed that coming down and making one pass and jacking up a three isn't what the offense will be about.
  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: Steve Clifford is integrating Lance Stephenson carefully. He will start Stephenson, certainly, but the Hornets’ primary two offensive weapons won’t change. Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker remain the team’s purest threats to score. “I think people are going to have to be patient with him,” Clifford said of Stephenson. “You can see his talent and his ability and he wants to do well ... He’s a good, good player. But he averaged 13 a game last year. This isn’t a guy who for eight years scored 22 a night.” Which is fine. Jefferson is going to score 22 a night. Walker will be close to that. What Stephenson must do is lead this team in is versatility. He has to be able to guard one of the other team’s top scorers, pass the ball well and especially rebound, because the Hornets look a little short (again) on rebounding to me.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The grand unveiling of Bruno Caboclo was not a rousing success, but rather a step in what will be a long road. The Raptors gave all-star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan the night off in Maine on Wednesday and inserted Caboclo in at small forward, with Terrence Ross moving back to guard. Caboclo had played well in Manhattan on Monday and was rewarded with a major test. The Raptors won the game 92-89 after Lou Williams hit a three with 0.6 seconds remaining, after Boston’s Avery Bradley had tied it up with 8.1 seconds left. Toronto won, even though DeRozan and James Johnson did not play and despite the fact Kyle Lowry was rested after the first quarter. Despite his struggles, this was an excellent learning experience for the 19-year-old Brazilian. “It was a good lesson, he’s going against Jeff Green, who is a big-time player,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “I don’t look at the points or any of that (Caboclo didn’t score), I thought he held his own.”
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: When last season ended, the Celtics stated that one of their main offseason goals would be to acquire a large person of some heft to protect the rim. Having basically failed on that mission, the Celts are planning to go in a different direction with the starting lineup this season. So say hello to slender second-year 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, the starting center. ... The lineup would look different with a so-called rim protector in it. ... Olynyk, who blocked one shot against the Raptors, is taking the move in stride. “As a player, you just want to be on the floor, whether you’re starting at 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5,” Olynyk said. “It really doesn’t matter, as long as you’re out there helping the team win.” And it’s not as if the Celts will employ a traditional offense with the center on the low block. “Me and Sully (Jared Sullinger) and even BB (Brandon Bass) are sometimes outside, spotting up and drawing defenses out to open the lane for guards penetrating the ball,” Olynyk said. The biggest difference for Olynyk will be on defense, when he has to match up with bulkier centers.
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: With Kings star center DeMarcus Cousins sitting out, Brook Lopez went to work in the post early, bullying the much smaller defenders, scoring 14 points to go with three rebounds and two blocks while playing the entire first quarter. Lopez was impressive, including earning three trips to the foul line, but there still were too many times where he caught the ball and held it, the offense grinding to a halt. Things were much more crisp for Lopez and the Nets when he caught the ball on the move – as he did a couple of times in quick pick-and-roll actions with Deron Williams, getting hit with passes while moving towards the rim and immediately turning and scoring. The more the Nets can have Lopez catch the ball on the move, the better. But all in all, it’s been a very impressive first three games back for the 7-footer coming off season-ending surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot in January.

Scott Raab on LeBron's return

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
3:50
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
TrueHoop TV revisits with Esquire writer and "Whore of Akron" author Scott Raab.

video video

First Cup: Wednesday

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
4:58
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Cliff Brunt of The Commercial-Appeal: As Russell Westbrook sat out for two months while recovering from knee surgery last season, he watched Kevin Durant emerge as a leader. Westbrook said two things stood out most about the way Durant picked up the slack for him — the stream of victories and the way Durant showed confidence in his teammates who also had to take on more significant roles. In Oklahoma City's first preseason action since learning that Durant would be out with a Jones fracture in his right foot, Westbrook showed that same kind of confidence in his teammates and got similar results. He had 14 points and 12 assists in three quarters as the Thunder beat the Grizzlies 117-107 on Tuesday night. The game was an important step for the Thunder, and for Westbrook, as they prepare to start the season without the reigning MVP. Typical recovery time for Durant's injury is six to eight weeks. ... Key players Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince didn't play for the Griz, who were led by Quincy Pondexter's 16 points.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: As he enters his second NBA season, Steven Adams already has a reputation around the league. Some say he’s a dirty player. Zach Randolph insinuated as much Monday, the day before his Memphis Grizzlies faced the Thunder for the first time since losing to OKC in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. “I mean, seven players have gotten suspended because of him. You've got to look into that,” Randolph said. “Why are players getting into it with this particular guy?” ... Asked was then asked how he would describe his style of play. “I probably just say aggressive,” Adams said. “Coach tells me to do one thing then I’ll just go do it. It’s pretty simple. Just go rebound or something simple like that. I just do the best I can. Just hustle.” ... Vince Carter, who is in his first year with the Grizzlies, said players might have to start adjusting to Adams’ play. Carter also got into an altercation with Adams last season, when Carter elbowed Adams in the face during an early-season game between the Thunder and Mavericks. “He’s just aggressive,” Carter said of Adams.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With the NBA experimenting with a shorter game Sunday, reducing the Nets-Celtics exhibition by one minute per quarter, coach Kevin McHale and Pelicans coach Monty Williams believe that if the NBA adopted such a change, role players would have their time cut while stars would play as much as ever, "I can see the benefits of it," Williams said. "You cut out 6.8 games per season. That's a lot of wear and tear to cut down on your guys. Yet traditionally, we're a 48-minute game. That's something that would be weird. It changes your timeouts. It changes your rotation. It hurts role players. The one thing I know is you don't want to lose fans. The one way to keep fans is to have better flow. I'm not sure shortening the game helps that or cutting out timeouts. A few things that could help is (reducing) the number of fouls, maybe cutting out hack-a-Shaq. Those games get pretty ugly." ... "I know there's one way to shorten the game up," McHale said. "If there's a hair less whistles, the game might be shorter, too. I guess we'll trim minutes. "Probably your reserves are not going to play quite as much. I think you're still going to play your stars 34, 35, 36 minutes. ... They're trying to get the pace of the game to go faster."
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Here's a few more things we've learned: Guard Jimmer Fredette can shoot. Before Tuesday's game, Fredette had converted 56 percent of his field goals, 54 percent from beyond the 3-point line (7 of 13). He spent a good portion of his time on the floor Tuesday night playing on the ball opposite Austin Rivers who was running at the two spot. The Pelicans have utilized this pairing often in the exhibition season. Shooting guard Eric Gordon looks quicker this year than last. Gordon has fully participated in training camp for the first time since he joined the Pelicans, his body free from injury and his mind clear, void of concerns about his health. It shows. The front-court tandem of Davis and Asik will be tough for opponents to contain. Asik is a determined rebounder and a solid line of defense. As expected, his presence will allow Davis to play even more unencumbered than his first two years.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks coach Jason Kidd said the team had sincere interest in bringing veteran Ray Allen back to the team during the past summer, but the former Bucks player was not inclined to return. Allen, an unrestricted free agent, still has not signed with any NBA team and has not said if he plans to retire. He played with the Miami Heat the past two years and helped it win the 2013 NBA championship. He also won a league title with the Boston Celtics in 2008. "We did contact Ray," Kidd said. "He's weighing his options to see where he wants to go. But we did have interest." A report from CSNWashington.com said the Bucks were one of six teams to contact the 39-year-old Allen about playing for them this season. Speculation about Allen has intensified in Washington after a wrist injury sidelined shooting guard Bradley Beal. ... Kidd played against Allen on many occasions and said he had great respect for his game.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: To put in perspective the jump in talent David Blatt is coaching this year, he was asked Tuesday to name the best player he ever coached overseas. He came up with five names: Anthony Parker, Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Vujcic, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Andrea Bargnani. Parker was a journeyman NBA player who spent a few seasons in Cleveland, Jasike­vicius spent two ordinary seasons in the NBA, Kirilenko has developed into a solid rotation piece and Bargnani has disappointed after being selected No. 1 overall. Blatt said all of those players, plus James, have a “willingness to take responsibility and a sense of purpose in everything they did on and off the court.”
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks have team options to exercise on John Jenkins and Dennis Schroder for the 2015-16 season by the end of the month. The deadline for the decisions is 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 31. ... Coach Mike Budenholzer, who is acting general manager with Danny Ferry on an indefinite leave of absence, will make the final call on the team options with the help of the remaining basketball operations staff. The players would become free agents next season if the team chooses not to pick up their option. In other roster news: The Hawks must trim their roster by two players by the league deadline of 5 p.m. Oct. 27. Clearly, with 15 players under contract, training camp invitees Dexter Pittman and Jarell Eddie will be released.
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Heat power forward Josh McRoberts strained his back the first day of training camp and also injured his surgically repaired toe, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra revealed Tuesday. “He still was dealing with his toe at that time and he was very excited in camp and came out all guns blazing,” Spoelstra said. “So, we want to make sure we’re progressing him. Particularly after the summer he had.” The injuries have been a point of growing frustration for McRoberts, who is projected as the Heat’s starting power forward when he’s cleared to play. Spoelstra still doesn’t know if McRoberts will be available for the season opener, and McRoberts conceded Tuesday that he knew before his surgery that the recovery time for his left great toe had the potential to bleed into the regular season. McRoberts said Tuesday that his back is no longer injured, but he doesn’t know when he’ll be cleared to play.
  • Michael Kaskey-Blomain of The Philadelphia Inquirer: However, according to respected NBA writer Zach Lowe from Grantland, Carter-Williams’ spot may not be so secure after all. Not only does Lowe say that the Sixers "tried hard" to trade Carter-Williams during the draft, he also says that the organization is expected to "repeat the exercise" this season, meaning that they will continue to sniff out deals for the reigning Rookie of the Year. ... Sam Hinkie has been bold since he took over the reins of the organization’s roster rebuild well over a year ago however, so nothing should come as a shock. Carter-Williams may very well continue his career in Philadelphia and blossom with the Sixers as they climb back into contention, but a trade involving him remains a possibility that the organization will consider.
  • Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News: The coaches are right to worry about the total minutes that may lead to cumulative injury problems for their players. From a spectator’s point of view, though, actual playing minutes aren’t the problem. Fans enjoy the action. What they hate, more than anything, are the timeouts that wreck the ends of games. And those rules can be changed much more easily, if only the coaches would give up their over-coaching. Everybody knows that a great percentage of NBA games come down to the final quarter, and more specifically to the final two minutes or overtime. All of the drama builds to a crescendo, only to be sabotaged by dead-air commercials. Consider that in the fourth quarter, each coach is permitted to call as many as three timeouts — if he hasn’t used them in the third period. In the final two minutes, each team is “limited” to one full timeout and one 20-second timeout (which we all know drags out longer than that). Then in overtime, each team again receives two fresh 60-second timeouts. In other words, it is possible that in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter and the five minutes of overtime — a total of just eight minutes of actual playing time — both coaches can conceivably call a total of 10 timeouts, eight of them longer than 20 seconds.

Awaiting a Rose in winter again

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
10:00
AM ET
By Jeremy Gordon
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Derrick RoseAP Photo/Paul SancyaDerrick Rose will be storming courts again after months on the shelf. Which player will Chicago get?
On Aug. 1, I flipped on Team USA’s intrasquad scrimmage, a technically meaningless game intended to showcase the players competing for a roster spot for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. I was getting ready to meet a friend, and so instead of listening to the commentary, I muted the television and began playing aggressive music to prepare for the enervating hellscape otherwise known as "Manhattan." Quickly, I realized something: As a Chicago Bulls fan, this was the first time in many, many months that I was watching Derrick Rose play.

I began seeking out Rose on the court and upon spotting him,focused on the way he dribbled the ball -- loosely and gracefully, as though at any minute he could begin streaking down the floor. He wasn't doing much, but he was there. Watching Derrick Rose, even for a few moments, was enough to summon a wealth of fond memories of what watching Derrick Rose was like. As the chorus of "Clarity," a beautifully stupid song by an EDM producer named Zedd, rippled out of my speakers ("Cause you are the piece of me/I wish I didn’t need"), I felt my heart crack open, and genuine emotion flowed outward. I swear a tear nearly came to my eye. This was silly; this was sports. And yet, I was transformed by the return of my favorite basketball player.

Two minutes later, Paul George's leg went in a direction legs should not go, and my fuzzy moment ended.

But weeks after the FIBA tournament concluded, Rose's return remains no less an emotional experience because of all the good and bad things that might come with it. There's a real sense that the Bulls' championship window continues to narrow. Their starting center will be 30 before this season ends, and his feet could already use some of that Kobe blood. The only thing that hasn't declined in the starting power forward is the quality of his Twitter. Their starting shooting guard can't shoot. More important, their presumed best player, following two disruptive knee surgeries, is one who hasn't played a full season since 2010-11 and whose delayed return to the court has provided some cause for alarm.

Take Rose's shot, for example. He went 15-for-59 in FIBA play, including a ghastly 1-for-19 from 3-point range -- numbers you'd see if you queued up "NBA 2K15" and handed the controller to a 5-year-old. His brief moments of athleticism came against kiddie pool-deep competition. By the end of the tournament, he was benched as James Harden and Kyrie Irving shouldered the scoring burden. Sure, it was his first competitive play since the beginning of last season … when, it should be noted, he also didn't look so great. But with the NBA season less than a month away, the safe bet is that Rose won't be back to normal by opening night, prompting a discussion on what "normal" might be.

Back in 2011, Bulls fans were willing to overlook the obvious: Rose wasn't that great of a traditional point guard. He collected a decent number of assists -- and, more important, his assists led to shots at the rim and 3-pointers -- but they came through brute force rather than pinpoint precision. He wasn't good at handling the ball the way a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo is. Instead, he would force the defense to respond to him by being too fast and too strong, then dish the ball to the open man. You'd never marvel at a pass he threw -- as a floor general he adhered to convention, reserving his brilliance for when he was already in the air. It wasn't subversive basketball, the type that leads bloggers to pen thousand-word essays about how basketball is just like jazz, man, but it worked.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
David Ramos/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose struggled this summer with Team USA, but seeing him on the court again was a clear win.
It worked because of the way Rose was able to control his body, making use of his speed to zip inside and score in any number of ways: a floater, a twisting layup, a springboard dunk. Without that athleticism, though, Rose wouldn't be able to outpace the competition and would have to rely more on his shot -- a shot that, as we've seen, is a little rusty and might never have been that great to begin with. (His best 3-point percentage before the injuries, .332 in his MVP season, would be a failure for someone like Stephen Curry.) And if you take away Rose, you take away the entire team's ability to score easy points. As we've seen the past few seasons, the Bulls aren't quite stacked with offensive facilitators. Ask someone like Kirk Hinrich or Jimmy Butler to get you a bucket and they might respond by whipping the ball off the backboard.

Which, with the Cleveland Cavaliers back on top and the West an indefatigable fortress of contenders, would once again leave the Bulls in that death valley of "not good enough." It’s an exasperating possibility and all too familiar. Look at it cynically and it's easy to see the default stage of fandom as misery spread thinly over one's expectations -- a prolonged waiting for something good to happen when it's clear, most of the time, that nothing good will ever happen. Need a 3-pointer to tie? A touchdown to win? A home run in the bottom of the ninth to save your season? Well, good luck.

But it does happen, which is why fans keep watching, and they tether their hopes to the athletes most likely to make something good happen. Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, even Mark Prior for one, brilliant season -- Chicagoans know what it's like to watch one of those players: the type who justifies all the canned, clichéd talk about "clutch" or "wanting it more;" the type of player in whom children who don't know anything about defending the pick-and-roll place their hopes; the type of player who Derrick Rose was … and might be again. Or not.

So that's what's at stake: an ascendant superstar asserting his place in the NBA's hierarchy while leading his team back to the championship picture … or a hobbled, max contract in charge of a second-round playoff exit. Charlotte Hornets fans might not mind the second round, but Chicagoans who remember where the Bulls seemed to be heading before Rose's untimely accident will only weep.

Still, there's hope. Did you see the preseason game between the Bulls and the Washington Wizards last Monday night? Rose opened 4-for-5 in the first seven minutes, hit a few of those twisting layups in traffic and finished with 11 points in 14 minutes. He looked pretty good, didn't he? Even if we know better, it felt like he'd never been away.

Jeremy Gordon is a staff writer for Pitchfork and contributes to The Wall Street Journal and Pacific Standard. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow him, @jeremypgordon.

First Cup: Tuesday

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
4:58
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Tom Thibodeau is looking for perfection — and if not perfection, at least a better effort in attempting to achieve it. That starts with guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah, whom he singled out. With both players coming off injuries last season, restrictions on their minutes have handcuffed what Thibodeau wants to get done. ... It’s not only what he hasn’t been seeing from his core players but what he has observed this preseason from the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. In the two preseason games the Spurs played overseas last week, veteran Tim Duncan played 33 and 35 minutes, while Tony Parker played 35 and 36. "I’m watching San Antonio, and they’re going after it," Thibodeau said. "Parker, Duncan, they’re playing huge minutes right off the start. I think it’s a strong message what they’re saying right now. They’re preparing themselves to defend their championship. And so in order to get that way from them, you’re going to have to wrestle it away from them. They’re not just going to give it away. Your mind-set has to be right." Thibodeau wouldn’t come out and say Noah and Rose haven’t had the right mind-set, but he was definitely setting the bar.
  • Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post: Danilo Gallinari has a love for New York that won’t go away. This is nothing against Denver, of course. But the Big Apple is engrained in Gallinari, so much so that he even opened an Italian restaurant in the West Village, marrying his Italian roots with the city that drafted him. In a segment for VICE Sports, the Nuggets’ forward strolled through the city’s streets, visiting the famed West 4th Street courts and posing for photos with fans as he opened up about his 18 months away from basketball. ... In between knee procedures though, Gallinari turned his focus away from the court and opened Pagani Restaurant on Bleecker Street with restaurateur Massimo Lusardi. (Pagani, of course, serves “Gnocchi Gallinari,” potato gnocchi with walnuts, gorgonzola and black truffle.) Gallinari said he still spends a lot of time in New York, downing Aperol Spritz — “It goes down like water but it makes you drunk very easy” — among other things. But his focus now? All basketball, he said. “I think I never had the fire that I have inside me right now — I never had it before, to be honest,” he told VICE. “So I want to play basketball more than anything else. It’s going to take a while, but I’m over it now so I’m ready to go.”
  • Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News: Fans of the NBA may soon be able to dial up 1-800-BetterCallSaul and other corporate brands simply by reading the front of their favorite players’ basketball jerseys, though some athletes could have an issue with getting “in bed” with certain businesses if it conflicts with their own exclusive deals. Starting with the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, league sponsors will be able to buy space on NBA jerseys as part of an agreement in the league’s lucrative $24 billion media deal, a source close to the situation confirmed a report by Sports Business Journal. However, Amar’e Stoudemire expressed a view that might become a sticking point for players: wearing a brand on the jersey that clashes with a sponsorship deal the player already has. “It all depends on the players,” Stoudemire said before Monday’s preseason home opener against the Toronto Raptors at Madison Square Garden. “A lot of players have endorsement deals. So it could be a conflict of interest, if you ask me. It depends on the company I’m in bed with. I could be endorsed by a company that’s not sponsored by the NBA, so that could be a conflict of interest.” Stoudemire said he wasn’t aware of the league discussions, but didn’t sound too excited about it. “Some guys got deals that are outside the NBA,” he said. “You have an exclusive deal, which means you have to stay exclusive to that particular company.”
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: With the Raptors up 53-52 in the third quarter, rookie Bruno Caboclo came in. He made an instant impact, despite his status as the draft’s youngest player. Caboclo nearly instantly got a steal, beat everyone up the floor (without getting the ball), went to the line to split a pair and nailed a three from the right corner to end the quarter. Not bad for less than two minutes of work. In the fourth, Caboclo got another steal and threw down a big, one-handed slam off the break. Caboclo had to be told what to do a few times, but was disruptive and looked confident and not out of place. “I thought he got a little winded, but he came in, contributed, his length bothers shooters,” Casey said. “He played within himself and that’s so important. That’s what we’re preaching.” Caboclo said it was a dream to play at Madison Square Garden, but says he still has a lot of work to do. ... Though the team plans to rarely play him this season, Caboclo is providing glimpses of his intriguing future this pre-season.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Suns legends never leave US Airways Center. They just rise to the Ring of Honor, staying connected to the Purple Palace and Planet Orange. Some of the 13 inductees never really leave at all. Alvan Adams (vice president of facility management) and Tom Chambers (broadcast analyst) work at the Purple Palace. Jerry Colangelo and Cotton Fitzsimmons' widow, JoAnn, attend games. Paul Westphal, who now assists his former Suns assistant Lionel Hollins, will be back in November with Brooklyn. You do not even have to venture outside US Airways Center to see the next viable candidates to join the ring. One is around nightly, and the three who defined the last heralded Suns era will play one of their final games in Phoenix this season, if not the final one to make a ring induction more imminent. Two years have passed since the last induction, and although there are no immediate plans for the next one, we can assume there is a short list of candidates. The locks: Al McCoy ... Steve Nash ... Amar'e Stoudemire ... Shawn Marion.
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Rockets coach Kevin McHale is looking for playmakers this season since the team lost one when Chandler Parsons left over the summer to head to Dallas. One of the guys who can make things happen on the floor, McHale said, is rookie Kostas Papanikolaou. Papanikolaou is quickly adjusting to the NBA after playing professionally overseas since 2008 but is making his debut in the league this year. “I like what I see of him,” McHale said. “He knows how to play, makes plays, drive with the purpose of making the next play. Sometimes the next play is scoring, sometimes the next play is passing. He has good basketball sense which helps a great deal.” The Rockets have several offensive weapons and McHale is hopeful that Papanikolaou can add to the mix. “I think he is going to have to be one of our playmakers,” McHale said. “A lot of our playmaking is going to be done by James, of course. We have a lot of playmaking by Dwight in the post. Papanikolaou is another guys who is going to have to create offense for others.”
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Anyone who thinks Jannero Pargo’s 16 fourth-quarter points was a fluke would get an argument from Pargo’s coach. “I was going to go back with Brian (Roberts) with five or six minutes left, but Jannero was playing so well,” coach Steve Clifford said of the Charlotte Hornets’ 99-97 exhibition victory over the Orlando Magic. “This won’t be the last time.” Pargo, a 10-season veteran, is the Hornets’ third point guard. The starter, Kemba Walker, was back in the training room after banging knees with Magic rookie Elfrid Payton. Pargo didn’t play in the first three quarters, but he sure didn’t look cold, making six of 10 shots from the field and two of four from 3-point range. Clifford is constantly talking about how valuable Pargo is. Monday night that was about more than his locker room demeanor. “Just staying ready, staying alert those first three quarters,” Pargo said.
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Magic point guard Luke Ridnour said Monday he will seriously begin assessing how much longer he will play after this season. "It all goes by so fast," he said of his career, now in its 12th season. "My family is the most important thing. . . . After this [season,] I'll just take it season to season." Ridnour, 33, was drafted by Oklahoma City (née Seattle) in 2003 and has played with four different teams. He was signed a one-year $2.75 million deal as a free agent with the Magic, with a team option for the same amount next season. Ridnour came off the bench Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets after starting the first two preseason games. With Victor Oladipo out with a sprained knee, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn had decided to surround SG Evan Fournier, 21, with Ridnour's experience and bring Elfrid Payton off the bench, for those two games.
  • Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: This time last year, Trey Burke got a lesson in how unfair the game can be. The point guard, then a rookie, was running a pick-and-roll with Enes Kanter in a preseason game against the Clippers. Burke threw a bounce pass and his finger smashed into Chris Paul. The thing fractured, and the rookie’s season was put on hold for about a month. Fast forward to now. Burke is fully mended, a year older, and through three preseason games, emerging as a much improved floor general for this young Jazz team. "The game’s slowed down for me a lot," Burke said after tonight’s 102-89 win over the Clippers. "I think I’m making the right decision, getting in the paint more, just trying to make plays for my team." Burke finished with team highs in points (16) and assists (8), and earned the praise of his coach. "Every time he plays that way, it becomes more of who he is," Quin Snyder said.
  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: It’s only the preseason, so there’s no reason to push the panic button. But if you’ve watched the Clippers’ three preseason losses, you’ve seen things that might have you looking for it. Some of the Clippers’ issues from last season have resurfaced – problems with defense and rebounding. And the small forward situation is somehow less settled than it was a year ago when the Clippers swapped Matt Barnes for Jared Dudley in the starting lineup. Monday’s 102-89 loss to the Jazz in Utah highlighted a little of everything currently wrong with the Clippers (in addition to showcasing the biggest thing going right). Like Portland did the night before, the Jazz splashed home open 3 after open 3, giving Doc Rivers a look at a problem he thought he solved. ... So far this preseason, every Clipper opponent has scored more than 100 points, with the team allowing an average of 111. The Clippers are being routinely beaten off the dribble, and the defensive rotations are nowhere near sharp enough to allow for recovery. That, in theory, should get better, but for the time being, it’s leading to wide open looks. Another familiar problem, rebounding, has also resurfaced, with each opponent dominating the Clippers on the glass.

First Cup: Monday

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
4:50
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: With Damian Lillard sitting out his second consecutive game, coach Terry Stotts opted to experiment instead of sliding Lillard's backup, Steve Blake, into the starting five. Instead, he had McCollum start the first half in Lillard's spot, then had Will Barton start the second half in the same role. McCollum played well in his half with the starters, getting 10 points, two assists and a steal while shooting 4 for 6 from the field and 2 for 4 from three-point range. McCollum, who played the point guard role in his stint, did not have a turnover in the half. Barton and Batum split the ball-handling duties to start the second half, and the Blazers' offense continued to click. Blake, who got to play with the second-unit players he will normally team with, finished with five points, seven assists and five rebounds. Lillard took his second consecutive preseason game off to heal his sprained left foot, which was injured during the exhibition opener at Utah on Tuesday.
  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Will free-throw shooting be DeAndre Jordan’s big issue again this season? After two exhibition games, it looks that way. Jordan is three-for-11 from the free-throw line in the first two games. He made 43% of his free throws last season. Spencer Hawes is going to help the Clippers as the third big man. Hawes had 15 points and six rebounds off the bench. He was three-for-six from three-point range. But Hawes also scored down low, showing diversity in his game.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: It’s situations like this that make Steve Kerr glad he’s the Warriors’ head coach and not the team’s general manager. General manager Bob Myers and the Warriors have until Halloween to reach an agreement on a contract extension with Klay Thompson, a deal that probably will take close to the maximum salary. If they don’t extend him now, the shooting guard will become a restricted free agent, meaning the Warriors can match any opposing team’s offer sheet next summer. “I tell Bob (Myers) all of the time that there’s a reason why I left the general-manager role in Phoenix,” Kerr said after Friday’s practice. “I want no part in this. I’ll leave that up to Bob. … I’m much happier coaching basketball than negotiating contracts.” Myers said there are no updates to the negotiations with Thompson’s agent, Bill Duffy. The GM reiterated the team’s position of wanting to keep Thompson and continued to say, “It’s a deadline-driven league.” For his part, Thompson seems unfazed by the whole thing.
  • Bill Oram of The Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant’s style of leadership has been more or less consistent over the first 18 years of his career. It’s called tough love. Like it or prepare to be at odds with the tough-minded superstar. Until this year, that is. Bryant said last week that he was taking a more “nurturing” role with this year’s Lakers, who are leaning on far less experienced players than Bryant is used to. “You had a lot of veteran guys that have been around,” Bryant said, “so, the teaching style is a little different.” Byron Scott, who was Bryant’s rookie mentor with the Lakers in 1996, said Bryant “has done a heck of a job with taking guys to the side, just teaching them little things about the NBA.” Scott described Bryant as a mentor and “a little bit of an assistant coach,” shortly before the Lakers played the Golden State Warriors on Sunday at the Citizens Business Bank Arena. If this gentler, more patient Kobe doesn’t quite align with the image Bryant has carved out over his career, it should be noted that it wasn’t long ago he was much tougher on young players.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Dirk Nowitzki got his first action of the preseason on Sunday and it was a welcomed sight for all of his teammates and coaches during the Dallas Mavericks’ 106-98 exhibition win over Indiana. Nowitzki played 19 first-half minutes and had 16 points and five rebounds. He hit 7-of-11 shots and looked like he moved well after suffering a right hip bruise on Oct. 4. “Not bad,” he said afterward. “I probably could have played last game, but since it’s preseason, we took it slow with the hip. I felt fine. I felt fine moving.” It was his first time playing with point guard Jameer Nelson and small forward Chandler Parsons. It was no coincidence that Nelson racked up 10 assists in less than 25 minutes of playing time. “When you have a guy of that caliber, it’s going to be a little easier for everybody,” Nelson said. “He draws so much attention. There was a lot more spacing out there on the court. I feel like everytime I step on the court, I’m getting more and more comfortable, and that’s how it should be.” Meanwhile, Parsons said he’s looking forward to a lot of enjoyable nights as Nowitzki’s running mate at the forward spots.
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: More questions have emerged through three exhibition games than answers. Can Chris Copeland provide substantial production from the small forward position? Where does Damjan Rude~ fit? And who exactly will provide the scoring in this second unit? However, Solomon Hill's status is firm. The Pacers need him. "There's a huge difference when you're deep at a certain position and you're sliding down the depth chart," Hill said about the distinction between his first training camp and this year. "Now it's like I'm going to be a part of what we're doing this year. ... I just got to make sure everything counts when I step on to the floor." The Sunday game does not count but suspend this reality for a second and note Hill's positive impact like how he drew a foul with 10 minutes remaining in the game and made his shots to pull the Pacers ahead 77-74. And while his teammates mostly took care of the scoring load, hitting 53.3 percent in the final quarter, Hill pulled down three of his rebounds. Hill's seven boards led the second unit, although Allen had eight but started in place of Roy Hibbert. Unlike a year ago when Hill was the only rookie and pulling his weight on the East's best regular-season roster, he now has an important role to fulfill with a team still undefined. Sunday was a move towards embracing that change.
  • Stuart Leavenworth for The Sacramento Bee: Like other NBA owners, Vivek Ranadive wants to develop a Chinese-language app to broaden his team’s fan base in China. Ranadive is a leading proponent of what he calls “NBA 3.0,” using technology to connect fans and the team. His perfect app, he says, would let fans see instant replays, crowd-source suggestions for the team and deliver food and beverages to ticket holders at the press of a button. Ranadive, who made part of his fortune from Tibco Software, a company he started in 1997 and agreed to sell last month for $4.3 billion, says he sees unlimited potential for basketball in his native India. He and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver are leading a league mission there next month. Ranadive said he recently met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in advance of the trip. Asked whether India is ready for basketball, with its cramped cities, grinding poverty and devotion to cricket, Ranadive noted that India is rising faster than many realize. Makeshift courts are popping up across the country. “Basketball is a game that can be played anywhere, by anyone – rich, poor, boys and girls,” he said. “You don’t need a lot of space to play basketball, as you do with cricket. So I really think basketball is poised to take off.” The Kings this summer signed 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar to a contract for training camp, making the Canadian-born center the first player of Indian descent to sign with an NBA team.
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Bojan Bogdanovic appears to have the fifth starting spot sewn up. No, Bogdanovic didn’t play lights-out in Shanghai, but he did get the most minutes on the team, and for the second straight game was part of the starting lineup. Though he didn’t knock down any of his three open 3-pointers, the fact he got those wide-open looks is exactly why it seems likely he’s going to wind up there. With Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez out there with him, Bogdanovic is going to find himself with plenty of wide-open looks from behind the arc, and particularly in the corners, where he spent most of Tuesday’s win over Maccabi Tel Aviv. It will take Bogdanovic some time to get used to the NBA 3-point line, which is deeper than Europe’s, but the Nets are invested in him doing well.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: For all the planning and hope that goes into a new season, there's always an unforeseen factor teams cannot plan for or predict. And while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's left knee injury is the biggest illustration of such uncertainty, his potential emergence leaves a probable big hole on the perimeter. He slipped on a wet part of the floor in Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center in the third quarter Sunday, the same part of the floor where Andre Drummond slipped in the first quarter of a 91-89 loss to the Wizards. Caldwell-Pope didn't put any weight on his knee, and was helped off by team personnel Mike Abdenour and Arnie Kander on the way to the locker room. That doesn't appear to be a good sign, which is why the team initially termed it a sprain and didn't want to speculate further — although they have to be fearful of the worst. ... The preseason can only reveal so much, but Caldwell-Pope's performances have been an early revelation. It was a continuation of his play that ended last season, elevated through summer league and through the first two exhibition games. In 82 minutes of play, he shot 51 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range, after shooting 40 and 32, respectively, last season. He is averaging 16.6 points in three exhibition games this preseason.
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: The trickle-down personnel effect from Beal’s injury began with Glen Rice Jr. Wittman chose the second-year player, a veteran of 109 regular-season NBA minutes, to replace Beal in the Wizards starting lineup Sunday. “We told Glen don’t come in and try to be Brad,” Wall said. “Come in and try to be yourself and let us guys stick to the main role.” But Rice, who poured in 18 points in the Wizards’ preseason opener last Monday, could not find a rhythm offensively. A confident scorer who was named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP, Rice was limited to two points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field in 22 minutes. ... Two others expected to play more in Beal’s absence shouldered the scoring burden on the wing Sunday. Otto Porter Jr., another second-year player, dropped 13 points and Xavier Silas, a training camp invitee for the second consecutive year, added 10 points to push his preseason point total to 26 in 27 minutes over two games.

Who did Shane Battier block most?

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
7:41
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
In his 13-year career, who did Shane Battier end up blocking the most? Tom Haberstroh asked the retired NBA player.

video

TrueHoop TV Live

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
11:10
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Live and in color starting at 2 p.m. ET.


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