TrueHoop: Atlanta Hawks

The other side of NBA free agency

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
10:00
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Kent BazemoreNoah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images While NBA superstars mulled their decisions, free agents like Kent Bazemore had to sit and wait.
You’d think NBA players would get stressed about free agency. So many decisions, the potential of living in disparate locations, and a constant stream of social media information with updates on the movements of potential co-workers.

When I sat down with Kent Bazemore a few days before he signed with the Atlanta Hawks for two years, $4 million, I assumed he’d be caught up in the frenzy like so many of us NBA news addicts. I figured Bazemore’s fingerprints would be callused from keeping up with news on Twitter all week. He’s no LeBron James, but I’d seen Bazemore mentioned in so many free-agency rumors that I’d just believed his entire existence had been reduced to a swirl of confusing speculation. The rangy, athletic guard probably couldn’t get his arms around all the rumors, even with a 6-foot-11 wingspan.

Not quite. Bazemore wasn’t checking Twitter -- he says he glances at it roughly once a day, usually in the afternoon. “You can’t control it,” was his succinct answer for why he doesn’t obsess over the transaction game. Also, he has people to do that for him.

"We got a group chat, me and my roommate, my little brother, my agent, financial advisor, two of my other best friends,” Bazemore said. “They just rant on about that stuff all day. I just watch the Tour de France, I play 'FIFA' downstairs. I actually won the Scottish Premier Cup with my team just now right before you got here."

It’s easy to forget athletes are more than skill sets on the court. They get approached by fans who know them only from their games, so even the redundancy of idle compliments can get annoying. Though a bench player for most of his career, Bazemore gets recognized. Sadly, that recognition doesn’t come with praise of his stellar FIFA play, his golf game, or his recent painting of an eye-shaped sun setting itself over an ocean.

Paintings aside, Bazemore’s Bay Area apartment was something more spartan than you’d expect from an NBA player, which makes sense when you consider his transient lifestyle. After getting traded to Los Angeles, he’d been living out of a hotel near the Lakers practice facility. Though he maintains strong ties with the Warriors organization, he wasn’t expecting the kind of offer from Golden State that would keep him in this Oakland-area apartment.

Bazemore had gotten back from Atlanta the night before, where he’d met with Danny Ferry, Darvin Ham and others in the Hawks organization. It was more like a classic job interview than anything we associate with the NBA, but he enjoyed what can be a nerve-wracking process for others. Unlike what happens on Twitter, there’s a degree of control in a face-to-face meeting. “A lot of guys can’t hold a conversation,” Bazemore said. He knows he can, and appreciates the chance to set himself apart.

What becomes apparent with Bazemore is that he has more energy than you. It’s not a coincidence that his sideline celebrations were known as the league’s most elaborate. Though he’s coming off foot surgery, his days include 20-mile bike rides. On weekends, he tends to go over 40 miles when biking with his girlfriend in the East Bay Hills.

He’s drawn to the fatigue, addicted to the point at which a body no longer functions. "You'll be in the middle of a bike ride and you're just like, man, I don't know if I can turn another rep."

"Do you like that, though?" I ask. A Tour de France race is on TV, and it looks like torture with consent.

The response is fast and unambiguous. "I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it.”

His attention turns to the cyclists suffering at the craggy hands of a French mountain. He’s updating me, filling me in on which guys are running on fumes, which guys are about to fall from the pack. He’s keyed in on the process of exhaustion, interested in how effort takes you to a place where even effort ultimately lets you down.

He might be a little jealous. Bazemore said he wished he’d gotten to run in even more unglamorous D-League games last season. He just wanted to play. He always wants to play.

Bazemore believes it's what carried him to the NBA. In the beginning, his skills didn’t seem to presage an NBA career. "I sucked,” he said. “I was terrible all the way up until eighth grade. When it was time to go to AAU camps, I would score, like, six points in a weekend."

But his mom kept bringing him, and he kept improving. "I've been a pretty optimistic guy my entire life,” he said. “Especially where I come from, optimism really helps you." Bazemore grew up in Kelford, North Carolina, a tiny town where the per capita income is less than $10,000 per year. His family struggled. "No heat in the winter, no air conditioning in the summer, food gets scarce. Four people in the house and my dad got laid off and my mom was the only one making any money."

The desperation of that situation was integral to getting him here, to a point where multiple NBA teams call for his services. "That's why I applaud people like Steph [Curry],” Bazemore explains. He doesn’t understand how anyone gets here without the hunger of poverty. So in some ways his good friend Stephen Curry, a man from comfortable means, is a mystery.

Bazemore used that hunger to get here, but there’s a downside to the trait he trusts. All that gnawing energy took him to a place where energy couldn’t help him: the bench. At times, he was miserable riding pine. People loved his sideline celebrations, but those were as much expressions of frustration as they were of joy. He was antsy in his seat. “I went to a dark place,” Bazemore recalled of all his DNPs. “You only can contain the tiger in the cage for so long.”

There’s a cruelty to how a lifetime of physical preparation can lead to hours and hours of spectating, eons of interminable waiting. It’s the plight of the many players we don’t see in commercials or All-Star Games. Bazemore has an intense desire to use what got him to the top of his profession. Maybe he'll get that opportunity with a fun, floor-spacing Hawks team. His success would be as much about achieving a dream as it would be quelling what made the achievement possible.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The East

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Jabari Parker and Andrew WigginsGetty ImagesJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, the draft's top two, will get their first taste of NBA ball in Vegas.
There’s something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For the prized rookies in the 2014 draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.


Atlanta Hawks


Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.

Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.

Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.


Charlotte Hornets


Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.

Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.

Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.


Chicago Bulls


Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.

Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.

Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.


Cleveland Cavaliers


Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.

Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.

Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.


Miami Heat


Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.

James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.

Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.


Milwaukee Bucks


Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.

Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.

Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.


New York Knicks


Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.

Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.


Philadelphia 76ers


Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.

Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.

Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.


Toronto Raptors


Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.

Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.

Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.


Washington Wizards


Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.

Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.

Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

Teague's wild 3 helps Hawks gain edge

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
12:26
AM ET
Wilborn By Nubyjas Wilborn
Special to ESPN.com
Archive

ATLANTA -- A No. 8 seed sometimes requires a little luck to knock off the top seed in a playoff series.

No play sums up that -- and the Atlanta Hawks' 2-1 series lead against the Indiana Pacers -- better than Jeff Teague’s off-balance 3-pointer with 2:49 left in the pivotal fourth quarter.

The improbable shot by Teague, who scored a game-high 22 points with 10 assists in the Hawks' 98-85 victory Thursday night, gave the Hawks a nine-point edge and sent the 18,124 people in the sellout Philips Arena crowd into hysteria.

Teague added a little stylistic flourish -- one that’s quite familiar in the annals of postseason history -- on his run back up the court.

“I gave it the Jordan shrug because I thought it was going to be an air ball.” Teague said. “It didn’t feel good coming off my hand, but once it went in I was pretty confident it was our night.”

Following Teague’s crazy shot, the Pacers would get within seven points on a Lance Stephenson layup with 2:26 left in the game before finally succumbing to a 13-point loss. The bucket by Stephenson accounted for two of his team-leading 21 points.

“I always tell Teague to get the ball whenever the shot clock goes down because he makes the most plays,” Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll said. “We knew once that shot went in we could finish these guys off; it was our chance to show we aren’t your ordinary eighth seed.”

Teague’s big shot didn’t come without a little bit of controversy. The play was reviewed to ensure that both of Teague’s feet were behind the line and in bounds as he shot it.

“What they said was that if you step out of bounds and then step back in bounds and shoot it, they’re looking at the last step. So even though [Jeff] Teague was out of bounds with his first step, his second step was back in bounds," Pacers forward David West lamented. “That play was a killer. It put us down by nine and took the wind out of our sails.”

The Hawks know they have a long way to go to finish off the limping Pacers, but when you get a shot like Teague’s on a night when you start the game shooting 2-for-16 from the 3-point line as a team, there’s an inkling of belief that you have a chance to become the sixth No. 8 seed to come out of the first round.

“It was a lucky shot, but we created our own luck by being aggressive and never giving up on ourselves,” Teague said. “We aren’t playing like we have nothing to lose; we’re playing to win, and we want this series.”

Rebuilding the Highlight Factory

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
11:40
AM ET
LaGree By Bret LaGree
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kyle KorverAP Photo/Todd KirklandIt's been hard to find something to cheer for in the Atlanta Hawks' 14-plus years at Philips Arena.
Seven Hawks banners hang in the rafters of Philips Arena. Three retired numbers, three division championships and one for the team’s second and longest-serving owner, Ted Turner. Bob Pettit’s No. 9 is retired. (Pettit never played in Atlanta.) Lou Hudson’s No. 23 is retired. (Hudson played his last game in Atlanta on April 2, 1977.) Dominique Wilkins’ No. 21 is retired. ('Nique’s Hawks playing career ended a little more than 20 years ago with a bold, misguided and unsuccessful midseason trade for free-agent-to-be Danny Manning, which managed to turn a 57-win season into another second-round playoff loss.)

There are some on the opposite end of the arena too. Two for the Atlanta Dream (heads nod in approval of anything expanding the city’s basketball culture), one commemorating the designation as the world’s first LEED-certified NBA arena, another commemorating 20 sold-out shows played there by Widespread Panic.

Anything resembling a Hawks heyday is long gone. Those fans that grew up on 'Nique, some have children now. They can tell their kids about 'Nique, point him out on the sideline as he fulfills his duties as VP of basketball and TV color commentator, pull up YouTube clips to demonstrate his greatness. But it's harder to appreciate the past with every year away from the old Omni.

[+] EnlargeDominique Wilkens
AP PhotoThe days of 'Nique are long gone.
The Hawks are a fairly successful NBA franchise. This is their 46th season in Atlanta, 15th since moving into Philips Arena. They've made the playoffs 29 times. (That’s not bad.) They've won two or more playoff series in a season exactly zero times. (That’s not good.) And therein lies the problem.

Atlanta is a sports town, just not one that resembles other major league cities. To understand Atlanta’s relationship with the Hawks, it’s necessary to understand that the common cultural heritage of the metropolitan area tends toward living in the suburbs and the tribalism of college football. To believe Atlanta is not a good sports town, it’s necessary to believe college football is not a sport.

Above all else, Atlanta celebrates success to such a degree that the legacy of the empty boosterism of “The City Too Busy To Hate” can co-exist with the contemporary hustle of “Black Hollywood.” In recent years, the Atlanta Falcons, building trust through consistent demonstrations of competence, have leveraged the local passion for college football into strong support for the professional version. Having a franchise that has participated in a Super Bowl in living memory doesn't hurt.

The Hawks don’t have a similar local or regional passion for the college game to work with. They don’t have relatively recent success on which to trade. In the mid-'80s, you might have had your own personal beer vendor at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium while you watched the Braves lose. The Braves needed a decade-plus run of excellence to change the atmosphere at home games.

Atlanta’s sprawl is a factor in, well, everything, and it certainly doesn't help at Hawks games. It’s easy to get to Philips Arena. MARTA trains stop on-site. There are plentiful opportunities to demonstrate one's urban ingenuity by finding a particularly hidden, cheap or free parking spot. Dining (and drinking) options, within walking distance, increase every year. Once you’re at the game, Philips Arena is a perfectly nice place to watch a basketball game. It’s only 14 years old, by all accounts successful and trying to remain so through reinvestment in amenities.

The mood inside could be changing, though. The organization is making a concerted effort to enliven Philips Arena. The wider NBA world came to appreciate Sir Foster’s organ playing during All-Star Weekend. Big Tigger signed up as the in-arena DJ for Hawks home games this season. The team subsidizes a cheering section that resides in the upper corner of the 100 level closest to the Hawks bench. One hopes for a day when crowd noise at a Hawks game transcends an organized minority vocalizing “Seven Nation Army,” but there was a time, not so long ago, when Philips Arena lacked even that.

More importantly, the organization is making a concerted effort to enliven its basketball operations.

Glimpsed from the outside, another Hawks season that culminates in a first- or second-round playoff exit seems like more of the same. Watched intently from within the perimeter, the different path taken to those wins is stark: ball movement, player movement, individual overachievement, short contracts, cheap contracts, cap space, opportunity.

Anecdotal evidence exists of local sports fans, the potential Hawks fans necessary to convert to reach critical mass, even members of Atlanta’s corporate, ticket-buying base -- the very people whose companies pay for those unused tickets -- starting conversations with Hawks die-hards about this season’s injury-riddled team. Some start with “I don’t usually like NBA basketball, but ..." Some end with “I like watching this team. If Horford was healthy ...” There’s growing notice in the general consciousness that, though results might not be strikingly different this season, something new is going on with the team.

There’s no changing the past, but the past is never just the past. It accumulates. Hope for a glorious future can’t erase it. Among Hawks fans, there most certainly is internal debate as to when exactly the last time the franchise had a general manager and head coach on the same page, the last time the franchise had stable, long-term goals, the last time management engendered trust, but there’s also consensus that those fine and necessary qualities exist now. The common hope is that those qualities will reveal themselves more fully, more clearly in time.

If they do, Marietta Street will get busier on game nights, the Taco Mac at CNN Center will run low on beer, Philips Arena will fill with loud, proud Hawks fans, native Atlantans and transplants alike. Maybe they'll even begin to look like those of any other successful NBA franchise, rather than an outlier that must be explained.

Paul Millsap letting it fly

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
4:00
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap discusses the Hawks' trip to London, why "Miss Bettye's son" is taking so many 3-pointers these days and whether he thinks he's an All-Star this season.

video

The NBA's "global money machine"

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:49
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
In Forbes' 2014 ranking of team values, the NBA is said to have become a "global money machine," with almost every team making money and franchises like the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls worth more than a billion dollars each. Editor Kurt Badenhausen explains.
video

Bad contracts, bad decisions

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
5:25
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Amin Elhassan has identified some of the NBA's worst deals, and amazingly, almost all of them looked bad on the day they were signed, which is not flattering to NBA front offices.

 

Kyle Korver is not Ashton Kutcher

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
12:33
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The record-setting Hawks 3-point shooter on learning from the past, having your brother run your Twitter account and looking like a movie star.

The all-time record that almost wasn't

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
3:40
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Atlanta's Kyle Korver set a record by making a 3 in 90 consecutive NBA games -- and it never would have happened without a mid-game text message from an assistant coach's wife to her husband on the bench.video

TrueHoop TV: Human highlight films

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
12:54
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
In Part 1 of our two-part chat, Dominique Wilkins discusses the challenges of returning from a severe Achilles injury like the one Kobe Bryant suffered.

video

In Part 2, the Hall of Famer chats about the new-look Atlanta Hawks and reminiscences about the Hawks teams of the 1980s, including the bizarre team video, "Atlanta's Air Force."

video

The strange, great career of Walt Bellamy

November, 2, 2013
11/02/13
8:08
PM ET
Harris By Curtis Harris
TrueHoop Network
Archive


When someone is really good or great, but never the best, his accomplishments tend to be overlooked or disregarded. The disdainful treatment is even harsher for those who seemingly have the tools to be the best, but settle into a groove of "merely great." Not only have you failed to be the best, but you teased us with the possibility that you were in fact the best.

Such is the NBA career of Hall of Fame center Walter Bellamy, who passed away Saturday at age 74.

The No. 1 overall pick of the Chicago Packers in the 1961 NBA draft, "Bells" blew the door off the hinges in his rookie season. He averaged a Herculean 31.6 points to go with a mammoth 19.0 rebounds. On top of that, he shot 51.9 percent from the field. That was good enough to not only lead the NBA for the 1961-62 season, but also to set a league record. The spectacular season easily secured Rookie of the Year honors for Bellamy.

The performance seemingly foretold greater things to come for Bellamy. However, his scoring average steadily dropped from 31.6 points per game in his rookie season to 16.7 in 1967-68. The average might have been cut in half, but over this same span, the talent surrounding Bellamy had practically doubled.

Simply put, the 1961-62 Packers were historically horrific. Of their 10-man rotation, six of the players were out of the league the very next season. Three others combined to play just 212 more NBA games -- the equivalent of 2.5 seasons. Then there was Bellamy, forced to produce so much when given so little. The decline in points scored by Bellamy wasn't due to eroding skills, but rather was a sign of improving teammates.

By 1964-65, Bellamy was averaging 25 points alongside Hall of Fame forwards Bailey Howell and Gus Johnson. The trio took the Baltimore Bullets to the Western Division finals. In 1966-67, Bellamy averaged 19 points alongside Willis Reed and Dick Barnett. The trio took the New York Knicks to the postseason for the first time since 1959.

And this is where Bellamy's career takes perhaps its biggest hit.

The Knicks had to decide which center to keep, Reed or Bellamy. Reed, nearly three years younger, was the pick, and Bellamy was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Dave DeBusschere in December 1968. The Knicks subsequently appeared in three NBA Finals and won two titles. Was Bellamy holding the Knicks back? Probably, but not because he lacked talent. It was just mismatched talent.

Bells was a big, bruising center. At 6-foot-11, with a muscular barrel chest and a rear end perfect to gain position on the boards, Bellamy was an inside terror, but didn't possess a deft passing touch. Reed had that passing touch, as did DeBusschere -- and that's what coach Red Holzman needed out of his big men.

Bellamy's stay in Detroit was the nadir of his career and he was mercifully traded in February 1970 to the Atlanta Hawks. At the back end of his playing days, Bellamy enjoyed a renaissance in Georgia. Placed alongside the penetrating and high-scoring combination of "Sweet" Lou Hudson and "Pistol" Pete Maravich, Bells was freed to cruise for sledgehammer dunks and bruise for boards. These talented Hawks pushed Atlanta to the playoffs for four consecutive seasons.

Bellamy retired in 1974. If this trio, or something like it, had come together a decade earlier in Bellamy's career, he might have achieved a greater impact on the game. If he didn't have the misfortune of being drafted by the NBA's first expansion franchise in nearly a decade, he would have enjoyed more stability. If there had been free agency in his time, he could have decided his own destiny instead of always being at the whim of a trade.

As such, we're left to contemplate the strange career of this talented center.

The idea that individuals control their fate is a powerful one in our society. However, the reality that our individual choices and, thus, fate are constrained by circumstances demands reckoning. Bellamy's career exemplifies that. A man with great skill who performed with a sense of pride still faced a situation filled with uncertainty and chaos. He played out a career that didn't quite live up to his talent level. He never made an All-NBA team, since he was perennially blocked by Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Despite it all, though, Bellamy was a four-time All-Star and one of just seven players in NBA history to amass more than 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds in a career.

So even if he was never the best, Walter Bellamy remains one of the greats.

Before there was YouTube, there was Wilt

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
12:24
PM ET
Harris By Curtis Harris
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Wilt Chamberlain and Gus Johnson
Getty ImagesThere's no visual evidence, but Wilt Chamberlain's block of Gus Johnson's dunk is the stuff of legends.
The moment doesn't exist in photo or film, but surely it does exist.

The Baltimore Sun on Nov. 26, 1966, recounted the powerful blow the day after it occurred, in a 129-115 victory by Chamberlain's Philadelphia 76ers over Johnson's Baltimore Bullets in Baltimore. Johnson, according to the paper, suffered a “wrenched shoulder” thanks to Chamberlain's mammoth swat.

The Los Angeles Times on Feb. 26, 1981, recalled that Wilt Chamberlain “dislocated the shoulder of the powerful Gus Johnson when he blocked one of Gus' dunks.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer on Oct. 26, 1986, got the scoop from Billy Cunningham, who witnessed the event: "It was Gus against Wilt," Cunningham said. "Gus went in to dunk, and Wilt caught the ball, threw Gus to the floor, and they had to take Gus off the floor with a dislocated shoulder."

Imagine if this kind of debilitating block was registered in the YouTube age. It'd be plastered into our digital minds and never forgotten. Instead it occurred in an era when players were supposedly plodding, slow, uncoordinated or some combination of the three. And if you possessed some measure of athleticism you were unfairly taking advantage of the physically unfortunate. Rare is the footage to combat these prevailing myths.

Those misconceptions don't reconcile with the image of Wilt Chamberlain, a 7-foot-1 center who jumped high enough to block shots at the top of the backboard's square. They also don't quite jibe with Gus Johnson, a 6-6 forward who shattered three backboards with his monstrous dunks in the 1960s.

One such instance in 1964 caused Hawks guard Sihugo “Si” Green a bit of discomfort:
Gus Johnson remembers being "about three steps in front of Lenny Wilkens, Chico Vaughn and maybe Cliff Hagan," accepting a crisp, one-bounce pass from Wali Jones and going up to dunk.

[...]

"I hit the rim with my forearm, just tore the basket down," Johnson recalled. "The rim came down on Sihugo Green's foot, and he missed two weeks.”

Wilt and Gus exemplified the seemingly impossible possibilities of human athleticism, but they weren't alone. Elgin Baylor of the Los Angeles Lakers was already side-stepping opponents on the fast break with a move that would later be dubbed the “Euro Step.” Dave Bing of the Detroit Pistons was spinning defenders in circles with his tricky handles. Walt Bellamy of the Chicago Packers could cut baseline and deliver a gliding reverse slam despite being a 6-11 center.

By the early 1970s, guards like 6-3 Randy Smith were dunking with artistry that we're now fully accustomed to.

But Gus Johnson's and Wilt Chamberlain's cataclysmic clash remains something of a Holy Grail for the era's athleticism. Words and recollections attest to its power, but it will never really be found again. Even more curious is that Wilt and Gus reveal to us the fleeting nature of athleticism and its deceitful promise of eternal miracles.

Johnson was tragically like a Greek hero. His mythical feats became fewer and harder to find as his career progressed. Yes, he possessed a muscular physique like Hercules, but knee ligaments, unlike muscles, can't be chiseled like marble. Knee ailments knocked out large chunks of his career and limited his court time. Unfortunately, the hobbled hero can't recount his glory days to us anymore. He passed away far too early in 1987 due to a brain tumor.

Wilt Chamberlain's mythological countenance endured for his whole career. More than any single player he extended the limits of what was physically and conceivably possible. In addition to basketball, Wilt had run marathons, pumped more iron than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even became a volleyball Hall of Famer. In 1999, though, the one muscle that can ill-afford to weaken gave out on Wilt. The Big Dipper's heart stopped beating and the titan of years gone by passed away quietly in his bed.

As today's star athletes eventually reach their old age, they can point back not only to words and memories, but the indisputable video to prove just how awesome, just how spectacular, they were. The men of the 1960s can't always provide the film, but, in an odd twist, the lack of film aggrandizes their accomplishments.

We can see exactly how LeBron James delivers his machine of flying death. In fact, we can see it in real time, slow motion, from cameras behind the backboard, from cameramen camped at the baseline and numerous other assortments of angles and speeds. The saturation of media today perhaps peels away too much mystique of our current hardwood immortals.

But for the titanic block that Chamberlain delivered on Johnson, we have a few words and our imaginations to work with. That's something we decreasingly get to use these days. We know not what type of dunk Johnson was attempting. We don't know exactly how Wilt's body was positioned. We're oblivious to how far out Gus leaped to instigate the showdown. We're at a loss for the look on Chamberlain's face as he successfully protected the rim or, conversely, the pain on Gus' face as his shoulder separated.

What we do know teases us and propels us to fill in the gaps with our imaginations. Every man and woman can hear the story, but play it out in their own individual way giving the moment a unique personal power. The cold and calculating camera robs us of that private vision. The void of knowledge, the scarcity of detail, the sketches of what was, breathe life to a real moment that will forever be a tall tale.

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: They love him in L.A., Orlando, New York, Miami, Central America, Europe, India. Don't forget India, especially now. But will they love him in Sacramento? Better yet, will they forgive him in Sacramento? Based on the results of an informal poll – a very limited sample size of six or seven Kingscentric folks contacted Monday – Shaq, who will be re-introduced this morning at the practice facility, is facing a hung jury in the court of public opinion. One segment of Kings fans is delighted with his arrival and all his oversized baggage. While his specific role and sphere of influence have yet to be defined, who knows what Shaq can do for you? … Well, here he comes. To those eagerly awaiting his arrival, hoping that celebrity and credibility are contagious, remember: He's a load. Stay ready. My advice to the anti-Shaq contingent would be this: Take this for what it is. Entertainment, until we hear otherwise.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Perfect strangers today will be teammates tomorrow. That sums up the situation facing the Milwaukee Bucks as they enter training camp next week. A hectic summer of change has resulted in 11 new players on the Bucks roster, although veterans Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour and Carlos Delfino are starting second stints in Milwaukee. But only four holdovers from last season's squad remain: starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova, starting center Larry Sanders, second-year power forward John Henson and backup big man Ekpe Udoh. And a new coaching staff led by Larry Drew will direct the Bucks after a five-year term for Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan, who finished last season as interim coach. "We have a short period of time to put a lot of things in," Drew said Monday before participating in the Bucks' annual golf outing at Westmoor Country Club. "There's going to be a lot of teaching that takes place. We'll have seven days of practice before we play our first exhibition game (Oct. 8 at Cleveland). "We're going to have to use every second of training camp as best we can." The 26-year-old Ilyasova now has the longest tenure on the Bucks roster as he opens his sixth season with the team.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Larry Bird joked that working on Paul George’s impending contract would keep him inside on a beautiful fall afternoon. “That’s why I’m not playing golf today,” Bird said during an appearance before the Pacers Foundation golf outing at Brickyard Crossing on Monday. “I’m going back to the office to work on it.” … On Monday, George said he and the team were on the “same page,” but nothing had been finalized. “I would hope,” George said when asked if the deal will be finished before training camp starts Saturday. “But whatever happens, happens. Right now, it’s about to be the start of the year. All the guys are here. We’re all fired up and ready to go. That’s where my focus is.” The question isn’t so much when a deal will be reached. Even if talks unexpectedly fall through, the Pacers would be able to make George a restricted free agent and match any deal he is offered next summer.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Russell Westbrook isn't making any promises about when he'll be back on the basketball court. But the All-Star point guard does offer something of a guarantee for whenever that day might be. “I'm going to come back and be better,” Westbrook said matter-of-factly Monday, with the same unshakable swagger he's always shown. As excitement builds over Saturday's start to training camp, Westbrook is eagerly anticipating his long-awaited return from the knee injury that cut short his 2013 postseason. Westbrook has not yet been cleared to resume full basketball activities, and neither him nor team officials are providing a timetable for when that final obstacle will be overcome. … For now, Westbrook sounds confident about all the questions he'll undoubtedly face in his return. When asked about regaining his rhythm after such a long layoff (he was injured April 24), Westbrook said bouncing back from this setback is no different from any other.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The start of Spurs training camp is little more than a week away, and Tony Parker is feeling the impact of dedicating much of his summer to Team France at EuroBasket 2013. It worked out historically well for Parker, who helped Les Blues finally win the major championship that had eluded them for so long, usually in painful fashion. But he’s now paying the price, admitting he was “very tired” after following up the Spurs’ run to the Finals with another one for his native country. Despite his current fatigue, and what could very well shape up to be another long, grueling playoff campaign with the Spurs, Parker disputed an earlier report, attributed to his father, that he had decided to skip next summer’s FIBA Basketball World Cup. Parker’s father had asserted that his son would then complete his international career with EuroBasket 2015 — yes, for some reason they hold the tournament every two years instead of the standard four for most other major international competitions — and the 2016 Olympics. Parker, however, said he’ll wait and see how he feels next summer before making any decision in regards to the Worlds. “To be honest, I do not know yet,” he was quoted by the French press.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Andrew Bynum still hasn’t been cleared for contact and, therefore, isn’t likely to be ready when the Cavaliers open training camp next week, but that hasn’t soured coach Mike Brown’s opinion of him. Brown still believes Bynum can be one of the best centers — ever. “He could very easily be the best center in the game,” Brown said. “Not only the game today, but he’s skilled enough and has the rest of the tools to be one of the best ever.” Bynum is now running on treadmills, but has not resumed contact drills on the court, Brown said Monday at the team’s charity golf outing at Firestone Country Club. There is still no timetable for Bynum’s return, and no one in the organization is pressing him after his lengthy history of knee troubles. “I’m not in any rush to get him back,” Brown said. “Obviously it’d be great if he’s here for opening day and practicing. If he’s not, I’m more than OK with it. We have a lot of guys capable of stepping up and playing or practicing until he is ready to go.”
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Will Amar’e Stoudemire participate fully in training camp? Doesn’t sound like it, according to Raymond Felton. Felton believes Stoudemire will be held out of much of the preseason in order to have him ready for the regular season and preserve his knees. Felton said Stoudemire is only starting to run during informal workouts and isn’t scrimmaging with the team. The Knicks’ training camp officially opens Monday. “He started running today,’’ Felton said at an Under Armour appearance. “He’s not playing. We’ll sit him out as long as we can. He’s getting shots up. We don’t need him to go hard now. Training camp isn’t that big for us. It’s more for the young guys.’’ Will Stoudemire play in preseason? “I’m not really sure,’’ Felton said.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: The Heat, looking to fill out a training camp roster, signed undrafted 6-2 rookie point guard Larry Drew III, who averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 assists and shot 44.6 percent for UCLA last season and 43.3 percent on threes. The son of the Milwaukee Bucks and former Atlanta Hawks coach, Drew impressed the Heat during workouts earlier this month. Drew, who started his college career at North Carolina and then transferred, broke Pooh Richardson's UCLA single-season assists record last season and was named first-team All Pac-12. The Heat has 13 players signed to guaranteed contracts and five to non-guaranteed deals (centers Jarvis Varnado and Justin Hamilton, forwards Michael Beasley and Eric Griffin, Drew). The Heat has told agents it might not keep the maximum 15 players, so it's highly questionable whether any of the fringe roster contenders will make it, Beasley notwithstanding.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Q. One of the most interesting parts of this offseason was all the other big men that were brought in - obviously, Paul (Millsap) but also Elton (Brand), Pero (Antic) and Gustavo (Ayon). How do you see that working out? Are there minutes for everybody? Al Horford. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s really up for grabs these minutes. I think that Danny and coach Bud definitely know more than I do about some of these players and they see the potential in them. At this point, they need to blend in and fit in with us. We can’t forget about Mike Scott. He is the one who has made the most improvement that I have seen. By far he is in better shape than anyone. He is doing great. He is going to be somebody that people are going to sleep on but he’s going to be really good. He is looking great. He is in great shape. It’s about building a bond and a trust with these new bigs. We are going to have to do it by committee. There is no way around it.”
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: For the Pistons organization, it was one of five “Come Together” events they’ve initiated in Detroit and the surrounding areas, which included a back-to-school drive at another Detroit school, a blood drive in Auburn Hills and a “Walk for Autism Speaks” which was held in Rochester Hills over the past two weeks. They donated computers and refurbished a library for the students, but the simple act of running through the halls and giving high-fives to every student, as Smith and rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva did, will likely be the lasting memory from that day in September. “It means a lot,” Smith said. “To be a blessing to other people who are less fortunate are always a bonus. Putting a smile on kids’ faces, adults, change their lives, that’s the biggest thing about being a professional athlete.” For Smith, it was another pseudo-introduction to his newest adopted home after spending virtually all of his life in Atlanta, save for his senior season in high school, when he transferred to prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia before being drafted by his hometown Hawks in 2004. “It’s definitely a new experience, a new change,” said Smith, who spent his first nine seasons as a Hawk before signing a $54 million deal to become a Pistons this past July. “Being in Atlanta for 27 years of my life, getting acclimated to my surroundings, it’s fun.”

First Cup: Thursday

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
5:11
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: It’s either smart business or a dangerous game of chicken with the hopes of landing the best player in the world in LeBron James. A long shot? Definitely, but with the Bulls at least in the conversation with James in his first decision, one that the organization has to explore. Herb Rudoy, however, said on Wednesday that choosing this path could cost the Bulls Deng come July 1, and despite Deng wanting to stay, any idea of home-town discounts if talks eventually restart are out the window. … Rudoy was asked if Forman indicated that the Bulls first wanted to try and look at bigger options before opening up talks again with Deng, and said that wasn’t relayed to him. “Of course they didn’t say they didn’t want him back, so that was never discussed,’’ Rudoy said. “I told Gar they are running the risk that someone can step up on July 1 and they can lose him. “At this point, we’re not looking to do anything except get the best deal possible. We’ll see what happens and we’ll see what’s out there. He loves Chicago, loves playing for [coach Tom] Thibodeau, really loves playing for Thibodeau, but he will look for the best offer.’’
  • David Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Michael Beasley isn't just a strange signing for the Heat. He's the exact kind of player club president Pat Riley usually avoids. Do you know that kid in your class who never grew up? Who you can't reach in and re-wire? That seems to be Beasley.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: In a dramatic and extraordinary move, the Miami Heat have invited their 2008 No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick Michael Beasley to training camp, with a contract that exposes the team to no binding commitment. After previously emphatically denying the possibility of a reunion following the forward's buyout release from the Phoenix Suns last week, the Heat, according to a source familiar with the situation, will bring Beasley back on a non-guaranteed, make-good contract. The agreement with Beasley comes at a time when he remains under investigation for sexual assault in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a January incident at his home there, and a month after his arrest in Scottsdale on suspicion of drug possession, after an officer detected the smell of marijuana coming from his vehicle. A source familiar with the Heat's approach said the team views the signing as a low-risk addition, citing Beasley's potential upside, noting Beasley does not turn 25 until January. To say the Heat's approach was tepid would be an understatement.
  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Essentially, it’s a camp tryout. That’s the penance that Beasley is paying for his assorted transgressions, whether they got him on the police blotter (such as a recent arrest on suspicion of drug possession) or just in the coach’s doghouse, as was the case with the Suns. It’s not no-risk, because nothing is, not when you’re injecting anyone into a locker room, particularly someone who hasn’t shown half the maturity of most of the teammates he will be joining, and whose absence some Heat insiders have credited for his friend Mario Chalmers’ growth. But it’s certainly low risk. It’s low risk because if Beasley’s lack of seriousness is irritating Dwyane Wade, as often appeared the case on the court during their last collaboration, Miami can move on. (For what it’s worth, Wade has continued to praise Beasley’s talent publicly, while generally adding “it’s up to him” to be great.) If Beasley bristles about minutes, which figure to be scarcer than in Phoenix last season (20.7 per game), Miami can move on. If Beasley doesn’t do everything the way LeBron James demands, when James demands it, Miami can move on. And, of course, if Beasley finds himself in any additional legal trouble, Miami can move on. That’s the new Beasley plan. It’s up to him to make it work, since he has more riding on it than the Heat do.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Talked to a Phoenix Suns person tonight who said two of Michael Beasley’s biggest problems last season were ones familiar to Heat fans: Hogging the ball at times (which frustrated teammates and his two head coaches) and deficient defense. He said teams often went to the player Beasley was defending to exploit that matchup. His efficiency and shooting percentage have either stayed the same or gone down every year. He shot 47.2 percent as a rookie, then 45, 45, 44.5 and 40.5 last season with Phoenix. He’s best from mid-range, shooting 46.1 percent from 10 to 16 feet last season, but just 30.6 percent from 3 to 10, and 34.9 from 16 feet to the three-point line. He shot just 31.3 percent on threes last season, 34.5 percent in his career. His metrics in games when he plays 20 minutes or fewer are much worse than games when he plays more --- which is largely the result of the fact that coaches will play him less if he gets off to a bad start.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns took the high-risk, low-reward approach to the Beasley signing and tried to overwhelm him with support, even up to this offseason when he stayed in Phoenix and the Suns invested in rehabilitating him. In Miami, the risk is even lower and the reward would not take much, given he is not coming in with hopes of being a leading scorer like what Phoenix wished to get . Grant HIll could have been an ideal mentor for Beasley but he left disgruntled last year and Lance Blanks tried to become Beasley’s mentor in addition to a counselor they hired for him. The Miami mentorship already showed it can work wtih Chris Andersen, who once served a two-year suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy but proved to be a critical piece for the Heat’s title run last season. The inconsistency of Beasley’s game, attention and effort will not be as exaggerated with a mature, successful team. And when he does go awry, the impact and price will not sting so much for a team counting on him little and paying him a NBA pittance. But it will still come down to the decisions Beasley makes when the good influences are not around him. Can he make logical choices, like keeping substances out of his car for a drive home in case he gets pulled over?
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: But with training camp less than three weeks away, the Wizards and John Wall should feel encouraged that he is playing — and playing well — regardless of the venue. The success of the team will hinge on his continued development and ability to stay healthy. Wall, who recently celebrated his 23rd birthday in New York, looked like he will be ready to go full bore during training camp as he lead his Blue team to a 111-95 victory in a game that also featured NBA players Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Brandon Knight, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Jones. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, Wall’s good friends and former teammates for one year at Kentucky, were assistant coaches and helped get the most out of him — with a little reverse psychology. “E. Bled told me I wasn’t going to get 40, so I went to go get 40,” Wall proclaimed to reporters after the game. Wall also made an interesting declaration when asked after the game which point guard was the best to ever play for Calipari. “Me,” Wall said quickly. “That’s just my competitive edge. I’m always going to say me.” Former league most valuable player and three-time all-star Derrick Rose might disagree with Wall, but the comment was more a reflection of the confidence that Wall has begun to exude after remarkable finish to his third season, which he eventually helped him receive a five-year, $80 million extension in August.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Rather than projecting, perhaps a more interesting discussion might be, what constitutes a superstar? Kawhi Leonard used the word this summer to describe his ultimate goal, and it’s nebulous distinction. Where, exactly, are the cut-offs from good, to great, to even better than that? Can Leonard reach the ultimate level without becoming a significantly better scorer? The list of players who have become legitimate, game-changing stars based mainly on their defense is short, and it’s almost entirely limited to centers like Bill Russell and Ben Wallace. Sure, there have been plenty of elite wings who dominated in their own way, one of the best of which was Bruce Bowen. Leonard proved his mettle during the Finals, doing about as reasonable job as could be expected against a player, LeBron James, who will go down among the five best to ever put on an NBA uniform. Thanks to the individual nature of perimeter matchups, however, it’s always going to be difficult, if not impossible, for a wing to match the macro impact of a dominant defensive big. That puts more emphasis on the scoring piece, which loops us back to the previous paragraphs: At 22, with work ethic and ambition to match his prodigious physical gifts, Leonard oozes with potential, even after already establishing himself as an impact player. But a key component of potential is that it hasn’t happened yet.
  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Klay Thompson is relieved. He was bracing for another grueling season, playing big minutes and being Golden State's version of a defensive stopper. But the Warriors went out and got swingman Andre Iguodala, a known defensive talent. And they added veteran back-up Toney Douglas. Now Thompson has considerable help. … Last season, Thompson averaged 35.8 minutes -- an 11-minute average increase in playing time. What's more, while averaging 16.6 points per game, he was called upon to defend the league's best point guards to protect Stephen Curry. In the playoffs, Thompson's minutes jumped to 41.3 per game. Even for a 23-year-old gym rat, the load took its toll. That's why Thompson expressed relief that the Warriors now have two more players capable of being the defensive stopper. He said he hopes that reality helps him improve his offensive efficiency (42.2 percent from the field last season). He also said getting in better shape, improving his decision making and getting better on defense were offseason goals.
  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: After a summer of plenty of activity, many of the NBA’s Western Conference lineups have been shaken up like a good martini. For an educated opinion on which teams benefited the most by offseason moves, I sought out one-time Trail Blazer guard Steve Kerr, who offers expert analysis for TNT. Kerr’s first mention was Portland and Houston. “Those are the two that jump out at me,” he says. Portland General Manager Neil Olshey, as those of us in the Moda City know, acquired a defensive presence as starting center — Robin Lopez — along with veterans Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Earl Watson fortified what a year ago was in the conversation for the worst bench in recent NBA history. … My pick for the best offseason in the West is the Los Angeles Clippers, who have added J.J. Redick, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley and Antawn Jamison, along with re-signing free agent Chris Paul — the latter the most important offseason player move in all of the NBA. “Slipped my mind,” Kerr says. “I like what they’ve done a lot. Maybe their biggest acquisition was getting Doc Rivers as coach. Everything they’ve done has the potential to get them to that next step and put them up there with Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the top teams.”
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Jared Cunningham had a run at the White House. Three of them in fact. That's run as in a game of basketball. The Hawks guard played three seasons at Oregon State, where he was all Pac-12 first-team in 2012. He played under head coach Craig Robinson - better know as President Barack Obama's brother-in-law. Cunningham and his teammates made three trips to the White House to play a little basketball with the President. "We went to the White House, hung out with Barack, played hoops a couple of times," Cunningham said as part of an interview with the AJC Wednesday. "This past year, they went and had dinner at the White House. Unfortunately, I missed it. I wish I could have been there for that one." Cunningham has been in Atlanta working out for several days. He is trying to rebound from a disappointing rookie season where he had several injuries, most notably right knee tendinitis, and stints in the NBA Development League. Cunningham was acquired in a draft-day trade this year and hopes to earn a spot on the Hawks roster.

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