TrueHoop: Atlanta Hawks

Mike Woodson's long goodbye

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
11:03
AM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
Special to ESPN.com
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Mike Woodson Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesOusted New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson never found sustained success in two-plus seasons.
After two and a half tumultuous years, Mike Woodson’s term as New York Knicks head coach came to a close Monday morning. His dismissal ends what was, even by the Knicks’ standards, a strange chapter in recent NBA history.

Woodson’s coaching reputation has swung wildly over the last 26 months. Under Woodson’s direction, the Knicks went 72-34 from when he took over for Mike D’Antoni in March 2012 through the end of the 2012-13 season. It’s not as if Woodson’s name was mud before the Knicks' 100-game hot streak, but his regular-season success in Atlanta -- the team won more games than the year before in five consecutive seasons -- was tainted by Atlanta’s inability to make noise in the playoffs. The Hawks never lost to a lower seed, but they never really looked capable of a deep playoff run, either.

After his time in Atlanta, critics cast Woodson as inflexible and somewhat dreary from a tactical standpoint. Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense repeatedly broke down in the playoffs, and his Hawks never had an effective backup plan.

But after coaching under Mike D’Antoni with the Knicks, Woodson seemed to become a believer in the spread pick-and-roll, and his Knicks rode that action, and a barrage of 3-pointers, to a 54-win season in 2012-13. The conversation around Woodson changed almost overnight: He had won full buy-in from Carmelo Anthony and somehow kept J.R. Smith focused; he modernized his offense and embraced the state of the art in basketball strategy.

The Knicks, for the first time in a long time, exceeded expectations. Was it Woodson? Or were the Knicks just more talented than people realized? Wasn't it Woodson who made Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland useful players?

Before the 2012-13 season, Wages of Wins combination of metrics and analysis predicted the Knicks would be the top seed in the East. The two main reasons were Kidd and Tyson Chandler, the point guard-center battery of the 2011 champion Mavericks. Kidd was old, sure, but he still made his teams better with rebounding, shooting and crisp ball movement. With the Knicks, Kidd’s play became the shared language through which Anthony’s game could communicate with the spread pick-and-roll.

When Kidd retired, the Knicks’ half-court offense descended into Babel. Again, this was partly due to situations outside of Woodson’s control. In the offseason, the Knicks replaced important shooters Novak, Kidd and Copeland with Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani. World Peace was a defensive contributor during a brief period of good health, but otherwise the Knicks essentially scrapped the identity that made them so dangerous -- great ball movement and killer shooting -- in favor of big names.

The same Wages of Wins analysts who picked the Knicks to be very good in 2012-13, then picked the Knicks to finish outside the playoffs, as did the SCHOENE metric developed by ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton.

Whether Woodson ever really believed in the free-wheeling, 3-pointer crazed offense of 2012-13 is an open question. The Knicks abandoned their small-ball strengths at the first sign of trouble in the 2013 playoffs, abdicating their perimeter advantage to wage an unwinnable war inside against the Pacers. And this season, Woodson often professed a desire -- possibly at behest of the front office -- to make the “Big” lineups work, even though playing Bargnani, Anthony and Chandler together had miserable results.

Strategy aside, if you consider the variable roster quality during the last two seasons, it is hard to say whether Woodson is responsible at all for either the good times or the bad ones.

Doubt that those role players the Knicks lost in the offseason really matter enough to so dramatically swing the Knicks' win-loss records? The fact is Carmelo Anthony was actually better this season than he was last season. Logic argues that he wasn't the controlling factor in the Knicks' success.

With Kidd and the shooters gone and Chandler hobbled, the Knicks just didn't have a very good roster -- so they weren't a very good team.

This gets us closer to the truth of Woodson’s value as a coach. Of course his teams in Atlanta got better every year, the roster improved every year, too!

Young stars such as Josh Smith and Al Horford joined the Hawks as rookies and followed a logical trend: They were better at 21 than 20, and better at 24 than 23.

History suggests Woodson does not make his teams better, nor does he really inhibit them. He puts his players in positions to succeed, but he is no Rick Carlisle, masking flaws with smoke and mirrors.

Given the Knicks’ lack of draft picks and tradable assets, the roster probably won't be much stronger next year. If they want a significantly better record, they'll need to find a coach who can win more games than player quality projects.

Woodson will be remembered as a players' coach, one who forged strong bonds with difficult personalities but never found a way to make them much better than they already were.

Rebuilding the Highlight Factory

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
11:40
AM ET
LaGree By Bret LaGree
Special to ESPN.com
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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
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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.

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The NBA's "global money machine"

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:49
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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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.
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Bad contracts, bad decisions

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
5:25
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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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.

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Kyle Korver is not Ashton Kutcher

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
12:33
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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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.

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The all-time record that almost wasn't

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
3:40
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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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
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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.

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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."

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The strange, great career of Walt Bellamy

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

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
5:17
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Last year, the Suns became one of 15 NBA teams to embrace the analytics era by investing in SportVu Player Tracking technology to acquire a higher level of player performance analysis. Good for them. This year, the NBA reached a multi-year agreement with STATS Inc., which owns the SportVU technology, to put six cameras in every arena and become the first American pro league to quantify and analyze each in-game player movement. Good for you. The Suns were commended for getting out in front of the analytics wave, but the movement has gone mainstream. The Suns kept all the data gathered last year to themselves, but this league move is the best thing for hoop junkies since NBA League Pass. The NBA already headed this way by adding advanced stats to nba.com last year. Now, they will post unprecedented data from SportVu on its site (wonder how many points per touch Eric Bledsoe is getting?) and for use in broadcasts (“Eddie, Marcin Gortat has run the equivalent of a 5K tonight”). The Suns do not lose out because they shelled out about $100,000 for it last year, and the NBA is footing the bill for the other teams this year.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Shane Battier isn't sure he's the retiring type, but considering the Miami Heat forward turned 35 Monday, he appreciates the end could be near. … Monday, before a motivational appearance with the students at St. Mark's Episcopal School, he said with his three-year contract expiring at season's end, it only makes sense to take stock. "I'm realistic to where I am at this point in my life," he said, after playing most of last season as a reserve and seeing limited action for an extended stretch of the playoffs. "I'd like to finish my contract strong with the Miami Heat, and then we'll see where we go." Battier, though, said there would not be any sort of retirement tour, with possibilities still remaining in 2014 free agency. "This door is always open," he said. "This is not a farewell tour, no. But if it is, it is. And I'll enjoy this year and try to make the most of it."
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Recently, Olajuwon spoke of both occurrences in an interview with Nike Kicks, lauding Kobe, LeBron and a few other stars who flew out to Houston for dedicated workout sessions with him. It’s in the embedded video at the bottom of this post, starting at around 5:40, and includes some interesting anecdotal quotes from Olajuwon. But toward the end of the interview, he was also asked which players, of those who haven’t trained with him yet, would benefit most from his tutelage. His answer: Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant. Why Durant? “(He’s) very skilled, but doesn’t take advantage of his height in the post,” Olajuwon said. “He’s much taller than most of the guys who guard him. He’s got all the outside game, but now he needs to take them in the post. In other words, there’s something for everybody.” Overall, Durant’s actually been pretty efficient with his back to the basket, scoring 1.04 points per post-up last season (stat via mysynergysports.com), seventh highest in the NBA. But it still feels like an underutilized part of his game, particularly (as Olajuwon said) when he has smaller players defending him. Only 10.4 percent of his offensive moves were out of the post last season. Will he do it more in the future? We’ll see. Will he work with Olajuwon to improve? Couldn’t hurt. But it’s not exactly the most pressing issue facing the 24-year-old or his team.
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: There are some things Kobe Bryant can’t do. He may be fluent in English, Italian and Spanish, but Bryant noticeably struggles saying his name in Mandarin. Bryant can do everything with a basketball, except spinning one. That’s because of the fractured index finger he suffered three years ago, an injury that still hasn’t fully healed. It might be surprising to see Bryant struggle with something after mostly seeing him dominate on the court. But it’s also insightful to see him at his most vulnerable. Bryant hardly frets much about his struggles speaking Mandarin, and steal tries to speak with great enthusiasm. When the CCTV host Sa Beining asks Bryant to spin a basketball, the Lakers star didn’t seem bashful one bit in admitting he can’t do it. To which Beining offered a rightfully collective shrug. “You guys probably think Kobe can do everything, but even Kobe is human,” Beining said in Mandarin. “But so what? He’s still Kobe. Not being able to spin the ball doesn’t make him a less effective basketball player. Kobe Bryant has an indomitable spirit.”
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Will Nene be eased back into the picture or will he be pushed full-speed ahead? The 7-footer spent the summer rehabilitating from various injuries, both shoulders, both knees and his left foot, as he split his off-season between homes in Denver and Brazil. In April, I asked Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld the same question about easing back Nene and he said that they'd consider it. Wittman: "He got in town Aug. 30. He's been on the floor. He feels good. He's had a whole summer where he didn't have to worry about the pounding and the stuff he did last summer having the injuries he did and having to play on the (Brazil) national team and never gave his body a chance to recover. He's feeling good. He looks good. I'm pretty pleased with that. I anticipate him being ready to go. When did we play our last game? Five months ago? He's done a lot of good work this summer, not only from a rest standpoint but from physical therapy. He's built his strength back up. I anticipate we'll head into the season with no restrictions." Of course, the Wizards' medical staff will be consulted on these matters but it's a good sign if Nene passes the eye test with Wittman.
  • John Ried of The Times-Picayune: Pelicans veteran forward/center Jason Smith said last week that he doesn't feel pain in his surgically repaired right shoulder that forced him to miss the final 24 games last season. But he still hasn't been cleared to participate in contact work yet during volunteer workouts. Smith is hoping to be cleared just before the Pelicans open training camp. “That's best guess right now because you never know if things will flare up when you hit somebody,'' Smith said. “You put in the time to rest and recover and you put in the work to strengthened it and get back in shape. That's all I can do right now is try to get in the best shape that I can.'' Smith suffered a torn labrum during a Dec. 12 game last season against the Oklahoma City Thunder when he blocked an attempted dunk by forward Kevin Durant.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: As I wrote last week, David Lighty and Eric Dawson will be non-roster training camp invites. Andonis Thomas is likely to be another invite, although nothing is official at this point. Thomas has been working out in Atlanta this offseason. He was part of the Hawks summer league roster. The 6-foot-7 small forward, an undrafted free agent out of Memphis, appeared in three summer league games. He averaged 1.3 points and 0.3 rebounds in 9.7 minutes. The Hawks have 14 players on their current roster with Lighty and Dawson coming to training camp. The Hawks will most likely add two more players and as many as four come the start of camp. Another guard and small forward could be added. I expect the Hawks to keep just 14 on the roster for the regular season. General manager Danny Ferry likes to have the flexibility of the additional roster spot. The status of Lou Williams, rehabbing from a torn ACL, is still a factor in determining the roster.
  • Staff of the Pioneer Press: The Minnesota Timberwolves made official Monday the promotion of David Adelman to assistant coach and the hiring of Bobby Jackson to replace Adelman as player development coach. The son of Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman had served in the player development role for two seasons. Jackson, a former University of Minnesota standout, was an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings the last two seasons. "David is a bright young coach and has demonstrated the past two years that he is ready to take on additional responsibilities," Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said in a statement. "In Bobby Jackson, we are bringing a Minnesota basketball icon back to our state. Bobby has the respect of players around our league and did a great job working with the young Kings players this past season. Both Rick Adelman and I are very familiar with Bobby and are excited to have him on our coaching staff."
  • Bernie Augustine of the New York Daily News: Before Kent Bazemore was “Bazemoring” on the sidelines of Warriors playoff games — and in the latest version of NBA 2K14 — he was packing his bags and getting ready to play basketball professionally in the Ukraine. How quickly things can change. “I would have been living a totally different life, having a totally different experience,” he said recently. … “It takes a strong type of individual to not play but still have that type of enthusiasm,” former Warriors guard Jarret Jack said last season. “He does what he can to contribute to the team, and it’s appreciated.” Soon his celebrations became YouTube fixtures, fodder for blog posts, and features in highlight-reel shows. “It’s definitely spontaneous. I can’t even remember the first pose — the three fingers in the air — I can’t even tell you when I did it, where I did it or how it came to me. It’s just something I started doing and people ran with it,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have names for his signature moves. … “The NBA 2K franchise is all about authenticity, and we strive to include details that accurately represent all aspects of the game,” Rob Jones, NBA 2K’s producer, said. “Our goal is to make the NBA 2K14 experience as close to real life as possible, and Bazemore brings unique moves both on and off the court that serve to amplify the experience for players.” There was so much hype about Bazemore’s inclusion in the game, that his celebrations were featured in the trailer for the game, which will be released on October 1.
  • Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: For weeks, Chris Hansen has been vilified by Sacramento Kings fans for financing a signature-gathering campaign to force a public vote on the city’s arena subsidy. Now the man who tried to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle is trying to make amends. On the same day Hansen and two political operatives agreed to pay a $50,000 fine to state election officials for failing to properly report the source of funding behind the ballot measure effort, Hansen announced Monday that he would “take steps to prevent” the signatures his money financed from being used. In a statement released on his website, Hansen also said a Los Angeles law firm funneled his money to the signature campaign “without my knowledge or consent.” That firm, Loeb & Loeb, paid a Tulare-based company $80,000 in June to dispatch campaign workers in Sacramento to collect petitions, according to state election regulators.
  • Lynn Thompson of The Seattle Times: The State Court of Appeals today rejected a challenge to the Sodo arena brought by Longshore workers. The court upheld a trial court decision from February that found that the agreement between the city of Seattle, King County and Chris Hansen to build a new $490 million arena did not violate state environmental laws. “The memorandum does not predetermine where an arena will be built or even that an arena will be built at all,” the Division One Appeals Court three-justice panel wrote in its opinion. “Whether the city and county will agree to Hansen’s proposal is a decision expressly reserved until after environmental review is complete. Because there has not yet been a government ‘action’ as that term is defined by SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act), the courts are not a forum for the union’s opposition to Hansen’s proposal.”
  • Brad Rock of the Deseret News: In the early 1970s, downtown Salt Lake was a rough place to be — downtown meaning the paint. That’s where Zelmo Beaty set up shop. The former Utah Stars center considered it his property, on both ends of the court. A good rule of thumb: Crowd him at your own risk. “If you started to encroach into some of his territory in the paint — which he considered all his territory — you might get an elbow,” former Dallas Chaparrals and Utah Stars coach Tom Nissalke said. Beaty, who passed away Aug. 27, played until he was 35, averaging 11.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in his final season, despite having had numerous knee surgeries. He worked in four markets, but especially during the four years he was in Utah, everything was Big Z’s space. He not only owned the paint, but the city and state, too. He led the Stars to the 1971 ABA championship. After jumping from the NBA to the league with the colorful basketball, he was an immediate hit. He was intimidating, effective, dedicated and best of all he had an unforgettable name.

First Cup: Friday

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
5:08
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: I always found Allen Iverson to be a polarizing figure, he was self-confident to a level that some felt was off-putting but I think that’s what made him special in a lot of ways. I’m sure there was a rather substantial chip on his shoulder and he didn’t mind that everyone knew. He had a level of disdain for authority that was palpable at times, his clashes with Larry Brown were significant but those are two very strong-willed men so that shouldn’t come as too much a surprise. thing is that all the extraneous stuff — the posses, that legendary practice rant (and it was my dear friend Phil Jasner who started that, bless his soul), the tattoos, the “I’ve got to get mine” attitude — probably clouded judgement of him too much. And that’s his own fault, isn’t it? I’m not suggesting he — or anyone — should totally change the way they are just to get along or to present a false version of their character but at some point if you’re in a team sport, some bending for common good may be necessary.
  • Tom Layman of the Boston Herald: Walter McCarty’s education as a coach came from a very unpopular voice here in Boston. But without it, the former Celtics reserve forward might not be answering questions as a new assistant for Brad Stevens. McCarty — who was hired by Stevens to fill out the Celtics coaching staff with Ron Adams and Micah Shrewsberry, along with holdovers Jamie Young and Jay Larranaga — spent three seasons, starting in 2007, as an assistant coach at the University of Louisville under his former C’s coach Rick Pitino. It was there where he learned the intricacies of what a coach does behind the scenes, and how to find a voice as an assistant from a guy who has brought three different programs to the Final Four. “Working for Rick Pitino taught me a lot. It really prepared me for how to prepare for opponents, how to scout games, how to teach and develop players, and how to speak and communicate with players, as well,” McCarty said from the Celtics practice facilities before a private basketball clinic with MarShon Brooks for YMCA of Greater Boston youth yesterday. “I think without those three years and that schooling, that education under Rick Pitino, I think this would have been a tough get.” … McCarty is the only assistant on Stevens’ staff with any NBA playing experience. He has one year under his belt as an assistant for Jim O’Brien with the Indiana Pacers in 2010-11, and he is hoping his 10-year resume as a player will benefit Stevens and the players in the Celtics locker room.
  • Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times: As much as he (Doc Rivers) needs fresh scenery, the Clippers will need his strategizing and motivational skills to meet the high expectations they will face this season. With Blake Griffin in his prime and Chris Paul secured to a five-year, $107.3-million extension, winning a playoff round or two won't be enough for this team. Rivers must make the players' considerable individual talents add up to a cohesive whole, polish their many assets, and solidify their defense before they can be a championship contender in a rugged conference. "The expectations are great. I don't want us to shrink from that at all. I don't want us to run from that," he said. "But what we've got to get our guys to understand is expectations are one thing. Realization is a whole different thing, and just because you're expected to do anything doesn't mean you've arrived. We have not arrived. We didn't win a playoff series last year. So we have a lot of work to do as a group. We should expect to do that work. We have to expect that it's going to be much harder and we have to embrace it and do it."
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: LeBron James might be entitled to his opinion, but it doesn't mean Magic Johnson has to agree. Asked in a recent Fox Sports television interview to name his three greatest NBA players of all-time, the Miami Heat forward paused and then somewhat hastily went for Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and Larry Bird. Omitted and paying attention, former Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson replied Thursday on Twitter. Johnson first posted, "Lebron is entitled to his opinion, but I still think that he and I have a similar game and that's why I LOVE to watch him play!" That quickly was followed by, "NBA Championship rings are all that matter; Jordan 6, Me 5, Bird 3, LeBron 2 and Dr. J 1." … For the record, James did add that if he was asked for his top four, Johnson would have made that list. Somewhat surprised by the question asked during his charity event in Akron, Ohio, two weeks ago, James' first response was, "Michael Jordan, uh, wow . . . Michael Jordan . . . wow, this is tough . . . Michael Jordan, uh, Dr. J., Larry Bird. "You give me three? Oh my God. Three? Larry Bird, Dr. J. Michael Jordan." James said stopping at three was difficult. "I know," he said. "Can I get four? All right, Magic."
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The remaking of the 76ers continues. The team has acquired Tony Wroten from the Memphis Grizzlies Thursday for a protected second-round pick, a league source confirmed. This pick is based on where the Sixers, who are expected to struggle, finish in the standings. As a result, they basically surrendered nothing for Wroten, a 2012 first-round selection. “Just want to say thank you to ALL the Memphis Grizzlies fans, coaches, etc.,” Wroten tweeted Thursday. “I love the city of Memphis. Will always have love for you guys. GnG.” The 6-foot-5 point guard later tweeted ‘Where the homie @MeekMill at? LOL” before tweeting “Philly Philly Philly. City Of Brotherly Love. #215.” Robert Williams, better known as Meek Mill, is a rap artist from Philadelphia. The source said this move was about acquiring Wroten’s 1.1 million salary. Including his pay, the Sixers have around $41.2 million of salary guaranteed to 10 players for the upcoming season. NBA teams must have a minium payroll of $52.811 million. The Grizzlies needed to make this trade to shed salary and open up a roster spot.
  • Kevin Nielson of Sportsnet.ca: Heading into the final year of his contract and with a new management team to answer to, Dwayne Casey’s tenuous future in Toronto will likely come down to the play of three wing players: Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. Gay has seen his three-point shooting plummet from his career high (39.6 per cent) in 2010-11 to 32.3 per cent last season. The Raptors forward had off-season eye surgery to correct an astigmatism, and Casey is hoping this will help his star forward rediscover his outside shot. … Many believe that the outside combo of Gay and DeRozan is doomed to fail as neither has the ability to stretch the floor from long range. While Gay was bad from beyond the arc, DeRozan was terrible (28.3 percent), especially for a player whose position has the word ‘shoot’ in the title. … While Casey acknowledged Ross’ potential, the old-school coach will not reward him with minutes based on potential alone. The Raptors coach is looking for more consistency from the sophomore forward.
  • Nat Newell of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers always-engaging center Roy Hibbert is back at it on social media. After sending out a picture following a workout in San Antonio earlier in the week in which he dwarfed Tim Duncan, Hibbert put pictures of himself in an airplane bathroom on Instagram. The answer? He doesn't. He wrote with the photo, on his accountroyhibbert55,” “I'm not one to take selfies but I know y'all were wondering how I fit in an airplane bathroom and the answer is ... I don't. #crampedlife”
  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: The NBA could award the All-Star Game in 2015 to the Garden and have its All-Star weekend events leading up to the game held in Brooklyn, but there won’t be a decision on the specifics for another few weeks, according to well-placed league sources. The Garden and Barclays Center continue to be in discussions with the league, with each entity looking to host the weekend’s main event — the 64th All-Star Game. “It hasn't been finalized,” one source said Thursday night. The league plans on making a decision by mid- to late September. The idea of having the Knicks and Nets co-host the weekend has been known since last February. It’s also possible that the All-Star Game could return to New York before 2020, with the game hosted by the Nets and the Knicks having the Friday and Saturday night events. The 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend will be held in New Orleans.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Canada dropped the opener of the Tutu Marchand Continental Cup to host Puerto Rico on Thursday night. The tournament is a tune-up for next week’s FIBA Americas Championship, where four berths will be earned for next year’s FIBA World Cup in Spain. Minnesota guard J.J. Barea lit up the Canadians with 23 points and eight assists, helping Puerto Rico to a 40-30 half-time edge by notching 15 through two quarters. Orlando forward Andrew Nicholson paced the visitors with 21 points and Cleveland big man Tristan Thompson was excellent with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes of play. Canada closed within three heading into the final quarter, before a 10-2 run made the deficit too great to erase. Another tough opponent in Argentina awaits Canada on Friday.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: It has been a busy offseason for Lou Williams. The Hawks guard has been rehabbing a torn ACL and hopes to be ready for the start of training camp. He also has been in a studio recording his recently released mixtape entitled 'Here Goes Nothin' under the name Lou Will. There are 16 tracks and the mixtape features other artists including 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, The Casey Boys from Jagged Edge, K. Michelle and Quez from Travis Porter. I listened to the tracks for language and content. Nothing major. I will leave the reviews to you and those far more qualified. Williams announced the release of the mixtape via Twitter Tuesday.

First Cup: Tuesday

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
5:08
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Brad Rock of the Deseret News: I believed this in June and I haven’t changed my mind: The Jazz didn’t have a lot of options. They knew where they were going with the Jefferson-Millsap approach – mid-to-low end of the conference. Better to roll the dice. It’s going to be painful and with what they have now, it won’t be smooth. They’re at least two All-Stars away from being serious, maybe more. In fact, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko and Devin Harris were All-Stars and even played on the same Jazz teams. They didn’t go far. Neither will this team, as it stands. I know it’s early, but this might be a good time for Jazz fans to temper expectations. Sports Illustrated can see that from a distance. From up close, it might have looked better a couple of months ago than it really was.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Injuries almost have turned Malcolm Lee into an NBA stranger. Lee logged barely more games in two years with the Minnesota Timberwolves (35) than he did as a UCLA junior (33). He has undergone two surgeries on each knee and a hip surgery and was acquired in June by the Suns mostly because they had to take on his contract to move up one draft spot for Archie Goodwin. Lee, 23, is trying to make sure you have not seen the last of him. Or that you are about to see the first of him. He has been in Phoenix for the past month, working with Suns athletic trainers with the belief that he will be ready to participate when the team heads to Flagstaff for training camp on Sept. 30. He has a guaranteed $884,000 contract, but the Suns also will have 15 other guaranteed contracts with a maximum of 15 regular-season roster spots. The Suns believe in Lee’s talent, but it is a matter of the 6-foot-5 guard’s health and whether he can recapture his athleticism and show his defensive aptitude.
  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant continued to push his way back from a torn Achilles tendon, releasing a video of his workout via Instagram on Monday. The clip shows Bryant running on the Alter-G, the weight-bearing treadmill. While he has been walking on the Alter G for some time during his recovery, Bryant has clearly increased his pace. The Lakers All-Star guard was injured April 12 in a win over the Golden State Warriors. He had surgery the following day. While touring China, Bryant said he has "shattered" his recovery timetable, but more recently, Bryant said he's not sure if he'll make it back in time for opening night (Oct. 29). The original timetable for his recovery was six to nine months. Bryant also tweeted that he won't forget about what was said and written since his injury.
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Q: Is this job harder than you thought it’d be? Flip Saunders: No. When I coached, I was always pretty active in the personnel side of things. Were there some challenges? Yeah, there were, challenges trying to change the culture — how we operate internally and externally — so all parties understand what you’re trying to do. Q: Anything you understand now about the job that you didn’t four months ago? Flip Saunders: I don’t think so. People talk about the importance of the agents and how they can dictate things; I believe my year with ESPN helped me tremendously in dealing with media and even agents. You understand these people have an agenda and you have to respect what their agenda is. It might not be the same as yours, and you might not like what they’re doing, but it’s not out of spite to you. It’s because they have a job to do. You have to respect that. I understand that more now, and I don’t take it maybe as seriously, to be honest, as I would have in the past. Q Any roster needs you still need to address? Flip Saunders: I don’t think we have any needs. Right now, talking to Rick, we feel comfortable with the roster we have. Not only is it balanced, but we feel we have talent at every position. I’ve talked a lot about this team and there are pretty good players out there we don’t even talk about right now: Derrick Williams, J.J. Barea, Dante Cunningham. When you put all those guys together with who we’ve added, you’ve got to feel comfortable.
  • Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe: Based on this team's current roster, do you see them winning more than 30 games? This means last place in the East. Larry, Tallahassee, Fla. Have you seen the Bobcats play, Larry? In all seriousness, 30 is a good number to debate. Fans seem to be all over the place on where this team finishes, but I'm in the camp that the losses of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as well as Rajon Rondo's recovery from knee surgery, leave the Celtics in a bad spot. Add in a new coach and a repetitive roster I'll go jus over and say the Celtics win 31 games. That leaves them out of the playoffs but maybe ahead of the Bobcats.
  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: We're in the midst of what is considered the slow time of the NBA offseason. It's a place in time where Ivan Johnson thought he would have had his next stop locked up already. But he isn't expected to be available past August. A source close to the power forward informed CSNNW.com that Johnson is issuing NBA teams a two-week deadline to come up with a reasonable offer. If no NBA offer presents itself, Johnson will bite on one of his several overseas offers. The source who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of these talks says, “Johnson will be fine either way, as long as he is playing the game of basketball.” The New York Knicks were one of the NBA teams inquiring about Johnson early on, however they have not reached out at the same regularity, another source told CSNNW.com.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Monday proved to be a day of minor details for the Miami Heat, both halfway around the world and halfway across the country. In Australia, Heat second-round acquisition James Ennis, the swingman out of Long Beach State, was introduced as the newest member of the Perth Wildcats. In Sioux Falls, S.D., Heat scout Pat Delany was introduced as coach and Heat Director of Player Personnel Adam Simon as general manager of the NBA Development League Skyforce, the Heat's minor-league affiliate. In addition, Heat player-development coach/advance scout Octavio De La Grana was confirmed as an assistant coach for Delany. To a degree, the events were related, with Ennis bypassing the opportunity to play for the Heat's D-League affiliate in favor of a more lucrative contract in Australia. Both Ennis and Perth coach Trevor Gleeson downplayed the opt-out in Ennis' Wildcats contract that would allow him to return to the Heat at any point if summoned this season.
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: As for a return to Washington, it seemed highly unlikely even from the moment the Wizards acquired him (Jason Collins) from the Celtics in a deal for Jordan Crawford. It still does especially since there isn't actually a roster spot to spare after Al Harrington's signing brought the roster to full capacity with 15 members. It still would even if the team opened space by trading one of their frontcourt options elsewhere. Then again, the playoff-pushing Wizards would arguably be better off with a third center, even one with no scoring prowess, rather than a plethora of young forwards whose respective NBA roles remain rather undefined. Teammates last year praised Collins' ability to set screens in the context of helping the team produce points even if said points rarely came directly under the names Collins. Since many assume Nene will miss a chunk of the season at some point for some ailment, why not have another big man option. Until or if the Wizards make another move that opens up a roster spot, there is nothing to ponder. Even then, not so much, or even a little.
  • Rustin Dodd of The Wichita Eagle: Thomas Robinson averaged just 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 15.9 minutes before the Kings shipped him to Houston in a late February trade. If the situation is Sacramento was untenable, the stint in Houston wasn’t much smoother. The Rockets had a logjam at power forward, and when the franchise had a chance to sign free agent center Dwight Howard this offseason, the team sent Robinson to Portland in a salary-dump move. “Up and down,” Robinson said, “rookie roller coaster.” For now, though, the ride appears to have slowed down a bit, and Robinson will have the opportunity for a fresh start with the Trail Blazers. He’ll join a young core that includes power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard, the league’s reigning rookie of the year. And most importantly, Robinson says, he finally feels wanted. “They’re constantly behind me,” Robinson said. “I’ve been up and down through my rookie year (with) two teams already. So for them to come in and make me feel like it’s gonna be a home for me is definitely a big deal.”
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban is certainly one of the most influential people in the Dallas area and when it comes to the NBA, he’s got lots of clout, too. On Tuesday, he’ll be unveiled as a mover and shaker in the world of mixed martial arts when USA Today names the “25 Most Powerful People in MMA.” Cuban checked in at 13th, along with Andrew Simon, who is his CEO of Fights at AXS TV. The pair turned then-HDNet into a home for MMA bouts back in the early days of the sport, seeing an opportunity. As two of the pioneers of giving the sport a platform for exposure, Cuban and Simon understood from the start the popularity that MMA would gain and gave the sport instant credibility. “If we weren’t going to be great at it, there was no reason to do it,” Cuban said in the special edition of MMAjunkie.com magazine, which produced a first-time print edition of 70 pages to chronicle the 25 heavyweights of the sport.
  • Tony Bizjak and Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: Sacramento's arena war hit new levels of intensity this week after Seattle financier Chris Hansen was revealed as the secret source of money for a petition drive to put the city's arena plans to a public vote. Seizing on outrage at the news, arena supporters took to the streets Saturday, hanging more than 1,000 fliers on front doors asking residents who signed the petitions to withdraw their signatures. "Don't let Seattle money steal away our chance at 4,000 jobs for Sacramento!" the fliers urged. Arena backers, a group that includes many of the city's prominent business people and politicians, argue the Seattle funding offers proof that the two-month-old petition drive is really an attempt to derail the city's downtown arena plans and push the Kings out of town. Yet Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, the group behind the ballot measure, insists it is a homegrown effort, aimed at giving voters a voice. Its leaders today vowed to come back fighting - possibly with a local fundraising effort.

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