TrueHoop: Basketball History

The greatest dunker ever

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
10:38
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
At the 2000 Slam Dunk Competition in Oakland, Vince Carter cast a spell on every basketball fan. Amin Elhassan shares his memories of that contest.

When Derek Fisher won his job

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
9:30
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Phil Jackson came to the Lakers in 1999 with a hard-won reputation for preferring big guards. Meanwhile, the point guard he found in L.A., Derek Fisher, wasn't just little, but he was also, up to that point, not known as a shooter.

Looking back now, on his re-vamped personal website, Fisher -- who now plays for the Thunder -- makes clear he felt he had some serious work to do to keep his job under the legendary new coach. Fisher couldn't help his lack of height, but he could at least increase his value to Jackson by mastering the art of shooting.
Being a smaller, more traditional point guard, I wasn’t supposed to be one of Phil Jackson’s favorite type of guys to have on his team. So shooting was something that I really worked hard at during the offseason, and that moment really catapulted my confidence level in playing for Phil and playing in that new system. It set the stage for my role going forward.

Fisher remembers clearly Jackson's first regular season game as Laker coach. It was in Salt Lake City, it was on national TV and it was close down the stretch. The Jazz had traditionally manhandled those Lakers, Fisher remembers, writing: "They were just so physically strong and mentally tougher than we were at that time in our careers, and they would show it just about every time we matched up against them."

The Lakers led 84-82 with about 45 seconds left when Fisher caught a pass in the deep right corner and fired away. Nothing but net (as you can watch, in grainy YouTube, on Fisher's site). The Lakers won that game 91-84. They also won 67 regular season games that season, and the NBA championship each of the following three years, and twice more besides. Hardly anyone has doubted Fisher's place in that Laker dynasty.

But according to Fisher himself, that shot in Utah was a key moment in securing the role, as title-winning starting Laker point guard, that defined his career.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks Dwight Howard

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
3:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive

This is an interesting and strong criticism, which points out an important issue in how we assess players.

As a baseline: Let us all agree Kareem is right. Dwight Howard has flaws that are fairly easy to spot. That's the simple part.

The much more interesting part, however, is that Howard is among the NBA's most effective players despite these flaws. Riddle me that!

As Abdul-Jabbar’s, or any other critics’, arguments become more convincing, the mystery of Howard’s wonderful results on the court becomes more exciting:
  • Since 2005, Howard's teams have consistently outplayed the opposition with Howard on the court, usually by a significant margin. Beginning in 2007-08, his plus/minus numbers on the season, per NBA.com/stats, were +5.9, +7.0, +7.5 and +6.4. These are rare numbers. The Lakers and Howard had horrible 2012-13 seasons, but the team was +1.8 with Howard on the court.
  • Howard joined the league out of high school, can't hit free throws worth a darn and has one of the most criticized offensive games in the league. Yet, the lowest true shooting percentage of his career was 56.5 percent -- and he has often been much better than that, including an entire season at an incredible 63 percent. For fun and comparison, the player with the most polished offensive game -- Kobe Bryant -- has only surpassed 56.5 percent in three of his 17 seasons. Howard has a career playoff true shooting percentage of 62 percent.
  • Howard has won plenty in the playoffs, and once led Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and company to the 2009 NBA Finals, while anchoring the offense and defense.

In other words, what's wrong with Howard is pretty easy to spot. He looks clumsy with the ball, basically. He makes mistakes. What's more interesting and important, however, is what's right, because clearly it's something. These aren't cutesy stats, and they aren't cherry-picked from a month here or there. Nearly a decade of efficiently turning possessions into points, playing league-leading defense and outscoring the opposition is exactly how you win games. That is value.

This reminds me of the kinds of things people said about young LeBron James. He was doing so many things so well while leading bad teams deep into the playoffs year after year. And one of the most common lines of conversation was, oddly, what he couldn't do. I believe that's born in part because of the incredible bodies James and Howard have. They are both enormously tall, quick and nimble, and covered in muscles. It's almost unfair.

Abdul-Jabbar made a historic career not out of a body that wasn't nearly as imposing as Howard's, but with the honing of likely the most unstoppable scoring move ever, the skyhook. Abdul-Jabbar sees Howard's body a little like Michael Jordan sees LeBron's body. I imagine both thinking, essentially: "Imagine what I could do with that." The natural conclusion of that line of thinking is that Dwight and LeBron are disappointments, and when you look for evidence, it's on video.

He isn't doing what we want him to do. He's not perfect, even though his body is.

Also, it's very hard to both know what's wrong with something and declare it the best; it's just against human nature. But that doesn't mean it can't still be true. Usain Bolt can let up in the final 10 yards (horrible strategy!) and still be way faster than anybody else in the world. Annoying, but true.

And all that talk of shortcomings in regard to Howard, Bolt or James is also another way of saying they could be so much better.

LeBron made a few tweaks to his always-excellent game, and now he's the undisputed best player in the game.

Abdul-Jabbar's talk of Howard's flaws may be on the money. But we must take all that knowing that Howard's seldom-discussed strengths, whatever they may be, have consistently overwhelmed those flaws. And maybe he could be much better, which could certainly be seen as bad news for the Howard camp, for the Rockets and for anyone who believes in his future.

But couldn't it also be good news?

First Cup: Wednesday

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
5:14
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: The only real issue heading into camp is the Granger Question. Or Questions.Is he healthy? When will his game fully return? Will he start or come off the bench? How will Bird handle the fact that Granger is in the final year of his contract? The answers, in Cliffs Notes form, are 1) He’s getting there; 2) Eventually, although he’s a notoriously slow starter even when fully healthy; 3) He probably will start and 4) Stay tuned because this is going to get interesting. Bird made no bones about it: He likes his team best with Granger starting and Lance Stephenson leading the second unit as a point guard. “That’s what I prefer,” Bird said. “I’ve always respected Danny’s game. Like everybody else, I see his good and his bad, but I think the good outweighs the bad by a large margin. I like his toughness. And I’ve always said you never lose your position through injury; somebody’s got to beat him out. Now, if Lance comes in and he’s a better player, that’s (coach Frank Vogel’s) decision. But I think we’re a different type of team when he starts. ... I think Danny and Paul (George, who signed a long-term extension Tuesday) are interchangeable. This makes us a better all around team. We’ll score more points with Danny and it’ll take pressure off the bench.”
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The basketball world is coming to Toronto in early 2016. Multiple sources told the Toronto Sun Tuesday that the Raptors are on the verge of landing the 2016 NBA all-star weekend. An official announcement is expected within a week that will reveal further details of how one of the sport’s biggest weekends will tie into Toronto’s 20th-anniversary season. Tim Leiweke, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO, made it clear upon taking over the company that landing the prestigious event was one of his early goals. “Clearly the 2016 all-star game is a flag in the sand that we planted with the NBA. It is a must-have in my opinion and it will be the centrepiece of how we rebrand this,” Leiweke said in May. He also has said that Raptors fans “deserve a little bit of positive news.”
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant made the media rounds at ESPN today, joining SportsCenter in the morning and other appearances throughout the day. But his most interesting interview came on ESPN22s SportsNation show, where hosts Max Kellerman and former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley asked him interesting questions on a variety of topics. You’re known for having a lot of tattoos, but business tattoos on the torso and the back, but none on the arms. What’s up with that? Kevin Durant: “Nothing. I’m eventually going to get some on my arms. Having tattoos on your arms, does that make you a worse person? I don’t know, I guess. There’s nothing against getting them on my arms, I eventually will. But I guess it’s hardest to get them on your torso and back, they hurt the most, so I had to get them out the way.” … You picked up more technicals than ever before last year. What was going on? Kevin Durant: “Nothing. I was just getting upset a little more at stuff. But there’s nothing different for me, I’m sure I’m going to get more techs, maybe not as many as last year, but I’m sure I’m going to get some techs this year at some point. That doesn’t define who I am as a person. I’m just a feisty basketball player who enjoys competing at the highest level. Sometimes thing don’t go your way and I reacted more than I should have. I apologize to anyone who I offended by my techs, but I’m sure I’ll get a few more.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Heat players have shown no sign of complacency off two championships. Wade indicated he was working out until 1:30 a.m. Monday night, Norris Cole has been shooting jumpers late into the night and Chris Bosh has been working hard on his game in California. A bunch of others, including Michael Beasley, have been doing on-court work at AmericanAirlines Arena. And Greg Oden, continuing to progress from his history of knee programs, has been doing work both on court and in the weight room. ### Add veteran NBA swingman Roger Mason Jr. to the list of players auditioning for the Heat. Mason, who's workout out for Miami this week, averaged 5.3 points in 69 games for New Orleans last season and shot 41.5 percent on three-pointers. Swingman Von Wafer was invited back to Miami for a second week of workouts but has been unable because of an injury.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: A national sports blog that shall remain nameless cited Tony Parker’s recent declaration of fatigue following EuroBasket 2013 as Reason A why Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t enamored with his players spending their summers balling for their native countries. … But the passage, coming on the heels of reports that Spurs general manager R.C. Buford implored Parker to watch his minutes during the tournament, implied that Popovich and Co. take an adversarial stance to international competition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, Popovich sounded less a high-powered basketball coach than a beaming father in his reaction to France’s historic triumph.I told him two things. First, I’m incredibly happy for you because it puts you on another level. To help your country win is more special than you. Now have a special place in the history of French sports. Secondly, I told him how proud I was of his development. … Despite the image he presents as the snarling, sarcastic curmudgeon from hell — much of which is grounded in reality — Popovich is also a renaissance man with interests ranging far beyond the basketball court. Be it good conversation over a vintage bottle of wine or helping his assistants develop into head coaches, he’s all about the experience. So how in good conscience could he deny his players, particularly one he’s spent as many years grooming as Parker, the opportunity to realize a lifetime achievement? Despite the inherent risks involved, that’s something Popovich simply won’t do. Contrast that with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, whose opposes international play in large part because the NBA doesn’t make any money off it. Who would you rather play for?
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: A low-post scorer like Al Jefferson can make Kemba Walker’s job so much easier. Higgins detailed Tuesday how central Walker was to successfully recruiting Jefferson, who signed a three-year, $40.5 million contract in July. At Walker’s exit meeting last season with Higgins and general manager Rich Cho, Walker was asked what upcoming free agent might be most helpful. Walker pulled out his phone, called up a list of those players, and said Jefferson was clearly his top choice. So Higgins reminded Walker that he and Jefferson share an agent, Jeff Schwartz, so it was Walker’s job to start the sales pitch, months before Jefferson officially became a free agent July 1. Walker went to work, scheduling a meal with Jefferson in New York City to express what a good fit this could be. The Bobcats followed up on that effort by immediately making a pitch at midnight the first day of free-agency. Jefferson flew into Charlotte for a visit, expressed his desire to sign here and the deal was done. What are the Bobcats getting from the largest free agent signing in franchise history? “Al addresses so many needs for us,’’ Higgins said, a week out from the start of training camp at UNC Asheville Oct. 1. “Once we decided to amnesty Tyrus Thomas, ownership gave us the green light to find a difference-maker. He is a difference-maker.”
  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Perhaps the only sense of normalcy in Jared Sullinger’s life right now is basketball, one reason the Celtics’ workout facility in Waltham has become something of a refuge for the second-year forward. Though Sullinger may still be prosecuted for domestic abuse stemming from a Sept. 3 incident involving his longtime girlfriend, the Celtics have no intention of distancing themselves, according to Danny Ainge. “He’s a good Celtic, and he’s a guy we have big hopes for,” the Celtics president of basketball operations said before yesterday’s annual charity golf tournament at Wollaston Golf Club. “He hasn’t done anything that we think is so wrong he shouldn’t be part of our team today.” Though the girlfriend, who has moved to Ohio, reportedly does not want to pursue charges, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office may forge ahead. “The outcome is looking good, but we can’t talk about that,” said Ainge. “It hasn’t reached a conclusion. Jared has been in training camp every day working out. He’s taking care of everything in the exact right way that he should, and I think Jared is a good kid. This was a distraction, but I don’t think it will be a distraction now because he knows the story, and some day you guys will, but because of the legal proceedings it can’t be publicized. He can’t talk about it.”
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Back from a brief vacation in his home state of Louisiana, Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe was working with his teammates today, in preparation for training camp next week. Having worked out with U.S. Olympic basketball hopefuls during the summer, Monroe should be ready for a big season at both power forward and center under first-year coach Maurice Cheeks. “We’ve had discussions about me playing both positions,’’ Monroe said. As far as his stint at the Olympic camp, Monroe said: “I felt great at the trials. It allowed me to gain some confidence and get some good run. I don’t even want to say quality — it exceeds quality playing against the guys of that caliber. I got insight from NBA coaches, college coaches, (Mike Krzyzewski), one of the greatest coaches ever. I got a lot of midsummer insight that you wouldn’t get over a normal summer.’’ Surrounded by great players, Monroe and Pistons teammate Andre Drummond were able to glean things from the U.S. staff and players.
  • Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee: As publicity stunts go, this one achieved maximum impact: Shaquille O’Neal blew into town as the unlikeliest of new Kings owners – a jaw dropper since O’Neal was the rival player most responsible for preventing a Kings championship a decade ago. He also infamously coined the phrase “Sacramento Queens” to mock the local team. But on Tuesday, O’Neal had attracted one of the best attended news conferences in recent memory and hoisted the first lady of California over his head. Yeah, strange bedfellows. I was still shaking my head from the Shaq show at the Kings practice facility Tuesday when suddenly there it was on Twitter. A shot showed O’Neal lifting Anne Gust Brown – the brilliant and powerful wife of Gov. Jerry Brown – like a paperweight over his head at a power dinner hosted by the new Kings owners at Zocalo in midtown. O’Neal had a huge smile on his face in the photo. The first lady? Uh, well, you couldn’t see her face. … We saw a whole new side of the first lady while Shaq and the Kings seem to have matters well in hand. On Tuesday, they gave a sneak peek of their vision of the new arena – “an indoor/outdoor” building billed as a dynamic public space instead of a big box taking up blocks of prime real estate. If it works, you’ll be able to make all your arena transactions – food, drink, foam fingers – with your smartphone. Ranadive said the Kings’ first game will be broadcast live in India, where he was born and one of the biggest untapped foreign markets for the NBA. “We want to rejuvenate Sacramento,” said O’Neal as Ranadive beamed. They seemed unstoppable.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Stephen Curry took a cue from a players-only meeting when the majority of the Warriors arrived back in the Bay Area right after Labor Day and wrote a win-total goal on the board in the practice-facility locker room. Though he wouldn't divulge the precise number at the time, he did say that it started with a five - as in, at least 50 wins. But the exactitude of the players' consensus objective no longer seems to matter. Head coach Mark Jackson erased it. "I was wondering who put it up there," Jackson said to a gaggle of reporters Tuesday. "If you put that up there, that's a target. I don't want any limits. Anything could happen. That could be a great number, or that could be putting a ceiling on us." … Jackson wouldn't guesstimate the Warriors' win total for 2013-14, saying only that "I want to be a very good basketball team with a chance to win the whole thing." But he consistently talked about the importance of players who were lost, like Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, and stressed the significance of the chemistry in last season's locker room.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Grant Hill had a myriad of options for life after basketball. There was speculation — and some mutual interest — for him to join the Suns’ front office and there were chances to get away from basketball with his involvement in politics, art, business, filmmaking and fatherhood. Hill is staying in the game, even after retiring in June from playing it. Hill, 40, will be the co-host of the resuscited NBA Inside Stuff, the popular half-hour sports and entertainment show that aired from 1990 to 2005, while also serving as an analyst for TNT and NBATV. Yes, that makes him the new Ahmad Rashad. But rather than Julie Moran, Willow Bay or Summer Sanders, Hill’s co-host will be Atlanta morning radio sports talk show host Kristen Ledlow for 26 weekly episodes during the season and special editions. The all-access show will start airing Saturday, Nov. 2, at 9 a.m. Arizona time on NBATV. The notion that Hill, a Phoenix Sun from 2007 to 2012, would join the broadcast side after an 18-year career seemed like a safe bet. He has the gift of gab, populartity, respect and a close friendship with Scooter Vertino, the NBA Digital vice president of content who previously produced NBA on TNT.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentine:l Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders loves a good piece of art. Now he will get to play on one. The Bucks unveiled the Robert Indiana-inspired design for their new BMO Harris Bradley Center court at a festive event held Tuesday night at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Sanders and teammate John Henson did the honors of unveiling the look as Bucks fans, team employees and community members waited for the big moment. After the speeches, including one by former Bucks radio and TV announcer Eddie Doucette, fans had a chance to pose for pictures with Sanders in front of the floor model. "It looks really fierce," said Sanders, who loves to design skateboards and is a strong supporter of the local arts scene. "It has a sharp edge to it. Also it looks kind of simple, like we're here to do our job. We're here for business. "And it's green; it's not too colorful. It's not too distracting. I think it's awesome." The original MECCA floor which the Bucks played on at the Arena in the late 1970s and 1980s was more colorful. But this court has the M design (in hand-stained hard maple) running through it and has a few subtle touches, including the 1971 NBA championship trophy pictured in the center of one sideline.
  • Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 66, made no mystery of his desire to replace recently fired Ben Howland at UCLA, carrying out a media campaign to rally support. He was passed over for former Indiana star and veteran coach Steve Alford. When the Bucks filled their coaching vacancy with Larry Drew, it seemed to signal the end of Abdul-Jabbar’s coaching hopes. “It didn’t work out and that’s the way it goes,” Abdul-Jabbar said on Tuesday, speaking before an appearance at the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue and 47th St. Wednesday. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer was there to promote his latest book, “Sasquatch in the Paint,” loosely based on his upbringing in Manhattan. “I’m not going to ram my head against the wall. It’s time to move on. I’m not actively pursuing that,” Abdul-Jabbar said of looking for future coaching jobs. “Writing has been a nice thing for me. I’ve been pursuing that more so than anything else.” He’s worked as a special assistant for the Lakers for the past six seasons, but will not be back this season, according to a Lakers spokesperson. Despite his inability to secure another desirable NBA job - he’s also toiled with the Los Angeles Clippers and Seattle Supersonics - Abdul-Jabbar harbors no animosity toward a player like Jason Kidd, who was hired as Brooklyn Nets head coach shortly after his retirement. “That’s great for Jason,” he said. “I don’t exactly know how that situation evolved but obviously they thought he had some talent, so I’m happy for him, but I couldn’t explain to you what it’s all about. It’s impossible.”

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: Wednesday

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
5:14
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Considering that Thibodeau and Forman were often seen talking shop during Summer League games in Las Vegas as if it was business as usual, maybe next season was all they were really “thinking about.’’ But at least one source feels that would change if forward Luol Deng is traded or allowed to walk into free agency without an extension next summer. “Ask Tom how important he thinks Luol is,’’ the source said. “How happy do you think he would be with that decision?’’ Not very. Then again, it would also depend on what the Bulls would get in return or if there was a bigger free agent whale to hunt down because of the salary that would be saved by allowing Deng to walk, as well as amnestying Carlos Boozer. What can’t be downplayed, however, is with Bulls camp opening up Sept. 27, there is a very good chance that it will be Deng’s last one in the red and black. Derrick Rose is undoubtedly the face of the franchise, but Thibodeau insisted a handful of times over the past two years that Deng “is the glue.”
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons training camp is about two weeks away, and Josh Smith is wasting no time getting ready. The forward is intent on fitting into his new environment. “I got lost the other day, but I’m finding my way around,’’ said Smith, who signed as a free agent this off-season. “I listen to my GPS. I just need a couple of places to eat. I have a cousin here, and that helps.’’ From the work he put in with the coaching staff today at the Pistons’ practice facility in Auburn Hills, it’s obvious that he’s focused and ready to make the team a playoff contender. “I’m just trying to polish up on things,” he said after working with assistant coach Rasheed Wallace on the perimeter and in the low post. “I’m trying to be more consistent on my mid-range and long-range jumper. I’ve been working on it hard each and every day here.” … Wallace said the key is to keep Smith in his comfort zone. “You don’t want him doing things he’s not used to doing,’’ Wallace said. “We’re trying to get him comfortable making the 15- to 18-foot jump shot.’’ Don’t be surprised if Smith sees time at both power forward and small forward with the Pistons.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Using spiritual predecessor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a model, he should be in for another elite season. Similar to what Duncan did last season at 36, the former Lakers star actually improved slightly at 37, enjoying bumps in shooting efficiency, total rebound rate and blocked shot rate while recording his best offensive rating in at least seven years. (Due to incomplete box scores, Basketball Reference’s figures only reach back to 1977-78 in that category.) Abdul-Jabbar capped his 16thNBA season with one of the most underrated achievements in history, dominating Boston’s Hall of Fame frontcourt to win the Finals MVP. “Enjoy him,” Lakers coach Pat Riley said after that feat, “because there will never be another one like him.” Well, not quite. As secure as Abdul-Jabbar’s legacy is, Duncan has provided a rather impressive facsimile of perhaps the most durable player in NBA history. While Abdul-Jabbar had ceased to be an impact defender at around 33 or 34 — Duncan, it should be noted, was named second-team All-NBA last season — it wasn’t until he hit 40, at which point he’d played more than 1,604 games, that his offensive game followed suit. Duncan won’t hit that age milestone for another 2 1/2 years, and he’s “only” played 1,391 career games including the postseason. Different bodies, different players, different eras — but also more than enough similarities that it’s reasonable to expect Duncan can follow a similar path. Indeed, he already is.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: As the New Orleans Pelicans prepare to open training camp Oct. 1, guard Austin Rivers is already brimming with confidence. Rivers said he has worked intensely to improve his overall game since July, when he led the Pelicans' summer league team with a 18.2 scoring average. Although the Pelicans significantly improved their backcourt this summer with the additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, Rivers said he's eager for the intense competition to begin. "I can't wait for the year to start because this is the best that I've ever felt and it's showing when I'm playing,'' said Rivers, who made only 37.2 percent of his shots last season as a rookie and averaged 6.2 points and 2.1 assists. "Mentally, I have 100 percent confidence right now, where last year I was trying to figure things out. So now when that ball tips off, I'm just thinking about winning, playing and having fun.'' Rivers, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft out of Duke, struggled through the opening half of last season. He showed some improvement after the All-Star break but missed the final 23 games after suffering a fractured right hand in March. In effort to get physically and mentally prepared for the upcoming 82-game regular-season schedule, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Rivers has stayed busy.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden’s play in his first season as his team’s go-to scorer moved him among the league’s top 10 players, but even more will be expected in his second season with the Rockets. As bright as the spotlight will be on Dwight Howard, it will shift to Harden late in games when he must grow into a more efficient, polished closer and less reliant to iso-heaves when the ball and Rockets’ chances in close games are in his hands. He will likely earn the most playing time on the team, reducing the role for his backups. In addition to the two point guard backcourts, Francisco Garcia will likely pick up many of the minutes as a backup shooting guard. If Garcia plays as a small forward, a player that has to compete for a roster spot could win that and a place in the rotation. Reggie Williams’ shooting could be valuable, but he will have to compete for a roster spot with the offseason additions at the three.
  • Craig Grialou of ArizonaSports.com: Eric Musselman said he and Gerald Green, who played with New Jersey before landing in Indiana last season, still keep in touch. "I look at him as a guy that in 20 years I'll still be talking to him," Musselman said. "When he was with the Nets and they played the Lakers (in L.A.) he came back to our practice and sat for a two-and-a-half hour practice, and it was on a game day. You don't see many NBA players leave their hotel on their own, figure out a way to get there, stay and then hang out with (his former) teammates in the locker room afterwards. That's the type of person he is." Musselman added Green is also a good locker room guy, someone who will keep the mood light with jokes and impersonations. "He does me very well," Musselman laughed. "I think the Suns have done a great job of getting a guy kind of under the radar that you can have in your rotation. He gives you energy and an identity because he can get up and down the floor, which is what coach (Jeff) Hornacek wants to do. And he's a better defender than people think as well. Sometimes he needs to be a better off-ball defender, but that will come in time. "I think the Suns organization is really going to like him."
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics have spent the past few months paring down their roster to slice contracts and avoid the luxury tax and Tuesday they waived journeyman Donte Greene before he even appeared in a Boston uniform. The forward, acquired Aug. 15 from the Memphis Grizzlies for center Fab Melo, had a nonguaranteed deal entering this season and lopping off his $1 million salary lowers the Celtics until the luxury tax threshold, considered a must by ownership for a team not expected to reach the playoffs. … The Celtics are now paying out $71.2 million in salaries, $200,000 under the luxury tax threshold.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Coach Randy Wittman isn't going to put pressure the 6-8 small forward to start or be the savior of a franchise that hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2008. Most of that responsibility will rest on the shoulders of John Wall, who signed an $80 million extension in the off-season. There are no illusions with Porter. While Wall is the face of the franchise who makes his teammates better, Porter is regarded as more of a "glue" player who can fill various roles on both ends of the floor. They don't expect him to go on 40-point outbursts or be the closer in the fourth quarter. While that will lead to plenty of questions from the outside about what's wrong with Porter, it fits the bigger picture that Wittman appears to have in mind. The front office, as well as Porter, seem to be on board with that plan. There's a lot of competition at small forward with Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza and to a lesser degree at the moment Chris Singleton. Webster is the team's best three-point shooter and Ariza is its best one-on-one defender. By season's end, however, Ariza could be gone as a free agent when his contract expires. Singleton has a team option that the Wizards might not pick up. And Porter could then be ready for a greater role.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The 35th pick last season, Draymond Green bulked up to about 245 pounds in preparation for his first pro season. But he developed knee tendinitis, which curtailed his workouts and allowed his weight to increase. In May, he hit 250. By the time Green arrived for the Warriors' Las Vegas Summer League in July, however, he had made a major body transition. He didn't crash diet, opting instead to eat right and go to the gym. He has toned, not lost, his muscle and has kept the weight off. "Nobody is just going to bully me," he said. Green said his conditioning is better, he's moving quicker, is getting off the floor better and his knees are fine. All of that should add to the Warriors' versatility and depth. "If you want to go with an all-defensive, shutdown team, you can do that," Green recalled telling owner Joe Lacob recently. "If you want to go with a super athletic team, you can do that. If you want to go with a big team, you can do that. If you want to go with a crazy-shooting team, you can do that.”
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Jason Terry is bringing his tattoo tradition with him to Brooklyn. Terry, who has famously gotten tattoos when playing for the Mavericks and Celtics, said Tuesday morning that he’ll be getting another one by the time the season opens on Oct. 30 in Cleveland. “BK All Day,” Terry said with a smile at a community event in Brooklyn. “You heard it here first.” Terry said the tattoo will be unveiled on Opening Night, but declined to say where he’ll be getting it placed on his body. “You’ll see,” he said, still smiling. Terry first made news with his tattoo selections back in 2011, when he got a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien Trophy — given each year to the NBA champion — prior to the start of the 2010-11 season. The Mavericks went on to complete a magical playoff run, culminating with an upset of the heavily favored Miami Heat in LeBron James’ first season on South Beach to win the title.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Former Spurs center and current front office member Sean Marks will reportedly slide into a new role this season, joining Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff to fill the slot left by Brett Brown. Marks, 38, has been with the Spurs in an executive capacity for the past two seasons, most recently serving as director of basketball operations and general manager of their D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros. The new gig will surely allow Marks to maintain his role as Tim Duncan’s pre-game workout partner. Marks played 48 games for the Spurs from 2005 through 2007. They were one of six teams the good-natured New Zealand native played for over 11 NBA seasons, during which he averaged 2.8 points per game. Brown left to take over as head coach in Philadelphia, the second defection of the summer after lead assistant Mike Budenholzer accepted the No. 1 job in Atlanta. Former Indiana assistant Jim Boylen filled the latter vacancy, making Ime Udoka the dean of Popovich’s support staff in his second year with the Spurs.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Remember that 2011 trailer tease for a Steve Nash documentary with Owen Wilson giving a quirky take that Nash’s name sounded like an action hero? Work has continued on the project, titled “Nash.” It was in part extended by the need to add a new chapter to the independent film. After some of documentary was screened at Vancouver Film Festival, the Suns traded Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer. The movie also needs more money to finish editing, graphics, licensing for footage and photographs and has turned to a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to finish it. Nash’s film company is not involved in the project and filmmakers do not want to turn to Nash for financial support because that damages a documentary’s authenticity. Nash gave access to all parts of his life to producer/director Michael Hamilton and the film will include interviews with President Barack Obama, Ron Howard, David Beckham, Snoop Lion, Doug Ellin, David Blaine, David Stern, Wilson and NBA players Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Yao Ming and Baron Davis.

TrueHoop TV: Rodman on Rodman

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
2:05
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
What is Dennis Rodman up to these days?

"I've been doing nothing for the last 13 years, man, and having a blast doing it baby!"

This he says from the TV set where he was shooting, of all things, a Wonderful Pistachios "Get Crackin'" commercial.

The NBA Legend tells us about his remarkable life, saying that in fact "I don't get it either," why people still find him so fascinating.

 video

The Lakers won't win free agency

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
12:33
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Luring the kind of players who can bring titles to Lakerland will be tough.

The history of the Lakers is that they may stumble now and again, but never for long. One way or another, huge names come to play in L.A., and as a result they contend near-constantly.

The franchise is by any measure one of the strongest in sports, and here's a crazy statistic: Since beginning life in Minneapolis in 1948-1949, the Lakers have never gone more than eight years without making the NBA Finals. To keep that streak alive, they'd need to make it back in the next five years. The race is on.

This year has all but been conceded, with stopgap post-Dwight Howard signings combining with aging players to produce a team ESPN Forecast predicts will finish 12th in the West.

But wait, the Laker faithful say, until the next star arrives to save the day. And it's true, the Lakers have everything it'd take to lure a major player by free agency: a desirable city, a respected brand and deep pockets at the ready.

And let's be honest, for all the excitement about the 2014 draft, in terms of likely impact, it’s nothing compared to what the 2014 free-agent class could become. Need I remind you LeBron James can opt out of his contract, as can Chris Bosh and almost every single member of the Miami Heat? Carmelo Anthony could be on the market, along with Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. The year after that names like Kevin Durant and Paul George become realities.

So ... why all the long faces, Lakers front-office executives?

Why did a source close to Lakers management tell ESPN.com: "Within the organization there isn't a single person that believes we can bring LeBron aboard"?

Why was GM Mitch Kupchak on Colin Cowherd’s radio show in the last few weeks saying "I don’t know if we’ll get a star player”?

The first reason is that the Lakers may not have all that much cap room. Getting huge amounts of cap space would require a ground-level reboot, yes, including renouncing Kobe Bryant, which seems unlikely now that the team has used its one-time-only amnesty cut on Metta World Peace. (If you were going to part ways with Bryant a year from now, it would have made much more sense to amnesty him before this year, when he is making a ton of money, and is a threat to be diminished recovering from an Achilles injury.) With Bryant in the fold, there might not even be enough money to offer a free agent a max contract.

There are conceivably ways the Lakers could have Bryant and huge cap room, as Bradford Doolittle has explained (Insider). But it would take a big pay cut for the Black Mamba, who has been sending signals that he intends to do no such thing. Instead, he's saying he intends to play at a high level for years to come, and without taking a pay cut. He’s the highest-paid player in the league at more than $30 million a season. The new collective bargaining agreement restricts team spending all kinds of ways, and prevents almost all other NBA players from making anything like that much. But big contracts such as Bryant's were grandfathered in, and every player in the league is entitled to seek pay raises, no matter how much he made last year. If Bryant keeps making anything like that what he makes now, and the Lakers still have Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and various cap holds, they’ll only have around $15 million for a free agent, which means asking a star to take a pay cut to join a vacant and aging roster. It's hard to envision realistic trades that could alter that math enough to matter.

The second reason the Lakers may struggle to get a free agent is that Bryant has gained a reputation as a difficult teammate. The Lakers have been a fine destination of late for role players, but not for would-be stars such as Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Shaquille O’Neal and Andrew Bynum, none of whom get the ball as much as they'd like, and all of whom, despite playing well, become targets for media scorn.

“Pau is a two-time champion and a five-time All-Star and he’s one of the most disrespected players ever,” notes one agent. “He gets bad press all the time.”

Another agent says: "The Lakers are Kobe. You have to understand that. It's not the organization for you if you want the ball or the spotlight. All that glitters ain't gold."

I asked a third agent, who has a Lakers client right now, if he thought Bryant might be a sticking point for free agents. His immediate response: "Uh, duh. Yes."

This might sound like a lot of rumor spreading, but players already have declined the option to play on the Lakers alongside Bryant. Howard turned down more guaranteed money to move on to a less celebrated franchise.

And don’t forget the fascinating case of Ramon Sessions. He was the toast of the Lakers for a brief spell -- and when he reached free agency there was every chance he could have returned as the Lakers’ starting point guard.

Instead he declined the Lakers' offer and opted to become the backup point guard for the Charlotte Bobcats, who were coming off the worst season in league history. Sessions has never expressed the slightest hint of regret.

The multiyear deal Charlotte offered was part of Sessions' calculus. But sources with knowledge of his thinking say tricky Lakers politics, where the blame tends to fall everywhere but with Bryant, was also on his mind.

The theory of finding a star to play alongside Bryant hinges on the notion that such a star would find joy in doing so. But who’s the role model for that? Here’s a Nash quote, from an interview this summer on Grantland:
I knew it wasn’t gonna be the same. I felt like I was going to try something new, and that I was going to adapt — and to accept that, and embrace it. I think it’d be nice to find a middle ground where he does his thing but the ball still can move for great parts of the game. Hopefully we can find that this season. But I knew it wasn’t going to be the same. When you play with Kobe Bryant, the ball is gonna be with him most of the time.

Does Nash sound joyous to you?

Bryant is the face of the franchise, a huge moneymaker and a global icon. It would take tremendous guts for the Lakers -- whose embattled lead decision-maker, Jim Buss, has already been belittled publicly, many times, by the likes of Phil Jackson -- to rile up Lakers fans by parting ways with Bryant.

But keeping Bryant isn’t simple either, especially when trying to rebuild through free agency.

Of the stars on the Lakers’ short list, Anthony is said to be the only one who might actually sign with L.A. in 2014. But even that courtship starts on rocky ground. For one thing, there’s no assurance it will work. Bryant and Anthony top the list of stars modern analysis shows hurt their teams with their unwillingness to share the ball, and neither is a defensive stopper at this point. And then there’s the matter of Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni -- he and Anthony already had to be separated once before, in New York.

The Lakers are among the most successful franchises in sports by any measure, and history suggests they’ll find their way out of this latest bind, too. Either some star will come to L.A. to play with Bryant, or one day the Lakers and Bryant will part ways and some star will fill the void. The Lakers have the money to spend and the cachet. It will work, eventually. It always has.

But there is one last concern: The Lakers have succeeded in the past in no small part by outspending their opponents. Historically big salaries got the Lakers the likes of O’Neal from the Magic, Phil Jackson on the sidelines, and an unprecedented 25-year-deal kept Magic Johnson a Laker for life. They even outspent the competition to get Wilt Chamberlain back in the day.

The 2011 collective bargaining agreement, however, really does constrain top spending in more meaningful ways than ever -- it functions as a de facto hard cap. The Lakers may have the league’s best local TV deal, with plenty of dollars to spread around in theory. But they simply can’t woo LeBron or Carmelo by offering to pay more than anybody else.

So they have to win free agency by being a more attractive franchise in other ways -- which is tough.

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: Monday

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: There hasn’t been a single team in NBA history impacted in any significant way by their 15th man, and the 2013-14 Spurs won’t be the first. That much is clear from the collection of has-beens, are-nots and never-weres with whom they’ve been connected in recent weeks about possibly filling their final roster spot — Josh Childress, Mickael Pietrus, Sebastian Telfair, Sam Young, even the seemingly-retired Mike Bibby. Just because there has been apparent contact doesn’t mean anything will come of it. Witness the epic duel between Eddy Curry and Josh Powell during last year’s training camp, with the Spurs passing on both to maintain the roster flexibility that allowed them to take a flyer on Australian big man Aron Baynes. Even if the Spurs do look elsewhere, the names illustrate the few weak spots on a roster that was otherwise strong enough to push defending champion Miami to the absolute limit in last season’s Finals. They boil down to two clear roles: Reserve small forward, to scavenge for whatever crumbs Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green don’t hoard; and back-up point guard, a spot the Spurs have yet to secure despite having three already — Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo and Patty Mills.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: A league that only now appears to be getting serious about performance-enhancing drugs is about to make a move to statistics on steroids. The question is whether we are about to enter the era of too much information. With the NBA announcing Thursday that it has expanded its partnership to install SportVU Player Tracking technology in every NBA arena, the league not only will be able to track points, rebounds and assists, but also how the ball is moving, how players are moving, and, as the NBA announced, "a continuous stream of innovative statistics based around speed, distance, player separation, and ball possession for detailed and targeted analysis of players and teams." We could bemoan sports turning into math, but there also is an appreciation that simplicity will remain in place, as well. The ultimate truth will remain scoring more points than your opponent. In announcing the expansion to league-wide coverage with the fullcourt motion-capture technology, NBA Executive Vice President of Operations and Technology Steve Hellmuth said, "We are a league driven by data." And that's the rub. If any NBA executive truly views the game that way, then the game is becoming less of a game.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Ryan McDonough had waited years for the opportunity to run his own team, build a roster, and determine the fate of an organization. The Phoenix Suns have allowed the former Celtics executive to do that, and then some. The Suns didn’t have a coach when McDonough was hired as general manager, and had a roster in need of demolition. In four short months, McDonough has completely restructured the team, dumping unwanted players such as troublesome Michael Beasley and dealing away veteran Luis Scola, who didn’t have a long-term role. Like his former employer, Danny Ainge, McDonough is working to replace old with young and stockpile draft picks and salary-cap space for future gain. The Suns are a lottery-bound team this season but there is renewed hope. “Walking in there, the main thing I wanted to do is upgrade the talent,” said McDonough, who moved or released five of the team’s top nine scorers from last season. “And do it in a fashion that was sustainable for the long term. I didn’t want to try to take any shortcuts or try any quick fixes.” With the moves McDonough executed, the Suns potentially have five first-round picks over the next two seasons in addition to the presence of budding point guard Eric Bledsoe (whom the Celtics wanted in any deal with the Clippers involving Kevin Garnett), rookie center Alex Len, and potential standout Archie Goodwin.
  • Leonard Greene of the New York Post: You might have thought from the sweat that poured through his crisp blue shirt Sunday that Bernard King had just stepped off the court after a grueling playoff game. But the perspiration that stained his collar was just testimony of how humbled King was by being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Such humility is inspiring, particularly when it comes from someone so deserving. … “Bernard King is the only guy that ever scared the hell out of me,” Dominique Wilkins said. Behind the menacing smile was a player with a determination as strong as his post-up game. That was evident in every quick-release shot and punishing fast-break finish. But the highlights that best sum up King’s career have nothing to do with scoring. In the first, King is writhing in pain, pounding the floor after tearing his ACL on a defensive play. In the second, he’s strapped to a machine rehabbing the right knee as part of his improbable comeback. And, in the third, he is sitting next to Patrick Ewing at the NBA All Star Game hearing his name called on the public address system. The comeback was complete.
  • Curtis Harris for The Indianapolis Star: Roger Brown became a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer on Sunday, with another Hall of Famer telling people what the former Indiana Pacers superstar in the old ABA meant to the franchise. “People say that I put the Indiana Pacers on the map,” Reggie Miller said. “No, it all started with Roger Brown.” Brown, who died in 1997, was presented by Miller and Hall of Famer Mel Daniels, a teammate of Brown’s. Brown’s daughter, Gayle Brown Mayes, called it “a really special day” but “bittersweet” because of her father’s absence. During the induction, Mayes was on the stage with Brown’s son, Roger Jr., plus Miller and Daniels. Brown Jr. spoke on behalf of the family in a video played at the induction. He thanked Miller and Daniels, saying, “There is nothing more bestowing than having two Pacers legends usher in a fellow Pacer legend through the doors of the Hall of Fame.”
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: Don't look now, but Jan Vesely may have found his confidence. So far in Eurobasket 2013, the Wizards' forward certainly has found his game. Plying for the Czech Republic along with Washington's 2012 second-round pick Tomas Satoransky, Vesely leads the entire tournament in rebounding (11.3) and is tied fourth in scoring (18.5). For some context regarding the talent on hand for the tournament in Slovenia, the scorer Vesely is tied with is San Antonio Spurs star and French guard Tony Parker. … What any of this means regarding the team's upcoming decision about Vesely's contract for the 2014-15 is intriguing. With Okafor and Trevor Ariza coming off the books, with Bradley Beal and Otto Porter on their rookie contracts, Washington should have solid cap space next summer. Picking up Vesely's $4.2 million option eats into some of the space. As the No. 6 overall pick in 2011, the Wizards certainly want Vesely to succeed. The franchise is also thinking playoffs which makes it harder for on-the-job training (it was even during last year's 29-win season). Even amid his NBA struggles, Vesely's flashed solid on-court instincts as a passer and as a high-riser in the open court. No player floundered more last season with John Wall sidelined. So far in Eurobasket, Vesely's performance is that of someone the team would love playing alongside the highly paid point guard.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: NBAers Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson and Tristan Thompson again led the way. Joseph had 19 points, Nicholson had 17 and Thompson had 10 rebounds to go with eight points. Canada’s outside shooting vanished again (16.7%) as a lack of scoring and depth again came back to bite a team that played solid defensively. “The biggest fear was that scoring was going to be an issue for us,” Triano admitted. “Everybody can say: ‘You have four NBA guys, but our four NBA guys average 25 points combined (in the NBA). It’s not like they’re going to double that or triple that when you play international games.” Though Canada Basketball will try to organize exhibition games next summer, barring an unlikely wild-card berth, the team won’t play its next meaningful contest until Aug. 1, 2015, when qualifying begins for the Rio Olympics. Triano isn’t expecting anybody to bail after this letdown in Venezuela. “We need to get these guys together and play as many games as possible,” he said. “I stay in touch with these guys all year all the time anyway and will now even moreseo because of the relationship we’ve all built over the last 40 days of being together. From the passion and the way these guys care, I don’t think there will ever be a recruiting period. These guys have bought in. They want to do this.” They just couldn’t. Yet.
  • Brendan Savage of MLive.com: Detroit Pistons forward Luigi Datome scored 19 points Sunday to help Italy remain unbeaten in the European Basketball Championship with an 81-72 victory over Greece. Datome, the reigning Italian League MVP who signed with the Pistons as a free agent, sank 8 of 16 shots – including three 3-pointers – and also grabbed four rebounds as Italy improved to 4-0. He made a pair of 3-pointers during a 19-6 run that broke the game open. "It's nice we beat Greece, but we know we haven't won anything yet," Datome said in a story on EuroBasket2013.org. "We just want to compete with other teams like until now." Italy is the only unbeaten team in the 24-team tournament.

First Cup: Friday

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
5:16
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Bob Wofley of the Journal Sentinel: Caron Butler’s introduction as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday at Racine Park High School was a press conference wrapped in a family reunion inside a high school pep rally. Butler, 33, warned those gathered in the fieldhouse where he played for a year that there might be some water works to go with his words. He made good on his prediction. “I’m a little emotional definitely,” Butler said. “Y’all see me crying at press conferences and at other things all the time – draft night – but it’s a different emotion now because this is a dream come true. This is something that I always dreamed about, thought about. I never thought it would happen. So it’s special. Thank you.” The enthusiastic audience of Park high school students and staff in attendance applauded Butler’s heartfelt comments, like this one, when some words quivered and he teared up. Butler was joined at the press table by coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond. Bucks owner Herb Kohl also was in attendance. Hammond said he had Butler penciled in as the Bucks’ starting small forward.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Gar Forman isn’t into playing -favorites. Sure, the Bulls’ general manager is eager to see what Derrick Rose 2.0 looks like when the MVP point guard takes the court in full five-on-five scrimmages in less than a month, but it’s about the big picture for Forman on what could be a make-or-break season for his current roster. … As Boozer also knows that this group has a shelf life that is on the brink of running out. Deng is a free agent after this season, while Boozer is a prime candidate to be amnestied. It’s basically now or never for the core in the 2013-14 season. But it will all start with Rose. Like he promised at the end of the season, he doesn’t play pick-up games in the summer, and that didn’t change this offseason. So Rose’s first real test will be Oct. 5, in a preseason game in Indiana. “He hasn’t been playing in games [this summer], but that’s not unusual for a lot of players,’’ Forman said. “He’s done his work and has put the time in on making himself better.’’ Now it’s about seeing what Rose will look like post-knee rehab. Less than a month away and counting.
  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: It perhaps took some time, but Stephen Curry seems comfortable in his role as the man. He's long since been anointed by Warriors management. And his playoff performances pushed him up a tier on the star hierarchy. But now his teammates, the youngsters and the newcomers, are looking to him for guidance. His coaches are expecting him to be a vocal leader. The fan base is banking on him carrying the franchise to heights it hasn't sniffed in decades. And the fifth-year guard seems to be embracing it all matter-of-factly. "I'm 25. Still young. But I know the drill. I know the expectations," Curry said in a chat with local media after working out at the team facility Thursday. "For me to have the same coaching staff, the same leadership, for three straight years is big. ... We have the stability for us to make that move (to another level), and I hope to lead that charge." Certainly, Curry's not alone in leading the locker room. David Lee and center Andrew Bogut share the leadership load, and Andre Iguodala figures to eventually emerge as a leader. But not even Curry's reputed humility can help him escape the pedestal on which he is now perched.
  • Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com: Even after spending $117 million in free agency in July and August, Minnesota Timberwolves president of operations Flip Saunders will have another sizable monetary decision to make. Before his third year begins -- Oct. 31 is the deadline -- the Wolves need to figure out if they will pay forward Derrick Williams $6.3 million for the 2014-15 season. In a phone conversation earlier this week spanning a few topics, Wolves owner Glen Taylor acknowledged the team isn't quite sure what to do. "We'll evaluate his summer program, and how he looks coming into camp (which starts Oct. 1)," Taylor said. "I heard he is looking good." Exercising Williams' fourth-year option is potentially enough to carry the Wolves over the luxury tax and not allow them to sign a free agent for the mid-level exception, according to Grantland.com's Zach Lowe. Williams is working out in Los Angeles with trainer Gunnar Peterson, who said recently via email that Williams is stronger and more balanced than a year ago.
  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The league on Thursday announced plans to install sophisticated tracking cameras, known as the SportVu system, in every arena for the coming season, creating an unprecedented treasure trove of data about virtually every wrinkle of the game. SportVu, developed by Stats LLC, records data points for all 10 players, the three referees and the ball, every 30th of a second, measuring speed, distance, player separation and ball possession. Every step, every dribble, every pass, every shot, every rebound — really, every movement — will be recorded, coded and categorized. … The N.B.A. is the first major professional sports league in the United States to fully adopt the SportVu system. It will have other implications for the league, far beyond the playbook and the box score. Not everyone might welcome the change. General managers will surely exploit the more sophisticated statistics when negotiating contracts with player agents. Not all assists, points and rebounds are created equal — and teams will soon be able to demonstrate that vividly. Referees are also tracked by SportVu, which means the league will have yet another tool to analyze every call, non-call and missed call as it ranks its officials. Those rankings help determine which referees are chosen for playoff assignments and the finals.
  • Steve Serby of the New York Post: Former Knick Bernard King took a timeout for some Q&A with Steve Serby before King’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction this weekend. Q: What are you most proud of? A: I’m most proud of the fact my wife and I raised a wonderful daughter. That’s what life is all about. In terms of basketball legacy, we could always point to back-to-back 50-point games, the 42 I averaged in the Piston playoff series, or the great year in ’84-85, or the 60 points (Christmas Eve against Nets). What stands out in my mind was what I was able to do at a time when players were not coming back from ACL injuries. I had my entire knee reconstructed. I was told I would never play again. I told myself, “I’m from Brooklyn. I’m from Fort Greene. I grew up on the toughest playgrounds in the world. In one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country, and I made it all the way to the NBA, and I rose to the top of my profession at that time. You don’t know my heart. If I could do that, this is nothing!” I set about the task of working to make it back at a level I could be satisfied with. I did that. To do that for five hours a day, six days a week for two straight years, and not once wavering, always having faith. … I did it. I became an All-Star again, and that was my goal.
  • Staff of The Sacramento Bee: Chris Mullin, 50, a former front-office executive with the Golden State Warriors, will have a variety of basketball operations responsibilities, including advising Ranadive and general manager Pete D'Alessandro on player transactions and scouting. "I couldn't be more excited about joining the Kings and playing a part in making this team a winner again," Mullin said in a statement released by the Kings on Thursday. "I'm especially grateful for the unique opportunity to work in close proximity with a world-class ownership group led by Vivek Ranadive and the talented group of individuals assembled in our front office."
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: In a move that could bolster their perimeter defense and add competition in training camp, the Lakers signed free-agent guard Xavier Henry on Thursday to give them 14 players on the roster. Terms of the deal weren’t immediately available. But considering the Lakers’ desire to keep cap flexibility for the 2014 offseason, it’s likely Henry’s contract consists of a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum. It’s also unclear if his contract is guaranteed. The Lakers recently added small forward Shawne Williams and Elias Harris to partially guaranteed deals. The Lakers are expected to sign second-round draft pick Ryan Kelly, though he’s still rehabbing from foot surgery in April. NBA teams can field a maximum of 15 players on their roster. … The Lakers plan to have anywhere between 18-20 players to fill out their training camp roster, including Marcus Landry, who led the Lakers’ Summer League team in scoring. It’s likely Henry, Kelly, Williams, Landry and Harris will compete for roster spots since the Lakers will keep anywhere between 13-15 players.
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Two NBA sources have confirmed that Steve Hetzel, former Cavaliers video coordinator, will be hired to coach the Cavs' owned-and-operated NBA Development League team, the Canton Charge. The hire was first reported by the News-Herald. Hetzel, a 2005 graduate of Michigan State where he served as a student manager for the men's basketball team, was named the Cavs' video coordinator in July, 2006. He stayed until 2009, when he left to join former Cavs assistant John Kuester's staff with the Detroit Pistons. After Kuester was fired, Hetzel remained with Lawrence Frank for two seasons. Hetzel replaces D-League coach of the year Alex Jensen, who left the Charge to join Tyrone Corbin's staff in Utah.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: France atoned for its opening loss to Germany, riding five double-figure scorers to a resounding 88-65 victory over lowly Great Britain on the second day of play at EuroBasket 2013. Nicolas Batum led all scorers with 17 points and Tony Parker added 16 at Les Bleus improved to 1-1 in Group A. The game, as expected, was never close. France led by double-figures after one quarter, and put Great Britain away for good with a 26-11 outburst in the third quarter. France, which also got 11 points from Nando De Colo and four from Boris Diaw, will play group bottom-dweller Israel on Friday. Also at EuroBasket, Italy improved to 2-0 in Group D with a 90-75 spanking of Turkey. Spurs reserve Marco Belinelli had 17 points for the Italians, who will Finland on Saturday. Across the Atlantic at the FIBA Americas championship, Canada destroyed Mexico 89-67 behind another strong performance from Cory Joseph. The young point guard registered 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists — his fourth game of the tournament with at least 17 points, eight boards and four assists.

First Cup: Thursday

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Robert MacLeod of The Globe and Mail: Masai Ujiri’s priority is to inject life into the terminally ill Toronto Raptors, but his basketball roots will forever run deep in his native Africa. Ujiri, hired in May to be the Raptors’ new general manager, recently returned from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he led a handful of NBA stars, past and present, on a four-day pilgrimage designed to try and grow the game on the vast continent. It was the 12th annual Basketball Without Borders mission into Africa. The NBA’s global development and community outreach program’s aim is to unite young basketball players, promote the sport and encourage positive social change in the areas of education, health and wellness. The NBA has run the program, in collaboration with the sport’s global governing body, FIBA, since 2001, and this summer, similar camps were also staged in Argentina and Portugal. Ujiri, 43, was born in Nigeria, and he overcame incredible odds to become the first African-raised GM of a major North American professional sports team. … “Coming here to Toronto, I want to win, I want to build and grow,” the GM said Wednesday, during an interview in his sunlight-flooded corner office that overlooks Union Station in downtown Toronto. “I also think I’ve been put in this position to give back to the kids of Africa. It is a 100-per-cent obligation for me.”
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The students are given a break in November and December, allowed to visit any remaining family or friends across the country. That's when Luke, apparently, was first introduced to his new favorite player. He heard Westbrook's name on the radio, saw a few highlights and decided he liked the Thunder. “It was definitely not something, coming to Rwanda, that I thought I'd have in common with an 18-year-old boy,” Dewey said. “But it just shows that the Thunder is huge. I live in the middle of nowhere. It's crazy that the Thunder is reaching these tiny, tiny areas in the heart of Africa.” The two developed a bond over the next few months, grown through teaching but sparked by that initial basketball connection. So when Betsy's father, Lyle, was coming to visit her in late July, they had an idea. Lyle wanted to bring gifts for the students, and what would they enjoy more than Thunder gear? Through word-of-mouth and Facebook, Lyle, an executive assistant at Bailey Oil in OKC, gathered donations at his work. In all, he packed more than 60 Thunder shirts, to go along with banners, an official team basketball and other memorabilia. Soccer is easily the country's most popular sport, but basketball has recently gained a little steam.
  • Justin Giles of the Deseret News: NBA teams have big decisions to make when it comes to their young guys. Because of the collective bargaining agreement and luxury tax implications, teams must weigh the choices before deciding on player options and if players are worth long-term contracts or not. The Utah Jazz have made their decisions, as they will exercise the options on both Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. Does Kanter deserve it? According to Grantland writer Zach Lowe , “Kanter hasn't done quite enough to justify a monster $5.7 million fourth-year option, but that's due to playing time issues; Kanter didn't play in college, and he's been No. 4 in Utah's big-man pecking order. He barely cracked 1,000 minutes last season, much fewer than we'd expect from a No. 3 selection working as a full-time rotation player on a .500 team.” Burks is an interesting combo player who can play both the point guard position as well as shooting guard. With a little more experience, Burks could prove to be a steal when he was picked 12th by the Jazz in the 2011 NBA draft.
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Given that green traditionally means go, it's great news for Cavaliers fans when new center Andrew Bynum says his rehabilitation has "all been green.'' In an exclusive interview with The Plain Dealer, his first since the press conference announcing his signing on July 19, Bynum said he's on schedule to return this season and there have been no setbacks since he started working out at the Cleveland Clinic Courts in late July. "I moved here a week after the press conference, I've been here ever since -- day in and day out just working,'' he said, referring to the team's practice facility. "I'm there, focused. I'm doing everything I can do to get back. That's what all this is all about for me right now. I just want to play." … While the team thinks it would be great if he was ready for the start of training camp on Oct. 1, if he doesn't hit that exact date, it doesn't mean he's behind schedule. "It's a fluid process,'' Bynum said.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Healed, cleared, delivered: Channing Frye is yours, Phoenix Suns. After a year away from basketball due to an enlarged heart, the Suns’ deep-shooting big man said he is healthy and was cleared for all activity by doctors at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He began working out and returned with his family to Phoenix. All he awaits now is word from the Suns that their doctors concur. “They told me, ‘No human being is 100 percent healthy. The highest we give is a 98 percent. You are a 98 percent,’ ” Frye said. “They said, ‘We see this all the time.’ I don’t have any fear. I’m not scared to push myself and run and play and get my heart rate up. I’m just waiting on the paperwork. I’m healthy. It’s out of my hands. It’s up to the Suns and what they feel comfortable doing.” … Frye said a virus caused his heart’s enlargement, which shut him down before the Suns went to training camp last year. He said the condensed lockout season of 2012, stress, lack of sleep, coffee and energy drinks were contributors. Even if Frye is cleared, he likely will not be in playing shape when the Suns open their season Oct. 30. He is just beginning to do the off-season work that he normally would have done in May and June because he was restricted to golf, yoga and set-shooting for most of the past year.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: David Lee got up from his seat, swiveled and lifted just enough of his practice jersey to reveal a newly sculpted six pack of abs. With those moves, the Warriors' power forward affirmed the points he had been trying to make during a just-concluded 15-minute interview: Even after offseason surgery, he said he is in the best shape of his life, and while his team is finally receiving some lofty preseason praise, he isn't resting on those predictions. "We could finish last in the West or we could finish first, but I think we have the ability to be a championship-caliber team," Lee said Wednesday, a day after most of the Warriors reported to voluntary workouts at the team's downtown Oakland facility. "We still have a long way to go, but if you look at where we were three years ago ... and where we are right now, it's very exciting. It comes with a level of responsibility, because now we're going to have a target on our back - rather than being a team that everyone underestimates."
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Lance Stephenson is impressed with the moves the Nets and Knicks have made this summer, but said he still thinks his Pacers are the team best-suited to challenge the Heat in the East. “I think we’re good,” Stephenson said at a back to school event in Brooklyn Wednesday. “When I’m on the court, and I know when my teammates are on the court, we think we’re better than anybody. “I think we’ve got a good chance to be the number one team [in the East]. We just have to work hard, put it together and do what we need to do to make our team better this year.” After spending his first two years mostly riding the bench for the Pacers, last season Stephenson became one of the NBA’s breakout players. With All-Star Danny Granger spending virtually the whole season on the shelf with knee injuries, Stephenson started 72 games during the regular season and all 19 of Indiana’s playoff games, helping the Pacers push the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: For a team that has had little success the past five seasons, the Washington Wizards have been an unlikely source for teams looking for front office talent. Mike Wilson, the Wizards’ head of college scouting for the past nine seasons, is the latest to join the exodus from Washington after accepting a player personnel position with the Dallas Mavericks. Already this offseason, Pat Connelly left his position as director of player personnel to become assistant general manager of the Phoenix Suns and former vice president of player personnel Milt Newton was hired as general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Former assistant coach Jerry Sichting also left to become the lead assistant with the Suns and assistant athletic trainer Koichi Soto is expected to join the Timberwolves head strength and conditioning coach. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman and their respective staffs are all in the final year of their contracts, but all of the departing individuals have received significant promotions to go elsewhere.
  • Michael Kaskey-Blomain of The Philadelphia Inquirer: It is rare at 25 years old to be considered an elder statesman of anything. Many 25 year olds are just finding their way in the working world, let alone being looked to for leadership. But with six professional seasons under his belt and a roster comprised of fresh faces, that is exactly the position Thaddeus Young finds himself in heading into this season with the Sixers. With much of the Sixers’ roster comprised of rookies and other fringe free agents, Young stands as the team’s longest-tenured and most experienced player. He has seen a handful of coaching changes since the Sixers selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft, as Brett Brown will serve as his fifth head coach in seven seasons. Young has also played under Mo Cheeks, Tony DiLeo, Eddie Jordan and Doug Collins. His role has consistently changed under each coach as well, as he has been both a starter and a reserve, and spent ample time at both forward spots.
  • Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca: Nearly halfway home, but not even close to being done. That sums up the status of the Canadian men’s national team as they take a brief pause at the FIBA Americas tournament in Caracas, Venezuela. The event has reached the second of three distinct stages. With their blowout win over Uruguay late Tuesday night in a game delayed nine hours due to a power outage, Canada concluded group play with a 3-1 record and advanced from Group A in second place. They now have four games against the top four teams from Group B, beginning with their game at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday against Mexico, followed by contests against host Venezuela, Argentina and Dominican Republic. … After the first four games of the Steve Nash era, these are some of the things we’ve learned about them: 1. Canada has a point guard; 2. Canada has a big man tandem to be reckoned with; 3. Canada is deep; 4. The wing position remains a challenge; 5. The team is becoming a team.
  • Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: You hear the joy in her rising voice, you see the pain in her tears, you feel the triumph as she clenches her 84-year-old palms together. Arlena Smith is going back. She’s talking about Roger. Sometimes it hurts, hurts her now because it hurt him then. The day he showed up on her doorstop, exiled from the game he cherished, broke with nowhere to turn. The phone calls she’d get from him, crying, tired of the story that wouldn’t die and the questions that wouldn’t stop. Sometimes, though, it’s pure bliss. Before he became the backbone of the ABA’s Indiana Pacers, Roger Brown became her adopted son, a member of the family. Their good-natured barbs during his AAU games in Dayton. She’d call him “gramps” from her spot on the scorer’s table – “Cuz he moved so slow!” After his team won, he’d walk over to her and ask, “So, how’d I do?” with his cocky grin, knowing full well he was the best player on the court. She watched him blossom into a star, one of the best the ABA ever saw. Sunday, after 17 years of waiting, he enters the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Economists vs. tanking: Justin Trogdon

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
2:41
PM ET
By Justin G. Trogdon
ESPN.com
Archive
Patrick Ewing
Noren Trotman/ NBAE/ Getty Images
Back in 1985, the Knicks scored the top pick in an unweighted draft lottery and landed Patrick Ewing.

I was asked how I would end tanking in the NBA. We could get radical and do away with the draft altogether, screw parity and let the free market determine what each player is worth right out of college and which teams are willing and able to pay for him. That’s the libertarian answer that you might expect from an economist.

But I’m a bleeding heart liberal economist, one that’s concerned about equity. And in the NBA, equity means parity -- every team having a fighting chance.

The NBA draft tries to equal out the playing field by trying to direct the best talent to the teams that need it most. However, by doing so, we’re forced to risk tanking to improve parity. (Or at least the chance for parity, assuming management and owners know what to do with their draft picks.) How should the league manage this balancing act between parity and tanking in the draft?

Here’s the thing, they already have a great tool to tip the scales away from tanking, all within the current system of amateur drafts, luxury taxes and limited first contracts. But first, a history lesson.

Go back with me to 1985. New Coke. “Back to the Future.” Stallone at his apex.

And Patrick Ewing.

If ever there was a reason for teams to tank to get a chance at the first pick, Ewing was it. But, my colleague Beck Taylor and I have crunched the data, and we found no evidence that teams tanked that year (Taylor and Trogdon, 2002). Why? In 1985, the first year of the draft lottery, every non-playoff team had an equal shot at Ewing (at least in principle).[1] Once a team was eliminated from the playoffs, there was no benefit from additional losing. In fact, the lottery was instituted to avoid tanking, which we showed was happening even in the prior season. So if the lottery was supposed to end tanking, why is it still a problem?

Jump ahead to 1989. New Coke is gone. Milli Vanilli. Shoulder pads. And the NBA switched to the current weighted lottery system, which gives teams with worse records more opportunity for higher picks (i.e., more pingpong balls). Eliminated teams don’t guarantee higher picks by losing, but they increase their chances. Here’s the key point from our analysis of this system -- teams were likely to tank again, but not as much as in the pre-lottery days.

That means the league already has a tool to address tanking -- lottery weights. The lottery weights are a control dial that can be set to tweak the parity/tanking tradeoff. On one end of the dial, the weights are the same for all teams (e.g., 1985). This would eliminate tanking but there’s a chance a “good” non-playoff team gets the top pick (less parity). On the other end of the dial, the weights just sort the non-playoff teams from worst to best to determine the draft order (e.g., pre-1985). The teams most in need of talent get the best options (more parity), but lots of tanking. You could even use the lottery weights to reward the winningest teams post-elimination.

If Adam Silver, the next NBA commissioner, is serious about ending tanking, he doesn’t need to reinvent the entire draft process to do it. He’s already got the right pingpong ball machine for the job.

Justin G. Trogdon is a senior research economist at RTI International.

Jordan's forgotten advantage over LeBron

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
12:08
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
LeBron James, Michael Jordan
Mike Ehrmann/Nathaniel S. Butler NBAE/Getty Images
Michael Jordan's 3-point shooting was poor -- except during the seasons when the line was shorter.
After securing two consecutive NBA Finals MVP awards, LeBron James is finally drawing Michael Jordan comparisons that are actually favorable. In theory, time is on James' side as he’s a year younger than Jordan was when his Bulls steamrolled the Portland Trail Blazers for a second title. After all, if Jordan was able to stay productive into his mid-30s, then LeBron should be similarly blessed. It would seem that James is on pace to match or eclipse MJ's absurdly high level of play in these upcoming years, with no baseball break to slow him down. The battle is on.

But this isn’t exactly a fair generational fight. Unlike MJ, LeBron isn't getting a gigantic, league-sanctioned gift.

At the start of the 1994-95 season, in response to fears of a scoring decline, the NBA went from a 3-point line that extended 23 feet, 9 inches, to one that was 22 feet all the way around. The famous "It’s gotta be the shoes!" slogan didn’t actually explain Jordan's basketball genius, but a couple of feet really did help his production.

There’s lore of how an aging MJ stayed on top by refining his post game, but it's often ignored that his latter career prowess had a lot to do with the 3-point line migrating into Jordan's shooting range. For reasons that may always elude me, some players are super accurate from deep midrange but are weak from a step or two farther out. Jordan was one of those guys. Basketball’s least efficient shot, the long jumper, was ridiculously efficient under Jordan’s command, indelibly so when launched over poor Craig Ehlo and Bryon Russell.

On 3s, he wasn’t so Jordan-like. In seasons where he played with the longer 3-pointer, Jordan shot a terrible 28 percent from long range. With this in mind, it’s no wonder he famously shrugged after hitting six 3s in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals. That season, the sport’s greatest player had averaged 0.3 made 3s a game on 27 percent shooting.

When he returned from the baseball diamond to the newly shortened 3-point arc at the end of the 1994-95 season, Jordan's distance shooting was about all that went right over 17 clunky regular-season games and his subsequent playoff exit. His 50 percent 3-point mark that season presaged how an older, more grounded Airness would come to dominate after a summer of sharpening his skills to fit the new rules.

He came back that fall and, at age 32, had one of his greatest seasons. Not only did Jordan’s team famously win 72 games, but MJ posted his most efficient shooting season in five years while claiming his second-best win shares mark. He was less potent inside the arc and less explosive around the rim. But he shot a scalding 42.7 percent from 3. A season later, Jordan's (still good) 37.4 percent 3-point shooting augmented otherwise slipping numbers.

Of the 581 total regular-season 3s Jordan sank over his long career, 238 of them came in the little more than two seasons he played with the short line (1.3 3s a game with a shortened line, and 0.39 3s with a longer line). Credit the greatest player ever for being savvy. When the 3 point-line retreated, he went on the attack, launching shots from distance more frequently while hitting 40 percent of his treys, like a regular Ray Allen. Jordan knew his strengths and his limits. He knew he was deadly from 22 feet and feebly inaccurate from 23 feet.

Perhaps an even greater testament to Jordan’s game was his ability to persevere after the NBA took away his edge. The league reverted to the old 3-point line in Jordan’s final Bulls season and his shooting took a hit. Though he reduced his long attempts significantly, he sank just 23.8 of his triples and suffered a drop in scoring efficiency. Despite that, Scottie Pippen playing only 44 games, acrimonious feuds with management and Jordan turning 35 that season, the Bulls somehow won 62 games and an eventual title. Jordan keyed a vicious defense while grinding out just enough offense to triumph overall.

So none of this is to say that Jordan had it easy or that the rule change completely explains his late-career success. It’s more to say that rules influence how or what a player does, even a player who seems bigger than the game itself.

It’s also fun to consider what LeBron might do with a 22-foot arc. Last season, according to NBA.com/stats, LeBron shot roughly 52 percent on 3s in the 22-24 foot range. (He has long been a lot better a bit closer to the hoop -- for instance, in the corners -- while hoisting many longer 3s regardless.) Imagine the seasons LeBron could have with, to borrow a baseball term, a shorter center-field porch. He might make Michael’s greatest seasons look tame by comparison.

TrueHoop TV: Rookies on rookies, part 2

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
1:29
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The 2013 NBA rookie class met at the Knicks' training facility on Tuesday to have their pictures taken for their rookie trading cards. We asked them to show off some of their knowledge of past NBA rookies. We published Part 1 earlier.

In Part 2, the players tackle tough questions like: Did Bill Russell win Rookie of the Year? How about Gary Payton, or Monk Meineke?

The lineup is as follows:
  • 49th pick Erik Murphy of the Chicago Bulls
  • 5th pick Alex Len of the Phoenix Suns
  • 38th pick Nate Wolters of the Milwaukee Bucks
  • 23rd pick Solomon Hill of the Indiana Pacers
  • 11th pick Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers
  • 10th pick C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers
  • 20th pick Tony Snell of the Chicago Bulls
  • 15th pick Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
  • 12th pick Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Undrafted Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today
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