TrueHoop: Boston Celtics

Breaking (very) bad in Boston

October, 24, 2014
By Jack Hamilton
Special to
Rajon RondoAP Photo/Steven SenneLet the pain begin. The Boston Celtics' struggles figure to continue for the foreseeable future.
There are many ways to be a good basketball team, and probably more ways to be a bad one. There is the bloated badness of too many of the wrong kinds of players on the wrong kinds of contracts; the callow badness of youngsters fumbling their way through professional basketball; and, of course, the timeless, quotidian badness of absent talent, of poorly constructed teams made of poorly equipped players.

The 2014-15 Boston Celtics have managed to collect all of these badnesses onto a single basketball roster, one that vaguely resembles a game of "NBA 2K15" in which you let your opponent (presumably an ill-humored 12-year-old) pick your team. It's been a long time since a Celtics team was this bad in this particularly depressing sort of way. Recent history includes last season's 25-57 record, the 24-win season of 2006-07, even the wretched 15-win 1996-97 campaign, but each of those were naked tanks, upward-failing grabs at Tim Duncan, at Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, or at the Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker/Joel Embiid trio. None of these prizes came to pass, of course, but at least there was usually a backup plan. The 1997-98 season saw a 21-win jump in the honeymoon period of splashy new hire Rick Pitino; in 2007 Danny Ainge pulled off the biggest Massachusetts-based summer blockbuster since "Jaws," acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett en route to the 2008 championship and the greatest single-season turnaround in league history.

This season promises nothing of the sort. A year removed from blowing it up and trading Garnett and team legend Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets and seeking to bottom out in the quickest way possible, the Celtics went into the offseason with intrepidly foolish hopes born of holding a decent lottery position and the much discussed, rarely defined "assets." This is the season we'll finally win the lottery, fans told themselves, or at least land in the top three. OK, top five! Or we'll trade for Kevin Love -- how hard could it be to pry another Kevin away from the Minnesota Timberwolves? What big, sweet-shooting Caucasian wouldn't want to play under the retired numbers of Heinsohn, Havlicek, Bird?

Well, to quote another great northerner, the devil fools with the best-laid plans. The Celtics fell to sixth in the lottery and, embracing the "talent over need" dictum, snatched up Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart. Smart is a promising player, a powerful, physical specimen who would have enjoyed superstar hype had he left college in 2013, as was widely expected. He's an athletic, savvy guard with a preternatural court sense and no jump shot. He also plays the same position as Rajon Rondo, another athletic and savvy guard with preternatural court sense and no jump shot, who happens to be the Celtics' best player.

This led to speculation that the permanently embattled Rondo was finally on his way out of town, for real this time, but getting superstar value for Rondo -- a walking medical red flag who is in the final year of his contract -- was never a robust prospect in a point guard-saturated league. And that was before Rondo broke his hand by allegedly falling in a shower the very same day he took his daughter to a trampoline park, a timeline of events that can't help but scan as rather suspicious. (Imagine, for a moment, an alternate world in which the trampoline-accident whispers are true: Leave it to Rajon Rondo to injure himself in an even weirder off-court activity than the prodigious roller-skating he's already famous for).

Assuming Rondo misses the start of the season, the Celtics' best player on opening night will be forward Jeff Green, a good player who shouldn't be the best anything on any NBA team, even a terrible one. Center Jared Sullinger has had a nice preseason, drawing particular praise for his impressive 3-point shooting, but no one aside from the most shamrock-goggled Celtics fan really believes the undersized Sullinger has the makings of a star player. The rest of the frontcourt is a patchwork of (literally and figuratively) green youth and high-priced detritus. Brandon Bass and Gerald Wallace are hard-working forwards who also make $17 million between them. Kelly Olynyk is an intriguing 7-footer who is a defensive work in progress in 2014 much like the Big Dig was a municipal work in progress in 1992. Tyler Zeller, acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the offseason, would make a great end-of-the-bench guy on the sort of playoff team the Celtics absolutely are not. Vitor Faverani is enthusiastic.

[+] EnlargeDanny Ainge, Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesFinding big-time talent has been tough for the Celtics since a pair of blockbuster trades in 2007.
The backcourt is a more exciting adventure, a talented bunch terminally burdened by asterisks. The team’s three best guards -- Rondo, Smart and defensive wiz Avery Bradley -- are the most shooting-averse trio since the Three Amigos (the actual ones). Marcus Thornton is a prodigious scorer whose best skill seems to be shot attempts, which, to be fair, is less a "skill" than an "interest." (As a snapshot into the Celtics-fan psyche, let me present this recent text message from a friend: "Marcus Thornton scored 14 points in 14 minutes on 13 shots. I'm intrigued.") One hopeful spot is James Young, a talented rookie out of Kentucky whom the Celtics nabbed with the 17th pick. A productive college player who got lost in the starry Wildcat draft-day shuffle, Young might prove to be a steal, except it's unclear whether he'll get much play behind higher priced offseason acquisitions Thornton and Evan Turner, both of whom play his position.

Earlier this year I wrote that, in the glow of the 2007-2013 run, Celtics management had won almost unconditional trust from the team's fans. A seemingly bird-in-hand David West spurns the team for Indiana? We'll be fine. Ray Allen bolts for Miami? We’ll be fine. Rajon Rondo blows out his ACL? We'll be fine. Pierce, Garnett, and Jason Terry traded to Brooklyn for picks and cap flotsam? We'll be fine. But right now, this is a depressing team facing depressing questions. Do they chase mediocrity with the roster they have, hoping that if everything breaks just right, they might land an 8-seed and quick exit in a shallow Eastern Conference? Or do they try to bottom out, again, but even better/worse this time, even if #oferforokafor doesn't quite have the same sparkly ring to it as campaigns from years past?

The only sure thing is the 2014-15 Celtics are going to be a bad team, and probably a very bad team at that. Worse, they'll be a bad team without recourse to fanciful hope or the illusion of direction. They probably won't be the worst team the franchise has ever put out on the court, but in all honesty, they often feel that way, particularly to those who've grown accustomed to winning, or even just relevance. Those people include only its best player, its front office and its entire fan base. But, hey, we'll be fine.

Jack Hamilton is the pop critic at Slate and assistant professor of Media Studies and American Studies at the University of Virginia. Follow him, @jack_hamilton.

Is the lottery the Celtics' ticket?

May, 22, 2014
By Jack Hamilton
Special to
Celtics fireCourtesy Jack HamiltonThe draft lottery hasn't been kind to the Celtics. Is trading in their ticket the best option yet again?
My fondest memory of the NBA draft lottery happened in May 2007. The previous fall I’d moved back to the Boston area, where I’d been born and raised, and for my homecoming had endured one of the worst seasons of Celtics basketball history. In January and February they’d lost 18 straight games; I’d watched every one of them. Sometime during that slump a friend and I ordered custom-made T-shirts bearing the names and numbers of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, everyone’s consensus top two picks that year. On lottery night, we convened at another friend’s house to witness America’s most-watched pingpong balls take their course. The Celtics -- owners of the NBA’s second-worst record and, to our minds, rightful inheritors of either Oden or Durant -- landed the fifth pick. A few hours later, on a deserted Cambridge street, the photo above happened.

It’s odd that this is my fondest lottery memory. That night was a traumatic and unhinged ordeal that could have easily landed several people in jail. But it was also a great evening, full of the ridiculous overinvestment and childish camaraderie that remind us why we follow teams in the first place. And of course it’s also my fondest memory because of what happened in the months after, when team president Danny Ainge spun crushing disappointment into one of the greatest offseasons in the history of pro sports. On draft night in June, Ainge flipped that hated fifth pick (along with Delonte West and Wally Sczerbiak) to the Seattle Supersonics for All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen. A month later, he shipped half a roster’s worth of future commodities to Minnesota for all-world power forward Kevin Garnett. The following June, Allen, Garnett and franchise icon Paul Pierce were clutching the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the TD Garden locker room.

Right now, that feels like a long time ago. Tuesday night, at the team’s first lottery visit since that fateful, fiery night in 2007, the Celtics landed the sixth pick in the 2014 NBA draft. This wasn’t the absolute worst-case scenario, but it certainly wasn’t what anyone was hoping for, even if it was what everyone probably should have been expecting. And if history is any indication, it’s cause for concern. The Celtics, you see, have draft difficulties, and by that I’m not simply referring to the fact that in the 29 years since the lottery began, the Celtics have never won the first pick. Complaining about lack of luck on behalf of any team that’s won 17 NBA titles is remarkably obnoxious, and I won’t do it here.

Besides, the Celtics’ draft misadventures over the past few decades haven’t been due to lack of luck, but rather lack of skill. Aside from a few scattered bright spots (Rajon Rondo at 21 with Phoenix’s pick in 2006, Paul Pierce at 10 in 1998) the modern-day Boston Celtics have not drafted well, and their trips to the lottery have been spectacularly inept. In fact, with the exception of Pierce -- a no-brainer who inexplicably fell to the team during one of the more erratic first rounds in NBA history -- the best lottery choice the Celtics ever made was in 2007, when they chose against making a choice at all.

The rest of the record is a bloodbath of stupidity. In 2006, the team traded its pick (seventh overall) to Portland for another failed lottery pick, underachieving point guard and overachieving firearm enthusiast Sebastian Telfair. The Blazers, with an assist from Minnesota, ended up with three-time All-Star Brandon Roy. In the early 2000s, the Celtics swung away at lottery immortals like Kedrick Brown and Jerome Moiso. In 2001, they snagged Joe Johnson at No. 10 but traded him less than 50 games into his rookie season. In 1997, they infamously failed to land Tim Duncan, then drafted Chauncey Billups at No. 3, whom they -- yes -- traded away midseason. That same year, they drafted Ron Mercer at No. 6, an inefficient gunner overvalued by his former college coach, Rick Pitino, who now happened to be running the Celtics. Another swingman, Tracy McGrady, went three spots later. And, of course, the highest pick the Celtics have ever held in the lottery era, the second pick in the 1986 draft -- obtained through another lopsided deal with the aforementioned Sonics -- yielded one of the greatest tragedies in NBA history, Len Bias.

And now here we are in 2014, with the Celtics holding the sixth pick in an allegedly loaded draft, and it feels like a nightmare scenario. I don’t trust the Celtics with this pick any more than I’d trust anyone with it. The lottery and the players it produces is exactly what it sounds like: a random, capricious and mostly cruel grab bag of results. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant’s respective team’s might meet in the Finals this year, but it won’t be anything like we once expected. And past drafts we now remember as great weren’t always understood to be at the time; 1998 produced three Hall of Famers in the top 10, but Michael Olowokandi went first overall and Robert Traylor was thought to be a better bet than Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce. The top five in 2003 begat four, but Darko Milicic was drafted ahead of three of them.

[+] EnlargeAaron Gordon
Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty ImagesShould the Celtics stay put and draft a guy like Aaron Gordon? Or will they roll the dice on a deal?
Teams that fumble their way into high draft picks are usually the last teams you’d trust to know what to do with them -- behold the Cleveland Cavaliers. And “building through the draft” is an inexact and often foolish process, as this year’s playoffs indicate. The Pacers are led by a swingman who was widely considered a reach at the 10th pick (Paul George), an allegedly upside-less center who fell into the later part of the first round (Roy Hibbert), and a second-round bygone prodigy whom most teams couldn’t stay far enough away from (Lance Stephenson). With the exception of Dwyane Wade, the Heat built through free agency; you might have heard about it. The last time the Spurs were in the lottery, Andrew Wiggins had just turned two years old. The Thunder are the exceptional team that did build through high draft picks, but for every OKC there’s a Minnesota, a Sacramento, a Milwaukee, perpetually mediocre teams trapped in spin-cycles of unfulfilled promise.

This year’s draft class is strong but probably overhyped and lacks a clear-cut franchise-changer in the mold of a LeBron or a Durant or an Anthony Davis. The prevailing view is that there is a precipitous talent drop-off after the top few picks. The Celtics say they’re confident they can land a player at No. 6, but they said the same thing about No. 5 back in 2007. And this Celtics team is in significantly better shape than the ’06-07 bunch: It has a top-shelf point guard in Rajon Rondo, an exciting young coach in Brad Stevens and intriguing, a decent array of intriguing, still-reasonably-priced young talent and a bevy of future draft picks.

If Ainge is smart -- and Ainge is smart -- he’ll pursue the same path he took seven years ago and dump this pick (and maybe a few more) on whoever’s dumb enough to want it. This year's top pick could end up being Kansas’ Joel Embiid, a raw big man of the sort who can save and kill teams in equal likelihood. When the dust settles, the best player might end up being Kentucky’s Julius Randle, currently flying under the radar since everyone already agrees he’ll be good (what fun is that?). Maybe he’ll fall to six, but maybe he won’t, and I don’t want to risk it.

Forget the lottery, forget the draft, forget the lure of the random and unknown. And besides, there’s always second chances. The fifth pick in the 2007 draft that ultimately turned into Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, a couple of Finals appearances and a 17th championship banner? Jeff Green, leading scorer for the 2013-14 Boston Celtics.

Jack Hamilton is the pop critic at Slate and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture. Follow him, @jack_hamilton.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

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

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

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

Atlanta Hawks

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Boston Celtics

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Charlotte Hornets

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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

Chicago Bulls

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Cleveland Cavaliers

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Dallas Mavericks

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

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

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

Denver Nuggets

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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

Detroit Pistons

Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

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

Golden State Warriors

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Houston Rockets

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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

Indiana Pacers

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Los Angeles Clippers

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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

Los Angeles Lakers

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Memphis Grizzlies

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Miami Heat

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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

Milwaukee Bucks

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

New Orleans Pelicans

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

New York Knicks

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Orlando Magic

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Philadelphia 76ers

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Phoenix Suns

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Portland Trail Blazers

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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

Sacramento Kings

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

San Antonio Spurs

Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

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

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

Toronto Raptors

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Utah Jazz

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

Washington Wizards

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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

ESPN Insider David Thorpe has been keeping an eye on the entire rookie class all season. As a learning exercise, he suggests the rooks study some of the top veterans in the NBA. With that in mind, we asked some of the top rookies who they watch in the NBA. Here are their answers:

Quotes were gathered by writers Israel Gutierrez and Michael Wallace, ESPN Dallas contributor Bryan Gutierrez, and TrueHoop Network bloggers Jovan Buha, James Ham, Andy Larsen, Andrew McNeill, Brian Robb and Kyle Weidie.

In their dreams

March, 18, 2014
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Who do the Sixers dream of drafting? What about the Bucks, Magic and Celtics? And have the Lakers already identified their man? We ask Chad Ford.

Mass. effect

February, 21, 2014
By Jack Hamilton
Special to
Rajon RondoAlex Trautwig/Getty ImagesStill in Boston after another trade deadline, Rajon Rondo faces an uncertain future with the Celtics.
How does it end? At some cruel snail’s pace, reprieve upon reprieve until there are suddenly no reprieves left? Does it end by not ending at all? As the trade deadline fades in the rearview mirror, Rajon Rondo is still a Boston Celtic, a reality that’s starting to feel permanently temporary. Last summer the Celtics jettisoned two Hall of Famers and a likely Hall of Fame coach in a span of days, assuring that they would be among the worst teams in the NBA in the 2013-14 season. All that seemed left was the team’s most valuable and prickliest asset, an obscenely talented 27-year-old point guard nursing a torn ACL who appeared certain to be next out the door.

Fast-forward to now, and the Celtics are indeed a bad team. They’re a bad team that plays hard, they’re a bad team that’s well-coached, they’re a bad team with some good players who are on the verge of being very good players. At the beginning they overachieved, lurching to a 12-14 record in an abysmal Eastern Conference by mid-December, while prompting genuine hope among fans (or, depending where you stood on the “rebuilding” question, genuine fear) that we might be looking at something like Phoenix Suns East.

We are not. The Celtics have since gone 7-22 and now fully resemble the collection of journeymen, works-in-progress and rejected trade-bait we always thought they were. And of course there’s that point guard, still here, and still that point guard. Since returning to action Jan. 17, Rajon Rondo has been playing into form, averaging a Rondo-esque 15.2 points, 9.4 assists and 6.4 rebounds in seven games in February. He’s back to his ball-handling wizardry and eye-popping assists, even though he’s passing to Chris Johnson and Kelly Olynyk instead of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, even though every day until today has brought whispers that it could be his last in green and white.
[+] EnlargeAinge/Rondo
Jim Davis/Getty ImagesIt's hard to fill in the gap between Danny Ainge's plans and Rajon Rondo's future with the Celtics.

Now we know that day won’t come for at least a little while longer, a bittersweet relief for Celtics fans who've now spent the better part of a year in a Stockholm Syndrome relationship with the team’s president, Danny Ainge. The deal that sent Garnett and Pierce to the Nets for draft picks and salary detritus was shocking, and in Pierce’s case, stomach-turning. But it made sense: There was no question that Pierce and KG were on the downside of their careers, and there was little question that Brooklyn dramatically overvalued them. It was a smart move by a front office whose ruthlessness had by now won almost unconditional benefit-of-the-doubt from its fan base (a rare achievement in Boston sports, and one that’s currently enjoyed by all of the city’s major pro teams).

Rondo is different, or at least we’d like to think so, and so would he. He’s in his prime and arguably the crown jewel of Ainge’s tenure, plucked with the 21st pick in the 2006 draft and nurtured into superstardom. His idiosyncratic frostiness has led many to label him a “savant,” lodged on the nether reaches of the basketball spectrum, but he’s more of an iconoclast, an artist who breaks molds with purposeful dismissiveness, as if to prove he’s not simply better than the world, but smarter than it. A philosopher once remarked that “talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target that no one else can see,” a comment that might as well have been inspired by a pass such as this. Or, for a non-basketball example, Rondo’s legendary proficiency at Connect Four, a game that most of us think of as simple until someone starts winning hundreds of times in a row, at which point, maybe we’re the simple ones.

He’s also myopically competitive, seemingly driven not simply by winning, but by the pleasure of beating everyone else. This doesn't lend itself to being a “people person,” and Rondo’s Sphinx-like aloofness has made him an alluring but psychically distressing figure for Celtics fans. At its core, sports fandom requires an irrational emotional investment in the physical and mental abilities of strangers, as well as an equally irrational belief that said strangers will produce returns on this investment, just for us. There is something about Rondo that feels deliberately unknowable, and our most obsessive and dangerous passions are those we constantly fear are unrequited: Does Rondo love us like we love him? Would we ever be worthy of it, and is he even capable of it? Does he hate us for even wondering? These have become sleepless questions in what was supposed to be a sleepy (if dreamless) season.

It’s all further complicated by the fact that the one brain in Boston that fans revere as much as Rondo’s is Ainge’s. The general manager’s relationship with Rondo is perpetually embattled, likely because they’re so similar -- two people who secretly believe they’re the smartest person in any room they’re in will often have trouble coexisting. Ainge came close to building a blockbuster around Rondo as far back as 2009, and since then, Rondo rumors have floated around Boston as reliably as the Swan Boats. This past fall, Ainge confessed that he tried to trade Rondo for Chris Paul in 2011, a calculated retroactive leak that seemed loaded with present significance.

Since then, every faux-exasperated protestation from Ainge that he has no intention of moving Rondo has only heightened fears that a divorce is imminent. Ainge keeps reassuring that Rondo is the future, but the longer you tentatively hold that pill in your mouth the harder it becomes to swallow, and years of Ainge snuffing out trade rumor flare-ups while pointedly never entirely extinguishing the blaze has made him hard to trust. It also makes it impossible not to wonder what he might know about Rondo that we don’t.

And of course we don’t know much, and Rondo isn't telling. He’s indicated that he plans to try out free agency in the summer of 2015, comparing it to the college recruitment process he feels he missed out on (Rondo has never forgiven his hometown University of Louisville for failing to sign him and nurses a perpetual grudge against coach Rick Pitino, giving him at least one thing in common with Celtics fans). And frankly, the logical thing would be to leave, to quietly seek an offseason trade or begin plotting a long-term exit strategy for 2015. After all, Rondo and Celtics fans both know that the team as it’s currently constructed doesn't give him the best chance to win.

But someday it might, and depending on the fortunes of the draft lottery, that day might come sooner than we think. There’s a difference between wanting to win and wanting to beat people: The latter comes from a superiority complex that’s paradoxically born from insecurity, and it’s more pathological than logical. Rondo’s contempt when Ray Allen left Boston for Miami in 2012 wasn't just about Allen leaving, but where he was going: He joined the team that had just defeated him, rather than trying to even the score. He chose winning over beating people.

From this vantage point, it becomes easier to imagine Rondo sticking around, provided Ainge lets him. I hope he does, and I hope that when Rajon Rondo finally leaves the Celtics, it’s many years from now, and a situation far different than this one. Everything ends, but rest assured that Rondo intends for his ending to be better than everyone else’s.

Jack Hamilton is the pop critic at Slate and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture. Follow him, @jack_hamilton.

Monday Buzz Bullets

February, 17, 2014
By Staff


Epic trade deadline

February, 3, 2014
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN Insider Chad Ford predicts an "epic trade deadline" because of this NBA season's strange set of circumstances where many teams are tanking, and thus are willing to part with talented players.

The NBA's "global money machine"

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

Hard lessons in basketball politics

December, 20, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Almost exactly three years ago Orien Greene was featured on TrueHoop. He's a fringe NBA guard who made an impression on some NBA coaches not with his resume or reputation, but his doggedness, strength, size and handle when it was time to play. "I was the guy," he says, "who would arrive at the workout with nobody knowing my name, but then when it was over, they'd want to keep me."

Danny Ainge saw him work out once and begged him not to work out for anybody else. The Celtics drafted Greene with the 53rd pick of the 2005 NBA draft.

Greene's 30 now, and there's no good reason he couldn't still be in the NBA. He isn't exactly a lights-out shooter, but he still has all the size, strength and mindset that people liked. If nothing else, he's the kind of player D-League GMs cherish.

But off the court he has become one sad complication after another, mostly of his own doing. And as a result he's a 30-year-old guy with a head full of riddles of the international power struggle between FIBA and the NBA and a yearning to pay the bills of his growing family by playing basketball just about anywhere in the world.

His problem is that he has been banned by FIBA for the better part of four years, and nobody seems to know much about exactly when, or indeed if, that ban will end.

Here's just one of the things Greene screwed up: He says he used to smoke marijuana, but doesn't anymore. To get around drug tests while playing in Amsterdam, he had a system of submitting urine that wasn't his own to the drug testers. He collected, he says, urine from three different clean people. And for a while it worked. But then it failed in various different fancy ways. As his time with the team was coming to an end, he took a drug test himself, with his own urine, and failed. Then, in the months that followed, somehow the sports' governing body figured out that other samples hadn't been his. There were interrogations, implications, some confessions.

"I didn't want to cooperate with nothing," Greene says. "One who was pissing for me, we didn't get along, so I told them his name. But I protected the two other guys. They put pressure on this other guy, and he kind of folded on me."

So they had Greene implicating one accomplice, and a different one confessing. You can see how FIBA felt they had to drop the hammer. "That kind of spiraled," Greene says, "into 'We don't want you to play nowhere.'"

In 2010, Greene was suspended for two years, backdated to 2009. But 2013 is almost over now, and he's still banned.

FIBA manages all kinds of difficult things, from the rules of international competitions to the transfer of players between countries. The NBA itself is not subject to FIBA jurisdiction, but the two bodies have staked out certain truces -- for instance NBA players play in FIBA-governed contests like the Olympics and World Championships, and the NBA won't let its teams go after players under contract in FIBA-governed leagues.

Which brings us to Greene's suspension, which seems to fall into a confusing gray area between the NBA and FIBA. Several times since Greene left Amsterdam, he has been "cleared to play" by different teams, including in the D-League, as he has been told at various times by any number of agents, lawyers, officials and advisors. There has been communication with FIBA itself in the form of various phone calls and emails that Greene can rattle off from memory. Put it all together and you get repeated instances of Greene being told he was cleared to play, then playing, and then later learning that he was never supposed to have played, had offended FIBA rules by playing. This is how his ban has lasted so long.

He has one story after another. He thought he couldn't play in the D-League, and knew he would have to go through some kind of background check to clear him to play. So when the Utah Flash wanted to add him to the roster for a playoff run a few years ago his thought was "Well, that ain't going to happen. I stayed home."

But then Drew Sellers, president of the now-defunct Utah Flash, told Greene he was cleared to play and picked him up at his house personally. Greene had a good game, the Flash won, and all seemed well in the world.

Then Greene learned FIBA was not cool with any of that, and his ban would be extended further.

There was another time he had a deal to play in China. The arrangement was that someone would meet him at the airport with his first paycheck. It seemed like he'd have real money to pay for his little children, something that gnaws at him. But instead of being met by someone with money, he was met instead by someone with a note from FIBA saying he was not cleared to play. He stayed a week trying to get it resolved, before returning home as frustrated as you can imagine.

Greene says that at one point a FIBA official told Greene the date his ban would end. Greene waited past that date, signed a deal, and then was told his ban had not in fact ended, and that the official he has spoken to was no longer at FIBA, and that his ban would be extended.

That's his story, these days. His professional life, for the last year and a half, has been nothing but one long ban extension, punctuated by a tournament now and again in the Middle East, which falls beyond the control of FIBA.

How does it all end? Who knows? But Greene says that in the interim, he has seriously downgraded his expectations. When we spoke three years ago, he was all about returning to the NBA. Now Greene says "I'm just focused on paying the bills, playing anywhere I can, 'cause I have kids now."

There are a lot of different ways basketball dreams wind down. Injury, age, bad luck. But this one, where the central challenge of his past few years has been not drug tests, nor bans, but finding out if he truly is banned or not ... that just doesn't seem like it should be a way to go down.

Top Offseason Moves

December, 19, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Last summer it looked like the Rockets and Nets had won the offseason. Amin Elhassan explains that now we're seeing teams in action, the Mavericks, Celtics, Suns and Pacers are among those looking smart.

TrueHoop TV: Big Rookie Finds

December, 3, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
It's hard to find a productive NBA big man. But the Celtics, Thunder and Nets pulled it off, with unheralded rookies Vitor Faverani, Steven Adams and Mason Plumlee playing well. David Thorpe on big men most of the league missed.

Celtics and Sixers exceeding expectations

November, 10, 2013
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Information
Remember all of that talk before the season about tanking? How the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were expected to lose a lot of games in order to position themselves for a top pick in the 2014 NBA draft?

Well, apparently the players and coaches didn’t get the memo.

Boston buzzer-beater
The Celtics went to Miami and upset the Heat on a Jeff Green buzzer-beater.

That’s not normal -– at least with LeBron James in the lineup.

The Heat had won 24 consecutive regular-season home games with James in the lineup entering Saturday. They hadn’t lost a home game with him since Jan. 4.

The Celtics somehow overcame 58 percent shooting by the Heat, making 10 3-pointers to notch their third straight win after starting 0-4. Perhaps first-year head coach Brad Stevens is already figuring this NBA thing out.

Green’s game-winner was his seventh career game-tying or go-ahead field goal in the final 5 seconds of a game. His 64 percent shooting on those shots (7-for-11) is the highest percentage for any player with at least 10 attempts since he entered the league in 2007-08.

Philly facts
The Sixers are another team with a first-year head coach, Brett Brown. After opening 3-0, including an upset win over the Heat to start the season, they lost two straight and looked like they were coming back to earth.

But their performances the past two nights against the Cleveland Cavaliers suggest the Sixers are going to compete night in and night out.

After a 94-79 victory versus the Cavs on Friday, the Sixers went for the home-and-home sweep Saturday in Cleveland. The Sixers extended the game to double overtime and almost earned another period but for a Kyrie Irving game-winning shot in the final second.

At multiple points down the stretch, the Sixers could’ve handed it to the Cavs. But a Thaddeus Young game-tying shot with 5 seconds left in the fourth quarter, an Evan Turner layup with 8 seconds left in the first overtime and a Michael Carter-Williams game-tying 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in double overtime kept the Sixers alive time and time again.

Turner set a career high with 31 points, Young was three points shy of his career high with 29 points, and Carter-Williams had a career-high 13 assists.

MCW for ROY?
Carter-Williams has distinguished himself as the early favorite for the Rookie of the Year award. He is the first player with at least 21 points, 13 assists and 7 rebounds within his first seven career games since Jay Williams for the Chicago Bulls in 2002.

Carter-Williams joined Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history with at least 130 points and 50 assists in their first seven career games.

With college stars like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker potentially up for grabs in the 2014 NBA draft, teams like the Celtics and Sixers were expected to be in position to acquire as many pingpong ball combinations as possible. But seven games into the season, the Sixers sit in first place in the Atlantic Division with the Celtics just one game back.

TrueHoop TV Live

November, 1, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Tom Haberstroh, Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Henry Abbott to discussed Heat at Nets, Spurs at Lakers and more.

TrueHoop TV Live happened Friday at 2p ET. You can watch the rebroadcast, or on the Spreecast website.

First Cup: Wednesday

October, 2, 2013
By Nick Borges
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Reggie Jackson is expected to serve as the emergency starter in Westbrook's absence, as he did in the Thunder's final nine playoff games following Westbrook's injury. Beyond that, though, the Thunder's first month and a half has suddenly become one big mystery. Is Jackson, who as of Tuesday morning still was projected to be the team's sixth man, now ready for a starring role? Can Kevin Durant effectively carry the load with defenses loaded up and locked in on him? How much does Derek Fisher, now 39, have left in the tank to offer as the presumable backup point guard? How good is Jeremy Lamb? Does Brooks have a backup plan? The Thunder's early-season success hinges largely on how these questions are answered. But the organization, from Thunder general manager Sam Presti to Brooks to Durant, pointed to last year's postseason as a steppingstone that prepared the Thunder for this situation and now stands as a source of confidence.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With the news that Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook would miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season because of a second knee surgery, the Rockets looked ahead to his return, rather than the play in which he was injured. Westbrook went out in Game 2 of the Rockets’ playoff series against Oklahoma City when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley collided with him while attempting a steal as Westbrook was calling time out. That inspired an angry on-court reaction from Westbrook and a backlash from Oklahoma City fans that escalated to death threats. “He’s a great athlete,” Beverley said. “I know he has the best doctors. I think he’s going to be fine. Our focus is on this upcoming season and for us to get better as a team.”
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: If this were football or baseball, there would be some debate about which is the player to beat for the title, "Greatest of All Time." In basketball, there's not. LeBron James clearly has his sights set on the guy locked in perpetual flight on the east side of the United Center. "I feel like I have the potential to continue to get better and to maximize my time while I play this game of basketball," James added. "I want to be the greatest." James is no dummy. He knows there's a long way to go before surpassing Michael Jordan. Winning championships was a necessary step and he's done that. I've always claimed there's no point trying to compare James and Jordan, because they are different players. Jordan was an alpha dog scorer who always had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Kobe Bryant is a better comparison for Jordan. Bryant gave it a good shot, but he's not going to surpass MJ as the greatest of all time. James is a stellar distributor who probably compares better to Scottie Pippen in style of play. Of course, James has gone way beyond Pippen's offensive capabilities. Instead of praising James for being a brilliant team player, he gets criticized for not being Jordan. But with these comments, James has invited those comparisons himself.
  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: If Kobe Bryant can win a sixth title, he'll match Michael Jordan's count. While the debate of who is the best player of all time is quite subjective, it's fun to mull over. Jordan added a little fuel to the fire with his comments promoting the NBA 2K14 video game, according to the Associated Press. How would Jordan fare playing one-on-one against players like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Bryant? "I don't think I would lose," said Jordan, "other than to Kobe Bryant because he steals all my moves." Bryant gave a quick response on Twitter. Domino effect. I stole some of his..this generation stole some of mine #thecycle
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It was iconic. And then it was gone. Now, apparently,LeBron James is about to again take a powder. Hidden as a hashtag on an Instagram post referencing his placement on the cover of the just released edition of theNBA 2K14 video game came this early Wednesday morning: #PowderTossComingBackToAnArenaNearYou Given up amid his turn for the serious as part of his successful bids for NBA championships the past two seasons, James can be seen on the 2K14 cover displaying the powder toss, as seen in the Instagram he sent out. … In the absence of the real thing, teammates Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller andJames Jones last season emulated James' iconic chalk toss in a pregame ritual, as James already was awaiting the pregame toss at center court. The NBA last season instituted a time limit on pregame rituals, forcing Heat guard Dwyane Wade to somewhat speed up his fullcourt fan salute, with the penalty otherwise a delay-of-game warning (the second and each subsequent of which is accompanied by a technical foul). Now, LeBron will find himself, and his powder, on the pregame clock.
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony privately pined for a secondary scorer in the offseason. And so far, after the first practice of training camp, Anthony is talking like he has got one in the Knicks’ key offseason acquisition, Andrea Bargnani. Anthony even said he would be willing to slide over from power forward to small forward to make room in the starting lineup for the 6-foot-11 Italian. Anthony also tried taking the pressure off Bargnani, who became the scapegoat in Toronto after failing to become an All-Star after being No. 1 overall pick in 2006. “There ain’t no pressure on him,” Anthony said of Bargnani handling the move to New York. “You come in and do what you got to do and play ball. All the pressure’s on me. It should be easy for him. It should be an easy transition for him, adjusting. Just do it the right way, it should be easy for him.’’ Bargnani played just 66 of a possible 152 regular-season games the past two seasons for the Raptors, because of various injuries, prompting the June 29 trade. Bargnani said no matter what Anthony says, there always is pressure as a Knick.
  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Forget 57 regular-season wins for the Nuggets. That's not going to happen. But here is the real goal for the local NBA team: No more wimpy basketball. The Nuggets have a new way to play. "Smashmouth basketball," new Denver coach Brian Shaw said. I asked Shaw to define his terms. What qualifies as smashmouth basketball? "Smashmouth means that you are literally going to get your mouth smashed if you're going against us for a rebound or a loose ball," Shaw said. "We want to have a nasty disposition, both offensively and defensively." Shaw is not a smarter coach than his predecessor, George Karl. But here's betting Shaw will be a tougher coach than Karl. Karl beat cancer. Twice. So props to him for a huge personal victory. In Denver, however, Karl's teams looked for a soft spot to land in the playoffs, and set up excuses to all but guarantee an early exit from the postseason would happen. … The Nuggets of Karl were soft. The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies are hard. If you can't win with the talent of LeBron James, you had better be mean. Welcome to smashmouth basketball.
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Monty Williams said Tuesday he has been thinking about distribution of playing time for this group since it was assembled this summer, but seems set on having Evans, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith come off the bench with the second platoon, leaving open the point guard spot for either Austin Rivers or Brian Roberts. "I think it will become more clear as we see certain guys on the floor in practice and how they jell," said Williams. Rivers said he's not fearful about his place in the rotation, nor the amount of minutes he'll play. "You look at our team, and don't take my word for it, but I think Tyreke is going to come off the bench and I think I'm going to come off the bench," he said. "Depending on how Eric feels, I could be starting at the two. I could be starting at the two, or coming off the bench with Ryan Anderson and Tyreke. That's not a bad second group. I'm not really worried about my minutes. Me and Jrue were talking about this at dinner. Our second group is just as good as our first group." It's evident that whatever discomfort Rivers might have experienced in June has dissipated, as has any uncertainty about his place on the court. "I love my coach. I love the coaches, the new facility, new name, new team," he said.
  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: Royce White knows he’s not physically where he wants or needs to be. But after not playing in any NBA games during his rookie year with the Rockets, at least partially due to an anxiety disorder and fear of flying, White is grateful to just be setting picks and finding open teammates at 76ers camp. “At the same time last year, I wasn’t even in training camp,” White said. “So this is a big improvement from eight, nine months ago. I’m just happy to be here right now, happy my body’s holding up.” White doesn’t know what his role with the Sixers will be. He ran with the second team during Monday’s scrimmage. But he plans to fly to Northern Spain with his Sixers teammates Thursday in preparation for Sunday’s preseason game against Bilbao. For him, that’s a start. “To me, the most important thing is making it to the first preseason game and being here for the team,” he said. Sixers coach Brett Brown has been encouraged by what he’s seen from White through four days of camp.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If third-year center Bismack Biyombo feels threatened by the Charlotte Bobcats adding big men Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller, you wouldn’t know it from his approach. Biyombo started 80 of 82 games last season, averaging 4.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. After the season, the Bobcats used the fourth pick on Zeller and signed Jefferson to a 3-year, $40.5 million contract. Biyombo likely isn’t starting this season, but he doesn’t see himself as extraneous. “My job is the same as it was last year – be a defender, protect the paint, rebound, block shots. Nothing is going to change,” he said after the first practice of training camp at UNC Asheville. The Bobcats drafted Biyombo seventh overall in 2011. He’s a long athlete and tough guy, but he arrived in Charlotte from the Spanish League with minimal offensive skill. That hasn’t changed much. New coach Steve Clifford has told Biyombo not to fret about what he can’t yet do.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Jimmer Fredette would have to fend off rookie Ray McCallum just to be the third point guard behind Isaiah Thomas and Greivis Vasquez. Things aren't easier for Fredette at shooting guard by Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore. There are possible three-guard lineups but it won't be easy cracking the rotation, regardless. What would help Fredette would be having a defined role. "We didn't know what the rotation was (last season)," Fredette said. "Guys didn't know if they were going to play one game and not the next so you just had to try to stay ready and prepare as much as you can. It's hard for players to be able to do that but you're professionals so that's what you have to do. Hopefully this year we'll have more of a set rotation so we'll know when we're going to play and who we're going to play with."
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The immediate inclination is to compare Vitor Faverani to Fab Melo. Both are from Brazil and are within an inch or two height-wise, and, hey, those are some simple dots to connect even for a sportswriter. But after a brief look at this year’s model and several conversations with Celtics types at the first day of training camp, the notion was rejected. With authority. The two are said to be miles apart at this stage. “Vitor’s a player,” we were advised. “Fab’s a project.” The Celts gave up on Melo after just one year. While there may have been some salary cap concerns in his trade to Memphis, they would have held onto him if they thought he could be what they hoped. Same for the Grizzlies, who released Melo. He’s now in camp with Dallas. And while Melo reigned mainly in D-League Maine last season, Faverani could easily make his way into the Celtics rotation right away. Teams have a way of finding a place for people who shoot well and like to hit people.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Tap. Tap. Tap. It was a little after midnight when the knock on the hotel door arrived. Nicolas Batum was tired. He was frustrated. He was anxious. And he was just about ready to call it a night. But it was the evening before the European Championship title game and it was a curious time for a visit, so Batum swung open the door to see who was standing outside his room in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Staring back at him was Tony Parker, his teammate on the French national team and one of the NBA's premier point guards. Batum's friend wanted to chat. "I had messed up in the semifinals — had a baaaad game — and he came to me before the final," Batum said, recalling the unexpected face-to-face. "He said, 'Tomorrow's game is going to be your game. We need you. If we're going to win, you've got to lead us.' When a guy like that comes to you, before the biggest game of your life, and says 'you have to show the way, you have to be the man,' it gives you a lot of confidence." It was the latest in a long line of mentoring moments by Parker, and it was perhaps the most meaningful. A day later Batum answered the challenge, recording a team-high 17 points, six rebounds and two steals — while playing tenacious defense — as France beat Lithuania 80-66 to claim its first major championship
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Samuel Dalembert hopes to do this season for the Dallas Mavericks what Tyson Chandler was able to accomplish during the 2010-11 campaign. Chandler joined the Mavericks on July 13, 2010, via a trade with the Charlotte Bobcats. The fiery, athletic center came to Dallas as a wounded warrior, having navigated his way through a series of injuries and saddled with lingering questions about his health. However, Chandler used his hustle, grit and determination to change the Mavericks’ culture with his tenacious defense and ability to protect the rim. His contributions were extremely instrumental in the Mavs winning the 2011 NBA championship. Fast forward to Dalembert, who left the Milwaukee Bucks via free agency over the summer. While surveying the NBA landscape, he knew the Mavericks would become a perfect fit for his style of play. In essence, Dalembert (6-foot-11, 250 pounds) realized he was the right player to fill the role Chandler once occupied. “I just looked at things from last year, and this team just needed one more ingredient,” the 32-year old Dalembert said after Tuesday’s first practice of training camp. “We can score — scoring is no issue for us. “It’s just the defense and giving up second-chance opportunities.” Small forward Shawn Marion welcomes a player such as Dalembert, who can protect the rim. … Power forward Dirk Nowitzki also sees value in the Mavericks signing Dalembert to a two-year, $7.5 million contract in July.
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Power forward Tristan Thompson acknowledges that there's no blueprint for switching his dominant hand from left to right in the middle of his career. He even joked about learning more about who he is. "I'm 22,'' he said during media day on Monday. "I'm trying to figure it out.'' He said he actually is ambidextrous, writing, eating and golfing left-handed while bowling, and now shooting, right-handed. Why did he ever think he was a left-handed player? "Because I wrote with my left hand, and I thought if you write with your left hand, you've got to shoot with your left hand.''
  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Rudy Gay had off-season PRK laser eye surgery, and while it was only a 10-minute procedure, it was a big deal for Gay who sees clearly now. He just doesn’t know how long it has been since his vision went. “I don’t know at all,” he said when asked what his vision was corrected from. “I just know I could barely get my license, so it was pretty bad and I didn’t know it. Obviously I feel a lot better going into the season a little bit more confident.” … For now Gay is downplaying the eye procedure and how it has changed things for him. His fear is that people are going to automatically credit a 10-minute surgery for the improved shooting he fully expects fans will be witness to this season. Gay says he worked too damn hard in the off-season on his shooting for that to be the case. He says that on a light day he was putting up 300 shots but said it was an everyday thing for him. “I worked a lot,” he said. “Every day I was committed to becoming a better shooter.” Casey is of the firm belief that eye surgery is only going to be part of the reason Gay comes back and improves on the .416 shooting percentage he had a year ago, down from .455 the previous year.
  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: Kendall Marshall will tell you that there is “no question” in his mind that he can succeed in the NBA. He’s got about one month to convince the Suns, who selected him with the 13th pick of the 2012 NBA draft. And Marshall has no time to waste, beginning at training camp, which opened Tuesday in Flagstaff, and during the club’s seven-game preseason schedule, which begins against Maccabi Haifa on Monday night at US Airways Center. Lance Blanks, the general manager who drafted Marshall, is gone. There also is a new coaching staff. And there is a Suns roster loaded with point guards and “combo” guards — players who can play off the ball or in a playmaking role. For Marshall, the witching hour falls on Halloween. That’s the NBA deadline for teams to exercise a team option in rookie salary-scale contracts for players drafted in the first round the previous year. First-round picks get a four-year deal, but only the first two years are guaranteed. So, teams must decide before a player’s second regular season begins whether to guarantee a third year. If the Suns don’t see enough from Marshall in the next month, they aren’t likely to exercise the option.