TrueHoop: Charlotte Bobcats

What's in a name change?

May, 20, 2014
May 20
9:50
AM ET
By Matthew Poindexter
Special to ESPN.com
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Michael JordanKent Smith/NBAE/Getty ImagesBringing the Hornets back is a nice nod to the past, but without wins, it will just be another buzz kill.
My sister and I have an ongoing war over our father’s old purple Charlotte Hornets sweatshirt. More than once, it has changed hands illegitimately. She took it out of my laundry. I pilfered it from a closet while helping her move in college. She discretely slid it off the back seat of my car and into her bag soon thereafter. It’s a reminder of good times with fun teams. As we grew, that sweatshirt became the only piece of Hornets paraphernalia our family owned that was still wearable. The rest was too faded or tattered to save. A Muggsy Bogues shirt I wore when he and I were the same size would be a belly shirt today.

Similarly, the Hugo-backed Starter jackets that dotted North Carolina playgrounds 20 years ago don’t fit their former owners anymore. Those Hornets may have managed to break through the state’s college basketball obsession, but that adoration made their departure all the more heartbreaking. And even if time could have healed that wound, the Charlotte Bobcats definitely didn’t let it. For the Charlotte fan, the love of a lifetime walked out the door in 2002 and only now wants back in the picture. The Hornets want to win back that love and trust. They’ll have to win games to do it.

Last year, when Michael Jordan formally announced that Charlotte would soon shrug off the Bobcats name and reclaim the Hornets moniker, it was a cause for celebration. In the decade prior, wearing old Hornets gear had been either an anti-"Bobcats" act of defiance or an attempt at vintage chic. Overnight, it became a victory sign.

Celebrations had been few and far between in the intervening years of Charlotte basketball. With rare exception, fans had a difficult time feeling as if watching the Bobcats was anything other than watching the ersatz Hornets. Our team, with a name taken from the Revolutionary War, was replaced by one that would have been merely boring if it didn’t happen to be a narcissistic expression by then-owner Bob Johnson. The Bobcats’ best effort at local heritage, the NASCAR-themed checkered flag jerseys they briefly wore, was an obvious and doomed attempt by interlopers to pass as native. Even when they failed to make the playoffs, the Hornets grabbed national attention because players like Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, and Baron Davis made them cool. That validation mattered to fans, and it was terribly missed when the Bobcats became the target of the basketball world’s jokes.

Now, the franchise would like the Hornets renaming to erase the bad times and poor decisions. They want the pandering NASCAR jerseys and Bob Johnson embarrassments eradicated from memory. Rightfully, they want everyone to forget the 7-59 season forever. Even mascot Rufus Lynx, for some stretches of time the only popular member of the Bobcats' organization, is being forced into retirement now that Hugo’s back in town.

But even if they would rather forget, the fans remember. New old uniforms can only do so much. Despite the promising moves made by general manager Rich Cho, coach Steve Clifford’s revelatory impact on the team’s defense and the most recent playoff berth, the doubts and worries that plagued yesterday’s Bobcats still exist for today’s Hornets.

A different paint scheme won’t fix Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s shooting motion, and it won’t change Jordan’s predilection for cronyism in hiring. There’s also worry that Jordan may expect the team’s rebranding to fully placate Charlotte’s fans. But the support that had the Hornets routinely packing the old Charlotte Coliseum in the ‘90s must be earned. While the Bobcats started their end of the bargain by recently putting together a praiseworthy 43-39 season, the franchise still has a long way to go.

We may see how much the Hornets name matters if things aren’t as rosy next season. The draft and free agency may change the outlook, but right now it is not unreasonable to believe the Charlotte Hornets won’t match the Bobcats’ current win total. Though Bobcats players missed more games to injuries than all but seven teams in 2013-14, Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson each kept their absences in the single digits; more severe injuries to either would be catastrophic.

Next season, if the rest of the Eastern Conference rises from its near nadir and Charlotte gets leapfrogged by two or three teams, the momentum may erode. Fans may root for the laundry, but the laundry won’t keep them rooting if the team plays poorly. Old colors on new uniforms will stir good memories and help many decade-dormant fans give the Hornets a chance they never would have allowed the Bobcats. But Hugo, a honeycomb court and a familiar name will only bring them in. It will take good basketball to keep them around.

Welcome home, Hornets. Times were tough without you. But don’t think we’ll cut you any slack just because the town is draped in teal and purple again.

Matthew Poindexter is a writer in Durham, N.C.

Kemba Walker is not done

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
3:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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The Bobcats may be down 0-2, but guard Kemba Walker still believes they can beat the Heat. Also: on Al Jefferson's toughness.

Down Low with Big Al Jefferson

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
4:03
PM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
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Trying (and failing) to get high-scoring Al Jefferson, ever the gentleman, to lash out about his All-Star snub.

video

Al Jefferson is not an All-Star

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
1:59
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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He's averaging 20 and 11 for a team with a top ten NBA defense, and his teammate from last year -- Paul Millsap -- made the squad. But Bobcats big man Al Jefferson isn't bitter he won't be headed to New Orleans.video

The NBA's "global money machine"

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

Race to the bottom

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
5:01
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Would an injured Kobe Bryant help or hurt the Lakers' chances of a top pick? Can the Pelicans lose enough games to get into the top five so they won't have to give the 76ers their 2014 draft pick? Chad Ford on tanking.

Surprisingly productive defenders

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
12:11
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Roy Hibbert
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsRoy Hibbert isn't the only reason the Pacers have the NBA's best defense.

A tricky thing about basketball is that it's tough to know what's happening on defense. So tough that credit and blame are almost impossible to hand out from afar.

Back in the days of isolation basketball, maybe you could say, with some confidence, that Mark Jackson just scored on John Starks and that's that.

But nowadays, by the time Kevin Durant gets to the rim, the primary defender was supposed to force him to the baseline instead of the middle, but he got to the middle anyway because he's Kevin Durant. The big man was supposed to meet Durant as he arrived near the hoop, but that big man has also been drilled to close out on the wide-open 3-point shooter he has left to be here. So he's a half-step farther away, and all that together created a tiny seam, which is all Durant needs.

You could probably watch a play like that and figure out good ways to blame all five defenders, or their coach, for the Durant bucket.

It's tricky stuff. And yet we can't ignore it -- indeed it really is half the game.

Offense is easy, by comparison. So many little things have long been tracked on offense -- who shot the ball, who passed it to them before they shot it and whether it was a 3 or a 2 have always been fundamental to recording a game. That stuff has always been in highlights and box scores. It's public, searchable and well-known. In the last decade, our understanding of all that has only grown with many new measures.

It's not hard to get a sense, at a glance, who can score.

On defense, though, wow. It used to be that notoriously noisy adjusted plus/minus was the go-to measure, but that's not readily publicly available anymore. There are SportVU cameras in the sky at every arena this season, but it takes a dozen hours of Zach Lowe or Kirk Goldsberry sifting to glean anything conclusive from them. Haralabos Voulgaris has long been tracking this stuff, but his database is private. In other words, it's tricky even to find out the most basic things such as which players were on the darned court when the other team scored most efficiently.

Which means making an evidence-based case that one player or another is awesome at defense is tough -- or nearly impossible this early in the season, when the sample sizes are small.

But we're not entirely without tools. And we do have lineup data, and the fact is there are combinations of players against whom it is crazy tough to score. Whether or not those players are the cause of the other team's bad offense, it's too soon to say. But if I were looking for players who are making it happen on defense, here are some names for the early season short list.

Casspi
Omri Casspi
The resurrection of the pioneering NBA Israeli's game has been told as one of stroking 3s and attacking the rim.

But something is certainly happening on defense, too, which may overshadow all of that.

With Casspi on the floor, the Rockets have given up 94.8 points per 100 possessions, which is almost as good as the league-leading Pacers. When he's on the bench, the team has given up 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which is pedestrian.

The defensive bottom line is that the Rockets have gotten 9.3 points worse on D when Casspi checks out. The number could be thick with early-season noise, but it's eye-opening nonetheless.

Looking at two-man combinations, you can see that almost any Rocket with Casspi is effective. With Terrence Jones and Casspi in, the Rockets only give up 85.8 points per 100 possessions. With Patrick Beverley: a stingy 90.6. Seven of the top 12 Rockets defensive combinations feature Casspi. Dwight Howard appears in that list only once ... with Casspi. Meanwhile, there aren't many Rocket lineups that perform well on D without Casspi.

It's possible his defensive qualities are overstated by these stats. But I don't think it's possible he's bad on defense.

I'd also suggest it's a long shot the plus/minus obsessed Rockets are eager to sit him. Casspi is also helping the team on offense. Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons have been similarly effective. Which makes you wonder, as Omer Asik trade rumors heat up ... does it really make sense to trade for a shooting forward such as Ryan Anderson? Maybe so, but if playing Anderson means limiting minutes for Casspi, Jones or Parsons, it's tough to imagine the Rockets getting more effective in the process.

KCP
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
The Pistons' rookie hasn't gotten much attention this season, and rookie guards almost never have good defensive statistics.

But a quarter into the season, Caldwell-Pope looks like an exception.

The list of the NBA's top three-man defensive units so far this season are largely Pacers, as we'll discuss. At the time of this writing, nine of the top 25 are from Indiana, in fact. Which means players on 29 rosters are competing for the 16 remaining spots. So when I tell you that Caldwell-Pope is on the list five times himself, with a grab bag of Pistons ... well, something is up.

Worth noting: The Pistons, generally, aren't even good at D, ranking 20th in the league.

Dan Feldman and Rob Mahoney have both dug into this phenomenon recently. The gist is that the Pistons started the season terribly on defense, when Caldwell-Pope never played. They got a little better all in all, and then Chauncey Billups -- who has been terrible on defense at this age -- got hurt. So Caldwell-Pope earned his minutes by replacing a bad defender and while joining a lineup that was finding its feet.

He's also, to the naked eye, a wiry and active defender who gets around screens far more effectively than Billups or Rodney Stuckey.

Caldwell-Pope has played close to 500 minutes, during which time the Pistons have given up a stingy 96.9 points per 100 possessions.

When he has sat, Pistons are allowing 108.4. The difference is 11.5, at least some of which, you'd think, has to do with the fact that this rookie guard is living up to his predraft reputation as a committed defender.

MKG
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
It's a closely guarded secret that the Bobcats are good at something, but today their defense is fourth best in the league, just after the Bulls and just ahead of the Heat and Thunder. But line up the NBA's best defensive player combinations in terms of points allowed per possession, and Kidd-Gilchrist's long and noticeable name is all over the place. There are three four-man Bobcats lineups with MKG that play better defense than the best four-man combination of Indiana Pacers. If you rank the whole league's best two-man defensive combinations, the top five pairs are all Pacers -- except for Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson, who are third in the whole NBA in that ranking.

Kidd-Gilchrist, who is out with a broken finger at the moment, has played nearly 500 minutes this season, during which time the Bobcats have basically been the Pacers, with a 94.8 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench, they give up more than 100.

Jackson
Durant
Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson
This is fascinating. Durant is famous as a scorer and was not long ago derided for sub-par defense. Jackson is a guy who can create his own shot. But they can, evidently, make you feel them on defense.

A lot.

When opponents have the ball, Durant and Jackson have been, by the numbers, a top-10 NBA defensive duo. And it's not a simple case of the Thunder being great at defense. It's worth considering it might be something about this combination. One of the best five-man defensive units in the NBA (minimum 50 minutes played) is Durant and Jackson with Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins. That lineup is one of the Thunder's most used and has an incredible defensive rating of 78.3. At the moment, if you substitute Westbrook in for Jackson, you have one of the Thunder's most familiar lineups, and one that gives up 103.3 points. The Westbrook lineup faces the best opponents and would be expected to perform a little worse. But 25 points per 100 possessions is a massive difference.

It's also noteworthy that lots of Thunder players have great defensive ratings when they're on the floor. Jackson, though, is the standout for whom, thus far, sitting has led the team to play much worse defense. Could be a fluke. Worth keeping an eye on.

Related: Put defense and offense together, and Durant and Jackson are, at the moment, literally the best-performing duo in the whole NBA.

The other Pacers
We know Roy Hibbert is really good at defense. We know his Pacers have been one of the best defenses ever thus far. When Kevin Pelton (Insider) wrote about this the other day, he pointed out that the Pacers were giving up fewer than 94 points per 100 possessions in a league that averages 106. No other team is close. So the Pacers are killing it.

And as I just dug through NBA.com/stats looking at player combinations, there's no arguing Hibbert is the dominant reason. In fact, if you take every two-player combination in the league, from every team, the best combination out of all of those thousands, in terms of holding opponents to the fewest points per possession, is the Pacers' Roy Hibbert and David West.

In and of itself, that does not prove they are the two best defenders. Far from it. But it would be just about impossible for them to be so high on the list while being lousy at defense. And that they belong there is affirmed by this: The second best combination out of the whole league? Hibbert and Paul George. Fourth best is Hibbert and George Hill. Amazingly, Pacers account for nine of the league's dozen most effective two-player defensive combinations, and Hibbert is part of most of 'em.

Just as it's impossible to argue Hibbert is anything but great on defense, it's also impossible to argue that he's the only reason the Pacers are good. The Pacers' center is only playing 30 minutes a game, and the Pacers are good on defense all night.

This is not a question of the starting five carrying everybody. None of the Pacers' five-man lineups, in fact, are in the league's 10 most effective defensively. It really is a team effort.

When Hibbert is on the bench, the Pacers give up 98.7 points per 100 possessions, which would still be a top-10 NBA defense.

Of course, George, who has been discussed as a candidate as both MVP and a first-team all-NBA defense, is a big part of that. Even though he's the epicenter of the Pacers' offense -- in a role where many players would catch their breath on defense -- George expends serious energy guarding some of the league's finest scorers. Despite those challenges, he's still a mainstay among the Pacers' best defensive combinations. When George sits, opponents score a little better than when Hibbert sits.

But you know who else has been on the floor for long minutes of great defense for the Pacers? Almost everybody. David West, C.J. Watson, George Hill, Orlando Johnson, Lance Stephenson, Luis Scola -- these are not the Pacers' most famous defenders. I have named eight Pacers in this article. Put any three of those players together on the court, and Pacers are playing good defense.

When any or all of them are on the court, the Pacers as a team average better defensive performance than the Spurs, who are the league's second-best defensive team.

It's almost impossible to find any combination of Pacers players that is bad on defense. It's amazing. (3-point specialist Chris Copeland might be the one exception. He has not been great on defense, the statistics say, but he is also new to the team and has averaged less than four minutes a game, so it's hard to know what the future holds for him.)

Clearly, coach Frank Vogel knows something.

Jared Dudley: Why would you not tank?

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
3:51
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Clipper Jared Dudley was on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio with Adam Schein talking about tanking. The conversation kicked off with a discussion of a current GM's recent admission to ESPN the Magazine that he and his owner planned to tank.

Some of what Dudley had to say on tanking:
  • "Last year in Phoenix, I mean, they didn't use the word 'tanking' but we were out of the playoffs, it was over. ... We tried different lineups. Why did we try different lineups? Well, because we wanted to see what guys they were going to keep this year, which they basically have kept no one so far. So you try different lineups knowing that the consequences, if you lose, well, it’s fine because it helps you. They never said, 'Hey, let’s tank.' Charlotte Bobcats, they never said, 'Let’s tank.' But the actions you do, it kind of insinuates it. And we understand it because you want a higher pick. You’re going to try and tell me instead of winning five or seven extra games you lose out on Andrew Wiggins but yet you are still the bottom of the barrel? No, you’re going to want to get the worst. So I don’t blame the GMs. I blame the system, how it is set up."
  • "How I would do it? I would make it equal percentages for every non-playoff [team]. ... [Now] if you have the worst record, you get at least a top-four or -five pick. So no matter what, in this draft, imagine when LeBron, Carmelo and Wade were there that year. If you were one of the worst teams you were guaranteed at least LeBron, Wade, Melo or Bosh. You were going to get a superstar. And that’s what they think this draft is going to be like. So I would put the other 11 teams all equally so it makes teams have to go out and play to try to win for their teams. I mean, how it is set up now, if I was a GM, me personally, if my team could not make the playoffs or win a championship, why would you not tank with how the system is now?"
  • "I’m just surprised that someone would come out and say it so blatantly, the only thing is they just did it anonymously so, in a way, they still were a coward about it. We understand that’s it. And, to be honest with you, it’s very tough with the system how it works. Because, let’s just be honest, if you’re a Charlotte Bobcats, you’re a Milwaukee Bucks, you’re a, I don’t know, another team like that, how do you get a superstar? Is any superstar going to go there? Because it’s not like you can offer him more money. It’s not like it's baseball where they say, 'Hey, you know what, I want this guy, I’ll give you $30 million more than the Knicks.' So how do you get those guys? They’re not going to come there and you trade them, if they are in the last year of their deal, the only thing they are going to say is, 'We’re not going to sign the extension.'

TrueHoop TV: Kemba Walker

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
1:58
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Bobcats guard Kemba Walker loves new coach Steve Clifford and hates hearing people call teammate Bismack Biyombo a bust.video

First Cup: Wednesday

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
6:02
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • 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.

First Cup: Tuesday

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
6:03
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Derrick Rose sat out the scrimmaging portion of Monday's practice as part of "planned rest." "He did some, the warmup phase," Thibodeau said. "And we went shorter (Monday). We had a teaching segment that of course he participated in and the warmup phase. But the live stuff, we were planning on giving him (Monday) off." Rose, who sat out all last season after left knee surgery, had said he didn't want to miss any practice time or preseason games if the decision was left to him. By all accounts, Rose has looked dominant thus far in practice. "With all our players, usually the third day and fifth practice we’re dealing with heavy legs," Thibodeau said. "We just thought we’d give him (Monday) off. Mentally, he’s sharp so he did his conditioning off the floor. He’ll be ready to go (Tuesday)."
  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: For most of Eric Gordon's two seasons in New Orleans, the perception was that he didn't want to be with the organization. It also didn't help that last offseason he signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns. But Gordon tried to clear some things up on Monday and said he has never been unhappy with the New Orleans franchise. "The only frustrating part since I have been down here is dealing with the injuries," he said. "That's the main thing. I know what I can do, and this team knows what I can do. Now I am going to finally get a chance to make it consistent." And now that the Pelicans have a new nickname, practice facility and a bevy of new and young talented players, Gordon finally seems happy. "I've always been happy," he said. "It's just with me individually I've always been dealing with injuries and so fort. But when you have a lot of talented guys where you can have a chance to grow together -- because we are all young guys and we have a chance to grow together – anything can happen. And we have the talent to be a playoff team."
  • Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post: This was a cool LeBron James. This was a LeBron James at ease. This was a LeBron James as comfortable in his own skin as anyone could imagine. If the never-ending conversation regarding his potential free agency bothers him — he becomes eligible July 1 — James did a remarkable job of hiding it as the Heat met the media Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. His situation will be a season-long topic of speculation as Miami seeks a third consecutive championship. “I’ll tell you right now how I’m going to handle it,” James said, “I’m not going to address it.” And then he talked about owing his team his focus and how his concern is winning another title and how mature the Heat is and how his potential opt-out (and Dwyane Wade’s and Chris Bosh’s, too) won’t be a distraction. Nobody has to explain himself, James implied. They have a professional goal, and the effort to achieve it won’t be sabotaged by after-the-fact business. The locker room won’t fracture. “We’ve got a veteran ballclub that’s heard everything and seen everything,” James said. “I know how delicate a team can be. I know how important chemistry and camaraderie are.” Here’s the thing: They’ll all probably opt-out, because doing so provides the player with flexibility. It’s the prudent move.
  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: The pleasantries quickly gave way to a more sobering discussion when Doc Rivers first met with Chris Paul. Topics of conversation did not include Paul's six All-Star game appearances, his unmatched ability to close out games or his status as possibly the best point guard in the NBA. "He pretty much told me I wasn't anything," Paul said Monday during the Clippers' annual media day. "He told me I hadn't done anything, and he was right." Welcome to life with the league's most painfully sincere coach. Hard questions can be asked. Perceptions of one's self can change. Feelings can be hurt. But here's the thing: Championships can be won. "I'm honest," Rivers said in the biggest understatement of the day. For a Clippers franchise that has never gotten to the conference finals, Rivers' candor is as alluring as the new light-blue alternate uniforms the team unveiled. His frankness grabs your attention like an open parking space in a dusty media lot suddenly overrun by reporters drawn to the buzz of the most captivating team in Los Angeles. "He's been straight-up, he's been very real and when he talks you can tell he has the attention of everybody," super-subJamal Crawford said. "Winning that championship, being there contending, he did it as a player and now as a coach. He has everyone's respect." Not that it's always fun to hear what Rivers has to say.
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Timberwolves forward Kevin Love reported for duty with his surgically repaired knee and hand reportedly all healed and his body lean. He also made one thing abundantly clear: The past is in the…well, you know. “Last year is last year,” the two-time All-Star forward, uttering a line he used repeatedly during a 12-minute session with reporters at the team’s annual media day. He made it clear he has little interest in discussing a lost season in which he played just 18 games after breaking his shooting hand not once but twice. Love also wasn’t much interested in discussing his relationship with former President of Basketball of Operations David Kahn, who was replaced by Flip Saunders last May. “The past is the past and it’s great to have Flip on board,” Love said. “We’ve had great talks. … We all know what happened last year, and we just want to move forward and take care of unfinished business.” Love looked like he’s in the best shape of his career, even though he said he doesn’t know exactly how much weight he lost from last season.
  • Tom Layman of the Boston Herald: The search parties were called off as Gerald Wallace emerged yesterday for the first time wearing Celtics garb with the No. 45 stitched on his jersey. Wallace knew there might have been some misconceptions about his whereabouts after the draft-night trade that brought him, Bogans, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks to Boston for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. But, he said, he had a prior commitment with his basketball camp right when the introductory press conference happened, and like he does every summer, secluded himself in Alabama with his family. “The main thing that a lot of people have taken out of this is that I didn’t want to come, I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to be a part of it. That’s so far from the truth,” Wallace said. “I think the main thing is that I’m a veteran of 13 years and I’ve been traded three times in the past three or four years. This trade kind of caught me off-guard. I didn’t see it coming.” Wallace did say, however, that going from a team building toward being a major contender to one that is in rebuilding mode isn’t the easiest thing to accept. … Whether Wallace will be part of the rebuilding process will be figured out down the road. He has a contract that will be tough to move with three years remaining at roughly $10.1 million per, and Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said this is always a quiet time in terms of player movement. Ainge also said he doesn’t know what Wallace’s role will be on this team with an overcrowded roster at basically every position.
  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: It didn’t take long for Steve Mills to address his primary mission in assuming the Knicks’ top executive position last week, courtesy of his former and once again benefactor, James L. Dolan. On N.B.A. media day, Mills explained how the job opportunity appeared suddenly, announced the exercising of an option year for Coach Mike Woodson and then got down to the business of what promises to be a season of breathtaking pandering to Carmelo Anthony. He clearly is one of those superstar players that don’t come around very often, and the things he has done to make this team successful and to represent this city is something that’s very important,” Mills said. “So while it’s premature in the process, we’ve made it clear that we have every intention of making Carmelo a Knick for a long time to come.” Given a chance to declare it a mutual love affair and to say he couldn’t wait to put his Carmelo Hancock on a Knicks contract extension, Anthony politely abstained. “When the time comes, I’ll deal with that,” he said. “I’m not going to go through the season thinking about my contract.”
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: O.J. Mayo wanted to find a place to stay awhile. After spending his first four pro seasons in Memphis, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard was in Dallas just one year. When the Mavericks focused their off-season attentions on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard (failing to land either one), the unrestricted free agent Mayo could take a hint. So on Monday it was Mayo stepping up to a microphone wearing his No. 00 at the Milwaukee Bucks media day at the Cousins Center. Mayo, who was the third overall pick in the 2008 draft by Minnesota and traded to Memphis, knows big things are expected of him on this stop. And he's just fine with that. "I'm going to do whatever I need to do in order for us to be successful," Mayo said. "If I have to be the tough guy, if I have to bite, scratch, whatever we need to do." The Bucks signed Mayo as the replacement for Monta Ellis at shooting guard, agreeing to a three-year, $24 million contract with the former Southern Cal player. … But foremost on his mind is helping the Bucks. He understands his role will be a critical one on a team with a 21-year-old point guard in Brandon Knight and a young front line featuring fourth-year center Larry Sanders and second-year pro John Henson. "Last year (the Bucks) were the eighth seed but at the same time it was a losing season," Mayo said. "Hopefully we can get to a fifth or sixth seed this year and continue growing, show we're making improvements and strides."
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: New Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks mentioned he talked with Jennings on Monday about the expectations for the young point guard. Cheeks was asked what he said, but he deferred and said he was more curious to hear Jennings’ recollection of the conversation. “Everything was just straightforward,” Jennings said. “He said the team goes as far as I go. He’s looking for a guy who can come in here with a positive attitude every day and a guy that’s not too high and not too low, but in the middle. “He said he is going to be on me every day, and he’s going to put a lot of pressure on me.” One of the things that angered fans last season was former coach Lawrence Frank’s limiting of rookie center Andre Drummond’s minutes. Cheeks said he isn’t looking to limit Drummond and expects big things in his second season. “I’m going to put him out on the floor for sure,” Cheeks said.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: In a bold and franchise-altering day seldom before seen, one thing has become clear. They will forever be the Raptors but they will never be the same. With a new “global ambassador” who appears to have as much passion for the organization as almost anyone employed by it and a new look and colour scheme coming in two years, the Raptors kicked off the official run-up to the 2016 NBA all-star game in decidedly glitzy fashion. Drake, the iconic Toronto music superstar and now the unofficial host of the all-star weekend, will be part of the process of “re-branding” the franchise that has missed the NBA playoffs for the past five years. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke said the process has already begun to change the colour scheme and logo of the team that’s entering its 19th year in the NBA. The name however won’t change, Leiweke said, and it will not be a quick process. Leiweke said the team has already engaged a Toronto firm to help with the process, they will make an effort to somehow involve fans but thanks to marketing and licensing demands, the new look won’t be unveiled until the 2015-16 season. And the NBA will be heavily involved.
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said Monday was the only time he’s going to address Corbin’s contract situation with the media this season. “The Miller family is known for their support for players, of coaches, of management. We’re going to stand by our record,” Lindsey said. “I think as you guys have seen with Coach Sloan, the internal promotion what we did last year and support of Ty and the staff with the Raja Bell situation, coaches here are very well-supported. Beyond that, the Miller family and the management team, we’re not going to comment past that point.” The Jazz’s expectations for Corbin this season? “Our expectations,” Miller Sports Properties president Steve Miller said, “are that he shows up, which he will, and that he does the job that we’ve hired him to do, and he will because he’s the consummate professional.” Lindsey said he has a “gentleman’s agreement” with the agents of Hayward and Favors to not discuss their deals in public, either. Utah has until the end of October to extend the players’ contracts. If that doesn’t happen, the Jazz have the option of turning them into restricted free agents next offseason. “As you guys can assume, we’re having active conversations. We’re hopeful,” Lindsey said.
  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Nuggets center JaVale McGee is working to get better control of his asthma. He is awaiting lung capacity test results taken recently to be able to pinpoint which medication will work best for him this season. "It definitely figures out what medicines I need to take, if I'm taking too much medicine, if I'm not taking enough," McGee said. "So it's definitely a good thing." McGee averaged 18.1 minutes per game last season in a mostly reserve role. Those minutes are expected to jump considerably now that new Nuggets coach Brian Shaw has all but declared him the starting center. "Definitely inhalers," McGee said of required equipment. "And then practicing past my first wind. It's not a huge problem. It's just that once.”
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Fatherhood can impact guys differently. A newborn in the house means many things change. For Dirk Nowitzki, it meant being a “full-on home dad” for the last two months. In case you are wondering, it will not impact his job. Coach Rick Carlisle had the most emphatic answer when asked if daddy Dirk seemed any different to him. “If you’re asking if he’s settling into fatherhood and not as into basketball, I’ll tell you categorically, the answer is [expletive] no,” Carlisle said. “It’s been a tough couple years for him. The ’12 [lockout] season was dicey with the knee thing, and then coming in last year, it seemed like it was OK and then the thing puffed up. So he takes it extremely seriously. … This is serious business, and his effort has been completely matched up with the level of importance.”
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: While most fans have a guess as to who the Rockets’ leaders will be this year, head coach Kevin McHale says it’s just too early to tell who will do the leading and who, in turn, will do the following. “We have only had four practices so far,” McHale said. “Right now they are just trying to get through those.” While most fingers point to James Harden and Dwight Howard, McHale said the leaders won’t emerge for a while. “They all have personalities, and really, I don’t know if you can say, ‘This guy’s a designated leader,’ ” McHale said. “Players are going to follow who players follow, and they follow guys for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes there is the older guy they follow because the guy is full of wisdom and he helps them out all the time. Sometimes it is the high-energy guy they follow because they are just like, ‘That guy plays so hard.’ All that leadership stuff, as it always does, will take care of itself.”
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If you thought Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t play like a No.2 overall pick last season, then know this: Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t think so, either. The Charlotte Bobcats small forward recalls his rookie season with disappointment – not about the team’s 21-61 record, but rather that he didn’t do more to help. His numbers weren’t bad. He averaged 9.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and just under a shot-block per game. But he’s used to excelling, and this was well short of that in a class that featured rookie of the year Damian Lillard with Portland and stellar big man Anthony Davis with New Orleans. “I was disappointed in myself,” Kidd-Gilchrist said at media day, on the eve of training camp Tuesday morning at UNC Asheville. “It wasn’t the losses. I like all my teammates and we bonded a lot. I was mad at myself. I set goals and I didn’t reach any of the goals that I set. All my life I did that and last year I didn’t reach one goal.’’ Asked for specifics, Kidd-Gilchrist said he set out to be rookie of the year and failed. He set out to make first-team all-rookie, and failed.
  • Monte Poole of The Oakland Tribune: Bob Myers has a fabulous job, with a salary that allows him to live anywhere he likes, visit any place he chooses. On this particular day, as soft clouds hover above the Bay Area, the Warriors general manager chooses state prison. He's not alone. Another member of the 1 percent club, Warriors coach Mark Jackson, a former NBA star, also arrives at the joint. These two are voluntarily rubbing shoulders -- literally -- with men serving time at this world-famous lockup on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. Myers and Jackson and Warriors assistant coach Brian Scalabrine, one year removed from playing in the NBA, are joined by other members of the Warriors organization, including assistant general manager Kirk Lacob, the son majority owner Joe Lacob. They all brave the morning commute to come here and play basketball with the inmates. So, naturally, this visit is about much more than hoops. "It's basketball, but, for the most part, this is about impacting lives," Jackson says.

First Cup: Thursday

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
5:22
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: James Dolan wore mostly a stoic look on stage, sitting next to commissioner David Stern and was joined by Nets minority owner Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov’s assistant Irina Pavlova. Prokhorov was not in New York. Dolan took on his usual curmudgeon persona when the discussion turned to the meeting Stern brokered between Dolan and Prokhorov last season to quell any ill feelings — as first reported by The Post’s Fred Kerber. When asked what he got out of the meeting, Dolan offered the best line of the event, saying: “Free lunch.’’ Dolan has tried to get the All-Star Game ever since the Garden started its transformation. As reported by The Post in 2012, the Garden would have had the 2014 All-Star Game, but the NBA didn’t want to compete against the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. Dolan was more expansive on the rivalry being good for the teams on and off the court.
  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Mikhail Prokhorov is a busy man, no doubt, but he still should have found the time to come to the biggest announcement involving his team since . . . well, there have been quite a few in recent months, starting with Jason Kidd’s surprise hiring as coach and then the introductions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets have rarely gone into a season looking better than the Knicks and considered a viable championship contender. Like never, not as an NBA team, not even when Kidd carried them to two Finals. True, it might not work out. Kidd is an unknown as a coach, and when we last saw Garnett and Pierce, going out feebly against the Knicks in the playoffs, it didn’t seem as if they had another title run in them. But maybe Kidd will be a quick study in his new vocation, and maybe Garnett and Pierce will survive another marathon regular season, flourish in one more playoff run and get the Nets to the Finals.
  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant are feuding in cyberspace, and it is silly and fun and stupid and great, all at once. It also reveals an underlying poignancy, which is the only reason the exchange is interesting in a larger sense and worth exploring. … All of this is noteworthy on the face of it, because it’s rare that one NBA star will publicly call out another, and Durant basically said Wade is overrated. The cynic might think the whole thing is an arranged feud to set up a sequel to the wake-from-a-bad-dream Gatorade commercial they did together, but I doubt it. It feels too real, and, on Wade’s end, too raw. This little feud is interesting mostly because it peels back a curtain on Wade’s mind and reveals how sensitive he is to his status as an elite player, and to that being questioned — let alone by a rival all-star. This isn’t cocky ego flexing itself in Wade. This is wounded pride. This is Wade being forced to confront where he is, career-wise, and where he is headed. … Wade wrote in that Instagram note that he wants to make Durant respect his “place in history.” But it isn’t about that. Wade’s place in history as a champion and future Hall of Famer is secure. This is about Dwyane Wade’s place in 2013 and ’14. This is about a great, proud basketball player trying to hold on to “elite” as doubters and time try to take it away.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Larry Bird agreed the George signing gives the Pacers less financial flexibility. They have approximately $64 million committed to nine players for the 2014-15 season, leaving little room to re-sign Stephenson, who will be entering the final year of his NBA entry-level contract, and fill out a roster with a salary cap that will be a small increase from this season’s $70.3 million. Longtime team leader Danny Granger likely will become a free agent after this season. Bird and Pacers officials have made it clear they have no plans to pay the NBA luxury tax, so keeping a young Pacers team together for the long term could be a challenge. For now, those concerns are secondary to putting the best possible team on the court for this season, Bird said. “We’re going to play this year,” he said. “You never know about the future, but right now, we’re pretty satisfied with where we’re at.”
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Sam Presti was peppered with 26 questions for more than half an hour Wednesday afternoon. The best was the fourth, the shortest and most significant. “How do you think the team has gotten better this off-season?” It was an inquiry that dismissed any preconceived notions and disregarded all pessimism that had been built by a relatively stale summer. And it forced Presti to think, requiring the Thunder general manager depart briefly from his script and spell out how exactly this team could be better when its inactivity primarily suggests it's gotten worse. “Well,” Presti said, “I think it all comes down to how you define ‘better.'” And with that, Presti spent the better part of the next 30 minutes detailing his definition during his annual preseason news conference. Along the way, he expressed excitement and extreme confidence in his club, choosing to view widespread question marks not as concerns but as opportunities.
  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: To date, the Lakers have not begun contract extension talks with Bryant, who is in the last year of his deal. Kupchak said he anticipates at some point this season a discussion will take place. "Kobe has made it clear that he intends to retire in a Laker uniform and I know as an organization, we feel the same way," he said. Kupchak did note he wasn't especially comfortable with Bryant's high dive, video of which he posted on Vine. "Not great judgment," admonished Kupchak. "He got out of the water and he looked like he was healthy, so I felt good. That was not great judgment." Bryant has been headstrong since the Lakers drafted him in 1996. "With Kobe you just try to manage who he is the best you can. Trust me, at 17 years going on 18, you're not going to change who Kobe Bryant is right now," Kupchak said. "During a game he's tough to manage." "I think the best that [Coach] Mike [D'Antoni] can hope for is to get to know Kobe better and maybe figure out a way to manage it the best he can," Kupchak said. "I think that's Mike's best chance. No coach has been able to control Kobe. No coach we've had since 1996 and that's not going to change."
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: With the Indiana Pacers announcing a five-year max extension with swingman Paul George, it’s only natural for Pistons fans to wonder about the status of 2010 draft classmate Greg Monroe. But Monroe let everyone know today he doesn’t want his contract status to become a daily topic of conversation. “I want y’all to circulate this right now,” he said. “Everybody pay attention. I have an agent like everybody else in the NBA. He’s going to communicate with the front office. I’m here to play, and that’s it. I’m not going to talk about it. If you ask me about it, I’m gonna tell ya I’m not going to talk about it. I’m here to play, and that’s what’s going to happen. Circulate that to y’all friends.” Monroe, 23, is eligible to sign an extension before the start of the regular season. If not, he would become a restricted free agent next summer.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Andrew Bogut finally deemed himself 100 percent healthy last week, and general manager Bob Myersand head coach Mark Jackson were on the verge of declaring the Warriors' center ready for a return to stardom this week. "He looks good. I mean, this is the player we envisioned when we traded for him," Myers said Wednesday. "This is the player you saw three or four years ago." With no limitations on his training, playing time or even back-to-back games, Bogut has been the highlight of the voluntary workouts that have been taking place at the downtown Oakland practice facility since just after Labor Day.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Heading into his free-agent year, Luol Deng already is in the headlines. And he and the Bulls aren’t comfortable with the situation. Deng’s agent, Herb Rudoy, said the Bulls ended contract talks at the start of the month, leaving Deng no choice but to be a shopper this summer. Posturing by both sides? Definitely. But it’s a good decision by general manager Gar Forman. Rudoy’s asking price for Deng is too much for the Bulls to commit to, and the hope is the market — thanks to a less player-friendly collective bargaining agreement — will show Deng that the grass is not greener. The bright side is that Deng is a professional, and while all this is going on, he’ll remain a class act on and off the court.
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman sat behind a podium Wednesday for a joint news conference to discuss an upcoming season that could either represent their final run as a tandem or the beginning of a long, sustainable franchise run as a playoff contender. Grunfeld is entering his 11th season with the organization and Wittman is set to start his second full season with the team, but their fortunes have been tied ever since owner Ted Leonsis gave them two-year extensions in 2012. And as both enter the final year of their respective deals, they understand the pressure that comes as the Wizards attempt to make the postseason for the first time since the 2007-08 season. “Well, that's what we want,” Wittman said when asked about the increased expectations. “We want to get to the playoffs. Do you think this is the first time I’ve been on a one-year contract? No. It doesn’t mean anything. Thirty years of being in this — and it’s just about going out and doing your job and doing it the best you can, and I feel if we do that, everything else takes care of itself.” Grunfeld then chuckled and said: “I’ve been there 36 years, for a couple under the same circumstances. So I have him by a couple of years on that one.”
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Royce White is participating in the workouts and will be on hand for media day on Friday. "He is slowly getting to a level that we want to try to bring him to," Brett Brown said of the power forward who was acquired in a July trade with the Houston Rockets. "It's exciting to see what could happen if the physical side of getting him in great shape can collide with his talents and all the other things that have gone on with Royce." The 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft has an anxiety disorder; he did not play in the NBA last season. The forward out of Iowa State last practiced with the Rockets on Nov. 10 and played 16 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League. White had been in a disagreement with the Rockets over how to deal with his anxiety issues.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: New Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford says he’ll be fair and open with his players. That doesn’t mean Clifford sees his job as making every player happy with his role. “Whenever coaches say every player has the chance for playing time, they’re lying to you,” Clifford said during a Wednesday luncheon with Charlotte media. “This can’t be like intramurals (where everyone gets in games) because guys stink when that happens. Some guys are going to have to play well with less minutes.” This is Clifford’s first season as an NBA head coach. It’s clear he has strong convictions. He and his bosses – front-office executives Rod Higgins and Rich Cho – believe this team’s biggest strength can be its depth. But that creates complications as far as players’ minutes expectations. Clifford said his job is to figure out which combinations maximize the chance to win a game. That isn’t the same as playing the most talented players all the time.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: So, the 2016 NBA all-star weekend bacchanalia is coming to Toronto? Saw the report Tuesday, don’t doubt its veracity, was kind of coasting and blowing off final days of vacation and made one call that couldn’t confirm it but there’s no reason to think it’s untrue, the process began months ago and I understand there were no other bidders. So . . . Sure, it’s a good thing for the hotels and the restaurants and the clubs that I wouldn’t be allowed into; the city and MLSE will most assuredly put on a good show and that’s great. For normal folks and run of the mill fans? Book your time on your couch now or expect to stand behind some barricade watching the swells go to all the big events. … It’s a good thing because it will open some NBA eyes to what the city has to offer -- February weather permitting, of course -- and if stalking celebrities and NBA players is your thing, it’ll be blast. But to think everything’s open and available to regular people and that you can rub shoulders with them? Guess again. Heck, last year you couldn’t even get into the players’ hotel without a credential and those security folks didn’t mess around with interlopers. It’s a fun weekend. For some people.

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.”

First Cup: Monday

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
5:00
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: The first practice of training camp is next Saturday at the Berto Center. Derrick Rose hasn't played in an NBA game since tearing the ACL in his left knee on April 28, 2012. "I'm feeling good," Rose said. "Right now my legs are good. Just trying to stay positive and keep my emotions from exploding knowing that the season's around the corner." After such a long layoff, everyone will be curious to see if Rose will be back to his old self or if he will be rusty when he returns to the court. … Rose was asked about limitations and hurdles involved in his comeback. He brushed off those questions and looked forward to his preseason debut Oct. 5 at Indiana. "I wouldn't say (there are any) mental hurdles, but I think it's just going to be an emotional day," he said. "Just playing with (my teammates), being around them, being an active player in the arena, playing in front of people. I haven't had that in a long time. "My confidence grew as a player, and you'll see that when I play."
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Nerlens Noel's repeated grunts revealed that fatigue had set in. Yet, other than a water break, the 19-year-old's only rest came while walking to and from workout stations. With his body completely drained, it would have been easy for him to take at least a five-minute break. Most NBA observers believe the Sixers are jockeying for position in what is expected to be a talent-rich 2014 draft. And Noel won't play until December - if at all this season - because of the anterior cruciate ligament tear he suffered during his lone season at Kentucky. But resting on this day was not an option for Noel, who spent 51/2 months rehabilitating his left knee with renowned physical therapist Kevin Wilk and his staff before moving to Philadelphia earlier this month. The third of four children, Noel knows a lot about real pain and working past the brink of exhaustion. And he'll tell you this isn't it. American dream How to tell the story of a player expected to alter the direction of the Sixers franchise? It starts with his mother, Dorcina Noel, who grew up in the Haitian coastal city of Gona´ves.
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Garry Vitti called this routine “par for the course” as he enters the Lakers’ training camp beginning Sept. 28 in what will become his 30th year with the organization. He described the 2012-13 season differently, though. Vitti ranked it “the toughest year for me,” one that pales only to when Magic Johnson abruptly retired and announced in 1991 he had tested positive for HIV. … Still, with the Lakers far from championship favorites, Vitti believes any success this season goes beyond health. “If we get on the court and are fragmented as a team, it doesn’t make a difference that you worked that hard,” Vitti said. “You have to have a head coach and have guys buy into what he’s doing. We have to come together as a team, believe in each other and trust each other.” Vitti sounded encouraged the Lakers will have that attitude after seeing nearly everyone in recent weeks in the trainer’s room and informal workouts. The lone exception among the team’s 16 players involves Gasol, who trains in his native Spain each offseason. Save for a three-week vacation in August with his wife, Martha, to his house in Settefratti, Italy and a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, Vitti’s schedule this offseason stayed busy. Players kept the trainer’s room full each day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. With the Lakers’ hope to field a healthier roster this season, Vitti encounters constant interruptions. That still beats the Lakers’ feeling last season when every trip to the trainer’s room became as enjoyable as most visits to the DMV. “It was a very difficult situation,” Vitti said. “We were all over the place. This year will be much different.”
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Coaches that win consecutive championships receive lucrative offers for speeches, book deals and more. But we hear the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra is turning down everything. As a friend said, at this point in his life, he wants to focus on winning championships. Spoelstra again has used a bit of his time this summer to study coaches and their techniques, including friend Chip Kelly in Philadelphia andPete Carroll in Seattle. (He also spoke to Seahawks and University of Tennessee players, and Russell Wilson raved about his speech to the Seahawks.)
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Three seasons ago, when the Thunder clinched its first Northwest Division title, it was viewed as a huge milestone for the burgeoning franchise. “It's great for our fans,” coach Scott Brooks said at the time. “It's great for our city to be division champs. It is definitely a step in our process.” Two years and two division titles later, the feat has become little more than a formality. Just a nice footnote in the season's bigger picture. This isn't the MLB, where playoff spots are fewer, or the NFL, where postseason byes are offered. So the importance of division championships in the NBA is dwarfed. But they still come with a guaranteed top-four finish in the conference and bragging rights within the division. And for the Thunder, which enters camp later this week in search of a fourth straight Northwest crown, the path has never looked easier.
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: If the Pistons plan on being dealers before the February 2014 trade deadline, they have a glut of small forwards and guards to possibly offer, if that’s team president Joe Dumars’ plan. “We have a lot of flexibility,” newly acquired Josh Smith said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if guys played different positions in the backcourt or along the front line, depending on matchups.” Smith is expected to start at small forward and also see time at power forward. Also on the roster are Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko and rookie Luigi Datome, who made a splash overseas with his shot-making ability and athleticism. That’s four small forwards, and there aren’t enough minutes to play them all. Singler played out of position at shooting guard during parts of his rookie season, but currently the backcourt is overloaded. Jerebko could see some time at power forward to loosen the logjam if coach Maurice Cheeks wanted to go in that direction. At point guard there’s Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey. The team also signed rookie point guard Peyton Siva, who was drafted in the second round. …. Stuckey at shooting guard didn’t do well a year ago because of his struggles beyond the three-point line. One of the reasons the Pistons drafted 6-foot-5 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was because of his shot-making ability as a legitimate shooting guard. To deny him minutes if he earned them in camp would impede his development on a team that believes it has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Q: What, on a basketball court, is non-negotiable? Steve Clifford: “Transition defense. There are numerous areas we have to improve if we want a better record. But the thing about transition defense is all it takes is effort and organization. It’s not a talent area. You run back every time because it puts you in a better position to defend, or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. That’s something we have to take pride in.” Q: Anything else of particularly high priority? Steve Clifford: “I’m spending a lot of time looking at our rebounding game. Rebounding translates from level to level more than any stat. Guys who rebound well in college tend to rebound well in the NBA. If you look at our roster we have one guy (Kidd-Gilchrist) who is an exceptional rebounder by (position). The bottom line is we can improve offensively and improve defensively, but if we don’t improve in team rebounding, it may not matter.”
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Q: What is your expectation for Raptors this upcoming season? What are the areas that have been improved? What are the areas that still need urgent attention? Which player do you expect to have a breakout season? Which player would be the X-factor? A: Well, I think you probably know then that guessing really isn’t my bag, especially a week before we’ve even seen a practice but what the heck. My expectation is that they will be in the grey area between about No. 6 and No. 12 in the East and it will depend on if and when they come together, if they stay relatively injury free and depend a lot on what the other teams do. I think they need to defend better, I would imagine Jonas Valanciunas will be much better than he was last year so he might be considered a “breakout” player and I guess one big X Factor will be how Kyle Lowry plays. But I also have no clue if any of that is right or not and I’m kind of anxious to see what happens for real.
  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: No matter how painful the coming season becomes, Utah is committed to the idea of developing young players, accumulating assets like future draft picks and riding out what could be a 25-win storm. "We will not be going back on that philosophy," Dennis Lindsey promised. Clearly, the Jazz are now Lindsey’s baby, even if he doesn’t want to be considered the father. Executive vice president of basketball operations Kevin O’Connor is now more of an adviser than a decision-maker, and Lindsey recently hired his own assistant general manager, Justin Zanik. Still, suggestions Lindsey has become the lone pilot of this experimental craft that will take Utah into the next stage in franchise history do not sit well with him. "I’ve ever felt that way — when I was scouting, when I coached, when I played or now that I’ve moved up from assistant GM to the elite seat," Lindsey said. "Building a team, organizing a team, maturing a team, is a very collaborative process." Exhibit A: The Jazz’s decision to move up and draft Burke last summer. "There is a good chance Trey Burke isn’t here," Lindsey said, "unless we had Ty Corbin’s input."
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: Factor in Nene's skills as a low post scorer and a high post passer plus his locker room presence, well, it's rather obvious how valuable the Brazilian big man is to the team's well-being. One simple reason he's not higher on the list, injury concerns. One simple reason it's hard penning the Wizards into the postseason, injury concerns Until we have a prognosis on Okafor, the worries stay largely with Nene, who missed 21 games last season largely due to foot injuries. He played only 39 games with Denver and Washington during the 2011-12 campaign. The irreplaceable debate likely comes up again during camp, especially if Okafor's timetable for return is lengthy. Obviously, the Wizards hope the discussion remains a purely hypothetical one.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: What the Suns roster lacks in experience and playoff pedigree, the coaching staff’s credentials will work on making up some of that. New assistant coaches Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi each have NBA championship rings. New head coach Jeff Hornacek and assistant coach Mark West have been to the NBA Finals. There are 50 seasons of NBA experience among four coaches who played and that will form much-needed advice for a Suns roster with nine players between 19 and 25 years old. “I don’t think there’s going to be anything we haven’t seen or been through,” said new assistant coach Kenny Gattison, who played for the Suns from 1986 to 1989. “Staffs come together out of necessity. X’s and O’s, defensive principles and all that, we know. It’s not like we’re going to invent anything new. But as the season goes, you learn how to manage personalities, different combinations and, at the end of the day, our job is to make Jeff’s job easier so he can coach the team. If you relay his message and get the players to say what he’s saying, then you’re on your way. “It’s going to be a lot of preaching and teaching.”

The layup masters

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
11:27
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Tony Parker
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Statistics show LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and Tony Parker are among the best.

Is being good at the layup as simple as getting to the rim? There’s rarely a distinction made between a player’s ability to get in layup range versus his ability to actually sink it. Perhaps that’s because “a layup” is also a metaphor for something easy, like a “gimme” putt in golf.

Whoever popularized the metaphor probably never tried to score over NBA giants, I’d hazard.

The layup also gets no respect because it doesn’t demand respect. Unlike the dunk, the layup fails to seize an arena’s attention with a sudden lightning bolt at the hoop. Instead, it takes an indirect route off the backboard before meandering along the rim, waffling on whether to finally be a basket already.

Incredible dunks look super intentional, as though a player’s life depended on forcing the ball through the rim at that moment. Incredible layups look accidental, as though a fouled Dwyane Wade thought “Why not?” while flinging the ball in the backboard’s general direction.

So the layup commutes between “you’re open and should always make it” and “you weren’t looking at the rim, that was total luck.” It’s hard to get recognition for being good at something when both the routine and the spectacular are so easily dismissed.

Well, no one is dismissing the mighty layup in these parts. The shortest bank shot is indeed a skill -- and an important one. Here are some players who, according to Basketball-Reference.com, have mastered the ancient art, along with some guys who could stand to do better.

THE BEST

LeBron James
Made 70 percent of layups, attempted 357

When LeBron stole Game 1 from Indiana with an off-hand layup, there was far less marveling at his steely reserve than there was criticism of Frank Vogel for letting it happen.

An open layup is a high percentage shot for anyone, but it says something that LeBron is comfortable with his off hand in a high-pressure moment like that. His ambidexterity is the foundation of his short-range arsenal.

Not only is LeBron better at getting to the rim than everyone else but he might be more accurate once there than everyone else, as well. Last season, LeBron shot 70 percent on layups. He attempted at least 200 layups more than anyone with a better layup conversion rate.

The aforementioned ambidexterity allows LeBron to explore any angle at any time. A favorite tactic of his is to shield the defender with his back while banking a no-look lefty. It’s a bit like a reverse lay-in that doesn’t finish on the other side of the hoop.

Isaiah Thomas
Made 67 percent of layups, attempted 151

Pound-for-pound (Copyright: Allen Iverson) the best layupper around. At a tiny 5-9 in socks, Thomas shouldn’t be able to hit 67.1 percent on these shots. He has had a lifetime of practice against taller players, though.

Thomas hasn’t mastered any one thing in particular. He just has the full layup repertoire. He’ll switch hands when it suits him. He’ll loft it high off the glass like Steve Nash. He’ll shield off contact with his back while scooping the ball forward. He has the up-and-under down.

Seriously, watch this guy at the rim. Better yet, record this guy at the rim, pause right before the layup happens and appreciate how impossible the feat looks. Water can’t find a way through cracks the way a Thomas layup can.

Tony Parker
Made 67 percent of layups, attempted 331

This is the defining Parker trait and always has been. There’s also a striking quirk to his game. Although Parker can use his left hand if the situation requires, he prefers to use his right, even on the left side of the backboard. I’d say the signature Tony layup is a right-handed scoop on the left side of the rim. That is, if the signature Tony layup isn’t an overhand try in which he’s leaning backward on an invisible recliner.

Marcus Thornton
Made 70 percent of layups, attempted 156

Look, I’d be lying if I said I could fully explain Thornton’s layup skill, but he’s been great two years running (69.3 percent on layups last season). He isn’t especially fluid with his moves, but he’s good with either hand. Thornton also doesn’t force anything around the rim. Most of his lay-ins come off assists.

THE WORST

Brandon Jennings
Made 50 percent of layups, attempted 281

Kevin Costner’s “back, and to the left” line creeps into my head whenever Jennings drives. Detroit’s new starting point guard has a tendency to lean backward off balance while flinging lefty prayers. Hopefully Jennings learned something from former teammate Beno Udrih, who shoots contested layups quite well.

Carmelo Anthony
Made 50 percent of layups, attempted 335

He’s even worse at contested layups when you consider how often he’s rebounding his misses for easy putbacks. But those putbacks might answer the question of why Anthony is so mediocre near the basket. Melo loves chasing his own shot, and the first try might be a careless prelude to the chase. He’s also not especially adept at using his left hand and thus forces a lot of action with his right.

Dion Waiters
Made 50 percent of layups, attempted 245

He’s the right-handed Jennings, although there’s more hope for Waiters going forward, I’d say. He’s stronger than Jennings (eventually my “Strongta Ellis” nickname will get off the ground, I just know it), taller than Jennings and younger than Jennings. I’m banking (OK, I’ll stop) on an improved Waiters near the rim.

Ramon Sessions
Made 49 percent of layups, attempted 290

Sessions was among the worst perimeter player on layups last season, but he hasn’t been this bad in the past. Last season could be a fluke -- or the result of a once-quick point guard slowing down. I’ve noticed he tends to go right when the path is blocked off.

Omer Asik
Made 48 percent of layups, attempted 145

I stayed away from listing big men because so many of their “layups” are really post moves or strained putbacks, but Asik deserves a mention. He converted 94.6 percent of his dunks, nearly 47 better than he managed on layups. From 3-10 feet, he shot 27.4 percent.

Few players better demonstrate the difference between grip and other kinds of fine motor skills. Asik is good at dunking; he has no issue putting his clamps on the rock and tomahawking it through the hoop. Once his hands try a more delicate layup, though, the ball flies off the window as if Asik’s playing handball.

Ricky Rubio
Made 45 percent of layups, attempted 164

I don’t want to judge too harshly, as Rubio was coming back from an ACL tear. This is his second season of poor finishing, though (48.4 percent on layups in his rookie year). It’s curious that Rubio struggles like this because he’s so well coordinated and so well aware of angles when it comes to passing. Perhaps the problem is his running balance. On drives, Rubio often staggers as if he’s in an invisible potato sack race.

IN THE MIDDLE

Russell Westbrook
Made 58 percent of layups, attempted 478

Westbrook might be the player whose facility at making layups simply means he gets to the rim a bunch. That’s not entirely fair, though, because Westbrook can and does finish with either hand.

You just wouldn’t expect the dynamic point guard to be a whole 12 percent worse on layups than LeBron, given Westbrook’s elite speed and hops. It appears, from the video clips, as if Westbrook flies into the lane with more desire than strategy, willing the ball toward what might be the hoop. That’s nitpicking because, even if Westbrook is only OK at converting layup attempts, it matters more that he is creating so many of them.

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