TrueHoop: Dallas Mavericks

Silver's un-Stern stern move

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
4:43
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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If the NBA’s decision to fine the Dallas Mavericks for public address announcer Sean Heath’s tweets about the officiating seems very David Stern-like, it could be because new commissioner Adam Silver is doing his best to NOT be like Stern.

In 2010, Stern revealed that one of the biggest regrets of his tenure as commissioner was that he didn’t crack down on Phil Jackson and Pat Riley when they kept insinuating that league agendas were behind the officials’ calls during their playoff battles in the early 1990s.

“I wish I had to do it all over again and, starting 20 years ago, I’d be suspending Phil and Pat Riley for all the games they play in the media,” Stern said.

Stern believes that failing to do so allowed the conspiracy theories to fester, making the default explanation for any blown whistle become either “the TV networks want the series to last longer” or “the NBA wants the biggest TV markets to meet in the Finals.” If the most prominent coaches said it, why wouldn’t the fans believe it? Every fan believes the league is out to get his favorite team. Hearing the same thoughts come from the participants themselves only encourages them.

Apparently, Adam Silver’s regime won’t make the same mistake as Stern. When Heath took to Twitter to complain about the officiating following a Mavericks loss to the Golden State Warriors on April 1, Heath’s biggest mistake in a series of tweets was writing “@NBA: the ONLY professional league in the US with the reputation that the games are rigged. Know why? Because of games like tonight. #shame”

Actually, the shame is that a representative of a team would do anything to fuel the conspiracy-minded fans. “Rigged” is too serious an accusation to casually toss around without consequences. This week we learned what they were: a $25,000 fine for the Mavericks, as reported by Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.

MacMahon wrote that the league’s first impulse was to suspend Heath, but that action would be complicated by the fact that he is technically a contract worker, not a team employee. That still sounds like the revised mindset of which Stern spoke four years ago.

I bet it’s something that Silver will not regret upon reflection 20 years from now.

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


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

What more does Dirk have to do?

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
9:33
AM ET
By Zac Crain
Special to ESPN.com
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Dirk NowitzkiAP Photo/Don RyanOne ring. One MVP. One Finals MVP. Yet Dirk Nowitzki still doesn't get his due around Dallas.
"Oh, come on, Dirk!"

The heckle came early in the first quarter during a Mavericks home game against the New Orleans Pelicans. I've heard that sentence, or a close facsimile of it, on many occasions since Dirk Nowitzki came to Dallas from Germany in 1999. But this instance stood out. Nowitzki had just ... honestly, I’m not sure what he did. Missed a jumper? Let his man score? It was so insignificant it doesn’t really matter. That’s not the point.

It stood out for two reasons. First, it was further evidence that even after all Nowitzki has done for basketball in Dallas -- rescued it from one of the worst decades by any single team in the long history of the league, for a start -- he still hasn’t earned unconditional love from Mavericks fans.

The second reason it stood out, the more important one? It happened in the first quarter of the Mavericks’ first preseason game of the year.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJust three years ago, Dirk Nowitzki carried the Mavericks to their first title in franchise history.
I've been thinking about that moment a lot as this season has progressed, as Nowitzki has recaptured the All-Star form that momentarily vanished last season. During an injury-plagued 2012-13 season, Nowitzki captained a travel team from the Island of Misfit Toys -- and even then he still almost willed the Mavs to a 13th straight trip to the playoffs. Nowitzki’s at a stage of his career when most felt like he would be reduced to a complementary piece.

Yet here he is, maybe not better than ever, but not far off, still capable of turning a half of basketball into a game of H-O-R-S-E with those wrong-foot fadeaway jumpers delivered from barely plausible angles. When he’s on, as he often is, his shot looks as it always has, like someone who’s never watched a basketball game stuck a Dirk Fathead on the wall in the dark.

Forget about this season. Step back from the wall so you can take in the entire painting. Nowitzki is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and his No. 41 will be in the rafters of the American Airlines Center shortly after he stops wearing it. He will finish his career somewhere in the top 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, likely nestled between Moses Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. He’s already, without question, the best European player in league history and in the conversation for its best foreign-born player. He’s won an NBA title and an MVP trophy and is one of the few players that can be identified by silhouette alone. He’s like a 7-foot Jerry West.

But still: “Oh, come on, Dirk!”

You hear it in bars and at games, impatiently spat out after any slight or even perceived miscue. Mavericks fans are reduced to the type of youth basketball coach you don’t want your kid to play for. This is what more than 26,000 points, an MVP trophy and a championship ring get you.

It’s not that Mavericks fans dislike Nowitzki. But I do believe -- apart from the team’s improbable run to the 2011 title -- they’ve rarely fully appreciated him.

Nowitzki doesn’t have the lightning-bolt athleticism that inspires awe. He dunks so rarely in games, each one is singled out. And he’s not the kind of charge-taking, floor-slapping player that fans rally behind; he’s white but he’s European, so he’s robbed of all the stereotypical grittiness of a Brian Cardinal type. He’s sort of the BMW of athletes: nothing flashy, just precise German engineering. Mid-range jumpers don't sell sneakers or jerseys or just about anything else.

But it’s not all Nowitzki. You have to take the longer view here, too. After the Mavericks set the template for building an expansion team into a perennial contender in the 1980s, the team spent the next decade in the doldrums, bottoming out when they won 11 and 13 games in back-to-back seasons (1992-93, and 1993-94). The franchise’s trio of supposed saviors -- Jamal Mashburn, Jim Jackson and Jason Kidd -- managed only to bring the soap-opera atmosphere of "Dallas" to the hardwood.

When Nowitzki finally arrived at the end of the decade, struggling mightily through his first season, he was seen as just another tall white guy who would let everyone down, and Mavs fans had seen enough of those -- Cherokee Parks, Eric Montross, Chris Anstey.

It hurt even more that the Mavs’ pratfall into becoming veterans of the lottery process coincided with the Dallas Cowboys’ return to America’s Team status. A generation of potential Mavs fans became front-running mercenaries, repping for the Bulls or Lakers or anyone other than the hometown team. Even though (under Mark Cuban) the Mavericks were reborn as a first-class organization, the seeds planted during the 1990s continue to sprout. I remember, a few years ago, a spirited “M! V! P!” chant breaking out during a Mavs-Lakers game at the AAC, spreading all across the arena.

It was for Kobe Bryant.

Nowitzki already had his own MVP trophy at that point, but he picked it up a few days after the 67-win Mavs were bounced out of the playoffs in the 2007 first round by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors. This came a year after the Mavs folded against the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals. Three series before the Mavericks’ first title, in 2011, a double-digit fourth-quarter collapse against the Trail Blazers was seen as evidence that Nowitzki just couldn’t get it done.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki is Mavericks basketball. But Dallas' lone NBA star still doesn't bask in rarefied air.
Mostly they just didn’t pay enough attention. They forgot about him after 2007, their already fragile trust doomed by two disastrous postseason finishes. Dallas sees itself as a city of winners, even when that isn’t true, and Dirk didn’t seem to conform. They didn’t realize he was building himself into one while they debated Cowboys draft picks and minor roster moves.

Even after Nowitzki proved himself worthy of induction into the pantheon of Dallas sports, he didn’t have time to enjoy it. The lockout happened, the Mavs’ front office started gearing up for free agents that never materialized, and Nowitzki hurt his knee, leading to his first extended absence. And now, after spending the bulk of his career as the avatar of a franchise that was very good but never great, he’s the face of a team pre-loaded with frustration, occasionally very good but never living up to what might have been had, say, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard come to town.

And so: “Oh, come on, Dirk!”

He’ll be gone one day -- maybe in a season or two, maybe three if we’re lucky. I hope the Mavericks figure out a succession plan by then, and continue on a path of perpetual respectability. But if I’m being honest, I have something else in mind:

I want them to be terrible for a little bit after Nowitzki retires. Just for a season. Just so everyone who doubted the singularity of his talent, who heckled him during preseason games, who didn’t realize that gods shoot mid-range jumpers, too -- just so all of them know exactly what they’re missing. And what they had all along.

Zac Crain is a senior editor at D Magazine.

MIT Sloan 2014: Oh, the humanity

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
10:41
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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video

The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference isn’t about stats anymore. Not coincidentally, it’s much-improved.

Stats really never stood a chance at Dorkapalooza. As Danny Nowell demonstrated, a belief in information as currency quickly begets a reluctance to share information. If you think stats are the future, you’re hoarding the future a la Biff and his Grays Sports Almanac in "Back to the Future Part II."

Yes, there are still academic papers at the conference up for discussion. But the stars of the show are the stars -- the nationally famous owners, general managers and coaches.

So don’t attack this conference as a bunch of geeks trading slide rule war stories. The convention is no longer proliferating the academic advancement it symbolizes. They moved this thing away from MIT, remember.

Instead, SSAC 2014 offered us an enticing look at the future of sports entertainment. Paradoxically, that future has all to do with messy, imperfect humanity, and little to do with statistics.

Malcolm Gladwell grilling newly minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver on James Dolan’s tax benefits? Yes please. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive getting into it over which of their teams is tanking? Don’t mind if I do. Stan Van Gundy mocking the Sixers in extreme language? Pass the popcorn already.

After so much focus on the rather dehumanizing process of commodifying athlete performance, the Sloan Conference somehow managed to commodify the humanity of its speakers. Nearly everyone at Sloan believes in the competitive power of data, but Sloan, like sports, is a personality-driven business. Selling tickets to Phil Jackson talking extemporaneously is easier than selling tickets to a guy you’ve never heard of expounding on rebounding.

It’s hard to beat live, reality TV. Adam Silver seemed a bit nervous and it was riveting. Stan Van Gundy waxed angry and it was hilarious. In their panel on negotiations, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers appeared vulnerable and it was cathartic.

The latter event was the least contentious, which is funny when you consider how these men are supposedly tasked with swindling each other up until trade deadlines. Morey and Myers both vented about the travails of dealing with GMs who try to lecture you on what’s best for your team. They expressed frustration with peers who seek to win the trade as opposed to finding common ground. The normally opaque general managers dropped the veil and conveyed the exhaustion of working in a world so steeped in secrecy and paranoia.

Most memorably, Morey dished on his fear in response to Golden State’s deal for Andre Iguodala. Morey revealed how he thought the trade might put Houston’s Dwight Howard venture in jeopardy: “This is where my emotion takes over. I go into a complete panic. I really did. I thought it was down to us, Dallas, L.A." What followed was an anecdote about how a frantic Morey called Mark Cuban to inquire about Dirk Nowitzki (Cuban assumed that Morey was sarcastically taunting him).

Morey is among the most media-friendly GMs -- he invited the media to this conference that he co-founded, after all. “Friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean “open,” though. But alongside Myers, Morey was startlingly open.

That’s the secret for turning a suit into a storyteller. He needs some company up there on stage, people who hail from his cloistered world and can validate the statements. This is how many of these panels evoked the loose, conversational, and at times, contentious comedy of shows like HBO’s "Real Time" and ESPN’s "Pardon the Interruption."

The Parade of Loosened Ties has yet to reach the mainstream in the way many advanced statistics have. The Sloan conference is more entertaining than ever before, but it still (intentionally) plays to an exclusive audience. In Boston, we can see the future of how sports leagues will feed the fan’s increasingly voracious appetite: Get the most powerful people in sports together and get them talking.

Might you enjoy a panel of GMs discussing team needs a week before the trade deadline? Would you listen to two famous coaches razz each other for your amusement?

Suit-based sports entertainment would be the natural outgrowth of the statistical revolution that turned Billy Beane into someone Brad Pitt plays in a movie. And even though “suit-based sports entertainment” sounds terrifyingly corporate, the results at the Sloan petri dish were captivating.

Information is currency, so owners, GMs, and coaches won’t spend it on us. But celebrity is the rare currency that earns as you spend it. If the analytics movement pulled "the geeks" into the spotlight, it’s only a matter of time before those geeks grab the mike and make use of their newfound fame.

The Mavericks' sneakily effective offense

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
2:40
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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The Mavericks aren't amazing shooters, or crazily athletic, but they're scoring very well. David Thorpe explains what the Spurs can expect to face tonight.

Top Offseason Moves

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
12:13
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Last summer it looked like the Rockets and Nets had won the offseason. Amin Elhassan explains that now we're seeing teams in action, the Mavericks, Celtics, Suns and Pacers are among those looking smart.

What matters from NBA preseason

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
3:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Most of preseason doesn't matter much. But from Dwight Howard doing the little things to Giannis Antetokounmpo blowing minds ... David Thorpe has found some exceptions.

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: Monday

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
5:32
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Kirk Hinrich's projected role — backing up both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler at guard — could aid in his quest to have a healthier 2013-14. "I'm excited," Hinrich said. "I've come off the bench before and enjoyed it. I feel I can come in and bring energy. That will be a good role for me. Most of the injuries last year were just bad luck, so I try not to put too much stock into it. But early in last year's preseason, I had a lot of my small muscle groups hurting. So I'm just trying to do a lot more flexibility and functional stuff in the weight and training rooms before and after practice to prevent that." Indeed, one of Hinrich's regular-season injuries was freakish — a burst bursa sac in his right elbow that became infected. And who can forget Hinrich's final game, when he tied a franchise record by playing 59 minutes, 36 seconds in the triple-overtime victory over the Nets in Game 4.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The 2013-14 version of the Suns head to Flagstaff Monday for a six-day training camp that begins a season of low expectations from the outside and high anticipation on the inside. There will be 10 new faces, but the return of a familiar one feeds the anticipation: Channing Frye announced Sunday that he is cleared to join the camp after a year away from basketball due to an enlarged heart. “It’s been a long journey getting healthy, but I did it through the support of my friends and family and with my will to not give up,” Frye said. “I’m very excited to be a part of this new young Suns team. I take pride in this uniform and can’t wait to run out of the tunnel to the fans that have been supportive throughout this whole process.” … Frye will ease into basketball activity, just as the Suns did with another big man this summer. Alex Len, the Suns’ No.5 draft pick, underwent surgeries on his left ankle in May and right ankle in July but resumed light court work in August. Last week, Len joined the voluntary workouts’ 5-on-5 scrimmages for 10 to 12 plays at a time with no pain.
  • Bruce Arthur of the National Post: The NBA is a lot like Hollywood: it matters who you know, how successful you are, how much power you wield. People want to be attached to a blockbuster; over the past four years LeBron James went from Cleveland to Miami, Chris Bosh went from Toronto to Miami, Carmelo Anthony went from Denver to New York, Dwight Howard has gone from Orlando to L.A. to Houston, and Chris Paul has gone from New Orleans to L.A. Oh, and Brooklyn raided Boston, and others. As one NBA executive lamented not long ago, “I swear, this league is 60% luck.” So maybe Drake becomes a point of entry, which combined with Tim Leiweke’s connections to Hollywood — and hey, CAA, which is a force in the NBA — Toronto becomes something other than an outpost. But alone, it’s window dressing, fizz. The All-Star Game won’t help much, either. It’s recently been held in New Orleans, in Orlando, in Atlanta, in Phoenix, after which their best players left. The All-Star Game is a billboard, but a blank billboard doesn’t do much good. And that’s why despite the presence of Drake, Rob Ford, NBA commissioner-in-waiting Adam Silver and Leiweke at the press conference, the most important figure remains Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, who has spent the summer quietly sitting on the competitive fence, the Andrea Bargnani trade notwithstanding.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Managing owner Josh Harris reiterated Sunday that the 76ers are not moving to North Jersey. "My answer to the fans is I love the Sixers in Philly. I'm committed to it," Harris said during his state-of-the-Sixers news conference. Harris' keeping the franchise in Philadelphia isn't a surprise to people who know the billionaire businessman. They will tell you the surprising thing is that he's on board with the Sixers' tanking this season. "I want immediate results and immediate upside," he said. "But I think that the reality of professional sports is that things don't change overnight." The things that will allow Harris to keep his sanity during what will be a trying season are his offseason moves that were geared to bring a championship to Philadelphia in a few seasons.
  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Amar'e Stoudemire's hectic summer didn't include much basketball but it did include yet another knee surgery, the Daily News has learned. According to a Knicks source, Stoudemire had an unreported surgical procedure in July to repair one of his ailing knees. The Knicks open camp on Tuesday and have yet to announce that Stoudemire has had a third knee operation in 12 months. The surgery was described as "clean up" and isn't considered major. However, the secrecy surrounding Stoudemire's latest health issue could be an indication that the club is not optimistic that they can rely on the veteran power forward. Stoudemire appeared in just 29 games last season and had debridement surgeries on both of his knees, the right knee in October and the left in March.
  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: (New head coach Brian Shaw) will let training camp decide which players fall into which roles, but more important, the month of practices and eight preseason games will be the guide to what the Nuggets' new identity will be. Under previous coach George Karl, it was all run, all the time. Shaw will likely blunt some of that breakneck pace and will likely slot in a mixture of speed to continue using the altitude to the Nuggets' advantage and half-court patterns to make sure Denver can execute against any team, in any situation. "We're going to have to establish what our identity is as a team," Shaw said. "At this point, I don't know yet. I haven't had all the guys together. The last two years, when we were in Indiana, we were a smash-mouth basketball team. We did not relent; we did not give in to going small because other teams went small; we stayed true to who we were and took advantage of our length and size and our energy and power. I'll have to see what we're made of and what our identity will be. It will show itself when we get everybody together and get started."
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: If center Andrew Bynum misses the entire preseason, the Cavaliers don’t seem to think it will be the end of the world. The 7-foot, 285-pounder missed the entire 2012-13 season after having surgery on both knees. The former All-Star center signed a two-year, $24.5 million contract with the Cavs in the offseason. Only $6 million is guaranteed. The Cavs’ goal appears to be getting Bynum ready for the regular season. If he misses the majority of the preseason, so be it is the feeling from the team. Cavs media day is Monday and all eyes will be on Bynum. However, don’t expect to see Bynum on the practice court when training camp begins on Tuesday. Cavs coach Mike Brown said recently there’s been no timetable established for Bynum’s return. He hasn’t started court work yet, but he’s running on a treadmill.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: After spending the last 61/2 seasons with the division rival Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks, Mike Dunleavy knew what the Bulls were about. His impressions were reaffirmed last spring, when he watched the Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs without Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, then go toe-to-toe with the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat before falling in five games. ‘‘Absolutely, players take note of that,’’ the sharpshooting Dunleavy said of joining a team that shows fight. ‘‘This is a high-character team. You could tell with the way other guys stepped up. There were no excuses. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be part of something like that?’’ But then there was the issue of money. Dunleavy was projected to be a $5 million-to-$7 million-a-year signee. The Bulls got him for $3 million a year for the next two seasons. Sure, players have been pointing to the collective-bargaining agreement negotiated by former National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter as hurting the free-agent market. But Dunleavy, 33, said money wasn’t the biggest priority at this stage of his career. ‘‘The ghost of Billy Hunter will be haunting us for a long time, but . . . I’ve done well financially, so I could make a decision on what would make me happy,’’ Dunleavy said. ‘‘At this point, it’s playing with a group like this, having a chance to win.’’
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: If you’re a bottom-line, show-me-the-scoreboard kind of person, then the 2013-14 Celtics may not be your cup of entertainment. But this edition will not lack for story lines. It will be interesting to see how first-time NBA coach Brad Stevens adapts to his new digs and how well he establishes a working relationship with players who won’t have to sit out a year if they transfer. It will be beyond interesting to see how Rajon Rondo adjusts both physically and sociologically to playing without Pierce and Garnett. How much of what we saw from rookie Kelly Olynyk in July was the product of summer-league competition? Is Jeff Green ready to exhibit his considerable talent on a more consistent basis? Who among the Brooklyn refugees is here for more than a cup of chowder? The Celtics are wise to be patient as they seek to repackage their roster and multiple first-round draft picks into a worthy entity. But they are still on the clock as regards Rondo, who can be a free agent in two years. Before then, the Celts must show they are close enough to being good to make him want to stay, or, failing that, find the right trade for Rondo before he abdicates.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic will test rookie Victor Oladipo immediately. Oladipo, who played shooting guard in college, will be asked to play perhaps a significant amount at point guard, continuing the experiment the team began during its summer-league exhibitions. Oladipo faces a difficult test in the weeks ahead. A rookie season is difficult for any player — even someone who played three years of college ball at Indiana, as Oladipo did — and now Oladipo will try to pick up the nuances of the most complex position on the floor. Magic officials believe he can excel as a defender at both guard positions, but anyone would acknowledge Oladipo will have some rough moments on the offensive end of the court. But that should be OK given that the Magic are in Year Two of their rebuilding project. Taking some lumps now might pay major dividends a few years down the road as long as his confidence remains intact.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The Oklahoma City Thunder will travel to Turkey as scheduled this week for its preseason opener despite the country's ongoing violence and the highly publicized crisis in neighboring Syria. Concerns over the safety of players, coaches and team and league personnel raised questions recently about whether the first leg of the Thunder's two-game European tour would be canceled. But the Thunder is scheduled to depart for Istanbul on Wednesday, with the team left to trust that the NBA-mandated trip will be as secure as any other road game. With a Sept. 6 travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State to U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Turkey, Thunder general manager Sam Presti was asked last week about security concerns abroad. Presti directed the question to the NBA. But not before calling it “a very fair question.”
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Locker rooms can be crowded places during training camps. But that won’t be the case with the Pistons when camp begins Tuesday. Barring a last-minute invite, the 15 under contract will be the only players hitting the practice floor Tuesday morning when coach Maurice Cheeks opens his first camp with the Pistons. The NBA-mandated roster limit is 15 during the regular season, but teams can invite more players to camp for various reasons. The Knicks are bringing 20 players to camp. But with a roster with an average age of 25 and eight new players, the Pistons want to give minutes to their young players and for their regulars to start developing chemistry. There are also several camp battles to watch so it should make for a competitive environment. “This is probably what, in the old-school days, training camp was about, ... competing for spots, competing for minutes, and it gets no better than this right here when you have a lot of guys who can play different positions and in order to get minutes they have to be able to beat out another guy,” Cheeks said last week.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: After two days and three practices, the Rockets are beginning to run out of centers. Dwight Howard remains the center of attention, but his predecessor as the Rockets’ starter, Omer Asik, left the floor late in Sunday’s practice with a strained calf muscle. He is listed as day-to-day. Greg Smith (strained right hip) is also day-to-day and Marcus Camby (plantar fasciitis) is out this week, leaving Howard and rookie Jordan Henriquez available at the position. Guard/forward Francisco Garcia sat out Sunday to rest the sore groin muscle he tweaked at the Tournament of the Americas, but had been practicing.
  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com Most of the team's newly acquired ammo will come off the bench and provide the necessary fire power and rest for starters. The addition of Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Earl Watson is a massive upgrade from last year's second unit. Those acquisition, alone, should pencil-in the Trail Blazers into the playoffs. However, if this team is serious about competing in more than 89 games this year (7 preseason + 82 regular season games), it's going to have to be a drastic change on the defensive end. Head coach Terry Stotts said this past offseason that they will instill a different set of defensive principles this year. He didn't elaborate at the time, but believe it's safe to say that the guards will benefit heavily from such a change. Reason being is most of the time perimeter defenders are told to shade their opponent to one particular side, knowing that you have help behind you. Often the plan is to force them to go baseline as most coaches hate giving up the middle.
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: As the Mavs hold their Media Day on Monday and open training camp on Tuesday, Gersson Rosas will try to work his magic again while humbly standing in the background. He knows he made the right move by leaving the Rockets for the Mavs. “There could have potentially been more options for me in the future around the league, but Dallas was a special place that I didn’t want to pass up on,” Rosas said. “I see a lot of potential here. “There’s a championship heritage here that’s important to me, and you have all the resources to be successful. It’s just the opportunity to do the work, and that’s why I’m here.” Lindsey, who has known Rosas since he was 22 years old, believes the Mavs have hired one of the fastest-rising young executives in the NBA who will do wonders for their franchise. “I think he’s a great example of someone who is a great student that has grinded his way to the top, yet didn’t skip any steps,” Lindsey said. “So it’s just a terrific example of what a high level of character and work ethic can do for you.”

TrueHoop TV: The future of coaching

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
1:57
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Economist Tyler Cowen (He's "America's hottest economist," who was on TrueHoop TV recently talking about the end of the NBA's middle class), foresees a world in which NBA coaches work very closely with incredibly intelligent computers.

In fact, he says, it's happening already.

video

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: James Worthy has one concern about Kobe Bryant, and it has nothing to do with whether he will recover from a torn left Achilles tendon. Worthy, who won three NBA titles with the Lakers during the Showtime Era and is an analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, openly wondered if Bryant will adjust his aggressiveness out of health and personnel concerns. “One of the biggest challenges for Kobe this year is, can he step back?” Worthy said. “He’s been in the league for 17 years, has a lot of miles on the body and has had a lot of injuries. Can he find a game that will allow other guys to flourish?” Bryant has steadily progressed on his injured left Achilles tendon, but has yet to resume basketball-related activities.
  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant continues to move forward in his rehabilitation from a torn Achilles' tendon, though theLakers are unwilling to put an updated timetable on his exact return. "He's progressing well and has met all the targets and milestones of his rehab, and we expect him to make a full recovery," Lakers spokesman John Black told The Times on Monday. "One of the key issues is to make sure he builds up strength and endurance not only in his Achilles but also in his legs, knees, back and core." Bryant's initial timetable called for at least six to nine months of recovery after he was injured April 12 against Golden State. The more optimistic part would put him in play for two Lakers exhibition games in China next month, though Bryant is expected to miss the Lakers' entire eight-game preseason schedule that ends Oct. 25. The Lakers begin the regular season Oct. 29 against the Clippers. It is unknown if Bryant will be back in time. "We're going to avoid giving a target return date until he's doing full weight-bearing running and on-court basketball activities, at the earliest," Black said.
  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Ten months from now, Anthony will probably opt out of his Knicks contract, sign a five-year deal for $129 million and happily resume his role as the basketball prince of Broadway. Anthony loves New York, and New York loves Anthony, playoff failures notwithstanding. He has every reason to stay: the money, the market, the chance to be the savior who ends the Knicks’ 40-year championship drought. It was only two and a half years ago that Anthony forced the Denver Nuggets to send him here. It seems unlikely he would leave so soon. But a lot can change in 10 months, and the specter of Anthony’s free agency will shadow the Knicks all season, just as the threat of his departure loomed over the Nuggets three years ago. … New York is still New York. But there is another city that can offer heady doses of fame, fortune and brand promotion, and it happens to be home to the N.B.A.’s most glamorous franchise. The Los Angeles Lakers will have millions in salary-cap room next summer, and a powerful recruiter in Kobe Bryant, one of Anthony’s closest friends. Per N.B.A. rules, the Lakers could offer Anthony only $96 million over four years. But they can offer something the Knicks cannot: a tradition of success, a knack for acquiring and building around superstars, and a habit of staging parades in June. Maybe Anthony isn’t going anywhere, as he asserted last week. But verbal commitments and loyalty are malleable concepts in professional sports. Nothing means anything until the contract is signed.
  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: From Russia with … nothing shady. That was the finding of a “thorough” NBA investigation into the Nets’ summer signing of free agent forward Andrei Kirilenko, multiple league sources told The Post. The league, after getting complaints from at least one other team that suggested improper agreements, examined the signing and found nothing against the rules. Kirilenko, who made roughly $10 million in Minnesota last season, opted out of the final year of his Timberwolves’ deal and took the Nets’ $3.1 mini-midlevel exception. In doing so, he triggered a wave of anger and suspicion. Rivals owners and executives intimated under-the-table deals existed between Kirilenko and Russian countryman Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets’ billionaire owner. At least one owner – possibly more – complained to the league. “When there is a formal complaint, the league will look into it,” said one league official who spoke in generalities and refused comment on the Kirilenko issue.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The closest Goran Dragic gets to NBA help is Rasho Nesterovic serving as a mentor in the program. Beno Udrih is not playing. Dragic’s brother, Zoran, was a Houston summer-league player last year. Spain, second only to the U.S. in world basketball, threw Rubio, Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio Llull and Rudy Fernandez at Dragic in waves to wear him down. Slovenia won 78-69, with 18 points and seven rebounds from Dragic. “Every punch they threw at him, he had a counterpunch,” Chris Thomas said. “We’ve had stretches where he’s put the entire team on his back and carried us, especially offensively. “We look to him a lot for those bailout shots at the end of the shot clock or where we just have to get something going. We throw the ball to him and expect him to create. The ball just finds its way to him.” As Slovenia’s tempo increased in recent games, so did Dragic’s scoring. His temperament has been different, too. The cordial 27-year-old who once lacked confidence became surly in a pre-tournament exhibition when he was ejected for shoving a Turkish guard for some post-whistle contact. “I don’t know if it’s the pride of putting on a jersey with your home country on it or if he’s turning the corner as far as being that feisty, gritty, gutsy guy that I know he is now, but hopefully he’ll bring it back to Phoenix with him,” Thomas said.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: But Jose Calderon is willing to try. And while he joins the Mavericks as a B-lister who has been functional but not dynamic throughout his career, he’s a point guard in the same mold as Nash and Kidd – one who has the ability to lead the league in assists and who can make a shot when defenses disregard him. And he brings a wealth of knowledge, both at the NBA and international level, while also being still in his prime. He will turn 32 later this month. … What Calderon does best is take care of business – and the basketball. While he’s probably a little more conservative when he’s running the point than Nash or Kidd, Calderon had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.11 last season. Only Chris Paul at 4.26 had a better average and no other player in the league was better than Jason Kidd’s 3.28 assists per turnover. Calderon’s average last season was right on his career norm of 4.13 assists per turnover. … Anyway, it’s clear that there are numbers to support the Mavericks’ hope that Calderon will be the sort of stabilizing influence they want at the point. He’s almost always at the top of the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Most importantly, he’s going to have to show that he can run a quality team that is adamant about getting back in the playoffs, something the Mavericks missed last season for the first time since 2000. It’s worth noting that Calderon has only one playoff start in his career and his teams have missed the postseason the last five years.
  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: It is highly unlikely that center Greg Oden or forward Michael Beasley will be central to the cause, and moderately unlikely that either will play even a peripheral part. Still, there is intrigue in their additions, especially at the cost – a combined $1.9 million for the 2013-14 season, with only Oden’s deal even guaranteed. There is intrigue because of what they were (first team collegiate All-Americans) and what they were supposed to become (with Oden picked No. 1 overall in 2007 and Beasley chosen No. 2 overall in 2008). There is intrigue because of the way each has fallen short, the oft-injured Oden through much less fault of his own. The masses love a comeback story, and many will find their updates more interesting, especially in the preseason, than anything that James, Wade and Bosh do. There are many questions, none with entirely knowable answers. Still, if Riley can take a shot on these two guys, certainly we can take a shot at some predictions. What are the chances that both make the team? Good. In Oden’s case, it’s nearly a guarantee, unless he gets so frustrated with his rehabilitation that he calls it off himself. Miami is committed to the long game with him and, even if he doesn’t show early progress, he will get one of 15 spots. Beasley will be on the court from the start, barring complications from his legal issues, and his skills are sufficient to earn him a slot over someone like Jarvis Varnado.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: The Wizards made its off-season, front-office reshuffling official Monday with the key move being the promotion of Tommy Sheppard to senior vice president of basketball operations. Sheppard already was a vice president of operations along with Milt Newton, who recently left the Wizards to become general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Newton was over personnel. … Sheppard's responsibilities have expanded to include salary cap management, draft preparation, college and pro talent evaluation, statistical analysis and recruitment of free agents and handling day-to-day basketball operations. The other promotions: Ed Tapscott to vice president of player programs; Pat Sullivan to assistant coach; Brett Greenberg to director of basketball analytics/salary cap management; Bryan Oringher to video coordinator; and Ryan Richman to assistant video coordinator. The latter two are in their first seasons with the organization.
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: No one knows if the introduction would have eventually happened. But it was Mark Aguirre who introduced Mark Cuban to Ross Perot Jr., thus leading to the ownership change of the Dallas Mavericks. That meeting occurred in the latter half of 1999. By Jan. 4, 2000, Perot’s sale of the Mavericks to Cuban for $285 million was finalized. … What made Aguirre even think Cuban would be interested in purchasing the Mavericks? Before winning NBA titles with Detroit in 1989 and ’90, Aguirre was a three-time All-Star with the Mavericks from 1981 until being traded to the Pistons on Feb. 15, 1989. He had witnessed Cuban’s enthusiasm for the Mavericks since Cuban had season tickets near courtside at Reunion Arena and was always one to voice his opinion. “When somebody is that enthusiastic and you see them night in and night out, you can’t help but remember them,” said Aguirre. “So I knew him.” When asked about the importance of Aguirre’s introduction to him buying the Mavericks, Cuban said: “It was everything.”
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: When the news broke that the Pelicans had signed a free-agent guard, it seemed as though it was the last position New Orleans needed to bolster. The Pelicans had acquired Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans earlier in the summer, to go along with a trio of returning guards in Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts. But Morrow's career statistics would indicate his long-range shooting accuracy would be a perfect backcourt complement to the frontcourt deep threat of Ryan Anderson, giving the Pelicans a potentially dynamic off-the-bench duo that could either stretch a lead or provide the firepower to play catch-up. Morrow, a career 45 percent shooter (.424 from beyond the 3-point line) has also played some small forward, an area in which the Pelicans can desperately use an offensive upgrade.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Partly because of the intense interest – for obvious reasons – in the Kings' regular-season opener Oct. 30 against the Denver Nuggets at Sleep Train Arena, the team and KXTV Ch. 10 came up with a unique format for the 2013-14 tipoff: a commercial-free telecast. The opener is the first of 11 games Ch. 10 will telecast this season. Comcast SportsNet remains the Kings' primary broadcasting partner and will televise 70 games, with ESPN taking the remaining game – Nov. 15 against the Detroit Pistons at Sleep Train Arena. "Opening night is going to be such a celebration, a new chapter in the journey," Kings president Chris Granger said. "It's going to be a sellout, so we have been thinking about ways to include more people. This (commercial-free telecast) seemed like a way to do that, and fortunately, News10 was more than willing to partner with us."
  • Dan Nakaso of The Oakland Tribune: Even before the basketball season begins, the Golden State Warriors are winning -- off the court. The team already has sold more than 14,000 season tickets, a franchise record, and will set another franchise record with 17 appearances in nationally televised games. And in guard Stephen Curry, they have one of the league's most marketable stars, one who stokes the team's fervent fan base and gives the Warriors a great shot of winning on the court as well. "The Warriors may be young and up-and-coming, but they've already proven that they can perform in the playoffs," said Amy Brooks, a former Stanford guard who now serves as senior vice president for marketing and business operations for the NBA. "The Warriors have historically had a very loyal and passionate fan base. Their recent success has just driven this to a higher level."

First Cup: Wednesday

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
5:22
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: The agent for Luol Deng said Tuesday that the two-time All-Star forward would “certainly visit free agency” next summer after being informed by Bulls management that contract extension talks will be tabled until after the 2013-14 season. “Luol has taken the position that he will definitely go through the free-agent process,” said Herb Rudoy, Deng's Chicago-based agent. CSNChicago.com reported early Tuesday that Deng’s contract extension talks had stalled. They never really began, two sources said, with the sides only talking in generalities and never even exchanging financial parameters. Rudoy said Tuesday that general manager Gar Forman informed him last week that no further talks will take place this offseason or during training camp. Forman declined to comment. The general manager said consistently over the summer that the Bulls would like to keep Deng long term. Forman also indicated this summer that an extension for Deng this offseason would be unlikely. … Currently, there are no indications the Bulls plan to deal Deng. But with Mike Dunleavy signed through next season and the emergence of Jimmy Butler, that stance could change closer to February’s trade deadline.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: NBA training camps will begin in three weeks, so it isn’t a surprise to see a lot of activity in the Pistons practice facility, especially with the many new faces who’ll suit up this coming season. New addition Josh Smith was in attendance, along with the three selections from this past June’s draft, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva. Incumbent guard Rodney Stuckey went through one-on-one drills with Caldwell-Pope and Siva, as Kyle Singler worked on his spot shooting with assistant coach John Loyer on the other end of the floor. But the man who’s been organizing and trying to galvanize the team with summer activities is the Pistons’ youngest member, and perhaps the most important: 20-year-old, second-year center Andre Drummond. “I think this season will be different for us. I think guys see it,” Drummond said. “We added a lot of pieces and a lot of guys are amped and ready to go, as soon as possible.”
  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: His expression was straight forward. His wording precise. His point emphatic. Warriors budding star Harrison Barnes said he isn't concerned about whether he starts. He isn't even consumed by being on the court at the end of games. "Winning the game matters more to me," Barnes said. Barnes, who started all 93 games he played last season including playoffs, is the center of a major question as the Warriors close in on training camp at the end of this month. With the acquisition of swingman Andre Iguodala, Golden State now has six players with starting credentials, meaning someone has to come off the bench. Barnes, after his workout at the team facility on Tuesday, didn't mince his words and gave no breath to controversy. He doesn't care. Whatever Mark Jackson decides, he's game. "I can imagine much worse problems," Barnes said. "I feel confident about this team and where we can go. Regardless if I'm starting or coming off the bench, I think we have a chance to make a serious playoff push."
  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Carmelo Anthony believes the Knicks and much-improved Brooklyn Nets will become "the best rivalry in basketball" and they will be competing for fans as well. The Brooklyn-born Anthony is a fan of the moves the Nets made this offseason, which should help their Q-rating in New York and in the borough he was born in. "We all know from the Jackie Robinson days, that was the last time we actually had something to believe in," Anthony said at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit. "Now, with the young kids that are coming up these days, that's their team. They grow up under the Brooklyn Nets and that's their team. It's going to be a funny thing to see the kids growing up there, how they convert from Knicks fans to Nets fans. The household might be Knicks fans and the kids might be Nets fans, so it's a rivalry everywhere, in the households, on the basketball courts, in the streets, in the boroughs. It's everywhere, and it makes it fun for the game." Anthony led the Knicks to 54 wins and the Atlantic Division title last season. But they lost their top leaders in the locker room, Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace, and have other concerns, including Anthony's potentially troublesome shoulder, Amar'e Stoudemire's knees and J.R. Smith, who was suspended five games for violating the league's anti-drug policy.
  • Brian Steinberg of Variety: Showtime is developing a one-hour scripted series that takes a peek behind the scenes of a professional basketball team, with NBA coaching great Phil Jackson and current Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis on board as exec producers. The series will focus on the family that owns the team, according to details provided by the CBS Corp. pay-cable service. ... Jeanie Buss, the senior vice president of the Los Angeles Lakers and Linda Rambis will executive produce via production company Street Reason Entertainment. Rambis is married to the Lakers coach. Brett Tomberlin of IDW and Ubiquity Studios will also executive produce, with Brian Gilbert and Andrew Trapani of Nine/8 Entertainment. In an interview, Buss said her experiences working with the Lakers as well as managing events, would inform the stories told in the potential series. “We’ve seen so much, the things that go on behind the scenes,” she said. “We go to events and people ask us a lot of questions about what they don’t see. They know the game. They see the game, but they don’t really know what leads up to getting the team on the court.” Most people “don’t know what makes a championship season or what it’s like to go through a losing season.”
  • Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press: Wolves coach Rick Adelman has been meeting with his staff in Portland this week, and talked by telephone with president of basketball operations Flip Saunders for an hour Monday night. "He's excited about everything we're doing right now," Saunders said. "I'm very confident that Rick is going to be back." Adelman missed a few weeks last season to be with his wife, Mary Kay, who was experiencing seizures.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks’ pursuit of finding big-man help on the cheap has led them to Fab Melo, a first-round draft pick of Boston’s in 2012. Melo was taken 22nd and spent most of last season in the NBA Development League. He led the D-League at 3.1 blocks per game, and also averaged 9.8 points and 6 rebounds in 33 games. He played just six games for the Celtics, amassing only 36 total minutes played. President Donnie Nelson confirmed that Melo, a Syracuse product, had agreed to attend training camp, which opens Sept. 30. Melo clearly was a disappointment to the Celtics, who traded him to Memphis in the summer. The Grizzlies quickly waived the 7-foot, 255-pounder. The Mavericks remain thin in the front court. Samuel Dalembert will be the penciled-in starter when training camp opens, but behind him, they have only DeJuan Blair and Brandan Wright.
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Consider: Emeka Okafor, David Andersen, D.J. Mbenga, Aaron Gray, Gustavo Ayon, Chris Kaman, Darryl Watkins, Robin Lopez. Since Monty Williams arrived in New Orleans in 2010, the center position on his teams hasn't been manned by players for whom opponents needed to game-plan, rather a somewhat itinerant collection of big bodies who were proficient at some aspect of the game but lacking well-rounded serviceability. With the NBA marginalizing the center position – last year the league henceforth eliminated the "center" designation on the All-Star ballot because there has been some difficulty distinguishing a true center worthy of consideration – the spot once occupied by the game's legends has deteriorated into blurred mediocrity. … With forward/backup center Jason Smith coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, the Pelicans needed an extra body inside and signed two-year veteran Greg Stiemsma to a free-agent deal this summer, apparently hoping that a player with just 22 NBA starts in his career can possibly step into a full-time starting role. The bar Stiemsma must clear, mind you, hasn't been set that high. And as Stiemsma met the New Orleans media for the first time on Tuesday, along with fellow free-agent acquisition guard Anthony Morrow, the 6-foot-11, 260-pound post man walked a delicate line avoiding the temptation to burden himself with inflated expectations.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: The Miami Heat on Tuesday announced the signing of two players who ultimately could turn into short-term rentals. Center Justin Hamilton and power forward Eric Griffin, whose additions previously had been confirmed, became the 15th and 16th players under contract to the Heat in advance of the Oct. 1 start of training camp at AmericanAirlines Arena. With 13 other players already under guaranteed contract, and with the Heat potentially to carry as few as 13 this season due to their position against the onerous luxury tax, Hamilton, Griffin and center Jarvis Varnado, the other player on the current roster without a guaranteed contract, face long roster odds. By signing with the Heat, Hamilton, acquired out of LSU in the second-round of the 2012 NBA Draft, and Griffin, who went undrafted out of Campbell University in 2012, become eligible to be sent to the Heat's NBA Development League team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, should they be cut at the end of training camp.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: There is a history here, a Warriors-centric history with the potential for a terribly awkward dynamic: Ranadive is a former Warriors minority owner. Mullin is a former Warriors executive vice president. D'Alessandro is a former Warriors assistant general manager who was hired by Mullin, his fellow St. John's alum and friend for about 25 years. That theory about three people in the bed? Too many chefs in the kitchen? Three being a crowd? I don't think so. I think this works. In this ongoing Kings craziness – a good craziness – square pegs fit in round holes. Mullin is a gentleman and D'Alessandro is a scholar, and in today's NBA, their skill sets are complementary. D'Alessandro is an attorney, a well-regarded front-office executive and a former player agent. Mullin is a basketball legend who can gain access to any gym in the world and has been itching for another front-office position. … Asked if he intended to maintain a high profile or more of a behind-the-scenes presence, Mullin nodded and smiled. "Whatever Vivek wants," he said, "but you can't have too many voices."

First Cup: Thursday

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

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
4:57
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The best thing that Ryan McDonough inherited with the Suns’ general-manager job was a low bar set by his predecessor and a chance with some flexibility out of his starting block. Previous GM Lance Blanks dropped that bar too low for even a limbo, but he and Lon Babby, the president of basketball operations, also took on a different kind of mess than the last-place team McDonough absorbed. It was about this time two years ago when Blanks showed up for work, raising eyebrows by arriving three weeks after accepting his first GM job. It might be hard to blame him, considering any muscle a GM would like to flex was eliminated when the Suns, in the July between Steve Kerr’s departure and Blanks’ arrival, took on about $82 million of contracts for Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress (they are still paying him $14.5 million over the next two seasons). McDonough has created some optimism with the drafting of Alex Len and Archie Goodwin and acquisition of Eric Bledsoe, but where will his moves stand in two years? There were 24 players acquired by the Suns for regular-season play during Blanks’ 20 months on the job, one in which he certainly did not act alone. One-third of them remain Suns.
  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: What the Dallas Mavericks will do in future offseasons remains a mystery especially with Mark Cuban running the show. While the Mavericks appear to be building for the future at point guard with Shane Larkin, a reunion with J.J. Barea is not out of the question. Dallas did show some interest this offseason, and Barea said he wouldn’t mind returning in the near future. "It's a great relationship with Mark Cuban. If they want to bring me back to Dallas, I am very [good] with it," he told ESPN.com. "But I'm happy in Minnesota. They're the ones that wanted me there, the ones that signed me for four years, so until they decide to trade me, I'm going to give them all my effort in the games." Barea spent the first five years of his career in Dallas and was a fan favorite during the Mavericks’ title run in 2011. After that season, Barea became a declined a 1-year contract offer and became a free agent. Last year, Barea averaged 11.3 points and 4.0 assists per game for Minnesota.
  • Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times: Lamar Odom will be 34 in November. Yet Vinny Del Negro, whose contract wasn't renewed after last season and who probably will be doing television commentary this season, disagrees with the "senior executive of an NBA team." "Lamar can still play," he said. "It's not the basketball skills that are the problem. Once he gets himself in shape and gets his mind wrapped around basketball, he can help somebody." Del Negro said he hates how quickly people will "knock a guy when he is down." He said he hates all the hearsay — "none of us really knows exactly what is going on" — and said of the executive, "If the guy is that powerful, he should have the guts to use his name." We see it all in athletes these days. Overpaid clowns who run their mouths while missing a brain; con artists who work overtime on their public image and very little on their games; sulking jocks with little to offer outside the lines and an expectation of canonization. Odom is none of these. Messed up? Sure. Someone who might have addiction issues? Obviously. Deserving of punishment if it is proved he put others in danger by driving under the influence? Certainly. But dismissed quickly by all of us, especially many in the NBA? Given no chance of recovery and return? Scorned by a public that recently rooted for and adored him? Not now. Not yet.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Another victory to close the opening round-robin portion of the FIBA Americas would ensure Canada enters the next phase 2-1 and would enhance the odds of advancing further. Victories against teams previously eliminated do not carry forward. The squad has been able to come together and play well quicker than most anticipated. That’s largely been because of how good Pickering’s Cory Joseph has been. While manning the point, Joseph has been treating opponents like his adversaries in the NBA Development League, where he was a standout months ago. He’s been stuffing the stat sheet, racking up points and assists, even leading Canada in rebounding against Brazil. Joseph looks like a veteran on the court. Reaching the NBA Final and being developed by the league’s best organization, San Antonio, has been huge for the former first-round pick. And he’s playing like a star. Practising every day against MVP candidate Tony Parker surely has something to do with that, as well. Even though he’s the youngest player on the team, Joseph is used to making an impact alongside older teammates. He did it at Pickering Collegiate as a varsity starter alongside players like his brother Devoe, now a teammate again with Canada and he’s done it with the Spurs. Joseph heads into Tuesday in the top 10 in tournament scoring (fifth), rebounding (ninth) and steals (sixth) and leads in assists even though he has also played off of the ball.
  • Staff of the Detroit Free Press: Pistons forwards Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome will play for their respective EuroBasket13 teams this week in Slovenia. Datome and Italy open with Russia on Wednesday. Jerebko and Sweden play Greece the same day. Pistons president Joe Dumars and assistant general manager George David were scheduled to leave for Slovenia on Monday to watch both in the tourney, according to pistons.com. The tournament runs Wednesday-Sept. 22, with five games for each team in six days in the qualifying round of the 24-team field. The top-three teams in each of the four groups move on to the second round. Italy, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Russia and Turkey are in Group D. Italy and Sweden play Monday in the final game of group play.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Q: With the Grizzlies waiving Fab Melo, should the Heat consider giving him a chance to earn a roster spot? I read reports last year that he would have been Miami's pick in the draft had he not been selected by the Celtics. -- Rudy, Miami. A: If most-recent impressions factor in, then I would consider it a longshot, based on how the former Sagemont standout looked in front of the Heat staff at the Orlando summer league while playing for the Celtics. The Syracuse product remains a raw presence likely destined for more time in the D-League. If the Heat are able to offload Joel Anthony's contract, then it might be possible Melo could be brought in to compete with Jarvis Varnado, but such a spot might not even exist with Greg Oden essentially a developmental project, as well.
  • Gerry Mullany of The New York Times: The former basketball star Dennis Rodman returned Tuesday to North Korea, where he plans “to see my friend” Kim Jong-un, the dictator whose country until recently was threatening to annihilate the United States with nuclear weapons. Mr. Rodman said in Beijing that he was planning a five-day visit to the North but played down speculation that he would try to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been jailed there since late last year after being detained on North Korean soil. “I’m not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae,” the Basketball Hall of Fame member told Reuters in a telephone interview. “I’m just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour.” His visit comes amid a thaw in relations between North and South Korea, sworn enemies that just months ago appeared to be on the brink of military conflict.
  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: JaVale McGee’s Pop-A-Shot adventures.

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