TrueHoop: Denver Nuggets

Monday Buzz Bullets

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
6:23
PM ET
By Staff
ESPN.com
EASTERN CONFERENCE

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Nuggets take a bold step forward

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
11:49
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive


NBA players' contracts require them to make a certain number of community appearances on behalf of their teams. They’ll pay visits to hospitals or schools and show up at charity functions or galas. Outside of what they do for their teams, most players will get hit up by nonprofits or organizations who want them to lend their faces, names and free time to the cause. Most of the requests are well-intentioned, but players generally don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. Nobody will force them to say yes. And if they say no, they still have a laundry list of good works performed on behalf of team and league they can cite.

That’s why the Denver Nuggets’ You Can Play spot featuring Kenneth Faried, Randy Foye and Quincy Miller is meaningful. You Can Play’s mission is to promote an inclusive environment on playing fields and in the locker rooms for gay athletes. You Can Play has forged formal partnerships with NHL, MLS and NCAA teams. A number of pro athletes such as Klay Thompson have participated in YCP videos, but the Nuggets become the first NBA team to have multiple players featured in support of the project.

As agendas go, YCP’s is radically moderate. It wants a world where gay athletes can suit up and play without fear of harassment, physical harm or having their talents passed over because of who they are.

That last item is a big one. Being on the receiving end of an epithet is an indignity, but what really terrifies a competitive gay athlete is not just the threat of physical or verbal abuse, but the prospect of never getting a rightful opportunity to perform and succeed. This discussion isn’t about being nice; it’s about being fair.

Thanks to You Can Play and many others, great progress is being made at the collegiate and high school level, but it’s been a tough season in the NBA. Jason Collins moved the conversation forward when he came out last April. Around the NBA, players have reported that his announcement inspired the most honest conversations to date about homosexuality in basketball. But the aspiration was for something much larger: bringing hypotheticals to real life.

By now, many of us wanted to be talking about how integrating a gay ballplayer into an NBA locker room was made easier, how morale was compromised at first because change is by its very nature disruptive, how that discomfort ultimately receded thanks to strong leadership and an appeal to our better selves. With Collins not on an active NBA roster, we’re not talking about those things. We can debate what role his identity as a gay man plays in that reality, but NBA executives and agents have stated that it’s a factor larger than zero.

That means that there’s work to do -- and the Nuggets, Faried, Foye and Miller are doing it. In the absence of an out gay player in uniform, the onus returns to individual teams and players to lead on the issue. Nothing in the body of the NBA charter or these Nuggets players’ contracts stipulated that they needed to, but they did.

Phil Jackson's lone branch manager

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
2:08
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
LOS ANGELES -- The Phil Jackson coaching tree isn’t exactly one of those majestic Norway spruces you see in Rockefeller Center every December. It’s more like the sapling in "A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

It’s a mystery that in sports, where imitation is usually the sincerest form of imitation, that the most accomplished coach in the NBA’s history hasn’t spawned a new flock of mentees around the league. Instead, the number of Phil Jackson descendants currently holding a head coaching job is one. Solamente uno. Brian Shaw of the Denver Nuggets.

From an offense that’s out of favor to a style that’s just ... out there, there are just too many elements to Jackson that did not inspire owners around the league to raid his staffs. Shaw, who played on three of Jackson’s championship teams and was alongside him as an assistant coach for two others in Los Angeles, interviewed with 12 different teams before he landed the Nuggets job.
[+] EnlargeBrian Shaw
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsNuggets coach Brian Shaw returned to Los Angeles as the lone Phil Jackson disciple leading an NBA team.

“As I was interviewing for jobs, all the way through, I would call [Jackson] up and say that I felt he was always going to be my biggest asset in terms of being able to be affiliated and associated with him and mention his name and what we did to achieve the success that we had,” Shaw said. “And [he] jokingly said it actually was the biggest liability for me.”

It even hurt him in Los Angeles, where the Lakers purged pretty much everyone associated with Jackson after he left in 2011. (Girlfriend Jeanie Buss stayed, however. It helped that she was a team president.)

Jackson’s only other footholds are with assistant coaches Jim Cleamons on the Milwaukee Bucks and Kurt Rambis on the Los Angeles Lakers. Cleamons and Rambis also had head coaching turns in the league after working with Jackson. Cleamons was with the Dallas Mavericks and Rambis with the Minnesota Timberwolves; neither lasted past their second seasons and both wound up back on the bench next to Jackson.

“His coaches that have gone on to coach, from Jim Cleamons and Kurt Rambis, people say, ‘They didn’t have any success,'" Shaw said. “Well, it’s tough to teach the triangle when Phil had all of the coaches and players that played in the system.

“Even when Kurt went to Minnesota, the assistant coaches that he had didn’t have any experience in the triangle to teach it or answer any questions about it.”

Shaw thinks the offense is too complicated to ask the head coach to teach it by himself, so without players who know it or a staff to help with the instructions he hasn’t bothered to fully install it in Denver. He runs elements of the triangle, just as he worked to incorporate pieces into the offense of the Indiana Pacers when he was an assistant coach there. He wanted to have some structure, not be as dependent on transition baskets as previous Denver teams have been because he doesn’t believe that style will lead to success in the playoffs. (The eight first-round exits in nine playoff appearances under predecessor George Karl back up that assertion).

“I’m running more generic versions of offense that every team in the league runs, because I don’t have personnel with me or staff with me that has experience with running the triangle,” Shaw said.

One NBA scout described Denver’s offense as “Very limited. Basic.”

True triangle mavens are a lost breed from another era, like the Jedi knights in the original “Star Wars.” One problem is that Jackson himself was the apprentice even when he was the head coach. The triangle offense was the creation of Jackson’s elder and coaching mentor, Tex Winter (who dubbed it the triple-post offense). Their presence is felt more in Springfield, Mass., than NBA arenas these days. What does it say when there are more triangle offense disciples in the Hall of Fame than current practitioners in the NBA?

Another issue that Kobe Bryant brought up is that it’s not just the system, it’s the style ... the way of life, even.

“Phil’s philosophies are different, to say the least, in terms of how he teaches the game and how he coaches the game,” Bryant said. “There’s some X’s and O’s to it, obviously. But he teaches players, he teaches guys how to play. He teaches from a place of Zen, he teaches from a place of emotional balance. And it’s hard to duplicate that. It’s hard to replicate that. It has to be something that’s a part of you. His philosophies and beliefs, the meditation and all that, it’s very, very hard to duplicate that.

“The system is predicated on the spirituality of the game. In terms of being in the moment and reacting to situations, balance. How [Jackson] teaches the system comes directly from his beliefs and his philosophies spiritually. That’s why you see the teams that go out there and try to run it in the past, they don’t have the same level of success.”

Shaw admitted he doesn’t even bother to try some of Jackson’s tricks, such as burning sage in the locker room to cleanse it of bad vibes during a losing streak.

“It wouldn’t go over if I tried to do something like that,” Shaw said.

That’s because it wouldn’t be a reflection of who he is. Shaw is from Oakland in the 1970s and '80s, not a kid from the prairies who lived in Greenwich Village in the '60s.

Yes, part of the tree’s paucity is that Jackson was so unique that people realize he’s impossible to duplicate.

Part of it is because of Jackson’s aloof nature. Jackson didn’t make many friends at league headquarters because he rarely acquiesced to the NBA’s demands/requests.

He wasn’t big on schmoozing. (One time he blew off a respectful Mike Krzyzewski, the modern college equivalent of Jackson, and left Coach K fuming.) You didn’t see him chatting down by the other bench before or after games. He purposefully mispronounced other coaches' names.

“Phil stayed purposefully disconnected from people around the league,” Shaw said. “That was his thing: Keep everybody at bay, because he wanted to have an edge. He wasn’t part of any coach’s clique or anything like that. There’s other coaches around the league that anything they touch turns to gold. If they anoint this guy he’s going to be coach or a GM.”

Sure seems that way for Gregg Popovich. The San Antonio Spurs’ web spreads from coast to coast, with coaches Brett Brown (Philadelphia) Mike Brown (Cleveland), Jacque Vaughn (Orlando), Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta), Monty Williams (New Orleans) and Doc Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers), along with front office executives Danny Ferry (Atlanta), Sam Presti (Oklahoma City), Dell Demps (New Orleans), Kevin Pritchard (Indiana) and Rob Hennigan (Orlando).

One reason for the proliferation of Pop people was told to me when I examined the phenomenon last year: there’s a belief that the Popovich way can work in small markets with smaller budgets, and not just in L.A. or Chicago with Kobe, Shaq or Michael Jordan. Of course, we have yet to see any of the Spurs’ spawns achieve San Antonio’s success. It might be too much to ask of the Spurs themselves once Tim Duncan is gone.

That hasn’t stopped franchise after franchise from trying to get themselves a piece of what Pop’s done in San Antonio. Meanwhile, Shaw goes at it alone, the only head coach who’s an associate of the best that ever did it.

“I feel blessed and fortunate to have coached and been around Phil and learned everything that I learned under him,” Shaw said. “I would never deny what it’s done for me. I’m proud to be from his coaching tree, even if I’m the trunk, the branches the leaves and everything all by myself.”

The Nuggets' long road to nowhere

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
9:37
AM ET
By David Walker
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Ty Lawson Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesWhich way will they go? For the first time in a decade, the Nuggets' long-term plan is hard to figure.
The Denver Nuggets are sliding. Not just in the standings, though a six-game losing streak has pushed them into sub-.500 territory again. This is more than a rough stretch of schedule or a few ill-timed injuries. The Nuggets stand on the cusp of a new evaluation, and for the first time in a decade, they don’t seem to know how to adapt.

Denver first found its identity in Carmelo Anthony; the Nuggets missed the playoffs eight straight seasons from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, but they haven’t missed the postseason once since drafting the superstar in June of 2003. Still, the success brought about new expectations, and outside of a trip to the West finals in 2009, each of Denver’s recent playoff trips have ended in the first round. Melo’s sixth early exit, in 2010, all but ensured his departure.

The post-Melo Nuggets ushered in a new era, and also a new approach. Armed with a king’s ransom obtained from the New York Knicks in exchange for Anthony, the team became a collective, an egalitarian-esque approach to what before tended to be autocratic, with Melo the despot of the offense. The very nature of George Karl’s dribble-drive motion offense called for constant flow and ball movement, a complete turnaround from the isolation-based play that so wholly defined the Anthony era.
[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesThe Nuggets still haven't truly found a face of the franchise to replace Carmelo Anthony.

Rising beyond all conceivable expectations, Denver immediately acquired its new identity: a place where the collective would supercede the individual.

But after earning the No. 3 seed last postseason, the era culminated quickly in another disastrous first-round loss. The Nuggets soon lost Andre Iguodala (to the Golden State Warriors) and general manager Masai Ujiri (to the Toronto Raptors), and fired Karl. Less than three seasons after trading Anthony, Denver was moving on again.

Now that the dust has settled and the next phase has begun, the newfound stability has wrought a certain amount of aimlessness. Despite the failings of the teams under Carmelo and the ones after him, those Nuggets were always able to unfurl a road map to success. The current team now finds itself in uncharted territory, a roster with no star or identity to fall back on.

Karl’s shadow still hangs over the makeup of the team; it remains one tailored to his basketball sensibilities. Rookie head coach Brian Shaw has picked his battles, but the goal is to build the Nuggets to fit his ideals. He has conceded that this team was born to run and has pushed for an increased urgency in transition. But he has also fought the team’s ingrained obsession with driving to the rim, encouraging players to take the open shot in the flow of the offense as opposed to the drive-and-kicks Karl’s system encouraged.

Since trading Carmelo, the buzzword in and around this team has been “talent.” The roster may not contain a prototypical star, but it remains chock-full of “talented” players. That now appears to be an outdated conceit; the whole no longer seems greater than the sum of its parts.

Ty Lawson certainly has rare ability, but he has yet to achieve the consistency that usually defines stars. The rest of the roster is made up of role players. Some have been so for their entire careers while others have yet to display enough to shake off that label, and perhaps never will.

The result: A team attempting to surge out of the middle of the conference has quickly fallen toward the back of the pack.

The questions that surrounded this team at the start of the season simply still haven’t been answered more than a third of the way through. How much stock can be put into this iteration of the roster, with both JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari still injured? How much longer can the team keep trotting out a starting lineup that’s a net-negative on the season? Is there any value to be found on a .500 roster that nearly maxes out the cap sheet for the next three years?

The present for the Nuggets seems murky at best, but the future may be more secure than anyone dared hope entering the season. Denver has outsourced its tanking to the Knicks, whose 2014 first-round draft pick they have the rights to swap with. So now every debacle for the Bockers, and thus Anthony, brings renewed hope for the Nuggets.

Perhaps that's the answer to Denver’s biggest problem: There is no better or immediate solution to non-contention like a pick in the lottery. But that future remains an ambiguous one, and something subject to change quickly. What remains is the present, one that finds the Nuggets at a crossroads. With the trade deadline on the horizon and a core that can double as a slew of movable assets in a moment’s notice, Denver is faced with the only question that truly matters:

Where are we going?

The Nuggets are not alone in this plight; it’s a familiar place for many NBA teams and one extremely difficult to navigate out of. But everything that made Denver unique is gone.

After a decade of direction, the Nuggets have become just another team in the crowd.

Iguodala's return leaves Nuggets at a loss

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
2:51
AM ET
By David Walker
ESPN.com
Archive
Andre IguodalaBart Young/NBAE/Getty ImagesFormer Nuggets star Andre Iguodala returned to Denver to a chorus of boos, but left with a win.
DENVER -- Attrition takes its toll during a long NBA season. Winning streaks can end as abruptly as losing skids begin, and for teams hoping to stop the bleeding, a win in the right place at the right time can be a salve for all wounds.

Golden State and Denver met on Monday night as two teams in a similar state of hemorrhage. The Warriors came in with the point differential of a playoff team without the record to support it. A blazing start that inspired legitimate hopes of contending in a cutthroat Western Conference couldn’t be sustained after Andre Iguodala strained his left hamstring on Nov. 22. Though the Warriors had won two of three since Iguodala’s return last week, they arrived in Denver buried in the No. 9 spot in the conference standings.

Denver entered Monday night as a team reflective of its offseason turmoil. Losses to Oklahoma City, Phoenix and the L.A. Clippers exposed a wobbly bench and an offense that seemed to have short-circuited.

The Warriors' and Nuggets' paths, once so divergent after last season’s playoff series, now seemed to run parallel, with both teams in a lull as a familiar face in Iguodala took the floor. The usually apathetic arena showered the former Nugget with boos at player introductions, then at every moment he touched the ball in the first half -- an honor usually reserved solely for Carmelo Anthony.

“It’s just part of sports now," Iguodala said following the game. "I played in Philly, and I was booed while I was on the home team so, I heard it before and it won’t be the last time.”

The game itself served as a nice delineation of each team’s greatest foibles. Denver began the game slow, as it often tends to do, and surrendered a sizable lead to the Dubs’ starting unit. But as Ty Lawson drove Stephen Curry into foul trouble, the Warriors had to lean heavily on their maligned bench, which let Denver chip away at the lead.

“First quarter, we did it to ourselves again,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “To start out the game I don’t know what percent they were shooting but it seemed like they were on pace to have a 50-point quarter. Our second unit came in and locked down and fought hard.”

And yet as the game extended into the fourth quarter and the lead was tossed constantly back and forth, the Warriors leaned on their defense to wrest control of the game.

“Defense is what it takes to win,” Curry said. “When we don’t show up defensively we tend to be out of the games, not very competitive, because our offense is going to be there every night but the dropoff when we’re at our best defensively and when we’re not is pretty significant. So it was huge for us to be more consistent as a team.”

Turnovers and missed shots stymied the Golden State offense, which shot only 42.9 percent for the game. But as the truism goes, offense stays while defense travels. The Warriors defense sprouts from the perimeter, where the trio of Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Iguodala prowl the outer edges, sometimes shooting gaps to force turnovers and other times funneling unwitting ball handlers into the maw of Andrew Bogut. While the Warriors’ offense can be prolific in spurts, the defense remains the royal constant.

“It tells you how good we can be,” Warriors coach Marc Jackson said. “There is no question about those guys' ability to score and shoot the basketball but the thing that can remain constant for us is our ability to defend, and defend at a high level. That’s going to win ballgames so when those guys do establish a rhythm, it’s going to be awfully pretty.”

Inevitably, it all came back to Iguodala, whose pedestrian stat line belied another sturdy defensive performance. He fittingly hit the crucial 3-pointer to put the Warriors up five late in the fourth. Iggy was Golden State’s missing cog, the ball-handling wing that was so plainly missing during its 5-7 stretch in his absence.

At the same time, Iguodala’s presence for the Warriors leaves a gaping hole within the Nuggets ranks, one in which the bleeding began and never truly ended. As Thompson’s turnaround dagger found the bottom of the net with 22 seconds left in the game, the paths of the Warriors and Nuggets seemed to diverge once again. Golden State resembled the team that jumped out to an 8-3 start, leaving the Nuggets behind, and adrift once more.

Ty Lawson on the attack

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
2:59
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
video

Takeaways: Nuggets-Lakers, preseason

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
1:37
AM ET
Verrier By Justin Verrier
ESPN.com
Archive
Three observations from the Nuggets’ 97-88 victory over the Lakers in preseason play.

1. Young, at heart
Nick Young indeed has it all. Not only is the smiley Los Angeles native and former USC 2-guard playing for his hometown Lakers, alongside longtime pal Jordan Farmar, he’s the only player to start in each of the team’s games in its back-to-back to open the preseason.

And it’s not for show, either. In the Lakers’ first preseason affair in lovely Ontario, Calif., the shot enthusiast hoisted nine from the floor -- none of which coming inside the paint -- and eight from the free-throw line in just 20 minutes. Against the Nuggets, Young took a game-high 16 (to his credit, seven were at the rim) and made four for nine points in 24 minutes of playing time, to go along with three steals and more turnovers (two) than rebounds and assists combined (one).

No one is happier about it than Nick Young.

“The plays we run, it's there for me to shoot,” he said.

The Lakers will likely be Pau Gasol-dependent until Kobe Bryant remerges from cryostasis, as evidenced by the 13 shots the 33-year-old, now back at the 5-spot, took in 22 minutes of his first preseason action. But Gasol can only do so much, especially now that he’s expected to see more time closer to the basket, and Steve Nash has become decidedly more focused on others as his age creeps higher: The 39-year-old averaged under 10 shots a game the past two seasons, which he hadn’t done since 1999-2000, and has also averaged just 2.3 free-throw attempts for two seasons running. (His assist rate also tanked last season to the lowest it’s been in a decade.) Which leaves plenty of opportunities for shot creation on the wings, and Young, believe or not, is the surest thing these patchwork Lakers have in that department for the time being.

“That’s what he does, he scores,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You know what, if you don’t give him leeway then he shouldn’t play. Again, he’s coachable and wants to learn. He wants to play the right way and he will. He is one of those guys that puts up a lot of points. Nick, he is going to score a lot of points for us.”

Things will likely be shuffled around once Bryant makes his triumphant return, but until then, this is the reality the Lakers will have to make do with.

Quoth Young: “The whole game will [change] when Kobe comes back, because you feature him. But I’m still gonna play by game and release a lot of pressure.”

2. Nuggets in McGee’s hands?
The allure of JaVale McGee in theory has felled many a coach in the past. McGee has served under five head coaches in his five previous NBA seasons, but none have truly been able to tap into the seemingly enormous potential of the noted goofball with the body of a superhero action hero: Though his PER (20.78 in 2012-13, 23rd-best in the NBA) shows a future All-Star, his raw production (9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2.3 fouls in 18.1 minutes a game) remains rather average.

But with Brian Shaw now running the show and honing in on more of a traditional offense, McGee may become less of a cog in Denver and more of a featured player.

“Definitely we want to play inside-out,” Shaw said. “If he gets down the court and he’s open, he has his man on his back, we want to throw the ball inside.

“Whether it results in a made basket or putting foul pressure on the opposing team, that’s what we want. That’s what we’re trying to develop.”

That strategy bore some fruit early against the Lakers, as McGee, who finished with 12 points on 3-for-6 shooting, seven rebounds, four fouls and one steal and one turnover, missed his two shots from the floor but pulled down four rebounds (two on the offensive glass) and earned six shots at the free-throw line, all of which the 54 percent career free-throw shooter knocked down.

“I think that you try to make his as confident as possible, make him feel like he can do anything out there on the floor that he wants to, try to put him in position to succeed, get him in the ball in the places where he can do things with,” Shaw said. “I think he’s an underrated 15-foot jump shooter. He knocked down the ones I remember him taking tonight. But it’s only one preseason game. He’s got to continue to build, continue to lift that confidence up and I think he’ll do well.”

Indeed, all three of McGee’s made buckets Sunday came away from just inside the paint or farther out, and he actually shot 43.3 percent from 10-15 feet last season, albeit on 0.4 attempts per game, per HoopData.com. Continuing that success, and keeping his “Pierre alter ego at bay, will always be the question.

For the time being, though, Young and McGee, the league’s foremost YouTube comedy duo and fellow castaways in the Wizards’ midseason purge of 2011-12, will likely figure prominently in two of the Western Conference's most high-profile franchises.

3. R.I.P. fun-time Nuggets
The Nuggets were the second-fastest team in the NBA last season in terms of pace, at 97.8 possessions per game, and in the George Karl era (2005-2013) Denver has never dropped out to the league’s top five. But it’s time to say goodbye to the fun-time Nuggets as we know them.

Before Sunday’s game, new head coach Brian Shaw said that while he’ll carry over some Karl-era elements, the days of running and gunning are likely over, going as far to note the relative lack of success by teams running that style (which is another battle for another day). The new-look Nuggets, who also lost star general manager Masai Ujiri and the closest thing to a star player in Andre Iguodala this past offseason, won’t be going full-on Triangle under Shaw, a Phil Jackson disciple, but they will use some of those elements, according to the coach. It’s really a potpourri at this point, with the first-year head coach most focused on what he described as "basic" NBA sets.

At least they signed Nate Robinson.

First Cup: Thursday

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
6:00
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Perhaps not since the Los Angeles Clippers used the No. 1 selection in the 1998 NBA draft on Pacific center Michael Olowokandi has there been a top pick who has flown under the radar more than Anthony Bennett. The Cavaliers shocked the experts June 27 when they selected the UNLV power forward. Very few people saw that coming. There are very few expectations being placed on his broad shoulders. Normally, the No. 1 pick comes to a team that needs him to produce right away. “I’m cool with it,” Bennett said. “I’m chillin’.” Cavs coach Mike Brown said the lack of pressure will benefit both the rookie and the organization. “It’s a terrific situation for not only Bennett, but for us,” he said. “He can come along slowly, and if he blossoms early, it’s a bonus for everybody. “We don’t have to rely on a teenager because of the depth we have.” Unbeknownst to Brown, Bennett turned 20 years old on March 3. The veteran coach said he’s keeping a close eye on Bennett. “Yesterday, I felt he was in a fog, running in 15 inches of mud,” he said. “It’s down to nine inches of mud now.”
  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey listened to the question about his predecessor, Kevin O’Connor, and smiled. No, he hasn’t retired. In fact, O’Connor will continue to play an important role for the franchise, although his home base will be in South Carolina. "Kevin’s job," Lindsey said, "is to make sure I don’t mess up." Not true, of course. O’Connor remains the Jazz’s executive vice president of basketball operations, but he is no longer the team’s primary decision-maker. That job belongs to Lindsey and his new assistant general manager, Justin Zanik. O’Connor will scout for the Jazz, in addition to offering advice when Lindsey or Zanik ask for it, which will probably be often. Lindsey’s working relationship with O’Connor, you see, has evolved into a trusting friendship in the 13 months he has been Utah’s GM. So it’s difficult to imagine with Jazz moving forward without O’Connor’s fingerprints remaining on the franchise. "I’m wearing him out," Lindsey said. "He’s been such a good friend. He’s moved from friend to confidant. He provides great feedback, counsel [and] humor, which in this business is very important. I just can’t say enough about him." O’Connor joined the Jazz in 1999, when Scott Layden was hired by the New York Knicks.
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Whether or not Deron Williams’ weight contributed to last season’s ankle problems is a subjective assumption, but he finds himself in a similar position this season, only slimmer. The other difference is caution, and an understanding that it’s not worth risking aggravation or further injury in training camp. Weeks after spraining his ankle and suffering a bone bruise, Williams was still on the sideline Wednesday at Duke University, under orders to remove himself from drills involving cutting and contact. The Nets are clearly prepared to sit Williams for all seven preseason games, so there are no repeats of Nassau Coliseum. “We are in a different stage with the team. You don’t feel you’ve got to have (Deron) on the court,” GM Billy King said. “We’d like to practice, but the goal now is to get him as healthy as possible, so that when he does go, there’s no setbacks. There is no need for him to have a setback in day two that sets him back so you’re not ready for opening day (Oct. 30 at Cleveland).”
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden and Dwight Howard took a short trip down memory lane after practice Wednesday. When asked about playing each other last year in Los Angeles, Harden remembered a specific play, where he scored on Howard and made it look easy. “In LA last year against the Lakers, I was coming full speed down the court, left to right, he shifted one way completely and I just laid the ball up,” Harden said. Howard, too, remembers the encounter. Howard said that Harden’s Euro step is what caused him trouble. “He is lefthanded for one,” Howard said. “That is tough to defend. I remember last season when we played I was running back full speed. I got in front of him and I was like ‘I’m gonna set him up for a blocked shot.’ And he did some kind of Euro step real fast and he went past my shoulder and I was like ‘Man, I wasn’t even expecting that,’ so it’s pretty sick.” Howard said his Euro step doesn’t match up to Harden’s.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: When New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams puts in his backups this season, he doesn't want a drastic dropoff in production that occurred frequently last season. In a push to strengthen his bench, Williams plans to use swingman Tyreke Evans as a backup rather than as a starter, although he's one of their most talented players. Despite that starting shooting guard Eric Gordon's durability remains in question and starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu struggled with inconsistency as a midrange scorer last season, Williams thinks Evans can make a bigger impact playing with the second unit with forwards Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. Evans appears to have embraced his new role, although it's not certain yet if he will play more at shooting guard or small forward. "It’s a different situation for me, but it’s exciting that I’m going to play with these guys,’’ Evans said. "It’s going to help me out a lot and help them.'' It's likely when the Pelicans play their preseason opener Saturday at the Houston Rockets, their starters will be Jrue Holiday at point guard, Anthony Davis at power forward, Greg Stiemsma at center, Aminu at small forward and possibly Anthony Morrow at shooting guard in place of Gordon, who is likely to miss the first two weeks of preseason games to improve his conditioning after going through rehabilitation the entire offseason to recover from ankle surgery in May.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: How you feel about Marco Belinelli will likely depend on how you feel about Manu Ginobili. Make no mistake — Belinelli is no Ginobili. Rather, he’s a watered-down version of the aging yet still-potent dynamo the Spurs had no doubts about re-signing even after a wildly inconsistent Finals. Considering Ginobili, at 36, is a watered-down version of his own best self, that isn’t a ringing endorsement. But for a Spurs team with minimal cap space after bringing back Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, and a need for another multi-talented guard to lighten the load on Ginobili and Tony Parker, Belinelli was a practical choice. If Matt Bonner is Winter Shoes, the Italian journeyman is Christmas Socks: Thoroughly underwhelming, but useful nonetheless. With Gary Neal gone and the true back-up point guard role still unsettled, the Spurs will rely on their lone offseason acquisition of consequence in a big way. “He’s going to enter in our plans significantly, and quickly,” head coach Gregg Popovich said.
  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: “To me, the closest comparison to Paul George on this team is Quincy Miller,” Brian Shaw said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know much about him when I got here and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. He is really, really talented. At 6-10 he can handle the ball. When he gets his feet set he can shoot it from the outside and he’s got that – he smiles and he’s a nice guy when you see him, but he has a nasty disposition about himself when he’s out there on the floor. He has pretty good footwork. When I got to Indiana I didn’t know very much about Paul George. And then when I got there and I started working with him, I was like ‘wow, this guy could really be good if he puts in the work.’ Paul was very inquisitive; asked me a lot of questions, picked my brain about Kobe (Bryant), because Paul grew up in the L.A. area. He’s been asking me a lot of questions about Kobe and about Paul as well. So, it reminds me of that situation.”
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Humbled by a disappointing sophomore campaign with the Washington Wizards, Jan Vesely was a beaten-down man trying to piece together his shattered confidence at the start of the summer. He took a month off from the game to spend time with family and friends back home, then began the process of rebuilding the player who was selected by the Wizards with the sixth overall pick in 2011. “To realize that you are on the bottom and you have to get back,” Vesely said this week of his offseason motivation, “that’s the only thing I was thinking.” After taking baby steps through Wizards summer league in Las Vegas, Vesely represented his native country at the European championships, where he was a high-energy jumping jack. “Finally, I just enjoy basketball again,” the 7-footer explained. Vesely played multiple positions for the Czech Republic, ran the floor with abandon, rebounded and was a dominant force with few plays called for him, eliciting chants of “Honza,” his nickname, from the crowd.
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: This season Dallas Mavericks fans will see a lot less of Jae Crowder. No, the Mavericks have no plans of cutting into the 17.3 minutes per game Crowder averaged last season as a rookie. It’s just that Crowder went on a diet this summer and trimmed down from the 240 pounds he played at last season down to 225. The weight loss came at the request of the Mavericks, who felt Crowder could have more of an impact if he was a bit slimmer. “We just felt that it would facilitate him being much more effective as a multi-position player, and he’s done that,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s shown discipline, he’s shown his will to work. “I think that bodes as well for him as anything that he’s done here.” A small forward and shooting guard, Crowder said he addressed his weight issues by going on a strict diet.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The town of Bar, Montenegro, sits on the Adriatic Sea. During the day, its 20,000 inhabitants flock to beaches and coffeehouses. On warm nights, people stroll along one of the main streets, giving the place a family atmosphere. Historic churches and picturesque mountains dot the landscape. Nik Vucevic never expected to be well-known there. His family moved to Bar during his teenage years, and he's spent the last several years in the U.S. But everywhere he went in Bar during the offseason, random strangers stopped him and congratulated him for how he played during his first season with the Orlando Magic. … Vucevic ended last season with nine consecutive double-doubles. Word of his exploits circulated throughout Montenegro. When Vucevic was a child, he often approached pro players for autographs. One of his favorite players was Yugoslavian point guard Aleksandar Djordjevic. A few months ago, when Vucevic returned home, children often approached him.
  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: The relationship between Kyle Lowry and head coach Dwane Casey was a constant point of conversation last year. While the two never publicly lit into each other, there were certainly some growing pains as the frequently cantankerous Lowry tried to mesh with the occasionally stern Casey. So, it was noteworthy when Casey praised Lowry on Wednesday, unprompted. “He’s really set the tone,” Casey said when asked if anybody had surprised him so far in training camp. “I think his team only lost two games in the scrimmages. He’s really done an excellent job of running the show and being the leader of the team, whatever team he’s on. He sticks out.”

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.”

Why is Andre Iguodala so defensive?

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
11:29
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Andre Iguodala
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
Andre Iguodala makes defenses good.

Andre Iguodala is going gray. That’s the first thing I noticed at the Warriors practice facility in downtown Oakland on Wednesday. Breaking news, you heard it here first. Slightly famous athlete suffers from apoptosis of the follicle. It’s just that the white hairs are a bit shocking on a guy whose physique looks like Batman’s armor.

I’m casting science aside and blaming the Philadelphia media for Iguodala’s premature “Just for Men” status. “Iggy” (Iguodala hates that media-given nickname, by the way) mastered the subtle art of defense while the local sports pundits not so subtly bellowed that he wasn’t worth the contract. Philly’s a famously angry market, and from what I could tell, its fixation was more on what Iguodala couldn’t do rather than what he could.

Then the Sixers traded him to Denver for the concept of Andrew Bynum. Despite losing Arron Afflalo in the deal, the Nuggets went from a 47-win lockout pace to a franchise record 57 wins. The Sixers trudged to the lottery, trampling Doug Collins’ soul in the process.

Denver was 20th in defensive efficiency before Iguodala arrived and 11th when he left. Philadelphia was third in defensive efficiency in Iguodala’s last season there. Last season, they sunk to 15th.

So where was the widespread credit? Even if George Karl had kept his job, I doubt the public would have embraced Iguodala’s defensive impact as a storyline.

We don’t care about defense. It’s about creating the absence of something, which sounds more like preventative maintenance than the action fans crave from sports. Tune in folks, watch Iguodala perform the NBA equivalent of sealing a wood deck.

A lot goes into Iguodala tilting the odds against action, but it will be ignored for the most part. His defense is as public as it is obscure. Maybe that’s why he sounds a bit annoyed when discussing his game and how it’s regarded. Iguodala is quite literally soft-spoken, but he seemed downright brash on Wednesday on the topic of his D and its impact (bolded emphasis mine).
You think you have another level you can go to individually?

Yeah, definitely. I don’t think I’ve gotten enough credit for what I bring to certain teams, especially last year with the record we had, breaking the franchise record for wins and how we kind of kept everything together and pulled off a great season.

How much credit do you deserve for the defensive leap that Denver took last season?

I would say I had a lot to do with it, because I had a lot of responsibility, especially in the pick-and-roll coverage on the weak side and having to guard two guys, the diver and the 3-point shooter. Which is ... it’s damned near impossible. I see a lot of teams lose games off that.

This could be the season that Mr. "Damned Near Impossible" finds his recognition. He joins a team whose fanbase has long pleaded for better defense. The last season in which Golden State was better than 10th in defensive efficiency happened 35 years ago.

Good defense is damned near impossible to notice. Unless it’s a total change of pace from what you’re used to. Warriors fans were beside themselves over the flashes of defensive might bequeathed by Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. If Iguodala vaults this unit to an elite level, Oracle Arena might levitate.

For now, Memphis has the market cornered on fan-friendly defense with their “Grit n’ Grind” branding, energetic crowd, and charismatic spokesman in Tony Allen. Iguodala could be GSW’s Allen -- a reason and symbol for a popular team’s cultural shift. In his 10th season, the often dismissed and maligned Iguodala could finally get his due.

Oh, who am I kidding? If the Warriors go deep in the playoffs we’re going to focus on Steph Curry’s 3-point shooting and little else.

First Cup: Monday

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: There never has been much doubt about Rick Adelman returning as Timberwolves coach, but it wasn’t for sure until he brought his coaching staff out to his home in Portland, Ore., last week and laid out the plans for this season. Wolves owner Glen Taylor confirmed Adelman’s return Sunday. “Yes, he did [say he’s coming back],” Taylor said. On the subject of the remodeling of Target Center and how the $100 million in expenses will be paid for, Taylor reported some progress after a long delay and how much each of the three partners will contribute. “We have an agreement with the city, and now they are working with the management team AEG to get an agreement there,” Taylor said. “We’re just sort of waiting on the city to work it out with them. Then it’s my understanding that once they get that done, they’re going to bring it to the City Council. “We have obligated ourselves to pay for $44 million to fix Target Center. The city will put in $50 million. We have to get $6 million from AEG.”
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: How will Russell Westbrook return? An unfortunate knee injury to Westbrook devastated a state and derailed the Thunder's season. How Westbrook bounces back from that setback will now determine how far the Thunder can go. For five seasons we've watched Westbrook display one of the most fearless styles of play on the planet. His relentless attack has always put pressure on defenses and given the Thunder a go-to option whenever all else fails. But will Westbrook still have that same gear with a reconstructed knee? Will he still have that same mentality? Westbrook is expected to make a full recovery from the torn meniscus he suffered on April 24. But he may not be 100 percent to start the season. As a result, we may see a different player initially than the Tasmanian devil we've grown accustomed to. After an offseason of rehab, Westbrook's confidence and rhythm will be worth monitoring just as much as his motor and athleticism.
  • Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News: The upcoming syllabus looks daunting. When camp convenes on the Salve Regina University campus, Brad Stevens will welcome a squad that bears almost no resemblance to the one that won an NBA title in 2008 and was playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals just 15 months ago. His lone All-Star player, Rajon Rondo, is still recovering from torn anterior cruciate ligament surgery and appears unlikely to be ready for the season opener. One of his most promising young players, Jared Sullinger, was recently arrested on domestic assault charges. His most experienced players — Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace — are new to the team after being cast off by the Brooklyn Nets in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce blockbuster, and are all unlikely to be a part of a rebuilding squad’s long-term plans. His most natural healthy center and point guard, Vitor Faverani and Phil Pressey, respectively, are rookies. But he has four shooting guards and four power forwards who will all be looking for minutes. His first-round draft choice, Kelly Olynyk, is already dealing with a case of plantar fasciitis, while one of last year’s first-round picks, Fab Melo, was let go last month in a salary dump to get under the luxury-tax threshold. Other than that, transitioning from being a mid-major college darling to the leader of a marquee major-market franchise should be a piece of cake. But Stevens said Friday he doesn’t expect this to be easy, that he does expect this season to be a proving ground for everyone on the parquet and new to the Boston bench, and that he’ll continue to put in the time and effort to get it right.
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Hey, Mary: If this coming season turns into another parade of injuries for the Cavaliers, and they fail to make the playoffs, will Chris Grant finally be dismissed after four long seasons of misery at the Q? Hey, Chris: I don't think Chris Grant is in any danger of losing his job. By and large, his draft choices have performed well and he has pulled off some trades that significantly improved the team, like sending Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers for a No. 1 pick that became Kyrie Irving, an All-Star in his second season. The Cavs were the only team in the league to have three players taking part in the USA Basketball minicamp -- Irving, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. A fourth -- Tristan Thompson -- is playing for Canada's national team, and a fifth -- Sergey Karasev -- is playing for Russia's national team. I like the gamble he took on Andrew Bynum because if he's healthy he's a steal, and if he's not the Cavs are only on the hook for this season. I'm not sure how you can blame the general manager for three straight season-ending injuries suffered by Anderson Varejao. If you say the Cavs should have traded him when he was healthy, I'd counter by saying they wouldn't have gotten back a player who brought the same energy and defense. The J.J. Hickson trade for Omri Casspi didn't work out, but overall I think most general managers would like to have Grant's batting average in trades. When you consider the state of the franchise when he took over for Danny Ferry after the departure of Mike Brown and LeBron James and where he has it today, there's no reason his job should be on the line.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Masai Ujiri has turned to his native Africa to try to fill his squad’s final roster spot. The Raptors president/general manager confirmed Sunday that Angolan guard Carlos Morais has been invited to training camp, along with Julyan Stone and Chris Wright. Morais, a 27-year-old, 6-foot-3 guard has been playing professionally since he was a teenager and has been a major reason why Angola has emerged as the class of the continent since 2005. Morais was named MVP of the recent Afrobasket tournament after leading Angola to gold with averages of 15.9 points and 4.6 assists per game. Angola also won the tournament in 2009, 2007 and 2005 and finished second in 2011, when Morais averaged 17.7 points per game. Morais also averaged 14.8 points at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, including a game-high 24 points against the United States. Morais is considered a scoring guard, a quality outside shooter and a strong athlete, but has mostly played in Angola. He will be in camp on a non-guaranteed contract, like Stone and Wright, who will fight for the final roster spot that was created with the waiving of veteran swingman Quentin Richardson last month.
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: For all the colorful players that have come through Washington in recent years, none wears the title of knucklehead better than JaVale McGee does. There are scores of YouTube videos depicting the big man's ill-advised forays with the basketball and his own random comments about who knows what. NBA analysts have also piled on. Everything together has led to, well, JaVale, you tell us. “People around the NBA really think that I’m dumb or stupid,” McGee told NBA.com. “But people that know me know that I’m actually very intelligent. It doesn’t affect me at all.” Intelligence can come out in many different ways. Apparently former Denver coach George Karl didn't recognize it from a basketball standpoint seeing as he played the ex-Wizard only 18.1 minutes per game last season even after the Nuggets signed the agile 7-foot center to $44 million extension. According to reports, Karl's limited use of McGee had at least some part in management firing the longtime coach, who was named 2013 NBA Coach of the Year. In 79 games, McGee averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and was among the league leaders with 2.0 blocks.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Stephen Jackson’s previous appearance on ESPN’s Highly Questionable went so well. they couldn’t resist bringing him back last week for an encore performance. This time, completely unprompted, he got to tell Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones the tale of how he ended up with his hand around the throat of former NBA All-Star Steve Francis during a recent club run-in. Jackson explained: “We wasn’t never cool. I don’t hang with him. I don’t call him. We’ve never been in the same circles. It was too packed for me to get to the stage. So I go in the DJ booth…and as soon as I start rapping, he jumps on the back of the DJ booth. “I don’t know why he jumped up there. He bumped me two times with his midsection. I felt his belt on my neck. So the third time he does it…I turn around and I ask him to get down. He said something crazy, one thing led to another, my hand end up on his throat and next thing he in cuffs.” … It’s a mildly amusing story, and as ever, it’s difficult to ever get totally down on Jackson. At the same time, it’s also more than a little pathetic that two gifted ballers — at least in their prime — who might otherwise be playing out the stretch of their careers are getting into an altercation at a nightclub instead of preparing for training camp. This much is probably safe to say: If Jackson has any hope of getting another shot to make an NBA roster, moments like this probably aren’t going to help. It’s also a sad reminder of just how far Francis has fallen.
  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: Once a skinny kid in a purple uniform, Tracy McGrady now can sound like a jaded curmudgeon lamenting the state of the next generation. “You’ve got some guys in the league now who are just knuckleheads,” McGrady said. “What turns me off is guys doing the wrong thing. Just the legal part of it, hanging out, getting these DUIs, marijuana — all that crazy stuff, just doing the wrong thing, setting a bad example for the young guys ... I don’t quite understand it. I take a guy like (Michael) Beasley. Had all the potential in the world but he’s not level-headed. He just doesn’t get it. And a very talented player. But where else are you going to make this type of money doing something you love to do every day, take care of your family and play basketball. I mean, are you serious? You get millions of dollars for it and you mess these opportunities up? I don’t get it.” McGrady has been cast as a villain in these parts. But his career, in which he never found himself in the headlines for bad behaviour, is worth respecting.

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.

Summer Forecast: Team Turmoil

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
2:59
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The Lakers were a popular pick in the Summer Forecast, but Israel Gutierrez says the turmoil left with Dwight Howard.video

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