TrueHoop: Detroit Pistons

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

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

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


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Dallas Mavericks


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

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

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


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

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


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

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

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


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

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

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

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

Stan Van Gundy's big deal

May, 14, 2014
May 14
4:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The Pistons' new leading man didn't just get a big payday, but also a ton of control. Amin Elhassan on why SVG deserved it, and what he's like as a coach.

video

Detroit Pistons: Big-time tanking

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
4:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Henry Abbott and Chad Ford discuss why Detroit has as much at stake as any team in the tanking sweepstakes.

The Big Penguin takes flight

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
2:09
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Penguins can fly! This big one does, at least. If only the Pistons had the personnel to surround Andrew Drummond with shooters like Dwight Howard in Orlando, says David Thorpe.

Top-Ranked Sophomores

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
1:58
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe says Anthony Davis is the best player in the NBA's sophomore class, but he's injured at the moment. That created a sophomore-ranking dilemma between Blazer Damian Lillard and Piston Andre Drummond, who vied for the top spot.

Surprisingly productive defenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly, coach Frank Vogel knows something.

Re-ranking the 2012 draft

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
6:39
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe says Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard are in a class by themselves at the top. The rest of his top 20 includes several lower-drafted and even some undrafted players. Missing: high picks like Dion Waiters and Austin Rivers.

Amin Elhassan told you so

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
2:05
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Amin Elhassan predicted the Pistons offense would be terrible and the Pacers would win the East. And he's sticking to his prediction Kobe Bryant won't be meaningfully back anytime soon.

The strange, great career of Walt Bellamy

November, 2, 2013
11/02/13
8:08
PM ET
Harris By Curtis Harris
TrueHoop Network
Archive


When someone is really good or great, but never the best, his accomplishments tend to be overlooked or disregarded. The disdainful treatment is even harsher for those who seemingly have the tools to be the best, but settle into a groove of "merely great." Not only have you failed to be the best, but you teased us with the possibility that you were in fact the best.

Such is the NBA career of Hall of Fame center Walter Bellamy, who passed away Saturday at age 74.

The No. 1 overall pick of the Chicago Packers in the 1961 NBA draft, "Bells" blew the door off the hinges in his rookie season. He averaged a Herculean 31.6 points to go with a mammoth 19.0 rebounds. On top of that, he shot 51.9 percent from the field. That was good enough to not only lead the NBA for the 1961-62 season, but also to set a league record. The spectacular season easily secured Rookie of the Year honors for Bellamy.

The performance seemingly foretold greater things to come for Bellamy. However, his scoring average steadily dropped from 31.6 points per game in his rookie season to 16.7 in 1967-68. The average might have been cut in half, but over this same span, the talent surrounding Bellamy had practically doubled.

Simply put, the 1961-62 Packers were historically horrific. Of their 10-man rotation, six of the players were out of the league the very next season. Three others combined to play just 212 more NBA games -- the equivalent of 2.5 seasons. Then there was Bellamy, forced to produce so much when given so little. The decline in points scored by Bellamy wasn't due to eroding skills, but rather was a sign of improving teammates.

By 1964-65, Bellamy was averaging 25 points alongside Hall of Fame forwards Bailey Howell and Gus Johnson. The trio took the Baltimore Bullets to the Western Division finals. In 1966-67, Bellamy averaged 19 points alongside Willis Reed and Dick Barnett. The trio took the New York Knicks to the postseason for the first time since 1959.

And this is where Bellamy's career takes perhaps its biggest hit.

The Knicks had to decide which center to keep, Reed or Bellamy. Reed, nearly three years younger, was the pick, and Bellamy was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Dave DeBusschere in December 1968. The Knicks subsequently appeared in three NBA Finals and won two titles. Was Bellamy holding the Knicks back? Probably, but not because he lacked talent. It was just mismatched talent.

Bells was a big, bruising center. At 6-foot-11, with a muscular barrel chest and a rear end perfect to gain position on the boards, Bellamy was an inside terror, but didn't possess a deft passing touch. Reed had that passing touch, as did DeBusschere -- and that's what coach Red Holzman needed out of his big men.

Bellamy's stay in Detroit was the nadir of his career and he was mercifully traded in February 1970 to the Atlanta Hawks. At the back end of his playing days, Bellamy enjoyed a renaissance in Georgia. Placed alongside the penetrating and high-scoring combination of "Sweet" Lou Hudson and "Pistol" Pete Maravich, Bells was freed to cruise for sledgehammer dunks and bruise for boards. These talented Hawks pushed Atlanta to the playoffs for four consecutive seasons.

Bellamy retired in 1974. If this trio, or something like it, had come together a decade earlier in Bellamy's career, he might have achieved a greater impact on the game. If he didn't have the misfortune of being drafted by the NBA's first expansion franchise in nearly a decade, he would have enjoyed more stability. If there had been free agency in his time, he could have decided his own destiny instead of always being at the whim of a trade.

As such, we're left to contemplate the strange career of this talented center.

The idea that individuals control their fate is a powerful one in our society. However, the reality that our individual choices and, thus, fate are constrained by circumstances demands reckoning. Bellamy's career exemplifies that. A man with great skill who performed with a sense of pride still faced a situation filled with uncertainty and chaos. He played out a career that didn't quite live up to his talent level. He never made an All-NBA team, since he was perennially blocked by Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Despite it all, though, Bellamy was a four-time All-Star and one of just seven players in NBA history to amass more than 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds in a career.

So even if he was never the best, Walter Bellamy remains one of the greats.

The best offseason

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
3:45
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Indiana University professor Wayne Winston, a pioneer of NBA advanced stats, names the teams he expects to improve most this season.

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.”

First Cup: Thursday

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

First Cup: Wednesday

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

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: They love him in L.A., Orlando, New York, Miami, Central America, Europe, India. Don't forget India, especially now. But will they love him in Sacramento? Better yet, will they forgive him in Sacramento? Based on the results of an informal poll – a very limited sample size of six or seven Kingscentric folks contacted Monday – Shaq, who will be re-introduced this morning at the practice facility, is facing a hung jury in the court of public opinion. One segment of Kings fans is delighted with his arrival and all his oversized baggage. While his specific role and sphere of influence have yet to be defined, who knows what Shaq can do for you? … Well, here he comes. To those eagerly awaiting his arrival, hoping that celebrity and credibility are contagious, remember: He's a load. Stay ready. My advice to the anti-Shaq contingent would be this: Take this for what it is. Entertainment, until we hear otherwise.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Perfect strangers today will be teammates tomorrow. That sums up the situation facing the Milwaukee Bucks as they enter training camp next week. A hectic summer of change has resulted in 11 new players on the Bucks roster, although veterans Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour and Carlos Delfino are starting second stints in Milwaukee. But only four holdovers from last season's squad remain: starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova, starting center Larry Sanders, second-year power forward John Henson and backup big man Ekpe Udoh. And a new coaching staff led by Larry Drew will direct the Bucks after a five-year term for Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan, who finished last season as interim coach. "We have a short period of time to put a lot of things in," Drew said Monday before participating in the Bucks' annual golf outing at Westmoor Country Club. "There's going to be a lot of teaching that takes place. We'll have seven days of practice before we play our first exhibition game (Oct. 8 at Cleveland). "We're going to have to use every second of training camp as best we can." The 26-year-old Ilyasova now has the longest tenure on the Bucks roster as he opens his sixth season with the team.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Larry Bird joked that working on Paul George’s impending contract would keep him inside on a beautiful fall afternoon. “That’s why I’m not playing golf today,” Bird said during an appearance before the Pacers Foundation golf outing at Brickyard Crossing on Monday. “I’m going back to the office to work on it.” … On Monday, George said he and the team were on the “same page,” but nothing had been finalized. “I would hope,” George said when asked if the deal will be finished before training camp starts Saturday. “But whatever happens, happens. Right now, it’s about to be the start of the year. All the guys are here. We’re all fired up and ready to go. That’s where my focus is.” The question isn’t so much when a deal will be reached. Even if talks unexpectedly fall through, the Pacers would be able to make George a restricted free agent and match any deal he is offered next summer.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Russell Westbrook isn't making any promises about when he'll be back on the basketball court. But the All-Star point guard does offer something of a guarantee for whenever that day might be. “I'm going to come back and be better,” Westbrook said matter-of-factly Monday, with the same unshakable swagger he's always shown. As excitement builds over Saturday's start to training camp, Westbrook is eagerly anticipating his long-awaited return from the knee injury that cut short his 2013 postseason. Westbrook has not yet been cleared to resume full basketball activities, and neither him nor team officials are providing a timetable for when that final obstacle will be overcome. … For now, Westbrook sounds confident about all the questions he'll undoubtedly face in his return. When asked about regaining his rhythm after such a long layoff (he was injured April 24), Westbrook said bouncing back from this setback is no different from any other.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The start of Spurs training camp is little more than a week away, and Tony Parker is feeling the impact of dedicating much of his summer to Team France at EuroBasket 2013. It worked out historically well for Parker, who helped Les Blues finally win the major championship that had eluded them for so long, usually in painful fashion. But he’s now paying the price, admitting he was “very tired” after following up the Spurs’ run to the Finals with another one for his native country. Despite his current fatigue, and what could very well shape up to be another long, grueling playoff campaign with the Spurs, Parker disputed an earlier report, attributed to his father, that he had decided to skip next summer’s FIBA Basketball World Cup. Parker’s father had asserted that his son would then complete his international career with EuroBasket 2015 — yes, for some reason they hold the tournament every two years instead of the standard four for most other major international competitions — and the 2016 Olympics. Parker, however, said he’ll wait and see how he feels next summer before making any decision in regards to the Worlds. “To be honest, I do not know yet,” he was quoted by the French press.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Andrew Bynum still hasn’t been cleared for contact and, therefore, isn’t likely to be ready when the Cavaliers open training camp next week, but that hasn’t soured coach Mike Brown’s opinion of him. Brown still believes Bynum can be one of the best centers — ever. “He could very easily be the best center in the game,” Brown said. “Not only the game today, but he’s skilled enough and has the rest of the tools to be one of the best ever.” Bynum is now running on treadmills, but has not resumed contact drills on the court, Brown said Monday at the team’s charity golf outing at Firestone Country Club. There is still no timetable for Bynum’s return, and no one in the organization is pressing him after his lengthy history of knee troubles. “I’m not in any rush to get him back,” Brown said. “Obviously it’d be great if he’s here for opening day and practicing. If he’s not, I’m more than OK with it. We have a lot of guys capable of stepping up and playing or practicing until he is ready to go.”
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Will Amar’e Stoudemire participate fully in training camp? Doesn’t sound like it, according to Raymond Felton. Felton believes Stoudemire will be held out of much of the preseason in order to have him ready for the regular season and preserve his knees. Felton said Stoudemire is only starting to run during informal workouts and isn’t scrimmaging with the team. The Knicks’ training camp officially opens Monday. “He started running today,’’ Felton said at an Under Armour appearance. “He’s not playing. We’ll sit him out as long as we can. He’s getting shots up. We don’t need him to go hard now. Training camp isn’t that big for us. It’s more for the young guys.’’ Will Stoudemire play in preseason? “I’m not really sure,’’ Felton said.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: The Heat, looking to fill out a training camp roster, signed undrafted 6-2 rookie point guard Larry Drew III, who averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 assists and shot 44.6 percent for UCLA last season and 43.3 percent on threes. The son of the Milwaukee Bucks and former Atlanta Hawks coach, Drew impressed the Heat during workouts earlier this month. Drew, who started his college career at North Carolina and then transferred, broke Pooh Richardson's UCLA single-season assists record last season and was named first-team All Pac-12. The Heat has 13 players signed to guaranteed contracts and five to non-guaranteed deals (centers Jarvis Varnado and Justin Hamilton, forwards Michael Beasley and Eric Griffin, Drew). The Heat has told agents it might not keep the maximum 15 players, so it's highly questionable whether any of the fringe roster contenders will make it, Beasley notwithstanding.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Q. One of the most interesting parts of this offseason was all the other big men that were brought in - obviously, Paul (Millsap) but also Elton (Brand), Pero (Antic) and Gustavo (Ayon). How do you see that working out? Are there minutes for everybody? Al Horford. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s really up for grabs these minutes. I think that Danny and coach Bud definitely know more than I do about some of these players and they see the potential in them. At this point, they need to blend in and fit in with us. We can’t forget about Mike Scott. He is the one who has made the most improvement that I have seen. By far he is in better shape than anyone. He is doing great. He is going to be somebody that people are going to sleep on but he’s going to be really good. He is looking great. He is in great shape. It’s about building a bond and a trust with these new bigs. We are going to have to do it by committee. There is no way around it.”
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: For the Pistons organization, it was one of five “Come Together” events they’ve initiated in Detroit and the surrounding areas, which included a back-to-school drive at another Detroit school, a blood drive in Auburn Hills and a “Walk for Autism Speaks” which was held in Rochester Hills over the past two weeks. They donated computers and refurbished a library for the students, but the simple act of running through the halls and giving high-fives to every student, as Smith and rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva did, will likely be the lasting memory from that day in September. “It means a lot,” Smith said. “To be a blessing to other people who are less fortunate are always a bonus. Putting a smile on kids’ faces, adults, change their lives, that’s the biggest thing about being a professional athlete.” For Smith, it was another pseudo-introduction to his newest adopted home after spending virtually all of his life in Atlanta, save for his senior season in high school, when he transferred to prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia before being drafted by his hometown Hawks in 2004. “It’s definitely a new experience, a new change,” said Smith, who spent his first nine seasons as a Hawk before signing a $54 million deal to become a Pistons this past July. “Being in Atlanta for 27 years of my life, getting acclimated to my surroundings, it’s fun.”

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