TrueHoop: Milwaukee Bucks
December, 16, 2013
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty ImagesAbsent Larry Sanders and several others to injury, the Bucks are winning the race to the bottom.
Playing without him was an inconvenience, but not debilitating. Brandon Knight had earned the starting gig at the 1 for Milwaukee, and the third-year point guard was raring to go. But 1 minute and 45 seconds into his Bucks debut, Knight strained his hamstring pushing the ball upcourt in transition. He promptly checked out of the game, and so began the career of Nate Wolters -- South Dakota State Jackrabbit and No. 38 overall pick in the 2013 draft -- under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden on opening night.
The injuries to the point guard corps were merely the newest installments in the Bucks’ medical drama. Milwaukee signed Carlos Delfino this past offseason under the assumption that the bone fractured in his right foot during the playoffs would be healed for the start of the season. But in September Delfino suffered a setback in his recovery that moved his estimated return date back to around just before the new year. He'd need extensive bone repair therapy.
While Delfino was rehabbing, big man Ekpe Udoh had his knee scoped Oct. 10. He missed the start of the season and didn’t return to the court until Nov. 6.
The Bucks received the worst news of all only three games into the season, when Sanders was lost after tearing a ligament in his right thumb at a Milwaukee club the night of Nov. 3. The pin that protects the ligament reconstruction was removed a week ago, and he's just been cleared for light basketball activity. The hope is that Sanders will return soon after Christmas.
Hours before Sanders found trouble, Ersan Ilyasova aggravated the nasty right ankle sprain he suffered during the preseason. Four days later, Ilyasova had joined Sanders, Knight, Ridnour and Delfino on the shelf (Udoh was just about to make his return). He’d miss six games for the Bucks, then return to play sporadically for the remainder of November. The results have been dispiriting: Statistically, Ilyasova is putting up the least impressive numbers of his six-year NBA career.
The hits kept coming for the Bucks: A week after the Sanders dust-up and Ilyasova, Delfino announced via his website Nov. 9 that he’d need another round of surgery, a procedure he underwent Saturday in Argentina. The team says Delfino will be out at least another eight weeks, but it's possible he won't suit up for Milwaukee this season.
Feel-good story Caron Butler didn't feel so good. On Nov. 15, he flew to Los Angeles to consult a specialist about his tweaked shoulder and missed consecutive blowout losses to Indiana and Oklahoma City. Two weeks later, Butler was sidelined again, this time with a swollen left knee. He isn’t expected back in uniform for another week. Meanwhile, Gary Neal has missed a couple of games because of a foot injury and left Saturday's game against Dallas because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
There's more: Center Zaza Pachulia will be in a walking boot on his right foot for the foreseeable future after suffering a stress fracture a week ago. That leaves the Bucks with a frontcourt rotation of John Henson, Udoh, a hobbled Ilyasova and first-year import Miroslav Raduljica.
That’s a matter of interpretation.
If you’re owner Herb Kohl, the 5-19 start is a travesty. The Milwaukee Bucks brand might not register nationally, but the team’s annual pledge to put a competitive product on the floor for the community has been compromised.
One of the hallmarks of Milwaukee Bucks basketball has been the promise that if you buy a ticket on a cold winter night, there’s a better than even chance you’ll see a win for the good guys. The Bucks haven’t had a losing home record at the dilapidated Bradley Center since the 2007-08 season, but they’ve treated the local folks to only two wins in 12 games there this season.
Allen Einstein/Getty ImagesJohn Henson has unintentionally benefited from Milwaukee's woes.
The litany of injuries is undeniable, as is the fact that the summer’s projected starting lineup of Knight, O.J. Mayo, Butler, Ilyasova and Sanders hasn’t played a second together. The team doesn’t have a single five-man unit that’s been on the floor for 100 minutes this season. You can boast about the potential of rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and marvel at the length Larry Drew will be able to assemble on the floor once Sanders returns to play alongside Henson and Antetokounmpo.
Yet businessmen tend to be fixated on results -- and 5-19 is 5-19. City governments and those listening to proposals about the construction of new facilities in a depressed urban economy don’t read draft reports or go to NBA salary sites for a rosy picture of the franchise’s cost structure.
A project like the Milwaukee Bucks can’t afford bad morale when it’s up against all kinds of adverse conditions. Last summer, assistant general manager David Morway spoke about how losing, even with the disclaimer that losses can be teaching moments and part of the life cycle of a young team, can become habit, which is dangerous. It’s not just players. Organizations who aren't winning and/or don’t have a definable mission like the one Sam Hinkie has in Philly, can be infected off the court, too. There are a couple of examples on opposite sides of the East River.
But if you’re a pragmatist or, possibly, a cynic, the organization might have lucked into something. Kohl’s mandate to win as many games as possible is born out of noble intentions and menschkeit, but it costs you several draft slots each season and, often, a reasonable chance at a transcendent talent.
The Bucks have some promise on the roster. Sanders has the opportunity to grow into one of the five most valuable defensive players in the NBA. We need to see more of Antetokounmpo to make a legitimate estimate of his potential, but from the ground floor it looks like a vaulted ceiling. With the front-court depth depleted, the Bucks are asking a lot of Henson and he’s delivering consistently. He doesn't currently have the stretch to be a logical counterpart to Sanders up front, but the learning curve is on a steep upward ascent.
No one in good conscience can say injuries are anything but bad -- they cause victims pain in the present and anxiety about the future. But unintended consequences can have benefits. Speaking of Henson, his smart, confident voice is growing louder in a locker room that needs some young guys who express a belief in what might be possible in Milwaukee. The Oklahoma City model is referenced a lot, but one thing that’s commonly left off its list of characteristics is how the young Thunder core took ownership of the enterprise, even when they were losing a ton of basketball games.
There were questions coming into the season about how much action Antetokounmpo would see. The injuries to Delfino and periodic absence of Butler have wedged the door open a little bit more. People around the league have been surprised by what Khris Middleton has demonstrated in big minutes as a starting small forward.
But the Bucks need another big talent before this thing becomes real, and if current trends continue, they’re in prime position to add one through the June draft. There’s a good deal of irony at work, namely that a team that promised to make every attempt to be competitive is the Eastern Conference’s least. Sometimes serendipity is better than brilliance.
October, 30, 2013
Clipper Jared Dudley was on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio with Adam Schein talking about tanking. The conversation kicked off with a discussion of a current GM's recent admission to ESPN the Magazine that he and his owner planned to tank.
Some of what Dudley had to say on tanking:
Some of what Dudley had to say on tanking:
- "Last year in Phoenix, I mean, they didn't use the word 'tanking' but we were out of the playoffs, it was over. ... We tried different lineups. Why did we try different lineups? Well, because we wanted to see what guys they were going to keep this year, which they basically have kept no one so far. So you try different lineups knowing that the consequences, if you lose, well, it’s fine because it helps you. They never said, 'Hey, let’s tank.' Charlotte Bobcats, they never said, 'Let’s tank.' But the actions you do, it kind of insinuates it. And we understand it because you want a higher pick. You’re going to try and tell me instead of winning five or seven extra games you lose out on Andrew Wiggins but yet you are still the bottom of the barrel? No, you’re going to want to get the worst. So I don’t blame the GMs. I blame the system, how it is set up."
- "How I would do it? I would make it equal percentages for every non-playoff [team]. ... [Now] if you have the worst record, you get at least a top-four or -five pick. So no matter what, in this draft, imagine when LeBron, Carmelo and Wade were there that year. If you were one of the worst teams you were guaranteed at least LeBron, Wade, Melo or Bosh. You were going to get a superstar. And that’s what they think this draft is going to be like. So I would put the other 11 teams all equally so it makes teams have to go out and play to try to win for their teams. I mean, how it is set up now, if I was a GM, me personally, if my team could not make the playoffs or win a championship, why would you not tank with how the system is now?"
- "I’m just surprised that someone would come out and say it so blatantly, the only thing is they just did it anonymously so, in a way, they still were a coward about it. We understand that’s it. And, to be honest with you, it’s very tough with the system how it works. Because, let’s just be honest, if you’re a Charlotte Bobcats, you’re a Milwaukee Bucks, you’re a, I don’t know, another team like that, how do you get a superstar? Is any superstar going to go there? Because it’s not like you can offer him more money. It’s not like it's baseball where they say, 'Hey, you know what, I want this guy, I’ll give you $30 million more than the Knicks.' So how do you get those guys? They’re not going to come there and you trade them, if they are in the last year of their deal, the only thing they are going to say is, 'We’re not going to sign the extension.'
- 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.
September, 27, 2013
By Eric Goldwein
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesAmong John Lucas' most enigmatic moments? A free throw attempt with his eyes wide shut.
As Richards recalls, the Milwaukee Bucks are blowing out the New York Knicks. It’s “an exhibition like you wouldn’t believe,” she says.
The 33-year-old Bucks point guard is running up and down the court screaming “No way, no way,” and in the closing moments he does something outrageous.
“He’s right in front of the basket where we have our seats, and he stands there at the free throw line and he yells, 'No way Renee, No way Renee,'" she said. "And he closes his eyes and he makes the free throw.”
It's a quintessential Lucas performance, but to Renee it was so much more.
Lucas was a two-sport prodigy. He landed on Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” as a 14-year-old tennis phenom, topped Pete Maravich’s scoring record in high school and was an All-American in both sports at the University of Maryland. Lucas was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets in the 1976 NBA draft -- a rare feat for a point guard. Three days later, he was signed by the San Francisco Golden Gaters to play World Team Tennis -- a rarer feat for a point guard.
Richards, now a practicing ophthalmologist, was the transsexual tennis player who stirred international controversy after the former Richard Raskind appeared in tournaments as a 41-year-old woman. The United States Tennis Association barred Richards from competing in the 1976 US Open but Richards challenged the USTA in New York State Supreme Court, which ruled she could enter the tournament without submitting to chromosome testing. In 1977, she played in her first US Open as a woman. A spectacle ensued.
The next summer, Richards joined forces with Lucas on the New Orleans Nets. An NBA point guard and a 43-year-old transsexual -- both lefties -- playing mixed doubles.
“It was like being at the wedding of a transvestite and a dock worker,” quipped one reporter after watching them at the 1978 US Open.
Lucas, who says the pairing went 28-1, saw it differently: “We were two lefties that both hit sliced serves. Our height was very good and we created problems.”
The Lucas-Richards duo was perfect for the quirky but competitive World Team Tennis. They did things -- chest bumps, for instance -- that would have been frowned upon in other tennis venues.
“I put a basketball game on a tennis court,” Lucas said. “That’s how I played tennis. I tried to make it an athletic event.”
Off the court they were partners in mischief. Richards recalled a road trip in Indianapolis when they were in a weight room and some men started making offensive remarks about her sex change. Lucas, protective of Richards, threatened them with a 200-pound barbell.
“And he says ‘Listen, Dr. Richards is my friend and she’s my doubles partner. I don’t want you to say anything more against her,’” Richards said, laughing. “And this guy just looked up at him and John’s holding this 200-pound weight over his head, and that was the end of that.”
Richards mentioned another time when Lucas walked into a redneck bar in Lakeland, Fla., and asked for a six-pack of Heineken.
“A black guy in Lakeland, Fla., in the middle of the night in this hot, scalding road house, the door won’t open, the neon light in front of it and guys playing pool inside, not a black guy in sight. I said, ‘You’re not going in there,’" Richards said.
Lucas didn’t listen. He walked in, asked for the beer, and the bartender froze; he couldn’t comply since the customers were watching, but he couldn’t outright ignore the request. Richards broke the silence, asking the bartender for the six-pack. The bartender gave it to her. Problem solved.
“He was very na´ve in some ways but brilliant and sophisticated and educated and all that, but in some respects he was a kid,” Richards said.
Renee Richards’ notoriety was fading when she joined John Lucas on the Nets. One year removed from the saga of the 1977 New York Supreme Court ruling, she was gaining recognition on the pro tennis circuit as a competitor, not a sideshow attraction.
Lucas, meanwhile, was starting to lose control of his life. Drug problems surfaced after he was sent to Golden State in 1978. In his third and final season with the Warriors, he missed three team flights, six games and more than a dozen practices. Whisperers around the league said cocaine was the problem. Golden State, then in postseason contention, suspended Lucas for the final eight games of the season.
Jack McCallum profiled Lucas the following offseason in a 1981 Sports Illustrated story titled “Picking Up The Pieces.” Lucas’ psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Strange, said the troubled point guard was “emotionally and physiologically fit to continue his profession.” Depression, not drugs, was thought to be the cause of his problems.
“It’s just an unfortunate accident that happened to a good guy. I’m not a bad guy. I’m nobody’s problem child. Never have been, never will be,” Lucas told McCallum.
The Warriors shipped Lucas to the Washington Bullets for two second-round picks that summer and the problems escalated. Donald Dell, then Lucas’ attorney, said his client approached him about hiring a personal security guard to fend off drug dealers. So Dell arranged for a former D.C. policeman to trail the NBA star.
“And guess what?” Dell said. “It was not successful. After a couple months, somehow people would always still get drugs to him, even though this guy was traveling with him and living with him in his apartment.”
The Bullets waived their problem child in 1983, but in spite of the off-court antics, other teams could not resist the talented point guard. Lucas -- after a brief tennis stint -- joined the Lancaster Lightning of the Continental Basketball Association. A 20-point, 14-assist performance, in one half, caught the attention of San Antonio Spurs general manager Bob Bass, who signed Lucas for the remainder of the 1983-84 season.
San Antonio traded Lucas to Houston, where he played alongside Hakeem Olajuwon and 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson on the greatest team that never was. He failed a drug test that December and “retired,” but completed a 40-day rehab program and returned to the court that season.
The next year with the Rockets, Lucas averaged 15.5 points and 8.8 assists through 65 games. But his season was cut short when on March 11, 1986, he awoke from a cocaine-induced blackout in downtown Houston. Instead of trying to make it to practice, he took more cocaine. He was released after failing a drug test a few days later.
The Rockets reached the Finals sans their starting point guard, losing to the Boston Celtics in six games.
The drug relapse in Houston turned out to be Lucas’ last. Months later, he launched a substance recovery program which has evolved into a network of drug treatment centers for athletes. Today, he has a cult following as a training guru and life coach. Recent pupils include ex-Rutgers coach Mike Rice, Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland and NFL rookie Tyrann Mathieu.
The blind free throw happened in 1987, a year after he was cut from Houston. The Milwaukee Bucks signed him midseason and he averaged a career-high 17.5 points playing under Don Nelson.
That night, in his 12th game with Milwaukee, Lucas records 27 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and seven steals in a 127-104 win over New York. He sits out much of the fourth quarter, but subs back in with four minutes remaining and the Bucks leading 110-94. In his first possession, he sinks a jumper over Gerald Henderson. A couple of minutes later, he is sent to the foul line and hits the first of two freebies.
The second one, the blind free throw, doesn’t go exactly how Richards remembers. Before the shot, Lucas smiles, glances at his doubles partner -- who he hasn’t seen since 1978 -- and shouts “No way.” But if he closes his eyes, it’s barely noticeable. It’s only for a split second.
The shot goes in, he backpedals, and hustles through the 48th minute. He’s prancing around like he’s a rookie, MSG Network announcer Greg Gumbel says.
The Bucks have last possession and they’re running out the clock. An unguarded Lucas is standing in the paint, calling for the ball. Forward Junior Bridgeman finds the slick lefty, who converts a mid-air, catch-and-shoot just after time expires, and disappears under the stands.
Renee hasn’t seen him since.
September, 25, 2013
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press: Timberwolves President Flip Saunders has been watching point guard Ricky Rubio lead Spain in the European Championships on TV. "What I like about him is, his game continues to get better and better right now in the heat of the tournament," Saunders said. Saunders is heading to California to check in with forward Derrick Williams, whom he wants to lose some weight. Williams finished last season at 260 pounds.
- Ben Standigof CSN Washington: The Wizards front office is less empty now. Washington hired former Raptors executive as Marc Eversley as Vice President of Scouting. Eversley enters the front office along with former Oklahoma City Thunder scout Frank Ross. Going the other way, former director of player personnel Pat Connelly, ex-VP of player personnel Milt Newton and Mike Wilson, who headed the organization's college scouting. Toronto had a front office overall starting at the top. The hiring of former Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri spelled the end for Eversley, the Raptors VP for college scouting. Eversley originally joined the Raptors as director of basketball operations after more than 10 years with Nike.
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: The Heat’s signing of Michael Beasley to a non-guaranteed deal was low risk. But the broadcaster who analyzed his work for the Phoenix Suns last season isn’t optimistic about Beasley’s future and wonders why the Heat would inject a “knucklehead” into a locker-room filled with serious, respected professionals. “If he stops smoking marijuana and stops ‘hanging out,’ the talent is there. But I don’t see it [happening] after all these chances,” Suns radio analyst and former NBA center Tim Kempton told us. “It’s difficult to believe he will change his stripes at this point. “People have gone out of their way to make Michael Beasley successful, but he hasn’t accepted it. He spent time in Los Angeles with [former Lakers guard] Norm Nixon. You would think that would have helped him. The Suns had a life coach that traveled with us the entire season. But he slipped three times when he was here” -- an arrest on suspicion of drug possession, an ongoing investigation into a sexual assault allegation, and charges of vehicular violations, including driving with a suspended license. On the court, Kempton said Beasley could exasperate teammates and coaches – both Alvin Gentry, before his dismissal, and interim coachLindsey Hunter.
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Will Jordan Hill’s outside jumper improve? He mostly focused on that area this offseason in hopes of becoming more of a complete player and possibly becoming a stretch forward in Mike D’Antoni’s system. There’s plenty of debate on whether it’s actually good for D’Antoni to feature Hill more as a jump shooter than a low-post player (it isn’t a good idea). But it definitely won’t hurt if Hill adds more to his game simply so he can become more dangerous offensively. Hill said he’s addressed that this offseason at his Atlanta residence by taking at least 1,000 shots per day, focusing on his ball handling and receiving pointers from reserve shooting guard Jodie Meeks. Hill took steps prior to last season to improve his shot, but it hasn’t translated. … It’s unrealistic to expect Hill suddenly to become an elite outside shooter. But if his shooting accuracy improves, that will yield plenty of trickle-down affects. Hill will have an expanded role and become more of a dependable insurance policy for Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman. It’ll also help stretch the floor, giving easier looks to Gasol and Kaman in the post, Bryant on the wing and the post and the team’s outside shooters on the perimeter.
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Basketball was not Carrick Felix's first love. Believe it or not, the Cavaliers rookie swingman initially wanted to make his living on a skateboard. "I wanted to be the next Tony Hawk,'' he said, referring to the most famous skateboarder in the world. From the age of 7, when a neighbor kid on a skateboard landed in Felix's front yard outside Phoenix, until his junior year in high school, Felix was on his board all day every day. "i was always outside practicing from 7 o'clock in the morning to 12 o'clock at night,'' he admitted. But by 11th grade he started to focus on basketball, eventually earning a scholarship to Arizona State. He found that some skateboard skills involving balance and footwork actually transferred quite naturally to basketball. Then in his sophomore year with the Aztecs, his coaches suggest he put the board away. "The skateboard is off limits,'' Felix said, laughing. "I still have it in my room. I never get on it [but] it's always fun to look at.''
- Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: The 76ers are finalizing a contract with free agent point guard Darius Morris. An NBA source said the two sides were close Thursday night. The deal is believed to be for the third-year NBA minimum of $884,293, with part of it guaranteed. Also Thursday evening, Stephen Pina, agent for former Temple standout shooting guard Khalif Wyatt, confirmed Wyatt has "agreed to terms" with the Sixers. Wyatt is an undrafted free agent from Norristown. Morris, 22, expects to play a bigger role with the Sixers than he did as a Laker during his first two NBA seasons after being taken 41st in the 2011 NBA Draft. He could be the primary backup to rookie first-rounder Michael Carter-Williams.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: As Russell Westbrook continues to embrace his inner fashion bug, the Thunder point guard is forcing the fashion industry to pay attention to his unique style. The New York Times caught up with Westbrook during his recent trip to New York City for his first New York Fashion Week. … Westbrook attended multiple fashion shows over the weekend and rubbed elbows with some of the industry’s biggest names. He called the shows “amazing” and said escaping from his routine basketball circle was “refreshing.” As he opened up about his fashion tastes, Westbrook said he’s always been into fashion but didn’t always have the means to be as big into it as he is now. “It was basically what I could afford,” Westbrook said of his fashion choices growing up in the Los Angeles area. “Trying to find the best bargain, I kind of shopped all over the place.” That all began to change, Westbrook said, when he was drafted fourth overall in 2008. He kept things simple as a rookie, but saw an opening.
- Michael Kaskey-Blomain of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Some athletes are content to share their good fortunes with their immediate inner circle, while others look to give back to their community at large; consider Tyreke Evans among the latter type. Evans has a long history of charity work, which includes poker games, camps, and clinics. Most recently, he has spent the past week in his hometown of Chester, working with VSP vision to provide free eye care and glasses to children and families in need. The complimentary eye care comes just in time for the students to head back to school. As if Tyreke isn't busy enough preparing for his first season as a Pelican and helping his hometown, he took some time out to talk to me about the importance of giving back and his expectations for the upcoming season. Q: How did your partnership with VSP Vision begin? A: "This is the fourth year I've worked with VSP. I got connected with them through a diabetes event and have been working with them every year since. We have always had a great relationship and I look forward to continuing to work with them in the future."
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: The Cavs have asked the league’s approval to place season-ticket holders’ names on the apron of the court, a league source confirmed, speaking on condition of anonymity because the idea has not yet been approved by the league. Sports Business Daily was the first to report the idea. The Milwaukee Bucks are also seeking approval to place names on the court, according to the report, but the Bucks’ idea is to put the names on the playing court. The Cavs’ names will be on the apron. Final details have not been determined, according to the report, including which ticket holders would be selected. Any changes to the court design must pass league approval. League executives are reviewing the proposal to ensure it won’t clutter the court or distort how the game is viewed on television, according to the report. The Cavs previously allowed stakeholders and their entire staff to sign the four corners of the court during the playoffs a few years ago.
September, 6, 2013
The Milwaukee Bucks don't believe in tanking, which makes them misguided -- or wonderful.
There was a time when the Milwaukee Bucks lorded over the NBA’s Central Division as perennial contenders. In the mid-1980s, Don Nelson still had a modicum of structure in his nightly war plan (Nellie’s Bucks consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league in pace), and the Bucks ran off seven straight divisional titles between 1979 and 1986.
Sidney Moncrief was a rock in the backcourt. Out on the wing, Paul Pressey established himself as a prototype for what would become the modern-day defensive stopper. Marques Johnson joined him out there as one of the more reliable, high-percentage wings in the league. When the Bucks swapped Johnson for Terry Cummings, they adapted seamlessly, and Cummings would become a top-10 player during the latter half of the Bucks’ golden period. Alton Lister anchored a defense that was routinely in the top three.
Soon after that stretch, expressions like “small market” entered the league’s lexicon, and the NBA’s better players became empowered to be more selective about where they’d build a career. Gradually, places with cold weather and less cosmopolitan sensibilities had a harder time attracting talent. To play in these markets, stars have to accept a lower Q rating, and that represents lost dollars in today’s sports economy. All of this produces a compounding effect: the belief among players that building a winner in that city is near impossible.
The Bucks organization has always retained its reputation as one of the league’s classier outfits, but it couldn’t fight this tectonic shift. The franchise simply didn’t have enough mitigating factors to overcome it. Like their city, whose spirit has been sapped by new insurmountable economic realities, the Bucks began to fight an uphill battle.
"Guys are going to say, 'I want to be a part of this because they're winning,' or you need to be a team, like Cleveland, that gets two No. 1 picks or three or four top-five picks, and a guy says, 'I see what they have,' ” Bucks general manager John Hammond said.
The treading-water strategy needs a public relations professional. The basketball intelligentsia mocks teams that seem content to chase the No. 8 seed, especially in the East (No. 8 seeds in the West are usually pretty good and generally have legitimate aspirations to finish higher). The maxim, “If you’re not contending, you’re rebuilding,” is regarded as smart thinking. Some league executives publicly adopted another neologism -- “the treadmill of mediocrity" -- to describe what many of them see as a fatal condition. A popular notion exists that nothing short of running the table with a series of mid-first-round picks as the Pacers did, a team is a long shot to contend with this blueprint, even though there's little evidence that losing ultimately leads to winning.
The more clever teams looking to improve seek to capitalize on the glitch in the league’s incentive structure. Blow it up, pick high, nail those picks (and every front-office guy believes he was born to evaluate prospects), and you’ll play in late May. Don’t you know that the market inefficiencies that come with the existence of the NBA draft were meant to be exploited? We don’t make value judgments about the ethics of tanking, because aesthetics are irrelevant. These are the rules as they’ve been designed by the league, and the job of an executive is to succeed within those confines.
Under the leadership of owner Senator Herb Kohl and Hammond (a contributor to the assembly of the Pistons’ teams of the early- to mid-'00s), the Bucks have squarely situated themselves in the survivalist camp. Their goal each offseason is to shoot for as many wins as possible. The catalog of transactions in pursuit of this goal isn’t without blemishes -- and management will own up to the Harris-Redick deal -- but that’s been the consistent tactic in Milwaukee.
The Bucks’ brass articulates its rationale behind this strategy. Part of that argument is based on principle, while the other half is the stated belief that tanking doesn’t necessarily yield better results than doing it their way.
“We're trying to say with Larry Sanders -- one of the top defenders in the league -- with Ersan [Ilyasova], with veterans like Zaza [Pachulia], Luke [Ridnour], Carlos [Delfino], with young players like O.J. [Mayo], Brandon [Knight], John [Henson], Gary [Neal], Ekpe [Udoh], and Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I know we may not win a world championship today, but I do think we can be competitive and continue to build with draft picks and cap space” Hammond said.
Critics (present company included) raised eyebrows at extending Mayo a contract of $8 million per season over three years, but the Bucks answer that they acquired one of the best talents among the free agents they could realistically target. If they overpaid by 10-15 percent, that’s just one of those variables that Milwaukee can’t control. Besides, it’s not as if giving a $6 million player $8 million is going to decimate their fairly roomy cap situation.
“We're not unique,” Hammond said. “Cleveland has to do the same thing. Indiana has to do the same thing. Sacramento has to do the same thing. It's also true in major league baseball. Sometimes you have to overpay for talent.”
Morway was one of the architects of Indiana’s build-on-the-go strategy. Now in Milwaukee, Morway has considered the Pacers’ success and has come to feel deeply that, even with the league’s weird incentive structure, tanking isn’t necessarily a better strategy.
“There isn’t one way to build a franchise,” Morway said. “You can build a team [by pursuing high draft picks], but there’s a lot that goes on between the concept and the execution.”
For every Oklahoma City, there’s a Charlotte and Sacramento. There’s cause for optimism in Minnesota, Cleveland and Washington, but those teams are still trying to make good on multiple high picks, and none of them have seen the postseason during their current era. The Bucks can cite their own history -- the center they chose at No. 15 in the draft (Sanders, in 2010) will likely contribute more when it’s all over than the center they drafted No. 1 (Andrew Bogut, in 2005). There was undoubtedly some bad luck involved but, for the Bucks, that’s the whole point -- there’s no certainty hitting the lottery jackpot will actually pay out in real life.
A sports owner like Kohl (and similarly Simon) who lives in an older city that has struggled to join the growth economies of the sun belt or tech corridors often sees his franchise as a public trust. The team has an accountability to the city. And part of that is delivering a competitive product, to let those making the trip to an aging arena know that there’s a better than 50 percent chance they’ll see a win for the home team. Unlike so many of the newer owners who live out of town and have only a passing relationship with the cities of their teams, Kohl sees Milwaukeeans as neighbors. When you invite your neighbors over to your place, you owe them your hospitality.
“Why should I come to the games if you’re telling me you’re not trying to win?” Morway asks rhetorically.
For Kohl, playing to win every night is a common courtesy to fans, the majority of whom have elected him to the Senate on four occasions, the last time with two-thirds of the overall vote. Public trusts have to perform -- especially if they’re asking for popular support. The Pacers are, again, an appropriate case study. In Forbes’ team valuations published in January, they ranked 24th, while the Bucks were dead last. The Pacers asked from the public and received $33.5 million to address their shortfall in operating income at their home arena. Coupled with a negative public image, the fallout from the Palace brawl, the Pacers felt they couldn’t afford to tank. That’s a privilege reserved for organizations in healthy markets and/or those who have accumulated equity and good will.
The Bucks will soon need to make a hard sell to the residents of Milwaukee that they can’t survive without a new home. They play in arguably the worst facility in the league. Unlike some of the concrete palaces in Sacramento or Salt Lake City, there’s no intimate charm or deafening noise in the Bradley Center. It’s just tired. While a team can’t control the climate, economy or general mood of its city, it can offer a nice work space. The Bucks can’t do that until they build a new facility in Milwaukee, and that’s an easier sell when there’s electricity in town, the Bucks are on the verge of a series upset and Bango the Buck’s antics make him a cult hero.
The Bucks maintain that putting together a run like that without cohesiveness and that there are psychic costs when a team accepts losing as part of the program.
“To build a winning culture ... you can’t turn it on and off,” Morway says. “Players see that.”
Oklahoma City managed it, but by pulling off a rare trick. It built a unique relationship with Kevin Durant, who understood that for a few years, the organization would define success on its own terms. Building that kind of trust requires the rare player in a near-perfect situation. For most young players -- even some who project as future All-Stars -- losing can quickly become a bad habit, and that’s not a risk most teams can assume.
Some of the criticism targeting the Bucks is aimed squarely at questionable deals like trading Tobias Harris for two bumpy months with J.J. Redick and a 3-year, $15.6 million contract for reserve big man Zaza Pachulia. But the overriding sentiment is that the Bucks are foolish to do anything to compromise their future in service of winning more games in the present. Truth be told -- they might be. Unless Antetokounmpo, Henson and Knight explode, and Mayo makes a quantum leap (he’s still only 25), it’s difficult to see the path to the conference finals, and history tell us that’s even more likely if they continue to pick in the mid-first round.
Teams like Bucks who direct their management to assemble this year’s model with the highest-performing engine they can design are regarded as quixotic at best and, more times than not, myopic. Chasing the eighth seed is the ultimate act of madness because respectability is worth far less in the current structure than 60-65 losses. Does this kind of arrangement, one where NBA teams who put the best product on the floor might compromise their future, make the league stronger?
- Bob Wofley of the Journal Sentinel: Caron Butler’s introduction as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday at Racine Park High School was a press conference wrapped in a family reunion inside a high school pep rally. Butler, 33, warned those gathered in the fieldhouse where he played for a year that there might be some water works to go with his words. He made good on his prediction. “I’m a little emotional definitely,” Butler said. “Y’all see me crying at press conferences and at other things all the time – draft night – but it’s a different emotion now because this is a dream come true. This is something that I always dreamed about, thought about. I never thought it would happen. So it’s special. Thank you.” The enthusiastic audience of Park high school students and staff in attendance applauded Butler’s heartfelt comments, like this one, when some words quivered and he teared up. Butler was joined at the press table by coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond. Bucks owner Herb Kohl also was in attendance. Hammond said he had Butler penciled in as the Bucks’ starting small forward.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Gar Forman isn’t into playing -favorites. Sure, the Bulls’ general manager is eager to see what Derrick Rose 2.0 looks like when the MVP point guard takes the court in full five-on-five scrimmages in less than a month, but it’s about the big picture for Forman on what could be a make-or-break season for his current roster. … As Boozer also knows that this group has a shelf life that is on the brink of running out. Deng is a free agent after this season, while Boozer is a prime candidate to be amnestied. It’s basically now or never for the core in the 2013-14 season. But it will all start with Rose. Like he promised at the end of the season, he doesn’t play pick-up games in the summer, and that didn’t change this offseason. So Rose’s first real test will be Oct. 5, in a preseason game in Indiana. “He hasn’t been playing in games [this summer], but that’s not unusual for a lot of players,’’ Forman said. “He’s done his work and has put the time in on making himself better.’’ Now it’s about seeing what Rose will look like post-knee rehab. Less than a month away and counting.
- Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: It perhaps took some time, but Stephen Curry seems comfortable in his role as the man. He's long since been anointed by Warriors management. And his playoff performances pushed him up a tier on the star hierarchy. But now his teammates, the youngsters and the newcomers, are looking to him for guidance. His coaches are expecting him to be a vocal leader. The fan base is banking on him carrying the franchise to heights it hasn't sniffed in decades. And the fifth-year guard seems to be embracing it all matter-of-factly. "I'm 25. Still young. But I know the drill. I know the expectations," Curry said in a chat with local media after working out at the team facility Thursday. "For me to have the same coaching staff, the same leadership, for three straight years is big. ... We have the stability for us to make that move (to another level), and I hope to lead that charge." Certainly, Curry's not alone in leading the locker room. David Lee and center Andrew Bogut share the leadership load, and Andre Iguodala figures to eventually emerge as a leader. But not even Curry's reputed humility can help him escape the pedestal on which he is now perched.
- Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com: Even after spending $117 million in free agency in July and August, Minnesota Timberwolves president of operations Flip Saunders will have another sizable monetary decision to make. Before his third year begins -- Oct. 31 is the deadline -- the Wolves need to figure out if they will pay forward Derrick Williams $6.3 million for the 2014-15 season. In a phone conversation earlier this week spanning a few topics, Wolves owner Glen Taylor acknowledged the team isn't quite sure what to do. "We'll evaluate his summer program, and how he looks coming into camp (which starts Oct. 1)," Taylor said. "I heard he is looking good." Exercising Williams' fourth-year option is potentially enough to carry the Wolves over the luxury tax and not allow them to sign a free agent for the mid-level exception, according to Grantland.com's Zach Lowe. Williams is working out in Los Angeles with trainer Gunnar Peterson, who said recently via email that Williams is stronger and more balanced than a year ago.
- Howard Beck of The New York Times: The league on Thursday announced plans to install sophisticated tracking cameras, known as the SportVu system, in every arena for the coming season, creating an unprecedented treasure trove of data about virtually every wrinkle of the game. SportVu, developed by Stats LLC, records data points for all 10 players, the three referees and the ball, every 30th of a second, measuring speed, distance, player separation and ball possession. Every step, every dribble, every pass, every shot, every rebound — really, every movement — will be recorded, coded and categorized. … The N.B.A. is the first major professional sports league in the United States to fully adopt the SportVu system. It will have other implications for the league, far beyond the playbook and the box score. Not everyone might welcome the change. General managers will surely exploit the more sophisticated statistics when negotiating contracts with player agents. Not all assists, points and rebounds are created equal — and teams will soon be able to demonstrate that vividly. Referees are also tracked by SportVu, which means the league will have yet another tool to analyze every call, non-call and missed call as it ranks its officials. Those rankings help determine which referees are chosen for playoff assignments and the finals.
- Steve Serby of the New York Post: Former Knick Bernard King took a timeout for some Q&A with Steve Serby before King’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction this weekend. Q: What are you most proud of? A: I’m most proud of the fact my wife and I raised a wonderful daughter. That’s what life is all about. In terms of basketball legacy, we could always point to back-to-back 50-point games, the 42 I averaged in the Piston playoff series, or the great year in ’84-85, or the 60 points (Christmas Eve against Nets). What stands out in my mind was what I was able to do at a time when players were not coming back from ACL injuries. I had my entire knee reconstructed. I was told I would never play again. I told myself, “I’m from Brooklyn. I’m from Fort Greene. I grew up on the toughest playgrounds in the world. In one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country, and I made it all the way to the NBA, and I rose to the top of my profession at that time. You don’t know my heart. If I could do that, this is nothing!” I set about the task of working to make it back at a level I could be satisfied with. I did that. To do that for five hours a day, six days a week for two straight years, and not once wavering, always having faith. … I did it. I became an All-Star again, and that was my goal.
- Staff of The Sacramento Bee: Chris Mullin, 50, a former front-office executive with the Golden State Warriors, will have a variety of basketball operations responsibilities, including advising Ranadive and general manager Pete D'Alessandro on player transactions and scouting. "I couldn't be more excited about joining the Kings and playing a part in making this team a winner again," Mullin said in a statement released by the Kings on Thursday. "I'm especially grateful for the unique opportunity to work in close proximity with a world-class ownership group led by Vivek Ranadive and the talented group of individuals assembled in our front office."
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: In a move that could bolster their perimeter defense and add competition in training camp, the Lakers signed free-agent guard Xavier Henry on Thursday to give them 14 players on the roster. Terms of the deal weren’t immediately available. But considering the Lakers’ desire to keep cap flexibility for the 2014 offseason, it’s likely Henry’s contract consists of a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum. It’s also unclear if his contract is guaranteed. The Lakers recently added small forward Shawne Williams and Elias Harris to partially guaranteed deals. The Lakers are expected to sign second-round draft pick Ryan Kelly, though he’s still rehabbing from foot surgery in April. NBA teams can field a maximum of 15 players on their roster. … The Lakers plan to have anywhere between 18-20 players to fill out their training camp roster, including Marcus Landry, who led the Lakers’ Summer League team in scoring. It’s likely Henry, Kelly, Williams, Landry and Harris will compete for roster spots since the Lakers will keep anywhere between 13-15 players.
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Two NBA sources have confirmed that Steve Hetzel, former Cavaliers video coordinator, will be hired to coach the Cavs' owned-and-operated NBA Development League team, the Canton Charge. The hire was first reported by the News-Herald. Hetzel, a 2005 graduate of Michigan State where he served as a student manager for the men's basketball team, was named the Cavs' video coordinator in July, 2006. He stayed until 2009, when he left to join former Cavs assistant John Kuester's staff with the Detroit Pistons. After Kuester was fired, Hetzel remained with Lawrence Frank for two seasons. Hetzel replaces D-League coach of the year Alex Jensen, who left the Charge to join Tyrone Corbin's staff in Utah.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: France atoned for its opening loss to Germany, riding five double-figure scorers to a resounding 88-65 victory over lowly Great Britain on the second day of play at EuroBasket 2013. Nicolas Batum led all scorers with 17 points and Tony Parker added 16 at Les Bleus improved to 1-1 in Group A. The game, as expected, was never close. France led by double-figures after one quarter, and put Great Britain away for good with a 26-11 outburst in the third quarter. France, which also got 11 points from Nando De Colo and four from Boris Diaw, will play group bottom-dweller Israel on Friday. Also at EuroBasket, Italy improved to 2-0 in Group D with a 90-75 spanking of Turkey. Spurs reserve Marco Belinelli had 17 points for the Italians, who will Finland on Saturday. Across the Atlantic at the FIBA Americas championship, Canada destroyed Mexico 89-67 behind another strong performance from Cory Joseph. The young point guard registered 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists — his fourth game of the tournament with at least 17 points, eight boards and four assists.
September, 5, 2013
By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Statistics show LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and Tony Parker are among the best.
Is being good at the layup as simple as getting to the rim? There’s rarely a distinction made between a player’s ability to get in layup range versus his ability to actually sink it. Perhaps that’s because “a layup” is also a metaphor for something easy, like a “gimme” putt in golf.
Whoever popularized the metaphor probably never tried to score over NBA giants, I’d hazard.
The layup also gets no respect because it doesn’t demand respect. Unlike the dunk, the layup fails to seize an arena’s attention with a sudden lightning bolt at the hoop. Instead, it takes an indirect route off the backboard before meandering along the rim, waffling on whether to finally be a basket already.
Incredible dunks look super intentional, as though a player’s life depended on forcing the ball through the rim at that moment. Incredible layups look accidental, as though a fouled Dwyane Wade thought “Why not?” while flinging the ball in the backboard’s general direction.
So the layup commutes between “you’re open and should always make it” and “you weren’t looking at the rim, that was total luck.” It’s hard to get recognition for being good at something when both the routine and the spectacular are so easily dismissed.
Well, no one is dismissing the mighty layup in these parts. The shortest bank shot is indeed a skill -- and an important one. Here are some players who, according to Basketball-Reference.com, have mastered the ancient art, along with some guys who could stand to do better.
Made 70 percent of layups, attempted 357
When LeBron stole Game 1 from Indiana with an off-hand layup, there was far less marveling at his steely reserve than there was criticism of Frank Vogel for letting it happen.
An open layup is a high percentage shot for anyone, but it says something that LeBron is comfortable with his off hand in a high-pressure moment like that. His ambidexterity is the foundation of his short-range arsenal.
Not only is LeBron better at getting to the rim than everyone else but he might be more accurate once there than everyone else, as well. Last season, LeBron shot 70 percent on layups. He attempted at least 200 layups more than anyone with a better layup conversion rate.
The aforementioned ambidexterity allows LeBron to explore any angle at any time. A favorite tactic of his is to shield the defender with his back while banking a no-look lefty. It’s a bit like a reverse lay-in that doesn’t finish on the other side of the hoop.
Made 67 percent of layups, attempted 151
Pound-for-pound (Copyright: Allen Iverson) the best layupper around. At a tiny 5-9 in socks, Thomas shouldn’t be able to hit 67.1 percent on these shots. He has had a lifetime of practice against taller players, though.
Thomas hasn’t mastered any one thing in particular. He just has the full layup repertoire. He’ll switch hands when it suits him. He’ll loft it high off the glass like Steve Nash. He’ll shield off contact with his back while scooping the ball forward. He has the up-and-under down.
Seriously, watch this guy at the rim. Better yet, record this guy at the rim, pause right before the layup happens and appreciate how impossible the feat looks. Water can’t find a way through cracks the way a Thomas layup can.
Made 67 percent of layups, attempted 331
This is the defining Parker trait and always has been. There’s also a striking quirk to his game. Although Parker can use his left hand if the situation requires, he prefers to use his right, even on the left side of the backboard. I’d say the signature Tony layup is a right-handed scoop on the left side of the rim. That is, if the signature Tony layup isn’t an overhand try in which he’s leaning backward on an invisible recliner.
Made 70 percent of layups, attempted 156
Look, I’d be lying if I said I could fully explain Thornton’s layup skill, but he’s been great two years running (69.3 percent on layups last season). He isn’t especially fluid with his moves, but he’s good with either hand. Thornton also doesn’t force anything around the rim. Most of his lay-ins come off assists.
Made 50 percent of layups, attempted 281
Kevin Costner’s “back, and to the left” line creeps into my head whenever Jennings drives. Detroit’s new starting point guard has a tendency to lean backward off balance while flinging lefty prayers. Hopefully Jennings learned something from former teammate Beno Udrih, who shoots contested layups quite well.
Made 50 percent of layups, attempted 335
He’s even worse at contested layups when you consider how often he’s rebounding his misses for easy putbacks. But those putbacks might answer the question of why Anthony is so mediocre near the basket. Melo loves chasing his own shot, and the first try might be a careless prelude to the chase. He’s also not especially adept at using his left hand and thus forces a lot of action with his right.
Made 50 percent of layups, attempted 245
He’s the right-handed Jennings, although there’s more hope for Waiters going forward, I’d say. He’s stronger than Jennings (eventually my “Strongta Ellis” nickname will get off the ground, I just know it), taller than Jennings and younger than Jennings. I’m banking (OK, I’ll stop) on an improved Waiters near the rim.
Made 49 percent of layups, attempted 290
Sessions was among the worst perimeter player on layups last season, but he hasn’t been this bad in the past. Last season could be a fluke -- or the result of a once-quick point guard slowing down. I’ve noticed he tends to go right when the path is blocked off.
Made 48 percent of layups, attempted 145
I stayed away from listing big men because so many of their “layups” are really post moves or strained putbacks, but Asik deserves a mention. He converted 94.6 percent of his dunks, nearly 47 better than he managed on layups. From 3-10 feet, he shot 27.4 percent.
Few players better demonstrate the difference between grip and other kinds of fine motor skills. Asik is good at dunking; he has no issue putting his clamps on the rock and tomahawking it through the hoop. Once his hands try a more delicate layup, though, the ball flies off the window as if Asik’s playing handball.
Made 45 percent of layups, attempted 164
I don’t want to judge too harshly, as Rubio was coming back from an ACL tear. This is his second season of poor finishing, though (48.4 percent on layups in his rookie year). It’s curious that Rubio struggles like this because he’s so well coordinated and so well aware of angles when it comes to passing. Perhaps the problem is his running balance. On drives, Rubio often staggers as if he’s in an invisible potato sack race.
IN THE MIDDLE
Made 58 percent of layups, attempted 478
Westbrook might be the player whose facility at making layups simply means he gets to the rim a bunch. That’s not entirely fair, though, because Westbrook can and does finish with either hand.
You just wouldn’t expect the dynamic point guard to be a whole 12 percent worse on layups than LeBron, given Westbrook’s elite speed and hops. It appears, from the video clips, as if Westbrook flies into the lane with more desire than strategy, willing the ball toward what might be the hoop. That’s nitpicking because, even if Westbrook is only OK at converting layup attempts, it matters more that he is creating so many of them.
September, 3, 2013
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Competitors doing everything they can to win make sports great.
It's a wonderful time for the NBA, with young stars all over the league, an impressive collection of contenders and fascinating storylines from coast to coast. The one real downer, however, is that the game-changing talent of the 2014 draft is expected to inspire any number of teams to lose as many games as possible this season, in the name of the best possible draft pick. In the first post of a series, ESPN.com's HoopIdea explores tanking and its effect on the NBA.
Here’s a nice HD YouTube video, cued up to the moment when the world’s finest sprinters are lining up for a big race.
Eight of the best athletes the world has ever known, shaking muscles loose and then crouching into the starting blocks, poised to explode. They spend years getting to this level -- running fast defines these competitors. Yet they do their best at it only a few seconds a year.
This is that time.
It's fun to watch, even though the commentary is in German and it's a sport hurting for both celebrity power and highlight-worthy artistry. In fact, it's surely the simplest sport: It starts here and ends right over there. No turning. Not even really any pacing. Eight athletes in a row, each bound and determined to run faster.
We appreciate this on a deep level. "Wanna race?" is an ancient question almost every human has asked or answered. This trips a trigger. The rare delight of sports, in these complicated times, is to see eight crystal-clear agendas, so nakedly, completely and devotedly all in.
That’s competition, and that's part of us.
Screwing up a beautiful thing
Now imagine this. You’re the runner in Lane 4, hands placed carefully, heart racing, waiting for the starter. Three sprinting wizards to your left, four to your right. Everyone has had this date circled on the calendar all year. You’ve got glory to earn and a family to feed.
And you know there’s:
- $100,000 for first place
- $50,000 for second place
- And … $100,000 for last place
Takes a lot of the fun out of the race, doesn't it? Knowing the competition’s big prizes are not just for winning, but for winning or losing.
A little weird, eh?
Of course, that's not what happens in track. But, oddly, it is roughly what really happens in the NBA.
Picture 30 teams trying to win
This season, one NBA team will work incredibly hard, make one smart decision after another, please the basketball gods and enjoy an NBA title in June.
Another team will turn the ball over a ton, play the wrong players and endure heart-wrenching injuries as the basketball gods look the other way. That team will trick the rulebook into an incredibly high pick in the draft of a lifetime with a good shot at a player who will change things for that team for a decade or more.
It's tough to say which team wins the bigger prize.
In other words: Every team would do its darnedest to give fans what they want -- real long-term strategy and real all-in nightly competition -- if the league would take its thumb off the scale. Thirty general managers are hard-wired to pull their hair out to win now and forever just like those sprinters -- if only the NBA didn't muck things up by giving a whole lot of those competitive people strong arguments to cut their competitive juices with the tonic water of tanking.
It's not that the league is forcing teams to lose. And rest assured we still get amazing competition. But the NBA is needlessly confusing things. You know what exits stage left when the priorities get cloudy? The beauty of clear priorities.
Give the big prize to the runner in last place, and it's just too much to expect everyone's best race after race, year after year. The race gets a little less fun to watch.
Maybe it’s not the biggest deal in the world. Maybe the sport can thrive despite this -- clearly it has.
And let's be clear: What I'm not alleging is that coaches or players are throwing games. I'm not even chapped at the owners or GMs who pursue losses by deciding to cut costs, keep bad coaches around, trump up injuries, trade away efficient players, play inferior players or save cap space for another day. They all should do what they think is in the long-term best interests of their teams -- I can't really call the Spurs idiots for the pathetic show they put on to get the draft pick that became Tim Duncan. Everyone should pursue wins, and more or less I believe everyone does. This isn't an ethical issue.
What's messed up is that the league has confused matters. When this season is over and teams like the 76ers, Suns, Kings, Magic, Bobcats, Celtics and Jazz have miserable records, did we learn those teams are dumb, or smart?
Losing badly in the NBA is no condemnation of the team. Which is a profound condemnation of the league. Whoever dreamed up that prize scheme simply got it wrong. It’s a strategy where you can more or less count on some competitors dogging it every time out. In casual conversation, I've heard NBA GMs mocking front offices in places like Houston and Milwaukee for "foolishly" trying to win season after season. It's all backward.
You want to see the most intense competition? You want every game to matter? You want maximum excitement? Well, duh. Stop rewarding failure. Stop creating the problem.
It casts a shadow over the NBA schedule. Maybe a third of the games feature at least one team that no doubt has players and coaches who are dying to win, but who have been intentionally handicapped by front offices that value losses. I don’t know who’ll win that Grizzlies versus Sixers contest, but I know the Grizzlies -- all of them, from the point guard to the president -- want to.
Meanwhile, we could, quite simply, with a wave of the hand from the NBA Board of Governors, have a league where all 1,230 games feature two organizations with all the naked competitive ambition of the sprinters in that video.
That’s what we’re exploring.
Why can’t we have that?
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Make no mistake about it. Caron Butler wants to play. And now the 33-year-old small forward will be playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, the team he grew up watching as a boy in Racine. … Butler will be starting his 12th pro season this fall and believes he has plenty to offer to a revamped Bucks squad. "Everything was handled the right way, in a very classy way," Butler said of the Suns. "The Bucks had made inquiries about me, and I thought this would be a great opportunity for me and my family. My son (Caron Jr.) will be in eighth grade this year in Racine." … "I talked to coach Drew and John Hammond (Bucks general manager), and we talked about my role on and off the court," Butler said. “They will ask even more of me, and I embrace that challenge, being a leader and a mentor. And I'll be in my own town doing it. I didn't think it would ever happen, that this dream I had many years ago could become a reality. That's funny."
- Jeff Simmons of Sportsnet.ca: Rudy Gay is serious about improving game this off-season. The Toronto Raptors forward had laser eye surgery earlier this summer to help improve his declining shooting numbers and now he’s putting in the time to develop his post-game in Houston. Gay posted an Instagram video of a workout with Houston Rockets legend, and former Toronto Raptors center. Throughout his NBA career, Gay has been criticized for settling for jump shots and not using his size (Gay is 6-foot-9) to his full advantage. So this workout with Olajuwon is a very logical move for the Raptors’ go-to scorer., Hakeem Olajuwon.
- Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Not a lot of news has been coming from the 76ers lately, except for the acquisition of guard Tony Wroten and the news of assistant Lloyd Pierce joining new coach Brett Brown's staff. Yesterday the Daily News talked to general manager Sam Hinkie about the past, present and future plans of the franchise. Q: There has kind of been an air of secrecy surrounding this organization since you took over, and the fans have felt distanced. Why have you chosen this route? A: I think our fans will find me to be plenty open when we get to know each other. Our coaching search took quite a while and that may have caused that. Every little edge you can get is important. There is some level of secrecy as teams try not to let on to what they're doing. If we were to have had Nerlens Noel come in and work out before the draft, that would have caused a stir being that we had the 11th pick, and the kind of things that happened on draft night (trading Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Noel) possibly couldn't have been possible. So we chose not to let teams know who we are working out, and a lot of forward-thinking organizations do that with the comings and goings of potential players. We did a lot of trading in the second round and that was because people didn't know our interest in (Arsalan) Kazemi (eventually landed in the second round via trade).
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: While I was finishing an hour-long interview with new Kings coach Michael Malone in his office at the Sacramento Kings practice facility, there was a knock on the door. Who walks in? Kings GM Pete D'Alessandro, accompanied by a grinning Vlade Divac. The former Kings center - whose No.21 jersey hangs from the rafters inside Sleep Train Arena - was coy about the purpose for his visit and said he planned to remain in Sacramento very briefly. When I asked if he would be joining the new regime as an international scout or in some other capacity, he just laughed. Currently, the Kings icon lives in Belgrade, where he heads Serbia's Olympic effort. "The most important thing is that the Kings stayed," said Divac, who as usual, was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved T-shirt. "It will take some time (returning to elite status). People have to be patient. But the team is here."
- Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The FIBA Americas tournament tips Friday morning in Caracas, Venezuela, when Canada’s senior men meet Jamaica to get things rolling. … Though Canada Basketball plays it down, this tournament is immense for the program. Simply put, the team must find a way to qualify for the World Cup. Forget who isn’t playing, Canada still has as much NBA talent as any opponent in Venezuela, plus some accomplished overseas vets and former NBAers. The North Americans face the toughest adjustment, since the other squads are well-versed in FIBA rules, venues and the international atmosphere, plus are far more used to playing with each other (with a few exceptions). However, talent is still important and these tournaments often come down to hot shooting. Canada has a number of players that can hit from outside.
- Staff of The Sacramento Bee: Former NBA player Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who has worked in the Kings' front office for three years, has been named the general manager of the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League. Abdur-Rahim, Sacramento's 36-year-old director of player personnel, will oversee basketball operations for the Bighorns, the Kings announced. The Kings also said Chris Gilbert, entering his first season as basketball operations coordinator, will be the Bighorns' assistant general manager. The Kings and Bighorns announced a partnership last month. Sacramento controls the Bighorns' basketball operations, while Reno's owners have primary responsibility for the business side.
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: New season, new shoe. Says who? Says LeBron James on Instagram, when he sent out photographic proof. "It's about that time again! #LeBron11 #CantWaitToHitTheCourtInThem #CrazyKickGame." Clearly a quality product, considering it comes accompanied with three hash tags. Per Nike, "The LEBRON 11 King's Pride will be available on Oct. 12 globally. The LEBRON 11 Terracotta Warrior will be available on Oct. 1 in Greater China, and on Nov. 27 in North America and the rest of the world." … As for the Nov. 27 domestic release date for the LEBRON 11 Terracotta Warrior, the Heat will be in … Cleveland. Read into that what you please.