TrueHoop: New York Knicks
For a Los Angeles Clippers team that still has kinds to work out, at least they don’t need the major repairs necessary to fix 3-11 New York. Doc Rivers keeps saying he believes things are getting better for his team. No such optimism from his Knicks counterpart.
“We’ve got too many gaps right now,” Mike Woodson said.
They include a porous defense that sorely misses Tyson Chandler, their injured basket protector. There’s an offense that lacks a reliable Plan B if Carmelo Anthony isn’t scoring. And there’s the malaise that’s settling into this dispirited group, a bunch of players who look broken every time they head to the bench for a timeout, players who are getting tired of coming up with explanations for a losing streak that’s stretched to seven games after they fell to the Clippers, 93-80, Wednesday night.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Knicks guard Raymond Felton said.
The Knicks have stooped so low that they’ve even knocked the delusion out of their fan base. For decades Knicks fans were convinced they were just one trade or free agent signing away from a championship, no matter how far the gap was in reality. These days there’s none of that false hope. They don’t even get to wish for one of the talented crop of collegiate players, because the Knicks sent their 2014 draft pick to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade.
If Carmelo Anthony’s shots are falling they can hang in games; they only faced a four-point deficit at halftime after Anthony scored 19 points. But he shot 2 for 8 in the second half and no one picked up for him the way the Clippers managed to hold the fort after Chris Paul left with a strained left hamstring.
Seven points for J.R. Smith, two points for Iman Shumpert, four points for Amar’e Stoudemire (who had a plus/minus of minus-29 in 20 minutes).
Metta World Peace, who missed all six of his field goal attempts, attempted to frame the Knicks’ predicament in ways an interviewer would understand.
“You know life is,” World Peace said. “You had a bad hair today, you know…It is what it is. You work at it. Next time, use activator.”
If only the solution to the Knicks’ problems could be found in a bottle.
When someone is really good or great, but never the best, his accomplishments tend to be overlooked or disregarded. The disdainful treatment is even harsher for those who seemingly have the tools to be the best, but settle into a groove of "merely great." Not only have you failed to be the best, but you teased us with the possibility that you were in fact the best.
Such is the NBA career of Hall of Fame center Walter Bellamy, who passed away Saturday at age 74.
The No. 1 overall pick of the Chicago Packers in the 1961 NBA draft, "Bells" blew the door off the hinges in his rookie season. He averaged a Herculean 31.6 points to go with a mammoth 19.0 rebounds. On top of that, he shot 51.9 percent from the field. That was good enough to not only lead the NBA for the 1961-62 season, but also to set a league record. The spectacular season easily secured Rookie of the Year honors for Bellamy.
The performance seemingly foretold greater things to come for Bellamy. However, his scoring average steadily dropped from 31.6 points per game in his rookie season to 16.7 in 1967-68. The average might have been cut in half, but over this same span, the talent surrounding Bellamy had practically doubled.
Simply put, the 1961-62 Packers were historically horrific. Of their 10-man rotation, six of the players were out of the league the very next season. Three others combined to play just 212 more NBA games -- the equivalent of 2.5 seasons. Then there was Bellamy, forced to produce so much when given so little. The decline in points scored by Bellamy wasn't due to eroding skills, but rather was a sign of improving teammates.
By 1964-65, Bellamy was averaging 25 points alongside Hall of Fame forwards Bailey Howell and Gus Johnson. The trio took the Baltimore Bullets to the Western Division finals. In 1966-67, Bellamy averaged 19 points alongside Willis Reed and Dick Barnett. The trio took the New York Knicks to the postseason for the first time since 1959.
And this is where Bellamy's career takes perhaps its biggest hit.
The Knicks had to decide which center to keep, Reed or Bellamy. Reed, nearly three years younger, was the pick, and Bellamy was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Dave DeBusschere in December 1968. The Knicks subsequently appeared in three NBA Finals and won two titles. Was Bellamy holding the Knicks back? Probably, but not because he lacked talent. It was just mismatched talent.
Bells was a big, bruising center. At 6-foot-11, with a muscular barrel chest and a rear end perfect to gain position on the boards, Bellamy was an inside terror, but didn't possess a deft passing touch. Reed had that passing touch, as did DeBusschere -- and that's what coach Red Holzman needed out of his big men.
Bellamy's stay in Detroit was the nadir of his career and he was mercifully traded in February 1970 to the Atlanta Hawks. At the back end of his playing days, Bellamy enjoyed a renaissance in Georgia. Placed alongside the penetrating and high-scoring combination of "Sweet" Lou Hudson and "Pistol" Pete Maravich, Bells was freed to cruise for sledgehammer dunks and bruise for boards. These talented Hawks pushed Atlanta to the playoffs for four consecutive seasons.
Bellamy retired in 1974. If this trio, or something like it, had come together a decade earlier in Bellamy's career, he might have achieved a greater impact on the game. If he didn't have the misfortune of being drafted by the NBA's first expansion franchise in nearly a decade, he would have enjoyed more stability. If there had been free agency in his time, he could have decided his own destiny instead of always being at the whim of a trade.
As such, we're left to contemplate the strange career of this talented center.
The idea that individuals control their fate is a powerful one in our society. However, the reality that our individual choices and, thus, fate are constrained by circumstances demands reckoning. Bellamy's career exemplifies that. A man with great skill who performed with a sense of pride still faced a situation filled with uncertainty and chaos. He played out a career that didn't quite live up to his talent level. He never made an All-NBA team, since he was perennially blocked by Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Despite it all, though, Bellamy was a four-time All-Star and one of just seven players in NBA history to amass more than 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds in a career.
So even if he was never the best, Walter Bellamy remains one of the greats.
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After five years of using the SCHOENE projection system to predict the upcoming NBA season, I have a pretty good sense of where SCHOENE will differ from conventional wisdom. Still, sometimes the results surprise even me. Such was the case when I saw the initial version of the Knicks projection featured in today's Insider team forecast: 37 wins. Tom Haberstroh did a good job of explaining New York's potential pitfalls in the forecast, but I wanted to take a closer look at some of the statistical factors causing SCHOENE to project such a steep decline.
1. 3-Point Outage
As Tom noted, no team in NBA history has been more dependent on the 3-pointer than last year's Knicks, who made a league-high 891 triples. Over the summer, New York lost its two most accurate 3-point shooters (Steve Novak, 42.5 percent; and Chris Copeland, 42.1 percent) as well as Jason Kidd, who made 114 3s. The newcomers replacing them (Andrea Bargnani, 30.9 percent; Beno Udrih, 33.3 percent; and Metta World Peace, 34.2 percent) combined to make 33.4 percent of their 3s, a rate worse than league average.
Add in regression from the Knicks' holdovers and SCHOENE projects them to make nearly 200 fewer 3-pointers this season. Take away those triples and New York's offense could look a lot more like the 2011-12 incarnation, which finished 19th in the league in offensive rating.
2. Fewer Looks, Makes for Melo
Because the Knicks lost two of their lowest-usage players, Kidd (responsible for 11.7 percent of the team's plays) and Novak (13.1 percent), SCHOENE projects Carmelo Anthony's league-high 35.6 percent usage rate to decline all the way to 30.2 percent. Yet Anthony is also projected to be less efficient because SCHOENE factors in his down 2011-12 season.
As a result, SCHOENE estimates just a 16 percent chance of Anthony playing as well as last season or better. If his improvement last season was a real effect of the improved spacing around him -- and New York can replicate that without its best shooters -- Anthony could easily outperform his projection.
3. The Effects of Age
Anthony isn't the only Knicks player with a pessimistic SCHOENE projection. In fact, of New York's likely rotation, only J.R. Smith saw similar players improve at the same age. Players similar to Amar'e Stoudemire declined by 6.1 percent the following season, while players similar to Tyson Chandler saw a 5.4 percent decline.
Chandler might be the most important factor. If the Knicks are going to score more like they did in 2011-12, they'll have to defend like they did in Mike Woodson's first half-season at the helm, when they finished fifth in defensive rating and Chandler won Defensive Player of the Year honors. If he suffers through another season where injuries limit his productivity, that will be difficult if not impossible.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Reggie Jackson is expected to serve as the emergency starter in Westbrook's absence, as he did in the Thunder's final nine playoff games following Westbrook's injury. Beyond that, though, the Thunder's first month and a half has suddenly become one big mystery. Is Jackson, who as of Tuesday morning still was projected to be the team's sixth man, now ready for a starring role? Can Kevin Durant effectively carry the load with defenses loaded up and locked in on him? How much does Derek Fisher, now 39, have left in the tank to offer as the presumable backup point guard? How good is Jeremy Lamb? Does Brooks have a backup plan? The Thunder's early-season success hinges largely on how these questions are answered. But the organization, from Thunder general manager Sam Presti to Brooks to Durant, pointed to last year's postseason as a steppingstone that prepared the Thunder for this situation and now stands as a source of confidence.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With the news that Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook would miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season because of a second knee surgery, the Rockets looked ahead to his return, rather than the play in which he was injured. Westbrook went out in Game 2 of the Rockets’ playoff series against Oklahoma City when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley collided with him while attempting a steal as Westbrook was calling time out. That inspired an angry on-court reaction from Westbrook and a backlash from Oklahoma City fans that escalated to death threats. “He’s a great athlete,” Beverley said. “I know he has the best doctors. I think he’s going to be fine. Our focus is on this upcoming season and for us to get better as a team.”
- Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: If this were football or baseball, there would be some debate about which is the player to beat for the title, "Greatest of All Time." In basketball, there's not. LeBron James clearly has his sights set on the guy locked in perpetual flight on the east side of the United Center. "I feel like I have the potential to continue to get better and to maximize my time while I play this game of basketball," James added. "I want to be the greatest." James is no dummy. He knows there's a long way to go before surpassing Michael Jordan. Winning championships was a necessary step and he's done that. I've always claimed there's no point trying to compare James and Jordan, because they are different players. Jordan was an alpha dog scorer who always had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Kobe Bryant is a better comparison for Jordan. Bryant gave it a good shot, but he's not going to surpass MJ as the greatest of all time. James is a stellar distributor who probably compares better to Scottie Pippen in style of play. Of course, James has gone way beyond Pippen's offensive capabilities. Instead of praising James for being a brilliant team player, he gets criticized for not being Jordan. But with these comments, James has invited those comparisons himself.
- Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: If Kobe Bryant can win a sixth title, he'll match Michael Jordan's count. While the debate of who is the best player of all time is quite subjective, it's fun to mull over. Jordan added a little fuel to the fire with his comments promoting the NBA 2K14 video game, according to the Associated Press. How would Jordan fare playing one-on-one against players like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Bryant? "I don't think I would lose," said Jordan, "other than to Kobe Bryant because he steals all my moves." Bryant gave a quick response on Twitter. Domino effect. I stole some of his..this generation stole some of mine #thecycle
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It was iconic. And then it was gone. Now, apparently,LeBron James is about to again take a powder. Hidden as a hashtag on an Instagram post referencing his placement on the cover of the just released edition of theNBA 2K14 video game came this early Wednesday morning: #PowderTossComingBackToAnArenaNearYou Given up amid his turn for the serious as part of his successful bids for NBA championships the past two seasons, James can be seen on the 2K14 cover displaying the powder toss, as seen in the Instagram he sent out. … In the absence of the real thing, teammates Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller andJames Jones last season emulated James' iconic chalk toss in a pregame ritual, as James already was awaiting the pregame toss at center court. The NBA last season instituted a time limit on pregame rituals, forcing Heat guard Dwyane Wade to somewhat speed up his fullcourt fan salute, with the penalty otherwise a delay-of-game warning (the second and each subsequent of which is accompanied by a technical foul). Now, LeBron will find himself, and his powder, on the pregame clock.
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony privately pined for a secondary scorer in the offseason. And so far, after the first practice of training camp, Anthony is talking like he has got one in the Knicks’ key offseason acquisition, Andrea Bargnani. Anthony even said he would be willing to slide over from power forward to small forward to make room in the starting lineup for the 6-foot-11 Italian. Anthony also tried taking the pressure off Bargnani, who became the scapegoat in Toronto after failing to become an All-Star after being No. 1 overall pick in 2006. “There ain’t no pressure on him,” Anthony said of Bargnani handling the move to New York. “You come in and do what you got to do and play ball. All the pressure’s on me. It should be easy for him. It should be an easy transition for him, adjusting. Just do it the right way, it should be easy for him.’’ Bargnani played just 66 of a possible 152 regular-season games the past two seasons for the Raptors, because of various injuries, prompting the June 29 trade. Bargnani said no matter what Anthony says, there always is pressure as a Knick.
- Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Forget 57 regular-season wins for the Nuggets. That's not going to happen. But here is the real goal for the local NBA team: No more wimpy basketball. The Nuggets have a new way to play. "Smashmouth basketball," new Denver coach Brian Shaw said. I asked Shaw to define his terms. What qualifies as smashmouth basketball? "Smashmouth means that you are literally going to get your mouth smashed if you're going against us for a rebound or a loose ball," Shaw said. "We want to have a nasty disposition, both offensively and defensively." Shaw is not a smarter coach than his predecessor, George Karl. But here's betting Shaw will be a tougher coach than Karl. Karl beat cancer. Twice. So props to him for a huge personal victory. In Denver, however, Karl's teams looked for a soft spot to land in the playoffs, and set up excuses to all but guarantee an early exit from the postseason would happen. … The Nuggets of Karl were soft. The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies are hard. If you can't win with the talent of LeBron James, you had better be mean. Welcome to smashmouth basketball.
- Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Monty Williams said Tuesday he has been thinking about distribution of playing time for this group since it was assembled this summer, but seems set on having Evans, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith come off the bench with the second platoon, leaving open the point guard spot for either Austin Rivers or Brian Roberts. "I think it will become more clear as we see certain guys on the floor in practice and how they jell," said Williams. Rivers said he's not fearful about his place in the rotation, nor the amount of minutes he'll play. "You look at our team, and don't take my word for it, but I think Tyreke is going to come off the bench and I think I'm going to come off the bench," he said. "Depending on how Eric feels, I could be starting at the two. I could be starting at the two, or coming off the bench with Ryan Anderson and Tyreke. That's not a bad second group. I'm not really worried about my minutes. Me and Jrue were talking about this at dinner. Our second group is just as good as our first group." It's evident that whatever discomfort Rivers might have experienced in June has dissipated, as has any uncertainty about his place on the court. "I love my coach. I love the coaches, the new facility, new name, new team," he said.
- Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: Royce White knows he’s not physically where he wants or needs to be. But after not playing in any NBA games during his rookie year with the Rockets, at least partially due to an anxiety disorder and fear of flying, White is grateful to just be setting picks and finding open teammates at 76ers camp. “At the same time last year, I wasn’t even in training camp,” White said. “So this is a big improvement from eight, nine months ago. I’m just happy to be here right now, happy my body’s holding up.” White doesn’t know what his role with the Sixers will be. He ran with the second team during Monday’s scrimmage. But he plans to fly to Northern Spain with his Sixers teammates Thursday in preparation for Sunday’s preseason game against Bilbao. For him, that’s a start. “To me, the most important thing is making it to the first preseason game and being here for the team,” he said. Sixers coach Brett Brown has been encouraged by what he’s seen from White through four days of camp.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If third-year center Bismack Biyombo feels threatened by the Charlotte Bobcats adding big men Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller, you wouldn’t know it from his approach. Biyombo started 80 of 82 games last season, averaging 4.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. After the season, the Bobcats used the fourth pick on Zeller and signed Jefferson to a 3-year, $40.5 million contract. Biyombo likely isn’t starting this season, but he doesn’t see himself as extraneous. “My job is the same as it was last year – be a defender, protect the paint, rebound, block shots. Nothing is going to change,” he said after the first practice of training camp at UNC Asheville. The Bobcats drafted Biyombo seventh overall in 2011. He’s a long athlete and tough guy, but he arrived in Charlotte from the Spanish League with minimal offensive skill. That hasn’t changed much. New coach Steve Clifford has told Biyombo not to fret about what he can’t yet do.
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Jimmer Fredette would have to fend off rookie Ray McCallum just to be the third point guard behind Isaiah Thomas and Greivis Vasquez. Things aren't easier for Fredette at shooting guard by Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore. There are possible three-guard lineups but it won't be easy cracking the rotation, regardless. What would help Fredette would be having a defined role. "We didn't know what the rotation was (last season)," Fredette said. "Guys didn't know if they were going to play one game and not the next so you just had to try to stay ready and prepare as much as you can. It's hard for players to be able to do that but you're professionals so that's what you have to do. Hopefully this year we'll have more of a set rotation so we'll know when we're going to play and who we're going to play with."
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The immediate inclination is to compare Vitor Faverani to Fab Melo. Both are from Brazil and are within an inch or two height-wise, and, hey, those are some simple dots to connect even for a sportswriter. But after a brief look at this year’s model and several conversations with Celtics types at the first day of training camp, the notion was rejected. With authority. The two are said to be miles apart at this stage. “Vitor’s a player,” we were advised. “Fab’s a project.” The Celts gave up on Melo after just one year. While there may have been some salary cap concerns in his trade to Memphis, they would have held onto him if they thought he could be what they hoped. Same for the Grizzlies, who released Melo. He’s now in camp with Dallas. And while Melo reigned mainly in D-League Maine last season, Faverani could easily make his way into the Celtics rotation right away. Teams have a way of finding a place for people who shoot well and like to hit people.
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Tap. Tap. Tap. It was a little after midnight when the knock on the hotel door arrived. Nicolas Batum was tired. He was frustrated. He was anxious. And he was just about ready to call it a night. But it was the evening before the European Championship title game and it was a curious time for a visit, so Batum swung open the door to see who was standing outside his room in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Staring back at him was Tony Parker, his teammate on the French national team and one of the NBA's premier point guards. Batum's friend wanted to chat. "I had messed up in the semifinals — had a baaaad game — and he came to me before the final," Batum said, recalling the unexpected face-to-face. "He said, 'Tomorrow's game is going to be your game. We need you. If we're going to win, you've got to lead us.' When a guy like that comes to you, before the biggest game of your life, and says 'you have to show the way, you have to be the man,' it gives you a lot of confidence." It was the latest in a long line of mentoring moments by Parker, and it was perhaps the most meaningful. A day later Batum answered the challenge, recording a team-high 17 points, six rebounds and two steals — while playing tenacious defense — as France beat Lithuania 80-66 to claim its first major championship
- Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Samuel Dalembert hopes to do this season for the Dallas Mavericks what Tyson Chandler was able to accomplish during the 2010-11 campaign. Chandler joined the Mavericks on July 13, 2010, via a trade with the Charlotte Bobcats. The fiery, athletic center came to Dallas as a wounded warrior, having navigated his way through a series of injuries and saddled with lingering questions about his health. However, Chandler used his hustle, grit and determination to change the Mavericks’ culture with his tenacious defense and ability to protect the rim. His contributions were extremely instrumental in the Mavs winning the 2011 NBA championship. Fast forward to Dalembert, who left the Milwaukee Bucks via free agency over the summer. While surveying the NBA landscape, he knew the Mavericks would become a perfect fit for his style of play. In essence, Dalembert (6-foot-11, 250 pounds) realized he was the right player to fill the role Chandler once occupied. “I just looked at things from last year, and this team just needed one more ingredient,” the 32-year old Dalembert said after Tuesday’s first practice of training camp. “We can score — scoring is no issue for us. “It’s just the defense and giving up second-chance opportunities.” Small forward Shawn Marion welcomes a player such as Dalembert, who can protect the rim. … Power forward Dirk Nowitzki also sees value in the Mavericks signing Dalembert to a two-year, $7.5 million contract in July.
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Power forward Tristan Thompson acknowledges that there's no blueprint for switching his dominant hand from left to right in the middle of his career. He even joked about learning more about who he is. "I'm 22,'' he said during media day on Monday. "I'm trying to figure it out.'' He said he actually is ambidextrous, writing, eating and golfing left-handed while bowling, and now shooting, right-handed. Why did he ever think he was a left-handed player? "Because I wrote with my left hand, and I thought if you write with your left hand, you've got to shoot with your left hand.''
- Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Rudy Gay had off-season PRK laser eye surgery, and while it was only a 10-minute procedure, it was a big deal for Gay who sees clearly now. He just doesn’t know how long it has been since his vision went. “I don’t know at all,” he said when asked what his vision was corrected from. “I just know I could barely get my license, so it was pretty bad and I didn’t know it. Obviously I feel a lot better going into the season a little bit more confident.” … For now Gay is downplaying the eye procedure and how it has changed things for him. His fear is that people are going to automatically credit a 10-minute surgery for the improved shooting he fully expects fans will be witness to this season. Gay says he worked too damn hard in the off-season on his shooting for that to be the case. He says that on a light day he was putting up 300 shots but said it was an everyday thing for him. “I worked a lot,” he said. “Every day I was committed to becoming a better shooter.” Casey is of the firm belief that eye surgery is only going to be part of the reason Gay comes back and improves on the .416 shooting percentage he had a year ago, down from .455 the previous year.
- Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: Kendall Marshall will tell you that there is “no question” in his mind that he can succeed in the NBA. He’s got about one month to convince the Suns, who selected him with the 13th pick of the 2012 NBA draft. And Marshall has no time to waste, beginning at training camp, which opened Tuesday in Flagstaff, and during the club’s seven-game preseason schedule, which begins against Maccabi Haifa on Monday night at US Airways Center. Lance Blanks, the general manager who drafted Marshall, is gone. There also is a new coaching staff. And there is a Suns roster loaded with point guards and “combo” guards — players who can play off the ball or in a playmaking role. For Marshall, the witching hour falls on Halloween. That’s the NBA deadline for teams to exercise a team option in rookie salary-scale contracts for players drafted in the first round the previous year. First-round picks get a four-year deal, but only the first two years are guaranteed. So, teams must decide before a player’s second regular season begins whether to guarantee a third year. If the Suns don’t see enough from Marshall in the next month, they aren’t likely to exercise the option.
... except from the Wages of Wins, where Arturo Galletti has a solid track record of geekery-based predictions. He picked a Finals of Spurs over Heat in six before the season even started -- which almost happened.
Galletti says the Sixers have a roster that could finish ahead of the Nets, Pacers, Knicks, Warriors and Lakers -- if they're trying to win.
- 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.
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Kirk Hinrich's projected role — backing up both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler at guard — could aid in his quest to have a healthier 2013-14. "I'm excited," Hinrich said. "I've come off the bench before and enjoyed it. I feel I can come in and bring energy. That will be a good role for me. Most of the injuries last year were just bad luck, so I try not to put too much stock into it. But early in last year's preseason, I had a lot of my small muscle groups hurting. So I'm just trying to do a lot more flexibility and functional stuff in the weight and training rooms before and after practice to prevent that." Indeed, one of Hinrich's regular-season injuries was freakish — a burst bursa sac in his right elbow that became infected. And who can forget Hinrich's final game, when he tied a franchise record by playing 59 minutes, 36 seconds in the triple-overtime victory over the Nets in Game 4.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The 2013-14 version of the Suns head to Flagstaff Monday for a six-day training camp that begins a season of low expectations from the outside and high anticipation on the inside. There will be 10 new faces, but the return of a familiar one feeds the anticipation: Channing Frye announced Sunday that he is cleared to join the camp after a year away from basketball due to an enlarged heart. “It’s been a long journey getting healthy, but I did it through the support of my friends and family and with my will to not give up,” Frye said. “I’m very excited to be a part of this new young Suns team. I take pride in this uniform and can’t wait to run out of the tunnel to the fans that have been supportive throughout this whole process.” … Frye will ease into basketball activity, just as the Suns did with another big man this summer. Alex Len, the Suns’ No.5 draft pick, underwent surgeries on his left ankle in May and right ankle in July but resumed light court work in August. Last week, Len joined the voluntary workouts’ 5-on-5 scrimmages for 10 to 12 plays at a time with no pain.
- Bruce Arthur of the National Post: The NBA is a lot like Hollywood: it matters who you know, how successful you are, how much power you wield. People want to be attached to a blockbuster; over the past four years LeBron James went from Cleveland to Miami, Chris Bosh went from Toronto to Miami, Carmelo Anthony went from Denver to New York, Dwight Howard has gone from Orlando to L.A. to Houston, and Chris Paul has gone from New Orleans to L.A. Oh, and Brooklyn raided Boston, and others. As one NBA executive lamented not long ago, “I swear, this league is 60% luck.” So maybe Drake becomes a point of entry, which combined with Tim Leiweke’s connections to Hollywood — and hey, CAA, which is a force in the NBA — Toronto becomes something other than an outpost. But alone, it’s window dressing, fizz. The All-Star Game won’t help much, either. It’s recently been held in New Orleans, in Orlando, in Atlanta, in Phoenix, after which their best players left. The All-Star Game is a billboard, but a blank billboard doesn’t do much good. And that’s why despite the presence of Drake, Rob Ford, NBA commissioner-in-waiting Adam Silver and Leiweke at the press conference, the most important figure remains Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, who has spent the summer quietly sitting on the competitive fence, the Andrea Bargnani trade notwithstanding.
- Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Managing owner Josh Harris reiterated Sunday that the 76ers are not moving to North Jersey. "My answer to the fans is I love the Sixers in Philly. I'm committed to it," Harris said during his state-of-the-Sixers news conference. Harris' keeping the franchise in Philadelphia isn't a surprise to people who know the billionaire businessman. They will tell you the surprising thing is that he's on board with the Sixers' tanking this season. "I want immediate results and immediate upside," he said. "But I think that the reality of professional sports is that things don't change overnight." The things that will allow Harris to keep his sanity during what will be a trying season are his offseason moves that were geared to bring a championship to Philadelphia in a few seasons.
- Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Amar'e Stoudemire's hectic summer didn't include much basketball but it did include yet another knee surgery, the Daily News has learned. According to a Knicks source, Stoudemire had an unreported surgical procedure in July to repair one of his ailing knees. The Knicks open camp on Tuesday and have yet to announce that Stoudemire has had a third knee operation in 12 months. The surgery was described as "clean up" and isn't considered major. However, the secrecy surrounding Stoudemire's latest health issue could be an indication that the club is not optimistic that they can rely on the veteran power forward. Stoudemire appeared in just 29 games last season and had debridement surgeries on both of his knees, the right knee in October and the left in March.
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: (New head coach Brian Shaw) will let training camp decide which players fall into which roles, but more important, the month of practices and eight preseason games will be the guide to what the Nuggets' new identity will be. Under previous coach George Karl, it was all run, all the time. Shaw will likely blunt some of that breakneck pace and will likely slot in a mixture of speed to continue using the altitude to the Nuggets' advantage and half-court patterns to make sure Denver can execute against any team, in any situation. "We're going to have to establish what our identity is as a team," Shaw said. "At this point, I don't know yet. I haven't had all the guys together. The last two years, when we were in Indiana, we were a smash-mouth basketball team. We did not relent; we did not give in to going small because other teams went small; we stayed true to who we were and took advantage of our length and size and our energy and power. I'll have to see what we're made of and what our identity will be. It will show itself when we get everybody together and get started."
- Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: If center Andrew Bynum misses the entire preseason, the Cavaliers don’t seem to think it will be the end of the world. The 7-foot, 285-pounder missed the entire 2012-13 season after having surgery on both knees. The former All-Star center signed a two-year, $24.5 million contract with the Cavs in the offseason. Only $6 million is guaranteed. The Cavs’ goal appears to be getting Bynum ready for the regular season. If he misses the majority of the preseason, so be it is the feeling from the team. Cavs media day is Monday and all eyes will be on Bynum. However, don’t expect to see Bynum on the practice court when training camp begins on Tuesday. Cavs coach Mike Brown said recently there’s been no timetable established for Bynum’s return. He hasn’t started court work yet, but he’s running on a treadmill.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: After spending the last 61/2 seasons with the division rival Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks, Mike Dunleavy knew what the Bulls were about. His impressions were reaffirmed last spring, when he watched the Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs without Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, then go toe-to-toe with the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat before falling in five games. ‘‘Absolutely, players take note of that,’’ the sharpshooting Dunleavy said of joining a team that shows fight. ‘‘This is a high-character team. You could tell with the way other guys stepped up. There were no excuses. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be part of something like that?’’ But then there was the issue of money. Dunleavy was projected to be a $5 million-to-$7 million-a-year signee. The Bulls got him for $3 million a year for the next two seasons. Sure, players have been pointing to the collective-bargaining agreement negotiated by former National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter as hurting the free-agent market. But Dunleavy, 33, said money wasn’t the biggest priority at this stage of his career. ‘‘The ghost of Billy Hunter will be haunting us for a long time, but . . . I’ve done well financially, so I could make a decision on what would make me happy,’’ Dunleavy said. ‘‘At this point, it’s playing with a group like this, having a chance to win.’’
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: If you’re a bottom-line, show-me-the-scoreboard kind of person, then the 2013-14 Celtics may not be your cup of entertainment. But this edition will not lack for story lines. It will be interesting to see how first-time NBA coach Brad Stevens adapts to his new digs and how well he establishes a working relationship with players who won’t have to sit out a year if they transfer. It will be beyond interesting to see how Rajon Rondo adjusts both physically and sociologically to playing without Pierce and Garnett. How much of what we saw from rookie Kelly Olynyk in July was the product of summer-league competition? Is Jeff Green ready to exhibit his considerable talent on a more consistent basis? Who among the Brooklyn refugees is here for more than a cup of chowder? The Celtics are wise to be patient as they seek to repackage their roster and multiple first-round draft picks into a worthy entity. But they are still on the clock as regards Rondo, who can be a free agent in two years. Before then, the Celts must show they are close enough to being good to make him want to stay, or, failing that, find the right trade for Rondo before he abdicates.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic will test rookie Victor Oladipo immediately. Oladipo, who played shooting guard in college, will be asked to play perhaps a significant amount at point guard, continuing the experiment the team began during its summer-league exhibitions. Oladipo faces a difficult test in the weeks ahead. A rookie season is difficult for any player — even someone who played three years of college ball at Indiana, as Oladipo did — and now Oladipo will try to pick up the nuances of the most complex position on the floor. Magic officials believe he can excel as a defender at both guard positions, but anyone would acknowledge Oladipo will have some rough moments on the offensive end of the court. But that should be OK given that the Magic are in Year Two of their rebuilding project. Taking some lumps now might pay major dividends a few years down the road as long as his confidence remains intact.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The Oklahoma City Thunder will travel to Turkey as scheduled this week for its preseason opener despite the country's ongoing violence and the highly publicized crisis in neighboring Syria. Concerns over the safety of players, coaches and team and league personnel raised questions recently about whether the first leg of the Thunder's two-game European tour would be canceled. But the Thunder is scheduled to depart for Istanbul on Wednesday, with the team left to trust that the NBA-mandated trip will be as secure as any other road game. With a Sept. 6 travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State to U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Turkey, Thunder general manager Sam Presti was asked last week about security concerns abroad. Presti directed the question to the NBA. But not before calling it “a very fair question.”
- Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Locker rooms can be crowded places during training camps. But that won’t be the case with the Pistons when camp begins Tuesday. Barring a last-minute invite, the 15 under contract will be the only players hitting the practice floor Tuesday morning when coach Maurice Cheeks opens his first camp with the Pistons. The NBA-mandated roster limit is 15 during the regular season, but teams can invite more players to camp for various reasons. The Knicks are bringing 20 players to camp. But with a roster with an average age of 25 and eight new players, the Pistons want to give minutes to their young players and for their regulars to start developing chemistry. There are also several camp battles to watch so it should make for a competitive environment. “This is probably what, in the old-school days, training camp was about, ... competing for spots, competing for minutes, and it gets no better than this right here when you have a lot of guys who can play different positions and in order to get minutes they have to be able to beat out another guy,” Cheeks said last week.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: After two days and three practices, the Rockets are beginning to run out of centers. Dwight Howard remains the center of attention, but his predecessor as the Rockets’ starter, Omer Asik, left the floor late in Sunday’s practice with a strained calf muscle. He is listed as day-to-day. Greg Smith (strained right hip) is also day-to-day and Marcus Camby (plantar fasciitis) is out this week, leaving Howard and rookie Jordan Henriquez available at the position. Guard/forward Francisco Garcia sat out Sunday to rest the sore groin muscle he tweaked at the Tournament of the Americas, but had been practicing.
- Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com Most of the team's newly acquired ammo will come off the bench and provide the necessary fire power and rest for starters. The addition of Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Earl Watson is a massive upgrade from last year's second unit. Those acquisition, alone, should pencil-in the Trail Blazers into the playoffs. However, if this team is serious about competing in more than 89 games this year (7 preseason + 82 regular season games), it's going to have to be a drastic change on the defensive end. Head coach Terry Stotts said this past offseason that they will instill a different set of defensive principles this year. He didn't elaborate at the time, but believe it's safe to say that the guards will benefit heavily from such a change. Reason being is most of the time perimeter defenders are told to shade their opponent to one particular side, knowing that you have help behind you. Often the plan is to force them to go baseline as most coaches hate giving up the middle.
- Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: As the Mavs hold their Media Day on Monday and open training camp on Tuesday, Gersson Rosas will try to work his magic again while humbly standing in the background. He knows he made the right move by leaving the Rockets for the Mavs. “There could have potentially been more options for me in the future around the league, but Dallas was a special place that I didn’t want to pass up on,” Rosas said. “I see a lot of potential here. “There’s a championship heritage here that’s important to me, and you have all the resources to be successful. It’s just the opportunity to do the work, and that’s why I’m here.” Lindsey, who has known Rosas since he was 22 years old, believes the Mavs have hired one of the fastest-rising young executives in the NBA who will do wonders for their franchise. “I think he’s a great example of someone who is a great student that has grinded his way to the top, yet didn’t skip any steps,” Lindsey said. “So it’s just a terrific example of what a high level of character and work ethic can do for you.”
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.
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: As with almost every element of the "LeBron Watch," it's all about reading the signs. So in advance of LeBron unveiling his limited-edition watch for Audemars Piguet on Friday night, there was this from an interview with Women's Wear Daily, regarding his potential 2014 free-agency plans and where he eventually would look to settle down in retirement: "I miss the slower pace back home but have grown used to my new city's little perks like fresh fish and sweet fruit. It will definitely be someplace warm. I don't want to go back to cold winters." LeBron, an Akron native, of course, has been linked to a possible return to Cleveland next summer, as well as a potential move to the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: No, Dwyane Wade assured, his testy Twitter exchange with Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant was not a joke, not a publicity ploy for Gatorade (for whom they previously filmed a commercial) or any other product. But Wade is ready to diffuse the situation. Asked Thursday night if Durant’s comment that James Harden should replace Wade on Sports Illustrated’s list of the Top 10 players was uncalled for, Wade said: “Everyone has an opinion. We’re in an age now where everyone uses their opinion. That was it. He had an opinion. I had a response.” Asked if their exchange was a joke, he smiled and said, “No.”
- Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: For the first time in 14 years, when the Lakers open training camp Saturday they will be taking the floor in the middle of a Dodgers town. The domination of buzz that began with the Kobe Bryant era in 1996 has at least temporarily ended this fall as the Lakers find themselves surrounded in dysfunction, confusion and blue. Giant gold jerseys bearing No. 24 are being replaced by oversized blue shirts bearing No. 66. Lakers flags are being pulled out of car windows to make room for Dodgers flags. Worry about Steve Nash's legs have been muted over concern for Andre Ethier's shins. Bryant took a self-publicized high dive, yet more people were talking about the Dodgers going swimming. This columnist will not repeat the assumptions that led to the long-ago mistake of calling this a UCLA football town. The Lakers-Dodgers climate change could end by next summer, when the Lakers will have the money and space to bringLeBron James to town. But since the death of Jerry Buss, the Lakers have no longer been the Lakers, so who knows what happens next? Meanwhile, with the best and richest lineup in baseball and the money to keep it going, the Dodgers have again become the Dodgers, a team that owned this city even through the Showtime era, a group that has the economic stability to own it again.
- Nate Taylor and Harvey Araton of The New York Times: The decision to replace Grunwald, 55, with Mills may be an effort by the Knicks to position themselves for the pursuit of stars. Dolan may have concluded that Mills, who also worked a number of years for the N.B.A. in addition to his decade with the Knicks, and who got to know a significant number of agents and top players as he vied in recent months for the union job, will be a good person to lead the team’s free-agent efforts. Those efforts could include finding a way to shed the final part of Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract after this season to create cap maneuverability and possibly even make another run at LeBron James when he becomes eligible for free agency next summer. Mills could also lead an effort to lure another star player to the Knicks after this season, in part to persuade Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York. Anthony can opt out of his contract next summer. It seems possible that the Knicks, feeling the pressure of a much more visible and competitive Nets team nearby in Brooklyn, have concluded that their team needs a more accessible public face and that Mills would do well in that role.
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: While speaking with league sources about the four-year contract extension DeMarcus Cousins has agreed to with the Kings in principle, I learned another interesting bit of information: NBA Commissioner David Stern plans to attend the Kings home/season opener Oct. 30 at Sleep Train Arena. I am assuming Stern will be in Miami the previous night for the championship ring ceremony at the Heat-Bulls game, and then just hop onto his private jet for the 3,000-mile flight to California. No one should be surprised. Keeping the Kings in Sacramento has been on Stern's 'to do" list for at least a decade. And, obviously, his relationship with Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, and former Golden State Warriors minority owner Vivek Ranadive - who had been itching to become a majority partner - facilitated the sale of the team and the proposed downtown arena. After this ordeal, there is no way the Commissioner, who retires Feb. 1, misses out on the emotional opening night celebration.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: And as Bulls fans know all too well after the last three seasons, LeBron James’ rule has not been good for them. The Miami Heat forward is responsible for two of the Bulls’ last three playoff runs ending earlier than they hoped. In the bigger picture, James’ last six years stack up very closely to Jordan’s best seven-year stretch, before his first retirement. From 1986 to 1993, Jordan averaged 33.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, while James averaged 28.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists from 2007 to 2013. Both are known for elite defense, but James has shown to be more versatile, guarding any spot on the floor. While their mind-sets on offense are completely different — James is more facilitator, Jordan was more assassin — they’ll be tied even more closely together if James and the Heat win a third consecutive NBA title this season, when James will still be 29. The Bulls’ mission is to stop that from happening. … It’ll be a great one if they can stay healthy, starting with Rose. While the Indiana Pacers also are expected by some to be the Heat’s primary obstacle in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers don’t have Rose. The problem is the Bulls might not have him, either — at least the Rose they had before he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. But if the one-time MVP is anywhere close to what he was during the 2010-11 season — with an improved jump shot from all the rehab time — the Pacers will be the third wheel. Will it be enough to end James’ run at history? The Bulls start training camp Friday, and they know kings don’t abdicate their thrones easily.
- Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: When the regular season opens Oct. 30 against Oklahoma City, Kanter will likely step into a starting role, signaling a brand new era of Jazz basketball. The team watched seven players exit in free agency, allowing Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke to all step into marquee roles. … The Jazz offseason was strategically quiet, with the Jazz adding players who would not get in the way of plans to turn the team over to a young core that includes Kanter. "That’s what the fans have been waiting for," Kanter said, "so that’s why I was like, ‘I cannot do crazy stuff and crazy tweets.’ " However, Jazz officials know they can’t ask for too much too quickly from their young stars, and with that, Kanter can’t leave the behavior that made him a fan favorite entirely behind. After the kids had filed out of the gym Thursday, he interrupted his declaration of maturity to make a quiet confession. "I still watch SpongeBob," he said.
- Tom Layman of the Boston Herald: In the wake of Danny Ainge’s comments that Rajon Rondo may not be back until December, new Celtics coach Brad Stevens thinks he has an in-house candidate to fill the star point guard’s shoes. Stevens said Avery Bradley may indeed see the bulk of the point guard duties until Rondo finds his way back from offseason knee surgery. “I don’t think there is any doubt that Avery has elite ability in a lot of ways as a point guard,” Stevens said at TD Garden yesterday morning, where he was a guest at the breakfast to promote November’s Coaches vs. Cancer college basketball tripleheader. “He’s an elite defender at the position. He’s an elite athlete at the point guard position. I think he’s a guy that’s gotten better. I think he’s a guy with more confidence, and I think he’s excited about the challenge if Rajon is out.” Bradley played well in flashes last season, but he also looked miscast as a point guard in Doc Rivers’ system. There is no denying Bradley’s acumen on the defensive side of the ball. The trick will be for him to find the abilities to facilitate the offense and produce some scoring — traits that weren’t consistently on display last year.
- John Canzano of The Oregonian: Monday marks another Trail Blazers media day. The NBA players will take promotional photographs, and perform those video vignettes you see at the home arena during timeouts. For a decade I've watched the players suit up and sit around like a friend on New Year's Eve, vowing, "This year, I'm serious; I'm going on a diet." The thing turns into a massive Eyeroll Festival. It's time for that to change. On Monday, nobody wants to hear the Blazers make the same tired promises. No talking about how much better the locker room feels, how they'll "try to compete for the playoffs" or "We're going to really push tempo this season." LaMarcus Aldridge said on media day in 2012, "I think it's a whole new feeling this year, which is good. Kind of like a new start after last season." If he trots that trite stuff out as an opening statement on Monday someone should poke him in the eye. If he declares the outlook for the 2013-14 Blazers -- as he did last September -- is, "as long as we get better every night... we should be good," he should face a firing line of year-old Chalupas. If coach Terry Stotts says, "We're looking to compete for a playoff spot. I don't know why anyone would say otherwise," he should have to take a lap around the arena. Enough with the meaningless talk. If the Blazers want to make Monday count, what we need to hear is that they will make the playoffs this season. Yes, I'd like a guarantee. Bet you would, too. Because as long as the organization is asking fans to invest their disposable income and emotion in this franchise, the least that a playoff-worthy roster can do is vow that, "It's playoffs or bust."
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic will be ultra-cautious as they bring Glen Davis back from his most recent foot surgery — making sure he doesn't do too much, too soon — and he will miss training camp, perhaps the entire preseason and maybe the beginning of the regular season. But Davis remains the Magic's best low-post defender. Once he's fully healthy, I envision him returning to his starting role, although Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Maxiell could push him for minutes at the 4. Offensively, Davis is at his best when he's on the move and driving to the hoop. He has a tendency to fall in love with his midrange jumper. Davis could draw interest from other teams as the NBA trade deadline approaches on Feb. 20.
- Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: What position does the now very rich Paul George play? George signed a five-year contract extension worth more than $90 million this week and his versatility is one of his best traits. Coach Frank Vogel can use him at shooting guard, small forward and even power forward, and have him to defend the opposing team’s top player, no matter where he plays. There’s a good chance you will see him at all three spots this season.
- Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Brandon Jennings sat on the outside looking in during this summer’s free-agency frenzy, arriving in Detroit in a three-year deal via sign-and-trade. The Pistons believe he’ll return to his prep school mode of being a distributor first, rather than primarily looking for his own offense, as he’s done during his first four years in the NBA. Jennings represents an upgrade over Brandon Knight in terms of point guard aptitude, but he must be willing to buy into the system and set up his teammates. Rumors of the Pistons pursuing Boston point guard Rajon Rondo won’t amount to anything anytime soon. Jennings can quiet them with steady play.
- Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Brett Brown's message for Evan Turner: Don't read media reports. "And I hope he's not caring about what goes on Twitter," the new 76ers coach said. Brown wants the Sixers' second overall draft pick in 2010 to get into a gym and rediscover a passion for the game. He said the key would be to go back to his time as a youth when he really enjoyed playing basketball. "Now that sounds a lot easier than it is to achieve," Brown said. "But it starts with the knowledge that you are putting in the time. You get a new toy to play with. And you are being allowed with that in a new place in the house. You need to help him find ways to really find a way to love." Turner appeared frustrated while playing under coach Doug Collins the last three seasons. The 6-foot-7 guard/forward also has been inconsistent since coming out of Ohio State as a junior. Turner averaged a career-best 13.3 points last season and was the only Sixer to start all 82 games. But for every solid performance, he had two or three horrible nights.
- Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Pelicans forward Jason Smith, who played for the 76ers during Jrue Holiday's rookie season in 2009-10, was effusive in his praise of their new point guard. "He's great," Smith said. "I got to play with him one year in Philadelphia. I have been praising him since Day 1. He is the most underrated point guard out there. That's a testament to how hard he works and the kind of guy he is on and off the court. … But Holiday isn't expected to be a savior for a New Orleans franchise that has combined to win just 48 games the past two seasons. He is, however, expected to be a key ingredient to an organization that has been rebranded and its roster overhauled. "Hopefully it's to be the vessel of the coach on the court," Holiday said of his role. … "We have guys like Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke (Evans), even Eric Gordon, so I just have to get them the ball where it needs to be. I'll have to even penetrate at times, maybe get a shot and make something happen. But for the most part, I don't think it will be directly focused around me." With that nucleus, Holiday believes the Pelicans won't have any trouble winning much more than they have in the past.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets, CEO Tad Brown said, will sell out every home game this season. For the Rockets in the Toyota Center era, that is a huge proclamation. “We’re further ahead in our sales process at this time than we ever have been,” Brown said heading into the start of team workouts Saturday. “The season-ticket base is up 34 percent. We are close to being sold out of season tickets. And we are pretty confident with the excitement that this team has already created in the market that we’ll be sold out of every game.” The Rockets have sold out every home game in just four seasons of their history, none since moving into Toyota Center in 2003. Beginning in 1994-95, the second championship season, they had a streak of 176 consecutive sellouts, including 149 consecutive regular-season games. The Rockets sold out 20 home games last season, including 10 of the final 15, but sales took off with the July signing of Dwight Howard.
- Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The Cavaliers are attempting to strengthen their bond with their season-ticket holders. Last season, the Cavs launched Wine & Gold United, a year-round, season ticket-based membership program. They promised their members unprecedented and unique access. On Thursday, they provided a perk to their members and tried to deliver on that commitment. After getting league approval, they announced they would print the name of each Wine & Gold United member on the Quicken Loans Arena floor, starting with the 2013-14 season. Each account holder’s name will be displayed in the Cavs’ “All For One, One For All” gold-lettered decal. It will be positioned opposite the team benches. Throughout the season, members will have an opportunity to see their names on the court.
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: James Dolan wore mostly a stoic look on stage, sitting next to commissioner David Stern and was joined by Nets minority owner Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov’s assistant Irina Pavlova. Prokhorov was not in New York. Dolan took on his usual curmudgeon persona when the discussion turned to the meeting Stern brokered between Dolan and Prokhorov last season to quell any ill feelings — as first reported by The Post’s Fred Kerber. When asked what he got out of the meeting, Dolan offered the best line of the event, saying: “Free lunch.’’ Dolan has tried to get the All-Star Game ever since the Garden started its transformation. As reported by The Post in 2012, the Garden would have had the 2014 All-Star Game, but the NBA didn’t want to compete against the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. Dolan was more expansive on the rivalry being good for the teams on and off the court.
- Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Mikhail Prokhorov is a busy man, no doubt, but he still should have found the time to come to the biggest announcement involving his team since . . . well, there have been quite a few in recent months, starting with Jason Kidd’s surprise hiring as coach and then the introductions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets have rarely gone into a season looking better than the Knicks and considered a viable championship contender. Like never, not as an NBA team, not even when Kidd carried them to two Finals. True, it might not work out. Kidd is an unknown as a coach, and when we last saw Garnett and Pierce, going out feebly against the Knicks in the playoffs, it didn’t seem as if they had another title run in them. But maybe Kidd will be a quick study in his new vocation, and maybe Garnett and Pierce will survive another marathon regular season, flourish in one more playoff run and get the Nets to the Finals.
- Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant are feuding in cyberspace, and it is silly and fun and stupid and great, all at once. It also reveals an underlying poignancy, which is the only reason the exchange is interesting in a larger sense and worth exploring. … All of this is noteworthy on the face of it, because it’s rare that one NBA star will publicly call out another, and Durant basically said Wade is overrated. The cynic might think the whole thing is an arranged feud to set up a sequel to the wake-from-a-bad-dream Gatorade commercial they did together, but I doubt it. It feels too real, and, on Wade’s end, too raw. This little feud is interesting mostly because it peels back a curtain on Wade’s mind and reveals how sensitive he is to his status as an elite player, and to that being questioned — let alone by a rival all-star. This isn’t cocky ego flexing itself in Wade. This is wounded pride. This is Wade being forced to confront where he is, career-wise, and where he is headed. … Wade wrote in that Instagram note that he wants to make Durant respect his “place in history.” But it isn’t about that. Wade’s place in history as a champion and future Hall of Famer is secure. This is about Dwyane Wade’s place in 2013 and ’14. This is about a great, proud basketball player trying to hold on to “elite” as doubters and time try to take it away.
- Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Larry Bird agreed the George signing gives the Pacers less financial flexibility. They have approximately $64 million committed to nine players for the 2014-15 season, leaving little room to re-sign Stephenson, who will be entering the final year of his NBA entry-level contract, and fill out a roster with a salary cap that will be a small increase from this season’s $70.3 million. Longtime team leader Danny Granger likely will become a free agent after this season. Bird and Pacers officials have made it clear they have no plans to pay the NBA luxury tax, so keeping a young Pacers team together for the long term could be a challenge. For now, those concerns are secondary to putting the best possible team on the court for this season, Bird said. “We’re going to play this year,” he said. “You never know about the future, but right now, we’re pretty satisfied with where we’re at.”
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Sam Presti was peppered with 26 questions for more than half an hour Wednesday afternoon. The best was the fourth, the shortest and most significant. “How do you think the team has gotten better this off-season?” It was an inquiry that dismissed any preconceived notions and disregarded all pessimism that had been built by a relatively stale summer. And it forced Presti to think, requiring the Thunder general manager depart briefly from his script and spell out how exactly this team could be better when its inactivity primarily suggests it's gotten worse. “Well,” Presti said, “I think it all comes down to how you define ‘better.'” And with that, Presti spent the better part of the next 30 minutes detailing his definition during his annual preseason news conference. Along the way, he expressed excitement and extreme confidence in his club, choosing to view widespread question marks not as concerns but as opportunities.
- Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: To date, the Lakers have not begun contract extension talks with Bryant, who is in the last year of his deal. Kupchak said he anticipates at some point this season a discussion will take place. "Kobe has made it clear that he intends to retire in a Laker uniform and I know as an organization, we feel the same way," he said. Kupchak did note he wasn't especially comfortable with Bryant's high dive, video of which he posted on Vine. "Not great judgment," admonished Kupchak. "He got out of the water and he looked like he was healthy, so I felt good. That was not great judgment." Bryant has been headstrong since the Lakers drafted him in 1996. "With Kobe you just try to manage who he is the best you can. Trust me, at 17 years going on 18, you're not going to change who Kobe Bryant is right now," Kupchak said. "During a game he's tough to manage." "I think the best that [Coach] Mike [D'Antoni] can hope for is to get to know Kobe better and maybe figure out a way to manage it the best he can," Kupchak said. "I think that's Mike's best chance. No coach has been able to control Kobe. No coach we've had since 1996 and that's not going to change."
- Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: With the Indiana Pacers announcing a five-year max extension with swingman Paul George, it’s only natural for Pistons fans to wonder about the status of 2010 draft classmate Greg Monroe. But Monroe let everyone know today he doesn’t want his contract status to become a daily topic of conversation. “I want y’all to circulate this right now,” he said. “Everybody pay attention. I have an agent like everybody else in the NBA. He’s going to communicate with the front office. I’m here to play, and that’s it. I’m not going to talk about it. If you ask me about it, I’m gonna tell ya I’m not going to talk about it. I’m here to play, and that’s what’s going to happen. Circulate that to y’all friends.” Monroe, 23, is eligible to sign an extension before the start of the regular season. If not, he would become a restricted free agent next summer.
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Andrew Bogut finally deemed himself 100 percent healthy last week, and general manager Bob Myersand head coach Mark Jackson were on the verge of declaring the Warriors' center ready for a return to stardom this week. "He looks good. I mean, this is the player we envisioned when we traded for him," Myers said Wednesday. "This is the player you saw three or four years ago." With no limitations on his training, playing time or even back-to-back games, Bogut has been the highlight of the voluntary workouts that have been taking place at the downtown Oakland practice facility since just after Labor Day.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Heading into his free-agent year, Luol Deng already is in the headlines. And he and the Bulls aren’t comfortable with the situation. Deng’s agent, Herb Rudoy, said the Bulls ended contract talks at the start of the month, leaving Deng no choice but to be a shopper this summer. Posturing by both sides? Definitely. But it’s a good decision by general manager Gar Forman. Rudoy’s asking price for Deng is too much for the Bulls to commit to, and the hope is the market — thanks to a less player-friendly collective bargaining agreement — will show Deng that the grass is not greener. The bright side is that Deng is a professional, and while all this is going on, he’ll remain a class act on and off the court.
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman sat behind a podium Wednesday for a joint news conference to discuss an upcoming season that could either represent their final run as a tandem or the beginning of a long, sustainable franchise run as a playoff contender. Grunfeld is entering his 11th season with the organization and Wittman is set to start his second full season with the team, but their fortunes have been tied ever since owner Ted Leonsis gave them two-year extensions in 2012. And as both enter the final year of their respective deals, they understand the pressure that comes as the Wizards attempt to make the postseason for the first time since the 2007-08 season. “Well, that's what we want,” Wittman said when asked about the increased expectations. “We want to get to the playoffs. Do you think this is the first time I’ve been on a one-year contract? No. It doesn’t mean anything. Thirty years of being in this — and it’s just about going out and doing your job and doing it the best you can, and I feel if we do that, everything else takes care of itself.” Grunfeld then chuckled and said: “I’ve been there 36 years, for a couple under the same circumstances. So I have him by a couple of years on that one.”
- Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Royce White is participating in the workouts and will be on hand for media day on Friday. "He is slowly getting to a level that we want to try to bring him to," Brett Brown said of the power forward who was acquired in a July trade with the Houston Rockets. "It's exciting to see what could happen if the physical side of getting him in great shape can collide with his talents and all the other things that have gone on with Royce." The 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft has an anxiety disorder; he did not play in the NBA last season. The forward out of Iowa State last practiced with the Rockets on Nov. 10 and played 16 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League. White had been in a disagreement with the Rockets over how to deal with his anxiety issues.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: New Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford says he’ll be fair and open with his players. That doesn’t mean Clifford sees his job as making every player happy with his role. “Whenever coaches say every player has the chance for playing time, they’re lying to you,” Clifford said during a Wednesday luncheon with Charlotte media. “This can’t be like intramurals (where everyone gets in games) because guys stink when that happens. Some guys are going to have to play well with less minutes.” This is Clifford’s first season as an NBA head coach. It’s clear he has strong convictions. He and his bosses – front-office executives Rod Higgins and Rich Cho – believe this team’s biggest strength can be its depth. But that creates complications as far as players’ minutes expectations. Clifford said his job is to figure out which combinations maximize the chance to win a game. That isn’t the same as playing the most talented players all the time.
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: So, the 2016 NBA all-star weekend bacchanalia is coming to Toronto? Saw the report Tuesday, don’t doubt its veracity, was kind of coasting and blowing off final days of vacation and made one call that couldn’t confirm it but there’s no reason to think it’s untrue, the process began months ago and I understand there were no other bidders. So . . . Sure, it’s a good thing for the hotels and the restaurants and the clubs that I wouldn’t be allowed into; the city and MLSE will most assuredly put on a good show and that’s great. For normal folks and run of the mill fans? Book your time on your couch now or expect to stand behind some barricade watching the swells go to all the big events. … It’s a good thing because it will open some NBA eyes to what the city has to offer -- February weather permitting, of course -- and if stalking celebrities and NBA players is your thing, it’ll be blast. But to think everything’s open and available to regular people and that you can rub shoulders with them? Guess again. Heck, last year you couldn’t even get into the players’ hotel without a credential and those security folks didn’t mess around with interlopers. It’s a fun weekend. For some people.