TrueHoop: Orlando Magic

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


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

In their dreams

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
10:26
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Who do the Sixers dream of drafting? What about the Bucks, Magic and Celtics? And have the Lakers already identified their man? We ask Chad Ford.

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Recent play of top draft prospects

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
10:05
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The four NCAA freshmen who define the top of 2014 NBA draft -- Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle -- have each faced recent challenges. Chad Ford on who emerges looking best.video

Epic trade deadline

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
2:35
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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ESPN Insider Chad Ford predicts an "epic trade deadline" because of this NBA season's strange set of circumstances where many teams are tanking, and thus are willing to part with talented players.

Chad Ford mocks the 2014 draft

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
2:39
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Can we still call it the Andrew Wiggins draft, even if a lot of teams would draft Joel Embiid higher? Chad Ford on forecasting one of the best drafts in a long time.

Accidental tankers

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
1:53
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Chad Ford says the Kings are in a sweet position to win a top draft pick, even though they've been trying to win games. Meanwhile, simulations show it's increasingly unlikely any team other than the Bucks, Jazz, Cavaliers, Kings, 76ers, Lakers or Magic will win the top pick in the 2014 draft.

 

Cutting Dwight Howard some slack

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
10:27
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Dwight Howard
Getty Images
Should we give a goofball the chance to grow up and develop some gravitas?

A friend asked me recently if I knew of a basketball player named Dwight Howard. This friend’s cluelessness on matters of sports has long been a source of amusement between us, but he also offers a window into the world of popular opinion beyond the NBA’s force field. A top executive at the kids’ cable network where he works had encouraged him to see how they could make use of Howard. My friend has met Howard a few times in the past year or so. He finds him friendly, polite to more or less everyone, goofy in an inoffensive way and, above all, eager to be funny.

“But he’s not funny,” my friend said dispassionately. “It doesn't work.”

When nonfans speak about sports, they do so in declarative sentences. The commentary is devoid of emotion, acid, indignation and all the other additives sports fans inject into their feelings about this guy or that team. There’s no wholesale judgment or burning desire to ascribe a player’s lack of funniness to some larger character flaw or human failing. Dude isn't funny, and it doesn't really work, but it’s still useful to put a goofy 6-foot-10 giant on the air because it lends a show some novelty, and a fair number of kids are still drawn to big-name athletes, and we’ll leave it at that.

But rabid fans aren't a leave-it-at-that kind of crowd, and there’s no such thing as detachment. The NBA is their favorite show, and they want to be vested in the characters, define which ones are compelling and which ones annoy the hell out of them. For the past several years, Howard has fallen into that latter group. If not with 10-year-old children, then certainly with many of his teammates, the die-hards and the media.

Howard has rightfully earned his membership. In Orlando, Fla. -- a low-degree-of-difficulty market -- he was clumsy handling his business. Right about the time Howard signed his first big deal, his shtick started to wear thin. One former Magic teammate described Howard as someone with two distinct modes -- big kid desperate for attention or adolescent pout. Over the years, Howard has made few friends among media personnel, who watch his postgame antics: the endless dawdling while they wait and wait by his locker, the chirping to no one in particular while he dances around, the yapping to nobody special while teammates roll their eyes and depart in their street clothes long before Howard has even dried off.

The drama at the end of his tenure in Orlando drove up his unfavorables. There’s consensus around the league that Howard wanted Stan Van Gundy out, although there’s a bit more debate about whether Van Gundy and Otis Smith wanted Howard traded, and to what extent CEO Alex Martins vetoed that proposal. Whatever the case, the torturous Van Gundy news conference was the tipping point for Howard.

When a player establishes a pattern of behavior over a sustained period of time, his reputation coagulates. We’re certain we know exactly who he is, and no one cuts him a break because it’s just too much fun. After all, he put himself in the schmuck box, and we’re under no obligation to let him out. We become overly possessive of a guy’s narrative, as if he has no say in the story going forward. We’re entitled to say what we want about him until the end of time. A statute of limitations is granted only upon the presentation of a ring, and, even then, the guy often has to undergo a massive rehabilitation.

The problem with this thinking is that it ignores a simple truth: A lot of callow people ultimately grow up. For most, it happens outside the glare of the public eye. You bump along, absorb a few of life’s blows and become more sensible about the tasks that come with being an adult. Those who are long on self-doubt become more confident, and those who see themselves as invincible learn a thing or two about their limitations.

None of this comes naturally to athletes at the highest level. Most pro ballplayers work like crazy, but, dating back to the moment they showed exceptional potential, most of their material needs have been met -- to say nothing of the gross amount of attention and approbation they've received along the way. When you've been given a ton of stuff, you become insulated, which makes those potholes on the road seem like craters.

The first half of Howard’s pro career has followed this path. But, one thing we've learned from the smartest talent evaluators in pro sports the past couple of decades is that it’s ill-advised to project future performance based on past performance without taking age into account. Self-awareness is a trait people pick up later in life.

The Tobias Harris/No. 12 snippet notwithstanding, Howard has shown some promise in the past four months. His move from Los Angeles to Houston was handled cleanly. He took meetings at the beginning of the week in an orderly fashion, then spent a couple of days in seclusion to weigh the most important professional decision of his life. As teams were crossed off his list, they were notified, and, on Friday, he announced his decision to sign with Houston.

None of this deterred the gangs who roam the alleys of social media, who continued to roast Howard. The chattering class insists that anything short of a title will render Howard a fool, although players such as Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony rarely get called out for being poolside by mid-May. Meanwhile, Shaquille O’Neal knocked him for melting under the bright lights of Los Angeles, as if an aversion to Southern California is a mortal shortcoming and not a matter of taste (Woody Allen is celebrated for his L.A. Hate, but Howard’s apprehension about working there is inexcusable?).

Of course, all of this goes away if Howard wins a title in Houston, but that implies that a championship is the most important measure of character, when it’s really just a measure of professional achievement. Whether he ever hoists a trophy, it’s possible Howard will continue to be juvenile well into his twilight years. Some athletes mature (see: Webber, Chris), and some don’t. Howard has given no certain indication that he’ll ever be Mr. Gravitas, but he should be given some breathing room -- not because we owe him a thing. This isn't about a fresh start.

It’s about affording someone the opportunity to excise his frustrations and become better at who he is and what he does.

Year-round tanking

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
12:20
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Amin Elhassan and Henry Abbott discuss an unnamed GM's admission that he and his owner agreed to tank this season.
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TrueHoop TV: Oladipo you don't know

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
1:28
AM ET
Gutierrez By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com
Archive
video

Israel Gutierrez explains the Magic guard who might be the NBA's most interesting rookie.

The best offseason

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

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
3:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive

This is an interesting and strong criticism, which points out an important issue in how we assess players.

As a baseline: Let us all agree Kareem is right. Dwight Howard has flaws that are fairly easy to spot. That's the simple part.

The much more interesting part, however, is that Howard is among the NBA's most effective players despite these flaws. Riddle me that!

As Abdul-Jabbar’s, or any other critics’, arguments become more convincing, the mystery of Howard’s wonderful results on the court becomes more exciting:
  • Since 2005, Howard's teams have consistently outplayed the opposition with Howard on the court, usually by a significant margin. Beginning in 2007-08, his plus/minus numbers on the season, per NBA.com/stats, were +5.9, +7.0, +7.5 and +6.4. These are rare numbers. The Lakers and Howard had horrible 2012-13 seasons, but the team was +1.8 with Howard on the court.
  • Howard joined the league out of high school, can't hit free throws worth a darn and has one of the most criticized offensive games in the league. Yet, the lowest true shooting percentage of his career was 56.5 percent -- and he has often been much better than that, including an entire season at an incredible 63 percent. For fun and comparison, the player with the most polished offensive game -- Kobe Bryant -- has only surpassed 56.5 percent in three of his 17 seasons. Howard has a career playoff true shooting percentage of 62 percent.
  • Howard has won plenty in the playoffs, and once led Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and company to the 2009 NBA Finals, while anchoring the offense and defense.

In other words, what's wrong with Howard is pretty easy to spot. He looks clumsy with the ball, basically. He makes mistakes. What's more interesting and important, however, is what's right, because clearly it's something. These aren't cutesy stats, and they aren't cherry-picked from a month here or there. Nearly a decade of efficiently turning possessions into points, playing league-leading defense and outscoring the opposition is exactly how you win games. That is value.

This reminds me of the kinds of things people said about young LeBron James. He was doing so many things so well while leading bad teams deep into the playoffs year after year. And one of the most common lines of conversation was, oddly, what he couldn't do. I believe that's born in part because of the incredible bodies James and Howard have. They are both enormously tall, quick and nimble, and covered in muscles. It's almost unfair.

Abdul-Jabbar made a historic career not out of a body that wasn't nearly as imposing as Howard's, but with the honing of likely the most unstoppable scoring move ever, the skyhook. Abdul-Jabbar sees Howard's body a little like Michael Jordan sees LeBron's body. I imagine both thinking, essentially: "Imagine what I could do with that." The natural conclusion of that line of thinking is that Dwight and LeBron are disappointments, and when you look for evidence, it's on video.

He isn't doing what we want him to do. He's not perfect, even though his body is.

Also, it's very hard to both know what's wrong with something and declare it the best; it's just against human nature. But that doesn't mean it can't still be true. Usain Bolt can let up in the final 10 yards (horrible strategy!) and still be way faster than anybody else in the world. Annoying, but true.

And all that talk of shortcomings in regard to Howard, Bolt or James is also another way of saying they could be so much better.

LeBron made a few tweaks to his always-excellent game, and now he's the undisputed best player in the game.

Abdul-Jabbar's talk of Howard's flaws may be on the money. But we must take all that knowing that Howard's seldom-discussed strengths, whatever they may be, have consistently overwhelmed those flaws. And maybe he could be much better, which could certainly be seen as bad news for the Howard camp, for the Rockets and for anyone who believes in his future.

But couldn't it also be good news?

First Cup: Thursday

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

First Cup: Monday

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

First Cup: Friday

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
5:23
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • 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.

First Cup: Friday

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
5:08
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: With less than two weeks to go before camp opens Oct. 1, the Magic and veteran small forward Hedo Turkoglu have yet to agree on a buyout. Turkoglu has $12 million left on the final year of his contract, but only half of it is guaranteed.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: A relaxed and engaging Dwyane Wade spoke on a few issues on an appearance a little while ago on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on NBC. Some highlights: On Game 6 of the Finals: "We were only down five with 20 seconds left. That’s what we do. We practice that all day." On free agency next summer: “There’s a lot of media probably watching this in Miami, so I can’t give them nothing.” (Wade said earlier this summer that he wants to stay with the Heat beyond next summer and is optimistic the Big Three will stay together.) On the possibility of a three-peat: “We hope. We're trying to get like the Lakers and Bulls. It’s going to be tough." On LeBron James’ wedding last weekend: “It’s a beautiful, beautiful wedding. Without giving away details, we had an unebelievable time. And I can’t tell you guys nothing else.” He said no phones were allowed and “no phones nowadays is unbelievable. You go nowhere without your phones.”
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Kobe Bryant continued rehabbing his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon, the latest work involving running at 75 percent of his body weight on a treadmill. Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti thinks Bryant remains a “few weeks away” before advancing to full-weight bearing running, though he added “there’s no projected date” on whether Bryant could play in the Lakers’ season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers. It’s safe to pencil Bryant out for part of training camp, beginning Sept. 28, though it’s unclear if he could catch the tail end of the Lakers’ eight exhibition games through Oct. 25. It all fits the Lakers’ conservative approach in ensuring Bryant only returns from an injury he suffered April 12 once he fully heals. “He’s doing well and has had no setbacks,” Vitti said Thursday at his trainer’s office at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “He’ll be ready when he’s ready. Nobody has a crystal ball on this thing.” Beyond improving his Achilles tendon, the Lakers training staff also wants Bryant to strengthen his legs, knee, back and core. They hope this approach will ensure Bryant closely replicates last season’s output, when he averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, six assists and 5.6 rebounds before the Lakers lost in a first-round sweep to the San Antonio Spurs without him.
  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Deron Williams' right foot was in a walking boot, forcing him to miss out on playing in his charity dodge ball tournament Thursday. But he said it won't keep him from going all out in training camp or playing in the Nets' regular-season opener. "Basically, this is just preventative,'' Williams said. "They have me in it now so I don't have to worry about it when the season starts. "It's frustrating because I want to be hooping with the guys right now. I want to play in this. It's frustrating. I have to deal with [the media] speculating. It is what it is. As long as I'm ready for October, that's all that matters to me. But I'll be ready for it.'' Williams suffered a sprained right ankle and a bone bruise about 2 weeks ago while working out. He said he worked out the following day and continued working out on it, but when he told Nets trainer Tim Walsh he had some pain in his ankle, Walsh sent Williams for an MRI. Williams, who was hampered by ankle injuries last season, said he will undergo another MRI next week, but he doesn't expect to be in the boot much longer. The Nets start training camp Oct. 1 at Duke University and open the season Oct. 30 against Cleveland. "If it's up to me, I'd be walking around right now,'' he said. "I could walk fine. It doesn't hurt. It's just protecting me from myself, I guess.'' When asked if he thinks he'll go full during training camp, Williams said, "That's my plan.''
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "I'm ready to get to work,'' Anderson Varejao told The Plain Dealer on Thursday afternoon. "I'm excited and I'm ready for the season. I can't wait." No wonder. Varejao missed the last 56 games of the season after a quad injury and then a blood clot. It was his third straight season cut short by injury, coming on the heels of a fractured right wrist that limited him to 25 games in 2011-12 and a right ankle/foot injury that ended the 2010-11 campaign at 31 games. "My goal this season is just to stay healthy,'' he said. "Everything else will come.'' Varejao spent most of the summer rehabilitating his quad in Brazil and working to strengthen his leg. He has only recently started playing pick-up games and, though his quad feels good, he estimates he's at about 70 percent heading into the start of training camp. … Varejao has heard all the speculation about a healthy Bynum -- still no guarantee -- forcing him out of the starting lineup and the two splitting time at center in an effort to reduce the wear and tear on both, but right now that's the least of his problems. "To me, it doesn't matter, as long as I'm important for the team,'' Varejao said. "That's the bottom line. I don't care. I'm going to work the same way, doing what do what I have to do to help the team. Whatever Mike Brown wants to do, it's his decision and I'm here to help.''
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The idea of putting Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together in the frontcourt will offer an interesting training camp diversion, but not much of an option for significant playing time, much less the starting lineup. The Rockets did not get the league’s top center to make him a power forward and don’t want to turn one of their outstanding defensive centers into a liability defending the 3-point arc. Instead, they will likely choose between last season’s holdovers. Greg Smith started late in the season, but Terrence Jones might have the edge after strong showings late last season and in summer league. Donatas Motiejunas, who was the starter after the trades of Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, added some much-needed bulk, but his low-post skills might make him better suited to coming off the bench when Howard is not on the low blocks. Robert Covington, a tweener forward, could serve as a stretch four, though Jones and Motiejunas could shoot well enough for that. If all else fails, the Rockets could go back to Smith inside, but if they are going to play two centers together again, they do have two others to consider.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: To hear journeyman guard Marco Belinelli tell it, he had no shortage of suitors when he hit the open market this summer. Only one could offer the combination of contract security, pedigree and championship aspirations as the Spurs, making it an easy decision for the Italian to accept their two-year offer. … Belinelli wouldn’t bite when asked about how he’ll be able to improve on the departed Gary Neal, whose slot in the rotation he’ll essentially be filling. He did say cite running the pick and roll, along with scoring and defense, as his main areas of expertise. That bolsters the notion that Belinelli was swapped out for the more one-dimensional Neal to add another competent ballhandler behind Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. It doesn’t appear to be a particularly impressive signing in light of his modest shooting percentage (41.8 percent career) and Player Efficiency Rating (11.6, 3.4 below average). But his with his adequate skills in multiple areas — Belinelli’s career 3-point percentage is almost identical to Neal’s — this could be one of those those pick-ups that pay subtle dividends.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: When the New Orleans Pelicans open training camp on Oct. 1, veteran forward Jason Smith expects to be playing without any limitations despite requiring surgery last season to repair a torn labrum. Though Smith, 7 feet, 240 pounds, has been held out of contact work during volunteer workouts this month to avoid any setbacks in his recovery, he is expected to be cleared in time for camp. ``It’s all fixed; all better,’’ Smith said. ``It’s just knowing that it is better, and I’ve got to go out there and trust it. I think that’s going to be the big test going through training camp.’’ There probably wasn’t a player on New Orleans’ roster last season that played through more injuries than Smith. He played with a torn labrum for almost three months before he re-injured his right shoulder during a February game against the Brooklyn Nets.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: It has been a while since Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell has been back on the basketball court of his alma mater. And it's been quite a while since the team has been in this city, too. Led by Cassell, who played at Dunbar Senior High School in the late '80s, the Wizards held a basketball clinic for students Thursday. Bradley Beal, Garrett Temple and Bullets alumni Mike Riordan and Larry Stewart were among others in attendance. The Wizards begin training camp Sept. 28. They will play a preseason game Oct. 17 vs. the New York Nicks at Baltimore Arena. "I haven't been here in a long time. We used to call this place the Eastside Garden. It's changed. The banners are still the same," said Cassell, who graduated from Dunbar in 1988 before going on to a 15-year career as an NBA player. "This opportunity came up to me about coming back to my alma mater, why not?”
  • Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee: I honestly don’t care if Seattle ever gets an NBA team. But I do hope Hansen is forever frustrated in his bid to be an NBA boss for the smarmy stunt he pulled in Sacramento. Here is a guy who opposes a public vote on the arena he wants to build in Seattle, but essentially finances one in Sacramento – all because he got his fancy pants in a bunch at being passed over for the Kings. The signatures his money bought – around 18,000 of them – are now apparently in the hands of locals who want an arena vote. Without them, the locals have around 3,000 signatures, maybe a little more, but nowhere near the 22,000 they need to qualify an arena vote for the June ballot. That’s why arena opponents made a gleeful announcement Tuesday that they had landed Hansen’s mother lode of signatures. They’re in business. And that announcement was followed by more Hansen buffoonery. In his public statement on the issue Tuesday, Hansen starts by saying he “inadvertently” funded the arena referendum effort. Then he said he decided to contribute to the effort before the NBA made its decision to keep the Kings in Sacramento. How can you “inadvertently” fund an effort you consciously decided to fund?

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