TrueHoop: Sacramento Kings

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.

Q&A: Kings owner Vivek Ranadive

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
10:34
AM ET
Dubin By Jared Dubin
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Adam Silver and Vivek RanadiveAP Photo/Rich PedroncelliVivek Ranadive isn't ready to throw haymakers at Adam Silver, but he does have a few suggestions.
Vivek Ranadive is an award-winning CEO, the author of three best-selling books, a black belt in taekwondo and a former national junior girls basketball coach. He's a graduate of MIT and Harvard and the founder of the multibillion dollar company TIBCO Software Inc. He’s also the majority owner of the Sacramento Kings, and he thinks taunting is cool.

We had the chance to catch up with Ranadive by phone earlier this week, and he gave us the inside scoop on the Kings' widespread use of analytics, his plan to solve tanking, and why he felt comfortable hitching the wagon of his franchise to DeMarcus Cousins.

What did you think about Malcolm Gladwell's conversation with the commissioner (Adam Silver at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference)? They touched on a lot of topics.

I think what’s most interesting is that the new commissioner is putting his mark on the NBA very quickly. He has this very open style and there are no questions that are off limits. He's inclusive; he’s open. I think he’s very quickly putting his imprint [on the league].

I had an interesting hallway conversation with him where I was talking about how, as the game becomes global, different cultures react in different ways, and that we’ve gone overboard in calling technicals when somebody celebrates. We talked a little bit about that. I said that as long as it doesn’t delay the game, then it’s part of the entertainment. What’s wrong with it? And he said, “Well, what about taunting?” And I said, “So what? I think taunting is cool.”

I happen to agree with you, but I think you might have a little bit more of a vested interest in that, considering the players on your team.

Well, the guy I was referring to about the technicals was actually Quincy Acy! And the commissioner turned around and said, “Yeah, you’re right.” One of the best parts about the early era was taunting. That was highly entertaining. He acknowledged that. What I like about him is that he’s very open and as you saw in the interview with Malcolm, nothing is off limits. He did a great job of defending why cities need to support sports teams, and I think he is doing a fantastic job.

One of the last questions Gladwell asked the commissioner was what one change he would make to the league if he had a magic wand and could change anything he wanted instantly. The commissioner said he’d increase the age limit. What would your one magic wand change be?

That’s the "V Plan." Do you want me to tell you the V Plan?

I would love to hear about the V Plan.

So, basically, we have this issue with how the draft happens and people allegedly tanking. So when I was flying back from the conference, someone looked at me and asked, “Hey, have you thought about this?” People have come up with different ideas -- this idea of The Wheel, and this and that. And so I thought about it and I came up with a solution that I believe will solve most of the issues, and I call it the V Plan.

There’s two parts to it. Part I is that you freeze the draft order at the time of the All-Star break. Then, everything [pertaining to the current lottery system] remains the same, but it’s frozen based on the standings at the All-Star break. Then there’s no gain in not playing at the highest level for the remainder of the season. That’s Part I.

Part II is that at the end of the season, the top seven teams from the Eastern Conference and the top seven teams from the Western Conference make the playoffs. Then for the eighth playoff spot, the remaining eight teams have a sudden-death, college-style playoff in a neutral venue, like Vegas in the West and Kansas or Louisville in the East. (Note: This idea is similar to Bill Simmons' "Entertaining as Hell Tournament,” first floated here and was discussed by Silver in his chat with Gladwell at the Sloan Conference.)

That would inject such excitement into the league. Teams would no longer be incentivized to lose. Their fans would have something to hope for, like a Cinderella team that got into the eighth spot. It would solve most of the issues that we’re facing with the way the draft happens right now.

There has been a lot of talk in NBA circles recently about health, sleep and injuries, with Catapult technology and things like that. How do you think that area of analytics will affect the league in the future and how heavily are you investing in it with the Kings?

We’re on the leading edge of all of that. We’re actually going to look at more data than any other team. We’re going to look at about 30 gigabytes of data, which is probably more than all the data that existed in the history of the NBA in that area.

We’re very big believers in that. The whole analytics space has gone from being one-dimensional, where you were looking at a box score, and analytics moved forward and you were still looking at player scores. Rows and columns of player scores. And now the analytics are also moving into a space-time thing. So you’re looking at spacing, and combinations of players, and you have a lot more data.

Look at Rudy Gay. You could look at one level of numbers and say, “In Toronto he’s scoring 24 points a game, so he’s great.” And then you go next level and say, “Yeah, but he’s only shooting [X] percent, so he’s terrible.” What we did is, we looked at all six years of data, we looked at spatial data, we looked at what happened with a big guy, and what would happen if he was the second or the third option. We concluded that his efficiency would go up dramatically, and sure enough, it’s gone up 20 percentage points. (Note: Gay’s true shooting percentage has increased from 46.8 with Toronto to 57.4 with Sacramento this season, a jump of 8.6 percent. His player efficiency rating, a measure of per-minute efficiency, has gone from 14.7 in Toronto to 20.5 in Sacramento.)

So we think that there’s a revolution happening. Basketball is a big data problem for me. The same will obviously apply to the draft. We’re using machine learning, and neural-network technology with the draft. It’s really hard when a player comes out after one year, to say, “Is that going to be The Guy?” So we’re looking at data to try to predict what NBA player the guy might end up looking like.

Then, of course, using preventing measures for health. I get a report every week now, where I monitor a whole bunch of metrics for our players. I’m continuously monitoring them. We’re looking at bands of certain kinds of metrics. We’re very much on the leading edge of all these areas, and we’re very committed to leveraging that.

Are you using the Catapult technology in practice?

We’re using variations of that. We actually used Catapult. There are competitors, and we’ve experimented with a variety of them. It’s measuring every single thing, and looking how that varies from week to week. I literally get a report, every single week, with a whole bunch of metrics that I look at.

Do you think that kind of data is more helpful in terms of preventing injuries or in creating custom practice schedules for a team or an individual player?

Well, both. We want to do things where we minimize the chance of injury. If you combine that kind of data with analysis, oftentimes there is a correlation between certain kinds of things and injuries. We want to get to the point where we have extremely customized training regimens for all of our players, depending on their position, their skills, their weight, and various metrics that we look at.

You went through a rather unusual hiring process when you took over the team in that you hired a coach before you hired a general manager. How did you decide to go that route, and how did you decide on Mike Malone and Pete D’Alessandro?

I had worked with Malone with the Warriors (Note: Ranadive was a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors franchise before purchasing a majority stake in the Kings) and I had the highest regard for him. I’d seen him in practice and I’d seen him in games for two years. I’d been to training sessions with him and been with him in the draft room.

He was the 21st century kind of coach that I wanted. The style of play -- we want to be like the Spurs, but exciting. We want to create a winning franchise that is a perennial contender, and we also want a strong defense, combined with up-tempo play. Malone is a coach’s son, and there was high demand for him. I knew that I wanted him, so I made a deal with him that once I bought a team, he would be my coach.

For the GM, I went through a pretty exhaustive search. What I was looking for was, I said: Who is the smartest guy? Who’s got the most passion? And who’s the hungriest? That’s how I hired people in my software company.

When I spoke to Pete, I told him, “I’ve got three other candidates that are finalists for this job, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get job. I will interview you, and most likely it will be for an assistant GM [position]. If you want to come out, come out, but the chances of you getting it are 1 percent.” He came out, and the night before I gave him a call and said, “There are just five questions I have for you,” and then he just absolutely blew me away. Blew me away. He was the kind of 21st century GM that I was looking for.

Looking at that, we don’t hold the fact that you haven’t done something against you. (Note: Malone had never been a full-time NBA head coach, nor D’Alessandro a full-time general manager.) Mark Zuckerberg was 21 when he invented Facebook. That’s just how we think.

You said you wanted to be like the Spurs, but exciting. Play up-tempo, but also have a good defense. I know your defense has improved over the course of the season, but you’re playing a little slower now than early on. How do you feel that the offense has looked, not necessarily in terms of performance, but in the aesthetics of the way you wanted to play?

I think clearly we have more work to do on offense. We have more turnovers than we would like. We need to move the ball around better. We’d like it to be more up-tempo. We have a lot of young guys on the team.

I want to basically play a new brand of position-less basketball. I want to have these super-athletic, young guys that can run and feel out the game. Guys like Rudy Gay, and Derrick Williams, these are guys who can play the 1-2-3-4 positions. There’s work to be done on offense but I think we’ve made progress.

Very soon after you took over the Kings, you gave DeMarcus Cousins a maximum contract extension. You hooked the wagon of the franchise to his back. What was it about him as a player that made you confident that he’d be able to lead the era of basketball that you’re looking to create?

He represented the 21st century player that I talk about. He’s a mismatch for just about anybody. He’s too big for the smaller guys and he’s too quick for the bigger guys. He can play facing the basket, or with his back to the basket. The game we had [March 23 against the Milwaukee Bucks], he had these amazing passes. He’s arguably the most skilled big man in the game.

He plays really hard. I know that he’s had issues with his temper and so on, but when I took over the franchise, the first thing I did was I texted him and I said, “Hey, my friend Steve Jobs likes to say ‘Let's put a dent in the universe.’ So let’s do that in the NBA.” And just like one of my kids, he sent me a three-word text back just saying, “Sounds good, boss.”

That was the start of my relationship with him and his mom. Before we gave him the contract, it was over the summertime, and I said, “Look, I just want one thing from you. I want you to be the first guy in and the last guy out. As long as you do that, we’re good.” And he did. He lost a bunch of weight; he was the hardest-working guy in practice. The coaches have done a great job with him, and his numbers reflect it. He’s had amazing numbers.

There’s still more work to be done, but I am very pleased with where he is.

Jared Dubin writes for the TrueHoop Network and is a coauthor of We'll Always Have Linsanity.

Q&A: Royce White readies for NBA debut

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
6:04
PM ET
Ham By James Ham
ESPN.com
Archive
Royce WhiteDavid Calvert/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter stints with Houston, Philly and the D-League, Royce White will finally play in an NBA game.
Royce White is going to play in the NBA. Be it tonight against the San Antonio Spurs or on Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks, the 22-year-old big man will put on a Sacramento Kings uniform and take the court, answering the question of whether he will ever play an NBA game.

The question is nearly two years in the making. It didn't work out for him in Houston or Philadelphia, and there were a few D-League experiments as well. He has been called a bust, but that is an oversimplification.

White’s story is about as complex as it gets. As the muscular former first-round pick tries to acclimate to his new team, he is not interested in delving deep into the mental health disorders that almost knocked him out of the league for good. It is a daily struggle that unfortunately has played out on a national stage.


Whether it’s tonight or whether it’s on Sunday, how excited are you to get this first game over and done with?

I’m really excited. Obviously, it’s been a long road, you know. A really up-and-down road, a lot of things involved in the road. For me to be able to get to this point, I’m just really thankful, even more so than excited. No matter what happens, I’m just thankful that I’m able to be here still and persevere through tumultuous times.

Professional sports have become a vehicle for social change over the last few years. We’ve seen it with Jason Collins. We’ve seen it with the bullying situation with the Miami Dolphins. How much do you want this to not be about trying to make change for you personally? How much do you want this to just be about basketball?

I mean, as tough as that is to get across, because of the position I was put in, as one of the first people to challenge the mental health process and procedure and things like that, it really was never about changing the landscape for me. It’s more so about surviving myself in this setting. Like I’ve said in the past, my advocacy for mental health and the way that mental health is treated extends far beyond the court and it will always be that way, whether I play, whether I don’t play. I’m playing because I love it. I’m playing because I want to. It brings me joy. Not to bring about any social change.

If this platform, with as much as we know about mental health and how important it is now, if this platform has to serve as what motivates us to change it, then we should be ashamed of ourselves.

You’ve had a little bit of time to see (the Kings). How do you fit in with this group of players? And you’ve had a little bit of time to self assess, are you good enough to be one of the best 400-plus players in the world that gets a shot on this stage?

I think I'm good enough. I don’t know who else would agree or disagree with that, but I think I’m good enough. As far as the team goes, I’m young, just like a lot of these guys. I think that kind of allows me to gel and fit in well anyway. A lot of us grew up through our high school years playing against each other, playing with each other. I still remember me and DeMarcus (Cousins) being at the first LeBron (James) camp together. We relate to each other. And as far as what I can bring -- whatever is needed. Whatever they ask, hopefully I can execute that.

Are you ready to shake the stigma as one of the highest picks ever taken in the NBA draft to never play a minute on the court?

I never really pay attention to those stats. Being close to my situation I understand that it’s far more complex than most people can ever realize. As is such with most situations. What you read in the media, the situation is far more complex than that, no matter what we’re talking about -- politics, sports, religion. It’s a complexity that on the surface you can’t really tell. Even if I was never to play a game, I understand and appreciated the process of what I’ve gone through to this point and there are people involved, so it’s tough.

Are you ready to do whatever it takes -- whatever this team needs, be it on the floor, getting on a plane, whatever it is that a regular NBA player has to deal with?

Yeah, for sure. I think so. But at the same time, I think I’ve always been ready. The misinformation age would have you believe that I wasn’t ready to do some of those things. But it’s a lot more complex than that. That’s all I can say about it.

The misinformation age, I just have to ask you, is that the age we are in? Are we in the age where you are what people read about you and think about you, regardless of whether it’s completely accurate?

Oh yeah, situations as you know, as we all know, there are always a lot more variables than you can put into words in whatever column you get or how many characters you get in a tweet or however many words your story can be on your blog. The situation has more variables than you are allowed to print most times. You don’t get three- or four-page blogs or tweets. I understand that and as much as I think that people misread what’s going on with me, at the same time, I’m not blameful to them. I just understand that that’s the landscape. And I’m OK with that.

James Ham is an editor for Cowbell Kingdom.

Jimmer Fredette says goodbye to the Kings

March, 1, 2014
Mar 1
1:45
PM ET
Ham By James Ham
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Jimmer Fredette
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesJimmer Fredette has played his last home game in Sacramento. He's hoping for more playing time.

The Jimmer Fredette era in Sacramento ended on Thursday afternoon when the Kings announced that they had reached an agreement to buy out the former BYU star. Just days after his 25th birthday, one of the most proficient long-range shooters in the game is about to become a free-agent target for some of the league's best teams.

There are too many reasons to address why Jimmer-mania didn’t work in Sacramento. Franchise instability, rotating coaches and a guard-heavy roster are just a few. The Kings franchise is in recovery mode. From the coach, to management, to ownership, everything is new.

It was clear on Oct. 31 when general manager Pete D’Alessandro decided not to pick up the former first-round pick's fourth-year option on his rookie contract, that Jimmer’s days in Sacramento were limited. He becomes the eighth Kings player to leave the roster during this whirlwind first season under new management.

Fredette took time Friday to discuss his time with the Kings, how he fits into the NBA world and what is next for the former college player of the year.

What is your takeaway from your two and a half years in Sacramento? Why do you think things didn’t work out while you were here?
You know, it was a great character-building experience for me. Obviously I appreciate the fact the the Kings even drafted me. They drafted me pretty high and it was a great opportunity for me to start my career. Sometimes things don’t work out the way that you want them to when you start your career, but it’s all about learning and becoming better and I think I’ve definitely done that.

A lot of fans don’t think you got a fair shake in Sacramento. Do you think you at least got an opportunity to show what you can do?
I was able to play well in a lot of my games in Sacramento and then there were some other games where I didn’t play so well or I wasn’t able to even get on the court or anything. But you go through ups and downs, and a lot of guys do that for their first couple of years in the NBA. That’s the way that it is and you just have to continue to work and go as hard as you can. I feel like when I got an opportunity to play, I played well and I think I showed that I can be a good player in this league and help a team out. I think I was able to accomplish that when I was able to play. Obviously, sometimes I didn’t play as much as I wanted to, but that’s OK. You just have to continue to work hard and I think I did a good job when I was presented with the minutes I was able to play and progress as a player.

You and I talked the night before the trade deadline and you didn’t know what was going to happen and it was really nerve wracking. How grateful are you that Kings, even though they weren’t able to trade you, that they came back and said, we are going to let you go somewhere else. We are going to let you finish out this season wherever you can and just move past the Sacramento experience?
I appreciate it very, very much. Vivek [Ranadive] and Pete [D’Alessandro] and everybody that was involved -- Mark Mastrov and the guys in the front office -- they were all true to their word. They said they wanted to do what was best for me and for my career and they were able to do that. Because of that, I really appreciate them and them all as human beings and as owners and front office people of the team. I think they were able to appreciate the way that I handled things and because of that, I think we had a mutual respect and we were able to get something done. It will be beneficial for both parties. So far, Vivek and Pete and these guys have done a great job with this organization and I’m appreciative of the opportunity I had here and for them being true to their word and helping me in the betterment of my career. So I appreciate them and all that they have done for me.


Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesJimmer Fredette: He shoots; he scores.
You’ve been through all of the ups and downs that has been the Sacramento Kings. Not just your own personal trials with playing time and everything else, but with the relocation sagas and the three head coaches and the whole entire new management and ownership group. How has this process been different with this group? I know that they had to make a decision to not pick up the fourth-year option on your contract, but have they been vocal with you? Have they expressed their motives for what they have done and how this has played out?
The one thing about this coach and the organization, is that they’ve always been upfront with me and told me exactly what they were thinking, which I’m very appreciative of. I knew that going in that they weren’t going to extend my contract for the next season and they said it was something they had to do. From that point on, I knew what was going on the whole time. Coach would come up to me and tell me if I was going to play or if I was out of the rotation and kind of what they wanted me to do as a player on the floor. So this group of guys has been vocal with me and communicated well with me and I think they do that with all of the players on the team now. I think the relationship they have with the players is really, really good. Better than what we’ve had in the past. So I think they’re moving forward in the right direction, they’re trying to do things the right way, which is a good thing.

This is a non-team specific question, because I know you are still deciding where you may play next, but what are you looking for in your next team? What is the criteria? Is it playing time? Is it an opportunity to win, even if it is only for 25 or so games? What are you hoping to find?
I just hope to go to a team that wants me to be a part of their roster and believes in me and wants me to help their team win. That’s what I’m all about. I just want to be a winner and a guy that goes out and helps his team play extremely hard. We play for each other and hopefully I will be able to find a team that believes in my skills and believes in the same things I believe in -- in playing for each other and playing as hard as we can every night and going out there and leaving all on the floor and hopefully being able to win. So that’s what I’m kind of looking for and hopefully I’ll be able to find that.

You’ve had enough time to do sort of a self-evaluation in this two and a half seasons in the NBA. How do you fit at the NBA level and what do you expect from yourself going forward? How do you fit in the league as a whole?
I think I fit in the league very well. I think the league is slowly and continually moving towards the 3-point shot, which is one of the strengths of my game. You always need guys to space the floor and be able to create shots for themselves, but also create for others. I think I can play on ball and I think I can play off ball and I think that’s what makes me good at this level. I can do both and I can play with different types of guards. I think that makes me useful in this league. Being able to shoot the basketball at a great percentage at the 3-point line, I think all teams are looking for that. So I think I can have a successful career in this league if I continue to work hard and believe in myself and believe in my abilities and find the right fit for me.

How do you balance your personality with your incredible following? Because you’re not “Jimmer-mania.” You’re not “You got Jimmered.” That’s not you. Those are fan creations. How do you move forward to your next situation knowing that you have a legion of fans still behind you?
I appreciate all the fans out there very much. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without the fans. I’m appreciative them and all they do to support me and still believe in me. It makes me feel good that I still have fans out there that believe in me. For myself, I just continue to be the same guy. I mean, I play basketball and that’s what I do for a living. I love it and I think it’s unbelievable that I’m able to do this and I’m in position. I know I’m very fortunate. But it doesn’t change me as a guy. I’m just still the same normal guy that I have been that came from Glens Falls, New York. I try not to change or let the hoopla get to me. I just know that basketball is fun and I have a great time with it, but that’s not ultimately the thing that makes you the happiest. Family and your relationships and your friendships, those are the things that make you happy. So if you have perspective, I think it helps you out a lot. It keeps you humble. It keeps you sane. And you don’t worry about all of the things around you. I want to be successful and I want to show the fans out there that have believed in me that I will be successful in this league someday and that I’ll play really well, but at the same time, I’m just the same normal guy.

You’ve tried things one way in Sacramento. When you go to your next team, are you going to try and do it the same way? Or when you walk into this new experience, are you going to try to be a little bit more of who you were as a college player and let it fly without worrying so much about fitting in?
That’s why I think it’s so important for me to find the right fit. A coach that believes in me. A team that believes in me to just go out and do what I do on the basketball floor. Sometimes it’s hard to play if you’re looking over your shoulder for anybody. But if I can just go out and have a mentality to play my game and be me on the floor, then I think that I’ll be very successful in this league. It’s all about finding that certain place and that’s what I’m going to try and do. Other than that, I’m going to go in and be the same guy. I want to do whatever it takes to win. That’s my mentality going into whatever team is next.

Race to the bottom

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
5:01
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Would an injured Kobe Bryant help or hurt the Lakers' chances of a top pick? Can the Pelicans lose enough games to get into the top five so they won't have to give the 76ers their 2014 draft pick? Chad Ford on tanking.

DeMarcus Cousins, fully developed

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
2:31
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
There has been debate about the temperamental Sacramento big man DeMarcus Cousins in the past. But if you don't like how he plays now, says David Thorpe, there's something wrong with you.
video

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.

 

Patching up the Bulls

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
1:22
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Amin Elhassan has ideas about how the Bulls might be able to acquire a stopgap replacement for Derrick Rose, like Isaiah Thomas or Goran Dragic. But with a great draft looming, is winning now even good strategy?

Monday Bullets

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
4:01
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • It's 363 pages on my Kindle and chock full of all kinds of hoop goodness: It's the 2013-14 Hardwood Paroxysm Season Preview, in e-book form, for only $1.99. You get fancy charts, team previews, fan fiction and illustrations, including what appears to be the cover of Grand Theft Auto: Rip City Edition.
  • Zach Lowe of Grantland on the Jazz extending big-man-of-the-future Derrick Favors, and the wisdom and limited downside of planning ahead: " If it's right, Utah will have saved itself some valuable cap space by acting early, just as Philadelphia (Jrue Holiday, now gone) and especially Golden State (Stephen Curry) did a year ago by acting in advance of restricted free agency. There are at least eight teams with the potential for max-level cap room next summer, and though a few are already crowded on the front line (Detroit, perhaps Orlando), there are at least a couple that would have loomed as potentially aggressive suitors for Favors."
  • There's a fair amount of debate inside the Wizards' locker room over who's a better poster boy for Kellogg's -- Trevor Booker, who has "at least 12 boxes of cereal" in his pantry right now, or Chris Singleton, who starts his morning with "Dexter and Fruit Loops." Also receiving votes: Ariza, Trevor.
  • There may not be a lot of height in Bhutan, but there are a ton of basketball enthusiasts in the Buddhist kingdom, including Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, who has a regular women's pickup game. According to the New York Times' Garndiner Harris, "The royal set shot is as sweet as honeyed ghee, and the royal dribble as poised as a monk in meditation." (H/T Jacob Greenberg)
  • In the Philippines they hoop in flip-flops. The Trique Indians of Oaxaca don't even bother. A team of boys from the southwestern Mexico state won a youth basketball tournament in Argentina playing barefoot.
  • There are at least two teams in the league that run what they actually call, "a Maggette play," whereby a strong, agile slasher who can drill free throws will curl up from the corner, get the ball on the move and barrel towards the rim. Corey Maggette recently retired and Aaron McGuire used the opportunity at Gothic Ginobili to pay homage to the NBA Journeyman.
  • If the Philadelphia 76ers were a player, they'd be Brian Roberts.
  • And if every Los Angeles Clipper was a Ramones song, it would look like this.
  • Point guard battle in Sacramento: Isaiah Thomas vs. Greivis Vasquez. Who ya got?
  • I love a site that goes to the trouble of inserting the diaeresis above the 'O' in Ömer Asik's name. Forrest Walker of Red94 does Turkish right, and also ponders what kind of production the Rockets need from the 4 spot this season alongside Dwight Howard.

First Cup: Wednesday

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
6:02
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
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  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Reggie Jackson is expected to serve as the emergency starter in Westbrook's absence, as he did in the Thunder's final nine playoff games following Westbrook's injury. Beyond that, though, the Thunder's first month and a half has suddenly become one big mystery. Is Jackson, who as of Tuesday morning still was projected to be the team's sixth man, now ready for a starring role? Can Kevin Durant effectively carry the load with defenses loaded up and locked in on him? How much does Derek Fisher, now 39, have left in the tank to offer as the presumable backup point guard? How good is Jeremy Lamb? Does Brooks have a backup plan? The Thunder's early-season success hinges largely on how these questions are answered. But the organization, from Thunder general manager Sam Presti to Brooks to Durant, pointed to last year's postseason as a steppingstone that prepared the Thunder for this situation and now stands as a source of confidence.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With the news that Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook would miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season because of a second knee surgery, the Rockets looked ahead to his return, rather than the play in which he was injured. Westbrook went out in Game 2 of the Rockets’ playoff series against Oklahoma City when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley collided with him while attempting a steal as Westbrook was calling time out. That inspired an angry on-court reaction from Westbrook and a backlash from Oklahoma City fans that escalated to death threats. “He’s a great athlete,” Beverley said. “I know he has the best doctors. I think he’s going to be fine. Our focus is on this upcoming season and for us to get better as a team.”
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: If this were football or baseball, there would be some debate about which is the player to beat for the title, "Greatest of All Time." In basketball, there's not. LeBron James clearly has his sights set on the guy locked in perpetual flight on the east side of the United Center. "I feel like I have the potential to continue to get better and to maximize my time while I play this game of basketball," James added. "I want to be the greatest." James is no dummy. He knows there's a long way to go before surpassing Michael Jordan. Winning championships was a necessary step and he's done that. I've always claimed there's no point trying to compare James and Jordan, because they are different players. Jordan was an alpha dog scorer who always had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Kobe Bryant is a better comparison for Jordan. Bryant gave it a good shot, but he's not going to surpass MJ as the greatest of all time. James is a stellar distributor who probably compares better to Scottie Pippen in style of play. Of course, James has gone way beyond Pippen's offensive capabilities. Instead of praising James for being a brilliant team player, he gets criticized for not being Jordan. But with these comments, James has invited those comparisons himself.
  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: If Kobe Bryant can win a sixth title, he'll match Michael Jordan's count. While the debate of who is the best player of all time is quite subjective, it's fun to mull over. Jordan added a little fuel to the fire with his comments promoting the NBA 2K14 video game, according to the Associated Press. How would Jordan fare playing one-on-one against players like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Bryant? "I don't think I would lose," said Jordan, "other than to Kobe Bryant because he steals all my moves." Bryant gave a quick response on Twitter. Domino effect. I stole some of his..this generation stole some of mine #thecycle
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It was iconic. And then it was gone. Now, apparently,LeBron James is about to again take a powder. Hidden as a hashtag on an Instagram post referencing his placement on the cover of the just released edition of theNBA 2K14 video game came this early Wednesday morning: #PowderTossComingBackToAnArenaNearYou Given up amid his turn for the serious as part of his successful bids for NBA championships the past two seasons, James can be seen on the 2K14 cover displaying the powder toss, as seen in the Instagram he sent out. … In the absence of the real thing, teammates Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller andJames Jones last season emulated James' iconic chalk toss in a pregame ritual, as James already was awaiting the pregame toss at center court. The NBA last season instituted a time limit on pregame rituals, forcing Heat guard Dwyane Wade to somewhat speed up his fullcourt fan salute, with the penalty otherwise a delay-of-game warning (the second and each subsequent of which is accompanied by a technical foul). Now, LeBron will find himself, and his powder, on the pregame clock.
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony privately pined for a secondary scorer in the offseason. And so far, after the first practice of training camp, Anthony is talking like he has got one in the Knicks’ key offseason acquisition, Andrea Bargnani. Anthony even said he would be willing to slide over from power forward to small forward to make room in the starting lineup for the 6-foot-11 Italian. Anthony also tried taking the pressure off Bargnani, who became the scapegoat in Toronto after failing to become an All-Star after being No. 1 overall pick in 2006. “There ain’t no pressure on him,” Anthony said of Bargnani handling the move to New York. “You come in and do what you got to do and play ball. All the pressure’s on me. It should be easy for him. It should be an easy transition for him, adjusting. Just do it the right way, it should be easy for him.’’ Bargnani played just 66 of a possible 152 regular-season games the past two seasons for the Raptors, because of various injuries, prompting the June 29 trade. Bargnani said no matter what Anthony says, there always is pressure as a Knick.
  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Forget 57 regular-season wins for the Nuggets. That's not going to happen. But here is the real goal for the local NBA team: No more wimpy basketball. The Nuggets have a new way to play. "Smashmouth basketball," new Denver coach Brian Shaw said. I asked Shaw to define his terms. What qualifies as smashmouth basketball? "Smashmouth means that you are literally going to get your mouth smashed if you're going against us for a rebound or a loose ball," Shaw said. "We want to have a nasty disposition, both offensively and defensively." Shaw is not a smarter coach than his predecessor, George Karl. But here's betting Shaw will be a tougher coach than Karl. Karl beat cancer. Twice. So props to him for a huge personal victory. In Denver, however, Karl's teams looked for a soft spot to land in the playoffs, and set up excuses to all but guarantee an early exit from the postseason would happen. … The Nuggets of Karl were soft. The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies are hard. If you can't win with the talent of LeBron James, you had better be mean. Welcome to smashmouth basketball.
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Monty Williams said Tuesday he has been thinking about distribution of playing time for this group since it was assembled this summer, but seems set on having Evans, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith come off the bench with the second platoon, leaving open the point guard spot for either Austin Rivers or Brian Roberts. "I think it will become more clear as we see certain guys on the floor in practice and how they jell," said Williams. Rivers said he's not fearful about his place in the rotation, nor the amount of minutes he'll play. "You look at our team, and don't take my word for it, but I think Tyreke is going to come off the bench and I think I'm going to come off the bench," he said. "Depending on how Eric feels, I could be starting at the two. I could be starting at the two, or coming off the bench with Ryan Anderson and Tyreke. That's not a bad second group. I'm not really worried about my minutes. Me and Jrue were talking about this at dinner. Our second group is just as good as our first group." It's evident that whatever discomfort Rivers might have experienced in June has dissipated, as has any uncertainty about his place on the court. "I love my coach. I love the coaches, the new facility, new name, new team," he said.
  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: Royce White knows he’s not physically where he wants or needs to be. But after not playing in any NBA games during his rookie year with the Rockets, at least partially due to an anxiety disorder and fear of flying, White is grateful to just be setting picks and finding open teammates at 76ers camp. “At the same time last year, I wasn’t even in training camp,” White said. “So this is a big improvement from eight, nine months ago. I’m just happy to be here right now, happy my body’s holding up.” White doesn’t know what his role with the Sixers will be. He ran with the second team during Monday’s scrimmage. But he plans to fly to Northern Spain with his Sixers teammates Thursday in preparation for Sunday’s preseason game against Bilbao. For him, that’s a start. “To me, the most important thing is making it to the first preseason game and being here for the team,” he said. Sixers coach Brett Brown has been encouraged by what he’s seen from White through four days of camp.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If third-year center Bismack Biyombo feels threatened by the Charlotte Bobcats adding big men Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller, you wouldn’t know it from his approach. Biyombo started 80 of 82 games last season, averaging 4.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. After the season, the Bobcats used the fourth pick on Zeller and signed Jefferson to a 3-year, $40.5 million contract. Biyombo likely isn’t starting this season, but he doesn’t see himself as extraneous. “My job is the same as it was last year – be a defender, protect the paint, rebound, block shots. Nothing is going to change,” he said after the first practice of training camp at UNC Asheville. The Bobcats drafted Biyombo seventh overall in 2011. He’s a long athlete and tough guy, but he arrived in Charlotte from the Spanish League with minimal offensive skill. That hasn’t changed much. New coach Steve Clifford has told Biyombo not to fret about what he can’t yet do.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Jimmer Fredette would have to fend off rookie Ray McCallum just to be the third point guard behind Isaiah Thomas and Greivis Vasquez. Things aren't easier for Fredette at shooting guard by Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore. There are possible three-guard lineups but it won't be easy cracking the rotation, regardless. What would help Fredette would be having a defined role. "We didn't know what the rotation was (last season)," Fredette said. "Guys didn't know if they were going to play one game and not the next so you just had to try to stay ready and prepare as much as you can. It's hard for players to be able to do that but you're professionals so that's what you have to do. Hopefully this year we'll have more of a set rotation so we'll know when we're going to play and who we're going to play with."
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The immediate inclination is to compare Vitor Faverani to Fab Melo. Both are from Brazil and are within an inch or two height-wise, and, hey, those are some simple dots to connect even for a sportswriter. But after a brief look at this year’s model and several conversations with Celtics types at the first day of training camp, the notion was rejected. With authority. The two are said to be miles apart at this stage. “Vitor’s a player,” we were advised. “Fab’s a project.” The Celts gave up on Melo after just one year. While there may have been some salary cap concerns in his trade to Memphis, they would have held onto him if they thought he could be what they hoped. Same for the Grizzlies, who released Melo. He’s now in camp with Dallas. And while Melo reigned mainly in D-League Maine last season, Faverani could easily make his way into the Celtics rotation right away. Teams have a way of finding a place for people who shoot well and like to hit people.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Tap. Tap. Tap. It was a little after midnight when the knock on the hotel door arrived. Nicolas Batum was tired. He was frustrated. He was anxious. And he was just about ready to call it a night. But it was the evening before the European Championship title game and it was a curious time for a visit, so Batum swung open the door to see who was standing outside his room in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Staring back at him was Tony Parker, his teammate on the French national team and one of the NBA's premier point guards. Batum's friend wanted to chat. "I had messed up in the semifinals — had a baaaad game — and he came to me before the final," Batum said, recalling the unexpected face-to-face. "He said, 'Tomorrow's game is going to be your game. We need you. If we're going to win, you've got to lead us.' When a guy like that comes to you, before the biggest game of your life, and says 'you have to show the way, you have to be the man,' it gives you a lot of confidence." It was the latest in a long line of mentoring moments by Parker, and it was perhaps the most meaningful. A day later Batum answered the challenge, recording a team-high 17 points, six rebounds and two steals — while playing tenacious defense — as France beat Lithuania 80-66 to claim its first major championship
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Samuel Dalembert hopes to do this season for the Dallas Mavericks what Tyson Chandler was able to accomplish during the 2010-11 campaign. Chandler joined the Mavericks on July 13, 2010, via a trade with the Charlotte Bobcats. The fiery, athletic center came to Dallas as a wounded warrior, having navigated his way through a series of injuries and saddled with lingering questions about his health. However, Chandler used his hustle, grit and determination to change the Mavericks’ culture with his tenacious defense and ability to protect the rim. His contributions were extremely instrumental in the Mavs winning the 2011 NBA championship. Fast forward to Dalembert, who left the Milwaukee Bucks via free agency over the summer. While surveying the NBA landscape, he knew the Mavericks would become a perfect fit for his style of play. In essence, Dalembert (6-foot-11, 250 pounds) realized he was the right player to fill the role Chandler once occupied. “I just looked at things from last year, and this team just needed one more ingredient,” the 32-year old Dalembert said after Tuesday’s first practice of training camp. “We can score — scoring is no issue for us. “It’s just the defense and giving up second-chance opportunities.” Small forward Shawn Marion welcomes a player such as Dalembert, who can protect the rim. … Power forward Dirk Nowitzki also sees value in the Mavericks signing Dalembert to a two-year, $7.5 million contract in July.
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Power forward Tristan Thompson acknowledges that there's no blueprint for switching his dominant hand from left to right in the middle of his career. He even joked about learning more about who he is. "I'm 22,'' he said during media day on Monday. "I'm trying to figure it out.'' He said he actually is ambidextrous, writing, eating and golfing left-handed while bowling, and now shooting, right-handed. Why did he ever think he was a left-handed player? "Because I wrote with my left hand, and I thought if you write with your left hand, you've got to shoot with your left hand.''
  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Rudy Gay had off-season PRK laser eye surgery, and while it was only a 10-minute procedure, it was a big deal for Gay who sees clearly now. He just doesn’t know how long it has been since his vision went. “I don’t know at all,” he said when asked what his vision was corrected from. “I just know I could barely get my license, so it was pretty bad and I didn’t know it. Obviously I feel a lot better going into the season a little bit more confident.” … For now Gay is downplaying the eye procedure and how it has changed things for him. His fear is that people are going to automatically credit a 10-minute surgery for the improved shooting he fully expects fans will be witness to this season. Gay says he worked too damn hard in the off-season on his shooting for that to be the case. He says that on a light day he was putting up 300 shots but said it was an everyday thing for him. “I worked a lot,” he said. “Every day I was committed to becoming a better shooter.” Casey is of the firm belief that eye surgery is only going to be part of the reason Gay comes back and improves on the .416 shooting percentage he had a year ago, down from .455 the previous year.
  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: Kendall Marshall will tell you that there is “no question” in his mind that he can succeed in the NBA. He’s got about one month to convince the Suns, who selected him with the 13th pick of the 2012 NBA draft. And Marshall has no time to waste, beginning at training camp, which opened Tuesday in Flagstaff, and during the club’s seven-game preseason schedule, which begins against Maccabi Haifa on Monday night at US Airways Center. Lance Blanks, the general manager who drafted Marshall, is gone. There also is a new coaching staff. And there is a Suns roster loaded with point guards and “combo” guards — players who can play off the ball or in a playmaking role. For Marshall, the witching hour falls on Halloween. That’s the NBA deadline for teams to exercise a team option in rookie salary-scale contracts for players drafted in the first round the previous year. First-round picks get a four-year deal, but only the first two years are guaranteed. So, teams must decide before a player’s second regular season begins whether to guarantee a third year. If the Suns don’t see enough from Marshall in the next month, they aren’t likely to exercise the option.

First Cup: 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: Wednesday

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

First Cup: Tuesday

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

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 2½ 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?

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: James Worthy has one concern about Kobe Bryant, and it has nothing to do with whether he will recover from a torn left Achilles tendon. Worthy, who won three NBA titles with the Lakers during the Showtime Era and is an analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, openly wondered if Bryant will adjust his aggressiveness out of health and personnel concerns. “One of the biggest challenges for Kobe this year is, can he step back?” Worthy said. “He’s been in the league for 17 years, has a lot of miles on the body and has had a lot of injuries. Can he find a game that will allow other guys to flourish?” Bryant has steadily progressed on his injured left Achilles tendon, but has yet to resume basketball-related activities.
  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant continues to move forward in his rehabilitation from a torn Achilles' tendon, though theLakers are unwilling to put an updated timetable on his exact return. "He's progressing well and has met all the targets and milestones of his rehab, and we expect him to make a full recovery," Lakers spokesman John Black told The Times on Monday. "One of the key issues is to make sure he builds up strength and endurance not only in his Achilles but also in his legs, knees, back and core." Bryant's initial timetable called for at least six to nine months of recovery after he was injured April 12 against Golden State. The more optimistic part would put him in play for two Lakers exhibition games in China next month, though Bryant is expected to miss the Lakers' entire eight-game preseason schedule that ends Oct. 25. The Lakers begin the regular season Oct. 29 against the Clippers. It is unknown if Bryant will be back in time. "We're going to avoid giving a target return date until he's doing full weight-bearing running and on-court basketball activities, at the earliest," Black said.
  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Ten months from now, Anthony will probably opt out of his Knicks contract, sign a five-year deal for $129 million and happily resume his role as the basketball prince of Broadway. Anthony loves New York, and New York loves Anthony, playoff failures notwithstanding. He has every reason to stay: the money, the market, the chance to be the savior who ends the Knicks’ 40-year championship drought. It was only two and a half years ago that Anthony forced the Denver Nuggets to send him here. It seems unlikely he would leave so soon. But a lot can change in 10 months, and the specter of Anthony’s free agency will shadow the Knicks all season, just as the threat of his departure loomed over the Nuggets three years ago. … New York is still New York. But there is another city that can offer heady doses of fame, fortune and brand promotion, and it happens to be home to the N.B.A.’s most glamorous franchise. The Los Angeles Lakers will have millions in salary-cap room next summer, and a powerful recruiter in Kobe Bryant, one of Anthony’s closest friends. Per N.B.A. rules, the Lakers could offer Anthony only $96 million over four years. But they can offer something the Knicks cannot: a tradition of success, a knack for acquiring and building around superstars, and a habit of staging parades in June. Maybe Anthony isn’t going anywhere, as he asserted last week. But verbal commitments and loyalty are malleable concepts in professional sports. Nothing means anything until the contract is signed.
  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: From Russia with … nothing shady. That was the finding of a “thorough” NBA investigation into the Nets’ summer signing of free agent forward Andrei Kirilenko, multiple league sources told The Post. The league, after getting complaints from at least one other team that suggested improper agreements, examined the signing and found nothing against the rules. Kirilenko, who made roughly $10 million in Minnesota last season, opted out of the final year of his Timberwolves’ deal and took the Nets’ $3.1 mini-midlevel exception. In doing so, he triggered a wave of anger and suspicion. Rivals owners and executives intimated under-the-table deals existed between Kirilenko and Russian countryman Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets’ billionaire owner. At least one owner – possibly more – complained to the league. “When there is a formal complaint, the league will look into it,” said one league official who spoke in generalities and refused comment on the Kirilenko issue.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The closest Goran Dragic gets to NBA help is Rasho Nesterovic serving as a mentor in the program. Beno Udrih is not playing. Dragic’s brother, Zoran, was a Houston summer-league player last year. Spain, second only to the U.S. in world basketball, threw Rubio, Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio Llull and Rudy Fernandez at Dragic in waves to wear him down. Slovenia won 78-69, with 18 points and seven rebounds from Dragic. “Every punch they threw at him, he had a counterpunch,” Chris Thomas said. “We’ve had stretches where he’s put the entire team on his back and carried us, especially offensively. “We look to him a lot for those bailout shots at the end of the shot clock or where we just have to get something going. We throw the ball to him and expect him to create. The ball just finds its way to him.” As Slovenia’s tempo increased in recent games, so did Dragic’s scoring. His temperament has been different, too. The cordial 27-year-old who once lacked confidence became surly in a pre-tournament exhibition when he was ejected for shoving a Turkish guard for some post-whistle contact. “I don’t know if it’s the pride of putting on a jersey with your home country on it or if he’s turning the corner as far as being that feisty, gritty, gutsy guy that I know he is now, but hopefully he’ll bring it back to Phoenix with him,” Thomas said.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: But Jose Calderon is willing to try. And while he joins the Mavericks as a B-lister who has been functional but not dynamic throughout his career, he’s a point guard in the same mold as Nash and Kidd – one who has the ability to lead the league in assists and who can make a shot when defenses disregard him. And he brings a wealth of knowledge, both at the NBA and international level, while also being still in his prime. He will turn 32 later this month. … What Calderon does best is take care of business – and the basketball. While he’s probably a little more conservative when he’s running the point than Nash or Kidd, Calderon had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.11 last season. Only Chris Paul at 4.26 had a better average and no other player in the league was better than Jason Kidd’s 3.28 assists per turnover. Calderon’s average last season was right on his career norm of 4.13 assists per turnover. … Anyway, it’s clear that there are numbers to support the Mavericks’ hope that Calderon will be the sort of stabilizing influence they want at the point. He’s almost always at the top of the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Most importantly, he’s going to have to show that he can run a quality team that is adamant about getting back in the playoffs, something the Mavericks missed last season for the first time since 2000. It’s worth noting that Calderon has only one playoff start in his career and his teams have missed the postseason the last five years.
  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: It is highly unlikely that center Greg Oden or forward Michael Beasley will be central to the cause, and moderately unlikely that either will play even a peripheral part. Still, there is intrigue in their additions, especially at the cost – a combined $1.9 million for the 2013-14 season, with only Oden’s deal even guaranteed. There is intrigue because of what they were (first team collegiate All-Americans) and what they were supposed to become (with Oden picked No. 1 overall in 2007 and Beasley chosen No. 2 overall in 2008). There is intrigue because of the way each has fallen short, the oft-injured Oden through much less fault of his own. The masses love a comeback story, and many will find their updates more interesting, especially in the preseason, than anything that James, Wade and Bosh do. There are many questions, none with entirely knowable answers. Still, if Riley can take a shot on these two guys, certainly we can take a shot at some predictions. What are the chances that both make the team? Good. In Oden’s case, it’s nearly a guarantee, unless he gets so frustrated with his rehabilitation that he calls it off himself. Miami is committed to the long game with him and, even if he doesn’t show early progress, he will get one of 15 spots. Beasley will be on the court from the start, barring complications from his legal issues, and his skills are sufficient to earn him a slot over someone like Jarvis Varnado.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: The Wizards made its off-season, front-office reshuffling official Monday with the key move being the promotion of Tommy Sheppard to senior vice president of basketball operations. Sheppard already was a vice president of operations along with Milt Newton, who recently left the Wizards to become general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Newton was over personnel. … Sheppard's responsibilities have expanded to include salary cap management, draft preparation, college and pro talent evaluation, statistical analysis and recruitment of free agents and handling day-to-day basketball operations. The other promotions: Ed Tapscott to vice president of player programs; Pat Sullivan to assistant coach; Brett Greenberg to director of basketball analytics/salary cap management; Bryan Oringher to video coordinator; and Ryan Richman to assistant video coordinator. The latter two are in their first seasons with the organization.
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: No one knows if the introduction would have eventually happened. But it was Mark Aguirre who introduced Mark Cuban to Ross Perot Jr., thus leading to the ownership change of the Dallas Mavericks. That meeting occurred in the latter half of 1999. By Jan. 4, 2000, Perot’s sale of the Mavericks to Cuban for $285 million was finalized. … What made Aguirre even think Cuban would be interested in purchasing the Mavericks? Before winning NBA titles with Detroit in 1989 and ’90, Aguirre was a three-time All-Star with the Mavericks from 1981 until being traded to the Pistons on Feb. 15, 1989. He had witnessed Cuban’s enthusiasm for the Mavericks since Cuban had season tickets near courtside at Reunion Arena and was always one to voice his opinion. “When somebody is that enthusiastic and you see them night in and night out, you can’t help but remember them,” said Aguirre. “So I knew him.” When asked about the importance of Aguirre’s introduction to him buying the Mavericks, Cuban said: “It was everything.”
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: When the news broke that the Pelicans had signed a free-agent guard, it seemed as though it was the last position New Orleans needed to bolster. The Pelicans had acquired Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans earlier in the summer, to go along with a trio of returning guards in Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts. But Morrow's career statistics would indicate his long-range shooting accuracy would be a perfect backcourt complement to the frontcourt deep threat of Ryan Anderson, giving the Pelicans a potentially dynamic off-the-bench duo that could either stretch a lead or provide the firepower to play catch-up. Morrow, a career 45 percent shooter (.424 from beyond the 3-point line) has also played some small forward, an area in which the Pelicans can desperately use an offensive upgrade.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Partly because of the intense interest – for obvious reasons – in the Kings' regular-season opener Oct. 30 against the Denver Nuggets at Sleep Train Arena, the team and KXTV Ch. 10 came up with a unique format for the 2013-14 tipoff: a commercial-free telecast. The opener is the first of 11 games Ch. 10 will telecast this season. Comcast SportsNet remains the Kings' primary broadcasting partner and will televise 70 games, with ESPN taking the remaining game – Nov. 15 against the Detroit Pistons at Sleep Train Arena. "Opening night is going to be such a celebration, a new chapter in the journey," Kings president Chris Granger said. "It's going to be a sellout, so we have been thinking about ways to include more people. This (commercial-free telecast) seemed like a way to do that, and fortunately, News10 was more than willing to partner with us."
  • Dan Nakaso of The Oakland Tribune: Even before the basketball season begins, the Golden State Warriors are winning -- off the court. The team already has sold more than 14,000 season tickets, a franchise record, and will set another franchise record with 17 appearances in nationally televised games. And in guard Stephen Curry, they have one of the league's most marketable stars, one who stokes the team's fervent fan base and gives the Warriors a great shot of winning on the court as well. "The Warriors may be young and up-and-coming, but they've already proven that they can perform in the playoffs," said Amy Brooks, a former Stanford guard who now serves as senior vice president for marketing and business operations for the NBA. "The Warriors have historically had a very loyal and passionate fan base. Their recent success has just driven this to a higher level."

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