TrueHoop: San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard was a candidate for Finals MVP, and he's only 14th on the list of elite young NBA players compiled by ESPN Insiders David Thorpe, Kevin Pelton and Amin Elhassan. That means a lot of things, including that good times are ahead for the NBA. Elhassan joins us to discuss.
November, 22, 2013
By Andrew McNeill
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
AP Photo/Eric GayThe Spurs are banking on the same old formula once again, but with a few fresh new looks.Apart from a single photo from each of their four championship seasons, there are few reminders of the San Antonio Spurs’ rich history near their locker room at the AT&T Center. Down a long white hallway where action shots of each of San Antonio’s active players are displayed, the title photos -- those uncomfortable team portraits with everyone from the equipment manager to team owner -- hang above metal boxes into which television stations plug their equipment. Cameras, microphones and small monitors are often left sitting on the floor under these team photos as people go about their business before the game. It is the messy part of an empty wing, far from a cherished section designed to immortalize Spurs teams reaching the ultimate achievement.
In the players’ lockers hang jerseys with accents that are oh, so familiar. Like it has for years, white trim outlines the black for the numbers 21, 20 and 9 and black lettering for the names “Duncan,” “Ginobili” and “Parker.” But these days they sometimes sit atop a camouflage pattern, a tribute to San Antonio’s large military community, or a silver alternate with a large single spur on the front.
AP Photo/Eric GayHas the sun finally set on San Antonio's dynasty?
The Spurs have won at least 50 games in 14 straight seasons, an NBA record. They’ve had the same coach for 18 seasons, the same star player for 16 seasons and the same “Big Three” for about a decade. It’s a franchise steeped in history.
But amid all the consistency, this franchise is constantly evolving. San Antonio was one of the early adopters of the SportVU camera tracking system. Last season, the Spurs became the first team in NBA history to go text-free when they debuted their gray alternate jerseys, declining to put a city or nickname on the front of the jersey and simply featuring that spur on the chest. There is now an in-house DJ for home games and, to my knowledge, Gregg Popovich has yet to order his execution. Tim Duncan (37 years old) and Manu Ginobili (36) will be retired soon enough, but the maturation of Kawhi Leonard (22) has the team optimistic about its future.
There are changes to this roster, but on the floor the product has been maintained, and that continuity is paramount. Twelve players return from a team that finished an excruciating 28 seconds away from an NBA title last season. Ten of those players were on San Antonio’s roster the previous year, when the Spurs squandered a 2-0 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals.
After San Antonio dispatched the Grizzlies in a four-game sweep in last season’s Western Conference finals, the message resonating from San Antonio was about how happy the team was to get Duncan back to the NBA Finals. “We really want to do it for him,” Tony Parker said at the time, pleased he was able to make good on a promise he made to Duncan. The team sounded like a happy family relieved to get one more time together before life took each their separate ways. Some wondered if Duncan would retire after the season.
It was an understandable feeling. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Popovich know more than anyone how difficult the road to the Finals is, how many things have to fall into place in order to play into June. The Spurs were as healthy as they had ever been last season. Duncan has battled a deteriorating left knee over the second half of his career, but played 69 regular-season games and produced his best per-game averages in three years. Even Ginobili, who is usually good for one catastrophic injury per season, only dealt with small injuries of the soft tissue variety and played 60 games during the regular season.
Now after 103 games in 2012-13 and a summer full of international play for some of the team, including Parker, this Spurs team is going to play another 100 games and make it back to the Finals?
Yet a quick survey of the Western Conference suggests there’s no reason San Antonio can’t do just that. Every other West contender -- the Thunder, Clippers, Rockets and Warriors -- has a fatal flaw greater than San Antonio. And unlike the Spurs, they’re all figuring it out on the fly.
Questions persist about the mental and emotional toll Game 6 of last season's Finals had on the team, when the Spurs couldn’t secure a defensive rebound to clinch the series and ended up losing in overtime. “I think about Game 6 every day,” Popovich concedes. Other Spurs have similar stories, and who can blame them? San Antonio was seconds from being crowned champion, only to watch it disappear in a tangle of gold ropes on the AmericanAirlines Arena court in Miami. Two days later, in Game 7, the Spurs fell again.
AP Photo/Eric GayDespite a crushing loss to Miami in the NBA Finals, things are looking up once again in San Antonio.
But the NBA season is such a long one. By the time the playoffs roll around Game 6 will seem like an eternity ago. The Spurs realize the painful memories will linger, never to go away completely, but there’s nothing they can do but play their way through it. It hasn’t gotten in their way so far: The Spurs currently sit at the top of the Western Conference with a 10-1 record, their best start through 11 games since 2010-11 when San Antonio began the season 13-1.
Aided in large part by the lack of getting-to-know-you period that so many other teams around the league are experiencing, the Spurs are second in the league in defensive efficiency behind the only other 10-1 team, the Indiana Pacers. The offense resides in the middle of the pack right now, but if San Antonio regains its rhythm and Duncan improves on his nightmarish 38 percent shooting, the offense will creep closer to elite once again.
The Spurs built an empire upon incorporating new aspects to an aging foundation. Young players joined with older to continue a winning tradition in San Antonio, while the organization finds new ways to make this classic franchise one advancing with the times. Imitated -- not quite duplicated -- around the league, the Spurs continue chasing history. Sometimes personnel changes are required for survival, but the Spurs are confident that continuity and a healthy mental state is enough to frame one more 12-by-18 team photo on the white walls outside their locker room.
Tom Haberstroh, Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Henry Abbott to discussed Heat at Nets, Spurs at Lakers and more.
TrueHoop TV Live happened Friday at 2p ET. You can watch the rebroadcast, or on the Spreecast website.
TrueHoop TV Live happened Friday at 2p ET. You can watch the rebroadcast, or on the Spreecast website.
- Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Perhaps not since the Los Angeles Clippers used the No. 1 selection in the 1998 NBA draft on Pacific center Michael Olowokandi has there been a top pick who has flown under the radar more than Anthony Bennett. The Cavaliers shocked the experts June 27 when they selected the UNLV power forward. Very few people saw that coming. There are very few expectations being placed on his broad shoulders. Normally, the No. 1 pick comes to a team that needs him to produce right away. “I’m cool with it,” Bennett said. “I’m chillin’.” Cavs coach Mike Brown said the lack of pressure will benefit both the rookie and the organization. “It’s a terrific situation for not only Bennett, but for us,” he said. “He can come along slowly, and if he blossoms early, it’s a bonus for everybody. “We don’t have to rely on a teenager because of the depth we have.” Unbeknownst to Brown, Bennett turned 20 years old on March 3. The veteran coach said he’s keeping a close eye on Bennett. “Yesterday, I felt he was in a fog, running in 15 inches of mud,” he said. “It’s down to nine inches of mud now.”
- Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey listened to the question about his predecessor, Kevin O’Connor, and smiled. No, he hasn’t retired. In fact, O’Connor will continue to play an important role for the franchise, although his home base will be in South Carolina. "Kevin’s job," Lindsey said, "is to make sure I don’t mess up." Not true, of course. O’Connor remains the Jazz’s executive vice president of basketball operations, but he is no longer the team’s primary decision-maker. That job belongs to Lindsey and his new assistant general manager, Justin Zanik. O’Connor will scout for the Jazz, in addition to offering advice when Lindsey or Zanik ask for it, which will probably be often. Lindsey’s working relationship with O’Connor, you see, has evolved into a trusting friendship in the 13 months he has been Utah’s GM. So it’s difficult to imagine with Jazz moving forward without O’Connor’s fingerprints remaining on the franchise. "I’m wearing him out," Lindsey said. "He’s been such a good friend. He’s moved from friend to confidant. He provides great feedback, counsel [and] humor, which in this business is very important. I just can’t say enough about him." O’Connor joined the Jazz in 1999, when Scott Layden was hired by the New York Knicks.
- Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Whether or not Deron Williams’ weight contributed to last season’s ankle problems is a subjective assumption, but he finds himself in a similar position this season, only slimmer. The other difference is caution, and an understanding that it’s not worth risking aggravation or further injury in training camp. Weeks after spraining his ankle and suffering a bone bruise, Williams was still on the sideline Wednesday at Duke University, under orders to remove himself from drills involving cutting and contact. The Nets are clearly prepared to sit Williams for all seven preseason games, so there are no repeats of Nassau Coliseum. “We are in a different stage with the team. You don’t feel you’ve got to have (Deron) on the court,” GM Billy King said. “We’d like to practice, but the goal now is to get him as healthy as possible, so that when he does go, there’s no setbacks. There is no need for him to have a setback in day two that sets him back so you’re not ready for opening day (Oct. 30 at Cleveland).”
- Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden and Dwight Howard took a short trip down memory lane after practice Wednesday. When asked about playing each other last year in Los Angeles, Harden remembered a specific play, where he scored on Howard and made it look easy. “In LA last year against the Lakers, I was coming full speed down the court, left to right, he shifted one way completely and I just laid the ball up,” Harden said. Howard, too, remembers the encounter. Howard said that Harden’s Euro step is what caused him trouble. “He is lefthanded for one,” Howard said. “That is tough to defend. I remember last season when we played I was running back full speed. I got in front of him and I was like ‘I’m gonna set him up for a blocked shot.’ And he did some kind of Euro step real fast and he went past my shoulder and I was like ‘Man, I wasn’t even expecting that,’ so it’s pretty sick.” Howard said his Euro step doesn’t match up to Harden’s.
- John Reid of The Times-Picayune: When New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams puts in his backups this season, he doesn't want a drastic dropoff in production that occurred frequently last season. In a push to strengthen his bench, Williams plans to use swingman Tyreke Evans as a backup rather than as a starter, although he's one of their most talented players. Despite that starting shooting guard Eric Gordon's durability remains in question and starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu struggled with inconsistency as a midrange scorer last season, Williams thinks Evans can make a bigger impact playing with the second unit with forwards Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. Evans appears to have embraced his new role, although it's not certain yet if he will play more at shooting guard or small forward. "It’s a different situation for me, but it’s exciting that I’m going to play with these guys,’’ Evans said. "It’s going to help me out a lot and help them.'' It's likely when the Pelicans play their preseason opener Saturday at the Houston Rockets, their starters will be Jrue Holiday at point guard, Anthony Davis at power forward, Greg Stiemsma at center, Aminu at small forward and possibly Anthony Morrow at shooting guard in place of Gordon, who is likely to miss the first two weeks of preseason games to improve his conditioning after going through rehabilitation the entire offseason to recover from ankle surgery in May.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: How you feel about Marco Belinelli will likely depend on how you feel about Manu Ginobili. Make no mistake — Belinelli is no Ginobili. Rather, he’s a watered-down version of the aging yet still-potent dynamo the Spurs had no doubts about re-signing even after a wildly inconsistent Finals. Considering Ginobili, at 36, is a watered-down version of his own best self, that isn’t a ringing endorsement. But for a Spurs team with minimal cap space after bringing back Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, and a need for another multi-talented guard to lighten the load on Ginobili and Tony Parker, Belinelli was a practical choice. If Matt Bonner is Winter Shoes, the Italian journeyman is Christmas Socks: Thoroughly underwhelming, but useful nonetheless. With Gary Neal gone and the true back-up point guard role still unsettled, the Spurs will rely on their lone offseason acquisition of consequence in a big way. “He’s going to enter in our plans significantly, and quickly,” head coach Gregg Popovich said.
- Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: “To me, the closest comparison to Paul George on this team is Quincy Miller,” Brian Shaw said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know much about him when I got here and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. He is really, really talented. At 6-10 he can handle the ball. When he gets his feet set he can shoot it from the outside and he’s got that – he smiles and he’s a nice guy when you see him, but he has a nasty disposition about himself when he’s out there on the floor. He has pretty good footwork. When I got to Indiana I didn’t know very much about Paul George. And then when I got there and I started working with him, I was like ‘wow, this guy could really be good if he puts in the work.’ Paul was very inquisitive; asked me a lot of questions, picked my brain about Kobe (Bryant), because Paul grew up in the L.A. area. He’s been asking me a lot of questions about Kobe and about Paul as well. So, it reminds me of that situation.”
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Humbled by a disappointing sophomore campaign with the Washington Wizards, Jan Vesely was a beaten-down man trying to piece together his shattered confidence at the start of the summer. He took a month off from the game to spend time with family and friends back home, then began the process of rebuilding the player who was selected by the Wizards with the sixth overall pick in 2011. “To realize that you are on the bottom and you have to get back,” Vesely said this week of his offseason motivation, “that’s the only thing I was thinking.” After taking baby steps through Wizards summer league in Las Vegas, Vesely represented his native country at the European championships, where he was a high-energy jumping jack. “Finally, I just enjoy basketball again,” the 7-footer explained. Vesely played multiple positions for the Czech Republic, ran the floor with abandon, rebounded and was a dominant force with few plays called for him, eliciting chants of “Honza,” his nickname, from the crowd.
- Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: This season Dallas Mavericks fans will see a lot less of Jae Crowder. No, the Mavericks have no plans of cutting into the 17.3 minutes per game Crowder averaged last season as a rookie. It’s just that Crowder went on a diet this summer and trimmed down from the 240 pounds he played at last season down to 225. The weight loss came at the request of the Mavericks, who felt Crowder could have more of an impact if he was a bit slimmer. “We just felt that it would facilitate him being much more effective as a multi-position player, and he’s done that,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s shown discipline, he’s shown his will to work. “I think that bodes as well for him as anything that he’s done here.” A small forward and shooting guard, Crowder said he addressed his weight issues by going on a strict diet.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The town of Bar, Montenegro, sits on the Adriatic Sea. During the day, its 20,000 inhabitants flock to beaches and coffeehouses. On warm nights, people stroll along one of the main streets, giving the place a family atmosphere. Historic churches and picturesque mountains dot the landscape. Nik Vucevic never expected to be well-known there. His family moved to Bar during his teenage years, and he's spent the last several years in the U.S. But everywhere he went in Bar during the offseason, random strangers stopped him and congratulated him for how he played during his first season with the Orlando Magic. … Vucevic ended last season with nine consecutive double-doubles. Word of his exploits circulated throughout Montenegro. When Vucevic was a child, he often approached pro players for autographs. One of his favorite players was Yugoslavian point guard Aleksandar Djordjevic. A few months ago, when Vucevic returned home, children often approached him.
- Eric Koreen of the National Post: The relationship between Kyle Lowry and head coach Dwane Casey was a constant point of conversation last year. While the two never publicly lit into each other, there were certainly some growing pains as the frequently cantankerous Lowry tried to mesh with the occasionally stern Casey. So, it was noteworthy when Casey praised Lowry on Wednesday, unprompted. “He’s really set the tone,” Casey said when asked if anybody had surprised him so far in training camp. “I think his team only lost two games in the scrimmages. He’s really done an excellent job of running the show and being the leader of the team, whatever team he’s on. He sticks out.”
- 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.
September, 27, 2013
Sixers GM Sam Hinkie got the to job in Philadelphia, and seemingly within minutes, had essentially won draft night by somehow amassing a collection of four lottery picks -- the same number of lottery picks that, for instance, the Thunder used to turn their franchise around. Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams are already here, and in the mighty 2014 draft the Sixers will have their own pick, and, quite probably, an excellent pick from the Pelicans.
The youth movement is underway. And for all the love people have for Noel and Carter-Williams, and knowing the Pelicans pick has protections, it's clear the only way this team will get a "next LeBron" or "next Durant" type player -- Andrew Wiggins, for instance -- is if it comes from the Sixers' own pick.
As in, the crazy high pick the whole NBA expects they will be awarded for the wretchedness of losses they are about to unleash.
Look around the gym Friday at the Sixers' media day at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (where the team rents a gym in lieu of a practice facility). Noel is dribbling between his legs, smiling for the camera. Carter-Williams wears a Cat in the Hat hat shooting a reading promotion. A posse of season-ticket holders in the corner are hanging on forward Royce White's every word. Everyone is happy, because the losses are not yet wearing everybody down.
Who knows if it'll work. But it just might be that Hinkie's four-pack of lottery tickets is exactly how a contender is born. Sixers fans have been famously morose essentially forever. But now their familiar sludge of doom comes with a shot of espresso. There's a new roster, a new GM and a new coach, and a flotilla of talented youngsters. The Sixers may be as doomed as ever, but now they're doomed with a plan. Which is such a better way to be doomed.
A beat writer takes it all in then declares to his colleagues: "Everything's just so great right now. But you know it's only downhill from here."
Because anyone who has taken a moment to analyze Philly's current predicament realizes fans mostly value wins, while this team is valuing losses, and the roster reflects it. This team is going to be terrible, for a season, at least, in the name of rebuilding.
Jason Richardson is one of this team's rare veterans. I asked him what feels different about this season. "All the young faces!" he declares. "We was a young team last year. This team is really young. Three or four guys are really veterans, and everybody else is like rookies. It's going to be fun to see, because those guys are going to learn a lot this year."
The gym was full of players, being grilled about the upcoming season, and no one had any bravado. This season, there are no rivalries, no playoff aspirations, none of the normal "just maybe, if the stars align" thinking.
There are also no autograph seekers -- you could walk into this event off the street without a credential, as it happens -- because there are no stars. Who's the team's best player? Evan Turner? Thaddeus Young, maybe? Based on his high potential and cheap contract, Noel may be the key asset, but there isn't even much confidence Noel will play anytime soon -- projected as the top overall pick, the defensive big man fell to the sixth pick because he's coming off major knee surgery.
What the team has, maybe, are a few strands, ideas, mainly, that could -- if Hinkie and new coach Brett Brown are lucky as well as smart -- emerge into this thing called "winning culture." In other words, just maybe this season, in addition to a great pick, can deliver a way of approaching the job of playing in the NBA in a way that will pay off over the long-term.
Brown is from the Spurs, which is no small part of his qualifications. The Sixers don't need wins right now, but they do need a foundation for big winning down the road.
Malik Rose calls games for Sixers TV now, but for eight years he played for San Antonio, and for much of that time Brown was the coach he dealt with most. How long has Rose known the Sixers new head coach? "Too long!" he insists, laughing.
I've always kind of wondered if "culture," in terms of ideals, or things people say to each other, is something that really translates consistently to wins. So I ask Rose if there's really something, a real thing, Brown can actually transport from San Antonio to Philadelphia. (If you don't bring Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili with it, does it still exist?) Is "winning culture" real?
"YES. Oh. Absolutely. There's a culture." Rose is emphatic. "I know it's going to work here, too. Guys are held accountable. You're at the highest level of basketball in the world. That means keeping your mind, body, spirit -- everything -- ready to do your job. And if you're ready to do your job you're held accountable. And it goes from the future Hall of Famer to the 12th man."
What does it mean to be held accountable? Would you be fined?
"We never really found out what that meant," says Rose. "Knowing that those were the repercussions, you came into camp ready. You never had to worry about guys not coming into camp ready. It was just a way of life. Everything was about winning. Everything was about basketball. All other things, contracts, endorsements, even to a certain extent, family issues, if it wasn't anything life-threatening, or health-related, that stuff got pushed back when November came around."
I start to say that I recently learned that in the military, research shows the best motivation, by far, is ... Rose finishes the sentence: "The guy right next to you." Right. When the team culture is good, you work hard so you don't let that teammate down. That's how this ideally works.
Encouraging: Carter-Williams' comment about Brown was that "I can tell he really cares about us."
It is about love, according to the military research. And it is about work. Knowing Duncan and Parker would be in great shape kept Rose in great shape.
Hinkie is like a broken record on that topic. Nothing impresses him about a player more than a "great capacity to work." That is the foundation of the culture, and Brown, who was unpaid when he began with the Spurs, has lived it.
"He was just the grunt on the team," remembers Rose. "There to rebound. There to run drills. He started from the bottom. If ever you wanted to reach him, you looked in the gym."
"Coach Brown is a really unique coach. And it's his first time. It's awesome and exciting for me," says Royce White, a former first-round pick of the Rockets who has yet to play a regular season game because of complications of mental health issues. White has been in town working with Brown for two weeks, and says "it kind of feels like when I played for another coach who was doing this for his first time in [Iowa State head coach Fred] Hoiberg. It feels like that first time. Building that culture. And I'll hopefully be able to let him know that I'm loyal to him. He's a great guy."
Brown is also articulating the new vision for the franchise through an accent thick with the timbre of New England, where he grew up, and Australia, where he lived much of his adult life and met his wife. (Brown calls it "Bostralian.")
"For the most part I can understand him," says White with a laugh. "More so than being able to hear exactly what he's saying, you can feel him. Sometimes I don't know exactly what he's saying, but I'm like I feel you. I feel you. I feel the energy. It's a good thing."
September, 27, 2013
By Eric Goldwein
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesAmong John Lucas' most enigmatic moments? A free throw attempt with his eyes wide shut.
As Richards recalls, the Milwaukee Bucks are blowing out the New York Knicks. It’s “an exhibition like you wouldn’t believe,” she says.
The 33-year-old Bucks point guard is running up and down the court screaming “No way, no way,” and in the closing moments he does something outrageous.
“He’s right in front of the basket where we have our seats, and he stands there at the free throw line and he yells, 'No way Renee, No way Renee,'" she said. "And he closes his eyes and he makes the free throw.”
It's a quintessential Lucas performance, but to Renee it was so much more.
Lucas was a two-sport prodigy. He landed on Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” as a 14-year-old tennis phenom, topped Pete Maravich’s scoring record in high school and was an All-American in both sports at the University of Maryland. Lucas was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets in the 1976 NBA draft -- a rare feat for a point guard. Three days later, he was signed by the San Francisco Golden Gaters to play World Team Tennis -- a rarer feat for a point guard.
Richards, now a practicing ophthalmologist, was the transsexual tennis player who stirred international controversy after the former Richard Raskind appeared in tournaments as a 41-year-old woman. The United States Tennis Association barred Richards from competing in the 1976 US Open but Richards challenged the USTA in New York State Supreme Court, which ruled she could enter the tournament without submitting to chromosome testing. In 1977, she played in her first US Open as a woman. A spectacle ensued.
The next summer, Richards joined forces with Lucas on the New Orleans Nets. An NBA point guard and a 43-year-old transsexual -- both lefties -- playing mixed doubles.
“It was like being at the wedding of a transvestite and a dock worker,” quipped one reporter after watching them at the 1978 US Open.
Lucas, who says the pairing went 28-1, saw it differently: “We were two lefties that both hit sliced serves. Our height was very good and we created problems.”
The Lucas-Richards duo was perfect for the quirky but competitive World Team Tennis. They did things -- chest bumps, for instance -- that would have been frowned upon in other tennis venues.
“I put a basketball game on a tennis court,” Lucas said. “That’s how I played tennis. I tried to make it an athletic event.”
Off the court they were partners in mischief. Richards recalled a road trip in Indianapolis when they were in a weight room and some men started making offensive remarks about her sex change. Lucas, protective of Richards, threatened them with a 200-pound barbell.
“And he says ‘Listen, Dr. Richards is my friend and she’s my doubles partner. I don’t want you to say anything more against her,’” Richards said, laughing. “And this guy just looked up at him and John’s holding this 200-pound weight over his head, and that was the end of that.”
Richards mentioned another time when Lucas walked into a redneck bar in Lakeland, Fla., and asked for a six-pack of Heineken.
“A black guy in Lakeland, Fla., in the middle of the night in this hot, scalding road house, the door won’t open, the neon light in front of it and guys playing pool inside, not a black guy in sight. I said, ‘You’re not going in there,’" Richards said.
Lucas didn’t listen. He walked in, asked for the beer, and the bartender froze; he couldn’t comply since the customers were watching, but he couldn’t outright ignore the request. Richards broke the silence, asking the bartender for the six-pack. The bartender gave it to her. Problem solved.
“He was very naïve in some ways but brilliant and sophisticated and educated and all that, but in some respects he was a kid,” Richards said.
Renee Richards’ notoriety was fading when she joined John Lucas on the Nets. One year removed from the saga of the 1977 New York Supreme Court ruling, she was gaining recognition on the pro tennis circuit as a competitor, not a sideshow attraction.
Lucas, meanwhile, was starting to lose control of his life. Drug problems surfaced after he was sent to Golden State in 1978. In his third and final season with the Warriors, he missed three team flights, six games and more than a dozen practices. Whisperers around the league said cocaine was the problem. Golden State, then in postseason contention, suspended Lucas for the final eight games of the season.
Jack McCallum profiled Lucas the following offseason in a 1981 Sports Illustrated story titled “Picking Up The Pieces.” Lucas’ psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Strange, said the troubled point guard was “emotionally and physiologically fit to continue his profession.” Depression, not drugs, was thought to be the cause of his problems.
“It’s just an unfortunate accident that happened to a good guy. I’m not a bad guy. I’m nobody’s problem child. Never have been, never will be,” Lucas told McCallum.
The Warriors shipped Lucas to the Washington Bullets for two second-round picks that summer and the problems escalated. Donald Dell, then Lucas’ attorney, said his client approached him about hiring a personal security guard to fend off drug dealers. So Dell arranged for a former D.C. policeman to trail the NBA star.
“And guess what?” Dell said. “It was not successful. After a couple months, somehow people would always still get drugs to him, even though this guy was traveling with him and living with him in his apartment.”
The Bullets waived their problem child in 1983, but in spite of the off-court antics, other teams could not resist the talented point guard. Lucas -- after a brief tennis stint -- joined the Lancaster Lightning of the Continental Basketball Association. A 20-point, 14-assist performance, in one half, caught the attention of San Antonio Spurs general manager Bob Bass, who signed Lucas for the remainder of the 1983-84 season.
San Antonio traded Lucas to Houston, where he played alongside Hakeem Olajuwon and 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson on the greatest team that never was. He failed a drug test that December and “retired,” but completed a 40-day rehab program and returned to the court that season.
The next year with the Rockets, Lucas averaged 15.5 points and 8.8 assists through 65 games. But his season was cut short when on March 11, 1986, he awoke from a cocaine-induced blackout in downtown Houston. Instead of trying to make it to practice, he took more cocaine. He was released after failing a drug test a few days later.
The Rockets reached the Finals sans their starting point guard, losing to the Boston Celtics in six games.
The drug relapse in Houston turned out to be Lucas’ last. Months later, he launched a substance recovery program which has evolved into a network of drug treatment centers for athletes. Today, he has a cult following as a training guru and life coach. Recent pupils include ex-Rutgers coach Mike Rice, Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland and NFL rookie Tyrann Mathieu.
The blind free throw happened in 1987, a year after he was cut from Houston. The Milwaukee Bucks signed him midseason and he averaged a career-high 17.5 points playing under Don Nelson.
That night, in his 12th game with Milwaukee, Lucas records 27 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and seven steals in a 127-104 win over New York. He sits out much of the fourth quarter, but subs back in with four minutes remaining and the Bucks leading 110-94. In his first possession, he sinks a jumper over Gerald Henderson. A couple of minutes later, he is sent to the foul line and hits the first of two freebies.
The second one, the blind free throw, doesn’t go exactly how Richards remembers. Before the shot, Lucas smiles, glances at his doubles partner -- who he hasn’t seen since 1978 -- and shouts “No way.” But if he closes his eyes, it’s barely noticeable. It’s only for a split second.
The shot goes in, he backpedals, and hustles through the 48th minute. He’s prancing around like he’s a rookie, MSG Network announcer Greg Gumbel says.
The Bucks have last possession and they’re running out the clock. An unguarded Lucas is standing in the paint, calling for the ball. Forward Junior Bridgeman finds the slick lefty, who converts a mid-air, catch-and-shoot just after time expires, and disappears under the stands.
Renee hasn’t seen him since.
September, 25, 2013
- Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: The only real issue heading into camp is the Granger Question. Or Questions.Is he healthy? When will his game fully return? Will he start or come off the bench? How will Bird handle the fact that Granger is in the final year of his contract? The answers, in Cliffs Notes form, are 1) He’s getting there; 2) Eventually, although he’s a notoriously slow starter even when fully healthy; 3) He probably will start and 4) Stay tuned because this is going to get interesting. Bird made no bones about it: He likes his team best with Granger starting and Lance Stephenson leading the second unit as a point guard. “That’s what I prefer,” Bird said. “I’ve always respected Danny’s game. Like everybody else, I see his good and his bad, but I think the good outweighs the bad by a large margin. I like his toughness. And I’ve always said you never lose your position through injury; somebody’s got to beat him out. Now, if Lance comes in and he’s a better player, that’s (coach Frank Vogel’s) decision. But I think we’re a different type of team when he starts. ... I think Danny and Paul (George, who signed a long-term extension Tuesday) are interchangeable. This makes us a better all around team. We’ll score more points with Danny and it’ll take pressure off the bench.”
- Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The basketball world is coming to Toronto in early 2016. Multiple sources told the Toronto Sun Tuesday that the Raptors are on the verge of landing the 2016 NBA all-star weekend. An official announcement is expected within a week that will reveal further details of how one of the sport’s biggest weekends will tie into Toronto’s 20th-anniversary season. Tim Leiweke, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO, made it clear upon taking over the company that landing the prestigious event was one of his early goals. “Clearly the 2016 all-star game is a flag in the sand that we planted with the NBA. It is a must-have in my opinion and it will be the centrepiece of how we rebrand this,” Leiweke said in May. He also has said that Raptors fans “deserve a little bit of positive news.”
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant made the media rounds at ESPN today, joining SportsCenter in the morning and other appearances throughout the day. But his most interesting interview came on ESPN22s SportsNation show, where hosts Max Kellerman and former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley asked him interesting questions on a variety of topics. You’re known for having a lot of tattoos, but business tattoos on the torso and the back, but none on the arms. What’s up with that? Kevin Durant: “Nothing. I’m eventually going to get some on my arms. Having tattoos on your arms, does that make you a worse person? I don’t know, I guess. There’s nothing against getting them on my arms, I eventually will. But I guess it’s hardest to get them on your torso and back, they hurt the most, so I had to get them out the way.” … You picked up more technicals than ever before last year. What was going on? Kevin Durant: “Nothing. I was just getting upset a little more at stuff. But there’s nothing different for me, I’m sure I’m going to get more techs, maybe not as many as last year, but I’m sure I’m going to get some techs this year at some point. That doesn’t define who I am as a person. I’m just a feisty basketball player who enjoys competing at the highest level. Sometimes thing don’t go your way and I reacted more than I should have. I apologize to anyone who I offended by my techs, but I’m sure I’ll get a few more.
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Heat players have shown no sign of complacency off two championships. Wade indicated he was working out until 1:30 a.m. Monday night, Norris Cole has been shooting jumpers late into the night and Chris Bosh has been working hard on his game in California. A bunch of others, including Michael Beasley, have been doing on-court work at AmericanAirlines Arena. And Greg Oden, continuing to progress from his history of knee programs, has been doing work both on court and in the weight room. ### Add veteran NBA swingman Roger Mason Jr. to the list of players auditioning for the Heat. Mason, who's workout out for Miami this week, averaged 5.3 points in 69 games for New Orleans last season and shot 41.5 percent on three-pointers. Swingman Von Wafer was invited back to Miami for a second week of workouts but has been unable because of an injury.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: A national sports blog that shall remain nameless cited Tony Parker’s recent declaration of fatigue following EuroBasket 2013 as Reason A why Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t enamored with his players spending their summers balling for their native countries. … But the passage, coming on the heels of reports that Spurs general manager R.C. Buford implored Parker to watch his minutes during the tournament, implied that Popovich and Co. take an adversarial stance to international competition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, Popovich sounded less a high-powered basketball coach than a beaming father in his reaction to France’s historic triumph.I told him two things. First, I’m incredibly happy for you because it puts you on another level. To help your country win is more special than you. Now have a special place in the history of French sports. Secondly, I told him how proud I was of his development. … Despite the image he presents as the snarling, sarcastic curmudgeon from hell — much of which is grounded in reality — Popovich is also a renaissance man with interests ranging far beyond the basketball court. Be it good conversation over a vintage bottle of wine or helping his assistants develop into head coaches, he’s all about the experience. So how in good conscience could he deny his players, particularly one he’s spent as many years grooming as Parker, the opportunity to realize a lifetime achievement? Despite the inherent risks involved, that’s something Popovich simply won’t do. Contrast that with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, whose opposes international play in large part because the NBA doesn’t make any money off it. Who would you rather play for?
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: A low-post scorer like Al Jefferson can make Kemba Walker’s job so much easier. Higgins detailed Tuesday how central Walker was to successfully recruiting Jefferson, who signed a three-year, $40.5 million contract in July. At Walker’s exit meeting last season with Higgins and general manager Rich Cho, Walker was asked what upcoming free agent might be most helpful. Walker pulled out his phone, called up a list of those players, and said Jefferson was clearly his top choice. So Higgins reminded Walker that he and Jefferson share an agent, Jeff Schwartz, so it was Walker’s job to start the sales pitch, months before Jefferson officially became a free agent July 1. Walker went to work, scheduling a meal with Jefferson in New York City to express what a good fit this could be. The Bobcats followed up on that effort by immediately making a pitch at midnight the first day of free-agency. Jefferson flew into Charlotte for a visit, expressed his desire to sign here and the deal was done. What are the Bobcats getting from the largest free agent signing in franchise history? “Al addresses so many needs for us,’’ Higgins said, a week out from the start of training camp at UNC Asheville Oct. 1. “Once we decided to amnesty Tyrus Thomas, ownership gave us the green light to find a difference-maker. He is a difference-maker.”
- Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Perhaps the only sense of normalcy in Jared Sullinger’s life right now is basketball, one reason the Celtics’ workout facility in Waltham has become something of a refuge for the second-year forward. Though Sullinger may still be prosecuted for domestic abuse stemming from a Sept. 3 incident involving his longtime girlfriend, the Celtics have no intention of distancing themselves, according to Danny Ainge. “He’s a good Celtic, and he’s a guy we have big hopes for,” the Celtics president of basketball operations said before yesterday’s annual charity golf tournament at Wollaston Golf Club. “He hasn’t done anything that we think is so wrong he shouldn’t be part of our team today.” Though the girlfriend, who has moved to Ohio, reportedly does not want to pursue charges, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office may forge ahead. “The outcome is looking good, but we can’t talk about that,” said Ainge. “It hasn’t reached a conclusion. Jared has been in training camp every day working out. He’s taking care of everything in the exact right way that he should, and I think Jared is a good kid. This was a distraction, but I don’t think it will be a distraction now because he knows the story, and some day you guys will, but because of the legal proceedings it can’t be publicized. He can’t talk about it.”
- Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Back from a brief vacation in his home state of Louisiana, Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe was working with his teammates today, in preparation for training camp next week. Having worked out with U.S. Olympic basketball hopefuls during the summer, Monroe should be ready for a big season at both power forward and center under first-year coach Maurice Cheeks. “We’ve had discussions about me playing both positions,’’ Monroe said. As far as his stint at the Olympic camp, Monroe said: “I felt great at the trials. It allowed me to gain some confidence and get some good run. I don’t even want to say quality — it exceeds quality playing against the guys of that caliber. I got insight from NBA coaches, college coaches, (Mike Krzyzewski), one of the greatest coaches ever. I got a lot of midsummer insight that you wouldn’t get over a normal summer.’’ Surrounded by great players, Monroe and Pistons teammate Andre Drummond were able to glean things from the U.S. staff and players.
- Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee: As publicity stunts go, this one achieved maximum impact: Shaquille O’Neal blew into town as the unlikeliest of new Kings owners – a jaw dropper since O’Neal was the rival player most responsible for preventing a Kings championship a decade ago. He also infamously coined the phrase “Sacramento Queens” to mock the local team. But on Tuesday, O’Neal had attracted one of the best attended news conferences in recent memory and hoisted the first lady of California over his head. Yeah, strange bedfellows. I was still shaking my head from the Shaq show at the Kings practice facility Tuesday when suddenly there it was on Twitter. A shot showed O’Neal lifting Anne Gust Brown – the brilliant and powerful wife of Gov. Jerry Brown – like a paperweight over his head at a power dinner hosted by the new Kings owners at Zocalo in midtown. O’Neal had a huge smile on his face in the photo. The first lady? Uh, well, you couldn’t see her face. … We saw a whole new side of the first lady while Shaq and the Kings seem to have matters well in hand. On Tuesday, they gave a sneak peek of their vision of the new arena – “an indoor/outdoor” building billed as a dynamic public space instead of a big box taking up blocks of prime real estate. If it works, you’ll be able to make all your arena transactions – food, drink, foam fingers – with your smartphone. Ranadive said the Kings’ first game will be broadcast live in India, where he was born and one of the biggest untapped foreign markets for the NBA. “We want to rejuvenate Sacramento,” said O’Neal as Ranadive beamed. They seemed unstoppable.
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Stephen Curry took a cue from a players-only meeting when the majority of the Warriors arrived back in the Bay Area right after Labor Day and wrote a win-total goal on the board in the practice-facility locker room. Though he wouldn't divulge the precise number at the time, he did say that it started with a five - as in, at least 50 wins. But the exactitude of the players' consensus objective no longer seems to matter. Head coach Mark Jackson erased it. "I was wondering who put it up there," Jackson said to a gaggle of reporters Tuesday. "If you put that up there, that's a target. I don't want any limits. Anything could happen. That could be a great number, or that could be putting a ceiling on us." … Jackson wouldn't guesstimate the Warriors' win total for 2013-14, saying only that "I want to be a very good basketball team with a chance to win the whole thing." But he consistently talked about the importance of players who were lost, like Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, and stressed the significance of the chemistry in last season's locker room.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Grant Hill had a myriad of options for life after basketball. There was speculation — and some mutual interest — for him to join the Suns’ front office and there were chances to get away from basketball with his involvement in politics, art, business, filmmaking and fatherhood. Hill is staying in the game, even after retiring in June from playing it. Hill, 40, will be the co-host of the resuscited NBA Inside Stuff, the popular half-hour sports and entertainment show that aired from 1990 to 2005, while also serving as an analyst for TNT and NBATV. Yes, that makes him the new Ahmad Rashad. But rather than Julie Moran, Willow Bay or Summer Sanders, Hill’s co-host will be Atlanta morning radio sports talk show host Kristen Ledlow for 26 weekly episodes during the season and special editions. The all-access show will start airing Saturday, Nov. 2, at 9 a.m. Arizona time on NBATV. The notion that Hill, a Phoenix Sun from 2007 to 2012, would join the broadcast side after an 18-year career seemed like a safe bet. He has the gift of gab, populartity, respect and a close friendship with Scooter Vertino, the NBA Digital vice president of content who previously produced NBA on TNT.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentine:l Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders loves a good piece of art. Now he will get to play on one. The Bucks unveiled the Robert Indiana-inspired design for their new BMO Harris Bradley Center court at a festive event held Tuesday night at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Sanders and teammate John Henson did the honors of unveiling the look as Bucks fans, team employees and community members waited for the big moment. After the speeches, including one by former Bucks radio and TV announcer Eddie Doucette, fans had a chance to pose for pictures with Sanders in front of the floor model. "It looks really fierce," said Sanders, who loves to design skateboards and is a strong supporter of the local arts scene. "It has a sharp edge to it. Also it looks kind of simple, like we're here to do our job. We're here for business. "And it's green; it's not too colorful. It's not too distracting. I think it's awesome." The original MECCA floor which the Bucks played on at the Arena in the late 1970s and 1980s was more colorful. But this court has the M design (in hand-stained hard maple) running through it and has a few subtle touches, including the 1971 NBA championship trophy pictured in the center of one sideline.
- Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 66, made no mystery of his desire to replace recently fired Ben Howland at UCLA, carrying out a media campaign to rally support. He was passed over for former Indiana star and veteran coach Steve Alford. When the Bucks filled their coaching vacancy with Larry Drew, it seemed to signal the end of Abdul-Jabbar’s coaching hopes. “It didn’t work out and that’s the way it goes,” Abdul-Jabbar said on Tuesday, speaking before an appearance at the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue and 47th St. Wednesday. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer was there to promote his latest book, “Sasquatch in the Paint,” loosely based on his upbringing in Manhattan. “I’m not going to ram my head against the wall. It’s time to move on. I’m not actively pursuing that,” Abdul-Jabbar said of looking for future coaching jobs. “Writing has been a nice thing for me. I’ve been pursuing that more so than anything else.” He’s worked as a special assistant for the Lakers for the past six seasons, but will not be back this season, according to a Lakers spokesperson. Despite his inability to secure another desirable NBA job - he’s also toiled with the Los Angeles Clippers and Seattle Supersonics - Abdul-Jabbar harbors no animosity toward a player like Jason Kidd, who was hired as Brooklyn Nets head coach shortly after his retirement. “That’s great for Jason,” he said. “I don’t exactly know how that situation evolved but obviously they thought he had some talent, so I’m happy for him, but I couldn’t explain to you what it’s all about. It’s impossible.”
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: They love him in L.A., Orlando, New York, Miami, Central America, Europe, India. Don't forget India, especially now. But will they love him in Sacramento? Better yet, will they forgive him in Sacramento? Based on the results of an informal poll – a very limited sample size of six or seven Kingscentric folks contacted Monday – Shaq, who will be re-introduced this morning at the practice facility, is facing a hung jury in the court of public opinion. One segment of Kings fans is delighted with his arrival and all his oversized baggage. While his specific role and sphere of influence have yet to be defined, who knows what Shaq can do for you? … Well, here he comes. To those eagerly awaiting his arrival, hoping that celebrity and credibility are contagious, remember: He's a load. Stay ready. My advice to the anti-Shaq contingent would be this: Take this for what it is. Entertainment, until we hear otherwise.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Perfect strangers today will be teammates tomorrow. That sums up the situation facing the Milwaukee Bucks as they enter training camp next week. A hectic summer of change has resulted in 11 new players on the Bucks roster, although veterans Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour and Carlos Delfino are starting second stints in Milwaukee. But only four holdovers from last season's squad remain: starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova, starting center Larry Sanders, second-year power forward John Henson and backup big man Ekpe Udoh. And a new coaching staff led by Larry Drew will direct the Bucks after a five-year term for Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan, who finished last season as interim coach. "We have a short period of time to put a lot of things in," Drew said Monday before participating in the Bucks' annual golf outing at Westmoor Country Club. "There's going to be a lot of teaching that takes place. We'll have seven days of practice before we play our first exhibition game (Oct. 8 at Cleveland). "We're going to have to use every second of training camp as best we can." The 26-year-old Ilyasova now has the longest tenure on the Bucks roster as he opens his sixth season with the team.
- Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Larry Bird joked that working on Paul George’s impending contract would keep him inside on a beautiful fall afternoon. “That’s why I’m not playing golf today,” Bird said during an appearance before the Pacers Foundation golf outing at Brickyard Crossing on Monday. “I’m going back to the office to work on it.” … On Monday, George said he and the team were on the “same page,” but nothing had been finalized. “I would hope,” George said when asked if the deal will be finished before training camp starts Saturday. “But whatever happens, happens. Right now, it’s about to be the start of the year. All the guys are here. We’re all fired up and ready to go. That’s where my focus is.” The question isn’t so much when a deal will be reached. Even if talks unexpectedly fall through, the Pacers would be able to make George a restricted free agent and match any deal he is offered next summer.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Russell Westbrook isn't making any promises about when he'll be back on the basketball court. But the All-Star point guard does offer something of a guarantee for whenever that day might be. “I'm going to come back and be better,” Westbrook said matter-of-factly Monday, with the same unshakable swagger he's always shown. As excitement builds over Saturday's start to training camp, Westbrook is eagerly anticipating his long-awaited return from the knee injury that cut short his 2013 postseason. Westbrook has not yet been cleared to resume full basketball activities, and neither him nor team officials are providing a timetable for when that final obstacle will be overcome. … For now, Westbrook sounds confident about all the questions he'll undoubtedly face in his return. When asked about regaining his rhythm after such a long layoff (he was injured April 24), Westbrook said bouncing back from this setback is no different from any other.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The start of Spurs training camp is little more than a week away, and Tony Parker is feeling the impact of dedicating much of his summer to Team France at EuroBasket 2013. It worked out historically well for Parker, who helped Les Blues finally win the major championship that had eluded them for so long, usually in painful fashion. But he’s now paying the price, admitting he was “very tired” after following up the Spurs’ run to the Finals with another one for his native country. Despite his current fatigue, and what could very well shape up to be another long, grueling playoff campaign with the Spurs, Parker disputed an earlier report, attributed to his father, that he had decided to skip next summer’s FIBA Basketball World Cup. Parker’s father had asserted that his son would then complete his international career with EuroBasket 2015 — yes, for some reason they hold the tournament every two years instead of the standard four for most other major international competitions — and the 2016 Olympics. Parker, however, said he’ll wait and see how he feels next summer before making any decision in regards to the Worlds. “To be honest, I do not know yet,” he was quoted by the French press.
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Andrew Bynum still hasn’t been cleared for contact and, therefore, isn’t likely to be ready when the Cavaliers open training camp next week, but that hasn’t soured coach Mike Brown’s opinion of him. Brown still believes Bynum can be one of the best centers — ever. “He could very easily be the best center in the game,” Brown said. “Not only the game today, but he’s skilled enough and has the rest of the tools to be one of the best ever.” Bynum is now running on treadmills, but has not resumed contact drills on the court, Brown said Monday at the team’s charity golf outing at Firestone Country Club. There is still no timetable for Bynum’s return, and no one in the organization is pressing him after his lengthy history of knee troubles. “I’m not in any rush to get him back,” Brown said. “Obviously it’d be great if he’s here for opening day and practicing. If he’s not, I’m more than OK with it. We have a lot of guys capable of stepping up and playing or practicing until he is ready to go.”
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: Will Amar’e Stoudemire participate fully in training camp? Doesn’t sound like it, according to Raymond Felton. Felton believes Stoudemire will be held out of much of the preseason in order to have him ready for the regular season and preserve his knees. Felton said Stoudemire is only starting to run during informal workouts and isn’t scrimmaging with the team. The Knicks’ training camp officially opens Monday. “He started running today,’’ Felton said at an Under Armour appearance. “He’s not playing. We’ll sit him out as long as we can. He’s getting shots up. We don’t need him to go hard now. Training camp isn’t that big for us. It’s more for the young guys.’’ Will Stoudemire play in preseason? “I’m not really sure,’’ Felton said.
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: The Heat, looking to fill out a training camp roster, signed undrafted 6-2 rookie point guard Larry Drew III, who averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 assists and shot 44.6 percent for UCLA last season and 43.3 percent on threes. The son of the Milwaukee Bucks and former Atlanta Hawks coach, Drew impressed the Heat during workouts earlier this month. Drew, who started his college career at North Carolina and then transferred, broke Pooh Richardson's UCLA single-season assists record last season and was named first-team All Pac-12. The Heat has 13 players signed to guaranteed contracts and five to non-guaranteed deals (centers Jarvis Varnado and Justin Hamilton, forwards Michael Beasley and Eric Griffin, Drew). The Heat has told agents it might not keep the maximum 15 players, so it's highly questionable whether any of the fringe roster contenders will make it, Beasley notwithstanding.
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Q. One of the most interesting parts of this offseason was all the other big men that were brought in - obviously, Paul (Millsap) but also Elton (Brand), Pero (Antic) and Gustavo (Ayon). How do you see that working out? Are there minutes for everybody? Al Horford. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s really up for grabs these minutes. I think that Danny and coach Bud definitely know more than I do about some of these players and they see the potential in them. At this point, they need to blend in and fit in with us. We can’t forget about Mike Scott. He is the one who has made the most improvement that I have seen. By far he is in better shape than anyone. He is doing great. He is going to be somebody that people are going to sleep on but he’s going to be really good. He is looking great. He is in great shape. It’s about building a bond and a trust with these new bigs. We are going to have to do it by committee. There is no way around it.”
- Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: For the Pistons organization, it was one of five “Come Together” events they’ve initiated in Detroit and the surrounding areas, which included a back-to-school drive at another Detroit school, a blood drive in Auburn Hills and a “Walk for Autism Speaks” which was held in Rochester Hills over the past two weeks. They donated computers and refurbished a library for the students, but the simple act of running through the halls and giving high-fives to every student, as Smith and rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva did, will likely be the lasting memory from that day in September. “It means a lot,” Smith said. “To be a blessing to other people who are less fortunate are always a bonus. Putting a smile on kids’ faces, adults, change their lives, that’s the biggest thing about being a professional athlete.” For Smith, it was another pseudo-introduction to his newest adopted home after spending virtually all of his life in Atlanta, save for his senior season in high school, when he transferred to prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia before being drafted by his hometown Hawks in 2004. “It’s definitely a new experience, a new change,” said Smith, who spent his first nine seasons as a Hawk before signing a $54 million deal to become a Pistons this past July. “Being in Atlanta for 27 years of my life, getting acclimated to my surroundings, it’s fun.”
- 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?
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Kevin Love is due in town on Friday, Nikola Pekovic is expected to arrive over the weekend. Rick Adelman will arrive next week and Shved, Barea and almost everyone else other than Rubio will be here as well. Saunders praised Shved’s Eurobasket play for a Russian team that got knocked out early. “He played really good,” he said. “What I liked about him is he kept his composure. He was their best player.” He said the same about Barea, whose Puerto Rico team lost to Mexico in the FIBA Americas final. “He had a great tournament. If they had won it, he’d probably be the Player of the Tournament. He looks like he as lost a little weight, playing as much as he has. He just looked in great shape.” Likewise, Saunders said rookie Shabazz Muhammad has lost weight since the Vegas Summer League in July and said it’s the best shape he’s seen him in all year. For what it’s worth, he also said Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have “made a lot of progress” since summer. They’ve been working out daily with new player development coach Bobby Jackson. Saunders didn’t go to Slovenia for Eurobasket, but scout Zarko Durisic has been there and just got back a few days ago. Look for player liaison Calvin Booth to join assistant coach Jack Sikma in working with the big men during the preseason. There’s still a chance the Wolves could add a player to their training camp roster. Discussions with agents continue.
- Staff of the Chicago Sun-Times: It has been 508 days — give or take a few hours — since Derrick Rose last played in a regulation NBA game. But when asked by a reporter in Manila, Philippines, the other day if he would play for the U.S. team in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, the rehabbing and well-rested Bulls guard responded that he would like to. “If they select me on the team, it will be an honor,” Rose was quoted by ABS-CBNNews.com. “I definitely will be on the team if [coach Mike Krzyzewski] wants me.” The FIBA tournament begins in 345 days.
- Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: Gregg Popovich is hoping for something else, and it's that the rebooting of NBA basketball will reboot his brain. No matter what he does, he can't get Game 6 out of his head. Even blows to the head haven't helped. When “Jesse” James Leija puts the Spurs through boxing workouts — and he did again Wednesday — he sometimes puts gloves on Popovich. Leija wears mitts and tells Popovich to hit them. When Popovich drops his hands, Leija slaps Popovich in the face. Popovich tries to hit Leija back and never comes close. “It drives me crazy,” Popovich said, laughing. And when asked if something as aggressive as boxing is a way to release anxiety held over from the 2013 NBA Finals, Popovich doesn't pull punches. “Nothing is a release,” he said. Game 7 is a fog to him. “Was there one?” he asked. Game 6 is another matter. Popovich doesn't second-guess himself. The same coach who often preaches that the game is simple doesn't regret benching his best defender and rebounder when the Spurs needed defense and rebounding. He needed to defend the 3-point line, and other Spurs are better at that than Tim Duncan. This also is how the Spurs played these end-of-game situations about 20 times last season. Still, because it was Duncan, and because Duncan had done so much to get in position to win another title, does Popovich ever wish he'd given Duncan a chance to defend the lead he had helped build?
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards spent an entire offseason upgrading and increasing their depth with perimeter talent but remained thin and relatively inexperienced in the front court, with the exception of starters Emeka Okafor and Nene. But with training camp set to start Sept. 28, the Wizards’ most vulnerable area is now much weaker after the team announced Wednesday that Okafor and reserve forward Chris Singleton would both miss significant time because of injuries. Okafor will be out indefinitely after an MRI revealed a herniated disk in his neck, and the team announced that Singleton is expected to miss six to eight weeks after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. Singleton sustained his injury during a voluntary workout on Tuesday at Verizon Center. Okafor said he began experiencing discomfort in his neck while playing pickup basketball in New York but didn’t believe it was anything more than “stiffness.” … With Okafor down, the Wizards will likely have to move Nene to center and pair him with either Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely or veteran Al Harrington. Seraphin was the primary backup to both Okafor and Nene last season and declined playing for the French national team to train primarily in Washington this summer. … Singleton’s injury also came at an inopportune time as he enters a critical season as it relates to his future with the organization. The 6-foot-8 Singleton was already in a difficult position; he was attempting to earn a spot in Coach Randy Wittman’s regular rotation while convincing the Wizards to pick up his option worth about $2.5 million for the 2014-15 season.
- Clay Fowler of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: Violet Palmer was out of her comfort zone Tuesday afternoon. Being showered with praise and surrounded by well-wishers is, well, the exact opposite of what she’s used to. It won’t be long before the NBA’s only female referee returns to hulking players barking in her face, coaches questioning her every move and thousands of fans raining jeers upon her nightly, but for one day the Cal Poly Pomona graduate was one of 48 former NCAA Division II athletes across the country awarded a spot on its tribute team. “This is so strange,” Palmer quipped. “I’m not used to all this good love. I’m waiting for somebody to boo me.” While Palmer was a student at Cal Poly Pomona from 1982 to 1986, the cheering was abundant. She was a point guard on two national championship teams long before becoming the first female official to reach the highest competitive tier in a major U.S. professional sport. Despite the verbal abuse synonamous with the job on the court, Palmer has become a celebrated figure off of it. The 49-year-old is now a 15-year veteran with NBA Finals experience who also shoulders the responsibility of overseeing college officials for the Pac-12 and West Coast Conferences.
- Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers All-Star forward Paul George said today the team’s fans don’t need to worry about him going anywhere. Indianapolis is his professional home and he plans to be here for a long time. “(A long-term contract) is going to get done,” George told The Indianapolis Star. “There will be a deal signed and sealed on the table before the season. We’re (George and Pacers management) on the same page.” George is entering the final year of his contract and the odds seemed long that he would leave Indiana even before Wednesday’s comments. The Pacers would have the right to match any offer he received next summer and have indicated they would do just that. … “No,” George said when asked if there was any chance he would leave the Pacers. “Honestly, I love it here. I want to be here. It’s a great place. There are no distractions. I can stay focused. It’s all about basketball here. I can stay focused and do my job.”
- Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Harrison Barnes and all of the Warriors players have something to prove this season: That they can not only repeat last season's trip to the second round of the postseason, but that they can expand on it. And Iguodala is naturally the guy who is supposed to trigger that improvement. The way to push it all forward is if Barnes and others go as hard as possible in these workouts, and if Iguodala pushes it, too. Of course, Iguodala is a different player from Barnes -- they're versatile in different ways. And there's a strong chance that they could find themselves on the floor together for long periods this season, with Barnes shifting over to the power-forward spot or with Iguodala playing one of the two guard positions. In fact, Iguodala said he is already focusing on facilitating the offense, figuring out where the Warriors' top scorers want the ball and when they want it. By the way, Iguodala, Thompson and Barnes all playing together -- with Bogut defending the paint -- would be the Warriors' most dangerous defensive unit, no question. They're going at each other now to sharpen themselves for the nights when they'll be up against Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tony Parker and all the other top players. It's how an up-and-coming team keeps going up, keeps itself on edge, and storms into training camp at the highest speed possible.
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: In July, the Spurs signed a free-agent forward named Jeff Pendergraph to a two-year contract. No player by that name will ever appear in a Spurs uniform. Last month, Pendergraph walked into a courthouse in downtown Phoenix, his wife Raneem and newborn daughter Naomi in tow. He walked out with a new name — Jeff Ayres. Ayres is the family name of his biological father, James. It replaces the surname of a stepfather who hasn't been in the picture since the player formerly known as Jeff Pendergraph was in high school. For the 26-year-old veteran of three NBA seasons, the journey from Pendergraph to Ayres was in some ways as simple as filling out a thick stack of paperwork and filing it with an Arizona judge. It also was a complicated decision with a complex back story, one that tests the traditional definitions of blood and family. “I didn't know who my dad was until I was a senior in high school,” Jeff Ayres said Wednesday, during a break from pickup games at the Spurs' practice gym. … Jeff and James Ayres have a relationship now. They are bonded by a last name, related both legally and biologically. The two won't be attending any father-son picnics anytime soon, but it's a start. They exchange text messages weekly. And last month, when the player still known as Pendergraph arrived at that Phoenix courthouse to rename himself, James Ayres drove from California to accompany him. So, what's in a name? A new Spurs forward named Jeff Ayres thinks he knows. “It's nothing personal,” he said. “It's just family.”
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Chandler Parsons might be entrenched as the Rockets’ small forward, fashion model and up-and-coming celebrity, but the position gets complicated behind him. Actually, even Parsons’ role will be interesting with the addition of Dwight Howard placing even more emphasis on Parsons’ catch-and-shoot 3-point touch. The greater questions will be determining who can best take on Carlos Delfino’s vital and underrated role as a shooter behind Parsons and as a three that can slide over to be a floor-spacing four. Francisco Garcia is coming off a strong playoff series, but is not an option as a four and could be picking up playing time as a guard, anyway. Omri Casspi might be the best bet for the Delfino role, but will have to find at least the shooting touch he showed as a rookie. Ronnie Brewer is a strong defender, but also has to show he can knock down shots to grab one of the final roster spots. There is a sense that the Rockets are too high on rookie Robert Covington to let him go, even if he might not be ready yet in a win-now season. With five small forwards heading to camp, there will be a battle for playing time and the final roster spot. Yet, while all that plays out at the position, the most important key could be whether Parsons continues his development enough to go from star on the pages of “Seventeen” to “Sports Illustrated.”
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Tristan Thompson didn't set out to make NBA history this summer. "History in the making? No, no, no,'' the Cavaliers' personable third-year power forward said, laughing. It just worked out that way. When Thompson decided to switch his shooting hand from his left to his right, becoming what is believed to be the first player in NBA history to change his dominant hand in the middle of his career, he thought it was just another step in improving his game. … After working with former Cavs coach John Lucas, and then shooting coach Dave Love, Thompson has come to believe that perhaps he was right-handed all along. "I wouldn't say it's easy, but I think the transition is going more smoothly than one might assume, which probably means I was always right-handed and just never knew, probably because I lived in Canada,'' he said, which isn't quite as crazy as it sounds. "I started playing basketball at such a late age,'' said Thompson, who didn't take basketball seriously until he was 12 or 13. "In America, you start playing when you're 5 years old.'' He reasons that had he started playing five or six years earlier, he likely would have been encouraged to try shooting with his right hand sooner.
- John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Though his contract is resolved, Brian Roberts is bracing for a more intense battle in training camp, which begins Oct. 1. He could be in a fight for playing time with Austin Rivers at backup point guard. Though Rivers played significant minutes at shooting guard last season, starter Eric Gordon and newly acquired Tyreke Evans could get the majority of playing time at the position. The Pelicans made Evans their top target in free agency because of his versatility. He can play point guard, shooting guard and small forward. "They have a lot of versatility at the guard position and they can go some different ways,'' Roberts said. "It depends on what (coach) Monty (Williams) wants. I’m just going to be ready for whatever he asks me to do.'' Roberts is hoping to evolve as a better overall player, especially defensively. Roberts has participated extensively in the Pelicans' volunteer workouts to prepare for training camp.
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The Lakers haven’t exactly upgraded their talent. But they’ve made a push to upgrade their uniforms. The Lakers released a video Wednesday on their Instagram account of Kobe Bryant wearing the team’s black alternative uniform, something the team will showcase this season for an unspecified amount of select game. The black uniform, dubbed “Hollywood Nights” features a black jersey and the Lakers’ traditional purple and gold as trimming. “This has been a few years in the process of introducing a black Lakers uniform,” Lakers president Jeanie Buss said on the team’s Web site. “In no way are we ever going to replace the purple and gold traditional uniform that has seen so many championships won. But I think the gold is going to pop out in a black uniform. Having the purple letters says it all. It’s all Lakers.” The Lakers will also wear white short-sleeve jerseys at select games during the 2013-14 season, including the team’s Christmas Day game at Staples Center against the Miami Heat.
September, 18, 2013
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Considering that Thibodeau and Forman were often seen talking shop during Summer League games in Las Vegas as if it was business as usual, maybe next season was all they were really “thinking about.’’ But at least one source feels that would change if forward Luol Deng is traded or allowed to walk into free agency without an extension next summer. “Ask Tom how important he thinks Luol is,’’ the source said. “How happy do you think he would be with that decision?’’ Not very. Then again, it would also depend on what the Bulls would get in return or if there was a bigger free agent whale to hunt down because of the salary that would be saved by allowing Deng to walk, as well as amnestying Carlos Boozer. What can’t be downplayed, however, is with Bulls camp opening up Sept. 27, there is a very good chance that it will be Deng’s last one in the red and black. Derrick Rose is undoubtedly the face of the franchise, but Thibodeau insisted a handful of times over the past two years that Deng “is the glue.”
- Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons training camp is about two weeks away, and Josh Smith is wasting no time getting ready. The forward is intent on fitting into his new environment. “I got lost the other day, but I’m finding my way around,’’ said Smith, who signed as a free agent this off-season. “I listen to my GPS. I just need a couple of places to eat. I have a cousin here, and that helps.’’ From the work he put in with the coaching staff today at the Pistons’ practice facility in Auburn Hills, it’s obvious that he’s focused and ready to make the team a playoff contender. “I’m just trying to polish up on things,” he said after working with assistant coach Rasheed Wallace on the perimeter and in the low post. “I’m trying to be more consistent on my mid-range and long-range jumper. I’ve been working on it hard each and every day here.” … Wallace said the key is to keep Smith in his comfort zone. “You don’t want him doing things he’s not used to doing,’’ Wallace said. “We’re trying to get him comfortable making the 15- to 18-foot jump shot.’’ Don’t be surprised if Smith sees time at both power forward and small forward with the Pistons.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Using spiritual predecessor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a model, he should be in for another elite season. Similar to what Duncan did last season at 36, the former Lakers star actually improved slightly at 37, enjoying bumps in shooting efficiency, total rebound rate and blocked shot rate while recording his best offensive rating in at least seven years. (Due to incomplete box scores, Basketball Reference’s figures only reach back to 1977-78 in that category.) Abdul-Jabbar capped his 16thNBA season with one of the most underrated achievements in history, dominating Boston’s Hall of Fame frontcourt to win the Finals MVP. “Enjoy him,” Lakers coach Pat Riley said after that feat, “because there will never be another one like him.” Well, not quite. As secure as Abdul-Jabbar’s legacy is, Duncan has provided a rather impressive facsimile of perhaps the most durable player in NBA history. While Abdul-Jabbar had ceased to be an impact defender at around 33 or 34 — Duncan, it should be noted, was named second-team All-NBA last season — it wasn’t until he hit 40, at which point he’d played more than 1,604 games, that his offensive game followed suit. Duncan won’t hit that age milestone for another 2 1/2 years, and he’s “only” played 1,391 career games including the postseason. Different bodies, different players, different eras — but also more than enough similarities that it’s reasonable to expect Duncan can follow a similar path. Indeed, he already is.
- John Reid of The Times-Picayune: As the New Orleans Pelicans prepare to open training camp Oct. 1, guard Austin Rivers is already brimming with confidence. Rivers said he has worked intensely to improve his overall game since July, when he led the Pelicans' summer league team with a 18.2 scoring average. Although the Pelicans significantly improved their backcourt this summer with the additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, Rivers said he's eager for the intense competition to begin. "I can't wait for the year to start because this is the best that I've ever felt and it's showing when I'm playing,'' said Rivers, who made only 37.2 percent of his shots last season as a rookie and averaged 6.2 points and 2.1 assists. "Mentally, I have 100 percent confidence right now, where last year I was trying to figure things out. So now when that ball tips off, I'm just thinking about winning, playing and having fun.'' Rivers, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft out of Duke, struggled through the opening half of last season. He showed some improvement after the All-Star break but missed the final 23 games after suffering a fractured right hand in March. In effort to get physically and mentally prepared for the upcoming 82-game regular-season schedule, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Rivers has stayed busy.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden’s play in his first season as his team’s go-to scorer moved him among the league’s top 10 players, but even more will be expected in his second season with the Rockets. As bright as the spotlight will be on Dwight Howard, it will shift to Harden late in games when he must grow into a more efficient, polished closer and less reliant to iso-heaves when the ball and Rockets’ chances in close games are in his hands. He will likely earn the most playing time on the team, reducing the role for his backups. In addition to the two point guard backcourts, Francisco Garcia will likely pick up many of the minutes as a backup shooting guard. If Garcia plays as a small forward, a player that has to compete for a roster spot could win that and a place in the rotation. Reggie Williams’ shooting could be valuable, but he will have to compete for a roster spot with the offseason additions at the three.
- Craig Grialou of ArizonaSports.com: Eric Musselman said he and Gerald Green, who played with New Jersey before landing in Indiana last season, still keep in touch. "I look at him as a guy that in 20 years I'll still be talking to him," Musselman said. "When he was with the Nets and they played the Lakers (in L.A.) he came back to our practice and sat for a two-and-a-half hour practice, and it was on a game day. You don't see many NBA players leave their hotel on their own, figure out a way to get there, stay and then hang out with (his former) teammates in the locker room afterwards. That's the type of person he is." Musselman added Green is also a good locker room guy, someone who will keep the mood light with jokes and impersonations. "He does me very well," Musselman laughed. "I think the Suns have done a great job of getting a guy kind of under the radar that you can have in your rotation. He gives you energy and an identity because he can get up and down the floor, which is what coach (Jeff) Hornacek wants to do. And he's a better defender than people think as well. Sometimes he needs to be a better off-ball defender, but that will come in time. "I think the Suns organization is really going to like him."
- Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics have spent the past few months paring down their roster to slice contracts and avoid the luxury tax and Tuesday they waived journeyman Donte Greene before he even appeared in a Boston uniform. The forward, acquired Aug. 15 from the Memphis Grizzlies for center Fab Melo, had a nonguaranteed deal entering this season and lopping off his $1 million salary lowers the Celtics until the luxury tax threshold, considered a must by ownership for a team not expected to reach the playoffs. … The Celtics are now paying out $71.2 million in salaries, $200,000 under the luxury tax threshold.
- J. Michael of CSN Washington: Coach Randy Wittman isn't going to put pressure the 6-8 small forward to start or be the savior of a franchise that hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2008. Most of that responsibility will rest on the shoulders of John Wall, who signed an $80 million extension in the off-season. There are no illusions with Porter. While Wall is the face of the franchise who makes his teammates better, Porter is regarded as more of a "glue" player who can fill various roles on both ends of the floor. They don't expect him to go on 40-point outbursts or be the closer in the fourth quarter. While that will lead to plenty of questions from the outside about what's wrong with Porter, it fits the bigger picture that Wittman appears to have in mind. The front office, as well as Porter, seem to be on board with that plan. There's a lot of competition at small forward with Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza and to a lesser degree at the moment Chris Singleton. Webster is the team's best three-point shooter and Ariza is its best one-on-one defender. By season's end, however, Ariza could be gone as a free agent when his contract expires. Singleton has a team option that the Wizards might not pick up. And Porter could then be ready for a greater role.
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The 35th pick last season, Draymond Green bulked up to about 245 pounds in preparation for his first pro season. But he developed knee tendinitis, which curtailed his workouts and allowed his weight to increase. In May, he hit 250. By the time Green arrived for the Warriors' Las Vegas Summer League in July, however, he had made a major body transition. He didn't crash diet, opting instead to eat right and go to the gym. He has toned, not lost, his muscle and has kept the weight off. "Nobody is just going to bully me," he said. Green said his conditioning is better, he's moving quicker, is getting off the floor better and his knees are fine. All of that should add to the Warriors' versatility and depth. "If you want to go with an all-defensive, shutdown team, you can do that," Green recalled telling owner Joe Lacob recently. "If you want to go with a super athletic team, you can do that. If you want to go with a big team, you can do that. If you want to go with a crazy-shooting team, you can do that.”
- Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Jason Terry is bringing his tattoo tradition with him to Brooklyn. Terry, who has famously gotten tattoos when playing for the Mavericks and Celtics, said Tuesday morning that he’ll be getting another one by the time the season opens on Oct. 30 in Cleveland. “BK All Day,” Terry said with a smile at a community event in Brooklyn. “You heard it here first.” Terry said the tattoo will be unveiled on Opening Night, but declined to say where he’ll be getting it placed on his body. “You’ll see,” he said, still smiling. Terry first made news with his tattoo selections back in 2011, when he got a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien Trophy — given each year to the NBA champion — prior to the start of the 2010-11 season. The Mavericks went on to complete a magical playoff run, culminating with an upset of the heavily favored Miami Heat in LeBron James’ first season on South Beach to win the title.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Former Spurs center and current front office member Sean Marks will reportedly slide into a new role this season, joining Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff to fill the slot left by Brett Brown. Marks, 38, has been with the Spurs in an executive capacity for the past two seasons, most recently serving as director of basketball operations and general manager of their D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros. The new gig will surely allow Marks to maintain his role as Tim Duncan’s pre-game workout partner. Marks played 48 games for the Spurs from 2005 through 2007. They were one of six teams the good-natured New Zealand native played for over 11 NBA seasons, during which he averaged 2.8 points per game. Brown left to take over as head coach in Philadelphia, the second defection of the summer after lead assistant Mike Budenholzer accepted the No. 1 job in Atlanta. Former Indiana assistant Jim Boylen filled the latter vacancy, making Ime Udoka the dean of Popovich’s support staff in his second year with the Spurs.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Remember that 2011 trailer tease for a Steve Nash documentary with Owen Wilson giving a quirky take that Nash’s name sounded like an action hero? Work has continued on the project, titled “Nash.” It was in part extended by the need to add a new chapter to the independent film. After some of documentary was screened at Vancouver Film Festival, the Suns traded Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer. The movie also needs more money to finish editing, graphics, licensing for footage and photographs and has turned to a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to finish it. Nash’s film company is not involved in the project and filmmakers do not want to turn to Nash for financial support because that damages a documentary’s authenticity. Nash gave access to all parts of his life to producer/director Michael Hamilton and the film will include interviews with President Barack Obama, Ron Howard, David Beckham, Snoop Lion, Doug Ellin, David Blaine, David Stern, Wilson and NBA players Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Yao Ming and Baron Davis.
- Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: There never has been much doubt about Rick Adelman returning as Timberwolves coach, but it wasn’t for sure until he brought his coaching staff out to his home in Portland, Ore., last week and laid out the plans for this season. Wolves owner Glen Taylor confirmed Adelman’s return Sunday. “Yes, he did [say he’s coming back],” Taylor said. On the subject of the remodeling of Target Center and how the $100 million in expenses will be paid for, Taylor reported some progress after a long delay and how much each of the three partners will contribute. “We have an agreement with the city, and now they are working with the management team AEG to get an agreement there,” Taylor said. “We’re just sort of waiting on the city to work it out with them. Then it’s my understanding that once they get that done, they’re going to bring it to the City Council. “We have obligated ourselves to pay for $44 million to fix Target Center. The city will put in $50 million. We have to get $6 million from AEG.”
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: How will Russell Westbrook return? An unfortunate knee injury to Westbrook devastated a state and derailed the Thunder's season. How Westbrook bounces back from that setback will now determine how far the Thunder can go. For five seasons we've watched Westbrook display one of the most fearless styles of play on the planet. His relentless attack has always put pressure on defenses and given the Thunder a go-to option whenever all else fails. But will Westbrook still have that same gear with a reconstructed knee? Will he still have that same mentality? Westbrook is expected to make a full recovery from the torn meniscus he suffered on April 24. But he may not be 100 percent to start the season. As a result, we may see a different player initially than the Tasmanian devil we've grown accustomed to. After an offseason of rehab, Westbrook's confidence and rhythm will be worth monitoring just as much as his motor and athleticism.
- Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News: The upcoming syllabus looks daunting. When camp convenes on the Salve Regina University campus, Brad Stevens will welcome a squad that bears almost no resemblance to the one that won an NBA title in 2008 and was playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals just 15 months ago. His lone All-Star player, Rajon Rondo, is still recovering from torn anterior cruciate ligament surgery and appears unlikely to be ready for the season opener. One of his most promising young players, Jared Sullinger, was recently arrested on domestic assault charges. His most experienced players — Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace — are new to the team after being cast off by the Brooklyn Nets in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce blockbuster, and are all unlikely to be a part of a rebuilding squad’s long-term plans. His most natural healthy center and point guard, Vitor Faverani and Phil Pressey, respectively, are rookies. But he has four shooting guards and four power forwards who will all be looking for minutes. His first-round draft choice, Kelly Olynyk, is already dealing with a case of plantar fasciitis, while one of last year’s first-round picks, Fab Melo, was let go last month in a salary dump to get under the luxury-tax threshold. Other than that, transitioning from being a mid-major college darling to the leader of a marquee major-market franchise should be a piece of cake. But Stevens said Friday he doesn’t expect this to be easy, that he does expect this season to be a proving ground for everyone on the parquet and new to the Boston bench, and that he’ll continue to put in the time and effort to get it right.
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Hey, Mary: If this coming season turns into another parade of injuries for the Cavaliers, and they fail to make the playoffs, will Chris Grant finally be dismissed after four long seasons of misery at the Q? Hey, Chris: I don't think Chris Grant is in any danger of losing his job. By and large, his draft choices have performed well and he has pulled off some trades that significantly improved the team, like sending Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers for a No. 1 pick that became Kyrie Irving, an All-Star in his second season. The Cavs were the only team in the league to have three players taking part in the USA Basketball minicamp -- Irving, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. A fourth -- Tristan Thompson -- is playing for Canada's national team, and a fifth -- Sergey Karasev -- is playing for Russia's national team. I like the gamble he took on Andrew Bynum because if he's healthy he's a steal, and if he's not the Cavs are only on the hook for this season. I'm not sure how you can blame the general manager for three straight season-ending injuries suffered by Anderson Varejao. If you say the Cavs should have traded him when he was healthy, I'd counter by saying they wouldn't have gotten back a player who brought the same energy and defense. The J.J. Hickson trade for Omri Casspi didn't work out, but overall I think most general managers would like to have Grant's batting average in trades. When you consider the state of the franchise when he took over for Danny Ferry after the departure of Mike Brown and LeBron James and where he has it today, there's no reason his job should be on the line.
- Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Masai Ujiri has turned to his native Africa to try to fill his squad’s final roster spot. The Raptors president/general manager confirmed Sunday that Angolan guard Carlos Morais has been invited to training camp, along with Julyan Stone and Chris Wright. Morais, a 27-year-old, 6-foot-3 guard has been playing professionally since he was a teenager and has been a major reason why Angola has emerged as the class of the continent since 2005. Morais was named MVP of the recent Afrobasket tournament after leading Angola to gold with averages of 15.9 points and 4.6 assists per game. Angola also won the tournament in 2009, 2007 and 2005 and finished second in 2011, when Morais averaged 17.7 points per game. Morais also averaged 14.8 points at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, including a game-high 24 points against the United States. Morais is considered a scoring guard, a quality outside shooter and a strong athlete, but has mostly played in Angola. He will be in camp on a non-guaranteed contract, like Stone and Wright, who will fight for the final roster spot that was created with the waiving of veteran swingman Quentin Richardson last month.
- Ben Standig of CSN Washington: For all the colorful players that have come through Washington in recent years, none wears the title of knucklehead better than JaVale McGee does. There are scores of YouTube videos depicting the big man's ill-advised forays with the basketball and his own random comments about who knows what. NBA analysts have also piled on. Everything together has led to, well, JaVale, you tell us. “People around the NBA really think that I’m dumb or stupid,” McGee told NBA.com. “But people that know me know that I’m actually very intelligent. It doesn’t affect me at all.” Intelligence can come out in many different ways. Apparently former Denver coach George Karl didn't recognize it from a basketball standpoint seeing as he played the ex-Wizard only 18.1 minutes per game last season even after the Nuggets signed the agile 7-foot center to $44 million extension. According to reports, Karl's limited use of McGee had at least some part in management firing the longtime coach, who was named 2013 NBA Coach of the Year. In 79 games, McGee averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and was among the league leaders with 2.0 blocks.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Stephen Jackson’s previous appearance on ESPN’s Highly Questionable went so well. they couldn’t resist bringing him back last week for an encore performance. This time, completely unprompted, he got to tell Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones the tale of how he ended up with his hand around the throat of former NBA All-Star Steve Francis during a recent club run-in. Jackson explained: “We wasn’t never cool. I don’t hang with him. I don’t call him. We’ve never been in the same circles. It was too packed for me to get to the stage. So I go in the DJ booth…and as soon as I start rapping, he jumps on the back of the DJ booth. “I don’t know why he jumped up there. He bumped me two times with his midsection. I felt his belt on my neck. So the third time he does it…I turn around and I ask him to get down. He said something crazy, one thing led to another, my hand end up on his throat and next thing he in cuffs.” … It’s a mildly amusing story, and as ever, it’s difficult to ever get totally down on Jackson. At the same time, it’s also more than a little pathetic that two gifted ballers — at least in their prime — who might otherwise be playing out the stretch of their careers are getting into an altercation at a nightclub instead of preparing for training camp. This much is probably safe to say: If Jackson has any hope of getting another shot to make an NBA roster, moments like this probably aren’t going to help. It’s also a sad reminder of just how far Francis has fallen.
- Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: Once a skinny kid in a purple uniform, Tracy McGrady now can sound like a jaded curmudgeon lamenting the state of the next generation. “You’ve got some guys in the league now who are just knuckleheads,” McGrady said. “What turns me off is guys doing the wrong thing. Just the legal part of it, hanging out, getting these DUIs, marijuana — all that crazy stuff, just doing the wrong thing, setting a bad example for the young guys ... I don’t quite understand it. I take a guy like (Michael) Beasley. Had all the potential in the world but he’s not level-headed. He just doesn’t get it. And a very talented player. But where else are you going to make this type of money doing something you love to do every day, take care of your family and play basketball. I mean, are you serious? You get millions of dollars for it and you mess these opportunities up? I don’t get it.” McGrady has been cast as a villain in these parts. But his career, in which he never found himself in the headlines for bad behaviour, is worth respecting.