TrueHoop: Seattle SuperSonics

First Cup: Friday

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
5:08
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: With less than two weeks to go before camp opens Oct. 1, the Magic and veteran small forward Hedo Turkoglu have yet to agree on a buyout. Turkoglu has $12 million left on the final year of his contract, but only half of it is guaranteed.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: A relaxed and engaging Dwyane Wade spoke on a few issues on an appearance a little while ago on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on NBC. Some highlights: On Game 6 of the Finals: "We were only down five with 20 seconds left. That’s what we do. We practice that all day." On free agency next summer: “There’s a lot of media probably watching this in Miami, so I can’t give them nothing.” (Wade said earlier this summer that he wants to stay with the Heat beyond next summer and is optimistic the Big Three will stay together.) On the possibility of a three-peat: “We hope. We're trying to get like the Lakers and Bulls. It’s going to be tough." On LeBron James’ wedding last weekend: “It’s a beautiful, beautiful wedding. Without giving away details, we had an unebelievable time. And I can’t tell you guys nothing else.” He said no phones were allowed and “no phones nowadays is unbelievable. You go nowhere without your phones.”
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Kobe Bryant continued rehabbing his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon, the latest work involving running at 75 percent of his body weight on a treadmill. Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti thinks Bryant remains a “few weeks away” before advancing to full-weight bearing running, though he added “there’s no projected date” on whether Bryant could play in the Lakers’ season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers. It’s safe to pencil Bryant out for part of training camp, beginning Sept. 28, though it’s unclear if he could catch the tail end of the Lakers’ eight exhibition games through Oct. 25. It all fits the Lakers’ conservative approach in ensuring Bryant only returns from an injury he suffered April 12 once he fully heals. “He’s doing well and has had no setbacks,” Vitti said Thursday at his trainer’s office at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “He’ll be ready when he’s ready. Nobody has a crystal ball on this thing.” Beyond improving his Achilles tendon, the Lakers training staff also wants Bryant to strengthen his legs, knee, back and core. They hope this approach will ensure Bryant closely replicates last season’s output, when he averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, six assists and 5.6 rebounds before the Lakers lost in a first-round sweep to the San Antonio Spurs without him.
  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Deron Williams' right foot was in a walking boot, forcing him to miss out on playing in his charity dodge ball tournament Thursday. But he said it won't keep him from going all out in training camp or playing in the Nets' regular-season opener. "Basically, this is just preventative,'' Williams said. "They have me in it now so I don't have to worry about it when the season starts. "It's frustrating because I want to be hooping with the guys right now. I want to play in this. It's frustrating. I have to deal with [the media] speculating. It is what it is. As long as I'm ready for October, that's all that matters to me. But I'll be ready for it.'' Williams suffered a sprained right ankle and a bone bruise about 2½ weeks ago while working out. He said he worked out the following day and continued working out on it, but when he told Nets trainer Tim Walsh he had some pain in his ankle, Walsh sent Williams for an MRI. Williams, who was hampered by ankle injuries last season, said he will undergo another MRI next week, but he doesn't expect to be in the boot much longer. The Nets start training camp Oct. 1 at Duke University and open the season Oct. 30 against Cleveland. "If it's up to me, I'd be walking around right now,'' he said. "I could walk fine. It doesn't hurt. It's just protecting me from myself, I guess.'' When asked if he thinks he'll go full during training camp, Williams said, "That's my plan.''
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "I'm ready to get to work,'' Anderson Varejao told The Plain Dealer on Thursday afternoon. "I'm excited and I'm ready for the season. I can't wait." No wonder. Varejao missed the last 56 games of the season after a quad injury and then a blood clot. It was his third straight season cut short by injury, coming on the heels of a fractured right wrist that limited him to 25 games in 2011-12 and a right ankle/foot injury that ended the 2010-11 campaign at 31 games. "My goal this season is just to stay healthy,'' he said. "Everything else will come.'' Varejao spent most of the summer rehabilitating his quad in Brazil and working to strengthen his leg. He has only recently started playing pick-up games and, though his quad feels good, he estimates he's at about 70 percent heading into the start of training camp. … Varejao has heard all the speculation about a healthy Bynum -- still no guarantee -- forcing him out of the starting lineup and the two splitting time at center in an effort to reduce the wear and tear on both, but right now that's the least of his problems. "To me, it doesn't matter, as long as I'm important for the team,'' Varejao said. "That's the bottom line. I don't care. I'm going to work the same way, doing what do what I have to do to help the team. Whatever Mike Brown wants to do, it's his decision and I'm here to help.''
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The idea of putting Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together in the frontcourt will offer an interesting training camp diversion, but not much of an option for significant playing time, much less the starting lineup. The Rockets did not get the league’s top center to make him a power forward and don’t want to turn one of their outstanding defensive centers into a liability defending the 3-point arc. Instead, they will likely choose between last season’s holdovers. Greg Smith started late in the season, but Terrence Jones might have the edge after strong showings late last season and in summer league. Donatas Motiejunas, who was the starter after the trades of Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, added some much-needed bulk, but his low-post skills might make him better suited to coming off the bench when Howard is not on the low blocks. Robert Covington, a tweener forward, could serve as a stretch four, though Jones and Motiejunas could shoot well enough for that. If all else fails, the Rockets could go back to Smith inside, but if they are going to play two centers together again, they do have two others to consider.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: To hear journeyman guard Marco Belinelli tell it, he had no shortage of suitors when he hit the open market this summer. Only one could offer the combination of contract security, pedigree and championship aspirations as the Spurs, making it an easy decision for the Italian to accept their two-year offer. … Belinelli wouldn’t bite when asked about how he’ll be able to improve on the departed Gary Neal, whose slot in the rotation he’ll essentially be filling. He did say cite running the pick and roll, along with scoring and defense, as his main areas of expertise. That bolsters the notion that Belinelli was swapped out for the more one-dimensional Neal to add another competent ballhandler behind Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. It doesn’t appear to be a particularly impressive signing in light of his modest shooting percentage (41.8 percent career) and Player Efficiency Rating (11.6, 3.4 below average). But his with his adequate skills in multiple areas — Belinelli’s career 3-point percentage is almost identical to Neal’s — this could be one of those those pick-ups that pay subtle dividends.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: When the New Orleans Pelicans open training camp on Oct. 1, veteran forward Jason Smith expects to be playing without any limitations despite requiring surgery last season to repair a torn labrum. Though Smith, 7 feet, 240 pounds, has been held out of contact work during volunteer workouts this month to avoid any setbacks in his recovery, he is expected to be cleared in time for camp. ``It’s all fixed; all better,’’ Smith said. ``It’s just knowing that it is better, and I’ve got to go out there and trust it. I think that’s going to be the big test going through training camp.’’ There probably wasn’t a player on New Orleans’ roster last season that played through more injuries than Smith. He played with a torn labrum for almost three months before he re-injured his right shoulder during a February game against the Brooklyn Nets.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: It has been a while since Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell has been back on the basketball court of his alma mater. And it's been quite a while since the team has been in this city, too. Led by Cassell, who played at Dunbar Senior High School in the late '80s, the Wizards held a basketball clinic for students Thursday. Bradley Beal, Garrett Temple and Bullets alumni Mike Riordan and Larry Stewart were among others in attendance. The Wizards begin training camp Sept. 28. They will play a preseason game Oct. 17 vs. the New York Nicks at Baltimore Arena. "I haven't been here in a long time. We used to call this place the Eastside Garden. It's changed. The banners are still the same," said Cassell, who graduated from Dunbar in 1988 before going on to a 15-year career as an NBA player. "This opportunity came up to me about coming back to my alma mater, why not?”
  • Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee: I honestly don’t care if Seattle ever gets an NBA team. But I do hope Hansen is forever frustrated in his bid to be an NBA boss for the smarmy stunt he pulled in Sacramento. Here is a guy who opposes a public vote on the arena he wants to build in Seattle, but essentially finances one in Sacramento – all because he got his fancy pants in a bunch at being passed over for the Kings. The signatures his money bought – around 18,000 of them – are now apparently in the hands of locals who want an arena vote. Without them, the locals have around 3,000 signatures, maybe a little more, but nowhere near the 22,000 they need to qualify an arena vote for the June ballot. That’s why arena opponents made a gleeful announcement Tuesday that they had landed Hansen’s mother lode of signatures. They’re in business. And that announcement was followed by more Hansen buffoonery. In his public statement on the issue Tuesday, Hansen starts by saying he “inadvertently” funded the arena referendum effort. Then he said he decided to contribute to the effort before the NBA made its decision to keep the Kings in Sacramento. How can you “inadvertently” fund an effort you consciously decided to fund?

First Cup: Tuesday

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
5:17
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Last year, the Suns became one of 15 NBA teams to embrace the analytics era by investing in SportVu Player Tracking technology to acquire a higher level of player performance analysis. Good for them. This year, the NBA reached a multi-year agreement with STATS Inc., which owns the SportVU technology, to put six cameras in every arena and become the first American pro league to quantify and analyze each in-game player movement. Good for you. The Suns were commended for getting out in front of the analytics wave, but the movement has gone mainstream. The Suns kept all the data gathered last year to themselves, but this league move is the best thing for hoop junkies since NBA League Pass. The NBA already headed this way by adding advanced stats to nba.com last year. Now, they will post unprecedented data from SportVu on its site (wonder how many points per touch Eric Bledsoe is getting?) and for use in broadcasts (“Eddie, Marcin Gortat has run the equivalent of a 5K tonight”). The Suns do not lose out because they shelled out about $100,000 for it last year, and the NBA is footing the bill for the other teams this year.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Shane Battier isn't sure he's the retiring type, but considering the Miami Heat forward turned 35 Monday, he appreciates the end could be near. … Monday, before a motivational appearance with the students at St. Mark's Episcopal School, he said with his three-year contract expiring at season's end, it only makes sense to take stock. "I'm realistic to where I am at this point in my life," he said, after playing most of last season as a reserve and seeing limited action for an extended stretch of the playoffs. "I'd like to finish my contract strong with the Miami Heat, and then we'll see where we go." Battier, though, said there would not be any sort of retirement tour, with possibilities still remaining in 2014 free agency. "This door is always open," he said. "This is not a farewell tour, no. But if it is, it is. And I'll enjoy this year and try to make the most of it."
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Recently, Olajuwon spoke of both occurrences in an interview with Nike Kicks, lauding Kobe, LeBron and a few other stars who flew out to Houston for dedicated workout sessions with him. It’s in the embedded video at the bottom of this post, starting at around 5:40, and includes some interesting anecdotal quotes from Olajuwon. But toward the end of the interview, he was also asked which players, of those who haven’t trained with him yet, would benefit most from his tutelage. His answer: Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant. Why Durant? “(He’s) very skilled, but doesn’t take advantage of his height in the post,” Olajuwon said. “He’s much taller than most of the guys who guard him. He’s got all the outside game, but now he needs to take them in the post. In other words, there’s something for everybody.” Overall, Durant’s actually been pretty efficient with his back to the basket, scoring 1.04 points per post-up last season (stat via mysynergysports.com), seventh highest in the NBA. But it still feels like an underutilized part of his game, particularly (as Olajuwon said) when he has smaller players defending him. Only 10.4 percent of his offensive moves were out of the post last season. Will he do it more in the future? We’ll see. Will he work with Olajuwon to improve? Couldn’t hurt. But it’s not exactly the most pressing issue facing the 24-year-old or his team.
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: There are some things Kobe Bryant can’t do. He may be fluent in English, Italian and Spanish, but Bryant noticeably struggles saying his name in Mandarin. Bryant can do everything with a basketball, except spinning one. That’s because of the fractured index finger he suffered three years ago, an injury that still hasn’t fully healed. It might be surprising to see Bryant struggle with something after mostly seeing him dominate on the court. But it’s also insightful to see him at his most vulnerable. Bryant hardly frets much about his struggles speaking Mandarin, and steal tries to speak with great enthusiasm. When the CCTV host Sa Beining asks Bryant to spin a basketball, the Lakers star didn’t seem bashful one bit in admitting he can’t do it. To which Beining offered a rightfully collective shrug. “You guys probably think Kobe can do everything, but even Kobe is human,” Beining said in Mandarin. “But so what? He’s still Kobe. Not being able to spin the ball doesn’t make him a less effective basketball player. Kobe Bryant has an indomitable spirit.”
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Will Nene be eased back into the picture or will he be pushed full-speed ahead? The 7-footer spent the summer rehabilitating from various injuries, both shoulders, both knees and his left foot, as he split his off-season between homes in Denver and Brazil. In April, I asked Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld the same question about easing back Nene and he said that they'd consider it. Wittman: "He got in town Aug. 30. He's been on the floor. He feels good. He's had a whole summer where he didn't have to worry about the pounding and the stuff he did last summer having the injuries he did and having to play on the (Brazil) national team and never gave his body a chance to recover. He's feeling good. He looks good. I'm pretty pleased with that. I anticipate him being ready to go. When did we play our last game? Five months ago? He's done a lot of good work this summer, not only from a rest standpoint but from physical therapy. He's built his strength back up. I anticipate we'll head into the season with no restrictions." Of course, the Wizards' medical staff will be consulted on these matters but it's a good sign if Nene passes the eye test with Wittman.
  • John Ried of The Times-Picayune: Pelicans veteran forward/center Jason Smith said last week that he doesn't feel pain in his surgically repaired right shoulder that forced him to miss the final 24 games last season. But he still hasn't been cleared to participate in contact work yet during volunteer workouts. Smith is hoping to be cleared just before the Pelicans open training camp. “That's best guess right now because you never know if things will flare up when you hit somebody,'' Smith said. “You put in the time to rest and recover and you put in the work to strengthened it and get back in shape. That's all I can do right now is try to get in the best shape that I can.'' Smith suffered a torn labrum during a Dec. 12 game last season against the Oklahoma City Thunder when he blocked an attempted dunk by forward Kevin Durant.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: As I wrote last week, David Lighty and Eric Dawson will be non-roster training camp invites. Andonis Thomas is likely to be another invite, although nothing is official at this point. Thomas has been working out in Atlanta this offseason. He was part of the Hawks summer league roster. The 6-foot-7 small forward, an undrafted free agent out of Memphis, appeared in three summer league games. He averaged 1.3 points and 0.3 rebounds in 9.7 minutes. The Hawks have 14 players on their current roster with Lighty and Dawson coming to training camp. The Hawks will most likely add two more players and as many as four come the start of camp. Another guard and small forward could be added. I expect the Hawks to keep just 14 on the roster for the regular season. General manager Danny Ferry likes to have the flexibility of the additional roster spot. The status of Lou Williams, rehabbing from a torn ACL, is still a factor in determining the roster.
  • Staff of the Pioneer Press: The Minnesota Timberwolves made official Monday the promotion of David Adelman to assistant coach and the hiring of Bobby Jackson to replace Adelman as player development coach. The son of Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman had served in the player development role for two seasons. Jackson, a former University of Minnesota standout, was an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings the last two seasons. "David is a bright young coach and has demonstrated the past two years that he is ready to take on additional responsibilities," Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said in a statement. "In Bobby Jackson, we are bringing a Minnesota basketball icon back to our state. Bobby has the respect of players around our league and did a great job working with the young Kings players this past season. Both Rick Adelman and I are very familiar with Bobby and are excited to have him on our coaching staff."
  • Bernie Augustine of the New York Daily News: Before Kent Bazemore was “Bazemoring” on the sidelines of Warriors playoff games — and in the latest version of NBA 2K14 — he was packing his bags and getting ready to play basketball professionally in the Ukraine. How quickly things can change. “I would have been living a totally different life, having a totally different experience,” he said recently. … “It takes a strong type of individual to not play but still have that type of enthusiasm,” former Warriors guard Jarret Jack said last season. “He does what he can to contribute to the team, and it’s appreciated.” Soon his celebrations became YouTube fixtures, fodder for blog posts, and features in highlight-reel shows. “It’s definitely spontaneous. I can’t even remember the first pose — the three fingers in the air — I can’t even tell you when I did it, where I did it or how it came to me. It’s just something I started doing and people ran with it,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have names for his signature moves. … “The NBA 2K franchise is all about authenticity, and we strive to include details that accurately represent all aspects of the game,” Rob Jones, NBA 2K’s producer, said. “Our goal is to make the NBA 2K14 experience as close to real life as possible, and Bazemore brings unique moves both on and off the court that serve to amplify the experience for players.” There was so much hype about Bazemore’s inclusion in the game, that his celebrations were featured in the trailer for the game, which will be released on October 1.
  • Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: For weeks, Chris Hansen has been vilified by Sacramento Kings fans for financing a signature-gathering campaign to force a public vote on the city’s arena subsidy. Now the man who tried to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle is trying to make amends. On the same day Hansen and two political operatives agreed to pay a $50,000 fine to state election officials for failing to properly report the source of funding behind the ballot measure effort, Hansen announced Monday that he would “take steps to prevent” the signatures his money financed from being used. In a statement released on his website, Hansen also said a Los Angeles law firm funneled his money to the signature campaign “without my knowledge or consent.” That firm, Loeb & Loeb, paid a Tulare-based company $80,000 in June to dispatch campaign workers in Sacramento to collect petitions, according to state election regulators.
  • Lynn Thompson of The Seattle Times: The State Court of Appeals today rejected a challenge to the Sodo arena brought by Longshore workers. The court upheld a trial court decision from February that found that the agreement between the city of Seattle, King County and Chris Hansen to build a new $490 million arena did not violate state environmental laws. “The memorandum does not predetermine where an arena will be built or even that an arena will be built at all,” the Division One Appeals Court three-justice panel wrote in its opinion. “Whether the city and county will agree to Hansen’s proposal is a decision expressly reserved until after environmental review is complete. Because there has not yet been a government ‘action’ as that term is defined by SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act), the courts are not a forum for the union’s opposition to Hansen’s proposal.”
  • Brad Rock of the Deseret News: In the early 1970s, downtown Salt Lake was a rough place to be — downtown meaning the paint. That’s where Zelmo Beaty set up shop. The former Utah Stars center considered it his property, on both ends of the court. A good rule of thumb: Crowd him at your own risk. “If you started to encroach into some of his territory in the paint — which he considered all his territory — you might get an elbow,” former Dallas Chaparrals and Utah Stars coach Tom Nissalke said. Beaty, who passed away Aug. 27, played until he was 35, averaging 11.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in his final season, despite having had numerous knee surgeries. He worked in four markets, but especially during the four years he was in Utah, everything was Big Z’s space. He not only owned the paint, but the city and state, too. He led the Stars to the 1971 ABA championship. After jumping from the NBA to the league with the colorful basketball, he was an immediate hit. He was intimidating, effective, dedicated and best of all he had an unforgettable name.

First Cup: Monday

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
5:18
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Stephens Haynes of Newsday: The timing couldn't have been scripted better in a sitcom. As Raymond Felton discussed Paul Pierce's inflammatory comments about the heightened rivalry between the Knicks and Nets, a young boy, as if on cue, walked by him wearing -- what else? -- a Paul Pierce jersey. Felton laughed ... then sounded off in round 2 of the verbal sparring match. "Paul Pierce said the Nets are gonna take over the city," the Knicks point guard said with a smirk Sunday. "It's hard for you to take over the city when we've got 'New York' on our chest and you've got 'Brooklyn' on yours. It's been this way since long before he started playing." Felton fanned a flame initially sparked by Pierce last week when the new Net told Complex magazine that he hates the Knicks "with a passion" and wanted to "start the beef." … Felton said the trash talk is "all in fun." He took a jab at the Nets last week in Slam magazine, suggesting the expectations for them should be tempered because "they're not going to have the youth that they had last year."
  • Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond shot 37.1 percent from the free throw line last year. But don’t expect the center to significantly change up his strategy as he enters his second year. ESPN writer Ethan Sherwood Strauss pleaded with Drummond last Friday to start shooting free throws under-handed like Hall of Famer Rick Barry did in the 1970s. “If your free throw shooting doesn't improve like Joe Dumars hopes it will, please consider shooting them underhand. Of all the players who have been in this position, you’re uniquely suited to the dramatic style change,” Strauss wrote. He later said: “You’re unique, funny, and increasingly popular among fans, who see you as an antidote to the buttoned-down athlete cliché. If you adopt something as retro-cool as the underhand free throw, fans will love you for it. Make it your signature.” This prompted Drummond to respond Saturday afternoon on Twitter: “Let me make this clear.... I’m not shooting free throws underhand.. #Relax”
  • Jeff Caplan of NBA.com: Sports, science and technology are converging at an all-time pace and eight NBA teams are experimenting with a new device designed to optimize and personalize training regiments, thus the ability to maximize performance and reduce injury. The San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and New York Knicks, plus four other teams that have chosen to keep their identities secret, have invested in these complex GPS tracking devices created by the Australian company Catapult Sports, the self-professed leader in “athlete analytics.” “We just want to be able to get smarter about our players and how to train them and how to put them in a position to succeed,” said Mavs owner Mark Cuban. “So that’s just one component of a lot of different things that we’re doing.” The device, called OptimEye, is roughly the size of an oldfangled beeper and athletes wear it inside their jerseys on the upper back between the shoulder blades. The device records literally every movement the player makes, accurately measuring exertions such as distance, velocity, changes of direction, acceleration, deceleration, jumps, heart rate and more. … Cuban said he’s considering using it during the NBA’s preseason in October. He said he has not yet been advised against it by the league.
  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Sad note for talk-show hosts: Mike D'Antoni isn't turning up his car radio to hear you and your faithful listeners destroy him. "Hell, no," D'Antoni said on a sunny Manhattan Beach afternoon, plenty of time before rush-hour shows typically unleash another round of venom aimed at the Lakers' coach. These are trying times to be a Lakers fan in Los Angeles, the playoffs hardly a guarantee next season as the Clippers continue their assumed ascension past the 16-time NBA champions. Naturally, many of the verbal arrows get fired at the affable D'Antoni in comments at the end of online stories, letters to the editor and the above-mentioned airwaves. No, the specter of Phil Jackson never quite left the Lakers. "I think anybody that comes in here the next 10, 15 years, it's going to be that way," D'Antoni said. "I don't think there is any doubt that he was so good and so large and he's still sitting out there. Had that bothered me, I shouldn't have taken the job because you know it's going to be there. I wasn't stupid enough to think that, 'Oh, they won't remember him.' Sure they will. It doesn't really affect what we do day-to-day and how we approach the game."
  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: The signing of center Nikola Pekovic to a five-year, $60 million Timberwolves contract is a reminder that Kevin McHale’s legacy as the team’s general manager is still playing out. In January 2006, McHale sent Wally Szczerbiak, Michael Olowokandi, Dwayne Jones and a future first-round draft pick to Boston for Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks, Justin Reed and Mark Blount along with Boston’s 2006 second-round draft pick and the Miami Heat’s 2008 second-round pick, which Boston had acquired in an earlier trade. In 2008 McHale used that second-round pick from Boston, via Miami, to select Pekovic 31st overall. The Star Tribune reported on that draft night that McHale and the Wolves received offers of cash or protected future first-round picks as teams tried to get the obtain that selection. Everyone knew Pekovic was a lottery-type talent but he had contract issues in Europe that were going to be tough to resolve. He lasted until the second round to avoid the rookie contract scale.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Paul George and his representatives did not want to discuss it on Thursday, perhaps understandable in such a public forum. But unless something catastrophic happens, there’s no way he’s leaving the Pacers anytime soon. First, people seem to be forgetting he will be a restricted free agent. The Pacers can match any offer and there’s no way they are going to let one of the 10 or 15 best players in the NBA walk, even in a sign-and-trade. He’s only 23 and his best basketball is ahead of him. The only way that might change is, heaven forbid, George suffers a serious injury this season. And two, George understands what he has in Indianapolis. He realizes he could be the next Reggie Miller in terms of leaving a legacy here. Heck, he would leave an even greater legacy if he was the man to lead the Pacers to a NBA title or two. Getting involved with Riley is one way of showing he wants to play a larger role in the community. I’ve learned anything is possible in 20-plus years of covering sports, but the idea of him leaving Indiana makes no sense at this point. At all.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Eric Bledsoe has keys to the Parker High School gym in Birmingham, Ala. When he is not working on his leadership by bossing around his little brother at home, he said he spends part of each day working out alone at the gym. “Work,” Bledsoe said of how he has spent his time since the trade. “I’m trying to get better, even better than I did last year. Coming off the bench, I did a lot. I’m trying to increase that 10 times more. Just coming in and having a big impact in the game. “I just try to go as hard as I would in a real game. So when a real game comes, it makes it 10 times easier. I try to do intense everything. Shooting, I try to give 110 percent. Dribbling the basketball. Thinking the game. I just try to do it 110 percent so when the game comes it’s a lot easier.” Bledsoe said James’ comment was an honor that made him want to work harder. An honor missing from that Parker High gym might be doing the same. Bledsoe’s high school jersey has yet to be retired. “Not yet,” he said. Bledsoe, who returned to Phoenix to be part of the uniform unveiling Thursday night, plans to come back to the Valley for good one or two weeks before players are required to report on Sept. 30.
  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: Evan Turner knows expectations are low for the 2013-14 76ers. Turner understands that ESPN.com picked the Sixers to finish with a 20-62 record and last in the Eastern Conference. He’s heard the talk about losing being best for the franchise’s future because they could get a top draft pick next June. During an interview at his Evan Turner Basketball ProCamp on Saturday at New Hope-Solebury High School, Turner said he doesn’t subscribe to that point of view. And, based on his Friday night telephone conversation with new coach Brett Brown, Brown doesn’t, either. “I told him, ‘Everybody wants to be in tank mode and thinks we’re going to lose. I intend on trying to win as much as possible because losing’s too easy,’ ” Turner said. “He said, ‘Well, they got the wrong coach if we’re going to go out and lose on purpose. We want to compete and get better.’ ”
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The Oklahoma City Thunder, many have decided, has taken a step back. The Western Conference, according to some, has caught up. A relatively quiet summer by the Thunder has led many to come to these conclusions. Oklahoma City let sixth man Kevin Martin walk in free agency and didn't splurge on any splashy free agent signings to replace him. The Thunder also selected four largely unknown commodities in the NBA draft, none of whom figure to be rotational players next season. But don't be surprised if the prevailing perception falls short of reality when the games begin. Lost in this summer's extolling of other teams' activity is this simple but significant truth: most every Western Conference playoff contender that added a major player lost a major player. … History has proved that playoff success generally takes time and trust, chemistry and continuity. The Thunder, more than any other team outside of San Antonio, has those things.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The results are in. The departure of Josh Smith will have the biggest impact on the Hawks next season, according to the respondents of the poll I posted earlier this week of this blog. It was a narrow victory. The departure of Smith, who left via free agency for the Pistons in a four-year, $54 million deal, earned 34 percent of the vote. The hire of Mike Budenholzer as head coach earned 33 percent of the vote. Those two choices accounted for two-thirds of the vote. … It is interesting to note that the loss of Smith received far more votes than the signing of his replacement Millsap. … My vote would have gone to the hire of Budenholzer. To me, that will have the biggest impact of how the Hawks fare next season in terms of the offensive and defensive schemes the team will employ, how he will utilize the roster that he had a role in assembling and how he responds to his opportunity and learning curve as a head coach after serving as a long-time assistant.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Michael Stanfield, the Pelicans' senior vice president of sales, said the franchise has already sold more than 11,000 season-ticket packages in advance of the regular-season opener Oct. 30 against the Indiana Pacers at the New Orleans Arena. The franchise's sales record for season tickets came in 2008-09 when it sold 11,800 the season after the team won a franchise-record 56 games and clinched its first Southwest Division title. But Stanfield predicts by October, the Pelicans will have 12,000 season-ticket holders. Stanfield said all of the new lodge box suites in the lower bowl at the Arena have been sold. The Pelicans also have more than 1,000 group sales commitments after having only 500 last season. … With a potential lineup that includes forward Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Evans and Holiday, the Pelicans are expected to improve significantly after finishing 27-55 last season and missing the playoffs the past two seasons.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Greg Oden's agent, Mike Conley Jr., said the parties involved changed their mind and decided that Oden would sign a one-year deal with the Heat, without a second-year player option as originally planned. Conley said that helps Oden (because of a league ruling involving injury contingency language in his contract) and helps the Heat because Miami would not be burdened with his contract in 2014-15 --- and potentially $3 million in luxury tax payments -- if he suffers another major injury this season.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Anthony Bennett is part of the Canadian Basketball program along with Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk, Thompson, and potential 2014 first overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Team Canada could be a threat to medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics and potentially challenge the USA in 2020. “I just feel seeing a couple of Canadian guys, Tristan and Cory [Joseph] get drafted, everybody started taking it serious,” Bennett said. “A lot of other guys are going to prep school, just getting prepared for college, and it’s a great thing.”
  • Tom Couzens of The Sacramento Bee: Living in the Sacramento region, we've grown accustomed to the world of politics – especially the sometimes dirty politics surrounding campaign contributions and political action committees. Still, we were shocked – to put it mildly – about Friday's revelations that Chris Hansen was the mystery donor behind the signature-gathering effort to force a vote on the use of public funds for a new Kings arena. Yes, that Chris Hansen, the man who secretly made a deal with the Maloofs to buy the Kings with the intention of moving them to Seattle. Yes, that Chris Hansen, who in defeat congratulated Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and "Sacramento's dedicated fan base" and later said during a radio interview he regretted trying to lure the Kings to Seattle. Five weeks after the NBA board of governors nixed his plan to buy the Kings, Hansen contributed $100,000 on June 21 to the petition drive to put the arena funding plan on the ballot next June. Even in Sacramento, that's outrageous. … Hansen comes off as a rich, spoiled kid who isn't used to losing and doesn't know how to handle rejection. It's time for Hansen to grow up – and stay away.

First Cup: Thursday

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
5:03
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Bruce Brothers of the Pioneer Press: Flip Saunders indicated that signing Pekovic provides Wolves coach Rick Adelman with a major piece for a team that acquired forwards Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer plus center Ronny Turiaf, re-signed guard Chase Budinger and signed draft picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. "We were able, really, to address what we wanted to do," Saunders said. "But we've still got a lot of work to do." Saunders has been busy since taking over running the Timberwolves on May 3 but said his foremost job was securing Pekovic. "He's one of our big, key pieces," Saunders said of the 6-foot-11 Pekovic. "We came in in the offseason, and we labeled him our No. 1 priority." … Pekovic, forward Kevin Love and guard Ricky Rubio give the Wolves the tools to reach the playoffs and more after a nine-year absence, Saunders said.
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: It’s been a busy offseason for Rockets guard James Harden, who took the step up to NBA All-Star in his first season in Houston. There was recording a new commercial for Foot Locker, a trip to the Philippines as part of the NBA’s global basketball program, a stop with the Nike Drew League in Los Angeles and a surprise appearance in a summer game at Fonde. Harden also managed to find a few days to practice with his newest teammate, Dwight Howard, and get more time in the weight room. After all that? “I am ready to get back to work,” Harden said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I am really excited about what is coming up for our team.” … Harden said that heading into this season’s camp — set to kick off in late September — he is even more comfortable in his role with the Rockets. “Last year was great because it was a whole new experience,” he said. “I had a whole new role — a leadership role.” Playing on a team that is trying to become championship-caliber is something that came naturally for Harden, who reached the NBA Finals in his last year with the Thunder.
  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Lakers owners/executives Jim and Jeanie Buss have different views on the exit of Dwight Howard. "He was never really a Laker," Jim said to Ric Bucher of The Hollywood Reporter. "He was just passing through." "It's disappointing that Dwight isn't here," Jeanie said. "I feel like we failed him." Howard, who was a free agent this off-season, signed a long-term deal with the Houston Rockets. The Lakers' longtime owner had been Dr. Jerry Buss, who died in February from cancer-related complications. His ownership was passed on to two of his six children, with Jim in charge of basketball operations and Jeanie in charge of business. "My brother ultimately makes the [basketball] decisions,” said Jeanie. “I defer and will continue to defer because that’s what my dad believed would be successful." She would like to be more involved with the Lakers' basketball decisions, but that's not the role within the organization. … Jeanie recently said she believes her father might have been able to convince Howard to stay.
  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Trust can be earned, trust can be built, and trust can also become a quick necessity when the back door is locked and you have to go out the front together or not at all. Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown are going to pull this off as a team or it isn't going to happen for the new administration and staff. That's the reality of what the partnership announced Wednesday means, and nobody was sugarcoating the degree of difficulty involved. "We all know the pain of rebuilding is real. We've all experienced it," Brown said. "It's dangerous and . . . a bit scary at times." In finding his partner for the tightrope walk of trust across this gorge, the least-surprising thing is that Hinkie raided a San Antonio organization for which he has a respect that one league source familiar with the GM referred to as "man love." The organization built by R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich has been an innovator in terms of team facilities, player development, and draft and free-agent strategies. The last time the Spurs didn't win at least 50 games in a full season was 1996-97, and along the way they have won four NBA titles and would have won a fifth but for an uncharacteristic last-minute collapse in Game 6 against the Heat in June. "If someone on my [Houston] staff came to me with an idea of something that maybe we should try or do differently, I'd tell them to go find out if San Antonio did it," Hinkie said. "If the answer was no, then they should go back and rethink what they had."
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: In May, Kevin Durant wore a Seattle SuperSonics cap to a Thunder shootaround in Memphis. Over the weekend, Durant played a streetball game back in Seattle and turned all melancholy. “I love and miss Seattle…damn” he tweeted. To which I say, I hear you, KD. I love it myself, and I've only been a few times to the bluest skies you've ever seen. Durant's remembrance of things past is no cause for alarm in Oklahoma City, Durant's five-year NBA home. For one thing, who cares if Durant likes Seattle? Seattle doesn't have a franchise. If Durant hasn't gotten over his first love, he can buy a summer home. For another thing, who wouldn't like Seattle? Great city. Beautiful weather. Gorgeous scenery. Ivar's seafood, Pike Place Market. Seattle is one of my favorite cities. I'm not going to bust Durant if he feels the same. Of course, who knows how Durant really feels? Nothing against the gentle giant, but he's got a little politician in him. He likes to tell people what they want to hear. … Does Durant love Seattle? I don't know. Does Durant love Oklahoma City? I don't know. But so far, he's loved the basketball experience, which is more important than hills the greenest green.
  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: At the start of last season, the smart money was on the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division. Yeah, and smart money once thought “Ishtar” was going to be a hit. So the Knicks disproved all the smart money thinking, ran away from Boston and outdistanced the Nets by five games. Brooklyn’s upgrades will create a greater challenge, but the Knicks remain reigning division champs. And so they are the hunted. “It is what it is. We were able to win our division based on people telling us we were fourth or fifth in the East and we are able to jump from the seventh to the second seed,” coach Mike Woodson said at yesterday’s Garden of Dreams Foundation event for kids at the team’s Greenburgh training facility. “Anything is possible. But I think our players are hungry just like every team. We’ve just got to make sure that we handle our home court and ... we’ve got to figure out the road. That’s how you win your division, just like last season.”
  • Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer: When Tristan Thompson came to the Cavaliers at the end of last season and said he wanted to make the switch from shooting primarily with his left hand to primarily with his right, no one really bothered to investigate whether anyone else had ever accomplished such a feat in the NBA. Because the answer is that no one can remember it happening. Ever. Harvey Pollack is the director of statistical information for the Philadelphia 76ers and has been with the NBA since its inception in 1946. He was the game statistician for Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, and he saw the frequently free-throw challenged player shoot those shots with his right hand, left hand and under-handed simply to find something that worked. But someone switching shooting everything from free throws to jumpers with the opposite hand? “If anyone ever did this, I’m not aware of it,” said the 91-year-old Pollack in an email reply. Thompson, for his part, claims it’s no big deal. He’s always thrown a baseball and a football right-handed. He just also always happened to golf and eat left-handed. And shoot a basketball left-handed.
  • Tony Jones and Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Player agent Justin Zanik is expected to join the Utah Jazz front office as an assistant general manager, sources confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune. Hiring Zanik would represent the latest of a flurry of moves general manager Dennis Lindsey has made since joining the organization last summer. The hire was first reported by ESPN.com. Zanik, whose clients included Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka, worked for ASM Sports, the agency that represents Jazz guard Alec Burks. Zanik is considered a statistics and salary cap expert, areas the Jazz have looked to bolster under Lindsey. Zanik’s position would be a new one; they did not previously have an assistant GM. Lindsey declined to comment.
  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: Brandon Roy will still be the most recent Trail Blazer to wear No.7 in a regular season game. Newly signed free agent Mo Williams earlier this month created somewhat of a stir when he chose No. 7, the number that Roy wore for his five seasons in Portland. But on Wednesday Williams got his preferred jersey number: 25, which was previously taken by the also recently signed Earl Watson. A team source said there is nothing more to the jersey number change than Watson being a nice guy and giving Williams the number he wanted all along. Watson has not chosen his new number, but he told the team it won't be No.7. Roy, one of the most popular Blazers in recent years after winning the 2006-2007 Rookie of the Year and earning All-Star honors three times, left the Blazers in 2011 after his degenerative knees led the team to waive him under the NBA's Amnesty clause, which gave them salary cap relief.
  • Buddy Collins of the Orlando Sentinel: Former Lake Howell and UF basketball standout Nick Calathes made it official Wednesday, signing an NBA contract with the Memphis Grizzlies that has been in the works for weeks. Calathes indicated his deal with the Western Conference runners-up guarantees one season. Memphis holds a team option to stretch the contract to a second season, which would bring the value to a reported $2 million. That suggests the 6-foot-6 point guard actually took a pay cut after four lucrative pro seasons in Europe to play at the game's highest level.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: George Hill doesn’t have any regrets when he looks back on how he handled his decision to skip the U.S. National Team’s minicamp last month. The Indiana Pacers guard accepted an invitation to attend but changed his mind at the last moment because of a conflict with his youth camp in San Antonio, where he played for the Spurs before being traded to his hometown Pacers two years ago. “I am not going to sacrifice that for something that doesn’t mean as much to me as kids mean to me,” Hill said after distributing toys to students at Riverside Elementary School on the west side as part of the Pacers’ Summer Christmas program Wednesday. “The kids mean the world to me. If I have to make a decision to cancel some things, I will do it as a man.” Hill downplayed suggestions that other considerations — such as being a long shot to make the team for next summer’s World Cup in Spain — played a role in his decision. He also declined to specify why he didn’t tell USABasketball officials he planned to miss the camp. He was on the camp roster until being a no-show on opening day on July 21.
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: As hinted at Tuesday, the Detroit Pistons announced today the unveiling of a special uniform that will be worn during 10 games — including six Sunday home games — throughout the 2013-14 regular season. The navy blue and red uniforms feature “Motor City” across the front and mark the club’s first alternative look since the 2005-06 NBA season, according to a news release. The uniforms are the first of their kind, designed to celebrate the pride and character of metro Detroit while paying homage to the region’s automotive roots, the release added. … The team will wear the uniforms Nov. 3 against Boston, Nov. 17 at the Lakers, Nov. 29 against the Lakers, Dec. 1 against Philadelphia, Dec. 8 vs. Miami, Dec. 15 against Portland, Jan. 5 vs. Memphis, Jan. 26 at Dallas, March 9 at Boston, and April 13 against Toronto.

First Cup: Monday

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
5:04
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Percy Allen of The Seattle Times: For one afternoon, Kevin Durant belonged to Seattle once again. It was as if the lanky basketball superstar stepped into a time machine and transported back to the summer 2007 when the Sonics selected him No. 2 overall in the NBA draft. There he was Sunday, in the city where his professional career began, and the 24-year-old looked just like he did when he played his last game in Seattle five years ago. However, instead of his old green and gold No. 35 jersey, Durant wore a red No. 7. And instead of an NBA contest at KeyArena, he turned a summer-league game at the Jamal Crawford Pro-Am into a must-see event that drew manic fans to Seattle Pacific University. The crowd overflowed out of Royal Brougham Pavilion and snaked around the corner onto Nickerson Street. When Durant walked through a side door, the place went bonkers. And when he stepped on the court, the crowd of 3,000 greeted him with a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. … Durant took 62 shots — making 26 — and scored 63 points. He drained three-pointers and flushed dunks. Conroy (33 points) set him up for a thrilling alley-oop slam. Durant could have penned a storybook ending, but he missed a potential game-winning midrange jumper in the final seconds. In the extra period, the team led by Crawford (46 points), Washington Wizards guard Martell Webster (25) and former UW standout Tre Simmons (26) pulled away for a 147-141 victory. However, the real winners were the fans. “I’ve had a fun time here in Seattle,” Durant told the crowd while holding the microphone at midcourt. “I miss you guys. Thank you for the warm welcome, man. I can’t wait to come back. Thank you. I appreciate it.”
  • Bernie Augustine of the New York Daily News: There is clearly some Air left in his Jordans. Michael Jordan wowed campers at his annual Flight School camp in California over the weekend, showing that His Airness can still fly — albeit at a lower altitude — by rising up and dunking with one hand. At 50-years-old. In a pair of jeans and Air Jordans. “This still happens,” was the description accompanying the photo sent out from the Twitter account of Jordan’s camp, @MJFlightSchool.A YouTube video shows a young camper defending Jordan, and when he goes for the steal the Hall of Famer drives the lane and throws down the one-handed jam. Jordan takes the youngster to school one more time in the short clip, playfully backing him down before spinning away and sinking a running left-handed hook shot. Something has clearly gotten into the NBA stars of the 1980s and 90s this summer, as they’ve reminded a younger generation that they still have it. Or at last some of “it.”
  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: Let me start by saying, I think it's a bit ridiculous that it has taken new Sixers czar of basketball Sam Hinkie nearly 3 months to finally come up with a candidate worthy enough to offer his head coaching job. Even if we know that Hinkie's "analytical" approach to managing is the exact opposite of an "instinctive" one, 3 months is a long time for dotting all of the i's and crossing the t's. … Brown doesn't have the Sixers over a barrel, but if you're Hinkie and you've waited this long to come up with the right coach, can you afford to have him turn you down? How would you then sell the next guy in line as anything more than a temporary hire or a guy desperate for any head-coaching job? That would be a humiliating confirmation of how bad people think of the Sixers' situation. Still, I like that Brown has some kind of hammer over Hinkie because at the minimum he should be able to coax out a long-term commitment as the coach. … With the Sixers expected to lose anywhere from 55 to 65 games, a one-and-done scenario could definitely be in play for the next coach If I were Brown, I'd insist on a 4- or 5-year contract from the Sixers - one that gives management incentive to stick by me through some anticipated lean times. Honestly, the next coach getting a long-term commitment also would be best for the Sixers.
  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: “I understand,” Greg Oden said. “My body is not going to be when I was 18, able to run all day and jump over people. I can’t do that now. It’s just not going to happen. My knees, the wear and tear of the surgeries, I understand that. “But I’m going to play as hard as I can, and I’m going to try to jump over people, and I’m going to try to run all day. If my body lets me, I’ll do it.” In that sense, he is grounded. That is good. His comeback, however, could be grounded, too, by the slightest slip. It might not even take a touch. That’s how brittle he is. That’s how fragile this comeback is. That’s what Heat fans need to understand. Oden’s return to game action should not be based on anything that is occurring inside the team. Bosh is getting beaten on the boards? Doesn’t matter. Chris Andersen can’t sustain last season’s success? Doesn’t matter. The team endures a losing streak of some length? Doesn’t matter. All that matters is how Oden feels about his readiness, and how the Heat feel about that feeling. In fact, even when Oden clears himself for greater responsibility, Heat decision-makers should stall him some, just to make sure.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kendrick Perkins himself admitted that he was displeased with his performance last season. And so he's dedicated this offseason to developing his skills and improving his game. … Perkins' motivation is twofold. The Thunder's second-round exit last season still is fresh in his mind, and he knows he didn't help the team as much as he would have liked to. As for the former, the basketball world now seems to be overlooking the Thunder going into the 2013-14 season, something that isn't lost on the Thunder. “They count us out,” Perkins said. “But at the end of the day we feel like each guy at the end of the season said we were going to come back better. So we feel like each guy just got to step their roles up a little bit more and step their games up and we feel like we can do that.” Perkins will be the first to say that he's starting with the man in the mirror. He's heard his critics this offseason, and while he isn't making any vows to shut them up Perkins is using their criticism as fuel. “One thing I learned, and I learned this from Kevin Garnett, is don't only read the good things about you,” Perkins said.
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: One could bill next July as the Summer of LeBron II. But as far as the Cavaliers are concerned, their most pressing need might be signing All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to a contract extension. The Cavs can offer Irving an extension in July 2014, undoubtedly for maximum dollars. … "I know it's your job to ask about it, but I'm not really worried about that right now," he said. "I'm going to focus on my third year and worry about that in the summertime." … The 6-foot-3, 191-pound Irving said he's content in Cleveland. "Right now I'm a Cavalier," Irving said. "This is where I am. All that other stuff, I'm not worrying about it. I'm living in the moment right now. I want to work with the coaching staff and get to the playoffs. That's all I can do right now, give it my all. All that future stuff, I'm not really worrying about it." He wants to make it clear that rumors on Twitter last month about him not re-signing with the Cavs were false. "My job is to play basketball," Irving said. "That guy on Twitter that said that, (he's not) close with my family. I wanted to let Cleveland know those rumors were bogus and nothing to worry about."
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: “I’m so thankful for the position that I’m in,” Otto Porter said in a recent telephone interview. “There are a lot of guys who would love to be in my position, so just to see how far I’ve come in two or three years, coming from a small area to now I’m here in the NBA and it’s all happened so fast, it’s amazing.” From the moment he declared for the draft out of Georgetown, Porter has been flooded with information about what it takes to survive in a high-profile occupation. Last week, that information was condensed to a four-day session of seminars and workshops at the NBA’s rookie transition program in Florham Park, N.J., designed to educate players on the challenges that come with handling their finances, relationships and health. Porter and fellow Wizards rookie Glen Rice Jr. were among the nearly 50 players in attendance to receive frank instruction and personal tales of hardship and perseverance from former and current players such as Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Jerry Stackhouse and Kyrie Irving and other experts in their respective fields. They also gained an understanding of the expectations that come with being part of a business that generates more than $4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: The roster makeover has been significant, and this clearly looks like a more competitive team than the one that bumbled its way to a 28-120 record the past two seasons. They drafted Indiana power forward Cody Zeller and signed free-agent center Al Jefferson. They re-signed shooting guard Gerald Henderson and power forward Josh McRoberts. In two lesser moves – but ones that fill needs new coach Steve Clifford identified – they’ve added veterans Jannero Pargo and Anthony Tolliver as third options at point guard and power forward, respectively. Tolliver agreed to a one-year, veteran-minimum deal Saturday. Once he formally signs, the Bobcats will have 13 guarantees for next season, with an NBA-maximum 15 roster spots available. The Bobcats also have power forward Jeff Adrien on an unguaranteed contract and have indicated they will work out guard Seth Curry, the Charlottean and former Duke star, who went undrafted in June. With 13 guarantees, this is pretty much the roster the Bobcats will bring to UNC-Asheville for training camp in October.
  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: Norm Hitzges: How long a contract do you suspect you'll offer Dirk once he gets into free agency this year and you start the re-up discussion. Mark Cuban: I have no idea. But I'll talk to Dirk about it. Pretty much whatever he wants. Dirk's got a no-trade deal, so whether it's one year, three years, 20 years, it really doesn't matter. He gets to sign and re-sign as often as he wants. The length of the contract is more about how long longer Dirk wants to play more than anything else. Particularly with a young kid, he's gonna want to spend time, but he's also going to want to get some sleep. I don't see Dirk walking away from the game anytime soon. Dirk really wants to come back and send a message to everybody that he's got a lot left. The thing about Dirk is he's skill driven. He's basketball-IQ driven, he's wins driven. He's not driven by athleticism. As long as he stays healthy, he could play for a long time.

TrueHoop TV: Rookies on rookies, part 2

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
1:29
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The 2013 NBA rookie class met at the Knicks' training facility on Tuesday to have their pictures taken for their rookie trading cards. We asked them to show off some of their knowledge of past NBA rookies. We published Part 1 earlier.

In Part 2, the players tackle tough questions like: Did Bill Russell win Rookie of the Year? How about Gary Payton, or Monk Meineke?

The lineup is as follows:
  • 49th pick Erik Murphy of the Chicago Bulls
  • 5th pick Alex Len of the Phoenix Suns
  • 38th pick Nate Wolters of the Milwaukee Bucks
  • 23rd pick Solomon Hill of the Indiana Pacers
  • 11th pick Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers
  • 10th pick C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers
  • 20th pick Tony Snell of the Chicago Bulls
  • 15th pick Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
  • 12th pick Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Undrafted Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today
video

First Cup: Tuesday

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
5:32
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Prepare for the correction: The Spurs left the AT&T Center after Game 1 uniform in their belief that they were unlikely to make 14 3-pointers again this series. “I’m a math guy,” Matt Bonner said. “It’s highly improbable we’re going to shoot that clip again.” The trick for the Spurs in Game 2 will be to generate offense once the Grizzlies have located their perimeter shooters. As per usual, that effort will begin with Tony Parker, who must continue to attack off the pick-and-roll, put pressure on the Memphis defense in the paint and make good decisions from there. Protect ball and boards: With a lack of perimeter shooters, the Grizzlies can often struggle to score in a half-court offense. They generate much of their offense off turnovers and offensive putbacks. The Spurs did a decent job of limiting giveaways in Game 1 (11) and keeping the Grizzlies to a manageable 10 second-chance points. Without either of the above, it will be difficult for Memphis to score with the Spurs, even if its defense reverts back to norm. Adjust to adjustments: It’s no secret Memphis will want to get Zach Randolph going in Game 2. One way coach Lionel Hollins could accomplish this is to give more minutes to Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless, his best floor-spreading bench shooters, instead of the more offensively limited wings Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince. That move would likely change the way the Spurs are defending Randolph, making it more difficult for guards to help, but it would also make Memphis a less potent defensive unit.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Carving out space for Randolph could be every bit as difficult unless Memphis, which made the fewest number of 3s in the NBA this season, can prevent the Spurs from neglecting shooters in order to collapse on the interior. Gasol described a clear set of tactics from the Spurs: Play tight on him to negate his high-post passing skills, front Randolph and ignore the corners in order to “pound the paint.” It’s nothing the Grizzlies haven’t seen before, he said, but it proved to be highly effective as the Grizzlies made only five 3s and Randolph was limited to one meaningless basket. “We just need to keep moving the ball, keep being patient, get it some other way,” Gasol said. “But we cannot hold the all. Once we hold the ball, we’re allowing them to load up.” Conley said the team’s perimeter corps has to take more responsibility, not only by making the Spurs pay but by getting Randolph — who said he was so distraught over his play in Game 1 that he barely slept — involved.
  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: According to several sources close to the situation, LeBron James does not, in fact, put his pants on one leg at a time. That being the case, it’s astonishing that Frank Vogel has “dismissed” the mighty Miami Heat as the “next team” in the Pacers’ way -- not “just another team,” as James misquoted him -- but the next team. Shame on Vogel for not genuflecting when he mentioned the Heat, or for volunteering to kiss James’ ring -- ring singular, not rings -- when the two teams meet up in the Eastern Conference finals beginning Wednesday in Miami. The gall of Vogel, who last year suggested strongly (and expensively) that the Heat were the biggest floppers in the NBA. Doesn’t he know he’s talking about LeBron and the Big Three and a team that has gone 45-3 in its last 48 games? (If you’re not picking up on the facetiousness here, go back to school and enroll in a reading comprehension class). … Of course, this is a non-story that has become a story, which means it’s a nice easy column. Because we love conflict, even when it’s artificial conflict. Because it’s a lot easier than calculating D.J. Augustin’s PER rating in the second round against the Knicks. Because we’re like that kid on the playground who used to try and stage fights, a la Don King. Did you hear what Johnny said about your girlfriend? Silly. But wonderful. Wonderful because there’s still some bad blood after last year’s compelling six-game series between the Pacers and the Heat.
  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Much will be different about this year’s matchup between the Heat and Pacers, and it all starts with Chris Bosh being healthy and at the top of his game. But how the Heat’s reserves affect the series might be the most significant key to the game. The Heat’s bench scored 55 points last week in Game2 of its Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series against the Bulls. In last year’s conference semis against the Pacers, it took the Heat’s reserves nearly three full games to reach that total. The major differences between the Heat’s bench now and the rag-tag group that slugged it out the with Pacers in 2012: Ray Allen, who was with Boston this time last year and gearing up for a match-up with the Heat, is averaging 12.2 points per game in the playoffs. … Chris Andersen, who was on his couch in Denver this time last year, has provided much-needed muscle and energy to the Heat’s second unit. … Norris Cole was a minor footnote against the Pacers last year, averaging 2.0 points and less than 13 minutes per game.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Our next chance to judge the James Harden trade — as if it hasn't been scrutinized enough — has come. The NBA Draft Lottery is Tuesday night. It will reveal this year's draft order and determine whether the Thunder will receive Toronto's first-round pick. It's a selection Oklahoma City received as part of a package that included Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two other picks. Whatever happens, the team's fan base, as well as close followers of the trade's fallout, likely will be split. If the Thunder lands the pick, it'll be the 12th overall selection and perhaps viewed by most as a disappointment. If the pick remains with Toronto and rolls over into next year, the Thunder seemingly will get criticized for failing to receive an asset in exchange for Harden that could help sooner rather than later. A perfect storm put the Thunder in this position of possibly picking at the back end of the lottery. No way could this have been what the front office had in mind when the powers that be insisted on Houston including Toronto's first-rounder before pulling the trigger on the deal. But here they are, stuck with a worst-case scenario after everything that could go wrong for the placement of this potential pick did go wrong.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Since the regular season ended just more than a month ago, New Orleans Pelicans backup guard Brian Roberts hasn’t paid much attention to the upcoming NBA draft lottery set for Tuesday night. But whether the Pelicans pick up the option on Roberts' contract to retain him could largely depend on where they are slotted for the upcoming June 27 NBA draft. The Pelicans have only an 8.8 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick going into the lottery. But they have a 26.15 percent chance of staying at the fifth spot, where several mock drafts have them selecting Michigan point guard Trey Burke. Most have Burke, 6-feet, 190, being taken no higher than fifth and not lower than seventh. If the Pelicans draft Burke and they already have starter Greivis Vasquez, they could opt not to keep Roberts, especially with Austin Rivers having the ability to play both guard positions. But some of the mock drafts also have Pelicans addressing their need to improve their small forward spot by drafting Georgetown's Otto Porter or UNLV's Anthony Bennett if they can land one of the top three draft spots. ``Right now I’m just trying to see how things play out,’’ Roberts said.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Will the Bobcats select a long-term keeper? History suggests the odds aren’t great. Since their inception in 2004, the Bobcats have made top-five selections four times. An Observer study last spring demonstrated top-five picks are precious: Thirty-six of the top 100 players in the league, as identified by that study, were top-five picks, including 15 of the top 20 players. … The Bobcats’ draft pick retention history is pretty threadbare. Of the 10 players chosen in the lottery (the first 14 picks) six are gone (two no longer in the NBA). Gerald Henderson will be a restricted free agent and three others – Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker – are still playing in Charlotte under their rookie contracts. These next two drafts could provide the Bobcats’ a do-over. Along with the 2013 pick, the Bobcats might have three first-rounders in 2014 and all could be lottery picks. The Bobcats figure to miss the playoffs next season and are owed picks from the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons that could come due in ’14.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: As all of the NBA’s non-playoff teams gather in New York tonight for the draft lottery, the Cavaliers have to like the odds they carry into Times Square. The Cavs enter with the third-best chance (15.6 percent) at winning the lottery. The league is celebrating its 20th anniversary of the revamped weighted system, and the team with the third-best odds has won five of the first 19 years. No other lottery position has been more successful. The overwhelming question now is how excited it’s worth getting for a lottery victory when the draft is expected to be so dismal. The projected top pick, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, is offensively challenged and isn’t expected to play until close to Christmas while recovering from a knee injury. And that’s the best prospect. It only goes down from there. Nevertheless, the Cavs will follow the same protocol as the previous two years. Minority team owner Jeff Cohen will represent the Cavs in the sequestered room where the numbers are actually drawn and Nick Gilbert, son of owner Dan Gilbert, will again represent the Cavs on the podium during the television broadcast when the draft positions are revealed.
  • Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: Iman Shumpert revealed that he will play for the Knicks in the Las Vegas summer league for the first time after missing it last summer while rehabbing a torn ACL and the year before because of the lockout. “They want to see me be more decisive offensively, which I already knew, but that would be big for me to work on this summer…and come in for training camp ready to do that,” Shumpert said.
  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: Given the NBA's willingness to relocate franchises far more freely than the other big leagues, the decision last week to keep the Kings in Sacramento in lieu of a crazy-money offer from Seattle was surprising. What wasn't surprising was the local reaction. The Bucks-to-Seattle drum was put out there and then beaten by politicians and community leaders who needed the news to throw another log on an arena-debate fire that isn't exactly raging at the moment. Two things: None of this was coming from Seattle. And if it is suddenly convenient to have the nation's 12th largest TV market looming as a bogeyman to jump-start serious arena discussions here, well, that is how the game is played. Of course, there is another way to look at this unexpected turn of events as it applies to the Bucks. Not long after the NBA prevented the small-market Kings from moving, NBA commissioner Stern, for the first time in a decade, began warming to the idea of expansion. In a Sunday story, the Seattle Times portrayed expansion as the city's best chance to reclaim the team that was stolen five years ago in the Oklahoma City rustle. … If Seattle is an imaginary threat to the Bucks, that doesn't mean the pressure is not there to make the organization worthy of a new arena. Since advancing to the Eastern Conference finals 13 years ago, the Bucks have made the playoffs five times, are 7-20 and have not gotten out of the first round. The effort to pull the Bucks from their self-dug pit should be from within, not from without.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Bryan Colangelo’s tenure as the top basketball savant at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is at an end. His relationship with the sports conglomerate is not. In a move that should be officially announced as early as Tuesday morning, Colangelo will cede control of basketball operations as the president and general manager within the company and move to some unspecified corporate role, according to multiple NBA sources. Colangelo’s future has been cloudy since the arrival of new MLSE chief executive officer Tim Leiweke; the Raptors held an option on a final contract year for Colangelo and Leiweke seemed lukewarm from the start about picking it up. But the veteran NBA executive, seven years on the job in Toronto after more than a decade with the Phoenix Suns and a two-time NBA executive of the year, has always been a loyal and valued part of the organization, a fact not lost on ownership. Sources suggest minority owner Larry Tanenbaum may have been involved in the process of finding a suitable and significant position for Colangelo, a process that was still being finalized Monday afternoon, according to sources.
  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: What you are about to read is pure speculation. I feel compelled to declare that up front, unlike so many NBA coaching rumors you read on the internet that quote "well-placed sources," which often is the Ouija board sitting next to the author or, even worse, an agent. So here goes: It wouldn't surprise me if Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who has been looking for apotential replacement for coach Larry Drew, is waiting to interview Brian Shaw. Shaw is an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers, who just upset the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs and now will face (and lose to) Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. … No, I'm not declaring Shaw as the favorite for the Hawks' job. But it would make sense if he's a candidate, especially if Ferry can't land Stan Van Gundy (who figures to have better options) and believes he and Shaw will be on the same page in terms of how to build a team. (This is why I believe San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer is a strong possibility.) And if you're wondering, yes, Ferry and Shaw did cross paths once: in Italy. Both played in the Italian League for Il Messaggero Roma in 1989-90. In fact, I've even located NBC News raw video links of the two walking together in Italy.
  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Although he no longer plies his trade here, former 76ers coach Larry Brown still keeps his eyes and ears focused on all things basketball in Philadelphia. Brown, who coached the Sixers from 1997-2003, expressed some skepticism about the direction of his old team. Now the coach at Southern Methodist, he also bemoaned the loss of his chance to coach in the Big East Conference. Brown was one of eight inductees Monday night into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. The 72-year-old Brown is an old-school coach who is not sold on the heightened focus on advanced statistics in the NBA. "I'm not that kind of guy," Brown said when asked his opinion on the hiring of new Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie. "You're asking the wrong guy. This is not baseball. Guys hit better during the day than they do at night. You have lefties and righties. But this is not baseball. In this league, it's about teaching players and making them better." However, Brown said he does not rule out the role of analytics in building a better basketball team. "All the information, I'm sure, helps," Brown said. "But at the end of the day, this is a basketball town. They love kids that play hard, play together, play smart. And the best way to tell that about a kid is to look him in the eye in the most crucial moments of a game. That tells you so much. But you have to give this a chance.”
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: For the better part of three years, they had one of the most thankless jobs in the industry, trying to sell season tickets when their franchise was forever on the move? Good luck. Good night. And break out the suitcase. So imagine how the remaining members of the Kings' depleted ticket sales department felt Wednesday when NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the team was staying in Sacramento and negotiations were under way to transfer controlling interest to a deep-pocketed investment group headed by software entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive? There was relief, and disbelief. There were high-fives, and tears. There were jobs, and more jobs.

The view from Seattle

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
2:34
PM ET
Pelton By Kevin Pelton
ESPN.com
Archive
SEATTLE -- There was a small victory for Seattle basketball fans (including me) Wednesday night. The town's resident NBA team, whatever opponent is playing the Oklahoma City Thunder (in this case the Memphis Grizzlies), knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs.

But that was barely consolation for the day's crushing news. When the NBA's Board of Governors voted down the proposal by a group of local businessmen to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle as the Sonics, it ensured Seattle will be without NBA basketball for at least a sixth season -- with no guarantees that will change any time soon.

The issue isn't with the Kings staying in Sacramento. Kings fans did nothing to deserve losing their team, and the local government and a new California-based ownership group stepped up to meet every challenge set forth by the NBA over the past four months. Just five years after we went through our own painful relocation, few fans in Seattle relished the thought of putting another city through the same thing.

No matter how much NBA commissioner David Stern tried to emphasize that Wednesday's vote was about what Sacramento did instead of what Seattle failed to do, here in the Emerald City it was hard to interpret the rejection of the move as anything but a rejection of Seattle. Stern said Sacramento was the winner in this scenario, and therefore we must be the losers.

What really hurt was the NBA's unwillingness to seriously consider expansion as a win-win solution to the Sacramento-Seattle conundrum. From start to finish, Stern and his successor Adam Silver were clear that expansion was a remote possibility until the NBA has finished negotiating its next TV deal. (The current one, with ESPN and Turner Sports, expires at the end of the 2015-16 season.)

The steadfast opposition to expansion is perplexing given the unique strength of the offer made by the prospective Seattle ownership group led by Chris Hansen. Between their increased $625 million valuation of the Kings and an unprecedented $115 million relocation fee, the group indicated a willingness to pay $740 million for an NBA franchise in Seattle -- nearly $25 million for each of the other 30 owners and more than double the $300 million fee the last time the league expanded, to Charlotte in 2004.

Under the current TV deal, worth $930 million per year to the league, the difference to other teams between slicing the pie 30 ways and 31 ways is $1 million per year. While that figure is expected to jump under the next contract, even if we make the optimistic assumption that the NBA's rights will double in value every seven-year contract, it would take 25 years of TV money to offset the net present value to owners of awarding Seattle an expansion team. How long is that in professional sports terms? Of the league's 30 teams today, just six have enjoyed continuous ownership for the last 25 years.

That analysis assumes there's no benefit to TV negotiations in adding a team in the country's No. 12 market. In theory, the NBA should be better off demographically whenever it can add a market better than the current league average. As for other concerns about expansion -- talent dilution, an odd number of teams, etc. -- I direct you to Tom Ziller's epic takedown.

As the NHL has demonstrated, expanding too rapidly is dangerous. But on average, the NBA has added a team every four and a half years since the merger with the ABA (eight in 36 years). Both the MLB and NFL have averaged a new team every six years or so in a similar span (six since 1977 in MLB; six since 1976 in the NFL). By those standards, the NBA is actually overdue for expansion at nine years and counting. The NFL landed at 32 teams and MLB 30; going to 31 would put the NBA right in the middle.

Surely, part of the league's thinking is that by the time the next TV contract is wrapped up there may be more clarity about troubled franchises elsewhere. The Milwaukee Bucks, whose lease runs through 2017, are likely to eventually move if they're unable to replace or renovate the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and other teams could look elsewhere if attendance fails to improve over the next few seasons.

The problem with this logic is that the clock is already ticking on Seattle's plan for a new arena. The memorandum of understanding signed last fall by Hansen's group, the city and King County expires in 2017. Between now and then, the same forces that opposed the deal last summer will be reinvigorated by this opening. While Sonics fans were still grieving Wednesday afternoon, the longshore union that has filed litigation against the arena site called on local politicians to reconsider the plan. This fall's mayoral election could sharply change the political landscape.

Fighting off the anti-arena forces once again will require Sonics fans to maintain the passion they have shown since Hansen began pursuing a deal to bring the team back. That's going to be difficult to do on the strength of vague assurances that the NBA would like to return to Seattle. Hope can go only so far. At some point, fans will need the league to reciprocate some of the love they have shown for the Sonics. On Wednesday, that was nowhere to be found.

Twitter NBA name mash-up game

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
1:13
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive

First Cup: Thursday

May, 16, 2013
5/16/13
4:40
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Two years ago, Zach Randolph nearly carried the Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals but came up a little short. The Grizzlies’ power forward wasn’t strong enough to contribute to a long postseason run last season because of his challenging recovery from a knee injury. But Wednesday night, a healthy Randolph forcefully put his imprint all over the Grizzlies’ 88-84 Game 5 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Griz won the Western Conference semifinals, 4-1, on the strength of Randolph’s 28 points and 14 rebounds in the closeout game. He helped punch the Grizzlies’ ticket to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. “Zach was huge the whole game,” Griz coach Lionel Hollins said. “He came out snorting and grunting. He carried us offensively.” In expressing his desire to win a championship, Randolph emphasized there’s still work to be done. Clearly, though, one of the league’s most feared bullies in the paint is back on the block. Also, grit-and-grind basketball will now play for a trip to the NBA Finals. “This just tells you that when you keep a core together and you stick with them, good things can happen,” Randolph said.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Shame it had to end like this. You can only wonder what would have been had Russell Westbrook been healthy. Instead, the inevitable finally happened tonight. All things considered, this was a great season. Nothing to be ashamed about. Division champs. Sixty wins. Best record in the conference. The best regular season in the OKC era even after James Harden was traded five days beforehand. A second round appearance even after Westbrook went down two games into the first round. “We had a really good season,” said Kevin Durant. More Durant: “It’s tough to swallow now, but I’m sure we’re going to look back on this down the line and really appreciate this tough time.” No need to panic. No need for big changes or major shakeups. Though it might not feel like it right now, this team doesn’t need it. All it needs is a healthy right knee. Get that back and the Thunder is back in business. Back to dominance. Back to being a championship contender. Back to having a bright future. In the meantime, we learned a lot about this group without Westbrook. We learned that Reggie Jackson is ready to break out, possibly as a Most Improved and Sixth Man candidate next year. We learned that Durant does need help and that Westbrook is indeed the best fit for him. We learned that Kevin Martin doesn’t fit, that Scott Brooks can and will bench Kendrick Perkins, that the Thunder’s system is serviceable for the regular season but shaky come the postseason and thatSerge Ibaka has many more strides left to take. … It was fun while it lasted, Derek Fisher. I wonder what the Thunder will do with him next year. His contract is up and the Thunder will have open roster spots. He proved he still has value, both on and off the court. … There’s no edge to this team. OKC is either going to out-athlete you or outscore you. But next year’s team needs some nasty. I’m looking at you, Ronny Turiaf. Find a way, Sam Presti, to lure Reggie Evans from Brooklyn. Rebounds and toughness. The Thunder’s got to have it.
  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Welcome back, Dwyane Wade. Your timing was impeccable. The chatter entering Wednesday night’s playoff game here centered on the thick elastic wrap on Wade’s right knee and the pain barking underneath it. Could Dwyane be his old, spectacular self? Or was he simply too hurt? The answers were inconclusive much of the night, but emphatic when they absolutely mattered. “I had a good couple minutes,” he said, smiling. Wade did, and that is largely why Miami beat the Chicago Bulls 94-91 Wednesday night to win this second-round series 4 games to 1 and jack the downtown bayside arena into fiesta mode. The result sent depleted Chicago into its offseason after a noble effort, and sends Miami on to the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals after a dramatically earned comeback. The Heat is now halfway to a repeat championship. It’s the easy half that’s in the books now. It’s what remains that will find the vintage Wade — healthy or playing like it — in ever greater demand. There is a country music lyric: “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good, once, as I ever was.” That was D-Wade, late Wednesday. That might be Wade all this postseason, budgeting his energy and physical strength, waiting to strike, striking in bursts. Wednesday he would finish with 18 points, but the six of those he delivered last recalled a Wade unencumbered by knee-wraps or doubts.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Derrick Rose might not be planning much this summer. Whether the Bulls point guard likes it or not, the organization wants more say in what his offseason will consist of. “There will be a plan with him [this offseason],’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have an offseason program that he’s going to have to go through. It will be mostly the same, but we’ll be adding a few things to it.’’ With good reason. The Bulls watched their season come to an end in a 94-91 Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday. It was the second time in three years that the Heat have put the Bulls on ice. The chasing is getting old. And chasing the defending champs with Rose sitting out the season with his surgically-repaired anterior cruciate ligament? The results weren’t so hot. This summer has to be about getting Rose at full strength physically and mentally if the Bulls want to put an end to their futility against LeBron James’ team. … It’s an even bigger issue when a team limps into a playoff series as the Bulls did. Rose? Out. Luol Deng? Out after complications from a spinal tap. Kirk Hinrich? Never recovered from a bruised left calf suffered in the first-round win over the Brooklyn Nets. … Trailing be three with the ball on the final possession, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed game-tying three-point attempts, ending a drama-filled season. The attention quickly turned to Rose, and rightfully so. … And now the right thing will be doing whatever the team asks of him this summer.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Cruising through the web in the aftermath of Game 5, one angle stood out above the others: A short passage at Grantland illustrating just how well the George Hill/Kawhi Leonard swap has worked out for both franchises. Neither are stars, but they’re playing key roles on what will almost certainly be two of the last four teams standing in the 2012-13 season. Leonard has established himself as one of the game’s brightest young prospects with the Spurs, while Hill is running the point with a steady, sometimes spectacular hand for his hometown Pacers. Such was the case on Tuesday, when Hill erupted for 26 points as Indiana took a 3-1 series lead over the New York Knicks. Not long after Leonard scored 17 on only eight shots while applying such withering defense on Golden State’s Klay Thompson that he could not find the space to launch a single 3-point attempt. So many NBA trades are made to free up cap space, or unload a disgruntled star for pennies on the dollar. In this instance, both teams saw assets that could fill glaring needs — in Indiana’s case a starting point guard who had been groomed by the game’s best coach, and in San Antonio’s a much-need infusion of youth and athleticism on the wing. Had the Pacers kept Leonard, or if they’d even drafted him at all with the 15th pick in 2011 without the Spurs’ directive, he’d be overkill behind All-Star small forward Paul George. It would have duplicated the situation Hill faced in San Antonio, where his growth and role were always going to be stunted by the presence of Tony Parker.
  • Monte Poole of The Oakland Tribune: The Warriors approach the possibility of postseason elimination amid heated dialogue about their offense. What's wrong with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson? Where is the torrid shooting that made them a popular storyline throughout the playoffs? The more substantive factor for the Warriors, though, has to do with defense. If they don't play it exceedingly well against San Antonio on Thursday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Warriors will walk out of Oracle Arena and directly into the offseason. Defense is the element of the game most consistently discussed by Mark Jackson. On Wednesday, a day after a 109-91 loss in Game 5, the coach once again leaned on the subject. Asked about the suddenly chilly jump shots rolling off the fingers of Steph and Klay, Jackson jumped atop an old soapbox built on the sturdy pillars of league history. … "They shot 72 percent in the first quarter, scored 37 points," he said of the Spurs. "That has nothing to do with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry shooting the basketball." As someone who spent 17 years as an NBA player and nearly a decade as a close observer, Jackson realizes defense is crucial to postseason success. Understanding his team and the NBA, the coach expressed a tedious truth: Jump shots do not win championships and rarely get a team close to one. … Listening to several Warriors on Wednesday, it was clear Jackson's message was heard. Andrew Bogut, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry all cited defensive shortcomings as the primary factor in losing Game 5. Their heads are in the right place. They seem to understand jump shots can be pleasing to the eye, but that defense determines how far a team goes during the postseason grind. Endurance, after all, requires full grasp of the basics as taught by lessons of the past.
  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The lack of respect is still there for the Indiana Pacers. They have beaten up, bullied and shut down the New York Knicks for most of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals. But the credit has yet to show up for the Pacers. The talk of the series has centered on how the Knicks are missing shots, Iman Shumpert’s knee and who is and isn’t playing team basketball. The Pacers can put everybody (outside of the New York market, at least) out of their misery of hearing about those issues Thursday. The Pacers, up 3-1 in the series, can advance to their first Eastern Conference finals since 2004 with a victory. … There’s no better place for the Pacers to get the recognition they deserve than to do it in the Mecca — Madison Square Garden, known as the world’s most famous arena, where the stars sit courtside and the crowd will be so loud fans can’t hear the person next to them. “It’s going to be 10 times harder, it being in New York,” Pacers swingman Paul George said. “We know how well they play at home, so it’s going to take a great effort, so we’ll see where we’re at.” These aren’t the same Pacers who hoped they could win on the road. They know they can win on the road.
  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The Knicks won 54 games this season on the strength of their offense and were at their most dominant when the ball was moving, the floor was spaced, and Anthony and Smith were alternating good shots with smart passes. That identity has been lost, and Woodson has failed to do anything to restore it. Instead, Woodson went the opposite direction in Game 4 on Tuesday. He abandoned the small lineup that gave the Knicks their edge. He started Kenyon Martin, a defensive-minded enforcer, in a failed attempt to counter the Pacers’ size. He benched Prigioni, whose passing skills had been critical to the Knicks’ offensive rhythm for two months. (Prigioni has the best plus-minus rating of any Knicks starter in the playoffs.) Though the Knicks quickly fell behind by double digits, Woodson stuck with the big lineup for most of the night, thoroughly revamping his rotation in the 90th game of the season. … Woodson has indisputably been a net positive for the Knicks, corralling a locker room of volatile characters and disparate talents and presiding over the franchise’s best season in more than a decade. His failures in this series threaten to overshadow it all. On Wednesday, Woodson abruptly canceled his weekly radio spot with ESPN’s New York affiliate — a first this season. If the Knicks falter again Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, there will be no escaping the backlash. “Blame it on me,” Woodson said. As if the city needs any encouragement.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings are staying in Sacramento. Can we say that again? The Kings are staying in Sacramento. In what would have been considered a major upset only four months ago, the NBA board of governors looked hard at Seattle but did a double-take when evaluating Sacramento. Come again? The league's owners remembered almost three decades of good times – of sellout streaks and international appeal and impassioned crowds even when the team was terrible. They listened to members of the relocation committee and, yes, to their stubborn, respected, retiring commissioner. And, ultimately, they envisioned a revived franchise with impressive new owners, a state-of-the-art arena and an invigorated fan base. "This was not an anti-Seattle vote," Commissioner David Stern said Wednesday. "This was a pro-Sacramento vote." It's true. It happened. Lightning struck, thunder rolled in, and tornado warnings were issued throughout the city known as Big D. But all that happened later in the evening. In the afternoon, while rain pelted the hotel where the owners convened to determine the Kings' future, the Sacramento entourage pitched a near-perfect storm of a presentation.
  • Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times: At the end of the fight, the old, vindictive NBA commissioner couldn't announce the winner without first needling the city he was about to make a loser again. At the end of a polarizing relocation issue that he once described as "wrenching," the man who always measures his words couldn't resist one smug remark directed at Seattle. At the end of another heartbreaking NBA result, David Stern taunted us. "This is going to be short for me," he told reporters in Dallas on Wednesday. "I have a game to get to in Oklahoma City." Ouch. It was a sucker punch followed by a gut punch. First, Stern reminded Seattle that its team is now in Oklahoma City. Then, he announced the NBA was rejecting the city's bid to get a team back. … For the past four months, we have been Stern's pawn. Now, we're back to being his punch line. No more. Let's not play this game anymore. The next time Seattle plays with the NBA, it has to be a fair game that the city is capable of winning. For certain, that means it has to be a game that Stern isn't overseeing, which will require waiting until Adam Silver takes over in February to engage in talks again. The Stern/Seattle relationship is too toxic to bother mending, and if there was any doubt about The Commish's grudge-holding ways, his opening remarks made his Seattle disdain clear. The league turned down an epic Seattle offer in order to do the right thing — and since when did the NBA start caring about doing the right thing? Seattle's failed bid doesn't just affect Sacramento. It gives a clear path for every incumbent NBA city to keep its team. Heck, the past two NBA relocation situations, both involving Seattle, provide a road map of what to do and what not to do.

Kings decision likely today

May, 15, 2013
5/15/13
10:18
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The NBA's Board of Governors is meeting today in Dallas, likely to finally close this chapter of uncertainty about the Sacramento Kings.

If you've been following the news you probably know there's an aggressive push to move the team to Seattle, which is heavily favored by the current owners, the Maloofs.

There's similarly an aggressive push to keep the team in Sacramento.

Who will carry the day? There are many moving parts to this econo-drama, and they are explained nicely and succinctly by James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom.

Well worth a read.

Phil Jackson latest: Waiting on Seattle?

May, 11, 2013
5/11/13
3:20
AM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
Archive
Some fresh dribbles of chatter from the NBA's coaching and personnel grapevines:

Phil Jackson is obviously taking him time weighing overtures from the Toronto Raptors and the other interested (but still unidentified) teams that have reached out to him pitching jobs that, in Phil's words, where "none of it involves coaching."

One factor to explain that uber-patient approach emerged Friday night, when a source close to the situation acknowledged that Jackson wants to wait until the Seattle group trying to buy the Sacramento Kings is completely ruled out as an option before giving serious thought to where to work next season.

ESPN.com reported recently that Jackson has "hit it off" with Chris Hansen, who leads the Seattle consortium that on Friday upped the valuation of its offer to buy the Kings to $625 million. It has been widely presumed in front-office circles that Hansen wants to install Jackson as the team president of the new Sonics if they can successful complete the purchase of the Kings they've been chasing since January.

The recent recommendation from a group of 12 owners to reject the Seattle deal appeared to put a halt to the Jackson-to-Seattle speculation, but Hansen and Co. refuse to surrender. The league has called for a full meeting of its Board of Governors on Wednesday in Dallas.



The Raptors, according to sources close to the situation, continue to pursue Jackson and continue to believe they have a shot to lure him to Canada as team president because of Jackson's longstanding relationship with new Toronto pro sports impresario Tim Leiweke.

The Raps, though, still have yet to announce a decision on the fate of current team president Bryan Colangelo after Colangelo made a presentation to the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment board Tuesday to urge his bosses to pick up the 2013-14 option on his contract. One source briefed on the process expects Colangelo's fate to be formally announced this week in advance of the annual Chicago pre-draft camp.



The list of known candidates for the Pistons' coaching vacancy, currently at four, appears poised to swell to five.

Sources say that Knicks assistant coach Darrell Walker will soon get an interview for the position vacated by Lawrence Frank.

The Pistons have already interviewed the available Nate McMillan, Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter, Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and Rockets assistant J.B. Bickerstaff.

First Cup: Tuesday

April, 30, 2013
4/30/13
4:54
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The notion struck midway through another second quarter in which the Atlanta Hawks were extracting, without Novocain and with great force, the “d” from Indiana. “The Pacers can’t guard the Hawks,” declared a correspondent watching from on high, “and the Hawks can guard the Pacers. How’d that happen?” These are the Hawks and this is the postseason, so who knows? But know this: The Hawks can win this series and if they do, it won’t be much of an upset now. Indiana, the East’s No. 3 seed, just spent two games in Philips Arena making a case for itself as the most overrated team in the history of basketball, and the unloved Hawks … well, they’ve been lovely. Yes, this best-of-seven is tied at 2, and yes, the Hawks will have to take a game in Indianapolis, where they lost twice last week by an aggregate 32 points, in order to advance, But the dynamics of this matchup have been inverted. The Pacers, with much to lose, seem capable of losing it all. The Hawks, whose modest mission this season was not to stink before the real rebuilding begins this summer, look like a team constructed by a master craftsman. … So what happens now? The Pacers are very good at home, but they’ve been handed real reason to doubt. The looks on their faces during that second quarter spoke of anger and frustration but mostly bewilderment. This series was theirs to win. They’re in peril of losing it to a team that was built to be torn down.
  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. So never mind what a certain not-so-humble (but good-looking) columnist wrote a couple of days back in this space: This Pacers-Hawks series isn’t over. It’s far from over. In fact, it’s just beginning, a best-of-three with two games in Indianapolis, after the Pacers’ 102-91 Game 4 loss to the Hawks. Mea culpa, mea culpa — which is Latin for “Man, did I get that wrong.” It still says here the Pacers win this series in six games — at some point I’m bound to be right about something — but it’s easy to lose the faith while watching the way they’ve regressed to the disconnected, defenseless style of play that marked the final week and a half of the regular season. What’s happened to this group? This was the league’s second-best defensive team in terms of points allowed. This was the league’s top defensive team in terms of field goal percentage allowed and three-point field goal percentage allowed. But they’re getting absolutely skewered by the Atlanta Hawks, who are making plays and leaving the Pacers players with hands on hips, shooting each other empty, angry glances. … Raise the red flags. Sound the alarm bells. This series, which never should have become a series, has left the Pacers with almost no margin of error. Color me fooled. And chastened.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Finally, the ball did not bounce 12 feet in the air and stab the Rockets in the heart. Kevin Durant did not get the last shot. The Rockets held on. After consecutive games in which the Rockets did everything but close out a win, they held their breath as a pair of last-chance Oklahoma City shots came up short. When Reggie Jackson’s runner and Serge Ibaka putback missed, the Rockets escaped 105-103 on Monday night, sending the first-round series back to Oklahoma City with the Thunder leading 3-1 but giving the Rockets their first playoff win since 2009. “We know we can play with these guys,” said Chandler Parsons, who led the Rockets with 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. “We know we can beat these guys. We were in the same situation the last two games. No way we were going to give it up.” They had clearly earned it, coming back from a 13-point deficit and making just enough stops with the game on the line to extend their season to Game 5 on Wednesday night. “Great win by us,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “It was a gutsy win. I told our guys before the game, ‘One thing about our team, we’re not going to lay down.’ They fought all year long. We had different lineups. We’ve had different kinds of stuff happen. The one constant has been their willingness to go out and scrap and fight. I said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to lay an egg tonight.’ We went out and we fought hard.”
  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: The frenzied finish resulted in a 105-103 loss for the Thunder, which failed in its quest to sweep this best-of-7 opening-round playoff series. Leading 3-1, OKC will try to close out the series in Game 5 at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The best news arrived roughly 90 minutes later when the Thunder boarded its charter and returned home after four draining days away from home. The team left OKC on Friday afternoon just hours after learning three-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would be out indefinitely with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. The following morning came news that Westbrook would be lost for the entire postseason after having surgery in Vail, Colo. Later that night was Game 3, the first contest in Thunder history with no Westbrook on the court. OKC jumped out to a 26-point lead and managed to hang on for a 104-101 victory. A collective sigh of relief was visible from Thunder players, even from veteran power forward Nick Collison, who admitted it had been an emotional 48 hours.
  • Tim Smith of the New York Daily News: Ten days ago the Nets defended their home court at Barclays Center and opened their first-round series against the Bulls with a victory so resounding it seemed they were launching into a run that would carry them deep into the postseason. On Monday night, the Nets returned home having lost three straight games, including a triple-OT fiasco that followed an epic fourth-quarter collapse in Game 4. Gone was the ebullient spirit of that inaugural playoff game at Barclays Center, replaced by an atmosphere of desperation and disappointment as the Nets, in a 3-1 hole , stared down elimination. Only eight teams have rallied from that same deficit, but the Nets were 5-0 in Game 5 elimination games. There was hope. Brooklyn stoked that ember of hope and beat the Bulls at their own game, staving off elimination with a 110-91 victory . Now they head back to Chicago to face another elimination game on Thursday. “Our backs are against the wall right now,” said forward Gerald Wallace. “We’re in fighting spirit. We’re a fighting team and we’re not ready to go home. We feel like we’re better than this team. We feel like we’re good enough and a better team and we can come back and win three in a row just like they did.”
  • Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune: The Bulls needed Kirk Hinrich for all 59 minutes he played in a Game 4 triple-overtime win. Monday night in Game 5, they had to figure out how to proceed without him. The simple solution, with Hinrich sidelined by a bruised left calf, was a heavy dose of Nate Robinson, who was coming off his 34-point explosion in Game 4. The offensive-minded Robinson, however, is light years behind Hinrich in terms of defensive ability. Rookie Marquis Teague and Marco Belinelli spelled Robinson for brief stints, but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau relied heavily on his diminutive point guard, playing him 43-plus minutes. As Hinrich watched from a row behind the bench, Robinson played with his typical high energy but failed to match his Game 4 output. He looked for his teammates more than his own shots for a good portion of the game and seemed to run out of steam in the end. He scored a team-high 20 points and had eight assists in the Bulls' 110-91 loss to the Nets. Robinson went 1-for-5 from 3-point range and committed three turnovers. His most costly miscue came with two minutes left in regulation. Robinson picked up his dribble against Deron Williams and tried to force a pass to Luol Deng. Nets forward Gerald Wallace stepped into the passing lane and broke free for the game-clinching dunk. "Had a crucial turnover down the stretch that really hurt us,'' Robinson said. "I take the blame for that, and that's something I have to do better."
  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Faces crinkled and shoulders shrugged in befuddlement. The question: What now? The Nuggets, down 3-1 to Golden State in their opening round playoff series, have had few defensive answers to the Warriors' offensive onslaught. What to do? It is suddenly a tough question. "Uh ... I don't know," Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said. "I really don't." Nuggets guard Andre Miller: "That's the coaches' decision to figure out the adjustments, who is guarding who, certain things like that. It's a pride thing, and I think the coaches will figure out a way to adjust to things." Nuggets guard Ty Lawson: "Man ... whatever the coaches come up with." The problem is, most everything the Nuggets have tried on defense in this series hasn't worked after Golden State's all-star forward, David Lee, went down with an injury in Game 1. Warriors coach Mark Jackson then went with a small, three-guard lineup that has given the Nuggets fits. Lee's absence has turned the Warriors from a conventional team to a wild card, from having a dual low-post game to running a spread — four shooters on the perimeter, each with the ability to create a shot for their teammates. As a result, the Nuggets' defense been stretched thin and distorted beyond recognition.
  • Carl Steward of The Oakland Tribune: In 438 best-of-seven playoff series throughout NBA history, only eight teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win. But coach Mark Jackson is having nothing with the odds that favor the Warriors to advance as they head into Denver for Game 5 on Tuesday. "We expect to see a tough Denver Nuggets team that's fighting for its playoff life, that's prepared and ready to keep the series going," Jackson said Monday. "The most difficult game is the close-out game. I've got a young team, and if we keep doing what we're doing, we'll put ourselves in position to move on. But it's a tough task, because this is a very good Nuggets team." The last team to complete a comeback from being down 3-1 was the 2006 Phoenix Suns. Kobe Bryant led the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers to the 3-1 advantage, but Phoenix won three games fairly handily to salvage the series. In 2003, the Orlando Magic got up 3-1 on top-seeded Detroit, but the Pistons rallied after the Magic's Tracy McGrady pronounced that it felt good to get out of the first round. The Warriors are making no such pronouncements. … Another number that doesn't favor the Nuggets: In seven of his eight seasons as Denver's coach, George Karl has failed to get out of the first round, three of those times with home-court advantage in the series.
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Lionel Hollins went with a trust factor over gut feeling. Who can I trust? That’s the question Hollins and Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro will ask themselves over and over again Tuesday night during a pivotal Game 5 of their Western Conference playoff series in Staples Center. Game 5 winners have gone on to win playoff series 83 percent of the time. So it’s no wonder that rotations shorten and coaches lean on a select group they deem old reliable in a long playoff series. “We’re trying to play the people who are producing and not have huge gaps or lulls,” Hollins said. “I’ve been trying to piecemeal rotations and keep our (starters) fresh. Everybody that got in (the rotation) during the regular season isn’t getting to trot out there. It’s just the way it is.” The series is knotted at 2-2 but the coaches couldn’t be further apart in philosophy. Hollins hasn’t dug deep into his bench and even regular-season super sub Bayless disappeared over the past three games. Conversely, Del Negro relied on most of his roster. He’s played all but two healthy players in the series.
  • Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: They've bludgeoned each other for four games and they will for at least two more. But the more the Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies have at each other, the less pure basketball tactics will make a difference. In tonight's Game 5 of the best-of-7 Western Conference playoff series, mind over matter figures to trump anything out of a playbook in the Staples Center clash. "The biggest thing is a sense of urgency is going to be the key," Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said. "They played desperate basketball, now it's our turn. We have to make a few adjustments, but it's our turn now to play with a sense of urgency." The first-round series has been a classic case of NBA playoffs through the years. The teams are seeded fourth and fifth, and the team playing at home has been the aggressor and the victor. It's no surprise the series stands at 2-2, especially after they went the full seven a year ago. How close are these teams? To a man, they'll point out the one physical matchup that has illustrated the direction of this series, and it's rebounding. Win the rebound battle, win the game. And a closer look at the four games shows the margin of rebounding is eerily close to the margin of the final score.
  • Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times: As I've written before, this was the best time for the NBA to return, and now that Seattle feels left at the altar, old wounds have reopened, and old bitterness has resurfaced. With no expansion on the table, there is no clear path to acquire a team, and while the deal to build a $490 million Sodo arena could stay together for up to five years, can the fan base really stand to go through another relocation tug of war with an incumbent NBA city? It's impossible to trust that a victory is possible until Stern retires. Count the days until Feb. 1, 2014. Maybe then, when Adam Silver takes over as commissioner, the game will have clear rules. Hansen tried to win the right way. He tried to do it with transparency; no buying the Kings and pretending to want to stay in Sacramento. He tried to do it with record-setting money and a polished business plan. But the NBA is a liar's game, full of hypocrites, improper alliances, a lack of financial creativity and a commissioner who is more powerful than the owners he represents. Stern revises the rules according to his whims. It seems Seattle was destined to lose in this ever-changing game. We're back in a familiar place with that spirit-crushing league. Abandoned. Again.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "Justice prevailed," said Jerry Reynolds, who has been with the Kings since their inaugural 1985-86 season in Sacramento. "This is the right decision. Seattle is a great city that deserves an NBA franchise. And at some point, they'll have one." But … "But this is our team," Reynolds added forcefully, and note the high level of cooperation that was necessary to facilitate the public/private partnership for a downtown sports and entertainment complex. "Sacramento is a major-league city, and it simply has to have a major-league sports team to grow. "When we travel around the country and see how these arenas have revitalized downtowns in Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Miami, to name a few cities, I keep thinking that a downtown arena here can be just as special. And this was probably Sac's last best chance."

Monday Bullets

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
12:29
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Can't decide if the Clippers really have any chance of hanging with the Thunder and the Spurs in the West. One unknowable is to what extent Chris Paul has been holding back, waiting for the playoffs. To that end, in Game 1 he busted out 23 points on just 11 shots, to go with seven assists and two rebounds, making him arguably the best player of the weekend. Meanwhile, things didn't get any easier for the Grizzlies when Paul took a seat. His backup, Eric Bledsoe, made all seven of his shots to go with six rebounds and four assists. All told that's 38 points on 18 shots from Clipper point guards, to go with 11 assists, eight rebounds, two steals and just two turnovers. Serious.
  • Ethan Sherwood Strauss on WarriorsWorld, talking about life without David Lee: "In a vacuum, the injury is awful news for an already thin team. There is opportunity in destruction, however. Something may be gained by GSW resorting to guerilla tactics. Mark Jackson has been averse to using a small frontcourt. I don’t have many criticisms of Jackson, but this is one of them. On account of his size and athleticism, Harrison Barnes should be a prototypical stretch four. That hasn’t happened yet, even though the Warriors might reap rewards from spreading the floor with four three-point shooters."
  • Maybe what was wrong with the Lakers offense was the Spurs defense.
  • NBA owners still not totally convinced the would-be Sacramento Kings owners can come up with the cash.
  • What about bringing Joe Johnson off the bench? Jeremy Gordon of Brooklyn's Finest: "Joe Johnson had such an easier time getting his points when he was playing with the second unit that the Nets might consider using him as more of a bench asset. He’s their best iso scorer, regardless of your unreasonably positive feelings re: Andray Blatche, and it might be better if he’s able to conserve his energy for when the reserve offense needs to get going."
  • Did Lionel Hollins get outcoached by Vinny Del Negro?
  • Devin Kharpertian of the Brooklyn Game: "Brooklyn Nets forward Reggie Evans dribble-drove before lofting a lob to Andray Blatche, throwing down the dunk to put the Nets up 80-56 in the third quarter of a playoff game against the Chicago Bulls. This is a real sentence, with no typos or lies or mistakes or anything."
  • The Rockets need more Patrick Beverley and Omer Asik, and a better version of Jeremy Lin, writes Rahat Huq on Red94: "Jeremy Lin, for his part, was particularly atrocious, going 1-7 from the floor with 4 turnovers. His more glaring flaws were on greater display as he forced crosscourt passes when pressured, was out of control, and discontinued any usage of his left hand."
  • There's a lot of fine print at the end of this ad. I think it might say "no, you don't actually get to party with Kevin Durant."
  • James Harden explained the Rockets' loss by saying his young teammates were "shellshocked." Kendrick Perkins reacts, according to Daily Thunder: "Sounds like a personal problem." Also, a great thought from Royce Young: "You know how Rick Pitino motivated his team by telling them he’d get a tattoo if they won the title? If OKC wins it all, I think Russ should get to pick Scott Brooks’ wardrobe for all of next season. Or at least the season opener."
  • Did Lawrence Frank fail the Pistons or vice-versa?
  • Gregg Popovich, clutch with the crossword.

First Cup: Wednesday

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
5:32
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Tony Bizjak, Dale Kasler and Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: The uncertainty over the future of the Sacramento Kings will linger at least into next week. Just as Mayor Kevin Johnson announced on Tuesday that a local investor group was finally ready to present its formal bid to buy the team, league officials in New York revealed they have scrubbed plans to vote this week on a competing offer to move the team to Seattle. An NBA spokesman declined to offer a reason. League Commissioner David Stern two weeks ago said a postponement was possible due to what he called the complicated and unprecedented situation the league faces. The NBA has never before had to decide between two cities competing hard and well for the same team, Stern said. Both have well-financed groups eager to buy the team from the Maloof family, the team's current owner, and both cities assure the NBA they can build gleaming state-of-the art arenas in the next few years.
  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Having Chauncey Billups back in the starting lineup for the Clippers on Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers meant a lot to the team in many ways. Billups brings the Clippers championship experience. He won a title with the Detroit Pistons over the Lakers in 2004, when Billups was named the Finals most valuable player. "He's a little bit older now," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about the 36-year-old Billups. "He's missed most of last season and a lot of this season, so that's not as easy to do. We still expect a lot from him with his leadership. He can make shots, obviously. He's another guy that can make plays." Billups had missed the last eight games with a strained right groin. He has played in just 21 games this season and is expected to play in a back-to-back game Wednesday night in Sacramento. Del Negro said the plan is to play Billups about 20 minutes per game.
  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: The photo, like so many others from Monday’s explosions, had gone viral. A young woman, her body mostly obscured by a distraught man and an EMT, lay face down on the blood-splattered Boylston Street sidewalk. Avery Bradley spotted the photo online and immediately posted it to his Twitter account with a simple hashtag — #sad. “It just caught my eye,” the Celtics guard said before yesterday’s practice. “All I could think was that this is crazy, to think that people go to an event like this to run. That’s what they train for all year. And for people to lose arms and legs, that’s just crazy.” So Bradley did what so many others could only do. He asked for help from a greater power. “All you can do is pray for their families. I definitely did yesterday,” he said. “I feel bad, and if there’s any way I can help, I will want to help. . . . It could happen anywhere. But to see it happen there or anywhere at all is just crazy.” The Celtics took the practice floor in a relieved state yesterday, most glad last night’s game against Indiana was canceled.
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: With a $100 million payroll, four future Hall of Famers and a storied championship history, it's come to this. The Lakers' season finale Wednesdaytonight against the Houston Rockets could decide whether they perhaps salvage an otherwise disastrous season or miss the playoffs for only the third time in the team's history. Few would have guessed this scenario. Plenty envisioned the Lakers waltzing into the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Many wondered if anyone could stop a star-studded lineup that featured Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Never shy to boast, Lakers forward Metta World Peace predicted the team would surpass the NBA's regular-season record (72-10) set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team. "I thought we'd be at a different point right now," World Peace said. "But that's all right." Instead, the Lakers (44-37) enter Wednesdaytonight's game against the Houston Rockets (45-36) at Staples Center with a possible must-win situation. The Lakers are a pure lock for the playoffs if they win, earning a seventh seed and playing the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. A Lakers' loss coupled with a Utah loss against Memphis would leave the Lakers in the eighth spot against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Wishing and hoping and thinking and — oh, right — playing. With apologies to Dusty Springfield, nothing else remains for the Utah Jazz. Their season may conclude with a loss to the Grizzlies here Wednesday, it may end with a Lakers win over the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles or it may be extended into a most unlikely postseason. If the Jazz can beat the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum, they will turn into Rockets fans, hoping Houston, trying to avoid falling into the eighth seed, can beat the Lakers in a game that fittingly, cruelly, doesn’t begin until after the Jazz and Grizzlies end on national TV. The Jazz, who won the season series against L.A., would be even with the Lakers and into the playoffs. "I guess I need to try to get in touch with Kevin McHale," Al Jefferson said of his former Minnesota coach, now with the Rockets, "and tell him to handle that for me. Give me a late birthday present."
  • Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: As another Toronto Raptors season crawls to its conclusion, a franchise teetering on irrelevance has a series of enormous decisions to make. There may not be any one right answer for Tom Anselmi and the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but there is almost certainly a wrong one. The decisions, as they seemingly do at the end of every Raptors season, revolve around the general manager, Bryan Colangelo, and the coach, Dwane Casey. Colangelo has an option year remaining on his contract. Casey has one year left on his deal. And the team is forever paddling in circles, creating the occasional wave, but ending up nowhere in the end. The decision for Anselmi and the board isn’t in any way obvious, with the largest issue being the relationship between Colangelo and Casey. Colangelo did his best to distance himself from his coach early in the season and there has been all kind of internal speculation that the two can’t possibly work together again. That determination may wind up saving his job or costing him the position.
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks had a chance to control their playoff seed. Not anymore. A poor effort against the Raptors, one in which the Hawks went to their bench early and often, resulted in a 113-96 loss Tuesday night in a nationally televised game at Philips Arena. The Hawks played without Al Horford and just a half with Josh Smith in a game they trailed by as many as 23 points. Smith played 13 minutes and received treatment on his knees at the intermission. He banged a knee in the first half and did not immediately come back to the bench after halftime but later returned with both knees wrapped in ice. Regulars Jeff Teague (19 minutes), Kyle Korver (18) and Devin Harris (17) played less than a half. … The Hawks can clinch the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and a first-round playoff against the Nets, with a victory at the Knicks and a Bulls loss at home against the Wizards Wednesday. The Bulls will claim the fifth spot with a victory or if both teams lose Wednesday. The Hawks would finish sixth and get a first-round matchup with the Pacers. The Hawks have split the season series with both the Nets and Pacers this season.
  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Thunder three-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook has never missed a game in the NBA and has the league's longest active streak at 393 consecutive games played. OKC (60-21) closes out the regular season at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks (37-44) at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but Thunder coach Scott Brooks wouldn't share his starting lineup after Tuesday's practice. Westbrook playfully was asked if there would be a fist fight if Brooks asked him to sit out the finale. “No, no, no. There won't be a fist fight,” Westbrook said with a smile, “but he won't ask me (to do) that.”
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: With all the twists and turns during the 2012-13 regular season, it was only fitting that the Spurs gave us one more on Tuesday, signing Tracy McGrady to fill to roster vacated after the unceremonious whacking of Stephen Jackson. It is the seventh NBA stop for the former franchise player, and eighth as a professional including his recent stint in the Chinese league. He dominated with Qingdao Double Star Eagles, averaging 25 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists — the type of numbers he put up as a seven-time All-Star before injuries sapped his athleticism. McGrady won’t find it nearly so easy back in the NBA, where he averaged 5.3 points last season with Atlanta. There’s some speculation that McGrady’s addition had been the end goal all along. But at this point, the most likely explanation is probably the simplest: The Spurs excised what they viewed to be a cancer, and they needed a warm body to help pick up the slack on a Spurs bench that suddenly isn’t so deep. That means chewing up whatever time is available behind starting small forward Kawhi Leonard. And from what Gregg Popovich has said recently, there won’t be much. Leonard, he said, could earn up to 40 minutes a night, leaving precious little for a floor-bound ex-star.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Keeping Noah and Gibson healthy is critical during the postseason. The Bulls took Tuesday off, and both players continued treatment on their respective lingering injuries, plantar fasciitis for Noah and a sprained MCL for Gibson. Coach Tom Thibodeau said "it's a possibility" the players will be on minutes limits to start the playoffs, which affects his rotation. "You don't know what the minutes are going to be, so that's another huge factor," Thibodeau said. "We have to get that sorted out in a very short amount of time. "The question is: Are we going to be sharp? You're talking about playoff basketball, where the intensity level is very high and it's the same opponent over and over. Most of the time, games are decided by one or two possessions. So how you matchup with people is critical. A bad matchup for a minute in the playoffs, that's 10 points. We have to be right and ready."
  • Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: O.J. Mayo owes an apology to his teammates in general and Vince Carter in particular. In the least, Mayo owes them maximum effort in Wednesday’s season finale against New Orleans. Why Mayo, in coach Rick Carlisle’s opinion, “didn’t compete” during his 28 minutes on the court against Memphis on Monday, is the latest baffler in Mayo’s mystifying late-season swoon. In fact, Mayo’s lack of production and Carlisle’s now-obvious frustration level seemingly increase the likelihood that Wednesday’s game will be his last in a Mavericks uniform. Of course, this could be the finale for some or all of the nine Mavericks who are in the final year of their contract or, as in Mayo’s case, have optional deals for 2013-14. Mayo holds his option, meaning it’s up to him whether to stay at a $4.2 million salary or declare for free agency.
  • Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic: Luis Scola and Goran Dragic were asked whether they would recommend interim head coach Lindsey Hunter returning next season. Both players punted the topic. “That’s a tough question,” Dragic said. “ ... I’m here to play basketball. It’s not my decision to make.” Dragic did say he liked Hunter’s approach to practice. “Alvin (Gentry) was a great coach for the veteran players; he knows when to give them a day off, but for our team we have a young team and we really need to practice hard every day,” Dragic said. “When he (Hunter) took over the team I think we maybe had one or two days off. I think it should be like that.” Scola said he thought Hunter did “a great job. Circumstances were bad and he did as good as he could. But I don’t make those decisions. I’m just a player.” Would a third coach in less than a year be unsettling for the team? “I think it would be a sign of things being bad,” Scola said. “But things are bad.” Suns owner Robert Sarver declined comment when asked about Hunter’s future, and Hunter said no time has been set for a postseason meeting with either General Manager Lance Blanks or President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby.
  • David Mayo of MLive.com: One day after Pistons owner Tom Gores bluntly said he wasn't satisfied with on-court performance -- Gores also praised basketball operations, which supports the notion that team president Joe Dumars' job is safe -- Frank said he and his coaching staff want another year to right the ship. Frank noted that the Pistons are ahead of schedule in terms of their financial flexibility this summer because of the Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince salary-purging trades within the last year, and said he wants to remain head coach of a franchise in "prime position" to make major moves. "Obviously, you want to be a part of it, because that's why you went through the bleeding," Frank said. "I know, without a doubt, we all want to be back. But at the same time, that's not our decision. "But do I want to be back? Of course, because this is what you signed up for. You want to be part of reshaping the franchise and getting it back to where it was.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: With a 20-61 record entering the season finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bobcats might end up with the NBA’s worst record for a second straight season. Charlotte will have a high draft pick and as much as $21 million in room under the salary cap this summer. Owner Michael Jordan and the front office face some big decisions between now and the start of training camp in October. Do they bring back the coaching staff? Which of their free agents do they re-sign? Do they cut ties with power forward Tyrus Thomas? Even what should they call themselves going forward? Coach Mike Dunlap: Winning one out of every four games isn’t the ideal NBA coaching debut, but the Bobcats’ record is about what was predicted at the season’s outset. When Jordan was asked at a season-ticketholder event about Dunlap, the owner said all his major employees’ performances would be reviewed after the season. To Dunlap’s credit, he’s had an impact in player development, the priority he was given when hired. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens all improved. But Dunlap has had some rocky moments in his interaction with players, particularly veterans.
  • Tery Pluto of The Plain Dealer: Kyrie Irving can be great. That's right, the Cavaliers point guard can be great. But he's not there. Not yet. Great players defend. Great players help their team win. Great players find a way to stay on the court for most games. It will be up to Byron Scott or whomever coaches the Cavs to deliver that message next season. At times, Scott has tried. He has pulled Irving from games for a lack of defense. He has talked about Irving's disdain for defense. He consistently compares Irving to Chris Paul, adding that Paul is superior defensively. It's no secret that Irving is a soft defender. That's true of many young players, who believe all that matters is the points next to their name in the box score. The fact the team has yet to come close to the playoffs with him should point out that Irving still has a lot of work to do. … There are times when rolls his eyes or shakes his head in disgust when a teammate makes a poor play. It's kid stuff, but he should know better. None of this is to say Irving is a bad guy or a lousy teammate. But he has some maturing to do, and the Cavs must demand that he do it.
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger wants to return to the team next season if an agreement can be reached this summer, but as with any contractual agreement, there’s a bit of fine print. That is, if Rick Adelman returns to coach. Adelman is the reason the Wolves traded the 18th overall pick in last summer’s draft to Houston, where Adelman coached Budinger for three seasons before the pair was reunited in Minnesota. He’s also the reason a California kid wants to remain on the frozen tundra when he becomes an unrestricted free agent free to sign with any team this summer. “I would like to come back,” he said. “I like the organization. I like the staff. I love Adelman.” He saved the most important part for last there. “That’s a big part of it,” he said about the coach who taught a second-round draft pick in 2009 the NBA game. “Our relationship, he knows how I play. I work well in his system. It’s [Adelman’s decision] going to weigh big.”

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