TrueHoop: Toronto Raptors

Kings of the north

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
10:00
AM ET
By Seerat Sohi
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Amir JohnsonDave Sandford/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter nearly two decades of indifference, Canada is finally starting to embrace the Toronto Raptors.
There’s a Montana’s located about five minutes from my place in Edmonton. It’s a homely Sunday afternoon joint, the kind of place that usually broadcasts four different hockey games at once. Mid-March deviation from the NHL is never anything more than an empty nod to the the NCAA, so finding a booth to the tune of Raptors vs. Nets in the background was a signal I took with cautious optimism: The tide of Canada’s sports culture may be turning.

The Toronto Raptors have attempted to sweep the nation before, to varied success. Alternate road jerseys tacked with maple leafs and the moniker “Canada’s team” can take an organization only so far; certainly not the 3,000-kilometer gap between Toronto and Vancouver. It’s especially tough in Canada, where the zenith of sporting and patriotic fervor elicits images of Terry Fox, Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby’s famed Olympic goal.

Without a strong philosophy or a winning team, the Raptors have constantly lacked a force for fans to hitch their wagon to. The Vince Carter era is underscored more by his leaving Canada than it is his tenure in it. Chris Bosh didn’t think he could get NBA League Pass north of the border (he could). In their 19 years, the Raptors never eclipsed 47 wins. Since marketing themselves as Canada’s team in the 2008 offseason, they haven’t even made a playoff appearance.

Canadian NBA devotees outside of Toronto share a certain degree of passion for the Raptors but align themselves with a separate cause: LeBron vs. Durant, Boston vs. Los Angeles, Steve Nash vs. universe.

The Raptors don’t have the benefit of history. It’s easier for Lakers fans to swallow Kobe Bryant’s freshly penned albatross when viewed through a veneer of certainty, but Raptors fans have never been able to reference the team’s greatest hits album and think, “Yeah, we’ll trust you guys.” The smart money tells them to invest their emotions in a less precarious place.

The Raptors’ identity has always been “the Canadian team,” but like most forms of Canadian identity, no one really knows what that entails. But there are benefits to not having any preordained expectations to live up to.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, one of the smartest basketball minds on the planet, has creative authority in an organization that is a blank whiteboard. On Dec. 6, with the Raptors looking at a 6-12 record after five straight losses, Ujiri traded Rudy Gay, the high-priced star wing brought in before last season’s trade deadline by the previous regime. The seven-player deal netted the Raptors Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons and a chunk of savings.

Since the trade, the Raptors have evolved. They’re more than just that team north of the border. Rather, one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference, outscoring opponents by 4.8 points per 100 possessions, sixth in the league since Dec. 8. DeMar Derozan is a candidate for most improved player, Kyle Lowry is having a career season. While Tyler Hansbrough’s tenacity appeals to the conservative hard-hat West, Toronto waxes poetic on DeRozan’s silky smooth post repertoire. Now, if only they retained Mickaël Piétrus. …

[+] EnlargeBanners
John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SportsThere isn't much good NBA history in Toronto. But these Raptors are using that to their advantage.
The Raptors’ offense is simple, yet not unlike the San Antonio Spurs', the wrinkles make it effective. It’s hard for opponents to stymie pick-and-rolls when Amir Johnson is so adept at slipping screens; or maybe it’s Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough discretely floating into open space. Vasquez delivers pick-and-roll passes like it’s pizza for Hedo Turkoglu. DeRozan has transitioned from an abysmal passer to one who’s slightly above average, taking whatever the defense throws at him in stride -- be it in the form of a 30-point barrage or a cerebral read-and-react outing. While other squads would develop complicated tactical maneuvers for the various types of coverage DeRozan is prone to seeing now, the Raptors rest their laurels on just knowing where to be. It has paid off. The Raptors’ offensive rating has gradually increased with their chemistry, peaking at 112 in April.

Toronto is bringing back the dearly missed purple dinosaur jersey as an alternate next season, marking the first time since 2006 that a Raptors uni won’t be accentuated by Canada’s red and white. The Raptors’ latest rebranding effort, featuring an advertising campaign and a #WeTheNorth hashtag, skews dramatic with its fire pits and snow-filled arenas -- the climate is hyperborean, though DrakeWeather.com can tell you it’s not that cold in April -- but it works because of the substance behind it. Finishing the regular season with a franchise record 48 wins and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Toronto is brimming with excitement to face the Brooklyn Nets in Round 1.

If a deep playoff run is really as imminent as some fans hope, the Raptors might just permanently latch onto a semblance of identity, something to get fans across the border to tune in on Game 1 of 82, not in a mid-February win streak. After all, if memories breed fandom, Raptors fans have few that aren’t accompanied by a I-missed-the-good-cable-in-America-esque sting.

Canadian sports culture will always be defined by the nation’s dispersed Hockeytowns but it’s still a heady time for hoops fans north of the border. Just ask the slew of portable basketball nets swarming driveways in suburbs all over Canada, some of them flanked by the occasional patch of ice: Nike has yet to produce the preeminent “Be Like DeMar” commercial but Canada’s basketball culture is growing with this team; by no explicit maneuver, Canada’s team.

Seerat Sohi writes for the TrueHoop Network. Follow her, @DamianTrillard.

At the movies with Patrick Patterson

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
9:33
AM ET
By James Herbert
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Patrick PattersonTom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsWelcome back to the balcony.
Patrick Patterson was walking into “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” when he learned he'd been traded for the second time of his four-year career this past December. He went in and watched it anyway.

Things have been going well for him since. Unlike some American-born NBA players, the 24-year-old power forward has enjoyed Toronto. He's also liked the change of on-court environment, from a Kings team scraping the bottom of the West to a surprising Raptors team that's still holding onto the No. 3 spot in the East. His game has improved, too -- he was shooting a career-low 41 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3 with the Kings, but has improved to 48.5 and 42.3 percent with the Raptors, respectively.

In the midst of all the change, he's still found some time to hit the local cinema. We asked him his thoughts on his latest movie-goings.

Would it be fair to call you the Roger Ebert of the NBA, with how you seem to go see pretty much every movie?

You could. I’ll take that. Every movie that comes out, I have to see. I’m a big movie fanatic. I’m a big movie guy, movie critic, movie buff, whatever you want to call it. I have to be in the movies, I have to see what’s out, I have to see what’s going on. There’s so many type of movies out there that at the end of the day, you can’t see 'em all, but you try to. And that’s what I’m trying to do right now, especially on my off- and downtime.

Are you a harsh critic?

Yeah. At times. For movies that are supposed to be like it, you know, the movie, and it’s a letdown or if you have top actors, well-known actors and they have subpar performances or the writing isn't as good as it should be when you have those type of actors in your movie, I’m gonna be a tough critic. 'Cause if you have a certain type of actors in your movie, it’s supposed to be unbelievably amazing, so you can’t let down movie fans.

Anything let you down recently?

Kevin Hart’s “Ride Along” let me down. Extremely, extremely let me down. But I can understand, just like he had won the All-Star [Celebrity Game MVP] and he absolutely didn't do anything, so that just shows his power with the social media and the fans. No matter what type of movie he puts out, people are gonna see it. But as far as “Ride Along” goes and Kevin Hart, that was a big letdown for me.

I know you saw the new “300” movie with the team. What’d you think of that one?

Wow, that movie. It’s just like the first one but a lot more blood, a lot more fighting, a lot more battle scenes. More solid visual effects and more CGI, but overall it was a great movie. I can’t decide if it was better than the first one or not, but I’d definitely put it up there close to it.

What would you give it out of 10?

Out of 10? I’d give it a solid seven out of 10.

When Kyle Lowry didn’t make the All-Star team, you tweeted he should've --

I stick up for my teammates, man.

Everybody thought he was a snub.

He was, he should've made it.

So who or what movie was the Kyle Lowry of the Oscars?

Man, I was actually surprised that “American Hustle,” I don’t think they won anything. Except for maybe costumes, maybe? Maybe costume design, it was either them or “The Great Gatsby.” Maybe “The Great Gatsby” won costumes. [Ed: “The Great Gatsby” did indeed win Best Costume Design; “American Hustle” didn't win any of the 10 categories in which it was nominated.] But there was an award that I felt like "American Hustle" should have won, or at least they should've won one.

Did you really love that movie?

It was a great movie, it was a phenomenal movie. And I'm happy that the other movies won, but I felt like “American Hustle” probably should have had two, at least. Two Oscars. That’d probably be the Kyle Lowry of the Oscars.

What’s your favorite movie in the last little while?

“12 Years a Slave.”

So you’re happy that it won Best Picture?

See, I didn't think it was gonna win. ’Cause, with all due respect, not trying to seem racist or prejudiced, it’s a movie about slavery. It’s an African-American, black movie. So I didn't think it was gonna win. I was thinking “Wolf of Wall Street” or “American Hustle” was gonna win because that can go with anybody. Anybody can feel that type of movie. I really didn't think “12 Years A Slave” had a chance, and then when they announced that it had won, I was just extremely ecstatic and happy for all those people involved in that movie.

So probably “12 Years A Slave” was a fantastic movie that I've seen recently; also “American Hustle,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” all those were phenomenal movies.

All the ones that were nominated, pretty much.

All the ones that were nominated were phenomenal movies, so the Oscars definitely picked the right ones.

James Herbert is a contributor to ESPN.com. Follow him, @outsidethenba.

Monday Buzz Bullets

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
6:23
PM ET
By Staff
ESPN.com
EASTERN CONFERENCE

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The greatest dunker ever

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
10:38
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
At the 2000 Slam Dunk Competition in Oakland, Vince Carter cast a spell on every basketball fan. Amin Elhassan shares his memories of that contest.

'Hack-a-Jordan' clouds Clippers' win

February, 8, 2014
Feb 8
2:34
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive


LOS ANGELES -- At some point, the NBA needs to care enough about its product to eliminate the loophole in the rules that allows games to degenerate into nine players standing around watching the league's worst free-throw shooters take foul shots, while draining the sport of all its athleticism, skill and entertainment value.

That's the only thing to take away from the Los Angeles Clippers' 118-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Well, you could also take away that Blake Griffin has gotten really good at basketball, but that should have been evident before tonight.

[+] EnlargeJordan
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesDeAndre Jordan hit 10 of 22 free throws Friday, which were plenty to keep the Clippers' lead safe.
It's also been obvious for more than a decade that intentionally fouling players who don't even have the ball has been a detriment to the sport, but the NBA continues to allow these travesties. In 2000, the Portland Trail Blazers sent Shaquille O'Neal to the free throw line 25 times in one quarter of a playoff game. Friday night, a desperate Raptors squad, behind by 20 points, commenced fouling DeAndre Jordan every time the Clippers had possession, regardless of whether he had the ball.

Jordan wound up taking 16 free throws in the quarter, making eight. The third period wound up taking 41 minutes to play, thanks to the constant stops to shoot free throws. When it ended, with Clippers coach Doc Rivers substituting for Jordan with 2:48 remaining in the quarter, the Clippers still led by 16 points.

"It changed the rhythm of the game, I will say that," Rivers said. "Because we had a great pace and we never got back to that."

Indeed, the Raptors quickly sliced the lead to nine points once Jordan left and normal basketball resumed. They had "junked the game up," as Jamal Crawford put it, but they still fared better by trying on defense, instead of allowing so many opportunities for Jordan to score.

Give even the worst free-throw shooters enough opportunities and they'll make some. The stops in play will also give the defense a chance to get set, thus making it harder for the team that's fouling to come back.

Speaking of defense, isn't that just as much a fundamental element of the game as making free throws? So spare the talk that better free-throw shooting would eliminate this. Better defense would do the job as well. (The Detroit Pistons and their ferocious defense won a championship in 2004 without resorting to gimmick fouls against O'Neal).

There are simple ways to eliminate this. Heck, the NBA already employs a deterrent in the final two minutes of games -- fouls away from the ball result in two shots plus possession. Put that rule in effect for all 48 minutes and watch the fun return.


Fouling a man without the ball is like walking someone who's sitting in the dugout.


- J.A. Adande

"I don't know where to go on it," Rivers said.

"Maybe go to three [free throws] to make two? I don't like that."

I'm not crazy about that either, but it's better than what we see teams try to do against the likes of Jordan and Dwight Howard.

Rivers compared intentional fouls to intentional walks in baseball. But intentional walks -- with four pitches and take your base -- don't drag games out as long as fouls do. And at least walks are a deterrent against someone who poses an actual threat, in the batter's box. Fouling a man without the ball is like walking someone who's sitting in the dugout.

You won't find anyone who enjoys this stain on basketball. Not the coaches who employ it, nor the players who execute it, nor the fans who watch it. What about the networks that broadcast it, and would like to have games fit into a 2 1/2 hour window and move onto the next program? The NBA should certainly take the high-paying broadcast partners into account.

Jordan tried to put a positive spin on it.

"If I'm going to go up there and practice my free throws, then that's fine too," Jordan said.

As if that's why people pay to watch NBA basketball.

It just happens: Thunder's first home loss

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
1:11
AM ET
Young By Royce Young
ESPN.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- It probably had to happen like this.

After they started the season 13-0 at home, the Thunder's first loss in Oklahoma City probably had to come on a sleepy Sunday night against a sub-.500 Eastern Conference team.

Because that just makes so much sense.

Not to discount the Toronto Raptors -- who now are 4-1 since trading Rudy Gay, with impressive victories in Chicago, Dallas and now OKC -- after a 104-98 win, but this Thunder team was riding a nine-game win streak, had won 17 of its previous 18 and was coming off a clinical road win in San Antonio the night before. For the Thunder to finally lay their home egg in this situation just seemed... odd.

"Losses happen in this league," Kevin Durant said. "They beat us fair and square."

Thing is, they don't often seem to happen to the Thunder, especially like that. Following a hungover first half, they found their typical home spark, a 22-4 third-quarter run that led to an 11-point second-half lead. Even after a Raptors comeback that had them up three with two minutes left, Durant drilled a 3 from the top of the key that seemed to be the shot the Thunder needed to eke out an ugly win.

Instead, John Salmons drew a foul on Durant for two go-ahead free throws, and the Raptors outscored OKC 6-0 over the final 90 seconds.

"We could've folded and packed it in, but they stayed with it and stuck together," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "We knew the Thunder were going to make a run and they did, but we stuck with it and came out with the W."

The Thunder's 13 straight home wins to start the season were the most since the 2008-09 Cavs started the season 23-0 at home. Matching that would have been quite the achievement, but it certainly seemed somewhat possible. Especially with the form they had been in the past few weeks.

"I told the team [after the game], you guys have done a great job this early part of the season, and we've done a great job protecting our court," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "Give them credit, they played a good basketball game, they hung around and won it in the end. There's nothing to be ashamed of ... the fourth quarter, we missed a lot of shots. We can look back on film and can live with them."

By a lot of shots, Brooks means pretty much all of their shots. The Raptors outscored the Thunder 29-14 in the fourth quarter. The reason? OKC hit just five of its 25 attempts.

“We missed some layups; I know I missed like five wide-open 3s,” Durant said. “We missed some stuff at the rim. But their defense, they make you shoot those jump shots. They gave you those wide-open shots, and we just got to make them.”

Durant uncharacteristically went just 5-for-16 from the floor and while Salmons and the Raptors' defensive scheme deserve credit for that, a good number of them were solid looks. Still, Durant finished with 24 points because he's Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook had 27, but what might have hurt OKC most was that its emerging sixth man stud, Reggie Jackson, had only six on 1-for-11 shooting, with nothing in the second half. The night before in San Antonio, Jackson popped the Spurs for 21 and had been averaging better than 15 a game on 50 percent shooting in December. But he couldn't find anything Sunday.

And it might have revealed a little something: Jackson has an X factor look to him. When you've got guys like him to add punch behind Westbrook and Durant, there's a certain luxury that you can survive games in which the stars don't perform up to their standard. But with Jackson struggling and nothing dropping for anyone else, the Thunder finally just fell flat in their building.

It's only the Thunder's second loss in almost 40 days, with the other being on a second night of a back-to-back on the road in Portland. Not a player on the team nor Brooks was willing to invoke that as an excuse, though. A team undefeated at home and sitting on the best record in the league should handle its business no matter the circumstances. There's no good way to really justify it, other than what Durant said -- losses happen in this league.

And oftentimes when you least expect them to.

Toronto's new national agenda

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
10:56
AM ET
Murphy By Blake Murphy
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
RaptorsDave Sandford/Getty ImagesThe Raptors have struggled to tap into their national identity in almost two decades in Canada.
The Toronto Raptors began their journey in the NBA in November 1995. The feelings of inferiority among the fan base were born just two and a half seasons later.

Damon Stoudamire was the first draft pick ever made by the franchise and the face of NBA basketball in Canada up to that point. But after two losing seasons with the expansion team and faced with another, the point guard demanded a trade. He wanted out.

He wouldn’t be the last.

Tracy McGrady left in 2000 in search of an opportunity to become a franchise player. Vince Carter, credited with putting the Raptors on the map during his six-year stint, famously followed. Chris Bosh never fully embraced the void left by Carter and was all too happy to ditch Toronto for Miami seven season later, burning bridges on his way out as he complained about getting the “good cable” and that “it’s all about being on TV at the end of the day.”

Those kind of remarks infuriate Canadian basketball fans. Sonny Weems also criticized the cable service. Antonio Davis worried about his children learning the metric system. And Othella Harrington, believe it or not, said the cream in the center of Vancouver’s Oreos tasted funny.
[+] EnlargeAndrew Wiggins
Sam Forencich/Getty ImagesWill Andrew Wiggins, the pride of Canada, wind up in Toronto?

Each player who has left the country had his reasons, but whatever the rationale, the takeaway was often the same: Canada isn’t a place an NBA star can be happy.

Perhaps that’s why Steve Nash’s stretch with the Phoenix Suns resonated so much with Canadian fans. While technically born in South Africa, Nash grew up here, became the player he is here. If the Raptors’ stars wouldn't embrace the country, perhaps the country could embrace one of its own.

In January 2007, the Raptors, months away from their lone division title, hosted Nash’s Suns and staged a 15-point second-half comeback. But Nash scored 13 points in the final seven minutes, sending the crowd into a frenzy with each basket. He was burying the home team at the Air Canada Centre and ruining a chance to upset one of the league’s elite teams, but the fans loved it. He wasn’t some visiting player. He was one of us.

The dream, then, became to have Nash play in Toronto -- Canada’s greatest basketball export leading what was now Canada’s only team. Canadian fans went crazy in 2012 as then-general manager Bryan Colangelo tried to lure his former point guard home as a free agent. That effort ultimately proved fruitless, but it showed a clear desire among local fans to embrace one of their own.

Jay Triano, a Canadian who served as the Raptors’ head coach from 2008-11, has seen it firsthand.

“I felt it was an honor to be in that position,” said Triano, the coach of Canada’s national team and the only Canadian-born head coach in NBA history. “I think players are happy to be in the NBA. There wouldn’t be extra pressure, but maybe extra demands on their time.”

As it stands, Jamaal Magloire is the only Canadian to have played for the Raptors, in a one-season, 34-game victory lap in 2011-12.

That could soon change. A record nine Canadian players can currently be found on NBA rosters, and it’s hardly a coincidence. Guys like Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett are a product of the first generation to grow up with basketball in this country, and the hope is that more Canadians in the league “will drive more athletes out to the playground and grow that basketball culture,” as Rowan Barrett, assistant general manager of Canada’s men’s team, put it.

When Nash won his second straight MVP award, Andrew Wiggins was 11 years old. Now the Kansas freshman is the unquestioned face of Canadian basketball, and the new homegrown product Raptors fans have chosen as their savior. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri is reportedly enamored with the idea of bringing the kid from Thornhill -- 25 minutes away from the Air Canada Centre -- to Toronto, too.

Perhaps most importantly, Wiggins seems to want to play here. When asked in July who he’d most like to be drafted by, Wiggins said: “I would like to say the Raptors. I want to play for them.”

If attracting and retaining players is difficult, building around a home-grown potential All-Star who wants to play for you is an absolute best-case scenario.

Trading Rudy Gay on Dec. 9 was viewed by fans as a sign that the Raptors were doing what they could to make that happen. The team is still too talented to tank properly, especially given how putrid the Eastern Conference is, but more moves to push them higher in the draft lottery may be coming.

“One thing I can say is we won’t be stuck in the middle, we won’t be in no-man’s land,” Ujiri said last week.

Nineteen years after the birth of the NBA in Canada, basketball’s presence in Canada probably isn’t as large as what was expected. This is unquestionably a hockey country, making the experience of a Canadian basketball fan a peculiar one. Perhaps that’s why, despite being smaller in numbers, Raptors fans are regarded as one of the most rabid and passionate groups in the league. Outcasts in their own country and afterthoughts on a league scale, they’re ready to put everything into a winning team or, failing that, a top Canadian player, as we saw with Nash.

It feels almost cruel, then, that the 2014 NBA draft is dangling a potential merger of those two interests above their heads. But given how things have gone in the first two decades of Raptors basketball, even a 25 percent chance at Wiggins is worth dreaming on.

25 under 25

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
2:20
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Kawhi Leonard was a candidate for Finals MVP, and he's only 14th on the list of elite young NBA players compiled by ESPN Insiders David Thorpe, Kevin Pelton and Amin Elhassan. That means a lot of things, including that good times are ahead for the NBA. Elhassan joins us to discuss.
video

First Cup: Thursday

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

First Cup: Tuesday

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
6:03
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Derrick Rose sat out the scrimmaging portion of Monday's practice as part of "planned rest." "He did some, the warmup phase," Thibodeau said. "And we went shorter (Monday). We had a teaching segment that of course he participated in and the warmup phase. But the live stuff, we were planning on giving him (Monday) off." Rose, who sat out all last season after left knee surgery, had said he didn't want to miss any practice time or preseason games if the decision was left to him. By all accounts, Rose has looked dominant thus far in practice. "With all our players, usually the third day and fifth practice we’re dealing with heavy legs," Thibodeau said. "We just thought we’d give him (Monday) off. Mentally, he’s sharp so he did his conditioning off the floor. He’ll be ready to go (Tuesday)."
  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: For most of Eric Gordon's two seasons in New Orleans, the perception was that he didn't want to be with the organization. It also didn't help that last offseason he signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns. But Gordon tried to clear some things up on Monday and said he has never been unhappy with the New Orleans franchise. "The only frustrating part since I have been down here is dealing with the injuries," he said. "That's the main thing. I know what I can do, and this team knows what I can do. Now I am going to finally get a chance to make it consistent." And now that the Pelicans have a new nickname, practice facility and a bevy of new and young talented players, Gordon finally seems happy. "I've always been happy," he said. "It's just with me individually I've always been dealing with injuries and so fort. But when you have a lot of talented guys where you can have a chance to grow together -- because we are all young guys and we have a chance to grow together – anything can happen. And we have the talent to be a playoff team."
  • Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post: This was a cool LeBron James. This was a LeBron James at ease. This was a LeBron James as comfortable in his own skin as anyone could imagine. If the never-ending conversation regarding his potential free agency bothers him — he becomes eligible July 1 — James did a remarkable job of hiding it as the Heat met the media Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. His situation will be a season-long topic of speculation as Miami seeks a third consecutive championship. “I’ll tell you right now how I’m going to handle it,” James said, “I’m not going to address it.” And then he talked about owing his team his focus and how his concern is winning another title and how mature the Heat is and how his potential opt-out (and Dwyane Wade’s and Chris Bosh’s, too) won’t be a distraction. Nobody has to explain himself, James implied. They have a professional goal, and the effort to achieve it won’t be sabotaged by after-the-fact business. The locker room won’t fracture. “We’ve got a veteran ballclub that’s heard everything and seen everything,” James said. “I know how delicate a team can be. I know how important chemistry and camaraderie are.” Here’s the thing: They’ll all probably opt-out, because doing so provides the player with flexibility. It’s the prudent move.
  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: The pleasantries quickly gave way to a more sobering discussion when Doc Rivers first met with Chris Paul. Topics of conversation did not include Paul's six All-Star game appearances, his unmatched ability to close out games or his status as possibly the best point guard in the NBA. "He pretty much told me I wasn't anything," Paul said Monday during the Clippers' annual media day. "He told me I hadn't done anything, and he was right." Welcome to life with the league's most painfully sincere coach. Hard questions can be asked. Perceptions of one's self can change. Feelings can be hurt. But here's the thing: Championships can be won. "I'm honest," Rivers said in the biggest understatement of the day. For a Clippers franchise that has never gotten to the conference finals, Rivers' candor is as alluring as the new light-blue alternate uniforms the team unveiled. His frankness grabs your attention like an open parking space in a dusty media lot suddenly overrun by reporters drawn to the buzz of the most captivating team in Los Angeles. "He's been straight-up, he's been very real and when he talks you can tell he has the attention of everybody," super-subJamal Crawford said. "Winning that championship, being there contending, he did it as a player and now as a coach. He has everyone's respect." Not that it's always fun to hear what Rivers has to say.
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Timberwolves forward Kevin Love reported for duty with his surgically repaired knee and hand reportedly all healed and his body lean. He also made one thing abundantly clear: The past is in the…well, you know. “Last year is last year,” the two-time All-Star forward, uttering a line he used repeatedly during a 12-minute session with reporters at the team’s annual media day. He made it clear he has little interest in discussing a lost season in which he played just 18 games after breaking his shooting hand not once but twice. Love also wasn’t much interested in discussing his relationship with former President of Basketball of Operations David Kahn, who was replaced by Flip Saunders last May. “The past is the past and it’s great to have Flip on board,” Love said. “We’ve had great talks. … We all know what happened last year, and we just want to move forward and take care of unfinished business.” Love looked like he’s in the best shape of his career, even though he said he doesn’t know exactly how much weight he lost from last season.
  • Tom Layman of the Boston Herald: The search parties were called off as Gerald Wallace emerged yesterday for the first time wearing Celtics garb with the No. 45 stitched on his jersey. Wallace knew there might have been some misconceptions about his whereabouts after the draft-night trade that brought him, Bogans, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks to Boston for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. But, he said, he had a prior commitment with his basketball camp right when the introductory press conference happened, and like he does every summer, secluded himself in Alabama with his family. “The main thing that a lot of people have taken out of this is that I didn’t want to come, I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to be a part of it. That’s so far from the truth,” Wallace said. “I think the main thing is that I’m a veteran of 13 years and I’ve been traded three times in the past three or four years. This trade kind of caught me off-guard. I didn’t see it coming.” Wallace did say, however, that going from a team building toward being a major contender to one that is in rebuilding mode isn’t the easiest thing to accept. … Whether Wallace will be part of the rebuilding process will be figured out down the road. He has a contract that will be tough to move with three years remaining at roughly $10.1 million per, and Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said this is always a quiet time in terms of player movement. Ainge also said he doesn’t know what Wallace’s role will be on this team with an overcrowded roster at basically every position.
  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: It didn’t take long for Steve Mills to address his primary mission in assuming the Knicks’ top executive position last week, courtesy of his former and once again benefactor, James L. Dolan. On N.B.A. media day, Mills explained how the job opportunity appeared suddenly, announced the exercising of an option year for Coach Mike Woodson and then got down to the business of what promises to be a season of breathtaking pandering to Carmelo Anthony. He clearly is one of those superstar players that don’t come around very often, and the things he has done to make this team successful and to represent this city is something that’s very important,” Mills said. “So while it’s premature in the process, we’ve made it clear that we have every intention of making Carmelo a Knick for a long time to come.” Given a chance to declare it a mutual love affair and to say he couldn’t wait to put his Carmelo Hancock on a Knicks contract extension, Anthony politely abstained. “When the time comes, I’ll deal with that,” he said. “I’m not going to go through the season thinking about my contract.”
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: O.J. Mayo wanted to find a place to stay awhile. After spending his first four pro seasons in Memphis, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard was in Dallas just one year. When the Mavericks focused their off-season attentions on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard (failing to land either one), the unrestricted free agent Mayo could take a hint. So on Monday it was Mayo stepping up to a microphone wearing his No. 00 at the Milwaukee Bucks media day at the Cousins Center. Mayo, who was the third overall pick in the 2008 draft by Minnesota and traded to Memphis, knows big things are expected of him on this stop. And he's just fine with that. "I'm going to do whatever I need to do in order for us to be successful," Mayo said. "If I have to be the tough guy, if I have to bite, scratch, whatever we need to do." The Bucks signed Mayo as the replacement for Monta Ellis at shooting guard, agreeing to a three-year, $24 million contract with the former Southern Cal player. … But foremost on his mind is helping the Bucks. He understands his role will be a critical one on a team with a 21-year-old point guard in Brandon Knight and a young front line featuring fourth-year center Larry Sanders and second-year pro John Henson. "Last year (the Bucks) were the eighth seed but at the same time it was a losing season," Mayo said. "Hopefully we can get to a fifth or sixth seed this year and continue growing, show we're making improvements and strides."
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: New Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks mentioned he talked with Jennings on Monday about the expectations for the young point guard. Cheeks was asked what he said, but he deferred and said he was more curious to hear Jennings’ recollection of the conversation. “Everything was just straightforward,” Jennings said. “He said the team goes as far as I go. He’s looking for a guy who can come in here with a positive attitude every day and a guy that’s not too high and not too low, but in the middle. “He said he is going to be on me every day, and he’s going to put a lot of pressure on me.” One of the things that angered fans last season was former coach Lawrence Frank’s limiting of rookie center Andre Drummond’s minutes. Cheeks said he isn’t looking to limit Drummond and expects big things in his second season. “I’m going to put him out on the floor for sure,” Cheeks said.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: In a bold and franchise-altering day seldom before seen, one thing has become clear. They will forever be the Raptors but they will never be the same. With a new “global ambassador” who appears to have as much passion for the organization as almost anyone employed by it and a new look and colour scheme coming in two years, the Raptors kicked off the official run-up to the 2016 NBA all-star game in decidedly glitzy fashion. Drake, the iconic Toronto music superstar and now the unofficial host of the all-star weekend, will be part of the process of “re-branding” the franchise that has missed the NBA playoffs for the past five years. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke said the process has already begun to change the colour scheme and logo of the team that’s entering its 19th year in the NBA. The name however won’t change, Leiweke said, and it will not be a quick process. Leiweke said the team has already engaged a Toronto firm to help with the process, they will make an effort to somehow involve fans but thanks to marketing and licensing demands, the new look won’t be unveiled until the 2015-16 season. And the NBA will be heavily involved.
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said Monday was the only time he’s going to address Corbin’s contract situation with the media this season. “The Miller family is known for their support for players, of coaches, of management. We’re going to stand by our record,” Lindsey said. “I think as you guys have seen with Coach Sloan, the internal promotion what we did last year and support of Ty and the staff with the Raja Bell situation, coaches here are very well-supported. Beyond that, the Miller family and the management team, we’re not going to comment past that point.” The Jazz’s expectations for Corbin this season? “Our expectations,” Miller Sports Properties president Steve Miller said, “are that he shows up, which he will, and that he does the job that we’ve hired him to do, and he will because he’s the consummate professional.” Lindsey said he has a “gentleman’s agreement” with the agents of Hayward and Favors to not discuss their deals in public, either. Utah has until the end of October to extend the players’ contracts. If that doesn’t happen, the Jazz have the option of turning them into restricted free agents next offseason. “As you guys can assume, we’re having active conversations. We’re hopeful,” Lindsey said.
  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Nuggets center JaVale McGee is working to get better control of his asthma. He is awaiting lung capacity test results taken recently to be able to pinpoint which medication will work best for him this season. "It definitely figures out what medicines I need to take, if I'm taking too much medicine, if I'm not taking enough," McGee said. "So it's definitely a good thing." McGee averaged 18.1 minutes per game last season in a mostly reserve role. Those minutes are expected to jump considerably now that new Nuggets coach Brian Shaw has all but declared him the starting center. "Definitely inhalers," McGee said of required equipment. "And then practicing past my first wind. It's not a huge problem. It's just that once.”
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Fatherhood can impact guys differently. A newborn in the house means many things change. For Dirk Nowitzki, it meant being a “full-on home dad” for the last two months. In case you are wondering, it will not impact his job. Coach Rick Carlisle had the most emphatic answer when asked if daddy Dirk seemed any different to him. “If you’re asking if he’s settling into fatherhood and not as into basketball, I’ll tell you categorically, the answer is [expletive] no,” Carlisle said. “It’s been a tough couple years for him. The ’12 [lockout] season was dicey with the knee thing, and then coming in last year, it seemed like it was OK and then the thing puffed up. So he takes it extremely seriously. … This is serious business, and his effort has been completely matched up with the level of importance.”
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: While most fans have a guess as to who the Rockets’ leaders will be this year, head coach Kevin McHale says it’s just too early to tell who will do the leading and who, in turn, will do the following. “We have only had four practices so far,” McHale said. “Right now they are just trying to get through those.” While most fingers point to James Harden and Dwight Howard, McHale said the leaders won’t emerge for a while. “They all have personalities, and really, I don’t know if you can say, ‘This guy’s a designated leader,’ ” McHale said. “Players are going to follow who players follow, and they follow guys for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes there is the older guy they follow because the guy is full of wisdom and he helps them out all the time. Sometimes it is the high-energy guy they follow because they are just like, ‘That guy plays so hard.’ All that leadership stuff, as it always does, will take care of itself.”
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If you thought Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t play like a No.2 overall pick last season, then know this: Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t think so, either. The Charlotte Bobcats small forward recalls his rookie season with disappointment – not about the team’s 21-61 record, but rather that he didn’t do more to help. His numbers weren’t bad. He averaged 9.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and just under a shot-block per game. But he’s used to excelling, and this was well short of that in a class that featured rookie of the year Damian Lillard with Portland and stellar big man Anthony Davis with New Orleans. “I was disappointed in myself,” Kidd-Gilchrist said at media day, on the eve of training camp Tuesday morning at UNC Asheville. “It wasn’t the losses. I like all my teammates and we bonded a lot. I was mad at myself. I set goals and I didn’t reach any of the goals that I set. All my life I did that and last year I didn’t reach one goal.’’ Asked for specifics, Kidd-Gilchrist said he set out to be rookie of the year and failed. He set out to make first-team all-rookie, and failed.
  • Monte Poole of The Oakland Tribune: Bob Myers has a fabulous job, with a salary that allows him to live anywhere he likes, visit any place he chooses. On this particular day, as soft clouds hover above the Bay Area, the Warriors general manager chooses state prison. He's not alone. Another member of the 1 percent club, Warriors coach Mark Jackson, a former NBA star, also arrives at the joint. These two are voluntarily rubbing shoulders -- literally -- with men serving time at this world-famous lockup on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. Myers and Jackson and Warriors assistant coach Brian Scalabrine, one year removed from playing in the NBA, are joined by other members of the Warriors organization, including assistant general manager Kirk Lacob, the son majority owner Joe Lacob. They all brave the morning commute to come here and play basketball with the inmates. So, naturally, this visit is about much more than hoops. "It's basketball, but, for the most part, this is about impacting lives," Jackson says.

First Cup: Monday

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

First Cup: Thursday

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
5:22
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: James Dolan wore mostly a stoic look on stage, sitting next to commissioner David Stern and was joined by Nets minority owner Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov’s assistant Irina Pavlova. Prokhorov was not in New York. Dolan took on his usual curmudgeon persona when the discussion turned to the meeting Stern brokered between Dolan and Prokhorov last season to quell any ill feelings — as first reported by The Post’s Fred Kerber. When asked what he got out of the meeting, Dolan offered the best line of the event, saying: “Free lunch.’’ Dolan has tried to get the All-Star Game ever since the Garden started its transformation. As reported by The Post in 2012, the Garden would have had the 2014 All-Star Game, but the NBA didn’t want to compete against the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. Dolan was more expansive on the rivalry being good for the teams on and off the court.
  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Mikhail Prokhorov is a busy man, no doubt, but he still should have found the time to come to the biggest announcement involving his team since . . . well, there have been quite a few in recent months, starting with Jason Kidd’s surprise hiring as coach and then the introductions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets have rarely gone into a season looking better than the Knicks and considered a viable championship contender. Like never, not as an NBA team, not even when Kidd carried them to two Finals. True, it might not work out. Kidd is an unknown as a coach, and when we last saw Garnett and Pierce, going out feebly against the Knicks in the playoffs, it didn’t seem as if they had another title run in them. But maybe Kidd will be a quick study in his new vocation, and maybe Garnett and Pierce will survive another marathon regular season, flourish in one more playoff run and get the Nets to the Finals.
  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant are feuding in cyberspace, and it is silly and fun and stupid and great, all at once. It also reveals an underlying poignancy, which is the only reason the exchange is interesting in a larger sense and worth exploring. … All of this is noteworthy on the face of it, because it’s rare that one NBA star will publicly call out another, and Durant basically said Wade is overrated. The cynic might think the whole thing is an arranged feud to set up a sequel to the wake-from-a-bad-dream Gatorade commercial they did together, but I doubt it. It feels too real, and, on Wade’s end, too raw. This little feud is interesting mostly because it peels back a curtain on Wade’s mind and reveals how sensitive he is to his status as an elite player, and to that being questioned — let alone by a rival all-star. This isn’t cocky ego flexing itself in Wade. This is wounded pride. This is Wade being forced to confront where he is, career-wise, and where he is headed. … Wade wrote in that Instagram note that he wants to make Durant respect his “place in history.” But it isn’t about that. Wade’s place in history as a champion and future Hall of Famer is secure. This is about Dwyane Wade’s place in 2013 and ’14. This is about a great, proud basketball player trying to hold on to “elite” as doubters and time try to take it away.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Larry Bird agreed the George signing gives the Pacers less financial flexibility. They have approximately $64 million committed to nine players for the 2014-15 season, leaving little room to re-sign Stephenson, who will be entering the final year of his NBA entry-level contract, and fill out a roster with a salary cap that will be a small increase from this season’s $70.3 million. Longtime team leader Danny Granger likely will become a free agent after this season. Bird and Pacers officials have made it clear they have no plans to pay the NBA luxury tax, so keeping a young Pacers team together for the long term could be a challenge. For now, those concerns are secondary to putting the best possible team on the court for this season, Bird said. “We’re going to play this year,” he said. “You never know about the future, but right now, we’re pretty satisfied with where we’re at.”
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Sam Presti was peppered with 26 questions for more than half an hour Wednesday afternoon. The best was the fourth, the shortest and most significant. “How do you think the team has gotten better this off-season?” It was an inquiry that dismissed any preconceived notions and disregarded all pessimism that had been built by a relatively stale summer. And it forced Presti to think, requiring the Thunder general manager depart briefly from his script and spell out how exactly this team could be better when its inactivity primarily suggests it's gotten worse. “Well,” Presti said, “I think it all comes down to how you define ‘better.'” And with that, Presti spent the better part of the next 30 minutes detailing his definition during his annual preseason news conference. Along the way, he expressed excitement and extreme confidence in his club, choosing to view widespread question marks not as concerns but as opportunities.
  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: To date, the Lakers have not begun contract extension talks with Bryant, who is in the last year of his deal. Kupchak said he anticipates at some point this season a discussion will take place. "Kobe has made it clear that he intends to retire in a Laker uniform and I know as an organization, we feel the same way," he said. Kupchak did note he wasn't especially comfortable with Bryant's high dive, video of which he posted on Vine. "Not great judgment," admonished Kupchak. "He got out of the water and he looked like he was healthy, so I felt good. That was not great judgment." Bryant has been headstrong since the Lakers drafted him in 1996. "With Kobe you just try to manage who he is the best you can. Trust me, at 17 years going on 18, you're not going to change who Kobe Bryant is right now," Kupchak said. "During a game he's tough to manage." "I think the best that [Coach] Mike [D'Antoni] can hope for is to get to know Kobe better and maybe figure out a way to manage it the best he can," Kupchak said. "I think that's Mike's best chance. No coach has been able to control Kobe. No coach we've had since 1996 and that's not going to change."
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: With the Indiana Pacers announcing a five-year max extension with swingman Paul George, it’s only natural for Pistons fans to wonder about the status of 2010 draft classmate Greg Monroe. But Monroe let everyone know today he doesn’t want his contract status to become a daily topic of conversation. “I want y’all to circulate this right now,” he said. “Everybody pay attention. I have an agent like everybody else in the NBA. He’s going to communicate with the front office. I’m here to play, and that’s it. I’m not going to talk about it. If you ask me about it, I’m gonna tell ya I’m not going to talk about it. I’m here to play, and that’s what’s going to happen. Circulate that to y’all friends.” Monroe, 23, is eligible to sign an extension before the start of the regular season. If not, he would become a restricted free agent next summer.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Andrew Bogut finally deemed himself 100 percent healthy last week, and general manager Bob Myersand head coach Mark Jackson were on the verge of declaring the Warriors' center ready for a return to stardom this week. "He looks good. I mean, this is the player we envisioned when we traded for him," Myers said Wednesday. "This is the player you saw three or four years ago." With no limitations on his training, playing time or even back-to-back games, Bogut has been the highlight of the voluntary workouts that have been taking place at the downtown Oakland practice facility since just after Labor Day.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Heading into his free-agent year, Luol Deng already is in the headlines. And he and the Bulls aren’t comfortable with the situation. Deng’s agent, Herb Rudoy, said the Bulls ended contract talks at the start of the month, leaving Deng no choice but to be a shopper this summer. Posturing by both sides? Definitely. But it’s a good decision by general manager Gar Forman. Rudoy’s asking price for Deng is too much for the Bulls to commit to, and the hope is the market — thanks to a less player-friendly collective bargaining agreement — will show Deng that the grass is not greener. The bright side is that Deng is a professional, and while all this is going on, he’ll remain a class act on and off the court.
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman sat behind a podium Wednesday for a joint news conference to discuss an upcoming season that could either represent their final run as a tandem or the beginning of a long, sustainable franchise run as a playoff contender. Grunfeld is entering his 11th season with the organization and Wittman is set to start his second full season with the team, but their fortunes have been tied ever since owner Ted Leonsis gave them two-year extensions in 2012. And as both enter the final year of their respective deals, they understand the pressure that comes as the Wizards attempt to make the postseason for the first time since the 2007-08 season. “Well, that's what we want,” Wittman said when asked about the increased expectations. “We want to get to the playoffs. Do you think this is the first time I’ve been on a one-year contract? No. It doesn’t mean anything. Thirty years of being in this — and it’s just about going out and doing your job and doing it the best you can, and I feel if we do that, everything else takes care of itself.” Grunfeld then chuckled and said: “I’ve been there 36 years, for a couple under the same circumstances. So I have him by a couple of years on that one.”
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Royce White is participating in the workouts and will be on hand for media day on Friday. "He is slowly getting to a level that we want to try to bring him to," Brett Brown said of the power forward who was acquired in a July trade with the Houston Rockets. "It's exciting to see what could happen if the physical side of getting him in great shape can collide with his talents and all the other things that have gone on with Royce." The 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft has an anxiety disorder; he did not play in the NBA last season. The forward out of Iowa State last practiced with the Rockets on Nov. 10 and played 16 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League. White had been in a disagreement with the Rockets over how to deal with his anxiety issues.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: New Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford says he’ll be fair and open with his players. That doesn’t mean Clifford sees his job as making every player happy with his role. “Whenever coaches say every player has the chance for playing time, they’re lying to you,” Clifford said during a Wednesday luncheon with Charlotte media. “This can’t be like intramurals (where everyone gets in games) because guys stink when that happens. Some guys are going to have to play well with less minutes.” This is Clifford’s first season as an NBA head coach. It’s clear he has strong convictions. He and his bosses – front-office executives Rod Higgins and Rich Cho – believe this team’s biggest strength can be its depth. But that creates complications as far as players’ minutes expectations. Clifford said his job is to figure out which combinations maximize the chance to win a game. That isn’t the same as playing the most talented players all the time.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: So, the 2016 NBA all-star weekend bacchanalia is coming to Toronto? Saw the report Tuesday, don’t doubt its veracity, was kind of coasting and blowing off final days of vacation and made one call that couldn’t confirm it but there’s no reason to think it’s untrue, the process began months ago and I understand there were no other bidders. So . . . Sure, it’s a good thing for the hotels and the restaurants and the clubs that I wouldn’t be allowed into; the city and MLSE will most assuredly put on a good show and that’s great. For normal folks and run of the mill fans? Book your time on your couch now or expect to stand behind some barricade watching the swells go to all the big events. … It’s a good thing because it will open some NBA eyes to what the city has to offer -- February weather permitting, of course -- and if stalking celebrities and NBA players is your thing, it’ll be blast. But to think everything’s open and available to regular people and that you can rub shoulders with them? Guess again. Heck, last year you couldn’t even get into the players’ hotel without a credential and those security folks didn’t mess around with interlopers. It’s a fun weekend. For some people.

First Cup: Wednesday

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

First Cup: Monday

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
5:00
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: The first practice of training camp is next Saturday at the Berto Center. Derrick Rose hasn't played in an NBA game since tearing the ACL in his left knee on April 28, 2012. "I'm feeling good," Rose said. "Right now my legs are good. Just trying to stay positive and keep my emotions from exploding knowing that the season's around the corner." After such a long layoff, everyone will be curious to see if Rose will be back to his old self or if he will be rusty when he returns to the court. … Rose was asked about limitations and hurdles involved in his comeback. He brushed off those questions and looked forward to his preseason debut Oct. 5 at Indiana. "I wouldn't say (there are any) mental hurdles, but I think it's just going to be an emotional day," he said. "Just playing with (my teammates), being around them, being an active player in the arena, playing in front of people. I haven't had that in a long time. "My confidence grew as a player, and you'll see that when I play."
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Nerlens Noel's repeated grunts revealed that fatigue had set in. Yet, other than a water break, the 19-year-old's only rest came while walking to and from workout stations. With his body completely drained, it would have been easy for him to take at least a five-minute break. Most NBA observers believe the Sixers are jockeying for position in what is expected to be a talent-rich 2014 draft. And Noel won't play until December - if at all this season - because of the anterior cruciate ligament tear he suffered during his lone season at Kentucky. But resting on this day was not an option for Noel, who spent 51/2 months rehabilitating his left knee with renowned physical therapist Kevin Wilk and his staff before moving to Philadelphia earlier this month. The third of four children, Noel knows a lot about real pain and working past the brink of exhaustion. And he'll tell you this isn't it. American dream How to tell the story of a player expected to alter the direction of the Sixers franchise? It starts with his mother, Dorcina Noel, who grew up in the Haitian coastal city of Gonaïves.
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Garry Vitti called this routine “par for the course” as he enters the Lakers’ training camp beginning Sept. 28 in what will become his 30th year with the organization. He described the 2012-13 season differently, though. Vitti ranked it “the toughest year for me,” one that pales only to when Magic Johnson abruptly retired and announced in 1991 he had tested positive for HIV. … Still, with the Lakers far from championship favorites, Vitti believes any success this season goes beyond health. “If we get on the court and are fragmented as a team, it doesn’t make a difference that you worked that hard,” Vitti said. “You have to have a head coach and have guys buy into what he’s doing. We have to come together as a team, believe in each other and trust each other.” Vitti sounded encouraged the Lakers will have that attitude after seeing nearly everyone in recent weeks in the trainer’s room and informal workouts. The lone exception among the team’s 16 players involves Gasol, who trains in his native Spain each offseason. Save for a three-week vacation in August with his wife, Martha, to his house in Settefratti, Italy and a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, Vitti’s schedule this offseason stayed busy. Players kept the trainer’s room full each day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. With the Lakers’ hope to field a healthier roster this season, Vitti encounters constant interruptions. That still beats the Lakers’ feeling last season when every trip to the trainer’s room became as enjoyable as most visits to the DMV. “It was a very difficult situation,” Vitti said. “We were all over the place. This year will be much different.”
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Coaches that win consecutive championships receive lucrative offers for speeches, book deals and more. But we hear the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra is turning down everything. As a friend said, at this point in his life, he wants to focus on winning championships. Spoelstra again has used a bit of his time this summer to study coaches and their techniques, including friend Chip Kelly in Philadelphia andPete Carroll in Seattle. (He also spoke to Seahawks and University of Tennessee players, and Russell Wilson raved about his speech to the Seahawks.)
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Three seasons ago, when the Thunder clinched its first Northwest Division title, it was viewed as a huge milestone for the burgeoning franchise. “It's great for our fans,” coach Scott Brooks said at the time. “It's great for our city to be division champs. It is definitely a step in our process.” Two years and two division titles later, the feat has become little more than a formality. Just a nice footnote in the season's bigger picture. This isn't the MLB, where playoff spots are fewer, or the NFL, where postseason byes are offered. So the importance of division championships in the NBA is dwarfed. But they still come with a guaranteed top-four finish in the conference and bragging rights within the division. And for the Thunder, which enters camp later this week in search of a fourth straight Northwest crown, the path has never looked easier.
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: If the Pistons plan on being dealers before the February 2014 trade deadline, they have a glut of small forwards and guards to possibly offer, if that’s team president Joe Dumars’ plan. “We have a lot of flexibility,” newly acquired Josh Smith said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if guys played different positions in the backcourt or along the front line, depending on matchups.” Smith is expected to start at small forward and also see time at power forward. Also on the roster are Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko and rookie Luigi Datome, who made a splash overseas with his shot-making ability and athleticism. That’s four small forwards, and there aren’t enough minutes to play them all. Singler played out of position at shooting guard during parts of his rookie season, but currently the backcourt is overloaded. Jerebko could see some time at power forward to loosen the logjam if coach Maurice Cheeks wanted to go in that direction. At point guard there’s Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey. The team also signed rookie point guard Peyton Siva, who was drafted in the second round. …. Stuckey at shooting guard didn’t do well a year ago because of his struggles beyond the three-point line. One of the reasons the Pistons drafted 6-foot-5 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was because of his shot-making ability as a legitimate shooting guard. To deny him minutes if he earned them in camp would impede his development on a team that believes it has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Q: What, on a basketball court, is non-negotiable? Steve Clifford: “Transition defense. There are numerous areas we have to improve if we want a better record. But the thing about transition defense is all it takes is effort and organization. It’s not a talent area. You run back every time because it puts you in a better position to defend, or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. That’s something we have to take pride in.” Q: Anything else of particularly high priority? Steve Clifford: “I’m spending a lot of time looking at our rebounding game. Rebounding translates from level to level more than any stat. Guys who rebound well in college tend to rebound well in the NBA. If you look at our roster we have one guy (Kidd-Gilchrist) who is an exceptional rebounder by (position). The bottom line is we can improve offensively and improve defensively, but if we don’t improve in team rebounding, it may not matter.”
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Q: What is your expectation for Raptors this upcoming season? What are the areas that have been improved? What are the areas that still need urgent attention? Which player do you expect to have a breakout season? Which player would be the X-factor? A: Well, I think you probably know then that guessing really isn’t my bag, especially a week before we’ve even seen a practice but what the heck. My expectation is that they will be in the grey area between about No. 6 and No. 12 in the East and it will depend on if and when they come together, if they stay relatively injury free and depend a lot on what the other teams do. I think they need to defend better, I would imagine Jonas Valanciunas will be much better than he was last year so he might be considered a “breakout” player and I guess one big X Factor will be how Kyle Lowry plays. But I also have no clue if any of that is right or not and I’m kind of anxious to see what happens for real.
  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: No matter how painful the coming season becomes, Utah is committed to the idea of developing young players, accumulating assets like future draft picks and riding out what could be a 25-win storm. "We will not be going back on that philosophy," Dennis Lindsey promised. Clearly, the Jazz are now Lindsey’s baby, even if he doesn’t want to be considered the father. Executive vice president of basketball operations Kevin O’Connor is now more of an adviser than a decision-maker, and Lindsey recently hired his own assistant general manager, Justin Zanik. Still, suggestions Lindsey has become the lone pilot of this experimental craft that will take Utah into the next stage in franchise history do not sit well with him. "I’ve ever felt that way — when I was scouting, when I coached, when I played or now that I’ve moved up from assistant GM to the elite seat," Lindsey said. "Building a team, organizing a team, maturing a team, is a very collaborative process." Exhibit A: The Jazz’s decision to move up and draft Burke last summer. "There is a good chance Trey Burke isn’t here," Lindsey said, "unless we had Ty Corbin’s input."
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: Factor in Nene's skills as a low post scorer and a high post passer plus his locker room presence, well, it's rather obvious how valuable the Brazilian big man is to the team's well-being. One simple reason he's not higher on the list, injury concerns. One simple reason it's hard penning the Wizards into the postseason, injury concerns Until we have a prognosis on Okafor, the worries stay largely with Nene, who missed 21 games last season largely due to foot injuries. He played only 39 games with Denver and Washington during the 2011-12 campaign. The irreplaceable debate likely comes up again during camp, especially if Okafor's timetable for return is lengthy. Obviously, the Wizards hope the discussion remains a purely hypothetical one.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: What the Suns roster lacks in experience and playoff pedigree, the coaching staff’s credentials will work on making up some of that. New assistant coaches Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi each have NBA championship rings. New head coach Jeff Hornacek and assistant coach Mark West have been to the NBA Finals. There are 50 seasons of NBA experience among four coaches who played and that will form much-needed advice for a Suns roster with nine players between 19 and 25 years old. “I don’t think there’s going to be anything we haven’t seen or been through,” said new assistant coach Kenny Gattison, who played for the Suns from 1986 to 1989. “Staffs come together out of necessity. X’s and O’s, defensive principles and all that, we know. It’s not like we’re going to invent anything new. But as the season goes, you learn how to manage personalities, different combinations and, at the end of the day, our job is to make Jeff’s job easier so he can coach the team. If you relay his message and get the players to say what he’s saying, then you’re on your way. “It’s going to be a lot of preaching and teaching.”

First Cup: Monday

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
5:06
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: There never has been much doubt about Rick Adelman returning as Timberwolves coach, but it wasn’t for sure until he brought his coaching staff out to his home in Portland, Ore., last week and laid out the plans for this season. Wolves owner Glen Taylor confirmed Adelman’s return Sunday. “Yes, he did [say he’s coming back],” Taylor said. On the subject of the remodeling of Target Center and how the $100 million in expenses will be paid for, Taylor reported some progress after a long delay and how much each of the three partners will contribute. “We have an agreement with the city, and now they are working with the management team AEG to get an agreement there,” Taylor said. “We’re just sort of waiting on the city to work it out with them. Then it’s my understanding that once they get that done, they’re going to bring it to the City Council. “We have obligated ourselves to pay for $44 million to fix Target Center. The city will put in $50 million. We have to get $6 million from AEG.”
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: How will Russell Westbrook return? An unfortunate knee injury to Westbrook devastated a state and derailed the Thunder's season. How Westbrook bounces back from that setback will now determine how far the Thunder can go. For five seasons we've watched Westbrook display one of the most fearless styles of play on the planet. His relentless attack has always put pressure on defenses and given the Thunder a go-to option whenever all else fails. But will Westbrook still have that same gear with a reconstructed knee? Will he still have that same mentality? Westbrook is expected to make a full recovery from the torn meniscus he suffered on April 24. But he may not be 100 percent to start the season. As a result, we may see a different player initially than the Tasmanian devil we've grown accustomed to. After an offseason of rehab, Westbrook's confidence and rhythm will be worth monitoring just as much as his motor and athleticism.
  • Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News: The upcoming syllabus looks daunting. When camp convenes on the Salve Regina University campus, Brad Stevens will welcome a squad that bears almost no resemblance to the one that won an NBA title in 2008 and was playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals just 15 months ago. His lone All-Star player, Rajon Rondo, is still recovering from torn anterior cruciate ligament surgery and appears unlikely to be ready for the season opener. One of his most promising young players, Jared Sullinger, was recently arrested on domestic assault charges. His most experienced players — Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace — are new to the team after being cast off by the Brooklyn Nets in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce blockbuster, and are all unlikely to be a part of a rebuilding squad’s long-term plans. His most natural healthy center and point guard, Vitor Faverani and Phil Pressey, respectively, are rookies. But he has four shooting guards and four power forwards who will all be looking for minutes. His first-round draft choice, Kelly Olynyk, is already dealing with a case of plantar fasciitis, while one of last year’s first-round picks, Fab Melo, was let go last month in a salary dump to get under the luxury-tax threshold. Other than that, transitioning from being a mid-major college darling to the leader of a marquee major-market franchise should be a piece of cake. But Stevens said Friday he doesn’t expect this to be easy, that he does expect this season to be a proving ground for everyone on the parquet and new to the Boston bench, and that he’ll continue to put in the time and effort to get it right.
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Hey, Mary: If this coming season turns into another parade of injuries for the Cavaliers, and they fail to make the playoffs, will Chris Grant finally be dismissed after four long seasons of misery at the Q? Hey, Chris: I don't think Chris Grant is in any danger of losing his job. By and large, his draft choices have performed well and he has pulled off some trades that significantly improved the team, like sending Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers for a No. 1 pick that became Kyrie Irving, an All-Star in his second season. The Cavs were the only team in the league to have three players taking part in the USA Basketball minicamp -- Irving, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. A fourth -- Tristan Thompson -- is playing for Canada's national team, and a fifth -- Sergey Karasev -- is playing for Russia's national team. I like the gamble he took on Andrew Bynum because if he's healthy he's a steal, and if he's not the Cavs are only on the hook for this season. I'm not sure how you can blame the general manager for three straight season-ending injuries suffered by Anderson Varejao. If you say the Cavs should have traded him when he was healthy, I'd counter by saying they wouldn't have gotten back a player who brought the same energy and defense. The J.J. Hickson trade for Omri Casspi didn't work out, but overall I think most general managers would like to have Grant's batting average in trades. When you consider the state of the franchise when he took over for Danny Ferry after the departure of Mike Brown and LeBron James and where he has it today, there's no reason his job should be on the line.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Masai Ujiri has turned to his native Africa to try to fill his squad’s final roster spot. The Raptors president/general manager confirmed Sunday that Angolan guard Carlos Morais has been invited to training camp, along with Julyan Stone and Chris Wright. Morais, a 27-year-old, 6-foot-3 guard has been playing professionally since he was a teenager and has been a major reason why Angola has emerged as the class of the continent since 2005. Morais was named MVP of the recent Afrobasket tournament after leading Angola to gold with averages of 15.9 points and 4.6 assists per game. Angola also won the tournament in 2009, 2007 and 2005 and finished second in 2011, when Morais averaged 17.7 points per game. Morais also averaged 14.8 points at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, including a game-high 24 points against the United States. Morais is considered a scoring guard, a quality outside shooter and a strong athlete, but has mostly played in Angola. He will be in camp on a non-guaranteed contract, like Stone and Wright, who will fight for the final roster spot that was created with the waiving of veteran swingman Quentin Richardson last month.
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: For all the colorful players that have come through Washington in recent years, none wears the title of knucklehead better than JaVale McGee does. There are scores of YouTube videos depicting the big man's ill-advised forays with the basketball and his own random comments about who knows what. NBA analysts have also piled on. Everything together has led to, well, JaVale, you tell us. “People around the NBA really think that I’m dumb or stupid,” McGee told NBA.com. “But people that know me know that I’m actually very intelligent. It doesn’t affect me at all.” Intelligence can come out in many different ways. Apparently former Denver coach George Karl didn't recognize it from a basketball standpoint seeing as he played the ex-Wizard only 18.1 minutes per game last season even after the Nuggets signed the agile 7-foot center to $44 million extension. According to reports, Karl's limited use of McGee had at least some part in management firing the longtime coach, who was named 2013 NBA Coach of the Year. In 79 games, McGee averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and was among the league leaders with 2.0 blocks.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Stephen Jackson’s previous appearance on ESPN’s Highly Questionable went so well. they couldn’t resist bringing him back last week for an encore performance. This time, completely unprompted, he got to tell Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones the tale of how he ended up with his hand around the throat of former NBA All-Star Steve Francis during a recent club run-in. Jackson explained: “We wasn’t never cool. I don’t hang with him. I don’t call him. We’ve never been in the same circles. It was too packed for me to get to the stage. So I go in the DJ booth…and as soon as I start rapping, he jumps on the back of the DJ booth. “I don’t know why he jumped up there. He bumped me two times with his midsection. I felt his belt on my neck. So the third time he does it…I turn around and I ask him to get down. He said something crazy, one thing led to another, my hand end up on his throat and next thing he in cuffs.” … It’s a mildly amusing story, and as ever, it’s difficult to ever get totally down on Jackson. At the same time, it’s also more than a little pathetic that two gifted ballers — at least in their prime — who might otherwise be playing out the stretch of their careers are getting into an altercation at a nightclub instead of preparing for training camp. This much is probably safe to say: If Jackson has any hope of getting another shot to make an NBA roster, moments like this probably aren’t going to help. It’s also a sad reminder of just how far Francis has fallen.
  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: Once a skinny kid in a purple uniform, Tracy McGrady now can sound like a jaded curmudgeon lamenting the state of the next generation. “You’ve got some guys in the league now who are just knuckleheads,” McGrady said. “What turns me off is guys doing the wrong thing. Just the legal part of it, hanging out, getting these DUIs, marijuana — all that crazy stuff, just doing the wrong thing, setting a bad example for the young guys ... I don’t quite understand it. I take a guy like (Michael) Beasley. Had all the potential in the world but he’s not level-headed. He just doesn’t get it. And a very talented player. But where else are you going to make this type of money doing something you love to do every day, take care of your family and play basketball. I mean, are you serious? You get millions of dollars for it and you mess these opportunities up? I don’t get it.” McGrady has been cast as a villain in these parts. But his career, in which he never found himself in the headlines for bad behaviour, is worth respecting.

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