TrueHoop: Utah Jazz

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


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

Recent play of top draft prospects

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

Epic trade deadline

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

Race to the bottom

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

When Derek Fisher won his job

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
9:30
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Phil Jackson came to the Lakers in 1999 with a hard-won reputation for preferring big guards. Meanwhile, the point guard he found in L.A., Derek Fisher, wasn't just little, but he was also, up to that point, not known as a shooter.

Looking back now, on his re-vamped personal website, Fisher -- who now plays for the Thunder -- makes clear he felt he had some serious work to do to keep his job under the legendary new coach. Fisher couldn't help his lack of height, but he could at least increase his value to Jackson by mastering the art of shooting.
Being a smaller, more traditional point guard, I wasn’t supposed to be one of Phil Jackson’s favorite type of guys to have on his team. So shooting was something that I really worked hard at during the offseason, and that moment really catapulted my confidence level in playing for Phil and playing in that new system. It set the stage for my role going forward.

Fisher remembers clearly Jackson's first regular season game as Laker coach. It was in Salt Lake City, it was on national TV and it was close down the stretch. The Jazz had traditionally manhandled those Lakers, Fisher remembers, writing: "They were just so physically strong and mentally tougher than we were at that time in our careers, and they would show it just about every time we matched up against them."

The Lakers led 84-82 with about 45 seconds left when Fisher caught a pass in the deep right corner and fired away. Nothing but net (as you can watch, in grainy YouTube, on Fisher's site). The Lakers won that game 91-84. They also won 67 regular season games that season, and the NBA championship each of the following three years, and twice more besides. Hardly anyone has doubted Fisher's place in that Laker dynasty.

But according to Fisher himself, that shot in Utah was a key moment in securing the role, as title-winning starting Laker point guard, that defined his career.

Accidental tankers

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

 

Amin Elhassan told you so

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
2:05
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Amin Elhassan predicted the Pistons offense would be terrible and the Pacers would win the East. And he's sticking to his prediction Kobe Bryant won't be meaningfully back anytime soon.

John Stockton is good at almost everything

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
3:19
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The legendary Utah Jazz point guard can nail a clutch 3, run like the wind and protect toddlers from wildcats. Tougher, for the Hall-of-Famer, however: driving dump trucks, keeping his Toyota Corolla insured and reading fine print.
video

Monday Bullets

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

Phil on new basketball common sense

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
11:30
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Phil Jackson
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
Phil Jackson's coach, Red Holzman, preached lessons that sync with today's stat geekery.


Praise be, in this confusing new world of basketball evidence, to those few special hoops topics with clarity. Talk to the most honest coaches, the smartest players, and look at what teams tend to do when they're winning, and once in a while some profound truths emerge. I call this stuff the new basketball common sense.

Three examples I gave, writing about it the other day: managing minutes, shooting 3s and getting the ball to the open shooter. On balance, those things all work.

Phil Jackson's reaction:



Great to hear from you, coach. And first off: When Red Holzman and SportVU agree, that's a beautiful thing. That's as good a definition as any of what interests me. What an endorsement that you, the winningest coach, have long been inspired by principles I'm calling timeless.

As for it not being new ... naturally. We agree there, too. The example I offered, remember, was eating vegetables. Your grandma always knew it was good for you and your doctor always suspected the same.

But there were all kinds of health theories back then. My grandma didn't just believe in vegetables. She also believed heartily in the long-term health benefits of butter. What's new is that medical science has dug in and the vegetable thing has ascended from one of many theories to a bright shining fact. Some age-old lessons look smarter than ever, glowing in a hail of affirmations.

And butter for health? Well, time has been a little rougher on that one.

This new basketball common sense business is about identifying those last theories standing, those happy conclusions that are here for the long haul. I assume neither the coaches nor the stat geeks are correct on every point. They should and do test each other. But here and there the conclusions overlap and agree in interesting ways.

Hit the open man
This open man thing is a wonder. Red knew to hit the open man. You knew to hit the open man. The video says to hit the open man. The stats scream to hit the open man. For all these reasons, I call hitting the open man common sense.

And yet the interesting part is how many plays don't, even when old and new signs alike point that way. Some, in fact, including the Thunder with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and even your own Lakers in crunch time, run plays that are designed to get a covered guy a shot.

Call it analytics if you want, or just watch the video, see who's open and count the makes and misses, wins and losses. Count enough plays and the argument for the open man is killer.

Of course you know this; you tell us in books you battled Kobe on this for years.

Indeed, the selflessness of great teamwork is the theme of your excellent "Eleven Rings," in ways I found truly inspiring -- right down to reading and writing about the phenomenal Sebastian Junger "War" book you recommend. Junger calls combat "a series of quick decisions and rather precise actions carried out in concert with ten or twelve other men." Then he writes: "The choreography always requires that each man make decisions based not on what's best for him, but on what's best for the group. If everyone does that, most of the group survives. If no one does, most of the group dies. That, in essence, is combat."

The most obvious hoops equivalent, of course, is giving up the rock. You hurt your box score stats, highlights and endorsements. You help your team. You've been making this case all career long. I'm here with some good news: the deeper the stat geekery, the more it has your back.

The Jazz make an extra point
Then there's this point about the Jazz. For starters: This team is a total outlier, an oddity, a cherry-picked example. You can't find three more like it; nearly all the best offenses are 3-focused these days. Of course a team with John Stockton and Karl Malone, probably the best pick-and-roll combination ever, was efficient. They both had conservative shot selection. The whole squad carefully worked Sloan's system to find easy looks. And boy did they ever know how to draw fouls -- those teams got a mind-blowing percentage of their points from the free throw line. Those are enough ingredients to make a great offense whether you shoot a lot of 3s or not.

This is like my grandma. She ate tons of healthy stuff and walked her dogs hours a day, seven days a week. That she lived to a ripe old age -- it probably wasn't the butter, you know? It was the other stuff.

Despite all that, as I'll explain, even your handpicked example still demonstrates my point that an uptick in 3s can help almost any offense.

In the first five years Jerry Sloan coached Stockton and Malone, the Jazz offense typically ended the season as the league's eighth-best. They were good.

Then things went crazy.

The Jazz went on a four-year run starting in 1994-95 when they averaged almost 114 points per 100 possessions, a big improvement. In this period they never had an offense worse than fourth. In the final year of that run, before age caught up to them, they didn't have their best offense ever, but they did have the very best offense in the league. This production carried Stockton and Malone to their only two Finals appearances, in 1997 and 1998.

What made the Jazz offense so special in those four years? The most obvious innovation, to my eyes, was the arrival of marvelous shooter Jeff Hornacek. He came from the Sixers at the end of the 1993-1994 season, and by the time they worked him into the offense the next fall, the Jazz started scoring like water.

Now opponents would pay for crowding Stockton and Malone.

And, importantly: Now the Jazz, at long last, whether in deference to Hornacek or the league's three-year dalliance with a shorter 3-point line, dramatically increased the number of 3s they shot. In Sloan's first five years, when the offense was merely good, his Jazz attempted an average of 504 a season. In the four seasons the offense peaked, they nearly doubled that number, averaging 847 a season. They went from an average of 505 points a season from 3s, to 946.

Today, teams shoot twice as much as that, and even then the Jazz lagged the league.

But nevertheless the truth is their offense took off when they did exactly what I'm prescribing: embrace the 3.

Which is common, and probably could have happened a lot more. You say it's about personnel, and of course you're right. But the Jazz had the shooters. In 1997-98 Hornacek made 44 percent of his 3s. Stockton was at 43 percent, with Howard Eisley at 41. Wonderful numbers! This is a team that led the league with 113 points per 100 possessions, but on plays when they attempted a 3 their rate soared up around 130. I don't know why they were so conservative with them, but I know those were almost certainly the team's best plays, and it's a cinch to suggest the Jazz could have scored more by doing more of that. Assume diminishing returns from tougher looks and you can still pencil in a few more points per game, not to mention more space in the paint for Malone to operate.

In the Finals that year, the Jazz lost games to your Bulls by one, four and five points.

That teams have been too conservative with 3s is not just an idea of analysts. Coaches have ever so slowly, three-and-a-half decades after the shot arrived, come to the same conclusion. Seven 3s per game was typical in the 1980s. Now that number is around 20 and rising. The green light is coming on.

What took those coaches so long?

One big part of it, I believe, is that people in the NBA, like everywhere, just don't have much of an appetite for change. You've written about this as much as anyone. Even your blatantly effective triangle, bedrock of 11 title teams, hasn't become mainstream.

But blending the right lessons of the past with the right innovations from the future can come with big rewards. And that's why some of today's basketball wisdom sounds old, and some of it sounds new.

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: Friday

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
5:23
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: As with almost every element of the "LeBron Watch," it's all about reading the signs. So in advance of LeBron unveiling his limited-edition watch for Audemars Piguet on Friday night, there was this from an interview with Women's Wear Daily, regarding his potential 2014 free-agency plans and where he eventually would look to settle down in retirement: "I miss the slower pace back home but have grown used to my new city's little perks like fresh fish and sweet fruit. It will definitely be someplace warm. I don't want to go back to cold winters." LeBron, an Akron native, of course, has been linked to a possible return to Cleveland next summer, as well as a potential move to the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: No, Dwyane Wade assured, his testy Twitter exchange with Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant was not a joke, not a publicity ploy for Gatorade (for whom they previously filmed a commercial) or any other product. But Wade is ready to diffuse the situation. Asked Thursday night if Durant’s comment that James Harden should replace Wade on Sports Illustrated’s list of the Top 10 players was uncalled for, Wade said: “Everyone has an opinion. We’re in an age now where everyone uses their opinion. That was it. He had an opinion. I had a response.” Asked if their exchange was a joke, he smiled and said, “No.”
  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: For the first time in 14 years, when the Lakers open training camp Saturday they will be taking the floor in the middle of a Dodgers town. The domination of buzz that began with the Kobe Bryant era in 1996 has at least temporarily ended this fall as the Lakers find themselves surrounded in dysfunction, confusion and blue. Giant gold jerseys bearing No. 24 are being replaced by oversized blue shirts bearing No. 66. Lakers flags are being pulled out of car windows to make room for Dodgers flags. Worry about Steve Nash's legs have been muted over concern for Andre Ethier's shins. Bryant took a self-publicized high dive, yet more people were talking about the Dodgers going swimming. This columnist will not repeat the assumptions that led to the long-ago mistake of calling this a UCLA football town. The Lakers-Dodgers climate change could end by next summer, when the Lakers will have the money and space to bringLeBron James to town. But since the death of Jerry Buss, the Lakers have no longer been the Lakers, so who knows what happens next? Meanwhile, with the best and richest lineup in baseball and the money to keep it going, the Dodgers have again become the Dodgers, a team that owned this city even through the Showtime era, a group that has the economic stability to own it again.
  • Nate Taylor and Harvey Araton of The New York Times: The decision to replace Grunwald, 55, with Mills may be an effort by the Knicks to position themselves for the pursuit of stars. Dolan may have concluded that Mills, who also worked a number of years for the N.B.A. in addition to his decade with the Knicks, and who got to know a significant number of agents and top players as he vied in recent months for the union job, will be a good person to lead the team’s free-agent efforts. Those efforts could include finding a way to shed the final part of Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract after this season to create cap maneuverability and possibly even make another run at LeBron James when he becomes eligible for free agency next summer. Mills could also lead an effort to lure another star player to the Knicks after this season, in part to persuade Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York. Anthony can opt out of his contract next summer. It seems possible that the Knicks, feeling the pressure of a much more visible and competitive Nets team nearby in Brooklyn, have concluded that their team needs a more accessible public face and that Mills would do well in that role.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: While speaking with league sources about the four-year contract extension DeMarcus Cousins has agreed to with the Kings in principle, I learned another interesting bit of information: NBA Commissioner David Stern plans to attend the Kings home/season opener Oct. 30 at Sleep Train Arena. I am assuming Stern will be in Miami the previous night for the championship ring ceremony at the Heat-Bulls game, and then just hop onto his private jet for the 3,000-mile flight to California. No one should be surprised. Keeping the Kings in Sacramento has been on Stern's 'to do" list for at least a decade. And, obviously, his relationship with Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, and former Golden State Warriors minority owner Vivek Ranadive - who had been itching to become a majority partner - facilitated the sale of the team and the proposed downtown arena. After this ordeal, there is no way the Commissioner, who retires Feb. 1, misses out on the emotional opening night celebration.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: And as Bulls fans know all too well after the last three seasons, LeBron James’ rule has not been good for them. The Miami Heat forward is responsible for two of the Bulls’ last three playoff runs ending earlier than they hoped. In the bigger picture, James’ last six years stack up very closely to Jordan’s best seven-year stretch, before his first retirement. From 1986 to 1993, Jordan averaged 33.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, while James averaged 28.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists from 2007 to 2013. Both are known for elite defense, but James has shown to be more versatile, guarding any spot on the floor. While their mind-sets on offense are completely different — James is more facilitator, Jordan was more assassin — they’ll be tied even more closely together if James and the Heat win a third consecutive NBA title this season, when James will still be 29. The Bulls’ mission is to stop that from happening. … It’ll be a great one if they can stay healthy, starting with Rose. While the Indiana Pacers also are expected by some to be the Heat’s primary obstacle in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers don’t have Rose. The problem is the Bulls might not have him, either — at least the Rose they had before he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. But if the one-time MVP is anywhere close to what he was during the 2010-11 season — with an improved jump shot from all the rehab time — the Pacers will be the third wheel. Will it be enough to end James’ run at history? The Bulls start training camp Friday, and they know kings don’t abdicate their thrones easily.
  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: When the regular season opens Oct. 30 against Oklahoma City, Kanter will likely step into a starting role, signaling a brand new era of Jazz basketball. The team watched seven players exit in free agency, allowing Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke to all step into marquee roles. … The Jazz offseason was strategically quiet, with the Jazz adding players who would not get in the way of plans to turn the team over to a young core that includes Kanter. "That’s what the fans have been waiting for," Kanter said, "so that’s why I was like, ‘I cannot do crazy stuff and crazy tweets.’ " However, Jazz officials know they can’t ask for too much too quickly from their young stars, and with that, Kanter can’t leave the behavior that made him a fan favorite entirely behind. After the kids had filed out of the gym Thursday, he interrupted his declaration of maturity to make a quiet confession. "I still watch SpongeBob," he said.
  • Tom Layman of the Boston Herald: In the wake of Danny Ainge’s comments that Rajon Rondo may not be back until December, new Celtics coach Brad Stevens thinks he has an in-house candidate to fill the star point guard’s shoes. Stevens said Avery Bradley may indeed see the bulk of the point guard duties until Rondo finds his way back from offseason knee surgery. “I don’t think there is any doubt that Avery has elite ability in a lot of ways as a point guard,” Stevens said at TD Garden yesterday morning, where he was a guest at the breakfast to promote November’s Coaches vs. Cancer college basketball tripleheader. “He’s an elite defender at the position. He’s an elite athlete at the point guard position. I think he’s a guy that’s gotten better. I think he’s a guy with more confidence, and I think he’s excited about the challenge if Rajon is out.” Bradley played well in flashes last season, but he also looked miscast as a point guard in Doc Rivers’ system. There is no denying Bradley’s acumen on the defensive side of the ball. The trick will be for him to find the abilities to facilitate the offense and produce some scoring — traits that weren’t consistently on display last year.
  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: Monday marks another Trail Blazers media day. The NBA players will take promotional photographs, and perform those video vignettes you see at the home arena during timeouts. For a decade I've watched the players suit up and sit around like a friend on New Year's Eve, vowing, "This year, I'm serious; I'm going on a diet." The thing turns into a massive Eyeroll Festival. It's time for that to change. On Monday, nobody wants to hear the Blazers make the same tired promises. No talking about how much better the locker room feels, how they'll "try to compete for the playoffs" or "We're going to really push tempo this season." LaMarcus Aldridge said on media day in 2012, "I think it's a whole new feeling this year, which is good. Kind of like a new start after last season." If he trots that trite stuff out as an opening statement on Monday someone should poke him in the eye. If he declares the outlook for the 2013-14 Blazers -- as he did last September -- is, "as long as we get better every night... we should be good," he should face a firing line of year-old Chalupas. If coach Terry Stotts says, "We're looking to compete for a playoff spot. I don't know why anyone would say otherwise," he should have to take a lap around the arena. Enough with the meaningless talk. If the Blazers want to make Monday count, what we need to hear is that they will make the playoffs this season. Yes, I'd like a guarantee. Bet you would, too. Because as long as the organization is asking fans to invest their disposable income and emotion in this franchise, the least that a playoff-worthy roster can do is vow that, "It's playoffs or bust."
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic will be ultra-cautious as they bring Glen Davis back from his most recent foot surgery — making sure he doesn't do too much, too soon — and he will miss training camp, perhaps the entire preseason and maybe the beginning of the regular season. But Davis remains the Magic's best low-post defender. Once he's fully healthy, I envision him returning to his starting role, although Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Maxiell could push him for minutes at the 4. Offensively, Davis is at his best when he's on the move and driving to the hoop. He has a tendency to fall in love with his midrange jumper. Davis could draw interest from other teams as the NBA trade deadline approaches on Feb. 20.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: What position does the now very rich Paul George play? George signed a five-year contract extension worth more than $90 million this week and his versatility is one of his best traits. Coach Frank Vogel can use him at shooting guard, small forward and even power forward, and have him to defend the opposing team’s top player, no matter where he plays. There’s a good chance you will see him at all three spots this season.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Brandon Jennings sat on the outside looking in during this summer’s free-agency frenzy, arriving in Detroit in a three-year deal via sign-and-trade. The Pistons believe he’ll return to his prep school mode of being a distributor first, rather than primarily looking for his own offense, as he’s done during his first four years in the NBA. Jennings represents an upgrade over Brandon Knight in terms of point guard aptitude, but he must be willing to buy into the system and set up his teammates. Rumors of the Pistons pursuing Boston point guard Rajon Rondo won’t amount to anything anytime soon. Jennings can quiet them with steady play.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Brett Brown's message for Evan Turner: Don't read media reports. "And I hope he's not caring about what goes on Twitter," the new 76ers coach said. Brown wants the Sixers' second overall draft pick in 2010 to get into a gym and rediscover a passion for the game. He said the key would be to go back to his time as a youth when he really enjoyed playing basketball. "Now that sounds a lot easier than it is to achieve," Brown said. "But it starts with the knowledge that you are putting in the time. You get a new toy to play with. And you are being allowed with that in a new place in the house. You need to help him find ways to really find a way to love." Turner appeared frustrated while playing under coach Doug Collins the last three seasons. The 6-foot-7 guard/forward also has been inconsistent since coming out of Ohio State as a junior. Turner averaged a career-best 13.3 points last season and was the only Sixer to start all 82 games. But for every solid performance, he had two or three horrible nights.
  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Pelicans forward Jason Smith, who played for the 76ers during Jrue Holiday's rookie season in 2009-10, was effusive in his praise of their new point guard. "He's great," Smith said. "I got to play with him one year in Philadelphia. I have been praising him since Day 1. He is the most underrated point guard out there. That's a testament to how hard he works and the kind of guy he is on and off the court. … But Holiday isn't expected to be a savior for a New Orleans franchise that has combined to win just 48 games the past two seasons. He is, however, expected to be a key ingredient to an organization that has been rebranded and its roster overhauled. "Hopefully it's to be the vessel of the coach on the court," Holiday said of his role. … "We have guys like Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke (Evans), even Eric Gordon, so I just have to get them the ball where it needs to be. I'll have to even penetrate at times, maybe get a shot and make something happen. But for the most part, I don't think it will be directly focused around me." With that nucleus, Holiday believes the Pelicans won't have any trouble winning much more than they have in the past.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets, CEO Tad Brown said, will sell out every home game this season. For the Rockets in the Toyota Center era, that is a huge proclamation. “We’re further ahead in our sales process at this time than we ever have been,” Brown said heading into the start of team workouts Saturday. “The season-ticket base is up 34 percent. We are close to being sold out of season tickets. And we are pretty confident with the excitement that this team has already created in the market that we’ll be sold out of every game.” The Rockets have sold out every home game in just four seasons of their history, none since moving into Toyota Center in 2003. Beginning in 1994-95, the second championship season, they had a streak of 176 consecutive sellouts, including 149 consecutive regular-season games. The Rockets sold out 20 home games last season, including 10 of the final 15, but sales took off with the July signing of Dwight Howard.
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The Cavaliers are attempting to strengthen their bond with their season-ticket holders. Last season, the Cavs launched Wine & Gold United, a year-round, season ticket-based membership program. They promised their members unprecedented and unique access. On Thursday, they provided a perk to their members and tried to deliver on that commitment. After getting league approval, they announced they would print the name of each Wine & Gold United member on the Quicken Loans Arena floor, starting with the 2013-14 season. Each account holder’s name will be displayed in the Cavs’ “All For One, One For All” gold-lettered decal. It will be positioned opposite the team benches. Throughout the season, members will have an opportunity to see their names on the court.

First Cup: 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 Gona´ves.
  • 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: Tuesday

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

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