TrueHoop: Utah Jazz
- 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.
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:
Just read a link to H Abbot’s ESPN article about new ideas in NBA thru the advent of stats. 2 thing Henry: Red Holzman had 2 rules:— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) October 11, 2013
“Hit the open man” and “see the ball on defense”…nothing new about getting ball to open man. Two, Utah Jazz was perennially the best in West— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) October 11, 2013
The Jazz also were the team with fewest 3pt attempts yearly. Basketball is played to strengths of individuals. 3pters are not always the key— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) October 11, 2013
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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Robert MacLeod of The Globe and Mail: Masai Ujiri’s priority is to inject life into the terminally ill Toronto Raptors, but his basketball roots will forever run deep in his native Africa. Ujiri, hired in May to be the Raptors’ new general manager, recently returned from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he led a handful of NBA stars, past and present, on a four-day pilgrimage designed to try and grow the game on the vast continent. It was the 12th annual Basketball Without Borders mission into Africa. The NBA’s global development and community outreach program’s aim is to unite young basketball players, promote the sport and encourage positive social change in the areas of education, health and wellness. The NBA has run the program, in collaboration with the sport’s global governing body, FIBA, since 2001, and this summer, similar camps were also staged in Argentina and Portugal. Ujiri, 43, was born in Nigeria, and he overcame incredible odds to become the first African-raised GM of a major North American professional sports team. … “Coming here to Toronto, I want to win, I want to build and grow,” the GM said Wednesday, during an interview in his sunlight-flooded corner office that overlooks Union Station in downtown Toronto. “I also think I’ve been put in this position to give back to the kids of Africa. It is a 100-per-cent obligation for me.”
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The students are given a break in November and December, allowed to visit any remaining family or friends across the country. That's when Luke, apparently, was first introduced to his new favorite player. He heard Westbrook's name on the radio, saw a few highlights and decided he liked the Thunder. “It was definitely not something, coming to Rwanda, that I thought I'd have in common with an 18-year-old boy,” Dewey said. “But it just shows that the Thunder is huge. I live in the middle of nowhere. It's crazy that the Thunder is reaching these tiny, tiny areas in the heart of Africa.” The two developed a bond over the next few months, grown through teaching but sparked by that initial basketball connection. So when Betsy's father, Lyle, was coming to visit her in late July, they had an idea. Lyle wanted to bring gifts for the students, and what would they enjoy more than Thunder gear? Through word-of-mouth and Facebook, Lyle, an executive assistant at Bailey Oil in OKC, gathered donations at his work. In all, he packed more than 60 Thunder shirts, to go along with banners, an official team basketball and other memorabilia. Soccer is easily the country's most popular sport, but basketball has recently gained a little steam.
- Justin Giles of the Deseret News: NBA teams have big decisions to make when it comes to their young guys. Because of the collective bargaining agreement and luxury tax implications, teams must weigh the choices before deciding on player options and if players are worth long-term contracts or not. The Utah Jazz have made their decisions, as they will exercise the options on both Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. Does Kanter deserve it? According to Grantland writer Zach Lowe , “Kanter hasn't done quite enough to justify a monster $5.7 million fourth-year option, but that's due to playing time issues; Kanter didn't play in college, and he's been No. 4 in Utah's big-man pecking order. He barely cracked 1,000 minutes last season, much fewer than we'd expect from a No. 3 selection working as a full-time rotation player on a .500 team.” Burks is an interesting combo player who can play both the point guard position as well as shooting guard. With a little more experience, Burks could prove to be a steal when he was picked 12th by the Jazz in the 2011 NBA draft.
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Given that green traditionally means go, it's great news for Cavaliers fans when new center Andrew Bynum says his rehabilitation has "all been green.'' In an exclusive interview with The Plain Dealer, his first since the press conference announcing his signing on July 19, Bynum said he's on schedule to return this season and there have been no setbacks since he started working out at the Cleveland Clinic Courts in late July. "I moved here a week after the press conference, I've been here ever since -- day in and day out just working,'' he said, referring to the team's practice facility. "I'm there, focused. I'm doing everything I can do to get back. That's what all this is all about for me right now. I just want to play." … While the team thinks it would be great if he was ready for the start of training camp on Oct. 1, if he doesn't hit that exact date, it doesn't mean he's behind schedule. "It's a fluid process,'' Bynum said.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Healed, cleared, delivered: Channing Frye is yours, Phoenix Suns. After a year away from basketball due to an enlarged heart, the Suns’ deep-shooting big man said he is healthy and was cleared for all activity by doctors at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He began working out and returned with his family to Phoenix. All he awaits now is word from the Suns that their doctors concur. “They told me, ‘No human being is 100 percent healthy. The highest we give is a 98 percent. You are a 98 percent,’ ” Frye said. “They said, ‘We see this all the time.’ I don’t have any fear. I’m not scared to push myself and run and play and get my heart rate up. I’m just waiting on the paperwork. I’m healthy. It’s out of my hands. It’s up to the Suns and what they feel comfortable doing.” … Frye said a virus caused his heart’s enlargement, which shut him down before the Suns went to training camp last year. He said the condensed lockout season of 2012, stress, lack of sleep, coffee and energy drinks were contributors. Even if Frye is cleared, he likely will not be in playing shape when the Suns open their season Oct. 30. He is just beginning to do the off-season work that he normally would have done in May and June because he was restricted to golf, yoga and set-shooting for most of the past year.
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: David Lee got up from his seat, swiveled and lifted just enough of his practice jersey to reveal a newly sculpted six pack of abs. With those moves, the Warriors' power forward affirmed the points he had been trying to make during a just-concluded 15-minute interview: Even after offseason surgery, he said he is in the best shape of his life, and while his team is finally receiving some lofty preseason praise, he isn't resting on those predictions. "We could finish last in the West or we could finish first, but I think we have the ability to be a championship-caliber team," Lee said Wednesday, a day after most of the Warriors reported to voluntary workouts at the team's downtown Oakland facility. "We still have a long way to go, but if you look at where we were three years ago ... and where we are right now, it's very exciting. It comes with a level of responsibility, because now we're going to have a target on our back - rather than being a team that everyone underestimates."
- Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Lance Stephenson is impressed with the moves the Nets and Knicks have made this summer, but said he still thinks his Pacers are the team best-suited to challenge the Heat in the East. “I think we’re good,” Stephenson said at a back to school event in Brooklyn Wednesday. “When I’m on the court, and I know when my teammates are on the court, we think we’re better than anybody. “I think we’ve got a good chance to be the number one team [in the East]. We just have to work hard, put it together and do what we need to do to make our team better this year.” After spending his first two years mostly riding the bench for the Pacers, last season Stephenson became one of the NBA’s breakout players. With All-Star Danny Granger spending virtually the whole season on the shelf with knee injuries, Stephenson started 72 games during the regular season and all 19 of Indiana’s playoff games, helping the Pacers push the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: For a team that has had little success the past five seasons, the Washington Wizards have been an unlikely source for teams looking for front office talent. Mike Wilson, the Wizards’ head of college scouting for the past nine seasons, is the latest to join the exodus from Washington after accepting a player personnel position with the Dallas Mavericks. Already this offseason, Pat Connelly left his position as director of player personnel to become assistant general manager of the Phoenix Suns and former vice president of player personnel Milt Newton was hired as general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Former assistant coach Jerry Sichting also left to become the lead assistant with the Suns and assistant athletic trainer Koichi Soto is expected to join the Timberwolves head strength and conditioning coach. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman and their respective staffs are all in the final year of their contracts, but all of the departing individuals have received significant promotions to go elsewhere.
- Michael Kaskey-Blomain of The Philadelphia Inquirer: It is rare at 25 years old to be considered an elder statesman of anything. Many 25 year olds are just finding their way in the working world, let alone being looked to for leadership. But with six professional seasons under his belt and a roster comprised of fresh faces, that is exactly the position Thaddeus Young finds himself in heading into this season with the Sixers. With much of the Sixers’ roster comprised of rookies and other fringe free agents, Young stands as the team’s longest-tenured and most experienced player. He has seen a handful of coaching changes since the Sixers selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft, as Brett Brown will serve as his fifth head coach in seven seasons. Young has also played under Mo Cheeks, Tony DiLeo, Eddie Jordan and Doug Collins. His role has consistently changed under each coach as well, as he has been both a starter and a reserve, and spent ample time at both forward spots.
- Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca: Nearly halfway home, but not even close to being done. That sums up the status of the Canadian men’s national team as they take a brief pause at the FIBA Americas tournament in Caracas, Venezuela. The event has reached the second of three distinct stages. With their blowout win over Uruguay late Tuesday night in a game delayed nine hours due to a power outage, Canada concluded group play with a 3-1 record and advanced from Group A in second place. They now have four games against the top four teams from Group B, beginning with their game at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday against Mexico, followed by contests against host Venezuela, Argentina and Dominican Republic. … After the first four games of the Steve Nash era, these are some of the things we’ve learned about them: 1. Canada has a point guard; 2. Canada has a big man tandem to be reckoned with; 3. Canada is deep; 4. The wing position remains a challenge; 5. The team is becoming a team.
- Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: You hear the joy in her rising voice, you see the pain in her tears, you feel the triumph as she clenches her 84-year-old palms together. Arlena Smith is going back. She’s talking about Roger. Sometimes it hurts, hurts her now because it hurt him then. The day he showed up on her doorstop, exiled from the game he cherished, broke with nowhere to turn. The phone calls she’d get from him, crying, tired of the story that wouldn’t die and the questions that wouldn’t stop. Sometimes, though, it’s pure bliss. Before he became the backbone of the ABA’s Indiana Pacers, Roger Brown became her adopted son, a member of the family. Their good-natured barbs during his AAU games in Dayton. She’d call him “gramps” from her spot on the scorer’s table – “Cuz he moved so slow!” After his team won, he’d walk over to her and ask, “So, how’d I do?” with his cocky grin, knowing full well he was the best player on the court. She watched him blossom into a star, one of the best the ABA ever saw. Sunday, after 17 years of waiting, he enters the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Competitors doing everything they can to win make sports great.
It's a wonderful time for the NBA, with young stars all over the league, an impressive collection of contenders and fascinating storylines from coast to coast. The one real downer, however, is that the game-changing talent of the 2014 draft is expected to inspire any number of teams to lose as many games as possible this season, in the name of the best possible draft pick. In the first post of a series, ESPN.com's HoopIdea explores tanking and its effect on the NBA.
Here’s a nice HD YouTube video, cued up to the moment when the world’s finest sprinters are lining up for a big race.
Eight of the best athletes the world has ever known, shaking muscles loose and then crouching into the starting blocks, poised to explode. They spend years getting to this level -- running fast defines these competitors. Yet they do their best at it only a few seconds a year.
This is that time.
It's fun to watch, even though the commentary is in German and it's a sport hurting for both celebrity power and highlight-worthy artistry. In fact, it's surely the simplest sport: It starts here and ends right over there. No turning. Not even really any pacing. Eight athletes in a row, each bound and determined to run faster.
We appreciate this on a deep level. "Wanna race?" is an ancient question almost every human has asked or answered. This trips a trigger. The rare delight of sports, in these complicated times, is to see eight crystal-clear agendas, so nakedly, completely and devotedly all in.
That’s competition, and that's part of us.
Screwing up a beautiful thing
Now imagine this. You’re the runner in Lane 4, hands placed carefully, heart racing, waiting for the starter. Three sprinting wizards to your left, four to your right. Everyone has had this date circled on the calendar all year. You’ve got glory to earn and a family to feed.
And you know there’s:
- $100,000 for first place
- $50,000 for second place
- And … $100,000 for last place
Takes a lot of the fun out of the race, doesn't it? Knowing the competition’s big prizes are not just for winning, but for winning or losing.
A little weird, eh?
Of course, that's not what happens in track. But, oddly, it is roughly what really happens in the NBA.
Picture 30 teams trying to win
This season, one NBA team will work incredibly hard, make one smart decision after another, please the basketball gods and enjoy an NBA title in June.
Another team will turn the ball over a ton, play the wrong players and endure heart-wrenching injuries as the basketball gods look the other way. That team will trick the rulebook into an incredibly high pick in the draft of a lifetime with a good shot at a player who will change things for that team for a decade or more.
It's tough to say which team wins the bigger prize.
In other words: Every team would do its darnedest to give fans what they want -- real long-term strategy and real all-in nightly competition -- if the league would take its thumb off the scale. Thirty general managers are hard-wired to pull their hair out to win now and forever just like those sprinters -- if only the NBA didn't muck things up by giving a whole lot of those competitive people strong arguments to cut their competitive juices with the tonic water of tanking.
It's not that the league is forcing teams to lose. And rest assured we still get amazing competition. But the NBA is needlessly confusing things. You know what exits stage left when the priorities get cloudy? The beauty of clear priorities.
Give the big prize to the runner in last place, and it's just too much to expect everyone's best race after race, year after year. The race gets a little less fun to watch.
Maybe it’s not the biggest deal in the world. Maybe the sport can thrive despite this -- clearly it has.
And let's be clear: What I'm not alleging is that coaches or players are throwing games. I'm not even chapped at the owners or GMs who pursue losses by deciding to cut costs, keep bad coaches around, trump up injuries, trade away efficient players, play inferior players or save cap space for another day. They all should do what they think is in the long-term best interests of their teams -- I can't really call the Spurs idiots for the pathetic show they put on to get the draft pick that became Tim Duncan. Everyone should pursue wins, and more or less I believe everyone does. This isn't an ethical issue.
What's messed up is that the league has confused matters. When this season is over and teams like the 76ers, Suns, Kings, Magic, Bobcats, Celtics and Jazz have miserable records, did we learn those teams are dumb, or smart?
Losing badly in the NBA is no condemnation of the team. Which is a profound condemnation of the league. Whoever dreamed up that prize scheme simply got it wrong. It’s a strategy where you can more or less count on some competitors dogging it every time out. In casual conversation, I've heard NBA GMs mocking front offices in places like Houston and Milwaukee for "foolishly" trying to win season after season. It's all backward.
You want to see the most intense competition? You want every game to matter? You want maximum excitement? Well, duh. Stop rewarding failure. Stop creating the problem.
It casts a shadow over the NBA schedule. Maybe a third of the games feature at least one team that no doubt has players and coaches who are dying to win, but who have been intentionally handicapped by front offices that value losses. I don’t know who’ll win that Grizzlies versus Sixers contest, but I know the Grizzlies -- all of them, from the point guard to the president -- want to.
Meanwhile, we could, quite simply, with a wave of the hand from the NBA Board of Governors, have a league where all 1,230 games feature two organizations with all the naked competitive ambition of the sprinters in that video.
That’s what we’re exploring.
Why can’t we have that?
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: In five years when he’s (Tracy McGrady) eligible, is he a Hall of Famer. I don’t know. The raw numbers would suggest he’d have to get serious consideration. The tweeter was full of impressive stats yesterday, the most impressive that he was one of seven players to average 20 points, five rebound and four assists in eight straight seasons; the others were Kobe, LeBron, Jordan, Oscar, Garnett and Bird. Not bad company and if that’s your main criteria, you can’t keep him out, can you? I could, though. I could suggest that while his statistical impact was significant – there can be no argument about that, the raw numbers are shocking – there was just something about his body of work that should give voters cause for concern. Now, I suppose you could go either way on this one, there is a legitimate argument to be made both ways, I think, and since I’m a Hall of Fame hard ass and look at a much bigger global picture, I’m saying no. And I will say this and take whatever shots you’ve got: With respect to an impact on the sport, here in North America and around the world, he couldn’t hold a candle to Vince Carter. If you’re talking impact, there’s no comparison.
- Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: In the wake of Tracy McGrady's retirement announcement earlier this week, let me just say this: T-Mac was undoubtedly a great talent, but he will also go down as one of the great underachievers in NBA history. I covered his entire tenure with the Orlando Magic, and he had the talent and explosiveness to become a greater player than Kobe Bryant. Unfortunately, he didn't have the desire. … Here's why I say McGrady was one of the NBA's great underachievers: Because he never, ever won a playoff series until this past season -- his final one -- when he was one of the last players off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs. In a sport where one player can make a huge difference (see LeBron leading the marginally talented Cleveland Cavaliers to the finals and the best record in the NBA for two years running), T-Mac never elevated his team's to anything other than mediocrity. … Will he go down as one of the top three Magic players of all-time behind Dwight and Shaq? Probably -- although Penny Hardaway might argue otherwise. For a lot of reasons, though, he will go down in history for another reason. No player I ever saw had more talent but accomplished less.
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra clearly has the football bug. He apparently also carries a message that resonates beyond basketball. Three weeks after attending practice and then addressing the University of Tennessee football team in Knoxville as a favor to friend and Volunteers coach Butch Jones, Spoelstra was in Renton, Wash., on Tuesday, addressing the Seattle Seahawks. "Just having him here in front of the team and just having him in meetings with us and having him out here in practice is an unbelievable experience for everybody," quarterback Russell Wilson said after Tuesday's practice. "For him to be able to talk about how his basketball team was successful and the way that they went about their business in terms of sacrificing . . . just that whole idea of sacrificing everything, the players, LeBron [James] coming to Miami, and Dwyane Wade sacrificing all that, all that type of sacrifice that it takes to be great and to be great so often, is kind of what he talked about for the most part. And having that discipline, as well, too, is something that he talked about, and just working hard, continuing to work hard, continuing to believe in yourselves and ignore the noise.” … Spoelstra is from nearby Portland, Ore., with this his second trip to the Pacific Northwest this offseason. He had visited with Chip Kelly at the University of Oregon in previous seasons, before Kelly became coach of the Philadelphia Eagles this season.
- Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN: Washington Wizards Vice President of player personnel, Milt Newton, will join the Timberwolves as the team's general manager, according to a team source. Newton will be heavily involved in pro scouting. The Wolves also plan on elevating Rob Babcock to a vice president of personnel position. Both men have a prior history with Wolves President of Basketball Operations, Flip Saunders. Saunders still will have final say in all personnel decisions, but will be leaning heavily on Newton and Babcock on all moves. Saunders is also said to be taking an assistant trainer, Koichi Sato, from the Wizards. Sato will focus on strength training with the Wolves.
- Fred Kerber of the New York Post: Play nice, guys. That essentially was the directive given to owners James Dolan of the Knicks and Mikhail Prokhorov of the Nets this past season during a meeting orchestrated by NBA Commissioner David Stern, who wanted to snuff any lingering tension between the two and prevent a full-blown feud, multiple league sources told The Post. “There was such a meeting and the parties both said it was a very cordial and pleasant one,” said one league official with knowledge of the sit-down, which happened early in the season. The official also confirmed Stern assisted in getting the pair together in an attempt to prevent a wave of spitballs going back and forth over the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. See? It’s not just players like Paul Pierce and Raymond Felton fueling the feud between the two NBA teams sharing the city. It has been going on for a while, but the Nets no longer are the poor stepchild performing in a New Jersey swamp. Another person with direct knowledge of the sit-down called it “cordial and friendly.”
- Bernie Augustine of the New York Daily News: There’s no time for proofreading in the tattoo parlor. Larry Sanders showed off his newest tattoos on Instagram over the weekend, but the Bucks center was quickly given a spelling lesson by his fans who spied the unfortunate typo in permanent ink. The 24-year-old got fresh ink on both hands, with one reading “Ask” and another “Recieve.” Whoops. “Receive” is the proper spelling of the word, and Sanders was given plenty of reminders about the old “I before E except after C” rule. Oh, that pesky English language. Sanders, for his part was unfazed by the gaffe. Despite calls from his fans to delete the photo of the tattoo — “Please remove the picture. It makes U look like an idiot,” one Instagram user wrote — Sanders kept both photos up on his Instagram stream and followed them up with a photo of himself looking unimpressed with the hullabaloo and a caption that reads, “ummmmmmmm ... ain’t worried bout nuthin.” With a new four year, $44 million contract, he shouldn’t be worried. Turning an “I” into an “E,” and vice-versa, will hardly put a dent in his newly-fattened wallet.
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Former Atlanta forward Josh Childress will be among 40 or more free agents who will work out here as the Cavaliers continue to do their due diligence in the month leading up to the start of training camp, according to an NBA source. Childress' agent, Chris Emens, told HoopsHype.com his client would work out in Cleveland and San Antonio. Given the Cavs' current roster and salary situation, all the players face long odds of making the team, but some could earn invitations to training camp.
- Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle: Rising costs, rising sea levels, rising community concern. Everything is on the rise when it comes to the Warriors' proposed arena on the San Francisco waterfront. The Warriors insist that the arena will also eventually rise, that it is still on track to meet its projected 2017 opening date. But it continues to face obstacles. "I think the Warriors have underestimated how high the hurdles for a project like this would be," said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, a regional organization that has worked to protect San Francisco Bay for the past 52 years. … "It's very expensive to rehabilitate those piers," said Warriors president Rick Welts. "But we still have the highest level of confidence this project will be done." … Welts said a third round of design will be unveiled in October. … "We are 100 percent focused on Piers 30/32," he said. "We're more convinced than ever that this is the best possible site for this project."
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Alex Len was first on the Suns’ draft board in June but he is not first in the minds of his fellow rookies when it comes to NBA success. Len, this year’s No. 5 overall selection, did not receive much love in the nba.com annual Rookie Survey of the 36 rookies who attended a league photo shoot in New York earlier this month. Len and fellow Suns rookie Archie Goodwin, the No. 29 pick, attended the event in conjunction with the league’s rookie transition program. The NBA rookies gave votes to 10 rookies who they think will win Rookie of the Year but nobody voted for Len or Goodwin. Fourteen rookies got votes for who will have the best career but nobody voted for Len or Goodwin. And even for who is the most overlooked rookie, the rookies overlooked the Suns but voted for 21 other rookies. Perhaps Len’s ankle surgeries curbed optimism. Maybe it is the assumption that Len will be playing backup minutes to Marcin Gortat. Or they just might not think he will be as good as the Suns believe he will be. Goodwin did get a vote for “most athletic” rookie and “best defender.”
- Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: When Utah Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin reached out to Alex Jensen about joining his staff, a number of qualities drew him to the D-League Coach of the Year and, likewise, Jensen to Corbin. That Jensen was a Centerville native and played a starring role on the University of Utah team that advanced to the 1998 NCAA championship game was low on Corbin’s list. Presumably, too, was this side benefit to five years playing professionally in Turkey: a unique ability to communicate with Jazz center Enes Kanter. "I’ve already sworn at him [in Turkish]," Jensen said, his permanent half-smile twisting into a full one. "Those are the first words you learn." Before being hired earlier this summer as a Jazz player development assistant, Jensen spent two years as the head coach of the Canton Charge and four years before that on Rick Majerus’ staff at Saint Louis University. His arrival completed the shuffle that began when assistant coach Jeff Hornacek left for the top job with the Phoenix Suns. Jensen, 37, will share player development duties with another Ute, second-year staffer Johnnie Bryant. He said he has already worked with about half of the roster, including in Santa Barbara, Calif., and in workouts between Derrick Favors and Karl Malone.
- Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers’ long playoff run this spring is making it easier for the team’s front office to sell tickets. Todd Taylor, the team’s vice president of sales and marketing, said Tuesday that sales of season-ticket packages are up nearly 30 percent from this time last year. Packages are considered anything 11 games or more because they give the buyer a guarantee to purchase playoff tickets, he said. Per club policy, the Pacers do not reveal total number of season tickets. But Taylor said the 30 percent bump includes about 1,200 new ticket holders. “I still think we’re in growth mode,” Taylor said. “I’ve only been here two years, but we’re certainly seeing a greater level of interest. When your team is relevant, and people accept your phone calls, you have a chance.” Taylor said more than 90 percent of season-ticket holders from last season have renewed their tickets.
- Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press: Negotiations for a $100 million renovation of Target Center finally are moving near completion, with the primary tenant Timberwolves agreeing to pay $44.3 million, the City of Minneapolis $50 million and the AEG sports and entertainment firm still negotiating the remaining $5.7 million. Reaching a deal with AEG, which manages concerts in the arena, had slowed talks. The current controversy between the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority over whether team ownership has the wherewithal to deliver on its $477 million commitment for a $975 million stadium has caused the City of Minneapolis to be more cautious in negotiations with the Timberwolves. The Wolves say they have been forthcoming with whatever financial information the city sought, and there don't seem to be any issues. The Wolves are hopeful a deal will be approved at a Minneapolis City Council meeting next month. Meetings between Minneapolis and the NBA team took place last Friday, with communications continuing through the weekend, and meetings scheduled for this week.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Center Larry Sanders has signed his contract extension with the Bucks, general manager John Hammond confirmed Tuesday. Sanders and the Bucks reached agreement on a four-year, $44 million deal on Friday, with only final details to be settled. The contract will run through the 2017-'18 season. The 24-year-old Sanders will make $3 million next season in the final year of his rookie-scale contract but will be paid $11 million per year during the extension. "By combining his God-given ability with hard work and determination, Larry has developed into one of the top defensive players in the league," Hammond said. "He is a very important part of what we are doing in Milwaukee, and we're excited to announce his contract extension." Sanders was a reserve during his first seasons in the NBA but became the Bucks' starting center last season, averaging 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots (ranking second in the league).
- Staff of the Detroit Free Press: Pistons second-year center Andre Drummond told pistons.com that he’s making sure the team’s three 2013 draft picks are coming to Auburn Hills for summer workouts. “Last year, I was here real early,” Drummond said. “I’m like, ‘You guys need to get here early. Just because you made it to the league, don’t think you can come back when all the veterans come back.’ ” So expect to see plenty of guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva and big man Tony Mitchell at the Palace before training camp begins in six weeks. Siva apparently felt winded after his first workout. “And I told him, ‘It’s only going to get worse. As soon as training camp comes, it’s running times 10,’ ” Drummond said. “So I’m glad to have him out here with me, and the other rookies will be here soon, too.”
- Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: More than two weeks have passed since Suns forward Michael Beasley was arrested by Scottsdale police on suspicion of possessing marijuana, and the silence coming from US Airways Center is deafening. The Suns still have not addressed what they plan to do with Beasley or even acknowledged his latest troubles, which came on the heels of a report that Scottsdale police are investigating a sexual-assault allegation against Beasley. Messages left Tuesday with Managing Partner Robert Sarver, President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby and General Manager Ryan McDonough went unanswered. Maybe there’s just nothing left to be said, except this: Babby and his former GM Lance Blanks made an $18 million mistake. Now, the Suns are going to have to eat all but $3 million of what remains of it, and the only question is whether they want to take their medicine in small doses or hold their nose and get it over with in a couple of big gulps.
- Howard Beck of The New York Times: NBA players will elect a new union president Wednesday, the first tangible step in rebuilding an organization racked by dysfunction, infighting and scandal. It has been six months since the players fired Billy Hunter, the longtime executive director, amid charges of nepotism and abuse of union resources — allegations that are also the subject of a federal investigation. Hunter has countered with a wrongful-termination lawsuit that accuses Derek Fisher, the current union president, of conspiring with league officials during the 2011 lockout. Against that backdrop, union leaders have been quietly working to rebuild their association from within, while still dealing with the fallout from Hunter’s messy tenure and sagging morale at the union’s Harlem offices. It could be another six months before the union names a new executive director. But the transition in leadership will officially begin Wednesday in Las Vegas, where players will elect a successor to Fisher, whose term is expiring. Roger Mason Jr., a 32-year-old guard, is the lone announced candidate for the job, and it appears likely he will run unopposed. Mason, who has served four years as a vice president, said he had the full endorsement of his fellow executive committee members.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: How close he came to retiring over the offseason: Manu Ginobili: By the end of the season — and I mean the regular season and not the playoffs — I thought about it a lot. I was so tired of it. I hadn’t suffered a muscle strain in my whole life and I went through three in four months. I felt negative, fed up. And I thought about retiring. I hadn’t come close to making up my mind but I thought it was something I had to discuss with my wife, “what if …?” She told me that it was my decision and she was fine either way. But when I recovered physically I started to feel better about it all. When the season ended I grieved for 48, 72 hours and I didn’t feel retired. I knew something was missing, that I still wanted to play. The criticism he got during the playoffs, something he’s rarely experienced during his career: Manu Ginobili: Strange. You usually read things in the newspaper or hear them through other people. But during the playoffs, for example, I’m isolated, bulletproof. I don’t read anything, don’t watch highlights, nothing. At first those criticisms didn’t reach me, I only had to deal with my own. I knew how I was playing and what I can give the team. But when I started to get questions in a specific tone, that’s when I realized: “Something must be happening. I’m being criticized. Otherwise, they wouldn’t ask me that.” I started to realize that they were saying I wasn’t playing at my level and it was weird. Especially in the playoffs. It had happened in other times of the season, when I was injured and they were saying that it wasn’t the same, that the best of Ginobili was in the past. This time it was during the playoffs. It was weird and it hurt. Because I have a well-developed ego and, like I said, I was always proud to say I never under-performed in the playoffs. I had that credibility in my career. So when that happened this season, it hurt.
- Nick Mathews of the Houston Chronicle: “I was ready to invigorate the entire city of Houston. I was supposed to save Houston basketball.” Those were words from Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin in front of 20,000 people at a “Dream Big, Be Yourself” youth conference in Taipei, Taiwan. Lin talked about his frustrations in his first year with the Rockets. Not frustrations about being replaced as the face of the Rockets — once the team signed superstar James Harden — but frustrations about failing to meet expectations by coaches, fans and himself. “I became so obsessed with becoming a great basketball player … trying to be Linsanity, being this phenomenon that took the NBA by storm,” Lin told the audience. “The coaches were losing faith in me, basketball fans were making fun of me.” Lin later told the group that he feels better now because he’s no longer seeking the approval of others.
- Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: Former Celtics forward Walter McCarty will rejoin the team as an assistant coach, a league source confirmed to the Globe Tuesday night. With the addition of McCarty, a 6-foot-10-inch forward who played for the Celtics from 1997 to 2005, to new head coach Brad Stevens's staff, Stevens, who has no NBA experience, gains the valuable perspective of an ex-NBA player that should help ease Stevens's transition into the league. McCarty is also a product of the Kentucky Wildcats, as is Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. A league source had previously told the Globe that the Celtics were looking to add a staff member "who can bond with Rondo, someone he can relate to and trust." … Stevens, a former star coach at Butler University who at 36 is now the youngest coach in the NBA, appears to have his coaching staff with the Celtics finalized. It includes Jay Larranaga and Jamie Young, who were with the staff last season; Ron Adams, Micah Shrewsberry and McCarty, all new hires.
- Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: The Nets announced a series of hires Tuesday to round out Jason Kidd’s coaching staff. John Welch, Joe Prunty and Charles Klask were added to Kidd’s staff, and the team hired Jim Sann as an advance scout. In addition, Doug Overton — who had been on the coaching staff — has been named the head coach of the Nets’ D-League affiliate, the Springfield Armor. Kidd’s coaching staff stands at six, with the three new names to go alongside Lawrence Frank, Roy Rogers and Eric Hughes. Welch’s hire has been a formality since summer league, where he was an active presence on the bench. He spent the last eight seasons as an assistant coach under George Karl in Denver.
- Staff of The Salt Lake Tribune: Justin Zanik was officially hired Tuesday by the Utah Jazz as assistant general manager. A player agent since 2003, Zanik is known for expertise on the collective bargaining agreement and European game. His impending hiring was first reported last week by ESPN.com. Zanik, who served as vice president of ASM Sports since 2004 and represented players including Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, will officially join the Jazz on Sept. 1. Assistant GM is a new position in the Jazz front office . "He is a high-character individual with a strong work ethic," GM Dennis Lindsey said in a statement, "and will be a tremendous addition to the Jazz basketball operations staff. I am very happy to welcome Justin, his wife, Gina, and their children to the Jazz family."
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. That was a surprise. Chris Hansen throwing up his dirty hands and shoveling $100,000 worth of anti-arena mud at Sacramento's proposed sports and entertainment complex? Sleazy. Petulant. Testosterone-driven. Not a surprise. Remember what I said a few months back about bullies? This was like beaning Alex Rodriguez with a fastball when he has his back turned and is walking toward the dugout. One cheap trick often leads to another, even among billionaires. … Maybe this will all be forgotten by the time the NBA entertains expansion. Maybe the league extracts a pound of flesh ($$$) from Hansen by increasing the expansion fee. Whatever. Hansen is Seattle's problem now. Hopefully, he just stays away.
- Brad Rock of the Deseret News: I believed this in June and I haven’t changed my mind: The Jazz didn’t have a lot of options. They knew where they were going with the Jefferson-Millsap approach – mid-to-low end of the conference. Better to roll the dice. It’s going to be painful and with what they have now, it won’t be smooth. They’re at least two All-Stars away from being serious, maybe more. In fact, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko and Devin Harris were All-Stars and even played on the same Jazz teams. They didn’t go far. Neither will this team, as it stands. I know it’s early, but this might be a good time for Jazz fans to temper expectations. Sports Illustrated can see that from a distance. From up close, it might have looked better a couple of months ago than it really was.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Injuries almost have turned Malcolm Lee into an NBA stranger. Lee logged barely more games in two years with the Minnesota Timberwolves (35) than he did as a UCLA junior (33). He has undergone two surgeries on each knee and a hip surgery and was acquired in June by the Suns mostly because they had to take on his contract to move up one draft spot for Archie Goodwin. Lee, 23, is trying to make sure you have not seen the last of him. Or that you are about to see the first of him. He has been in Phoenix for the past month, working with Suns athletic trainers with the belief that he will be ready to participate when the team heads to Flagstaff for training camp on Sept. 30. He has a guaranteed $884,000 contract, but the Suns also will have 15 other guaranteed contracts with a maximum of 15 regular-season roster spots. The Suns believe in Lee’s talent, but it is a matter of the 6-foot-5 guard’s health and whether he can recapture his athleticism and show his defensive aptitude.
- Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant continued to push his way back from a torn Achilles tendon, releasing a video of his workout via Instagram on Monday. The clip shows Bryant running on the Alter-G, the weight-bearing treadmill. While he has been walking on the Alter G for some time during his recovery, Bryant has clearly increased his pace. The Lakers All-Star guard was injured April 12 in a win over the Golden State Warriors. He had surgery the following day. While touring China, Bryant said he has "shattered" his recovery timetable, but more recently, Bryant said he's not sure if he'll make it back in time for opening night (Oct. 29). The original timetable for his recovery was six to nine months. Bryant also tweeted that he won't forget about what was said and written since his injury.
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Q: Is this job harder than you thought it’d be? Flip Saunders: No. When I coached, I was always pretty active in the personnel side of things. Were there some challenges? Yeah, there were, challenges trying to change the culture — how we operate internally and externally — so all parties understand what you’re trying to do. Q: Anything you understand now about the job that you didn’t four months ago? Flip Saunders: I don’t think so. People talk about the importance of the agents and how they can dictate things; I believe my year with ESPN helped me tremendously in dealing with media and even agents. You understand these people have an agenda and you have to respect what their agenda is. It might not be the same as yours, and you might not like what they’re doing, but it’s not out of spite to you. It’s because they have a job to do. You have to respect that. I understand that more now, and I don’t take it maybe as seriously, to be honest, as I would have in the past. Q Any roster needs you still need to address? Flip Saunders: I don’t think we have any needs. Right now, talking to Rick, we feel comfortable with the roster we have. Not only is it balanced, but we feel we have talent at every position. I’ve talked a lot about this team and there are pretty good players out there we don’t even talk about right now: Derrick Williams, J.J. Barea, Dante Cunningham. When you put all those guys together with who we’ve added, you’ve got to feel comfortable.
- Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe: Based on this team's current roster, do you see them winning more than 30 games? This means last place in the East. Larry, Tallahassee, Fla. Have you seen the Bobcats play, Larry? In all seriousness, 30 is a good number to debate. Fans seem to be all over the place on where this team finishes, but I'm in the camp that the losses of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as well as Rajon Rondo's recovery from knee surgery, leave the Celtics in a bad spot. Add in a new coach and a repetitive roster I'll go jus over and say the Celtics win 31 games. That leaves them out of the playoffs but maybe ahead of the Bobcats.
- Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: We're in the midst of what is considered the slow time of the NBA offseason. It's a place in time where Ivan Johnson thought he would have had his next stop locked up already. But he isn't expected to be available past August. A source close to the power forward informed CSNNW.com that Johnson is issuing NBA teams a two-week deadline to come up with a reasonable offer. If no NBA offer presents itself, Johnson will bite on one of his several overseas offers. The source who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of these talks says, “Johnson will be fine either way, as long as he is playing the game of basketball.” The New York Knicks were one of the NBA teams inquiring about Johnson early on, however they have not reached out at the same regularity, another source told CSNNW.com.
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Monday proved to be a day of minor details for the Miami Heat, both halfway around the world and halfway across the country. In Australia, Heat second-round acquisition James Ennis, the swingman out of Long Beach State, was introduced as the newest member of the Perth Wildcats. In Sioux Falls, S.D., Heat scout Pat Delany was introduced as coach and Heat Director of Player Personnel Adam Simon as general manager of the NBA Development League Skyforce, the Heat's minor-league affiliate. In addition, Heat player-development coach/advance scout Octavio De La Grana was confirmed as an assistant coach for Delany. To a degree, the events were related, with Ennis bypassing the opportunity to play for the Heat's D-League affiliate in favor of a more lucrative contract in Australia. Both Ennis and Perth coach Trevor Gleeson downplayed the opt-out in Ennis' Wildcats contract that would allow him to return to the Heat at any point if summoned this season.
- Ben Standig of CSN Washington: As for a return to Washington, it seemed highly unlikely even from the moment the Wizards acquired him (Jason Collins) from the Celtics in a deal for Jordan Crawford. It still does especially since there isn't actually a roster spot to spare after Al Harrington's signing brought the roster to full capacity with 15 members. It still would even if the team opened space by trading one of their frontcourt options elsewhere. Then again, the playoff-pushing Wizards would arguably be better off with a third center, even one with no scoring prowess, rather than a plethora of young forwards whose respective NBA roles remain rather undefined. Teammates last year praised Collins' ability to set screens in the context of helping the team produce points even if said points rarely came directly under the names Collins. Since many assume Nene will miss a chunk of the season at some point for some ailment, why not have another big man option. Until or if the Wizards make another move that opens up a roster spot, there is nothing to ponder. Even then, not so much, or even a little.
- Rustin Dodd of The Wichita Eagle: Thomas Robinson averaged just 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 15.9 minutes before the Kings shipped him to Houston in a late February trade. If the situation is Sacramento was untenable, the stint in Houston wasn’t much smoother. The Rockets had a logjam at power forward, and when the franchise had a chance to sign free agent center Dwight Howard this offseason, the team sent Robinson to Portland in a salary-dump move. “Up and down,” Robinson said, “rookie roller coaster.” For now, though, the ride appears to have slowed down a bit, and Robinson will have the opportunity for a fresh start with the Trail Blazers. He’ll join a young core that includes power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard, the league’s reigning rookie of the year. And most importantly, Robinson says, he finally feels wanted. “They’re constantly behind me,” Robinson said. “I’ve been up and down through my rookie year (with) two teams already. So for them to come in and make me feel like it’s gonna be a home for me is definitely a big deal.”
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban is certainly one of the most influential people in the Dallas area and when it comes to the NBA, he’s got lots of clout, too. On Tuesday, he’ll be unveiled as a mover and shaker in the world of mixed martial arts when USA Today names the “25 Most Powerful People in MMA.” Cuban checked in at 13th, along with Andrew Simon, who is his CEO of Fights at AXS TV. The pair turned then-HDNet into a home for MMA bouts back in the early days of the sport, seeing an opportunity. As two of the pioneers of giving the sport a platform for exposure, Cuban and Simon understood from the start the popularity that MMA would gain and gave the sport instant credibility. “If we weren’t going to be great at it, there was no reason to do it,” Cuban said in the special edition of MMAjunkie.com magazine, which produced a first-time print edition of 70 pages to chronicle the 25 heavyweights of the sport.
- Tony Bizjak and Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: Sacramento's arena war hit new levels of intensity this week after Seattle financier Chris Hansen was revealed as the secret source of money for a petition drive to put the city's arena plans to a public vote. Seizing on outrage at the news, arena supporters took to the streets Saturday, hanging more than 1,000 fliers on front doors asking residents who signed the petitions to withdraw their signatures. "Don't let Seattle money steal away our chance at 4,000 jobs for Sacramento!" the fliers urged. Arena backers, a group that includes many of the city's prominent business people and politicians, argue the Seattle funding offers proof that the two-month-old petition drive is really an attempt to derail the city's downtown arena plans and push the Kings out of town. Yet Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, the group behind the ballot measure, insists it is a homegrown effort, aimed at giving voters a voice. Its leaders today vowed to come back fighting - possibly with a local fundraising effort.
- Bruce Brothers of the Pioneer Press: Flip Saunders indicated that signing Pekovic provides Wolves coach Rick Adelman with a major piece for a team that acquired forwards Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer plus center Ronny Turiaf, re-signed guard Chase Budinger and signed draft picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. "We were able, really, to address what we wanted to do," Saunders said. "But we've still got a lot of work to do." Saunders has been busy since taking over running the Timberwolves on May 3 but said his foremost job was securing Pekovic. "He's one of our big, key pieces," Saunders said of the 6-foot-11 Pekovic. "We came in in the offseason, and we labeled him our No. 1 priority." … Pekovic, forward Kevin Love and guard Ricky Rubio give the Wolves the tools to reach the playoffs and more after a nine-year absence, Saunders said.
- Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: It’s been a busy offseason for Rockets guard James Harden, who took the step up to NBA All-Star in his first season in Houston. There was recording a new commercial for Foot Locker, a trip to the Philippines as part of the NBA’s global basketball program, a stop with the Nike Drew League in Los Angeles and a surprise appearance in a summer game at Fonde. Harden also managed to find a few days to practice with his newest teammate, Dwight Howard, and get more time in the weight room. After all that? “I am ready to get back to work,” Harden said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I am really excited about what is coming up for our team.” … Harden said that heading into this season’s camp — set to kick off in late September — he is even more comfortable in his role with the Rockets. “Last year was great because it was a whole new experience,” he said. “I had a whole new role — a leadership role.” Playing on a team that is trying to become championship-caliber is something that came naturally for Harden, who reached the NBA Finals in his last year with the Thunder.
- Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Lakers owners/executives Jim and Jeanie Buss have different views on the exit of Dwight Howard. "He was never really a Laker," Jim said to Ric Bucher of The Hollywood Reporter. "He was just passing through." "It's disappointing that Dwight isn't here," Jeanie said. "I feel like we failed him." Howard, who was a free agent this off-season, signed a long-term deal with the Houston Rockets. The Lakers' longtime owner had been Dr. Jerry Buss, who died in February from cancer-related complications. His ownership was passed on to two of his six children, with Jim in charge of basketball operations and Jeanie in charge of business. "My brother ultimately makes the [basketball] decisions,” said Jeanie. “I defer and will continue to defer because that’s what my dad believed would be successful." She would like to be more involved with the Lakers' basketball decisions, but that's not the role within the organization. … Jeanie recently said she believes her father might have been able to convince Howard to stay.
- Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Trust can be earned, trust can be built, and trust can also become a quick necessity when the back door is locked and you have to go out the front together or not at all. Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown are going to pull this off as a team or it isn't going to happen for the new administration and staff. That's the reality of what the partnership announced Wednesday means, and nobody was sugarcoating the degree of difficulty involved. "We all know the pain of rebuilding is real. We've all experienced it," Brown said. "It's dangerous and . . . a bit scary at times." In finding his partner for the tightrope walk of trust across this gorge, the least-surprising thing is that Hinkie raided a San Antonio organization for which he has a respect that one league source familiar with the GM referred to as "man love." The organization built by R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich has been an innovator in terms of team facilities, player development, and draft and free-agent strategies. The last time the Spurs didn't win at least 50 games in a full season was 1996-97, and along the way they have won four NBA titles and would have won a fifth but for an uncharacteristic last-minute collapse in Game 6 against the Heat in June. "If someone on my [Houston] staff came to me with an idea of something that maybe we should try or do differently, I'd tell them to go find out if San Antonio did it," Hinkie said. "If the answer was no, then they should go back and rethink what they had."
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: In May, Kevin Durant wore a Seattle SuperSonics cap to a Thunder shootaround in Memphis. Over the weekend, Durant played a streetball game back in Seattle and turned all melancholy. “I love and miss Seattle…damn” he tweeted. To which I say, I hear you, KD. I love it myself, and I've only been a few times to the bluest skies you've ever seen. Durant's remembrance of things past is no cause for alarm in Oklahoma City, Durant's five-year NBA home. For one thing, who cares if Durant likes Seattle? Seattle doesn't have a franchise. If Durant hasn't gotten over his first love, he can buy a summer home. For another thing, who wouldn't like Seattle? Great city. Beautiful weather. Gorgeous scenery. Ivar's seafood, Pike Place Market. Seattle is one of my favorite cities. I'm not going to bust Durant if he feels the same. Of course, who knows how Durant really feels? Nothing against the gentle giant, but he's got a little politician in him. He likes to tell people what they want to hear. … Does Durant love Seattle? I don't know. Does Durant love Oklahoma City? I don't know. But so far, he's loved the basketball experience, which is more important than hills the greenest green.
- Fred Kerber of the New York Post: At the start of last season, the smart money was on the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division. Yeah, and smart money once thought “Ishtar” was going to be a hit. So the Knicks disproved all the smart money thinking, ran away from Boston and outdistanced the Nets by five games. Brooklyn’s upgrades will create a greater challenge, but the Knicks remain reigning division champs. And so they are the hunted. “It is what it is. We were able to win our division based on people telling us we were fourth or fifth in the East and we are able to jump from the seventh to the second seed,” coach Mike Woodson said at yesterday’s Garden of Dreams Foundation event for kids at the team’s Greenburgh training facility. “Anything is possible. But I think our players are hungry just like every team. We’ve just got to make sure that we handle our home court and ... we’ve got to figure out the road. That’s how you win your division, just like last season.”
- Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer: When Tristan Thompson came to the Cavaliers at the end of last season and said he wanted to make the switch from shooting primarily with his left hand to primarily with his right, no one really bothered to investigate whether anyone else had ever accomplished such a feat in the NBA. Because the answer is that no one can remember it happening. Ever. Harvey Pollack is the director of statistical information for the Philadelphia 76ers and has been with the NBA since its inception in 1946. He was the game statistician for Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, and he saw the frequently free-throw challenged player shoot those shots with his right hand, left hand and under-handed simply to find something that worked. But someone switching shooting everything from free throws to jumpers with the opposite hand? “If anyone ever did this, I’m not aware of it,” said the 91-year-old Pollack in an email reply. Thompson, for his part, claims it’s no big deal. He’s always thrown a baseball and a football right-handed. He just also always happened to golf and eat left-handed. And shoot a basketball left-handed.
- Tony Jones and Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Player agent Justin Zanik is expected to join the Utah Jazz front office as an assistant general manager, sources confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune. Hiring Zanik would represent the latest of a flurry of moves general manager Dennis Lindsey has made since joining the organization last summer. The hire was first reported by ESPN.com. Zanik, whose clients included Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka, worked for ASM Sports, the agency that represents Jazz guard Alec Burks. Zanik is considered a statistics and salary cap expert, areas the Jazz have looked to bolster under Lindsey. Zanik’s position would be a new one; they did not previously have an assistant GM. Lindsey declined to comment.
- Jason Quick of The Oregonian: Brandon Roy will still be the most recent Trail Blazer to wear No.7 in a regular season game. Newly signed free agent Mo Williams earlier this month created somewhat of a stir when he chose No. 7, the number that Roy wore for his five seasons in Portland. But on Wednesday Williams got his preferred jersey number: 25, which was previously taken by the also recently signed Earl Watson. A team source said there is nothing more to the jersey number change than Watson being a nice guy and giving Williams the number he wanted all along. Watson has not chosen his new number, but he told the team it won't be No.7. Roy, one of the most popular Blazers in recent years after winning the 2006-2007 Rookie of the Year and earning All-Star honors three times, left the Blazers in 2011 after his degenerative knees led the team to waive him under the NBA's Amnesty clause, which gave them salary cap relief.
- Buddy Collins of the Orlando Sentinel: Former Lake Howell and UF basketball standout Nick Calathes made it official Wednesday, signing an NBA contract with the Memphis Grizzlies that has been in the works for weeks. Calathes indicated his deal with the Western Conference runners-up guarantees one season. Memphis holds a team option to stretch the contract to a second season, which would bring the value to a reported $2 million. That suggests the 6-foot-6 point guard actually took a pay cut after four lucrative pro seasons in Europe to play at the game's highest level.
- Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: George Hill doesn’t have any regrets when he looks back on how he handled his decision to skip the U.S. National Team’s minicamp last month. The Indiana Pacers guard accepted an invitation to attend but changed his mind at the last moment because of a conflict with his youth camp in San Antonio, where he played for the Spurs before being traded to his hometown Pacers two years ago. “I am not going to sacrifice that for something that doesn’t mean as much to me as kids mean to me,” Hill said after distributing toys to students at Riverside Elementary School on the west side as part of the Pacers’ Summer Christmas program Wednesday. “The kids mean the world to me. If I have to make a decision to cancel some things, I will do it as a man.” Hill downplayed suggestions that other considerations — such as being a long shot to make the team for next summer’s World Cup in Spain — played a role in his decision. He also declined to specify why he didn’t tell USABasketball officials he planned to miss the camp. He was on the camp roster until being a no-show on opening day on July 21.
- Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: As hinted at Tuesday, the Detroit Pistons announced today the unveiling of a special uniform that will be worn during 10 games — including six Sunday home games — throughout the 2013-14 regular season. The navy blue and red uniforms feature “Motor City” across the front and mark the club’s first alternative look since the 2005-06 NBA season, according to a news release. The uniforms are the first of their kind, designed to celebrate the pride and character of metro Detroit while paying homage to the region’s automotive roots, the release added. … The team will wear the uniforms Nov. 3 against Boston, Nov. 17 at the Lakers, Nov. 29 against the Lakers, Dec. 1 against Philadelphia, Dec. 8 vs. Miami, Dec. 15 against Portland, Jan. 5 vs. Memphis, Jan. 26 at Dallas, March 9 at Boston, and April 13 against Toronto.