TrueHoop: Washington Wizards

In defense of the Bulls

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Was the media wrong in picking Bulls over Wizards? Amin Elhassan is here to defend those who picked Chicago.

Wiz kids' rise up the chain of command

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
By Conor Dirks
Special to
John WallSam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Wizards met their preseason goal of making their first postseason since 2008. ... Now what?
Before the 2013-14 season began, owner Ted Leonsis made his goal awfully conspicuous: “I think that all of our focus, all of our attention, is to make the playoffs this year.”

Laboring under the weight of this mandate, the Washington Wizards have put together a qualifying season, albeit in an Eastern Conference notorious for its frailty and with Washington clinging distrustfully to the least challenging schedule in the NBA. The playoff-bound Wizards have already achieved everything they set out to do, but the way they reached this unassuming goal has at times been as disappointing as it has been gratifying.

Asked whether the Wizards had met his preseason expectations, stately sophomore shooting guard Bradley Beal offered this specter of insight into the nature of Washington’s modest ambitions: “We knew we could be an above-.500 team, and we knew we could be a playoff team, and we accomplished those two goals. Now it's up to us to just finish out this regular season, keep our sixth seed, and move on into the playoffs.”

Said fourth-year player Kevin Seraphin: “We was just trying to get to the playoffs, whether we was a seven, eight, five. It didn’t matter.”

[+] EnlargeWizards
AP Photo/Alex BrandonThe Wizards are in! But do they have the goods to go any farther? The Chicago Bulls await in Round 1.
Can you blame these Wizards, long below sea level within the league’s topography, for not aiming higher?

The six seasons since their last playoff berth have not always neatly traced Leonsis’ 10-point plan for professional sports teams. Point No. 5, for example, is headlined by Leonsis’ commitment to being patient with young players. In practice, not all young players were found worthy of that patience, and Leonsis’ one-time “New Big Three” concept disappeared rapidly -- along with the amnesty money Leonsis is still wiring to Andray Blatche -- into a void previously inhabited by organizational optimism.

JaVale McGee was traded for Nene, Nick Young was traded for Brian Cook and a second-round draft pick, and Jordan Crawford was traded for a few games of Jason Collins and an injured Leandro Barbosa. Most recently, 23-year-old Jan Vesely -- the sixth overall pick the season after John Wall was drafted first overall -- was traded for 38-year-old Andre Miller. The argument has been made that all of these maneuvers, each in its own pocket-sized vacuum, were necessary. But considered together, each transaction is another verse in a lament for player development that plays on loop for those who follow the team.

On the eve of the playoffs, there is a contingent of Wizards fans, disenchanted with the direction of the rebuild, who would welcome a swift playoff exit were it to serve as the denouement of team president Ernie Grunfeld’s 10-year tenure, and as the last gasp of Randy Wittman’s term as head coach. This internal conflict, far too deeply rooted in D.C. to be excised by the embryonic hope afforded by one playoff appearance, is integral to understanding why The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg felt compelled to host a roundtable discussion asking the question, “Why aren’t people excited about the Wizards?”

It comes down to expectations. People don’t draw joy from basketball, from competition, in the same way an unrepentant completionist takes satisfaction from checking a necessary goal off of a reasonable checklist. Joy, pain and, to a similar extent, interest, are all generated by teams that brazenly disregard goals on their way to the sublime or into the abyss.

While other teams have adjusted and outstripped their initial expectations, the Wizards have done little more than meet them. Gifted every opportunity for success, the team has found unique ways to instead orbit mediocrity.

Tied with Miami and Toronto for the best road record in the Eastern Conference (22-19), Washington ended the season with the worst home record (also 22-19) of any playoff team.

At 9-9 in December, the Wizards briefly held the third seed in the East. Over the course of the season, the team stepped ponderously down the standings with the grim determination of a precompressed helical spring (er, a Slinky), but not because their play deteriorated. On the contrary, it showed gradual, if unexceptional, improvement.

The problem, then, was everyone else. While the Wizards mostly upheld the status quo, the Bulls obscured the loss of Derrick Rose and the trade of Luol Deng by rallying behind a galvanized Joakim Noah, the Nets dug themselves out of an ironclad coffin 60 feet under before kindly resting their aged roster, and the Raptors clawed callously at every well-meaning prognostication on their way to an identity and the third seed.

There are other, more nuanced concerns. Washington’s scoring strategy involves a prodigal amount of 15- to 19-foot shots, one of the least efficient shot types. The Wizards take the second most of these shots, but are the seventh worst at converting them. Without the 3-pointer (the Wizards are the NBA’s fifth best team from deep), Washington’s offense might be fairly abominable.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
AP Photo/Alex BrandonA first-round flop wouldn't be the worst thing if it led to big-time shakeups in the Wizards organization.
And then there’s young Otto Porter, Jr., third overall pick in 2013. The hushed, desperate and not-at-all-ironic chants for Porter have begun to seep over Wittman’s shoulder at Verizon Center in the waning moments of games no longer in question. As William Carlos Williams wrote in "The Descent," Otto’s “descent made up of despairs and without accomplishment realizes a new awakening: which is a reversal of despair.” At least, that’s the hope for an unready rookie who was touted as one of the more NBA-ready prospects in his draft class.

This is just to say that success, in this case, isn’t completely unburdened by disappointment. Losses to Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston, and various other non-playoff teams at home; eight overtime losses (the most of any team); and the inability to fully capitalize on the easiest schedule in the league are all bound up in an essential truth: These Wizards could have accomplished more.

They still might. The playoffs start now, and with nothing better to do, the Wizards will attempt to win as many games as they can. When “Uncle” Al Harrington was asked whether his younger counterparts were mentally prepared for what was to come, he simply replied: “We better be.”

Now the Wizards will check the postseason off their conservative list and cut their teeth on the playoff pavement. For Washington’s brilliant but unpracticed young backcourt of Wall and Beal, it could prove to be a necessary step. But while the team’s veterans hold the window open for the uninitiated to take in the playoff view, one has to figure that next season, the bar will be adjustable.

Throwing down the Polish Hammer

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
By Kyle Weidie
Special to
Marcin GortatAP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Marcin Gortat is Poland’s only NBA son. A week before the 2013-14 season, he was traded across the U.S., from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., after an injury to Emeka Okafor threatened to undermine the Wizards’ playoff push. Now Gortat is putting up solid numbers for a Washington team that appears playoff-bound for the first time in six years (in a contract year, no less). Only LeBron James and Kevin Durant finish better than Gortat within three feet of the rim; he leads the Wizards in plus/minus per 48 minutes (+5.4); and his on-court presence provides team-high boosts in metrics like eFG%, assist ratio and fast-break points.

Gortat sat down to talk pick-and-rolls with John Wall, aspirations to become the president of Poland, pregame hype music, ripping towels, the difference between “Polish Machine” and “Polish Hammer” and what it will feel like to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

What have you and John Wall taught each other since you got to Washington?

From my perspective, I definitely taught him to slow down a little bit on the pick-and-roll, because sometimes he’s going 100 miles per hour. He’s got to understand that to get a good screen in his situation where he’s not a perfect, perfect sharp-shooter, the big man needs a half a second longer to set a good screen for him, and I think he’s learned to be patient and use the screens the right way. Sometimes we re-screen two or three times in one possession, which is really good. I’ve been working with him, I’ve been on him constantly in the past few months, and I really think that he has started trusting me a little bit more, and we’ve developed that relationship and chemistry.

Do you see him picking up tips that you may have learned from Steve Nash and passed along?

Of course. The most important thing is he should watch him play, watch himself how he plays, and watch the tape and study. I think it will help him a lot. He will see things that he’s not able to see on the court at the same time. And obviously, if he will watch Steve Nash, that would be huge. I can only whisper in his ear, but he knows I’m a big man, and I probably don’t know how it is to be a point guard in his situation, but I was fortunate enough to play with Steve for two years and we created an incredible duo. We were the No. 1 duo in the league. So, he created me, I had a great season with him, so I’m just going to try to use his experience and give it to John.

On a recent national television broadcast, Jeff Van Gundy observed, albeit in a blowout, players on the bench staying into the game and cheering for teammates. Van Gundy said that actively watching while not in the game is an underestimated part of chemistry. You, I can’t help but notice, are one of the more emotional players while on the bench when a big play happens. Where did you pick that up and what does that mean?

There’s a few different reasons. For example, with Al [Harrington’s dunk], the reason why I was actually celebrating that was just because I’m close with Al. We’ve been talking about this dunk for the past 10 days. I said, ‘If you dunk the ball ...' I said, first of all you got to dunk the ball. You still got it. Change people’s minds. You still got that. You’re still capable of doing it.’

He said, ‘Listen, it’s not a problem going up, it’s a problem with the landing.’

So, we always laughed. Finally when he missed one or two easy bunnies around the rim, he said, ‘All right, this time I got to dunk it.’ And when he dunked that, I was just celebrating him, I was happy, and, you know, we all laugh about that in the locker room after.

But where does it come from? I think it comes from just teaching. From all the great coaches [and people] I’ve had in my life. Brendan Malone, Stan Van Gundy, Steve Clifford, Bo Outlaw, Adonal Foyle, Nick Anderson, Tony Battie, a lot of different players and coaches that were telling me ... Patrick Ewing ... said you never know when your time is going to come. You got to be able to perform, and you got to be able to help the team. And I’m just emotional. If you engage in a game like that, that’s also the best way to stay in the game. Sometimes people when they're coming down off the first quarter, they have a great first quarter, and they’re sitting down on the bench and all of a sudden they’re checking themselves out of the game because they say, ‘OK, I had a great first quarter, now I’m going to sit down and relax.’ All of a sudden they go into the second quarter and they don’t perform. So to stay attached mentally, you just celebrate with people everything that’s going on on the court. Like I say, this is the way I do. This is the way I play. I’m passionate about the game. There’s a lot of different reasons why I am who I am today.

Talk about passion. Do you remember ripping that towel earlier this season in Toronto?

Yeah, I remember.

Was that your first towel rip?

Oh, naw, that was probably my millionth towel rip. I’ve ripped a lot of towels. Especially sometimes after the game, and we’re about to take showers, and we don’t have any washcloths, so we’re just ripping one towel in little pieces and obviously they’re throwing me towels to rip.

I was just pissed. I remember that game, I was pissed. I was pissed because I missed some easy layups at the basket and I should dunk the ball. Then I miss easy layups, and then I get some dumb calls and bad fouls, and that’s all, I was just pissed. Frustrated.

With the situation in Ukraine with Russia, I know that Poland has expressed some concerns to NATO about Russia’s actions (including military drills near the border with Poland). Is that something you’re keeping track of?

Quite honestly, even though I’m saying this left and right, I keep repeating this to everybody that one day I would like to be president (of Poland), I’m actually kind of off that subject now, off that topic right now because I really haven’t had time to follow what’s going on. Obviously I’m just checking really quick what’s going on. One thing I know, a lot of people are escaping from the Ukraine. I feel bad for Ukraine because they’re our neighbors. I have a lot of Ukraine friends, players and friends from Ukraine. I’m hoping everything will be fine in their country because they didn’t deserve that. But end of the day, I know a lot of people from the Ukraine will go to Poland to look for shelter and look for a home. And thanks to them, our Polish economy is going to go up, because obviously if hundreds of thousands of people leave the country to come to our country, then we’re looking at a huge boost of a lot of different things, and obviously we’re going to probably help them. I’m not the president sitting in the office, but we’re definitely going to help them and try to protect them.

But you say that when you have more time, you have political ambitions to be president of Poland one day?

Yeah. ... I’m laughing, I’m laughing. ... Talking to everybody about how I’d like to be president one day. We’ll see.

How serious are you?

Well, it’s serious because I’m interested in politics. Let’s put it this way: I’m real interested in politics, I’m talking to a lot of politician people, and I’m real interested in everything. But if I decide to do it, I will start slowly from a small seat, and try to go up and climb that ladder. But right now, let’s not talk about that.

You got the nickname “Polish Machine” from when you played in Germany, and the “Polish Hammer” came after the summer league in Orlando. I feel like you accept both, but do you have a preference?

I accept both. I’m known more for Polish Hammer, but people that know me very well, they’re using more Machine. There are times where sometimes machine stands more, there’s times where hammer stands more. It depends. When you got 70 games of the season and I’m still running like a deer, I’m still lifting like crazy and dunking and doing all this stuff in the practice, that’s the time when they call “Machine.” But there’s a time when I’m blocking a lot of shots and dunking on somebody in the game, and they call “Hammer.” So, there’s a difference.

You once told me before a game that you were listening to “Miami joints, club music and trance music” on your headphones. Is that the routine each and every time?

Most of the time. Yeah, probably for 30 games I will listen to Miami. Another 30 games I’m going to listen probably to house music and then come back to Miami music. I love that. I love strong, trance, techno music. It definitely gets me going. You got goose bumps and then you’re getting yourself ready for the game.

Any rule changes that you think would help the NBA game? For instance, sometimes they talk about instituting FIBA goaltending rules in the NBA. Any thoughts on that or any other changes that would help the game play?

The goaltending? It definitely wouldn’t help. You have too many athletic guys in this league that would tip the ball out of the rim, so pretty much to make a basket you will need to swish it, you know what I’m saying?

I would say I would loosen up a little bit the rules about the fighting fines. That’s what I would loosen up. Because today you go to an ice hockey game, and the one thing they’re waiting for is a fight, you know what I’m saying? So if they could set it up something like that in the NBA. That if there are two guys and they have a problem, if they could just separate everybody. And these two people that have problem, if they could fight ...

During the game?

During the game. Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up. I think the game ... these two guys, they resolved their problem. They’re both suspended and they’re leaving. But end of the day, they fix the problem between each other, fans are super excited, and I think that would be a pretty cool idea [chuckles].

You’d need bigger refs. You couldn’t have Dick Bavetta out there.

At some point when the referees jump in, then you’d have to stop. You’d have to stop. So I think that would be a great idea, just like the ice hockey fans waiting for that, that’s would NBA fans would get into, as well.

And, I think we’re definitely going to mention this in the players’ meeting, but we definitely have to mention the situation about the fans. When we say something to the fan, and when we curse him out, or when we definitely throw a punch, or we’re trying to hit the fan, we are suspended for half of the season. But when they yell at us or insult us or are cursing at us using bad words, they don’t get anything. So what I would say is that there’s definitely supposed to be a rule where if one of the fans is disrespecting us, then he got to leave the gym automatically.

Your mother was a volleyball player for the Polish national team, your father was big-time boxer -- you have the tattoo of him on your chest. If you weren’t playing basketball, what would you be doing? One of those two things? Something completely different?

You know what, I’m asking the same question. I’m asking myself this question every once in a while and quite honestly I can’t answer this question. I don’t know what I’d do. I would probably ... I definitely won’t play volleyball, maybe I’d be a boxer. I’d definitely be a bodybuilder. I’d lift and I’d probably be a security or some bouncer in the a club, maybe, I don’t know. I’d probably finish school and work toward a direction from there.

On the road in the NBA, you have a lot of free time to fill, on planes, etc. I read once, when you were in Phoenix, that you were big on this game “Clash of Clans.” Is that still your thing? How else do you mind the gaps?

Oh, definitely. I got a lot of games. I got a lot of games on my iPad. Those are actually games that I’m using during the flight, because somehow you got to kill the time.

But in the hotel, I’m doing a lot of different things. I’m trying to learn different languages. Obviously talking to my family a lot. I’m resting a lot, sleeping. I’m reading books mostly about soldiers, about the military, about Afghanistan, Iraq. I’m reading stories like Shaq’s book, Michael Phelps’ book. I’m reading all successful people’s books. I want to know their secrets. I want to know their system, the way they became great, and try to put that into my system and try to get better.

So I do a lot of different things. Those games, yeah ... "Clash of Clans." I also watch a lot of shows. ... "Pawn Stars," "Storage Wars," "Swamp People."

"Storage Wars" is great. Barry’s my man. I love Barry.

This summer you will be an unrestricted free agent. This being your seventh year in the league, you’ve never really been a free agent, as you signed an offer sheet with Dallas in 2009 but Orlando matched, which is something you did not like. So what’s in your mind right now about being able to go through the free-agent process and really be able to be courted for the first time?

All I know is that I’m going to be a free agent. I don’t know how it is to be a player that actually is going to be able to pick the team he wants to play for, you know what I’m saying? I’m hoping that at the end of the day I’m going to be able to pick the team where I will play. I hope there will be a team, let’s put it this way first.

We still have 20 or so games to play. I’ve got to finish strong, and then we’re going to make a run into the playoffs, and then we’ll see what’s going to happen. Then I’m going to call my agent and say, "Hey, you gotta do your job. I did my job, now you gotta do your job. I’m looking forward to holidays now." So, we’ll see.

There’s a lot of different things I’m going to look at. The team situation. The goal of the team. I’m going to look at the point guard. I’m going to look at the coaching staff. I’m going to look at a lot of different things before I’m going to pick the team, and obviously Washington is going to be really close to me right now. I feel really comfortable here. They have two rising stars in Bradley Beal and John Wall, and this team’s definitely going to get better and better. They have Otto Porter, who’s going to be a good player one day. And there’s going to be a lot of different things I’m going to look at. But quite honestly, right now I just want to make sure that we’re not going to lose five in a row and that we won’t lose a spot in the playoffs, because that would be the worst thing. I’m more pumped up for being in the playoffs again and not watching them in front of the TV. Back in the day I was spoiled by [Stan] Van Gundy playing all the way to the conference finals. With Phoenix, I was in the playoffs, so finally now [I have] an opportunity again.

It's all on Wall to bring Wizards into new era

November, 26, 2013
By Kevin Draper
Special to
John WallGeoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsDid the Wizards rush their rebuild? It won't matter if John Wall continues his rise in Washington.
The nadir of the modern Washington Wizards lasted for two brutal months across the winter of 2009–10, but it was a long time coming. The once-entertaining core of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison aged into an injured and overpaid mess, and instead of injecting the team with youth, management traded away a top-five draft pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. A month into the season, beloved owner Abe Pollin died, and on Christmas Eve, Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton pulled guns on each other in the locker room. The fallout led to Arenas pleading guilty to a felony, but not before staging a horrifically ill-conceived pregame huddle.

There is no playbook for dealing with that kind of turmoil, but the Wizards eventually followed the game plan of the early-aughts Portland “Jail Blazers” and "Malice at the Palace" Indiana Pacers: clean house. The locker room full of players whose character was described as “questionable” -- Arenas, Crittenton, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young -- has been disbanded, Blatche the last to go when he was amnestied in the summer of 2012. Less than four years after that fateful Christmas Eve, John Wall and Bradley Beal are firmly situated in the backcourt as new franchise cornerstones. As their rate of maturation accelerates, the playoffs are not a mere hope but an expectation.

[+] EnlargeGilbert Arenas
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesGilbert Arenas' 50-game suspension in 2009-10 led to a whole new era for the Wizards franchise.
Given this lofty promise, the start of the season hasn’t been very encouraging for the 5-8 Wizards. They have already conducted the dreaded "players-only" meeting, and veteran Nene publicly called out the team’s young players. While locker room misbehavior has generally given way to veteran accountability -- the team is 3-1 since the players talked things out -- this isn't exactly what the Wizards had in mind for their new era. And things will only get more thorny in the immediate future with Beal set to miss at least two weeks with a stress injury in his right leg.

The team does seem to be improving, though, and the catalyst for that turnaround is the scintillating play of Wall. In the Wizards' 98-89 win over the New York Knicks on Saturday night, there were two max players on the court, and one of them was decisively better. It wasn’t Carmelo Anthony.

When Wall has his midrange game working, he is nearly impossible to guard. Crouching in the triple-threat position, there’s nary a defender in the league quick enough to stick with him on his drives, let alone contest jumpers. It now seems likely Wall, who is averaging 18.6 points and 8.9 assists per game with a 19.96 PER, will justify the maximum extension he signed during the offseason.

Wall may be making a lot of noise on his rise to the league's upper echelon, but it doesn't sound like the fan base is listening, at least not yet. Washington is a basketball city, home to more than 10 current NBA players and the celebrated Goodman League. Two major college basketball programs, the Maryland Terrapins and Georgetown Hoyas, are also local. But in the ranks of the city's professional teams, the Wizards are a distant third -- fourth on days when Stephen Strasburg is pitching.

Saturday night’s game against a high-profile and hated opponent drew 18,089 fans, the best total of the young season but still 2,000 short of the Verizon Center’s capacity. Worse yet, it seemed like half of them were Knicks fans.

In Wall (23 years old) and Beal (20) the Wizards seem to have the type of young, dynamic talents needed to keep the team competitive well into the future and, ultimately, make the city care. But Washington hasn't had much had much luck with first-rounders otherwise -- Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker have been busts. Sensing a need to surround Wall with the talent they couldn't find in the draft, Wizards management has made a series of short-term moves, taking on long-term money and giving away draft picks in order to build a roster that will probably top out with a first-round playoff loss this season.

Ultimately, the bifurcated and sloppy development model the Wizards have pursued over the past four years may not matter. The old adage is that the NBA is a stars league, and Wall is brightening into a shiny one. The Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat models are rendered irrelevant if Kevin Durant doesn’t develop or LeBron James suffers a devastating injury. The important moves aren’t the shuffling of players on the periphery but acquiring and developing top-10 players.

The cherry on top of Wall’s 31-point and seven-assist decimation of the Knicks came with 30 seconds left, as Iman Shumpert drove for a consolation bucket. Wall soared in from the weak side, and making full use of his 6-foot-4 frame he audibly spiked the ball into the stands. Postgame he was asked if it was a statement block. "Nah," he said, "we’ve seen the team score the ball at the end of the game on us before, and we didn't like it, we didn't want to give nobody an easy basket to end the game."

It was the safe answer -- the point guard’s locker room persona is as quietly confident as his play on the court is in your face -- but if the Wizards are to overcome a bumpy rebuild, Wall will have to submit statement plays every night.

TrueHoop TV: Bradley Beal rapid fire

November, 21, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
The Wizards guard on being a nice guy, playing crazy minutes, designing his own tattoos and the real reason he wears a sleeve on his shooting arm.


The strange, great career of Walt Bellamy

November, 2, 2013
Harris By Curtis Harris
TrueHoop Network

When someone is really good or great, but never the best, his accomplishments tend to be overlooked or disregarded. The disdainful treatment is even harsher for those who seemingly have the tools to be the best, but settle into a groove of "merely great." Not only have you failed to be the best, but you teased us with the possibility that you were in fact the best.

Such is the NBA career of Hall of Fame center Walter Bellamy, who passed away Saturday at age 74.

The No. 1 overall pick of the Chicago Packers in the 1961 NBA draft, "Bells" blew the door off the hinges in his rookie season. He averaged a Herculean 31.6 points to go with a mammoth 19.0 rebounds. On top of that, he shot 51.9 percent from the field. That was good enough to not only lead the NBA for the 1961-62 season, but also to set a league record. The spectacular season easily secured Rookie of the Year honors for Bellamy.

The performance seemingly foretold greater things to come for Bellamy. However, his scoring average steadily dropped from 31.6 points per game in his rookie season to 16.7 in 1967-68. The average might have been cut in half, but over this same span, the talent surrounding Bellamy had practically doubled.

Simply put, the 1961-62 Packers were historically horrific. Of their 10-man rotation, six of the players were out of the league the very next season. Three others combined to play just 212 more NBA games -- the equivalent of 2.5 seasons. Then there was Bellamy, forced to produce so much when given so little. The decline in points scored by Bellamy wasn't due to eroding skills, but rather was a sign of improving teammates.

By 1964-65, Bellamy was averaging 25 points alongside Hall of Fame forwards Bailey Howell and Gus Johnson. The trio took the Baltimore Bullets to the Western Division finals. In 1966-67, Bellamy averaged 19 points alongside Willis Reed and Dick Barnett. The trio took the New York Knicks to the postseason for the first time since 1959.

And this is where Bellamy's career takes perhaps its biggest hit.

The Knicks had to decide which center to keep, Reed or Bellamy. Reed, nearly three years younger, was the pick, and Bellamy was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Dave DeBusschere in December 1968. The Knicks subsequently appeared in three NBA Finals and won two titles. Was Bellamy holding the Knicks back? Probably, but not because he lacked talent. It was just mismatched talent.

Bells was a big, bruising center. At 6-foot-11, with a muscular barrel chest and a rear end perfect to gain position on the boards, Bellamy was an inside terror, but didn't possess a deft passing touch. Reed had that passing touch, as did DeBusschere -- and that's what coach Red Holzman needed out of his big men.

Bellamy's stay in Detroit was the nadir of his career and he was mercifully traded in February 1970 to the Atlanta Hawks. At the back end of his playing days, Bellamy enjoyed a renaissance in Georgia. Placed alongside the penetrating and high-scoring combination of "Sweet" Lou Hudson and "Pistol" Pete Maravich, Bells was freed to cruise for sledgehammer dunks and bruise for boards. These talented Hawks pushed Atlanta to the playoffs for four consecutive seasons.

Bellamy retired in 1974. If this trio, or something like it, had come together a decade earlier in Bellamy's career, he might have achieved a greater impact on the game. If he didn't have the misfortune of being drafted by the NBA's first expansion franchise in nearly a decade, he would have enjoyed more stability. If there had been free agency in his time, he could have decided his own destiny instead of always being at the whim of a trade.

As such, we're left to contemplate the strange career of this talented center.

The idea that individuals control their fate is a powerful one in our society. However, the reality that our individual choices and, thus, fate are constrained by circumstances demands reckoning. Bellamy's career exemplifies that. A man with great skill who performed with a sense of pride still faced a situation filled with uncertainty and chaos. He played out a career that didn't quite live up to his talent level. He never made an All-NBA team, since he was perennially blocked by Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Despite it all, though, Bellamy was a four-time All-Star and one of just seven players in NBA history to amass more than 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds in a career.

So even if he was never the best, Walter Bellamy remains one of the greats.

Monday Bullets

October, 21, 2013
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
  • 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.

The best offseason

October, 8, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Indiana University professor Wayne Winston, a pioneer of NBA advanced stats, names the teams he expects to improve most this season.

First Cup: Thursday

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

First Cup: Thursday

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

First Cup: Monday

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

First Cup: Friday

September, 20, 2013
By Nick Borges
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: With less than two weeks to go before camp opens Oct. 1, the Magic and veteran small forward Hedo Turkoglu have yet to agree on a buyout. Turkoglu has $12 million left on the final year of his contract, but only half of it is guaranteed.
  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: A relaxed and engaging Dwyane Wade spoke on a few issues on an appearance a little while ago on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on NBC. Some highlights: On Game 6 of the Finals: "We were only down five with 20 seconds left. That’s what we do. We practice that all day." On free agency next summer: “There’s a lot of media probably watching this in Miami, so I can’t give them nothing.” (Wade said earlier this summer that he wants to stay with the Heat beyond next summer and is optimistic the Big Three will stay together.) On the possibility of a three-peat: “We hope. We're trying to get like the Lakers and Bulls. It’s going to be tough." On LeBron James’ wedding last weekend: “It’s a beautiful, beautiful wedding. Without giving away details, we had an unebelievable time. And I can’t tell you guys nothing else.” He said no phones were allowed and “no phones nowadays is unbelievable. You go nowhere without your phones.”
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Kobe Bryant continued rehabbing his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon, the latest work involving running at 75 percent of his body weight on a treadmill. Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti thinks Bryant remains a “few weeks away” before advancing to full-weight bearing running, though he added “there’s no projected date” on whether Bryant could play in the Lakers’ season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers. It’s safe to pencil Bryant out for part of training camp, beginning Sept. 28, though it’s unclear if he could catch the tail end of the Lakers’ eight exhibition games through Oct. 25. It all fits the Lakers’ conservative approach in ensuring Bryant only returns from an injury he suffered April 12 once he fully heals. “He’s doing well and has had no setbacks,” Vitti said Thursday at his trainer’s office at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “He’ll be ready when he’s ready. Nobody has a crystal ball on this thing.” Beyond improving his Achilles tendon, the Lakers training staff also wants Bryant to strengthen his legs, knee, back and core. They hope this approach will ensure Bryant closely replicates last season’s output, when he averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, six assists and 5.6 rebounds before the Lakers lost in a first-round sweep to the San Antonio Spurs without him.
  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Deron Williams' right foot was in a walking boot, forcing him to miss out on playing in his charity dodge ball tournament Thursday. But he said it won't keep him from going all out in training camp or playing in the Nets' regular-season opener. "Basically, this is just preventative,'' Williams said. "They have me in it now so I don't have to worry about it when the season starts. "It's frustrating because I want to be hooping with the guys right now. I want to play in this. It's frustrating. I have to deal with [the media] speculating. It is what it is. As long as I'm ready for October, that's all that matters to me. But I'll be ready for it.'' Williams suffered a sprained right ankle and a bone bruise about 2Ż weeks ago while working out. He said he worked out the following day and continued working out on it, but when he told Nets trainer Tim Walsh he had some pain in his ankle, Walsh sent Williams for an MRI. Williams, who was hampered by ankle injuries last season, said he will undergo another MRI next week, but he doesn't expect to be in the boot much longer. The Nets start training camp Oct. 1 at Duke University and open the season Oct. 30 against Cleveland. "If it's up to me, I'd be walking around right now,'' he said. "I could walk fine. It doesn't hurt. It's just protecting me from myself, I guess.'' When asked if he thinks he'll go full during training camp, Williams said, "That's my plan.''
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "I'm ready to get to work,'' Anderson Varejao told The Plain Dealer on Thursday afternoon. "I'm excited and I'm ready for the season. I can't wait." No wonder. Varejao missed the last 56 games of the season after a quad injury and then a blood clot. It was his third straight season cut short by injury, coming on the heels of a fractured right wrist that limited him to 25 games in 2011-12 and a right ankle/foot injury that ended the 2010-11 campaign at 31 games. "My goal this season is just to stay healthy,'' he said. "Everything else will come.'' Varejao spent most of the summer rehabilitating his quad in Brazil and working to strengthen his leg. He has only recently started playing pick-up games and, though his quad feels good, he estimates he's at about 70 percent heading into the start of training camp. … Varejao has heard all the speculation about a healthy Bynum -- still no guarantee -- forcing him out of the starting lineup and the two splitting time at center in an effort to reduce the wear and tear on both, but right now that's the least of his problems. "To me, it doesn't matter, as long as I'm important for the team,'' Varejao said. "That's the bottom line. I don't care. I'm going to work the same way, doing what do what I have to do to help the team. Whatever Mike Brown wants to do, it's his decision and I'm here to help.''
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The idea of putting Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together in the frontcourt will offer an interesting training camp diversion, but not much of an option for significant playing time, much less the starting lineup. The Rockets did not get the league’s top center to make him a power forward and don’t want to turn one of their outstanding defensive centers into a liability defending the 3-point arc. Instead, they will likely choose between last season’s holdovers. Greg Smith started late in the season, but Terrence Jones might have the edge after strong showings late last season and in summer league. Donatas Motiejunas, who was the starter after the trades of Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, added some much-needed bulk, but his low-post skills might make him better suited to coming off the bench when Howard is not on the low blocks. Robert Covington, a tweener forward, could serve as a stretch four, though Jones and Motiejunas could shoot well enough for that. If all else fails, the Rockets could go back to Smith inside, but if they are going to play two centers together again, they do have two others to consider.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: To hear journeyman guard Marco Belinelli tell it, he had no shortage of suitors when he hit the open market this summer. Only one could offer the combination of contract security, pedigree and championship aspirations as the Spurs, making it an easy decision for the Italian to accept their two-year offer. … Belinelli wouldn’t bite when asked about how he’ll be able to improve on the departed Gary Neal, whose slot in the rotation he’ll essentially be filling. He did say cite running the pick and roll, along with scoring and defense, as his main areas of expertise. That bolsters the notion that Belinelli was swapped out for the more one-dimensional Neal to add another competent ballhandler behind Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. It doesn’t appear to be a particularly impressive signing in light of his modest shooting percentage (41.8 percent career) and Player Efficiency Rating (11.6, 3.4 below average). But his with his adequate skills in multiple areas — Belinelli’s career 3-point percentage is almost identical to Neal’s — this could be one of those those pick-ups that pay subtle dividends.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: When the New Orleans Pelicans open training camp on Oct. 1, veteran forward Jason Smith expects to be playing without any limitations despite requiring surgery last season to repair a torn labrum. Though Smith, 7 feet, 240 pounds, has been held out of contact work during volunteer workouts this month to avoid any setbacks in his recovery, he is expected to be cleared in time for camp. ``It’s all fixed; all better,’’ Smith said. ``It’s just knowing that it is better, and I’ve got to go out there and trust it. I think that’s going to be the big test going through training camp.’’ There probably wasn’t a player on New Orleans’ roster last season that played through more injuries than Smith. He played with a torn labrum for almost three months before he re-injured his right shoulder during a February game against the Brooklyn Nets.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: It has been a while since Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell has been back on the basketball court of his alma mater. And it's been quite a while since the team has been in this city, too. Led by Cassell, who played at Dunbar Senior High School in the late '80s, the Wizards held a basketball clinic for students Thursday. Bradley Beal, Garrett Temple and Bullets alumni Mike Riordan and Larry Stewart were among others in attendance. The Wizards begin training camp Sept. 28. They will play a preseason game Oct. 17 vs. the New York Nicks at Baltimore Arena. "I haven't been here in a long time. We used to call this place the Eastside Garden. It's changed. The banners are still the same," said Cassell, who graduated from Dunbar in 1988 before going on to a 15-year career as an NBA player. "This opportunity came up to me about coming back to my alma mater, why not?”
  • Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee: I honestly don’t care if Seattle ever gets an NBA team. But I do hope Hansen is forever frustrated in his bid to be an NBA boss for the smarmy stunt he pulled in Sacramento. Here is a guy who opposes a public vote on the arena he wants to build in Seattle, but essentially finances one in Sacramento – all because he got his fancy pants in a bunch at being passed over for the Kings. The signatures his money bought – around 18,000 of them – are now apparently in the hands of locals who want an arena vote. Without them, the locals have around 3,000 signatures, maybe a little more, but nowhere near the 22,000 they need to qualify an arena vote for the June ballot. That’s why arena opponents made a gleeful announcement Tuesday that they had landed Hansen’s mother lode of signatures. They’re in business. And that announcement was followed by more Hansen buffoonery. In his public statement on the issue Tuesday, Hansen starts by saying he “inadvertently” funded the arena referendum effort. Then he said he decided to contribute to the effort before the NBA made its decision to keep the Kings in Sacramento. How can you “inadvertently” fund an effort you consciously decided to fund?

TrueHoop TV: The future of coaching

September, 19, 2013
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Economist Tyler Cowen (He's "America's hottest economist," who was on TrueHoop TV recently talking about the end of the NBA's middle class), foresees a world in which NBA coaches work very closely with incredibly intelligent computers.

In fact, he says, it's happening already.


First Cup: Thursday

September, 19, 2013
By Nick Borges
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Kevin Love is due in town on Friday, Nikola Pekovic is expected to arrive over the weekend. Rick Adelman will arrive next week and Shved, Barea and almost everyone else other than Rubio will be here as well. Saunders praised Shved’s Eurobasket play for a Russian team that got knocked out early. “He played really good,” he said. “What I liked about him is he kept his composure. He was their best player.” He said the same about Barea, whose Puerto Rico team lost to Mexico in the FIBA Americas final. “He had a great tournament. If they had won it, he’d probably be the Player of the Tournament. He looks like he as lost a little weight, playing as much as he has. He just looked in great shape.” Likewise, Saunders said rookie Shabazz Muhammad has lost weight since the Vegas Summer League in July and said it’s the best shape he’s seen him in all year. For what it’s worth, he also said Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have “made a lot of progress” since summer. They’ve been working out daily with new player development coach Bobby Jackson. Saunders didn’t go to Slovenia for Eurobasket, but scout Zarko Durisic has been there and just got back a few days ago. Look for player liaison Calvin Booth to join assistant coach Jack Sikma in working with the big men during the preseason. There’s still a chance the Wolves could add a player to their training camp roster. Discussions with agents continue.
  • Staff of the Chicago Sun-Times: It has been 508 days — give or take a few hours — since Derrick Rose last played in a regulation NBA game. But when asked by a reporter in Manila, Philippines, the other day if he would play for the U.S. team in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, the rehabbing and well-rested Bulls guard responded that he would like to. “If they select me on the team, it will be an honor,” Rose was quoted by “I definitely will be on the team if [coach Mike Krzyzewski] wants me.” The FIBA tournament begins in 345 days.
  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: Gregg Popovich is hoping for something else, and it's that the rebooting of NBA basketball will reboot his brain. No matter what he does, he can't get Game 6 out of his head. Even blows to the head haven't helped. When “Jesse” James Leija puts the Spurs through boxing workouts — and he did again Wednesday — he sometimes puts gloves on Popovich. Leija wears mitts and tells Popovich to hit them. When Popovich drops his hands, Leija slaps Popovich in the face. Popovich tries to hit Leija back and never comes close. “It drives me crazy,” Popovich said, laughing. And when asked if something as aggressive as boxing is a way to release anxiety held over from the 2013 NBA Finals, Popovich doesn't pull punches. “Nothing is a release,” he said. Game 7 is a fog to him. “Was there one?” he asked. Game 6 is another matter. Popovich doesn't second-guess himself. The same coach who often preaches that the game is simple doesn't regret benching his best defender and rebounder when the Spurs needed defense and rebounding. He needed to defend the 3-point line, and other Spurs are better at that than Tim Duncan. This also is how the Spurs played these end-of-game situations about 20 times last season. Still, because it was Duncan, and because Duncan had done so much to get in position to win another title, does Popovich ever wish he'd given Duncan a chance to defend the lead he had helped build?
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards spent an entire offseason upgrading and increasing their depth with perimeter talent but remained thin and relatively inexperienced in the front court, with the exception of starters Emeka Okafor and Nene. But with training camp set to start Sept. 28, the Wizards’ most vulnerable area is now much weaker after the team announced Wednesday that Okafor and reserve forward Chris Singleton would both miss significant time because of injuries. Okafor will be out indefinitely after an MRI revealed a herniated disk in his neck, and the team announced that Singleton is expected to miss six to eight weeks after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. Singleton sustained his injury during a voluntary workout on Tuesday at Verizon Center. Okafor said he began experiencing discomfort in his neck while playing pickup basketball in New York but didn’t believe it was anything more than “stiffness.” … With Okafor down, the Wizards will likely have to move Nene to center and pair him with either Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely or veteran Al Harrington. Seraphin was the primary backup to both Okafor and Nene last season and declined playing for the French national team to train primarily in Washington this summer. … Singleton’s injury also came at an inopportune time as he enters a critical season as it relates to his future with the organization. The 6-foot-8 Singleton was already in a difficult position; he was attempting to earn a spot in Coach Randy Wittman’s regular rotation while convincing the Wizards to pick up his option worth about $2.5 million for the 2014-15 season.
  • Clay Fowler of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: Violet Palmer was out of her comfort zone Tuesday afternoon. Being showered with praise and surrounded by well-wishers is, well, the exact opposite of what she’s used to. It won’t be long before the NBA’s only female referee returns to hulking players barking in her face, coaches questioning her every move and thousands of fans raining jeers upon her nightly, but for one day the Cal Poly Pomona graduate was one of 48 former NCAA Division II athletes across the country awarded a spot on its tribute team. “This is so strange,” Palmer quipped. “I’m not used to all this good love. I’m waiting for somebody to boo me.” While Palmer was a student at Cal Poly Pomona from 1982 to 1986, the cheering was abundant. She was a point guard on two national championship teams long before becoming the first female official to reach the highest competitive tier in a major U.S. professional sport. Despite the verbal abuse synonamous with the job on the court, Palmer has become a celebrated figure off of it. The 49-year-old is now a 15-year veteran with NBA Finals experience who also shoulders the responsibility of overseeing college officials for the Pac-12 and West Coast Conferences.
  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers All-Star forward Paul George said today the team’s fans don’t need to worry about him going anywhere. Indianapolis is his professional home and he plans to be here for a long time. “(A long-term contract) is going to get done,” George told The Indianapolis Star. “There will be a deal signed and sealed on the table before the season. We’re (George and Pacers management) on the same page.” George is entering the final year of his contract and the odds seemed long that he would leave Indiana even before Wednesday’s comments. The Pacers would have the right to match any offer he received next summer and have indicated they would do just that. … “No,” George said when asked if there was any chance he would leave the Pacers. “Honestly, I love it here. I want to be here. It’s a great place. There are no distractions. I can stay focused. It’s all about basketball here. I can stay focused and do my job.”
  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Harrison Barnes and all of the Warriors players have something to prove this season: That they can not only repeat last season's trip to the second round of the postseason, but that they can expand on it. And Iguodala is naturally the guy who is supposed to trigger that improvement. The way to push it all forward is if Barnes and others go as hard as possible in these workouts, and if Iguodala pushes it, too. Of course, Iguodala is a different player from Barnes -- they're versatile in different ways. And there's a strong chance that they could find themselves on the floor together for long periods this season, with Barnes shifting over to the power-forward spot or with Iguodala playing one of the two guard positions. In fact, Iguodala said he is already focusing on facilitating the offense, figuring out where the Warriors' top scorers want the ball and when they want it. By the way, Iguodala, Thompson and Barnes all playing together -- with Bogut defending the paint -- would be the Warriors' most dangerous defensive unit, no question. They're going at each other now to sharpen themselves for the nights when they'll be up against Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tony Parker and all the other top players. It's how an up-and-coming team keeps going up, keeps itself on edge, and storms into training camp at the highest speed possible.
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: In July, the Spurs signed a free-agent forward named Jeff Pendergraph to a two-year contract. No player by that name will ever appear in a Spurs uniform. Last month, Pendergraph walked into a courthouse in downtown Phoenix, his wife Raneem and newborn daughter Naomi in tow. He walked out with a new name — Jeff Ayres. Ayres is the family name of his biological father, James. It replaces the surname of a stepfather who hasn't been in the picture since the player formerly known as Jeff Pendergraph was in high school. For the 26-year-old veteran of three NBA seasons, the journey from Pendergraph to Ayres was in some ways as simple as filling out a thick stack of paperwork and filing it with an Arizona judge. It also was a complicated decision with a complex back story, one that tests the traditional definitions of blood and family. “I didn't know who my dad was until I was a senior in high school,” Jeff Ayres said Wednesday, during a break from pickup games at the Spurs' practice gym. … Jeff and James Ayres have a relationship now. They are bonded by a last name, related both legally and biologically. The two won't be attending any father-son picnics anytime soon, but it's a start. They exchange text messages weekly. And last month, when the player still known as Pendergraph arrived at that Phoenix courthouse to rename himself, James Ayres drove from California to accompany him. So, what's in a name? A new Spurs forward named Jeff Ayres thinks he knows. “It's nothing personal,” he said. “It's just family.”
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Chandler Parsons might be entrenched as the Rockets’ small forward, fashion model and up-and-coming celebrity, but the position gets complicated behind him. Actually, even Parsons’ role will be interesting with the addition of Dwight Howard placing even more emphasis on Parsons’ catch-and-shoot 3-point touch. The greater questions will be determining who can best take on Carlos Delfino’s vital and underrated role as a shooter behind Parsons and as a three that can slide over to be a floor-spacing four. Francisco Garcia is coming off a strong playoff series, but is not an option as a four and could be picking up playing time as a guard, anyway. Omri Casspi might be the best bet for the Delfino role, but will have to find at least the shooting touch he showed as a rookie. Ronnie Brewer is a strong defender, but also has to show he can knock down shots to grab one of the final roster spots. There is a sense that the Rockets are too high on rookie Robert Covington to let him go, even if he might not be ready yet in a win-now season. With five small forwards heading to camp, there will be a battle for playing time and the final roster spot. Yet, while all that plays out at the position, the most important key could be whether Parsons continues his development enough to go from star on the pages of “Seventeen” to “Sports Illustrated.”
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Tristan Thompson didn't set out to make NBA history this summer. "History in the making? No, no, no,'' the Cavaliers' personable third-year power forward said, laughing. It just worked out that way. When Thompson decided to switch his shooting hand from his left to his right, becoming what is believed to be the first player in NBA history to change his dominant hand in the middle of his career, he thought it was just another step in improving his game. … After working with former Cavs coach John Lucas, and then shooting coach Dave Love, Thompson has come to believe that perhaps he was right-handed all along. "I wouldn't say it's easy, but I think the transition is going more smoothly than one might assume, which probably means I was always right-handed and just never knew, probably because I lived in Canada,'' he said, which isn't quite as crazy as it sounds. "I started playing basketball at such a late age,'' said Thompson, who didn't take basketball seriously until he was 12 or 13. "In America, you start playing when you're 5 years old.'' He reasons that had he started playing five or six years earlier, he likely would have been encouraged to try shooting with his right hand sooner.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Though his contract is resolved, Brian Roberts is bracing for a more intense battle in training camp, which begins Oct. 1. He could be in a fight for playing time with Austin Rivers at backup point guard. Though Rivers played significant minutes at shooting guard last season, starter Eric Gordon and newly acquired Tyreke Evans could get the majority of playing time at the position. The Pelicans made Evans their top target in free agency because of his versatility. He can play point guard, shooting guard and small forward. "They have a lot of versatility at the guard position and they can go some different ways,'' Roberts said. "It depends on what (coach) Monty (Williams) wants. I’m just going to be ready for whatever he asks me to do.'' Roberts is hoping to evolve as a better overall player, especially defensively. Roberts has participated extensively in the Pelicans' volunteer workouts to prepare for training camp.
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The Lakers haven’t exactly upgraded their talent. But they’ve made a push to upgrade their uniforms. The Lakers released a video Wednesday on their Instagram account of Kobe Bryant wearing the team’s black alternative uniform, something the team will showcase this season for an unspecified amount of select game. The black uniform, dubbed “Hollywood Nights” features a black jersey and the Lakers’ traditional purple and gold as trimming. “This has been a few years in the process of introducing a black Lakers uniform,” Lakers president Jeanie Buss said on the team’s Web site. “In no way are we ever going to replace the purple and gold traditional uniform that has seen so many championships won. But I think the gold is going to pop out in a black uniform. Having the purple letters says it all. It’s all Lakers.” The Lakers will also wear white short-sleeve jerseys at select games during the 2013-14 season, including the team’s Christmas Day game at Staples Center against the Miami Heat.

First Cup: Wednesday

September, 18, 2013
By Nick Borges
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Considering that Thibodeau and Forman were often seen talking shop during Summer League games in Las Vegas as if it was business as usual, maybe next season was all they were really “thinking about.’’ But at least one source feels that would change if forward Luol Deng is traded or allowed to walk into free agency without an extension next summer. “Ask Tom how important he thinks Luol is,’’ the source said. “How happy do you think he would be with that decision?’’ Not very. Then again, it would also depend on what the Bulls would get in return or if there was a bigger free agent whale to hunt down because of the salary that would be saved by allowing Deng to walk, as well as amnestying Carlos Boozer. What can’t be downplayed, however, is with Bulls camp opening up Sept. 27, there is a very good chance that it will be Deng’s last one in the red and black. Derrick Rose is undoubtedly the face of the franchise, but Thibodeau insisted a handful of times over the past two years that Deng “is the glue.”
  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons training camp is about two weeks away, and Josh Smith is wasting no time getting ready. The forward is intent on fitting into his new environment. “I got lost the other day, but I’m finding my way around,’’ said Smith, who signed as a free agent this off-season. “I listen to my GPS. I just need a couple of places to eat. I have a cousin here, and that helps.’’ From the work he put in with the coaching staff today at the Pistons’ practice facility in Auburn Hills, it’s obvious that he’s focused and ready to make the team a playoff contender. “I’m just trying to polish up on things,” he said after working with assistant coach Rasheed Wallace on the perimeter and in the low post. “I’m trying to be more consistent on my mid-range and long-range jumper. I’ve been working on it hard each and every day here.” … Wallace said the key is to keep Smith in his comfort zone. “You don’t want him doing things he’s not used to doing,’’ Wallace said. “We’re trying to get him comfortable making the 15- to 18-foot jump shot.’’ Don’t be surprised if Smith sees time at both power forward and small forward with the Pistons.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Using spiritual predecessor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a model, he should be in for another elite season. Similar to what Duncan did last season at 36, the former Lakers star actually improved slightly at 37, enjoying bumps in shooting efficiency, total rebound rate and blocked shot rate while recording his best offensive rating in at least seven years. (Due to incomplete box scores, Basketball Reference’s figures only reach back to 1977-78 in that category.) Abdul-Jabbar capped his 16thNBA season with one of the most underrated achievements in history, dominating Boston’s Hall of Fame frontcourt to win the Finals MVP. “Enjoy him,” Lakers coach Pat Riley said after that feat, “because there will never be another one like him.” Well, not quite. As secure as Abdul-Jabbar’s legacy is, Duncan has provided a rather impressive facsimile of perhaps the most durable player in NBA history. While Abdul-Jabbar had ceased to be an impact defender at around 33 or 34 — Duncan, it should be noted, was named second-team All-NBA last season — it wasn’t until he hit 40, at which point he’d played more than 1,604 games, that his offensive game followed suit. Duncan won’t hit that age milestone for another 2 1/2 years, and he’s “only” played 1,391 career games including the postseason. Different bodies, different players, different eras — but also more than enough similarities that it’s reasonable to expect Duncan can follow a similar path. Indeed, he already is.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: As the New Orleans Pelicans prepare to open training camp Oct. 1, guard Austin Rivers is already brimming with confidence. Rivers said he has worked intensely to improve his overall game since July, when he led the Pelicans' summer league team with a 18.2 scoring average. Although the Pelicans significantly improved their backcourt this summer with the additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, Rivers said he's eager for the intense competition to begin. "I can't wait for the year to start because this is the best that I've ever felt and it's showing when I'm playing,'' said Rivers, who made only 37.2 percent of his shots last season as a rookie and averaged 6.2 points and 2.1 assists. "Mentally, I have 100 percent confidence right now, where last year I was trying to figure things out. So now when that ball tips off, I'm just thinking about winning, playing and having fun.'' Rivers, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft out of Duke, struggled through the opening half of last season. He showed some improvement after the All-Star break but missed the final 23 games after suffering a fractured right hand in March. In effort to get physically and mentally prepared for the upcoming 82-game regular-season schedule, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Rivers has stayed busy.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden’s play in his first season as his team’s go-to scorer moved him among the league’s top 10 players, but even more will be expected in his second season with the Rockets. As bright as the spotlight will be on Dwight Howard, it will shift to Harden late in games when he must grow into a more efficient, polished closer and less reliant to iso-heaves when the ball and Rockets’ chances in close games are in his hands. He will likely earn the most playing time on the team, reducing the role for his backups. In addition to the two point guard backcourts, Francisco Garcia will likely pick up many of the minutes as a backup shooting guard. If Garcia plays as a small forward, a player that has to compete for a roster spot could win that and a place in the rotation. Reggie Williams’ shooting could be valuable, but he will have to compete for a roster spot with the offseason additions at the three.
  • Craig Grialou of Eric Musselman said he and Gerald Green, who played with New Jersey before landing in Indiana last season, still keep in touch. "I look at him as a guy that in 20 years I'll still be talking to him," Musselman said. "When he was with the Nets and they played the Lakers (in L.A.) he came back to our practice and sat for a two-and-a-half hour practice, and it was on a game day. You don't see many NBA players leave their hotel on their own, figure out a way to get there, stay and then hang out with (his former) teammates in the locker room afterwards. That's the type of person he is." Musselman added Green is also a good locker room guy, someone who will keep the mood light with jokes and impersonations. "He does me very well," Musselman laughed. "I think the Suns have done a great job of getting a guy kind of under the radar that you can have in your rotation. He gives you energy and an identity because he can get up and down the floor, which is what coach (Jeff) Hornacek wants to do. And he's a better defender than people think as well. Sometimes he needs to be a better off-ball defender, but that will come in time. "I think the Suns organization is really going to like him."
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics have spent the past few months paring down their roster to slice contracts and avoid the luxury tax and Tuesday they waived journeyman Donte Greene before he even appeared in a Boston uniform. The forward, acquired Aug. 15 from the Memphis Grizzlies for center Fab Melo, had a nonguaranteed deal entering this season and lopping off his $1 million salary lowers the Celtics until the luxury tax threshold, considered a must by ownership for a team not expected to reach the playoffs. … The Celtics are now paying out $71.2 million in salaries, $200,000 under the luxury tax threshold.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Coach Randy Wittman isn't going to put pressure the 6-8 small forward to start or be the savior of a franchise that hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2008. Most of that responsibility will rest on the shoulders of John Wall, who signed an $80 million extension in the off-season. There are no illusions with Porter. While Wall is the face of the franchise who makes his teammates better, Porter is regarded as more of a "glue" player who can fill various roles on both ends of the floor. They don't expect him to go on 40-point outbursts or be the closer in the fourth quarter. While that will lead to plenty of questions from the outside about what's wrong with Porter, it fits the bigger picture that Wittman appears to have in mind. The front office, as well as Porter, seem to be on board with that plan. There's a lot of competition at small forward with Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza and to a lesser degree at the moment Chris Singleton. Webster is the team's best three-point shooter and Ariza is its best one-on-one defender. By season's end, however, Ariza could be gone as a free agent when his contract expires. Singleton has a team option that the Wizards might not pick up. And Porter could then be ready for a greater role.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The 35th pick last season, Draymond Green bulked up to about 245 pounds in preparation for his first pro season. But he developed knee tendinitis, which curtailed his workouts and allowed his weight to increase. In May, he hit 250. By the time Green arrived for the Warriors' Las Vegas Summer League in July, however, he had made a major body transition. He didn't crash diet, opting instead to eat right and go to the gym. He has toned, not lost, his muscle and has kept the weight off. "Nobody is just going to bully me," he said. Green said his conditioning is better, he's moving quicker, is getting off the floor better and his knees are fine. All of that should add to the Warriors' versatility and depth. "If you want to go with an all-defensive, shutdown team, you can do that," Green recalled telling owner Joe Lacob recently. "If you want to go with a super athletic team, you can do that. If you want to go with a big team, you can do that. If you want to go with a crazy-shooting team, you can do that.”
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Jason Terry is bringing his tattoo tradition with him to Brooklyn. Terry, who has famously gotten tattoos when playing for the Mavericks and Celtics, said Tuesday morning that he’ll be getting another one by the time the season opens on Oct. 30 in Cleveland. “BK All Day,” Terry said with a smile at a community event in Brooklyn. “You heard it here first.” Terry said the tattoo will be unveiled on Opening Night, but declined to say where he’ll be getting it placed on his body. “You’ll see,” he said, still smiling. Terry first made news with his tattoo selections back in 2011, when he got a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien Trophy — given each year to the NBA champion — prior to the start of the 2010-11 season. The Mavericks went on to complete a magical playoff run, culminating with an upset of the heavily favored Miami Heat in LeBron James’ first season on South Beach to win the title.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Former Spurs center and current front office member Sean Marks will reportedly slide into a new role this season, joining Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff to fill the slot left by Brett Brown. Marks, 38, has been with the Spurs in an executive capacity for the past two seasons, most recently serving as director of basketball operations and general manager of their D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros. The new gig will surely allow Marks to maintain his role as Tim Duncan’s pre-game workout partner. Marks played 48 games for the Spurs from 2005 through 2007. They were one of six teams the good-natured New Zealand native played for over 11 NBA seasons, during which he averaged 2.8 points per game. Brown left to take over as head coach in Philadelphia, the second defection of the summer after lead assistant Mike Budenholzer accepted the No. 1 job in Atlanta. Former Indiana assistant Jim Boylen filled the latter vacancy, making Ime Udoka the dean of Popovich’s support staff in his second year with the Spurs.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Remember that 2011 trailer tease for a Steve Nash documentary with Owen Wilson giving a quirky take that Nash’s name sounded like an action hero? Work has continued on the project, titled “Nash.” It was in part extended by the need to add a new chapter to the independent film. After some of documentary was screened at Vancouver Film Festival, the Suns traded Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer. The movie also needs more money to finish editing, graphics, licensing for footage and photographs and has turned to a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to finish it. Nash’s film company is not involved in the project and filmmakers do not want to turn to Nash for financial support because that damages a documentary’s authenticity. Nash gave access to all parts of his life to producer/director Michael Hamilton and the film will include interviews with President Barack Obama, Ron Howard, David Beckham, Snoop Lion, Doug Ellin, David Blaine, David Stern, Wilson and NBA players Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Yao Ming and Baron Davis.