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 ArizonaSports.com: 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.