First Cup: Monday
October, 28, 2013
By Nick Borges
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: By the time he was done, Kevin Durant left no doubt where his mindset is as he enters his seventh NBA season. It was as clear as the sweat-stained imprint the back of his No. 35 practice jersey left on that leather seat. “I want to be the greatest,” Durant said. “I want to be remembered as one of the greatest. When they redo that top 50 players (of all time), I want to be a part of that.” Make no mistake. In Durant's eyes, that's not solely an individual achievement. He's over those. Winning, he says, is how he defines greatness. “This whole thing is a fraternity. But it's a different fraternity when you're staring at a group of guys that won championships, MVPs, and you can say you're on that level with them in your career,” Durant said. “It's only a handful of guys, maybe 15, 20 guys, that you can get in that conversation with. And I'm nowhere near there yet. So that's where I want to be.”
- Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press: Six of the league's general managers are under 40 this season, including close friends Connelly, Ryan McDonough (33) in Phoenix and Rob Hennigan (31) in Orlando. Throw in Golden State's Bob Myers (38), who made the transition from agent to executive, and Philadelphia's Sam Hinkie (35), who made a name for himself on Daryl Morey's Moneyball-loving staff in Houston. They illustrate a growing willingness of NBA owners to look outside the stereotypical ex-coach/ex-player candidates to lead the complex job of roster construction. ... The youth movement may have started when the Seattle Supersonics hired a 30-year-old out of San Antonio's front office named Sam Presti to take over the basketball operations in 2007. Presti's success in turning the franchise now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder into a Western Conference power opened eyes. Those who rose to fame as players or coaches, including Riley, Larry Bird and Danny Ainge remain highly successful. But the trend in recent years has been to go with candidates who have taken the back roads to the top. And to go young. Morey and Toronto's Masai Ujiri, both just a jumpshot over 40, have already established themselves as stars in the front office game. McDonough was hired to start the rebuilding process in Phoenix this summer after serving as Ainge's right-hand man in Boston; Connelly got his chance when Ujiri left Denver to take over the Raptors this summer. Together, Connelly, Ujiri, McDonough and Hennigan represent something of a new-age Rat Pack in the NBA, having crisscrossed the globe together while scouting players and climbing the ladder.
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: During his time in the NBA, Adam Silver has been a passionate supporter of the analytical movement that is taking over the league. He has embraced new technologies with a keen interest in how a data-driven approach will affect fans, not just teams and players. Here are his thoughts on how the game – and fan access to information – is changing: What led you to latch onto the analytical movement so quickly? "I come at it, historically at least, more from a fan standpoint. And one of my big pushes over the last several years is about making more of this statistical data available to our fans. Because there increasingly seems to be a real hunger by our fans to get deeper into the game and in many ways, we’ve lagged behind other sports, certainly baseball. There hadn’t been that same tradition, maybe, in basketball of getting deep into the statistics of our players and teams and using that data to analyze trends on the court. And so, I was an early adopter of the [Houston Rockets General Manager] Daryl Morey [MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston]. I remember early days, at MIT, when the conference was still in a couple of classrooms as opposed to the convention center where it is now and they have thousands of people. But Daryl was one of the people, early on, that came and spoke to me and the league and said he did see a real opportunity here. Again, not just for the basketball folks to do a better job analyzing their teams, but ultimately to grow our business by creating data that was increasingly interesting to the fans."
- Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: Facing the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows in their office, Rajiv Maheswaran and Yu-Han Chang can catch a glimpse of Staples Center. To see the future of the NBA they only have to swivel their heads. Whiteboards inside their office are filled with algorithms in shades of red, blue and green. Programmers sit clustered around computers inputting lines of complex code. What resembles gibberish to anyone without a degree in computer science could help NBA teams find optimal ways to grab rebounds and defend pick and rolls through a proprietary software system developed by Maheswaran and Chang. The researchers from USC's Viterbi School of Engineering are the NBA's newest go-to guys, distilling the oceans of analytical data that will be available league-wide for the first time this season through motion-tracking cameras placed in every arena. ... As the cursor flitted across his laptop screen, Maheswaran displayed a dizzying array of visual tools that teams could use to tweak lineups and position players for favorable outcomes. One depicted a basketball court overlaid with shaded green squares, the darkest squares showing the most likely spots where a rebound would fall given the shot taken. Another showed players' success rates in pick-and-roll combinations. Even the biggest proponents of advanced statistics concede that these insights are only one component of a team's decision-making, just like game film and traditional player evaluations. But the system Maheswaran and Chang have licensed to the Clippers and three other NBA teams through their start-up company, Second Spectrum, could influence the way their clients play and even construct their rosters.
- Rick Maese of The Washington Post: The NBA opens its season this week, and the information surrounding the game has never been as rich, detailed or impactful. It’s not like the Moneyball divide that split much of the baseball world; most in basketball have embraced detailed statistical analysis. “We use it. The Wizards use it. Everybody uses it to different extents,” Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. One of the movement’s most ardent backers is incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver, whose interest in analytics dates from his days as a law student at the University of Chicago. “Clearly now, throughout the league, there is a cross section in terms of how they value it,” Silver said, “but I think there is a sense now from every team that at least it’s a factor, in considering lineups and considering players, and some teams use it more than others.” Roughly three-quarters of the league’s 30 teams have full-time staffers charged with dissecting numbers — most have clunky titles, such as Senior Quantitative Analyst, Basketball Information Coordinator or Manager of Basketball Analytics. The smarter dissection of data has changed the way general managers construct rosters, coaches teach players and those players act and react on the court. “It’s been an amazing leap. Even 10 years ago, teams were trying to get fairly simple information, and it was just hard to come by,” said John Hollinger, a former numbers-cruncher for ESPN who’s now vice president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Danny Granger, Sr. also addressed the Paul and Danny dynamic while being interviewed for this story. Senior is as interesting as they come. When he’s not in Indianapolis, he’s easy to spot – he’ll be the 6-foot-4 guy in an oversized Harley Davidson leather jacket, motoring his Screamin’ Eagle around the canyons in Southern California. Granger, Sr. loves slow R&B jams for his ringtones but he’s still rugged enough to have allegedly fought off a kidnapping attempt in Turkey while in the country with his son who was playing with Team USA. Most of all, Granger, Sr. is a straight shooter and expressed his perspective about his son and the rising star. “I think that controversy between can PG and Danny get along is really blown out of proportion big time,” Granger, Sr. said. “Danny has accomplished a lot of stuff in his career but he’s at the point now where he wants to play with good players. He wants to play with guys where he doesn’t have to carry the whole load. That could be part of the reason why he’s hurt now because he had to go out there and play 30, 35, 40 minutes a night, shoot every time. The fact that PG stepped up is great. That’s great for Danny.” Granger, Sr. also mulled the question “when was Danny not ever The Man?” “From Bradley, to New Mexico, to professional, he’s always been The Man. I can’t remember the time he wasn’t.” So, how does he think the change would impact his son? “This is what Danny wants right now. Danny wants a championship. For me to sit here and say that it probably won’t affect him that he’s not The Man, that probably won’t be the truth,” Granger, Sr. said. “But I do know this, he’s intelligent enough to understand the process.”
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Asked about the championship banner and ring presentation ceremony that the Heat will enjoy before tipoff, Joakim Noah offered a flat response. "I don't want to talk about that," Noah said. What Noah gladly talked about, and Thibodeau did, too, was Noah's strong recovery from the groin injury that sidelined him for all but one exhibition game totaling 19 minutes, 45 seconds of action. Both Noah and Thibodeau said the All-Star center has been pain-free for "four or five days" and Noah placed his chances of playing Tuesday at "100 percent" after practicing fully Sunday. Add in that Kirk Hinrich also took full contact on his injured shoulder and sounded confident he'd play against the Heat and suddenly the Bulls might have all hands on deck to resume this grudge match. "Every time you play against Miami, it's always a statement," Noah said. "We're a hungry group. It's one of 82, but we know that.”
- Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: Some people say losing is a distasteful route to winning. But those people aren’t paying attention to the realities of the NBA. Without the kind of market that can attract top free agents, a club annually fighting for the eighth seed in the playoffs will never win a championship. San Antonio and Oklahoma City are well-run organizations led by people who have made good personnel decisions. But they are nowhere special without drafting Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan. How did they get to draft those rare talents? By losing. So Corbin’s job this year — the way he will be measured — is to teach his players well, even as they lose. If they play defense and play hard and improve, that then will be enough, even though Corbin is not Dennis Lindsey’s guy. Add the right high lottery pick out of an exceptional draft (Lindsey’s responsibility) to the mix, and use financial flexibility to fill out the roster, and the Jazz’s future can be bright, no matter how dark it gets right now.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic are asking their prized rookie to play point guard, a position he never played in high school or college. If it works out, the switch could be remembered as a masterstroke of unconventional thinking. But some NBA experts think the Magic are taking a risk that could hurt Oladipo's confidence and stunt his growth. ... Oladipo primarily played at point guard during the Magic's eight-game preseason, and he averaged 13.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 turnovers per game. ... The Magic, who are in Year Two of their rebuilding plan, can afford to be patient. "We're trying to find versatile players, and we see that versatility is a valuable commodity if you can have it on your roster," Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan said. In an effort to dampen expectations, Magic officials never compare their players to players on other teams. But Hennigan worked in the Oklahoma City Thunder's front office when the Thunder drafted UCLA shooting guard Russell Westbrook and then chose to play Westbrook at point guard. That move worked brilliantly. Westbrook is a perennial All-Star who, at 6-feet-3, creates matchup problems.
- Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Three words of advice for Nerlens Noel as he rehabilitates his surgically repaired left knee: Take your time. The 76ers rookie originally was expected to need 10 months of recovery and rehabilitation because of the anterior cruciate ligament tear he suffered during his lone season at Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 center is working hard to make that return possible. But missing the entire 2013-14 season might not be a bad option, considering what's at stake for the Sixers and their 19-year-old franchise player. I'm tired of hearing that Noel would be better off returning this season. I don't think returning would be a good decision. And even if he's prepared to do so, here's some advice for the Sixers: Don't tell him. Don't give Noel any reason to be encouraged to play this season. Returning 10 months after his injury would put Noel on the court in December. That's highly unlikely, considering his practice time consists mostly of exercises and shooting drills.
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: They may have been jokes but they cut to a competitor’s heart and if Dwane Casey has his way, mocking of the Raptors will provide a bit more motivation to the players as the NBA regular season nears. Suggestions — joking, perhaps — that the Raptors’ season went in the toilet when the team’s mascot suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear are providing the fodder Casey needs to rile up his team. The latest came in the New York Times, which lumped Toronto in with a handful of teams with no hope for the coming season, saying the injury to the mascot was an “omen.” The coach did not take it well. “That’s total disrespect,” Casey said Sunday afternoon. “We’ve got to have a chip on our shoulders, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be in uniform because when people disrespect you like that and say the season went when the mascot went down, what does that say about us? It doesn’t say a lot. “We should play an entire season with a chip on our shoulder and if you don’t, something is wrong.”
- Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Roger Mason Jr. has honored his late father for years by always insisting his name include his father’s memory. Back when Mason was in college, he asked the personal-address announcer during games to refer to him as “Mason Jr.” NBA rosters, boxscores and the league’s official statistical database all use Mason’s suffix junior. Pretty much the only place throughout Mason’s career where his suffix was not used was on the most important place of all. Now, after a decade in the league, Mason will be recognized as “Mason Jr.” on his jersey. “It took 11 years, but I finally have it one there,” Mason said. And the veteran guard said the Heat deserves credit for making it happen.