Morning shootaround — Sept. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Union director hopes for smooth sailing with NBA | Winslow ready to transition to the NBA | Karl has Melo experience to help dealings with Cousins | Can Deron reclaim greatness?

No. 1: Union director hopes for smooth sailing with NBA The negotiations between the owners and player’s union are still over a year away, if that, and both sides have kept things cordial and cooperative for the most part. Michele Roberts hopes it stays that way. The executive director spoke optimistically about her relationship with Adam Silver and how the players have come to trust her leadership. Here’s an excerpt from a Q-and-A interview she gave Sportando

Q: As soon as you started you declared that the union was divided and not well represented: how is the situation now?

A: “Many players were skeptical on the importance of the union, especially for the behavior of my predecessor.
We regained credibility and players’ confidence.”

Q: Who is the most “unionized”?

A: “The desire to be part of the union is a widespread feeling. There are players completely immersed in the union activities (Chris Paul is the president, LeBron James and the first vice President, and in the executive committee there is also the mvp Steph Curry. It would be easy to think that players with huge financial success are not very interested, but it’s just the opposite. ”

Q: How can the potential lockout be avoided in 2017?

A: “Sitting down at a table already now with the NBA to understand what worries the owners and what worries the players. In the past very few attempts to speak in advance of the problems that led to the lockouts have been made. Whether Both commissioner Silver and myself want to do everything possible to prevent the NBA to stop: the only way is to negotiate. We have already started, we will meet again in early September with the hope to announce within the end of the season that the union and the league have solved their problems. ”

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No. 2: Winslow ready to transition to NBA The Heat found a surprise selection  in the summer draft in Justise Winslow, and the rookie guard is doing everything in his power to keep the franchise counting its blessings. Fresh off of winning a national championship at Duke, Winslow says he’s locked into championship mode and hopes to help Miami win another. Here’s Winslow in an interview with Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel

Winslow operated as a primary ballhandler during summer league, but that was while operating as the primary focus of the offense. The next challenge will be to find his way alongside Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh.

“Just playing alongside all the great players, some of the things will be limited,” he acknowledged. “So just trying to find spots where if I’m in the game with Dwyane Wade, Dragic and Bosh, how I can be most efficient?”

In many ways, Winslow’s approach during summer league, especially when he got off to a solid start in the Orlando Pro Summer League, was similar to that of Wade. That could have him featured in a comparable role off the bench, in relief of Wade.

“If not playing a lot of point,” he said, “just playing a lot with the ball in my hands. If I’m with the first unit, second unit, just ball screens at the top of the key, a lot of what I did in summer league out in Orlando.

“It’s going to be good. The way they use me, I think it’s going to be really special and really going to help me showcase a lot of my skills.”

***

No. 3: Karl has Melo experience to help dealings with Cousins — At times it was a rocky summer for George Karl and the Kings’ franchise player, DeMarcus Cousins. To say the two didn’t see eye-to-eye would be an understatement. Cousins thought Karl was trying to get him traded, which Karl always denied, and there was a chill in the air. Apprently, the two have patched most of their differences and yet their relationship will bear watching this season. Karl has had a tricky relationship with a superstar before; Carmelo Anthony and the coach had a few disagreements (though it never got personal). Here’s Zach Harper of CBS Sports on how those years with Melo should serve as a springboard to this season with Cousins …

This is how Kings ownership and management want this team to play: Run opponents off the floor and light up the scoreboard.

Problem is, Sacramento’s best player is DeMarcus Cousins, who wouldn’t seem to fit the mold of a player who would thrive in a fast-paced system. So how do the Kings become the team they want to be? How does George Karl find a way to build a fast-paced, highly efficient offense with DeMarcus Cousins as the focal point?

Perhaps the answer lies in Carmelo Anthony.

Karl can indeed look to his final campaign with Carmelo Anthony in Denver as a bit of inspiration for figuring this out. While it’s obvious that Anthony and Cousins are very much different players who occupy different positions, the way in which they attack and the distribution of their respective shots are relatively similar. Prior to trading Melo to the New York Knicks during the 2010-11 season, Denver had the best offense in the NBA with Melo as a primary focus. During that season, Karl found a balance between pushing the ball while also utilizing a high volume scorer.

Cousins actually isn’t the ball-stopper Melo has historically been. In fact, only Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin, and Josh Smith had a higher assist rate as a big man last season than Cousins (20.4 percent). However, he is a high volume scorer and someone the Kings will want to maximize in the half-court while still making sure to push the ball. In the 50 games Melo played under Karl in ’10-’11 and the 19 games Cousins played under Karl in ’14-’15, the distribution of where the two players did the majority of their damage is similar.

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No. 4: Can Deron Williams reclaim greatness? The easy answer to that is “no.” But Williams will get the chance in his hometown to show that he can have a second life in the NBA. He’ll need to prove not only to himself, but to Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban that the last few years in Brooklyn were a mirage, or at least not totally indicative of what he’s capable of doing. Here’s a report on Williams from Fansided …

The Dallas Mavericks made headlines this offseason with the temporary agreement they came to with Los Angeles center, DeAndre Jordan. Days after agreeing to join the Mavs, DeAndre had a well-publicized change of heart, instead preferring the comforts (and money) of home in LA.

The results of this spurning sent the Mavericks into disarray, as they scrambled to build a roster made with whatever was leftover in free agency. Forced to get creative, the Mavericks started turning their attention to the trade market and waiver wire.

After making some relatively pedestrian moves, the Mavericks were able to lure a former target of their affection, Deron Williams. Williams, an underachiever as well as max contract player, came to a buyout agreement with the Brooklyn Nets. The move freed him to sign with his hometown Mavs, in an attempt to rekindle a once exceptional career.

Exceptional is a strong word, but by no means is it an exaggeration. Deron Williams, 31, was once considered one of the top young point guards in the NBA. He was so good, there was an active debate in NBA circles as to whether he, or Chris Paul, were the best at their craft. If one was “1”, then the other was “1a”.

Deron Williams began his NBA career as the #3 overall pick of the Utah Jazz. The PG from Illinois didn’t take long to make an impression in the NBA, averaging 10.8 points and 4.5 assists per game, while shooting .416% from 3-point range.

The next four years in Utah, Williams averaged over 18 points and 10 assists per game as he established himself as one of the best players in the NBA. From there, the Deron Williams story started to go south.

After increasingly frequent spats with NBA legendary coach, Jerry Sloan, the unthinkable happened. Sloan resigned his post as coach and Deron Williams was traded to the Nets. After testing free agency, Williams opted to re-sign with the Nets, rather than move back to the D/FW area and play for his home team.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Clippers will reveal a mascot this season, the first by any NBA team in L.A., unless you count Jack Nicholson … The assistant for Gilbert Arenas has been convicted of stealing millions from the former All-Star
 

Blogtable: Can any team challenge the USA in Rio in 2016?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

 


BLOGTABLE: Remembering “Chocolate Thunder | Can anyone beat USA in 2016? |
Name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team


 

VIDEO: USA Basketball Showcase

>Qualifying for the Rio Summer Olympics continues this month with FIBA Americas and EuroBasket. Is there anybody out there who can truly challenge the USA in 2016?”

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com “Truly” challenge, as in stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with Team USA? No, I don’t think so. But as a squad capable of pulling off an upset, I wouldn’t want to sleep on Canada. The group of north-of-the-border NBA players is young – Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson – so 2020 might be a year in which Canada makes real Olympic noise, but even one year out is going to make a difference for a tight and budding squad.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:  With a full complement of elite players the United States is easily the class of the field. But a key to the success that Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have brought back to the USA Basketball is having respect for the field. You wouldn’t want to sleep on a Spanish team with Pau and Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez or France with Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  Sure the U.S. can be challenged. The Olympics become a single-elimination tournament at some point, so anything is possible. And the rosters that have been together for years and play team ball are still dangerous. Spain is at the top of that list, while also noting that I like France’s possibilities as well. But it’s still Team USA’s gold to lose. The favorites before will be the favorites again.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe short answer is no. Under Jerry Colangelo and Coach K, the USA has shaped up and restored order in the basketball world. That said, in the future I’d keep a watch out on Canada and Australia.The Canadians under Steve Nash and with Andrew Wiggins and Co. are building something special. And Down Under, gaining steam is a growing generation of teens who are the children of American professional players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In no particular order, the next three best teams are France, Serbia and Spain. The U.S. has a huge advantage in regard to talent and depth, and they put Serbia away early in the gold medal game of last year’s World Cup. But both France and Spain – with more size, experience and athleticism – are better equipped to knock them off should they cross paths. The U.S. will be the heavy favorite in Rio next year, but a gold medal is never a given when it’s a single-elimination format with 40-minute games.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:  With all due respect to the competition, they all know they are going to Rio to fight for second place. That’s not American arrogance on display, it’s just reality. Even if there is a team capable of challenging the U.S. for a quarter or two, the group Jerry Colangelo and Coach K have assembled (whatever the 12-man roster) should prove too strong and too deep for Spain, France, Canada or any other crew eager to play hero. A true challenger is not on the radar right now and perhaps not anytime soon, provided the USA Basketball machine remains dialed in and well stocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The old contenders – Spain, France and Argentina – could still be hanging on, but the team to watch (pending its qualification for Rio) is going to be Canada. By 2020 the Canadians will be the main challengers to the US – and they may emerge as early as next summer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: At the risk of sounding overconfident, when Team USA is at their full-strength, I don’t think anyone can challenge them. A lineup of Steph Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant would be dynamic and destructive, and that doesn’t even factor in a bench (Westbrook! CP3! Blake!) that could provide Coach K all sorts of mix and match options. Oh, and sure, Kobe we could use you, too. I assume the USA will meet stiff opposition along the way, perhaps from teams such as France or Spain or a younger team like Canada. But if Team USA is playing at their full potential, I think it will be a dream in Rio.

Blogtable: What will you remember most about “Chocolate Thunder?”

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

 


BLOGTABLE: Remembering “Chocolate Thunder | Can anyone beat USA in 2016? |
Name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team


 

 

VIDEO: Remembering Darryl Dawkins

>The NBA lost one of its most charismatic players ever last week when Darryl Dawkins died at 58. What will you remember most about “Chocolate Thunder?”

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThere have been three players who have come into the NBA since I started paying attention (initially as a kid) about whom I recall thinking, “How is anyone going to stop that guy?” The first was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with his sky hook, the third was Shaquille O’Neal with his sheer size and brute force. The one in the middle was Dawkins, a man-child who seemed like he might unwittingly hurt himself or another player with the power and rawness of his game. That he never averaged nine rebounds in a season is, to me, a testament to how undeveloped his skills remained, until injuries undercut his career further. The shattered backboards were sideshow stuff, as I saw it, that didn’t help folks take him more seriously. As for his wacky quotes and personality, I always like the simplicity of this one: “When everything is said and done, there’s nothing left to do or say.” RIP, DD.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:  Even as someone who was sitting courtside the night in Kansas City when Chocolate Thunder exploded the backboard, I’ll remember Darryl Dawkins more as the most friendly, charismatic, happy, fun-to-be-around person I have met in nearly four decades of covering the NBA.  Even nights when he was angry about something that happened during a game would end up with him cracking jokes and sending you away from his locker with a smile on your face.  He believed that enjoying life and enjoying people was more important than winning games.  Maybe that held Darryl back from reaching his full potential as a player, but it made him a special person.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  We didn’t realize it at the time, or at least realize the extent, but Dawkins was a marketing marvel ahead of his time. What a gregarious personality, what a gift of being able to connect with people, what a wit, all wrapped up in a mountain of a body that helped him stand out in other ways. Not only shattering backboards, but then labeling the dunk with a lengthy rhyme? The same guy now would break Twitter. He was Chocolate Thunder and he was from Lovetron. We were all better for it that alter ego Darryl Dawkins visited Earth and the NBA.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m thinking this is a trick question, because “shattered glass” is the first thing that comes to mind. I’ll give you the second and third: That square-off with Maurice Lucas during the NBA Finals; Luke would’ve dropped him had they gone the limit (RIP to Luke, by the way). And those colorful suits he wore, which were louder than an AC/DC concert.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: When I was 9 or 10 years old (mid 80s), a basketball camp I was at got a visit from the biggest guy I had ever seen in my life. Darryl Dawkins was the first NBA player I ever met and the first autograph I ever got. He told some funny stories, threw down a few dunks, and signed for everybody there. Thirty years later, he had the same personality and the same willingness to engage with fans, young and old. For someone from the planet Lovetron, he was very down to earth.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:  First and foremost, Darryl Dawkins was a larger than life personality light years ahead of his time. We love to talk about players who could transcend the time they played in and whether or not they could be as effective in another era. I think about him off the court, “Chocolate Thunder” in the social media age … we’d all be in stitches around the clock. That said, the one thing that I’ll remember most is seeing him during All-Star Weekends and other functions when he was around the other living legends of the game and seeing what kind of love they still have for a guy who was a fierce competitor and as big a personality as there was during all of their playing days. Plus, the man gave us a 10th planet, “Lovetron,” something no one will ever be able to top in terms of the greatest marketing creation any athlete has ever cooked up.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI remember interviewing him in his hotel room in Istanbul at the 1992 Euroleague Final Four. At that time Dawkins, 35, had been out of the NBA for three years. He was playing for Milan and coach Mike D’Antoni, who called him “the best player in Europe’’ and the fastest on his team. Dawkins was shooting better than 80% from the field in the Italian league because he was consistently passing up any shot that wasn’t two feet from the basket. “All he does is dunk,” D’Antoni said. In the Italian boxscores he was listed as Dawkins, Darryl Ricardo. “That was my mother did that to me,” he said of his middle name. “That was from her watching ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns all those years.” He was a character even then.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Dawkins was in that last generation of players that was before my time, so by the time I was avidly watching NBA games, Dawkins was finishing his NBA career out battling injuries playing for the Nets and Pistons. To me, more than anything, Dawkins was like some kind of myth. He broke not one, but *two* backboards? How was that even possible? And this was in an era before YouTube, so seeing a replay of one of Dawkins’ glass-shatterers was like stumbling across found footage of a long-rumored treasure. I know it’s much more difficult now with breakaway rims, but I still think someone breaking a backboard during the dunk contest on All-Star Weekend would be an instant contest-winner, and it’s still the one thing that nobody has pulled off in a dunk contest. Perhaps this year someone can figure out how to do it as a tribute to Chocolate Thunder.

Blogtable: All-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

 


BLOGTABLE: Remembering “Chocolate Thunder | Can anyone beat USA in 2016? |
Name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team


 

VIDEO: The best of Arvydas Sabonis

>Former NBA standout Andrei Kirilenko has been elected president of the Russian Basketball Federation. Perfect time to ask you to name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russian NBA team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Nobody told us there was going to be geography and geo-politics on this quiz. But here’s my best group of five: Kirilenko (Russia), Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania) and Zaza Pachulia (Georgia). The best of them likely was Sabonis, but he was an older, slower player by the time he reached the NBA with Portland at age 31. Loved his gruff exterior and his clever, Dan Quisenberry-like submarine passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:   I’m tempted to just go with the 1988 Olympic gold medalists, but have got to make room for the versatile AK-47 and the leading scorer from the infamous 1972 final over the U.S.

C : Arvydas Sabonis — We never saw him at the peak of his powers in the NBA.
F : Andrei Kirilenko — Slashing scorer, first-rate defender.
F : Aleksandr Volkov — Two so-so NBA seasons, but a force at PF for Soviet national team.
G : Sarunas Marciulionis — The feisty, aggressive guard opened the door for Europeans in the NBA.
G : Sergei Belov — Leading scorer in 1972 gold medal game, first international player voted into Naismith Hall of Fame.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  Fans of some of the former Soviet states won’t be happy — Arvydas Sabonis was Lithuanian, after all, and so on — but for purposes of the question:
C: Arvydas Sabonis
PF: Timofey Mozgov
SF: Andrei Kirilenko
SG: Sarunas Marciulionis
PG: Alexey Shved
If I’m missing anyone, and I can’t help but wonder I am, I hope they’re a guard. The frontline is the strength, especially Sabonis and Kirilenko as the top selections no matter the position. Sabonis is the best talent on the list, but in the context of NBA play, as the question says, Kirilenko is No. 1 after playing more years, playing better, and with his best seasons in the NBA. North American fans sadly mostly saw the injury-depleted Sabonis.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Sasha Volkov, Andrei Kirilenko, Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Timofey Mozgov. That’s my squad, with Sabonis the obvious choice as the Godfather of Soviet/Russian ball. Becky Hammon just misses the cut.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Picking the frontcourt is pretty easy: Kirilenko, Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. And I’ll go with Sarunas x 2 in the backcourt: Marciulionis and Jasikevicius, though the latter was a lot more fun to watch when he played for Lithuania than when he played for the Pacers and Warriors.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:   Any team of this kind has to start with the great Arvydas Sabonis in the middle, flanked by Alexander Volkov and Kirilenko at the forward spots with the criminally underrated Sarunas Marciulionis in the backcourt alongside one of my all-time favorite big-moment competitors, Sarunas Jasikevicius. If Kirilenko had that kind of starting five to work with as president of the Russian Basketball Federation, he could ride the wave in that job for years.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The old Soviet regime (unlike the former Yugoslavia) did not produce a lot of NBA guards, and neither has the Russian federation. So I am piecing together this team in faith that Sabonis and Ilgauskas could complement one another inside and outside, and that Kirilenko would have the skills and defensive versatility to shift to the backcourt when necessary.
C: Arvydas Sabonis
C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
F: Alexander Volkov
F: Andrei Kirilenko
G: Sarunas Marciulionis

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Kirilenko is on my team, if only for that run he had in the 2000’s with the Jazz, when he was fully healthy and seemingly capable of posting a quadruple-double on any given night. We always heard that we in the U.S. never saw the best of Arvydis Sabonis, but even playing with injured knees in Portland, he was pretty great. Sarunas Marciulionis won gold with the USSR at the 1988 Olympics, and had a great run with the Golden State Warriors. How about my main man Sasha Volkov, who was one of the pioneers of the international movement to the NBA when he played for some of the Atlanta Hawks’ better early-‘90s teams? And if we’re picking one for the future, Timofey Mozgov is coming off an NBA Finals appearance and looks like he still has a lot of years left in him.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets | Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number | Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota | Jack ready to lead Nets

No. 1: Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets The Houston Rockets advanced to the Western Conference finals last season, and as part of their efforts to strengthen their squad for the coming season, they traded for former Denver point guard Ty Lawson, who had been charged with two driving violations and would seem to benefit from a change of scenery. As Lawson told Fox 26 in Houston, he’s looking forward to playing for Houston coach Kevin McHale and feels he can help push the Rockets to the next level

Guard Ty Lawson, acquired by the Houston Rockets in a trade with the Denver Nuggets in July, is already building a relationship with head coach Kevin McHale.

The two had dinner while Lawson was in Houston last week.

“Kevin McHale, he’s a cool coach,” Lawson said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. “I sat down and had dinner with him, probably like a week ago.

“He just keeps everything real. He’s played before, so he knows what we’re going through. He makes everything straight forward, no grey areas. It was fun. We talked about everything, not just basketball, just life. He even had some stories when he used to play. It was a fun dinner.

“So I’m excited to play for him.”

Lawson believes the trade to the Rockets will be good for his career.

“It’s a huge chance,” Lawson said. “(The Rockets) went to the Western Conference Finals and could have won, but you just needed a couple of extra pieces. So I’m excited to be playing in a situation where I know I have a chance to win.”

Lawson recently completed a 30-day program for alcohol rehabilitation after getting two DUIs in a seven-month span.

Rockets guard James Harden said at his basketball camp last month he spent some time with Lawson in California, and has no concerns about Ty’s off-the-court issues.

“He’s more focused that ever,” Harden told reporters in August.”

Lawson agreed.

“Definitely, I’ve been through a couple of things, going through it,” Lawson said. “He used to hang out with me. He knows the person I am. I feel like he has no worries about me or my game. So I’m just ready.”

Lawson looks forward to playing with Harden, especially because they are close friends and considers the move to Houston as a breath of fresh air.

“Oh yeah for sure,” Lawson said. “I was like before I even came to the team I was talking to James. I was like ‘man get me over there.’ I’ll be that piece to (help) get over the hump. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air.”

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No. 2: Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number During a ceremony yesterday to announce “Dikembe Mutombo Day” in Atlanta, the Hawks surprised their former center by announcing their plans to retire Mutombo’s number 55. As Chris Vivlamore writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mutombo was caught off guard by the announcement, but couldn’t have been happier

Dikembe Mutombo was at a loss for words.

The former center and soon to be Hall of Famer will have his No. 55 retired by the Hawks. The announcement was made by Hawks CEO Steve Koonin during a ceremony in Fulton County Tuesday declaring Sept. 1, 2015 as Dikembe Mutombo Day. The news came as a complete surprise to Mutombo.

Mutomobo’s No. 55 will be raised to the Philips Arena rafters on Nov. 24 during a nationally televised game against the Celtics.

“The most surprising, as you can see from the tears in my eyes, is the announcement that was made (that my jersey will be retired),” Mutombo said. “It’s the most shocking to me. … I didn’t know the Hawks were going to retire my jersey. I can’t believe it. It’s going to be a great day.”

Mutombo played from 1996-2001 as part of an 18-year NBA career. He will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week.

“When you look at the history of the Hawks and you see a player who made such a positive contribution, who is going to be Hall of Famer and who resides in Atlanta, it was two simple (phone) calls,” Koonin said. “One to (general manager) Wes (Wilcox) and one to Bud (president of basketball operations/head coach Mike Budenholzer) saying what you think? They couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.”

Mutombo will have the fourth jersey number retired by the franchise joining No. 9 of Bob Pettit, No. 21 of Dominique Wilkins and No. 23 of Lou Hudson.

Mutombo was an eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year during his NBA tenure. He is the league’s second leading shot blocker and is 19th in rebounds. He was a two-time winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award by the league for his many humanitarian efforts.

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No. 3: Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota — At four seasons in and at 24 years old, Ricky Rubio is still in the early stages of his NBA career. But the NBA rumor mill never stops, and this summer, with the Wolves still rebuilding, Rubio’s name has popped up a few times as a player being targeted by other franchises. While in Dubai at a basketball camp this week, Rubio spoke to Gulf News and said if it’s up to him, he plans to stick around in Minnesota

But Rubio, in Dubai to add star power to the BasicBall Academy summer camps at the Dubai World Trade Centre, denied he was about to move to the Big Apple or anywhere else.

He told Gulf News he believes he will stay with his first and so far only NBA team.

“I have confidence that the team wants me but you know in this league anybody can get traded,” said the flashy playmaker. “You don’t listen to the rumours. You just live day-by-day and that’s it.”

When asked if he wanted to stay with the long-suffering Timberwolves, Rubio gave a firm: “Yes.”

And why wouldn’t he? It is an exciting time to be a Minnesota Timberwolf — even after a 16-win season in which they failed to make the NBA play-offs for the 11th straight time, the longest streak in the league.

The reasons for optimism include a pair of youngsters for whom the NBA sky is the limit at this stage of their fledgling careers.

Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, 20, is coming off a superb debut campaign, in which he showed in flashes why he was once considered North America’s best high-school prospect since LeBron James. The 6ft 8in Canadian displayed the skill and athleticism to suggest he could soon become one of the league’s best wing defenders, as well as one of its most versatile scorers.

Next season, Wiggins will be joined by skilled seven-footer Karl-Anthony Towns, the first pick in July’s NBA Draft and a potential future star.

And Rubio, himself still only 24, said he can’t wait to take the court with the emerging duo.

“They have a lot of talent,” said the 6ft 4in guard. “I have a little bit more experience than them that I can share. I really can teach them what I learned. They have a great future and I can help them achieve their goals.

“I like to have athletic players next to me, the way I play. It suits my game.

“[Wiggins] can be as good as he wants. He has a lot of talent. What surprised me about last season is the quickness of how he adapted to the league. He was fearless about the big stage, to play against LeBron James and the bigger names. There are a lot of ways he can score. It is hard to stop him. If you stop one of the ways he scores, he can score in other ways.

“I have seen [Towns] working out this summer in Minnesota. I can tell he is a great player and not just like a big centre, he can really shoot the ball, he can play in the pick-and-pop and he is really going to surprise some people.

“We have a lot of young talent with a big future but we have got to start doing it because it has been a building process for the last couple of years. We have to start putting it on paper and start winning games.”

***

No. 4: Jack ready to lead Nets The NBA is a point guard-heavy league right now, which means if you don’t have an elite point guard, you’re going to, at the very least, struggle night after night against some of the league’s top talent. This summer, the Brooklyn Nets bought out former All-Star point guard Deron Williams, and next season will hand over the reins to… Jarrett Jack? Jack certainly believes he’s the man for the job, as he explained to the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps

Though Jack is more than confident he will be able to prove his detractors wrong, he’s also aware that no matter what he says now, those questions won’t be answered until the regular season begins.

“It does [motivate me], but it’s not like I’ve got the article pinned up on my wall,” Jack said Tuesday after an appearance at a Nets basketball camp in Southampton. “But my thing is that all you can do is show and prove … wait for the opportunities and then take advantage of it, and just help your team win. That’s the only way you’re going to get people to realize it.

“When the season comes and I have my opportunities to go out there and show them that I believe different … that’s the response. You don’t have to respond to it, because your play is going to be the response to whatever they think.”

For a Nets team that will enter this season full of questions, the one surrounding its point-guard play — and whether the trio of floor generals it has assembled will be good enough to get it back into the playoffs — is as important as any outside of the health of Brook Lopez.

There were few tears shed when Deron Williams was bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer, allowing him to return home to Dallas. Though Williams’ personality won’t be missed, he was productive last season, averaging 13.0 points, 6.6 assists and shooting 36.7 percent from 3-point range.

Jack, on the other hand, had the worst plus-minus of any player on an NBA playoff team, with the Nets being outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions when he played, compared to outscoring their opponents by three points per 100 possessions when he sat.

“You never want that attached to your name,” Jack said. “It’s something I have to improve on. … Hopefully this year I can reverse it.”

The Nets are banking on it, as well as the fact that Jack, who went to Las Vegas last month with Joe Johnson to organize a team workout while the Nets were playing there during the NBA’s annual summer league — will help lead a group that will have better chemistry and cohesion this season with the lingering questions about Williams now behind them.

Jack simply sees it as an opportunity to prove he’s a full-time starter in the NBA, something he hasn’t done since starting 39 of 45 games for New Orleans in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

“I’m definitely excited,” Jack said. “I’m super excited for training camp to get here, and these daily tests I’m going to have to show people what I can do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Eric Bledsoe says the Suns want a playoff berth, and they’re “not trying to get the last spot, either” … Carmelo Anthony has partnered with Vice media to launch his own sports channel … The Pennsylvania community he called home came out to remember Darryl Dawkins yesterday

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 207) Featuring Brad Turner

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The flood of memories that Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant produced in their eight seasons together with the Los Angeles Lakers could fill five or six books, serve as the origin story for nearly as many movies or after school specials and keep your mind twisting and turning about “What might have been?” for a lifetime.

The greatest reality show ever told is how folks describe it now, a daily soap opera with all of the drama (on and off the court) that anyone could ask for. And it was groundbreaking stuff, ahead of its time even, given that this all played out long before social media became a part of our everyday lives.

Broderick (you might know him as Brad or BT) Turner of The Los Angeles Times was there before, during and after every second of it and is still chronicling the daily happenings of what goes on in and around LA’s basketball scene. And that includes keeping a watchful eye on DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers, Chris and Cliff Paul, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers, the latest and greatest hoops reality show to hit town.

We dive back into the Shaq-Kobe drama and all the people impacted by it (from Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Dr. Jerry Buss to their teammates and the fans who witnessed it and still discuss to this day), discuss DeAndre’s crazy summer and look ahead at what’s to come in LA and elsewhere around the league after a month-long hiatus from the booth (Lang’s still at the beach and Rick is all over the place, as always).

But with just weeks before teams show up for the start of training camp, it’s also time to start assessing the 2015-16 season and how the pecking order will break down on each side of the conference divide.

As always, we dive in on Episode 207 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: An emoji battle over the services of DeAndre Jordan broke out during free agency, a battle ultimately won by the Clippers

Hawks to retire Mutombo’s No. 55

HANG TIME BEACH HOUSE — For once, Dikembe Mutombo didn’t see it coming.

During a ceremony on Tuesday morning in Atlanta to name September 1, 2015 Dikembe Mutombo Day, the Atlanta Hawks surprised their former center by announcing plans to retire his number 55.

Mutombo, who played for the Hawks from 1996-2001, anchored several of the Hawks’ best teams, including a 56-win campaign in ’96-97. While Mutombo’s time as a Hawk — less than 5 seasons — was relatively short, he made an immediate impact on the Atlanta sports community, with his distinctive voice and signature finger wag following blocked shots. Mutombo has continued to have a presence in Atlanta since his playing days, making his home in the area and raising money for his eponymous foundation.

According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks will retire Mutombo’s number on Nov. 24, when the Hawks host the Boston Celtics. Mutombo’s 55 will join other retired Hawks numbers of Lou Hudson (23), Bob Pettit (9) and Dominique Wilkins (21).

As Vivlamore writes, Mutombo was shocked by the announcement from Hawks CEO Steve Koonin

“The most surprising, as you can see from the tears in my eyes, is the announcement that was made (that my jersey will be retired),” Mutombo said. “It’s the most shocking to me. … I didn’t know the Hawks were going to retire my jersey. I can’t believe it. It’s going to be a great day.”

Mutombo played from 1996-2001 as part of an 18-year NBA career. He will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week.

“When you look at the history of the Hawks and you see a player who made such a positive contribution, who is going to be Hall of Famer and who resides in Atlanta, it was two simple (phone) calls,” Koonin said. “One to (general manager) Wes (Wilcox) and one to Bud (president of basketball operations/head coach Mike Budenholzer) saying what you think? They couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.”

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bennett shows FIBA resurgence | Suns players begin unofficial workouts, without Morris | The Warriors are winning Silicon Valley

No. 1: Bennett shows FIBA resurgence The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett out of UNLV with the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, but the expected development once he reached the NBA has yet to fully occur. A change of NBA environment via a trade to Minnesota hasn’t had the desired effect, either. Yet playing for his native Canada this summer in international competition, Bennett has nearly averaged a double-double. As Josh Lewenberg writes for TSN, Bennett has finally found his swagger

Seated in the front row, an international reporter searched for the appropriate words to make an uncomfortable but fair observation, one that caught others off guard but hardly made Bennett flinch.

“You play so different in the NBA and in FIBA,” the reporter pointed out. “You are a lot better in FIBA. Why?”

The answer isn’t nearly as straight forward as the question. There are a number of factors that contributed to Bennett’s forgettable rookie and sophomore seasons, health and conditioning among them, but the word he frequently uses to explain his improved play this summer should not be overlooked. Confidence.

“[I’m] just playing with confidence, pretty much,” the 22-year-old forward responded. “Just going out there, playing defence, running the court. Just doing the little things first and trying to make offence come to me.”

Exactly 366 days – a year and one day – earlier, Bennett was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with fellow Canadian and good friend Andrew Wiggins, in the deal that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland.

Certainly, Bennett’s debut campaign with the Cavaliers did not go as anticipated. A shoulder injury derailed his progress in training camp and, out of shape to begin the season, he missed the first 16 shots of his pro career. The end result was one of the worst ever rookie seasons by a No. 1 overall pick. Plagued by a series of ailments again in year two, he was only moderately better with the Wolves last season. Understandably, he had a hard time hiding his frustration.

“I saw him play a little bit,” said Jay Triano, head coach of the Canadian senior men’s team and assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers. “Whether there were injuries or not getting a chance in the NBA, he was always grumpy and never smiling. And I remember him as a guy who was vocal, smiling, having fun playing the game.”

Free from the pressure and scrutiny that had consumed him as a young player in the NBA, Bennett has resembled his old self with the national team this summer.

Making his debut with the senior club at the Pan American games last month, where Canada won silver, Bennett averaged 15.6 points and a tournament-high 9.4 rebounds. He was also a standout starting for a much deeper team in their tuneup games this past week, running the floor with purpose and playing above the rim in San Juan.

The smile has returned – you’ll rarely catch him without it. He’s healthy, he’s slimmed down considerably and he has that bounce in his step again.

“It feels great,” Bennett told TSN in a sit-down interview earlier this month. “My body feels great. I feel like I’m 100 per cent right now. Just getting out and running like I did at UNLV.”

“It looks like he’s loving basketball again,” Triano added. “And I think that was the big thing for us. We try to make it fun for him, try to simplify it. He’s so talented in a variety of areas that we needed to just simplify what we expect of him. If he does that, the rest of it is gonna fall into place.”

***

No. 2: Suns players begin unofficial workouts, without Morris NBA training camps are still a few weeks from tipping off, but in Phoenix there are multiple Suns players already gathered in the Valley to begin workouts. One notable absence is Markieff Morris, the Suns’ terrific forward who has expressed his desire to be traded after the Suns traded his brother, Marcus. As Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, the Suns may be hoping hard feelings have subsided by the time training camp officially tips off…

Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, Brandon Knight, Alex Len, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren and Sonny Weems have been playing at US Airways Center since Monday.

There is no surprise that Markieff Morris is missing from that list, given his “Keef beef” with the franchise. His trade request fell on deaf ears. The other absent contract players, Tyson Chandler and Mirza Teletovic, are expected to join their new teammates in Phoenix over the next 10 days.

The early team chemistry sessions are important for a roster that will have at least six new players for the regular season. That does not include Brandon Knight, a key cog to this season’s plans after playing only 11 games last season with the Suns.

It would be ideal for Knight to spend September working with his starting power forward but a Morris early arrival is about as likely as a fulfillment of his trade wish.

The Suns need and want Morris. They would not stand much of a chance to replace him by trade. They would have no chance to replace him by free agency. They do not have an adequate existing roster option.

Reasonably, hard feelings should subside by the time he must report to Phoenix on Sept. 28. However, he was steaming six weeks after the trade when he went public to the Philadelphia Inquirer this month. Another six weeks might not help but being around his teammate friends again and meeting a respected frontcourt partner such as Chandler should help him recommit, even if Morris returns to being the quieter person he was before Marcus joined Phoenix.

Morris never planned to publicly lash out at the Suns, coincidentally running into a familiar reporter at a Philadelphia-area gym with small talk that became a stage for his discontent.

The expressed source of the twins’ anger was that Marcus was told he was traded while on vacation. The issues must extend beyond that because even superstars are rarely told of trades before they happen, although Markieff did call himself “the premier player of the team.”

The twins were miffed because they gave the Suns a contract extension break last year in hopes of staying together. Markieff’s salary still will jump from $3 million last season to $8 million this season. The unstated factor is that Marcus’ trade was made, in part, to clear salary-cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge, a free agency target who would have replaced Markieff. Marcus’ behavior last season, including yelling at coach Jeff Hornacek during a game, also played a role.

Markieff’s previous criticism of Suns fans only worsens his reputation but the start of a make-up process is only a sincere statement of regret and a few double-doubles away.

His teammates made the first statement to win over playoff-starved fans by committing themselves to workouts before other teams start congregating.

***

No. 3: The Warriors are winning Silicon Valley Plenty of NBA teams are based in their city without necessarily being an embedded part of their area’s business community. But the Golden State Warriors, based in the Bay Area, have managed to mix with Silicon Valley and become allies, in many ways, writes Nina Mandell for USA Today

The Lakers and the Knicks have movie stars on their sidelines. The Clippers and Mavericks have their celebrity owners. But when many of the Warriors players look around the front row at the Golden State Warriors games, many of the players see something else notable: Startup capital.

With their surge to a NBA title and guard who earned a regular season MVP award, a number of Warriors players have been involved in the Silicon Valley culture that their team attracts to games and will likely continue to bring in when they move to their new arena in San Francisco.

“You’ll see Larry Ellison, you’ll see Jack Dorsey, you’ll see Adam Bain,” said Harrison Barnes, listing off the names of the co-founder of Oracle and Twitter executives. “You’ll see all these guys courtside that they’re walking down the street people might not say ‘oh my god that’s so-and-so’ but if you know who they are and you know what they do, there’s obviously well-respected in their fields.”

Barnes works as a consultant at Facebook on the side when he’s not playing basketball. Andre Iguodala had a role in a startup that recently got acquired by eBay. And Stephen Curry partnered with CoachUp, a private coaching website and app matching service that its founder describes as the “Uber or AirBNB” of the private and semi-private sports coaching industry.

Curry said that he got involved with the Boston-based CoachUp because he thinks that private coaching was crucial to his success as a player, and likely would have done it without the Silicon Valley influence. Private coaching is something, he stressed, he really believes in. “I had a coach I worked with starting at the age of 13 in lieu of playing AAU basketball and traveling all over the country I stayed in Charlotte and to have the one-on-one experience … I benefited so much from it,” he said.

The service, which matches athletes with private coaches for everything from triathlon training for adults to soccer for kids, he hopes, will make that type of coaching more accessible for future generations, which is something he’d want to do whether he was in the tech capital of the world or not.

Jordan Fliegel, the co-founder of CoachUp said that there were a million reasons they partnered with Curry – after all he’s marketable on his own personality and what seems like a sincere dedication to the company. But playing in the Bay Area is helpful. “I think as we go, if we need introductions to various people, Stephen’s offered to help however he can,” Fliegel said. “He’s a huge part of our team.”

Curry is also involved in another company that’s “in the social media space that talks about athletes and fan engagement, especially on the professional level,” he said, that will hopefully be coming out in the next year. His agent, Jeff Austin, said that playing in the Bay Area definitely influenced the opportunities sent his way, even as a high-profile player.

“Interest has certainly been high from Silicon Valley start-ups and investors. We have evaluated various opportunities to see which match best with Stephen’s overall career plan and off the court passions,” he said. “It’s great that the team is located so close to the area, it gives these companies a chance to see the full impact Stephen and the Warriors have had on the community.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Boston Celtics have reportedly opened extension talks with Tyler Zeller and Jared SullingerBaron Davis is continuing his journey back to the NBA … The Clippers filled a bench spot by signing veteran big man Chuck Hayes …The Mavericks are reportedly “encouraged” by what they’ve seen from Deron Williams thus far …

Report: DeAndre Jordan parts ways with agents


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan has reportedly parted ways with his representatives at Relativity Sports

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — DeAndre Jordan‘s summer of change is not over. After causing a stir with his free agent decision to leave for Dallas only to change his mind days later and stay with the Los Angeles Clippers last month, now comes word, per Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times, that Jordan is parting ways with Dan Fegan and Jarin Akana, his representatives at Relativity Sports.

It’s the next logical step for Jordan during a summer in which he and his representatives were in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons during the opening days of free agency.

No one wants to relive the emoji battle waged by Mavericks swingman and chief recruiter Chandler Parsons and a Clippers contingent led by All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and shooting guard J.J. Redick. But Jordan was torn between his loyalty to the Clippers and the new opportunities the Mavericks presented.

Doc Rivers and the Clippers won out in the end, keeping Jordan in the fold and remaining among the Western Conference elite with a strong summer haul that also included adding Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson to their ranks.

Jordan has had three different agents in seven years and will be free to pick his next one in 15 days.

Shaq-Kobe cold war officially over?


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about his relationship with Shaq

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The thaw began a while ago, with each side admitting to past wrongs and their own complicity in one of the coldest wars in the history of sports.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant feuded for years, first as teammates in Los Angeles with the Lakers, and later after they had parted ways. They won titles, three in a row, in spite of their very real beef that always seemed destined to derail one of the greatest 1-2 punches basketball had ever seen.

But now, with Shaq retired and settled in comfortably as a member of the Emmy Award-winning Inside The NBA on TNT and headed for the Hall of Fame, and Kobe in the twilight of his future Hall of Fame career, the good vibrations appear to be rolling between the two. When word surfaced last week that Shaq had Kobe on his “The Big Podcast” (available today) and the former dynamic duo had cleared the air, it became obvious that the longstanding battle between the two was officially over.

Shaq’s opening lines, per a report from Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times, said it all:

“I just want people to know that I don’t hate you, I know you don’t hate me. I call it today a ‘work beef,’ is what we had,” said O’Neal, who retired after the 2010-11 season. “I was young, you was young. But then as I look at it, we won three [championships] out of four so I don’t really think a lot was done wrong. So I just wanted to clear the air and let everybody know that, no, I don’t hate you. We had a lot of disagreements, we had a lot of arguments. But I think it fueled us both.”

With Shaq Week invading NBA TV this week, the unveiling of the full podcast sheds even more light on the recovery process for these former teammates and NBA titans. We’ve heard plenty of stories and theories from other folks who were there, involved and observing the reality show that was the Shaq-Kobe Lakers. This is the first time we’ve had the two stars of the show discuss it together.

Some 11 years after their nasty public break up, hearing both men reflect on their tumultuous time together is revealing. More from the Times:

Bryant, 37, recalled the time when he and O’Neal almost came to blows in 1999.

Bryant was 21 at the time, but he wasn’t going to back down to the 7-foot-1, 330-pound O’Neal.

“In ’99, I think Shaq realized that this kid is really competitive and he’s a little crazy,” said Bryant, who is heading into what could be his final NBA season. “And I realized that I probably had a couple of screws loose because I nearly got into a fistfight and I actually was willing to get into a fight with this man. I went home and I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve either got to be the dumbest or the most courageous kid on the face of the Earth.'”

O’Neal viewed it then as an affront to his authority as the team leader, but these days he sees it differently.

“That just showed me, ‘You know what, this kid ain’t going to back down to nobody,'” O’Neal said. “Kobe seen me punk everybody in the league. So when this kid would stand up every day [to me], I’m like, ‘This kid ain’t going to back down.’ I knew then, if I’m down by one and I kick it out to someone, he’s going to shoot it and he’s going to make it.”

Both Bryant and O’Neal laughed.

“He was either going to beat the . . . out of me or I was going to get it done,” Bryant said. “I was comfortable with either one.”

Clearly, time heals all wounds, even in the most bitter of disputes. And to their credit, these guys didn’t wait until they were ancient to do this. All of us who watched them in their primes, together and apart, know what might have been if they could have co-existed without all of the drama and certainly a little longer.