Morning shootaround — Oct. 22


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant shrugs off ESPN article | Reports: Magic, Vucevic nearing extension | Pacers have trouble finding offensive rhythm | Kaman suffers odd injury

No. 1: Kobe shrugs off article about him being a difficult teammate — If you somehow missed it the last few days or so, ESPN The Magazine recently published a big article on Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant as he enters the twilight of his career. The story contends that a big reason why the Lakers have had trouble in recent years landing marquee (or even middling) free agents is because other players are reluctant to play alongside Bryant. The story generated a lot of buzz yesterday and after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Phoenix Suns, Bryant addressed the story’s main points. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Jovan Buha has more:

In his first time speaking to media after an ESPN The Magazine article suggested that he played a significant role in the Lakers’ recent slide over the last few years, Bryant, known for speaking candidly, responded with a seemingly diplomatic answer.

“It’s not the first one and it won’t be the last one,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 114-108 preseason overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. “One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is that you’ll have a bad story that comes out on a Monday and it seems like it’s the end of the world and it seems like everybody’s taking shots at you. But time goes by and then you look back on it and it was just a Monday.

“Then you have another great story that comes out maybe a month later, or something like that, and it’s a fantastic story. And then there’s a bad story that comes out one month after that. So you understand that it’s a cycle, and things are never as good or as bad as they seem in the moment in time.”

Bryant continued, explaining his rationale behind remaining upbeat despite the current state of the Lakers franchise.

“Stay focused on the bigger picture and things are never as bleak as they seem at the time,” Bryant said. “I just kind of roll with it.”

Bryant’s teammate, guard Jeremy Lin, was also asked about the appeal of playing with Bryant, and had nothing but positive things to say.

“I’ve said it from the very beginning: What I’ve seen, my personal experience with him, which is the only thing I can speak on, it’s been great,” Lin said. “From Day 1, from the minute I was traded until now, it’s just been constantly him trying to be a leader, being a good leader, a communicator, teaching me, teaching me, teaching me and doing it in a mentorship-type way.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant scored 27 points in L.A.’s preseason loss to Phoenix

 

The last less likely to be first, under expected draft lottery reforms

NEW YORK – The NBA’s Board of Governors, expected to approve an overhaul of the league’s draft lottery Wednesday at their fall meetings in midtown Manhattan, might want to be careful what they vote for.

In thwarting the Philadelphia 76ers in what many consider their shameless plunge into, and loitering about, the lottery for consecutive seasons, they might in fact wind up aiding GM Sam Hinkie‘s team on the way up.

Lottery reform, as reported by multiple media outlets, is likely to pass with at least the 23 (of 30) votes needed. The changes essentially will broaden the lottery’s sweet spot, giving more teams a better shot at landing the No. 1 pick and therefore, presumably, discouraging teams that might be inclined to “tank” their way to a rebuilding strategy.

That’s what Philadelphia has done, trading last year for injured big man Nerlens Noel, sputtering through a 19-63 season, then using its two lottery picks in June for two more players – Kansas center Joel Embiid and Euro-obligated Dario Saric – who won’t help at all in 2014-15.

Flattening the odds among the teams with the four worst records, cutting the worst club’s chances (25 percent now) approximately in half and guaranteeing it no lower than the seventh pick (no longer the fourth) all reportedly are among the reforms considered by the owners this week to strip incentives from finishing dead last or nearly so.

But given the young talent already on board in Philadelphia, it’s possible the 76ers could be improve considerably in the next two or three years – and find itself with a Top 3 pick again, thanks to the rejiggered odds.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of the league’s worst team landing the best draft prospect would be lessened again. And that’s happened only three times in 21 years anyway since the lottery adopted its current weighting – a pattern that some believe argued against tanking in the first place. A 25 percent shot at No. 1 means a 75 percent shot at not getting the top pick.

Clearly, the league is a long way from its days of heads or tails, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Neal Walk and Magic Johnson vs. David Greenwood, dictated by coin flip. But the 76ers and others got good enough at gaming the system to grab the Governors’ attention, and a draft system intended to help the truly awful might wind up aiding the merely mediocre. That is of particular concern to the league’s smaller-revenue markets, which already feel disadvantaged in attracting free agents and retaining players acquired via trades.

Among other items believed to be on the Board of Governors agenda:

  • A report on the league’s new replay center in Secaucus, N.J., the clearing house for all reviewed calls this season.
  • Discussion of the flood of TV money from new rights extensions with Turner Broadcasting and ABC/ESPN and its expected impact on player compensation, the salary cap and revenue-sharing.
  • Update on the Atlanta Hawks ownership and front-office situation.
  • Conversations about the NBA’s code of conduct, particularly as it relates to domestic violence.

Forgotten Villanueva hopes to stick

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

DALLAS – Charlie Villanueva could have packed his sneakers, walked away from the game and lived a happy life with his wife and two young kids wherever they so pleased, and no one might ever have noticed he’d left.

Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks

Charlie Villanueva is looking to turn a non-guaranteed training camp invite into a full-time spot on the Mavericks.
Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty Images

It’s been that long since the 6-foot-11, sweet-shooting, headband-wearing Villanueva — once a No. 7 overall pick and once an ascending player with the Bucks who became the Pistons’ prized, $37-million free-agent acquisition — did much of anything in the league.

What should have been prime years of his career instead wasted away on Detroit’s bench, Villanueva rendered impotent by a toxic mix of various and seemingly unending injuries, a frustrating coaching carousel and a series of organizational missteps. He became the NBA’s forgotten man.

“I think a lot of people forgot about what Charlie Villanueva can do,” he told NBA.com on Monday night, seated in the corner of the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room, awaiting preseason game No. 6 of eight of his hopeful resurrection. “Sometimes you’ve got to take two steps backward to take three steps forward. It’s just what happened in my career. But now I’m trying to change things around. I’m trying to reinvent myself.”

For the last five weeks, Villanueva, 30, has lived out of a couple of suitcases at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas, a 1.2-mile walk to the American Airlines Center and Mavs headquarters, leaving behind his family in Michigan. He agreed on Sept. 23 to come to training camp on a non-guaranteed contract.

“I’m not used to this, but everything happens for a reason, so I’m going with the punches,” Villanueva said. “I’ve spent a lot of time by myself. I’m away from my family now, away from the kids, a lot of alone time and a lot of eating meals alone.”

The Clippers were a potential option, but no guaranteed money was being offered there either. He chose Dallas, saying it just felt right, even though it already has the maximum 15 players on guaranteed contracts. If Villanueva is going to make the team, he’s going to have to convince owner Mark Cuban (who is open to being convinced) to trade (Gal Mekel?) or buy out (Bernard James?) a player on a guaranteed deal.

“I had a great conversation with coach [Rick Carlisle] and I just felt there was a serious opportunity here if I do my part,” Villanueva said. “I love the team, I love the city and I felt like every guy complemented each other real well, and this team is real deep as well. I felt why not go for the challenge and see what happens?”

The opportunity is real. The Mavs have long searched for a true stretch-4 to back up Dirk Nowitzki to maintain the offensive flow when he sits. Small forward Shawn Marion, now in Cleveland with LeBron James, was strong enough to move up a weight class when Nowitzki rested. Marion’s replacement, the 6-foot-10 sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, will be asked to play some power forward. The Mavs also acquired Al-Farouq Aminu, who Dallas coaches are taking great care to refine his defensive skills and 3-point shot. Brandan Wright plays more center than power forward because his best offensive skill is rolling to the basket.

The 240-pound, floor-spacing Villanueva seems the fit Dallas has been seeking. The Mavs signed Rashard Lewis in July, but voided the contract after discovering an injury, something that finally isn’t the first thing mentioned when Villanueva’s name comes up.

“Oh, I feel good. I haven’t felt this good in a while, man,” Villanueva said. “Feeling good, in great shape, healthy, just excited about basketball again.”

Within the Mavs’ organization there seems a genuine interest in getting Villanueva on the roster.

“He’s an extremely intelligent basketball player and he knows what he can and can’t do,” Carlisle said. “Those are the kind of guys that you like to have … He’s done a good job. He’s making a strong case.”

His start to the preseason — 32 points, 8-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc and nine rebounds in 35 minutes spread over three games — was more promising than his last three games — 13 points, 2-for-10 on 3s and five rebounds in 25 minutes over three games. He played just six minutes in Monday’s game against Memphis, the type of team with a big front line that would figure to make Villanueva valuable to Dallas. However, one weaknesses so far has been his low-post defense.

“I definitely feel like [I've been] given a fair shot,” Villanueva said. “I felt good about my chances, but at the end of the day, until I hear that word, I can’t be comfortable, I can’t get this monkey off my back.”

He’s far removed from 16.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg in 2008-09, the season that convinced Detroit to make him a swift and lucrative offer the ensuing summer. It’s been a long five years since. He essentially disappeared.

His five-year deal with Detroit finally up, having played only limited minutes in just 102 games over the last three seasons, Villanueva could have convinced himself to walk away, to enjoy his family and pursue new interests.

But he couldn’t walk away. It’s been a training camp like none other for Villanueva. Now two preseason games remain. The regular season begins next Tuesday.

“I love playing basketball,” Villanueva said. “I’m feeling good, feeling healthy, so trying to maximize my abilities until they take the basketball away from me.”

A book to settle, and incite, arguments

Wilt Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes a game in 1961-62 (John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated)

Wilt Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes a game in 1961-62 (John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated)

It’s the stuff arguments are made of. And barroom bets. And blackened eyes.

If you and your friends were to try to rank the Top 10 in anything, how much consensus would there be? Now broaden that across not one, not two but 22 categories, all under the umbrella of the Best This and Most That in NBA history.

That’s what the writers and editors at Sports Illustrated did with “Basketball’s Greatest,” a formidable 288-page volume released Tuesday that’s suitable for the coffee table, usable as a home-defense weapon and certain to rankle merely in the reading. But that’s OK, same as with the brand’s “Baseball’s Greatest” last year and “Football’s Greatest” from 2012. They’re full of history, stats and evaluation, but mostly they’re full of opinions.

Theirs just happen to be more credible than yours. (Nah, just stirring the pot.)

book-cover“What was interesting about basketball,” said editor Bill Syken, who worked on all three books, “was that, in football you can compare Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and they’ve played at the same time, but they don’t directly compete against each other. Not the way Russell and Chamberlain did, or Magic and Stockton did.”

The rankings – by the way, this is all-NBA/ABA, all the way, despite the generic title – came from an actual balloting of the magazine’s (and now Web site’s) NBA writers. Seven voters – Chris Ballard, Mark Bechtel, Lee Jenkins, Chris Mannix, Jack McCallum, Ian Thomsen and Alexander Wolff – chose their personal Top 10s, with a point system used (10 for a No. 1 mention, 9 for a No. 2 and so on) to create the overall lists. Every player who got even a single point is listed near the end.

The meat of the book is the position-by-position rankings, including comments from the voters and, at each spot, a feature story from the SI archives on one of the players. There also are categories such as Best Sixth Men, Best Defenders, Best Coaches and Best Clutch Performers. Fans of the Miami Heat will have thoughts on the Best Single-Season Team list.

There are some lighter lists in the final pages, including Best Slam Dunks (contest variety) and Best Quotes. And of course, there are tremendous photos. Many rarely have been seen. Even the familiar ones pop in the 13 x 10.5-inch format.

Syken spoke with Hang Time HQ this week about the book. Here’s a Q&A edited from a longer conversation:

The culture is saturated with Top 10 lists and slideshows. Where does your book bring its value?

Bill Syken: I think there are three ways where this book offers value different from a typical slideshow: the expertise, the photos and the writing. It’s not one person – this was a panel of seven people who have great experience covering basketball. We polled them all and got their collective wisdom on these topics. We have pictures from the SI archives that are displayed in a big coffee-table format where … there’s a lot more to look at. And beyond the pictures, each Top-10 finisher gets a clip from a classic SI story. So you have writing from Frank Deford, Jack McCallum, Lee Jenkins and other interesting writers who might be known for other sports but dropped in on basketball once in a while.

Did you learn anything you didn’t know?

Syken: I’m a pretty big NBA fan but I learned some details, especially about some of the games, that were before my period of memory. About the ’57 Finals and the drama there. And some of other details – we have an excerpt from Frank Deford about when Moses Malone jumped from high school to the [ABA]. His meetings with [Maryland coach] Lefty Driesell and how that went. Or 20 years later, we have a story about Kevin Garnett’s tryout in front of all these scouts when he was considering making the jump to the NBA.  

Morning shootaround — Oct. 21


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Davis not worried about injury | Rondo may suit up for season-opener | Bosh: Money was deciding factor in free-agent choice | Pacers’ George puts up shots at practice

No. 1: Davis says not to worry about his injury — After Anthony Davis‘ tremendous showing in the 2014 FIBA World Cup and given his breakout season in 2013-14, many are expecting him to take that next leap in his development this season. Injuries, though, have always been a bugaboo for Davis throughout his career and when he hurt his right wrist in last night’s preseason game against the Washington Wizards, many New Orleans Pelicans followers were concerned. However, as Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune reports, Davis says his injury is nothing serious:

Although Davis was officially diagnosed with a sprained right wrist, he downplayed the injury after the Pelicans’ 88-84 victory Monday night against the Washington Wizards at Royal Farms Arena.

“It’s all good,” Davis said. “I went up for a lob and came down on it. I’m fine,” Davis said.

Davis said he injured his wrist while attempting to catch an alley-hoop pass and landed awkwardly on his hand.

Davis said if it had been a regular season game he would have played on after getting the wrist taped by trainers.

He even lobbied coach Monty Williams to return to action. But Williams said it wasn’t worth the risk after Davis already had scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots in 20:42 of what was – at the moment — a lopsided preseason game.

“I kept him out,” Williams said. “He wanted to get back in the game. (Athletic trainer) Duane (Brooks) taped him up. To me it’s not worth it. He had already played 20 minutes. I played him a ton in the first half. I just didn’t want to risk anything.

“He fell down and he felt like he twisted it or something like that. But I think he’ll be fine.”


VIDEO: Anthony Davis suffered a wrist injury in the third quarter of last night’s game

 

Opportunity knocks for Teague, Hawks


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew believes Jeff Teague and the Hawks are poised for big things this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Teague is a man of few words.

He chooses his wisely and knows that two sometimes do the job better than a few. But the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard isn’t shy about his team. Not after what the Hawks did last season, sliding into that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and then scaring the daylights out of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in an entertaining seven-game series that served as yet another showcase for Teague.

He’s one of the league’s best young point guards who never seems to find his way into that conversation. With top 10 rankings in several key statistical categories, you could make the case that Teague should be included in any conversations about the top current point guards in the Eastern Conference, at least.

Teague, however, is content to let his play speak for him and keep his focus on the opportunity that awaits the Hawks in a revamped Eastern Conference. With an All-Star in Paul Millsap and a returning All-Star in Al Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system as their frame, Teague says that team people enjoyed watching last season and during that playoff series against the Pacers is back and ready for more.

I caught up with Teague Monday and pressed him for more than a few words …

NBA.com:  The lasting image of this team for many people is what we saw of you against the Pacers in the playoffs. How is this team any different without any big offseason moves to speak of?

Jeff Teague: It’s definitely different right now because we have everybody healthy. So it’s definitely going to be a little different. Having Al back  and in there to be a rim protector changes things for us. We’re definitely going to be better defensively with Al back in the mix. And just getting more comfortable with the system and having Thabo [Sefolosha] and Kent [Bazemore], who are really active defenders, come over really makes us a different team, a better team. For the offensive part, we’re still going to be exciting.

NBA.com: Is that the biggest change you’ve experienced since you’ve been with the Hawks, going from the previous systems to the one Bud brought here?

Jeff Teague: I just think this is a fun way to play basketball. We enjoy playing with one another. And the fans, if you watch the game it’s enjoyable. You don’t have to see one guy take all the shots or dominate the ball and post it up and do that all night. There’s going to be a lot of movement in this system, a lot of ball movement and plenty of guys touching the ball. It’s a beautiful game when it’s played that way. And it’s enjoyable for everybody, the guys on the floor and the folks in the stands.  

Big minutes matter in rookie race


VIDEO: The Starters make their picks for Rookie of the Year

The cut line has been established: 30.5 minutes. No one has been voted Rookie of the Year the last 10 seasons averaging fewer per game, and Kyrie Irving cruising to victory over Ricky Rubio and Kenneth Faried in 2012 is more anomaly than anything. Winning with that comparatively light workload does not ordinarily happen.

Really, based on recent history, a first-year player will need to log closer to 35 or 36 minutes an outing to have the kind of role that sways voters, a trend that is relevant with no clear preseason choice for the award and some of the most NBA-ready prospects opening 2014-15 in reserve roles.

Julius Randle would be a much stronger candidate in other places, but not amid Lakers plans to rely heavily on Carlos Boozer to chase that elusive 30th victory. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott join a crowded and experienced group of forwards as the Bulls chase something other than the past. And in Boston, Marcus Smart would have better odds as opening night approaches if not for the likelihood he will spend a lot of time coming off the bench once Rajon Rondo returns from a hand injury, which could happen very early.

No one has won Rookie of the Year averaging less than 30 minutes since Mike Miller of the Magic at 29.1 in 2001, his easy victory over Kenyon Martin. In the previous 10 seasons, to be exact:

2013-14 — Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers, 34.5 minutes and 70 games.

2012-13 — Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers, 38.6 and 82.

2011-12 — Irving, Cavaliers, with 51 appearances in the 66-game, lockout-shortened schedule.

2010-11 — Blake Griffin, Clippers, 38 and 82.

2009-10 — Tyreke Evans, Kings, 37.2 and 72.

2008-09 — Derrick Rose, Bulls, 37 and 81.

2007-08 — Kevin Durant, SuperSonics, 34.6 and 80.

2006-07 — Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers, 35.4 and 57.

2005-06 — Chris Paul, Hornets, 36 and 78.

2004-05 — Emeka Okafor, Bobcats, 35.6 and 73.

Anyone hoping to crash the party from the bench this season is going to need a lot of big moments on a good team and probably even as a difference maker for a playoff club. Voters generally want numbers or a lead role, not a complementary spot for a winner (the 76ers were 19-63 last season, the Trail Blazers 33-49 as Lillard won, the Cavaliers 21-45 as Irving won. On and on. Rose is the only Rookie of the Year in the 10-year sample to play for a non-loser, with the Bulls at 41-41.)

The outlook will change with the depth charts, of course. Boozer averaged 28.2 minutes in Chicago’s last regular season and was down to 24.2 in the playoffs, so he’s not exactly an insurmountable obstacle for Randle. If the Lakers are taking on water and getting the 2013-14 Boozer, the ROY race could change, given projections that power forward Randle should be able to handle himself physically and score inside now.

The week before the new season opens, though, the same player that would have a stronger case on another team has a problem. And leading candidates Nerlens Noel and Jabari Parker have an advantage.

Conley wants All-Star, wants wins more

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Grant Hill are in Mike Conley’s corner

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – So yeah, Mike Conley, one of the truly Mr. Nice Guys in the NBA, wants to see his name in lights as a Western Conference All-Star.

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

“I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about making the All-Star team. That would be the ultimate honor,” Conley told NBA.com last week. “But I also understand the way things shake out, especially being in the West, there’s a lot of good guys out there. I’m going to put myself in position, that’s all I can do; just play well and do what’s best for the team first. If we win games, we as individuals get noticed, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Conley didn’t even get a sniff in fan voting last year, and West coaches again overlooked him as a backup. It didn’t matter that he was on his way to averaging a career-best 17.2 points; or continued to extend his range beyond the 3-point arc (he made 36.1 percent on a career-high 4.0 attempts); or committed to attacking the rack more (his 548 drives ranked 15th in the league and, for comparison’s sake, were more than All-Stars John Wall and James Harden); or that he rarely turned it over (his 8.6 turnovers per 100 possessions ranked third among point guards behind Chris Paul and Jose Calderon); or that he’s strong on defense; or that his leadership was key for a 50-win team that got off to a disturbingly sluggish start under a new coach and then lost center Marc Gasol for a good chunk of of the season.

The quiet Conley knows even his best might not be loud enough in a conference loaded with noise-makers. Think about it: Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook didn’t even play in last year’s All-Star Game because of injuries. Bryant is a virtual lock to be voted in by the fans and Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, is likely to regain his reserve spot, especially if he elevates his play with Kevin Durant out for the first month.

While Conley steers Memphis’ methodical, inside-out offense, he’s watched Stephen Curry zoom to superstardom — even beat out Paul as a starter last year — and cold-blooded youngster Damian Lillard make the All-Star team as a reserve in his second season in the league. Knocking on the door is a long list of hopefuls: Ty Lawson, Suns teammates Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, plus Ricky Rubio and Jrue Holiday, an East All-Star two years ago. Not to mention four-time champ Tony Parker.

And those are just the point guards.

“It’s fun to be in this era of basketball where there’s so many great players, so many great guards, especially in the West where I get to play against them four times a year,” Conley said. “Every night you have your hands full no matter who you’re playing. That goes across the board. Every night you’re playing against a top-notch guard or a top-notch-caliber player, so you have to have your mind right, be focused and be on your best game.”

Conley’s best bet to crash the Big Apple All-Star bash this season is, as he said, to get the Grizzlies off to a fast start and steal the headlines. He believes Memphis is positioned to do just that.

“We’re going to be a team that people are going to hate to face, and have a chance to be considered as one of the teams contending for a title,” said Conley, who is entering his eight season in the league. “Going into the end of [last] year we started finally playing our basketball. We fought our way back into the playoffs and feel like we’re still on the up-and-up from that last run that we had.”

All that seemed to be spinning out of the players’ control during a very strange start to the offseason. Young owner Robert Pera wiped out the front office that had wiped out former coach Lionel Hollins, and before that had wiped out newly reinstated general manager Chris Wallace. Coach Dave Joerger, who took over for Hollins last year, interviewed with Minnesota before agreeing to stay in Memphis, where he arrived as an assistant in 2007, two years before Hollins took over and began to turn the program around.

“It was a little weird right after being in the playoffs and the first month or so of the summertime was a bunch of uneasy, unsure feelings,” Conley said. “Not knowing what coach’s situation was, what management’s was, you just kind of had to sit back and let all that play out. Luckily, I think things worked out for the best for us, and I’m glad that’s behind us and we’re able to focus on going forward.”

Yes, there finally does appear to be a calm and optimism in Memphis. Zach Randolph, suspended for last year’s first-round Game 7 loss to Oklahoma City, received the extension he wanted. Vince Carter was signed to knock down 3-pointers and Quincy Pondexter, injured almost all of last season after starting to emerge in the 2013 postseason, is a key returnee around an ego-free core that’s come of age together.

“When Lionel was here, a lot of us were still young, still learning and still trying to improve in a lot of different areas,” Conley said. “Now with the help of Lionel grooming us, to now Joeger — we’re doing the same things — he’s got us in our prime and we’re playing great basketball.”

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 18

Pop fires back at Sarver | No scoring title for ‘Melo in triangle? | Thunder’s Adams rising | Lin-sane-ty this season in LA

No. 1: Pop fires back at Sarver — You didn’t really think Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was going to let Suns owner Robert Sarver get the last word, did you?  Sarver fired shots at the Spurs after Pop and most of his biggest stars no-showed for an exhibition game in Phoenix Thursday. Pop addressed Sarver and his words before the Spurs knocked off the Miami Heat at home Saturday. Dan McCarney of the Express News explains:

It’s the kind of question Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, on any other day, would greet with an exasperated smirk.

And he definitely did that Saturday at the AT&T Center when asked about Phoenix owner Robert Sarver grabbing the mic late in Thursday’s exhibition blowout to apologize for the lackluster game and offer credit to ticketed attendees after the Hall of Fame coach and five Spurs players missed the game. But Popovich also had plenty to say.

“As I said, the silliness begins,” he said. “Most wise individuals would check facts before they made statements. Unless you’re interested in putting on a show. In that case, the facts get in your way, as in this case.

“We had five guys we didn’t send. Patty Mills had a shoulder operation over the summer. Tiago Splitter (calf) has been out the whole preseason. Kawhi Leonard (eye infection) was out and is still out for 10 more days. The other two, Duncan and Ginobili, are two of the oldest guys in the league who just came back from a 13-day European trip.

“The only thing that surprises me is that he didn’t say it in a chicken suit. I’ll just leave it at that.”

***

No. 2: No scoring title for ‘Melo in triangle? — Even with Kevin Durant sidelined to start this season, Knicks scoring star Carmelo Anthony does not expect to run away with the NBA scoring title. Not in his first year in the triangle offense installed by new coach Derek Fisher. Like everyone else on the Knicks’ roster Anthony is just trying to get adjusted to the new system. And that means fewer shots and a tougher road to the scoring title than usual. Ian Begley of ESPN New York has more:

Carmelo Anthony doesn’t expect to win the NBA scoring title this season, his first in the triangle offense.

In fact, he suggested Saturday that he may score less and take fewer shots in the Knicks’ new offense.

“I don’t think I’ll be the scoring champ. Especially with this system, the way we’re playing — the way that it’s going to be well-balanced, the style of play we’re going to have, I don’t think I’ll have to lead the league in scoring this year,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ practice.

Anthony has established himself as one of the top scorers in the NBA over his 11 seasons in the league. He won the scoring title in 2012-13 by averaging 28.7 points per game, two-tenths fewer than his career high. Last season, he finished second to Kevin Durant.

Anthony has averaged 21.8 field goal attempts per game over the past two seasons. He suggested that number, along with his scoring, may dip this season thanks to the triangle offense, which the Knicks hope will produce quality shots for Anthony’s teammates.

“I think shots will be fewer,” Anthony said. “I think it will be more effective shots. So if that means taking fewer shots, then that’s what’s going to happen.

“But I really don’t know. We’ve been playing preseason; it’s still early. It’s not until you get in the flow of the game that you start knowing the minutes you’re going to play, knowing the group you’re going to be out there with most of the time. Until you find that rhythm, you’re not going to really understand.”

***

No. 3: Thunder’s Adams rising — The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t need a savior with Kevin Durant on the shelf to start the season. They do need someone to step up, though. And who better to fill that void than second-year big man Steven Adams? That’s right, the bruising Adams has found his offensive niche in the exhibition season and aims to keep it going as the regular season draws near. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

As the locker-room crowd thinned out following the Thunder’s recent preseason win in Dallas, Steven Adams tried to sneak by the media.

Adams is a great talker. His quirky style and dry humor play well in interview settings. So he’s never shy. But there’s one thing Adams doesn’t seem to enjoy — speaking about his own success.

But when you’re the breakout player of the preaseason — including a 19-point performance during that win in Dallas — that’ll be tough to avoid.

“Really, 19?” Adams sheepishly asked, stumbling back toward reporters. “Gotta be a misprint.”

Not a misprint. And not a fluke.

Adams returned to training camp this year a much-improved offensive player. He showed flashes last season — even scored 17 points on an Andre Drummond-led Detroit Pistons frontline in his fifth career game.

But NBA life was new, the speed was different and the minutes fluctuated. His production was inconsistent and limited.

“I think he’s just settling down,” Kevin Durant said. “Getting more comfortable.”

And though it’s only preseason, the difference has been clear.

In the opener, Adams scored 15 points in 21 minutes against Denver. Two nights later, he had that 19-point outing against the Mavs, doing the brunt of his work against former defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler. Then, in his highest-scoring performance to date, Adams had 22 points in 21 minutes against the Grizzlies.

“I thought he made a leap last year in the playoffs,” Russell Westbrook said. “I think that’s when the leap started. If you kind of watch the games and see the different things he was doing in the playoffs, you could tell it was going to lead into the summertime and now into the preseason and now to the regular season.”

Overall, Adams is averaging 15.2 points on 74 percent shooting (34-of-46) in five preseason games.

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No. 4: Lin-sanity? More like Lin-sane-ty this season in LA: — There won’t be a repeat of the craziness that was Linsanity in New York three years ago. Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin knows better.  That’s why he’s taking the sane approach to what could be his first and last season in a Lakers uniform. Again, there will not be a repeat of the hair-raising phenomenon that took place in New York, per Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:

That wild run in New York might as well have happened three decades, not three seasons, ago.

The Lakers guard now considers himself more Linteresting than Linsanity, in case you missed his online spoof of the debonair man in the popular beer commercial.

He’d rather be known as a hard worker than a flash-in-the-Big-Apple-pan who once had 38 points and seven assists against the Lakers in a frenzied, unbelievably overjoyed Madison Square Garden.

Lin was never arrogant — too much time in the Development League and too many appearances on the waiver wire took care of that — but the trek from Knicks star to Houston Rockets afterthought to a troubled Lakers team has reminded him of the importance of … let’s call it humility.

“Pretty much everything I expected or anticipated or hoped for didn’t happen,” Lin said.

The same could be said for the position he’s hoping to assume for the Lakers, a black hole for years.

They haven’t had a game-changing point guard since Derek Fisher, a turnstile that included Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake, and, of course, Steve Nash.

Lin will happily be a salve while looking for some personal salvation as well.

His savior status with the Knicks didn’t quite work out as expected when he left them as a free agent for more money in Houston. That didn’t end well either when he lost his starting job in year two to relative unknown Patrick Beverley.

All-Star shooting guard James Harden liked to play with the ball in his hands, leaving Lin as a spot-up shooter. Not his strength. Moving Lin to the second unit allowed him to assume his more natural point-guard role.

Also, quite simply, Houston liked Beverley’s defense better than Lin’s.

So the Rockets sent Lin to the Lakers in July as a salary dump, pure and simple. They were furiously trying to clear cap room to sign Chris Bosh and had to throw in their lottery-protected first-round pick next year to get the Lakers to bite on Lin’s $14.9-million salary this season.

A few days earlier, the Rockets added temporary insanity to insult in their attempt to woo free agent Carmelo Anthony, posting digitally enhanced images of him in a Houston jersey outside their arena. Anthony wore No. 7 in the images. That was Lin’s number.

“It was a time for me to go through some bumps and some hurdles and learn how to grow,” Lin said in retrospect. “When I first got there, I was supposed to be the guy and they were supposed to kind of hand the torch to me. And I ended up getting traded away basically for nothing. Actually, they had to give up a draft pick to convince someone else to take me. Pretty much given away for nothing. Definitely not how I envisioned it.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Trail Blazers have decisions to make in the frontcourt … It’s Groundhog Day in Sacramento for Ray McCallum … The time is now for Jazz big man Enes Kanter … Shabazz Napier and the Heat reserves carrying their weight in the exhibition season … The Bulls’ McDermott-Dunleavy quandary …

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 17

Griffin reaching breaking point | No longball for Lakers | Dwight for MVP? | Pistons and Celtics make deal

No. 1: Griffin reaching breaking point — Clippers forward Blake Griffin is one of the most athletic and high-flying players in the NBA. And as frequently as he drives hard to the rim, he just as often finds himself at the end of a lot of hard fouls. Thus far, Griffin has managed to take the physicality in stride, keeping a cool head time after time. But after another incident last night in a preseason game against the Utah Jazz, Griffin noted that his patience is reaching its breaking point. Dan Woike of the Orange County-Register has more

After the game, Griffin was asked if it was difficult to keep things from escalating.

“I was going to (take things further), and I thought, ‘It’s preseason. It’s not worth it. That’s not the person I’m going to waste it on,’” Griffin calmly said.

[Trevor] Booker was called for a flagrant 1 foul, and Griffin, Booker and Chris Paul were all called for technical fouls for their roles in the incident.

After the game, Paul didn’t hide his amazement at picking up a technical, as he said he was trying to play peacemaker.

“That was ridiculous,” he said. “…He gave me a tech. He said it was because I escalated the fight. You can fine me, do whatever. I know Trevor Booker. I’m trying to keep him away. Like, I know him personally. And they give me a tech. It’s preseason. Everyone’s trying to figure it out.”

Griffin admitted to trying to figure out what to do with the extra contact he takes. Following the Clippers win, Doc Rivers said he thought Griffin gets hit with more cheap shots than anyone in the league.

“I don’t think it’s close,” Rivers said.

Griffin, who has been often criticized for his reactions to hard fouls, realizes he’s in a bit of a Catch-22.

“On one hand, everyone tells me to do something. On the other hand, people tell me to not complain and just play ball,” Griffin said with a smile. “That happens. You’re not going to please everybody. I just have to do whatever I think is right and use my judgment.”

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No. 2: No longball for Lakers — Over the last decade, NBA teams have increasingly noted the importance of the 3-point shot, even designing offenses around the long-range shot. But just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean the Lakers under new coach Byron Scott will do the same. This is not only because the Lakers are currently coping with injuries to perimeter players such as Nick Young and Steve Nash, but it’s more of a philosophy Scott is embracing. Baxter Holmes of ESPN Los Angeles has more:

“You’ve got a lot of teams that just live and die by it,” Scott said after the team’s practice here Friday. “Teams, general managers, coaches, they kind of draft that way to try to space the floor as much as possible. But you have to have shooters like that; you also have to have guys that can penetrate and get to the basket, because that opens up the floor.”

But does Scott believe in that style?

“I don’t believe it wins championships,” he said. “(It) gets you to the playoffs.”

Seven of the last eight NBA champions led all playoff teams in 3-point attempts and makes.

And it’s not as though Scott isn’t familiar with the 3-point shot. During his second season with the Lakers as a player, he led the NBA in 3-point field-goal percentage in 1984-85 (43 percent) and was in the top-10 in that category in three other seasons. Scott also ranked sixth in the NBA in 3-point attempts (179) and ninth in makes (62) during the 1987-88 season.

But are the Lakers’ low 3-point attempts this preseason a reflection of injuries or of how the Lakers will really end up playing this coming season?

“I don’t think that’s an indication of what we’ll be when we’re fully healthy,” Scott said. “I think it will still be 12, 13, 14, 15 (attempts per game), somewhere in that area, when we’re fully healthy.”

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No. 3: Dwight for MVP? — With Kevin Durant out with a fractured foot, the MVP race doesn’t have a clear leader at the start of the season, at least if you’re eating at our Blogtable. But with all the names being tossed around, former MVP Hakeem Olajuwon says don’t forget about Houston big man Dwight Howard, who by all accounts is healthy and ready to return to the dominant style of play he showed in Orlando. Dwight himself says he’s never felt better. Our own Fran Blinebury has more

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

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No. 4: Pistons and Celtics make deal — Neither Detroit nor Boston are expected to contend for an Eastern Conference crown this season, but they found themselves able to do business together yesterday. The Pistons moved reserve point guard Will Bynum to Boston in exchange for reserve big man Joel Anthony. According to the Detroit Free Press, the trade clears room for recent draft pick Spencer Dinwiddie.

The first trade of the Stan Van Gundy era wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, but it does give insight into the Detroit Pistons’ thinking as the Oct. 27 deadline for roster finalization looms.

The Pistons today added frontcourt depth by acquiring NBA veteran Joel Anthony from the Boston Celtics in exchange for point guard Will Bynum.

The move signals that the team is comfortable with second-round draft pick Spencer Dinwiddie as the No. 3 point guard as he continues to rehab the left knee injury he suffered in January.

Dinwiddie is progressing nicely and recently took part in 5-on-5 drills for the first time. So Bynum, whose days were numbered when the organization hired Van Gundy as its president and coach, became expendable.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sixers organization is offering support for Joel Embiid, who’s younger brother was tragically killed in a vehicle accident in Cameroon … After undergoing “a minor outpatient surgical procedure,” Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders will miss the rest of the preseasonDeMarcus Cousins is dealing with achilles tendonitis … Glen “Big Baby” Davis is out indefinitely with a strained groin … Jason Kapono says if he doesn’t make the Warriors, he will “go back to chillin'” …