Could LeBron James be returning to USA Basketball?

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Two years ago, there were rumblings that LeBron James was finished with his USA Basketball career. As Yahoo’s Marc Spears wrote at the time, USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo didn’t “expect James to play next summer — and doesn’t plan to ask him.” After all, James was coming off a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and understandably probably needed a break.

But perhaps absence made the heart grow fonder? This morning on Sirius XM’s NBA Radio, Colangelo was asked about James future involvement in the USA Basketball program, and Colangelo sounded as though James might not be done with USA Basketball.

“Well, I think LeBron wants to be part of it,” said Colangelo. “You know, when you talk about LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo [Anthony], they were the four young players who were, what, 19 years old, 20 at the best, who were added to the roster when some people dropped out at the last minute. They weren’t quite ready for prime time, if you think back. They just weren’t, and it’s a little bit of a disservice in some ways, but the NBA was looking to promote young, up and coming stars, and I get that. That’s one of the reasons why I was asked to take over the program. I said, ‘Look, I’ll do it, but it has to be complete autonomy, no more committees, no more politics. I’ll pick the coaches, I’ll pick the players if I’m going to be responsible.’ That’s the only way you can really turn the program and make it successful. So, we deal with it as it comes.”

Even without James taking part last summer, USA Basketball won gold at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. Next month, USA Basketball will hold a minicamp in Las Vegas, and Colangelo has said players hoping to be part of the 2016 Summer Olympics team in Rio will have to participate in Vegas. Recent reports say Blake Griffin will return to the USA Basketball program and take part in Vegas, along with several new faces.

James has added two more Finals runs since the summer of 2013, logging major minutes. As a 19-year-old, James was a reserve for the bronze medal-winning USA Basketball team in Athens at the 2004 Olympics. He has since played a much larger role under coach Mike Krzyzewski on the 2008 and 2012 gold medal squads.

Blogtable: Early 2016 Rookie of Year pick

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: Biggest impact for Clippers? | Early Rookie of the Year pick? | Favorite Manu Ginobili moment?



VIDEO: Top rookie plays from Summer League 2015

> With all three Summer Leagues behind us, who is your gratuitously early pick for 2016 Rookie of the Year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Four times in NBA history, players from the same team have been named Rookie of the Year in consecutive seasons, and it’s about to happen again. Karl-Anthony Towns is no sleeper pick, obviously, but he impressed me enough in Las Vegas — and rightfully should get enough minutes and usage in Minnesota — to be my ROY favorite. By winning 12 months after fellow No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, the two Timberwolves would be the first tandem in 42 years to do it. Those who preceded them: Buffalo’s Ernie DiGregorio (1974) and Bob McAdoo (1973), Portland’s Sidney Wicks (1972) and Geoff Petrie (1971), Baltimore’s Wes Unseld (1969) and Earl Monroe (1968), and the Chicago Zephyrs/Packers’ Terry Dischinger (1963) and Walt Bellamy (1962). For the record, four of those guys became Hall of Famers, three others were All-Stars but only Unseld and Monroe made it as far as the Finals as teammates.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Jahlil Okafor. He’s got a low post game ready to score points, get rebounds and plays for a team that will need plenty of them.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Jahlil Okafor will get plenty of minutes, responsibility and touches in Philly, and because his game seems NBA-ready, it’s hard to pick against him. If I’m going off Summer League, my wild card would be Myles Turner, who showed a little something-something for the Pacers, and besides, there’s a big-man vacancy in Indy.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I would pick Jahlil Okafor, because the Sixers need any kind of offensive production they can get and he’ll get every chance to average 15-20 points per game. But I don’t like that he doesn’t have a competent point guard to get him the ball. So I’m going with Emmanuel Mudiay, who has been given the keys to the Denver offense with the trade of Ty Lawson. The Rookie of the Year generally comes down to raw stats, and the most likely guy to put up big numbers is the guy with the ball in his hands.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: So much of who ends up winning Rookie of the Year depends on the situation — playing time and the role a rookie is asked to play on his team being the most crucial components — that it’s sometimes much more difficult than it appears to simply select the “best” rookie. That said, I truly believe the table is set for Stanley Johnson to steal the award this season in Detroit, if the race is about more than just who puts up the best numbers as a rookie but also who makes the biggest impact on his team on both ends of the floor.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comAfter the draft I would have said D’Angelo Russell. But now I’m going with Jahlil Okafor, based on his ready-made skills in the post and the fact that the 76ers will be depending on him to score this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog: I watched several of the top rookies in Vegas and Orlando, and the guys who really jumped out at me were Frank Kaminsky, who quickly seemed to find his footing, at least on the offensive end, Karl-Anthony Towns, who can impact games immediately defensively, and Jahlil Okafor, who will get immediate playing time by virtue of being on the perpetually rebuilding 76ers. But to me, the player who has the best chance of being selected the Rookie of the Year is Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay. Not only do point guards historically have a leg up in the ROY race, as they have the ball more often than other players, but Denver also moved Ty Lawson, clearing the way for the Mudiay movement to begin in full.

Blogtable: Favorite Ginobili moment?

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: Biggest impact for Clippers? | Early Rookie of the Year pick? | Favorite Manu Ginobili moment?



VIDEO: Best of Manu Ginobili in 2014-15

> Four-time NBA champion Manu Ginobili turned 38 on Tuesday. In celebration, please recount for us your favorite Manu Ginobili moment.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: All the fakes, creative maneuvers and between-other-guys’-legs passes run together for me. Ginobili’s clutch performances and his various accomplishments (All-Star, Sixth Man) — totally from within a team concept — are too plentiful to pick one. The “bat” game stands out as an oddity — Ginobili smacking that flying rodent and requiring rabies shots back in 2009. But my most vivid memory, witnessed first-hand, was his performance in Game 5 of the 2013 Finals. Nearly 36, Ginobili’s obituary as a player was being written in real time after he averaged 5.7 points and shot 6-for-18 (1-for-11 on 3-pointers) in Games 2-4 against Miami, with the Spurs losing two of those three. So coach Gregg Popovich puts Ginobili in the starting lineup(!) and the Argentinian goes for 24 points (seven in a pivotal third-quarter run) and 10 rebounds at home for a 10-point victory and a 3-2 series lead. He’s been “undead” ever since.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: To realize the full impact Ginobili’s NBA success has had on his native Argentina, you had to be with him, as I was, on a Basketball Without Borders trip to Buenos Aires in July 2005.  It was shortly after he’d won his second NBA championship and was perhaps at the peak of his powers.  I accompanied a group of NBA players on an outreach trip to a hospital for the indigent in a very poor section of town. The presence of the stars created a buzz, but the arrival of the Ginobili quite literally touched off a near-riot. Patients leaped out of their beds to storm the hallways to try to get a glimpse. They bowed, they cried, they were overwhelmed. Some shouted, “Please touch and heal me!” Some grabbed and pulled at him. The crowds on every floor grew and surged in each hallway, blocking paths to the elevators, cutting off stairwells. Security had to eventually intervene and evacuate all of us through a rear exit from the hospital. I’ve never seen anything like it. Now, if you’re talking about on-court memories, I’ll go with the most recent: Game 5 of the 2014 Finals when Manu completed the redemption from the previous year’s playoff flameout with 19 points in the clincher over the Heat that included the where-did-that-come-from monster dunk on the head of Chris Bosh.


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili dunks on Chris Bosh in 2014 Finals

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll go off the NBA floor and say his 2004 Olympics tournament because of the historical significance. Manu dropped 29 on the Americans in the semifinals and led Argentina to the gold medal by averaging 19.3 points in the Games. Argentina became the first team other than the US to win Olympic gold in 16 years. By comparison, the Spurs with Manu won the NBA title what, every five years? 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are a lot of small moments, mostly assists (like this one) where he sees things that no one else does. But after how terribly he played in the 2013 Finals and knowing what kind of emotions he must have gone through after that series, his dunk in Game 5 of the 2014 Finals is my favorite Manu moment. It was the exclamation point for the most dominant Finals performance we’ve ever seen from a team, but also for an individual who looked like his career was on its last legs a year earlier.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I feel ancient knowing Manu is 38 and thinking back to my first time seeing him live and in living color. It was the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis when I got my first glimpse of Manu after hearing so much about him prior to that event. It was actually before he suited up for the Spurs (Manu was Drafted in 1999 but his rookie season in the NBA was 2002-03), but he was the star of stars on Argentina’s team that played its way to the championship, losing to Yugoslavia in the gold medal game. Manu was as advertised, a swashbuckling and athletic shooting guard who could do it all. It was jaw-dropping, watching him play on the edge and at that breakneck pace all the time. He made the All-Tournament Team, joining Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Peja Stojakovic and Pero Cameron. Before seeing Manu live, I was not sure exactly what kind of player he’d be in the NBA. But after watching him closely throughout the course of that tournament, I was convinced he was going to be a superstar. 

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I have two. The first was seeing him at the 2002 Euro Final Four in his home gym in Bologna a few months before he joined the Spurs: He was playing the same leadership role that he would establish in San Antonio, and yet there was no big timing to him. He was a humble star even then, as a big fish in the small pond. The other was during a regular season game in Boston last season which the Spurs were winning handily. Ginobili missed a 3 at the third-quarter buzzer and reacted as if a playoff game had been lost. After all of these years it was amazing to see him caring so much about such an inconsequential play. But that’s also why he has been so important.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog: I’m not sure I have a single Ginobili moment. Maybe when he swatted that bat that time on opening night? When he dunked on Yao Ming? One thing I think about whenever I think of Ginobili — or GINOBILI! — is how he always seems to be going diagonally while everyone else is going up and down or side to side. I don’t know how Ginobili figured this out — is he a master of geometry? — but somehow it works, and it works every time.

Blogtable: Biggest impact for Clippers?

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: Biggest impact for Clippers? | Early Rookie of the Year pick? | Favorite Manu Ginobili moment?



VIDEO: Clippers introduce slew of new free agents

> Paul Pierce, Josh Smith or Lance Stephenson? Who will have the biggest impact on the Clippers next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson, because he has the most to prove. I’m an admirer of Paul Pierce, but enough already with the “He’ll show them how to win” claims — the Clippers’ main guys shouldn’t need those lessons or a motivational coach at this point. Josh Smith sounds like he’s bummed that his semi-redemptive stay in Houston didn’t pay off bigger and might start rationalizing his downward career arc. That leaves Stephenson, who is hitting his prime and desperately needs to put last year’s Charlotte embarrassment behind him. If Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Pierce have the patience, and Stephenson finds the dedication, there’s remarkable talent there in need of focusing and tapping.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: For the Clippers’ sake, they’d better hope it’s Paul Pierce. Intelligence, veteran leadership, postseason success and clutch play are all things that could help take the Clippers to the next level. The kind of impact they could get from Josh Smith or Lance Stephenson might sound like a pumpkin dropped off a roof.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: From a psychological standpoint I’ll go with Pierce, if only because he has “it” and as we know to this point, the Clippers don’t (Raptors joke there). That said, Stephenson is better equipped to give better on-court production provided he’s the Indiana Lance and not the Charlotte Lance. Or rather, Lance-A-Lot instead of Lance-A-Little.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Stephenson could have the biggest negative impact if he shoots as poorly as he did last season in Charlotte and becomes a locker room distraction like he was two years ago in Indiana. But though he’s also a poor shooter, Smith could help the Clippers where they need it most: on defense. The Clips had the No. 1 offense in the league last year, but ranked 15th defensively. And the defense was at its worst with reserves on the floor. So if Smith can help shore it up in key moments, that could go a long way in helping the Clips contend for a top seed in the West, while keeping the starters fresh.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: While I believe both Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson will average more minutes than Paul Pierce, I don’t think there is any doubt that Pierce will have the biggest impact on the Clippers next season. His leadership skills and the things that he brings to a team, both tangible and intangible, far outweigh whatever the other two guys will bring to the situation. Just look at the tone he set in the locker room in Washington if you need proof. Pierce is the ultimate competitor and still has enough left in the tank to serve as a crunch-time assassin. He’s fearless, even in the twilight of his career. And with a three-year deal, he knows he’s in this for the duration and not just a one-year rental. His impact could be the difference between a Clippers team that falters in the conference semifinals and one that finally breaks through to the next level.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going with Stephenson, for three reasons — No.1: He should be more coachable than ever, coming off his terrible season with Charlotte; No. 2: He’ll be playing for a coach in Doc Rivers who should be able to reach him; and No. 3: He’ll be filling a huge need for a contender that needs help off the bench. (All of that applies to the regular season, of course; if we’re talking about the playoffs, then Pierce should be the big difference-maker, based on his ability to turn losses into wins instantly.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All-Ball BlogThe most interesting thing to me is that each player can have an impact in different ways. We know Paul Pierce can still make big shots, but at this point in his career I’m not sure he can or will log enough minutes to have a regular impact on games. Which Lance Stephenson did the Clippers get? Stephenson could make a impact defensively, but his 3-point shooting last year was below average, and playing alongside Chris Paul would seem to lessen the need for Stephenson to have the ball in his hands at the end of games. Which leaves us with Josh Smith, who actually played a big part in knocking the Clippers out of the postseason a few months ago. Smith is versatile enough to play many different positions, and I think he should benefit greatly from playing alongside Paul, who will put him positions where he can be successful. So I’ll go with Smith.

Morning Shootaround — July 29


VIDEO: Grizzlies ‘ecstatic’ to have Barnes in Memphis

NEWS OF THE MORNING

New Bucks arena bill passes in Wisconsin | Grizzlies feel Barnes is perfect fit | Orlando’s Gordon working on game

No. 1: New Bucks arena bill passes in Wisconsin New ownership took over the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, and they began making over the franchise, changing personnel, uniforms, and beginning a campaign to get some public funding for a new arena. After a few months of public posturing and conversation with local and state lawmakers, the state assembly passed a bill yesterday that seems to guarantee the Bucks future in Milwaukee

Almost seven months after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed public money for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena, the Assembly Tuesday returned a $250 million bill to him, completing the last of the legislative challenges the presidential candidate laid out this year.

The Assembly approved the bill on a bipartisan vote of 52-34, leaving a healthy margin to spare because of absent lawmakers. The measure passed the Senate 21-10 on a bipartisan vote on July 15 and so it now goes to Walker.

While campaigning at two South Philadelphia cheesesteak joints, the governor said he would sign the much-revised measure, calling it a good deal for Wisconsin.

“It’s critical not only for those who love sports, but the main reason I got into it was because it protected state revenues,” Walker said, citing the income taxes Wisconsin would lose if the team leaves the state. “That just creates a big hole for everything else. … This was really about protecting the taxpayers of the state.”

Next up for the team is working out a land sale with Milwaukee County and getting approval for the arena from the Milwaukee Common Council. Speaking at the Capitol after the Assembly vote, Bucks head coach Jason Kidd and team president Peter Feigin praised the deal and said the remaining pieces could be assembled in time for construction to start in the fall.

“I’m not overly confident, but I’m confident,” Feigin said of reaching the land deal and getting city approval.

After months in which the measure struggled to gain support, the Assembly debate was anticlimactic, lasting about an hour and including not even a single floor speech by an opponent. In the end, 35 Republicans and 17 Democrats voted for the measure.

Two lawmakers from the greater Milwaukee area, Democrat Daniel Riemer of Milwaukee and Republican Adam Neylon of Pewaukee, missed the vote Tuesday while they were in Turkey as part of a cultural exchange for legislators but said they would have both voted against it. Regardless of party, most lawmakers from in and around the city voted for the proposal, except Democrats David Bowen and Jonathan Brostoff of Milwaukee and Republicans Chris Kapenga of Delafield and David Craig of Big Bend.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) kicked off the final debate by thanking both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and stressing that he believed that state taxpayers would get a good return on their share of the total subsidy package. Doing nothing would leave the city and state with a “black eye” and the loss of a promising team, he said.

“It is cheaper for us to pass this bill than defeat it and let the team leave,” Vos said.

***

No. 2: Grizzlies feel Barnes is perfect fit After a few years of playoff runs but not being able to get past the Conference finals, the Memphis Grizzlies have made moves to strengthen their bench this season. And perhaps the most important addition to the Grizzlies may be forward Matt Barnes, who the Grizz feel is a perfect match for their grit and grind mentality…

“This is a whole – not just team but city – with my ideal, a grind mentality,” Barnes said Tuesday. “I’ve been on teams that run-and-gun and dunk and shoot a lot of 3’s, but I’ve never been on a team that everyone has the same mindset I do. That’s very exciting from a player’s standpoint.”

The Grizzlies acquired Barnes, 35, from the Charlotte Hornets last month in exchange for guard Luke Ridnour.

Charlotte had picked up Barnes along with center Spencer Hawes less than two weeks earlier in a trade that sent guard Lance Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers. Barnes averaged 10.1 points, 4 rebounds and 1.5 assists while playing a career-high 29.9 minutes per game with the Clippers last season.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said the 35-year-old Barnes “wears his heart on his sleeve,” an approach that could make the 6-foot-7 forward an ideal fit for a franchise that relies on hustle and defense.

“If there’s any player that was destined to be a Grizzly, it’s Matt Barnes,” Wallace said. “He’s a guy that we had our dustups with when he was on the other side of the fence – particularly the Clippers – but now he’s one of us and we’re ecstatic to have him.”

The Grizzlies actually drafted Barnes in the second round in 2002, but they immediately traded him to Cleveland in a draft-night deal. Barnes has been moving around ever since. He’s played for both Los Angeles franchises as well as Sacramento, New York, Philadelphia, Golden State, Phoenix and Orlando.

This latest move has his twin sons somewhat confused.

“They’re just like, ‘Daddy, so do you not like DeAndre (Jordan), Chris (Paul) and Blake (Griffin) anymore?’ ” Barnes said. “I’m like, ‘No, they’re still my friends. They’re the enemy when the ball goes up.’ I’m a competitor. I have friends on the other team obviously, but for 48 minutes my only friends are my teammates.”

Barnes irritates opponents with his tenacious defense and fiery personality. The Grizzlies already have one of the league’s top defenders in guard Tony Allen. Having both could make the Grizzlies even peskier.

“The best compliment you can give somebody is that you just don’t like playing against him,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “Matt’s a guy we just did not like playing against. … We want those kinds of guys on our team.”

***

No. 3: Orlando’s Gordon working on game The Orlando Magic entered a rebuilding campaign a few years ago and have amassed quite a collection of young talent, from Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo to Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. Another player showing promise is Aaron Gordon, who followed his rookie season with a big Summer League performance, and is still looking to improve, writes NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury

His rookie season became a virtual washout almost from the moment last November when Gordon fractured a bone in his left foot and missed two months. Despite the first double-double of his career in April, there was plenty of work to be done.

But it was a different, a more comfortable, a more confident Gordon who took the floor for the Magic at the Orlando Summer League and began to show why he was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Gordon beat defenders off the dribble and finished with power dunks. He pulled up off the dribble and stroked jumpers like they were his calling card. He even nailed 3-pointers.

Put all those newfound skills together with the 6-foot-9, 230-pound body, explosive leaping ability and assorted athletic moves and Gordon is a candidate to make big strides next season.

“Last year there was a lot of being uncomfortable,” Gordon said. “This year I’m a lot more comfortable. So it’s easy for me.”

The transformation was only “easy” because Gordon has logged countless hours of hard work inside the Magic practice gym at Amway Center and on the West Coast near his home in San Jose, Calif.

“A lot of people don’t see the work that Aaron puts in,” said Mario Elie, one of the new members of Scott Skiles‘ Orlando coaching staff. “When I first came here in June, he’s in the gym working on his shot. I’m in the office all day. He’ll go home and come back to work on his game again and I’m not surprised he was one of the top scorers in the Summer League.

“He’s a young player who wants to be great. He has the right frame of mind, the right attitude,” Elie said. “He’s like a sponge. You tell him to do something, he goes out and does it. He can be a great leader for this young ball club. At 19 years old? This guy It’s fantastic to see.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James answered questions from fans on Twitter … Festus Ezeli moved from Africa to California to become a doctor. Instead he became an NBA champCraig Hodges has been let go as coach of the Knicks’ D-League team … Damien Wilkins is hoping to build off of his experience with the Pan-Am team …

This Baker’s a barista: former NBA star thrilled about his fresh, sober start


There is no way to sugar-coat the theme of the Providence Journals story: It is about a fall from grace, or at least from a fall from the heights of professional sports success to one of those humdrum lives of quiet desperation the poets bemoan.

Vin Baker: NBA All-Star to Starbucks barista.

Baker played 13 seasons in the league, in fact, and participated in four All-Star Games. The 6-foot-11 product of Hartford averaged 15.0 points and 7.4 rebounds, enjoying his best seasons with Milwaukee (four) and Seattle (five). His career got derailed by alcoholism, leading to a quick churning through four teams (Boston, New York, Houston, L.A. Clippers) in his final four seasons.

He was out of the league at age 34, and apparently has lost much of his career earnings – nearly $100 million, according to basketball-reference.com estimates – through bad investments and regrettable decisions. Now he’s behind a counter in Kingstown, R.I., on Starbucks’ management track (with some time away at Bucks coach Jason Kidd‘s invitation to assist with that team during the Las Vegas Summer League).

Baker’s tale, as told by the Journal’s Kevin McNamara, includes details of his spiral out of the NBA and advice to the many, newly minted multimillionaires for ways not to follow in his sneaker steps. Here is a taste of the excellent, yet in its way all too familiar, story:

Now 43, newly married and with four children, Baker is training to manage a Starbucks franchise. He thanks CEO Howard Shultz, the former Seattle SuperSonics owner, with this opportunity. He’s also a trained minister who savors work at his father’s church in Connecticut. Most important, he has been sober for more than four years.

“In this company there are opportunities for everyone. I have an excellent situation here at Starbucks and the people are wonderful,” Baker says.

Hoop fans might shake their heads and view Baker’s life as a tragic, unfortunate fall from grace. Baker doesn’t see it that way. At all. He says his story is one of redemption, of conquering demons and searching for success in this next phase of life.

“When you learn lessons in life, no matter what level you’re at financially, the important part to realize is it could happen,” he said. “I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like ‘Wow.’ ”

Like all recovering alcoholics, Baker says every day is both a challenge and a blessing. He now clearly has the perspective of a middle-aged man, not a fresh-faced, 22-year old newly minted millionaire who’s the life of the party. He just wants a chance to keep bouncing back.

“For me this could have ended most likely in jail or death. That’s how these stories usually end,” he says. “For me to summon the strength to walk out here and get excited about retail management at Starbucks and try to provide for my family, I feel that’s more heroic than being 6-11 with a fadeaway jump shot. I get energy from waking up in the morning and, first of all, not depending on alcohol, and not being embarrassed or ashamed to know I have a family to take care of. The show’s got to go on.”

Morning shootaround — July 28


VIDEO: David Lee talks about joining the Celtics

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A.D. OK with Pelicans’ flight path | Kentucky’s NBA influence pervasive | Did Jackson’s miscalculations cost Knicks? | So many jersey numbers, so few available

No. 1: A.D. OK with Pelicans’ flight path — Keeping your superstar happy is job No. 1 for any NBA general manager or head coach who aspires to job security and the latitude to purchase green bananas. So based on some comments Monday by New Orleans tent-pole guy Anthony Davis, GM Dell Demps and new bench boss Alvin Gentry are free to unpack and stay awhile. Davis, on a conference-call interview, talked to The Associated Press and others about his $145 million contract extension and the special relationship he had with the terminated (and relocated-to-OKC-staff) Monty Williams. But he apparently sounded just as enthused about the Pelicans’ new direction with Gentry:

Now Davis is eager to see how Gentry’s coaching philosophy will mesh with the Pelicans’ talent. Davis was a high-schooler when Gentry coached the Phoenix Suns to the 2010 Western Conference finals with a fast-paced, high-scoring offense featuring guard Steve Nash and power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. The Pelicans power forward remembers that squad fondly and also has been impressed by the influence Gentry, as a top offensive assistant, has had more recently on recent Western Conference contenders such as the Los Angeles Clippers and defending champion Golden State Warriors.

“I definitely love his playing style,” Davis said. “My teammates, they have a lot of confidence in Coach Gentry. I think that’s why everybody’s coming back.

“In order for us to be that contender that we want to be, we have to have a lot of chemistry, which we have from the past few years,” Davis added. “So it’s good that everybody’s going to come back and we’re going to be able to have that chemistry ready for Coach’s new system.”

Last season, the Pelicans qualified for the playoffs for the first time in Davis’ three years as a pro and lost to the Warriors in a sweep. But Gentry told Davis that he was nonetheless impressed with the Pelicans’ talent and had a plan to get the most out it.

“He stated several times he loved our team and was going to try to get everybody back,” Davis said. “That’s the first thing that he said, and I couldn’t agree more.”

It also meant a lot to Davis to see Gentry look into a TV camera during the Warriors’ locker-room celebration immediately after Golden State had won the title, saying, “AD, we’re going to be right back here!”

“That’s the biggest thing that really got me excited because he wasn’t just saying that to say it. He really believes that,” Davis said.

***

No. 2: Kentucky’s NBA influence pervasive — Excellence in college basketball doesn’t always translate to the professional ranks, particularly on a case-by-case basis. But in the aggregate, the “Kareem” generally rises to the top — that’s why UCLA, for example, and its John Wooden-produced players held sway for many NBA seasons, in terms of impact on the league. Other powerhouses of the NCAA game — North Carolina, Duke, Indiana — have had enviable influence as well. But according to ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle, no college program ever has asserted itself at the next level — in both quantity and quality — the way the University of Kentucky is and will, based on his projections of the near-term. Here are some pertinent excerpts of what Doolittle refers to as “historical stuff:”

…Beginning in the 1969-70 season — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s rookie year — Wooden’s players rose to the top of the NBA win shares list. Thanks to Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas had topped the list for much of the 1960s, though it was actually Indiana that held the No. 1 spot the year before UCLA took over. The Bruins proceeded to dominate the rankings for the next decade and a half, finishing No. 1 in every season through 1983-84. UCLA was then brushed aside by a long period of Michael Jordan/North Carolina dominance. Since then, the top slot has changed hands a number of times, with familiar blue-blood programs like UNC, UCLA and Duke usually winning out, but other programs like UConn, Georgetown and even Georgia Tech have taken a turn or two.

…The Bruins’ high-water mark was 71.3 win shares for the 1976-77 NBA season. UNC was No. 2 — at 28.6. Former Bruin Bill Walton led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA crown that season, and Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s best player. Jamaal Wilkes, Swen Nater and Sidney Wicks were other ex-Bruins producing at the time. Those 71.3 win shares stand as the record for one school in one season.

For now, anyway. Kentucky is coming on fast. Already, its totals for the past two seasons rank among the top 11 in league history.

That is indeed impressive, yet not as impressive as what might happen this season. To jump all this historical chatter back into the present, let me remind you of the obvious: [Coach John] Calipari most likely will have another seven rookies in the league this season. That could give Kentucky as many as 25 players in the NBA for 2015-16, though not all of them played for Calipari. …

The sheer number of players is impressive, but not as much as the quality. We mentioned [Karl-Anthony] Towns and [Anthony] Davis as possible award winners. Yet John Wall, [Eric] Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins could all join Davis in the top 15-20 on the win shares board. And WARP, too, for that matter. In fact, I did some rough translations of my WARP projections into win shares. That’s where the story gets really interesting.

The 25 former Kentucky players I’ve flagged as “active” collectively project to put up 90.3 win shares this season. Let me re-state that for emphasis, like I’m writing a big check: 90.3!

***

No. 3: Did Jackson’s miscalculations cost Knicks? — Five months can be an eternity, when something moves as quickly as the NBA economy. So perhaps one shouldn’t judge New York Knicks president Phil Jackson too harshly that some of the assumptions he held about his team and the league in February had changed significantly by July. But according to the New York Daily News, playing off interviews Jackson did with longtime friend Charley Rosen back in February, the Knicks boss was conservative in his estimates of the new salary cap and the skyrocketing contract numbers, up to and including Memphis free-agent center Marc Gasol. The report includes Jackson’s thoughts at the time, too, on Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, on the deal he did make sending J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland and on the city and state taxes that impact New York as a free-agent destination:

Specifically, Jackson told a friend in February that he was wary of giving Memphis’ Marc Gasol a contract with a starting salary of $18 million. Jackson later signed [Robin] Lopez to a four-year deal with an average salary of $13.5 million.

“It’s tricky. The question is who to offer the big money to?” Jackson said in the latest installment of his in-season interviews with his pal Charley Rosen, which was published Monday by ESPN. “A guy who’s an established player or someone who has sky-high potential? Also, there are, and always have been, really good players who are not winners − guys like Joe Barry Carroll, Glenn Robinson and many more whom I don’t care to name.

“And then there’s someone like Marc Gasol, who’s certainly a winner and would have to be paid somewhere around $18 million, a number that would severely limit what we could offer other players. We’d wind up with starters only getting about $5 million.”

It’s clear by that statement Jackson underestimated the rise in the salary cap, which jumped 11% to $70 million. As a result, the Knicks had more money to play with in free agency and Gasol signed a deal with the Grizzlies larger than Jackson’s estimate.

Gasol, a First Team All-NBA selection and former Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Grizzlies last season. Lopez, who lost to Gasol in the playoffs, averaged 9.6 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.

Jackson handed out contracts over the summer worth a combined $96 million to Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn. The only max-contract candidate who seriously considered the Knicks was Greg Monroe, who instead signed with Milwaukee.

***

No. 4: So many jersey numbers, so few available — Some sociology major might be able to use the Boston Celtics’ jersey-number dilemma as a metaphor for a looming issue in the U.S. workplace: What happens when you’ve got more retirees than active workers? Or something like that. That seems to be a problem for the Celtics, who have retired the numbers of so many great individuals that the franchise is running short of options — at least in terms of traditional, basketball-familiar numbers — for its current and future players. The team’s introduction of some offseason signees had a couple sporting numbers seemingly more fit for the New England Patriots.

It’s a function of the Celtics’ excellence and their zeal in maintaining a tradition that soon might crowd on-court performers over the next century into triple digits. Here’s a synopsis as provided by the FriendlyBounce.com site:

Moving to the middle of the photo, we see Amir Johnson holding the No. 90 jersey. Johnson most recently wore No. 15 with the Raptors, and reportedly wanted the No. 5 shirt with Boston. Johnson had this (via NESN) to say about his number choice:

“Every number 1 through 34 is basically retired,” Johnson said. “My first initial number, I picked No. 5, but I know there was going to kind of be some controversy with that because Kevin Garnett won a championship. So I knew that was pretty much out of the water. My number (15), of course, was retired. And I recently posted a picture on my social network, I don’t know if you guys checked it out, it was a team back in the ’90s — like ’97, ’96 — I played for my first organized basketball team, which was the Burbank Celtics. It was a Celtics team. So I just kind of just put that together. The ’90s were good. I was born in ’87, but the ’90s were good.”

“I was born in ’87, but the ’90s were good” is an awesome sentence. Also, based on this list compiled by the great Basketball Reference, the best player in NBA history to ever wear the #90 is Drew Gooden. So it’s unique, at least!

Further left, [David] Lee chose the No. 42 he originally sported during his days with the Knicks. Nothing to see here.

And, finally, we have Perry Jones III donning that ever-so-rare No. 38. Jones wore the No. 3 shirt in OKC. Of course, Boston’s No. 3 is and forever will be that of the late, great Dennis Johnson. In case you were wondering, that same B-R list names Viktor Khryapa, Ron Knight and Kwame Brown as the best No. 38-wearers the league has ever seen. We’ve hardly even seen PJ3 play meaningful NBA minutes, yet already I feel fairly comfortable saying he’s probably better than all three of those guys.

In all, the Celtics have retired the following numbers already: 00, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 32, 33 and 35. No. 34 will surely be added to that list whenever Paul Pierce decides to hang ’em up.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Iceman shows he ain’t ready to go-eth quite yet … Roy Hibbert had some pointed things to say in an interview with our David Aldridge, including thoughts on Frank Vogel as a non-NBA-playing head coach … Would Mike Miller make sense back in Miami, even though his benefactor LeBron James is gone? … The late Manute Bol‘s son is developing some nice skills, something that pleased former NBA player-turned-broadcaster Eddie Johnson … Who do you consider the best undrafted players in league history? The HoopsHype.com crew ranks its top 30 (hint: Brad Miller is high on the list) …

Dellavedova accepts Cavaliers’ qualifying offer


VIDEO: Matthew Dellavedova had a special night in Game 3 of The Finals

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Matthew Dellavedova experience will continue for at least one more season in Cleveland. The backup point guard accepted the Cavaliers’ one-year qualifying offer of $1.2 million, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin.

Pressed into a starting role during The Finals, when Kyrie Irving was lost to injury after Game 1, Dellavedova had his shining moments on the biggest stage alongside LeBron James. Dellavedova’s individual matchup with KIA MVP Steph Curry became one of the central storylines during The Finals.

A restricted free agent, Dellavedova, will head to training camp with the Cavaliers as Irving’s primary backup but also in a rotation that could include veteran free agent guard Mo Williams. Dellavedova will become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

 

Heat continue to shed salary, trade Zoran Dragic to Celtics


VIDEO: Zoran Dragic shows off his handle during Summer League action for the Miami Heat

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Miami Heat’s summer roster clean up continues with yet another trade, this time it is sending Zoran Dragic to the Boston Celtics in exchange for a heavily protected second-round Draft pick. This latest move comes a day after the news broke that they had agreed to trade Shabazz Napier to Orlando for another heavily protected second-round Draft pick.

Both deals will save the Heat some serious cash, more than $11 million in both salary and luxury tax penalties. The Heat also sent a 2020 second-round Draft pick and cash considerations to the Celtics in the Dragic deal.

Shaving salary usually comes at a price. But the Heat have carefully crafted a roster for the 2015-16 season that could land them in a prime position to rise up the ranks in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, provided their biggest stars are healthy for the start of this season.

Dragic’s brother Goran Dragic signed a five-year $85 million free agent deal this summer, solidifying a core group that is anchored by veteran stars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng.  The gap between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the rest of the pack in the Eastern Conference could be substantial, based on how the Cavaliers finished the season and the moves made by the Cavs and the rest of the field this summer in free agency.

 

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reluctant Popovich is a “lifer” | Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal | Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans | Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire

No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:

Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.

His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.

Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.

“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.

What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?

The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.

Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.

But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?

This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.

He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:

“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”

He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.

Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.

“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.

But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:

“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”

This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.

***

No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:

The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.

Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.

Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.

A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.

Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.

He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.

I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.

Times have changed.

***

No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:

It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.

According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.

His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.

“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”

Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.

“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”

***

No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:

Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”

Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.

Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition gameDennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …