Clippers keep positive emotions flowing


VIDEO: Brent Barry interviews Steve Ballmer and Doc Rivers

Steve Ballmer didn’t need to do anything other than have a pulse. Show up, avoid verbally tripping over himself, maybe begin negotiations on the next set of fan rankings, since Shelly Sterling is obviously No. 1 because of her decades of spending all that money on a tight income to buy tickets without personal gain, and also because it says so in the sales agreement.

Seriously, Ballmer being the Clippers owner is enough — it means Donald Sterling is not. Game over. The Clips win the offseason. Ballmer’s a hero.

And then it came time to actually do something.

When the team held a fan fest at Staples Center shortly after the $2-billion deal became official, Ballmer showed he had more energy than money, a burst of fist pumps, high fives and chest bumps. Music played. Promises were made about the organization’s relentless approach to winning. The crowd that would have loved him anyway, because of who he wasn’t, appeared to connect with the new boss even more.

Wednesday was another of those moments. Doc Rivers got a new contract as coach and head of basketball operations, the team announced. About three months ago, he was having to consider leaving, wanting to be with the organization in a city he loves but not at the cost of working for someone who had just spouted such racist comments. And now, Rivers signed a package reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! worth $50 million over five years.

Fist pump.

High five.

Chest bump.

Ballmer is the owner, but Rivers is the leader. That was the case anyway behind the scenes, a role Doc grabbed almost immediately after joining the Clippers and moving to marginalize Sterling on basketball matters, even if it meant publicly calling out the boss. (Sterling could have fired him the first week of the season, for all Rivers cared. Rivers knew he would get another lucrative offer before long, and even if he didn’t, anything was better than living with Sterling’s destructive intrusions.) But once Sterling’s hate became public and the first round against the Warriors stopped being just about the first round against the Warriors, Rivers’ navigation of an impossible situation became the public platform of his value.

Rivers had two more years on the deal he signed after being traded, at his request, from the Celtics, championship credentials in tow. Ballmer could have wanted to settle in, get a feel for the operation before making any major decisions that didn’t need making in August, maybe even wait the entire 2014-15 to see if Rivers can deliver more than a trip to the second round. Instead, the new contract ends the issue of the coach/president and his future in a move for stability.

It is why the new deal can be so expected and so celebrated.

“This is an important day for this organization,” Ballmer said in the statement announcing the move. “I am excited to work with Doc for a long time as we build a championship culture that will deliver results both on and off the court. Not only is Doc one of the best coaches and executives in the game, but he continually embodies the hard core, committed and resilient character and winning culture that the Clippers represent. It was one of my top priorities to ensure that he was firmly in place as the long-term leader of this team.”

Pep rallies on the home court in the dead of the offseason to energize fans don’t mean anything on the court, championships are not determined based on the heat an owner brings, and promises about driving hard to win titles is typical campaign promise. The events ordinarily mean nothing. The difference this time is that it’s the Clippers post-Sterling, after fans and the organization alike had endured so much even when the topics did not splash across CNN. So, yeah, they absolutely mean something.

A fan fest, all but accompanied by “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” playing on a loop, and a predictable contract should be feel-good moments after everything the organization has been through. Steve Ballmer has shown up, and he has more than a pulse.

USA starters dominant in exhibitions


VIDEO: GameTime: USAB’s Strengths and Weaknesses

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After his team’s 101-71 victory in its final exhibition on Tuesday, U.S. National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said that they were ready for the first game of World Cup pool play, but not for the medal rounds.

One thing that looks set is Krzyzewski’s starting lineup. He has said that he could alternate starts for Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose, but it’s safe to believe that the other four positions will remain constant.

Why mess with a good thing?

After its first week of training in Las Vegas, the U.S. lost Paul George and Kevin Durant, its two starting forwards. That certainly set the team back in some ways, but it’s hard to believe that a starting lineup with George and Durant could have done better than the one that played the USA’s four exhibition games.

In a little less than 38 minutes with either Irving or Rose at point guard and the other four starters — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis — on the floor, the U.S. has more than doubled up on its opponents, outscoring them 106-49.

With Irving starting, there were 16-6 and 16-3 stretches to start each half against the Dominican Republic last Wednesday. And there were 10-0 and 15-4 stretches to start the second and third quarters against Slovenia on Tuesday.

That helped Irving build a plus-103 mark — best on the team — in less than 82 minutes of playing time. Faried wasn’t far behind (plus-97) in less than 70 minutes of action. That’s equivalent to a 56-point win in a 40-minute game.

USA on-court pace and efficiency, exhibition games

Player GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
James Harden 4 98.2 82.0 129.9 89.9 +40.0 +86
Klay Thompson 4 86.0 81.2 127.6 101.1 +26.4 +45
Kyrie Irving 4 81.6 80.8 134.3 73.2 +61.2 +103
Anthony Davis 4 80.5 81.8 137.1 82.1 +55.0 +96
Stephen Curry 4 71.2 79.5 134.7 78.4 +56.3 +85
Kenneth Faried 4 69.4 82.4 136.8 70.4 +66.4 +97
Rudy Gay 4 59.1 80.6 116.0 116.0 0.0 0
Derrick Rose 3 58.3 81.6 116.0 116.0 0.0 0
DeMarcus Cousins 3 42.4 78.4 123.5 109.4 +14.0 +7
DeMar DeRozan 2 37.0 82.2 117.6 101.3 +16.3 +8
Mason Plumlee 3 26.4 83.3 98.1 89.3 +8.9 +3
Damian Lillard 2 26.0 79.1 128.0 98.1 +29.9 +12
Andre Drummond 2 23.1 78.8 128.9 82.6 +46.3 +20
Chandler Parsons 2 17.4 79.5 111.4 102.9 +8.5 +4
Gordon Hayward 1 14.2 79.2 133.3 96.6 +36.8 +8
Kyle Korver 2 9.3 90.3 100.0 80.0 +20.0 +6
TOTALS 4 160.0 81.1 127.1 91.7 +35.4 +116

Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The other side of the story is the U.S. bench. Klay Thompson, who played a lot with three or four of the starters, was a plus-45 in the four exhibition games. Andre Drummond, who played most of his minutes in last week’s blowout of the Dominican Republic, was a plus-20. But otherwise, the bench was underwhelming. In fact, in what was seemingly an easy win over Slovenia, the U.S. was outscored 63-56 when it didn’t have at least four starters on the floor.

In total, we’re just talking about four games here. With Krzyzewski mixing and matching his bench units, the reserves didn’t get nearly the same opportunity to build chemistry as the starters did. And the U.S. won its four games by an average of 29 points. So it’s way to early to condemn the bench for not playing as well as the starting unit.  

Blogtable: Heat hate for LBJ’s new team?

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard



VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses the impact Kevin Love will have with the Cavs

> Do you feel the same way about this latest LeBron super team as you did when he formed his last one? Why or why not? (H/T to Ethan Skolnick at B/R)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Yeah, it’s exactly the same. Except, y’know, completely different. From the moment of The Decision, what LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did was more irritating and weenie. Three in-their-prime franchise players were ganging up on the league, preferring the shortcut of buddy ball when they should have been butting heads as rivals. Wade already had a ring, so he seemed greedy. Bosh was gladly accepting a diminished role, so he seemed needy. And James dumped his “hometown” team and their shared quest like some family man wigging out for a Corvette and a blonde. Had James chased a super team this time to L.A. or New York, that might have felt more like 2010 redux. But it’s Cleveland — Cleveland — the puppy-in-a-cage-with-Sarah-McLachlan-music of pro sports cities. James is different, too, a winner who can mentor and boost Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to their first postseason appearances. So no, I don’t feel about this the way I did about the Heat four years ago. Sounds to me like only cranky Miami partisans would.

This is the first of many magazine covers for the Miami Heat's Big 3!

Is the Cavs’ new Big 3 really any different than the Heat’s old one?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes, I feel all tingly, like soda bubbles going up my nose. Let’s face it. LeBron James could join Pink Floyd and play on the Dark Side of the Moon and everything he does/doesn’t do will draw gross overreaction in the age of Twitter. Of course, a large part of what the 2010-11 Heat perceived as unfair demands on them was self-inflicted. “Not one, not two, not three…” Dwayne Wade had won a championship and been MVP of The Finals. Chris Bosh was already a five-time All-Star. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have never played a single playoff game. LeBron, it seems, has learned his lesson and is preaching patience. So should we. But we won’t.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This is different. There was so much anger toward LeBron over the way he left Cleveland, plus added outrage over these three superstars having planned their South Beach union — Magic Johnson never would have signed on with Larry Bird, by gosh! — that these guys became villains. People wanted to see them lose and watched hoping beyond hope that they would. This time, there’s no hate. LeBron went home to make amends for goodness sake. There’s no collusion. Name one reporter who ever put the names LeBron James and Kevin Love together prior to LeBron announcing his decision to go back to Cleveland. Their union is in the name of fortunate timing. But to the original point, the level of contempt toward LeBron fueled that thing and slowly he was able to reverse that by winning. The new Cavs could become like the old Lakers or Bulls — universally cheered (except by fans in direct rival cities). The “sports hate” element can add some real spice, but there’s just none of it this time around.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably better. This doesn’t feel like the same circus as when LeBron went to Miami. There will be a white-hot spotlight and there will be issues along the way, but James is more mature now. He is home. Settled. When those issues come up, it won’t have that “the world is ending” feel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. Even though there was clearly a handshake deal on the Kevin Love trade before LeBron announced that he was “coming home,” this still feels like the “coming home” part was more important than constructing a super team right away. We’ll still evaluate these Cavs like any championship contender and point out their shortcomings when they’re not playing like the best team in the league, but the motivation behind their construction, at least from my perspective, feels different than that of the Heat in 2010. Bringing one championship to Cleveland would mean more for LeBron than bringing two or three more to Miami.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Same way. Like it or not LeBron, this is your life. Wherever you go the enormous expectations are sure to follow. I would argue that the 2010-11 Miami Heat were much better equipped to handle the rigors of the championship chase than a Cleveland Cavaliers team with two stars (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) who have never experienced the intense heat that is playoff pressure. I wasn’t convinced the Heat would measure up to the whole “not one, not two, not three” craziness.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogLeBron did a pretty good job, right from the start, of tamping down expectations. He obviously learned from the “Not one, not two…” speech in Miami, which never went away. So in that Sports Illustrated article he set the tone by noting it would take some time, that it wouldn’t happen right away. It reminds me of when college football coaches talk to the media the week before the game, and no matter who they’re playing, whether it’s an SEC powerhouse like UGA or the Sisters of the Poor, the coach always praises the opponent in an over-the-top manner, just to give them an out in case they lose. It was a nice try by ‘Bron, but I ain’t buying it. The Cavs and the Bulls are the class of the East. So yeah, expectations should be high for Cleveland.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Not quite, because they don’t have Dwyane Wade. Don’t get me wrong, this Cavs team looks potent and they can certainly win it all this season but I don’t think they’re going to be as good defensively as the Heat were in their strongest years. History tells us that you need to be a top-10 team defensively to make it to the Finals. For the Cavs to challenge the top 10, they need Varejao there when it matters most. If he goes down, who’s their backup center that offers rim protection? The easy argument here is to say that the Heat didn’t have a rim-protecting center either and that is true, but can Kevin Love sacrifice some of his offense in order to play steady defense like Chris Bosh did? It remains to be seen. Also, what LeBron James will we see? He tailed off defensively last season because he had to carry the scoring load without Wade at his best. LeBron won’t have to do as much offensively now he has Kyrie Irving and Love alongside him. If this means that LeBron goes back to his DPOTY type form then this team will be devastating.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: When LeBron took his talents to South Beach, Miami instantly became the favorite for the ring. When he decided to come home, he didn’t turn Cleveland into the favorite. The Cavs are for sure the best in the East with their own Big Three, but I don’t think they’re a lock for the ring as those 2010 Heat were. Even if LeBron-Love-Irving make a scary trio. Maybe it’s the Heat experience talking: 4 straight Finals, 2 rings. Lon-term, though, I think the Cavs’ Big Three can do better.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: It’s not quite the same. But, to be honest neither is LeBron. Wade and Bosh were more experienced than Love and Irving. They had proven that they can lead their teams to a winning basketball type of play. Love and Irving don’t have playoff experience, although they don’t lack talent or potential. They have the All-Star quality and if we take into consideration the fact that LeBron of 2014 is better than the LeBron of 2010, I am pretty sure that the Cavaliers will be the favorite team to win East.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: It’s more complicated. On the one hand you can say that LeBron has learned from his mistakes, from The Decision and so on. As fans, you revel in the homecoming story. But on the other hand it would be a better feel-good story, if he would have tried it with the young core, with Wiggins and Bennett. Just build up the team from the button as he wrote in his SI letter.

Blogtable: Keeping Klay … now what?

Klay Thompson averaged 18.4 points a game for the Warriors last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Klay Thompson averaged 18.4 ppg for the Warriors last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

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: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard


> Golden State wouldn’t part with Klay Thompson to get Kevin Love. Where does that leave the Warriors? Are they better off or worse off than they were at summer’s start?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If you aren’t improving, you’re getting worse. That seems a fair assessment of the Western Conference in particular, where the Warriors — last year’s preseason darlings for many — won’t crack the top 3 for most prognosticators this fall. The Klay Thompson man-crush of Golden State’s front office escapes me, beyond the basketball basics of needing somebody in a Steph Curry backcourt who can guard people. There’s no assurance Steve Kerr as coach will be an upgrade over Mark Jackson (though Kerr’s staff surely will stir up less drama). Improvement from within? Andrew Bogut stays healthy? Swell. But that’s not enough to vault past the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, or maybe even the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Trail Blazers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt leaves the Warriors toweling down after a spin class, because they haven’t moved an inch. They’re right where last saw them in the spring, stuck in the middle of the deep Western Conference behind the upper crust Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and maybe Grizzlies, naively trying to convince themselves they’re contenders.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Keep preaching about Klay Thompson’s defense and how crucial it is as long as Steph Curry is the team’s point guard, but I would have dealt Thompson (and David Lee, a player I’ve long admired) for Love without losing sleep. Love turns only 26 prior to the season and he’s simply more versatile than Thompson and Lee put together. He does things no other player does. End of story.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAnswer C: the same. Shaun Livingston will be a nice pickup if he is healthy enough to play 65-70 games and a full postseason, and the projected return of Festus Ezeli after knee surgery will be a much-needed boost at center if he can offer solid backup minutes. The Thompson/Love decision will obviously be hanging over the Warriors, with how Thompson plays and with how David Lee plays. But it still will not be a surprise if Golden State is solidly in the pack of the second tier in the West with the Trail Blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies and Mavericks. And if there is a worry about an offseason decision, it should be about the coaching change, not the players. Mark Jackson connected with the roster and delivered results. Steve Kerr will be a rookie on the sidelines.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The only thing that has changed the Warriors’ outlook is the moves of other teams (Dallas and Houston in particular) around them in the West hierarchy. Golden State still has the ability to rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. They ranked third defensively last season and still have Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. The key will be for Steve Kerr to make better use of the bench and make them more potent offensively. With all their talent, the potential is there. Given the uncertainty of a new coach, it’s impossible to rank the Warriors ahead of the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers. But they shouldn’t be dismissed as a possible conference finalist either.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors occupy the same place in the Western Conference standings with or without Love: they are still a few pieces away from the true contender status that I thought they were ready for last season. Toss in a new coach and new system, and they could even take a step back in the 2014-15 season. Klay Thompson is not the man responsible for what happens to the Warriors next season, at least not the only man. His Splash Brothers partner Steph Curry will be the catalyst for the Warriors. Thompson, as good as he has been and will continue to be, should not have to pay that bill.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Can I vote for the the same? I don’t get not giving up Thompson for Love. Thompson is a really good player, one of the best off guards in the NBA, but Kevin Love is one of the 10 best players in the NBA, and I think if you have a chance to make that move, you make it. I’m just not really sure where the Warriors can look to improve this season. Defensively they were quietly pretty good last season, and we know offensively that they’re dynamic. Love would have given them a rebounding presence and helped stretch the floor even more. Last season they won 51 games in a difficult Western Conference. Steve Kerr will have his hands full in his first year trying to build upon that.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think they’re the same. The West isn’t changed a lot this summer and there are at least three teams, Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, better than the Warriors. Golden State can count on Steve Kerr’s great basketball mind, even if he’s a coach with no experience, and I’m sure going to the World Cup with Team USA is going to help a lot Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. I think the Warriors are intriguing, but not a Western Conference powerhouse

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: It actually depends on how new coach Steve Kerr will implement his system with the tools that the Warriors have in their disposal. But one of the underrated things that goes unnoticed in the NBA most of the time is — continuity. The Spurs have shown throughout the years that their chemistry will always make them contenders and with Golden State’s talented line-up intact their is no way for them to go but up.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: I believe that they are better off in the West. In my opinion a trade Thompson/Lee for Martin/Love or something near it would have been no big upgrade. Thompson has still plenty of upside in his game and with new coach Steve Kerr on his side, he will develop fast. With Kerr on the sideline the team will play more team-basketball and less isolation. That will help Barnes a lot and Iguodala will improve, too.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The Warriors are going to be exactly as they were when the summer began. Their guards will improve a little (Curry and Thompson) and their big men will probably regress a bit (Bogut and Lee). In the tough West, only a big splash can make a real difference in the standings. Eventually, the Warriors’ fate will be decided by their supporting cast and their intangibles. Will Harrison Barnes bounce back from last year’s dip and finally have his much-awaited breakout year? How is Steve Kerr going to be as a coach? Even in the best-case scenario, I don’t see Golden State finishing any higher than fifth in the West.

Blogtable: The World Cup carryover

Anthony Davis has become the defensive backbone of Team USA. (Jesse D Garrabrant/NBAE)

Anthony Davis has become the defensive backbone of Team USA. (Jesse D Garrabrant/NBAE)

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: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard


> Which NBA player in the FIBA Basketball World Cup stands to gain the most, in terms of improving his play and carrying it over to the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAnthony Davis opened eyes, dropped jaws and sent a shiver through New Orleans’ 2014-15 opponents even before the medal round began. If the league had an official preseason all-NBA team, the New Orleans big man would be on it. I get the same vibe watching him now that I got up-close 17 years or so ago as Kevin Garnett grew into his body and his skills. Of his Team USA mates, Kyrie Irving should benefit greatly from this experience, both on the court and mentally handling new expectations and responsibilities. But people will remember this 2014 FIBA World Cup for Davis’ emergence as a monster in full.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Getting the playing time and on-court experience in game situations that really mean something could be just what the doctor and the rehab therapist and the Bulls coaching staff and front office ordered for Derrick Rose. Physical and mental hurdles should be in his rearview mirror by the time he hits training camp.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This might be unanimous: DeMarcus Cousins. However, with him, it’s not so much carrying over improved play, it’s carrying over an eye-opening experience of how professionals work, play, interact and lead.

Kenneth Faried (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kenneth Faried (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves/Spain. Rubio has made improving his shooting a focus of the offseason, with good reason, and the World Cup will be the first progress report. The tournament isn’t a full schedule of NBA-level competition, but the games will matter and therefore a better test than the exhibition slate with the Wolves. A good showing from the perimeter in his native Spain will be a confidence boost and build momentum heading back to Minnesota.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Derrick Rose, of course. Playing 20 minutes a game for the USA is a great way for Rose to knock off the rust, regain his feel for the game, and get his body used to playing full speed basketball again. Somebody said the following in the last week and I’d love to credit them, but I forget who it was: The best way to prepare for basketball is to play basketball. The next three weeks could be huge for Rose, the Bulls, and how successful their 2014-15 season will be. Beyond Rose, the World Cup could help some incoming rookiesBojan Bogdanovic, Dante Exum and Kostas Papanikolaou to name a few — hit the ground running when training camp opens.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great question. I don’t think there is any doubt that Anthony Davis is the player poised for the quantum leap from where he was at the start of the 2014-15 season to where he is now. Davis has a chance to make the transition from All-Star to game-changing superstar with the right kind of results in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Kenneth Faried. He finished his rookie year with a flourish, making first-team All-Rookie. But since then, as the Nuggets have rebuilt, Faried’s star has lost a little of its shine, and last year his name started to bubble up in trade talks. But as a member of USA Basketball, Faried seems to have gotten a little of his swagger back. He went from being a bubble invite to the USA camp to earning a starting spot on the squad. When I asked him on Friday night if he felt like he belonged, he quickly shot back, “Ain’t no ‘feel like.’ I know I belong.”

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: It might be obvious to mention Derrick Rose, given what he’s coming back from, or maybe Klay Thompson, who will be having contract negotiations in the not too distant future but I’ve decided to go out of left field a little bit here. I’m also going specific to my region in selecting Aron Baynes. He has been one of the best-performing Boomers in their nine warm-up matches across Europe heading into the FIBA World Cup. He’s been a double-double machine and is a guaranteed starter for the Aussies. The reason I believe he has a lot to gain is because this is his opportunity to show the world what he can do. He’s a role player on the best team in the NBA and he hasn’t established himself as a rotation NBA player yet. His contract situation is an interesting one because he is a restricted free agent and the Spurs have early Bird rights on him and have tendered a qualifying offer worth $1.1 million. Will he take that and come back for an uncertain extra year or could another team swoop and offer a more lucrative deal? Maybe a good showing at the FIBA World Cup could entice someone.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Andray Blatche of the Philippines. I might get some flak for choosing him but you have to hear me out. Team USA will be covered as a whole, although Derrick Rose will garner more attention because of his long layoff. The various NBA players littered among the other countries are already well established. Meanwhile in the Philippines, if Blatche plays well and somehow leads Gilas Pilipians to the second round, he will develop a cult-like following. Still unsigned, if he exemplifies his leadership and shows his adjustment to playing with a new team in a different system he will be an attractive free agent player after the World Cup.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Kostas Papanikolaou, who else? He is a rookie for the Houston fans and an unfamiliar face for international basketball. Over the past years he has grown a lot and few 24 years-old players have added in their resume two Euroleague titles. During the back-to-back European titles of Olympiakos he played a significant role as starting small forward, with his streaky shooting, his explosiveness to the rim and his defensive mindset. Last year he grew up as a more versatile offensive player in Barcelona and now in his last few days before the NBA chapter of his career comes along, he demonstrated solid leadership during Greece’s friendly games. He was the top scorer playing at the “3” alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and managed to check the “constistency” box next to his scouting report.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although all eyes will be on Anthony Davis — who is sure to be the best player for the USA — and Derrick Rose, who’ll be making a long-awaited return, I think that the real surprise gem of the FIBA World Cup will be … Kenneth Faried! Through all of Team USA’s practice warm-up games so far, Faried has been the x-factor, and the international style of play seems to suit his game perfectly. Without Durant on the USA side, Faried also seems to have secured a starting spot in the American frontcourt. Despite his talent, Faried has hardly had any experience at higher level competitions so far in his young career. Playing alongside some of the best players and for top coaches like Coach K and Thibodeau will sure give Faried the confidence and experience he needs to become a leader for the Nuggets when he returns.

Yao Ming challenges illegal ivory trade

Three years after his official retirement as a player in the NBA and for the Chinese national team, international star Yao Ming is still handing out assists on the world stage.

The former Rockets All-Star center is promoting a documentary film designed to convince people to stop buying ivory and end the slaughter of elephants and rhinos as poaching reaches its highest levels ever.

Estimates say 33,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks and the rhino population in the world has decreased 95 percent over the past 40 years, The result is as the value of increasingly scarce ivory has risen from $5 a pound in 1990 to $1,500 in today.

During filming of the movie, “End of the Wild,” which took place during a trip to Kenya and South Africa in 2012, Yao learned about the crisis and even walked among the carcasses of five elephants, butchered for their tusks by poachers.

“I believe what people will see in those pictures, [they] will remember it,” Yao said in a release from the film’s production company. “That’s what we’re here for: film this, bring it back home … and show everybody the reality.”

The film is the latest of Yao’s projects in partnership with WildAid, a nongovernmental organization devoted to stopping the illegal trade in wildlife. He had previously led a campaign against the killing of sharks for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in China.

Demand in Yao’s home country is, in part, responsible for the increase in demand for ivory, researchers say.  An emerging Chinese middle class wants the same trinkets and ornaments as the richest in society.

Yao, speaking ahead of the premier of the film earlier this month on CCTV in China, acknowledged the special role of Chinese consumers’ increasing demand for products from endangered animals and in curbing that demand.

“It is stunning what China has achieved in the past three decades economically, and at least some of us have emerged as winners,” he said in an interview with the New York Times Sinosphere blog. “But our purchasing power is straining the resources of the earth.”

Researchers also place much of the blame on the United States. Statistics show that his former NBA hometown of Houston plays a big role in the slaughter. More illegal ivory is seized at the Port of Houston than at any other U.S. port, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The task of cutting off the illegal ivory trade has has become so great in recent years that the department proposed a near-total ban on the commercial elephant ivory trade earlier this year.

A 1989 ban permitted antique ivory, judged to be over 100 years old, within the U.S.  But experts say that rule is being routinely abused with new ivory from new kills is being passed off as old.

The proposed ban would ban all commercial ivory imports regardless of age. Non-commercial, sport-hunted trophies and scientific specimens would be permitted, along with traveling exhibitions, part of a family inheritance and in some older ivory musical instruments.

“With this film, Yao is helping to spread the word about the ecological and human costs of the illegal wildlife trade,” explains Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid. “We hope that with more public awareness and support, that China will become a true global leader in conservation and help save elephants and rhinos. We are pretty much in an emergency situation now.”

The film will be shown on Animal Planet this fall.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 27


VIDEO: Relive the top 5 plays from the USA-Slovenia exhibition game

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Wolves’ owner, Love in war of words after trade | Recapping Team USA’s final tune-up | Agent: Big Z won’t be making comeback

No. 1: Taylor, Love exchange words over trade — Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers either moved on from or moved into their respective eras with Kevin Love. The All-Star big man was officially introduced the the Cleveland media yesterday, while the Wolves introduced the haul they got from the Cavs and Philadelphia 76ers — Thaddeus Young, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett — in the offseason mega-deal. Now that the move is in the past, Wolves owner Glen Taylor opened up to the media about trading his superstar and his regrets in not signing him to a longer contract a few years ago. Derek Wetmore of ESPN1500.com in Minneapolis has more:

Afterward, Taylor spoke freely about the blockbuster Kevin Love trade that landed the Wolves this year’s No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. He said that his preference would have been to keep Love, but after it became clear that would not happen, the Wolves accommodated the disgruntled star and got a nice haul in return.

Still, if he could do it all over again, Taylor said he would have signed Love to the five-year maximum contract in 2012. That way Love would have three seasons left on his contract and the team’s outlook would be considerably different. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears safe to say the contract was a mistake. Love made it known that he wanted out and would exercise the opt-out clause that would make him a free agent following this season. So the Wolves once again have hit the reset button.

“I spoke the truth when I said if Kevin [Love] would stay here then we would have the best season. Inside I knew Kevin wasn’t giving us that alternative even though it’s what I wanted,” Taylor said Tuesday. “So now you have the thing where Kevin kind of said, ‘trade me or you’re going to pay the fine next year if you don’t trade me.’ I think once we got going on that, we had about four teams that came to us with significant offers. But this one truly had the biggest upside. Flip [Saunders] pushed it and negotiated it the best he could so I’m really happy with it.”

“Kevin and I have always had a good relationship. Kevin always said, ‘I want to win.’ I said, ‘I do, too. Stay here, let’s win together.'”

In the end, that didn’t happen of course, and the Wolves settled on a backup plan that may end up working out for the team. That’s yet to be determind. As for Love, Taylor said he questions if Cleveland is the right landing spot for him, where he’ll play alongside the best player in the world, LeBron James, and point guard Kyrie Irving. Taylor also nitpicked portions of Love’s game.

“I question Kevin if this is going to be the best deal for him because I think he’s going to be the third player on a team. I don’t think he’s going to get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he’ll get the blame if they don’t do well. He’s going to have to learn to handle that.

“I think he’s around a couple guys are awful good. Now I’m not saying that Kevin’s not good, but I think where maybe he got away with some stuff, not playing defense on our team, I’m not sure how that’s going to work in Cleveland. So I would guess they’re going to ask him to play more defense. And he’s foul-prone,” Taylor said.

After these comments surfaced, Love had his say about them and basically told Taylor to worry about his own team, not him:

Love, appearing on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” on Wednesday morning, responded to Taylor’s comments about how he may get exposed for his play on the defensive end and that Love may wind up being the scapegoat if the new-look Cavs struggle.

“I think emotions are definitely running high right now,” Love told “Mike and Mike” on Wednesday. “For Glen to say that, I just think that he should be focusing on the players that he just received. I mean, he has two of the No. 1 picks in the last two drafts: Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. He has another guy who can really play in Thaddeus Young.

“I think he got a lot for me. So I’d be focusing even more on that. More than anything, I’m just excited to start my time in Cleveland, get to work with my new teammates, and start with this new family here.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew talks about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new faces  

Davis leads U.S. to easy win


VIDEO: USA-Slovenia recap

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The U.S. National Team wrapped up its exhibition schedule on Tuesday with an easy 101-71 win over Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain. Next stop: Bilbao, for World Cup pool play, which begins Saturday.

Anthony Davis was, by far, the best player on the floor, registering 18 points, nine rebounds, three steals and five blocks in less than 19 minutes of action. He controlled the paint and snuffed out Slovenia’s pick-and-rolls. Basically, if he was in the area, they couldn’t complete a pass or make a shot.

It was a 10-point game at the half, but the U.S. scored 27 points on its first 13 possessions of the third quarter to go up by 31. The highlight of that run was a lob from Kenneth Faried to Davis on a roll to the hoop.

The U.S. finished 4-0 in exhibitions and still hasn’t lost a game (whether it counts or not) since the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship.

Here are some notes from Tuesday’s action …

  • So … many … fouls. The officiating in this game was a stark contrast to that of Friday’s game against Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden, when both sets of guards got away with a lot of contact on the perimeter. Hand checks were called on Tuesday, with the two teams combining for 53 fouls in 40 minutes.
  • The U.S. was the bigger beneficiary of the whistles, getting to the line 46 times. But they shot just 29-for-46 (63 percent), leaving several points at the stripe. They had shot 81 percent through their first three exhibition games.
  • At the other end of the floor, the U.S. paid for its aggressiveness on the perimeter. Stephen Curry fouled out in the first minute of the fourth quarter after just 14 minutes of playing time. Klay Thompson picked up two hand-check fouls on the first possession he was on the court. And Kyrie Irving and James Harden each picked up three fouls apiece. The Americans have depth in the backcourt, but not as much as they’d have if they hand’t brought four centers on the roster. The guards are going to have to do a better job of adjusting to the way games are being called.
  • We got a basic look at the U.S. rotation. Derrick Rose (or Irving when Rose starts), Thompson and Rudy Gay were the first guys off the bench. DeMarcus Cousins backed up Davis, and DeMar DeRozan was the 10th man. Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee only played garbage time.
  • The U.S. starters had huge plus-minus marks, while the reserves were a mix of low pluses and minuses. In fact, in 14:23 with four or five U.S. starters on the floor, the score was USA 45, Slovenia 8. In the other 25:37, with three or fewer American starters in the game, Slovenia outscored the U.S. 63-56.
  • Thompson shot well (3-for-5 on threes) and Gay was active on the offensive glass, but the bench was otherwise disappointing.
  • Rose did not play well. He showed flashes of his quickness, but did not finish plays. He shot 0-for-3 and committed three turnovers in 20 minutes of action.
  • The U.S. halfcourt offense still needs work. There was some real sloppiness on Tuesday, especially in the fourth quarter.
  • Goran Dragic had his moments – he went around-the-back to get past Rose on the break – in limited minutes, but his brother was the star for Slovenia. Zoran Dragic scored 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting and grabbed six boards.

Thomas seeks relevancy with Suns

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns.com talks with Isaiah Thomas about his move to Phoenix

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – About one month into the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, a new basketball movie trailer burned up the Internet. A documentary, it chronicled mostly unknown 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ improbable path from a junior in college all the way to the NBA.

The title of the of the film was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the name bestowed upon the last pick of the NFL Draft. Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., product and a terrific scoring guard for the Washington Huskies, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. No. 60. The Sacramento Kings made him “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Over three seasons, Sacramento never seemed to believe he could be much more, even as Thomas’ production and tenacity became impossible to ignore — and to keep out of the starting lineup. As a rookie he badly outplayed the Kings’ No. 10 overall pick, Jimmer Fredette.

In 2012-13, the Kings tried to unseat Thomas with Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas, not exactly Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire, but still, Thomas refused to be overtaken. Last summer, Sacramento traded for 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez and immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. In December, Vasquez, a solid player to be sure, was traded to Toronto. Thomas, a pound-the-rock, take-you-off-the-dribble, finish-at-the-rim point guard went on to average 21.1 ppg and 6.5 apg (plus a career-high 1.3 steals), improving in both categories for a third consecutive season.

It is one of the greatest statistical seasons ever compiled by a player under 6-foot. His PER (player efficiency rating) checked in at 20.5, well above the league average (15.0) and again was one of the all-time best marks for a player of his stature.

Yet the Kings, even after revamping the front office, never viewed Thomas through the same prism as he viewed himself: as a 5-foot-9 playmaker, scorer, starter and leader. Sacramento, seemingly suggesting it wanted more of a facilitator at the point, signed free-agent journeyman Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal on July 10. It was a hefty raise for Collison, a backup last season with the Clippers, but much less than what Thomas, 25, felt he deserved in line with his production.

“They went after Darren Collison, which they felt was a better feel for whatever direction they’re going in,” Thomas said. “I just felt like I needed to go somewhere where I was wanted and Phoenix was a place where they wanted me for who I was. They wanted me for being 5-9. They wanted me for being a scoring point guard.”

Thirteen days after signing Collison, the Kings signed Thomas to a four-year, $27-million contract and traded him to the Suns.

“I’m not surprised just because every year it was somebody new,” Thomas said. “Every year I felt like I proved to them that I was a capable starter and I proved to them I was a pretty good basketball player. More than anything I was consistent, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Thomas spoke to NBA.com about his opportunity for relevancy in Phoenix, an upstart last season that won 48 games and missed the playoffs by one game in coach Jeff Hornacek‘s first season.

NBA.com: Do you think the Kings viewed you as irrelevant, in the sense that you don’t fit into a tidy description of a point guard and therefore you never could be their answer at the position?

Thomas: I guess. I guess because I’m 5-9 and I’m not the prototypical point guard they just kept trying to find … which every year I would beat out the guy. Like I tell people, it’s a business and I know where they’re coming from, but three years in a row it happened. I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen a fourth year so I was kind of fed up with that and that’s why I wanted a little change. I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted for, like I said, being who I am, being 5-9 and being a scoring guard.

NBA.com: To be clear, you never asked to be traded did you?

Thomas: No, I didn’t. I never asked. I was always professional about every situation. I always came in with my hard hat on willing to do whatever is best for the team. When they signed Darren Collison, I knew I was going in a different direction.  

Summer Dreaming: Coach of the Year

Let’s face it. For all the talk about stability and commitment, most NBA franchises change coaches the way the rest of us change T-shirts on these sweaty dog days of August — often and without even thinking twice.

When the regular season begins in two months, there will be nine new coaches roaming the sidelines. Some will sink, some will swim and some will stand out from the pack.

So as our Summer Dreaming series continues, let’s take a bold leap to next April and have a look at the five candidates most likely to be filling the Coach of the Year ballot for 2014-15.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers and Steve Ballmer discuss new Clippers era

Doc Rivers, Clippers — After making the coast-to-coast jump from Boston to L.A., Rivers probably didn’t think his leadership duties on the West Coast would include being the spokesman and face of the team in the difficult scandal involving former club owner Donald Sterling. But as you might have expected, Rivers was out front, direct and kept a firm hold on the situation and his locker room, though it’s hard to discount some effect in the playoff loss to OKC. Now with a new owner and clean slate, he can get back to just concentrating on basketball, where he already upped the franchise record for wins from 56 to 57. He used an up-tempo attack to overcome the losses of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick for stretches. His fingerprints were all over the dramatic improvement of center DeAndre Jordan to become a mainstay rather than a sideshow in the lineup along with CP3 and Blake Griffin. The next step is the Western Conference finals and real bid for a championship.


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra’s exit interview

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — Now you see him, now you don’t. One minute you’ve got the best player in the game in your starting lineup every night and the next minute he’s gone home to Cleveland. Maybe that’s what it takes to finally get Spoelstra noticed for being more than just Pat Riley‘s pupil and the guy who let’s LeBron James pile up wins. Truth is, he dramatically revamped the Heat offense after that 2011 loss in The Finals and that did lead to back-to-back championships. But as Phil Jackson learned with the Bulls and Lakers, there is nobody overlooked more than the coach of the reigning league icon. The Zen Master won the award just once (1996) despite his 11 titles. Now if Spoelstra can keep a reinvented Miami attack built around Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in the top half of the Eastern Conference race, he’d finally get the credit he’s been due.


VIDEO: Dwane Casey accepts the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Dwane Casey, Raptors — Midway through last season, Casey was on many lists as the coach most likely to be fired next. But talk about pulling yourself back from the brink. Once the Raptors unloaded the contract and the bad fit that was Rudy Gay to Sacramento, Casey got his team to raise its level of play by getting the Raptors to tighten down on defense and make that a calling card. So much for the outside world that thought the Raptors were going into the tank for a lottery pick. They went from ranking 22nd in defensive rating the previous season to finishing 10th and used that identity to win 48 games and the Atlantic Division title. It all came together enough to convince free agent Kyle Lowry to remain committed to what Casey is doing and sign back on. Casey himself re-upped on a new three-year deal. With up and comers DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, there’s no reason to think the Raptors can’t build on their success and stay in the fight in a rejuvenated Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Tom Thibideau talks about the Bulls’ upcoming season

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls — Admit it. After what he’s done just grinding out wins the past two seasons with holes in his lineup, we want to see just how far Thibs can take the Bulls if a healthy Derrick Rose stays on the court. And don’t forget that the front office dealt Deng out from under him at midseason. You have to know that Carmelo Anthony‘s decision to stay in New York was all and only about the money when he passed up an opportunity to be the perfect piece in the puzzle in Chicago. Neverthless, Thibodeau gets to supplement his frontline with the ultra professional Pau Gasol, who’ll fit in nicely alongside the semi-controlled frenzy that is Joakim Noah. There is no question that the Bulls have bought into the philosophy and completely taken on the hard-driving, do-anything, no-excuses attitude of their coach. Yes, he has overused players to the point of wearing them down to the nub. But that’s only because he’s been playing shorthanded for two years. Give him this full season with all of the key players able to stay healthy and the Bulls will be challenging LeBron and the Cavaliers at the top of the East with a real shot at championship contention for the first time since that guy with the statue outside the United Center was still in uniform.


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich helps celebrate the Spurs’ championship win

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — Now that he’s won five titles and also this award three times in his career, it’s no longer fashionable to say that he’s taken for granted down there in little ol’ San Antonio. But you simply can’t have any list of top five coaches in the league without including the guy who is generally regarded by his peers as being the best. Far more than just a grumpy face, Pop has changed the focus of his offense during the 17-year championship run from being low post oriented with Tim Duncan to whipping the ball around the perimeter in an international style of unselfish frenzy and filling up the bucket with 3-point shots that Pop himself admits “I hate.” He’ll stick with his plan of managing the minutes of his core players Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the point of sacrificing wins — but never too many — in the regular season. He’ll continue to shift more of the burden to rising young players such as Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. They’ll likely be written off again as too old, too worn out at some point during the long regular schedule. But the Spurs will win 50 games, make the playoffs and, if physically fit next spring, Pop will have them once more as the team with know-how and the ability to win West again.