Remembering Bob Kauffman

Three-time All-Star Bob Kauffman died at the age of 69 last Saturday.

Kauffman, a New York native, was drafted with the third overall pick by Seattle in the 1968 Draft. He played one season with the Sonics and another with the Chicago Bulls before earning three straight All-Star appearances with the Buffalo Braves. He averaged 19.0 points and 10.7 rebounds from 1970-71 through 1972-73, the first three seasons of the franchise that would eventually become the L.A. Clippers.

After one more season in Buffalo, Kauffman finished his career in Atlanta. He coached a partial season in Detroit and was also an assistant GM with the Hawks.

Kauffman was remembered this week in both upstate New York and in Georgia, where he raised four future college basketball players…

From the Buffalo News

Kauffman’s death went largely unnoticed in the sports world. But his daughter wanted to make sure the people of Buffalo were aware that the first star in the history of the Braves had passed on. She said Bob’s four years in Buffalo, during which he made three straight NBA all-star teams, were among the best of his life. In his heart, he remained a Buffalo guy to the end.

“My dad left his heart in Buffalo,” said Lara, one of Bob’s four children, all daughters. “He just loved the fans there. He loved the people. He felt embraced by the community and he felt like he was a part of it all. He wanted to make a difference, and so I think it wasn’t the same before or since, really.”

“The Buffalo fans from all over, people who moved to Atlanta or wherever I go, they all remember my dad,” Lara Kauffman said. “What people remembered about my dad was he played very blue-collar. I think he was sort of a reflection of a lot of people in the Buffalo community the way he played. He wouldn’t back down from anybody. He played against Lew Alcindor at the time. He matched up against Wilt Chamberlain. My dad would go head-to-head with those guys.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post

Standing 6-foot-8 and tipping the scales at 240 pounds during his days as a professional basketball player, it’s easy to understand how Bob Kauffman could be described as being “larger than life.”

That is how the former three-time NBA All-Star and longtime Lilburn resident, who passed away Saturday at the age of 69, is being remembered.

Kauffman always was a noticeable presence, whether it was on the court during his seven-year NBA career, his stints as an NBA executive or as the father of one of the most prominent families in the history of Gwinnett County high school basketball.

“The thing I remember most about Bob and his wife Judy were that they raised four great children,” said former Brookwood girls coach Ron Thomas, who ended his long coaching career this past spring after coaching Athens Christian’s girls team the past three seasons. “His kids were all exceptional young ladies, and that’s a tribute to him and his wife. … Something I’ll always remember about Bob was that while sometimes as a parent you can get caught up in just your kids, he truly cared about the other kids in the program. He had a kind heart and always cared about other people.”

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Steve Smith has the story of Lakers rookie Larry Nance, Jr.

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls | How will Rivers use the bench he’s built? | Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics | KG to start for Wolves in Season No. 21

No. 1: Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls — After four straight seasons of ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency, the Chicago Bulls fell to 11th last season. Fred Hoiberg is supposed to change up the offense upon taking over for Tom Thibodeau, but Pau Gasol knows that his team can’t lose focus on the defensive end of the floor, as ESPN’s Jon Greenberg writes

Bulls center Pau Gasol doesn’t know if his role will change next year under new coach Fred Hoiberg and his uptempo offensive system. He doesn’t even know if he’ll start.

But what the NBA veteran does know is the team can’t forget about former coach Tom Thibodeau’s calling card: Defense.

Hoiberg is known for a particular brand of basketball that encourages 3-point shooting and quick decisions, but while the Bulls offense under Thibodeau had too many lulls, they still managed to score 100.8 points per game. Hoiberg hired veteran NBA assistant coach Jim Boylen to help with the defense.

“Well, I think offense wasn’t really too much of an issue last year,” Gasol said on a conference call from South Africa, where he’s taking part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders event, which culminates with the first-ever NBA exhibition in Africa on Aug. 1. “We have a lot of talent offensively, and I think we’ll play with better flow offensively with Fred. We’ll have more freedom to play in transition and explore our abilities as individuals and as a team. As long as we understand that defense wins championships and makes the difference, and make sure we don’t neglect that side, we should be fine.”

***

No. 2: How will Rivers sort out the bench he’s built? — Though he had little flexibility going into the summer, Clippers president Doc Rivers restructured his bench, adding Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, among others. The L.A. Times‘ Ben Bolch now wonders how Rivers will make all the pieces work together. He enlisted NBA TV analysts Mike Fratello and Stu Jackson to help him sort through the questions…

Stephenson comes with a history of having blown in LeBron James ear’ during a game. He’s also generated whispers about being a bad teammate, leading to more questions from Fratello.

“How is he going to fit in with the chemistry of this team and how will he handle the star factor of Chris Paul, of Blake Griffin, of Pierce’s experience and his Hall of Fame background?” Fratello asked. “How is he going to fit in with all that and does he bounce back from having a disappointing year last year? Has he grown up, has he matured, is he going to be a contributor?”

Jackson, a former coach and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies who is an analyst for NBA TV, said the presence of Paul, Griffin and Pierce should act as a buffer against bad behavior because they have created a culture of success and expectations.

“Teams that have veteran leadership can absorb almost any player into their culture and their environment,” Jackson said.

***

No. 3: Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics — After initially saying that he was done as the coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team after the 2012 Olympics, Mike Krzyzewski came back for four more years. Now, as the team prepares to gather in Las Vegas for a three-day camp, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo makes it clear, in a Q & A with Yahoo’s Marc Spears, that he’ll need a new coach after next year’s Olympics in Rio.

Q: How much longer do you want to be executive director of USA Basketball?

Colangelo: For me, it is still a passion. I’ve been asked to continue beyond ’16, which means through ’20. My attitude is: if I’m still healthy, and I’m healthy now, my passion still exists.

Q: Is there any way you can convince Mike Krzyzewski to coach past the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: No. This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

***

No. 4: KG to start for Wolves in season No. 21Kevin Garnett played in just five games after returning to Minnesota at the trade deadline this past February. The Wolves have a crowded frontcourt, with No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica joining Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Re-signed to a two-year deal, Garnett will join Robert Parish and Kevin Willis as the only players in NBA history to play more than 20 seasons, but won’t be coming off the bench for the first time since his rookie year. In a Q & A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Wolves president and head coach Flip Saunders says that KG is a starter.

Is KG going to start?

He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.

Does that include Towns, or is he a center? A hybrid? Does it matter?

It doesn’t matter. He’s a player. Good teams have guys that can play multiple positions. It makes them harder to guard. Besides, it’s not what position you play. It’s what position you can guard. Some nights, Towns will guard power forwards and KG will guard centers. Some nights, it will be the other way around.

It’s apparently Q & A day in Minnesota, because point guard Ricky Rubio also talked at length with Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver

SI: What excites you about 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns?

RR: “I like guys who can shoot the ball. Having Kevin Love really helped stretch the floor. I think Towns is a better fit [than No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor] because of that. Okafor is more like [Nikola] Pekovic, a strong guy down in the post. Towns is a guy we don’t have.”

SI: How do you see this developing core group of you, Wiggins, Towns and LaVine playing together?

RR: “We’re pretty young, first of all. We’ve got a lot to learn. We’re athletic, we’re starving, we’re hungry. That’s something that’s going to show in practice and the games. I think it’s going to be a fun team to watch. A point guard who can pass the ball to athletic wings and big guys who can do a lot of damage in the post. In the case of Towns, he can really shoot the ball and run up and down too. I think it will be fun basketball, exciting.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It’s been too long since we got an update from the Sixers on Joel EmbiidThe Pelicans still need to get Norris Cole re-signed … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha are both making progress as they recover from season-ending injuries … Perry Jones is happy to have a fresh start in Boston … The Thunder signed 2014 first-round pick Josh Huestis after sending him to the D-League for a year … Could the Warriors get Kevin Durant next summer?

Report: Lieberman expected to become Sacramento Kings assistant


The first time something notable happens, that’s big news, the sort of stuff that would have them saying “Stop the presses!” in old movies.

The second time it happens, that can be a big deal as well, especially when it’s something like this: Nancy Lieberman, a Naismith Hall of Famer and one of the all-time greats of women’s basketball, is expected to become an assistant coach this season with the Sacramento Kings.

The third and the fourth and the fifth, and so on? That’s when the news value will wane and the impact will grow. Here at Hang Time HQ, we’re looking forward to that inverse relationship kicking in, for that time when there’s no more novelty effect to such a hire.

But being No. 2 still merits headlines, especially given Lieberman’s platinum-level hoops career. The Sacramento Bee’s Ailene Voison reported that Kings vice president Vlade Divac offered Lieberman a position on coach George Karl‘s staff. Assuming she takes it, she would join San Antonio’s Becky Hammon as the NBA’s only two female assistant coaches.

Here are particulars from the Bee report:

“Definitely I’m going to offer her a job,” Kings vice president Vlade Divac said Thursday. “George (Karl) and I talked about bringing her back after she helped us at Summer League (in Las Vegas). She was terrific. She brings a different dimension. I think is a nice opportunity for her.”

Lieberman said Thursday she will accept the offer. Divac said he expects to make an announcement next week.

Lieberman has a storied and expansive basketball history. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native has been an Olympian, college star at Old Dominion, among the original players in the WNBA and former coach of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock. Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson hired her to coach the [Dallas] Legends of the NBA Development League in 2009 and she became the assistant general manager in 2011.

Josh Smith sets the record straight


VIDEO: The Starters evaluate Josh Smith’s addition to the Clippers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Josh Smith doesn’t do Twitter, Instagram or emojis, which makes him a bit of an odd fit with the social media savvy Los Angeles Clippers.

With Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Pierce and others around to show him the ropes, Smith might very well learn his way around the social media universe. In the meantime, he’ll stick to the “old-fashioned” method of just making clear what he meant via the written word. And that’s exactly what he did today, finally setting the record straight on comments he made after his introductory news conference last week in Los Angeles.

He was roundly criticized for comments attributed to him that suggested he and his family would have to struggle on the nearly $7 millions he’ll earn next season in salary, both the veteran’s minimum of $1.5 million the Clippers will pay him and the money he’s owed (an additional $5.4 million) from the Detroit Pistons after they waived him last season.

Smith insists his words were taken out of context that day, and he set the record straight to The Players’ Tribune:

 

Apparently the headline was: Josh Smith went to the Clippers press conference and said he didn’t make enough money? Even the idea of it is kind of ridiculous. Anyone who knows me, or knows how one-year contracts work in the NBA, understood what I was saying. This is my third team in less than a year. I was talking about how moving affects my family. But the headline about greed was the one everyone ran with.

Let’s just look at what I actually said so we don’t get it twisted. This is the quote people shared:

“It wasn’t about the money because of the Detroit situation, but at the end of the day, I do have a family, so it is going to be a little harder on me this year. But I’m going to push through it and try to do something long-term after this year.”

The whole thing about it being “harder on me” comes down to family. It seems obvious to me, but maybe I could have said it more clearly. If you know the NBA, you know that moving to a new team is a decision that affects an athlete’s whole family. That’s even more true when you’re signing a one-year deal. With a one-year deal, there’s less stability because you know you might be moving again in a year.

So I’m out there power-walking with the fam. My first response was, OK, who cares how a few people interpreted it? I know everyone on the Internet likes to be judgmental at one point or another. I try not to be too sensitive to any one thing. But it’s funny, because if you look at my whole statement, no one present at the press conference had any issue with it. Everyone seemed to know what I meant. It wasn’t until later that it took on a life of its own.

Smith, never one to share much about his personal life, didn’t hold back:

When I was waived from Detroit this year, it meant I had to move to Houston in the middle of the year. Like any parent, you think about how your work affects your kids. You want consistency for your kids — consistent teachers, consistent friends, a consistent home. You want some normalcy for them. I wanted to go to the Clippers (that’s a business decision), but I also wanted to be sensitive to how it affected my kids (that’s a personal one). I can tell you that the conversations this offseason between me and my wife were more about where they’d go to school than about finances.

Every athlete has had articles about them that aren’t 100 percent true. Most of the time, it’s not anyone’s fault — it’s just the reality. Earlier this year, everyone was making a big deal about how Detroit went on a winning streak right after I was waived. People had fun with that story. I get it. But to be honest, I wasn’t even mad. Detroit wasn’t the right fit for me at that time. I knew it, they knew it. So they waived me. I never said much in public because I was thinking, Just give me some time to prove myself. A couple months later, at playoff time, look at the damage Houston did. In the league, you just have to be patient.

I came to the Clippers to be part of an exciting team that I know I can play well for. I came to compete for a championship this year. I’m the first person to tell you how grateful I know I am. I’m grateful to have played in this league for going on 12 years — I’ll always have love for the Hawks, where I started — and to have earned a good living. I didn’t grow up wealthy, so I know how much it means to have security.

Now, I’m moving on to basketball, but thanks for reading. I don’t speak up that often, but I felt I needed to clear the air. I wish someone had just asked me for clarification before everyone immediately jumped to negative assumptions. A couple people sometimes ruin it for everyone else. I’ve got no hard feelings, but I do see why some guys are more skeptical about opening up when this type of thing happens.

Smith even joked about joining Twitter. But knowing him the way we do here at HT, that just doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility … unless his new Clippers teammates can convince him otherwise!

 

Bazemore, Hawks not looking back as they strive for more success


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore talks about the Hawks’ new uniforms

By Nick Margiasso IV, NBA.com

The Hawks had a pretty unforgettable season in 2014-15. So, how do they follow it up this campaign?

By forgetting about it.

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore and his teammates are ready to turn the page, confident they know the way now after pushing their success to a high point.

“The good thing about pro sports is that every season is a new season,” the third-year defensive specialist said. “We understand what it takes to win 60 games in this league. It’s not any extra pressure or anything different other than to go out and play hard. Every team starts out 0-0 and has the same 82-game grind.”

Bazemore, and surely the Hawks’ faithful, are clamoring to see how the new pieces (and old pieces) fit with the proven ones going into a new season. Whether the squad can keep building on the league’s second-longest playoff streak (behind the Spurs) will largely be up to those fresh faces and how ex-Spurs assistant and reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer maneuvers them into his plan.

“We get Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha back, we added Tiago Splitter, Justin Holiday and Tim Hardaway Jr. — it’s going to be interesting” Bazemore said. “But now we are young, deep, long and athletic. We have a group of guys that will be ready to roll night-in and night-out.”

A lot is made of chemistry in the NBA, especially it would seem on a sort of star-less group like the Hawks, but Bazemore downplays the effort it takes to build that up. If you’re ready to play, it’ll come in due time around Philips Arena, it seems.

“Continuity is not as pertinent in the NBA as people think it is,” Bazemore said. “With all the new money, players want more and teams are trying to move people around to open things up, most teams aren’t bringing the same guys back every year.

“If you love winning, it brings everyone together. You can have the best character people in the world, but winning plays a big part in that chemistry.”

Bazemore is focused on being one of those locked-in, winning players that bring a successful mentality every night. He’s determined to better his nearly across-the-board best campaign of 2014-15 — career highs in games played, minutes, rebounds, steals and blocks — by doing what he knows best.

“I’m just going to continue to try to be one of the best defenders in the NBA,” Bazemore said. “I’ve been doing a lot of alternate training this offseason, playing tennis, golf and certain things to shape my brain to think differently.

“Basketball is always go, go, go, but the best players can see it differently and slow it down. So, I think working on tempo and other things is going to take my game to the next level.”

With talk like that, Budenholzer may have found himself just the kind of floor presence that will be in tune with the mentality the Hawks are betting on to keep on their pedestal atop the East.

Morning Shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: Members of Team Africa and Team World have arrived in Johannesburg

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ujiri leads the charge in Africa | Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves | Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’

No. 1: Ujiri leads the charge in Africa — Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is at the forefront of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative in Africa. It’s more than just an obligation from the Ujiri, it’s a passion project years in the making. Our very own Shaun Powell is on the ground in Johannesburg and captured the essence of Ujiri’s mission to serve as an ambassador for the game, and sports in general, on his native continent:

For anyone who might ask why the general manager of the Toronto Raptors is spending his summer threatening to go hoarse half a world away, well, you must know this about Masai Ujiri. When he’s in charge of an NBA franchise, he’s in his element, because his peers find him very astute and a few years ago voted him the game’s top executive. But when he’s developing basketball and teaching life skills to children and young adults in Africa, he’s in his homeland and his own skin, and there is no greater reward or satisfaction or privilege. When and if he wins his first NBA title, that might pull equal to this.

Might.

He was in Senegal last week, holding basketball clinics through his foundation, Giants of Africa. Next up: Stops in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and also Nigeria, his birthplace. He’ll spend three weeks on this side of the Atlantic with the hope of discovering the next Dikembe Mutombo from these clinics, but would gladly settle for the next surgeon.

This weekend is unique and special because here on Saturday the NBA will stage an exhibition game for the first time in Africa, and the participating NBA players and coaches are warming up by serving as clinic counselors.

One is Chris Paul, and the cheers he gets from campers are the loudest, but even an eight-time All-Star knows he’s not the star of the home team, not on this soil.

Ujiri ricochets from one group of campers to another like a blind bumblebee, carrying an air horn that blows when one session ends and another begins. After five non-stop hours of this he is asked if he’s tired, and no, he’s just amused at the question. Who gets tired from doing their passion?

“I look at these kids and they remind me of me of when I was a young kid,” he says. “I see me through them. All they need is a chance.”

It all runs with precision at this clinic, how the students are disciplined and determined, how their enthusiasm rubs off on the NBA players and coaches, how Ujiri’s vision seems so … right. As Ujiri gave pointers, a Hall of Famer who’s also the pioneer of African basketball stood off to the side, shaking his head, astonished at the spectacle and the man in charge.

“Masai has a lot of passion for this, and helping Africa year after year speaks about the person he is,” says Hakeem Olajuwon. “He is a prince. That’s what he is.”

***

No. 2: Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves — Kevin Garnett won’t be the only “old head” in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room this season. He’ll have some company in the form of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who agreed to a one-year deal to join the renaissance KG, Flip Saunders and Ricky Rubio are trying to engineer with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Miller’s role is more than just that of an adviser, though, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

It was less than two weeks ago that Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, said his team might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

He has arrived.

A source confirmed a report that Wolves had come to an agreement on a one-year contract with veteran Andre Miller, who visited the Wolves on Wednesday.

It marks an evolution in Saunders’ thinking. Immediately after moving up to draft former Apple Valley star Tyus Jones late in the first round of the draft, Saunders sounded like he might be happy with Jones as Ricky Rubio’s backup. But the fact that Rubio is coming off ankle surgery and Jones is a rookie ultimately changed Saunders’ mind.

“You don’t want to put the pressure on the young guys so much,” Saunders said two weeks ago. “Hey, listen, we’re always looking to upgrade. It could happen.”

And it did. Miller, 39, is nearing the end of a long career, but his experience should help both Rubio and Jones while giving the Wolves some peace of mind. Originally drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft by Cleveland, the 6-2 Miller has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 assists over 16 seasons while playing for seven teams. Last season between 81 games in Sacramento and Washington, Miller averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.

***

No. 3: Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’: — There is no need for an autopsy on Wes Matthews‘ exit from Portland via free agency. He’s a Dallas Maverick now and apparently for good reason. Matthews told Jason Quick of the Oregonian that the Trail Blazers never made an offer to keep him, allowing the injured free agent to take the offer from the Mavericks and move on after being an integral part of the operation in Rip City.:

He had hoped he could return to the city that had embraced him, to the team with players he considered brothers, to the franchise where he grew into one of the NBA’s most well-rounded and respected shooting guards.

But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.

“I was pissed off,” Matthews said. “I felt disrespected.”

He believed he was a viable option for teams, even as he continued to rehabilitate a ruptured left Achilles tendon suffered in March. In the days leading up to free agency, Matthews’ camp released video to ESPN showing him jogging in place, utilizing lateral movement and shooting jumpers. He was, he wanted the league to know, ahead of the eight-month recovery time estimated by doctors.

A story also leaked that Matthews expected negotiations to start at $15 million a season, or almost $8 million more than he made last year.

It was a ghastly number for the Blazers, even though they could technically afford him. Paul Allen is the richest owner in sports, but after a lost era during which he paid more than a combined $100 million to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, only to see their knee injuries become chronic, Allen was wary of paying top dollar to a player coming off a serious injury.

The only chance the Blazers would pursue Matthews, top executive Neil Olshey later explained, was if free agent LaMarcus Aldridge chose to return, maintaining Portland as a playoff-caliber team. When Aldridge chose San Antonio, the Blazers decided to rebuild. Paying big money to a 29-year-old shooting guard coming off major surgery didn’t make long-term sense.

“I was angry,” Matthews said, “but I also realize that this is a business.”

He figured there would be trying times, with harsh realities, after he suffered his injury during the third quarter of a March 5 game against Dallas. Achilles injuries not only test one’s body, they challenge the mind.

He didn’t expect one challenge to come from the team to which he gave so much of his heart, so much of his sweat. Portland’s silence meant he was losing the greatest comfort of his career: a stable starting lineup, an adoring fan base and a rising profile.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chuck Hayes is headed back to Houston on a partially guaranteed one-year deal … Tyus Jones, the hometown kid, is leading the summer caravan for the Minnesota Timberwolves … A couple of Trail Blazers are going a bit Hollywood this summer … Amir Johnson was convinced Celtics fans would love him before he joined the team

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.