His own man, KD will make own decision

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Take a look at Kevin Durant and Team USA as they practice

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Here’s what we’ve learned about Kevin Durant through his first seven seasons in the league: He’s his own man, capable of independent thought and making intelligent, well-reasoned decisions.

He chose to sign a five-year extension in 2010 without demanding an option for an early out. To ensure maximum appeal as a corporate pitchman, he strategically didn’t tattoo areas of his body visible when in uniform. A few years ago a stunned public discovered that Durant’s uniform-covered torso resembles Allen Iverson.

He is the league’s reigning MVP coming off a grueling season in which he logged a league-high 3,121 regular-season minutes followed by a postseason-high 814 minutes (even though his Oklahoma City Thunder lost in six games in the Western Conference finals), yet he remained committed to Team USA, currently holding camp in Las Vegas. Remember, this squad will compete in the upcoming world championships in Spain (recast as the FIBA World Cup). This is not an Olympic year or even an Olympic-qualifying year. Durant doesn’t have to be here. He chose to be here.

And he’s a big story in Vegas. Everybody wants to know if, inspired by LeBron James‘ homecoming, he’ll leave the Thunder for his long-suffering hometown Washington Wizards in 2016 when he becomes a free agent.

In the NBA it’s never too early to spin theoretical free-agent story lines. Mostly because NBA front offices are actively planning for the Durant sweepstakes. Teams have to align contracts today to ensure available salary cap in two summers just to be in the chase. The NBA is a star-driven league and Durant (with potential 2015 free agent Kevin Love likely headed to Cleveland in a trade) is the next available fast track to contention.

And yes, the up-and-coming Wizards are preparing. Who wouldn’t love to add Durant to the promising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal? Washington’s books are in line for summer ’16, and you might have heard they hired a new player development assistant, David Adkins. Adkins? He was an assistant at Durant’s alma mater Montrose Christian in Maryland, and is said to be close to Durant. The plot thickens.

Fine, but any insinuation that Northeast Ohio’s re-embracing of LeBron tugged Durant’s heartstrings toward D.C. is a reach. The Cavs drafted the locally loved Akron phenom out of high school. He elevated the hometown NBA franchise to a Finals appearance in 2007 and three years later stomped on the hearts of his faithful with the incredibly insensitive “Decision.” Four Finals runs and two championships with the Miami Heat later, LeBron, all grown up, decided it was time to mend fences. Great story.

It’s not Durant’s story. Durant did tell reporters Tuesday that he grew up taking the train to Georgetown games, although he left home to play college ball 1,300 miles away at Texas. He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 and the next season moved with the franchise to Oklahoma City, a close-knit town he’s professed his love for countless times, and as recently as his MVP speech for the ages.

The Thunder are perennial contenders. Durant holds close relationships with coach Scott Brooks, as well as teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and many others in the organization. Most of all, Durant willingly immersed himself in the community. When he won the MVP, the city declared him “OKC’s MVP.” The governor and state representatives attended the ceremony.

If he were to leave OKC, it’s not a stretch to suggest that community will be more devastated than D.C. will be elated. With Durant, 25, in a Thunder uniform, the championship window is open-ended.

But hey, a lot can happen in two years. The Thunder could win a championship. Or two. Or maybe they don’t and Durant’s patience runs thin, after all he’ll be nine years in by the summer of ’16. Maybe the Durant-Westbrook relationship sours. Maybe Brooks gets fired. Maybe Durant ultimately decides he wants to play for a billionaire owner more responsive to spending when the moment calls.

So maybe Durant does go home, even though the number of stars who have gone home pales to those who never do when given the chance. We’ve seen Durant don Washington NFL gear and — not sure if anybody’s pointed this out — he’s got a Washington Nationals logo tattooed above his belly button. Durant does love his D.C. sports.

So maybe he does go home. Or perhaps, as was speculated when Durant hired Jay-Z to represent him, he goes to the Knicks or Nets. They’ll all be in line (yep, even the Nets will be flush with cap space by then).

Yes, the script that has Durant riding a white horse into Washington, where the Wizards/Bullets haven’t won a title since a decade before Durant was born, is real. It could happen. Durant could also play 20 seasons in OKC.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant told reporters in Vegas. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does.”

Durant might as well memorize those lines. He’ll need to cue them up over and over during these next two years.

But what we’ve learned of him over the last seven years is Kevin Durant is his own man.

Blogtable: Tough Team USA call

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: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Get an up-close look at Kyrie Irving’s Team USA experience thus far

> You’re Mike Krzyzewski. You have some decisions to make. What’s your toughest call? Who do you go with?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I can’t take my eyes off the five point guards: Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and John Wall? How many can you put on the 15-man roster Coach K wants by the time camp ends? Four? Probably not. I’m guessing three. Unless Team USA assistant and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gives Coach K the wink to keep Rose off the team as injury prevention, I believe Rose is a lock. My second lock is Curry because he can swing over to the 2 and shoot the lights out of any zone defense. Now I have a real problem. Irving is a two-time All-Star and a $90-million man. Wall made his All-Star debut in February and is an $80-million man. Lillard is already an All-Star after two seasons and has ice in his veins. I think Irving is going to get the spot, but my choice is Wall. I really like how he’s maturing, both in his physical and mental game. He pushes the tempo, has consistently posted higher assist numbers than Irving and Lillard and shoots the 3 well enough, especially on this squad. So there it is, Wall gets my third and final point-guard spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That point guard group is as elite as it gets. Outside of Steph Curry, whose ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor is crucial in international competition, I don’t know that there any locks for the roster in this group. I can see any combination of three making sense for the final roster. And that means two All-Stars get left behind. Picking two guys from a group that includes Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and John Wall seems like an impossible situation, one that Coach K’s peers who will be in Spain would love to be laboring through right now. But this is about the best fits for this particular team and until we see them work through training camp, I don’t think we can jump to any conclusions about who fits best. If I’m picking, Irving and Lillard would seem to make the most sense based on skill-sets and versatility.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Who are the bigs on the roster behind Anthony Davis? There’s a reason why, with the addition of Mason Plumlee on Tuesday, the big position is the most crowded. There are no obvious choices (or any Senior Team experience) beyond Davis and all those guys have their flaws. Assuming Davis plays 30 minutes per game, you need guys who can bring energy in short bursts. So I would take Kenneth Faried and, yes, Plumlee. Those guys can make an impact a few minutes at a time and are more trustworthy than Andre Drummond. And I would seriously consider bringing a fourth big – Paul Millsap, in this case – for the first time since 2006. Millsap gives you the opportunity to put an extra shooter on the floor in certain situations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the loss of Kevin Love is looming large. And with Blake Griffin out as well, I am very interested to see how the backup center spot shakes out. Anthony Davis seems to have established himself as the starter, but behind him do you go with DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond? Or do you look for mobility and speed and try Kenneth Faried? If it’s me, I take Paul Millsap and pray Davis stays out of foul trouble, but if I’m in a pinch hope Kevin Durant or even Millsap can steal you a couple of minutes at the five.

Blogtable: New coach who’s the best fit

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: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Byron Scott talks with Lakers.com after being hired as L.A.’s new coach

> Which of the league’s nine new head coaches best fits his team?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I really like the grittiness of Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn, the mind of Stan Van Gundy in Detroit and I applaud Cleveland for thinking out of the box in hiring David Blatt. But, I’m most intrigued by Phil Jackson’s guy, Steve Kerr in New Yo … er, Golden State. Kerr might be a rookie coach, but he has so many weapons to work with and if that squad can stay healthy, I feel we’re going to see a very free and loose team hustling up and down the floor and putting up a lot of points.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As much as I’d love to give the nod to Byron Scott and that underdog bunch the Lakers have put together this summer, I can’t go there. David Blatt, on the other hand, has the perfect canvas to work with in Cleveland with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and whoever else remains on that roster by the start of training camp. It’s rare that you will get a coach with the experience and accomplishments Blatt has compiled over the years coaching what looks like (and should be) a contender. Everything Blatt says and does will be magnified a zillion times because of LeBron’s presence, but he seems to have the perfect temperament to handle such things. I’m looking forward to seeing what Blatt can get out of Irving and some of the Cavs’ other young talent (provided some of those youngsters are still on the roster in October).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: We don’t know exactly what kind of coach Steve Kerr will be, but if he’s been influenced by both Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, he needs bigs who are multi-skilled. And the Warriors entire frontline  – Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – can pass and make plays. With all their talent, Golden State ranked just 12th offensively last season. It will be interesting to see if a new system can push them into the top five or six on that end of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: First of all, I didn’t even really realize that one-third of the NBA has new head coaches — I guess that wheel is still spinning. To me, the most interesting fit is in Detroit, where Stan Van Gundy takes over. The very public way that things collapsed in Orlando makes it easy to forget just how good Van Gundy was for most of his time there. The Pistons have an odd assortment of pieces, particularly if they bring back Greg Monroe, and last year’s experiment of playing Josh Smith at the three went about as well as any Atlanta Hawks fan could have told you it would go. But Van Gundy has always used a system to fit the pieces available to him, and I’m guessing he’ll do the same in Detroit and make the best out of what he has.

Blogtable: Free agent’s fine future

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: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with Bulls.com about why he signed with Chicago

> Which free agent (not counting LeBron James) are you most interested to see with his new team? Why?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Easily Pau Gasol. He’s been in such a beatdown state the last two years on bad teams and under a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had little use for him. Gasol should be happy and energized once again playing on a team that can contend for the East crown. Plus, the Bulls will make great use of his low-post scoring and passing. This should be fun to watch.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson. I want to see if his act in Indiana was just a situational deal and if there is more to his game and personality than what we’ve seen. I recognize the talent. He’s got plenty and perhaps more in reserve. He’s going to a team where the owner (Michael Jordan), coach (Steve Clifford) and locker room leaders (Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker) won’t hesitate to let him know when they feel like he’s going off the rails. If he comes in and has half the impact on the court for the Hornets that he had for the Pacers last season, the Hornets will have gotten one of the steals of the free-agent summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I want to see how much of a boost Paul Pierce can bring to the Wizards’ offense, which ranked 18th last season. The Wiz should be able to build on last year’s improvement and contend for a top-four spot in the East. The additions they’ve made make them one of the deepest teams in the league. But they do need more playmaking, especially when they go to their bench. Pierce shouldn’t necessarily be a sixth man, but if coach Randy Wittman can stagger his and John Wall‘s minutes some, the offense will be better overall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He didn’t get the largest contract, but I really think Pau Gasol could be one of the most impactful free agents of the summer. He’s not the same defender he was a few years ago, but Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to be able to gameplan around that. And it should be on offense where Gasol makes the biggest contribution — he and Joakim Noah are probably the best-passing big man combo in the NBA, and with Noah setting up at the top of the key, Pau’s beloved low post will be open for him to do work. Most importantly, with Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls should finally be past the offensive malaise that has plagued them for years.

Morning shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: The GameTime crew repors from Day 2 from Team USA camp

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant mum on move to D.C. | Report: Suns, Bledsoe nearing ‘irreparable’ relationship | Parker glad he took summer off

No. 1: Durant praises LeBron’s move, stays mum on own future — With LeBron James returning to his hometown of Cleveland over the summer, there’s been some buzz in the NBA world about whether or not Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant will pull a similar move come 2016. Durant will become an unrestricted free agent that summer and there’s hope among some in his hometown of Washington, D.C., that he’ll perhaps sign with the Wizards. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne caught up with Durant during Team USA’s practice in Las Vegas:

Kevin Durant made a point not to ask his friend LeBron James any questions. He gets enough of those already. Besides, James answered just about every question asked of him with the letter he penned in Sports Illustrated, in which he explained his decision to leave the Miami Heat and come home to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But Durant did reach out to congratulate James soon after he announced his decision.

“I thought it was well-thought-out. It was classy. It was a great move to do it as a letter,” Durant said after a training camp session with USA Basketball on Tuesday. “That was pretty cool. It’s funny seeing guys think about more than just basketball for once. He thought about the city where he comes from, about Northeast Ohio and how he can affect so many of the kids just being there playing basketball. I love that. So many guys get criticized for making the decision that’s best for them, instead of what’s best for everybody else. He’s a guy that did that. You gotta respect that. I applauded him, I texted him and told him congratulations on the decision and told him I was happy for him. As a fan of the game, it’s going to be pretty cool to see him back in Cleveland.”

Asked Tuesday if he might make a similar homecoming when he can become a free agent in two years, Durant said that was too far in the future to discuss in a serious way right now.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant said. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does. I grew up watching the Bullets/Wizards. I grew up taking the train to that arena, all the time, to watch Georgetown, the Bullets, the Washington Mystics. That whole city is a part of me. It’s in my blood. I love going back home, seeing my family and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City too.”

Still, the speculation is hard to escape. Durant said he went home this summer for a family reunion but didn’t go out much. Asked if that was because he’s constantly asked about coming back to the D.C. area someday, Durant smiled and laughed.

“Look, we going to put it out on tape,” Durant said. “It’s been talked about. Everybody’s asked me about it every time I go on Instagram or Twitter. All my friends ask me about it. So I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m naïve to the fact that people think about that stuff. But I just tell everybody that I’m here in Oklahoma City, [and] I love it here. Who knows what will happen? I never close the door on anything. But I like where I’m at right now, so I can’t answer that question.”

***  

USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

LAS VEGAS – There was a surprise for the media when we walked into USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. Mason Plumlee was playing with the Senior Team against the Select Team, instead of the other way around.

Plumlee’s promotion was about numbers, but also about his skills and performance. I wrote about him, the full crop of USA bigs, and the possibility of four of them being on the final World Cup roster here.

Scrimmaging was limited to just 10 minutes on Tuesday, with the addition of Plumlee allowing the Senior Team to split into two squads of 10 guys. The two squads simultaneously played against a portion of the Select Team.

Here were the lineups:
Blue 1: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond
Blue 2: Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Kenneth Faried and Plumlee
White 1: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
White 2: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins

And here are some more notes and quotes from the second day of camp…

  • White 1 built a 14-2 lead against its Select opponents, but then the group of Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Draymond Green and Cody Zeller came back against White 2 to win the 10-minute scrimmage, 22-21, with Oladipo hitting the scrimmage-winning three from the right wing with two seconds left off a Smart/Green pick-and-roll.
  • Fun little moment on the other floor: Millsap got the ball with a two-on-one opportunity with his Hawks teammate in transition. The defender pushed up on Millsap and Korver would have had an easy layup. But he flared out to the right corner instead of heading to the basket. Millsap hit him there for an open three.
  • Curry continues to play alongside another point guard. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo isn’t ready to say that Curry is strictly a two with this team, but had this to say about the point guard crop: “A couple of these guys are as much twos as they are ones. Curry is one and Damian Lillard is another. They’re one-twos, I think. Kyrie is more of a one, but he’s got a lot of two in him. Derrick is a one, there’s no question about that.”
  • Colangelo didn’t forget about Wall and said that the Wizards’ point guard made an impression in the first day of camp with “the look on his face, his pushing the ball up as well as he did, and defensively, he put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
  • Fans and the media weren’t the only ones who were curious about Rose. Both Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski told NBA TV that seeing what kind of shape Rose was in was the biggest thing about Monday. “It was like a performer who hadn’t been on the big stage for a while,” Krzyzewski said. “Yesterday, he belted out a song pretty darn good.”
  • Colangelo: “Derrick Rose was as good today as he was yesterday,” Colangelo said. So yeah, these guys are really excited about what they’ve seen from Rose.
  • This team is going to be aggressive defensively, but we saw some examples of them getting burned after bad gambles in the passing lanes on Tuesday. Good international teams will take advantage of defensive mistakes and there can be a fine line between making opposing offenses uncomfortable with your pressure and not staying in front of them because you’re too aggressive.

Plumlee gives USA another big option


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Jerry Colangelo Interview

LAS VEGAS – Mason Plumlee got a promotion on Tuesday, moving up from the Select Team to the Senior Team at USA Basketball camp.

Primarily, this was a numbers thing. The National Team had 19 guys in camp and only five bigs. The addition of Plumlee gives them an even 20, which allowed them to split into two 10-man teams for scrimmages (one on each floor) against the Select Team in practice and for Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, a more formal intra-squad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

But Plumlee’s chances of making the final roster for the World Cup shouldn’t be completely dismissed. The staff here likes him.

“He has good size,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo told NBA TV in discussing Plumlee’s promotion. “He’s active.”

It helps to be nearly seven feet tall. The imbalance between the U.S. Team’s backcourt talent and frontcourt talent is not a new thing. And the late decisions by Blake Griffin and Kevin Love to stay home created more of an opportunity for a guy who was supposed to spend most his rookie season in the D-League.

“Giving him an opportunity to play with the USA Team,” Colangelo told NBA.com, “that puts him in a position where he could earn himself a spot [on the final 12-man roster]. It’s possible.”

Plumlee’s older brother Miles has good size and is active too. But the feeling is that Mason has a better basketball IQ, is a better pick-and-roll defender and is more skilled. In the eyes of one person who would know, Mason just cares about basketball more.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski had both of them at Duke (and there are even more Dukies on the support staff), so he obviously has a good feel for what both can do.

Colangelo told NBA TV that he wants “extra bigs in my back pocket” when this team goes to Spain. Not only is there a possibility of facing two Gasols and Serge Ibaka on their home floor for the World Cup gold medal game, but every big in camp not named Anthony Davis has question marks…

  • DeMarcus Cousins is a beast, but ultimately, the staff has to be able to trust him, both in regard to dealing with officials and in making decisions with the ball. During a scrimmage on Tuesday, Cousins punched a wall pad out of frustration as the ball went the other way in transition. It was something that would go mostly unnoticed in an NBA game, but that stuff registers with the staff. He has great skills, but USA bigs don’t need to play one-on-one.
  • Colangelo on NBA TV: “We’re going to end up, I really feel this way, with some specialists. Now, I’ll just use a name. He may or may not be that guy, but [Kenneth] Faried … Energy, rebounding. We looked at tapes of yesterday’s scrimmage. He came in and, within a minute, he was responsible for six points for his team, getting two offensive rebounds, getting out on the break. And the same with [Andre] Drummond. He did a couple of things in a short period of time that added six points.”
  • For the 6-foot-8 Faried, size is obviously the issue. Colangelo sees him more as an “energy” guy than a “big” guy. So the opponent likely would determine just how much he could play on any given night.
  • For Drummond, it’s a little similar to Cousins in that you have to be able to trust him in a big moment. Because of their energy and athleticism, both can make more of short bursts than Cousins or Paul Millsap. And short bursts is probably all the non-Davis bigs will get with this team.
  • Size is an issue with Millsap as well. And he just doesn’t have the explosiveness of Faried. But he’s obviously more skilled than the rest of the group. He’s an interesting case.

The role of a U.S. big seems pretty simple. You’re not asked to carry an offense here. You’re not going to be posting up on the low block. But you still need to put in your work.

“There’s a lot to it,” Plumlee said. “You know you have to be a great screener to play for [Coach K]. You have to be on the boards all the time. There are different things you have to see as a big man. Like, in our half-court sets, you’re going to be a playmaker-passer from the elbow. So, there’s a lot that goes into it. Just because you aren’t putting the ball in the hole, there’s a lot more to it.”

With so much uncertainty, you have to wonder if the U.S. might take four bigs on its roster (going back to that “extra bigs in my back pocket” line) for the first time since 2006, the first year of the Colangelo/Krzyzewski era, when the team lost to Greece in the semifinals of the World Championship.

Colangelo isn’t ready to make that kind of decision just yet.

“It could be [the year they again take a fourth big],” he said, “but there’s no lock on that. I want to put it in perspective. I do think we have to take advantage of this entire month of training camp, where we have an opportunity to see some things.”

Colangelo aims to cut the roster from (now) 20 to 15 after this week in Las Vegas. And maybe five of those 15 are big men, to allow the staff to really figure out what they have and what they need.

“We’ll learn something when we play Brazil in Chicago [on Aug. 16],” he said of an exhibition against the likes of Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao. “That’s a huge frontline.”

Will Plumlee be there? After practice on Tuesday, he wasn’t even sure if his promotion was permanent.

“I’m just doing what they told me,” he said. “They told me to get on the 11:00 bus and I’m here.”

He seems like a long shot, but it sounds like Colangelo is keeping an open mind. Plumlee has two more days of practice and Friday’s Showcase to make the staff’s decision even harder.

When asked if he had spoken to teammate Kevin Garnett recently, Plumlee said that he did right before he came to Vegas. And it wasn’t about next season with the Nets (which they had already discussed), but this opportunity. Whether he makes the team or not, Plumlee is trying to take advantage of his time here.

“[I want to] just pick up things from the best players in the league,” he said. “It’s not everyday you get to practice with [Derrick] Rose, Kevin Durant and a lot of these guys. So you’re always learning no matter where you’re playing. You see what they do, their habits, the different things that they find success with, and then try to add it to your game.”

He might get even more time with those guys than he originally thought.

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – “Showtime” did, sort of, return to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

During the press conference to introduce former Lakers guard Byron Scott as the team’s 25th coach, old teammates Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes strolled into the Lakers’ practice gym to show their support. Johnson, a constant public critic of the last Lakers coach, Mike D’Antoni, nearly suffocated Scott with a massive, joy-filled hug.

Johnson declared this as “a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Lakers fans all over the world,” and then proclaimed the impossible: “Showtime’s back, baby!”

Scott, 53, flanked Magic in the Lakers’ backcourt for three of the Showtime Lakers’ four championship runs during the 1980s, plus three other Finals appearances through 1991. Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., home of the old Fabulous Forum and then the renamed Great Western Forum where those teams dazzled the senses, obviously has intimate knowledge of how those high-powered teams excelled.

Yet even Scott, who along with all Lakers fans can appreciate Magic’s exuberance for bringing a Laker Man back to the helm, had to tap the brakes on Magic’s “Showtime” giddiness here in the real world of 2014.

“We can’t play that way,” Scott said during his press conference. “We don’t have a Magic Johnson.”

Touché.

Remember, it was D’Antoni when hired five games into the 2012-13 season who embraced the faux return of Showtime, declaring his inherited edition would score 110 points a game or something ridiculous. Such bravado presumably came from either an attempt to capture angry Lakers fans enamored with Phil Jackson, or from his past successes running-and-gunning in Phoenix with two-time MVP Steve Nash, whom the Lakers had acquired that summer, only at a slightly more advanced age than he was in those heady Suns days.

Nash remains with the Lakers. He’s 40 now and has played 65 games in the last two seasons because of injuries, and just 15 last season. Kobe Bryant was a bushy-haired rookie during Scott’s final season. Scott returned to L.A. for the 1996-97 season for a final hurrah after playing a few seasons elsewhere a couple years after Magic’s initial stunning retirement.

The offense Kobe and Nash will run, Scott said on Tuesday, will be a mixture of everything he’s ever done at his previous stops with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland, where he was the poor sap who took the gig just before LeBron James declared he was taking his talents to South Beach.

His greatest chore, Scott said, going full anti-D’Antoni (who truthfully had no shot last season with the unending injuries that ravaged the team), will be turning this group into a defensive-minded unit. Scott probably choked just a bit as he glanced at the Lakers’ stats last season. They finished 28th overall in defensive rating, giving up 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

“The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” Scott said. “These three gentlemen [Magic, Kareem and Wilkes] that’s sitting in this front row, the first thing that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control.”

Just prior to making that statement, Scott said he told general manager Mitch Kupchak that he assembled a roster that will be “very competitive.” Hopefully Scott remembered the Lakers are still in the Western Conference. Anyway, there’s nothing like new-coach optimism.

On the bright side, the Lakers were so awful last season that it figures to be next-to-impossible to be as bad. The Lakers lost a franchise-record 55 games. Kobe played in six. He’ll be back. We know he’ll be paid a handsome $23.5 million next season, but we don’t know at what level he’ll perform or how he’ll adapt his game to his changing athleticism and physical capabilities following the torn Achilles tendon of two seasons ago and last season’s knee injury. Or how his patience will stand up to a mediocre team and a new coach, even one this time he personally endorsed.

Nash, as mentioned, is back, too, but how long he can play or how effectively is a total mystery.

Pau Gasol is out. Vetaran power forward Carlos Boozer is in.

The rest of Scott’s team looks like this: No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle, then Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre.

Showtime? The straight-faced Scott was right to tap the brakes.

Give him credit for that, and now give him time to implement a system and gain some cohesion, and time for trusted management to work some magic in the coming summers that missed the mark with available superstars this time around.

Only then will we know if Magic can truly crow that Showtime’s back, baby.

Top stat lines for USAB players in 2013-14

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By Joe Boozell, NBA.com

It’s easy to fret about a USA front line sans Kevin Love and Blake Griffin squaring off against Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka and the Spaniards.

America, I’m here to tell that team USA is still loaded with talent.

While Team USA is missing some of the NBA’s best, the 2014 roster at training camp in Las Vegas is still stocked with scorers, passers and everything in between. Many players experienced breakout campaigns in 2013-14, while others simply maintained the level of greatness they’ve displayed throughout their careers.

To avoid a list dominated entirely by MVP Kevin Durant, here are the top stat lines (with 10 different players represented and no individual player repeated) from Team USA members in 2013-14.

10. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors – February 1, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 36 points (14-for-29-FG) and 12 assists

VIDEO: DeRozan drops 47 in loss to Portland 

DeRozan is one of the most exciting young scorers in the NBA, using a combination of natural athleticism and an emerging skill set to bend defenses. He went on an absolute rampage in the second half of this game against Portland, scoring 30 of his game-high 36 points in the final 24 minutes. Fourteen of those points came in the third quarter while 16 came in the fourth. DeRozan also added 12 dimes to an already impressive showing and took on the primary ball handling responsibilities from Kyle Lowry for the evening.

9. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz – January 7, 2014 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – 37 points (13-for-17-FG), 11 rebounds and seven assists

VIDEO: Hayward nets a career-high 37

Performances like this apparently gave Jazz and Hornets brass ample reason to throw $63 million at Hayward this summer, as they know the level at which he is capable of playing. The former Butler wunderkind did his best Durant impression on this January night — granted, KD went for 48 points of his own, but the Jazz won the game by 11. The Thunder sliced a 24-point Jazz lead to just five, but Hayward responded by sinking five consecutive jumpers, two of them 3-pointers.

8. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – April 13, 2014 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves – 35 points (13-for-21-FG), 15 rebounds and six assists


VIDEO: Cousins records eighth straight double-double

With Griffin and Love backing out of Team USA festivities, Boogie could play an integral role in Team USA’s fate in Spain. Though he played for the lowly Sacramento Kings, Cousins was no stranger to big statistical outputs — he averaged well over 20 points and 10 rebounds per night. On what would be his last game of 2014, the Kentucky product went out with a thunderous bang, recording his eighth double-double in a row to end the season. The Kings had one more game left on the calendar three days later, but naturally, Cousins wouldn’t be a part of it. He picked up his 16th technical foul against Minnesota which warranted a one game suspension.

7. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers – December 17, 2013 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – 36 points (11-for-23-FG, 8-for-12 3PT FGA), 10 assists and eight rebounds

VIDEO: Lillard has a monster game against Cleveland

Lillard has already established himself as having a flair for the dramatic, an awfully impressive thing to say about someone who’s spent just two years as a pro. Not only did the Blazers guard come up just two rebounds short of a triple double, but he also drained the game-winner in a thriller against Cleveland. The eight 3-pointers were a career-high for Lillard, who bested fellow Team USA hopeful Kyrie Irving in a showdown of two of the best young point guards in the NBA. Lillard’s shot came with just 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock.

6. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – November 9, 2013 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 39 points, 12 assists and five rebounds

VIDEO: Irving explodes for 39 and a game-winner

Speaking of Irving, ‘Uncle Drew’ knows a thing or two about late game heroics himself. Sure, this game went to double overtime, and regulation and the first overtime both ended in clanks from Irving. But the third time was the charm, and who are we to be picky about game winning shots? Irving also logged a game high 48 minutes for the Cavs and was a team high plus-13.  He and Michael Carter-Williams combined for a healthy 60 points and 25 assists on the night.

5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors – April 13, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 47 points (16-for-28-FG, 7-for-14 3PT FGA) and four steals


VIDEO: Curry lights up the Blazers for 47

Team USA’s strength is its shooting, speed and quickness, so it’s no coincidence that three consecutive point guards make their way onto this list. Curry’s 47 points were a season high, but it was the third time in 2013-14 that he eclipsed the 40 point mark and the sixth time in his heralded career. Although his defensive chops are sometimes questioned, the Dubs star did his part in slowing down fellow Team USA member Lillard, who scored only 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting for the Blazers.

4. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – April 11, 2014 vs. Chicago Bulls - 26 points (11-for-17-FG), 26 rebounds and three blocks

VIDEO: Drummond has 26 and 26 against the Bulls

Games like this are the reason why Stan Van Gundy was so eager to take over the basketball operations in Motown, as Drummond looks like a young Dwight Howard on numerous occasions. 26 points are to be applauded and 26 rebounds, in the midst of battling against Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, are especially noteworthy. But that count wasn’t even a career-high for Drummond, who pulled down 26 boards against the Knicks earlier in the month. Like Cousins, Drummond’s muscle will be of paramount importance for the success of this USA squad.

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets – March 9, 2014 vs. Portland Trailblazers – 41 points (7-for-12 3PT FGA), 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals

VIDEO: Harden erupts for 41 against Portland

What’s with the Trailblazers making three appearances on this list for the wrong reasons? Harden had his ups and downs in the postseason series against Portland, but he had a brilliant night against them in March. He scored 17 of his game-high 41 points in the fourth quarter including a huge 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime. Harden also has been criticized for his lack of interest defensively, but Wesley Matthews, who was crucial in the postseason victory of the Rockets, was held to just 5-for-15 shooting in the game by Harden. Houston won this one in overtime by a score of 118-113.

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – March 16, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics – 40 points (14-for-22-FG, 12-for-12 FT), 21 rebounds and three blocks


VIDEO: Davis goes for a career-high 40 against Boston

The Brow is just 21 — and if his career keeps trending in such a positive direction, he could become the face of USA basketball for years to come. Davis matched his age in rebounds against Boston in this Pelicans victory while also notching 41 points. Both were good for career highs for Davis, who is the youngest player since Shaquille O’Neal to collect at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a game. His previous career high for points was 36, and he also erased his career high for rebounds, 19, all in one fabulous effort.

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder – March 21, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors – 51 points (7-for-12 3PT FGA), 12 rebounds and seven assists


VIDEO: Durant pours in 51 versus the Raptors

As mentioned previously, Durant had several gargantuan performances that could be compiled into a list of their own, but this one takes the cake. Durant scored an astonishing 38 of his 51 points in the second half and overtime, good for his fourth career 50 point game. It was also his 39th game scoring 40 points or more in his young career. Durant gave the Thunder the lead for good by drilling a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining in the second overtime, capping the game-high 52 minutes he logged on the night. Durant looks to be the leader of this USA group heading into the FIBA World Cup, and if he can resemble the guy who showed up on a chilly March night in Toronto, the Americans should be salivating at their chances.

 

 

 

Plenty of time for Bledsoe to earn max

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the Phoenix media during last season’s exit interviews

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Electric point guard Eric Bledsoe one day might command an NBA max deal. It just doesn’t appear that day is today.

The Phoenix Suns want to pay Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, the same as what the Toronto Raptors paid Kyle Lowry earlier this month ($48 million over four years). It’s a pretty fair deal for a player like Bledsoe, who is entering his fifth season and spent three seasons as Chris Paul‘s backup. Plus, he missed half of last season, his first in Phoenix, with a knee injury.

The fearless, 6-foot-1 Bledsoe — when healthy — formed a dynamic backcourt with Goran Dragic and is seeing much bigger dollar figures for himself: max dollars over five years (reportedly $80 million).

He’s seen fellow point guards Kyrie Irving and John Wall break the bank when eligible for extensions (Bright Side of the Sun does a good job here of comparing Bledsoe to his contemporaries). This summer fellow restricted free agents Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward rode the market to max deals. Of course, they received the necessary help from other teams — the Dallas Mavericks and the Charlotte Hornets, respectively — making aggressive plays for their services (Parsons landed in Dallas for $46 million over three years when Houston declined to match; Hayward stayed with Utah when the Jazz matched the Hornets’ four-year, $63-million offer).

Sometimes the market embraces you. Sometimes it betrays you.

Bledsoe was counting on another team making him that max offer. In that case, the Suns were thought to be prepared to match. And if they decided otherwise, well, Bledsoe would happily cash his checks in another state.

But as is the case with Detroit big man Greg Monroe, a fellow restricted free agent, an offer sheet has not materialized. And at this late stage where most teams have shopped to their limit, it appears an offer sheet won’t walk through that door.

Bledsoe, 24, has been quiet throughout his free agency, but he did give a brief interview the other day to WVTM during a street-ball hoops event in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

“First off, I’m going to let my agent handle it,” Bledsoe said. “I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me. But I understand that.”

The Suns aren’t using restricted free agency against Bledsoe. They’re playing by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. They’ve made a good offer for a player who has started 78 games in his career, and are now sitting back and letting the market work. So far, no team has forced the Suns to increase their offer.

If no offer sheet comes, Bledsoe’s most likely path is to accept the Suns’ $48 million offer, grow with a team on the rise, play at an All-Star worthy level (as Dragic did last season) and and shoot for a max deal in four years.

Or he can take a riskier approach and accept the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer the Suns extended him at the start of free agency (making him restricted), and go for that max deal next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is playing this just as he should. He has to be mindful of his club’s salary cap situation this year and beyond.

Dragic, a bargain at $7.5 million this season, will surely decline his player option next summer for 2015-16. With another big year like he had last season, Dragic could double his annual salary. McDonough also traded for Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas this summer and will pay him $27 million over the next four seasons.

This obviously isn’t the way Bledsoe envisioned the summer unfolding.

Eventually he will have to make a decision, and it should be an easy one. He should happily accept the Suns’ $48-million offer. From there he can create his own value by evolving into a team leader and helping the Suns become bona fide Western Conference contenders over the next four seasons.

If he does that, then come four years from now, Bledsoe will have the max offer of his choosing.