Lawson: ‘People are probably going to sleep on us’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ty Lawson made his presence felt in Denver’s best plays last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – NBA schedules haven’t been out long, but Ty Lawson has already been studying up on the Denver Nuggets’ first month.

“We’ve got the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, We got OKC twice,” Lawson said. “Our first month is crazy so I was like, ‘coach, we’ve both got to be ready coming in, we’ve got to all be focused when we get in there [to training camp].”

Lawson didn’t mention two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first month and the Phoenix Suns in the powerful Western Conference.

“I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent,” Lawson said.

Oh yeah, add a pair against the Kings in the opening month, too.

Throw in a game against the healthy New Orleans Pelicans and that’s 12 of the Nuggets’ first 16 games.

“When it first came out,” Lawson said of the schedule, “I checked and was like, ‘man!’

The Nuggets’ explosive point guard has been working hard during the offseason in Los Angeles. He will soon make his way back to Denver and begin working out with teammates as the countdown to the start of training camp officially begins. This particularly excites the ever-improving Lawson, one of the more under-talked-about point guards in a conference overflowing with All-Star candidates at the position, because it’s been a long time since he’s played with a few of them.

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: You and Kenneth Faried both had strong seasons in Shaw’s first year despite all the injuries. Was it important for you two to set the tone in a transition year?

Lawson: I think so. We found ourselves, especially Kenneth. He found out he can score in the post, run the floor and also his decision-making after getting the rebound and taking it downcourt and able to make the right pass, the right decision. I think it was a positive on both ends and I think it’s going to help for this year coming up.

NBA.com: As a team leader, do you keep up with your teammates during the offseason?

Lawson: Definitely. JaVale’s in L.A., so I see him and we talk all the time. I stay in touch basically with everybody, making sure everybody is getting their work in and that they’re ready for this year because we can make a lot noise.

NBA.com: Speaking of McGee, he signed the big contract, but his season ended five games into it due to injury. Even then he had not earned a significant role under Shaw and he has yet to be able to rid himself of the perception of having a low basketball IQ. Do you really believe he can begin to elevate his game and be a significant contributor?

Lawson: I can see that he’s taking a more serious approach. When he was at Washington he was just about, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m 7-foot, I’m playing.’ But now he’s really actually trying to get better. You can see that. When he’s working out and he misses a jump hook or something he actually gets mad.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.

NBA.com: You already mentioned how tough the schedule is the opening month. Overall, how do you see the West shaping up?

Lawson: The West is going to be crazy. Everybody got better. Houston may have slipped a little bit, but I feel like you’ve got to be ready to go every night against the West. There’s not going to be any slouch teams. I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent. You’ve got to be ready to play in the West, there’s not going to be any easy games like last year where you knew you were going to win that game. It’s not going to be that easy, any team can beat you in the West.

NBA.com: Some feared you might not be as effective in Shaw’s more halfcourt-focused offense as opposed to Karl’s full-throttle approach. You still managed to thrive. Where do you want to take your game next season?

Lawson: I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.

‘Bron, Wade toted elite style, execution


VIDEO: LeBron and Dwyane Wade didn’t spare us the highlights over the past four years

They didn’t have a nickname for the ages, but their work on the floor was sufficient enough. So sufficient that the good folks (shout out to Jonathan Scott) at the NBA Digital headquarters saw fit to produce their best moments together. It’s cool. It’s a must-watch. It’s what you want to see as a hoop head.

Their recipe was simple: We’re faster than you, we can jump higher than you and we’re going to look for each other at any given tick. The crosscourt alley-oops, cutting and weaving and defensive ball-hawking that evoked the work of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were fruits of this strategy.

When The Decision happened in 2010, we saw two supremely gifted alpha players in their primes make a conscious effort to join forces. It didn’t seem fair and gave us an open lane to cast them as villains.

Two championships, four straight Finals trips… yeah, it wasn’t fair. There have been many duos that gave us moments, but only a few compare with the level of synergy and high-level production that the Tandem Formerly Known As ‘Bron and D-Wade brought. Unless they get the opportunity to pair up during All-Star weekend, you won’t see it live again.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joined forces as superstars and didn't disappoint.

In 2010, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joined forces as superstars. They didn’t disappoint.

LeBron James is a lock to garner more midseason trips. You have to figure Dwyane Wade has a couple more in him, but his knees present questions. So nothing is guaranteed, nothing lasts forever, blah, blah blah. Some may find this a bit schmaltzy. It’s not.

Greatness is greatness and it demands a corner of recognition. When it’s here, we bask in it. When it’s gone, we sing sonnets and write odes to it look for The Next. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will give ‘Bron new tools to work with and by this time December, we’ll probably be seeing a boatload of Love-James and James-Irving roundball duets in Cleveland, making the Miami pairing a distant memory sooner than later.

Wade still has Chris Bosh. He also has Luol Deng. He’s not playing with slouches, but he won’t have a 6-foot-8 Akron gazelle running the wing ready to catch and finish any pass he throws up anymore. When LeBron and Wade partnered up, few saw them only lasting four years. So peace out, you two. We hardly knew ya.  What part we did know was something we aren’t likely to forget.

Buyers? Bucks to reward ticket ‘users’


VIDEO: Jabari Parker talks with Bucks.com about his off-the-court interests

At first blush, the Milwaukee Bucks’ current ticket promotion, “Cheer The Future,” sounds like an old joke: the prize for first place is one week in Milwaukee! The prize for second place is two weeks in Milwaukee …

The Bucks were so bad last season, so seemingly far from playing competitive basketball, that the sales department’s offer of a steep discount on tickets in 2015-16 – as steep as free! – based on tickets bought and used this season might seem more punitive than generous, going strictly by their 15-67 finish in 2013-14. Milwaukee pulled off what looked to be one of the great shell games in recent NBA history, pledging not to “tank” — then-owner Herb Kohl flatly said so on Media Day — and then outtanking the other league’s bottom feeders to grab the best odds in the Draft lottery.

The move, driven by injuries and underperformance as much as any rebuilding strategy, worked out beautifully. The Bucks landed the No. 2 pick and, in selecting Duke’s Jabari Parker, wound up with a draftee most scouts think can contribute immediately. Parker also has said all the right things about pledging his services to Milwaukee long-term, and he has a built-in fan base 90 miles to the south in his hometown of Chicago.

But all that losing came at a price, and not just in pride or – for coach Larry Drew and his staff – in job security. Milwaukee’s attendance went from an average of 15,348 in the previous seven seasons to 13,511, a drop of 12 percent. After ranking between 22nd and 27th from 2006-07 through 2012-13 in home attendance, the Bucks finished last in 2013-14.

It wasn’t even just a money thing, as bad as the hemorrhaging was. The BMO Harris Bradley Center on too many nights went limp, the empty seats of the upper bowl and the quiet ones down below feeling like a betrayal of the franchise’s headier times: The championship era of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1970s. Don Nelson’s Marques Johnson-Sidney Moncrief powerhouses of the ’80s. The excitement when Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell missed the 2001 Finals by one game. And even the “Fear The Deer” surprise late in 2009-10.

That’s why this “Cheer The Future” season-ticket scheme matters not just as a way to sell tickets but to get those buyers into the building.

“We believe the best way to build our fan base and increase attendance is to show them our young, exciting team,” Ted Loehrke, the Bucks’ senior vice president and chief revenue officer, said by phone Thursday. “The whole concept is to re-introduce the Bucks to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, especially young professionals and college students.”

The prices and seat locations should fit their budgets, especially if they max out the benefits. It works like this: Fans are required to commit to a two-season purchase, with discounts offered on the second year. Those who attend at least 30 games will get their 2015-16 tickets at half price. If they use tickets this season at least 35 times, the discount grows to 75 percent. And those who attend all 40 Milwaukee home games (the team plays a designated home game at London’s O2 Arena on Jan. 15 vs. New York) will get their same tickets next season for free.

The team set aside 500 seats for the promotion, which runs through Sunday. Loehrke said the response has been strong, with the remaining seats and the deadline pretty much in synch.

NBA teams have marketed hard-to-sell seats via various gimmicks. For instance, Minnesota used a “pay the pick” plan in which fans paid a per-ticket price equal to the team’s lottery position (the Wolves drafted fourth, so those seats cost $4 each). Other clubs have offered future discounts. But Loehrke said the Bucks were unaware of any team bundling purchase, attendance and discount together like this.

Milwaukee already has had an eventful offseason, starting with Kohl’s sale of the franchise to billionaire investors Wes Edens and Marc Lasry for a whopping $550 million. Parker’s selection and presentation were well-received, and the startling hire of Jason Kidd as coach – after some un-Milwaukee-like machinations behind GM John Hammond‘s back to oust Drew – generated headlines, too.

The continued development of last season’s lottery pick, Greek phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, and 2012 first-rounder John Henson, along with some presumed face-saving resurgences by Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilaysova are added reasons for optimism in 2014-15.

“There’s been a buzz around the team this summer unlike any we’ve seen in recent history,” Loehrke said.

Edens and Lasry are eager to energize the Bradley Center, too, to win over local and state officials and the citizens overall to their quest for a new, partially public-financed downtown arena. Sports teams know that seats, like unused hotel rooms, are an expiring asset. The Bucks want those in their aging building to be very expiring.

Mostly, though, they want them filled. This season and next.

Summer Dreaming: Most Valuable Player

We’ve been to the beach to soak up the rays and the scenery and did some snorkeling to take a peek at life beneath the water’s surface. We’ve risen at dawn and hiked up through the cool morning air on narrow trails to get a glimpse of what’s over there on the next mountain. We’ve gone bungee jumping just to see if we had it in us. We’ve floated down long, lazy rivers to navel gaze and find out how long we could keep that umbrella drink balanced on our bellies.

What else is left to see on these sultry summer days except to lie back in a hammock and dream of MVPs who’ll make things hot on all those winter nights?

While we’re still several pages on the calendar away from the 2014-15 season openers, we’re taking off from the free-throw line in our naps and soaring all the way to April for the top five contenders on my ballot.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: LeBron James returns home to Cleveland

LeBron James, Cavaliers — He’s back at home in Ohio, all is forgiven and it’s safe to like him again. Add in the fact that he lost out on the MVP trophy to Kevin Durant last season — even though it was silly to even think that he wasn’t the best player in the league — and there’s reason to expect bigger things than a pregame mushroom cloud of resin dust in Cleveland. Chalk last year up to “LeBron Fatigue” from a voting roll that simply got tired of writing his name in on the top line of the ballot, even if it was the right thing to do. So now “The Homecoming” will have him in the same situation he faced after Derrick Rose copped the MVP from him in 2011. All James did was respond by winning the award two straight times. A fifth MVP this season will move him into a tie with Bill Russell and Michael Jordan and, at just 29, LeBron in his prime will be stalking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time record of six.


VIDEO: Brent Barry goes one-on-one with Chris Paul

Chris Paul, Clippers — Does anybody really think head cheerleader and screamer Steve Ballmer would have plunked down $2 billion to buy the Clippers if Paul hadn’t already done the seemingly impossible and removed their name as the punch line from every NBA joke? Yes, Blake Griffin is a bonafide All-Star. Yes, Doc Rivers is an elite level coach who was tapped into the psyche of DeAndre Jordan to push him into the conversation as one of the best centers in the league. But it’s Paul who is the face, heart, teeth and claws of the franchise. With career averages of 18.6 points, 9.9 assists, simply the best handle in the game and a nose for ballhawking defense, CP3 has a pot that’s been bubbling for nine NBA seasons and is ready to boil over and take the Clippers to the next level. This could be the year. Paul has driven the team to win a franchise record 56 and 57 games in each of the past two seasons and if he can do it again to set up a deep playoff run, the shiny hardware could be his reward.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks about his 2013-14 MVP season

Kevin Durant, Thunder — He capped off another splendid and relentless season by winning his first MVP award last season and then upped his game by delivering one of the great acceptance speeches of all time. Go ahead, admit that you wiped a tear from the corner of your eye. What’s going to change on the court this time around? While teammate Russell Westbrook rides the roller coaster of fandom up and down with his off-the-charts play mixed with the “what-was-he-thinking?” shot selection, Durant will continue to be the spindly-legged racehorse that pulls the Thunder wagon. He’s won the scoring title four of the past five seasons, had a string of a dozen straight games of scoring at least 30 a year ago, which brought out the Jordan comparisons. But with all of the hullaballoo surrounding LeBron’s return to Cleveland, last season could one day be remembered as K.D.’s only MVP win if he can’t get the Thunder over the hump to win a championship.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony elects to stay in New York

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — Last season was the first time in his career that Anthony’s team did not make the playoffs, yet he still finished third in the MVP voting. That speaks not only to the depth of his own talent, but a lack of depth on the Knicks roster that forces him to be the do-it-all force every night. Other than the arrival of Phil Jackson in the executive suite and Derek Fisher on the bench, little has changed at Madison Square Garden. Melo went window shopping in the free agent market, glimpsing at the goods in Chicago and Houston, then opted to take the largest bundle of cash — five years, $124 million — to remain in New York and continue to keep his name in lights on Broadway. He’s lost weight. He’s gained confidence. He says he can get the Knicks back into the playoffs. In a rebuilt Eastern Conference that now has real challengers up and down the standings, that will be a tall task. But if Anthony can take the Knicks there, he’ll deserved to be in the conversation.


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s top plays of 2013-14

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Curry is the best pure shooter in the league today. It’s not just the number of times he puts the ball into the basket, but his ability to get the shots off so quickly, at all angles, from virtually anyplace on the court. Give him an open dribble as soon as he crosses the mid court line and you might have given up a bucket. But it’s more than just scoring 24.5 points a game. It’s Curry’s ability to dish the ball from either hand with a magician’s flair for 8.5 assists that makes him truly special. He was already knocking on the door of the top five a year ago, finishing sixth in the MVP balloting. If new coach Steve Kerr can get the Warriors to take the next step and boost them into the upper half of the Western Conference bracket, Curry could be a dark horse in the race.

‘Free agent’ coaches seek work in ever-shifting job market

One by one, in something approximating inverse order of desirability, the names of NBA free agents have come off the proverbial big board. What began with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol has dwindled now to fellows such as Andray Blatche, Dante Cunningham and Ekpe Udoh.

This game of offseason musical chairs is played for even more blood among coaches. There are fewer jobs to be had in the first place (five or six per team vs. 15 player positions), and it’s not nearly the meritocracy that it is for players. Abilities, work ethic and results matter less than connections or change for its own sake.

There are a lot of coaching free agents still on the board, both former head coaches and notable assistants. Among the former, we have George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy, Scott Skiles, Mike Woodson, Doug Collins, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Keith Smart, Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Lawrence Frank and Maurice Cheeks.

The latter group, even bigger, includes Jack Sikma, Mario Elie, Terry Porter, T.R. Dunn, Igor Kokoskov, Scott Williams, Bill Peterson, Bernie Bickerstaff, Brian Hill, Bob Ociepka  and, hey, Rasheed Wallace. Actually, you could go dozens deep with solid coaching pros who once were in but now are out, the one place few of them want to be.

“There’s an old expression in the NBA, ‘Never get off the bus. Stay on the bus!’ ” said Jim Boylan, an NBA assistant for most of his 22 years in the league who survived a coaching change in Cleveland this offseason. “We all realize it too — it’s a privilege for us to be involved in the NBA and to coach athletes at this level.”

But it’s fleeting. Coaches face more scrutiny and grab more headlines when they’re fired, but their landings are often cushioned by seven-figure paychecks. Assistant coaches get flushed, and that six-figure salary — while comfy by most folks’ standards — doesn’t go quite so far when you account for the costs of multiple residences or constant moves.

Ociepka, who entered the league in the 1980s as a part-time volunteer scout after a storied career as a high school coach in the Chicago area, scrambled through five NBA teams in five years in the ’90s. Boylan and his wife, Jane, counted recently and realized they have owned or lived in 25 homes during his basketball career.

“It’s not a surprise when you’re an assistant coach in the NBA,” Sikma, the former Seattle and Milwaukee center, said recently. “You look at the number of staffs that have turned over in the last few years — it’s more of a constant than not. You know you’re probably going to have to bounce around a little bit.”

There are a multitude of factors for the turnover, most obvious the turnover at the top. When a coach gets fired, some or all of his staff typically gets shown the door with him. And there has been a LOT of turnover lately — nine new NBA coaches this summer, 13 such changes a year ago. Going back just five years, to the start of the 2009-10 season, only San Antonio (Gregg Popovich), Miami (Erik Spoelstra) and Dallas (Rick Carlisle) now have the same coaches. And both the Spurs’ and Mavericks’ staffs have changed considerably.

“Most people who are making the decisions probably have a narrow list going on, from relationships or what they’re looking for,” Sikma said. “It’s a transient line of work for sure. So you have to be quick on your feet.”

Here are glimpses of three assistant coaches whose dance cards are filled to varying degrees. Sikma would like very much to get back in after spending the past seven seasons working with now-retired Rick Adelman. Boylan beat the odds by surviving a coaching change in Cleveland, then beat them again when LeBron James’ yearning for home rocked the Cavaliers’ landscape. And Ociepka is at the point, after so many hirings and firings, where he might prefer more stable options.  

Morning shootaround — Aug. 28


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Harden emerging as leader on U.S. team | Hinkie unsure if Embiid will play next season | Clips keep Rivers in the fold

No. 1: Harden emerging as Team USA leader — If you missed it yesterday, our John Schuhmann had an excellent stats analysis of Team USA and its rampage through exhibition play as it readies for the upcoming FIBA World Cup. One of the key points he noted is how well the squad has fared when James Harden and the rest of the starters set the tone in games. Aside from how his play is helping the U.S. team on the scoreboard, guard James Harden has also shown himself to be a leader in other ways for Team USA. Michael Lee of the Washington Post has more on that topic:

Harden’s responsibilities increased once more when Kevin Durant, his close friend and former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, backed out of his commitment, citing fatigue and not the injury to George as the reason. That left the lefty Harden as the only first-team all-NBA player remaining on the squad. The earlier withdrawals of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook also meant that Harden and Anthony Davis were the only holdovers from the 2012 London Olympics team.

“Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said as his team continues to prepare for the tournament in which the winner earns an automatic berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.”

Harden’s career changed dramatically after that summer as Oklahoma City traded the then-sixth man of the year to the Rockets. He became an all-star in his first season, playing so well that Dwight Howard forfeited a bigger pay day from the Los Angeles Lakers to join forces with him in Houston a year later. The constant adjustments have been so common for Harden that the steadily-evolving situation with Team USA over the past few weeks feels almost normal for him.

“It’s so many things these last couple of years that’s been thrown at me, from me being traded, to people talking, just everything,” Harden said. “I try to focus on myself and how can I be a better basketball player. It’s still basketball at the end of the day. I try to do it to the best of my ability and continue to work hard.”

Harden declared himself as the best player alive two weeks ago, expressing a sentiment that was neither delusional nor particularly serious. But it represented a mindset that is required for elite-level basketball players – especially one with obvious deficiencies on the defensive end who also happened to be a viable candidate for league most valuable player last season. When pressed about that opinion, Harden didn’t backtrack.

“I think everybody feels that way. Every NBA player. Even growing up, growing up youngins have dreams that they want to be the best basketball players in the world,” Harden said. “As a basketball player, or any athlete, you got to have confidence, you’ve got to have confidence the whole time. You just go out there and do your job and have confidence that your abilities are good enough. Whatever is thrown at me, I just try to take it for what it is and just have fun.”


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Team USA’s victory against Slovenia  

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.