No George, no Stephenson, but Vogel downright upbeat about Pacers


VIDEO: Pacers’ top 10 plays from the 2013-14 season

You see Frank Vogel for the first time since things turned really ugly for his Indiana Pacers team, your initial thought is to commiserate.

Then you hear Vogel talk about the Pacers and what awaits them in this 2014-15 NBA season, and your next thought is to apply a cold compress.

Vogel bounced through the early going at the annual coaches meetings in Chicago with a mile-wide smile and an optimism that had you wondering if, somehow, he had missed July and August. That’s when, in a span of two weeks, Indiana suffered a 1-2 gut punch in the form of Lance Stephenson‘s surprising decision to leave as a free agent and Paul George‘s gruesome, season-crippling injury at Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas.

Yet to look at and listen to Vogel last week, you’d have thought Larry Bird had dialed a time machine back three decades with the idea of reassigning himself from team president to starting small forward.

“We’re going to be fine,” Vogel said. “We’ve got more than enough to compete with the best and we’re going to have another great season. Our approach is, we’re going to try to not skip a beat.”

Vogel’s fingers were not crossed. There was no whiff of rum in the room, and he wasn’t talking in Comic Sans.

He continued: “Two guys being gone – Lance being gone, Paul not being with us because of injury – creates opportunities for other guys. Both at that position and also at other positions to carry a bigger role.”

Ah, OK, so maybe it was the whole interview thing. So you switched off the recorder, looked the Pacers coach in the eye and said, now Frank, how do you really feel?

“I really feel that way,” Vogel said. “I think we’re going to be OK.”

It was time to find a chair for Vogel. Or maybe several so he could lie down. Indiana, despite its 56-26 record last season and berth as the No. 1 playoff seed in the East, ranked 29th in offensive efficiency, according to NBA.com stats. The Pacers were 28th in field-goal attempts, 27th in assists, 24th in points per game and 23rd in offensive rebounding.

George and Stephenson, the team’s dynamic two-way wings, generated an outsized portion of that attack. They combined for 45.5 points and 28.2 shots per game, which was 47 percent of Indiana’s scoring and 35 percent of its field-goal attempts.

George would have been a starter for Team USA in its gold medal-winning effort in the FIBA World Cup tournament. Stephenson would have been a worthy NBA All-Star reserve in February and was expected to remedy that miss this season. Together, the two Pacers were the likeliest sources for some Indiana improvement offensively, while pestering opponents like Dobermans defensively.

Into the breach step retreads Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles.

“Those guys are solid NBA veterans,” Vogel said. “It’s not like we’re going to fill the spots with guys who were in the D League last year. And we feel [2013 first-rounder] Solomon Hill is going to be an elite defensive player and a guy who can knock down open shots. We could have played him 25 minutes a game last year and we would have been all right. We just had such depth.

Chris Copeland is going to get a chance to play more. Damjan Rudez, one of the best shooters in Europe, is coming over to play at the ‘three’ or the ‘four.’ So we’ve got answers. You look at that, combined with our point guard rotation’s intact with George Hill and C.J. Watson, our big rotation’s intact with [Luis] Scola, [Roy] Hibbert and [Ian] Mahinmi. There are reasons to be optimistic.”

Hibbert, for instance, has shed 14 pounds in a plan to be more mobile and not so easily shaken when a team with “stretch fives” like Atlanta vacates the middle. Hibbert also spent a week immersed in court time, meals and movies with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, adding the NBA’s all-time leading scorer to his list of illustrious tutors (Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan). Hopefully the Pacers center and The Captain screened film other than “Airplane!” and “Game of Death.”

It’s understandable that Vogel might want to stay upbeat, because the alternative wouldn’t do him or his team any good. His biggest concern is defensively, where Indiana has excelled in recent seasons. Hibbert still is the anchor at 7-foot-3 but in George it lost a Scottie Pippen-like shadow for the other guys’ most dangerous point guards and wings. Covering for that with double-teams and help might stress the seams of the Pacers’ schemes overall.

Stephenson did more defensively, too, than just blow in guys’ ears. It seems reasonable to think that, had George’s ghastly leg fractures happened before Stephenson signed with Charlotte, the Pacers might have kept him for a deal better than the three-year, $27 million one he accepted. Or that, given the dire need and urgency, Indiana might have upped its initial offer from five years, $44 million.

Still, if Vogel wasn’t about to bemoan the roster hits with which he’ll have to live all season, he wasn’t going to if-only himself into a blue mood over unfortunate timing.

There is, at least, some encouraging news on George.

“He’s on one crutch now – almost full weight-bearing,” Vogel reported. “He’s got a boot. He still has to have the one crutch. He’s doing really well.

“It’s a challenge for him. But he’s not coming in with a frown on his face, sulking around. He’s doing a lot – lifting weights, doing a lot of core work. He works out five times a week.”

The brink of a new season, on the heels of the FIBA gold medal in the first year of his five-season, $91.6 million extension, makes this one of those tough emotional times for George. He’s stuck on the side as the Pacers prepare to tackle 2014-15 without him. Presumably without him anyway, with George a long shot to return any sooner than next fall.

“I was concerned about it when it first happened, where he was going to be [mentally],” Vogel said. “It’s going to be a long process, once he starts getting out running and learning to trust [the leg] again. But he seems to be of the mindset that his expectations are for a full recovery, and a full recovery as soon as possible.”

George has high expectations. His team now has lower ones. That might explain some of Vogel’s buoyancy: Indiana thrived on its way up, feeling underrated and overlooked in its pursuit of the Miami Heat, and only ran into trouble last season when it got far in front of the field with its 33-7 start.

Dialing down the projections and slipping back into the underdog role it knew so well might be a comfortable fit. Already the Pacers have proven wrong skeptics who suggested they take it down to the studs in a full-blown rebuild. Never was broached, Vogel said.

“Nope. There was some talk about ‘Can you believe people are saying that? Do they understand how long it takes to build a winning culture?’ ” he said.

“We have enough to be really good. Are we the preseason favorites to win the East? No, we’re not anymore. Some fans think the season’s over already. But some fans are like me, like, ‘Hey, they’ll still be pretty good.’ “

The Pacers will find out soon enough, with neither Vogel’s cheeriness nor Kool-Aid at the concessions stands covering up the results on the Fieldhouse court.

Seeing 20-20 clearly in 2013-14

 

Over the course of a long NBA season, there are plenty of individual achievements and gaudy stat lines that make us sit up and take notice. But there are arguably none more worthy of catching our eyes than the appropriately named 20-20 club, which requires stellar work toiling on the boards to go with a big scoring game. Call them doubled-up double-doubles, if you will. And in the case of this top 10 list of stand-out games from the 2013-14 season, 20-20 is just a start:

10. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
January 15, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors — 25 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Jared Sullinger runs wild against the Raptors

Nine losses in a row. A second straight pro season languishing near the bottom of the standings. It was enough to make a guy like Sullinger want to scream. Or reach out and grab a game by the throat. Which is what he did in a dominating third quarter against the Raptors, shooting 6-for-6 from the field, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He became the first Celtic since Kevin Garnett in 2007 to have a 20-20 game and it had the desired effect, producing an 88-83 Boston win.

9. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
January 17, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 26 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony burns the Clippers for 26 points

On the surface, it was another dominating performance by Anthony in his drive to his summer of free agent courtship, piling up points and rebounds. It was his fifth game of 15 or more rebounds in a season when he cleaned the glass better than at any other time in his career. But of course, there are more rebounds to grab when you shoot just 4-for-23 from the field. And even though the Clippers were playing without the injured Chris Paul, they had Blake Griffin rumbling to 32 points and Jamal Crawford coming off the bench for 29 and DeAndre Jordan with a double-double (11 points, 16 rebounds) in an easy 109-95 win at Madison Square Garden.

8. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
April 11, 2014 at Chicago Bulls — 26 points, 26 rebounds


VIDEO: Andre Drummond puts up a 20-20 game in a road loss to the Bulls

The bad news is that Drummond’s impressive double-double line wasn’t enough to save his Pistons from suffering a 106-98 to the Bulls. The good news is that it’s very, very early in what has all the earmarks of becoming a memorable career. By devouring rebounds all night to tie to his career high, Drummond became the first player in NBA history to register seven games of 20 or more rebounds before his 20th birthday.  

Morning shootaround — Sept. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Suns hoping to add another Dragic | New NBPA prez faces full schedule of duties | Could OKC’s Jackson benefit from Bledsoe’s next deal?

No. 1: Report: Suns hoping to add Zoran Dragic — The Phoenix Suns already have one set of brothers — Markieff and Marcus Morris — on the roster, and may soon be adding another set to it. According to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, the Suns are hoping to land Zoran Dragic, the younger brother of their star point guard, Goran Dragic. Zoran Dragic has to be bought out of his contract with his Spanish team, but the Suns are considered the early favorites to pick him up:

The Suns have become the leader in the pursuit of shooting guard Zoran Dragic, the younger brother of Suns star guard Goran Dragic. One other NBA team remains in serious pursuit but negotiations for a contract and a buyout from Dragic’s Spanish club have progressed to the point that a deal could be finalized early this week.

Dragic, 25, has been talking to Phoenix about a two-year contract or a three-year deal with the third year as an option for the player or team.

After joining Goran for the Slovenian national team’s run to the World Cup quarterfinals, Zoran reported to training camp with Unicaja Malaga, his Spanish club that had signed him to a contract extension in July. The extension included a NBA buyout for about $1.1 million, of which the Suns can contribute up to $600,000. A NBA contract might have to exceed $2 million for Zoran to leave for the NBA, a goal he openly has shared.

Realgm.com reported early Sunday that Dragic was in advanced negotiations with an NBA team.

Zoran Dragic’s addition would give the Suns 14 guaranteed contracts, leaving one regular-season roster spot open for restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe. Signing both would give the Suns seven guards on the roster, although Gerald Green is a small forward too.

Zoran Dragic is a 6-foot-5 guard with aggressive defense, a familiar attacking style in transition and a developing perimeter shot. In seven World Cup games, he averaged 14.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game with 50 percent shooting overall and 43.3 percent shooting on 3-pointers.

 

Morning shootaround — Sept. 21


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks about new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Playoff collapse lingers with CP3 | Crowded backcourt in Dallas | Taylor ready to go for Hornets

No. 1: Playoff collapse lingers with CP3 — The Los Angeles Clippers are happy to begin the season with new ownership. L.A. doesn’t look back too fondly on what happened on the court in last season’s playoffs either. With the conference semifinals tied at two games apiece, the Clips were up 13 with four minutes to go in Oklahoma City. Even after they let the Thunder cut that lead to two in the final seconds, they still had a chance to seal the game at the free-throw line. But Chris Paul lost the ball. He then helped OKC take the lead by fouling Russell Westbrook on a pull-up three. And on the final possession of the game, Paul coughed the ball up again. That kind of sequence is going to haunt a competitor like Paul for a long time. And, as Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times writes, it is certainly still on his mind as he gets ready to begin his fourth season in L.A.:

Paul was so devastated he cried in the locker room afterward.

Four months later, the emotional fallout lingers.

“It would be lying to you to say I’d forgotten about it,” Paul said during a break on set. “It’s one of those things that I don’t want to forget, to tell you the truth. I think for me, I feel like you have to remember things like that and therefore you don’t want that feeling again. I know I don’t.”

Paul wouldn’t go as far as to say the Clippers would use their Game 5 meltdown as inspiration a la the newly crowned NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, who suffered a similar playoff implosion in the 2013 Finals against the Miami Heat.

“I don’t know,” Paul said when asked if he saw any potential similarities between the situations. “I mean, the Spurs do what they do, we’ve got to do what we do. I think for us, it’s all about coming into training camp being ready to go.”

***

No. 2: Crowded backcourt in Dallas — With the return of Tyson Chandler and the addition of Chandler Parsons, the Dallas Mavericks could be back among the Western Conference elite. To get Chandler, they had to swap Jose Calderon for Raymond Felton. But they added Jameer Nelson and still have Devin Harris at point guard. That’s a crowded backcourt, especially when you consider that shooting guard Monta Ellis is the Mavs’ primary playmaker. But, talking with The Dallas Morning News‘ Eddie Sefko, they believe that it can work:

How the point guard logjam unfolds is what training camp is for, of course. Coach Rick Carlisle has proved to be a master when it comes to implementing his strength-in-numbers philosophy.

When there are multiple good options at one position, they tend to sort themselves out during camp.

“A team can never have too many playmakers,” Carlisle said. “They can all play with or without the ball, so in my mind, they aren’t just point guards, they’re basketball players.”

Which brings us to the possibility that the three point guards will do a lot of the NBA’s version of “bunking together,” i.e., playing together and perhaps with Monta Ellis on the floor whenever Carlisle elects to go with a small lineup.

***

No. 3: Taylor ready to go for Hornets — The Charlotte Bobcats were the most improved team after the All-Star break last season, and that was without second-year forward Jeff Taylor, who was lost for the season in December with a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon. Now, the Bobcats are the Hornets, and they’ve added Lance Stephenson. They’re also getting back Taylor, who provides depth, defense, and shooting on the wing. The road back was long, but Taylor used his time off to put on some weight, as Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer writes:

Taylor injured himself Dec. 20 and he was given the option to put off surgery until after the holidays. That’s not Taylor’s way; he had the tendon reattached Dec. 22. He spent Christmas and New Year’s in a cast, followed by a boot, followed by a corrective shoe.

It’s the first time he was ever seriously injured, and the experience was enlightening.

“It’s been a long road,” Taylor said. “With an Achilles’ injury, you have to be really patient – slowly getting back all your strength, back to what you were.”

In one way, he is beyond what he was. With his lower body shut down for three months, Taylor beefed up his upper body. Constant lifting – the only exercise available to him from January through March – had a noticeable effect on his arms and shoulders.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ramon Sessions is heading to Sacramento. … Andray Blatche, hero of the Philippines, is taking his talents to China. … Jeff Green knows he has to be more consistent. … Kobe Bryant might soon own a piece of an Italian soccer team.

Sting of Team USA cuts should fuel Wizards’ already focused Wall, Beal


VIDEO:
John Wall’s top 10 plays from the 2013-14 season

Randy Wittman didn’t have to dig deep into his memory banks for words to soothe John Wall’s and Bradley Beal’s feelings after they were cut from Team USA last month.

All he had to do was remind them – or maybe educate them, since neither of the Washington Wizards’ young guards was born yet – that Hall of Famer Charles Barkley got cut the first time he tried to make the U.S. national team, too.

“That’s right,” Wittman said, “and by my guy.”

Bobby Knight, a Hall of Famer himself and Wittman’s coach at Indiana University, cut The Chuckster and fellow future legend John Stockton during the Olympic trials back in 1984, when the whole operation was a college-guys affair.

Things changed eight years later, by which point both Barkley and Stockton were established NBA All-Stars, and both earned gold medals as members of the original Dream Team.

So the Team USA future remains bright for Wall, 24, and Beal, 21. No brighter, though, than the Wizards’ own short- and long-term outlooks with those two in the backcourt in 2014-15 and beyond.

That’s why Wittman made sure to put a positive spin on their stint with coach Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the FIBA World Cup roster representing the U.S., brief as it was.

“They worked all the way up through July,” Wittman said during a lull in the NBA coaches meetings in Chicago this week. “Putting the work in is the main thing a coach wants to see in the summer. They were able to do that.

“I told those guys, ‘Not everybody makes it right from the start. But you’re there, you’ve done it, you’re showing them you’re willing to be there. It’s a process.’ I think the way both those guys are going, they’re going to be on [Team USA] some day.”

Wall suffered some extra ignominy this week when the NBA crew at SI.com – in one of those manufactured exercises of offseason idleness – ranked him No. 31 on its list of the league’s best players. The Wizards point guard, in his Twitter reaction, didn’t seem to appreciate it (though it’s always hard to know true sentiments in 140 characters).

Then again, it might be another scoop of motivation on a pile that’s already high, what with Washington’s postseason showing and second-round exit against Indiana. With center Marcin Gortat re-signed, with Nene healthy and energized by his own FIBA tour for Brazil, with Otto Porter looking improved at the Las Vegas summer league, with DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries added and with Paul Pierce slipping into Trevor Ariza‘s veteran wing spot, expectations are as lofty as the Wizards’ potential.

Wittman, who steered a team beyond .500 and reached the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons as an NBA head coach, likes the old-young mix of his roster. Thirty-eight-year old Andre Miller stabilized the second unit after he arrived from Denver. Washington would love to add aging marksman Ray Allen if it could. And Allen’s old Celtics pal Pierce figures to bring many of the intangibles Ariza provided.

“We were lucky to get a guy like Paul,” Wittman said. “We lost Al Harrington – he didn’t even play that much, but he was instrumental in the locker room, on the road, just his presence and what he said to the players. Getting Paul fills that, too. He’s a voice who’s been through it. I think he still has the ability to really help us on the floor but he can help us off the floor, too.”

Make no mistake, though. Washington’s strength, possibly for the next decade, is that dynamic and budding backcourt. Both of whom figure to be wearing a different red, white and blue uniform one of these even-numbered summers.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Chandler gets defensive about rep | Free Eric Bledsoe! Please? | Wilt is ‘Forever’

No. 1: Chandler gets defensive about rep — The big man doth protest too much. It sure seemed that way, anyway, when Dallas center Tyson Chandler “fired back” Friday at Phil Jackson and the Knicks for what he perceived to be criticism of his character and effect on chemistry in the New York locker room. Jackson made his comments after the June trade that sent Chandler and guard Raymond Felton to the Mavericks, alluding to “looks” exchanged by players and accountability issues. The thing is, Felton’s reputation was a lot shakier in N.Y. than Chandler’s, and some insiders believe Jackson mostly was talking about the gun-toting point guard. With Chandler’s retorts through Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, he raised questions whether he was covering for his teammate or perhaps working from a guilty conscience:

“I did nothing but try to help the culture there the three years I was there,” Chandler said Friday. “You can say I didn’t live up to whatever or you didn’t like the way I played or anything. But to ever question who I am and the type of leader I am in the locker room, I don’t even know where that came from.

“I honestly don’t know where that came from. I don’t know if Phil put that out there or who put that out there, but to me, that was the ultimate shock. And you don’t have to say that to get rid of me or to trade me. The trade is over.

“So to judge my character and what I’ve done, you can go look at all my teammates and ask all of my teammates in the past, and the coaches I’ve played for, and I’ve never been a problem and never had a problem. So that was a shock to me that I didn’t appreciate.”

Mavs owner Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle all cited Chandler’s outstanding leadership ability as one of the motivating factors in bringing him back to Dallas. Chandler was widely recognized as the spiritual leader during Dallas’ 2010-11 championship season. He has always prided himself in being an unselfish player who demands the best of his teammates.

“It makes no sense,” Chandler said. “If you call holding people accountable daily being a bad influence, then hey, I’m a bad influence. But I’m going to be that as long as I’m going to strap up my shoes and step on the basketball court. And that was the big problem there.

“That’s the biggest thing. I guess if that’s why I was a bad influence, because I wanted to do things the right way, then I guess I’m a bad influence. But I’ve never heard of that. I thought that was being a professional.”

***

No. 2: Free Eric Bledsoe! Please?Eric Bledsoe had no leverage when he entered restricted free agency in July and nothing has shifted the Phoenix guard’s way in the 12 weeks since then. Reports surfaced Friday that Minnesota wants to offer Bledsoe a four-year maximum-salary deal worth $63 million, even though the Timberwolves are capped out and can only add that sort of contract via a sign-and-trade. So far the Suns have turned up their nose at the Wolves’ proposals. Meanwhile, Bob Young of the Arizona Republic strongly favored spending Phoenix’s limited funds on Bledsoe’s backcourt mate, Goran Dragic, in a max deal of his own. That suggests more strongly than ever that Bledsoe might play in 2014-15 on a one-year qualifying deal of $3.73 million with the Suns, in anticipation of being unrestricted in free agency next summer. Here is part of Young’s case for Dragic, which can’t have thrilled the Bledsoe camp:

Unlike Bledsoe, Dragic has a proven track record on the court, a great reputation off of it and has shown a commitment to the Suns that Bledsoe has avoided since the Suns obtained him in a deal with the Clippers.

Heck, Dragic came back to the Suns as a free agent after they traded him to Houston for a lesser player — and at a time when there was very little reason to believe that a turnaround was coming anytime soon.

It is well documented that Bledsoe and his representative, LeBron’s “guy” Rich Paul, have demanded a maximum deal of five years and more than $80 million.

The basis for that demand is a mystery to all except Rich Paul.

Bledsoe hasn’t been an All-Star. He hasn’t been on an All-NBA team. He hasn’t led a team into the playoffs. He wasn’t a lottery pick (18th in 2010). His jersey isn’t among the top sellers in the league. He hasn’t been named to a USA Basketball national or select team.

And here is some background from the Minnesota end, from Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Keep in mind, Mark Termini, one of Bledsoe’s agents, had Wolves president/coach Flip Saunders as a longtime client. So it’s possible Minnesota is being used to nudge along the Suns-Bledsoe talks, which broke down after Phoenix’s four-year, $48 million offer. The plot thickens when you factor in guard Ricky Rubio and his desire for a max extension with Minnesota.

The Suns are not believed to be interested in either center Nikola Pekovic and his $12 million salary or Rubio. The Suns already have point guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, and they’d be back in the same situation they are with Bledsoe, negotiating with a player who believes he’s worth a maximum salary. (There’s no indication the Wolves are willing to trade Pekovic or Rubio, anyway.)

The Wolves likely will be unwilling to trade any of their top young players — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng — the Suns might want, and can’t trade Anthony Bennett or Thaddeus Young, who were acquired in the Love deal, for at least another month.

The expiring contract of guard J.J. Barea and veterans such as Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer or Kevin Martin won’t get the deal done, either.

The Wolves could play Rubio and Bledsoe in the same backcourt, much as the Suns did with Bledsoe and Dragic last season. But with Rubio also seeking a max contract, doing so would involve paying big money to players who naturally play the same position.

***

No. 3: Wilt is ‘Forever’ – Actually, Wilt Chamberlain already is an NBA immortal. But he apparently will become one of the United States Postal Service’s “forever” stamps this winter. The Babe Ruth of basketball was pitched years ago to the USPS to be honored with his own postage stamp, perhaps as part of its Black Heritage series and pegged to Chamberlain’s legendary 100-point game. That project is in line for what looks to be a happy conclusion, based on sleuthing by a user of Reddit.com, or at least a stumbling-across of some USPS product rollouts. And that has to be good news for Donald Hunt, founder of the campaign and a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Tribune in Chamberlain’s hometown. Hunt and some of Wilt’s other family and friends talked with NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner about their ambitions back in 2011 to honor Chamberlain and refresh his memory for new generations of sports fans:

Like Jimmy Sadler, who played three seasons with Chamberlain at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, where they posted a 58-3 record. “It’s overdue, really. If any athletes should be on a stamp, it’s him,” Sadler said. “Wilt was it. When you say ‘it,’ Wilt was it. He could do it all.”

Sports, coaches and athletes have been among more than 5,000 subjects featured on general-release U.S. postage stamps dating to 1847. Last June, two stamps dedicated to baseball’s Negro Leagues were issued with one depicting founder Rube Foster and the other showing a play at home plate.

“They introduced those stamps at the Negro League museum in Kansas City,” Hunt said this week, “and I saw how they gave out so much information and history. They could get that in schools and kids could learn about Wilt. It would be great for the NBA, too.” Hunt has gathered signatures on petitions and recommendations from NBA commissioner David Stern, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Billy Cunningham and various Philadelphia and Pennsylvania officials, while hoping for President Obama‘s support as well.

“I don’t think people really know what Wilt was all about, as far as his charitable work and giving back,” Barbara Chamberlain Lewis, one of his sisters, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “When he got into the NBA, he really had to play the way they wanted him to play, to appeal to the crowds. But how he was away from games, I don’t think people really know.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas tries again to quell the violence in his native Chicago with the third annual “Peace Tournament” on the city’s South Side. … Retired NBA player and front-office exec Rex Chapman earned a reported $22 million in his career, but was arrested Friday on a $14,000 shoplifting beef in Scottsdale, Ariz. … As the NFL’s miserable week spiked by domestic violence was ending, Toronto’s Patrick Patterson tweeted out a reminder of another pro athlete’s brush with the law for the same category of offense. … Chicago’s Taj Gibson, meanwhile, took to Twitter to defuse a situation before it gained momentum, sharing his views of starting vs. subbing for the Bulls.

Report: Wolves offer Bledsoe max contract

From NBA.com staff reports

Eric Bledsoe‘s summer-long wait for a max contract offer appears to be over as the Minnesota Timberwolves have reportedly presented Bledsoe with a max four-year, $63 million contract, as reported by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

The Timberwolves hope this offer will cause the Suns to engage in sign-and-trade talks for Bledsoe. If not, then Minnesota would need to find a way to shed salary as they currently don’t have the cap space to sign Bledsoe outright.

The addition of Bledsoe would continue the summer of change for the Timberwolves who acquired Andrew WigginsAnthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young earlier this summer for Kevin Love.

The 24-year-old Bledsoe was acquired by the Suns last summer and averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game in 43 games for Phoenix.

Budenholzer deals with double-duty

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will be taking on some front-office duties this season. (Bart Young/NBAE)

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will be taking on some front-office duties this season. (Bart Young/NBAE)

CHICAGO – Long characterized as a “copycat” league for trends ranging from basketball strategies to hiring practices, the NBA has a new move that everybody’s getting in on: Coaches doing double-duty as general managers, presidents of basketball operations or other titles vested with personnel control.

The latest to take all that on is Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who had decision-making responsibility dropped in his lap last week in the fallout from the Hawks’ front-office mess. GM Danny Ferry, beleaguered after making racially charged comments about free agent Luol Deng, took an indefinite leave of absence, and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin appointed Budenholzer to be the team’s head of basketball operations for now.

His circumstances are unusual, but Budenholzer joins the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Flip Saunders, Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy and of course San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich in holding added clout beyond their work on the court.

Until Rivers beefed up his role last year when he moved from Boston to L.A., Popovich was more of an exception. Most teams in recent years preferred to separate the powers, believing that a coach focuses on tonight (win the game) while a front-office exec thinks about tomorrow, next season and several years after that.

So is this the start of a new trend? A pendulum swing?

“I don’t know, those pendulums seem like they’re always swinging,” Budenholzer said Thursday in Chicago, in town for the annual NBA coaches meetings. “There are a couple of people who have done that, and obviously Pop’s been doing that for a long time, with R.C. [Buford, Spurs GM to Popovich's president title] doing a ton. Those two together have been just an amazing combination. So I don’t know.”

Flip Saunders (David Sherman/NBAE)

Flip Saunders (David Sherman/NBAE)

The long-established view that the jobs should be kept separate has led to some coaches, hungry for more input on their teams’ architecture, finding themselves on the sidewalk. The most recent example: Jason Kidd, whose power play in Brooklyn wound up with Kidd coaching in Milwaukee and coach Lionel Hollins slipping in beneath GM Billy King in the Nets’ flowchart.

“A lot of people question it,” Saunders said. “Agents especially — they don’t necessarily like someone having that much control over their clients. Because as a coach, you can basically dictate how much you’re going to pay a guy.” By growing or limiting a player’s role, that is.

Saunders added duties in the opposite direction from Budenholzer and Rivers — he was the Timberwolves’ basketball boss when he appointed himself as head coach for 2014-15, taking over for the retired Rick Adelman. But Saunders made his NBA bones on the sideline, coaching Minnesota, Detroit and Washington for 15-plus seasons.

“I believe, if you look at many of the successful football teams, they were built that way,” Saunders said Thursday. “Look at [Bill] Parcells. [Bill] Belichick, he’s got total control. Then in our sport, look at the success that Nellie [Don Nelson] had — he pretty much ran the whole thing [in Milwaukee, Dallas and Golden State]. Then Pat Riley‘s situation, when he pretty much ran a lot of those things.”

Just as Popovich has “nurtured” Buford to work in concert on personnel matter, Saunders, Rivers and Van Gundy also have titular GMs or other execs to tackle salary caps, administer scouting and handle other chores that would pull them away from player development and game preparation.

“The best thing about it is,” Saunders said, “I believe in most organizations when you have a falling out, the tendency is there’s a relationship that is lost between the coach and the owner. Because maybe they don’t all have the same agenda from management to the coaching staff. Well, when somebody is your coach and your president or GM, he’s going to talk to the owner. So there’s never going to be a disconnect on what the message is.”

Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks coach and president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, said the added power and work aren’t for everyone.

“In my case, I’m not looking to do that. I love my owner [Mark Cuban] and I love my GM [Donnie Nelson] — my GM and I go back 30 years as friends,” Carlisle said. “I want to concentrate on my craft. But I applaud these other guys for taking on the other responsibility.

“If you get a great coach like Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy and you have the opportunity to meld those two positions into one guy who is high-quality in so many areas, if you’re an owner, you should go for that. More than anything, it’s pointing to the vortex of the connection between the coach and GM. The fact that some owners are looking at this and saying, ‘These two jobs should be one and the same’ highlights the importance of coaching.”

No one, however, is saying it’s easy. The consensus is that a GM has less-grueling days and better job security than his head coach. Saunders adapted comfortably to that last season, his first in the role with Minnesota, though coaching competitiveness still coursed through his veins.

In Budenholzer’s case, it comes just one year into his head coaching tenure with the Hawks, with the true impact of the front-office mess (analyzed well here by our Sekou Smith) still to be felt. The longtime Spurs assistant has a lot coming at him, on the brink of training camp.

“There are extra things you have to do to prepare for camp and the season,” Budenholzer acknowledged. “But we’ve got a great group. So there’s more work but I think we can manage it. The team, for the most part, is in place. That’s the most important thing.”

Growing up in the NBA in the Spurs organization — Ferry logged valuable time there, too, under Popovich and Buford — helped prepare Budenholzer for this beefed-up role. “It’s something where I spent 19 years in that kind of a set-up,” he said. “To whatever degree I can be comfortable, I wouldn’t feel that now if I hadn’t spent all those years around that in San Antonio with Pop and R.C.”

Asked where he would turn with questions, he said: “Oh, Pop and R.C. have always been open to me. I’ve obviously learned a ton from them and I’ll continue to.”

And if rivalries of the NBA prevent his Spurs pals from helping too much?

“I’m sure if I cross the line unintentionally,” Budenholzer said, “they’d say, ‘You’re a big boy, you’re going to have to figure certain things out for yourself.’ “

HOFer Payton plans to mentor Bucks’ Antetokounmpo

From NBA.com staff reports

Ears perked earlier this summer when new Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd discussed his plans to play the 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard. While unconventional, Antetokounmpo has the ball skills and vision to make it work and the guidance of Kidd is sure to help.

Now “The Greek Freak” has more guidance coming as Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton announced his plans to work with Kidd and mentor Antetokounmpo during the Milwaukee Bucks’ training camp and preseason. He discussed his vision for Antetokounmpo at a press event in Greece this week.

Here’s Payton’s full quote:

“Jason [Kidd] let me see [Giannis Antetokounmpo] personally. I talked to him after some of the [Summer League] games. Jason put him at the point guard in the Summer League and he did very well at the point guard. I’m going to go down there for the preseason and training camp and work with him a little bit on his point guard skills. Being 6’10″ or 6’11″, he has great skills to play basketball [at] the point. I think he’s going to be very successful if he gets point guard skills. He’s very talented. He’s a young kid. He’s raw, so he needs to work on a lot of things.

Last year, when he was in Milwaukee, he was hurt a little bit and he didn’t get to play as much. (With) a coach coming in like Jason, who is a point guard, who wants to use him like that, I think he’s going to be very good, but he just needs a little guidance. They’re a very young basketball team; they don’t have veterans that can teach him things, so he needs someone like Jason and myself to come along and teach him the skills. I think he has raw talent. He has to work on it, though. I’m not going to say he’s going to be a splash right away. But I think he’s going to be good if he works at it and does the things he has to do and I think he knows that.”

Antetokounmpo, with his reported 7-foot-4 wingspan and confirmed giant hands, would be one of the largest point guards in recent memory and incredibly difficult for opposing guards to defend. There’s a reason more players his size don’t play point guard, though, and he could be wasted at the position.

No matter the outcome, this experiment is sure to be exciting … especially if he continues to cover the length of the court in just two dribbles:

(h/t Bucksketball)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Wolves optimistic they’ll lock up Rubio | Players may not ignore Hawks going forward | Long road ahead for Hawks and their fans

No. 1: Wolves’ brass optimistic they’ll ink Rubio to extension — The Minnesota Timberwolves are in rebuilding mode after agreeing to trade their All-Star big man, Kevin Love, to the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer. Will the Wolves have to think about losing budding star point guard Ricky Rubio in the coming years, too? According to Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press, Minnesota’s brass isn’t sweating a looming extension for the young playmaker: 

Timberwolves general manager Milt Newton said he’s optimistic that the team and point guard Ricky Rubio will negotiate a contract extension but insisted there is no urgency.

“If we can get something done sooner, great. If not, we’re not necessarily in a rush,” Newton said Thursday after a pre-training camp workout.

The Wolves and Rubio’s agent, Dan Fegan, have been able to negotiate since July 1 and have until Oct. 31. Newton said the sides are in “constant contact” but stopped short of calling that “negotiations.”

“Knowing Ricky the person, he wants to be here,” Newton said. “We just have to deal with his agent.”

The maximum deal allowed under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement would be five years, $90 million. Given Rubio’s shooting struggles and the time he spent on the bench in the fourth quarter last season, a more likely offer would be a four-year deal in the ballpark of $40 million.

“Until that right number comes up, I guess we will continue to talk,” Newton said.

Rubio will receive $5 million this season, and if the sides don’t agree to a long-term extension, the Wolves will have until July 2015 to offer him a one-year qualifying offer for 2015-16. That contract would have to be worth 125 percent of this season’s average salary, so about $6.3 million.

If Rubio accepted a qualifying offer, he would become an unrestricted free agent the next season.