Wilt gets USPS towering tributes

Lakers Phila

Wilt Chamberlain was a super-sized superstar with a personality to match.

Makes sense that his postage stamp would be super-sized as well.

News leaked out last month – six years after longtime Philadelphia Tribune sportswriter Donald Hunt founded a campaign to immortalize the NBA giant on a U.S. postage stamp – that Chamberlain indeed would be so honored this winter. Now, the images for the two Limited Edition Forever stamps are official, appearing in the USPS philatelic catalog that hit the streets Wednesday and shared later in the day with NBA.com.

Here is some info on the stamps’ release, which will be held Dec. 5 in conjunction with the Philadelphia 76ers’ game at the Wells Fargo Center against Oklahoma City in Chamberlain’s hometown.

The U.S.Postal Service and Philadelphia 76ers, in conjunction with the National Basketball Association (NBA), will formally dedicate the Wilt Chamberlain Forever stamps — the first of its kind featuring an NBA player — in a halftime ceremony featuring a special three-dimensional tribute video using the team’s state-of-the-art court projection system. Throughout the night, the Sixers will celebrate the life and legacy of the legendary Chamberlain with videos during breaks in play. Tickets for this 7 p.m. game will be available to the general public beginning Oct. 8 via Sixers.com.

The stamps, just over two inches tall each, are about a third taller than a typical commemorative stamp height of approximately 1.5 inches. Kadir Nelson, of San Diego, CA, created the two stamp image portraits of the NBA superstar. One is based on a photograph of Chamberlain in a Philadelphia Warriors uniform; the other is based on an image of Chamberlain in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. The word “Wilt” is featured in either the top right or left corner of each stamp. Art director Antonio Alcalá of Alexandria, VA, designed the stamps.

The stamps are striking in appearance and appropriate in their size. Chamberlain’s feats were Ruthian, Bunyanesque even: scoring 100 points in a game, averaging 50.4 points in 1961-62, scoring 60 points or more on 32 occasions, stringing together 126 games with 20 points or more and posting career averages of 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds and 45.8 minutes.

No puny 1.5-inch stamp was going to do justice to the iconic Big Dipper.

Dirk’s ‘three-25′ puts Mavs in business

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks on media day

DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki is reaping the benefits of his unselfishness, at least on paper for the moment, anyway. When he sat down this summer to draw up a new contract with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, the term “negotiation” hardly even seems applicable.

“Actually, for us, it was always three-25,” Nowitzki said Wednesday, referring to the exceedingly modest three-year, $25 million deal he signed in July.

Now 36 and entering his 17th season after making his 12th All-Star team, Nowitzki made it known last season that he would give his employer and friend of the last decade-and-a-half a serious discount on a new deal. Chuckling one day not long after Kobe Bryant signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the Lakers, Nowitzki said he wouldn’t be taking the Kobe deal.

Still, Nowitzki’s final figure fell below even what most league observers would have viewed as generous. It had mostly been assumed that Nowitzki would follow the Tim Duncan blueprint, a three-year, $30-million deal the Spurs great signed when he was 36. Nowitzki “negotiated” an even lower price.

“I think somebody reported it a little more, but that was never the deal,” Nowitzki said. “We agreed on three-25 from the beginning on. How’d we get that number? I’m not sure. It was just about leaving a lot of cap space and going for players. We already had Tyson [Chandler] at the time. Mark and [president of basketball operations] Donnie [Nelson] obviously made it clear we’d love to get some more pieces, so that’s the number we settled on.

“I’m glad it worked out with Parsons because if a guy’s restricted, you’ve got to throw a lot of money at him, and it worked that way. I’m glad he’s here.”

Three-point shooting small forward Chandler Parsons is indeed wearing Mavericks blue because of the Nowitzki savings. Cuban floored rival Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey by offering the 25-year-old Parsons a three-year deal in excess of $45 million. When Morey passed on matching, Parsons, who never made $1 million in any of his first three seasons, instantly became Dallas’ second-highest-paid player, a hundred-thousand or so shy of re-acquired center Chandler.

Nowitzki actually ranks fourth on Dallas’ 2014-15 payroll, also behind Monta Ellis. Paying Parsons $14.7 million this season with raises of about $700,000 in each of the following two seasons might seem like a hefty price. But taken as a package with Nowitzki, it’s practically ideal. Nowitzki’s low cost also helps the club in the coming summers when Dallas again will be flush with cap space.

Getting Parsons was a game-changer for Dallas, which has been moving players in and out ever since Cuban decided to dismantle the 2011 championship team following the lockout and ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement. After a first-round sweep by the Thunder in 2012, missing the playoffs after a dozen years in 2013 and nabbing the eighth seed at the wire last season, the Mavs are younger, more athletic and seemingly more capable at both ends, and they’re back in the conversation at least as a Western Conference contender.

I always trust Mark and Donnie,” Nowitzki said. “Did I like us letting everybody go after the championship? Obviously not, we all know that. They were my boys and we just won it all, so we would have loved to get a chance to repeat.

“But I trusted Mark and Donnie with the business decision that they had to make after the lockout. And then I think it took us a while to get our feet back under us after that decision. We tried for some free agents, we didn’t get them, and last year we started slowly building something.

“I think we got a lot better again this summer. Tyson should help us a lot. I think Chandler (Parsons) is going to be a nice player on the wing for us. So I think we’re a good team, but you know how the West is. It’s going to be tough to break into the top three or four, they’re so good up there. But we’re going to try. Hopefully we’ll stay injury-free and see what happens.”

None of it happens, however, if Nowitzki hadn’t of “negotiated” that three-25.

Blogtable: Finding Westbrook’s place

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: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.

> Scott Brooks says Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. We’re wondering if Westbrook should play 2 guard instead. What’s your thinking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Scott Brooks, former professional point guard by trade, considers Russell Westbrook to be a point guard, that’s good enough for me. What’s in a name, The Bard asked. That which we call a Rose (Derrick) by any other name would smell as sweet (if healthy). Same goes for Westbrook. No need to get hung up on position designation. The key is for Westbrook to complement Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup and for Brooks to build his backcourt to complement his irrepressibly athletic ball dominator. Time to move on from the John Stockton archetype, at least in this guy’s case.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With all of the great point guards currently in the NBA, who is the best is a classic barstool question that can have many different and valid answers. Russell Westbrook, with all of his flaws, is the correct one on any given night. No, he’ll never be linked with John Stockton as a classic set-up man or Chris Paul as an overall floor general, but the Thunder have been one of the league’s elite teams with him at the point. It seems to me that if you moved him to the 2 spot, you’d actually be turning him loose to shoot even more and eliminating a raw, physical mismatch that he has over most other point guards. I’m also wondering why anyone wants to change one of the two main cogs on a Thunder team that has a .688 winning percentage over the past five seasons?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would you play the, ahem, best point guard in the league at shooting guard? No. I’m leaving Westbrook right where he is. Westbrook is an All-Star, the guy does things no one else can do. OK, so some of what he does also makes you want to pull your hair out. He mentioned Monday that incorporating more player and ball movement into the offense is a high priority and suggested we might see something new from the Thunder in that regard. So we’ll see. But starting Reggie Jackson at the point and Westbrook at the 2 doesn’t make this team better. Westbrook averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 apg after all those surgeries last year. In the playoffs he averaged 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. Anyone else does that and we’re calling him the best point guard in the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: His career best for 3-point percentage is 33 percent and he’s been better than 44 percent overall twice in six seasons. So there’s that. Plus, he is uniquely effective because he is a PG with superior athleticism and better size than most on the other side of the matchup. Move Westbrook to the other backcourt spot and suddenly the Thunder have a small backdoor, a shooting guard who can’t spot up and concerns about not maximizing your second-best player. The only reason it should be discussed is if OKC wants to play Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Otherwise, no go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s certainly the most talented point guard in the league and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players, period. Westbrook without the ball in his hands is not the same Westbrook. There are possessions — sometimes when the game is on the line — when he needs to be more of a true point guard, but if you live by the Russ, you have to sometimes die by the Russ. It’s not like you can flip a switch in his head.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Of course, Scott Brooks is campaigning for Russ Westbrook, as any coach worth his whistle should. And he can make a great argument for the force of nature that Westbrook has become, warts and all. He doesn’t own the No. 1 spot on my list. That spot still belongs to Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. But Westbrook is easily in my top five. My bigger issue is  with this mysterious “we” who are contemplating whether or not Westbrook should play the 2? That’s like playing a high-risk, high-reward dual threat NFL quarterback at wide receiver. Makes no sense to me!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Russell Westbrook might be the most *talented* point guard in the NBA. I mean, his athleticism at the position is really unparalleled, both in the NBA today and historically. His combination of size and speed and explosiveness render him almost unstoppable in the open court. But that incredible package of skills also seems to dazzle Westbrook at times, and he doesn’t fully know how to consistently utilize those gifts in such a way as to lead the Thunder to titles. Westbrook is an amazing talent, but that doesn’t make him the best point guard in the NBA. Because that person’s name is Chris Paul.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Westbrook stays where he is. Look at Kevin Durant’s numbers — the current league MVP has four scoring titles, with Westbrook playing point-guard. Also, consider this, Westbrook averaged 8.1 apg in the 2014 postseason, only behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, both of whose teams did not proceed beyond the second round. How much better can Westbrook or anyone else at point-guard do? Moreover, with Westbrook playing the 2-spot, how often is he going to get the ball, with Durant definitely being OKC’s number one offensive option. OKC’s problems against the NBA’s best remains an overdependence on Durant and Westbrook for their scoring. They need to address that rather than tinker with Westbrook’s position.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: When it comes to ranking point guards, Chris Paul is 1A and Russell is 1B in my book. I think playing him at the 2 is nonsense. Even if you add a another point guard, that’s just gonna cut into the touches and times he and Durant get to bring the ball upcourt. I do like two point guard sets and think Russ could excel in them, but only if you don’t have a point-forward type player like KD. Free Westbrook!

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: These days there’s not a huge difference between a point guard and a shooting guard. It depends on the opponent and certain moments during the game, but Russell can play either position.

Blogtable: Knicks a playoff 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: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Defense, says Carmelo Anthony, is going to be a focus of the Knicks

> We’ve seen a lot of changes in New York, and a vow from new boss Phil Jackson that the Knicks will be in the playoffs. Your thoughts? Playoffs? Are they a better team than last year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Sure, the Knicks will make the playoffs. The East still isn’t the West and I think enough has changed with New York —  driven by Jackson’s arrival, altering the culture sufficiently — that it will be a little better. Carmelo Anthony got an awfully cushy call-out (five years, $124 million) but seems to get it now that his legacy will be limited unless his team wins big. My hunch: New York and Brooklyn share All-Star Weekend, then fight over the East’s final playoff spot

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The 37-45 Knicks missed the playoffs by one game last season, so Phil Jackson’s promise isn’t exactly going to register on the Joe Namath Scale in New York. Carmelo Anthony is re-signed and happy. That’s nice. Jose Calderon is at the point. That’s nice. They’ve swapped Tyson Chandler’s defense for Samuel Dalembert. That’s not so nice.  They’re counting on a resurrection by Amar’e Stoudemire and a recommitment by J.R. Smith. That’s unlikely. Can the sideline combo of Jackson and Derek Fisher get them to .500 if everything clicks?  In a glass-half-full world, I suppose. But hardly any more.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Yeah, I think they will be in the playoffs. They have a very motivated head coach and superstar. They’ve improved at point guard with steady Jose Calderon, and while losing Tyson Chandler in the middle theoretically hurts, he wasn’t healthy much last season and Sam Dalembert is serviceable, and I like the Jason Smith pickup. I really think Tim Hardaway Jr., can give the Knicks a real scoring boost and I’m eager to see Cleanthony Early bring some youthful elbow grease. Above all else, this team can have fun, and that was in short supply a year ago.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: They could be a little better, but the problem is, Cleveland will be a lot better. Milwaukee will be better. The team that finished just ahead of the Knicks last season, Atlanta, will be better. Indiana is a candidate to fall out of the top eight, and Miami will go backward as well, though maybe not lottery backward. New York and the playoffs will be a close call. For an October answer, I’ll say no.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey’re in the 7-10 range in the East with a decent shot of making the playoffs with good chemistry (especially defensively), or injuries to teams that would otherwise finish above them. Jose Calderon’s shooting should help an offense that was already pretty good. The loss of Tyson Chandler would seemingly hurt the defense, but any cohesion on that end of the floor would be more than they had last season. They certainly have a chance of improving on 37-45, but there are a lot of variables.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs? In New York? Listen, nobody loves having the Zen master back in the building more than I do. He is truly great for the game. But I’ll refrain from any playoff proclamation about the Knicks until at least Christmas. We need to see this crew in action before swimming in those deep playoff waters. I don’t know if this a better team than what we saw under Mike Woodson last year. Derek Fisher’s going to have to find his own coaching niche with this group and from a personnel standpoint there hasn’t been enough of an upgrade to automatically vault this team into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. It’s way too soon for playoffs chatter from new York.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I do think they’ve built a better roster than they had a season ago. But as my co-host Rick Fox has talked about several times on the Hang Time Podcast, getting a full understanding of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense takes years, not weeks or months. So it might take these Knicks some time to be able to fully grasp how to maximize their offensive system. An for all the talk about the West being better than the East, the East should be more competitive top-to-bottom this season than last. My top seven in no real order are Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Charlotte, Toronto, Atlanta and Miami. Maybe we see Indy and the Knicks fight it out for the eight spot?

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: One thing is for sure, Phil Jackson has the magic touch, so I would believe whatever he says. If Phil says that the Knicks will go to the playoffs, I am expecting the Knicks to go to the playoffs. They have the talent to do so. The things they lacked and are looking to regain this year are chemistry and health.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: I think that at this time they’re a real question. It seems to me that they can fight for eighth place to the playoffs, but are not a better team than last year and are going to be left out of the postseason.

Blogtable: Kobe, putting up numbers

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: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: How far can Kobe pull his teammates along? That’s a big question for the Lakers.

> Kobe Bryant has averaged 25.5 points a game on 45 percent shooting in his career. So take a guess: What should we expect from him this season? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We should expect Bryant to join an hyper-exclusive club this season, namely, Players Who Averaged 20 Points or More at Age 36 or Older. There have been only three — Michael Jordan (2), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3) and Karl Malone (4) — doing it a total of nine times. Given Bryant’s relentless drive, his Jordan obsession and his shortage of scoring help on the Lakers, I expect him to put up the point totals. Keep in mind, though, that Jordan shot a combined 43.1 percent in his two seasons, averaging 21.2 points with the lowest PER numbers (19.9 combined) of his career.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You’re asking this without a benefit of seeing a single preseason game, anything?  OK, going strictly on gut and what we know about Kobe, I have a hard time seeing him averaging less than 20 ppg. Maybe the shooting percentage is in the low 40s. Why? Because he’s driven to come back as the alpha dog. Because if his wheels are OK, he’s dead set on proving everyone who doubts him wrong. Because he’s going to get up his shots. Because he’s Kobe.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Here’s the thing, look at the Lakers roster, somebody’s got to score, right? Pau’s not even there anymore for an inside option. This show is going to be Kobe’s and as long as he stays healthy he’s going to get off a lot of shots and get his points. He hasn’t averaged fewer than 25 ppg since the 2003-04 season when he averaged 24. This might not be the same Kobe we’re used to, but honestly, we saw that coming as far back as the 2011 playoffs. This Kobe will still score points, and a lot of them because he’ll have to. He’ll average at least 22.0 a game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I can’t predict health. But if he plays, he plays well. If it’s a guess you want, let’s say 18 points a game and 42 percent. That’s not bad for a 36 year old coming off two major injuries and most of a season on the sideline. Plus, he will be playing with several teammates for the first time (Lin, Boozer, Randle, maybe Ed Davis and Jordan Clarkson). There will be a lot of timing issues moving forward, which is why the shooting numbers will take a hit.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: With 36-year-old legs, without much help on the Lakers’ roster, and with No. 3 on the all-time scoring list in his sights, I don’t think he’ll be all that efficient, unless Steve Nash can somehow play 1,500 minutes and create easy looks for him. I’ll guess 26 ppg on 43 percent shooting (45 EFG%).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m not ready to close the book on Kobe just yet. Not now, not when so many are sure to doubt him. That’s the stuff he thrives on, what’s made him great for so long. A reasonable expectation, as long as he’s healthy, is for Kobe to go for 24.4 points a night on 46 percent shooting on a Los Angeles Lakers team that will need that and more from its best player. There’s no doubt he’ll get all the shots he heeds under Byron Scott and his supporting cast will be eager to defer to a rejuvenated Kobe.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog23 points per game on 42 percent shooting, in about 33 minutes per game. Kobe’s not the player he was a decade, or two decades, ago. But knowing what we know about him, the Mamba will be primed and ready to strike. And I think this season, with experience behind him and trusting Byron Scott, the Mamba will be able to temper himself a bit more and not feel the need to play 40-plus minutes every night. Which, in the long run, benefits everyone.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: The 2014-15 version of Kobe Bryant will be the smartest, more passing…est version of the Kobe we’ve seen. I’m afraid part of his explosiveness is gone (due to his injuries but also his age), but he could still be a lethal weapon. He should share the ball more, play with his teammates and build from there. More or less what he tried to do in the six games he played in 2013-14, averaging 6.3 apg. My guess is 22.5 ppg and 6.5 apg, shooting 42 percent.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: If his body stays right, I think he may average similar points per game (maybe 20-22 PPG) but will be less efficient. I only say this because I legitimately want him to abandon whatever it is the Lakers want to do with their roster full of short-term contracts and genuinely make a run at the all-time scoring record. He’s a chance to pass Michael Jordan for third all-time this season and I’d love to see him have a crack at Kareem beyond 2015. My advice to Kobe, jack it up!

Rose gets shooters, not shot creator

The Bulls are still searching for a scorer to play alongside Derrick Rose.

The Bulls are still searching for a scorer to play alongside Derrick Rose.

CHICAGO – Almost from the day Derrick Rose arrived, the Chicago Bulls have sought a second shot-creator to ease his workload and pose as a secondary threat when the defense stymies their explosive point guard.

Six seasons in, they still don’t have one. Call it the curse of Keith Bogans or something.

What the Bulls do have, though, as camp opens on the 2014-15 season is a squadron of shooters unlike any in recent memory at United Center. None of them is likely to put the ball on the floor and make something out of nothing the way Rose and a few other rare talents in the NBA can.

But as far as putting it in the air to great acclaim — spotting up on the perimeter or cutting-and-catching for opportunities near or beyond the arc –the Bulls have upgraded considerably. They ranked dead last in effective field-goal percentage last season (47.1 percent), 24th in 3-point accuracy (34.8) and last on anything inside the arc (45.6).

It hasn’t been a constant — they had Kyle Korver from 2010-12, and Mike Dunleavy shot 38 percent on 3-pointers last season — but it has been a problem. Now, by design, after going to school on rivals such as San Antonio, Miami, Atlanta and others, Chicago can spot two, three or even four shooters in the halfcourt.

Consider:

The idea, of course, is to spread defenses and open seams for Rose. It’s the next best thing – or maybe an equally effective strategy – to having that second creator, with Rose coming off high pick-and-rolls and finding a quiver full of arrows.

Rose sounded excited after the Bulls’ first scrimmage Tuesday, seeing the new options and how diligently defenders stayed home.

“Just thinking about how I’m actually going to attack in the offense,” Rose said. “I’ve got a lot of space now, especially with Pau being able to knock down that li’l 12-foot shot or 15-foot shot. … It’s just going to be space to really move around.”

Space is important to Rose, providing the lanes he needs to get to the rim. It’s also important to his health because, barring some alternate uniforms made of bubble-wrap and Kevlar, the best way to keep Rose on the court is to keep crowds away from him in the paint. (Asterisk time: Rose was untouched on his two season-snuffing knee injuries.)

Having played only 50 games since his MVP season of 2010-11, Rose might seem ripe to make some serious adjustments in his style of play. He might not be able to do much to lessen the torque of his violent cuts and leaps in attacking the rim, but he can throttle back occasionally and be a little smarter in traffic. He knows it and so do his coaches.

“They’re trying to make the game as simple as possible,” Rose said of some intended tweaks this season. “If I have an open shot, shoot. If I have a pull-up, shoot it. Shoot a lot more floaters so that people won’t touch my body like they did in the past throughout the entire game. I think that really hurts you I think as an athlete — you need your years.”

Chicago needs Rose’s, certainly, after waiting for his knees and his psyche to fully mend. Being wary of unnecessary contact is one of the concessions he’ll try to make to the blown opportunities of the past two years. Not rushing to show everyone, all at once, just how back he really is? That’s another.

Thibodeau, an assistant on the Team USA staff this summer, talked with Rose prior to their FIBA World Cup tour about the impatience he showed last fall. His rush to return to his spot in the NBA’s hierarchy was rusty – until it ended abruptly with torn meniscus in his right knee after just 10 games.

Rose eased back a bit this summer, playing with Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry in the USA backcourt. The Bulls don’t have that depth at point guard but they still don’t want Rose taking on too much, soon.

“Last year he was trying to get it all back in one day,” Thibodeau said. “I thought right before he got re-injured, he was starting to find a good rhythm again. This time, he’s not rushing like he did. But there’s a fine line for him, to still be aggressive, find a rhythm but not force it. I don’t want him to overthink it, I want him to play.”

Whether Rose is working the high pick-and-roll with Gasol or just bursting inside to kick out to Dunleavy, McDermott or Mirotic, the results can be just as effective as standing out top while Carmelo Anthony goes iso again and again.

“Just take pressure off of him,” said Gasol, who will try to develop an offensive chemistry not unlike what he had with Kobe Bryant in the Lakers’ best-of-times. “By playing well, by doing your job, by not having him have to force too much offensively or the pressure to create too much. When you have the weapons that we have, I think it takes pressure off of him. Creates and gives him space, and things become easier for him.”

Healthier, too.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 1


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after his first practice with the Lakers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant, Nash take part in practice | Jackson wants to be a starter | Gay holding off on contract extension talk | Smith pledges to shoot less 3-pointers in Detroit

No. 1: Lakers’ Bryant, Nash participate in practice — The L.A. Lakers had one of their worst seasons ever, something that could be attributed to the number 21. That’s the total number of games that Kobe Bryant (six) and Steve Nash (15) played in for L.A. last season. With the start of training camp on Tuesday, though, the Lakers got good news simply in the fact both players suited up and made it through practice without issue. The Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan has more on Bryant and Nash’s first practice under coach Byron Scott, including Bryant’s trademark competitiveness showing up early on:

To hear everybody talk, Kobe Bryant was 26 years old, not 36. He was merely coming off a bruised thigh and scratched elbow, not a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee.

The Lakers didn’t do any scrimmaging Tuesday, but Bryant made an impact while practicing for 2 hours 15 minutes, his first official action since playing only six games last season.

He had to be asked to leave the court. For his own sake.

“Basically, I had to ask Kobe to, you know, ‘Why don’t you shut it down? We’ve got another one tomorrow,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said, encouraging Bryant to sit out end-of-practice conditioning.

Bryant said he felt like himself, adding, “and that’s a good thing.”

It might not be glamorous, but this defense-first thing will continue for a while.

“Every day until I get to the point where I don’t think we need to. And I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Scott said. “I know in my years of playing and coaching that that’s something that wins championships.”

The running might not stop for a while either, though Nash joined Bryant in skipping the end-of-practice sprinting that left plenty of players huffing and puffing, with some even laying down or leaning against the basketball hoop support.

Nash, who will be 41 in February, practiced for about 90 minutes before heading to the sideline for some rest. Scott said he “was in great shape” after playing only 15 games last season mainly because of recurring nerve damage in his back.

The bigger deal these days is Bryant’s return to the court. Even Bryant acknowledged it.

“I think the Achilles’ injury just ignited a new challenge for me personally to see if I can do this, right?” Bryant said. “Because you don’t know. So it’s a challenge that presented itself to see if I can make this a successful comeback.”

Additionally, Lakers fans will be happy to see this bit of news from Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears:


VIDEO: Steve Nash talks after the Lakers’ practice on Tuesday

 

Ball movement high on Westbrook’s list

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the Thunder’s media day

OKLAHOMA CITY – Visions of Pau Gasol, back to the basket, effortlessly tossing passes to cutters and slashers and 3-point shooters as if directing a choreographed ballet certainly danced through the minds of the Thunder, whose ambitions to increase ball movement in their potent, but heavily star-driven offense seem to have only intensified.

“Well, yeah, we had obviously a chance,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Monday of OKC’s summer dalliance with Gasol, a terrific low-post passer who chose to leave the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls. “One thing I look at is I love the team I have. I wished him the best. I had a great meeting with him. But it’s not something I even think about now.”

Brooks does love his team, and he’ll never miss an opportunity to let everybody know it. In fact on Monday he announced, without provocation, that Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the game.

And Westbrook promptly agreed.

“I feel like I’m the best player on the floor every time I step on the floor. That’s just my mindset,” Westbrook said during an exceedingly short and curt media session, perhaps the most telling sign that he’s back to 100 percent from the knee injury that robbed him of the 2013 playoffs and half of last season. “It’s not just this year, not just last year. It’s just how I think when I get on the basketball floor.”

If that’s the case then the Thunder’s desire to move the ball around more, to involve more players not named Westbrook, Kevin Durant or pick-and-pop maestro Serge Ibaka should not be the excruciating exercise it has been, particularly during out-of-timeout or late-game situations when execution is paramount.

But this is also a tricky area because Brooks must also allow his two supremely gifted stars to exploit their own unique skills to create for themselves and score. An over-reliance, however, can lead to over-dribbling, teammates standing around and ultimately either Westbrook or Durant forcing low-percentage attempts late in the shot clock. Memphis, a quality defensive team, has flustered Durant and the Thunder in each of the last two postseasons, winning in five games in 2013 without Westbrook, and forcing a seven-game series last year.

When Westbrook was sidelined during the 2013 playoffs, he watched the games from the suite level and said it helped him see the game differently. He vowed to return a smarter player. He missed half of the regular season and then was sensational in the postseason, averaging 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. But he also attempted nearly 21 shots a game and made only 42 percent overall and 28 percent from beyond the arc.

This summer the Thunder added 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow, the type of consistently lethal perimeter shooter they’ve lacked, and emerging second-year center Steven Adams has shown the ability to catch-and-finish in the paint. Westbrook said moving the ball isn’t just more talk, even suggesting we will take notice.

“I think that’s key. Moving the ball is definitely a big part of our improvement as a team,” Westbrook said. “It’s something that we made a conscious effort to be able to go into this year trying to do. There should be something that you see new from us.”

The Thunder have incrementally increased their assist totals over the last three years. In 2011-12, they ranked last in the league in assist ratio (14.7), the number of assists a team averages per 100 possessions. That also happened to the be the lone season OKC advanced to the NBA Finals. That season it also had Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, another rare player capable of getting to the rim almost at will.

The trade of Harden to Houston just prior to the 2012-13 season naturally forced changes that seemed unnatural for a team that had grown together the previous three seasons. In 2012-13, OKC ranked 23rd (16.7) and last year they ranked 15th, although their assist ratio didn’t change (Westbrook’s absence obviously also has to be figured into that). For reference, the Spurs led the league at 19.2 assists per 100 possessions.

“We know what it takes to win games. We know what it takes to get to the top, but we don’t know what it feels like to win a championship,” Westbrook said. “There’s steps we have to make as a unit, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to make those.”

Gasol needs Rose to run with Bulls


VIDEO: Pau Gasol, Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau look forward to a new day in Chicago

CHICAGO – The difference between Derrick Rose‘s first comeback and latest comeback is the difference between Mike Dunleavy and Pau Gasol.

A year ago, Dunleavy — a solid NBA veteran in search of the first .500 team of his career — joined the Chicago Bulls on a modest, role player’s contract to scratch his competitive itch more than his financial one.

Except Rose lasted just 10 games, the Bulls backed off their loftier ambitions by trading Luol Deng midway through the schedule and Dunleavy wound up starting and logging heavy minutes. He appreciated Chicago’s 48-34 finish and could take pride in becoming one of the NBA’s biggest bargains (salary per minute). But no Rose and a five-game ouster by Washington in the first round were profound disappointments.

Now the stakes are higher. The Bulls’ key offseason acquisition is a cut above, in pedigree and possibilities. Gasol brings a Hall of Fame portfolio, two championship rings and international acclaim to Chicago. He also brings greater expectations and a considerable role already reserved for him. Like Dunleavy, Gasol turned 34 this offseason. His high hopes and crossed fingers are pretty much identical too.

“It’s important to the whole team, for sure,” Gasol said of Rose and the Bulls’ dire need for their point guard to a) stay healthy and b) reclaim his All-Star, all-NBA and ideally MVP form. “I talked to him before I made my decision. He’s eager, he’s hungry. He’s been working extremely hard to be where he’s at today. Playing in the World Cup in the summer helped him, to be able to get some rust out. I think he’s ready.”

That’s as good as the Bulls have at this point — thinking that Rose is sufficiently recovered from the torn ACL injury in his left knee (April 2012) and the torn meniscus in his right knee (November 2013) to lug around their goals and dreams.

If he is recovered, the 2014-15 season in Chicago could be the brightest since Rose’s MVP year of 2010-11 and maybe even the Jordan-Pippen era of the last millennium. If not, it will be another long season of overachieving and pluck that probably leads nowhere — and a whole bunch of what-ifs for Gasol.

Gasol talked with the Spurs, the Thunder, the Heat and the Knicks. He got calls and tests from Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, the coach with whom he won championships in L.A. in 2008 and 2010.

“I talked to many great, great players that I would be happy to play with,” the 7-foot, four-time All Star said. “Unfortunately I could only play with one team. So I picked a great situation, a great team, a great franchise, a great city.”

Upon making his decision, Gasol got another text from Jackson, the former Bulls coach, saying that, “I was going to love Chicago, that I was going to be happy here and that it was a great choice.”

If Rose’s health can be trusted, sure.

From his spot on Spain’s national team, Gasol saw a pretty spry and explosive Rose in the FIBA World Cup tournament. “I don’t have any doubt,” Gasol said. “I hope that he stays healthy, just like everybody else on the team. Everybody is subject to injury. But I believe in his health and I think he’s going to do fine.”

Gasol ($7.1 million in Year 1 of a three-year deal) and Nikola Mirotic ($5.3 million) essentially have slipped into the payroll spot opened by Carlos Boozer‘s amnesty. Boozer wasn’t a popular Bull, never quite appeasing United Center fans for not being LeBron James after his 2010 signing, or even playing up to his five-year, $75 million deal. Still, he did average 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in four Chicago seasons and showed up for all but nine games over the final three.

Gasol will need to maintain his numbers (17.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and step up his durability (55 games missed the past two seasons) to match or top Boozer’s statistical production. And Gasol is older.

Maybe Gasol can do contribute intangibly by how well he fits with fellow slick-passing big man Joakim Noah, with the shooters — Dunleavy, Mirotic, rookie Doug McDermott — that coach Tom Thibodeau can spot around him and, of course, with Rose.

Asked how the two of them might play off each other and boost the other’s effectiveness, Rose visualized and verbalized for the mob at Bulls media day.

“I automatically go to the fourth quarter, where he’s got the ball and I’m out on the perimeter, and I’m just waiting to get a set shot,” Rose said. “Other than that, let him work. You’ve got Joakim or Taj [Gibson] on the other side cleaning up everything else. And you’ve got two other shooters on the floor with me, Jo and Pau.

“I just see him in the post. I’m waiting for a jump shot. And you pick your poison.”

After waiting so long for Rose, seeing him take a pass from Gasol is an upgrade this team and the city will take.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 30


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew reveals their early power rankings for 2014-15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Durant plans to play in 2016 Olympics | Rose confident Bulls will soon have title run | Wistful KG appreciates his 20th season | Business already good for Cavs | Hinkie unsure if Embiid will play this season

No. 1: Report: Durant plans to play in 2016 Olympics — Team USA secured gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup despite not having LeBron James, Kevin Durant and several other household names on the roster. While James is still on the fence about playing in the 2016 Olympics, Durant is hoping he’ll get to be back on the squad. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Durant says in an upcoming interview how he is ready to get back on the court with Team USA and also talks about his future with the Thunder:

Durant withdrew from national-team duty in August shortly before the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.

“Hopefully I’ll be there. It’s whoever Mr. [Jerry] Colangelo and Coach K [Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski] pick,” Durant said in‎ an interview on his 26th birthday scheduled to air later this week on SportsCenter. “I would love to have the chance to play in another Olympics.”

Durant said again Monday that fatigue was his motivation for leaving Team USA before the World Cup, insisting that neither his summerlong shoe-contract negotiations with Nike and Under Armour nor the season-ending compound leg fracture suffered Aug. 1 by Indiana Pacers star Paul George prompted his withdrawal.

“I was tired,” Durant said. “I just wanted to have some time to just enjoy my summer and continue to work on my game but just enjoy my summer. Coach K and Mr. Colangelo understood and they made this whole thing easy for me.

“The thing I didn’t want to happen was for it to overshadow what those guys were doing because they deserved to be in their moment. I was so excited for them, especially the newer guys that hadn’t played in international competition before. It felt like four years ago when we were playing in 2010 and had all the young guys. That’s what their team looked like, so I was excited they got the W [in the tournament in Spain].”

For Durant, the summer of 2016 also happens to be his free-agent summer, which he also addresses in the SportsCenter sitdown, acknowledging the fact that his future — much like James’ this past season — is already generating plenty of discussion.

Even though Durant is two summers away from free agency, teams such as the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Wizards are among those that have already been strongly linked to him.

“You know they’re going to come, [so] just answer them and let people know I really enjoy being in Oklahoma City and I’m just trying to focus on the season,” said Durant, who grew up a Wizards fan as a Maryland native, of the inevitable questions about his future looming this season. “But I know those questions are going to come and I’m not going to lie about them. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t think about it. But also just know, my main focus is trying to be the best player I can be and the best leader I can be for Oklahoma City and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.‎”

In the interview, Durant also discusses Oklahoma City’s free-agent pursuit of Pau Gasol at length for the first time. Despite repeated personal pleas in July from Durant and fellow Thunder star Russell Westbrook, Gasol elected to sign with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent.

“Sometimes that stuff don’t work out for you, but as long as you can say you put a full-court press on, that’s cool, no matter what,” Durant said. “That was a fun process, so I was excited to be a part of something like that for once. … Never [recruited] before to that extent. I may have texted guys, but no one as big as Pau Gasol. We put all our effort into it. It didn’t work out for us, but sometimes that’s how the game goes.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook chat during OKC’s media day