NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Gasol, D’Antoni clear the air — Play in the post last season for the Lakers was a confusing and often frustrating one for the team and its fans. On one hand, the Lakers were trying to make Dwight Howard happy by running the offense through him as much as possible, which often marginalized Kobe Bryant in particular. On the other hand, when they tried to run the offense through an injured Pau Gasol, the results were often frustrating due to Gasol’s gimpy status all season. Such was the delicate-if-unsuccessful balance coach Mike D’Antoni tried to strike last season. D’Antoni spoke with USA Today‘s Sam Amick about the gameplan last season, clearing the air with Gasol about his role this season and more:
The air has long since been cleared between Pau Gasol and Mike D’Antoni, and that’s saying something considering they work in a city where smog is as much a part of the landscape as the Los Angeles Lakers flags that still fly from passing cars.
But even without Kobe Bryant here at the outset, the two most important men in the Lakers’ new mission swear the regular season starts with an outlook as clear and bright as one of those rare days when you can see from Staples Center to the Hollywood Hills where departed big man Dwight Howard once resided. Gone are the days of placating the big man with the hopes that he’d re-sign, running the offense through him as a political ploy while the most skilled post player on the planet — yes, that’s Gasol — was mostly marginalized and pushed to the perimeter. And make no mistake, D’Antoni admits, it was nothing short of a season-long recruiting effort that made most basketball purists cringe, including him.
“It was very uncomfortable,” D’Antoni, the Lakers coach, said about the Howard-Gasol dynamic last season. “I knew I was messing on (Gasol) last year. That’s not fair to him. But that was the situation we were in. How do we make the best of it? I was just trying to make the best of it. But no, it wasn’t fair to him.
“I think it was all (politics). It was all that. We wouldn’t do that (normally). If nobody had names on their jerseys, and we were just playing? You go through Pau. There’s not a question. No question.”
The Lakers won’t have Bryant for the foreseeable future as he continues to recover from his April Achilles tendon tear and are already dealing with another round of health setbacks from point guard Steve Nash. In the here and now, they likely will go as far as Gasol can carry them. And that, as he well knows, means he must play like the Gasol of old rather than the old Gasol.
“I definitely believe I can do it,” Gasol told USA TODAY Sports this week. “I know it. I bounced back really well. The procedure went well, my tendons are a lot healthier now than they were before. I have a lot more healthy tissue that regenerated well. I worked hard during the summer to be in the position that I’m in today, and I look forward to just to going out there and doing what I know best.”
The summer brought with it a key question: Would he train like normal and hope the declining state of his knees miraculously improved or have a nascent medical procedure that could help him become basketball’s best ballerina again? He opted for the latter, and — for now, anyway —the plan is working to perfection.
The May 9 “FAST technique” procedure may have been minimally invasive, but it left him in crutches and — because of its newness in the medical community — unsure whether it would work. Stem cells were taken from his pelvis and injected into his knees to replace the damaged tissue that had been removed. Ultrasound wavelengths were aimed at his tendons in order to debride the damage in there too. Gasol said the procedure had only been performed 20 times when he decided to become the 21st, but it was far more attractive than the alternative.
“I had nothing to lose really, because as painful as (the knees were) feeling at the time and through last year, I just needed to do something,” Gasol said. “I just couldn’t continue otherwise. I would’ve gone down.
“You’re much more limited. You can’t explode. You can’t really jump. You can’t really bend as much. You can’t move as quickly and explosively. You’ve just got to adjust and with my skills and my IQ, I could still be productive, but not the go-to guy probably.”
No. 2: Report: Clips deal for Redick was nearly pulled — This is an awful complex story to boil down into a paragraph or so, but the nuts-and-bolts version from Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski is this — the Clippers had agreed to ship Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to Phoenix as part of the three-team deal that would put free agent J.J. Redick in L.A. But at the last minute, after the deal was all-but consummated, Clippers owner Donald Sterling had a change of heart. It’s a must-read story about the inner workings of a nearly pulled deal:
In the early afternoon hours of July 3, owner Donald Sterling called Los Angeles Clippers president Andy Roeser and informed him he had rescinded approval on moving Eric Bledsoe and acquiring free agent J.J. Redick in a sign-and-trade agreement. The three-team deal – delivered the owner’s blessing only two days earlier – no longer interested Sterling.
Call it off, Sterling instructed Roeser, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
It didn’t matter the news had broken 24 hours earlier of the Clippers sending Bledsoe and Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns with the Suns’ Jared Dudley and Milwaukee’s Redick, on a four-year, $27 million contract, joining Los Angeles. It didn’t matter the public had been praising Doc Rivers‘ first deal as the new senior vice president of basketball operations and coach, that Rivers and general manager Gary Sacks had given their word to teams, agents and players that this was a finalized agreement.
That bizarre turn of events had stayed within a tight circle of league executives, coaches and agents at the start of free agency in July.
After Sterling vaporized the deal on July 3, leaving chaos in his wake, the owner bolted for a beachfront holiday weekend in parts unknown. From the Suns’ and Bucks’ front offices to Redick’s agent, Arn Tellem, to the credibility of the Clippers franchise itself, those involved understood that perhaps only Rivers had the freshly minted cachet and power of persuasion to undo this looming disaster with Sterling.
Once a deal had been agreed upon and passed Sterling’s initial approval, Redick had turned down comparable offers, including one from Minnesota, to join the Clippers.
For Rivers’ system and culture, Redick and Dudley were ideal fits. They were twentysomething players replacing an aging, expensive Butler in the final year of his contract.
For the first few hours, these arguments were slow to register with Sterling, sources told Yahoo Sports. Looking back, only the owner knows why he attempted to blow the deal up. Yes, Sterling had been fond of Bledsoe. He was young, explosive, impactful on the Clippers’ second unit. Some believed too, that Sterling stereotyped Redick and didn’t want to pay $27 million for a bench player.
With Sterling, rational thought and debate aren’t always part of the discussion. Whatever his reasons, everyone else awaited Rivers’ conversations with Sterling. Rivers contract gave him ultimate management authority on deals, and several sources dealing with the Clippers say that Rivers was beyond embarrassed and humiliated. He feared the unraveling of the deal would cost him his credibility and paralyze him in future trade and negotiation talks, sources said.
No. 3: Wade, James heap praise on Iverson — In an offseason interview with ESPN the Magazine‘s Chris Broussard, LeBron James made it known that Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan were his two childhood idols. As the Sixers get ready to honor Iverson before their season opener Wednesday against the Heat, James — as well as his teammate, Dwyane Wade — took time to praise Iverson again, writes Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com:
Just days after Miami Heat forward LeBron James listed Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan as his childhood idols, the NBA’s reigning MVP continued to heap praise on the former Philadelphia 76ers star.
“Pound-for-pound, probably the greatest player who ever played,” James said of Iverson, who will retire in a Sixers pregame ceremony ahead of Wednesday’s home opener against the defending champion Heat.
James was asked Monday for his thoughts on Iverson ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony.
“[Iverson] reminds me of Floyd Mayweather,” James said, comparing Iverson to the undefeated boxer who has 18 titles to his name and stands just 5-foot-8. “You could never question [Iverson’s] heart, his will to want to win. A true warrior.”
Although Iverson was one of the top scorers of his era, his career was cut short at age 34 when injuries had taken a toll on his effectiveness. Iverson’s playing career ended unceremoniously in 2010 after a 25-game stint with the 76ers, the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1996.
Iverson hasn’t found work in the NBA since.
“I hate the fact that his career ended the way it did,” James said Monday. “But he had an unbelievable career.”
Miami’s Dwyane Wade also considers it a privilege that he’ll be at Iverson’s retirement ceremony on Wednesday.
“One of my favorite players obviously of all time. Michael Jordan, Kobe [Bryant], T-Mac [Tracy McGrady] and A.I.,” Wade said. “Those were the ones that I looked up to coming up. I take pride in wearing No. 3 because A.I. wore No. 3.”
As it turns out, Wade’s first preseason game and regular-season game as an NBA player came against Iverson. What did he remember about those games?
“I was scared as God knows what,” Wade said. “He’s just a great competitor. He’s one of the best to do it.”
“It’s going to be a great moment, I’m sure, for everyone that was a fan of Iverson and the way he changed the game — all the little boys in their driveway doing the A.I. crossover,” Wade said.
No. 4: Warriors’ official scorer celebrates 50th season — Some fans wonder what it would be like to watch up close as legends like Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and LeBron James played the game. If you’re looking for someone who’s had that experience, look no further than Fred Kast, the Golden State Warriors’ official scorer. He’s been on the job for 49 seasons and will have his 50th season on the job starting Wednesday night. In a great story by the Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, Kast recalls his tenure on the job and some of the great moments he’s witnessed:
When the Warriors open their season Wednesday, Fred Kast will be stationed in Oracle Arena’s best seat.
Since the early days of the franchise’s move west from Philadelphia, he’s been manning the front row at Warriors home games in Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Daly City.
It’ll be no different this season.
Kast is set to celebrate his 50th anniversary as the Warriors’ official scorer, a job that has both mandated his penchant for meticulousness and has afforded him the opportunity to witness some of the world’s greatest athletes from a center-court floor seat.
“I’ve seen Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Satch Sanders. Where do you want me to start?” Kast said. “I don’t go quite as far back as George Mikan, but I saw Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Bob Davies and Bobby Wanzer. Everybody, from Wilt Chamberlain to Michael Jordan.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to see all of them play from that perfect seat.”
Kast took copious notes as Nate Thurmond inhaled 20 rebounds per game from 1966 to ’68, Rick Barry returned from his self-generated holiday to the American Basketball Association in the early 1970s, and Sleepy Floyd scored 29 of his 51 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers in the 1987 playoffs.
He was still scrawling away when Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin created their high-octane “Run TMC” trio in 1989-1991, Baron Davis made everyone believe with a monstrous dunk over Andrei Kirilenko in the 2007 postseason, and Stephen Curry leaped into the national consciousness last season.
But none of those special moments in time mean more to Kast than the 1974-75 championship, a title the Warriors swept from heavily favored Washington.
He’s been instructed that he’s part of the league’s refereeing crew when he’s doing his job as official scorer, so he’s not supposed to show courtside emotions. Kast follows the policy as long as he can, but a lack of fundamentals on the court can cause him to break what is his natural character every once in a while.
It was a matter of a chance that turned into a 50-year passion.
Kast was walking down one of the arena’s ramps when he recognized an old college buddy, Art Santo Domingo. He needed someone to sub as the Warriors’ official scorer, and he knew that Kast breathed the game.
“I said, ‘Where are you sitting?’ ” Kast recalled. “When he said, ‘On the court – right at center court,’ I said, ‘I’m your man.’ ”
He’s been that man for 50 years – missing only four or five games per season during his most arduous travel years in medical sales and even fewer games since his retirement in 1999.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New addition J.J. Hickson is likely to start on opening night in place of the injured Kenneth Faried … In case ya missed it, Kyrie Irving is back as his alter ego: Uncle Drew … Jazz backup big man Andris Biedrins injured his ankle in practice … Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson talks about his coaching career, Michael Jordan‘s tenure as an NBA exec and more …
ICYMI Of The Night: Let’s not belabor the point … the season-opener is here at 7 p.m. ET on TNT, so make sure you’re all geared up for Bulls-Heat