NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: George wants to learn from LeBron — Throughout the season, Pacers star Paul George has been in and out of an MVP debate that has recently shifted to LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. Still, there’s no denying the superstar turn George has experienced over the last two seasons and a big part of that rise came from Indiana’s last two playoff series against the Miami Heat and James. George and the Pacers are hoping for a third straight playoff series matchup with Miami this season and as George tells BasketballInsiders.com’s Jessica Camerato, he hopes he can someday learn from James, too:
They are two of the league’s most talented on the court: the king of the NBA versus the rising star, reigning MVP against future contender. There is no doubt George views LeBron James as fierce competition as they battle for the Eastern Conference. One day, though, he’d also like to call him his mentor.
“It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he’s a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level,” George told Basketball Insiders. “I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to—not during the season because I’m too competitive during the season—but maybe in the summertime.”
James has not been shy about his appreciation for George’s game since he was drafted by the Pacers with the 10th overall pick in 2010. He has expressed encouragement along the way, telling the 23-year-old to continue playing at a high level. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals James made a PDA (public display of appreciation, in this case) when he offered George a low five following a sequence in which George drove past him and dunked on Chris Andersen, and then responded by pulling up for a buzzer-beating trey against George.
They engage in small, casual conversations when they’re on the court together. Once the games are over, James will congratulate George and urge him to keep pushing. Other than those in-game exchanges, though, George explained “we don’t talk really.”
That’s something he would like to see change over time. While George already considers James to play a mentor role in the sense of being someone who has been positive toward him, he would also like to have the type of relationship where he can reach out to talk basketball. George said he could message James “if need be,” but hasn’t done so yet.
“He’s someone that motivates me,” said George, who is averaging 22.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. “This league is all about guys being competitive and competing. And don’t get me wrong, every time I’m matched up with him I’m going to try to get the best out of him and come out as the best player of that game. But at the same time, he’s been someone that I looked up to. He’s someone I’m going to continue to look up to because at the end of the day, the position I want to be in is where he’s at.”
George has his sights set high when it comes to his desired list of mentors. Along with James, he would like to add Kobe Bryant also.
“All-Star Weekend, he gave me a couple words and every time I do run into him he gives me a couple words,” George said. “He’s a player as well that I look up to and wish would mentor me.”
While there are basketball hopefuls of all ages who strive to reach George’s level of talent, he feels he has a ways to go before he is ready to assume the mentor position he is still seeking out for himself.
“I’m still young so there’s a lot of stuff I have to learn before I feel like I can help a young guy,” George said. “I’ve got to grow into my mentoring role and then I’ll be one of those guys that mentors young guys.”
No. 2: Report: Lakers expected to keep Nash on board next season — In the most recent of Grantland.com’s solid video series with Steve Nash, the former two-time MVP guard spends a lengthy part of the video discussing how he expects to be waived from the team via the stretch provision this summer. The stretch provision allows a team to basically stretch out the amount owed on a player’s contract over multiple seasons instead of having to fork over a lump-sum payment upon being waived. Kevin Ding of BleacherReport.com reports that scenario is looking less and less likely for Nash, though:
And the fact is, as of this time, Nash will get one last chance to play next season with the Lakers, who are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer and are therefore thinking it does not make sense to use the stretch provision to waive Nash.
The Lakers would rather be done with the entirety of Nash’s $9.7 million salary next year if they’re not planning on spending much next season, as opposed to stretching that money across the next three seasons if they waive him and suffer future burdens.
That decision by the Lakers would give Nash one last season to get his body as right as possible, control the nerve-root irritation sapping his back and legs, and try to go out on something close to his terms.
“Yeah,” Nash said Tuesday night about the Lakers letting him play it out next season. “It sounds like it.”
If the Lakers change their mind and waive Nash, he intends to retire: “That would be it,” he said. “I’ll either be back here or I’ll be done.”
If he is granted this reprieve, though…
“It means that anything is still possible,” Nash said.
Nash is well beyond assuming anything with how his body heals now, and he was still cautious when discussing what he acknowledged looks to be one good tiding coming his way if the Lakers don’t cut him.
He did allow himself to smile about it.
“If I can get healthy and come back,” he said, “it’d be great.”
For the Lakers’ purposes, Nash being able to contribute next season would lessen the bust of his acquisition only slightly. The losing hedges with Dwight Howard and Nash are severely limiting the Lakers’ rebuilding options now, and as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last month, the one thing the franchise cannot afford is to gamble again and lose.
To Kupchak, paying maximum dollars to star players who the Lakers are not certain can deliver championship performances would be bad business—and is, in fact, exactly what has happened in New York with the Knicks struggling despite having Carmelo Anthony.
So don’t expect to see Anthony or Chris Bosh—if he opts out of his Miami Heat contract—getting epic offers from the Lakers.
Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.
No. 3: Durant has adopted some of Nowitzki’s training methods — Practically since he became an NBA player, Dallas Mavericks All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has leaned on help from his trainer from Germany, Holger Geschwindner, throughout his career. Nowitzki has become an all-time great in the game and an NBA champion thanks, in part, to Geschwindner’s tutelage and it appears that another star in the league — Kevin Durant — is adopting Geschwindner’s methods. Jared Zwerling of BleacherReport.com has more:
Even though they’ve been in Dallas the same amount of time, Mavericks scout Reggie Johnson still has a difficult time describing Dirk Nowitzki’s quirky workouts with his longtime German trainer Holger Geschwindner.
“Besides all the shooting, it’s hard to explain the types of things he does—because they are so unorthodox,” Johnson said. “It’s one of those things you have to see, but it’s like he’s working on balance, leg strength and shooting all in one motion. His personal coach from Germany thinks outside the box with the drills. Some drills with the ball, some without. He has a routine.”
Interestingly, because of Nowitzki’s connection to Kevin Durant’s trainer, Adam Harrington, who had a limited stint with the Mavericks in 2002-03, the Oklahoma City star has been utilizing some of Geschwindner’s drills since last summer.
“They’ve been paying off for KD,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely incorporated the one-legged fadeaway, and it’s working very well for him. Just ask his defenders. Also, his three-point shot looks a lot more natural and fluid.”
As for those exercises, they’re still coming in handy for Nowitzki, who at the end of the season could join Larry Bird and Steve Nash as the only players in NBA history to have multiple campaigns of shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.
“It’s great to watch Dirk play, but watching him work is incredible,” Johnson said. “Everyone has heard about his work ethic, but until you’ve witnessed it, you have no idea. He loves the game, and he loves getting better daily. The three things I’ve been most impressed with are his basketball IQ, passing and vision on the court, and his leadership.
“He’s also changed a few things over time. Dirk has an improved post game, he’s mentally and physically tougher and he has a more efficient all-around game. He was known as just a killer jump shooter, but now he’s a threat inside and out, as well as a better passer. He recognizes where double teams are coming from and when they’re coming, which allows him to react quicker and become a playmaker.”
No. 4: Knicks fans planning protest before March 19 game? — The New York Knicks beat the Minnesota Timberwolves last night to end their seven-game losing streak, but ICYMI, it’s been a pretty difficult season in New York. Fans are no doubt unhappy with the team’s surprising downfall this season after a banner performance last season and as such, may soon let team ownership know of their displeasure. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Knicks fans may be staging a protest of owner James Dolan before a March 19 date with the Pacers:
A rally to protest Knicks owner James Dolan’s handling of the sinking franchise is on tap for March 19 in front of the Garden before the team hosts the Pacers.
The organizers of the “KF4L Rally,” which has its own Facebook page, are promoting the rally via social media. The KF4L stands for “Knicks Fan for Life.’’
Knicks fans Michael Brown, who has staged demonstrations in the past, Anthony Samaroo, a Chicago-based Knicks fan, and Mark Griffin are the rally’s promoters.
In a statement, the organizers wrote the rally is being staged because of “Dolan’s failure to allow knowledgeable basketball people the autonomy/power to make basketball related decisions…His insistence on overriding the opinions of his basketball people by bidding against himself in negotiations and overpaying in trades.’’
The statement also took issue with “the rehiring of Steve Mills who has never been in the GM role before and presided over one of the most embarrassing eras in Knick history.’’
No. 5: Coaching legend sides with NCAA, not NBA D-League— As an NBA coach, Larry Brown amassed 1,198 victories and won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Today, Brown is the coach of the SMU Mustangs and as a collegiate coach, has amassed 300 wins and led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA championship. Suffice it to say that Brown is well-rounded enough to speak on whether the NCAA or NBA D-League is a better path for a talented player out of high school. As ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon notes, Brown is siding with the college game, unlike Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:
SMU’s Larry Brown, a Hall of Famer with 1,198 NBA coaching wins, strongly disagreed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s suggestion that elite prospects would be better prepared for the NBA by playing in the D-League instead of spending one season in college.
“I admire him and I think he’s one of the bright guys we have in our profession, but that was the worst thing I heard,” Brown, who has won titles in college and the NBA, said during an appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.
“They don’t teach guys how to play, in my mind,” Brown said of the D-League. “The head coaches in the NBA and a lot of the assistants do, but [college basketball] is the greatest minor league system in the world. If you didn’t go to one class and just live in a college environment, then you’re way ahead. And I think most coaches are responsible enough to make them go to class, make them go to study hall, give them life lessons.
“How about being around [SMU assistants] Eric Snow and George Lynch? Those two guys played 13, 14 years in the league, have families, are successful. In all honesty, I love Mark, but [college basketball] is pretty good.
“Now, it’s our job to make [players] realize getting an education is something that’s important, because here’s the deal: Life after basketball is a real long time.”
Cuban emphasized the importance of life skills courses for prospects who might choose to play in the D-League straight out of high school, but Brown believes that sort of education is better delivered on college campuses.
“I always was amazed the NBA had this program before this season where they’d bring everybody in, similar to what you do in college before school starts, orientation,” Brown said. “I used to always ask my players what they got out of it, and it was comical. You’re not going to get anything out of four days of orientation, but play for Rick Pitino for a year or two or Tom Izzo or John Calipari or Bill Self, I think Cuban would be happy with what they’re getting.”
Brown did agree with Cuban’s suggestion that prospects be required to play three years in college before being eligible for the NBA draft. However, Brown would prefer to make exceptions for players who would like to jump to the pros out of high school.
“I want this to be like baseball,” Brown said. “If a kid is good enough, like LeBron or like Durant, to come right out of high school, let him go. Put it in his contract, though, that you’re going to make X amount of dollars if you go back to school. Then if you decide to go to school, stay three years. Then all these NBA people wouldn’t have to keep these workout coaches, because the kids would be prepared.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards coach Randy Wittman has Washington poised for a return to the playoffs, but will he get a new contract? … Like mama always said, all good things must come to an end. Such was the case for Kyle Korver and his streak of games with at least one 3-pointer, which ended at 127 last night in Portland … The Kings are reportedly going to sign troubled forward Royce White to a 10-day deal today … The Nets may soon call up guard Jorge Gutierrez from the NBA D-League … Cavs big man Anderson Varejao went through Wednesday’s practice and could return soon … Rockets center Dwight Howard hopes Magic fans can one day forgive him … Lakers forward Wesley Johnsonis hoping he’ll be back with the team next season … Blazers backup point guard Earl Watson, who has played in just 17 games this season, may soon explore coaching opportunities in the league …
ICYMI of the Night: You gotta feel bad for poor Jerryd Bayless on this play. He thinks he’s got a wide-open look at a 3-pointer and then … whammo! Andrew Bogut comes out of nowhere for the fantastic swat …