NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Bucks’ Sanders done for season — From start to what is now the finish, the 2013-14 season has been one to forget for Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders. A season after making a name for himself with the Bucks with his defensive play and flashes of offensive skill, Sanders struggled through an injury and off-the-court-incident marred season. Playing against the Rockets on Feb. 8, Sanders went up for a rebound and got hit in the right eye, suffering an orbital fracture. Sanders says he’s done for the season, writes Charles F. Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel, and is gearing up for 2014-15:
Sanders, traveling with the Bucks on their current four-game western trip, confirmed he would not return this season in a locker-room interview.
Now Sanders is focusing on the future and his role in helping the rebuilding Bucks. He will be starting a four-year, $44 million contract next fall, the extension he signed last summer.
And he said he has learned some things after being sidelined six weeks early in the season due to a torn ligament in his right thumb, an injury he suffered in a fight in a downtown Milwaukee nightclub.
“I think you just take from it what you can,” Sanders said of his unfulfilling season, with 23 games played and 20 starts. “It’s funny you go through things in life and they help mold us into better people, if you learn from things.
“I think that’s what this year was all about. Going through it is tough. But when you get through it you start to understand how you become better.”
Sanders said he has major goals to achieve in the off-season, including getting stronger to battle the centers he must face each night.
“I want to put on a lot of weight,” he said. “At least 15 pounds. I want to get to 240, 245, a good running weight. I want to be really strong. I want to feel unmoveable out there.
“I just see it being the hardest working summer since back when I was in college, maybe when I was going out for the draft (in 2010). That will be the only one I could probably compare to this one.”
A team source said Sanders could not do any activities over the last few weeks due to the delicate nature of the eye surgery. The repairs were needed to make sure Sanders would not suffer from double vision issues.
But the source indicated Sanders should be able to begin light activities (jogging, running on a treadmill) by mid-April and eventually return to the basketball court.
Sanders said fans have stuck behind him despite his travails.
“A lot of fans are still rooting for me,” he said. “I’m out and they’re looking for me to come back and be better. With that in mind, I’m going to carry it with me every day. I’m carrying it with me now. It’s building up.
“It’s going to be a good summer for work.”
Sanders said he’s optimistic about the team despite its 13-55 record this season.
“It can only get better,” Sanders said. “I guarantee you we’ll have a better season than this year. We’ll get a lot of time to spend together this summer, catch these guys out on the road, wherever they’re at. Try to get some team stuff going, too.”
No. 2: D’Antoni changes stance on Nash’s status — On March 13, it looked like Steve Nash‘s season with the Los Angeles Lakers — and perhaps his NBA career as we know it — was over. It was on that day that the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan reported that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni had closed the door on Nash’s season, telling reporters he wouldn’t play this season. But it seems that may not be the case after all. According to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, D’Antoni could be reversing field on Nash’s status:
Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni opened the door for the chance that Steve Nash could return at some point this season after the veteran guard supposedly shut it down last week because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.
“It’s still a possibility,” D’Antoni said Wednesday when asked if Nash could play at some point in the Lakers’ final 15 games. “We have to see where he is physically. … We’ll have to see some practices and see how it goes.”
The Lakers are down to one healthy point guard in Kendall Marshall, with Jordan Farmar out for a minimum of two weeks because of a strained right groin.
The 40-year-old Nash told Time Warner Cable SportsNet on Tuesday, “I feel pretty good. I feel as though I could play now at a good level. The question is could I sustain it?”
Nash has not played since Feb. 11 when he exited just before halftime against the Utah Jazz.
“We’ll have to see,” D’Antoni said. “Again, we’re just trying to get him totally healthy. You just don’t want to send him out there and play him when he’s not healthy. The last time we tried, if you remember, he didn’t make it through a game. We can’t have him start the game and then at halftime not be able to come out. We got to look and see and maybe try it in a couple practices and see if he can get 100 percent healthy, but right now he’s not there.”
No. 3: Inside Lowry’s long road to NBA stardom — If you are a Toronto Raptors fan or, for that matter, a Kyle Lowry fan, we’ve got the story for you. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has a fantastic, lengthy look at the career of Toronto’s star point guard who has gone from late Draft pick out of Villanova, to backup point guard in Memphis, to part-time starter in Houston, to part-time starter in Toronto to a full-fledged elite point guard this season with the help of some coaching from Pistons guard Chauncey Billups:
Once and for all, Masai Ujiri told Kyle Lowry the truth.
Oh, how Ujiri loves Lowry’s game – his talent, his ferocity, his intellect – and how he wanted him to understand: Spare your career this maddening, self-fulfilling prophecy and honor a relentless summer of conditioning and commitment with the best season of your life.
Ujiri didn’t hear excuses out of Lowry, only noticing his knowing nods and hurting eyes. Lowry was listening. Finally, he was listening.
From Ujiri to Lowry’s agent Andy Miller to his NBA mentor Chauncey Billups, this had been the summer of tough love and tougher introspection. Ultimately, the truths coated Lowry like a second skin: He was pissing his promise away, trading All-Star winning talent and long-term financial security for a loser’s legacy and journeyman status.
“I had to look at myself in the mirror,” Lowry told Yahoo Sports over a shrimp salad inside the e11even restaurant in Rogers Centre. “I know what people are saying now, ‘Oh it’s a contract year,’ but it’s bigger than that for me. Yes, I want a contract. And then I want to outgrow that one and get another one. But I want to win. I want to grow. And to grow, you’ve got to be able accept coaching.
“You’ve got to be able to be coached.”
Lowry, 27, has transformed himself and transformed a franchise this season. When everyone expected the Raptors to be liquidated for draft picks, young players and salary-cap space, Lowry played the biggest part of holding the team together and chasing an improbable Atlantic Division title. He does it all for the Raptors, and he’s rapidly validating himself as one of the NBA’s finest point guards.
For the season, Lowry’s been magnificent, averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Across the past 15 games, he been even better: 19 points, 9.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds. Most of all, the Raptors are winning – 37-29 and in third place in the Eastern Conference.
“I struggled to prove that I belonged,” Lowry says. “My first couple years in the NBA, my fear was that I was going to go to the D-League – and maybe never get back to the NBA. I was picked 24th and that’s not the cushion that a lottery pick gets in the NBA. You get a few chances, and then you’re done. Then you’re just a label, never to be a frontline guy.
This season, the seeds of a transformation were born out of the voice that carried the most credibility with Lowry: Billups, the Detroit Pistons guard. After Lowry left Villanova in 2006, Miller, his agent connected his most treasured client – Billups – with one of his most promising in Lowry. So much of the reason Lowry and Miller connected as agent and client had been Miller’s willingness to tell him the truth, to never placate Lowry over his early missteps with excuses. If nothing else, Lowry’s fiercely loyal, and part of him always knew he needed those voices in his life – even if he wasn’t fully ready to listen.
Nevertheless, Miller always understood Billups was his best chance to reach Lowry on the most important levels, that Billups’ mentoring of Lowry promised the best possible path for the young guard’s career. The thing was, Billups loved Lowry and saw so much of himself in him. Billups wanted to make Lowry understand the consequences awaiting at the crossroads of his career.
Between morning basketball workouts in Las Vegas and afternoon golf outings, Billups worked over Lowry. Billups’ story lent credibility, a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale of rising again. For everything Billups has become in the NBA, he had gone the way of Lowry in his first several years: rudderless, teetering and on the brink of fading into the league’s abyss. These weren’t lectures, but lessons.
“I told him, ‘If you squander this opportunity, this is it for you,’ ” Billups told Yahoo Sports. “I kept telling him, ‘You going go Toronto was like me going to Detroit.’ That was my last real chance, and that was the case for him there now, too.
“Kyle’s always been a little stubborn, a little bit of a know-it-all. Those things held him back. But I think he finally looked deep into the mirror and realized, ‘Hey, it’s not my game that’s causing problems, it’s everything else.’
“He had to learn to listen to constructive criticism. He had to learn to lead. In this league, perception is reality. Once you’ve created a reputation, it is hard – really hard – to shake it. He has an older generation mindset of competitiveness, with a younger generation skillset.
“Kyle has the perfect combination. And now he’s sharpened it.”
Two years ago, the Houston Rockets traded Lowry to the Raptors. Two stops, two bad endings. He had been the 24th pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006 but a year later, they selected Mike Conley fourth overall and it became clear whom the organization had committed itself. Houston made a deal for Lowry, and he flourished for a season under coach Rick Adelman. The Rockets made him a starter, and Lowry made everyone see his talent in the 2010-11 season.
Only Adelman left, and Lowry couldn’t get over it. He fought new coach Kevin McHale on everything – and relationships were even worse with the assistant coaches. Lowry lost his starting job and lost the clear-mindedness to lead the locker room.
“He never gave the coaching staff a chance,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson told Yahoo Sports. “He wouldn’t let Kevin coach him. Kyle’s greatest strength is the bulldog in him, and when that bulldog is channeled the in right direction, he’s tough to handle on the floor. And when it isn’t, he’s tough to handle everywhere else.”
No. 4: NBA addresses Buss-Jackson relationship — Phil Jackson is two days into his new gig as president of the New York Knicks. His fiancee, Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeannie Buss, has been in the front office of the team since 1998. The two started dating in 1999 and got engaged in December of 2012. But with both people in such high-profile roles with their respective teams, the NBA thought it appropriate to establish some parameters to the relationship as it pertains to NBA business, writes Darren Rovell and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN.com:
An NBA official has acknowledged that the league has put parameters in place to make sure that the high-profile relationship between Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson doesn’t create any issues.
“The Knicks’ hiring of Phil Jackson is subject to the league’s conflict of interest rules,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN.com. “To avoid even the appearance of a conflict, we have addressed the issue with the Knicks and Lakers to ensure that the relationship between Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson will not affect how the teams operate.”
Since the engagement, sources say the league has gotten more serious about the two being on the up and up.
Recently retired NBA commissioner David Stern had several conversations with Buss as Jackson entertained potential jobs with the Toronto Raptors, the potential Seattle franchise and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Buss acknowledged, in an interview that will air in its entirety on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet in Los Angeles on Wednesday, that she had dinner with new commissioner Adam Silver and the topic was broached.
“There is an understanding all trades are approved by the NBA, and I don’t anticipate any problem because I don’t make the basketball decisions on behalf of the Lakers,” said Buss, who has indeed previously ceded all basketball decisions to her brother Jim and team general manager Mitch Kupchak. “So I really don’t see where there would be a conflict.”
But the league is sensitive to the impression of any impropriety. On Tuesday, Lakers forward Pau Gasol told reporters that he isn’t allowed to talk to his former coach because he’ll be a free agent and any talks with Jackson could be considered tampering.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili takes the blame for his shoe malfunction a few weeks ago … Dirk Nowitzki has provided a lot of heroic moments in his Mavs career, but last night against the Wolves just wasn’t one of those nights … Chauncey Billups is weighing whether or not to play next season or pursue a front-office job with the Pistons … Ricky Davis, the high-flying former standout of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was released by the NBA D-League’s Erie Bayhawks yesterday … The Pelicans don’t figure to be a big spender on the free-agent market this summer … Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still shunning Ray Allen, it seems … Markieff Morris has developed more confidence in his low-post game this season
ICYMI of the Night: With the words of the famous philosopher Tommy Boy (“brothers don’t shake hands … brothers gotta hug!“) in mind, we present this nice Marcus Morris-to-Markieff Morris alley-oop from last night …