Morning shootaround — July 7


VIDEO: What do the Cleveland Cavaliers have planned next in the offseason?

Okafor solid in Summer League debut | Continuity keeps Spurs chugging along | Parsons wants Jordan to be top-flight NBA center | Report: NBPA may fund health insurance for ex-players

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Okafor impresses overall in Summer League debut — The Philadelphia 76ers endured another awful season with the payoff coming in mid-June in the form of an NBA Draft lottery pick. That pick became Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, taken No. 3 overall, and in a rare turn of events of late for the Sixers, he is a rookie healthy enough to suit up for Summer League. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for Okafor’s debut in the Utah Summer League and says that after some early jitters, Okafor looked more than solid

His first game as a pro, his first five-on-five game since winning the national championship on April 6, his first time playing since the Philadelphia 76ers picked him third on June 25, but normal. The best possible outcome for Okafor and Philadelphia, in other words.

The Sixers desperately need the typical when 2015-16 arrives, the inside muscle with the ball that makes Okafor the ideal complement alongside the defensive presence of Nerlens Noel as an interchangeable power forward-center combination, no matter what happens with Joel Embiid and his uncertain recovery from a foot injury. The offense from anywhere, really, after they finished No. 29 in scoring, one-tenth of a point ahead of the Knicks for last. If Okafor can just be Okafor — and a lot of teams think the post game that abused defenses in the one-and-done at Duke will translate immediately because of that advanced skill level, along with being 6-11 and 270 pounds at 19 years old — Philly instantly moves forward.

Monday night inside EnergySolutions Arena, in the first game of the Utah Jazz Summer League, Okafor got the obligatory hit of nerves just before tipoff. And then he had a very slow start, making just three of 11 shots, mostly from close range, in the opening half. It was early July, so no big deal.

Then came the second half and the taking control inside and the seven baskets in 11 attempts, until he finished with 20 points and nine rebounds (five offensive) in a 74-71 loss to the Spurs. Okafor was being Okafor.

“I’ve been saying it for a week or so now, with every possession he’s going to just grow and grow,” said Billy Lange, the Philly assistant coach who is running the bench here. “We’ve been preparing him for — everybody’s going to come in and try to make a name for themselves against him. He wants to win and he wants to please. He’s a great kid, his heart is so pure that he’s probably pressing himself a little bit. But once he settled into the third quarter and we’re drawing plays up for him and he’s getting the ball in spots he probably hasn’t seen in a long time … I thought he did really, really well. And he pushed through. He played (29) minutes in this altitude and, I thought, competed pretty hard.”

That was the other thing. Actually, that was the bigger thing: After being knocked by some front offices for a lack of ideal conditioning last season, Okafor played his first organized game in exactly three months, played it at 4,300 feet, and not only lasted the 29 minutes but with his best moments in the second half.


VIDEO: Jahlil Okafor scores 20 points in his Summer League debut

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No. 2: Continuity keeps Spurs humming right along — It’s hard to argue that any team has had a better offseason/free agency period than the San Antonio Spurs. Just yesterday, they got word that Manu Ginobili will play in 2015-16 and that David West will come aboard, joining the news from earlier this summer that included re-signing Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tim Duncan as well as grabbing free agency’s crown jewel, LaMarcus Aldridge. Our Sekou Smith breaks down the secret to San Antonio’s success:

Manu Ginobili surely couldn’t bring himself to walk away from it all, not with the very real possibility that he and his San Antonio Spurs teammates could make yet another run at a Larry O’Brien Trophy.

While others lose franchise pillars — the Spurs’ biggest acquisition this summer, LaMarcus Aldridge, was exactly that in Portland — the Spurs keep their most critical pieces in the fold and keep finding ways to rebuild around them.

Witness the report later Monday that David West has agreed to join the Spurs for the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 million, opting out of a deal with the Indiana Pacers that would have paid him $12 million in 2015-16.

It’s masterful work, buoyed no doubt by having a future Hall of Fame and all-time great rock like Tim Duncan to build around. But it’s still work that has to be done, work that Gregg Popovich and R.C. Bufordand the rest of the Spurs’ brain trust has done masterfully for years.

While aging stars like Duncan, Ginobili and one day Tony Parker fade into the background in San Antonio, the baton will be passed to Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and others in much the same way that David Robinson passed it to Duncan a generation ago.

The only other team during the Spurs’ current run capable of duplicating this sort of succession of power, the Los Angeles Lakers, has failed miserably in that department. Their free agent work this summer, or lack thereof, is proof that they have been unable to find the right mix of stars, culture and continuity to sustain their success.

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No. 3: Parsons says Jordan wants to be NBA’s next great center — Mavericks small forward Chandler Parsons earned quite a reputation this offseason as a master recruiter for Dallas, as he played a key role in wooing DeAndre Jordan to Texas. In the course of getting to know his (future) teammate better, Parsons talked at length with Jordan about his goals in Dallas and, according to Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, Jordan wants to launch himself status-wise into the upper crust of NBA centers:

Led by Parsons, the Dallas recruiting contingent convinced Jordan to leave the Los Angeles Clippers to accept a four-year maximum contract worth more than $80 million with the Mavericks, a commitment the third-team All-NBA center made Friday.

Jordan had deep emotional ties to the Clippers, the only team he has played for during his seven-year NBA career. But he entered free agency intrigued by the possibility of playing a bigger role in Dallas after being the third wheel behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in Lob City.

“It all came down to him being the best center in the NBA, an All-Star-caliber and MVP-caliber player in this league,” Parsons told ESPN.com in his first public comments since the Mavs secured the commitments of Jordan and shooting guard Wesley Matthews, their other top target in free agency. “No doubt in my mind that [opportunity] was here in Dallas.”

Parsons, who played a huge role in recruiting Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets two summers ago, said recruiting Jordan and Matthews became an “obsession” for him.

Parsons has been in daily contact with Jordan since the Clippers’ season ended with a Game 7 loss to the Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals, constantly contacting him via FaceTime and text messages to stress how much Jordan meant to the Mavs while emphasizing the possibilities for the big man as an offensive focal point in Dallas.

“I was basically just telling him that we want you,” said Parsons, who organized a dinner with Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, owner Mark Cuban, Jordan and himself at a swanky sushi restaurant in Malibu for the second free agency started Tuesday night. “You’re our priority. We believe that you can be a 20 and 15 a night kind of guy. We think that you are the best center in the NBA, and we think that there’s no other place better than Dallas [to prove it].

“With coach [Rick] Carlisle‘s system, adding guys like me and Wes and Dirk, savvy older veteran point guards like J.J. [Barea] and Devin [Harris] and Raymond [Felton] all around you, we can make you the best player possible that you can be. I think that was the biggest thing that he wanted, and I think he saw that the opportunity was here.

“I think he’s a perennial All-Star. I think he’s the most athletic, best defending, finishing lob threat in the NBA. He has a chance to be the best center in the NBA the next 10 years.”

Soon after the Mavs locked up Matthews, Parsons joined Cuban on the owner’s private jet to return to Los Angeles for Jordan’s decision, surprising the center. Jordan told Cuban that he was coming to Dallas on Friday morning during a conversation in the backyard of the center’s suburban L.A. home.

“I hear this scream in the backyard. It’s Cuban, walking inside with his hands up like, ‘We got him!'” Parsons said. “It was unbelievable, man. I was so hyped. I was so excited because he really is a franchise-changing type of player. They don’t come around very often.”

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No. 4: Report: NBPA may fund health insurance for ex-players — The closer we get to the summer of 2016, the more you can expect to hear stories about what each side wants in what may be the next round of negotiations on the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the National Basketball Players Association is considering using some of their share of the expected TV revenue to fund health insurance for ex-players:

The National Basketball Players Association is proposing to use millions of dollars of its share of the NBA’s impending television revenue windfall to cover health-care insurance costs for its former players, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The plan is estimated to cost between $10 million-$15 million a year and a vote on passage of the union’s initiative is set for the NBPA’s July 20 membership meeting in Las Vegas. The union’s 30 team player representatives are expected to pass the plan with ease and start the process of covering the retired players quickly, league sources said.

The NBPA has been researching the names and addresses of the approximate 1,500 living ex-players and hoping to offer three separate health-care options to them, sources said.

Stories of destitute ex-players needing basic medical care – including the inability to afford the likes of knee and hip replacements – moved executive director Michele Roberts, director of player relations Roger Mason and the NBPA’s executive committee to probe the idea with the league’s players, sources said. Several players told Yahoo Sports that they’re enthusiastic over the idea.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Los Angeles Lakers guard Lou Williams says he never got an offer from the Toronto Raptors this summer … The Dallas Mavericks have reached out to Jason Terry about a reunion … Speaking of the Mavs, great read here on owner Mark Cuban‘s rise to success in life … San Antonio Spurs legend Manu Ginobili says ‘the fire is still within’ as he readies for 2015-16 … Are the Phoenix Suns looking to trade for Ryan Anderson and perhaps move Markieff Morris, too? … Spurs forward/fan favorite Matt Bonner says he injured his elbow using the new iPhone … Per Bovada, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the favorites to win the 2015-16 NBA title

7 Comments

  1. dustydreamnz says:

    Agree with you guys. How can Jordan be the NBA’s top center when he can’t shoot? Even if he extends his range, 5 metres might not be very useful. Tim Duncan is a better player and he’s 39.

  2. Steven J. says:

    Yes, because future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and Defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard are so “underrated”

  3. Hypothesis says:

    Spurs have no true center, Dallas is probably going to win the west. Unlikely but Imagine a clippers vs Mavericks w.con.finals. Okafor can impress all he wants mudiay is going to win rookie of the year.

  4. OverseasNBAfan says:

    Not sure whats funnier, that D.Jordan thinks he can be 1st option on offense… or that the Mavs actually sold him on being featured at that end of the floor!

  5. ODL says:

    Biggest mistake of Deandre Jordan. If it wasn’t for Doc Rivers, Paul and Griffin he would not have the type of season he did. Its funny to ask for a bigger role offensively when you cant even post up or shoot a free throw

  6. SPURS SECRETS says:

    Key underrated players to watch for next season:

    Patty Mills
    Kahwi Leonard
    Tim Duncan

  7. sanjay says:

    who wants this bogus summer league. cant they just take a rest?