Morning Shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: Members of Team Africa and Team World have arrived in Johannesburg

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ujiri leads the charge in Africa | Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves | Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’

No. 1: Ujiri leads the charge in Africa — Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is at the forefront of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative in Africa. It’s more than just an obligation from the Ujiri, it’s a passion project years in the making. Our very own Shaun Powell is on the ground in Johannesburg and captured the essence of Ujiri’s mission to serve as an ambassador for the game, and sports in general, on his native continent:

For anyone who might ask why the general manager of the Toronto Raptors is spending his summer threatening to go hoarse half a world away, well, you must know this about Masai Ujiri. When he’s in charge of an NBA franchise, he’s in his element, because his peers find him very astute and a few years ago voted him the game’s top executive. But when he’s developing basketball and teaching life skills to children and young adults in Africa, he’s in his homeland and his own skin, and there is no greater reward or satisfaction or privilege. When and if he wins his first NBA title, that might pull equal to this.

Might.

He was in Senegal last week, holding basketball clinics through his foundation, Giants of Africa. Next up: Stops in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and also Nigeria, his birthplace. He’ll spend three weeks on this side of the Atlantic with the hope of discovering the next Dikembe Mutombo from these clinics, but would gladly settle for the next surgeon.

This weekend is unique and special because here on Saturday the NBA will stage an exhibition game for the first time in Africa, and the participating NBA players and coaches are warming up by serving as clinic counselors.

One is Chris Paul, and the cheers he gets from campers are the loudest, but even an eight-time All-Star knows he’s not the star of the home team, not on this soil.

Ujiri ricochets from one group of campers to another like a blind bumblebee, carrying an air horn that blows when one session ends and another begins. After five non-stop hours of this he is asked if he’s tired, and no, he’s just amused at the question. Who gets tired from doing their passion?

“I look at these kids and they remind me of me of when I was a young kid,” he says. “I see me through them. All they need is a chance.”

It all runs with precision at this clinic, how the students are disciplined and determined, how their enthusiasm rubs off on the NBA players and coaches, how Ujiri’s vision seems so … right. As Ujiri gave pointers, a Hall of Famer who’s also the pioneer of African basketball stood off to the side, shaking his head, astonished at the spectacle and the man in charge.

“Masai has a lot of passion for this, and helping Africa year after year speaks about the person he is,” says Hakeem Olajuwon. “He is a prince. That’s what he is.”

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No. 2: Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves — Kevin Garnett won’t be the only “old head” in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room this season. He’ll have some company in the form of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who agreed to a one-year deal to join the renaissance KG, Flip Saunders and Ricky Rubio are trying to engineer with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Miller’s role is more than just that of an adviser, though, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

It was less than two weeks ago that Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, said his team might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

He has arrived.

A source confirmed a report that Wolves had come to an agreement on a one-year contract with veteran Andre Miller, who visited the Wolves on Wednesday.

It marks an evolution in Saunders’ thinking. Immediately after moving up to draft former Apple Valley star Tyus Jones late in the first round of the draft, Saunders sounded like he might be happy with Jones as Ricky Rubio’s backup. But the fact that Rubio is coming off ankle surgery and Jones is a rookie ultimately changed Saunders’ mind.

“You don’t want to put the pressure on the young guys so much,” Saunders said two weeks ago. “Hey, listen, we’re always looking to upgrade. It could happen.”

And it did. Miller, 39, is nearing the end of a long career, but his experience should help both Rubio and Jones while giving the Wolves some peace of mind. Originally drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft by Cleveland, the 6-2 Miller has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 assists over 16 seasons while playing for seven teams. Last season between 81 games in Sacramento and Washington, Miller averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.

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No. 3: Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’: — There is no need for an autopsy on Wes Matthews‘ exit from Portland via free agency. He’s a Dallas Maverick now and apparently for good reason. Matthews told Jason Quick of the Oregonian that the Trail Blazers never made an offer to keep him, allowing the injured free agent to take the offer from the Mavericks and move on after being an integral part of the operation in Rip City.:

He had hoped he could return to the city that had embraced him, to the team with players he considered brothers, to the franchise where he grew into one of the NBA’s most well-rounded and respected shooting guards.

But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.

“I was pissed off,” Matthews said. “I felt disrespected.”

He believed he was a viable option for teams, even as he continued to rehabilitate a ruptured left Achilles tendon suffered in March. In the days leading up to free agency, Matthews’ camp released video to ESPN showing him jogging in place, utilizing lateral movement and shooting jumpers. He was, he wanted the league to know, ahead of the eight-month recovery time estimated by doctors.

A story also leaked that Matthews expected negotiations to start at $15 million a season, or almost $8 million more than he made last year.

It was a ghastly number for the Blazers, even though they could technically afford him. Paul Allen is the richest owner in sports, but after a lost era during which he paid more than a combined $100 million to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, only to see their knee injuries become chronic, Allen was wary of paying top dollar to a player coming off a serious injury.

The only chance the Blazers would pursue Matthews, top executive Neil Olshey later explained, was if free agent LaMarcus Aldridge chose to return, maintaining Portland as a playoff-caliber team. When Aldridge chose San Antonio, the Blazers decided to rebuild. Paying big money to a 29-year-old shooting guard coming off major surgery didn’t make long-term sense.

“I was angry,” Matthews said, “but I also realize that this is a business.”

He figured there would be trying times, with harsh realities, after he suffered his injury during the third quarter of a March 5 game against Dallas. Achilles injuries not only test one’s body, they challenge the mind.

He didn’t expect one challenge to come from the team to which he gave so much of his heart, so much of his sweat. Portland’s silence meant he was losing the greatest comfort of his career: a stable starting lineup, an adoring fan base and a rising profile.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chuck Hayes is headed back to Houston on a partially guaranteed one-year deal … Tyus Jones, the hometown kid, is leading the summer caravan for the Minnesota Timberwolves … A couple of Trail Blazers are going a bit Hollywood this summer … Amir Johnson was convinced Celtics fans would love him before he joined the team

21 Comments

  1. Magan Harun says:

    I think Wes Mathews did the right thing, because of the direction of the Blazers. after not being able to keep Aldridge. But going to the Mavs, not too sure that was a very good move. After the Deandre Jordan issue and the Rondo situation one would question the mavs as an actual contender for a rough western conference that just got rougher, furthermore and not to sound too bias seeing that I’m a Bostonian, I didn’t think The Mavs coach and organization handled the Rondo situation very well this is definitely something Wes should have considered upon making his decision. But I cant blame him for leaving but I think he could have done better with an eastern conference team such as Atlanta or even the young bucks.

  2. RealMVP says:

    Really bad offseason by the TrailBlazers, a real wonder as to how they’ll garner success come next year.

  3. rip ripcity says:

    Portland really had a terrible offseason … they’ve done nothing good and they weren’t even able to do things properly : Matthews is pissed off, and i heard Nicolas Batum saying all the talks he had with the blazers before being traded to the Hornets was a 20 seconds call not even from top management … he looked quite pissed off too ! and rightly so considering what he gave the blazers for 7 years ! Even Lilliard is unhappy with all that and he went public about it … bad season ahead that’s for sure

  4. Kobe and the Lakers are irrelevant says:

    Wes, it’s nothing personal. We found out that our best player is self centered and has no heart and ran home to Texas like the punk that he is. So, it’s time to go young….

    • Zing Zang says:

      Actually, LMA wanted to stay but when he realized he had to play for “fans” like you, he decided to leave.

  5. blazefan says:

    Im a huge fan of wesley mathews, I watching hi grow to what he was now but due to portland spending money on i njured players, not only the front office but a huge majority of the fans would rather see him walk then pay another guy a huge amount of money to never return or be half the player he was. Yes it’s sad but he had to go with portlands experience with over paid injured players, The fans and front office did not want to roll the dice again. Darius Miles, Brandon Roy, Greg Oden was enough!

  6. joopsy says:

    It’s Portland’s fault, not Wesley. Portland fans are very frustrated. They’re going to lose ticket sales, season ticket holders are asking for refunds. If not for the deal with Moda, I wouldn’t be surprised if Allen looked into relocating to Seattle.

  7. Michael says:

    Steve Ballmer is worth $5 billion more than Paul Allen.

  8. birdie says:

    Perhaps Wes should take some of the blame for leaking that he expected to be paid megabucks coming off a serious injury. That would scare me off too.

    • joopsy says:

      I disagree. Word is the salary cap will rise, plus doctors and medicine are good. Matthews will be fine, everyone knows that, but it makes for a good excuse not to pay him. Still, he’ll be worth more, and you’ll see where the Blazers are over the next 5 years without him and everyone else they got rid of. Portland’s dumb. they go from a potential 2 seed last year to a potential lottery winner next.

      • uh huh says:

        Portland was going nowhere without LMA in that starting line up, and they all knew he was long gone. Maxing out Lillard and Matthews would amount to what this coming season? A garbage starting line up and garbage bench, and maybe 30ish or so wins, but not low enough to get a top 5 lottery pick? At least now they know who they’re building around, and picked up a ton of ex-lottery picks that may have just been in bad situations with their previous teams. Now they’ve got a team of low-risk, high-reward potential that they can just focus on developing for that said 5 years.

  9. geo nowitzki says:

    welcome the mavericks wesely Matthews

  10. wolfgang says:

    Wesley was the integrity and glue that held that team together. He will do the same for the Mavs and Rick who respects his players.

  11. JBR says:

    It seems Matthews’ absurdly overblown salary doesn’t feel as good because he wasn’t given the opportunity to turn down a smaller – but no less absurdly overblown – offer from the Blazers. Boo. Hoo.

    Take your millions and buy yourself an entire pacific island of ‘respect’.

    • joopsy says:

      You don’t even sound like a fan of basketball, just some troll who vents because why, you’re a washed up former player who gets paid peanuts to wash roofs now? give me a break. Players have been overpaid for decades. It’s really a boring argument against an athlete these days. Get with the times and get some new material.

  12. Nick says:

    Yes, the NBA is a business. That applies to the decision making. It shouldn’t apply to how anyone is treated on a personal level. I am a business man. I make business decisions all the time. Some decisions are not what other people want or hope for. I still treat them with respect and communicate with them as I had in the past. But then again, I’m also traditional and at the risk of being politically incorrect, I’ll say that’s how a man should act. If you can’t look someone in the eye and tell them your decision, you’re not a man in my book!

  13. Connor says:

    Why all the Achilles tendon injuries in sports, among young strong athletes? My friend, a former physical trainer, said that if you’re young and tear your Achilles tendon, it is the result of taking steroids.

  14. jake s. says:

    It sounds like the Blazers knew this was Aldridge’s last season a long time ago. Understanding it was going to be a rebuild, the front office probably didn’t want to make an offer because they wanted clean books.

    • joopsy says:

      I think it would have been better of the front office to at least divulge their plans to the season ticket holders and other loyal fans, because many feel like they’ve been betrayed after Olshey came out with comments that LA never told them he was leaving the team, then a mere week later he commits to the Spurs. Many thought the trade they did for Batum was just to get some depth and that’d lead to more deals. What little did fans know the worst was certainly yet to come, and now many fans are disgusted.

  15. Harriethehawk says:

    Wesley Matthews obviously has not learned this is a business. Talk to Josh Smith about overall worth.