Morning shootaround — Sept. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

 

Bryant, World Peace help Randle strengthen his game | Next step for ex-No. 1 pick Bennett?Spoelstra thinking big about 2015-16

No. 1: Bryant, World Peace help Randle get on track — Julius Randle, the Los Angeles Lakers’ No. 1 pick from the 2014 Draft, was in the midst of his first NBA game when, 14 minutes in, he fractured his right tibia and was lost for all of 2014-15. He has put in immense work to get himself ready for the 2015-16 campaign and has been supported all along the way by the Lakers’ current star, Kobe Bryant, and one trying to get back with the team (Metta World Peace). Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the way Bryant and World Peace have gotten Randle ready for a comeback season:

After losing his entire rookie season to that fractured tibia in his right leg – as well as getting a screw reinserted into his right foot to stabilize an old high school injury – Randle returns with a transformed body and ethic: He’s never eaten so well, never developed his frame so fiercely, never felt stronger and surer starting a basketball season. He’s a hulking 6-foot-9 forward with such possibility, a cornerstone of this Lakers future, the prospect that general manager Mitch Kupchak refused to include in those brief trade talks for Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins.

Kobe Bryant’s education of Julius Randle started on the floor in training camp, and stayed a constant presence once Randle was carried out of the season on a stretcher. It started in one-on-one games and long talks and Randle feeling humbled when he’d get to the arena for a preseason game and Bryant, soaked in sweat, was finishing a hard workout. “He’s a five-time champion and an MVP, and I’m thinking to myself, “What’s my excuse?”

Bryant lost his season to a rotator cuff tear in February, but balanced his own angst with months of pushing and prodding of his teenage teammate. Bryant always chooses his pupils carefully, rewarding those who demonstrate a serious-mindedness to the craft. More than that, Bryant understands Randle is one of the burgeoning talents who could give him reason to postpone retirement.

As Bryant rehabbed this spring and summer, a most improbable peer emerged as part of Randle’s championship lineage Lakers tutorial: Metta World Peace. So much of the Lakers’ intrigue with bringing back World Peace at 35 years old centers on how impactful he’s been in the gym for the young players, especially Randle.

Every day, Randle is mesmerized with the intellect of World Peace. Everything Randle tries on World Peace – the pump fake, the jab step, the subtle moves to create a sliver of space and a shot – are seldom successful.

Maybe Metta used to be stronger. Maybe he used to be quicker. All Randle knows is this, he says: “He isn’t biting on anything. He has the greatest hands I’ve ever seen play. You’ve got to give him everything you’ve got to get a bucket on him. Everything.

“I played one on one against Kobe in the preseason last year, and you’d play perfect defense against him; you can guess right on everything and it still doesn’t matter. He’s still going to make the shot. Metta is the same way. He’s going to guess everything right. He disrupts your rhythm. You’re going to have to make the tough shot over him.”

Julius Randle has grown close to guard D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, and has started to understand the enormity of the burden for this young core.

***

No. 2: What’s next for former No. 1 pick Bennett? — The insightful crew over at the Hang Time Podcast spent a good portion of this week’s show discussing the career of ex-No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. If you missed it, the Timberwolves finally waived Bennett yesterday after he failed to live up to expectations not just in Minnesota, but also in Cleveland (who drafted him No. 1 in 2013 and traded him after a season). As Bennett hits the NBA open market, Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe digs in on why Bennett has failed so far in his career and how (and where) he can bounce back:

Bennett has been an abject disaster, but there’s an interesting player somewhere under the rubble. It seems early, given Bennett’s medical history, to write him off as a sunk cost.

Portland and Philly can still claim him off waivers, though doing so would mean eating his salary. That would leave the Sixers with something like $7 million in cap space, and that’s not enough to butt in as a salary dumping ground in every big-money trade conversation. Portland can swallow Bennett and maintain something like $15 million in space — most in the league, and enough to snag some assets in exchange for eating more money down the line. Utah has theoretical cap room, but its roster is almost full, and it’s not touching Bennett, per several league sources.

He would probably be comfortable in Portland, since he knows Jay Triano, a Trail Blazers assistant who is Bennett’s head coach during international tournaments with Team Canada. The Blazers are loaded with young bigs who need minutes, plus a wing who can slide to power forward in Al-Farouq Aminu. They also have 13 guaranteed contracts, and at least two players on non-guaranteed deals — Tim Frazier and Luis Montero — they find at least a bit interesting. They could buy out Mike Miller to make room, but it’s not as if Portland’s roster is bare.

He may hit the minimum market, and if he gets there, watch out for Toronto. Bennett is Canadian, and the Raptors have both a potential roster spot and room for a flier at power forward. All four of Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola, James Johnson, and DeMarre Carroll will see time there, but it someone gets hurt, the Raps could toss a guy like Bennett onto the floor.

Bennett has only one even semi-proven NBA skill: rolling to the basket hard, catching the ball, and doing something productive close to the rim. That’s not always an easy skill when a guy is too short to play center or protect the rim on defense. Any team playing Bennett will need another big to do those things alongside him, and if that big can’t space the floor, Bennett will just run right into him on his cuts to the hoop. A pairing of Bennett and Jonas Valanciunas would cramp spacing.

Bennett’s defense has been a horror show of mistakes, miscommunications, and shoddy effort. He lives in no-man’s-land. He arrives too late, or too soon, calls out screens as they’re already happening, and can’t sort through all the decisions he has to make in a few seconds.

 

***

No. 3: Spoelstra thinking big about Heat in 2015-16 — Injuries wreaked havoc on the Miami Heat last season and, as a result, the team finished under .500 (37-45) for the first time since the 2007-08 season (when Miami went 15-67). The Heat open training camp in a few days and everyone on the team who was hurt last year — including stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — are able-bodied once again. As such, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is expecting a bounce-back season from his crew, writes Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:

He is rejuvenated and ready to plunge into the task of putting Miami back in title contention. That goal, set publicly by Heat president Pat Riley, does not bother him coming off a 37-win season.

“Now it’s about putting together a team that we feel has an opportunity to compete for a championship,” Spoelstra said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re not hiding from the expectations.”

This is one of the most unique rosters Spoelstra has had as he heads into his eighth season as head coach. The team is loaded with current, former and potentially future All-Stars, many of whom have been with the Heat for at least a year, but several key guys have little to no experience with each other.

Goran Dragic has never played with Chris Bosh, who exited with blood clots in his lungs just as Dragic came over from Phoenix in a trade. Josh McRoberts’ debut season with the Heat lasted a little more than a month because of a knee injury, and he left before Hassan Whiteside established himself as a starter.

In addition to the returning talent, Spoelstra will look to incorporate first-round pick Justise Winslow, along with newly signed veterans Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green, when training camp begins Tuesday at Florida Atlantic.

 

He expects Bosh and Dragic to mesh instantly despite having yet to see them in action together.

“That’s the combination we’ll probably have to work the least on,” he said, laughing at the mere thought of how dangerous he expects them to be. “If you tried to craft a pick-and-pop game, those two guys would be near the top of your list.”

Beyond that, Spoelstra was ambiguous about what style the team will play this season. Many of his players fit traditional roles, while others have the versatility that will allow him to play smaller, faster lineups.

He wants the team to play quicker than it did last year, when it was the second-slowest team in the NBA, but that might not translate to the Heat zipping up and down the court on fast breaks.

“I’m putting five basketball players out there,” he said. “People can interpret that however they want to. The way our guys are— some of our perimeter guys are better playing near the basket and in the paint, and some of our bigger players are better on the perimeter and outside the paint.

“We’re going to try to leverage those strengths. Whatever you want to call that type of basketball, it doesn’t matter to me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak believes the team has a realistic shot at the playoffs this season Draymond Green says Kevin Durant is the league’s most underrated trash-talker … Jason Richardson says he’s retiring from the NBA … Great look at how Idan Ravin went from lawyer to top-flight trainer of NBA players … The Thunder are waiting on contract talks with swingman Dion Waiters … The Memphis Grizzlies have reportedly reached a deal with Ryan Hollins … Former lottery pick Austin Daye will be a training camp invitee of the Cleveland Cavaliers … If it runs the gamut, next season’s NBA Finals could tie for the longest ever

5 Comments

  1. harriethehawk says:

    I think that Bennett should go home to Toronto, where he wll be appreciated. Nobody wants him here, except maybe Portland. And thta’s because the are desperate.

  2. Yeah says:

    “Every day, Randle is mesmerized with the intellect of World Peace”. Good God.

  3. Defdun says:

    Pity that Julius Randle (JR) can’t compete in ROY race due to his playing time of only 14 min in first game last season. Maybe there can be an exception made as he didn’t play a full game yet!

  4. Jody Mack says:

    He needs to reinvent himself. He is talented but is a tweener. Has to put the ball on the floor and live with the midrange game. He’s 22 I believe. He stands around but that’s a pro big. He could also become an energy guy off the bench. An offensive rebounder, and a guy who does the dirty work. You mix that with an increased offensive game, he can reinvent himself.

  5. nba says:

    The heat is going to be great on offense and terrible on defense. Heat were very lucky to have Justise Winslow as the 10th pick. Amare and Green are low risk, high reward players. Since D-Wade signed for one year, this year he is playing for a contract.

    Heat will be third best team in the east