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NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Curry starting to realize his place in league lore— Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET, the Golden State Warriors start their playoff trek in what they hope will be a mirror of their regular season — total domination of any and all comers en route to another NBA championship. Leading the charge will be reigning Kia MVP and superstar Stephen Curry, who led the Warriors to a record 73 wins and put up an individual season just as remarkable to boot. In a chat with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Curry explains how he is starting to fathom just how his current run is affecting not only today’s NBA, but generations to come:
“I was watching some show where they were talking about Kobe’s last game,” the 27-year-old Curry told USA TODAY Sports. “And (they talked about) the fans who were my age, or a little younger, who didn’t get to see (Michael) Jordan play much but they saw Kobe play his whole career. … That was like passing the torch to him, (or) obviously LeBron (James) or whatever.”
The epiphany, you see, is that the torch is in his hands right now.
“For the youth that are watching today’s game and where it is, that would be something very special, in 15 or 20 years, (to) hear stories of kids growing up watching me play and being inspired by what I do on the floor, and how I play the game and what not,” Curry continued. “I have certain guys who I looked up to. Jordan, Kobe, those guys. Passing that on to doing my part to kind of keep that influence of basketball where it should be is kind of why I play the game.”
It’s easy to forget how quickly this happened.
Nearly four years ago, on an April 25, 2012 day that is still fresh on the minds of those who were there, Curry entered an operating room in Van Nuys, Calif. without knowing whether his ailing right ankle would ever be the same. Ankle problems plagued the early years of his career, and they threatened everything on that fateful day.
Yet the damage wasn’t as bad as had been feared, and an arthroscopic surgery was enough to get the job done. Curry, who played 78 games in each of the following two seasons while playing at an All-Star level, was on his way again.
Curry has been on the NBA’s version of the Autobahn ever since, racing past all his fellow All Stars and stealing the spotlight from James at a time when the Cavaliers star has appeared in five consecutive Finals. This season, more than any other, is adding to his lore.
In winning the first scoring title of his seven-year career, he became the most improved scorer in NBA history among players who won the MVP award in theseason before (plus-6.3 points per game, from 23.8 to 30.1, ahead of Larry Bird’s plus-4.5 in the 1984-85 season, according to ESPN). He shattered his own single-season three-point record, finishing with 402 after hitting 286 in the 2014-15 season (he now holds four of the top seven marks all-time).
By hitting a career-high 50.4% of his shots overall, 45.4% from three-point range and 90.8% from the free throw line, Curry achieved a 50-45-90 shooting mark that had only been reached by Warriors coach Steve Kerr (while with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls) and future Hall of Famer/Warriors player development consultant Steve Nash (while with the 2007-08 Suns). Curry, for good measure, is the first perimeter player to average 30 points per game on 50-plus percent shooting since Michael Jordan in 1991-92.
It’s natural to wonder when Curry’s rise will peak. The possibilities for his future, much like his shot, seem limitless. What’s more, for anyone wondering about confidence that always plays a huge part, his willingness to entertain the question about being the best player of all time tells you all you need to know.
“I don’t think about (being the best) on a daily basis, but the way that I prepare and the way that I work, I try to let that kind of goal show itself, if that makes any sense,” Curry said. “When I step forward on the floor, I have the confidence that I’m the best player playing that night and that I am the most prepared at what I need to be doing.
“For me, I don’t want to cheat the game by saying, or kind of doing lip service by saying I want to be the greatest ever. I want to be able to show it. So hopefully that will speak volumes more than me running around touting my own self, which I think that’s wasted energy.”
No. 2: Casey unhappy with Raptors’ early playoff tip time — As has been well documented this season, the Toronto Raptors enter the playoffs looking to snap their run of back-to-back first-round playoff exits. They are the first series on the playoff dockett tomorrow (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) as they host the Indiana Pacers. That start time, though, didn’t exactly thrill Raptors coach Dwane Casey for a myriad of reasons. Ryan Wolstatt of the Toronto Sun has more:
The team lobbied the league for a placement more befitting a contending team with a pair of all-stars, but television demands — emanating from both the U.S. and Canada — carried the day.
Casey is not thrilled.
“Not my first choice … We’d prefer not to be just because from a competitive advantage, you have a little bit more time to prepare playing a later game,” Casey said Thursday.
“You’re more in your rhythm or whatever it is. But again, it is what it is. We gotta accept it, go with it, prepare to get ready for the 12:30, get our minds and body ready for that time of start. And we will. And we have. Two years in a row (and now a third), we’ve had that slot. For whatever reason, they want us in that slot and we gotta deal with it.”
Casey was not done.
“Evidently, someone doesn’t respect us. We have all these 12:30 games and they look at us as the team north of the border that plays the early games when the people out west are still asleep. We’ll use that as a little motivation too,” he said.
“I don’t know the reasoning why we’ve been put in that position. We’re the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference. We feel like we should have a premier time slot. The numbers may be different, I don’t know, for that time slot. It may be good ratings. But we feel like we have an exciting team and we’ve earned the right, by winning 56 games to be a prime-time game. But again, we’re ready to play (even) if they want to play at 6 o’clock in the morning.”
No. 3: Anthony has honest talk with Knicks’ brass — The New York Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony at the trade deadline of the 2010-11 season in hopes his move there would spark lengthy playoff runs and success. Fast-forward five seasons and the ledger of postseason success for the Knicks reads like so: 21 playoff games, seven wins, two first-round exits and with 2015-16 completed, three straight seasons of no playoffs in New York. Those raw facts, combined with Anthony not getting any younger, convinced him to have a frank discussion with team officials during the team’s exit interviews yesterday. Marc Berman of the New York Post has more:
An unplugged Carmelo Anthony raised pressure on the front office to make the Knicks a winner by next season, referred to his closing “window” and again left the door open to wanting out sooner than later if the losing doesn’t stop.
Anthony, speaking the day after another lost season ended and he met with team Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills, reiterated he wants the coaching search “open to multiple guys” and wondered whether the organization’s idea of success matches his idea.
Anthony said his exit meeting left “no stone unturned’’ and he expressed his wish to see candidates besides Kurt Rambis interviewed — which Jackson confirmed will be done.
While he said he wants to return next season, he also admitted he wants to play for a winner — and the 32-50 Knicks have missed the playoffs three straight seasons.
“I think about it,’’ Anthony said when asked if he’s ever envisioned leaving New York for a winner. “The only thing I think about is winning more — whether it’s here or somewhere else. That’s the only thing I think about. I haven’t thought about putting myself on another team. My thought process is how can I win and make this situation better. What can we all do to make this situation better?’’
Anthony was asked if he’ll be a Knick next season.
“As of right now, I’ll be here,’’ Anthony said. “No conversation has taken place as far as me leaving or wanting to leave. I think everybody knows how I feel about being here. Nobody should question that. It’s just a matter of how we get better and move forward and take advantage of this window that I have. That’s the main question. How can we take advantage of this window and situation we have in front of us.’’
But Anthony has given enough hints if Jackson craps out in July’s free agency, he could ask for a trade before next season.
“I haven’t put a timetable on any of that,’’ Anthony said.
For the first time, Anthony publicly raised the question whether the regime is more focused on making the playoffs than winning a title.
“What’s successful for us,’’ Anthony said. “That’s the question you have to ask ourselves as a whole organization. Not just winning another 15 games like we did this year and playing for the eighth seed. Is that success? Or is being a top seed in the Eastern Conference, a top team in the NBA? Winning a championship is always the ultimate success. We have to put things in perspective. What’s success mean to this organization? A championship for me is always the ultimate success — not us slotting in and barely getting into the eighth seed. That’s not success for me. Having prominence in the postseson. That’s success.’’
VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony’s exit interview
No. 4: Hornets thick with free agents, but still work together — The Charlotte Hornets are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014 thanks to a roster overhaul in the offseason that has paid off swimmingly. From trading for Nicolas Batum to signing Jeremy Lin as a free agent to a mid-season deal to get Courtney Lee, Charlotte’s changes have it as the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. The interesting aspect about the Hornets’ roster, though, is that its amount of potential free agents hasn’t led to individual play. Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk.com has more:
Free agency stunned Jeremy Lin last summer.
He knew his value had slipped after a rough season with the Lakers, but some teams wouldn’t even offer a minimum contract. Lin couldn’t believe how far he’d fallen.
One team offered salvation: The Mavericks. They had agreed to terms with DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews, using all their cap space without addressing their need at point guard. With only the room exception available, Lin seemed like an ideal fit. You couldn’t find a better point guard for the money, and Lin would thrive running pick-and-rolls with Jordan while Matthews and Dirk Nowitzki spaced the floor and Chandler Parsons served as a secondary playmaker.
Lin was sold.
“I thought it was Dallas the whole way until the end,” Lin said.
Of course, that dream died when Jordan reneged and returned to the Clippers. With money pledged to him suddenly freed, the Mavericks signed Deron Williams.
Lin, knowing the marketplace had been unkind, was in a bind. He signed a two-year, $4,374,255 contract with a player option with the Hornets.
“Charlotte came out of nowhere,” Lin said. “Had I known it was going to go down the way it went down, I would’ve definitely planned things a little differently.”
If Lin seems like he might just be passing through Charlotte, he’s not the only one.
The Hornets have three starters (Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Courtney Lee) and two key reserves (Al Jefferson and Lin) on expiring contracts or deals with a player option. Yet, this potentially transient group is one of the NBA’s most cohesive.
“The way that guys get along, I literally – 1 through 15 – I could choose any two people, and I could see them hanging out off the court,” Lin said. “We all enjoy being around each other.”
In five other seasons with the Lakers, Rockets, Knicks and Warriors, Lin has seen the other side. Pending free agencies can rip apart teams.
But its roster construction hasn’t bitten Charlotte.
“This is rare,” Lin said. “I’ve been around long enough. This is rare.”
Beyond using his players’ contracts to motivate them rather than shrinking from the challenge, coach Steve Clifford had another advantage. He’s a good coach. His players could reasonably trust that, if they sacrificed for the team, they’d win. It might be difficult to enter free agency with lower numbers, but it’d so much harder without winning on the résumé, either.
As much credit as Clifford deserves, don’t underestimate the professionalism of the players involved. They made this work.
Jefferson’s teammates took notice when he returned from injury and suspension. In Jefferson’s absence, Cody Zeller came into his own as the starting center. So, Jefferson embraced a reserve role rather than sulking about his opportunities.
“I’ve been around too long. I’ve made a lot of money,” said Jefferson, who’s in the final season of a three-year, $40.5 million contract that followed a five-year, $65 million extension. “I can’t have that type of attitude. You’ve got to do what’s best for the team.”
Jefferson admits he probably would have handled this differently when he was younger, but…
“I’ve never been on a team like this,” Jefferson said.
“I just think you have a lot of mature players on this team and that we all understand that, if the team does good, we’ll do good,” Lee said. “If we win, everybody wins. So, that’s just our mindset – to go out there and compete for a championship, and the rest will take care of itself.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: So, what was it like covering Kobe Bryant as a member of the media? … New York Knicks team president Phil Jackson says he won’t abandon the triangle offense and will only be interviewing people he knows for the team’s vacancy … Denver Nuggets GM Tim Connelly likes the mix of assets his squad has in its stockade … The Utah Jazz have a lot of players to make decisions on this summer … The Milwaukee Bucks think new point guard Giannis Antetokounmpo and their old point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, can play together in 2016-17 … Portland Trail Blazers big man Ed Davis says his squad is ‘the most dangerous team’ in the 2016 playoffs …