NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Former teammate of Jordan’s has words of caution for LeBron — In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James revealed that his lone goal in the league — after winning a title for his Cleveland Cavaliers — is chasing “the ghost” of six-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. B.J. Armstrong, who was a teammate of Jordan’s during the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat run from 1991-93, has words of caution for James regarding that pursuit, writes Chris Broussard of ESPN.com:
Armstrong, now a player agent who represents Derrick Rose, has some advice for James.
“Chasing a ghost is in make-believe land,” Armstrong told ESPN.com in a telephone conversation. “That’s far-out, that’s unattainable, that’s something you can’t achieve. This ain’t no ghost. If you want to do it, there’s a blueprint. It’s possible. There’s only one way to get there. It’s not possible for him to do what Jordan did because the circumstances are different, everything is different. What is possible for him is to be bigger than every situation that’s put in front of him, to dominate every situation that’s in front of him.”
“This is to LeBron James: If you want to be the best, get rid of the comparisons,” Armstrong said. “Get rid of all the comparisons that are out there. That’s what Michael Jordan did. Jordan realized that in order to be the best, you had to get rid of all the comparisons.
“When you compared Jordan to somebody else, it made him more and more upset. That was with guys who played before him, guys he was playing against and guys in the future. He got upset every time [the media] got on TV and started comparing him to other people. When you compared who is the best 2-guard — Jerry West or Michael Jordan — he was upset. When you talked about who was the best player in the NBA, he was upset. When you talked about who had the most championships, he was upset.
“I remember vividly him getting upset. He’s mad right now that somebody’s even thinking a guy can get to his level. Jordan tackled them all — Wilt [Chamberlain], everyone. Everyone from 1946 on, he went after them until there was no one left to compare him to. So my challenge to LeBron is: This ghost has a face to him. So get rid of all the comparisons because Jordan, unequivocally, did not want you to compare him to anyone.”
Jordan told ESPN.com on Tuesday that he had not read the Sports Illustrated article. When shown LeBron’s quotes, he said he would not comment because he had not seen the entire article.
When asked how James can eliminate the comparisons to other players, Armstrong said he has to be obsessed with dominating every moment he’s on the court, whether in practice, games or summer competition.
“Every time he steps on the floor, LeBron has to establish that he’s the best,” said Armstrong, who briefly worked in Chicago’s front office after retiring in 2000. “Every year is an opportunity for him to raise his level to the best of the best. When another player raises his level and has a great year, LeBron has to move his game to an even higher level. Jordan used every opportunity to establish who’s the best. He didn’t go to the Olympics to hang out. He went there to establish who was the best.
“I don’t know LeBron, but what I do know in watching today’s game is that Michael Jordan was a very unique character — not physically, but mentally. Jordan never stepped out on the court to have a good time. He stepped out there to establish that he was the best. Every great player he played against. he went after them — in practice, in games, in the 1984 Olympics, in summer league, in a workout, in the ’92 Olympics. He went after me every day in practice. He went after every player every day in practice. He went after every coach — until, when it was all said and done, there was no one left standing.'”
“I’m saying this because this next generation of young players, every time you step on the court, there needs to be a sense of urgency,” he said. “No joking around. Michael Jordan was the greatest practice player I’ve ever seen. He could go and play 40 minutes the night before and then go practice the next day like he was the rest of us — guys who didn’t play.
“I want these young kids to have that mentality. Jordan had phenomenal talent. He had phenomenal understanding. But he also had a mentality that I haven’t seen. He had a sense of urgency every time he stepped on the floor. These guys now need to take on that challenge. At the end, we’ll know whether LeBron did it or not when y’all stop comparing him to other players.”
No. 2: Pacers’ Turner has big plans for next season — Pacers big Myles Turner was one of the surprises of the 2015 rookie class last season, averaging 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 22.2 minutes for an Indiana team that regained its place in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Turner also showed he could do more in the playoffs, upping his rebounding (6.4 rpg) and blocks (3.3 bpg) with an uptick in minutes (28.2 mpg). As Indiana readies for 2016-17 with its remodeled roster, Turner knows he can play a big role once again. BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy caught up with Turner recently, who has several things he hopes to accomplish this season:
Kennedy: From your first NBA game to your final postseason game, how much did you improve as a player?
Turner: “Oh wow, drastically. Dramatically. It’s so crazy how the improvement process goes because you don’t really improve body-wise or things like that. The game just starts to slow down for you and once that happens, everything is so much easier. When I came back from my injury midseason, I was able to take a step back and really see everything for what it was. I definitely got a lot better in the post, making defensive rotations, seeing plays before they happen. I dramatically improved over the course of the season.”
Kennedy: How would you describe your first playoff experience? And how can you build off of that momentum because you played really, really well in that series.
Turner: “I appreciate that, man. It’s definitely a lot different. The game is fast in the regular season, but in the postseason the game is a lot faster. The crowd is more into it. Every possession matters and it’s a nail-biter every other play. Really, in our series, things didn’t get interesting until the last couple games because the early games were blowouts – either they blew us out or we blew them out. But overall, it was a lot different and I can’t even describe the atmosphere. In Toronto, the atmosphere was unbelievable because that whole country was behind them. It was an incredible experience, and I see why people crave it and are determined to get back there and get further. I really enjoyed my playoff experience. The first game, I definitely had some jitters, but after that I was fine.”
Kennedy: One question kept coming up from Pacers fans: Because you are just 20 years old, what do you think your ceiling is? When you reach your prime, what kind of player do you see yourself being?
Turner: “I can see myself being a very dominant player in this league one day – and one day soon. I mean, I don’t know what my ceiling is. With my work ethic and my drive, I feel like there is no ceiling. I can always improve and get better at all facets of the game. Like I was saying, guys like KD and Draymond and everyone on Team USA, they’re upper-echelon players but they’re constantly striving for more and striving for more. I want to put myself in that same category as far as that mindset.”
Kennedy: This has been a busy offseason for you guys. What do you think of the additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, and how they fit with the current squad?
Turner: “I love those moves. I think Jeff is a very aggressive point guard and one that we need to make plays for us. With Big Al, his footwork is impeccable and I’ve watched him play over the years and he’s an incredible player. Thad brings a lot of energy. He’s that ‘do-the-dirty-work’ kind of player that we need, but he’s also more than that because he’s skilled at what he does. I’m curious to see how we’re going to fit together. I also like Jeremy Evans and Aaron Brooks too. Jeremy has always been a good athletic, energy guy. And Aaron, he was one of the toughest point guards I had to guard last year. He didn’t play a lot when we played them, but when he did, some of the plays he made were crazy. He’d finish around the rim and it’s just like, ‘Wait, how did he do that?’ I really love all of the moves.”
Kennedy: You and Big Al have different skill sets, but he’s obviously had a lot of success in this league. Have you guys talked at all yet and are you looking forward to picking his brain?
Turner: “I haven’t talked to him yet, but I love how poised he is. I can learn patience from him and I want to be able to read the game the way he does. And obviously I can learn a lot from him in the post and some of the things that he does with his touches. He’s a veteran who has been in the league for awhile too, so I’m sure he can teach me some off-the-court stuff as well. I think getting him is a great look for the organization and I’m excited to partner with him.”
Kennedy: What are your expectations for next season – as a team and then also individually?
Turner: “As a team, we want to finish top three in the East and I feel like we’re very capable of doing so. On paper, we’re very talented, but it’s about how we put stuff together. I do feel like the East will be a lot stronger next year with some of the moves that have been made in our conference, but I feel like we can go out there and get the job done and finish in the top three. That’s the goal, and then we want to go make a deep playoff run. And obviously, we’re all chasing rings and that’s a big goal of mine. I don’t see why we can’t do it next year. I know that ‘sounds good’ and anybody can just say that, but I’m a very confident player and with that confidence comes ambition. Individually, I feel like I can put up big numbers for this team and help in any way necessary. I’d like to see myself put up 15 to 20 points per game. That may seem like a long shot, but I feel like I’m very capable.”
No. 3: DeRozan letting loose with Team USA — Toronto Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan has put in serious work over the last few seasons to become a more well-rounded scorer, and the numbers prove it has paid off. DeRozan, along with fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, has been the driving force behind Toronto’s ascent into the upper crust of the Eastern Conference over the past three seasons. As a free agent this summer, DeRozan didn’t leave Toronto after they rewarded his hard work with a five-year, $139 million deal. As a member of Team USA, DeRozan is more than enjoying himself and soaking up the moments with the team, writes Michael Lee of The Vertical:
On Team USA’s flight from Chicago to Houston, DeRozan captured the soulful stylings of Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving as they delivered a throaty rendition of Vanessa Carlton’s early 2000s hit single, “A Thousand Miles.” DeRozan then shifted his phone to find Kevin Durant admiring the sing-along while smothered, E.T. style, in a white comforter. And finally, fittingly, DeRozan ended the Facebook post by focusing on an unimpressed and disgusted Carmelo Anthony, looking as if he was prepared to kick the kids off his lawn.
Through the whole half-minute recording, DeRozan smiled into his phone, played a little air piano and spared viewers of his own “American Idol” audition.
“I don’t sing at all,” DeRozan told The Vertical this week with a laugh. “I knew it was going to go viral, but not like it did. When we’re not on the court, all we do is play, joke around, have fun. So, just to give people the insight of what we do, for 20 seconds, you know, that don’t add up to the amount of fun that we have during the rest of the day.”
The video was, in many ways, indicative of DeRozan’s career in that he had a prominent presence but was obscured by the other personalities.
Playing north of the border has contributed to DeRozan maintaining a low profile, though Vince Carter found a way tohurdle that obstacle as if it were Frederic Weis. DeRozan has also embraced being in the shadows with a low-key, no-nonsense approach that shunned publicity beyond what he did on the court.
“I think it just wasn’t in my personality at the time,” DeRozan told The Vertical. “I just always told myself, I wanted to establish myself as a basketball player, first. I want to be known as a helluva basketball player, before I jump out and try to do everything else. Now, at this point in my career, I’ve established enough to where I can show my personality a bit more. It’s going to be a lot more to come.”
Before this year, Toronto had a tradition of losing early in the postseason and losing its best players in their primes. Carter forced a trade that put him in the coveted New York media market. Chris Bosh bolted in free agency to form a super team with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, a one-man media circus, in Miami.
If DeRozan wanted a larger platform and more notoriety, his first dive into unrestricted free agency presented him with an incredible opportunity. DeRozan has worn Kobe Bryant’s signature sneakers for years and was rumored as the leading candidate to fill his retired idol’s shoes for the Compton, Calif., native’s hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
The speculation could’ve consumed him in a contract year but DeRozan always knew that a lucrative pay day was waiting for him, from Toronto or any other team, which is one of the reasons he told The Vertical last May that he had “nothing to worry about.” All along, DeRozan wanted to remain in his only basketball home, to see his name at or near the top of the most relevant Raptors franchise records. Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujuri didn’t let DeRozan test the market, nor did he have to.
“Knowing what you felt comfortable with, what made you happy, where you want to play, I just wanted to get it over with, in a sense, just get it out of the way,” DeRozan told The Vertical of how he handled the free-agency process. “Them wanting to get it done before anybody had a chance to talk to me says a lot.”
With his new contract and the Raptors coming off their most successful season in franchise history, DeRozan, along with friend and fellow Olympic team member Kyle Lowry will be expected to at least keep Toronto among the elites in a steadily improving Eastern Conference. But DeRozan won’t burden himself with any outside pressure.
“I really don’t pay no mind to it. Every year, I look at whatever we have to do as a big challenge and I just try to come back a better player than I was before, and do whatever I need for my team to win,” DeRozan said. “The beauty of playing basketball is being able to build yourself all the way up and then go back down and start all over again. It’s going to be a brand new challenge for us, with a couple of new guys and losing a couple of key players from last year. But starting the first day of training camp, it’s about laying that foundation of how great we can be, coming off the great season we had.”
Several stars skipped the festivities in Brazil but DeRozan recognized the benefits of training with and working with the best for an entire month. Along the way, DeRozan plans to bond with his teammates as they win and welcome fans in on the fun through social media. “A lot of guys don’t get this opportunity, to be around these talented guys, these talented coaches, to learn from, to mature, to become a better player to where you can carry on to your own team,” DeRozan told The Vertical. “It’s just something that you can look back on, 20, 30, 40 years from now, to say you were part of the 2016 Olympic team.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, former NBA lottery pick Jimmer Fredette has reached a deal to play for Yao Ming’s team in China … Numbers and notes to know about Team USA’s various lineups from exhibition play … ICYMI, the Milwaukee Bucks officially re-signed Miles Plumlee yesterday … Rasheed Wallace and Stephen Jackson deliver water to residents in Flint, Mich., … Jordan Clarkson‘s 3-point shot is looking pretty good, folks … NBPA executive director Michele Roberts is ‘optimistic’ a lockout will be averted …