Morning shootaround — Sept. 4


Ujiri focuses on building African basketball | Holiday to miss time to care for wife and child | Riley says Shaq was most important Miami move | Curry watches Game 7 for fuel | Reasons to be excited about Love

No. 1: Ujiri focuses on building African basketball — Masai Ujiri earned Executive of the Year honors for the job he did in Denver and has guided the Toronto Raptors to three straight years of setting a new franchise record for wins. For that, he earned a contract extension this week. But Ujiri’s basketball work on the continent of Africa will ultimately be more impactful. And it’s the job of growing the game back where he came from that brings out the perfectionist in Ujiri, as Bruce Arthur writes in the Toronto Star

When the film was shown the first time, during that Arctic all-star weekend, it felt like the entire NBA was in town. Masai Ujiri was the headliner, glad-handing and chatting with the other luminaries of his professional world like the confident politician he can be but, underneath it all, his stomach was leaping and jittering. Afterwards, he shook hands and embraced friends and accepted compliments, seeming at ease. But he was still shaking inside.

“Honestly, I’m not nervous about anything I do with the Raptors,” Ujiri says from Angola, where he is the camp director for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp, after nearly a month spent running his own camps for his charity, Giants of Africa.

“I’m nervous about everything I do with Africa. You almost want it to go good all the time, and you don’t want to disappoint.”

The general manager of the Toronto Raptors cares deeply about his day job. But he feels he has more control in the NBA. He has also spoken about how if he is the only African-born general manager in NBA history, then he will have failed in some way, and about how much responsibility he feels to the kids who remind him of himself. Ujiri has just finished his annual charity tour, which has been running for 13 years now. When the Hubert Davis-directed documentary was shot last year, Giants of Africa ran basketball camps in four countries. This year they started in Senegal, then went on to Ghana, his native Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and Botswana. They helped build a court in Rwanda. It was a good trip.


No. 2: Holiday to miss time to care for wife and child — Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, who has missed 107 games over the last three seasons because of injuries, will be missing games again this year for a much different reason. Holiday’s wife, soccer player Lauren Holiday, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and will be having surgery after she gives birth to the couple’s first child. At that point, Holiday will be taking a leave of absence from the Pelicans to take care of both. Jeff Duncan of The Times Picayune has the story…

The good news was the tumor was operable and not a threat to the Holidays’ unborn daughter. After successful surgery, doctors were confident Lauren would return to full health.

The brain surgery, however, would need to wait until after Lauren gave birth, pushing the procedure and her recovery well into the NBA regular season. Consequently, Holiday, finally healthy after an injury-riddled three-year tenure with the Pelicans, is expected to miss an indefinite period of time during the regular season while serving as a caretaker for his wife and newborn.

“My family comes before basketball,” said Holiday, 26. “I’m obviously blessed to play this game and be in the position I am in, but my wife is the most important thing in the world to me. She comes before anything else.”

It’s unclear how much time Holiday will miss this season. Lauren’s due date is mid-October. If possible, the couple hopes to induce the birth early — perhaps as soon as late September — to expedite her treatment.

Doctors plan to perform Lauren’s brain surgery about six weeks after the birth. Both procedures are expected to be conducted at Duke University Hospital. From there, Jrue’s return to the Pelicans and basketball activities will be determined by her recovery.


No. 3: Riley says Shaq was most important Miami move — LeBron James brought two championships to Miami, but signing him in 2010 wasn’t the most important move that Pat Riley has made as Heat president, according to Riley himself. Instead, Riley says that the biggest acquisition in Heat history was the trade for Shaquille O’Neal in 2004, which “gave us real legitimacy.” The South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Ira Winderman has the story in advance of O’Neal’s Hall of Fame enshrinement on Friday

This is not, Pat Riley stresses, revisionist history. And it also is not, he insists, getting caught up in the moment that will have Shaquille O’Neal this coming Friday becoming the third former Miami Heat player to enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I’ll say this, and I mean this,” Riley says during a relaxed moment this past week, “Shaq’s acquisition was bigger than any acquisition that we ever made, including the Big Three.”

Bigger than LeBron James. Bigger than Chris Bosh. And bigger, Riley says, than the player who helped Riley turn around the franchise around upon their dual arrivals in 1995, Alonzo Mourning.

“Zo was big,” Riley says, “but getting Shaquille changed everything for our franchise.”


No. 4: Curry watches Game 7 for fuel — The Golden State Warriors will be the heavy favorite to win the 2017 Finals, and opposing teams will have plenty of motivation whenever they face the Warriors. Of course, having blown a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Finals, the Dubs should be plenty motivated themselves. Stephen Curry recently watched his team’s Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers to keep himself hungry, as he tells ESPN‘s Darren Rovell…

Stephen Curry finally did it.

Last week, the Golden State Warriors guard watched Game 7 of the NBA Finals from start to finish for the first time since his team lost the series after being up 3 games to 1.

Someone had shown him the last two minutes, he said, and he decided at that point it was time to revisit the game.

“I was a little mad at myself and getting back into the grind of working out for next season,” Curry told ESPN on Saturday, during the second stop of an Asian tour sponsored by Under Armour. “I think it was a good motivator to get back into the gym and keep working.

“I wasn’t 100 percent, but who cares? I was playing. I was out there trying to help my team win and that’s all that really matters. I’ve taken advantage of the summer to get right and I still have a little bit of work to go.”


No. 5: Reasons to be excited about Love — Until the Cavs came back from that 3-1 deficit, it seemed certain that Kevin Love was playing his last games with Cleveland. His defense was an issue and his third-wheel offensive output probably wasn’t worth the max contract he signed last summer. But a championship changes everything and there reasons to believe that Love will take a step forward with the champs this season, as The Plain Dealer‘s Terry Pluto writes…

The Cavs are very excited about Love this season. They talk about him “being in the best place” mentally and physically since being traded to the Cavs in 2014. Once again, he spent much of the off-season at the U.S. Olympic ski training facility in Park City, Utah. The Cavs like how Love dropped 15 pounds last summer and added flexibility — and I hear Love is in excellent shape right now.

But just as important, Love endured a very rough NBA Finals. He made a key defensive stop on Stephen Curry in the final minute of Game 7 over Golden State, finishing with nine points and a team-high 14 rebounds. In his 30 minutes on the court, the Cavs out-scored Golden State by 19 points. That was the best plus/minus mark of any Cavalier in Game 7.

He gave up his scoring to concentrate on rebounding, defense and doing what was needed to help win a title.

As someone close to the situation told me, “Kevin learned about what it takes to win. He really matured last season.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Columbia University is helping the NBA identify athletes who are at risk for sudden cardiac death … The Jazz could have some tough financial decisions to make in the next couple of yearsDwyane Wade discussed his cousin’s death on TV on Friday … The Timberwolves are bringing in a couple of veteran shooters for workoutsJustin Holiday wants to bring championship lessons from Golden State to New York … and of course, Kevin Durant got Rick James’ face tattooed on his thigh.

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