NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Riley has ‘no regrets’ as 2016-17 season nears — The Miami Heat have retooled their roster this summer and as part of it, watched as franchise icon Dwyane Wade left in free agency to sign with the Chicago Bulls. Team president Pat Riley knows a new era is afoot in Miami and acknowledged as much in an interview with the Palm Beach Post‘s Tom D’Anglelo:
Heat president Pat Riley is looking forward to Sept. 27, the start of yet another era in his 22 years with the Heat. While the expectations have been lowered, that does not mean Riley and the organization will approach this year any differently.
“No apologies, no regrets – except for one – no tears,” Riley told me today, obviously referring to losing franchise icon Dwyane Wade to the Chicago Bulls. “Good luck. We move on. Players come and go, but franchises move on.”
The reason for our conversation was to speak about Shaquille O’Neal’s induction into the basketball Hall of Fame on Friday. Riley took the time to speak from San Tropez where he and Heat owner Micky Arison are on a five-day journey through the Mediterranean to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of Magic and Cookie Johnson. (More in this below)
Riley, 71, does not sound like a man ready to cruise into retirement. He clearly is looking at ways to rebuild this team into one that can one day compete for the organization’s fourth title.
The Heat have been remade since losing Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson among others. They are a mix of young athletic players with fewer veterans than Heat teams of recent years.
“I’m excited for our new guys,” he said before already talking about the next move. “Maybe we make a deal or catch lightening in a bottle again next summer (in free agency) like we did in 2010.”
No. 2: That time the Magic almost nearly didn’t draft Shaq — In one day, Shaquille O’Neal will be formally inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as part of this year’s class. His storied NBA career officially started back in the 1992 draft when the Orlando Magic took O’Neal with the No. 1 overall pick. Today, though, ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan recounts an amazing tale of how the Magic were worried they literally wouldn’t get the call in to take O’Neal back on that fateful June night in 1992:
Longtime commissioner David Stern kicked off the proceedings by taking the mic to declare, “The Orlando Magic is on the clock. You have five minutes to make your pick.”
All Williams needed to do was call the Magic representative in Portland, who would relay the team’s selection to the commissioner. It should have been a matter of seconds.
Yet a technical malfunction prevented the call from going through. One minute, then two, then three minutes went by. Engineers on site frantically tried to identify the problem, but the Magic had virtually no way to convey their Shaq selection to league officials in Portland.
“Now there’s a minute left to go and I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be the biggest faux pas in the history of our sport,”’ Pat Williams says. “What if we can’t make our pick?”
Alex Martins, who is now the CEO of the Magic but back then was an industrious young public relations director, stepped outside Orlando’s arena into the corridor and dialed up his oversize, boxy mobile Nokia phone, a novelty in those days. He called directly to the NBA’s New York office and relayed the choice of Shaquille O’Neal. The selection was recorded with just seconds to spare.
“It was getting close,” Martins recalls. “I think it was down to about 20 seconds. I don’t know what they would have done if we didn’t get the pick in on time.”
Stern, reached by ESPN on Tuesday, says he has no recollection of the near snafu.
“Of course, we would have made sure nothing untoward happened, and we would have made every effort to make sure we were in contact with them one way or another,” Stern says, “but I don’t remember it. That was (former deputy commissioner) Russ Granik‘s problem. It was a great division of responsibility on my part.”
Granik is also fuzzy on the details of that night, but holding the event in Portland created some unusual obstacles, he says. So what would have happened if the Magic hadn’t been able to call Shaq’s name in time?
“We would have allotted for it somehow,” Granik says. “We’re not crazy.”
While those five minutes were harried and nerve-wracking for the Magic, they were excruciating for O’Neal, a superstitious young man who, even though the Magic had made it clear they would take him, fretted over a possible last-second change of heart.
“I wasn’t going to believe it ’til I heard it myself,” Shaq says. “They could have changed their mind and gone for (Alonzo) Mourning or (Christian) Laettner.”
Shaq’s mother, Lucille Harrison, says the family was unaware of the technical difficulties surrounding his selection, in part because they were so nervous.
“We weren’t familiar with the business of it all,” Lucille explains now. “We were excited he was picked at all.
“What I remember most is the fact this dream Shaquille had was now happening. He was walking into the reality of it.”
Granik says that about a month and a half before Shaquille O’Neal embarked on his dominant NBA journey, he and his father — nicknamed “Sarge” because of his stern visage — requested an audience with the commissioner and his deputy.
“It was pretty rare when that happened, but the few times (players did that) we accommodated them,” Granik says. “It’s mostly, ‘What should I know about the league? What do I need to do?’
“I made a joke to Shaq in our meeting about how much publicity he was getting. I told him, ‘We’ve been hearing a lot about you. I sure hope you can play.’ The look from his dad was unforgettable. I had to tell him, ‘I’m kidding, I’m kidding!'”
There was one other draft prospect who requested a similar audience before the draft in 1992: Christian Laettner, the star from Duke.
“Laettner told us, ‘I know I’m better than Mourning, but that guy Shaq is better than all of us,”’ Granik says.
He was right.
No. 3: Towns on Wolves: ‘We’ve got to make the playoffs’ — Seemingly from the moment the Minnesota Timberwolves hired Tom Thibodeau as their new coach and GM, hopes have been sky-high for the team. Reigning Kia Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t mask his excitement about a turnaround in Minnesota come 2016-17 earlier this summer and is not backing off that stance. In an interview with Jared Zwerling on NBPA.com, Towns talks about his goals for the season, working with Thibodeau and more:
NBPA: Since the season ended, you’ve made different entertainment appearances, like attending the ESPYs, making a cameo on Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything and being a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. What have been your summer highlights?
KAT: Definitely I would say the Disney show. I love acting. I had a lot of fun doing it, and it was a huge honor to just be part of that show. Cameron Boyce is awesome, everybody was great. From there, I think probably just doing the Foot Locker commercial with some of my best friends, D’Angelo Russell and Devin Booker, was awesome.
Also, I had a chance to do a special thing: enjoy some time with my family. I haven’t gotten a lot of time with my family since I was in high school. So for the first time in two years, I got to go home and actually spend some time with them—see my niece and nephew grow up a little more than I ever was able to do. So I had a lot of fun.
NBPA: On the court, take me inside your workouts with trainer Bryce Stanhope this offseason. What’s been your focus?
KAT: He’s been awesome. He’s a great trainer. With my dad having knee surgeries, it’s a little harder for him to do a little bit more of what I need. So Bryce has been great stepping into the role and helping me grow my game and get better. We’ve been just working on every single aspect of my game to be even sharper and a better player next year. Me and Bryce slow it down a lot. We make sure we get good reps in. It’s not always about going so fast and doing it so much. We make sure each rep is a quality rep and we take our time with the process.
NBPA: How do you see your game evolving?
KAT: I think it’s going to be much much better. I’ve had a whole season to learn under KG [Kevin Garnett]. I just feel that I can be a much better player. Having a whole year to learn and have the whole year to see for myself what it takes, I feel I’m going to be a much better leader from a player standpoint. I will take what I’ve learned in one season and build upon it. It’s going to be awesome.
NBPA: The Timberwolves are being viewed as one of the biggest breakout teams for next season. How would you describe that excitement brewing in Minnesota?
KAT: We’ve just got to go out there and work. It’s excitement because people feel that we have a chance to do something special, and we’ve got to deliver. So it’s about us working and constantly finding ways to get better.
NBPA: In your short time with Tom Thibodeau, what have you learned about him so far?
KAT: It’s awesome. He’s taught me a lot so far. He’s really smart, he’s a great guy. I look at him not even as my coach, but as a good friend of mine, and that’s how it has to be. If we want to be able to go to another spot to something greater, we have to always be on the same page and have a good rapport. That’s what we do have.
NBPA: What are your personal and team goals for next season?
KAT: Personal goals are based on team. We’ve got to make the playoffs. We’ve got to do something special, and it’s up to us to continue to work and to make that happen.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, the Philadelphia 76ers are looking to trade either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor … Former NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner Ben Gordon is holding out hope of another NBA return … New Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton and second-year guard D’Angelo Russell are already forming a tight bond … No, Kevin Seraphin. Just, no. … Speaking of the Lakers — Timofey Mozgov is now shooting 3-pointers (?) …