Morning Shootaround — Sept. 26




NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors | Questions abound for new-look Hornets | Pistons open camp in much better space | What’s next for KG?

No. 1: Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors — They can’t hide from it, the expectations or the obstacles. And Doc Rivers knows as much, has prepared for as much heading into the 2016-17 NBA season with designs on taking the Los Angeles Clippers to places they haven’t been before, even with the Golden State Warriors and their superstar-studded roster (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) standing in the way. Rivers insists his Clippers are ready to challenge the Warriors, no matter what the doubters think. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times breaks down the challenges facing the Clippers with training camps set to kick off around the league:

Last season the Clippers had another successful regular season (53-29) and had high hopes going in the playoffs. But that quickly evaporated when they lost a first-round series to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series.

Once again there were complaints that the L.A. Clippers still had never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

“You should never run from the truth. That’s true,” Rivers said. “But getting past the second round is such a [expletive] goal. That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the winner. So, to be the winner, part of that is getting past the second round. The second round talk does nothing for me. The endgame is being the winner.”

Rivers quickly pointed out that “we’re not” one of the favorites to win the 2017 NBA championship.

Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Warriors as the title favorites at 5-7 odds, with defending NBA champion Cleveland second (5-2), San Antonio third (6-1) and the Clippers fourth (20-1).

“We’re in the conversation,” Rivers said.

So much of the Clippers’ success will be determined by the health of Paul and Griffin, both of whom Rivers said are 100% healthy based on how well they have looked while playing in pickup games at the practice facility.

But Griffin has another cloud hovering over him. He broke his right hand in a fight last January with then Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Griffin penned a letter to Clippers fans on the Players’ Tribune Friday, apologizing for last season.

“It’s been a hard year for Blake – from the knee injury to the Matias thing,” Rivers said. “Blake had a year of life lessons. And that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that. We all have them. I actually will say Blake is in the best physical and mental place he’s been in since I’ve been here.”

The Clippers will gather together for media day Monday and open their training camp Tuesday at UC Irvine.

In recent weeks Rivers has watched as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken a knee during the the national anthem in his quest to raise awareness about racial injustice.

“When I hear people say, you have to stand with your team, that’s true. But there are certain issues that transcend everything,” Rivers said. “This is a very serious problem we have. And to me, none of us are smart enough to know the solutions. But what we can do is start the debate and the talk.

“And usually when enough people get to talking, there are usually results in some type of action. To me, whether you like what Kaepernick did or not – and it’s not for me to tell you if you should or shouldn’t – the fact that you’re reading about a statement that I’m making about it means what he’s doing has had an impact. Now we have to get to the endgame and that’s the hard part.”

On the basketball court, the hard part for the Clippers and the rest of the league will be getting past the Warriors with Durant and two-time MVP Stephen Curry as the expected super team of the NBA.

“There’s always going to be a competitor in our league. There’s never going to be one team that wins it every year,” Rivers said. “There’s always going to be someone that’s standing in front of you and our job is to stand directly in front of them and block their way.…

“But that’s fine, if that’s what people want to believe [about the Warriors]. We’re just not going to believe that crap.”

***

 

Noel unhappy with Sixers’ logjam up front

HANG TIME, N.J. — The Philadelphia 76ers are holding Media Day on Monday, but Nerlens Noel didn’t want to wait to get some of his thoughts on the record.

The Sixers are finally looking to take a step forward after three years at or near the bottom of the standings. But there’s an imbalance to all the young talent that Sam Hinkie accumulated before stepping down as general manager in April.

And now, with Joel Embiid finally ready to play more than two years after being drafted, there doesn’t seem to be enough playing for Embiid, Noel and Jahlil Okafor at the center position.

Noel could conceivably play power forward, but the Sixers were terrible (outscored by 20 points per 100 possessions) with Noel and Okafor on the floor together last season, and rookies Ben Simmons and Dario Saric need minutes as skilled four men.

New Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo has acknowledged that the Sixers can’t go on forever with all three of Embiid, Noel and Okafor. But in a recent podcast with Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Colangelo said that he’s not compelled to make a move right away.

Noel doesn’t want to be so patient, as he made clear to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey

The 76ers center wants clarity about his future. He loves Philadelphia and his Sixers teammates. But after three years of watching his team tank, after years of wondering how he fits in, Noel said Sunday he needs for his current situation to change.

“I think it’s just silly . . . this situation that we are in now with three starting centers,” Noel said on the eve of the Sixers’ media day. “With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to set something done this summer.”

Noel said he wasn’t speaking negatively about the team’s other starting-caliber centers, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. Nor was he speaking for them.

“Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court,” Noel said. “But at the end of the day, it’s like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn’t make any sense.”

However, he was adamant that his feeling would not affect his performance.

“I’m here to do my job and play as hard as I can play for the city of Philadelphia,” Noel said. “I’ve always love the fans from the jump. It’s probably one of the realest cities in the country with just genuine passion and love for the sport.”

Wolves’ Pekovic out for the season

HANG TIME, N.J. — In news that doesn’t come as much of a surprise, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced Sunday night that center Nikola Pekovic will miss the entire 2016-17 season with “recurring right ankle pain.”

Pekovic averaged 16.9 points and 8.7 rebounds over the ’12-13 and ’13-14 seasons, but played just 12 games last season and has missed an average of 34 games per year through his first six seasons in the league. That average will increase to 41 games after this year. He has one more year on his contract after this one.

With Kevin Garnett‘s retirement and Pekovic’s health issues, the Wolves are down two big men. But they clearly planned for this scenario, signing both Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich this summer. Reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns leads the frontline that also includes Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 25




NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bosh won’t surrender | Davis feeling explosive | Shot changed Kyrie | Clips wanted K.G.
No. 1: Bosh says it’s not over — He may have flunked the training camp physical. The Heat may be doing everything they can to keep him at a distance. Friends may be whispering that it’s time to move on to a life after playing in the NBA. But veteran Chris Bosh says the latest “little setback” is only motivating him to keep moving forward in his quest to return to the court. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel has the story:

“That doesn’t stop me from wanting to share my creative side with you guys and hoping that you want to come along on the journey with me,” he said of his failed physical in his video post. “So, just because the journey has ups and downs doesn’t mean that I will stop sharing with you guys. So I will just continue to share, despite what’s going on.

“Little setbacks happen, but that doesn’t change my intentions and what I want accomplish. So, I hope you continue to watch. I hope you continue to really just take in my journey and just come along with me, with the ups and the downs. So it’s a down moment right now, but everything’s going to be all right.”

With that, Bosh went ahead with the online release of the second chapter of his documentary “Rebuilt” that is featured on the LeBron James-operated digital outlet Uninterrupted, a chapter titled “Renewal.”

Among the references in Bosh’s documentaries have been ones to former Florida Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann, who has pushed past similar issues with blood clotting to return to the NHL. On Friday, however, Fleischmann failed his physical amid a tryout with the Minnesota Wild, leaving his career in doubt, as well.

Bosh’s latest documentary installment was updated to include the statement, “On the eve of the 2016-17 season, the Miami Heat have not cleared Chris to play. It is Chris’ hope that he can return to playing basketball.”

***

 

Morning shootaround — Sept. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Is Garnett completely gone from Wolves? | Bosh needs to concede and move on | Donovan remains with OKC for long haul

No. 1: Is Garnett completely gone from Wolves? — He announced his retirement Friday after 21 years in the NBA, fitting since that was his uniform number, and Kevin Garnett will be forever linked to the Wolves perhaps more than the Celtics. But what’s in his next chapter? There was always scuttlebutt about Garnett becoming a part-owner of the Wolves but that doesn’t appear likely. And the coaching position is filled. Maybe Garnett should cut the cord completely if he’s not involved in ownership, so says Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune

It was such a nice story, evoking nostalgia and promise in the same swoop of the pen.

Flip Saunders employed all of his charm to woo Kevin Garnett back to Minnesota, offering trunks of money, a voice at practice, a place in the starting lineup and a future in franchise decision-making.

When the Minnesota Timberwolves were desperate for validation and credibility, Flip’s seduction of the greatest player in franchise history made sense. Then everything changed.

Flip passed away, leaving Garnett without his greatest champion and intermediary in the organization.

Garnett played a career-low 15 minutes a game in a career-low 38 games, undermining his ability to lead by example on the court.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor hired Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden to run his basketball operation.

In the old Wolves world order, every former employee of any pedigree had a virtual lifetime contract, renewable whenever convenient for the employee.

Flip’s passing and the arrival of the best cache of young talent in Wolves history, and perhaps the most authoritative coach in franchise history, converted the Wolves from the best version of their old self under Flip to the New Wolves Order.

Flip built relationships and sometimes avoided conflict. For him, Garnett could be the ideal partner — a superstar who was also taskmaster and intimidator.

Thibodeau likely wants his voice to be the loudest in every practice and huddle. He is the alpha male in the organization, and by nature of his personality needs little help yelling out defensive instructions or wielding power.

If Garnett is not going to become a part-owner or assistant general manager or loud voice at the end of the bench, he has no role in the New Wolves Order. He’s no longer even needed to sell tickets or lead marketing campaigns. That falls to Karl-Anthony Towns, a fast-rising star who is also as likeable and marketable as was the young Garnett, before he grew quills.

Channeled rage made Garnett great, and would make him an uncomfortable member of the NWO.

Now is the right time for Garnett to move on. The method by which that would happen is a matter for Taylor and Garnett. It would be best for the Wolves if Garnett simply retired, but let’s not go so far as to say that Garnett owes that to the Wolves. He carried the franchise for a decade, brought the Wolves their greatest success and had to be coaxed into accepting the trade to Boston.

Taylor (the owner of the Star Tribune, by the way) needs to do whatever it takes to buy out Garnett, to give Thibodeau a locker room where his voice will be the loudest.

If Garnett departs, the NBA and Minnesota sports will officially be changed places. The NBA could find Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant in the same Hall of Fame class. Minnesota will have experienced the retirements of Torii Hunter, Jerry Kill and Garnett, and career-threatening injuries to Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson.

Garnett would retire as the only player in NBA history to reach at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks. He may also be the rare NBA superstar to have punched multiple teammates during practices over the course of his career.

Perhaps Garnett could have written a sweeter ending to his career than a buyout, but old knees don’t understand story lines.

Garnett was great, and he should have played his entire career in Minnesota, and nothing guarantees a happy ending, not even when a superstar comes home.

***

No. 2: Bosh needs to concede and move on — After failing his physical with the Miami Heat reportedly due to blood-clot complications, Chris Bosh remains in limbo. He won’t report with the team for training camp and all along the Heat have kept themselves at arm’s distance regarding Bosh and his medical condition. Almost everyone, even former teammate Dwyane Wade, has dropped hints that maybe Bosh should seriously rethink his desire to play this season, or ever again. Meanwhile, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are looming as the core of a team that once featured Bosh, Wade and LeBron James. Here’s Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald with the latest …

The question, with camp opening Tuesday: Can their on-court chemistry continue to improve?

The off-court dynamics between the two were so off kilter at times last season that Erik Spoelstra, last February, ordered them to go to dinner or do absolutely whatever was necessary to improve their chemistry.

Their collaboration improved almost immediately after that, and it will never be more important than it this season, with the departure of Dwyane Wade, who had better synergy with Whiteside than anybody, and the loss of Bosh.

Whereas Wade assisted on 92 Whiteside baskets and 29 alley-oops, Dragic assisted on just 65 of Whiteside’s hoops and 14 of his alley-oops.

But 50 of Dragic’s 65 assists to Whiteside came in 28 games after the All-Star break, compared with just 15 in 54 games before.

One reason why: The two teammates started talking a lot more, both off the court and during games, and the results have been noticeable. Whiteside started setting better screens for Dragic, which helped free him offensively.

“It was great,” Whiteside said this offseason, via Heat.com. “Each game me and Goran got better. He’s easy to talk to. He’s a really good point guard. As the season went on, me and Goran understood each other better.

“[This] year is going to be even bigger. More of me and Goran communicating on that basketball level and getting to know each other better.”

Spoelstra said earlier this year that the key was they both “committed to working together, before practice, after practice. Two guys that want to do it right and they understand they’re involved in a lot of collaborations together and they have to spend time working on it.

“It’s not going to happen through osmosis. They both wanted to make it better. They just didn’t necessarily know how to make it better. Just spend time together and you’ll figure it out.”

Dragic said he never ended up going “alone with Hassan” to dinner, but they did spend more time together in groups with teammates, and it helped because “you discuss things. You get to know the guy better and where he comes from. He opened up to me and vice versa. You know what the guy is thinking now.”

Also helpful: Dragic said he and Whiteside practiced pick-and-rolls alone, after practice.

Though they’ve always gotten along, Dragic, from Slovenia, and Whiteside, from North Carolina, don’t necessarily have a lot in common.

“He likes to play video games; I don’t do that,” Dragic said. “I have a family [with kids]; he doesn’t. But we both love basketball.”

The upshot, Dragic said, is they now they mastered non-verbal signals, to the point where Whiteside can anticipate a Dragic alley-oop before the defense knows it’s coming.

“It was hard” to get to this point, Dragic said. But the improved communication “has helped us function.”

Said Whiteside: “I know it looks like sometimes we’re out there arguing or fussing. But every time I see something, I tell him. And it goes both ways.”

***

No. 3: Donovan sees himself with OKC for long haul — When the Thunder lost Kevin Durant to free agency, it created a rather weird reality for coach Billy Donovan. He came to the Thunder two summers ago fully realizing that he might have only one season coaching Kevin Durant and that the team’s identity (and title chances) could drastically change overnight if Durant left. Maybe Donovan would regret leaving a comfortable gig with the Florida Gators. Well, when the Thunder opened camp Friday, Donovan was fully committed to the present and the future. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman spoke with Donovan about this…

Billy Donovan’s second NBA season begins Saturday with Thunder training camp. Perhaps you’ve heard, Kevin Durant won’t be there.

The team that Donovan signed up for 17 months ago — a superstar-heavy, NBA-title-contending roster — has changed. Still talented. Still interesting. Still a winner. But not a title contender unless the basketball gods bestow upon us the sports story of the century.

Makes you wonder if Donovan laments coming to town. Makes you wonder if Donovan wonders what in the heck he’s gotten himself into.

This week, I asked Sam Presti how Donovan has responded to the different landscape. From knowing exactly what he had to not sure what he has. From NBA overdog to NBA underdog. From two superstars to one.

Presti said to ask Donovan. But then Presti told us what he thinks of the coach who leads the Thunder. “I think it is the same situation he signed on for, because the things that make a Billy Donovan a Billy Donovan is he wants to be the coach of the Thunder,” Presti said. “He wants to coach in Oklahoma City. He wants to coach with an organization that is committed to the values that I’ve covered … I think those are the things that drive a person like Billy Donovan. He wants to be a part of something. He wants to be a part of representing a city and the values of a city. And he wants to work his craft.”

Well, working his craft is not going to be a problem. To whatever extent Donovan was able to roll out the basketball and let Durant and Russell Westbrook perform their magic, that will happen no more. Donovan will be free to coach his butt off this season.

Truth is, Donovan did just that last season, when the Thunder traversed repeated valleys and emerged as a playoff force. No team played better in the 2016 playoffs than did Donovan’s Thunder. In the month of May, OKC went 7-6 against teams with 67 (Spurs) and 73 (Warriors) wins.

Donovan pushed all the right buttons, and the Thunder’s eventual fall had nothing to do with the quality of the coaching. Durant and Westbrook just famously locked up in the final five minutes of the Western Conference Finals’ Game 6.

The Thunder won’t get that close this season. Donovan won’t admit that, of course. He also talks like it’s OK if it is true.

Donovan said Clay Bennett and Presti made it clear that Durant’s return was no sure thing. Said he came to OKC not because of the dual superstars, but the values and culture that had been created.

“I believed in the vision of the organization,” Donovan said. “Those things resonated with me.”

You know the drill. All the things that Presti talks endlessly about. All the things that now will be put to the test in the post-Durant era. Hard work. Holistic approach to people. Trusting the process.

“Nothing’s really changed here,” Donovan said, words that will be tested on Oct. 25, when Durant dons a Warrior jersey for his first real game with Golden State. “The principles, the vision, those things haven’t changed. It’s not like the mission and the values have changed here.”

Donovan says he’s used to player departures. Nineteen years at Florida taught him to adjust. Players graduating. Players transferring. Players going pro early. Donovan went to Final Fours with virtual all-star teams and went to Final Fours with virtual no-name teams.

Truth is, Oklahoma City is a lot more accustomed to Durant than Donovan is to Durant. We had the tall drink of water for eight glorious seasons. Donovan coached him for one.

“When players leave, you gotta be aligned with the people that are in charge and the people you’re working with every single day,” Donovan said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jrue Holiday and wife had their baby and now Lauren Holiday awaits surgery for a brain tumor … Russell Westbrook still hasn’t spoken with you know who … Knicks are staying mum about the charges against Derrick Rose for now … Yao Ming is having his jersey retired by the RocketsNik Pekovic may never play for the Wolves againJeff Teague is getting to know his new teammates in his hometown of Indy … Mitch McGary is very, very sorry.

Rockets expect, respect protesters

With the playing of the national anthem before the first preseason game still more than a week away, the Rockets like many other NBA teams are aware of the social protests that have swept through other sports, led by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“I don’t know, man,” said point guard Pat Beverley. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, to demonstrate the way they want to demonstrate. Everyone has their own right.

“When it comes to a situation like that, you’re free to demonstrate the way you want to do it. I do think everybody goes about it different ways. That’s the greatest things about America, freedom that we have.”

So will Beverley, who played in Ukraine, Greece and Russia before signing with the Rockets in 2013, protest in any way?

“No. I’m good,” he said. “I’m happy to be here. I remember being overseas for five years, never hearing The National Anthem. I appreciate America for sure.”

Shooting guard James Harden said he expects to see some form of protest in the NBA.

“Guys are expressing their opinions, their beliefs,” Harden said. “A lot going on, we all know that.

“For our team it’s an individual preference. I don’t know what those guys are thinking in their heads…It’s a free country, so it’s how you feel.”

Harden respects Kaepernick.

“It’s a powerful statement,” he said. “He’s standing up for what he believes in. It’s devastating that all these people are just dying, dying for no reason. Families are grieving. It’s a tough situation, especially with the men and women who are supposedly protecting us. Like I said, each individual has their own beliefs and how they go about handling it and you got to respect it.”

NBA players react to Kevin Garnett’s retirement

After 21 seasons in the NBA, Kevin Garnett has officially retired from the NBA. The Timberwolves released a statement with the announcement, while Kevin Garnett posted a video on Instagram saying ‘farewell.’

To be continued…

A video posted by Kevin Garnett (@tic_pix) on

Current and former players around the league also took to social media to share their reactions on yet another legend walking away from the game in 2016.

I mean where do I start. First watching you play at the Solon Cage Classic in Ohio with Team Michigan when u were in HS, I believe I was 10 years old and I was like dang this dude nice!! Then a lil time passed and u were drafted straight out of HS to the pros so I felt like man whoever get him is a lucky team. And I surely wasn't wrong! The KID nickname was fly, swaged out and made a 10 year old kid from Akron believe he could run with the big boys himself! Fast forward 8 years later that kid you inspired entered the draft fresh out of HS as well. Thank you!! Competing vs you in whatever uniform u were in at the time meant the world to me because of two distinctive trait u had. Passion and commitment to just compete every single possession. U showed me what it took and we never played on the same team(All-Star games is different). Thank you! Congratulations to The Big Ticket on a helluva career! HOF is your next stop to cap it all off, the cherry on top!! 1 Love

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

Lost another real one today @tic_pix greatest power forward ever

A photo posted by The Truth (@paulpierce) on

KG adds to loaded Hall class for 2021

Kevin Garnett turned the projected Class of 2021 at the Hall of Fame from magical to amazing when he announced his retirement Friday and started the clock on the five-year wait period to be enshrined with fellow first-ballot automatics Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan and possibly wild card Gregg Popovich.

The look will change if Duncan, Bryant or Garnett return to the NBA, but the certainty of the moment, that all three have retired since the end of 2015-16, makes them eligible to be nominated in 2020 for the election and induction that would come in ’21. While it would not be the most star-studded enshrinement ever — the 2010 group included the 1992 Dream Team, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson as part of the 1960 Olympic team and Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen as individuals — the Class of 2021 in its current form will be historic.

And that’s just among the candidates with strong NBA ties and the certainty of players on a set schedule. Popovich, eligible to be nominated at any time but having discouraged the recognition, could decide entering the Hall with Duncan is the best outcome, much the same way Jerry Sloan made it clear he did not want the spotlight but finally gave in to be enshrined with John Stockton in 2009. (That 2009 ceremony, like 2010 and probably 2021, could have been held on Mt. Olympus as well, with Michael Jordan, Stockton, David Robinson and Sloan.)

Plus, Tamika Catchings should be easily elected by the Women’s committee in 2021, scheduled to be her first year on the ballot.

The developments for a class five years away comes in the wake of another highly publicized group, the 2016 group headlined by Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming. The candidates for 2017 are slim, with Ben Wallace the biggest name among players eligible for the first time, an opening for carryover candidates Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway and Chris Webber. Jason Kidd, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady, among others, can be nominated for 2017.

 

Garnett retires after 21 seasons

Fifteen-time All-Star Kevin Garnett has reached terms on a buyout with the Timberwolves, according to Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and is has retired from the NBA.

The 40-year-old Garnett, who has played 21 seasons in the league, was drafted out of high school by the Timberwolves in 1995 and played with the franchise for a dozen seasons until he was traded to the Celtics in 2007. Garnett won his only NBA championship with Boston in 2008.

Garnett was traded to Brooklyn in 2013, then returned to the Timberwolves in 2015.

If Garnett has indeed decided to retire, he will join Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in the prospective 2021 Hall of Fame class.

Garnett announced his decision on his Instagram page.

 

 

Bosh fails physical due to continued clotting

HANG TIME, N.J. — With training camp set to start on Monday, Chris Bosh will not be on the floor with the Miami Heat.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald has more

A complication has arisen in medical tests involving Heat forward Chris Bosh, derailing his attempted comeback, according to a source.

The complication involved evidence of some continued clotting and is believed to be related to one of two previous blood clot episodes. Those episodes sidelined Bosh after the All-Star break each of the past two seasons.

Though the complication is not considered life-threatening if treated, it requires medication and playing with it is considered unrealistic.

….

The Heat had gone into this week expecting to clear Bosh to resume his career this season, according to multiple sources briefed on the situation. But his clearance by the Heat always was contingent on Bosh passing his physical and no issues surfacing during a battery of Heat-administered medical tests this week.

And when an issue arose in blood work this week, the Heat concluded he could not be cleared to return.

Bosh is under contract for two more seasons after this one. Blood clots ended each of his last two seasons at the All-Star break and now, won’t let this season get started.