Morning shootaround — Oct. 24


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No matter what, Nash’s legacy is safe | Stephenson on Pacers: ‘I wanted to be there’  | Smith struggling to grasp triangle | Report: Sixers working to land Nets’ Teague

No. 1: Nash’s legacy safe, even if his career is over — Fans of the NBA (and standout offensive play from point guards) are no doubt upset this morning after last night’s news broke that former two-time MVP Steve Nash‘s 2014-15 season is done even before it began. Lingering issues with various back injuries have sidelined the L.A. Lakers point guard for this season and, based on the buzz around the NBA, perhaps his career. If this is indeed the last we’ve seen of Nash, though, his last few injury-prone seasons in Lakerland won’t tarnish the Hall of Fame legacy he’s crafted, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

This changes nothing, and this changes everything.

Steve Nash was locked in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer years ago, one of the stars of a generation and one of the standout point guards of any era. So, the agonizing slow leak into retirement — after Thursday’s announcement of Nash missing the entire 2014-15 season with a nerve issue — of what will become three consecutive seasons with serious injuries will not dent his legacy. He got old, not bad.

But what an insightful few years it was. We didn’t get to see Nash close to his best in L.A., what the Lakers hoped for when they sent a couple first-round picks, including the choice that is top-five protected in 2015, and a couple seconds to Phoenix in July 2012, but it was the best of Nash in some ways. The passion to play, the determination to work back instead of taking early retirement and a golden parachute — it was as telling in a strange way as any of the countless accomplishments on the court.

He was always faking people out like that. Nash didn’t have much of a future coming out of high school in the charming Vancouver suburb of Victoria, and then he turned one NCAA Division I scholarship offer, to Santa Clara, into being drafted in the first round and a career that would have reached Season 19 in 2014-15. He didn’t have the athleticism to hang with the speed point guards, and then he surgically steered the Phoenix jet offense of the Seven Seconds Or Less Days, running everyone else into the ground as it turned out. Now, at what by every indication is the end, although the Lakers have only said he is done for the season, Nash discovered a new way to impress.

And if anything, Nash was underrated on offense — which is saying something considering the praise he earned. But to trigger one of the game’s lethal pick-and-roll games (particularly with superb finisher Amar’e Stoudemire) and also succeed in the high-octane offenses of coaches Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry as the Suns reached the Western Conference finals is a note few point guards can reach. He was never a food defender who could get in the conversation with, say, John Stockton or Gary Payton as all-time great two-way point guards. But Nash with the ball was still a clinic.

That’s Nash’s direct impact. His final legacy, though, won’t be known for years, maybe even for a decade.


VIDEO: Steve Nash will not play for the L.A. Lakers in 2014-15

 

Aching finish can’t hurt Nash’s legacy


VIDEO: Steve Nash to miss entire 2014-15 season with nerve issue

This changes nothing, and this changes everything.

Steve Nash was locked in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer years ago, one of the stars of a generation and one of the standout point guards of any era. So, the agonizing slow leak into retirement — after Thursday’s announcement of Nash missing the entire 2014-15 season with a nerve issue — of what will become three consecutive seasons with serious injuries will not dent his legacy. He got old, not bad.

But what an insightful few years it was. We didn’t get to see Nash close to his best in L.A., what the Lakers hoped for when they sent a couple first-round picks, including the choice that is top-five protected in 2015, and a couple seconds to Phoenix in July 2012, but it was the best of Nash in some ways. The passion to play, the determination to work back instead of taking early retirement and a golden parachute — it was as telling in a strange way as any of the countless accomplishments on the court.

He was always faking people out like that. Nash didn’t have much of a future coming out of high school in the charming Vancouver suburb of Victoria, and then he turned one NCAA Division I scholarship offer, to Santa Clara, into being drafted in the first round and a career that would have reached Season 19 in 2014-15. He didn’t have the athleticism to hang with the speed point guards, and then he surgically steered the Phoenix jet offense of the Seven Seconds Or Less Days, running everyone else into the ground as it turned out. Now, at what by every indication is the end, although the Lakers have only said he is done for the season, Nash discovered a new way to impress.


VIDEO:
Relive Steve Nash’s top 10 career assists

He had done it in most every other manner before: back-to-back MVPs, eight-time All-Star, the only player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent from the line four times. That’s two more than Larry Bird and three more than everybody else, third all-time in total assists, first all-time in free-throw percentage with at least 1,200 makes.

And if anything, Nash was underrated on offense — which is saying something considering the praise he earned. But to trigger one of the game’s lethal pick-and-roll games (particularly with superb finisher Amar’e Stoudemire) and also succeed in the high-octane offenses of coaches Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry as the Suns reached the Western Conference finals is a note few point guards can reach. He was never a good defender who could get in the conversation with, say, John Stockton or Gary Payton as all-time great two-way point guards. But Nash with the ball was still a clinic.

That’s Nash’s direct impact. His final legacy, though, won’t be known for years, maybe even for a decade.

The wave of Canadian players into the Draft the last few seasons? That is partly on him, too. Probably not to the extent of the expansion Raptors taking root in Toronto and the expansion Grizzlies in Vancouver. Maybe not even equal to the impact of Vince Carter winning the slam-dunk crown at All-Star weekend 2000 as a Raptor, given the impact of that event on kids and the basketball explosion in Toronto in particular.

But the guy who hadn’t played for a team in Canada since high school became the Nash-ional hero.

There’s Andrew Wiggins. Anthony Bennett. Kelly Olynyk, from British Columbia. Tristan Thompson. Nik Stauskas.

Stauskas was 14 or 15 — he doesn’t remember exactly — and part of a new breed of Canadian kids, the ones who didn’t grow up automatically playing hockey. His AAU coach, Anthony Otto, had known Nash for years and arranged for Stauskas and another prospect, Kevin Zabo, to spend a couple days being tutored by Nash in Phoenix. Two star-struck teenagers, a future Hall of Famer and an empty gym.

“I got a chance to work out with him and see him up close and the fundamentals he had,” Stauskas said. “For me, it was just like, ‘He’s not quick, he’s not strong, he doesn’t have a crazy build or anything and here he is a two-time MVP.’ You’re like, ‘Man, this is possible. If you work hard and do what he does, this is really possible.’ “

There were times Zabo, now at San Diego State, and Stauskas, now a Kings rookie as a lottery pick, stopped their individual work and watched Nash — now also general manager of the Canadian national team —  in another part of the gym, for as long as 20 minutes. Just watching the Suns guard go through drills.

A technician like Nash had that kind of draw. It was hard not to stop and watch him at every opportunity, even when he played with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal in Phoenix or Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles. The chance to watch is almost certainly over as age claims another victim, but the disappointment of the hobbling finish for someone who had earned the right to go out on his terms doesn’t matter to the legacy.

It changes nothing. And everything.

Lottery reform now a perception game


VIDEO: Silver on draft lottery reform

Commissioner Adam Silver got it partly right in noting the perception problem with the lottery, about how losing teams feel pressure from fans “to somehow underperform” to get the best picks in June and accelerate the elevator ride back up. That is definitely an issue. (Not as much as a weak owner and front office that would make basketball decisions based on public opinion, but, yes, a problem.)

What no one seemed to hit on, though, as the Board of Governors voted down dramatic changes to the lottery Wednesday was how the proposal was exactly about perception. It was about soothing, not fixing.

The system isn’t flawed because of tanking. The system is flawed because the team with the worst record does not get the No. 1 pick, and rarely does the second-worst move into that coveted position. Since the change to the current format, the club with the best odds has drawn the winning combination of ping-pong balls three times in 21 lotteries: the 76ers in 1996 (Allen Iverson), the Cavaliers in 2003 (LeBron James) and the Magic in 2004 (Dwight Howard). The next-best odds has moved to the top of the draft once in the 2000s, the Clippers of 2009 (Blake Griffin).

The suggested solution that went before the Board of Governors? Decrease the chances even more.

The proposal got 17 of 30 votes from the Board of Governors, one representative from each franchise, at a meeting in New York, short of the 23 needed for approval. The plan goes back for further review and likely tweaks within the competition committee.

The obvious intent was to discourage tanking — no need to try for losses, the teams were being told, because there is not a good chance it will get you to the top of the order anyway. Which was known anyway. It’s right there in the history books.

Tanking was one of the most oversold storylines of last season, if not the most, without nearly the race to the bottom too many would suggest. The 15-67 Bucks had the worst record in the league, but after making moves in the offseason to get better, not set themselves up for June. The 19-63 76ers — OK, apart from them. The Jazz had the worst record in the West, but improved after the first month or so, when a 1-14 start provided the perfect opportunity to cash out early. The Lakers were second worst, though obviously not out of preference. The Kings could have kept the roster in place, but traded for Rudy Gay in a win-now move.

The league went from years of no proposals moving to a final vote, and rarely so much as a public suggestion from one of the teams about fixing the problem, to possibly ratifying a jolting set of rules. There was such a whiplash effect that it may have been one of the reasons the new idea failed to gain the necessary two-thirds approval. While the need to deal with the image problem of tanking was obvious, with Philadelphia the current poster child, the result would have been to further penalize the teams that earned the spot through more-conventional means.

“I think we all recognize that we need to find the right balance between creating the appropriate incentives on one hand for teams to, of course, win, and on the other hand allowing what is appropriate rebuilding and a draft to work as a draft should, in which the worst performing teams get the highest picks in the draft, and we’ve tinkered with the draft lottery several times over the years,” Silver said. “I don’t necessarily disagree with the way it works now.”

He added: “I’d say from a personal standpoint, what I’m most concerned about is the perception out there right now. Frankly the pressure on a lot of our teams, even from their very fans, to somehow underperform because it’s in some people’s view the most efficient and quickest way to get better, so I think that’s a corrosive perception out there. Whether it’s the case, I’m frankly not sure. I think sometimes perception becomes reality in this league. There seems to be a certain group-think among general managers in terms of what the best ways are to build teams, and so it was a fascinating discussion [surrounding the vote] and I think a very appropriate discussion for the board.”

There are no shortage of suggestions to remedy the lottery dilemma. The proposal that got voted down just wasn’t one of them.

Nash out for 2014-15 season

VIDEO: Lakers’ Steve Nash to miss 2014-15 season with nerve issue

Steve Nash was ruled out of the 2014-15 season for the Lakers because of the nerve damage that has led to years of back and leg pains, likely ending his career, in news first reported by Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

UPDATE (8:18 p.m. ET):

As he said in late-September, when asked about his health and his mindset at the start of camp: “A lot better. A lot different, even. Different perspective. I feel healthier mentally for sure. I was in a really, really bad place last year during the winter. I was largely unaware of how bad I was until I got out of it. But now I realize this is my last year and there’s no guarantees I’ll get to play any games this year. The truth is, I have a lot of miles on my back and a day or two into training camp it could all be done. I’m just trying to enjoy every moment every day. Keep building, do what it takes to give myself a chance, and with a little bit of luck maybe I’ll get to play a ton this year and have a great close to my career.”

That quickly turned into more problems with the nerve damage in his back. Nash, if relatively healthy, was the projected starting point guard for the Lakers. That role now falls to Jeremy Lin. L.A. issued a statement about Nash.

NBA’s new replay center a high-tech house of correctness


VIDEO: NBA houses new replay center to aid in correct calls

SECAUCUS, N.J. – In the not-so-distant future, a microchip sewn into the fabric of Kevin Durant III‘s uniform shirt (or perhaps embedded painlessly beneath his skin) will be able to sense physical contact from a defender. A signal transmitted instantly through the scoreboard simultaneously will stop the clock and trigger a whistle-like sound. And the NBA players on the court will dutifully line up for a couple free throws, no human referee necessary.

For now, though, the league’s state-of-the-art technology is housed on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building, in a corporate park on the west side of the Hudson River from Manhattan. Every instant of every NBA game to be played this season, this postseason and beyond will be processed through the new replay center located within, the game footage available to be searched and “scrubbed” (in the parlance of video editing) to get right as many replay situations as possible.

Considering the old arena-and-TV-production-truck method of replay review had a 90 percent success rate, as estimated Thursday by NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn, the league’s quest for greater accuracy and efficiency in swiftly adjudicating the trickiest plays is an admirable one.

Complicated and expensive, too. No one talked of the price tag Thursday during a media walk-through of the facility, which is headquartered with NBA Entertainment. But some of the other numbers tossed around were staggering:

  • 300 billion bits of information per second, in terms of processing multiple HD video streams and photos. The new network’s capacity is 66 times greater than the previous system, vast and fast enough to download the entire digitized content of the Library of Congress (more than 158 million items) in about a half hour.
  • 31,500 hours of video to be reviewed in the 2014-15 season alone.
  • 94 flat-screen TV monitors, 32 of them touch-screen, and 20 replay stations in the center.
  • 15 replay operators, one each for the maximum number of games in a single day, finding and feeding the critical plays to one of three replay managers for interaction with the in-arena referee crew chief.
  • 15 replay “triggers” or game situations that allow for review, up from 14 last season.

The room looks like the wonkiest sports bar in America, a cross between a TV production booth, an air-traffic control tower and the CTU HQ Jack Bauer occasionally dropped by.

As formidable as the replay center looks, the process will continue to be dictated by the game officials in Charlotte, Portland or wherever. But rather than relying on a monitor at the scorer’s table linked only to a truck in the arena parking lot – where the broadcast production staffers have enough work to manage the telecast – the crew chief will connect directly to a replay manager.

That manager – described by Joe Borgia, NBA senior VP, replay and referee operations, as a “basketball junkie” with training as a ref, a techie or both – will have at his disposal angles quickly cued up from the assigned replay operator. The crew chief will be able to request zoom, split screens, slo-motion, real-time speed, freeze frames and up to four angles on one screen. Until now, the refs were shown angles sequentially, sometimes seeing the best one after it already had appeared on the arena videoboard.

One important point: The crew chief still will make the final decision. The replay gurus in Secaucus – who occasionally will be watched while they’re watching by a camera mounted high in the room, to show TV audiences how the sausage gets made – will simply select what they deem to be the best angles of the plays in question.

“They’re just giving us the views so we can make the correct calls,” ref Jim Capers said Thursday during a Q&A session.

That’s different from the NHL and MLB, where determinations are made by the replay center administrators. The NBA isn’t ready to take that step yet, Thorn said.

“We don’t want to take it away from the referee right now,” Thorn said. “But he may ask for some support from here. We’re going to have these things cued up for him and most of ‘em are going to be, ‘Well, there it is.’

“Our feeling was, we’re going to leave the ultimate decision in the hand of the on-court crew chief with his guys – for right now. But that may come. You have a chip in your ear, you’re running down the floor, you wave your hand about a 3-point shot and Joe Borgia says [from back at the replay center] ‘His foot was on the line. It was a 2.’ So you don’t even have to go over to the [monitor]. But we’re not there yet.”

Nor, Thorn said, is the NBA ready to adopt a challenge system similar to those used in the NFL and MLB in which coaches and managers can choose to have certain calls reviewed. That will be experimented with this season in the NBA Development League and it was discussed “very seriously,” Thorn said, at the NBA Competition Committee’s two more recent meetings.

“If you talk to the coaches, and we have three coaches on our Competition Committee, they would like to challenge judgment calls,” Thorn said. “That’s a little different.”

Those second-guesses might be better left to the microchips when the time comes. In the meantime, the NBA has its new high-tech house of correctness.

Numbers say Warriors should pass more


VIDEO: Warriors Season Preview: Steve Kerr

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – As was written in this space last week, there was no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency on the league level last season. There were top-10 offensive teams (Oklahoma City and Phoenix) that didn’t move the ball a lot and bottom-10 offensive teams (Charlotte, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the Lakers) that did.

Does that mean that the Golden State Warriors (12th in offensive efficiency, dead last in passes per minute in half-court possessions) should aim to move the ball more this season?

Here’s Bleacher Report‘s Howard Beck on new coach Steve Kerr‘s goal to make the Warriors more Spurs-ish

Nearly 11 percent of the Warriors’ possessions last season were isolation plays, the third highest rate in the league, per Synergy Sports. Nor were the Warriors efficient on those plays, scoring just .842 points per isolation, which ranked 14th.

The Warriors’ internal analysis was just as damning. By one assessment, the Warriors were among the league leaders in possessions in which the ball never changed sides of the court. And yet the Warriors had their best success in games in which they averaged three to four passes per possession.

These are the numbers that Kerr and his staff—led by veterans Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams—are trying to hammer home as they work to change bad habits.

According to SportVU, the Warriors were indeed better offensively in the games they passed the ball more (though they averaged more than three passes per possession in only four games).

  • In the games they registered their 20 highest passes-per-possession numbers (a range of 2.63 to 3.14), the Warriors scored 107.5 points per 100 possession and went 16-4 (6-3 against playoff teams).
  • In the games they registered their 20 lowest passes-per-possession numbers (a range of 2.09 to 2.35), they scored 105.3 points per 100 possessions and went 9-11 (1-10 against playoff teams).

The difference in efficiency (2.2 points per 100 possessions) isn’t that huge. And if you take the entire season on a game-by-game basis, there’s just a minimal correlation between how frequently they passed the ball and how efficiently they scored. There were some bad offensive games in which they passed the ball a lot and some good ones in which they didn’t.

But that 16-4 record when they moved the ball a lot is hard to ignore, while the 1-10 record against playoff teams when they were more stagnant has to be a concern.

Looking at individual possessions, SportVU tells us again that the Warriors were more efficient the more they passed the ball. In fact, on possessions in which they passed the ball less than four times, the Warriors barely cracked a point per possession, a mark that would rank in the bottom 10 in the league. But on possessions in which they passed it four or more times, they scored close to 1.2 points per possession, a mark that would rank No. 1 in the league, by far.

As one of the league’s two or three best shooters with the ball in his hands, Stephen Curry is a matchup nightmare. He doesn’t need a pass — just a screen or a little bit of space on the break — to get an good look at the basket. Curry and Carmelo Anthony tied for the league lead with 456 unassisted field goals each last season, and Curry (142) had 54 more unassisted 3-pointers than any other player.

But Curry is still a better shooter off the pass than off the dribble. Last season, he made 48.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers and 43.7 percent of his pull-up jumpers.

So yes, there is motivation for the Warriors to pass the ball more. Less than 25 percent of Curry’s jumpers were of the catch-and-shoot variety last season. If the Warriors can get him off the ball more, they should be a more efficient offense.

Good news. In the five Golden State preseason games of which we have video, Curry has taken more catch-and-shoot jumpers (23) than pull-up jumpers (17). Some of those catch-and-shoot attempts have come after just one or two passes, and he was sometimes off-balance as he tried to get off a quick shot after coming off a pin-down screen, but the team’s intent to get Curry shooting more off the pass is there. And he seems willing to give the ball up early in a possession in order to get it back for a better shot.

The Warriors ranked third in defensive efficiency last season. Ranking 12th offensively was a disappointment given their talent. With their shooting in the backcourt and their passing in the frontcourt, the potential is there for an elite offense.

If Kerr can help the Warriors realize that potential without regression on defense, the Warriors will be a championship contender.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 23


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Love seeking more play in paint | Report: Noah’s knee may be season-long ‘issue’ | Howard gets a little wistful | Lakers’ Hill returned because D’Antoni left

No. 1: Love looking for more touches in paint — A cursory glance at last night’s box score from the Cavaliers’ game against the Grizzlies in Memphis shows Kevin Love had a decent night for Cleveland — 12 points (on 4-for-9 shooting), eight rebounds, an assist and two steals in roughly 23 minutes. After the game, though, Love told Chris Haynes of The Plain Dealer that he’s looking for more touches in the interior than out on the perimeter to fully get his game back on track for the looming 2014-15 season:

In two consecutive games early in exhibition play against the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, Love appeared to have found his groove, scoring 50 points in total while shooting 17-of-23 from the field.

He was also a blistering nine-of-12 from three-point range in that two-game span.

The All-Star power forward had it going. But aside from those two games, Love averaged 8.5 points, shot 29 percent from the field and was 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Love averaged 3.8 three-point attempts per game, an adequate amount for the former All-Star Weekend three-point champion.

Though he has still found ways to be productive for the Cavaliers, after the 96-92 loss preseason finale loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he told Northeast Ohio Media Group that he needs more looks inside to get his game back.

“My entire life I played the game from inside-out,” Love explained to NEOMG. “So the more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I’m not accustomed to starting out a game shooting a three, so it’s just something that I see.

“I’m 26-years-old and I’ve been playing basketball for quite a long time. Just finding ways to mix it up. If anything, keeping it around the basket a little bit more and the offense will allow me to get offensive rebounds. That will be tough for teams with Andy [Varejao] and myself and Tristan [Thompson] in there.”

His long-ball threat is a valuable weapon; the reason head coach David Blatt is utilizing him in that fashion. Love says the offense calls for him to be out on the perimeter, but he says he has to make sure he remembers to go inside more.

“Yeah, the offense is built that way but I just have to make a conscious decision to get myself in there,” Love said. “There are a lot of times where I just find myself fading to the three-point line. For me, it’s a mentality and that’s easy to fix.

“We’ve been putting in stuff like different pin-downs, cut-across and cross-screens to get me open in there. You’ll see a lot more of that during the season. That’s always how I played and I know that coach wants me to play that way, as well.”


VIDEO: Marc Gasol powers the Grizzlies past the Cavs

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 174) Featuring Bob Ryan

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve been having these arguments for years. In barber shops and sports bars, basement man caves and back porches. No one ever wins or loses either, because the debate never ends.

Would Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell be as dominant today as they were in their day? What about Oscar Robertson today or Shaq, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James back then?

Whose game transcends time?

Everyone will pick Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other members of the NBA’s all-time elite. But for the rest of the mere mortals … who’s to say a great athlete in today’s game would automatically dominate a bygone era when athleticism was not at the premium it is now?

No one can answer with certainty. Educated guesses are still the best anyone can do in this regard.  Unless, of course, you are Bob Ryan, the retired Boston Globe columnist and living and breathing basketball encyclopedia, a man who has literally seen it all, from one era to another and another and another. His new memoir, “SCRIBE: My Life in Sports” is a must read, by the way.

He joins us on Episode 174 of the Hang Time Podcast to stoke the age-old debate we revisit often around here. Whose game could shuffle through time and remain as potent in one dimension as it would in another?  

Dive into Episode 174 to find out where we all stand …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Ezeli return a big moment for Warriors

image

If Festus Ezeli can stay healthy, the Warriors could have three 7-footers to protect the rim. (NBAE via Getty Images)

OAKLAND – Under cover of the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series at the same time, with the Clippers resting Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and the Warriors sitting ill Andrew Bogut and using David Lee for 19 minutes, with everyone ready for the exhibition schedule to be over already, Tuesday night at Oracle Arena unsuspectingly turned meaningful.

Festus Ezeli played, newsworthy in itself given the length of his absence, and on his 25th birthday at that as an added layer to the celebratory mood of getting directions to the court. That he played well, though, was the thing, enough of a development to attach value to a sloppy preseason game, enough to prompt coach Steve Kerr to note that Ezeli “was really aggressive with what he did,” a sign that Ezeli was not shying away from contact inside.

Enough to nudge the jammed Western Conference playoff pack.

It was such a little thing — 11 minutes, just shy of the 12-minute limit imposed by the medical staff, 10 points, three rebounds, four baskets in five attempts, five fouls — and it was just one October outing with months ahead that really count — but it could become such a big thing. And now we’re talking developments.

The thin bench that was part of the Golden State downfall last season remains a concern the week before 2014-15 opens, projected point-guard backup Shaun Livingston may not be back from toe surgery when the season begins Wednesday in Sacramento, and Kerr is facing an Andre Iguodala-or-Harrison Barnes decision for the start at small forward. But if Ezeli can return to his former role of dependable second-string center, the Warriors have a key roster addition when they need it most.

That is obviously a big if. When Ezeli took the court with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter Tuesday, it was his first time in uniform in 17 months, since the Warriors were eliminated in the second round of the 2013 playoffs. No, it was, he said afterward, the first time in any five-on-five run since surgery on two ligaments in the right knee on June 12, 2013, cost Ezeli all last season and inflammation in the lower part of the same right leg took away much of the training camp and preseason that was supposed to be a fresh start.

But if he is healthy, if he can reclaim the 2012-13 form, if he can be depth behind Bogut, the little thing on a baseball night in the Bay Area can grow into something that could be worth enough wins to alter their place in the West. (A season ago, six victories separated four through nine, the difference between home-court advantage in the first round and the lottery.) If not, hello Ognjen Kuzmic and Marresse Speights.

“It’s big,” Kerr said. “Ezeli and Kuzmic. Kuz has really come along this training camp. We’ve given him a lot of time in the exhibition games and he’s performed well. If Festus can make strides… if he can come around physically and we can have three 7-footers who can all protect the rim, then I think we’re in pretty good shape. We would prefer to stay big most of the time. We like to have a rim-protector in there. With three guys, assuming we can count on all three, that protects us against us some injury and foul trouble and that kind of stuff.”

The source of optimism Tuesday night was Ezeli entering late in the first quarter, needing 68 seconds to block a shot by Jared Cunningham as the Clippers guard drove to the rim, another 55 seconds to hit an eight-foot jump hook from the left baseline, and 55 more seconds to finish a pick-and-roll by grabbing an Iguodala lob with both hands and flushing it through the net. The nervousness of making the return with family and friends in attendance as part of the birthday was replaced by a surge of confidence.

“That’s what people have been saying and people always talked about, how light we were at the center position and they didn’t feel we had enough depth there,” Ezeli said. “This team, we feel like we’re pretty decked. We have a pretty nice deck of cards on this team. But they felt like the center position was pretty light. But now, Kuzmic has been working his butt off. I’ve seen him work every day and I’ve been right there with him.

“The good thing about being out so long, I really don’t care what anybody thinks about me anymore. I don’t care because the people that write the articles… and the people that talk about me and put the other people down, nobody was there with me while I was doing my rehab. What they think doesn’t matter. It’s about what we as a team think about ourselves, and we think we’re pretty good and we have a lot of talent on this team. That’s all that matters.”

This will still be a process. Ezeli needs to improve his conditioning the same way all players coming back from extended layoffs do and needs to re-calibrate to the speed of the game — Kerr quickly pointed out that Ezeli picked up so many fouls in a short time against the Clippers “because the game is going to move too fast for him right now.” And it was just one night. Those are the reality checks.

On the other hand, the Warriors could have much-needed bench help and could end up with the important acquisition of a player who officially was always on the roster. Those are the bottom lines, for Golden State and the West.

BOG vote down Draft lottery reforms


VIDEO: Commissioner Silver discusses the owners’ vote

NEW YORK – Dealing with ultra-competitive people who’ve chased down success in both sports and business, vying in an industry with millions and these days even billions of dollars at stake in revenue and franchise valuations, it’s no wonder that every NBA rule on and off the court gets bent nearly to the point of breaking.

So dialing in the right mix of incentives, disincentives and weighted percentages in crafting or reforming a draft lottery is like dribbling through the Chicago Bulls defense – in a minefield of unintended consequences. Veer this way and … kaboom!

That, ultimately, was why a proposal from the league’s Competition Committee to modify the lottery failed to pass at the Board of Governors meeting that concluded Wednesday in midtown Manhattan. A 17-13 vote in favor of some significant changes still fell short of the 23 votes needed, based on the league’s by-laws. The issue goes back to the committee for further study.

“We’ve tinkered with the draft lottery several times,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “I don’t necessarily disagree with the way it works now. I’m concerned with the perception.”

Silver, in fact, considers it a “corrosive perception” held by some fans, media types and people within his own league that teams can win big by losing big.

The essence of a draft is to deliver the best young talent to the neediest team. Yet “neediest team” is a moving target: Sometimes it’s a good team whose star player has gone done for a season – or left for good as a free agent. Sometimes it’s a chronically mismanaged roster full of players who never quite panned out. And still other times it’s a crew in need of serious rebuild whose front office has determined that “tanking” in search of a high draft pick is the surest way out of Stinkville.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the current poster guys for that strategy, using lottery picks on injured Joel Embiid and Euro-stashed Dario Saric one year after adding hurt-and-redshirted Nerlens Noel and finishing 19-63. Other teams such as Milwaukee and Orlando lined up with them – the 15-67 Bucks actually undercut the field in 2013-14 – in pursuit of the same prize.

The sense that one or several of the league’s 30 teams would take the court intending to do anything but win is one that rankles Silver. But for every tweak in the lottery system allegedly keeping teams honest in one direction, there was potential for a different club to game the system in another.

“Whether it’s the case, I’m frankly not sure. Sometimes perception becomes reality,” Silver said. “I think there’s an unfair pressure on some of our teams to actually underperform. There’s a view in those markets that they’re better off performing poorly in order to win in the long-term.”

Teams voted for or against the lottery reforms for other, more specific reasons. Some franchises in small-revenue markets feel they’re at a disadvantage in free agency (luring players) or trades (keeping acquired players long-term. They see the draft – and the rules of rookie contracts that can stretch as long as five seasons, at salaries lower than market value – as an equalizer. Teams in larger markets, with greater pressure from their fan bases to win, may view the draft as rewarding the league’s laggards or, worse, the intentionally bad.

According to Yahoo! Sports, the votes broke somewhat, but not entirely, along market-size lines. The 13 “no” votes reportedly were: Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, Washington and Utah.

The proposals floated this week called for broadening the lottery’s sweet spot and giving more teams a better shot at landing the top picks. In flattening the odds among the teams with the four worst records, the “neediest” team’s chance at the No. 1 pick would have been cut from 25 percent to 12. Also, it would be guaranteed no worse than the seventh pick, rather than fourth in the current system, if its lottery numbers proved unlucky.

“People want a change,” one Eastern Conference GM told NBA.com, “but they weren’t happy with the proposal.”

Other topics addressed at the Board of Governors meeting included:

  • Reports on revenue sharing and the new TV and digital rights extensions with Turner Broadcasting and ABC/ESPN that will pay the NBA $24 billion over nine years beginning in 2016-17, approximately triple what the current deals generate.
  • Discussion about the league’s latest marketing campaign and the status of the Atlanta Hawks’ unsettled ownership situation.
  • Presentations on domestic violence, diversity and other workplace concerns.
  • The extension of Minnesota owner Glen Taylor’s term as Board of Governors chairman for one more year.
  • The establishment of the David J. Stern Sports Scholarship, a $30,000 package based on merit and need for a student in sports management. Included: an internship at the NBA office in New York as a junior and direct mentoring from Stern, who retired as NBA commissioner after 30 years in February. “He was honored, flattered,” Silver said. He’s looking forward to engaging directly with these young students.”

The TV money issue looms large over the next two years because, while the infusion of cash won’t occur until 2016-17, all parties know that it is coming. NBA players already have talked about getting back some of what they felt was sacrificed in the last round of collective-bargaining talks in 2011, when their share of league revenues fell from 57 to approximately 50 percent. Owners reportedly are questioning revenue-sharing arrangements agreed to at about that same time and fine-tuned since.

Silver said Wednesday that one-third of the league’s 30 teams still are not profitable, though he added after the news conference that the onus still is on the individual teams to manage well their business. Some in attendance raised the specter of labor strife again in 2017 when the current CBA can (and likely will) be re-opened, and the possibility of a lockout similar to or worse than 2011 in a squabble over the flood of dollars.

The commissioner wasn’t ready to go there.

“So many great things are happening in this league right now,” Silver said. “Putting money aside, I think the system elements are working in the new collective bargaining agreement. I can’t remember a time when we had so many competitive teams in the league, so much hope in markets throughout the league.

“As I’ve said to the players, from day one when I became commissioner, my focus is on growing the pie. And if we do our job growing the pie, the incremental differences in percentages will be rounding error compared to us both sharing in the success of the league.”


VIDEO: Silver breaks down the new media deals