New situations for second-year players


VIDEO: Learn more about the Greek Freak on ‘Inside Stuff’

What a difference a year makes. And another 60 draft picks. And coaching changes. And trades, free agency and retirement. And medical updates. Especially medical updates.

Paul George getting hurt creates an unexpectedly large opportunity for Solomon Hill with the Pacers, C.J. McCollum gets a training camp in Portland and a running start into 2014-15, Alex Len tries to keep up with the other Suns after missing almost all of a second consecutive summer league because of health problems, and that’s just a partial list. Many of last season’s rookies to watch are this season’s special intrigue, second-year players who will be under a spotlight beyond the usual tracking.

We’re talking playoff implications here and serious questions about career direction. Including:

Victor Oladipo, Magic — Oladipo greatly enhanced his draft stock by dramatically improving his perimeter game as a junior compared to the first two seasons at Indiana, then regressed to 32.7 percent on 3-pointers and 41.9 percent overall as an NBA rookie. That was either a typical difficult transition to the pros, compounded by playing a lot more point guard than before, or the start of chatter that he was a one-hit wonder as a college shooter.

That, in turn, matters in a big way in Orlando. The potential impact of the No. 2 pick in 2013 who at the time projected as a two-way player, based on that final season with the Hoosiers, would be stunted if opponents don’t need to break a sweat when he gets the ball 18 feet from the basket. Beyond that, the Magic need shooters. If Oladipo isn’t one, they need them even more.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — New coach Jason Kidd wants to give Greek Freak, a small forward as a rookie, a look at point guard, despite Kidd’s many options at the positions. There isn’t the same need after adding Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall later in the summer — in addition to returnees Brandon Knight, Ramon Sessions and Nate Wolters — but the implications of Antetokounmpo succeeding or failing at the point are big. If it works, Milwaukee could throw a matchup problem of historic proportions at a opponents and projected power forward Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick of 2014, would have more of an opening to show versatility at small forward.

Cody Zeller, Hornets — When Josh McRoberts went from Charlotte to Miami as a free agent, Zeller went from likely backup to the new starter after a 2013-14 of 17.3 minutes per game and a drop to 13.3 in the first round. He is a good fit next to center Al Jefferson, an athletic power forward to offset the center’s slower pace and post game, a good passer who will find Jefferson and new offensive threat Lance Stephenson, but Zeller needs to produce no matter what to help make the Hornets in a playoff a regular sighting.

Alex Len, Suns — Ankle problems last summer, a fractured right pinkie this summer. The 2014 issue isn’t nearly the concern in Phoenix, but the No. 5 pick in ’13 needs to show he can stay healthy. He played 42 games as a rookie, mostly watching as Miles Plumlee, just acquired from the Pacers, took complete control of the starting job at center. Len has a lot of ground to make up.

Anthony Bennett, Timberwolves — The good news is that the first pick in 2013 does not face the same pressure in Minnesota as he did in Cleveland, not with Andrew Wiggins, No. 1 this year, headlining the package that went to the Twin Cities for Kevin Love. Of course, that’s also the bad news. People are expecting that little of Bennett.

Counting him out after one season, even a season of 4.2 points and 35.6 percent from the field, is a mistake. Bennett may have been the top choice only because it was a bad draft and likely would have gone somewhere around the middle of the lottery this June, and there may still be questions about whom he defends, but this is a bounce-back opportunity. Then it’s up to him.

Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves — Speaking of Minneapolis big-man watches. The difference is Dieng went No. 21, was always going to be a good value pick in that range, and showed the kind of improvement the second half of his rookie season that makes a team look forward to what comes next. Nikola Pekovic, Dieng, Thaddeus Young, maybe Bennett — Minnesota has a chance for a center/power forward rotation.

Ben McLemore, Kings — Sacramento officials couldn’t stop celebrating its good fortune a year ago that McLemore was still on the board at No. 7. Then he was given a clear path to the starting job at shooting guard and couldn’t hold it, finishing at 37.6 percent from the field. Then the same Sacramento officials used the 2014 lottery pick on another shooting guard, Nik Stauskas. While saying all the right things about remaining committed to McLemore, of course.

Solomon Hill, Pacers — Even if Chris Copeland gets the start at small forward in place of the injured George, any measurable bench production from Hill, the No. 23 pick a year ago, will be important. To Indy, of course, in trying to turn longshot hopes for another playoff run into reality, but also to Hill in the wake of getting just 8.1 minutes in 28 regular-season appearances.

C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers — Limited to just 38 games by a broken left foot, a repeat injury from college, he is now an integral part of hopes in Portland. A solid (or better) contribution from McCollum and the Trail Blazers have a proven backup shooting guard who could play emergency point guard. Poor production and the Blazers have more depth problems with a bench built mostly on players trying to squeeze another season or two out of their career or prospects all about unrealized potential.

Trey Burke, Jazz — From the third-leading vote getter for Rookie of the Year, behind Michael Carter-Williams and Oladipo, to possible transition mode within months after Utah spent its 2014 lottery pick on Dante Exum, who has made it clear he is a point guard and wants the ball in his hands. Maybe Burke and Exum play together, especially with Exum projected as being able to defend shooting guard, although he has yet to show the consistent perimeter game to handle the role on offense. Maybe Burke’s relative experience and leadership skills keep him first on the depth chart as Exum makes the jump from high school ball in Australia. But one of the best parts of the Jazz last season is far from locked into the job.

Would be nice if Beasley saga turns happy

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

(Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

Michael Beasley hopes to find a place where he can continue his career. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Heat have seen enough, again. The Lakers granted him a pair of workouts without apparently feeling the need to draw up any paperwork, at least not yet. Now, less than two weeks until training camps open, the San Antonio Spurs, of all teams, will reportedly kick the tires on Michael Beasley.

This is not an over-the-hill vet looking to make it one more season. This is not a medical redshirt who sadly can no longer get up and down. This is a 25-year-old gifted talent who should be enjoying the prime of his professional career. Unfortunately, immaturity derailed it long ago. The former No. 2 overall pick is just trying to stay in the game.

Beasley’s return to Miami last season seemed to be the best landing spot for him, where he could work out of the limelight to build himself up and be mentored by hard-working championship players and coaches. It obviously didn’t go as hoped. Beasley earned early playing time, showed some promise — actually shot it pretty well — but mostly found himself riding the pine. He was an afterthought throughout the playoffs until a desperate Erik Spoelstra down 3-1 to the mighty Spurs reached for Beasley in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

During the Finals I asked Chris Bosh what he made of Beasley’s approach throughout the season and why he thought Beasley wasn’t able to carve out a niche. His answer was disappointing in that it suggested Beasley didn’t put forth, or didn’t understand how to put forth, a full effort to earn those minutes.

“I’ve always been on Beas as far as being a two-way player,” Bosh said. “He needs to play defense and offense. It’s something you’re really not taught early on in your career. But I think for him, just with his athleticism and strength, he can be a phenomenal two-way player. He’s grown quite a bit and he can use all these lessons he’s gathering to really help him in the future.”

Hopefully the 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward has a future in the league. I don’t hold any real affinity for the player, but I’m continually pulled in by his story of hardship, missteps and a perceived — mine, anyway —  ambivalence toward changing his behavior.

He’s had multiple run-ins with the law for marijuana possession, various driving violations (which one stop included possession of a loaded gun) and in May 2013, toward the end of his one tumultuous season with the Phoenix Suns, police investigated an alleged sexual assault. With the Suns, ambivalence so defined his effort on the floor that he was flat-out benched.

Yet even when I spoke to Beasley at the start of the Finals, it was difficult to determine if he fully grasped how close his career was, and is, to plunging off the cliff into basketball oblivion. He did talk about how much he had learned during the season about work ethic, maturity and mental approach on the court and how to live a better life off it from veteran teammates like James and Bosh and Rashard Lewis, and from coaches who worked closely with him like Juwan Howard.

“You have to be men, we’re all men, we’re family men, we have kids and wives and we try to be responsible citizens off the court,” Bosh said. “I think that example, because of who we are, he listens to us and really takes in what we have to say.”

So much cringe-worthy behavior within the sports world has bombarded us in recent months and days that a feel-good story, a story of redemption would be welcomed. The question isn’t whether Beasley has the talent to stick in this league, but rather if he possesses the initiative. He wasn’t mature enough to handle a leading role in Minnesota or Phoenix. He couldn’t carve out a niche as a role player with the Heat.

It takes a lot for a talented, young athlete to exhaust all opportunity. Yet Beasley has reached that point. We’ll see if the Spurs or any other team gives him one more shot, and maybe, just maybe it turns out to be the last one he’ll ever need.

“I think for him to see how a locker room is supposed to be, how winning basketball is supposed to be, I think that’s helped him as far as his mental is concerned to really know how to approach the game,” Bosh said back in June. “I think he’s really come a long way since he’s been here.”

When I left him in San Antonio, Beasley said he believed he matured in his lone season back with the Heat, and that he was certain he would be on an NBA roster this season.

“Definitely,” Beasley said. “There’s still some immaturity about me, but that’s what keeps it light. I’m a goofy, fun-loving guy, I like to think so myself anyway. But you’re definitely going to see a different me.”

It’s still up to Beasley to make believers. It would be nice to believe.

Griffin King of Stars of NBA.com Top 10


VIDEO: The top five players in the Stars of the NBA.com Top 10 poll

By Beau Estes, for NBA.com

For pure entertainment value during a night working at NBA.com/NBA TV, there is nothing more fun than the Top 10. The videos are a sugar rush of dunks, buzzer-beaters and no look passes that spark a roar of post-midnight debate in our highlight room each night.

Letting the fans in on this discourse was the major motivation behind the first ever “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.” We wanted to see which players the fans thought consistently created the best highlights. It was just that simple.

So, as we release the top five players on this list, it seems we’ve learned that the fans are seeing things in much the same way our highlight editors do. Not surprisingly, Lob City’s Blake Griffin grabbed the top spot by a close, but relatively safe margin. The battle for second on the list came down to a pair of MVP’s — Kevin Durant and LeBron James and the margin was razor thin. How thin? Voting closed at midnight last night and at 11:57, with scores of votes counted in the last hour, James and Durant were literally tied. One minute later, in a buzzer-beater of sorts, the ballot below was cast that separated the two stars…

@Plox300, a self-described “spectator,” checked into the game and determined the final order at the last second pushing LeBron ahead of KD. So, thanks to the fans for all the votes throughout the process and without further adieu, here are the final results for the top five of the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

  • 1. Blake Griffin 28%
  • 2. LeBron James 24%
  • 3. Kevin Durant 23%
  • 4. Russell Westbrook 13%
  • 5. Stephen Curry 12%

Earlier this week we released spots 6-10 and they were:

  • 6. DeAndre Jordan
  • 7. Damian Lillard
  • 8. Gerald Green
  • 9. Kyrie Irving
  • 10. Paul George​


VIDEO: The second five in the Stars of the NBA.com Top 10 poll

Blogtable: Worried about Rose yet?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason


Derrick Rose shot only 25.4 percent during his World Cup run. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Derrick Rose shot only 25.4 percent during his World Cup run. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

> Nobody seems all that worried about Derrick Rose, even after an abysmal (statistically speaking) FIBA World Cup tournament. Are you? Why or why not?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m based in Chicago, so yeah, I’m worried. Or rather, I’m surrounded by worry. Bulls fans legitimately wonder if Rose will be able to withstand a full schedule, if he’ll be his old self on the court (or 96 percent, anyway) and – gasp! – what the contingency plan is if he can’t or isn’t. They worry they’ll end up commiserating with Washington NFL fans over their own Robert Griffin III — a meteor-like star who flashes across their sky but falls to Earth too soon. Then again, there is a “rust” factor in play and Rose didn’t stick around long enough last season to entirely work through it. There, is my brow sufficiently unfurrowed?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: You have heard of rust, right? The guy was rusty. He didn’t have his shot. He’s spent practically two years rehabbing two separate knee injuries instead of playing. Check back around the All-Star break and let’s see where he’s at. The biggest positive was that he seemed to be moving well, had a burst, and that’s what’s key. He played, as far as I could tell, with relative abandon, he wasn’t hesitant to cut or jump. So, again, hit me up around the All-Star break.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Whatever worry I have — and I don’t think “worry” is the right word — has nothing to do with the World Cup statistics. I don’t care about his shooting percentage in September. This is a guy coming back after missing a majority of games two seasons in a row. How does the knee feel? How does it respond to playing two games in a row? Is Rose able to burst to the rim? That’s what matters. And that’s why the World Cup, including the exhibitions in North America and the practices along the way, should be viewed as a positive, not a worry.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t buy the theory that the FIBA ball was the primary reason he shot 1-for-19 from 3-point range, but I still wouldn’t be concerned about his numbers. Playing limited minutes as the back-up point guard, he didn’t have much of a chance to get into a rhythm in any of those games. And he knew that running the offense and playing aggressive on-the-ball defense were his primary duties. The key takeaway is that he got some full-speed games under his belt and moved further along in the process of getting back to being All-Star Derrick Rose than he would have if he didn’t play with the national team.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The first thing you have to do is ignore those statistics from the FIBA World Cup. They don’t translate to the NBA for a number of reasons, the most important being the fact that playing that limited time we saw from Rose in Spain is completely out of the question in Chicago. That rust Rose was working to knock off during the World Cup will go into hyperdrive once the Bulls kick off training camp. Rose wasn’t in Spain to show off or to try to get it all back at once. He was playing a role, nothing more and nothing less, and using his time there to round into game ready NBA shape. So no, I’m not particularly worried about Rose based on what I saw from him in Spain. If anything, he looks at least physically ready to return to form. He has plenty of time to sharpen his touch and get his timing down with his Bulls teammates. Plus, Tom Thibodeau was there every step of the way as a U.S. assistant and spoke to us regularly about Rose. If he’s not worried, I’m not worried.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Considering how much time he’s missed the last two seasons, I’m not worried about Rose’s timing being while off playing with people he’s never played with before, or shots that usually go down not going in, or his aggressiveness wavering throughout the tournament. What I was more focused on were those flashes of the old D-Rose — him tipping passes on defense, leading fast breaks, storming his way through traffic to the rim. I suppose it’s a half-full, half-empty type of thing. Call me an optimist, but I think he’s still on the way back, and he’ll get there if we give him time.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m not worried, the main thing is that he made it through unscathed. There’s going to be some growing pains with this recovery period and I’m sure Bulls fans are pleased that the majority of those were on display for Team USA. Yes, he averaged just 5.4 points on 27.3 percent shooting, including 1-for-17 from 3-point range, but he wasn’t playing the pivotal role that he will with the Bulls. The guy hasn’t suddenly lost the ability to play, he’s just dealing with a few minor issues as he works his way back to full confidence. There were enough little highlights in there to show that he hasn’t lost any of his athleticism, don’t worry Bulls fans, things will be OK.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: FIBA and NBA are two very different games, and Rose’s job description with the Bulls is also a lot different from his duties with Team USA. I’m optimistic his time with the national team was a step in the right direction. Not losing any more games is the goal with him.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Let me answer this one by taking us back to 2010, when Derrick Rose played in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, and statistically speaking, wasn’t anything amazing, even though the USA won the tournament. A few months later, he began the season that eventually became his finest, and by the time the 2010-11 calender concluded, he had become the NBA’s youngest-ever MVP. Now, I’m not saying that a tough World Cup performance equals an impressive NBA season, and circumstances are obviously different now since Rose is starting the 2013-14 season coming off of two lost years. But I am saying that we shouldn’t judge a player like Rose from the World Cup. This was true in 2010, and this is especially true now, since unlike his other USA teammates, he used the tournament as a way to get back into the shape and rhythm required for high-level basketball. I’m not worried about Rose — on the contrary, I’m optimistic that he made it out of the World Cup without breaking down and will now head into the regular season with much-needed basketball exposure.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: It’s true that Derrick Rose didn’t have a solid overall tournament and only showcased glimpses of his talent. But, he didn’t have either the role or the space to do more for his team. In Chicago he will have the ball in his hands and can then remind us more of his old self. I’m not worried about his peaks, I’m worried about his valleys, as John Wooden used to say. The knee injuries may not affect his game, but they have affected the time he needs to rest after matches. So, stability is the real test for him.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Worried? Not at all! You have to keep in mind that the guy has been out for almost two seasons. So there is a lot of catching up to do. I think what really mattered in Spain was not the way he played, it was the fact that he played. Every single game. For a guy with Rose’s injury history the schedule was tough, nevertheless he did not sit out one single contest and played without any sign of soreness or problems with his knees. That should be encouraging. And it is.  Of course Rose’s game needs a lot of polishing before the playoffs start. Yes: the playoffs. Because you can be sure, he won’t be there from day one of the regular season. He has not found his rhythm yet, is not really capable of controlling the pace. Offensively he made some wrong decisions; the shot selection was not too good either. But I guess, after two years of absence, that doesn’t come as a surprise. The two weeks in Spain allowed Rose to regain confidence in his body, to get used to serious competition again. I think that’s everything anybody could ask for. So again: I‘m not worried at all.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I believe that he will reach his best level by the start of the season.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA Mexico: For me, doubts about Derrick Rose’s performance continue. It seems the Bulls player still has a certain fear about his physical potential, and thus limits his own talent — the talent that once led him to become an MVP. During the tournament, he wasn’t the player we knew. The old Rose never hesitated when attacking the rim and, above all, used to be explosive and aggressive whenever he touched with the ball. And we did get a couple hints that Rose wasn’t quite himself (yet), when Coach K did not want to overwork or overexpose the Bulls star too early in USAB camp. This provokes great doubts for me in a season where the Bulls have invested so heavily to surround him with talent. However, if he fails to regain that confidence and hasn’t fully recuperated from his injury, it’s tough to see great times ahead.

 

Blogtable: The U.S. vs. the World

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not U.S. players are too dominant on the international stage

> What’s your takeaway from the whooping the U.S. put on the rest of the world at the FIBA World Cup? Is the gap widening again? Time for America to call off the dogs, let even younger guys play? Other thoughts?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: To heck with global supremacy and to heck with calling off the dogs. I favor a young-player Team USA and FIBA tournament in general so as to not expose franchise stars to undue risk of injury or fatigue. Basketball is a worldwide sport, the NBA is a league of nations, and it doesn’t turn on which country in a given year puts together the winningest roster. The Olympics doesn’t even move my needle on this. I’m a big believer in putting the day job first, and the NBA’s investment all around — for owners, for fans, for players — ought to be the 800-pound priority.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The gap has always been wide and likely will be for many years to come just as the U.S. men’s national soccer team remains miles away from contending for the World Cup despite making obvious gains. As for allowing the younger guys to play, I’ve always taken this side. To me it makes little sense for the NBA’s elite players to risk injury in a tournament that, frankly, holds little meaning in this country. Look, the World Cup championship game went up against Sunday NFL games. I haven’t seen the ratings, but I’m guessing they weren’t pretty. Now, having talked recently to Chandler Parsons and hearing his real disappointment at not making the team, I’m not here to tell anyone they can’t participate if they want to. But outside of the Olympics — and even then I’m not beholden to the drum beat that our best players must compete so the U.S. is guaranteed of winning gold — we should open the field to a much wider pool of players who can proudly represent the U.S.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No calling off. Send the best team possible and see who wins. It’s the world championships or the Olympics, not AYSO. If the United States wins for the next 20 years, then the event has served its purpose to determine the best. If someone else wins, the victory will have much more meaning than if it came against the D-League All-Stars or a mix of college players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It just seems that way. There are a lot of reasons why USA never got challenged. The next four or five best teams were all on the other side of the bracket. Spain would have provided a tougher matchup, but crumbled under the pressure of a close game in the quarterfinals. While Serbia was a good team, it had never played the U.S., so that was the first time most of its players had faced that kind of speed and athleticism. And finally, the gold medal game would have been more competitive had the U.S. not shot ridiculously well from 3-point range on that particular night. There’s still a gap in regard to both top-line talent and depth of talent, and Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have done a better job of making the most of that talent than previous regimes had. But the rest of the world certainly isn’t getting worse.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My biggest takeaway is that this rush to judge the team that USA Basketball sent to Spain was as twisted and relentless as anything I’ve seen in two decades in this business. The narrative about this team that was spun before they even left these shores for Spain was pretty comical. No stars = USAB, and more specifically the NBA, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewskiall getting their commeuppance from the rest of the world was pretty much the way I read it. Foolishness. Complete foolishness. The U.S. team was clearly better and deeper than anyone else in the field, including Spain. (I said it here last week.). Even the haters have to face the reality that the U.S. program is once again the measuring stick. The same built-in advantage certain nations have when the FIFA World Cup rolls around is the same decided edge the (wrongly stereotyped ugly) Americans have now when the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics pop up on the summer schedule. The pool of human resources at USAB’s disposal is as deep as it gets and arguably as deep as it has ever been. And some of these so-called future NBA stars or guys who have dominated internationally and could and would do whatever in the NBA are getting hype they don’t deserve. And it showed when they faced the U.S. “C-Team” that quite frankly trounced the competition in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The more I think about it, the less I understand these international competitions. I get it in soccer, when national teams are assembled every few years for the World Cup, because at least in between in soccer we get the Champion’s League, where we see the world’s best teams all compete against each other. And I think that might be a more interesting concept in basketball than a Basketball World Cup, where the Olympics are still considered the marquee tournament. With that said, just because the US breezed through this tournament without much trouble, using a banged-up roster, it’s probably too soon to say the US is beyond reproach. We never did, for instance, have to play against Spain or France, and we came through the tournament’s easier bracket. If there’s anything we should have learned from recent USA Basketball history, it’s as soon as you start thinking you’re untouchable, watch out.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The crazy thing about this World Cup was that this USA team was arguably second or third string and they still cruised. As someone from outside the U.S., representing a country that would receive a beat down if they faced off, I’m not concerned that they cruised through the tournament! I want to see the best players on the planet playing together. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant playing together at 2012 Olympics was incredible to see. I don’t want to see younger guys play to level up the playing field, I want to see the best team come together.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I wrote about this at large for NBA Brasil. The gap is wide again because the rest of the world is in transition from the end of its first true NBA generation to the next wave. Just two years ago, a U.S. team with LeBron, KD, Melo and Kobe took all they could handle from Lithuania and Spain. Guys that have given trouble to the Americans in the past 10 years, like Ginobili, Jasikevicius, Kleiza, Papaloukas and Spanoulis are either retired from their national teams or took the summer off. Also, USA Basketball has done a remarkable job with its program, which sets it apart from everyone else. The rest of the world will come back: France, Serbia, Lithuania, Canada and Australia all have quality generations developing for the next Olympic cycle. But, as long as USAB keeps doing things right, the US will stay on top of it.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although I had expected the US to win the tournament, I was genuinely surprised that a young team without so many of America’s best talents were able to sweep through their competition with such ease. The gap has widened between the USA and the rest of the world for sure, but that is no need for alarm; basketball is a cycle and as a new generation of young international talents mature mature and improve, the gap will be narrowed again. The rest of the world is simply going through a phase where the old ranks (Ginobili’s Argentina, Gasol’s Spain, etc.) haven’t yet made room for the new. I don’t agree that America should call off the big dogs; on the contrary, I want USA to send their best players to the World Cup (which is ALL basketball) instead of the Olympics (where basketball is just one of dozens of sports). The more the US invests in the World Cup, the more the rest of the world will care about it.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: First of all Team USA was lucky not to face Greece, because everybody remembers that “Big in Japan” Greek team back in 2006. Sorry, I had to underline somehow the fact that we were the last country to beat the NBAers. Now, as for the gap-talk, it’s tough to say. On one hand we saw Team USA cruising through the gold medal. On the other hand there is no argument that this was the most FIBA-geared team the Americans have ever assembled. They didn’t thrive playing NBA game style, but they beat the world playing international basketball.  Team USA was so effective because it took bits and pieces from the entire world. These days when international players have become part of the NBA core and more and more European coaches are sitting on NBA benches, we cannot talk about “the gap widening”. The gap is closing in terms of talent, size, coaching and athleticism, but it’s still wide open when referring to administration, planning and management. We really like watching NBA stars on the floor every other summer, so I believe that nothing have to change.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Well, at first sight, it seems like there is no chance that we will see an international team beat the USA in the near future. And I guess that’s true at second and third sight as well. To me, Team USA simply got underestimated this time. People just saw who did not come to Spain and thought, “Well without all the big stars they might be in trouble.” Unfortunately they forgot that the NBA does not only consist of the LeBrons and Durants of this world. The team Coach K took to Spain was still miles deep and incredibly talented. I mean, James Harden, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are among the best players on their respective positions. So that was no Team USA Lite even with LeBron, KD, Paul George and Chris Paul missing. But, I guess you have to keep in mind that the draw kind of twisted the facts. Until the final, Slovenia was the toughest opponent Team USA had to face. At least on paper. All the other big nations played in the other half of the bracket. No one knows if the U.S. had beaten Argentina, Brazil or France as convincingly as they beat the Dominican Republic, Finland or Slovenia. I’m not saying they would have lost, but the games might have been closer. And maybe a final against Spain would have come down to the final minutes, although that’s something we’ll never find out. Nevertheless I don’t think the gap is widening. There’s always been a certain gap as soon as the U.S. sent some of their best players. The athletic advantage is huge. But to me it would be the wrong move to stop sending the best players to a world championship or the Olympics. The big tournaments should have the toughest competition possible. And who knows, maybe one day the United States do get beat by a team like Spain.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I think the United States has re-opened the gap and that has been confirmed during this World Cup. I could see them heading into the Olympics with this group from 2014.

Blogtable: Taking some time off

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason



VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Steve Smith review some big offseason happenings

> We have a little more than a week until training camps start. The NBA offseason: Too long, too short, just right? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: First, I’ll share a secret: Personally, I like covering this sport in the order we get it, as in, preseason is No. 1, followed by regular season, postseason and offseason. Preseason is best for me because it’s NBA spring training — everyone is undefeated, players and coaches aren’t sick of seeing us yet, storylines are fresh. By contrast, the offseason is too much about rumors, unattributed sources and dollars — and little or no basketball. So you can guess my answer: Too long. Since I don’t want a longer preseason, postseason or regular season, however, the only solution is for everyone involved –- players, coaches, fans, media and most of all agents -– to agree to go completely dark for six weeks. Grab much-needed R&R and otherwise, shutter it.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Wow, the offseason sure seemed short from the end of The Finals to the Draft, to Summer League to free agency to international competition. I wouldn’t be opposed to at least thinking about moving the start of the season to late November instead of late October, but here we are, so let’s get it on.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: First reaction: What offseason? (Draft, free agency, summer league, free agency, trades, free agency, World Cup.) Actual reaction: Probably just right. There is enough time for players to participate in some events and still get rest, enough time for teams to make important roster decisions and still market.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I think the length of the offseason is fine, though it might be better if the World Cup was earlier in the summer to give players (and writers!) a little more rest before the start of camp (and to avoid the NFL). I think the schedule itself can be reduced by 10 games (play each team within your conference three times and in the other conference twice) to reduce the number of back-to-backs that each team plays.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Thanks for the reminder wiseguy. Clearly the “offseason” does not exist when you cannot catch a breath between The Finals, NBA Draft, free agency and the neverending spin cycle of summer news. In a summer like this, with an international competition tossed in for good measure … again, the offseason does not exist. But this is the world we live in and the news never seems to stop. I’m old enough to remember the pre-Twitter and Instagram summers when you could go weeks without there being much of a fuss made over NBA players in the offseason. So I remember what it was like when guys weren’t making headlines in August and September for anything other than running afoul of the law. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the way things are now. Basketball truly never stops. Even the horrible headlines (Hawks/Ferry, insert player name sends out nutty Tweet or Instagram post, etc.) aren’t enough to make me want to climb in that DeLorean and go back to the way things used to be.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh man, it is perfect. The Finals end, and there’s a sprint up to the Draft, and then there’s the free agency frenzy, and then the summer leagues. This summer, with the FIBA stuff, there was less down time than normal, but those few weeks give everyone a chance to exhale, to sit on the couch and watch some college football and NFL and baseball pennant races (well, unless you’re a Braves fan), and then all of a sudden the NBA is there in your face again. I still wish the season had fewer games, so the quality of the product would be a little better, but all in all, I can’t complain. The NBA is basically a year-round sport. And it’s almost time to tip again, kids.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: It’s just right. It’s certainly not too long anyway. With the draft, Summer League, training camp and anything else that comes along the time flies. No need to extend or shorten it. The season is long enough as it is but that’s a debate for another time.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: For basketball fans, it sure worked out great! Just a couple weeks without hoops. For the players, especially the ones that went to the World Cup, though, it’s definitely too short. I wouldn’t mind if the offseason was a little longer, for the sake of players’ health.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: I think the length of the offseason is just right; it just feels shorter because of the 24/7/365 news coverage that closely follows the NBA (which I like) through the lottery, the draft, the summer league, training camp, and everything else. And of course, this being the summer of the World Cup, the offseason felt even shorter. Any more time off will make the resting players too rusty, and any little time off will be asking for too much from the already overplayed athletes. On another related note, I do wish that the actual NBA season was a little shorter — not in length but in number of games played per team. But that is another discussion for another day …

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Just right! You know “resting is part of the training”. You have to have some days off to take your mind away, to rest, to let your body heal. I am talking about athletes and coaches, not for the fans, who I’m sure would love a 12-month season. But, the players have to rest and the teams to prepare for next season.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Almost five months. That’s quite some time and I would be lying if I said that I don’t miss the NBA. But as much as we would love to see more NBA-basketball during the summer months, I think the players just need their time off. They have such a tough schedule as it is right now. On the other hand by extending the season without adding extra games it might be possible to get the players more rest during the season which again might prevent some of the wear & tear we have seen in the past. So personally I wouldn’t mind a shorter offseason. But only if there aren’t added any extra games in exchange.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I think it is too long, but it is understood because it is that players arrive on optimum conditions in the regular season.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Atlanta mayor wants to keep Hawks in city | Report: Nowitzki to play in EuroBasket | LeBron banner may return to downtown Cleveland | Zeller hopes to start for Celtics

No. 1: Atlanta mayor determined to keep Hawks in city — The Atlanta Hawks are in a state of flux in many ways off the court (which our David Aldridge spelled out excellently in his most recent Morning Tip column) due to recent comments from GM Danny Ferry and an e-mail from owner Bruce Levenson. Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves are moving out of the city limits to a new stadium in the suburbs in the coming years and, just three years ago, the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg. As Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is determined to not let another team (namely the Hawks) leave the city limits, even if it means the city has to help the team out:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has already seen two professional sports franchises leave the city limits during his administration, is determined not to let a third get away.

Reed said Tuesday that the city will play a role in the sale of the Hawks and that he has committed to keep the NBA franchise in Atlanta even if that means anticipated public assistance.

The controlling interest in the Hawks – which Reed revealed to be 50.1 percent – is at stake after co-owner Bruce Levenson announced last week that he will sell his share in the team after he admitted writing a racially-charged email in 2012. The email was discovered after an independent investigation into racist comments made by general manager Danny Ferry during a conference call with ownership and management in June. Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence.

The revelations of the words of Levenson and Ferry have set off a firestorm that has engulfed the Hawks franchise. New ownership is inevitable. So is uncertainty about the Hawks future.

Reed pledged public money to keep the Hawks in Atlanta. He said the city was prepared to spend between $150 and $200 million to keep the Braves. The sale of Turner Field would provide further assistance.

“We also have an interest in making sure that the new buyer wants to keep the team in the city and in the city,” Reed said. “Let me be clear what that means — in the city and in the city. That means that a prospective owner that receives my support, and I believe the support of the Atlanta City Council, will make a long-term commitment to keep the Atlanta Hawks in the city of Atlanta and will make a long-term commitment not to move the franchise.”

Reed, flanked by area civil and human rights leaders and Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, said the city’s interest in the sale centers on the fact it owns Philips Arena and its approximate $124 million debt. Reed said he spoke to at least six prospective buyers, all of whom had the financial ability to buy Levenson’s 24 percent stake. However, with fellow Washington-based co-owners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman also intending to sell, the available percentage is now more than half of the franchise.

Reed said that Atlanta-based ownership of Michael Gearon Jr., Michael Gearson Sr. and Rutherford Seydel currently intend to keep their stake in the team.

Reed, who would not reveal those interested in buying the Hawks, said he expects the sale process to move quickly. The NBA has hired an investment banking firm that will vet all potential buyers. Reed said he is scheduled to meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Sept. 26.

Ensuring a diverse ownership group is important, Reed said. The mayor was in China last week and spoke to a businessman there interested in buying Levenson’s 24 percent share and said that he wanted at least five percent of the stake to be minority ownership.

Still, Reed said, “My sense is some assistance will be needed from the city of Atlanta in one form or another.”


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s recent comments  

Happy 80th, Elgin Baylor!


VIDEO: Relive the storied career of Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor turned 80 Tuesday, which means the NBA’s love affair with verticality unofficially is approaching its 56th birthday. The Hall of Fame forward – whom Lakers teammate Jerry West considers the most underrated player in league history – arrived in Minneapolis as the No. 1 pick in the 1958 draft. He brought with him a style Doc Naismith couldn’t have imagined back when he hung up his first peach baskets.

The lineage of acrobatic, balletic, above-the-rim basketball players can be traced back through Michael Jordan and Julius Erving and Connie Hawkins, directly to Elgin Baylor. With shoulder fakes, a rocking dribble and a head twitch that some labeled a tic, the 11-time All-Star forward baffled opponents and invented moves nightly. At 6-5, he snatched rebounds like men a half-foot taller.

“If Julius Erving . . . is a doctor, then Elgin Baylor was a brain surgeon when he played,” teammate Rod Hundley said.

That’s an excerpt from a February 1994 profile of Baylor I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The NBA All-Star Game was headed to the Twin Cities that winter, 34 years after Baylor and the Lakers had left town for sunny California. Baylor, then 59, was the last active member of the Minneapolis Lakers when he retired in 1971 and, long before Timberwolves Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, he remains the greatest NBA star to slip away from the league’s hinterlands.

If only Baylor had logged a couple more seasons in Minnesota, the NBA’s and the Lakers’ futures might have been dramatically different, given his game and his gate appeal:

Baylor played in the second NBA game he ever saw, and scored 25 points in the season opener. He had an uncanny ability to make adjustments in mid-air. He manipulated the ball with one hand at a time when most players still used two and, foreshadowing Moses Malone, he often grabbed his own missed shots for second and third chances. Always he was cool, never revealing his emotions on the court.

“Elgin Baylor has either got three hands or two basketballs out there,” New York’s Richie Guerin griped after a game at old Madison Square Garden. “It’s like guarding a flood.”

The Lakers began the season on financial probation, with the NBA threatening to take over the franchise if it didn’t average $6,600 in home gate receipts. It never happened; the team’s attendance soared from 2,790 the year before to 4,122 in 1958-59. The Lakers’ record improved to 33-39, and they reached the Finals for the first time since 1954. Baylor was Rookie of the Year, averaged 24.9 points and 15 rebounds, scored 55 points in one game and shared the MVP award in the All-Star Game with St. Louis’ Bob Pettit.

In that ’94 interview, Baylor talked about the concept of “hang time,” and how his horizontal might have been more impressive than his vertical:

“I think this: I’ve watched Jordan and Julius and everybody,” Baylor said. “I don’t think anyone stays up in the air longer than anyone else. When you’re driving to the basket, it’s a broad jump instead of a vertical leap. . . . And a lot of times, you get the guy to commit himself and he’s up in the air, and you’re just getting ready to go up. It’s the illusion.”

 

Morning shootaround — Sept. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Thompson seeks early extension | Hollins expects KG to suit up for Nets | Pelicans’ stars finally get healthy | State of FIBA after the World Cup

No. 1: Report: Thompson wants max extension early — The NBA offseason didn’t get off to the greatest start for Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson. He often found his name bandied about in trade talks as Golden State made a charge to land Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. But Love eventually settled in Cleveland via a trade with Minnesota and Thompson had an enjoyable (and productive) couple of weeks as a standout performer for Team USA as it rolled to the gold medal in the FIBA World Cup. Thompson is still on his rookie deal and the Warriors have until Oct. 31 to sign him to a contract extension. Sam Amick of USA Today reports that Thompson’s agent is seeking that payday and Thompson, for his part, wants no part of leaving Golden State:

Thompson and the Warriors have until Oct. 31 to agree on an extension that would ensure the “Splash Brothers,” as he and All-Star point guard Stephen Curry have been dubbed, are in the same pool for years to come. Failing to reach a deal would mean he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer, a scenario that Thompson and his agent, Bill Duffy, would prefer to avoid.

Yet Duffy is widely known to be demanding a maximum contract that the Warriors would prefer not to pay. His reasoning? He sees Thompson as the best shooting guard in the game.

“I don’t want (Los Angeles Lakers star) Kobe Bryant to go crazy, but there’s some uncertainty as to who he is right now (because of injuries that limited him to six games last season),” Duffy told USA TODAY Sports. “But I think Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball. I think when you look at his body of work, when you look at what he accomplished guarding point guards on a regular basis (last season), I think it’s pretty clear.”

Truth be told, he may be right.

“I’ve been telling him (he’s the best two-way shooting guard) for a couple of years now,” said Mychal Thompson, who has the unique distinction of being on both sides of the argument as Klay’s father and an ex-Laker and longtime commentator for Bryant’s team. “Everybody knows that he can score, but I always told him I’m so proud of how he takes so much pride in defense as he does with scoring.”

Warriors owner Joe Lacob preferred not to discuss the extension situation but made it clear that Thompson is seen as a major priority for their program. As he pointed out, the organization has been making moves with Thompson in mind for quite some time now. In March 2012, they traded Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks not only to land center Andrew Bogut, but also to make room for Thompson during his rookie season.

“We love Klay,” Lacob said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports. “He is clearly an integral part of our team and our future. I remember sitting courtside at Stanford Pac-12 games watching Klay at (Washington State) for three years. I thought he could be a prototype big shooting guard in the NBA and we targeted him in the draft and were ecstatic to be able to draft him at (No.) 11 in the first round.

“We traded an excellent guard freeing up a starting spot for him and, as is known, despite many requests from other teams over the last few years, we have continued to bet on his continued development. We are very proud that he is a Warrior and also of his major contribution on this year’s USA Basketball team. We are looking forward to a great year for Klay, the Splash Brothers and the Warriors.”

Being a part of trade rumors is part of the unofficial job description in the NBA, but this was different. Not only did the Warriors-T’wolves situation drag on for more than a month, but the early indications that Golden State had been willing to trade Thompson were followed, in the end, with a hard stance that they simply wouldn’t give him up. One national report indicated that Thompson was angry about it all, though he said that’s not the case.

“I wasn’t really pissed,” Thompson said. “I was more just worried about being traded, just because I’m so comfortable in the Bay. I think that’s natural for anybody (to not want to) just get up and move. I mean it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it’s a business, and I’m still playing ball for a living.

“I was more happy when they showed faith in me that they didn’t want to budge and trade me for a guy (in Love) who’s a multiple all-NBA guy and a proven All-Star. I thought that was really cool that the Warriors believed in my potential.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com takes a look at Klay Thompson and Steph Curry’s play on the FIBA stage  

GLAAD honors Warriors president Welts

It is nearly 3 ½ years later. Jason Collins, an NBA center hoping to squeeze another season or two from the twilight of his career, has come out. Michael Sam, a successful college player trying to make it in the NFL, has since announced he is gay. Robbie Rogers, an American soccer player in England and later to return to the United States with the Los Angeles Galaxy, has made the same declaration.

2014 GLAAD San Francisco Gala

Jarron Collins and Rick Welts attend the 2014 GLAAD San Francisco Gala at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square on Sept. 13, 2014 in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by Trisha Leeper/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Now Warriors president and chief operating officer, Rick Welts looks back without regret that he came out in a May 2011 front-page story in the New York Times, as the first prominent North American sports figure to publicly disclose his homosexuality. He looks ahead with optimism while seeing work still ahead before gay athletes and officials find true acceptance. In between — in the moment — he remains in the role he not only accepted but embraced at the time of his historic announcement: a leading voice whenever the topic enters the public conversation.

Welts was honored Saturday in San Francisco with the Davidson/Valentini Award by GLAAD as what the advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues called the “LGBT media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality for the LGBT community.” The presenter? New Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins — Jason’s brother.

Welts, who rose from ball boy with the Seattle SuperSonics to executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the NBA and later president and chief operating officer of the Suns, couldn’t help but notice the sports world he helped pave, as he noted in a conversation in advance of the award ceremony.

NBA.com: What does something like that mean to you, to be put on that plateau, to be put on that podium, for the work that you’ve done?

Welts: I don’t know. It’s actually a really great opportunity to kind of reflect back over what I think has been just a remarkable time on our country’s history. For me, since I made my announcement in May of ’11, there’s no way I could have foreseen or anybody could have foreseen the transformation in our society over that period of time in regards to a whole number of issues.

I’m really proud of the NBA on that night. I’m obviously humbled by being selected for the honor, but the cooler thing for me is that I’m not sure what we’re going to do on Saturday night can be replicated in any other league. We have an openly gay president of an NBA team being presented by one of our team’s assistant coaches who happens to be the twin brother of the first male professional athlete to come out during his career, Jarron Collins. That’s a rare combination of events and personalities that kind of come together. I’m really proud of our league. I’m really proud of where the NBA is and will be on this issue and I think that it speaks volumes about the leadership in our league and its vision for what sports leagues can be and should be. If anything, that’s probably what I take away the most pleasure in.

NBA.com: One thing I’ve always noted is that stepping into this role as almost a spokesman for the whole movement, it’s not just something you have accepted, it’s something that you really seemed to have embraced. Where did that come from? Is that something you always wanted to have once you decided to come out or is that just how it evolved?

Welts: It was part of the thought process in deciding to undertake my journey the way I did. When I was thinking about this, I remember in January of 2011 asking one of my longest-standing friends and who I consider to be the smartest guy in the PR business, Dan Klores, when I was in New York.

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was a snowy night on the Upper East side. We got together for dinner. I said, “Dan, here’s what I’m thinking about. But I’m too close to it. I could do this a number of ways. I could just take care of this privately with friends, family and co-workers and accomplish basically what I want to. But you need to help me understand if there’s a bigger story here and whether or not I could do more good by telling it another way.” That night, he looked across the table at me and said, “If you’re really prepared to do this, I think it’s Page A-1 New York Times.” That was kind of my “Oh, (shoot)” moment, excuse my French. I was kind of like, “Wow. Really? OK.”

And then over the ensuing few months I got introduced to a brilliant writer at the New York Times, Dan Barry, and talked about how the story could be told in a very thoughtful way and enlisted from Bill Russell to Steve Nash to David Stern to tell the story of someone about nobody in the sports world would really know: me. I don’t play, I don’t coach, I’ve devoted my life to this business but hearing about me through names that everybody that’s associated with sports would know is a great way to really put a circle around the announcement and to hopefully create some really substantive discussion about those issues in men’s pro sports, which has trailed — still trails, but I think we’re catching up a little bit — the country in terms of attitude and environments that are created in the workplace.

So, yeah, it’s what I signed up for. I embrace it and I’m incredibly gratified to see with amazement what’s happened since then. Not everybody gives Robbie Rogers enough credit, who is on the U.S. national soccer team and was a European soccer player at the time he made his announcement, now plays for the Galaxy. Jason Collins, obviously. Just an incredibly amazing act of strength to do what he did when he did it and the way he did it. And Michael Sam that we’re all rooting to find a job. But also we’re reading about college athletes and high school athletes who are taking those steps very courageously to make this something that we have to talk about. The more we talk about it, the better we understand it.