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Crawford reflects on old, ushers in new

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime talks with Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Rarely does a player get to know his team’s owner (let alone become friends) before the owner actually becomes the owner.

But that is the case with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. His Seattle roots afforded him the opportunity years ago to cultivate a relationship with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. This, of course, was long before Ballmer, a 6-foot-5, bounding ball of infectious energy, ever dreamed he’d cough up $2 billion to buy one of the all-time sad-sack organizations in all of sports.

“We’ve done a lot of [charity] events together in Seattle, so I’ve known him before he was actually the owner,” Crawford said. “We were texting throughout the year and emailing each other and staying in contact and continuing to work together with charities around Seattle. It’s exciting. I don’t know how many people have actually known their owner before they actually played for the team they were on. So it’s pretty cool.”

Times they a-changin’ in Clipperland and Crawford is singing Ballmer’s praises and predicting heady days ahead for the franchise. In his final years, disgraced owner Donald Sterling had finally started to loosen his air-tight grip on the purse strings, allowing for All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to sign long-term deals and to bring in coach Doc Rivers. It hardly made up for decades of valuing frugality over winning, but it does set up Ballmer well to elevate the Clippers into perennial contenders.

The 6-foot-6 Crawford, who averaged 18.6 ppg and shot 36.1 percent from deep in his 14th season, has been telling his teammates what they can expect from their new owner.

“I just told them he’s very open-minded, he’s very ambitious and aggressive,” Crawford said. “He’s someone who’s also there to have your back, always positive energy, positive reinforcement. He’s someone obviously that is a huge, huge, huge fan of basketball. He didn’t just buy the team to be profitable; I think he’s doing OK without owning the team. I think it’s more so staying connected and he loves the game, enjoys the game.

“In this league, you only get a certain number of chances to really go after it and when you have those moments you have to take advantage and be aggressive in those times, and I think that is exactly what he’ll do. If we feel like we need to add a piece or we need to add this or that, going over the luxury tax or any other restrictions or trying to be cautious about different things, that’s not him. He’s aggressive and he’s going to go after it.”

Crawford, 34, recently got married and this week he and his bride are honeymooning in Kauai. Then it’s back to Los Angeles to begin working out with teammates as the official countdown to training camp begins. Before flying out over the Pacific, Crawford granted NBA.com a few minutes to reflect on the early days of the Sterling controversy and where the Clippers could be headed under Ballmer.

NBA.com: What did last month’s sale of the team, the ending of the Sterling era, signify to you?

Crawford: Now we can focus on what’s important, and that’s trying to put one of the best teams on the floor, trying to play for one of the best organizations out there and trying to win a championship. Everything else is behind us and we can move forward. I think it’s kind of, in a way, a fresh start for everyone. We’re all excited about moving forward.

NBA.com: We had heard through the court proceedings that Doc Rivers wasn’t sure if he’d return if Sterling remained the owner when the 2014-15 season started. What do you think the players’ response would have been had the sale not gone through?

Crawford: At that point, if the sale didn’t go through, we would have to revisit it and all decide collectively what we were going to do. But I’m sure everything would be on the table at that point.

NBA.com: Was the day the Sterling tapes came out one of those days you’ll never forget where you were or what you were doing when you heard the news?

Crawford: For sure, it was a monumental time. I’ve said if you want to work on your jumper, you can get some extra shots up, or if you want to be a better ballhandler, you can put some cones down and go through drills, but to actually go through what we went through, there’s no guide or manual for that. You just have to go through it and lean on your faith and fight through it and lean on each other. I think we did a good job of that. We handled it the best we could, especially having Doc as the leader and the voice for us, I think that made our jobs a whole lot easier. Because here we are, we’re worried about Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and those guys and we have to deal with that; but it’s something I think that brought us closer together and hopefully we can use that this season and really continue to lean on each other and move forward.

NBA.com: The news broke in the middle of the first-round playoff series against Golden State. The Clippers managed to win in seven games, but how difficult was it to focus on playing the games?

Crawford: It was a nightmare because you got to think there’s 15 personalities [on the team], and the coaching staff and then your family’s opinion, they all weigh in, and everybody has an opinion and before you know it, it wasn’t just about basketball and things of that nature and just our team anymore. In 24 hours the whole world had an opinion about it. You’re trying to take naps and stuff and get your rest, and you can’t even get some sleep because you feel like, ‘how can I play for someone like this?’ There were so many different emotions. I think getting to lean on each other, having Doc at the helm to kind of be our voice so we could concentrate the best we could was probably the best decision we made.

NBA.com: Did your emotions run the gamut from day to day?

Crawford: Yeah, I’m human. You’re angry, you’re disappointed, you’re sad, you’re confused. There’s just so many different emotions. And then when you let people inside that world, inside that circle, you start thinking even more. I think we just leaned on each other. We tried to block everything else, the rest of the world and lean on each other, the 15 guys in that locker room and our coaching staff and we did what we felt was right.

NBA.com: All that is in the rearview mirror now. There’s been some turnover, players lost and added. Do you like how the roster has evolved?

Crawford: We have a year under Doc’s system, another year he knows us. Obviously losing [Jared] Dudley, he was a guy who started half the season, he spread the floor, he guarded tougher guys, so you always hate to lose guys. We also lost [Darren] Collison, we lost [Danny] Granger, we lost Ryan Hollins. But in return you gain Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, C.J. Wilcox. And another year of having the core guys together, hopefully health is on our side. Last year I missed a little over a month, Chris [Paul] missed a little over a month, J.J. [Redick] missed a couple months. If we can keep those guys together, Doc knows us, we know him, we know what to expect, he knows what to expect from us, and to keep trucking I think sometimes you need a little bit of luck in those situations and we’ll be ready to go.

NBA.com: There’s very little room for error in the Western Conference. How do you see the race developing this season?

Crawford: I think last year only two teams record-wise in the East would have even of made the playoffs in the West and that was Miami and Indiana, so it’s the wild West, that’s for sure. I think you had the ninth-place team approaching almost 50 wins in the West, that’s tough. It’s really open. We all understand San Antonio is the top dog, they’ve been that way, they’ve been a staple pretty much the last decade and a half. We all understand that and they’re going to be there in the end just like always, they find ways. With us, OKC, Golden State is a good team, Phoenix is on the rise, there’s so many good teams. Denver will probably be healthy this year. It will be a dogfight. Memphis will be there. It will be a dogfight, that’s for sure. We just know if we focus on what we need to do, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

NBA.com: What did you think of LeBron James returning to Cleveland and Kevin Love joining him? And any other story lines pique your interest?

Crawford: I think it’s really cool he gets the chance to go home and end it the way it started. He means more to Cleveland than just a superstar athlete, so for him to have the opportunity to go back in his prime and go back and do good things on and off the court, I think that’s great, I’m happy for him. Kyrie [Irving], Dion Waiters, [Anderson] Varejao is still there; especially in the East that’s a team that can win a lot of games. Then you throw in Chicago, if they stay healthy. Miami is re-tooling a little bit and I think D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] is going to play like he has something to prove. [Chris] Bosh, you’ll probably see more of him like he was with the Raptors, more of a focal point, so I think it’s going to be fun. Just seeing Kobe back, I’m a huge Kobe Bryant fan, so seeing him back healthy, I think he’s good for sports, period, not just the NBA because everybody wants to see the Kobe show.

There’s so many different stories this season and I think that’s really, really cool. I just want everybody to be healthy because it evens the playing field. It makes the game more exciting and I think it’s good for the league and good for the fans.

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

More Summer Dreaming: MVP | Coach | DPOY | Sixth Man | Most Improved | Rookie

Now we’re into the part of our Summer Dreaming series where we’ve saved everybody eight months of waiting and handed out all of the official NBA awards for 2015. Next up is a look at a few off-the-record categories, starting with Comeback Player of the Year, which the league has not handed out since the 1984-85 season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant showed some magic before his injury last season

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — Go ahead, point to those 36 candles he just blew out on his birthday cake. Point to the torn Achilles’ tendon, the fractured kneecap, more miles on his body than an old pickup truck. But you might want to do that pointing from a distance, because the most relentless, driven, refuse-to-face-reality player in the league is apt to bite off that finger. There are all sorts of reasons to doubt that he can return as the player he once was. But, truth is, he won’t even try. While he’s got to carry the load for this revamped — OK, stripped-down-for-spare-parts Lakers team — he’s likely to do it closer to the basket. New coach Byron Scott wants Kobe to use his post skills and smarts to go to work on the inside and put less wear and tear on his body. It’s not likely that Bryant can work miracles and get the Lakers to the playoffs. But he’ll show a lot more than anybody has a right to expect from a  player in his 19th NBA season.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011

Derrick Rose, Bulls — How quickly they turn. In 2011 he was the toast of Chicago as the youngest player ever named MVP. They were starting to line up artists to create the statue that would go up next to Michael Jordan outside the United Center one day. Now Rose has played just 10 games in the past two seasons due to injuries to both knees and a lot of the so-called loyalists are ready to turn the page and call him injury-prone. Remember, though, that he’ll be just 26 in October and that puts him a decade ahead of Kobe Bryant … plenty of time to return to form. He’s coming back to a team that’s added Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott to a core of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. It says here that playing with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup will prove to be a benefit in the long run, getting Rose needed minutes and a chance to get back on track before dueling it out with LeBron James and the Cavs for Eastern Conference supremacy.


VIDEO: A coaching change in Brooklyn could be right to Brook Lopez’s liking

Brook Lopez, Nets – A broken right foot last December sidelined him for the season. A short time later then-coach Jason Kidd went to a small-ball lineup that turned the Nets’ season around and got them to the playoffs. But Kidd is gone to Milwaukee, replaced by Lionel Hollins, who got the most out of the Grizzlies by going into the low post with the grind-it-out talents of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Lopez is Hollins’ kind of center, a big man with solid fundamentals who knows his way around the basket. Lopez has reportedly dropped 15 pounds during his rehab, looking noticeably lighter and a bit quicker in workouts. However, you can expect Hollins to slow the pace of the offense and make the most of Lopez’ ability, especially at the defensive end.


VIDEO: Al Horford sat down with NBA.com’s Sekou Smith early last season

Al Horford, Hawks — Just when the hard work was starting to pay off with back-to-back selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2010 and 2011, Horford virtually lost of two of the next three seasons due to an unusual injury — torn pectoral muscles, left side in 2012 and right side in 2013. In his absence, first-year coach Mike Budenholzer got the Hawks to buy into his share-the-ball beliefs that he brought over from San Antonio, and that got Atlanta into the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Hawks have definitely overpaid to put Thabo Sefolosha out on the floor as a needed wing defender. But if they’re going to take a step back up in the improving Eastern Conference, it will be Horford getting back to his old double-double self (17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds per game) from the 2012-13 season. His injuries have definitely drawn less attention then Bryant, Rose and maybe even Lopez, but his loss was just as significant to his team.


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert was a Defensive Player of the Year nominee

Roy Hibbert, Pacers — No broken bones, no torn ligaments, just a shattered confidence and reputation and a franchise left in pieces. Hibbert’s crisis of self-doubt resulted in his game falling faster than a piano off the rooftop of a skyscraper. When he was one of the league’s top rim-protectors in 2012-13, Hibbert solidified the Indiana defense, enabling the Pacers to sniff at the heels of the then-defending champion Heat. When he felt neglected in the offense over the second half of last season, the Pacers were a disjointed mess. Now they’ve lost the injured Paul George, likely for the season, and Lance Stephenson took the free-agent dollars and fled to Charlotte. That means the Pacers clearly don’t have the talent to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference. Still, this is an opportunity for Hibbert to accept the challenge and the burden as a leader and to start to lay a new foundation for the future. This time, at least, he should get his shots.


VIDEO: Deron Williams turns around Chris Paul in this play from 2013-14

Deron Williams, Nets — It wasn’t that long ago when some scouts would have tabbed Williams as the best all-around point guard in the league. He has size, the ability to break down defenses and he can both get to the rim and nail his open jumpers. But that hasn’t been on display much since he joined the Nets. Now the soon-to-be 30-year-old is trying to overcome a series of ankle surgeries that have clearly slowed him down and made his whopping contract one of the most unrewarding in the league. New coach Hollins is not one to baby his players. He’ll lean heavily on Williams to run the offense and be the leader. But a slower tempo could be just what’s needed for a return to previous All-Star form.

Varejao feeling healthy after tough four years without LeBron

Anderson Varejao hopes to remain healthy as he competes with Brazil. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

Anderson Varejao is using the FIBA World Cup to prepare for a title run with the Cavaliers. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

GRANADA, SPAIN – Derrick Rose isn’t the only player looking to use the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup as a springboard to a healthier and more successful NBA season for a title contender.

Cavs center Anderson Varejao would love to put some injury issues behind him as well. In the four years since LeBron James left Cleveland, Varejao, who turns 32 later this month, has averaged just 37 games per season, dealing with injuries to his upper and lower body.

James is back and Kevin Love has arrived. With Kyrie Irving and a bunch of shooters, the Cavs’ offense should be ridiculously good. But their defense will ultimately determine how far they go, and Varejao will be a big part of their success on that end of the floor.

With Mike Brown on the bench and Varejao playing 65 games last season, the Cavs improved from 27th to 17th in defensive efficiency. And they allowed 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Varejao on the floor than they did with him on the bench.

The Cavs lack rim protection, but the last two seasons in which they had James and (a healthy) Varejao together, they ranked in the top 10 defensively. Brown was the coach then. David Blatt, who has had strong defenses with the Russian National Team, is the coach now.

As Blatt gets ready to put his new super team together on both ends of the floor, Varejao is in Spain with his Brazilian national team, a contender for a World Cup medal. Brazil is in a tough Group A, where it will play Spain on Monday (4 p.m. ET).

In Granada, after a win over Iran on Saturday, Varejao spoke with NBA.com about his health and the upcoming season.

NBA.com: How do you feel now compared to the last couple of years?

Varejao: I feel pretty good. I feel like I’m 100 percent. I feel like I’m moving a lot better. I’m healthy. I feel like I’m in shape. So this helps a lot.

Does this tournament really help you get your legs back and get back in basketball shape?

Varejao: Yes, it does. I believe the preparation that we had was about 40 days. And now we have the tournament. I just want to stay healthy.

How do you look back at the last four years, not only not playing with LeBron, but not being able to play a full season?

Varejao: Tough four years for me. It was very tough on me. It wasn’t easy, because every year that I was doing well, people were talking about All-Star, this and that, and then I would get hurt. So it wasn’t easy, but it’s all past now. The good thing is that I’m in shape, I’m healthy, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

How good can the Cavs be defensively?

Varejao: To me, defense is all about effort. If we put effort in, I believe we could do really well.

Have you talked to David Blatt?

Varejao: I did when he signed. I spoke with him during the soccer World Cup. I was in Brazil and he called me. I spoke with him once.

What do you know about him?

Varejao: I know that he’s a winner. He won the Euroleague last year. When he was with Russia he beat Brazil in the Olympics. With six seconds left in the game, they beat us.

He’s a good coach. He’s a winner. Everybody that I asked about him said good things about him. Anthony Parker played for him [at Maccabi Tel Aviv]. He said he’s one of the best human beings that he’s met and he’s a great coach.

Do you feel like you fit pretty well with Kevin Love on the frontline?

Varejao: I feel like I have to do what I always did when I played with LeBron, set screens, roll to the basket, be ready whenever I have a chance to go to the basket, play defense and rebound.

Durant confirms commitment to Nike

NBA.com staff reports

Kevin Durant‘s shoe-contract saga is over and the 2014 NBA MVP is staying with Nike, as first reported by Darren Rovell and Marc Stein of ESPN:

Maryland-based apparel giant Under Armour reportedly offered Durant a mammoth contract in hopes of luring him away from Nike. But it’s hard to overpower the Swoosh.

Durant is represented by Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports.

 

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 30


VIDEO:

NEWS OF THE MORNING
World Cup kicks off | Team USA better than 2010? | Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons cut from Team USA | Deron Williams on the mend

No. 1: So much to watch as World Cup is finally here — The best basketball outside the NBA gets under way Saturday with the start of the World Cup in Spain. The host country and the United States, despite LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other All-Stars sitting this one, are the favorites for gold. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann is on the scene:

The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.
Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.

There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.
There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.

There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas.

There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.

There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.

There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.

There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.

Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait for the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.

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No. 2: Colangelo: Team USA “by far” better than 2010 — Team USA is the youngest group of players to represent the country since NBA players started playing in international competition in 1992. Despite their youth and some of the U.S.’s top players sitting this one out, Team USA brass is convinced this squad is even better than the 2010 version that won gold. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has the story:

The 12 players representing the United States at the FIBA World Cup that starts this weekend comprise the youngest team fielded by USA Basketball since NBA players were ushered into the international game in 1992.

When it opens Group C play here Saturday night against Finland at the Bizkaia Arena, Team USA ‎will sport an average age of just above 24 years old.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo are nonetheless convinced that the 2014 squad begins the tournament in better shape than the 2010 group that ultimately won that FIBA World Championship in Turkey without a single member from the gold-medal-winning 2008 Olympic team.

“By far,” Colangelo told ESPN.com. “Because we have a couple of Olympic gold medalists on this roster in Anthony Davis and James Harden. We have three players from that team in 2010‎ in Steph Curry, Derrick Rose and Rudy Gay. And they’re not 21 this time. They’re 23 or 24. A little bit older and more mature‎.

“We like our team. We really do.”

Yet Colangelo has acknowledged on multiple occasions this summer that he would ultimately regard a fourth successive championship in a major tournament for the United States to be the “sweetest” success enjoyed ‎by the program since he and Krzyzewski teamed up to resuscitate USA Basketball in the wake of a humbling bronze-medal finish at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

That’s because of the rash of prominent players’ withdrawals that USAB has weathered this summer. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook all removed themselves from the roster before the squad convened for its first training camp in Las Vegas in late July. Kevin Durant then followed suit earlier this month after the horrific compound leg fracture ‎suffered by Paul George in an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 1.

But this team, as Colangelo mentioned, brings a modicum of international experience to the competition even after all those losses. In 2010, Team USA was forced to field a new squad that eventually defeated host Turkey in the final after a team led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony narrowly defeated Spain in the 2008 gold-medal game in Beijing.

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No. 3: Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons won’t play in Spain — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a loud critic of international play. He abhors the risk to teams in the case a player gets injured, among other issues. So he wasn’t disappointed when newly acquired small forward Chandler Parsons, who Cuban will pay $46 million over the next three years, was cut from Team USA. NBA.com’s own Jeff Caplan spoke to Cuban:

Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.

Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.

“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”

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No. 4: Video surfaces of an encouraging D-Will workout — For the last two seasons Nets point guard and former All-Star Deron Williams has been dogged by ankle problems and critics piling on about his demise. Williams had surgery on both ankles this offseason, and new coach Lionel Hollins says he’s the key to success. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York talked to Hollins about it:

Williams underwent surgery on both of his ankles in the offseason. Now it’s about getting healthy and getting his confidence back. But how?

“There’s a lot of different things you can do [as a coach],” Lionel Hollins said Friday. “I can’t say right here that I’m going to walk in there and tell Deron Williams this or that, because I don’t even know where he is from that perspective [a confidence perspective] at this moment.

“But I think first of all he has to be healthy and he has to be in great shape and we’re going to try to put him in a situation where he can flourish, which will give him confidence and go from there. I mean confidence comes and goes with all players no matter how good they are. I don’t think there’s ever been a player that’s played and didn’t have a confidence issue at some point maybe in a game, maybe in a season.”

Hollins has said similar things before. Putting Williams in a position where he can flourish is the key. In that respect, it really comes down to health, doesn’t it?

“If you’re injured, you can’t be who you are,” Hollins said. “You can’t make the same moves or be as explosive as you are, and it’s difficult to go out there and go 100 percent. You’re always worried about what’s going to happen if you push off, stop, change direction, all of those things.”

Asked about where Williams is from health standpoint, Hollins responded, “As far as I know, good.”

Williams looked good dribbling in an Instagram video posted by his close friend, Matt Mitnick, on Friday night.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden expects 20-year-old Kobe Bryant to return … Ian Mahinmi out two to three months with shoulder injury … Spurs interested in Gustavo AyonMonty Williams sees big improvement in Anthony Davis … Expect the Clippers to make a run at Ray AllenSpurs also barging in on Allen sweepstakes.

Cuban’s summer: ‘Could’ve been worse’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

One of the biggest summer acquisitions in Dallas was former Mav Tyson Chandler. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

Mark Cuban is more than pleased to have Tyson Chandler back in Dallas. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Texas – With the hour-long line of smiling fans asking to take selfies, requesting autographs and even pitching business ideas as if this was a super-market version of Shark Tank finally dwindling, Mark Cuban leaned back on a shopping cart filled with palm-sized boxes of Simple Sugars facial scrubs, of which he owns a 33 percent stake, and exhaled a relieving, “Ahhhh…”

“It’s been a long day,” Cuban said, his recently replaced left hip reminding him that he’s still only five weeks removed from the operating table.

Dressed in his traditional blue jeans and a T-shirt, this was his final stop of a whirlwind Thursday at four Central Market grocery stores at opposite ends of the expansive Dallas-Fort Worth area. Cuban was promoting four products he’s backed on the television show “Shark Tank” and are now being carried by Central Market.

Cuban claims more people these days recognize him as a shark than as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. But, make no mistake, while Cuban enjoys helping burgeoning entrepreneurs obtain the American Dream, his undying passion remains running the Mavs.

And for the first time since Cuban chomped on a stogie and clutched the Larry O’Brien Trophy three summers ago, a bubbling of excitement surrounds the team. Among those who waited in line to shake Cuban’s hand or give him a hug: a wide-eyed dreamer who asked how to start some kind of mesquite wood business; the student council president of a local high school who pitched a-day-in-school idea; and an affable, gray-haired fellow Cuban said was his acting coach from 20 years ago (Cuban thought acting class would aid his social scene) who handed him a manuscript he wants made into a movie (Cuban owns Magnolia Pictures).

But many, many more asked one simple question: “Are we going to win this year?”

“I hope so!” Cuban responded to each.

Mavs fans had become used to disappointment in the post-title summers as Cuban failed to land a marquee free agent. He didn’t get a big fish this summer either, but a series of moves have ignited serious intrigue, starting with the reacquisition of championship center Tyson Chandler in a deal with the Knicks.

“It was kind of surprising that we got it done, just because with that many pieces and the fact that no one finds out,” Cuban said of the trade in brief moments when the selfie line died down. “I’m glad we got it done. We’re excited. He can kind of quarterback our defense, he makes everybody better defensively and he’ll make Monta [Ellis] better offensively.”

A few weeks later Cuban gambled and won, stealing up-and-coming small forward and restricted free agent Chandler Parsons from division rival Houston with an out-of-this-world offer sheet, a move that could have also blown up in his face. Cuban flew to Orlando, Fla., to hand deliver the contract offer at midnight and then he went out for drinks with Parsons and his parents.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey would have 72 hours to match the three-year, $46 million offer. In the meantime, Houston signed Trevor Ariza, also a Mavs target, and the speculation game was churning hard on what Morey would do.

“I was 90 percent,” Cuban said of his confidence that he’d land Parsons. “Because of the way the numbers worked, and they’re a very logical organization, they’re very obvious, like we all are, like a lot of teams are, about their approach to building a team and flexibility.”

Then came a wrench. LeBron James signed with Cleveland, leaving former Heat teammate Chris Bosh in limbo. Reports suggested Bosh was leaning toward signing with Houston, and if he did, the Rockets reportedly would match the Parsons offer.

“I don’t think that [Bosh's decision] mattered all that much, honestly,” Cuban said. “I guess they said they’d go for it if he [Bosh] had gone [to Houston]. That would have put them in a tough spot and they probably would have tried to do a sign-and-trade. And if they did a sign-and-trade then they would have had a hard cap, like you’re seeing with the Clippers, and that would have meant they couldn’t add anybody else at all.”

Ultimately, Bosh took Miami’s max deal and Morey pulled the plug on Parsons. Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.

Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.

“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”

Needless to say Cuban is looking forward to his young acquisition relocating to Dallas in the coming weeks and joining Ellis, Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, Brandan Wright plus other more under-the-radar pickups in Al-Farouq Aminu, Greg Smith and Richard Jefferson, and then eventually the elder statesman and now the heavily underpaid 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki when he returns later in September.

“I try to keep an even keel,” Cuban said of his excitement level for the season. “I don’t get all excited about winning the summer. That’s almost the kiss of death.”

Still, as summers go, this one was pretty good.

“It could’ve been worse,” Cuban said.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Lawson expecting big things in Denver | Griffin defends Cavs’ pursuit of Calipari | Trainer raves over Bryant’s pain tolerance

No. 1: Lawson sees big things ahead for Nuggets — In 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a 57-win team and boasted and up-and-coming, exciting team that seemed on the verge of being a contender. Last season, though, was a different story, as Denver fell to 36-46, most of which could be blamed on injuries decimating the roster. Point guard Ty Lawson was one of the players who dealt with the injury bug in 2013-14, but he’s on the mend and is expecting a Nuggets bounce back in 2014-15. Our Jeff Caplan caught up with Lawson, who talked about that and more:

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.


VIDEO: Ty Lawson runs wild in a win over the L.A. Lakers last season (more…)

Lawson: ‘People are probably going to sleep on us’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ty Lawson made his presence felt in Denver’s best plays last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – NBA schedules haven’t been out long, but Ty Lawson has already been studying up on the Denver Nuggets’ first month.

“We’ve got the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, We got OKC twice,” Lawson said. “Our first month is crazy so I was like, ‘coach, we’ve both got to be ready coming in, we’ve got to all be focused when we get in there [to training camp].”

Lawson didn’t mention two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first month and the Phoenix Suns in the powerful Western Conference.

“I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent,” Lawson said.

Oh yeah, add a pair against the Kings in the opening month, too.

Throw in a game against the healthy New Orleans Pelicans and that’s 12 of the Nuggets’ first 16 games.

“When it first came out,” Lawson said of the schedule, “I checked and was like, ‘man!’

The Nuggets’ explosive point guard has been working hard during the offseason in Los Angeles. He will soon make his way back to Denver and begin working out with teammates as the countdown to the start of training camp officially begins. This particularly excites the ever-improving Lawson, one of the more under-talked-about point guards in a conference overflowing with All-Star candidates at the position, because it’s been a long time since he’s played with a few of them.

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: You and Kenneth Faried both had strong seasons in Shaw’s first year despite all the injuries. Was it important for you two to set the tone in a transition year?

Lawson: I think so. We found ourselves, especially Kenneth. He found out he can score in the post, run the floor and also his decision-making after getting the rebound and taking it downcourt and able to make the right pass, the right decision. I think it was a positive on both ends and I think it’s going to help for this year coming up.

NBA.com: As a team leader, do you keep up with your teammates during the offseason?

Lawson: Definitely. JaVale’s in L.A., so I see him and we talk all the time. I stay in touch basically with everybody, making sure everybody is getting their work in and that they’re ready for this year because we can make a lot noise.

NBA.com: Speaking of McGee, he signed the big contract, but his season ended five games into it due to injury. Even then he had not earned a significant role under Shaw and he has yet to be able to rid himself of the perception of having a low basketball IQ. Do you really believe he can begin to elevate his game and be a significant contributor?

Lawson: I can see that he’s taking a more serious approach. When he was at Washington he was just about, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m 7-foot, I’m playing.’ But now he’s really actually trying to get better. You can see that. When he’s working out and he misses a jump hook or something he actually gets mad.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.

NBA.com: You already mentioned how tough the schedule is the opening month. Overall, how do you see the West shaping up?

Lawson: The West is going to be crazy. Everybody got better. Houston may have slipped a little bit, but I feel like you’ve got to be ready to go every night against the West. There’s not going to be any slouch teams. I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent. You’ve got to be ready to play in the West, there’s not going to be any easy games like last year where you knew you were going to win that game. It’s not going to be that easy, any team can beat you in the West.

NBA.com: Some feared you might not be as effective in Shaw’s more halfcourt-focused offense as opposed to Karl’s full-throttle approach. You still managed to thrive. Where do you want to take your game next season?

Lawson: I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.

‘Bron, Wade toted elite style, execution


VIDEO: LeBron and Dwyane Wade didn’t spare us the highlights over the past four years

They didn’t have a nickname for the ages, but their work on the floor was sufficient enough. So sufficient that the good folks (shout out to Jonathan Scott) at the NBA Digital headquarters saw fit to produce their best moments together. It’s cool. It’s a must-watch. It’s what you want to see as a hoop head.

Their recipe was simple: We’re faster than you, we can jump higher than you and we’re going to look for each other at any given tick. The crosscourt alley-oops, cutting and weaving and defensive ball-hawking that evoked the work of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were fruits of this strategy.

When The Decision happened in 2010, we saw two supremely gifted alpha players in their primes make a conscious effort to join forces. It didn’t seem fair and gave us an open lane to cast them as villains.

Two championships, four straight Finals trips… yeah, it wasn’t fair. There have been many duos that gave us moments, but only a few compare with the level of synergy and high-level production that the Tandem Formerly Known As ‘Bron and D-Wade brought. Unless they get the opportunity to pair up during All-Star weekend, you won’t see it live again.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joined forces as superstars and didn't disappoint.

In 2010, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joined forces as superstars. They didn’t disappoint.

LeBron James is a lock to garner more midseason trips. You have to figure Dwyane Wade has a couple more in him, but his knees present questions. So nothing is guaranteed, nothing lasts forever, blah, blah blah. Some may find this a bit schmaltzy. It’s not.

Greatness is greatness and it demands a corner of recognition. When it’s here, we bask in it. When it’s gone, we look for The Next. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will give ‘Bron new tools to work with and by this time December, we’ll probably be seeing a boatload of Love-James and James-Irving roundball duets in Cleveland, making the Miami pairing a distant memory sooner than later.

Wade still has Chris Bosh. He also has Luol Deng. He’s not playing with slouches, but he won’t have a 6-foot-8 Akron gazelle running the wing ready to catch and finish any pass he throws up anymore. When LeBron and Flash partnered up, few saw them only lasting four years. So peace out, you two. We hardly knew ya.  What part we did know was something we aren’t likely to forget.

Buyers? Bucks to reward ticket ‘users’


VIDEO: Jabari Parker talks with Bucks.com about his off-the-court interests

At first blush, the Milwaukee Bucks’ current ticket promotion, “Cheer The Future,” sounds like an old joke: the prize for first place is one week in Milwaukee! The prize for second place is two weeks in Milwaukee …

The Bucks were so bad last season, so seemingly far from playing competitive basketball, that the sales department’s offer of a steep discount on tickets in 2015-16 – as steep as free! – based on tickets bought and used this season might seem more punitive than generous, going strictly by their 15-67 finish in 2013-14. Milwaukee pulled off what looked to be one of the great shell games in recent NBA history, pledging not to “tank” — then-owner Herb Kohl flatly said so on Media Day — and then outtanking the other league’s bottom feeders to grab the best odds in the Draft lottery.

The move, driven by injuries and underperformance as much as any rebuilding strategy, worked out beautifully. The Bucks landed the No. 2 pick and, in selecting Duke’s Jabari Parker, wound up with a draftee most scouts think can contribute immediately. Parker also has said all the right things about pledging his services to Milwaukee long-term, and he has a built-in fan base 90 miles to the south in his hometown of Chicago.

But all that losing came at a price, and not just in pride or – for coach Larry Drew and his staff – in job security. Milwaukee’s attendance went from an average of 15,348 in the previous seven seasons to 13,511, a drop of 12 percent. After ranking between 22nd and 27th from 2006-07 through 2012-13 in home attendance, the Bucks finished last in 2013-14.

It wasn’t even just a money thing, as bad as the hemorrhaging was. The BMO Harris Bradley Center on too many nights went limp, the empty seats of the upper bowl and the quiet ones down below feeling like a betrayal of the franchise’s headier times: The championship era of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1970s. Don Nelson’s Marques Johnson-Sidney Moncrief powerhouses of the ’80s. The excitement when Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell missed the 2001 Finals by one game. And even the “Fear The Deer” surprise late in 2009-10.

That’s why this “Cheer The Future” season-ticket scheme matters not just as a way to sell tickets but to get those buyers into the building.

“We believe the best way to build our fan base and increase attendance is to show them our young, exciting team,” Ted Loehrke, the Bucks’ senior vice president and chief revenue officer, said by phone Thursday. “The whole concept is to re-introduce the Bucks to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, especially young professionals and college students.”

The prices and seat locations should fit their budgets, especially if they max out the benefits. It works like this: Fans are required to commit to a two-season purchase, with discounts offered on the second year. Those who attend at least 30 games will get their 2015-16 tickets at half price. If they use tickets this season at least 35 times, the discount grows to 75 percent. And those who attend all 40 Milwaukee home games (the team plays a designated home game at London’s O2 Arena on Jan. 15 vs. New York) will get their same tickets next season for free.

The team set aside 500 seats for the promotion, which runs through Sunday. Loehrke said the response has been strong, with the remaining seats and the deadline pretty much in synch.

NBA teams have marketed hard-to-sell seats via various gimmicks. For instance, Minnesota used a “pay the pick” plan in which fans paid a per-ticket price equal to the team’s lottery position (the Wolves drafted fourth, so those seats cost $4 each). Other clubs have offered future discounts. But Loehrke said the Bucks were unaware of any team bundling purchase, attendance and discount together like this.

Milwaukee already has had an eventful offseason, starting with Kohl’s sale of the franchise to billionaire investors Wes Edens and Marc Lasry for a whopping $550 million. Parker’s selection and presentation were well-received, and the startling hire of Jason Kidd as coach – after some un-Milwaukee-like machinations behind GM John Hammond‘s back to oust Drew – generated headlines, too.

The continued development of last season’s lottery pick, Greek phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, and 2012 first-rounder John Henson, along with some presumed face-saving resurgences by Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilaysova are added reasons for optimism in 2014-15.

“There’s been a buzz around the team this summer unlike any we’ve seen in recent history,” Loehrke said.

Edens and Lasry are eager to energize the Bradley Center, too, to win over local and state officials and the citizens overall to their quest for a new, partially public-financed downtown arena. Sports teams know that seats, like unused hotel rooms, are an expiring asset. The Bucks want those in their aging building to be very expiring.

Mostly, though, they want them filled. This season and next.