Morning Shootaround

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 (more…)

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 (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING
USA romps, silences critics | Irving caps off amazing summer with MVP | Rose gets early jump on 2014-15 season | Rubio never got to talk Love into staying

No. 1: USA silences critics, takes home the gold — As the superstar names either opted out or dropped off the Team USA roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the questions seemed to grow with each missing player. Could this U.S. team continue the dominance it had previously enjoyed on the world stage? Who would step up to fill the superstar gap left by (pick one:) LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love and others not taking part? As our Sekou Smith points out, though, Team USA’s romp of Serbia not only clinched the gold medal for it, but proved once again why the U.S. has the best overall basketball talent:

After being asked about it for weeks, they can answer honestly and without the least bit of arrogance.

They are indeed unbeatable, the U.S. National Team, winners of 45 straight games in World Cup/World Championship and Olympic competition.

Yes, the best from the U.S. is way better than what anyone else can offer up on basketball’s global stage.

With the win the U.S. captured its fifth title and this team put the U.S. in elite company, joining Brazil (1959 and ’63) and Yugoslavia (’98 and 2002) as the only nations to repeat as champs.

For weeks this U.S. team, devoid of superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, not to mention Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George, heard about how vulnerable it was. Spain, and not the U.S. was being touted as the favorite early on.

What is basically an under-25 squad of U.S. stars silenced their critics with one dominant performance after another. Not all of them were as pretty as Sunday’s gold medal game, when Irving set the tone early by connecting on his first five shots and piling up 15 points by halftime. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, saving his best showing for the final game in Spain. He led the U.S. charge with a game-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The U.S. started pool play in Bilbao, plundering through Group C without playing their very best and still smashing the opposition in all five games. They weren’t tested deep into any of their three games in the medal round in Barcelona, smashing through Mexico, Slovenia and finally Lithuania in the semifinals. They won their first eight games by an average of 32.5 points.

Not only was this game and the entire competition a showcase for an up-and-coming group of young NBA stars — Faried, Davis, Cousins, Klay Thompson and even a young All-Star like Irving will all return home to greater expectations with their respective NBA teams — it serves as proof that whatever leaks there have been in the USA Basketball pipeline in recent years have been plugged.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and Krzyzewski have made sure of it with their resuscitation of the program over the past nine years.

“Coach K told us before the game that we were going to play our best game tonight,” Thompson said. “And we proved him right. I can’t put this into words, man. I haven’t won a title since high school, certainly nothing this big.  Winning in high school was great, but this is something I’ll hopefully be able to show my grandkids one day. I’ll cherish this the rest of my life.”


VIDEO: James Harden talks with GameTime about the thrill of winning FIBA World Cup gold (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 14


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Sunday’s gold medal match against Serbia

NEWS OF THE MORNING
U.S., Serbia match up for gold | France beats Lithuania for bronze | Rose makes an A | Melo says players will avoid Atlanta

No. 1: U.S., Serbia match up for gold — Later today in Madrid, Team USA will play in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. While Team USA was a near-unanimous choice to qualify for the gold-medal game, their opponent, Serbia, was not; most suspected the host country, Spain, would play their way into the final. But after Spain was eliminated by France, Serbia stormed their way into today’s championship game. And as our guys Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann write, some of the team USA players believe neither Serbia nor the U.S. were supposed to be here…

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

***

No. 2: France takes bronze: In the FIBA third place game yesterday, France defeated Lithuania 95-93 to win bronze, their best-ever finish at the event. France was led by Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, and the final seconds of the game were basically a foul-shooting contest…

The European champions seemed to have clinched the issue with about a minute left in the game, but Adas Juskevicius’ three-point play brought Lithuania within one, 86-85, with 16 seconds to play.

The teams were then involved in a tactical exchange of fouls and France stayed ahead with every exchange.

Jonas Maciulis was fouled with a second left. He made his first free-throw to get Lithuania within 95-93 and then strategically missed the second in order to give himself and his team-mates a chance at an offensive rebound and a quick shot. However, no Lithuanian player was able to control the ball, which went to Florent Pietrus who sprinted past halfcourt to run out the clock and seal the game.

In all, the final 16 seconds of the game saw 11 fouls committed, resulting in 22 free-throws attempted.

Down 71-64 at the end of the third quarter, France found their savior in Boris Diaw. The 32-year-old, who strove to find his rhythm in the first three periods, found his form as he accounted for eight of France’s 31 points in the final period. He finished with 15 points.

Nicolas Batum was at the fore-front of France’s offense throughout the game and finished with a game-high 27 points.

***

No. 3: Rose grades an A: Throughout the FIBA World Cup, many eyes have been trained on Derrick Rose. After missing most of the last two seasons with injuries, Rose has used the World Cup to get into competitive shape for the upcoming season. While he may have started slow, Rose has been increasingly aggressive throughout the tournament. Rose says he feels great heading into camp, and for him, the World Cup has been nothing but a success…

“I would give it an A in my mind,” Rose said. “Just coming off of what I had to go through and actually getting a spot on the USA team after missing two years of basketball? Like, c’mon man. It shows that I at least worked somewhere and hard work pays off. If anything, it gives me more confidence to head into the regular season.”

Rose said he will enter Bulls training camp in just over two weeks in the best physical condition he ever has entered a camp. And this is after back-to-back knee surgeries.

“I think I’m going to be far ahead of people, especially on my team,” Rose said. “Nobody in the world is getting this type of competition right now, where you’re playing against different people every night, a different style of play every night, chasing people around.”

Rose, who won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, said playing for Team USA has only enriched his already-high confidence level.

“I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish but winning this championship. And that’s (Sunday),” he said. “After that, that’s the icing on the cake.

“But looking back at it, my whole mindset was just getting on the team. You had younger players who had great years since I been out, great guards who had great years. Just trying to show them that I’m still one of the best out there. I think I was going into camp with a chip on my shoulder.

***

No. 4: Melo says players will avoid Atlanta: While the Atlanta Hawks work to undo the damage caused by Danny Ferry’s race-related remarks on a conference call, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony spoke out strongly yesterday to the New York Post about how NBA players now view the Hawks’ franchise…

“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony said at the Citi Carmelo Anthony Basketball ProCamp at Baruch College Saturday morning. “At the end of the day, Atlanta … I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.”

The Hawks franchise has been under fire after the Hawks and the NBA announced Sunday morning that the team’s majority owner, Bruce Levenson, was selling his controlling interest in the franchise after an internal investigation uncovered a racist email he sent to other team executives in 2012. That investigation began after general manager Danny Ferry said on a conference call with the team’s ownership group in June that potential free agent target Luol Deng, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks on Friday, but the damage to the franchise already has been done in the eyes of one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.

“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment, but those comments right there, we would never look at. I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”

With Levenson already agreeing to sell the team and the possibility Ferry already has served his last official day on the job, the franchise is taking steps toward moving on from the issue. But Anthony said, given the amount of time over which this has taken place, it’s going to take more than a couple of faces changing to fix the problems in Atlanta.

“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. That’s not going to change overnight. I don’t think that just happened overnight. That’s been an accumulation over the past couple years. A lot of people think that it just happened, but it’s been going on for the past two or three years now … these are conversations that have been ongoing.

“We just have to stop it. We have to stop that. This is not the league for that. As players coming in, we want to play and make a good career out of everything, and from [former Clippers owner Donald] Sterling to this situation, just pushing everything back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay has a fractured jaw and a broken tooth … Boris Diaw celebrated France’s bronze medal by posting a selfie … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford says Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has “transformed” his jump shot … The one member of Team USA who has had staying power? Mike Krzyzewski … Longtime NBA big Melvin Ely has signed with Japan’s Gunma Crane Thunders.

Morning Shootaround — September 6



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.

***

No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

***

No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

***

No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors. NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

***

No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA starts strong | Brazil beats France | Spurs interested in Ray Allen? | A new hope in Minnesota

No. 1: Team USA Starts Strong — After weeks of practices and exhibition games, Team USA finally started tournament play Saturday in Bilbao, Spain, in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. And they did it with style, blowing out Finland 114-55 in a game that included a 29-2 run for Team USA. NBA.com’s Sekou Smith was on the scene in Spain and writes that despite the long and winding road they traveled, the U.S. players are embracing their roles in Coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s system…

With no Kevin Durant or Kevin Love or Paul George, superstars who were expected to serve as the leaders and anchors for this competition, the U.S. put on an absolute defensive showcase in their opener, smashing Finland 114-55.

It was a show of force that this particular crew was eager to display, if only to remind themselves what they are capable of when they lock down defensively and spread the wealth offensively the way coach Mike Krzyzewski demands.

“We prepared the last couple of weeks for this moment and every single moment that we play in,” James Harden said. “Practices are the same way. We go hard and when it’s time to go out there we take care of business. We don’t go out there to pace ourselves. We go out there with intensity from the beginning of the game.”

It certainly helps to have talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose backing up the starters.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Harden continued. “That’s why I said we don’t pace ourselves. We go out there with the intensity from the beginning of the game and guys come off the bench with the same thing. It’s the beauty of this team. We’ve got 10-12 guys willing to go out there and contribute in any type of way.”

***

No. 2: Meanwhile, elsewhere in FIBA — Of course, while Team USA may be one of the favorites in Spain, they weren’t the only team tipping off yesterday. The loaded Group A began play in Granada yesterday, where NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was in attendance. According to Schuhmann, one of the big winners on the day was Brazil, who held on to beat France, 65-63…

Brazil was the big winner on Saturday, holding on for a 65-63 victory over France in the second game of the day in Granada. It was an ugly game throughout, with the two teams combining for 19 turnovers in the first half and shooting just 11-for-35 from 3-point range for the game.

But point guard Marcelo Huertas had enough in his bag of tricks to get the job done in the fourth quarter.

France actually led by nine late in the first, but scored just 10 points on its final 20 possessions of the first half, as Brazil took a two-point lead into the break. The Brazilians led by as many as eight early in the fourth, but couldn’t put France away, because they couldn’t put together more than two straight scores.

“The zone was back all the time,” said Tiago Splitter, who scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting. “Nobody was getting easy shots. And our shooters didn’t have a good game outside. “

Huertas was basically the only guy who could get anything going offensively. He scored 11 of Brazil’s 19 points in the period, hitting a three off a Nene post-up, finding space around the foul line for a couple of runners against the sagging French defense, and sealed the game at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“They were deep into the zone,” he said afterward, “so we could attack, either for a shot or to find the open man.”

France got a big game from Boris Diaw (15 points, six rebounds, five assists), but Nicolas Batum (13 points) didn’t shoot well and the other French bigs didn’t get much done inside after the first quarter. Though they closed to within one in the final seconds, they never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

***

No. 3: Spurs interested in Ray Allen?LeBron James may have left Miami, but while Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen have stayed behind, the future plans of Ray Allen have remained a bit cloudy. Allen has said publicly he’s still unsure of what he’s going to do, but plenty of teams have expressed interest, including Cleveland and the Clippers. And now, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, we can add the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to the mix as well:

ESPN.com has learned that the Spurs are trying to barge their way into the race to sign Allen … which first, of course, requires one of the 39-year-old’s suitors to persuade him to play next season.

Allen announced last month that he’s still deciding if he wants to play what would be his 19th NBA season.

The uncertainty, mind you, has had zero impact on interest. The reigning champs from San Antonio join Doc Rivers‘ Los Angeles Clippers and, of course, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on the list of elite teams pursuing Allen. The Dallas Mavericks have also tried to make a play for Allen this summer, and there are surely other suitors yet to be identified since he remains available.

The Spurs have only one open roster spot at the moment but, as ESPN.com reported Friday, have also registered interest in Mexico star center Gustavo Ayon while remaining hopeful of re-signing reserve center Aron Baynes, whom Australia is relying on heavily at the FIBA World Cup in Spain with Andrew Bogut absent.

***

No. 4: A new hope in Minnesota: The Timberwolves may have traded away Kevin Love, one of the NBA’s best players, but in return they received a haul of talented young players, including Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. Add to that crew first-round pick Zach LaVine and incumbent point guard Ricky Rubio (who is still just 23 years old), and the Wolves have a core of exciting young talent that has fans excited, writes the AP’s John Krawczynski 

After completing the long-rumored trade that sent Love to the Cavaliers and brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, the Timberwolves have sold more than 300 full season-ticket packages in the last week.

That beats the previous record in 2011 that was set when Ricky Rubio announced that he was coming over from Spain to play for the team.

“The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized,” Timberwolves senior vice president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke said. “Part of it is hope, and you have this great new hope.

“But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brook Lopez says he’s confident he’ll be healthier than ever this season … DeMarcus Cousins says he expected to make Team USA all along … Golden State has reached an agreement with Leandro Barbosa on a one-year deal … The Sixers are unsure whether Joel Embiid will play at all this seasonManny Pacquiao would like to sign Metta World Peace to play for his team in the Philippines … Congrats to Dwyane Wade, who married longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union Saturday …

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…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 28


VIDEO: Relive the top 5 plays from the USA-Slovenia exhibition game

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Harden emerging as leader on U.S. team | Hinkie unsure if Embiid will play next season | Clips keep Rivers in the fold

No. 1: Harden emerging as Team USA leader — If you missed it yesterday, our John Schuhmann had an excellent stats analysis of Team USA and its rampage through exhibition play as it readies for the upcoming FIBA World Cup. One of the key points he noted is how well the squad has fared when James Harden and the rest of the starters set the tone in games. Aside from how his play is helping the U.S. team on the scoreboard, guard James Harden has also shown himself to be a leader in other ways for Team USA. Michael Lee of the Washington Post has more on that topic:

Harden’s responsibilities increased once more when Kevin Durant, his close friend and former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, backed out of his commitment, citing fatigue and not the injury to George as the reason. That left the lefty Harden as the only first-team all-NBA player remaining on the squad. The earlier withdrawals of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook also meant that Harden and Anthony Davis were the only holdovers from the 2012 London Olympics team.

“Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said as his team continues to prepare for the tournament in which the winner earns an automatic berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.”

Harden’s career changed dramatically after that summer as Oklahoma City traded the then-sixth man of the year to the Rockets. He became an all-star in his first season, playing so well that Dwight Howard forfeited a bigger pay day from the Los Angeles Lakers to join forces with him in Houston a year later. The constant adjustments have been so common for Harden that the steadily-evolving situation with Team USA over the past few weeks feels almost normal for him.

“It’s so many things these last couple of years that’s been thrown at me, from me being traded, to people talking, just everything,” Harden said. “I try to focus on myself and how can I be a better basketball player. It’s still basketball at the end of the day. I try to do it to the best of my ability and continue to work hard.”

Harden declared himself as the best player alive two weeks ago, expressing a sentiment that was neither delusional nor particularly serious. But it represented a mindset that is required for elite-level basketball players – especially one with obvious deficiencies on the defensive end who also happened to be a viable candidate for league most valuable player last season. When pressed about that opinion, Harden didn’t backtrack.

“I think everybody feels that way. Every NBA player. Even growing up, growing up youngins have dreams that they want to be the best basketball players in the world,” Harden said. “As a basketball player, or any athlete, you got to have confidence, you’ve got to have confidence the whole time. You just go out there and do your job and have confidence that your abilities are good enough. Whatever is thrown at me, I just try to take it for what it is and just have fun.”


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Team USA’s victory against Slovenia (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 27


VIDEO: Relive the top 5 plays from the USA-Slovenia exhibition game

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Wolves’ owner, Love in war of words after trade | Recapping Team USA’s final tune-up | Agent: Big Z won’t be making comeback

No. 1: Taylor, Love exchange words over trade — Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers either moved on from or moved into their respective eras with Kevin Love. The All-Star big man was officially introduced the the Cleveland media yesterday, while the Wolves introduced the haul they got from the Cavs and Philadelphia 76ers — Thaddeus Young, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett — in the offseason mega-deal. Now that the move is in the past, Wolves owner Glen Taylor opened up to the media about trading his superstar and his regrets in not signing him to a longer contract a few years ago. Derek Wetmore of ESPN1500.com in Minneapolis has more:

Afterward, Taylor spoke freely about the blockbuster Kevin Love trade that landed the Wolves this year’s No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. He said that his preference would have been to keep Love, but after it became clear that would not happen, the Wolves accommodated the disgruntled star and got a nice haul in return.

Still, if he could do it all over again, Taylor said he would have signed Love to the five-year maximum contract in 2012. That way Love would have three seasons left on his contract and the team’s outlook would be considerably different. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears safe to say the contract was a mistake. Love made it known that he wanted out and would exercise the opt-out clause that would make him a free agent following this season. So the Wolves once again have hit the reset button.

“I spoke the truth when I said if Kevin [Love] would stay here then we would have the best season. Inside I knew Kevin wasn’t giving us that alternative even though it’s what I wanted,” Taylor said Tuesday. “So now you have the thing where Kevin kind of said, ‘trade me or you’re going to pay the fine next year if you don’t trade me.’ I think once we got going on that, we had about four teams that came to us with significant offers. But this one truly had the biggest upside. Flip [Saunders] pushed it and negotiated it the best he could so I’m really happy with it.”

“Kevin and I have always had a good relationship. Kevin always said, ‘I want to win.’ I said, ‘I do, too. Stay here, let’s win together.'”

In the end, that didn’t happen of course, and the Wolves settled on a backup plan that may end up working out for the team. That’s yet to be determind. As for Love, Taylor said he questions if Cleveland is the right landing spot for him, where he’ll play alongside the best player in the world, LeBron James, and point guard Kyrie Irving. Taylor also nitpicked portions of Love’s game.

“I question Kevin if this is going to be the best deal for him because I think he’s going to be the third player on a team. I don’t think he’s going to get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he’ll get the blame if they don’t do well. He’s going to have to learn to handle that.

“I think he’s around a couple guys are awful good. Now I’m not saying that Kevin’s not good, but I think where maybe he got away with some stuff, not playing defense on our team, I’m not sure how that’s going to work in Cleveland. So I would guess they’re going to ask him to play more defense. And he’s foul-prone,” Taylor said.

After these comments surfaced, Love had his say about them and basically told Taylor to worry about his own team, not him:

Love, appearing on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” on Wednesday morning, responded to Taylor’s comments about how he may get exposed for his play on the defensive end and that Love may wind up being the scapegoat if the new-look Cavs struggle.

“I think emotions are definitely running high right now,” Love told “Mike and Mike” on Wednesday. “For Glen to say that, I just think that he should be focusing on the players that he just received. I mean, he has two of the No. 1 picks in the last two drafts: Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. He has another guy who can really play in Thaddeus Young.

“I think he got a lot for me. So I’d be focusing even more on that. More than anything, I’m just excited to start my time in Cleveland, get to work with my new teammates, and start with this new family here.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew talks about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new faces (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Irving to start vs. Slovenia | Drew ‘blindsided’ by Bucks firing | City of Charlotte ready to spend to upgrade arena

No. 1: Irving to start final Team USA tune-up — As of last week, the Team USA roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup is ready to go. (And if you missed it yesterday, our John Schuhmann pointed out how the teams in the FIBA pool boast plenty of NBA players, too.) Before FIBA play starts this weekend, though, Team USA has one last exhibition date — a matchup with Slovenia today at 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2). According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Kyrie Irving will get the start at point guard tonight over Derrick Rose as coach Mike Krzyzewski irons out how best to use his All-Star guard combination:

Kyrie Irving will start opposite Goran Dragic at point guard Tuesday night when Team USA plays Slovenia in its final tuneup game leading into the FIBA World Cup.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, in tabbing Irving as his starter against the Dragic-led Slovenians, told ESPN.com that one option under consideration is letting Irving and Derrick Rose trade off as the starter throughout the tournament, which opens Saturday in Bilbao with the Yanks facing Finland.

Krzyzewski says he can also envision Irving and Rose playing together once the tournament starts as Rose continues to acclimate himself to full-speed basketball after two major knee injuries limited him to just 10 games over the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

“I asked him today, and he said, ‘I feel great,'” Krzyzewski said of Rose. “He did everything. He’s full go. I think there’s a part of him that’s like: ‘Quit asking me how I feel. I’m good.’ So I’m not going to ask him anymore.”

Having relied heavily on small-ball lineups in its last two major competitions, USA Basketball officials wanted the ability to play big lineups in this tournament when needed. The tag team of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins won’t necessarily be unveiled against a Slovenian squad that shoots 3-pointers as liberally as anyone in the field, but Team USA is sure to bust out that alignment on occasion en route to the Sept. 14 championship game, where host Spain and its hulking front-line trio of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka could be waiting.

Despite the pullouts of Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook, as well as the emotional injury loss of Paul George, Team USA remains a heavy favorite to cruise through Group C play with no real resistance. Turkey, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and Mike Fratello-coached Ukraine are the Yanks’ other opponents in pool play after the Finland game.


VIDEO: Relive Team USA’s top 5 plays from its game vs. Puerto Rico (more…)