Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — July 28


VIDEO: David Lee talks about joining the Celtics

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A.D. OK with Pelicans’ flight path | Kentucky’s NBA influence pervasive | Did Jackson’s miscalculations cost Knicks? | So many jersey numbers, so few available

No. 1: A.D. OK with Pelicans’ flight path — Keeping your superstar happy is job No. 1 for any NBA general manager or head coach who aspires to job security and the latitude to purchase green bananas. So based on some comments Monday by New Orleans tent-pole guy Anthony Davis, GM Dell Demps and new bench boss Alvin Gentry are free to unpack and stay awhile. Davis, on a conference-call interview, talked to The Associated Press and others about his $145 million contract extension and the special relationship he had with the terminated (and relocated-to-OKC-staff) Monty Williams. But he apparently sounded just as enthused about the Pelicans’ new direction with Gentry:

Now Davis is eager to see how Gentry’s coaching philosophy will mesh with the Pelicans’ talent. Davis was a high-schooler when Gentry coached the Phoenix Suns to the 2010 Western Conference finals with a fast-paced, high-scoring offense featuring guard Steve Nash and power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. The Pelicans power forward remembers that squad fondly and also has been impressed by the influence Gentry, as a top offensive assistant, has had more recently on recent Western Conference contenders such as the Los Angeles Clippers and defending champion Golden State Warriors.

“I definitely love his playing style,” Davis said. “My teammates, they have a lot of confidence in Coach Gentry. I think that’s why everybody’s coming back.

“In order for us to be that contender that we want to be, we have to have a lot of chemistry, which we have from the past few years,” Davis added. “So it’s good that everybody’s going to come back and we’re going to be able to have that chemistry ready for Coach’s new system.”

Last season, the Pelicans qualified for the playoffs for the first time in Davis’ three years as a pro and lost to the Warriors in a sweep. But Gentry told Davis that he was nonetheless impressed with the Pelicans’ talent and had a plan to get the most out it.

“He stated several times he loved our team and was going to try to get everybody back,” Davis said. “That’s the first thing that he said, and I couldn’t agree more.”

It also meant a lot to Davis to see Gentry look into a TV camera during the Warriors’ locker-room celebration immediately after Golden State had won the title, saying, “AD, we’re going to be right back here!”

“That’s the biggest thing that really got me excited because he wasn’t just saying that to say it. He really believes that,” Davis said.

***

No. 2: Kentucky’s NBA influence pervasive — Excellence in college basketball doesn’t always translate to the professional ranks, particularly on a case-by-case basis. But in the aggregate, the “Kareem” generally rises to the top — that’s why UCLA, for example, and its John Wooden-produced players held sway for many NBA seasons, in terms of impact on the league. Other powerhouses of the NCAA game — North Carolina, Duke, Indiana — have had enviable influence as well. But according to ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle, no college program ever has asserted itself at the next level — in both quantity and quality — the way the University of Kentucky is and will, based on his projections of the near-term. Here are some pertinent excerpts of what Doolittle refers to as “historical stuff:”

…Beginning in the 1969-70 season — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s rookie year — Wooden’s players rose to the top of the NBA win shares list. Thanks to Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas had topped the list for much of the 1960s, though it was actually Indiana that held the No. 1 spot the year before UCLA took over. The Bruins proceeded to dominate the rankings for the next decade and a half, finishing No. 1 in every season through 1983-84. UCLA was then brushed aside by a long period of Michael Jordan/North Carolina dominance. Since then, the top slot has changed hands a number of times, with familiar blue-blood programs like UNC, UCLA and Duke usually winning out, but other programs like UConn, Georgetown and even Georgia Tech have taken a turn or two.

…The Bruins’ high-water mark was 71.3 win shares for the 1976-77 NBA season. UNC was No. 2 — at 28.6. Former Bruin Bill Walton led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA crown that season, and Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s best player. Jamaal Wilkes, Swen Nater and Sidney Wicks were other ex-Bruins producing at the time. Those 71.3 win shares stand as the record for one school in one season.

For now, anyway. Kentucky is coming on fast. Already, its totals for the past two seasons rank among the top 11 in league history.

That is indeed impressive, yet not as impressive as what might happen this season. To jump all this historical chatter back into the present, let me remind you of the obvious: [Coach John] Calipari most likely will have another seven rookies in the league this season. That could give Kentucky as many as 25 players in the NBA for 2015-16, though not all of them played for Calipari. …

The sheer number of players is impressive, but not as much as the quality. We mentioned [Karl-Anthony] Towns and [Anthony] Davis as possible award winners. Yet John Wall, [Eric] Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins could all join Davis in the top 15-20 on the win shares board. And WARP, too, for that matter. In fact, I did some rough translations of my WARP projections into win shares. That’s where the story gets really interesting.

The 25 former Kentucky players I’ve flagged as “active” collectively project to put up 90.3 win shares this season. Let me re-state that for emphasis, like I’m writing a big check: 90.3!

***

No. 3: Did Jackson’s miscalculations cost Knicks? — Five months can be an eternity, when something moves as quickly as the NBA economy. So perhaps one shouldn’t judge New York Knicks president Phil Jackson too harshly that some of the assumptions he held about his team and the league in February had changed significantly by July. But according to the New York Daily News, playing off interviews Jackson did with longtime friend Charley Rosen back in February, the Knicks boss was conservative in his estimates of the new salary cap and the skyrocketing contract numbers, up to and including Memphis free-agent center Marc Gasol. The report includes Jackson’s thoughts at the time, too, on Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, on the deal he did make sending J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland and on the city and state taxes that impact New York as a free-agent destination:

Specifically, Jackson told a friend in February that he was wary of giving Memphis’ Marc Gasol a contract with a starting salary of $18 million. Jackson later signed [Robin] Lopez to a four-year deal with an average salary of $13.5 million.

“It’s tricky. The question is who to offer the big money to?” Jackson said in the latest installment of his in-season interviews with his pal Charley Rosen, which was published Monday by ESPN. “A guy who’s an established player or someone who has sky-high potential? Also, there are, and always have been, really good players who are not winners − guys like Joe Barry Carroll, Glenn Robinson and many more whom I don’t care to name.

“And then there’s someone like Marc Gasol, who’s certainly a winner and would have to be paid somewhere around $18 million, a number that would severely limit what we could offer other players. We’d wind up with starters only getting about $5 million.”

It’s clear by that statement Jackson underestimated the rise in the salary cap, which jumped 11% to $70 million. As a result, the Knicks had more money to play with in free agency and Gasol signed a deal with the Grizzlies larger than Jackson’s estimate.

Gasol, a First Team All-NBA selection and former Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Grizzlies last season. Lopez, who lost to Gasol in the playoffs, averaged 9.6 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.

Jackson handed out contracts over the summer worth a combined $96 million to Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn. The only max-contract candidate who seriously considered the Knicks was Greg Monroe, who instead signed with Milwaukee.

***

No. 4: So many jersey numbes, so few available — Some sociology major might be able to use the Boston Celtics’ jersey-number dilemma as a metaphor for a looming issue in the U.S. workplace: What happens when you’ve got more retirees than active workers? Or something like that. That seems to be a problem for the Celtics, who have retired the numbers of so many great individuals that the franchise is running short of options — at least in terms of traditional, basketball-familiar numbers — for its current and future players. The team’s introduction of some offseason signees had a couple sporting numbers seemingly more fit for the New England Patriots.

It’s a function of the Celtics’ excellence and their zeal in maintaining a tradition that soon might crowd on-court performers over the next century into triple digits. Here’s a synopsis as provided by the FriendlyBounce.com site:

Moving to the middle of the photo, we see Amir Johnson holding the No. 90 jersey. Johnson most recently wore No. 15 with the Raptors, and reportedly wanted the No. 5 shirt with Boston. Johnson had this (via NESN) to say about his number choice:

“Every number 1 through 34 is basically retired,” Johnson said. “My first initial number, I picked No. 5, but I know there was going to kind of be some controversy with that because Kevin Garnett won a championship. So I knew that was pretty much out of the water. My number (15), of course, was retired. And I recently posted a picture on my social network, I don’t know if you guys checked it out, it was a team back in the ’90s — like ’97, ’96 — I played for my first organized basketball team, which was the Burbank Celtics. It was a Celtics team. So I just kind of just put that together. The ’90s were good. I was born in ’87, but the ’90s were good.”

“I was born in ’87, but the ’90s were good” is an awesome sentence. Also, based on this list compiled by the great Basketball Reference, the best player in NBA history to ever wear the #90 is Drew Gooden. So it’s unique, at least!

Further left, [David] Lee chose the No. 42 he originally sported during his days with the Knicks. Nothing to see here.

And, finally, we have Perry Jones III donning that ever-so-rare No. 38. Jones wore the No. 3 shirt in OKC. Of course, Boston’s No. 3 is and forever will be that of the late, great Dennis Johnson. In case you were wondering, that same B-R list names Viktor Khryapa, Ron Knight and Kwame Brown as the best No. 38-wearers the league has ever seen. We’ve hardly even seen PJ3 play meaningful NBA minutes, yet already I feel fairly comfortable saying he’s probably better than all three of those guys.

In all, the Celtics have retired the following numbers already: 00, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 32, 33 and 35. No. 34 will surely be added to that list whenever Paul Pierce decides to hang ’em up.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Iceman shows he ain’t ready to go-eth quite yet … Roy Hibbert had some pointed things to say in an interview with our David Aldridge, including thoughts on Frank Vogel as a non-NBA-playing head coach … Would Mike Miller make sense back in Miami, even though his benefactor LeBron James is gone? … The late Manute Bol‘s son is developing some nice skills, something that pleased former NBA player-turned-broadcaster Eddie Johnson … Who do you consider the best undrafted players in league history? The HoopsHype.com crew ranks its top 30 (hint: Brad Miller is high on the list) …

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reluctant Popovich is a “lifer” | Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal | Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans | Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire

No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:

Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.

His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.

Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.

“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.

What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?

The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.

Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.

But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?

This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.

He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:

“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”

He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.

Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.

“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.

But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:

“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”

This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.

***

No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:

The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.

Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.

Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.

A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.

Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.

He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.

I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.

Times have changed.

***

No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:

It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.

According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.

His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.

“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”

Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.

“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”

***

No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:

Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”

Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.

Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition gameDennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …

Morning Shootaround — July 26


VIDEO: New Indiana Pacers swingman Glenn Robinson III leads the top 10 dunks from Summer League

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant’s health on the mind in OKC | Robinson III goes home with Pacers | Melo ready for USA Basketball minicamp | Pressure is on Jazz’s Burke

No. 1: Durant’s health on the mind in OKC — The obvious and most intriguing storyline in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant‘s health and availability for the start of training camp with the Thunder. Sure, there’s a new coach (Billy Donovan), the starting lineup to sort out and several other items of note. But it’s all about Durant right now, as members of the staff at the Oklahoman discuss (Blogtable style) here:

Darnell Mayberry (beat writer): Who will be the starting shooting guard and center. We grew accustomed to Scott Brooks’ way of doing things after seven seasons. His starting lineup was incredibly consistent and as a result became unbelievably predictable. But with first-year coach Billy Donovan we have no idea which direction the Thunder will go at shooting guard and center. Most assume Steven Adams will start. But who knows? And there’s not even educated guesses at this point about the starting shooting guard. With the Thunder set to return with the deepest team it’s ever had, the decisions Donovan makes regarding his first five will be what intrigues me most.

Anthony Slater (beat writer): The starting lineup and, more specifically, Andre Roberson’s role. Regardless of who starts at center, Adams and Kanter will play a ton. But if someone — Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow — usurps Roberson it may slice him from the rotation entirely. That could potentially free up some early opportunity for Cam Payne to get a test run or some intriguingly tall and lengthy units with Kyle Singler at the two. Shooting guard is the spot to watch.

Jenni Carlson (columnist): The health of the masses. Obviously, Kevin Durant is at the top of the list, but so many guys had so many issues that I’ll be curious to see how all of them look. You never anticipate lingering issues with procedures such as knee scopes, but you never know until you see. And of course, where Durant is in his recovery is paramount. The video evidence circulating out there on the interwebs is encouraging, but I’m sure everyone would like to see it with their own eyes.

Berry Tramel (columnist): Kevin Durant’s health. The Kanter/Adams minutes breakdown won’t be known until the real games begin. But we can see Durant’s progress from the foot problems in the exhibitions. If he’s healthy, the world is a bright and wondrous place. If he’s still hobbled, gloom, despair and agony on us all.

***

No. 2: Robinson III goes home with Pacers — Who says you can’t go home, or at least close to it? Glenn Robinson III, the former Michigan star and son of former NBA star Glenn Robinson, is headed back to his native Indiana on a three-year deal with the Pacers. Robinson III gives the Pacers an athletic swingman that fits perfectly with the up-tempo style Pacers boss Larry Bird wants his team to play going forward. Robinson III also pushes the Pacers’ roster to the 15-player limit allowed. Nat Newell of the Indianapolis Star has more:

Can’t wait to continue my journey in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers,” he tweeted, “couldn’t be more excited to play at home!! #OverlyDedicated

Robinson, 21, left the University of Michigan after his sophomore season and was selected 40th by Minnesota in the 2014 draft. It’s a three-year deal, his agents Austin Brown and Aaron Mintz told Yahoo Sports.

Robinson gives the Pacers 15 players under contract, the maximum they can keep during the regular season.

He fits the team’s plan to play faster and acquire more versatile players, providing depth on the wing. However, he averaged just 2.1 points in 35 games as rookie playing for two of the league’s worst teams in Philadelphia and Minnesota.

More curious is the move leaves Indiana with one player who has regularly played point guard in the NBA, George Hill. They will almost certainly bring additional point guards to training camp, but the team would have to release a player currently under contract to keep one. Expect Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey to serve as the team’s backup point guards. Second-round draft pick Joe Young could also see time at the point.

Robinson averaged 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds as a sophomore at Michigan. Minnesota waived him during the season, Philadelphia picked him up but made him a free agent when it declined to make him a qualifying offer.

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No. 3: Melo ready for USA Basketball minicamp — Count Carmelo Anthony among the NBA stars who plan to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp in Las Vegas next week as they begin preparations for the next year of competition. The New York Knicks’ star is not cleared for full involvement after February surgery, but he plans on being there alongside the rest of the stars in the program, writes Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News:

In a sign that Carmelo Anthony should be ready for the start of training camp, the Knicks’ $124 million man plans to attend a USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas from Aug. 11-13 as part of the build-up for the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.

Next month’s event will serve as a “reunion” for former players who have played in the USA Basketball system, with non-contact workouts on the docket, culminating with a sort of all-star game featuring the top players, according to ESPN.com.

However, since Anthony is still recuperating from February’s surgery on his left knee to repair a torn patellar tendon, he’s not expected to participate in all the activities.

The Knicks told the Daily News in an email on Friday they are OK with his involvement in the minicamp. Anthony was given a timeline of 4-to-6 months to return from surgery.

While he is back to doing basketball activities such as shooting, Anthony is still not at full strength.

USA Basketball hasn’t finalized its list of camp invitees but expects a number of key players to attend even if they are injured as a way for the organization to get a sense of who wants to go for gold next summer, ESPN.com said.

“I think it’s important for those who want to continue with us and be under consideration for ’16 to be with us in Las Vegas for a couple days,” USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo told ESPN.com. “It’s going to be low key. Light workouts, no contact and then play an all-star game. No concern about competitiveness. We’re not evaluating anyone.”

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No. 4: Pressure is on Jazz’s Burke — It’s one thing to make it to the NBA, be you a lottery pick, an undrafted free agent or anything between. It’s another altogether to thrive in the NBA, as Utah point guard and former college player of the year Trey Burke is finding out during his journey. Changes in the coaching ranks and philosophy, not to mention personnel, have put Burke squarely in the crosshairs for a Jazz team eyeing a move up the ranks in the rugged Western Conference. That makes his upcoming and third NBA season Burke’s most pressure-packed, to date. Kincade Upstill of The Deseret News provides some insight into Burke’s struggles:

Since being drafted by the Jazz, Burke’s jump shot has only made a few appearances. After his rookie season, he averaged 41 percent from 2-point range and a very unimpressive 33 percent from behind the arc. He was given a pass on his poor shooting as a rookie who needed to adjust to the NBA game; plus head coach Ty Corbin wasn’t known for development then and was let go shortly after the season’s end.

Then came in new head coach Quin Snyder, a former point guard who is known for player development. Former Jazz man Demarre Carroll credits Snyder with helping him improve his game and his jumper. The Jazz also hired Patrick Beilein, son of John Beilein, who was Burke’s college coach. Beilein was brought in as the Jazz’s shot doctor. The 2014-15 season seemed like it would be a brighter year for Burke.

But his poor shooting only got worse. Burke’s 3-point shot dropped to 31 percent. His 2-point shot also fell to 40 percent. Why has Burke struggled so much with his jump shot that has been a hindrance to his career? In college, Burke’s shot was pretty good, averaging almost 37 percent from three and 50 percent from two. Every indication is that he’s a hard worker and puts in the time to improve.

An article in Grantland by Kirk Goldsberry named Burke one of the league’s least-efficient shooters. One of the main reasons Burke’s percentage is so low is his inability to finish at the rim. Goldsberry wrote, “The Jazz have one of the least effective finishing guards in the league: When Burke attacks the rim, opposing interior defenders morph into [Rudy] Gobert.” Burke averaged only 42 percent at the rim last season. But Goldsberry does give some hope for Burke, citing “[Steph] Curry, who was really bad near the rim earlier in his career, only to turn into a very good close-range finisher.” Curry has become arguably the best shooter in the league.

It shouldn’t be expected that Burke will turn into Curry, but improvement can be made. Curry struggled his first three seasons in the league around the hoop but has figured it out. Burke and Snyder worked hard on a running floater last summer (that Jazz play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack mentions each time it’s used) to help him be more efficient around the rim; so far Burke has struggled with the new shot.

Let’s break down Burke’s shooting numbers: In catch-and-shoot situations, he averaged 46 percent from two and 35 percent from three, which are very solid numbers; but on pull-up jumpers he only shot 40 percent from two and 18 percent from three. The highest percentage of his shots comes from pull-up jumpers that require playing one on one, which is not his strength. If the Jazz can get Burke to become more of a spot-up shooter and less of a creator, then he might become a great role player for the Jazz. Burke has been an alpha dog his whole career, and switching to a role player could be a challenge and a blow to his ego.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: No offense to Gregg Popovich, but Richie Adubato recognized Becky Hammon’s coaching potential long before she led the Spurs to the title at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas … A silver medal at the Pan-Am Games is not a setback for the movement that is Canadian basketball … As much as they love the NBA Summer League, plenty of folks in Las Vegas want “their own” team

Morning Shootaround — July 23


VIDEO: Lakers introduce new trio

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith is happy to be a Clipper | New Lakers look to help franchise turn around | Bennett taking advantage of opportunity | Young Suns may be competing for playing time

No. 1: Josh Smith is happy to be a Clipper The Los Angeles Clippers ended up having one of the NBA’s busiest offseasons, between their pursuit of DeAndre Jordan, signing Paul Pierce and trading for Lance Stephenson. But sort of lost among all those moves was the Clippers signing Josh Smith away from the Houston Rockets, where Smith played a big role in the Rockets eliminating the Clippers in the playoffs. As Bill Oram writes in the Orange Country Register, the Clippers had been on Smith’s radar since earlier in the season

Somewhat obscured by those splashy moves was the arrival of Josh Smith seven months after the Clippers first tried to land the mercurial forward.

“It was an option,” Smith said when asked how close he was to signing with the Clippers after being waived by Detroit in December. “It was a definite thought process and conversation I had with my family.”

Smith, 29, was among the eight players – including the returning Jordan and Austin Rivers – the Clippers introduced Tuesday at Staples Center.

He has seen his value plummet in the last two years, since he signed a four-year, $53 million deal with Detroit. Smith was never a good fit with the Pistons, who tried to use him at small forward, a position he had not played in nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.

In December, the Pistons waived Smith, clearing the path for him to sign with the team of his choice. That ended up being the Rockets, who Smith helped knock the Clippers from the postseason.

Asked what he learned from the roller-coaster season, Smith said, “That you can get waived. I learned what waived meant. That’s pretty much it.”

He signed with the Clippers for the veteran minimum. Unlike two years ago, he wasn’t simply going to go to the highest bidder.

“Free agency is very exciting the first time around,” Smith said.

This summer he took a more careful approach to selecting a new team.

“My whole thing was I was looking at scenarios more so than being wowed by the red carpet layout and stuff,” he said.

The Pistons owe him $5.4 million annually through 2020, minus whatever he makes from another team.

Smith is best known for his offensive versatility, despite being selected to the NBA All-Defensive second team in 2010.

He averaged 13.5 points in 23.5 minutes per game in the playoffs. He made four 3-pointers and scored 19 points in the Rockets’ pivotal come-from-behind win in Game 6 of the conference semifinals.

In free agency, however, he opted to switch sides rather than stick with the team that bested the Clippers in seven games.

He called the Clippers’ free agency pitch “more of a visual, concrete type of situation” where as his future in Houston was “foggy.”

***

No. 2: New Lakers look to help franchise turn around Last season the Lakers limped to a 21-61 finish in an injury-marred season. So this offseason, the Lakers made some major moves, adding veterans Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass, who met the Los Angeles media yesterday. As Broderick Turner writes in the Los Angeles Times, they’re looking at the opportunity as a fresh start

Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass talked about becoming Lakers, and the team’s general manager, Mitch Kupchak, later indicated that he has considered acquiring another guard or a center.

The Lakers have five guards under contract, but Kobe Bryant may move to the starting small forward position. That would leave the Lakers with four guards, including rookie D’Angelo Russell and second-year combo guard Jordan Clarkson.

“Depending upon how you look at it, we may look to bring in another guard on board,” Kupchak said. “We may not.”

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert, whom the Lakers acquired from the Indiana Pacers in a trade for a second-round pick, is Los Angeles’ only quality center with experience. Tarik Black, generously listed at 6-11, is undersized and has played only one season. Robert Sacre, at 7 feet, has the size but lacks the skills to be a regular rotation player.

“We’re not a big team,” said Kupchak, who has a 14-man roster. “So really, if you look at our team you can make an argument we need another big player.”

The news conference at team headquarters at El Segundo with the recent additions had one awkward moment when the trio was asked whether Bryant had reached out to any of them since they joined the team.

Williams, who sat in the middle of his new teammates, looked to his right at Hibbert, who stared straight ahead and said nothing. Bass, already leaning back in his chair, smiled and also said nothing. Neither did Williams.

Instead, they all preferred to talk about how they can help the Lakers improve after a disastrous 21-61 season.

“You always feel like you have an opportunity to win here,” said Williams, who signed a three-year, $21-million deal to join the Lakers. “And when you have Kobe Bryant, that always gives you an opportunity to go far. So for me, they have a winning tradition, they always are one move away from their team going from zero to 100 and you’ve got Kobe Bryant.”

***

No. 3: Bennett taking advantage of opportunity Two years into his NBA career, former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett still has plenty to prove. But after being traded once and getting in better shape, Bennett is using a stint playing this summer with Team Canada in the Pan Am Games as a chance to show what he can do with his NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, writes Doug Smith in the Toronto Star

It now remains to be seen if the former No. 1 NBA draft pick can turn a summer stint that affords him such luxuries into a month that kick starts a somewhat stalled professional career.

So far, so good.

Bennett, the Brampton product who’s scuffled through a couple of NBA seasons trying to find his game and a niche, had 17 points and six rebounds as Canada pulled away in the final two minute to beat Argentina 88-83 in Pan Am Games preliminary round action at the Ryerson Athletic Centre.

The Minnesota Timberwolves forward may not have found an NBA comfort zone but he’s had times he’s dominated in international play and Canadian officials hope another summer with the national team will work long-term magic.

“He’s come in with a great attitude, he’s really hungry to represent his country and improve and this is a really important summer for him,” national team general manager Steve Nash said. “He’s a had a tough go his first two years but he’s really good kid so you just want to be here as a resource and help him realize his potential and play a lot and figure some things out with his game and where he can maximize his advantages on the floor. But most important he’s worked hard, he’s got a great attitude and he’s put himself in position to improve.”

Bennett did look more comfortable and as if he was having more fun while leading Canada to its second straight win. High-stepping back down the court after making a shot, the smiles, the interaction with teammates, it all just looks so natural.

“That’s two great games for him, he had 15 and 10 the other night (against Dominican Republic) and we said coming into this, this is going to be big thing for him with his ability to score in so many ways, the effort and energy he’s putting in right now,” said coach Jay Triano.

“The guy hangs a picture of his jersey in his locker, he’s proud to be Canadian, he’s proud to wear this uniform. That says a lot about the way he’s acting and the way he’s playing out here.”

***

No. 4: Young Suns may be competing for playing time While plenty was made of the Becky Hammon-coached San Antonio Spurs winning the NBA Las Vegas Summer League championship, it’s also worth noting that the Phoenix Suns, coached by Suns assistant Nate Bjorkgren, also advanced to the championship game, on the strength of several of their younger players. And once the season starts, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann writes, some of those young players will be competing for playing time once the regular season rolls around

The Phoenix Suns had three young vets and the only 2015 Lottery pick in the final eight of the Summer League. Three of those guys – Devin Booker (the No. 13 pick this year), Archie Goodwin (the No. 29 pick in 2013) and T.J. Warren (the No. 14 pick in 2014) – could be competing for minutes off the bench at the wing positions come October.

Both Goodwin (15.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting) and Warren (18.7, 54 percent) were more consistent offensively than Booker (15.3, 40 percent). But if you listen to Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, you conclude that the rookie will have the edge over the two vets when training camp opens.

Hornacek watched Summer League hoping to see Goodwin and Warren show that they can be trusted defensively. Neither has had a big role yet with the Suns, and it sounds like their coach didn’t see enough to guarantee one this season.

“As coaches,” Hornacek told NBA.com at halftime of the Summer League final, “we always say you’re more likely to stay on the court if you’re just playing good defense and not scoring more than if you’re scoring a couple of times and giving up a lot of points. We want to see both sides of that. We got some guys who can put the ball in the hole, but we got to see them play some defense.

“They’re making some improvements. We want to see it on a more consistent basis. With T.J. and Archie, what I’m looking at is their team defense. Are they on the nail? Are they helping out? Are they getting back? Are they closing out hard? I’ve seen spurts of it, but we want to get that up to 95 percent of the time, not just 20 percent of the time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA is now selling individual games as part of League Pass … Fourteen-year veteran Stephen Jackson announced his official retirement via Instagram … Could LeBron James star in Space Jam 2? … The Spurs are signing Jimmer Fredette … The Clippers and Bucks are interested in signing Glen Davis

Morning Shootaround — July 22


VIDEO: Paul Pierce talks about joining the Clippers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce still has work to do | Harden beats Curry | Seth Curry gets crowned | Report: Players to study healthcare for retired players

No. 1: Pierce still has work to do As he enters the 17th season of his NBA career, Paul Pierce has pretty much seen and done it all, from winning a title to playing for a rebuilding team. But with his career entering its likely twilight, Pierce signed with the Los Angeles Clippers to play in his hometown, with the coach (Doc Rivers) with whom he experienced his greatest success, to play for a team that he hopes to lead over the hump, writes NBA.com’s Ian Thompsen

Paul Pierce was watching the Clippers on TV last May as they lost Game 7 of their Western conference semifinal. Pierce’s own team, the Wizards, had been knocked out of the Eastern conference playoffs two days before.

“I already knew I was either going to go home and play for the Clippers or come back to Washington,” says Pierce, who opted out of his Wizards contract to become a free agent. “So I watched the Clippers closely.”

He watched, horrified, as they surrendered a 3-1 series lead over Houston. Worst of all was a Game 6 loss in Los Angeles in which the Rockets scored 51 of the last 71 points.

“No way — if I was in that locker room — I would have allowed that to happen,” Pierce says. “You picture yourself being that voice or being that guy on the court that can help in those situations. I think I fill a pretty big need for them.”

So his career ends where it began. Pierce starred at Inglewood High School, one mile west of the Fabulous Forum where the Lakers played. He had grown up idolizing Magic Johnson and hating Larry Bird. He could not have imagined how his loyalties would change during 15 years as a Celtic, and that his preference ultimately would be to return home to play for the Lakers’ nearest enemy.

There was a time, three decades ago, when pro basketball was saved by the rivalry of Boston and Los Angeles. Pierce has grown up to straddle the NBA’s dueling capitals.

“I’m trying to cement my legacy in both,” he says. “If I could win the first Clippers’ championship here, that would be pretty much storybook.”

***

No. 2: Harden beats Curry After months of discussion and debate, Stephen Curry ran away with the 2015 NBA Most Valuable Player Award, as voted on by NBA media. But last night on the first annual NBA Player’s Association “Players’ Awards,” the voting shook out differently. As Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, the players voted for James Harden over Curry as the NBA Players’ Choice MVP

Following a season in which Curry won nearly everything there was to win, Harden was the choice of NBA players as the winner of the first NBA Players Choice Award for MVP announced on Tuesday, edging Curry, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

Though other details about the voting were not released, Harden was said on the tape-delayed BET broadcast to have won by one vote.

“I want to thank God, thank my mom, my family and friends for all the support, the continuous support,” Harden said. “I want to thank BET for this beautiful event. To the NBA Players Association, (executive director) Michele Roberts for giving players a voice to speak their minds, and then just the players, the peers, I appreciate this vote. It means a lot and I’m really thankful for it.”

Curry was the NBA’s official regular-season Most Valuable Player award, taking 100 of the 130 first-place media votes, with Harden second with 25 first-place votes. Curry defeated Harden’s Rockets in the Western Conference Finals and helped lead the Golden State Warriors to the NBA championship. But Harden’s selection was surprising because of the results when many of the other award winners were announced.

Curry had been named the league’s ‘Top Clutch Performer,’ taking the award over Harden, James and Westbrook. He had also made the winner of the ‘Hardest to Guard Award,’ winning over Harden, James and Westbrook.

***

No. 3: Seth Curry gets crowned Stephen Curry was a lottery pick who worked his way into becoming the NBA MVP. His younger brother, Seth Curry, has had a more circuitous route, spending most of his pro career bouncing around the D-League. Yet in the recently finished Samsung NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Seth looked like Steph, averaging 24.3 ppg for the New Orleans Pelicans summer squad. His big performance was rewarded yesterday, when Seth Curry inked a two-year deal with the Sacramento Kings

The Kings will look for perimeter shooting from the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Curry.

After leaving Duke in 2013, Curry wasn’t drafted. He has spent most of his pro career in the NBA Development League, where he has been an All-Star twice. He has appeared in four NBA games: one with Memphis and one with Cleveland in 2013-14 and two with Phoenix last season. He had 10-day contracts with those teams.

Curry is the second player to strike a deal with the Kings since the end of summer league. On Monday, the Kings and forward Quincy Acy agreed to a two-year contract with a second-year player option.

Acy played with the Kings during the 2013-14 season after coming from Toronto in the Rudy Gay trade. The Kings dealt him to New York last August, and he averaged 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in 68 games with the Knicks.

The Kings will have 13 players on guaranteed contracts once the additions of Curry, Acy and Caron Butler become official. Eric Moreland’s deal becomes guaranteed Aug. 1. Second-year guard David Stockton’s contract does not become guaranteed unless he is on the Kings’ roster after Jan. 10.

***

No. 4: Report: Players to study healthcare for retired players At a recent meeting of the NBA Player’s Association, the executive committee has decided to set aside some money as they study a plan to provide healthcare to retired players. As Ken Berger writes for CBS Sports, there are no concrete plans, but the players are interested in studying the idea

At its summer meeting in Las Vegas on Monday, union leaders agreed that they liked the concept of funding retired players’ medical costs, but no vote was taken on whether to go forward with the plan. The executive committee, led by president Chris Paul of the Clippers, voted to set aside an undisclosed sum of the shortfall check the union is due to receive from the NBA to fund the initiative if it is acted upon.

The issue will be discussed further at the union’s All-Star meeting in Toronto.

Since the players’ negotiated salaries for the 2014-15 season came in below their 50-51 percent negotiated guarantee, the union will receive the entire escrow fund of approximately $200 million plus the amount of the shortfall — estimated to be $57 million, according to a league source. The committee did not vote on how to divide the shortfall money — evenly among all the players or prorated based on their salaries, sources said.

It is expected that the players also will receive shortfall checks after the next two seasons as league revenues continue to rise higher than expected. With the infusion of the NBA’s $24 billion TV deal beginning in 2016, commissioner Adam Silver said last week that the amount of the shortfall due the players in 2017 could approach $500 million.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Wizards signee Jared Dudley will miss 3-4 months following back surgery … The Pelicans have added veteran leadership by signing Kendrick Perkins to a one-year deal … The Hornets have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with former UNC star Tyler Hansbrough … The Rockets have re-signed K.J. McDaniels … The Celtics signed second-round pick Jordan Mickey to a four-year dealBaron Davis is trying to launch an NBA comeback

Morning Shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Becky Hammon, Spurs win Summer League championship

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Spurs keep winning | Cavs, Smith meeting this week | Lawson gives Rockets another dimension | Paul Pierce is coming home

No. 1: The Spurs keep winning The San Antonio Spurs have set up a modern-day NBA dynasty, and manage to continually contend the last few decades. This summer has been no different, as the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in free agency, and then yesterday their Summer League team, coached by Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, knocked off the Phoenix Suns to win the Las Vegas Summer League. As our John Schuhmann writes, the basketball may not always be great at Summer League, but you always get good stories

First, there was Becky Hammon, the first ever female Summer League head coach, leading her team to a 6-1 record and the title her in Las Vegas. A year ago, she was playing for the San Antonio Stars. And already, she’s got some head coaching experience.

“I’m just trying to progress as a coach,” Hammon said about her 10 days in Las Vegas. “It was eye-opening in a lot of different areas for me, just how much my mind was reeling during timeouts.”

But Hammon clearly wasn’t reserved in her new role. She took charge in the huddles and gave the refs the business when a call didn’t go her way.

“It was just a great learning process for me,” she said. “And the guys had to take my mistakes – and I made plenty – and we just kept hanging together as a group.”

A big part of that group and another great story was Jonathon Simmons, who was voted the championship game MVP after scoring 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

Simmons played at two different junior colleges before finishing his college career at the University of Houston. He played a season in the ABL and then made the Spurs’ D-League team through an open tryout two years ago.

After playing three games for the Brooklyn Nets’ Summer League team, the Spurs gave Simmons an NBA contract. He came to Las Vegas and averaged 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals for the Summer Spurs.

“It’s just a blessing,” Simmons told The Starters after the game on Monday. “I didn’t see it coming. I’m still kind of shocked right now. But I’m just ready to get to work.”

***

No. 2: Cavs, Smith meeting this week After going to the Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith opted out of his contract to test the free agency market. And though plenty of money was flying around during the free agency period, Smith’s name was rarely heard. Now, with most of the free agents off the market, Smith remains available and, as he said to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, Smith understands that opting out may mean he’ll make less next season

“That’s always part of the gamble of opting out,” Smith told the Northeast Ohio Media Group on Monday at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas, where the NBA players’ union held its summer meeting.

Smith has kept a low profile during the NBA’s free agency period, which is a bad thing for a player who opted out of his contract to seek a raise.

He was the Cavs’ starting shooting guard during the regular season after he was acquired via trade in January, but Smith struggled in the Finals – his last and best chance to increase his earning potential.

Asked if he regretted his decision to decline his contract option, Smith said “Uh, I mean, yes and no.

“No because I’ve gotten offers that I wanted, I mean numbers that I wanted, it’s just different situations,” Smith said. “Right now it’s just a matter of seeing what the Cavs come back to me with. Right now they give me the best opportunity to win.”

Smith’s agent, Leon Rose, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. It is believed Smith was seeking somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range annually, and he declined to disclose which teams his offers may have come from.

There are only three teams in the NBA that still have the cap space to give him a raise from last year: the Portland Trail Blazers ($16.4 million in cap space); Philadelphia 76ers ($16.3 million); and Indiana Pacers ($11.5 million).

But the Pacers only have the space in theory– a cap snafu with free agent Monta Ellis temporarily voided his free-agent contract. He will sign there and Indiana will be out of cap room.

Smith said he had some “discussions” with the Blazers but they didn’t go anywhere. So if the offers came from organizations outside of Philadelphia, they’re gone.

Smith has always said he wanted to come back to the Cavs, and he reiterated that point on Monday.

“I definitely want to come back to Cleveland,” he said. “The coaches, the team, everything about the situation, it’s perfect for me.”

Asked for the reasons why he does regret his contract decision, he said “just because I would be secure and I would already know I’m where I want to be.

“I wouldn’t have to go through this whole thought process anymore,” he said.

***

No. 3: Lawson gives Rockets another dimension So much of the Houston Rockets’ offense last season ran through James Harden, and understandably so — Harden is one of the NBA’s best creators. But with their trade for Denver’s Ty Lawson, as Jonathan Feigan writes for the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets feel like Lawson provides a new dimension to their offense that will give Harden the help he needs

They knew they needed more, with everyone from star guard James Harden to general manager Daryl Morey pointing to a need to add another playmaker. So when the Rockets on Monday completed their trade for point guard Ty Lawson, Morey did not immediately point to what Lawson has done or could do for the Rockets; he cited the quest that began when the season ended.

“A lot of what we had hoped to accomplish before next season he’s able to do,” Morey said. “He’s another guy that can attack the basket, can shoot, can make plays for others.”

Days after the season ended, Morey precisely described that need. Even then, he knew the Rockets would chase LaMarcus Aldridge, but would be unlikely to land him. He believed the Rockets would keep the bulk of their own free agents. But he knew even with better health and improvement, the Rockets would likely need help in the backcourt.

“Coach (Kevin McHale) feels and I agree, we could use another playmaker on the perimeter,” Morey said then as if he had skipped to the end of the book. “If it is something we can address, we will. Play off the catch playmaking. There are times people are loading up on James. To have a guy that can play off the catch, attack the basket, finish, make a play, that kind of thing. It’s not easy to find.”

The Rockets found that with Lawson, needing to give up only spare parts and a protected first-round pick because Lawson’s trade value shrank so greatly with his second DUI arrest of the past six months. Lawson was in rehab when the deal was completed and when he spoke to McHale on Monday.

Morey said the Rockets believed Lawson’s rehabilitation gave them confidence he will overcome issues and move past incidents he acknowledged are the type that “have a history of potentially recurring.” But he described the risk of obtaining Lawson as part of all deal-making. There was no doubt about the void that needed to be filled.

“As we saw, especially when we played tougher teams last year, we struggled against teams that would really load up on James Harden. We feel that will be a lot more difficult for teams to do now.”

“People always used to … say our point guard position was terrible, the worst, whatever. I always pointed out that Pat Beverley was a really good player. He’s just maybe suffering compared to all these perennial All Stars we go against in the West. Obviously, we’re still going to be going against those very difficult All Stars, but Ty Lawson is somebody who gives you a top 10 point guard in the league, somebody who can really help us.”

While Beverley can be the 3-and-D point guard that meshes well with Harden, Lawson is a second ball handler and playmaker needed when teams try to wrap their defense around Harden. With the second unit, he not only can be a needed playmaker, Lawson’s strengths – running an up-tempo offense and playmaking in pick-and-roll – fit well with Corey Brewer on the break and Clint Capela on pick-and-rolls.

“Coach McHale and Ty spoke for quite a while again today,” Morey said. “Coach McHale left that conversation feeling very good. Ty does not come in expecting anything. He just wanted to join a team with James Harden, Dwight Howard and a bunch of other guys he knows on the team like Trevor Ariza. I do think it does work either with him as a starter or off the bench.

“When James is off the floor, I do think Ty is going to add a lot and when James is on the floor it’s going to be much more difficult to double team James off pick-and-rolls when you have a secondary playmaker like Ty on the floor.”

***

No. 4: Paul Pierce is heading home It took him nearly two decades, but after 17 seasons in the NBA, Paul Pierce has returned home. After years with the Celtics, Nets and Wizards, the Inglewood, California native signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and, as Gary Washburn writes in the Boston Globe, Pierce is already playing a big part with the Clippers…

“It’s been pretty wild,” Pierce said of convincing Jordan to pass up a max contract offer with the Dallas Mavericks and return to Los Angeles. “I think that whole saga took a form and shade of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be.

“I made my decision to be a Clipper. DeAndre [Jordan] changed his mind to be a Clipper.”

After verbally committing to the Mavericks, Jordan had second thoughts and began contacting Clippers players. A contingent of players, led by Pierce, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, headed to Houston to speak to Jordan.

“I wasn’t there last year with that team, so I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought but I was on the outside looking in,” Pierce said. “I think guys cleared the air if there was any tension, but I think a lot of the media made it more than it was.”

After spending 15 seasons in Boston, Pierce played one season in Brooklyn after a trade, and then signed last summer with Washington. Despite an impressive playoff performance and raves from teammates, Pierce opted out of his Wizards deal this spring and signed a three-year deal with the Clippers.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to come home, finally,” Pierce said. “I grew up a Laker fan but playing on all the Boston Celtic teams . . . there’s no way I could go there — so this was the next best choice. And it’s always been a dream to play in front of my family and friends.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stan Van Gundy says Reggie Jackson‘s new contract will be a bargain a few years down the road … Quincy Acy says he’s returning to the Sacramento KingsDamian Lillard released his second song of the summer …

Morning Shootaround — July 20


VIDEO:
Charles Barkley and Steve Kerr mix it up on After Dark with Rick Fox

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul only cares that Jordan is back in LA | Rockets willing take risk on Lawson | Former Kentucky stars lift Suns to title game | McDermott ready for breakout season under Hoiberg

No. 1: Paul only cares that Jordan is back in LA — At this point, the details no longer matter to Chris Paul. The rumors and speculation of his fractured relationship with DeAndre Jordan and how it almost led to Jordan’s departure for Dallas via free agency was overblown, if you listen to the Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar and his version of the team’s wild and crazy free agent summer. He and Jordan are “brothers,” or as Paul put in Sunday, Jordan is his “big little brother.” Justin Verrier of ESPN.com explains:

While reports indicated that a rift between Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan played a role in the center agreeing to sign a free-agent deal with the Dallas Mavericks before ultimately re-upping with the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul said that it “doesn’t matter” what people say, and that he’s “unbelievably happy” to have him back.

“DeAndre’s like my big little brother,” Paul said before the first annual Players’ Awards at the Penn & Teller theater at the Rio Las Vegas. “We talk a lot more than people ever realize. But it doesn’t matter [what people say]. The only thing that matters is that he’s back.”

After heavy courting from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and forward Chandler Parsons, Jordan agreed to a four-year max contract with Dallas early in free agency. But after a chaotic chain of events that saw a cavalcade of Clippers personnel — including coach Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce and Paul himself — meet with Jordan at his Houston home, the 26-year-old changed his mind and signed a four-year deal with the Clippers worth an estimated $88 million, according to ESPN sources.

“It’s been pretty wild,” said Pierce, who signed a reported three-year, $10 million deal with the Clippers this offseason. “But I think that whole saga really took a form or shape of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be, but I made my decision to be a Clipper and DeAndre changed his mind and made his decision to be a Clipper. We’re happy with the way things turned out.”

Pierce, who played for the Washington Wizards last season, said he wasn’t privy to the events before his arrival in L.A., but is encouraged by the result of the sitdown.

“I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought,” Pierce said. “But I was on the outside looking in. I think guys really cleared the air if there was any tension, but a lot of the media made it more than it really was from what I saw. But it was good just to have the main guys who are going to be the main voices on this team in one room. It was really good. Hopefully it can be the start of something special.”

***

No. 2: Rockets willing to take risk on Lawson — Daryl Morey has never been averse to taking risks in building a championship-caliber team in Houston. His latest move, however, might be his riskiest yet. The addition of former Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, fresh off of his second DUI in the past six months, could solve a huge issue at the position for the Rockets … provided Lawson cleans up his own issues off the court, of course. It’s a process the Rockets will attack carefully as they attempt to reap the rewards of this risky venture. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:

The Rockets’ pursuit of a playmaker landed them one of the league’s best and a bargain price – but with one huge question mark attached.

The Rockets reached agreement on a deal for Denver point guard Ty Lawson, acquiring the six-year veteran without giving up anyone from their playing rotation, a person with knowledge of the deal said on Sunday. The individual spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal will not be complete until Monday morning.

The move, however, is not without risk. Lawson entered a 30-day private alcohol treatment program last week after his second DUI arrest in the past six months. He has a court appearance scheduled for Aug. 20 in Denver.

Though often targeted in trade talks and especially since Denver drafted Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh pick of the NBA Draft last month, Lawson’s off-court problems had apparently dramatically reduced the Nuggets’ asking price.

The Rockets will send guard Nick Johnson, forward Kostas Papanikolaou, guard Pablo Prigioni and center Joey Dorsey, along with a protected first-round pick to get Lawson. Only Johnson was expected to have a chance to be in the Rockets playing rotation next season, and in his case, only if he could make the transition to point guard.

The pick that will go to Denver is protected through the lottery. The Rockets will receive Denver’s 2017 second-round pick.

Lawson, 27, has two seasons worth $25.6 million remaining on his contract.

With the move, along with an agreement with forward KJ McDaniels on Sunday, the Rockets move into the luxury tax. They can still sign Jason Terry or other players to veteran minimum contracts, but once they use any of their remaining mid-level exception money to sign second-round pick Montrez Harrell, they will be “hard-capped” and unable to make those offers.

Prigioni is expected to be waived shortly after the deal is official, with only $440,000 of his contract guaranteed. Papanikolaou’s contract, worth $4.7 million, is non-guaranteed if he is waived by Oct. 4, but he and Johnson were considered important parts to a deal.

For the Rockets, Lawson brings the playmaking they had said they wanted since the end of last season and with strengths that match their up-tempo and pick-and-roll style.

While bringing playmaking at point guard that the Rockets had lacked, he is not an ideal fit next to James Harden because he is at his best with the ball in his hands and the Rockets have preferred to keep Harden as their primary ball-handler. Lawson, however, has shown potential as a catch-and-shoot threat, especially on corner 3s where last season he made 42.1 percent of his shots.

While Harden was second in the NBA last season in points scored or produced with his assists, Lawson was seventh. He has made 46.6 percent of his shots and 36.9 percent of his 3-pointers in his career, but has never played with a playmaker to get him the spot-up opportunities he can get while playing with Harden.

Lawson averaged 15.2 points and a career-high 9.6 assists last season, third in the NBA behind Chris Paul and John Wall.

With the deal for Lawson after signing Pat Beverley, Marcus Thornton and Corey Brewer this month, the Rockets go from thin in the backcourt at the end of last season when Beverley was hurt and Prigioni and Terry had to man the point, to unusually deep around Harden.

***

No. 3: Former Kentucky stars lift Suns to title game — There were enough of them in summer league action this summer to field two teams comprised strictly of former Kentucky Wildcats, both young (Devin Booker) and old (Keith Bogans). A robust group of 13 were on various rosters in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Three of them, Booker, Archie Goodwin and Josh Harrellson, will cap things off today in the championship game in Vegas after combining for 62 points to lift the Phoenix Suns past the New Orleans Pelicans. As Dennis Varney of the Herald Leader explains, it’s good to be Blue these days:

The Phoenix Suns’ trio of former Kentucky stars combined for 62 points, including going 9-for-19 from three-point range, in the team’s 93-87 victory over the previously undefeated New Orleans Pelicans in the Las Vegas Summer League semifinals on Sunday night.

Rookie Devin Booker led the way with 31 points, which tied the single-game high for the Las Vegas summer league this year. He was 5-for-9 from long range, and also had nine rebounds and two assists. Booker hit six of seven free-throw attempts.

“I just want to get wins,” Booker said. “I always have a winning attitude, and that’s what we’re out here for.”

Booker missed his first eight three-point attempts to start summer league play, but he has heated up since.

“Shooters never stop shooting,” he said. “I’ve been through slumps before, but you always have to keep shooting. … I wasn’t worried about it. I knew it was eventually going to fall.”

Josh Harrellson, a free agent trying to play his way back on to an NBA roster, started in place of the Suns’ Alex Len (rest). Harrellson scored 19 points to go with nine rebounds and an assist.

Harrellson was 3-for-8 from three-point range, and he’s 10-for-23 (43.5 percent) from that distance this summer.

Third-year Suns guard Archie Goodwin, who has scored 20-plus points in three of the team’s six games this summer, added 12 points, six rebounds and four assists.

***

No. 4: McDermott ready for breakout season under Hoiberg? — A fresh start could be just what Doug McDermott needs in Chicago. And he, along with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and the rest of the veterans on the roster, will get exactly that with new coach Fred Hoiberg. But if his performance this summer is any indication, McDermott could benefit more than anyone from the change. In a Q&A with Sam Vecenie of CBSSports.com, McDermott addressed that premise and more:

CBSSports.com: You’re coming off of a rookie year where you didn’t really get to play a lot. What do you think your role will look like next year given that the Bulls didn’t really lose anyone?

McDermott: You know, you learn from those guys. A lot of veterans still. But I think I fit in with Coach Hoiberg’s system pretty well, so I think it’ll be a great experience getting to learn from someone like him.

CBSSports.com: That’s actually another thing I wanted to ask you about. Coach Hoiberg actually went to your high school if I remember correctly. That’s kind of a weird and awesome coincidence for you, no?

McDermott: Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s great having a coach you can relate to, but even more having a guy that grew up in the same town as you is pretty cool. We didn’t know each other a whole lot when I was growing up, but just having his presence around is pretty cool.

CBSSports.com: Did you have any experience at all with him beforehand?

McDermott: I actually saw him at a couple of weddings, just with people that we knew mutually so we actually got to know each other a little bit there. So it was good to really get to know him a little beforehand.

CBSSports.com: What’s the biggest thing you learned from your rookie year this year?

McDermott: Just patience. You know, you gotta wait your turn, especially on a good team. It’s all about getting better every single day. You can’t really worry. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You just have to put in your work and good things will happen.

CBSSports.com: One thing I noticed here in summer league is that you were playing a bit more of the 4. Do you think that’s going to be something you do more of throughout next season?

McDermott: Yeah, I think it’ll kind of depend on matchups and stuff. And having a guy like Niko Mirotic, we can kind of play both the 3 or 4 and kind of run the same spots so being able to play with a guy like him, plus we have a lot of versatility out there so I think it’ll be good.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Oft-maligned Italian big man Andrea Bargnani believes he can be an impact player in Brooklyn and is not shy about saying so … The Utah Jazz are prepared to buck the small ball trend going on in the NBA today … Seth Curry of the New Orleans Pelicans summer league squad did his best to keep the good vibrations going for the family …

Morning shootaround — July 19


VIDEO:
Stop and Pop with Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

NEWS OF THE MORNING

RHJ brings personality to the Nets | Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more | Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieving | Some Pau in Porzingis?

No. 1: RHJ brings personality to Nets — It hasn’t been the best of offseasons for the Brooklyn Nets. They bought out point guard Deron Williams‘ contract, paying him a reported $27.5 million not to play for them over the next two seasons. They signed Andrea Bargnani, the unfulfilling 7-footer who was found wanting by the Nets’ rivals across the river and whose third chance at NBA success might be his last. What had been a spend-now, win-now approach has been pushed aside for a youth movement, a much tougher sell in the big city. While fans patiently (or not) await a bunch of salary-cap space 12 months from now – when seemingly every team will have it, by the way – Brooklyn at least added a new player whose game and personality could be worth cheering. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the up-close-and-personal treatment from the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps:

Anyone who meets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson today sees someone about as outgoing and confident in himself as a person as you can be. After all, it takes plenty of confidence to hop up onto the stage at the NBA Draft wearing plaid pants, or to end your initial press conference with reporters with a freestyle rap about being the newest member of an NBA franchise.

But there was a time when Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t so confident, when he did worry about what others said and thought about him. At least, that was the case until he was entering high school and grew tired of the way people were always discussing his afro.

“People would always talk about my hair,” he said. “They would always call me names or whatever, and I was just like, ‘I like it.’ As I got older, I just got really comfortable with [my personality] and said, ‘To hell with whoever doesn’t like it.’

“Growing up, sometimes you worry what people think, who is going to say something about me … but after that, I was like, ‘Whatever makes me happy, that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”

It’s a philosophy that has served Hollis-Jefferson well, helping carry him from his hometown of Chester, Pa., to the University of Arizona for two years then to the Nets — who sent Mason Plumlee to Portland to acquire the rights to the 23rd-overall pick, who the Nets feel is the best defensive player in the entire draft and could become a longtime fixture for them on the wings.

Though Hollis-Jefferson has all the traits you look for in a lock-down wing defender, he may also be the draft’s most effervescent personality — a bundle of energy who seems incapable of having anything but a smile on his face or a stream of entertaining dialogue tumbling out of his mouth.

Given that one of the biggest criticisms of the Nets recently has been a lack of emotion and passion, it’s not just his basketball skills that make him a welcome addition to the roster.

“He doesn’t hold anything back,” said Brandon Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson’s teammate at Arizona who played for the Hawks during summer league here. “Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s not the best [thing], but you always know what to expect from him.”

***

No. 2: Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more — Toronto’s dismal finish to 2014-15 – an 11-16 mark over the final two months, followed by an 0-4 ousting in the playoffs’ first round – had folks speculating about coach Dwane Casey‘s job security and the franchise’s viability as a contender. But a busy summer so far by GM Masai Ujiri has rounded up newcomers DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo, while bidding adieu to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez. That’s a lot of change, about which Casey spoke to our own John Schuhmann for an NBA.com Q&A. Here are some excerpts:

Q: What hurt you offensively in the playoffs?
DC: Physicality and size. We were small with Lou and Kyle [Lowry] on the floor at the same time. Size and length took us out. They made our big guys make plays. So a big emphasis this summer for them is learning how to play out of blitzes on the pick-and-roll, when they’re taking the ball out of DeMar’s and Kyle’s hands. They got to make plays and burn them if they’re going to bring two to the ball. We didn’t do a good job of that in the playoffs.

Q: What was your pitch to [DeMarre] Carroll when you met with him?
DC: We need you. You’re a defensive guy. We want to be a defensive team. We had been until last year. We moved from 30th [in defensive efficiency in 2010-11, the season before Casey was hired] to top 10, and then took a step back unwillingly. He’s a big part of us taking that next step. That was the pitch. I love his story, that he’s a self-made player. If you said six years ago that DeMarre Carroll would be one of the top players in the league, nobody would have believed you. But he’s made himself into that player. That’s my kind of guy and our kind of guy.

Q: Has Terrence Ross hit a ceiling?
DC: I don’t think so. What a lot of people don’t understand is that he had a lot of stuff in his ankle. He had that taken out this spring. He played through it last year. Whether that was why he took a dip defensively, I don’t know. I tell everybody that he was our best defensive wing player two years ago, and we were pretty good. He’s got to get back to that level more so than with his shooting. But I don’t think he’s hit a slump. He didn’t take that next big step. He hasn’t forgot how to shoot. Even with one leg, he was shooting this morning. So we’re looking for big things out of him and this is a big year for him, career-wise.

***

No. 3: Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieve — Everyone gets excited to see the stars of the NBA Draft in the weeks following their selections and destinations. A bunch of sophomores-to-be attract attention by showing what they learned as rookies (or what they didn’t). But for many hoops devotees, the summer leagues in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are about guys like Alan Williams. Williams, a 6-foot-8 big man from UC-Santa Barbara, put up some big numbers playing for the Houston Rockets’ entry in Las Vegas, including a 22-point, 20-rebound performance against Philadelphia’s team. Considered too small for the spot he plays, by NBA standards, Williams remains a free agent in search of a training camp in October. But he made sure no one outworked him in Vegas, per CBSSports.com:

His energy level on the boards has always been great, even going back to when he was one of the advanced metric darlings of college basketball over the course of the last three seasons. He’s been in the top-10 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate over each of the last three seasons, and led the entire country in PER in 2014 at 35.7.

But this week, he kicked it up a notch, largely due to some work he did in the offseason. [The first thing a scout] pointed out was that the 6-foot-8 big man seemed to have slimmed down, which may have pushed him into another gear as far as his endurance and athletic explosiveness. Williams himself confirmed as much after the game.

“I had to, I had to,” Williams said with a smile when asked if he’d lost weight. “That’s what the NBA guys want to see. Me being able to trim that baby fat that I had in college and continue to elevate my game and keep up with that same energy and intensity that I’ve had for so long.”
That hard work has been emblematic of Williams’ career to this point, as the big man went from a lightly recruited high school prospect all the way to this moment.

“You hear this about a lot of guys, I’m sure, he’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Williams’ coach at UC Santa Barbara, Bob Williams, told me prior to this 2014-15 season. “He’s a phenomenal kid.”

Williams did give a little blush [over] the superlatives that have been laid upon him as a teammate in the past, but he said his parents — his mom is a police chief and his dad a judge — instilled the best values in him possible to give him a shot at success.

“My parents did a really good job of making me the best man I can be,” Williams said. “Not only the best basketball player, but the best man. And I don’t know if that gives me a better chance [to make a team], but I definitely believe that it should be a contributing factor. Someone’s character is always taken into place because you never know who’s watching. You want guys that are going to go out there and put their best foot forward for the organization and I feel like I’m one of those guys who can be a model citizen, a great teammate, and go out there and bust my butt on the floor.”

***

No. 4: Some Pau in Porzingis? — Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was asked all sorts of unanswerable – or at least, not ask-worthy – questions in Las Vegas, with inquiring New York scribes wanting him to project the team’s starting lineup for November or discuss the perfect ratio of triangle vs. other geometric forms of offense for his squad in 2015-16. He mostly stayed away from comparisons of the Knicks’ new young players to known NBA quantities, based on the unrealistic expectations such comments spark. Fisher did acquiesce, though, when one such parallel was drawn between 7-foot-3 rookie Kristaps Porzingis and veteran All-Star Pau Gasol. Marc Berman of the New York Post relayed Fisher’s responses:

But Fisher only will compare the two Europeans as far as their mental makeup — not their on-court game and slight builds. And Fisher raves that Porzingis stacks up well with Gasol, the five-time All-Star, in all those vital intangibles.

“I’m very reluctant to throw around a lot of comparisons before a guy has played a [preseason] game,’’ Fisher said late Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center after the Knicks’ summer league was history. “But I would say the similarities are the character, that Pau’s an amazing person and Kristaps is the same type of guy in terms of a good teammate, good guy to be around, enjoys working hard and really wants to be the best.

“We’re very fortunate from that standing. His career will take care of itself because of those reasons.’’

Many of the post-draft questions about whether Porzingis would stand his ground defensively because of his ultra-skinny frame were answered in Las Vegas. Knicks president Phil Jackson was more worried than anyone. Porzingis sat out Friday’s summer-league finale, already having proven through the first four games that he was ready to mix it up and not back down.

With Fisher starting the perimeter-oriented Latvian at center purposely — to see how he dealt with the NBA’s inside physicality — Porzingis blocked shots, drew fouls and rarely looked out of his element. He averaged 10.5 points on 48 percent shooting and 1.8 blocks per game, earning loud cheers from Knicks fans in Sin City. His rebounding (3.3 per game) and boxing out needs work, as well as his hands.

Porzingis’ natural position will be power forward — maybe as a starter alongside center Robin Lopez — but he says he will play minutes at center. A starting frontline of Lopez-Porzingis-Carmelo Anthony may not be shabby in the mediocre East.

Sources say the goal is for Porzingis to put on 10 to 15 pounds by the opening of training camp Oct. 1 — which would put him at roughly 245 pounds.

“He’ll mature and fill out physically as he ages,” Fisher said. “We’re not obsessed at putting a lot of weight on him all at once. I think he’s in good position. I’m glad to have him healthy and so he can have a great 10-week stretch to get him ready for training camp.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA legend Jerry West, a.k.a., “The Logo,” considers the Golden State Warriors’ front office to be the “most healthy’ environment in which he’s ever worked. Which seems to say something about some portions of his long tenure with the Lakers. … Minnesota’s Zach LaVine didn’t play in the first quarter but scored 49 points in the final three, with a game-winning 3-pointer, in the annual Seattle pro-am game. … Paul George of the Indiana Pacers told a crowd in China that he wants to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If he repeats it on Pacers’ media day, it will generate bigger headlines. … Cady Lalanne, the Haitian-born forward who has played for San Antonio in the summer league, probably had a tougher trek to grab an NBA rung than your favorite player. … Phoenix center Alex Len isn’t bothered at all by the arrival of veteran Tyson Chandler, who will take some of Len’s minutes. … Mark Cuban shrugged off, once again, DeAndre Jordan‘s Re-Decision. … Utah’s Gordon Hayward did a pretty good job on his blog of providing play-by-play of Bernadette Marie Hayward‘s arrival into his and wife Robyn‘s lives. …

Morning shootaround — July 18


VIDEO: Sophomores delivering at Summer League

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family | Project Durant on track in Washington | Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop | Smart to miss Africa game

No. 1: Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family — It’s too bad, when Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo writes about himself on his official blog, that he doesn’t lapse into third-person references to himself. If he did, he’d face the same challenge – spelling and typing that last name repeatedly – other scribes face. Nonetheless, the Bucks’ rising star posted Friday about the bond he feels with his team and how his sense of family extends these days to his workplace:

The Bucks and John Hammond chose me in the draft, got me in the NBA, kept me in the team with a role from my very first season and they are my basketball family. Not only that, but already at this young age, they have enough faith in me as a leader and they are doing everything in order to develop all of my potential. From my side, I feel that I want to be playing in the Bucks. I’m not talking about my next contract. The way I feel now, I want to keep playing for the Milwaukee Bucks for the next 20 years!

You never know how life turns out. Three years ago I was thinking that I might be playing for Filathlitikos forever! All of a sudden, the draft emerged, the NBA, the Bucks and everything that followed. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling and thinking in 2, 3 or more years. Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.

I’m a guy who doesn’t really care about glamour and big markets. I like to be home all day. I get up in the morning, I take a shower and I go to practice. When I’m finished, the only thing that’s on my mind is to go back home and spend time with my family. I usually feel that I prefer to hide from people.

Okay, if LeBron said to me ‘Come to my team and play with me,’ I’d think about it! (laughs) He’s the best player in the world and a member of that exclusive group of the best that have ever played the game. Still, though, the Milwaukee Bucks would come first. They will always be the team that gave me my chance and opened up the doors to paradise.

***

No. 2: Project Durant on track in Washington — The Washington Wizards aren’t running afoul of NBA tampering rules, but within the letter of the law, they’re not hiding the fact that they hope to be players in what most expect to be a Kevin Durant Sweeptakes next July. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post looked at the Wizards’ plan, which will be competing with approximately 28 other teams’ plans 11.5 months from now in trying to lure the NBA’s 2014 MVP away from Oklahoma City:

The Washington Wizards have meticulously prepared for the opportunity to coax Durant, born in the District and a product of Montrose Christian School, to Washington once the clock strikes midnight on July 1, 2016. But the courting of Durant, 26, will be wildly competitive: Thanks to the coming flood of money from a new television contract that will kick in next July, a bevy of franchises will have the salary cap space to offer the maximum possible contract to Durant, the 2014 league MVP. Other teams are only a couple moves away from getting in the mix. It could become a free-for-all, raising the risks of going all-in for one player.

“The one thing I know about my brother is he wants to win,” said Damion James, Durant’s best friend and a member of the Wizards’ summer league team. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win. Whoever gives him the best chance to win is where he’s going to end up.”

“It’s difficult to imagine him leaving [the Thunder],” said a Western Conference executive, who spoke under condition of anonymity because league tampering rules bar discussing potential free agents who are still under contract with another team. “That team is loaded. If they can stay healthy, they’re championship favorites.”

Oklahoma City is one of the NBA’s smallest markets, a factor that would’ve repelled a player of Durant’s caliber just a few years ago, but technology has altered the NBA terrain. No longer does a player need to play in a metropolis to become a superstar and procure endorsement dollars. Every game is available to anyone, anywhere. Highlights are instantly accessible on the Internet. Social media is replete with NBA fandom. Durant, a Nike pillar, and [Russell] Westbrook, a fashion impresario of sorts, are two poster boys of the shift. The fact that [LaMarcus] Aldridge spurned a meeting with the Knicks and turned down the Lakers to sign this month with the San Antonio Spurs seemed to solidify the change.

***

No. 3: Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop — Lest anyone fret that Carmelo Anthony was being kept in the dark on the New York Knicks’ offseason maneuvers, the New York Post stepped up to report that the veteran All-Star scorer actually was in the loop on team transactions. Certainly no Knicks fan could aide Anthony not being consulted, considering how, er, well thing have gone around Madison Square Garden lately:

According to an NBA source, general manager Steve Mills has been in communication with Anthony across the free-agent process to explain the recent additions.

As president, [Phil] Jackson delegates a lot, and Mills is in charge of directly speaking with agents and other teams regarding potential trades or free-agent acquisitions. According to the source, Mills also handles reaching out to players on matters such as recent transactions.

In fact, Mills has said publicly Anthony spent a lot of time in his office going over “the boards’’ regarding potential free agents they were after. One of the combinations, Mills has said, was the trifecta of Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Kyle O’Quinn. The Knicks still had enough cap space to sign 2011 draft bust Derrick Williams and re-up with Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas for more than their minimums.

Jackson raised eyebrows on Monday when he said he had yet to speak with the vacationing Anthony, sparking speculation perhaps the Knicks rehabbing superstar was displeased with the signings. The Post reported on Wednesday Anthony had been in touch with Knicks officials this week and expressed frustration he was being perceived as a malcontent, and said he still “had trust in Phil.’’

After the draft, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported Anthony felt “hoodwinked’’ by Jackson’s selection of European project Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 overall pick. The Post reported Anthony was indeed disappointed on Draft night but more because his friend Tim Hardaway Jr. was traded for a college prospect he barely saw play — point guard Jerian Grant. No one, other than Anthony, remains from the roster since Jackson took over 16 months ago.

Since, Anthony has been outspoken about his “love’’ for Porzingis and called him directly to tell him he wasn’t upset. Anthony watched Porzingis’ Knicks workout and multiple sources said he felt the Latvian big man would be a good pick.

***

No. 4: Smart to miss Africa game — The good news for Boston guard Marcus Smart and the Celtics was that the two fingers on his right hand that Smart injured Thursday in the Las Vegas Summer League won’t require surgery. The unfortunate news is that Smart will miss participating in the NBA’s exhibition game in South Africa Aug. 1. Here is some more on that situation from the Boston Globe:

Smart, guard Evan Turner, and coach Brad Stevens were to be among a contingent of NBA players and coaches taking part in the first NBA game played in Africa. But Smart will now stay in Boston as his fingers heal.

Smart has not been available to speak to reporters since suffering the injury. One source said the guard is disappointed about missing the game in Africa but relieved that his injury is not more serious.

With 6:34 left in the second quarter of Boston’s summer league game against Portland, Smart, guard Terry Rozier, and Trail Blazers forward Noah Vonleh all converged on a loose ball. Smart braced himself with his right hand as he fell, and his right index and middle fingers were dislocated.

A bone in Smart’s hand also punctured his skin, requiring five stitches. Those sutures could slow Smart’s recovery, as they will affect his ability to regain range of motion in his fingers. Still, the Celtics were relieved that the X-rays on Smart’s hand were negative.

Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry said Smart will remain with the team as long as they are in the summer league playoffs, partly because he wants to support his team, and partly because the medical staff is here. Smart will undergo further evaluation when he returns to Boston.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Cleveland Cavaliers might be adding another Russian center, this one a player whose NBA rights they’ve had for the past eight years. … Jimmy Butler said again, on yet another media platform, that his relationship with Derrick Rose is friction-free. … New Nuggets head coach Mike Malone talks with Grantland.com about Ty Lawson, what he learned in Sacramento and a little Boogie Cousins. … Seth Curry writes about what he hopes is the end of his D League days. … Everything old is new again, as some NBA rookies remind ESPN.com of certain predecessors. …

Morning shootaround — July 17


VIDEO: Josh Smith signs with the Clippers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

NBPA takes issue with NBA’s view on finances | Clippers willing to take low-risk chance on Josh Smith | Bucks and Henson negotiating an extension | Nuggets see Gallo in their future

No. 1: NBPA chief takes issue on NBA’s stance on finances — Well, figure that we’ll be occasionally hearing scattered back-and-forths from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and union chief Michele Roberts between now and possibly 2017. After Silver stated a few days ago that teams are losing money and cited rising expenses, Roberts insists the league is in far better shape financially than Silver indicated. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN took a stab at the latest between Silver and Roberts …

After the NBA’s Board of Governors met on Tuesday, Silver said that the league’s revenue “was much higher than we had ever modeled” but also said that a significant number of NBA teams are losing money because of rising expenses.

The league is set to receive a revenue windfall in the coming year when a new national broadcast deal kicks in. In turn, the salary cap will escalate rapidly and could near $90 million for the 2016-17 season.

The players union, if it chooses to, can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2017, though Silver said on Tuesday he didn’t believe such an outcome was certain.

“You know, I’m not sure if the players’ association is going to opt out,” Silver said. “Michele [Roberts] made some early remarks suggesting maybe they were leaning that direction, but she hasn’t told me that she plans to opt out. And I know that in discussions that she and I have had and I’ve had with players’ association representatives, it’s clear the goal on both sides is to avoid any sort of work stoppage whatsoever and maybe even to avoid the opt-out.”

The collective bargaining agreement between owners and the union stipulates that players receive a fixed percentage of the NBA’s overall revenue. The precise number was a battleground in the last negotiation between owners and players.

If the aggregate salaries committed to players fall short of that amount — as they currently do — the owners make up the difference. Silver said the league, despite being flush with revenue, is bracing for such a result.

“There are projections that for next year we could be writing a check moving close to half a billion dollars to the players’ association,” Silver said. “That’s not of course the ideal outcome from our standpoint. It’s not something we predicted when we went into this collective bargaining agreement.

In the past year, Roberts has challenged the underlying principle of a salary cap and mocked the suggestion of NBA owners losing money. On Thursday she took aim at Silver’s characterization that the NBA owners “largely are paying our players off the gross” under the current collective bargaining agreement.

“Under the CBA, we do not have a gross compensation system,” Roberts said. “The players’ 50 percent share is calculated net of a substantial amount of expenses and deductions.”

***

No. 2: Clippers willing to take low-risk chance on Josh Smith — The Clippers have had an interesting offseason to say the least. Much of it was tied up in the DeAndre Jordan drama, but both before and after Jordan reneged on a verbal deal with the Mavericks to return to the Clippers, LA made a few low-risk and potentially high-reward deals. First was trading for Lance Stephenson, and now signing Josh Smith on a one-year deal for the $1.5 million minimum. Both players were available because despite their talent, they were deemed expendable by their former teams for different reasons. Stephenson had a disappointing first season in Charlotte and, coupled with his goofy personality, was not worth the trouble (although Stephenson was mainly on good behavior in Charlotte). Smith had a decent showing with the Rockets after being dumped by Detroit, and even helped the Rockets beat the Clippers in the second round. For the Clippers, these deals could work because the issue with Stephenson and Smith aren’t talent-related. Here’s Eric Freeman of Ball Don’t Lie on the Smith signing …

With marquee signing Paul Pierce able to play as a stretch-4, Rivers can go super small with Griffin, Smith, or potentially Glen “Big Baby” Davis (still a free agent) as a nominal center or play more classic lineups without sacrificing much quickness. Smith also joins Lance Stephenson as a new reserve with a collection of skills, all while minimizing the likelihood that the Clippers will have to depend on one of these often frustrating players to their own detriment. Adding Smith increases what the Clippers can do while simultaneously diffusing risk.

That’s not to say that this is a can’t-miss pickup. Smith will probably have to see the bench when he threatens to shoot Los Angeles out of games, and his awful free-throw shooting ensures that teams will intentionally send him and Jordan to the line whenever it seems prudent. It’s also worth noting that Smith has not always had the best attitude, even if his reputation as a malcontent is overblown and the Clippers did just fine with Matt Barnes in the starting lineup.

But few teams add players of Smith’s caliber at this price to fill a glaring need. The Clippers’ bench has been a problem area for several seasons and has looked even more lacking in the frontcourt. Smith isn’t an All-Star candidate anymore, but L.A. doesn’t need him to be one. If he fills his role without complaints, breaks out in a few more playoff games and doesn’t cause major troubles, he will do just fine. Two weeks after Jordan appeared headed to Dallas, the Clippers have escaped also-ran status and look like a stronger contender than they were in June.

***

No. 3: Bucks and Henson negotiating an extensionJohn Henson is a developing front-line player with unique defensive skills, and because of that, the Bucks are high on his future. Despite signing Greg Monroe to a free agent contract this summer, Milwaukee is busy trying to lock up Henson, who plays the same position (and also center in certain situations). It’s further proof that the Bucks’ plan is to keep its nucleus intact and allow it to grow, rather than chase free agent superstars who are unlikely to leave their own teams anyway. Henson can play alongside Monroe on the front line if the Bucks go big, or be the first player off the bench. In either event, the Bucks are hoping the price is right with Henson, who’s eligible for an extension this fall. Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has some details …

John Henson is in line for an expanded role this season, playing behind Monroe but also next to him in certain lineups if Bucks coach Jason Kidd decides to pair the 6-foot-11 duo.

“We think John is a great complement to Greg with his defensive ability and his ability as a premier shot-blocker in the league,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said.

Monroe will provide the low-post offense while Henson can discourage opponents from driving the lane. The former North Carolina player averaged 2.01 blocks per game last season, ranking fifth in the NBA, and had four games with six or more blocked shots.

Last week Hammond identified the 24-year-old Henson as one of six young players comprising the Bucks’ core group, along with the 25-year-old Monroe, 20-year-olds Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, 23-year-old Michael Carter-Williams and 23-year-old Khris Middleton.

Henson, who spent a few days in Las Vegas as part of a large Bucks contingent at the NBA Summer League, admitted it felt good to hear that affirmation of his progress.

“It’s something I’ve been working toward,” he said. “I hope to keep improving.”

A source indicated serious talks between the Bucks and the fourth-year player are ongoing, with the goal of reaching an agreement on a multiyear contract extension. Henson is in the final year of his rookie-scale contract and is eligible to sign an extension this summer.

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No. 4: Nuggets see Gallo in their future — The Nuggets are clearly a team in transition and will probably have a fair amount of turnover in the near future. But they locked up Wilson Chandler to a contract extension and apparently are willing to do the same with Danilo Gallinari, their oft-injured but still-dangerous shooter. Gallo is entering the final year of his contract at $11.4 million, and even though he missed a stretch of 18 months after a pair of knee surgeries, the Nuggets have seen enough since his return to have confidence in his ability to help. Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post has details …

The Nuggets are a team in need to raise their shooting profile, and Gallinari helps them reach that goal. Given the Nuggets current financial situation, an extension will have to be structured to kick in at the start of the 2016-17 season, similar to what Kenneth Faried did a year ago. And that would be advantageous to Gallinari, who could negotiate a deal based on the estimates of how the salary cap will rise, and it’s expected to make a huge jump. That’s what New Orleans star Anthony Davis did with his extension.

Gallinari is one of only two small forwards on the roster, so the Nuggets are thin in that area. And despite some injury worries — Gallo has played more than 60 games in just three of his six seasons — he’s a player just hitting the prime of his career.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA is looking to play some Saturday night games on ABC starting next season … Andre Iguodala had some fun demanding a trade … Luc Mbah a Moute failed his physical