Morning Shootaround

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 28

VIDEO: James Harden and the Houston Rockets are ready to roar after a banner 2014-15 season


Lillard ready to take control in Portland | Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott | Melo ready for end to long summer in New York | Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind

No. 1: Lillard ready to take control in Portland — The leadership mantle in Portland is now Damian Lillard‘s and Lillard’s alone, as he enters his first training camp with the Trail Blazers without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum around to help shoulder the load. In preparation for his new role, Lillard made sure everyone understood that he was not only willing to take control and lead the way but ready to do so. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the story …

One by one across the country, their phones lit up and vibrated, a text message arriving to members of the Portland Trail Blazers with an idea that could change their upcoming season.

For some, like Meyers Leonard in Portland, the number with the 510 area code was already programmed into his phone. Others, like rookie Pat Connaughton in Boston, were perplexed until they opened the message.

“Yo Pat, it’s Dame. We are going to San Diego to get the team together and to get ready for the season …”

The texts were from Damian Lillard, the lone starter remaining from a popular and successful Blazers team that disintegrated amid a summer of free agency and trades. Now, as the undisputed star of the team, Lillard was wading into his first wave of leadership.

It was August, and he wanted to get the young and unproven roster together before players started reporting to Portland in September. After some collaboration with teammates CJ McCollum and Leonard, Lillard settled on San Diego.

Soon, 11 Blazers – some complete strangers to each other– were booking flights and hotel reservations.

A Blazers player had never, in the franchise’s 45 years, attempted an off-season team-building event of this magnitude. Then again, this summer marked one of the biggest transitions in team’s history, a swift and purposeful dismantling of a talented squad in favor of a rebuild with cheaper and younger players.

Success this season won’t be judged wholey on wins and losses, but rather player development and growth. Among the more visible and tangible storylines is how and what kind of leader Lillard will be, and how much his influence could improve the team.

It’s why his August text could determine the course of this season.


No. 2: Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott — Byron Scott doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this season in Los Angeles. He has the full support of the front office, so says his boss, Mitch Kupchak. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers reiterated his support for Scott on the eve of what should be one of the most interesting training camps in recent memory for the franchise. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has more …

For a franchise that usually evaluates itself on wins and losses, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has shifted his expectations.

Though Lakers coach Byron Scott oversaw the team going 21-61 last season in what marked the franchise’s worst record in its 67-year-old history, Kupchak has not wavered in his support for Scott. Kupchak remained mindful of the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries and a roster filled with unproven talent.

“He has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s. I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”

That will begin Tuesday in Honolulu. The Lakers’ nine-day camps will include seven days of practices and two exhibitions. Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp, the latest one including three two-a-day sessions.

That partly explains Kupchak’s support for Scott, who has three years remaining on his contract. Kupchak praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts. Even amid the losses, Kupchak also argued Scott improved the team’s culture.

“Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together,” Kupchak said of Scott. “They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”


No. 3: Melo ready for end to long summer in New York — When your names is tossed around the way Carmelo Anthony‘s has been all offseason, the start of training camp and actual basketball is welcome respite from the drama. Anthony said the drama is in his rear view as he readies himself and his team for camp, writes Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News

Over the past several months, Carmelo Anthony has sent mixed signals – publicly and privately – about his thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason.

Anthony’s concerns stemmed from Phil Jackson missing out on a bonafide star in free agency and drafting a project in 19-year-old Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in June. But on Sunday, with Knicks training camp a day away, Anthony voiced support for the organization’s offseason moves.

“I was very excited about what we did this offseason. I liked the moves that we made,” Anthony said at his youth camp in Manhattan. “Was it any of the stars that we wanted to go after and go get? No. But the pieces that we got, I’m really intrigued.”

The Daily News reported in June that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks’ decision to draft Porzingis, a pick that influenced Lamarcus Aldridge spurning the Knicks for the Spurs.

The Knicks wanted to play Aldridge at center to let Porzingis develop – something Aldridge was vehemently against. And at Team USA training camp in August, Anthony expressed frustration at how the entire situation unfolded, even saying he “threw” his headband when he found out the Knicks wanted Aldridge to change positions.

But now the offseason is in the past, and Anthony’s main concern will be returning from the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in February.

Anthony said Day 1 of training camp Monday will mark the end of a “long summer.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony said. “Just glad that I can be in the position I’m in right now.”


No. 4: Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind — Small ball? Not in Memphis, where the rugged Grizzlies are holding on tight to their grit and grind roots. The rest of the league is welcome to tinker with smaller lineups and the pace-and-space revolution. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchoring your middle, there is no need to stray. Griz coach Dave Joerger isn’t interested in tinkering with what’s worked in Memphis for years, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal …

Joerger’s mantra this summer has been for the already tough Griz to get “nasty,” doubling down on the grit-and-grind mentality that has made the team a perennial Western Conference contender.

The Griz remain committed to a bruising brand of basketball that’s served them well even as the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with 3-point shooting. recently wrote in a 2015-16 season-preview of the Griz: “They’d rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.”

That assessment might be selling the Grizzlies short. Despite the recurring theme of the need for long-range shooting, the Griz return with more versatility, the same expectation of winning 50-plus games and a place among the elite in the Western Conference.

There will, however, be challenges to work through during camp if the Griz are going to make good on their promise to contend:

1. Sorting out the wing positions: No one would ever accuse the Griz of lacking depth. They are deepest at the wing positions, meaning Joerger has a nice problem in determining who will get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes are veterans with meaningful careers. Last year, Joerger settled on starting the 6-5 Lee at shooting guard and the 6-4 Allen at small forward to start the season.

The coaching staff acknowledged concerns about such a small lineup given small forwards around the league typically stand 6-7 and taller. Green, 6-9, joined the roster around midseason. He played off the bench but was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and then went back to the bench. Green never found his footing and was inconsistent. With Green participating in a full camp, it’s conceivable that he will start at small forward. Joerger prefers the longer, more versatile Green. The question at camp will be who will start at shooting guard. Lee is a 3-point threat. Allen’s disruptive defense and infectious energy clearly make the Grizzlies “nasty.” As for second-year guard Jordan Adams? That’s a different topic.



SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are ready to take a (minimum deal) gamble on former No. 1 overall pick and native son Anthony Bennett … Year 2 of the (Jason) Kidd experience in Milwaukee comes with great expectationsMarcus Morris is still taking shots at the Phoenix SunsKlay Thompson is already taking full advantage of Steve Nash in his role as the Golden State Warriors’ part-time player development consultantThe Thunder have hired an assistant coach, Royal Ivey, with deep ties to Kevin Durant

ICYMI: The best alley-oops from last season:

VIDEO: 2014-15 Top alley-oops

Morning shootaround — Sept. 27

VIDEO: Boston Celtics media day


Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from Lucas | John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant | Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one hit wonder | David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston

No. 1: Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from John Lucas — The one theme you hear every year around this time is “so and so has lost x-amount of weight.” It’s usually met with a ho-hum, although in certain situations, a drastic fitness shakeup is a rather big deal. Al Jefferson of the Hornets recently revealed he has given up fried chicken which allowed him to drop pounds, and now here comes Jared Sullinger and his weight-loss pledge. Although, in this case, it comes with a twist: He was whipped into shape by John Lucas. Sullinger is at a crossroads in his young NBA career; better fitness could make him see a breakthrough season. Here is Chris Mason of the Boston Herald with the details …

Sullinger’s weight has been a talking point since the Celtics drafted him three years ago, and it came to a head last season when he was reportedly tipping the scales at 300 pounds. The C’s want to see their 6-foot-9 forward around 260. For Sullinger to stay in green, something had to change. His family and Lucas saw that.

“(Lucas) personally came down and he told me ‘ you’ve got all the talent in the world, but you’ve forgotten what working hard is,'” Sullinger said. “For somebody to come all the way from Houston to Colombus Ohio, to stop whatever he was doing, he was there for me, and that’s what made me go and workout for John.”

Lucas is no stranger to interventions. The former Houston Rocket almost lost his entire career to drugs.

While he was in the NBA, Lucas was an alcoholic and a drug addict. In 1986, the guard tested positive for cocaine, and was released by the Rockets after a decade in the league. Lucas volunteered to go to rehab, straightened his life out, and now helps other basketball players do the same.

Sullinger doesn’t have a problem with drugs, but he’s had his career threatened by his weight.

“I think John’s biggest thing, with everything he went through – being the first NBA player to be kicked out of the NBA (for) drugs – I think John’s biggest focus was to not let me make the mistake. Sometimes, it’s not always drugs, it can be other things,” Sullinger said. “And he wanted to just clear my mind and understand that I could be whoever I want to be, I’ve just got to make the right choices.”

Sullinger was sold.

He went to Houston to workout with Lucas four different times in the offseason, for a total of eleven weeks. Sullinger was put through a series of unorthodox basketball workouts, and his exercising was coupled with a strict diet.

“I went from boxing, to swimming, to on the court basketball, to running track. I did so many other sports – other than basketball – there was one point where I was down in August for two weeks and I didn’t touch a basketball. He wouldn’t let me be on the basketball court and we just got in shape other ways,” Sullinger said.


No. 2: John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant — OK, take a wild guess about who will be subject to a Free-Agent Watch this season? Yes, it’s Kevin Durant and the obvious choice, besides OKC, competing for his services is the hometown Wizards. Durant learned the game in the DC suburbs and makes no secret of his love for his home base. Besides, the Wizards will have enough cap room next summer and they have John Wall, who’d be a capable replacement for Russell Westbrook should Durant bolt OKC. The odds have Durant staying put, but if so, it won’t be because Wall didn’t try to convince him. CSN spoke with Wall on a video story; here’s a snippet …

“There’s gonna be an opportunity to throw a pitch at him to try and get him to come back home,” Wall said. “But knowing him he’s really going to be focused on taking care of Oklahoma City this season, and I’m going to be focused on taking care of the Washington Wizards.

“When the time is right and he can get away from all that, we’ll probably have some conversation and throw a pitch.”


Rather than reveal the rest, take a few seconds and listen for yourself.


No. 3: Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder — What can a surprise performer do for an encore? We’ll all be watching and wondering about Hassan Whiteside, the journeyman big man who came out of nowhere to bolster the Heat in the wake of LeBron James‘ departure. There will be lots on the line for Whiteside, most notably money; he can cash in big time next summer, when he’ll be a free agent and the salary cap will rise. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel spoke with him…

By now, we all know the story. Last year Whiteside rose from D-League reject to the talk of the NBA. After being out of the league, he captivated the media by sharing tales of growing tired of eating rice while playing in China and witnessing car-bombings in Lebanon.

He endured these sometimes-uncomfortable experiences abroad, and spent time in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Des Moines, Iowa, before earning another shot in the NBA. And Whiteside took advantage of the Heat’s gamble by averaging 11.8 points and 10 rebounds in 48 games.

As he prepares for an encore performance, Whiteside will no longer have the surprise element. No more playful stories about his unlikely path here. No more candid talk about his rating on the NBA 2K video game.

All everyone is focused on is whether he can produce All-Star numbers, a situation Whiteside is comfortable with.

“There’s never any pressure on me,” Whiteside said. “There were people who never believed in me anyway, so I don’t expect you to start believing in me now.”

The 7-foot Whiteside sounds as if he’s spent the summer listening to uplifting Journey songs on repeat. He expects the success “goes on and on, and on, and on.” A year older, his boyish attributes evident when he arrived last December are long gone. His shoulders are less like a clothes hanger and more like Dwight Howard.

Most days, he’s worked out twice daily at AmericanAirlines Arena. Some of it is fine-tuning. Some of it is adding new dimensions he hopes will surprise competitors.


No. 4: David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston — After grabbing a championship ring in Golden State, where his role was reduced with the emergence of Draymond Green, David Lee is looking for a recharge in Boston. It wasn’t too long ago when Lee was a double-double guy who could get 25 points or 15 rebounds on any given night. He still believes he’s that type of player, and recently spoke with Chris Forsberg of

The Celtics believe that Lee, acquired this offseason in a swap with the Golden State Warriors, can help a young and impressionable team take a step forward in large part because of his NBA experiences, particularly after winning a title last season.

“I don’t think David wants to think of himself as old, because he’s not — he’s still a young guy in a lot of ways,” said Stevens. “But I think that, any time you have guys that have seen it and been there, I think what they can share is important. And the challenge is being able to share that within what you’re doing because he’s got a transition to make with regard to learning me and learning how we’re trying to play and learning our guys that he’s playing with and everything else. I think he’ll make that transition smoothly. He’s a really bright guy. And I will encourage him to be open in communicating to all those younger guys because I think that’s important.”

The Celtics are hopeful that Lee, a two-time All-Star who was averaging nearly a double-double at 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game just two seasons ago, can not only provide leadership but get back to being an impactful player a season after he accepted a reduced role to aid Golden State’s title hunt.

Lee moved to the Boston area a month ago to get acclimated and joined many of the team’s younger players for what he playfully called the “preseason to the preseason” with daily workouts. While Boston brought back 10 total players from last season’s squad that utilized a second-half surge to earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, Lee has begun trying to establish himself as a veteran leader despite learning a new system.

“I think, for me, it’s just about being myself,” said Lee. “I’ve been in the league a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things, both good and bad. And I think that I’m a guy that, a lot of times, leads by example. I’m a hard-working guy and I think that’s something that’s good for the young guys to see, when their veterans are hard-workers, because at that point they have no choice but to fall in line and do the same. For the veteran guys, it sets the tone, both in training camp and preseason as the season goes along.

“I’m just going to be myself. I think I’m a pretty likable guy and a guy that can set a good tone by my work ethic.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer sat for a Q&A and addressed Al Horford’s free agency next summer … Gerald Wallace waived by the Sixers … Tom Thibodeau is sitting in on Bobcats practices … the Sixers thought about chasing Jimmy Butler last summer, but didn’t.


Morning shootaround — Sept. 26

VIDEO: Brent Barry reports from Clippers media day


Jackson to be more involved with Knicks | Pierce talks title, retirement | Skiles wants Magic to get defensive | New vets bring leadership to Boston

No. 1: Jackson to be more involved with Knicks — Team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher won just 17 games in their first full season in New York. Now, to get better, they think they need to get together … more often. Jackson said Friday that he will take a more active, day-to-day role with the Knicks this year. Newsday‘s Al Iannazzone has the story…

Phil Jackson won’t be sitting on the bench, but he will spend more time in the coach’s office and film room this season — at the request of coach Derek Fisher.

Jackson, the Knicks president who won an NBA-record 11 championships coaching the Bulls and Lakers, wanted to give Fisher his space last season. But after the first-time coach guided the Knicks to a franchise-worst 17-win season, Fisher asked Jackson for assistance.

Fisher said he wanted more “one-on-one” discussions with Jackson to see how to prepare himself and the team better, and welcomes counseling from “one of the great basketball minds we’ve ever seen.” Jackson promises to be more involved and hands-on for his hand-picked protege.


No. 2: Pierce talks title, retirement — Paul Pierce is home. Paul Pierce is with a championship contender. And Paul Pierce turns 38 years old in a couple of weeks. You can write the script from there, as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register writes…

Paul Pierce already has an idea of how this all might end.

The Inglewood native and NBA veteran signs a deal to play for his hometown team, helping the Clippers win their first NBA title. He rides in the parade through his streets, trophy in hand, leaving his career behind him.

That’s the hope.

“I don’t have much basketball left – whether it’ll be this year or another year. To come home and play in front of family and friends and possibly win a championship, it’s like a dream come true,” Pierce said at Friday’s media day. “If we win this year, win a championship, I’ll probably be done with basketball to be honest.

“It’ll be a dream to be home and carry that championship trophy down Manchester Boulevard.”

By the way, all is cool with DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul. It always was, apparently. Melissa Rohlin of the L.A. Times has the story…

When a Clippers contingent went to DeAndre Jordan’s home in Houston in July to help convince the center to re-sign with the Clippers, rumors abounded that Jordan and Chris Paul had a powwow to clear up their strained relationship.

Only thing is, according to the players, there was no strain.

“I think that there was forced tension because of everything we all heard that we said about each other, which was not true at all,” Jordan said at Clippers’ media day on Friday. “It was just the outside, and we never asked each other about it.

“These guys are my brothers. I talk to them every day. Yeah, there’s times that we bump heads on the court, but five minutes later, we’re good because it’s constructive, it’s for the right reasons: We want to win. … There’s not any tension; we don’t not like each other. And all three of us [Jordan, Paul and Blake Griffin] are going to be here for a very long time. This is our team; this is our unit. There was no clearing of the air. We just had a sit-down to tell them I was going to be in a Clipper uniform this year.”


No. 3: Skiles wants Magic to get defensive — When Scott Skiles took over the Milwaukee Bucks in 2008, they went from last in defensive efficiency to fourth in his second season. Now, Skiles is hoping to lead similar improvement with the Orlando Magic, who ranked 25th defensively last season. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Josh Robbins was at Magic media day on Friday…

Skiles intends to imbue the Magic with a brand-new identity: defensive-minded and hard-nosed. On several occasions Friday, he said the Magic need to transform themselves into a team that ranks in the top five in field-goal percentage defense.

Last season, they finished 28th in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make 46.3 percent of their shot attempts.

“There’s been a lot of talk, even before I came here, about turning into a good defensive team,” Skiles said. “It hasn’t happened, and we need to do it.”

The Magic know all about Skiles’ goals. He has spoken with all of the players since he was hired in late May, and he has told them that they need to make significant strides defensively if they’re going to climb out of the NBA cellar and approach a winning record.


No. 4: New vets bring leadership to Boston — After squeezing into the playoffs with a young team last season, the Boston Celtics are looking to another step forward. It was another summer where Danny Ainge wasn’t able to acquire a star, but the Celtics did add a couple of veteran big men to their rotation.‘s Ian Thomsen was at media day in Boston and takes a look at how David Lee and Amir Johnson could make an impact…

Lee, the 32 year old power forward, should fit in beautifully. The Warriors were able to win the championship last season in no small part because Lee (along with Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut) was willing to accept a reduced role for the good of the team. As Lee pursues a new contract next summer, his view of the bigger picture promises to affirm his identity: He will help the Celtics intangibly by keeping the focus on team goals.

He fills many needs for the Celtics. Lee, a two-time All-Star, is a strong rebounder, a smart passer and a versatile scorer. After sitting for most of the season, he was able to identify his team’s needs and make an impact instantly when the Warriors went small midway through the NBA Finals, helping to launch their comeback from a 2-1 deficit against the Cavaliers. Because the Celtics lack a singular playmaker in this era of leading point guards, Lee’s ability to make quick decisions with the ball should be crucial.

Neither Lee nor free-agent Johnson (whose two-year contract is non-guaranteed for 2016-17) has a reputation for selfishness. Both will be expected to provide leadership by example for the young Celtics. Johnson, at 6-9 and 240 pounds, will be asked to play minutes at center, along with Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls’ Mike Dunleavy is out 8-10 weeks after undergoing back surgery … The Wizards have offered Bradley Beal a less-than-max extensionThe Wolves still like Ricky RubioJared Sullinger lost weightAn oral history of the best in-game dunk we’ve ever seen … Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is going to camp … and the Nuggets waived Kostas Papanikolaou.

ICYMI: The best buzzer-beating highlights from last season:

VIDEO: 2014-15 Top 10 Buzzer-beaters

Morning shootaround — Sept. 25



Nash confirms role with Warriors | Pelicans’ Holiday on minutes limit | Pacers, George ready for lineup shakeup | Still no deal between Cavs, Thompson

No. 1: Nash confirms role with Warriors — In what is a case of the rich getting richer, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors have beefed up their coaching staff by adding former two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash to the mix. While the team has not confirmed the move yet, Nash himself did in an interview with Sportsnet and detailed what his role with the team might be. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group has more:

Steve Nash confirmed Wednesday he will be joining the Warriors as a part-time player development consultant.

The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player award winner nodded at the mention of his new role with the Warriors in an interview with Sportsnet and was asked what reigning MVP Stephen Curry can do better.

“His laundry?” Nash said, shrugging and smiling at a fundraiser in Toronto. “I don’t know.

“As I’ve told Steph, his skill level is so high that although we’ll be on the court together, I don’t know how much I can help him on the court. But through watching a little bit of film and talking, maybe I can help him with situations. But his skill level is incredible, and hopefully I’ll learn as much from him as he will from me.”

The Warriors have not officially announced the addition of the 41-year-old Nash to the staff. Team president Rick Welts, who worked with Nash with the Phoenix Suns for years, only confirmed to Golden Gate Sports on Monday that he supported the potential hiring.

“We haven’t exactly confirmed that he’s going to be there, but if he was going to be there, I certainly added my endorsement to the idea,” Welts told the website.

“There are two things I think you think of when you think of Steve Nash and his career: preparation and discipline. I think those are the things that (he has more of), more than any other player I’ve ever been around. He has better preparation, better discipline about preparing himself for the task at hand.

“That’s a wonderful trait to share with young players, so should we be lucky enough to finalize that, I’d be a really happy guy.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 24



Bryant, World Peace help Randle strengthen his game | Next step for ex-No. 1 pick Bennett?Spoelstra thinking big about 2015-16

No. 1: Bryant, World Peace help Randle get on track — Julius Randle, the Los Angeles Lakers’ No. 1 pick from the 2014 Draft, was in the midst of his first NBA game when, 14 minutes in, he fractured his right tibia and was lost for all of 2014-15. He has put in immense work to get himself ready for the 2015-16 campaign and has been supported all along the way by the Lakers’ current star, Kobe Bryant, and one trying to get back with the team (Metta World Peace). Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the way Bryant and World Peace have gotten Randle ready for a comeback season:

After losing his entire rookie season to that fractured tibia in his right leg – as well as getting a screw reinserted into his right foot to stabilize an old high school injury – Randle returns with a transformed body and ethic: He’s never eaten so well, never developed his frame so fiercely, never felt stronger and surer starting a basketball season. He’s a hulking 6-foot-9 forward with such possibility, a cornerstone of this Lakers future, the prospect that general manager Mitch Kupchak refused to include in those brief trade talks for Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins.

Kobe Bryant’s education of Julius Randle started on the floor in training camp, and stayed a constant presence once Randle was carried out of the season on a stretcher. It started in one-on-one games and long talks and Randle feeling humbled when he’d get to the arena for a preseason game and Bryant, soaked in sweat, was finishing a hard workout. “He’s a five-time champion and an MVP, and I’m thinking to myself, “What’s my excuse?”

Bryant lost his season to a rotator cuff tear in February, but balanced his own angst with months of pushing and prodding of his teenage teammate. Bryant always chooses his pupils carefully, rewarding those who demonstrate a serious-mindedness to the craft. More than that, Bryant understands Randle is one of the burgeoning talents who could give him reason to postpone retirement.

As Bryant rehabbed this spring and summer, a most improbable peer emerged as part of Randle’s championship lineage Lakers tutorial: Metta World Peace. So much of the Lakers’ intrigue with bringing back World Peace at 35 years old centers on how impactful he’s been in the gym for the young players, especially Randle.

Every day, Randle is mesmerized with the intellect of World Peace. Everything Randle tries on World Peace – the pump fake, the jab step, the subtle moves to create a sliver of space and a shot – are seldom successful.

Maybe Metta used to be stronger. Maybe he used to be quicker. All Randle knows is this, he says: “He isn’t biting on anything. He has the greatest hands I’ve ever seen play. You’ve got to give him everything you’ve got to get a bucket on him. Everything.

“I played one on one against Kobe in the preseason last year, and you’d play perfect defense against him; you can guess right on everything and it still doesn’t matter. He’s still going to make the shot. Metta is the same way. He’s going to guess everything right. He disrupts your rhythm. You’re going to have to make the tough shot over him.”

Julius Randle has grown close to guard D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, and has started to understand the enormity of the burden for this young core.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 23


VIDEO: Relive DeAndre Jordan’s top 10 plays from 2014-15

Cuban fires back at Rivers | King, Nets take subtle approach to summer | Report: James not pressuring Cavs on Thompson (yet)

No. 1: Cuban fires back at Rivers over Jordan — DeAndre Jordan‘s eventual decision to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers (and reverse field on his agreement with the Dallas Mavericks) was easily one of the top stories of the offseason and free agency. Since he went back to L.A., he apologized to Mavs owner Mark Cuban for changing his mind (Cuban didn’t exactly accept), Mavs guard Chandler Parsons said Jordan wasn’t ready for a big-time role and now, Cuban is piping up about Jordan’s coach, Doc Rivers. Cuban was a guest on The Herd with Colin Cowherd on Fox Sports Radio and had this to say about Jordan as it relates to Rivers (who took some shots on Cowherd’s show at Cuban):

Cowherd: “We asked him [Rivers] about the DeAndre Jordan saga what would you say to Mark if you saw him on the street?”

Rivers clip: “Hey, Mark. How are you? I don’t know Mark well. Did he handle this well? No. To me he acted very silly. Look at the difference: I coached DJ. DJ didn’t call me when he left. Did you see me out in front of the cameras screaming and yelling and crying? I didn’t do that. I was disappointed. I was disappointed internally and I am that way. Mark tends to do things out in the open and that’s fine. ”

Cowherd: “But it bothered you.”

Rivers continues: “When you take shots at DJ — the guy you loved two days ago, now you don’t like so much anymore — I think basically all that did was tell DJ even more that he mad the right choice.”

Cowherd to Cuban: “Did that make you mad?”

Cuban: “First of all, he obviously didn’t hear or see what I said. I didn’t say a whole lot. I think I responded to DJ’s Twitter apology and that’s pretty much it. I haven’t said a whole lot about it. So I don’t know where he’s getting what he got. 

“It shows what someone will do when their entire future is vanishing in front of them, and that’s what Doc did. I give him credit for it. His professional life was over if he didn’t get DJ. So his back was against the wall, and he did what he needed to do. More power to him. But sometimes the deals you don’t do are the best ones. So we’ll see.”

Cowherd: “You were going to overpay for him, frankly.”

Cuban: “It wasn’t so much that. Look, you overpay for your best players because they become part of a team. In aggregate, you hope the sum of the parts is greater. But we saw DJ as a cornerstone and if you can’t handle the pressure of a week, it’s going to handle the pressure of being a cornerstone. It is what it is, we’ll play the game and see what happens. I’m surprised to hear Doc say that. If you go back and look back at the things I’ve said, I’ve intentionally not said much. … My typical response when someone brings up DJ is ‘who’?

“But, that’s who Doc is. I respect the fact that when his professional life was about to dissipate and disappear and go up in flames, they did what they had to do and they got DJ back. More power to them.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 22


VIDEO: Relive LeBron James’ epic return season in Cleveland

Report: Love, Varejao, Mozgov, Irving will be ready for camp | Matthews, Parsons, McGee out for start of camp | Report: Ridnour will sit out 2015-16 season

No. 1: Report: Love, Varejao, Irving, Mozgov all expected to be ready for camp — Reports circulated a few weeks ago that LeBron James was summoning his Cavs teammates to Miami for workouts and judging by a photo that circulated on social media, there was a pretty good turnout for it. As we close in on official team training camps, though, there could be some good news for Cleveland once things get rolling. According to Chris Haynes of the Northwest Ohio Media Group, injured players Anderson Varejao, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Timofey Mozgov are all expected to participate in training camp:

The Cleveland Cavaliers anticipate that Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov and Anderson Varejao will be ready for the start of training camp Sept. 29, Northeast Ohio Media Group has learned.

All four players are recovering from surgery.

Irving (fractured knee cap) and Love (separated shoulder) will be active during camp, but on a limited basis. The Cavaliers will work the two in slowly and cautiously. The anticipation is that Love will be fully cleared with no limitations before Irving is given the green light, I’m told.

Love said on the “Late Night with Seth Meyers” talk show Sept. 11 that he was “a month and a half away” from returning.

Irving refused to give a timetable for his return in a recent interview with the Associated Press in Miami.

So far, Love’s workload on the court consists of non-contact drills; while Irving has been coy about what he has been doing.

NEOMG is also told Mozgov (knee scope) and Varejao (Achilles’ tendon tear) are not expected to be restricted once camp opens, but the team will closely monitor their involvement

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 21


Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension | Wall, Wizards get jump start on training camp | Video analyst provided boost for Spain at EuroBasket

No. 1: Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension — The Golden State Warriors don’t want Harrison Barnes in the free agent pool next summer. They’ve offered Barnes a $64 million extension, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, to make sure another member of the core group of their championship roster remains in the fold. More from Yahoo!:

The $16 million annual offer wasn’t accepted, but appears to be a starting point in talks that could last until the Oct. 31 deadline for rookie extensions.

The Warriors are trying to prevent Barnes from reaching restricted free agency in July 2016, when a rising salary cap and scores of teams with financial flexibility will couple with Barnes’ burgeoning talent and potential to make him a significant target on the market.

As a member of the 2012 NBA draft class, Barnes is eligible for his rookie contract extension. Without an agreement by Oct. 31, Barnes would become a restricted free agent next summer. Golden State would be able to match any offer sheet for Barnes and re-sign him.

The offer of $16 million per year annually – comparable to teammate Draymond Green‘s five-year, $82.5 million extension this summer – had been negotiated by Barnes’ former agent, Jeff Wechsler. After that initial offer, Wechsler countered with a figure north of $16 million annually before he and Barnes parted ways, league sources said. Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports is representing Barnes now.



Morning Shootaround — Sept. 20

VIDEO: Anthony Davis’ Top 10 Plays from 2014-15 season


Shaq to son: Follow Anthony Davis | Is Deron done as a star? | Moses Malone remembered

No. 1: Shaq to son: Follow Anthony Davis Pelicans forward Anthony Davis has received plenty of props from within the basketball world, but maybe the highest compliment came the other day from Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq has a son, Shareef, who is a budding basketball star in Los Angeles. Shareef is 15 and lean and brings some skill for someone who’s already 6-foot-8, and Shaq attends his son’s games whenever he can. You’d think Shaq would want son to copy dad, who did a few good things in the NBA. Instead, Shaq wants Shareef to use Davis as an example of how to play the game. Shaq spoke to John Reid of the Times Picayune about his advice …

Instead of pushing him to pattern his game after him, O’Neal said he’s told his son to learn the game by watching power forward Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans’ transcendent star who finished fifth in the league’s MVP voting last season.

”I told him to watch Anthony because he’s probably going to be the same height and have the same type of build,” said O’Neal, who returned to Baton Rouge to host his annual annual LSU Life Skills Golf Classic at Carter Plantation on Friday in Springfield. ”Not skinny, but long.

”He’s (Davis) probably the best at that position. He can run, rebound, dominate take over games. He’s going to do his thing this year.”

Already at 6-foot-8, Shareef O’Neal also is doing his own thing to turn heads. He emerged in AAU ball this summer playing for the California Supreme as a power forward.

Unlike his father, the younger O’Neal has a mid-range game, capable of scoring from the perimeter and can handle the ball. O’Neal said Shareef O’Neal also is learning from watching LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.

Only a sophomore at the Windward School in Los Angeles, Shareef O’Neal has already received scholarship offers from USC and UCLA.

O’Neal expects more to come, but said he is going to allow his son to make his own decisions and not steer him to LSU or any other school.

At LSU, O’Neal was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and the fourth leading scorer (1,941 points) in school history behind only Pete Maravich, Durand Macklin and Howard Carter. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic.

In the NBA, O’Neal won four NBA championships in 19 seasons, scoring 28,596 career points and grabbing 13,099 rebounds.

”I won’t steer him along,” O’Neal said. ”He’s got to find his way. He’s a big guy that can shoot it.”


No. 2: Is Deron done as a star? Somewhere between Utah and Brooklyn, Deron Williams lost his way. He was a star with the Jazz and perhaps one of the league’s top 10 or 15 players, certainly among the best two or three point guards. But not long after he arrived with the Nets as the marquee face on the franchise’s move to Brooklyn, Williams crashed. He had some injuries and they certainly contributed, but none so serious that caused him to miss an entire season. Besides, Williams was so good that even if he lost a step, he’d still have three steps on most point guards. But now? Well, the Nets bought out his contract and he had little choice but sign with the hometown Mavericks for a fraction of what he made on his last contract, which paid him well over $100 million. Ken Berger of CBS Sports did a fine analysis of Williams and what may or may not lie ahead, and here’s his take …

Williams’ body and impact have been in steady decline since he was shipped out of Utah as a proactive strike against his impending free agency. But the intrigue surrounding one of the league’s most enigmatic talents continues to grow.

Do you remember when it seemed Williams was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, when he could do things like this? Yeah, nobody else does, either. And the story of what happened, and what sort of arc Williams’ career will track in Dallas, is no less mystifying than his lethal crossover used to be.

The Mavericks, stung by the reversal of free agent DeAndre Jordan, harbor no delusions that Williams will ever reclaim his once rightful and perennial All-Star status. With a low-risk deal for $10 million over two years — on the heels of the $27 million buyout that mercifully ended his ill-fated tenure in Brooklyn — the Mavs are merely hoping for serviceable.

That’s how far the 31-year-old Williams has fallen. For a player once so dominant and electrifying that he stood toe-to-toe with — and, at times, towered over — Chris Paul in the debate over who was the best point guard in the NBA, serviceable is now the goal.

“I don’t think he’ll be an All-Star again because of how good the West guards are,” one longtime executive told CBS Sports. “I don’t think he’s a top-15 point guard right now, but I think he can eventually get there.”

Williams’ stunning decline in New Jersey and Brooklyn over the past four-plus seasons puts him squarely in the discussion of the NBA’s biggest $100 million busts in the modern era — along with the likes of Shawn Kemp, Allan Houston, Gilbert Arenas and Rashard Lewis. But even more so than any of those guys, the case of Williams’ demise, or at least the suddenness of it, remains mystifying. We know about the ankle problems, the fallout in Utah, all of that. But to fall this far so quickly? According to league sources dialed into Williams’ ill-fated time under the bright lights in New York, the point guard’s journey from elite to scrap heap was both physical and mental — a tale of superstar wanderlust gone terribly wrong.

“He played a lot better with less than he did with more, when he was more of a focal point,” former Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks said.

No one put Williams on blast more candidly than his one-time Brooklyn teammate, Paul Pierce, who torched the three-time All-Star in an infamous interview with Jackie MacMullan back in April.

“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,” Pierce said. “But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that.

“I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes,” Pierce said. “This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.”


No. 3: Moses Malone remembered The sudden passing of Hall of Famer Moses Malone shook the basketball world and many gathered in Houston on Saturday to pay their respects. Interestingly, the funeral was held at Lakewood Church, which was formerly the Summit, where Malone starred while a member of the Rockets. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle was on hand to file a report

With NBA legend Moses Malone, there was always laughter, a gift he happily shared and left for those that gathered Saturday to remember him. The pain and shock and loss were still fresh at his memorial less than a week after he had died in Virginia. But there were stories to tell and imitations to share. Malone was mourned, but also fittingly celebrated.

Mourners had flocked from around the country to Houston, Malone’s adopted hometown, with an estimated 1,200 people gathering at Lakewood Church – formerly The Summit, where Malone starred for the Rockets – to honor the life of an icon and to support one another with reminders of why he had become such a beloved part of NBA and Houston sports history.

So as they spoke, they punctuated stories with imitations of Malone’s distinctive, rapid-fire mumble. And as he had so many times before, he left them laughing.

“That’s how Moses was,” said Charles Barkley, who delivered the eulogy for the former Philadelphia 76ers teammate he called “Dad.” “He made you smile. He made you laugh. And he loved everybody.

“He helped everybody. From the rookies on, he treated everybody great. He was a wonderful man. It was an honor for me to do the eulogy.”

Malone, 60, died Sunday in Norfolk, Va. The Virginia medical examiner’s office listed his cause of death as hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Malone was survived by his sons, Moses Malone, Jr., Michael Earl and Micah, a granddaughter, Mia.

One of the giants of basketball history was celebrated by many members of that most exclusive club. Among those in attendance were former Rockets teammates Rudy Tomjanovich, Calvin Murphy, John Lucas and Major Jones as well as Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, with whom Malone won the 1983 NBA championship with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Other former players who attended the ceremony included Dominique Wilkins, Ralph Sampson, Clyde Drexler, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, Alex English and Tracy McGrady.

They came out of love and admiration for one their own who was still even in their company special.

“He did it his own way,” Erving said, comparing basketball’s “Chairman of the Boards” to another. “You have to compare him to Frank Sinatra, a guy who did it his own way and in the process, changed everything. Moses wasn’t the smoothest. He wasn’t the most articulate. There’s a short list of things he wasn’t and a long list of things that he was.

“I feel like he completed his mission. He always had a mission, the message that he carried around in his bible. He did what it said. He was a man who loved his family, loved life to the fullest and got the most out of his time here.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Shaquille O’Neal wants Kobe Bryant to play beyond this season … Heat have some decisions to make very soon … Haven’t had enough of Tristan Thompson’s contract talks? Then read onDerrick Favors is hyped for the Jazz, even without Dante Exum

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 19

VIDEO: Recapping the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket semifinals


Lithuania punches ticket | Catching up with Blake | Scott talks state of Lakers

No. 1: Lithuania punches ticket As we move closer to the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the field that will compete for the men’s basketball gold medal is beginning to take shape. After Spain qualified by beating France earlier in the week, at EuroBasket yesterday, Lithuania earned a trip to Brazil by beating a strong Serbia team. As our own John Schuhmann writes, sometimes in international basketball there’s a thin line between dominance and heartbreak …

Lithuania is heading to the Olympics after holding on for a 67-64 victory over the team that had won its first seven games by an average of 15.1 points. It wasn’t a pretty game (the teams combined to shoot 8-for-42 from 3-point range), but appropriately, it went down to the wire.

Lithuania beat up Serbia inside early and built a double-digit lead in the second quarter. Serbia climbed to within one at the half, but scored just nine points in the third quarter and trailed by nine early in the fourth.

Serbia came back again, but fell victim to two tough plays late. With 3:36 left, Stefan Markovic saved the ball under the Lithuania basket … right to Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who put Lithuania up four. Two possessions later, Bogdan Bogdanovic was called for a foul on what looked like a clean block, and Jonas Maciulis put Lithuania up six at the free throw line.

Milos Teodosic put Serbia within one with a ridiculous three with 14 seconds left, but Bogdanovic was bumped and stumbled as he tried to tie the game on a frantic drive after Lithuania missed one of two at the line.

The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas led Lithuania with 15 points (on just six shots) in less than 27 minutes. Teodosic had 16 for Serbia, but didn’t get enough help from Bogdanovic or the Wolves’ Nemanja Bjelica.

Lithuania punched its ticket to Rio and to Sunday’s gold medal game against Spain. Serbia will play France for bronze on Sunday and will have another chance at the Olympics in one of the qualifying tournaments next July.


No. 2: Catching up with Blake Between ownership and coaching changes, the last few years for the Los Angeles Clippers have been filled with noise. And perhaps lost in the shuffle in some ways has been the development of Blake Griffin, who has met the high expectations that accompanied being a No. 1 overall draft pick, and made himself into the franchise cornerstone people projected him becoming. Alex Kennedy from Basketball Insiders caught up with Blake to talk everything from his work ethic to the Clippers’ offseason to his myriad off-court pursuits…

Basketball Insiders: You’ve added different things to your game each summer. Where are you working out this offseason and what aspects of your game are you working on?

Blake Griffin: “I did a lot of my offseason stuff here in L.A. I like to get out of the training facility and I work out with my trainer, doing strength and conditioning stuff in El Segundo in his gym. I’ll use just random gyms, like I use this high school gym down in Manhattan Beach sometimes. Then, I kind of bounced around a bit. I did some workouts in New York because I had to be there for a little bit so I worked out there. As far as what we worked on, a lot of face up, off the post, off the elbow, a lot of short roll stuff, getting into the lane, floaters – just because we get so much of that with our spacing of the court and how many pick and rolls we run with CP. [I worked on] a lot of stuff actually off the dribble too, just like one dribble pull-ups and things like that. A lot of post-ups too. This summer, I really did a whole lot and kind of mixed it up. Like last summer, I did so much shooting – a lot of catch and shooting, a lot of pick and pop – and I still did that this summer a lot, but I just tried to kind of focus on literally everything this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: As you mentioned, you spent a lot of time in the gym working on your jump shot last year and it translated to success during the season. Now, after another offseason of work, where is your confidence level with your jump shot?

Blake Griffin: “Every summer and every year, it really gets better and better. I feel a lot more confident going into this season, definitely more so than last season. Each year and each offseason, I try to kind of reflect on the last season and see what I did – what I maybe did too much of, what I didn’t do enough of – and I think last year sometimes I settled [for jump shots] a bit too much. This year, I’m really trying to perfect that balance of pick and pops versus putting it on the floor and making plays, so that’s kind of why I focused on everything this summer. Just being able to use the spacing of our floor, having J.J. [Redick] out there spacing the floor and the same thing with CP when he gets doubled team, [I] just really wanted to being able to have an array of shots and not just focus on pick and pops and catch and shoots.”

Basketball Insiders: I don’t think people realize how hard you work. I’ve known Jamal Crawford for years and he always raves about your work ethic, saying you’re always the first guy in the gym. Can you walk me through one of your typical summer workouts, just so people can get a glimpse of what you do?

Blake Griffin: “A typical day, when I’m really into the full swing of things in the offseason, starts early in the morning because I don’t really sleep in. I wake up around 6:45 a.m. and I’m starting by 7:30 a.m. or sometimes 8:00 a.m. Every now and then, I do kind of a crazy week where I start my workouts at 6 a.m. just to kind of mix it up and make me concentrate a little bit more, taking me out of my comfort zone a little bit. I do that for a week once a month. But once I start with my trainer, we do a lot of corrective stuff early like balance, all of my stuff for my back and any type of little problems I have, we just work on correcting those things. Then, we move on to weights and then for conditioning we do like basically a heart rate training program. It’s kind of a more efficient way of training and doing cardio. We mix it up though. I did a lot of pool stuff this summer, a lot of swimming this summer, which I love. I did a lot of that two summers ago, so I got back into the pool a lot, did a lot of swimming, I’ll do some sand workouts and just kind of mix up the cardio just so I’m not constantly just doing the same thing – running on the treadmill or on the court. After weights, we do that, then I go straight into basketball and we’ll do ball-handling and then we do a lot post-up moves like hooks and things like that and then kind of work our way out. So that’s probably another hour and a half. I try not to be on the court for a ton of time. For me, it’s more about me doing everything [in] game speed and [taking] game shots rather than just catching and shooting and going through the motions. That’s about an hour and half and then a lot of times I mix in yoga. And this summer I really focused a lot on my body, just unloading just as much as I loaded. I’ll do a lot of yoga, do a lot of deep tissue stuff, a lot of stretching and things like that. I thought last summer I worked really hard, but I also didn’t do as good as job of taking care of my body from a deep tissue and stretching standpoint so I made that more of an emphasis this year. It’s a long time working, like five or six hours a day, but I see the difference now in the way my body feels. Going into training camp, I probably haven’t felt better so I’m excited about the work we put in this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: You guys were very active this summer, adding players like Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and others. What are your overall thoughts on the offseason additions?

Blake Griffin: “I’m very excited, man. Obviously with the whole DJ (DeAndre Jordan) thing – that was a priority bringing him back and everybody kind of knows about that – that kind of almost overshadowed all the other things we did. Adding Josh Smith to our bench is huge, adding Lance Stephenson, adding Paul Pierce with all of his his experience, I thought we did a really good job this summer of just putting a plan together of guys that we wanted and positions that we wanted and then going out and actually getting it done. I feel really good about our bench, but obviously, like every team, we have to put it together. But I’m excited, especially since the past of couple weeks we’ve started having more guys in [L.A.] and our team is starting to take a little shape just through our workouts and playing pick-up. I think this could be a special season for us.”


No. 1: Scott talks state of the Lakers The Los Angeles Lakers are entering what appears to be Kobe Bryant‘s final season, and aren’t expected to contend for a title anytime soon. But do they feel they’re on the right path to once again becoming one of the NBA’s dominant franchises? Bill Oram from the Orange County Register sat down with Lakers coach Byron Scott for a long Q&A that hits on many topics, from their offseason to Kobe’s future…

Q. You guys missed on some pretty high-profile guys in free agency. After everything settled, how do you feel about roster construction and where you guys are going into October?

A. I don’t look at the summer as a big disappointment, to be honest with you. We missed on a guy we were after, obviously, in LaMarcus (Aldridge, who signed with the Spurs). But to get Roy (Hibbert) and to get Lou Williams and to get Brandon Bass, I think (General Manager) Mitch (Kupchak) did a hell of a job of recovering and making it a summer that you kind of looked back and said, ‘Man, that’s a pretty good recovery.’ I’m happy with the roster we have. We’ve got competition it seems like at every position, which I think is going to be fun to watch in training camp. We’re still very, very young, with the exception, obviously, of (37-year-old) Kobe (Bryant), so I’m excited about that.

Q. When you talk about trying to establish a defensive identity, last year 29th in defense. Do you feel like the moves that were made are moving you closer to that, and getting a team that is in your mold?

A. I think so, I think obviously it starts with Big Roy, Jordan (Clarkson) being a year older, understanding our philosophy on what we need to do on the defensive end, Julius not playing at all last year but understanding what we want to do. So, yeah, I think it is starting to be molded in that direction of being a much better defensive team. We still have a long way to go. We have a lot to work on. And I think we’re probably ahead of schedule right now. These guys have been coming in every day, working out for the past six-to-eight weeks. So that’s something I’m very encouraged about. But from the defensive standpoint everybody that is here, they know how I am about that. They know how important that is to me and to us as a team for us to have any type of success.

Q. How big of a difference does having a defensive-minded center in the middle make?

A. I think first of all it’s a mentality. And I think Roy has shown that from Day One. When he’s out here, the No. 1 thing is he’s a great communicator, which is something we didn’t have on the back end of our defense last year. Our No.2, he has a reputation for protecting the rim, so he knows that’s his bread and butter. And No. 3, the one thing I saw so far with him is that guys are going in for layups the first day he was like, ‘No easy layups.’ And that’s something we didn’t do a good job of last year, is protecting the rim or giving up easy layups. So I think he’s bringing that mentality to our young guys and to the rest of the team and I think hat’s going to be huge for us.

Q. What decisions are you facing with Kobe?

A. I think the biggest decision is playing time, trying to make that as limited as possible and also back-to-back games. That’s something we have to talk about. Other than that, there really is no other decision to make. He wants to play, and he wants to go out the way he wants to go out — if this is indeed his final year. He and I have talked a number of times on the phone, we’ve talked about playing time, we’ve talked about back-to-back, we’re going to probably sit down as we get closer to training camp or as we get in training camp and even talk more about it. Because the one thing I want, if this is his last year, I want him to go out standing. I don’t want him to go out hurt. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make sure we stick to the game plan, as far as his minutes and as far as back-to-back games.

Q. What do you mean by as “limited as possible?”

A. I didn’t mean play as limited as possible. Obviously we want to keep him as efficient as possible, but I know he knows his body better than anybody. When we start talking about those minutes, I want to listen to him more than anything. I’m not going to go by what I think he can play like I did last year, I want to really go by what he thinks he can play. Then I want to make sure we stick to that.

Q. To what extent do you regret the way that decision was made last year? There was a lot made about you playing him more minutes than he thought he should play. Is that a burden for you? Do you feel some guilt?

A. I felt bad about it. I don’t know if I would say guilty. I know Kobe’s a competitor and he’s going to play as many minutes as you want him to play. I’m also a competitor, so I want to win and I know having him on the court gives me the best opportunity to win. But I also know that I’ve got to think about him more than anything. And I thought there were points in time last year where I thought he could play a certain amount of minutes. He told me Day One the minutes that he thought he could play in and like I told him at the end of the day, ‘You were absolutely right and I was wrong.’ I won’t make that mistake again.

Q. How do you avoid making that mistake again when it’s December and you guys are on a bad run and Kobe’s playing well and he seems to be OK? You don’t do it?

A. I don’t do it. Stick to my guns. This is what we talked about, this is what we felt would be the best way to use you and to make you the most efficient that you could be, I’m going to stick to it. Win or lose, I’m going to stick to it.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Warriors consultant Jerry West says as far as he’s concerned, talent trumps numbers … Former Pistons great Bill Laimbeer was named WNBA Coach of the Year for a second time … Former Cleveland Cavaliers great Zydrunas Ilgauskas found a new part-time gig: high school assistant coach …The Knicks are hoping Sasha Vujacic can help teach the triangleHarrison Barnes reportedly has a new agent