Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — Nov. 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Leonard confident he’ll remain a Spur | Lowry driving Raptors’ early season success | Reports: Lakers granted disabled player exception

No. 1: Leonard doesn’t plan on going anywhere come free agency – From Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (No. 1 overall pick in 2011 Draft) to Denver’s Kenneth Faried (No. 22) and other names in between, several players taken in the first round of the 2011 Draft were locked into contract extensions before the Oct. 31 deadline. One such player who was not inked to a deal was San Antonio Spurs forward (and reigning Finals MVP) Kawhi Leonard. As such, he’ll enter restricted free agency this summer, which is creating a little bit of angst among Spurs nation. However, as Leonard tells Sam Amick of USA Today, there’s little reason to fret he’ll leave San Antonio:

Gregg Popovich‘s wry humor sparked laughter among the media, but he’s as aware as anyone that Leonard’s situation is a somewhat-serious matter. Leonard is the sort of young talent who needs to feel loved, to know that all the talk about how his role is so vital will be backed up on the floor. In that regard, this night was huge.

Leonard, known for his reserved and quiet nature, was more candid than ever afterward. He boldly discussed the difference between talk and action, saying of Popovich’s comment, “It’s better to really walk it instead of just hearing them talk about it.” And in a discussion with USA TODAY Sports, Leonard, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, said he knows his days of playing fourth fiddle to Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and point guard Tony Parker eventually will come to an end.

The Spurs have big plans for this summer, among them the idea of replacing Duncan with a free agent such as Marc Gasol if “The Big Fundamental” retires as expected. And with Leonard’s salary cap hold proving so prohibitive had he received the extension he so desired, he’s confident their vision will be realized.

“I was never upset about (the extension),” Leonard said. “I mean they explained to me what their deal is and why they didn’t do it yet. That’ll play out. I’m just here to play basketball and have fun and try to win another championship. If I think about that, then I’m not going to be the same player that I am and will be just out of it.

“I can’t be impatient. It would show on the floor, and I won’t compete if I’m thinking about getting the ball. I’m just going out there to do my role, the same role — defense first and then see how the ball turns out on the offensive end.”

So even with this game taking place in Los Angeles, not far from his Moreno Valley, Calif., hometown and with about 10 family members and friends on hand, Leonard swore his mind didn’t wander to a day where he doesn’t wear the silver and black. He’s all in when it comes to San Antonio, especially if most nights are going to be like this.

“I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” Leonard said. “I mean they love me here. I like the organization, and if it was up to me, I want to finish out with one team like a lot of great players have done, to stay with one organization their whole career and just be loyal to that. You never know. We’ll see what happens next summer, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a Spurs jersey for my whole life.”


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard stars in the Spurs’ win against the Clippers

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suddenly confident Lakers get first win, eye more | Thunder “supporting cast” leads the way over Kings | Waiters clears the air on anthem-gate | Hibbert: Paul George is getting LeBron big

No. 1: Suddenly confident Lakers get first win, eye more – Leave it up to Kobe Bryant to be thinking about mountains after his Los Angeles Lakers climb a mole hill. The Lakers suffered five straight losses before securing their first win of the season over Charlotte Sunday. Now Bryant is looking to get greedy this week, suggesting that a couple more wins this week are a distinct possibility. Helene Elliott of The Los Angeles Times explains:

Where are the Lakers going? That’s tough to say. We know, at least, that they won’t go 0-82.

It’s also certain that they’re headed into a tough part of their schedule. Had they not won on Sunday, they might have had a long wait for that first win because they will face Memphis and New Orleans back to back on the road Tuesday and Wednesday before returning home to face San Antonio and Golden State. After that, they’re on the road at Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.

So if it wasn’t now-or-never, it was close.

Sunday became now because they defended with some energy and had a balanced offense that wasn’t just Kobe Bryant and a bunch of other guys. Their success was constructed with 16 points from Carlos Boozer, 12 from Jordan Hill and 21 points and seven assists from Jeremy Lin, whose midcourt scream seemed to sum up fans’ long pent-up frustrations after he hit a three-point shot that gave the Lakers a 94-79 lead with 4 minutes 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

“They got into it,” Wesley Johnson said of the fans. “When we started making shots, that’s when the crowd got into it and everybody’s energy levels picked up a little more.”

And so did the Lakers’ confidence level. Asked if they would carry some momentum into those games at Memphis and New Orleans, Bryant spoke in a tone that was matter-of-fact. “I wouldn’t be shocked if we went out there and won both of them,” he said.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about the Lakers’ first win of 2014-15

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers struggling to live up to the hype | Rockets will be short-handed in battle of unbeatens | The “dark side” of the triangle

No. 1: Clippers struggling to live up to the hype – Don’t believe the hype, especially when it’s self-generated. The Los Angeles Clippers are finding that out the hard way this season, struggling early on to play up to expectations (both internally and externally) that had many folks picking them as the favorite to win the Western Conference and perhaps the NBA title. We’re barely two weeks into this NBA season, but it’s clear they are not playing at a level that was expected of them. Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times breaks it down in advance of the Clippers’ afternoon tussle with the Portland Trail Blazers:

Everyone, it seems, is playing pop psychologist, diagnosing the problems of a team widely expected to contend for the Western Conference title that has gotten off to an underwhelming start.

With the Lakers winless through the season’s first five games, the Clippers could color Los Angeles red and blue beyond their “BE RELENTLESS” ads adorning buildings and billboards. It hasn’t happened.

“This is a chance for the Clippers to take over the city and they don’t want it,” Hall of Fame shooting guard and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said Friday in a phone interview. “You should have people in the barber shop buzzing about the Clippers. As opposed to talking about their effort, they should be saying, ‘Did you see that play?’”

A more common refrain after the season’s first week: Oy vey.

The Clippers are 3-2 but were blown out by Golden State and lost at home to a Sacramento team that won only 28 games last season. They have been outrebounded in every game and couldn’t hold double-digit leads in four games.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers called his players “soft” after their 17-point loss to the Warriors and didn’t seem impressed by a team meeting afterward.

“When I read about team meetings in the league, I’m thinking, ‘I hope we play them next,’” Rivers said Friday. “We all know we didn’t play hard. I don’t think I need a team meeting for that.”

One observer who watched the Warriors’ demolition of the Clippers has remained Zen about the team’s prospects.

“I think everybody in Clipperland has to do the Aaron Rodgers thing right now,” ESPN analyst and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said, referring to the Green Bay Packers quarterback who told fans to loosen up amid a slow start. “Relax. Let it play out. If at 20 games, you get to a quarter of the year and there’s issues, that’s when I think you start evaluating more so than after five games.”

Van Gundy said what’s more important than the Clippers’ spotty play is what they do next. They play the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.

It’s a chance to start resembling the team the Clippers want to be. Of course, even a blowout victory wouldn’t end their concerns.

“It’s not like we go out against Portland, have a good game and we’re like, ‘Well, thank God that’s over,’” Griffin said. “We’ve just got to stay with it and keep working on the things we have to work on.”


VIDEO: Hornets guard Lance Stephenson sinks the game winner against the Hawks

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lamb may play tonight vs. Grizz | Green says he didn’t taunt Griffin | Scott, Bryant growing frustrated in L.A.

No. 1: Some better news on OKC’s injury front — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had more than their fair share of injury concerns early in the season, but that load may be lessening for them. According to Darnell Mayberry and Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, Kevin Durant and Jeremy Lamb seem to be progressing nicely from their injuries and, as Slater notes, Lamb could make his season debut tonight:

There were actually some positive health updates out of Oklahoma City Thunder practice Thursday.

One was the news of Kevin Durant walking without his walking boot. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player hasn’t seen any game time this season following foot surgery, but his road back (a projected 6-8 weeks) seems to be going as scheduled.

Another positive was shooting guard Jeremy Lamb taking some jump shots. Through five games, Lamb (back) hasn’t played for the Thunder so far this season.

Per Mayberry, Perry Jones (knee) and Andre Roberson (foot) didn’t practice on Thursday. But it looks like the Thunder may have more players available for the Friday/Sunday homestand of Memphis and Sacramento — including newcomer Ish Smith.

Keep your eye on an Anthony Morrow debut, possibly in the next two games.

And here’s some more detail on Lamb:

Barring any unforeseen setback, Jeremy Lamb is expected to make his season debut Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies. And it’ll be much needed, with the Thunder currently out of healthy shooting guards.

After tweaking his back in the final practice of the preseason, Lamb missed the first five games. During his absence, Andre Roberson and Perry Jones also went down, joining Lamb and Anthony Morrow as a four-man group of shooting guard options on the shelf.

“Jeremy Lamb practiced today. It’s going good,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and make a decision.”


VIDEO: The Thunder’s many injuries may be slowly starting to mend

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs still searching for answers | Rose, not Bulls, made call to miss games | Might Lakers try to deal for Rondo? | Thunder set to add Smith

No. 1: Cavs search for answers in another loss — The Cleveland Cavaliers began their current four-game road trip with 114-108 win over the rival Chicago Bulls, but since then, it’s been all down hill. On Tuesday came a 101-82 pasting at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers and last night in Salt Lake City, the Cavs climbed back into a game they trailed the Jazz in all night, only to lose 102-100 on a Gordon Hayward jump shot. Somehow, though, Cavs star LeBron James is trying to find the positives in these tough losses and shared some of them with Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon:

In the Cavaliers’ previous two losses, James was much more passive – abnormally so for him. He articulated after the loss to Portland Tuesday and again before the Utah game Wednesday that he had purposefully played that way in attempt to prove a point to younger Cleveland holdovers from the bad teams which lost tons of games before James returned.

There is a “fine line,” James called it, between playing passively and allowing the team to lose now as a teaching tool, and being the kind of aggressor that can will the Cavaliers to victory. He suggested he was torn on how to play.

James’ better angels won because it would do no one – not him, not first-year coach David Blatt, and not Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the two players James is most trying to reach – any good for the Cavaliers to go on a losing streak with a seemingly disinterested James standing around on the perimeter.

The jelling that needs to take place between now and whenever Cleveland reaches its potential, the breaking of the “bad habits” James identified Tuesday, will probably come faster if he plays at his typically high level.

“We played well, and I was very aggressive,” James said after the loss to Utah. “I got to the line a lot tonight. My body felt it good, it let me know I was in attack mode. I think it put us in a position to win. That’s all you can ask for as a player is to put your team in a position to win at the end of the game. So we got a little bit of clarity, but me, personally, I’ve got to figure out a way to get my teammates involved, too, because it can’t be just a one, two, or three-man show.”

James played better defense. He’s known as a premier defender, but he’s gotten lost at times and merely waved at his man on other occasions this season, while preaching the need for younger player to commit to defense.

James moved his feet against the Jazz, played the passing lanes and nearly had two more steals. The Cavaliers started slowly on defense against Utah, coughing up 59 first-half points, but got back in the game with a more committed effort in the third and fourth quarters.

Still, another flat performance — be it the entire game (as was the case in Portland), or in the middle of it (such as last night in Utah) — is starting to irk many of the Cavs. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more on that angle:

It may only be four games in and yes, their chemistry still needs time to materialize, but there’s no excuse for not showing up. It’s starting to become problematic.

“We should have never been in that position in the first place,” Tristan Thompson told Northeast Ohio Media Group of Hayward’s shot. “Our energy level was terrible the whole game. We didn’t start picking it up until the last eight minutes probably. So we have to live with the results.”

Thompson makes his living off of hard work and doing the little things that helps a team win. For a player of his work ethic, it’s extremely difficult for him to watch this team give a lackadaisical effort.

He’s puzzled, as he can only shake his head in disapproval.

“I can’t put my finger on it but we got to figure it out collectively as a group,” he said. “It can’t just be one or two guys. It has to be all of us collectively as a group, figuring out what it takes to play 48 minutes of hard basketball, playing with some heart, some balls and being ready to fight.”

Blatt tried to defend his team, saying they wanted to attack the Jazz in some pick-and-roll situations and in isolations that often don’t lead to assists. That’s a fair argument but the guys know that’s unacceptable.

“You can’t explain it,” LeBron James said in amazement. “There’s no way you’re going to win a basketball game like that, just having six assists…We just can’t win like that. We have to figure out a way to help each other and not make it so tough.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ road loss in Utah (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: ‘Long process’ ahead for Cavs | Kidd responds to Prokhorov’s barb | Wizards’ Rice took hit from Knicks’ Smith | Injuries pile up for OKC

No. 1: LeBron cautions of ‘long process’ ahead for Cavs — A glance at the NBA history books will tell you that when LeBron James got started on his last championship-seeking venture, in Miami, the Heat got off to a 9-8 start despite having a startling lineup laden with three All-Stars. James is in Cleveland now and the Cavs are off to a 1-2 start after losing 101-82 to the Portland Trail Blazers last night. After the loss, James told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin and other reporters how the high expectations for the Cavs have to be tempered with the reality that Cleveland must first break a lot of losing habits forged over the last few seasons:

“We have to understand what it takes to win,” James said. “It’s going to be a long process, man. There’s been a lot of losing basketball around here for a few years. So, a lot of guys that are going to help us win ultimately haven’t played a lot of meaningful basketball games in our league.

“When we get to that point when every possession matters , no possessions off — we got to share the ball, we got to move the ball, we got to be a team and be unselfish — we’ll be a better team.”

After starting the game 10-for-10 as a team against the Blazers, Cleveland went 21 for its next 75, finishing with a dismal 36.5-percent clip from the field. James was bad (4-for-12), but the Cavs starting backcourt of Kyrie Irving (3-for-17) and Dion Waiters (3-for-11) was even worse.

Irving and Waiters were on the team the last two seasons, of course, as the Cavs racked up a combined record of 57-107.

James did not call out any teammate by name, but seemed to be referencing Irving’s and Waiters’ play when reflecting on what needs to change in order for Cleveland to start playing the right way.

“There’s a lot of bad habits, a lot of bad habits have been built up over the last couple of years and when you play that style of basketball it takes a lot to get it up out of you,” James said. “But I’m here to help and that’s what it’s about.”

Cavs coach David Blatt deflected the blame from James on a night when the four-time MVP finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists along with three turnovers.

Even though James went scoreless in the second half en route to the least amount of points he’s scored since Dec. 5, 2008, he managed to extend his double-digit scoring streak to 575 games, tying Karl Malone for the third longest such streak in NBA history.

“I don’t hold him responsible,” Blatt said of James. “We have to help him get looks. It’s not only about him. It’s about helping him get looks. That’s what I feel like.”

Blatt chose to point the finger at the Cavs’ defense, or lack thereof.

“I don’t think we brought any type of mindset to defend,” Blatt said, later adding, “We never took a stand defensively tonight at all.”

The question is, just how long will it take before the Cavs start to play like the team that many predicted would be in the championship chase come June?

“Hopefully not too long but it could go on for a couple months until we’re all on the same page, we know exactly where we need to be both offensively and defensively and we buy in on what it takes to win,” James said. “I think a lot of people get it misconstrued on what it takes to win (by thinking) just scoring or just going out and trying to will it yourself. This is a team game and you have to rely on your teammates as well. So, we will get an understanding of that as the time goes on.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ road loss in Portland (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 4


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Grizz stay undefeated | Rose, Gibson listed as probable vs. Magic | Durant: George’s injury led me to leave Team USA | Scott wants more defense from Boozer

No. 1: Physical Grizzlies improve to 4-0 — Don’t look now, but the Memphis Grizzlies are in the midst of their best-ever start … and show little sign of slowing up. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol led the charge last night in a 93-81 pasting of the New Orleans Pelicans, who had gotten some bright, early-season play from their own big man combo of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. But as Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal notes, the Grizz went to their tried-and-true gameplan of pounding on foes in the paint and it worked wonderfully:

The Grizzlies remained unbeaten Monday night with a defensive effort that silenced the Pelicans’ main scorers throughout a 93-81 victory. Memphis (4-0) held New Orleans (1-2) to 33.7 percent shooting in a game in which neither team found an offensive rhythm.

And that was just how Griz coach Dave Joerger wanted to see the game play out.

“We got it the way we play. We got them in the mud,” Joerger said. “We got our hands and bodies on people. We were physical.”

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis finished with just 14 points, eight rebounds and a block after entering the game averaging 28 points, 16 boards and six blocks in his first two games.

The Griz, however, had all five starters score in double digits despite shooting 40.8 percent as a team. Marc Gasol’s 16 points led the Griz, who had three players with double-doubles. Gasol also had 11 rebounds. Zach Randolph added 15 points and 11 boards, while Tony Allen chipped in 12 points and 11 rebounds.

In the end, Memphis’ defense made the difference. Over the past two games, the Griz have held opponents to 34.8-percent shooting.

“We did a pretty good job of being tied together, talking and finishing possessions with a rebound,” Gasol said about the Grizzlies’ defense. “We felt like we made things tough for them. They weren’t in a rhythm.”


VIDEO: Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies plow past the Pelicans (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 3


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Beast of the East still in Miami? | Melo’s 20,000-point milestone | Cousins, Kings on the rise | Showtime for Nets’ Lopez

No. 1: Bosh back to a starring role – The last unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference is not that crew in Cleveland led by LeBron James or the group in Chicago headlined by Derrick Rose. It’s those guys in Miami, the ones who were supposed to falter out of the elite ranks after James skipped town. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the new-look Heat had other plans, of course. And it’s showed early on this season, with Bosh back in a starring role and the Heat soaring. Mike Wallace of ESPN.com explains:

For the better part of the past four years — even as LeBron James racked up regular-season and postseason MVP awards during four straight runs the NBA Finals — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly referred to Chris Bosh as the team’s most important player.

And each time, the muffled scoffs and eye-rolling would follow from those within earshot.

But Spoelstra always felt there was a clear distinction between LeBron’s value and Bosh’s impact.

“I don’t expect everyone to always understand it,” Spoelstra would say at least once every couple of weeks. “But in terms of what we do, how we want to play, what we need to happen on the court on both ends for us to be successful, C.B. is our most important player. That’s how we see him.”

What Spoelstra saw then is becoming abundantly clear to many now.

Bosh is off to the most productive three-game start of his Miami tenure, and the Heat have emerged from the first full week of the regular season as the lone unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference after Sunday’s 107-102 victory against Toronto.

While Bosh refuses to buy into the notion that LeBron’s departure to Cleveland in free agency is solely responsible for his initial statistical outburst, the 12-year veteran believes his development is part of a natural progression in his game that was inevitable, regardless of Miami’s personnel.

In other words, after four straight seasons of seeing his scoring and rebounding numbers decline as he settled into a role as primarily a spot-up shooter, something had to give.

“It’s just time,” Bosh said after he finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes against the Raptors. “I knew I couldn’t settle into that same position I’ve been in the past four years, floating outside and shooting a couple of jumpers. I know I had to switch it up a little.”


VIDEO: Chris Bosh  helps power the Heat to a win on Sunday (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls, Butler can’t reach deal | Thompson shows his worth | Cavs make roster move | Celtics, Rondo work on chemistry

No. 1: Butler wants to do it in Chicago — The midnight Friday deadline to reach extensions with members of the 2011 Draft class came and went without the Chicago Bulls coming to an agreement with Jimmy Butler, one of Chicago’s key rotation players. After what were reportedly “cordial, wide-ranging” discussions, Butler tells K.C. Johnson that he’s prepared to play out this season and enter restricted free agency next summer, though he is hopeful his future remains as a member of the Bulls

Jimmy Butler’s agent told the Tribune before the Bulls game with the Cavaliers that Butler rejected a final offer and that stance didn’t change. Sources said the Bulls offered a multi-year deal averaging $11 million during lengthy, cordial conversations.

Butler will be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning the Bulls can match any offer he receives. Unlike when Omer Asik entered restricted free agency, the Bulls own Butler’s full “Bird” rights so offers can’t be as back-loaded prohibitively as Asik’s poison pill deal with the Rockets.

“This is where I want to be,” Butler said. “I love my teammates, the fan base, the organization, everybody. I think I still will end up in this city.

“I understand this is a business so I just have to be a great basketball player. I love my odds. I think this team is championship-caliber. I’m going to produce. I’m going to guard. I will take that on myself.”

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No. 2: Thompson shows worth — Just hours after signing a four-year extension worth $70 million, Warriors guard Klay Thompson went out and scored 41 points against the Lakers. The Warriors got a win in their home opener despite Kobe Bryant going for 28 and keeping the Lakers in the game. As Diamond Leung reports, Thompson’s big game left everyone from Kobe to coach Steve Kerr singing his praises

Thompson was 14 for 18 from the field, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range. Going 12 for 28 from the field was the vintage Bryant even at age 36 and without as much talent on his team as he’s been accustomed to having.

“It was fun to watch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was like the rising star at that position going against the guy who’s been the best for 15 years.”

Thompson has shown signs that he has what it takes to seize the shooting guard torch from Bryant. After their first meeting in the preseason, Bryant was left saying of Thompson’s 25-point performance that the 24-year-old “has the whole package.”

On Thompson’s career night, one tit for tat began with him blowing by his childhood hero on a fast break, shot-faking Bryant into flying by and scoring while being fouled. On the other end of the court, Bryant sank a contested fadeaway jumper.

“He was making some crazy shots,” Thompson said. “He’s still got it.”

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No. 3: Cavs make move — Sure we’re not even a week into the season, and the Cavaliers may (rightfully) be preaching patience and small sample sizes, but new coach David Blatt also apparently isn’t afraid to make a move when its needed. Yesterday, the Cavs waived A.J. Price and signed free agent point guard Will Cherry, who spent last season in the D-League. As Chris Haynes reports, now that he’s in the NBA, Cherry now has to find a role…

Price, 28, had a solid preseason showing with the Cavaliers appearing in six games and averaging 7.2 points, 1.5 assists in 13.3 minutes per game.

Cleveland will replace Price with free agent point guard Will Cherry, a league source informed Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Cherry, 23, has agreed to a two-year deal, we’re told. Not all of the salary is guaranteed.

The 6-1 guard was undrafted in 2013 out of the University of Montana where he is seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list. Last season he played for the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League, the Cavaliers’ D-League affiliate.

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No. 4: Celts build chemistryRondo molding Celtics — The Celtics are still deep in rebuilding mode, but for Rajon Rondo, that’s a good thing because it means the current roster is stocked with young players willing to be molded. After the Celtics flew from Boston to Houston for their first road trip of the season, Rondo helped organize a team dinner to build chemistry, as Marc D’Amico reports

Rondo, who said that every team’s personality is different, is starting to get a grasp on this group of Celtics. He’s learning that this team loves to have a good time, and he claims that’s a good thing.

“We have a lot of young guys, a lot of playful guys with good personalities,” Rondo said. “So it kind of helps ease everything.”

Rondo himself showed off his playful personality by poking fun at one of his teammates, 14-year veteran Gerald Wallace, as he discussed the team dinner.

“We don’t have too many stiff guys like Gerald, older guys that are set in their ways,” he joked. “Everybody’s young and can be molded, and what better way than to have dinner with food?”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After Paul Pierce was ejected last night, Otto Porter had a big game for Washington … Memphis guard Courtney Lee is “out a while” with a concussion … After Joe Johnson lit up the Pistons for 34 points, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said it was his fault … Several teams have reportedly shown interest in Quincy Miller, with the Lakers leading the way

Morning shootaround — Nov. 1


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blatt airs out the Cavs! | Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play | Picking at that Chris Paul scab | Rubio gets (over)paid

No. 1: Blatt airs out Cavs! — One of the best things about the first week of the NBA season is that it’s followed quickly by the second week of the NBA season. Contrary to what we’ve just seen over the past four or five days – hands wringing, teeth gnashing, exaggerated expectations of all sorts and an overall whoop-de-doo-ness that no one possibly can sustain – life in and around The Association eventually settles into a less frenetic, more manageable pace. Here’s a perfect example: Just about every team will have some rugged, behind-closed-doors meetings between now and mid-April. But because the Cleveland Cavaliers had theirs Friday, after their Opening Night embarrassment on TNT 12 hours earlier (they celebrated LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland in every way except beating the Knicks), this qualifies as a big deal and a “Eureka!” moment for coach David Blatt and his troops. As you take a peek at Dave McMenamin’s report for ESPN.com, notice how ordinary it all sounds, as far as a new coach and his new team – check out, for instance, Anderson Varejao‘s blistering comment. It’s just that everyone’s sample size is small right now, so everything is bigger!

“He just got on us,” James said when asked about Blatt’s message. “He got on us from the time we started our meeting to the time we left. And it’s great. For a team like us, we need that. I love constructive criticism. I never took it personal. It’s just an opportunity for us to get better, and it definitely put a fire into us.”
After turning the ball over 19 times against the Knicks led to 26 points for New York — turnovers Blatt called “irresponsible” and “borderline inexcusable” — the Cavs cut that number to just 12 against Chicago.
Blatt also told the team he wanted more ball movement, as well as player movement, on offense going forward.
“Fiery and to the point,” one source told ESPN.com when asked to characterize the meeting. “[Blatt] was very direct with the group about the expectations and what we need to do day in and day out.”
The Cavs showed a greater team resolve while playing for the second consecutive night, this time on the road, and outrebounded the Bulls 52-42 after New York had controlled the glass 35-33 the night before.
“Today in our meeting, we said we have to play better than the way we played last night,” Anderson Varejao said. “We have to play harder, tougher, and that’s what we did tonight.”

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No. 2: Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play — Many folks assume that the Oct. 31 deadline for contract extensions for players entering their fourth seasons is all about the money. While that’s often the case, it isn’t an absolute. Consider Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson, who didn’t get an extension Friday but could be better off because of it. Jackson and his reps perceive his value to be much higher than he’s been able to show playing behind Russell Westbrook in the Thunder backcourt. Now, with Westbrook hurt and a long season of opportunity in front of him – along with some teams’ opinions already about Jackson’s potential – the Boston College product and No. 24 pick in 2011 might be able to turn restricted free agency next summer not just into a big payday but into freedom to seize a bigger role with his own team. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports peeled back some curtain on Jackson’s situation in OKC:

As rival teams evaluate restricted free-agency candidates next July, league executives believe Jackson holds a distinct advantage among his peers: The Thunder’s investment into their star players may limit how far the franchise can go to match a rich offer sheet and make Jackson an ideal target to change teams.
“Bottom line,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo Sports, “how much are they willing to pay for Westbrook’s backup?”
The loss of Westbrook to a fractured hand on Thursday night – possibly for a month – will give Jackson a chance to showcase his skills in the near future, a platform that could make Jackson’s case for a free-agent deal. Some teams believe Jackson could command a deal in the $13 million-$14 million-plus annual range – especially because of a belief that investing more into an offer sheet could cripple the Thunder’s chances of matching it.
The Thunder’s past inability to re-sign two key players to rookie extensions – James Harden and Jeff Green – led to the organization trading both players. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti has insisted the Thunder would match any offer sheet for Jackson next summer, but skepticism exists throughout the league.
Jackson, 24, is sitting out with a sore ankle, and it is still unclear how soon he’ll be able to return to Oklahoma City’s lineup. Next summer, Jackson would pursue a three-year deal with a player option on a third year that would allow him to move into unrestricted free agency in 2017.

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No. 3: Picking at that Chris Paul scab — Remember when the Los Angeles Lakers were above it all, that is, too successful and regal to engage in the “what if…” second-guessing common to lesser organizations? First, the Lakers rarely had much to second-guess, life tended to go so well for them. Second, the next great thing in Forum blue-and-gold always was just around the corner, so there was no great urgency to fret. But the Lakers have the time and the inclination now that they’ve dropped in status and in the standings – and let’s face it, Chris Paul plays in the same dang building. So Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times visited the topic of the Paul-to-the-Lakers trade that wasn’t, as the Lakers re-visited their close miss in landing the All-Star point guard:

Who could forget [former NBA commissioner David Stern] citing “basketball reasons” for vetoing the trade that was supposed to send Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom to New Orleans in December 2011?
The Lakers appeared to have acquired their most dynamic point guard since Magic Johnson, but then small-market owners raised a racket, Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert in particular calling the trade a “travesty” in a lengthy letter to the league.
David Stern said no. The deal was off.
“Sometimes you want to say, ‘Dammit, David Stern,’” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said before Friday’s game. “When they made the trade, before David kind of X’d it, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s going to be fantastic.’”
Then again, Scott might never have become the Lakers’ coach, the franchise going down a presumably more optimistic path with Paul than the one that took them through Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, not to mention Steve Nash, acquired from Phoenix in July 2012 for two first-round and two second-round picks.

Scott could only dream of Bryant and Paul in the same backcourt.
“Mmm-hmm. I could really imagine that,” he said Friday. “There would be a big smile on my face if that was the case.”

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No. 4:Rubio gets (over)paid — There have been no David Kahn sightings around Target Center in Minneapolis in recent days, but some who closely watch the Minnesota Timberwolves might suspect that train-wreck of a basketball boss had returned. Kahn’s drafting of and presumed fixation on point guard Ricky Rubio led to Kevin Love‘s departure from that woebegone franchise (the Wolves refused to sign Love to a fifth year on his extension three years ago and instead traded him this offseason in advance of his freedom to leave). And now the Wolves – thanks to rapidly escalating player price tags, yes, but also their need to plant some personnel flags with someone besides youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine – have signed Rubio to a $56 million deal. Despite his troubles putting the ball through the hole. The Associated Press had more details:

About two hours before the midnight Eastern deadline, Rubio signed a four-year contract extension worth $55 million that includes another $1 million in incentives, bringing an end to a long and sometimes tense negotiation between the flashy Spanish point guard and the team that drafted him in 2009.
Rubio averaged 10.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2.3 steals but shot just 37 percent in his first three seasons. The shooting numbers led some to say the Timberwolves would have been better off waiting to see how Rubio performs this season before extending him an offer given that they would have had the ability to match any offer that he received on the open market next summer.
But owner Glen Taylor has long been big on loyalty, and he reached out directly to Rubio earlier this week to make one last push.
“I want to call Minnesota home for a long time,” Rubio said. “That’s why I signed the contract. My mom’s going to get mad at me, but I don’t leave home when I’m here. This is my second home. I really feel very welcome here.”
As salaries stand right now, Rubio’s $13.75 million average annual salary starting next season will be more than high profile point guards like Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry and Ty Lawson. Rubio’s representatives targeted Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe’s five-year, $70 million deal to eclipse, and ended up coming very close despite not having the leverage that Bledsoe had as a restricted free agent.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The ball’s not in Kyrie Irving‘s hands nearly as much these days, but the Cavaliers’ point guard sounds fine with that. … Three-a-days? former NBA forward Tyrus Thomas allegedly is putting in “at least” two workouts a day in the hopes of making a comeback. … Bulls fans will find out tonight in Minnesota just how “minor” Derrick Rose‘s latest injury (left ankle sprain suffered Friday vs. Clevelaned) really is.  …