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Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — Aug. 19


VIDEO: What’s the latest happening around the NBA?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Knicks, Heat, Cavs pursuing Crawford | Shaq picks MJ over James | Report: Rockets to re-sign Terry

No. 1: Report: Knicks, Heat, Cavs in pursuit of Crawford — Few players can get as hot off the bench scoring-wise in the NBA like Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. That attribute makes him someone who is always in demand and that’s true this summer, too. Although he’s still under contract with the Clippers, the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat are all interested in trading for him. The New York Daily NewsFrank Isola has more:

The Knicks have expressed interest in acquiring Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, according to a source.

The Knicks would use the trade exception that they obtained from Cleveland in last year’s J.R. Smith trade. But in order for the Knicks to complete the deal with the Clippers, they would have to get creative and would likely have to include a third team. Coincidentally, the Cavs are also pursuing a deal for Crawford, the 34-year-old former Sixth Man of the Year. Miami is another team that is also interested in Crawford.

Smith, 29, opted out of the final year of his contract and remains unsigned. Crawford becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016.

Crawford signed a free-agent deal with the Knicks 11 years ago and was one of then-President Isiah Thomas’ first signature moves. Crawford, who played his first four seasons with the Bulls, was traded in November of 2008 to Golden State by Donnie Walsh as the Knicks began clearing cap space.

Crawford has maintained close ties with several high-ranking officials in the organization, including Garden chairman James Dolan and Thomas, who currently runs the Liberty.

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No. 2: Shaq takes Jordan over LeBron … but neither is his No. 1 all-time — Shaquille O’Neal got a bit of a discussion started on the Internet earlier this summer when he said an all-time Lakers team would top an all-time Bulls team. Those statements irked ex-Bulls star Scottie Pippen and, later on, Michael Jordan chimed in on the topic, too. O’Neal was recently in Hong Kong to promote an energy drink and the question of whether he’d take Jordan or LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 emerged. Shaq didn’t hold back on his pick, either, reports Agence France Presse:

Shaquille O’Neal weighed into basketball’s great debate on Tuesday when he backed a young Michael Jordan to beat LeBron James one-on-one — but added that both were outshone by the legendary Dr. J.

O’Neal, visiting Hong Kong to promote an energy drink, faced both Jordan and James in their prime and when asked who would win a hypothetical match-up, he didn’t hesitate.

“Mike,” said O’Neal, winner of four NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-2002) and the Miami Heat (2006). “I think you have to go with a young Jordan every time.

“It would be an interesting game,” said O’Neal. “Young LeBron was more like (Lakers Hall of Famer) Magic Johnson. He was sort of like Magic with Jordan’s abilities. He liked to pass, and he liked to get it up.

“But Mike was Mike. He was just special, like no one else. He always did things no one else could do, and things you couldn’t compare to anyone else. So he was special, and he’d win.”

There has also been much debate over whether he, or the now-retired Jordan -– with six NBA titles and five NBA MVPs to his name –- could be labelled the greatest of all time.

But O’Neal threw another player into the mix when he said 1970s and 1980s superstar Julius Erving AKA Dr. J was the best he had ever seen.

“I’ve seen young Mike and young LeBron and I must say Dr. J is still my favourite player,” said O’Neal. “A lot of people today don’t even mention his name but to me I still think he was the best. But these are questions that we’ll never know the answer to.

“It’s a bit like if I met Bruce Lee in an alleyway. Who would win? You’ll never know. Some people say well Bruce would kick Shaq’s ass. Some people say well Shaq is two times bigger than Bruce Lee. It’s a good question, a good conversation. But we’ll never know.”


VIDEO: Open Court debates the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate

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No. 3: Report: Terry returning to Rockets — Combo guard Jason Terry has logged 16 NBA seasons and spent nine of those seasons with a team in Texas (eight with Dallas, one with Houston). For season No. 17, he’ll be staying in the Lone Star State. According to Shams Charania of RealGM.com, Terry will return to the Rockets for the 2015-16 season:

Jason Terry has agreed to re-sign with the Houston Rockets on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, league sources tell RealGM.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz also had strong dialogue to sign Terry with his agent, Byron Irvin. Ultimately, the opportunity to win and cohesive recruitment from Rockets players and coaches pushed Terry to return. Terry has played an immense role in the Rockets’ locker room, becoming an integral role player in the 2015 postseason alongside James Harden in the backcourt.

Terry averaged 21.3 minutes per game in 77 appearances last season with the Rockets and started all 17 playoff games. The Rockets acquired Terry during the 2014 offseason from the Sacramento Kings.

Terry turns 38 in September and is entering his 17th NBA season.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid had bone graft surgery on his right foot and will miss all of 2015-16 … The Atlanta Hawks have signed veteran high-flyer Jason Richardson … ICYMI, Australia has locked up a 2016 Olympics berth … New Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone genuinely wishes Ty Lawson well in HoustonEric Gordon will be taking part in the New Orleans Pelicans’ voluntary workouts

Morning shootaround — Aug. 18


VIDEO: NBA rookies reveal their favorite animal

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins not buying latest trade chatter | Jackson’s top concern about Porzingis | Report: Cavs signing Kaun ‘a matter of time’

No. 1: Cousins, Kings not buying latest trade chatter — Word that the Sacramento Kings want to trade star big man DeMarcus Cousins has been circulating for a few months now. Throw in the (also) often-reported drama between Cousins and coach George Karl and it seems like a deal remains a likely option. BleacherReport.com’s Howard Beck detailed the latest situation with Cousins in a video on that website, which apparently Cousins (and some of the Kings’ brass) saw and responded to. ProBasketballTalk.com’s Kurt Helin has more:

Nobody seems to be as sick of DeMarcus Cousins‘ trade rumors as DeMarcus Cousins.

Those rumors are not going anywhere in the short-term. The latest ones came from Howard Beck in a post at Bleacher Report in a video about guys who start the season on the trade block:

“Sacramento, I think, wants to hold onto him. Certainly the onwer Vivek Ranadive absolutely wants to hold onto DeMarcus Cousins. But I’ve been told if you polled the rest of the organization, the vast majority are in favor of trading DeMarcus Cousins and that would include, though he denies it, coach George Karl.”

Cousins’ reaction to this?

***

No. 2: Jackson’s top concern about Porzingis — ESPN.com has been running a periodic series about how Charley Rosen, a former assistant coach under Phil Jackson during their Continental Basketball Association days, spent one day a month with Jackson (who is now the Knicks GM). The most recent one details how Jackson came to the conclusion to draft Kristaps Porzingis two months ago and why he’s a big fan of fellow first-round pick Jerian Grant:

“When we wound up with the fourth pick, I was hemming and hawing about how to choose,” Jackson says. “I knew there were several outstanding prospects that would be available, but I was focused on getting a big man. My decision was essentially made when Clarence Gaines, my primary adviser and a super scout, told me there was a game tape I had to watch. This turned out to be a Spanish League contest between [Baloncesto] Sevilla and a team from Barcelona, a game that Sevilla had to win to avoid being downgraded from Division I to Division II status.”

The main player Gaines was promoting was Kristaps Porzingis, or “KP,” as Jackson says he liked to be called.

“What I saw made up my mind” Jackson says.

“Although the competition in the Spanish League is more physical, more consistent and more advanced than even the best D-I college teams over here, KP more than held his own. He had a long, lively body, a well-developed basketball IQ, a soft shot with terrific range and he didn’t back down from anybody. Plus, he showed an amazing athleticism for somebody his size.”

Primarily powered by the heroics of Porzingis, Sevilla won the game. “The young man certainly stepped up,” says Jackson.

Jackson’s seconding of Gaines’ endorsement was confirmed during a pair of individual workouts, as well as Porzingis’ performance in the Las Vegas Summer League after the Knicks had selected him fourth overall. “He can score,” says Jackson, “but his natural bent is to be a team player. On defense, he can block shots from behind and is quick enough to stay in front of guards in screen-roll situations.”

Jackson projects that Porzingis will add at least 10 pounds of muscle before his first season commences, yet concerns still linger over his prize draft pick. “Like Shawn Bradley, who was nevertheless a pretty good player, KP might almost be too tall for the game. What I mean is that his core strength might never be good enough, and that he might not be able to get low enough to get himself into prime defensive position to body power rebounders or drivers.”

Overall, Jackson feels that Porzingis will inevitably evolve into a star-quality player. But he feels that Jerian Grant, the 22-year-old point guard whom the Knicks obtained via a draft-day trade with the Atlanta Hawks for Tim Hardaway Jr., is more NBA-ready.

“He knows the game and has a certain flair for it,” Jackson says of Grant. “He’s quick, has 3-point range, knows how to pass, can break a defense down with his handle, knows how to get through screens and is comfortable getting people involved on offense.”


VIDEO: Kristaps Porzingis gets off to a solid start in Summer League

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No. 3: Report: Cavs, Kaun pairing ‘a matter of time’ — Center Sasha Kaun was a solid reserve during his days at Kansas University and, eventually, wound up as the No. 56 pick in the 2008 Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. Weeks later, his rights were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers … and he hasn’t been in the U.S. basically since. That’s about to change, though, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group as Kaun could join the Cavs in time for the 2015-16 season:

Veteran Russian center Sasha Kaun embarked on a mini-tour of Cleveland on Monday, league sources informed Northeast Ohio Media Group.

His visit was for the purpose of house hunting, among other things, sources said.

Kaun, 30, and the Cavaliers have yet to reach an agreement. However, “it’s only a matter of time” before a deal is struck, according to a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations. The Cavaliers’ main focus is on locking up a longtime pact with restricted free agent Tristan Thompson.

Kaun is to depart town on Tuesday and it is anticipated that a deal will not be finalized before his exit, I’m told.

Kaun’s scoping out of the city almost certainly ensures he’ll finally make the jump to the NBA after playing seven years professionally for European powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

In Las Vegas, Cavs general manager David Griffin confirmed the team’s interest, saying “we would love to have him if something could be worked out.”

Griffin said then that the 7-foot Kaun, who posted career highs in points (9.9 per game) and rebounds (4.5 per game) in the Euroleague last season, was “somebody who could be rotational for us and if it could work out great.”

Kaun was a member of the 2012 Russian National team coached by the Cavaliers’ David Blatt. He would join Timofey Mozgov, Kevin Love, Thompson and Anderson Varejao as big men on the roster.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Portland Trail Blazers sharp-shooter Dorell Wright will play at least part of next season in China … Free-agent big man and former Los Angeles Clippers reserve Glen “Big Baby” Davis explains that whole Chris PaulDeAndre Jordan rift we heard about … ICYMI, the Chicago Bulls brought back ex-star Toni Kukoc in a front-office role

Morning shootaround — Aug. 17


VIDEO: Steve Smith names his top-five must-watch games for ’15-16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wall doesn’t expect Olympic invite | Kings tab Beech to head analytics | Donovan’s journey included a stop on Wall St.

No. 1: Wall doesn’t expect Olympic inviteJohn Wall could very well be the second best player in the Eastern Conference. And he could see improvement this year if the Wizards play more Mike D’Antoni-ball, like they did in the playoffs. But all that might not mean anything when USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski choose the 12 guys who will represent the country in next year’s Olympics. CSNWashington.com’s Ben Standig spoke with Wall, who doesn’t think he’ll be wearing “USA” on his chest next summer:

John Wall did the math. He’s not making Team USA’s squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Wall wants in, no doubt. The two-time NBA All-Star will have the 2015-16 season to impress. However, having just left USA Basketball’s minicamp in Las Vegas, the Washington Wizards star grasps the red, white and blue numbers game. At this point, Wall is directly competing with fellow point guards Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and Mike Conley Jr. Heavy hitters indeed.

If history is a guide, three point guards will be part of the 12-man roster. Barring the unforeseen, two of those spots are locked up. Paul was a member of the 2012 Olympic gold medal squad. Curry helped the US triumph at the 2014 World Cup and then led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA championship.

“Oh, yeah. Ten times out of 10 they’ll be on the team,” Wall said when presented with the premise during a discussion Saturday. He spoke with CSNwashington.com at his charitable foundation’s back to school event for local kids in Washington.

Before the three PG factoid could be fully stated to Wall, he blurted out a name.

“Kyrie.”

Irving also played on the 2014 team, not to mention at Duke for Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski. He’s also currently a teammate in Cleveland with king maker LeBron James, who is another 2016 lock if wants in.

“I’ll be out of the picture,” said Wall through a laugh and without any noticeable trace of resentment.

***

No. 2: Kings tab Beech to head analytics — There’s been a lot of turnover in the Sacramento Kings’ front office since Vivek Ranadivé bought the team two years ago. In July, amid a story that new Kings vice president Vlade Divac was “strongly opposed” to analytics, the team parted ways with Dean Oliver, who essentially wrote the book on analytics. Less than a month later, Sacramento has found a replacement. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that they will be hiring Roland Beech, who founded the site 82games.com and has spent the last six seasons with the Dallas Mavericks:

The Sacramento Kings have come to terms with Roland Beech to hire the longtime NBA sabermetrician to head up their analytics department, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that Beech is poised to join the Kings as their vice president of analytics under Vlade Divac, Sacramento’s new head of basketball operations.

***

No. 3: Donovan’s journey included a stop on Wall St. — New Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan is, basically, a basketball lifer. But between his playing career and his coaching career came another job that helped him realize where his passion was. The Oklahoman‘s Anthony Slater has the story…

For 23 years, Donovan avoided the Wall Street lifestyle that so many from Rockville Center are so often destined. He rerouted his path to the NBA with an undying dedication to basketball. But athletic limitations gave his dream an expiration date. By 1989, he was out of the league and a 24-year-old looking for work. Wall Street was the most obvious choice.

Those four months in a Lower Manhattan office are nothing more than a footnote in the iconic coach’s illustrious career. But in retrospect, they served as an important sparkplug for his second basketball life. The brief unhappiness bred both an appreciation for what he left behind and an extra boost of hoops passion that turned into one of Donovan’s best assets, paving his path to the Thunder organization.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pelicans are getting together in L.A.Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith are still unsigned, but the Cavs have added Jared Cunningham to their training camp roster … and Tony Parker headlines France’s Eurobasket roster, which includes five other NBA players and two former NBA’ers.

ICYMI: The top 100 plays of the 2014-15 season:

VIDEO: Top 100 Plays of the 2015 NBA Season

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Rockets’ acquisition of Ty Lawson, who is welcomed by Harden

NEWS OF THE MORNING

‘Red Mamba’ turns superhero DJ | Tskitishvili seeks NBA comeback | NBA dreams vs. European careers | Rockets’ Harden welcomes Lawson

No. 1: ‘Red Mamba’ turns superhero DJ — Generally here at the Hang Time HQ, we try to focus these Morning Shootarounds on topics around the Association that pack significant news value or delve into the NBA’s many fascinating feature angles. Every once in a while, though, we have to present something for no better reason than its goofiness. And of course, the photos and/or video it generates on social media. So without further ado, here’s an update from Complex.com on veteran San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, his alter ego “Red Mamba,” and how he spent his Saturday at the Rock On Festival back home in Concord, N.H., commemorating that city’s 250th anniversary. It is worth noting that the executive director of the Rock On Foundation, which presented the free one-day festival, is Matt’s brother Luke:

San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner nicknames himself as “The Red Mamba.” This is likely because of two reasons: First, he perfectly fits the prototype for the old term “redheaded stepchild.” Second, the nickname “Black Mamba” was already taken.
But Bonner apparently compensates in deejaying— and creating ridiculous costumes— for what he lacks in originality when creating self-donned monikers. The two-time NBA champion dressed up like a caped crusader and deejayed a set at Concord, New Hampshire’s annual Rock On Festival.
Surely, he’s no DJ Premier nor Kid Capri, but according to the Twitter reactions from this event, The Red Mamba made his hometown crowd proud as they danced to his selections ranging from artists like The Isley Brothers, Taylor Swift, David Bowie, to Outkast.

***

No. 2: Tskitishvili seeks NBA comeback — When we last saw Nikoloz Tskitishvili, he was being waived out of the NBA in July 2006, a few months past his 23rd birthday. The slender 7-footer selected No. 5 overall by Denver in 2002 was considered a draft bust then and now, nine years after his fifth NBA team gave up on him, he regularly appears on lists of the biggest flops in league history. Unlike a lot of those unfortunate (and undeniably talented) fellows, though, Tskitishvili is still of a mind and body to do something to change opinions. At least, that’s why he was in Las Vegas, hoping to attract interest via Summer League for an NBA comeback. That’s where Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post caught up with older, wiser former phenom:

His body is bigger and leaner. He’s smarter. He’s much more mature.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili is trying to convince his lunch guest at the Hard Rock Hotel that he should get another chance in the NBA, listing the reasons this time will be different.

“I just turned 32, but I’m better,” he said. “I’m better at this age. I got stronger. I’ve got confidence. I got smarter.”

And, as Tskitishvili admits, he did little in his three seasons in Denver to convince anyone he belonged on an NBA court. He averaged 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds and shot 30 percent in 143 games. He was 19 years old, a 7-footer lean and not close to being ready mentally and physically for the NBA when the Nuggets drafted him. Thirteen years later, he still carries the burden of failed expectations.
“It’s very tough to make that decision, to draft a young guy with no experience, not ready physically, mentally,” Tskitishvili said. “You risk a lot. They trusted me so much, but I didn’t give them a chance.”

Kiki Vandeweghe, then the Nuggets’ general manager, made the call that would haunt the franchise.

“I feel like it was my fault, not Kiki’s fault,” Tskitishvili said. “I had to take care of myself better and stay patient. I should have listened to him. I used to tell him: ‘I want to get traded. I want to get a new chance.’ He was against that. This is why I respect that guy. He liked me, he loved me and I should have listened to him.”

Vandeweghe was in his first year as Denver’s GM.

“We had a lot of things going on at that time,” Vandeweghe said in a phone interview. “We had the Nene-Antonio McDyess (trade) with the Knicks. We had about five other deals that were close to happening. We had one other small deal. And then focused on the draft. I had not seen Skita play basketball in person. And so that’s not something that I probably would repeat ever, drafting somebody I hadn’t seen.”

Tskitishvili was in Las Vegas recently for summer-league play. He continues to show up nine years after he last played in the league, hoping for a longshot chance to prove his worth.

“I’m 100 times better than I was,” he said. “It’s just very difficult for teams to understand that, because they are looking at the number, the age. If you ask me, this is the best shape I’ve ever been in and the best I’ve been playing in my career.”

And if he got to choose a team to make his comeback? Yes, it would be the Nuggets.

“If I could get a chance to show that it was not a mistake …” he said, his voice trailing.

***

No. 3: NBA dreams vs. European careers — Tskitishvili was a Euro prospect who got a chance, however pressurized, to chase his dream of playing in the world’s greatest basketball league. But a lot of players in Orlando and Las Vegas in the offseason face the flip side of that dynamic, deciding between their pursuit of an NBA dream vs. a legitimate livelihood playing the game overseas. Our own Ian Thomsen delved into that quandary through the eyes and experiences of one such player in particular, undrafted Davidson product Tyler Kalinoski. It’s worth checking out the full story here on NBA.com, but here are some highlights:

“I don’t know if scary is the right word,” he was saying. “It’s a game of chess, of making the right moves. You never know what is going to be the right decision.”

Kalinoski, a high-energy 6-4 guard, was used to exceeding expectations. As Davidson’s final recruit four years ago — discovered at the last minute when a higher-rated player failed to qualify academically — he had risen to become the Atlantic 10 player of the year while contributing in all areas. He had always seemed to know where he was going, even if others failed to recognize his potential. But this next step was something different.

“In college you know where you’re going to be,” Kalinoski said. “But now, really for the first time in my life, I have no idea what I’m going to be doing next year. So it’s exciting because of all the possibilities. But I’m also getting kind of anxious about where I’m going to be.”

He was surrounded by all kinds of virtual doorways. Several of them led directly to a variety of career paths in Europe — two professional clubs in Belgium, one in Italy, another in France. Those clubs were pursuing him, and he was grateful for their interest; but at the same time, what intrigued him most of all were the less-welcoming portals that might lead to a career in the NBA. He had gone undrafted in June, he knew the NBA was a longshot, and still he did not want to walk away from the possibility.

He was 22 years old, with a face that looked even younger. He was wearing with pride the red cap and T-shirt that had been supplied by his Summer League team, the Miami Heat. He was setting out on his own with more questions than answers.

Was he going to go play in Europe? Or hold out for the NBA?

One of [agent Kenny] Grant‘s specialties was to help young American players make the most complicated decision: To choose the fork in the road that separated the dream of playing in the NBA from the reality of a career in Europe. The strategy for Kalinoski entering his first summer of professional basketball was to create maximum exposure on both sides of the ocean. Summer League was the perfect venue because it was swarming with European coaches and executives in addition to the host NBA teams.

“We are willing to ride with whatever Tyler wants to do,” Grant said. “We give our advice, but we respect that people have their dream. If it works, if it doesn’t work, we’re okay with it either way. We will go forward with what we have. You don’t want someone to go forward with regrets.”

During the opening weekend of Summer League in Orlando, the coach of the French club Elan Chalon wanted to speak with Kalinoski. Their meeting went well, and Chalon became Kalinoski’s most aggressive and persistent recruiter.

“Some people go to Europe and they’re really happy playing there,” Grant said. “Others, it’s not for them. With these European teams, if you don’t show interest, they’re gone.”

***

No. 4: Rockets’ Harden welcomes Lawson — Most of the Houston Rockets players, coaches and executives, and certainly the vast majority of their fans, have only unanswered questions about Ty Lawson and what the troubled former Denver Nuggets point guard might bring to their team this season. But Houston’s All-Star guard James Harden feels he already has a few answers and believes in Lawson as a solid acquisition because he had a chance to meet up with him in California recently. He spoke to the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen over the weekend about it:

Harden and new Rockets guard Ty Lawson “spent some time together,” enough for Harden to be convinced that his new teammate will overcome his off-court issues and be a valuable addition to the Rockets’ backcourt.

“Ty is definitely going to help us,” Harden said during a break in the Kroger Unplug and Play James Harden Basketball ProCamp in The Woodlands on Saturday. “He gives us that quickness, that speed, playmaking ability, something that we were missing, especially deep in the playoffs. We’re going to welcome him with open arms. We’re happy to have him.”

Lawson completed a 30-day rehabilitation program ordered after his second DUI arrest this year. Harden said he has already spent enough time with Lawson to be “not at all” concerned that Lawson will have similar issues.

“He’s out in California right now working out,” Harden said. “We’re happy to have him. He’s going to be a great addition to our team. I’ve been with him these last couple weeks. He’s more focused than ever. He has a great opportunity with a really good team to showcase his talents and help us with that push that we need.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: He’s no Deron Williams, at least not the Williams who used to make NBA All-Star teams, but journeyman Jarrett Jack will be logging more minutes at point guard for the Brooklyn Nets in Williams’ absence. And he feels ready for a greater leadership role. … Veteran guard Jason Richardson, at 34, isn’t getting any guarantees but he will get a contract with and a serious look from the Atlanta Hawks. … Former Miami wing Dorrell Wright still is on the Heat’s radar. … When Michael Jordan signed his first Nike endorsement deal for $2.5 million, the shoe-and-apparel company required a opt-out clause if the NBA newcomer didn’t translate into profits. Thirty years later, the Jordan Brand – generating an estimated $2.5 billion in annual revenues – will get its own store in Chicago. …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 15


VIDEO: LeBron helping out kids in Akron

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron supports 4 years in college | Mixed messages from Team USA | Bad form in Rivers’ self-challenge | Kobe schools D’Angelo (smiley face)

No. 1: LeBron supports 4 years in college — OK, our headline is a little bit of a tease. The idea that LeBron James, arguably the greatest preps-to-pros NBA player ever, might be advocating for young prospects to attain their college degrees could make for an interesting sports story. In this case, though, it makes for a fascinating story, period, because James’ focus is not on future NBA performers – it’s on regular kids from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, who otherwise not attend college at all. We’ll assume he’s getting a volume discount and not paying retail, per this piece on ESPN.com:

The NBA star has partnered with the University of Akron to provide a guaranteed four-year scholarship to the school for students in James’ I Promise program who qualify.

The scholarship will cover tuition and the university’s general service fee — currently $9,500 per year.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, as many as 2,300 children could potentially benefit from the scholarships.

It’s the latest example of James, who often refers to himself “as just a kid from Akron,” giving back to a community that helped raise him.

“It’s the reason I do what I do,” said James, who announced the program Thursday while hosting an event for students at Cedar Point Amusement Park. “These students have big dreams, and I’m happy to do everything I can to help them get there. They’re going to have to earn it, but I’m excited to see what these kids can accomplish knowing that college is in their futures.”

The university and the LeBron James Family Foundation are still finalizing the criteria for the scholarships. The students will have to graduate from high school within Akron’s public school system, achieve standard testing requirements, and fulfill a community service obligation.

James has had a long-standing relationship with the university. As his celebrity soared in high school, James played many game on the school’s campus, and the four-time MVP deepened his connection with Akron soon after he turned professional.

“It means so much because, as a kid growing up in the inner city and a lot of African-American kids, you don’t really think past high school,” said James, who bypassed college to jump to the NBA. “You don’t really know your future. You hear high school all the time, and you graduate high school, and then you never think past that because either it’s not possible or your family’s not financially stable to even be able to support a kid going to college.”

***

No. 2: Mixed messages from Team USA — There’s no denying that USA Basketball has come up with a formula for success, built by managing director Jerry Colangelo and men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski and driven by the commitments it requires from the NBA’s best players. But there were several mixed messages put out by the time this week’s mini-camp and intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas were completed. “Everyone hoping to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics had to attend” … except maybe not Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose. “Some players will be permitted not to play in the scrimmage Thursday” … except then participation was made voluntary and so many guys opted out – 20 of the 34 on this week’s roster – that organizers had to truck in four more NBA players just to flesh out the Blue and White squads to nine men each. There seems to be some slippage going on in what words like “mandatory” and “commitment” mean, as kicked around in this CBSSports.com report, and it opens the door for other players to test the program’s vaunted culture in the future:

Earlier this week, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said that because Derrick Rose chose not to attend minicamp this week in Las Vegas, the Bulls star would not be considered for Team USA’s Olympics squad for Rio 2016. In the same interview session where he revealed that he’s interested in Kobe Bryant returning for a final run with the team (despite Bryant also missing the minicamp), all of a sudden, Colangelo says he’s open to it.

“I always said you never shut the door entirely on anyone. I mean, why? To prove what? Was I disappointed Derrick [Rose] wasn’t here? Sure. Because, we want the best for him. We want the best for him. We want him to get back to the level that he once was. So let’s just see how things go in the future.”

OK, this doesn’t seem cool. Colangelo made a big deal to everyone saying how in order to be considered for Rio in 2016 you have to attend this minicamp. It was mandatory. So a bunch of players dropped what they were doing and shuffled out to Las Vegas in the middle of their offseason to run some drills and have some meetings. Most were happy to do it, and that’s a testament to the culture that Colangelo has helped build.

At the same time, many did so because Colangelo made it clear that attendance was mandatory. Now, on top of him saying that he’s not going to hold minicamp next year and that instead the team will simply be chosen, all 12 spots, it turns out that the players didn’t actually need to attend anyway. Rose didn’t attend, and he can get in if he stays healthy this year. Bryant didn’t attend, same deal.

***

No. 3: Bad form in Rivers’ self-challenge — We’ve all come to understand the role that confidence and even ego play in how far a person can take some natural ability and hard-earned prowess. The days of athletes – or artists or innovators or anyone else, frankly – having to hew the “Aw, shucks” line of false modesty are long over. We get it when someone says he or she aspires to be the “GOAT” (greatest of all time), that’s it a highly effective method of motivating oneself. But what even the most brash among us need to remember is that it remains bad form to call out or put down others while issuing such self-challenges. That’s a line L.A. Clippers guard Austin Rivers crossed on Twitter the other night. Fueled apparently by seeing the “extras” who were summoned to help out at the Team USA “Showcase” scrimmage — Arron Afflalo, Terrance Jones, Amir Johnson and Elfrid Payton, with C.J. Watson listed initially but scratched — Rivers’ comment as framed by SheridanHoops.com veered into arrogance:

It’s quite possible that Rivers’ eyes lit up when he saw C.J. Watson on the roster. Kidding aside, it’s tough to see where Rivers is coming from as far as saying he’s better than many on the roster, given that he hasn’t shown a whole lot during his first three years in the league (bare in mind, he’s not comparing himself to superstars like Stephen Curry and James Harden, who weren’t a part of the showcase).

To be fair, he was never quite enabled by Monty Williams – the only coach he has ever played for before being traded to the Clippers last year by his father Doc Rivers. Under his father, Rivers shot a career-high 42.7 percent from the field and had some shockingly good performances in the playoffs that actually made you wonder if you’ve had it all wrong about the guy.

Objectively, Rivers probably isn’t better than most on the roster from Thursday as of right now. Still, if that’s what he wants to believe, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, particularly if it drives him to want to become better (that clearly is the case if he wants to become MIP).

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No. 4: Kobe schools D’Angelo (smiley face) — This one is pretty self-explanatory, a moment or two between new teammates Kobe Bryant and No. 2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell played out in social media. Apparently inspired after watching some of former NBA All-Star and scoring champ Tracy McGrady‘s exploits, Russell lavished some Twitter praise on the former Orlando and Houston star. Bryant then reined in Russell’s enthusiasm a bit:

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan’s name and image are worth millions, and yet a bootleg grocery ad didn’t sell much meat with it. … Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins probably has been working out harder than you. … If you’re still digesting the massive NBA schedule served up all at once Wednesday, here’s a primer on the best of the best that might help. … Clippers forward Blake Griffin, not bad as a power forward and a commercial pitch man, talks about yet another role: Web site story editor. … Griffin, in case you missed it, also had some of the most interesting thoughts among the Team USA players who talked about the relative appeal of Olympic gold medals vs. NBA championship rings. …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 14


VIDEO: Highlights from the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas

LeBron: Re-signing Thompson ‘No. 1 objective’ | Positives abound for Team USA | Butler finding new motivation

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: James: Re-signing Thompson ‘No. 1 objective’ for Cavs — The Cleveland Cavaliers spent their offseason doing their best to keep their Eastern Conference championship team together. The only players lost from last season’s crew are Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller and Kendrick Perkins and, given the additions of Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson in free agency, Cleveland is perhaps even stronger than it was at season’s end. Yet the Cavs have yet to reach a deal with power forward Tristan Thompson and that has star LeBron James concerned. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio News Group has more: 

LeBron James said signing Tristan Thompson to a long-term contract was the “No. 1 objective” for the Cavaliers right now, but stopped well short of blaming the team for the stalemate in negotiations with Thompson.

“He’s a huge part of our team,” James said Thursday at Cedar Point, where he unveiled a partnership with the University of Akron for inner-city children in his LeBron James Family Foundation to go to college for free.

“Short-term and long term he makes our team more dangerous,” James said of Thompson. “Things need to be worked out from his side and the Cavs but we need him back. He’s an important resource.”

James also said the Cavs’ “front office has done a great job. The next step is to get Tristan done.”

His words are significant because of his relationship with Thompson, a restricted free agent who is represented by James’ agent, Rich Paul.

James also spoke for the first time about his famous pool-side chat in Los Angeles with Kevin Love prior to the start of free agency.

Love had said publicly he would return to the Cavs, but after signing his new deal placed great importance on that meeting with James. The two had some awkward moments last season — their first together in Cleveland — with James calling out Love for not having more of a team attitude.

“We just talked everything out  and a lot of stuff was very honest and we came to a really good place and we agreed on a lot of things,” Love said in a video posted to the Player’s Tribune website. “So I think that was also a very big deal when, you know, you’re talking to the best player in the world.”

James said Love “wanted to have a sit down with me and talk about everything.”

“He wanted to talk about the season, what could happen with the team going forward,” James said. “I was absolutely open to it. I was one of the people that wanted him there when we made the trade last summer. The fact that he committed to us let me know the type of guy we have. I think he’s going to be great for us. I think he’ll be an All-Star this year and a much more vocal part of team this season.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 13


VIDEO: NBA TV takes a look at the 2015-16 opening week schedule

2015-16 schedule set | Report: Hawks to hire Rose | Family, health will factor into LeBron’s Olympic decision

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Schedule set for 2015-16 season — The NBA’s offseason, as usual, featured plenty of players shuffling off to new locales. With the summer roster tinkering more or less done, the next thing on most fans’ minds was the release of the 2015-16 schedule to see when these new faces would hit the court. Our Sekou Smith breaks down the new schedule, which features said new guys in new places as well as some familiar ones — like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant — returning to the court: 

Playoff rematches between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls and the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans, the return of injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant highlight the first nights of the 2015-16 NBA schedule, the full version of which was released Wednesday.

The celebrated Christmas Day schedule includes a Finals rematch between LeBron James and the Cavaliers facing reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors at Oracle Arena; Pelicans star Anthony Davis taking his talents and team to Miami to face a revamped Heat team; Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and the Chicago Bulls visiting Oklahoma City to face Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and a healthy Thunder crew; a Texas-sized rivalry game with Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs visiting James HardenDwight Howard and the Houston Rockets and the Staples Center showdown featuring the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin facing off against Bryant and the new-look Los Angeles Lakers.

The ten-game Martin Luther King Day slate includes the Warriors making their lone regular season trip to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers (on TNT), the Pelicans traveling to Memphis to face the Grizzlies (ESPN) and the Rockets and Clippers (TNT) rekindling their rivalry in the final game of the day at the Staples Center.

The schedule also features a week-long All-Star break for the second year in a row.

With a directive from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to be mindful of player rest and recuperation, NBA Senior Vice President, Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe said the changes were the product of a painstaking process that has produced the “best schedule” he’s seen.

“You’re dealing with 30 teams playing 82 games, so just the mathematics will tell you’re limited when talking about all the arenas, team travel and local business and other considerations,” VanDeWeghe said. “There are all sorts of things you are looking at. I must say, our broadcast partners at ABC, ESPN and Turner have all been cooperative. They added games to Thursday and opened up windows on Saturday and Sunday and that’s been great for us. And we were still able to keep the extra days after All-Star Weekend. There were a lot of competing factors involved and in addition to the reductions in the four-in-five night sets and the back-to-backs, the travel time is reduced. Obviously, teams will not think the schedule is right over different stretches but we’ve had more cooperation across the board than we’ve ever had, and the numbers bear it out. Between the efforts of all involved I think we’ve come up with a schedule that’s I can tell you is the best I’ve seen.”

 

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 12


VIDEO: Steve Smith and Stu Jackson review the first day of Team USA mini-camp

Durant returns for Team USA | Lillard understands why Aldridge left Portland | Anthony a fan of Knicks’ offseason | Report: LeBron may participate in Wednesday’s practice | Markieff Morris wants trade from Suns

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Durant returns for Team USA — Oklahoma City Thunder star and 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant hasn’t played in a basketball game since Feb. 19 when he was shut down for the season as he needed foot surgery. But word circulated yesterday that Durant would take part in some drills as Team USA holds its ini-camp in Las Vegas this week. Durant spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s mini-camp opener and says he’s feeling good and just happy to be playing again, writes our Steve Aschburner

Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s All-Star forward and the NBA’s 2014 Kia Most Valuable Player, had been sidelined by a right foot fracture that required bone-graft surgery. He played his last game of the 2014-15 season on Feb. 19, limping into the sunset with more than a third of OKC’s schedule remaining.

While the Thunder sank in the standings and missed the playoffs, while head coach Scott Brooks got scapegoated and fired, while teammates Russell Westbrook won the scoring title and attracted MVP votes, Durant was left to recuperate, rehab and reflect on the game he loved and missed like never before.

“You remember Christmas as a kid? It’s like that,” Durant told reporters after Team USA’s first session Tuesday.

“I can go 100 percent. I’m not going to play 5-on-5 just yet, but everything else is no restrictions,” he said. “I’ve got to play against some guys to see. But I feel like I’m back to myself.

“I haven’t played since February. So of course, I’m human. I’ll go through a little bit of rust. But I think after two trips down, I’ll be all right.”

“You take it for granted a little bit,” he said of the game to which he’s devoted so many hours. “I missed the routine the most. Getting up, going to practice, getting my shots up before practice, I missed all that part. Hanging out with the guys in the locker room before the game, I think that’s what I missed the most. You can take that type of stuff for granted. I think I did and I learned my lesson.”

OKC trainer Joe Sharpe is one of three NBA trainers working with Team USA. That should reassure Thunder fans that Durant won’t overdo things even in this controlled environment. Besides, the 6-foot-10 forward doesn’t want to go re-setting his own recovery clock.

“It’s a long process, man,” Durant said. “I just tried to stay patient with it. … I have my days where I’m like, ‘Man, it’s not getting any better. I’m sick of working out. I’ve been working out for a year, I’m ready to play.’ … Feels good to stretch my legs a little bit.”

Durant, 26, said that his layoff has been made to feel even longer by the number of strangers or acquaintances who suddenly seemed interested — with him way less than 100 percent — in testing him.

“So many people been trying me though,” he said. “I walk down the street, everybody wants to play me 1-on-1. … The competitive juices are just boiling in my body and I’m just ready to play.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 11


VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at the Rookie Photo Shoot

Report: Durant, Anthony plan to join Team USA workouts | Report: Harden to sign deal with Adidas | Report: Embiid to have surgery on foot soon

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Report: Durant, Anthony plan to join Team USA mini-camp drills — If there’s one thing that has been true about USA Basketball over the last few years, it is that the team is not lacking in talented players on the roster. As the team readies for this week’s mini-camp in Las Vegas, 34 NBA players will be a part of that session and range from young, up-and-comers (like Michael Carter-Williams) to established superstars (like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant). ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Durant and Anthony will not only be in attendance for the mini-camp, but will take part in drills there: 

‎Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are scheduled to make their first substantive on-court comeback steps at Tuesday’s opening day of USA Basketball workouts, according to USAB sources.

Durant told ESPN.com‎ here on Monday night that he intends to join in this week’s Team USA workouts.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Anthony, meanwhile, is likewise planning to jump into the light, noncontact practices scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday on the campus of UNLV.

Durant and Anthony are among the stars who were initially earmarked to report to the three-day minicamp solely to satisfy USAB’s mandatory attendance requirement in Vegas to remain eligible for the 2016 Olympic team. Neither Anthony nor Durant, sources said, will play in Thursday night’s intrasquad game at the Thomas and Mack Center (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2), but the low-intensity nature of what Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has planned for Tuesday and Wednesday, sources said, has been deemed sufficiently safe.

Durant played only 27 games last season because of a fractured foot. The NBA’s 2014 MVP, he was diagnosed with a Jones fracture in October and was ultimately forced to undergo three surgeries last season.

“Kevin has been incredibly disciplined in his return-to-play protocol, and he’s now at the stage where he can participate in noncontact drill work,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti told ESPN.com’s Royce Young. “We are excited he is at the point where he can take part in portions of the minicamp, as he has demonstrated great focus throughout his recovery efforts.”

Anthony, meanwhile, told ESPNNewYork.com in June that his recovery from left knee surgery is ahead of schedule. He underwent the season-ending operation to address a tendon issue shortly after playing in the All-Star Game in mid-February at Madison Square Garden.

 

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Morning Shootaround — August 10


VIDEO: LeBron James’ top 10 plays from the playoffs

MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1 | Exum injury doesn’t destroy Jazz | Time to make room for women coaches in NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1, all-time Bulls would top all-time Lakers — When Michael Jordan speaks, we all listen. And he said plenty over the weekend at his annual Flight School, answering plenty of pertinent questions for the campers in attendance, including how he’d handle LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 in his prime and responded to Shaq‘s challenge in regards to how the all-time great Bulls teams would fare against an all-time great team of Los Angeles Lakers. He poked Kobe Bryant, too, and even discussed Kwame BrownPatrick Dorsey of ESPN.com has the details: 

What did I think about when Shaq said that the all-time five of the greatest Lakers could beat the Bulls’ five greatest players?

“I just felt like he was just talking. It’s a debate. The thing is that we would never know. I think we would have killed them. He thinks they would have killed us. You guys decide. It’s just a debate.”

Favorite player to play pick-up games with?

“My best pick-up game I’ve ever played was the games and the practices with the [1992] Dream Team. … My team was myself, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. We played against Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, David Robinson — that’s five, right? — and we killed ’em.

Note: That’s not five; the other player team’s fifth had to be either Karl Malone, John Stockton or Christian Laettner. There’s also a chance Jordan is misremembering a bit, and he’s talking aboutthis scrimmage covered in-depth by Sports Illustrated, which featured a Jordan-Malone-Ewing-Pippen-Bird five against Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin and Laettner (although a 40-36 final score in favor of Jordan’s team hardly constitutes a “killing.”)

If I had the chance to go one-on-one with Steph Curry or LeBron, which one would I choose to go one-on-one with?

“Right now, or when I was in my prime? Right now? Buddy, I couldn’t beat — well, I’d go against [Stephen] Curry because I’m a little bit bigger than him. So I could kind of back him in. But LeBron is a little bit too big.”

[Note: Take that, 34 percent of America.]

If I had a chance to add another member to team Jordan, who would I hire?

“I’m a big fan of [Mike] Trout, the baseball player. I absolutely love him. I wish I could hire him. But he’s Nike, so I can’t steal Nike’s guys.”

This is the ESPN question. I know it’s going to be all over ESPN. [Note: He was right.]If I was in my prime, could I beat LeBron in a one-on-one game?

[Long pause in which the campers mutter/shout their opinions.]

No question!

[Huge applause.]

What did I see in Kwame Brown when I drafted him [No. 1 overall for the Washington Wizards in 2001]?

“I, along with everybody that was in that draft room, wanted Kwame Brown because of his athleticism, his size, his speed. He was still a young talent, 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid.”

If you went back and you couldn’t play basketball or baseball, what sport would you play?

“Great question. I went to college, I got my degree in cultural geography, and everybody wanted to know what is cultural geography? Well it’s an introduction to meteorology. I always wanted to be the weather man. Don’t laugh. But that’s what I really wanted to do. So if I wasn’t playing basketball or baseball, I was going to tell you what the weather was going to be like tomorrow.”

[Note: Don’t think meteorology is a sport? Tell that to Jim Cantore!]

What kind of advice would I give Kobe Bryant?

[Uncomfortable laughter in the crowd.]

“Actually, Kobe and I are good friends. I like Kobe, we talk a lot, I hope he comes back healthy. I think he’s one of the great players of the game, I think he’s done a lot for the game, and he has a true love for the game of basketball. I absolutely have high regard for Kobe Bryant.

“Even though he stole all my moves, but that’s OK. I still love him like a brother.”

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