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Suns’ brass fires back at Dragic

dragic

Goran Dragic was traded to the Heat on Thursday for players and two first-round picks. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Goran Dragic said what he felt and got what he wanted. The Phoenix Suns reacted Thursday and responded Friday.

One day after Dragic, the Suns point guard who sprung his discontent on the team and on the NBA in the days and hours leading up to the league’s trade deadline, the Phoenix brass fired back. Dragic said he was unhappy and felt he no longer could trust the Suns’ front office? Well, the front office characterized Dragic as selfish and overrating his value within the team’s pecking order. Moving him to Miami served Phoenix’s needs just fine, they said.

President of basketball operations Lon Babby, in particular, wasn’t pleased by a couple of “aspersions” tossed the team’s way. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic was there to chronicle Babby’s and GM Ryan McDonough‘s comments:

Babby said he took personal offense to Dragic’s Wednesday comment that he did not trust the organization, characterizing his statements as “unfair and unwarranted.” Dragic had been upset that the Suns brought in two more starting-caliber point guards, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, since he returned to the team in 2012 and that he became primarily a wing player because of their additions.

“If some of those moves ruffle Goran’s feathers, so be it,” Babby said.

Babby said the Suns, including Managing Partner Robert Sarver, tried to reach out to Dragic several weeks ago to gauge his concerns and views on his future with Phoenix but did not get a response until Tuesday, when they were no longer surprised and already had [newly acquired Bucks guard Brandon] Knight in mind. McDonough said the Suns never received a list of preferred destinations and did not care if there was one because of how Dragic and his agents handled the situation.

After hearing fans and media comment that the Suns traded their best player (Dragic), McDonough said Friday, “Our response to that, I think, is that Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris are still in Phoenix Suns uniforms.”

Dragic did give a little context via Twitter to his caustic remarks, and did nothing to quell suspicions that he said what he did to leverage his way out of town:

Lawson Absence Doesn’t Fly With Shaw

VIDEO: Suddenly, Ty Lawson’s name has come up in the latest trade rumors

Note to new National Basketball Players Association vice president LeBron James: Maybe it’s time to extend the All-Star break.

Again.

It seems nine days wasn’t enough for point guard Ty Lawson to get away and return in time for the Nuggets first post-All-Star practice on Wednesday.

Could it have anything to do with the Nuggets’ place in the lower half of the Western Conference standings? Or could it be that Lawson is unhappy to hear his name come up in trade talks as the Thursday 3 p.m. ET deadline approaches.

Needless to say, coach Brian Shaw was unhappy with the unexcused absence, according to Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post:

“We had a week off or nine days between games, and you expect everybody to be here,” Shaw said. “It disrupts the planning of everything, in terms of you count on somebody in practice. But he’s not here so we had to go without him.”

Lawson failing to show is the latest in a string of incidents that have upset management in the past two years. He had a domestic incident in the summer of 2013, a case that was eventually dropped. He missed a team breakfast meeting late last season and was held out of the starting lineup. In January he was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

Lawson is the Nuggets’ best player, their most productive player, but he has trouble throughout his career staying on the right track. Shaw didn’t know Lawson wasn’t in the building until the players reported to the practice court and Lawson failed to show. He had not contacted the team telling them he would be a no-show.

“When we had the coaches meetings this morning, all of the other guys came in and did their shooting,” Shaw said. “And we (the coaches) came up right at the start of practice at 11 o’clock and that was the first that I noticed that he wasn’t there.”

The Nuggets play at Milwaukee on Friday night.

Robertson applauds players union for adding James’ clout as VP

NEW YORK – The adversaries that get drawn in bold strokes in any NBA collective bargaining negotiations (and too often, subsequent lockout coverage) are the owners vs. the players. The commissioner – now Adam Silver, before that David Stern – vs. the head of the union. Michele Roberts has that title now as the NBPA’s executive director now, filling the job previously held by Billy Hunter.

But there’s an underlying tension, too, between the stars of the NBA and its so-called working or middle-class players. They are the league’s role players. They are the guys who typically make up The Other Nine on teams fortunate enough to have A Big Three. They are the league’s “82.7 percent” if you want to go by the percentage of NBA players who makes less than $8 million, about 372 of approximately 450.

About two-thirds of the league’s performers are paid less than $5 million, and according to ESPN.com data, nearly 40 percent (173) draw salaries between $1 million and $4 million. That means, in a union set-up, the vast rank-and-file has the votes. When push has come to shove in recent collective-bargaining agreement talks, middle-class issues from salary maximums to mid-level exceptions have been served, generally at the superstars’ expense.

But there is a place for star power. The NBPA showed that in its unanimous vote of player reps Friday to add LeBron James to the union’s executive committee, moving into the position opened when Roger Mason Jr. retired to take an NBPA management role.

And Oscar Robertson, an authority on star power in sports labor relations, concurred. Robertson – the game’s legendary “Big O,” worthy of any NBA Mount Rushmore as the game’s all-time triple-double threat – spoke Saturday about his nine years as union president. Fifty years ago this summer, after the Maurice Stokes benefit game at Kuthser’s Resort in the Catskills, Robertson was courted by retiring NBPA president Tom Heinsohn, Jack Twyman and union director Larry Fleisher to take over as president.

Robertson provided the sort of high profile leadership that James, teaming with current NBPA president Chris Paul, can offer when the next CBA talks ramp up toward 2017. He shared with ESPN.com his experience and his perspective on James’ impact:

“I think it’s wonderful, the stars need to lead by example,” Robertson said on Saturday. “There’s so much to be done in the next few years.”

Robertson believes that James can leverage his position as the league’s signature star in ways he could not 40 years ago and that is why having him and Paul as the face of the union could be valuable.

“It’s not a risk for LeBron because he’s a star; there’s nothing they can do to LeBron,” Robertson said. “You have to be successful and then you can put yourself in that position. Times have changed, there is nothing the owners can do. Years ago, owners didn’t want players in (union leadership), they tried to trade you or get rid of you and get you out of the league. They’ll deny that but it was true.”

Robertson put his name on the lawsuit in which the union successfully challenged the reserve clause, leading to free agency in the NBA much as Curt Flood‘s fight paved the way in baseball. The Cincinnati and Milwaukee star guard felt he paid a price after his playing days, losing out on broadcasting, coaching or executive positions out of NBA owners’ resentment.

But in recent years, Robertson felt the game’s stars weren’t doing enough of the union’s work, leaving the decisions and public-relations goodwill to players with lower profiles.

“LeBron can get instant access to the media and the fans,” Robertson said. “In this day and age, it isn’t always what you do behind closed doors. Sometimes it’s public and getting the mass of people behind you. I’m sure he can do that.”

Pacers’ George aims to practice March 1


VIDEO: George discusses his potential return this season

Larry Bird cracked open the door Tuesday on injured All-Star Paul George returning to action for the Indiana Pacers this season, but 48 hours later, George didn’t exactly barge through it.

George sounded more tentative than irrationally exuberant about the prospect of playing late in this 2014-15 season and (if the Pacers qualify) the playoffs when he spoke with media in Indianapolis Thursday. That might reflect a sense of mortality George could be feeling after the gruesome leg fractures he suffered Aug. 1 in a Team USA scrimmage or he could be parroting much of the medical and Pacers’ front-office advice he’s been hearing over the past six months.

Or maybe he’s been on the phone during his hiatus with Derrick Rose.

From what George said, he and the Pacers are hopeful he can start practicing full speed with his teammates by March 1, the target date for his open tibia-fibula fractures to be healed. Beyond that, how his body reacts and Indiana’s position in the standings likely will determine his return to games. The Indianapolis Star reported on George’s measured approach:

George said he’s uncertain if he will be able to play this season, but he wants to.

“Ideally, that’s a great time where I want to be back. Obviously I’m a long shot away from it,” George said. “I’ve got so many steps to get to that point but looking forward that’s (March) when I want to be back.”

George said he has participated in 3-on-3 half-court drills, but hasn’t played in a full scrimmage, and has not taken part in contact drills.

“I don’t want to come back too soon and be out there and have a chance to re-injure … I want it to be fully right,” he said.

At 18-32, Indiana is 12th in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games behind No. 8 Miami for the East’s final playoff berth. Bird and others in the organization have had their eyes on the postseason throughout, even after George’s injury and Lance Stephenson‘s departure in free agency. The Pacers were considered a championship contender the past two season and have made four consecutive playoff appearances, after a four-year drought. Prior to 2006-07, the team had qualified in 16 of 17 seasons.

Whether a return even for just one round is feasible might swing on George’s return. But Bird and Pacers ownership might tip their hands before that, with the NBA trade deadline set for Feb. 19. For instance, if Indiana were to move veteran forward David West, who has attracted interest from contenders, or another rotation player, it might signal a shift in the franchise’s focus to 2015-16.

Orlando fires Vaughn, boosts Borrego, considers Skiles?

It’s a lot like your refrigerator when you lose power: if you keep the door closed, most of the stuff inside will last. But open that door a bit too often and …

That’s how it seemed to go with Jacque Vaughn, who worked his last game as head coach of the Orlando Magic Wednesday night in a 110-103 loss at San Antonio. Vaughn’s job status had been bandied about for more than a week, with speculation about the Magic either pulling the trigger quickly or trying to manage the situation until after the All-Star break. But once that happened, the whiff of failure took over and multiple outlets began reporting that Orlando would formally announce Vaughn’s dismissal Thursday afternoon.

The Magic, roused from their inaction, suddenly were acting swiftly:

Leaving only this:

Which led directly to a renewal of this:

Which had been out there dating back to last week, also via multiple outlets. Skiles, who lives in Orlando and had the best years of his 10-season NBA career with the Magic, is interested in the job, a league source told NBA.com. He coached all or parts of 13 seasons for Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee, posting a 443-433 record (.506) with six playoff appearances.

Other candidates beyond Borrego and Skiles might merit consideration depending on the direction Magic ownership intends to take. Some possibilities include former NBA head coaches George Karl, Mark Jackson, Nate McMillan and Michael Malone. The Magic are considered to have underachieved, lingering too long in the development phase with talented young players such as Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and mostly injured lottery pick Aaron Gordon.

Vaughn, who will turn 40 next Wednesday, was 58-158 (.269) in two-plus seasons as Orlando head coach. In 12 NBA seasons as a 6-foot-1 point guard, the Kansas product averaged 4.5 points, 2.5 assists and 16.3 minutes, mostly as a backup with Utah, Atlanta, Orlando, New Jersey and San Antonio.

At 15-37, the Magic are last in the Southeast Division and only two spots from the bottom of the Eastern Conference, ahead of Philadelphia (11-39) and New York (10-39). Orlando has lost 16 of its last 18 games and 23 of 29 over the past eight weeks after making it to Dec. 10 with a 9-14 mark.

The Magic rank 25th in offensive rating (99.5) and 26th (106.1) in defensive rating, per NBA.com stats. They also rank next-to-last in opposing field-goal percentage (47.1 percent).

Coaching spat: Kidd shrugs off Scott’s ‘kind of an (expletive)’ remark

MILWAUKEE – One NBA head coach publicly referring to another NBA head coach as an (expletive) – as the Lakers’ Byron Scott did when speaking of Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd Wednesday – clearly ranks as a breach in protocol within their elite professional fraternity.

But then, lobbying for another head coach’s job while he still holds it is a breach in protocol, too. That’s how Kidd wound up with the Bucks, taking over Larry Drew‘s position, in the first place.

So no one should be too surprised when some decade-old history between Scott and Kidd surfaced in the hours before the Lakers-Bucks game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Scott got it started at his team’s morning shootaround, talking to reporters about his first coaching matchup with Kidd. The two had gone to consecutive NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 – Scott as coach of the New Jersey Nets, Kidd as its playmaking point guard – going 109-55 in their first two seasons together.

But in 2003-04, Scott was fired at 22-20, with Kidd allegedly going to management to lobby for a change.

That was the backdrop, then, when Scott was asked about Kidd.

“He was kind of known as an (expletive),” the Lakers coach said.

Scott went on to say that he and Kidd are “cordial” these days. He also said he never got to the bottom of the rumors about Kidd costing him his job. “That’s all I’ve heard,” Scott said. “Now, did he actually go talk to [former Nets president] Rod Thorn and all those guys? I don’t know. I never got that story. I always said, though, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Scott’s comments were relayed to Kidd on Wednesday evening, not quite two hours before their teams tipped off. The Bucks coach didn’t take the bait, saying he hadn’t heard or read them while agreeing with Scott’s “cordial” characterization.

“That’s his opinion,” Kidd said. “I saw him this summer [at the coaches’ meetings in Chicago]. Said ‘Hi’ to him, wished him the best of luck. That’s the business. What are we supposed to do? You guys are making a little more of … you guys must be bored.

“We had a great run in Jersey. He was a big part of that. He was our coach. We went out and executed his game plan. Took a team that was at the bottom and all of a sudden we ended up in The Finals.”

Of the fractious 2003-04 season in particular, Kidd said: “Unfortunately, I was just a player. I didn’t have the rights of firing or hiring. That falls on management.”

Scott didn’t run from the comments during his pregame session, nor did he fan more flames.

“There’s no rift,” he said. “You ask me how I feel about him, like I said, we’re not going to be spending a whole lot of time together. But other than that, he’s coaching a good team here in Milwaukee and I’m coaching a team that I love in Los Angeles.

“This is no big deal. This happened [11] years ago, whatever the case may be. I don’t hold grudges or anything like that. It is what it is. And we all move on. I’ll say hello to him. I’m not going to just walk by him like I don’t like him or like I dislike him or anything like that.”

Scott praised Kidd for his play in their two Finals season, saying he deserved some hardware that went to San Antonio’s Tim Duncan both seasons.

“[Kidd] should have got MVP the first year we went to The Finals,” the Laker coach said. “I thought he was the best player in the league. He transformed that organization to not only a playoff contender but a championship-caliber basketball team. So like I said, we had some great times together as well.”

Neither coach thought the tension or rancor between them would add or detract from that night’s game.

“Nope,” Kidd said. “Doesn’t mean anything. You guys can make up whatever you want, but it’s between the players. They play the game; we coach.”

Said Scott: “Neither one of us is going to have shorts on out there.”

Report: Howard could miss extended time

VIDEO: The Inside guys talk about West All-Star snubs

Having a string of eight consecutive All-Star Game appearances snapped was the least of Dwight Howard’s concerns.

The Rockets center, who has already missed 14 games this season, could miss “extended time,” according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard will get a second opinion on his injured right knee and could miss extended time, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

As the Rockets embarked on a two-game Eastern Conference trip to Boston and Detroit on Thursday, Howard traveled elsewhere to get further evaluation on his swollen knee, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Rockets announced late Wednesday night that Howard has an edema — build-up of fluid –in his knee. He was sidelined for 11 games earlier this season with a strain in the same knee.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and head athletic trainer Keith Jones both ruled out a microfracture to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Howard is averaging 16.3 points and 11 rebounds this season, but was not voted by the fans as a starter and not added to the Western Conference team reserves by the coaches. With Kobe Bryant of the Lakers out for the season following rotator cuff surgery, Howard could be added as a substitute, but the current injury now makes that less likely.

The latest scenario just makes us wonder what James Harden can do next to improve stating his case for MVP? Even without Howard, Harden has been spectacular, leading the NBA in scoring at 27.7 points per game and was added to the West All-Star team himself by the coaches after the fans gave their sentimental backing to Bryant.

Harden’s play has enabled the Rockets (32-14) to remain in a three-way tie with the Trail Blazers and Clippers for the No. 3 playoff seed in the West.

Playing without their big man, the Rockets have posted a 10-4 record this season, but another lengthy loss of Howard could eventually take its toll in the tightly-packed race.

Thunder’s Durant out against Wolves

Kevin Durant sitting out a game is always chilling to anyone devoted to the Thunder, including those who saw Durant miss the first 17 games this season to a foot injury. But this isn’t one of those injuries.

He sprained his left big toe Sunday in Cleveland, and it’s still too sore to use for cutting and planting, so he was scratched from OKC’s visit to Minnesota. In these situations, it’s better to use caution. And it helps that OKC is playing the Wolves. So the Thunder is going sans Durant, which also serves to deny a Durant matchup with Andrew Wiggins, often viewed as a younger version of Durant.

Durant could also get a break from the next game in more ways than one. Not only are the Thunder scheduled to meet the Knicks — another foe that allows teams to rest their stars — on Wednesday but the game might not be played because of the heavy snowstorm. Monday’s Knicks-Kings game was postponed.

Perry Jones is expected to see extended minutes in Durant’s absence and Dion Waiters should get more shots.

 

Reports: Jennings lost for season, Pistons seek help at point

In the age of social media, pro athletes not only circumvent traditional media to break news but to break hearts as well.

That was the case Sunday with injured Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings. While reporters and fans waited for and relied on traditional channels for the official word on Jennings’ status – the point guard went down in anguish with an apparent torn Achilles tendon in the third quarter of Detroit’s game at Milwaukee Saturday – it was Jennings who actually delivered the bad news.

Jennings put out a non-confirmation confirmation of the injury with a simple Tweet that spoke to the expected surgery-and-rehab for such an Achilles tear:

Jennings followed up with a message to his followers that seemed to capture what those next six to nine months are going to be like for him:

There were early reports that the Pistons might get active in the trade market or look to a D-League addition like Lorenzo Brown, who went to camp with the Pistons and made the minor league’s first all-star team during last week’s Showcase.

Australia celebrates historic NBA week

What in the NBA was viewed as a typical lineup change, albeit with the added interest of involving a 2014 lottery pick/ international sensation, was also cause for national pride as Australia continued a historic rise to basketball prominence.

The decision by Quin Snyder to replace incumbent Trey Burke with Dante Exum as the Jazz starting point guard Thursday in Milwaukee — the first time that had happened with Burke healthy — would have been big enough Down Under, where Exum is the embodiment of Australia’s new NBA influence. That his backcourt partner was a fellow Aussie rookie, Joe Ingles, made it an even bigger deal a hemisphere away. And that Snyder’s move came just two games and four days after four Australians were on the floor together for the first time in league history — Ingles and Exum along with Patty Mills and Aron Baynes of the Spurs on Sunday in San Antonio — added to the groundbreaking week back home.

That’s some hot streak for a country that has supported the NBA in impressive ways and has long sent players to North America (Andrew Bogut, Mills, Luc Longley, others) but only in the last couple years has been appreciated for regularly producing top talent. It continued Saturday night in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz stayed with the Exum-Ingles backcourt, and were expected to do so into at least the near future.

The view from Melbourne, via Simon Legg, the chief editor of NBA.com/Australia:

“We’ve seen Patty Mills and Aron Baynes win a championship with the Spurs, Danté Exum get drafted inside the top five — becoming just the second player from Australia to be selected so high, and a record seven players in the NBA over the last seven months. As you can imagine, it’s been an incredibly exciting period for Australian NBA fans. The excitement and the buzz has been around for a little while now, but it felt like it was at fever pitch in the past week as we saw four Australians on an NBA court for the first time, and then Danté and Joe starting together for the second time against the Bucks, and both play well in a gritty victory. Since the season started, the mainstream media has joined in on the excitement, and it’s just continuing to grow as we see new records being created. The Australian fans are very knowledgeable. While they’re excited for Danté, they also know that he has a long way to go and we need to temper our expectations and let his game develop, but the media and the fans are handling his development, and the development of all of our players fairly well. It just gets hard to not be swept up in it sometimes.”

Australia was big business for the NBA even before this, ranking as the No. 1 country outside North America in League Pass subscriptions and No. 1 in eCommerce business heading into 2014-15, according to league officials. The talent pipeline getting stronger in recent years through the Draft and with second-round picks James Ennis (Miami) last season and Jordan McRae (Philadelphia) this season choosing to play there rather than Europe or the D-League adds to the relationship.

“There’s a few things that are helpful,” Scott Levy, the senior vice president and managing director of NBA Asia & India, which overseas Australia and New Zealand, said before the season. “One, it’s a very strong economy. Everyone has credit cards. There’s good Internet penetration, so you can watch a 2½-hour game and have a consistent, secure connection and be able to access that and you can pay for the service as well. That helps. And the consumption by Australians around sports in general – not just NBA, but all sports – if you were to compare that to the amount spent on all sports in any country in the world, Australia would rank right up there at the top per capita. There’s just an incredible passion for sports in that country.”

All-Star weekend will be the next step. Bogut won’t be on the Western Conference squad, but his play with the Warriors has been a major factor in Steve Kerr earning the spot as West coach in New York next month. The Rising Stars Challenge, formerly the rookie sophomore event, could include several players from the region. Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers/Australia) and Steven Adams (Thunder/New Zealand) have a good chance to get picked while Ingles and Exum are both possibilities.