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New role, old challenge for Jonnie West

 

Jonnie West chose to play at West Virginia. Playing in West Virginia would have been enough to invite the spotlight of walking in the footsteps of a statewide legend and the taunts from opposing crowds, but he went all in, to the same school as the legend because he wanted to be coached by John Beilein, only to have Beilein leave for Michigan.

Jonnie West chose to work for the Warriors. Yes it was a fast-track NBA job no one would have turned down, and few others with a different last name or Golden State relationship could have even hoped for, but he stepped into the unique challenge again.west

He ducks nothing. The son of Jerry West played at the same college, got into the same business and is part of the same organization where The Logo reigns as a minority owner and prominent voice in basketball operations under owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers.

Jonnie West has moved up to associate general manager of the NBA D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, Calif., in a shared role with Patrick Sund, the son of another long-time NBA executive, Rick Sund, a job bump announced Friday. Jonnie will continue to scout for the parent club about 75 miles to the north. Jonnie will still be trying to build a career beyond a 26 year old far, far down the front-office depth chart.

And Jonnie will still be the son of one of the greatest GMs in the history of this or any other North American league.

“This is an opportunity,” Jerry West said. “There’s no question it’s an opportunity. But you have to seize upon the opportunity. You’ve got to outwork other people. You’ve got to be more prepared than other people. And I think that’s exactly what you’ll see from him.”

Jonnie West has worked in Santa Cruz management the previous two seasons, as director of basketball operations and then with a promotion to director of player personnel. Before that, he interned for superstar agent Arn Tellem — the West and Tellem families have been close for decades — at the same Wasserman Media Group where Myers became a prominent agent before leaving for the Golden State front office. Jonnie West and Myers have also known each other for years, since Myers was finishing his UCLA career, a couple miles from the West’s home, in 1997.

“I’ve dealt with it my entire life,” Jonnie said of the famous family name. “When (Jerry) first went to Memphis, he was really the face of the franchise, which he didn’t want. He wanted the attention to be on the players, which it should be. Playing high school basketball in Memphis, I started to get some of that pressure and people would ask me questions. I just never really felt it. Then going to West Virginia and playing where he played, it was always a question that people asked me. I’ve always said the same thing. I appreciate and love him for everything he’s done for me and all the accomplishments that he’s had, but I’m my own person. I may be trying to follow the same path that he did, but I’m my own person. I’m only doing this because I want to do it. I have his support, which means the world to me.

“Probably on a daily basis we talk basketball. Growing up, I was around him a lot during drafts. I was in the war room with him during the drafts from an early age, so I experienced a lot growing up and got experience that a lot of people just don’t have the opportunity to have. I was able to learn a lot even before I began working in the NBA.”

Ryan West understands. Jonnie’s older brother is also climbing steps in an NBA front office, except Ryan is doing it as assistant director of scouting with the Lakers, the team their father is most identified with. Jonnie doesn’t have that connection, but attending the same school and then working in the same organization as Jerry West is asking for a comparison no one can win.

“The one thing that we constantly have discussions about are players that we think are good and players that we think are not quite as good,” Jerry West said. “And it’s really interesting, at least in my family with my two kids, that goes on all the time. They tell me I’m crazy, I tell them they’re crazy. To me, I think the strength of anyone who works within this organization is to pride yourself on looking at players, being objective about them, and I think that’s exactly what he will do. I honestly could never change his mind about his player that has something unique to contribute to a team. I don’t think I could change his mind. And I think that’s good in many respects.”

Patrick Sund, 28, is entering his sixth season in Golden State, after most recently serving as manager of scouting. Rick Sund has been an executive with the Hawks, SuperSonics, Mavericks, Pistons and Bucks.

Summer Dreaming: Most Valuable Player

We’ve been to the beach to soak up the rays and the scenery and did some snorkeling to take a peek at life beneath the water’s surface. We’ve risen at dawn and hiked up through the cool morning air on narrow trails to get a glimpse of what’s over there on the next mountain. We’ve gone bungee jumping just to see if we had it in us. We’ve floated down long, lazy rivers to navel gaze and find out how long we could keep that umbrella drink balanced on our bellies.

What else is left to see on these sultry summer days except to lie back in a hammock and dream of MVPs who’ll make things hot on all those winter nights?

While we’re still several pages on the calendar away from the 2014-15 season openers, we’re taking off from the free-throw line in our naps and soaring all the way to April for the top five contenders on my ballot.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: LeBron James returns home to Cleveland

LeBron James, Cavaliers — He’s back at home in Ohio, all is forgiven and it’s safe to like him again. Add in the fact that he lost out on the MVP trophy to Kevin Durant last season — even though it was silly to even think that he wasn’t the best player in the league — and there’s reason to expect bigger things than a pregame mushroom cloud of resin dust in Cleveland. Chalk last year up to “LeBron Fatigue” from a voting roll that simply got tired of writing his name in on the top line of the ballot, even if it was the right thing to do. So now “The Homecoming” will have him in the same situation he faced after Derrick Rose copped the MVP from him in 2011. All James did was respond by winning the award two straight times. A fifth MVP this season will move him into a tie with Bill Russell and Michael Jordan and, at just 29, LeBron in his prime will be stalking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time record of six.


VIDEO: Brent Barry goes one-on-one with Chris Paul

Chris Paul, Clippers — Does anybody really think head cheerleader and screamer Steve Ballmer would have plunked down $2 billion to buy the Clippers if Paul hadn’t already done the seemingly impossible and removed their name as the punch line from every NBA joke? Yes, Blake Griffin is a bonafide All-Star. Yes, Doc Rivers is an elite level coach who was tapped into the psyche of DeAndre Jordan to push him into the conversation as one of the best centers in the league. But it’s Paul who is the face, heart, teeth and claws of the franchise. With career averages of 18.6 points, 9.9 assists, simply the best handle in the game and a nose for ballhawking defense, CP3 has a pot that’s been bubbling for nine NBA seasons and is ready to boil over and take the Clippers to the next level. This could be the year. Paul has driven the team to win a franchise record 56 and 57 games in each of the past two seasons and if he can do it again to set up a deep playoff run, the shiny hardware could be his reward.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks about his 2013-14 MVP season

Kevin Durant, Thunder — He capped off another splendid and relentless season by winning his first MVP award last season and then upped his game by delivering one of the great acceptance speeches of all time. Go ahead, admit that you wiped a tear from the corner of your eye. What’s going to change on the court this time around? While teammate Russell Westbrook rides the roller coaster of fandom up and down with his off-the-charts play mixed with the “what-was-he-thinking?” shot selection, Durant will continue to be the spindly-legged racehorse that pulls the Thunder wagon. He’s won the scoring title four of the past five seasons, had a string of a dozen straight games of scoring at least 30 a year ago, which brought out the Jordan comparisons. But with all of the hullaballoo surrounding LeBron’s return to Cleveland, last season could one day be remembered as K.D.’s only MVP win if he can’t get the Thunder over the hump to win a championship.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony elects to stay in New York

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — Last season was the first time in his career that Anthony’s team did not make the playoffs, yet he still finished third in the MVP voting. That speaks not only to the depth of his own talent, but a lack of depth on the Knicks roster that forces him to be the do-it-all force every night. Other than the arrival of Phil Jackson in the executive suite and Derek Fisher on the bench, little has changed at Madison Square Garden. Melo went window shopping in the free agent market, glimpsing at the goods in Chicago and Houston, then opted to take the largest bundle of cash — five years, $124 million — to remain in New York and continue to keep his name in lights on Broadway. He’s lost weight. He’s gained confidence. He says he can get the Knicks back into the playoffs. In a rebuilt Eastern Conference that now has real challengers up and down the standings, that will be a tall task. But if Anthony can take the Knicks there, he’ll deserved to be in the conversation.


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s top plays of 2013-14

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Curry is the best pure shooter in the league today. It’s not just the number of times he puts the ball into the basket, but his ability to get the shots off so quickly, at all angles, from virtually anyplace on the court. Give him an open dribble as soon as he crosses the mid court line and you might have given up a bucket. But it’s more than just scoring 24.5 points a game. It’s Curry’s ability to dish the ball from either hand with a magician’s flair for 8.5 assists that makes him truly special. He was already knocking on the door of the top five a year ago, finishing sixth in the MVP balloting. If new coach Steve Kerr can get the Warriors to take the next step and boost them into the upper half of the Western Conference bracket, Curry could be a dark horse in the race.

‘Free agent’ coaches seek work in ever-shifting job market

One by one, in something approximating inverse order of desirability, the names of NBA free agents have come off the proverbial big board. What began with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol has dwindled now to fellows such as Andray Blatche, Dante Cunningham and Ekpe Udoh.

This game of offseason musical chairs is played for even more blood among coaches. There are fewer jobs to be had in the first place (five or six per team vs. 15 player positions), and it’s not nearly the meritocracy that it is for players. Abilities, work ethic and results matter less than connections or change for its own sake.

There are a lot of coaching free agents still on the board, both former head coaches and notable assistants. Among the former, we have George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy, Scott Skiles, Mike Woodson, Doug Collins, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Keith Smart, Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Lawrence Frank and Maurice Cheeks.

The latter group, even bigger, includes Jack Sikma, Mario Elie, Terry Porter, T.R. Dunn, Igor Kokoskov, Scott Williams, Bill Peterson, Bernie Bickerstaff, Brian Hill, Bob Ociepka  and, hey, Rasheed Wallace. Actually, you could go dozens deep with solid coaching pros who once were in but now are out, the one place few of them want to be.

“There’s an old expression in the NBA, ‘Never get off the bus. Stay on the bus!’ ” said Jim Boylan, an NBA assistant for most of his 22 years in the league who survived a coaching change in Cleveland this offseason. “We all realize it too — it’s a privilege for us to be involved in the NBA and to coach athletes at this level.”

But it’s fleeting. Coaches face more scrutiny and grab more headlines when they’re fired, but their landings are often cushioned by seven-figure paychecks. Assistant coaches get flushed, and that six-figure salary — while comfy by most folks’ standards — doesn’t go quite so far when you account for the costs of multiple residences or constant moves.

Ociepka, who entered the league in the 1980s as a part-time volunteer scout after a storied career as a high school coach in the Chicago area, scrambled through five NBA teams in five years in the ’90s. Boylan and his wife, Jane, counted recently and realized they have owned or lived in 25 homes during his basketball career.

“It’s not a surprise when you’re an assistant coach in the NBA,” Sikma, the former Seattle and Milwaukee center, said recently. “You look at the number of staffs that have turned over in the last few years — it’s more of a constant than not. You know you’re probably going to have to bounce around a little bit.”

There are a multitude of factors for the turnover, most obvious the turnover at the top. When a coach gets fired, some or all of his staff typically gets shown the door with him. And there has been a LOT of turnover lately — nine new NBA coaches this summer, 13 such changes a year ago. Going back just five years, to the start of the 2009-10 season, only San Antonio (Gregg Popovich), Miami (Erik Spoelstra) and Dallas (Rick Carlisle) now have the same coaches. And both the Spurs’ and Mavericks’ staffs have changed considerably.

“Most people who are making the decisions probably have a narrow list going on, from relationships or what they’re looking for,” Sikma said. “It’s a transient line of work for sure. So you have to be quick on your feet.”

Here are glimpses of three assistant coaches whose dance cards are filled to varying degrees. Sikma would like very much to get back in after spending the past seven seasons working with now-retired Rick Adelman. Boylan beat the odds by surviving a coaching change in Cleveland, then beat them again when LeBron James’ yearning for home rocked the Cavaliers’ landscape. And Ociepka is at the point, after so many hirings and firings, where he might prefer more stable options. (more…)

Ref Bavetta got overruled on final call

After 39 years reffing games on NBA courts, Dick Bavetta is calling it a career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

After 39 seasons reffing games on NBA courts, Dick Bavetta is calling it a career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

It was time for another family meeting, no different from the annual confabs they’d had for the previous half dozen years. Every Fourth of July weekend, at their log cabin retreat in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, Dick Bavetta would put the question to his wife Paulette and daughters Christine and Michele:

What d’ya think? One more season?

“We usually put it to a vote,” Bavetta said this week. “And I don’t get a vote. They basically listen to what I have to say and then they vote. The last six years, it’s always been 2-1 to go back. Christine, who’s like our Wall Street wizard, she’d always say, ‘Daddy, why are you subjecting yourself to all this travel and everything?’

“This year when we met, it was 3-0 to retire.”

Whoa. That result rocked Bavetta in his chair, the idea that after 39 years running the courts of the NBA as one of its most durable and most visible referees, Bavetta would be done. But after a record 2,635 consecutive regular-season games — a streak that earned Bavetta attention and kudos rare during most of his working years -– along with 270 playoff appearances and 27 Finals games, now seemed as good a time as any.

Season after season, Bavetta was out there, a familiar face to players, to coaches and to certain diehard fans around the league who, whether they realized it or not, had become familiar faces to him. This season, he won’t be.

“I said, ‘What’s the thinking here?’ ” Bavetta recalled. “They said, ‘You’re 74 years old’ — and I say this with humility — ‘and you’ve pretty much accomplished everything there was to accomplish.’ ” (more…)

Summer Dreaming: D Player of the Year

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

There are so many different ways to fully embrace the dog days of summer. One is to fire up the grill and start cooking. Another is to keep that blender full of ice.

Here, we’re talking basketball. The season openers are still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead. So here are my Summer Dreaming choices for 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year.

Send me your picks.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — If you don’t think he’s a game-changer, then you weren’t paying attention last spring when the Serge Protector missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals and the Spurs were able to run a virtual lay-up line through the heart of the OKC defense. When Ibaka returned from a calf injury, all of a sudden it wasn’t so easy for Tony Parker and his friends to get to the basket and the series was quickly tied up 2-2. Ibaka protects the rim, contests jumpers and puts the bite into the Thunder. He’s continuing to blossom as an offensive force, but it’s his defense that is the glue of the Thunder. He led the league in total blocks for the fourth straight time last season and has been voted to the All-Defensive first team three years in a row. It’s finally his turn to get the big hardware.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — Was it really fair to bring him into the league carrying comparisons to the legendary Bill Russell? Well, maybe if you watch the highlight video from last season. With coach Monty Williams taking the shackles off his playing time, A.D. showed many of the skills that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. For all that he was able to do with the ball around the basket, it was the defensive plays that dropped your jaw to the floor. He guarded the paint. He cut off baseline drives. Davis seemed to swoop in from out of nowhere to reject even 3-point attempts from the corner. No place on the court was safe from the ballhawking shot-blocker. Now with rim-protecting center Omer Asik at his back, Davis might really cut loose challenging shots. That’s just scary.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – He practically owned this award, winning it three straight times from 2009-2011 in Orlando, but that was before everything went south with the Magic and he had to overcome back problems and questions about commitment to the game. Howard arrived for his first season in Houston fit and ready to re-establish himself. By the end of 2013-14 there were no more questions about his health and desire to get back to the old form. Howard’s 2.83 blocks per game led the league as he returned to being a stopper anyplace around the basket. He’s got 10 years of NBA experience but is still just 28. There’s no reason that the Rockets can’t count on him to be the defensive anchor in their push to be true contenders in the Western Conference.

Joakim Noah, Bulls — Defense can’t always be measured by numbers and quantified with stats. As the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, Noah blocked just 1.4 shots per game. But he had a nose to go after every shot at the rim, was firm in guarding the pick-and-roll and with his sheer energy and physical force was as disruptive as a twister to any opposing offense. He’s hungry, he’s relentless, he’s challenging the ball anywhere on the court, he’s the epitome of the attitude that coach Tom Thibodeau wants and is at the heart of the Bulls defense that ranked No. 2 in the league last season. You can’t ever ignore Noah. He simply won’t let you.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The Clippers’ big man got special attention from the boss in coach Doc Rivers’ first season in L.A. and it paid off tremendously. Rivers expected more from Jordan, demanded more … and usually got it. Jordan’s sixth NBA season produced dramatic improvement as he accepted responsibility to be a core performer. He finished second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.54) and third in rebounding (12.5). One of the main reasons that point guard Chris Paul can spend so much time jumping passing lanes looking for steals and the Clippers can be so aggressive on the perimeter is because they know they’ve got Jordan watching their backs with those long, lethal arms.

Nene mends ways with Brazilian team


VIDEO: Rose, Davis lead U.S. to 95-78 win over Brazil

Getting booed at United Center was better than getting booed at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro.

At least it was for Nene. Last October, when the Washington Wizards played the Chicago Bulls in Rio in one of the NBA’s preseason global games – and the first staged in South America – the Wizards big man took loud and cutting heat from the sellout crowd. No matter that he was the first player from Brazil to participate in the NBA – people were unhappy that Nene had played only twice for the country’s national team since he was drafted in 2002.

It mattered little to them that the 6-foot-9, 260-pound fellow – listed on the official roster in last Saturday’s game vs. the United States by his full name, Maybyner Rodney Hilario – had aggravated a foot injury in the 2012 Olympics that lingered into the regular season. Nene also reportedly had been at odds with the program over insurance policies and other decisions.

So the fans in Rio booed him pretty much from start to finish. Legendary Brazilian player and Hall of Famer Oscar Schmidt criticized him, and Nene bristled back – and clearly was rattled – on that awkward night in October.

What he heard Saturday then, by comparison, was a breeze. Nene was booed during the introductions for Brazil’s game against Team USA, the first tuneup for both squads for the 2014 FIBA World Cup tournament that begins Aug. 30 in Spain. And that reaction was driven by respect from Bulls fans who recalled his work (17.8 ppg, 54.8 percent shooting, a one-game suspension for headbutting Jimmy Butler) in the teams’ first-round series last spring, won by the Wizards in five games.

But that was it. The rest of the evening was straight basketball, with Nene scoring eight of his 11 points in the first half, to go with five rebounds, three steals and one block in 19 minutes. Even after Brazil lost 95-78, the big man was effusive as he came off the court.

“It doesn’t matter if they have big men or not, they still sharp outside,” he said of his fellow NBA players on Team USA. “They’re so athletic. So talented. But it was a good game to have an idea.”

What, Nene was asked, did he think of Anthony Davis, the young New Orleans center who dominated (20 points, eight boards five rebounds) at both ends?

“He looked like Dhalsim,” Nene said.

Who?

Dhalsim. The street fighter. Like a cartoon. With both hands. He was catching everything. Yeah.”

It was a disappointing night for Brazil, which lost the street fight. It wasn’t able to flex what some figured to be an advantage up front, with Nene lined up in various combinations with Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao, two more proven NBA bigs. Davis went MMA underneath and Kenneth Faried, who backfilled in Denver after the Nuggets traded Nene to Washington, added 11 points and nine rebounds.

Team USA had superior wings and guards, but the onus will still be on Brazil’s front line when, after playing France in its World Cup opener Aug. 30, it faces Spain – and the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc – two days later.

Having Nene – who will turn 32 on Sept. 13 and has two years and $26 million left on his Wizards contract – clearly is better for Brazil than not having him. His NBA buddies made that clear when talking to the Wizards’ Monumental Network during their squad’s stay in Chicago.

“Nene’s a guy who’s very talented, very strong, who knows how to play the game,” said Splitter, San Antonio’s second big next to Tim Duncan. “Every day you get better playing with him and of course he’s learning our system too. That’s important for him.”

Varejao told the network: “Nene’s been great. He had a great playoffs this last season. He’s a big piece of the Brazil national team. He’s a guy who can defend, who can score, who can be a leader on the court too. When you have a guy like Nene on the court, the other team has to always worry about him, what they’re going to do to try to stop him.”

This much is clear: Not having a guy like Nene on Brazil’s roster is worse. Then he’s the one worrying about how he’s perceived, and how he’ll be be received, back home. In the U.S., players such as Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and other stars opting out of the competition have wiggle room because of the depth of talent. For Nene, opting out in the past meant squirming, not wiggling.

Summer Dreaming: Sixth Man of Year


VIDEO: Clippers’ Crawford wins 2014 KIA Sixth Man of the Year Award

When everybody else is floating on a raft sipping from an umbrella drink in the dog days of the offseason, they’re the ones you can usually find sweating it out in the confines of a hot gym.

They are those role players with the rough edges, sharp teeth that can come off the bench to leave a mark on a game. So our next stop in the Summer Dreaming series looking ahead at award winners for the 2014-15 season is our top five choices for Sixth Man of the Year.

Send us your picks.

Taj Gibson, Bulls — The big man coming off the Bulls bench felt snubbed when he finished as runner-up to two-time winner Jamal Crawford last season and that’s likely to drive him even harder this time around. All good news for coach Tom Thibodeau, who’ll have a stuffed starting lineup with the return of Derrick Rose and the addition of Pau Gasol. Gibson has always been a defensive force and now he’s coming out of his offensive shell, averaging 13 points per game last season to go along with 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Seems he’s had a change in mindset or an upgrade in confidence and is willing and able to take his game straight at opponents. He’s never going to be a big scorer, but that’s not what Chicago needs him from. Gibson brings a blue-collar attitude, a nose for the ball and the kind of toughness that only becomes more valuable in the playoffs. Joakim Noah gets all the attention for his physicality, but Gibson backs down from nobody.

Vince Carter, Grizzlies — Back in those turn-of-the-millennium days when the high flier was placing his elbow on the rim in jaw-dropping fashion to win the slam dunk contest at the 2000 All-Star Weekend, how many thought Carter would still be relevant, let alone still excelling nearly a decade and half later? But at 37, he can still attack the basket and finish when necessary and can fill it up from behind the 3-point line in his transition from starter to sixth man. Now he’s in Memphis, where it seems the Grizzlies have been searching in the woods for eons to find the right perimeter shooter to balance an inside-oriented attack that depends too heavily on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Carter steps into the role filled by Mike Miller last season and will likely do it better. In a summer when the change of addresses by the high profile likes of LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love are getting all the attention, this is a below-the-radar move that could vault the Grizzlies back into the thick of the fight in the rugged Western Conference.

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — In what was supposed to be a bounce-back attempt, things did not start out well for Evans last season. But as injuries took their toll on the Pelicans roster, he slowly became comfortable and grew into their most potent weapon not named Anthony Davis. He stuffed the stat sheet, averaging 14 points, 5.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, and had plenty of nights when he stepped up to carry the full load while playing a variety of positions. Assuming that a healthy Jrue Holiday returns to be the starter at the point and needs the ball in his hands, Evans is best suited to coming off the bench again and leading the charge with the second unit. Last season New Orleans’ best five lineups all had Evans on the court, playing either at shooting guard or small forward. When he gets it going, he can be unstoppable doing a lot of different things and, if he can add a dash of defense and consistency to his game, could become a younger version of San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili.

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – The man himself, who has probably only won this award once in his 12 NBA seasons because he’s established such a high bar and delivered with such consistency that we — and the voters — tend to take him for granted. Frankly, he should already have retired the trophy. After having his body break down and force him to ponder retirement in 2013, Ginobili bounced back last season to remain fit and delivered his most inspired play during the Spurs’ run to the championship. Yes, his numbers are down significantly from 2007-08, the only time he was recognized as Sixth Man of the Year. But that’s only because coach Gregg Popovich has cut down significantly on his minutes to preserve his health, prolong his career and keep the window open for more years of title contending by his veteran team. At 37, Ginobili is always just one misstep away from an injury that could sit him down and take away his explosiveness. But as long as that body holds up, he’ll be the straw that stirs the margarita in San Antonio and the stick by which all current sixth men in the league are measured.

Dion Waiters, Cavaliers — It’s been a rocky start to the third-year guard’s NBA career. The questions about his relationship with Kyrie Irving. The questions about whether he could be moving on to another team. With a touch that runs hot and cold like the water in a cheap apartment building, he’s hardly a high-percentage shooter. But Waiters has the talent and the explosiveness to take his career to the next level, and now that LeBron James is returning to Cleveland it looks like he’s going to get the chance. The presence of James as mentor could have a calming effect and get Waiters to focus on the big picture rather than find reasons to be upset. With a starting lineup that includes James, Irving and Love, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities to come off the bench and show that he gets it. He’s shown that he can make clutch plays with the ball in his hands. If Waiters understands and plays the team game, everybody wins.

Team USA resumes with drama, questions


VIDEO: Recapping TEAM USA’s first scrimmage

CHICAGO – Cliffhangers are supposed to come later, when Team USA is up a few or down a few points late in a tense 2014 FIBA World Cup game over in Spain. Or when the final roster cutdowns have to be made, shrinking the current list of 16 players to 12.

Instead, uncertainty and nail-biting already abound as the U.S. men’s team resumes its workout and tune-up schedule this week. The roster, the risks, the style of play and the eventual matchups that Team USA will pose – and face – going forward in the tournament all hang heavy as questions still in search of answers.

Among them:

No George, no Durant – When last we left the assemblage of basketball talent, coach Mike Krzyzewski and poobah Jerry Colangelo at the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, most everyone’s eyes were glazed over and their minds were elsewhere after the gruesome right-leg fractures suffered by Paul George, the Indiana Pacers’ star wing player, deep into the public intra-squad scrimmage. Six days later, Kevin Durant – the NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player and Team USA’s most potent scorer – withdrew from participation, citing extreme physical and mental fatigue. Durant, a four-time NBA scoring champion, led the U.S. squad to a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics with 19.5 ppg and carried the 2010 World Championship team by averaging 22.8 while no teammate averaged more than 9.8. George, after playing two years ago for the Select Team, figured to step up as a scorer this summer to help Durant.

Risk debate rekindled – Derrick Rose‘s strong showing in Las Vegas two weeks ago has whet appetites of Chicago Bulls fans, who are eager to see or at least hear about his continuing progress at practice Thursday and Friday and in the exhibition game against Brazil Saturday night at United Center. But seeing George wheeled off on a stretcher to face surgery and a year of rehab, with Rose on the scene, hit close to home for many of them. Last November, Rose – who was coming back from left-knee ACL surgery that cost him the entire 2012-13 season – tore meniscus cartilage in his right in his 10th game for Chicago. But at least that was for Chicago. George’s injury sparked anew the debate over NBA involvement in the international competition and the health/financial risks shouldered by the league’s owners and their players. Dallas’ Mark Cuban again spoke (and Tweeted) out, while Durant’s ill-timed withdrawal seemed to some like an obvious case of a valuable property seeking cover. And yet, the show goes on, continuing to New York next week for exhibitions against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden.

Going small – It’s not only Durant’s scoring prowess that might be missed. His length will be absent, too, just like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. That could be an issue if Team USA winds up facing Spain and the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, with the championship at stake. Heck, it could be a problem Saturday against Brazil – that squad’s big men all are proven NBA hard cases: Tiago Splitter, Nene and Anderson Varejao. Sacramento forward Rudy Gay (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) has been added to the roster for now and could find himself having to play bigger than he’s accustomed to, as could Dallas’ Chandler Parsons (6-9, 200). Team USA’s size, at the moment, starts with Anthony Davis, then drops off from there with DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried (with one of them expected to be cut).

Unkind cuts elsewhere – There are four point guards among the current 16 – Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard – but it’s no lock that any of them gets cut because Curry, Lillard and even Rose could slot over to for minutes at shooting guard. The wings include DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson, along with Gay and Parsons. So there will be guessing games aplenty about both the final cuts and the likely starting lineup, stirred up as soon as Thursday by the combinations of players used in the end-of-practice scrimmages.

NBA doesn’t view state tax disparity as competitive disadvantage

Sometimes it’s the weather. Sometimes it’s the scenery. Sometimes it’s the nightlife or the endorsement potential or spouse-and-family priorities. Sometimes it’s even the basketball, the rest of the roster, the chance to win.

And sometimes it’s the money.

How much does staying in New York cost Carmelo?  (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

How much does staying in New York cost Carmelo? (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

There are a skidload of reasons why NBA free agents choose the destinations they choose and the league can’t do much (beyond the collectively bargained rules already in place) to control them. But money is something the NBA is very good at controlling. From the maximum salary a superstar can earn to the minimum wage paid to some undrafted rookie, from the “floor” that a team must spend on its player payroll to the luxury-tax threshold that acts as a de facto hard salary cap for most owners, the league manages to the dollar its costs, cash outlays and other budgets and expenditures that impact competitive balance.

So what’s up with the state tax disparity?

When Washington free agent Trevor Ariza agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with Houston earlier this month — accepting essentially the same salary the Wizards offered him — multiple outlets noted a big difference in Ariza’s take-home pay with the Rockets. The lack of a state tax in Texas vs. the local taxes (and higher cost of living) in and around Washington, D.C., meant the veteran wing player would pocket as much as $3 million more by working and living in Houston.

And when Carmelo Anthony was making the VIP rounds on his team-selection tour that landed him right back in New York, SI.com’s Michael McCann and tax expert Robert Raiola painstakingly crunched the numbers to account for federal, state, city and “jock” taxes (most NBA markets require visiting players to pay local taxes on the portion of their income earned within their jurisdiction).

Their findings? The “same” $95.9 million/four years offer to Anthony from Houston, Miami and Chicago would have differed, in what he actually took home, by as much as $1.4 million. Yet because of New York’s high state and city tax rates, a maximum offer from the Knicks – $129.1 million/five years, or $33.2 million more than what those other clubs could have paid him – would have been whittled down to $66.7 million in net wages.

The net gap, thanks to tax liabilities, would have been less than $13 million compared to what the Bulls could have paid him (had Chicago cleared maximum cap space) and about $11.4 million more than the Heat or Rockets would have paid.

Remember, too, that just four summers ago, the decisions by LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in Miami weren’t made in a tax vacuum. Much attention was paid to their willingness to sign for slightly less than maximum salaries, but it was mostly tax experts, academicians and NBA insiders who tracked the actual savings James and Bosh realized by shedding the liabilities of Ohio and Canada, respectively.

So what are teams and fans to do in places such as Milwaukee, Minnesota or Portland, where the highest marginal income tax rates in 2014 are 7.65 percent, 9.85 percent and 9.9 percent respectively? Or in Sacramento, which doesn’t benefit from the glamour factors as the franchises in Los Angeles or the Bay Area but still is saddled with a 13.3 percent tax rate on high earners? A million here, a million there and pretty soon you’re talking real money compared to what the Rockets, Spurs, Mavericks, Heat, Magic and Grizzlies can toss at free agents without state taxes.

Apparently, there’s little interest and no movement at the league’s highest levels to equalize the marketplace.

That’s a departure from what was done about a dozen years ago for the Toronto Raptors, when the NBA took on that franchise’s financial disadvantages, which stemmed not only from Canadian tax rates but an unfavorable (unfavourable?) exchange rate that left Raptors players with less money than their U.S. counterparts.

Shortly after Vancouver moved to Memphis in 2001, and with Toronto’s long-term sustainability in doubt, the NBA provided assistance to the Raptors and their players with a stipend reported at $2 million and other concessions. The exchange rate, however, has evened out since then and Toronto, though it still earns its revenue in Canadian currency, conducts its NBA business – salary cap figures, player payroll – in U.S. dollars. The tax rates for Toronto residents are said to be no better, perhaps, but no worse than for wage earners in many U.S. states.

As for adjusting every team’s cap ($63.065 million for 2014-15), tax level ($76.829 million) and minimum salary ($56.759 million) to factor out state taxes, a league source said the NBA has no such plans.

What might seem to be a simple math exercise grows more complicated when other differences between markets – not just the fuzzy intangibles or “quality of life” preferences – are considered. Property taxes, sales taxes, real estate prices and overall cost-of-living adjustments might cry out for attention, too.

The NBA, already deep into luxury-tax and revenue-sharing policies it says were designed for greater competitive balance, could wind up with a crazy quilt of figures, rules and bottom lines. Instead of point guards and two-way wing players becoming the darlings of the league, it might be a bunch of tax attorneys for whom fans start rooting.

Then there’s this: Do the Lakers and the Knicks really need any sort of cap advantage to be more desirable destinations than they’ve traditionally been?

An NBA in which everyone went ‘home’

lebron

After four years in Miami, LeBron James decided in early July to return to Cleveland.

LeBron James warmed the hearts of Clevelanders, northeast Ohio residents and Moms everywhere when he announced his return to the Cavaliers and ‘fessed up to the lure of his Akron hometown, both for him and the young family he is raising.

Kevin Durant already has been identified by the Washington Wizards as a target in 2016 free agency, which provides context for the team’s recent decision to hire David Adkins, Durant’s old high school coach from Montrose Christian.

And naturally, it’s only a small leap – or click of some ruby-colored shoes – to go from the Wizards to “There’s no place like home,” Dorothy‘s mantra that eventually got her off the yellow-brick road and back to Kansas. That got some of us at the Hang Time HQ thinking about an NBA that tilted entirely toward hometowns and players’ roots.

Remember, in its infancy, the league conferred “territorial rights” on its teams so they could keep promising and already popular college players close to home, to piggyback on the local fame. Dick Garmaker, Tom Gola, Tom Heinsohn, Guy Rodgers, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere and others all entered the league as territorial picks.

What would the NBA look like if rosters were filled only with hometown players? Well, as you might expect, teams in the major population centers – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago – would be fine. Some in smaller markets would wind up scraping for talent, even if their “borders” were artificially extended by another state or three. Then again, there would be a vast talent pool of free agents who weren’t born in proximity to any particular NBA franchise, most obviously those from other nations.

Here’s a glimpse at the starting lineups of a thoroughly “hometown” NBA (based on birth cities & states, via basketball-reference.com):

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTA
G – Jodie Meeks
G – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
F – Derrick Favors
F – Josh Smith
C – Dwight Howard

Notes: Some help off the bench, too, from Georgia-born players, including Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Singleton, Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas.

BOSTON
G – Michael Carter-Williams
G – Ricky Ledo
F – Jeff Adrien
F – ?
C – ?

Notes: Spread the net across New England and you only add Ledo to Carter-Williams and Adrien. (If we’re missing somebody for the Celtics or any other team, post your suggestions in the Comments.)

BROOKLYN
G – Lance Stephenson
G – A.J. Price
F – Kenneth Faried
F – Jason Thompson
C – Taj Gibson

Notes: The Nets’ turf for our purposes was defined as Brooklyn and New Jersey. Decent subs here too, including MarShon Brooks, Earl Clark, Gerald Henderson, Andrew Bynum, J.R. Smith, Chris Copeland and Randy Foye.

CHARLOTTE
G – John Wall
G – Chris Paul
F – P.J. Tucker
F – John Henson
C –Jermaine O’Neal

Notes: Tough to beat a Carolinas backcourt, what with Wall and Paul and Raymond Felton in reserve.

CHICAGO
G – Derrick Rose
G – Dwyane Wade
F – Andre Iguodala
F – Shawn Marion
C – Anthony Davis

Notes: Help in the backcourt could come from Patrick Beverley, Tony Allen, Shaun Livingston, Iman Shumpert and Evan Turner.

CLEVELAND
G – Trey Burke
G – Stephen Curry
F – LeBron James
F – Jared Sullinger
C – Kosta Koufos

Notes: It’s true – Steph Curry was born in Akron. Imagine if he felt the same tug from northeast Ohio that LeBron does.

DETROIT
G – Chris Douglas-Roberts
G – Jordan Crawford
F – Wilson Chandler
F – Draymond Green
C – JaVale McGee

Notes: Chris Kaman comes off the bench among players born in Michigan, and Shane Battier just missed this great honor.

INDIANA
G – Jeff Teague
G – Mike Conley
F – Zach Randolph
F – Gordon Hayward
C – Cody Zeller

Notes: Basketball’s influence in Indiana is evident in the depth here, which includes Eric Gordon, Josh McRoberts, George Hill, Courtney Lee, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Robbie Hummel and others.

MIAMI
G – Brandon Knight
G – Tim Hardaway Jr.
F – Trevor Ariza
F – Udonis Haslem
C – Larry Sanders

Notes: The Heat’s impact is apparent with Hardaway Jr. as well as Glen Rice Jr. We considered putting Dwyane Wade on this squad, based on his statement that “home is where the heart is” when he re-signed with Miami. But that wouldn’t have been fair to those who knew him when back in Robbins, Ill.

MILWAUKEE
G – Devin Harris
G – Dwight Buycks
F – Carl Landry
F – Caron Butler
C – Greg Stiemsma

Notes: This Wisconsin group is getting a little long in the tooth. It’s been a while since the Dairyland enjoyed its NBA sweet spot (Terry Porter, Latrell Sprewell, Nick Van Exel all debuting in the mid-1980s).

NEW YORK
G – Kemba Walker
G – Jimmer Fredette
F – Carmelo Anthony
F – Andre Drummond
C – Joakim Noah

Notes: Odd that most of the depth on a New York-born squad would be in the frontcourt (Tobias Harris, Ryan Kelly, Roy Hibbert, Andray Blatche, Charlie Villanueva, Channing Frye and so on). After all, the Big Apple was known for decades for the quality of its point guards.

ORLANDO
G – Nick Calathes
G – Chandler Parsons
F – Alonzo Gee
F – Amar’e Stoudemire
C – Marreese Speights

Notes: Florida required a split of the talent pool, with Miami drawing from South Florida and the Atlantic Coast and Orlando getting pretty much everything else.

PHILADELPHIA
G – Kyle Lowry
G – Kobe Bryant
F – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
F – Tyrke Evans
C – DeJuan Blair

Notes: And this still leaves the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, on the bench, alongside Dion Waiters, Lavoy Allen and veteran influence Jameer Nelson.

TORONTO
G – Steve Nash
G – Andrew Wiggins
F – Anthony Bennett
F – Tristan Thompson
C – Kelly Olynyk

Notes: OK, so we need an asterisk on Nash, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. But he’s so identified with the game in Canada, it seemed like an acceptable exception. If you want to be a stickler, substitute Cory Joseph for him.

WASHINGTON
G – Ty Lawson
G – Victor Oladipo
F – Kevin Durant
F – Rudy Gay
C – Patrick Patterson

Notes: Opening this up to Maryland and Virginia brought out numbers at the guard and forward spots (Gary Neal, Jarrett Jack, Delonte West, John Lucas III, Michael Beasley, Ed Davis), though we’d still have to go small in the middle.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

DALLAS
G – Phil Pressey
G – C.J. Miles
F – Mike Dunleavy Jr.
F – LaMarcus Aldridge
C – Chris Bosh

Notes: Texas is a big state, but there are three NBA teams to stock and fewer than 40 of the state’s all-time 138 league alumni are active. For distribution purposes, the Mavericks got Dallas and Fort Worth products, the Rockets got their metro area and east from which to draw and the Spurs got dibs on most of the rest.

DENVER
G – Chauncey Billups
G – ?
F – James Johnson
F – Jason Smith
C – ?

Notes: There have been only two NBA players born in Colorado since Jimmy Carter was in the White House – and Billups isn’t one of them (Smith and Nick Fazekas). We had to go to Wyoming to get Johnson.

GOLDEN STATE
G – Damian Lillard
G – Orlando Johnson
F – Paul Pierce
F – ?
C – Drew Gooden

Notes: California is like Texas, only more so. The NBA has had 346 Californians participate through the years but only about a fifth of them are active – and there are four teams to account for.

HOUSTON
G – Gerald Green
G – Jimmy Butler
F – Emeka Okafor
F – DeAndre Jordan
C – Kendrick Perkins

Notes: We took the liberty of the non-specified position slots to go without a point guard here. Could have tabbed Ben Uzoh, if pressed.

L.A. CLIPPERS
G – Russell Westbrook
G – Arron Afflalo
F – Kevin Love
F – Tayshaun Prince
C – Tyson Chandler

Notes: See Lakers notes.

L.A. LAKERS
G – James Harden
G – Klay Thompson
F – Kawhi Leonard
F – DeMar DeRozan
C – Brook Lopez

Notes: Compared to most of the other states/markets, southern California offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of NBA talent. We plugged in these guys randomly and still have a bunch of quality players in reserve, including Amir Johnson, Nick Young, Chris Andersen, Andre Miller, Brandon Jennings and more.

MEMPHIS
G – Rajon Rondo
G – Lou Williams
F – Corey Brewer
F – J.J. Redick
C – Brandan Wright

Notes: Opening this up to include Kentucky as well as Tennessee didn’t yield the expected number of NBA regulars.

MINNESOTA
G – Kirk Hinrich
G – Mike Miller
F – Alan Anderson
F – Harrison Barnes
C – Nick Collison

Notes: Talk about embarrassing – Hang Time opened up Minnesota’s domain to include the Dakotas and Iowa … and four of the five starting spots arguably belong to products of those states. Among the native Minnesotans in reserve: Nate Wolters, Jon Leuer, Cole Aldrich, Kris Humphries and Royce White.

NEW ORLEANS
G – D.J. Augustin
G – Marcus Thornton
F – Thaddeus Young
F – Paul Millsap
C – Greg Monroe

Notes: Not bad depth from down on the bayou, with a second-unit crew that includes Perry Jones, Brandon Bass, Robert Sacre, Garrett Temple, Donald Sloan and old head Danny Granger.

OKLAHOMA CITY
G – Earl Watson
G – Archie Goodwin
F – Joe Johnson
F – Blake Griffin
C – Ekpe Udoh

Notes: It took a sweep of four states, including Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas, to pull together this starting five. Sorry, Seattle and the state of Washington were off-limits, given how many players that area already donated to OKC.

PHOENIX
G – Jerryd Bayless
G – Carrick Felix
F – Damion James
F – Andre Roberson
C – ?

Notes: Slim pickings even with New Mexico in the mix, which can be explained in part by how many folks settle in the American Southwest past their child-bearing years.

PORTLAND
G – Isaiah Thomas
G – Jamal Crawford
F – Marvin Williams
F – Terrence Jones
C – Spencer Hawes

Notes: This roster took on an entirely reinvigorated look when it was opened up beyond Oregon products to include those from Washington. Now it has a bench including Avery Bradley, Martell Webster, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Nate Robinson and Terrence Ross, among others.

SACRAMENTO
G – Quincy Pondexter
G – Paul George
F – Matt Barnes
F – Ryan Anderson
C – Tyler Zeller

Notes: It’s not easy being fourth among California’s four NBA teams, even if your turf is considered to be everything outside of the Bay Area and the greater L.A. metroplex.

SAN ANTONIO
G – ?
G – Wes Johnson
F – Wesley Matthews
F – Quincy Acy
C – Ivan Johnson

Notes: So we fudged it on Johnson (Corsicana) and Acy (Tyler), who were born closer to Dallas. San Antonio had a run of NBA role players a while back (Michael Doleac, Bo Outlaw, Jeff Foster, David Wesley) but might need the offspring of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to grow up fast.

UTAH
G – Luke Ridnour
G – C.J. Watson
F – ?
F – ?
C – ?

Notes: Talk about some serious gerrymandering. Watson is from Nevada, Ridnour is from Idaho and we fought off the temptation to go pluck Mario Chalmers from Alaska. There hasn’t been a Utah-born player in the NBA since 2010 (Devin Brown), nor any born there since February 1981.