Sixers’ Okafor calls nightclub incident ‘dumb, embarrassing’

Jahlil Okafor, the Philadelphia 76ers rookie involved in a fight outside a Boston nightclub early Thursday, termed his behavior “dumb” and “embarrassing” Friday. It’s bad enough when Okafor’s 0-16 team confines those adjectives to its exploits on a basketball court, but much worse when they spill over into real life.

The incident in question produced a video that was acquired and published by TMZ.com. Okafor is seen shouting at several people and shoving one man to the ground. Moments later, he punches possibly the same man and knocks him down. The No. 3 pick in last June’s Draft can be heard in the video shouting, “We got money, you broke-ass [racial slur].”

Okafor, 19, addressed the incident from Houston, where he and the 76ers were scheduled to face the Rockets Friday. No police report was filed because the parties involved had left the scene before law enforcement arrived. Keith Pompey of Philly.com reported:

The incident started because he and teammate Christian Wood, who was present, were being heckled by Boston fans over the Sixers struggles.

“It was definitely dumb on my part,” Okafor said Friday of the incident.  “It’s something that I am embarrassed about. [I am] still dealing with the league and the team. But I’m not happy about it at all. But we are still going through the process of what we are going to do.”

Okafor said he told Sixers coach Brett Brown about the altercation Thursday afternoon when he was boarding the plane to Houston.

The fight took place outside Storyville Nightclub, which is located in Southwest Boston. It occurred hours after the Sixers lost 84-80 to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

The altercation began after someone outside the nightclub yelled at Okafor, “The 76ers suck.” The third overall pick out of Duke admitted that the losing is starting to get to him a little bit.

“We are all staying together, working extremely hard,” he said. “We are coming in every day at shootaround, and we keep coming up a little shot. We get close.

“So it does get a little frustrating to hear it all the time that we are 0-and-whatever. So it’s definitely frustrating.”

Blogtable: What are you thankful for at this point in 2015-16?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Slowing the Warriors? | On Budenholzer’s fine … | What you’re thankful for this season

VIDEORookie Kristaps Porzingis has given Knicks fans something to be thankful for

> One month into the season, what are you seeing in the NBA that you’re most thankful for?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com I’m thankful that Charles Barkley still laughs loudest and longest at his own expense when his studio mates (and the rest of us) poke fun at him. I’m thankful that – in a league that can admirably come together for the likes of Lamar Odom and Flip Saunders – there still are guys like Draymond Green, Matt Barnes and Jimmy Butler who bring the “we don’t like them, they don’t like us” attitude that keeps game night from becoming one big ice-cream social. Mostly I’m thankful for current labor peace and the possibility that NBA commish Adam Silver and union chief Michele Roberts might nail down the next CBA in 2017 without games-lost rancor. Nothing would look sillier than two sides, used to divvying up a Large pizza, sharing an XXL and still fighting over the last piece.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDo you mean beside the Blogmaster? It’s easy to say I’m thankful for any night that I can turn on my TV and see the beauty, joy and sheer fun of the Warriors. On an individual basis, I’m thankful that we’re getting a chance to see Paul George pick up his career right where he left off prior to breaking his leg. He might be having the best season of his NBA career and that possibility had some serious doubt when crumbled to the floor in Las Vegas.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com For long memories, so we can remember the previous Kobe Bryant, the old 76ers and the one and only Flip Saunders, the best memory of all. For the memories the established Warriors and the mostly un-established Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis are creating. For Gregg Popovich’s long-term commitment to stick around the Spurs and USA Basketball. For still having Lamar Odom.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Personally? That LeBron James keeps avoiding injury, that Kevin Durant is back on the floor after a brief brush with the trainer’s table and Steph Curry’s ankle issues are far behind him. The game is only as healthy as its stars, and one month into the season, these three are upright. Also, the next generation is off to a decent start with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, et al.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Paul George playing the best basketball of his life. Given what he’s been through, it doesn’t get any better than that. And holy cow, is he killing it.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Obviously, the Warriors make tuning into their games a Christmas present every night. But I’m most thankful for the bountiful rookie class. From the big cats, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, to the surprising Kristaps Porzingis, Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson and, really, all over the place, these youngsters have impressed. That’s always a good sign, when the rookie crop comes in and has multiple players making an immediate impact wherever they are. It strengthens the overall talent base of the league and provides some fresh faces and storylines for us to focus on.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: For the competition and its ongoing unpredictability. Every season the NBA race becomes more wide open. The Warriors, as good as they are, will be facing many obstacles and threats over the next seven months.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI live in New York City, and for the last 15 years I’ve had to watch as the Knicks continually attempted to rebuild on the fly, constantly sacrificing their future to get incrementally better in the moment. Which didn’t work, and it didn’t feel like the turn around really started until Phil Jackson stripped the thing down to its bones and hung onto a lottery pick and drafted young Kristaps Porzingis. Now the “Porzilla” has stormed Gotham, and Knicks fans finally have what looks like a young superstar who can be a long-term pillar of the franchise. For once, it’s sorta nice not to have a turkey on Thanksgiving.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 31

VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action


Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench | Brook Lopez is strictly a post player but an all-around person | Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC | A Q and A with Gordon Hayward

No. 1: Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench — The Bulls are looking a bit different under new coach Fred Hoiberg than they did under Tom Thibodeau. Specifically, Joakim Noah isn’t starting. As the Bulls try something new, there was a bit of a mixup. Did Hoiberg tell Noah to be a sixth man, or did Noah volunteer? The center set the record straight, when asked if he took himself out of the starting lineup: “No.” Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has further details:

The topic has been hovering around the Bulls since training camp, as Hoiberg explored all his options and ultimately decided to insert second-year big man Nikola Mirotic into the starting lineup on opening night instead of Noah. The story line came back to light on Thursday when a Hoiberg Q-and-A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe was posted. In the exchange, Hoiberg said Noah was the one who started the conversation about coming off the bench this season.

“Jo actually came to me and talked to me about that,” Hoiberg told Lowe. “He said, basically, ‘I’ve always played well with Taj [Gibson].’ He said he thought Niko and Pau played very well together, so let’s go that route. It was actually Jo that started the whole conversation. He came to me. That says a lot about him.”

Before the Bulls’ 98-94 overtime loss at Detroit on Friday, Hoiberg said he didn’t feel a need to clear the air with Noah.

“Did he specifically say I want to come off the bench? No. Nobody wants to come off the bench, but it’s the decision that we came up with,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been great. He’s been as enthusiastic as anybody over there on the bench when he’s not in the game, and he’s always going to bring it when he’s on the floor, so no, things are fine.”

For his part, Noah has never seemed outwardly angry about what’s going on and doesn’t want to rock the boat as a team leader.

He has struggled in his first two games off the bench to find his rhythm, though, failing to register a point. Noah does have 15 rebounds and six assists in his first two games and appears to be feeling good after struggling with the effects of offseason left knee surgery a year ago.

“I just want to do what’s best for the team,” Noah said. “I think we’re 2-0 right now. We still have a lot of room for improvement. What I said doesn’t matter. I think right now we’re doing what’s best for the team, and we just got to keep building off that.”


No. 2: Brook Lopez is an all-around person — The Renaissance man of New York works in Brooklyn and stands over seven feet tall. They don’t come more educated or diverse than Brook Lopez, the Nets’ center who might be one of the bright spots for the rebuilding team this season. The former All-Star opened up recently about his upbringing, his twin brother Robin (who plays across town with the Knicks) and his passion for many things. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York was there to write it all down:

He reads. He writes. He sketches. He loves Batman comic books, Disney movies and Michael Jackson’s music.

He already has pitched an animated television pilot, politicked to play a Wookiee in a future Star Wars picture and hopes to pen an action-adventure novel someday.

Oh, and you likely didn’t know, Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez is also learning to play the piano and speak Japanese.

Yes, Japanese.

“I always go to Japan in the offseason, so I’m trying to get better at it,” Lopez told ESPN.com recently, noting that he’s also working on learning “the Kanji,” Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.

“I know some words. I’m getting there.”

Basically, if Lopez isn’t the most fascinating man in the NBA, he’s certainly up there. His best competition might be his own 7-foot twin brother Robin, who now plays for the rival New York Knicks.

Brook Lopez made up his mind pretty early on — he was going to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

“I can remember in second grade coming back from school and telling my mom, ‘You know what, before I play in the NBA, I want to go to Stanford,'” Lopez said. “Because of her, I had everything figured out.”

To her comic book aficionado sons, Deborah Ledford might as well have been Wonder Woman, raising the four of them — Alex, Chris, Brook and Robin — as a single mother on a high school mathematics teacher’s salary.

“She sacrificed so much for us,” Brook said. “She’d always be driving Alex and Chris around, getting them to basketball practice, and then she’d go pick them up and get Robin and me to wherever we needed to be. She was constantly chaffeuring us around. And then she’d get groceries for us and come back with bags upon bags upon bags, just loads and loads, and they’d last for like…two days.”

At 6-feet, Ledford had flirted with swimming in the 1968 Olympics before not making the squad and eventually attending Stanford herself.

“Our mom used to read to us every night,” said Chris, who has lived with Brook in New Jersey ever since he was selected by the Nets with the No. 10 overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft.

“And she just went through a plethora of children’s books and stories, so that was instilled in us from an early age.”

The Lopez’s maternal grandmother, Inky Ledford, had a massive library of children’s books at her Fresno, California, home — and the boys were frequent visitors.


No. 3: Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC — Well, here we are, one week into the NBA season and Billy Donovan hasn’t changed his mind and gone back to the University of Florida. That’s what happened years ago when he took the Orlando Magic job and then called it quits just, oh, 10 seconds later. Anyway, you can hardly blame Donovan for waiting until the right gig opened up. And when you have the chance to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their primes, that qualifies as the right gig. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

 He was hired to lead an even stronger NBA club — the Oklahoma City Thunder. This time, he’ll coach three players with All-Star Game credentials: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

“This opportunity came across that was very unique in my opinion,” he said. “If it didn’t, I’d still be at Florida.”

Donovan, who won back-to-back national championships at UF, said other NBA teams had reached out in the ensuing years. Reportedly, Cleveland (pre-LeBron’s return), Minnesota and Detroit were among the suitors.

He insists that there was no grand plan to leave the Gators for the pros.

“I’ve always believed you wake up and where you are that day, you do the best job you can,” he said. “Then if opportunities open up, they open up. It wasn’t anything about having a plan.”

The OKC job surprisingly opened after Scott Brooks was fired with another year on his contract.

Donovan was lucky because a lot of terrific college coaches – from Rick Pitino to John Calipari – usually are stuck with bad teams.

“The one thing for me..I knew it was a good team, but you have to feel good about it. Happiness inside a job has to do with the people you work with everyday,” Donovan said.

Especially if those people are named Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka.

Donovan’s no dummy. He’s also aware of the pressure coaching the contending Thunder, particularly since Durant can become a free agent this summer.

Durant says he “enjoys” being around Donovan, who seems to be adjusting well to life as an NBA coach.

“I’m working equally as hard or harder as I was in college,” he said. “It’s just things are a little bit different.”


No. 4: Gordon Hayward opens up with Q and A — The Utah Jazz are off to a decent start, which includes a blowout victory in Philadelphia, and one of the intriguing players is Gordon Hayward, naturally. After having his big contract matched by the Jazz two summers ago, Hayward was a borderline All-Star last season and hopes to take the next step this season. He discussed that and more when he sat for a quick interview with Scoop Jackson of ESPN:

Scoop: How big of an adjustment can it be to inherit that “No. 1 option” role for a franchise?

Hayward: It’s just a learning curve, honestly. I think it’s one of those things where, you know, if you play one way probably the first three years in the league and then you are asked it do something different. It’s just a role change, something you have to get adjusted to. You know, defenses are now keying on you and playing things differently to where you are at all of the time. That’s a huge step and something, like I said, that I was able to kind of learn and do for two years.

Scoop: Have you ever walked into an opponent’s locker room before a game and seen your name at the top of the white board just to see their defensive strategies they have planned for you?

Hayward: I have not [laughing]. I’ve never seen that. Or a scouting report on me or on our team.

Scoop: You have to sneak and do that. It’s one of those “No. 1 option” things.

Hayward: I should definitely do that.

Scoop: Do the media and other players underestimate you?

Hayward: I don’t think they do anymore. I think they probably did when I first came in the league — 100 percent did. But this is my sixth year, and I think they definitely respect me as a player now.

Scoop: I’ve heard you referred to you as “the Jazz’s version of LeBron James” in that you do everything for the team. When you hear that, how does it make you feel?

Hayward: It’s definitely pretty humbling to think that someone would say that, but I think it’s just something where I just try to be an all-around player and try to do a lot for the team. And yeah, I think LeBron’s a guy that obviously does that for his team no matter which team he’s on, and he’s probably one of the best ever to do that. So, but for me, if I’m not scoring I need to be assisting or making plays for other people or rebounding or just doing whatever I can to get guys in position where they can be successful.

Scoop: Do you think of yourself in that vein? In that, you “have to be LeBron” for this franchise?

Hayward: I think so. I think that it is a lot of responsibility but something that they have trusted me with and I definitely have to be active and have to affect all parts of the game in order for us to be a successful team. I’ve never been a guy that’s going to go out and just affect one part of the game. I think that I’ve always been somebody that tries to affect multiple parts of the game, and I think we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things, so it’s not just me. We’re a versatile team. I’m excited about where we can go.

Scoop: Utah went 19-10 after the All-Star break while holding opponents to a league-low 94.8 points per 100 possessions. Was that just a good two months or was that indicative of what this team had become?

Hayward: Yeah, I think that’s definitely our identity and definitely what’s going to have to be our identity moving forward if we want to be successful, especially in the West. Defense is something that can go with us wherever we are at. We are going to have times when people’s shots are off and we’re just not feeling it offensively, but if we continue to play defense like we did at the end of the year — something that I think we are very capable of doing — we can always stay in games and give ourselves a chance.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jodie Meeks will be out for a while in DetroitSteph Curry is about to be immortalized in wax … The Suns were “equipped” to show their respect for Steve Nash, whose jersey has been retired … There was a Mother Nature problem in San Antonio so Tony Parker had an excuse to miss practice.

Report: LeBron expected to play in the Cavaliers’ season opener

VIDEO: James talks with media following Friday’s practice

Cavaliers coach David Blatt already has said he absolutely expects LeBron James to play in the Cavaliers’ opening game Tuesday in Chicago (8 p.m. ET on TNT). No one else in the Cavs camp has said anything to contradict that. And James, according to reports noting his skipped practices after his recent anti-inflammatory injection to his back, has sounded no alarms either.

But sports media being what it is these days, maybe the “anonymous sources” stuff carries more weight. So with that in mind, here’s a report from Yahoo! Sports affirming what most everyone has believed anyway:

LeBron James is expected to play in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ regular-season opener next week despite his recent back problems, a league source told Yahoo Sports on Saturday. James received an anti-inflammatory injection in his back on Oct. 13 and has played in only two preseason games. James, however, has been working out daily and his back is improving, the source said.

James and the Cavaliers open the regular season on Tuesday on the road against the Chicago Bulls. James, 30, received a similar anti-inflammatory shot last season because of back pain and a strained left knee. He recently said he would be open to receiving another shot in his back if necessary.

James is entering his 13th NBA season and has averaged 39.1 minutes over 911 career regular-season games.

Pelicans’ wings clipped again with Evans sidelined 6-8 weeks

The hits just keep on coming to the New Orleans Pelicans. And even if it’s not franchise guy Anthony Davis suffering the physical damage, it’s naïve to think that Davis’ psyche and development might not sag a bit with so many fallen teammates.

After the Pelicans announced Wednesday that guard Tyreke Evans would be sidelined for an estimated six to eight weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, Davis and the remaining New Orleans players still standing had to deal with yet another setback.

Already in the preseason, centers Omer Asik (calf) and Alexis Ajinca (hamstring) have missed time, as have guard Norris Cole (ankle) and forward Luke Babbitt (hamstring). Reserve Quincy Pondexter still is recovering from offseason knee surgery, while point guard Jrue Holiday is playing on a minutes restriction that could linger deep into the regular season.

Now it’s Evans, the latest bit of bad news. Davis, a likely candidate for Most Valuable Player this season, sounded rightfully glum, as reported by ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace:

“It’s tough,” Davis told ESPN.com Wednesday. “Now with Tyreke going down, we won’t have our complete team until January sometime. … It’s tough because you’re coming in with high expectations, thinking everybody is healthy. And then, stuff happens.”

The Pelicans enter the season looking to build on Davis’ first trip to the playoffs last spring. New Orleans is widely projected to again contend for one of the final spots in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Davis, who finished fifth in MVP voting last season at age 22, was voted in a poll of NBA general managers entering this season as the player they would chose first to build a franchise around.

But the Pelicans are already struggling to maintain a healthy supporting cast for Davis, who signed a five-year, $145 million extension in July to remain the franchise cornerstone. The injuries have been piling up around Davis almost from the moment the Pelicans opened training camp last month at a West Virginia resort. They’ve tempered some of the excitement and energy that surrounded the team under first-year coach Alvin Gentry, an assistant on the Warriors staff during their championship run last season who left to install his up-tempo playing style in New Orleans.

“That’s been the main thing that’s been a little bit frustrating,” Gentry said Wednesday. “I like our team. I think we have depth. We have not been able to put those guys out there together … there’s always somebody missing. We’ll just have to battle until we get the cavalry group back.”

Gentry does not believe the injuries are the result of players adjusting to his preferred playing style while pushing through camp. “In all honesty, it’s the easiest training camp I’ve ever run,” he said.

And now, probably, the gimpiest.

For Evans, this most recent knee surgery is his second since May and third dating back to the 2014 offseason. The versatile 6-foot-6 wing player averaged 16.6 points and a career-best 6.6 assists last season, and had even greater value revealed by more advanced metrics:

John Reid, beat writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, shared on social media some background on Evans’ resiliency. Meanwhile, the player himself went glass-half-full for Pelicans fans.

Blogtable: Carmelo a Knick for life?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Paul George the PF? | Do you believe Carmelo? | Is it time to deal D-Rose?

VIDEOCarmelo Anthony chats during training camp

> Carmelo Anthony says if things don’t work out in New York, he wouldn’t ask for a trade. Do you believe him? Where would you trade Carmelo if he and the Knicks can’t get on track?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Believe him? Today yes, tomorrow not so much. Four more years is an eternity, especially for an aging drama king who is out of sync with New York’s current rebuilding initiative. His and the Knicks’ arrows are trending in opposite directions and, at some point, it isn’t going to be pretty. If I needed to trade Anthony, I’d labor mightily to make it Brooklyn, where it wouldn’t disrupt his lifestyle and all the other ancillary stuff that was so important to him when he re-signed. Or Philadelphia, just because.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Actually, I think I do believe him. Anthony has demonstrated that he’s mainly interested in being the big Broadway star with his name getting top billing on on the marquee while taking most of the shots. He can only do that by remaining in New York. Ka-ching!

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOf course he should be believed! How dare you suggest people ever say something for public consumption and something different behind closed doors. The fair answer is that I believe him at the moment. There is no way for anyone — including Melo — to know what he will be feeling in a year. So much can change. Maybe the team is still losing. Maybe the team is going in a positive direction but with Anthony in a supporting role he does not want. But I believe he wants things to work out in New York. It’s where he wanted to be, twice.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: He won’t ask for a trade perhaps because Mrs. Melo doesn’t want to live anywhere else, and neither does Carmelo. There are too many external factors (endorsements, visibility, social ramifications) at stake. He wants his identity tied to NYC and if he didn’t, he would’ve signed with the Bulls a few summers ago. From the Knicks standpoint, regarding a trade, I’d never elevate a player above the team. If shipping him makes sense, I’d ship him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Believe him? Yes and no. He fought hard to get to New York and probably wants to give it as much time as he can possibly stand. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Knicks being a very good team anytime soon and Anthony could certainly change his mind in time. If he were to be traded, I’d guess that Chicago and L.A. (Lakers) are the most likely destinations, because his no-trade clause gives him the right to choose exactly where he’d go. Dark-horse pick: The Wizards if they miss out on Kevin Durant next summer.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Careful Carmelo. Your words now, when the season is still young enough that the Knicks can dream a little dream about being a playoff contender, could come back to haunt you if things go awry again this season. It doesn’t matter whether I believe him or not, because if things get ugly Carmelo won’t have to ask for a trade. The pressure will be on all sides to do something, either with Carmelo or someone else. As far as trading him, I can think of a team on the other side of the country that could be in desperate need of a player with Melo’s abilities. But I can’t imagine who or what the Lakers would have that the Knicks would want in a trade …

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI believe the future is unpredictable. Who knows how the Knicks will develop cover the next couple of years? I also believe that Anthony went through a trade demand once before, in Denver, and it was not a happy year for him, so he would probably like to avoid the same predicament as he approaches the back end of his career. Bottom line is that I just don’t see the Knicks trading Anthony – if they did, their next move would be to find another star of his caliber, and good luck there. They know the supply is scarce.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, he can’t ask for a trade without getting fined, right? At least not publicly? Carmelo may never actually “ask” for a trade, but I suppose he could strongly suggest the Knicks move him, or just straight-up privately ask for a trade. Anyway, this is just semantics. He clearly could see what was on the horizon when he re-signed with the Knicks, so to suggest now that he’s unhappy or surprised by the direction of the team would seem disingenuous. It’s like a time-share presentation: He knew what he was getting into when he signed up. And there’s no easy way out of it now. Go see a show in midtown, have a nice dinner downtown, ride your bike along the West Side … New York is a pretty great pace to live, regardless of how good the Knicks are.

McDermott thrives in first glimpse of Bulls’ ‘Hoiball’ offense

VIDEO: Butler, McDermott lead Bulls past Bucks

CHICAGO – Already, they call it Hoiball.

OK, maybe that’s not the most descriptive or exciting appellation for the Chicago Bulls’ revamped offense under new head coach Fred Hoiberg. But it’s pretty decent shorthand for an attack with more pace, more reads, less emphasis on halfcourt sets and, from the glimpse offered in their first preseason game Tuesday night at United Center, a whole bunch of 3-point shots.

The Bulls hoisted – Hoistball? – 39 of them in beating Milwaukee, becoming more accurate as the game went on and not at all more shy; Chicago was 3-of-20 from long range in the first half, then 10-of-19. That fueled a second half in which the Bulls scored 68 points. And while they did it with four of the Bucks’ starters idle after halftime, they also did it with five rotation guys of their own not participating.

The big beneficiary was Doug McDermott, the second-year forward from Creighton whose forgettable rookie season was waylaid by knee surgery, blown assignments and a gruff Tom Thibodeau not inclined to force-feed him. McDermott was 0-for-5 at halftime, then went 8-of-14 the rest of the night, hitting five of his last eight 3-pointers.

“It’s a blast,” McDermott said of Hoiball. “Coach Hoiberg makes it a lot of fun for us. It’s just ‘Move the ball real well and be unselfish.’ Coach won’t pull you out of you have a bad shot. He just lets you play your game.”

McDermott had searched for his long ball at the Summer League in Las Vegas, missing 14 of his 16 attempts there in July. His start Tuesday continued that bad trend until he and his teammates snapped him out of it.

“Even though he started off 0-for-whatever,” Jimmy Butler said, “we all told Doug at the half, `Hey Doug, that’s what you do. You put the ball in the basket. Don’t be scared to keep shooting the ball.’ He did just that. You saw the outcome of it.”

Said Hoiberg: “He’s one of those guys, every time he shoots, you think he’s going in. But when he stands right on the line, he’s not as effective as when he’s getting a little momentum going into it. … When he gets that 1-2 rhythm step into his shot, he generally shoots it better.”

For Hoiberg, this debut as the Bulls head coach came 16 years after he made his first appearance as a Chicago player, joining the team in 1999-2000 for what would be four seasons. His most vivid memory back then was being pranked by Bulls veterans, who let the new guys run onto the floor without following. This time, Hoiberg was most noticeable for the amount of time he spent sitting, turning the VIP seats adjacent to the Bulls bench into unobstructed views compared to his predecessor.

He felt the players loosened up and got better giddy-up into their git-along in the second half. The abundance of 3-pointers – more than Chicago shot in all but two of its 82 games last season – might wane once Pau Gasol is back in the post and Derrick Rose is attacking the basket. But there were some elements that the Bulls hope will be constants in Hoiball.

“The spacing that we have, you’ve got shooters everywhere on the floor,” Butler said. “So a lot of driving gaps. A lot of chance for isolation. And then of course, getting up and down in transition. I think it fits everybody’s game, not just mine.”

Report: Nash may join Warriors

VIDEO: Warriors set to add Nash to tutor guards

Steve Nash is close to joining the Warriors as a part-time player development consultant, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

The sides are in “advanced negotiations” and “in the process of finalizing a deal that essentially will make Nash an occasional tutor to the Golden State guards,” Stein reported, citing sources. The two-time MVP, who retired in March after struggling for years with nerve issues in his back that ruined his time with the Lakers, had already been working out in an unofficial role with several NBA players, including Jordan Clarkson, Jeremy Lin, Dante Exum, Kemba Walker and C.J. McCollum.

The job would be formalized with Golden State under the proposed arrangement. Nash was not previously planning to go into coaching, but apparently was convinced by Warriors coach Steve Kerr, assistant Bruce Fraser and president Rick Welts — all of whom had built a strong relationship with Nash when they were together in Phoenix — to spend a few days a month with the defending champions. That schedule was obviously more appealing than a full workload.

From Stein:

Sources said as recently as late June — when Nash played in longtime teammate Dirk Nowitzki’s annual charity baseball game — the Dallas Mavericks were still hoping to lobby Nash to consider unretiring and reuniting with Nowitzki as a spot-duty point guard for the coming season. ESPN.com reported in March that the Cleveland Cavaliers — at the behest of Cavs general manager David Griffin and former Cavs exec Raja Bell, also former Nash colleagues in Phoenix — likewise tried last season to persuade Nash to push for a buyout from the Lakers that would allow him to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland as a third point guard.

But Nash has been adamant since October that if he were physically able, he would play for the Lakers only. Nash ultimately was limited to 65 regular-season games in two seasons in L.A. thanks to a stubborn and debilitating nerve condition that has plagued him since he suffered a broken left leg in his second game as a Laker on Oct. 31, 2012.

Not that Warriors guards need a lot of direction — Stephen Curry is the reigning MVP, Klay Thompson is an All-Star and member of Team USA, and Shaun Livington and Leandro Barbosa are experienced backups. Kerr, while general manager of the Suns, attempted to trade before the 2009 Draft for the pick that would become Curry, hoping to pair the rookie with Nash in the Phoenix backcourt. Around the same time, then-Golden State coach Don Nelson compared rookie Curry to Nash in their ability to shoot with range and accuracy while playing point guard in up-tempo systems without being elite athletes. And now the pairing may finally happen in an unexpected alignment in 2015.


More Moses memories, pre- and post-NBA

VIDEO: Moses Malone career retrospective

It’s been a couple of days since Moses Malone died unexpectedly at age 60 Sunday in Norfolk, Va. Even in this era of 24/7 news coverage, some of the appreciations and remembrances of the legendary NBA center still are getting posted and published. One, from the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, provided some details of Malone’s passing and cause of death (hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease), along with a glimpse into Malone’s recent post-NBA life. Another, by L.A. sports columnist Mark Whicker, recalled the clamor-bordering-on-uproar generated when Malone, intensely recruited as a high school senior, decided to skip NCAA basketball entirely.

First from the Times-Dispatch:

On Tuesday, Malone visited a doctor in Houston, where he lived. Malone was working out when he felt his heart skip a beat. The doctor found nothing wrong, but gave Malone a heart monitor. When Malone was found Sunday, he was wearing his heart monitor.

Police and EMS responded, and they told [Malone’s best friend Kevin] Vergara that Malone probably died of in his sleep.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for Virginia said Malone died of natural causes. The cause of death was listed as hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

“He was always very health-minded,” said Vergara, who noted Malone didn’t drink or do drugs, and skipped sodas and fried foods in favor of grilled chicken, fish and salad. “He’s vigorous about working out.”

Even when Malone traveled, he frequently rose early and visited the hotel fitness center. So when Malone didn’t show up at breakfast at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, no one was worried at first. When he didn’t answer his phone, Vergara went to his room and knocked on the door. Still, there was no response.

Vergara obtained a room key from the front desk. He tried to open the door, but the latch was locked from the inside. That’s when he knew something was wrong.

The story, by Richmond reporter Eric Kolenich, also mentioned Malone’s girlfriend Leah Nash, their 6-year-old son Micah and his two older sons Moses Jr. and Michael. It also spoke of the Malone’s friendships.

“We talked every day, literally,” Vergara said. Even though Malone lived in Houston and traveled frequently, and Vergara remains in Hopewell, they kept in constant contact, often talking about Moses’ love of the Dallas Cowboys and Vergara’s love of the Washington Redskins. As Malone’s mother aged, Vergara cared for her.

And Vergara got to know Malone better than most. Malone had a reputation of not being very smart. But that wasn’t the real Malone, Vergara said.

“He is very smart,” Vergara said. “He was a shy person, but when he got to know you he opened up. And he knows the game. … He would have been a good coach.”

But that wasn’t the route Malone took. Instead, he spent retired life doing speaking engagements and playing in charity golf events. He was still under contract with Nike, which occasionally sent him on trips. He worked out, but he didn’t play basketball much anymore. Golf became his sport of choice.

On Sunday, he was scheduled to play in NBA referee Tony Brothers’ golf event to support single mothers. Malone had participated each of the past six or seven years.

Malone talked about operating his own charity golf event in Petersburg. Vergara says he might start one in Malone’s memory.

Whicker wrote about Malone as a highly sought prep star who ultimately disappointed all of college basketball by signing directly with the ABA Utah Stars. Within two years, he was tearing up the NBA, averaging 25.5 points and 14.1 rebounds through his first nine seasons in the league (1979-87), numbers that no player has matched in a single season since then.

Malone, elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2001, wound up as one of four high school-to-NBA stars who won both NBA championships and Most Valuable Player awards (three in Malone’s case). The others: Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. But in simpler media times, when word-of-mouth mattered, there was an undercurrent of excitement about Malone’s game and potential that stirred a frenzy among college coaches:

Malone somehow became as good as the college recruiters thought he was. New Mexico had a late-season game against Florida State, and assistant coach John Whisenant went from Tallahassee to Petersburg. And stayed. He was at the Howard Johnson motel until Malone signed in June, with Maryland.

Whisenant now works in commercial real estate in Albuquerque. Malone was his friend. After he signed, he drove to the hotel to tell Whisenant.

“I don’t know whose car it was,” Whisenant said Monday. “I know Moses didn’t have one. The whole thing was the most bizarre recruiting story you’ve ever seen.”

Whisenant would accompany Malone to high school all-star games, throughout the country, and then fly home with him. Malone would hang out at the motel before he went home. Together they watched Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run on TV. Sometimes Malone would bring his best friend Nathan, who was a manager on the high school team.

“They would sit there and sing,” Whisenant said. “Nathan was a great singer and Moses would do backup. They sang Motown songs. Sometimes I hear songs on the radio and think of those two.”

Malone and Nathan would take Whisenant to the Mouse Trap, the local nightclub, and Whisenant would sit there as the only white person in the place and think how far he’d come from Gore, Okla.

“I was trying to hold off the entire ACC,” Whisenant said. The Maryland people were everywhere. Lefty Driesell was an all-world recruiter. His obsessive assistant, Dave Pritchett, was known as Pit Stop. They would visit the hotel, too. That’s where Whisenant met an intense Detroit coach named Dick Vitale.

Sometimes Driesell would call Whisenant and imitate Malone, just for fun.

Driesell asked Malone who the toughest playground player in Petersburg was.

“Well,” Malone said, “there was The Milkman.”

Why did they call him The Milkman?

“Because he killed a milkman, man,” Malone replied.

The best part of that story is that it is possibly true.

Report: Raptors, Valanciunas discussing 4-year, $60M contract extension

Big man Jonas Valanciunas and the Toronto Raptors reportedly are in advance discussions on a contract extension, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, with terms said to be hovering in the DeMarre Carroll neighborhood of four years/$60 million.

As Robert DeNiro‘s character says in “Midnight Run,” that’s a very respectable neighborhood. It’s also a potential bargain for the 7-foot, 255-pound center’s services if the Raptors can lock him in before the salary cap bellows next summer, when Valanciunas would hit restricted free agency.

But, assuming this extension gets done, it won’t qualify as a steal unless the Raptors figure out better ways to deploy Valanciunas.

The big guy posted solid stats last season: 12.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 26.2 mpg. His PER climbed from 15.9 in his first two seasons to 20.6. But he stuck out from much of what the Raptors did, or how they preferred to play, like the proverbial sore thumb. Their commitment to Valanciunas typically waned as games went on. Though he made 80 appearances, he played in the fourth quarter only 57 times and he averaged just 5.1 of his minutes in that period. His usage percentage in the first quarter: 22.7 percent. In the fourth: 17.0.

That’s why some close to the team could joke that, based on the first few minutes of games, Valanciunas seemed a lock some day to break Wilt Chamberlain‘s single-game scoring mark set that 1962 night in Hershey, Pa. Invariably, his involvement and production would fizzle fast, Wilt’s mark safe again.

There has been speculation that some personnel changes in head coach Dwane Casey‘s staff were made due to Valanciunas’ lack of progress. Hopefully, there’s truth to that, because if there isn’t, you’d hate to think that keeping a lid on him was all about keeping his asking price within reason.