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Budenholzer deals with double-duty

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will be taking on some front-office duties this season. (Bart Young/NBAE)

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will be taking on some front-office duties this season. (Bart Young/NBAE)

CHICAGO – Long characterized as a “copycat” league for trends ranging from basketball strategies to hiring practices, the NBA has a new move that everybody’s getting in on: Coaches doing double-duty as general managers, presidents of basketball operations or other titles vested with personnel control.

The latest to take all that on is Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who had decision-making responsibility dropped in his lap last week in the fallout from the Hawks’ front-office mess. GM Danny Ferry, beleaguered after making racially charged comments about free agent Luol Deng, took an indefinite leave of absence, and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin appointed Budenholzer to be the team’s head of basketball operations for now.

His circumstances are unusual, but Budenholzer joins the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Flip Saunders, Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy and of course San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich in holding added clout beyond their work on the court.

Until Rivers beefed up his role last year when he moved from Boston to L.A., Popovich was more of an exception. Most teams in recent years preferred to separate the powers, believing that a coach focuses on tonight (win the game) while a front-office exec thinks about tomorrow, next season and several years after that.

So is this the start of a new trend? A pendulum swing?

“I don’t know, those pendulums seem like they’re always swinging,” Budenholzer said Thursday in Chicago, in town for the annual NBA coaches meetings. “There are a couple of people who have done that, and obviously Pop’s been doing that for a long time, with R.C. [Buford, Spurs GM to Popovich's president title] doing a ton. Those two together have been just an amazing combination. So I don’t know.”

Flip Saunders (David Sherman/NBAE)

Flip Saunders (David Sherman/NBAE)

The long-established view that the jobs should be kept separate has led to some coaches, hungry for more input on their teams’ architecture, finding themselves on the sidewalk. The most recent example: Jason Kidd, whose power play in Brooklyn wound up with Kidd coaching in Milwaukee and coach Lionel Hollins slipping in beneath GM Billy King in the Nets’ flowchart.

“A lot of people question it,” Saunders said. “Agents especially — they don’t necessarily like someone having that much control over their clients. Because as a coach, you can basically dictate how much you’re going to pay a guy.” By growing or limiting a player’s role, that is.

Saunders added duties in the opposite direction from Budenholzer and Rivers — he was the Timberwolves’ basketball boss when he appointed himself as head coach for 2014-15, taking over for the retired Rick Adelman. But Saunders made his NBA bones on the sideline, coaching Minnesota, Detroit and Washington for 15-plus seasons.

“I believe, if you look at many of the successful football teams, they were built that way,” Saunders said Thursday. “Look at [Bill] Parcells. [Bill] Belichick, he’s got total control. Then in our sport, look at the success that Nellie [Don Nelson] had — he pretty much ran the whole thing [in Milwaukee, Dallas and Golden State]. Then Pat Riley‘s situation, when he pretty much ran a lot of those things.”

Just as Popovich has “nurtured” Buford to work in concert on personnel matter, Saunders, Rivers and Van Gundy also have titular GMs or other execs to tackle salary caps, administer scouting and handle other chores that would pull them away from player development and game preparation.

“The best thing about it is,” Saunders said, “I believe in most organizations when you have a falling out, the tendency is there’s a relationship that is lost between the coach and the owner. Because maybe they don’t all have the same agenda from management to the coaching staff. Well, when somebody is your coach and your president or GM, he’s going to talk to the owner. So there’s never going to be a disconnect on what the message is.”

Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks coach and president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, said the added power and work aren’t for everyone.

“In my case, I’m not looking to do that. I love my owner [Mark Cuban] and I love my GM [Donnie Nelson] — my GM and I go back 30 years as friends,” Carlisle said. “I want to concentrate on my craft. But I applaud these other guys for taking on the other responsibility.

“If you get a great coach like Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy and you have the opportunity to meld those two positions into one guy who is high-quality in so many areas, if you’re an owner, you should go for that. More than anything, it’s pointing to the vortex of the connection between the coach and GM. The fact that some owners are looking at this and saying, ‘These two jobs should be one and the same’ highlights the importance of coaching.”

No one, however, is saying it’s easy. The consensus is that a GM has less-grueling days and better job security than his head coach. Saunders adapted comfortably to that last season, his first in the role with Minnesota, though coaching competitiveness still coursed through his veins.

In Budenholzer’s case, it comes just one year into his head coaching tenure with the Hawks, with the true impact of the front-office mess (analyzed well here by our Sekou Smith) still to be felt. The longtime Spurs assistant has a lot coming at him, on the brink of training camp.

“There are extra things you have to do to prepare for camp and the season,” Budenholzer acknowledged. “But we’ve got a great group. So there’s more work but I think we can manage it. The team, for the most part, is in place. That’s the most important thing.”

Growing up in the NBA in the Spurs organization — Ferry logged valuable time there, too, under Popovich and Buford — helped prepare Budenholzer for this beefed-up role. “It’s something where I spent 19 years in that kind of a set-up,” he said. “To whatever degree I can be comfortable, I wouldn’t feel that now if I hadn’t spent all those years around that in San Antonio with Pop and R.C.”

Asked where he would turn with questions, he said: “Oh, Pop and R.C. have always been open to me. I’ve obviously learned a ton from them and I’ll continue to.”

And if rivalries of the NBA prevent his Spurs pals from helping too much?

“I’m sure if I cross the line unintentionally,” Budenholzer said, “they’d say, ‘You’re a big boy, you’re going to have to figure certain things out for yourself.’ “

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

Stars of NBA.com Top 10 voting ending


VIDEO: Stars of the NBA.com Top 10 second team

By Beau Estes, for NBA.com

The clock is ticking and the ball is in your hands.  It’s now all down to fan votes.

Today we release the first half of the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.” There are five spots remaining on this list and we have a pool of five players for fans to vote among.

The player with the most votes from the fans will be crowned king this Wednesday.  The deadline for voting is Wednesday at midnight (ET), so send your vote — your one vote for the player that should be No. 1 — to @NBABeau and later on Wednesday we will release the Top 5.

The following, in no particular order, are the five players to choose from:

  • Russell Westbrook
  • Kevin Durant
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Blake Griffin

Once again, get your votes in to @NBABeau and we will reveal your choice for the Top 5 players on the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

Thus far, the response has been as entertaining as much as enthusiastic.

Some fans were conflicted, but in the end honest.

Others were filled with certainty about their choice

Still others wanted to dive into the history books, which wasn’t precisely the exercise, but was fun nonetheless

Once again, get your votes in to @NBABeau by Wednesday at midnight and we will then reveal your choice for the Top 5 players on the first ever “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

Atlanta paper lands Ferry audio recording discussing Deng

The depth of the hot water Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in could deepen after his Luol Deng comments were released.

The depth of the hot water Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in could deepen after new audio was released.

NBA.com staff

Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has obtained the audio recording of the already infamous conference call that landed Hawks general manager Danny Ferry in hot water, and in it … well, you’ll just have to listen to it and make up your mind.

Was Ferry, as he claimed, reading off scouting reports on free agent Luol Deng when he says the player “has a little African in him”? Or was that Ferry simply winging it, speaking off the top of his head, in his own words, as many on Twitter surmised Thursday night after the AJC snagged the audio?

Whatever the case, the heat is being turned up on Ferry, at least in some corners. Though Ferry has his backers who say he is not a racist — our own David Aldridge is among them, and commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today that, in his opinion, Ferry’s comments do not merit his firing — others are insisting that Ferry step down. One of the owners of the Hawks, Michael Gearon Jr., called for his dismissal back in June. Gearon, among many other Hawks’ front-office executives, was on the call with Ferry.

One of the more thoughtful takes on the whole ugly situation has come from Toronto general manger Masai Ujiri, who spoke directly to Ferry about the incident, as reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Ujiri (who is from Nigeria) knows Deng (who hails from South Sudan) well. They have traveled through Africa together.

I spoke to Danny myself about this. He started off by apologizing to Luol. He apologized to me and apologized for any insult he’d offered to African people in general. He explained the incident as best he could to me. There are some things about that conversation I would like to keep between the two of us, but I came away feeling like I’d understood what he had to say.

Here is what I have to say:

I have no idea what is happening in the Atlanta Hawks organization, but I do know how the scouting world works. We all have different ways of sharing information about players and different vocabularies to do so. It crossed a line here.

That said, we are all human. We are all vulnerable. We all make mistakes.

You discover a person’s true character in their ability to learn from and then move on from those mistakes. One of the truly important things we must learn is how to forgive.

Danny’s mistake will remain tied to him for a long time. What he’s said can’t be unsaid, but we must measure his heart. If he has made an honest, isolated error, we should forgive and move on.

Will that kind of thinking be enough to save Ferry’s job?

Here’s the audio from the AJC. There’s some NSFW words in there.


SOURCE: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

 

 

Optimism continues to rise in Denver


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about the USA win over Mexico

So, yeah, Kenneth Faried. He’s everywhere for Team USA, finishing on the break, crashing the boards, pounding away with typical bottomless energy, and emerging as the NBA player whose reputation has benefited most from the FIBA World Cup.

This is a step forward for Faried, even with the disclaimer that the event once known as the world championships does not automatically translate to NBA play, not when the international game is different and now when roles are much different for some national teams than they will be starting in late-September. That makes it an obvious step forward for the Nuggets back home as the latest in a series of offseason boosts, and that makes Denver more intriguing than before.

Maybe even playoff intriguing. Faried will be better for his time with Team USA and the positive performance will become an injection of confidence and energy, if that’s possible. Danilo Gallinari is encouraged about being ready for Day 1 of training camp and a full regular-season schedule, save perhaps avoiding back-to-backs early, in the return from two surgeries on his left knee and all 2013-14 on the sidelines. Arron Afflalo was added in a steal of a trade that sent Evan Fournier and a second-round pick to the Magic. JaVale McGee should be back after missing all but five games last season with a fractured left leg. No. 16 pick Jusuf Nurkic was the second-best center prospect in the 2014 draft, after the injured Joel Embiid, and No. 19 pick Gary Harris could crack the rotation as a rookie.

The Nuggets go from 36-46 and missing the playoffs by 13 games to opening training camp in a few weeks with the possibility of essentially three new starters, and veteran starters at that: Afflalo at shooting guard, Gallinari at small forward and McGee at center. There is the uncertainty of Gallinari and McGee because of injuries — and of McGee because it’s JaVale McGee — but it’s easy to see Denver in the conversation with Phoenix and New Orleans as Western Conference teams pushing into the playoffs.

There’s an extra 13 wins to be cobbled together from Gallinari at small forward plus Afflalo and some Harris at shooting guard plus McGee and some Nurkic at center. That’s in addition to the carryover starters, Faried at power forward and Ty Lawson at point guard, plus Randy Foye, in the opening lineup at shooting guard last season but likely bound for a reserve role now, and Wilson Chandler in the same situation at small forward and J.J. Hickson at center.

“I think at every position we’re pretty deep,” Lawson told NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan last month. “At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told (coach Brian Shaw), I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.”

Small forward is the specific watch, and not just with Gallinari’s recovery. Draft night changed that. The Nuggets traded the No. 11 pick to the Bulls for 16 and 19, taking Denver out of contention for Doug McDermott in a double-down of the bet that Gallo would have a full recovery. McDermott would have been for the same position and the projected help for a team that had just finished 19th in the league in shooting. Chicago took McDermott with the selection instead. If he plays to expectations and Gallinari never gets all the way back, June 26, 2014, becomes a haunting memory.

It’s easy to see the Nuggets’ logic, though. They got a lot deeper and, with the Afflalo deal the same day, a lot stronger with Nurkic, needing to now address how a center not known for mobility will fit into the up-tempo game of Lawson and Faried. Nurkic was a candidate for the lottery and Denver got him at a position that has lacked stability for years, plus potential help at shooting guard with Harris. And if Gallinari does make it back, the decision looks even better.

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer


VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.

Hawks’ Ferry now on the hot seat

By NBA.com staff

Bruce Levenson‘s decision to sell his stake in the Atlanta Hawks after the unearthing of a racially insensitive e-mail may be just the start of troubles for Atlanta’s NBA franchise. The team’s general manager, Danny Ferry, is now under fire for a racist remark he made when describing free agent Luol Deng during a conference call.

Ferry’s comments came to light Monday, and Tuesday word came that some in the Hawks’ organization had been asking for the GM’s head since June. This from columnist Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

In the latest of a dizzying series of events that began Sunday with owner Bruce Levenson’s disclosure of a racially charged email now comes news that co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. has been demanding Ferry’s exit since June. The reason, as previously reported by the AJC, was a Ferry comment on a conference call with owners in which he described the negatives of free agency target Luol Deng, as having “a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

According to Gearon’s letter, Ferry completed the slur by describing Deng as “a two-faced liar and cheat.”

In short, Ferry not only faces overcoming the stigma of his comments — with the public, every player on his team and players and agents around the league — he has a co-owner, Gearon, who wants him out. It’s difficult to see a scenario in which he survives.

Here’s Schultz excerpting Gearon’s letter, obtained by Atlanta’s WSB Channel 2. (The whole letter is here.)

“We are appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call. One of us can be heard on the tape reacting with astonishment. Our franchise has had a long history of racial diversity and inclusion that reflect the makeup of our great city. Ferry’s comments were so far out of bounds that we are concerned that he has put the entire franchise in jeopardy. … If Ferry’s comments are ever made public, and it’s a safe bet to say they will someday, it could be fatal to the franchise. … As lifelong Atlantans with a public track record of diversity and inclusion, we are especially fearful of the unfair consequences when we eventually get thrown under the bus with Ferry. We are calling on you, as majority owner and NBA Governor, to take swift and severe action against Ferry. Our advisors tell us there is no other choice but to ask for Ferry’s resignation, and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause under his employment agreement.”

For his part, Ferry released a statement Tuesday morning in which he showed no signs of backing down. At least for now:

“In regards to the insensitive remarks that were used during our due diligence process, I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players.   I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process.  Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning. In terms of the email that Bruce sent, the situation is disturbing and disappointing on many levels and I understand Bruce’s words were offensive. I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation. I fully understand we have work to do in order to help us create a better organization; one that our players and fans will be proud of, on and off the court, and that is where my focus is moving forward.”

Dooling’s book tells tale of abuse, breakdown and big bounce back

Keyon Dooling, the 10th pick of the 2000 Draft, had a 13-year NBA career. (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Keyon Dooling, the 10th pick of the 2000 Draft, had a 13-year NBA career. (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Through his teen years and his entire adult life, Keyon Dooling pushed forward, played basketball and plowed down a secret that stayed alive no matter how many shovels of dirt he threw on it.

Two years ago, that secret seized up on him and brought him to his knees. Yet, from that low point, Dooling managed to look his demons in the eye and stare them down.

This summer, Dooling has shared his troubling yet uplifting story in a book, “What’s Driving You??? How I Overcame Abuse and Learned to Lead in the NBA.” Ultimately, it is a book about the former NBA guard’s healing and his desire to help others heal, too.

“I went through some things in the last two years,” Dooling said on the phone recently. “So I wrote a story. It’s a great story, it’s a basketball story, it’s a life story, it’s a social story. It’s a story of triumph. I just want to make sure I get the message out there.

“I had bottled up so many emotions. I talk about my NBA experiences to connect the audience with the ball-playing side. But the story itself is totally different from the basketball experience. A lot of people don’t talk about this subject.”

whatsdrivingyouPublished last month by TriMark Press, the paperback memoir recounts a life that some NBA fans might recall only from some unnerving headlines a couple years ago. It covers Dooling’s career as a hoops overachiever, from starring in high school in Fort Lauderdale and showing enough in two years at the University of Missouri to be picked 10th in the 2000 Draft, to playing 12-plus seasons for seven NBA teams.

More than that, though, the book traces struggles in his life to the sexual abuse he endured as a boy at the hands, initially, of a teenaged neighborhood friend. Later, there were adult men and women who preyed on him.

“You have to put yourself in a vulnerable place to relive and tell and inspire and motivate. It’s very tough to do,” Dooling said. “I had to get a lot of therapy to have the tools to manage all the different emotions. But I’ve done my work. I’ve dealt with it.

“I’ve packaged up healing in this project. That’s really what my goal is, to allow people to see a piece of themselves in the story so they can find healing.”

This new, healthiest time in Dooling’s life was triggered by an incident in June 2012 in a Seattle restaurant that took him back to his darkest memories. A patron in the men’s room made an inappropriate advance. Dooling had just wrapped up one of the most satisfying seasons of his career, helping the Boston Celtics reach Game 7 of the East finals. But the anger that confrontation uncorked wasn’t going to just blow over, as he writes in the book:

 

At three o’clock in the morning, I decided to go for a walk outside to try to lose the rage. I practiced breathing techniques to calm myself down – when that didn’t do the trick, I tried calling on the Lord to help me. Nothing was working. Finally I called my wife, Natosha (she was back in Florida and probably still asleep) and told her about what happened at the restaurant that night. I still hadn’t told her about what happened to me when I was a child.

I had no words for that.

After talking with ‘Tosha for a while, I started to feel more relaxed. She prayed with me and told me everything would be all right. A little ray of light started growing inside me then thanks to her.

Still, I couldn’t hide what was happening from myself.

An emotional vault that had been locked inside me for years had unexpectedly opened…

 

Dooling’s breakdown landed him in a mental-health facility in Boston. He turned to then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who spent long hours with him there, a place that — given the severity of other patients’ mental issues — struck Rivers as unsafe. He and some medical officials enlisted by the National Basketball Players Association helped get Dooling moved to a better environment.

“He was in this emotional state and he kept apologizing about letting the team down,” Rivers told the Boston Globe last year. “I kept saying, ‘We’re going to survive.’ You just knew emotionally, he wasn’t right. I didn’t know what was going on but I just knew emotionally he was in a bad place, and even a dark place. I was concerned for his life.”

The treatment Dooling eventually received put him on his path to recovery. But when he abruptly decided to retire from the NBA (despite a one-year extension with Boston) , family, friends and fans were puzzled, unaware of the secret he harbored.

The story of his abuse came out after Dooling sought and found the therapy he needed. By late 2012, he was comfortable speaking about it, and he and Natosha even appeared on Katie Couric‘s talk show.

But there was no one-and-done to this type of thing, Dooling learned. Any time he had cracked open the lid on his secret previously — he wrote a letter to himself back in 2011, when he was with Milwaukee, full of questions that elicited no answers — he had backed away. Facing and living with his issues was going to come incrementally as well.

“There’s no blueprint to deal with the emotions, because people who survive it usually don’t tell,” Dooling said. “I had people in my family who didn’t believe me, that created one emotion. I had other people who did believe me, that created another emotion of support. I was insecure about some of the things and then, I was angry about some of them as well.

“It took time to learn how to deal with those types of emotions that, as an athlete, I didn’t even allow myself to feel.”

In April 2013, a month shy of 33, Dooling signed with Memphis in hopes of resuming his NBA career. He played in seven regular-season games down the stretch, then averaged just 1.9 points and 8.1 minutes in 14 playoff appearances for the Grizzlies. His game essentially was gone.

His life had changed. It was getting better. So much that Dooling rarely has any what-if reflections.

“At this point, I still would have been able to play if I hadn’t had that breakdown. That was my doom as far as being a player in the NBA,” he said. “Personally, I would have been in a better position if I had gotten my work done earlier. Because I’m such a better person from doing that work.”

Today, back home in South Florida, Dooling is a certified life coach as well as a published author itching for his next project. He works with people of all stripes, including some NBA players, but declines to offer details in deference to sensitivity and confidentiality.

His family — Natosha, daughters Deneal (13), Gabrielle (10) and Jordan (7), and son Keyon Jr. (4), who is on the cover of the book with his dad — are healthy and happy, Dooling says, thanks to many hours of therapy for them all. Some in his extended family still are grappling with the issues he revealed.

His book is the centerpiece of his Web site, www.whatsdrivingyou.net It features artwork that complements his story and provides links to purchase the book and to download music from iTunes that provided the soundtrack of Dooling’s recovery. Portions of the proceeds from the book are donated to the Respect Foundation at www.RespectFoundation55.org.

Once a month, Dooling said, he opens up his Twitter account at @AmbassadorKD to anyone “still in the closet” about being molested or those — particularly men — who need someone with whom they can speak freely (via Twitter’s private DMs), if therapists, clergy or others aren’t current options.

“I knew I had to go through my test to get to this testimony,” he said. “I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t become a witness and help them get through some of their issues.”

Dooling, in time, would like to return to the NBA as a coach. His playing experiences and exposure to multiple systems have him covered on the basketball side. He gained leadership skills as a player and a union vice president. But the life lessons, what he can share in coping with personal pressures and problems, might kick his resume to another level.

“We’ve been treating the symptoms,” Dooling said. “You see it sometimes in guys who get DUIs. You see behavioral issues with guys maybe having multiple children out of wedlock. Guys overspending, overeating, masking with liquor or drugs.

“So often, we’ve been treating the symptoms and not the real issues. My whole thing is, let’s talk about some of these things we went through in our past so it doesn’t affect the future.”

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.