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Pistons void deal with Rockets

Because of a bad back, Donatas Motiejunas will be back in Houston.

Because the 7-foot forward could not get clearance for a back injury that required surgery nearly a year ago, the Pistons voided a three-team trade that included the Rockets and 76ers.

Yahoo Sports was first to report that physicians and specialists who examined Motiejunas on Monday refused to sign off on his health.

As a result, Motiejunas and guard Marcus Thornton will return to Houston and the Pistons will get back the 2016 first-round draft choice that was surrounded in the deal at the trade deadline on Thursday. In addition, Joel Anthony, who was traded from Detroit to the Rockets and then sent on to Philadelphia for the rights to Nigerian forward Chukwudiebere Maduabum, will return to the Pistons.

After undergoing back surgery late last season that forced him to miss the playoffs, Motiejunas had several setbacks in his recovery and has played only 14 games this season. The last NBA game he played was on Dec. 31 against Golden State, when he had to leave after just six minutes due to soreness in his back. Motiejunas was assigned for rehabilitation with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League on Jan. 30 and played three games there before the All-Star break. He rejoined the Rockets last week and took part in a practice and declared himself 100 percent healthy.

The 25 year old from Lithuania is slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1. The Rockets had regarded the top 8-protected draft pick they were getting from Detroit as a key building block for the offseason.

Motiejunas averaged 12 points and 5.9 rebounds in 2014-15, but just 5.6 points and 2.1 rebounds this season.

The move comes 22 years after the Rockets voided a trade with the Pistons when forward Sean Elliott could not pass a physical. In that case, Robert Horry and Matt Bullard returned to Houston, where later that season they would become members of the first championship team in Rockets franchise history.

Oscar (Big O) Robertson receives Legends’ Lifetime Achievement Award


VIDEO: Robertson given Lifetime Achievement Award

TORONTO – Oscar Robertson is one of the greatest players in NBA history, a pioneer both on and off the basketball floor and walking shorthand for one of the game’s most esteemed stats: the triple-double.

Current stars way too young to have seen Robertson play during his 14-season career with Cincinnati and Milwaukee know his name and what it meant in terms of 10 or more points, rebounds and assists in the same game.

“He averaged a triple-double, right? The whole season?” Washington’s All-Star guard John Wall said, answering the question with a question. “That’s all I need to know. If you can do that in one season, that means you were a heckuva player.”

How “heckuva” was he? Robertson, 77, will be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award Sunday at the National Basketball Retired Players Association classy “Legends” Brunch in a ceremony scheduled to feature Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and the Minnesota Timberwolves young big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

Robertson did average a triple-double in his famous 1961-62 season: 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. The 6-foot-5 guard from the University of Cincinnati had 41 games that season in which he reached double figures in all three categories – the NBA’s big triple-double threats in 2015-16, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, have done that 10 and eight times, respectively.

Even more impressive, Robertson averaged a cumulative triple-double over his first five seasons as a pro: 30.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 10.6 apg across 383 games. He remains the league’s all-time leader with 181 triple-doubles, racking up the 1960 Rookie of the Year award, the MVP in 1964, 12 All-Star berths and three All-Star MVP honors.

After missing the postseason five times and advancing only twice in his 10 years with the Royals, Robertson was traded to Milwaukee to play with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He and the Bucks won their only championship in his first year there but returned to the Finals again in 1974 before Robertson retired.

If the players who will be participating in Sunday’s All-Star Game weren’t around in time to witness Robertson’s exploits, the same isn’t true for one of their coaches. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich grew up in Merrilville, Ind., and was a teenager during Robertson’s dominance in Cincinnati. Neither the Pacers nor the Bulls existed yet as a rooting option, making it simple for Popovich to look over to the Royals.

“I’m an Indiana boy. He’s an Indiana guy, from Indianapolis obviously,” Popovich said Friday. “He and [Celtics Hall of Famer] John Havlicek were the two people I keyed in on the most when I was a young kid and watched games. They weren’t on as much as they are now, but whenever they were, those were the guys I wanted to watch.”

In high school, Robertson famously was the leader of Crispus Attucks High’s consecutive state championships, making it the first all-black school in the nation to win a state championship in any sport. At the University of Cincinnati, Robertson’s teams went 89-9; he was the national collegiate player of the year three times and the U.S. Basketball Writers’ player-of-the-year award is now named the Oscar Robertson Trophy.

Before he reached the NBA, he and Lakers legend Jerry West drove the 1960 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. And then came his marvelous, multi-faceted work with the Royals.

“I’m still incredulous at Oscar’s accomplishments,” Popovich said, “when you talk about how he scored, passed and rebounded night after night after night. It’s a combination that I don’t think anybody in the league has. Nobody. And he did it over and over again, to the point where it was almost ignored because he made it so common.”

Robertson, who lives in Cincinnati with his wife Yvonne, has said that if he knew triple-doubles were going to be such a big deal, he would have tried to get more of them.

It isn’t possible to fully appreciate Robertson’s impact, though, without noting his work on behalf of the NBA Players Association. He served as NBPA president from 1965 to 1974, becoming the first black president of any sports or entertainment labor union. In 1970, he put his name to a lawsuit to block the merger of the NBA with the old American Basketball Association, to end the option clause binding a player to an NBA team in perpetuity, to end the NBA Draft’s power to bind a player to one team and to end restrictions on free agency.

By April 1976 – 40 years ago this season – the league agreed to a class-action settlement that became casually known as the “Oscar Robertson rule,” eliminating the reserve clause (much like Curt Flood‘s MLB litigation) and moving the NBA toward free agency.

That side of Robertson’s career, he long believed, denied him some post-playing opportunities in coaching, in NBA front offices or in broadcasting because of the clout it shifted to players and the boost it provided to player salaries. It remains an underappreciated element to this day, at least publicly, even as his skills stay relegated to grainy black-and-white film clips.

“I think he probably was the best player to ever play the game,” said Wayne Embry, Robertson’s longtime friend, former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer. “And then the contribution he made with the Oscar Robertson lawsuit., that changed the complexion of the league in salaries and in creating free agency. So all the growth of this league is the result of guys like him getting things right.”

NBPA boosts star power as Knicks’ Anthony elected to union post

TORONTO – Committed in recent years to having the NBA’s biggest names among its union leadership, the National Basketball Players Association furthered that agenda Friday when it elected New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony to Knicks’ All-Star forward, to serve on its executive committee.

Anthony joins fellow All-Stars Chris Paul, the NBPA president, as well as vice presidents LeBron James and Steph Curry as NBA players with the highest profiles, the heftiest contracts and the most at stake in straightening out and strengthening a union that didn’t always command the attention of the league’s elite.

Anthony was voted to a three-year term on the nine-member executive committee, replacing Willie Green, who served three years and is no longer active as an NBA player.

NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has been meeting with NBA commissioner Adam Silver well in advance of what most assume will be a re-opening of the collective bargaining agreement between players and owners in July 2017. Either side has until Dec. 15, 2016, to formally request that the 10-year labor deal signed in 2011-12 end after six years.

Roberts even cited the expected negotiations in a statement announcing Anthony’s executive involvement. “He’s passionate, has the respect of the players and I’m sure he will have a strong point of view during the collective bargaining process,” she said.

Several players were encouraged by the turnout and the tone of the meeting at the boutique hotel in downtown Toronto serving as NBPA headquarters. An estimated 65 members participated, with a number of player reps and rank-and-file members on All-Star break traveling to town specifically to attend.

Not pleased with the terms of the CBA it accepted coming out of the 2011-12 lockout and coping with leadership issues resulting from deposed Billy Hunter’s tenure in Roberts’ role, the NBPA has been aggressive in pulling together a stronger, more professional union. “I wouldn’t even say ‘righting the ship,’ ” one NBA veteran who attended Friday’s session told NBA.com. “It’s more like lifting the ship out of the water, putting it together the way it was supposed to be, and placing it back in.”

Said another player: “It’s all about leadership.”

Curry, Andre Iguodala and James Jones were all re-elected to serve additional three-year terms on the executive committee. The other committee members are Steve Blake, Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver.

Kidd-Gilchrist reinjures right shoulder


VIDEO: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist injures shoulder against Pacers

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Hornets dislocated his right shoulder after hitting the floor Wednesday night in Indiana — the same shoulder that cost him the first 46 games of the season.

There was no immediate word how long Kidd-Gilchrist would be out this time.

He had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum and was expected to miss most or all of the season, only to return Jan. 29. In his first six games back, the small forward known for his defense averaged 13.5 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes a night while shooting 52.6 percent.

 

Ezeli surgery puts to test LeBron’s remark on Warriors’ health

LeBron James didn’t exactly curse the Golden State Warriors earlier this season when he lauded the defending champions as “the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history.” But that backhanded compliment might no longer apply, based on backup center Festus Ezeli’s surgery Monday.

Ezeli underwent arthroscopic surgery in Oakland to clean out debris from his left knee and will be re-evaluated in six weeks. The team’s official news release included the phrase “expected to return this season,” but that likely means sometime in April, leaving the Warriors only a short time to re-acclimate the 6-foot-11 backup big man before hitting the postseason.

Add in the 16 games forward Harrison Barnes missed with a sprained ankle and it’s becoming increasing difficult to write off Golden State’s success to injury avoidance. Granted this setback still doesn’t match the short-handedness through which James led Cleveland in the playoffs last spring – what with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love missing or hobble through most of the playoffs – but it will stretch Golden State’s deep roster just a wee bit thin. Marreese Speights and maybe Jason Thompson will pick up Ezeli’s minutes, while starter Andrew Bogut has less margin for mishap now himself.

Of course, the Warriors could just decide to small-ball the opposition into submission. Ezeli’s impact was most noticeable defensively, with teams shooting worse (46.5 percent vs. 47.1) and scoring less (3.2 points fewer per 100 possessions) when he was on the court.

Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com caught some of the initial reaction from the Warriors on Ezeli’s situation:

“Festus is a huge part of our rotation,” head coach Steve Kerr said after practice on Monday. “He’s really had a good year, an excellent year.

“Mo is going to step in and play well for us, but I feel bad for Festus. It’s a contract year and he’s young and he’s already had a knee surgery. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that he’s going to be OK.”

The 6’11” center last appeared in a game on January 25 vs. San Antonio and has missed the last five games due to a sore left knee.

In 40 games this season (11 starts), Ezeli is averaging 7.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.23 blocks in 17.8 minutes per contest.

Miami’s Bosh: Long players face long odds in Foot Locker Three-Point Contest


VIDEO: Bosh’s 3-Point highlights

Long thought to be a sport in which height gives one a decided advantage, basketball as put on display at All-Star Weekend tends to come up short, so to speak.

It’s bad enough that centers get thrown into the hopper with the forwards as “frontcourt” players in All-Star balloting. It’s even worse when you look back over past champions of the two most revered side events, the Verizon Slam Dunk and the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. That’s why Miami’s Chris Bosh isn’t getting his hopes up too much for when he works his way around the arc emptying ball racks on All-Star Saturday Feb. 13.

Only four times since the dunk event became official in 1984 has it been won by a player 6-foot-9 or taller: Larry Nance, 6-foot-10, did it in 1984. Josh Smith, 6-foot-9, won in 2005. Dwight Howard donned his Superman cape in 2008, and Blake Griffin jumped over the Kia in 2011.

The same holds true for big men shooting from long distance, with just four different big men among the winners since the 3-point “shootout” was added in 1986. Larry Bird, at 6-foot-9, won the first three. Peja Stojakoivc, 6-foot-9, won in 2002 and ’03. Dirk Nowitzki claimed the 2006 crown and, six years later, Kevin Love showed off his deep range. Last year, none of the eight contestants stood taller than 6-foot-7.

With the dunk competition, it’s been said for years that it’s harder for a tall player to make his dunks look challenging or artistic enough. There’s no “wow!” factor in how high up the big guys have to get – none of the oohing and aahing Spud Webb or Nate Robinson instantly generated – and generally speaking, wing players in the 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-7 range seem to elevate (so to speak) the act into something balletic.

As for the 3-point contest – which relies on actual scores rather than judging – anatomy and angles seem to disfavor tall guys. Reaching down to grab the ball, then raising it up to proper launch position … that all takes a teensy bit longer for the big guys.

So Bosh is approaching this as something to have fun with, while giving a nod to his fans (current and former) in Toronto, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Selected Thursday to compete, Bosh on Friday reflected on the daunting challenge of shooting against the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson next week in Toronto.

“Look, I have nothing to lose, OK? I’m just going to shoot it. And if the ball goes in? That’s awesome,” he said.

At 6 feet 11, Bosh is three inches taller than any of the seven other participants.

“I’m just happy I’m the only big,” he said. “Bigs are not going to be a part of the All-Star Weekend in a couple of years. I’m just glad I’m one of the last of the guys.”

With the event at Air Canada Centre, if means more jeers from a fan base yet to accept his free-agency departure from the Toronto Raptors to the Heat in 2010.

“Yeah,” he grinned, “it’ll be awesome. It’s like cheers in reverse. That’s what I tell myself, man. If you care to acknowledge me, that’s half the battle.”

Told it seemingly took Toronto fans 10 years to get over the departure of former Raptors icon Vince Carter, Bosh smiled.

“Oh, so just four more years left?” he said. “OK, that’s good. My kids will be in high school by then. That’ll be nice.”

Report: Warriors ‘significant’ threat to sign Kevin Durant this summer

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The summer of 2016 has been looked forward to for a while by teams around the NBA. Not only will many teams around the league be flush with spending money thanks to a new television deal, but at least one marquee player will be a free agent: Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.

While Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP, has stayed mum on his future plans, that hasn’t stopped media speculation. And a new report today from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo’s The Vertical suggests that if Durant does choose to leave Oklahoma City this summer, the leading contender to sign Durant could conceivably create something of a basketball monster.

Writes Wojnarowski

The Golden State Warriors’ plan of pursuit predates their 2015 championship run, a bold plot to declare the futility of resistance. It isn’t only that the NBA champions are determined to recruit Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. The truth is that they’re the most intriguing destination to him. If Durant leaves the Thunder, the Warriors are the significant frontrunners to sign him, league sources told The Vertical.

The Warriors already have everything and yet they’re threatening to take more now. Steph Curry. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green. Committed ownership. Bob Myers, the executive of the year. Steve Kerr, a championship coach. Yes, Golden State has everything, including the ability to create the salary-cap space and a belief that Durant’s persona could fit seamlessly – even onto a potential two-time defending champion.

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said – but the real threats on the summer market are beginning to reveal themselves. Durant is determined to win – to be an immediate championship contender at 27 years old – and that keeps bringing him back to the Warriors should he make the decision to leave Oklahoma City.

Outside of a Thunder championship closing down the process before July 1, there’s a strong expectation that Durant will hit the road, tour campuses and become a recruit again.

The big free agents, they’re forever living one of two things in the months leading into summer: searching for reasons to stay, or searching for reasons to leave. Durant has always been looking for reasons to stay. He adores the Oklahoma City community and holds a fondness for the franchise, but Durant is chasing championships, chasing a legacy.

Rosters released for Rising Stars game

The core of the young, improving Timberwolves — Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine — were among 20 rookies and second-year players chosen for the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge that will be played Feb. 12 in Toronto as part of All-Star Weekend, the NBA announced.

The rosters released Wednesday in a continuation of the format of the U.S. against the World were selected in a league-wide balloting of assistant coaches. Votes had to include a minimum of four guards, four front-court players and two at either position per side. The teams must also have at least three first-year players and three sophomores.

The Timberwolves will have the strongest representation, led by Toronto native Wiggins, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and Towns, the leading candidate at midseason for the 2015-16 award. One of Wiggins’ World teammates, Dwight Powell of the Mavericks, is also from Toronto.

The U.S. roster consists of Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel (76ers), Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell (Lakers), Rodney Hood (Jazz), Jabari Parker (Bucks), Elfrid Payton (Magic), Marcus Smart (Celtics), Towns and LaVine.

The World roster is Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets), Clint Capela (Rockets), Mario Hezonja (Magic), Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets), Nikola Mirotic (Bulls), Raul Neto (Jazz), Wiggins and Powell.

The World won the 2015 game, the first under the current format, 121-112 in Brooklyn. N.Y., as Wiggins scored 22 points en route to being named MVP.

 

Hall of Famer Bobby Wanzer dies at 94

Hall of Famer Bobby Wanzer, a five-time All-Star with the Rochester Royals and a star guard on their 1951 championship team, died Saturday, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported. He was 94.

Wanzer played his entire nine-year career with the Royals and joined with Bobby Davis to form one of the best guard tandems. Wanzer also coached the team for three-plus seasons, two in Rochester and one full campaign plus 18 games into another after the franchise moved to Cincinnati as part of the lineage of the organization that would eventually become the Sacramento Kings.

“He was a player’s player and as good as anyone in that decade, including (Bob) Cousy,” former Royals owner and coach Les Harrison once said of the 1950s, according to the Democrat & Chronicle. “He was a complete player. Every time we played Boston, he guarded Cousy and he usually outplayed him.”

The first-round pick by the Royals in the 1948 Basketball Association of America draft out of Seton Hall was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1987 as part of the class that also included Rick Barry, Pete Maravich and Walt Frazier. Wanzer later coached at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y., from 1963 to 1987.

“It’s certainly sad that he’s gone but what an unbelievable, wonderful life he lived,” Rob Kornaker,  the current coach at Fisher, told the Democrat & Chronicle.

 

Lue moves over 18 inches, enters new world of pressure, Cavs’ expectations


VIDEO: Tyronn Lue addresses media following Saturday’s shootaround

The first day of the rest of Tyronn Lue‘s coaching career began unlike any he’d experienced before. Working on other guys’ staffs the past six and a half years bears zero resemblance to the duties and the pressures he’ll face now as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach, replacing David Blatt.

Lue began the day Saturday by officially running his first morning shootaround session. Then he met with the media for the first of what would be three times – in the morning, prior to his debut game against Chicago in the evening at Quicken Loans Arena and one more time for postgame comments.

He also toted along a grasp of the pressure he’s now facing.

Lue has one advantage over a lot of newly hired or promoted head coaches, but it isn’t necessarily flattering. Rampant speculation over the past year or more suggests that the Cavaliers players, foremost among them LeBron James, already relied on and heeded his counsel more than Blatt’s. It’s a perception Lue tried to put to rest right away, along with any notion that he would favor James in his tenure. As reported by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

He enters the job already with strong ties to James from a friendship that spans 14 years. He has James’ attention already, something that wasn’t always the case with Blatt.

“I talked to ‘Bron. I told him, ‘I got to hold you accountable. It starts with you first. And if I can hold you accountable in front of the team and doing the right things, then everybody else has got to fall in line, fall in place.’”

Lue said he wants to do things better, but not necessarily different than Blatt. He’d like to expand the rotation to 10 players and bring Mo Williams back into it. He talked about playing Williams alongside Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert to give the Cavs three ball handlers at one time and he’d like to re-establish Kevin Love’s presence at the elbow where he was most effective during his years in Minnesota.

Lue became famous last season for calling timeouts from the bench and making substitutions for the Cavs. But he was doing it all with Blatt’s blessing and said he never went behind his coach’s back at any point.

“Blatt knew I had his back 100 percent,” Lue said. “I would never do anything malicious behind his back. So, we talked yesterday and he said, ‘I thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I know you had my back 100 percent.’ ”

James, meanwhile, had a little of his own media spinning or clarifying to do. Given his public friction not just with Blatt but with past coaches, including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and former Cavs coach Mike Brown, James has the image with some observers as a difficult-to-handle NBA superstar. Many who hold that view assume he requested or demanded Blatt’s dismissal. But according to Lloyd’s report:

LeBron James insisted he learned of David Blatt’s firing when everyone else did and didn’t play a role in it. But he agreed with everything general manager David Griffin said Friday in announcing the decision and said now it’s clear what he meant sometimes when he wasn’t always happy after wins this season.

“Like I told you guys before, you get so caught up in the wins and losses and I tell you every day, it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s how we play,” James said. “It’s how we prepare ourselves every day. … For something like this to happen, now you understand what I was meaning.”


VIDEO: James addresses media following Saturday’s shootaround