Morning Shootaround — Aug. 26


VIDEO: A look at which ’12 draftees are next up for an extension

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers penalized for first Jordan meeting | Curry will be free | Augustin reflects on Katrina | Blazers starting over

No. 1: Clippers penalized for first Jordan meetingDeAndre Jordan‘s free agency was quite the saga, featuring many emojis, a camp-out at Jordan’s house, and ultimately, a change of heart. Before that change of heart, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $25,000 for publicly discussing the team’s deal with Jordan. And now, the Clippers have been fined 10 times that amount for discussing a possible endorsement deal in their initial meeting with Jordan. Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News has the story, also tweeting that the endorsement deal was with Lexus

The NBA determined in its investigation that this aspect of the Clippers’ presentation had no impact on Jordan’s decision to re-sign with the Clippers. But that did not stop the NBA from issuing a fine. The NBA’s anti-circumvention rules prohibits teams from providing any compensation for a player unless it is included in the player’s contract.

The specifics regarding the Clippers’ third-party endorsement opportunity isn’t entirely clear. But an NBA source familiar with the teams said the Clippers presented a “hypothetical deal” that was nearly worth the amount of the league’s $250,000. Since then, the NBA source said Jordan did not take advantage of any possible endorsement opportunity.

In a memo to Clippers employees (acquired by the Orange County Register), owner Steve Ballmer said that the violation of the CBA wasn’t intentional…

As I shared with everyone on day one of purchasing the Team, being part of the Clippers family means operating with the highest integrity. We believed we were doing this the right way, and any circumvention was inadvertent. In our effort to support our players in every way possible, we as an organization must be diligent in complying with the CBA.

***

No. 2: Curry will be free — MVP Stephen Curry said Monday that free agency isn’t appealing, but that doesn’t mean that opportunities won’t be presented to him in the summer of 2017. The Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami explains…

So when Curry says he’s not into free agency at the moment, again, that’s important and it’s logical, because he’s happy here and knows Joe Lacob and Peter Guber will be more than ready to pay him a max starting salary of $30M once July 2017 arrives and Curry hits free agency, presuming good health and all the things we have to presume over the next two seasons.

My point, though: Curry has to hit free agency in order to qualify for the $30M salary.

He has to let his current contract expire, has to play it out, even if he has every intention of re-signing with the Warriors at the first possible instance.

Which means there’s some outside chance that Curry will look at other options because… why not? The Warriors might not be coming off a 67-win season and a title in two years… other issues might prop up… other teams will surely be ready to pay him the max they can and then… who knows?

Kawakami also looks at a potential Harrison Barnes contract extension …

Kidd-Gilchrist might possibly be more valuable–younger, can really, really defend, if he ever figures out a jump shot he could be a long-time All-Star.

However… Barnes is only 23 and he already has a long history of carrying the Warriors through periods in huge playoff games, and yes, that includes Games 4, 5 and 6 vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers on the way to the Warriors’ first championship since 1975. That is rather important.

I’m not saying Barnes is a finished product or even one of the Warriors’ top three or four players.

But with the cap exploding, $14M per won’t be as large an investment as it looks now.

***

No. 3: Augustin reflects on Katrina — This week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which took more than a thousand lives and affected countless others. Thunder point guard D.J. Augustin, who was a high school senior in New Orleans at the time, reflects on his experience in a first-person account in The Player’s Tribune…

Before Katrina was Katrina, it was just another hurricane that hadn’t arrived yet. The week before Katrina hit, everyone was worried about Hurricane Ivan. Ivan was supposed to be really big. There was mandatory evacuation a few days before it got there. So we actually evacuated the week before Katrina — and then again one week later. We put the evacuation plan into effect: My mom, dad, two sisters and myself piled our luggage into our Chevy Trailblazer. We left New Orleans headed for Houston, with a car pool of relatives — my aunts, cousins, and two sets of grandparents all in different cars ahead of us and behind us. It was like a parade. Everyone had the same plan. It usually takes five hours to get to Houston, but it took us 24 hours that time. Everyone was trying to get out of New Orleans at the same time.

I still remember that evacuation for Hurricane Ivan so well. One reason is that it was kind of a false alarm for Katrina. Ivan was never as big as they said it was going to be. My dad was driving our car and the air outside was so humid. We had the windows down – he cut off the air so the car wouldn’t run hot — and I had my shirt off. It was bumper to bumper traffic the whole way. We stayed in a Houston hotel for a couple nights, got to swim in the hotel pool, and then returned home. It just felt like a family trip, like a little getaway. When we got away like that for those hurricanes, it was kind of fun at the same time, because nothing ever happened really, out of all the years we got away for hurricanes. Like previous evacuations, it was just a precaution.

Little did we know, way out in the Gulf of Mexico somewhere, Katrina was on its way.

***

No. 4: Blazers starting over — If you look at each team individually with a positive outlook, you can think of a reason or two why 29 of the 30 could be better this season than they were last year. The one exception is the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost four of their five starters to free agency this summer. The downfall started with Wesley Matthews‘ Achilles injury, but when LaMarcus Aldridge left for San Antonio, Blazers GM Neil Olshey had little choice but to push the reset button. Our Scott Howard-Cooper digs into Portland’s second rebuild in the last four years …

Neil Olshey didn’t blow up the Trail Blazers. He is sure of it. He is also right, if that detail matters. An injury with an impact that never could have been imagined followed by a bad playoff series followed ultimately by a franchise crossroads of a decision is to blame.

Except that detail may not matter. Someone has to be accountable for the most-wincing offseason in the NBA, for that crater where the roster of a Western Conference contender once stood, and Wesley Matthews’ previous left Achilles’ tendon is not a candidate. Brandon Roy and his knees, Greg Oden and his knees — been there, felt that.

“I think initially people were kind of caught off guard,” Olshey said of the summer developments. “I think people just assumed we’d be in a position to bring LaMarcus back. It’s my job to kind of look beyond that and do what’s best for the long-term health of the franchise. Our goal was to bring LaMarcus back. We were in the mix. He chose to take his career in another direction. But what we weren’t going to do was compound a negative situation and make it worse by signing long-term contracts and taking away flexibility for a team that, quite honestly, wasn’t going to be good enough.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers believe a new practice facility will help them compete with the rest of the leagueChris Andersen isn’t worried about a possible trade (to get the Heat out of paying the repeater tax) … Andrei Kirilenko is the new president of the Russian Basketball FederationKlay Thompson is an experienced traveler … and teammate Andre Iguodala took his trophy to Tokyo.

ICYMI: Rookies show Lang Whitaker their dance moves:


VIDEO: Lang With the Rooks: Signature Dance Move

Report: Pearl Washington hospitalized with brain tumor


VIDEO: Pearl Washington

HANG TIME BIG CITYDwayne “Pearl” Washington, former New Jersey Nets and Miami Heat point guard, is hospitalized in Syracuse, NY, awaiting surgery on a recurring brain tumor, according to a report from Syracuse.com.

According to Syracuse.com, Washington first received treatment for a brain tumor in 1995. As Bud Poliquin writes…

Washington, 51, will have surgery at Crouse Hospital on Thursday. He has been reluctant to speak publicly about the recurrence of the tumor, his friend Mark Finney said, “because he’s a very private person.”

Mark Finney is the son of Betty Finney, a Cortland woman with whom Washington had formed a deep, abiding friendship over the years. Washington gave the eulogy at Betty Finney’s funeral in July.

As for news about his own health, Washington “wants to keep it as low-key as possible,” Mark Finney said. But Finney and Washington understand that because of Pearl’s place in SU basketball history, word had started to leak out about his condition.

Washington has received visitors in his hospital room, Finney said. Those visitors have included Orange assistant coach Mike Hopkins, who stopped by Monday to see the former point guard.

“He’s having a great day today,” Finney said by telephone Monday afternoon. “He’s much more relaxed. He’s taking everything in stride and he’s grateful for all the support he’s getting.”

Washington, said Finney, is facing a “very serious” medical procedure this week.

“Many prayers are requested,” Finney said. “Pearl has prayed for a lot of people over the years and we’d ask that you please pay back those prayers to Pearl.”

A native of Brooklyn, Washington played at Syracuse, where he was a consensus All-American averaging 15.7 points and 6.7 assists over his Syracuse career, where he displayed a crowd-pleasing style on the floor during the 1980’s heyday of the Big East Conference.

But as brilliant as his collegiate career was, Washington couldn’t sustain that success in the NBA. Washington was drafted 13th overall in the 1986 NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets. After two seasons with the Nets, the Miami Heat selected Washington in the expansion draft. Washington played one season with the Heat, averaging 7.6 points and 4.2 assists over 54 games, before being released.

As Washington told the New York Times in 2003: ”I had a God-given talent and I was always ahead of everybody else in high school and in college. But when I got to that next level, guys were above me. So at that point, you have to say either ‘I’m going to work at it to become a good player in the NBA,’ or, ‘This ain’t for me anymore.’ I decided that it wasn’t for me. I didn’t love it enough to really work hard at it anymore. But I have no regrets.”

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 25


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel 2014-15 highlights

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hornets extend Kidd-Gilchrist | Chris Paul remembers Hurricane Katrina | Noel working on jump shot

No. 1: Hornets extend Kidd-Gilchrist The Charlotte Hornets drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist second overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, largely based on the potential of Kidd-Gilchrist continuing to develop into a complete small forward. And while three years later he still has a ways to go offensively, Kidd-Gilchrist has been a great fit for the Hornets, and become one of the best defensive players in the league. Which is why the Hornets were so keen to sign Kidd-Gilchrist to a four-year contract extension, writes Rick Bonnell in the Charlotte Observer

The Charlotte Hornets have made sure Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a Charlotte Hornet long-term.

The Hornets have agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract, sources confirmed Monday. The deal will keep him off the free-agent market, similar to when the Hornets signed point guard Kemba Walker to a four-year, $48 million contract a year ago.

Kidd-Gilchrist is considered the Hornets’ defensive stopper. Coach Steve Clifford has called him one of the best individual and team defenders in the league.

However, he lacks offensive prowess. He averaged 13.4 points and 9.4 rebounds and took no 3-point shots last season. Then-assistant coach Mark Price spent much of last summer improving his jump shot.

The Hornets were under a certain economic pressure to get this deal done. Three other rookie-scale extensions had been completed: Anthony Davis was signed for five years and $145 million, making him the highest-paid player in NBA history. Portland’s Damian Lillard got a 5-year, $120 million contract.

And most recently Jonas Valanciunas got a four-year, $64 million contract from the Toronto Raptors.

***

No. 2: Chris Paul remembers Hurricane Katrina Back in 2005, the New Orleans Hornets used the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft to select Chris Paul out of Wake Forest. Paul arrived in New Orleans a decade ago this summer eager to make an impact on the franchise and the city. And as Arash Markazi writes, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 10 years ago this week, having a lasting effect on one of America’s great cities

Paul’s first memory of Aug. 29, 2005, was the sound of his mother’s voice waking him up and directing him to the television. The images were hard to fathom as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“It was one of the most devastating things I had ever seen,” Paul said. “That was my new home. Even though I had only just gotten drafted, it was going to be my first time away from home and I felt a connection to the city. I couldn’t believe what I was watching.”

Hurricane Katrina had struck New Orleans that early Monday morning, and as Paul huddled in front of the television with his family, he looked at his older brother and wondered what the future held for him and his new home.

“That was the most uncertain time of our lives,” C.J. [Paul] said. “Chris had just been drafted and closed on a house … he’s just getting a feel for the city and all of a sudden that new city you love is in trouble. Just to see all the people who were affected by it and to know we were there just a few days before it hit …

“It seemed like it was a third world country we were watching on TV,” C.J. added. “It didn’t seem like it was a place in the United States we were due to live in in a week.”

While Paul and his family watched Katrina’s wrath unfold on television, the experience of going through it left deeper wounds for those living in the city. Jim Cleamons, who was an assistant on head coach Byron Scott‘s staff, says he and his family still have emotional scars from Katrina 10 years later.

“It was a horrific experience,” Cleamons said. “To some degree, I don’t want to remember some of the things myself.”

***

No. 3: Noel working on jump shot After sitting out his rookie season to recover from a knee injury, Sixers center Nerlens Noel came close to averaging a double-double last season. But Noel is looking to improve on the offensive end, and is spending his summer in Rhode Island rebuilding his jump shot, writes Keith Pompey for Philly.com…

Noel spent the month of June here before joining the Sixers at the Utah Jazz and NBA summer leagues in July. Then he returned in August.

Of course, Noel could be doing this at the Sixers’ practice facility at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“Yeah, I could,” Noel said Wednesday night over dinner. “But I felt individualizing this for myself, putting all the attention on myself, working on something up here . . . I thought this is a little more dedication to be in Newport,R.I., where there isn’t too much going on.”

While his physique won’t be confused with Dwight Howard‘s, Noel’s muscle gain is noticeable.

The 21-year-old weighs about 223 pounds, up from the 217 he carried last season. Mainly, Noel has worked on his jump shot, which has been his Achilles’ heel.

“A lot of people say work on your weaknesses until they become strengths,” Carroll said, “because in the NBA if you have weaknesses, people will exploit them.”

If he improves his shooting, Noel’s ability to get to the rim will improve as well.

“I think it’s really going to help me as a basketball player overall, especially at [power forward],” Noel said of the daily workouts. “[It will] help space the floor with my ability and start hitting the jumper consistently and complement our whole offense. And, you know, just changing my whole game and how effective I am.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Utah Jazz have agreed to a multi-year deal with Jeff Withey  … Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka may have been their secret MVP in their pursuit of LaMarcus AldridgeAndre Drummond has offered Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson a place to live next season … The Lakers have had “casual conversations” with Metta World Peace about a reunion … Could Nick Young join the Australian National Team? …

Report: Kidd-Gilchrist to sign extension

Through the years, the Hornets have not exactly had overwhelming success with top draft picks.

Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton, Adam Morrison, D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson.

But they’ve definitely got a keeper in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and that is evidently what they’re going to do. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports says the Hornets are finalizing a four-year, $52 million contract extension with their small forward.

The agreement will be finalized this week with a news conference to follow, league sources said.

As a member of the 2012 NBA draft class, Kidd-Gilchrist is eligible for a rookie extension prior to the start of the 2015-16 season.

Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, has developed into a cornerstone player for the Hornets at small forward. With the extension, the Hornets and Kidd-Gilchrist will avoid him becoming a restricted free agent next summer.

Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds while also becoming a key to coach Steve Clifford’s defense last season.

Report: Lakers talking World Peace

The next thing you know Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak will be pulling up to the parking lot at Staples Center and tossing the valet his keys to the DeLorean.

In what could only be green-lighted in Hollywood as Back To The Future 4, now comes word that the Lakers are talking to Metta World Peace about a possible return to the franchise.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Lakers are discussing signing World Peace to a one-year contract.

No deal has been agreed upon, but there have been talks between the Lakers and World Peace’s representatives, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

There are varying degrees of interest within the Lakers organization about bringing him back to the franchise at 35 years old, although the idea has been met with enthusiasm from Lakers star Kobe Bryant, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

World Peace has been in the Lakers’ practice facility this offseason playing against the team’s players, including 2014 first-round pick Julius Randle, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

What’s wrong with the idea? Only that World Peace is now 35 years old and the last time he was seen in the NBA, he was no longer an elite defender. In fact, not much of a defender at all. He averaged 4.8 points and shot 39.1 percent in 29 games before getting waived by the Knicks. He played last season in China and Italy.

What’s wrong with the idea? Only that with 37-year-old Kobe Bryant sure to suck up much of the oxygen in the lineup, the Lakers’ move into the real future behind the threesome of Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will only be delayed or derailed by the addition of another geezer like World Peace to the lineup.

Just in case they’ve lost their calendars in Lakerland, it’s no longer 2010, McFly.

Curry: ‘Free agency isn’t appealing’

With the MVP trophy in one hand and a huge piece of the 2015 NBA championship in the other, Stephen Curry doesn’t exactly have to look beyond his backyard for professional satisfaction.

With his image staring off TV screens, magazine pages and 10-story video boards in Times Square, he doesn’t need to fly the coop to cash in on earning potential either.

So never mind that he’ll be the fifth-highest paid player on the Golden State team in 2015-16 and never mind that the salary cap is expected to go through the roof over the next two seasons due to the influx of whopping TV money. Curry, the bargain of the league at just over $11 million for next season, says he’s quite happy in the Warriors brotherhood and doesn’t plan on becoming the focus of a wild bidding war when he can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017.

In an interview with Jimmy Spencer of The Sporting News on Monday in San Francisco, Curry said the idea of even becoming a free agent isn’t something he’s considering:

“As I am thinking right now, free agency isn’t really appealing to me because I love where I’m at, love the organization I’m playing for, and the Bay Area is home for me and my family,” Curry said.

Curry becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017 unless he works out an extension with Golden State before then. He remains an absolute bargain for the champion Warriors after signing a four-year, $44 million deal in October 2012 that will pay him $11.3 million this upcoming 2015-16 season and $12.1 million in 2016-17.

“It helps being world champs and you want to continue to build the momentum that we’ve established and I hope to have a huge part of that in the long term,” Curry said in an interview at a golf event to promote Degree Men. “But I think the best approach for me is to try and stay as in the moment as possible.

“Everybody in this league is going to have many decisions to make, and you’ll be in a lot of different situations throughout your career, so in order to enjoy the ride, you kind of have to not get too ahead of yourself and just stay in the moment.”

Nash headed for Suns’ Ring of Honor


VIDEO: Steve Nash top 10 career assists

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Clear the calendar for Oct. 30 if you’re a Steve Nash fan and a fan of the game of basketball.

That’s the night Nash will join Charles Barkley, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Alvan AdamsTom Chambers, Kevin Johnson, Dick Van Arsdale, Jerry Colangelo and others in the Phoenix Suns’ Ring of Honor, the team announced today.

Nash is busy these days serving as general manager of Canada’s senior men’s national team and removed from the day-to-day activities that consumed him for years during his stellar NBA career.

A back-to-back winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, Nash was at the center of a turnaround for the Suns a decade ago that also helped revolutionize the NBA game. He was a six-time All-Star (eight overall) during his tenure with the Suns and also finished his playing career as the franchise-leader in assists, 3-pointers made and free throw percentage.

Nash will be the 14th member of the Suns Ring of Honor.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 24


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s profile continues to rise, on and off the court, in the wake of his MVP and championship season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry to star in Under Armour campaign | LeBron’s busy summer continues with Survivor’s Remorse | Wesley Matthews says he’ll be ready for opening night

No. 1: Curry joins Tom Brady, Jordan Spieth in Under Armour’s first major brand campaign — Champions are the focus of Under Armour’s first major brand campaign. Tom Brady, Jordan Spieth and Golden State Warriors star and KIA MVP Stephen Curry will all be featured in the campaign, that will debut this week. It’s the latest superstar turn for Curry, whose magical year that began with a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup in Spain and continued with his first MVP award and the Warriors’ first title in 40 years in June. ESPN’s sports business guru Darren Rovell has the details:

Tom Brady won another Super Bowl. Stephen Curry won an MVP and an NBA title. Jordan Spieth won the Masters and the U.S. Open. Misty Copeland became the first African-American to become a principal dancer at a major ballet company.

It has been a big year for Under Armour’s most high-profile spokespeople, and the company this week will start to roll out its first major brand campaign featuring all of them. It’s called “Rule Yourself,” and the idea summons Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to be the best.

In the first spot, called “Anthem,” the premise is accomplished through speeding up those hours by showing thousands of replicas of Curry, Spieth and Copeland going through their repetitions.

“We sat around [founder and CEO] Kevin Plank’s table, and we talked about the momentum we’ve had this year, telling our brand story through the lens of the hottest athletes in the world, and the one thing that was constant, whether you are young or old, is that in order to be the best you have to train consistently on the field, court and gym and improve every day,” said Adrienne Lofton, the company’s senior vice president of brand marketing.

In the past year, the shots Curry takes before every game and his ball handling warm-up drill have received plenty of accolades. Less evident is what it took for Spieth to achieve his success, and, even more behind the scenes, what it took for Copeland — often 10 hours daily in a studio.

Brady’s spot, which takes on a similar theme, is still scheduled to make its debut in the coming weeks. Sources said his alleged role in “Deflategate” — and his four-game suspension, which is under appeal — never put him in jeopardy with Under Armour.

The spots were done in partnership with ad firm Droga5. The special effects were created by having five cameras focus on the athletes from different vantage points as they went through their motions. Computer-generated imagery was then used to give the effect of a thousand replicas.

Although direct sales from Brady, Curry, Spieth and Copeland are relatively small in the scheme of things, the momentum is palpable. Five years ago, Nike did 19 times the business Under Armour did. In 2015, that lead is expected to be cut to eight times. Footwear sales, most recently on the back of Curry’s first signature shoe, has grown by 40 percent for each of the past four quarters, while its total golf business has doubled in the past two years.

 

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rubio thinks Wiggins will be big time | Also, Kawhi is thinking big, too | Horford talks Dominican hoops | Burke ready and able

No. 1: Rubio thinks Wiggins will be big time — There’s lots of optimism in Minnesota about basketball, and it doesn’t center on the Lynx for a change. No, the former WNBA champs could take a back seat, popularity-wise, to the Timberwolves this season. Over the last two years, since the Kevin Love trade, the Wolves have gradually stockpiled assets and young players and believe the best is yet to come. This represents a change for a franchise that really hasn’t been on radar since Kevin Garnett left for the Celtics. Anyway, Ricky Rubio is in Manila doing promotions and was asked about the Wolves. He didn’t hold back and saved his best props for Andrew Wiggins, as Naveen Ganglani of Rappler reports …

The 6-foot-4 Rubio, who averaged 10.3 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.7 rebounds a game last season with an effectiveness rating of 15.24, said that health will be a big factor in order for the playoffs-starved franchise to reach their goal.

“If we stay healthy, there’s no doubt that we’re going to have a chance,” said Rubio, who’s about to enter his fifth year in the NBA — all with Minnesota. “We [all] have to be there to do that, and dream big.”

Wiggins is the key factor. Good enough to win last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, the former Kansas Jayhawk averaged 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per contest in his freshman campaign as a pro.

What’s more impressive than his statistics or athleticism is that he’s already displayed a great feel for the NBA game despite being just 20 years old, making pundits believe he can one day blossom into a top-5 player in the league.

His point guard is thinking even further.

“I think Wiggins is going to be an MVP one day,” said Rubio, who missed a large chunk of last season due to a severely sprained ankle injury.

***

No. 2: Also, Kawhi is thinking big, too It’s pretty common for players on the verge of stardom thinking they’re ready to take the next step, but in Kawhi Leonard‘s case, he might be on to something. Lots of the attention this summer in San Antonio was generated by LaMarcus Aldridge defecting from Portland and, to a lesser extent, David West from Indiana. And yet, lots of the Spurs’ upcoming season will depend on Leonard and whether he’s ready to be an All-Star. To hear him say it, he is. And Leonard doesn’t say much. But he has plenty of confidence in himself and is big on the Spurs, which is why he decided to stay and sign an extension. This is what Leonard told David Zink of the Press-Enterprise

Moreno Valley’s Kawhi Leonard usually lets his game do the talking.

But Saturday morning, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year delivered an important message to the young athletes who attended his basketball camp at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center.

“I want the kids to know that it’s not a myth that somebody from their city plays and wins in the NBA,” said Leonard, who helped Riverside King High to consecutive CIF-Southern Section titles in 2008 and ‘09. “I just want to influence them to work hard and do whatever they want to do in life, whether it’s to be a basketball player or scientist … if they believe in themselves they can do anything.

“That’s why I have this camp.”

On Saturday, about 90 boys and girls spent the day at the free camp rubbing elbows with one of the great, young NBA talents.

Quiet and unassuming, Leonard, 24, is a relentless competitor who has taken the NBA by storm, carving out his spot among the elite players while playing in a San Antonio Spurs system that values hard work and unselfish play.

“Winning just rubs off on you, once you see Manu (Ginobili), Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) wanting to win every game.”

Now that’s he’s reached a new plateau professionally, Leonard says he’s ready to make another big leap.

“I want to to be an (NBA) all-star and MVP of the regular season,” said Leonard. “I’m trying to be one of the greatest players so whatever level that consists of is where I want to take my game.”

***

No. 3: Horford talks hoops in the Dominican — Al Horford is the elder statesman of the Hawks, who won 60 games last season and reached the East finals for the first time, so he’s more qualified to discuss the state of the franchise than anyone else. He also won a pair of championships at Florida under Billy Donovan, now the coach of the Thunder, so while conducting a clinic with Basketball Without Borders, Horford let it fly about those two subjects and more to Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated

The NBA and FIBA’s Basketball Without Borders program held its first-ever camp in the Dominican Republic this week, and along for the ride was Hawks big man Al Horford, for whom the events held added weight.

Horford was born in Puerto Plata, lived in the country until the age of 14 and continued to visit every offseason to see family and help run basketball clinics. His father, Tito, also taking part this week, was the NBA’s first Dominican-born player. The Basketball Without Borders traveling contingent also included Mavericks forward Charlie Villanueva, whose parents are Dominican, and Horford’s former Florida teammate Corey Brewer of the Rockets.

SI.com caught up with the All-Star center in the midst of his trip for a window into his experience and his take on a busy off-season for the Hawks, who are preparing to follow up on a 60-win campaign and the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference finals. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

SI.com: Given that you grew up in the Dominican, how meaningful is it to be a part of the first-ever camp there, and especially to be there with your dad?

Horford: It’s a pretty awesome experience. We’re very grateful that the NBA has brought this caliber of camp to the Dominican Republic, and we get to have an impact in the community as well. I’m excited, my family and I, this has been a week-long celebration, just being able to teach kids, spend time together and make a difference down here.

SI.com: As a kid, you chose basketball over baseball. Obviously baseball’s still the main thing there, but do you get the sense that interest in basketball has changed over the years?

Horford: No question. Baseball’s our dominant sport, obviously, but more and more, you’re starting to see kids from a very young age start to play basketball and really be interested in the game. There’s a big following here. People follow us, they know what’s going on in the NBA, and people here want to play basketball. It’s funny, you drive anywhere in the city, you’ll see courts and people out there playing at all hours of the day. It’s pretty impressive.

***

No. 4: Burke ready and able There’s been plenty of worry in Salt Lake City over the knee injury suffered by Dante Exum, which will likely sideline him for all of the 2015-16 season. But Trey Burke says, have no fear. With the Jazz down a point guard, Burke feels it’s time to start carrying himself like a veteran and help fill the void of Exum, who was expected to see increased playing time in the Utah backcourt. Here’s Burke discussing Exum and the clang to Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune

Trey Burke was sitting on the concourse at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday afternoon, signing autographs with a silver marker when a fan struck up a conversation with the Utah Jazz guard.

“Now for the most important question,” the man said after a while. “Utah or Michigan?”

Burke smiled and said he’d be rooting for his alma mater when Jim Harbaugh and company visit Salt Lake City on Sept. 3.

After some lighthearted razzing, the man chuckled and turned to the woman at his side and said, “He’s the perfect point guard except that he’s from Michigan.”

The couple laughed.

Burke, too.

He knows he has been far from perfect since he led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament championship game, won college basketball’s player of the year award and became the first point guard drafted in 2013.

“I haven’t hit the goals that I have for myself,” Burke said between fulfilling autograph requests and posing for pictures at a community fair. “But I feel like they’ve been two solid years. I’ve been learning a lot, especially over this summer and last summer. But I know I have a lot of room to improve and I’m willing to work on those areas.”

Burke knew he was facing a crucial year ahead even before knowing that starting point guard Danté Exum could miss all of next season with a torn ACL. Burke had shown flashes over his first 146 games in the NBA, but he also struggled for stretches when he was getting beat on defense or missing too many shots. So as he prepared to his third season with the Jazz, Burke said he was as motivated as ever to prove himself.

***

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Kobe Bryant shoots for first time since shoulder surgery

NBA.com staff reports

First day back on the court shooting! Bout damn time!! #shoulderrecovery #20thseason @drinkbodyarmor #lakers

A photo posted by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on

Kobe Bryant hit the hardwood and put up shots on Saturday for the first time since he underwent surgery in January to repair a torn rotator cuff.

The initial recovery timetable was set at nine months, which would have Bryant ready to start his 20th, and perhaps final, season in the NBA in late-October. But after three straight season-ending injuries, the Lakers (and Bryant) may take their time with the recovery and allow new additions Lou WilliamsRoy Hibbert, Brandon Bass and rookie D’Angelo Russell to steady the ship until Bryant is 100-percent healthy.

The Lakers open the season on October 28th against the Timberwolves.