Blogtable: Picking the champions

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


BLOGTABLE: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ


The Spurs (and Tim Duncan, center) celebrate their win in the 2014 NBA Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

The Spurs (and Tim Duncan, center) celebrate their win in the 2014 NBA Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

> Hey, this is simple: Who do you like to win the 2015 NBA Finals and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy head says San Antonio, because of what they showed us in June, because none of the competition can play a pat hand quite like the Spurs and because that “2007” to “2014” gap in championship banners in their rafters speaks volumes about their ability to at least fend off Father Time. But then I see Manu Ginobili come down – hard – when he gets banged in the lane (and the thigh) against Dallas, and the prospect of San Antonio navigating 82 games without something debilitating looks slim. So … I’m going with the Spurs anyway. Tired of being wrong about them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comSpurs.  The caveat, of course, is health.  If the Spurs still have all their pieces together and fit in April, they have the chemistry, experience, ability and definitely the know-how.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls. I’m counting on Derrick Rose to remain healthy, a risky move when the stakes are as high as a Blogtable prediction. But if he can deliver 70 games in the regular season and still be strong for the playoffs, that’s a team with depth, with defense, with experience, with coaching, with a mental toughness and now with increased scoring thanks to the return of Rose and the additions of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The basketball gods will see to it that the Clippers sip champagne in June. It’s just to prophetic: Their first season without The Ex-Owner Who Shall Not Be Named, Chris Paul‘s playoff legacy on the line, and Doc Rivers putting it all together. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see how Steve Ballmer plans to celebrate?

Two reasons to like the Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Two reasons to like the Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t want to make a prediction based on the possibility of injury, and the Spurs old heads looked just fine in the opener on Tuesday. So I’ll guess that they repeat for the first time, because they’re simply the best team in the league, elite on both ends of the floor. And I’ll guess that they beat Chicago in The Finals, because the Bulls have the edge in both defense and continuity over Cleveland.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: While I’d love to see the Spurs chase history and their first back-to-back titles, I just don’t see how they can possibly make a third straight trip to The Finals. The Clippers are my pick and I think it all starts with Doc Rivers and my belief in the way he develops the culture of his team and the fact that they are loaded. Plus, I want to see some new blood in the championship circle this season. I know the Spurs, Cavaliers, Bulls and Thunder are probably much safer picks at this point. But as I told my main man Clipper Darrell this summer, if Doc could see them through all of the drama of last season, the Clippers would be my pick to win it all this year.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: No contender is hungrier than the Thunder. Kevin Durant will come back healthy, focused and fresh, and his teammates will have improved in his absence. They have three young stars with years of experience, and they’ve suffered enough in the playoffs that they’ll know how to win. This is their time. OKC beats Cleveland in the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I love the way the Cavaliers are constructed and think David Blatt will be a natural, but one stat keeps me from buying into the Cavs as a championship team this season: 0. That’s the number of combined career playoff appearances and wins from three of Cleveland’s starters (Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters). I don’t think that inexperience will keep them from making a splash in the postseason, but I do think experience matters, and I don’t know that these Cavaliers can overcome that in their first season together. That said, I will admit that I’ve learned my lesson, and instead of going trendy or flashy, I’m going smart: I’m taking the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs. They brought almost everyone back from last year’s team, and in the Finals seemed to discover a transcendent level of basketball. They may chase that for a while this year but they know it’s out there.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: I’d like to see the Spurs do what they haven’t done so far: win back-to-back championships. This is likely Tim Duncan‘s and Manu Ginobili‘s final season, so I’d love to see them retire with one more ring. Winning back-to-back rings will add more fashion to the Spurs’ legend. And finally, as Italian, I’d like to see Marco Belinelli get another ring and Ettore Messina start (for real) his NBA career helping Pop win another ring.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: San Antonio, because it has the best coach in the league, because it dominates a system and has the same team from the previous year that brought them the title.

Blogtable: International next up

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


BLOGTABLE: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ



VIDEO: Inside Stuff rides along with the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (April 2014)

> Not counting Andrew Wiggins (too easy), who’s the next foreign-born player you see making an important impact on the league?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to be the sponge for this game and league that he has been so far, the Bucks’ “Greek Freak” could do for the No. 15 spot in the draft what Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have done for Nos. 28 and 57 spots, respectively. I’m not sure that indulging or dinking around too long with Antetokounmpo as a “point guard” is the quickest way for him to have his impact, however. Jason Kidd and his staff need to focus on getting him to max out his All-Star potential as a pure wing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Don’t know how you’re qualifying “making an impact.” Serge Ibaka certainly hasn’t maxed out his game and will probably have to step up big in Kevin Durant’s absence to keep the Thunder around top of the West. If you’re looking for a very young player, I’ll put my chips on Joel Embiid.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThis season: Nikola Mirotic with the Bulls. Nik Stauskas would be a consideration as well, but Mirotic gets the edge because he can become part of the rotation for a title contender. Next season, and with a bigger impact than either of the 2014-15 choices: Joel Embiid and Dante Exum. Both were in the 2014 draft and both are a season away, Embiid because of injury and Exum because he needs the experience of 2014-15 in Utah.

Joel Embiid (Brian Babineau /NBAE)

Joel Embiid (Brian Babineau /NBAE)

Shaun Powell, NBA.comDante Exum might not even be the best young foreign-born player on his own team at the moment; Rudy Gobert could put up decent numbers this year for the Jazz. But, really now: Exum is very young, gifted and intriguing. In time, this Aussie import could grow in leaps and bounds, like a kanga … wait, I can’t believe I was going to write that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In a few years, the combination of Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Dario Saric (Croatia) will have Sixers fans forgetting these two abysmal seasons and have everyone else realizing that the Sam Hinkie‘s plan and patience has paid off. Hinkie didn’t go into the 2014 Draft looking to take two guys that wouldn’t play this season, but Embiid’s injury and Saric’s contract in Turkey allowed the Sixers GM to get two really talented players at picks where they wouldn’t have been available if they were going to be ready for the start of the season. A healthy Embiid will be an anchor on both ends of the floor, and Saric is a big forward with guard skills.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGiannis Antetokounmpo is my pick. I know he’s a bit under the radar in Milwaukee and I know the Bucks are still working to figure out where he fits best. But there is so much talent and potential to work with where the “Greek Freak” is concerned, the options are limitless. He’s a game changer waiting to happen, provided the Bucks find the right niche for him as he continues to mature physically and in his understanding of how he can be effective in the NBA. Playing alongside another potential young star like Jabari Parker gives the Bucks an opportunity to take their player development to another level.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Joel Embiid would have gone No. 1 last spring if not for his injury. So long as he stays healthy – a capital IF, when you look at the recent histories of Embiid and other potential stars of his size – he’ll have a chance to be not only the best international star, but to also rank among the NBA’s top 10 overall based on his size, athleticism, skills and fiery disposition.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: One guy I was excited to see in the preseason was Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic. He’s certainly arrived in the States with the requisite accolades — he was the Spanish League MVP and Spanish Cup MVP, and was twice named Euroleague Rising Star. When we saw him play during the Hang Time Road Trip, he was bigger than I anticipated, and he also seemed a bit hesitant. The hesitancy will abate with time, and being able to play behind Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah is a dream for a young post player, not only from a learning standpoint but also because it gives Mirotic the luxury of playing against second-team rotations players. Best of all? Mirotic is still just 23 years old. He hasn’t come close to prime yet. I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com Italy: What about Joel Embiid? Yes, he’s probably going to sit out the entire 2014-15 season, but I think he has the talent to become the next big thing. This big man has been playing basketball only for 4 years, and he has turned from a Mr. None to a 3rd overall pick. His potential is huge, could turn him into a dominant center. I’m looking forward to see him playing

Guillermo Garcia, NBA.com Mexico: I believe that Nikola Mirotic for the Chicago Bulls, because that is a very complete player who adds many options to the offensive end.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Davis, Asik domiate vs. Magic | Howard says he wasn’t scared of Kobe | Lakers’ Randle suffers broken right leg | D-Will driven to prove himself | MJ personally recruited Stephenson to Hornets

No. 1: Asik, Davis dominate in first game together — Don’t tell the New Orleans Pelicans they weren’t supposed to be a storyline on the first night of the season. While most NBA fans had their eyes focused on the ring celebration in San Antonio and the return of Kobe Bryant in L.A. later that night, Anthony Davis and his cohorts quietly put on a show in the Big Easy last night. Davis flirted with a triple-double (coming up a block short of it), thriving as new center Omer Asik did some dirty work in the paint. Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune details how Asik’s play spurred the Pelicans to an impressive debut:

This summer when the New Orleans Pelicans set out to do some free-agent shopping, their top priority was finding an adequate center, a big man who could rebound, defend and score when needed.

The spent quite a bit but landed their man in pulling off a trade with the Houston Rockets for Omer Asik.

On Tuesday night, Asik’s acquisition certainly seemed like a good deal.

Playing in his first game as a Pelican, Asik helped the Pelicans to a 101-84 win by scoring 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking five shots.

“That’s what I saw in him when he was in Chicago (2010-2012),” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “He was only playing less than half the game, but when he came into the game there defense went through the roof. There were times where he would finish just because he was so good on that end. I want him to focus more on finishing around the basket, scoring a little bit.”

Asik was especially effective in the first-half, when he played 18 minutes and scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and two blocks.

With Asik, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson dominating the boards, the Pelicans out-rebounded the Magic 62-56. But even more impressive, they had a 26-16 edge on the offensive glass.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis flirts with a triple-double in the Pelicans’ season-opening win

 

Lakers’ Julius Randle suffers leg injury


VIDEO: Lakers’ Randle goes down with right leg injury

Julius Randle, the centerpiece of the Lakers’ future, suffered what appeared to be a serious injury to his right leg Tuesday night, with TNT’s Rachel Nichols reporting the leg was broken.

The Lakers did not immediately confirm the diagnosis.

Randle was hurt midway through the fourth quarter of the season opener against the Rockets in Los Angeles. The No. 7 pick in the draft had played 14 minutes off the bench at power forward.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 175) Featuring Phife Dawg and Michael Hamilton

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The undeniable link between hip hop and hoops has never been highlighted better than in the lyrics Phife Dawg penned for the legendary group A Tribe Called Quest.

Go ahead, run through your memory banks and connect those dots.

It’s all there in the lyrics.

Classic stuff from a true pioneer who helps us kick off the 2014-15 NBA season here on Episode 175 the Hang Time Podcast.

The Five-Foot Assassin is a hoops head extraordinaire and it shows. He knows the game inside and out. And he brings a perspective few can, having been one of the hip-hop pioneers at the heart of the connection between the game and popular culture that is the norm today.

We also speak to filmmaker Michael Hamilton, whose documentary “Nash” (Dec. 4) will shed light on the amazing journey of two-time MVP Steve Nash. 

Dive into Episode 175 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Phife Dawg and Michael Hamilton for more  …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

After jewel of season, Spurs get rings


VIDEO: Spurs receive their championship rings before their season opener

SAN ANTONIO — Even the fifth time around, it never gets old.

Tim Duncan beamed with glee and practically skipped out to midcourt to be greeted by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Manu Ginobili grinned as a roar of approval washed over him. Tony Parker bounced up and down like a newly-inflated ball. Even cantankerous coach Gregg Popovich received his 2014 championship ring and pumped his first as he ran down the line of his assistants.

The Spurs returned to the AT&T Center on Tuesday night to collect their gaudy jewelry, to see the championship banner unveiled at the rafters and then to embark on the next chapter.

“Man, that’s awesome,” Parker told the jubilant crowd. “That’s the best. It’s been an unbelievable year, great memories and now we get a shot at having another one.”

Hornets, Walker reportedly reach deal

The Hornets continued to spend, and to build on the momentum of last season, by reportedly agreeing with point guard Kemba Walker on a four-year extension worth $48 million, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

Walker averaged 17.7 points and 6.1 assists last season as a key part of Charlotte’s rise in the Eastern Conference. He is just 24 years old, another appeal for the Hornets.

The payout comes about 3 1/2 months after Charlotte spent $27 million over three years for Lance Stephenson to play small forward (after signing Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63-million offer sheet the Jazz matched) and 15 months after committing three years and $40.5 million on center Al Jefferson.

Schedule could add to Lakers’ troubles


VIDEO: Kobe scores 27 in a preseason loss to the Suns

And then there’s the other part of the Lakers’ problems.

The season begins tonight with 2013-14 health flashbacks — no Nick Young, no Ryan Kelly, no Steve Nash, maybe/maybe not Ronnie Price and Xavier Henry — but with the additional burden of an unsympathetic schedule. The Rockets are first, at Staples Center for the opener as the return of Kobe Bryant in the most rare of Lakers sightings, a player joining the lineup, and also the first step into the obstacle course.

The first 15 games are all against opponents who are either heavy favorites to make the playoffs or can make a decent case: the Rockets (twice), Suns (twice), Clippers, Warriors (twice), Hornets, Grizzlies (twice), Pelicans, Spurs, Hawks, Mavericks and Nuggets. And, there are four back-to-backs. At least eight of the 15 are at home.

That takes the Lakers through Nov. 26, the final installment, against Memphis, as part of a four-game home stand. Just before they go East to play three games in four nights.

Bryant’s first regular-season game in nearly 10 months comes after he averaged 26.7 minutes while playing in six of the eight preseason contests.

“I’m not going to go over the top and say I’m overjoyed by it,” Bryant said Monday, as quoted by Mark Medina of the Los Angeles News Group. “But I’m happy to be out there and happy to be playing. It’s about finding a balance and trying to keep poised and calm without getting too over the top.”

Love sits, learns no Cavs’ injury ‘minor’


VIDEO: Kevin Love scores 25 as the Cavs top the Bucks in preseason

Kevin Love‘s not in Minnesota anymore.

Cleveland might not rate as much of an upgrade over the Upper Midwest hinterlands on most hipsters’ scales of livability and excitement, but in NBA terms, it’s the difference between Dorothy‘s Kansas and the Emerald City.

So while Love’s occasional aches, pains and injury absences from the Timberwolves’ lineup barely caused ripples – beyond skepticism of his “knuckle pushups” explanation for a broken hand in October 2012 – there’s no escaping the spotlight with every bump, bruise and blow to the ribs.

That’s what happened to the All-Star power forward this week, prompting him to miss some court time Tuesday with more than 48 hours still to go before the Cavaliers’ opener, as reported by Jason Lloyd of Ohio.com:

Kevin Love took a shot to the rib cage and sat out part of practice on Tuesday, but Cavs coach David Blatt said he will be fine for Thursday’s opener against the New York Knicks.

“We pulled him out, but he’s OK,” Blatt said.

Love has suffered a number of minor dings during the preseason. He was kicked near his Achilles in a game against the Heat, but remained in the game. He missed time with a sore neck and also battled a sore knee during the preseason.

Love wanted this upgrade in opportunity and expectations, so he surely understands if a headache, a hangnail or a bout of indigestion leaves him trending on Twitter.

Dog days just starting for George’s Indiana teammates


VIDEO: Larry Bird expresses his goals for the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers

Unbridled enthusiasm at the start of any NBA season is natural. Irrational exuberance, that’s something quite different, particularly for the Indiana Pacers this fall.

Maybe that’s why Larry Bird put back in perspective Tuesday any overly optimistic prognoses for star wing player Paul George‘s rehab and return. Yes, the world has seen footage of the Pacers’ hobbled All-Star on the court hoisting perimeter shots. It even has seen him playing a little 1-on-1 with his dog (we’ll leave any snarky comments about rival defenders to you guys).

But that’s a long, long way from the rigors and demands of NBA basketball, as Bird reminded a group of reporters. Paul, who suffered multiple fractures of his lower right leg in a gruesome injury at the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas in early August, still is likely to miss the entire 2014-15 season.

“He’s got a rod in his leg. Holding that bone together. And it’s gotta heal,” the Pacers’ president of basketball operations said. “Looks good against his dog, and while he’s standing out there in front of you guys it looks pretty good. Other than that, he don’t do nothin’.”

George being around the team, when he’s not immersed in rehab, is good for his and his teammates’ psyches. But as determined as he has to be in his comeback from the nasty mishap, that’s how the other Pacers have to approach a difficult season that grew more grim as lesser injuries stacked up in the preseason. Power forward David West (ankle sprain) and guards George Hill (knee), C.J. Watson (foot) and Rodney Stuckey (foot) all missed time and will be unavailable or, in Stuckey’s case, limited in the team’s opener Wednesday.

Not that a Bird team would have room for sissies anyway, but the short-term figures to be rather trying. The team’s bench will be thinned by all the reserves — Luis Scola, Donald Sloan, C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill — pressed into starters’ minutes.

“We’re gonna play,” Bird said. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen. These [backup] guys are not used to playing a lot of minutes, they’re going to. It’s not really just taking your lumps. It’s just playin’ — and tryin’ to get better as we go.”

For the franchise that began last season with championship ambitions and began the postseason as the East’s No. 1 seed, the expectations have been dampened. With a roster full at 15, there’s no Bird, McHale or Parish walking through that door — or George either.

“Even when I was playin’, I was out one whole year and we had some of the guys dinged up, but somehow we found a way to battle and win some games,” Bird said. “Our expectation is to get in the playoffs. That’s what we want to do. We’re down a little bit right now, but we think we can make up for it.”

Bird heaped some praised on George Hill for the improvement he had shown before getting hurt. Also, besides cautioning the media against fast-tracking hopes about George’s return, he warned against expecting too much from center Roy Hibbert, a former All-Star whose play dropped off badly last spring. He’s not going to become Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offensively, just by process of elimination or the fact that he has been tutored by both.

“Nah. Roy’s not that type of player,” Bird said. “Roy’s a defensive player. He’s got to protect the rim and, obviously, I’d like to see him score a few more points but not a lot. I think it’s important for him to rebound better than he has in the past, but we’re not putting a lot of weight on Roy’s shoulders because that’s not the type of player he is.”

The weight is on all of the Pacers and, frankly, until a lot of time and healing passes, it probably will be a little more than they can bear.