Morning shootaround — July 19




VIDEO: Gasol excited about joining the Bulls

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bynum might sit out | Exum experiences bumps | Bulls take on international flair | Jordan challenges Lance | Wiggins not worried
No. 1: Bynum might sit out year to strengthen knees — Of course, the big question is if Andrew Bynum decided to sit out the entire 2014-15 season to have treatment on his bad knees, who would notice? After all, the big man has played just 26 games over the past two years while wearing different uniforms in Philly, Cleveland and Indiana. Now, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Bynum is considering undergoing the German-based therapy program that promotes cartilage growth that will require an extra long recovery time, with an eye on joining Phil Jackson and the Knicks in 2015-15:

Regenokine is a non-surgical program that promotes new cartilage growth through a series of injections. The FDA still hasn’t approved it in the United States. Bynum is considering doing the program with well-known doctor German doctor Peter Wehling, who worked with Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. It is similar but not identical to the PRP procedure.
Bynum has arthritic knees that have stalled a career that once flourished under Jackson in Los Angeles.
“If he’s healthy, Phil will be interested,” Lee told The Post. “Phil knew how to tap into Andrew. They got along famously.”

Bynum, the Jersey product who was a young stud center for two of Jackson’s Lakers title teams, would undergo the procedure as a means to extend his career.
“He would be looking at in a longer-term situation,” Lee said. “He’s still a baby. If he went to college, he’d be coming off his rookie contract at age 26.”

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No. 2: Strong Exum finds there’s a lot to learning in Las Vegas — Everybody with a grade school knowledge of world geography knows it’s a long way from Australia to the United States. Utah’s No. 5 pick in the draft Dante Exum got a first-hand taste of the miles he still has to travel to make the adjustment to the NBA with a rough experience in the NBA. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper watched all of Exum’s bumps in the road at the Las Vegas summer league and talks about what the experience meant:

Unlike the majority of every draft class that steels itself with years of AAU circuits and college play or leagues in Europe with older professionals, Exum not only has to make the transition at age 19 but with very little in his basketball background to prepare for the NBA. He has never been seriously challenged for weeks at a time, let the months waiting for him with the Jazz schedule as a rookie.
“The last games I played was high school games and I’m one of the bigger guys out there that can push guys around,” he said. “Here, I get into the paint and I’m getting knocked over.”
Literally and figuratively. Exum faced NBA competition for the first time and shot 30.8 percent in five games, ending with Friday’s victory over the Trail Blazers at Thomas & Mack Center, while averaging 7.2 points and piling up more turnovers (15) than assists (14). He had good moments, but nothing close to a good game, with making four of 10 shots and three assists against one turnover in the opener against Philadelphia probably holding up as the best.
“It’s been a big couple weeks for him,” said Brad Jones, the Jazz assistant coach who ran the team in the Summer-League games. “He’s got a lot going on. He’s had some ups and downs through this, but it’s also why we play Summer League, for him to go through the ups and downs. The little challenge, we talked to him at halftime about, we wanted to see him finish on a strong note. I thought he tried to play through and luckily made a great play and hit that little floater to kind of seal that game for us.
“Now he can go back and regroup a little bit. I know he’s going to his national team, but hopefully now he has a level of understanding of what he has to do every day to be successful. There were some times he showed some brilliant, brilliant things this last week. Then again, there’s been some times where he’s been kicked in the rear end a little bit. Hopefully he’ll take this, process it and come back in the fall ready to go and to help because we think he’s got a bright future.”

***

No. 3: Gasol, Mirotic give the Bulls a taste of Spain — So much has changed since the time Spaniard Pau Gasol was a No. 1 pick in the draft back in 2001 to now when Nikola Mirotic signed on to join him for the upcoming season with the Bulls. Our Steve Aschburner talks about how the basketball world in general and the NBA in particular has embraced the contributions of international players:

“The infrastructure is a lot better now in Europe and the rest of the world,” Tony Ronzone said by phone Friday during a break in Las Vegas Summer League action. “And the world’s becoming smaller with the Internet and the video. You can see now how many games are televised all around the world.”
Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, is one of the league’s most experienced evaluators of international talent. He is director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, worked for Minnesota and Detroit in similar capacities and served as head coach of teams in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He also is director of international player personnel for the USA Basketball men’s team.
He has seen the growth and comfort level in both directions — international players and coaches becoming more NBA savvy, the league embracing more players and concepts from overseas — throughout his career.
Consider: In Gasol’s rookie season, 2001-02, there were 52 international players from 31 different countries on NBA rosters. By Opening Night 2013-14, the number had grown to a record 92 players from 39 countries.
“What’s happening now is, our game has grown and with the NBA as the best league in the world, these players internationally are able to watch athletes on the floor and mimic their moves,” Ronzone said.
“There’s a lot more player-development going on to create more foot speed. Because the biggest adjustment the Europeans have coming over to America is, defensively they’d be behind and their foot speed, they’d be behind. What they’re learning to do is, with less foot speed, they’re understanding angles and they’re doing a better job of watching these athletes and getting scouting reports on how to play them.”

***

No. 4: Jordan throws down gauntlet to Stephenson — Before he officially signed off on the three-year, $27.4-million free agent contract, Hornets owner Michael Jordan laid down the law and told Lance Stephenson that he expects fewer shenanigans and more production this season. Stephenson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer that he definitely got the message:

“I bring more to the table than blowing in someone’s ear,” Stephenson said Friday of the incident with LeBron James that brought him so much notoriety.
Stephenson, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, brings scoring, defense, playmaking and an edge. The Hornets like his edginess, and believe it can help them win games. But only to a point.
Hornets owner Michael Jordan attended the meeting in Las Vegas on Tuesday night that resulted in Stephenson signing a 3-year, $27.4 million contract. Jordan spoke very directly with Stephenson before signing off on this contract.
“He told me what he likes about me, he told me what I need to calm down on,” Stephenson told the Observer after the news conference. “He told me how I can contribute to the team. And he told me he believed in my talent. He likes my competitive edge.”
There is plenty to like. The Hornets desperately need scoring and shooting from the wing positions. Last season Stephenson averaged 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists and shot 49 percent from the field. The Hornets needed a player of his wide skill set and playoff experience.
What they don’t need is some of the disruptive things that have come with Stephenson’s history. He committed 14 technical fouls last season, fourth-most in the NBA. He had two legal issues in the past, first when he was accused of groping a teenage girl and later an accusation he pushed a girlfriend down a flight of stairs.
The $9 million-a-season salary (the third season at $9.4 million is a team option) is a bargain for a player of Stephenson’s talent. The Hornets got that deal because of the ways Stephenson undermined his reputation entering free-agency.

***

No. 5: Wiggins just playing, ignoring the rumors — Rookie Andrew Wiggins can’t turn on the TV or click on a website without confronting another rumor that he could be part of a blockbuster trade that brings Kevin Love to Cleveland. It’s an unusual position for the No. 1 pick in any draft to be in. But after finishing up his stint at the Las Vegas summer league on Friday night, Wiggins told our Jeff Caplan that the only thing on his mind is playing basketball and getting better:

“Nothing to me,” Wiggins said as he flashed a playful personality with a wide smile after taking the Cavs’ Friday night Summer League finale off following four promising performances in his debut as a professional. “I just know what you know. I just see what you see on TV. That’s about it.”
The 6-foot-8 swingman said he’s letting his “agent and support system” handle the off-court twists and turns while he focuses on preparing for his rookie season, wherever it may be.
“I just play basketball, man, wherever I go,” Wiggins said.
James’ intent seem clear. On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that James has reached out to Love about forming a superstar pairing few ever in thought about before a week ago. The Timberwolves have stood pat that there’s no deal unless Wiggins is the centerpiece. Whether or not the Cavs are now prepared to make their top pick available seems to change with the wind.
There’s just no clear indication yet of the Cavs’ position. It was only a week ago that James announced his return to the Cavaliers. Later that night Wiggins made his first appearance in Cavs colors at Summer League. Since then, Wiggins has been the at the main attraction in Vegas and at the center of constant trade rumors.
As he sat on the bench early in Friday’s game, a section of the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center stood and chanted: “We want Wig-gins!”
“It’s been crazy, but it’s all positive stuff,” Wiggins said. “With LeBron coming back, there’s nothing negative about that; the best player in the world coming to your team. The organization is on the rise right now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard says the Rockets won’t miss Chandler Parsons …Channing Frye never considered giving the Suns a hometown discount … Udonis Haslem signs two-year deal to stay with the Heat …LeBron James is asking for help on deciding which jersey number he’ll wear in his return to Cleveland.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Wiggins handles rumors, pleased with effort

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins discusses his Summer League performance and the constant trade rumors

LAS VEGAS – No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins says he’s as much in the dark as just about everybody else when it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ plans for him.

He says if he’s Minnesota-bound in a trade that would deliver discontented Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love to LeBron James, the team hasn’t informed him of his involvement in the talks.

“Nothing to me,” Wiggins said as he flashed a playful personality with a wide smile after taking the Cavs’ Friday night Summer League finale off following four promising performances in his debut as a professional. “I just know what you know. I just see what you see on TV. That’s about it.”

The 6-foot-8 swingman said he’s letting his “agent and support system” handle the off-court twists and turns while he focuses on preparing for his rookie season, wherever it may be.

“I just play basketball, man, wherever I go,” Wiggins said.

James’ intent seem clear. On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that James has reached out to Love about forming a superstar pairing few ever in thought about before a week ago. The Timberwolves have stood pat that there’s no deal unless Wiggins is the centerpiece. Whether or not the Cavs are now prepared to make their top pick available seems to change with the wind.

There’s just no clear indication yet of the Cavs’ position. It was only a week ago that James announced his return to the Cavaliers. Later that night Wiggins made his first appearance in Cavs colors at Summer League. Since then, Wiggins has been the at the main attraction in Vegas and at the center of constant trade rumors.

As he sat on the bench early in Friday’s game, a section of the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center stood and chanted: “We want Wig-gins!”

“It’s been crazy, but it’s all positive stuff,” Wiggins said. “With LeBron coming back, there’s nothing negative about that; the best player in the world coming to your team. The organization is on the rise right now.”

That could go with or without Wiggins, who said he would relish the chance play by James’ side.

“It would be great for me, just really learn and pick his brain and see what it takes to get to his level,” Wiggins said. “That would be good.”

In four summer games, Wiggins averaged 15.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg. He didn’t shoot well, just 17-for-42 from the floor, but his long, lanky frame was nearly impossible to keep out of the lane. He got to the free throw line 37 times, including shooting 20 in his 21-point effort Thursday night.

“I was looking at Wig’s performances, the guy was in double figures every game, he rebounded, he defended, he went to the foul line, he played with intensity at both ends of the court,” first-year Cavs coach David Blatt said. “I thought for a rookie, for a guy with a lot on his shoulders as the first pick in the draft, for a 19-year-old, I thought he played extremely well. We’re real happy with what he did.”

Wiggins, unsure of whether he’s coming or going, should be pleased with his performances both on the floor and off during an unusual, to say the least, welcome to the league.

“I played my heart out since I’ve been here,” Wiggins said. “I showed people how quickly my skill set has developed and transitioned to the NBA. How the NBA operates, just like more one-on-one stuff, creating space, I think that’s what I really feel I can do.”

Now he waits to find out where he’ll be doing it.

Stay tuned.

Exum adjusting to level of competition


VIDEO: Dante Exum shows off the speed for the steal and throwdown

LAS VEGAS – Summer league was just a stopover. World tours are like that.

Home in Australia for the final season of the equivalent of high school play, ending with a national championship in December. Los Angeles in February for months of workouts to prepare for the NBA. New York in June for the Draft and being picked fifth by the Jazz. Vegas in July for Summer League. Australia on Tuesday for the start of training camp for the national team in advance of the World Cup. Spain in late August for the re-named world championships, as part of a team that could include Cameron Bairstow of the Bulls, Aron Baynes of the Spurs, Matthew Dellavedova of the Cavaliers and the country’s next basketball prodigy, Ben Simmons. Salt Lake City again, finally, in mid-September.

Dante Exum is attempting the biggest competition jump of anybody in the rookie class and he can’t even get his feet set for takeoff. Before Summer League, he mostly went against high school teams. Australian high school teams. There was the star turn at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., in April 2013 against a United States squad that included Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle, but that was one game. There was another boost to his draft stock later that summer in the under-19 world championships in Prague, but, again, briefly.

Unlike the majority of every draft class that steels itself with years of AAU circuits and college play or leagues in Europe with older professionals, Exum not only has to make the transition at age 19 but with very little in his basketball background to prepare for the NBA. He has never been seriously challenged for weeks at a time, let the months waiting for him with the Jazz schedule as a rookie.

“The last games I played was high school games and I’m one of the bigger guys out there that can push guys around,” he said. “Here, I get into the paint and I’m getting knocked over.”

Literally and figuratively. Exum faced NBA competition for the first time and shot 30.8 percent in five games, ending with Friday’s victory over the Trail Blazers at Thomas & Mack Center, while averaging 7.2 points and piling up more turnovers (15) than assists (14). He had good moments, but nothing close to a good game, with making four of 10 shots and three assists against one turnover in the opener against Philadelphia probably holding up as the best.

“It’s been a big couple weeks for him,” said Brad Jones, the Jazz assistant coach who ran the team in the Summer-League games. “He’s got a lot going on. He’s had some ups and downs through this, but it’s also why we play Summer League, for him to go through the ups and downs. The little challenge, we talked to him at halftime about, we wanted to see him finish on a strong note. I thought he tried to play through and luckily made a great play and hit that little floater to kind of seal that game for us.

“Now he can go back and regroup a little bit. I know he’s going to his national team, but hopefully now he has a level of understanding of what he has to do every day to be successful. There were some times he showed some brilliant, brilliant things this last week. Then again, there’s been some times where he’s been kicked in the rear end a little bit. Hopefully he’ll take this, process it and come back in the fall ready to go and to help because we think he’s got a bright future.”

Exum considers himself a point guard, leaving new coach Quin Snyder with the decision early in his tenure of whether Exum and incumbent Trey Burke play together or have a position battle that is tracked on two continents. And there is the matter of how fresh Exum will be for training camp after the busy summer and a pretty quick turnaround from the end of the World Cup to the start of training camp, though Exum said he has been promised schedule breaks by the Australian national team. Almost everything, in other words, remains to be determined.

The five games in Las Vegas were a glimpse, for the Jazz trying to get him into the system and just as much for Exum facing major competition on a regular basis for the first time. That’s the perspective right there: Summer League counts as major competition. That’s how big of a canyon jump Exum is attempting.

Mirotic’s transition an era apart from new Bulls teammate Gasol’s


VIDEO: Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic officially joined the Bulls Friday

CHICAGO – It’s possible Tom Thibodeau, in the heat of a tight Chicago Bulls game next season, will pull a cheat sheet out of his suit pocket. Or maybe he’ll go with one of those fold-out wrist bands NFL quarterbacks use to tote their crib notes.

¡Hielo!

¡Haz tu trabajo!

¡No dejar de lado la cuerda!

It might lend a continental flair to what, after four seasons, has become a familiar soundtrack near the Chicago bench. Opting for the Spanish translations of Thibodeau’s greatest courtside hits – Ice! Do your job! Don’t let go of the rope! – would seem appropriate with the team’s acquisitions for 2014-15 of veteran NBA forward Pau Gasol and Euro prospect Nikola Mirotic.

Gasol, 34, signed with Chicago as a free agent after 13 NBA seasons, the past six-plus with the Los Angeles Lakers. Mirotic, 23, is a Spanish-Montenegrin described by Bulls GM Gar Forman, off his performance for Real Madrid in recent seasons, as “the best young prospect not playing in the NBA.”

Thibodeau should be fine, of course, what with Gasol’s mastery of English – he’s better than a lot of the league’s domestic membership, frankly – and Mirotic’s improving bilingual game. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound “spacing 4″ had an interpreter at his side for the news conference at United Center Friday, but Thibodeau said when they went to dinner Thursday, Mirotic did just fine on his own.

Besides, the Bulls head coach’s volume and occasional NSFW word choices combine in their own universal language of sorts. And this isn’t Thibodeau’s first Berlitz course.

“I went through this once before, in Houston with Yao Ming,” said Thibodeau, a member of Jeff Van Gundy‘s staff when they took over in 2003-04, the second NBA season for the 7-foot-6 center from China. “Yao seemed to understand when it was praise, and he had a hard time when it was criticism [laughs].

“I think it will be fine. Nikola is ready for this. I think he’s going to be a good fit for our team. We’re gonna start the process of getting him up to speed right away.”

The coincidence of the two foreign-born players being signed and introduced on the same day served as a reminder of how far the NBA and the global game have come in the span of a single player’s career.

When Gasol arrived as the No. 3 pick overall in the 2001 Draft, the practice of importing international talent was underway but still to the left on most teams’ learning curve on both sides of the various ponds. The 7-footer from Barcelona was the best of five foreign-born players taken in the first round who hadn’t played at a U.S. college. Five such prospects also were picked in 2000.

But only two went in the first round in 1999, four (including Dirk Nowitzki) in 1998, one in 1997 and four in 1996. And from 1991 through 1995, there were none.

Gasol was the first player from Spain to test the NBA since Fernando Martin, a 6-foot-9 Madrid native who played 24 games for Portland in the 1986-87 season. He had been drafted 38th overall by New Jersey in 1985.

Of course, when Gasol was a boy, only one NBA game per week was available on television in Spain. By the time he was drafted, fans had their choice of five TV games weekly. Now NBA Spain has its own Twitter account @NBA_Spain.

“The infrastructure is a lot better now in Europe and the rest of the world,” Tony Ronzone said by phone Friday during a break in Las Vegas Summer League action. “And the world’s becoming smaller with the Internet and the video. You can see now how many games are televised all around the world.”

Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, is one of the league’s most experienced evaluators of international talent. He is director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, worked for Minnesota and Detroit in similar capacities and served as head coach of teams in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He also is director of international player personnel for the USA Basketball men’s team.

He has seen the growth and comfort level in both directions – international players and coaches becoming more NBA savvy, the league embracing more players and concepts from overseas – throughout his career.

Consider: In Gasol’s rookie season, 2001-02, there were 52 international players from 31 different countries on NBA rosters. By Opening Night 2013-14, the number had grown to a record 92 players from 39 countries.

“What’s happening now is, our game has grown and with the NBA as the best league in the world, these players internationally are able to watch athletes on the floor and mimic their moves,” Ronzone said.

“There’s a lot more player-development going on to create more foot speed. Because the biggest adjustment the Europeans have coming over to America is, defensively they’d be behind and their foot speed, they’d be behind. What they’re learning to do is, with less foot speed, they’re understanding angles and they’re doing a better job of watching these athletes and getting scouting reports on how to play them.”

There have been milestones along the way in this shrinking of basketball’s globe. International competition has been huge, and not just at the highest level of the Olympics and the World Championship tournaments. The Nike Hoop Summit, featuring many of the best players in the world age 19 or younger, has been held for 17 years. Nineteen alumni of the World team were active in the NBA last season, including Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, Andrea Bargnani, Patty Mills and Tristan Thompson.

Exposure to the game got a major bump in 1996, when Toni Kukoc of Croatia played a vital role on Michael Jordan‘s second three-peat of NBA championships with the Bulls. Nowitzki’s success in Dallas opened a lot of eyes to international talent pools, and the NBA’s outreach overseas with exhibitions and development programs furthered the cross-pollination.

“You can see over the years how many more teams have gone overseas and played Real Madrid or have played Barcelona,” Ronzone said. “Teams have gone to China, to Brazil. These teams are going over and you have players there saying, ‘Shoot, I feel I’m as good as them.’ So now the work ethic and the desire go up, and the fear factor’s gone. They’re able to adjust and make it happen.”

All of which suggests Mirotic should have an easier time acclimating in Chicago this season than Gasol did in Memphis. The older player talked about, and compared a little, their transitions 13 years apart.

“It’s going to be an adjustment year for him. I think he’s going to be homesick for a while,” Gasol said. “But coming into such an exciting situation, an exciting team, is going to make a big difference for him. And I think the city of Chicago is going to help as well, because there’s a big Serbian community as well.

“My situation, 13 years ago, it was a little different. I was lucky that my family was able to join me and make that transition much easier.”

Gasol’s parents Agusti and Maria brought Pau’s chubby, 16-year-old brother Marc along to Memphis. You may have heard of him. Gasol was a runaway winner of the 2001 Rookie of the Year Award and has gone on to average 18.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists while winning two NBA titles and four All-Star selections.

Ronzone said the hardest adjustments for international players are foot speed, game speed, terminology and learning the referees. But Mirotic has a plush resume that should aid in his move to the NBA. The No. 23 pick in 2011 by Houston – traded first to Minnesota and then to the Bulls – averaged 12.4 points and shot 46.1 percent from the international 3-point line for Real Madrid CF of the Liga ACB. He won the Euroleague’s Rising Star Award in 2011 and 2012, presented to the league’s best player under 22, and he was an all-Euroleague second team selection and Spanish Cup Final MVP in 2014.

Said Thibodeau: “I think it’s great having Pau here for [Mirotic's adjustment]. But there are a lot of international players in our league and they have done quite well, so I don’t think it will be a hard transition for him. There are some things he’s going to have to get used to – it’s a new culture, the NBA’s different – but he’s been preparing for this for, really, three years now. Once he gets here, it’ll move along well.”

Thibodeau said Mirotic should be OK learning the Bulls’ five-man defensive strategies because he has “good body-position defense already.” Ronzone thinks the continued blending of styles, NBA and international, will work in his favor, too.

“The American game has become more European – we were just watching San Antonio play in The Finals with more passing, more cutting, moving without the ball,” Ronzone said. “And the European game actually has become a little more American at times in how some guys are dominating the ball.

“So it’s actually helping both worlds out.”

Mavs double-down: Sign a forward and fall for 5-foot-7 Japanese PG Togashi

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The diminutive Yuki Tagashi has become a fan favorite with the Mavs in Summer League

LAS VEGAS —  The Dallas Mavericks may have double-downed in Summer League, potentially finding a depth forward for the big club and possibly an international sensation to play point guard for their nearby D-League team.

It’s rare for any team out here to offer an off-the-street free agent a contract, but the Mavs signed athletic, 6-foot-8 forward Eric Griffin on Friday just hours before the Dallas squad played its final game. Griffin closed out his strong summer with 20 points, three rebounds and three blocks in the 88-62 win over the Suns.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s a blessing at the same time,” Griffin said of signing the contract. “I’m just real happy to be part of a team that wants me.”

Griffin, cut from the Miami Heat last year after they signed Michael Beasley, played two seasons at San Jose State and finished his collegiate career with two years at Campbell in North Carolina. He played in Italy and then Venezuela last season. The contract doesn’t mean Griffin’s made it to the big leagues just yet, but it does reserve him a spot at training camp where he can fight for a spot on the 15-man roster.

Mavs assistant coach Kaleb Canales, who coached the summer team to a 3-3 record, texted Griffin the news Friday morning.

“It brought a big smile to my face,” Griffin said. “But more than anything, my mom was happy. She knows where I came from and how I started. It’s a big day for me.”

The other half of this dreams-can-come-true Mavs summer is 5-foot-7 Japanese point guard Yuki Togashi. The 20-year-old’s combo of stature, speed, instincts and fearlessness instantly made him a fan favorite over the past week, although not quite to the level of another Mavs Summer League point guard sensation a few years ago, a guy named Jeremy Lin.

Of course Togashi’s size, quick-twitch style and terrific ability to run the pick-and-roll is more similar to yet another great Dallas Summer League find, the diminutive J.J. Barea. Now with Minnesota, the 5-foot-9 Barea developed into a steady, change-of-pace backup point guard for the Mavs and even started in the 2011 NBA Finals.

Togashi’s dream is to play in the NBA and said Friday that he will follow that dream and enter the D-League draft in the fall. His other option is to return to Japan’s pro league and take home a much bigger paycheck.

“I played professionally for a year-and-a-half in Japan. I think I did a good job in Japan,” said Togashi, who took the BJ-league by storm last season and led it in assists. “To improve my skills I think I have to go overseas and play in the D-League.”

The D-League draft has 10 rounds. The early rounds are dominated by players on the edge of being good enough to make an NBA roster. Togashi is projected as a late-round pick so it’s quite possible the Mavs’ D-League team, the Texas Legends, co-owned by Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, will be able to select him.

Togashi idolized Allen Iverson as a kid and says he now watches a lot of Chris Paul. Interestingly, Togashi came to the United States for high school and attended Montrose Christian in Maryland, where a number of NBA players went, including Kevin Durant. When no Division I scholarships came, Togashi took his talents back home and began his professional career.

His agent steered him to Charlie Parker, a longtime assistant coach with the Mavs, who now works for the Legends. Parker has been training Togashi in Dallas for the last six weeks. Parker called his friends with the Mavs and told them they should consider putting the point guard on their summer team.

Obviously a part of his instant popularity here was initially due to his against-all-odds size. When he takes the court, he looks like one of the smaller kids on a youth team at the YMCA swimming in his oversized uniform. Then he gets the ball in his hands and the oohs and ahhs suggest he’s much more than a sideshow attraction.

“It is tough,” Togashi said of his height and 143-pound frame. “But I use my speed to be able to make plays.”

Togashi will return to Japan on Saturday morning and join the national team for practices in preparation for a tournament in Taiwan. If all works out, U.S. basketball fans will get their next look at the little man in the D-League.

Griffin’s pursuit of his NBA dream begins now. The high-flyer averaged 11.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg in Vegas. A Mavs scout described Griffin as raw offensively and depending on his athleticism. But he runs the floor with energy, finishes above the rim and Dallas coaches believe he can develop a perimeter jumper essential to making it as player who can switch between the two forward positions.

“His activity on both ends just makes things happen,” Canales said.

Griffin heads home with a list of improvements to work on — starting with “my dribbling and keep shooting” — before heading to Dallas in a few months as training camp approaches.

“It’s definitely not over,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to prove myself now to the team and organization.”


VIDEO: Eric Griffin executes perhaps the dunk of the summer

Top 7 free agents still on the block


VIDEO: Suns GM Ryan McDonough talks about the roster

It’s been just over a week since LeBron James decided to make his celebrated return to Cleveland and that’s when the rest of the dominoes began to fall.

But as the 2014 free agency period moves toward its third week, there are still some valuable pieces to the puzzle that haven’t yet signed for the upcoming season. Here’s a quick look at seven of the most interesting candidates that are still available:

Eric Bledsoe (restricted) – After saying all along that they would match any offer, there is suspicion in some quarters that the Suns might not be willing to go to the limit to keep the 6-foot-2 guard. ESPN has reported that Bledsoe is seeking a max deal of five years, $80 million. But with Kyle Lowry, the other top-level point guard of the crop, already re-signing in Toronto for four years, $48 million, there really is no reason for the Suns to bid against the top of the market until Bledsoe can bring in a higher offer. The candidates to step in are dwindling.

Greg Monroe (restricted) — New Pistons coach and boss Stan Van Gundy went out of the his way at the Orlando summer league to declare he wants to keep the big man in Detroit. First, there is likely the matter of finding a new home for Josh Smith to reassure Monroe that he won’t have to re-live the bad fit of last season’s experience. Monroe has defensive issues that will require him to improve if he’s going to live up to whatever contract he signs. But at 24, optimism abounds.

Evan Turner (unrestricted) — Things certainly didn’t work out for Turner after the mid-season trade that turned him from a mainstay in Philly to a spectator on the bench at Indiana through the playoffs. It never was a good fit in a Pacers lineup that already had Lance Stephenson. But now that Stephenson has flown to Charlotte and with the offensively anemic lineup even more desperate for points, wouldn’t it actually make more sense for him to play in Indiana now? The former No. 2 overall pick in the draft still has much to prove, but he’s young enough to get another chance.

Ray Allen (unrestricted) — Maybe the sweetest shooter who has ever laced up a pair of sneakers in the NBA, the question is only whether the 39-year-old wants to put them on again for a 20th season. It makes no sense for him to go to any team that isn’t in the running for a championship run, where he’s still that perfect designated shooter off the bench. That’s exactly why buddies LeBron James and Mike Miller are twisting his arm and trying to get him to Cleveland.

Jameer Nelson (unrestricted) — He averaged 12.1 points and 7 assists for an Orlando team that was committed to a youth movement last season. After 10 seasons in the league, Nelson is no longer a player to run a team on a full-time basis. But as a decent shooter and playmaker and someone with good leadership skills, he could be a nice fit on team that needs someone to provide solid backup minutes.

Ramon Sessions (unrestricted) – The scoring point guard is just 28 years old and has played on four different teams in the last three seasons alone, so he’s never been in any one spot long enough to put down roots or make a lasting impression. Career numbers (11.7 points, 4.7 assists) say he’s capable of getting the job done as a reserve.

Andray Blatche (unrestricted) — He’s the classic example of the player who benefits from the old adage: You can’t teach height. If Blatche weren’t 6-11 with what seem to be a bundle of physical gifts, he’d have been banished to an outpost in the D-League or overseas by now. Has had his share of off the court problems and is not a particularly good teammate. But as long as he doesn’t shrink like a cheap jersey in the wash, somebody will bring him in a third big man and see if they can tap into that talent.

Morning shootaround — July 18


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love willing to waive option | Report: Bledsoe turns down Suns’ $48M offer | Cavs trying to recruit Ray Allen? | Report: J-Smoove on block … for right price

No. 1: Report: Love willing to opt in if traded to Warriors — As was reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski (and also reported by ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard), Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James has reached out Minnesota Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love to let Love know he’d like him to join the Cavs. Doing so would likely require the Cavs parting with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, as Broussard, Wojnarowski and Bob Finnan of The News Herald & The Morning Journal all point out. Another team believed to be in the Love mix, the Golden State Warriors, may still have a shot at him, too. According to Yannis Koutroupis of BasketballInsiders.com, Love is willing to opt into his deal for 2015-16 if he’s dealt to Golden State:

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors are increasing their efforts to land Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love.

Love has recently been linked to trade talks with the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James has even reached out and voiced his desire to play with him according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The Cavaliers are willing to let go of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft Andrew Wiggins, but the Warriors are now willing to let go of Klay Thompson as well.

The Warriors have been trying to acquire Love without letting go of Thompson, but have come off of that stance because Love is willing to exercise his option for the 2015-16 season and put off becoming a free agent next summer according to a source.

David Lee and Harrison Barnes are expected to be a part of the deal as well. No trade is imminent, but the Warriors are willing to do whatever it takes to land Love now – even if that means letting go of a franchise favorite in Thompson.

This news, though, contradicts the reports of Wojnarowski and Broussard to an extent. Both reporters say Love would like to play alongside James and would even consider a long-term deal with Cleveland if such a trade were to materialize. In short, these trade talks remain as unclear as ever.


VIDEO:
The Starters talk the Warriors being in the Kevin Love trade rumors
 

Wiggins’ strange summer is no Love-in

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins scores 21 points in Cavs’ Summer League loss Thursday

LAS VEGAS – The best advice for Andrew Wiggins at this point is to rent. Don’t buy.

If the recently re-crowned King of Cleveland is calling Kevin Love, as Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday, then it can’t be too long before the Wiggins-for-Love swap goes down. LeBron James gets what LeBron James wants.

And poor Wiggins thought getting used to hoops life in Lawrence, Kan. was a rough transition.

But man, all this so fast has to be a bit crushing for the 19-year-old No. 1 pick. First the best player on the planet completely omits him in his epic “I’m Coming Home” essay in Sports Illustrated and is now dissing the kid with the hope of discarding him by personally reaching out to Minnesota’s discontented double-double machine.

This has to be one of the strangest Summer League experiences in the history of top draft choices. Last Friday, as Wiggins is preparing for his hyped pro debut in Las Vegas against Milwaukee and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker in front of an overflow crowd, he finds out with the rest of the world that James is returning to Cleveland. Wow, cool. Then the rest of the world reads along with Wiggins about how excited James is to play with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and his favorite crazy-haired Brazilian Anderson Varejao. No mention of Wiggins. Whoa, not so cool. (Interestingly, James also didn’t list 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett as a member of his mentorship club either. Bennett would likely be included in a trade).

In the days between then and now, new coach David Blatt has told reporters Wiggins isn’t going anywhere while whispers come and go and come again that he is-he isn’t-he is available, and now LeBron’s talking to Kevin. To his credit, Wiggins, the one-and-done star out of Kansas via Canada, has handled it like a pro.

That the 6-foot-8 wing and projected phenom played against Houston on Thursday revealed that a trade is not imminent, not yet. The Rockets’ defenders had zero clue how to keep Wiggins from using his super-stretchy arms and legs to get from the top of the arc to the basket in only a few long strides with a ball fake or two mixed in.

Wiggins officially only attempted five shots, and made three, but secured 15 of his 21 points on 20 trips to the free throw line. He added five rebounds and another blocked shot, this one of the chase-down variety in the fourth quarter (he’s second in the Summer League in blocks per game and first among non-centers).

“You know what you got to like about a kid like that is it doesn’t make a difference if it’s the fourth game of Summer League and the fourth game in seven days or eight days, or if people are keying on him, or if the crowd has funny things to say to him,” Blatt said. “He just goes out there and really plays and has a nice calm about him and a real good demeanor. Andrew’s going to be a high-level player and it’s good to see it.”

The 6-foot-10 Love is a high-level player, a three-time All-Star, and he, James and Irving would make quite the offensive triple-threat. And that’s the crux of it all: Go for the gold right now with Love or patiently wait — hope — for the kid to get great. We know what LeBron wants.

With the rumors swirling, the Cavaliers aren’t exactly thrilled to have their new coach and top pick inundated by trade questions during what should be breezy Summer League postgame interview sessions.

After Thursday’s game, Cavs officials quickly whisked Wiggins off to an ESPN photo shoot and then immediately to a sit-down autograph session for trading card behemoth Panini in the concourse of the Thomas & Mack Center. Fans stood in a line that snaked around the corner and out of site.

From there, Wiggins was in the custody of his agent and was not made available to wax about his 15 free throws and 21 points or to talk ice fishing.

The second question posed to Blatt asked if the persistent trade rumors are a distraction for Wiggins. After all, a No. 1 pick is typically immune to the business side of sport for at least a couple years, not a couple minutes. If a top pick is traded it almost always occurs on Draft night, a deal having been worked out in advance. A Cleveland official monitoring the outwardly personable Blatt’s interview session quickly stepped in to deflect the question, but Blatt, just as quickly, said he could answer it.

“I can answer that just because rumors are rumors, that’s why they call them rumors,” Blatt said. “And sooner or later in one’s career, you’re going to have to deal with it. So if you have to deal with now, so be it. It’s Summer League, he’s learning everything as he goes along.”

Not exactly a comment to inspire confidence on a down payment. If the Cavaliers decide to move Wiggins in a deal for Love, the Timberwolves will jump for joy and jump on it fast, before Cleveland has time to rethink it. But watching Wiggins in Summer League should have the Cavs proceeding with caution. His size and ability are apparent to the most casual observer. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, but he’s showing he can use his length and quickness to be a very good two-way player, and soon.

And wouldn’t James love a young set of legs to chase the other team’s best player on a nightly basis? Wiggins could become James’ pre-knee problems Dwyane Wade, a slashing, offensive force and a defensive partner capable of hyper-trapping the perimeter and busting it the other way.

LeBron, fast approaching 30 and now taking his contract year-by-year — apparently to maximize his annual take as the salary cap is estimated to increase each year, and not as an escape — clearly doesn’t feel he’s got time to wait.

The ball’s in Cleveland’s court, and that’s got to be a tough thing for the No. 1 pick who has come to find out he isn’t fit for a King — at least not at this juncture of his reign.

“No, no, I don’t talk to him about any of that stuff because, for me, it doesn’t mean anything,” Blatt said. “At least not right now.”

Injury costs Len another Summer League


VIDEO: Alex Len made an impression in limited action at the 2014 Summer League

LAS VEGAS – He thought the right pinky was jammed or, at worst, dislocated. No big deal. Alex Len simply grabbed it with his left hand, popped the finger back in place and kept playing.

When they took X-rays on site at UNLV to make sure, though, the Suns found Len had actually fractured the finger. One game, and then no more Summer League. No more Summer League for the second year in a row, actually.

Big deal.

It’s only July, leaving enough time to be ready for the start of camp, and it’s only a pinky, when anything is better than another ankle problem, but the No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft losing important teaching moments in back-to-back summers is still a blow to his development.

“It was disappointing,” Len said. “I was excited about summer league, to get some playing time, get back playing. To get injured in the first game, it’s not the best news.”

He was hurt when the finger got tangled in a Warriors’ jersey as Len was reaching for the ball in the third quarter Saturday night at Cox Pavilion. Len had played all of 25 minutes.

“This summer league was big for him,” said Mike Longabardi, the Suns assistant running the team here. “We wanted to get him those reps. The only good thing is this was like a freak injury. He should be fine. He’s worked really hard. I think he’ll be OK.”

A year ago, surgery on both ankles cost Len the chance to work out for teams before the draft, then Summer League, and then kept him to limited activities in training camp and slowed the start of his regular season. Len eventually made 42 appearances at just 8.6 minutes per as starting center Miles Plumlee capitalized on the trade from Indiana to Phoenix and the chance to play a lot, turning in a very encouraging 2013-14 of 8.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 51.7 percent from the field.

“I look at it as a positive,” Len said of the latest injury setback. “I’ll be able to work on my lower play — on my base, work on my legs — and still I can improve my left hand. I’ve just got to take advantage of that.”

Lakers ‘win’ Boozer via amnesty auction

The often criticized and productive Carlos Boozer gets a new start in L.A.

The often criticized and durable Carlos Boozer joins a glut of power forwards in L.A.

CHICAGO – It is a measure of Carlos Boozer‘s reputation 12 years into his NBA career that, with his acquisition by the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday, both the Lakers-are-tanking and the Lakers-aren’t-tanking crowds felt like winners.

Such is the polarizing game and persona of Boozer, a former All-Star power forward and the Chicago Bulls’ expensive discard.

On the floor, Boozer’s production last season (17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists per 36 minutes) dropped off modestly from his career numbers (18.8, 11.0, 2.6 per 36). His decline was most noticeable in shooting – he’s a career .523 shooter who fell to .456 in 2013-14 – and in a player-efficiency rating (14.4) that was the worst of his career. His minutes were down as well (from 32.2 as recently as 2012-13 to 28.2) largely due to his defense; Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau preferred to have Boozer sitting on the bench near him in many fourth quarters last season.

Still, Boozer was a decent offensive option with his high-arcing jump shots and slick work from both sides of the rim. And he was durable, no small asset on a Chicago team beset again with injuries.

But the folks at United Center didn’t much care about the fine points. They held Boozer accountable for who he wasn’t and what he got paid in spite of that. He came to Chicago in the summer of 2010, when the Bulls cleared cap space for stars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson, only to settle for and spend on Boozer.

His impact never was quite good enough (despite four trips to the playoffs), given his contract (five years, $75 million).

Also, his boisterous ways and his Teflon demeanor – Boozer seemed too much the prototype professional athlete to many, a clock-puncher unfazed by losses or setbacks – chafed in a sports town that can smell paper tigers. Let’s just say that talk about amnestying Boozer began as soon as the clause was put into the collective bargaining agreement in November 2011 – before Boozer’s second Bulls season.

This was typical of the fan perception of Boozer, expressed by a Chicago sports talk-show host on The Score 670AM:

So a good-riddance vibe carried the day in Chicago when Boozer was cut free this week, the Bulls on the hook to pay his $16.8 million salary for this season but freeing up the cap space to sign Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic. That had fans in Lakerland wondering what they had just landed.

Teams with cap space could bid on Boozer, and the Lakers won his amnesty-waivers right with a bid reported to be $3.25 million. That offsets what the Bulls owe him. But it doesn’t do anything about the logjam at power forward, with the 27-55 Lakers drafting Julius Randle, re-signing Jordan Hill and acquiring Ed Davis.

It smacks of window dressing for a team that got snubbed by Carmelo Anthony and had little else to show for free agency’s big names this offseason. In that way, even if it required the amnesty process to deliver him, it felt a little like 2010 again.

Except of course Boozer is four years older and the Lakers can’t legitimately target the conference finals the way Chicago did in his first season there.

One way for Lakers fans to look at it is that they traded Gasol for Boozer, and the Bulls have to pay most of the combined salaries. That might not make them feel any better, either.