Bulls’ Butler a high-volatility stock


VIDEO: Butler plays preseason hero against Hawks

Asterisks abounded Thursday night, when Jimmy Butler went vintage-Derrick Rose – or one-off-Michael Jordan – down the stretch against the Atlanta Hawks.

* Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau had starters, including Butler, on the floor late in the Bulls’ mostly dismal performance.

* His Atlanta counterpart, Mike Budenholzer, was rolling with third-string Hawks.

* Rose, the Bulls player who would normally be called upon at such a point, was on the bench (prompting some predictable hand-wringing from critics who aren’t happy when the point guard plays a lot or when he plays a little).

* It still was the preseason.

* And Butler is in the midst of a salary drive, his performances this month potentially out of character, with the real impact of deal-or-no-deal in his contract extension talks to be determined later.

Still, the Bulls shooting guard did score 29 points – one more than his career high in three NBA seasons – in his team’s scramble back from 21 points to win. Butler got 20 of those in the final 5:11, an explosive stretch that might have been aided by the various asterisks but explosive nonetheless.

He did it, too, in ways that made the worriers feel a little better about Butler’s offense – no one questions his defensive effort or effectiveness – at a position where Chicago needs more oomph. Butler, who shot 39.7 percent from the floor (28.3 percent on 3-pointers), dramatically beat the buzzer from 26 feet in good form. He wound up shooting 8-for-14 and 12-for-16 from the line (9-for-11 in the fourth), and got some big love from teammates.

“We always tell him to take more [shots], but it’s going to be up to him to break that seal,” Rose said. “Thank God that he’s catching his rhythm right now and he’s building his confidence. He’s another threat offensively.”

Not last year, he wasn’t. But Thibodeau played Butler long minutes anyway, for his defense, out of need and in spite of distractions coming at the wing player from Marquette. Butler battled injuries early, played only eight games with Rose before the point guard went down again, then had his role tweaked after the Bulls traded veteran small forward Luol Deng in January.

“Jimmy has grown,” Thibodeau said Thursday night. “He’s more a scorer than to characterize him as a straight shooter. He’s an all-around scorer. He’ll find ways to put the ball in the basket.”

Butler, though you’d wonder where it came from, is said to have arrived at camp 10 pounds lighter. He looks more athletic and clearly has been more aggressive, leading Chicago after five October games with 18.6 points, 60.4 field-goal shooting, 43 free throw attempts and 144 total minutes.

“All summer I worked on my game. The biggest thing is confidence, taking shots I know I can make,” he said.

So, salary drive? Butler has two weeks left to land, per NBA rookie-scale rules, the contract extension available to players heading into their fourth seasons. Two years ago, Bulls forward Taj Gibson felt preseason pressure while his talks played out, and though he got his deal (four years, $33 million), the episode seemed to bleed into a subpar season. Butler has some folks wondering if he might go the other way if he gets paid – throttling back – or be adversely affected if he doesn’t get the extension done.

He said Thursday it hasn’t been a distraction. “Nope. Not at all,” Butler said. “I just try to play the game the right way. The whole contract situation is up to my agent (Happy Walters) and the Bulls organization. I just want to win games. Then the contract will take care of itself, whenever.”

And however much. The market for Butler figures to be as hot as it is fluid. Chicago reportedly would like to sign him now for what’s becoming called “Taj money,” close to Gibson’s 2012 extension. Butler might be anchored more by the three-year, $30 million, take-it-or-leave-it offer the Bulls put in front of Deng before trading him.

Then there’s the unpredictable marketplace of free agency, even with restrictions, should Butler get that far. Gordon Hayward landed his four-year, $63 million max deal that way – offer sheet from Charlotte, matched by Utah – and Chandler Parsons scored a three-year, $46 million contract with Dallas. And if Butler, who will make $2 million this season, were to play this out twice on a year-by-year basis, he would hit the unrestricted marked in 2016 as the new bonanza of TV rights cash officially kicks in.

Bulls VP of basketball John Paxson and GM Gar Forman, who will already have $50 million committed to four players next season (Rose, Gibson, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol), won’t have Thibodeau at the bargaining table, that’s for sure. The coach who has leaned hard on Butler for two years will look to him even more.

Chicago added shooters over the summer but after Rose, Butler is the best choice to put real pressure on opponents, getting to the rim, getting to the line, throwing himself around to wreak havoc and create energy on nights when there’s none, like Thursday. With Deng’s departure, he is the defender who will draw the toughest assignments, the only one Thibodeau trusts to check other guys’ most potent scorers.

Butler was drafted last in the first round in 2011 and still sounds like an absolute underdog. “I’m from Tomball, [Texas],” he said earlier this week. “I’m not even supposed to be in the NBA, let alone be a star player. I just want to be wanted. I just want to play hard. I just want to help [us] win. End of story. Star player, role player, bench player, whatever it takes. Just let me win.”

Oh, Butler definitely is going to win, either with the Bulls or someone else. In this case, the victory will be noted not by a ‘W’ or an * but by a bunch of $’s.

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon joined Michael Jordan as the only two players in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

Morning shootaround — Oct. 17


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sarver sorry fans saw depleted Spurs | Five questions loom for OKC now | LeBron wasn’t a great recruiter early on in Cleveland | Report: Wolves shopping Budinger

No. 1: Suns owner sorry fans saw depleted version of Spurs — It’s not all that unusual for NBA teams to rest a few of their superstar, veteran players in the preseason so as to perhaps work in  younger guys, or, simply, just give their best guys a night off. At around 1 p.m. yesterday, the San Antonio Spurs tweeted that Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter would miss Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to injury and that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich would also not travel with the team for the game. That left Tony Parker as the only household name to suit up last night and with 2:31 left in the game, Suns owner Robert Sarver addressed fans and apologized for San Antonio’s star-less lineup. Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic has more:

During a time out with 2:31 to go in the Suns’ 121-90 victory at US Airways Center, Sarver came to scorer’s table to get on the public address system.

“Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight,” Sarver said. “This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I’ve got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you.”

The game’s official attendance was 13,552, although many of those paid tickets were unused. After the game, Sarver said the fans who mail in a ticket stub or proof of attendance would receive a gift certificate for tickets, merchandise or food. The amount had not been determined.

“I just felt that the fans paid good money for the game and they didn’t see the players that they anticipated seeing,” Sarver said. “It was just a gesture to let them know that we appreciate their support and want to do something to compensate for that.”

Sarver said the organization had heard from fans who were displeased that they would not see all of the available Spurs.

“But that wasn’t really the reason I did it,” Sarver said. “I just think it was the right thing to do.”

Sarver said he did not believe that any league fine or reprimand was in order for the Spurs not bringing all of their healthy players to the game, the Spurs’ first preseason game since returning from a trip to Germany and Turkey last week.

“It’s their decision and it’s my decision to decide what to do for our fans,” Sarver said. “I’m fine with it.”

Some fans thanked Sarver as he returned to his seat and excited the arena’s lower bowl to head to the locker room.

“People acknowledged it and feel good about it,” Sarver said. “They know you’re thinking about them and you realize that they spent a lot of money to buy these tickets.”

It was not the first time that Sarver had a reaction to the Spurs holding out Duncan and Ginobili. In 2005, he flapped his arms like chicken wings at the Spurs bench when San Antonio chose to hold out their two stars from a regular-season game. He again drew negative social media reaction Thursday night from Spurs fans.

“It’s not really about them (the Spurs),” Sarver said. “They control what they do. We have to control what we do.”

UPDATE, 11:35 a.m.: And here’s what Sarver will be giving those Suns fans who send him their ticket …

And further details on what Sarver is offering is available via Suns.com


VIDEO: Robert Sarver addresses Suns fans during last night’s Phoenix-San Antonio game

 

Another setback for Nets’ Lopez


VIDEO: Kings vs. Nets highlights

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Brook Lopez made it through three preseason games. Specifically, Lopez’s right foot made it through three preseason games.

The Brooklyn Nets announced Thursday night that Lopez suffered a “mild right midfoot sprain” in the first quarter of the Nets’ Global Games win over the Sacramento Kings in Beijing on Wednesday. Nets medical director Dr. Riley Williams III said that Lopez is “likely to be out for approximately 10-14 days,” which puts his status for the Nets’ first game (Oct. 29 in Boston) in doubt.

Lopez apparently played through the injury, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 21:28 on Wednesday. He averaged 18.0 points and 5.7 boards in 23.4 minutes in three preseason games, shooting 13-for-17 in the restricted area.

But the numbers don’t mean anything if Lopez can’t stay healthy. That right foot has had three surgeries on it and has allowed the 7-footer to play just 96 games over the last three seasons. This injury was not a break; Lopez’s x-rays and CT scans were clear. And it’s possible that Brooklyn is being extra cautious given the time of year and Lopez’s history.

But this is clearly a setback for a player trying to reestablish himself as an All-Star and a team trying to stay in the top half of the Eastern Conference. The Nets have some depth up front, but Lopez is a player that few teams can match up with. And he continues to show a fragility that has, unfortunately, plagued many big men in this league.

Instant-replay tweaks, rules changes announced for 2014-15

An average NBA fan can go years, maybe even an entire hoops-viewing career, without witnessing an instance of one team playing with too many men on the court.

But that potential predicament got a lot of attention in the new instant-replay and rules modifications announced Thursday by the NBA. So woe to the team whose sixth man doesn’t wait for someone to sub out before subbing in.

Here is the rundown of changes and tweaks recommended by the NBA’s Competition Committee at its offseason meetings and approved by the Board of Governors. They’ll go into effect beginning with Friday’s preseason games:

Expansion of Instant Replay Rules

  • Officials may utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain a team had an improper number of players on the court while the ball was in play.

Modification of Instant Replay Rules

  • Instant replay triggers that are currently in effect only during the last two minutes of regulation and the entire overtime period(s) instead shall be in effect only during the last two minutes of regulation and the last two minutes of overtime period(s).
  • Officials may now conduct an instant replay review whenever they are not reasonably certain as to which team should be awarded possession after a ball becomes out of bounds or whether an out of bounds in fact occurred during the last two minutes of regulation and the last two minutes of overtime period(s).  Previously, officials could only use replay if they weren’t reasonably certain as to which of two players on opposing teams caused the ball to become out of bounds.
  • Officials are now permitted to utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain whether a foul that was called meets the criteria of a flagrant foul.  Previously, the foul had to be called a flagrant on the floor in order to utilize instant replay.
  • Officials are now permitted to utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain whether a foul that was called meets the criteria of a clear-path-to-the-basket foul.  Previously, the foul had to be called a clear-path foul on the floor in order to utilize instant replay.
  • Officials may now utilize instant replay any time they are not certain when any player (offensive or defensive) without the ball was fouled relative to the timing of a successful shot.  Prior to this change, officials could only review the timing when an offensive player without the ball was fouled.

Rules Changes

  • If a team has too many players on the court while the ball is in play, (i) the offending team would both be assessed a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul and lose possession if it had possession at the time the violation was discovered, and (ii) the non-offending team would continue to have the option of either accepting or nullifying the game action that occurred during the violation.  Previously, if the offending team had possession, it would keep possession of the ball despite the violation.
  • Teams may freely substitute players whenever any timeout is called.  Prior to this change, there were limited circumstances in which a team couldn’t substitute for certain players at timeouts.
  • The shot clock will no longer be reset to five seconds when a held ball is caused by the defense with fewer than five seconds remaining on the clock.

One notable change is that referees no longer will have to label a foul as a Flagrant 1 foul to trigger replay access, at which point they determine if the contact was a Flagrant 1, a Flagrant 2 or merely a common foul. The simple act of labeling the foul in advance, and then “reversing” that decision, often generated needless reactions from players, coaches and crowds.

It’s worth noting, too, that two other areas of potential replay use were not among the changes announced for the 2014-15 season. There still is no provision for a “challenge” system comparable to what the NFL and MLB have for coaches and managers. And out-of-bounds reviews still offer no remedy when an uncalled foul – contact that caused the ball to go out – is seen in the replay.

Five questions for OKC after Durant’s surgery


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks describes how the loss of Durant impacts the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant had surgery on his fractured right foot on Thursday, the team announced. He will be evaluated in six weeks. By then, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 16 games into a most unusual season.

Durant’s injury obviously will have wide-ranging effects, from whom coach Scott Brooks will start at small forward, which could determine who then starts at the vacant shooting guard spot, to which players with previously limited roles are in line for significantly more playing time.

Durant last season averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists and led the Thunder in 3-point shooting percentage. He won the MVP. So there’s plenty of making-up to do.

Here’s five questions the Thunder face with their regular-season opener 13 days away:

1. Who will replace Durant in the starting lineup?

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are the two main candidates. Lamb, the 6-foot-5 wing, is also a candidate to start at shooting guard, although Brooks seems feel most comfortable with the second-year, defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson. Roberson has started all three preseason games, and if he maintains the starting spot — which he manned last season when Russell Westbrook was out and Reggie Jackson took over point guard — that would allow Lamb to start at small forward. Jones is a 6-11 forward and a rare Thunder first-round pick who has yet to earn much beyond spot work in his first two seasons. His shooting range is improving and he’s athletic, but he’d have to prove he can guard NBA wings. The bigger issue with Jones here is he’s not much of an offensive threat, or at least we can’t claim that he is or could be because we just haven’t seen much of him. Without Durant and with Roberson at shooting guard, the Thunder will desperately need scoring threats around Westbrook. That would seem to give the edge to Lamb, an inconsistent shooter to be sure, but a player the Thunder hopes can become a valued slasher and 3-point shooter. His long, lanky frame can also be beneficial on the defensive end.

2. Since OKC needs scoring threats in the starting lineup, what does that mean at center?

Brooks is an extremely loyal coach and he loves to stick with his guys through thick and thin. That is obviously the case with center Kendrick Perkins. For everything you might think Kendrick can’t do — or no longer does well — Brooks will give you two things he loves about him. But Perkins’ starting days should be coming to an end. Even before Durant’s injury, Brooks claimed the starting position was up for grabs. Well, second-year center Steven Adams is grabbing it. He’s been excellent through three preseason games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.7 minutes. Those are numbers Perkins couldn’t touch even during his heyday in Boston. Not that Stevens could sustain such lofty production, but he continues to show he has great hands to catch-and-finish, he’s developed a nice rapport with Westbrook and he’s not afraid of physical play. Perkins has been out since the start of training camp with a quad injury, which makes only more sense for him to come off the bench as he rounds back into shape. Get ready Thunder fans who’ve been clamoring for Perkins to sit, Adams is making it possible for you to get your wish.

3. How will this affect Russell Westbrook?

Twitter is full of smarty-pants suggesting that Durant’s absence is the point guard’s green light to jack up 40 shot a night. Maybe in his dreams, Westbrook sees himself running circles through defenses like stationary pylons, dunking at the rim, slapping his imaginary guns into his imaginary holster after splashing endless 3s and draining his trademark high-rising free-throw jumper at will as teammates stand and golf-clap his virtuosity. Back in reality, Westbrook just might surprise the masses who doubt he can be a team player. But that’s been the goal even before Durant’s injury. The Thunder, like most teams, want to move the ball, get more players involved, be more, well, Spurs-like. At the start of training camp, Westbrook addressed the topic and even said: “There should be something that you see new from us.” Maybe it was just talk, but Westbrook seems sincere when he talks about getting everybody involved. Maybe Tuesday’s preseason win against Memphis, the first game without Durant, was a preview. Westbrook played 26 minutes and scored 14 points with 12 assists. He took just 10 shots and OKC scored 117 points in a 10-point win. If this is the model for how Westbrook will approach the season, the Thunder could well be a better team when Durant returns.

4. What about Reggie Jackson? He says he badly wants to start. What does this do for that cause?

Not much. Brooks has already declared Westbrook as the best point guard in the NBA, so he’s probably not going to then move Westbrook to shooting guard to allow Jackson to start at the point. As for Jackson starting at shooting guard, it makes OKC small in the backcourt and Jackson’s playmaking and scoring punch is too valuable off the bench. But surely Jackson sees the bigger picture. He’s eligible for an extension at the end of the month, which might not happen (and it’s probably beneficial for his value not to sign an extension), and would make him a restricted free agent next summer. Even coming off the bench, Jackson is going to play starters minutes and finish games. Without Durant he instantly becomes a top scoring option, so he could set himself up for a big scoring season, which will only inflate his value next summer. If Jackson decides to mope about not starting over a less accomplished player such as Roberson or Jones, or even Lamb, the Thunder will have trouble. But Jackson has never shown to be that type of player.

5. Is there a wild card on the Thunder roster?

His name is Anthony Morrow. As Brooks mentioned at the start of training camp, the team actually has a player with a higher 3-point percentage than Durant. The Thunder could have used him last season, but better late than never. Morrow has never been able to stick with any one team during his career, but the Thunder offers a unique situation where he really can solely focus on shooting 3s (and mix in a little defense). With Durant out, defenses will focus on Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka, who has become one of the best mid-range, pick-and-pop shooters in the league, and if Morrow can knock down 3s at his career rate of 42.8 percent, he could certainly see more minutes than his career average of 23.7, at least until Durant returns. Through three preseason games, Morrow is averaging 16.7 points and is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. He’s also managed to get to the free-throw line, making all 14 of his attempts. Morrow’s accuracy could be the single most effective weapon in replacing Durant’s scoring.

Kerr finally gets his chance with Curry


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew analyzes the transition of Steve Kerr

OAKLAND – They have joked about it for months now, Steve Kerr and Bob Myers, Kerr and Larry Riley, and Kerr and Stephen Curry, over the phone and in person, through the years and over international borders in an outcome so strange it comes with a laugh track.

A little more than five years later, everyone has unexpectedly met here, Kerr as the new Warriors coach, Myers as the general manager and primary recipient of what didn’t happen, Curry as the All-Star point guard, and with Riley still part of the organization as director of scouting. Roles have changed. Lives have changed.

One thing has remained true, though: Kerr has never been so happy to lose.

He was the Suns general manager in June 2009 and wanted Curry in the draft. Badly. There was phone call after phone call between Kerr and Riley, his Warriors counterpart. There were internal conversations among Phoenix management about the risk of trading 26-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire coming off three consecutive seasons of at least 20 points and eight rebounds — and the risk of keeping Stoudemire with free agency a year away and growing health concerns.

The Warriors were very interested, intrigued by the chance to get the known of a proven power forward over the uncertainty of a scoring point guard from mid-major Davidson. They also really liked Curry and, in fact, doubted he would be on the board when Riley picked seventh. Arizona’s Jordan Hill was the fallback, probably for both sides, for the Suns if a deal had been arranged and for Golden State to keep if no deal was in place.

It got close, but never imminent. The Warriors were not going to trade for Stoudemire unless he at least showed strong likelihood of re-signing as a free agent the next summer, and Riley had yet to so much as ask the Suns for permission to have the conversation. And if Golden State and Stoudemire did talk, the result would have been the same. He was not going to commit to anything at that point other than showing up, playing hard and keeping an open mind about the future, an understandable stance that almost certainly would have ended the talks bouncing between Phoenix and Oakland.

Plus, once Blake Griffin (Clippers), Hasheem Thabeet (Grizzlies), James Harden (Thunder) and Tyreke Evans (Kings) were picked and the Timberwolves followed with the infamous Ricky Rubio-Jonny Flynn double dip of points guards at five and six, Curry was still available at seven. Riley’s stance hardened. No longer was it just weighing acquiring Stoudemire as a possible one-season rental while also sending out Andris Biedrins and big salaries as cap balast, it was believing Curry would be special. Riley would be demoted to director of scouting and replaced by Myers in 2012, but also secure a positive place in Golden State history by not biting on the tantalizing lure of an athletic power forward that put up numbers.

The Warriors took Curry seventh and he turned into a star. The Suns kept Stoudemire one more season and 23.1 points and 8.9 rebounds and played it right to not get into a bidding war with the Knicks in 2010 free agency.

And….

The Warriors ended up hiring Kerr to coach. To coach the entire roster, obviously, but with Curry as the best player and one of the main attractions of choosing Golden State over the option of working for long-time friend and coaching mentor Phil Jackson with the Knicks.

How life could be different if Kerr got his wish in 2009.

“I may not be here,” he said.

It was one of the first things they talked about after Kerr was hired in May, when he was home near San Diego and called Curry on a postseason golf outing in Mexico. Kerr couldn’t bring him to Phoenix, the new coach told his point guard, so Kerr would come to Curry.

“He’s said a couple times, ‘You know, I really wanted him,’ ” said Myers, an agent in 2009. “Obviously any coach that has the opportunity to coach this team, that’s one of the first things mentioned, if not the first, which is, ‘I get an opportunity to coach that guy.’ And not just his talent on the floor, but who he is as a person. It makes perfect sense to me. I’d want to coach him too if I was a coach. We’ve joked around about that.”

Because they can now. Now that Kerr finally has Curry on his side.

Can LeBron’s new ‘mates stay healthy?

cavs

If the Cavaliers hope to win a championship this season, they’ll need both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the floor for the majority of games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Injuries unfortunately are making headlines again this preseason with seemingly a bushel of six-to-eight-week-type setbacks, Kevin Durant‘s right foot and Bradley Beal‘s left wrist being two of the most recent and most prominent.

Injuries to key players certainly can derail a season. Last year, Dwyane Wade‘s status was of constant concern to the Heat, and although he said otherwise, Wade seemed to labor through the NBA Finals. His ongoing knee maintenance and uncertainty of his availability week to week, and sometimes even game to game, was also the primary reason why it made sense for LeBron James to take his talents back to Cleveland and join a younger cast.

Wade missed 58 games over the last three seasons, 28 last year and there’s no guarantee this season he’ll be able to match the 54 games he played. But be careful. In Cleveland, the seemingly indestructible James (he’s never missed more than seven games in any of his 11 seasons) is paired with two All-Stars with something of an injury track record.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on Wednesday already sat out his third consecutive preseason game with a sprained ankle. In the first quarter of that game, Kevin Love left and did not return because of a stiff neck, an injury that isn’t believed to be serious.

Irving has missed 49 games over the last three seasons, pretty comparable to Wade, who has much more mileage on his body. Love missed 80 games over that same stretch with 64 coming during two different stretches of the 2012-13 season due to a twice-broken hand. He originally broke his right hand in the preseason by, he says, doing knuckle pushups. He returned earlier than expected, played 18 games, and then re-broke the hand. At the end of that season, Love had surgery on his left knee to remove scar tissue.

Love missed just five games in his final frustrating season with Minnesota, and Irving gave the 33-win Cavs 71 games, missing 11. If new coach David Blatt can get anywhere near that availability from each player he’ll be ecstatic.

It’s just impossible to know. Some players seem to be more susceptible to injury than others. Maybe their bodies just aren’t as durable and their body parts succumb more easily. Irving is just 22 years old, but his list of injured body parts from one year at Duke through three seasons in the NBA could fill a medical encyclopedia: toe, biceps, shoulder, hand, finger, jaw, knees and now ankle.

Does it make him injury prone, or snake-bit? Does it mean he’ll always be one misstep away from trading in his uniform for a sport coat and a spot on the bench? Or is he just as likely to play all 82 games this season as he is to miss 10 games, or 20 games?

As Durant, who had missed only 16 of 558 regular-season games through his first seven seasons, said just 12 days before the Oklahoma City Thunder medical staff informed him he fractured his right foot and will miss up to two months: “You can get hurt walking outside. You hear that a lot, but you can get hurt anywhere. Freak accidents happen. But I’ve been playing this game so long that I know at any moment that something can happen.”

Love logged 36.3 minutes in 77 games last season. His injury history isn’t as ominous as Irving’s, but again, injuries are fickle. Love was already a bit banged up before the neck issue after he banged knees with Jabari Parker the night before.

As a rookie, Love played in 81 games. The next season he missed 22 games after he broke his left hand after banging it against a teammate’s elbow (does one of the league’s best rebounders and sweetest shooters have weak hands, or inexplicably bad luck with his hands?). In 2010-11, he missed nine games and then 11 the next season.

Health of course is a must for all teams. But for the championship-dreaming Cavaliers, already feeling a slight pinch from the injury bug, the ability for Irving and Love to remain on the floor with LeBron in their first season together is critical.

Is it possible? No one can answer that.

Measuring ball and player movement


VIDEO: Spurs Season Preview: Year in Review

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With the way the San Antonio Spurs eviscerated the Miami Heat defense on their way to the largest point differential in Finals history, ball movement has become a hot topic around the NBA. (You could say that the Spurs have spurred a ball-movement movement.)

The Cavs, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Thunder and Warriors are among the many teams who have given lip service to moving the ball better this season. And why not? More movement should make your team tougher to guard and give it a better chance to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

In the past, there wasn’t a great way to measure ball movement. We had assist ratio (AST/FGM), but an assist could be recorded without a lot of ball movement, a lot of ball movement doesn’t necessarily lead to an assist, and assigning assists is ultimately at the discretion of the official scorer.

Now, we have SportVU. And the presence of its cameras in every arena can give us a much better picture of how much teams really move the ball … and move themselves. The cameras track every movement on the court, both by the players and the basketball.

The Spurs are the first team that come to mind when discussing ball movement. But they ranked fourth in passes per possession last season, according to SportVU, behind Charlotte, Chicago and Utah.

Those three were all bottom-seven offensive teams, though. One reason they passed more often is because they often went deep into the shot clock without finding a good shot. The Jazz took a league-high 21 percent of their shots in the final six seconds of the shot clock. The Bulls (20 percent, fourth highest rate) and Bobcats (17 percent, 10th highest rate) took a lot of their shots in the final six seconds too.

Ball movement

20141016_passesTo account for that, SportVU can look at passes on a per-minute basis. And to simplify things, it can isolate passes and player movement in the frontcourt on possessions that lasted more than six seconds (to eliminate fast breaks).

When we do that, we see that the Spurs do moved the ball more than any other team, more than 15 times per minute. The Bobcats were still near the top of the list, but the Jazz (14.1) and Bulls (13.9) ranked ninth and 11th respectively.

The league average was about 13.6 passes per minute (one every 4.4 seconds), and the Golden State Warriors are at the bottom of the list at 11.7 passes per minute, a number which might change with a new coach.

The Sacramento Kings were just above the Warriors at 11.9 passes per minute, but interestingly, ranked high in terms of player movement.

Player movement

20141016_distanceNot surprisingly, the Spurs were at the top of this list, too. Not only is the ball moving in San Antonio’s offense, but so are the players. Tony Parker is passing off and circling under the basket before getting the ball back at the top of the key. Tiago Splitter is setting multiple screens on most possessions. And Danny Green is running from corner to corner to get open while his defender is focused on the ball.

The Bobcats, Sixers, Wizards, Jazz and Bucks also ranked in the top 10 in both ball and player movement. The Warriors, Pistons, Knicks and Thunder, meanwhile, ranked in the bottom 10 in both.

The anomalies

There was a decent correlation between ball movement and player movement, but there were teams that ranked high in one and not the other.

The Kings and Pelicans each ranked in the top five in player movement, but in the bottom five in ball movement. New Orleans ranked third in the league in drives, but was the team most likely to shoot on those drives.

On average, about 65 percent of drives would result in a drawn foul or a shot by the driver. Tyreke Evans (70 percent), Eric Gordon (79 percent) and Austin Rivers (82 percent) were all guys who drove a lot, but not for the purpose of finding an open teammate.

The Kings’ offense featured a lot of cutting, but not a lot of passes. Isaiah Thomas led all starting point guards in seconds (of possession) per touch (5.45). And DeMarcus Cousins (1.95) led all power forwards and centers in the same category.

On the other side of the ledger were the Clippers and Lakers, who ranked high in ball movement (eighth and fifth, respectively), but low in player movement (22nd and 25th).

The Clippers’ offense is a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls and a solid helping of post-ups, each of which draw extra defenders to the ball and create open looks for other guys. But those other guys aren’t moving that much when they’re not involved in the primary action. The Lakers, with far less talent, often swung the ball around the perimeter until somebody had enough space to launch a three.

Is better ball movement the answer?

The Spurs move the ball beautifully, move themselves often, ranked sixth in offensive efficiency in the regular season and took it to a new level in The Finals. But the Spurs are special.

There is no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency. Three top-10 offenses — Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Toronto — ranked in the bottom 10 in ball movement (passes per minute in half-court possessions). And five bottom-10 offenses — Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Utah, Charlotte and the Lakers — ranked in the top 10.

If you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you don’t need to move the ball that much. And if you have the combination of Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, you’re going to get some great shots by just running a pick-and-roll. If you don’t have enough talent, it’s not going to matter much how much you move the ball.

The same goes with player movement. As noted above, the Clippers ranked 22nd in player movement (team distance per minute in half-court possessions), and they had the No. 1 offense in the league.

You might think that better ball movement allows you to better sustain your offensive success in the playoffs, when you’re facing defenses that know all your players and aim to take away your primary actions. But last year, there was no correlation between teams that moved the ball well in the regular season and those that improved offensively in the playoffs.

Again, the Spurs are special.

A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.