Marc Gasol to miss Rio Olympics

Two-time silver medalist Spain will be missing one of its key cogs for the Rio Olympics with the official announcement that Grizzlies center Marc Gasol has been scratched from the lineup while he continues to rehab his foot, according to The Associated Press:

MADRID — The Spanish basketball federation says center Marc Gasol will miss the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after failing to recover from a broken foot in time, according to the Associated Press.

The federation said “Marc Gasol hasn’t passed the necessary medical tests” and will miss the Games.

Gasol has not played since he broke his right foot in February while playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Spain won silver medals in men’s basketball at the past two Olympics, losing the finals to the United States.

The 2016 basketball event starts in less than three weeks.

Will a touch of Linsanity return to NY?

It seems such a long time ago, as if it occurred in a different era to a different player.

There were those six magical weeks of 2012 when Jeremy Lin and the basketball world was swept up in Linsanity.

The phenomenon virtually owned New York with Lin’s sudden star turn when thrust into the lineup by then-Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. He almost swallowed the NBA with nightly heroics and highlights that rolled around the globe like a driving, jump-shooting tsunami.

Since then, Lin has played in three other cities — Houston, L.A. and Charlotte — before opting to return as a free agent to New York, though across town with the Nets. But while Linsanity has evolved, it still lurks just beneath the surface for the 27-year-old U.S.-born point guard with the Taiwanese roots, according to Liz Robbins of the New York Times:

“When it first started, I’m not going to lie, it was cool, and then it became a burden,” he said at the Nets’ practice facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “I didn’t really know what I had gotten myself into. One, two, three, four years later, every year I embrace it more. Every year I’m more appreciative, every year I love it more.”

He is 27 now, and it is no longer enough to be just a leader for the Nets on the court. “Chinese people, Asian-Americans, Asians, they always have a special place in my heart,” he said. “Coming back here, I want to be able to try to inspire the next generation, reach out in the community.”

A Harvard graduate and a son of Taiwanese immigrants, Mr. Lin became an empowering figure not only for Asians, but also for underdogs, long-suffering Knicks fans and New Yorkers mired in the doldrums in February 2012. The team’s leader, Carmelo Anthony, was injured when Mr. Lin was igniting a turnaround.

Enter Mr. Lin, a journeyman who had been cut by two teams. Linsanity, in all its glorious euphoria, erupted.

And then, several weeks later, Mr. Lin’s run was over, cut short by a season-ending knee injury, combined with the resignation of his coach, Mike D’Antoni. After the season, the Knicks allowed Mr. Lin to depart to the Houston Rockets via free agency.

“As soon as he took off that New York uniform, that magic was gone,” said Andrew Kuo, 38, a New York-born artist and ardent Lin fan.

The Lin-related artifacts of that time, like the sandwiches once named for him, grew stale. The puns faded from the lexicon.

“The Lin memes are done, it’s O.K., it’s extinct now,” Mr. Kuo said.

There is, however, the matter of that “Linsanity No. 17” tattoo on his left forearm. Mr. Kuo laughed and said that it might have been dumb. “But it’s nice to look down and remember it all,” he added.

Mr. Lin recalled how he wished he had stopped to enjoy that heady time more while it was swirling around him. As for Linsanity, he may have won the trademark, but he has mixed feelings about it; he does not intend to revive it.

“Not in a way that I’m offended, but it kind of dehumanizes me to refer to me as a phenomenon,” he said. “I’m going to be here, keep playing my game, and whatever you guys want to call it, it’s up to you guys.”

Blogtable: Biggest team turnaround with new coach?

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on away-from-play rules changesBiggest turnaround with new coach?Incoming rookie destined for NBA stardom?


> Which team is poised to have the most dramatic jump in winning percentage next season: Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, Scott Brooks’ Wizards, Luke Walton’s Lakers, Dave Joerger’s Kings, Nate McMillan’s Pacers, David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, Jeff Hornacek’s Knicks, Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets, Frank Vogel’s Magic or Kenny Atkinson’s Nets?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Thibodeau’s Timberwolves will improve the most. No one coaches harder in the 82-game regular season, and Minnesota’s three youngest core players — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — would naturally take a step or two in their development under almost any coach. Combine that, along with a pretty easy act to top (29 victories in 2015-16) and I’m expected an improvement of 10-15 games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe 17-win Lakers have the most room to work with, but the Lakers are also the farthest away. Frank Vogel’s solid defensive base will make the Magic jump if they can sort out the sudden glut of big men. But I’m making it a two-team race for biggest improvement. The Grizzlies and David Fizzle with a healthy Marc Gasol should go from 42 back to their customary 50-plus level. But I’ll give the nod to Minnesota. All that young talent combined with Thibs’ defensive chops will have the Wolves howling with a possible leap from from 29 to 40+ wins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLuke Walton’s Lakers, but in large part because they have the most realistic room to grow. It’s not hard to see L.A. adding 10 wins based on the energy of the coaching change, the experience D’Angelo Russell and (basically) Julius Randle didn’t have last season, the arrival of Luol Deng as a veteran presence and the addition of Brandon Ingram in the Draft. Ten wins is close to a 60-percent jump. A lot of the other options you mention will improve — Minnesota, New York, Orlando — but the Magic, for example, aren’t going to be 60-percent better in the standings. They will have more wins than the Lakers, just not a bigger increase.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll say the Lakers only because they were mostly dreadful and won just 17 games. Only one way to go, and if they win 30, which is somewhat realistic, that almost a 50-percent jump. Can’t see anyone else in this group pulling that off (where are the Sixers?) But again, it’s a backhanded compliment to the Lakers, who if nothing else should be exciting to watch even in defeat.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wolves are going to the playoffs next season. Tom Thibodeau will have them improve at least 10 spots in defensive efficiency, where they ranked 27th last season. The development of their young players — along with, hopefully, Zach LaVine playing a lot more shooting guard than point guard — should have them improved offensively as well. Karl-Anthony Towns is the league’s next star and should do well with his first summer of work after finding out what the league is all about. He could make a huge leap.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As entertaining as I believe the Minnesota Timberwolves could be under Tom Thibodeau, I’m going to have to go with Luke Walton’s Lakers. They’ve got as much ground to gain (in percentages and raw numbers) as any team in the league, given their dreadful performance last season and the fresh new look they’ll have under Walton. David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, however, will go into the season as my potential surprise team in the Western Conference (provided they have a healthy roster to work with), where things could shift dramatically with all of the changes that have occurred in free agency.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Timberwolves may reach the playoffs next season because of Thibodeau, who will hasten their development defensively and turn their athleticism into a force. D’Antoni has a history of elevating the value of his players and the Rockets appear to be in the mood to rally around him after embarrassing themselves last year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI don’t know if there is a “most dramatic” winner out there. Scanning past those names, I don’t see any one team that immediately jumps out at me and looks like sudden a title contender. If I had to pick one, I’d pick a team in the East, where improvement may be easier to come by, and say either the Knicks (if they are healthy, which is a gigantic if) or maybe Frank Vogel’s Magic show in Orlando.

Blogtable: Incoming rookie that’s destined for NBA stardom?

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on away-from-play rules changesBiggest turnaround with new coach?Incoming rookie destined for NBA stardom?


> Based on the very small sample size that we call Summer League, which incoming rookie is a can’t-miss, bonafide NBA star in the next 2-3 years?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt’s hard not to see stardom for Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, based on his play in Las Vegas as well as the greater likelihood for a guy picked No. 1 overall. But I’ll include Boston’s Jaylen Brown because, hey, I saw Brown actually get a “star” whistle from one of the referees late in a summer game. Down the stretch against Milwaukee, I think it was, some very questionable contact was adjudicated in his favor. Brown’s floor game was impressive, his above-the-rim game packed some intimidation. He averaged 22 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.6 steals in his final three appearances.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThere’s no reason to doubt No. 1 pick Ben Simmons. He has the talent, the flair and seems to want to embrace the challenge of resurrecting the once-proud Sixers franchise.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There isn’t one. Obviously a lot depends on the definition of “star,” but Ben Simmons has the best chance. He is not a can’t-miss star until he gets a jumper, though, and teams are forced to play him for something other than drive and pass. Simmons has a chance to be special in time, especially when (if) the 76ers give him some scorers to pass to.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe answer is “none” in terms of being a star (my definition of “star” is stingier than most) in such a short amount of time. I will give the edge to Ben Simmons, who’s able to impact games without scoring many points. He has such a special skill-set, which won’t be fully realized until he gets better teammates to pass to in Philly. Oh, and a special shout-out to Tyler Ulis. It’s astonishing to me why some NBA general managers drafted Eurostash in the first round over this kid. He can play. Forget the size. And he’s gonna make those GMs look foolish.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based on the extremely small sample size, I’m buying Kris Dunn stock. He’s got the edge to his game that I think translates and he’s going to be in an incubator in Minnesota with several other youngsters who are already locked in and headed for big things during the same time span. That entire young cast — led by Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and one of my personal faves Zach LaVine — should give Timberwolves fans plenty of hope for the immediate future now that the Thibodeau program is in place.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comBased on the accelerated development of Kawhi Leonard, Dejounte Murray looks like the next young star for the Spurs. Though he was the No. 29 pick, Murray has the length, athleticism and instincts for scoring and playmaking that can enable him to take over for Tony Parker — so long as he embraces the program.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, Ben Simmons was the best rookie in Summer League and one of the best players overall, so I’d say you have to consider him the leader. There were other rookies who I thought were impressive, such as Brandon Ingram, and I also really like Jamal Murray‘s game. But those guys probably need some time to develop. Simmons can play right now against anyone you put him out there against. And the Sixers are going to be pretty great to watch because of it.

Blogtable: Thoughts on the NBA’s away-from-play rules changes

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on away-from-play rules changesBiggest turnaround with new coach?Incoming rookie destined for NBA stardom?


> Last week the NBA announced some rules changes for away-from-the-play fouls. Do you think these changes went too far, didn’t go far enough, or were just right?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comDid not go far enough. This was clearly a compromise, trying to satisfy the players-need-to-make-their-free-throws purists as well as the this-is-unwatchable critics of “Hack-a-…” tactics. It will cut down on the number of incidents but it won’t eliminate it. I’m not a big fan of different rules for different parts of the game. So I’m hoping what we get in the final two minute of each period now, we’ll soon get for all 48 minutes.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’m fine with it as long as guys like Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, Darren Collison, D.J. Augustin, Aaron Brooks and J.J. Barea get to use a step-stool because the basket is too high. And now that I think about it, Dwight Howard should also be permitted to shoot at a basket that is twice as large in diameter all throughout the game because, in addition to his horrible free throw shooting, he also can’t make any kind of shot more than 2 feet from the basket. To paraphrase a famous cartoon character: “Let’s make the NBA dumb again.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comJust right. The rule change they got especially right was the automatic for jumping on a player’s back. That’s very reasonable. But altering the away-from-the-play fouls to the final two minutes of every quarter, as opposed to just the fourth period, is a good step. Adopting the D-League rule of every minute of every quarter would have been an option, but also an extreme move. I still say there is no need for that dramatic of a move to address three or four players. Let’s start with this and re-assess.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Just about right. I cringe at the idea of making rule changes just because a small sampling of players can’t perform one of the more fundamental facets of the game. And so the league essentially made a compromise of sorts. It’s going to be good enough for some people, and not enough for Jeff Van Gundy.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comNot far enough. An intentional foul is an intentional foul, no matter when it occurs in the period. And on other levels of basketball, it’s penalized with free throws and possession. Away from the play intentional fouls, as well as intentional fouls meant to stop a fast break, should be penalized as such. And with the latter, we can get rid of the time-wasting and confusing clear path rule.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The rules changes feel as close to just right and reasonable as we’re going to get for fundamental flaws that plague a select few players in the league. I never like to see a league legislating for the few at the expense of the masses, but I agree that something had to be done. With all of the time players spend in the gym in the offseason, I just wish certain guys would fine-tune their free throw shooting mechanics so no one would have to tweak or change the rules.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI disagree with the fundamental point of view. This little issue is not about whether players can or cannot make free throws. As I see it, these are fouls against the spirit of the game. If you wish to commit a foul cynically, away from the play, then you are committing a foul against the game. Your cynicism should not be rewarded. These fouls are not committed in the spirit of basketball. And so when a coach acts cynically, he should be punished: The other team should retain control of the ball after one or two free throws.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, I was firmly in the camp of not wanting anything to be done, because I felt like changing the rules was in some way rewarding/protecting the small minority who can’t make free throws. So considering the size of the change that was announced, maybe it’s just right? Although part of me suspects if teams really want to Hack-A-Whomever, they’ll figure out a way to do it. I am particularly interested to see how Mike Budenholzer adjusts to it, since last season he used it several times against teams like Detroit to grab a lead, and now he’ll have Dwight Howard on his own team.

Morning shootaround — July 18





NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kyrie-Kobe BFFs | Grizzlies on the run | Howard says he’s healthy

No. 1: Kyrie has FaceTime with Kobe after Game 7 — After the jumping up and down on the court and then the champagne shower, newly crowned champions usually can’t keep up with all of the congratulatory phone calls and text messages from relatives and acquaintances. But Kyrie Irving made a very special connection following the Cavs’ Game 7 win over the Warriors. According to Jeff Eisenband of The PostGame, Irving had a face-to-face chat with none other than Kobe Bryant:

“I actually FaceTimed Kobe after the game as soon as I got in the locker room,” Irving says. “Other than seeing my dad and my sister right after we won, FaceTiming him was just a great thing, knowing how he has won five and I just won my first. Then realizing how hard it is just to win one, my respect for him is already high, but it went to another level knowing that he’s got five of them. I’m trying to get a second one.”

Irving credits Phil Handy, who was also on the FaceTime, for sparking his relationship with Bryant. Handy serves as Cavs Director of Player Development/Assistant Coach, a position he has held since 2013, previously serving as Lakers Director of Player Development.

“[Bryant] was telling me congrats,” Irving says of the FaceTime. “I had been speaking to him throughout the entire playoffs and during the season. During the Finals, we didn’t really talk as much, because for me, I wanted to experience it full on, and if I needed his help, I would reach out to him. He would send me some texts here and there, but mainly he kind of let me be, and let me grow into my own space.”

***

No. 2: Fizdale wants Grizzlies to make connectionDave Fizdale may be a first-time head coach in the NBA, but he knows exactly what he wants from the Grizzlies. First off, it’s building on the success of the team’s core four, then playing at a faster pace and making an overall connection to each other. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal had the inside look at what’s coming:

“He spoke (to me) of culture and spoke of the commitment a team has to have to have a championship mindset,” Mike Conley said. “He explained to me the steps we need to take to achieve that goal. He wants to play faster. He wants to create more space. He’s very convincing.”

JaMychal Green agreed, saying, “The offense is quicker and we’re pressing more (on defense). Everything is quicker. I like everything about him so far.”

Fizdale is an even-keeled guy yet demanding. He expects two things that should be automatic: playing hard and communicating on the court. He demands accountability similar to former Griz coaches Hubie Brown and Lionel Hollins.

Fizdale is a stickler for detail, which is something that was evident during the film session between the second and third summer league games.

“I really got after them,” Fizdale said. “The film room is where I’m at home. You put film and players in front of me and that’s when I do my best work. I learned from the best (in Miami). Pat (Riley) is a huge film guy and Erik (Spoelstra) is an elite guy with film. So I feel very comfortable from that standpoint. I make film deliberate in cleaning up the areas we need to clean up.”

***

No. 3: Howard says homecoming feels right — It’s been quite a while since Dwight Howard was leading the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009. Since then, there was the ugly break-up with the Magic, the one-year disaster with the Lakers and three aimless, mostly fruitless years in Houston. But now the big man is back in his home town of Atlanta and tells Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he’s healthy and it feels like the the perfect place to write the proper ending on his career:

Will his health hold up, specifically a back that was surgically repaired in 2012 (he also missed 52 games in his first two seasons in Houston with a variety of ailments, mostly knee)?

“My back hasn’t been an issue, and I don’t think I’ll ever have an issue out of my back for the rest of my career,” he said without pause.

And will he play nice with others, altering this image that has grown around Howard that he is a difficult teammate and a hot-and-cold competitor?

When Howard speaks of himself now, a changed man, the words are simple and clean, like the peal of church bells.

“All the things that happened the past couple of years really just made me stronger, made me have some thicker skin.

“All the things that have happened put me in a place of humility to where I needed God, to understand I needed him to really survive.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anderson Varejao plans to reject the Cavs’ offer of a championship ring…Timberwolves not ready to trade Ricky Rubio yet…Carlos Delfino is still hoping for an NBA comeback…It was Doc Rivers’ recruiting touch that got Brandon Bass to land with the Clippers…Brandon Ingram plans to seek out Kevin Durant for advice.

Morning shootaround — July 17



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Owner Taylor likes Wolves | Sixers have “big” problems | Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls

No. 1: Owner Taylor likes Wolves— It’s all paper optimism right now, but there are plenty of reasons for the Wolves and their owner, Glen Taylor, to feel excited about the upcoming season. They have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Karl-Anthony Towns, a solid young core and incoming rookie Kris Dunn, the pride of the Vegas summer league. Taylor discussed the state of the Wolves recently with longtime Twin Cities columnist Sid Hartman, who filed this report for the Star-Tribune:

The Wolves didn’t make a splashy move in free agency like the Warriors, but they did make a number of smart moves, signing centers Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill and shooting guard Brandon Rush to low-risk contracts.

Taylor said those moves should help a team that believes its young core already is in place.

“We have some young guys that we see as our potential starting team, but we need players coming off the bench to hold us competitive with the other teams,” Taylor said. “I think both Thibs and Scott are looking at other players that can come in and play competitive minutes.”

While the team has started to take some shape, Taylor wasn’t ready to give his expectations for 2016-17 quite yet.

“A lot of people have asked me that and I just think it’s premature,” he said. “I’d like the coach to get to know his players better, I’d like to have him work with them, I’d like to have him decide who’s going to be on the team, and then that might be the appropriate time to put out expectations.”

One thing Taylor did say is that he doesn’t believe point guard Ricky Rubio will be traded at this point.

“I don’t see that as a likely possibility,” he said about a Rubio trade. “I just think the coach, everybody, likes Ricky. I think we want him to come in and improve on his shooting. But his other things, he plays defense, he gets assists, he helps the others get better. He has some wonderful qualities.

“I think the coach wants to bring an assistant coach to help Ricky on his shooting and I think that’s where we’re going to start out and go and we’ll see how good Kris Dunn is.”

Injured big men

With Aldrich and Hill signing, there have been some rumblings about what that means for both Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic, who struggled with injuries last season and are due combined $20 million next season.

“I know that he was going to get married this summer,” Taylor said of Pekovic. “I know he’s back at home. I know that we’re going to try to get him in here early to make sure he’s in physical shape and look at that foot and make sure it doesn’t reoccur again. But I don’t have any definite information other than that we’d like to have him in here early so the doctors and everybody can work with him.”

Has the team put any timetable on Garnett? “We haven’t,” Taylor said. “I think it’s more up to Kevin, a little bit. The sooner we know it’s helpful to us, but I mean Kevin is an important part of our past and came back last year to help us, and we all know Kevin was having some difficulty with his knees and legs or things like that.

“I think he’s the only one that can tell us if he can play or not play, and I don’t think we have put him under time frame. I mean we still have time on that, and we have some options. We have some options. But I think at the appropriate time when Kevin is ready we’ll have that discussion.”

Increased interest

There’s no doubt that the Wolves have become one of the most talked-about teams in the league because of players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Taylor said that excitement mixed with some moves this offseason should bode well for ticket sales.

“Yes, the season-ticket thing, I think because of bringing in Thibs as a coach and then everybody seeing the improvement we made last year has sparked renewed interest,” he said. “We look forward to a good season sale on tickets this year.”

Taylor has also been able to attract investors, bringing in Linzhang (John) Jiang and Meyer Orbach as minority owners, and while he said he isn’t planning to sell a large stake in the team at this point, that doesn’t mean he won’t listen to interest.

“We don’t have any plans on doing that today, but I wouldn’t want to say yes or no to that because I think if the right person came along and they had the right opportunity and they wanted to come in — like these fellows did on a limited base, and I still run the team and just have them help me — I might do that,” Taylor said.

***

No. 2: Sixers have “big” problems — The revamping of the Sixers has been a long time coming, and suddenly, there’s a level of hope not seen in Philly since Allen Iverson left. The influx of young talent coupled with the on-hand returnees bodes well for a team that has spent the last three seasons in the basement. That said, how are the Sixers going to find time up front with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and now Dario Saric? All four are forwards or center-forward combos. Of course, it sounds funny: Philly has too much intriguing talent. Anyway, the subject was raised and analyzed by Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor at the center position are at least one too many, and the rest of the league knows it. Each player brings a different mix of promise and peril. Which to choose? It is a quandary that, if solved properly, will set the team on the path to true contention. If botched, well, that path will still be lined with good intentions, but it will lead back to the nether world from which the team is slowly emerging.

If it is any consolation, the Sixers have seen worse. I had the great pleasure of covering every game of the Doug Moe era, a 19-37 slog that featured a roster with four centers, collectively referred to by Moe as “28 feet of [expletive].”

You haven’t seen dysfunction until experiencing the frontcourt stylings of Charles Shackleford, Manute Bol, Andrew Lang, and Eddie Lee Wilkins on one team. All four were gone when the following season began, as was Moe, who didn’t survive the previous one.

“He won 19 games with this team, and they fired him?” Wilkins said. “He should be coach of the year.”

That was a different problem for the Sixers, but deciding which of those guys to get rid of was easy: all of them. The current situation is a puzzler because the three centers are very valuable, each in his own way, or at least have potential value that could become enormous over time. Forecasting their futures is the first big test Colangelo faces.

“I think we could be a better basketball team if we could distribute the talent better and maybe take one of those assets and address other needs on the roster,” Colangelo said on SiriusXM NBA Radio while attending the summer league in Las Vegas. “Right now, it’s best to say we like all of them and want to see if we can make the most out of them in terms of their contribution to the team. But at the end of the day, the reality says that one has to go at some point, but only when the deal is right.”

The reality, however, doesn’t say that one has to go before the season begins, or even by the February trade deadline. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he set his sights on rebalancing the roster at the 2017 draft. That could be the wisest course of action, particularly since what the Sixers don’t know about their team is still a lot greater than what they do know.

“We’re top heavy, but we’ve got some good talent there,” Colangelo said, “whether it’s Nerlens, with a certain skill-set in terms of being more of a defensive player. You’ve got Jahlil, more of an offensive player, a lot of post action and now steps outside and hits that 15- to 18-foot shot, and then you’ve got Joel.”

Figuring things out is a process, and while fans might like to see a choice made immediately to start the contending process this season, that would make choosing the wrong piece more likely.

Most of what we know about Okafor and Noel so far is that coach Brett Brown couldn’t figure out a way to play them together because both operate best close to the basket. Now he needs to determine what mixture will work as Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are placed on the court, and as Embiid finally gets into uniform. It could be there will be plenty of offense to go around and Noel is the better fit. It could be that on a team of slashers, the dependable low-post presence of Okafor makes the most sense. And, of course, it could be that Embiid limps off in the first week of the season.

***

No. 3: Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls — Take Jimmy Butler and add Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, and what do you have? A very happy head coach. Fred Holberg‘s first season in Chicago was choppy; the Bulls floundered down the stretch and fell flat at the end of the season. Since then, the Bulls parted ways with Derrick Rose while adding another local player to assume his spot in Wade. Rondo comes from the Kings, where he enjoyed a rejuvenated boost to his career, and suddenly the Bulls have three proven players. KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune recently caught up with the coach about Wade, who made it official the other day:

“I’m really excited to get him on board,” Hoiberg said via phone from Las Vegas, where the Bulls played the Wizards in the NBA Summer League quarterfinals Saturday night. “Obviously, he’s a guy with championship experience and gives us another playmaker on the floor. I’ve been watching a lot of film to see how to best utilize the talents of the players on our roster.

“Dwyane is a tough matchup for opposing teams with him and Jimmy (Butler) on the wings and Rajon (Rondo) at the point. A lot of how we attack will be based on matchups and who the defender is and whose hands we’re going to put the ball in to make plays.”

Hoiberg left summer league to attend Monday’s dinner with Wade in Chicago, his first prolonged conversation with the 12-time All-Star. Hoiberg came away impressed, calling him a “rock solid person (with) great people around him.”

Hoiberg’s playing career overlapped with Wade’s for two seasons. In fact, Wade posted a picture on Instagram of himself from one of his two predraft workouts for the Bulls in 2003 at the defunct Berto Center. Now, Hoiberg will be coaching the future Hall of Famer.

“He’s so good at getting in the paint,” Hoiberg said. “He has a great floater and runner. He shot the 3 at a very high rate in the playoffs last year. He gives us another guy who can make plays. That’s huge.

“We have multiple playmakers now, multiple guys who can get in the paint. We do have floor spacing on this team. It will be important to have guys who can knock down shots.”

Hoiberg again referred to the 2003-04 Timberwolves, which he played for and featured Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell and advanced to the Western Conference finals, as an example of a team that can make three strong personalities work. He said he and his staff have been watching film of other teams that feature three players who need shots and touches.

“Great players always figure it out,” Hoiberg said. “It has to be about one thing, and that’s winning. Based on who has the hot hand on any given night, you play through that guy, and the rest of the team plays off him.”

Asked who gets the last shot in a tie game, Hoiberg laughed before answering.

“We’ll see who has it going,” he said.

Wade will turn 35 in January. He played in 74 games last season, his highest regular-season total since 2010-11. Wade averaged a career-low 30.5 minutes and then delivered a turn-back-the-clock postseason performance in which he averaged 21.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 14 games.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: More on the death of Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, one of history’s underrated big men … Damian Lillard got skills with a mic in his hand … RC Buford loves him some Tim Duncan, and don’t we all? … Pelicans don’t expect Tyreke Evans will be healed and ready to go when season tips off …

Warriors lose rebounding great Nate Thurmond

The Golden State Warriors lost a treasured member of the family when Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond died Saturday. He lost his battle with leukemia and was 74. 

Thurmond was one of the NBA’s premier centers in the late 1960s and early ’70s during the age of the big man, along with Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Willis Reed and others. A seven-time All-Star, he was voted one of the league’s 50 Greatest Players and was the franchise’s bedrock when the Warriors moved to the Bay Area.

Thurmond is the Warriors’ all-time rebounder and second only to Chris Mullin in games played. He averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds for his career, but he played 11 of his 14 seasons with the Warriors, where he enjoyed his greatest success. With Golden State, those averages are 17.4 and 16.9.

Thumond was very athletic and crafty and a punishing inside player, especially around the rim, where he consistently ranked among the game’s better rebounders during his time. He was a five-time All-Defensive team member. Chamberlain once said Thurmond “was the best to play against me” which is high praise considering the many clashes Chamberlain had with Russell.

Thurmond backed up Chamberlain as a rookie after being selected third overall in 1963, but the next season, Chamberlain was traded to Philadelphia and Thurmond was elevated to starter. In 1967-68, he averaged 20.5 points and 22 rebounds. For 10 straight seasons he averaged at least 13 points and 13 rebounds. During one quarter in February of 1965, he grabbed 18 rebounds, breaking the record shared by Chamberlain and Russell. 

He next played in Chicago with the Bulls, where he posted the league’s first recorded quadruple double (22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, 12 blocks) in October 1974. He ended his career with the Cavaliers and his jersey was the first to be retired by the club. His No. 42 is also retired by the Warriors, only one of seven. 

In retirement, “Big Nate” operated a barbeque restaurant in San Francisco and also served the team as a community ambassador. 

Former Warriors coach Al Attles, the longest tenured employee of the Warriors, said: “I was heartbroken when I was informed of his death. In typical Nate fashion, he did not let many people know about his illness and how serious it was and unfortunately it proved to be one of the few things in life tougher than him.”

 

Morning shootaround — July 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Early reviews of Saric | Free-agent impact around NBA | Buddy Hield is ready to go

No. 1: Early reviews of Saric — It will likely be a while before anyone gets a handle on the most mysterious rookie of the 2016-17 season. That’s because Dario Saric is two years “late” coming to the Sixers and played out of sight of most NBA fans in Europe. All we know is he’s a fluid big man who brings hope to a Philly team that suddenly is stockpiling young talent. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News took a sampling of scouts’ take and here’s what he compiled:

Acquired on draft night in 2014 when the Sixers selected Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, then traded him for Saric, who was selected by Orlando at No. 12, Saric played two seasons for Anadolu Efes in Turkey, as anticipation of his arrival to Philadelphia rose with each passing season. It really didn’t seem to matter what type of player he was or whether his game could translate to the NBA. He was someone former general manager Sam Hinkie had acquired – along with a first-round pick from Orlando – and the faithful couldn’t wait for his arrival.

The wait is over: It appears his signing is imminent, as he arrived Thursday afternoon to meet with president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.

Sometimes, the anticipation is better than the event. Could that be the case with Saric, or might he turn out to be a big piece of this process moving forward? Fans who haven’t seen Saric will get to during the Olympics. He led Croatia to a win over Italy in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament last weekend by posting 18 points and 13 rebounds, garnering him MVP honors. He is a Philly player through and through, with plenty of toughness in his game that undoubtedly will make him a fan favorite.

But to look deeper into how he might fit into the NBA, I talked to numerous people who have seen him play since he became property of the Sixers. There are mixed reviews on just how good he will be in the league and how he might fit with the Sixers’ roster.

“I don’t see it,” said one executive. “To me, he’s a below-the-rim player who is going to be way behind, as far as speed and quickness. His shot isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good enough for defenses to really respect it yet. So to begin with, they’ll be playing him to get to the basket. Once he does that, he’s looking to draw contact more than anything else.

“He does have good passing skills. He’s a capable ballhandler where he was, but I’m not sure that he’ll be quick enough in the NBA to do what he wants when he gets the ball in his hands.”

Another executive saw it much differently: “He has great handle for his size, is a solid to good rebounder, is a special passer, is tough and is a winner.”

When broken down from the handful of people who have watched Saric in person, here is the kind of player the Sixers appear to be getting:

Offensively

There is little doubt Saric’s best offensive ability is passing the basketball. Like Ben Simmons, he can grab a rebound, start a break and hit long outlet passes, throwing bounce passes when necessary and hard chest passes at other times. He has a flare to his passing game, also; the no-look, over-the-shoulder pass seems to be a favorite. Oftentimes, his good ballhandling skills will get him to where he needs to be to make the pass. When standing on a wing, he often will send a soft, quick touch pass into the post when the ball comes his way.

One characteristic Philly fans will love about Saric is the physicality he brings at both ends of the floor. In that previous game against Italy, his team basically gave him the ball, put four guys down on the baseline and let him go to work. He got to the lane and, more times than not, was able to draw contact.

Defensively

This is where Saric’s struggles will begin right away. As one scout said, “He’ll be way better at the offensive end than he will be at the defensive end, where he could be a liability.”

The reasoning is twofold. One is his lack of speed and quickness. The other is that he’s not very long. He’ll have to play power forwards on defense because he simply doesn’t have the speed to chase small forwards. He is a very physical player, and the thought is that when he is getting beaten by speed, he will look to slow down opponents with contact, which could lead to a lot of fouls – especially as a rookie.

The plus side is that Saric possesses a strong basketball IQ, which leads many to think he will be able to overcome deficiencies with his mind and translate it to his style of play.

His best asset at the defensive end could wind up being rebounding. If he can rebound on the move defensively and start a break, whether himself or by getting the ball out to the likes of Simmons, that is where Saric could be at his finest.

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No. 2: Impact of NBA free agents for 2016-17 — The free-agent spending spree is nearly over and, billions later, we don’t know the scope of the impact and what’s in store for the immediate and distant future. Trying to make sense of it all is Bobby Marks of The Vertical; the former league executive takes a educated look at the decisions made and the ramifications that could and should follow:

ROSTER TURNOVER
One of the goals of the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2011 was to incentivize teams to retain their current free agents by allowing them to add extra years along with percentage salary increases.

Although player movement certainly occurs every summer, the cap rising to $94 million eliminated the incentive for players to remain with their own team as more than 70 percent of players switched franchises.

Had the players association agreed to the NBA proposed cap smoothing and not for the cap to jump from $70 million to $94 million, Kevin Durant likely would have remained with the Thunder.

THE $100 MILLION DOLLAR CLUB
The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets sent shock waves through the NBA with their $100 million-plus payroll.

Fast-forward three years and now there are 10 teams with $100 million payrolls with five more hovering north of $95 million.

The new TV money will certainly off-set player salaries in the future, but the financial picture of the NBA, with 15-man rosters, now looks more like the NFL’s with 53-man rosters.

LUXURY TAX BECOMES A NON-FACTOR
The days of the Cavaliers’ $54 million tax bill this past season and the Nets’ $90 million one in 2013-14 are long gone.

The rise in the cap, for at least one year, has eliminated the luxury tax that teams such as the Miami Heat once feared.

A major sticking point in the 2011 work stoppage was for the NBA to implement a progressive luxury tax that would penalize teams for overspending along with creating rules that would hinder player movement for tax teams.

Since going into effect in the 2013-14 season, the NBA has collected over $300 million in luxury tax with 50 percent of that amount distributed to teams that fell below the tax threshold.

Although teams such as the Clippers and Cavaliers, repeat offenders from last season, hover around the $113 million tax threshold, the rest of the NBA has little to worry about.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS STAYING PUT
Although the cap jumped $24 million from the previous season, restricted free agents continued the path of past summers and remained with their teams.

Even the large offer sheets the Nets agreed upon with Miami’s Tyler Johnson and Portland’s Allen Crabbe were matched.

The rise in the cap certainly played a role in the salary amounts each player agreed upon and could have lasting financial repercussions for Miami and Portland.

ROOKIE SCALE EXTENDED
From a headline perspective, a player drafted in the first round certainly has appeal. Along with the label of being a first-round pick also comes two years of guaranteed money.

The additional cap relief teams received this summer however unofficially extended the rookie scale into the second round.

Out of the nine second-round picks currently signed, eight mirror the rookie scale of a first-round selection.

Although there is no scale for players selected in the second round, teams have taken advantage of the additional cap space to lock up players to cap-friendly contracts.

Grizzlies second-round pick Deyonta Davis, for example, signed a three-year, $4 million contract that is similar to one signed by a first-rounder selected in the early twenties of the draft.

THE IMPACT ON THE 2017 FREE AGENTS
The excessive spending this summer will have an impact with the excellent free-agent class next summer.

The field of 27 teams with $20 million-plus in cap space this past summer could be sliced in half by the time next July rolls around.

Even with the cap rising from $94 million to a projected $102 million, early projections forecast only 12 teams having $15 million-plus in cap room.

With unrestricted free agents LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, JJ Redick and Derrick Rose set to hit the open market, free agents could be remaining with their own teams.

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No. 3: Buddy Hield is ready to go — Take Summer League for whatever it’s worth; the Pelicans aren’t sweating the inconsistent shooting of their top draft pick, Buddy Hield. There’s simply too much at stake for a franchise that’s trying to put important pieces around Anthony Davis to worry about 5-for-20 shooting in July; that was Hield’s first game. He has settled down somewhat since then, and the Pelicans love his aggressiveness. Here’s Justin Verrier of ESPN.com on the former Oklahoma star:

“Our message to Buddy all year was, ‘Don’t change, don’t change,'” said Lon Kruger, the Sooners’ head coach, in a phone interview. “When you start getting those national accolades and recognition and player of the year conversations, don’t change, don’t change.

“Even when he received the awards, we said don’t change anything. When you get drafted, don’t change anything. You’ve got something unique and special as a personality. When you get to the NBA, don’t change anything.”

Such a player would seem like an easy fit in a league trying to cash in on an everyman capable of superhuman shot-making. Like Stephen Curry, Buddy enters his pro career with a ready-made persona, a backlog of big-game highlights — including besting a “Mini-LeBron” in Ben Simmons with the almighty 3 — and the ability to walk the line between charm and confidence. He’s a supremely gifted athlete who also pulled himself up by the boot straps.

He’s your buddy, but he’s also an on-court killer who idolizes — and now shares an agent with — Kobe Bryant.

“The qualities Buddy has are the ones you’d want everyone to have,” Kruger said. “What I think balances it is sincerity and maybe the work ethic. His peers like him, the coaches like him, the administration likes him, the people in town like him. It’s not like he flaunts anything. It’s not like he gives off that he’s entitled. It’s not like he’s expecting anything back. Buddy’s a giver. Which is pretty rare when you think of a player with those abilities.”

The Buddy brand also comes complete with three self-given alter egos: “Buddy Fresh,” which he’s prone to belt out to spark self-motivation; “Buddy Love,” which is “for the ladies,” as he recently told The Starters; and “Buddy Buckets,” which on draft day lined his suit jacket in Bahaman colors.

“I’ve got good branding skills,” he said with a smirk. “Attracts the crowd a lot too.”

Even “Buddy” is an alias. His mother, in what is now Hield lore, saw a likeness between her infant son and the character Bud Bundy from “Married … with Children,” and so his given name Chavano became Buddy.

Those who know him well agree it fits.

“He’s always had that swag,” said Sacramento Kings rookie Isaiah Cousins, Hield’s former roommate at Oklahoma. “It’s just a part of his culture.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: How much can the loaded Warriors fetch from ads on jerseys? Early estimates have $15 million a season … Dwyane Wade said he has worn Bulls gear every day since signing.

Morning shootaround — July 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Iguodala says OKC should have won title | Lakers’ Nance Jr. injures handConley builds a legacy in Memphis

No. 1: Iguodala says Thunder should have won 2016 title — It will likely be a long time before any NBA fan forgets the epic seven-game series the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder waged in the Western Conference finals. From the storylines to the impact the Warriors’ rally to win the series had on both franchises, this playoff matchup will live on in NBA lore for years. One of the key performers in that series, Golden State forward Andre Iguodala, had some praise for the Thunder after the Warriors’ loss in The Finals has settled. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more on what Iguodala told Power 105.1 radio in New York:

More than a week later, Kevin Durant‘s stunning departure still stings Thunder fans for a variety of reasons. Andre Iguodala just added another one.

Appearing on a recent New York City radio show, Iguodala told the hosts that the Thunder, not the 73-win Warriors or NBA champion Cavaliers, was the best team in the playoffs and should’ve won the title.

Quite infamously, OKC blew a 3-1 series lead and a double-digit second half cushion in Game 6, melting away its title hopes to the same Warriors who snagged away the face of the franchise a month later.

“Now that we got KD, I can say it: They were the best team last year in the league in the playoffs,” Iguodala said. “They were better than us. They were better than Cleveland. They were the best team in the playoffs. They should’ve won a championship.”

Why didn’t they?

“I mean, we just hawked them down,” Iguodala said. “But they were better than us. They played us better than anyone. They played us better than Cleveland. Some of the stuff they was doing, it’s like…oh, man. We gotta play perfect.”

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