Pacers need Hill to attack leading role

DALLAS – It remains a mutually beneficial trade for both sides, yet it could have been just a bit awkward for Indiana Pacers guard George Hill to watch his old team pulverize the one team his never could, and then see the player he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, celebrated as the Finals MVP.

Hill, however, said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kawhi is a good friend of mine,” Hill said Sunday as the Pacers’ preseason trek brought them to Dallas. “I’m happy for his success. I’m happy for the Spurs’ success. If we’re not winning, you know, I root for them. I’m still good friends with everyone in that organization and with everyone on that team. All of them are like my brothers.”

Which is as good a segue as any when talking about these Pacers, because they’re using training camp to try to bond like brothers following a summer — and really starting from the second half of last season — of tumult. Shooting guard and the NBA’s surprising triple-double leader, Lance Stephenson, departed for Charlotte as a free agent. All-Star forward Paul George, the emerging star who allowed the Pacers to deal Leonard for point guard help in 2011, emotionally shook the franchise, and the league, when he broke his leg during the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas.

And just like that, the Pacers are a much different team, and one that will be asking Hill to bring a much different game than he really ever has, either with the Spurs where he was mostly a reserve surrounded by the Big Three, or in Indiana, where its two no-longer-available wings were so often the point of attack.

“He’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot.  So a lot of times he was the secondary option; most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.”

Vogel compared it back to when Hill first arrived.

“Before Danny Granger got hurt and Paul George and Lance Stephenson exploded, our go-to guys were David West and George Hill, and it’s just going to return to that,” Vogel said. “And they did that on a team that in the lockout season won at a 50-win pace as the two late-game go-to guys.”

That team turned a 37-45 record in 2010-11 to 42-24 with Hill backing up Darren Collison before taking over as the starter late in the season. The Pacers advanced to the East semifinals. And maybe they can again this season in an unpredictable Eastern Conference.

The reorganizing Heat and Pacers have been replaced by LeBron James‘ new team, the Cavaliers, and the Bulls as conference favorites. Washington, Toronto, Brooklyn and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets could all make some noise.

“Defense wins games, so as long as we continue to play defense the right way, I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to use our defense as our offense.”

Even so, there’s little doubt that Hill will need to boost his scoring and playmaking for the Pacers not to drop to the lower rungs of the playoff chase. Hill averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 assists while logging 32 minutes a game last season. He shot 44.2 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. He ranked 96th in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, in number of drives to the basket. To put that low number in some perspective, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook registered 99 more drives to the basket even though he played in 30 fewer games.

“Obviously he’s going to have to play a bigger role for us. He’s got to be aggressive,” West said. “It’s going to be a different role and adjustment for him, but he’s going to work himself into it, get comfortable with it. The last couple of years we’ve attacked from the wings. He’s going to have to be the point of attack for us, to really look to take his game to another level.”

Talking numbers with Raptors’ Casey


VIDEO: 2014-15 Raptors Team Preview

NEW YORK – To be a true title contender, a team must be among the league’s best on both ends of the floor.

There were four teams who ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. Three of them should be no surprise. But four months later, it’s still strange seeing the Toronto Raptors as the Eastern Conference’s only representative on the list.

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The Raptors were a surprise in the standings too. After five years outside the playoffs and a 6-12 start, the Raps went 42-22 over the final four months and finished third in the East.

But the Raps still finished one possession short of the conference semifinals. So they have to find ways to keep getting better after making jumps on both ends of the floor last season.  

Showing up is part of NBA skill set

John Stockton (here in 2002) played in every game in 17 of his 19 years with the Jazz. (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

John Stockton (here in 2002) played in every game in 17 of his 19 years with the Jazz. (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Regardless of how many tools your go-to handyman has in his belt, no matter his craftsmanship and creativity, it doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t show up to work. The same holds true for chefs, pilots, cubicle drones and, yes, NBA players.

“Staying healthy is a skill” is the way some old-school types have put it, and while that might be too broad – neglecting simple ingredients such as luck and good genes – there is no doubt that durability is an asset. To a player and to his team.

Injuries are back in the headlines due to Kevin Durant’s foot fracture, Bradley Beal’s wrist, Rajon Rondo’s hand, Paul George’s leg and assorted dings, bruises and sidelining setbacks around the league. The key word, unfortunately, is back.

In the first few months of 2013-14, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Al Horford and Russell Westbrook were ailing. The toll across several seasons before that included Rose, Horford, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Andrew Bynum, Chris Paul, David West and the sad arcs of Brandon Roy’s and Yao Ming’s careers.

Despite heavy media coverage, the NBA’s analysis suggested that the injury rate remained largely unchanged across multiple years. Numerous theories were floated in search of an explanation for what injuries there were. Too much year-round basketball at a young age, some said. Too many games in the NBA season, from pre- through regular right onto post-, argued others. Shoe technology, court size, strength training, nutrition — all were factors examined by some, ignored by others, without much consensus, never mind solutions.

And maybe that’s all the explanation we’ll ever get: Athletes get hurt.

“It’s not like they just started happening,” Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday, before his team’s preseason home game against Denver. “This is the way it’s been. If you look at anyone who’s played 10 years in this league, they usually have dealt with something. They had to get past something. Whether it was a knee injury, an ankle injury, a shoulder injury, wrist, finger, something. OK? So it’s all part of it.

“Hopefully you have the mental toughness to get through adversity. Most of these guys have it – you can’t get here without having that. But the injuries, it’s not like all of a sudden … we react like, we collect more data and injuries all of a sudden are something new. No, they’ve been a part of this league for a long time.”

How much a part? One way to gauge the durability of players is to check the rate at which they “showed up” for their teams on a given night. Call it a player’s “availability average,” as determined by his appearances as a percentage of his team’s total games during the same period.

Using regular-season games only, here are the availability averages for 25 NBA greats, all enshrined or likely to be in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame:

  • 98.6%: John Stockton (1,504 of 1,526)
  • 98.0%: Gary Payton (1,335 of 1,362)
  • 97.5%: John Havlicek (1,270 of 1,303)
  • 97.2%: Bill Russell (963 of 991)
  • 96.7%: Karl Malone (1,476 of 1,526)
  • 96.2%: Reggie Miller (1,389 of 1,444)
  • 95.1%: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560 of 1,640)
  • 93.4%: Michael Jordan (1,072 of 1,148)
  • 92.7%: Wilt Chamberlain (1,045 of 1,17)
  • 92.1%: Jason Kidd (1,391 of 1,510)
  • 92.1%: Magic Johnson (906 of 984)
  • 91.8%: Isiah Thomas (979 of 1,066)
  • 91.7%: Oscar Robertson (1,040 of 1,134)
  • 89.6%: Dominique Wilkins (1,074 of 1,198)
  • 86.5%: Scottie Pippen (1,178 of 1,362)
  • 85.7%: Hakeem Olajuwon (1,238 of 1,444)
  • 85.3%: Moses Malone (1,329 of 1,558)
  • 84.1%: Larry Bird (897 of 1,066)
  • 82.2%: Jerry West (932 of 1,134)
  • 81.9%: Allen Iverson (914 of 1,116)
  • 79.4%: Tracy McGrady (938 of 1,182)
  • 79.1%: Shaquille O’Neal (1,207 of 1,526)
  • 78.8%: Charles Barkley (1,073 of 1,362)
  • 75.7%: Elgin Baylor (846 of 1,117)
  • 67.9%: Grant Hill (1,026 of 1,510)

Here, for comparison’s sake, are 25 of the league’s top active players (we’re assuming Ray Allen signs with someone) and their rate for “showing up:”

  • 97.1%: Kevin Durant (542 of 558)
  • 95.5%: Dwight Howard (768 of 804)
  • 95.0%: LeBron James (842 of 886)
  • 94.0%: Dirk Nowitzki (1,188 of 1,264)
  • 93.2%: Tim Duncan (1,254 of 1,346)
  • 93.1%: Paul Pierce (1,177 of 1,264)
  • 92.4%: Russell Westbrook (440 of 476)
  • 91.2%: Kevin Garnett (1,377 of 1,510)
  • 91.0%: Ray Allen (1,300 of 1,428)
  • 90.8%: Vince Carter (1,148 of 1,264)
  • 90.2%: LaMarcus Aldridge (577 of 640)
  • 89.5%: Tony Parker (940 of 1,050)
  • 89.2%: Carmelo Anthony (790 of 886)
  • 87.2%: Kobe Bryant (1,245 of 1,426)
  • 86.2%: Pau Gasol (905 of 1,050)
  • 85.5%: Chris Paul (617 of 722)
  • 85.3%: Steph Curry (336 of 394)
  • 85.2%: Steve Nash (1,217 of 1,428)
  • 82.1%: Manu Ginobili (795 of 968)
  • 81.2%: Dwyane Wade (719 of 886)
  • 78.9%: Rajon Rondo (505 of 640)
  • 78.2%: Blake Griffin (308 of 394)
  • 76.5%: Kevin Love (364 of 476)
  • 75.9%: Amar’e Stoudemire (735 of 968)
  • 60.7% Derrick Rose (289 of 476)

Durant’s average is going to take a hit as soon as Oklahoma City’s schedule begins without him in two weeks. His sidekick Westbrook will have to pick up slack for the Thunder – and Westbrook’s rate actually might be better than you expected, since his most notable breakdown came in the 2013 postseason.

Rose will be trying to boost a number that, historically, has him well below one of the NBA’s poster guys for bad luck, Grant Hill. Meanwhile, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan — even if they never reach Stockton’s or Payton’s mad numbers — probably don’t get enough acclaim for enduring the rigors of their work as well as they do.

“I think your mindset has to be right,” Thibodeau said. “They say Duncan never leaves the gym. And when you look at great players, that’s usually when you read about guys who have achieved something great. It’s usually them getting past adversity, then making great effort, and their readiness to accept the challenge.”

Asked whether good fortune or good genetics plays the greater role in good NBA health, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy said: “Both. There’s also work that goes into it. The more you take care of your body year round, offseason and in-season, it directly affects your health, how many games you’re able to play and how many games you miss. But you can do the best job of that in the world and you can still get hurt.”

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw subscribes to the AAU-crazed, overuse theory and won’t let his kids play just one sport all year long because of that. He and his team are back after a 2013-14 season beset by injuries (Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Nate Robinson and others).

Shaw sees more attention focused on injury prevention and body maintenance, even if that gets circumvented by one awkward move or fluke moment. An NBA point guard for 14 seasons, Shaw said: “Before we kind of just did some jumping jacks, went down and touched your toes a few times, and went out and played. Now there’s a 15- or 20-minute period every day where the strength and conditioning coach activates the players’ muscles and warms them up.

“It takes some discipline to do those things that are monotonous to warm yourself up properly and cool yourself down after a practice, to ice and do all the things that are necessary for you to come back the next day.”

Thibodeau talked of two competing “schools of thought” for coping physically in the NBA. One loads up players with minutes and practices almost like weighting a baseball bat in the on-deck circle, so they’re in peak condition for what the schedules throws at them. The other preaches rest, recuperation and easing through the preseason and even the regular season to be as healthy as possible for the playoffs.

It’s no secret which school Thibodeau graduated from.

“The only way you can guarantee a guy not getting hurt is, don’t play him,” the Bulls coach said. “Don’t practice him, don’t play him. Don’t play him in the preseason, don’t play him in the regular season. Just don’t play him and he won’t get hurt.”

Messina adds taste of Italy to Spurs

messina

Could Ettore Messina (left) be the Spurs’ next coach when Gregg Popovich retires? (NBAE via Getty Images)

Ettore Messina had taken a sip from the NBA cup before when he was a consultant on Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers for the 2011-12 season.

This time is like opening wide, throwing back his head and drinking it all in.

“The Spurs,” he said with a grin. “It is a familiar taste.”

A comfortable fit, like a designer Italian suit.

The team with nine international players from seven different countries now adds another bit of overseas flair to the mix with an assistant coach with a worldly resume.

The 55-year-old Italian has won four titles in his home country, four Russian League titles, four Euroleague championships and was named one of the 50 greatest contributors to the Euroleague.

“He’s a smart guy, a helluva good coach and a very interesting man,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Why wouldn’t you want somebody like Ettore to be around your team?”

Fact is, Messina had been around the Spurs once before. When he abruptly quit as coach of Real Madrid just before the Euroleague playoffs in the spring of 2011, Messina accepted an invitation from the Spurs to come to San Antonio and travel with the team.

After his season in L.A., a return to coach CSKA Moscow, this is more of a commitment as a full member of the coaching staff as the Spurs look for new ways to keep moving ahead in defense of their 2014 NBA championship.

It is a reunion with Manu Ginobili, 13 years after the Argentine star was the Euroleague Finals MVP for Messina’s champion team at Kinder Bologna. It was also a time when Messina first was exposed to a young teen-age prospect named Marco Belinelli.

“It is obviously special to have a chance to come to the NBA after these years and be part of a team with Manu and Marco,” Messina said. “But I know so many of the different Spurs player from their time in Europe. In a way, it is like I am coming home.

“It is very, very special to work with Pop, with this club, not only because it happens to be the champion team, but also the team that for us Europeans is closest to our way of seeing things and doing things. To have this chance to return with Manu at the end of his career, it’s very special. At my age you don’t start thinking about building a career or anything. If something happens, it happens. It doesn’t matter. Now it is only about experiences.”

For Popovich and the Spurs, it is only the next step in their determination to leave no stone unturned anywhere on the planet in order to move ahead in their education in the game. They added Messina to the staff in the same summer that they broke another barrier when they welcomed Becky Hammon as the first full-time female coach in an American men’s professional league.

“That’s just Pop,” said general manager R.C. Buford. “He’s open and he’s always hungry and searching for new things to discover about the game and different ways to coach it.”

“It was an easier decision now because Ettore has been with us before,” Popovich said. “I gave him a seat on our team plane and he’s gone on road trips with us. He’s traveled with us before.

“We talk a lot, that sort of thing. He’s a class act, a lot classier and suave than I am. He’s a sharp dude and he knows what he’s doing. Having Ettore here is great for our program and fun for me. (He’s) somebody I can bounce things off and same generation kind of thing.”

Messina has watched from a distance as Popovich exercised his basketball world view and assembled his “Foreign Legion” lineup, using the style and many of the passing game principles that have been a staple of the international game.

“We had to play that style in Europe and South America because we don’t have the kind of size, strength and athleticism in the game that exists in the United States,” Messina said. “I am talking about a generalization, of course. We learned that if we were going to win against those kinds of players, we would have to use skills — passing, keeping the ball moving, shooting, so many of the fundamentals. Those are all the things that Pop teaches here with the Spurs. I must say, it was a joy as a coach to watch the way they played last year, especially in the playoffs. Now I am an assistant coach back at the first step, trying to learn everything.”

Messina says his first experience with the Spurs and now his daily training camp routine in San Antonio continues to dispel many myths that Europeans have about the NBA.

“The thought over there is that the Americans don’t work, that it is all about the individual, about just using physical talent,” he said. “Most people over there think that we worked harder. That is not true. There is a great deal of individual work here in the NBA by players trying to get better. There is concentration on player development by the teams. If you watched the USA team (last) month in the World Cup, you know that wasn’t just a group of All-Stars. That was a team. That’s what Pop has put in place here. Everyone talks here about the ‘European style’ that the Spurs play. You know what? We really spend a great deal of time watching film and studying the Spurs and Pop’s offense.”

With Popovich at 65 and Messina 10 years younger, it might not be so far-fetched to think this could be the progression of the reigning champs’ global evolution — the grooming of the first foreign-born head coach.

It is, after all, how the Spurs conquered the basketball world, one dribble, one country at a time.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thibodeau wants more from Noah, Rose | Horford likely to return to lineup this week | Kidd explains Antetokounmpo’s new role | Burke getting better grip on NBA game

No. 1: Thibodeau wants Bulls to play sharper — The Chicago Bulls climbed to .500 in the preseason after last night’s 110-90 win against the Denver Nuggets, but the team’s perfectionist coach, Tom Thibodeau, wasn’t exactly thrilled with the outcome. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Thibodeau is wanting a San Antonio Spurs-like focus from his team as the preseason wears on and he just hasn’t seen that yet from them. As well, Thibodeau thinks stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah have a lot more work to do:

There were signs in a 110-90 preseason win over the Denver Nuggets at the United Center on Monday night, but Thibodeau is looking for perfection — and if not perfection, at least a better effort in attempting to achieve it.

That starts with guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah, whom he singled out.

With both players coming off injuries last season, restrictions on their minutes have handcuffed what Thibodeau wants to get done.

‘‘In order for [Rose] to get his timing, he has to play, and he has to work,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Right now, his timing isn’t there. It’s a big adjustment for everyone. Everyone has to get used to what he does on the floor. The only way you can do that is by being out there.

‘‘It depends on the work he puts in when he shakes that rust off. The game is played collectively. There’s a lot of work for him and Jo. I’m concerned about that.’’

It’s not only what he hasn’t been seeing from his core players but what he has observed this preseason from the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. In the two preseason games the Spurs played overseas last week, veteran Tim Duncan played 33 and 35 minutes, while Tony Parker played 35 and 36.

‘‘I’m watching San Antonio, and they’re going after it,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Parker, Duncan, they’re playing huge minutes right off the start. I think it’s a strong message what they’re saying right now. They’re preparing themselves to defend their championship. And so in order to get that way from them, you’re going to have to wrestle it away from them. They’re not just going to give it away. Your mind-set has to be right.’’

Thibodeau wouldn’t come out and say Noah and Rose haven’t had the right mind-set, but he was definitely setting the bar.

‘‘Oh, no, they’re working hard enough,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s getting ready to play in games. You’re going to have timing and conditioning by playing together.’’


VIDEO: The Bulls handle the Nuggets in a preseason rout

 

‘Jones fracture’ can be tricky, but odds are Durant heals just fine


VIDEO: OKC GM Sam Presti says it’s impossible to replace Durant

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The “Jones fracture” Kevin Durant sustained to his right foot is hardly unique to basketball players. However the bone in question — the fifth metatarsal — is unique, which is why pinpointing Durant’s return, plus potential complications, is met by sports medicine professionals with a certain level of caution.

“We don’t worry about this if it was, for example, the bone to the middle toe, because 100 percent of the time those heal. You never have the remote chance of nonunion when you’re considering the third or fourth metatarsals,” said renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. T.O. Souryal, the Dallas Mavericks team physician and president of the NBA Team Physicians Association. “The fifth [metatarsal] is very unique and it’s unique because there are tendons that attach there that are constantly pulling in the opposite direction that you want the healing to take place. None of the other metatarsal bones have that stress on them. Because of the mechanics, because of the blood supply, there is that little shadow of uncertainty.

“Those of us who do sports medicine on a regular basis have a tremendous respect for Jones fracture because it looks relatively innocuous, and 95 percent of them heal uneventfully, relatively quickly. But there are a few tricky ones that don’t heal uneventfully and don’t heal very quickly.”

Thunder general manager Sam Presti said on Sunday that Durant will likely undergo surgery, and he estimated the NBA’s reigning MVP will be sidelined six to eight weeks. Souryal said surgery is the most common treatment for athletes with a “Jones fracture,” and that Presti’s timeframe is on target for this type of injury.

The fifth metatarsal bone is the long bone on the outside of the foot that connects to the little toe. A “Jones fracture” occurs toward the back end of the bone in an area that receives less blood and therefore can be more prone to difficulties in healing. For most athletes, the “Jones fracture” is caused by overuse, repetitive stress or trauma. Presti said Durant alerted the Thunder’s medical staff to discomfort in his foot following Saturday’s practice.

Because of the tricky nature of the bone, Souryal said the actual time an athlete misses can vary, sometimes healing before the six-week timetable, but also sometimes taking longer than eight weeks.

“There are some [Jones fractures] that heal in four to five weeks, absolutely, but there are some that take three, four months,” Souryal said. “And it’s difficult to tell which is which in the beginning. It’s just difficult to tell. As a result, we all have a healthy respect for this injury. In Oklahoma City, they have an excellent medical staff and I will give them tremendous credit for making the diagnosis early, and I am sure that they are in deliberations right now trying to decide what is the best course of action.”

Once the bone heals, Souryal said it will be as good as new. That’s not a guarantee that Durant can’t re-injure the foot, but odds are in his favor that he will continue on with his career with no further difficulties.

Mavs fans remember up-and-coming guard Rodrigue Beaubois, who fractured the same bone while working out with the French national team several summers ago. Beaubois underwent surgery and was on the comeback trail, but he re-fractured the bone during a workout as his return date neared and missed another significant chunk of time.

“He was one of the few percentages that did not heal fully and re-broke,” Souryal said.

The fact that basketball players are constantly running and jumping, the factors that likely led to Durant’s injury in the first place, means there is always a risk of re-injury. However, most athletes returning from the fracture, Souryal said, do not experience a setback.

“The positive spin is that the vast majority heal this fracture uneventfully and come back on time,” Souryal said. “It’s only those tricky ones, those few percentage points, that don’t. So if you play the odds, I think six to eight weeks is exactly right.”

Nash setback comes amid new optimism


VIDEO: Steve Nash explains how he is adjusting his training as he ages

No, no sirens going off. Just another health concern for Steve Nash. In other news, the sun came up this morning.

Except that 2014-15 is supposed to be different. Not only is that the plan from Nash and the Lakers, it’s also tangible, with Nash saying that while he felt good for the start of camp a year ago, he was sound all summer this time. Racing the calendar was a thing of the past.

Nash on Sept. 29: “I feel good. I felt pretty good like in September last year, but I felt pretty good all summer this year. It’s not something where I was just fighting all summer just to get back on the court. A little different perspective and hopefully it’s a sign of some relief in that nerve.”

Then, coach Byron Scott on Oct. 12, to a group of reporters Sunday after the Lakers lost to the Warriors in Ontario, Calif.: Nash said before the game he “didn’t quite feel right” and “He wanted to play and give it a try after the first quarter. But he said, ‘Coach, I’m done.’ “

Nash meant for the night. Probably. But it was a hit even though the basketball world has gotten unfortunately used to such updates. He went from months of reason to be encouraged and measurable improvement compared to training camp ’13 to not being able to make it through the exhibition schedule.

Nash sat out practice Monday, then told L.A. media afterward he had a “‘sciatica problem,” the night before, a concern because it’s a nerve problem again and also involves the back. But he stressed he expects to play Thursday against the Jazz and is simply being extra cautious, because it’s the exhibition schedule and because that’s the other way he is different.

He learned to stop pushing it. Nash’s dedication to the game is unquestioned — he could have given up the comeback(s) long ago, retired, taken the money, and no one would have doubted the effort that went into playing again. It took until a few months after his 40th birthday, though, to realize that less could be more.

“That’s something that I’ve not been very good at in my career,” Nash said a few weeks ago. “I’ve always kind of overdone it or tried to do too much on a day-to-day basis. For me, it’s been a real challenge this summer to stop while I feel good and come back again later in the day if I have to. But to not overdo it and leave myself kind of exposed or exploit the good health that I do have. That’s going to be a different perspective for me. I’ve got to pick my spots and give myself the best opportunity to sustain it.”

Perhaps Sunday night in the Los Angeles suburb was picking his spot.

Scott, an experienced coach though in his first season with the Lakers, has already been managing Nash’s minutes, holding his projected starting point guard out of one of the exhibitions. There would be a lot of those decisions in the months ahead even if Nash is as healthy as possible, about finding opportunities to dial down minutes in a game or when to sit Nash completely on a back-to-back. Playing just the first quarter against the Warriors may have accelerated Scott’s decisions on the calendar, but it’s not like anyone went into 2014-15 unaware the L.A. backcourt would have to be nursed along.

When Scott was asked the day before practices began whether he could count on 65 or 70 games from Nash or whether that was overly optimistic, he replied, “You know what, I don’t know, to be honest with you. We still have a lot of questions that need to be answered….” He would wait and see how things go once the encouraging signs of summer gave way to the actual of games.

Which just happened.

‘Chubbygate’ ends with chuckle in Dallas


VIDEO: Parsons says he’s pleased that coach Rick Carlisle apologized for his comments

DALLAS – When Mark Cuban was asked to weigh in on what has become a sensitive issue around here, the Dallas Mavericks owner peered down from his step machine, sweat beading on his forehead and said: “I have to talk about Chubbygate?”

The hubbub started in the early stages of training camp when Mavs coach Rick Carlisle called out prized new acquisition Chandler Parsons for being out of shape. Carlisle suggested that Chandler was a bit too paunchy around the mid-section.

It’s quite the accusation against a heartthrob and bona fide blue-jeans model.

The 6-foot-9 small forward has said he wanted to bulk up some above the waist to help him better guard power forwards when needed. Still, Carlisle shoved on with his ill-fated motivational tactic following Friday night’s preseason game.

“An increase of 18 to 20 pounds is just too much,” Carlisle said. “We talked about it today. We talk about it a lot. He’ll get there, but he looked tired out there and a little heavy-legged, and the extra seven or eight pounds aren’t helping.

“I don’t mean to call him out in public or ridicule him, but it’s just a fact. He’s an important guy for us. We just need him to get to his right conditioning and weight level so he can play his best because we’re going to need him to play a lot of minutes over the course of 82 games.”

Chandler, who signed a $46 million offer sheet from the Mavs in July and officially joined the franchise when the Houston Rockets decided not to match, wasn’t appreciative of such motivation. He could have just rolled his eyes understanding that in years past Carlisle had called out Lamar Odom a few seasons ago and Samuel Dalembert last season.

Of course, neither of those players had instantaneously become the franchise’s second-highest-paid player in a very public courting, and is arguably the Mavs’ most important player for title contention.

Over the weekend, Chandler wanted the world to see just how “overweight” he is, so he snapped a shot of his bare washboard torso while standing on a balcony of a Dallas high-rise and posted it on Instagram. It made the social media rounds, quickly. A lot of people took notice, including, Carlisle said, his wife and daughter.

“I received my punishment,” Carlisle said. “My wife and daughter became full-time Chandler Parsons Twitter and Instagram followers.”

At that point, Carlisle must have felt he was seeing a different body image than everybody else, so he felt compelled to apologize? Carlisle issued a statement Sunday prior to the Mavs’ preseason game against Indiana:

“It was unfair and inappropriate to single out Chandler Parsons after the game Friday night. I have apologized to him and the entire team for this error in judgment. Not only is Chandler Parsons one of our best players, he is also one of our hardest working players and the kind of high-character person we strive to bring to our city and franchise.

I also made it clear to our players and staff this morning that this type of bad example is not acceptable and beneath the dignity of a championship organization like the Dallas Mavericks.”

Well then.

The apology was well-received by Parsons.

“It just shows what kind of guy he is,” Parsons said after Sunday’s game. “We’re in this together. Everybody makes mistakes and he came to me as a man. We have a great relationship. It’s in the past, and we’re going to move forward. It’s over with.”

Thank goodness.

But was Carlisle really wrong for publicly airing his concerns? Or was it bad judgement to take such a tact? Was Parsons, 25, just overly sensitive? And either way, was an apology of such conviction truly warranted from one of the league’s most successful coaches?

Cuban, known at times to fuel his own headlines by speaking out to the media, called “Chubbygate” a non-event and said he doesn’t know if it was necessary for Carlisle to apologize. But, he’s glad Carlisle did.

“Rick’s smart,” Cuban said. “When he feels like somebody’s sensitive about something or he touched a nerve, he deals with it. He doesn’t run away from it. He doesn’t pretend it didn’t happen. It was no big deal. It’s a non-event.”

We now return your regularly scheduled programming.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 173) Road Trip

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That fatigue you hear in our voices is real. Chew up nearly 4,000 miles of American highway on a luxury bus in search of some basketball’s biggest names and you’d feel it, too. We did six cities in seven days and did not let up.

The Hang Time Road Trip was real. We lived every wild and crazy minute of it and you will get a chance to see all of the things we did Wednesday night on the Hang Time Road Trip wrapup special (10 p.m. ET, NBA TV). 

We witnessed the return of LeBron James in his first game back in Cleveland. We saw Pau Gasol‘s first steps as a Chicago Bull. We picked Larry Bird‘s brain about where the Indiana Pacers go from here. We got an in-depth explanation of the rebuilding plan in Philadelphia from Sixers CEO Scott O’Neal. We dove into the mind of Lance Stephenson, now of the Charlotte Bobcats. And we fired questions at Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher about the Knicks. And we even dipped into the college ranks with a guided tour of North Carolina’s pristine facilities with Roy Williams.

And that’s just the basketball portion of the trip.

We had just as much fun away from the game, touring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I got my hair cut at President Obama‘s spot in Chicago, we watched Lang work the kitchen at Tony Luke’s and we all dined in fine fashion at Red Rooster, the world-famous Harlem eatery owned by celebrity chef and Knicks fanatic Marcus Samuelsson.

You’ll see all of that and more during Wednesday’s Hang Time Road Trip wrapup special on NBA TV Wednesday (10 p.m.) But in the meantime you can get a sense of the magnitude of the trip on Episode 173 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Road Trip

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: Larry Bird joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

Morning shootaround — Oct. 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC trying to figure out its Plan B | Bryant mentoring in a new way | Jackson: Dolan won’t ‘meddle’ in roster moves | Shaw monitoring Lawson’s ankle injury

No. 1: OKC searching for lineup solution in wake of Durant injury — In case you were under a rock yesterday, the Oklahoma City Thunder received some tough news mid-morning that their superstar (and the NBA’s reigning MVP) Kevin Durant will be out 6-8 weeks with a stress-related fracture in his right foot. It’s tough news for that team to swallow, but they must move forward as the start of the season approaches. One of the most well-informed OKC observers, The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry, offers up this view on what may be next in Thunder-land:

There is no Plan B for losing the NBA’s leading scorer four times over to injury. Still, the Thunder must come up with one.

Quick.

Five preseason games might remain, but Oklahoma City’s season opener arrives two weeks from Wednesday. And the Thunder, remember, hasn’t even determined — or at least hasn’t announced — who’ll be this year’s starting shooting guard and center.

Now tack onto that the chore of figuring out who will be the starting small forward. Figuring out who will replicate Durant’s 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Figuring out how to survive 20 games in the ruthless Western Conference.

“Replacing 30 points and high efficiency, that is not going to be easy,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said at a news conference discussing Durant’s injury Sunday. “It will be a collection of things.”

Presti pointed first to defense.

“One of the ways to improve your team and make up for loss offensively is to be play even better defensively and reduce the net rating between the offense and the defense,” Presti said.

Part of the shame in Durant going down will be the delayed unveiling of OKC’s revamped offense, which has looked phenomenal at times through two preseason games thanks to ball movement, spacing, cutting and off-ball action that has been missing for the better part of six seasons.

The challenge for the Thunder, and it will be a real challenge without the world’s best scorer standing on the wing striking nightly fear into defenders, is to maintain that offensive identity and allow it to lead to easier scoring opportunities. No longer can the Thunder rely simply on the two-headed monster of Durant and Russell Westbrook. For too long OKC has gotten by with their supreme talents bailing out the offense. Now, the offense will have to sustain what suddenly has become a far less talented active roster.

The basketball world already is on edge waiting to see what Westbrook will do as a ball-happy, shot-hungry point guard without Durant by his side. But if all goes according to plan, the basketball world will be disappointed. Because unlike the 2013 postseason, when the Thunder’s offense unsuccessfully went from a glorified two-man show with Westbrook healthy to a horrifying one-man show staring Durant after the infamous Patrick Beverley play, Westbrook and his teammates have displayed a commitment to better ball movement, better execution and, thus, better structure.

In time, it could lead to the Thunder becoming a better team.


VIDEO: Thunder GM Sam Presti discusses how OKC will move on after Kevin Durant’s injury