Spurs repeat: It’s not about repeating


VIDEO: Media Day: Will Spurs repeat?

SAN ANTONIO — There’s a new “NBA champions 2014″ banner hanging near the ceiling at one of the practice facility. But except for a snow white beard on the face of coach Gregg Popovich, little else has changed since the last time the basketball world saw the Spurs. Not that it ever does.

Tim Duncan is back. Manu Ginobili is back. Tony Parker will be in a day late. In fact, every member of the team that wrapped up the fifth championship in franchise history in June will return when the Spurs receive their rings on opening night (Oct. 28) against the Mavericks.

“We had a pretty good year, so I didn’t see any reason to kick them out of town and make trades and change them,” Popovich cracked as the team gathered for media day. “Plus most of them were under contract and that makes it more difficult.

“That’s a pretty good crew. They’ll come back and, as usual, do their best and we’ll either lose in the first round, second round, conference finals or win it all. Who knows?”

What Popovich does know is that making a bid to go back-to-back for the first time in franchise history will not be what specifically or artificially drives the Spurs.

“We’ll talk about it a little bit,” he said. “You guys will write articles. It’s all the same every year. ‘Why haven’t we repeated?’ Because we haven’t.


VIDEO: Popovich looking toward 2014-15 season

“If we do, it would be great. If we don’t, life will go on, everything’s cool.

“Just to be clear, we’ve never had any goals whatsoever in a sense of winning X number of games or this year is our year to win a championship. We’ve never talked about it. We’ve never known what’s gonna happen at the end of the year or said this is what we want to happen.

“All we’ve said is that we want to be the best team that we can be at playoff time and that starts with the very first practice. It’s a building block sort of thing and then we hope that we can be healthy and fresh at playoff time. Those are the only goals we’ve had every single year, including last year and it will be no different this year.”

What the Spurs have learned from the past is that even the best preparation doesn’t end with balloons and confetti falling down on your head.

“A lot of times winning a championship, people don’t believe it…Good fortune plays a huge role,” Popovich said. “What’s good fortune? It’s a guy off the bench having a helluva series. It might be a call or a non call by an official. It might be an injury. It can be a lot of different things. The way the ball bounces, which is normally wouldn’t do in this or that circumstance.

“When we lost to Dallas here in Game 7 in the second round a few years back, we were a pretty darn good team and we were capable of winning a championship. Or the year that (Derek) Fisher hit the .4 on us. We were a pretty good team and I think we were capable of winning a championship.

“So those teams that did win, something happened on the opposite end of the spectrum fortune wise that helped them get there. It’s just the way it is. In Game 6 in the second half against Oklahoma City last year, you wouldn’t have predicted we’d win that game — down nine going into the second half without Tony. And it happened, because it’s a game and everything isn’t preordained.

“So winning championships has something to do with fortune and circumstances. That repeat thing just hasn’t gone our way in that sense. So this year obviously it will be in their mind that they would like to do that, but it will not be a mantra. Not we gotta do this. This is about your legacy and you’re not a great team if you didn’t do it’ and all the gobbledygook psychobabble. We won’t go into any of that.”

This is, however, a difference in playing as the defending champs, according to the veteran of 17 NBA season and the four previous titles.

“I think the biggest thing I recall is how big the game is every night, no matter where you go and who you play,” Duncan said. “It’s a big game for them, and that wears on you over a season. I think it’s about us finding a rhythm, finding a consistency and trying to deal with that and not be worn out by the end of the year.”

Garnett is back, ready for season No. 20


VIDEO: Media Day: Kevin Garnett

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The idea of retiring after 19 seasons in the NBA did cross Kevin Garnett‘s mind when the Brooklyn Nets were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals in May. And the departure of Paul Pierce for Washington led many to speculate that Garnett would seriously consider hanging ‘em up.

But Garnett is back for the final year of his contract, which will make him the fourth player in NBA history to play 20 seasons.

“I must admit these last three years I’ve thought about life and where basketball is as far as priority,” Garnett said at the Nets’ media day on Friday. It was the first time he had spoken to the media since before Game 5 in Miami. “So yeah, in the back of your mind you think about it. But the decision is either yes or no. It’s not like 50-50, I’m in the middle of the road or gray area. I’m a person that when you commit to something you commit to it. It’s that simple.”

Garnett’s offensive game fell off last season. He averaged a career-low 6.5 points on a career-low 44 percent, rarely playing with his back to the basket, even when he moved to center after Brook Lopez‘s season-ending foot injury. Though he had $12 million reasons to return for one more season in Brooklyn, it’s hard to imagine him coming back for season No. 21, which only two NBA players – Robert Parish and Kevin Willis – have ever reached.

But Garnett hasn’t reached that decision yet, and there will be no Jeterian farewell tour.

“I like to come in each year and assess it,” Garnett said. “I’ve always said the days when I’m not feeling basketball again, which is absurd, or when I don’t have the motivation to come in here, it’s time to move on. But that’s not the case. I’m very much motivated. I’m looking to have a better year than last year and I’m looking to enjoy this year.”

And this is not about proving that last season was a fluke or that he still has gas left in the tank.

“I don’t need to show people anything,” Garnett said. “That’s first off. Secondly, for myself, last year I think everybody had to [sacrifice] their own game and give a little bit for the betterment of [the team], and I did just that.”

Though he was, at times, a liability offensively last season, Garnett was still a plus defender and actually led the league in defensive rebounding percentage. And he still has plenty to offer in terms of leadership.

“He’s the life of the locker room,” Joe Johnson said, “a great leader, very vocal. We need him, not only in the locker room but on the floor as well. He helps in so many ways and I’m glad he’s back.”

“He’s still smart,” Deron Williams added. “What he brings to this team leadership-wise can’t be forgotten about. So we’re excited to have him back, excited for him to be on our team, and just the knowledge he gives the young guys. I think he’s a big reason why Mason [Plumlee] has developed so fast, because he’s got one of the best players to ever play the game on the bench, one of the best big men to ever play this game, coaching him every day.”

Indeed, Plumlee gives credit to Garnett for helping him go from the No. 22 pick in the 2013 Draft to a gold-medal-winning member of the U.S. National Team just a year later.

“It was big,” Plumlee said of Garnett’s influence. “Even [USA assistant] Coach [Tom] Thibodeau said, ‘I can tell you’ve been with Kevin last year.’ He rubs off on people in a good way. And there’s a lot to learn from him.”

There’s not a player in camp that’s happier than Plumlee to have Garnett around.

“It’s a big benefit,” Plumlee said. “I was very happy he decided to come back. I expressed that to him at the end of the last season that I hoped he would decide to come back. And it’s going to be good for me. It’s going to be good for the whole team. And I think it’s going to be good for the coaches too. They’ll love having a leader like that in the locker room.”

The Nets have a new coach for the second straight season. Lionel Hollins has already named Garnett the starting power forward and indicated that he would play more minutes than he did last season. Garnett is happy to move back to the four, and will play whatever minutes he’s given.

“Whatever the coach tells me to do,” Garnett said, “that’s what I plan on doing.

“Right now, without the bumps and bruises, I feel great. Give me about three days, I’ll tell you I’m feeling much different from right now. But I’ve been working out since June, since we stopped. Obviously, I take care of myself. I take care of my body. So we’ll see. Eighty-two-plus games beats you up a little bit, so we’ll see.”

If Williams, Johnson and Brook Lopez are healthy and playing their best, the Nets don’t need Garnett to be more than what he was last season, a leader, a defender and someone who can knock down a mid-range jumper when it’s presented.

“I really don’t see myself as primary [option], and that’s just reality,” Garnett said. “But I still can give. I still have something to give to the game, to this team. And my mind set has always been to be better than I was last year or to be better than I was yesterday.”

Gallinari seeks return to All-Star-level form

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On April 4, 2013, when Danilo Gallinari drove past Dirk Nowitzki and planted his left foot just above the restricted circle, he figured he was going up for layup or maybe a dunk, and on his way to another big game — the basket would have given him 11 points with more than four minutes left in the second quarter — while putting the Denver Nuggets on course for an 18th consecutive home win.

At the time, the 6-foot-10 forward was averaging career highs of 16.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg, and was shooting the 3-ball at a 37.3-percent clip. The Nuggets, under coach George Karl, were 52-24, third in the Western Conference standings and top-four in the NBA in offensive efficiency with the postseason just two weeks away.

But when Gallinari planted his left foot, he never made it off the ground. His knee buckled. He immediately grasped it with both hands and hopped to the baseline and dropped to the floor. Soon he would be helped up and would disappear into the darkness of the tunnel. Gallinari has not been seen in uniform since.

So much has changed. Karl was fired and Brian Shaw was hired. Gallinari missed all of last season following surgery and the Nuggets, besieged by a slew of other injuries, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the year before drafting Carmelo Anthony.

After extensive rehab, Gallinari, 26, is excited to make his return. He expects to play in the Nuggets’ first preseason game at the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 6. In an interview with NBA.com on Thursday, he said he anticipates a quick return to his pre-injury level of play that he says was deserving of a spot on the 2013 All-Star team.

“I was playing very well,” Gallinari said. “I thought at that point right before the All-Star Game, I should have been called for the All-Star Game [...] because we were one of the best teams in the league, and so I think you have to call, you have to call somebody from the Nuggets to represent a great franchise and a franchise that was doing very good. I thought that me and Ty Lawson, we were the two that could have, should have been called for the All-Star game. So I thought I was right at that level, and so my goal is to get back at that level, if not better.”

Gallinari said he believes he has conquered the challenging psychological aspects of returning from an injury of this magnitude. Physically, he said he is happy with how the knee has responded as he’s incrementally increased his workload. He said he will be close to participating in all aspects of practice when training camp opens next week.

“I’m not at the same level that I left basketball because I haven’t played a game in a while,” Gallinari said. “The more I will play games the better I will feel. I’m very excited. I think I will be ready for the first game of the preseason; we are very close. Everybody is very excited. We all cannot wait to start this season.”

First Team: Jo enters into new heights

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Joakim Noah catapulted himself into an upper echelon leader and star for the Bulls.

Joakim Noah has catapulted himself into an upper echelon leader and All-Star for the Bulls.

Last season, Joakim Noah blew through his “ceiling” as an energy role player to transform himself into a bona fide star.

He earned his second All-Star berth and All-NBA Defensive first team selection. He cracked the All-NBA first team and added a Defensive Player of the Year to his mantle.

Be not mistaken, the Chicago Bulls are Noah’s team. Derrick Rose is the franchise player, the dynamic sound of the band, but Noah is the drum major, firebrand, marshaling leader on the court. I mean, who else on the Bulls pulls this off?

Noah is also their best passer. He had 45 games last season with five or more assists. He set numerous Bulls assists records last season and became the first center to lead his team in assists since David Robinson in 1994.

Noah is a throwback player, the embodiment of coach Tom Thibodeau’s “multiple-effort mentality.” He is long enough to bother anybody’s shot at the rim and nimble enough to annoy a guard on a switch. Deflections, tips,  rotations, dives to the floor, he has it in spades.

With the arrival of the milder Pau Gasol — another unselfish, high I.Q. guy — he’ll have another like-minded post player facilitating, giving the Bulls their most complete team since the Jordan era ended.

December 13, 2013 — Down To The Wire

The Line: 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting, 18 rebounds (9 offensive), 5 assists, 3 blocks

The Quote: Defensively, he’s been terrific from the start of the season but offensively, you can see his timing is back.” – Bulls coach Thibodeau


VIDEO: Joakim Noah runs wild against the Bucks in a wild victory

Coming into the contest, Noah had been battling thigh pains. He missed a matchup against the Bucks four days prior in a Bulls loss in Chicago. Retribution was on his mind heading into the rematch.

The fourth quarter was his playground, as he tallied 10 points and seven boards. More specifically, he was a nightmare for John Henson and the Milwaukee frontline. To cap off his night, he thwarted O.J. Mayo’s game-winning shot attempt at the buzzer.  

Morning shootaround — Sept. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

New LeBron leads Cavs’ new era | Presti wants to ‘invest’ in Jackson | Budenholzer opens up on Ferry’s comments, Hawks’ roster | Carter-Williams not cleared for contact

No. 1: New era in Cleveland begins with a new James — Among all the teams that will host their team media days either today or Monday, perhaps no other squad’s will be more anticipated than the Cleveland Cavaliers’. Ex-MVP LeBron James is back in the fold, point guard Kyrie Irving has a new contract extension to live up to and All-Star Kevin Love came over from Minnesota this summer. All that combined means the Cavs will be the story all season long. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com notes, though, this LeBron return to Cleveland isn’t about warm fuzzies and jersey sales — it’s about him using his championship experience gained as a member of the Miami Heat to lift the Cavs to that level, too:

The version of James who is reporting for work this week isn’t just a touching coming home story and a ticket- and jersey-selling machine. This is an all-business man who is accustomed to an all-business attitude. He is not afraid to issue demands for those around him to follow suit.

The Miami Heat influence on James is undeniable. James may be gone from Miami, but he will no doubt carry the lessons of that franchise for the rest of his career and, probably, his life. Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra are all business. From the way they practice to the way they play down to the way they eat, they conduct their franchise in such a manner.

James embraced many of the Heat’s principles. He called his time in Miami a college experience. In some ways, it was a military school experience. It is not an accident that James wanted Mike Miller and James Jones with him in Cleveland, and his recruitment of Ray Allen is part of the same idea. James knows he is going to need help in applying a makeover to the Cavs’ comfort zone.

The young Cavs players are about to learn who the last ones on the court will be after practice. This is how it is done in Miami, and this is how James will want it done in Cleveland.

This was evident in the way James handled himself over the summer. Within moments of making his free-agency announcement, James was on the phone with Love, Miller, Jones and, later, Shawn Marion. He helped close those deals shortly thereafter. Nearly 30, James is about execution these days, not just the show.

James will do all this from the position of knowing that he will be in top physical shape, he will put in the work at practice and in the film room, and he will know not just where he is supposed to be all the time but where everyone else is supposed to be. He is a two-time champ, a two-time Finals MVP, a four-time MVP and a man starting to feel his basketball mortality who has put his reputation on the line — again — to make it finally work in his hometown.

He is going to live up to his end of the bargain. If anyone with the Cavs doesn’t live up to theirs, and that starts with owner Dan Gilbert and goes right down to the ball boys, James is not going to let them get away with it.

The Cavs organization will remember the James who liked to joke around and plan pregame routines and then run away when ownership and the front office came to him when they needed real help. It wasn’t that James failed as a recruiter for free agents and coaches his first time in Cleveland, it was that he wasn’t even interested in taking part.

Those days are over. James will have his fun and involve teammates; that’s why he has become so well-liked in the league. But you better execute your job because James will execute his.


VIDEO: New Cavs coach David Blatt talks about getting ready for training camp, LeBron and more

 

First Team: ‘Bron still after one award

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Despite being hailed as a stellar defender, LeBron has yet to nab a coveted Defensive Player of the Year award.

Despite being hailed as a stellar defender, LeBron James has yet to nab a coveted Defensive Player of the Year nod.

Many will remember the 2013-14 season for what LeBron James didn’t accomplish.

No third straight MVP. No third straight championship. No Defensive Player of the Year award. No … well, that’s about it. When you’ve turned the NBA upside down over the past 11 years, your list of failures is short.

Last season, ‘Bron scored 27 points per game on 57 percent from the field. What gives for the outlandish accuracy? He has mastered the drive. He can certainly shoot it, but his dominance is due to his pronounced ability to control the area closest to the rim. It’s the same strategy his transcendent high-flying predecessors — Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan — adopted.

The other side of the ball holds his lingering individual motivation. James has made no secret about his desire to capture the top defensive award. After famously shedding serious weight this offseason, he promises to be quicker and more agile and disruptive than ever.

A Defensive Player of the Year award may come to Cleveland, although the franchise would gladly accept a championship first.

Here are his top games last season:

November 15, 2013 — Torching The Old Nemesis

The Line: 39 points on 14-for-18 shooting

The Quote:If I get 37 shots in a game, I’m going to put up 60. Easy.” — James


VIDEO: LeBron James runs wild on the Mavericks for 39 points

Earlier in the week, Rudy Gay set an NBA record with 37 field goal attempts. On this night, LeBron shot about half that number for 10 more points.

Drifting jumpers, quick dribble-drives, long 2s … in short, James had the full repertoire working. The Mavs elected to follow the Spurs’ 2013 Finals strategy of not double teaming, but contesting every perimeter shot he took. In other words, Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder and Monta Ellis were on their own.

A one-legged Dirkian fadeaway by James with a little over two minutes left gave the Heat the cushion needed to put Dallas away.  

Hey Denver, they’re free, free, free!

The Nuggets hope improvement at the foul line will fuel their turnaround (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images).

The Nuggets hope improvement at the foul line will fuel their turnaround (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty).

Mile high. And a little short.

Or long. Or left or right.

That’s how Brian Shaw characterized the Denver Nuggets’ gap between where they wound up last season and where they should have been. If you work backwards from Denver’s 36-46 finish last spring and first missed postseason in a decade in search of a butterfly effect – a hiccup in one area that leads to a major disruption somewhere else – you need to look hard at the Nuggets’ foul shooting.

Denver ranked fifth in the NBA in free-throw attempts last season but a miserable 27th in FT percentage (.726). The league average was .815, but never mind that: the Nuggets had 28 games in which they made fewer than 70 percent of their free throws and they went 10-18 on those nights.

“That’s more mental than anything else,” Shaw, Denver’s head coach, said last week during a break in the NBA coaches meetings. “Usually games are won or lost within the margin of how many free throws are missed.”

Let’s see: Denver missed an average of 7.2 free throws last season. Fifteen of their 46 defeats were by a margin of seven points or less. Roger that.

Your average NBA team got 17.83 points per game from the foul line in 2013-14. The Nuggets had 36 games in which they failed to hit more than 17, going 13-23. They had three games in which they made 12, missed 10, repeatedly hitting their low mark of 54.5 percent in a game.

This wasn’t some new speed bump for the Nuggets. Shaw has been talking about free-throw proficiency since he took over prior to last season, in part because he was a career .762 foul shooter in 14 NBA seasons with seven teams.

Denver ranked 28th (.701) in foul shooting in 2012-13, George Karl‘s final season as coach. It ranked 25th (.735) the season before that. Not since 2009-10 have the Nuggets finished in the top half of the NBA in success rate (.772).

Last October, Shaw generated some headlines by standing under the rim one day at practice and allowing the ball on made free throws to hit him on top of the head. It was a challenge to his guys, and while some took aim and hit their target, Shaw never was at risk of submitting to concussion protocols.

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Shaw said, asked for the cause. “You have to have a comfort level at the free-throw line. It takes a lot of practice. Different guys react differently – some guys make ‘em all in practice but then they get out there in the game, when the stands are filled, and they [struggle]. We have a sports psychologist at their disposal to talk to and work on ways of calming themselves down.”  

NBA coaching in the time of social media

One by one they arrive, each man pulling up in his elegant sedan, sports coupe or luxury SUV and, for all intents and purposes, bringing his family, his friends, his fans — his peeps — and his digital world along with him.

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

In the locker room, where they dress and tease and bond and strategize, it’s all about chemistry. Except when it’s about technology.

“Say we have a shootaround or a team meeting that starts at 9:30. Guys start trickling in at 9:15,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said the other day, talking about these modern times. “We used to come in and sit around and talk to one another face to face. Now these guys have their devices and they’ll all be sitting at a table and nobody’s saying anything to anybody. They’re just punching buttons and looking down, and there’s no interaction.”

That novel about Love in the Time of Cholera? The men who oversee NBA teams are coaching in the time of social media, which might just be trickier.

Red Auerbach never had to worry about some tabloid photographer popping out of a darkened doorway to snap a photo with his date. Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson barely stuck around long enough for cell phones. Coaches today face the full arsenal of gadgetry, as far as where their guys might turn to lose themselves or what a civilian might use to catch players unawares. TMZ, remember, pays real folding money and, after all, 15 minutes of fame is better than none.

“It’s a big challenge coaching now,” said Shaw, who  — when he was an NBA rookie in 1988 — needed a quarter and a glass booth if he wanted to fiddle with a phone at the Boston Garden. “There are so many more options for them, so many more things to take their attention away from what you’re trying to do as coach. You have to constantly bring them back in and keep them engaged.”

Twenty years have passed since Magic Johnson, in his unsatisfying 16-game stint as Lakers coach, threw Vlade Divac’s cell phone against the wall after it rang during a team meeting.

Sounds quaint now.

“I feel his pain,” Shaw said, chuckling. “A coach like Phil Jackson, the majority of the years that he coached, these are challenges that he didn’t have to deal with. To me, the X’s and O’s kind of cancel each other out, between me and the coaches I’m opposing at the other end. Keeping everybody dialed in and not being distracted by outside forces — that’s what the real challenge is.

“I’m contemplating making the players, an hour before practices and an hour before games, check their cell phones in. So they can’t even have ‘em in the locker room. It’s, ‘You’re here. We need your undivided attention right now.’ “

Been there. Doing that.

“We have rules against cell phones in the locker room after a certain point before a game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose owner, Mark Cuban, is the king of NBA social media, at least among the Board of Governors. “If someone’s cell phone goes off, the guy gets hit with a pretty hefty fine. And we all have a good laugh about it. If it happens again, we may have to have a serious discussion about it. And the fine’s going to be heavier.”

 

Morning shootaround — Sept. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson: ‘Melo must keep ball moving | Suns get even deeper at guard | Antetokounmpo ready to take on point guard role

No. 1: Jackson: Passing key to Anthony’s success in N.Y. — Knicks team president Phil Jackson played a big part in the team’s successful wooing of Carmelo Anthony in the offseason that led to him signing a new deal that keeps him in New York for years to come. Part of Jackson’s sales pitch was convincing Anthony that he could thrive under new coach Derek Fisher and the triangle offense, a system predicated on moving the ball often. In a wide-ranging chat with Steve Serby of the New York Post, Jackson talks about Anthony, J.R. Smith and more:

Q: Hawks GM Danny Ferry recently made comments about Carmelo in which he reportedly said: “He can shoot the [bleep] out of it, but he screws you up in other ways. So is he really worth $20 million? I would argue if he plays the right way, absolutely.”

A: I think there’s probably 15 players in the NBA that are very similar position. I don’t know if all of ’em are paid $20 million, but the coaches and GMs are talking about it in those type of terms — how much does this guy hurt your team, or hurt the game flow because he’s trying to score. The attempt to score, the need to score, the pressure that he feels he has to score. … Does he take away from the team game? That’s what Danny’s talking about there. And that’s where Carmelo’s gonna move forward this year in that situation — the ball can’t stop. The ball has to continually move. It moves, or goes to the hoop on a shot or a drive or something like that. In our offense, that’s part of the process of getting players to play in that rhythm.

Q: Is Carmelo on board with this?

A: All we talked about in our negotiation was, “I’d like not to have to feel like I have to carry the load to score every night.” He wants some help.

Q: Your first choice as head coach was Steve Kerr, but the Warriors offered more money. Did Knicks owner James Dolan support your pursuit of Kerr, and why do you think your second choice, Derek Fisher, was worth more money than your first choice?

A: That part is incorrect. However, having had a relationship with Steve that’s beyond just basketball and coach and player, we had discussions over the course of the year. A lot of ’em about running a system in the NBA. Is it possible that you can run this triangle system in the NBA? And I said, “I see no reason why not.” And I said, “A lot of it depends upon personnel and a lot of it depends upon mental attitude of players.” One of the discussion points that came up was as to what type of team you’re thinking about that could be very effective in the triangle, and he said, “Golden State Warriors.” And I said, “Oh that’s interesting, Mark Jackson’s there.” … And he said, “Yeah, I know.” But he said, “If that job was available, that would be kind of the perfect job for a triangle.” Well, once that job became available — I knew that he had a daughter at Cal, great volleyball player — and it really wasn’t more about that than about anything else. And so, even though he committed to me, I knew that the day that they fired Mark that that was where he was gonna be pursued. [Former Jets general manager Mike] Tannenbaum facilitated that, and that was OK with me, because I want [Kerr] to be happy in what he does. And I think probably Derek’s the right choice for this job, so I have no qualms, no problem with it at all, and I’m thankful that Jim wanted to bend. But I think I had to make a statement about what I wanted to pay a coach.

Q: How do you plan to try to get through to J.R. Smith to put an end to all his immature on- and off-the-court antics?

A: I don’t know if that’s possible or not. He might be one of those guys that’s a little bit like Dennis Rodman that has an outlier kind of side to him. But I’m gonna get to know him as we go along, and we’ll find a way to either make him a very useful player on our organization, or whatever.

Q: What’s your level of confidence that you’ll be able to pull this off, and bring a championship back to New York?

A: Well, it’s a day-to-day thing, it’s about every day doing the right thing. There’s no doubt that good fortune has to be a big part of it. I always refer back to a statement when people a lot of times like to talk about great fortune that’s happened with me, to a statement about Napoleon looking for a general to replace someone that’s fallen. And they gave him all the benefits of this general and all this stuff, and he goes in the end and says: “Is he lucky? Does good fortune follow him?” And that’s really a part of it. And so we’re looking for people we think are lucky, good fortune follows them, and we think that’ll happen here.

 

Clippers should welcome Baylor back

It has been 3 ½ years since the Los Angeles jury posterized Elgin Baylor and needed less than 4 hours to unanimously reject his claims against the Clippers. The team, as the Clippers of the time were wont to do, rubbed his nose in the outcome of the case when an owner with class would have let the results speak for themselves instead of having the team lawyer trash a good man on his way into retirement. Enough.

Enough time. Enough changes. Enough acrimony.

Baylor is 80, Donald Sterling is out as owner, Steve Ballmer is in, and it’s time for the next step in a successful offseason of Ballmer stabilizing and re-energizing the franchise and fan base that lived months like no other: Welcome Elgin Baylor back.

The new Clippers don’t have to hire Baylor, for basketball operations or community relations or anything. But they should extend an olive branch. Invite him to Staples Center for games, embarrass him with a hero shot on the video screen during a timeout, let the crowd take it from there with its own embrace. Have him at the team’s charity golf tournament or Christmas party or playoff pep rally.

It is not Ballmer’s problem to clean up. It is his opportunity for elegance, though.

The obvious problem for the team is that any increased Clippers-related visibility for Baylor will be a straight line to the Sterling past they’re trying to bury, complete with the ill-fated wrongful-termination lawsuit that initially included claims of racism but eventually went to trial with the assertion of age discrimination. As soon as Ballmer makes it about doing the right thing, that he’ll take the image concerns to bring an all-time great back in the family, his potential problem spins into a positive.

For all the abuse Baylor took for bad decisions as general manager from 1986 to 2008, which included a couple years as head of basketball operations in name only after the behind-the-scenes ouster by coach Mike Dunleavy, he was unfailingly loyal to the franchise. He took the hits for his boss and never once outed Sterling as the reason behind bad decisions.

Baylor wanted to take Sean Elliott at No. 2 in the 1989 draft and then, after doctors said knee problems would keep Elliott from having a career, Glen Rice. But Sterling insisted on Danny Ferry, who practically swam to play in Italy rather than suffer as a Clipper. Baylor negotiated an extension that would have kept Danny Manning in place, only to have Sterling and right-hand man Andy Roeser burn the relationship to the ground with a hard line on secondary issues — deferment schedules, other minor compensations — and cause Manning to realize the Clips would never change and that he needed to get out. (Manning’s agent, on the phone with Roeser, could hear Baylor in the background, imploring Roeser to stop talking already and take the deal in place.) There were a lot of those moments.

Under Sterling, closing a beneficial deal was never enough. He had to beat the other person, badly and publicly if the situation allowed, which could have made sense in his real-estate world but created avoidable problems when the deal is with someone on his own team. He had the same galling tact with fired coaches — make a flimsy argument to withhold a portion of what remained on the contract, dare the coach to sue and offer the choice between a reduced check or a legal wrangle that could drag out. Money saved.

Once it was Baylor on the other side of a lawsuit, he was instantly expunged from the organization. Employees knew not to mention his name in those uncomfortable times, as much as many liked him. There obviously would not be any reconciliation — under that management. There can be now.

Baylor was responsible for more mistakes than any other GM could have survived for two decades, and his name helped because Sterling was pretentious to gross extremes and loved being able to introduce the great Elgin Baylor to friends, but Baylor also stood up for the franchise with a terrible reputation as a man of ethics. He continued to work for Sterling by choice, of course, and so there are no straining sob songs of what he had to endure. But there should be an acknowledgement of the good he did.

Besides, he’s Elgin Baylor, Hall of Famer, 10-time first-team All-NBA, a man who in the 1960s helped build pro basketball in Los Angeles from the ground up. The Lakers, his team as a player, have him on the short list of the next person to get a statue outside Staples Center, the ultimate NBA tribute in town. The Clippers can at least invite him to a game. It’s an olive branch. It’s moving forward, not looking back.