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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.”

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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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

 

Morning shootaround — July 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cuban on Warriors as NBA ‘villain’ | Report: Saric to sign this week | Howard returns to Hawks

No. 1: Cuban a fan of Warriors being an NBA ‘villain’ of sorts — A mere two weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors pulled off perhaps the most envied free-agent signing of the summer — adding superstar and former MVP Kevin Durant to their already potent mix. Many are wondering how the Warriors will look next season with he, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in the mix. Success is all but certain to follow that group … and perhaps some disdain from non-Warriors fans who want to see this new super team beaten. As Tim McMahon of ESPN.com reports, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a fan of the Warriors being the new villains (his word, not ours) of the NBA;

Mark Cuban believes Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors will benefit the NBA from a business perspective, despite commissioner Adam Silver’s concerns about the forming of a superteam.

Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner who has never shied away from going against the grain, is confident that adding a former MVP to a recent championship team that already features two-time MVP Stephen Curry and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will drive interest in the league.

“They become the villain,” Cuban told ESPN on Wednesday, a day after Silver indicated that changes in the collective bargaining agreement are needed to prevent similar situations from developing in the future. “Just like when LeBron James went to Miami, I loved that there was a villain. They become the villain. I’m fine with that. Everybody’s going to root for them to lose.”

Cuban’s Mavericks benefited by Durant’s decision, allowing them to add former Warriors starters Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut to the roster, with Golden State needing to let both players go to create cap space for Durant.

The Warriors declined their right to match the Mavs’ four-year, $94 million offer to Barnes, a restricted free agent who Golden State planned to keep if its recruiting pitch to Durant didn’t work. Golden State traded Bogut to Dallas in a salary-dump deal.

“It sure helped,” Cuban said of the impact Durant’s decision had on Dallas’ offseason.

Cuban also cautioned against assuming that the Warriors — who won the title in 2015 and lost in the NBA Finals this year after setting a regular-season record with 73 wins — will have an easy road to another title.

“It’s always been tough for superteams to stay super,” Cuban said. “When you congregate that much talent, one injury destroys the whole thing. They played by the rules, so it is what it is. It has always happened. It’s nothing new.”

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Blogtable: More surprising move — Durant to Warriors or Wade to Bulls?

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: More surprising move: Durant’s or Wade’s? | Your lasting memory of Duncan? | Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?


> More surprising move: Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder to join the Warriors, or Dwyane Wade leaving the Heat to join the Bulls?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Wade leaving Miami after 13 years was the bigger surprise. Durant’s decision wasn’t entirely unexpected (although I was in the majority of folks who thought he would re-up with OKC on a short-term deal). But Wade taking his business with the Heat into the street struck me as a leverage ploy rather than an actual disintegrating relationship with Pat Riley & Co. Given the Bulls’ slide toward irrelevancy before they landed him, it makes sense that Chicago provided a comfortable landing spot for Wade and gave him the Kobe Bryant Golden Parachute contract for all he’d done … for a rival team?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Wade to Chicago, for sure. Because it just doesn’t make sense. I’m not talking about leaving Miami or anything to do with his legacy. I just don’t know what the hell they’re doing in Chicago and don’t see how this move makes the Bulls better. First time Wade’s legs act up, all the homecoming good feeling goes right out the window.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat. Durant’s move is more rim shaking for the league, but was an option all along, even if what seemed to be a slight one at times. Wade taking a one-way ticket out of South Florida never seemed like a real possibility, though, maybe because he had been there about as long as the Everglades and maybe because there had been previous July staring contests with the Heat and everything worked out. They needed him there and he wanted to be there. The same thing would happen this time, right? Wrong.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat isn’t as seismic as Duncan leaving the Spurs prior to retirement, but close. Few players identified more with a city than Wade with Miami, and I’ll even say Wade, three titles later, is the No. 1 athlete in South Florida history, ahead of former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. But he did the Heat a favor. Pat Riley didn’t want to tie up three years on an aging star. Riley’s allegiance is to owner Micky Arison, the guy who signs the checks, not Wade. So there are no bad guys here. Riley did what he had to do while Wade looked out for himself, even if he left Miami for just $3 million, the difference of his 2-year deal with Chicago and what Miami offered (no taxes in Florida).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As shocking as Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State might seem to some, the rumors of the two sides eying each other in free agency cranked up last summer. Dwayne Wade leaving the Miami Heat for his hometown Chicago Bulls was much more surprising, especially when you consider his final season in a Heat uniform. Wade was fantastic, vintage Wade even, as he guided the beat down Heat to the Eastern Conference semifinals. It’s hard to imagine either side wanting things to end the way it did. He’s one of those players you figured would finish his career with one team, a practice of yesteryear it appears in today’s free agent climate.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I always, always thought Wade would remain in Miami — that both sides would see the bigger picture and come to yet another contractual understanding for one another’s benefit. But it’s less and less that kind of world anymore. Which really puts Tim Duncan’s career with the Spurs into perspective.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Wade to Chicago. While I suspected Durant was likely to stay in Oklahoma City and was rather surprised to hear he was leaving, I don’t think most people even believed a Wade departure was anywhere near the table. In many ways, Wade *is* the Miami Heat, and his departure over a few million dollars is shocking. The Thunder haven’t even been in Oklahoma City all that long, but the Heat and Wade have won titles and made real history together in South Florida, a relationship which is now literally history.

Blogtable: What is your enduring memory of Tim Duncan?

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: More surprising move: Durant’s or Wade’s? | Your lasting memory of Duncan? | Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?


> Spurs great Tim Duncan retired on Monday after an illustrious 19-year career. What will be your lasting memory about Duncan?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comTempted to say his incredible ability to play all those games, log all those minutes and win all those titles in San Antonio without ever committing a personal foul. At least that’s how it looked, given his wide-eyed reaction to every whistle against him. But I’ll play this more straight and go with Duncan’s bank shots. Those backboards that we stare at and through in NBA arenas are there for a reason, and no one in the past 20 years put them to better use. His turnaround jumper off the glass is as much a lasting image and patented weapon for him as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s sky hook, Dominique Wilkins‘ slam-back or Stephen Curry‘s 28-footers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Sheer professionalism, willingness to do anything for the team and an eternal image of that sweet, old school bank shot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: How much the nickname fit: “The Big Fundamental.” Duncan was so sound in almost every way. Offense. Defense. Attitude. Keeping himself ready to play, consistently reaching the high-70s in games. His grounded personality and understated style of play while others preferred trash talking and antics was the ultimate in dependable production speak for itself.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’m not sure I’ll see another superstar like Tim Duncan in my lifetime, in that he made so many sacrifices: money, ego, etc., for the sake of the franchise. He played for one coach in 19 years and allowed himself to be coached. He also used the glass constantly — nobody does that. My lasting memory is really an invisible memory. He didn’t take a retirement tour, nor did he hold a press conference to say good-bye. He was a ghost. In this era of look-at-me stars, it was so refreshing, so perfect … so Duncan.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are so many memories of Duncan that flood your brain now that we know his playing career is over. He piled up so many specials games that it’s not even reasonable to choose one from the thousands. But the thing that sticks out to me is the way he handled himself, win or lose, on the biggest stage. The anguish on his face after the Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in The 2013 Finals and then the pure joy he wore a year later when the Spurs avenged that loss and won what would be the last title of his illustrious career will always resonate with me. For a guy who always did his best to keep his emotions bottled up, it was interesting to see him in both instances during the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. The contrast, from one the all-time greats in any sport, was something to see up close and personal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: When Duncan missed the layup near the end of Game 7 of The 2013 NBA Finals, he was never more sympathetic. The reason that image defines him is because he refused to give into it. He increased his focus, the Spurs followed his lead as always, and one year later they were playing to the highest level of championship basketball that many of us have ever seen. Duncan’s professionalism was unmatched.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogOf course, there are dozens of on-court memories of Duncan that I share with millions of other NBA fans. But as someone who has had the good fortune to spent some time with Timmy, I also have off-court moments that come to mind, and one in particular that I think speaks volumes about the type of person that Duncan is away from the game. About five years back, Duncan had agreed to sit down with me for a one-on-one interview when the Spurs were in New York City. Duncan suggested I come to a Spurs shootaround the morning before a game and spend some time with him following the shootaround. So I showed up and waited and waited, until every single player finished and left to return to the hotel. Finally, the last person to leave was Duncan, who walked out drenched with sweat, hustling to board the last bus back the hotel. Duncan saw me and asked if I would mind postponing our interview until that night at the game. It was at this point I reminded the greatest power-forward of all-time that in the midst of the whirlwind of the NBA season, perhaps he had forgotten that it was Valentine’s Day, and I had long-standing plans to take my wife out to dinner that evening. But it was fine, I said: This was my job, and if Duncan wanted to talk that evening, I would be there. Duncan said no. He grabbed his phone and asked me for my number, and a few days later, Duncan called and did the interview over the phone during some of his personal time off. It was a small gesture, but to me it was demonstrative of exactly many of the personal traits which made Duncan so great: empathy, self-awareness, sacrifice. Also, it made my wife really happy, so there was that.

Blogtable: Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?

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: More surprising move: Durant’s or Wade’s? | Your lasting memory of Duncan? | Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?


> Has any NBA player meant more to a franchise than Duncan has to the Spurs? How about any pro athlete, in any sport?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comDuncan and the Spurs are inseparable, based on longevity – one player, one team, one coach over 19 years?! – but I’d go with Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics for everlasting impact on a franchise. Eleven titles in 13 seasons is hard to top. As far as opening this up to other sports, Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees set up the Evil Empire for decades to come. I’m not sure how the Spurs will do, post-Duncan, over the next 10 or 20 years.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOne might almost think the blogmaster hails from San Antonio. There’s also Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics; Michael Jordan to the Chicago Bulls; Magic Johnson to the Los Angeles Lakers; Larry Bird to the Celtics; Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Derek Jeter to the New York Yankees; Sandy Koufax to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tom Brady to the New England Patriots. And don’t forget Joe Montana to the San Francisco 49ers, Bob Lilly to the Dallas Cowboys, Gordie Howe to the Detroit Red Wings and Wayne Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers. Let’s just say Duncan belongs on the list.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Not in recent years in the NBA that I can think of. That would require not only finding someone even close to his level of franchise success, but also in a smaller market. That was part of the Duncan impact, after all. He was brilliant in a city where the team was the team, the one major-league organization in town and therefore part of the community. Duncan was a guy who made fans proud to root for the Spurs. He set the right example to teammates, took less money to make it easier for management to maneuver the salary cap and was the driving force on the court behind year after year of winning. Within the model franchise, he was the model player.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, I’m not so sure he beats Babe Ruth and the Yankees, Cal Ripken Jr. and the Orioles, Joe Montana and the 49ers, because football and baseball are far more ingrained in the American sports landscape than basketball. But off the top of my head, only Magic Johnson and the Lakers beats Duncan and the Spurs, because Magic essentially made the Lakers into a now-billion-dollar brand.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Given the duration and infinite, championship-level excellence, I don’t think anyone in any sport can compare. No other all-time great superstar spent more time with one team and had said team competing at the level the Spurs did during Duncan’s tenure. Think about it: we’re talking about two decades of individual and team excellence. Had LeBron James stayed in Cleveland for his entire career and won title(s) in a Cavaliers uniform only, that might have come close to matching what Duncan has meant to the Spurs and San Antonio. But we’re talking about the entire culture of an organization and city resting on this man’s shoulders. It is truly unprecedented when you put his career in context. It’ll take another 19 or 20 years post-Duncan to truly appreciate what he’s meant to the franchise, its fans and the city of San Antonio … and to see if there any titles won after he’s exited the stage.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: We can’t say that he means more or less. What we can say definitely is that Duncan joins the exclusive NBA room that includes Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. They occupy a larger building shared with the likes of Tom Brady, Dick Butkus, Jim Brown, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and on and on. There may be no higher praise.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Michael Jordan in Chicago is the first name that comes to mind. Or perhaps Bill Russell in Boston. Outside of the NBA, maybe Chipper Jones with the Atlanta Braves, although he only won one title. Derek Jeter with the Yankees. Tom Brady with the Patriots. No matter how you look at it, not many people have had that much success with one franchise.

Morning shootaround — July 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Popovich reflects on Duncan | Howard energized by move to Hawks | Haslem a last man standing of sorts in Miami

No. 1: Emotional Popovich reflects on Duncan’s career — Stoic. Stern. Unwavering. Just three of many words that describe legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and, to some degree, his recently retired superstar, Tim Duncan. Yet in his address to the media for the first time since Duncan announced his retirement on July 11, Popovich showed a different and more reflective side to his personality in remembering the player with whom he won five NBA championships.

Gregg Popovich spoke for about 15 minutes, sometimes unable to hide his emotions, all the while wearing a T-shirt that had Tim Duncan’s face printed on the front. When the last question was answered, the coach turned, put his hands in his pockets and silently walked into a new era for the San Antonio Spurs.

It’s a day Popovich knew was coming.

That clearly didn’t make it any easier.

“He’s irreplaceable,” Popovich said.

Choking up at times and making wisecracks at others, Popovich bade a public farewell to Duncan’s playing career on Tuesday.

Popovich spoke in a corner of the Spurs’ practice facility in San Antonio, the spot where he holds court with reporters after workouts during the season. There was no news conference, no elaborate setup, not even any live coverage permitted. Even for something that will have so much impact on the team, the league and the sport, the Spurs kept things as simple as possible.

Duncan is leaving. In some respects, everything is changing. In others, nothing will.

“I think it will be a seamless transition for the team,” former NBA coach and current television analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. “I think who it’s going to be hard on is Gregg Popovich.”

“I can be on him in a game and ask him why he’s not rebounding in a relatively stern way and really get on him in front of everybody,” Popovich continued. “And on his way back to the court, he’ll say, `Thanks for the motivation, Pop. Thanks for the support, Pop.’ Then he’ll turn away with his eyes up in the air and we’ll both start laughing. And people don’t see those things. But his teammates have and that’s why his teammates love him.”

Duncan will go down as one of the best to ever play the game, and Popovich said he was the best teammate any Spurs player could have had.

There were moments of humor, too, like Popovich saying Duncan made him wear the clothes he gave him – including the shirt he donned Tuesday – or else he wouldn’t play.

“I remember a pretty neat summer league game when he first came in and (Greg) Ostertag blocked his shot,” Popovich said when asked what moment of Duncan’s career he enjoyed most. “That was pretty cool.”

Mostly, Popovich’s words showed sadness and appreciation.

He spoke at length about Duncan’s humility, and how that was instilled in him long ago. Popovich told a story about when Duncan’s father, who died in 2002, told the Spurs coach he needed to ensure his son would not be changed by fame or fortune.

“I can still remember before his father passed away, looking me in the eye and saying `I’m going to hold you responsible to make sure that when he’s done he’s the same person he is now.’ And in that respect, he is,” Popovich said. “He’s grown as a person, as we all do, through experiences. But his inner core, he was over himself when he came in and after all these accolades and all this success, he’s still over himself. Hasn’t changed a lick.”

***

 


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