Posts Tagged ‘Al Jefferson’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 27

VIDEO: Boston Celtics media day


Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from Lucas | John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant | Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one hit wonder | David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston

No. 1: Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from John Lucas — The one theme you hear every year around this time is “so and so has lost x-amount of weight.” It’s usually met with a ho-hum, although in certain situations, a drastic fitness shakeup is a rather big deal. Al Jefferson of the Hornets recently revealed he has given up fried chicken which allowed him to drop pounds, and now here comes Jared Sullinger and his weight-loss pledge. Although, in this case, it comes with a twist: He was whipped into shape by John Lucas. Sullinger is at a crossroads in his young NBA career; better fitness could make him see a breakthrough season. Here is Chris Mason of the Boston Herald with the details …

Sullinger’s weight has been a talking point since the Celtics drafted him three years ago, and it came to a head last season when he was reportedly tipping the scales at 300 pounds. The C’s want to see their 6-foot-9 forward around 260. For Sullinger to stay in green, something had to change. His family and Lucas saw that.

“(Lucas) personally came down and he told me ‘ you’ve got all the talent in the world, but you’ve forgotten what working hard is,'” Sullinger said. “For somebody to come all the way from Houston to Colombus Ohio, to stop whatever he was doing, he was there for me, and that’s what made me go and workout for John.”

Lucas is no stranger to interventions. The former Houston Rocket almost lost his entire career to drugs.

While he was in the NBA, Lucas was an alcoholic and a drug addict. In 1986, the guard tested positive for cocaine, and was released by the Rockets after a decade in the league. Lucas volunteered to go to rehab, straightened his life out, and now helps other basketball players do the same.

Sullinger doesn’t have a problem with drugs, but he’s had his career threatened by his weight.

“I think John’s biggest thing, with everything he went through – being the first NBA player to be kicked out of the NBA (for) drugs – I think John’s biggest focus was to not let me make the mistake. Sometimes, it’s not always drugs, it can be other things,” Sullinger said. “And he wanted to just clear my mind and understand that I could be whoever I want to be, I’ve just got to make the right choices.”

Sullinger was sold.

He went to Houston to workout with Lucas four different times in the offseason, for a total of eleven weeks. Sullinger was put through a series of unorthodox basketball workouts, and his exercising was coupled with a strict diet.

“I went from boxing, to swimming, to on the court basketball, to running track. I did so many other sports – other than basketball – there was one point where I was down in August for two weeks and I didn’t touch a basketball. He wouldn’t let me be on the basketball court and we just got in shape other ways,” Sullinger said.


No. 2: John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant — OK, take a wild guess about who will be subject to a Free-Agent Watch this season? Yes, it’s Kevin Durant and the obvious choice, besides OKC, competing for his services is the hometown Wizards. Durant learned the game in the DC suburbs and makes no secret of his love for his home base. Besides, the Wizards will have enough cap room next summer and they have John Wall, who’d be a capable replacement for Russell Westbrook should Durant bolt OKC. The odds have Durant staying put, but if so, it won’t be because Wall didn’t try to convince him. CSN spoke with Wall on a video story; here’s a snippet …

“There’s gonna be an opportunity to throw a pitch at him to try and get him to come back home,” Wall said. “But knowing him he’s really going to be focused on taking care of Oklahoma City this season, and I’m going to be focused on taking care of the Washington Wizards.

“When the time is right and he can get away from all that, we’ll probably have some conversation and throw a pitch.”


Rather than reveal the rest, take a few seconds and listen for yourself.


No. 3: Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder — What can a surprise performer do for an encore? We’ll all be watching and wondering about Hassan Whiteside, the journeyman big man who came out of nowhere to bolster the Heat in the wake of LeBron James‘ departure. There will be lots on the line for Whiteside, most notably money; he can cash in big time next summer, when he’ll be a free agent and the salary cap will rise. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel spoke with him…

By now, we all know the story. Last year Whiteside rose from D-League reject to the talk of the NBA. After being out of the league, he captivated the media by sharing tales of growing tired of eating rice while playing in China and witnessing car-bombings in Lebanon.

He endured these sometimes-uncomfortable experiences abroad, and spent time in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Des Moines, Iowa, before earning another shot in the NBA. And Whiteside took advantage of the Heat’s gamble by averaging 11.8 points and 10 rebounds in 48 games.

As he prepares for an encore performance, Whiteside will no longer have the surprise element. No more playful stories about his unlikely path here. No more candid talk about his rating on the NBA 2K video game.

All everyone is focused on is whether he can produce All-Star numbers, a situation Whiteside is comfortable with.

“There’s never any pressure on me,” Whiteside said. “There were people who never believed in me anyway, so I don’t expect you to start believing in me now.”

The 7-foot Whiteside sounds as if he’s spent the summer listening to uplifting Journey songs on repeat. He expects the success “goes on and on, and on, and on.” A year older, his boyish attributes evident when he arrived last December are long gone. His shoulders are less like a clothes hanger and more like Dwight Howard.

Most days, he’s worked out twice daily at AmericanAirlines Arena. Some of it is fine-tuning. Some of it is adding new dimensions he hopes will surprise competitors.


No. 4: David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston — After grabbing a championship ring in Golden State, where his role was reduced with the emergence of Draymond Green, David Lee is looking for a recharge in Boston. It wasn’t too long ago when Lee was a double-double guy who could get 25 points or 15 rebounds on any given night. He still believes he’s that type of player, and recently spoke with Chris Forsberg of

The Celtics believe that Lee, acquired this offseason in a swap with the Golden State Warriors, can help a young and impressionable team take a step forward in large part because of his NBA experiences, particularly after winning a title last season.

“I don’t think David wants to think of himself as old, because he’s not — he’s still a young guy in a lot of ways,” said Stevens. “But I think that, any time you have guys that have seen it and been there, I think what they can share is important. And the challenge is being able to share that within what you’re doing because he’s got a transition to make with regard to learning me and learning how we’re trying to play and learning our guys that he’s playing with and everything else. I think he’ll make that transition smoothly. He’s a really bright guy. And I will encourage him to be open in communicating to all those younger guys because I think that’s important.”

The Celtics are hopeful that Lee, a two-time All-Star who was averaging nearly a double-double at 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game just two seasons ago, can not only provide leadership but get back to being an impactful player a season after he accepted a reduced role to aid Golden State’s title hunt.

Lee moved to the Boston area a month ago to get acclimated and joined many of the team’s younger players for what he playfully called the “preseason to the preseason” with daily workouts. While Boston brought back 10 total players from last season’s squad that utilized a second-half surge to earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, Lee has begun trying to establish himself as a veteran leader despite learning a new system.

“I think, for me, it’s just about being myself,” said Lee. “I’ve been in the league a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things, both good and bad. And I think that I’m a guy that, a lot of times, leads by example. I’m a hard-working guy and I think that’s something that’s good for the young guys to see, when their veterans are hard-workers, because at that point they have no choice but to fall in line and do the same. For the veteran guys, it sets the tone, both in training camp and preseason as the season goes along.

“I’m just going to be myself. I think I’m a pretty likable guy and a guy that can set a good tone by my work ethic.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer sat for a Q&A and addressed Al Horford’s free agency next summer … Gerald Wallace waived by the Sixers … Tom Thibodeau is sitting in on Bobcats practices … the Sixers thought about chasing Jimmy Butler last summer, but didn’t.


Morning shootaround — Sept. 10

VIDEO: Day 9 of the FIBA Americas tournament


Report: World Peace, Lakers inch toward deal | Favors enjoying life in Utah | Sefolosha rejects deal in nightclub case | Jay Williams’ laments of youth

No. 1: Report: World Peace closing in on Lakers return — Metta World Peace made the basket that helped lock up the Los Angeles Lakers’ last championship. But, he hasn’t played for the Los Angeles Lakers since 2012-13 and hasn’t been in the NBA since a 29-game stint with the New York Knicks in 2013-14. However, it is looking more and more like a Los Angeles reunion is in the works for World Peace, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Free agent Metta World Peace has begun to work out daily at the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility, inching closer to a return to the franchise on a one-year contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

World Peace, 35, started participating in informal workouts with Lakers players this week at the team’s facility in El Segundo, Calif., and is expected to continue through the start of Lakers training camp later this month, league sources said. No deal has been agreed upon, but there’s an increasing expectation that will happen this month, league sources said.

World Peace had been in the Lakers’ practice facility earlier this summer, too, working against 2014 first-round pick Julius Randle, sources said.

World Peace has been out of the NBA since the New York Knicks waived him during the 2013-14 season. He played last season in China and Italy. Lakers officials are growing in the belief that World Peace, formerly Ron Artest, has evolved into a mature veteran who can impact a young roster with his toughness and resolve, league sources said.

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Morning shootaround — June 14

VIDEO: John Schuhmann and Sekou Smith preview Game 5 of The Finals


Embiid suffers injury setback  | Warriors still waiting for Splashier Splash | LeBron not thinking about contract right nowLeBron’s workload is unreal according to experts | Report: Jefferson opting in with Hornets

No. 1: Embiid suffers injury setback — So what are we to make of the latest flash coming from Philly? Nothing good, that’s what. It appears the Sixers’ plan to wait on last year’s No. 1 pick Joel Embiid will result in more waiting. The club announced that Embiid’s surgically repaired foot is slow to heal and there is no timetable for his return. That’s a severe blow to the Sixers, who were counting on Embiid making his debut this season after missing all of last season when he had the surgery shortly after the draft. And because they secured the No. 3 overall pick in this month’s draft, they’ll likely miss out on the top two big men, Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns. Here’s a report from Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

General manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement that a recent CT scan, performed in Los Angeles, revealed less healing than anticipated at this point.

“Our priority remains providing Joel with every opportunity to ensure he has a long and successful NBA career,” Hinkie said. “And as such, these findings cause us to pause and reassess his current activities. Together with Joel and his representatives, we will continue to consult with the experienced team of doctors who have been an integral part of his evaluation, while also engaging in dialogue with a broader set of experts and specialists.”

There is a chance this injury could hinder Embiid’s career the way it has for other 7-footers. Like Embiid, Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in the navicular bone, in 2008 and again in 2009. Yao eventually was forced to retire in 2011 because of the injury.

The news could influence the Sixers’ plans in the June 25 NBA draft. The team was expected to target Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell with the third overall pick to pair with power forward Nerlens Noel and Embiid. Now, the team could go after a post player for insurance if Embiid is unable to play at a high level.

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Al Jefferson may be done for the season

INDIANAPOLIS — The Hornets are considering shutting down center Al Jefferson for the final seven games of the season, coach Steve Clifford said Friday night after continued soreness in the right knee forced Jefferson from the game in the second quarter.

Charlotte’s leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer has had the knee drained three times in the last 10 days with little, if any, sign it will get him through the final week and a half. Friday, Jefferson played only 12 minutes of the 93-74 loss to the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“To me, he’s dragging that leg around and then he compensates,” Clifford said. “He’s a big man. He’s disappointed. But he’s injured.”

Asked if the team may take Jefferson out of the lineup for the rest of the season, Clifford said, “The problem with the injury is that the only way it’s going to get better is if he rests it for a significant amount of time, so it’s not like two days or three days are going to help that much. So I could say possibly, yeah.”

The Hornets’ disappearing playoff hopes may be part of the decision as well. At 32-43, they are two games behind the Heat for No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, in 11th place, and without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and now may lose Jefferson for at least the immediate future, and maybe longer.

Jefferson was not available for comment after the game Friday.

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

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: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?

VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
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Hornets’ Jefferson out for a month

Problems for the Hornets continue to mount with the news that Al Jefferson has a strained muscle in his left groin and will miss at least four weeks. The team announced the news in a statement Tuesday night.

The injury sidelined Jefferson in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game against the Bucks. While it was immediately clear that Charlotte’s starting center and leading scorer and rebounder would miss some time, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the exact severity was not revealed until after an MRI exam was performed. It was just the latest blow to a 10-22 team that’s been unable to come close to meeting expectations.

From Bonnell:

Even before Monday, Clifford said Jefferson was “laboring” through games. An 18 points-per-game scorer, Jefferson totaled six points in 28 minutes Monday, shooting 3-of-12 from the field.

The Hornets run their offense through Jefferson, one of the top low-post scoring threats in the NBA. In his absence they will have to rely more heavily on guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson to carry the scoring load.

“The ball-movement aspect will have to be a bigger part of it,” Clifford said. “We’ll still post up some – you have to throw it in there sometimes – but the post-up part of it won’t be as big a part of our offensive game.”

Charlotte was already struggling on offense, ranking No. 28 in shooting and No. 24 in scoring heading into Wednesday’s game at Houston and now has lost 18 points a game. Bismack Biyombo is the leading candidate to start at center against the Rockets.
Shooting guard Lance Stephenson has missed the last seven games with  pelvic strain. There is no indication he is close to returning.

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford

VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA — The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.


Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically. spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?


Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there. Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in. What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack. Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.


Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things. Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?


Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way. Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future. Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.


Balance and priorities as a head coach Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again. Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never. You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well. How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense. What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year. In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany. Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority. So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

Summer Dreaming: First-time All-Stars

The regular season will only be a few weeks old when the ballots will go out for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Most of the voters won’t even have to think about the first handful of names they’ll fill in:

LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant.

Everybody wants to see the marquee stars. Nothing at all wrong with that.

But with only 24 roster spots in a league with 450 players, a few deserving players get overlooked. Sometimes for an entire career. It happened over 17 seasons, 1,199 games and 19,202 points for one of our all-time favorites, Eddie Johnson.

So in honor of Eddie, here in the Summer Dreaming headquarters, we’re going to pour a frosty drink and raise a toast to the players most deserving to make their All-Star debuts at New York in February:

VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs — Go figure. He’s got the Bill Russell Trophy for being named MVP of the NBA Finals sitting on his mantle, yet Leonard has not yet been named to an All-Star team in three years in the league. Of course, a big part of that is the cap that coach Gregg Popovich puts on the minutes of all of the Spurs. That doesn’t allow for those eye-popping stats that get the attention of voters. But you’d think the coaches would recognize all the things he does at both ends of the floor and add him as a reserve.

VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins puts up 29 points, nine boards and six steals on Suns

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings — Let’s just admit it. The 2014 All-Star Game was played in New Orleans and that was what got the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis the Western Conference substitute nod over Cousins. You don’t have to dive into advanced metrics. Just know that Cousins outscored Davis 22.7 to 20.8, out rebounded him 11.7 to 10 and ranked third in the league in double-doubles with 53. Of course, Boogie hasn’t gotten the respect because he hasn’t always had his head in the game, or been the best of teammates. But if he just goes back to work, it will be time to end the Kings All-Star drought that goes back to Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller in 2004.

VIDEO: Mike Conley has grown into a solid leader for the Grizzlies

Mike Conley, Grizzlies — He’s been flying beneath the radar for far too long, playing at an All-Star level for at least the past two seasons. The No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has steadily grown from a tentative young player into a solid quarterback that can run the show, get to the hoop and hit 3-pointers at a respectable rate. The trouble is a numbers game. For one, he plays in the Western Conference, which is teeming with top flight point guards — Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard. For another, his rep takes a backseat to the 1-2 front court punch of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. It’s about time Conley got some love.

VIDEO: Al Jefferson spends time with Dennis Scott

Al Jefferson, Hornets — If only the voters who gave Jefferson’s spot on the Eastern Conference team last season to Roy Hibbert could have known that the Pacers center was preparing to do a swan dive down the stretch. Much credit to first year coach Steve Clifford for giving the former Bobcats an identity and to Kemba Walker for delivering, as usual. But it was Big Al who set himself up in the middle in Charlotte and went to work, toiling and scoring and rebounding the way he has for 10 seasons. He averaged a double-double (21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds). Sometimes the guys who carry their lunch buckets to work every day should be invited to the banquet and given a chance to sit at the head table.

VIDEO: ‘The Serge Protector’ turns away eight shots against the Pelicans

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. It’s almost like they’re a single entity, because you rarely hear one name mentioned without the other. Meanwhile there’s that jumping jack just out of the spotlight who is deserving of All-Star billing, giving the Thunder the “Big Three” punch to be a top title contender year in and year out. Until the Thunder break through and win a championship, it’s not likely that fan voters or the coaches are going to give Ibaka much respect. They should. The Spurs did in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals. He’s led the league in blocks twice, is a three time All-Defensive First Team member, dunks like he’s mad at the rim and, oh, there’s also that jumper.

VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers — It’s funny how your numbers and value to the team can go up when you simply get more minutes. Coach Doc Rivers came to town and got in Jordan’s ear and his head and demanded more. The former part-time highlight reel star delivered with a solid 35 minutes a game. Maybe the All-Star voters and the coaches still questioned whether he could keep it up at the midway point of last season. He did, leading the league in rebounds (13.6), finishing third in blocked shot (2.48) and eighth in double-doubles (42). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the engines in the Clippers’ machine, but it’s Jordan delivering consistently as a defensive stopper that can fuel a rise to a championship.

Morning Shootaround — September 6


Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.


No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico.’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”


No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today.’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.


No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors.’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.


No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.