Posts Tagged ‘Allen Iverson’

Morning shootaround — May 31



VIDEO: Steve Kerr talks about Klay Thompson’s concussion

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gentry to unleash Unibrow | Klay expected to be cleared | Drafting Curry not just Nellie’s revenge | Bulls like Hoiberg’s Kerr appeal

No. 1: Gentry to unleash Unibrow — There apparently was a good reason the New Orleans Pelicans never reached out to Tom Thibodeau as a candidate to fill their head coaching vacancy, even though chronologically the fired Chicago Bulls’ bench boss was available. And even if the disinterest had anything to do with Thibodeau’s good friendship with the man who most recently held the job, Monty Williams, that probably wasn’t the biggest reason. Thibodeau is known for coaching transformative defense. New Orleans is more eager to goose its offense. That’s why Alvin Gentry, Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man in Golden State and a contributor to Phoenix’s blistering attacks a few years back, has the job today. With one big mandate to match the Pelicans’ one big budding star, per SI.com:

…[One] of the league’s slowest teams in recent years plans to significantly pick up the tempo. That’s a frightening proposition for opponents, who now must contemplate Anthony Davis like they’ve never seen him before, in a fast and loose system that should utilize his obscene athleticism and above-the-rim finishing ability.

That wasn’t necessarily the guiding principle in New Orleans under Williams. Despite the presence of Davis and the attack-minded Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans ranked No. 27 in pace this season. During Williams’s tenure, the Pelicans were the league’s slowest team twice, and they never ranked higher than 22nd in pace. This wasn’t a fluke: before being hired by New Orleans, Williams was an assistant in Portland under former coach Nate McMillan, who oversaw the league’s slowest team in 2009-10 and 2010-11

[Gentry’s] arrival promises a new era in which New Orleans’ guards are encouraged to push the pace and Davis is called on to open and close transition opportunities by running the court. Look for the Pelicans to regularly use him as a center, structuring spread lineups around him to create space for pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. When New Orleans does play big, Davis will likely be given free reign to create from the elbow, and it wouldn’t be that shocking if he started to work the corner three into his offensive repertoire either.

The statistical ramifications for Davis here are mouth-watering. Last season, at age 21, he averaged 24.4 points and 10.2 rebounds while posting a 30.8 PER despite playing at a snail’s pace. By comparison, a 22-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire averaged 26 points and 8.9 rebounds while posting a 26.6 PER in 2004-05 under Mike D’Antoni, with Gentry as an assistant. “Young Amar’e” was a phenom in his own right, but he was no Davis. If things fall into place and Davis continues to blossom, it’s not outlandish to envision the two-time All-Star making a run at averaging 28/12, a threshold achieved by only Shaquille O’Neal over the last 30 years.

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No. 2: Klay expected to be cleared — As antsy as NBA fans are for the 2015 Finals to begin – we must be entertained! – there is yet another silver lining to the eight-day gap between the end of the conference championship round and Game 1 Thursday in Oakland. Concussion protocols often take time, as do concussion recoveries. So this layoff is helpful to Golden State’s Klay Thompson, who took that nasty knee-to-the-head from Houston’s Trevor Ariza, and to the Warriors, but also to the integrity of the Finals. Golden State coach Steve Kerr, as noted by the Bay Area News Group, said he expects his shooting guard to be ready when the series against Cleveland begins at Oracle Arena.

Thompson has been “progressing well,” according to Kerr, since being kneed in the head as the Warriors won in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday.

Kerr said he hasn’t thought about how Thompson might be replaced if he isn’t ready for the NBA Finals. Kerr did note that Leandro Barbosa has played a major role in the playoffs and that Justin Holiday could see some minutes as well.

The Warriors won’t have to play for another five days, which gives them time to possibly have Thompson practice before returning to action.

“It’s good that we have this break because he has the time to go through what he’s going through,” Kerr said.

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No. 3: Drafting Curry not just Nellie’s revenge — If the conspiracy nuts are to be believed, there never were any lunar landings and—wait, wrong conspiracy. The one we care about here at Hang Time HQ is the one about Golden State drafting NBA MVP Steph Curry at No. 7 in 2009 simply because the Warriors’ powerful coach, Don Nelson, wanted to screw the New York Knicks for firing him 13 years earlier. But Nelson denied that Saturday in an interview with the New York Post and it seems reasonable; if the Knicks’ brain trust of Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni could love Curry’s game and potential, so could the similarly offensive-minded Nelson. Besides, none of them would have been in position to pick Curry if David Kahn, Minnesota’s overmatched basketball boss at the time, hadn’t botched his consecutive picks at Nos. 5 and 6. Here’s part of the report by the Post’s Marc Berman:

Knicks brass always has believed their much-publicized interest in Curry, the 2014-15 MVP, in the lead-up to the draft swayed Nelson away from Arizona power forward Jordan Hill and onto the scent of Dell Curry’s son out of tiny Davidson College. Nelson had final say on the Warriors’ personnel decisions.

One conspiracy theory charges Nelson with taking Curry over Hill to spite the Knicks, who unceremoniously fired him midseason at disgruntled Patrick Ewing’s request.

Nelson, who retired four years ago, will watch proudly from his Hawaii homestead as Curry’s Warriors battle Cleveland in the NBA Finals starting Thursday.

The Hall of Fame coach roundly denied Donnie Walsh’s and Mike D’Antoni’s love affair with Curry influenced his opinion. Nelson told The Post on Saturday from Maui he would have taken Curry second in the draft that year, after Blake Griffin. James Harden was third.

“The guy’s a 10 as a human being, 10 as a player,’’ Nelson said. “We would’ve taken him No. 2. I saw him in the NCAA Tournament vs. St. Mary’s and fell in love with him. People were saying he didn’t have a handle to be a point guard. I saw a point guard the whole way. He had a handle, could shoot and be creative. In Davidson he wasn’t asked to make plays for others. I thought he was going to be terrific. I saw him as an All-Star. Not an MVP this soon but certainly All-Star caliber.’’

Whether revisionist history or not, the Knicks lost hope in the final two days entering the draft as it became clear Nelson, from Bay Area reports, was serious about Curry. Nelson said he worried Minnesota would use one of its two top-six picks for Curry, and he tried to trade up. Instead, the Timberwolves selected point guards Ricky Rubio (No. 5) and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn (6), who no longer is in the league.

“I didn’t think he’d be there,’’ Nelson said. “Minnesota bailed us out. I didn’t care for the Syracuse kid and Rubio couldn’t shoot it.”

Some within the Knicks believe had Curry, and not Hill, fallen to them, as it once seemed, their franchise fortunes would have been drastically different. Hill was traded during his rookie year to open more cap space for 2010. Nevertheless, Walsh had a chance at All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Jeff Teague, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson or Jrue Holiday at No. 8.

“Whoever would’ve drafted [Curry] would’ve turned their franchise around,’’ Nelson said. “We were lucky to get him. You build a franchise around those guys. Point guard nowadays is more important than centers.’’

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No. 3: Bulls like Hoiberg’s Kerr appealFred Hoiberg played for the Chicago Bulls, one small, natural connection when it came time for Bulls management to cast about for someone to replace Tom Thibodeau as head coach. Hoiberg also has a pre-existing relationship with Chicago GM Gar Forman – Forman was an assistant coach at Iowa State when Hoiberg played there, the school he has been coaching to solid NCAA success. And then there’s the Steve Kerr thing – Hoiberg became something of a 3-point specialist in his 10 NBA seasons with the Bulls, the Pacers and the Timberwolves and shares that slender, blond-haired look. And next season he’ll be a rookie NBA head coach seeking something approximating the first-year success Kerr has enjoyed at Golden State. The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson provided some details on the man who will take over for Mr. Thibs:

All that’s left is the official announcement that Hoiberg, 42, will replace Tom Thibodeau as the 19th coach in franchise history, which two sources said is expected no later than Wednesday. The day for Hoiberg’s official introduction is unknown as the two youngest of his four children are finishing school on Monday and he’s recovering from open heart surgery on April 17.

The New York Daily News first reported Hoiberg’s deal is “believed to be for five years and $25 million.” The Tribune couldn’t confirm that independently, but one source said Hoiberg would receive more than the $20 million extension he signed with Iowa State in March 2013, which contains a $500,000 buyout for an NBA job. …

That’s the going rate for recent hires. Both the Knicks’ Derek Fisher and the Warriors’ Steve Kerr have similar deals, while the Thunder gave Billy Donovan $30 million over five years.

Speaking of Kerr, [former Bulls GM Jerry] Krause, who also signed [Kerr] as a free agent in 1993, sees similarities in both their personalities and offensive philosophies. Kerr took over for a popular and successful coach in Mark Jackson and used levity and an upbeat temperament while guiding a team that had won 51 games the previous season to 67 victories and a trip to the NBA Finals.

The Bulls are hoping for a similar injection.

“Iowa State’s offensive is aggressive,” Krause said. “They go after you. Personality-wise, Hoiberg is very straight with you. I don’t think Freddie knows what the word “con” means.”

“He’d earn respect of players right away,” Krause said. “If you don’t respect Fred Hoiberg, you don’t respect people. He’s an outstanding individual and student of the game. He has been in the league. He knows what the league is. He has been an executive. He has been around a bunch of good coaches.

“He improved the team’s character wherever he went because he’s so much a character guy.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The day LeBron James paid an unscheduled visit to watch NCAA Steph Curry. … Allen Iverson is turning 40 years old? Man, where did that time go? A look back. … Go on, you know you want to ask it: Would Golden State be in the Finals if Mark Jackson still were coaching there? … Much-traveled former NBA big man Chris Gatling is in trouble in a credit card scam, and it’s not his first brush with the law. … Basketball shifts to business swiftly as Patrick Beverley and the Houston Rockets head into offseason.

Blogtable: Statue-Worthy Players

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: MVP Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players



VIDEO:  Bill Russell statue unveiled in Boston (2013)

> The Hawks this week will erect a statue of Dominique Wilkins outside Philips Arena. In your opinion, who’s next in line to be immortalized in bronze?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d prefer to discuss what the next lofty tribute will be, now that statue-izing has trumped jersey number-retiring and perhaps even Hall of Fame immortalizing. How shall the really, really, really, super-special stars be honored to separate them from the proliferation of bronze figurines standing around outside sports arenas? Naming rights to the buildings themselves? Perpetual blimps that hover over the hero’s city on game days or, heck, why not 24/7/365? How ’bout team nicknames: the Boston Russells, the Chicago Jordans and so on? Maybe we need something on a grander scale, sized like the Collosus of Rhodes or the Statue of Liberty, only it’s Shaquille O’Neal standing astride the I-10 near downtown L.A. As you can tell, I don’t really care who gets the next statue, and no offense to ‘Nique, but we’re rapidly approaching the day when even Paul Mokeski and Chris Gatling get them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe most obvious answer is Isiah Thomas, leader of the two-time champion Detroit Bad Boys and the best “little man” to ever play the game. But I’m also taking a stand for the pre-MTV generation and saying it’s long overdue for the Wizards to honor Wes Unseld. Go ahead, kids.  Look up those old videos of the 6-foot-7 Unseld using his brute strength and gritty determination to set teeth-rattling picks, rebound and throw some of the best outlet passes to start a fast break ever.  The Hall of Famer played 984 games, all with Baltimore/Washington franchise, leading the team to four Finals and the 1978 title, when he was named MVP of The Finals.  For 13 seasons, Unseld helped put the Bullets on a pedestal in the NBA and it’s time the franchise returned the favor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry Buss. The statue debate has become particularly passionate in Los Angeles anyway, a new level of status symbol beyond having a uniform number retired, and Buss clearly deserves that ultimate tribute. He was more than an owner. He steered his franchise to the unique glamour personality that lives on today while maintaining a championship level on the court from generation to generation. Buss was such a shrewd businessman and innovator that he became one of the few owners to make the Hall of Fame. It’s not just the Lakers who wouldn’t have been the same without him. Basketball in Los Angeles wouldn’t have been the same. The NBA wouldn’t have been the same. Bronze that man.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Kinda surprised David Robinson and maybe also George Gervin aren’t bronzed already in San Antonio, given what they’ve meant to basketball and the community. I’d vote them, plus Allen Iverson in Philly and Isiah Thomas in Detroit. But we might have to wait until Staples Center makes room in the crowded courtyard for Kobe in 5 years or so.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Tim Duncan, the anchor of five championship teams and at least 16 50-win seasons, is going to be the most deserving once he retires. For now, I’d say it’s either Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. And since Barkley’s best was split between Philadelphia and Phoenix, a Ewing statue in the Madison Square Garden lobby would be most appropriate.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​Having grown up in Bad Boys country during the 80s and 90s, I’m going with Isiah Thomas. Getting bronzed in Detroit (Auburn Hills for you sticklers) would be a huge step in a reparations program that should be underway for Isisah getting screwed out of his spot on The Dream Team. It’s tough to make up for one of the most egregious slights in the history of organized sports, but it would be a great gesture. Isiah delivered titles to Detroit during the most competitive era the NBA has ever seen. He went up against the giants from two decades and put the Pistons, Detroit and the entire state of Michigan on the basketball map (how’s that for 80s/90s slang?) and deserves to be recognized for doing so.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m not big on this idea that great athletes are automatically deserving of statues. Aren’t there more important contributors to be idolized? But if Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia are building them for their champions from the 1980s, then surely Detroit ought to be designing one for Isiah Thomas.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI am of a younger generation than some of my fellow scribes, so my thoughts will probably swing a bit more current than some others here. I’d like to see a Shaq statue in Los Angeles, and a Kobe one not long after that. Dirk has to get one in Dallas when he walks away, right? But those said, how about the Sixers erecting a statue of Allen Iverson? They’re doing their best to lose games and not be good right now, why not throw their fans a bone and build a monument to The Answer right there outside the stadium, or even downtown somewhere?

After 50 Greatest: The Next 10


VIDEO: Shaq breaks out his list for the Next 10

It’s been more than 17 years since the NBA named its 50 Greatest Players in History as part of the annual All-Star weekend in Cleveland. Almost from the moment the list was revealed, the debate began.

How could the legendary Dominique Wilkins be left off? How could a 24-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, who was in just his fifth pro season, be included?

I was privileged to be among the 50 players, coaches, league executives and media members that made up the selection panel. Yes, I voted for Dominique. Not for Shaq. I thought it was too soon, his resume still incomplete, though he did, of course, become a no-brainer. The others I voted for that missed were: Bob McAdoo, Slater Martin, Dennis Johnson and Mo Cheeks.

As the 2014-15 season approaches, the gang at NBA TV’s Open Court decided it would be a time to expand the list of the 50 Greatest and choose The Next 10. The panel of O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Chris Webber, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups and Ernie Johnson had a lively discussion. You can see their picks on Tuesday night’s season-opening edition of Open Court (NBA TV, 6:30 ET, replay at 1:00 ET on Wednesday morning).

That got me to compiling my own Next 10 list. My parameters were not to re-legislate the past, so I’ve made my picks based only on players that played the majority of their careers after the original list in 1997:

Tim Duncan, with coach Gregg Popovich (Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE)

Tim Duncan, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE)

1 — Tim Duncan — It’s quite fitting that the Spurs made him the No. 1 pick in the Draft just months after the celebration of the 50 Greatest. He’s the perfect torch bearer at the perfect time to lead into the next generation. Five-time NBA champ, two-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP, 14-time All-Star, the Big Fundamental has been able to do it all for the past 17 seasons, staking his claim as the greatest power forward in history.

2 — Kobe Bryant — How many other 36-year-olds could enter a 19th NBA season coming off Achilles’ tendon and knee surgery and still defiantly believe that he’ll be able to dominate games and make his team contender? And you give him the benefit of the doubt? Currently fourth on the all-time scoring list, Kobe is poised to pass Michael Jordan this season. Call him ego-driven, a lightning rod or whatever you want, but since 1996, after winning five titles, an MVP award and two Finals MVPs, you have to call him elite.

3 — LeBron James — Not since Wilt Chamberlain has a player come into the league with such fantastic, over-the-top hype. Jealous criticisms aside, all he’s done is live up to it. The perfect combination of size, strength, speed, smarts and unselfishness. He’s just 29 years old with  four MVP awards, two championships, two Finals MVPs and 10 straight All-Star appearances already. And now he’s going back to Cleveland to keep writing the tale. As the late Howard Cosell once said, his critics might as well be shooting “spitballs at a battleship.” Clearly the best all-around player of his generation. He ranks only third here out of respect to his elders.

4 — Dirk Nowitzki — Did the Milwaukee Bucks know what they were trading away when they made him the ninth pick in the 1998 Draft and shipped him to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor? Did the basketball world remotely expect that a raw, gangly 7-footer from Wurzburg, Germany could grow into probably the best shooting big man in history? MVP, Finals MVP, champion, 12-time All-Star, he’s one of the Mt. Rushmore faces of international players that changed the NBA.

5 — Kevin Garnett — From those early days as a raw 19-year-old who became the first high schooler in nearly two decades to jump straight to the NBA, his calling card has been intensity. Of course, K.G. also has a bundle of talent at both ends of the court. NBA champion, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, 15-time All-Star. If you needed somebody to play in a game with your life on the line, you’d want Garnett on the floor.

6 — Allen Iverson — You can keep Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. When it’s the toughest, most resilient pound-for-pound fighter we’re talking about, The Answer is the answer. The little guy was bruised, beaten, body slammed on a nightly basis and just kept popping back up to fire off another dozen or so shots. MVP, 11 All-Star appearances, four-time scoring champ and three-time steals leader. Watching him drag that 2001 Sixers team to The Finals was a joy.

7 — Dwyane Wade — It’s convenient in some corners to say that he’s been the ultimate ride-along partner to O’Neal and James in winning three championships. That corner of the world evidently didn’t have a TV to watch the NBA Finals in 2006 when he brought Miami out of an 0-2 hole against Dallas with games of 42, 36, 43 and 36 points. Explosive, acrobatic and willing to make his game fit in with LeBron for two more titles in the Big Three Era, Wade’s crowd-pleasing, no-holds-barred style has taken a toll on his body. But he never stops. Scoring champ, Finals MVP, 10 All-Star Games and the all-time leader in blocked shots for players 6-foot-4 and under.

8 — Jason Kidd — He began his career in Dallas in 1994 as a point guard that could beat you down the floor on the break or break down your set defense. By the time he returned to Dallas to win a championship with the Mavs, he was a slow 3-point specialist. In between Kidd was one of the smartest and best all-around players in the NBA, third on the all-time triple-doubles list and the only player in history with 15,000 points, 10,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds.

9 — Chris Webber — The critics will point to a resume that doesn’t have a championship or even a trip to The Finals. But they would be missing the forest for the trees. From the time he was the No. 1 pick in the 1993 Draft through the next decade, until he needed micro fracture knee surgery, Webber was as good a do-everything forward as there was in the game. He turned lowly teams at Golden State, Washington and Sacramento into winners by averaging 20-10 and being a slick, willing passer.

10 — Kevin Durant — At just 26, with the meat of his career still ahead, there is the temptation to put him in the Shaq category with the original 50 and say let him marinate a while longer. But with four scoring titles, five All-NBA first team selections and the 2014 MVP award under his belt, who needs to wait? He can get off a shot any time from anywhere on the court and never look like he’s straining. A pure scoring machine who makes it all look too, too easy.

Thomas seeks relevancy with Suns

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns.com talks with Isaiah Thomas about his move to Phoenix

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — About one month into the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, a new basketball movie trailer burned up the Internet. A documentary, it chronicled mostly unknown 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ improbable path from a junior in college all the way to the NBA.

The title of the of the film was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the name bestowed upon the last pick of the NFL Draft. Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., product and a terrific scoring guard for the Washington Huskies, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. No. 60. The Sacramento Kings made him “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Over three seasons, Sacramento never seemed to believe he could be much more, even as Thomas’ production and tenacity became impossible to ignore — and to keep out of the starting lineup. As a rookie he badly outplayed the Kings’ No. 10 overall pick, Jimmer Fredette.

In 2012-13, the Kings tried to unseat Thomas with Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas, not exactly Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire, but still, Thomas refused to be overtaken. Last summer, Sacramento traded for 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez and immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. In December, Vasquez, a solid player to be sure, was traded to Toronto. Thomas, a pound-the-rock, take-you-off-the-dribble, finish-at-the-rim point guard went on to average 21.1 ppg and 6.5 apg (plus a career-high 1.3 steals), improving in both categories for a third consecutive season.

It is one of the greatest statistical seasons ever compiled by a player under 6-foot. His PER (player efficiency rating) checked in at 20.5, well above the league average (15.0) and again was one of the all-time best marks for a player of his stature.

Yet the Kings, even after revamping the front office, never viewed Thomas through the same prism as he viewed himself: as a 5-foot-9 playmaker, scorer, starter and leader. Sacramento, seemingly suggesting it wanted more of a facilitator at the point, signed free-agent journeyman Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal on July 10. It was a hefty raise for Collison, a backup last season with the Clippers, but much less than what Thomas, 25, felt he deserved in line with his production.

“They went after Darren Collison, which they felt was a better feel for whatever direction they’re going in,” Thomas said. “I just felt like I needed to go somewhere where I was wanted and Phoenix was a place where they wanted me for who I was. They wanted me for being 5-9. They wanted me for being a scoring point guard.”

Thirteen days after signing Collison, the Kings signed Thomas to a four-year, $27-million contract and traded him to the Suns.

“I’m not surprised just because every year it was somebody new,” Thomas said. “Every year I felt like I proved to them that I was a capable starter and I proved to them I was a pretty good basketball player. More than anything I was consistent, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Thomas spoke to NBA.com about his opportunity for relevancy in Phoenix, an upstart last season that won 48 games and missed the playoffs by one game in coach Jeff Hornacek‘s first season.

NBA.com: Do you think the Kings viewed you as irrelevant, in the sense that you don’t fit into a tidy description of a point guard and therefore you never could be their answer at the position?

Thomas: I guess. I guess because I’m 5-9 and I’m not the prototypical point guard they just kept trying to find … which every year I would beat out the guy. Like I tell people, it’s a business and I know where they’re coming from, but three years in a row it happened. I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen a fourth year so I was kind of fed up with that and that’s why I wanted a little change. I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted for, like I said, being who I am, being 5-9 and being a scoring guard.

NBA.com: To be clear, you never asked to be traded did you?

Thomas: No, I didn’t. I never asked. I was always professional about every situation. I always came in with my hard hat on willing to do whatever is best for the team. When they signed Darren Collison, I knew I was going in a different direction. (more…)

His own man, KD will make own decision

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Take a look at Kevin Durant and Team USA as they practice

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Here’s what we’ve learned about Kevin Durant through his first seven seasons in the league: He’s his own man, capable of independent thought and making intelligent, well-reasoned decisions.

He chose to sign a five-year extension in 2010 without demanding an option for an early out. To ensure maximum appeal as a corporate pitchman, he strategically didn’t tattoo areas of his body visible when in uniform. A few years ago a stunned public discovered that Durant’s uniform-covered torso resembles Allen Iverson.

He is the league’s reigning MVP coming off a grueling season in which he logged a league-high 3,121 regular-season minutes followed by a postseason-high 814 minutes (even though his Oklahoma City Thunder lost in six games in the Western Conference finals), yet he remained committed to Team USA, currently holding camp in Las Vegas. Remember, this squad will compete in the upcoming world championships in Spain (recast as the FIBA World Cup). This is not an Olympic year or even an Olympic-qualifying year. Durant doesn’t have to be here. He chose to be here.

And he’s a big story in Vegas. Everybody wants to know if, inspired by LeBron James‘ homecoming, he’ll leave the Thunder for his long-suffering hometown Washington Wizards in 2016 when he becomes a free agent.

In the NBA it’s never too early to spin theoretical free-agent story lines. Mostly because NBA front offices are actively planning for the Durant sweepstakes. Teams have to align contracts today to ensure available salary cap in two summers just to be in the chase. The NBA is a star-driven league and Durant (with potential 2015 free agent Kevin Love likely headed to Cleveland in a trade) is the next available fast track to contention.

And yes, the up-and-coming Wizards are preparing. Who wouldn’t love to add Durant to the promising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal? Washington’s books are in line for summer ’16, and you might have heard they hired a new player development assistant, David Adkins. Adkins? He was an assistant at Durant’s alma mater Montrose Christian in Maryland, and is said to be close to Durant. The plot thickens.

Fine, but any insinuation that Northeast Ohio’s re-embracing of LeBron tugged Durant’s heartstrings toward D.C. is a reach. The Cavs drafted the locally loved Akron phenom out of high school. He elevated the hometown NBA franchise to a Finals appearance in 2007 and three years later stomped on the hearts of his faithful with the incredibly insensitive “Decision.” Four Finals runs and two championships with the Miami Heat later, LeBron, all grown up, decided it was time to mend fences. Great story.

It’s not Durant’s story. Durant did tell reporters Tuesday that he grew up taking the train to Georgetown games, although he left home to play college ball 1,300 miles away at Texas. He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 and the next season moved with the franchise to Oklahoma City, a close-knit town he’s professed his love for countless times, and as recently as his MVP speech for the ages.

The Thunder are perennial contenders. Durant holds close relationships with coach Scott Brooks, as well as teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and many others in the organization. Most of all, Durant willingly immersed himself in the community. When he won the MVP, the city declared him “OKC’s MVP.” The governor and state representatives attended the ceremony.

If he were to leave OKC, it’s not a stretch to suggest that community will be more devastated than D.C. will be elated. With Durant, 25, in a Thunder uniform, the championship window is open-ended.

But hey, a lot can happen in two years. The Thunder could win a championship. Or two. Or maybe they don’t and Durant’s patience runs thin, after all he’ll be nine years in by the summer of ’16. Maybe the Durant-Westbrook relationship sours. Maybe Brooks gets fired. Maybe Durant ultimately decides he wants to play for a billionaire owner more responsive to spending when the moment calls.

So maybe Durant does go home, even though the number of stars who have gone home pales to those who never do when given the chance. We’ve seen Durant don Washington NFL gear and — not sure if anybody’s pointed this out — he’s got a Washington Nationals logo tattooed above his belly button. Durant does love his D.C. sports.

So maybe he does go home. Or perhaps, as was speculated when Durant hired Jay-Z to represent him, he goes to the Knicks or Nets. They’ll all be in line (yep, even the Nets will be flush with cap space by then).

Yes, the script that has Durant riding a white horse into Washington, where the Wizards/Bullets haven’t won a title since a decade before Durant was born, is real. It could happen. Durant could also play 20 seasons in OKC.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant told reporters in Vegas. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does.”

Durant might as well memorize those lines. He’ll need to cue them up over and over during these next two years.

But what we’ve learned of him over the last seven years is Kevin Durant is his own man.

Mavs double-down: Sign a forward and fall for 5-foot-7 Japanese PG Togashi

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The diminutive Yuki Tagashi has become a fan favorite with the Mavs in Summer League

LAS VEGAS —  The Dallas Mavericks may have double-downed in Summer League, potentially finding a depth forward for the big club and possibly an international sensation to play point guard for their nearby D-League team.

It’s rare for any team out here to offer an off-the-street free agent a contract, but the Mavs signed athletic, 6-foot-8 forward Eric Griffin on Friday just hours before the Dallas squad played its final game. Griffin closed out his strong summer with 20 points, three rebounds and three blocks in the 88-62 win over the Suns.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s a blessing at the same time,” Griffin said of signing the contract. “I’m just real happy to be part of a team that wants me.”

Griffin, cut from the Miami Heat last year after they signed Michael Beasley, played two seasons at San Jose State and finished his collegiate career with two years at Campbell in North Carolina. He played in Italy and then Venezuela last season. The contract doesn’t mean Griffin’s made it to the big leagues just yet, but it does reserve him a spot at training camp where he can fight for a spot on the 15-man roster.

Mavs assistant coach Kaleb Canales, who coached the summer team to a 3-3 record, texted Griffin the news Friday morning.

“It brought a big smile to my face,” Griffin said. “But more than anything, my mom was happy. She knows where I came from and how I started. It’s a big day for me.”

The other half of this dreams-can-come-true Mavs summer is 5-foot-7 Japanese point guard Yuki Togashi. The 20-year-old’s combo of stature, speed, instincts and fearlessness instantly made him a fan favorite over the past week, although not quite to the level of another Mavs Summer League point guard sensation a few years ago, a guy named Jeremy Lin.

Of course Togashi’s size, quick-twitch style and terrific ability to run the pick-and-roll is more similar to yet another great Dallas Summer League find, the diminutive J.J. Barea. Now with Minnesota, the 5-foot-9 Barea developed into a steady, change-of-pace backup point guard for the Mavs and even started in the 2011 NBA Finals.

Togashi’s dream is to play in the NBA and said Friday that he will follow that dream and enter the D-League draft in the fall. His other option is to return to Japan’s pro league and take home a much bigger paycheck.

“I played professionally for a year-and-a-half in Japan. I think I did a good job in Japan,” said Togashi, who took the BJ-league by storm last season and led it in assists. “To improve my skills I think I have to go overseas and play in the D-League.”

The D-League draft has 10 rounds. The early rounds are dominated by players on the edge of being good enough to make an NBA roster. Togashi is projected as a late-round pick so it’s quite possible the Mavs’ D-League team, the Texas Legends, co-owned by Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, will be able to select him.

Togashi idolized Allen Iverson as a kid and says he now watches a lot of Chris Paul. Interestingly, Togashi came to the United States for high school and attended Montrose Christian in Maryland, where a number of NBA players went, including Kevin Durant. When no Division I scholarships came, Togashi took his talents back home and began his professional career.

His agent steered him to Charlie Parker, a longtime assistant coach with the Mavs, who now works for the Legends. Parker has been training Togashi in Dallas for the last six weeks. Parker called his friends with the Mavs and told them they should consider putting the point guard on their summer team.

Obviously a part of his instant popularity here was initially due to his against-all-odds size. When he takes the court, he looks like one of the smaller kids on a youth team at the YMCA swimming in his oversized uniform. Then he gets the ball in his hands and the oohs and ahhs suggest he’s much more than a sideshow attraction.

“It is tough,” Togashi said of his height and 143-pound frame. “But I use my speed to be able to make plays.”

Togashi will return to Japan on Saturday morning and join the national team for practices in preparation for a tournament in Taiwan. If all works out, U.S. basketball fans will get their next look at the little man in the D-League.

Griffin’s pursuit of his NBA dream begins now. The high-flyer averaged 11.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg in Vegas. A Mavs scout described Griffin as raw offensively and depending on his athleticism. But he runs the floor with energy, finishes above the rim and Dallas coaches believe he can develop a perimeter jumper essential to making it as player who can switch between the two forward positions.

“His activity on both ends just makes things happen,” Canales said.

Griffin heads home with a list of improvements to work on — starting with “my dribbling and keep shooting” — before heading to Dallas in a few months as training camp approaches.

“It’s definitely not over,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to prove myself now to the team and organization.”


VIDEO: Eric Griffin executes perhaps the dunk of the summer

Wild series testing mettle of its stars

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Game 6 preview — Thunder look to close out Clippers in wild series

OKLAHOMA CITY — Truth is the regular-season MVP rarely winds up holding the only trophy that matters when all is said and done.

LeBron James’ conversion of consecutive MVPs into back-to-back NBA championships (and two NBA Finals MVPs) is the outlier. Since the turn of the century only two other MVPs have turned the title trick — Tim Duncan  in 2003 and Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. Kobe Bryant in 2008 and Allen Iverson in 2001 are the only other MVPs to even get their teams into the Finals.

Perhaps that’s why when Russell Westbrook stepped to the free throw line with 6.4 seconds left in the pivotal Game 5 Tuesday night with a chance to give Oklahoma City the lead if he could make all three attempts, the 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant couldn’t watch.

In football, players on the sidelines will look away, cover their eyes or turn around during a last-second field goal. Baseball players in the dugout will bury their faces in their caps.

Durant did all he could think to do. He headed all the way to the other end of the floor and plopped down in the corner of the court, knees raised, his long arms draped across them, his back facing Westbrook. The Thunder point guard sank one, two three free throws, Durant knowing by the roar of the crowd, for a 105-104 lead that would stand and give OKC a 3-2 lead as the series shifts back to Los Angeles for Thursday night’s Game 6 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Had Westbrook not capped an individually brilliant night of 38 points and six assists with those three free throws, had he not made the steal of the series only 10 seconds earlier, swiping the ball from Clippers point guard Chris Paul, typically as secure as a Brinks truck, the MVP would find himself, just as he did in the first round down 3-2 to Memphis, one loss from elimination and a summer of scrutiny.

Durant unraveled under defensive pressure in OKC’s Game 4 collapse and it carried over into Game 5. He was having the worst shooting performance of his 66-game playoff career, just 3-for-17 with the clock ticking under four minutes to go and the Clippers’ lead back up to 13 at 101-88.

“Yes, that was definitely frustrating,” Durant said. “I was missing some shots I felt good about, but that’s how the game goes from time to time. I just try to stick with it though and come through for my team.”

“I just tell him great players can have a bad shooting night, but have a great three minutes and be the superstar they are,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “And that’s what he had, three big baskets down the stretch and made big plays defensively. I thought he hung in there. There are some times when he may think nothing was going to happen right for him, but he hung in there.”

Durant hit two massive 3-pointers in the final 3:23 and scored eight of his 27 points during the Thunder’s 17-3 finishing kick.

And now it’s Paul’s turn to regroup after a five-turnover, late-game fade or face, for really the first time in his nine-year career, questions why he can’t seal the deal. Paul is almost universally recognized throughout the league as the game’s best point guard (although Stephen Curry beat him out in fan voting as the All-Star starter), yet this is only Paul’s third venture into the second round and he has never advanced to a conference final.

But unlike James before he won his first of two championships with Miami in 2012, or Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony or even now Durant and Westbrook, Paul has mostly eluded the scrutiny, his good-natured personality off the floor and point-god status on it steering him clear of postseason criticism.

If the Clippers fail to advance this time with their best, and healthiest, team in Paul’s three seasons, plus led by pedigreed coach Doc Rivers, Paul’s free pass will likely now include an expiration date.

The playoffs are where reputations are cemented and legacies born. This series, wild and unpredictable, has tested the mettle of two emotional teams that finished 1-2 during the regular season in technical fouls.

Westbrook, the Thunder’s highly charged point guard, who arguably absorbs more criticism than any player still in the playoffs, stands at the top of that list and, in the process, is beginning to redefine his reputation away from a reckless, IQ-challenged point guard.

He has elevated his game, blowing away his All-Star worthy regular-season numbers and giving OKC a facilitator when it needs him to be (8.2 per game against the Clippers), a relentless scorer when it needs him to be (29.6 ppg), a defensive force and the best rebounding guard in the postseason, averaging 8.4 a game.

Who figured Westbrook to be shooting 52.6 percent overall and 40.9 percent from beyond the arc in this series while Durant is a far more pedestrian 45.9 percent and 32.3 percent?

In the first two rounds, Westbrook has three triple-doubles in 12 games. No other player has one. He has four 30-point games. He has five games of double-digit rebounds and four games of double-digit assists, plus two more with eight in each.

“One thing I love about Russell, he competes every single night and he plays for his team every single night,” Brooks said. “He doesn’t get involved in all the things that are said about him, and why should he? You can’t win over everybody. As long as you can win over your teammates, that’s the respect that every player wants.”


VIDEO: Thunder rally late to stun Clippers in Game 5

Lottery madness is fool’s gold

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver address the tanking issue and revising the lottery system

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No one dares utter the dirty seven-letter word without fear of retribution, well, no one other than Mark Cuban. The Dallas Mavericks owner has been vocal about the tanking issue and what needs to be done about it.

But if you ask NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, lottery madness is much ado about absolutely nothing:

As the NBA regular season comes to a close you’re possibly one of two fans; either rooting for your favorite team to win out for better playoff positioning, or wanting your favorite stars to “rest” to gain better lottery positioning. Some call losing strategic others call it “tanking.”

Regardless of the preferred jargon, the practice is out of bounds.

Since 1985, the NBA put a system in place to award the NBA’s worst teams with the best chance for top picks in the subsequent draft. The first five years of the “Early Lottery System”, involved a random drawing of an envelope from a hopper. Under this system each non-playoff team had an equal chance to win the first pick. That didn’t directly help bad teams improve, so in 1990 the new weighted lottery system was implemented to give the team with the worst record the best chance of landing the first pick.

Currently the 14 teams that fail to qualify for the post-season are placed into a draft lottery. The team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of receiving the No. 1 pick. Depending on who’s projected to be drafted first, some may argue it’s worth losing a ton of games for the 25 percent chance of selecting the new face of a franchise. The numbers say it’s closer to being 100 percent wrong.

​Since 2004 (the last 10 lotteries) the team with the worst record won the lottery once in 2004 when the Orlando Magic went 21-61 and used the pick to select a center named Dwight Howard. Not bad. Howard enhanced ticket sales, led the team to a Finals appearance and eventually bolted for greener pastures. Now, the Magic are back in the lottery for a second consecutive season. If that number isn’t startling, dating back to 1985 there have only been four instances were the team with the worst record won the draft lottery.

DRAFT​–TEAM​–#1 Pick
1988–​CLIPPERS​–Danny Manning
1990​–NETS​–Derrick Coleman
2003–​CAVALIERS–​LeBron James
2004–​MAGIC–​Dwight Howard

​Simply put, this league is all about obtaining results. If a team is going to throw a season away in an attempt to get the No. 1 pick, let’s hope the player can return more than jersey sales. Which brings us to a more startling number. Since 1985 there have only been two No. 1 overall picks to win a Championship with their original team; David Robinson (1987) and Tim Duncan (1997).

Call it good fortune but the Spurs organization has been known to draft well regardless if it’s the first overall pick or the first pick in the second round. As for the two worst teams with the best odds to win the lottery, the Milwaukee Bucks (14-63) and Philadelphia 76ers (17-60), have been in a battle for who can lose the most games all season long. Milwaukee has maintained the title despite the Sixers tying a NBA record with 26 consecutive losses.

If the balls bounce their way one should win the coveted No. 1 pick. Milwaukee won the lottery twice in their team history, selecting Glenn Robinson (1994) and Andrew Bogut (2005). As for the Sixers they won the lottery in 1996 which resulted in one of the greatest Sixers in team history, Allen Iverson.

Memo to non-playoff teams and their fans, there’s no art to the science of winning the draft lottery.

Therefore instead of focusing on losing now to get better later, encourage your team to compete throughout an 82-game season. Besides, even if a team fails to win the #1 pick in a lottery doesn’t mean they won’t hit the jackpot, just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, No. 2 Pick in 2007 Draft).


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has had a remarkable season by anyone’s standard

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 150) Featuring Bestselling Author Jeff Pearlman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Transcendence for NBA players is an interesting concept. Does a player who starred in the 1950s or 1960s have any chance of being the same type of player today? What would the stars of this day and age look like if they plied their trade in the 1980s or 1990s?

Just because you ruled the basketball world in one era doesn’t guarantee you could do it again in every other era. Just how relevant a player is from one era to the other, however, is a debate that will rage on for generations. Where would the stars of yesteryear rank today?

Just because you score a career-high and franchise-record 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats, as LeBron James did Monday night, doesn’t mean Hall of Famers like Dominique Wilkins are going to be impressed.

We gave it a good run this week on Episode 150 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring The New York Times bestselling author and fellow hoops head Jeff Pearlman, whose definitive work on the “Showtime Lakers” is available now and absolute must-read. The story of the origins, Hollywood roller coaster that Dr. Jerry Buss, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Showtime Lakers took us on was one of a kind. The back story on how the dynasty was built and maintained is one that you won’t want to miss.

We frame the discussion with some great stories about guys like Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper, Mike Tyson (yes, Mike Tyson) and so many others who played a role in the Lakers becoming arguably the most famous franchise in NBA history and one of the most storied in all of sports.

Our friends at NBAE also provide us with a fantastic look back at Allen Iverson’s top 10 career plays, fresh off of his jersey retirement ceremony in Philadelphia Saturday, in Sounds of the Game. And the leader of the pack remains on his throne in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 150 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring The New York Times bestselling author Jeff Pearlman …

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: The Starters talk LeBron’s big night and its place in history

KD Keeps Streaking As Russ Blasts Off


VIDEO: Durant pours in 42 points in Thunder’s rout of Sixers

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST —LeBron James scored a career-high 61 points on Monday night. How would Kevin Durant answer a night later in what’s becoming a must-see, game-by-game, blow-by-blow MVP race?

Durant totaled 42 points on 14-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists in a mere 32 minutes in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 125-92 dismantling of the moribund Philadelphia 76ers. It was an individual performance that stacked up more to a Sixer of another era, The Answer, as in Allen Iverson, than to LeBron.

For the 26th consecutive game, Durant scored at least 25 points, the third-longest such streak in the last 25 years. The two players who’ve gone longer? Durant did it for 29 consecutive games during the 2009-10 season. And Mr. Iverson, the man who watched his No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers jersey raised to the rafters Monday, got it done in 27 consecutive games during the 2000-01 season. That’s it. Those two. No LeBron to be found.

In fact, after Tuesday’s 106-103 loss at Houston, James has sandwiched his 61 — his second game of the season of 40 points or more — with games of 20 and now 22. Durant, meanwhile, notched his 10th game of 40 points or more and his fourth in the last nine games. He made his first seven shots and was 8-for-11 with 21 points by halftime. Then came 21 in the third quarter on 6-for-9 shooting and his night was done.

Had he not unnaturally struggled at the free throw line, going 12-for-18, Durant probably would have hit 50 for a second time this season.

“It’s his fault,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks kidded. “I would’ve ran one more play for him to get 50 if he would’ve made his six free throws.”

But get this: Kevin wasn’t the story of the night. Because Russ ended up being Russ.

Russell Westbrook, in his sixth game back from a third right knee surgery since last April, ripped the 76ers for a triple-double — 13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds — in a land speed record of 20 minutes, 17 seconds. At least it’s the fastest anyone’s accumulated a triple-double in nearly 60 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He’s just physically so gifted and he is so competitive,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You know, there is a — and I say this respectfully — there is an angry competitor that wills his way into doing stuff, and I say that with the utmost respect, and so you saw those physical abilities along with just such a strong mind. It’s a powerful combination.”

Westbrook racked up eight assists in his first stint of six minutes, 34 seconds.

“Fourteen assists in 20 minutes,” Brooks marveled. “I mean, potentially if he had played more minutes, he probably could have had 20 assists tonight.”

That’s now 40 assists for Westbrook in his last five games, and perhaps the best sign that his knee is feeling fine is the 10 rebounds. He had 12 in the previous four games. The triple-double was his second of the season. The first came on Christmas Day at New York, his unsuspecting final game before being summoned back to the operating table.

“It is crazy,” Westbrook said of his rapid-fire filling of the box score. “I’m just trying to get my groove back. It is crazy to be able to do that in such a short amount of time, but it was fun.”

“I’m super proud of him,” Durant said of his buddy during a TV interview after the game.

It’s a great sign for the Thunder (46-15), who have now won three in a row since losing their first three games of Westbrook’s return out of the All-Star break. They are without injured starters Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but they did welcome newcomer Caron Butler into the rotation for the first time.

Bought out by the Bucks last week and signed by the opportunistic Thunder, the veteran small forward logged 26 minutes off the bench and contributed two points, an assist and five rebounds. He received a warm welcome from the home sellout crowd.

“I was just excited to be in that environment,” Butler said. “It felt like being at UConn again.”


VIDEO: Westbrook tallies triple-double in just over 20 minutes