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Posts Tagged ‘Andrea Bargnani’

Report: Johnson, Nets talk buyout

It was earlier this month when famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted the arrival of an early spring. Now the first sign of an NBA thaw might be showing in Joe Johnson’s resolve to remain with the Nets.

The 34-year-old swingman has begun talks with new Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks about buying out the rest of his $24.9 million contract this season, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

As long as Johnson is released by new Nets general manager Sean Marks by Tuesday, he’ll be playoff eligible for his next team.

“I think he’s deserved the right to (play on a playoff team if that’s what he wants),” Marks said of Johnson during an appearance on WFAN on Thursday.

Johnson, 34, is earning $24.9 million this season in the final year of a mammoth six-year, $124 million deal that was the league’s largest at the time when he signed it with the Hawks in 2010. Brooklyn absorbed the remaining four years and $89.3 million left on Johnson’s deal — soon followed by the acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — in a bid to first convince then-franchise point guard Deron Williams to stay with the Nets and then to make a run at the NBA championship that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov vowed to win within the space of five years.

But the Nets have only won one playoff series after acquiring Johnson and don’t have control of their own first-round pick until June 2019.

For the new GM Marks, moving on from Johnson would be the second step in what promises to be a tremendous undertaking to turn the Nets around. He had released forward Andrea Bargnani.

Despite averaging just 11.8 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting this season — his lowest numbers in more than a dozen years — Johnson will have no shortage of would-be contending teams lining up to add him to their playoff rosters. Stein reports Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Oklahoma City and Toronto have already made contact.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Brad Stevens, an ex-college guy, NBA coach of the year?Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner | Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis | Jeff Green a difference maker?

No. 1: Brad Stevens, college guy, NBA coach of the year? — The Celtics are third in the East and there’s a lot of head-scratching to figure a reason why. Boston has no stars but it might have the next coach of the year in Brad Stevens, who by all accounts has done a stellar job just a few years after leaving Butler. Speaking of which, for one night against the Jazz, Stevens was reunited with two key players on those Cinderella Butler teams, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, the latter of whom was just traded to the Jazz. Here’s some good insight into Stevens and Hayward from Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

Mack and Hayward are the only active NBA players from Butler, both recruited by Stevens. That is a source of pride with the Celtics coach, having guided two players to the NBA from a mid-major that was little known before Butler made consecutive trips to the national title game.

Each time Stevens visits Salt Lake City he’s asked about Hayward, how the swingman has developed in the NBA and impacted a franchise that, like the Celtics, is trying to rise from rubble. Hayward is a cornerstone, with the Jazz giving him a four-year, $63 million contract.

Hayward, averaging a career-best 19.9 points this season, is a borderline All-Star. He shot just 6 of 16 in Friday’s 111-93 win but still managed 22 points by making 15 trips to the foul line. He has progressed exponentially since Stevens recruited him from Brownsburg, Ind., nearly 10 years ago.

“When I first met with him when we were recruiting him, we talked about, ‘You actually have a chance to be a pro,’ ” Stevens said. “I don’t know that anybody could have envisioned [this]. At that time, he was a 13-point, six-rebound-a-game tennis player. He was growing into his own. He was a long, skinny kid. He was probably 6-foot-7, 180 [pounds] sopping wet.”

Hayward quickly developed into a top college player and left Butler after his sophomore season in 2009-10, following a 2-point loss to Duke in the national title game.

“I think he’s just gotten better, better, and better,” Stevens said. “His first couple of practices at Butler confirmed what the biggest mark would be with a guy of his talent level, and that is his grit and toughness. From that point on, we had no doubt that he had all that stuff. So you knew he was going to be a pro, it was just a matter of the level. He’s established himself as one of the better players around.

“He had a lot of natural talent. I don’t know if he believed me or not, [maybe] he thought I was just a recruiter that was lying to him. We had never had an NBA pro [prospect] in our time but it was obvious that he could do things other guys couldn’t do.”

Hayward is often asked about Stevens’s success in the NBA, having led the Celtics from a lottery team in 2013-14 to an Eastern Conference contender in just two years. The admiration is mutual.

“He told us he would never leave for another college,” Hayward said. “And that was very, very true; he left for the NBA. I’ve always said no matter where he’s at, he’ll be successful, if it’s basketball, if it’s business. Whatever it is. He’s just that type of person that, he’s going to be successful. He puts in the time. He puts in the effort. A very smart guy. No surprise that he’s successful where he’s at.”

Hayward and Stevens have formed a strong bond because they realize their importance to each other’s success. Hayward may not have reached the NBA without Stevens’s tutelage, while Stevens may not have gotten a call from the Celtics had Hayward not led Butler to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed six years ago.

“He knows how to make people successful,” Hayward said of Stevens. “He puts guys in the right positions. He’s very smart with reading defenses and knowing how teams are going to play and what they’re going to do, switches, whatever. They beat us on a last-second shot last year, on their play. He’s just a really smart coach and he always brings the best out of his players. Like I said, I’m proud of what he’s been able to do.”

                                                           ***

 No. 2: Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner — He won’t win Rookie of the Year and might even face a battle just to make first-team All-Rookie, but don’t be fooled. The Pacers are very pleased with the development of Myles Turner and the potential of the 6-foot-10 post player is enormous. He began getting more playing time earlier this month and because of Turner, the Pacers still like their chances of making the playoffs. Here’s an excerpt of an examination of Turner done recently by Candace Bucker of the Indianapolis News:

In so many ways, he’s just a big kid. The teen-turned-starter still buys H&M clothes off the rack and watches SpongeBob in his spare time. He’s tasked with raiding the freezer in NBA visitors’ locker rooms so his veterans will have enough Gatorade on the bus rides to the airport. Inside his childhood bedroom, he still has a pair of size-10 Starbury One sneakers signed by Kevin Durant.

But in so many other ways, the Pacers need him to be a man, if not The Man. They have Paul George, Monta Ellis and several veterans approaching 30. But they also need 19-year-old Myles Turner, who averages 10.1 points on 53.5 percent shooting and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

“We’ve got a young, really talented, special big man in Myles Turner that is going to be up and down,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I don’t know how fast and how far he develops in the final 29 games, but it will be a big factor in what our ceiling is.”

Turner has always been this strange brew of a project, a normal, humble child and a rare bird, a player obsessed with shushing his skeptics and yet privately questioning himself. He nods when teammates give him tongue-lashings after mistakes, but there’s nothing they can say that he hasn’t heard from the chorus of critics inside his head.

“I doubted myself a lot,” Turner says of playing in the NBA.

* * *

Turner can take on the responsibility because he isn’t just any 19-year-old. He was raised for this, even if David and Mary Turner thought they were simply bringing up their eldest to earn a free college education and a good job.

So, the family would take part in conversational clashes, the loser getting bounced for using filler words “uhm” and “like.” If Myles slipped up with one of the forbidden words, his mother took no mercy.

“All of a sudden I’d break out and say, ‘I won!’ ” Mary exclaims. “He hated losing. So we had to play again.”

The Turners shut off the television from Monday to Thursday and hid the PlayStation in the garage until summer so Myles could do something that sounds insane to kids of his generation: play outside. Myles was 5 when David purchased a basketball goal, but dad couldn’t install it in the driveway unless the height was adjusted from 7½ feet to 10, regulation size. Mary’s idea.

Turner remembers getting penciled onto the “B” team during middle-school tryouts and being iced out at his first practice with the Trinity High School varsity team. These memories are old wounds that should’ve been patched up by all his recent triumphs. Still, Turner can’t help but to pick at his sutures.

“I’ve just always had to work my way up through the ranks,” Turner says. “I was definitely overlooked in high school.”

Older kids laughed at the way he ran, but Turner loved the game. He was piling up team championship trophies – not those participation throwaways. He had the potential to be great, so he played on. And really, how could he stop and listen to their taunts? Turner kept busy; for a while, he played on four teams at the same time.

He was improving, but not fast enough by his own standards. When Turner did watch TV and saw Shaq and D-Wade winning the NBA Finals, he wasn’t like the other kids who went to sleep dreaming about holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“I never thought I’d be strong enough. I always got pushed around all the time,” Turner stresses. “As far as the NBA was concerned, I loved watching it … but I never thought I’d actually be able to do it one day.”

***

No. 3: Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis — This isn’t the team he saw when the season tipped off. Still, it’s his team because it says “Memphis” across the jersey, so Dave Joerger must find a new playbook for a Grizzlies’ team that has changed overnight. Marc Gasol is injured and gone, maybe for the season if not a lengthy stretch. And the Grizz have welcomed Mario Chalmers, PJ Hairston, Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen in the last few months. The task for the coach is to keep the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt, which won’t be easy, and make the new faces comfortable. This task was examined by Geoff Caulkins of the Commercial Appeal:

Dave Joerger, this is your test.

You’re going to have to try to win games without Marc Gasol, your best player, the guy you have built your entire team around.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Courtney Lee, one of the few shooters on a team that has never been able to shoot.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Jeff Green, your answer to everything, a player you coveted and believed in more than anyone else.

And you’re going to have to try and win games without Ryan Hollins, the backup center, the rim protector you wanted on the team all year long.

And you may have to try to win a game or two without Tony Allen, your inspirational leader, who is questionable with a gimpy knee.

Oh, and in case that’s not enough of a challenge, we’re going to give you Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston and a guy everyone knows as Birdman.

Let us know how it goes!

“The last couple of days have been pretty interesting,” said Joerger, because he really couldn’t say, “What did I do to deserve this?”

But he had to be thinking it, didn’t he? Somewhere underneath that Minnesota Nice? Or maybe just wondering when the hidden cameras would be revealed and he’d discover he’d been Punk’d?

The Memphis Grizzlies may have done the right thing for the Memphis Grizzlies this past week. They may have done the right thing for next year and beyond.

But for their head coach?

“It’s a big motivation,” said Joerger, and also the biggest challenge of his coaching career.

Not that there haven’t been other challenges, mind you. Joerger has seen and surmounted more than few.

It was a challenge to take over for a wildly successful and popular coach like Lionel Hollins.

It was a challenge to overcome an injury to Gasol to make the playoffs that first year.

It was a challenge to forge a working relationship with Robert Pera after some early tensions.

It was a challenge to win 50 and 55 games his first two years as a head coach.

And it was a challenge to lead the Grizzlies through a sluggish start to this season, turning a 16-16 record into 31-22 by the All-Star break.

But none of those challenges compares with the one Joerger will be facing over the next 28 games.

It really should be a reality show. Let’s see what our man Dave can do!

We’ll give him:

Five players who are 34 or older (Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Birdman and Allen).

Five players who are essentially new to the team (Stephenson, Hairston, Birdman, James Ennis and Brandan Wright).

Six players who are known to be among the roughest and/or craziest in the league (Stephenson, Barnes, Allen, Hairston, Randolph and Birdman).

Two players the Miami Heat gave away just to get under the luxury tax (Birdman and Mario Chalmers).

Oh, and Mike Conley. Because we really do have a heart!

But that’s all that Joerger has at his disposal. Now he has to take that group and — without any extra days off to practice or install plays — win enough games to make the playoffs. And that’s not even the trickiest part. The trickiest part is making sure the players are all in.

***

No. 4: Jeff Green a difference maker? — One of the defections from the Grizzlies is Jeff Green, and stop me if you’ve heard this before: Green will be a difference maker for his new team. Well, he was supposed to play that role with the Celtics, and then with the Grizzlies, and now the Clippers. In Boston, Green was a solid player, nothing more. In Memphis, which needed scoring from the swing position (and still does), Green was a mild disappointment, a tease if anything. He’s now reunited with coach Doc Rivers, who briefly had him in Boston, and lo and behold, the Clippers need scoring from the wing. There’s no denying the gifts of the 6-foot-9 Green; he can run the floor and comes with a decent mid-range shot. But he often disappears for stretches; his inconsistency is maddening. Anyway, he’s the Clippers’ problem — or steal, whichever he decides to be. It didn’t work out with Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith; has Rivers finally found a solution in Green? Here’s a take from Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

Jeff Green might be happy about joining the Clippers.

He might be happy about playing for Doc Rivers, his old coach in Boston. He might be happy about reconnecting with Team Jordan buddies Chris Paul and Blake Griffin or old teammates Paul Pierce or Cole Aldrich.

But in his first appearance as a member of the Clippers at the team’s practice facility Friday, there wasn’t room for any real emotion.

Green, admittedly, was overwhelmed.

It had been less than 24 hours since Memphis general manager Chris Wallace pulled him aside during the Grizzlies’ practice to deliver the news.

“It never does (get easier),” said Green, who was dealt in the middle of a season for the third time. “You think if you’ve been through it once, it would be easier to go through it again. But you get settled and comfortable in a situation, so it’s tough to break apart from that.”

Green had less than a day to pack up as many possessions as he would need, filling five suitcases and a carry-on with shoes, sweats and suits.

By the time he spoke to the media Friday, he still didn’t know where he was going to be living for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a whirlwind,” he said.

Jamal Crawford, who has been traded in the middle of a season, knows it’s not easy to have your life uprooted.

“I had no idea it was coming and it happened, and it took a little while, it took a few days to set in, like, ‘Did this really happen or am I dreaming?’ That was my first time being traded, so it’s tough,” Crawford remembered. “It’s not just you it affects. It affects your family, you may have to put kids out of school, if you’re renting or whatever, all that stuff. … Where to live, you may go to a city you haven’t spent a lot of time in before, you have to learn that.

“It’s almost like a new kid going to school in the middle of the year, like, ‘Oh, I have to make new friends.’”

Once Green settles in, he knows how he’ll help the Clippers.

“I’m a versatile guy who can play multiple positions and do multiple things on the floor, so I’m pretty sure Doc will put me in positions where I can succeed and help this team out,” Green said. “I’m sure it will vary from game to game, but there are going to be plenty of spots on the floor for me.”

Green should be on the court when the Clippers host the NBA’s top team, the defending champion Golden State Warriors, on Saturday night.

Despite dealing with the ramifications of the trade, Green, an unrestricted free agent this summer, said he likes the situation he’s found himself in.

“This is definitely a team with all the right pieces, and a team that is going in the right direction,” Green said. “The only thing I want to do is win, and that’s what it’s all about right now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After getting his release, Andrea Bargnani is available and please, don’t all rush at once … The Mavericks remain the clear favorite to scoop up David Lee once he clears waivers on Monday … San Francisco radio station KNBR had an entertaining interview with Warriors coach Steve Kerr … What is it with the Jazz and point guards? They’re still looking for the next Deron Williams and John Stockton … It appears Cody Zeller is the center of the (near) future for the Hornets; not Al Jefferson?

Reports: Novak headed to Milwaukee


The 10th time might be a charm for NBA journeyman sniper Steve Novak.

Novak, after playing for nine teams in 10 seasons, is expected to return to his roots, based on reports that he could join the Milwaukee Bucks once he clears waivers. A teammate of Miami star Dwyane Wade on the Marquette University team that reached the 2003 NCAA Final Four, Novak played his high school ball in the Milwaukee suburbs and is a native of northern Illinois.

In his NBA travels, he had yet to play for either the Bucks or the Chicago Bulls. But Marc Stein of ESPN.com initially reported the Milwaukee team’s interest after Novak, 32, was traded from Oklahoma City to Denver Thursday, when waived. Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel confirmed that.

The 6-foot-10 Novak’s most marketable NBA skill is his 3-point shooting, something the Bucks sorely lack. Heading into Saturday’s game at Atlanta, they ranked 29th in both attempts and made shots from the arc, as well as 29th in the percent of 3-point shots among their overall attempts.

Milwaukee’s .350 accuracy as a team ranks 19th, with only Jerryd Bayless (.436) and Khris Middleton (.410) shooting better than .325 from that range. Only once since Novak’s rookie season with Houston has he shot worse than .396.

To open a roster spot for Novak, the Bucks were likely to cut Chris Copeland, as reported by ESPN.com‘s Brian Windhorst. Copeland, 31, had averaged .373 3-point accuracy in his first three NBA seasons but had made only 10 of 36 (.278) in limited minutes with the Bucks this season.

In other post-trade deadline developments, the Brooklyn Nets waived Andrea Bargnani, general manager Sean Marks announced today.  Bargnani, who signed with the Nets last summer, appeared in 46 games for Brooklyn, with averages of 6.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per game.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 210) Featuring Matt D’Agostino

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Comparing players and eras is always a risky proposition, given that everyone comes to the debate with their own perspective.

That’s why we’re extremely careful around here when it comes to connecting the dots between players with similar profiles but wildly different bodies of work. So just because Larry Johnson and Anthony Bennett were No. 1 overall Draft picks (generations apart, mind you) as undersized power forwards from UNLV, does not make them comparable on any level as NBA players.

Phil Jackson compared prized Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis to Shawn Bradley, a rather unfair comparison in the eyes of many. Time will tell if Porzingis is ready to assist Carmelo Anthony in the resurrection of the Knicks or if he’ll struggle as a rookie in the same ways that Bennett did in Cleveland.

But it’s another situation that requires time to resolve, time that Bennett will attest few players have in today’s NBA. We talk all of this and much more on Episode 210 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring NBA.com’s FanDuel guru Matt D’Agostino ...

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.

– 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: Will Kristaps Porzingis go the way of Anthony Bennett and struggle in his adjustment to the NBA or be an impact rookie for the New York Knicks this season?

Morning shootaround: Sept. 14


VIDEO: Remembering the great Moses Malone

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Malone helped shape Olajuwon’s game, career | World Peace ready to return, but where? | A pressure shift in Miami from Bosh to Dragic | Moses the NBA’s most underappreciated great player

No. 1: Malone helped shape Olajuwon’s game, career — Moses Malone, who died Sunday at 60, was a pioneer, a teen phenom who would go on to become a three-time MVP, all-time NBA great and a Hall of Famer who ranks among the biggest and best players the game has seen. But who knew he served as a tutor and guide to another one of the NBA’s all-time greats, Hakeem Olajuwon, during the formative stages of The Dream’s Hall of Fame career? Our very own Fran Blinebury tells the story of Moses the mentor and the special bond between these two NBA titans:

It was 1982 and Malone had just won his second MVP award with the Rockets (he’d claim his third the next season). Olajuwon had just finished his first season at the University of Houston.

“Oh Lordy,” NBA veteran Robert Reid remembered years later. “The place got real quiet. It was on that play, at that minute, when a lot of us stood there and wondered, ‘What do we have here?’ ”

What a shrinking world had in this most unlikely union that brought together a made-in-America big man off the streets of Petersburg, Va., with a wide-eyed sponge from Lagos, Nigeria, was perhaps the greatest teacher-student class project in basketball history.

Malone, who died Sunday at 60, combined with Olajuwon to total 54,355 career points, 29,960 rebounds, 5,563 blocked shots, 24 All-Star appearances, four MVP awards, three Finals MVP trophies and two places in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Theirs was a relationship born in the school of hard knocks and forged by the white-hot fire of mutual and insatiable competitive drive, out of range of the TV cameras, away from the prying eyes, where all that mattered was how much you had to give.

“I would never have accomplished what I did if I did not play against Moses at Fonde,” Olajuwon said before his own Hall of Fame induction in 2008. “I knew the rules. I knew the basics of the game and what you were supposed to do. But he is the one that taught me how to do it.

“With Moses there were no rests, no breaks. He was working every time down the court — scoring, rebounding or just making you feel his body. He would laugh when he slammed into you. If you tried to take a breath, he went by you or over you. There was no stop.”

They were opposite sides of the same coin. Where Malone would bump and grind and wear down an opponent with his sheer physical play and relentless pursuit of the ball, Olajuwon wore opponents out with an array or spins, fakes, double- and triple-pumps that were more varied and colorful than a painter’s palette.

“I usually couldn’t go through Moses, because he was just so strong,” Olajuwon said. “So I had to learn to use speed and agility to go around him. That’s how I built my game.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — July 15


VIDEO: The Starters break down the playoff seeding tweaks

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Silver speaks on several topics | USA Basketball casts wider net | Paul George the power forward? | Is Porzingas perfect for NYC?

No. 1: Silver speaks on several topics Last night in Las Vegas at Summer League, NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference to discuss topics discussed at the Board of Governors meeting. This served as de facto state of the league address, as Silver discussed topics ranging from playoff seeding to future labor relations to intentional fouling rules. As our Steve Aschburner writes, perhaps the most immediate topic addressed was next season’s playoff seedings, where winning a division from now on may carry a little less weight

Winning an NBA division might get a lot less satisfying next season.

It’s not the most prestigious accomplishment as it is, once the postseason revs up and conference championships feeding The Finals render forgettable those modest crowns of the Atlantic, the Central, the Southwest and so on.

But if a recommendation out of the Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in Las Vegas gets enacted as soon as this autumn, division titles would lose more than cachet. They wouldn’t carry the guarantee of a Top 4 berth in the Eastern or Western conference playoffs.

Instead, the qualifying teams in the East and West would be seeded 1 through 8 according to regular-season records. That is the likely outcome, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments after the annual summer meeting of the league’s owners.

“It wasn’t voted on yet,” Silver said, “because we wanted all the owners to have an opportunity to go back and discuss that recommendation with their general managers and their coaches, and we’ll vote on it before the beginning of the season. It’s my expectation that that change will be adopted.”

Under the current system, the three division winners in each conference are assured of a Top 4 spot in the seedings, regardless of record. Last season, for example, that put Portland at No. 4 even though the Trailblazers’ 51-31 record ranked sixth-best in the West.

The Blazers didn’t get homecourt advantage in the first round — that went to No. 5 seed Memphis, with the Grizzlies beating Portland in five games. But the format didn’t seem to reward Memphis’ 55-27 performance, it dropped San Antonio to No. 6 despite an identical 55-27 record and it might not even have served the Blazers or their fans.

In winning its first division title in 16 years, Portland clinched the Northwest with two weeks left in the regular season thanks partly to the absence of other threats. Oklahoma City was the only other team in the division to top .500 and the Thunder were hampered by injuries in missing the postseason for the first time in six years.

Silver didn’t offer any specifics beyond the general goal of 1-through-8 seeding. There apparently still is enough sentiment among the owners that the divisions be retained — an Atlantic banner hanging in the rafters or at a practice facility might not mean much to Boston or New York, but it still might matter in Toronto, for instance.

***

No. 2: USA Basketball casts wider net The next Olympics are still a year away, but USA Basketball is already looking at some of the NBA’s brightest younger players in looking to assemble the 2016 Olympic team. As ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, expect to see some new faces at Team USA’s mini-camp in August

Sources told ESPN.com that USAB has extended invitations to Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Memphis’ Mike Conley, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, Orlando’s Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo and Utah’s Trey Burke to its Aug. 11-13 camp on the campus of UNLV.

USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo, meanwhile, tells ESPN.com that next month’s camp will actually serve as more of a “reunion” for various players who have worked under Colangelo and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski in the past two Olympic tournaments and the past two world championship-level events. As opposed to the full-scale practices and the intrasquad scrimmage that Team USA would typically hold in preparation for a major competition, Colangelo said Tuesday that next month’s gathering will instead feature two days of noncontact workouts and “an all-star game of sorts” on Aug. 13 that will feature the various marquee players in attendance who are healthy enough to play.

Yet Colangelo stressed that USA Basketball is making attendance at the three-day event mandatory for invited players if they are interested in securing a spot on the Yanks’ 12-man roster for next summer’s Olympics in Brazil, even if the player is rehabilitating from an injury or otherwise not yet cleared to join in on-court activities.

USAB already knows that Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Indiana’s Paul George and the Cleveland Cavaliers duo of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will not be ready to take part in basketball activities at the camp, because they are recovering from their various serious injuries from the past year. But Colangelo’s view is that “it’s important for everyone to be here as a sign of commitment for ’16.”


VIDEO: Managing Director Jerry Colangelo talks USA basketball

***

No. 3: Paul George the power forward? After seeing the Golden State Warriors rely on a small lineup in their run through the NBA Finals, NBA teams around the league are considering their own smaller lineups. The Indiana Pacers expect a healthy return from Paul George, who has already publicly registered his disinterest in playing major minutes at power forward. But as Pacers president Larry Bird said at a press conference yesterday, George doesn’t make those decisions for the Pacers …

Larry Bird’s sales pitch was good enough to get two free agents to sign with the Pacers.

He’s still trying to convince Paul George that playing power forward will be a good move, too.

After announcing the signings of three players Tuesday, Indiana’s president of basketball operations made his most extensive and direct comments yet about playing the 6-foot-9, 220-pound swingman at a new spot.

“I’m not going to get into a battle about where Paul George will play,” Bird said. “He’s a basketball player and we can put him anywhere out there.”

Bird believes George will be freed to do more offensively and be healthier if he’s not chasing players around the court.

But the debate has raged all summer.

While critics contend the two-time All-Star could get overwhelmed by bigger, stronger opponents inside, Bird believes the two-time all-NBA defensive player will hold up just fine and will actually be a more productive player.

The flurry of offseason moves has left no doubt that George will get some time as a stretch four. The question is how much time?

Before heading to Florida to watch the Pacers’ summer league team play, coach Frank Vogel told reporters he had not determined how much time George would log at power forward. On Saturday at a local basketball camp, George said that while he’s willing to play anywhere, he didn’t anticipate playing 30 minutes per game at that spot.

Bird made one thing clear Tuesday.

“He don’t make the decisions around here. But I did it, and I loved it after I did it,” Bird said, drawing laughter.

***

No. 4: Is Porzingas perfect for NYC? When the Knicks selected Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingas fourth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, boos rained down from the crowd in Brooklyn, mostly from Knicks fans unfamiliar with his name and his game. But in just a few Las Vegas Summer League appearances, as NBA.com’s Shaun Powell writes, Porzingas is showing he may be a perfect fit for New York City

When asked how he handled his nerves in his debut, Porzingis said quickly: “I told myself to chill out.”

His English is amazingly sharp and he carries himself well. Basically, he gets it, even at a very young age. of course, there’s still the big question: Can he play?

Well, that won’t be known in summer league, which should be taken for what it’s worth. Still, after four days in Vegas, he hasn’t backed down. He’s built like a Twizzler but isn’t afraid to mix it up. He goes in traffic with the ball and also after the ball for rebounds. He has challenged players at the rim and is showing a knack for blocking shots. Again, Summer League is all about learning if the player has the basics to survive in the NBA, and Porzingis is showing that.

The main drawback for Porzingis is his lack of strength. He’ll get easily boxed out for rebounds when the real games begin. And his dribble game is merely adequate.

The Knicks were smitten by his height, his athletic ability and his jumper, and so far have no reason to be disappointed. Porzingis has the shooting range to stretch defenses. He can be very useful in the pick-and-pop (assuming his body can withstand the pick part) and can be dangerous behind the 3-point line. And he gets to the free-throw line. Again, this is Summer League, and Porzingis is a work in progress. but the more you watch, the more you get the feeling that Phil Jackson didn’t draft the next Andrea Bargnani.

“He’s really interesting to watch and his growth is going to be interesting to see,” said Jackson. “It looks like he can hold his own out there. I think he’s going to find a comfort zone.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall thinks he should be making more money than Reggie Jackson … The Lakers are making moves to strengthen their analytics department … The Thunder traded Perry Jones III to Boston … Catching up with former Knicks lottery pick Frederic Weis

Attention-loving Porzingis made for New York City


VIDEO: First impressions of Kristaps Porzingis

LAS VEGAS — Not everything appears at it seems in this town, where fortunes can come and go in a flash and hopes can rise like the triple-digit temperatures. It’s a weird place for Kristaps Porzingis to begin selling himself as the future of the Knicks, yet he’s doing just that.

Let’s start with the one intangible that weighs heavily: Porzingis laughs easily and dismisses criticism with a disarming smile. Good. That skill will come in handy over the next year or so. In that sense, the 7-3 center from Latvia is made for the harsh city, a tabloid-fueled place that is likely to fall in love with the rookie, from a personality standpoint, even if the 19-year-old gets off to an understandably slow start.

“He handles himself well,” said coach Derek Fisher. “This kid won’t let anything get to him.”

We’re moving a bit to fast here, but if Porzingis ever becomes an All-Star someday, he will own New York more than Carmelo Anthony. A smart, funny foreigner with J. Crew looks who loves the city with all of its benefits and flaws? When’s the last time anyone could say that about a Knick?

When asked how he handled his nerves in his debut, Porzingis said quickly: “I told myself to chill out.”

His English is amazingly sharp and he carries himself well. Basically, he gets it, even at a very young age. of course, there’s still the big question: Can he play?

Well, that won’t be known in summer league, which should be taken for what it’s worth. Still, after four days in Vegas, he hasn’t backed down. He’s built like a Twizzler but isn’t afraid to mix it up. He goes in traffic with the ball and also after the ball for rebounds. He has challenged players at the rim and is showing a knack for blocking shots. Again, Summer League is all about learning if the player has the basics to survive in the NBA, and Porzingis is showing that.

The main drawback for Porzingis is his lack of strength. He’ll get easily boxed out for rebounds when the real games begin. And his dribble game is merely adequate.

The Knicks were smitten by his height, his athletic ability and his jumper, and so far have no reason to be disappointed. Porzingis has the shooting range to stretch defenses. He can be very useful in the pick-and-pop (assuming his body can withstand the pick part) and can be dangerous behind the 3-point line. And he gets to the free-throw line. Again, this is Summer League, and Porzingis is a work in progress. but the more you watch, the more you get the feeling that Phil Jackson didn’t draft the next Andrea Bargnani.

“He’s really interesting to watch and his growth is going to be interesting to see,” said Jackson. “It looks like he can hold his own out there. I think he’s going to find a comfort zone.”

OK, here’s the issue: Should Jackson have taken someone else, say Emmanual Mudiay, at No. 4? Willie Cauley-Stein? Both are also producing in Vegas and would’ve filled a need for the Knicks, who need everything.

Well, point guards aren’t too hard to find, so it’s understandable why Jackson decided to gamble on a 7-3 shooter instead of Mudiay (besides, Jackson took Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant later in the first round). Cauley-Stein, meanwhile, is every bit the project as Porzingis, although more offensively-challenged.

For the time being, the Knicks are looking rather smart and Porzingis is looking rather comfortable. For a player who didn’t get the shine of the NCAA tournament, he’s pretty popular in Vegas, and this reception will be nothing compared to what awaits in New York.

“I love the attention,” he said.

See? He fits.

 

Morning Shootaround — July 13




VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

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No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”

***

No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

 

***

No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:

 

The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.

***

No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”

***

No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Andrea Bargnani is still in the NBA


VIDEO: Video: Nets coach Lionel Hollins discusses this year’s team

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Brooklyn Nets announced Sunday evening that they have agreed to terms with free agent Andrea Bargnani on a contract. Multiple reports say that the deal was for the veteran’s minimum (about $1.4 million for a player with nine years of experience), with a player option for 2016-17.

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick (108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

20150712_bargnani_mr3

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

Morning shootaround — July 12




VIDEO: Porzingis’ Summer League debut

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Opportunity for Okafor | Hammon makes history | Bargnani to Kings | Porzingis shines | Lillard stands ready

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No. 1: Embiid loss changes rookie race — There are all sorts of implications that rise out of the news that Joel Embiid could miss another entire season following a second surgery to repair the broken bone in his foot. The biggest question, of course, is about the career of the Sixers big man. Does it mean another season of tanking in Philly? But Embiid’s loss could also open the door for this year’s top Sixer draft pick Jahlil Okafor to be the 2016 Rookie of the Year, according to our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

No Embiid means no crowded big-man rotation with second-year man Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, and that means an unquestioned clear path for Okafor to probably have the featured role in the Sixers offense.

In the coldest terms, the crushing setback for Embiid is a prime opportunity for Okafor with the largest portion of minutes at center and power forward now being split two ways instead of three. Not only that the good possibility that Okafor will be able to score inside immediately makes him the ideal fit alongside Noel, an impact defender as a 2014-15 rookie but offensively challenged.

Tony Wroten led Philly in scoring last season at 16.9 points a game, and that was with just 30 appearances. Michael Carter-Williams was second, at 15 per, and he got traded. Okafor, with advanced post moves and a pro body at 6-11 and 270 pounds, will likely generate offense this season, and will absolutely have the chance.

***

No. 2: Hammon breaks another barrierBecky Hammon got a baptism by fire in her history making debut as head coach in the Las Vegas Summer League, drawing up a play for her Spurs in the final seconds. The last-second shot missed, but  it was Hammon’s latest step to break down barriers for women in sports. Our Shaun Powell was on hand to document the event and discuss the possible importance down the line:

She fit like any male coach in Vegas, the only difference being her voice was softer. Last season, as the junior coach on staff, Hammon sat behind the Spurs’ bench, not next to Gregg Popovich. But Pop put her in charge of the Vegas operation, partly because he felt comfortable enough with her, and also because Pop wants to advance the notion of a woman coaching in a men’s league.

Nobody’s quite sure where this is headed or how quickly. Will the NBA have its first female head coach in the foreseeable future? And if so, will she be Hammon? Coaching on the highest level can get very political. There are only 30 jobs and they don’t come easily even to experienced coaches; Hammon has never been a coach on any level until now. It’s about timing and networking and persistence and sometimes they’re not always in your favor.

But Hammon’s ace card is Pop, the winningest active coach in basketball; and by extension, the Spurs organization, regarded as the finest in all professional sports.

If Pop one day gives another team a glowing recommendation of Hammon, how could that team resist?

Before that happens, Hammon will need to work her way up the Spurs’ bench and sit next to Popovich for at least a year. The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer, the reigning Coach of the Year, didn’t get his break until he served as Pop’s assistant for 16 years. Given the uniqueness of her situation, and the track record of the NBA as a progressive league, Hammon won’t need to wait that long once she gets the Popovich Blessing.

But first things first, as Lieberman said. Just getting to the point of coaching in the summer league qualifies as a breakthrough.

“She has such a great opportunity in front of her,” said Lieberman. “And it’s fantastic. They couldn’t have chosen anyone better than Becky. We’ve been friends for years and I’m so proud of her.”

***

No. 3: Kings closing in on Bargnani — If the smoking hole in the ground that has become of the Kings during offseason is going to be repaired at all, the team will need to put some shooters around center DeMarcus Cousins. To that end, Marc Stein of ESPN.com says the team is close to a deal with former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani that would take him to the Western Conference for the first time in his career:

The Kings are looking for additional shooting to surround big man DeMarcus Cousins, and have already imported former NBA 3-point shootout champion and fellow Italian Marco Belinelli in free agency, in addition to the looming signings of Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos and Caron Butler.

The Kings have also re-signed swingman Omri Casspi and, of course, selected Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein with the sixth overall pick in last month’s draft.

Bargnani has missed 160 games over the past three years with various injuries, but had a productive spell with the Knicks late last season to convince the Kings to extend his NBA career. The 29-year-old has struggled to live up to expectations since the Raptors selected him No. 1 overall in the 2006 draft.

***

No. 4: Porzingis solid in summer debut — The 19-year-old player that Phil Jackson made the No. 4 pick in the draft last month didn’t dominate in his first taste of NBA competition on Saturday. But Kristaps Porzingis was solid and competent enough to turn some of those draft night boos into cheers in a win over San Antonio at the Las Vegas Summer League. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News has the details:

It was the opposite of what I heard on draft night,” Porzingis said. “It was nice to hear some cheers out there.”
Porzingis, the player Phil Jackson selected fourth overall, didn’t dominate a team of mostly unknown and unproven San Antonio Spurs but the rookie certainly didn’t embarrass himself, that’s for sure. The 7-foot-3 forward finished with 12 points in the Knicks’ 78-73 win over the Spurs, who were coached by Becky Hammon and featured one player — Kyle Anderson — who was on San Antonio’s roster last year. Porzingis made three of five shots from the field, including a soft bank shot for his first basket with the Knicks. He also converted six of seven free throws but grabbed only three rebounds.

“I’m happy we won,” he said afterward. “It’s always good to win. I played physical so maybe I proved to some of the people who thought I was soft that I can play physical. It wasn’t my greatest game but I played OK.”
Jackson, the Knicks president, was seated along the baseline next to newly acquired forward Derrick Williams and several team officials, including general manager Steve Mills. In what has been a dreadful 16 months for Jackson, Porzingis’ first outing was by far the most positive development for the Jackson regime.

Porzingis played with confidence and had no issues with the pace of the game. His one glaring weakness is strength. The only thing in this town taller and thinner than Porzingis is a stripper pole. He can get away with that against the likes of Livio Jean-Charles and Cady Lalanne. The problem will arise when Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge are the opposing starting center and power forward, respectively.

***

No. 5: Lillard says he’s up to the challenge — The last time Damian Lillard saw his Trail Blazers they had won 51 games, the Northwest Division title and still had a bright future as a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. But in a blink-and-you-missed-it summer, Lillard turned back around to see a roster suddenly stripped of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. So the Blazers are, in essence, starting over. But Lillard tells Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports that he’s up to the challenge of leading the rebuilding job:

“We’re a young team,” Lillard said. “There are going to be ups and downs. But I’m not giving up on anything. I don’t doubt that we can still compete. We got a lot of young athletes. I don’t feel like it’s going to be me up there. I feel like we got guys capable of stepping up and doing more than they’ve done in the past.

“I don’t know how long it will take. I’m committed to the next six years to try to turn this around.”

Lillard has noticed plenty of people on social media disparaging the Blazers’ roster.

“I’ve been reading. Everything I worked for or received, nothing has been handed to me,” Lillard said. “I could take comfort in knowing that everything that happened isn’t by luck. It’s me working hard and me going after things, making it happen. Being doubted is not unfamiliar territory to me.”

With a new contract in hand, Lillard knows there will be pressure on him to lead the Blazers during their rebuilding. He said he never considered the possibility of attempting to leave Portland.

“Nope. I didn’t have a reason to,” Lilllard said. “I’m fully committed to playing in Portland. I’m committed to my teammates. I had no reason to wait. Not that it was about the money, but I’m not going to get any more money [later] than what I would get now. And what better way to show that commitment than doing that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Timberwolves trade Chase Budinger to the Pacers…GM Billy Kings says it was just time for Deron Williams to leave the Nets…Aaron Harrison signs two-year deal with Hornets…Nuggets give Wilson Chandler multi-year extension.


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