Posts Tagged ‘Andrea Bargnani’

Air Check: Did He Just Say That?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

aircheck-250Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

Air Check is where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

Did he just say that? Part I

The New York Knicks were having a rough afternoon a couple of Sundays ago, getting outscored 35-17 in the first quarter on their way to a 31-point loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.

Without Tyson Chandler, New York is obviously having a hard time defending. So late in the second quarter of that game against the Spurs, Mike Woodson made an offense-for-defense substitution … well, according to Clyde Frazier.


VIDEO: Amar’e Stoudemire’s defense doesn’t pay dividends for New York

Mike Breen, speaking of Andrea Bargnani, says “He’s starting to come out of it offensively, although defensively is where all the problems were today, so far.”

Never fear. Here comes Amar’e Stoudemire.

“That’s why STAT checks in,” Frazier says, “because you want some defense out there.”

Wait a minute … Did he just say that? About Amar’e Stoudemire?

To illustrate Clyde’s point, Stoudemire proceeds to shove Tim Duncan in an attempt to defend the Spurs’ pick-and-roll.

Did he just say that? Part II

Klay Thompson was off to a rough start in Monday’s game in Utah, missing seven of his eight shots in the first quarter. At a dead ball, Warriors analyst Jim Barnett has some advice for Thompson and actually looks pretty brilliant as Thompson commits an offensive foul for not following that advice.

But then Barnett says something not so brilliant …


VIDEO: Jim Barnett’s value of Klay Thompson is a little off

“I can tell you,” Barnett says, “off the top of my head, Klay Thompson … Only two players I’d ever think about trading right now, LeBron and Kevin Durant. Those are the only two.”

Wait a minute … Did he just say that?

“That’s what I think of Klay Thompson,” Barnett continues, “and how good he’s going to be.”

Vintage Tommy

This is our third week of Air Check this season and we haven’t had any Tommy Heinsohn yet. So here you go …


VIDEO: It just isn’t a Celtics game with Tommy Heinsohn’s frustration …

C’mahn!

(Supposedly) Stumbling Knicks Somehow Find A Way To Recover




VIDEO: Knicks handled the Hawks at Philips Arena in a “must-win” game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Is this what passes for pressure these days in the NBA? This is desperation mode?

You couldn’t tell from watching the New York Knicks in the lead up to their “must-win” victory over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night at Philips Arena, a game that was overshadowed by loads of off-court drama and the guarantee from Knicks owner Jim Dolan that his team would prevail on this night.

Not when the rookies, led by Tim Hardaway Jr., show up with a chocolate cake (lit candles and all) for Metta World Peace on his birthday at the post-shootaround team luncheon in a hotel ballroom. (That rousing rendition of Happy Birthday won’t get any of the Knicks’ youngsters or veterans on The Voice, by the way.)

Not when your current trade rumors swirl around Iman Shumpert and he and his coach, Mike Woodson, brush them aside and move on to the business at hand like nothing’s going on.

It’s not that the Knicks weren’t smarting from their sluggish start to this season or their humiliating home loss to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday at MSG. They were and they still are and will continue to do so with another test tonight against the Houston Rockets at the Garden (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

But they’re not going to let the drama consume them. They issued their own guarantee with their win over the Hawks, a game they led at one time by 17 points, only to have to come back in the fourth quarter to secure the win. They’ll find a way out of this current rut, even if it takes a little longer than the outside world (mainly Knicks fans and Knicks haters) can stomach, guarantee from the owner or not.

“He said what he said but we had to come out here and play,” Carmelo Anthony said after leading the Knicks with 25 points, which included a six-point spurt in the fourth quarter that helped preserve the win. “We had to win for ourselves first and foremost. But now that we’ve won, we can give him that satisfaction.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks’ win in Atlanta

The Knicks are taking their cues from Woodson, who has spent as much time in the pressure cooker this season as any coach in the league. But Woodson has done some of the best work under pressure at Philips Arena over the past decade (including his six seasons as the Hawks’ coach) than most any coach anywhere.

There’s no sense in driving his team to the brink when everyone outside of it assumes they are already there. Sure, he tweaked his starting lineup, inserting J.R. Smith in just his second game back from a five-game suspension. His lineup tweak also served Andrea Bargnani well. Bargnani will never be able to replace the defensive presence that Tyson Chandler (broken fibula) is for the Knicks. But Bargnani played well, finishing with 20 points and a season-high 11 rebounds while knocking down two critical fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

Anthony, in particular, seemed surprisingly at ease after the game.

“This was a great way to kind of get back on track,” he said. “Anytime you can win on the road, it’s always a big win. We came through with a much better effort than we had against San Antonio. I’m glad to see how we responded and put that game behind us.”

The drama won’t go away, of course. It never does in New York. The trade rumors, the overreaction after every stumble, the seemingly never-ending speculation about Woodson’s job security, it’ll all be there again in the next 24-hour cycle of panic.

It’s how they handle it that matters.

The Knicks’ renewed focus on defense and a return to their low turnover ways (just three against the Hawks) plus Woodson’s unwavering approach will help the Knicks find a way.

“Bottom line,” Woodson said, “we’re here to win. And when we step on the floor I expect guys to play to help us win.”


VIDEO: Knicks coach Mike Woodson pleased with team’s effort vs. Hawks

Early Numbers Show Problems With Lineup Combinations

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’re 15 days into the 2013-14 season and the standings don’t quite match what we thought they’d look like. The Nets and Knicks are down and the Suns and Sixers are up.

It’s early, but more data is coming in every day, and it’s giving us an early look at some interesting lineup combinations around the league. We were all wondering how the Pistons’ new frontline would work out and whether Rockets coach Kevin McHale could play Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together.

Some results are expected, some are surprising and some are inconclusive. Again, it’s early. So the numbers below aren’t necessarily an endorsement of the combos that are working or an indictment of those that aren’t. Everything must be taken in context, and the most important context right now is that we’re looking at small sample sizes.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

How are Smith, Monroe and Drummond faring?

Minutes: 141
Pace: 91.3
OffRtg: 101.3
DefRtg: 116.9
NetRtg: -15.7
+/-: minus-34

No team put together a more fascinating mix this summer than the Pistons. And the thought was that, due to floor spacing issues, they would struggle offensively with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor together. The other thought was that, thanks to their length, they would be strong defensively and on the glass.

They’ve been a good offensive rebounding trio, but not a good defensive rebounding trio. That’s not their biggest problem, though. Opponents have shot 51 percent (effective field goal percentage: 56.0 percent) with the three on the floor together and all together, the Pistons have been absolutely brutal defensively with their big lineups. Of the 205 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes together, the only ones that have been worse defensively are two other Detroit trios that include Monroe and either Drummond or Smith.

The Grizzlies, who rank 19th offensively, scored 68 points in less than 32 minutes against the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline. The Pacers, who rank 13th offensively, scored 59 points in less than 21 minutes.

There are a bunch of issues that need to be cleaned up. It starts with transition, where Monroe is particularly slow. He also struggles to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. Smith and Drummond can be too aggressive, often biting on pump fakes or sacrificing rebounding position by trying for blocks. And sometimes, the problem is with the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups, a pair of liabilities in their own right.

After getting trounced by the Warriors on Tuesday, the Pistons rank dead last in defensive efficiency. It’s early and five of their seven games have been against above-average offensive teams, but the numbers are such that coach Mo Cheeks will need to seriously consider staggering the minutes of Smith, Drummond and Monroe more than he already is. More minutes for Kyle Singler and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have a positive impact on the Pistons’ D.

Within the big-man trio, the only pair that’s logged a decent amount of minutes without the third guy is Monroe and Smith, which has played 70 minutes without Drummond. The Pistons have been even in those minutes, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Asik-Howard combination

Minutes: 93
Pace: 93.6
OffRtg: 87.3
DefRtg: 103.1
NetRtg: -15.8
+/-: minus-35

Those numbers — the pace and the offensive efficiency in particular — do not typify Houston’s style. With only one of the two centers on the floor, the Rockets have played at a pace of 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes and have scored 108.1 points per 100 posssessions. That does typify Rockets basketball and those numbers would rank third and fourth in the league, respectively.

Rockets efficiency

On floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Asik + Howard 93 93.6 87.3 103.1 -15.8 -35
Only Asik 88 105.3 102.5 92.0 +10.5 +19
Only Howard 196 100.9 110.8 98.3 +12.5 +39
One of the two 284 102.3 108.1 96.3 +11.8 +58

With a second center in the game, the Rockets can’t space the floor for their ball-handlers. Here’s James Harden running a side pick-and-roll with Asik and with Howard’s man in position to help in the paint.

20131102_hou_side_pnr

If you replace Howard with Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi and place him on the left wing, Harden has a much clearer path to the basket … or one of the shooters is wide open behind the 3-point line.

Asik is a very good player and deserves to play more than 12 minutes per game, especially considering how much he’s being paid. But Howard is going to play 36 minutes a night and it’s getting harder to justify playing the two together as it’s basically putting the Rockets in a hole every game. Only the Knicks have been worse in the first six minutes of games (minus-35.4 NetRtg) than the Rockets (minus-35.1, scoring a paltry 79.0 points per 100 possessions).

The two-center combo may have already reached the end of the line. On Tuesday against the Raptors, Asik was on the bench to start the third quarter, marking the first time both centers weren’t on the floor to start a half. Going forward, McHale isn’t sure what he’s going to do, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes.

“That big lineup – I am 50/50 on that,” McHale said. “It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it.”

Ultimately, this has to end with a trade. As nice as it is to have Asik as Howard’s back-up, the Rockets would be a better team if they could trade Asik for a 30-minutes-per-game forward who can shoot and defend. Greg Smith isn’t on Asik’s level, but he can hold down the fort for 12 minutes a night. In fact, the Rockets were a plus-5.4 per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor last season.

Anthony and Bargnani struggle to fit together

Minutes: 133
Pace: 94.8
OffRtg: 97.6
DefRtg: 118.0
NetRtg: -20.4
+/-: minus-52

Oof. The only two-man combinations that have been worse are in Utah, Sacramento, Milwaukee or Detroit.

You expect the offense to come around somewhat as Anthony’s shooting improves, but Bargnani still doesn’t space the floor as well as guys the Knicks lost this summer, or pass the ball very much. In six games, he has five assists and four secondary assists. It’s early, but Anthony has shot better with Bargnani on the bench than with him on the floor.

Of course, the defense is the much bigger concern. Even in 41 minutes with Tyson Chandler on the floor with Anthony and Bargnani, the Knicks’ defense was terrible. Now, Chandler’s out for 4-6 weeks and … yikes.

The Knicks have allowed 114.8 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor and just 91.1 with him on the bench. We’re at the point where one good or bad half can skew those numbers a bit, but they’re damning just the same.

To be fair, Kevin Garnett has a pretty bad on-off-court DefRtg discrepancy – +11.0 – through his first six games with Brooklyn. It’s not nearly as bad as Bargnani’s +23.7, but still worth noting.

Interestingly, Bargnani has played just 10 minutes with Anthony on the bench. Mike Woodson might experiment with staggering their minutes more, but that would require having another healthy big man he could trust. And right now, the only other bigs on the roster are Cole Aldrich, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire. Two of them have minutes restrictions and the other is Cole Aldrich.

That Chris Smith still has a roster spot at this point is probably twice as amazing as the idea of giving up three Draft picks to take Bargnani’s contract off Masai Ujiri‘s hands.

Three guards in the Big Easy: Holiday, Evans and Gordon

Minutes: 51
Pace: 98.4
OffRtg: 99.0
DefRtg: 105.8
NetRtg: -6.8
+/-: plus-1

It’s a little surprising that the Pelicans’ three guards — making a combined $36 million this season — haven’t played much together. At this point, Evans is getting paid $12 million to play a little less than half the game. The trio averaged just over five minutes of floor time together in New Orleans’ first four games and have played about 10 minutes together in each of the last three.

Anthony Morrow‘s hot start has probably been a factor. When you have a guy shooting 63 percent from 3-point range and showing signs of an expanded off-the-dribble game, you want to make sure he gets his minutes too.

Either way, it’s hard to make any judgements regarding the Holiday-Evans-Gordon trio. The Pelicans have had good and bad stretches (both offensively and defensively) with the three on the floor together.

Two-point-guard combinations

Most of these sample sizes are very small, but here are some early numbers from a few two-point-guard combinations worth keeping an eye on…

On-court efficiency, two-PG combos

Team Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
CHI Hinrich & Rose 6 48 108.8 81.0 110.5 -29.5 -37
CLE Irving & Jack 8 101 94.3 86.2 91.3 -5.1 -8
DEN Lawson & Miller 6 70 101.3 97.5 96.0 +1.5 +3
DEN Lawson & Robinson 4 42 103.3 102.3 110.3 -7.9 -3
DEN Miller & Robinson 6 66 95.3 83.3 95.2 -11.9 -14
HOU Beverley & Lin 5 61 104.4 107.6 90.2 +17.5 +14
MEM Bayless & Conley 5 39 100.4 118.7 95.8 +22.9 +18
NYK Felton & Prigioni 5 74 93.8 91.7 89.9 +1.9 -4
OKC Jackson & Westbrook 4 22 106.6 133.2 92.4 +40.8 +19
ORL Nelson & Oladipo 8 81 102.5 106.9 88.5 +18.4 +21
PHX Bledsoe & Dragic 4 70 94.8 110.2 101.1 +9.1 +11
POR Lillard & Williams 7 105 96.6 111.6 111.4 +0.2 +11
SAC Thomas & Vasquez 5 44 94.8 101.6 92.2 +9.4 0

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Westbrook’s return ahead of schedule | World Peace, not Bargnani, likely to start | Parsons says Beverley will start at PG | Malone rips Kings’ effort in practice | Suns trying to determine Bledsoe’s value

No. 1: Report: Westbrook may return in 2 weeksEarlier this month, the Thunder got news that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would need a second surgical procedure on his ailing right knee. That meant that Westbrook would likely miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season, putting his return to OKC’s lineup somewhere in December. But the Thunder may be getting some good news soon, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports.com, as Westbrook is healing up quick.:

Oklahoma Thunder star Russell Westbrook has made significant progress in his recovery from a second surgical procedure on his knee and could return to the Thunder’s lineup within two weeks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Thunder issued an original timetable of six to eight weeks from Wednesday’s opening night for Westbrook, but barring an unforeseen setback he could be back in the lineup by mid-November.

Westbrook began participating in Thunder practice sessions and has impressed everyone with his explosion and fast return to form, sources said.

***

No. 2: Knicks likely to start Metta World Peace, not Bargnani — As we reported in this space a few days ago, Knicks coach Mike Woodson didn’t sound totally committed to a Carmelo Anthony-Andrea Bargnani-Tyson Chandler frontline for opening night. That appears to definitely be the case now as Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Woodson will more than likely start Metta World Peace alongside Anthony and Chandler and use Bargnani as a sixth man:

Arrivederci Andrea.

Andrea Bargnani, who started all seven preseason games in an experimental jumbo frontcourt, is expected to be demoted to the bench for Wednesday’s season opener against the Bucks at the Garden.

Though coach Mike Woodson refused to make it official, all indications point to Bargnani becoming a reserve, Metta World Peace starting at small forward and Carmelo Anthony heading back to power forward.

Consider the big frontcourt experiment of Tyson Chandler-Bargnani-Melo a preseason failure.

Woodson still said he wants to “sleep on it’’ but Anthony said he believes it’s happening.

“I didn’t expect it, we didn’t expect it,’’ Anthony said. “That’s what he’s going with. I think guys are ready for the move. Everyone seems on board with that. Whatever position we have to play, we have to go out and do it.’’

Anthony thrived at power forward last season in his career year in which he finished third in the MVP voting. Woodson is going with what he knows worked, but if Bargnani had thrived, this wouldn’t have happened.

“It really doesn’t matter to me,’’ Anthony said of playing the 3 or 4. “I’ve been successful in this league at the three. Last year I was successful at the four. Whatever adjustments I have to make, I have to make. I’m willing to do that.’’


VIDEO: Mike Woodson on his possible plans for the starting lineup

***

No. 3: Rockets’ Parsons: Beverley, not Lin, to start — As the Houston Rockets ready for the season opener tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats, Rockets coach Kevin McHale was very non-committal about who would be in his starting five for the game. But one of his players, small forward Chandler Parsons, revealed a bit of information regarding the starting point guard job between Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley, writes Adam Wexler of CSNHouston.com:

Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale again was reluctant to acknowledge who his starting five would be on opening night. One of his players was more forthcoming.

“Yes,” McHale said when asked if he had a starting five set for Wednesday night. That was followed by a question asking if he’d tell the media who that is. “No,” McHale answered.

Chandler Parsons was asked if the players had been told who the starters would be and he sounded almost surprised that McHale had not shared that with the media.

“I don’t know why it’s a big surprise,” Parsons said. “It’s the same as how the preseason ended.”

That means Patrick Beverley will not only make his first opening night roster, he’ll be making his first opening night start.

“I haven’t had the fortune to play in the NBA on opening night,” Beverley said. “It’s going to be my first. I’m definitely excited.”

The starting five last year was Asik, Marcus Morris, Parsons, Harden and Jeremy Lin.

***

No. 4: Malone lays into Kings after practice — New Kings coach Mike Malone is trying to build a winner in Sacramento while also attempting to reverse the losing culture that has permeated the franchise in recent seasons. As such, he’s tried to instill a stronger work ethic and more overall effort from the Kings each game and — at least based on the preseason — his strategy might be working. The Kings wrapped up the exhibition season at 5-2, but a lackluster effort in Tuesday’s practice drew Malone’s ire, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:

“I asked what their record was in the preseason last year, and guess what it was?” Malone said. “It was 5-2. So the preseason doesn’t mean a damn thing, and for those guys who thought being 5-2 and doing some good things meant a lot, they couldn’t be further from the truth. And they’ll have a rude awakening Wednesday night when they play Denver.”…

“I would say (Monday) was probably our worst practice of the year,” Malone said. “If we (had played) a game (Monday), we would be zero and one to start the season.”

It was the first time Malone ripped his team’s effort after a practice. He said it was a collectively bad effort.

“The energy, the effort, the discipline, the focus just wasn’t there for whatever reason,” Malone said. “I can’t explain it. No excuse, no explanation. It was just a bad day for us, and we have to have a much better practice (today) heading into the regular season, three games in four nights.”

Some problems on the court occurred in areas Malone is adamant about improving – turnovers and defense.

The Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA for a few years and cannot expect to change that by giving up easy points off turnovers.

“Carelessness with the ball, too many turnovers,” forward Patrick Patterson said of Monday’s practice. “Not getting back in transition, lack of communication, too many people not focused and people just taking it as a day to get by.

“Our coach said we have to get better every day. We can’t let one day get away from us.”

Patterson came to the Kings from a playoff team (Houston) in a February trade.

“Despite what we did in the preseason, we’re not that great of a team,” Patterson said. “We still have a lot to prove. We have a lot to work on.”

***

No. 5: Suns trying to nail down Bledsoe’s value — Phoenix has been impressed with the play of its new, young point guard, Eric Bledsoe, in the preseason. And the Suns have until Thursday at 9 p.m. to lock the guard into a long-term extension if they so choose to do so. The Suns like the idea of locking up Bledsoe, but where they’re having trouble is figuring out a fair-market value contract for him before that Thursday deadline, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

Eric Bledsoe is as difficult to compare in contracts as he is in skills.

The Suns point guard’s unique talents make for a redeeming quality. His incomparable contract value makes for a problem with a Thursday extension deadline looming.

With the roster and contract options settled, Bledsoe’s extension talks are the most pressing item on the Suns front office’s October to-do list.

The “to-do” is whether to do it or not. The Suns valued Bledsoe enough to be the aggressor and architect of a July three-team trade obtaining him. Making a long-term commitment to Bledsoe at an annual eight-figure salary would be a deeper pledge to potential.

The money part is the conundrum. Bledsoe is not going to be paid based on averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game last season for the Clippers. He was All-Star Chris Paul’s backup, logging 20.4 minutes per game. It had to be a bit scary for Phoenix to see Utah reward Derrick Favors, a three-year backup like Bledsoe, with an extension worth at least $49million over four years.

Bledsoe’s other draft classmates who received extensions are incomparable in talent, results or position — Washington point guard John Wall (five years, $80million), Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins (four years, $62million), Indiana All-Star swingman Paul George (five years, $80-plus million) and Milwaukee center Larry Sanders (four years, $44million).

The only backup to receive an extension from the previous draft, Chicago power forward Taj Gibson (four years, $38million), is also a hard comparison because he plays a less-valuable position and was with the Bulls for the prior three seasons. Since Bledsoe arrived in late September, the Suns barely know what they have in him and he has yet to play a regular-season game for them.

Bledsoe has not even achieved what Detroit’s Brandon Jennings did (averaging 17.0 points and 5.7 assists over four seasons) but likely expects more than Jennings’ three-year, $25million deal.

Bledsoe’s statistics and play will get better with an increased load and his untapped talent. Allowing him to raise his value during the season and become a top restricted free agent in July is dangerous.

The Suns have to weigh that against how a Bledsoe contract would eat into salary-cap space they have created for a major trade or free-agency signing (during Bledsoe’s would-be offer-sheet process).

But does Bledsoe even want an extension here? He has not talked about wanting Phoenix to be his long-term home when given the chance.

It might be hard for an organization that offered Eric Gordon $58million over four years to come in with less for Bledsoe. At the same time, how does it offer Bledsoe more than the annual $7.5million salary it gave Dragic? The good news: Restricted free agents rarely leave with nothing in return. Even the Joe Johnson debacle netted Boris Diaw and two first-round picks.

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Surely, being Derrick Rose is nice life to lead. It’s probably even nicer when the President of the United States gives you a shoutout on Twitter … Great read by the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell on the two grandmas who helped raise Al Jefferson … Nuggets guard Ty Lawson will be a game-time decision tonightSolid Q&A with Pistons owner Tom Gores, who fields questions on Joe Dumars‘ future and more … For the record — Kevin Garnett is a Wolverine guy, Brook Lopez is a Batman guy

ICYMI Of The Night: Heat reserve guard Norris Cole better save this highlight on his computer, because you know Derrick Rose will get him back for it sometime this season …


VIDEO: Norris Cole crosses up Derrick Rose

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant driven to win title | Noah says he’s ready for opener | Nash may rest on back-to-backs | Granger out for 2 games | Woodson pondering Bargnani’s role

No. 1: Durant learning not to ‘obsess’ over title runWhether you are an Oklahoma City fan or not, NBA followers cannot deny the passion that Thunder star Kevin Durant has for the game. From attending WNBA games in the offseason to playing in random pickup/pro-am leagues in the offseason, Durant is all about basketball and improving himself on the court. Such a fact comes shining through in a recent interview Durant has with Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, where OKC’s star delves into what drives him in a season that has some doubting the Thunder:

A sweat-drenched Kevin Durant sauntered over to a row of black leather seats just off the adjoining courts inside the Thunder’s training center, plopping down in the first bolted-in chair, finally taking a load off following another day at the office, another practice session that ended with him as the last player on the court, another 15 extra minutes maniacally adding more weapons to his arsenal.Over the next 17 minutes, Durant opened up about his career in a sit-down interview with The Oklahoman, discussing his trials, tribulations and triumphs, failures, focus and future.

By the time he was done, Durant left no doubt where his mindset is as he enters his seventh NBA season. It was as clear as the sweat-stained imprint the back of his No. 35 practice jersey left on that leather seat.

“I want to be the greatest,” Durant said. “I want to be remembered as one of the greatest. When they redo that top 50 players (of all time), I want to be a part of that.”

“This whole thing is a fraternity. But it’s a different fraternity when you’re staring at a group of guys that won championships, MVPs, and you can say you’re on that level with them in your career,” Durant said. “It’s only a handful of guys, maybe 15, 20 guys, that you can get in that conversation with. And I’m nowhere near there yet. So that’s where I want to be.”

Durant spent his first six seasons proving he was a stud. Now he wants to be known as simply a champion. The past two seasons showed Durant just how elusive a title can be. In 2012, the Thunder took a 1-0 lead on Miami in the NBA Finals before losing four straight. Last season, the Thunder’s playoff run was derailed by a season-ending knee injury to Russell Westbrook.

It’s not that those setbacks sparked a heightened sense of urgency for Durant. It’s just at this stage in his career, championships are now all that truly matter.

“It’s always been important to me. I always was one of those guys that played to win,” Durant said. “But, first coming into the league, I was a little confused because it’s so many great teams every night. It was no cupcake games like it was in high school and college. Every night, you got to come to play because these are great players. They were all something coming in. And my thoughts coming into the league was, of course, to win, but once I got on the court it was to establish myself. That’s what I thought. Grow as a player and then worry about that.

“But now, I’ve played in the All-Star Games; I’ve scored 30 points, 40 points before; had a triple-double before. I feel individually, like stats and stuff, I feel like I did my job with that and I established myself. But it’s about winning championships, and the first thing I got to get out of my head is ‘I.’ It’s like, ‘I want to win a championship.’ It’s not about that because one guy doesn’t win it, two guys don’t win it, three guys don’t win it. So it’s about the whole team, the whole organization winning a championship.”

***

No. 2: Noah ’100 percent’ ready for opener — Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah appeared in just one preseason game and was sidelined the rest of the exhibition season with a groin strain that left his availability for Tuesday’s season opener against Miami (8 p.m. ET, TNT) up in the air. But following Sunday’s practice in Chicago, the big man declared himself ready to go for Tuesday night, writes our own Steve Aschburner:

Noah had made just one preseason appearance after slipping in practice and suffering a groin strain early in camp. Several days earlier, both he and Hinrich seemed like longshots at best to face the Heat, from listening to coach Tom Thibodeau. But Noah told reporters at the team’s practice facility Sunday that missing the final tune-up against Denver Friday was a precaution only.

As competitive as he is, and as aware of the inevitability of getting through the two-time defending champs if his team hopes to chase a title, Noah figured to be straining at the leash if he had to sit out.

“Every time you play against Miami, it’s a statement,” Noah said. “In the beginning of our season, we’re a hungry group. It’s one of 82 but we know that every time we play against Miami it’s important.”

Noah didn’t seem concerned about a drop in his conditioning, though that seems likely to cut into his minutes after his limited October play. Hinrich, who suffered a concussion Oct. 18 and also was coping with a sore shoulder, endured a rigorous practice Sunday without setback.

***

No. 3: Nash may sit out second game of back-to-backs — Lakers point guard Steve Nash entered training camp saying how he was feeling better than he was last season, when he missed 32 games with various injuries and was a shell of himself. But Nash averaged just 4.0 ppg and 3.6 apg in 18.4 minutes during the preseason and coach Mike D’Antoni says he may consider giving Nash more rest this season, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said he is considering not having Nash play through the entire early schedule, which includes a back-to-back this week at home against the Clippers and on the road against the Golden State Warriors, followed by a third game in four nights back in L.A. against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

“There’s a possibility,” D’Antoni said of Nash sitting out against Golden State. “We have to talk about it. I haven’t talked to him. Obviously we’ll see how he feels in the next couple of days, but it’s very possible that he sits out.”

D’Antoni said he and Nash likely would determine the point guard’s playing status as each of L.A.’s 19 sets of back-to-back games come up in the schedule, rather than map it out beforehand and be married to the plan.

“It’s hard to make a definitive answer right now because if one of my other point guards tweaks his ankle, he’s playing,” D’Antoni said of Nash. “If one guy has the sniffles, he’s playing. So, we’ll see how the team goes and we’ll see where we are — where we are in the schedule, where we are in the standings — and see how he does. But the idea is to cut down the number of games and keep the minutes consistent for him, but the number of games come down.”

D’Antoni said Nash definitely would play against the Clippers. Nash did not speak with reporters Sunday, but addressed the Lakers schedule out of the gate following L.A.’s 111-106 win over the Utah Jazz in their preseason finale Friday.

“I just look at the first one and see how it goes,” Nash said then. “Who knows, right? I think you have to be open to anything, but for me, I am just preparing for that first game of the year. I want to have a great game and then see what happens after that.”

***

No. 4: Granger out for Pacers’ first two games — (UPDATE: Granger will now be out 3 weeks instead of the two games originally written here) … Save for five games last season, swingman Danny Granger spent the entire 2012-13 campaign rehabbing and recovering for a troublesome knee injury. The knee hasn’t proven to be a problem for Granger in the preseason, but a strained calf injury has made life difficult for him now. Pacers.com’s Scott Agness reports that Granger will miss the Pacers’ first two games of the season with the injury:

Pacers forward Danny Granger continues to be bothered by strained left calf and it’ll keep him out at least the first two games, Pacers coach Frank Vogel declared Sunday after practice. The Pacers open the regular season on Tuesday against the Orlando Magic, and then they play in New Orleans on Wednesday.

“He’s just doing some light shooting and stuff,” Vogel said. “As long as he’s feeling anything down there, [the training staff is] going to be cautious with it.”

This wasn’t exactly surprising. Vogel said on Friday that Granger was unlikely to play in the season opener.

***

No. 5: Woodson open to Bargnani as sixth man — The Knicks’ ideal starting lineup in the frontcourt is a big one that features Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and new addition Andrea Bargnani all playing alongside each other. Bargnani, though, has struggled to get into a groove in New York and his trademark 3-point shooting has been off as well. Those issues — plus Bargnani’s well-documented defensive struggles — have Knicks coach Mike Woodson pondering a Metta World Peace-for-Bargnani swap in the starting lineup, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Carmelo Anthony repeated several times Saturday that Andrea Bargnani’s transformation as a defensive-minded Knick won’t “happen overnight.’’ However, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he won’t wait a long time for the 7-foot Italian to make it as full-time starting power forward.

If he has to change the big frontline of Tyson Chandler, Bargnani and Anthony by Wednesday’s season opener against Milwaukee, Woodson will. The obvious change would be to send Bargnani to the bench for small forward Metta World Peace.

“I’ll experiment with [the big frontcourt], but I’ve got options this year,’’ Woodson said. “I can always go small, with Melo at the 4 with small teams and throw Bargnani in there when we got big teams. It’s not a matter of who starts, it’s what you do with the minutes that you’re in there. That’s the message I’m sending everybody on the team. You got to give productive minutes on the floor if you want to play.’’

Bargnani’s preseason was disappointing after a very sharp opener. He finished a minus in the plus-minus category in each of the last six preseason games — totaling a minus-72. He still is learning both the offensive and defensive systems, Woodson said.

Bargnani hasn’t been a good rim protector or rebounder in his career, and he extended that reputation this October.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,’’ Anthony said. “We had a preseason together. He’s still getting his feet wet as far as adjusting to New York. He’s still trying to adjust to New York. On the court with us, he’s still trying to adjust to that and we’re still trying to adjust to him.’’

Anthony said Bargnani’s teammates are understanding.

“The eventual goal is everyone’s clicking with one another,’’ Anthony said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. He’s not going to adjust to the New York style, New York way of living, New York way of life overnight. I’m not asking people to be patient, but as teammates we’re very patient with him. We understand a guy coming to this New York situation and what it actually takes to be here in New York.’’

Bargnani is a man of few and simple words. But he recognizes he needs more time.

“Of course everybody’s learning,’’ Bargnani said. “The main focus is defense and defensive rebounds. That’s the main thing coach wants for us. The offense is going to come.’’

World Peace gives the Knicks a more rugged defensive unit, with Anthony at the 4. So far, World Peace is even badly outshooting Bargnani from 3-point land — 40.9 to 20 percent.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Jazz and forward Gordon Hayward remain far apart on a contract extension … Sixers forward Thaddeus Young is well aware his name is likely to be in trade rumors … Rockets likely to waive veteran Marcus Camby this week … NBA commissioner-in-waiting Adam Silver backs the advanced-stats movement … Magic rookie Victor Oladipo faces tough transition to point guard position

ICYMI Of The Night: Preseason is a time when teams try out wacky lineups, give major minutes to their reserve players and in general experiment across the board. We wonder if this wild over-the-head and-one shot by Zaza Pachulia is part of the Bucks’ plans for 2013-14 …


VIDEO: Pachulia nails over-the-head and-one shot

The 2013-14 Hang Time Redeem Team





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – No one needs reminding of the importance of the 2013-14 NBA season for superstars like Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and others who are battling their way back from injuries that sidelined them for all or part of last season.

We watch their every move anyway, so when those stars do return, it’ll be an all-eyes-on-them proposition for certain. But for others, guys who have languished in the shadows the past couple of seasons for one reason or another, this season presents an opportunity for redemption as well.

Opportunity abounds for another group of players who comprise Hang Time’s Redeem Team this season, guys who need to leave a mark on 2013-14 in the worst way. Now is the time for these veterans to reclaim their positions in the league, to either resurrect or flat-out save their careers:

Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans

Now that he’s been cleared to crank up his conditioning and do whatever it takes to get into game shape, Gordon is potentially on the road back to the budding young star we saw during his third season in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers (when Gordon averaged 22.2 points and 4.4 assists in 56 games). The injury issues will follow him until he puts together a couple of seasons where he plays as close to 82 regular-season games as possible. But the game moves on without once promising young stars all the time. And Gordon is in the danger zone at this stage of his career. He’s on a team loaded with young talent (All-Star Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Austin Rivers) at the same position. He’s in a now-or-probably-not-here predicament, given his salary and the circumstances.

Greg Oden, Miami Heat

The fact that Oden has come this far in his comeback bid is a victory of sorts for the former No. 1 pick, whose arrival in the league had fans in Portland dreaming of contending for championships one day with a player who promised to be one of the best big men of his generation. Oden has the luxury of not having to rush back for a Heat team that has managed just fine without him the past three seasons. His is more of a personal pilgrimage from being completely out of the league to having a chance to contribute on a team aiming for a three-peat. “My main goal is to be back on the court playing,” Oden told the Sun Sentinel. “But every little thing is just a little step closer to what I want to do. In my head, I’m smiling. I’m back in the routine I’m back out here working out in front of fans.” Whatever the Heat squeeze out of Oden, who is one one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, is a bonus for all involved.

Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers

No player on this list has more to gain from a big 2013-14 season than Bynum, who just a couple of seasons ago served the other big man in the argument about who would serve as the challenger to Dwight Howard as the best in the business. Bynum’s stock fell so hard and so fast last season in Philadelphia, when he watched a disastrous season unfold from the sidelines after the Sixers scrapped a playoff team to acquire him and build around him for the future. The Cavs have other issues, obviously, mainly finding out what they have in the No. 1 pick in the June Draft, Anthony Bennett, who has shown some positive flashes in the preseason. Perhaps the greatest motivation for Bynum this seasons will come from another No. 1 pick, Kyrie Irving, who has designs on rising up the ranks this season himself.

Al Harrington, Washington Wizards

Maybe you’ve forgotten just how valuable a piece Harrington has been to playoff outfits throughout his career. He did it in Indiana, Golden State and Denver and the Wizards are hoping he can use some of the lessons he’s learned the past 15 seasons to help John  Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest of an up and coming crew move into the playoff mix. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has mentioned Harrington repeatedly as not only a player who will counted on to provide veteran leadership but also a symbolic figure, a vet with an eye toward reclaiming his career and doing it in a place (Washington) that others view as a team and franchise on the rise. With a fleet of young bigs working hard to get better and injury issues (namely Emeka Okafor), having a stretch-4 with Harrington’s versatility and history will be crucial for the Wizards early on this season.

Andrea Bargnani, New York Knicks

The marriage between this former No. 1 pick (the third player of such ilk on this list) and the city of Toronto broke down early on and was beyond repair by the time the Knicks traded for him over the summer. This second honeymoon in New York won’t obviously won’t last seven years. The Knicks need Bargnani to find his niche now and be a factor on a team with playoff expectations he never experienced with the Raptors. Bargnani’s teammates recognize his skill set and Knicks coach Mike Woodson knows that he has to find ways to exploit Bargnani’s strengths and hide his weaknesses. With his shot and size, and the constantly increasing value for floor spacers in today’s game, Bargnani will surely get several more shots if things don’t work out with the Knicks. But if he’s ready to stop being a punch line, he needs to pounce on the opportunity staring him in the face right now.


Morning Shootaround — Oct. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

D-Will to miss 3 more games | Griffin OK, suffers bone bruise | Bargnani returns to Toronto tonight | Williams loving life in Portland

No. 1: Deron Williams to miss next 3 gamesA sprained right ankle kept All-Star guard Deron Williams out of the Nets’ preseason opener, a win against the Wizards, and it appears he’s planning to miss more games to heal up. Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com has more on Williams, his injury and what’s next:

Williams said he will not play against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday and the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

Williams could make his preseason debut Oct. 17 against the Miami Heat. The Nets open the regular season on Oct. 30 in Cleveland.

“[My ankle's] getting better everyday,” Williams said after signing autographs at a Nets community event in Brooklyn. “(We’re) taking it slow, but with the goal of being ready for Game 1 [of the regular season].”

Williams hurt his ankle during an offseason workout in Utah.

Nets coach Jason Kidd said Thursday that Williams is only doing some light shooting. Kidd did not have a timetable as far as when his point guard would return to full-contact practice.

***

No. 2: Griffin suffers bone bruise on left kneeBreathe easy, Clippers fans. Any concerns about the injury star forward Blake Griffin suffered during practice are alleviated as Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports:

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin suffered a bone bruise on his left knee during the team’s scrimmage at USC on Wednesday and was held out of practice Thursday.

An MRI on Grffin’s knee showed no structural damage, and coach Doc Rivers said there’s no timetable for his return.

“It’s nothing bad,” Rivers said. “But he tweaked it.”

Griffin was injured on the final play of the scrimmage when he attempted a dunk over Lou Amundson. Griffin did not speak to reporters afterward but will be appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Thursday along with teammates Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.

***

No. 3: Bargnani makes return to Toronto tonight — As the top pick of the 2006-07 Draft, Andrea Bargnani never seemed to live up to the expectations the Raptors had for him during his career there. Things for Bargnani went into a tailspin as injuries limited him to just 35 games, he saw his scoring average plummet from 19.5 ppg in 2012-13 to 12.7 ppg and was routinely booed when he did suit up for Toronto. Tonight, he makes his return to Canada as a member of the Knicks and those around the Raptors don’t expect him to get a warm greeting, writes Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

Andrea Bargnani was back in Toronto Thursday, and while Raptors coach Dwane Casey wasn’t there to greet him, he had a suggestion for the new Knick forward.

“He should probably put on ear plugs,” Casey joked with reporters, anticipating plenty of Toronto boo birds at Friday’s game.

“They can boo (Bargnani) all they want to now,” Casey said. “Fans are going to do what they’re going to do.”

The Italian forward’s tenure in Toronto ended badly, as his scoring fell from a career-high 21.4 points per game in 2010-11 to 12.7 per in just 35 appearances last season due to an elbow injury.

“All I’ve got to say about Toronto is that it was a good seven years, I was lucky to play there and that’s really it,” Bargnani said after netting 12 points on 3-for-8 shooting in 19 minutes in the Knicks’ preseason opener Wednesday against the Celtics in Providence. “I don’t want to really talk about fans, what happened and frustration.

“I think it’s an opportunity (with the Knicks) to play on a great team, that’s what it is. It’s not a fresh start. It’s a new team, it’s a great team. And I’m in a good position. I like to be able to play with this team.”

***

No. 4: Williams embracing new life with Blazers — Roughly a month after the summer’s free agency period began this summer, former Jazz guard Mo Williams was still on the market, waiting for a team. Eventually, he came to terms with the Trail Blazers on a two-year deal and since then, Williams says he’s glad he made the choice to head to Oregon. In an interview with CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes, Williams is enjoying everything just about being in Portland:

“This organization is great,” Williams told CSNNW.com. “There’s a comfort level I have with [general manager] Neil [Olshey] and [head coach] Terry [Stotts]. I played for both of those guys. If you’ve been around the league for as long as I have, you eventually want to play for an organization that’s committed to winning and where you’re happy with the situation. This is where I want to be.”

Portland has never been a hotbed for free agents. A number of obstacles continue to hamper that. But with Olshey at the helm, who has deep-rooted relationships with high-profile agents and players, gives Portland a fighting chance to lure in such talent.

That was the case with Williams, 30, who holds a player option for the 2014-15 season. It’s quite early to be talking about next year, nevertheless Williams is proactively thinking next year and beyond…in Portland.

“They say the grass is not always greener on the other side, but it’s green here,” Williams said. “So why leave?

“I’m very happy with where I am. And to be honestly with you, you’re the first person I’m telling this to, I like it here so much, I can see myself here for a long time. Hopefully that can work out.”

Williams’ wife, Keisha, and their five boys have found the Pacific Northwest “appealing” and “pleasurable,” making the transition to a different city and team that much easier for Williams.

“They love it,” Williams said. “The wife loves it and that’s a plus. If they didn’t like it, they would have to deal with it, but it helps when they love it. They don’t just like it, they love it.”

In what wasn’t the most pleasant experience last season, Williams, to his credit, has nothing but fond memories of his time in Utah and is looking towards the future.

“Utah is one of the best organizations in the league,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s the best, because I haven’t played in San Antonio or Miami, and I think those two franchises are up there, also. From top to bottom, Utah’s organization is first class. It was sad for me to leave, it was sad that they went in another direction as far as the youth, but I understand that aspect of it and I don’t have any bad feelings.

“Right now, my focus is helping the Blazers win ball games because this is a great organization, too. We got the talent to be special. The front office and coaching staff is great. It’s going to depend on health and chemistry. But I think we’ll be fine.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol is hoping he can stick with Lakers after this season … Eric Gordon will begin full-scale practices next week … Magic to honor Tracy McGrady this seasonJaVale McGee‘s positive attitude is paying benefits already

ICYMI of the night: The Heat keep shaking the rust off as the preseason wears on, and this pretty LeBron James dish to Chris Bosh shows that Miami is perhaps finding its form …

No Love For The Knicks?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The ending was a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the New York Knicks last season. Falling to the Indiana Pacers the way they did in the Eastern Conference semifinals, getting pushed around and basically overwhelmed by a healthier and more defensively sound team, exposed the weaknesses that were there all along.

That crash landing in the playoffs might explain the lack of buzz surrounding these Knicks as the start of 2013-14 season nears. As we get closer to tip-off of the regular season, you hear about the Pacers, Chicago Bulls and even the Brooklyn Nets as teams the Heat need to worry about before anyone mentions the Knicks.

There’s no love for the Knicks these days and you have wonder: Why?

The reasons for the lukewarm interest in the Knicks are varied. There was no free agent splash over the summer (sorry Metta World Peace). There was no miraculous recovery for Amar’e Stoudemire. Carmelo Anthony needed time to heal his battered body in an attempt to recover from the pounding he took last season. J.R. Smith didn’t exactly distinguish himself in the offseason either with a five-game suspension looming at the start of the regular season.

It’s a lesson plenty of would-be contenders learn when their results don’t match the expectations. And for a time last season, the Knicks, not the Pacers, looked like the team that would challenge the Miami Heat for that trip to The Finals.

Everyone seems to have forgotten all of the positive work the Knicks did last year, finishing with a 54-28 record, winning their first playoff series in over a decade and coach Mike Woodson finishing third in Coach of the Year voting.

Woodson’s teams in Atlanta got progressively better in each of his six seasons without the Hawks ever making the sort of free agent splash that usually spurs a dramatic rise in a team’s fortunes. Woodson, despite a legion of vocal critics, is one of a handful of coaches in the league with a proven track record of taking a disjointed group and making sure they compete at a high level.

And disjointed might be a kind word for the group the Knicks will suit up this season. The Raymond Felton-Pablo Prigioni backcourt tandem is interesting, to say the least, and the Iman Shumpert-Smith battle at shooting guard promises to deliver plenty of drama (and potentially headaches for Woodson) throughout the season.

(Shumpert insists he’s playing with a “chip on his shoulder” that could help fuel the Knicks early on, and that’s a good thing.)

Call me crazy, but I think World Peace is going to be a fit and rookie swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. is certainly going to be a factor. The only glaring question for me is if Andrea Bargnani can revive his career as the floor-spacing stretch-4 the Knicks need to free everyone else up to play to their specific strengths?

You never know what you’re going to get with Amar’e because of his injury issues and even with an offseason worth of work on his jump shot it’s hard to lean too hard on Tyson Chandler for the offensive help Bargnani should be able to provide immediately.

Ultimately, the pieces are in place for the Knicks to battle for a top four spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. That’s just a fact, even if no one outside of the Knicks’ locker room believes it.


Morning Shootaround — Oct. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose feeling ‘great’ after preseason debut | Bargnani likely to start in preseason | Karl discusses Denver ouster | McGee impressing Nuggets | Rivers shows improvement

No.1: Rose not sore after preseason debut: In his first NBA game (albeit a preseason one) in more than 17 months, Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose looked solid on Saturday night against the Pacers. Sure, there was some rust to his game, but he finished with 13 points in just over 20 minutes of play in Chicago’s 82-76 victory. Even better news for Bulls fans than a preseason win powered by their superstar is news that Rose is feeling fine after putting up such an effort, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The big question Sunday was how Rose’s knee felt the day after his first test.

Coach Tom Thibodeau limited Rose’s playing time to 20 minutes in the 82-76 exhibition win over the Pacers and took him out for good with seven minutes left in the third quarter.

“Feeling good,” Rose said Sunday before practice at Saint Louis University. “Thibs was asking me the same thing. I’m feeling all right. I could’ve played some more, but they took me out. If anything, (they were) just watching me, making sure I’m all right.”

Thibodeau joked Saturday that Rose was mad at him for taking him out so early. Even in a meaningless game, it was hard for Rose to sit and watch, knowing he felt strong enough to continue playing.

“Yeah it’s tough, especially for it to be a close game like it was,” Rose said. “To be sitting out, I just wanted to test myself a little more, but I wasn’t able to.”

Rose said he feels like he’s where we wants to be, crediting a rigorous training regime he has employed during his rehab.

“Conditioning and rehab and training definitely put me in the spot I’m in right now, where I’m recovering real quick,” he said. “I’m eating right. My diet has changed. It’s actually preventing a lot of (minor) injuries in the future, just preparing myself the right way and staying healthy. That’s the key.”

***

No.2: Woodson may opt for big-man heavy starting lineup: From the sound of what Knicks coach Mike Woodson had to tell reporters on Sunday, it seems that in terms of New York’s starting lineup, bigger is better. Woodson is more than likely going to start a frontcourt of Tyson Chandler at center, Andrea Bargnani at power forward, Carmelo Anthony at small forward, Iman Shumpert at shooting guard and Raymond Felton at point guard. That lineup pushes ‘Melo over one forward spot and shifts Shumpert to the guard line, displacing Pablo Prigioni, writes Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“I like the makeup of Andrea and Melo on the floor at the same time with Tyson,” Woodson said after the Knicks’ noncontact practice in Greenburgh. “In the scrimmage we worked that combination. It wasn’t bad. Again it’s got to be done in the game, in real-game situations and see how it looks. If it’s good, we can feed off of that. Until we get to that point, I don’t know.”

“We have such a logjam at the two and three,” Woodson said. “If I want to play Melo and (Metta World Peace) over at the three, you still have (Tim) Hardaway (Jr.), Iman and J.R. (Smith). You’ve got to respect their position and see if they can hold it this year. As soon as they can get back on the floor, it should be a competitive practice where they’re competing for that spot.

“I know I can always go back to Pablo and Raymond. But at this point I’m going to try a big guard if I can and see how it plays out.”

***

No. 3: Karl opens up about end in Denver: In a frank conversation with The Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn, ousted Denver Nuggets coach George Karl opens up about his tenure in Colorado, his future as a TV analyst for ESPN and how changes in the NBA led to the reigning Coach of the Year being fired shortly after the Nuggets’ first-round loss to the Golden State Warriors. Karl does not come across as bitter in the interview, but, like many NBA observers, remains confused about why he was shown the door:

“I was amazed at how quickly I accepted what happened,” Karl said, “because I had 8½ great years and last year was probably my most fun coaching any basketball team I’ve ever been associated with.

“I don’t have a lot of bitterness other than I don’t understand. But not understanding — when you are working in a world of millions, millions, and millions of dollars, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand.

“There’s a lot of contracts we give players that I don’t understand. There’s a lot of trades that I don’t understand. There are a lot of decisions I don’t understand.

“I can’t deny there’s an anger and frustration. But there’s much more celebration in my heart than anything else.”

“There are a lot of truths that change,” he said. “You win 57 games and win Coach of the Year, the truth was it probably did once create security, but the truth now is it doesn’t.

Lionel Hollins did a great job. The truth is when you do a great job, you should be able to be kept. In today’s world, it’s different. The truth to that is if you don’t adjust to that, you’re probably not going to survive.”

***

No. 4: McGee out to prove his worth to himself, Nuggets: As our own Jeff Caplan detailed before training camps opened, Nuggets center JaVale McGee is determined more than ever to prove he’s not just a “Shaqtin’ a Fool” regular and an NBA punchline. That mentality has carried over into training camp as McGee has impressed team officials and new coach Brian Shaw by staying later after practice to hone his game and showing a commitment to the game the Nuggets were hoping to see last season, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

Nuggets center JaVale McGee was on his last-one-out grind. On Tuesday: free throws well after most everyone left the Pepsi Center practice court. On Thursday, post-practice offensive work, followed by full-court sprints with assistant coach Patrick Mutombo.

It is all by design.

No one does everything right in the first week of training camp, but McGee is going after it, from improving his skills on the low block to getting a better handle on his conditioning. The seriousness of his approach is in stark contrast to a year ago, when his sluggish training camp cost him a starting job — and ultimately significant playing time — just weeks after he signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension.

McGee is eager to show he is much more than a player who had become largely expendable by last season’s playoffs.

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to show,” McGee said. “What people didn’t believe I could do is possible.”

***

No. 5: Rivers gives Pelicans some hope for future: As a rookie for New Orleans a season ago, Austin Rivers struggled to live up to much of the hype that surrounded him following a standout career at Duke. Rivers played a regular role in the Pelicans’ rotation and struggled the first half of the season before improving a bit shortly before a hand injury knocked him out of the lineup for the last 23 games. Rivers had a solid night in his preseason debut (21 points, five assists) and his opener has New Orleans hoping he and new All-Star guard Jrue Holiday can make for a solid backcourt combo, writes Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune:

“I just think he is right where he should be,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve heard about Austin since he was in the seventh or eight grade and everybody wants him to be LeBron (James), but he is right where he should be.

“He works his tail off. He’s probably one of the most competitive guys in the league. He’s hungry. He does some things you like from a young guy. He works hard. He’s coachable. He’s not afraid. To me, you can’t ask for more than that.

“He’s going to have ups and downs because he is 20. But he competed and that’s what I wanted.”

Rivers, who’ll get another opportunity to build on his performance when the Pelicans play at the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, said he was encouraged by his performance.

“It felt good,” Rivers said. “That was the whole purpose for me playing summer league this year, to get my rhythm back. I missed a lot of games last year. I missed the last 22, 25 games last year. That’s a lot of games for anybody. So it’s been a while since I have played a game.

“And I really feel like summer league helped me this year, just to go out there and get my repetitions and play the point guard. I told everybody before the year I wanted to play the point. I have no problem playing the two, but I want to play the point. And that’s what I did (against Houston).”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Just call Cavs veteran guard Jarrett Jack “Crusty” from now on … Damian Lillard will help rookie C.J. McCollum get through his foot injuryChauncey Billups gets the OK from coach Maurice Cheeks to miss some practice drillsJose Calderon not expected to play in the Mavs’ presason opener

ICYMI of the night: Darius Johnson-Odom, who spent most of last season in the NBA D-League, is trying to make the cut for the Lakers this season. Dunks like this one last night against Denver won’t hurt his cause …

BWB Africa: Fulfilling The Dreams

Basketball Without Borders Africa

NBA players, coaches and others attended the Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg.

HANG TIME, Texas – It was just a few days after the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Kyrie Irving saw other dreams.

They were in one of the impoverished townships outside of Johannesburg. They were in classrooms where hungry minds craved answers for a better life. They were on the basketball courts where raw talent gathered to show their skills and sought a way out. They were on so many of the faces that crossed his path during the 11th edition of Basketball Without Borders, Africa.

“In my short NBA career, I’ve had lots of great experiences,” said the Cavs’ 21-year-old point guard during a phone conversation from South Africa. “Just being in the league, winning Rookie of the Year, playing against guys that I looked up to. But being here is an amazing experience in a completely different way.

“Kids are kids no matter where you go in the world and they’re always going to get a smile out of you and make you happy. But these kids that we’ve worked with here in the camps and the younger kids that we’ve met in the schools, they seem to draw even more out of you, because of the environment they come from.

“I’ve traveled around a bit and taken part in some UNICEF programs in the past. You think you’ve seen some situations that are bad. But the poverty in Africa is overwhelming. There are levels of poverty that I’m not sure we can understand as Americans without actually having been here.

“Some of the kids knew my name, who I was, where I played in the NBA. Others didn’t. All they wanted was somebody to be with them and be there for them. That’s the way we have to approach it — help one kid at a time.”

Basketball without Borders is the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and social responsibility program that aims to create positive social change in the areas of education, health, and wellness. To date, there have been 36 BWB camps in 21 cities across 18 countries on five continents.

The program has featured more than 150 current and former NBA/WNBA players and nearly 140 NBA team personnel from all 30 NBA teams as camp coaches and mentors.

The inaugural BWB camp was in July 2001 led by former NBA players Vlade Divac and Toni Kukoc, for 50 children from five nations of the former Yugoslavia. In 2013, BWB were held in three countries on three continents: Argentina, Portugal and South Africa.

FIBA and local federations help identify 50 to 65 of the top basketball players 18 and under from countries across the related continent to attend.

BWB has featured over 1,700 campers from over 120 countries and 28 BWB campers have been drafted into the NBA. There are currently 11 BWB alumni on NBA rosters: Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors/Lithuania; Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets/Lithuania; Enes Kanter, Jazz/Turkey; Greivis Vasquez, Kings/Venezuela; Omri Casspi, Rockets/Israel; Luc Mbah A Moute, Kings/Cameroon; Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets/Italy; Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers/France; Marco Belinelli, Spurs/Italy; Marc Gasol, Grizzlies/Spain; Andrea Bargnani, Knicks/Italy.

Four former BWB campers were drafted in 2013: Sergey Karasev, Cavaliers/Russia; Kelly Olynyk, Celtics/Canada; Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves/Senegal; Arsalan Kazemi, 76ers/Iran.

Other NBA players in South Africa were: Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Hasheem Thabeet of the Thunder, Jerryd Bayless of the Grizzlies; Bismack Biyombo of the Bobcats, Luol Deng of the Bulls, Al Horford of the Hawks and NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo.

NBA coaches took part, too, including Tyrone Corbin (Jazz); Luca Desta (Mavericks); Mark Hughes (Knicks); BJ Johnson (Rockets); Jamahl Mosley (Cavaliers); Patrick Mutombo (Nuggets); Monty Williams (Pelicans) and ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.

The BWB program has been a favorite of Dikembe Mutombo, who attended the first in Johannesburg more than a decade ago.

“The biggest difference that I see from when we held the first camp here is the level of play,” Mutombo said. “Back then, a lot of guys were just lucky to be able to get into the gym and show a little bit. Now they’re getting coaching, getting direction and they are giving themselves a real chance for a better life.

“We all know that it is a long shot for anyone to make it into the NBA, even more when you’re coming from the background of Africa. That’s why the real goal for a lot of these kids is to come here and attract attention and maybe get an opportunity to come to the United States for a high school education, to play basketball and then maybe to attend an American university.

“To me, that’s how we make the world, and Africa in particular, a better place. We lift these kids up, educate them and hopefully many of them will return to their countries and try to make things better.”

Irving recalled that he had learned about apartheid in schools while he was growing up, but that had not prepared him for an up-close experience with people who had lived through it.

“To me, Steve Biko and Hector Pieterson were names I read in books,” Irving said. “But here I’m walking where they walked and talking with their people. It’s had more of an impact. It makes me know that I want to come back to Africa and do what I can in the future.”

The 47-year-old Mutombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rarely misses an opportunity. He had spent millions of his own dollars building a hospital in his mother’s name in his homeland and has spent more to erect dormitories and classrooms during his many BWB trips to South Africa.

“On the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, I took time to stop and think,” Mutombo said. “I have achieved so many blessings in my life after a childhood of poverty. I achieved a dream of working and getting noticed and getting myself an education.

“I realized a dream of playing basketball for a living and having the NBA doors open for me. I realized a dream of making a fortune and being able to use it to go back home and help my people. I realized a dream to build a hospital in my country.

“We all have to dream because big things are possible, especially in a world that has gotten smaller with things like cell phones and Facebook and Twitter.

“I tell these young players that come here that we’re all connected. What Dr. King was talking about fifty years ago was not African-American dreams or American dreams. These are human dreams all over the world and every time I come here see a young player like Kyrie with his eyes wide open on his first trip, I feel like we can fulfill more.”