Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Hawks’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 14


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Sunday’s gold medal match against Serbia

NEWS OF THE MORNING
U.S., Serbia match up for gold | France beats Lithuania for bronze | Rose makes an A | Melo says players will avoid Atlanta

No. 1: U.S., Serbia match up for gold — Later today in Madrid, Team USA will play in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. While Team USA was a near-unanimous choice to qualify for the gold-medal game, their opponent, Serbia, was not; most suspected the host country, Spain, would play their way into the final. But after Spain was eliminated by France, Serbia stormed their way into today’s championship game. And as our guys Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann write, some of the team USA players believe neither Serbia nor the U.S. were supposed to be here…

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

***

No. 2: France takes bronze: In the FIBA third place game yesterday, France defeated Lithuania 95-93 to win bronze, their best-ever finish at the event. France was led by Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, and the final seconds of the game were basically a foul-shooting contest…

The European champions seemed to have clinched the issue with about a minute left in the game, but Adas Juskevicius’ three-point play brought Lithuania within one, 86-85, with 16 seconds to play.

The teams were then involved in a tactical exchange of fouls and France stayed ahead with every exchange.

Jonas Maciulis was fouled with a second left. He made his first free-throw to get Lithuania within 95-93 and then strategically missed the second in order to give himself and his team-mates a chance at an offensive rebound and a quick shot. However, no Lithuanian player was able to control the ball, which went to Florent Pietrus who sprinted past halfcourt to run out the clock and seal the game.

In all, the final 16 seconds of the game saw 11 fouls committed, resulting in 22 free-throws attempted.

Down 71-64 at the end of the third quarter, France found their savior in Boris Diaw. The 32-year-old, who strove to find his rhythm in the first three periods, found his form as he accounted for eight of France’s 31 points in the final period. He finished with 15 points.

Nicolas Batum was at the fore-front of France’s offense throughout the game and finished with a game-high 27 points.

***

No. 3: Rose grades an A: Throughout the FIBA World Cup, many eyes have been trained on Derrick Rose. After missing most of the last two seasons with injuries, Rose has used the World Cup to get into competitive shape for the upcoming season. While he may have started slow, Rose has been increasingly aggressive throughout the tournament. Rose says he feels great heading into camp, and for him, the World Cup has been nothing but a success…

“I would give it an A in my mind,” Rose said. “Just coming off of what I had to go through and actually getting a spot on the USA team after missing two years of basketball? Like, c’mon man. It shows that I at least worked somewhere and hard work pays off. If anything, it gives me more confidence to head into the regular season.”

Rose said he will enter Bulls training camp in just over two weeks in the best physical condition he ever has entered a camp. And this is after back-to-back knee surgeries.

“I think I’m going to be far ahead of people, especially on my team,” Rose said. “Nobody in the world is getting this type of competition right now, where you’re playing against different people every night, a different style of play every night, chasing people around.”

Rose, who won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, said playing for Team USA has only enriched his already-high confidence level.

“I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish but winning this championship. And that’s (Sunday),” he said. “After that, that’s the icing on the cake.

“But looking back at it, my whole mindset was just getting on the team. You had younger players who had great years since I been out, great guards who had great years. Just trying to show them that I’m still one of the best out there. I think I was going into camp with a chip on my shoulder.

***

No. 4: Melo says players will avoid Atlanta: While the Atlanta Hawks work to undo the damage caused by Danny Ferry’s race-related remarks on a conference call, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony spoke out strongly yesterday to the New York Post about how NBA players now view the Hawks’ franchise…

“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony said at the Citi Carmelo Anthony Basketball ProCamp at Baruch College Saturday morning. “At the end of the day, Atlanta … I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.”

The Hawks franchise has been under fire after the Hawks and the NBA announced Sunday morning that the team’s majority owner, Bruce Levenson, was selling his controlling interest in the franchise after an internal investigation uncovered a racist email he sent to other team executives in 2012. That investigation began after general manager Danny Ferry said on a conference call with the team’s ownership group in June that potential free agent target Luol Deng, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks on Friday, but the damage to the franchise already has been done in the eyes of one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.

“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment, but those comments right there, we would never look at. I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”

With Levenson already agreeing to sell the team and the possibility Ferry already has served his last official day on the job, the franchise is taking steps toward moving on from the issue. But Anthony said, given the amount of time over which this has taken place, it’s going to take more than a couple of faces changing to fix the problems in Atlanta.

“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. That’s not going to change overnight. I don’t think that just happened overnight. That’s been an accumulation over the past couple years. A lot of people think that it just happened, but it’s been going on for the past two or three years now … these are conversations that have been ongoing.

“We just have to stop it. We have to stop that. This is not the league for that. As players coming in, we want to play and make a good career out of everything, and from [former Clippers owner Donald] Sterling to this situation, just pushing everything back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay has a fractured jaw and a broken tooth … Boris Diaw celebrated France’s bronze medal by posting a selfie … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford says Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has “transformed” his jump shot … The one member of Team USA who has had staying power? Mike Krzyzewski … Longtime NBA big Melvin Ely has signed with Japan’s Gunma Crane Thunders.

Hawks’ Ferry takes leave of absence, apologizes; scouting reports surface

ferry

Danny Ferry says his focus is to rebuild trust with the community and with fans. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry is taking an immediate and indefinite leave of absence from the team, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin announced Friday.

“This afternoon, Danny Ferry requested, and I have approved, taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately. This has been an incredibly difficult time for him and his family and it is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing.  As a human being, manager and friend, I wish him well as he undergoes this process.”

(You can read the entire statement here.)

Koonin said coach Mike Buldenholzer has assumed control of the basketball operations department and will report directly to him.

Ferry’s decision was announced shortly after Atlanta television station WSB TV and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the Hawks’ controversial scouting report on former free agent Luol Deng. Ferry has said he was reading from that scouting report — and not using his own words — during a conference call earlier this summer when he said that Deng, who is from South Sudan, had “a little African” in him.

On Thursday, AJC beat writer Chris Vivlamore obtained the audio recording of of that June 6 call in which Ferry, majority owner Bruce Levenson, co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. and others took part. Many in the media and outside of it seized on the audio, saying that it did not appear as if Ferry was reading a report.

In the five-page transcript obtained by the Atlanta news outlets Friday, the names of the personnel who wrote separate scouting reports on Deng, as well as portions of the reports, were redacted. The main statement at the center of the controversy is in one of the reports — evidently one obtained from the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of Deng’s former teams — and reads:

“He’s a good guy on the cover but he’s an African. He has a little two-step in him = says what you want to hear but behind closed doors he could be killing you. Con isn’t bad but it’s there. African-like store front looks great but there’s a black market section in the back.”

Since word broke of Ferry’s words during the call, many have called for his firing — co-owner Gearon among them. If Ferry was, indeed, reading from the scouting reports, though, that could make a difference, at least in some people’s minds. Columnist Mark Bradley of the AJC thinks so, and said as much Friday in a piece for the paper’s Web site:

Ferry still should have known better than to have read such sentiments — apparently they came from someone who’d worked with Deng as a Cleveland Cavalier — in a business setting, but they were on paper. (Even the regrettable part about the “store front (with) the black market section in the back.”) That might not be an excuse, but it is a bit of an explanation.

Until the report came to light, the strongest pieces of documentation that existed were the partial transcript of the call, which emerged Wednesday, and the audio tape, which Vivlamore obtained Thursday. Neither seemed to favor Ferry. Hearing the tape, I didn’t believe it sounded as if he was reading. Turned out he was reading almost verbatim.

Shortly after Koonin released his statement, Ferry released his own:

“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.

Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them. Almost all the background information I provided during the lengthy presentation regarding Luol was positive and my personal and professional recommendation during the call was very much in favor of adding Luol to our team but I never should have uttered those offensive remarks and for that I apologize.

My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans. I realize that my words may ring hollow now and my future actions must speak for me. I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion. I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through.”

In Koonin’s statement, he also cited problems among the owners of the team, something that both Vivlamore of the AJC and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports have explored. Levenson already has said he will sell his majority stake in the Hawks after the team unearthed a racially insensitive e-mail he wrote to Ferry and others back in 2012.

From Koonin’s statement on Friday:

“While the issues related to race are deeply troubling, at the heart of this dispute is an unfortunate disagreement amongst owners. That said, we have taken several steps to address what we can do as an organization to be better and stronger, including working with a diversity consultant to examine us and to train us to ensure something like this never happens again, we are committed to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, and we have and will continue to meet with community leaders in an ongoing way to ensure our values reflect the community in which we play and work.  The process of selling the team, which is to remain in Atlanta, is already underway.”

Also Friday, according to a report by the AJC, Hawks forward Kyle Korver has talked with Deng. He said Deng does not believe Ferry and the Hawks are racist.

Atlanta paper lands Ferry audio recording discussing Deng

The depth of the hot water Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in could deepen after his Luol Deng comments were released.

The depth of the hot water Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in could deepen after new audio was released.

NBA.com staff

Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has obtained the audio recording of the already infamous conference call that landed Hawks general manager Danny Ferry in hot water, and in it … well, you’ll just have to listen to it and make up your mind.

Was Ferry, as he claimed, reading off scouting reports on free agent Luol Deng when he says the player “has a little African in him”? Or was that Ferry simply winging it, speaking off the top of his head, in his own words, as many on Twitter surmised Thursday night after the AJC snagged the audio?

Whatever the case, the heat is being turned up on Ferry, at least in some corners. Though Ferry has his backers who say he is not a racist — our own David Aldridge is among them, and commissioner Adam Silver told USA Today that, in his opinion, Ferry’s comments do not merit his firing — others are insisting that Ferry step down. One of the owners of the Hawks, Michael Gearon Jr., called for his dismissal back in June. Gearon, among many other Hawks’ front-office executives, was on the call with Ferry.

One of the more thoughtful takes on the whole ugly situation has come from Toronto general manger Masai Ujiri, who spoke directly to Ferry about the incident, as reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Ujiri (who is from Nigeria) knows Deng (who hails from South Sudan) well. They have traveled through Africa together.

I spoke to Danny myself about this. He started off by apologizing to Luol. He apologized to me and apologized for any insult he’d offered to African people in general. He explained the incident as best he could to me. There are some things about that conversation I would like to keep between the two of us, but I came away feeling like I’d understood what he had to say.

Here is what I have to say:

I have no idea what is happening in the Atlanta Hawks organization, but I do know how the scouting world works. We all have different ways of sharing information about players and different vocabularies to do so. It crossed a line here.

That said, we are all human. We are all vulnerable. We all make mistakes.

You discover a person’s true character in their ability to learn from and then move on from those mistakes. One of the truly important things we must learn is how to forgive.

Danny’s mistake will remain tied to him for a long time. What he’s said can’t be unsaid, but we must measure his heart. If he has made an honest, isolated error, we should forgive and move on.

Will that kind of thinking be enough to save Ferry’s job?

Here’s the audio from the AJC. There’s some NSFW words in there.


SOURCE: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

 

 

Blogtable: How will the Hawks handle?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The state of the States | Getting untracked | The Hawks


> As if a stiffer conference isn’t enough: What do you see in store on the court in 2014-15 for the turmoil-ravaged Atlanta Hawks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: What a mess. This is on all the grown men — owners who allegedly are successful in their other endeavors and a GM who should have red-flagged rather than read that Luol Deng nonsense — who should know better. It won’t sustain the attention, long term, that Donald Sterling and the Clippers did, but it still creates a potentially corrosive atmosphere for the players and even coaches. My hunch: Team leaders such as Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Kyle Korver, along with coach Mike Budenholzer, persevere by turning this into an “us vs. them” thing — with the “them” being the guys in suits. It’s one way to rally, anyway.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If Al Horford can avoid another season lost to the unusual torn pectoral muscle injury, the front office turmoil doesn’t affect what happens on the court and Mike Budenholzer’s second year in charge of the Hawks has them battling in the 4-6 range in the East race.

Danny Ferry (right) and Mike Budenholzer in London earlier this year (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Danny Ferry (right) and Mike Budenholzer in London earlier this year
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: What a befuddling mess. But’s that’s ownership and the front office. Hopefully a sale goes through quickly followed by a thorough house-cleaning. Because I actually like the basketball team. Al Horford returns to a squad with Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Mike Scott, DeMarre Carroll and coach Mike Budenholzer in his second season. I really don’t see the turmoil upstairs affecting the product on the floor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: They will be good, better than the 38 wins and No. 8 last season. Probably middle of the pack in the East, with a chance at home-court advantage in the first round. That’s not the issue. The issue is what happens after that if Danny Ferry remains as general manager, the future offseasons when he has to convince free agents to play for him and the city or players with the ability to squash trade possibilities. That’s why Ferry does not survive this. At some point, an agent or a player will say, possibly anonymously, that going to the Hawks with Ferry in charge of basketball operations won’t happen.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: This is still a playoff team that didn’t have its best player for most of last season. They have a good coach, an improving point guard, the best shooter in the world, and two All-Star-caliber bigs. That’s the makings of a good team, though there’s still a hole at the shooting guard position (sorry Thabo Sefolosha fans). So, if Al Horford is healthy and gives them a boost on both ends of the floor, the Hawks should be a playoff team again.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Luckily for the Hawks the turmoil resides elswhere. The core group remains intact and will include Al Horford, back frrom injuiry. So the basketball part of the equation for the Hawks should be manageable. It’s the management of the franchise that is at issue. Does Danny Ferry stay or go? Who is the new owner going to be? And will he or she come in and want to make immediate changes to the front office structure of the organization? So many questions have yet to be answered, things that have nothing to do with the fact that Mike Budenholzer and a hungry bunch that tasted some playoff success will be ready to go come the start of training camp. What goes around them, however, is anyone’s guess.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Hawks weren’t able to go out and sign a big-name free agent, but that’s nothing new. Their most important off-season addition will be Al Horford, who returns from a pectoral injury and gives an All-Star center to a Hawks team that nearly eliminated Indiana in the first round of the playoffs. I also think Adreian Payne will be a nice fit for the Hawks, as a big perfect suited to pick and pop and help stretch the floor. Will the off-court disaster have an effect on the floor? I can’t see how it doesn’t. But at least this is team filled with veteran players who should be able to weather the storm.

Hawks say no more discipline for Ferry

The Atlanta Hawks have no current plans to further discipline general manager Danny Ferry past the internal punishment issued by team CEO Steve Koonin, according to a source involved in the process.

Koonin said Sunday night that the team had punished Ferry for remarks he made during a conference call with Hawks owner concerning free agent Luol Deng in June. Reading from a dossier concerning Deng, Ferry said that Deng “has some African in him, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.”

Subsequent to that disclosure, minority owner Michael Gearon, Jr., who had been on the conference call and taped it, said that Ferry continued the remark about Deng, adding that Deng was “like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Gearon says Ferry then described Deng, as Gearon recalled, “as a two-faced liar and a cheat.”

Gearon sent a copy of an e-mail he sent to co-owner Bruce Levenson soon after the meeting to a local Atlanta television station Monday night. In the e-mail, Gearon said he and other unnamed members of the ownership group were “appalled” at what they considered a racial slur, and consulted with an African-American former judge and an employment discrimination lawyer. Both the judge and the lawyer told Gearon that the team could be exposed to legal action or, at the least, would suffer greatly in the court of public opinion if Ferry’s remarks saw the light of day.

“If Ferry’s comments are ever made public, and it’s a safe bet to say they will someday, it could be fatal to the franchise,” Gearon wrote, adding that he believed the team’s diversity within the organization had regressed since Ferry took over.

That e-mail was what set off the team’s internal investigation into its practices, and which led to the subsequent discovery of an e-mail by Levenson two years ago in which Levenson decried the lack of affluent white fans attending Hawks games. That discovery led to Levenson’s announcement over the weekend that he would sell his share of the team. It is believed that Hawks partner Ed Peskowitz, Levenson’s longtime business associate, will also sell his share of the team.

The NBA has said that the Hawks “self-reported” the disclosures.

The source indicated that the Hawks’ punishment of Ferry was more than what was recommended by the investigative body that looked into the team’s business practices. The team has not disclosed its punishment of Ferry, who was hired two years ago by the Hawks.

Atlanta’s ownership structure has been contentious for years. Former co-owner Steve Belkin sued his ex-partners in 2005, after his objections to the trade that sent Boris Diaw to Phoenix for Joe Johnson went unheeded. In 2010, Gearon and Levenson bought out Belkins’s 30 percent share of the Hawks, the then-Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL and Philips Arena, where the Hawks play.

Ironically, according to the source, Ferry was a strong advocate of signing Deng, who would up signing a two-year deal with the Heat. “He wanted to pay him $40 million,” the source said. Lawyers conducting the investigation looked at more than 24,000 pieces of internal communications over the last few years. None of Ferry’s e-mails or other communications raised any red flags, according to the source.

Ferry was “cranky” on the call, the source indicated. “He was Danny,” the source said. But the team, at least for now, is continuing to stand by its beleaguered GM.

Ferry issued a statement late Monday in which he apologized for repeating the words in the dossier.

“I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process,” he said in the statement. “Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning.”

Deng has told associates that he is confused by the description of him in the report and wants to refrain from making any comments until he has a further understanding of what the report indicated.

Before being traded by the Bulls to the Cavaliers last winter, Deng had a reputation as one of the best teammates on the Chicago team. All-Star center Joakim Noah was visibly shaken when Deng was dealt. Deng and the Bulls could not agree on a contract extension figure, and Chicago subsequently dealt him for center Andrew Bynum in order to increase potential cap room this summer. Chicago wound up signing Lakers free agent big man Pau Gasol.

Morning shootaround — July 26


VIDEO: GameTime: News And Notes

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo: It wasn’t about the money | Noah excited about new-look Bulls | Report: Johnson steps away from NBPA search | A longer All-Star break?

No. 1: Melo: It wasn’t about the moneyCarmelo Anthony re-signed with the New York Knicks for five years and $124 million, a year and $28 million more than he could gotten from any other team. But, in speaking with ESPN on Friday, Anthony said that his decision wasn’t about the money and that he doesn’t think the Knicks are “that far away” from contending for a championship:

Carmelo Anthony said it was not the money, but instead his confidence in team president Phil Jackson and his belief that the New York Knicks “aren’t that far away from contending for an NBA title,” that made him opt to remain in New York instead of signing with the Chicago Bulls.

“I want to win. I don’t care about the money,” Anthony told ESPN.com. “I believe Phil will do what he has to do to take care of that.

“I don’t think we’re that far away,” he added. “People use ‘rebuilding’ too loosely.”

In what were believed to be Anthony’s first public comments since agreeing to a five-year deal worth $124 million earlier this month, he told ESPN.com that the decision was so agonizing in the final days that he could not watch TV or go on the Internet.

“It was overwhelming,” Anthony said. “It was stressful in the final days, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”

*** (more…)

Wizards’ culture shift in full swing


VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. ties the game with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Washington Wizards

LAS VEGAS — That breakthrough season and playoff run was just the beginning for the Washington Wizards.

That flash we saw from the John Wall and Bradley Beal-led Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals is still going strong into both free agency and here in the Samsung NBA Summer League, where youngsters like Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. are busy doing work with their veteran peers keeping a watchful eye.

Wall and Beal were in attendance at the Thomas and Mack Center Saturday night when Rice went off for 36 points in a triple-overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. Veteran free agent Al Harrington is working the sidelines as a volunteer assistant under Wizards assistant Sam Cassell, keeping his finger on the pulse of a team whose culture shift is clearly in full swing after years of building to this point.

“We’re trying to get our hands on that trophy,” a smiling Harrington said after the win over the Spurs. “It’s just a good vibe all around since the season ended. All of our guys, the young guys and the older guys, are grinding and trying to get to that next level. Everybody recognizes the opportunity that is staring us in the face and we have to be ready. Everybody has to be ready.”

In a summer that began with the Wizards making the first big splash by keeping free-agent center Marcin Gortat on $60 million deal, the hits have kept on coming for this crew. Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker departed in free agency, but  Wizards boss Ernie Grunfeld went to work and rebounded by acquiring former Finals MVP Paul Pierce on a two-yer deal and veteran big men Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals to bolster the bench.

And for anyone dismissing the moves — the Pierce deal in particular, due to the mileage Pierce has piled up over the course of his stellar career — his coach in Brooklyn last season, believes the Wizards have taken a major step forward this summer with the acquisition of these veterans.

“Washington got better,” Kidd told reporters here last week. “You’ve got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day and understand what it takes to win a championship. … He won’t have any problems [fitting with the Wizards]. He’ll be fine.”

The Wizards will be, too, based on the busy work they have done this summer. Teams either get better or worse with their offseason work. Staying the course, for anyone other than the champion Spurs, simply doesn’t work.

“It’s just a matter of the process of getting better,” Kidd said. “You see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. So they lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a player that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”

That’s the plan. Harrington said that was the vision of all involved when the season ended. They felt like they let the Pacers off the hook in the playoffs. “Trust me, it won’t happen again,” he said. “Our guys are better now because of what we learned about ourselves in that series.”

LeBron James heading home to Cleveland leaves a void at the top of the Southeast Division. And much like the work the Wizards’ summer league squad is putting in to capture top honors, when the regular season begins the varsity crew will battle for the No. 1 spot with the Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s there for the taking,” Harrington said. “You see the way we are working now in the middle of the summer. We changed the culture. And now we’re feeding the beast, making sure everybody knows what goes on when the lights come on in the regular season. We need [Rice Jr.] and Otto ready to go from the start. Our depth is going to be our strength. It’s go time from the first day of training camp.”

Payne works to adjust to the NBA game


VIDEO: Adreian Payne gets high for the flush on the break

LAS VEGAS — When Adreian Payne was 15 years old, he realized he needed a summer job. He was, after all, a teenager, and Payne heard the same siren song of commerce that appeals to adolescents everywhere.

“I wanted to be able to buy myself something,” Payne recalls. “I wanted to go to the mall with my friends and stuff like that.”

And so Payne, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, went out and got a job. As a janitor at his own middle school.

To Payne, it was a great gig.

“I swept, took gum off of the desks, mopped. It wasn’t bad, because I knew everybody there at my school, and it was the summer so there wasn’t anybody there. But I knew the janitor, I knew the lunch lady, all the staff. It was kind of fun. Being young I played around sometimes, but it was fun.”

Once he saved up enough money, Payne went to the mall and bought a pair of shoes. These days, as the recent first round pick of the Atlanta Hawks, with the requisite rookie scale contract, Payne’s shopping horizons have broadened a bit: “I’m looking for an apartment right now, actually. That will probably be the next thing I get.”

Payne spent the past week in Las Vegas with the Atlanta Hawks at the Samsung NBA Summer League exhibiting the drive and skill that made the Hawks interested in him to begin with. As a four-year player for coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State, the 6-foot-10 Payne developed into a deft outside shooter, knocking down 3-pointers at a 42 percent rate as a senior. That combination of size and shooting ability should fit perfectly into the spread-and-shoot system the Hawks implemented last season under first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer.

“Being able to shoot the ball can translate to anything, any level,” Adreian said. “But [the NBA game is] a lot different, the speed of the game, and the players are more athletic. So it’s just a matter of you just getting more comfortable out there, trying to find the pace of the game so your shots still come and you’re in rhythm, still. So I’m just trying to get my shot off quicker but not in a rush. But just quicker, more efficient, less movement.”

Payne helped lead the Hawks’ summer squad to a 2-3 record in the round-robin format, and played 28 minutes today in the Hawks’ 78-71 elimination round loss to the Houston Rockets. Payne finished with 11 points but struggled from the field, finishing 4-for-15, including 1-8 on three pointers.

“They were telling me to get my shots, try to slow myself down, run the offense and let them come. They was coming, they just wasn’t falling,” Payne said with a laugh.

Hawks assistant coach Darvin Ham coached the Hawks summer league squad, and saw plenty to like from Payne.

“It’s one of those situations where you always love the fact you have to tell a guy to slow down as opposed to pick it up. He just needs to know how to be quick but not in a hurry,” said Ham. And then, to emphasize the point, he repeated it quickly and in a hurry: “Quick but not in a hurry.

“He gets going and he’s going full speed and that’s normal for guys coming out of college,” Ham said. “They want to do everything a thousand percent, at a hundred miles an hour, and you can’t fault him for that. He’s from a heckuva program and Coach Iz[zo] did a great job with him. We’re just going to try to refine him a little bit and teach him how to play with a change of pace, so to speak.”

Coming into today’s loss, Payne averaged 12.8 ppg on 40 percent shooting from the field in Atlanta’s five previous games. Ham said the Hawks know he can get his shot going.

“His shooting element is there,” said Ham, “the defensive element is there, making athletic plays, we just gotta get him to stop fouling so much.”

Is that easier said than done with rookies?

“Oh, absolutely,” Ham continued. “Because in college, they actually play a lot more physical than we do in the NBA. At the NBA level, the big key is not to impede progress, so referees are a little more ticky-tacky with how they call fouls as opposed to in the college game, where you can get into guys and put your forearm into ‘em when they face up and all of that. So it’ll take some time, but he’s a smart kid, a smart player, he’ll make the proper adjustments.”

One adjustment Payne has made thus far has been trying to add shotblocking to his defensive repertoire, something he says he wasn’t able to display at Michigan State.

“[Coach Izzo] wanted me to stay on the floor — I was getting in foul trouble. So the rules here are a lot different than they are in college — you have verticality here, in college you don’t. So it’s a lot different.”

Accordingly, another part of Payne’s adjustment has been studying tape of the NBA game to increase his familiarity with the league. While at Michigan State, he said, NBA games weren’t often on his TV — “I watched a lot of college games.” Video games were no help either — “I suck at 2K.”

“I’ve been watching a lot more NBA now, and I love watching it,” Payne said. “Now that I’m here in the league I’ve been watching a lot more film, been watching film with Coach Ham, and just trying to get better.”


VIDEO: Adreian Payne gets the stiff rejection against the Rockets

Morning shootaround — July 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap: July 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Decision day for the Rockets | Only a two-year deal for James | Pierce keeps it moving | Deng the next domino?

No. 1: Decision day for the Rockets — The Houston Rockets have a new small forward, having agreed to a four-year deal with former Wizard Trevor Ariza. Does that mean that they’re ready to part ways with their old small forward? Not necessarily. The Rockets have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks. And they may feel like Ariza and Parsons could play together, as Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes:

The Houston Rockets are still strongly considering the Dallas Mavericks’ offer sheet for Chandler Parsons after reaching agreement on a four-year, $32 million contract with free-agent forward Trevor Ariza, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ariza’s contract is on a declining scale, paying him $8.6 million, $8.2 million, $7.8 million and $7.4 million over the next four seasons, sources said.

The Rockets are expected to take until 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet the Mavericks gave Parsons, sources said. The Rockets could give Parsons some minutes at power forward, allowing them to play him and Ariza together.

***

No. 2: Only a two-year deal for JamesLeBron James could be a free agent again next season. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that James only signed a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it has a player option for 2015-16, allowing him to look for a new deal again next summer. But Windhorst writes that it isn’t about James not being truly committed to Cleveland. It’s about the additional money he could make with a new deal in a year or two:

Depending on how the new television contracts are put together, the salary cap is projected to leap to as high as $80 million in 2016. There is also uncertainty with the current collective bargaining agreement starting in 2017, another reason James wanted to keep his long-term options open when it comes to the structure of his contract.

James’ off-court earnings, which top $40 million per year according to some estimates, allow for him to take some short-term risk to maximize long-term earnings.

James has earned $129 million over his 11-year career but has only earned the max salary three times during that span.

***

No. 3: Pierce keeps it moving — It was weird seeing Paul Pierce in a Brooklyn Nets uniform last season. It may be even weirder seeing him in the Washington Wizards’ red, white and blue this year. In a bit of a stunner, Pierce and the Wizards agreed on a two-year deal (for the mid-level exception) on Saturday night. Michael Lee of the Washington Post has the story:

Refusing to stagger after the stunning defection of Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets, the Washington Wizards shook off the disappointment and made a shocking deal of their own by landing Paul Pierce.

Pierce, a 10-time all-star and likely Hall of Famer, agreed to sign a two-year deal for the full mid-level exception worth $10.8 million, according to a multiple people with knowledge of the situation. He has a player option for the second year.

The 36-year-old Pierce spent the first 15 years of his career with the Boston Celtics, winning a championship in 2008, and his former teammate and current Wizards assistant Sam Cassell played a huge role in recruiting him to Washington. He averaged a career-low 13.5 points last season in Brooklyn but gives the Wizards a proven big-game performer and another veteran mentor to help expedite the progression of franchise building blocks John Wall and Bradley Beal.

***

No. 4: Deng the next domino? — Ariza, James and Paul Pierce have found new homes, while Parsons will either be a member of the Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets when the clock strikes midnight on Sunday. But where does Luol Deng land in this game of small forward musical chairs? The Miami Heat have been trying hard to make him James’ replacement and stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, but other teams (Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix) are still in the mix for Deng, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reported late Saturday:

Sources say it’s possible Wade’s looming deal with the Heat might not be finalized until next week while negotiations with Deng continue. But Miami’s current aim is assembling a core that features Wade and Bosh with newcomer Josh McRoberts and Deng if they can complete a deal with the former Chicago Bulls All-Star.

Dallas and Atlanta remain interested in Deng as well, with sources saying Saturday that the Phoenix has also jumped into the mix for Deng, who was traded from Chicago to Cleveland in January after years of trade rumors.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Nets could still be a playoff team this season, but championship dreams are basically out the windowIt’s a “wait ’til next year” situation in BostonIs LeBron Melo’s Jordan?The Thunder got what they needed in Anthony Morrow … The Kings and Isaiah Thomas weren’t on the same page.

ICYMI of The Night: After his Summer League debut, Jazz rookie Dante Exum sat down the The Starters:


VIDEO: Starters: Dante Exum

Morning Shootaround — July 4



VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal with the Mavs yesterday

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Reports: James’ agent meets with other teams | Reports: Anthony promised max offers from Lakers, Knicks | Reports: Riley, Heat interested in Pau, others | Report: Bosh next on Rockets’ wish list | Report: Hawks make early pitch to Deng

No. 1: Report: Finalists could emerge to interview James; Aldridge: Multiple teams already met with LeBron’s reps — Two of the biggest fish left in the NBA free agency pond — LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony — are starting to get their moment in the sun. For James, it seems he and his agent are trying to turn the heat up on Miami boss Pat Riley. Our David Aldridge reports that James’ agent met with at least four teams last week not named the Miami Heat. That news was originally broken by ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski similarly reports that if Riley can’t bring a strong cast into Miami soon, there may be final interviews with potential non-Heat suitors for LeBron next week. Here’s more from Wojnarowski on that story:

After conducting meetings with three NBA teams interested in pursuing free-agent star LeBron James, his agent suggested to owners and executives present that a failure of Miami president Pat Riley to rapidly recruit a strong supporting cast could bring finalists back to meet with James himself next week, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Rich Paul, the agent for James, invited three teams – Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix – to the offices of his Klutch Sports headquarters to listen to pitches.

The meetings took place on Wednesday and Thursday, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Some executives believe there’s an opportunity because of a disconnect between James and his teammates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Another executive attending the meeting flatly said, “I think it’s a smokescreen.”

James has maintained a desire to take a full max contract with a starting salary of $20.7 million, sources said. Wade and Bosh are still reluctant to take severe cuts in their contracts, sources told Yahoo Sports, creating a financial disconnect among the three.

“There’s clearly a breakdown in communication between LeBron and [Wade and Bosh],” one executive who participated in the meetings over the past two days told Yahoo Sports. “[James is] giving Riley time to go get players for them but if that doesn’t happen in the next few days … LeBron seems ready to explore the market.”

And here’s Aldridge on how the move by LeBron’s agent is affecting the other moves in free agency:

Where the information came from is not the issue. The message is. And it is clear to anyone who’s been paying attention: Riles, you’re really on the clock.

For weeks, the operating principle throughout the league was that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were acting in concert. Perhaps not literally, but certainly, each had an idea of what the other was planning to do. Why would Wade walk away from a guaranteed $41.5 million over the next couple of years if he didn’t know James was returning to Miami? Why would Bosh indicate a willingness to take a pay cut if he wasn’t certain he’d be playing with the other SuperFriends for the next few seasons?

Now, suddenly, we are told that Wade and Bosh have no idea what James is going to do, and that Paul is lining up alternatives for his client. Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday that three finalists could be brought back to Cleveland, where Paul met in person with the Cavs, Mavericks and Suns this week, early next week. Nowhere, now, is there reassuring talk that James will return to the Heat.

That will surely get Riles’ attention.

Miami’s hopes of adding a centerpiece “Big Fourth” free agent were always iffy, but as free agency has begun this week, the Heat have had to watch the likes of Marcin Gortat and Kyle Lowry go elsewhere, in part, because Miami just couldn’t commit enough money to guys looking for their big career payday.

With Miami locked in below $10 million in cap room, it couldn’t make a realistic pitch to Gortat, who took $12 million a year from Washington to stay with the Wizards, or to Lowry, who took the same $12 million a year to stay in Toronto with the Raptors. And with other free agents that could help like Trevor Ariza also looking for big raises, the Heat will continue to be strapped to find an accomplished veteran to take their offers, whatever they may be.

So Miami is concentrating on getting commitments from shooters like Anthony Morrow and Marvin Williams. But they’re not going to come cheap, either, no matter their desire to play for a contender (assuming the Big Three re-sign there). And Riles has to find players as he cocks an ear to the Midwest, and a city he thought his superstar player had left in mind and body, but which is still there, likely a stalking horse, to be sure, but one that must be taken seriously, its revenge/reunion fantasies still intact and getting oxygen as we speak. Or, write.

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