Posts Tagged ‘Blake Griffin’

Stars of NBA.com Top 10 voting ending


VIDEO: Stars of the NBA.com Top 10 second team

By Beau Estes, for NBA.com

The clock is ticking and the ball is in your hands.  It’s now all down to fan votes.

Today we release the first half of the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.” There are five spots remaining on this list and we have a pool of five players for fans to vote among.

The player with the most votes from the fans will be crowned king this Wednesday.  The deadline for voting is Wednesday at midnight (ET), so send your vote — your one vote for the player that should be No. 1 — to @NBABeau and later on Wednesday we will release the Top 5.

The following, in no particular order, are the five players to choose from:

  • Russell Westbrook
  • Kevin Durant
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Blake Griffin

Once again, get your votes in to @NBABeau and we will reveal your choice for the Top 5 players on the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

Thus far, the response has been as entertaining as much as enthusiastic.

Some fans were conflicted, but in the end honest.

Others were filled with certainty about their choice

Still others wanted to dive into the history books, which wasn’t precisely the exercise, but was fun nonetheless

Once again, get your votes in to @NBABeau by Wednesday at midnight and we will then reveal your choice for the Top 5 players on the first ever “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer


VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.

Cousins is U.S. wild card going forward


VIDEO: Before World Cup play, DeMarcus Cousins did major work last season for the Kings

BARCELONA — DeMarcus Cousins might barely play in the U.S. National Team’s quarterfinal matchup against Slovenia here Tuesday at the Palau Saint Jordi.

Circumstances beyond his control will dictate whether the biggest and perhaps best, by NBA standards, big man on the U.S. roster has a chance to show what he can do.

Such is life in the USA Basketball bubble, where All-Stars are asked to be reserves and a dominant big man has to wait his turn against an opponent that will spread the floor with as many as five 3-point shooters in an attempt to agitate the U.S.

One night you are the man. The next, you’re on the bench watching someone else play that role, depending on the matchup.

“It’s definitely a change for me,” Cousins said. “It’s an adjustment. I’m not used to coming off the bench, not used to playing limited minutes. It’s a huge adjustment. But everybody has a different role, and in order for us to get that ultimate goal, that gold medal, we have to play our roles to the best of our abilities.”

The fact that Cousins is even here and a part of this particular team raised eyebrows for some. Like several players on this team, he wasn’t viewed as the ideal fit. The need for fleet-footed bigs with shooting range out to and beyond the 3-point line is a must in FIBA competition.

The skills Cousins brings to the table — a traditional, low-post big man who does best work around the basket and with his back to it often — don’t mesh with the style of the day. But he represents a strategic shift for the U.S. and a serves as a potential wild card as this week goes on. If the U.S. is able to win its way through to this weekend’s medal games in Madrid, a rugged big man with his size and skill could come in handy.

As well as Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, the U.S. starters at center and power forward, respectively, Cousins has proved himself indispensible as the Plan B big man.

“I think he’s come a long way,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo. “I’m really, really happy for him. And I’m really happy for us. The one thing, he came in with a desire to make it. This was big to him. So he already had a leg up in terms of attitude and he wanted this thing. I think he’s paid his dues. He’s worked hard. Had a little setback when he went down. Fortunately it wasn’t something that knocked him out. But right now he’s playing really well. And his size and his ability could be real factor before this is over.”

Cousins was needed in Saturdays win over Mexico, whose Gustavo Ayon worked the U.S. for 25 points and eight rebounds and worked over Davis and Faried in the process but wasn’t able to take physical advantage of Cousins.

U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski praised Cousins for his work and lauded his diligence in making himself a factor on this team.

“We have believed in DeMarcus right from start of training camp,” he said. “All the reports about him not making the team and all that were all … not right. We felt he would be the perfect guy with or in place of Anthony at times, but more in the place of Anthony, and I think it’s just a matter of him continuing to get in better shape, our guys getting accustomed that when he does come into the game he’s different than Anthony and so to look for him. I think they see him more now, and I think his defense has really improved. He tried to take three charges (against Mexico). He played Ayon pretty well without getting help, so they couldn’t get a three off of him. I thought he played. He’d get an A+ from me, let’s just put it that way.”

The strategic shift to incorporate a more traditional big man into the mix was done partly out of necessity and also based on the specific challenges of this particular competition (Spain and the brothers Gasol and Serge Ibaka loom in a potential gold medal showdown).

Having the physical firepower to play any style was a part of the U.S. game plan this time around.

“Since we’ve been together, and I’m going back now to 2005, we didnt have a major presence in the middle,” Colangelo said. “We just didn’t. Dwight Howard was a young Dwight Howard then and Chris Bosh was his back up, a young back up. After that it was different. We didn’t have that real dominant kind of guy in the middle. We went with more of a perimeter game and we were structured that way.

“So this was a little change in strategy. And it just so happens, as things developed. If you were to add Kevin Durant and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, that still would have put us in a situation where we might not have looked to some of the bigger guys in the middle. So circumstances caused us, not forced us, but caused us to see what other options do we have here. And we looked at our bigs and said, ‘let’s go with them.'”

That was music to the ears of Cousins and fellow behemoth Andre Drummond, another surprise addition to the roster.

What sort of impact they have, however, depends on the specific matchups.

“The only thing that is on our mind is to win,” Coach K said. “And winning means that you should have a nine or ten man rotation, so that’s all we are looking for. The game will give you the opportunity to put the right people in, because of matchups, and that is what we are looking for … We are going to match up according to what they do, because the first thing is we have to play defense against them.”

Cousins has shown himself to be a willing defender and rim protector in his minutes here, not to mention a more than capable rebounder and physical force. He’s never had a problem scoring and hasn’t against anyone he’s faced so far.

And yet he readily admits that he’s still finding his way against the big men he’s dealt with the past six games.

“Basically, it’s just me finding my role, getting used to the style of play and learning how to be effective,” he said. “It’s the first time for me, playing this way. For me it’s a process. But I’m coming into my own. I think you can see that from the way I’ve been playing. I’m getting better as we keep playing.”

When triple-doubles are not enough

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren't enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Usually a triple-double is a cause for celebration, a sign of an all-around great performance by a player that leads his team to victory.

Then again, there are times when even the best efforts of one man just aren’t enough. Here’s a look back at the heartache of 10 triple-doubles from the 2013-14 season that just couldn’t push their teams over the hump:

10. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

April 4, 2014 vs. Philadelphia 76ers — 11 points, 11 rebounds, 16 assists

It had been nearly 15 months since Rondo last rolled out a triple-double onto the parquet floor of the TD Garden and that one, back on Jan. 25, 2013, was mostly memorable as the game he suffered a torn right ACL and was lost for the season. This one didn’t produce nearly that kind of disaster, but Rondo’s line was wasted as the Celtics watched — who’s that? — Henry Sims go off for a career-high 24 points to lead the Sixers to a 111-102 decision and snap a 13-game road losing streak for Philly. It was Boston’s seventh consecutive loss.

9. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

December 18, 2013 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 11 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

After missing the preceding two games with a sprained ankle, Evans was champing at the bit to get back onto the court. He came off the bench to put up his good-looking numbers, but most of them came after the Pelicans had already given up any real chance of competing in a 108-95 loss. Despite Evans’ second career triple-double, the headline performer was Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan, who posted 15 points, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots for his 12th double-double of a young season.

8. John Wall, Washington Wizards

April 9, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 14 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists

On the surface, it was a solid line for Wall. But toss in his 12 missed shots (6-for-18 in the game) and you could say that he had a quadruple-double. We’ll barely even mention his five turnovers. While it goes down in the books as the third triple-double of Wall’s rising career, it was also a night when the All-Star point guard couldn’t get the job done in front of the home crowd. The Wizards were 0-for-8 in overtime of the 94-88 loss to Charlotte.

7. Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers

January 30, 2014 vs. Phoenix Suns — 14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Stephenson would go on to lead the league in triple-doubles with five and this performance was already his fourth of the season. But it wasn’t enough to hold off the Suns, who simply seemed to have the number of the Pacers. After opponents reached 100 points just six times in the first 40 games against Indiana, the Suns did it twice in a little more than a week to sweep the season series, this time by the score of 102-94. Stephenson’s fourth triple-double tied the franchise record set by Detlef Schrempf back in 1992-93 and he would eventually break that mark as the Pacers’ season was breaking down.

6. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

March 10, 2014 at New York Knicks — 23 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

These were the dog days of the season for the Sixers, when even a solid triple-double from their Rookie of the Year point guard Carter-Williams couldn’t save them from a 17th consecutive loss, 123-110. That streak would eventually grow to 26 as the Sixers tied the all-time record for uninterrupted fruitlessness. The Knicks played without their injured center Tyson Chandler, but rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the bench to pop in 28 to lead the way.

5. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

April 3, 2014 vs. Dallas Mavericks — 25 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists

It was another strong start by Griffin as he scored 10 points in the first quarter for the 18th time on the season. He finished with his only triple-double of the season as the Pacific Division leaders ran out of gas down the stretch and went down for the first time at home in six weeks with a 113-107 loss to the Mavericks. The most troubling event was Griffin, who’d been suffering from back spasms a few days earlier, rolled his ankle late in the game. The fear was that he was wearing out as the playoffs approached.

4. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

December 3, 2013 at Philadelphia 76ers — 26 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Imagine that. A rookie just six months into his first NBA season runs up the first triple-double of his career and he doesn’t even get top billing or to celebrate a win. Oladipo’s Magic fell 126-125 in double overtime to the Sixers and the 27-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist game from rookie Carter-Williams. Oladipo, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, was the choice of many to win Rookie of the Year honors, but No. 11 pick Carter-Williams beat him out there, too.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

March 9, 2014 at Los Angeles Lakers — 27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists

There’s usually not much that’s going to steal the thunder from the league’s leading scorer when he rolls to 27 points and a triple-double. Then again, Jodie Meeks doesn’t usually shock the world with a career-high 42 points, while dropping in a half-dozen bombs from behind the arc. It was Durant’s third triple-double of the season and sixth of his career, but just not enough in a 114-110 shocker against the Lakers. The trouble was a miserable shooting day by OKC as they connected on just 42 of 100 shots and only 12 of 35 from 3-point range.

2. John Wall, Washington Wizards

January 22, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics — 28 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists

With all-time greats Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge — 1978 teammates the last time the Washington franchise won a championship — looking on from courtside, All-Star Wall put up impressive numbers, but couldn’t hit enough shots in a 113-111 overtime loss to the Celtics. With backcourt mate Bradley Beal medically-restricted to just 30 minutes, Wall made 9 of 29 shots from the field and ran out of the gas in the extra period. It was the first triple-double for Wall since Nov. 10, 2010, six games into his rookie season.

1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

April 29, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 30 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists

If you spot Westbrook 30 points and Durant 26, that usually equals a Thunder victory. But in Game 5 of what was quickly becoming an all-time playoff classic, it was Mike Miller‘s five 3-pointers and a Serge Ibaka putback that was about a half-tick too late that made the difference as Memphis squeaked out a 100-99 win. It was the fourth consecutive game of the series to go to overtime, an NBA playoff record. Westbrook secured the ninth triple-double of his career, but made just 10 of 31 shots to get there. Durant missed the back end of a critical pair of free throws with 27 seconds left after referee Joey Crawford suddenly ran in and took the ball out of his hands. The Thunder went on the win the series in a Game 7 rout, which was also powered by a Westbrook triple-double.

Crawford reflects on old, ushers in new

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime talks with Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Rarely does a player get to know his team’s owner (let alone become friends) before the owner actually becomes the owner.

But that is the case with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. His Seattle roots afforded him the opportunity years ago to cultivate a relationship with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. This, of course, was long before Ballmer, a 6-foot-5, bounding ball of infectious energy, ever dreamed he’d cough up $2 billion to buy one of the all-time sad-sack organizations in all of sports.

“We’ve done a lot of [charity] events together in Seattle, so I’ve known him before he was actually the owner,” Crawford said. “We were texting throughout the year and emailing each other and staying in contact and continuing to work together with charities around Seattle. It’s exciting. I don’t know how many people have actually known their owner before they actually played for the team they were on. So it’s pretty cool.”

Times they a-changin’ in Clipperland and Crawford is singing Ballmer’s praises and predicting heady days ahead for the franchise. In his final years, disgraced owner Donald Sterling had finally started to loosen his air-tight grip on the purse strings, allowing for All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to sign long-term deals and to bring in coach Doc Rivers. It hardly made up for decades of valuing frugality over winning, but it does set up Ballmer well to elevate the Clippers into perennial contenders.

The 6-foot-6 Crawford, who averaged 18.6 ppg and shot 36.1 percent from deep in his 14th season, has been telling his teammates what they can expect from their new owner.

“I just told them he’s very open-minded, he’s very ambitious and aggressive,” Crawford said. “He’s someone who’s also there to have your back, always positive energy, positive reinforcement. He’s someone obviously that is a huge, huge, huge fan of basketball. He didn’t just buy the team to be profitable; I think he’s doing OK without owning the team. I think it’s more so staying connected and he loves the game, enjoys the game.

“In this league, you only get a certain number of chances to really go after it and when you have those moments you have to take advantage and be aggressive in those times, and I think that is exactly what he’ll do. If we feel like we need to add a piece or we need to add this or that, going over the luxury tax or any other restrictions or trying to be cautious about different things, that’s not him. He’s aggressive and he’s going to go after it.”

Crawford, 34, recently got married and this week he and his bride are honeymooning in Kauai. Then it’s back to Los Angeles to begin working out with teammates as the official countdown to training camp begins. Before flying out over the Pacific, Crawford granted NBA.com a few minutes to reflect on the early days of the Sterling controversy and where the Clippers could be headed under Ballmer.

NBA.com: What did last month’s sale of the team, the ending of the Sterling era, signify to you?

Crawford: Now we can focus on what’s important, and that’s trying to put one of the best teams on the floor, trying to play for one of the best organizations out there and trying to win a championship. Everything else is behind us and we can move forward. I think it’s kind of, in a way, a fresh start for everyone. We’re all excited about moving forward.

NBA.com: We had heard through the court proceedings that Doc Rivers wasn’t sure if he’d return if Sterling remained the owner when the 2014-15 season started. What do you think the players’ response would have been had the sale not gone through?

Crawford: At that point, if the sale didn’t go through, we would have to revisit it and all decide collectively what we were going to do. But I’m sure everything would be on the table at that point.

NBA.com: Was the day the Sterling tapes came out one of those days you’ll never forget where you were or what you were doing when you heard the news?

Crawford: For sure, it was a monumental time. I’ve said if you want to work on your jumper, you can get some extra shots up, or if you want to be a better ballhandler, you can put some cones down and go through drills, but to actually go through what we went through, there’s no guide or manual for that. You just have to go through it and lean on your faith and fight through it and lean on each other. I think we did a good job of that. We handled it the best we could, especially having Doc as the leader and the voice for us, I think that made our jobs a whole lot easier. Because here we are, we’re worried about Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and those guys and we have to deal with that; but it’s something I think that brought us closer together and hopefully we can use that this season and really continue to lean on each other and move forward.

NBA.com: The news broke in the middle of the first-round playoff series against Golden State. The Clippers managed to win in seven games, but how difficult was it to focus on playing the games?

Crawford: It was a nightmare because you got to think there’s 15 personalities [on the team], and the coaching staff and then your family’s opinion, they all weigh in, and everybody has an opinion and before you know it, it wasn’t just about basketball and things of that nature and just our team anymore. In 24 hours the whole world had an opinion about it. You’re trying to take naps and stuff and get your rest, and you can’t even get some sleep because you feel like, ‘how can I play for someone like this?’ There were so many different emotions. I think getting to lean on each other, having Doc at the helm to kind of be our voice so we could concentrate the best we could was probably the best decision we made.

NBA.com: Did your emotions run the gamut from day to day?

Crawford: Yeah, I’m human. You’re angry, you’re disappointed, you’re sad, you’re confused. There’s just so many different emotions. And then when you let people inside that world, inside that circle, you start thinking even more. I think we just leaned on each other. We tried to block everything else, the rest of the world and lean on each other, the 15 guys in that locker room and our coaching staff and we did what we felt was right.

NBA.com: All that is in the rearview mirror now. There’s been some turnover, players lost and added. Do you like how the roster has evolved?

Crawford: We have a year under Doc’s system, another year he knows us. Obviously losing [Jared] Dudley, he was a guy who started half the season, he spread the floor, he guarded tougher guys, so you always hate to lose guys. We also lost [Darren] Collison, we lost [Danny] Granger, we lost Ryan Hollins. But in return you gain Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, C.J. Wilcox. And another year of having the core guys together, hopefully health is on our side. Last year I missed a little over a month, Chris [Paul] missed a little over a month, J.J. [Redick] missed a couple months. If we can keep those guys together, Doc knows us, we know him, we know what to expect, he knows what to expect from us, and to keep trucking I think sometimes you need a little bit of luck in those situations and we’ll be ready to go.

NBA.com: There’s very little room for error in the Western Conference. How do you see the race developing this season?

Crawford: I think last year only two teams record-wise in the East would have even of made the playoffs in the West and that was Miami and Indiana, so it’s the wild West, that’s for sure. I think you had the ninth-place team approaching almost 50 wins in the West, that’s tough. It’s really open. We all understand San Antonio is the top dog, they’ve been that way, they’ve been a staple pretty much the last decade and a half. We all understand that and they’re going to be there in the end just like always, they find ways. With us, OKC, Golden State is a good team, Phoenix is on the rise, there’s so many good teams. Denver will probably be healthy this year. It will be a dogfight. Memphis will be there. It will be a dogfight, that’s for sure. We just know if we focus on what we need to do, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

NBA.com: What did you think of LeBron James returning to Cleveland and Kevin Love joining him? And any other story lines pique your interest?

Crawford: I think it’s really cool he gets the chance to go home and end it the way it started. He means more to Cleveland than just a superstar athlete, so for him to have the opportunity to go back in his prime and go back and do good things on and off the court, I think that’s great, I’m happy for him. Kyrie [Irving], Dion Waiters, [Anderson] Varejao is still there; especially in the East that’s a team that can win a lot of games. Then you throw in Chicago, if they stay healthy. Miami is re-tooling a little bit and I think D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] is going to play like he has something to prove. [Chris] Bosh, you’ll probably see more of him like he was with the Raptors, more of a focal point, so I think it’s going to be fun. Just seeing Kobe back, I’m a huge Kobe Bryant fan, so seeing him back healthy, I think he’s good for sports, period, not just the NBA because everybody wants to see the Kobe show.

There’s so many different stories this season and I think that’s really, really cool. I just want everybody to be healthy because it evens the playing field. It makes the game more exciting and I think it’s good for the league and good for the fans.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 30


VIDEO:

NEWS OF THE MORNING
World Cup kicks off | Team USA better than 2010? | Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons cut from Team USA | Deron Williams on the mend

No. 1: So much to watch as World Cup is finally here — The best basketball outside the NBA gets under way Saturday with the start of the World Cup in Spain. The host country and the United States, despite LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other All-Stars sitting this one, are the favorites for gold. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann is on the scene:

The U.S. won its four exhibition games by an average of 29 points, but could still use improvement, especially on offense. Pool play, beginning with Saturday’s game against Finland (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will allow them to work some things out, but it’s doubtful that anything can prepare them for a potential gold-medal game against Spain in Madrid.
Before we can think about that, there is a ton of high-quality basketball to be played and plenty of reasons to watch.

There are key players on NBA contenders — Derrick Rose and Anderson Varejao — looking to get back into basketball shape after injury-riddled seasons.
There is the last stand of Argentina’s golden generation and their beautiful brand of basketball, represented by Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola.

There’s the continued growth of Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng, and Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas.

There are six incoming rookies, including Australia’s Dante Exum (Jazz), Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets) and the Croatian pair of Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) and Damjan Rudez (Pacers), to watch and figure out how they might contribute to their new teams.

There are 2014 draftees like Croatia’s Dario Saric (Sixers) and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic (Suns), who might eventually be NBA contributors. And there are a few potential prospects, like the Ukraine’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (who will play at Kansas next season), to keep an eye out for.

There’s the curiosity of how veteran Euroleague floor generals like Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia) would fit in the NBA.

There’s the Dragic brothers racing up the floor at every opportunity for Slovenia. There’s Andray Blatche playing point-center for the Philippines. And there’s the flair of real point guards like Carlos Arroyo and Ricky Rubio.

Seventy-six games over 17 days. If you can’t wait for the upcoming NBA season, with Kevin Love joining LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs trying for their first repeat, and Rose back in a Bulls uniform, the FIBA World Cup should hold you off for a while.

***

No. 2: Colangelo: Team USA “by far” better than 2010 — Team USA is the youngest group of players to represent the country since NBA players started playing in international competition in 1992. Despite their youth and some of the U.S.’s top players sitting this one out, Team USA brass is convinced this squad is even better than the 2010 version that won gold. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has the story:

The 12 players representing the United States at the FIBA World Cup that starts this weekend comprise the youngest team fielded by USA Basketball since NBA players were ushered into the international game in 1992.

When it opens Group C play here Saturday night against Finland at the Bizkaia Arena, Team USA ‎will sport an average age of just above 24 years old.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo are nonetheless convinced that the 2014 squad begins the tournament in better shape than the 2010 group that ultimately won that FIBA World Championship in Turkey without a single member from the gold-medal-winning 2008 Olympic team.

“By far,” Colangelo told ESPN.com. “Because we have a couple of Olympic gold medalists on this roster in Anthony Davis and James Harden. We have three players from that team in 2010‎ in Steph Curry, Derrick Rose and Rudy Gay. And they’re not 21 this time. They’re 23 or 24. A little bit older and more mature‎.

“We like our team. We really do.”

Yet Colangelo has acknowledged on multiple occasions this summer that he would ultimately regard a fourth successive championship in a major tournament for the United States to be the “sweetest” success enjoyed ‎by the program since he and Krzyzewski teamed up to resuscitate USA Basketball in the wake of a humbling bronze-medal finish at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

That’s because of the rash of prominent players’ withdrawals that USAB has weathered this summer. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook all removed themselves from the roster before the squad convened for its first training camp in Las Vegas in late July. Kevin Durant then followed suit earlier this month after the horrific compound leg fracture ‎suffered by Paul George in an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 1.

But this team, as Colangelo mentioned, brings a modicum of international experience to the competition even after all those losses. In 2010, Team USA was forced to field a new squad that eventually defeated host Turkey in the final after a team led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony narrowly defeated Spain in the 2008 gold-medal game in Beijing.

***

No. 3: Cuban not displeased Chandler Parsons won’t play in Spain — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a loud critic of international play. He abhors the risk to teams in the case a player gets injured, among other issues. So he wasn’t disappointed when newly acquired small forward Chandler Parsons, who Cuban will pay $46 million over the next three years, was cut from Team USA. NBA.com’s own Jeff Caplan spoke to Cuban:

Last week, Team USA pulled the plug on Parsons, cutting him from the squad that will compete starting Saturday at the World Cup in Spain. It might have been the only thing this summer as pleasing to Cuban as actually getting Parsons.

Cuban is a longtime critic of NBA players being used in international competition for reasons the Indiana Pacers are now dealing with, among others.

“He knows how I felt,” Cuban said. “I told him, ‘Look, whatever you want I’m going to support you 100 percent — because I have to.’ But he knew where I stood and he wanted to make the team. He also understood that while, for him especially, for younger guys, you don’t get to work on your game there. Unless you’re starting, you’re not getting a lot of minutes, you’re not getting a chance to work on your game. Its not like you’ve got guys that we can just bring and work out with you. So being on Team USA, in my opinion, would have hurt his game development.”

***

No. 4: Video surfaces of an encouraging D-Will workout — For the last two seasons Nets point guard and former All-Star Deron Williams has been dogged by ankle problems and critics piling on about his demise. Williams had surgery on both ankles this offseason, and new coach Lionel Hollins says he’s the key to success. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York talked to Hollins about it:

Williams underwent surgery on both of his ankles in the offseason. Now it’s about getting healthy and getting his confidence back. But how?

“There’s a lot of different things you can do [as a coach],” Lionel Hollins said Friday. “I can’t say right here that I’m going to walk in there and tell Deron Williams this or that, because I don’t even know where he is from that perspective [a confidence perspective] at this moment.

“But I think first of all he has to be healthy and he has to be in great shape and we’re going to try to put him in a situation where he can flourish, which will give him confidence and go from there. I mean confidence comes and goes with all players no matter how good they are. I don’t think there’s ever been a player that’s played and didn’t have a confidence issue at some point maybe in a game, maybe in a season.”

Hollins has said similar things before. Putting Williams in a position where he can flourish is the key. In that respect, it really comes down to health, doesn’t it?

“If you’re injured, you can’t be who you are,” Hollins said. “You can’t make the same moves or be as explosive as you are, and it’s difficult to go out there and go 100 percent. You’re always worried about what’s going to happen if you push off, stop, change direction, all of those things.”

Asked about where Williams is from health standpoint, Hollins responded, “As far as I know, good.”

Williams looked good dribbling in an Instagram video posted by his close friend, Matt Mitnick, on Friday night.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden expects 20-year-old Kobe Bryant to return … Ian Mahinmi out two to three months with shoulder injury … Spurs interested in Gustavo AyonMonty Williams sees big improvement in Anthony Davis … Expect the Clippers to make a run at Ray AllenSpurs also barging in on Allen sweepstakes.

Clips rejoice as Hurricane Steve blows in

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Steve Ballmer get the Clippers’ crowd fired up at the team’s pep rally

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Los Angeles Clippers won’t be changing their name. But if they were, Hurricanes would be appropriate.

L.A. is known for earthquakes, not howling tropical storms. But the latter is exactly what comes to mind after the franchise’s new owner blew into the city Monday afternoon.

Hurricane Steve.

Clippers players on stage at Staples Center on Monday couldn’t help but smile wide and long as they welcomed new owner Steve Ballmer. Some covered their mouths as they chuckled under their breath. Others cocked their heads in wonderment as this big, bouncing, balding billionaire bellowed into the microphone during a rally attended by nearly 5,000 fans.

The fans were issued T-shirts that read, simply: “It’s A New Day.”

Hurricane Steve barreled out of an arena tunnel like a bull unleashed in the streets of Pamplona. Eminem’s raucous “Lose Yourself” blared as he fervently clapped his hands, slapped high-fives with fans and double-pumped his fists as if he’d just been called to come on down as the next contestant on the “Price is Right.”

“When he came through the crowd, I literally had goose bumps,” said Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin, who was joined by coach Doc Rivers and teammates Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes and others on stage. “I don’t know if there’s one good word to describe him. I know all our guys are excited about the energy he brings. It’s completely different.”

Ballmer’s price to acquire the team from banned-for-life former owner Donald Sterling was huge, a record $2 billion. This for a franchise that for most of Sterling’s 33 years of ownership was labeled as the worst-run organization in all of sports.

But that started to change over the last few years. Sterling paid Griffin. He paid Paul. He paid to get Rivers from Boston to ensure keeping Paul. Before that he paid $50 million to build a state-of-the-art training facility in L.A.’s upscale Playa Vista neighborhood. There were other signs of fiscal change, too, that raised curiosity within the organization.

Former Clippers center Chris Kaman was drafted sixth overall by L.A. in 2003 , playing there for eight seasons before being traded to New Orleans in the deal that gifted Paul to the Clippers in December 2011, following the lockout. In a 2012 interview, a year after the trade, Kaman reflected on how far the franchise had come:  “The worst possible franchise in NBA and all sports history … to one of the top ones.”

He then quipped that such a transformation could really go the distance, “if Sterling sold the team.”

Well … hey.

Ironically, after decades of stinginess, the surfacing of Sterling’s better judgment in running the team has set up the giddy Ballmer with the most talented, most championship-ready roster in the franchise’s history in L.A. Paul and Griffin are locked in for the next four years. Rivers isn’t going anywhere. Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO from Seattle, promised Clippers fans the team isn’t going anywhere either. He said he loves Seattle, but he loves L.A., too, and he won’t move the team “for a hundred reasons.”

He said at least a hundred more things that drew applause as his booming voice grew hoarse.

It is a new day in Clipperland. A much different day.

Hurricane Steve will take it from here.

Durant has paid his Team USA dues

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Durant withdraws from Team USA participation

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

Kevin Durant‘s decision to walk away from Team USA little more than three weeks before the start of the 2014 world championships is hardly the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the Americans’ chances to defend their 2010 gold medal, when Durant cleaned up as tournament MVP.

So Team USA’s leading scorer on the 2012 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad will join LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight HowardKevin Love and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as stateside spectators. After participating in last week’s training camp in Las Vegas that opened with Durant inundated by questions about his coming free agency — in 2016! — and ended with the jarring snap of Paul George‘s right leg, Durant on Thursday informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski that he needed to take a “step back.”

In a statement, the Oklahoma City superstar explained his decision for reneging on his commitment to the national team. Mentally and physically worn down from last season and a busy summer of commitments, the NBA’s MVP said he needed these final 50 days or so of the offseason to recharge before beginning another long, expectation-laden season.

So get a grip.

Criticism of Durant having bailed on the national team, or worse, on his country, or of putting the squad in a bind weeks before departing for Spain are unjustified. Durant has for years been an enthusiastic supporter, a valiant competitor and a gracious ambassador for USA Basketball.

As I noted on July 30 as Durant was being grilled in Vegas about playing for his hometown Washington Wizards two summers from now, Durant didn’t have to be there. He chose to be there. With all due respect, the rebranded World Cup isn’t the Olympics, the créme de la créme of international competition as far as an American audience is concerned. And if we’re being honest, that goes for American basketball players, too. The world championships have always, and likely always will mean more to Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who, by the way, is foregoing the World Cup one year after leading France to its first-ever European championship.

It was Durant’s sense of commitment to USA Basketball in the first place that led him a year ago to announce his intention to anchor this squad. But the day after the Thunder lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Durant openly spoke of how physically and mentally grueling the season — half of which he carried the Thunder without injured co-star Russell Westbrook — had truly been. Nobody amassed more regular-season minutes and then more postseason minutes than the MVP.

And as Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry pointed out, Durant has pushed his body to the limit over the last five seasons — both for the Thunder and Team USA.

Durant came away from the Vegas training camp and looked ahead to the commitment that followed. Team USA continues training in Chicago on Aug. 14-16, moves on to New York on Aug. 18-22 for workouts and exhibition games and a few days later heads to the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, to complete its preparations and exhibition schedule. It begins World Cup play on Aug. 30 in Bilbao, Spain. The gold-medal game is Sept. 14 in Madrid. NBA training camps open two weeks later.

Did Durant’s decision come as a surprise to Team USA? Yes. Was his timing tough? Sure. But the American pool is deep even with many of its top dogs — and particularly at the forward positions — having withdrawn. Team USA’s candidates at the wing include Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver, Gordon Hayward and newest addition Rudy Gay. There’s not an MVP among them, in fact, not even an All-Star save for 2014 East reserve DeRozan.

But that’s OK. That’s what opportunity is all about. Gold isn’t a cinch, but why should it be? Team USA remains well-equipped to play on the final day in Madrid, and Durant, who has worn his country’s colors with honor, has earned the right to take a step back, regardless of when he came to that decision.

So everybody get a grip, and enjoy the games.

Injury blame game is small thinking

It was small thinking back in 2003 when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban decided that the price to re-sign a 29-year-old Steve Nash was too high and broke up a partnership with Dirk Nowitzki that had only begun to flourish. All that Nash proceeded to do was get voted onto the Western Conference All-Star team six times and win back-to-back Most Valuable Players honors in 2005 and 2006.

It was another case of small thinking when Cuban decided that once was enough in 2011 after his Mavericks won the only NBA championship in franchise history and broke up the team. In the interest of salary cap management and to chase quixotic free-agent fantasies, Cuban decided it was time to cut the cord with big man Tyson Chandler, their long-sought rim protector and anchor. Rather than remain among the league’s elite, the Mavs fell into the morass in the middle of the standings.

Mark Cuban (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Mark Cuban (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Now, in the wake of the injury to Paul George last week in a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas, the Mavs’ outspoken and often highly-entertaining owner is thinking small again by saying that NBA players should not be playing in the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup.

“The [International Olympic Committee] is playing the NBA,” Cuban said. “The IOC [pulls in] billions of dollars. They make a killing and make Tony Soprano look like a saint … Teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets.”

It is a natural and understandable knee-jerk reaction to the loss of a player of George’s caliber, especially in Indiana where the Pacers’ bid to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference will likely go on hold for at least a year while he mends. Yet in blaming the IOC for the broken bones and restating his old case for an NBA sponsored world tournament, Cuban is both misguided and conflating the issues.

First off, injuries occur in sports and in life. The Bulls’ Derrick Rose tore up his left knee in the final minutes of Game 1 in the 2012 playoffs, sat out a full season and then suffered a tear in his right knee barely a month into the 2013-14 schedule. Clippers top draft pick Blake Griffin suffered a stress fracture in his left kneecap in the final exhibition game in 2009 and missed his entire rookie season following surgery.

They were accidents that can happen at any time. Grizzled vet Moses Malone used to spend summer nights in the stifling heat of Fonde Rec Center in downtown Houston, staying in shape and schooling any challengers, including a pupil named Hakeem Olajuwon. Either one of them could have torn a ligament or broken a bone at any time. Michael Jordan specifically had a “love-of-the-game” clause written into his contract with the Bulls because he wanted to be able to pick up a ball and step onto a court to feed his competitive fire whenever and wherever the urge struck.

Sure, George’s injury is a devastating blow, to the player, the Pacers and to the NBA. However, Cuban’s screed against the IOC isn’t to get every NBA player resting on a bed of pillows every summer, but rather have them play instead in an NBA-sponsored tournament, where the league and the owners can get their cut of the money.

“The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money,” Cuban said. “The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball.”

Ask yourself if Pacers fans would be any less melancholy today if George had run into a stanchion at an official NBA event in July.

In thinking small, Cuban is also selectively squinting to avoid recognizing how much NBA participation in the Olympics has changed the league and the game for the better. His own star Nowitzki was inspired as a teenager in Germany by the 1992 USA Dream Team that included the icons Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. By taking the best of the best to the Olympics, the NBA spread the gospel of the game, cultivated new generations of talent and established basketball’s firm footing as the second-most popular sport on the planet, behind soccer.

When the Dream Team was assembled 22 years ago, there were only 21 foreign-born players in the NBA. Last season that total had quadrupled to a record-tying 84, including a staggering 10 on the roster of the 2014 NBA champion Spurs. In the interim, Yao Ming was literally and figuratively a giant bridge to Asia and helped turn the largest continent on Earth into a hotbed of fan interest and a lucrative market that lines the pockets of NBA owners.

Perhaps Cuban can be forgiven for not grasping the importance of the international effect on the game, since he bought the Mavs and joined the league in 2000, after the tap had been turned on and worldwide cash was already flowing. But that’s an awfully benevolent benefit of doubt for the shrewd entrepreneur billionaire. It would be wrong for the wounded fan base in Indiana to ignore the vast benefits derived from the Olympics and point the finger of blame that way, too.

Or, it could simply be  just small thinking.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 7


NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Marion leaning toward Cavs | Pacers to apply for disabled player exception | Griffin says his back is ‘intact’ | Pistons, Monroe hit impasse

No. 1: Report: Marion leaning toward Cavs — Just yesterday in this space, we reported that the Indiana Pacers had expressed interest in signing veteran free-agent forward Shawn Marion. The Cleveland Cavaliers had been on Marion’s trail, too, and apparently are the favorite to sign him, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

Free-agent forward Shawn Marion is leaning toward signing a deal to join LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Marion, 36, has yet to formally agree with the Cavaliers on a deal, but that could come soon, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Indiana Pacers wanted to pursue Marion as a short-term replacement for injured forward Paul George, and will likely soon be armed with a $5.3 million disabled player exception that would allow them to trump the Cavaliers’ offer of the veteran minimum of $1.4 million per season.

The Pacers are applying for the exception in the wake of George’s broken leg, sources said. Nevertheless, Indiana has started to move on from Marion, believing he’s headed to the Cavaliers, and search elsewhere for a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

(more…)