Posts Tagged ‘Bobcats’

Bobcats Target Kidd-Gilchrist Return


VIDEO: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist stuffs Gerald Wallace at the rim

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Bobcats are targeting an important stretch of games in the middle of the month, possibly as soon as Jan. 14, for the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from a fractured left hand, coach Steve Clifford said.

“Next weekend we’re at Minnesota, at Chicago, and we’re hoping to have him back after that,” Clifford said Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena, where Charlotte beat the Kings to close an otherwise-disappointing 1-4 trip. Under that scenario, Kidd-Gilchrist would rejoin the team for the Jan. 14 home game against the Knicks, a particularly welcome addition at a time the defense is slipping after previously leading the Bobcats into the playoff conversation.

That night would also be the start of an important time in the schedule, with six of eight games against teams either with worse records than the Bobcats (New York twice, Philadelphia, Orlando) or close to them in the standings (Toronto, Chicago), while also facing the Heat and Clippers. While it is impossible to truly be out of the postseason race in the Eastern Conference, Charlotte needs to either take advantage of that time or survive to re-establish itself as a defensive-minded group capable of something bigger than just an encouraging start.

The Bobcats are still on pace to finish in the top 10 in defensive rating, shooting defense and scoring defense, but Clifford has grown concerned the last couple weeks over a declining intensity, calling out the focus of players by saying “I think it’s our mentality. Even when we were winning four out of five, we weren’t defending the way that we had before.” That would become the other important timing aspect of a Kidd-Gilchrist return with Charlotte at 7-9 while the hand has been mending – his biggest contribution will come on that side of the ball, almost at the very time they need to be re-energized and the chance for a couple weeks ahead to find stability and in the standings.

“I’m the leader of the defense on this team,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I’m like a middle linebacker, so, yeah, I’m going to take it upon myself on the defensive end. On the offensive end, there’s Al (Jefferson) and there’s Gerald Henderson and there’s Kemba (Walker). But on the defensive end, there’s me. I put it on myself to get us back there.”

The starting small forward and No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft fractured his left hand Dec. 3 at Dallas. He was initially in a cast, has advanced to wearing a splint and is able to do a lot of running and other cardio work. But Kidd-Gilchrist has not been cleared to catch a ball yet, let alone for contact in practice.

“I miss the game of basketball,” he said, admitting there were times he took it for granted. “I miss it a lot.”

Five Coaches Who Are Getting It Done

There is a healthy Kevin Love back to hanging up double-doubles for the Timberwolves, Russell Westbrook repaired and reloaded again in the Thunder lineup, Paul George planting his flag firmly into the elite class and LeBron James — ho-hum — routinely churning out more MVP numbers.

The focus, of course, is usually on the players. But unlike those tiny delivery drones that Amazon.com might one day have dropping books and blenders out of the sky onto our doorsteps and heads, most NBA teams don’t fly themselves. So as we creep up on the quarter pole in the 2013-14 season, here are five coaches who have steered into early consideration for Coach of the Year:


VIDEO: Terry Stotts discusses Blazers’ big win over the Pacers

Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers — It’s always risky to make too much of a fast start. Just think back to a year ago at this time when so many gullible folks were lining up to buy tickets on the Knicks’ Fantasy Express. But the Blazers, while shooting 3s almost as much as those Knicks, could be in the mix more for the long haul because Stotts has them sharing the ball with an offensive style led by LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum that is a joy to watch at the same time that they’re paying more attention on defense. There are still miles to cover before they become stoppers. However, the defense that has been upgraded and anchored by Robin Lopez in the middle does a good job of guarding against the pick and roll while continuing to close out on long range shooters. A team that missed the playoffs the past two years and seemed to be in turmoil over the summer with rumors that Aldridge was looking to get out is suddenly the wildest of wild cards in the Western Conference race, sitting atop the list of heavy hitters as the No. 1 seed.


VIDEO: Frank Vogel talks about playing hungry and staying on course

Frank Vogel, Indiana — There have been all the knocks on the Pacers’ schedule through the first five weeks. Sunday’s opener of a five-game road trip against the Clippers was their first of the season against a team that currently has a winning record. Even with a loss at Portland, 16-2 is still 16-2. Vogel has not only forged an identity for his team as the league’s top and most rugged defensive club, but has driven home the point that every night and every game counts. The Pacers don’t want to play Game 7 of any playoff series on the road next spring and that means maintaining focus and consistency through the long regular season. Vogel’s got them giving up the lowest field goal percentage in the NBA to opponents, the fewest assists and are ranked second-best in 3-pointers attempted in a league that has become behind-the-arc crazy. The Jersey Boy has established a blue collar contender out of a black-and-blue style that is built to last.


VIDEO: Mike D’Antoni talks about the Lakers’ Dec. 1 loss to the Blazers

Mike D’Antoni, Lakers — What? We want to give recognition to a guy whose team ranks a thoroughly mediocre 16th in offense and 19th in defense and checks in with a smack-in-the-middle record of 9-9? You bet. Have you looked at the purple and gold roster and the way the favorite whipping boy of Laker lovers and haters has pushed and cajoled this team to keep its head above water while giving Kobe Bryant’s Achilles’ tendon a chance to recover? While the countdown clock is still ticking on the return of the Black Mamba to the lineup, it was not out of the question before the season began that the Lakers could have already been flattened and finished by now. Remember how ESPN ranked the Lakers 12th overall in the West? That was before Steve Nash went hobbling off again with back problems, before Jordan Farmar was sidelined. D’Antoni is getting it done by shuffling lineups with a leading scorer (Pau Gasol) averaging just 14.3 points a game, nine different players scoring at least eight and with the indiscriminate shooter Nick Young looking like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.


VIDEO: Steve Clifford comments on the Bobcats’ Nov. 29 win over the Bucks

Steve Clifford, Bobcats — What are we calling it for Michael Jordan — third time’s the charm? Or fourth? Or fifth? Can we finally stop counting the carcasses of Bobcats coaches now that Clifford has put a sense of organization, direction and purpose into the league’s perennial doormat? Did anybody think that five weeks into the season the Bobcats (8) would have as many wins as the Nets (5) and Knicks (3) combined? The long-time assistant coach waited almost forever to finally get his chance in the big chair and is relying on his two big guns inside and out in Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker at the offensive end, but making his mark with a no-nonsense approach that has Charlotte with the No. 4 ranked defense in the league.


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra speaks with the media after Dec. 2 Heat practice

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — It’s just not as easy as it looks getting a team that has won back-to-back championships and made three straight trips to The Finals to come out with the hot fire and the right attitude every time out. That’s especially true when you’ve got to keep the condition of Dwyane Wade’s knees in the back of your mind at all times. But Spoelstra has this machine humming as the No. 1 rated offense that usually gets the shots that it wants, also leading the league in effective field goal percentage. The defensive bite is always there, creating mistakes, forcing turnovers and thriving in transition. He’s learned to live in the shadow of Wade, James and Chris Bosh and be the rudder that keeps guiding the Heat ahead as a quiet roaring force, if you will, and still the team to beat.

Biyombo Experiment Takes A Bad Turn

Bismack Biyombo has seen his minutes shrink under new coach Steve Clifford. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Bismack Biyombo has seen his minutes shrink under new coach Steve Clifford. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Bismack Biyombo Project, good theater anyway, just got more interesting. Or more tenuous. Or more telling about new coach Steve Clifford.

It certainly just got better for Jeff Adrien, the relative unknown taking the minutes at backup center in another positive development for the Bobcats in a 7-8 start, except that it’s also a hit for the Bobcats: Biyombo, once projected in Charlotte to be part of the foundation of the future, is now officially regressing, out of the rotation for the first time in the two-plus seasons since the risk pick at No. 7 in the 2011 draft.

In the five games before starter Al Jefferson returned from a bruised right ankle, as Rick Bonnell noted in the Charlotte Observer, Adrien was a plus-24, Biyombo was a minus-38, and Clifford was convinced. The rookie coach made his move once Jefferson was back in the lineup last Friday, supposed plans for tomorrow be damned.

In the three games since, Adrien has played 48 minutes, an average of 16 per outing. Biyombo has played five. Total. The dreaded Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision against the Suns, five in Milwaukee the next night and another DNP-CD when the Celtics visited Time Warner Cable Arena.

Biyombo out of the rotation is a significant development after the rookie season of 23.1 minutes while playing in 63 of the 66 games and the 27.3 minutes with 80 appearances last season, but more after the bold move by the Michael Jordan front office to take Biyombo out of Spain in 2011 despite league-wide concerns. Biyombo clearly had a very high ceiling then as an athletic marvel at 6-feet-8 and 225 pounds and with what some teams saw as the potential to be a game-changer on defense and the boards. But he was very raw – maybe more than any lottery pick in years – had a limited body of work against the top competition in Europe and a nonexistent offensive game.

The Bobcats, while keeping their own spot at No. 9 to take Kemba Walker in a choice that went well in a lottery filled with pot holes, added the seventh selection as part of a three-team deal with the Bucks and Kings at the cost of Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston and No. 19. Biyombo arrived with the pre-draft promise to one day lead the league in rebounding, but as the ultimate project requiring patience and playing time.

He got both. He even got his 2014-15 option picked up before the season. But Charlotte also invested heavily in its big-man rotation in the summer, landing Jefferson as a free agent and Cody Zeller as the fourth pick in the draft. Clifford took over as coach.

And then it took a few weeks for Adrien to pass Biyombo.

“Jeff Adrien did so well – and I told Biz this – that I couldn’t not give him a chance to play more,” Clifford told the Observer.

“These are facts and numbers, not a feel. If you look at plus-minus in those games when (Adrien) played, we played so well as a group. His plus-minus was so good I would have felt guilty with the guys if I didn’t give him a chance.”

Adrien has responded with double-digit rebounds in two of the last four games, pushing him to 6.4 boards in 20.3 minutes the last five outings. Biyombo has responded by promising to stay focused.

“I’ve got to control what I can control,” Biyombo said. “It’s obvious I believe that I can be a better player. I’ve just got to keep positive, keep working and be there for my teammates. There’s a long way to go. The season is just getting started, so you’ve got to learn from all this.”

Fit Howard Makes For Healthy Start


VIDEO: Dwight Howard has a career night in his Houston debut

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HOUSTON — Dwight Howard cleared the rebound off the defensive board, turned quickly and fired a perfect pass to a streaking James Harden that produced a layup that was prettier for its simplicity than any picture hanging in a museum.

This is how it starts.

Never mind that it took until the middle of the fourth quarter in a less-than-stellar team effort against the overmatched Bobcats.

All that mattered was that Howard was finally playing a game for the Rockets that counted in the standings, and for the first time after two tumultuous and dissatisfying seasons, things were different.

Looking dominant.

Having fun.

This was the way that Daryl Morey always hoped and wished it would be over all those months and years when he was trading players and draft picks and office furniture in an attempt to get the kind of super-nova stars in his lineup that would make the Rockets relevant again.

“I was nervous,” admitted the general manager.

It’s one thing to lie awake at night staring at a ceiling filled with fast-breaking fantasies and quite another to roll reality out onto the floor and expect it to work.

It did, if only in fits and start, and based on the overwhelming raw numbers of Howard’s work on the glass and around the basket.

He made eight of 14 shots from the field, blocked two shots and gobbled up 26 hungry rebounds, which equaled his career high.

“I really was trying to get 30,” Howard said. “I wanted to get 30 rebounds. I was upset that I didn’t do it, but I’ll try next time.”

More than numerical goals, it’s the fact that he can try without worrying about the effects of a surgically repaired back or a bad shoulder that make all the things he might do the next time and next time and next time a possibility again.

While he was often maligned a year ago in Los Angeles for an attitude that was less than healthy, beneath it all what was really ailing was Howard’s body. There were times last season with the Lakers when he would see the basketball bounce off the rim and be helpless to go and get it.

“Oh yeah, my mind was at the ball, but my body was still on the other side,” Howard said. “I couldn’t do it. I’m a lot healthier than I was last season and that comes from all the work I put in this summer to get my body back right. My teammates need me to rebound and be a dominant force on both ends. I’m healthier and I’m able and willing to do it.”

When asked to rate his health on a scale of 1-10, he called this an 8.

Maybe it would never have worked on the Lakers with Howard and Kobe Bryant constantly clashing their styles and their egos. But the fact that a quick, explosive, 6-foot-11 jumping jack was never fully fit to play certainly played into the disappointment.

“He’s the elite basket protector in the league when he’s healthy,” said Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, who was an assistant on the staff when Howard was in Orlando and was Mike D’Antoni’s No. 1 aide last year in L.A. “I’ve gone through stretches of two-three weeks when we were in Orlando where he just dominated the game.

“Watching him on film and talking to him, I just think he feels a lot healthier. He’s moving a lot better and he’s playing with great energy. He’s such a physical force and he’s also a very smart player that when he’s right — and right now it looks like he is — he can impact every play at both ends of the floor.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt that in the Rockets’ twin towers lineup with rim protector and rebound collector Omer Asik at center Howard is free to be as relentless and aggressive as he would like. But mostly it doesn’t hurt that Howard just doesn’t hurt.

The legend of the summertime workouts with Houston legend and Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon might grow into bigger difference-making myths than Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox if the Rockets become everything they hope to be by going deep into the playoffs, maybe even all the way to June.

“He never last year moved like he’s moving now,” Clifford said. “He’s looking like a different guy. With all the frustrations that everybody had to deal with there last year…he’s got pride and he had played at a level in Orlando that he could physically never get to last year (in L.A.). I think that’s where it all started.

“People can say whatever they want about our team last year, but those guys fought hard. (Howard) could have sat out. We went 28-12 the last 40 games with our backs to the wall, playing every night to get to the playoffs. Those guys did a great job and he was right in the middle of it. He didn’t give in. Again, until Kobe got hurt, I think we were the team people were saying, ‘Man, I’m not sure I want to match up with them’ when we were seventh or eighth. Because we were playing well at that point.”

But it ended with Bryant watching from the locker room, having earlier torn his Achilles’ tendon and with Howard getting tossed out of the final game of a desultory first-round playoff sweep by the Spurs. Then after the celebrated recruiting pitch by a handful of teams, it ended with Howard choosing this new beginning in Houston, where a fan base that had suffered through nearly two decades of mediocrity was waiting.

“I was ready to go,” Howard said. “That was it. But I didn’t have any butterflies. I’ve been in the league for a while now, so to me it’s just one of 82, but it’s very important that we get off to a good start.

“I didn’t try to think that way, because I didn’t want to put any extra pressure on myself. I just want to go out there and play, have fun and get back to being who I am as a player. I think when you focus too much on…what everybody else is saying, that’s when don’t play like you want to play. To me, I just want to be free to play, rebound, block shots, score in the post and make my teammates better. And have fun doing it. These guys, they look up to me, and me and James are going to lead this team in the right direction.”

This is how it starts.

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

BWB Africa: Fulfilling The Dreams

Basketball Without Borders Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Leftovers Make A Free-Agent Dish?

HANG TIME, Texas – OK, let’s say it’s the middle of August, we just won the entire Powerball lottery and, in a grand farewell gesture, outgoing commissioner David Stern says he’ll let us buy a new NBA franchise.

We can play our home games on Maui or Mars. We can have our team wear those tight-fitting jerseys with sleeves, just like the Golden State Warriors or even sprint up and down the court wearing Capri pants, if we choose.

There’s just one catch. The only players available to fill out our roster are those still dangling on the list of unsigned free agents. Now that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko and even Greg Oden are long gone, is it too late to put together a respectable team? Or even one that could outperform the infamous 9-73 record of the 1972-73 Sixers or the 7-59 mark of the 2011-12 Bobcats?

So for all those last-minute bargain hunters who don’t start their holiday shopping until Christmas Eve, here are the Leftovers:

Antawn Jamison, Forward – The 37-year-old veteran is coming out of the lost season with the Lakers where he played 21.5 minutes per game and showed that he can still shoot enough from the wings to score in double figures. After 15 years in the league, he’s still a reliable enough producer and ranks higher in efficiency rating than even two regular members of the starting lineup for the two-time champion Heat (Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier). The Leftovers will have to put points on the board somehow.

Lamar Odom, Forward – You’ve got to have faith that Odom hasn’t simply lost the spark and lost interest after his past two dismal years. Following the horrible flameout in Dallas, last season was supposed to be a shot at redemption as a key role player and solid influence in the locker room with the Clippers. Odom was particularly ineffective in the first-round playoff loss to Memphis. The birth certificate says he won’t turn 34 until the start of next season, but the odometer has racked up more miles than an old pickup truck. The Leftovers will keep believing that you don’t simply forget how to pass, rebound and do the little things and give Odom another chance.

Cole Aldrich, Center – After being taken with the 11th pick by New Orleans in 2010 and traded to OKC on draft night, Aldrich has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a space eater at the end of the bench for the Thunder, Rockets and most recently the Kings. Aldrich finally got onto the floor for 15 games in Sacramento at the end of last season and pulled down a respectable four rebounds in 11 minutes of playing time per night. He’s the epitome of the old adage: “You can’t teach height.” That’s why he’ll keep getting chances and the Leftovers are hoping that this is the one that will pay off.

Mikael Pietrus, Guard – We’re going to plug the swingman into our lineup in the backcourt and hope to ride that streaky outside shooting and penchant for playing in-your-face defense for production at both ends of the court. He played just 19 games last season with the Raptors before tendinitis in his knee forced him to the sidelines for good in the middle of March. But he’s too young (31), too athletic, too active, too disruptive on defense and potentially still too good not to have him on our side.

Sebastian Telfair, Guard – In a league where it has become increasingly critical to have an elite level point guard running the offense, you don’t simply find them in the discount bin. There’s a reason why the Clippers have gone from pretender to contender and his name is Chris Paul. From a free agent list that ranges from 35-year-old Jamaal Tinsley to 25-year-old Rodrigue Beaubois, we’ll split the difference and take the 28-year-old Telfair. He’s never lived up to the advance hype because though he’s quick and small, he can’t finish at the rim and has only recently become dependable as a mid-range shooter. His size hurts on defense, but he puts out the effort and when you’re a Leftover that’s good enough.

Summer Dreaming: 2014 Rookie Of Year

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HANG TIME, Texas — Maybe it’s the heat. Or the humidity. Or those icy margaritas that have been sipped by the pool.

The beginning of August gets the mind to wandering in all sorts of different directions. Sure, it’s tempting to start thinking about the season openers that are barely three months away. But why stop there? Let’s wander all the way out to next spring when the 2013-14 season is over and get a head start on candidates for all the awards.

Today we’ll look at my hot fun in the summertime top five picks for Rookie of the Year. Send me yours.

Victor Oladipo, Magic The No. 2 pick in the Draft showed in the Summer League that he has a long way to go to run an offense as a point guard. But that doesn’t mean Oladipo won’t get plenty of chances to shine as the young Magic just turn him loose. Arron Afflalo will have to move on in order to let Oladipo fully blossom. However, the nonstop, high-energy guy with the first-class defensive chops will thrive in the transition and find plenty of opportunities to get to the basket with the floor spacing in the NBA. In a Draft that seemed to jump the rails right from the first pick, Oladipo was the player the Magic targeted to be a star for the future. There’s no reason to think that he won’t get off to a fast start on a young team that craves a leader.

Ben McLemore, Kings He came out firing unconscionably and mostly missing in his first two Las Vegas Summer League games, but give him credit for not reacting by crawling into a hole and becoming shy. By the end of the his desert run, McLemore was as hot and flashy as anything on the Vegas strip. The long-suffering franchise wants him to run the floor, use his athleticism and fill up the basket. He’s got a sweet stroke, plenty of range and now that Tyreke Evans is gone to New Orleans, he should have plenty opportunity. The lesson learned from Vegas is not to paint himself strictly as a long bomber and work to improve the other areas of his game. It’s also about his attitude. There is a reason that some folks had him tabbed as the No. 1 pick and could be part of the road back for a Kings franchise that will celebrate staying in Sacramento.

Cody Zeller, Bobcats Zeller was a standout in Las Vegas, showing all the hustle, smarts and athleticism that made him a star at Indiana. Never mind that his arms are short and some think he’ll have trouble on the inside at the NBA level. Playing for the hapless Bobcats, Zeller is going to get all the time he needs to figure things out and find a way to get off his shot. This is the umpteenth time that Michael Jordan’s Bobcats are starting over and rookie coach Steve Clifford will be happy to plug the Zeller’s intelligence and skills into the lineup and let him complement free-agent signee Al Jefferson.

Anthony Bennett, Cavaliers There’s a chance the Cavs will bring the No. 1 pick in the Draft along slowly. That’s especially likely since he is a frontline tweener (6-foot-7) who will have to learn to maneuver around the bigger bodies in the NBA and learn how to get off his shot inside (since he’s not especially mobile). He’s 3-point range and while he may struggle to find his place in the offense, Bennett has a nose for rebounding and could make his presence felt by going to the glass. That’s a good way to make an impact, put up numbers, get attention and maybe even work his way off the bench by the second half of the season.

C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers Can the Blazers go back-to-back on Rookie of the Year winners? After Damian Lillard practically went wire-to-wire to claim the award last season, Portland went out and almost drafted a clone. The conventional thinking is that McCollum will get stuck on the bench playing second fiddle to Lillard and that will limit his production. But there is really no reason to think the Blazers were drafting a sub at No. 10. They’re gonna find a way to get their pair of ball-handling scorers on the floor together as much as possible. There are plenty nuances of the game McCollum has to learn, but he’s got the swagger to take on anything thrown at him and find a way to shine.

Rudy Gobert, Jazz OK, he’s No. 6 and is a longer shot than a mule winning the Kentucky Derby. But give me a personal indulgence after watching the 7-foot-2 Frenchman with the 7-foot-9 wingspan and 9-foot-7 reach — that’s five inches below the rim — swat down everything that came into his airspace in the Orlando Summer League. He’s raw and must bulk up to eventually thrive in the NBA. But he’s only 21 and defensively has a nose for the ball that says he’s going after every shot. Of course, the shot-blocking Gobert will get time sparingly this season, but I’m telling you he’ll be fun to watch whenever he’s on the floor. Besides, you’ve got to love a guy who’s already picked up a classic nickname — the Stifle Tower.

PREVIOUSLY: Sixth Man of Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player

Rule Tweaks, ‘Hornets’ Buzz Busy NBA’s Board Of Governors

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LAS VEGAS – And in a matinee clash in NBA Las Vegas summer action, it was Vespines 1, Felines 0…

Actually, that’s just a fancy-schmancy way of saying that “Hornets” is back in Charlotte and “Bobcats” is the league’s latest amnesty casualty, in a reset-by-nickname approved Thursday at the Board of Governors meeting here. The Board also approved five rules changes – three involving the expanded use of instant replay, a tweak to the clear-path foul and a reminder to offensive players to stay within the boundaries of play.

The transfer of “Hornets,” made available when New Orleans opted for “Pelicans” earlier this year, is intended as a reminder of a different sort. The franchise granted to Charlotte nine years ago, after sputtering on the court and at the gate for nearly its entire existence, will try to reach back to happier times by reclaiming the nickname that got relocated with the original expansion team to the Big Easy in 2002. The Board unanimously approved the switch, which will cost the Bobcats an estimated $3 million or more in changeover expenses and take effect after the 2013-14 season.

What’s in a name? Apparently, “Juliet” and the Bard had it wrong. Charlotte team president Fred Whitfield said the costs and efforts involved in this switch will be worth it to his team and its fans. He said the club wants to “grab those fans that love the NBA and haven’t connected with us.”

“Being a former season ticket holder of the Hornets,” Whitfield said, “I understood the energy that came into that building every night. So as we look forward to the future, we’re thrilled that our Bobcats fans and our Bobcat corporate sponsors that have supported us to this point will be able to connect to the old Hornets fans and have that galvanize our community around our NBA brand, not just in Charlotte, but in the Carolinas.”

This has been a basketball operation and civic relationship in need of a fresh start. Whatever obligation the NBA might have felt in returning to Charlotte two years after unpopular owner George Shinn moved the Hornets to New Orleans wasn’t returned with a honeymoon period. The new owner in town, Bob Johnson, didn’t seem to connect with the public much better than Shinn, the Bobcats nickname was a vanity choice based on his first name and, oh yeah, the basketball decisions and performances were shaky at best.

In 14 seasons, the Hornets had led the NBA in attendance eight times, stringing together 364 sellouts, while going 542-574 (.486). They won 50 games three times and reached the playoffs seven times.

The Bobcats, er, have been less successful all around. They ranked 28th in home attendance in their inaugural NBA season (2004-05) and 24th last season, only once averaging as many as 16,000 fans. They have finished above .500 and made the playoffs just once, posting a 250-472 mark (.346) since their inception.

They have been Michael Jordan‘s problem since he purchased control from Johnson, but have more in common with his Birmingham Barons stint than his Chicago Bulls majesty. Insiders say that even NBA commissioner David Stern, after initially dismissing the “Hornets” diehards, began to sell Jordan and others in team management on the value of some nickname nostalgia.

“I sort of laughed at it initially – you know, it is what it is, get over it,” Stern said. “But no. It stayed there, bubbling below the surface, and there is something to it.”

Chief among the Board’s other business Thursday were the rule changes that will take effect for the coming season. The first three involve expanded replay use:

  • When reviewing a block/charge play to determine whether the defender was inside or outside the restricted area, officials will be permitted to reverse or uphold the call based not just on the defender’s location but also whether he was set or not.
  • Replays can be used to determine whether an off-ball foul occurred before or after a player has begun his shooting motion on a successful shot attempt, or before or after the ball was released on a throw-in.
  • While reviewing a play, the officials will be permitted to assess penalties for unsportsmanlike and unnecessary acts that they spot during the reply.
  • Also, a clear-path-to-the-basket foul will not be assessed if at any point before the foul is committed the defender is positioned ahead of the offensive player in the frontcourt.
  • A team on offense will lose possession if one of its players leaves the floor and does not immediately return, unless he is injured, attempting to save the ball or in other extenuating circumstances.

As far as the application and effectiveness of flopping rules from last season, Stern said the NBA competition committee felt they were working well and warranted no changes.

Despite the commissioner’s label of “unremarkable” hung on this meeting in the desert, other topics came up either in the owners’ session or in the news conference that followed. Among them:

The CBA is working: Early indications after 18 months functioning under the current collective bargaining agreement suggest that NBA teams are navigating the rules, provisions and penalties in a way the owners had hoped. “Teams who are up against the tax level or even above it find themselves making hard decisions about what players are necessary to retain or not,” Stern said. “All of which strikes us as being pro‑competitive in terms of the league.”

Not only has the CBA led to shorter contracts and player movement for the coming season, it has boosted offseason interest in the league not unlike baseball’s “Hot Stove League” of winter.

“That’s a huge, huge builder of awareness and gets fans excited, teams excited and I think players excited about what their team reconfiguration is, so that’s all good,” Stern said.

Viva Las Vegas: The resort and gambling destination continues to loom large on the league’s radar. The summer league, a project of particular interest to NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Stern’s successor upon the commissioner’s Feb. 1 retirement date, has been a hit, they said, both for the basketball opportunities and its convention-like aspect. “What we’re moving to, in conjunction with Orlando, is a real sense of what baseball has in their winter meetings and where everyone gathers,” Stern said.

Added drug testing (eventually): Enhancements in the league’s anti-drug policy, particularly a “biological passport” concept and testing for human growth hormones, has been slowed by the National Basketball Players Association search for a new executive director. Stern said he expected that they could be added in time for the 2013-14 season.

Sacramento on track: The progress since Sacramento secured the Kings franchise continues with added season-ticket sales and an increase in sponsorship commitments. Reports on revenue sharing and the league-wide credit facility also were favorable. It all is part of what Stern called “another banner year for the NBA.”

Expansion spitballing: Silver said there has been no dialogue with Seattle and those behind efforts to restore the NBA to that market, and the deputy commissioner only acknowledged the potential for discussions about expansion “down the road,” be it in Seattle, Las Vegas or other possible cities.

But Stern, who enjoys dumping expansion questions on Silver, did note that plans for a new arena in Seattle are continuing, after mentioning similar plans in Las Vegas moments earlier. “It wouldn’t surprise me if Commissioner Silver was looking at strong applications from Las Vegas and Seattle in the coming years,” he said, “and I’m going to enjoy watching it.”

‘Bobcats’ On Chopping Block At Owners’ Meeting

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LAS VEGAS
– A town long known for its menagerie of snakes, weasels, fat cats and whales likely will be adding a new species Thursday: Bobcats.

Hey, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? The NBA’s Charlotte franchise hopes to officially begin shedding its “Bobcats” nickname in a vote of the Board of Governors, switching back to the “Hornets” identity that served the city and the league so well from 1988 to 2002.

Actually the name change, if approved, probably won’t take effect until after the 2013-14 season, given the time and expense (estimated at $3 million or more) involved with signage, merchandise and other legal and marketing details. But with “Hornets” freed up by the New Orleans team’s recent switch to “Pelicans,” Charlotte saw a chance to revive a fan base that was the pride of the NBA for more than a decade.

A hit from the moment they entered the league in 1988 in Phase 1 of a two-year, four-team expansion, the original Hornets strung together 364 consecutive sellouts at the Charlotte Coliseum, packing 23,000 fans into what became known as “The Hive” and leading the NBA in attendance eight times in 14 years. With stars like Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson and popular role players such as Muggsy Bogues, the team got traction in the 1990s, reaching the playoffs four times and the conference semifinals twice in six years from 1993 to 1998.

But owner George Shinn‘s popularity headed in the other direction, after a sexual misconduct lawsuit and demands for public money to construct a new arena. Even with the Hornets three years into a stretch of five straight postseason appearances, attendance waned and Shinn moved the club – and the nickname – in 2002 to New Orleans.

Acknowledging the raw deal Charlotte fans got, after so embracing the NBA in the heart of college basketball, the league returned in a one-team expansion in 2004. But the nickname “Bobcats,” spun off from original owner Bob Johnson‘s name, never inspired much excitement – and neither has the team. In nine years, it has made the playoffs just once and is dragging a 28-120 record over the past two seasons.

Current boss and NBA legend Michael Jordan is eager to return pro basketball to its standing-room, deafening levels. Restoring “Hornets” is a step, depending on what follows on the court, as former Charlotte players Bogues and Kenny Gattison recently told Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler:

“It’s the right move,” Gattison said. “The fans are still there. They just have to wake up the sleeping giant.”

“I’m in favor of changing the name to Hornets,” Bogues said. “That name belongs to the city of Charlotte. It will help. But I’m also quite sure the Bobcats know that a name change alone isn’t going to do it. It’s never going to be exactly the same, but you have to make people feel that relationship again. You have to reach out in the community. But, most of all, you have to win.”

Among other agenda items Thursday afternoon, the Board of Governors are expected to hear reports on the collective bargaining agreement, revenue-sharing and the Sacramento Kings’ new ownership. Also, a vote related to a recent competition committee report, possibly expanding the use of instant replay and tweaking the interpretation of clear-path fouls might be held.