Posts Tagged ‘Bobcats’

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.

Price Starts Work On Kidd-Gilchrist Shot

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LAS VEGAS – Where to begin? With the hitch just before the release or with the release point itself, on the way down, after the peak of the jump? With the slight body twist so his shoulders are not square to the basket? With the bad footwork and, therefore, bad balance? With the wrist and elbow that jut in awkward angles?

summer-league-logoNone of the above. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a broken jump shot – a totaled jump shot, actually – but form is not the biggest problem. Approach is. Confidence is. Begin there.

He is a starting small forward in the NBA, a year removed from being the No. 2 pick in the draft, a major piece of what the Bobcats hope is finally the foundation of the future… and looking for ways to not shoot a jumper. Nine 3-pointers attempted last season, two makes.

Enter Mark Price, one of the great shooters in league history during a 12-year career at point guard and hired as a Charlotte assistant by new coach Steve Clifford with a heavy emphasis on taking a jackhammer to Kidd-Gilchrist’s perimeter game and working with Kemba Walker on the pick and roll. Which is why this is also a very good place to begin, far from North Carolina and far from the regular season.

Price has been on the staff only a couple weeks, and Summer League at UNLV is no actual gauge on what MKG will look like when his form leaves the body shop after many months, but this is the first benchmark on the time together following hours of workouts. This is also encouraging.

“I’m trying to shoot it now,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “That’s a big step.”

Because he was always trying to not shoot it before.

“Yeah,” he said. “I think it’s a big step for me to shoot the 3. My mid-range, too. I’ll shoot the mid-range a lot, too.”

Kidd-Gilchrist plays with a passion, attacks the rim in transition and with slashing moves in the halfcourt and has the potential to become a standout defender, but there is no reason for opponents to respect his jumper. They can play way off, worrying only about the moves to the basket, and he won’t come close to reaching his potential that way.

“Everybody can become a better shooter,” Price said. “He’s definitely got some flaws in his technique right now. We just start working on certain things and try to keep moving in the right direction. Most people kind of look at his elbow and the things that go on with that.

“It’s a lot more than just the elbow and things like that. It’s the footwork, balance, a lot of different things. We’re starting with the feet and trying to get him more squared-up to the basket. Actually, we’ve made some progress in practice, but then it becomes a transferring-it-to-the game kind of thing. He’s young, too. It’s going to take some time.”

And the mental aspect. It’s that, too.

“I think confidence,” Price said. “Everybody knows that’s what he needs to work on. He knows that. Everybody else knows that. I think just getting it to a confidence level to help him. Believe it or not, I have seen some improvement there already. I think he believes in what we’re trying to do. Everybody would like it to happen quicker, but stuff like that doesn’t happen overnight.”

Many Questions Amid Free-Agent Answers

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HANG TIME WEST –
Welcome to Phase 1A, the continuation foul of the first wave of the hectic opening days in free agency, as the Rockets break into the victory dance, the Hawks stay very busy from the Draft through the second week of July and the Nuggets do whatever it is that the Nuggets are doing.

This is still 1A because the first wave is not yet settled, not with deals set to become official on Wednesday and not with the next set of important decisions looming with Andrew Bynum, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis at the top of the list. If anything, the first wave was about raising questions moving ahead as it was about resolutions.

Now, for example, what do the Mavericks do at point guard? They went from needing a new start there to getting four. They nabbed Shane Larkin with the No. 18 pick in the June 27 draft and then notched a reported four-year, $29-million deal for Jose Calderon. When Dallas spent another $9 million over three years for a reunion with Devin Harris, and in the wake of luring Gal Mekel from Israel with a three-year contract, the issue quickly went from who has the position for 2013-14 to who gets squeezed out of minutes.

Calderon is the favorite to start. Harris’ defense and experience at shooting guard, and with O.J. Mayo gone from the Mavericks backcourt, makes it easy to envision Calderon and Harris playing together. But Larkin’s speed is a unique dimension that can also be utilized, depending on how well he acclimates to the NBA with the Mavs still in win-now mode.

Shifting to another division…what do the Warriors do for depth? They have a quality top six — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Igoudala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes — and landing Igoudala while barely touching the core of the 2012-13 roster makes them one of the winners of the summer. But they need more bodies to really be in the conversation as one of the favorites to win the West.

Festus Ezeli, the backup center last season, is expected to be out another five to eight months after knee surgery. Carl Landry, the backup power forward, reached a deal with the Kings. Jarrett Jack, the backup point guard, reached a deal with the Cavaliers. That’s a lot of production to replace, or a lot of pressure on Nemanja Nedovic to go from the No. 30 pick to dependable backcourt reserve, though Golden State also likes the idea of Igoudala with the ball in his hands.

The Warriors will apparently have the benefit of acquiring Igoudala in a sign-and-trade, a technicality that creates flexibility under the salary cap that would not have existed if the deal was an outright signing. This way, they still have the mid-level exception and Traded Player Exceptions.

What becomes of Bismack Biyombo? The Bobcats spent a reported $41 million over three seasons to sign center Al Jefferson, the biggest free-agent deal in team history, after using the fourth pick in the draft on power forward Cody Zeller. That obviously takes minutes from Biyombo, the 2011 project of a lottery pick who needs playing time to have any chance of developing into the game-changer on defense a lot of teams thought two years ago he could become.

Maybe Charlotte sees him strictly as a third big man, and that’s fine. He fits well as a defensive presence with an awkward offensive game playing next to the post scoring of Jefferson or the fluid Zeller. But 2013-14 is the third season for Biyombo, ordinarily make-or-break time for players with a lot to prove. Managing frontcourt minutes will be a storyline to watch for new coach Steve Clifford.

Where does Josh Smith fit with the Pistons? Feel free to answer “he doesn’t.”

Detroit can use the frontcourt scoring – or the scoring, period – but Smith’s undisciplined offense, as several Hawks coaches were unable to change his shot selection, doesn’t help anyone. His shot blocking will help though. The real issue is whether the Pistons will take minutes from promising big men Greg Monroe or Andre Drummond to get Smith minutes at power forward, or whether Smith will play primarily at small forward.

Smith at $56 million over four years is a panic purchase by an organization trying to push back into relevancy. But Drummond, coming off an encouraging rookie season in a reserve role, and Monroe, their power forward and leading scorer, need the minutes, while No. 8 pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope needs the ball at shooting guard.

Bobcats’ 2011 Draft Could Shape This One

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Three days until the Draft, and….

The Bobcats have a very interesting decision on Draft night that is about more than this pick. It could be about the selection two years ago as well.

Bismack Biyombo, the defense and rebounding specialist taken seventh in 2011 as part of a pre-arranged deal with the Kings and Bucks, has gone from 23.1 mpg and 5.8 rpg as a rookie to 27.3 mpg and 7.3 rpg last season as part of what everyone knew going in would be a long-term project for a prospect with no offense and little previous basketball experience. Charlotte believed, and the ultra-confident Biyombo did as well, that he could become a game-changer just by his work around the rim, but that would take time.

While there was an ongoing internal assessment, the June 2013 read on Biyombo is particularly relevant as the Bobcats stare at a Draft board that would take them in two directions: Use the No. 4 choice Thursday night on Alex Len of Maryland as the new starting center and a much-needed infusion of post scoring. Or, go with Anthony Bennett of UNLV for the kind of offensive boost that is necessary for a power forward playing alongside the one-dimensional Biyombo.

Len makes sense because centers are always hard to find and he is the best one on the board this year. Maybe Biyombo’s best fit is as an energizing defensive force off the bench, able to spark a team the same way other coaches typically rely on a scorer for that role.

But, Bennett makes sense because Biyombo is clearly progressing in some areas. Plus, the Bobcats hired Patrick Ewing as an assistant coach and just maybe he knows something about playing center that can help a project develop. No one expected Biyombo to be making a major impact after two seasons anyway, and his rebounding numbers are encouraging.

Bennett is also a good fit with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the lottery pick a year ago. Kidd-Gilchrist can’t hit a jumper, so the Bobcats need someone with range. That’s Bennett. There are questions about who Bennett guards — not strong enough to handle power forwards, not quick enough to stay with small forwards — but Biyombo and MKG have the potential to become elite defenders and compensate.

Charlotte will be facing a lot of scrutiny by the end of Thursday night no matter what, just because owner Michael Jordan is the name at the top of the masthead. The potential Len-Bennett internal debate, with Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo worth putting in the conversation as well after his improved perimeter game last season, makes for an intriguing decision in the Bobcats’ future.