NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Bird uses trade market to rebuild Pacers — While other teams have made big changes through free agency, Larry Bird has taken the Indiana Pacers down a new path via the trade market. The Pacers did sign Al Jefferson this week, but they also added two new starters by making trades for point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Thaddeus Young, who give Indiana a quicker and more versatile roster, as Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star writes:
Rebuilding in the NBA can be a painstaking, rigorous process. The usual years of losing, the hopes and fate of the franchise decided by lottery balls.
A free agency signing can bring jubilation. A rejection in free agency can be crushing.
Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird has chosen a different path.
Every year for Bird is about winning, improving, contending. Forget a conventional rebuild. Bird, in many ways, is unconventional. The way the Pacers’ roster was built is the latest example.
For 24 months, Bird has been on a quest. He has transformed the Pacers from a big, traditional, lumbering team into a modern one that will spread the court and run whenever given the opportunity. Bird’s design, after two years and a long list of transactions, appears to be close to completion.
No. 2: Familiarity a key for Parsons’ move to Memphis — Chandler Parsons made his second free agency move in three years this week, leaving Dallas after just two seasons for Memphis. And for him, it was an easy decision thanks, in part, to his familiarity with new Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale and assistant J.B. Bickerstaff. Tom Schad of the Memphis Commercial Appeal was there as Parsons was introduced in Memphis on Friday:
Parsons picked Memphis over Portland, which also reportedly offered him a max contract, in part because of trust. He played for Fizdale during the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge and said they immediately established a rapport. He also spent three years in Houston with Bickerstaff, who is “like family to me,” Parsons said.
Former high-school teammate Nick Calathes and close friend Courtney Lee gave Parsons rave reviews about playing in Memphis, he said. The opportunity to play with point guard Mike Conley, who helped recruit him with text messages over the past several weeks, was another major factor.
“Any time that you’re comfortable with someone that’s already here, it makes things a lot easier,” Parsons said. “That’s someone that I wanted to talk to and I know who would shoot me straight and someone who I greatly respect. He’s been here for nine years. He’s had a great career here.”
No. 3: Knicks “activate” to get Melo back to the playoffs — Since last year’s Draft, the New York Knicks have been in a position where the timeline of their best player (Carmelo Anthony) hasn’t aligned with the timeline of their best asset (Kristaps Porzingis). But with the trades and free agency additions that he’s made this summer, Knicks president Phil Jackson has clearly decided to prioritize short-term success over the long-term outlook. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News writes that, even with all the changes the Knicks have made, it’s still all about Melo at Madison Square Garden:
It’s a player’s league. Not a coach’s league or a system league. The triangle doesn’t win a championship in Chicago without Michael Jordan, and the Knicks weren’t winning much of anything the last two seasons.
So Phil Jackson reached the correct conclusion after a recent meeting with an increasingly impatient Carmelo Anthony: As long as Anthony is here and All-Star capable, the 31-year-old’s career timeline should be placated. If not, what’s the point of paying him $124 million with a no-trade clause?
“One of my questions to Carmelo was, you know, we haven’t made the playoffs and now this is three years, two years, since I’ve been here — are we moving quickly enough for you and your anticipation of trying to be into a competitive playoff situation?” Jackson said. “I think that was our conversation and established the fact of his desire, the idea that he is getting into an age where things have to happen for him. So we decided to activate ourselves.”
This is Anthony’s responsibility now. His burden to win games. No more excuses or demands through the media. That was the implication Friday from Jackson, who reversed the roles after a year of Anthony publicly pleading that the team president be better at his job.
No. 4: Ezeli’s journey leads him to Portland — Festus Ezeli didn’t start playing basketball until he was 14 years old and has had some bumps in the road along the way. But after winning a championship with Golden State, Ezeli is expected to bring some toughness to the Trail Blazers. The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman chronicles the path that Ezeli took to get to Portland:
Ezeli chose Vanderbilt over several colleges because it offered an excellent blend of education and basketball. Also, coach Kevin Stallings agreed to his only request — that Ezeli be allowed to redshirt his first year to learn the game. It was an easy decision for Stallings, who knew he had a project on his hands.
“He had no basketball playing experience, so it was like having this really big, awesome piece of clay that we could help mold,” Stallings said Friday. “In the beginning, he was extremely raw and inexperienced. He literally didn’t know a lot of the rules of the game.”
And even after sitting out that first year, Ezeli was raw. Forget grasping the nuances of the pick-and-roll. Never mind figuring out when to leave your man on defense to offer help on the weakside. Initially, Ezeli couldn’t handle playing in front of a crowd. One of Stallings’ favorite stories about the challenges Ezeli faced on his path to the NBA came early during his redshirt freshman season, when Vanderbilt participated in a closed, preseason scrimmage against eventual-champion North Carolina. Ezeli played so well, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was amazed.
“Who is that guy and where did you find him?” Williams asked Stallings after the scrimmage, during which Ezeli held his own against the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and future Blazers big man Ed Davis.
A week later, however, during an exhibition game against the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a tiny Division II school, Ezeli was a shell of the player that had impressed Williams. He was so bad, Stallings had to pull him early in his first shift.
“He comes to the bench and he’s hyperventilating,” Stallings said. “I’m like, ‘We scrimmaged North Carolina and you were fine. What’s wrong?’ He goes, ‘I know Coach, but all these people weren’t there.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Kings are looking to make a trade … Damian Lillard is one of many players speaking out about the violence that has happened around the U.S. this week … Jackson wants Brandon Jennings to be the Sixth Man of the Year.