Posts Tagged ‘Carmelo Anthony’

Unfinished business in NY for Melo


VIDEO: Media Day: Knicks State of Mind

GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Carmelo Anthony had chances to put himself in a better situation to win a championship. His contemporaries from the 2003 Draft class — LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — all have multiple titles, while he has none.

Joining James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston or Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago would have given Anthony a serious chance to get a ring right away. In New York, he’ll have to wait at least a year before the Knicks clear the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani off their books and have the opportunity to maybe add more top-line talent alongside Anthony. Maybe.

The Knicks, of course, had the ability to offer Anthony a lot more money (via bigger raises and a fifth season) than any other team. That’s what they did. So Anthony stayed in New York.

Was it all about the money? Well, Anthony admits it wasn’t all about basketball and says the decision was “hard.” But, speaking at Knicks Media Day on Monday, he said that it came down to his conscience.

“I made a commitment to stay here in New York,” Anthony said. “I made a commitment to the Knicks’ organization. I made a commitment to Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson. I also made a commitment to my teammates. That right there goes to show you that it wasn’t all about just running, jumping ship, and trying to get something in the immediate future.”

The immediate future in New York offers an opportunity to compete for the playoff spot that the Knicks lost last season. But the ceiling isn’t very high and won’t be unless Jackson makes major changes in the next year.

“I’m willing to be patient,” Anthony said. “How long I’m willing to be patient, I can’t really tell you that. But I’m willing to be patient. I’m willing to take risks. I’m willing to take that chance.”

Anthony wasn’t willing to be patient after seven seasons in Denver, when he made it clear to the Nuggets that he wanted out. He got what he wanted, a February 2011 trade to New York, a transaction that sent a lot of the Knicks’ assets west. So while Anthony has been, by far, the Knicks’ best player in the 3½ seasons since, he felt that he owed the team and its fans more.

“For me to just get up and leave like that,” he said, “I wouldn’t have felt right, within myself. From a basketball standpoint, it probably would have been, maybe, the greatest thing to do. But for me, personally, I wouldn’t have felt right with myself, knowing I wanted to come here. I kind of forced my way to New York and I have some unfinished business to take care of. So I wouldn’t have felt right from a personal standpoint, just getting up and leaving.”

Though he says he can be patient, Anthony also believes the Knicks can improve on last season’s 37-45 record. He said he’s excited to work within the Triangle offense and knows that improvement has to start on D. But he’s not just going to throw this season away.

“I can tell you for sure,” Anthony said, “that we’re going to have a much better season that we had last year.”

Gallinari seeks return to All-Star-level form

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

Danilo Gallinari hopes to return to his 2012-level of play (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty).

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On April 4, 2013, when Danilo Gallinari drove past Dirk Nowitzki and planted his left foot just above the restricted circle, he figured he was going up for layup or maybe a dunk, and on his way to another big game — the basket would have given him 11 points with more than four minutes left in the second quarter — while putting the Denver Nuggets on course for an 18th consecutive home win.

At the time, the 6-foot-10 forward was averaging career highs of 16.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg, and was shooting the 3-ball at a 37.3-percent clip. The Nuggets, under coach George Karl, were 52-24, third in the Western Conference standings and top-four in the NBA in offensive efficiency with the postseason just two weeks away.

But when Gallinari planted his left foot, he never made it off the ground. His knee buckled. He immediately grasped it with both hands and hopped to the baseline and dropped to the floor. Soon he would be helped up and would disappear into the darkness of the tunnel. Gallinari has not been seen in uniform since.

So much has changed. Karl was fired and Brian Shaw was hired. Gallinari missed all of last season following surgery and the Nuggets, besieged by a slew of other injuries, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the year before drafting Carmelo Anthony.

After extensive rehab, Gallinari, 26, is excited to make his return. He expects to play in the Nuggets’ first preseason game at the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 6. In an interview with NBA.com on Thursday, he said he anticipates a quick return to his pre-injury level of play that he says was deserving of a spot on the 2013 All-Star team.

“I was playing very well,” Gallinari said. “I thought at that point right before the All-Star Game, I should have been called for the All-Star Game [...] because we were one of the best teams in the league, and so I think you have to call, you have to call somebody from the Nuggets to represent a great franchise and a franchise that was doing very good. I thought that me and Ty Lawson, we were the two that could have, should have been called for the All-Star game. So I thought I was right at that level, and so my goal is to get back at that level, if not better.”

Gallinari said he believes he has conquered the challenging psychological aspects of returning from an injury of this magnitude. Physically, he said he is happy with how the knee has responded as he’s incrementally increased his workload. He said he will be close to participating in all aspects of practice when training camp opens next week.

“I’m not at the same level that I left basketball because I haven’t played a game in a while,” Gallinari said. “The more I will play games the better I will feel. I’m very excited. I think I will be ready for the first game of the preseason; we are very close. Everybody is very excited. We all cannot wait to start this season.”

Morning shootaround — Sept. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson: ‘Melo must keep ball moving | Suns get even deeper at guard | Antetokounmpo ready to take on point guard role

No. 1: Jackson: Passing key to Anthony’s success in N.Y. — Knicks team president Phil Jackson played a big part in the team’s successful wooing of Carmelo Anthony in the offseason that led to him signing a new deal that keeps him in New York for years to come. Part of Jackson’s sales pitch was convincing Anthony that he could thrive under new coach Derek Fisher and the triangle offense, a system predicated on moving the ball often. In a wide-ranging chat with Steve Serby of the New York Post, Jackson talks about Anthony, J.R. Smith and more:

Q: Hawks GM Danny Ferry recently made comments about Carmelo in which he reportedly said: “He can shoot the [bleep] out of it, but he screws you up in other ways. So is he really worth $20 million? I would argue if he plays the right way, absolutely.”

A: I think there’s probably 15 players in the NBA that are very similar position. I don’t know if all of ’em are paid $20 million, but the coaches and GMs are talking about it in those type of terms — how much does this guy hurt your team, or hurt the game flow because he’s trying to score. The attempt to score, the need to score, the pressure that he feels he has to score. … Does he take away from the team game? That’s what Danny’s talking about there. And that’s where Carmelo’s gonna move forward this year in that situation — the ball can’t stop. The ball has to continually move. It moves, or goes to the hoop on a shot or a drive or something like that. In our offense, that’s part of the process of getting players to play in that rhythm.

Q: Is Carmelo on board with this?

A: All we talked about in our negotiation was, “I’d like not to have to feel like I have to carry the load to score every night.” He wants some help.

Q: Your first choice as head coach was Steve Kerr, but the Warriors offered more money. Did Knicks owner James Dolan support your pursuit of Kerr, and why do you think your second choice, Derek Fisher, was worth more money than your first choice?

A: That part is incorrect. However, having had a relationship with Steve that’s beyond just basketball and coach and player, we had discussions over the course of the year. A lot of ’em about running a system in the NBA. Is it possible that you can run this triangle system in the NBA? And I said, “I see no reason why not.” And I said, “A lot of it depends upon personnel and a lot of it depends upon mental attitude of players.” One of the discussion points that came up was as to what type of team you’re thinking about that could be very effective in the triangle, and he said, “Golden State Warriors.” And I said, “Oh that’s interesting, Mark Jackson’s there.” … And he said, “Yeah, I know.” But he said, “If that job was available, that would be kind of the perfect job for a triangle.” Well, once that job became available — I knew that he had a daughter at Cal, great volleyball player — and it really wasn’t more about that than about anything else. And so, even though he committed to me, I knew that the day that they fired Mark that that was where he was gonna be pursued. [Former Jets general manager Mike] Tannenbaum facilitated that, and that was OK with me, because I want [Kerr] to be happy in what he does. And I think probably Derek’s the right choice for this job, so I have no qualms, no problem with it at all, and I’m thankful that Jim wanted to bend. But I think I had to make a statement about what I wanted to pay a coach.

Q: How do you plan to try to get through to J.R. Smith to put an end to all his immature on- and off-the-court antics?

A: I don’t know if that’s possible or not. He might be one of those guys that’s a little bit like Dennis Rodman that has an outlier kind of side to him. But I’m gonna get to know him as we go along, and we’ll find a way to either make him a very useful player on our organization, or whatever.

Q: What’s your level of confidence that you’ll be able to pull this off, and bring a championship back to New York?

A: Well, it’s a day-to-day thing, it’s about every day doing the right thing. There’s no doubt that good fortune has to be a big part of it. I always refer back to a statement when people a lot of times like to talk about great fortune that’s happened with me, to a statement about Napoleon looking for a general to replace someone that’s fallen. And they gave him all the benefits of this general and all this stuff, and he goes in the end and says: “Is he lucky? Does good fortune follow him?” And that’s really a part of it. And so we’re looking for people we think are lucky, good fortune follows them, and we think that’ll happen here.

(more…)

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

(more…)

First Team: KD evokes MJ in MVP season

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

There’s a sense Kevin Durant still hasn’t peeked at his peak. His length is unfair. His angel-hair pasta build is a rebellion against the MUSCLEWATCH movement that dominates the NBA. Myth has him closer to being 7-foot than his listed 6-foot-9. All of this leads to a virtually unblockable shot (don’t tell James Johnson!) that allows him to get a clean look whenever he wants.

The results:

1) NBA MVP
2) Five All-NBA first teams
3) Four scoring titles
4) All-Star MVP
5) Olympic gold medal
6) A host of honors too long to list here

Yet Durant is far from a finished product. There’s that untapped post game that Charles Barkley keeps hammering about. Can he win seven more scoring titles to surpass MJ? Could Durant, who turns 26 next week, snatch the top scoring spot from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by the time it’s all said and done?

Last season, he dropped at least 25 points in 41 straight games to top His Airness’ modern-day record (only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have more). The night his streak was “broken,” he scored 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 31 minutes, then went on to rip off another eight straight at the 25-point level. He hit that mark in 63 out of his final 65 games.

In addition to scoring and playing more minutes than anybody else, he dealt a career-high 5.5 dimes per contest. He even tied for the league lead in technical fouls (16). The only thing Durant was missing last season was a nickname that stuck.

Here are his top games last season:

Jan.17, 2014 — Striking Down The Warriors

The Line: 54 points on 19-for-28 shooting

The Quote:He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great.” — Warriors head coach Mark Jackson


VIDEO: Kevin Durant carves Warriors up for career-high 54 points

As he did for most of the season, Durant was playing without Russell Westbrook this night, giving him carte blanche with the rock. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green did what they could, but the easy truth about basketball is this: Great offense trumps great defense every time. On this night, Durant put it all together for a career night.

Jan. 21, 2014 — Extinguishing The Blazers

The Line: 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting, 6 3s

The Quote: “The way he was playing, he probably could have scored on Jesus.” – Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams


VIDEO: Durant goes for 46 points in lighting up the Blazers

The eighth night of The Streak was Fan Night on NBA TV. KD had his 25 by the end of the third quarter, but his team nursed a two-point lead going into the fourth. Without Westbrook and a tough Portland team promising to make matters difficult, his plate was full.

So Durant ate. First off a deadly mid-range game, then with a 3-point light show at the end, including a coup de grace over Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.

Jan. 27, 2014 — Just Another Night

The Line: 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting, 3 blocks

The Quote: “He’s going to be an MVP candidate until he decides to retire.” – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clips Hawks with game-winner to cap 41-point night

With no Westbrook again, Durant donned the hero cape. On the defining play of the game, the double team came from the left. Durant started right. Three hard dribbles later, with three Hawks in the vicinity, he confirmed another moment in a season full of them. Another game winner, another vicious January performance. Just another night, his 10th straight reaching 30 points.

Durant used January to make volume efficiency his M.O. For the month, he put up 36 points on 55 percent shooting, 44 percent beyond the arc. That. Is. Insane.

Feb. 13, 2014 — Rally On The Road

The Line: 43 points on 14-for-33 shooting, 19 in fourth quarter, 7 assists

The Quote: “He is one of the best I have seen in terms of really just playing through anything and everything.” – Thunder guard Derek Fisher


VIDEO: Kevin Durant ends first half with 43-point performance in L.A.

Durant’s final game before the All-Star break didn’t start auspiciously. He clanked his first eight treyballs and his team fought uphill all game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Thunder were down 13 to a Lakers team that had lost its previous six home games.

But ‘Mr. Unreliable’ took over, almost outscoring the Lakers by himself (19 to 21). He topped the 40-point mark for the eighth time, matching the previous season’s high set by Carmelo Anthony and Kobe. No better way to end the best first half of his career.

March 21, 2014 — Making Fossils Out Of Raptors

The Line: 51 points (38 in second half and two OTs), 12 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “It looked good when it left my hands and God guided that thing in the basket. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.” — Durant


VIDEO:
Kevin Durant finishes off Raptors in 2OT with game-winner, 51 points

What does a man have to do to get a double team? No matter how many times Amir Johnson stood on an island guarding the best scorer in the league, help never came. But you know what? It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Forces of nature are inevitable.

Down eight points with 49 seconds left, the Thunder ended the game on a 9-0 run. Who was responsible for those final points? Do you even have to ask?

 

Seeing 20-20 clearly in 2013-14

 

Over the course of a long NBA season, there are plenty of individual achievements and gaudy stat lines that make us sit up and take notice. But there are arguably none more worthy of catching our eyes than the appropriately named 20-20 club, which requires stellar work toiling on the boards to go with a big scoring game. Call them doubled-up double-doubles, if you will. And in the case of this top 10 list of stand-out games from the 2013-14 season, 20-20 is just a start:

10. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
January 15, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors — 25 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Jared Sullinger runs wild against the Raptors

Nine losses in a row. A second straight pro season languishing near the bottom of the standings. It was enough to make a guy like Sullinger want to scream. Or reach out and grab a game by the throat. Which is what he did in a dominating third quarter against the Raptors, shooting 6-for-6 from the field, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He became the first Celtic since Kevin Garnett in 2007 to have a 20-20 game and it had the desired effect, producing an 88-83 Boston win.

9. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
January 17, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 26 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony burns the Clippers for 26 points

On the surface, it was another dominating performance by Anthony in his drive to his summer of free agent courtship, piling up points and rebounds. It was his fifth game of 15 or more rebounds in a season when he cleaned the glass better than at any other time in his career. But of course, there are more rebounds to grab when you shoot just 4-for-23 from the field. And even though the Clippers were playing without the injured Chris Paul, they had Blake Griffin rumbling to 32 points and Jamal Crawford coming off the bench for 29 and DeAndre Jordan with a double-double (11 points, 16 rebounds) in an easy 109-95 win at Madison Square Garden.

8. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
April 11, 2014 at Chicago Bulls — 26 points, 26 rebounds


VIDEO: Andre Drummond puts up a 20-20 game in a road loss to the Bulls

The bad news is that Drummond’s impressive double-double line wasn’t enough to save his Pistons from suffering a 106-98 to the Bulls. The good news is that it’s very, very early in what has all the earmarks of becoming a memorable career. By devouring rebounds all night to tie to his career high, Drummond became the first player in NBA history to register seven games of 20 or more rebounds before his 20th birthday. (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Wolves optimistic they’ll lock up Rubio | Players may not ignore Hawks going forward | Long road ahead for Hawks and their fans

No. 1: Wolves’ brass optimistic they’ll ink Rubio to extension — The Minnesota Timberwolves are in rebuilding mode after agreeing to trade their All-Star big man, Kevin Love, to the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer. Will the Wolves have to think about losing budding star point guard Ricky Rubio in the coming years, too? According to Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press, Minnesota’s brass isn’t sweating a looming extension for the young playmaker: 

Timberwolves general manager Milt Newton said he’s optimistic that the team and point guard Ricky Rubio will negotiate a contract extension but insisted there is no urgency.

“If we can get something done sooner, great. If not, we’re not necessarily in a rush,” Newton said Thursday after a pre-training camp workout.

The Wolves and Rubio’s agent, Dan Fegan, have been able to negotiate since July 1 and have until Oct. 31. Newton said the sides are in “constant contact” but stopped short of calling that “negotiations.”

“Knowing Ricky the person, he wants to be here,” Newton said. “We just have to deal with his agent.”

The maximum deal allowed under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement would be five years, $90 million. Given Rubio’s shooting struggles and the time he spent on the bench in the fourth quarter last season, a more likely offer would be a four-year deal in the ballpark of $40 million.

“Until that right number comes up, I guess we will continue to talk,” Newton said.

Rubio will receive $5 million this season, and if the sides don’t agree to a long-term extension, the Wolves will have until July 2015 to offer him a one-year qualifying offer for 2015-16. That contract would have to be worth 125 percent of this season’s average salary, so about $6.3 million.

If Rubio accepted a qualifying offer, he would become an unrestricted free agent the next season. (more…)

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

Long road to recovery looms for Hawks, city officials and team’s fans


VIDEO: The GameTime guys discuss what’s next for the Hawks’ front office

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Say this for the city of Atlanta and its NBA franchise: at a time of crisis, the response has been swift and comprehensive.

Team officials, civic leaders, fans, the local media and even the city’s mayor have all rallied to the rescue of a franchise in need of an immediate pick-me-up in the wake of the Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry dramas.

It’s been impressive. It’s the one time I can remember in a decade of living and working in Atlanta that there was this kind of focus and attention on the well-being of the Hawks.

The fact it took a dumpster fire of epic proportions to bring these people together is what spoils it for me. There are lots of good people who will end up paying dearly for the missteps and mistakes of someone else (Levenson and Ferry in particular).

Ownership — at least controlling interest — will change hands. There are always casualties when that happens.

Jobs will be lost.

Reputations will be tarnished … forever.

The lives of people who aren’t directly involved have been and will continue to be turned upside down.

And when training camp opens in a few weeks, the focus will be on the circus going on around the team instead of the team itself!

Levenson, Ferry, Michael Gearon Jr. and other members of the organization won’t be on the hook come media day. That responsibility will fall upon Atlanta’s players and coaches, who had absolutely nothing to do with the mess that has been made.

So with all due respect to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed — who insists all involved will be better in the end because of this cratering of a franchise — the city and the Hawks’ fan base, there is no happy ending in sight. Not even with beloved Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins in the fold in a legitimate decision-making position within the new structure, whatever that might be.

Ferry meeting with local clergy and civic leaders behind closed doors won’t heal the public trust that has been breached by his discriminatory and destructive comments regarding Miami Heat forward Luol Deng.

While the attentions of the rest of the sports world and the 24-hour news cycle shifts to even more drama in the NFL, folks here will be left to sort through the wreckage of an Atlanta Spirit organization that seemed poised for big things in the 2014-15 season. A strong playoff showing without Al Horford in uniform gave Hawks fans plenty of hope to chew on during the offseason.

Even without making a huge splash in free agency, there remained a sense of optimism surrounding the on-court product (Paul Millsap emerged as an All-Star, Jeff Teague showed signs of being an elite-level point guard and coach Mike Budenholzer proved that system basketball works when administered properly).

Now Budenholzer has to assume duties he never signed up for as the day-to-day steward of the Hawks’ basketball operations, while Ferry continues his indefinite leave of absence.

What you have left is a skeptical fan base, the one that has been disrespected at every turn, wondering where it fits into this basketball soap opera. Paying customers who felt the Hawks were relevant have been given reason to question everything about the franchise and how it is run. Potential customers (yes, that’s ultimately what fans are) now have even more reason to ignore the city’s most consistent playoff outfit.

Hawks part-owner and CEO Steve Koonin will have to dig into his deep reservoir of tactics to sell what’s going on right now to the local public. I know this because I live among them. I hear from them regularly about this team at gas stations, grocery stores, school functions and church. The question is always the same: “what’s up with the Hawks?”

A shake of the head is all I can offer now, because I’m honestly not sure.

I’ve watched the relationship between a diverse and vibrant city and what has largely been an equally vibrant team the past seven years, run on parallel tracks … for the most part. The same basic questions Levenson had about the apathy of a certain segment of the fan base is the same question, without the racial or ethnic distinctions, of course, I’ve struggled with the past decade.

I’ve seen lovable losers in other NBA cities get 10 times the love the Hawks receive with the second-longest playoff streak in the league (behind the reigning-champion San Antonio Spurs) as a selling point.

The disconnect has always been about the perception of who and what the Hawks are to the locals and beyond and the reality of who and what they are to the people that matter most: those willing to spend their time and money venturing to Philips Arena to watch games in person.

Fixing that disconnect and repairing that breach requires transparency the Hawks have yet to commit to. Then and only then will I buy this talk of a happy ending for all involved.

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)