Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Bulls’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony takes solace in Olympic accomplishments | Hoiberg not expecting any issues with Butler | Wolves’ Dunn feeling fine | Report: Noel ‘very open’ to trades

No. 1: Olympic accomplishments lessen playoff sting for Anthony — As our John Schuhmann noted the other day, international teams far and wide know better than to mess with Carmelo Anthony in FIBA play (aka “FIBA Melo”). Anthony is the newly crowned all-time leading scorer in USA Basketball history, has two Olympic gold medals to his name and, if Team USA wins in Rio, will be the first U.S. player to win three golds. In an interview with ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Anthony revealed how those overseas accomplishments help lessen the sting of his many, many playoff letdowns in the NBA:

As the accolades stack up for him in the international game, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony says he has no trouble tuning out naysayers who want to take issue with his NBA résumé.

In an interview with ESPN at the Rio Olympics, Anthony ‎insisted that the prospect of becoming the first U.S. male to win three gold medals in basketball more than eases the sting of an NBA playoff history that, to date, includes only one trip to the conference finals and just two trips total beyond the first round.

“Most athletes don’t have an opportunity to say that they won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals,” Anthony said. “I would be very happy walking away from the game knowing that I’ve given the game everything I have, knowing I played on a high level at every level: high school, college, won [a championship at Syracuse] in college and possibly three gold medals.

“I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career.”

In his fourth Olympics, Anthony is now up to 293 points, 20 ahead of previous leader LeBron James, who has played in three Olympics.

David Robinson (270) and Michael Jordan (256) are third and fourth on the all-time U.S. list, respectively. Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt holds the men’s Olympic record of 1,093 points. But unlike Anthony, Schmidt didn’t have his minutes restricted while playing on powerhouse teams.

“He was wanting that moment,” Team USA forward Paul George said of Anthony’s performance against Australia. “He was special tonight. We joke about it, this being his farewell tour, but he was definitely special. He’s he reason we won this.”

A 13-year NBA veteran who has starred for the Knicks for the past six seasons, Anthony won gold with the United States in 2008 and 2012 after a disappointing bronze medal in 2004.

“Of course, because we play in the NBA that’s always the goal: to win an NBA championship,” Anthony said. “But every year [there’s] a new champion, so you have an opportunity to compete for a championship every year. This is every four years.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bogut reinvigorated by Olympics run | Bird, Miller talk 3-point prowess | Jackson says Rondo, Butler want him on Bulls

No. 1: Olympics run lifting Bogut’s spirits after rough summer — A hyperextended knee kep Andrew Bogut from being anything more than a spectator for the Golden State Warriors in Games 6 and 7 of The Finals, both of which they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers to in turn lose the series. Then came the offseason for Bogut, who was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks as the Warriors cleared salary cap room to sign former MVP Kevin Durant from the rival Oklahoma City Thunder. Things were looking pretty down for Bogut until he got word he could play in the Olympics, writes Michael Lee of The Vertical:

That nasty collision with J.R. Smith in Game 5 of the NBA Finals set off a unsettling chain of events that put Andrew Bogut on crutches, made him a helpless bystander as LeBron James dunked the greatest season in NBA history into the trash, and sent him packing for his third professional home as a casualty in Kevin Durant’s free-agent decision. Each situation was crushing in itself. Combined, they nearly sent Bogut into a funk this offseason.

“The first couple of weeks, it was rough waters,” Bogut said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

But what kept the 31-year-old Bogut from sulking through his summer were the only encouraging words he heard throughout that whirlwind month: six weeks. Bogut was given that as the earliest estimated timetable for his possible return from bone bruises and a hyperextended knee – which meant that Bogut could be ready just in time for the Rio Olympics if he dedicated himself to an intense rehabilitation program. Far-fetched as it seemed, the chance to represent Australia for possibly one last time in the Olympics was enough incentive, enough of a needed distraction to avoid dwelling on his sorrows.

“Mentally and physically, it was good to have another goal straight away,” Bogut said. “It was a freak play, like most of my injuries. It was frustrating, the way the whole thing played out. It wasn’t great. But it happened. The reason why we’re professional athletes and there’s all these big contracts is because we have to deal with that, we have to suck it up and move on. Move on to the next thing, and that’s the Olympics.”

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been one of the more vocal detractors of NBA players participating in international competitions but didn’t want to block the pursuit of his latest acquisition. And Bogut waited until last Friday – the day before Australia’s opening win against France – to declare himself fit to compete in these.

“If it wasn’t right, I’d put my hand up and I’m on a flight back home. It was good enough to play,” Bogut said, adding that Cuban “has been great. We have a great relationship via email and via text. The whole thing was, if you feel like you’re 100 percent, and you feel like your knee is a go, we’re going to support you. I couldn’t ask for a better organization to give me that confidence.”

Bogut will have a reunion with two former Warriors teammates (Draymond Green and Klay Thompson), a former Warrior turned current Mavericks teammate (Harrison Barnes) and the man who created the entire awkward situation (Durant) on Wednesday when Australia takes on the United States in an intriguing matchup of undefeated teams in the preliminary round.

“It’ll be all right,” Bogut said. “I’m in Texas, so I’m pretty pumped about it. Harrison is still my teammate, so we’re good. Those guys are guys I’ll always remember and have friendships with. You win a championship with a group of guys, it doesn’t happen very often, and you all remember that.”

After missing the London Olympics with an ankle injury, Bogut endured back spasms during the 2015 regional Olympic qualifier with the understanding that he might never get another chance to compete on the most recognized international stage. Australia has never medaled in the Olympics and has a decent chance after already recording wins against France and Serbia.

“He’s playing great. It’s good to see him out there healthy because he had a tough injury in the Finals. We definitely missed him,” Thompson said. “I knew this was potentially his last Olympics and I knew he didn’t want to miss it for anything and he was going to do everything he could to get back. You don’t want to be sitting at home, sulking on what could’ve been. We all wanted, obviously, to get that second ring, but it didn’t turn out that way.”

A medal won’t erase the disappointment of being absent when an NBA-record 73 wins wound up only being good enough to secure finishing as a championship runner-up. But just being at these games, being back on the floor, has already ensured that his summer wouldn’t be wasted with regret. “I didn’t want it taken away that easily,” Bogut said.

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Why Westbrook re-upped with OKC | Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure | Wade’s wife excited about move to Chicago

No. 1: Inside why Westbrook re-upped with Oklahoma City — The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a major victory of sorts yesterday when All-Star guard Russell Westbrook put pen to paper and signed a contract extension. His new deal keeps him in town for as long as three more seasons and saves face for the Thunder after they watched former MVP Kevin Durant bolt for the Golden State Warriors this summer. So why did Westbrook avoid his chance a free-agency riches next summer and stick with OKC? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, who first reported Westbrook’s deal, has the details:

When Russell Westbrook traveled to Oklahoma City to meet with general manager Sam Presti in the aftermath of the franchise’s lost weekend in the Hamptons, Westbrook held no interest for a post-mortem on Kevin Durant. For a front office still mired in angst and anger, Westbrook delivered a sobering splash of ice water: What’s next?

No nostalgia, no reflection and no regret: In Westbrook’s world, Durant had been deleted like his old teammate’s text message saying goodbye on the way to Golden State.

So, what’s next?

Westbrook’s free agency loomed in the summer of 2017. The Thunder couldn’t afford to lose two All-NBA players for nothing in consecutive years. If Westbrook had left an impression that the loss of Durant left him unenthusiastic about the franchise’s future – never mind unwilling – sources say the next step would’ve come swiftly: Westbrook would have been moved into the marketplace, traded for a package of young players and draft picks.

And yet as the rest of the NBA expected Westbrook to begin executing his exit strategy – perhaps to the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks – his own mind kept returning to Oklahoma City. Westbrook felt invested in the franchise, reveled in the role of a young core’s leader and became intrigued with the challenge of persuading a co-star to join him in free agency.

“The idea of running out to find a super team, that isn’t who he is,” one source close to Westbrook told The Vertical. “He thought, ‘These are my guys here,’ and he wanted to go to battle with them.”

As much as Durant had people of influence coming and going in his life – a revolving door of agents and spiritual gurus, personal trainers and various hangers-on – Westbrook’s inner circle never changed. His parents, his wife and his agent. With Durant, there was perpetual calculation of who had his ear and who had nudged his way into prominence. This was important information for those recruiting him to stay, and those recruiting him to leave.

Trading for Westbrook was an immense risk, because there’s no penetrating his world. Rival players couldn’t recruit him as Draymond Green and the Warriors did with Durant, because Westbrook has never shown an inclination to become buddies with his competitors. He wants to destroy them. Durant’s best relationships were outside the team, but Westbrook counts Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Nick Collison among his closest friends in the league. He invited Victor Oladipo to train with him in Los Angeles, the Thunder’s new backcourt bonding over the sweat inside a Santa Monica gymnasium.

People always had it right with Durant: He was a community treasure, a gentleman who forever took time for those big and small within his orbit. Only, it happened that Westbrook’s fierce on-court disposition – and his sometimes brusque demeanor with the media – caused the outside to mistake his core.

If his fashion forays took him to runways in Paris and New York, he was still mostly comfortable tooling around Oklahoma City, delivering free Jordan Brand gear to lower-level team employees, bringing donuts to blue-collar workers and answering his front door to come out and play with the neighborhood kids.

For everyone waiting on Westbrook to unload on Durant, they could be disappointed. Yes, he has his thoughts and opinions on Durant’s move, but it is unlikely that he’ll be moved to share them in dramatic detail. What’s more, there’s a significant chance it could be years before Westbrook and Durant ever engage in a meaningful conversation again. Westbrook doesn’t do nostalgia, nor disregard slights – real or perceived.

Durant is deleted. Done and gone and no longer part of his world. “What’s next?” he asked – and the Thunder connected with Westbrook on a plan to construct their next act. Once, it was James Harden and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now, it’s a superstar solo act – with an eye upon Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin in 2017 free agency. Griffin is an Oklahoma kid gone Hollywood, a star who has his own tensions with Chris Paul on the Clippers.

For now, this is Westbrook’s chance to become a recruiter, a gatherer, and bringing back Griffin could make these Thunder a legitimate threat to Golden State in the Western Conference. Between now and then, Westbrook walks back into the Thunder’s downtown arena on Thursday, takes his seat on the podium and the image will be unmistakable: His franchise, his city.

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No. 2: Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure — In eight seasons together, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook took the Oklahoma City Thunder to The Finals and both players accomplished more than a few personal accolades. Yet that duo is no more, what with Durant now on the Warriors and Westbrook staying put in OKC. So how did Westbrook learn of Durant’s exit? What is the status of their friendship now? Westbrook addressed those queries and more in his news conference Thursday, writes Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

Their paths, now different, still likely end in the same place: the Hall of Fame. Around OKC, the sting of Durant’s departure will slowly subside. Time will create perspective. The past eight years will eventually be remembered as a golden age in Thunder hoops.

But when it’s discussed, the relationship between Russ and KD will dominate the conversation, just like it has become Shaq, Kobe and not much else when you bring up the early 2000s Lakers.

The partnership was fruitful, the highlights electric, the friendship, for the most part, genuine. But the ending, well, has been surprisingly sour, adding another layer to a relationship that’ll long be remembered and debated.

Those around Westbrook say he fumed about it for a couple weeks, particularly how KD handled the exit and how little communication Durant maintained with him at the end.

“(I found out) like y’all found out,” Westbrook said. “On the news, on the cellphones, the social media. I talked to Kevin early on in the process. But nothing after. Just a text message from him, that’s about it.”

From their late teens to their late 20s, the two, together in a city random and new to both, built up a relocated franchise into their identity. Those around the team tell legends of their early-morning combo workouts, racing each other to the gym hours before practice and bonding in a quiet facility. Durant has talked about how both Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins were there for him a few years ago when he was going through some family issues. Durant attended Westbrook’s wedding last summer.

“Some people handle things differently than others,” Westbrook said. “That’s the way he wanted to handle it and it’s fine. My job now is to see what’s ahead of me.”

Durant’s landing spot, of course, added an extra dagger. He didn’t bolt for a random team in the East. He went to a rival. The team Westbrook and Durant had just battled in a 7-game bloodbath a month earlier. Did that make it sting more?

“Sting for who?” Westbrook said. “Listen, I understand free agency. I understand having the opportunity to go where we need to go. But once that happened, I told Sam (Presti): ‘What’s next?’”

Durant is currently in Brazil preparing for the upcoming Olympics. On Thursday, he was asked if he reached out to Westbrook to congratulate him on the extension.

“Nah, that’s a touchy subject, I’ll see once everything dies down,” he told reporters, before saying he was happy for him. “It’s good for him, man. It’s good for his family. It’s good for the people in Oklahoma City.”

A couple weeks ago, out at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas, Durant was pretty candid on a number of subjects about his departure. But when questions about Westbrook arose, he got visibly uncomfortable. It’s clearly a sore subject KD has little interest in speaking about. Durant was recently quoted as saying he was unsure if their relationship would ever be the same.

On Thursday afternoon, Westbrook was asked if it would be.

“We’ve been together eight years,” Westbrook said. “You don’t throw that away. Obviously he’s now with a new team. But we definitely will talk. Eventually. But, obviously, now we haven’t.”

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No. 3: Union says Wade, family excited about move to Chicago — When a free agent makes a decision to switch teams in the offseason, his choice affects not only the team he’s leaving and the team he’s going to. The player’s family, friends and his life and general feel the aftershocks of the choice, too. Such is true for Dwyane Wade, his wife, Gabrielle Union, and his children after he moved from the Miami Heat to the Chicago Bulls. In an interview with BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy, Union talks about the move to Chicago and what she sees next for Wade:

Kennedy: Dwyane obviously surprised people this offseason by joining the Bulls. How much are you looking forward to the move to Chicago and the new opportunity for Dwyane and the family?

Union: “It was shocking. There’s no way around that word. It takes some getting used to. We had just built our dream home in Miami and everyone sort of had their life in Miami so it’s big move for everyone. We all love Miami so much and Miami will still be one of our homes. For Chicago, I think the biggest thing for everyone was winter. There was the fear of winter. It was like Game of Thrones, ‘WINTER IS COMING!’ (laughs) Once we moved on from that, we just found our home and we got the boys in school, it was good. We were afraid because we were thinking, ‘Oh, the boys are about to start high school and how is that going to work?’ And they were, by far, the most eager [to move]. They’re like, ‘Ah! Cool, let’s go!’ As long as they got to keep their South Florida AAU team, they were cool with it. Everyone is just kind of jumping in. We can either dip our toe into the pool or cannon-ball and we’re cannon-balling. I think they like that they got to practice at the Bulls’ facility too. They love it, they’re excited. The first month was cool; hit me back later and we’ll see if they still love it (laughs). No, we’re all really excited.”

Kennedy: You mentioned the dream home in Miami and Dwyane obviously had a ton of history there. When did you start to realize that Dwyane leaving Miami was a possibility?

Union: “Even when we were on vacation, I think me and everyone just kind of assumed [we’d be back]. Like, ‘It looks kind of bleak right now, but they’ll work it out. They always work it out! They’ll work it out.’ It probably wasn’t until Denver’s offer came in that I realized. That offer was… a lot. Then there was another offer and another offer and another offer. And it was like, ‘Oh wait, hold on. Are you thinking about this?’ I mean, how can you not? When there’s an offer on the table that is, what, $13-15 million more than to stay home, it’s like, ‘Wow. Okay. Wow.’ But even still I thought, ‘I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out!’ Really, even down to the hour that he made his decision, I just thought they’d work it out – like everyone else thought. But Chicago made the moves necessary to make his offer work. He didn’t go with the most money. Some people are saying it was just about money, but he would’ve taken Denver’s offer if that was the case. Denver’s offer was a lot, a lot – considerably more than even Chicago’s offer. It was just about finding a place where he’s comfortable, and he’s comfortable at home. Then, the rest of us had to get comfortable with it (laughs). It just seemed like after the season he had and then the postseason, he was just so excited – more so about his body and his health and that he was able to take his game to a different gear. Moving was the last thing on his mind, but yeah…”

Kennedy: You know Dwyane better than anyone. How determined is he to make this work in Chicago and silence his critics who are doubting him and the team?

Union: “I think more than making it work to silence the critics, he wants to put himself in a position physically, health-wise, to continue playing at a high level. That’s very important. Getting to know Jimmy [Butler] and [Rajon] Rondo is very important. But they haven’t even played together yet, so I don’t know where the criticism is coming from. You have Jimmy, who is an up-and-coming star and on the Olympic team. You have Rondo, who led the league in assists. I don’t know how a guy leads the league in assists and is an assist machine, but somehow gets no credit. You have my husband, who is already top five in shooting guards in the last two years in the NBA, but if you factor in what he accomplished and the amount of minutes he played, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league. What is there to criticize? But I get it. Everyone needs page views and things like that, and criticism does a lot better than raving endorsements so I get the business of criticism. But it’s kind of absurd. Now, if a few months in around the All-Star break it looks nuts, then, by all means, criticize! (laughs) But to criticize how it’ll work when these guys haven’t played together is just insane, in the same way that anointing the Warriors champions for adding KD. It’s like when the Big Three came together in Miami. Everyone was like, ‘Ugh, they’re going to win it all. Change the rules! We have to stopppp thissss!’ Cut to different teams winning championships. I mean, the Warriors have to get used to this because they haven’t all played together. Even in the Olympics, where you have three of them, it’s still not the whole team. They need time to get to know each other, to gel, to figure out the system and how it works with all of these moving parts.

“It’s all exciting though. I think the Warriors are exciting. Just like I think the trio of Jimmy, Rondo and D is exciting. I think Carmelo [Anthony] D-Rose, Joakim [Noah] and Kristaps [Porzingis] in New York is exciting. Seeing how the Spurs will do without Timmy [Duncan] is exciting. There are a lot of great storylines. To critique now is the lowest-hanging fruit. I’d rather err on the side of excitement.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: DeMarcus Cousins is messing with reporters’ minds in Rio … Fantastic read on the origins of Hall of Famer and NBA legend Spencer Haywood … In honor of Russell Westbrook‘s deal yesterday, Oklahoma City’s mayor made Aug. 4 “Russell Westbrook Day” … Things have come full circle for Jim O’Brien in Philadelphia … Here are six key questions to ponder about the Oklahoma City Thunder … New Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks thinks Bradley Beal and John Wall could comprise NBA’s best ‘two-way backcourt’ … Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker will miss  having Jeremy Lin on the team, but is happy for him, too … Why the Thunder may hold off on contract extensions for Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams

Blogtable: Should LeBron chase ghost of Jordan?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Your favorite Olympic memory? | Should LeBron chase ghost of Jordan? | Are the Knicks a super team?


> LeBron James told Sports Illustrated this week that his motivation is “this ghost I’m chasing.” He of course was referring to Michael Jordan. Is that chase worthwhile? And how much closer is LeBron after last June’s Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Yes, it’s worthwhile. Who else is going to motivate James at this point of his career, after 13 years and a whole lot of mileage. It’s certainly possible James could get close–he’s got three titles, and no one is going to keep Cleveland out of The Finals from the East any time soon. A Cavaliers team that doesn’t have 52 years of history on its back should play free and easy for a while, and give LeBron a couple of real good cracks to get close before he’s too old to play at this level any more.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAs soon as I read about LeBron’s motivation, I thought, “Just whom was Jordan chasing?” I’m not sure he was chasing anyone — the GOAT title was tossed around in debates about Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with occasional Magic Johnson mentions, without any clear victor — and that’s to Jordan’s everlasting credit. He was an original, the guy who became the standard against whom all contenders would be measured both on (basketball) and off (business) the court. No one drew in casual fans like Jordan — as gifted as James is, stylistically he’s still a turbo-charged luxury SUV going against a Ferrari. James already is a Top 5 all-timer in my opinion and this year’s Finals gives him a boost even within that elite group. But he needs three more rings to match Jordan and his success rate won’t ever be as good.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Of course, it’s worthwhile. After six straight Finals appearances and his performance in the unprecedented 3-1 comeback over the Warriors, I do believe LeBron is a lot closer than the eternal worshippers at the cult of Jordan will ever admit.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: If it motivates LeBron, then it’s worthwhile. That it could become tangible on the court, in the most recent June or others in the future. But that’s the only real value in the chase, because it isn’t a chase. It could become a good debate topic and that’s it. Each ring obviously builds a better case for a player, so, yes, the argument for James did get stronger at the end of 2015-16, not just that the Cavaliers won the championship but that they won in unprecedented fashion with the rally from 1-3. That is the tangible. That is the part of the chase that matters.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Can we please stop? Please? LeBron isn’t on pace, or on track, or within sight of Jordan. That’s a nice little narrative being spun by him and his people and media folks who were too young to have seen Jordan actually win six championships, and the public and its short-term memory. Jordan never vaporized the way LeBron and the Miami Heat did against the Dallas Mavericks in The 2011 Finals. Jordan is 6-0 in The Finals and was clutch as they come. Oh, and that block by LeBron against Andre Iguodala? Contrary to what some announcers said, that was the second-best defensive play in Finals history. Jordan’s sneak-from-behind strip of Karl Malone, which directly led to the championship-winning jumper over Bryon Russell, was the first.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Motivation is a good thing and trying to chase the legend of Michael Jordan will keep you motivated for a long time. It is valid to compare the two, though it’s difficult because their skill sets, team situations and timelines are so different. Pulling his team out of a 3-1 deficit against the best regular season team of all-time will eventually be a big part of LeBron’s legend, and it helps his case that Jordan never did anything similar against a team nearly as strong.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The chase is certainly worthwhile for LeBron. In fact, I don’t know what else he could use to legitimately motivate himself at this stage of his career. He’s already the best player of his generation, a three-time champion and the global icon he’s always wanted to be. He’s also on the short list of guys who should be considered for Top Five All-Time status. That said, he’ll find out the same thing others who have spent lifetimes chasing ghosts know well, that there is no payoff at the end of this journey. You can’t chase what you can’t see. And as magnificent as LeBron’s career has been from the start and for all that he could still accomplish, I feel like he’s in the midst of a trivial pursuit. Sure, he could match Jordan’s raw numbers but he’ll never be able to match MJ’s concentrated greatness. The condensed brilliance of the Jordan era, including the mountains he had to climb to drag the Bulls to a championship level squad and then sustain it, is what separates him from so many other of the game’s all-time greats.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The chase is definitely worthwhile, and the ghost is within reach because of LeBron’s versatility. He’s 31 with six straight Finals appearances and three championships, and he has a chance to remain at or near the top of the league for years to come because of his size and versatility. So long as he stays in Cleveland, it is going to be hard to prevent him from returning to The Finals year after year. And isn’t it highly conceivable to imagine LeBron reinventing himself as the NBA’s best power forward at age 35?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIf there’s anything we’ve learned from awesome sci-fi shows like “Stranger Things,” it’s that the ghosts and the monsters are the ones that chase you, not the other way around. And when you are the one who’s doing the chasing, the ghosts and monsters are not just sitting around waiting to get caught. So if LeBron’s gonna slip into a Ghostbusters suit and chase after that ghost of MJ, more power to him. But also, good luck trying to catch something that doesn’t really exist. The myth of MJ is what makes him so great. And also unlikely to ever get caught.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Armstrong to LeBron: ‘Get rid of the comparisions’ | Turner has big goals in Indiana | DeRozan soaking up Team USA experience

No. 1: Former teammate of Jordan’s has words of caution for LeBron — In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James revealed that his lone goal in the league — after winning a title for his Cleveland Cavaliers — is chasing “the ghost” of six-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. B.J. Armstrong, who was a teammate of Jordan’s during the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat run from 1991-93, has words of caution for James regarding that pursuit, writes Chris Broussard of ESPN.com:

 

Armstrong, now a player agent who represents Derrick Rose, has some advice for James.

“Chasing a ghost is in make-believe land,” Armstrong told ESPN.com in a telephone conversation. “That’s far-out, that’s unattainable, that’s something you can’t achieve. This ain’t no ghost. If you want to do it, there’s a blueprint. It’s possible. There’s only one way to get there. It’s not possible for him to do what Jordan did because the circumstances are different, everything is different. What is possible for him is to be bigger than every situation that’s put in front of him, to dominate every situation that’s in front of him.”

“This is to LeBron James: If you want to be the best, get rid of the comparisons,” Armstrong said. “Get rid of all the comparisons that are out there. That’s what Michael Jordan did. Jordan realized that in order to be the best, you had to get rid of all the comparisons.

“When you compared Jordan to somebody else, it made him more and more upset. That was with guys who played before him, guys he was playing against and guys in the future. He got upset every time [the media] got on TV and started comparing him to other people. When you compared who is the best 2-guard — Jerry West or Michael Jordan — he was upset. When you talked about who was the best player in the NBA, he was upset. When you talked about who had the most championships, he was upset.

“I remember vividly him getting upset. He’s mad right now that somebody’s even thinking a guy can get to his level. Jordan tackled them all — Wilt [Chamberlain], everyone. Everyone from 1946 on, he went after them until there was no one left to compare him to. So my challenge to LeBron is: This ghost has a face to him. So get rid of all the comparisons because Jordan, unequivocally, did not want you to compare him to anyone.”

Jordan told ESPN.com on Tuesday that he had not read the Sports Illustrated article. When shown LeBron’s quotes, he said he would not comment because he had not seen the entire article.

When asked how James can eliminate the comparisons to other players, Armstrong said he has to be obsessed with dominating every moment he’s on the court, whether in practice, games or summer competition.

“Every time he steps on the floor, LeBron has to establish that he’s the best,” said Armstrong, who briefly worked in Chicago’s front office after retiring in 2000. “Every year is an opportunity for him to raise his level to the best of the best. When another player raises his level and has a great year, LeBron has to move his game to an even higher level. Jordan used every opportunity to establish who’s the best. He didn’t go to the Olympics to hang out. He went there to establish who was the best.

“I don’t know LeBron, but what I do know in watching today’s game is that Michael Jordan was a very unique character — not physically, but mentally. Jordan never stepped out on the court to have a good time. He stepped out there to establish that he was the best. Every great player he played against. he went after them — in practice, in games, in the 1984 Olympics, in summer league, in a workout, in the ’92 Olympics. He went after me every day in practice. He went after every player every day in practice. He went after every coach — until, when it was all said and done, there was no one left standing.'”

“I’m saying this because this next generation of young players, every time you step on the court, there needs to be a sense of urgency,” he said. “No joking around. Michael Jordan was the greatest practice player I’ve ever seen. He could go and play 40 minutes the night before and then go practice the next day like he was the rest of us — guys who didn’t play.

“I want these young kids to have that mentality. Jordan had phenomenal talent. He had phenomenal understanding. But he also had a mentality that I haven’t seen. He had a sense of urgency every time he stepped on the floor. These guys now need to take on that challenge. At the end, we’ll know whether LeBron did it or not when y’all stop comparing him to other players.”

***

No. 2: Pacers’ Turner has big plans for next season — Pacers big Myles Turner was one of the surprises of the 2015 rookie class last season, averaging 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 22.2 minutes for an Indiana team that regained its place in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Turner also showed he could do more in the playoffs, upping his rebounding (6.4 rpg) and blocks (3.3 bpg) with an uptick in minutes (28.2 mpg). As Indiana readies for 2016-17 with its remodeled roster, Turner knows he can play a big role once again. BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy caught up with Turner recently, who has several things he hopes to accomplish this season:

Kennedy: From your first NBA game to your final postseason game, how much did you improve as a player?

Turner: “Oh wow, drastically. Dramatically. It’s so crazy how the improvement process goes because you don’t really improve body-wise or things like that. The game just starts to slow down for you and once that happens, everything is so much easier. When I came back from my injury midseason, I was able to take a step back and really see everything for what it was. I definitely got a lot better in the post, making defensive rotations, seeing plays before they happen. I dramatically improved over the course of the season.”

Kennedy: How would you describe your first playoff experience? And how can you build off of that momentum because you played really, really well in that series.

Turner: “I appreciate that, man. It’s definitely a lot different. The game is fast in the regular season, but in the postseason the game is a lot faster. The crowd is more into it. Every possession matters and it’s a nail-biter every other play. Really, in our series, things didn’t get interesting until the last couple games because the early games were blowouts – either they blew us out or we blew them out. But overall, it was a lot different and I can’t even describe the atmosphere. In Toronto, the atmosphere was unbelievable because that whole country was behind them. It was an incredible experience, and I see why people crave it and are determined to get back there and get further. I really enjoyed my playoff experience. The first game, I definitely had some jitters, but after that I was fine.”

Kennedy: One question kept coming up from Pacers fans: Because you are just 20 years old, what do you think your ceiling is? When you reach your prime, what kind of player do you see yourself being?

Turner: “I can see myself being a very dominant player in this league one day – and one day soon. I mean, I don’t know what my ceiling is. With my work ethic and my drive, I feel like there is no ceiling. I can always improve and get better at all facets of the game. Like I was saying, guys like KD and Draymond and everyone on Team USA, they’re upper-echelon players but they’re constantly striving for more and striving for more. I want to put myself in that same category as far as that mindset.”

Kennedy: This has been a busy offseason for you guys. What do you think of the additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, and how they fit with the current squad?

Turner: “I love those moves. I think Jeff is a very aggressive point guard and one that we need to make plays for us. With Big Al, his footwork is impeccable and I’ve watched him play over the years and he’s an incredible player. Thad brings a lot of energy. He’s that ‘do-the-dirty-work’ kind of player that we need, but he’s also more than that because he’s skilled at what he does. I’m curious to see how we’re going to fit together. I also like Jeremy Evans and Aaron Brooks too. Jeremy has always been a good athletic, energy guy. And Aaron, he was one of the toughest point guards I had to guard last year. He didn’t play a lot when we played them, but when he did, some of the plays he made were crazy. He’d finish around the rim and it’s just like, ‘Wait, how did he do that?’ I really love all of the moves.”

Kennedy: You and Big Al have different skill sets, but he’s obviously had a lot of success in this league. Have you guys talked at all yet and are you looking forward to picking his brain?

Turner: “I haven’t talked to him yet, but I love how poised he is. I can learn patience from him and I want to be able to read the game the way he does. And obviously I can learn a lot from him in the post and some of the things that he does with his touches. He’s a veteran who has been in the league for awhile too, so I’m sure he can teach me some off-the-court stuff as well. I think getting him is a great look for the organization and I’m excited to partner with him.”

Kennedy: What are your expectations for next season – as a team and then also individually?

Turner: “As a team, we want to finish top three in the East and I feel like we’re very capable of doing so. On paper, we’re very talented, but it’s about how we put stuff together. I do feel like the East will be a lot stronger next year with some of the moves that have been made in our conference, but I feel like we can go out there and get the job done and finish in the top three. That’s the goal, and then we want to go make a deep playoff run. And obviously, we’re all chasing rings and that’s a big goal of mine. I don’t see why we can’t do it next year. I know that ‘sounds good’ and anybody can just say that, but I’m a very confident player and with that confidence comes ambition. Individually, I feel like I can put up big numbers for this team and help in any way necessary. I’d like to see myself put up 15 to 20 points per game. That may seem like a long shot, but I feel like I’m very capable.”

***

No. 3: DeRozan letting loose with Team USA — Toronto Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan has put in serious work over the last few seasons to become a more well-rounded scorer, and the numbers prove it has paid off. DeRozan, along with fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, has been the driving force behind Toronto’s ascent into the upper crust of the Eastern Conference over the past three seasons. As a free agent this summer, DeRozan didn’t leave Toronto after they rewarded his hard work with a five-year, $139 million deal. As a member of Team USA, DeRozan is more than enjoying himself and soaking up the moments with the team, writes Michael Lee of The Vertical:

On Team USA’s flight from Chicago to Houston, DeRozan captured the soulful stylings of Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving as they delivered a throaty rendition of Vanessa Carlton’s early 2000s hit single, “A Thousand Miles.” DeRozan then shifted his phone to find Kevin Durant admiring the sing-along while smothered, E.T. style, in a white comforter. And finally, fittingly, DeRozan ended the Facebook post by focusing on an unimpressed and disgusted Carmelo Anthony, looking as if he was prepared to kick the kids off his lawn.

Through the whole half-minute recording, DeRozan smiled into his phone, played a little air piano and spared viewers of his own “American Idol” audition.

“I don’t sing at all,” DeRozan told The Vertical this week with a laugh. “I knew it was going to go viral, but not like it did. When we’re not on the court, all we do is play, joke around, have fun. So, just to give people the insight of what we do, for 20 seconds, you know, that don’t add up to the amount of fun that we have during the rest of the day.”

The video was, in many ways, indicative of DeRozan’s career in that he had a prominent presence but was obscured by the other personalities.

Playing north of the border has contributed to DeRozan maintaining a low profile, though Vince Carter found a way tohurdle that obstacle as if it were Frederic Weis. DeRozan has also embraced being in the shadows with a low-key, no-nonsense approach that shunned publicity beyond what he did on the court.

“I think it just wasn’t in my personality at the time,” DeRozan told The Vertical. “I just always told myself, I wanted to establish myself as a basketball player, first. I want to be known as a helluva basketball player, before I jump out and try to do everything else. Now, at this point in my career, I’ve established enough to where I can show my personality a bit more. It’s going to be a lot more to come.”

Before this year, Toronto had a tradition of losing early in the postseason and losing its best players in their primes. Carter forced a trade that put him in the coveted New York media market. Chris Bosh bolted in free agency to form a super team with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, a one-man media circus, in Miami.

If DeRozan wanted a larger platform and more notoriety, his first dive into unrestricted free agency presented him with an incredible opportunity. DeRozan has worn Kobe Bryant’s signature sneakers for years and was rumored as the leading candidate to fill his retired idol’s shoes for the Compton, Calif., native’s hometown Los Angeles Lakers.

The speculation could’ve consumed him in a contract year but DeRozan always knew that a lucrative pay day was waiting for him, from Toronto or any other team, which is one of the reasons he told The Vertical last May that he had “nothing to worry about.” All along, DeRozan wanted to remain in his only basketball home, to see his name at or near the top of the most relevant Raptors franchise records. Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujuri didn’t let DeRozan test the market, nor did he have to.

“Knowing what you felt comfortable with, what made you happy, where you want to play, I just wanted to get it over with, in a sense, just get it out of the way,” DeRozan told The Vertical of how he handled the free-agency process. “Them wanting to get it done before anybody had a chance to talk to me says a lot.”

With his new contract and the Raptors coming off their most successful season in franchise history, DeRozan, along with friend and fellow Olympic team member Kyle Lowry will be expected to at least keep Toronto among the elites in a steadily improving Eastern Conference. But DeRozan won’t burden himself with any outside pressure.

“I really don’t pay no mind to it. Every year, I look at whatever we have to do as a big challenge and I just try to come back a better player than I was before, and do whatever I need for my team to win,” DeRozan said. “The beauty of playing basketball is being able to build yourself all the way up and then go back down and start all over again. It’s going to be a brand new challenge for us, with a couple of new guys and losing a couple of key players from last year. But starting the first day of training camp, it’s about laying that foundation of how great we can be, coming off the great season we had.”

Several stars skipped the festivities in Brazil but DeRozan recognized the benefits of training with and working with the best for an entire month. Along the way, DeRozan plans to bond with his teammates as they win and welcome fans in on the fun through social media. “A lot of guys don’t get this opportunity, to be around these talented guys, these talented coaches, to learn from, to mature, to become a better player to where you can carry on to your own team,” DeRozan told The Vertical. “It’s just something that you can look back on, 20, 30, 40 years from now, to say you were part of the 2016 Olympic team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, former NBA lottery pick Jimmer Fredette has reached a deal to play for Yao Ming’s team in ChinaNumbers and notes to know about Team USA’s various lineups from exhibition play … ICYMI, the Milwaukee Bucks officially re-signed Miles Plumlee yesterday … Rasheed Wallace and Stephen Jackson deliver water to residents in Flint, Mich., … Jordan Clarkson‘s 3-point shot is looking pretty good, folks … NBPA executive director Michele Roberts is ‘optimistic’ a lockout will be averted

Morning Shootaround — July 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cuban: Mavericks got “lucky” with free agent Plan B | Careful challenging Michael Jordan, even now | Waiting paid off for Lue, Cavaliers

No. 1: Cuban: Mavericks got “lucky” with free agent Plan B — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been one to hold his tongue in matters of business, basketball or politics. So when he talks about the Mavericks getting “lucky” with their free agent contingency plans this summer, he means what he says. The Dallas Morning News provides some highlights of Cuban’s recent discussion with ESPN Radio 103.3 in Dallas, where he discussed the departure of Chandler Parsons, the acquisition of Harrison Barnes and more:

Chuck Cooperstein: Unfortunately the Plan A [in free agency] didn’t work out the way you had in mind, didn’t work out the way you hoped it would. Even you knew that it was going to be an uphill struggle to make it work. Yet again, you’ve been able to sort of cobble something together that looks just a little bit more than interesting.

Mark Cuban: Yeah, you know I keep a whole trunk full of rabbits so I can put them in my hat. We got lucky. There’s not other way to say it. We knew we were long shots with both Hassan [Whiteside] and with Mike Conley. We knew Mike Conley wasn’t going to turn down the largest contract in NBA history. But we also know that it’s not just about the short-term, it’s the long-term. We wanted to introduce the Mavericks, our style and our organization to both of them because you never know when they’re going to be available in a trade. You never know next free agency. So many things can happen over a period of time in an NBA.

Look what happened with D-Will [Deron Williams]. I think our presentation to him from coach and Donnie [Nelson] in particular really set the groundwork for him understanding who we are. On one hand, we didn’t expect to get them to come to the Mavs, but we still think it served a function. From there Harrison [Barnes] reached out to me at 12:01 like, ‘Dude I want to come there. You’re my first pick, my only pick.’ I went back-and-forth with him like, ‘Yeah, we’d love you too but you’re a restricted free agent. Here’s our course of action. Here’s what we’re going to do.’ I laid it all out for him. He was like, ‘Okay, we’ll see what happens but you guys are my team.’ Fortunately it turned out the way it did.

Matt Mosley: Mark, why did you essentially pick Harrison Barnes over Chandler Parsons? Parsons ends up getting very similar, if not the same money, from Memphis. Y’all had a great relationship. I saw quotes recently [where] you said, ‘It continues to be a great relationship.’ Did it simply come down to the knee, the medical, as comparing Barnes to Parsons or do you just feel like maybe Barnes has more upside?

Mark Cuban: Can’t go into any details, but I’ll just say it wasn’t a basketball issue. Chandler obviously is a very, very skilled player. There’s a lot of great things to his game. But he’s, in essence, a different player from Harrison. Harrison is longer, more athletic, younger. Just like Chandler really didn’t get a chance to have his game blossom when he was with the Rockets. He just showed glimpses of it because of Dwight [Howard] and James [Harden] being there. I think Harrison was kind of in the same role. I think we’re going to give Harrison the opportunity and I know he’s excited about the opportunity to really shine and be a featured guy for us.

Chuck Cooperstein: I don’t know if you saw the ESPN piece…about the summer ranking of the Western Conference teams in which they had the Mavericks ninth. I said something, ‘Well, here we go again.’ Right?

Mark Cuban: You never know until you know. That’s why we play the games. If you look at last year you look at New Orleans, you look at Houston, you just don’t know. I would have told you last year, and I think I did tell you guys, that we’re about eight sprained ankles away from being a top contender. Now we’re probably only three, maybe four. You just don’t know. Look at Portland and what happened there. You just don’t know.

***

(more…)

Dwight Jones, former Olympian and NBA big man, dies at 64

NEW YORK CITYDwight Jones, a big man who played for a decade in the NBA and represented the United States in the 1972 Olympics, passed away earlier this week at 64 years old. According to the Houston Chronicle, Jones, perhaps the greatest high school player in Houston history, had been battling a heart ailment for several years.

A first-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks in 1973, Jones would go on to play for his hometown Rockets, as well as the Bulls and Lakers. Jones retired in 1984 after playing 766 NBA regular season games, amassing career averages of 8.1 ppg and 5.9 rpg.

Jones was also known for his participation in the controversial 1972 Olympics Men’s Basketball finals, when Team USA lost the gold medal game in overtime against the Soviet Union. As the New York Times recounts, even years later Jones remained frustrated by the loss

“For some of the guys, it’s eased over the years,” he was quoted as having said by The Houston Chronicle in 2002. “But for most of us,” he added, “we’re not that way.”

The American and Soviet teams had dominated the competition leading up to the championship game. The Americans initially struggled against the more experienced Soviet team, but managed a comeback and were trailing, 49-48, with seconds left in the game. Doug Collins sank two free throws, giving the Americans their first lead of the night with one second left on the clock.

An official, however, ordered that two seconds be put back on the clock. When the Soviets failed to score and a horn sounded, the American team began to celebrate and spectators swarmed the court. But officials then ruled that the clock had not been set properly, and they resumed the game with three seconds on the clock, giving the Russians yet another chance.

This time, Ivan Edeshko hurled a full-court pass to Aleksandr Belov, who scored the winning layup over Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes. It was the first time the Americans had ever lost a game in the Olympics.

Jones was off the court when it happened. He had been ejected with about twelve minutes left for scuffling with Mishako Korkia.

The American team appealed the results before a five-member jury set up by basketball’s global governing body, but lost, 3-2. The three members who voted to uphold the Russian victory were all from Communist countries. The Americans unanimously refused to accept their silver medals.

“It all came down to the Robin Hood theory — they took away from the good to give to the bad,” Jones said. “It’s the only game in history that has ever been played like that and ended like that.”

University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson (via ESPN.com) said in a statement…

Dwight was a tremendous competitor, who represented the University of Houston and his nation well during his playing career. While his health declined in recent years, he faced those challenges with the same courage and spirit that made him one of our program’s greats. Tonight, our hearts go out to Dwight’s family and friends and all those who knew and loved him.

Morning shootaround — July 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA continues rolling | Wade, Bulls a convenient fit | Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs

No. 1: Team USA continues rolling — With the Olympics now a week away, Team USA continued their exhibition schedule last night in Chicago, where they squared off against Venezuela. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Team USA managed to overcome poor shooting to still coast to an easy 80-45 win…

A miserable shooting night by both teams kept highlights to a minimum, but the USA Basketball men’s national team beat Venezuela 80-45 Friday night at United Center.

A sellout crowd eager to see both the Chicago Bulls’ Olympic representative, Jimmy Butler, and newest acquisition, Dwyane Wade — watching from the front row after his Bulls introductory news conference earlier in the day — did most of its noise-making during introductions.

At least, that’s how it went until DeAndre Jordan‘s alley-oop throwdown of a pass from Kevin Durant gave them something to roar about, putting Team USA up 62-37 with 6:47 left. Then Butler threw one down with 1:47 left to satisfy the locals.

Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson scored 13 points each for Team USA.

Heading into that final quarter, though, the teams had combined to shoot 29-of-104 (27.9 percent). The Venezuela team was pesky enough defensively to disrupt Team USA’s offense, which had purred along shooting 49.8 percent in its first three tuneups.

The Americans won those games — the opener against Argentina, followed by two against China — by an average of 45.3 points, outrebounding those opponents by an average of 21.0. By halftime Friday, they were on pace in both those categories — leading by 18, with a 37-12 edge on the boards — but their scoring was way down due to abysmal shooting.

Their 36 points through two quarters came the hard way: 12-of-40 on field-goal attempts, including 2-of-18 on 3-pointers. The NBA stars even missed six of their 16 free throws.

The Venezuelans hung tough deep into the first quarter, trailing 13-12, before USA ran off the game’s next 12 points across the quarter break. Venezuela’s John Cox, who led all scorers with 12 points in the half, got his crew as close as 28-18 before Team USA closed the half with eight unanswered points.

***

No. 2: Wade, Bulls a convenient fit — One of the more surprising signings of the NBA free agency period was Dwyane Wade leaving the only team he had ever played for, the Miami Heat, in order to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Wade met with the media in Chicago on Friday, and Wade said that this was not about money as much as it was a return to where he watched the Bulls play as a kid…

Wade was introduced Friday — wait, that’s the wrong word for one of the NBA’s most familiar faces, so let’s say reacquainted with Chicago media at a news conference at the Bulls downtown practice facility. The theme of the 45-minute “presser” was hometown-kid-returns, and strictly speaking, there’s no denying the truth of that. Wade was born in Chicago, grew up in the south suburb of Robbins, and went to Richards H.S. in neighboring Oak Lawn.

But he left Chicagoland after graduating to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee. After leading that school to the Final Four, the 6-foot-4 guard was drafted fifth overall in 2003 by Miami. And over the past 13 years, Wade established himself as the face, heart and soul of the Heat, stacking up 12 All-Star appearances alongside those three Larry O’Brien trophies.

Because Wade’s Miami teams were in direct conflict with the Bulls for much of his career, his roots mattered less to the fans at United Center than the city and logos on his uniform. He routinely was booed and, more than once, rather awkwardly, he was cheered when he fell or was knocked to the floor and it appeared he might be hurt too badly to continue. Wade even let on how that stung, coming in the building where he once had dreamed of playing and winning.

That was the dream-come-true of which he spoke Friday.

“I’m a Chicago guy, Chicago kid. I grew up here,” Wade said, before a fleet of cameras, a gang of reporters and lots of family. “I remember sitting on the floor when I could sit Indian-style and watching the Chicago Bulls win their first championship. I was 9 years old.

“We had this little-bitty TV — it’s about as big as an iPhone now — I remember looking at it and saying, ‘That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be. I want to be a champion and that’s who I want to do it with.’ My dream of becoming an NBA player started here in my hometown.”

No one wants to be overly cynical, so if Wade really is scratching an itch — and maybe extending his brand to another major market for the growing conglomerate that he and many of his peers have become — by playing next season in Chicago, good for him.

That doesn’t paper over suspicions, though, that he signed with the Bulls out of spite when the Heat and president Pat Riley didn’t make him a higher priority when free agency opened July 1. Or that the Bulls had ulterior motives in their own right besides landing a player whom they’d had in their sights twice before.

Wade tamped down a few questions Friday about the breakdown in his negotiations with the Heat. Reminded that Riley later expressed — sincerely or not — some regrets that he hadn’t been more involved in the talks, Wade said he had been fine hashing out particulars with owner Mickey Arison and son Nick.

“This year, the direction and focus for that organization in Miami — which I have nothing but respect for and love for — was a little different than it has been in years past,” Wade said. “My focus and direction was a little different than it’s been in years past. … I had a contract offer in Miami I could have took. I decided not to take it. It was my decision to be selfish and live out a dream of mine.”

“So let’s clear up the notion that Pat Riley orchestrated me getting out of Miami because he didn’t offer me the money I wanted,” Wade added. “This was not a money deal for me.”

***

No. 3: Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs — After his head coaching gig ended with the New Orleans Pelicans, last summer Monty Williams joined the Oklahoma City Thunder as their lead assistant coach. But tragedy struck midway through the season, when Williams’ wife was killed in a traffic accident. Williams took off the rest of the season to focus on their five children, but he recently returned to work with USA Basketball, and as ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, Williams is expected to return to the NBA next season as an assistant for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs.

Sources told ESPN that Williams — who left the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bench in February after the tragic death of his wife, Ingrid — has been urged by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to take as much of a role with the organization as he feels comfortable for the 2016-17 campaign.

The specifics of what role Williams would fill and how much time he could commit have not yet been determined, but sources say San Antonio has opened the door to either a coaching and player-development role or a front-office position (or a hybrid), depending on what he prefers.

One source close to Williams told ESPN that the 44-year-old “absolutely” intends to be a head coach in the league again after his expected stint with the Spurs. The source also said numerous teams, including Oklahoma City, have made similar offers to Williams for next season.

Williams’ in-laws live in San Antonio and have been assisting him with the couple’s five children in the wake of Ingrid Williams’ death after a Feb. 9 collision in which a car crossed over onto the wrong side of the road and struck her vehicle head-on.

The children also have been traveling with Williams during Team USA’s domestic stops on the road to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The team has played exhibition games in Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Oakland, California; and Chicago entering the final warm-up game in Houston against Nigeria on Monday.

The start of USA Basketball’s preparations for the Rio Olympics on July 18 in Las Vegas marked Williams’ return to the sport after five months away in the wake of the accident. In a SportsCenter interview with Hannah Storm that aired Friday, Williams said he’s “so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

“I’ve only had peace about a few things,” Williams told Storm. “I knew I had to take care of my kids and stop coaching, but also knew that I wanted to be a part of USA Basketball, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

“I can’t wait to get back and start coaching. I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to. My kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back.”

Last season was Williams’ first as the lead assistant in Oklahoma City under Thunder coach Billy Donovan. Williams previously posted a record of 173-221 in five seasons as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. After the Thunder’s seven-game exit to Golden State in the Western Conference finals this postseason, Donovan confirmed that Williams would not be returning to the Thunder bench.

Williams got his start in coaching under Popovich as a Spurs intern in 2004-05 before making his debut as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Reflecting on the accident that claimed his wife’s life, Williams told Storm, “I got the call that nobody wants to get. And I knew when I was talking to my daughter, because she answered the phone, I knew at that moment that my life was going to change. I can’t explain it, but I knew that everything was going to be different. I didn’t know what was going on at the hospital; I just knew that my life was going to change. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. I just felt that in my heart like this phone call was different.

“It’s one of those things you never get rid of. You never forget where you were. You never forget what you were doing. It’s the phone call you don’t want anybody to ever get. Certainly [it] could’ve broken me to the point of quitting. But God and his graciousness has given me the strength and good people to help us go forward.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Atlanta Hawks starting point guard Dennis Schröder joined this week’s Hang Time Podcast … The Warriors will reportedly offer JaVale McGee a chance to make the team in training camp … Nets guard Greivis Vasquez has withdrawn from the Olympics and the Venezuelan National Team … Jarrett Jack says he’s about a month away from returning to full-contact workouts

Morning shootaround — July 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Durant says he didn’t tell Westbrook he was coming back | Wade’s move shocks Anthony | Stoudemire wanted to retire with Suns

No. 1: Durant says he never made promise to Westbrook — Kevin Durant was one of, if not the biggest, names in free agency this summer. His decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors made ripples throughout the NBA that are still being felt today. On a recent podcast, ESPN.com’s Royce Young said Durant had essentially told his All-Star teammate in OKC, Russell Westborook, he was coming back to the Thunder. (Young has since clarified that statement back a bit.) Durant, in an interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, says he never said anything of the sort to Westbrook:

Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant refuted a report that he told his ex-Oklahoma City teammates – including Russell Westbrook – that he planned to re-sign with the Thunder.

“It’s false,” Durant told The Vertical on Thursday. “I didn’t say that – words about me telling Russell or Nick that I would stay or leave never came out of my mouth. We met as teammates, but no promises came out of it. In this day and age, I can’t control anything people claim out there. Someone can go out and say something random right now, and people will believe it.

“I never told Russell or Nick [Collison], ‘All right, guys, I’m coming back to the Thunder’ – and then a week later, I decide not to. Never happened. I don’t operate like that. I heard people say that story, but it’s not the truth.”

In a quiet corner before USA Basketball’s practice at the United Center, Durant admitted he has heard – and refutes – the perception that he turned his back on Westbrook and his former Thunder teammates. “There were never promises given in a meeting before July,” he told The Vertical. “I went through the process.”

He held meetings with six teams – the Warriors, Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat – and committed to a two-year maximum contract with Golden State. Since joining the Warriors, Durant and several teammates, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, have fielded questions about acclimating the one-time NBA MVP to the starting lineup.

“I’m not coming into a team where a guy is playing my position and we have try to fit in two guys playing the same position,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’m not coming in trying to play the point guard, trying to play the shooting guard. I’m a small forward. The team didn’t have a small forward when I signed. Steph, Klay, Draymond, the bigs, we all play different positions.

“Whether it’s minutes, shots, opportunities, any good team will have players sacrificing. That’s the nature of the game. I’m not coming into a game saying that I need my 18 shots and I need to get to the line 12 times. I let the game flow naturally.”

***

No. 2: Anthony shocked by Wade’s move to Chicago — New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and new Chicago Bulls signee Dwyane Wade have been friends for years, dating back to before both were taken in the top 5 picks of the 2003 Draft. The two have had their share of memorable one-on-one showdowns through the years, even moreso over the last six seasons since Anthony was traded to the Eastern Conference. While Anthony should continue to face Wade on a regular basis in 2016-17 and beyond, he was like many others this summer who found themselves surprised Wade left the Miami Heat to sign with the Bulls. ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell has more:

“I was shocked,” Anthony said before Thursday’s Team USA practice at the United Center. “I was shocked more from a standpoint it was just hard to see. It’s hard to see some players in different uniforms and he’s one of those guys who I never thought I would see in a different uniform other than Miami. But it happened, and I got a chance to talk to him and sit down with him and really dig deep about his feelings and what happened. He’s at peace now. And when he’s at peace, I’m at peace with it.”

Wade surprised many in the league by spurning the Heat to sign a two-year deal with the Bulls earlier this month. Anthony, who was wooed by the Bulls two summers ago but ultimately decided to re-sign with the Knicks, acknowledged that the free-agency process can be mentally taxing for players.

“I don’t think the masses really understand how difficult those decisions are,” Anthony said. “And what goes into those decisions. And as athletes what’s going through our mind during those decisions. A lot of people think we can just wake up and we can just make those decisions — it’s not that easy.”

Anthony’s comments come just a few weeks after two of the most successful Bulls in recent memory, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, landed in New York. Rose was dealt to the Knicks last month. Noah signed as a free agent.

“We love them,” Anthony said. “We love those additions. And we’re looking forward to getting the season going. And I think everybody is excited, the excitement is back. Right now there’s an adjustment on paper, but of course we have some work to do putting it all together, making it work. But we’re going to ride the wave of this excitement right now.”

As for a rekindling of a rivalry between the Bulls and Knicks, Anthony said he knows that it’s possible with all the moves both teams have made.

“I know you guys want that,” Anthony said. “I know you’re living for that. But we embrace that. I think as players, as competitors, we embrace all of those challenges and rivalries, that’s what makes the sport great again, so we embrace that.”

***

No. 3: Stoudemire says Suns weren’t receptive to him returning — After six All-Star Game apperances, a Kia Rookie of the Year trophy, and being named an All-NBA player several times, Amar’e Stoudemire retired from the NBA on Wednesday. Stoudemire was a free agent this summer and decided to hang it up as a member of the New York Knicks, whom he played for from 2010-15. Although Stoudemire had some memorable days in New York, most associate his peak seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him in 2002. Stoudemire told the Arizona Republic‘s Paul Coro he wanted to retire as a Sun, but the team didn’t seem receptive to that idea:

Amar’e Stoudemire gets sentimental the moment he reflects on his first eight NBA seasons spent in Phoenix, where a raw teenager became a skilled All-Star.

“Where do you want me to start?” Stoudemire said Thursday, shuffling through his mind’s fondest Suns memories. “It doesn’t stop.”

Stoudemire quickly recites Suns times like flying with a Phoenix contingent to recruit Steve Nash out of Dallas, watching Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic arrive in Phoenix from foreign countries, his career’s most successful seasons as an individual and a team, experiencing a preseason tour of Italy and Germany, watching Nash’s soccer skills on the Suns practice court and using his Hollywood connections to entertain teammates on the road.

All of that, dotted by conference finals runs and five All-Star Games as a Sun, will carry more weight in time than his decision to retire on a one-day New York Knicks contract for his less successful NBA home of 4 ½ years.

Stoudemire just did not feel the same love back in the past two offseasons, when he hoped to return to the Suns to close his career. That prompted him to reach out to New York this month for a ceremonial contract with a “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” quotation to cap his 14-year career.

“The last two years, we made phone calls to Phoenix but I wasn’t getting any positive response,” Stoudemire told azcentral sports on Thursday. “That would’ve been the perfect way to go out. I didn’t want to beg Phoenix. My heart was in two places – Phoenix and New York. I just went where I was wanted.”

“I love my fans in Phoenix. Most of my high times and highlights were in Phoenix. I put forth the effort to finish my career in Phoenix but it wasn’t well-received.”

Stoudemire watched Steve Nash be inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor last season and thought, “I might be next.” There are currently 14 members.

Even with missing nearly a full season during his eight-year Phoenix stay, Stoudemire ranks highly in Suns career annals – fourth in points per game (21.4), third in total rebounds (4,613), fifth in total blocks (722), third in free throws made (3,044) and seventh in field goal percentage (54.3).

“I’m praying for that,” Stoudemire said of a Ring of Honor induction, “because my glory years are in Phoenix. My best times are in Phoenix. I bleed purple and orange. My roots are in Phoenix and the tree bloomed from there.”

 

Stoudemire wanted to make it clear that his positive feelings for the franchise remain in tact, especially his respect for Suns fans and managing partner Robert Sarver.

“I never have received so much love and loyalty than I did with Suns fans,” Stoudemire said. “I love them unconditionally.

“I understand what Robert is trying to do. I know Robert is trying to win and I know the organization is trying to create a winning environment. I respect what they are trying to accomplish. If they need my help with anything, I am here for them.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers will square off in a regular-season game in London next season … The cost of the Washington Wizards’ new practice facility just went up … Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler says he no longer has a chip on his shoulder motivating him, but he’s just as driven as ever … Sacramento Kings VP Vlade Divac is predicting a big Olympics for his team’s star center, DeMarcus Cousins … Gerald Green is glad to be back where his NBA career started — with the Boston Celtics …

Blogtable: More surprising move — Durant to Warriors or Wade to Bulls?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: More surprising move: Durant’s or Wade’s? | Your lasting memory of Duncan? | Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?


> More surprising move: Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder to join the Warriors, or Dwyane Wade leaving the Heat to join the Bulls?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Wade leaving Miami after 13 years was the bigger surprise. Durant’s decision wasn’t entirely unexpected (although I was in the majority of folks who thought he would re-up with OKC on a short-term deal). But Wade taking his business with the Heat into the street struck me as a leverage ploy rather than an actual disintegrating relationship with Pat Riley & Co. Given the Bulls’ slide toward irrelevancy before they landed him, it makes sense that Chicago provided a comfortable landing spot for Wade and gave him the Kobe Bryant Golden Parachute contract for all he’d done … for a rival team?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Wade to Chicago, for sure. Because it just doesn’t make sense. I’m not talking about leaving Miami or anything to do with his legacy. I just don’t know what the hell they’re doing in Chicago and don’t see how this move makes the Bulls better. First time Wade’s legs act up, all the homecoming good feeling goes right out the window.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat. Durant’s move is more rim shaking for the league, but was an option all along, even if what seemed to be a slight one at times. Wade taking a one-way ticket out of South Florida never seemed like a real possibility, though, maybe because he had been there about as long as the Everglades and maybe because there had been previous July staring contests with the Heat and everything worked out. They needed him there and he wanted to be there. The same thing would happen this time, right? Wrong.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat isn’t as seismic as Duncan leaving the Spurs prior to retirement, but close. Few players identified more with a city than Wade with Miami, and I’ll even say Wade, three titles later, is the No. 1 athlete in South Florida history, ahead of former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. But he did the Heat a favor. Pat Riley didn’t want to tie up three years on an aging star. Riley’s allegiance is to owner Micky Arison, the guy who signs the checks, not Wade. So there are no bad guys here. Riley did what he had to do while Wade looked out for himself, even if he left Miami for just $3 million, the difference of his 2-year deal with Chicago and what Miami offered (no taxes in Florida).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As shocking as Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State might seem to some, the rumors of the two sides eying each other in free agency cranked up last summer. Dwayne Wade leaving the Miami Heat for his hometown Chicago Bulls was much more surprising, especially when you consider his final season in a Heat uniform. Wade was fantastic, vintage Wade even, as he guided the beat down Heat to the Eastern Conference semifinals. It’s hard to imagine either side wanting things to end the way it did. He’s one of those players you figured would finish his career with one team, a practice of yesteryear it appears in today’s free agent climate.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I always, always thought Wade would remain in Miami — that both sides would see the bigger picture and come to yet another contractual understanding for one another’s benefit. But it’s less and less that kind of world anymore. Which really puts Tim Duncan’s career with the Spurs into perspective.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Wade to Chicago. While I suspected Durant was likely to stay in Oklahoma City and was rather surprised to hear he was leaving, I don’t think most people even believed a Wade departure was anywhere near the table. In many ways, Wade *is* the Miami Heat, and his departure over a few million dollars is shocking. The Thunder haven’t even been in Oklahoma City all that long, but the Heat and Wade have won titles and made real history together in South Florida, a relationship which is now literally history.