Posts Tagged ‘Chris Webber’

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Fast Break from Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns in disarray | James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm | The decline of Dwight Howard | A warm reception for Kobe in Boston?

No. 1: Suns in disarray — One loss to the lowly and previously one-win Philadelphia 76ers destabilized things in the Valley of the Sun. And the hits just keep on coming. The news that point guard Eric Bledsoe would need surgery to repair a torn meniscus and would be out indefinitely was followed by the reported firing of two assistant coaches (Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sicthting) in an effort to shake up Jeff Hornacek‘s staff. And Hornacek, who took a towel to the face from Markeiff Morris last week, is also reportedly on the hot seat. Just two years ago Hornacek had the Suns were on the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and now it all appears to be on the verge of coming apart, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports:

Sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that the Suns are promoting longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren to the bench to work closer to Hornacek and will dismiss veteran assistants Mike Longabardi, who was heading up Phoenix’s defense, and Jerry Sichting.

Earlier Sunday, ESPN.com first reported that the Suns’ 5-15 nosedive, including a home loss Saturday night to the 2-30 Philadelphia 76ers, had put Hornacek’s job security under immediate threat.

It is believed that the Suns are taking this measure instead to give Hornacek, who is held in high esteem by owner Robert Sarver, another chance to turn the club around.

But that figures to be difficult after the harsh news Sunday that star guard Eric Bledsoe is out indefinitely and will require knee surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, despite the organization’s well-known fondness for Hornacek, have been forced to contemplate a coaching change far sooner than they hoped because of a slide that has dropped them to 12-20 and 11th in the Western Conference. There is also a growing fear within the organization that the team is no longer responding to its head coach.

Phoenix began the season with playoff aspirations after posting records of 48-34 and 39-43 in Hornacek’s first two seasons and the offseason signing of center Tyson Chandler.

But the Suns have dropped 15 of 20 games since opening 7-5, seemingly bottoming out in Saturday night’s home loss to the Sixers as Bledsoe also exited with his knee injury in the second quarter.

Adding to the sting of the Philadelphia loss: It was the first game on the Sixers’ bench for former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired recently by new Philadelphia chairman of basketball operations and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to serve as associate head coach to Sixers coach Brett Brown.

“Obviously, it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “Now the confidence is lacking.”

***

No. 2: James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm — Back-to-back losses has a way of raising the dander of LeBron James in the way little else can. As the leader of the superstar band in Cleveland, James never shies away from delivering critical analysis about his own crew. And after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Christmas and the Portland Trail Blazers a day later, LeBron vented his frustrations about his team’s lack of rhythm. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

The Cavs still lead the East at 19-9, but they’ve had a bad week, with problems deeper than perhaps their 2-2 record would indicate.

You could chalk it up to the knuckleball effect, which is, after trying to hit a pitcher who throws knuckleballs, it can take a big leaguer days to catch up to 95 mph fastballs again.

The Cavs hosted the 76ers – who won their second game this season – last Sunday. They haven’t played well since, needing to hold on for dear life at home against a Knicks team sans Carmelo Anthony and then suffering through consecutive porous shooting performances in these two losses.

Cleveland followed up its 89-83 loss to the defending-champion Warriors – in which the Cavs shot 31.6 percent – with a 28-of-77 clunker against the Blazers.

James is shooting 14-of-39 in his last two, with the 4-of-13 effort for 12 points he turned in Saturday night.

“Offensively we’re just in a funk right now,” James said. “We just got to find our rhythm.”

There’s that word again, rhythm.

James used it after the Cavs lost to the Warriors, when he said “it’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm.”

wrote in Oakland Christmas night to monitor this – James calling for Blatt to bring clarity to the Cavs’ rotations.

Last Sunday (when the Cavs faced the knuckleballer 76ers) was Kyrie Irving’s first game back. Iman Shumpert returned, too, after missing a game with a groin injury. The next game, against the Knicks, was Mo Williams’ first after two absences because of a thumb injury.

With all these players at Blatt’s disposal, the Cavs look discombobulated. No one disputes it and both James and Blatt said it’s to be expected, to a certain extent. And Irving didn’t even play against the Blazers, per the team’s decision to protect his surgically repaired knee from the rigors of games on consecutive nights this early in his comeback.

But Blatt said he spoke with his coaches after the loss Saturday about the impact the changing lineups was having on the team, and James had already taken it a couple steps further after the Warriors game, mentioning the lack of rhythm and continuity because of the uncertainty in Cleveland’s rotations.

Now, consider what James said about this very same topic on Saturday:

“For the first eight weeks we had built chemistry, we knew who was playing, we knew who wasn’t playing,” James said. “We had rotations, coach had rotations down, so we got to get back to that. We have no rhythm. Guys are, we have some guys who don’t know if they’re going to play, or if they are going to play, and it’s hurting our rhythm a little bit.”

***

No. 3: The decline of Dwight Howard The slow, physical erosion of the body and skills of one of the league’s best big men is real. Dwight Howard, the man formerly known as “Superman” to an entire generation of NBA fans, is no more. So says TNT and NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who lived through a similar fade during his star-studded career after he crossed over from young physical freak to mere mortal. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

The decline of Dwight Howard is one of the NBA’s most compelling developments. The onetime self-proclaimed “Superman” was for years a physical freak, the model of how a center was built and how a center defended.

Now 30, Howard is slowing down, bothered by years of back and knee issues. He doesn’t have the offensive effectiveness of past years and his durability has waned. So, what happens when physically gifted players lose a step, are no longer able to soar as they once did or defend above the rim?

Former NBA star and current NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who was a superb athlete coming out of Michigan two decades ago and played until he was 34, offered his thoughts on Howard.

“I wouldn’t just say this for Dwight, I’d say this for all players, me personally, I learned it from Karl Malone. You cannot stay in this game without skill,” Webber said. “Because after five years in this league you will no longer be the most athletic at your position. It’s impossible. That’s including injuries. You have to have more skill, you have to create value for those times you’re on the court.”

Webber said there are ways to compensate for a decline in athleticism by using intelligence.

“You have to maybe help defensively a little bit earlier since you can’t go up and get the blocked shot,” he said. “Some guys start taking charges or some guys just get out [farther] on the floor since they can’t move laterally anymore, maybe develop an 8-foot jump shot. You can learn how to make a move without dribbling because now you can’t just dribble by everybody anymore.

“You have to think the game through and just be that much more efficient. You won’t get the number of looks you have anymore. Mentally, you have to change and hopefully your skill set will allow that. If not, the game will pass you by.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for any NBA player is the deterioration of physical skills. For some it’s sudden, for others it’s gradual. The result is never easy to digest.

“It’s especially tough, for me going to Philly, a place that had a different [playing] style, that means you have to learn all over again,” Webber said. “If you’re Tim[Duncan], he’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, but because he’s allowed to age in a system.

“Let’s say with a Dwight Howard, his numbers are still incredible but you need a system around him that allows him to do that and those not just be wasted numbers. That can be wasted numbers on a team that doesn’t suit his system.”

The Rockets are one of the league’s more confounding teams, with a record hovering near .500 after reaching the West finals last season.

“Houston is the most disappointing team that we have in the league, more disappointing than the Philadelphia 76ers, and I don’t know if anybody can thrive in that system,” Webber said. “I definitely know it’s tough to age when the system does not include your age in the system.

“If I’m [Howard], I’m trying to offensive rebound a little bit more. If I’m him, I’m running right down the middle of the lane on a secondary break, posting up in the middle, and turning for a jump hook because you’re going to foul me. I’m going to put myself in positions where you have to get me the ball, and when I get the ball I’d be stupid to pass it back out. There’s ways, and he’s one of the best big men in the game still. He should be the second-most-targeted player on that team.”

***

No. 4: A warm reception for Kobe in Boston? The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant has had some interesting stops, to say the least. And nowhere is a fading Los Angeles Lakers’ legend loathed more than in Boston, where Kobe will visit for a final time (as a player) this week. But instead of a vicious chorus of boos, might Kobe be in for a much warmer reception from the Celtics loyalists? Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sets the stage:

It’s only Monday but already worth asking in a horribly mundane Lakers season: How will Kobe Bryant be received by fans Wednesday in his last game in Boston?

With Philadelphia out of the way, it could be the most attractive road game left on his farewell tour.

The setup started a few days ago, when Bryant revealed he listened daily to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” for two years because he wanted to remember the depth of the Lakers’ embarrassment in the 2008 NBA Finals.

Fans couldn’t stop singing it after the Celtics‘ 39-point Game 6 victory, so Bryant couldn’t stop listening to it.

He found his revenge two years later in the NBA Finals. Will Celtics fans be salty?

Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who battled Boston in three memorable NBA Finals in the 1980s, predicted a warm reaction.

“As much as the Celtics hate us and we hate them, I think the Celtics fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. I think they’ll give him the same type of respect that he deserves and that he’s been given everywhere else,” Scott said.

Perhaps a precedent was set when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played his last game in Boston in 1988. Abdul-Jabbar, 41 at the time, was given a framed slab of the Garden’s parquet floor by Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

Abdul-Jabbar also received a one-minute, 35-second standing ovation from Celtics fans that night. Scott was there as Abdul-Jabbar’s teammate.

“It wasn’t a standing ovation for [his] 20 years, but it was a standing ovation when he decided to retire,” Scott said, developing a one-liner. “Maybe that’s because he was whooping them so much.”

Fans cheered Bryant loudly in Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Toronto. They weren’t so kind in San Antonio, but he has another game there before bowing out.

He had not announced his retirement when the Lakers played in New York last month. Other notable road games for him include Sacramento on Jan. 7 and San Antonio on Feb. 6.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Clippers needed Paul Pierce to turn back the clock with Blake Griffin out for two weeks … Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, 83, diesBradley Beal is expected to resume basketball activities this week for the Washington Wizards … The Golden State Warriors will get a first-hand look at the new and improved Sacramento Kings tonight … The future remains bright for Glenn Robinson III in Indiana …

NBA Fan Night Tournament … #NBABEST

bracket1

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The best.

The best there ever was.

It’s an amazing distinction, one that can be argued for eternity when it comes to NBA champions, given that being the best in any given season in the best basketball league on the planet automatically qualifies a team for the best ever conversation.

Well, theoretically, of course.

There is no way to accurately compare champions from one era to the next. It’s a subjective endeavor, no matter what sort of data you bring to the party.

So do you go with the 1985 Los Angeles Lakers or the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers? The 1986 Boston Celtics or the 1989 Detroit Pistons? The 1972 Lakers or the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers?

What about the 1992 Chicago Bulls or the 1996 Bulls? Or perhaps you’re a believer in the 2001 Lakers or the 2003 San Antonio Spurs?

Those are just some of your choices in settling this age-old debate that will be addressed this season with NBA TV’s Fan Night #NBABEST Tournament. The bracket (above) is set.

The matchups are broken down by decade, the 16-best championship teams from bygone eras (we stopped at 2010, so there’s 2012 or ’13 Heat, no 2014 Spurs or the reigning Champion Golden State Warriors … sorry LeBron James and Stephen Curry) battling it out for top honors.

We start things today with the 2006 Miami Heat against the 2008 Celtics. Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal going head-to-head with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and the “Big 3” Celtics. Pat Riley matching wits against Doc Rivers.

Yes, the possibilities are endless.

Join the conversation on who would win via social media (Tweet @NBATV #NBABEST1 for the 2006 Heat or #NBABEST2 for the 2008 Celtics). The results will be announced during NBA TV’s postgame coverage of tonight’s Fan Night game between the Heat and Atlanta Hawks from Miami with TNT’s and NBA TV’s Ernie Johnson, Greg Anthony and Chris Webber (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

championship_matchup_2006_2008_v2

Report: Divac offers Peja job with Kings

Those were the best of times in Sacramento, when Vlade Divac was making passes out of the post to Peja Stojakovic to bury another 3-pointer and the cowbells were clanging and Arco Arena was rocking.

The Kings never quite got over the top or past the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy, but it was definitely fun to watch them play and to soak in the atmosphere.

Now it seems Divac wants to recapture some of the old spark and magic. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Divac has asked his Serbian countryman and ex-Kings teammate to help him turn around their old NBA team by offering him a player personnel job with the franchise:

Sources said new Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac has asked his former NBA and international teammate Stojakovic to leave Europe and move back to the United States to assist him in a player personnel role.

Stojakovic’s No. 16 jersey was retired by the Kings in December. He attended Summer League in Las Vegas with the Kings in a consulting role to Divac earlier this month, but sources say a firm decision on whether the 38-year-old joins them on a permanent basis might not come before September.

Stojakovic, 38, was drafted by the Kings in 1996 and joined them as a player before the lockout-shortened 1999 season, which was also Divac’s first as a King. Together with Chris Webber and Jason Williams, Sacramento’s Serbian duo helped transform the franchise’s fortunes and made them one of the West’s strongest teams for a half-decade.

NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history


VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets


VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful. (more…)

Morning shootaround — Oct. 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Players support shorter season; MJ mystified by such talk | Report: C-Webb joins group looking to buy Hawks | Smith, Van Gundy talk 3-pointers

No. 1: Nowitzki, James support shortening season, not games; Jordan puzzled by such talk — This Sunday, the NBA will experiment with a shorter-than-usual game as the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics will take part in a 44-minute preseason contest. News of that upcoming game has led to debate all over the internet (and on this very site) about whether a shorter game would be beneficial to the NBA as a whole or not. Two prominent stars in the game — LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki — think shortening the length of the season, not games, would be the most beneficial change that could happen. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin and Tim McMahon have more:

“I think you don’t need 82 games to determine the best eight in each conference,” Nowitzki said Wednesday. “That could be done a lot quicker, but I always understand that it’s about money, and every missed game means missed money for both parties, for the league, for the owners, for the players. I understand all that, and that’s why I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon.”

James, speaking before the Cavs hosted a preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, was adamant the length of games isn’t what should be at stake. And he said most of his fellow players are in agreement.

“No. It’s not the minutes, it’s the games,” James said. “The minutes doesn’t mean anything. We can play 50-minute games if we had to. It’s just the games. We all as players think it’s too many games. In our season, 82 games is a lot. But it’s not the minutes. Taking away minutes from the game is not going to shorten the game at all.

“Once you go out and play on the floor, it don’t matter if you play 22 minutes — like I may be playing tonight — or you’re playing 40 minutes,” James added. “Once you play, it takes a toll on your body. So it’s not lessening the minutes, I think it’s the games.”

Nowitzki and James were piggybacking on the point made by Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra when asked about the league’s experiment with a 44-minute game, which will be played by the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics on Sunday.

…”Honestly, I never was a big fan of back-to-backs even when I was 20 years old,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old entering his 17th NBA season. “I think that you should never have to play at the highest level there is two consecutive nights and flying in between. You obviously make it work. We have the best athletes in the world, we feel, but I think it hurts the product some. Last year, some teams get here for the fourth game in five nights and we’ve been sitting here on rest and just blow them out.

“I don’t think it’s good for the product, but I also understand that 82 games is where it’s at. It’s a business, and everybody’s got to live with it.”

James said more analysis on the potential impact to the business side seemed to be in order.

“It’s something that we definitely will have to sit down and try figure out if that’s the case, that may happen,” James said. “Obviously I don’t know the numbers right off the top of my head, but that would create less revenue. We all know that without even seeing the books that less games, less concession stands and less selling of tickets and all of that.

“But at the end of the day, we want to protect the prize and the prize is the players. We have to continue to promote the game, and if guys are being injured because there are so many games, we can’t promote it at a high level.”

Nowitzki would like the league to look at the possibility of allowing fewer timeouts, especially at the end of games.

“It’s such a fun, fast game,” Nowitzki said. “Then there’s one action and they score, OK, there’s a timeout and you sit for two minutes. There’s another action, they score, tie it up [and another timeout is called].

“There’s no other sport where it’s interrupted so much at the end. That’s something that I would look at. Both teams are like, ‘They have another timeout? Are you kidding me?’ That’s a little much, but other than that, I think the game’s great.”

After the NBA’s best and brightest of today had that to say about the schedule, the greatest player of the NBA’s last era, Michael Jordan, said he was shocked that superstars would want to play less games. ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard has more:

“I love both of those guys, but as an owner who played the game, I loved playing,” Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, told ESPN.com during a telephone interview. “If I wasn’t playing 82 games, I still would’ve been playing somewhere else because that’s the love for the game I had. As a player, I never thought 82 games was an issue.

“But if that’s what they want to do, we as owners and players can evaluate it and talk about it. But we’d make less money as partners. Are they ready to give up money to play fewer games? That’s the question, because you can’t make the same amount of money playing fewer games.”

Jordan also didn’t see the point in shortening games by four minutes.

He said the league informed its clubs of its intention to play a 44-minute game but that it was not presented as something the league is seriously considering instituting in the regular season.

“I would never shorten the game by four minutes,” Jordan said, “unless guys were having physical issues.”

Jordan said basketball players generally don’t incur the same long-term physical ailments as football players so he can’t understand the talk of a shorter season or shorter games.

“It’s not like football,” he said. “We don’t really have to worry about concussions and some of the physical damage that football players deal with after they retire. I can understand football players wanting to play fewer games from a physical standpoint. But basketball’s not the same. I’m not diminishing the fact that we go through a grueling season. But I wouldn’t want to shorten the game or play 15-20 fewer games.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki explains why the NBA should think about a shorter season

(more…)

After 50 Greatest: The Next 10


VIDEO: Shaq breaks out his list for the Next 10

It’s been more than 17 years since the NBA named its 50 Greatest Players in History as part of the annual All-Star weekend in Cleveland. Almost from the moment the list was revealed, the debate began.

How could the legendary Dominique Wilkins be left off? How could a 24-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, who was in just his fifth pro season, be included?

I was privileged to be among the 50 players, coaches, league executives and media members that made up the selection panel. Yes, I voted for Dominique. Not for Shaq. I thought it was too soon, his resume still incomplete, though he did, of course, become a no-brainer. The others I voted for that missed were: Bob McAdoo, Slater Martin, Dennis Johnson and Mo Cheeks.

As the 2014-15 season approaches, the gang at NBA TV’s Open Court decided it would be a time to expand the list of the 50 Greatest and choose The Next 10. The panel of O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Chris Webber, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups and Ernie Johnson had a lively discussion. You can see their picks on Tuesday night’s season-opening edition of Open Court (NBA TV, 6:30 ET, replay at 1:00 ET on Wednesday morning).

That got me to compiling my own Next 10 list. My parameters were not to re-legislate the past, so I’ve made my picks based only on players that played the majority of their careers after the original list in 1997:

Tim Duncan, with coach Gregg Popovich (Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE)

Tim Duncan, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE)

1 — Tim Duncan — It’s quite fitting that the Spurs made him the No. 1 pick in the Draft just months after the celebration of the 50 Greatest. He’s the perfect torch bearer at the perfect time to lead into the next generation. Five-time NBA champ, two-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP, 14-time All-Star, the Big Fundamental has been able to do it all for the past 17 seasons, staking his claim as the greatest power forward in history.

2 — Kobe Bryant — How many other 36-year-olds could enter a 19th NBA season coming off Achilles’ tendon and knee surgery and still defiantly believe that he’ll be able to dominate games and make his team contender? And you give him the benefit of the doubt? Currently fourth on the all-time scoring list, Kobe is poised to pass Michael Jordan this season. Call him ego-driven, a lightning rod or whatever you want, but since 1996, after winning five titles, an MVP award and two Finals MVPs, you have to call him elite.

3 — LeBron James — Not since Wilt Chamberlain has a player come into the league with such fantastic, over-the-top hype. Jealous criticisms aside, all he’s done is live up to it. The perfect combination of size, strength, speed, smarts and unselfishness. He’s just 29 years old with  four MVP awards, two championships, two Finals MVPs and 10 straight All-Star appearances already. And now he’s going back to Cleveland to keep writing the tale. As the late Howard Cosell once said, his critics might as well be shooting “spitballs at a battleship.” Clearly the best all-around player of his generation. He ranks only third here out of respect to his elders.

4 — Dirk Nowitzki — Did the Milwaukee Bucks know what they were trading away when they made him the ninth pick in the 1998 Draft and shipped him to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor? Did the basketball world remotely expect that a raw, gangly 7-footer from Wurzburg, Germany could grow into probably the best shooting big man in history? MVP, Finals MVP, champion, 12-time All-Star, he’s one of the Mt. Rushmore faces of international players that changed the NBA.

5 — Kevin Garnett — From those early days as a raw 19-year-old who became the first high schooler in nearly two decades to jump straight to the NBA, his calling card has been intensity. Of course, K.G. also has a bundle of talent at both ends of the court. NBA champion, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, 15-time All-Star. If you needed somebody to play in a game with your life on the line, you’d want Garnett on the floor.

6 — Allen Iverson — You can keep Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. When it’s the toughest, most resilient pound-for-pound fighter we’re talking about, The Answer is the answer. The little guy was bruised, beaten, body slammed on a nightly basis and just kept popping back up to fire off another dozen or so shots. MVP, 11 All-Star appearances, four-time scoring champ and three-time steals leader. Watching him drag that 2001 Sixers team to The Finals was a joy.

7 — Dwyane Wade — It’s convenient in some corners to say that he’s been the ultimate ride-along partner to O’Neal and James in winning three championships. That corner of the world evidently didn’t have a TV to watch the NBA Finals in 2006 when he brought Miami out of an 0-2 hole against Dallas with games of 42, 36, 43 and 36 points. Explosive, acrobatic and willing to make his game fit in with LeBron for two more titles in the Big Three Era, Wade’s crowd-pleasing, no-holds-barred style has taken a toll on his body. But he never stops. Scoring champ, Finals MVP, 10 All-Star Games and the all-time leader in blocked shots for players 6-foot-4 and under.

8 — Jason Kidd — He began his career in Dallas in 1994 as a point guard that could beat you down the floor on the break or break down your set defense. By the time he returned to Dallas to win a championship with the Mavs, he was a slow 3-point specialist. In between Kidd was one of the smartest and best all-around players in the NBA, third on the all-time triple-doubles list and the only player in history with 15,000 points, 10,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds.

9 — Chris Webber — The critics will point to a resume that doesn’t have a championship or even a trip to The Finals. But they would be missing the forest for the trees. From the time he was the No. 1 pick in the 1993 Draft through the next decade, until he needed micro fracture knee surgery, Webber was as good a do-everything forward as there was in the game. He turned lowly teams at Golden State, Washington and Sacramento into winners by averaging 20-10 and being a slick, willing passer.

10 — Kevin Durant — At just 26, with the meat of his career still ahead, there is the temptation to put him in the Shaq category with the original 50 and say let him marinate a while longer. But with four scoring titles, five All-NBA first team selections and the 2014 MVP award under his belt, who needs to wait? He can get off a shot any time from anywhere on the court and never look like he’s straining. A pure scoring machine who makes it all look too, too easy.

Cavs seek Love, Wiggins seeks NBA home


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins was a sensation for the Cavs during Summer League play

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking for Love. All Andrew Wiggins wants at this point is an NBA home.

A raw talent so alluring that several franchises sabotaged their 2013-14 seasons for a shot at landing him, Wiggins has been treated for the past six weeks like somebody’s backup date for the prom. As soon as James stunned and, in many quarters, delighted the NBA by announcing his return to Cleveland, Wiggins became less a piece of the Cavaliers’ bright future and more a means to an end — that being Kevin Love.

A deal that will deliver Love, the all-NBA power forward, from the Minnesota Timberwolves to James’ insta-contender in Cleveland already has been struck, according to many sources, awaiting only a formal announcement once Wiggins is eligible to be traded Saturday. Draftees who sign their rookie contracts cannot be traded by NBA rule for the first 30 days and Wiggins put his name on a five-year, $24.8 million deal on July 24.

Soon thereafter, Cavs general manager David Griffin and Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders reportedly agreed on the much-anticipated trade. Wiggins will go to the Wolves with last year’s No. 1 overall pick, forward Anthony Bennett and a future first-rounder for Love, according to the reports. The Wolves are said to have a deal set to trigger, too, with the Philadelphia 76ers; multiple outlets have reported that Thad Young will head to the Twin Cities for that future No. 1 pick, along with forward Luc Mbah a Moute and guard Alexey Shved.

All of which means Wiggins, a wing player with preternatural leaping skills and a gift for stifling on-the-ball defense, will be part of a future-focused rebuilding effort after all. It will just be Minnesota’s, not Cleveland’s, and the cupboard will be slightly more bare. (more…)

Horry’s HOF scale … does it exist?


VIDEO: Robert Horry, a seven-time NBA champion, earned his nickname “Big Shot Bob” the old-fashioned way!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Whenever his name is mentioned, the words “NBA legend” usually accompany Robert Horry.

How else should one refer to a man who in 16 NBA seasons collected seven championship rings, played alongside some of the game’s all-time greats, earned the nickname “Big Shot Bob” for his clutch shooting heroics on the biggest stage and has become a cult figure with his own measurement for big shots (All Ball’s famed Horry Scale)?

Horry piled up championship experiences during his playing days that many of his more celebrated contemporaries would trade All-Star nods for. And perhaps even some of that cash they made. What would you want more, the adulation, fortune and fame — all of which inevitably fades over time — or the timeless prestige of seven, count ’em seven, championship rings?

I’d have to think long and hard about that one, really!

The purists have every right to laugh off the Horry belongs in the Hall of Fame argument. He never averaged more than 12 points per game during any season in his career, and he didn’t reach double digits once during his final 12 seasons in the league. Horry only started in 480 of a possible 1,107 games he played in during the regular seasons of his 16 years.

Still, few players were feared the way Horry was with the ball in his hands late and the game on the line. And therein lies the dilemma for a specialist, a role player extraordinaire like Horry. There is no metric available that would bolster his case for entry into the Hall of Fame, his individual numbers (a ho-hum 7,715 career points and nary an All-Star bid) just do not stack up to the Hall of Fame water line. And yet you feel like there has to be some sort of recognition for someone who has accomplished the things Horry did during his career.

He was eligible for consideration with the 2014 class and didn’t make the cut. Horry will join a deep pool of carryover candidates for the 2015 class, headlined by newcomer Dikembe Mutombo, and a star-studded group that includes the likes of Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Spencer Haywood, Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway. They all have stronger individual cases than Horry but possess none of the championship hardware he brings to the party.

Horry reminds me of the NFL specialists who have struggled for years to gain entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It took Ray Guy, arguably the greatest punter in football history, forever to crash through that glass ceiling.

Complicating matters for Horry and others is the fact that the recognition in the Naismith Hall of Fame isn’t just about what a player has done during his professional career. It’s a culmination of an entire life in the game, from high school to college and all the way up to the very top of the heap.

Horry played a significant part in Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant gobbling up the championship rings that highlight their respective credential lists. If you don’t believe it, ask Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich, all-time great coaches who know the worth of a truly game-changing role player.

While I’m not ready to argue that Horry deserves to be immortalized in Springfield the way the best of the all-time best have been and always will be, and deservedly so. I do think there needs to be some sort of special recognition for a an elite specialists like Horry, a guy whose accomplishments, even in a supporting role, are unparalleled by anyone else during his era.

Can’t he get a plaque or commemorative brick or something to acknowledge his unique contribution to the game?

Ultimately, Horry might have to settle for the scale, the universal love he gets from all corners of the basketball galaxy and the knowledge deep down that there are plenty of men already in the Hall of Fame and on their way who would do anything for just one of his seven rings!

Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.

For Rockets’ Motiejunas, what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas


VIDEO: Donatas Motiejunas has been a load for defenders in Summer League

LAS VEGAS — There were 50 seconds left and the Houston Rockets trailed the Charlotte Hornets, 80-79, in the semifinals of the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League. Rockets guard Isaiah Canaan cleared out the left side of the court, then lobbed the ball inside to center Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas caught, leaned back, wheeled toward the center of the court and dropped in a soft hook shot to give the Rockets the lead and the win.

Motiejunas finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes, another strong performance in the seven-foot Lithuanian’s brief history of terrific Summer League showings. Just two years ago, a 25-point, nine-rebound showing in his Summer League debut caused NBA TV’s Chris Webber to exclaim, “I came to Vegas and fell in love!”

But in two NBA seasons since then, Motiejunas hasn’t been able to consistently find the same kind of minutes or production with the Houston Rockets. So what is it about Vegas that brings out the best in Motiejunas?

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Do you like Vegas?” the man they call D-Mo says with a smile. “First time when I play it was just after the draft. I came here to prove to everyone I’m not just a simple European guy, a typical one, that I can fight and play. This year, I came here to get into shape for National Team, because the guys started training camp July 7, and my team said they prefer me to stay here and play a couple of games here. We lost two games in a row, I was pissed, and then we start winning, winning, winning. I could not say no, not to play. I just wanted to win.”

The Rockets’ winning streak has pushed this Vegas trip to the limit — after Monday’s championship game, Motiejunas will take an overnight flight to Houston, unpack and repack, and then hop on an evening flight to Frankfurt to join the Lithuanian National Team.

“It’s intensive, but I’m happy. I’m playing, I’m getting a lot of touches, I’m enjoying these guys. Like I said, they did an incredible job the last couple of weeks, separate players becoming team, not easy to do.”

Along with Canaan, Motiejunas has been Houston’s best player in Vegas, averaging 17.7 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds through six games. And with Houston trading away Omer Asik, as well as whiffing on Chris Bosh in free agency, the opportunity for Motiejunas to become a regular Rockets rotation player is there for the taking.

“His homework for Summer League was tougher post defense and rebounding, and I think he’s done both those things,” says Houston Summer League coach Chris Finch. “He’s very skilled offensively — he’s a guy that can score in the post and make plays off the dribble as a big guy. And those are things we can do with him in our offense with the Rockets once we can get him a consistent role. But the defense and the rebounding is what is going to get him that. He did a good job last season of working his way into the rotation, so he’s on the growth path.”

In other words, Motiejunas will have to fight and show toughness to earn minutes. Which is something he says he’s not afraid to do.

“I’m trying to show toughness! Trying to get there!” he laughs, grabbing my arm. “I don’t know, how is going on? Is it getting better?”

You look pretty tough to me, I said.

“OK! It means it’s working out.”

“D-Mo is tough. He is a fighter,” says Finch. “He works hard — you’re never going to find a guy who out-works him. He needs to learn to play with physicality without fouling, physicality without getting out of position, that kind of stuff. That’s why we’ve asked him to be more physical this year defensively and on the glass.”

For his next act, Motiejunas has to translate his Summer League showings into the regular season, finding a way to perform in the regular season as he has in the summer season.

Clearly, for the benefit of both Motiejunas and the Rockets, the trick to going forward is going to be getting what happens in Vegas to not stay in Vegas.