Posts Tagged ‘David Blatt’

Can LeBron’s new ‘mates stay healthy?

cavs

If the Cavaliers hope to win a championship this season, they’ll need both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the floor for the majority of games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Injuries unfortunately are making headlines again this preseason with seemingly a bushel of six-to-eight-week-type setbacks, Kevin Durant‘s right foot and Bradley Beal‘s left wrist being two of the most recent and most prominent.

Injuries to key players certainly can derail a season. Last year, Dwyane Wade‘s status was of constant concern to the Heat, and although he said otherwise, Wade seemed to labor through the NBA Finals. His ongoing knee maintenance and uncertainty of his availability week to week, and sometimes even game to game, was also the primary reason why it made sense for LeBron James to take his talents back to Cleveland and join a younger cast.

Wade missed 58 games over the last three seasons, 28 last year and there’s no guarantee this season he’ll be able to match the 54 games he played. But be careful. In Cleveland, the seemingly indestructible James (he’s never missed more than seven games in any of his 11 seasons) is paired with two All-Stars with something of an injury track record.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on Wednesday already sat out his third consecutive preseason game with a sprained ankle. In the first quarter of that game, Kevin Love left and did not return because of a stiff neck, an injury that isn’t believed to be serious.

Irving has missed 49 games over the last three seasons, pretty comparable to Wade, who has much more mileage on his body. Love missed 80 games over that same stretch with 64 coming during two different stretches of the 2012-13 season due to a twice-broken hand. He originally broke his right hand in the preseason by, he says, doing knuckle pushups. He returned earlier than expected, played 18 games, and then re-broke the hand. At the end of that season, Love had surgery on his left knee to remove scar tissue.

Love missed just five games in his final frustrating season with Minnesota, and Irving gave the 33-win Cavs 71 games, missing 11. If new coach David Blatt can get anywhere near that availability from each player he’ll be ecstatic.

It’s just impossible to know. Some players seem to be more susceptible to injury than others. Maybe their bodies just aren’t as durable and their body parts succumb more easily. Irving is just 22 years old, but his list of injured body parts from one year at Duke through three seasons in the NBA could fill a medical encyclopedia: toe, biceps, shoulder, hand, finger, jaw, knees and now ankle.

Does it make him injury prone, or snake-bit? Does it mean he’ll always be one misstep away from trading in his uniform for a sport coat and a spot on the bench? Or is he just as likely to play all 82 games this season as he is to miss 10 games, or 20 games?

As Durant, who had missed only 16 of 558 regular-season games through his first seven seasons, said just 12 days before the Oklahoma City Thunder medical staff informed him he fractured his right foot and will miss up to two months: “You can get hurt walking outside. You hear that a lot, but you can get hurt anywhere. Freak accidents happen. But I’ve been playing this game so long that I know at any moment that something can happen.”

Love logged 36.3 minutes in 77 games last season. His injury history isn’t as ominous as Irving’s, but again, injuries are fickle. Love was already a bit banged up before the neck issue after he banged knees with Jabari Parker the night before.

As a rookie, Love played in 81 games. The next season he missed 22 games after he broke his left hand after banging it against a teammate’s elbow (does one of the league’s best rebounders and sweetest shooters have weak hands, or inexplicably bad luck with his hands?). In 2010-11, he missed nine games and then 11 the next season.

Health of course is a must for all teams. But for the championship-dreaming Cavaliers, already feeling a slight pinch from the injury bug, the ability for Irving and Love to remain on the floor with LeBron in their first season together is critical.

Is it possible? No one can answer that.

Hang Time Road Trip: First Impressions

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND – The results were what most of us expected, a Cleveland Cavaliers rout in their exhibition opener against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. The Cavaliers’ 107-80 thumping of their visitors from Israel was as convincing as the final score from Sunday night’s game at Quicken Loans Arena suggests.

It was an impressive first step for a Cleveland team that has incorporated shiny new parts (LeBron James, Kevin Love and coach David Blatt, first and foremost) to go along with a young core group that includes Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson in the starting five. Time will tell if the Cavaliers have what it takes to muscle their way through the Eastern Conference and into The Finals in their first season together, the way LeBron and the Miami Heat did during his first season there in 2010-11.

LeBron warned us when he decided to come back home that it would be a process, one that might not produce championship fruit right away.

That said, it’s hard to imagine how this compilation of stars, established and still emerging, doesn’t find its way deep into that championship contender’s realm when the dust settles. From first impressions alone, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Chicago keeping the Cavaliers from their goal of winning the Eastern Conference.

They have to clear that initial hurdle before we even entertain a discussion about them knocking off the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs — or any one of the handful of teams that could win the Western Conference.

We will get a chance to compare and contrast the goings on for both of the frontrunners in the East; we’re on our way to Chicago now for some all-access time with Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and the Bulls. We’ll report our findings once we hit the Windy City. In the meantime, we share our reflections from Day 1 of the Hang Time Road Trip in this first installment of the Hang Time Podcast (video version) from the front of the Hang Time Road Trip bus:


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew reflects on the Cavaliers preseason opener

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.

 

Morning shootaround — Oct. 4


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant — All The Way Back

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron to get some rest | Nash feeling good | Nets for sale? | Kings hire the Dean of basketball stats | Young out with thumb injury | Davis and Asik could sit preseason opener

No. 1: LeBron to get some rest — Over the course of his 11-year career, LeBron James has played about 5,500 minutes (regular season and playoffs combined) more than any other player in the league. That’s the equivalent of an additional 1 1/2 seasons. So, as he approaches the age of the 30 (which he’ll reach on Dec. 30), it’s time for James to dial back on the playing time. As Jason Lloyd of The Akron Beacon Journal reports, the Cavs could take a Popovichian approach this season, giving James some games off:

Throughout his career, James has been a machine who has deftly avoided major injuries. Still, his nagging back issues and high mileage were enough for the Cavs to rest James during Friday’s morning workout, and coach David Blatt said it could lead him to missing games during the season as a healthy scratch.

“Players are here to play and it’s our job to get them ready and keep them healthy so they can participate in every game, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Blatt said. “Sometimes you have to know how to rest guys without the team being at risk. That’s part of the process.”

The proof for such an idea was obvious in June, when an old-but-fresh Spurs team zipped passes over, under, around and through a tired Heat defense in the Finals. Gregg Popovich has strategically picked spots to rest his aging stars the last couple years, once famously eliciting a $250,000 fine from the league for doing it. But the Spurs’ consecutive trips to the Finals, including one championship and nearly a second with an aging roster, is proof Pop knows what he’s doing.

***

No. 2: Nash feeling good — Steve Nash has not been himself the last two seasons. After injuring his leg early in his first season with the Lakers, he has never been able to fully recover. Now, he’s 40 years old and we have to wonder if his career will soon be done. Nash wonders the same thing, but says that his legs feel great right now. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star spoke to Nash about trying to get a little more basketball out of his body:

And heading into what may be the final season of a brilliant career, Steve Nash feels good again. He doesn’t know for how long; he knows how quickly it could all vanish again. But it’s not over, not yet.

“I was playing soccer, and I went out there and after a few minutes I said, holy s—,” says Nash, on the phone from Los Angeles. “I’m 100 percent. Stop, start, change direction, mobility, explosiveness — I could go as hard as I wanted. So the next step was, is this going to sustain itself? Because I was used to the whole ‘hey, something will happen in the next two weeks that will kind of knock you back.’

“And it never really happened. I just kept going all summer. I never really had a setback. And it allowed me to enjoy the summer in a way I couldn’t the previous summer, where I was rehabbing twice a day for five months, basically. I think it took a little pressure off me, and just a little bit of joy, where it’s life-giving, instead of crumbling.”

***

No. 3: Nets for sale? — Are the Brooklyn Nets for sale, or is Mikhail Prokhorov actually trying to expand his sports portfolio? Both Richard Sandomir of The New York Times and Mitch Abramson of the Daily News confirm the original NetsDaily report that the latter is likely the case.

Sandomir:

Now, Mr. Prokhorov is trying to capitalize as N.B.A. team values soar and new national media contracts with ESPN and TNT that are about to be announced promise a big leap in revenue for each team.

In a complex transaction, he is trying to create a new company by combining his team and arena assets with those owned by the investor group Guggenheim Partners, which bought the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago for $2.15 billion. In his current negotiations — first reported by the NetsDaily blog and confirmed by a person familiar with the talks — the team has been valued at $1.7 billion and Barclays Center at $1.1 billion.

If the deal comes to fruition, Mr. Prokhorov and Bruce C. Ratner, who sold Mr. Prokhorov the stakes in the team and arena, will receive $2.8 billion in cash, stock and potentially other forms of payment.

Abramson:

A source close to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov screamed “Nyet!” on whether the Russian billionaire would surrender majority control of the team in Brooklyn.

“He’s not a seller,” the source familiar with Prokhorov’s thinking told the Daily News on Friday. “He wants the Nets and he loves the Nets and he wants to be controlling owner. This is something that he really enjoys.”

A flurry of reports surfaced on Thursday describing two potential scenarios involving the Russian oligarch and his holdings in Brooklyn: First, that Prokhorov is interested in integrating his sports and entertainment assets with Guggenheim Partners, the company that joined with former NBA great Magic Johnson to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for roughly $2 billion.

The second is that Prokhorov is preoccupied with cashing out and selling his stake in the Nets to the highest bidder.

The source said only the first picture is accurate.

***

No. 4: Kings hire the Dean of basketball statsDean Oliver‘s Basketball on Paper is basically the bible of basketball analytics, outlining the “four factors” of efficiency on either end of the floor, as well as other statistical tools to evaluate players and teams historically. Oliver has worked for the Sonics and Nuggets and after three years at ESPN, is taking his talents to Sacramento, as Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee writes, thanks in part to his previous work with Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro:

At one time, Dean Oliver wasn’t widely respected in basketball for his analytic and statistical evaluations.

One of those who took Oliver seriously 10 years ago was Pete D’Alessandro, now the Kings’ general manager.

“I was just trying to get in, and Pete was one of the first people to listen to me,” Oliver said.

This time, Oliver listened to D’Alessandro, who asked him to join the Kings. D’Alessandro introduced Oliver, now recognized as the creator of many of the advanced statistics used by NBA teams, on Friday. Oliver will provide statistical analysis and have a role in personnel decisions.

“He’s going to be a big part of this team in terms of brokering deals,” D’Alessandro said. “His reputation throughout the league is stellar, and his contact base is as big as anyone’s.”

***

No. 5: Young out with thumb injury — The first major injury of training camp belongs to Nick Young and the Lakers. Young injured his right thumb in practice on Thursday, and a MRI revealed “a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament.” Young is set to have surgery on Monday and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks, which would have him missing at least 10 regular season games. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

Young was injured Thursday while tying to steal the ball from Kobe Bryant at practice.

His thumb swelled up overnight and an MRI exam Friday showed a tear. He will have surgery Monday.

A day earlier, Lakers Coach Byron Scott said Young would have a chance at being the NBA’s sixth man of the year.

And earlier Friday, when the team hoped Young’s injury was only a sprain, Scott wished for the best.

“Maybe I jinxed him, I don’t know,” Scott said. “I’m not going to say anything good about Nick Young for the rest of the year. Maybe that will keep him healthy for us.”

Young apparently smacked his thumb into Bryant’s elbow on the play.

***

No. 6: Davis and Asik could sit preseason opener — The preseason is here! But the New Orleans Pelicans might not be at full strength when they face the Miami Heat in Lexington on Saturday night. Nakia Hogan of the New Orleans Times Picayune reports that Anthony Davis and Omer Asik will get some rest in the preseason:

New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he’s considering holding All-Star power forward Anthony Davis and top offseason acquisition Omer Asik out of Saturday’s preseason opener against the Miami Heat in Lexington, Ky.

Both Davis and Asik, who are expected to be a formidable duo at the power forward and center positions, are healthy. But both are coming off a long summer of activity while playing for their home countries in the FIBA World Cup, which is why Williams is thinking about resting the pair.

Before making his decision, Williams said he’d consult with general manager Dell Demps.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Spurs are heading to Europe to find Boris DiawThe league is bringing back 5-on-5 competition to the Draft CombineWesley Matthews is slowly getting back to work after being sidelined with an irregular heartbeat … A lacerated hand will keep the Suns’ Anthony Tolliver out a few daysPhil Jackson let Derek Fisher do the coaching this weekDanny Ainge doesn’t want Rajon Rondo to rush back from a broken hand … Dirk Nowitzki isn’t yet ready to reveal the skyhook he’s been working on … and you can have LeBron’s Miami house for just $17 million.

ICYMI of The Night: Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked to Vince Cellini and Steve Smith during Real Training Camp:


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Blazers – Terry Stotts

Varejao feeling healthy after tough four years without LeBron

Anderson Varejao hopes to remain healthy as he competes with Brazil. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

Anderson Varejao is using the FIBA World Cup to prepare for a title run with the Cavaliers. (Photo courtesy FIBA)

GRANADA, SPAIN – Derrick Rose isn’t the only player looking to use the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup as a springboard to a healthier and more successful NBA season for a title contender.

Cavs center Anderson Varejao would love to put some injury issues behind him as well. In the four years since LeBron James left Cleveland, Varejao, who turns 32 later this month, has averaged just 37 games per season, dealing with injuries to his upper and lower body.

James is back and Kevin Love has arrived. With Kyrie Irving and a bunch of shooters, the Cavs’ offense should be ridiculously good. But their defense will ultimately determine how far they go, and Varejao will be a big part of their success on that end of the floor.

With Mike Brown on the bench and Varejao playing 65 games last season, the Cavs improved from 27th to 17th in defensive efficiency. And they allowed 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Varejao on the floor than they did with him on the bench.

The Cavs lack rim protection, but the last two seasons in which they had James and (a healthy) Varejao together, they ranked in the top 10 defensively. Brown was the coach then. David Blatt, who has had strong defenses with the Russian National Team, is the coach now.

As Blatt gets ready to put his new super team together on both ends of the floor, Varejao is in Spain with his Brazilian national team, a contender for a World Cup medal. Brazil is in a tough Group A, where it will play Spain on Monday (4 p.m. ET).

In Granada, after a win over Iran on Saturday, Varejao spoke with NBA.com about his health and the upcoming season.

NBA.com: How do you feel now compared to the last couple of years?

Varejao: I feel pretty good. I feel like I’m 100 percent. I feel like I’m moving a lot better. I’m healthy. I feel like I’m in shape. So this helps a lot.

Does this tournament really help you get your legs back and get back in basketball shape?

Varejao: Yes, it does. I believe the preparation that we had was about 40 days. And now we have the tournament. I just want to stay healthy.

How do you look back at the last four years, not only not playing with LeBron, but not being able to play a full season?

Varejao: Tough four years for me. It was very tough on me. It wasn’t easy, because every year that I was doing well, people were talking about All-Star, this and that, and then I would get hurt. So it wasn’t easy, but it’s all past now. The good thing is that I’m in shape, I’m healthy, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

How good can the Cavs be defensively?

Varejao: To me, defense is all about effort. If we put effort in, I believe we could do really well.

Have you talked to David Blatt?

Varejao: I did when he signed. I spoke with him during the soccer World Cup. I was in Brazil and he called me. I spoke with him once.

What do you know about him?

Varejao: I know that he’s a winner. He won the Euroleague last year. When he was with Russia he beat Brazil in the Olympics. With six seconds left in the game, they beat us.

He’s a good coach. He’s a winner. Everybody that I asked about him said good things about him. Anthony Parker played for him [at Maccabi Tel Aviv]. He said he’s one of the best human beings that he’s met and he’s a great coach.

Do you feel like you fit pretty well with Kevin Love on the frontline?

Varejao: I feel like I have to do what I always did when I played with LeBron, set screens, roll to the basket, be ready whenever I have a chance to go to the basket, play defense and rebound.

‘Free agent’ coaches seek work in ever-shifting job market

One by one, in something approximating inverse order of desirability, the names of NBA free agents have come off the proverbial big board. What began with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol has dwindled now to fellows such as Andray Blatche, Dante Cunningham and Ekpe Udoh.

This game of offseason musical chairs is played for even more blood among coaches. There are fewer jobs to be had in the first place (five or six per team vs. 15 player positions), and it’s not nearly the meritocracy that it is for players. Abilities, work ethic and results matter less than connections or change for its own sake.

There are a lot of coaching free agents still on the board, both former head coaches and notable assistants. Among the former, we have George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy, Scott Skiles, Mike Woodson, Doug Collins, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Keith Smart, Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Lawrence Frank and Maurice Cheeks.

The latter group, even bigger, includes Jack Sikma, Mario Elie, Terry Porter, T.R. Dunn, Igor Kokoskov, Scott Williams, Bill Peterson, Bernie Bickerstaff, Brian Hill, Bob Ociepka  and, hey, Rasheed Wallace. Actually, you could go dozens deep with solid coaching pros who once were in but now are out, the one place few of them want to be.

“There’s an old expression in the NBA, ‘Never get off the bus. Stay on the bus!’ ” said Jim Boylan, an NBA assistant for most of his 22 years in the league who survived a coaching change in Cleveland this offseason. “We all realize it too — it’s a privilege for us to be involved in the NBA and to coach athletes at this level.”

But it’s fleeting. Coaches face more scrutiny and grab more headlines when they’re fired, but their landings are often cushioned by seven-figure paychecks. Assistant coaches get flushed, and that six-figure salary — while comfy by most folks’ standards — doesn’t go quite so far when you account for the costs of multiple residences or constant moves.

Ociepka, who entered the league in the 1980s as a part-time volunteer scout after a storied career as a high school coach in the Chicago area, scrambled through five NBA teams in five years in the ’90s. Boylan and his wife, Jane, counted recently and realized they have owned or lived in 25 homes during his basketball career.

“It’s not a surprise when you’re an assistant coach in the NBA,” Sikma, the former Seattle and Milwaukee center, said recently. “You look at the number of staffs that have turned over in the last few years — it’s more of a constant than not. You know you’re probably going to have to bounce around a little bit.”

There are a multitude of factors for the turnover, most obvious the turnover at the top. When a coach gets fired, some or all of his staff typically gets shown the door with him. And there has been a LOT of turnover lately — nine new NBA coaches this summer, 13 such changes a year ago. Going back just five years, to the start of the 2009-10 season, only San Antonio (Gregg Popovich), Miami (Erik Spoelstra) and Dallas (Rick Carlisle) now have the same coaches. And both the Spurs’ and Mavericks’ staffs have changed considerably.

“Most people who are making the decisions probably have a narrow list going on, from relationships or what they’re looking for,” Sikma said. “It’s a transient line of work for sure. So you have to be quick on your feet.”

Here are glimpses of three assistant coaches whose dance cards are filled to varying degrees. Sikma would like very much to get back in after spending the past seven seasons working with now-retired Rick Adelman. Boylan beat the odds by surviving a coaching change in Cleveland, then beat them again when LeBron James’ yearning for home rocked the Cavaliers’ landscape. And Ociepka is at the point, after so many hirings and firings, where he might prefer more stable options. (more…)

The fall guy in Cleveland?


VIDEO: Kevin Love is Cleveland bound — how will his arrival help the Cavs?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Seventeen games into his tenure with the Miami Heat, LeBron James was taking abuse from every direction. In those early stages of the 2010-11 season, the Heat were 9-8 and the Big 3 era was off to a shaky start, given the outrageous expectations that accompanied the joining of forces between LeBron, fellow free agent Chris Bosh and incumbent face of the franchise Dwyane Wade.

The Heat rebounded from those early stumbles and made it to The Finals before being taken apart by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.

In the aftermath of that ugly finish to their first season, LeBron was quickly cast as the scapegoat (with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stuck in the mud with him). He flatlined at crunch time in The 2011 Finals. Unlike Wade, he had no championship ring or Finals MVP to fall back on. And Bosh was seen as the third wheel, so there was no way he could be the fall guy in that scenario. So LeBron was left to shoulder that burden, one that ultimately led to back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs.

The roles have been shuffled in LeBron’s latest super-team situation in Cleveland, where he’s the championship veteran with rings and Finals MVPs, playing alongside young All-Stars in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Unlike Bosh and James back in 2010, though, the next playoff points Love and Irving score will be their first.

Far be it from me to rain on the attention parade going on in Cleveland, the epicenter of the sports universe with the Cavaliers’ new look and the seemingly never-ending Johnny Manziel news cycle. But what happens if (it’s blasphemy, Cavaliers fans, I know) LeBron and friends don’t win the title in their first season together?

Who is the fall guy this time?

Forget the common sense that should come with a new team with new leadership (coach David Blatt playing the Cleveland edition of Spoelstra’s role). The 2010-11 Heat and the 2014-15 Cavaliers face this similar circumstance: anything short of a title will be viewed as a disappointment by most.

And that means someone has to shoulder the burden of that disappointment the way LeBron (and Spoelstra) did when he went dark for weeks after The 2011 Finals trying to reflect on what had been a whirlwind 11 months.

LeBron should be immune this time around. We know what to expect from him. He has extensive experience playing with other elite superstars. He won’t have to make as many adjustments to his game to be effective. Even with the San Antonio Spurs shredding the Heat in The Finals this year, LeBron (cramps aside) was basically unstoppable. It was his supporting cast, both Wade and Bosh in particular, who didn’t play up to their own lofty standards.

And the Spurs were so good, it might not have made a difference if Wade and Bosh played well or not.

Love and Irving are clearly in the crosshairs this time around, given their lack of playoff experience and the fact that the only time they have shared a locker room with players as good or better than them is during All-Star Weekend and their time with USA Basketball. No one knows how either of them will hold up in the crucible that is the postseason. All of those regular-season highlights are useless if either of them melts down in the playoffs or runs into a matchup they simply cannot win.

Love will have to assume the Stretch 4 role that Bosh played in Miami, where his numbers dipped considerably compared to what he put up as a stand-alone All-Star in Toronto. Irving will have to relinquish some of the facilitating duties and scoring load that he’s had to carry early in his career to make sure his game meshes perfectly with two new elite teammates with higher profiles than his own.

Both Love and Irving will have the luxury of playing with the best player on the planet. But not even LeBron will be able to save them from expectations that are not fulfilled. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, general manager David Griffin and LeBron have all done their part. The pieces for success at the highest level have been assembled.

The rest is up to Love, Irving and the supporting cast. And if things go awry come playoff time, the scapegoat list will be easy to make!

Shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wolves head coach Flip Saunders talks about Andrew Wiggins’ potential

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Don’t cry for Andrew Wiggins.

That’s the message delivered by the last two men who coached the No. 1 Draft pick. When the Cleveland Cavaliers finally shipped Wiggins — shunned by LeBron James since the day the King announced his return to Cleveland six weeks ago — to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love on Saturday, he joined Chris Webber (1993) as the only No. 1 picks since the NBA-ABA merger to be traded before ever playing a game for the team that drafted them.

A sad end to a long, strange summer for Wiggins? More like an eagerly anticipated beginning, says Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ high school coach at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

“Andrew is such a good kid; he’s just a classy kid, very humble, very respectful,” Fulford, now an assistant at Missouri, told NBA.com this week. “I think this whole process with the trade rumors, he could care less. That kid just wants to play basketball. The fact that LeBron never reached out to him, Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him.”

Throughout this saga in which the Cavs selected the Toronto-born Wiggins No. 1 and watched him flash his promising skills during the Las Vegas Summer League all the while trade rumors swirled and LeBron sweet-talked Love, Wiggins, 19, handled the enormity of the situation with graceful maturity always accompanied by a warm, playful smile.

It didn’t surprise Fulford, who saw such characteristics from the time Wiggins arrived at Huntington Prep to enormous fanfare to the day he left for Kansas as a McDonald’s All-American. His departure included a heartfelt thank-you note to the people of the Huntington community published in the local newspaper.

“You have to understand, this kid, the media circus was around from the beginning when he got here in August of his junior year in high school until he left Huntington in May of his senior year after graduation,” Fulford said. “It was just a circus. I think it prepared him for what was going to happen at Kansas and even now he’s used to it, and I think he’s handled it really well. With the parents that he has, both have been professional athletes, I think it helped that he’s been kind of groomed in that manner.”

All Wiggins wanted, he reiterated during several interviews over the last month, was a place to call home, a place where he feels wanted. And so Wiggins will not flank the game’s greatest player on an instant contender in Cleveland, but instead will embrace replacing the fed-up Love as the next great hope for the long-languishing Wolves.

Fulford keeps in relatively close contact with the long-limbed, 6-foot-8 phenom, typically through text messages. The message he’s received loud and clear is that Wiggins is excited to make his own name for a franchise in need of a leader.

“Andrew’s going to be a superstar,” Fulford said. “This gives him a platform from Day 1 to kind of be the guy, and he’s ready for that.”

Earlier this month, Wiggins’ former coach at Kansas, Bill Self, said nearly the same after telling reporters that Wiggins had told him he hoped Cleveland would trade him.

“Even though, in a weird way, everybody would love the opportunity to play with LeBron because you’re guaranteed winning, for the longevity of his career, he needs to develop that mindset to be the guy for him to be great,” Self told reporters. “And I think being in Minnesota will help him do that.”

For glum Wolves fans, the Love fiasco has the potential to yield a happy ending after all. The greatest fear for an organization is it will never come close to recouping equal talent when forced to trade a disgruntled All-Star. Wolves president and coach Flip Saunders has reaped a haul as strong as anyone could expect.

In the three-team trade, Wiggins heads to Minnesota with the Cavs’ 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and Philadelphia’s consummate pro, Thaddeus Young, 26, a solid immediate replacement for Love at power forward.

They’ll join a cast that includes 23-year-old, potential All-Star point guard Ricky Rubio, veteran guards Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, emerging center Nikola Pekovic, small forwards Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger, Wiggins’ fellow Huntington Prep alum and quick-learning 2013 first-round pick Gorgui Dieng, and high-flying ’14 first-round pick Zach LaVine.

The fit in Saunders’ up-tempo plans should suit the slashing Wiggins well. Fulford said Kansas’ high-low attack that included big man and No. 3 pick Joel Embiid didn’t always afford Wiggins the driving lanes he craves, turning him into a jump-shooter.

“He’s going to have more space to work with,” Fulford said. “And he’s extremely … I won’t say he’s impossible to guard in space, but he’s close to it.”

Love’s Wolves never made the playoffs, a six-year span that included exceptionally disappointing endings to the last two seasons. Nobody should expect a rapid ascension this season in the competitive West as the Wolves again transition, but young and athletic, Wiggins’ new team is stocked with upside and should be an exciting squad to watch grow.

“I don’t think there’s any question he’ll have a great rookie season. He’s groomed for this,” Fulford said. “In college he got better the year he was there, but he’ll be a better NBA player than he was a college player, and he was an All-American at Kansas, so sky’s the limit for him.

“It’s one of those things, him being on a team where it’s kind of really going to be his, I think, is a good thing for him.”

So shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins. Or the Wolves.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Tough choices loom for Team USA | Report: Suns willing to trade Bledsoe | Calipari backs Blatt as Cavs coach | Report: Durant weighing massive Under Armour offer

No. 1: Tough choices ahead for Team USA — A 43-point win against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night might have not helped Team USA figure out who will be on the squad once FIBA World Cup play starts in a week or so. Our John Schuhmann was on hand for last night’s exhibition in New York City and gives his outlook on who may (or may not) make the U.S. team’s final roster:

The final, 12-man roster does not need to be submitted until Aug. 29. So the U.S. may take 13 players on the plane and wait to make a final decision.

The four players who did not play in Saturday’s win over Brazil each came off the bench on Wednesday. And three of them put up numbers that could help their cause.

After missing Saturday’s game with a knee bruise, DeMarcus Cousins scored just two points, but was the game’s leading rebounder with eight boards in less than 16 minutes.

DeMar DeRozan, who was the leading scorer in the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, tied for the team-high with 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting on Wednesday. He’s one of the players most likely to be sent home this weekend, but has flourished in these fast-paced games.

Andre Drummond also seems like a likely cut, but also seemed at home with the up-and-down style, racking up 12 points and five rebounds (four offensive) in 16 minutes.

Gordon Hayward, meanwhile, was the only player who didn’t see any action until the second half on Wednesday. He was his usual solid self, but didn’t make much of an impression with the game already well in hand.

And that, again, was the issue with Wednesday’s game. The U.S. needs players it can trust in a hostile environment against a quality opponent. Though the MSG crowd had a sizeable Dominican contingent that got loud with every early basket, this wasn’t much of a test for the U.S. team or any of its players.

So, the decisions that Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo have to make in the next few days will not be easy. Cousins, DeRozan, Drummond and Hayward appear to be in competition with Damian Lillard and Mason Plumlee for the final two roster spots. After playing strong against Brazil, Plumlee did not play Wednesday, so that Drummond could see some floor time.


VIDEO: Team USA runs away from the Dominican Republic in an NYC exhibition

***

No. 2: Report: Suns open to trading Bledsoe — Much like Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe, fellow restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns hasn’t gotten the big payday or contract offer he was hoping for this summer. The buzz of late surrounding he and the team is that Bledsoe may take a one-year qualifying offer from the Suns in exchange for a shot at unrestricted free agency next summer. However, according to Jude LaCava of FoxSports AM 910 in Arizona, the Suns may be open to dealing the point guard:

“I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported,” Jude LaCava said on Tuesday, “I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.”

“That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.”

“I think it’s safe to say ‘open for business’,” LaCava said. “The decision makers, [managing partner Robert] Sarver and [PBO Lon] Babby and hopefully Ryan McDonough, they are open to that possibility. It’s got to be right. It’s got to be the right return in what they are looking for.

“It’s to the point that if they can accommodate Bledsoe and get something they want in return, trade possibilities are very, very real and they have been discussed.”

***

No. 3: Calipari endorses Blatt as Cavs’ coach — On Monday, news came out that Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn‘t actually all that close to accepting the Cavaliers’ monstrous offseason offer to become their coach. With Calipari out of the picture, the Cavs eventually ended up hiring David Blatt to lead their new LeBron James-led crew. Calipari has nothing but compliments for Cleveland’s new leader, writes Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer:

“David Blatt can really coach,” Calipari told Frank Isola and Malik Rose during an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “He’s a better choice than me to coach that team. I coached against him. I’m not sitting here just saying it. I coached against him in FIBA basketball. I watched him coach Russia, the guy can coach, OK? Those players, all they want is respect. If they respect you as a coach they’re going to play like crazy.”

Calipari, who had one stint as a head coach in the NBA before returning to the collegiate ranks, believes the Cavs will return to prominence.

Dan Gilbert is a great guy who wants it for the right reasons, that’s why Cleveland will win,” Calipari said. “Now you just have to have really good players. Guess what? Cleveland has really good players.”

They could be adding one more in the near future when a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves becomes official, making All-Star forward Kevin Love the newest member of Cleveland’s talented roster.

“It’s going to be scary seeing how good Kyrie (Irving) is when now you gotta defer a little bit with this; how good Love is,” Calipari said. “We haven’t even seen how good those two are going to be. And it’s kinda like when Michael (Jordan) would grab guys and all of a sudden you saw Scottie (Pippen) how good he could be or (Dennis) Rodman. … All of them, all of them. That’s what LeBron will do. It’s crazy what’s going to go on in Cleveland.”

***

No. 4: Report: Durant offered massive endorsement deal by Under Armour — Reigning MVP and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has been a pitchman for Nike joining the NBA. Under that company, his “KD” brand of shoes have become one of the company’s most popular sellers as his on-court play has raised his marketability to newfound levels. Proof of that growth is seen in the endorsement deal Durant has received from Under Armour that could pay him between $265 million and $285 million. ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell, who broke the story, has more:

Kevin Durant’s representation Roc Nation Sports informed Nike on Wednesday that he has a deal on the table with Under Armour worth between $265 million and $285 million over 10 years, sources told ESPN.com.

The deal includes Under Armour stock and other incentives, such a community center built in his mother’s name, whose exact worth will not be known for some time.

Nike, which saw its signature business related to the Oklahoma City Thunder forward grow to roughly $175 million at retail last season, will have the right to match, which is a condition of Durant’s current contract with the brand. Durant can still choose Nike if it doesn’t match but can’t legally choose Under Armour if Nike does.

If Under Armour wins the services of Durant, it would be the largest sponsorship deal the company has ever committed to. The average of $26.5 million to $28.5 million means that Under Armour would be devoting nearly 10 percent of its current annual marketing budget on him.

Should Nike pass and Under Armour win the battle for Durant, one has to wonder how much of a role Under Armour will play in Durant’s decision where to play next. After all, in money alone, Durant would be more an employee of Under Armour than he is of the Thunder.

Durant is due $41.2 million over his next two seasons with the team; his Under Armour deal would pay him at least $10 million more over that period.

If Durant’s relationship with Nike ends, it will be interesting to see how it liquidates his latest shoe, the KD7. Colorways are planned and have been sold through to retailers through the end of the year, and sources say Nike has the contractual right to liquidate its current line.

How it even has gotten to this point for Nike is a mystery. The company usually likes locking up its top talent and teams before those players can even go elsewhere. While its deal with Manchester United also came down to a situation where it declined the match Adidas’ bid, it’s more the norm that Nike renews before the competition can get a crack. Six years into James’ seven-year, $87 million contract, Nike and LeBron James agreed to terms on the next deal.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Count Nets center Brook Lopez among the growing legion of players who have slimmed down for next season … Pistons big man Greg Monroe denies ever receiving a five-year, $60 million deal from DetroitKevin Durant says Steph Curry‘s character is difficult to use in NBA 2K … Should Derrick Rose just pull the plug on being a part of Team USA? … Is Rajon Rondo ready for a superstar turn next season? … Wizards reserve forwards Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. are gunning for a bigger role next season

 

Free-agent story remains the same as ever for Kobe, LeBron


VIDEO: Where LeBron James goes, others (even former rivals) will follow

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Love. Mike Miller. Shawn Marion. And perhaps Ray Allen (at some point).

Is there anyone else?

Is there anyone else willing to follow LeBron James wherever the road leads?

Gather any number of NBA players and ask for a show of hands and I guarantee you arms will be raised in rapid fashion.

This much is clear: where LeBron goes, others will follow. Even former rivals (Marion played on the Dallas team that defeated James and the Heat in The 2011 Finals.)

Marion’s weekend decision to join the homecoming party in Cleveland is just the latest evidence that LeBron remains the pied piper of his generation. It’s in stark contrast to what has gone on and what is going on with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ superstar has always struggled to attract high-profile teammates willing to make sacrifices in order to play alongside a proven champion.

For two players who always find themselves grouped together in the same conversation of the all-time greats, the one glaring difference between them is the stampede of players that have run to play with one of them (LeBron) and the reluctance of so many to even consider playing with the other (Kobe).

Dwight Howard couldn’t get away from the Lakers fast enough when he was a free agent after the 2012-13 season. Fast forward to this summer and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as well as others, were willing to wait until LeBron made up his mind between Cleveland and Miami before they decided their own free-agent futures.

It speaks to the power James wields as the world’s best player. And it’s less of an indictment of Bryant, who will no doubt go down (along with Tim Duncan) as the face of his generation, than it is affirmation of the force of nature that LeBron is on the free-agent market.

A generation gap?

It should be noted that LeBron is in the prime of his career while Kobe is clearly in the twilight of his. Still, when Kobe was in the same position atop the league food chain, his contemporaries did not flock to Los Angeles.

They are, after all, from a different generation. They are from the era where this notion of partnering up with supposed rivals wasn’t nearly as commonplace or acceptable as it has become in recent years. Close relationships between players during the offseason didn’t lead to the Big 3s and super teams that have been formed in the wake of the USA Basketball-inspired conglomerates that came to fruition in Miami (as well as in Houston, Brooklyn and now, Cleveland). (more…)

Waiters a better fit than Irving with new Cavs


VIDEO: Cavs close to acquiring Kevin Love

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Cleveland Cavaliers are a brand new team. LeBron James is coming home and Kevin Love is coming soon.

The pair joins a roster that went 57-107 over the last two seasons, with a point guard that’s thought of as a star, other unproven young guys, and a pair of centers that have dealt with injuries.

It’s up to new head coach David Blatt to bring it all together on both ends of the floor. But it’s also on the players to make the necessary adjustments so that the whole isn’t less than the sum of the parts. The Miami Heat didn’t quite figure out their identity until the end of their second season together, and they didn’t have as many players who were used to having the ball in their hands.

Who’s taking a back seat?

The Cavs will now have four guys – James (5th), Love (9th), Kyrie Irving (13th) and Dion Waiters (22nd) – who ranked in the top 25 in usage rate last season. At least two of those guys are going to have to say goodbye to the basketball.

Usage rate = Percentage of his team’s possessions that a player ended (via field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists and turnovers) while he was on the floor.

In a chat at USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas last week, Waiters admitted that he’s still more comfortable with the ball in his hands. But he acknowledged that things are going to change now.

“I got to find a way to score,” Waiters said, “and I got to find ways to make the team better if I don’t have the ball.”

But Waiters should be more prepared for an adjustment than Irving. When the two shared the floor last season, it was Waiters’ usage rate that took a dip (from 29.5 percent to 24.4 percent). Irving’s usage rate actually went up a tick in those minutes.

Waiters can also look at his SportVU numbers to know that he can play off the ball. He was a very good shooter off the catch last season, but not so much off the dribble. His catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (41.6 percent) was right with the Spurs’ Danny Green (41.5 percent).

Irving, meanwhile, is a rare breed, a guy who shot better off the dribble than off the catch. According to SportVU, Irving’s pull-up 3-point percentage (40.9 percent) was better than Kevin Durant‘s (40.7 percent) and Stephen Curry‘s (39.3 percent).

High-usage Cavs, 2013-14 3-point shooting, via SportVU

Pull-up Catch-and-shoot
Player 3PM 3PA 3P% Rk1 3PM 3PA 3P% Rk2 Diff. Rk3
Irving 72 176 40.9% 6 50 156 32.1% 151 -8.9% 74
James 49 159 30.8% 49 59 121 48.8% 2 17.9% 6
Love 34 103 33.0% 36 152 382 39.8% 63 6.8% 41
Waiters 19 73 26.0% 73 72 173 41.6% 35 15.6% 9

Rk1 = Rank among 86 players who attempted at least 50 pull-up 3-pointers
Rk2 = Rank among 166 players who attempted at least 100 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers
Rk3 = Rank among 74 players who attempted at least 50 pull-up threes and 100 catch-and-shoot threes

Yes, that’s LeBron James ranking No. 2 in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage. Of the 166 guys who attempted at least 100 catch-and-shoot threes last season, only Kyle Korver (49.9 percent) was better. So, James will likely be better at playing off of Irving than Irving will be at playing off of James.

But James is also the best finisher in the league. And, according to SportVU, the Heat scored 1.32 points per James drive last season, the fourth highest mark among 166 players who drove at least 100 times. Nobody in the league puts more pressure on the opposing defense when he’s attacking the rim.

So James isn’t taking a back seat to anyone. As a floor-spacing big, Love is a perfect complement offensively. Mike Miller played 82 games last season and shot 45.9 percent (seventh of 166) on catch-and-shoot threes. And Waiters should also be fine playing off the ball, though he said last week that he’ll be watching some Dwyane Wade film to see how to make better cuts to the basket. Wade is one of the worst 3-point shooters in NBA history, but still found a way to play off James.

“You can’t be one-dimensional,” Waiters said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll watch film, watch the things D-Wade did. It helped him.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s going to work out. I just got to make those cuts and try to play the right way.”

But it’s Irving that has a much bigger adjustment to make. Not only did he shoot poorly off the catch last season, but the Cleveland offense was more efficient with back-up point guard Matthew Dellavedova on the floor (104.7 points scored per 100 possessions) than with Irving on the floor (101.7).

Dellavedova was also pretty good (39.2 percent) on catch-and-shoot threes. The 23-year-old Australian went undrafted, but Blatt likes him, and he could be a key piece on a contender in just his second season.

Irving and James will need time together to develop chemistry, but Blatt should consider staggering their minutes, so they each get time to work without the other.

Either way, the Cavs should certainly be a top-five offensive team. And if things come together right, they could rank No. 1 on that end of the floor.

How well will they defend?

It’s defense that will ultimately determine just how good the Cavs will be. Miami’s offense was pretty ridiculous last season, recording the highest effective field goal percentage in NBA history for the second straight year. But they fell off defensively, ranked 11th on that end of the floor, and couldn’t stop the Spurs’ attack in The Finals.

It was James’ worst defensive season since before he was ever an MVP, in part because Wade wasn’t always there (playing just 58 games) to help carry the offensive load. With Irving and Love to help with the offense, James can put more energy on D.

But the defense starts with Irving at the top. Not only was the Cavs’ offense better with Dellavedova on the floor last season, the defense was much better.

Rim protection is just as important as on-the-ball defense. And in that regard, the Cavs have a questionable frontline. Love is a terrific rebounder, but not a guy who alters shots. Of 94 players who defended at least four shots at the rim per game in 40 games or more, only three allowed a higher field goal percentage. One of them was Love’s new back-up, Tristan Thompson.

Anderson Varejao is a good pick-and-roll defender, but doesn’t defend the rim all that well either. And he’s played just 146 games over the last four seasons (235 fewer than James). Brendan Haywood is more of a rim-protecting center, but missed all of last season with a broken foot.

(Speaking of injuries, Waiters said he’s lost about 15 pounds, from 230 to 215, having cut “the candy, the pizza, the chips” from his diet and “really getting after it” with his workouts. That could help him with his defensive quickness, but he says his main goal is to “get through a whole season without missing any games.” He wants to arrive at camp at about 210 pounds.)

Under Mike Brown, the Cavs did show defensive improvement last season, moving up to 17th in defensive efficiency from 27th in Byron Scott‘s last season. Blatt had defensive success with the Russian National Team. And James is obviously a defensive upgrade over any small forward they’ve had in the four years since he left.

But, for the Cavs, the path to a top-10 ranking on defense isn’t as clear as it is on offense. Historically, defense has been more important than offense when it comes to title contention. So how quickly the Cavs learn a new system and build chemistry on that end of the floor will be a more critical development than how well their stars play off each other offensively.