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Morning Shootaround — Sept. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets | Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number | Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota | Jack ready to lead Nets

No. 1: Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets The Houston Rockets advanced to the Western Conference finals last season, and as part of their efforts to strengthen their squad for the coming season, they traded for former Denver point guard Ty Lawson, who had been charged with two driving violations and would seem to benefit from a change of scenery. As Lawson told Fox 26 in Houston, he’s looking forward to playing for Houston coach Kevin McHale and feels he can help push the Rockets to the next level

Guard Ty Lawson, acquired by the Houston Rockets in a trade with the Denver Nuggets in July, is already building a relationship with head coach Kevin McHale.

The two had dinner while Lawson was in Houston last week.

“Kevin McHale, he’s a cool coach,” Lawson said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. “I sat down and had dinner with him, probably like a week ago.

“He just keeps everything real. He’s played before, so he knows what we’re going through. He makes everything straight forward, no grey areas. It was fun. We talked about everything, not just basketball, just life. He even had some stories when he used to play. It was a fun dinner.

“So I’m excited to play for him.”

Lawson believes the trade to the Rockets will be good for his career.

“It’s a huge chance,” Lawson said. “(The Rockets) went to the Western Conference Finals and could have won, but you just needed a couple of extra pieces. So I’m excited to be playing in a situation where I know I have a chance to win.”

Lawson recently completed a 30-day program for alcohol rehabilitation after getting two DUIs in a seven-month span.

Rockets guard James Harden said at his basketball camp last month he spent some time with Lawson in California, and has no concerns about Ty’s off-the-court issues.

“He’s more focused that ever,” Harden told reporters in August.”

Lawson agreed.

“Definitely, I’ve been through a couple of things, going through it,” Lawson said. “He used to hang out with me. He knows the person I am. I feel like he has no worries about me or my game. So I’m just ready.”

Lawson looks forward to playing with Harden, especially because they are close friends and considers the move to Houston as a breath of fresh air.

“Oh yeah for sure,” Lawson said. “I was like before I even came to the team I was talking to James. I was like ‘man get me over there.’ I’ll be that piece to (help) get over the hump. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air.”

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No. 2: Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number During a ceremony yesterday to announce “Dikembe Mutombo Day” in Atlanta, the Hawks surprised their former center by announcing their plans to retire Mutombo’s number 55. As Chris Vivlamore writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mutombo was caught off guard by the announcement, but couldn’t have been happier

Dikembe Mutombo was at a loss for words.

The former center and soon to be Hall of Famer will have his No. 55 retired by the Hawks. The announcement was made by Hawks CEO Steve Koonin during a ceremony in Fulton County Tuesday declaring Sept. 1, 2015 as Dikembe Mutombo Day. The news came as a complete surprise to Mutombo.

Mutomobo’s No. 55 will be raised to the Philips Arena rafters on Nov. 24 during a nationally televised game against the Celtics.

“The most surprising, as you can see from the tears in my eyes, is the announcement that was made (that my jersey will be retired),” Mutombo said. “It’s the most shocking to me. … I didn’t know the Hawks were going to retire my jersey. I can’t believe it. It’s going to be a great day.”

Mutombo played from 1996-2001 as part of an 18-year NBA career. He will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week.

“When you look at the history of the Hawks and you see a player who made such a positive contribution, who is going to be Hall of Famer and who resides in Atlanta, it was two simple (phone) calls,” Koonin said. “One to (general manager) Wes (Wilcox) and one to Bud (president of basketball operations/head coach Mike Budenholzer) saying what you think? They couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.”

Mutombo will have the fourth jersey number retired by the franchise joining No. 9 of Bob Pettit, No. 21 of Dominique Wilkins and No. 23 of Lou Hudson.

Mutombo was an eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year during his NBA tenure. He is the league’s second leading shot blocker and is 19th in rebounds. He was a two-time winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award by the league for his many humanitarian efforts.

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No. 3: Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota — At four seasons in and at 24 years old, Ricky Rubio is still in the early stages of his NBA career. But the NBA rumor mill never stops, and this summer, with the Wolves still rebuilding, Rubio’s name has popped up a few times as a player being targeted by other franchises. While in Dubai at a basketball camp this week, Rubio spoke to Gulf News and said if it’s up to him, he plans to stick around in Minnesota

But Rubio, in Dubai to add star power to the BasicBall Academy summer camps at the Dubai World Trade Centre, denied he was about to move to the Big Apple or anywhere else.

He told Gulf News he believes he will stay with his first and so far only NBA team.

“I have confidence that the team wants me but you know in this league anybody can get traded,” said the flashy playmaker. “You don’t listen to the rumours. You just live day-by-day and that’s it.”

When asked if he wanted to stay with the long-suffering Timberwolves, Rubio gave a firm: “Yes.”

And why wouldn’t he? It is an exciting time to be a Minnesota Timberwolf — even after a 16-win season in which they failed to make the NBA play-offs for the 11th straight time, the longest streak in the league.

The reasons for optimism include a pair of youngsters for whom the NBA sky is the limit at this stage of their fledgling careers.

Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, 20, is coming off a superb debut campaign, in which he showed in flashes why he was once considered North America’s best high-school prospect since LeBron James. The 6ft 8in Canadian displayed the skill and athleticism to suggest he could soon become one of the league’s best wing defenders, as well as one of its most versatile scorers.

Next season, Wiggins will be joined by skilled seven-footer Karl-Anthony Towns, the first pick in July’s NBA Draft and a potential future star.

And Rubio, himself still only 24, said he can’t wait to take the court with the emerging duo.

“They have a lot of talent,” said the 6ft 4in guard. “I have a little bit more experience than them that I can share. I really can teach them what I learned. They have a great future and I can help them achieve their goals.

“I like to have athletic players next to me, the way I play. It suits my game.

“[Wiggins] can be as good as he wants. He has a lot of talent. What surprised me about last season is the quickness of how he adapted to the league. He was fearless about the big stage, to play against LeBron James and the bigger names. There are a lot of ways he can score. It is hard to stop him. If you stop one of the ways he scores, he can score in other ways.

“I have seen [Towns] working out this summer in Minnesota. I can tell he is a great player and not just like a big centre, he can really shoot the ball, he can play in the pick-and-pop and he is really going to surprise some people.

“We have a lot of young talent with a big future but we have got to start doing it because it has been a building process for the last couple of years. We have to start putting it on paper and start winning games.”

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No. 4: Jack ready to lead Nets The NBA is a point guard-heavy league right now, which means if you don’t have an elite point guard, you’re going to, at the very least, struggle night after night against some of the league’s top talent. This summer, the Brooklyn Nets bought out former All-Star point guard Deron Williams, and next season will hand over the reins to… Jarrett Jack? Jack certainly believes he’s the man for the job, as he explained to the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps

Though Jack is more than confident he will be able to prove his detractors wrong, he’s also aware that no matter what he says now, those questions won’t be answered until the regular season begins.

“It does [motivate me], but it’s not like I’ve got the article pinned up on my wall,” Jack said Tuesday after an appearance at a Nets basketball camp in Southampton. “But my thing is that all you can do is show and prove … wait for the opportunities and then take advantage of it, and just help your team win. That’s the only way you’re going to get people to realize it.

“When the season comes and I have my opportunities to go out there and show them that I believe different … that’s the response. You don’t have to respond to it, because your play is going to be the response to whatever they think.”

For a Nets team that will enter this season full of questions, the one surrounding its point-guard play — and whether the trio of floor generals it has assembled will be good enough to get it back into the playoffs — is as important as any outside of the health of Brook Lopez.

There were few tears shed when Deron Williams was bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer, allowing him to return home to Dallas. Though Williams’ personality won’t be missed, he was productive last season, averaging 13.0 points, 6.6 assists and shooting 36.7 percent from 3-point range.

Jack, on the other hand, had the worst plus-minus of any player on an NBA playoff team, with the Nets being outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions when he played, compared to outscoring their opponents by three points per 100 possessions when he sat.

“You never want that attached to your name,” Jack said. “It’s something I have to improve on. … Hopefully this year I can reverse it.”

The Nets are banking on it, as well as the fact that Jack, who went to Las Vegas last month with Joe Johnson to organize a team workout while the Nets were playing there during the NBA’s annual summer league — will help lead a group that will have better chemistry and cohesion this season with the lingering questions about Williams now behind them.

Jack simply sees it as an opportunity to prove he’s a full-time starter in the NBA, something he hasn’t done since starting 39 of 45 games for New Orleans in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

“I’m definitely excited,” Jack said. “I’m super excited for training camp to get here, and these daily tests I’m going to have to show people what I can do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Eric Bledsoe says the Suns want a playoff berth, and they’re “not trying to get the last spot, either” … Carmelo Anthony has partnered with Vice media to launch his own sports channel … The Pennsylvania community he called home came out to remember Darryl Dawkins yesterday

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 28


VIDEO: Darryl Dawkins passes away at age 58

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Remembering Chocolate Thunder | Davis bulks up | Buss believes Bryant worth big extension

No. 1: Remembering Chocolate Thunder — The NBA family lost one of its greatest ambassadors on Thursday when Darryl Dawkins passed away at the age of 58. Our own Fran Blinebury, who covered Dawkins with the Sixers and even collaborated with him on a weekly column, reflects on one of the biggest personalities the league has ever seen…

Some news makes you feel older, more than a glimpse at gray hairs or lines on a face looking back from the mirror ever can. Because Dawkins was the ultimate man-child, light-hearted and perpetually friendly long after he broke into the NBA in 1975 with the 76ers as an 18-year-old out of Maynard Evans High in Orlando, Fla.

Four decades later, little had changed except the age on his driver’s license and when I saw him last February at the All-Star Game in New York, he was still a true original and the most fun person I’ve ever covered in the NBA.

Stevie Wonder dubbed him “Chocolate Thunder,” and no label of sheer power coated in a kid’s shell of sweetness and joy was ever more appropriate.

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No. 2: Davis bulks upAnthony Davis finished fifth in MVP voting last season and has seemingly just scratched the surface of his potential. New Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry will help Davis take the next step, but Davis is doing his part by putting on some weight, as Pelicans.com’s Jim Eichenhofer writes…

Imagine for a moment living in the foodie heaven of New Orleans and getting the green light from a trainer to eat larger portions at meals, including a recommendation to devour more seafood. It sounds like a dream scenario for any weight-conscious New Orleanian, but it’s been a reality this summer for All-NBA Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis. Entering his fourth pro season, the 22-year-old has worked to add more muscle and bulk to his frame. As a result, with training camp one month away, the 6-foot-10 Davis is 12 pounds heavier than he was last season, up to 253, while maintaining 10 percent body fat.

Without a lengthy commitment to USA Basketball this offseason, Davis has been able to consistently focus on a weight-training routine and modifying his diet. He spent a combined total of eight weeks in Los Angeles and Anguilla working daily with new Pelicans head strength and conditioning coach Jason Sumerlin, who continues to adjust the approach of Davis, a noted pizza lover.

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No. 3: Buss believes Bryant worth big extension — The Los Angeles Lakers added some key pieces via the Draft (D’Angelo Russell) and trade (Roy Hibbert) this summer, and they’ll be getting Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle back from injury. But what’s supposed to be the league’s marquis franchise didn’t get any big names via free agency. One thing that may have gotten in the way was Bryant’s $25 million salary, which prevented the Lakers from approaching two big free agents with a package deal. Despite Bryant’s age and health issues, Lakers owner Jim Buss, in a wide-ranging interview with Eric Pincus of the L.A. Times, said that Bryant is getting what he deserves…

Bryant, with one year left on his contract, will be the highest paid player in the NBA this season at $25 million. Buss gave Bryant a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before he even returned from a torn Achilles’ tendon six months earlier.

Since then, Bryant has played in only 41 games over the last two seasons because of a fractured kneecap, followed by a torn rotator cuff last season.

Buss has received plenty of criticism for over-investing in the aging star, who just turned 37 as he heads into his 20th season.

“The man has done so much for the Lakers and the fans of the Laker nation, he deserves the money,” Buss said. “I don’t understand anybody trying to break down what I did for him. Let’s break down what he did for us, then say, what is he worth? To me, he’s worth that.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephanie Ready will be the first full-time female NBA game analystChuck Hayes is not rejoining the RocketsAn Achilles injury has knocked Alexis Ajinca out of Eurobasket … Mike Conley likes mixing patters and colors … and the Kings are bringing Marshall Henderson to training camp.

ICYMI: The best of Chocolate Thunder:


VIDEO: Darryl Dawkins’ top 20 Dunks

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin backs a 66-game season | Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks | Next challenge for Valanciunas

No. 1: Griffin says 66 games is ideal NBA season length — The 2011-12 NBA season was a 66-game slate that some considered the perfect amount of games for the regular season. Since that lockout-shortened season, the NBA has resumed its regular, 82-game schedule and shows no signs of changing that anytime soon. CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger recently caught up with several of the NBA’s stars and, in a Q&A session, asked them what the ideal length of a season would be. Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin was the lone player who voiced support for a shorter season:

If money were no object, what would the ideal length of the NBA regular season be?

Griffin: Sixty-six, spread over the same amount of time [as the current 82-game season]. Fatigue and injuries, and better product. If you have less games, less back-to-backs, the product’s better. The fans will appreciate it more. You see those college guys playing so hard, but they play 36 games in the same amount of time we play 82 almost. I just think it would be a better product.

John Wall: I just enjoy playing. I enjoy loving the game, so it doesn’t matter to me. I think [82 games] is cool … if you get more breaks. They did a great job of giving us more time at the All-Star break, giving us a couple of more days.

Draymond Green: I don’t know if you can necessarily say there’s a better way because it’s never been done. Within the course of the 82, some people catch their stride, as you saw the season before last year. The Spurs caught their stride in like the last 35-40 games. If you’re not playing 82, do they catch their stride? Are they world champions? Who knows? So it’s kind of hard to judge. I think it’s a slippery slope when you get to assessing that because, yeah, what was the lockout year, 66? So you saw that, but you also saw three games in three days, which you can’t judge off that, either. And then there’s going to be an unhappy party, because the owners aren’t going to make as much money, which means the players won’t make as much money. So I think it’s a slippery slope. At the end of the day, our league has done great. Is that something to really tinker with? Probably not. Is there really a reason to? Yeah, guys get tired. But are you going to get tired if there’s 65 games? Probably so. I just think that’s a tough subject.

Chris Paul: Money is an object, though. When we were kids playing AAU, we’d play five games in a day and wouldn’t think twice about it. I don’t know what the right number is. We’ve been playing 82 for a while though, huh? As far as I can remember. That’d be tough [to change].

Kenneth Faried: I think 82 is the proper length. We’ve been playing this game for so long and it’s been 82. [Michael] Jordan played 82. They played more preseason games, so they cut the preseason games and training camp down, which is good for us. But at the same time, these guys before us were playing 20-plus years and they were playing 82 and still being All-Stars and still having big names — Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and those guys. So guys who’ve done it before us, they’ve already paved the way, so we just have to follow in their footsteps as much as we can.

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No. 2: Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks — If you thought this summer’s free agency period was full of news, wait until next summer. Several big names will be hitting the market, Atlanta Hawks All-Star big man Al Horford among that group. In a chat with SI.com’s Jeremy Woo, Horford reflected on Atlanta’s successful 2014-15 campaign, its offseason moves and his own future with the team going forward:

SI.com: Looking back, how would you describe last season?

Horford: It was a great season for our team. I felt like everything started to come together as far as coach’s system. I feel like we really all were able to sink in and play the way he wanted us to play. And it showed—[it was] the first time we made it to the Eastern Conference finals in Hawks history. Now, we’re looking to build on that and try to be the best team we can.

SI.com: Have you had the chance to go back and watch any of the Cleveland series? [The Hawks were swept in four games.]

Horford: Honestly, no. They obviously dominated us, they were the better team. I don’t need to see that, I know what we need to do, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our whole team. So this is the time to do it. Individually, I’m working on my game and trying to get better for the upcoming season.

SI.com: How big was it for the Hawks to be able to keep Paul Millsap?

Horford: It was very important. I think that was the priority for us, to make sure we brought Paul back. Being able to add Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway, really was big. Unfortunately, we lost DeMarre [Carroll, who signed long-term with Toronto]—he’s such a great player, but it was the type of thing he couldn’t turn down, and it’s what’s best for him and his family.

SI.com: What will it take for the team to sustain that success?

Horford: Being healthy, that’s the number one thing for our team. For the most part, we were healthy as a team last season. Two is to be able to keep playing the way we play, being a good defensive team, sharing the ball on offense. We had a lot of success doing those two things, and even though they’re simple, that’s what carried us.

SI.com: Considering the new additions to the team, what are some of the things you look for as far as fitting in?

Horford: I think for them, it’s just being able to get comfortable with the system. We’re just looking for them to impact the game and impact winning, and when you have a guy like Tiago Splitter, an experienced big man, I feel like he’ll be able to help us right away. Tim [Hardaway] I feel like has a lot of potential, and I’m very excited to see him playing in the system. I feel like he’ll be able to help us a lot.

SI.com: Lastly, I know you’ve said you’re waiting after the season to figure out your contract situation. What led you to that decision? [Horford will be a free agent in 2016.]

Horford: For me, I’m very happy in Atlanta. It’s one of those things where I don’t want any contract talks to be a distraction for my team and me. I feel like my focus this year is for us to build and be better. Since we can’t do anything right now, we’ll wait until the season’s over and then we can start talking about all that.

 

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No. 3: Valanciunas gets his deal … now he needs to play some ‘D’ — Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is one of the more promising young big men in the NBA. In his three seasons in the league, Valanciunas has grown steadily as an offensive threat and rebounder, but his defense and rim-protection are lagging behind in development. The Raptors gave Valanciunas a $64-million contract extension yesterday, providing the big man with a secure future in Toronto. As Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reports, though, Valanciunas’ value relative to the deal will show up in how he defends going forward:

Whether or not the new contract extension signed by Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas makes good economic sense is secondary to one fact not in dispute.

There is vast room for the 23-year-old to improve as a player, and whether he makes $16 million as season or $16 a season won’t matter a lick if his development stalls.

Everyone connected with the Raptors knows it, and it was the underlying theme to the day when the Lithuanian big man inked a four-year, $64-million contract extension with the only NBA team he’s known.

“It depends on me,” he said during a hastily called news conference at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday afternoon.

“I have to get better defensively.”

If he can — and there’s no physical reason he shouldn’t be able to — it will make things vastly better for the Raptors and coach Dwane Casey, who barely used Valanciunas in the fourth quarter of any game last season because of perceived shortcomings.

“Everyone in the whole world knew we fell on defence, and how can we get it back to where we were and hopefully better is by maybe doing something different,” general manager Masai Ujiri said.

“That’s coaching, and it’s left to coach Casey and we’re confident he’s put together the right people and he’s identified some of the issues.”

The deal is another step in an expensive summer of moves for Ujiri. Coming off the four-games-and-out playoff elimination at the hands of the Washington Wizards he’s added DeMarre Carroll (four years, $60 million), Cory Joseph (four years, $30 million), Bismack Biyombo (two years, $6 million) and Luis Scola (one year, $3 million) while saying goodbye to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez.

The general manager has a window until Oct. 31 to think about a contract extension for Terrence Ross, and has at least thought about the possibility.

“We’ll keep monitoring and see how things get done, if anything happens,” Ujiri said. “We’ve had a little bit of discussion.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge has reportedly changed agents … Golden State Warriors rookie forward Kevon Looney (hip surgery) will be out 4-6 months … Former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer could be playing in China next season … Good Q&A with Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic …  The 2004 Detroit Pistons will be a part of NBA2K16’s classic teams this year

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Rockets’ acquisition of Ty Lawson, who is welcomed by Harden

NEWS OF THE MORNING

‘Red Mamba’ turns superhero DJ | Tskitishvili seeks NBA comeback | NBA dreams vs. European careers | Rockets’ Harden welcomes Lawson

No. 1: ‘Red Mamba’ turns superhero DJ — Generally here at the Hang Time HQ, we try to focus these Morning Shootarounds on topics around the Association that pack significant news value or delve into the NBA’s many fascinating feature angles. Every once in a while, though, we have to present something for no better reason than its goofiness. And of course, the photos and/or video it generates on social media. So without further ado, here’s an update from Complex.com on veteran San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, his alter ego “Red Mamba,” and how he spent his Saturday at the Rock On Festival back home in Concord, N.H., commemorating that city’s 250th anniversary. It is worth noting that the executive director of the Rock On Foundation, which presented the free one-day festival, is Matt’s brother Luke:

San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner nicknames himself as “The Red Mamba.” This is likely because of two reasons: First, he perfectly fits the prototype for the old term “redheaded stepchild.” Second, the nickname “Black Mamba” was already taken.
But Bonner apparently compensates in deejaying— and creating ridiculous costumes— for what he lacks in originality when creating self-donned monikers. The two-time NBA champion dressed up like a caped crusader and deejayed a set at Concord, New Hampshire’s annual Rock On Festival.
Surely, he’s no DJ Premier nor Kid Capri, but according to the Twitter reactions from this event, The Red Mamba made his hometown crowd proud as they danced to his selections ranging from artists like The Isley Brothers, Taylor Swift, David Bowie, to Outkast.

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No. 2: Tskitishvili seeks NBA comeback — When we last saw Nikoloz Tskitishvili, he was being waived out of the NBA in July 2006, a few months past his 23rd birthday. The slender 7-footer selected No. 5 overall by Denver in 2002 was considered a draft bust then and now, nine years after his fifth NBA team gave up on him, he regularly appears on lists of the biggest flops in league history. Unlike a lot of those unfortunate (and undeniably talented) fellows, though, Tskitishvili is still of a mind and body to do something to change opinions. At least, that’s why he was in Las Vegas, hoping to attract interest via Summer League for an NBA comeback. That’s where Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post caught up with older, wiser former phenom:

His body is bigger and leaner. He’s smarter. He’s much more mature.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili is trying to convince his lunch guest at the Hard Rock Hotel that he should get another chance in the NBA, listing the reasons this time will be different.

“I just turned 32, but I’m better,” he said. “I’m better at this age. I got stronger. I’ve got confidence. I got smarter.”

And, as Tskitishvili admits, he did little in his three seasons in Denver to convince anyone he belonged on an NBA court. He averaged 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds and shot 30 percent in 143 games. He was 19 years old, a 7-footer lean and not close to being ready mentally and physically for the NBA when the Nuggets drafted him. Thirteen years later, he still carries the burden of failed expectations.
“It’s very tough to make that decision, to draft a young guy with no experience, not ready physically, mentally,” Tskitishvili said. “You risk a lot. They trusted me so much, but I didn’t give them a chance.”

Kiki Vandeweghe, then the Nuggets’ general manager, made the call that would haunt the franchise.

“I feel like it was my fault, not Kiki’s fault,” Tskitishvili said. “I had to take care of myself better and stay patient. I should have listened to him. I used to tell him: ‘I want to get traded. I want to get a new chance.’ He was against that. This is why I respect that guy. He liked me, he loved me and I should have listened to him.”

Vandeweghe was in his first year as Denver’s GM.

“We had a lot of things going on at that time,” Vandeweghe said in a phone interview. “We had the Nene-Antonio McDyess (trade) with the Knicks. We had about five other deals that were close to happening. We had one other small deal. And then focused on the draft. I had not seen Skita play basketball in person. And so that’s not something that I probably would repeat ever, drafting somebody I hadn’t seen.”

Tskitishvili was in Las Vegas recently for summer-league play. He continues to show up nine years after he last played in the league, hoping for a longshot chance to prove his worth.

“I’m 100 times better than I was,” he said. “It’s just very difficult for teams to understand that, because they are looking at the number, the age. If you ask me, this is the best shape I’ve ever been in and the best I’ve been playing in my career.”

And if he got to choose a team to make his comeback? Yes, it would be the Nuggets.

“If I could get a chance to show that it was not a mistake …” he said, his voice trailing.

***

No. 3: NBA dreams vs. European careers — Tskitishvili was a Euro prospect who got a chance, however pressurized, to chase his dream of playing in the world’s greatest basketball league. But a lot of players in Orlando and Las Vegas in the offseason face the flip side of that dynamic, deciding between their pursuit of an NBA dream vs. a legitimate livelihood playing the game overseas. Our own Ian Thomsen delved into that quandary through the eyes and experiences of one such player in particular, undrafted Davidson product Tyler Kalinoski. It’s worth checking out the full story here on NBA.com, but here are some highlights:

“I don’t know if scary is the right word,” he was saying. “It’s a game of chess, of making the right moves. You never know what is going to be the right decision.”

Kalinoski, a high-energy 6-4 guard, was used to exceeding expectations. As Davidson’s final recruit four years ago — discovered at the last minute when a higher-rated player failed to qualify academically — he had risen to become the Atlantic 10 player of the year while contributing in all areas. He had always seemed to know where he was going, even if others failed to recognize his potential. But this next step was something different.

“In college you know where you’re going to be,” Kalinoski said. “But now, really for the first time in my life, I have no idea what I’m going to be doing next year. So it’s exciting because of all the possibilities. But I’m also getting kind of anxious about where I’m going to be.”

He was surrounded by all kinds of virtual doorways. Several of them led directly to a variety of career paths in Europe — two professional clubs in Belgium, one in Italy, another in France. Those clubs were pursuing him, and he was grateful for their interest; but at the same time, what intrigued him most of all were the less-welcoming portals that might lead to a career in the NBA. He had gone undrafted in June, he knew the NBA was a longshot, and still he did not want to walk away from the possibility.

He was 22 years old, with a face that looked even younger. He was wearing with pride the red cap and T-shirt that had been supplied by his Summer League team, the Miami Heat. He was setting out on his own with more questions than answers.

Was he going to go play in Europe? Or hold out for the NBA?

One of [agent Kenny] Grant‘s specialties was to help young American players make the most complicated decision: To choose the fork in the road that separated the dream of playing in the NBA from the reality of a career in Europe. The strategy for Kalinoski entering his first summer of professional basketball was to create maximum exposure on both sides of the ocean. Summer League was the perfect venue because it was swarming with European coaches and executives in addition to the host NBA teams.

“We are willing to ride with whatever Tyler wants to do,” Grant said. “We give our advice, but we respect that people have their dream. If it works, if it doesn’t work, we’re okay with it either way. We will go forward with what we have. You don’t want someone to go forward with regrets.”

During the opening weekend of Summer League in Orlando, the coach of the French club Elan Chalon wanted to speak with Kalinoski. Their meeting went well, and Chalon became Kalinoski’s most aggressive and persistent recruiter.

“Some people go to Europe and they’re really happy playing there,” Grant said. “Others, it’s not for them. With these European teams, if you don’t show interest, they’re gone.”

***

No. 4: Rockets’ Harden welcomes Lawson — Most of the Houston Rockets players, coaches and executives, and certainly the vast majority of their fans, have only unanswered questions about Ty Lawson and what the troubled former Denver Nuggets point guard might bring to their team this season. But Houston’s All-Star guard James Harden feels he already has a few answers and believes in Lawson as a solid acquisition because he had a chance to meet up with him in California recently. He spoke to the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen over the weekend about it:

Harden and new Rockets guard Ty Lawson “spent some time together,” enough for Harden to be convinced that his new teammate will overcome his off-court issues and be a valuable addition to the Rockets’ backcourt.

“Ty is definitely going to help us,” Harden said during a break in the Kroger Unplug and Play James Harden Basketball ProCamp in The Woodlands on Saturday. “He gives us that quickness, that speed, playmaking ability, something that we were missing, especially deep in the playoffs. We’re going to welcome him with open arms. We’re happy to have him.”

Lawson completed a 30-day rehabilitation program ordered after his second DUI arrest this year. Harden said he has already spent enough time with Lawson to be “not at all” concerned that Lawson will have similar issues.

“He’s out in California right now working out,” Harden said. “We’re happy to have him. He’s going to be a great addition to our team. I’ve been with him these last couple weeks. He’s more focused than ever. He has a great opportunity with a really good team to showcase his talents and help us with that push that we need.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: He’s no Deron Williams, at least not the Williams who used to make NBA All-Star teams, but journeyman Jarrett Jack will be logging more minutes at point guard for the Brooklyn Nets in Williams’ absence. And he feels ready for a greater leadership role. … Veteran guard Jason Richardson, at 34, isn’t getting any guarantees but he will get a contract with and a serious look from the Atlanta Hawks. … Former Miami wing Dorrell Wright still is on the Heat’s radar. … When Michael Jordan signed his first Nike endorsement deal for $2.5 million, the shoe-and-apparel company required a opt-out clause if the NBA newcomer didn’t translate into profits. Thirty years later, the Jordan Brand – generating an estimated $2.5 billion in annual revenues – will get its own store in Chicago. …

Faried has big hopes for Lawson, Nuggets


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried helps out at a Basketball Without Borders event

It was a bittersweet summer in Denver for point guards. The Nuggets drafted Emmanuel Mudiay, who might be a good one. And they parted with Ty Lawson, who already is a good one, but there’s a catch.

You know the story. Shortly after the Nuggets drafted Mudiay, Lawson was ticketed for suspicion of driving under the influence, the second time since January that’s happened. The Nuggets acted swiftly, trading him to the Rockets, and Lawson entered a one-month court-appointed rehab program, which he’s now wrapping up. It hit the Nuggets hard and Kenneth Faried even harder.

“That’s my best friend, my point guard, my boy,” said Faried, the energizer of the Nuggets, in a conversation recently. “He’s been through a lot. He’s helped me a lot. When I first came on the team, he gave me a lot of good advice. People don’t know that. So it’s hard to see a friend like that go.”

It makes you wonder about the advice Lawson gave. As close as they are, the two clearly went about their business differently. Faried is from hardscrabble Newark, N.J., had poor grades in high school and therefore couldn’t qualify academically for the major colleges (but eventually starred at Morehead State). Then he buckled down, became a top student with a 3.5 GPA, worked his way into the first round of the 2011 Draft and then to a $50 million contract extension two summers ago.

Lawson emerged as a solid playmaker and borderline All-Star shortly after being taken with the No. 18 pick in the 2009 Draft and arguably became the face of the franchise. But off-court issues have dogged him. And just before the latest suspected alcohol-related incident, he bemoaned the Nuggets’ decision to draft Mudiay. In a video that went viral, Lawson wondered aloud whether he was headed to Sacramento, where his old coach, George Karl, was in charge. That and other incidents annoyed the Nuggets. Lawson was on the trading block anyway, and the arrest forced their hand.

So, how is Lawson doing?

“I think he knows what’s going on,” said Faried, who speaks with Lawson often. “And he understands 100 percent what he has to do.”

That’s good news for the Rockets, at least for now.

As for the Nuggets? Faried said once the trade happened, “I went to the gym.” That was his way of dealing with the stress, and also preparing for what’s to come.

“I know what I have to do,” he said. “I have to be more of a leader. I get the biggest paycheck, so I have to be that leader. I want to lead by example, so when I do say something, my words will have volume.”

Being a leader will be welcome in Denver, because the Nuggets were a mess under former coach Brian Shaw. Players openly rebelled, gave half-efforts and refused to buy into the system. They were mocked around the league for their unprofessionalism as David West (now with the Spurs) wondered if the Denver locker room had any “grownups.”

The Nuggets are in a state of transition from the Karl era, still searching for an identity. Mike Malone is now the coach and Faried looks forward to a pre-training camp dinner with the coach to see “what he wants from me and also what I want from him.” The team now belongs to Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the last two recently gifted with contract extensions. Also, plenty will depend on how rapidly Mudiay takes to running the show, who is expected to get the keys to the team right away (like Lawson once did).

“I’m interested to see how he takes to training camp and takes to coaching,” Faried said, “and also to other players, us veterans. The constructive criticism. I saw him in summer league and he looked good.”

The Rockets are also interested to see how their new point guard takes to coaching, to criticism and more importantly, to a second lease on life. Lawson knows how to run a team … he showed that in Denver. But how can he run his own life? He showed that in Denver, too.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 7


VIDEO: Dante Exum talks after Utah’s 2014-15 season comes to a close

Jazz won’t deviate from their plan | Rockets confident Lawson making progress | Rose’s Team USA days likely done for good

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Jazz won’t compromise future in wake of Exum injury — The Utah Jazz had a lot of optimism heading into the 2015-16 season given how strongly they finished up the 2014-15 campaign. Understandably, some of that hope has been dashed after word came down yesterday that second-year point guard Dante Exum has a torn left ACL and will likely miss all of this season. Given that the Jazz are, in some folks eyes, close to being a playoff contender, what’s the plan now? Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune has more: 

But with Exum likely out at least six months after surgery and missing the entire 2015-16 season a real possibility, the Jazz front office has a significant hole to fill on the court at point guard.

Exum averaged a rather uninspiring 4.8 points and 2.4 assists per game last season as a 19-year-old rookie, but the Aussie’s defense helped him overtake the more experienced Burke as Utah’s starting point guard. The Jazz went 24-17 with Exum as a starter and put together a 19-10 mark after the All-Star break. So while GM Dennis Lindsey has acknowledged baseline production at the position “has to improve” going forward, it was also clear to team officials that Exum was a major contributor to Utah’s success in the second half of last season and that, with his mix of size and speed, Exum had a chance to take a major step forward next season.

Without him, where will the Jazz turn?

This late in the summer, the NBA’s free agent cupboard is bare, so expect the Jazz to instead survey the trade market in search of a stopgap to provide the experience Bryce Cotton and Raul Neto lack. But if the Jazz do make a trade, the splash likely won’t be that big. Utah’s decision-makers have made it clear that they do not want to unnecessarily disrupt their young team’s chemistry and development.

So, for now at least, Burke remains Utah’s most likely starter, a role he held for his first year and a half in the NBA. The former college player of the year struggled to make shots last season, but the Jazz and head coach Quin Snyder have not given up on his development.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 6


VIDEO: Looking back on David Robinson’s epic career

Green sees Popovich staying with Spurs for life | Afflalo says Anthony helped recruit him to Knicks | Gallinari surprised Nuggets gave him extension

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Green doesn’t think Popovich will ever fully leave Spurs — Today is the 50th birthday of ex-San Antonio Spurs legend and Hall of Famer David Robinson. Robinson, of course, won two titles with San Antonio under the coaching of Gregg Popovich, who is the longest-tenured coach in the NBA and has led the Spurs to three more title since Robinson’s retirement. Given San Antonio’s stellar offseason in the free-agent marketplace, current Spurs swingman Danny Green tells Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News that he can’t envision Popovich ever fully cutting ties with the team: 

Still setting goals, Spurs guard Danny Green looks forward to playing for coach Gregg Popovich through the end of the four-year, $40 million Spurs contract he signed after becoming a free agent in July.

Like many Spurs players and fans, Green always had presumed Popovich would depart the Spurs bench as soon as team captain Tim Duncan opted for retirement. But with the signing of free agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and the new, five-year contract for teammate Kawhi Leonard signed in mid-July Green now believes Popovich will stick around past the end of 39-year-old Duncan’s career — whenever that comes.

“Without LaMarcus and Kawhi (Leonard) I think he’s out the door when Timmy leaves,” Green said on Wednesday after an appearance at the Spurs youth camp at George Gervin Academy. “Them being here I think extends his tenure just a little bit longer.

“Pop loves the game, obviously. I don’t see him stepping away fully. Even if he ever did he’d always be in the front office, or around or something. But him, or them — he and (general manager) R.C. (Buford) — bringing in the talent they brought in this past (off) season depending on how long they stay, I think we’ll be successful and LaMarcus will want to stay as long as possible and, hopefully, finish his career here with me, Kawhi and Pop.

“I think that keeps (Pop) here a little longer.”


VIDEO: Danny Green discusses the Spurs’ offseason

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — August 2


VIDEO: Team World rallies past Team Africa

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa | Knicks to sign Vujacic | Teague making impact off-court

No. 1: Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa Yesterday’s NBA Africa 2015 exhibition game was a success by any measure, but the game’s signature moment may have come midway through the second quarter when Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo checked into the game. As our Shaun Powell writes, it was a moment that almost didn’t happen

Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, the greatest players Africa ever produced, were asked by league organizers to come out of retirement and make a cameo in the exhibition. Olajuwon is a Hall of Famer and Mutombo will be enshrined next month. They would suit up for Team Africa, a squad of players with African blood, against Team World. Their jerseys, along with one belonging to the late Manute Bol, hung ceremoniously in the rafters above the court inside the arena.

Therefore: A simple and brilliant request, right?

Brilliant, yes. Not so simple.

Mutombo was receptive. Olajuwon said no. Olajuwon is 52, Mutumbo 49. They are fit and trim, but as basketball players, they were finished. It was not going to happen. Organizers pleaded. The answer, up to the day before tipoff, was no from Olajuwon. Truth be told? Both were afraid of being embarrassed on TV, in front of fans who knew them as legends. Neither wanted to play like chumps.

And then: Olajuwon weakened. He brought along his two pre-teenaged boys, who never saw him play, and so he agreed.

When they checked in midway through the second quarter wearing their throwbacks — Rockets for Olajuwon, multi-colored Nuggets for Mutombo — the NBA Africa game had its signature moment, its energy, its second-loudest applause of the day.

The biggest bedlam? That burst arrived when Olajuwon reeled back to 1993, executed the Dream Shake that froze Nik Vucevic, faded and shot a 15-footer that kissed the rim and fell in. Cray-zy. The crowd pounced. Players on both benches jumped.

“I made the move, I made the shot, it went in,” said Olajuwon. “I missed my first shot and was happy to make the next one. And I was really happy to participate.”

After a minute of action, Olajuwon playfully grabbed his chest, Fred Sanford-style. Gregg Popovich, who knows about coaching old players with the Spurs, did the humanitarian thing and allowed Olajuwon to wobble back to the bench and into re-retirement.

As for Mutombo? Didn’t one trademark basketball moment deserve another? As in, a blocked shot and finger wag? Popovich drew up a defensive play that you’ll never see in a Spurs game. He ordered his players to allow guard Trey Burke to reach the rim, where Mutombo awaited. The trap was set but the mouse didn’t cooperate. Burke passed the ball.

“So many of these young players don’t want to see themselves on YouTube,” said Mutombo, “so they run away.”

***

No. 2: Knicks to sign Vujacic The Knicks have made no secret that they’re trying to find players who fit into their “Triangle” offensive system. So who better to add to their roster than former two-time champ Sasha Vujacic, who played for Phil Jackson‘s Lakers? As Ian Begley writes, signing Vujacic should help the Knicks stretch opposing defenses

Vujacic played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2004 to 2011. He spent five of those seasons playing under Knicks president and then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and four playing alongside Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played point guard for the Lakers.

Vujacic, 31, has played overseas for much of the past four seasons. His lone NBA stint during that stretch was in 2013-14, when he played 10 minutes over two games for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Assuming he makes the regular-season roster, Vujacic could give the Knicks a needed threat from the perimeter.

He is a career 37.1 percent 3-point shooter in the NBA. Vujacic is also familiar with the Knicks’ triangle offense thanks to his time in Los Angeles. So he could help the Knicks’ younger players adapt to the system.

The 6-foot-7 Vujacic is the latest player coached by Jackson to sign a deal with the Knicks. New York has also signed former Lakers Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and DJ Mbenga — but none of those players had long stints with the team.

With Vujacic on board, the Knicks have 12 players signed to guaranteed contracts. Counting Langston Galloway, who has a partially guaranteed deal but is expected to make the regular-season roster, they have two open spots.

***

No. 3: Teague making impact off-court Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague took a visit last summer to Atlanta’s Hughes Spalding Children’s Hopsital, and ended up raising thousands of dollars for the hospital throughout the season. Teague has continued the partnership, and as Chris Vivlamore writes, Teague says the association has grown into something “beautiful”…

The Hawks guard felt compelled to donate $20 for each assist he had the previous season, a sum of $11,260. He felt he could do more. Teague and the hospital set up a program where he would match the figure again this year and challenge others to do the same. Those who matched his $20 per assist total would be All-Star sponsors. Others could give $2 per assist ($1,126) as Teammate sponsors. The money benefits the Hughes Spalding Hospital, according to a hospital representative.

“I went on a visit to Children’s to try to give the kids a little inspiration,” Teague said recently. “They go through a lot. I wanted to go there, see the kids, interact with them and have them interact with me. When I got there, I was touched. I wanted to do whatever I could to help out. That’s when we came up with the program.”

The giving will culminate with Teague’s inaugural Hoops for Hughes dinner Aug. 15 at Maggiano’s Buckhead. The event will feature a dinner, question-and-answer session, photographs with Teague and more for those who gave this year.

“When I met Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks during a recent visit to Hughes Spalding, his thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion impressed me even more than him being a young basketball superstar,” said Julia Jones, vice president for operations at Hughes Spalding. “His sensitivity towards the children we care for and his concern for their needs was very genuine. He seemed truly interested in gaining a greater understanding of the important work that is being done at Hughes Spalding and committed to supporting that work in every way he can.”

Teague said the Hawks also donated to the cause.

There are plans to continue the program next year — and for years to come. Teague finished last season with 620 assists in the regular season and playoffs combined. He finished 10th in the NBA in regular-season assists with 513 and added 107 more in the postseason. His donation will be $12,400. He will ask others to match or give $1,260 at $2 per assist.

“I just wanted to give back,” Teague said. “I didn’t think it would grow into something like this. It’s a beautiful thing. At first it was just something I wanted to do from my heart. I just wanted to give back. Now, it’s grown into something beautiful and large.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Derrick Rose is reportedly undecided on playing for Team USA … Glen Davis may be willing to sign a contract overseas if he doesn’t sign an NBA deal … Pacers center Jordan Hill was charged with driving violations outside Atlanta.

Morning Shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Becky Hammon, Spurs win Summer League championship

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Spurs keep winning | Cavs, Smith meeting this week | Lawson gives Rockets another dimension | Paul Pierce is coming home

No. 1: The Spurs keep winning The San Antonio Spurs have set up a modern-day NBA dynasty, and manage to continually contend the last few decades. This summer has been no different, as the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in free agency, and then yesterday their Summer League team, coached by Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, knocked off the Phoenix Suns to win the Las Vegas Summer League. As our John Schuhmann writes, the basketball may not always be great at Summer League, but you always get good stories

First, there was Becky Hammon, the first ever female Summer League head coach, leading her team to a 6-1 record and the title her in Las Vegas. A year ago, she was playing for the San Antonio Stars. And already, she’s got some head coaching experience.

“I’m just trying to progress as a coach,” Hammon said about her 10 days in Las Vegas. “It was eye-opening in a lot of different areas for me, just how much my mind was reeling during timeouts.”

But Hammon clearly wasn’t reserved in her new role. She took charge in the huddles and gave the refs the business when a call didn’t go her way.

“It was just a great learning process for me,” she said. “And the guys had to take my mistakes – and I made plenty – and we just kept hanging together as a group.”

A big part of that group and another great story was Jonathon Simmons, who was voted the championship game MVP after scoring 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

Simmons played at two different junior colleges before finishing his college career at the University of Houston. He played a season in the ABL and then made the Spurs’ D-League team through an open tryout two years ago.

After playing three games for the Brooklyn Nets’ Summer League team, the Spurs gave Simmons an NBA contract. He came to Las Vegas and averaged 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals for the Summer Spurs.

“It’s just a blessing,” Simmons told The Starters after the game on Monday. “I didn’t see it coming. I’m still kind of shocked right now. But I’m just ready to get to work.”

***

No. 2: Cavs, Smith meeting this week After going to the Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith opted out of his contract to test the free agency market. And though plenty of money was flying around during the free agency period, Smith’s name was rarely heard. Now, with most of the free agents off the market, Smith remains available and, as he said to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, Smith understands that opting out may mean he’ll make less next season

“That’s always part of the gamble of opting out,” Smith told the Northeast Ohio Media Group on Monday at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas, where the NBA players’ union held its summer meeting.

Smith has kept a low profile during the NBA’s free agency period, which is a bad thing for a player who opted out of his contract to seek a raise.

He was the Cavs’ starting shooting guard during the regular season after he was acquired via trade in January, but Smith struggled in the Finals – his last and best chance to increase his earning potential.

Asked if he regretted his decision to decline his contract option, Smith said “Uh, I mean, yes and no.

“No because I’ve gotten offers that I wanted, I mean numbers that I wanted, it’s just different situations,” Smith said. “Right now it’s just a matter of seeing what the Cavs come back to me with. Right now they give me the best opportunity to win.”

Smith’s agent, Leon Rose, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. It is believed Smith was seeking somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range annually, and he declined to disclose which teams his offers may have come from.

There are only three teams in the NBA that still have the cap space to give him a raise from last year: the Portland Trail Blazers ($16.4 million in cap space); Philadelphia 76ers ($16.3 million); and Indiana Pacers ($11.5 million).

But the Pacers only have the space in theory– a cap snafu with free agent Monta Ellis temporarily voided his free-agent contract. He will sign there and Indiana will be out of cap room.

Smith said he had some “discussions” with the Blazers but they didn’t go anywhere. So if the offers came from organizations outside of Philadelphia, they’re gone.

Smith has always said he wanted to come back to the Cavs, and he reiterated that point on Monday.

“I definitely want to come back to Cleveland,” he said. “The coaches, the team, everything about the situation, it’s perfect for me.”

Asked for the reasons why he does regret his contract decision, he said “just because I would be secure and I would already know I’m where I want to be.

“I wouldn’t have to go through this whole thought process anymore,” he said.

***

No. 3: Lawson gives Rockets another dimension So much of the Houston Rockets’ offense last season ran through James Harden, and understandably so — Harden is one of the NBA’s best creators. But with their trade for Denver’s Ty Lawson, as Jonathan Feigan writes for the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets feel like Lawson provides a new dimension to their offense that will give Harden the help he needs

They knew they needed more, with everyone from star guard James Harden to general manager Daryl Morey pointing to a need to add another playmaker. So when the Rockets on Monday completed their trade for point guard Ty Lawson, Morey did not immediately point to what Lawson has done or could do for the Rockets; he cited the quest that began when the season ended.

“A lot of what we had hoped to accomplish before next season he’s able to do,” Morey said. “He’s another guy that can attack the basket, can shoot, can make plays for others.”

Days after the season ended, Morey precisely described that need. Even then, he knew the Rockets would chase LaMarcus Aldridge, but would be unlikely to land him. He believed the Rockets would keep the bulk of their own free agents. But he knew even with better health and improvement, the Rockets would likely need help in the backcourt.

“Coach (Kevin McHale) feels and I agree, we could use another playmaker on the perimeter,” Morey said then as if he had skipped to the end of the book. “If it is something we can address, we will. Play off the catch playmaking. There are times people are loading up on James. To have a guy that can play off the catch, attack the basket, finish, make a play, that kind of thing. It’s not easy to find.”

The Rockets found that with Lawson, needing to give up only spare parts and a protected first-round pick because Lawson’s trade value shrank so greatly with his second DUI arrest of the past six months. Lawson was in rehab when the deal was completed and when he spoke to McHale on Monday.

Morey said the Rockets believed Lawson’s rehabilitation gave them confidence he will overcome issues and move past incidents he acknowledged are the type that “have a history of potentially recurring.” But he described the risk of obtaining Lawson as part of all deal-making. There was no doubt about the void that needed to be filled.

“As we saw, especially when we played tougher teams last year, we struggled against teams that would really load up on James Harden. We feel that will be a lot more difficult for teams to do now.”

“People always used to … say our point guard position was terrible, the worst, whatever. I always pointed out that Pat Beverley was a really good player. He’s just maybe suffering compared to all these perennial All Stars we go against in the West. Obviously, we’re still going to be going against those very difficult All Stars, but Ty Lawson is somebody who gives you a top 10 point guard in the league, somebody who can really help us.”

While Beverley can be the 3-and-D point guard that meshes well with Harden, Lawson is a second ball handler and playmaker needed when teams try to wrap their defense around Harden. With the second unit, he not only can be a needed playmaker, Lawson’s strengths – running an up-tempo offense and playmaking in pick-and-roll – fit well with Corey Brewer on the break and Clint Capela on pick-and-rolls.

“Coach McHale and Ty spoke for quite a while again today,” Morey said. “Coach McHale left that conversation feeling very good. Ty does not come in expecting anything. He just wanted to join a team with James Harden, Dwight Howard and a bunch of other guys he knows on the team like Trevor Ariza. I do think it does work either with him as a starter or off the bench.

“When James is off the floor, I do think Ty is going to add a lot and when James is on the floor it’s going to be much more difficult to double team James off pick-and-rolls when you have a secondary playmaker like Ty on the floor.”

***

No. 4: Paul Pierce is heading home It took him nearly two decades, but after 17 seasons in the NBA, Paul Pierce has returned home. After years with the Celtics, Nets and Wizards, the Inglewood, California native signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and, as Gary Washburn writes in the Boston Globe, Pierce is already playing a big part with the Clippers…

“It’s been pretty wild,” Pierce said of convincing Jordan to pass up a max contract offer with the Dallas Mavericks and return to Los Angeles. “I think that whole saga took a form and shade of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be.

“I made my decision to be a Clipper. DeAndre [Jordan] changed his mind to be a Clipper.”

After verbally committing to the Mavericks, Jordan had second thoughts and began contacting Clippers players. A contingent of players, led by Pierce, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, headed to Houston to speak to Jordan.

“I wasn’t there last year with that team, so I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought but I was on the outside looking in,” Pierce said. “I think guys cleared the air if there was any tension, but I think a lot of the media made it more than it was.”

After spending 15 seasons in Boston, Pierce played one season in Brooklyn after a trade, and then signed last summer with Washington. Despite an impressive playoff performance and raves from teammates, Pierce opted out of his Wizards deal this spring and signed a three-year deal with the Clippers.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to come home, finally,” Pierce said. “I grew up a Laker fan but playing on all the Boston Celtic teams . . . there’s no way I could go there — so this was the next best choice. And it’s always been a dream to play in front of my family and friends.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stan Van Gundy says Reggie Jackson‘s new contract will be a bargain a few years down the road … Quincy Acy says he’s returning to the Sacramento KingsDamian Lillard released his second song of the summer …

Report: Rockets acquire Ty Lawson from Denver

VIDEO: The Starters discuss Ty Lawson trade from Denver to Houston.

LAS VEGAS — The Houston Rockets are trying to keep up in the Western Conference arms race, trading for Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski

The Denver Nuggets have reached agreement to trade guard Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Houston will send Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson and a protected first-round draft pick to Denver, sources said. Along with Lawson, the Nuggets will send a future second-round pick to Houston.

Lawson, 27, entered treatment for alcohol abuse last week after he was arrested on DUI charges for the second time in six months.

If Lawson can resolve his off-court issues, he’s an obvious upgrade at point guard, with Patrick Beverley likely moving back to the bench after two seasons as the starter. Lawson also relieves James Harden of some of the ball-handling and play-making duties. And he will certainly help the Rockets play with pace.

The deal puts the Rockets right at the luxury tax line with 12 guaranteed contracts on their roster (once they sign first round pick Sam Dekker. But they were in the conference finals less than two months ago, could be healthier this season, and just upgraded their weakest position.

Lawson’s departure allows No. 7 pick Emmanuel Mudiay to run the show in Denver, with the re-signed Jameer Nelson as his veteran back-up and mentor.


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