Posts Tagged ‘Derek Fisher’

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 19

VIDEO: Run through Sunday’s highlights with the Fast Break


Love makes long-awaited return for Cavaliers | Lakers shutting Kobe down for remainder of preseason? | Jordan’s great expectations for Jeremy Lin | Porzingis making progress despite growing pains
No. 1: Love makes long-awaited return for Cavaliers — While negotiations with Tristan Thompson remain in limbo, the Cleveland Cavaliers welcomed back their No. 1 option at power forward. Kevin Love made his 2015-16 debut Sunday, sporting a new look and finally getting back on the court after shoulder surgery cut last season short in the first round of the playoffs. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group was in Toronto for the first steps of Love’s comeback campaign:

Love, whose last game was April 26 against Boston in the playoffs when he separated his left shoulder, provided six points and four rebounds in 13 minutes of play.

On Sunday he displayed a new look with a curly hairdo and a black headband. But he also showed flashes of his old self to indicate it won’t take long to find his stride.

“Kev has been down and out since Game 4 of the playoffs last year and he’s worked very, very hard to come back,” Cavaliers head coach David Blatt said. “He’s in good shape, he’s in good basketball shape too and now it’s time for him to get his rhythm and his game experience back.”

The power forward nailed his first two field goals. Both of them were step-back jumpers over Luis Scola in low-post isolation sets. He missed his next five shots and was held out of the final two quarters. Blatt said his minutes would be at a minimum.

On the glass, Love demonstrated early on why he’s so dangerous. His first defensive rebound led to his patented outlet pass to Matthew Dellavedova at halfcourt, where the guard lobbed to Timofey Mozgov for an alley-oop dunk.

It was an easy bucket in the span of four seconds. Those scoring opportunities have been absent this entire preseason. Blatt said the plan is for Love to sustain his rhythm and play in the friendly finale on Monday at The Q against the Dallas Mavericks.

“I’m just happy he’s back,” Blatt said.


No. 2: Lakers shutting Kobe down for the remainder of the preseason? — Kobe Bryant‘s preseason is likely over. The Los Angeles Lakers don’t appear to be interested in taking any chances with their resident superstar heading into his 20th season in the league. Lakers coach Byron Scott is taking every precaution with Bryant heading into next week’s season opener, which Bryant is expected to be ready for. Baxter Holmes of has more:

“To be honest with you, [Bryant] probably won’t play [Monday],” Scott said after practice Sunday. “I’d rather get him close to 100 percent as possible. These games don’t mean anything right now. It’s really giving me a chance to look at these young guys anyway.”

Scott said Bryant might not play again this preseason. The Lakers have two games left: Monday and Thursday against the Warriors.

“There’s a chance,” Scott said. “I’m not going to put a percentage on it, but there’s a chance.”

But Scott said he is confident that Bryant will “absolutely” play in the Lakers’ regular-season opener Oct. 28 against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center.

Scott said Bryant still has some soreness in his leg and that he is only jogging and shooting at the moment.

“When him and I talked, his only minor concern was just getting his running in,” Scott said. “He worked too hard this summer to sit down for a week or two as far as conditioning goes. That’s the only thing he’s really kind of thinking about.”


No. 3: Jordan expects big things from Jeremy Lin — Linsanity. Here we go again. If Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan is right, we could see it again from point guard Jeremy Lin, the newcomer Jordan expects to make the biggest impact on his team this season. Jordan said as much, and plenty more, in an exclusive interview with in an exclusive interview with Xinhua News Agency:

As for Hornets’ prospects for the new season, Jordan showed his sober optimism. “They should be ok. We changed a lot of personnel. Everybody is excited I’m very excited but I don’t want to get overexcited.”

Jordan made specific mention of Jeremy Lin, who joined in the Hornets from the LA Lakers this summer. Jordan saw it a successful deal, “We just got Jeremy Lin, who I think is going to be our biggest acquisition. His penetration, his shooting capability, his point guard savvy, he can really pass the basketball, his energy about the game of basketball something,” Jordan said.


No. 4: Porzingis making progress despite growing pains — There are going to be growing pains in the basketball evolution that awaits Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis. Everyone involved knew that much the moment Phil Jackson took a chance on the young giant in the June Draft. How that roller-coaster ride plays out, however, was always going to depend on how quickly Porzingis adjusts to the rigors of the NBA game and all that comes with it, both on and off the court. Porzingis is making strides, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News:

Give Kristaps Porzingis this: the kid is confident.

It’s especially noticeable in interviews, the way the giant 20-year-old brushes off any suggestions of pressure or potential struggles.

Nothing, it outwardly seems, is a prohibitive obstacle. The NBA, the stronger frontcourt opposition, the injuries — they’re all just shrug-worthy motivations to put up more shots or ingest more calories.

Which brings us to Porzingis’ gutsiest moment on an NBA court, a dunk attempt Saturday in Charlotte with a liftoff point that was probably a bit premature.

Porzingis was all by himself on the right side of the court in the second quarter, retrieving a loose ball near the 3-point line. Instead of hoisting an open jumper — something he’s capable of doing from any reasonable range — the Latvian saw the lane, lowered his head and decided to challenge Cody Zeller.

The confrontation didn’t go well for Porzingis. His dunk attempt might’ve fallen short anyway, but Zeller, the Hornets forward, made sure by sending it on a different trajectory.

“Sometimes you get blocked,” the 7-3 Porzingis said. “I’m sure I’ll dunk on some people too.”

For coach Derek Fisher, it’s the thought that counts.

“I saw aggression. I saw him going to the rim strong. I saw him rebounding. I saw him changing shots,” Fisher said “He’s been in and out with injuries, so the shooting, like I said, is not really my issue. I don’t think we question whether he can shoot the ball. Seeing him try to dunk on somebody, to me, that means he played a good game.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pacers rookie Myles Turner is ready for more Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder continue to impress in the preseason … An injury could cost Mavericks rookie Maurice Ndour dearly after a strong showing in training camp and the preseason … James Harden is the face of the Rockers on and off the court (in case you didn’t already know) …

Morning shootaround — October 17

VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s preseason games

Embiid’s attitude a problem? | How Monroe chose Milwaukee | Harden to remain Rocket | Carmelo in a good place | Kobe, Lakers playing it safe
No. 1: Embiid’s attitude could be hampering recovery — The start to Joel Embiid’s NBA career has been a long, painful, well-documented tale of frustration that now extends into a second season on the sidelines. According to Brian Geltzeiler of, in addition the bones in his feet, Embiid’s attitude has gotten in the way of the rehab and recovery process and caused friction inside the Sixers organization:

The friction may come to a head, though, over Hinkie’s decision to select Kansas center Joel Embiid at No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft. Embiid was considered to have can’t-miss talent and upside, but was red-flagged by multiple teams that season because of back and foot issues that surfaced during and after his only, injured-shortened season as a Jayhawk.

Embiid was selected with the hope that he would follow the same pattern as (Nerlens) Noel, who was coming off an ACL tear when he was picked in 2013, and missed his rookie season (which helped the Sixers be bad enough again to land the Embiid pick). Noel was excellent as a rookie in 2014–15, especially as the anchor of a surprisingly decent Philadelphia defense. Hinkie certainly was aware of Embiid’s physical issues when he took a calculated risk to select him, but it’s unclear whether he understood the depth of Embiid’s attitude concerns, which have only worsened as a pro.

The fact that (coach Brett) Brown sent Embiid home from a West Coast road trip last season for being insubordinate to the team’s strength coach and training staff is well documented, but according to a source, the tipping point in the decision was Embiid physically threatening the strength coach on that road trip. According to sources, this followed a pattern of insubordination from Embiid during the rehabilitation of his initial foot injury that sidelined him for the entire 2014–15 season, where he would repeatedly refuse to answer questions from the training staff about his workouts and therapy sessions.

Embiid’s lax approach to his rehab and the circumstances surrounding the second foot surgery he needed this past summer — which appears like it will cost him the entire 2015–16 season — has caused the organization much anxiety. The simple task of getting Embiid to consistently wear his walking boot was a challenge for the franchise, and multiple sources suggested that some people in Philadelphia’s front office wonder whether a second surgery would have been necessary if Embiid had worn the boot as much as he was told to.


No. 2: Why Monroe spurned Knicks, Lakers — Sometimes it really isn’t about the highest pile of cash. Sometimes it’s not the allure of Hollywood or the bombast of Broadway that turns a player’s head. Free agent Greg Monroe could have chased the cachet of the glamor teams in Los Angeles or New York over the summer, but wound up choosing the Midwestern charm of Milwaukee. Michael Lee of caught up with the big man for an insightful look at the decision:

I don’t try to make rash decisions. I just try to take everything into account,” Monroe said. “Most people say, ‘Dang, how could you pass up on all that money?’ I come from a family where you always make do with what you have, you work for what you get. And talk about a regular job. What was the qualifying offer? Over $5 million? Everything is relative and people are different, but I know how I was brought up and how I was raised. I was living perfectly fine throughout my whole rookie deal, so that was still a raise.”

Before free agency began, Van Gundy called Monroe and both thanked the other for how they handled an awkward season. Monroe had just grown frustrated with a franchise continually in flux. He played for five different coaches, had to adjust his game when Andre Drummond emerged quicker than expected, when the team added an odd fit in Josh Smith and again, when Van Gundy implemented a more wide-open system in which Monroe wasn’t an ideal component.

Monroe remained so confident in his eventual payday that he finally bought his mother her dream home before entering free agency. For Monroe, it was his way of making good on the pledge made in a card he gave for Mother’s Day after he declared for the draft. “The card read, I gave to him all his life, now it’s his turn to give to me and whatever I want, or whatever I need, I got it,” Norma Monroe said in a phone interview. “It was overwhelming. I stood there, bust out in tears.”

Milwaukee was always a special place for Monroe since it was where he received the Morgan Wootten Award as national player of the year before participating in the McDonald’s All-American game at the Bucks’ home arena in 2008. In his short time since joining the Bucks, Monroe has quickly taken to the city, purchasing an apartment with a view of Lake Michigan. When he sat down to dine at a restaurant recently, a fan thanked him for picking the Bucks.

“I’m not sure what he was thanking me for,” Monroe said with a shrug.

Monroe wasn’t running away from expectations in New York or Los Angeles; he was lunging into the type of scrutiny he long desired. The pressure won’t be solely on him to elevate one of the league’s rising young teams, but Monroe won’t deny that some exists. “I always feel like I have to deliver, no matter what. I know they’re hungry, and I’m starving to get to the playoffs,” Monroe said. “But coming here, they’re asking me to do things that I’m already comfortable doing. And a guy like me, I have a lot of pride. So I always have the mindset that I want to be everything they think I am. I want to be worth every penny, however you want to say it. That’s what drives me. This is always a great opportunity in my eyes. I try not to take it for granted.”


No. 3: Harden plans to finish with Rockets — It’s difficult to find anything wrong with James Harden’s career these days. First team All-NBA, runner-up in the scoring race and for the MVP award. But just in case anybody had a doubt, the unstoppable scoring machine told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that he plans to finish his career in Houston:

“I’m at a good stage right now,” Harden said. “Everything is flowing. Everything is what I imagined it would be. My family is great. Friends. Everyone is in a good place right now.

“Obviously, my work place is amazing, people I’m surrounded with, that I come to work with every day. I’m in a happy place. Fans here in Houston show me so much love and support. Everything is flowing in a positive way right now. I’m all smiles.”

That all begins on the court, where Harden is coming off his best season and said that despite his happiness with how things have gone, is hungry for much more.

“Always,” he said when asked if he is still has the same desire. “I’m the last one on the court. I’m still hungry. I have a long ways to go. I’m just getting started.”

As for where it will all end, Harden did not entertain a thought of changing anything. Comfortable as he is in the spotlight, he showed no signs of a pull from Hollywood for a return to his native Los Angeles. He had little reason to want to want to change.

Signed through the 2017-18 season, when asked if he intends to play the rest of his career in Houston, Harden did not hesitate.

“Definitely,” Harden said. “Definitely it’s going to end here.”


No. 4: Anthony’s mind, body appear healed — Despite the injury problems that forced him to shut down the 2014-15 season early and despite the Knicks’ inability to sign a top tier free agent over the summer, Carmelo Anthony’s friends and teammates have been a star and leader in camp who is back in a good place mentally and physically, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

“Carmelo is in a great place,” says one friend. “I think he’s going to have a big year.”

Anthony is the Knicks’ longest- tenured player as well as the club’s most accomplished. He’s also coming off two straight seasons without a playoff berth and understands that if he’s healthy and at the top of his game the Knicks could go from being a 17-win team to a playoff club.

Anthony has publicly acknowledged that the Knicks did not land a top-tier free agent over the summer but knows that team president Phil Jackson did upgrade the roster.

There have been several reports that if the Knicks were to struggle, Anthony may eventually seek a trade. (He has a no-trade clause and would have to approve of any deal.)

But Anthony is a long way off from trying to orchestrate a move out of New York. Instead, he has talked about leading by example and even said he wants coaches to challenge him more.

“I think it’s well documented that when quote-unquote best players and star players allow themselves to be held accountable, it makes it easier for everybody else to fall in line and accept the coaching and teaching that every player needs,” Derek Fisher said.

“I don’t think that’s any different from any other situation and it works the same for us. In terms of the difference in feedback, we came into last year and were very intent on making sure guys had everything they needed from us to try and help them be the best they can be on the floor. That intent hasn’t changed. We’re just trying to be as efficient as possible. Hopefully it will work for Carmelo as well as all of our guys.”


No. 5: Kobe to sit out —When you’re 37 years old and entering your 20th NBA season, there’s no such thing as being too cautious. So the Lakers aren’t fretting about Kobe Bryant’s lower leg contusion, just being prudent in holding him out of tonight’s game against the defending champion Warriors, according to Baxter Holmes of

“He came out [Friday] and got some shooting up, but, again, for precautionary reasons there’s no need to have him try to play [Saturday] when we’ve got two more preseason games after that and six days before the start of the regular season.”

(Coach) Byron Scott further framed the decision as precautionary by noting Bryant would stand a better chance to play if Saturday’s were a regular-season game.
“I think if [Saturday] was a regular-season game, there would be a much better chance of him playing, but since it’s not, there’s no need for him to play [Saturday] night.”

Bryant’s status moving forward will depend on how he feels, Scott said. After Saturday’s game, the Lakers have a preseason game Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center and then face the Warriors again on Thursday in Anaheim.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant would like to own the Washington Redskins…There are currently no talks between the two sides in the Cavaliers-Tristan Thompson standoff…Andrew Bogut believes Harrison Barnes will stay with the Warriors…Dirk Nowitzki feels good finally making his preseason debut on Friday night.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 13

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 11


Bosh provides insight on Aldridge’s role | Matthews gets through first full practice | Anthony wants to be held accountable | LeBron, Cavs not sweating winless preseason

No. 1: Bosh chimes in on Aldridge’s new role — Come next offseason, when a go-to guy (and free agent) on an NBA team thinks about taking on a supporting role somewhere else, his first call should be to Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh. Few in NBA lore understand or have experienced that path like Bosh did when he transitioned from superstar with the Toronto Raptors to complimentary piece with the Miami Heat teams of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. As the San Antonio Spurs try to fit new addition LaMarcus Aldridge into their star-studded mix this season, Bosh chimed in on the challenges of Aldridge’s transition before last night’s Heat-Spurs game in Miami. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more:

Of course, their situations aren’t completely identical. Bosh was clearly going to be third in that pecking order, while Aldridge, who signed the largest free agent deal in Spurs history after spending his first nine seasons in Portland, should remain the offensive focal point in San Antonio with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan both past their prime.

But though he won’t have to transform his game as substantively as Bosh, who became primarily a floor-spacing shooter with the Heat after doing pretty much whatever he wanted in Toronto, Aldridge will almost certainly have to sacrifice shots on a Spurs team brimming with depth.

And that, Bosh told the media in advance of tonight’s preseason game in Miami, could be easier said than done.

“The transition is the hardest part. He was getting a high volume amount of touches. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to be a team guy then. But now you have to play within the offense and then people are telling you to be aggressive and you don’t know how to do that. It’s going to be a continuous thing. And usually when you figure it out, the season’s over.

“At least that’s how it was for me. I’m sure in that organization, they’re going to try to fast-track him along. But when you’re playing with all that talent, with all those expectations, you got people chirping at you what you should be doing and you know what you need to be doing within the organization, it’s tough.

“I’m sure it’s going to be frustrating at times for him, because he’s used to getting the ball down on that left block. And he might get it on the right block. Or he might not get as many post touches or as many pick-and-pop looks. So, if it’s limited, he’s looking to move it, instead of shooting as usual.

“But they’re saying, ‘You’ve got to be aggressive.’ So it’s a fine balance, and you have to learn it.”

VIDEO: The Heat rally to top the Spurs in preseason action

*** (more…)

Quick preseason start encouraging sign for Carmelo, New York fans

VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony scores 21 points and the Knicks defeat the Wizards

Whether you’re a member of or a fan of the New York Knicks – with just one victory in a playoff series and only five postseason appearances, total, in the past 15 years – you’ll appreciate just about anything coming along sooner rather than later. That it happens to be Carmelo Anthony‘s recovery from knee surgery last winter makes it doubly welcome.

Anthony, 31, a 25.2 ppg career scorer, played in just 40 games last season and was done by February, with the Knicks headed toward the worst record in franchise history: 17-65. They didn’t reap the reward in draft position they might have had in mind for that lowly finish (though forward Kristaps Porzingis might, in time, make up for New York’s fall to No. 4). And they were low-impact players in free agency, despite having almost $30 million to spend.

So getting max-salary, max-years, max-ball dominator Anthony back with most of his skills intact, ahead of schedule, would boost some spirits around Madison Square Garden, as well as the Knicks’ prospects early in the 2015-16 season. That’s what Al Iannazzone wrote about for Newsday over the weekend:

Carmelo Anthony was itching to get back on the court, but for nearly five months after he had knee surgery, the Knicks and their doctors wouldn’t let him touch a basketball or set foot in a gym.

“I wasn’t even allowed to go near the court,” Anthony said. “They had a no-Melo-on-the-court sign on the door. They had a picture of me with an X on there. I didn’t pick up a basketball until the end of July.”

What followed were hours and hours of shooting from all over the court to get ready for this season. The Knicks’ lone All-Star worked on trying to regain his rhythm and timing, on getting comfortable in different spots on the floor and pushing off his surgically repaired left knee to see if he had his power back.

Anthony is not officially done with his rehab, but judging by the Knicks’ first two preseason games, all the work he did is paying off. Anthony has been extremely sharp. He’s shot 18-for-25 and scored 38 points in 45 minutes.

“The most important thing is being healthy,” he said. “When you’re healthy, everything kind of falls into place mentally. There’s a lot of clarity for me at this moment. I can kind of just play ball and not have to worry about ticky-tack injuries or having surgery. I can just focus on my team.”

“I think Carmelo’s excited about basketball again, which for veteran players is hard to do as you move through your career,” [Knicks coach Derek] Fisher said. “Being away from the game oftentimes reawakens that childlike joy that you have for playing the game. He has that right now.

“It’s more about the mindset that you see and his approach to the game. He’s being aggressive. He’s making passes when he should make passes. He’s putting in effort on the defensive end, and he’s really leading our guys.”

Blogtable: Carmelo a Knick for life?

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

BLOGTABLE: Paul George the PF? | Do you believe Carmelo? | Is it time to deal D-Rose?

VIDEOCarmelo Anthony chats during training camp

> Carmelo Anthony says if things don’t work out in New York, he wouldn’t ask for a trade. Do you believe him? Where would you trade Carmelo if he and the Knicks can’t get on track?

Steve Aschburner, Believe him? Today yes, tomorrow not so much. Four more years is an eternity, especially for an aging drama king who is out of sync with New York’s current rebuilding initiative. His and the Knicks’ arrows are trending in opposite directions and, at some point, it isn’t going to be pretty. If I needed to trade Anthony, I’d labor mightily to make it Brooklyn, where it wouldn’t disrupt his lifestyle and all the other ancillary stuff that was so important to him when he re-signed. Or Philadelphia, just because.

Fran Blinebury, Actually, I think I do believe him. Anthony has demonstrated that he’s mainly interested in being the big Broadway star with his name getting top billing on on the marquee while taking most of the shots. He can only do that by remaining in New York. Ka-ching!

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOf course he should be believed! How dare you suggest people ever say something for public consumption and something different behind closed doors. The fair answer is that I believe him at the moment. There is no way for anyone — including Melo — to know what he will be feeling in a year. So much can change. Maybe the team is still losing. Maybe the team is going in a positive direction but with Anthony in a supporting role he does not want. But I believe he wants things to work out in New York. It’s where he wanted to be, twice.

Shaun Powell, He won’t ask for a trade perhaps because Mrs. Melo doesn’t want to live anywhere else, and neither does Carmelo. There are too many external factors (endorsements, visibility, social ramifications) at stake. He wants his identity tied to NYC and if he didn’t, he would’ve signed with the Bulls a few summers ago. From the Knicks standpoint, regarding a trade, I’d never elevate a player above the team. If shipping him makes sense, I’d ship him.

John Schuhmann, Believe him? Yes and no. He fought hard to get to New York and probably wants to give it as much time as he can possibly stand. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Knicks being a very good team anytime soon and Anthony could certainly change his mind in time. If he were to be traded, I’d guess that Chicago and L.A. (Lakers) are the most likely destinations, because his no-trade clause gives him the right to choose exactly where he’d go. Dark-horse pick: The Wizards if they miss out on Kevin Durant next summer.

Sekou Smith, Careful Carmelo. Your words now, when the season is still young enough that the Knicks can dream a little dream about being a playoff contender, could come back to haunt you if things go awry again this season. It doesn’t matter whether I believe him or not, because if things get ugly Carmelo won’t have to ask for a trade. The pressure will be on all sides to do something, either with Carmelo or someone else. As far as trading him, I can think of a team on the other side of the country that could be in desperate need of a player with Melo’s abilities. But I can’t imagine who or what the Lakers would have that the Knicks would want in a trade …

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI believe the future is unpredictable. Who knows how the Knicks will develop cover the next couple of years? I also believe that Anthony went through a trade demand once before, in Denver, and it was not a happy year for him, so he would probably like to avoid the same predicament as he approaches the back end of his career. Bottom line is that I just don’t see the Knicks trading Anthony – if they did, their next move would be to find another star of his caliber, and good luck there. They know the supply is scarce.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogWell, he can’t ask for a trade without getting fined, right? At least not publicly? Carmelo may never actually “ask” for a trade, but I suppose he could strongly suggest the Knicks move him, or just straight-up privately ask for a trade. Anyway, this is just semantics. He clearly could see what was on the horizon when he re-signed with the Knicks, so to suggest now that he’s unhappy or surprised by the direction of the team would seem disingenuous. It’s like a time-share presentation: He knew what he was getting into when he signed up. And there’s no easy way out of it now. Go see a show in midtown, have a nice dinner downtown, ride your bike along the West Side … New York is a pretty great pace to live, regardless of how good the Knicks are.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 28

VIDEO: James Harden and the Houston Rockets are ready to roar after a banner 2014-15 season


Lillard ready to take control in Portland | Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott | Melo ready for end to long summer in New York | Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind

No. 1: Lillard ready to take control in Portland — The leadership mantle in Portland is now Damian Lillard‘s and Lillard’s alone, as he enters his first training camp with the Trail Blazers without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum around to help shoulder the load. In preparation for his new role, Lillard made sure everyone understood that he was not only willing to take control and lead the way but ready to do so. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the story …

One by one across the country, their phones lit up and vibrated, a text message arriving to members of the Portland Trail Blazers with an idea that could change their upcoming season.

For some, like Meyers Leonard in Portland, the number with the 510 area code was already programmed into his phone. Others, like rookie Pat Connaughton in Boston, were perplexed until they opened the message.

“Yo Pat, it’s Dame. We are going to San Diego to get the team together and to get ready for the season …”

The texts were from Damian Lillard, the lone starter remaining from a popular and successful Blazers team that disintegrated amid a summer of free agency and trades. Now, as the undisputed star of the team, Lillard was wading into his first wave of leadership.

It was August, and he wanted to get the young and unproven roster together before players started reporting to Portland in September. After some collaboration with teammates CJ McCollum and Leonard, Lillard settled on San Diego.

Soon, 11 Blazers – some complete strangers to each other– were booking flights and hotel reservations.

A Blazers player had never, in the franchise’s 45 years, attempted an off-season team-building event of this magnitude. Then again, this summer marked one of the biggest transitions in team’s history, a swift and purposeful dismantling of a talented squad in favor of a rebuild with cheaper and younger players.

Success this season won’t be judged wholey on wins and losses, but rather player development and growth. Among the more visible and tangible storylines is how and what kind of leader Lillard will be, and how much his influence could improve the team.

It’s why his August text could determine the course of this season.


No. 2: Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott — Byron Scott doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this season in Los Angeles. He has the full support of the front office, so says his boss, Mitch Kupchak. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers reiterated his support for Scott on the eve of what should be one of the most interesting training camps in recent memory for the franchise. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has more …

For a franchise that usually evaluates itself on wins and losses, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has shifted his expectations.

Though Lakers coach Byron Scott oversaw the team going 21-61 last season in what marked the franchise’s worst record in its 67-year-old history, Kupchak has not wavered in his support for Scott. Kupchak remained mindful of the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries and a roster filled with unproven talent.

“He has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s. I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”

That will begin Tuesday in Honolulu. The Lakers’ nine-day camps will include seven days of practices and two exhibitions. Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp, the latest one including three two-a-day sessions.

That partly explains Kupchak’s support for Scott, who has three years remaining on his contract. Kupchak praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts. Even amid the losses, Kupchak also argued Scott improved the team’s culture.

“Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together,” Kupchak said of Scott. “They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”


No. 3: Melo ready for end to long summer in New York — When your names is tossed around the way Carmelo Anthony‘s has been all offseason, the start of training camp and actual basketball is welcome respite from the drama. Anthony said the drama is in his rear view as he readies himself and his team for camp, writes Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News

Over the past several months, Carmelo Anthony has sent mixed signals – publicly and privately – about his thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason.

Anthony’s concerns stemmed from Phil Jackson missing out on a bonafide star in free agency and drafting a project in 19-year-old Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in June. But on Sunday, with Knicks training camp a day away, Anthony voiced support for the organization’s offseason moves.

“I was very excited about what we did this offseason. I liked the moves that we made,” Anthony said at his youth camp in Manhattan. “Was it any of the stars that we wanted to go after and go get? No. But the pieces that we got, I’m really intrigued.”

The Daily News reported in June that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks’ decision to draft Porzingis, a pick that influenced Lamarcus Aldridge spurning the Knicks for the Spurs.

The Knicks wanted to play Aldridge at center to let Porzingis develop – something Aldridge was vehemently against. And at Team USA training camp in August, Anthony expressed frustration at how the entire situation unfolded, even saying he “threw” his headband when he found out the Knicks wanted Aldridge to change positions.

But now the offseason is in the past, and Anthony’s main concern will be returning from the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in February.

Anthony said Day 1 of training camp Monday will mark the end of a “long summer.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony said. “Just glad that I can be in the position I’m in right now.”


No. 4: Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind — Small ball? Not in Memphis, where the rugged Grizzlies are holding on tight to their grit and grind roots. The rest of the league is welcome to tinker with smaller lineups and the pace-and-space revolution. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchoring your middle, there is no need to stray. Griz coach Dave Joerger isn’t interested in tinkering with what’s worked in Memphis for years, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal …

Joerger’s mantra this summer has been for the already tough Griz to get “nasty,” doubling down on the grit-and-grind mentality that has made the team a perennial Western Conference contender.

The Griz remain committed to a bruising brand of basketball that’s served them well even as the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with 3-point shooting. recently wrote in a 2015-16 season-preview of the Griz: “They’d rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.”

That assessment might be selling the Grizzlies short. Despite the recurring theme of the need for long-range shooting, the Griz return with more versatility, the same expectation of winning 50-plus games and a place among the elite in the Western Conference.

There will, however, be challenges to work through during camp if the Griz are going to make good on their promise to contend:

1. Sorting out the wing positions: No one would ever accuse the Griz of lacking depth. They are deepest at the wing positions, meaning Joerger has a nice problem in determining who will get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes are veterans with meaningful careers. Last year, Joerger settled on starting the 6-5 Lee at shooting guard and the 6-4 Allen at small forward to start the season.

The coaching staff acknowledged concerns about such a small lineup given small forwards around the league typically stand 6-7 and taller. Green, 6-9, joined the roster around midseason. He played off the bench but was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and then went back to the bench. Green never found his footing and was inconsistent. With Green participating in a full camp, it’s conceivable that he will start at small forward. Joerger prefers the longer, more versatile Green. The question at camp will be who will start at shooting guard. Lee is a 3-point threat. Allen’s disruptive defense and infectious energy clearly make the Grizzlies “nasty.” As for second-year guard Jordan Adams? That’s a different topic.



SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are ready to take a (minimum deal) gamble on former No. 1 overall pick and native son Anthony Bennett … Year 2 of the (Jason) Kidd experience in Milwaukee comes with great expectationsMarcus Morris is still taking shots at the Phoenix SunsKlay Thompson is already taking full advantage of Steve Nash in his role as the Golden State Warriors’ part-time player development consultantThe Thunder have hired an assistant coach, Royal Ivey, with deep ties to Kevin Durant

ICYMI: The best alley-oops from last season:

VIDEO: 2014-15 Top alley-oops

Morning shootaround — Sept. 26

VIDEO: Brent Barry reports from Clippers media day


Jackson to be more involved with Knicks | Pierce talks title, retirement | Skiles wants Magic to get defensive | New vets bring leadership to Boston

No. 1: Jackson to be more involved with Knicks — Team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher won just 17 games in their first full season in New York. Now, to get better, they think they need to get together … more often. Jackson said Friday that he will take a more active, day-to-day role with the Knicks this year. Newsday‘s Al Iannazzone has the story…

Phil Jackson won’t be sitting on the bench, but he will spend more time in the coach’s office and film room this season — at the request of coach Derek Fisher.

Jackson, the Knicks president who won an NBA-record 11 championships coaching the Bulls and Lakers, wanted to give Fisher his space last season. But after the first-time coach guided the Knicks to a franchise-worst 17-win season, Fisher asked Jackson for assistance.

Fisher said he wanted more “one-on-one” discussions with Jackson to see how to prepare himself and the team better, and welcomes counseling from “one of the great basketball minds we’ve ever seen.” Jackson promises to be more involved and hands-on for his hand-picked protege.


No. 2: Pierce talks title, retirement — Paul Pierce is home. Paul Pierce is with a championship contender. And Paul Pierce turns 38 years old in a couple of weeks. You can write the script from there, as Dan Woike of the Orange County Register writes…

Paul Pierce already has an idea of how this all might end.

The Inglewood native and NBA veteran signs a deal to play for his hometown team, helping the Clippers win their first NBA title. He rides in the parade through his streets, trophy in hand, leaving his career behind him.

That’s the hope.

“I don’t have much basketball left – whether it’ll be this year or another year. To come home and play in front of family and friends and possibly win a championship, it’s like a dream come true,” Pierce said at Friday’s media day. “If we win this year, win a championship, I’ll probably be done with basketball to be honest.

“It’ll be a dream to be home and carry that championship trophy down Manchester Boulevard.”

By the way, all is cool with DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul. It always was, apparently. Melissa Rohlin of the L.A. Times has the story…

When a Clippers contingent went to DeAndre Jordan’s home in Houston in July to help convince the center to re-sign with the Clippers, rumors abounded that Jordan and Chris Paul had a powwow to clear up their strained relationship.

Only thing is, according to the players, there was no strain.

“I think that there was forced tension because of everything we all heard that we said about each other, which was not true at all,” Jordan said at Clippers’ media day on Friday. “It was just the outside, and we never asked each other about it.

“These guys are my brothers. I talk to them every day. Yeah, there’s times that we bump heads on the court, but five minutes later, we’re good because it’s constructive, it’s for the right reasons: We want to win. … There’s not any tension; we don’t not like each other. And all three of us [Jordan, Paul and Blake Griffin] are going to be here for a very long time. This is our team; this is our unit. There was no clearing of the air. We just had a sit-down to tell them I was going to be in a Clipper uniform this year.”


No. 3: Skiles wants Magic to get defensive — When Scott Skiles took over the Milwaukee Bucks in 2008, they went from last in defensive efficiency to fourth in his second season. Now, Skiles is hoping to lead similar improvement with the Orlando Magic, who ranked 25th defensively last season. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Josh Robbins was at Magic media day on Friday…

Skiles intends to imbue the Magic with a brand-new identity: defensive-minded and hard-nosed. On several occasions Friday, he said the Magic need to transform themselves into a team that ranks in the top five in field-goal percentage defense.

Last season, they finished 28th in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make 46.3 percent of their shot attempts.

“There’s been a lot of talk, even before I came here, about turning into a good defensive team,” Skiles said. “It hasn’t happened, and we need to do it.”

The Magic know all about Skiles’ goals. He has spoken with all of the players since he was hired in late May, and he has told them that they need to make significant strides defensively if they’re going to climb out of the NBA cellar and approach a winning record.


No. 4: New vets bring leadership to Boston — After squeezing into the playoffs with a young team last season, the Boston Celtics are looking to another step forward. It was another summer where Danny Ainge wasn’t able to acquire a star, but the Celtics did add a couple of veteran big men to their rotation.‘s Ian Thomsen was at media day in Boston and takes a look at how David Lee and Amir Johnson could make an impact…

Lee, the 32 year old power forward, should fit in beautifully. The Warriors were able to win the championship last season in no small part because Lee (along with Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut) was willing to accept a reduced role for the good of the team. As Lee pursues a new contract next summer, his view of the bigger picture promises to affirm his identity: He will help the Celtics intangibly by keeping the focus on team goals.

He fills many needs for the Celtics. Lee, a two-time All-Star, is a strong rebounder, a smart passer and a versatile scorer. After sitting for most of the season, he was able to identify his team’s needs and make an impact instantly when the Warriors went small midway through the NBA Finals, helping to launch their comeback from a 2-1 deficit against the Cavaliers. Because the Celtics lack a singular playmaker in this era of leading point guards, Lee’s ability to make quick decisions with the ball should be crucial.

Neither Lee nor free-agent Johnson (whose two-year contract is non-guaranteed for 2016-17) has a reputation for selfishness. Both will be expected to provide leadership by example for the young Celtics. Johnson, at 6-9 and 240 pounds, will be asked to play minutes at center, along with Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls’ Mike Dunleavy is out 8-10 weeks after undergoing back surgery … The Wizards have offered Bradley Beal a less-than-max extensionThe Wolves still like Ricky RubioJared Sullinger lost weightAn oral history of the best in-game dunk we’ve ever seen … Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is going to camp … and the Nuggets waived Kostas Papanikolaou.

ICYMI: The best buzzer-beating highlights from last season:

VIDEO: 2014-15 Top 10 Buzzer-beaters

Morning Shootaround — August 2

VIDEO: Team World rallies past Team Africa


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 19

Stop and Pop with Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson


RHJ brings personality to the Nets | Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more | Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieving | Some Pau in Porzingis?

No. 1: RHJ brings personality to Nets — It hasn’t been the best of offseasons for the Brooklyn Nets. They bought out point guard Deron Williams‘ contract, paying him a reported $27.5 million not to play for them over the next two seasons. They signed Andrea Bargnani, the unfulfilling 7-footer who was found wanting by the Nets’ rivals across the river and whose third chance at NBA success might be his last. What had been a spend-now, win-now approach has been pushed aside for a youth movement, a much tougher sell in the big city. While fans patiently (or not) await a bunch of salary-cap space 12 months from now – when seemingly every team will have it, by the way – Brooklyn at least added a new player whose game and personality could be worth cheering. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the up-close-and-personal treatment from the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps:

Anyone who meets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson today sees someone about as outgoing and confident in himself as a person as you can be. After all, it takes plenty of confidence to hop up onto the stage at the NBA Draft wearing plaid pants, or to end your initial press conference with reporters with a freestyle rap about being the newest member of an NBA franchise.

But there was a time when Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t so confident, when he did worry about what others said and thought about him. At least, that was the case until he was entering high school and grew tired of the way people were always discussing his afro.

“People would always talk about my hair,” he said. “They would always call me names or whatever, and I was just like, ‘I like it.’ As I got older, I just got really comfortable with [my personality] and said, ‘To hell with whoever doesn’t like it.’

“Growing up, sometimes you worry what people think, who is going to say something about me … but after that, I was like, ‘Whatever makes me happy, that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”

It’s a philosophy that has served Hollis-Jefferson well, helping carry him from his hometown of Chester, Pa., to the University of Arizona for two years then to the Nets — who sent Mason Plumlee to Portland to acquire the rights to the 23rd-overall pick, who the Nets feel is the best defensive player in the entire draft and could become a longtime fixture for them on the wings.

Though Hollis-Jefferson has all the traits you look for in a lock-down wing defender, he may also be the draft’s most effervescent personality — a bundle of energy who seems incapable of having anything but a smile on his face or a stream of entertaining dialogue tumbling out of his mouth.

Given that one of the biggest criticisms of the Nets recently has been a lack of emotion and passion, it’s not just his basketball skills that make him a welcome addition to the roster.

“He doesn’t hold anything back,” said Brandon Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson’s teammate at Arizona who played for the Hawks during summer league here. “Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s not the best [thing], but you always know what to expect from him.”


No. 2: Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more — Toronto’s dismal finish to 2014-15 – an 11-16 mark over the final two months, followed by an 0-4 ousting in the playoffs’ first round – had folks speculating about coach Dwane Casey‘s job security and the franchise’s viability as a contender. But a busy summer so far by GM Masai Ujiri has rounded up newcomers DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo, while bidding adieu to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez. That’s a lot of change, about which Casey spoke to our own John Schuhmann for an Q&A. Here are some excerpts:

Q: What hurt you offensively in the playoffs?
DC: Physicality and size. We were small with Lou and Kyle [Lowry] on the floor at the same time. Size and length took us out. They made our big guys make plays. So a big emphasis this summer for them is learning how to play out of blitzes on the pick-and-roll, when they’re taking the ball out of DeMar’s and Kyle’s hands. They got to make plays and burn them if they’re going to bring two to the ball. We didn’t do a good job of that in the playoffs.

Q: What was your pitch to [DeMarre] Carroll when you met with him?
DC: We need you. You’re a defensive guy. We want to be a defensive team. We had been until last year. We moved from 30th [in defensive efficiency in 2010-11, the season before Casey was hired] to top 10, and then took a step back unwillingly. He’s a big part of us taking that next step. That was the pitch. I love his story, that he’s a self-made player. If you said six years ago that DeMarre Carroll would be one of the top players in the league, nobody would have believed you. But he’s made himself into that player. That’s my kind of guy and our kind of guy.

Q: Has Terrence Ross hit a ceiling?
DC: I don’t think so. What a lot of people don’t understand is that he had a lot of stuff in his ankle. He had that taken out this spring. He played through it last year. Whether that was why he took a dip defensively, I don’t know. I tell everybody that he was our best defensive wing player two years ago, and we were pretty good. He’s got to get back to that level more so than with his shooting. But I don’t think he’s hit a slump. He didn’t take that next big step. He hasn’t forgot how to shoot. Even with one leg, he was shooting this morning. So we’re looking for big things out of him and this is a big year for him, career-wise.


No. 3: Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieve — Everyone gets excited to see the stars of the NBA Draft in the weeks following their selections and destinations. A bunch of sophomores-to-be attract attention by showing what they learned as rookies (or what they didn’t). But for many hoops devotees, the summer leagues in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are about guys like Alan Williams. Williams, a 6-foot-8 big man from UC-Santa Barbara, put up some big numbers playing for the Houston Rockets’ entry in Las Vegas, including a 22-point, 20-rebound performance against Philadelphia’s team. Considered too small for the spot he plays, by NBA standards, Williams remains a free agent in search of a training camp in October. But he made sure no one outworked him in Vegas, per

His energy level on the boards has always been great, even going back to when he was one of the advanced metric darlings of college basketball over the course of the last three seasons. He’s been in the top-10 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate over each of the last three seasons, and led the entire country in PER in 2014 at 35.7.

But this week, he kicked it up a notch, largely due to some work he did in the offseason. [The first thing a scout] pointed out was that the 6-foot-8 big man seemed to have slimmed down, which may have pushed him into another gear as far as his endurance and athletic explosiveness. Williams himself confirmed as much after the game.

“I had to, I had to,” Williams said with a smile when asked if he’d lost weight. “That’s what the NBA guys want to see. Me being able to trim that baby fat that I had in college and continue to elevate my game and keep up with that same energy and intensity that I’ve had for so long.”
That hard work has been emblematic of Williams’ career to this point, as the big man went from a lightly recruited high school prospect all the way to this moment.

“You hear this about a lot of guys, I’m sure, he’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Williams’ coach at UC Santa Barbara, Bob Williams, told me prior to this 2014-15 season. “He’s a phenomenal kid.”

Williams did give a little blush [over] the superlatives that have been laid upon him as a teammate in the past, but he said his parents — his mom is a police chief and his dad a judge — instilled the best values in him possible to give him a shot at success.

“My parents did a really good job of making me the best man I can be,” Williams said. “Not only the best basketball player, but the best man. And I don’t know if that gives me a better chance [to make a team], but I definitely believe that it should be a contributing factor. Someone’s character is always taken into place because you never know who’s watching. You want guys that are going to go out there and put their best foot forward for the organization and I feel like I’m one of those guys who can be a model citizen, a great teammate, and go out there and bust my butt on the floor.”


No. 4: Some Pau in Porzingis? — Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was asked all sorts of unanswerable – or at least, not ask-worthy – questions in Las Vegas, with inquiring New York scribes wanting him to project the team’s starting lineup for November or discuss the perfect ratio of triangle vs. other geometric forms of offense for his squad in 2015-16. He mostly stayed away from comparisons of the Knicks’ new young players to known NBA quantities, based on the unrealistic expectations such comments spark. Fisher did acquiesce, though, when one such parallel was drawn between 7-foot-3 rookie Kristaps Porzingis and veteran All-Star Pau Gasol. Marc Berman of the New York Post relayed Fisher’s responses:

But Fisher only will compare the two Europeans as far as their mental makeup — not their on-court game and slight builds. And Fisher raves that Porzingis stacks up well with Gasol, the five-time All-Star, in all those vital intangibles.

“I’m very reluctant to throw around a lot of comparisons before a guy has played a [preseason] game,’’ Fisher said late Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center after the Knicks’ summer league was history. “But I would say the similarities are the character, that Pau’s an amazing person and Kristaps is the same type of guy in terms of a good teammate, good guy to be around, enjoys working hard and really wants to be the best.

“We’re very fortunate from that standing. His career will take care of itself because of those reasons.’’

Many of the post-draft questions about whether Porzingis would stand his ground defensively because of his ultra-skinny frame were answered in Las Vegas. Knicks president Phil Jackson was more worried than anyone. Porzingis sat out Friday’s summer-league finale, already having proven through the first four games that he was ready to mix it up and not back down.

With Fisher starting the perimeter-oriented Latvian at center purposely — to see how he dealt with the NBA’s inside physicality — Porzingis blocked shots, drew fouls and rarely looked out of his element. He averaged 10.5 points on 48 percent shooting and 1.8 blocks per game, earning loud cheers from Knicks fans in Sin City. His rebounding (3.3 per game) and boxing out needs work, as well as his hands.

Porzingis’ natural position will be power forward — maybe as a starter alongside center Robin Lopez — but he says he will play minutes at center. A starting frontline of Lopez-Porzingis-Carmelo Anthony may not be shabby in the mediocre East.

Sources say the goal is for Porzingis to put on 10 to 15 pounds by the opening of training camp Oct. 1 — which would put him at roughly 245 pounds.

“He’ll mature and fill out physically as he ages,” Fisher said. “We’re not obsessed at putting a lot of weight on him all at once. I think he’s in good position. I’m glad to have him healthy and so he can have a great 10-week stretch to get him ready for training camp.’’


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA legend Jerry West, a.k.a., “The Logo,” considers the Golden State Warriors’ front office to be the “most healthy’ environment in which he’s ever worked. Which seems to say something about some portions of his long tenure with the Lakers. … Minnesota’s Zach LaVine didn’t play in the first quarter but scored 49 points in the final three, with a game-winning 3-pointer, in the annual Seattle pro-am game. … Paul George of the Indiana Pacers told a crowd in China that he wants to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If he repeats it on Pacers’ media day, it will generate bigger headlines. … Cady Lalanne, the Haitian-born forward who has played for San Antonio in the summer league, probably had a tougher trek to grab an NBA rung than your favorite player. … Phoenix center Alex Len isn’t bothered at all by the arrival of veteran Tyson Chandler, who will take some of Len’s minutes. … Mark Cuban shrugged off, once again, DeAndre Jordan‘s Re-Decision. … Utah’s Gordon Hayward did a pretty good job on his blog of providing play-by-play of Bernadette Marie Hayward‘s arrival into his and wife Robyn‘s lives. …

Low on energy for a day, Knicks’ pick Porzingis lacks little else

VIDEO: Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis gets a steal and then a dunk.

LAS VEGAS – Kristaps Porzingis did not hit the NBA rookie wall Thursday.

Obvious as that might be, since it’s July and Porzingis only was drafted three weeks ago, it’s worth spelling out to fans of the team he now plays for, the New York Knicks. That city, after all, is home to the world’s fastest minute, a metaphor for the pace, the pulse and the short supply of patience, particularly among its sports fans.

Porzingis’ energy in the Knicks’ dismal loss to the Golden State Warriors’ summer-uniform bearers was low. But then, so was that of his teammates. From their rubber-legged shooting results (15-of-69, 21.7%) to an inverted ratio of assists (five) to turnovers (13), the Knicks played as if advertising Thursday’s contest as their fourth in six days.

Porzingis, the 7-foot-3 forward/center from Latvia who was the No. 4 pick in the draft, finished with 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting and four rebounds. And it took a few minutes in the fourth quarter for him to salvage his highlight, a breakout dunk with the outcome long decided.

“For me, it’s something new,” said Porzingis, 19, who had opened folks’ eyes during the Knicks’ 3-0 start before Thursday. “I had, at most, two games per week the first part of the season [in Europe], then the second part of the season only one game per week. You had time to recover and stuff.

“But that’s not an excuse. That’s how the NBA schedule is, so you’ve just got to get used to it. I’m young so I don’t think I’ll have a problem. I just have to prepare myself for that mentally. Be ready to go out there every night and compete, and have the same energy for the game.”

Fatigue wasn’t the only thing for which Porzingis sought no alibi. In a league renown for players and coaches who will explain away missed shots by citing them as “good looks,” the Knicks’ young project was candid in evaluating his selection.

“A few of those shots were not good shots,” he said. “Maybe last seconds on the clock or I’m not in a good position to shoot it. That’s how it is sometimes, you don’t make every shot.”

Porzingis, averaging 10.5 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 48 percent, might have shown the Knicks enough to be done here. Coach Derek Fisher indicated that he might not play Friday, balancing the risk of injury in a meaningless game against all that Porzingis already has shown on the court and as potential.

The young player’s bundle of skills, at his height with the wingspan of a train-crossing gate, rightfully has Fisher and his staff excited. The possibilities for him seem limitless.

“Just how he complements so many different players and situations,” Fisher said. “Defensively he complements guys because of his length and his rim protection. He’s pretty active and can guard multiple guys. And then offensively because of his ability to stretch the floor, as well as do some things around the basket, I think he’s a player who fits with just about any lineup no matter how you’re trying to play.”

Said fellow rookie Jerian Grant of Porzingis: “High basketball IQ. He’s 7-foot but he steps out and shoots jumpers. He’s only 19 and he’s kind of thin, but he’s down there rebounding and blocking shots.”

Obviously Porzingis only has scratched the surface. He fared well in a matchup earlier in the week with more highly touted rookie Jahlil Okafor of Philadelphia, but there is a league full of grown-men centers and power forwards who will challenge him. But that didn’t stop him from being asked by a New York reporter if, one week into his first (sort of) NBA experience, he’s a better player now.

“I wouldn’t say I’m better. I just know the game a little better,” Porzingis said. “We’ve been together for a few days. All of the guys know each other a little better. I’m getting more comfortable too, playing in the triangle [offensive system], knowing where I should go, how to position myself.

“I still haven’t adjusted 100 percent to the game here. But I think once I adjust 100 percent and I’m comfortable, I’ll play even better.”