Posts Tagged ‘Deron Williams’

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.”

***

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.”

***

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.”

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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 — Sept. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bennett shows FIBA resurgence | Suns players begin unofficial workouts, without Morris | The Warriors are winning Silicon Valley

No. 1: Bennett shows FIBA resurgence The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett out of UNLV with the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, but the expected development once he reached the NBA has yet to fully occur. A change of NBA environment via a trade to Minnesota hasn’t had the desired effect, either. Yet playing for his native Canada this summer in international competition, Bennett has nearly averaged a double-double. As Josh Lewenberg writes for TSN, Bennett has finally found his swagger

Seated in the front row, an international reporter searched for the appropriate words to make an uncomfortable but fair observation, one that caught others off guard but hardly made Bennett flinch.

“You play so different in the NBA and in FIBA,” the reporter pointed out. “You are a lot better in FIBA. Why?”

The answer isn’t nearly as straight forward as the question. There are a number of factors that contributed to Bennett’s forgettable rookie and sophomore seasons, health and conditioning among them, but the word he frequently uses to explain his improved play this summer should not be overlooked. Confidence.

“[I’m] just playing with confidence, pretty much,” the 22-year-old forward responded. “Just going out there, playing defence, running the court. Just doing the little things first and trying to make offence come to me.”

Exactly 366 days – a year and one day – earlier, Bennett was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with fellow Canadian and good friend Andrew Wiggins, in the deal that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland.

Certainly, Bennett’s debut campaign with the Cavaliers did not go as anticipated. A shoulder injury derailed his progress in training camp and, out of shape to begin the season, he missed the first 16 shots of his pro career. The end result was one of the worst ever rookie seasons by a No. 1 overall pick. Plagued by a series of ailments again in year two, he was only moderately better with the Wolves last season. Understandably, he had a hard time hiding his frustration.

“I saw him play a little bit,” said Jay Triano, head coach of the Canadian senior men’s team and assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers. “Whether there were injuries or not getting a chance in the NBA, he was always grumpy and never smiling. And I remember him as a guy who was vocal, smiling, having fun playing the game.”

Free from the pressure and scrutiny that had consumed him as a young player in the NBA, Bennett has resembled his old self with the national team this summer.

Making his debut with the senior club at the Pan American games last month, where Canada won silver, Bennett averaged 15.6 points and a tournament-high 9.4 rebounds. He was also a standout starting for a much deeper team in their tuneup games this past week, running the floor with purpose and playing above the rim in San Juan.

The smile has returned – you’ll rarely catch him without it. He’s healthy, he’s slimmed down considerably and he has that bounce in his step again.

“It feels great,” Bennett told TSN in a sit-down interview earlier this month. “My body feels great. I feel like I’m 100 per cent right now. Just getting out and running like I did at UNLV.”

“It looks like he’s loving basketball again,” Triano added. “And I think that was the big thing for us. We try to make it fun for him, try to simplify it. He’s so talented in a variety of areas that we needed to just simplify what we expect of him. If he does that, the rest of it is gonna fall into place.”

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No. 2: Suns players begin unofficial workouts, without Morris NBA training camps are still a few weeks from tipping off, but in Phoenix there are multiple Suns players already gathered in the Valley to begin workouts. One notable absence is Markieff Morris, the Suns’ terrific forward who has expressed his desire to be traded after the Suns traded his brother, Marcus. As Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, the Suns may be hoping hard feelings have subsided by the time training camp officially tips off…

Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, Brandon Knight, Alex Len, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren and Sonny Weems have been playing at US Airways Center since Monday.

There is no surprise that Markieff Morris is missing from that list, given his “Keef beef” with the franchise. His trade request fell on deaf ears. The other absent contract players, Tyson Chandler and Mirza Teletovic, are expected to join their new teammates in Phoenix over the next 10 days.

The early team chemistry sessions are important for a roster that will have at least six new players for the regular season. That does not include Brandon Knight, a key cog to this season’s plans after playing only 11 games last season with the Suns.

It would be ideal for Knight to spend September working with his starting power forward but a Morris early arrival is about as likely as a fulfillment of his trade wish.

The Suns need and want Morris. They would not stand much of a chance to replace him by trade. They would have no chance to replace him by free agency. They do not have an adequate existing roster option.

Reasonably, hard feelings should subside by the time he must report to Phoenix on Sept. 28. However, he was steaming six weeks after the trade when he went public to the Philadelphia Inquirer this month. Another six weeks might not help but being around his teammate friends again and meeting a respected frontcourt partner such as Chandler should help him recommit, even if Morris returns to being the quieter person he was before Marcus joined Phoenix.

Morris never planned to publicly lash out at the Suns, coincidentally running into a familiar reporter at a Philadelphia-area gym with small talk that became a stage for his discontent.

The expressed source of the twins’ anger was that Marcus was told he was traded while on vacation. The issues must extend beyond that because even superstars are rarely told of trades before they happen, although Markieff did call himself “the premier player of the team.”

The twins were miffed because they gave the Suns a contract extension break last year in hopes of staying together. Markieff’s salary still will jump from $3 million last season to $8 million this season. The unstated factor is that Marcus’ trade was made, in part, to clear salary-cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge, a free agency target who would have replaced Markieff. Marcus’ behavior last season, including yelling at coach Jeff Hornacek during a game, also played a role.

Markieff’s previous criticism of Suns fans only worsens his reputation but the start of a make-up process is only a sincere statement of regret and a few double-doubles away.

His teammates made the first statement to win over playoff-starved fans by committing themselves to workouts before other teams start congregating.

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No. 3: The Warriors are winning Silicon Valley Plenty of NBA teams are based in their city without necessarily being an embedded part of their area’s business community. But the Golden State Warriors, based in the Bay Area, have managed to mix with Silicon Valley and become allies, in many ways, writes Nina Mandell for USA Today

The Lakers and the Knicks have movie stars on their sidelines. The Clippers and Mavericks have their celebrity owners. But when many of the Warriors players look around the front row at the Golden State Warriors games, many of the players see something else notable: Startup capital.

With their surge to a NBA title and guard who earned a regular season MVP award, a number of Warriors players have been involved in the Silicon Valley culture that their team attracts to games and will likely continue to bring in when they move to their new arena in San Francisco.

“You’ll see Larry Ellison, you’ll see Jack Dorsey, you’ll see Adam Bain,” said Harrison Barnes, listing off the names of the co-founder of Oracle and Twitter executives. “You’ll see all these guys courtside that they’re walking down the street people might not say ‘oh my god that’s so-and-so’ but if you know who they are and you know what they do, there’s obviously well-respected in their fields.”

Barnes works as a consultant at Facebook on the side when he’s not playing basketball. Andre Iguodala had a role in a startup that recently got acquired by eBay. And Stephen Curry partnered with CoachUp, a private coaching website and app matching service that its founder describes as the “Uber or AirBNB” of the private and semi-private sports coaching industry.

Curry said that he got involved with the Boston-based CoachUp because he thinks that private coaching was crucial to his success as a player, and likely would have done it without the Silicon Valley influence. Private coaching is something, he stressed, he really believes in. “I had a coach I worked with starting at the age of 13 in lieu of playing AAU basketball and traveling all over the country I stayed in Charlotte and to have the one-on-one experience … I benefited so much from it,” he said.

The service, which matches athletes with private coaches for everything from triathlon training for adults to soccer for kids, he hopes, will make that type of coaching more accessible for future generations, which is something he’d want to do whether he was in the tech capital of the world or not.

Jordan Fliegel, the co-founder of CoachUp said that there were a million reasons they partnered with Curry – after all he’s marketable on his own personality and what seems like a sincere dedication to the company. But playing in the Bay Area is helpful. “I think as we go, if we need introductions to various people, Stephen’s offered to help however he can,” Fliegel said. “He’s a huge part of our team.”

Curry is also involved in another company that’s “in the social media space that talks about athletes and fan engagement, especially on the professional level,” he said, that will hopefully be coming out in the next year. His agent, Jeff Austin, said that playing in the Bay Area definitely influenced the opportunities sent his way, even as a high-profile player.

“Interest has certainly been high from Silicon Valley start-ups and investors. We have evaluated various opportunities to see which match best with Stephen’s overall career plan and off the court passions,” he said. “It’s great that the team is located so close to the area, it gives these companies a chance to see the full impact Stephen and the Warriors have had on the community.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Boston Celtics have reportedly opened extension talks with Tyler Zeller and Jared SullingerBaron Davis is continuing his journey back to the NBA … The Clippers filled a bench spot by signing veteran big man Chuck Hayes …The Mavericks are reportedly “encouraged” by what they’ve seen from Deron Williams thus far …

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 30


NEWS OF THE MORNING
MKG discusses contract extension | Suns still unsure about Morris | New practice center could make a better Pacers team

No. 1: MKG discusses contract extension — After signing a four-year, $52 million deal earlier this month to remain in Charlotte with the Hornets, who could blame Michael-Kidd Gilchrist for being optimistic? Such is the case with the small forward who is not only rich but wealthy in soul. The good vibe spilled over in a recent Q&A, in which he spoke about the contract, the outlook for next season and why he wanted to remain with the Hornets rather than explore free agency next summer. Here’s the scoop from Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer:

“It’s a great feeling. But I never did any of this for the money, fame, fortune, Instagram followers or Twitter followers. That can all come and go. But ball and family – that’s not going anywhere.

Q. A lot of people may not know the extreme closeness of your relationship with point guard Kemba Walker, who you cite as one of the main reasons you wanted to stay in Charlotte. What is that relationship like?

A. We always talk. I was a freshman in high school when I first met him – think about that. And then I was just a fan of Kemba, who was a senior in high school. I kept following his career.

So when I got drafted, I was like, ‘Oh snap, Kemba Walker’s on my team!’ When I met him, I just kept asking questions every day about everything. He never seemed to get tired of it. We are similar people. We’re both competitive, humble – we just click.

Q. There was a lot made at a similar press conference in Charlotte several months ago – when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton signed his own lucrative extension – about the belief that Newton can lead the Panthers to a championship. Do you feel pressure to do that for the Hornets?

A. When you talk about pressure, all the pressure I ever felt was making it into the NBA and really into college first of all. Because if I didn’t go to college, where would I be? That was pressure, that, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to go to college somewhere.’

This isn’t pressure. This is adding fuel to the fire. But as far as the pressure part? I’m comfortable in my own skin. I work as hard as I can every day. After that, it’s in God’s hands.

Q. You are known for sacrificing your body on defense and for loose balls. Are you going to continue throwing your body around just as much now that the money has come?

A. Yes. How much can my body take? I don’t know. But that’s how I play. I can’t change it. I wouldn’t change who I am, how I play, how my jump shot used to be, or anything like that. I wouldn’t change a single thing in my life until now. Not a single thing.

Q. The Hornets were a disappointing 33-49 last season and have made huge personnel changes in the offseason. Will this team be a lot better than last year?

A. I like our team. But what do you think?

***

No. 2: Suns still unsure about Morris — As the start of training camp slowly approaches, there has been a pickup of activity in Phoenix, where players are beginning to file into town and conduct voluntary workouts. Of course, there has been a missing face: Markieff Morris, who’s still miffed about his twin brother being traded to the Pistons and has publicly asked for a trade. Here’s Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

Training camp is still a month away. Opening night is two months away. But being five years removed from a playoff appearance, the Suns have a near-ideal turnout in a city that millionaires avoid in August.

Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, Brandon Knight, Alex Len, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren and Sonny Weems have been playing at US Airways Center since Monday.

There is no surprise that Markieff Morris is missing from that list, given his “Keef beef” with the franchise. His trade request fell on deaf ears. The other absent contract players, Tyson Chandler and Mirza Teletovic, are expected to join their new teammates in Phoenix over the next 10 days.

The early team chemistry sessions are important for a roster that will have at least six new players for the regular season. That does not include Brandon Knight, a key cog to this season’s plans after playing only 11 games last season with the Suns.

It would be ideal for Knight to spend September working with his starting power forward but a Morris early arrival is about as likely as a fulfillment of his trade wish.

The Suns need and want Morris. They would not stand much of a chance to replace him by trade. They would have no chance to replace him by free agency. They do not have an adequate existing roster option.

Reasonably, hard feelings should subside by the time he must report to Phoenix on Sept. 28. However, he was steaming six weeks after the trade when he went public to the Philadelphia Inquirer this month. Another six weeks might not help but being around his teammate friends again and meeting a respected frontcourt partner such as Chandler should help him recommit, even if Morris returns to being the quieter person he was before Marcus joined Phoenix.

***

No. 3: New practice center could make for a better Pacers team — At least that’s the hope of the organization as it hones in on upgrading the team’s training facilities. Well, actually a return to All-Star form by Paul George will help quite a bit, too. But the Pacers are anxious to gain any edge, especially with free agents, and the organization is moving forward with the blueprint. Here’s Dana Hunsinger Benow of the Indianapolis Star:

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kenneth Faried is excited to see what Emmanuel Mudiay will do in Denver … Is Hassan Whiteside under the microscope already in Miami? … Can Deron Williams be good again? … Yes, the Warriors will probably get that Harrison Barnes deal done.

Blogtable: Playoff teams poised for a fall?

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: Rising second- or third-year player? | Playoff teams set to stumble? | Your all-lefty team



VIDEOSteve Smith takes stock of the NBA offseason

> Which of last season’s playoff teams is in for the biggest dropoff in 2015-16? Name one from each conference, please.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com I could start by asking for our working definition of “big,” because in the East, the Brooklyn Nets could win 38 games again (or something close) and slip out of the playoffs with another sub-.500 record. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks could fall from 60 victories down to 50 or fewer in the wake of roster changes, yet still claim a top-4 seed. In the West, the obvious candidate figures to do both: Portland will tumble from the playoffs and win a lot less often than last season (51-31). Four of five starters gone, that’s all the heavy analysis needed.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn and Portland. The Nets will be down there scraping the bottom of the East barrel with Philly. Portland won’t fall as far, but the drop will be harder for a team that looked like a rising contender two seasons ago before losing 4 of 5 starters over the summer.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, this is easy, like summertime. The Blazers are due for a sizable dip after losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. We’re talking a possible 20-game slide. And then there’s Brooklyn. While the Nets probably won’t fall much from winning 38 games a year ago, making the playoffs again as a 30-something-win team will be sketchy, even in the shoddy East. Just imagine how poor they’d be had they kept Deron Williams.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Brooklyn and Portland are the obvious answers. The Nets were the eight seed in the weaker conference and weren’t even that good. They had the point differential (minus-236 for the season) of a 31-win team, with a bunch of narrow wins and blowout losses. And though he had the worst season of his career, Brooklyn was a much better team when Deron Williams was running point than when Jarrett Jack (the new starter) was out there. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are quality players, but they need a real point guard to maximize their production. The Blazers have the point guard (used with a pick the Nets traded for Gerald Wallace), but not much else after losing four starters in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Portland Trail Blazers will have to work a miracle not to take a giant step back given who and what they lost this summer. Damian Lillard is one of my favorite players in the game today, but without the core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum and Lillard together this season, I can see some struggles for coach Terry Stotts and his crew. The Atlanta Hawks are going to be a playoff team and one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, but a 60-win team again … I don’t know if they’ll be able to match the majesty of the finest season in franchise history. They had so many things fall into place last season. I just don’t know if they can count on all of those good things lining up the way they did for a second straight season, given all that has happened since they melted down against Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: After dominating the East during the regular season, the Hawks are going to find it difficult to win 60 games again in the absence of DeMarre Carroll – especially with several conference rivals appearing to have improved this summer. Even so, Atlanta is certain to return to the playoffs – the same can’t be said of the Blazers, who have already gone younger since the departure of Aldridge.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The obvious team to watch in the West is the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez and traded Nic Batum, and now have to figure out a path to rebuilding around Damian Lillard. In the East, how about the Atlanta Hawks? Which is to say, I don’t think they’ll miss the playoffs entirely or anything like that, but last season they had that magical January, had a mostly injury-free regular season, and ended up winning 60 games. This year they’ll have to learn how to get along without DeMarre Carroll, hope they get lucky lucky with health, and have to play most of the season with a target on their backs. A 50-win season would still put them in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, and it would also be a significant drop from last year.

Morning shootaround — August 3


VIDEO: Steve Smith shines a light on the offseason winners and losers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Noah active, energized this summer | Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come | Okafor has great expectations for Sixers

No. 1: Noah active, energized this summer — Change has been good for Joakim Noah. The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man has been active this summer and energized this summer, both in the community and where basketball is concerned. Noah feels good. His mind is clear and his focus is sharp. And as far as his new coach, Fred Hoiberg, is concerned, the vibes are good. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune has more on Noah’s big summer:

Given that Joakim Noah spoke Saturday at an anti-violence community event his foundation organized, the Bulls’ big man placed last season’s personal struggles in perspective.

“Last year was a tough year for me. I feel it was very humbling,” Noah said. “We went through a lot. Right now, I’m feeling healthy both physically and mentally. I’m really excited about our upcoming opportunity. I never take anything for granted.”

Noah, who attended Saturday’s ONE CITY youth basketball tournament at the Major Adams Community Center near the United Center with his mother and sister, has been working out this offseason in California. Recently, new coach Fred Hoiberg visited.

He’s confident his summer at a sports science academy has put the health issues he experienced last season after May 2014 left knee surgery behind him.

“I feel great,” Noah said. “This is the first time I’ve taken a lot of time for myself to just focus on what I need to get done. Sometimes when you go through humbling experiences, (you) hungrier than ever. And I feel ready to prove I can help this team win big.”

Noah said he enjoyed “vibing” with Hoiberg.

“We got to break bread together,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to the coaching staff, spending time with Fred. I think it’s going to be very different.”

Asked to elaborate, Noah smiled.

“Time will tell,” he said. “But it will definitely be different. We had a lot great times with Tom Thibodeau. He’s a great coach. I learned a lot from him. I’ve experienced a lot with him. I only have good things to say about him. I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my career.”

Before the tournament, Noah and his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, unveiled his Noah’s Arc Foundation’s latest public service announcement centered on its “Rock Your Drop” movement. It’s centered on peace, unity and positive change in the face of Chicago’s rampant gun violence.

Spike Lee, Bears running back Matt Forte, “Chicago Fire” actor David Eichenberg and St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger are some of the spot’s prominent cameos.

“‘Rock Your Drop’ is a movement that started with my mother. It has been part of my vision as a basketball player since I was a kid,” Noah said. “For it to be finally here and feel this love really means so much to me and to my family. To launch this PSA is huge. To be able to play for the Chicago Bulls is something other than just basketball. When I see people wearing their drops, it means the world to me and my mom.”

Rodhe, an artist, chiseled the small drop out of stone 18 years ago. Noah wore one on a necklace.

“We’re all one. We’ve all been given life,” Rodhe said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re from. I’m from Sweden. You may say, ‘What are you doing here, blonde lady, on the South Side of Chicago? This isn’t your problem.’ I say no. When something is as strong as gun violence and you see the pain of moms, that’s all of ours problem.”

Noah is very hands-on with his foundation. He joked about converting now-teenage kids who razzed him about Kevin Durant fans five or six years ago.

“This will be my ninth season here and I don’t take that for granted,” Noah said. “Guys move around in my profession. They get traded. To be with a team for that long is special.

“I’m working as hard as I can on the court and this is a part of what I wanted to do since I started playing basketball. This is like home. We’ve been putting in a lot of work here. This is not a gimmick. It’s for the right reasons. To be able to do all this work makes me happy.”

***

No. 2: Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come — Anybody wondering what kind of transition Billy Donovan will make to the NBA after years as one of the nation’s elite college coaches need only peek into his past. Donovan is as tough as they come, having honed his game and his basketball sensibilities in Queens and, later, the Big East. If Donovan’s pedigree is any indication, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the Co. are in good hands. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

After the Big East formed in 1979, basketball interest in the northeast spiked. The early ‘80s produced a golden age for high school point guards in NYC, meaning the 1983 Wheelchair event, the 10th annual, was a must-see edition.

That graduating class had Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, the playground legend and soon-to-be Syracuse star, and future NBA starters Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson.

But it was a sub 6-foot white kid from an affluent area of Long Island who stole the show in that showcase game. His name was Billy Donovan.

“Oh, Billy went off,” said his high school teammate, Frank Williams.

Donovan’s Queens team faced the Brooklyn squad led by Pearl Washington, the game’s headliner. Months earlier, Donovan battled Washington’s in a six-quarter high school scrimmage. Pearl had 82 points.

“We pressed the whole game and he just weaved in and out,” Donovan said. “I learned a lot.”

Donovan was a game-control point guard. Slick ball-handling was his greatest strength. Pearl was a wizard with the ball, his moves legendary. At the Wheelchair Classic, Donovan put his mental notes from the scrimmage to use.

“I don’t think Pearl was ready for it,” Williams laughed.

In the highlight play of his highlight day, Donovan sent Pearl sprawling on a left-handed, inside-out crossover dribble, cruising past him for a layup.

“Pearl nearly fell down,” said Billy’s childhood best friend Kevin Quigley. “The crowd went nuts. Just hooting and hollering. The little white boy just juked Pearl out of his shoes.”

Billy Donovan made a career out of willing himself to success. Too small and athletically limited to compete against premiere athletes? He molded himself into a player and led Providence to an unlikely Final Four run. Florida is a second-tier hoops program at a football school? He quickly turned them into a national powerhouse. Too inexperienced to coach in the NBA? Sam Presti just handed him the keys to the most important season in the Thunder’s brief franchise history.

But before there was Billy Donovan the iconic coach or Billy The Kid bombing 3s at Providence College there was Billy the kid, a Long Island youth addicted to basketball.

“It was almost an obsession,” Quigley said.

***

No. 3: Okafor has great expectations for Sixers — Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor is well aware of the struggles that have gone on prior to his arrival in the City of Brotherly Love. But that has not soured him on what could be. He has great expectations for what he and the Sixers will get done in his rookie season. Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the details:

Okafor averaged 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two Las Vegas Summer League games. Before that, he averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in three summer league games in Utah.

“I was satisfied,” Okafor said of his summer performance. “I got better every game and worked on everything.”

Covington said Okafor has already made an impact.

“He has brought a whole lot of excitement to this team,” Covington said. “He is a big man who has made his presence known already.”

Another big man, Joel Embiid, will miss a second straight season because of another procedure on his foot.

“It is hard to do, but he is doing well, and he is keeping his head high,” Covington said.

Just as the focus last season was on Nerlens Noel, this season it will be on Okafor. He said he can’t wait to get settled in the Philadelphia area and is looking for a place to live.

Okafor won’t lack confidence. He expects a lot from a Sixers team coming off an 18-64 season. He knows the expectations will again be low, but he doesn’t care.

“Everybody knows we have expectations, and the fans have expectations, and that is all that matters,” he said.

Okafor will be a trendy choice for rookie of the year because he is expected to play major minutes.

“It’s definitely a possible goal,” he said about earning the award. “Definitely.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan is still the G.O.A.T., just ask Jimmy ButlerNancy Lieberman called Muhammad Ali after joining the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach … Got cash? You’ll need plenty of it to buy the New York penthouse of former Brooklyn star Deron Williams

Morning shootaround — August 1


VIDEO: 2015 Basketball Without Borders Africa

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Howard to Team USA camp | Just a start in Africa | Johnson won’t miss D-Will | NBPA files grievance
No. 1: Dwight Howard on road to Rio? — It looks like the old gang is getting back together. Dwight Howard is the latest big name to toss his hat into the ring for a spot on the USA Basketball team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Rockets center had to pull out of the 2012 Games in London due to back surgery, but Marc Stein of ESPN.com says Howard will join Houston teammate James Harden and a galaxy of other stars for what managing director Jerry Colangelo is calling a “mandatory” camp in Las Vegas Aug. 11-13:

Howard will join Rockets teammate James Harden and a slew of top stars on the campus of UNLV for two days of noncontact workouts and an intrasquad scrimmage on the night of Aug. 13.

Colangelo is billing the gathering more of a “reunion” than a typical full-speed USAB camp. But the fact that attendance is compulsory to be considered for a spot on the 12-man squad coach Mike Krzyzewski takes to Rio next summer is expected to attract more than 30 players to UNLV.

The following is an alphabetical listing of players who, according to sources, are known to have informed USAB they plan to attend the minicamp: Carmelo Anthony, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Michael Carter-Williams, Mike Conley, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Draymond Green, Blake Griffin, Harden, Tobias Harris, Gordon Hayward, Howard, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love, Victor Oladipo, Chandler Parsons, Mason Plumlee, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook.

In an interview this week with SiriusXM NBA Radio, Colangelo said he expects near-perfect attendance after extending invitations to an overwhelming majority of the 34 players who were in the program as of last September as well as a number of younger newcomers.

Although LeBron James’ attendance at the minicamp has not yet been confirmed, Colangelo told Sirius, “I think LeBron wants to be part of it [in 2016].”

***

No. 2: More big things on horizon for NBA in Africa — Saturday’s game featuring a slew of big name NBA stars in Johannesburg, South Africa is big. But it’s just a start. Imagine if the game could continue to grow exponentially from top to bottom throughout the large continent. Imagine if the NBA could harness that growing enthusiasm for basketball and turn it into millions and millions of Twitter users and dyed-in-the-wool fans. That’s the driving force behind the first game on the African continent, writes our own Shaun Powell, as the league looks toward the future:

Therefore, what’s the incentive for the NBA to spend time and resources on a continent where the hurdles are high and the interest, compared to other sports here, is low? Well, that’s easy. If Africa ever warms up to basketball, and that’s slowly happening, basketball will win big. And when basketball wins, the NBA wins. Call it an investment into the future.
But man, those hurdles …

“We have to build leagues, we have to get coaches, we have to train coaches, we have to build programs,” said Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who is Nigerian-born and has stayed active in the cause for two decades. “It just doesn’t happen overnight.”

African interest in basketball is growing

The power brokers in basketball are undaunted. The alliance of FIBA and the NBA and sponsors such as Nike are forging ahead and they keep coming back. There’s just too much to gain, they feel, and too many people — just over a billion, actually — for Africa not to create good and great players. Again, this isn’t a continent the size of Australia. This is Africa. This is a billion. Even with shaky infrastructure, those are delicious odds.

***

No. 3: Departure of D-Will makes Johnson happy — Never mind all the rumors — many of them real — that the underachieving Nets were looking to move Joe Johnson and his whopping contract for next season. The word now coming out of the Brooklyn bunker, according to Nets Daily, is that the team is now expecting big things from the All-Star shooting guard. One of the big reasons is that Johnson is said to be much happier after the Nets bought out moody, mopey, discontented point Deron Williams. If harmony and happiness are cures, maybe there are sunnier days ahead in Brooklyn:

Moreover, various sources inside the Nets have suggested that the departure of D-Will is likely to help Johnson rebound. It was no secret that Brooklyn’s Backcourt didn’t get along.  That famous Johnson tweet back in early November was believed to be about his relationship with Williams.

One insider, asked after the buyout if the Nets were still pursuing a Johnson trade, firmly said no. He volunteered there was probably no one more pumped about the buyout than Johnson.  “I am sure Joe will have a tremendous season,” he added with a smile.

Johnson was indeed unhappy with the Nets situation, as he laid out the day after the season ended.

“Something’s going to happen. I don’t know what. I don’t see us coming back as the same team. This is my third year here. I could see if we were getting better each year, but it’s kind of been the opposite. So to not even be a .500 ball club in the East, it’s disheartening.”

***

No. 4: Mbah a Moute protests voiding of contract — The summer of turmoil for the Kings just seems to go on and on. The latest involves the free agent signing — and subsequent dropping — of Luc Mbah a Moute by Sacramento. Just two days after making a $1.5 million deal official with him, the Kings voided the contract because he didn’t pass their physical. As a result, the National Basketball Players Association plans to file a grievance against the Kings, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Perhaps small potatoes compared to repairing the rift between franchise player DeMarcus Cousins and coach George Karl, but just one more headache that president of basketball operations Vlade Divac doesn’t need:

Mbah a Moute has been meeting with NBPA executive director Michele Roberts in Johannesburg this week, where Mbah a Moute, a Cameroon native, has been medically cleared to play for Team Africa against Team World in the first NBA exhibition game in Africa.

Mbah a Moute signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Sacramento on July 14 – only two days later to have Kings officials inform him that concerns over his right shoulder had caused the franchise to void the deal, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Mbah a Moute’s representatives at Wasserman Media Group and NBPA officials, armed with independent medical examinations that produced playing clearances, are disputing the legitimacy of the Kings’ process and the findings to declare a failed physical, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The defending champion Warriors give their bench a big boost by trading Gerald Wallace for Jason Thompson … Nancy Lieberman makes it official that she’s joining the Kings … Hawks’ Mike Scott arrested on drug charge … Jordan Hill nabbed for driving 107 mph … Michael Jordan’s last basket — literally — draws more than $41,000 in auction … Bernard James headed to China to play for Shanghai Sharks … Hedo Turkoglu would like to officially end his NBA career in Sacramento … Sasha Vujacic signs a one-year contract with the Knicks.

Morning shootaround — July 14


VIDEO: What to make of the DeMarcus Cousins-George Karl situation

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl, Cousins meet | Blatt reflects on year one | Nets begin youth movement | Change in playoff seeding?

No. 1: Karl, Cousins meet One of the running subplots all summer has involved the Sacramento Kings, who continue to try and rebuild their roster. Coach George Karl and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins have publicly disagreed this summer, but yesterday at the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League, the two finally were face-to-face. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Karl says they can make the relationship work

“I just said hello to him this afternoon,” Karl told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t think it’s something we have to rush through. You got two guys that are very frustrated with losing, two guys that are somewhat stubborn and two guys that love to compete.

“Sometimes, that doesn’t work the first time you hang around. But you have to take your time to make it work. I’m very confident to make it work.”

Karl was given a four-year, $14 million deal to coach the Kings on Feb. 8. Days later, Cousins made his first NBA All-Star appearance. Karl had an 11-19 record coaching the Kings last season.

The rift between Cousins and Karl grew after Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported before the NBA draft that Karl wanted Cousins traded. Cousins responded by tweeting out an emoji of a snake in the grass. A day later, Karl said Cousins was the Kings’ best player but the franchise needed him to be “committed and dedicated to being in Sacramento.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive was so upset with Karl that he seriously considering firing him, a league source said. Cousins wanted to be traded before the draft, a source told Yahoo Sports, but no deal was consummated.

“Cousins felt like if Karl wanted [him] to be traded then he wanted to be traded, too,” a source close to the situation said.

Cousins declined comment when asked about Karl by Yahoo Sports on Sunday and simply said he was “straight” [good]. New Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports that he expects Karl to be the coach when next season begins.

When asked what he needed to do to reconnect with Cousins, Karl told Yahoo Sports: “Communicate. Get everything honest. Come to whatever you want to say, an agreement on what he wants from me and what I want from him. Just be professional about our jobs and communicate.”

Divac said he would play a strong role in helping Cousins and Karl get on the same page before next season.

“It’s going in a good direction,” Divac said. “I have a goal for the two to be in a great place. And they will be.”

***

No. 2: Blatt reflects on year one Last season was Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt‘s first season as an NBA head coach. He’d spent decades as a coach in Europe, but as Blatt explained yesterday in Las Vegas, coming to the NBA was a completely different experience, writes Tim Reynolds for The Associated Press

Blatt – a wildly successful coach in Europe before getting his long-awaited chance to lead an NBA team for the first time last season – was a panelist on Monday at a scouting school in Las Vegas, part of a group that was discussing some of the ways coaches prepare for games at various levels. And he detailed several differences between the European game and the NBA one.

“When I came to the NBA I was under the impression that this was going to be a breeze,” Blatt said. “I’ve been coaching for 23 years at the highest level in Europe. I coached in the national-team environment, coached professional teams, coached Euroleague teams and I thought I thought I knew basketball and I thought I knew how to coach. Which, in my mind, I did.

“But I realized that when I came over here it was a very, very different game with a whole new set of problems and a whole slew of things to deal with inside and outside of the game.”

He figured out some of it, apparently, on the fly. The Cavaliers struggled for the first half of the season, then wound up rolling to the Eastern Conference title behind LeBron James. They fell in the NBA Finals to Golden State, a loss that came with point guard Kyrie Irving out for most of the series and forward Kevin Love out for all of it because of injuries.

“We were playing every game with a different team,” Blatt said. “We started off with one team, then we lost one guy so we had to change a little bit of the way we played. Played a few more games and another guy went down, played with a different team, that guy came back, then all of sudden we were playing with half of our old team and it just kind of went like that as we went along.

“I’m really (angry) we didn’t play the final series with all of our players,” he added.

***

No. 3: Nets begin youth movement The Brooklyn Nets attempted to start in Brooklyn with a splash, assembling a high-priced team and promising to win a title. Three seasons later, after that big money dream didn’t come to fruition, the Nets are now going in a different direction, shedding contracts and going after young and athletic players. As Alex Raskin writes in the Wall Street Journal, the Nets’ new path is a youth movement

They still have Brook Lopez, who last week re-signed for three years and $60 million to remain the Nets’ longest-tenured player. But now general manager Billy King is pivoting away from the model that had the team spending an NBA record $90.57 million in luxury taxes in 2013-14 as it lost a reported $144 million.

Because of last week’s buyout of point guard Deron Williams, the Nets saved more than $40 million in wages and luxury taxes and are now under the luxury-tax threshold for the first time since moving from New Jersey. And instead of losses, the Nets’ profit margin might finally resemble their black uniforms.

According to several sources within the Nets’ various ownership groups, there is real hope that the team will turn a profit for the first time in over a decade.

Being profitable wasn’t necessarily the goal of the Nets’ new strategy. Billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov can afford to pay the losses. What he and the team can’t afford is another disaster like the 2013 trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over from Boston while denying the Nets control of their first-round pick until 2019.

Pierce wasn’t re-signed last summer and King officially began picking up the pieces at the Feb. 19 trade deadline when he dealt Garnett to Minnesota for power forward Thaddeus Young.

Now, after re-signing both Lopez and Young—Young’s deal is for four years and $50 million— for the foreseeable future, the Nets are on a completely different path.

“We needed to come to Brooklyn with a team that, I thought, could win a championship,” King said. Thursday when the Nets announced the deals. “Now we’re in the mindset of: we don’t have a lot of [draft] picks so we’re trying to find a lot of diamonds in the rough and guys that can bridge the gap for us, so to speak, with the youth movement.”

***

No. 4: Change in playoff seeding? Each conference in the NBA has three divisions. Win your division, and you’re guaranteed a top-four seed in the NBA playoffs. Except, maybe not anymore? According to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, at yesterday’s meeting of the NBA’s Competition Committee, first steps were taken that could potentially change the NBA’s playoff seeding rules

The NBA’s competition committee closely examined the league’s playoff seeding procedures on Monday, potentially paving the way for a change to the rule that currently gives a top-four seed to a division winner regardless of record, league sources told CBSSports.com.

The Board of Governors, which meets Tuesday, will be updated on the discussion, though it’s possible that a specific change won’t be recommended to the Board for a vote until October, a person familiar with the discussions said.

As part of the discussion about whether a division winner should automatically qualify for a top-four seed, the committee also examined whether a division winner should get a tiebreak over a non-division winner with a better record. No consensus was reached on the issue, sources said.

This season, Portland received the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference by winning the Northwest Division with 51 victories. The Blazers were seeded higher than the Grizzlies (No. 5) and Spurs (No. 6), who each won 55 games.

Commissioner Adam Silver, who was present for the meeting, said during his pre-Finals address that giving a seeding advantage to division winners was a rule that could be changed “fairly quickly.”

“We are very focused on the divisional seeding process, and I think we are going to take a very close look at whether we should seed at least 1 through 8 by conference as opposed to giving the division winner that higher seed,” Silver said. “That is a vestige of a division system that may not make sense anymore.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Seth Curry is using Summer League to make his own nameLarry Nance Jr. has quickly emerged as a fan favorite in Las Vegas … Patty Mills will miss the Australian National Team’s upcoming tour …

Morning Shootaround — July 13




VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

o
No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”

***

No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

 

***

No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:

 

The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.

***

No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”

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No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Morning shootaround — July 11


VIDEO: Anthony-Towns, Russell square off in Vegas

D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding | Clash of the titans in Summer League | Jordan apologizes publicly | Evolution of the Kings

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding — The Brooklyn Nets planned to make a splash when they hopped a few rivers to get from Jersey to the city, and part of that impact was supposed to come from building around point guard Deron Williams. As our own John Schuhmann details, the Nets gave up a lot to get Williams, both in terms of finances and personnel, but things never quite worked out the way they’d hoped. With Williams’ departure (via buyout) for his hometown of Dallas, it’s time for the Nets to look for a different path to success…

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.

***

No. 2: Clash of the titans in Summer League — It didn’t take long for the Las Vegas Summer League to produce drama: Just minutes into the tourney, number 1 overall Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers. And by all accounts, as Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, both players produced, and showed they have room to grow…

With a record-setting crowd of 12,422 fans in attendance at the Las Vegas summer league, all eyes were on Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns as he took his first shot as an NBA player.

Air ball.

“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” Towns said on his first shot — a 3-pointer — as a pro. “It’s just rookie jitters. Even though I’m the No. 1 pick, I’m not going to be perfect.”

It was a forgettable first attempt but the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft will likely laugh about it one day.

Towns finished Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, missed both 3-point attempts and made all but one of five free throws. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder averaged 21.1 minutes per game as a true freshman on a University of Kentucky team deep in talent.

In his Minnesota summer league debut, however, the 19-year-old played a challenging 31 minutes.

While Towns didn’t have the monster debut he hoped for, the Timberwolves finished with an 81-68 victory over the Lakers in a battle against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.

“I started out like any other rookie,” Towns said. “I ain’t going to lie. I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous. My legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out.”

***

No. 3: Jordan apologizes publicly — DeAndre Jordan‘s 11th hour change of heart may have saved the immediate future for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it did something like the opposite for the Dallas Mavericks, making them scramble to change course and make the best out of what was left on the free agent market. Last night, Jordan took to Twitter to apologize to Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Mavs fans, as well as tell Clippers fans he was excited to be returning…

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No. 4: Evolution of the Kings — No one said it would be easy. Despite their best efforts, the Sacramento Kings have been stuck on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race the last few years. In their latest iteration, the leadership of Vlade Divac and George Karl hasn’t seemed to connect with star center DeMarcus Cousins. As Shaun Powell writes, that relationship may just remain a work in progress…

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”
And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.
“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Today Becky Hammon will make history as the first female head coach of an NBA team in a Summer League game … Perhaps overshadowed by the debut of Towns and Russell was the return of Julius RandleLeBron James hosted a premiere for his new movie Trainwreck in his hometown of Akron … Kevin Garnett is officially back in Minnesota

Williams era was costly for Nets

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Brooklyn Nets and Deron Williams have parted ways.

Williams’ buyout marks the end to an era in which the Nets gave up a ton of assets and spent a ton of money in an effort to build a championship contender around the point guard.

Here’s a quick recap of the damage…

  • The Nets traded for Williams at the 2011 trade deadline after they lost the chase for Carmelo Anthony. In exchange for the point guard, they sent Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first round picks, which became Enes Kanter in 2011 and Gorgui Dieng in 2013, to Utah.
  • Williams was set to become a free agent in 2012, and the Nets were still struggling in their last season in New Jersey. So they traded a first round pick to Portland for Gerald Wallace, who was on an expiring contract. They only protected the pick 1-3, it landed at No. 6, and became Damian Lillard, who became the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year and who has been a better point guard than Williams since.
  • In the summer of 2012, the Nets had to re-sign Wallace, and they gave him a four-year contract worth $40 million. In the three seasons since then, he has shot 43 percent (29 percent from 3-point range), and scored a total of 864 points. Lillard has scored 4,977.
  • The Nets knew that Wallace wasn’t enough to convince Williams to re-sign (he admitted later that he already had a house picked out in Dallas). So they traded for Joe Johnson, sending Atlanta a first round pick (which became Shane Larkin). The Nets also agreed to an Atlanta-favored pick swap in 2014 and 2015. That resulted in Brooklyn getting the 29th pick instead of the 15th pick this year.
  • On Draft night 2013, the Nets went all-in, trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They sent Boston three first round picks (2014 – James Young), 2016 and 2018, all unprotected. They also gave the Celtics the right to swap picks in 2017.
  • The Nets also made a couple of staff changes at the behest of Williams. They fired long-time strength and conditioning coach Rich Dalatri to bring in Williams’ guy, who has already moved on.

Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov paid almost $200 million in salary and luxury taxes for the 2013-14 Nets, who won a playoff series, but lost to the eventual champion Miami Heat in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The bill for the 2014-15 Nets wasn’t as big, but the team was much worse. Williams gave them one last big game to remember (35 points, 7-for-11 from 3-point range) in Game 4 against the Hawks, but the series was a microcosm of his 4 1/2 years with the franchise. There were some good moments, but the consistency wasn’t there.

Neither was the leadership. When you pay a guy $20 million a year, you expect him to be more than just a basketball player. Williams was often compared to Jason Kidd, the former Nets point guard and their coach for that 2013-14 season. But he fell way short in regard to getting his teammates to rally around him.

Here was Pierce on the ’13-14 Nets, via ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen

“If me and Kevin weren’t there, that team would have folded up. That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day.”

The player that puzzled him the most, said Pierce, was point guard Deron Williams.

“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,” Pierce said. “But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that.

“I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.”

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.

The change in the locker-room dynamic that will come with Williams’ departure could certainly be a positive. Jack isn’t on Williams’ level as a point guard, but Williams isn’t on Jack’s level as a leader.

That’s a big reason Williams’ days in Brooklyn are over. Over the years, the Nets learned that they didn’t get the franchise point guard they though they traded for. Unfortunately for them, it was an incredibly costly lesson.