Posts Tagged ‘Devin Booker’

Blogtable: What will Team USA look like in 2020?

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: Thoughts on Team USA in 2020? | Do Warriors have a short window to contend? |
Who benefits more from change in scenery: Al Horford or Dwight Howard?


> Look into your crystal ball and tell me what the U.S. Olympic team looks like in 2020? What’s the team’s personality? Who are its key players?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My crystal ball is showing me a Russell Westbrook takeover in Tokyo, not unlike his old pal Kevin Durant‘s superstar turn down in Rio. Westbrook will be perfectly situated at that point, in terms of his chosen franchise and latest enormous contract, so he’ll be hot on the trail of his second gold medal to bookend a championship ring or, like Carmelo Anthony, to make up for the absence of one. I’m seeing five or six returnees from this summer’s squad, from among Kyrie Irving, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, maybe Durant. Then additions such as Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, either Karl-Anthony Towns or Andre Drummond and a 35-year-old LeBron James in the role Team USA impresario Jerry Colangelo had carved out for Kobe Bryant, had he wanted it this year. Kawhi Leonard seems a natural fit given his likely career arc with the Spurs and the presence of Gregg Popovich as the next U.S. coach. Then stir in fresh blood from the likes of Jabari Parker, Victor Oladipo or Brandon Ingram and the national team shouldn’t miss a beat.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Call them Team Bailout: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Bradley Beal and maybe a veteran who wants last hurrah wrapped in the flag named LeBron James. All the stars who took a pass on Rio come back for Team USA and coach Gregg Popovich in Tokyo. Add in a couple of point guards — Chris Paul and John Wall — who were rehabbing injuries and you’ve got your gold medal roster for 2020.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The personality will be business-like. If anyone has forgotten in Tokyo in 2020 that some opponents made life interesting in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the coaches and USA Basketball leaders will be glad to remind them. The ’16 team had the right attitude, but maybe the easy victories on the U.S. tour before heading to Brazil and then the opening games of pool play created a false sense of security. That won’t happen next time. I also think the U.S. will benefit from the unique schedule coming up — World Cup in 2019, Olympics in 2020. The roster will be largely the same for both, helping with cohesion. A lot of the players from Rio will also be playing, but Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard will be added. Maybe others. Three years until the World Cup is more than enough time for a new star or two to emerge for the United States.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The next team will have a fresh new look, starting of course with the coach. LeBron James said how neat it would be to play for Gregg Popovich but I’m not so sure LeBron will be willing to put his aging body on the line by then. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant should give the team a Warriors flavor, with help from newcomers Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker. Still can’t see another country keeping pace four years from now.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: At 31, Kevin Durant will remain the primary alpha dog among the rest. But there could be better offensive cohesion with Gregg Popovich on the bench. I think there were lessons learned this year about the value of complementary players like Paul George and DeAndre Jordan. So, while I see Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis as obvious picks, there will need to be some guys that are willing to do the defensive work.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Olympic team in 2020 will once again be flush with the best homegrown players the NBA has to offer. The Golden State crew of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will take up a quarter of the squad alongside Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, DeAndre Jordan, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and “old heads” LeBron James and Chris Paul. There won’t be any leadership or chemistry issues and the talent level will rival any group to wear the USA across their chests since the original Dream Team. It’ll be all business as the U.S. claims its fourth straight Olympic gold.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The stars in their primes will include Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant at forward, and Stephen Curry plus Kyrie Irving in the backcourt. But the identity figures to be drawn from the potential comeback of LeBron James, who may become – if only for the 2020 Olympics – the starting center for USA Basketball. In that case the next tournament would shape up as an international celebration of LeBron’s career as well as his versatility. It could be an opportunity he cannot refuse.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog With my dirty dozen, it doesn’t matter whether the rest of the world is able to get its act together: Anthony Davis starts at the five, with Kevin Durant and LeBron James (on his international hoops farewell tour) at forward, supplemented by a Splash Brothers backcourt. Then, coming off the bench my second five is Draymond Green, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard as my frontcourt, along with a backcourt of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. DeMarcus Cousins and Kyrie Irving round out my twelve.

Morning shootaround — July 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Towns: ‘Things are about to change’ | Watson recalls Popovich scolding him | Divac responds to Gay’s comments

No. 1: Towns expecting big changes in Minnesota — You have to go back a dozen years to reach the last season in which the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs. That 2004 run to the Western Conference finals, led by Kevin Garnett, was the postseason high point for a franchise that has struggled to regain that success since then. But with reigning Kia Rookie of the Year winner Karl-Anthony Towns, plus former Rookie of the Year winner Andrew Wiggins, the athletic Zach LaVine, rookie Kris Dunn and new coach Tom Thibodeau in the fold for 2016-17, things can’t help but look up for Minnesota. Towns, for his part, is expecting the Wolves to be more than improved writes Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press:

Karl-Anthony Towns grew up in New Jersey. He loves it there.

But it’s not home anymore.

“A lot of times, I talk to my friends and family and I’m always trying to rush back to Minnesota,” Towns said Wednesday during his basketball camp at Hopkins High School. “This is where I call home.”

“I thank God every day that I get a chance to do all these great things in a Timberwolves jersey.”

Towns has carved out some court time to work on his game, too. He said he has worked on all aspects of his craft and added new moves to his arsenal.

He also has worked on his three-point shot. In New Jersey, he said, he was one of the top three-point shooters and now is moving “back to his roots,” using some shooting drills he used to do.

“It’s been paying dividends,” Towns said. “My shot has looked the best it’s looked in about four years, and I’m really happy.”

Towns’ focus already is centered on next season, which he talks about with Wolves teammates regularly. The primary topics are what the league looks like, how the division will look and what the Wolves need to do to accomplish their goals.

“We’re concocting a plan to be the best Timberwolves team that’s come around in a long time,” he said.

This month, Towns sent out a tweet that read, “Remember us.” He explained the reasoning Wednesday.

“A lot of people tend to think that we’re the Timberwolves, and we’re at the bottom of the barrel,” he said. “I just want everyone to know that we’re coming. Just remember us, remember who we were for the last 13 years, because things are about to change.”

***

No. 2: Watson recalls scolding he got from Popovich — By all accounts, the Phoenix Suns had a rough season in 2015-16, from the 23 wins they posted (their fewest since 2012-13), to the myriad of injuries they endured to stars such as Eric Bledsoe and others, to the mid-season firing of then-coach Jeff Hornacek. His ouster led to the team moving Earl Watson over as interim coach and although the team went just 9-23 under his watch, his ability to reach the team’s young players and regain a sense of direction for the franchise wasn’t lost on team officials. Watson was named Suns coach this summer and in an interview with Marc J. Spears of TheUndefeated.com, he talks about how he got a stern talking to from legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich last season:

Watson was asked to interview with the Suns as an interim head coach for the rest of the season. As exciting as the opportunity was, he sought the blessing of Hornacek before agreeing to interview.

“I called Jeff because if he was discouraged about it, I would walk away from it,” Watson said. “You don’t want to ever interview for a job from a guy who brought you in. It’s torn emotions.”

Watson landed the interim opportunity and earned a 9-24 mark in what would end up being the second-worst overall record in Suns franchise history. One game of note was a 118-111 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 21 in which the Suns challenged the NBA power. Watson got scolded by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich afterward for being too hard on himself after not landing the big win.

“[Popovich] told me, ‘Great job.’ I said, ‘Coach, we have to win games. No one cares about great job.’ He got in my face and asked me if I was crazy. ‘Are you f’ing crazy. Great job. I really mean it. You were poised. Your team is playing great. They’re playing for you.’ I told him that I love him. He said, ‘I love you, too,’ ” Watson said.

While Watson was stressed about earning wins, the Suns actually were not judging him on wins and losses with the young and injury-riddled team. The hope was rather to improve the team’s attitude. And when the 2015-16 season concluded, the players’ attitude toward Watson was extremely positive. Several told Suns management before and during their exit meetings that they hoped he was retained .

“What he inherited is maybe one of the toughest situations that any coach has had to inherit,” Suns center Tyson Chandler told The Undefeated toward the end of last season. “What he has done is taking these young guys and put their focus in the right way. I love what he is doing. I love the way he approaches it.

“As just as serious as he was on the court, there is just as much passion [coaching]. His knowledge for the game is actually what I thought he would have been as a young coach. His leading ability … Young guys are usually feeling themselves out. But he surprised me.”

The Suns agreed with their players’ assessment and hired Watson on April 19 as the permanent head coach. He immediately became the NBA’s youngest head coach at 36 years old. Suns guard Devin Booker called it a “great move for our organization.”

“Going into next season we understand that it will be a process, but Earl is the best fit to lead our squad,” Booker said in a statement to The Undefeated. “He’s played the game before. He has experience. We trust him and he trusts us.”

***

No. 3: Divac responds to Gay’s complaints — Sacramento Kings swingman Rudy Gay was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2015-16 (17.2 ppg) and is one of the core pieces to a team hoping to get back into the upper crust in the Western Conference. Gay, however, is also entering his 11th season come 2016-17 and has just seven playoff games on his career resume. In an interview earlier this week with Sactown Royalty, Gay voiced his displeasure with the team’s direction, which Kings VP Vlade Divac responded to, writes James Ham of CSNBayArea.com:

Divac played cat and mouse, initially saying that he hadn’t heard Gay’s comments. Once informed of what the veteran wing had told the media, Divac weighed in.

“He has my number,” Divac told CSN California. “If I do something, I will call him. Obviously, if I didn’t call him, we didn’t do anything.”

In case you missed it, Gay went public on Monday with his frustrations over the uncertainty surrounding his future with the team and the current direction of the franchise.

“I think it’s pretty obvious what situation is going on here,” Gay told Sactown Royalty. “At this point in my career, I think I want some kind of consistency and we don’t have that here, at all.”

Divac has restructured the Kings roster in the offseason, bringing in eight new faces via the draft and free agency. Sources have confirmed that the Kings are shopping Gay and the team has fielded plenty of calls, but they have yet to find a deal that makes sense for the team.

The Kings GM has spoken with his small forward on this subject in the past and has nothing new to report. Divac has been on both sides of the table as both a player and now and an executive and he understands the frustration of being in limbo. But he also has a job to do.

“Look, I was a player, 16-17 years in the league, nobody called me everyday and tell me what management is doing,” Divac said. “Management was doing their job. If something big happened, they called and told me. Obviously, nothing big happened (so) I’m not going to call anybody.”

When asked whether the Kings’ roster is set so far, the 7-footer kept his cards close to the vest. He is working the phones trying to do what’s best for his team and be it Gay or Kosta Koufos or Ben McLemore, Divac is looking for value in return, not a salary dump.

“There’s always room to improve,” Divac said. “I’m happy for now, but down the road, we’re always trying to improve.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ben McLeMore is preparing for a bounce-back season in 2016-17 … ICYMI, a back injury will keep Anderson Varejao out of the 2016 Olympics … Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki reportedly signed a two-year, $50 million extension with the team yesterday …

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team picks?

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: State of Cavs as playoffs near? | Outlook on 76ers’ future? | Your All-Rookie team picks are?



VIDEOKia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

> It’s awards time. Name your 2015-16 All-Rookie first team.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:

Karl Anthony-Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Towns is a no-brainer lock for Kia Rookie of the Year and looks like a cornerstone, franchise-level talent. Porzingis was sensational the first half of the season for the Knicks and displayed an all-around game that augers very well for his future. He not only could score and shoot from multiple places on the floor, he stuck his nose in there and rebounded quite well. Okafor was a one-dimensional offensive player, but displayed the low post skills that made him such a desirable Lottery pick. He’ll have to really dedicate himself to getting in better shape and giving a better effort defensively in future years, but there’s a lot to work with there. Mudiay (and fellow rookie Nikola Jokic) looks like a keeper in Denver and a solid point guard of the future. Winslow was outstanding at the defensive end for Miami and stepped in right away to play big minutes when the Heat was decimated by injury.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Towns already was pushing for consideration as an all-NBA center on my ballot, and Timberwolves fans are understandably nervous — after years of letdowns and washouts — that so much has gone so right with this kid. I liked Porzingis from the first game I saw him play in the Las Vegas Summer League, and his demeanor kicks his potential to another level. Jokic and Booker managed to develop nicely in difficult situations and Winslow struck me as a no-nonsense, mature rookie even before he benefited from all those mature Miami vets. In a bumper crop of newbies, I had guys like Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, Detroit’s Stanley Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell and Utah’s Trey Lyles in my next five, with Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Miami’s Josh Richardson slipping in the rankings only for lack of game appearances.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Does anybody need to justify KAT? He’s been the Kia Rookie of the Year since opening night. Porzingis has faded down the stretch, but showed all he needed to justify being the No. 4 pick and a foundational piece if the Knicks ever get around to rebuilding correctly. Jokic has been a double-double machine in Denver while playing low minutes. Booker came on in the second half to show star potential and now gives the perennially rebuilding Suns reason to get better by dealing away one of their other guards. Winslow was a solid defender right from the start and has shown steady improvement in his shooting to make him the first-round pick the Heat wanted.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

 

Towns, Porzingis and Jokic should be automatics to underline what was expected to be and then turned out to be an unusually good year for rookie big men. Along those lines, I will be interested to see the real outcome — after the real vote, not the NBA.com brilliance — for Jahlil Okafor in particular. He was one of the three or four best rookies when he played, but the season-ending knee injury after 53 appearances will almost certainly cost him. How much is the question.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

Admittedly, the last two on this list helped themselves in the final two months of the season, while there are two tough omissions: Nikola Jokic and Justise Winslow. Towns and Booker have the most star quality of the bunch.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

 

It was a great rookie class in regard to production, potential and depth. Towns is already one of the best centers in the league and will be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor for a long time. Porzingis tore up whatever timeline we had for him and looks like he, too, will be an impact player on both ends. Jokic is a skilled big in the mold of Marc Gasol, Booker was the Suns’ best player when Eric Bledsoe got hurt, and Winslow was one of the best wing defenders in the Eastern Conference and helped unlock the Heat’s successful small-ball lineups before Chris Bosh‘s absence forced them to play that way full-time. Jahlil Okafor had the numbers to earn consideration, but was a disaster defensively.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

KAT should be a unanimous Kia Rookie of the Year winner for the job he’s done all season in Minnesota. Porzingis showed enough flashes to project as a future All-Star in New York, provided he continues to develop his frame and game. Okhafor’s off-court issues stained what was an otherwise solid first year. Booker and Mudiay could both see All-Star nods in the future. Booker looked like a long-lost Splash Brother the second half of the season and Mudiay played beyond his years from the start. Miami’s Justise Winslow and Detroit’s Stanley Johnson are my sixth and seventh men. They could easily have been in that first five had they been Drafted into situations that required them to play larger roles.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philaelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

 

Towns has a chance to be the NBA’s best player in a few years. Porzingis could join Chauncey Billups as the best teammate to ever play with Carmelo Anthony. Turner, who went No. 11, may turn out to rank among the three best players in the Draft. The disappointment is D’Angelo Russell, who may yet be a star. Amid this terrific class he has, in Year One at least, been a relative disappointment.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Filled out my ballot yesterday, and that’s the order I submitted to the NBA.  No surprises, I don’t think, other than maybe Jokic, who has mostly stayed under the radar but has been rather productive. For me the two toughest omissions were Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, who was basically thrown out there from the start of the season and competed all season, and Phoenix’s Devin Booker, who has impressed me all season, but particularly the last few weeks as he’s played an increasingly larger role for the Suns.

Morning shootaround – March 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs clinch SouthwestWarriors win without Iguodala | Kyrie ready to “step up” | Grizz lose Conley, Andersen

No. 1: Spurs clinch Southwest — At this point we shouldn’t be surprised: The Spurs just win games. Some of the tertiary players might change, but the principals remain the same: Pop, Timmy, Tony, Manu. And last night in San Antonio, the Spurs did it again, coming from behind to beat Oklahoma City and clinch another Southwest Division title. As our Fran Blinebury writes, the Spurs just keep winning…

In a game when Danny Green took 10 shots and missed nine of them, it was the only one that mattered.

When Russell Westbrook gambled to come up with a steal, LaMarcus Aldridge found Green standing in the right corner, just the right place at just the right time.

There was only one thing to do and Green did it.

“He’s a pro and we made it very clear to him there’s only two outcomes,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “It goes in or it doesn’t, but he still gets his paycheck, his family still loves him. So screw it, let ’em fly. And he did.”

The Spurs won 93-85 on Saturday night in part because Green’s shot broke the last tie and broke the Thunder, but on the whole because the Spurs keep learning more and more about exactly who they can become.

Five months ago in the season opener at Oklahoma City, Aldridge, the new free-agent addition, might as well have been a lost puppy chasing his tail.

“I didn’t know my role, I was trying to find shots,” Aldridge said. “I think I took (12) shots that game. So it was very uncomfortable. I thought tonight was night and day [different] for sure.”

On the other hand, the Spurs are night and day the same, week after week, month after month, season after season.

They don’t get rocked, they roll. They don’t get shaken, only stirred.

This is how you keep doing what they do, pushing, grinding, forging an identity as the most solid, the most consistent, the best professional franchise in sports over the past two decades.

The win pushed the Spurs to a perfect 32-0 at the AT&T Center this season and they have now won 41 consecutive regular-season home games dating back exactly a year to March 12, 2015. They had already wrapped up a 55-win season for the 19th time in club history, trailing only the Lakers franchise (20) on the all-time NBA list. By beating the Thunder, they clinched another Southwest Division title and officially clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The advanced learning process continues, of course, because for all they have accomplished, the Spurs are still somehow looking up at Golden State in the standings.

It’s not the sheer numbers or the volume of pages they continue to fill up in the history books that keeps impressing. It’s the way they keep right on doing it as they evolve.

Here was a night when Tony Parker (0-for-4) went without a field goal for the first time in eight years, when Manu Ginobili (0-for-3) only scratched with a pair of free throws and Tim Duncan made just two shots after the first quarter. And yet the Spurs pulled it out and pulled away down the stretch.

***

No. 2: Warriors win without Iguodala — Hours after the Golden State Warriors found out they’ll be without star sixth man Andre Iguodala for at least a few weeks, the Warriors got put to the test by the lowly Phoenix Suns. No Iguodala? No problem, writes Rusty Simmons from the San Francisco Chronicle, as the Warriors rallied behind Stephen Curry to remain perfect at home and push their record to league-best 59-6…

Curry finished with a game-high 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, after having to sit out most of the third quarter with foul trouble. Steve Kerr considered bringing Curry back with two or three minutes remaining in the third quarter, but he decided to wait until the start of the fourth — after the Warriors had watched an 11-point, first-half lead turn into a nine-point deficit.

“Obviously it worked well, but man, we got outplayed for three quarters,” Kerr said. “ … It was a great fourth quarter, but for those first three, they really took it to us.”

Phoenix (17-49) got 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Brandon Knight, 26 points and 13 rebounds from Alex Len and 18 points and 11 assists from rookie Devin Booker. All of this from a team that has gone 3-14 since interim head coach Earl Watson replaced the fired Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.

The Warriors, even after finding out they’ll miss Andre Iguodala for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, committed only eight turnovers and were simply more talented than their competition.

Mareese Speights had 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench, Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Green put up 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.

The first quarter included four ties and nine lead changes, including free throws by Leandro Barbosa that ignited the Warriors’ 13-5 run in the period’s final 2:55. Curry scored five of his 13 first-quarter points in the closing 34 seconds to give the Warriors a 31-24 edge heading into the second.

Curry went to the bench with four fouls at the 7:55 mark of the third quarter, and the Warriors’ lead evaporated into a 92-82 deficit on a Knight three-pointer with 1:35 to play. The Warriors’ point guard returned at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Warriors had tied it 95-95 2:11 later.

Speights scored six points during the 9-0 run and added a three-point play that put the Warriors ahead 100-98 with 8:53 to play.

During Speights’ postgame interview in the locker room, Andrew Bogut brought him a towel to wipe his brow.

“That’s on me, man,” Bogut said. “You played good today.”

***

No. 3: Kyrie ready to “step up” — As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to try and find the perfect mix heading into the postseason, Kobe Bryant says someone on their team needs to create some “inner conflict.” And as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, the guy who grew up idolizing Kobe, Kyrie Irving, says he thinks he can be that person for the Cavs…

After Kobe Bryant played the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final time on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legend provided a parting take about the state of the Cavs.

“You have to have that inner conflict,” Bryant said. “You have to have that person that’s really driving these things. From the Cavs’ perspective, it’s hard for me to tell from afar who should be that person. LeBron [James] is not that person. LeBron, he’s a … he brings people together. That’s what he does naturally. He’s phenomenal at it. But you have to have somebody else who’s going to create that tension. Maybe it’s Kyrie [Irving].”

Cleveland’s point guard, who idolized Bryant when he was growing up, thinks he can indeed be the straw that stirs the Cavs’ drink.

“It’s in my personality, I would agree with that,” Irving told ESPN.com before Cleveland practiced on the campus of UCLA on Saturday.

“I think if one of the greatest players to play our game and has had championship runs and has been on teams where he’s either been that or he’s been the guy that has been the emotional voice of the team and holding guys accountable, I think he said it best. I think that in order for our team to be where we want to go, I have to step up and be that other leader on our team other than LeBron. So, I would agree with that. It’s definitely in my personality. It’s taken me a few years to kind of grow into that and kind of earn my teammates’ respect and also hold myself accountable when I’m out there.”

Irving is in his fifth season and turns 24 this month. James is a 13-year veteran and 31 years old. They are in vastly different stages of their careers, yet teaming together for the common goal of winning a championship. It’s accelerated Irving’s aging process.

“I have to grow up quick, especially with this team. In order for us to be successful, I have to be a lot older than what my years show,” Irving said. “So, it’s been a learning experience since Day 1 that Bron has come back and being a championship-caliber team, I’ve had to grow up quick. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I can bank on is when I get it, I get it and we get rolling. That’s the way it should be. It’s taken time but I’m definitely assuming that role of being one of the guys that’s the other voice other than LeBron and [Tyronn Lue].”

The Cavs’ coach has seen the dynamic play out between his stars and still pegs it as more of a mentor-mentee relationship than peer-to-peer.

“It gives him a chance to learn from someone who has won two championships, been to the Finals six times,” Lue said. “He’s been arguably the best player in the league for seven, eight years in a row. Having that type of guy around you every single day to help mold you to what you’re trying to do and that’s winning. Kyrie has taken to it greatly. I think he likes having LeBron around and teaching him different things that we need to do to become champions.”

***

No. 4: Grizz lose Conley, Andersen — The Memphis Grizzlies of recent years have adopted a “grit and grind” identity, meaning they play hard and never give up. That philosophy is being put the test right now, as injuries had whittled their rotation down to as few as 8 players in recent days. And now, with a fight to hang onto their playoff spot ahead of them, the Grizz look to be without Mike Conley and Chris Andersen for a while, writes Ronald Tillery in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Grizzlies were granted two injury exceptions by the NBA and used them Saturday to sign guard Ray McCallum and center Alex Stepheson to 10-day contracts.

Stepheson, 28, mostly recently played on a 10-day deal for the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 31 games with the Iowa Energy this season, averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes a game for the Grizzlies’ NBA Development League affiliate.

McCallum, 23, appeared in 31 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.1 assists. The 6-3 guard was the 36th overall pick during the 2013 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.

The Spurs waived McCallum Feb. 29 to create room for the signing of Andre Miller. McCallum would be eligible for the playoffs because his release happened before March 1.

The Griz now have three players with 10-day contracts after signing D-League point guard Briante Weber on Friday. Weber started and logged 40 minutes in an overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The additional transactions come as the Griz announced that point guard Mike Conley will miss another three to four weeks with a sore Achilles.

Conley and center Chris Andersen sat out the past three games. Andersen suffered a partially separated shoulder March 6 in a home game against Phoenix. He remains out and will continue to be re-evaluated.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade sat out last night to recover from a bruised thigh … The Knicks lost on Friday night, but they liked the aggressiveness down the stretch from Kristaps Porzingis … The Warriors were named Best Analytics Organization at the Sloan Sports Athletics Conference … Here’s Phil Jackson‘s favorite Kobe story

Analytics Art: Hill, Booker, Morris among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Pacers top Magic in Orlando

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Throughout the 82-game grind of the NBA season, rest can mean a world of difference wherever players find it.

That can mean taking a day off on the second (or first) day of a back-to-back set, sitting out during the fourth quarter of blowout victories (as Stephen Curry has done often this season), or, more recently, the rest provided via February’s All-Star break. In theory, the hiatus provides a time for many players to refuel for the stretch run. Fresh legs generally translate into players performing to the best of their abilities, but that isn’t always the case.

As the PointAfter team discovered for the week following All-Star weekend, it sometimes takes more than rest to quash shooting slumps.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Feb. 19-25.

Guard: George Hill, Indiana Pacers

As a 29-year-old, eight-year veteran, George Hill has been around the block. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich once extolled Hill as “my favorite player” prior to the trade that sent him to Indiana in exchange for Kawhi Leonard, according to Express-NewsJeff McDonald. That’s high praise coming from one of the greatest coaches in NBA history.

Of course, even those who gain favor from genius basketball minds are not immune to shooting slumps. And, boy, did Hill come out of the All-Star break cold.

Hill shot 3-for-11 on Feb. 19 in a win against Oklahoma City — though he nearly recorded a triple-double with 11 rebounds and nine assists to accompany his nine points.

From there, Hill was 2-for-11 against the Orlando Magic, and then he missed all seven of his field goal attempts in a loss to the Miami Heat.

He rebounded nicely against the New York Knicks by converting five of eight shots, but even that outing only managed to raise his shooting percentage to 27 percent over his last four contests.

Yikes.

Wing: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

For Suns fans fishing for something (anything) positive during the course of a nightmare season, Booker has been a lifeline.

The 19-year-old rookie provides a glimmer of hope for the future in the desert. And while he deserves praise for his performance in the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout — finishing a respectable third place behind Klay Thompson and Curry — there’s a chance his shooting stroke lost its passport in Toronto before Booker’s trip back to U.S. soil.

In Booker’s best outing since his first go-around of All-Star festivities, he finished 3-of-9 from the field in a loss against the mighty Spurs. In the other three games, he went 3-for-11, 2-for-10 and 3-for-12.

Add it all up, and Booker shot a woeful 26.2 percent over his last four outings. All four of those games were Suns losses, and Phoenix has not won a game in over a month.

But hey, at least the rook shoots a respectable 39.6 percent from three-point range on the season.

Forward/Center: Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons

The first Morris twin to be traded away from Phoenix, Marcus hasn’t even cracked 40 percent shooting in a single game since the All-Star break.

He shot a ghastly 30.6 percent from the field over the course of the week. His best game from a percentage standpoint over that stretch came in an upset win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in which “Mook” went 6-of-16 shooting. He converted just one of his six shots from beyond the arc in that affair.

Though Morris caught fire throughout December by averaging 15.2 points on 46.9 percent shooting from the field and 44.2 percent from deep, he’s come careening back down to earth since. In fact, his shooting percentages (mainly from beyond the arc) look ugly compared to the last two seasons spent with the Suns.

The Pistons continue to play better when Morris is on the court, but that can be tied to the fact that the 6-foot-9 forward plays most of his minutes with Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

In any case, Detroit needs Morris to lock in for the stretch run if the Pistons are going to have hope of making the playoffs in 2016.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future

No. 1:  LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line

High expectations? No problem.

After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.

With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.

Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”

To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.

Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.

LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.

They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.

On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.

***

No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …

If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.

If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.

Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.

Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.

As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”

But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.

Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.

That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?

Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).

“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.

***

No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night

For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.

It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.

“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.

Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.

“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”

Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.

***

No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day

It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.

But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.

The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.

“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”

Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.

While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.

“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).

“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting tradedKarl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bidJimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star GameKevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.

Warriors Trio Headlines ‘Big’ All-Star Saturday Night

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew gives analysis.

NEW YORK CITY — All-Star Saturday night is going to be big. Literally.

Tonight’s announcement of the participants for All-Star Saturday night revealed a lot of familiar names and faces, but also a couple of intriguing players taking part in contests they haven’t been involved with in previous years. And while the Golden State Warriors have been nearly unstoppable on the court this season, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the Warriors’ big three will attempt to bring home several different kinds of hardware.

NBA All-Star 2016The evening will open with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, which will be radically different this season. Last year, the event was populated entirely by point guards, with Houston’s Patrick Beverley winning over Brandon Knight. This season, Beverley is slated to return and compete against several guards, such as Portland’s CJ McCollum, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Jordan Clarkson from the Lakers.

But the twist here is that they will be in a field that includes several big men, including Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. It will also be interesting to see what kind of performance we get from New Orleans’ multi-talented center Anthony Davis, who played guard throughout high school before a growth spurt moved him to the post. And the leading contender among the big men participating must be Golden State’s Draymond Green, who currently leads the League in triple-doubles with 10.

VIDEO: Wolves’ Zach LaVine will defend his title.

We can also safely assume that the evening will close with a bang. Last year’s Verizon Slam Dunk was one of the most electrifying contests in years, as then-Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine completed a series of athletic jams. LaVine will return this season, and be challenged by a field that includes Denver guard Will Barton, who has had something of a breakout campaign in this his fourth NBA season.

LaVine and Barton will be joined by two big men, in a contest where big men have traditionally struggled to score highly. Second year Orlando forward Aaron Gordon has had plenty of athletic dunks in his short NBA career, and Detroit center Andre Drummond has also shown plenty of bounce and skill around the basket, as the NBA’s leading rebounder this season.

In between these events will be the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which in a league increasingly reliant on the three-point shot, is rapidly becoming the evening’s signature event. While last year’s three-point contest was recognized as having one of the sweetest-shooting fields in the history of the event, this year’s event appears to be equally star-studded:

VIDEO: Steph Curry will bring his sharp shooting to Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

Stephen Curry – Curry won last year’s event, then went on to win the NBA’s MVP award and an NBA title. Leads the NBA this season in three pointers made (232) by a wide margin (77 more than his Golden State teammate Klay Thompson).

James Harden – The Houston guard finished just behind Curry in last season’s MVP voting, and the Rockets have gotten off to a slow start this season. Still, Harden is third this season in total three-pointers made (140).

Klay Thompson – The other Splash Brother has a chance to outshine Curry. Thompson is making 43-percent of his three-point attempts this season.

Khris Middleton – The Bucks swingman is averaging a career-best two made three-pointers per game, and knocking them in at 41-percent clip.

Kyle Lowry – The Raptors guard will surely enjoy a home court advantage. Lowry is averaging a career-high 2.8 threes per game, and making them at a career-best 39 percent success rate.

JJ Redick – Clippers guard Reddick has always been known as a sharp-shooter, but this season has been his masterpiece. In 45 games for Los Angeles, Redick has made 120 threes, converting at a league-best 48-percent clip.

Chris Bosh – Why just have big men in the other two Saturday night contests? To be fair, the power forward Bosh has made himself into a good three-point shooter, and he’s relied on his long-range shot more than ever this season. Consider this: During Bosh’s first nine NBA seasons, he attempted a combined 228 threes; This season he’s attempted 213 threes in Miami’s first 50 games.

Devin Booker – Booker is the youngest contestant (he’s 19 years old) in the three-point shootout, but he’s already proven he’s one of the NBA’s best shooters, connecting on threes for the Phoenix Suns at a 42-percent rate this season.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 13, from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 212) Featuring Brett Dawson

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The pipeline is as star-studded as it is long. Anthony Davis, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and so many other former Kentucky stars have done their (usually) one-and-done diligence in Lexington under John Calipari and then moved on to the NBA to chase their fortunes and hoop dreams, hoping of course, that they intersect at the corner of championship and max contract.

Mock Calipari’s methods all you want, question his ethics if you will, but there is no disputing his results. When he boasts of changing lives and making millionaires out of the 5-star talents that choose the path through Lexington to get to the NBA, the results have been staggering.  Three No. 1 overall picks (Wall, Davis and Towns) have matriculated through the program, a total of 25 players through his first six seasons have crossed the threshold, and there are no doubt more to come.

Calipari, as he said Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell told him, is “creating more millionaires than a Wall Street firm.” Calipari, after all, is the only coach to boast five first-round selections in the same Draft (in 2010) and the only coach to have six players taken in a Draft in the modern (two-round) era, and he’s done it twice (in 2012 and 2015).

And when Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist went off the board at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in 2012 Calipari became the first coach to pull off that feat.

It’s a mind-boggling run highlighted by the ascension of Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans superstar who is already considered by many to be one of the top five players in the NBA.

Few people can provide the perspective of the UK-NBA pipeline the way Brett Dawson can. After covering the ‘Cats for years, he’s now turning his focus on Davis and the Pelicans for The Advocate in New Orleans. And he joins us on Episode 212 of The Hang Time Podcast to discuss all things UK-Cal-Pelicans and AD, a conversation we had to have as we get ready for next week’s Hang Time Road Trip, Part II (#NBAHangTime)…

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis lit up the scene for the New Orleans Pelicans last season … and promises to do more of the same this season and beyond

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.”

***

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.

***

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.”

***

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 — July 23


VIDEO: Lakers introduce new trio

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith is happy to be a Clipper | New Lakers look to help franchise turn around | Bennett taking advantage of opportunity | Young Suns may be competing for playing time

No. 1: Josh Smith is happy to be a Clipper The Los Angeles Clippers ended up having one of the NBA’s busiest offseasons, between their pursuit of DeAndre Jordan, signing Paul Pierce and trading for Lance Stephenson. But sort of lost among all those moves was the Clippers signing Josh Smith away from the Houston Rockets, where Smith played a big role in the Rockets eliminating the Clippers in the playoffs. As Bill Oram writes in the Orange Country Register, the Clippers had been on Smith’s radar since earlier in the season

Somewhat obscured by those splashy moves was the arrival of Josh Smith seven months after the Clippers first tried to land the mercurial forward.

“It was an option,” Smith said when asked how close he was to signing with the Clippers after being waived by Detroit in December. “It was a definite thought process and conversation I had with my family.”

Smith, 29, was among the eight players – including the returning Jordan and Austin Rivers – the Clippers introduced Tuesday at Staples Center.

He has seen his value plummet in the last two years, since he signed a four-year, $53 million deal with Detroit. Smith was never a good fit with the Pistons, who tried to use him at small forward, a position he had not played in nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.

In December, the Pistons waived Smith, clearing the path for him to sign with the team of his choice. That ended up being the Rockets, who Smith helped knock the Clippers from the postseason.

Asked what he learned from the roller-coaster season, Smith said, “That you can get waived. I learned what waived meant. That’s pretty much it.”

He signed with the Clippers for the veteran minimum. Unlike two years ago, he wasn’t simply going to go to the highest bidder.

“Free agency is very exciting the first time around,” Smith said.

This summer he took a more careful approach to selecting a new team.

“My whole thing was I was looking at scenarios more so than being wowed by the red carpet layout and stuff,” he said.

The Pistons owe him $5.4 million annually through 2020, minus whatever he makes from another team.

Smith is best known for his offensive versatility, despite being selected to the NBA All-Defensive second team in 2010.

He averaged 13.5 points in 23.5 minutes per game in the playoffs. He made four 3-pointers and scored 19 points in the Rockets’ pivotal come-from-behind win in Game 6 of the conference semifinals.

In free agency, however, he opted to switch sides rather than stick with the team that bested the Clippers in seven games.

He called the Clippers’ free agency pitch “more of a visual, concrete type of situation” where as his future in Houston was “foggy.”

***

No. 2: New Lakers look to help franchise turn around Last season the Lakers limped to a 21-61 finish in an injury-marred season. So this offseason, the Lakers made some major moves, adding veterans Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass, who met the Los Angeles media yesterday. As Broderick Turner writes in the Los Angeles Times, they’re looking at the opportunity as a fresh start

Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass talked about becoming Lakers, and the team’s general manager, Mitch Kupchak, later indicated that he has considered acquiring another guard or a center.

The Lakers have five guards under contract, but Kobe Bryant may move to the starting small forward position. That would leave the Lakers with four guards, including rookie D’Angelo Russell and second-year combo guard Jordan Clarkson.

“Depending upon how you look at it, we may look to bring in another guard on board,” Kupchak said. “We may not.”

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert, whom the Lakers acquired from the Indiana Pacers in a trade for a second-round pick, is Los Angeles’ only quality center with experience. Tarik Black, generously listed at 6-11, is undersized and has played only one season. Robert Sacre, at 7 feet, has the size but lacks the skills to be a regular rotation player.

“We’re not a big team,” said Kupchak, who has a 14-man roster. “So really, if you look at our team you can make an argument we need another big player.”

The news conference at team headquarters at El Segundo with the recent additions had one awkward moment when the trio was asked whether Bryant had reached out to any of them since they joined the team.

Williams, who sat in the middle of his new teammates, looked to his right at Hibbert, who stared straight ahead and said nothing. Bass, already leaning back in his chair, smiled and also said nothing. Neither did Williams.

Instead, they all preferred to talk about how they can help the Lakers improve after a disastrous 21-61 season.

“You always feel like you have an opportunity to win here,” said Williams, who signed a three-year, $21-million deal to join the Lakers. “And when you have Kobe Bryant, that always gives you an opportunity to go far. So for me, they have a winning tradition, they always are one move away from their team going from zero to 100 and you’ve got Kobe Bryant.”

***

No. 3: Bennett taking advantage of opportunity Two years into his NBA career, former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett still has plenty to prove. But after being traded once and getting in better shape, Bennett is using a stint playing this summer with Team Canada in the Pan Am Games as a chance to show what he can do with his NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, writes Doug Smith in the Toronto Star

It now remains to be seen if the former No. 1 NBA draft pick can turn a summer stint that affords him such luxuries into a month that kick starts a somewhat stalled professional career.

So far, so good.

Bennett, the Brampton product who’s scuffled through a couple of NBA seasons trying to find his game and a niche, had 17 points and six rebounds as Canada pulled away in the final two minute to beat Argentina 88-83 in Pan Am Games preliminary round action at the Ryerson Athletic Centre.

The Minnesota Timberwolves forward may not have found an NBA comfort zone but he’s had times he’s dominated in international play and Canadian officials hope another summer with the national team will work long-term magic.

“He’s come in with a great attitude, he’s really hungry to represent his country and improve and this is a really important summer for him,” national team general manager Steve Nash said. “He’s a had a tough go his first two years but he’s really good kid so you just want to be here as a resource and help him realize his potential and play a lot and figure some things out with his game and where he can maximize his advantages on the floor. But most important he’s worked hard, he’s got a great attitude and he’s put himself in position to improve.”

Bennett did look more comfortable and as if he was having more fun while leading Canada to its second straight win. High-stepping back down the court after making a shot, the smiles, the interaction with teammates, it all just looks so natural.

“That’s two great games for him, he had 15 and 10 the other night (against Dominican Republic) and we said coming into this, this is going to be big thing for him with his ability to score in so many ways, the effort and energy he’s putting in right now,” said coach Jay Triano.

“The guy hangs a picture of his jersey in his locker, he’s proud to be Canadian, he’s proud to wear this uniform. That says a lot about the way he’s acting and the way he’s playing out here.”

***

No. 4: Young Suns may be competing for playing time While plenty was made of the Becky Hammon-coached San Antonio Spurs winning the NBA Las Vegas Summer League championship, it’s also worth noting that the Phoenix Suns, coached by Suns assistant Nate Bjorkgren, also advanced to the championship game, on the strength of several of their younger players. And once the season starts, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann writes, some of those young players will be competing for playing time once the regular season rolls around

The Phoenix Suns had three young vets and the only 2015 Lottery pick in the final eight of the Summer League. Three of those guys – Devin Booker (the No. 13 pick this year), Archie Goodwin (the No. 29 pick in 2013) and T.J. Warren (the No. 14 pick in 2014) – could be competing for minutes off the bench at the wing positions come October.

Both Goodwin (15.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting) and Warren (18.7, 54 percent) were more consistent offensively than Booker (15.3, 40 percent). But if you listen to Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, you conclude that the rookie will have the edge over the two vets when training camp opens.

Hornacek watched Summer League hoping to see Goodwin and Warren show that they can be trusted defensively. Neither has had a big role yet with the Suns, and it sounds like their coach didn’t see enough to guarantee one this season.

“As coaches,” Hornacek told NBA.com at halftime of the Summer League final, “we always say you’re more likely to stay on the court if you’re just playing good defense and not scoring more than if you’re scoring a couple of times and giving up a lot of points. We want to see both sides of that. We got some guys who can put the ball in the hole, but we got to see them play some defense.

“They’re making some improvements. We want to see it on a more consistent basis. With T.J. and Archie, what I’m looking at is their team defense. Are they on the nail? Are they helping out? Are they getting back? Are they closing out hard? I’ve seen spurts of it, but we want to get that up to 95 percent of the time, not just 20 percent of the time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA is now selling individual games as part of League Pass … Fourteen-year veteran Stephen Jackson announced his official retirement via Instagram … Could LeBron James star in Space Jam 2? … The Spurs are signing Jimmer Fredette … The Clippers and Bucks are interested in signing Glen Davis