Posts Tagged ‘Draymond Green’

Blogtable: Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals?

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: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> Never in NBA history have the same two teams played each other in the Finals three years in a row. I know it’s only August, but are we destined for a historic Cavs-Warriors rematch next June?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I can’t see myself picking anything other than Cleveland-Golden State when we do season predictions in October. No team in the Eastern Conference closed the gap on the Cavaliers, and the Warriors’ biggest obstacle will be themselves. Fitting in Kevin Durant’s offense game, notably his “touches,” won’t be simple without sacrifice by others. Klay Thompson in particular might wind up texting and calling Russell Westbrook a bit seeking ways to cope. And let’s remember, Father Time catches up with all NBA players but Crazy Uncle Injury picks and chooses those he torments – if Steph Curry, Durant or Draymond Green comes up lame for any length of time, the West could split wide open. Well, for San Antonio and the Clippers, anyway.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes. And it will be spectacular.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: No, and I say that only because history is against it. On the surface, those two are the Goliaths of their respective conferences and therefore it would make most sense if they’re the last teams standing. Still, I suspect LeBron James‘ 6-year run to The Finals will be snapped. I just can’t answer by whom, and how. Just a silly hunch that somebody else in the East — Toronto or maybe Boston — will sneak through.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s very difficult to imagine any other scenario. The Warriors took the best player off the roster of team that almost kept them from making The Finals last season. The Cavs, meanwhile, cruised through the Eastern Conference playoffs and no team behind them made enough changes this summer to be much of a threat.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: No one had won 73 games in a season before the Warriors pulled it off last season, so I’m choosing to believe that we’ll see a bit more history made in June of 2017. While I think an upset of either team along the way makes for an infinitely more interesting postseason, I’m just not sure I can identify the team that’s supposed to pull that upset off. The whole parity idea is lost on me. I want to see the best of the best battle it out for the title every year. If it happens to be the Warriors and Cavaliers for a third straight season, I’m fine with Round 3.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Cleveland will be there. I’m not so sure about the Warriors, who will need to go through some adjustment pains along the way. Can they figure it out in one season? We saw how the San Antonio Spurs were more talented last year with LaMarcus Aldridge and yet not as effective, in part because of changes to their style and a weakening of their bench. Golden State is going to win championships, that is a given, but Durant is not some plug-and-play component that can be added automatically. The guess here is that the Warriors are going to learn how to win multiple championships by way of losing in the Western playoffs next spring.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It may feel that way, but if we’ve learned anything from watching the NBA over the years it’s that expectations rarely manage to match reality. The Cavs and Warriors certainly seem like runaway favorites to end up in the Finals, and if I had to pick I’d probably go with them just to be safe. That said, there’s a little nagging part of me wondering about the Warriors. It’s not that I don’t think Kevin Durant won’t be helpful, it’s that I wonder if losing Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and assistant coach Luke Walton won’t completely be outweighed by the addition of Durant (and David West and Zaza Pachulia). The last two seasons, the Warriors built something of a dynasty with a lot of moving parts. This season, the parts have changed and I don’t think the Warriors will just waltz back to The Finals.

Blogtable: Your level of concern for Team USA?

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: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> As we head into the quarterfinals in Rio, what’s the level of concern for Team USA? And who do you see as the biggest threat to snap the USA’s gold-medal streak?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I ultimately think Team USA’s biggest concern will be the apathy that they’ll generate by winning gold again but not dominating the way the Dream Team did in ’92 or (in people’s memories at least) other editions of this NBA star-studded national squad did. There are reasons for the closer scores, some owing to the competition, some to holes in the U.S. team. But I think there will be a healthy mixture of respect for foes and fear of failure now for Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony et al that will see them through. Biggest threat? It’s all relative, but give me Australia, which has some brassy NBA players in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills; some healthy disrespect for a few of their pro peers, and a pesky defensive style that might already be in the U.S. stars’ heads.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It shocked me to read comments from Americans that essentially admitted surprise that many of the other teams are actually playing like teams, passing the ball, etc. If Team USA wants to stand around and play 1-on-1 “hero” ball, they could lose any game left to anybody. I wouldn’t have believed that before the Olympics began. I thought they had the proper mindset. But the team simply seems to have fallen back into many of the old, bad habits. Where the hell is the defense? Definitely looking more and more like time for a change. They could use a big dose of Gregg Popovich biting them in the butt right about now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The level of concern is cool. Not warm or hot. Yes, there have been some relatively close calls and the ride a bit bumpy, but here in the money round I don’t see the US exposing much vulnerability. The biggest threat to snap Team USA’s streak is Team USA. Only a sloppy performance would leave the Americans open to being upset by an opportunistic country such as Spain.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The level of concern is high. The defense is the worst it’s been under Mike Krzyzewski and the Olympic field is stronger than ever, with all eight remaining teams having hopes for a medal. Still, Spain is once again the biggest threat to beat the U.S. After a sluggish first three games, Pau Gasol and his team have found their gear, crushing Lithuania on Saturday and beating Argentina handily on Monday. They have a tough test themselves in the quarterfinals, with a France team that beat them in Madrid two years ago. But if USA and Spain meet in the semis, it may be a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My level of concern is significant. I hope it’s the same for the members of the team as they face a very real threat from Argentina first and foremost, and either France or Spain in the semifinal round. The U.S. is at its best when it treats every opponent like a credible threat, even the teams that we all know should not come close to touching the NBA stars. In London four years ago, that attitude was prevalent. That team attacked the opposition in a way that made clear that the U.S. would not leave the games without gold. There was always a feeling in the building that no matter how hard the other team played, they would ultimately come up short. I don’t know what it feels like inside the building this time around, but I know what it looks like from afar. And I haven’t seen that same sense of urgency in Rio.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The defense has been alarming. The USA has allowed 92 points over the last three games (equivalent to yielding 110 points over a 48-minute NBA game). Their opponents over the final three rounds – if the US gets that far – all know how to share the ball and move without it, beginning with the clever Argentines in the quarterfinal. The most dangerous opponent will emerge in the semis: France (Tony Parker) and Spain (Pau Gasol) each has the great player capable of leading and finishing the upset. For the Americans, assuming they can’t resolve their fundamental lapses on defense, the question comes down to which one or two of them is going to own this tournament in the way that LeBron James owned it in 2012. If they’re not capable of winning with fluid teamwork, then someone (Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and/or Kyrie Irving) is going to have to take on the responsibility of carrying them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: We’re not supposed to be concerned, right? After all, all we’ve heard is what a strong defensive team this is, and we know that the Team USA brass had their pick of dozens of players before curating this particular dozen, so why should there be any concern? Oh wait, I know why! Because this team seems awkwardly constructed. Or because their defense has never come together, and because the default offense seems to be clearing out and going one-on-one. This group is clearly talented, but they just can’t seem to get on the same page. Even if they can’t get things figured out, they will probably still win gold. But to me, Team USA’s biggest threat is themselves.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 13




NEWS OF THE MORNING
USA talent prevails | Schmidt not shy | Noah still loves Chicago | Kobe changed Team USA culture
No. 1: U.S. talent survives teamwork — Sometimes it just pays to have more raw talent than the other guys. So many times in international competition that’s what enables the Americans to survive and advance and stack up gold medals. That’s what happened again when Serbia threw a big scare into Team USA Friday at the Olympics. The Americans got another lesson in teamwork, but survived, Paul George told our John Schuhmann:

“We relied on natural talent to get us over this one,” Paul George said after the U.S. escaped vs. Serbia, needing Bogdan Bogdanovic’s open 3-pointer to miss long to avoid overtime.

Sometimes, stats can deceive. On Friday, the U.S. made 27 field goals and was credited with 28 assists, because FIBA gives out assists for passes that lead to made free throws. But the ball moved much better on the other end of the floor.

With the U.S. having less than three weeks to prepare for the Olympics, they’re typically better defensively than offensively. With their superior speed and athleticism, along with the ability to shuttle new players in every five minutes, the Americans can overwhelm inferior opponents.

But aggressive perimeter defense can be susceptible to good pick-and-roll play and ball movement. And that’s exactly what both Australia and Serbia brought in the last two games. Matthew Dellavedova and Milos Teodosic got things started with smart pick-and-roll decision-making, and the ball didn’t stop moving until it found the open man.

“These international guys, they really know how to move and really know how to cut,” George said. “It’s more so about how they run their offense that’s wearing us down.

“In [the NBA], there’s movement, obviously. But with these guys, it’s constant. You don’t ever sit still. In our game, there’s moments when you sit still, you can have a rest period. There might be an action that guys just run on one side. [Here] you’re constantly moving from side to side and it’s like they don’t get tired. And that’s new to us. That’s very new to us.”

***

No. 2: Oscar Schmidt ranks self top 10 — If you were ever fortunate enough to see Oscar Schmidt play for the Brazilian national team, you know he was not at all shy about shooting. Anytime. Anywhere. Any situation. Now 58, the Hall of Fame guard hasn’t changed at all. He told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports that if he had chosen to make the jump to the NBA during his career, he would have ranked among the best to ever play in the league:

At age 26, Schmidt declined playing for the New Jersey Nets after going in the sixth round of the 1984 Draft. Instead, Schmidt elected to continue racking up his more than 49,000 points, across four countries, until he was 45. Had he decided to come to the NBA and tested his talents against the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, Schmidt is fairly confident in what he would have done.

“I would be top 10. Ever,” Schmidt said, waving his hand near his chest for inflection. “For sure. One guy can’t defend me. You need two. At least.”

Schmidt will forever be revered in this futebol-crazed but basketball-hugging country, but he is somewhat envious of this current Brazilian national team, which has a chance to play Olympic games on their home soil. “That was my dream to play a competition like that,” Schmidt said.

The thirst to wear a Brazil jersey over one with the NBA logo has at times put Schmidt at odds with current players with different dreams and opportunities who delicately tried to balance both responsibilities. When Schmidt was coming up, the riches that came from being in the league weren’t nearly as lucrative, nor were the risks that come from participating with the national team in the offseason. Even if the pride and love for country were always there, to Schmidt, bypassing a summer spent playing for Brazil was reason to question someone’s patriotism.

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No. 3: Noah ready to tangle with Bulls — While he harbors no ill will toward the Bulls after spending the first nine years of his NBA career in Chicago, Joakim Noah told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that he’s already looking forward to his first trip back to the United Center with his new Knicks teammates:

“I think the Bulls-Knicks games are going to be good ones,” Noah said, smiling. “I’m looking forward to it. I think everybody is. It’s going to be a very competitive game with a lot of emotions. I’m trying to stay in the moment and focus on being as healthy as possible.”

It was clear during an interview last week in his Chicago residence, with its sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the skyline, that leaving the Bulls in the right way was important to him.

“I have no anger towards nobody,” Noah said. “If we had a couple rough years at the end, I’m just still so grateful for the opportunity the Bulls gave me. It’s like a family to me. Even though it’s a new chapter for the end of my career to be in New York, I think Chicago is always going to be a home to me.

“Everywhere I go in this city, it’s always love. If I’m walking in the airport, wherever I am and someone’s from Chicago, it’s never animosity or negative or why did you leave us? It’s always very appreciative. And it’s humbling. I know free agency is a business. But I feel I always show a lot of respect for this city and its people. And I get love back for it. And it feels good.”

***

No. 4: Kobe restarted U.S. gold rushCarmelo Anthony is the team leader, now playing in his fourth Olympics. Kevin Durant is a driving force. Paul George and Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green and the rest are all key parts. But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo still credits Kobe Bryant with changing the culture and attitude of the club and getting it back on the gold track, according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News:

“His work ethic, approach and how he appreciates the game is infectious,” Team USA forward Kevin Durant said last month in Las Vegas. “He’s someone who loves to play so much. He’s competitive when he steps in between those lines. He wants perfection.”

Bryant logged ridiculous hours in pursuit of that perfection, just weeks after having poured himself into an NBA regular season that ended with a six-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. Watching Bryant work left Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh shaking his head, mindful that the future Hall of Famer had just logged extended minutes during that playoff run.

“I thought I was working hard,” Bosh said. “Now I have to get back into the gym.”
After training for three weeks together before heading to Beijing, former U.S. Olympic teammate Carlos Boozer noticed the entire roster had adopted Bryant’s routine.

“We all clung to it,” said Boozer, who later played with Bryant as a member of the Lakers in 2014-15 and recently agreed to a deal to play in China. “It soon became our workout, not just his workout.”

Before Bryant signed up for Olympic duty, doubts emerged as to whether his heavy focus on scoring would resonate with a team of fellow superstars.

So shortly after Bryant posted a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, Colangelo met with Bryant and asked him a pointed question.

“What if I said to you, I want you to be a distributor and not a scorer?” Colangelo asked.

Bryant answered exactly how Colangelo hoped he would.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Bryant said. “I just want to be on that team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Monty Williams says he’s ready to coach in the NBA again … The Rockets might be interested in Rudy Gay … J.R. Smith got married, but still wants to get hitched again to Cavs … Oscar Robertson wants you to learn about another Dream Team … It looks like the NBA All-Star Game is heading back to New Orleans for 2017.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?

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: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA? | Should teams pursue Ray Allen? |
Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?


> Steve Kerr said it’s “absurd” to label Kevin Durant a villain just because he opted to sign with another team. Agree? Disagree?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Completely agree. I understand Oklahoma City fans, perhaps, feeling that way, but no one without a dog in the hunt should categorize KD that way because he made a decision about where he wanted to work. And, really, that’s all he did. He didn’t do anything to you or me. He decided he wanted to work in Oakland instead of OKC. People do that every day of their lives. No one is considered villainous for doing so.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Of course, agree. It’s silly to think otherwise. He changed teams, didn’t rob a bank.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Agree, agree, agree with Steve Kerr. First of all, who gets to determine who’s a “villain?” Jealous couch potatoes? Bored and lazy media types? Durant owes nobody anything. He gave 9 of the best years of his career to OKC. He helped the community. He raised the profile of the franchise (and the value). Why have free agency if certain players — superstars — aren’t “allowed” to be free agents according to the public? Or that there are certain teams (contenders) they aren’t allowed to join? Durant is getting more grief than athletes who, you know, commit actual crimes. Felt the same way about the over-the-top treatment of LeBron for a silly TV show.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I agree and I don’t see him as one. But others will and if they enjoy watching the Warriors in that way, that’s their right. I guess it might be too much to ask for them to just keep it civil on Twitter, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I want to agree with Kerr on this one, on principle alone, but I know better than to think Durant or any star of his ilk could make a move like this and not instantly become the villain to a large segment of the sports-loving public. Like it or not, wearing the villain tag after you bolt Oklahoma City for Oakland the way Durant did and you have to own the foolishness that comes with that move. I agree, Durant has not done anything to be labeled a “villain” in the darkest sense of the word. He did what was in his heart. I’ll never condemn someone for doing that. But he also crossed that imaginary line that revisionist historians love to cite as the point of no return for superstar athletes where loyalty is concerned. Free agency provides a freedom of choice for the player, it does not guarantee that he’ll be free of the consequences of his choice, intended or otherwise.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Agreed. This is not going to be a simple transition for him and his teammates. Durant is going to have to earn his success by adapting his style to fit with the Warriors, and every setback along the way will be exaggerated and celebrated. Accusations of his villainy are based on the premise that Durant has taken the easy path to the championship. And so fans by the millions are going to make sure that it won’t be easy for him, in the same way that they made it difficult on LeBron James when he moved to the Miami Heat. By next June everyone is going to be reminded that winning the NBA championship is almost never easy. Someday we’ll look back and recognize that Durant was no villain based on the hard decision he made.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIf we’re really going to parse it, my favorite part of Kerr’s quote was how he tried to stretch it to apply to any person on the Warriors, along with Durant: “To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd.” Any of our guys? Hey, you know who probably doesn’t think terming Kevin Durant a villain is all that absurd? How about a kid in Oklahoma City who had a Durant jersey and poster and was a huge Thunder fan? Or how about a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team the Warriors were doing their best to eliminate in the NBA Finals? Look, I fully support KD’s ability to choose his own adventure. But there are consequences to our decisions and choices. And to be honest, all in all, enduring a few boos might be worth getting a ring.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Don’t call Durant “villain” | Gores: Pistons are in a good place | Cuban behind Bogut’s Olympic run | Ray Allen may not be finished yet

No. 1: Kerr: Don’t call Durant “villain” The Golden State Warriors clearly hit the jackpot in free agency this summer, bringing in Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a move that not only made the Warriors stronger but also weakened the rival Thunder. But according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, in an appearance on ESPN Radio, calling Durant (or any of the Warriors, for that matter) villains would be “absurd.”:

“To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd. Especially Kevin,” Kerr said Sunday in an interview on ESPN Radio’s TMI with Michelle Beadle and Ramona Shelburne. “This is one of the most likeable people in this league. He’s just an awesome human being. What he did in Oklahoma City was just amazing for that community.

Kerr added: “Circumstances kind of dictate, I guess, that some people are going to see him as a villain. But it’s only because he decided to go elsewhere to play. He wanted to change his scenery, he wanted a new challenge. More than anything he wanted to play with our guys. He loves Draymond [Green] and Steph and Klay [Thompson] and Andre [Iguodala]. Seeing those guys in New York, he loved seeing the chemistry that exists and he wanted to be a part of it.”

Durant said last month that he didn’t leave the house he’d rented in the Hamptons for 48 hours after he announced his decision because he knew how strongly fans would react to him leaving.

“For a few days after, I didn’t leave my bed, because I was like, ‘If I walk outside somebody might just hit me with their car, or say anything negative to me,'” Durant said last month at Team USA training camp in Las Vegas.

“I mean, I’ve been somewhere for so long, and then to make a change like that, [which] nobody knew was coming, that nobody didn’t think I would do, of course I didn’t know how it would be received afterward. But at some point, I just said, ‘Look, man, life goes on. Life moves on, and I can’t hide forever,’ so I just had to face it.”

***

No. 2: Gores: Pistons are in a good place The Detroit Pistons won an NBA title in 2004, but rebuilding following that title run proved to be a tough task. But since becoming owner of the Pistons in 2011, Tom Gores has presided over a building project that finally has the Pistons a perennial postseason contender, with aspirations of much more. As Vince Ellis from the Detroit Free Press discovered in a wide-ranging Q&A with Gores, despite the solid foundation finally in place, Gores isn’t satisfied with just being a playoff team and talks about that, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s future and more:

Q: The Pistons appear to be on the rise. With downtown Detroit becoming more of a destination, it appears the time could be ripe for a move. You’ve never closed the door, but can you quantify the importance of the next year for the franchise?

Gores: “I think last year was the beginning of the important years. I think we began to set the course last year. We proved a point. We got into the playoffs. I really like the way we finished with the roster with (forward Tobias Harris) coming in. This year, everybody’s a year older, we’ve got the core set with our folks, so it’s an important year that we prove that we are making progress. I’ve always said patience with progress, so this is an important year because they really just jelled last year, if you think about it. Tobias was new, what a steal with (forward Marcus Morris), (point guard Reggie Jackson) as a true starter in his first year. (Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) is still a young man. (Forward Stanley Johnson) just turned 20. This a very young team and very, very talented. … It’s an important year for everybody to keep developing, and that’s what Stan’s been focused on, not sitting still to make sure everybody’s got a place to improve. … We have a very focused group. There’s nobody in the locker room that’s a problem for us. These are good guys.”

Q: What can you say right now on the potential to move downtown?

Gores: “We’ve always been open-minded. I’ve always respected (Mike and Marian Ilitch) in terms of what they’re doing. We do have an understanding of some of the things they’re developing down there. There’s a lot going on downtown. …”

Q: Dan Gilbert is doing a lot of business there.

Gores: “Dan (Gilbert), as well. Dan and I have been talking about the soccer team. Whatever we do, I’d like to be that third piece of the triangle between Dan and the Ilitches and then myself to really finish bringing the city together. I think we can do that. I think we have a lot of value to add. Not just the basketball team, but our business expertise. There’s a ton going on and Detroit is getting close to being in the red zone. I don’t know if we’re there quite yet, in terms of the city coming back, but we’re not on the other 20. (Detroit is) getting close, and I think I can be helpful there. We’re staying open-minded and I’ve always said in terms of the Ilitches and what they’ve meant to the city, I think definitely we could be good partners for each other. So we’re evaluating everything and I think we should. I’ve been paying attention to a lot going on in downtown Detroit.”

Q: With a possible KCP extension, you could threaten the luxury tax line (an NBA mechanism to curtail teams’ spending). Thoughts on being a luxury taxpayer?

Gores: “Look, if we weren’t building a core, there’s really no point in paying the luxury tax. Because we are building a core, would I do it? Yeah, absolutely. This is a tremendous team. If you go down the line, player by player, and especially our young folks, these are real players. You look at KCP as a very diverse player. He keeps working at his game and you look at his improvement and just like anybody else, he will improve in other areas. Part of Stan [Van Gundy]’s coaching philosophy obviously is defense. So you say go into the luxury tax for nothing, then that would be silly because then we’re putting the franchise behind. But given that we have such a good core, if that’s what it took, and we feel we’ve made such progress this year, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it because we want to keep getting better.”

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No. 3: Cuban behind Bogut’s Olympic run Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has historically been critical of NBA players playing in the Olympics, rightfully reasoning that NBA teams have huge financial investments with little upside from Olympic success. But in the case of newly signed Mavs center Andrew Bogut, Cuban signed off on Bogut’s appearance with the Australian National Team, telling the AP that they view Bogut’s Olympic appearance as an important part of his comeback from the injury he suffered in the 2016 Finals:

Mark Cuban has been opposed to NBA players competing in the Olympics, but the Dallas Mavericks owner gave Andrew Bogut the clearance he needed to play for Australia after injuring his left knee in the NBA Finals.

And Cuban is pulling for his new center, who scored 18 points to lead the Aussies to an 87-66 victory over France on Saturday in the opening game of the tournament.

“We obviously were nervous and I’m still not a fan of NBA players in the Olympics, but Andrew was going to have to go through a process to get back on the court anyway,” Cuban wrote Sunday in an email to The Associated Press. “Our staff has communicated with him and we knew he would be cautious in his approach to returning.”

Bogut suffered bone bruises in Game 5 while playing for Golden State. Players need a release from their NBA teams to compete internationally if they have a pre-existing injury, and Bogut said he was a little worried he might not get it from the Mavs, who acquired him last month in a trade.

“They were very, very nervous obviously because my prognosis was six to eight weeks and this is right on six weeks right now, but I was open with them and honest,” Bogut said. “I said, ‘Look, if I know I’m not ready and the knee’s swelling up, I’m pulling the pin.’ And they said fine, we trust you.”

Bogut said he even received an email from Cuban before the Olympic opener.

“I told him make sure he has his green-and-gold jersey on watching the game, and he threw a couple of other words I can’t repeat and said let’s go,” Bogut said. “So it’s been a good relationship by email so far.”

***

No. 4: Ray Allen may not be finished yet — Sharpshooting guard Ray Allen hasn’t played in the NBA since the Miami Heat lost to the Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. But speaking to the Hartford Courant at a basketball camp this weekend, Allen said he may still be interested in playing if the situation was right:

“I worked out the other day in New York with a friend of mine,” Allen said Saturday, during a break from his annual instructional camp at East Granby High. “I was shooting, I was going through my routine just like I’d always done. Yeah, I was a little winded, but I was able to go through my routine like I’d always gone though my routine and I didn’t feel like I’d missed any time in doing what I was doing. For me, it’s not ‘Can I do it anymore?’ It’s how I feel after I do it. And yesterday, I felt great.

“I could not have learned all that I’ve learned in 20 years of my life, dealing with coach [Jim] Calhoun, and how to sleep right, eat right, and then go to the NBA and do what I’ve done there and then afterwards just drop the ball and let everything go. I still weigh the same I weighed in college.”

Allen, 41, the former UConn star who won two championships and was a 10-time NBA All-Star, is gearing up or a comeback after two seasons out of the league. While he is not certain he will suit up again, he made it clear that this is not just idle chatter.

“My decision is predicated on what is available,” he said. “I said that I was interested because I never retired for a reason. I’ve been watching, seeing what teams have been doing and I’ve been waiting to see if the opportunity presented itself where I think I could fit.”

It has been assumed that Allen, who last played for the Heat in 2014, would be most likely to join the champion Cavaliers, reuniting in Cleveland with LeBron James, or the runner-up Warriors, who have added Kevin Durant to the team that went 73-9 in the regular season.

The Spurs and Clippers have been mentioned, also, but Allen said he has spoken with the Celtics, with whom he won a championship in 2008, and the Bucks, his first NBA stop.

“I would love going back to those places if it worked out,” Allen said, “because both teams are good, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be championship-or-bust for me to go back to the NBA.

“I want to be in a situation where I thought I could help, play a little bit and help where they have good young talent.”

Allen, who lives much of the time in Miami, has opened a restaurant called Grown, said he is not yet sure what direction the Heat are taking. How about the Knicks? “Spike Lee has been trying to recruit me,” Allen said. “We’ve been texting.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George is trying to set up a meeting with the French gymnast who suffered a broken leg in the opening days of Rio 2016 … Nick Anderson made it out of the violence in Chicago, and wants to help bring it to an endJoel Embiid was excited by the game-sealing block in Croatia’s win over Spain from his potential 76ers teammate Dario Saric

Morning shootaround — Aug. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Is Westbrook the preseason favorite for MVP? | The Summer Of Draymond continues much quieter in Rio | The widow of Abe Pollin discusses Jordan

No. 1: Is Russell Westbrook the preseason favorite for MVP? — Sure looks that way. Seriously, what can possibly prevent him from making a strong, if not the strongest, run? He’ll have the chance to compile great stats, the Thunder remains a quality team, and it’s also “his turn.” If Westbrook has a great season, how many voters might be swayed by what happened this summer, when Kevin Durant left town? Ethan Skolnick of CBS Sports surveyed the Westbrook scene and delivers this story:

Not everyone is perfectly suited for promotion. Plenty of NBA players have performed admirably — even exceptionally — as sidekicks, only to falter as a franchise’s primary face. For some, the pressure proves too much. Others simply prove they were never quite good enough.

Then there’s Russell Westbrook, misunderstood since Oklahoma City drafted him in 2008, and undoubtedly, circumstantially miscast. Russell Westbrook, who just resigned with the Thunder for three years and north of $85 million, is no Robin nor Barney Rubble, no Art Garfunkel, Arsenio Hall nor Ed McMahon.

And he’s hardly a Teller, silently performing whatever magical task that Penn mandates, as the chattier frontman gets to claim the credit.
Russell Westbrook is a leading man of lethal capability and questionable conscience, and he needed to be unleashed.

Now that’s happened, as his uneasy alliance with Kevin Durant has been professionally — and perhaps permanently — severed, with Durant not only fleeing the Thunder for the cozy comfort of Stephen Curry‘s considerable shadow, but irritating Westbrook with what increasingly appears to have been a clumsy, passive-aggressive, conflict-avoiding exit.

Westbrook was a bit more direct during his press conference Thursday, as the Thunder announced his three-year, $85.8 million extension.

Did Durant’s departure sting?

“Sting for who?” Westbrook replied.

Well, not for the league.

This doesn’t sting in the slightest.

Whereas Durant hitching himself to the league’s all-time regular season squad has the potential to be a ponderous storyline, mostly for the constant comparisons to what Golden State achieved without him, Westbrook’s defiant stand for Oklahoma City should satisfy from start to finish. Yes, that finish may come in the first or second round, as Westbrook has been left to rally a challenged roster.

But that really isn’t the point. For however long it lasts, it should be fascinating theater, a player whose resolve was not broken by a broken knee or face, and should only be strengthened by a broken relationship.

Westbrook’s been dumped.

NBA fans should be pumped.

***

No. 2: The Summer Of Draymond continues much quieter in Rio — This has been quite the summer for Draymond Green, in more ways than one. Early on, his antics cost him a one-game suspension during the NBA Finals and likely cost the Warriors a repeat title. Then he had some, um, social media mishaps. But he also made Team USA, which is a rare feat for a former second-round pick, and so not everything was bad for Green. And did we mention he got a new Warriors teammate this summer? Rod Beard of the Detroit News takes a closer look at the unlikely rise of Green and the growing pains that come with it:

It’s been a steep learning curve in a short time for Green, who has had to embrace his new-found fame and all that comes with it. That’s a transition Michigan State coach Tom Izzo sees Green can adapt to quickly, but noted it’s not that his former player is well equipped to handle now.

“When there’s a mistake that’s made, his mistakes haven’t been destructive — not drugs and alcohol,” Izzo said, “I’m not trying to slight things. He’s in a different limelight now, so any move he makes is being talked about. He’s got to learn to deal with that — and that’s not easy to deal with.

“Does he still have to mature and grow? Hell, I still have to do that at my age, so I’m sure he does.”

For Green, donning the red, white and blue is as much an honor and impact on his life as it was with the green and white at Michigan State, where he is among the program’s icons.

“Being here is great and it’s obviously a blessing,” Green said. “I said all along that it’s something I didn’t expect at first. It was definitely a dream come true, but you also get to a point where you feel like you belong in that situation.”

Even at his pinnacle at Michigan State, when he was named national player of the year in 2012, he wasn’t selected until the second round (35th overall) of the NBA draft.

“It’s strange to think he was a second-round pick and how 34 teams passed on him,” said Klay Thompson, Green’s teammate with the Warriors and Team USA. “I’m not surprised he’s at the level he’s at because he works so hard and he’s so versatile. …

“I saw it from Day 1 that he could be special.”

A step up

No LeBron James. No Steph Curry. No Kobe Bryant. No Russell Westbrook.

No problem.

 

***

No. 3: The widow of Abe Pollin on Michael Jordan — One of the stranger “firings” in recent NBA history happened when Abe Pollin, the longtime owner of the Washington Wizards, removed Michael Jordan from ownership. Not only did Jordan have shares of the Wizards, he resumed his playing career in Washington, hoping to give the franchise a bump. Well, the parting of the ways was painful and awkward, and left Jordan angry and bitter. (Of course, he turned out OK in Charlotte.) In a new book, Irene Pollin discusses what happened behind the scenes between her late husband and Jordan, as relayed by Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post:

While my health fairs were expanding all over the country, the Wizards did not improve under Michael Jordan. It was proving to be frustrating and embarrassing for him and us, the owners, given all the grandiose predictions, like the team would be at least at the .500 mark within a year or two. Sports writers were beginning to go after him for not delivering as promised, then for not “being on the job.”

They were reporting that he was “phoning in” his responsibilities, spending only about ten days of every month in D.C. They said Nike commercials, football games, gambling in the Bahamas and playing golf were taking precedence over the Wizards. Michael’s response was that he was about “winning, success, work ethic, giving everything I have.” Finally, responding to public pressure, he said he would come back and play himself. This was a grand gesture, but would it work?

Abe and Ted Leonsis found this idea appealing. They knew the tremendous fan and media support he had. It would certainly make things very exciting. It was agreed that Michael would return to uniform for a year or two. It was a quick fix. We knew that Michael would fill the stands and create frenzy among fans, which could only be good for the team. And indeed he did.

By 38, players are considered over the hill. But Michael Jordan over the hill was still an amazing spectacle to watch. Although plagued by injuries, he still led the team in points scored, and made history as the first 40-year old to tally 43 points in an NBA game. However, as a player, he wasn’t good for the team in other ways. When the team failed to improve, he drove the players hard, creating dissension. The coach he hired alienated many of the players, benching them for long periods of time. Young players were coming to Abe to complain. What at first glance had appeared to be an inspiring solution slowly began to disintegrate.

At the end of the season, Michael began admitting he’d made mistakes, but felt that he had grown as a manager and was now committed to coming back the following year and improving the team. He met with Abe to renegotiate his contract. He wanted to return as president of basketball operations, which would give him say on final draft choices, hirings and firings, and the formation of the roster. This would give him more control, but given his history — failing to make the playoffs, friction between him and some of the players and the coach he hired — there was a lot of skepticism among the owners. His new hires had raised questions about his abilities as a talent evaluator, and there were the questions of how much time he was spending on the job.

After many carefully thought-out meetings with senior staff and lawyers, Abe agreed to meet with Michael in his office. Knowing this would be a difficult meeting, his advisers suggested he tell Michael that he had “decided to go in a different direction.” They felt, after reviewing his performance, they had no choice. It was not personal. They all liked and admired Michael; it was purely business.

This was not what Michael expected. He was shocked. What followed was a heated discussion of what had and had not been promised. But after Abe repeated his decision “to go in a different direction,” Michael lost it. He became very angry and began shouting. At that point, Abe walked out of the room as Michael called him several unflattering names. Michael stormed out of the room, went down to the parking garage, jumped into his Mercedes convertible with Illinois license plates, took the top down, and drove directly back to Chicago.

Abe came home extremely shaken. In fact, I had never seen him so upset over team business. He never expected such a reaction. He’d always been a good negotiator. People always responded to him positively in those situations because he was “cool” and fair. This had never happened to him. It probably was a first for Michael as well. Nobody had probably said no to him in a long time.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Did the Cavs have the Warriors right where they wanted them at 3-1 down? Folks in Cleveland still can’t believe the pulled it offAndre Drummond likes the sense of security in Detroit; that’s why he re-signed … Does anyone want Greg Monroe? He’s still No. 1 on the list of players most likely to be moved.

USA lineup numbers and notes

HANG TIME, N.J. — The United States Men’s National Team wasn’t tested on either end of the floor in its exhibition schedule leading into the Olympics. Four of the team’s five games were against the three worst teams going to Rio: China (twice), Venezuela and Nigeria. And both Venezuela and Nigeria were missing their only players that played in the NBA last season.

So there’s not much to be gleaned from the data coming out of those five games. The U.S. outscored its opponents by 43.0 points per game and 53.2 points per 100 possessions. The offense scored 127.5 points per 100 possessions (15.1 more than the Golden State Warriors scored last season) and the defense allowed just 74.4 (22.2 fewer than the San Antonio Spurs allowed last season).

The U.S. outscored its opponents by at least 41 points per 100 possessions with every player on the floor.

20160802_usa_on-court

Mixing and matching

With coach Mike Krzyzewski starting players in their NBA or home city, the U.S. used five different starting lineups in the five games, and all 12 players started at least once. In total, Krzyzewski used 83 different lineups on the exhibition tour. Only six of those lineups played in more than one game, and none played in more than two. No five-man unit got extended run together.

The USA’s three most used lineups all included Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. Still, what could be the starting lineup when pool play opens against China on Saturday — those three plus Klay Thompson and Carmelo Anthony — has only played 9:03 together so far.

The good news is that it outscored its opponents (Argentina and China), 25-5, in those nine minutes.

20160802_five-man

Small-ball for defense

If you look at the cumulative offensive statistics (pdf), Draymond Green was the United States’ worst player in the exhibitions. He shot 4-for-18 and led the team with 11 turnovers, even though only three players got fewer minutes than he did. Some of his shots and turnovers were downright ugly.

The U.S. centers, meanwhile, looked dominant against smaller frontlines. Cousins bullied opponents in the low post and DeAndre Jordan just jumped over them.

Yet, the U.S. was at its best with both Cousins and Jordan on the bench and with Green playing center. They outscored their opponents, 71-37, in just over 27 minutes with Green at the five.

20160802_centers

Less than 28 minutes against bad teams isn’t much to go on, but the positive impact that Green made on the U.S. defense was as clear as how out of synch he was offensively. How the U.S. plays with its different centers will be something to keep an eye on going forward.

One point guard at a time

This is the first time since 2006 that the U.S. is taking only two point guards on its roster. While we’ve seen a lot of two-point-guard lineups in past years, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry played just 1:36 together in the five exhibition games.

The U.S. played more than 28 minutes with neither on the floor, using Paul George as its third point guard until he injured his calf in the third game. With both George and Lowry out against Nigeria on Monday, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan (and even Green) played the point in the 13 minutes that Lowry rested.

It’s doubtful that we’ll see many no-point-guard minutes against good teams in Rio. Irving was the MVP of the 2014 World Cup (scoring 26 points in the gold medal game) and hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history just six weeks ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been at its best defensively with Lowry on the floor.

20160802_point_guards

That may be because Lowry is defending the opponents’ reserves. But it’s also fair to wonder if Lowry better complements the other likely starting perimeter players (Thompson, Durant and Anthony), who are all as flammable as Irving.

Two-man data

With Irving and Lowry getting those 96 seconds together, the only two players who didn’t share the floor in the exhibitions were Cousins and Jordan. And it’s safe to guess that Krzyzewski won’t be playing any twin-tower lineups in Rio.

Other than Irving-Lowry, the only two-man unit that had a negative plus-minus was the combination of Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who were a minus-4 in 14.5 minutes together. With Barnes looking like the team’s 12th man, that combination probably won’t see any meaningful minutes together going forward.

Among the 30 two-man combinations that played at least 30 minutes together, the U.S. was at its best offensively (143.0 points scored per 100 possessions in 52.8 minutes) with Thompson and Durant on the floor. It was at its best defensively (54.2 points allowed per 100 possessions in 46.6 minutes) with Lowry and Green on the floor together.

More blowouts coming

Again, we’re looking at small sample sizes against mostly bad teams. But that’s all you get with the Olympics. And then suddenly, you’re playing a 40-minute elimination game against other NBA talent, and you have to know what’s going to work best.

It’ll be another week before the U.S. faces any more NBA players, because it will play its first two pool-play games against China and Venezuela. The competition will get stronger each game after that, as pool play wraps up with games against Australia, Serbia and France.

Blogtable: Best five U.S. Team players for offense

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: NBA rookies eager to watch in Rio | Team with best shot to defeat U.S.? | Best five U.S. Team players for offense | Best five U.S. Team players for defense


>The five players Coach K should put on the floor when he needs scoreboard-busting offense?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:

G – Kyrie Irving
G – Klay Thompson
F – Carmelo Anthony
F – Kevin Durant
C – Draymond Green

This is a red, white and blue version of Golden State’s Death Lineup, with Irving, Anthony and Durant swapped in for Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. When you factor in the shorter 3-point line in FIBA rules, this crew — three of whom will be playing together in 2016-17, along with the reigning two-time Kia MVP — would be scary-lethal. (Note: No disrespect to Barnes, who also is on Team USA, but KD is a clear upgrade and Melo is a professional scorer.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comCarmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comKevin Durant, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Kyle Lowry.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comFirst thought: Kevin Durant. Duh. Second thought: They would be best offensively with Draymond Green’s passing and shooting at the five, especially if Kyrie Irving is at the point. Now add the shooting of Klay Thompson and Carmelo Anthony and they will score rather efficiently.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Start with Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson in the backcourt, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony in the frontcourt and DeMarcus Cousins in the middle and you can blow out a few bulbs on any scoreboard. That first five firepower would be off the charts. Coach K is working with an embarrassment of riches, even when some of the best and brightest don’t make the trip.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:  Everyone here can create his own shot:
C – DeMarcus Cousins
F – Carmelo Anthony
F – Kevin Durant
F – Klay Thompson
G – Kyrie Irving

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI would go extra small and use a lineup of Kyrie Irving at the point, with Klay Thompson alongside him in the backcourt. Then a frontline of Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Spread the floor, score. Good luck finding someone on that five who can’t take advantage of a mismatch.

Blogtable: Best five U.S. Team players for defense

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: NBA rookies eager to watch in Rio | Team with best shot to defeat U.S.? | Best five U.S. Team players for offense | Best five U.S. Team players for defense


>The five players Coach K should put on the floor when he needs lock-down defense?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

G – Paul George
G – Klay Thompson
F – Jimmy Butler
F – Draymond Green
C – DeAndre Jordan

The key to this lineup would be Paul George’s ability to make life tough on point guards with his length and quickness. Thompson, Butler and Green are proven two-way players who pride themselves on shutting down their men. And there’s Jordan backing them all up with size, leaping ability and — in these games — a license to take the ball off the rim.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comJimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Paul George and DeAndre Jordan.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comDeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Jimmy Butler. That would force someone to defend a point guard, but very few opponents will have a PG with the ability to go around Thompson or Butler, for example. If I need a point guard for defense, I go with Kyle Lowry and sit one of those two.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comA long lineup of Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan wouldn’t have too many issues switching everything and would be tough to score on. And it’s a lineup that we very well may see. Krzyzewski has been using George at point guard for a few minutes here and there in the first few exhibition games.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Depending on what type of ball pressure you want to bring to the game, I’d start with Klay Thompson and Paul George as my guards (and I think they could both handle themselves against the point guards in this field). Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler have all the versatility I need on the perimeter and can both play bigger than their listed height and weight. DeAndre Jordan is going to be a revelation to some people in this competition much the way Kenneth Faried was in the 2014 World Cup in Spain, a player capable of dominating the game around the rim with his athleticism and shot-blocking.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThese five will also be able to transform stops and turnovers into baskets, so long as Jordan is attacking the basket for lobs:

C – DeAndre Jordan
F – Draymond Green
F – Paul George
G – Jimmy Butler
G – Klay Thompson

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThis is where I’m not sure what the play is at the point, considering neither Kyle Lowry or Kyrie Irving are known for their defense. So maybe you use Klay Thompson at the one, with Jimmy Butler next to him at the two. Then a front line of Paul George, Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan seems pretty capable, and able to switch just about anything.

Morning shootaround — July 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA rolls in opener | Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA | Harden looks forward to fresh start | Ingram’s tough road to the NBA

No. 1: Team USA rolls in opener — They might have had just four days of practice together, but Team USA came out in their exhibition opener and looked nothing like a team that needed more time to bond. Behind prime time performances from Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, Team USA coasted to a 111-74 win over Argentina. And as Steve Aschburner writes, it was a dominant performance from start to finish…

By halftime, the USA led 56-33, thanks largely to a 35-15 rebounding edge that produced second chances and defensive pressure that stymied Argentina’s attack. Led by Carmelo Anthony‘s three steals and Cousin’s two in the first 20 minutes, the NBA stars shook loose 14 turnovers and turned them into 25 points. All those offensive rebounds — they grabbed 19 of their missed shots to Argentina’s 14 defensive boards in the half — showed up in a 19-2 advantage in second-chance points.

George, playing for USA Basketball for the first time since fracturing his right leg in an August 2014 intrasquad scrimmage, shot 6-for-9 with a pair of 3-pointers. Cousins had nine points and 10 rebounds in the half, while DeAndre Jordan maintained USA’s inside advantage with six points and four boards.

Andres Nocioni scored eight points in the first half, and Manu Ginobili had six. Argentina was better from distance — 6-for-14 on 3-pointers vs. 4-for-12 on 2-point field goals — thanks to cleaner looks. In the paint, USA dominated in the half 34-6.

Taking better care of the ball in the third quarter — just two turnovers — Argentina stayed even with the Americans at 80-56. They got 22 shots, compared to 26 in the first half, and only allowed USA one offensive board.

The Americans got their swagger back in the fourth, though, outscoring Argentina 24-8 through the first six minutes of the quarter.

The game was the first of five that Team USA will play over the next 11 days before heading to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Americans will play the Chinese national team twice — Sunday in Los Angeles and Tuesday in Oakland — before traveling to Chicago and Houston for games against Venezuela and Nigeria, respectively.

***

No. 2: Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA — It was two years ago in Las Vegas during an exhibition that Paul George suffered a gruesome broken leg that changed the course of his career. Now back and healthy, George came off the bench to score 18 points last night for Team USA, and as Yahoo’s Michael Lee writes, George showed everyone that he’s all the way back …

George is back in the Team USA fold, ready to complete what he started before his career was interrupted by what he now calls a “bump in the road.” The venue for George’s long-delayed international debut changed to the brand-new T-Mobile Arena, but he admitted playing an organized game in Las Vegas again was “eerie.” Any uneasiness quickly subsided shortly after Krzyzewski brought him off the bench in the first period. After scoring 18 effortless points in an emphatic 111-74 demolition of Argentina, George was quick to state that the injury that rocked USA Basketball was “behind me.”

All week, George’s Olympic teammates avoided discussing with him a setback that he has little interest in reliving but remains a defining moment in his career that he has been unable to escape – especially since his will to overcome that incident continues to define his character. Krzyzewski said after Friday’s game that George is playing “the best basketball in his life.”

Determined to not only come back, but to continue his steady improvement after missing nearly an entire season, George made his return since breaking his right leg the best of his career. He led the Indiana Pacers back into the postseason, came one point short of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record with 41 points and earned third-team All-NBA and second-team All-Defensive honors.

Colangelo said the incentivized gesture USA Basketball extended in the aftermath of George’s injury was the “right thing to do,” but George also rewarded that blind faith, making easy the decision to add him to the 12-man roster.

“I’m here for a reason,” George told The Vertical. “I’m not just a guy that Coach K brought along.”

***

No. 3: Harden looks forward to fresh start — It was a season of discontent for James Harden and the Houston Rockets, who went through a coaching change and then made a quick postseason exit. But with new coach Mike D’Antoni on the sideline this season and several new free agents signed up, Rockets’ star Harden tells Lang Whitaker that he’s excited for the new opportunity…

Q: How do you feel you fit into Mike D’Antoni’s system, and how do you feel his system benefits you?

HARDEN: You know what? The day he got hired, we watched film. We’ve communicated several times a week. You know, it’s going to work. I’m really excited about it because he’s prepared. He’s prepared, he’s given me knowledge, he’s given me things where I can fit into his offense and what he’s trying to do. And not only myself but the entire team — I asked him questions about how Patrick Beverley fits and the new guys that we got fit. So it’s exciting. And [we added Jeff] Bzdelik, who was the head defensive coach for Memphis. You know, everybody talks about, ‘The Rockets aren’t a good defensive team.’ Well, we got one of the best defensive coaches in the league now. So it’s all about preparation. In this league it’s all about preparation, putting guys in positions where they’re successful, and good things happen.

Q: Do you feel like you get a bad rap for your defense?

HARDEN: Yeah, yeah. But everybody makes mistakes. I can look up the same amount of plays for myself as the other top guys in the league. So I don’t really worry, I don’t focus on it. And now with the more talent that’s going to release some offensive pressure off me, I’m going to be able to go out there and play both ends of the floor at a high level. It’s really difficult to go out there, play all 82 games, lead the league in minutes and have to do everything offensively. I mean, no one else had that weight on their shoulders in the league. So like I said, it doesn’t really bother me. I focus on what I gotta do and I just go out there and do it.

***

No. 4: Ingram’s tough road to the NBA — The Lakers used the second overall pick in this summer’s draft on Brandon Ingram, a lanky forward out of Duke who showed everyone in his one year of college that he is an elite scorer. But making it to the NBA wasn’t an easy path for Ingram, and as Chris Mannix writes for Yahoo, Ingram getting to the NBA was a family affair

As he got older, his basketball obsession grew. He played after school. When he got home, he challenged Bo to one-on-one on the battered hoop in the backyard. “I was a senior in high school before I beat him,” Ingram said. When it got dark, his father, Donald, who managed the local rec center, opened up the gym. “It was an all-access pass,” Ingram laughed.

The work paid off. Ingram won a state championship his first year at Kinston. He went on to win three more. A stringy, 6-foot-2 guard as a freshman grew, by his own estimation, two inches every year to finish high school as a slender 6-8 forward. Spins, fadeaways, step-backs — Ingram had it all. He averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. Legend had it that in four years, Ingram never missed a free throw. So? “Most definitely, that’s true,” Ingram said.

Last month, the Lakers tabbed Ingram with the second overall pick in the draft. Overnight, Ingram, 18, became the face of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises. It’s not the type of position he has always been comfortable in. For years, Ingram was shy about playing in front of crowds. It wasn’t until eighth grade, when he joined Jerry Stackhouse’s AAU team, that he took to it. He was a star in high school but needed Mike Krzyzewski to tell him at the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game that he had pro potential. He could score on anyone but wasn’t always assertive in high school and was briefly benched for listless play at Duke.

The Lakers hope he grows into the role. They see Ingram as a multi-position player. At 6-9, 190-pounds, Ingram will need to bulk up. He was eating six meals a day, some 5,000 calories, Ingram said, before the draft and he hopes to be 210 pounds next season. But the talent is undeniable.

Durant sees it. For months, scouts have compared Ingram to Durant. And Durant understands why. “He reminds me of myself, but he’s a little farther along than I was at that stage,” Durant told reporters at Team USA practice in Las Vegas on Wednesday. For Ingram, there is no higher compliment. He grew up wearing Durant’s sneakers. His walls were covered with Durant posters. He mimicked many of Durant’s moves. He worshipped him when he was at Texas, cheered him in Seattle, followed his career closely in Oklahoma City. The Lakers hope they found the next Durant; Ingram knows it will be a while before he gets there.

“It’s a very special comparison,” Ingram said. “But, of course, I know I’m not him. I know I’m not him yet, but I have the potential to make my own brand. Of course, you grow up with him as an idol, and in a few months he’s going to become my rival. It’s going to be a dream come true. I think just watching him for so long and having the ability to actually learn and play against him is just going to be a special motivation for me as a competitor and someone who really looked up to him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have agreed to an extension that will keep Dirk under contract until he’s 40 years old … The Pelicans have signed free agent forward Terrence JonesDraymond Green reached a plea deal with prosecutors in Michigan … Luis Scola isn’t thrilled with the real estate prices in Brooklyn …