Posts Tagged ‘Dwyane Wade’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21



NEWS OF THE MORNING
Melo’s long journey | Meet salary cap guru | The Coach K Effect | Embiid’s progress | Whiteside’s new expectations
No. 1: Carmelo values gold above all — He’s gone from the bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens to the doorstep of a third straight gold medal in Rio and Carmelo Anthony told Michael Lee of The Vertical that he wouldn’t trade his experience growing into a leader of Team USA for anything:

“I wouldn’t trade, hopefully my three gold medals, in for nothing,” Anthony told The Vertical. “I hope I’m never put in that position. That’s a tough position. But I always say, ‘Winning is winning is winning.’ No matter what level you win on. Hopefully, I do get an NBA ring, but that’s two things. … I wouldn’t try to compare or force myself to make that comparison.”

Anthony has come to rely on his summers with USA Basketball to provide some balance for his complex career and stumbles in his personal life. When he started recruiting talent to fill out the country’s pool for international competitions, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told Anthony he would overlook any past mistakes and give him a clean slate. Anthony raised his hand as one of the first to commit to what would require him to sacrifice three consecutive summers. They have proven to be beneficial: He made his first All-Star team the season after participating in the 2006 world championships. He led Denver to the conference finals the season following the 2008 Olympics. And he led the Knicks to their first division title the season following the 2012 Olympics.

“We ask the guys for a commitment and selfless service,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But Carmelo is a perfect example of commitment for the Olympics. That’s his entire playing career and to devote that amount of time is remarkable really, and it’s not been done. He’s been such a good guy to coach.”

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Morning Shootaround — Aug. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA one win from gold | Serbia hopes for gold | How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1

No. 1: Team USA one win from gold —Heading into the 2016 Olympics in Rio, expectations for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team were sky high. And while they may have struggled to reach some of those expectations, and haven’t blown out every opponent along the way, with Friday’s 82-76 win over Spain, Team USA is now in the gold medal game, one win from leaving Rio with their ultimate goal accomplished. Against Spain, with the offense struggling to pull away, it was the defense of DeAndre Jordan that helped Team USA survive and advance. As our own John Schuhmann writes, Jordan has embraced his role with Team USA …

The U.S. offense was never pretty on Friday. It only once scored on more than three straight possessions. Kevin Durant (14 points on 6-for-13 shooting) and Kyrie Irving (13 points on 5-for-9) were held in check. Klay Thompson led the U.S. with 22 points, but had rough moments shooting. After scoring 129 points per 100 possessions through its first six games, the U.S. scored just 82 points on 74 possessions (111 per 100) on Friday.

The second half (37 points on 39 possessions) was particularly ugly. This was not a repeat of the last two gold medal games in which the U.S. beat Spain 118-107 and 107-100.

“It was a different type of game,” Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “It was a very hard game. It wasn’t easy flowing and both teams had to make big plays.”

Jordan made a lot of them. With the 6-11 center being disruptive on pick-and-rolls and at the rim, a potent Spanish team was held to just three scores on its first 10 possessions, allowing the U.S. to build an early, 14-7 lead that it never gave up. Jordan blocked Nikola Mirotic on Spain’s third possession, deflected a Sergio Llull pass on the next one, and forced Llull into shooting a tough, rainbow foul-line jumper two possessions after that.

“The key of the game was their defense, their athleticism, their size,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “They made our offense get difficult during most possessions.”

Pau Gasol led all scorers with 23 points, but needed 19 shots to get them. Jordan allowed him some open threes, but forced him into tough shots in the paint and a few turnovers.

Every night, somebody else has stepped up for the U.S. Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Paul George have all had their signature games. Though he scored just nine points and made just one of his four free throws, this game belonged to Jordan.

“He’s locked in,” Kyle Lowry said. “He wants this medal. He wants it really bad. I think we all want it and tonight he just led by example. We just feed off his energy.”

That energy came on both ends of the floor. Jordan not only affected Spain’s shots and passes, he helped get his team extra possessions. Jordan was only credited with three offensive rebounds, but got his hands on a couple of others. The U.S. finished with 21 offensive boards and 25 second-chance points.

“His activity sometimes didn’t translate in the stats,” Krzyzewski said, “but it translated into disruptive play or taking away from the continuity that Spain normally has.”

Jordan’s skill set isn’t necessarily a great fit for the international game, which values spacing and perimeter shooting. But his combination of size and athleticism can overwhelm smaller, more ground-bound opponents. And every single opponent is smaller or more ground-bound.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Spanish veteran Juan Carlos Navarro thought he had a clear lane to the basket on a fast break. But Jordan came along and erased Navarro’s shot, his fourth block of the afternoon. And by the end of the game, he had 16 rebounds.

Krzyzewski has shuffled his lineups (both the starting lineup and bench units that get extended run) much more than usual in this tournament. But he’s seems to have found a formula that works. Cousins better complements the defensive perimeter of Lowry, Butler and George, while Jordan fits better on the starting lineup with an offensive backcourt of Irving and Thompson.

As he is with the LA Clippers, he’s the role-playing complement to the stars.

“I have one job on this team and that’s to come out and play with as much energy as I can on both ends of the floor,” Jordan said. “I’m used to doing that. That’s the type of player that I am, so it just comes naturally. Anything I can do for this team to help us advance and keep winning, I’m going to do that. And I take pride in it.”

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No. 2: Serbia hopes for gold —Team USA’s path to gold still has one major hurdle, as they will play against a streaking Serbia squad on Sunday in the gold medal game. Serbia advanced to the gold medal match yesterday by blowing out Australia 87-61. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, Serbia still has designs on going home with gold …

For the second straight time in a major international tournament, it will be the United States vs. Serbia for the gold medal. And for the second time, Serbia has followed mediocre pool play results with an impressive run in the elimination rounds.

At the 2014 World Cup of Basketball, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Egypt and Iran – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – France, Brazil and Spain – that did. Then it beat Greece (the top seed from Group B), Brazil and France before losing to the U.S. in the final.

In these Olympics, Serbia went 2-3 in pool play, beating only the two teams – Venezuela and China – that didn’t advance out of Group A and losing to the other three teams – Australia, France and USA – that did. And now it has beat Croatia (the top seed from Group B) and Australia to face the U.S., once again, in the final.

On Friday, Serbia never trailed, beating Australia 87-61 in the second semifinal and earning their first Olympic medal in men’s basketball (since the break-up of Yugoslavia). The question now is whether it will be gold or silver.

The U.S. won the ’14 gold medal game by 37 points, but only beat Serbia by three last Friday, allowing Serbia to shoot 52 percent. The U.S. defense has shown improvement since then, but will be tested by Serbia’s passing and the playmaking (and shotmaking) of point guard Milos Teodosic.

“We gave them a pretty good fight,” Serbian big man Miroslav Raduljica said about last week’s meeting, “showed that they’re not unbeatable, and that we can play against them.”

Going to settle for silver?

“No, never,” Raduljica replied. “We are Serbian.”

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No. 3: How James and the Cavs came back from down 3-1 After engineering a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, LeBron James has taken some time off this summer. But in this wide-ranging interview with Business Insider, James recalls the Cavs being down 3-1 in the Finals and how he and the Cavs were able to come from behind to win the title …

James: We lost our defensive pressure. Golden State turned up the pressure, and they were able to steal our home-court advantage to go up 3-1.

So I’m sitting at home, recalibrating and thinking about the game. And everyone is kind of down at that point. For me as a leader, I couldn’t allow myself to get in a funk. I just started to try and recalibrate and say, “Listen, we’ve got to go to Golden State for game five. We’ve got to come home anyways. So why not come home and give our fans another game, and give them an opportunity to have a game six?”

And that was my mindset. I was very relaxed going out to Golden State for game five, and obviously we saw what happened in that game. I was extremely confident in my teammates’ abilities throughout game five, and then coming home in game six to our fans, who are ecstatic and crazy as can be.

And then, in game seven, it’s one game. It’s sudden death, and it doesn’t matter what’s going on at that point. I believe in one game, I’m going to take myself every time.

If you just give me one game for it all, I’m going to take it myself. And we were able to do something that’s never been done, like you mentioned, a comeback from 3-1. And to win it on their home floor — it was an amazing feat for our franchise.

Shontell: You told a great story on the Jesse Williams “Open Run” podcast you just launched about how you spent that night of game four. You sent a group text to your troops, and you said — what did you say?

James: We have a group chat throughout the season where we talk about everything, with all the guys. We talk about everything from “Hey, this is what time we’re doing dinner” to “This is what time the bus is” or just mentally preparing for games.

I was sitting at home with my wife, and we we’re watching Eddie Murphy‘s stand-up comedy [“Raw”] because I wanted to get my mind off the game and bring some more joy into the room. And then I sent a group chat text to my guys, saying, “OK, listen: It doesn’t matter what just happened. And I know we’re all down about it, but in order for us to accomplish what no one believes we can do, we have to refocus and we have to re-lock in. You guys do your part, and I promise you, as the leader of the team, I won’t let you down. Just follow my lead.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol thinks Spain may have squandered their best chance for Olympic gold … Dwyane Wade says he’s always embraced being the underdog … Will the All-Star Game in New Orleans help Anthony Davis find his mojo? … Randy Foye wants to give back this season in Brooklyn … The Denver Nuggets have reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Nate WoltersJames Harden was at Old Trafford yesterday for Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Southampton …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony takes solace in Olympic accomplishments | Hoiberg not expecting any issues with Butler | Wolves’ Dunn feeling fine | Report: Noel ‘very open’ to trades

No. 1: Olympic accomplishments lessen playoff sting for Anthony — As our John Schuhmann noted the other day, international teams far and wide know better than to mess with Carmelo Anthony in FIBA play (aka “FIBA Melo”). Anthony is the newly crowned all-time leading scorer in USA Basketball history, has two Olympic gold medals to his name and, if Team USA wins in Rio, will be the first U.S. player to win three golds. In an interview with ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Anthony revealed how those overseas accomplishments help lessen the sting of his many, many playoff letdowns in the NBA:

As the accolades stack up for him in the international game, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony says he has no trouble tuning out naysayers who want to take issue with his NBA résumé.

In an interview with ESPN at the Rio Olympics, Anthony ‎insisted that the prospect of becoming the first U.S. male to win three gold medals in basketball more than eases the sting of an NBA playoff history that, to date, includes only one trip to the conference finals and just two trips total beyond the first round.

“Most athletes don’t have an opportunity to say that they won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals,” Anthony said. “I would be very happy walking away from the game knowing that I’ve given the game everything I have, knowing I played on a high level at every level: high school, college, won [a championship at Syracuse] in college and possibly three gold medals.

“I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career.”

In his fourth Olympics, Anthony is now up to 293 points, 20 ahead of previous leader LeBron James, who has played in three Olympics.

David Robinson (270) and Michael Jordan (256) are third and fourth on the all-time U.S. list, respectively. Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt holds the men’s Olympic record of 1,093 points. But unlike Anthony, Schmidt didn’t have his minutes restricted while playing on powerhouse teams.

“He was wanting that moment,” Team USA forward Paul George said of Anthony’s performance against Australia. “He was special tonight. We joke about it, this being his farewell tour, but he was definitely special. He’s he reason we won this.”

A 13-year NBA veteran who has starred for the Knicks for the past six seasons, Anthony won gold with the United States in 2008 and 2012 after a disappointing bronze medal in 2004.

“Of course, because we play in the NBA that’s always the goal: to win an NBA championship,” Anthony said. “But every year [there’s] a new champion, so you have an opportunity to compete for a championship every year. This is every four years.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Why Westbrook re-upped with OKC | Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure | Wade’s wife excited about move to Chicago

No. 1: Inside why Westbrook re-upped with Oklahoma City — The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a major victory of sorts yesterday when All-Star guard Russell Westbrook put pen to paper and signed a contract extension. His new deal keeps him in town for as long as three more seasons and saves face for the Thunder after they watched former MVP Kevin Durant bolt for the Golden State Warriors this summer. So why did Westbrook avoid his chance a free-agency riches next summer and stick with OKC? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, who first reported Westbrook’s deal, has the details:

When Russell Westbrook traveled to Oklahoma City to meet with general manager Sam Presti in the aftermath of the franchise’s lost weekend in the Hamptons, Westbrook held no interest for a post-mortem on Kevin Durant. For a front office still mired in angst and anger, Westbrook delivered a sobering splash of ice water: What’s next?

No nostalgia, no reflection and no regret: In Westbrook’s world, Durant had been deleted like his old teammate’s text message saying goodbye on the way to Golden State.

So, what’s next?

Westbrook’s free agency loomed in the summer of 2017. The Thunder couldn’t afford to lose two All-NBA players for nothing in consecutive years. If Westbrook had left an impression that the loss of Durant left him unenthusiastic about the franchise’s future – never mind unwilling – sources say the next step would’ve come swiftly: Westbrook would have been moved into the marketplace, traded for a package of young players and draft picks.

And yet as the rest of the NBA expected Westbrook to begin executing his exit strategy – perhaps to the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks – his own mind kept returning to Oklahoma City. Westbrook felt invested in the franchise, reveled in the role of a young core’s leader and became intrigued with the challenge of persuading a co-star to join him in free agency.

“The idea of running out to find a super team, that isn’t who he is,” one source close to Westbrook told The Vertical. “He thought, ‘These are my guys here,’ and he wanted to go to battle with them.”

As much as Durant had people of influence coming and going in his life – a revolving door of agents and spiritual gurus, personal trainers and various hangers-on – Westbrook’s inner circle never changed. His parents, his wife and his agent. With Durant, there was perpetual calculation of who had his ear and who had nudged his way into prominence. This was important information for those recruiting him to stay, and those recruiting him to leave.

Trading for Westbrook was an immense risk, because there’s no penetrating his world. Rival players couldn’t recruit him as Draymond Green and the Warriors did with Durant, because Westbrook has never shown an inclination to become buddies with his competitors. He wants to destroy them. Durant’s best relationships were outside the team, but Westbrook counts Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Nick Collison among his closest friends in the league. He invited Victor Oladipo to train with him in Los Angeles, the Thunder’s new backcourt bonding over the sweat inside a Santa Monica gymnasium.

People always had it right with Durant: He was a community treasure, a gentleman who forever took time for those big and small within his orbit. Only, it happened that Westbrook’s fierce on-court disposition – and his sometimes brusque demeanor with the media – caused the outside to mistake his core.

If his fashion forays took him to runways in Paris and New York, he was still mostly comfortable tooling around Oklahoma City, delivering free Jordan Brand gear to lower-level team employees, bringing donuts to blue-collar workers and answering his front door to come out and play with the neighborhood kids.

For everyone waiting on Westbrook to unload on Durant, they could be disappointed. Yes, he has his thoughts and opinions on Durant’s move, but it is unlikely that he’ll be moved to share them in dramatic detail. What’s more, there’s a significant chance it could be years before Westbrook and Durant ever engage in a meaningful conversation again. Westbrook doesn’t do nostalgia, nor disregard slights – real or perceived.

Durant is deleted. Done and gone and no longer part of his world. “What’s next?” he asked – and the Thunder connected with Westbrook on a plan to construct their next act. Once, it was James Harden and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now, it’s a superstar solo act – with an eye upon Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin in 2017 free agency. Griffin is an Oklahoma kid gone Hollywood, a star who has his own tensions with Chris Paul on the Clippers.

For now, this is Westbrook’s chance to become a recruiter, a gatherer, and bringing back Griffin could make these Thunder a legitimate threat to Golden State in the Western Conference. Between now and then, Westbrook walks back into the Thunder’s downtown arena on Thursday, takes his seat on the podium and the image will be unmistakable: His franchise, his city.

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No. 2: Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure — In eight seasons together, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook took the Oklahoma City Thunder to The Finals and both players accomplished more than a few personal accolades. Yet that duo is no more, what with Durant now on the Warriors and Westbrook staying put in OKC. So how did Westbrook learn of Durant’s exit? What is the status of their friendship now? Westbrook addressed those queries and more in his news conference Thursday, writes Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

Their paths, now different, still likely end in the same place: the Hall of Fame. Around OKC, the sting of Durant’s departure will slowly subside. Time will create perspective. The past eight years will eventually be remembered as a golden age in Thunder hoops.

But when it’s discussed, the relationship between Russ and KD will dominate the conversation, just like it has become Shaq, Kobe and not much else when you bring up the early 2000s Lakers.

The partnership was fruitful, the highlights electric, the friendship, for the most part, genuine. But the ending, well, has been surprisingly sour, adding another layer to a relationship that’ll long be remembered and debated.

Those around Westbrook say he fumed about it for a couple weeks, particularly how KD handled the exit and how little communication Durant maintained with him at the end.

“(I found out) like y’all found out,” Westbrook said. “On the news, on the cellphones, the social media. I talked to Kevin early on in the process. But nothing after. Just a text message from him, that’s about it.”

From their late teens to their late 20s, the two, together in a city random and new to both, built up a relocated franchise into their identity. Those around the team tell legends of their early-morning combo workouts, racing each other to the gym hours before practice and bonding in a quiet facility. Durant has talked about how both Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins were there for him a few years ago when he was going through some family issues. Durant attended Westbrook’s wedding last summer.

“Some people handle things differently than others,” Westbrook said. “That’s the way he wanted to handle it and it’s fine. My job now is to see what’s ahead of me.”

Durant’s landing spot, of course, added an extra dagger. He didn’t bolt for a random team in the East. He went to a rival. The team Westbrook and Durant had just battled in a 7-game bloodbath a month earlier. Did that make it sting more?

“Sting for who?” Westbrook said. “Listen, I understand free agency. I understand having the opportunity to go where we need to go. But once that happened, I told Sam (Presti): ‘What’s next?’”

Durant is currently in Brazil preparing for the upcoming Olympics. On Thursday, he was asked if he reached out to Westbrook to congratulate him on the extension.

“Nah, that’s a touchy subject, I’ll see once everything dies down,” he told reporters, before saying he was happy for him. “It’s good for him, man. It’s good for his family. It’s good for the people in Oklahoma City.”

A couple weeks ago, out at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas, Durant was pretty candid on a number of subjects about his departure. But when questions about Westbrook arose, he got visibly uncomfortable. It’s clearly a sore subject KD has little interest in speaking about. Durant was recently quoted as saying he was unsure if their relationship would ever be the same.

On Thursday afternoon, Westbrook was asked if it would be.

“We’ve been together eight years,” Westbrook said. “You don’t throw that away. Obviously he’s now with a new team. But we definitely will talk. Eventually. But, obviously, now we haven’t.”

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No. 3: Union says Wade, family excited about move to Chicago — When a free agent makes a decision to switch teams in the offseason, his choice affects not only the team he’s leaving and the team he’s going to. The player’s family, friends and his life and general feel the aftershocks of the choice, too. Such is true for Dwyane Wade, his wife, Gabrielle Union, and his children after he moved from the Miami Heat to the Chicago Bulls. In an interview with BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy, Union talks about the move to Chicago and what she sees next for Wade:

Kennedy: Dwyane obviously surprised people this offseason by joining the Bulls. How much are you looking forward to the move to Chicago and the new opportunity for Dwyane and the family?

Union: “It was shocking. There’s no way around that word. It takes some getting used to. We had just built our dream home in Miami and everyone sort of had their life in Miami so it’s big move for everyone. We all love Miami so much and Miami will still be one of our homes. For Chicago, I think the biggest thing for everyone was winter. There was the fear of winter. It was like Game of Thrones, ‘WINTER IS COMING!’ (laughs) Once we moved on from that, we just found our home and we got the boys in school, it was good. We were afraid because we were thinking, ‘Oh, the boys are about to start high school and how is that going to work?’ And they were, by far, the most eager [to move]. They’re like, ‘Ah! Cool, let’s go!’ As long as they got to keep their South Florida AAU team, they were cool with it. Everyone is just kind of jumping in. We can either dip our toe into the pool or cannon-ball and we’re cannon-balling. I think they like that they got to practice at the Bulls’ facility too. They love it, they’re excited. The first month was cool; hit me back later and we’ll see if they still love it (laughs). No, we’re all really excited.”

Kennedy: You mentioned the dream home in Miami and Dwyane obviously had a ton of history there. When did you start to realize that Dwyane leaving Miami was a possibility?

Union: “Even when we were on vacation, I think me and everyone just kind of assumed [we’d be back]. Like, ‘It looks kind of bleak right now, but they’ll work it out. They always work it out! They’ll work it out.’ It probably wasn’t until Denver’s offer came in that I realized. That offer was… a lot. Then there was another offer and another offer and another offer. And it was like, ‘Oh wait, hold on. Are you thinking about this?’ I mean, how can you not? When there’s an offer on the table that is, what, $13-15 million more than to stay home, it’s like, ‘Wow. Okay. Wow.’ But even still I thought, ‘I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out!’ Really, even down to the hour that he made his decision, I just thought they’d work it out – like everyone else thought. But Chicago made the moves necessary to make his offer work. He didn’t go with the most money. Some people are saying it was just about money, but he would’ve taken Denver’s offer if that was the case. Denver’s offer was a lot, a lot – considerably more than even Chicago’s offer. It was just about finding a place where he’s comfortable, and he’s comfortable at home. Then, the rest of us had to get comfortable with it (laughs). It just seemed like after the season he had and then the postseason, he was just so excited – more so about his body and his health and that he was able to take his game to a different gear. Moving was the last thing on his mind, but yeah…”

Kennedy: You know Dwyane better than anyone. How determined is he to make this work in Chicago and silence his critics who are doubting him and the team?

Union: “I think more than making it work to silence the critics, he wants to put himself in a position physically, health-wise, to continue playing at a high level. That’s very important. Getting to know Jimmy [Butler] and [Rajon] Rondo is very important. But they haven’t even played together yet, so I don’t know where the criticism is coming from. You have Jimmy, who is an up-and-coming star and on the Olympic team. You have Rondo, who led the league in assists. I don’t know how a guy leads the league in assists and is an assist machine, but somehow gets no credit. You have my husband, who is already top five in shooting guards in the last two years in the NBA, but if you factor in what he accomplished and the amount of minutes he played, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league. What is there to criticize? But I get it. Everyone needs page views and things like that, and criticism does a lot better than raving endorsements so I get the business of criticism. But it’s kind of absurd. Now, if a few months in around the All-Star break it looks nuts, then, by all means, criticize! (laughs) But to criticize how it’ll work when these guys haven’t played together is just insane, in the same way that anointing the Warriors champions for adding KD. It’s like when the Big Three came together in Miami. Everyone was like, ‘Ugh, they’re going to win it all. Change the rules! We have to stopppp thissss!’ Cut to different teams winning championships. I mean, the Warriors have to get used to this because they haven’t all played together. Even in the Olympics, where you have three of them, it’s still not the whole team. They need time to get to know each other, to gel, to figure out the system and how it works with all of these moving parts.

“It’s all exciting though. I think the Warriors are exciting. Just like I think the trio of Jimmy, Rondo and D is exciting. I think Carmelo [Anthony] D-Rose, Joakim [Noah] and Kristaps [Porzingis] in New York is exciting. Seeing how the Spurs will do without Timmy [Duncan] is exciting. There are a lot of great storylines. To critique now is the lowest-hanging fruit. I’d rather err on the side of excitement.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: DeMarcus Cousins is messing with reporters’ minds in Rio … Fantastic read on the origins of Hall of Famer and NBA legend Spencer Haywood … In honor of Russell Westbrook‘s deal yesterday, Oklahoma City’s mayor made Aug. 4 “Russell Westbrook Day” … Things have come full circle for Jim O’Brien in Philadelphia … Here are six key questions to ponder about the Oklahoma City Thunder … New Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks thinks Bradley Beal and John Wall could comprise NBA’s best ‘two-way backcourt’ … Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker will miss  having Jeremy Lin on the team, but is happy for him, too … Why the Thunder may hold off on contract extensions for Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams

Morning shootaround — Aug. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stoudemire reflects on Knicks heyday | Wade says James was surprised Wade got on open market | Anthony steps up as leader for Team USA

No. 1: Stoudemire reflects on career, Knicks heyday — While his NBA playing days officially ended last week, former All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ready to hang it up altogether just yet. In a news conference with the New York Knicks yesterday, Stoudemire announced he will be playing for a team in Israel next year. Before that next chapter begins, Stoudemire took time to pen an essay about his career on The Players Tribune in which he remembered his Knicks days, playing along side Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal and more:

It was December 15, 2010. I had just scored 30 or more points for the ninth straight game — a Knicks record. Madison Square Garden was alive — I mean alive— cheering for me, cheering for us. I’d never heard anything like it. I’d never heard love like that before. For the first time in a long time, the Knicks were a team to be reckoned with. We lost by two that night (and only after my three had been waived off at the buzzer) to the Celtics. But more importantly, there was an awakening. Not just in MSG, but in the entire city.

Everyone was going to our games. And if they couldn’t go to the games, they were going to bars to watch them. People were enjoying themselves before and partying after. I swear we single-handedly revived New York’s economy. We were rock stars — me and Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and the rest of the team. Obviously, being celebrities wasn’t our job. It was fun, but our No. 1 job was to be great basketball players — to win. Still, you can’t beat being a rock star.

Millions of kids dream of playing in the NBA. Not many make it there. An even smaller number get to hear thousands of people chant “M-V-P!”

Let’s start with where it all started, in Phoenix, with Stephon Marbury. I was his rookie. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Too many people forget that he was an All-Star, a max-contract player. For a player that great to take me under his wing, it just meant so much to me.

Then there’s Steve Nash. Before he arrived, we already had a pretty strong nucleus in myself, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa. When we brought Steve on board, we reached a whole new level. Everyone else fed off him. Once you have a pass-first point guard, a guy who just focuses on getting the ball to where it needs to be —who’s just making his teammates better — it opens up the entire game.

We redefined the game of basketball. Before us, the center position was more like Shaq or Karl Malone. We didn’t have that size, but we had speed. Mike D’Antoni made a decision to go small. Teams weren’t ready for it. They weren’t ready for Seven Seconds or Less.

I don’t know how Steve made some of those passes. In the heat of the moment on the court, you don’t really appreciate a great pass. But once I got a chance to watch the replay, either on the jumbotron or in film sessions, I’d go up to him and say, “That was a hell of a pass!”

Steve was one of the best passers and shooters the game has ever seen, and I had the best seat in the house to watch him work. Steve took my game to a whole new level. He showed me what it meant to be a leader.

Can’t forget about the big fella, neither: Shaq. I idolized him growing up. And I got to play with him in Phoenix in ’08 and ’09. We did work, too. I was putting up insane numbers thanks to him and all the attention teams had to give him.

I got to play a bit this year with Dwyane Wade, yet another Hall of Famer. He keeps his dribble so low to the ground, and he’s deceptively quick.

Last, but definitely not least, Carmelo Anthony. I think he’s the best pure scorer in the NBA. It just comes so easy to him. When he’s at his best, he’s playing an entirely different game than the rest of us. That night when he scored 62 at the Garden, that was easy for him. He could have gotten 70, maybe more. He just flowed out there on the court. That’s what the game is all about, getting to a level like Carmelo is on. When a great player performs like that, it’s fun to watch. I should know, I was there.

***

No. 2: Wade says LeBron couldn’t believe Wade entered free agency — After spending his entire career with the Miami Heat, guard Dwyane Wade will spend next season with the Chicago Bulls after signing with them in free agency. The move stunned many across the NBA as Wade was perhaps the player most associated with the Heat in franchise history. In an interview with ESPN over the weekend, Wade revealed how his choice went down and how one former teammate was stunned Wade was even allowed to get to that point in free agency. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:

Dwyane Wade essentially condensed his decision to leave the Miami Heat into eight words during an interview that aired Sunday on ESPN: “They made a choice; I made a choice.”

And yet, with those eight words, clarity, more than three weeks after his decision to depart for the Chicago Bulls in NBA free agency, remained in limited regarding the end of his 13-year tenure with the team that drafted him in 2003.

“My time, the clock ticked out on me,” Wade said in the interview recorded in the wake of his Friday introduction to the media at the Bulls’ practice facility. “And whether they felt it, whether they wanted to do it, I did. And I respectfully walk away saying I tip my hat to their organization and to the city for embracing me and giving me the platform to be great. And I did that. I was great. It will always be there. But I’ve got more things to do.”

Between Wade’s departure from the Heat and introduction in Chicago, Heat President Pat Riley said of not taking an active involvement in the negotiations, “The buck really stops here. I’m not trying to fall on the sword for anybody. I have great regret that I didn’t put myself in the middle of it.”

Wade’s response in the ESPN interview after that quote was read to him was, “We all have choices. We make our choices.”

As he previously had done, Wade did not cast it as a clash of personalities with Riley.

“I respect Pat Riley to the fullest for what he’s done in this game, you know, drafting me, when a lot of people didn’t believe I was going to be as great as I’ve become,” he said. “But in this situation, we all have choices. So we choose not to put ourselves in the situation. He wasn’t the sole reason I left at all, but it was his choice.”

 

…Wade also reflected on being on vacation in Spain with former Heat teammate LeBron James and their mutual friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers guard, amid his free-agency issues with the Heat.

“I think they were in disbelief that I didn’t have any deal that I wanted,” he said. “They just were, ‘Why are you even a free agent? You shouldn’t even be.’ ”

He added of that time alongside James, who was coming off his NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. and Paul, “The biggest thing that came back from both of them was, ‘Follow your heart. Whatever you want you want to do, we’re going to support, we’re your friends. But there’s a reason you’re having these thoughts: follow your heart.’ “

***

No. 3: Anthony becomes leader of Team USA — The U.S. men’s national team wrapped up its exhibition schedule last night with a 110-66 romp against Nigeria in Houston. That moved Team USA to a perfect 5-0 in the warm-up portion of its schedule for the 2016 Olympics in Rio where the team will be the decided favorites against the rest of the field. Our Fran Blinebury was on hand last night and reports on how Carmelo Anthony is driving this current quest for gold:

Put the basketball into Carmelo Anthony‘s hands and it’s like watching a bird fly, a fish swim.

He knows what to do and how to do it and, to listen to him after Team USA closed out its cruising-over-America tour Monday night and now heads off to Rio for his fourth Olympic Games, there’s nothing new to see.

“I think (my role) is the same,” Anthony said after his 19 points led the way in a 110-66 thumping of Nigeria. “I think it’s to go out there to be myself and not be nobody else. Not try to do more than I have to. You do a little bit of a lot when it comes down to it. I feel comfortable in these situations, regardless of what type of game or style of play that these teams are going to bring to us. I think I’ve seen it all over all the years.”

A 20-year-old Anthony was there for the three-loss bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens that led to the total revamping of the USA Basketball program and he was there for the painful semifinal loss to Greece in the first year of the new regime at the 2006 World Championship in Japan.

Now that he’s 32 and the de facto leader of a roster that consists of so many new faces to the whole international atmosphere, it’s as if he has blossomed fully.

“The leadership comes natural to me,” Anthony said. “People are putting a lot on it because the whole world is seeing it. For me, I do this every day. It’s natural for me. It’s genuine. It’s nothing that I’m forcing myself to do. I do it every day all day. I’m the same person. I’m the same guy. Now it’s just more visible to you (media) guys because you’re seeing it a little more on my own team every season. There’s more cameras in practice now. We have practice that’s open and you guys have a chance to see how we react with one another. I think that’s the difference. I think you guys are starting to see more of me doing that rather than all through the season.”

While some of that may be true, there are signs even to some of his teammates that Anthony embraces the mantle of leader.

“Oh, he’s the guy that’s been there so much before,” said center DeMarcus Cousins. “We would all be foolish if we didn’t go to him, learn from him, lean on him as we take on this challenge. He knows the ups and downs, the little differences from this kind of game to what we all play in the NBA and those can pay off for us as we go through this.”

“Carmelo’s been sensational really as a leader and as a player, too,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This is his fourth Olympics and his fifth USA competition. For him to use his experience. He wants everyone to be good. He knows us. He knows the international game and everyone on the team respects him. I think he’s been terrific. I thought he would be good and he’s been better. Because he’s a smart guy and he gets it.”

“I actually feel excited about the journey we’re about to take on. A new group of guys. A much younger group of guys. Before I was one of the young guys and now I’m one of the older guys on the team that has been around a couple of times. For me, knowing that we have an opportunity to do something special with a new group of guys, new faces of our country, to be a part of it, I’m excited about that.”

“I think the whole experience has helped him, even playing-wise,” said Krzyzewski. “His toughness is even better. We’re lucky that he’s with us.”

Some things change, even they won’t admit it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Two former NBA centers chime in on the NBA retirees’ health insurance planAndrew Bogut wasn’t exactly thrilled about the lodgings in Rio … Former Sixth Man of the Year winner Ben Gordon is taking a long road to get back to the NBA

Morning shootaround — July 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA continues rolling | Wade, Bulls a convenient fit | Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs

No. 1: Team USA continues rolling — With the Olympics now a week away, Team USA continued their exhibition schedule last night in Chicago, where they squared off against Venezuela. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Team USA managed to overcome poor shooting to still coast to an easy 80-45 win…

A miserable shooting night by both teams kept highlights to a minimum, but the USA Basketball men’s national team beat Venezuela 80-45 Friday night at United Center.

A sellout crowd eager to see both the Chicago Bulls’ Olympic representative, Jimmy Butler, and newest acquisition, Dwyane Wade — watching from the front row after his Bulls introductory news conference earlier in the day — did most of its noise-making during introductions.

At least, that’s how it went until DeAndre Jordan‘s alley-oop throwdown of a pass from Kevin Durant gave them something to roar about, putting Team USA up 62-37 with 6:47 left. Then Butler threw one down with 1:47 left to satisfy the locals.

Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson scored 13 points each for Team USA.

Heading into that final quarter, though, the teams had combined to shoot 29-of-104 (27.9 percent). The Venezuela team was pesky enough defensively to disrupt Team USA’s offense, which had purred along shooting 49.8 percent in its first three tuneups.

The Americans won those games — the opener against Argentina, followed by two against China — by an average of 45.3 points, outrebounding those opponents by an average of 21.0. By halftime Friday, they were on pace in both those categories — leading by 18, with a 37-12 edge on the boards — but their scoring was way down due to abysmal shooting.

Their 36 points through two quarters came the hard way: 12-of-40 on field-goal attempts, including 2-of-18 on 3-pointers. The NBA stars even missed six of their 16 free throws.

The Venezuelans hung tough deep into the first quarter, trailing 13-12, before USA ran off the game’s next 12 points across the quarter break. Venezuela’s John Cox, who led all scorers with 12 points in the half, got his crew as close as 28-18 before Team USA closed the half with eight unanswered points.

***

No. 2: Wade, Bulls a convenient fit — One of the more surprising signings of the NBA free agency period was Dwyane Wade leaving the only team he had ever played for, the Miami Heat, in order to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Wade met with the media in Chicago on Friday, and Wade said that this was not about money as much as it was a return to where he watched the Bulls play as a kid…

Wade was introduced Friday — wait, that’s the wrong word for one of the NBA’s most familiar faces, so let’s say reacquainted with Chicago media at a news conference at the Bulls downtown practice facility. The theme of the 45-minute “presser” was hometown-kid-returns, and strictly speaking, there’s no denying the truth of that. Wade was born in Chicago, grew up in the south suburb of Robbins, and went to Richards H.S. in neighboring Oak Lawn.

But he left Chicagoland after graduating to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee. After leading that school to the Final Four, the 6-foot-4 guard was drafted fifth overall in 2003 by Miami. And over the past 13 years, Wade established himself as the face, heart and soul of the Heat, stacking up 12 All-Star appearances alongside those three Larry O’Brien trophies.

Because Wade’s Miami teams were in direct conflict with the Bulls for much of his career, his roots mattered less to the fans at United Center than the city and logos on his uniform. He routinely was booed and, more than once, rather awkwardly, he was cheered when he fell or was knocked to the floor and it appeared he might be hurt too badly to continue. Wade even let on how that stung, coming in the building where he once had dreamed of playing and winning.

That was the dream-come-true of which he spoke Friday.

“I’m a Chicago guy, Chicago kid. I grew up here,” Wade said, before a fleet of cameras, a gang of reporters and lots of family. “I remember sitting on the floor when I could sit Indian-style and watching the Chicago Bulls win their first championship. I was 9 years old.

“We had this little-bitty TV — it’s about as big as an iPhone now — I remember looking at it and saying, ‘That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be. I want to be a champion and that’s who I want to do it with.’ My dream of becoming an NBA player started here in my hometown.”

No one wants to be overly cynical, so if Wade really is scratching an itch — and maybe extending his brand to another major market for the growing conglomerate that he and many of his peers have become — by playing next season in Chicago, good for him.

That doesn’t paper over suspicions, though, that he signed with the Bulls out of spite when the Heat and president Pat Riley didn’t make him a higher priority when free agency opened July 1. Or that the Bulls had ulterior motives in their own right besides landing a player whom they’d had in their sights twice before.

Wade tamped down a few questions Friday about the breakdown in his negotiations with the Heat. Reminded that Riley later expressed — sincerely or not — some regrets that he hadn’t been more involved in the talks, Wade said he had been fine hashing out particulars with owner Mickey Arison and son Nick.

“This year, the direction and focus for that organization in Miami — which I have nothing but respect for and love for — was a little different than it has been in years past,” Wade said. “My focus and direction was a little different than it’s been in years past. … I had a contract offer in Miami I could have took. I decided not to take it. It was my decision to be selfish and live out a dream of mine.”

“So let’s clear up the notion that Pat Riley orchestrated me getting out of Miami because he didn’t offer me the money I wanted,” Wade added. “This was not a money deal for me.”

***

No. 3: Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs — After his head coaching gig ended with the New Orleans Pelicans, last summer Monty Williams joined the Oklahoma City Thunder as their lead assistant coach. But tragedy struck midway through the season, when Williams’ wife was killed in a traffic accident. Williams took off the rest of the season to focus on their five children, but he recently returned to work with USA Basketball, and as ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, Williams is expected to return to the NBA next season as an assistant for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs.

Sources told ESPN that Williams — who left the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bench in February after the tragic death of his wife, Ingrid — has been urged by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to take as much of a role with the organization as he feels comfortable for the 2016-17 campaign.

The specifics of what role Williams would fill and how much time he could commit have not yet been determined, but sources say San Antonio has opened the door to either a coaching and player-development role or a front-office position (or a hybrid), depending on what he prefers.

One source close to Williams told ESPN that the 44-year-old “absolutely” intends to be a head coach in the league again after his expected stint with the Spurs. The source also said numerous teams, including Oklahoma City, have made similar offers to Williams for next season.

Williams’ in-laws live in San Antonio and have been assisting him with the couple’s five children in the wake of Ingrid Williams’ death after a Feb. 9 collision in which a car crossed over onto the wrong side of the road and struck her vehicle head-on.

The children also have been traveling with Williams during Team USA’s domestic stops on the road to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The team has played exhibition games in Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Oakland, California; and Chicago entering the final warm-up game in Houston against Nigeria on Monday.

The start of USA Basketball’s preparations for the Rio Olympics on July 18 in Las Vegas marked Williams’ return to the sport after five months away in the wake of the accident. In a SportsCenter interview with Hannah Storm that aired Friday, Williams said he’s “so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

“I’ve only had peace about a few things,” Williams told Storm. “I knew I had to take care of my kids and stop coaching, but also knew that I wanted to be a part of USA Basketball, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

“I can’t wait to get back and start coaching. I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to. My kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back.”

Last season was Williams’ first as the lead assistant in Oklahoma City under Thunder coach Billy Donovan. Williams previously posted a record of 173-221 in five seasons as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. After the Thunder’s seven-game exit to Golden State in the Western Conference finals this postseason, Donovan confirmed that Williams would not be returning to the Thunder bench.

Williams got his start in coaching under Popovich as a Spurs intern in 2004-05 before making his debut as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Reflecting on the accident that claimed his wife’s life, Williams told Storm, “I got the call that nobody wants to get. And I knew when I was talking to my daughter, because she answered the phone, I knew at that moment that my life was going to change. I can’t explain it, but I knew that everything was going to be different. I didn’t know what was going on at the hospital; I just knew that my life was going to change. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. I just felt that in my heart like this phone call was different.

“It’s one of those things you never get rid of. You never forget where you were. You never forget what you were doing. It’s the phone call you don’t want anybody to ever get. Certainly [it] could’ve broken me to the point of quitting. But God and his graciousness has given me the strength and good people to help us go forward.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Atlanta Hawks starting point guard Dennis Schröder joined this week’s Hang Time Podcast … The Warriors will reportedly offer JaVale McGee a chance to make the team in training camp … Nets guard Greivis Vasquez has withdrawn from the Olympics and the Venezuelan National Team … Jarrett Jack says he’s about a month away from returning to full-contact workouts

Morning shootaround — July 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Durant says he didn’t tell Westbrook he was coming back | Wade’s move shocks Anthony | Stoudemire wanted to retire with Suns

No. 1: Durant says he never made promise to Westbrook — Kevin Durant was one of, if not the biggest, names in free agency this summer. His decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors made ripples throughout the NBA that are still being felt today. On a recent podcast, ESPN.com’s Royce Young said Durant had essentially told his All-Star teammate in OKC, Russell Westborook, he was coming back to the Thunder. (Young has since clarified that statement back a bit.) Durant, in an interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, says he never said anything of the sort to Westbrook:

Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant refuted a report that he told his ex-Oklahoma City teammates – including Russell Westbrook – that he planned to re-sign with the Thunder.

“It’s false,” Durant told The Vertical on Thursday. “I didn’t say that – words about me telling Russell or Nick that I would stay or leave never came out of my mouth. We met as teammates, but no promises came out of it. In this day and age, I can’t control anything people claim out there. Someone can go out and say something random right now, and people will believe it.

“I never told Russell or Nick [Collison], ‘All right, guys, I’m coming back to the Thunder’ – and then a week later, I decide not to. Never happened. I don’t operate like that. I heard people say that story, but it’s not the truth.”

In a quiet corner before USA Basketball’s practice at the United Center, Durant admitted he has heard – and refutes – the perception that he turned his back on Westbrook and his former Thunder teammates. “There were never promises given in a meeting before July,” he told The Vertical. “I went through the process.”

He held meetings with six teams – the Warriors, Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat – and committed to a two-year maximum contract with Golden State. Since joining the Warriors, Durant and several teammates, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, have fielded questions about acclimating the one-time NBA MVP to the starting lineup.

“I’m not coming into a team where a guy is playing my position and we have try to fit in two guys playing the same position,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’m not coming in trying to play the point guard, trying to play the shooting guard. I’m a small forward. The team didn’t have a small forward when I signed. Steph, Klay, Draymond, the bigs, we all play different positions.

“Whether it’s minutes, shots, opportunities, any good team will have players sacrificing. That’s the nature of the game. I’m not coming into a game saying that I need my 18 shots and I need to get to the line 12 times. I let the game flow naturally.”

***

No. 2: Anthony shocked by Wade’s move to Chicago — New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and new Chicago Bulls signee Dwyane Wade have been friends for years, dating back to before both were taken in the top 5 picks of the 2003 Draft. The two have had their share of memorable one-on-one showdowns through the years, even moreso over the last six seasons since Anthony was traded to the Eastern Conference. While Anthony should continue to face Wade on a regular basis in 2016-17 and beyond, he was like many others this summer who found themselves surprised Wade left the Miami Heat to sign with the Bulls. ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell has more:

“I was shocked,” Anthony said before Thursday’s Team USA practice at the United Center. “I was shocked more from a standpoint it was just hard to see. It’s hard to see some players in different uniforms and he’s one of those guys who I never thought I would see in a different uniform other than Miami. But it happened, and I got a chance to talk to him and sit down with him and really dig deep about his feelings and what happened. He’s at peace now. And when he’s at peace, I’m at peace with it.”

Wade surprised many in the league by spurning the Heat to sign a two-year deal with the Bulls earlier this month. Anthony, who was wooed by the Bulls two summers ago but ultimately decided to re-sign with the Knicks, acknowledged that the free-agency process can be mentally taxing for players.

“I don’t think the masses really understand how difficult those decisions are,” Anthony said. “And what goes into those decisions. And as athletes what’s going through our mind during those decisions. A lot of people think we can just wake up and we can just make those decisions — it’s not that easy.”

Anthony’s comments come just a few weeks after two of the most successful Bulls in recent memory, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, landed in New York. Rose was dealt to the Knicks last month. Noah signed as a free agent.

“We love them,” Anthony said. “We love those additions. And we’re looking forward to getting the season going. And I think everybody is excited, the excitement is back. Right now there’s an adjustment on paper, but of course we have some work to do putting it all together, making it work. But we’re going to ride the wave of this excitement right now.”

As for a rekindling of a rivalry between the Bulls and Knicks, Anthony said he knows that it’s possible with all the moves both teams have made.

“I know you guys want that,” Anthony said. “I know you’re living for that. But we embrace that. I think as players, as competitors, we embrace all of those challenges and rivalries, that’s what makes the sport great again, so we embrace that.”

***

No. 3: Stoudemire says Suns weren’t receptive to him returning — After six All-Star Game apperances, a Kia Rookie of the Year trophy, and being named an All-NBA player several times, Amar’e Stoudemire retired from the NBA on Wednesday. Stoudemire was a free agent this summer and decided to hang it up as a member of the New York Knicks, whom he played for from 2010-15. Although Stoudemire had some memorable days in New York, most associate his peak seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him in 2002. Stoudemire told the Arizona Republic‘s Paul Coro he wanted to retire as a Sun, but the team didn’t seem receptive to that idea:

Amar’e Stoudemire gets sentimental the moment he reflects on his first eight NBA seasons spent in Phoenix, where a raw teenager became a skilled All-Star.

“Where do you want me to start?” Stoudemire said Thursday, shuffling through his mind’s fondest Suns memories. “It doesn’t stop.”

Stoudemire quickly recites Suns times like flying with a Phoenix contingent to recruit Steve Nash out of Dallas, watching Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic arrive in Phoenix from foreign countries, his career’s most successful seasons as an individual and a team, experiencing a preseason tour of Italy and Germany, watching Nash’s soccer skills on the Suns practice court and using his Hollywood connections to entertain teammates on the road.

All of that, dotted by conference finals runs and five All-Star Games as a Sun, will carry more weight in time than his decision to retire on a one-day New York Knicks contract for his less successful NBA home of 4 ½ years.

Stoudemire just did not feel the same love back in the past two offseasons, when he hoped to return to the Suns to close his career. That prompted him to reach out to New York this month for a ceremonial contract with a “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” quotation to cap his 14-year career.

“The last two years, we made phone calls to Phoenix but I wasn’t getting any positive response,” Stoudemire told azcentral sports on Thursday. “That would’ve been the perfect way to go out. I didn’t want to beg Phoenix. My heart was in two places – Phoenix and New York. I just went where I was wanted.”

“I love my fans in Phoenix. Most of my high times and highlights were in Phoenix. I put forth the effort to finish my career in Phoenix but it wasn’t well-received.”

Stoudemire watched Steve Nash be inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor last season and thought, “I might be next.” There are currently 14 members.

Even with missing nearly a full season during his eight-year Phoenix stay, Stoudemire ranks highly in Suns career annals – fourth in points per game (21.4), third in total rebounds (4,613), fifth in total blocks (722), third in free throws made (3,044) and seventh in field goal percentage (54.3).

“I’m praying for that,” Stoudemire said of a Ring of Honor induction, “because my glory years are in Phoenix. My best times are in Phoenix. I bleed purple and orange. My roots are in Phoenix and the tree bloomed from there.”

 

Stoudemire wanted to make it clear that his positive feelings for the franchise remain in tact, especially his respect for Suns fans and managing partner Robert Sarver.

“I never have received so much love and loyalty than I did with Suns fans,” Stoudemire said. “I love them unconditionally.

“I understand what Robert is trying to do. I know Robert is trying to win and I know the organization is trying to create a winning environment. I respect what they are trying to accomplish. If they need my help with anything, I am here for them.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers will square off in a regular-season game in London next season … The cost of the Washington Wizards’ new practice facility just went up … Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler says he no longer has a chip on his shoulder motivating him, but he’s just as driven as ever … Sacramento Kings VP Vlade Divac is predicting a big Olympics for his team’s star center, DeMarcus Cousins … Gerald Green is glad to be back where his NBA career started — with the Boston Celtics …

Morning shootaround — July 24


NEWS OF THE MORNING
The loss lingers | Mr. Burke goes to Washington | Boston cool on Okafor

No. 1: The one loss turned Team USA golden — It has been almost an entire decade since Team USA lost in international play. That came at the World Championships in Japan back in 2006 when the U.S. were whipped in the semifinals by Greece. It was the start of the collaboration between new director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the loss not only stung, but provided the necessary impetus that has put Team USA back on top of the basketball world, says Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

“The shock and disappointment was real. We didn’t know what to expect in terms of playing the next game,” Colangelo said. “As we look back now, it was very important. We haven’t looked back since.”

During that summer 10 years ago, Krzyzewski was guilty of hubris and it carried over to his team. In his first year on the job he’d promised to pay respect to the international game and the non-NBA players who’d given the Americans six losses combined in the 2002 World Championships and the 2004 Olympics.

Yet he quickly declared that he’d never play zone defense despite having zone master Jim Boeheim on his coaching staff. Then during the tournament he sometimes was so unfamiliar with the opponents that he referred to them by jersey number instead of name.

“The stuff we had done up to that point, we realized we didn’t know what we were doing yet and what we were supposed to do,” Krzyzewski said. “It was a continuation of so-called failure. It wasn’t just the game, it was a ‘oh here we go again.’ I don’t think anyone was afraid of what people were going to say, it was what we felt. No one could say anything to make us feel worse.”

Krzyzewski started LeBron James at point guard in that bronze medal game, his first move in which he realized he needed to give James more responsibility going forward.

He worked together with Dwyane Wade, who had one of the best games of his international career that night.

Krzyzewski then went through with numerous other changes, including installing a zone defense for use in the FIBA Americas tournament in 2007 and upgrading the scouting to make sure the team was always more prepared for the opposition.

“Out of adversity comes opportunity,” Colangelo said. “It was a wake-up call, even though it was just at the beginning of our journey, that no matter how much talent you have on any given night, you don’t get much more of a learning experience than that.”

***

No. 2: Burke needed a change — He was a national college player of the year when the Jazz made Trey Burke their first round draft pick in 2013. But after three seasons of sliding steadily down the depth chart, the former University of Michigan guard says it was time for a change and he’s looking forward to a fresh start next season with the Wizards. Lev Facher of the Detroit Free Press has the details:

“It was definitely time for a reset,” Burke said. “A lot of the things that happened, I didn’t understand. Just to have an opportunity again, being able to play with an All-Star-caliber point guard in John Wall, I look at it as an opportunity to go deep in the playoffs and win games.”

Burke’s first three years in the NBA essentially marked the first success-free stretch of his career. In two years at Michigan, he propelled the team to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a run to the national championship game his sophomore year.

Utah, by comparison, didn’t have a winning season in Burke’s three years there. By the end of his first NBA run, Burke had fallen off the bottom of Utah’s rotation, playing in just two of the team’s final 14 games in 2015-16.

“My entire career, I’ve always won,” Burke said. “To be in Utah, it was up and down. We had some success there, but just to be on another team that has the opportunity to make the playoffs again feels great.”

***

No. 3: Celtics won’t overspend for Okafor — If the 76ers are going to break their logjam of big men by trading Jahlil Okafor, it’s looking less and less like it will be with a trade to Boston. Or at least not at this time. That’s the dish from Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Word out of Boston is that the Celtics will not give up much for the 6-foot-11, 257-pounder.

They have concerns about his playing in the city after being involved in two street fights there in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning. Nor do they like the fact that the center saw a gun pointed at his head in Old City and that he was stopped for going 108 mph over the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The Celtics have a practice of minimizing the risk when acquiring guys who have had what they view as a character flaw.

Former St. Joseph’s standout Delonte West is a prime example. A source said that general manager Danny Ainge loved West. However, Ainge only gave him a minimum deal even though talent-wise West was deserving of mid-level exception money.

And he’s just one example.

So the Celtics probably won’t offer anyone or anything the Sixers would perceive as equal value for Okafor. At least they won’t at this time.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gerald Green returns to Boston and Celtics also re-sign Tyler Zeller … Chris “Birdman” Andersen signs with Cavaliers … David Stockton signs three-year deal to play in Croatia … If you still need a Kevin Durant Thunder jersey, there’s a sporting goods store in OKC selling them for 48 cents … Steph Curry was trying to make sweet music with his golf swing while playing with Justin Timberlake

Morning shootaround — July 17



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Owner Taylor likes Wolves | Sixers have “big” problems | Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls

No. 1: Owner Taylor likes Wolves— It’s all paper optimism right now, but there are plenty of reasons for the Wolves and their owner, Glen Taylor, to feel excited about the upcoming season. They have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Karl-Anthony Towns, a solid young core and incoming rookie Kris Dunn, the pride of the Vegas summer league. Taylor discussed the state of the Wolves recently with longtime Twin Cities columnist Sid Hartman, who filed this report for the Star-Tribune:

The Wolves didn’t make a splashy move in free agency like the Warriors, but they did make a number of smart moves, signing centers Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill and shooting guard Brandon Rush to low-risk contracts.

Taylor said those moves should help a team that believes its young core already is in place.

“We have some young guys that we see as our potential starting team, but we need players coming off the bench to hold us competitive with the other teams,” Taylor said. “I think both Thibs and Scott are looking at other players that can come in and play competitive minutes.”

While the team has started to take some shape, Taylor wasn’t ready to give his expectations for 2016-17 quite yet.

“A lot of people have asked me that and I just think it’s premature,” he said. “I’d like the coach to get to know his players better, I’d like to have him work with them, I’d like to have him decide who’s going to be on the team, and then that might be the appropriate time to put out expectations.”

One thing Taylor did say is that he doesn’t believe point guard Ricky Rubio will be traded at this point.

“I don’t see that as a likely possibility,” he said about a Rubio trade. “I just think the coach, everybody, likes Ricky. I think we want him to come in and improve on his shooting. But his other things, he plays defense, he gets assists, he helps the others get better. He has some wonderful qualities.

“I think the coach wants to bring an assistant coach to help Ricky on his shooting and I think that’s where we’re going to start out and go and we’ll see how good Kris Dunn is.”

Injured big men

With Aldrich and Hill signing, there have been some rumblings about what that means for both Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic, who struggled with injuries last season and are due combined $20 million next season.

“I know that he was going to get married this summer,” Taylor said of Pekovic. “I know he’s back at home. I know that we’re going to try to get him in here early to make sure he’s in physical shape and look at that foot and make sure it doesn’t reoccur again. But I don’t have any definite information other than that we’d like to have him in here early so the doctors and everybody can work with him.”

Has the team put any timetable on Garnett? “We haven’t,” Taylor said. “I think it’s more up to Kevin, a little bit. The sooner we know it’s helpful to us, but I mean Kevin is an important part of our past and came back last year to help us, and we all know Kevin was having some difficulty with his knees and legs or things like that.

“I think he’s the only one that can tell us if he can play or not play, and I don’t think we have put him under time frame. I mean we still have time on that, and we have some options. We have some options. But I think at the appropriate time when Kevin is ready we’ll have that discussion.”

Increased interest

There’s no doubt that the Wolves have become one of the most talked-about teams in the league because of players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Taylor said that excitement mixed with some moves this offseason should bode well for ticket sales.

“Yes, the season-ticket thing, I think because of bringing in Thibs as a coach and then everybody seeing the improvement we made last year has sparked renewed interest,” he said. “We look forward to a good season sale on tickets this year.”

Taylor has also been able to attract investors, bringing in Linzhang (John) Jiang and Meyer Orbach as minority owners, and while he said he isn’t planning to sell a large stake in the team at this point, that doesn’t mean he won’t listen to interest.

“We don’t have any plans on doing that today, but I wouldn’t want to say yes or no to that because I think if the right person came along and they had the right opportunity and they wanted to come in — like these fellows did on a limited base, and I still run the team and just have them help me — I might do that,” Taylor said.

***

No. 2: Sixers have “big” problems — The revamping of the Sixers has been a long time coming, and suddenly, there’s a level of hope not seen in Philly since Allen Iverson left. The influx of young talent coupled with the on-hand returnees bodes well for a team that has spent the last three seasons in the basement. That said, how are the Sixers going to find time up front with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and now Dario Saric? All four are forwards or center-forward combos. Of course, it sounds funny: Philly has too much intriguing talent. Anyway, the subject was raised and analyzed by Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor at the center position are at least one too many, and the rest of the league knows it. Each player brings a different mix of promise and peril. Which to choose? It is a quandary that, if solved properly, will set the team on the path to true contention. If botched, well, that path will still be lined with good intentions, but it will lead back to the nether world from which the team is slowly emerging.

If it is any consolation, the Sixers have seen worse. I had the great pleasure of covering every game of the Doug Moe era, a 19-37 slog that featured a roster with four centers, collectively referred to by Moe as “28 feet of [expletive].”

You haven’t seen dysfunction until experiencing the frontcourt stylings of Charles Shackleford, Manute Bol, Andrew Lang, and Eddie Lee Wilkins on one team. All four were gone when the following season began, as was Moe, who didn’t survive the previous one.

“He won 19 games with this team, and they fired him?” Wilkins said. “He should be coach of the year.”

That was a different problem for the Sixers, but deciding which of those guys to get rid of was easy: all of them. The current situation is a puzzler because the three centers are very valuable, each in his own way, or at least have potential value that could become enormous over time. Forecasting their futures is the first big test Colangelo faces.

“I think we could be a better basketball team if we could distribute the talent better and maybe take one of those assets and address other needs on the roster,” Colangelo said on SiriusXM NBA Radio while attending the summer league in Las Vegas. “Right now, it’s best to say we like all of them and want to see if we can make the most out of them in terms of their contribution to the team. But at the end of the day, the reality says that one has to go at some point, but only when the deal is right.”

The reality, however, doesn’t say that one has to go before the season begins, or even by the February trade deadline. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he set his sights on rebalancing the roster at the 2017 draft. That could be the wisest course of action, particularly since what the Sixers don’t know about their team is still a lot greater than what they do know.

“We’re top heavy, but we’ve got some good talent there,” Colangelo said, “whether it’s Nerlens, with a certain skill-set in terms of being more of a defensive player. You’ve got Jahlil, more of an offensive player, a lot of post action and now steps outside and hits that 15- to 18-foot shot, and then you’ve got Joel.”

Figuring things out is a process, and while fans might like to see a choice made immediately to start the contending process this season, that would make choosing the wrong piece more likely.

Most of what we know about Okafor and Noel so far is that coach Brett Brown couldn’t figure out a way to play them together because both operate best close to the basket. Now he needs to determine what mixture will work as Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are placed on the court, and as Embiid finally gets into uniform. It could be there will be plenty of offense to go around and Noel is the better fit. It could be that on a team of slashers, the dependable low-post presence of Okafor makes the most sense. And, of course, it could be that Embiid limps off in the first week of the season.

***

No. 3: Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls — Take Jimmy Butler and add Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, and what do you have? A very happy head coach. Fred Holberg‘s first season in Chicago was choppy; the Bulls floundered down the stretch and fell flat at the end of the season. Since then, the Bulls parted ways with Derrick Rose while adding another local player to assume his spot in Wade. Rondo comes from the Kings, where he enjoyed a rejuvenated boost to his career, and suddenly the Bulls have three proven players. KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune recently caught up with the coach about Wade, who made it official the other day:

“I’m really excited to get him on board,” Hoiberg said via phone from Las Vegas, where the Bulls played the Wizards in the NBA Summer League quarterfinals Saturday night. “Obviously, he’s a guy with championship experience and gives us another playmaker on the floor. I’ve been watching a lot of film to see how to best utilize the talents of the players on our roster.

“Dwyane is a tough matchup for opposing teams with him and Jimmy (Butler) on the wings and Rajon (Rondo) at the point. A lot of how we attack will be based on matchups and who the defender is and whose hands we’re going to put the ball in to make plays.”

Hoiberg left summer league to attend Monday’s dinner with Wade in Chicago, his first prolonged conversation with the 12-time All-Star. Hoiberg came away impressed, calling him a “rock solid person (with) great people around him.”

Hoiberg’s playing career overlapped with Wade’s for two seasons. In fact, Wade posted a picture on Instagram of himself from one of his two predraft workouts for the Bulls in 2003 at the defunct Berto Center. Now, Hoiberg will be coaching the future Hall of Famer.

“He’s so good at getting in the paint,” Hoiberg said. “He has a great floater and runner. He shot the 3 at a very high rate in the playoffs last year. He gives us another guy who can make plays. That’s huge.

“We have multiple playmakers now, multiple guys who can get in the paint. We do have floor spacing on this team. It will be important to have guys who can knock down shots.”

Hoiberg again referred to the 2003-04 Timberwolves, which he played for and featured Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell and advanced to the Western Conference finals, as an example of a team that can make three strong personalities work. He said he and his staff have been watching film of other teams that feature three players who need shots and touches.

“Great players always figure it out,” Hoiberg said. “It has to be about one thing, and that’s winning. Based on who has the hot hand on any given night, you play through that guy, and the rest of the team plays off him.”

Asked who gets the last shot in a tie game, Hoiberg laughed before answering.

“We’ll see who has it going,” he said.

Wade will turn 35 in January. He played in 74 games last season, his highest regular-season total since 2010-11. Wade averaged a career-low 30.5 minutes and then delivered a turn-back-the-clock postseason performance in which he averaged 21.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 14 games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: More on the death of Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, one of history’s underrated big men … Damian Lillard got skills with a mic in his hand … RC Buford loves him some Tim Duncan, and don’t we all? … Pelicans don’t expect Tyreke Evans will be healed and ready to go when season tips off …

Morning shootaround — July 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Early reviews of Saric | Free-agent impact around NBA | Buddy Hield is ready to go

No. 1: Early reviews of Saric — It will likely be a while before anyone gets a handle on the most mysterious rookie of the 2016-17 season. That’s because Dario Saric is two years “late” coming to the Sixers and played out of sight of most NBA fans in Europe. All we know is he’s a fluid big man who brings hope to a Philly team that suddenly is stockpiling young talent. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News took a sampling of scouts’ take and here’s what he compiled:

Acquired on draft night in 2014 when the Sixers selected Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, then traded him for Saric, who was selected by Orlando at No. 12, Saric played two seasons for Anadolu Efes in Turkey, as anticipation of his arrival to Philadelphia rose with each passing season. It really didn’t seem to matter what type of player he was or whether his game could translate to the NBA. He was someone former general manager Sam Hinkie had acquired – along with a first-round pick from Orlando – and the faithful couldn’t wait for his arrival.

The wait is over: It appears his signing is imminent, as he arrived Thursday afternoon to meet with president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.

Sometimes, the anticipation is better than the event. Could that be the case with Saric, or might he turn out to be a big piece of this process moving forward? Fans who haven’t seen Saric will get to during the Olympics. He led Croatia to a win over Italy in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament last weekend by posting 18 points and 13 rebounds, garnering him MVP honors. He is a Philly player through and through, with plenty of toughness in his game that undoubtedly will make him a fan favorite.

But to look deeper into how he might fit into the NBA, I talked to numerous people who have seen him play since he became property of the Sixers. There are mixed reviews on just how good he will be in the league and how he might fit with the Sixers’ roster.

“I don’t see it,” said one executive. “To me, he’s a below-the-rim player who is going to be way behind, as far as speed and quickness. His shot isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good enough for defenses to really respect it yet. So to begin with, they’ll be playing him to get to the basket. Once he does that, he’s looking to draw contact more than anything else.

“He does have good passing skills. He’s a capable ballhandler where he was, but I’m not sure that he’ll be quick enough in the NBA to do what he wants when he gets the ball in his hands.”

Another executive saw it much differently: “He has great handle for his size, is a solid to good rebounder, is a special passer, is tough and is a winner.”

When broken down from the handful of people who have watched Saric in person, here is the kind of player the Sixers appear to be getting:

Offensively

There is little doubt Saric’s best offensive ability is passing the basketball. Like Ben Simmons, he can grab a rebound, start a break and hit long outlet passes, throwing bounce passes when necessary and hard chest passes at other times. He has a flare to his passing game, also; the no-look, over-the-shoulder pass seems to be a favorite. Oftentimes, his good ballhandling skills will get him to where he needs to be to make the pass. When standing on a wing, he often will send a soft, quick touch pass into the post when the ball comes his way.

One characteristic Philly fans will love about Saric is the physicality he brings at both ends of the floor. In that previous game against Italy, his team basically gave him the ball, put four guys down on the baseline and let him go to work. He got to the lane and, more times than not, was able to draw contact.

Defensively

This is where Saric’s struggles will begin right away. As one scout said, “He’ll be way better at the offensive end than he will be at the defensive end, where he could be a liability.”

The reasoning is twofold. One is his lack of speed and quickness. The other is that he’s not very long. He’ll have to play power forwards on defense because he simply doesn’t have the speed to chase small forwards. He is a very physical player, and the thought is that when he is getting beaten by speed, he will look to slow down opponents with contact, which could lead to a lot of fouls – especially as a rookie.

The plus side is that Saric possesses a strong basketball IQ, which leads many to think he will be able to overcome deficiencies with his mind and translate it to his style of play.

His best asset at the defensive end could wind up being rebounding. If he can rebound on the move defensively and start a break, whether himself or by getting the ball out to the likes of Simmons, that is where Saric could be at his finest.

***

No. 2: Impact of NBA free agents for 2016-17 — The free-agent spending spree is nearly over and, billions later, we don’t know the scope of the impact and what’s in store for the immediate and distant future. Trying to make sense of it all is Bobby Marks of The Vertical; the former league executive takes a educated look at the decisions made and the ramifications that could and should follow:

ROSTER TURNOVER
One of the goals of the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2011 was to incentivize teams to retain their current free agents by allowing them to add extra years along with percentage salary increases.

Although player movement certainly occurs every summer, the cap rising to $94 million eliminated the incentive for players to remain with their own team as more than 70 percent of players switched franchises.

Had the players association agreed to the NBA proposed cap smoothing and not for the cap to jump from $70 million to $94 million, Kevin Durant likely would have remained with the Thunder.

THE $100 MILLION DOLLAR CLUB
The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets sent shock waves through the NBA with their $100 million-plus payroll.

Fast-forward three years and now there are 10 teams with $100 million payrolls with five more hovering north of $95 million.

The new TV money will certainly off-set player salaries in the future, but the financial picture of the NBA, with 15-man rosters, now looks more like the NFL’s with 53-man rosters.

LUXURY TAX BECOMES A NON-FACTOR
The days of the Cavaliers’ $54 million tax bill this past season and the Nets’ $90 million one in 2013-14 are long gone.

The rise in the cap, for at least one year, has eliminated the luxury tax that teams such as the Miami Heat once feared.

A major sticking point in the 2011 work stoppage was for the NBA to implement a progressive luxury tax that would penalize teams for overspending along with creating rules that would hinder player movement for tax teams.

Since going into effect in the 2013-14 season, the NBA has collected over $300 million in luxury tax with 50 percent of that amount distributed to teams that fell below the tax threshold.

Although teams such as the Clippers and Cavaliers, repeat offenders from last season, hover around the $113 million tax threshold, the rest of the NBA has little to worry about.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS STAYING PUT
Although the cap jumped $24 million from the previous season, restricted free agents continued the path of past summers and remained with their teams.

Even the large offer sheets the Nets agreed upon with Miami’s Tyler Johnson and Portland’s Allen Crabbe were matched.

The rise in the cap certainly played a role in the salary amounts each player agreed upon and could have lasting financial repercussions for Miami and Portland.

ROOKIE SCALE EXTENDED
From a headline perspective, a player drafted in the first round certainly has appeal. Along with the label of being a first-round pick also comes two years of guaranteed money.

The additional cap relief teams received this summer however unofficially extended the rookie scale into the second round.

Out of the nine second-round picks currently signed, eight mirror the rookie scale of a first-round selection.

Although there is no scale for players selected in the second round, teams have taken advantage of the additional cap space to lock up players to cap-friendly contracts.

Grizzlies second-round pick Deyonta Davis, for example, signed a three-year, $4 million contract that is similar to one signed by a first-rounder selected in the early twenties of the draft.

THE IMPACT ON THE 2017 FREE AGENTS
The excessive spending this summer will have an impact with the excellent free-agent class next summer.

The field of 27 teams with $20 million-plus in cap space this past summer could be sliced in half by the time next July rolls around.

Even with the cap rising from $94 million to a projected $102 million, early projections forecast only 12 teams having $15 million-plus in cap room.

With unrestricted free agents LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, JJ Redick and Derrick Rose set to hit the open market, free agents could be remaining with their own teams.

***

No. 3: Buddy Hield is ready to go — Take Summer League for whatever it’s worth; the Pelicans aren’t sweating the inconsistent shooting of their top draft pick, Buddy Hield. There’s simply too much at stake for a franchise that’s trying to put important pieces around Anthony Davis to worry about 5-for-20 shooting in July; that was Hield’s first game. He has settled down somewhat since then, and the Pelicans love his aggressiveness. Here’s Justin Verrier of ESPN.com on the former Oklahoma star:

“Our message to Buddy all year was, ‘Don’t change, don’t change,'” said Lon Kruger, the Sooners’ head coach, in a phone interview. “When you start getting those national accolades and recognition and player of the year conversations, don’t change, don’t change.

“Even when he received the awards, we said don’t change anything. When you get drafted, don’t change anything. You’ve got something unique and special as a personality. When you get to the NBA, don’t change anything.”

Such a player would seem like an easy fit in a league trying to cash in on an everyman capable of superhuman shot-making. Like Stephen Curry, Buddy enters his pro career with a ready-made persona, a backlog of big-game highlights — including besting a “Mini-LeBron” in Ben Simmons with the almighty 3 — and the ability to walk the line between charm and confidence. He’s a supremely gifted athlete who also pulled himself up by the boot straps.

He’s your buddy, but he’s also an on-court killer who idolizes — and now shares an agent with — Kobe Bryant.

“The qualities Buddy has are the ones you’d want everyone to have,” Kruger said. “What I think balances it is sincerity and maybe the work ethic. His peers like him, the coaches like him, the administration likes him, the people in town like him. It’s not like he flaunts anything. It’s not like he gives off that he’s entitled. It’s not like he’s expecting anything back. Buddy’s a giver. Which is pretty rare when you think of a player with those abilities.”

The Buddy brand also comes complete with three self-given alter egos: “Buddy Fresh,” which he’s prone to belt out to spark self-motivation; “Buddy Love,” which is “for the ladies,” as he recently told The Starters; and “Buddy Buckets,” which on draft day lined his suit jacket in Bahaman colors.

“I’ve got good branding skills,” he said with a smirk. “Attracts the crowd a lot too.”

Even “Buddy” is an alias. His mother, in what is now Hield lore, saw a likeness between her infant son and the character Bud Bundy from “Married … with Children,” and so his given name Chavano became Buddy.

Those who know him well agree it fits.

“He’s always had that swag,” said Sacramento Kings rookie Isaiah Cousins, Hield’s former roommate at Oklahoma. “It’s just a part of his culture.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: How much can the loaded Warriors fetch from ads on jerseys? Early estimates have $15 million a season … Dwyane Wade said he has worn Bulls gear every day since signing.