Posts Tagged ‘Fran Blinebury’

Johnson keeps firing on all Pistons


VIDEO: Stanley Johnson turns in solid double-double

ORLANDO — Before Stanley Johnson even took his very first sip of NBA competition, he declared that he wasn’t “going to let anybody punk me” on the court.

So when his most recent game at the Orlando Pro Summer League tipped off and the Pacers chose to run a post-up play for the man he was guarding, Solomon Hill, Johnson reacted as if someone had touched him with a cattle prod.

“For some guy to attack me the first play of the game, I think that says volumes about what the coach thinks about me and therefore I take it disrespectfully,” Johnson said. “From that point on, if he scores the basket, doesn’t score the basket, that’s just like a another chip on my shoulder already to start the game.”

Through four games in the practice gym at the Amway Center, Johnson has been constantly hustling, always forceful and giving Detroit fans a reason to look forward to his rookie year against the big boys. Though Pistons head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy says just because he was the No. 8 pick in the NBA Draft and has shown the joys of summer, it doesn’t mean Johnson will be handed a spot in the starting lineup or even the rotation.

“I think it’s important that (rookies) play when they deserve to play,” said Van Gundy. “And not just, ‘We’re going to play our guy.’ I know some people believe in that. I don’t.

“I think it inhibits a guy’s development when he’s simply handed minutes and doesn’t have to do anything to earn them and thus there is no reason to work hard or change the way you play.

“You always like to see him play against good players, but I’ve been at this long enough that I don’t get real pumped up if a guy plays well in summer league, and I don’t get too depressed if he doesn’t. There is just not a lot of carryover.”

Nevertheless, Johnson has been confident, effective and consistent, averaging 17.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals.

As a defender, Johnson has shown an ability to blow up the pick-and-roll. He’s repeatedly gone to the floor chasing down loose balls and can make the show-stopping play. Just when Indy’s Romero Osby thought he had a breakaway dunk, there was Johnson swooping in from behind at the last second with for a resounding rejection that showed he doesn’t simply write off a possession.

“Those are effort plays. Those are winning plays,” said Pistons summer league coach Bob Beyer. “When he blocked that shot at the rim he never gave up on the play. He just kept coming and again I think that says a lot about him as a competitor.”

There were questions about Johnson’s shooting ability coming out of Arizona, where he hit just 44.6 percent of his attempts in his only college season. But he’s making at a 64.3 percent clip here and is 4-for-9 on 3-pointers.

Most important, Johnson has shown an ability to play an overall game and to have the kind of personality that commands attention. He keeps telling everyone who’ll listen that he isn’t into comparisons with his good friend Justise Winslow, whom the Pistons passed over to take Johnson with the eighth pick and just wants to prove that he’s as good or better than anybody in his draft class. For now. He’s got the rest of the league in his long-range sights. He’s skilled, competitive and thoroughly engaging.

Somebody asked Johnson if it was accurate to just check off every box of all-around skills when it came to describing his game.

“I would say so,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of learning to do in making those checks darker, bolder and getting better at a lot of different things, but I can be very versatile on the court. Like I was preaching before the draft started, I can go one through four positions. I can do a lot of the things on the court.”

Then tell you about them.

Blogtable, DeAndre Edition: What you’ll remember most is …?

In this special edition of the Blogtable, we’re asking our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the DeAndre Jordan free-agency saga — and give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Impact on Clippers? | Impact on Mavs? | What you’ll remember most?



VIDEOAn emoji battle wages on during the DeAndre Jordan decision

> Emoji wars, Twitter all abuzz, Mavs and Clippers assembling a la The Avengers to sway DeAndre — which of these things (or maybe something else) will you most remember from the DeAndre decision?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat we witnessed wasn’t unprecedented, but it ought to be. Breaking a verbal agreement isn’t honorable, nor is swooping in at the 11th hour to encourage it. Had Jordan told all involved he would mull over his decision until the moratorium ended, fine, he’d have remained in play. But that’s not how this went. This sort of episode encourages cut-throat behavior all around. And unfortunately, there were some marking execs and media types loving it simply because it “had people talking about the NBA” for one more summer day. Yeah, well, carnival geeks get people talking, too. What I’ll likely remember from this is that, instead of teams only lining up at 12:01 a.m. on July 1 to be the first ones in the room with a new free agent, this is what started them mobilizing at 11:59 p.m. at the moratorium’s back end to be the last ones in the room. Just to make sure a deal is a deal is a deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Just the thought of Doc Rivers and Blake Grifin barricading the doors of DeAndre’s house with furniture against a possible invasion of desperate Cubanites waving stacks of cash and the image of Chris Paul riding to the rescue on a banana boat. And hoo boy, am I looking forward to the announcement of the 2015-16 schedule with the Clippers at Dallas on Christmas. C’mon, Adam Silver. Show us you get it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Don’t mention the E word again. I’m doing everything possible to un-see that part of the silliness, although I’m afraid we’ve just seen the start of a trend. The rest of it will be impossible to forget, especially the biggest takeaway of all: How the fate of two franchises changed in one crazy day as the world followed along. The basketball part is the bottom line because that will have implications for years. We may not know the real outcome of Wednesday for years, until seeing how things turned out for the Clippers and Mavericks. DeAndre Jordan showed a lack of maturity and professionalism by not doing the very least he could do and treat Dallas with respect, but that’s for him to sort through. The rest of us will watch the basketball aspect unfold.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWhat I’ll remember is sitting in my chair for 8 hours reading Twitter, the longest I’ve been locked on that site continuously in like forever. Blake Griffin dropped the Twitter mic with the chair-against-the-door pic. I think he has a future in entertainment.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comBlake Griffin’s tweet of the chair against the front door was my favorite moment. It made me laugh out loud and then have to explain the entire ridiculous situation to my wife.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The emoji war was epic, with Kobe Bryant and eventually the fine folks from @Jumpman23 dropping the mic on a crazy day that proved to be Twitter gold for all involved. If the Clippers find their way to the conference finals and perhaps beyond during the next five years, then maybe I’ll change my mind. But until then, the mobilization of the Clippers’ entire basketball operation to get to Houston and secure DeAndre’s services will continue to stick out as the most memorable part of this experience for me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It will be worth remembering only if Jordan proves to be worthy of the trouble: Can he help lead his team to the NBA Finals? If so, then we’re all going to be looking back on the Clippers’ principals pulling tighter together around Jordan at his house last night, with the focus being on Chris Paul’s emotional plea to his teammate. But if they’re unable to rally, then this little plot twist will have no staying power (apart from possibly leading the NBA to change the timing of the moratorium).

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogSomeone on Twitter noted that this whole saga was tailor-made for the All Ball blog, and I have to agree. Emojis, Blake Griffin making jokes, Mark Cuban allegedly driving aimlessly around Houston while texting furiously, Paul Pierce tweeting out clip art — it was quite an evening. It was one of the most memorable NBA evenings I can recall that didn’t actually have anything to do with basketball. I love this game.

Blogtable, DeAndre Edition: Impact of his decision on the Clippers?

In this special edition of the Blogtable, we’re asking our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the DeAndre Jordan free-agency saga — and give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Impact on Clippers? | Impact on Mavs? | What you’ll remember most?



VIDEODavid Aldridge breaks down the DeAndre Jordan decision

> What does his return do for the Clippers given their other reported offseason moves? Where do they now rank in the West hierarchy?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Clippers avoid a drop in the Western Conference standings with this move – they were looking at retreads or minimum-salary types to man the center spot if Jordan had left. But they’re still not cracking the top three out West – Golden State, San Antonio, Memphis – and to me, it’s the latest example of that franchise’s frantic, emotional, not-quite-professional way of doing things. It doesn’t instill new confidence the Clippers can get through tough postseason times.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What the Clippers avoided was falling like a piano off a roof. They are in the same place they ranked last season, fighting to be in the upper half of the West bracket, a step below Golden State, San Antonio and OKC, duking it out with Houston and Memphis for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Obviously it is a dramatic change. It’s a double blow, keeping the Clippers in a prominent place after all while undercutting the Mavericks’ hopes of being in the upper echelon. We have to see how the rest of the summer turns out rather than give daily updates on where teams rank because the situation is so fluid. A lot of teams are still filling out depth charts. But this minute, the Clippers are behind the lead group of Golden State and San Antonio, part of the pack with OKC, Houston and Memphis in some order.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Obviously this is a game-changer for the Clippers. They went from JaVale McGee to DeAndre. So it’s fair to say they didn’t lose their place in line in the West. That said, the other offseason pieces must deliver in order for the Clippers to go deep into spring. Paul Pierce can’t fall off the cliff just yet. Lance Stephenson must straighten his head and his game in a hurry. And there’s still questions about the depth of the bench especially at point guard.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Clippers avoided wasting, in regard to contending for a championship, a season of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at their best. They’re still gambling on Lance Stephenson and they still need to hope that their big three stays healthy, because they don’t have anyone to back up any of them right now. But they’ll go into the season as a top-six team in the Western Conference, certainly behind Golden State and San Antonio, and in the mix with Houston, Memphis and Oklahoma City. They can truly contend for a title if coach Doc Rivers can somehow get another reliable contributor with what little flexibility he has left (minimum-contract offers and Jamal Crawford‘s tradeable deal) and if they can improve defensively.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: DeAndre’s return keeps the Clippers firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of the Western Conference standings. They are still a top-four or-five team in the West and one of the best teams in the league. I’m more interested in the impact both Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson will have on this group, on and off the floor, more than I am DeAndre’s return. The Clippers know what they have in their big man. Those other guys remain a mystery.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe last couple of years have shown how much injuries and other surprises can influence the outcome – the key is to enter next season with a competitive roster and coaching staff, and the Clippers will be right there. They can excel at both ends, their depth has improved and they should be loaded with hungry players, from their Big Three (who collapsed on the verge of the conference finals) to Lance Stephenson (who should be receptive to Doc Rivers’ coaching after a horrible season with Charlotte). I can also envision them adding another player in midseason to add to their run. This was a big summer for the Clippers, and year three with Rivers should be their culmination.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: With Jordan, I’d still have the Clippers third, behind Golden State and San Antonio. Not sure which version of Lance Stephenson they’ll get, but if they get Indiana Pacers Lance instead of Charlotte Hornets Lance, they might be able to leapfrog those teams. Interestingly, I also think the key there is Jordan, and whether he’s able to continue to develop and be more than a 10 ppg scorer and develop into more of an offensive threat. They still need a bench, of course, but that core of CP3, Blake and DeAndre is going to be what makes the Clips a contender.

Blogtable, DeAndre Edition: Impact of his decision on the Mavericks?

In this special edition of the Blogtable, we’re asking our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the DeAndre Jordan free-agency saga — and give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Impact on Clippers? | Impact on Mavs? | What you’ll remember most?



VIDEODirk Nowitzki talks after the Mavs’ postseason ouster

> How does his change of heart affect the Mavericks, their offseason moves and the upcoming season? Where do they now rank in the West hierarchy?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This is potentially devastating to Dallas, which won 50 games last season and now will be doing well not to lose 50. The options left among available big men are limited – Amar’e Stoudemire‘s name has come up, but he’s strictly a limited-minutes guy at this point, and neither Kevin Seraphin nor Josh Smith is a center, for those suggesting them. Owner Mark Cuban‘s “David Robinson year” remark might actually play out, and that’s tough to imagine for Dirk Nowitzki, coach Rick Carlisle and a few others. I am looking forward, though, to seeing Dallas sign Rick Mahorn and Charles Oakley to 1-day contracts for the first Clippers-Mavericks meeting this season. Just to dish out reminders to Jordan and a couple of his teammate-rescuers that this episode won’t soon be forgotten.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Mavericks are burnt toast for the 2015-16 season, another waste of one of Dirk Nowitzki’s last years and that’s the worst part of the flip-flop. Dallas is in the lottery, up to its 10-gallon hat. But I’m going on the record here as saying Mark Cuban will be thankful this happened in a couple of years. While Jordan is worth the price to the Clippers to keep him as the third wheel with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he would have been badly exposed as Cuban’s so-called “franchise player” down the line. It was a bad joke to even mention him in the same breath as Shaquille O’Neal. I think Jordan might even have realized that himself and ran from that burden.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s a brutal outcome for the Mavs. It’s not like DeAndre Jordan turned them down and they implemented the fallback plan. By the time he had finished mishandling the situation at historical levels, they were scrambling for the fallback plan to the fallback plan. The Dallas front office began the offseason with a clear plan, executed it with precision… and then got it fell apart through no fault of anyone there. If Wesley Matthews comes back strong, the Mavericks will be around .500, respectable but not in the playoffs. And they will have a lot of people rooting for them.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I think there’s a silver lining to losing DeAndre. I always thought the Mavericks with him were nothing special … maybe a No. 6 or 7 team in the West. This way, they can get a jump on rebuilding and stash their millions for next summer and plan to transition from the Dirk Nowitzki era.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Dallas is where the Clippers were 24 hours ago. They have a strong starting lineup, with a huge hole at center. Unlike the Clippers, they have a lot of cap space. But while there are a lot of centers still available, they’re all back-up quality. So I could see them trading for Chris Andersen or Zaza Pachulia. As they stand, they’re in the 8-10 range in the Western Conference, with the health and recovery of Wes Matthews still being a big question.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is the strange part for me — I didn’t think adding DeAndre was a gamechanger for the Mavericks. Sure, he would help shore up the middle. But without an elite point guard feeding him, I don’t know that he would have been a consistent force for the Mavericks on both ends of the floor. The Mavericks certainly don’t have any options comparable to DJ now, and that’s a potentially devastating blow for a franchise that is contemplating the dreaded rebuild. I don’t like the idea of Dirk Nowitzki on a lottery team in his twilight years, but in the absence of some miraculous move between now and training camp, that’s the predicament these guys could be in this season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Mavericks are going to miss the playoffs, and they may lose their draft pick to the Celtics (unless it lands among the top seven) by way of the Rondo trade. The silver lining will emerge one year from now if they can turn Jordan’s absence into a superior free agent in 2016. But this interim season is going to be a long one for a team that figures to have no identity at either end of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Without DeAndre, I’m not sure that they do rank among the West hierarchy. The Western Conference is so stacked, and if you’re looking for playoff teams that might drop out of the picture to make room for teams like Oklahoma City, Phoenix or Utah, I’d look directly at Portland (after losing LaMarcus Aldridge) and Dallas. Losing Monta Ellis will hurt, and while Wesley Matthews should be a nice addition, he’s still recovering from a torn Achilles. Jordan could have given them a nice frontline alongside Dirk and Chandler Parsons. Now they need Dirk to play like MVP Dirk. And I’m not sure that player still exists.

It’s Turner’s time already in Indy

VIDEO: Myles Turner finishes off a nice feed from Joe Young for the Pacers.

ORLANDO — At one end of the floor Myles Turner was a flash of summer lightning, coming across the court crackling to get a long arm up and block a driving shot along the baseline. A few seconds and a few long strides later at the other end, he took in a pass, made a jab fake and then rose up to hit a step-back turnaround.

With the hulking, plodding Roy Hibbert on his way to the Lakers, it’s a new day and a new style of play for the Pacers and that’s where the rookie center says he’s ready to fit in.

“I’m very excited about it,” said the 19-year-old who was the No. 11 pick in the draft. “I’m ready for anything. I joined this team. They selected me to come in here to play right away, I guess. So if that’s what is required of me, I’m gonna go out there and do it.”

The 6-11 center is young and green and doesn’t exactly have a body type that will inspire fear in opponents when he first hits the floor in the NBA. But nearly a week of work in the Orlando Pro Summer League has shown that Turner is willing and able to do lot of different things.

He put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shot on in a loss to the Pistons on Wednesday and Turner is looking more comfortable in each day.

“The week of practice with two-a-days definitely helped,” he said. “I’ve been acclimated to the plays and feeling better. We haven’t won anything yet, but I feel better individually.”

It has helped that point guard Joe Young, the Pacers’ second round draft pick, has been able to get back onto the floor and play after missing time with stomach problems.

“Joe is a real scorer for us, a threat and he knows what he’s doing running the point and I think having him back has given me a level of comfort playing,” Turner said.

In his one college season at Texas, Turner was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and was known as a shot blocker at one end and guy who likes to shoot from the outside at the other end. He averaged 2.6 blocks per game at Texas and had five blocks on nine different occasions. In three summer league games he’s averaging 18.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks.

“The blocks are something I’ve always done,” Turner said. “Just protect the rim. It makes me very useful and valuable on the defensive end. It’s one thing I want to even increase as I get into my NBA career.

“I’ve always had a shooting touch. It’s something I enjoy doing. But I’ll work in the post as well. I’m seven-foot tall. So I’ve got to be able to go down there and mix it up.

“You’ve got to definitely be versatile to survive in this league. If you’re weak on one end, they’re gonna expose you. So my versatility is key.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel has been observing while assistants Dan Burke and Popeye Jones work the bench during the summer league and likes what he’s seen from Turner’s early work.

“He’s got such a unique combination of skills with the ability to shoot with range, but also you’ve seen him dominate the game on the defensive end with his shot-blocking,” Vogel said. “We’re really high on him.”

With Hibbert gone, Paul George fully recovered from his broken leg and the addition of Monta Ellis, the Pacers will have a new look.

“We’re going to be a different team than we’ve been in the past, and that’s something I’m really excited about,” Vogel said. “We’re going to try to get up and down the floor a lot more than we have, be more of a running team, play with more pace. But also playing Paul George at the 4 some, maybe a lot, could give us an entirely different look, with the ability to just space the floor and not always play with two bigs the way we have in the past. And I think it’s going to open up a lot of things for a lot of guys.”

Turner sees the opening.

“I’ve got work to do, plenty of things to get better at doing,” he said. “But I’m here to play and if they’re going to give me the chance to do it right away, I’m gonna be ready.”

HOFer Ewing on Hornets rookie Kaminsky: Just call him a ‘stretch-big’


VIDEO: Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky scores and gets and one.

ORLANDO — The rookie NBA seasons of Patrick Ewing and Frank Kaminsky are 30 years apart, more than enough time for the role of the big man and the game itself to have changed dramatically.

The Warriors and Cavaliers finished the 2015 Finals seemingly trying to see which team could put the smallest lineup on the floor.

So here comes Kaminsky, at 7-foot-1 an outstanding 3-point shooter, taking his summer league cues from Ewing, who carved out much of a Hall Fame career with his fierce work down in the low post.

But the union of the No. 9 pick in the Draft and his Summer League coach has shown glimpses of what is possible for the Hornets next season.

Many of Kaminsky’s strengths will translate well to the current NBA. He is a 7-footer who is 11-for-20 on 3-pointers in his first four games, creating mismatches by stepping outside and challenging opponents come out and defend him.

“I’ve just got to figure out my role within the offense, and on the defensive end, too,” Kaminsky said. “Every game is different. Every team has different personnel, so you have to pay attention and really go with it.”

Kaminsky shot better from the outside in his first two games, but has been successful lately in putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket.

“I think he’s still learning,” Ewing said. “I think he’s going to be a very good player for us. I still want him to do a much better job on the rebounding, also on defense. Those are the things that he’s going to have to work on from here on out, because people are going to try to go at him on the defensive end.

“But I think he’s going to be a good player. He has a great feel for the game. He knows how to put the ball on the floor. He knows how to create and get shots.”

There was a time back in 1985 when Ewing was breaking into the NBA when any young 7-footer would have been encouraged to played more with his back to the basket in the traditional mode of the big man.

“No question, it’s a different situation when you’re talking about going against guys like Hakeem (Olajuwon) and David (Robinson) and Shaq (O’Neal) and me,” Ewing said. “You had to get down there inside and mix things up in order to survive.

“But no matter what era you play in and no matter where you’re playing, any coach, any good coach is going to utilize the skills that a player possesses.

“(Kaminsky) is a guy who can shoot the basketball. He’d probably be a lot like (Bill) Laimbeer. I mean, Laimbeer back in my day, was a big that shot the 3-point shot. He didn’t really post up that much. Frank has the ability to post up. But Laimbeer was a guy that stayed out there and shot 3s. Also Sam Perkins. So it’s not like there weren’t other guys who possessed those skills. It’s just that in this era, there’s a lot more more of them.”

It’s the era when everybody wants and needs the “stretch-four” to space the floor and open up driving lanes for the guards.

“He’s a stretch-big,” Ewing said of Kaminsky. “He’s what, 7-1? Yeah, he’s a stretch-big.”

Kaminsky has heard all of the questions, the criticism, the second-guessing of Charlotte spending the No. 9 pick to get him. They passed on Justise Winslow. They passed up a reported offer of four No. 1 draft picks from the Celtics.

All he’s done is kept his head down to move ahead when he’s not looking at the basket for his shot and listening to Ewing.

“He’s been great so far,” Kaminsky said. “He knows my strength. He runs plays to what my strengths are. He’ll get on me when I need it and there’s a lot of different things he knows about the game that I can just learn. He’s been around the game for so long and has so many tricks up his sleeve, a lot of knowledge that I can take away from him.”

Kaminsky had a double-double of 19 points, 12 rebounds in his first summer league game put up 13 and seven with a couple of blocked shot in Wednesday’s 81-68 loss to the Orlando White team and came away with more things to work on.

“On the defensive end mostly,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I have to work on. Just staying with it. At points in that game I let my emotions get to me a little bit, with fatigue and frustration. But just got to work through all of that.

“I know I need get better in pick-and-roll situations. On the offensive end, I just need to keep adding things to my game. I like being a matchup nightmare. That’s what I want to be in the NBA.”

Which translates in any era.

Blogtable: Do the Lakers or Knicks have a tougher road to respectability?

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League



VIDEOCharles Barkley isn’t convinced Roy Hibbert will help the Lakers

> Do the Lakers or Knicks have the tougher road back to respectability and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My hunch is, the Knicks are going to have a harder time getting back to a level at which they’re considered legitimate contenders for an NBA title. As shaky as the master plan might seem in L.A., it’s shakier in New York, what with James Dolan‘s can’t-help-himself meddling and Phil Jackson‘s half-in, half-out, triangle-devoted, smartest-guy-in-the-room theoretical approach. Carmelo Anthony‘s contract will be an albatross with legs compared to Kobe Bryant‘s one-more-season-of-fiscal-pain deal. The ex-Lakers as coaches, Byron Scott vs. Derek Fisher, that’s kind of a push, in my view. The respective rosters? Meh. What it finally comes down to, I suppose, is that I’ll take my chances with Mitch Kupchak over anyone at the Garden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOh, how the mighty have fallen. Now we’ve lowered the bar for the top two cities in the country from behind championship contenders to merely “respectability?” In that case, have to go with the Lakers, who are starting out with two young talents in Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell to just a single Kristaps Porzingas in New York. Also when Kobe Bryant leaves — it will happen eventually, won’t it? — the draw of the L.A. market, the Hollywood image and all that entails will allow the Lakers to attract talent.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Lakers have the tougher road, because they play in the tougher conference. As much as what was once a wide gulf has closed, the East is still more forgiving. If you want to use making the playoffs as a cutline for respectability, the Knicks can get there quicker. One other factor in the question: It is possible both teams could be in the lottery but not have their 2016 first-round pick.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s the Knicks with the tougher climb. Kristaps Porzingis will probably need more time to grow than D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant comes off the Lakers cap next summer while Melo will weigh it down for the Knicks at least 3 more years. The Lakers can start anew next summer with Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo plus tons of cap space to chase Durant. Who knows, in 2 years they could possibly sway Blake Griffin to switch L.A. teams and/or get ex-UCLA star Russell Westbrook to “come home.” Bottom line is, with their management situation, the Lakers don’t have an “easy” road to recovery, just easier than the Knicks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s the Knicks. As these two teams stand and given decent health, the Knicks will be the better team next season. But at best, that’s good enough to finish 8-11 in the East, which isn’t saying much. In regard to a five-year plan and eventually winning another playoff series, the Lakers have better pieces in place (Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell), as well as more financial flexibility in the next couple of summers, when they won’t be handcuffed by Kobe Bryant‘s contract.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Knicks, without question. This wasn’t the summer I expected the Lakers to remake themselves in free agency. Next summer is when they’ll have the flexibility to get that done and youngsters D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will have a full NBA season under their belts. We’ve already seen enough of the Knicks, and that’s without Arron Afflalo, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez in the mix. The Lakers have the luxury of their biggest salaries coming off the books for next summer while the Knicks will not have nearly as much financial flexibility.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Lakers have won championships recently, and Jeanie Buss is asserting leadership and demanding accountability. These are big advantages. Knowing how to win — and especially how to make winning the priority — is a huge deal in the NBA. Can Phil Jackson introduce that point of view to the Knicks? We won’t know until he’s actually done it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I suppose the answer here depends upon what we define as “respectability.” To me, being a playoff team would be respectable, and in that sense, the Lakers have really tough road ahead of them. The Western Conference is so stacked, it’s going to be a multi-year process for any franchise hoping to become a perennial playoff power. Just initially, take last year’s eight playoff teams, and then add Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Utah, Minnesota, who are all right there on the cusp. That’s a significant mountain for any team to climb.

Blogtable: Some Summer League musings

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League



VIDEOKarl-Anthony Towns reflects on achieving his NBA dream

> Las Vegas Summer League is just days away. Which rookie are you most excited to see perform on the big stage? Which veteran will most benefit from Summer League play? And, which player in Summer League in Orlando and/or Utah has most impressed you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Among the rookies in Las Vegas, I’m going straight chalk. I want an up-close look at Karl-Anthony Towns simply because he is that rarest of species this side of the Tasmanian tiger: A Timberwolves No. 1 overall Draft pick. We’ve never had one before, but most insiders believe the Wolves got it right, so I want to see more than a glimmer of potential in Vegas. … Among returning players, it’s important for Chicago’s Doug McDermott to play as well as or better than he did last summer (and he was very good). McDermott’s rookie season was washed out by injury and bench splinters, but he has a new coach (Fred Hoiberg) friendly to his style of play and he has vowed the sort of dramatic, freshman-to-sophomore improvement that wowed ’em at Creighton. … As for Orlando/Salt Lake City, Indiana’s Myles Turner has opened some eyes, averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks while hitting 14-of-22 shots in his first two games. With Roy Hibbert gone, and only Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen ahead of him on the depth chart, Turner – while needing to tighten up defensively – might grab some “stretch-5″ opportunities in coach Frank Vogel‘s promised quicker attack.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: This could be the start of a decade or more of comparing Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor. At a time when people are saying it’s a “small ball” league, I want to see the big dogs hunt. Before he went down with an ankle injury, I was looking forward to seeing Dante Exum’s progress from year 1 to 2. Last year’s first round Thunder pick Mitch McGary is coming back from a fractured foot, a virtually lost rookie season and has now lost nearly 30 pounds and looking like the player OKC drafted. Have to like what Okafor showed, especially in the second half, of his first game in Utah. Along with the totally changed body of McGary, the Magic’s Aaron Gordon has come back for Year 2 with a shot, an energy level that could be contagious and an intensity that’s fun to watch.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I am most interested to see Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay in Las Vegas. Karl-Anthony Towns goes somewhere high on the list as well because there’s always the added excitement of seeing the No. 1 pick, but Mudiay has faced very little competition the last year. Porzingis has been challenged, but this will be a big step in a big spotlight. The veteran who will benefit most from summer league? The one that doesn’t get hurt and plays his way into a contract somewhere. As far as Orlando and Utah, Aaron Gordon has jumped out in early play. Not exactly a veteran, but not a rookie either.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: In Vegas, I’d love to see how D’Angelo Russell handles himself and how he can elevate a roster full of dreamers by making them better. It’ll be the first step in proving the Lakers did right by passing up Jahlil Okafor, or not. As for the “veteran” I suspect the Jazz would love to receive some reassurance from Dante Exum in Vegas. In Utah, Okafor had the kind of debut you’d expect from the No. 2 overall pick, especially with his soft touch around the rim. The Sixers are feeling better already. In Orlando, Aaron Gordon and Stanley Johnson clearly stood out. Gordon is flush with confidence after a so-so rookie season and Johnson is clearly a feisty baller, although a ‘tweener.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m curious to see D’Angelo Russell, because he’ll be handed the keys in L.A. right away. Noah Vonleh is a top-10 pick from last year who got injured in training camp, never got a chance to play with the Hornets, and could have a real opportunity in Portland. So these couple of weeks could be big for him. So far, I’ve been most impressed by Myles Turner, a skilled big who could make Pacers fans forget about Roy Hibbert pretty quickly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It will be all eyes on D’Angelo Russell in Vegas, and rightfully so. The Lakers put that on him when they passed on Jahlil Okafor. The veteran who will benefit most from summer school is Mitch McGary of Oklahoma City. He reshaped his body and is healthy and showed that his relentless motor is his greatest tool. The Thunder will be loaded with a healthy roster to start the season. I always think Summer League is a better place for second-year guys to show off the improvement in their game than it is an indicator of what’s to come from any rookie, even the ones who dazzle in summer league. Great first impressions from Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, Frank Kaminsky and Myles Turner in the early stages of summer have highlighted things for me. They all look like instant impact contributors for their respective teams, based solely on what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I want to see Kristaps Porzingis run the floor, defend and shoot from distance for the Knicks, who are desperate for young talent. Summer league is easy to dismiss but Porzingis’s blend of skills, length and agility should speak for itself – for better or for worse. I was going to cite Dante Exum as a veteran with the most to gain; but now that he has suffered a sprained ankle, I want to see whether James Young has matured defensively and off the ball for the Celtics. The breakout player so far has been Aaron Gordon, who has developed a jump shot to go with his driving athleticism.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Let’s see what Karl Anthony Towns can bring at this next level. Is he just a defender, as has been purported, or can he be a two-way player with stretch-5 range? And his teammate, Zach LaVine, was one of the most exciting players I saw a year ago in Vegas, so I’m looking forward to seeing his evolution. LaVine’s incredible explosiveness really lends itself to the pace of Summer League. One guy has stood out to me so far has been Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky. He can shoot from the outside, but also can pump fake and get to the rim and finish. He already looks ahead of their previous lottery forward, the since departed Noah Vonleh.

Blogtable: Toughest (and easiest) division?

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League



VIDEODallas is one of the forces to be reckoned with in the Southwest Division

> Provided all the agreed-to free-agent deals happen, which division (as of today) looks toughest and easiest to traverse to the top in 2015-16? And give me a reason or two why you’re picking each one.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com You don’t want to go wandering into that Southwest Division, the NBA’s equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks. It’s nasty down there, full of rough-looking characters on playoff-tested teams. And they’re not just bad, they’re big, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan elbowing in alongside Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan. If it’s a stroll through the park you want, you head to the Atlantic, where Toronto was the only team above .500 last season and might have taken a step back in losing Amir Johnson and Lou Williams. Everyone else in that district is flawed as well, not ready for prime time, with Brooklyn headed down, Boston and Philadelphia still learning and New York pursuing mediocrity as an upgrade from last season.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Bermuda Triangle has nothing on the Texas Triangle for being a potential danger to travelers. Toss in Memphis and New Orleans and the Southwest is clearly the roughest, toughest neighborhood in the league. All five teams made the playoffs last season and they’ve only gotten better. I’ll give you five reasons why the Atlantic is the weakest division — Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Raptors and Sixers.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Toughest: Southwest, and it’s probably not even close. New Orleans won 45 games in 2014-15 and still finished last. Now imagine the division with the Spurs and Mavericks coming off their summers. Easiest: Northwest. Even with the Jazz on track to push past .500, with the demise of the Trail Blazers, it’s still OKC and everyone else.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Seeing as how the league is ready to devalue divisions, the rankings really don’t matter much anymore. But, as you will: The Southwest (Spurs, Rockets, Mavs, Grizz, Pelicans) will lap the field in terms of toughness. You could make an argument for every team making the playoffs, even the Pelicans. Just look at the stars: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kawhi Leonard, etc. It’s a division just steep with talent. The Atlantic will be the weakest if only because they’ll be dragged down by the Knicks and Sixers. In that division, only the Raptors are built to last into spring, and they lack the necessary franchise player to go deep.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Southwest Division was already the best in the league (0.637 winning percentage last season), added LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, should have a healthier Rockets team, and has Anthony Davis getting better every year. The Celtics, Knicks and Raptors all made some improvements, but the Atlantic Division will remain the worst in the league, with at least three (and maybe four) teams under 0.500. The second best team (Boston) is still without a real impact player.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Southwest is going to be a torture chamber. And I’ll give you five reasons, starting with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. All five should be playoff-caliber teams. All five have spent the summer either improving or at least fortifying themselves through the Draft and free agency. They will batter each other in the division and make life miserable for any team that has to pull a Southwest Division swing. The easiest division? I prefer terms like least treacherous. The Northwest and Atlantic both look like they’ll have several teams trying to recover from the offseason (Draft, free agency, trades, etc.), which will keep those divisions from being as strong top-to-bottom.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The Atlantic remains the NBA’s weakling, in spite of its immense markets: its four big American franchises are rebuilding, while the Raptors have won no more than a single playoff series in 20 years. The powerhouse is the Southwest, which looks capable of producing five playoff teams for a second straight year — and possibly 50-plus wins across the board, pending the continued development of Anthony Davis. Any one of its teams would dominate the Atlantic.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Well, the Southwest is now the Southbest. As if it wasn’t already tough enough, now you’ve got LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in San Antonio, James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, Dirk Nowitzki, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews in Dallas, and the Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies in Memphis. Poor New Orleans has to satisfy themselves with “just” having Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division is still the Atlantis. While the Knicks, Sixers, Celtics and Nets all search for a path to relevance, the Raptors should be on top for a few years to come.

New look, new game for McGary

VIDEO: Thunder forward Mitch McGary talks about his Summer League play.

ORLANDO, Fla. — After a rookie NBA season that he’d just as soon forget, what Mitch McGary wanted was a whole new experience this time around.

What he brought to the Orlando Pro Summer League is a whole new Mitch McGary.

There is more more speed and explosiveness, more sheer power and will to his rebounding, more force and dominance in almost everything he does on the court.

Much of that is because there is less physically of McGary, who is down 27 pounds from the end of last season, when he played in only 32 games for the Thunder, averaging just 15 minutes and 6.3 points.

He was the 21st pick in the 2014 Draft and Oklahoma City had high hopes, but McGary broke a bone in his left foot in the first preseason game and then was sidelined later by inflammation in his left leg. He played just eight games in his last (sophomore) year at Michigan due to a lower back injury.

When he finally broke through with back-to-back games against the Clippers and Nuggets in March with a combined 36 points and 20 rebounds, there were signs of the old force that he once was in college at Michigan.

But McGary wanted more

“I’m sick of being injured and not being able to play at full strength 100 percent,” McGary said. “So this summer was really key for me. I stayed in Oklahoma City and just been working my tail off to get into shape.”

He’s done that dramatically, changing his 6-10 body so much that even some people who’ve known him for a while have done double-takes while passing the now chiseled-looking figure in the hallways of Amway Center.

McGary has done it by giving up his beloved candy and sweets and stopped living on the classic college diet of fast food. He took cooking lessons and has learned to enjoy and thrive on a diet of fish and chicken. And the proof is in the puddling that he’s not allowed to eat.

In his first three Summer League games McGary is averaging 11.3 points, seven rebounds and shooting 57.1 percent from the field in 24 minutes.

“The thing I’m really excited about for Mitch is the thing he’s been able to do with his body,” said the Thunder’s new head coach, Billy Donovan. “He’s in really, really good shape. He’s worked really hard. He’s had a really good offseason.

“I thought the [first] night there were some things he wanted to get better, things he wanted to improve on. I really thought he put his mind and focus on those things. … I thought his energy, his intensity, things that he did was really positive.

“But coming off an injury and now being cleared to play, I think him getting back on the court and playing well has been really, really good. But the biggest thing Mitch has done and why he’s moving so much better is what he’s done with his body.”

With Kevin Durant looking to bounce back from his own injury-plagued season, Donovan moving in to run the show and the Thunder having missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the second-year player has company in terms of something to prove.

“This is just the start,” said McGary. “I’ve still got a lot of summer and a lot of work ahead of me to get where I want to be. But I love working hard. Like I said, I’m just sick of being injured and one of my bigger goals for the offseason is just to get healthier. Right now, I’m happy with the way I feel and the way things are going with our team. It’s a different look from last season.”

And nobody looks more different than McGary.