Posts Tagged ‘Houston Rockets’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kevin Garnett returns…to coach? | DeRozan still motivated | Joe Johnson looking to contribute in Utah | Nets embrace holistic approach to health

No. 1: Kevin Garnett returns…to coach? Just days after announcing his retirement from the NBA, Kevin Garnett resurfaced yesterday at Los Angeles Clippers training camp to impart some of his considerable wisdom, accumulated over his two-decade NBA career. According to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Garnett’s talents apparently extend to the teaching realm

Garnett was asked by Clippers Coach Doc Rivers to come to practice to work with big men Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and rookies Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone.

But as it turned out, all of the Clippers were interested in learning from one of the NBA’s all-time greats at the practice in the Bren Events Center on UC Irvine’s campus.

“K.G. was phenomenal today,” Rivers said. “This morning, before practice, he had a teaching clinic that you would pay a lot of money to see. It was great. It was great for Blake and D.J., and the young guys as well. It’s great to have him around. He’s a great teacher. … He’ll be really good for us.”

Over the 21 seasons Garnett played in the NBA before retiring last week from the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 6-foot-11 power forward was known for his intense nature, his defense-minded approach, his team-oriented ways and a persona of toughness.

Garnett and Clippers forward Paul Pierce were teammates for six seasons in Boston, winning the NBA title in 2008 with Rivers. Paul Pierce was happy to see his old friend.

“He’s been a major inspiration in this league for a long time,” Pierce said. “A lot of guys look up to him. He has so much to share, and it’s good to see him come here and share some of the things with some of our guys, especially D.J. and Blake. He’s working with them right now. All that helps.”

Garnett’s impressive resume meant all of the Clippers listened when he spoke.

He was the 2004 league most valuable player, the defensive player of the year in 2008, a 15-time All-Star and nine-time All-NBA player.

Jamal Crawford called Garnett one of his “10 favorite players” and said it was “unbelievable” to have the future Hall of Famer at practice.

“That’s one of the best players to ever play the game,” Crawford said. “So every second you’re around a guy like that you’re listening to every single thing that he says. You’re a sponge. You’re like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Kevin Garnett.’ No matter what, they’ve watched him playing growing up. They’ve seen the highlights.

“He’s one of the best to ever play basketball. He just has a certain aura about him once he walks in that there is a certain respect that he demands. For him to be here and to give them that kind of knowledge, it speaks volumes about him as well.”

***

No. 2: DeRozan still motivated Toronto swingman DeMar DeRozan signed a long-term contract extension earlier this summer, a validation of all the work he’s put in thus far in his career. But according to DeRozan, he’s not ready to accept that the work is finished. If anything, he’s still finding motivation to keep improving, as he told TSN Sports…

“Honestly, I don’t think about the contract for motivation or anything like that,” said the Raptors’ guard. “My motivation is knowing what it feels like losing in the playoffs, being two games away from making it to the Finals, knowing how hard we worked to get there, being able to try to be better so we can see that moment again and prevail.”

“Just using all the motivations on a daily [basis] to be there. It’s not about the contract, it’s about everything we do to compete on the court.”

As those that have followed his eight-year NBA career know, DeRozan has never lacked for motivation. Unlike many professional athletes, who claim to avoid or just ignore criticism from fans and the media, DeRozan gets a kick out of reading what’s written about him. He reads it. He listens to it. He remembers it.

Certainly, there hasn’t been a shortage of opinion when it comes to his game and, as a result, most people – fans and pundits alike – are split on his value.
His latest perceived slight came from a familiar source: SI.com’s recent NBA player rankings, which have DeRozan slotted 46th going into the new season. After sharing his disapproval of the ranking on Twitter earlier this month, he doubled down when it came up after practice on Thursday.

“It’s always going to be extra motivation,” said DeRozan following the morning session on his team’s third day of training camp at Fortius Sport & Health in Burnaby, BC. “And it’s things like that that you can use to add fuel to the fire, but at this point I’m so self-motivated that don’t do nothing but make me laugh at it. Whoever came up with that is stupid in my opinion.”

***

No. 3: Joe Johnson looking to contribute in Utah As he’s become one of the NBA’s most reliable stars, Joe Johnson has started every NBA game he’s played over the last dozen years. But this season in Utah, it looks likely that Johnson may come off the bench, which he says is fine with him as long as it is what’s best for the team. As the Deseret News reports, Johnson believes he can have an impact in more ways than just playing…

“I’m not coming here trying to be a star or starter,” Johnson said. “Me and coach Quin Snyder have talked from time to time through texts or phone calls. He understands where I’m at and I understand what he wants from me as a player and that’s to help these young guys such as Rodney (Hood) and Gordon. I’m here to tell them about some of the things I’ve been through and help them out with their experiences.”

Johnson has played for five other NBA teams, most recently the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat last season. He was acquired in July as a free agent to a reported two-year, $22-million contract by the Jazz, who wanted some scoring punch as well as a veteran leader, something they got in Johnson.

“The fit is a really good one,” said Snyder. “What he brings is a confidence and experience and as much as anything, maturity. This is a player who has started every game for the past 10 years. He knows that the situation here could be different, but that wasn’t a deterrent to him coming here.

“Everything I heard about him has been positive. He knows how much I respect him. I think he looked at this team and said, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for me to have an impact and help build something.’ That’s satisfying. Credit him, the guy’s got no ego.”

One thing the Jazz like most about Johnson on the floor is his versatility. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Johnson normally plays small forward but with his shooting ability, he can play the off-guard spot and the Jazz say they can even use him as a power forward when they want to go smaller.

“Joe’s a guy who gives us a bigger wing capable of scoring in the post and is capable of playing the four position,” Snyder said. “The thing that gets lost about him, is he can play a lot of different ways. He’s an excellent passer, he takes pride in his defense.”

***

No. 4: Brooklyn Nets embrace holistic approach to health As part of the new Sean Marks/Kenny Atkinson regime in Brooklyn, the organization is embracing a holistic approach to player health, looking at everything from sleep patterns to diet. It’s just another step in looking for any edge possible, although as Brook Lopez notes, he dearly misses his Slurpees

“I’ve never seen an organization care for their players holistically, from a 24/7 standpoint, versus when we’re on the court or when we’re practicing or at the arena,’’ Jeremy Lin said. “It’s all-encompassing … like the way you sleep or little stuff like how you set up your bedroom and how it impacts your sleep.

“All of that impacts your performance as an athlete. … They’re really trying to do things right, to establish culture not just from when you step on the floor.”

Establishing that culture — especially on a team that won just 21 games last season — means improving not just strength, but agility and mobility, and monitoring everything from sleep patterns to diet.

“The No. 1 thing is buy-in. That’s the biggest thing in the NBA, [if] you get them to buy in, and the performance team has gotten buy-in,’’ Atkinson said. “The players enjoy being in the weight room. … Out here on the court [working on] agility, mobility. That’s part of building the total program.

“It’s such an athletic league, and we feel like it’s a big part of what we do. I was joking with one of the coaches, the performance team is going to move us out of our offices pretty soon.”

That team includes director of player performance Zach Weatherford, who spent the past two years as human performance manager at the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command; strength and conditioning coach Dan Meehan, who had done the same for the North Melbourne Football Club in Australia; athletic trainer/physical therapist Lloyd Beckett; and director of physical therapy Aisling Toolan.

It’s an eclectic mix, but one that has gotten rave reviews.

“I look at the positive feedback I’ve gotten from the players, and just the fact [they’re] consistently coming in on their own and we’re seeing changes in guys’ bodies,’’ general manager Sean Marks said. “They’ve either slimmed down, toned up, whatever. They’re buying into the processes.”

From the slimmed-down like Lopez and Sean Kilpatrick to the toned-up like Chris McCullough, the changes are apparent.

“It’s just changing the way my body moves. We’re looking for any way we can improve,’’ Brook Lopez said. “It’s all across the board, preventing future injury, stamina, diet as well. We have specialized people all across the board, and we’re already reaping the benefits.”

In the case of Lopez, the benefit is he’s seven pounds lighter and clearly leaner, and has better mobility as a result of a better diet.

“I don’t like to talk about it, it’s so sad,’’ Lopez said ruefully. “My Achilles’ heel when it comes to my diet are Slurpees, Icees, like Sonic Route 44 slushes with the Nerds or popping candy inside. That had to take a backseat.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyronn Lue has a standing invite for Kevin Garnett to join his coaching staff in Cleveland … A rule change will now allow teams to access data directly from the bench … There’s a “better vibe” in Chicago this season, according to Doug McDermottCameron Payne suffered a broken footMike Dunleavy loves being with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season … The Rockets have signed P.J. Hairston to a non-guaranteed deal …

Morning shootaround — Sept. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

League, teams hoping to create social change | D’Antoni needs buy-in from Rockets | Lue’s hesitation was worth more than $25 million | Road back-to-backs most dangerous

No. 1: League, teams hoping to create social change — In the wake of more deaths of black men at the hands of police and protests in Charlotte, the NBA and the Player’s Association sent out a joint letter to players about plans to take action and promote social change. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan released a statement calling for peace in the city. And talking with the media on Thursday, Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers said that his team will put together a panel to discuss the issue. Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle has the story…

As police-involved fatal shootings of black men continue to rock the nation and spark protests in cities and on playing fields, Myers recognizes that Golden State has a unique platform to create positive change.

But before players and coaches can be part of the solution, they must understand the issues. Myers and head coach Steve Kerr recently brainstormed ways to raise awareness of social injustices. Among the ideas is a panel of civic leaders, a list of names for which already has begun.

“We need to practice to play basketball,” Myers said. “But if one day, Steve walked in and said to (our players), ‘We’re not practicing today. We’re actually gonna go meet with these four people.’ That’s much more important and the players, we feel, will carry that with them.”

“What’s happening out in society, that’s not good,” Myers said. “It’s much more important than dribbling the basketball and making shots. What we’re going to try to do as an organization is take some opportunities to try to have these conversations.”

***

No. 2: D’Antoni needs buy-in from Rockets — After a successful, five-year run in Phoenix, Mike D’Antoni had less-than-mediocre results in New York (where he went 121-167) and L.A. (67-87). Now D’Antoni is in Houston and as it does in every other NBA gym at this time of year, optimism abounds. The key for the Rockets, according to D’Antoni, is getting the players to buy in and believe in the system. Bleacher Report‘s Maurice Bobb spoke to the coach and Rockets GM Daryl Morey about their hopes for the season …

D’Antoni says he doesn’t think too much about his time in L.A. and New York, but he’s certainly aware of the main issues that plagued those locker rooms.

“I could never get the guys from the beginning to buy into the way we want to play,” D’Antoni told Bleacher Report. “We never got everybody going into the same direction. That was my fault. It happened. That’s in the past. This is a new team. Guys want to play the way we all want to play.”

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is betting that a change of scenery is all D’Antoni needs to flourish again. To Morey, a career .650 winning percentage over five years in Phoenix speaks louder than the well-publicized flameouts in the NBA’s biggest markets.

“The players are improved under him, the teams have improved,” Morey told B/R. “After he’s left, the teams have done worse. We also have had a lot of success playing an uptempo, spread-floor style. Our players fit that, and having his level of experience and knowledge added to our personnel, which is already set up for his style of play, was a huge factor in us hiring him.”

***

No. 3: Lue’s hesitation was worth more than $25 million — When the Cavs fired David Blatt with a 30-11 record in January, they didn’t want to just make Tyronn Lue an interim coach. They offered him a three-year contract. But Lue never signed it, and it wasn’t necessarily because he thought he could get more money if he won a championship. As Joe Vardon writes for Cleveland.com, Lue wanted to make sure the job was right for him. And his hesitation resulted in a much more lucrative deal after the Cavs won their first title…

Lue, 39, knew what he was getting into when he took over for David Blatt last January. He knew Blatt was fired (Lue was Blatt’s chief assistant) despite a 30-11 record and a trip to the 2015 Finals.

He knew of the heightened scrutiny and brighter lights that come with coaching a team led by James, whose every word is dissected by media and fans and who can set off a firestorm with a simple Tweet.

That’s why Lue, born in little Mexico, Missouri, never signed a three-year, $9.5 million contract he had verbally agreed to with the Cavs when they promoted him to take Blatt’s job.

It wasn’t so much that Lue was betting on himself, although the gamble paid off handsomely. He steered Cleveland to the largest comeback in Finals history to win the franchise’s first title, and thus earned an annual raise of more than $4 million.

Lue held off, he said, because “I wanted to make sure it was the “right fit.”

“Was I right for this job?” Lue said, rhetorically. “I hate being on TV, hate dealing with media on TV. All that stuff, I don’t like that. Being with LeBron, who draws all kinds of attention, I knew I was going to see myself on TV. I hate that. I like to fly under radar. I wanted to make sure the fit was right.”

***

No. 4: Road back-to-backs most dangerous — ESPN‘s Tom Haberstroh has the numbers on the increased frequency of occasions where healthy players get a day off to rest, from 19 in 2012-13 to 146 last season. He also talks to professor Masaru Teramoto, who has done a study on injuries in the NBA…

In a study provided to ESPN.com that will be published publicly in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport later this month, Teramoto researched three seasons of NBA injury data, from 2012-13 through 2014-15, in an attempt to determine if certain aspects of the schedule — in particular, back-to-backs and travel — led to players getting injured in games.

What Teramoto found surprised him: Back-to-backs alone are not associated with greater instances of in-game injury, but back-to-backs that are played on the road are significant predictors of in-game injury, generating 3.5 times the injury rate as those played at home.

The problem? Two out of every three back-to-backs are on the road.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap has a knee issue that will keep him sidelined for the next few weeksThe Kings have questions at point guard … Grizzlies.com caught up with a few of the team’s key players to get an update on their recovery from last season’s injuriesDorell Wright is going to camp with the Clippers … and Jason Terry doesn’t think Klay Thompson is in James Harden‘s league.

Blogtable: Which two teams are most intriguing in the West?

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: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> As the start of Western Conference training camps near, which two teams are you most intrigued by? And what depth chart battle/storyline/offseason move(s) by those teams will you be watching most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Golden State and Oklahoma City, largely for the same reason. It’s impossible not to go full gawker on Golden State to see how Kevin Durant fits in, as well as how the Warriors’ other scorers and staff adapt to areas of redundancy while plugging holes opened primarily by departing bigs Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili. Curious to see how they go 83-0 too. For OKC, it’s all about addition by subtraction (not just Durant but Serge Ibaka), Russell Westbrook unleashed as an early MVP favorite for all he’ll be asked or freed to do, the ongoing, entertaining saga of Steven Adams‘ NBA journey, Victor Oladipo‘s ascending star and Billy Donovan forced to work in his second pro season without one of the league’s top 3 players.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors and the Timberwolves. Golden State is obvious — fans love the addition of Kevin Durant, enemies will make it the reason to hate the defending West champions even more, but no one can deny it will be amazing to watch the adjustment play out. Win or lose, the Dubs are changing and what happens next is captivating. While I wouldn’t make Minnesota a preseason pick for the playoffs, tracking the next step on the very promising future is mandatory viewing. So is the depth chart at point guard, with veteran Ricky Rubio and rookie Kris Dunn.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Wolves and Warriors. So much is expected of both teams, to different levels of course, and training camp will unlock some mysteries. How will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, a pair of MVPs, develop harmony? And Durant and Klay Thompson, for that matter? All three are terrific shooters and you wonder if they’ll be too unselfish initially. Meanwhile in Minnesota, camp comes down to one position and two names: Point guard, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Houston and Minnesota. Putting James Harden‘s pick-and-roll playmaking in Mike D’Antoni‘s offense seems ideal, and having Ryan Anderson at the four only makes the Rockets more difficult to defend. But I’m curious to see if they can be an average defensive team or better. They still have some good defenders on the perimeter, but took a big step backward on that end of the floor last season, lost Dwight Howard, and will obviously need better defensive effort from Harden. I just want to know if Donatas Motiejunas is going to get a contract (or sign his qualifying offer), because D’Antoni could make good use of his skills. In Minnesota, I think Tom Thibodeau will take the Wolves from 27th in defensive efficiency to at least average on that end of the floor. And that, along with the development of their young talent, should have them in the playoff picture all season. They shouldn’t be shopping Ricky Rubio just yet, because he’s proven to be a key for them on both offense and defense. Zach LaVine should only be considered a two (he was a much improved shooter playing alongside Rubio), so there’s room for both Rubio and Kris Dunn at the point.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This isn’t fair to the rest of the teams in the Western Conference. With Kevin Durant joining that All-Star cast the Golden State Warriors already had in place, the Warriors are easily the most intriguing team in basketball. They’ll have to redefine their chemistry, of course, and work through whatever issues that will arise from adding a player on KD’s caliber. But it should be loads of fun watching it all go down. A surprise team last season, the Portland Trail Blazers return this season with some fresh faces and plenty of momentum (generated by their impressive playoff showing). We know Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the real deal. That underrated supporting cast that showed up in the playoffs last season is the question mark. I want to see how Evan Turner fits in that mix and see how the competition for rotation spots works out among all of that young talent.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHow quickly will Kevin Durant adapt to the move-the-ball style of the Warriors? Will their new bench serve as an extension to that style, or will we see the personality of the Warriors becoming more traditional this season? The 82 games are going to serve as a kind of extended preseason for the Warriors, in the sense that nothing can be proved until the playoffs. As fascinating as it will be to watch the Spurs and Thunder move on without their franchise stars, I’ll be focused more on the Clippers. Is this the year it all comes together for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? They have the talent and depth — their bench looks like a strength now — but do their leaders have the necessary resolve? Have their troubles of the last couple of years strengthened them to outfight the Warriors and other contenders?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Utah Jazz, and I choose them not only because they drafted me in the franchise mode of NBA 2K17. I really love the addition of Joe Johnson to provide a steadying veteran influence, as well as George Hill. (And if I learned anything else from 2K, it’s that Michael B. Jordan is no Michael Jordan.) For a second squad, I’m really interested to see what the Grizzlies do this season under new coach David Fizdale. They’re finally healthy, and the addition of Chandler Parsons should give them some scoring help which it feels like they’ve needed forever.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

An Epic Class | Born Ready in the Big Easy | Richardson suffers knee injury | Colangelo suggests “guarded optimism”

No. 1: An Epic Class — Each year sees a new class inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and by nature, some classes are more star-studded than others. But the class of 2016, inducted last night in Springfield, was as big as it gets. As our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes, last night’s induction ceremony was some kind of party …

These are the nights that make the Hall of Fame, when Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Walton, Alonzo Mourning, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo are under the same roof and all we need is for someone to run a play through center and dare the guy with the ball to get past Russell or Mutombo, when Allen Iverson can barely get through a syllable without choking up while mentioning Larry Brown, John Thompson and Julius Erving on stage with him as presenters, and when Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, of all people, is auditioning for “Saturday Night Live” while being enshrined.

“A Bar Mitzvah is the time in his life when a Jewish boy realizes he has a better chance of owning a team than playing for one,” Reinsdorf said, recalling his in 1949, the same year he would scrape together money to watch professional basketball at Madison Square Garden.

That was some Friday night at Symphony Hall. That was some party.

There hadn’t been this kind of star power at the enshrinement since 2010, probably the greatest of all, with Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, the 1960 Olympic team led by Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, plus the 1992 Dream Team that mostly came down from Mt. Olympus to attend. This time, O’Neal, Yao and Iverson were among the 10 members of the Class of 2017 and sparkle was everywhere in the audience, some just watching and some with ceremonial duty as presenters: Russell and the entire center depth chart, Dr. J, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Earl Monroe. On and on.

It wasn’t just the list of career accomplishments under one roof either. Put O’Neal, Iverson and Yao, the headliners among the inductees with NBA or ABA ties, in front of a microphone anywhere and good things will happen. Put them in front of a microphone at the same event, with historical figures engrossed or laughing along in the audience and a very good night for basketball happens.

Yao was dignified and humorous and smart and personable, everything he was as a Rocket, even in the trying times as the injuries piled up, until finally he had to retire early and his only chance for enshrinement was through the International committee, not on his NBA credentials. He successfully meshed growing up in China with growing in stature in Houston — “I’m a Texan, I’m a Houston Rocket for life” — and later, after returning to the audience to hear the nine speeches that followed, laughed along as O’Neal told the story of not knowing for years that he could converse with Yao in English.

Iverson was again the A.I. everyone expected, just as he had been the day before with a series of candid, thoughtful responses, especially in choking through his words and tearing up at the seemingly vanilla question on the importance to his career of having good teammates. He didn’t even get that far Friday. Iverson got emotional before even taking the stage, just from host Ahmad Rashad beginning the introduction. The audience cheered in support, backing him in a way few, if any, enshrinees had been cheered in recent years.

When Iverson did deliver his acceptance speech, he was The Answer in his prime, storming downcourt with the ball, on a laser line to the rim, no finesse, no pretense. He did 31 minutes straight from the gut. Iverson thanked Thompson, his Georgetown coach, “for saving my life” and listed dozens of family members, teammates, executives, coaches and media members. There were more raw emotions.

“I have no regrets being the guy that I am, a person my family loves, my friends love, my teammates love, my fans love,” Iverson said.

And Shaq. It may have been his best speech of the last 20 years, true appreciation of his place in basketball history without the loud stomping, the dramatics, that accompanied so many previous comments. It was strange to not mention Jerry West among many, many names who influenced his career, and any impression of a thawing with Kobe Bryant in recent seasons now must include O’Neal at the podium noting “the great Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant, a guy who will push me and help me win three titles in a row. But also help me get pushed off the team and traded to Miami.”

***

No. 2: Born Ready in the Big Easy — The last major free-agent domino seems to have fallen into place. According to his agent, Lance Stephenson has agreed to a one-year deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. As John Reid writes for NOLA.com, the Pelicans found themselves in need of backcourt help, although Stephenson may still have to earn a roster spot …

The move comes less than a week after point guard Jrue Holiday said he would miss the start of the 2016 season to care for his pregnant wife, former U.S. soccer star Lauren Holiday, who is facing brain surgery.

Guard-forward Tyreke Evans also is expected to miss the start of the season because he has not fully recovered after undergoing three surgeries on his right knee in a nine-month span.

Still, Stephenson will have to earn a roster spot because the Pelicans already have 15 players under guaranteed contracts.

Stephenson is a six-year veteran, most recently played with the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and three assists per game. The Clippers traded Stephenson, 26, to the Grizzlies in February after he played 43 games and averaged 4.7 points.

Stephenson, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, has ability to create off the dribble and provide needed scoring in the backcourt. The Pelicans put Stephenson through a workout at the practice facility last month to evaluate before offering him a deal.

A free agent, there was speculation that Stephenson might not land a NBA contract and would have to play in Europe.

Although talented, Stephenson has a reputation as a difficult player to coach. When he played for the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson got into a fight with teammate Evan Turner during a practice before their opening-round playoff series in 2014 against the Atlanta Hawks.

***

No. 3: Richardson suffers knee injury — The Miami Heat haven’t had the best offseason, losing several key players such as Dwyane Wade to Joe Johnson. And now they may be one more man down, at least for now, as explosive guard Josh Richardson suffered a knee injury yesterday during a workout. As Ira Winderman writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Richardson was in the mix for a starting spot …

An uneven offseason for the Miami Heat became a bit more challenging Friday, with second-year guard Josh Richardson suffering a knee injury during Friday’s voluntary workouts at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The injury was confirmed to the Sun Sentinel by a party close to the situation after Yahoo Sports reported Richardson sustained a partially torn MCL in his right knee.

A Heat spokesman said Richardson currently is being evaluated by the team’s medical staff.

The expectation is that Richardson will not be available for the start of training camp, which opens for the Heat on Sept. 27. He is tentatively still scheduled to make a promotional appearance Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, which indicates reduced concern about the injury.

Richardson downplayed the injury, posting on his Twitter account, “Thanks everyone for the tweets and texts. I see them. I’ll be back asap no worries.” He posted on his Snapchat, “Can’t hold a real one down!!!”

The Heat open their preseason schedule on Oct. 4 on the road against the Washington Wizards and their regular-season schedule on Oct. 26 on the road against the Orlando Magic.

An injury such as Richardson’s can take from two, three weeks to two, three months for recovery, depending on the grade of the tear.

A regular at the team’s offseason sessions, Richardson had been considered a candidate to emerge in the starting lineup this season, either at shooting guard or small forward.

***

No. 4: Colangelo suggests “guarded optimism” For the last few years, Philadelphia 76ers fans have been asked to trust the rebuilding process and look toward the future. Now that future is finally becoming the present, after two years waiting for former lottery pick Joel Embiid to get healthy enough to take the court. Speaking this weekend in Springfield, Sixers special advisor Jerry Colangelo said that Sixers fans should have “guarded optimism” when it comes to Embiid’s return…

“I’m sure that everyone should have optimism,” Colangelo told CSNPhilly.com at the Basketball Hall of Fame. “But there’s a word I’ve always used over the years about optimism. It should be guarded optimism because things take time. When you’re building teams — and I’ve had the privilege of doing that quite a few times in my career — you’re adding pieces here and there, and then once in a while you strike out and get that last piece. I think where the Sixers are today is, this is the beginning of that particular process, and that is building what everyone would hope to be a championship team.”

Two focal points of the Sixers’ future are Ben Simmons and Embiid. Simmons, a 6-foot-10 point-forward, is ready to make an impact as a rookie. Embiid, on the other hand, has been waiting two years to play following foot surgeries. Last month Embiid said he feels “100 percent” and plans to participate in training camp.

“With all of the reports that I’ve seen and all the footage I’ve seen in terms of video, it appears that he’s headed in the right direction,” Colangelo said of Embiid. “I know that everyone’s excited about training camp because of all of the new faces. … The fortunate ability to have the first pick and select Ben Simmons, you put all those new players on paper and to add that to a roster, it’s going to be really interesting, exciting to see how it all plays out.”

When it comes to incoming international players, Colangelo’s involvement with Team USA gave him the opportunity to meet with Dario Saric and Sergio Rodriguez in Rio during the Olympics. Saric, who signed with the Sixers two years after being drafted, had a solid showing for Croatia, while Rodriguez helped Spain win bronze.

“I thought [Saric] played very well and I complimented him on his performances,” Colangelo said. “Both of them showed great enthusiasm about coming to training camp. I think it’s going to be exciting to have them in Sixers uniforms very shortly.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Wizards coach Scott Brooks says he isn’t worried about the relationship between John Wall and Bradley Beal … Phil Jackson pays tribute to Shaq … Draymond Green pays tribute to Allen IversonKevin Durant says he and Russell Westbrook are “still cool” … LeBron James‘ production company has sold a “sports medicine drama” to NBC.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lawson to Sacramento | Embiid finally ready? | Divac hope Cousins continues growth

No. 1: Report: Lawson reaches deal with Sacramento — After establishing himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, last season was something of a lost campaign for Ty Lawson following a trade to the Rockets. But after sitting out most of this summer’s free agency, as The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, yesterday Lawson agreed to terms with the Sacramento Kings, where he should have the opportunity to get playing time…

Lawson visited with Kings officials and coaches on Saturday in Sacramento and had planned to meet with New Orleans Pelicans officials early this week – until the Kings offered him a deal on Sunday, league sources said.

Lawson joins a backcourt full of opportunity in Sacramento, where the Kings lost Rajon Rondo in free agency to the Chicago Bulls. Darren Collison is expected to be the Kings’ starter at point guard.

For Lawson, the experiment of coexisting with All-Star guard James Harden didn’t work with the Houston Rockets last season. Lawson agreed to a contract buyout in March after the Rockets sent Denver a first-round pick in a July deal for him. He then agreed to a contract to finish the season with the Indiana Pacers.

***

No. 2: Embiid finally ready? — The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Joel Embiid two summers ago with a lottery pick, and the knowledge that he would need some time to get healthy. Since then Embiid hasn’t played a second in a Sixers uniform, as Philly fans have waited to see him get healthy. At an event in Philly this weekend, Embiid made an appearance and said that he’s finally 100 percent and ready to play alongside Ben Simmons. Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com has more:  

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.”

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone.

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers.

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games.

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.”

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models.

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

***

No. 3: Divac hope Cousins continues growth — The Sacramento Kings have seen a lot of changes the last few seasons, but the one constant has been All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins. And while the Kings have changed coaches and players around him, as Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe writes, Kings general manager Vlade Divac hopes Cousins will use his gold medal winning experience this summer to take a step forward:

Vlade Divac is president of the Olympic Committee of Serbia and also general manager of the Sacramento Kings. During the 2016 Rio Olympics, his two worlds collided when his Serbian team matched up with Team USA twice in the Olympic tournament.

The first game was a tight 94-91 Team USA win during pool play. Divac had some fun with Team USA and Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, promising a Serbian victory if the teams met again. Well, they did meet in the gold-medal game and the Americans were impressive in their decisive 96-66 win.

Cousins turned in his most productive game of the tournament with 13 points and 15 rebounds after being beset with foul trouble for most of the Olympics.

“Boogie played well,” Divac said. “He’s a very talented kid. Hopefully he can bring that positive attitude that he had here to Sacramento next year.”

Cousins is considered one of the more talented centers in the league but has a reputation for being mercurial. He had to convince USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to name him to the USA Select Team a few years ago, before he was named to Team USA for the 2014 World Cup.

Divac has maintained that Cousins will be a fixture with Sacramento after a tumultuous season that led to the firing of coach George Karl. Has the Olympic experience helped Cousins mature? Divac is banking on that.

“[The Olympics] helps international guys but it also helps NBA guys,” Divac said. “You see a different part of basketball. They can pick up some tricks. That’s how I look at it. When I used to play, I loved playing international because it’s more freedom and more ability to improve.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The recruiting pitches are already starting in Oklahoma City for Oklahoma native Blake Griffin Tony Parker helped out a locker room attendant who got robbed at the Olympics in Rio … The Bucks are hoping Jason Terry still has fuel left in the tankShane Larkin looks at playing in Spain as a stepping stone … If that intern at the NBA offices in New York looked familiar, that’s because it was tennis star Maria Sharapova

Morning shootaround — Aug. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden organizes players-only camp | Kaminsky working to improve his defense | Sefolosha: Hawks have ‘different dynamic’ now

No. 1: Harden organizes Rockets’ players-only camp — Star players on NBA teams are tasked with a variety of responsibilities, with overall leadership of the team being perhaps their most important job to succeed at. As such, many standout players — from the New Orleans Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday to Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James — are organizing players-only workouts and mini-camps before NBA training camps open in late September. According to Marc Berman of Fox26Houston.com, James Harden is doing likewise for the Houston Rockets:

For the second consecutive year Houston Rockets guard James Harden has organized a players-only minicamp scheduled for next week.

Last September Harden had the Rockets players together for a minicamp in Los Angeles.

“James is doing everything,” said Corey Brewer, Rockets guard/forward. “He is showing he wants to be a leader.

“He’s the franchise player. He signed the extension. So it’s his team, and he’s doing all the right things to do what we need to do to have a chance to win championships.”

Harden’s plan is to hold the minicamp in Miami. However, the potential of bad weather hitting South Florida may cause the Rockets players to work in a different city.

Eric Gordon said the Rockets players had a “good group” for players-only workouts around the same time as the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

“It was just everybody getting together,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t a real structured thing.

“It was just guys working out together.”

Brewer is looking forward to getting together with his teammates.

“I’ve got to go down there with the fellas,” Brewer said. “It’s a good thing. We got to get together. Get to know each other, team camaraderie. You need that, especially now days the way the NBA is. A lot of good players, but you got to be a team.

“We want to send a message that we’re ready to go. We’re going to work our butts off. All the guys have been working hard this summer. Last year was a year that we didn’t like. Everybody has a bitter taste in their mouth. So we can’t wait to get started.”

*** (more…)

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.”

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

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 …

Blogtable: Where do Thunder rank in West now?

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: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?


> In the loaded Western Conference, where do the Thunder rank going into this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Second-tier playoff team. I think the Clippers and the Trail Blazers bump up into the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in the West, with OKC now in the mix with the likes of Memphis, Utah, Houston and Minnesota for the remaining four spots. Not only has Westbrook been a terrific catalyst when playing without Durant, averaging about 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds over the past two years in such games, but GM Sam Presti, coach Billy Donovan and the rest will be extra-motivated to demonstrate how good the Thunder still are and how well they can remodel a legit contender around Westbrook. They dare not slip into lottery land, at this point.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWestbrook has already proven that he can anchor the team and lead it to a winning record (45-37) two seasons ago when Durant missed 55 games due to injury. While the Thunder are no longer a championship contender, they battle the Portland Trail Blazers for first place in the Northwest Division. If all goes very well, they’re fighting for the No. 4-5 spots in the Western Conference. If not, OKC is scrambling for the No. 7 or 8 holes. Either way, this is still a playoff team, though the young Minnesota Timberwolves under Tom Thibodeau are coming up fast. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI always dislike August predictions, knowing rosters can still change before the opening of camp, but since you asked: They could still be a playoff team. Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson’s defense, Enes Kanter’s offense and rebounding — there are big holes at both forward spots, but that’s also a respectable starting point. To try and pinpoint it, I’ll say OKC is in the 8-9 conversation. I think they’re going to be very motivated and focused. They are not going away quietly, that’s for sure. Getting a boost from a second-year player (Cameron Payne) or rookie (Domantas Sabonis, Alex Abrines) would be a big help, especially since Sabonis can play power forward and Abrines small forward. It’s just tough to count on dependable play from newcomers, though.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Top 5. Russell Westbrook will have an MVP type season and he and Victor Oladipo will mesh in the backcourt.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey still a good amount of talent, but their defense is going to take a big step backward with the departures of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. I would put them behind Golden State, San Antonio, LA Clippers and Memphis, in the mix for lower seed with Portland, Dallas, Utah, and Minnesota.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The top six is a realistic starting point. Scanning the list of contenders in a top-heavy Western Conference we have to start with that new-look crew at Golden State, followed by the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and then the Thunder. I’m not sure what to make of the Dallas Mavericks and their revamped roster. And the Houston Rockets still have James Harden to lean on. The Thunder are in that same mix with the Mavericks and Rockets, without the benefit of knowing how all of the new pieces will fit on each of those teams.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The sure thing — health permitting — is that they’re going to make the playoffs. The top three contenders are going to be the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers, which leaves the No. 4 spot wide open. Who’s to say that the Thunder won’t be able to grab it — with the promise of a delicious Western Conference semifinals rematch vs. Golden State in which virtually everyone outside the Bay Area will be rooting for OKC.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogLet’s do this by process of elimination. Eliminating health concerns, I’d say as presently constructed, the very best teams in the Western Conference are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers. I would place the Thunder within the next tier of teams, which includes (in no particular order) the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, and maybe Minnesota Timberwolves. Can the Thunder make the playoffs? Even if everyone stays healthy, I think it may require Russ averaging 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. I don’t know if he can do that over an entire season, but it sure should be fun to watch.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant says Harden underappreciated | Team USA understands the gold standard | The return of Amar’e?

No. 1: Durant says Harden underappreciated — There are few NBA players who probably have as much appreciation for James Harden as Kevin Durant. They may be on different coasts and different teams these days, of course, but a few years back they played together on the Oklahoma City Thunder and made a run to the 2012 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat. Harden was traded soon after, and Durant left Oklahoma this summer in Free agency, but as a former teammate, Durant has a unique perspective on what it’s like to play alongside Harden. And with Team USA in Houston for tonight’s final exhibition (8:00 p.m. ET) before the Olympics, as Jonathan Feigan of the Houston Chronicle writes, Durant spoke about how he feels Harden can be underappreciated…

Kevin Durant and James Harden, former Oklahoma City teammates, opted against becoming teammates again this summer when the Rockets star chose not to play in the Olympics and Durant did not consider signing with Harden’s Rockets as a free agent. But before the USA Basketball practice at Toyota Center on Sunday, Durant argued that Harden is greatly underappreciated for his play in that arena.

“Nobody really appreciates what he does except for the players in our league,” Durant said. “Everybody on the outside doesn’t really appreciate what he brings. Anybody that can put up 29 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and not make the All-NBA team, that’s like a sin to even think about not putting a guy like that on the All-NBA team.

“As a player and someone that played with him and a fan of the game I was (angry) because somebody is right here in front of you and you can’t appreciate him. If he were to retire tomorrow, we would have so many stories and videos about how great he is, but he’s here right now doing it. Appreciate what he brings.”

***

No. 2: Team USA understands the gold standard With Team USA ready to head south to Brazil, where they are the favorites to win gold, it’s clear that the expectations haven’t changed through the years: Gold, or bust. But as our own Fran Blinebury writes, Team USA is playing to reach a standard that may be impossibly high…

It is the bar that was set impossibly high by the original Dream Team of 1992 that featured all-time greats Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, to name a few. They not only swept through the Olympic tournament in Barcelona winning by an average of 44 points per game and never once requiring coach Chuck Daly to call a timeout, but they left a mark on the wall that successive American teams will always be measured against.

“Definitely,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “You don’t want to disappoint. Since ’06, Team USA hasn’t lost a game. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) has only lost one game his whole coaching career with Team USA. We really don’t want to be that team that lets him down or the country down. People expect a lot out of us as they should.

“I think the world has gotten better since the Dream Team. You see it now in the NBA game. There’s so many international guys on every team. I think we had 100 last year. So I think the world influence is a little bigger than it was back then. Nobody’s gonna remember the score as long as we come along with the gold. But, yeah, living up to the reputation is always in the back of your head.”

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has become the de facto leader of the 2016 team, now playing in his fourth Olympics, a career that began with the desultory 2004 performance in Athens when Team USA limped home with a bronze medal that led to the revamping of the entire program.

“We try to keep that edge to know that if we do what we have to do it’s a very high chance that we could win games by 30 or more points every game,” Anthony said. “But if we come out and be too complacent and just think we got it from the jump, it won’t happen.”

It is both the driving force that pushes them on and a burden that each member of every new edition of Team USA must carry as they pick up the torch for the Olympics and World Cup.

“I know that’s out there,” said Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. “I don’t really try to think about it in terms of how much we’re beating people by or stuff like that. I think more about the tradition of how we do things. It’s doing things the right way, doing things as classy as possible and represent our country that way. That’s what we’re expected to do. It’s not about blowing guys out by 30.”

***

No. 3: The return of Amar’e? — Just days after announcing his retirement from the NBA, will Amar’e Stoudemire announce his return today? Apparently so, although it won’t be a return to the NBA. According to report from ESPN.com, Amar’e will return to play this season in Israel with Hapoel Jerusalem, a team he partially owns…

Sources told ESPN.com that basketball officials in Israel say Stoudemire’s move to join Hapoel Jerusalem as an active player is now a mere formality.

A report earlier Sunday from international ‎basketball reporter David Pick says the deal is done for Stoudemire to play for Hapoel Jerusalem in 2016-17 after he announced his NBA retirement last week.

Stoudemire is scheduled to travel to Israel next week as part of an NBA Cares initiative organized by the first Israeli to ever play in the NBA — Sacramento’s Omri Casspi — and has taken a great interest in the country over the past few years since revealing that he has Jewish roots on his mother’s side. He has held an ownership stake in Hapoel Jerusalem since the summer of 2013 after Israeli tech magnate Ori Allon became the club’s majority owner.

On Tuesday, Stoudemire signed a contract with the New York Knicks and was immediately waived in a move designed to allow him to retire as a Knick.

“I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that,” Stoudemire said Tuesday in a statement. “Carmelo [Anthony], Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, always a Knick.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his injury in the Finals, Andrew Bogut made his return to action with Australia … The Heat are looking at Dion Waiters as a presumptive starter at shooting guard … Former NBA forward Josh Howard has reportedly been hired as a college coach … Take a trip down memory lane with Richard JeffersonDirk Nowitzki wished Mark Cuban a happy birthday, although his math seems a little fuzzy

Dwight Jones, former Olympian and NBA big man, dies at 64

NEW YORK CITYDwight Jones, a big man who played for a decade in the NBA and represented the United States in the 1972 Olympics, passed away earlier this week at 64 years old. According to the Houston Chronicle, Jones, perhaps the greatest high school player in Houston history, had been battling a heart ailment for several years.

A first-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks in 1973, Jones would go on to play for his hometown Rockets, as well as the Bulls and Lakers. Jones retired in 1984 after playing 766 NBA regular season games, amassing career averages of 8.1 ppg and 5.9 rpg.

Jones was also known for his participation in the controversial 1972 Olympics Men’s Basketball finals, when Team USA lost the gold medal game in overtime against the Soviet Union. As the New York Times recounts, even years later Jones remained frustrated by the loss

“For some of the guys, it’s eased over the years,” he was quoted as having said by The Houston Chronicle in 2002. “But for most of us,” he added, “we’re not that way.”

The American and Soviet teams had dominated the competition leading up to the championship game. The Americans initially struggled against the more experienced Soviet team, but managed a comeback and were trailing, 49-48, with seconds left in the game. Doug Collins sank two free throws, giving the Americans their first lead of the night with one second left on the clock.

An official, however, ordered that two seconds be put back on the clock. When the Soviets failed to score and a horn sounded, the American team began to celebrate and spectators swarmed the court. But officials then ruled that the clock had not been set properly, and they resumed the game with three seconds on the clock, giving the Russians yet another chance.

This time, Ivan Edeshko hurled a full-court pass to Aleksandr Belov, who scored the winning layup over Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes. It was the first time the Americans had ever lost a game in the Olympics.

Jones was off the court when it happened. He had been ejected with about twelve minutes left for scuffling with Mishako Korkia.

The American team appealed the results before a five-member jury set up by basketball’s global governing body, but lost, 3-2. The three members who voted to uphold the Russian victory were all from Communist countries. The Americans unanimously refused to accept their silver medals.

“It all came down to the Robin Hood theory — they took away from the good to give to the bad,” Jones said. “It’s the only game in history that has ever been played like that and ended like that.”

University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson (via ESPN.com) said in a statement…

Dwight was a tremendous competitor, who represented the University of Houston and his nation well during his playing career. While his health declined in recent years, he faced those challenges with the same courage and spirit that made him one of our program’s greats. Tonight, our hearts go out to Dwight’s family and friends and all those who knew and loved him.