Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Pacers’

Morning Shootaround — August 2


VIDEO: Team World rallies past Team Africa

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa | Knicks to sign Vujacic | Teague making impact off-court

No. 1: Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa Yesterday’s NBA Africa 2015 exhibition game was a success by any measure, but the game’s signature moment may have come midway through the second quarter when Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo checked into the game. As our Shaun Powell writes, it was a moment that almost didn’t happen

Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, the greatest players Africa ever produced, were asked by league organizers to come out of retirement and make a cameo in the exhibition. Olajuwon is a Hall of Famer and Mutombo will be enshrined next month. They would suit up for Team Africa, a squad of players with African blood, against Team World. Their jerseys, along with one belonging to the late Manute Bol, hung ceremoniously in the rafters above the court inside the arena.

Therefore: A simple and brilliant request, right?

Brilliant, yes. Not so simple.

Mutombo was receptive. Olajuwon said no. Olajuwon is 52, Mutumbo 49. They are fit and trim, but as basketball players, they were finished. It was not going to happen. Organizers pleaded. The answer, up to the day before tipoff, was no from Olajuwon. Truth be told? Both were afraid of being embarrassed on TV, in front of fans who knew them as legends. Neither wanted to play like chumps.

And then: Olajuwon weakened. He brought along his two pre-teenaged boys, who never saw him play, and so he agreed.

When they checked in midway through the second quarter wearing their throwbacks — Rockets for Olajuwon, multi-colored Nuggets for Mutombo — the NBA Africa game had its signature moment, its energy, its second-loudest applause of the day.

The biggest bedlam? That burst arrived when Olajuwon reeled back to 1993, executed the Dream Shake that froze Nik Vucevic, faded and shot a 15-footer that kissed the rim and fell in. Cray-zy. The crowd pounced. Players on both benches jumped.

“I made the move, I made the shot, it went in,” said Olajuwon. “I missed my first shot and was happy to make the next one. And I was really happy to participate.”

After a minute of action, Olajuwon playfully grabbed his chest, Fred Sanford-style. Gregg Popovich, who knows about coaching old players with the Spurs, did the humanitarian thing and allowed Olajuwon to wobble back to the bench and into re-retirement.

As for Mutombo? Didn’t one trademark basketball moment deserve another? As in, a blocked shot and finger wag? Popovich drew up a defensive play that you’ll never see in a Spurs game. He ordered his players to allow guard Trey Burke to reach the rim, where Mutombo awaited. The trap was set but the mouse didn’t cooperate. Burke passed the ball.

“So many of these young players don’t want to see themselves on YouTube,” said Mutombo, “so they run away.”

***

No. 2: Knicks to sign Vujacic The Knicks have made no secret that they’re trying to find players who fit into their “Triangle” offensive system. So who better to add to their roster than former two-time champ Sasha Vujacic, who played for Phil Jackson‘s Lakers? As Ian Begley writes, signing Vujacic should help the Knicks stretch opposing defenses

Vujacic played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2004 to 2011. He spent five of those seasons playing under Knicks president and then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and four playing alongside Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played point guard for the Lakers.

Vujacic, 31, has played overseas for much of the past four seasons. His lone NBA stint during that stretch was in 2013-14, when he played 10 minutes over two games for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Assuming he makes the regular-season roster, Vujacic could give the Knicks a needed threat from the perimeter.

He is a career 37.1 percent 3-point shooter in the NBA. Vujacic is also familiar with the Knicks’ triangle offense thanks to his time in Los Angeles. So he could help the Knicks’ younger players adapt to the system.

The 6-foot-7 Vujacic is the latest player coached by Jackson to sign a deal with the Knicks. New York has also signed former Lakers Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and DJ Mbenga — but none of those players had long stints with the team.

With Vujacic on board, the Knicks have 12 players signed to guaranteed contracts. Counting Langston Galloway, who has a partially guaranteed deal but is expected to make the regular-season roster, they have two open spots.

***

No. 3: Teague making impact off-court Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague took a visit last summer to Atlanta’s Hughes Spalding Children’s Hopsital, and ended up raising thousands of dollars for the hospital throughout the season. Teague has continued the partnership, and as Chris Vivlamore writes, Teague says the association has grown into something “beautiful”…

The Hawks guard felt compelled to donate $20 for each assist he had the previous season, a sum of $11,260. He felt he could do more. Teague and the hospital set up a program where he would match the figure again this year and challenge others to do the same. Those who matched his $20 per assist total would be All-Star sponsors. Others could give $2 per assist ($1,126) as Teammate sponsors. The money benefits the Hughes Spalding Hospital, according to a hospital representative.

“I went on a visit to Children’s to try to give the kids a little inspiration,” Teague said recently. “They go through a lot. I wanted to go there, see the kids, interact with them and have them interact with me. When I got there, I was touched. I wanted to do whatever I could to help out. That’s when we came up with the program.”

The giving will culminate with Teague’s inaugural Hoops for Hughes dinner Aug. 15 at Maggiano’s Buckhead. The event will feature a dinner, question-and-answer session, photographs with Teague and more for those who gave this year.

“When I met Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks during a recent visit to Hughes Spalding, his thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion impressed me even more than him being a young basketball superstar,” said Julia Jones, vice president for operations at Hughes Spalding. “His sensitivity towards the children we care for and his concern for their needs was very genuine. He seemed truly interested in gaining a greater understanding of the important work that is being done at Hughes Spalding and committed to supporting that work in every way he can.”

Teague said the Hawks also donated to the cause.

There are plans to continue the program next year — and for years to come. Teague finished last season with 620 assists in the regular season and playoffs combined. He finished 10th in the NBA in regular-season assists with 513 and added 107 more in the postseason. His donation will be $12,400. He will ask others to match or give $1,260 at $2 per assist.

“I just wanted to give back,” Teague said. “I didn’t think it would grow into something like this. It’s a beautiful thing. At first it was just something I wanted to do from my heart. I just wanted to give back. Now, it’s grown into something beautiful and large.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Derrick Rose is reportedly undecided on playing for Team USA … Glen Davis may be willing to sign a contract overseas if he doesn’t sign an NBA deal … Pacers center Jordan Hill was charged with driving violations outside Atlanta.

Morning shootaround — July 25


VIDEO: Harrison Barnes hangs out with FC Barcelona


NEWS OF THE MORNING
Barnes wants long-term stay with Warriors | Hibbert looking to shape up in LA | Len thinks Chandler will help, not hurt, his career | Okafor excited to get started with Sixers

No. 1: Harrison Barnes wants long-term stay with Warriors The Warriors had a rather uneventful offseason from the standpoint of change. They didn’t add a big free agent or draft in the lottery, and their status quo was secured once Draymond Green inked an extension, which was expected. There’s a reason the Warriors didn’t look to change much: They did win the title and their core is mainly young with upside. If Harrison Barnes has his choice, he’d like to remain part of that nucleus when his deal comes up next summer. Barnes has played a useful role with the Warriors and while he’s not a star, at least not yet, he’d be in demand if he ever reached free agency. Here’s Barnes speaking to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group

“I mean, we just won a championship,” Barnes said. “Of course I’d love to keep this group together for many years to come, you know what I’m saying? So that’s obvious.”

Barnes, 23, and the Warriors face an Oct. 31 deadline for getting an extension signed. If the sides cannot reach agreement by then, he is expected to become a restricted free agent at the end of next season.

Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has most recently re-signed homegrown talent, giving Klay Thompson a four-year, $70 million extension and Draymond Green a five-year, $82 million contract. Barnes acknowledged that seeing his teammates get deals done gives him confidence.

“It’s a good fit,” Barnes said of the Warriors, who value the 6-foot-8 player’s versatility. “Obviously, you want to continue to get better. One thing Coach (Steve) Kerr and I talked about at the end of the season was just how can I get better in the spots I was used last year — post game, ballhandling more, bringing the ball up in transition and pushing, getting it to shooters, that type of thing. There’s a lot of obvious areas for growth and improvement, and this is a conducive system for that.”

Barnes said he would probably work with Warriors executive board member Jerry West again in Los Angeles after doing so last year on the heels of struggling in his second season in the league.

“The biggest thing for me is just to work on my game,” Barnes said. “Obviously you won a championship, and the goal is to do it again.

“This is obviously a big year for everyone. We have a young team. I think we still have a lot of room to grow, and we have to capitalize on that.”

***

No. 2: Roy Hibbert looking to shape up with the Lakers Last season wasn’t the best for Roy Hibbert. Matter of fact, it was rather costly from the standpoint of keeping him in Indiana. Pacers president Larry Bird made it clear that the team wanted to move on, and Hibbert soon made his way to the rebuilding Lakers. Crazy: Just a few summers ago, Hibbert had a tremendous playoff run and was a top-10 center in the NBA. Now? He must repair his reputation and maybe his career, and it starts in L.A., where he’s anxious to get started. As Bill Orem writes in the Orange County Register, Hibbert is looking for a fresh start and a better situation …

Roy Hibbert was a lost cause. A lumbering center with little offensive game and a disinterested temperament, they were happy pawning him off for nothing more than a future second-round draft pick.

The Lakers, however, view Hibbert as a player who can not only regain his standing as an All-Star big man, but anchor their anemic defense, which last year ranked second-worst in the NBA.

“I expect to play at an All-Star defensive level, and everything else will come,” Hibbert said.

“In this business,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, “if you can have somebody who’s that size, who’s 28 years old, that clearly wants to rebirth his career, I think that’s a good risk.”

Hibbert averaged 10.6 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Pacers last season. He is just a year removed from his second All-Star campaign, and helping Indiana to the Eastern Conference finals.

He remains a reputable defender. The Pacers last season allowed 101.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. The Lakers, by contrast, allowed 108.

Hibbert has averaged 1.9 blocked shots per game in his seven NBA seasons, but Kupchak said that won’t solve the Lakers’ defensive problems alone.

“It all can’t fall to his plate,” Kupchak said. “If you’re on the perimeter, you can’t just let your guy get past you and say, ‘Oh, Roy is back there.’ It doesn’t work that way. Everybody is going to have to buy in defensively and make a commitment defensively.

Hibbert hopes to join a storied tradition of big men to find success with the Lakers. He said he grew up studying Shaquille O’Neal and has worked out extensively with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“He gives me the little tidbits,” Hibbert said. “I worked with him a lot last year in the summer and he keeps up with me. He always gives me some advice, some things to work on. I always ask him questions.”

***

No. 3: Alex Len happy to have Tyson Chandler around It was a pretty weird situation, watching the Suns give four years to the well-seasoned Tyson Chandler while they were trying to develop Alex Len, their lottery pick two years ago. And to hear Len, it was surprising to him, too. But after he gave it more thought, Len figures Chandler will actually be beneficial to a young center trying to learn the nuances of the game and become a useful rotation player. At least that’s what he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post

Instead of an immediate opportunity lost, Len focused on the possible long-term benefits.

“He’s one of the best defensive bigs in the league. The way he blocks shots, the way he communicates. I think I can learn just from watching, just from being around him, add it to my game. I think it’s going to be great,” Len said. “He’s a great leader. We needed a veteran last year. Somebody in the locker room, on the court, somebody we can look up to. So, I think it’s great for the team.”

Though he was selected fifth overall out of Maryland in 2013, Len wasn’t expected to quickly come in and resurrect the franchise – especially since he ditched his crutches from left ankle surgery just to walk across the stage to meet then-commissioner David Stern on the night of the draft. Len’s rookie season was lost because of nagging ankle troubles — “I just throw that out,” he said of his forgettable first season — but he started to look the part of a serviceable big man in his second season, showing a soft touch for a 7-footer and the necessary aggressiveness required to make countless screens on a pick-and-roll heavy team.

The Suns have been happy with Len’s progress but want to improve at a much faster pace than the time required for him to become a well-rounded player. In an effort to land the all-star talent needed to truly compete in the stacked Western Conference, Phoenix targeted the best free agent in the open market — LaMarcus Aldridge — and knew that he wanted to play power forward and to be paired with an experienced NBA center. Chandler agreed to a four-year, $52 million agreement in time to sit at the table to recruit Aldridge, who strongly considered leaving Portland for Phoenix before deciding to join the San Antonio Spurs.

***

No. 4: Jahlil Okafor too excited to get started in Philly  — While there are plenty of reasons for pessimism in Philly concerning the Sixers this upcoming season, given the injury status of Joel Embiid and a roster that still isn’t teeming with top-shelf talent, their No. 1 pick wants to make it clear: He’s happy. Jahlil Okafor wasn’t taken by the Lakers, which was the pre-Draft scuttlebutt, and instead landed with the Sixers. He’s not going to Philly kicking and screaming; rather, he’s looking forward to the experience and has big plans. He told Michael Lee of the Washington Post all about it …

The 76ers are certainly hopeful that Okafor will develop into a cornerstone for a rebuilding effort that is slow to take shape. Using a be-bad-and-pray-for-some-luck strategy, Philadelphia General Manager Sam Hinkie has inspired plenty of doubt around the league and nearly imposed lottery reform.

Over the past two years, the 76ers have traded serviceable NBA players for draft picks and used lottery picks on injured players while stashing another in Europe. As a result, they have won 39 games the past two seasons. Okafor won 35 games in his lone season at Duke but isn’t intimidated by the challenge ahead in the NBA, with an organization still seeking an identity.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, a Chicago native, Duke alumnus and one of Okafor’s best friends, has been advising the talented big man with the throwback low-post moves on what to expect in the NBA. Like Okafor, Parker has dealt with the immense scrutiny of being a prodigy, played for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and was taken with a top-three pick to join an organization that won fewer than 20 games the previous year.

“It will help the adjustment period,” Parker said of Okafor’s experience of being in the spotlight, “but it’s on a different scale. He has a lot to learn, because he’s been given a pedestal and a lot of responsibility but it’s nothing he can’t handle. He’s going to be in the NBA a long time. So he has to. He doesn’t have a choice.”

“My role is to dominate,” Okafor said. “I’m one of the centerpieces of the team, so my role is the same.”

Embiid’s injury, combined with the Los Angeles Lakers selecting point guard D’Angelo Russell ahead of Okafor, forced Hinkie to take the best player on the board, regardless of position. After initially wondering if he was drafted to be traded, Okafor was assured the 76ers want to build around him.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Utah Jazz are thinking about changing their primary logo ASAP … Although he missed the latter half of last season with knee issues, Carmelo Anthony will attend (but probably not play in) the Team USA workouts … The Pelicans still have some roster decisions to make, starting with Norris Cole.

Morning Shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Becky Hammon, Spurs win Summer League championship

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Spurs keep winning | Cavs, Smith meeting this week | Lawson gives Rockets another dimension | Paul Pierce is coming home

No. 1: The Spurs keep winning The San Antonio Spurs have set up a modern-day NBA dynasty, and manage to continually contend the last few decades. This summer has been no different, as the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in free agency, and then yesterday their Summer League team, coached by Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, knocked off the Phoenix Suns to win the Las Vegas Summer League. As our John Schuhmann writes, the basketball may not always be great at Summer League, but you always get good stories

First, there was Becky Hammon, the first ever female Summer League head coach, leading her team to a 6-1 record and the title her in Las Vegas. A year ago, she was playing for the San Antonio Stars. And already, she’s got some head coaching experience.

“I’m just trying to progress as a coach,” Hammon said about her 10 days in Las Vegas. “It was eye-opening in a lot of different areas for me, just how much my mind was reeling during timeouts.”

But Hammon clearly wasn’t reserved in her new role. She took charge in the huddles and gave the refs the business when a call didn’t go her way.

“It was just a great learning process for me,” she said. “And the guys had to take my mistakes – and I made plenty – and we just kept hanging together as a group.”

A big part of that group and another great story was Jonathon Simmons, who was voted the championship game MVP after scoring 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

Simmons played at two different junior colleges before finishing his college career at the University of Houston. He played a season in the ABL and then made the Spurs’ D-League team through an open tryout two years ago.

After playing three games for the Brooklyn Nets’ Summer League team, the Spurs gave Simmons an NBA contract. He came to Las Vegas and averaged 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals for the Summer Spurs.

“It’s just a blessing,” Simmons told The Starters after the game on Monday. “I didn’t see it coming. I’m still kind of shocked right now. But I’m just ready to get to work.”

***

No. 2: Cavs, Smith meeting this week After going to the Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith opted out of his contract to test the free agency market. And though plenty of money was flying around during the free agency period, Smith’s name was rarely heard. Now, with most of the free agents off the market, Smith remains available and, as he said to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, Smith understands that opting out may mean he’ll make less next season

“That’s always part of the gamble of opting out,” Smith told the Northeast Ohio Media Group on Monday at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas, where the NBA players’ union held its summer meeting.

Smith has kept a low profile during the NBA’s free agency period, which is a bad thing for a player who opted out of his contract to seek a raise.

He was the Cavs’ starting shooting guard during the regular season after he was acquired via trade in January, but Smith struggled in the Finals – his last and best chance to increase his earning potential.

Asked if he regretted his decision to decline his contract option, Smith said “Uh, I mean, yes and no.

“No because I’ve gotten offers that I wanted, I mean numbers that I wanted, it’s just different situations,” Smith said. “Right now it’s just a matter of seeing what the Cavs come back to me with. Right now they give me the best opportunity to win.”

Smith’s agent, Leon Rose, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. It is believed Smith was seeking somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range annually, and he declined to disclose which teams his offers may have come from.

There are only three teams in the NBA that still have the cap space to give him a raise from last year: the Portland Trail Blazers ($16.4 million in cap space); Philadelphia 76ers ($16.3 million); and Indiana Pacers ($11.5 million).

But the Pacers only have the space in theory– a cap snafu with free agent Monta Ellis temporarily voided his free-agent contract. He will sign there and Indiana will be out of cap room.

Smith said he had some “discussions” with the Blazers but they didn’t go anywhere. So if the offers came from organizations outside of Philadelphia, they’re gone.

Smith has always said he wanted to come back to the Cavs, and he reiterated that point on Monday.

“I definitely want to come back to Cleveland,” he said. “The coaches, the team, everything about the situation, it’s perfect for me.”

Asked for the reasons why he does regret his contract decision, he said “just because I would be secure and I would already know I’m where I want to be.

“I wouldn’t have to go through this whole thought process anymore,” he said.

***

No. 3: Lawson gives Rockets another dimension So much of the Houston Rockets’ offense last season ran through James Harden, and understandably so — Harden is one of the NBA’s best creators. But with their trade for Denver’s Ty Lawson, as Jonathan Feigan writes for the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets feel like Lawson provides a new dimension to their offense that will give Harden the help he needs

They knew they needed more, with everyone from star guard James Harden to general manager Daryl Morey pointing to a need to add another playmaker. So when the Rockets on Monday completed their trade for point guard Ty Lawson, Morey did not immediately point to what Lawson has done or could do for the Rockets; he cited the quest that began when the season ended.

“A lot of what we had hoped to accomplish before next season he’s able to do,” Morey said. “He’s another guy that can attack the basket, can shoot, can make plays for others.”

Days after the season ended, Morey precisely described that need. Even then, he knew the Rockets would chase LaMarcus Aldridge, but would be unlikely to land him. He believed the Rockets would keep the bulk of their own free agents. But he knew even with better health and improvement, the Rockets would likely need help in the backcourt.

“Coach (Kevin McHale) feels and I agree, we could use another playmaker on the perimeter,” Morey said then as if he had skipped to the end of the book. “If it is something we can address, we will. Play off the catch playmaking. There are times people are loading up on James. To have a guy that can play off the catch, attack the basket, finish, make a play, that kind of thing. It’s not easy to find.”

The Rockets found that with Lawson, needing to give up only spare parts and a protected first-round pick because Lawson’s trade value shrank so greatly with his second DUI arrest of the past six months. Lawson was in rehab when the deal was completed and when he spoke to McHale on Monday.

Morey said the Rockets believed Lawson’s rehabilitation gave them confidence he will overcome issues and move past incidents he acknowledged are the type that “have a history of potentially recurring.” But he described the risk of obtaining Lawson as part of all deal-making. There was no doubt about the void that needed to be filled.

“As we saw, especially when we played tougher teams last year, we struggled against teams that would really load up on James Harden. We feel that will be a lot more difficult for teams to do now.”

“People always used to … say our point guard position was terrible, the worst, whatever. I always pointed out that Pat Beverley was a really good player. He’s just maybe suffering compared to all these perennial All Stars we go against in the West. Obviously, we’re still going to be going against those very difficult All Stars, but Ty Lawson is somebody who gives you a top 10 point guard in the league, somebody who can really help us.”

While Beverley can be the 3-and-D point guard that meshes well with Harden, Lawson is a second ball handler and playmaker needed when teams try to wrap their defense around Harden. With the second unit, he not only can be a needed playmaker, Lawson’s strengths – running an up-tempo offense and playmaking in pick-and-roll – fit well with Corey Brewer on the break and Clint Capela on pick-and-rolls.

“Coach McHale and Ty spoke for quite a while again today,” Morey said. “Coach McHale left that conversation feeling very good. Ty does not come in expecting anything. He just wanted to join a team with James Harden, Dwight Howard and a bunch of other guys he knows on the team like Trevor Ariza. I do think it does work either with him as a starter or off the bench.

“When James is off the floor, I do think Ty is going to add a lot and when James is on the floor it’s going to be much more difficult to double team James off pick-and-rolls when you have a secondary playmaker like Ty on the floor.”

***

No. 4: Paul Pierce is heading home It took him nearly two decades, but after 17 seasons in the NBA, Paul Pierce has returned home. After years with the Celtics, Nets and Wizards, the Inglewood, California native signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and, as Gary Washburn writes in the Boston Globe, Pierce is already playing a big part with the Clippers…

“It’s been pretty wild,” Pierce said of convincing Jordan to pass up a max contract offer with the Dallas Mavericks and return to Los Angeles. “I think that whole saga took a form and shade of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be.

“I made my decision to be a Clipper. DeAndre [Jordan] changed his mind to be a Clipper.”

After verbally committing to the Mavericks, Jordan had second thoughts and began contacting Clippers players. A contingent of players, led by Pierce, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, headed to Houston to speak to Jordan.

“I wasn’t there last year with that team, so I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought but I was on the outside looking in,” Pierce said. “I think guys cleared the air if there was any tension, but I think a lot of the media made it more than it was.”

After spending 15 seasons in Boston, Pierce played one season in Brooklyn after a trade, and then signed last summer with Washington. Despite an impressive playoff performance and raves from teammates, Pierce opted out of his Wizards deal this spring and signed a three-year deal with the Clippers.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to come home, finally,” Pierce said. “I grew up a Laker fan but playing on all the Boston Celtic teams . . . there’s no way I could go there — so this was the next best choice. And it’s always been a dream to play in front of my family and friends.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stan Van Gundy says Reggie Jackson‘s new contract will be a bargain a few years down the road … Quincy Acy says he’s returning to the Sacramento KingsDamian Lillard released his second song of the summer …

Morning shootaround — July 19


VIDEO:
Stop and Pop with Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

NEWS OF THE MORNING

RHJ brings personality to the Nets | Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more | Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieving | Some Pau in Porzingis?

No. 1: RHJ brings personality to Nets — It hasn’t been the best of offseasons for the Brooklyn Nets. They bought out point guard Deron Williams‘ contract, paying him a reported $27.5 million not to play for them over the next two seasons. They signed Andrea Bargnani, the unfulfilling 7-footer who was found wanting by the Nets’ rivals across the river and whose third chance at NBA success might be his last. What had been a spend-now, win-now approach has been pushed aside for a youth movement, a much tougher sell in the big city. While fans patiently (or not) await a bunch of salary-cap space 12 months from now – when seemingly every team will have it, by the way – Brooklyn at least added a new player whose game and personality could be worth cheering. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the up-close-and-personal treatment from the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps:

Anyone who meets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson today sees someone about as outgoing and confident in himself as a person as you can be. After all, it takes plenty of confidence to hop up onto the stage at the NBA Draft wearing plaid pants, or to end your initial press conference with reporters with a freestyle rap about being the newest member of an NBA franchise.

But there was a time when Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t so confident, when he did worry about what others said and thought about him. At least, that was the case until he was entering high school and grew tired of the way people were always discussing his afro.

“People would always talk about my hair,” he said. “They would always call me names or whatever, and I was just like, ‘I like it.’ As I got older, I just got really comfortable with [my personality] and said, ‘To hell with whoever doesn’t like it.’

“Growing up, sometimes you worry what people think, who is going to say something about me … but after that, I was like, ‘Whatever makes me happy, that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”

It’s a philosophy that has served Hollis-Jefferson well, helping carry him from his hometown of Chester, Pa., to the University of Arizona for two years then to the Nets — who sent Mason Plumlee to Portland to acquire the rights to the 23rd-overall pick, who the Nets feel is the best defensive player in the entire draft and could become a longtime fixture for them on the wings.

Though Hollis-Jefferson has all the traits you look for in a lock-down wing defender, he may also be the draft’s most effervescent personality — a bundle of energy who seems incapable of having anything but a smile on his face or a stream of entertaining dialogue tumbling out of his mouth.

Given that one of the biggest criticisms of the Nets recently has been a lack of emotion and passion, it’s not just his basketball skills that make him a welcome addition to the roster.

“He doesn’t hold anything back,” said Brandon Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson’s teammate at Arizona who played for the Hawks during summer league here. “Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s not the best [thing], but you always know what to expect from him.”

***

No. 2: Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more — Toronto’s dismal finish to 2014-15 – an 11-16 mark over the final two months, followed by an 0-4 ousting in the playoffs’ first round – had folks speculating about coach Dwane Casey‘s job security and the franchise’s viability as a contender. But a busy summer so far by GM Masai Ujiri has rounded up newcomers DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo, while bidding adieu to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez. That’s a lot of change, about which Casey spoke to our own John Schuhmann for an NBA.com Q&A. Here are some excerpts:

Q: What hurt you offensively in the playoffs?
DC: Physicality and size. We were small with Lou and Kyle [Lowry] on the floor at the same time. Size and length took us out. They made our big guys make plays. So a big emphasis this summer for them is learning how to play out of blitzes on the pick-and-roll, when they’re taking the ball out of DeMar’s and Kyle’s hands. They got to make plays and burn them if they’re going to bring two to the ball. We didn’t do a good job of that in the playoffs.

Q: What was your pitch to [DeMarre] Carroll when you met with him?
DC: We need you. You’re a defensive guy. We want to be a defensive team. We had been until last year. We moved from 30th [in defensive efficiency in 2010-11, the season before Casey was hired] to top 10, and then took a step back unwillingly. He’s a big part of us taking that next step. That was the pitch. I love his story, that he’s a self-made player. If you said six years ago that DeMarre Carroll would be one of the top players in the league, nobody would have believed you. But he’s made himself into that player. That’s my kind of guy and our kind of guy.

Q: Has Terrence Ross hit a ceiling?
DC: I don’t think so. What a lot of people don’t understand is that he had a lot of stuff in his ankle. He had that taken out this spring. He played through it last year. Whether that was why he took a dip defensively, I don’t know. I tell everybody that he was our best defensive wing player two years ago, and we were pretty good. He’s got to get back to that level more so than with his shooting. But I don’t think he’s hit a slump. He didn’t take that next big step. He hasn’t forgot how to shoot. Even with one leg, he was shooting this morning. So we’re looking for big things out of him and this is a big year for him, career-wise.

***

No. 3: Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieve — Everyone gets excited to see the stars of the NBA Draft in the weeks following their selections and destinations. A bunch of sophomores-to-be attract attention by showing what they learned as rookies (or what they didn’t). But for many hoops devotees, the summer leagues in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are about guys like Alan Williams. Williams, a 6-foot-8 big man from UC-Santa Barbara, put up some big numbers playing for the Houston Rockets’ entry in Las Vegas, including a 22-point, 20-rebound performance against Philadelphia’s team. Considered too small for the spot he plays, by NBA standards, Williams remains a free agent in search of a training camp in October. But he made sure no one outworked him in Vegas, per CBSSports.com:

His energy level on the boards has always been great, even going back to when he was one of the advanced metric darlings of college basketball over the course of the last three seasons. He’s been in the top-10 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate over each of the last three seasons, and led the entire country in PER in 2014 at 35.7.

But this week, he kicked it up a notch, largely due to some work he did in the offseason. [The first thing a scout] pointed out was that the 6-foot-8 big man seemed to have slimmed down, which may have pushed him into another gear as far as his endurance and athletic explosiveness. Williams himself confirmed as much after the game.

“I had to, I had to,” Williams said with a smile when asked if he’d lost weight. “That’s what the NBA guys want to see. Me being able to trim that baby fat that I had in college and continue to elevate my game and keep up with that same energy and intensity that I’ve had for so long.”
That hard work has been emblematic of Williams’ career to this point, as the big man went from a lightly recruited high school prospect all the way to this moment.

“You hear this about a lot of guys, I’m sure, he’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Williams’ coach at UC Santa Barbara, Bob Williams, told me prior to this 2014-15 season. “He’s a phenomenal kid.”

Williams did give a little blush [over] the superlatives that have been laid upon him as a teammate in the past, but he said his parents — his mom is a police chief and his dad a judge — instilled the best values in him possible to give him a shot at success.

“My parents did a really good job of making me the best man I can be,” Williams said. “Not only the best basketball player, but the best man. And I don’t know if that gives me a better chance [to make a team], but I definitely believe that it should be a contributing factor. Someone’s character is always taken into place because you never know who’s watching. You want guys that are going to go out there and put their best foot forward for the organization and I feel like I’m one of those guys who can be a model citizen, a great teammate, and go out there and bust my butt on the floor.”

***

No. 4: Some Pau in Porzingis? — Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was asked all sorts of unanswerable – or at least, not ask-worthy – questions in Las Vegas, with inquiring New York scribes wanting him to project the team’s starting lineup for November or discuss the perfect ratio of triangle vs. other geometric forms of offense for his squad in 2015-16. He mostly stayed away from comparisons of the Knicks’ new young players to known NBA quantities, based on the unrealistic expectations such comments spark. Fisher did acquiesce, though, when one such parallel was drawn between 7-foot-3 rookie Kristaps Porzingis and veteran All-Star Pau Gasol. Marc Berman of the New York Post relayed Fisher’s responses:

But Fisher only will compare the two Europeans as far as their mental makeup — not their on-court game and slight builds. And Fisher raves that Porzingis stacks up well with Gasol, the five-time All-Star, in all those vital intangibles.

“I’m very reluctant to throw around a lot of comparisons before a guy has played a [preseason] game,’’ Fisher said late Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center after the Knicks’ summer league was history. “But I would say the similarities are the character, that Pau’s an amazing person and Kristaps is the same type of guy in terms of a good teammate, good guy to be around, enjoys working hard and really wants to be the best.

“We’re very fortunate from that standing. His career will take care of itself because of those reasons.’’

Many of the post-draft questions about whether Porzingis would stand his ground defensively because of his ultra-skinny frame were answered in Las Vegas. Knicks president Phil Jackson was more worried than anyone. Porzingis sat out Friday’s summer-league finale, already having proven through the first four games that he was ready to mix it up and not back down.

With Fisher starting the perimeter-oriented Latvian at center purposely — to see how he dealt with the NBA’s inside physicality — Porzingis blocked shots, drew fouls and rarely looked out of his element. He averaged 10.5 points on 48 percent shooting and 1.8 blocks per game, earning loud cheers from Knicks fans in Sin City. His rebounding (3.3 per game) and boxing out needs work, as well as his hands.

Porzingis’ natural position will be power forward — maybe as a starter alongside center Robin Lopez — but he says he will play minutes at center. A starting frontline of Lopez-Porzingis-Carmelo Anthony may not be shabby in the mediocre East.

Sources say the goal is for Porzingis to put on 10 to 15 pounds by the opening of training camp Oct. 1 — which would put him at roughly 245 pounds.

“He’ll mature and fill out physically as he ages,” Fisher said. “We’re not obsessed at putting a lot of weight on him all at once. I think he’s in good position. I’m glad to have him healthy and so he can have a great 10-week stretch to get him ready for training camp.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA legend Jerry West, a.k.a., “The Logo,” considers the Golden State Warriors’ front office to be the “most healthy’ environment in which he’s ever worked. Which seems to say something about some portions of his long tenure with the Lakers. … Minnesota’s Zach LaVine didn’t play in the first quarter but scored 49 points in the final three, with a game-winning 3-pointer, in the annual Seattle pro-am game. … Paul George of the Indiana Pacers told a crowd in China that he wants to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If he repeats it on Pacers’ media day, it will generate bigger headlines. … Cady Lalanne, the Haitian-born forward who has played for San Antonio in the summer league, probably had a tougher trek to grab an NBA rung than your favorite player. … Phoenix center Alex Len isn’t bothered at all by the arrival of veteran Tyson Chandler, who will take some of Len’s minutes. … Mark Cuban shrugged off, once again, DeAndre Jordan‘s Re-Decision. … Utah’s Gordon Hayward did a pretty good job on his blog of providing play-by-play of Bernadette Marie Hayward‘s arrival into his and wife Robyn‘s lives. …

Morning shootaround — July 15


VIDEO: The Starters break down the playoff seeding tweaks

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Silver speaks on several topics | USA Basketball casts wider net | Paul George the power forward? | Is Porzingas perfect for NYC?

No. 1: Silver speaks on several topics Last night in Las Vegas at Summer League, NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference to discuss topics discussed at the Board of Governors meeting. This served as de facto state of the league address, as Silver discussed topics ranging from playoff seeding to future labor relations to intentional fouling rules. As our Steve Aschburner writes, perhaps the most immediate topic addressed was next season’s playoff seedings, where winning a division from now on may carry a little less weight

Winning an NBA division might get a lot less satisfying next season.

It’s not the most prestigious accomplishment as it is, once the postseason revs up and conference championships feeding The Finals render forgettable those modest crowns of the Atlantic, the Central, the Southwest and so on.

But if a recommendation out of the Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in Las Vegas gets enacted as soon as this autumn, division titles would lose more than cachet. They wouldn’t carry the guarantee of a Top 4 berth in the Eastern or Western conference playoffs.

Instead, the qualifying teams in the East and West would be seeded 1 through 8 according to regular-season records. That is the likely outcome, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments after the annual summer meeting of the league’s owners.

“It wasn’t voted on yet,” Silver said, “because we wanted all the owners to have an opportunity to go back and discuss that recommendation with their general managers and their coaches, and we’ll vote on it before the beginning of the season. It’s my expectation that that change will be adopted.”

Under the current system, the three division winners in each conference are assured of a Top 4 spot in the seedings, regardless of record. Last season, for example, that put Portland at No. 4 even though the Trailblazers’ 51-31 record ranked sixth-best in the West.

The Blazers didn’t get homecourt advantage in the first round — that went to No. 5 seed Memphis, with the Grizzlies beating Portland in five games. But the format didn’t seem to reward Memphis’ 55-27 performance, it dropped San Antonio to No. 6 despite an identical 55-27 record and it might not even have served the Blazers or their fans.

In winning its first division title in 16 years, Portland clinched the Northwest with two weeks left in the regular season thanks partly to the absence of other threats. Oklahoma City was the only other team in the division to top .500 and the Thunder were hampered by injuries in missing the postseason for the first time in six years.

Silver didn’t offer any specifics beyond the general goal of 1-through-8 seeding. There apparently still is enough sentiment among the owners that the divisions be retained — an Atlantic banner hanging in the rafters or at a practice facility might not mean much to Boston or New York, but it still might matter in Toronto, for instance.

***

No. 2: USA Basketball casts wider net The next Olympics are still a year away, but USA Basketball is already looking at some of the NBA’s brightest younger players in looking to assemble the 2016 Olympic team. As ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, expect to see some new faces at Team USA’s mini-camp in August

Sources told ESPN.com that USAB has extended invitations to Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Memphis’ Mike Conley, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, Orlando’s Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo and Utah’s Trey Burke to its Aug. 11-13 camp on the campus of UNLV.

USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo, meanwhile, tells ESPN.com that next month’s camp will actually serve as more of a “reunion” for various players who have worked under Colangelo and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski in the past two Olympic tournaments and the past two world championship-level events. As opposed to the full-scale practices and the intrasquad scrimmage that Team USA would typically hold in preparation for a major competition, Colangelo said Tuesday that next month’s gathering will instead feature two days of noncontact workouts and “an all-star game of sorts” on Aug. 13 that will feature the various marquee players in attendance who are healthy enough to play.

Yet Colangelo stressed that USA Basketball is making attendance at the three-day event mandatory for invited players if they are interested in securing a spot on the Yanks’ 12-man roster for next summer’s Olympics in Brazil, even if the player is rehabilitating from an injury or otherwise not yet cleared to join in on-court activities.

USAB already knows that Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Indiana’s Paul George and the Cleveland Cavaliers duo of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will not be ready to take part in basketball activities at the camp, because they are recovering from their various serious injuries from the past year. But Colangelo’s view is that “it’s important for everyone to be here as a sign of commitment for ’16.”


VIDEO: Managing Director Jerry Colangelo talks USA basketball

***

No. 3: Paul George the power forward? After seeing the Golden State Warriors rely on a small lineup in their run through the NBA Finals, NBA teams around the league are considering their own smaller lineups. The Indiana Pacers expect a healthy return from Paul George, who has already publicly registered his disinterest in playing major minutes at power forward. But as Pacers president Larry Bird said at a press conference yesterday, George doesn’t make those decisions for the Pacers …

Larry Bird’s sales pitch was good enough to get two free agents to sign with the Pacers.

He’s still trying to convince Paul George that playing power forward will be a good move, too.

After announcing the signings of three players Tuesday, Indiana’s president of basketball operations made his most extensive and direct comments yet about playing the 6-foot-9, 220-pound swingman at a new spot.

“I’m not going to get into a battle about where Paul George will play,” Bird said. “He’s a basketball player and we can put him anywhere out there.”

Bird believes George will be freed to do more offensively and be healthier if he’s not chasing players around the court.

But the debate has raged all summer.

While critics contend the two-time All-Star could get overwhelmed by bigger, stronger opponents inside, Bird believes the two-time all-NBA defensive player will hold up just fine and will actually be a more productive player.

The flurry of offseason moves has left no doubt that George will get some time as a stretch four. The question is how much time?

Before heading to Florida to watch the Pacers’ summer league team play, coach Frank Vogel told reporters he had not determined how much time George would log at power forward. On Saturday at a local basketball camp, George said that while he’s willing to play anywhere, he didn’t anticipate playing 30 minutes per game at that spot.

Bird made one thing clear Tuesday.

“He don’t make the decisions around here. But I did it, and I loved it after I did it,” Bird said, drawing laughter.

***

No. 4: Is Porzingas perfect for NYC? When the Knicks selected Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingas fourth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, boos rained down from the crowd in Brooklyn, mostly from Knicks fans unfamiliar with his name and his game. But in just a few Las Vegas Summer League appearances, as NBA.com’s Shaun Powell writes, Porzingas is showing he may be a perfect fit for New York City

When asked how he handled his nerves in his debut, Porzingis said quickly: “I told myself to chill out.”

His English is amazingly sharp and he carries himself well. Basically, he gets it, even at a very young age. of course, there’s still the big question: Can he play?

Well, that won’t be known in summer league, which should be taken for what it’s worth. Still, after four days in Vegas, he hasn’t backed down. He’s built like a Twizzler but isn’t afraid to mix it up. He goes in traffic with the ball and also after the ball for rebounds. He has challenged players at the rim and is showing a knack for blocking shots. Again, Summer League is all about learning if the player has the basics to survive in the NBA, and Porzingis is showing that.

The main drawback for Porzingis is his lack of strength. He’ll get easily boxed out for rebounds when the real games begin. And his dribble game is merely adequate.

The Knicks were smitten by his height, his athletic ability and his jumper, and so far have no reason to be disappointed. Porzingis has the shooting range to stretch defenses. He can be very useful in the pick-and-pop (assuming his body can withstand the pick part) and can be dangerous behind the 3-point line. And he gets to the free-throw line. Again, this is Summer League, and Porzingis is a work in progress. but the more you watch, the more you get the feeling that Phil Jackson didn’t draft the next Andrea Bargnani.

“He’s really interesting to watch and his growth is going to be interesting to see,” said Jackson. “It looks like he can hold his own out there. I think he’s going to find a comfort zone.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall thinks he should be making more money than Reggie Jackson … The Lakers are making moves to strengthen their analytics department … The Thunder traded Perry Jones III to Boston … Catching up with former Knicks lottery pick Frederic Weis

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.

Report: Stuckey re-signs with Pacers


Just because teams now are solidly entrenched in the second tier of NBA free-agent shopping – with the exception of Marc Gasol and LeBron James, whose presumed re-upping with Memphis and Cleveland still haven’t happened – doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting names in play. The Indiana Pacers took one off the market Sunday by reportedly retaining the services of a moderately attractive shooting guard, Rodney Stuckey, at a more-than-moderate raise:

Last season Stuckey had little leverage and wound up signing with the Pacers for just $1.2 million. He had a solid year for a team that, thanks to Paul George‘s season-long injury, slid from contender to lottery. Stuckey started 36 games, averaged 17.2 points, a career-best 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per 36 minutes for Indiana, and shot (141) and made (55) career highs in 3-pointers, hitting a surprising 39.0 percent.

Indiana figures to fall somewhere between its 38 victories of last season and the 56 games it won in 2013-14, and with team president Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel committed to a faster pace, Stuckey might be even more valuable with his combo guard skills. It keeps him away from maybe a half dozen other teams that had indicated interest, including Cleveland and Chicago.

Morning shootaround — July 5


VIDEO: Kevin Durant on Summer League and the move by LaMarcus Aldridge

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant foreshadows own free agency? | Spurs can thank LaTim for LaMarcus | Tale of two centers, Pt. I (Jordan) | Tale of two centers, Pt. II (Hibbert) | Report: Raptors pick up Biyombo

No. 1: Durant foreshadows own free agency?Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City All-Star and 2014 MVP whose 2014-15 season largely was lost to foot injuries, showed up in Orlando on Saturday to catch the Thunder’s entry in that city’s Pro Summer League. He took the time to talk with reporters about his offseason, his rehab after two surgeries on his right foot and his thoughts on OKC and its ambitions for the coming season. But a lot of folks will zero in on his comments about LaMarcus Aldridge agreeing to a deal with San Antonio – Aldridge was the big free-agent catch of 2015, with Durant slated for that role next summer –and project 12 months out. Here are pertinent quotes, as provided by our own Fran Blinebury:

“You could kinda tell once this whole thing started that he was trying to go somewhere else,” Durant said. “In those decisions, man, you got to respect the guy for making the decision that was right for him. I know a lot of fans are probably upset in Portland at the decision. But at this point in your life and your career you’ve got to focus on you. I said this last year when Mr. (LeBron) James made his decision, it’s pretty cool to see a guy really do what he wants to do and not worry about what everybody else thinks.

Of course, it will be his decision next summer, when Durant becomes a free agent that will put him in the center of the storm.

“I haven’t thought about it, though I hear it all the time,” he said. “I’m really just focusing on rehab. I can’t get there unless I take care of today. That’s how I look at it. Even though I hear from every side thinking past to next summer. But I’m not even trying to focus on that. I’m excited about our team, our new coaches and just trying to get back right.

There is lots more in there, though, don’t hesitate to click on through for the no-longer-so-Thin Man’s thoughts on the Western Conference and his eagerness to get going again in games that matter.

***

No. 2: Spurs can thank “LaTim” for LaMarcus — Following in the massive footsteps of Tim Duncan as the San Antonio Spurs’ dominant and beloved big man didn’t scare off Aldridge. One reason: He won’t be “following” right away, instead playing alongside the Hall of Famer-to-be. An orderly transition was one of the things, in fact, that sold the four-time Portland All-Star on his stunning team-change back to his native Texas. That’s how veteran columnist Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News sees it, at least, and he wrote about that and what looks to be the Spurs’ ability to retool without rebuilding:

That is why Saturday’s news felt as if the Spurs had won a sixth title. They hit the reset button. With only one losing season since 1989, the Spurs reached a remarkable and unparalleled position for a franchise that has been successful for so long. The downturn still remains so far in the future that there is no timeline for it.

But this doesn’t happen if Duncan, once a free agent himself, had chosen Orlando in 2000. This doesn’t happen if Duncan had refused to change his role years later, or opted for the couch instead of taekwondo, or wasn’t as effective at age 39.

This also doesn’t happen now, this month, if Duncan wanted his rightful salary.

Duncan instead remained who he has been. Not coincidentally, that’s the kind of person Aldridge said he grew up idolizing.

[Coach Gregg] Popovich reportedly sold as much to Aldridge during their Friday meal. From ESPN’s Marc Stein in a tweet that same day: “Sources say pitch LaMarcus Aldridge got from Pop today about playing with Duncan AND taking over when Timmy’s gone resonated strongly.”

There are several layers to this, and one is basketball. Duncan makes everyone better, and he will make Aldridge better next season, too.

Duncan’s influence on Aldridge will also be felt in the locker room. Duncan can be quiet, and Aldridge took that further in Portland. Reports suggest he could be distant and insecure.

Duncan, always a nurturing leader, can fix that. His nature has always set a tone among teammates. He expects a certain professional behavior, and he gets it. Aldridge should be drawn to this.

Meanwhile, a veteran NBA personnel man provided the Express-News with an informal scouting report on Aldridge in San Antonio. Here’s a snippet:

On Aldridge’s reliance on the outside shot:

“When you have guys who are so good at something, you have to play to your strengths. Like Tim with the elbow jump shot, or Dirk [Nowitzki] with the pick and pop — that’s a shot you want them to take. That might go against what the new NBA trends are. But sometimes those concepts…it’s easier to find guys who get inside for layups or shoot 3s. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than to find a go-to, game-changer offensively who has a gift for putting the ball in the hole regardless of what defense you throw at them. Like Tony [Parker]; [as an opponent] you can say we’ll live with his jump shot, but if he’s making them he can kill you. (Aldridge) gives them more offensive firepower.

“Obviously his bread and butter is the jump shot. Being an offensive guy, I think if you get a good look in our league…do you wish it was a 3? Yes. Do you wish it was a layup? Yes. But if it’s an open look you know your guy can make, those are good, quality shots. I know Houston takes it to an extreme (with avoiding mid-range shots). But it’s easier to find a guy like Corey Brewer than it is a James Harden. So I think the Spurs got an offensive game-changer, without a doubt. They’re going to mesh his strengths to what the team is, which is one of the best passing teams in the league. Now you have to make a decision when him and Tim are on the floor, him and Boris [Diaw]. Those combinations are going to be lethal.”

***

No. 3: Tale of two centers, Pt. I (Jordan) — One tent-pole NBA center switches teams, his new team celebrates, his old team scrambles. Another tent-pole NBA center switches teams, his old team celebrates, his new team … shrugs? That was the dynamic in play this weekend involving DeAndre Jordan and Roy Hibbert. First, we’ll look at Jordan through the eyes of the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers, the teams that signed and lost him, respectively. Beat man Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News wrote about Jordan and his big-man game that should continue to blossom with the Mavericks:

When he was a raw NBA rookie, his one season at Texas A&M still a fresh memory, DeAndre Jordan was an unknown commodity.

Scouts wondered if he really had NBA skills beyond simply being 6-11 and 250 pounds.

Coaches wondered if he had the want-to.

Fans and critics wondered if he was another Erick Dampier.

As a rookie, Jordan had trouble getting on the court. He played behind Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman with the Los Angeles Clippers. He was looking very much like the second-round draft pick (35th overall) that he was.

He was an offensively challenged, can’t-shoot-free-throws project on a team that went 19-63.

This is one of the NBA’s best examples of why it’s dangerous to draw knee-jerk conclusions about young players.
Six years after the conclusion of that first season, Jordan is joining the Mavericks as the major piece of the organization’s new, young core, an $80-million cornerstone who qualifies as the most lucrative free-agent signee in the team’s history.

“We see him as the future of the franchise,” owner Mark Cuban said.

The Mavericks believe Jordan, who turns 27 on July 21, has untapped potential on the offensive end of the court. His defense and rebounding are not open to debate. He’s as good as anybody in the league in those areas.
Is his offense ready to take off, too?

Coach Rick Carlisle and Cuban believe it will. And that makes sense from the Mavericks’ perspective.

The league is going toward interchangeable players who can guard multiple positions. One area that is in decline is low-post scoring. When nobody else is doing it, that’s when Cuban and Co. try to pounce on an asset that makes the Mavericks unique.

Only Houston, with Dwight Howard, and perhaps Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, have what would be considered strong offensive forces in the paint. San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who agreed to terms with the Spurs on Saturday, and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, are more hybrid big men that can take their game outside the paint.

The Clippers, meanwhile, are hopeful they can find someone – uh, JaVale McGee? – to beef up a front line that suddenly looks awfully nekkid without Jordan. Until they do, and perhaps for some time after, folks might want to blame somebody for this blow to the Clippers’ title dreams. Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register pointed directly at point guard Chris Paul:

Never in his 10-year NBA career – not even in the disastrous deciding moments of Game 5 against Oklahoma City in 2014, not even in horrifically blowing Game 6 and then the series to Houston in May – has Paul looked as bad as he does right now.

One of the most gifted point guards in the league just had his worst turnover as a pro.

Jordan is officially leaving the Clippers for Dallas as a free agent, and, by all indications, the player who has led the NBA in assists per game the past two seasons, assisted mightily in Jordan’s franchise-stunting decision.

No one is saying that on the record, of course, but no one really has to say it on the record. The record speaks for itself.

Jordan is known to revere Doc Rivers and cherish his relationship with Blake Griffin. The Clippers were a team famously building toward something bigger, with an owner puffing money and optimism into a franchise that traditionally has had neither.

It is common knowledge that Paul and Jordan didn’t always get along, that Paul’s on-court edginess and demeanor agitated Jordan. Paul also reportedly thought Jordan was entirely too lax in addressing his free-throw deficiencies.

“Things aren’t good there,” a source told Fox Sports in May, referring to the Paul-Jordan dynamic. “(Jordan) might leave,” the source also was quoted as saying…

The concept of players struggling to coexist is only as old as the games themselves. Paul is hardly the first star to alienate a teammate, Kobe Bryant being another convenient example of someone who has left those around him begging for less.

Funny, though, how a teammate like Bryant, one who has won five championships, might be tolerated a little easier than a teammate like Paul, who never has advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs.

***

No. 4: Tale of two centers, Pt. II (Hibbert) — There was a different, nearly opposite vibe swirling about Hibbert’s trade – for a future second-round pick — from the Pacers to the Lakers. Back home in Indiana, the move was celebrated as a huge step forward in basketball boss Larry Bird‘s vision to have the Pacers playing faster; now both Hibbert and veteran power forward David West (who opted out) both are gone. Shedding Hibbert’s $15.5 million salary for the coming season, along with what might have become a brooding, distracting situation if the two-time All-Star wound up anchored to the bench, also suggested a going-away party without an invitation for the honored guest. As for Hibbert’s impact on the Lakers, no one was touting his arrival as the latest entry in the franchise’s famous timeline of great centers (Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal). First, here’s Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, rather harshly, on the Pacers’ side of this swap:

From something ugly, something beautiful is growing. You know the ugly. Paul George‘s gruesome broken leg, nearly a year ago, which triggered the Indiana Pacers’ slide out of the 2015 NBA playoffs, which led to …

Something beautiful growing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Pacers have done so much right, and gotten a little luck as well, and the result is pretty much every single thing falling their way since George fell so horribly, horribly wrong.

The departure of fraudulent center Roy Hibbert is the latest, greatest thing to happen to this team, the cherry on top of a sundae that will see the Pacers contend not just for a playoff spot next season, but for a top-four seed that would give them homecourt advantage in the postseason.

Hibbert is going to the Lakers, which takes his $15.5 million off Indiana’s books. What will the Pacers get for Hibbert, and what will they do with the leftover money? As of this writing I don’t know, and I don’t care. Get a backup power forward, a third-string guard, a lump of used ankle tape. Whatever.

Hibbert leaving is addition by subtraction, only it’s better than that. It’s multiplication by subtraction. Hibbert wasn’t going to play much this season, he wasn’t going to be happy about it, and he was going to prevent the Pacers from replacing his salary with one or — more likely — two or three players who can fill the team’s depth. A veteran point guard off the bench. Another power forward to spell George.

This, meanwhile, was the lukewarm coverage generated from the Los Angeles side, as chronicled by L.A. Times beat writer Mike Bresnahan:

They didn’t miss out only on Aldridge. They also met with DeAndre Jordan, who chose Dallas, and Greg Monroe, who curiously picked Milwaukee over the Lakers.

The Lakers netted Hibbert for a future second-round draft pick, giving them a post player with legitimate NBA experience, though he was coming off a poor season.

Hibbert, 28, is a good shot-blocker but an erratic scorer and a below-average rebounder for being 7 feet 2. His days in Indiana were numbered when team President Larry Bird all but guaranteed he would play a lesser role next season.

Hibbert has enjoyed some solid seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2014 and 2012. He had one of the more unique lines in recent years, compiling 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots for a triple-double against New Orleans in 2012.

He is not an accurate shooter from the field outside and made only 44.6% of his attempts last season, very low for a center, while averaging 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

Hibbert will be in the last season of his contract and eligible for free agency in a year. He joins a threadbare Lakers frontcourt that had Robert Sacre and Tarik Black as the only post players with NBA experience.

The addition of Hibbert, who has a trade kicker that increases his actual cap number to $17.8 million, leaves the Lakers with less than $5 million to spend on a dwindling free-agent market.

It’s hard to detract the focus from an unsettling pattern, the 16-time NBA champions unable to sign anybody of worth to upgrade their team in recent off-seasons.

***

No. 5: Report: Raptors pick up Biyombo — The Toronto Raptors lost stalwart big man Amir Johnson this summer to the Atlantic Division rival Boston Celtics. But even without that lost, they’ve been a little thin up front over the last few seasons and have reportedly found some help in the form of former lottery pick Bismack Biyombo. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

The journey has been little short of amazing — the Democratic Republic of Congo to Yemen to Spain to the United States Pacific northwest for a one-night coming out party.

Then Sacramento for less than 24 hours, to Charlotte to the unemployment line and now Bismack Biyombo finds himself in Toronto with another chance to prove his NBA worth.

The six-foot-nine Biyombo, cut adrift by the Charlotte Hornets last month because they feared he had reached his potential, will join the Raptors as a placeholder backup centre, a defensive presence and offensive nightmare who gives Toronto a shot-blocking rim-protecting presence to try to nurture.

Biyombo has agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth about $6 million (U.S.), a relatively low-cost, low-risk backup for Jonas Valanciunas.

According to league sources, Biyombo’s signing will have no impact on Toronto’s ability to sign other free agents with salary cap room. Biyombo’s deal will fit into what is known as the “mini-mid level” cap exception. Toronto still has something in the neighbourhood of $8 million to spend on a much-needed power forward and a backup point guard.

But in Biyombo, general manager Masai Ujiri has plugged one small hole in the roster, providing coach Dwane Casey with a solid defender who has exponentially more athleticism and potential than either Amir Johnson or Chuck Hayes, who manned that position a year ago.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Either there is a need in Cleveland for former Indiana forward David West or there isn’t, depending on which analysis — this one or that one — you prefer. … Here is a breakdown of the teams that still have salary-cap space to use on the players left in NBA free agency. … The Washington Wizards have gone about their offseason maneuvers with one eye on the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. … Might Lou Williams be a sign-and-trade possibility for the Miami Heat? … No less an authority than Patrick Ewing says Charlotte’s lottery pick Frank Kaminsky has gone from a “deer in the headlights” to potentially a deer to fear – for the Hornets, of course. … Aldridge is gone and now so is Portland assistant coach Kim Hughes for rankling the Blazers organization with some off-hand remarks. … Whether it says “Welcome!” or not, the New York Knicks got the floor mat treatment from the NBA’s free-agent A-listers, according to the New York Post.

Morning shootaround — July 2


VIDEO: What were the best signings from the first day of free agency?

*** FREE AGENCY COVERAGE JULY 2 ON NBA TV: Free Agent Fever: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET ***

DAY 1: Complete Free Agency Recap

Spending spree marks first day of free agency | Report: Lakers fail to impress Aldridge; Blazers hoping for Aldridge-Monroe combo | Report: Three guards on Kings’ wish list | Clippers hoping Pierce deal leads Jordan to return | West reveals why he’s leaving Indiana

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Recapping a busy Day 1 of free agency — The chatter during yesterday’s free-agent period opened, essentially, with Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers talking about a long-term extension. By the time 1 a.m. or so rolled around today, it’s hard to keep tabs on just how many actual free agents agreed to deals. From the big names (Kevin Love, Paul Pierce, Paul Millsap) to the mid-range ones (DeMarre Carroll, Danny Green, Tristan Thompson) to smaller ones (Kyle Singler, Brandan Wright), moves were happening constantly. Our Steve Aschburner tries to make sense of what was a crazy busy day: 

“Unfinished business” was the term Kevin Love used, more or less kicking off the first day of NBA free agency Wednesday with his announcement, via The Players’ Tribune, that he would be sticking with Cleveland Cavaliers in pursuit of LeBron James-led championships.

“Irrational exuberance,” though, was the label that came to mind as the shopping and the bidding and the spending (pledges of it, anyway, when deals actually can be consummated July 9) spiraled ever higher. That phrase was former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan‘s, used to characterize the overheated stock market during the dot.com bubble of the 1990s.

From Love and Cleveland teammates Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert to San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, from young franchise cornerstones such as Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard to DeMarre Carroll becoming Toronto’s highest paid player, the frenzy to find, pitch and lock up players at heretofore staggering amounts of money was more than even some players could grasp.

With so much of the NBA’s business focused on the summer of 2016 – when the revenue from broadcast rights increases geometrically, taking the salary cap from about $69 million to an estimated $90 million – owners and general managers dug deep to cut deals at 2015 prices. Or, more accurately, at 2015’s percentage of payroll.

Look at it this way: an $11 million player by 2016-17, for example, will eat up the same amount of cap space as a $7.7 player this past season ($63 million cap). That could turn a number of Wednesday’s personal lottery payoffs into something if not reasonable by an average Joe’s or Jill’s standards, at least into something manageable.

One of the surprises of the day, then, was that so many players were willing to lock in rather than hold off or “gimmick-contract” their way to another bite at the platinum apple in a year or two. Love, perhaps thinking of his own troubling history of injuries, went “all in” with the Cavaliers, grabbing a deal that will still be in effect when James turns 35. Davis dried up the premature drooling in Chicago and probably 28 other markets by teams and fans hoping to pry him loose from New Orleans sooner than 2021.

Here was another surprise: Of the top 15 or so players who agreed to terms Wednesday, 10 or more (depending on your rankings) chose to stay put, re-signing with their current teams. Of those who will be playing elsewhere come autumn, Tyson Chandler‘s four-year, $52 million deal with Phoenix and Carroll’s four-year, $60 million package with the Raptors probably rate as the biggest moves.


VIDEO: What were the under-the-radar moves from Day 1?

*** (more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 205) Featuring Pete Philo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kristaps Porzingis knows all of the names that came before him, all of the international big men who were supposed to be game changers that didn’t live up to the hype.

The ghost of Darko Milicic, and others, lingers for a youngster like the Porzingis, the Latvian 7-footer the New York Knicks selected with the fourth pick in last week’s NBA Draft.

But Porzingis insists he’s different. He’s prepared to break the mold and is ready to embrace the pressure of playing on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.

The question is does he have the chops to live up to his own words? 

And that’s a question guys like Pete Philo, the Indiana Pacers’ director of international scouting, get paid to figure out for their respective teams. Their work digging up the details on players most of us have never seen play in the flesh, can be the difference between success and failure for a guy like Porzingis.

Step 1 of the NBA’s summer hoops Holy Trinity is the Draft, which was handled last week with plenty of surprises, including Porzingis.

Step 2 is the Free Agent Fever (on NBA TV and NBA.com starting today and going strong until all of the big names agree to deals) going on right now.

Step 3, Summer League action in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas kicks off life fireworks on July 4.

We’ve got you covered on all three steps of the process on Episode 205 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Pete Philo. He joins us to talk Draft, the work that goes on behind the scenes and what that spawns in free agency, summer league ball and beyond.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: Does Kristaps Porzingis have what it takes to snap the international big man jinx? Knicks fans certainly hope so, as does Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ brain trust