Posts Tagged ‘Jabari Parker’

Can LeBron’s new ‘mates stay healthy?

cavs

If the Cavaliers hope to win a championship this season, they’ll need both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the floor for the majority of games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Injuries unfortunately are making headlines again this preseason with seemingly a bushel of six-to-eight-week-type setbacks, Kevin Durant‘s right foot and Bradley Beal‘s left wrist being two of the most recent and most prominent.

Injuries to key players certainly can derail a season. Last year, Dwyane Wade‘s status was of constant concern to the Heat, and although he said otherwise, Wade seemed to labor through the NBA Finals. His ongoing knee maintenance and uncertainty of his availability week to week, and sometimes even game to game, was also the primary reason why it made sense for LeBron James to take his talents back to Cleveland and join a younger cast.

Wade missed 58 games over the last three seasons, 28 last year and there’s no guarantee this season he’ll be able to match the 54 games he played. But be careful. In Cleveland, the seemingly indestructible James (he’s never missed more than seven games in any of his 11 seasons) is paired with two All-Stars with something of an injury track record.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on Wednesday already sat out his third consecutive preseason game with a sprained ankle. In the first quarter of that game, Kevin Love left and did not return because of a stiff neck, an injury that isn’t believed to be serious.

Irving has missed 49 games over the last three seasons, pretty comparable to Wade, who has much more mileage on his body. Love missed 80 games over that same stretch with 64 coming during two different stretches of the 2012-13 season due to a twice-broken hand. He originally broke his right hand in the preseason by, he says, doing knuckle pushups. He returned earlier than expected, played 18 games, and then re-broke the hand. At the end of that season, Love had surgery on his left knee to remove scar tissue.

Love missed just five games in his final frustrating season with Minnesota, and Irving gave the 33-win Cavs 71 games, missing 11. If new coach David Blatt can get anywhere near that availability from each player he’ll be ecstatic.

It’s just impossible to know. Some players seem to be more susceptible to injury than others. Maybe their bodies just aren’t as durable and their body parts succumb more easily. Irving is just 22 years old, but his list of injured body parts from one year at Duke through three seasons in the NBA could fill a medical encyclopedia: toe, biceps, shoulder, hand, finger, jaw, knees and now ankle.

Does it make him injury prone, or snake-bit? Does it mean he’ll always be one misstep away from trading in his uniform for a sport coat and a spot on the bench? Or is he just as likely to play all 82 games this season as he is to miss 10 games, or 20 games?

As Durant, who had missed only 16 of 558 regular-season games through his first seven seasons, said just 12 days before the Oklahoma City Thunder medical staff informed him he fractured his right foot and will miss up to two months: “You can get hurt walking outside. You hear that a lot, but you can get hurt anywhere. Freak accidents happen. But I’ve been playing this game so long that I know at any moment that something can happen.”

Love logged 36.3 minutes in 77 games last season. His injury history isn’t as ominous as Irving’s, but again, injuries are fickle. Love was already a bit banged up before the neck issue after he banged knees with Jabari Parker the night before.

As a rookie, Love played in 81 games. The next season he missed 22 games after he broke his left hand after banging it against a teammate’s elbow (does one of the league’s best rebounders and sweetest shooters have weak hands, or inexplicably bad luck with his hands?). In 2010-11, he missed nine games and then 11 the next season.

Health of course is a must for all teams. But for the championship-dreaming Cavaliers, already feeling a slight pinch from the injury bug, the ability for Irving and Love to remain on the floor with LeBron in their first season together is critical.

Is it possible? No one can answer that.

Bucks see brighter ‘next tomorrow’ thanks to Parker, Antetokounmpo


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo looking toward 2014-15 season

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. – John Henson won’t turn 24 until three days after Christmas, but when you get him talking about his precocious Milwaukee Bucks’ teammates Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, you start looking around for a front porch and a rocking chair. Henson isn’t about to drop a “whippersnapper” on anyone but yes, he admitted this week, the two kids do make him feel old.

“It does, man,” Henson said after a morning session Wednesday in coach Jason Kidd‘s first Bucks camp. “When I was 19, I was a sophomore in college, not even thinking about the NBA. It’s interesting, man. I’m as excited to see them grow as anybody else.”

The number of anybody elses is unusually high, too, considering it’s, well, Milwaukee. A training camp visit by a major sports network added to the buzz.

“I think it’s good to have some excitement out here,” Henson said. “I saw the ESPN [production] truck out there, I didn’t know what was going on. I had to search my app and make sure nothing came up. They were just talking about training camp. So that’s something that’s new for me here.”

The days of ignoring the Bucks are dwindling. Used to be, some big media enterprise or national reporter would wait for Milwaukee to come to them, say, for a road game in New York or L.A. It’d be a quick peek and then, yeah, back to flyover status for a team stuck somewhere in the NBA’s steerage class of the flawed and the futile.

Now the Bucks boast two of the league’s most promising, young talents. Parker and Antetokounmpo are twin sources of optimism and untapped potential for a franchise with new ownership, a new coach, hopes for a new arena and a fresh set of ambitions.

Last season, the Bucks lost their way to the opportunity to draft Parker with the No. 2 pick in the June draft. The rookie hopes he doesn’t have to go through anything resembling their 15-67 season.

“I think the guys really don’t take winning for granted, because they lost so much,” Parker said, sharing his first impression of his new team. “So with that attitude, that mindset, they appreciate winning a little more. They leave it out on the floor, just play with a little bit more heart, because they know winning isn’t guaranteed.”

It might be more achievable, at least, with the two teens in tow.

Parker and Antetokounmpo got to this point from widely divergent paths The former has competed at basketball’s highest levels in high school (Simeon in Chicago, Ill.) and college (Duke) before turning pro last spring in a flip-a-coin decision with Andrew Wiggins atop the 2014 draft.

Parker went second, which gave him way more stability this summer as the Bucks pledged their allegiance from the start. Wiggins, meanwhile, got embraced by the Cavaliers, got excited about LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland and then got traded to Minnesota as the major chip delivering Kevin Love.

Parker, listed at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, also got a head start on this whole NBA thing as the son of former Golden State forward Sonny Parker (1976-82).

“His time was different,” Parker said of going to school on his father’s experience. “During the ’70s and ’80s, they flew commercial all the time. And they practiced in two-a-days for a month straight, maybe even longer.

“But what he told me to remember is, the game never changes. Players change. But keep that same mentality. The rules of success, that formula, never changes. He always tells me to keep it by the playbook.”

Sonny Parker averaged 9.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 24.2 minutes, the first two of which some Bucks fans might expect Jabari to double in his rookie season. But the younger Parker isn’t talking numbers and he’s maintaining perspective.

“Until I get to my sixth year, he’s got it over me,” he said of his father. “I’ve got to just listen to him and hopefully I’ll get to where he was.”

Parker and the Bucks have penciled him in as a power forward, a nod to his build and relative athleticism. He has impressed the staff and his new teammates with his diligence and his humility – even Antetokounmpo said, “He’s a great kid” – and has shrugged off early predictions as the Rookie of the Year favorite.

“More advanced, more comfortable,” Antetokounmpo said of the difference between his rookie arrival and Parker’s. “That confidence he has, for a young guy, he surprises you. He’s got, like, nerves. He’s always … how can I say it? … he don’t care who’s going to guard him. He even doesn’t care who he’s going to defend. Whether it’s a young guy or a big guy, he don’t care, he just plays his game.”

Said Henson: “Great rookie to have – comes in, works hard, doesn’t say much. Bought a stereo for the locker room so we can listen to music. Just goes about his business.”

If Parker is headed to power forward, Antetokounmpo could have his position decided by dartboard. Drafted 15th overall in 2013 as a raw sleeper pick from Greece, the lanky teen from Athens grew another two inches in the offseason. Now he’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and notions of actually playing point guard for one of the game’s all-time greats at that spot. Everyone in Milwaukee’s camp keeps a straight face on the possibility, too.

“We try to stay away from labeling,” Kidd said. “The one thing he has is a natural instinct to make plays and find ways to win. As far as being a point guard, I think he can start the offense, he can go coast-to-coast – he’s very comfortable with the ball in the open court.”

Can Antetokounmpo guard some of the gnats and water bugs among NBA point guards?

“We’ll see,” Kidd said. “He probably could play center. Y’know, 6-11. Guys, whatever they can do to help a team win. Magic [Johnson] played all positions to help win a championship [in 1980 with the Lakers]. When you have that type of ability and skill level to play multiple positions, it helps the coach, it helps your teammates and it also gives you more time on the floor.’

The key differences in their development, in Kidd’s eyes, are the refinements with which Parker has grown up, different from the rough edges so to be sanded off Antetokounmpo. But if Parker can produce half the YouTube moments that the “Greek Freak” did in 2013-14, the Bucks will be thrilled.

“You’re probably looking at small things – fundamentals, footwork – when you look at Jabari,” Kidd said. “But he probably isn’t growing any more. Giannis has grown over two inches – he gets accustomed to being 6-9, he wakes up and he’s 6-11. … He has to go through kind of understanding his body.

“They’re both 19 year olds, they’re both different. But they’re both capable of playing at a high level in due time.”

Some Milwaukee fans are thinking five, 10, even 15 years ahead with both these guys in the lineup. That’s a little far out there for Parker and Antetokounmpo.

“I’m thinking day by day,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully we stick here for long years and everything goes well and we take the Bucks back to a championship like before [1971]. But if you don’t play hard now or tomorrow or the next tomorrow, it can’t happen.”

Morning shootaround — Sept. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson: ‘Melo must keep ball moving | Suns get even deeper at guard | Antetokounmpo ready to take on point guard role

No. 1: Jackson: Passing key to Anthony’s success in N.Y. — Knicks team president Phil Jackson played a big part in the team’s successful wooing of Carmelo Anthony in the offseason that led to him signing a new deal that keeps him in New York for years to come. Part of Jackson’s sales pitch was convincing Anthony that he could thrive under new coach Derek Fisher and the triangle offense, a system predicated on moving the ball often. In a wide-ranging chat with Steve Serby of the New York Post, Jackson talks about Anthony, J.R. Smith and more:

Q: Hawks GM Danny Ferry recently made comments about Carmelo in which he reportedly said: “He can shoot the [bleep] out of it, but he screws you up in other ways. So is he really worth $20 million? I would argue if he plays the right way, absolutely.”

A: I think there’s probably 15 players in the NBA that are very similar position. I don’t know if all of ’em are paid $20 million, but the coaches and GMs are talking about it in those type of terms — how much does this guy hurt your team, or hurt the game flow because he’s trying to score. The attempt to score, the need to score, the pressure that he feels he has to score. … Does he take away from the team game? That’s what Danny’s talking about there. And that’s where Carmelo’s gonna move forward this year in that situation — the ball can’t stop. The ball has to continually move. It moves, or goes to the hoop on a shot or a drive or something like that. In our offense, that’s part of the process of getting players to play in that rhythm.

Q: Is Carmelo on board with this?

A: All we talked about in our negotiation was, “I’d like not to have to feel like I have to carry the load to score every night.” He wants some help.

Q: Your first choice as head coach was Steve Kerr, but the Warriors offered more money. Did Knicks owner James Dolan support your pursuit of Kerr, and why do you think your second choice, Derek Fisher, was worth more money than your first choice?

A: That part is incorrect. However, having had a relationship with Steve that’s beyond just basketball and coach and player, we had discussions over the course of the year. A lot of ’em about running a system in the NBA. Is it possible that you can run this triangle system in the NBA? And I said, “I see no reason why not.” And I said, “A lot of it depends upon personnel and a lot of it depends upon mental attitude of players.” One of the discussion points that came up was as to what type of team you’re thinking about that could be very effective in the triangle, and he said, “Golden State Warriors.” And I said, “Oh that’s interesting, Mark Jackson’s there.” … And he said, “Yeah, I know.” But he said, “If that job was available, that would be kind of the perfect job for a triangle.” Well, once that job became available — I knew that he had a daughter at Cal, great volleyball player — and it really wasn’t more about that than about anything else. And so, even though he committed to me, I knew that the day that they fired Mark that that was where he was gonna be pursued. [Former Jets general manager Mike] Tannenbaum facilitated that, and that was OK with me, because I want [Kerr] to be happy in what he does. And I think probably Derek’s the right choice for this job, so I have no qualms, no problem with it at all, and I’m thankful that Jim wanted to bend. But I think I had to make a statement about what I wanted to pay a coach.

Q: How do you plan to try to get through to J.R. Smith to put an end to all his immature on- and off-the-court antics?

A: I don’t know if that’s possible or not. He might be one of those guys that’s a little bit like Dennis Rodman that has an outlier kind of side to him. But I’m gonna get to know him as we go along, and we’ll find a way to either make him a very useful player on our organization, or whatever.

Q: What’s your level of confidence that you’ll be able to pull this off, and bring a championship back to New York?

A: Well, it’s a day-to-day thing, it’s about every day doing the right thing. There’s no doubt that good fortune has to be a big part of it. I always refer back to a statement when people a lot of times like to talk about great fortune that’s happened with me, to a statement about Napoleon looking for a general to replace someone that’s fallen. And they gave him all the benefits of this general and all this stuff, and he goes in the end and says: “Is he lucky? Does good fortune follow him?” And that’s really a part of it. And so we’re looking for people we think are lucky, good fortune follows them, and we think that’ll happen here.

(more…)

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

Buyers? Bucks to reward ticket ‘users’


VIDEO: Jabari Parker talks with Bucks.com about his off-the-court interests

At first blush, the Milwaukee Bucks’ current ticket promotion, “Cheer The Future,” sounds like an old joke: the prize for first place is one week in Milwaukee! The prize for second place is two weeks in Milwaukee …

The Bucks were so bad last season, so seemingly far from playing competitive basketball, that the sales department’s offer of a steep discount on tickets in 2015-16 – as steep as free! – based on tickets bought and used this season might seem more punitive than generous, going strictly by their 15-67 finish in 2013-14. Milwaukee pulled off what looked to be one of the great shell games in recent NBA history, pledging not to “tank” — then-owner Herb Kohl flatly said so on Media Day — and then outtanking the other league’s bottom feeders to grab the best odds in the Draft lottery.

The move, driven by injuries and underperformance as much as any rebuilding strategy, worked out beautifully. The Bucks landed the No. 2 pick and, in selecting Duke’s Jabari Parker, wound up with a draftee most scouts think can contribute immediately. Parker also has said all the right things about pledging his services to Milwaukee long-term, and he has a built-in fan base 90 miles to the south in his hometown of Chicago.

But all that losing came at a price, and not just in pride or – for coach Larry Drew and his staff – in job security. Milwaukee’s attendance went from an average of 15,348 in the previous seven seasons to 13,511, a drop of 12 percent. After ranking between 22nd and 27th from 2006-07 through 2012-13 in home attendance, the Bucks finished last in 2013-14.

It wasn’t even just a money thing, as bad as the hemorrhaging was. The BMO Harris Bradley Center on too many nights went limp, the empty seats of the upper bowl and the quiet ones down below feeling like a betrayal of the franchise’s headier times: The championship era of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1970s. Don Nelson’s Marques Johnson-Sidney Moncrief powerhouses of the ’80s. The excitement when Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell missed the 2001 Finals by one game. And even the “Fear The Deer” surprise late in 2009-10.

That’s why this “Cheer The Future” season-ticket scheme matters not just as a way to sell tickets but to get those buyers into the building.

“We believe the best way to build our fan base and increase attendance is to show them our young, exciting team,” Ted Loehrke, the Bucks’ senior vice president and chief revenue officer, said by phone Thursday. “The whole concept is to re-introduce the Bucks to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, especially young professionals and college students.”

The prices and seat locations should fit their budgets, especially if they max out the benefits. It works like this: Fans are required to commit to a two-season purchase, with discounts offered on the second year. Those who attend at least 30 games will get their 2015-16 tickets at half price. If they use tickets this season at least 35 times, the discount grows to 75 percent. And those who attend all 40 Milwaukee home games (the team plays a designated home game at London’s O2 Arena on Jan. 15 vs. New York) will get their same tickets next season for free.

The team set aside 500 seats for the promotion, which runs through Sunday. Loehrke said the response has been strong, with the remaining seats and the deadline pretty much in synch.

NBA teams have marketed hard-to-sell seats via various gimmicks. For instance, Minnesota used a “pay the pick” plan in which fans paid a per-ticket price equal to the team’s lottery position (the Wolves drafted fourth, so those seats cost $4 each). Other clubs have offered future discounts. But Loehrke said the Bucks were unaware of any team bundling purchase, attendance and discount together like this.

Milwaukee already has had an eventful offseason, starting with Kohl’s sale of the franchise to billionaire investors Wes Edens and Marc Lasry for a whopping $550 million. Parker’s selection and presentation were well-received, and the startling hire of Jason Kidd as coach – after some un-Milwaukee-like machinations behind GM John Hammond‘s back to oust Drew – generated headlines, too.

The continued development of last season’s lottery pick, Greek phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, and 2012 first-rounder John Henson, along with some presumed face-saving resurgences by Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilaysova are added reasons for optimism in 2014-15.

“There’s been a buzz around the team this summer unlike any we’ve seen in recent history,” Loehrke said.

Edens and Lasry are eager to energize the Bradley Center, too, to win over local and state officials and the citizens overall to their quest for a new, partially public-financed downtown arena. Sports teams know that seats, like unused hotel rooms, are an expiring asset. The Bucks want those in their aging building to be very expiring.

Mostly, though, they want them filled. This season and next.

Ten (or so) intriguing games for 2014-15

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, here in 2009, haven't squared off since February 2010 (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, here in 2009, haven’t squared off since February 2010 (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James is in Cleveland, Kevin Love soon will be (barring a startling change of direction), and so the eyes of the NBA world will focus there as well, from the very beginning of the season to around the middle and obviously to the bitter/glorious end.

When the Cavaliers go to Rio de Janeiro for an Oct. 11 preseason game, the Heat are the opponent, which should lead to the ultimate in commanding the spotlight: an exhibition game that will generate attention. It’s going to be that kind of 2014-15, with Cleveland dominating the 10 games (or so) to watch that initially jump out with Wednesday’s release of the full NBA schedule for 2014-15 (you can see the full 2014-15 national TV schedule here

HANG TIME: Digging deeper into the 2014-15 schedule

Cavaliers at Heat, Dec. 25, American Airlines Arena, Miami (5 p.m. ET, ABC)

It’s on the Christmas schedule, which is a big deal. It’s James’ first game back in Miami, which is a big deal. Put them together, it’s a very big deal. That goes for hype and network marketing more than anything, because this won’t be like the scorching emotions when LeBron returned to Cleveland for the first time while playing for the Heat. He didn’t just perform open-heart surgery without anesthesia on South Florida. Still, the buildup will be a sight anyway.

Mavericks at Spurs, Oct. 28, AT&T Center, San Antonio, (8 p.m. ET, TNT)

Another season opener, another banner raising. The Spurs get their latest celebration in front of an in-state rival and an opponent hoping to become a primary challenger in the Western Conference following the arrival of Chandler Parsons and the return of Tyson Chandler. Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio machine does not like pageantry. They’ll put up with nights like this, though.

Cavaliers at Timberwolves, Jan. 31, Target Center, Minneapolis (8 ET)

The teams first meet Dec. 23 in Cleveland — a nice schedule stretch for the Cavaliers, with the possible Love reunion game against the Wolves followed by the James reunion game against the Heat –- but the location of this second matchup makes it a much bigger deal. This would be Love as a Twin Cities visitor. This is fans having a chance to get a few things off their chest now that his situation has finally been untangled. If it gets untangled.

Bulls at Knicks, Oct. 29, Madison Square Garden, New York (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

This will be the return of Derrick Rose to the NBA, after the very promising return of Rose to Team USA and the opportunity to build more momentum with the international games before training camp. Because Rose matters so much to the team that could, health willing, become a serious threat in the East, this early read will be valuable. The Chicago start is particularly worth watching since the Bulls’ second game, Oct. 31, is at home against Cleveland.

Clippers at Warriors, Nov. 5, Oracle Arena, Oakland (10:30 ET, ESPN)

Not just this game, but the whole four-game season series, really, including one of the Christmas showcases. The teams had several confrontational moments that threatened to turn ugly last season, then went the full seven games in the first round of the playoffs in a series hijacked by the Donald Sterling mess. It was always a fun matchup. Now it could build into must-see TV, with the twist of L.A. native Steve Kerr new to the Golden State sideline.

Bucks at Nets, Nov. 19, Barclays Center, Brooklyn (7:30 p.m. ET)

Not that New York fans would ordinarily ever try to make life uncomfortable for an opponent, but this time the opponent is ex-Nets coach Jason Kidd, now manning the sidelines for Milwaukee. So the Bucks might want to pack ear plugs. One other bit of advice: This wouldn’t be a good night for Kidd to play the “Hit me” card. Someone not on his own team might take him up on it.

Five games, Dec. 25 (12 p.m. ET – 10: 30 p.m. ET)

The lineup for the Christmas extravaganza: Wizards at Knicks at 12 p.m. ET (ESPN), Thunder at Spurs at 2:30 ET (ABC), Cavaliers at Heat at 5 ET (ABC), Lakers at Bulls at 8 ET (TNT), Warriors at Clippers at 10:30 ET (TNT). Washington becomes a featured attraction around the league, San Antonio and Oklahoma City meet after likely opening the season as the two best teams in the West, LeBron to Miami and much more. Go ahead and just put the TV at the head of the table.

Bulls at Lakers, Jan. 29, Staples Center, Los Angeles (10:30 ET, TNT)

There was no animosity when Pau Gasol left — certainly nothing like the Lakers and the league have seen in other situations — so this game won’t come with much tension around the buildup. But Gasol’s 6 ½ seasons, three All-Star appearances and two championships in Los Angeles counted for a lot, in what the titles meant to the legacy of Kobe Bryant and the push that should land Gasol in the Hall of Fame (especially considering his international play). He will say all the right things about coming back. And, given the direction of the team he left behind, the L.A. fans who were so hard on him would be smart to show some appreciation.

Mavericks at Rockets, Nov. 22, Toyota Center, Houston (8 p.m. ET)

The Parsons exit from Houston as a restricted free agent was not smooth, from the front offices trading jabs to James Harden’s dig about role players to Mark Cuban and Parsons clubbing it the night the offer sheet was signed. With two Texas teams wanting to prove they belong in the upper-echelon of the conference, this would have been a good season series to watch anyway. It just got better.

Bucks at Timberwolves, Nov. 26, Target Center, Minneapolis (8 p.m. ET)

No. 1 draft pick (Andrew Wiggins) against No. 2 (Jabari Parker) was supposed to happen when the Cavaliers played the Bucks. Then came the reported agreement to send Wiggins to Minnesota as part of the James trade. So the draft-related focus shifted to the Twin Cities. The Bucks took Parker with the intention of playing him mostly at power forward, so actual head-to-head matchups may be rare. But this will still be a compare-contrast that will last for years.

Summer Dreaming: Rookie of the Year


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel put on a shotblocking show throughout Summer League

Late summer in North America is the start of hurricane season, a time when the weather forecasters keep their eyes peeled for potential tropical disturbances.

But with the season openers less than three months away, we’ll start looking farther out over the horizon for an early peek at the 2014-15 NBA official award winners and a few extra categories, just for fun.

Our second annual Summer Dreaming Series starts today with a look at my top five picks for Rookie of the Year. Send me yours.

Nerlens Noel, 76ers — While all eyes have been on the big-name talent arriving in the 2014 Draft class, the guy who had originally been projected as the No. 1 pick in 2013 just might take a page out of Blake Griffin‘s delayed gratification book to steal the thunder and the trophy. After being sidelined by an ACL injury, there were times late last season when he was clearly chomping at the bit and openly talking about his desire to get on the court. Yet, the Sixers held firm in resting him all season. When Noel finally got to play in Summer League, he showed his athleticism, his explosiveness and defensive skills. He’s an active big man and with the Sixers’ goal of playing at a fast pace, he’ll get plenty of chances to run the floor and put up numbers. With Philly’s top pick this year, Joel Embiid, likely sidelined for the season, Noel will also get his share of minutes and more. The Sixers waited decades to get their first Rookie of the Year winner last season in Michael Carter-Williams. Now they could make it two in a row.

Jabari Parker, Bucks – There will be questions to answer. Is his long-term future in the league as a small forward? Or does he slide over and use his shooting ability as a stretch four? The general consensus is there could be others in this year’s rookie class with greater potential, but Parker is the one most ready to step into the NBA and thrive, perhaps even star, from Day One. The Bucks franchise certainly needs a fresh face as a headliner as they move to a new era with new ownership and a new coach (Jason Kidd). He wasn’t as flashy as the neon signs in Las Vegas during Summer League, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds. However, Parker has everything in his offensive arsenal — from step-back jumpers to finishing inside — that enable him to be the main gun in the Bucks arsenal. He’s the chalk pick to win ROY.

Marcus Smart, Celtics — Big man Julius Randle is playing for the other rebuilding traditional powerhouse out West and could have his minutes blocked by free-agent signees Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis. Smart, however, will have no such problems getting (and staying) on the floor in Boston. He either learns playing alongside Rajon Rondo or takes his spot if the Celtics do pull the trigger and trade the veteran. Smart’s offense is streaky and he’ll have to learn discipline with his shots. But he’s a defensive bulldog who loves the challenge and is also a willing pupil that will quickly become the pet project of coach Brad Stevens. Smart should be a mainstay in Boston as it moves ahead in its reconstruction process.

Andrew Wiggins, Cavaliers – His chances of latching onto the rookie hardware will improve the minute he gets his wish and the trade from Cleveland to Minnesota goes through. While there may have been less pressure to be a role player alongside LeBron James on the Cavs’ roster, Wiggins will certainly get more chance to shine as the new face of the Timberwolves. There is a lot to learn and improve on. He’s got a questionable handle and really needs to improve his shot, but those are fixable areas. What you can’t teach is a leaping ability that goes through the roof. Plus, there’s his willingness to defend that is not far behind his offense. A big question, though: will the burden of carrying a remade Minnesota team built around him wear him down and make his stats suffer? There is smart money that says Wiggins could one day be the best of the the bunch, but chances are his raw talent alone won’t carry him to the ROY.

Elfrid Payton, Magic – He’s got a jump shot that needs plenty of work, but everything else about his game will make him an instant hit in Orlando. In fact, he could be a dark horse in the rookie race all season long. Payton’s place will be starting at the point, ending the experiment at converting Victor Oladipo. Doing so will allow both young guards to thrive. He had a lot of turnovers in his summer league debut, but also put up plenty of good numbers scoring, passing and rebounding. The rangy playmaker showed a real knack for delivering open teammates the ball, too. Payton has elite-level athleticism, plus a nose — and long arms — for racking up steals. He’ll take his lumps in the learning process. However, a young Magic team will give him all the minutes and opportunity he needs to show that he’s a star in the making.

The new beast of the East … the Central


VIDEO: New Beast of the East

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any reasonable conversation about the balance of power in the NBA starts with the world champion San Antonio Spurs, the rest of the rugged Western Conference and spreads from there.

But no region of the NBA has seen the sort of influx of talent and energy that the Eastern Conference’s Central Division has this summer. From LeBron James coming home to team up with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland to Pau Gasol joining Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago to the top two picks in the June Draft — Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, for now, and Jabari Parker in Milwaukee — things have changed dramatically.

LeBron James' return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

LeBron James’ return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

The Indiana Pacers won the Central Division and finished with the best record in the East last season, but they have garnered more attention this summer for a player (Lance Stephenson to Charlotte) that they lost in free agency than they did for anything else they have done. They’ve been usurped, in the eyes of many, by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, before the summer/free agent business has been finalized.

If the Cavaliers can find a way to secure Kevin Love via trade from Minnesota, they will not only enter the season as the favorites to win the Central and the East, they’ll rank right up there with the Spurs as the favorites to win it all. (And had Carmelo Anthony chosen the Bulls over remaining with the New York Knicks, the Bulls would be in that mix as well.)

You have to wonder what Stan Van Gundy, the new team president and coach in Detroit, and Jason Kidd, who takes over as coach in Milwaukee, are thinking now. A rebuilding task in Detroit, whatever gains are made during the 2014-15 season, will likely be overshadowed by what goes on elsewhere in the division. Kidd’s shocking move from Brooklyn to the Bucks, and the ensuing fallout, lasted a couple of days before taking a backseat to all things LeBron and Love.

“It’s hard to rank them right now, before we know exactly what happens with Love and Cleveland. But I don’t think it takes any stretching of the imagination to assume there will be no more competitive division in the league than the [Central], and that’s based on just those top three teams alone,” a Western Conference advance scout made clear to me. “The Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are all going to be legitimate contenders. And I think the Pistons, with Stan running things, could be one of the more improved teams in the entire league. And there’s a chance no one will notice because of what the Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are doing.”

The most intriguing part of the entire transformation of the division is going to be watching if the Pacers, a fragile bunch by the time their season finished in the Eastern Conference finals against LeBron and the Heat, can get back on track with the increased competition. Frank Vogel and his crew took advantage of the opportunity to step into the void when Rose and the Bulls slipped from their top spot the past two seasons. Tom Thibodeau kept the Bulls among the East’s best without Rose available. Now he’ll have an energized Rose, whose confidence is soaring as he attempts to earn his spot on USA Basketball’s roster for next month’s World Cup in Spain, and the Windy City twin towers of Noah and Gasol to build around.

The key for the Bulls, of course, is a healthy Rose.

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that,” Rose told our John Schuhmann when asked how close he was to regaining his superstar form. “My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

I don’t know that Rose’s confidence is enough to convince me that the Bulls are truly ready to reclaim that top spot in the division. And I’m not completely sure LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland means the Cavaliers push past the Pacers for that No. 1 spot. But it’s clear that the Central Division is where we could see the best power struggle in the league next season.

The July 2014 ranking of the Central Division (based on what each team has on the roster as of July 29, 2014):

1) Indiana Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert and the crew won’t give up the banner without a serious fight. They’ve learned from last season’s mistakes and won’t have to worry about whatever distraction Stephenson might have been. A clean slate for 2014-15 is exactly what this team needs.

2) Cleveland  Sorry Cleveland, but LeBron coming home doesn’t automatically make you the top dogs in the division or the conference. Not around here. The pressure isn’t just on LeBron, either. New coach David Blatt, Kyrie Irving and that supporting cast are all shouldering that load as well.

3) Chicago Derrick Rose is feeling good. And that can’t be anything but a great thing for the Bulls. But we need more than good vibrations to push the Bulls up the food chain. If Rose lights it up in Vegas during USAB training camp and later in Spain, an updated evaluation will be in order.

4) Detroit Greg Monroe‘s future with the Pistons remains a bit uncertain. But the rock for the future is Andre Drummond, who is also on the USAB roster, working to earn a spot on the World Cup team. Van Gundy’s system requires shooters, which the Pistons added in Jodie Meeks, and to an extent Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. Josh Smith remains the wild card.

5) Milwaukee It’ll be fun watching Parker’s game evolve under a young coach like Kidd. But the Bucks are still at least two years away from being a factor. They simply don’t have the personnel to compete with the top teams. And there is a learning curve the entire organization will have to undergo before the Bucks get back into the mix.


VIDEO: Relive the Bulls’ top 10 plays from 2013-14

Wiggins’ strange summer is no Love-in

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins scores 21 points in Cavs’ Summer League loss Thursday

LAS VEGAS – The best advice for Andrew Wiggins at this point is to rent. Don’t buy.

If the recently re-crowned King of Cleveland is calling Kevin Love, as Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday, then it can’t be too long before the Wiggins-for-Love swap goes down. LeBron James gets what LeBron James wants.

And poor Wiggins thought getting used to hoops life in Lawrence, Kan. was a rough transition.

But man, all this so fast has to be a bit crushing for the 19-year-old No. 1 pick. First the best player on the planet completely omits him in his epic “I’m Coming Home” essay in Sports Illustrated and is now dissing the kid with the hope of discarding him by personally reaching out to Minnesota’s discontented double-double machine.

This has to be one of the strangest Summer League experiences in the history of top draft choices. Last Friday, as Wiggins is preparing for his hyped pro debut in Las Vegas against Milwaukee and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker in front of an overflow crowd, he finds out with the rest of the world that James is returning to Cleveland. Wow, cool. Then the rest of the world reads along with Wiggins about how excited James is to play with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and his favorite crazy-haired Brazilian Anderson Varejao. No mention of Wiggins. Whoa, not so cool. (Interestingly, James also didn’t list 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett as a member of his mentorship club either. Bennett would likely be included in a trade).

In the days between then and now, new coach David Blatt has told reporters Wiggins isn’t going anywhere while whispers come and go and come again that he is-he isn’t-he is available, and now LeBron’s talking to Kevin. To his credit, Wiggins, the one-and-done star out of Kansas via Canada, has handled it like a pro.

That the 6-foot-8 wing and projected phenom played against Houston on Thursday revealed that a trade is not imminent, not yet. The Rockets’ defenders had zero clue how to keep Wiggins from using his super-stretchy arms and legs to get from the top of the arc to the basket in only a few long strides with a ball fake or two mixed in.

Wiggins officially only attempted five shots, and made three, but secured 15 of his 21 points on 20 trips to the free throw line. He added five rebounds and another blocked shot, this one of the chase-down variety in the fourth quarter (he’s second in the Summer League in blocks per game and first among non-centers).

“You know what you got to like about a kid like that is it doesn’t make a difference if it’s the fourth game of Summer League and the fourth game in seven days or eight days, or if people are keying on him, or if the crowd has funny things to say to him,” Blatt said. “He just goes out there and really plays and has a nice calm about him and a real good demeanor. Andrew’s going to be a high-level player and it’s good to see it.”

The 6-foot-10 Love is a high-level player, a three-time All-Star, and he, James and Irving would make quite the offensive triple-threat. And that’s the crux of it all: Go for the gold right now with Love or patiently wait — hope — for the kid to get great. We know what LeBron wants.

With the rumors swirling, the Cavaliers aren’t exactly thrilled to have their new coach and top pick inundated by trade questions during what should be breezy Summer League postgame interview sessions.

After Thursday’s game, Cavs officials quickly whisked Wiggins off to an ESPN photo shoot and then immediately to a sit-down autograph session for trading card behemoth Panini in the concourse of the Thomas & Mack Center. Fans stood in a line that snaked around the corner and out of site.

From there, Wiggins was in the custody of his agent and was not made available to wax about his 15 free throws and 21 points or to talk ice fishing.

The second question posed to Blatt asked if the persistent trade rumors are a distraction for Wiggins. After all, a No. 1 pick is typically immune to the business side of sport for at least a couple years, not a couple minutes. If a top pick is traded it almost always occurs on Draft night, a deal having been worked out in advance. A Cleveland official monitoring the outwardly personable Blatt’s interview session quickly stepped in to deflect the question, but Blatt, just as quickly, said he could answer it.

“I can answer that just because rumors are rumors, that’s why they call them rumors,” Blatt said. “And sooner or later in one’s career, you’re going to have to deal with it. So if you have to deal with now, so be it. It’s Summer League, he’s learning everything as he goes along.”

Not exactly a comment to inspire confidence on a down payment. If the Cavaliers decide to move Wiggins in a deal for Love, the Timberwolves will jump for joy and jump on it fast, before Cleveland has time to rethink it. But watching Wiggins in Summer League should have the Cavs proceeding with caution. His size and ability are apparent to the most casual observer. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, but he’s showing he can use his length and quickness to be a very good two-way player, and soon.

And wouldn’t James love a young set of legs to chase the other team’s best player on a nightly basis? Wiggins could become James’ pre-knee problems Dwyane Wade, a slashing, offensive force and a defensive partner capable of hyper-trapping the perimeter and busting it the other way.

LeBron, fast approaching 30 and now taking his contract year-by-year — apparently to maximize his annual take as the salary cap is estimated to increase each year, and not as an escape — clearly doesn’t feel he’s got time to wait.

The ball’s in Cleveland’s court, and that’s got to be a tough thing for the No. 1 pick who has come to find out he isn’t fit for a King — at least not at this juncture of his reign.

“No, no, I don’t talk to him about any of that stuff because, for me, it doesn’t mean anything,” Blatt said. “At least not right now.”

Wiggins vs. Parker, season 1, episode 1


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker generated plenty of buzz in their first pro matchup

LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t LeBron James showing up unannounced or anything on the first night of Summer League action here, but it was close in terms of crowd and buzz and curiosity.

Cox Pavilion, smaller sidekick to the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus, was crammed to its modest 2,500 capacity and beyond. Some fans were standing against the wall behind the top rows – and they were the lucky ones. Others couldn’t get in at all, and when they were shooed from the two congest entrance/exit bottlenecks, they were offered refunds on their $25 tickets.

Which isn’t nearly the same as being able to say, years from now, that you witnessed the first NBA clash of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Sure, it was played in the desert, the rules were different (10-minute quarters, for instance) and the scores, stats and standings largely were immaterial, surely forgotten 10 days out. But when the No. 1 pick in the Draft goes head-to-head with the No. 2 pick, when the two have been linked since their high school days and when there was genuine mystery – right up until NBA commissioner Adam Silver read Wiggins’ name — which one might be selected first, it ranks as a showdown, a matchup, something special to cap an NBA day full of same.

“It was crazy,” said Wiggins, the rookie from Kansas, said of the Cox Pavilion atmosphere. His new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had learned during shootaround Friday morning that James was headed back to the franchise. But Wiggins’ and Parker’s debuts stirred imaginations on their own.

“Our game was probably the most packed,” Wiggins said, no offense to the other five Friday. “It was crazy. The fans were excited, which made the game more fun than if you didn’t feel them.”

Wiggins’ team won the game but the battle with Parker, happily grabbed second by the Milwaukee Bucks, was essentially a push. Wiggins scored 18 points in 31 minutes on 7-of-18 shooting. He was 1-of-8 on 3-pointers, including an air ball. Parker shot 5-of-11 scored 17 points He was 7-of-11 from the line and grabbed nine rebounds. They guarded each other occasionally, but the sturdier Parker – 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds to Wiggins’ 6-8 and 194 – more often squared off with power forwards, including Anthony Bennett, the 2013 No. 1 pick.

The two rookies enjoyed the encounter without dwelling on it, just as they shrugged off a few mistakes. Parker talked of communicating more with the other four Bucks on the floor and gave himself a grade of “B-minus.” Wiggins looked forward to the opportunities in Cleveland’s upcoming games and enjoyed the moment with his rival/cohort.

“It was a great feeling,” he said. “On the court, we just have to battle. But off the court, we’re good friends. He’s a great player, able to score in multiple ways, very smart, intelligent player. It’s always good to play against him.”

Each lived up to his pre-draft evaluation: Wiggins showed his natural athletic ability merely running up and down the court, but pushed it into gear when soaring for an errant alley-oop pass or draining a nifty step-back jumper. Parker carries a more-ready-to-contribute label that was evident in some of his post-ups and his aggressive rebounding. The one-and-done Duke player also unsheathed a slick pass or two.

“He showed that he is somewhat of a ready player, that he can step into the league and play,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “Neither one of those guys surprised me. Both of ‘em have a chance to be special players in this league, and what Andrew showed tonight was a total glimpse of that.”

A pair of soon-to-be-sophs showed flashes, too. Bennett, who has lost weight and looks more serious after his disappointing first season, seemed driven to make an impact. He had one monstrous dunk and seven rebounds, but he also shot 6-of-16 and racked up eight fouls (summer rules).

For the Bucks, it was last year’s find, lanky 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo (playing at 6-foot-11 after another growth spurt), pushing the pace and loping around the court with boundless energy. “The Greek Freak” scored 17 points and hit a couple 3-pointers, to go with seven fouls and five turnovers.

As closely as Wiggins and Parker have been linked – in case you didn’t already know it, both are the sons of former NBA players, Mitchell Wiggins and Sonny Parker – their shared path might have diverged some Friday.

James’ arrival changes the Cavaliers’ dynamic from merely a young and promising team – Wiggins might find himself a few less opportunities but a whole lot less pressure. Parker continues as a Bucks’ cornerstone, his learning curve assumed to be shorter and steeper.

But that’s OK, because his self-critique afterward showed a young guy driven to improve.

“It’s been a pretty good transition because Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] has prepared me,” Parker said. “A lot of the language, a lot of the stuff we did with Duke has helped me so far.”

His early NBA lessons? “That games are won on the defensive end and there are going to be a lot of runs. You’ve got to keep your composure and play on both sides of the floor, and you can’t have any sense of complacency.”

Forget complacency. In what’s looking suddenly like a Central Division on steroids, there figures to be lots of NBA competition and more than a few comparisons between Wiggins and Parker in the coming years. This was the start.