Posts Tagged ‘Jason Kidd’

This Baker’s a barista: former NBA star thrilled about his fresh, sober start


There is no way to sugar-coat the theme of the Providence Journals story: It is about a fall from grace, or at least from a fall from the heights of professional sports success to one of those humdrum lives of quiet desperation the poets bemoan.

Vin Baker: NBA All-Star to Starbucks barista.

Baker played 13 seasons in the league, in fact, and participated in four All-Star Games. The 6-foot-11 product of Hartford averaged 15.0 points and 7.4 rebounds, enjoying his best seasons with Milwaukee (four) and Seattle (five). His career got derailed by alcoholism, leading to a quick churning through four teams (Boston, New York, Houston, L.A. Clippers) in his final four seasons.

He was out of the league at age 34, and apparently has lost much of his career earnings – nearly $100 million, according to basketball-reference.com estimates – through bad investments and regrettable decisions. Now he’s behind a counter in Kingstown, R.I., on Starbucks’ management track (with some time away at Bucks coach Jason Kidd‘s invitation to assist with that team during the Las Vegas Summer League).

Baker’s tale, as told by the Journal’s Kevin McNamara, includes details of his spiral out of the NBA and advice to the many, newly minted multimillionaires for ways not to follow in his sneaker steps. Here is a taste of the excellent, yet in its way all too familiar, story:

Now 43, newly married and with four children, Baker is training to manage a Starbucks franchise. He thanks CEO Howard Shultz, the former Seattle SuperSonics owner, with this opportunity. He’s also a trained minister who savors work at his father’s church in Connecticut. Most important, he has been sober for more than four years.

“In this company there are opportunities for everyone. I have an excellent situation here at Starbucks and the people are wonderful,” Baker says.

Hoop fans might shake their heads and view Baker’s life as a tragic, unfortunate fall from grace. Baker doesn’t see it that way. At all. He says his story is one of redemption, of conquering demons and searching for success in this next phase of life.

“When you learn lessons in life, no matter what level you’re at financially, the important part to realize is it could happen,” he said. “I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like ‘Wow.’ ”

Like all recovering alcoholics, Baker says every day is both a challenge and a blessing. He now clearly has the perspective of a middle-aged man, not a fresh-faced, 22-year old newly minted millionaire who’s the life of the party. He just wants a chance to keep bouncing back.

“For me this could have ended most likely in jail or death. That’s how these stories usually end,” he says. “For me to summon the strength to walk out here and get excited about retail management at Starbucks and try to provide for my family, I feel that’s more heroic than being 6-11 with a fadeaway jump shot. I get energy from waking up in the morning and, first of all, not depending on alcohol, and not being embarrassed or ashamed to know I have a family to take care of. The show’s got to go on.”

Morning shootaround — July 17


VIDEO: Josh Smith signs with the Clippers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

NBPA takes issue with NBA’s view on finances | Clippers willing to take low-risk chance on Josh Smith | Bucks and Henson negotiating an extension | Nuggets see Gallo in their future

No. 1: NBPA chief takes issue on NBA’s stance on finances — Well, figure that we’ll be occasionally hearing scattered back-and-forths from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and union chief Michele Roberts between now and possibly 2017. After Silver stated a few days ago that teams are losing money and cited rising expenses, Roberts insists the league is in far better shape financially than Silver indicated. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN took a stab at the latest between Silver and Roberts …

After the NBA’s Board of Governors met on Tuesday, Silver said that the league’s revenue “was much higher than we had ever modeled” but also said that a significant number of NBA teams are losing money because of rising expenses.

The league is set to receive a revenue windfall in the coming year when a new national broadcast deal kicks in. In turn, the salary cap will escalate rapidly and could near $90 million for the 2016-17 season.

The players union, if it chooses to, can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2017, though Silver said on Tuesday he didn’t believe such an outcome was certain.

“You know, I’m not sure if the players’ association is going to opt out,” Silver said. “Michele [Roberts] made some early remarks suggesting maybe they were leaning that direction, but she hasn’t told me that she plans to opt out. And I know that in discussions that she and I have had and I’ve had with players’ association representatives, it’s clear the goal on both sides is to avoid any sort of work stoppage whatsoever and maybe even to avoid the opt-out.”

The collective bargaining agreement between owners and the union stipulates that players receive a fixed percentage of the NBA’s overall revenue. The precise number was a battleground in the last negotiation between owners and players.

If the aggregate salaries committed to players fall short of that amount — as they currently do — the owners make up the difference. Silver said the league, despite being flush with revenue, is bracing for such a result.

“There are projections that for next year we could be writing a check moving close to half a billion dollars to the players’ association,” Silver said. “That’s not of course the ideal outcome from our standpoint. It’s not something we predicted when we went into this collective bargaining agreement.

In the past year, Roberts has challenged the underlying principle of a salary cap and mocked the suggestion of NBA owners losing money. On Thursday she took aim at Silver’s characterization that the NBA owners “largely are paying our players off the gross” under the current collective bargaining agreement.

“Under the CBA, we do not have a gross compensation system,” Roberts said. “The players’ 50 percent share is calculated net of a substantial amount of expenses and deductions.”

***

No. 2: Clippers willing to take low-risk chance on Josh Smith — The Clippers have had an interesting offseason to say the least. Much of it was tied up in the DeAndre Jordan drama, but both before and after Jordan reneged on a verbal deal with the Mavericks to return to the Clippers, LA made a few low-risk and potentially high-reward deals. First was trading for Lance Stephenson, and now signing Josh Smith on a one-year deal for the $1.5 million minimum. Both players were available because despite their talent, they were deemed expendable by their former teams for different reasons. Stephenson had a disappointing first season in Charlotte and, coupled with his goofy personality, was not worth the trouble (although Stephenson was mainly on good behavior in Charlotte). Smith had a decent showing with the Rockets after being dumped by Detroit, and even helped the Rockets beat the Clippers in the second round. For the Clippers, these deals could work because the issue with Stephenson and Smith aren’t talent-related. Here’s Eric Freeman of Ball Don’t Lie on the Smith signing …

With marquee signing Paul Pierce able to play as a stretch-4, Rivers can go super small with Griffin, Smith, or potentially Glen “Big Baby” Davis (still a free agent) as a nominal center or play more classic lineups without sacrificing much quickness. Smith also joins Lance Stephenson as a new reserve with a collection of skills, all while minimizing the likelihood that the Clippers will have to depend on one of these often frustrating players to their own detriment. Adding Smith increases what the Clippers can do while simultaneously diffusing risk.

That’s not to say that this is a can’t-miss pickup. Smith will probably have to see the bench when he threatens to shoot Los Angeles out of games, and his awful free-throw shooting ensures that teams will intentionally send him and Jordan to the line whenever it seems prudent. It’s also worth noting that Smith has not always had the best attitude, even if his reputation as a malcontent is overblown and the Clippers did just fine with Matt Barnes in the starting lineup.

But few teams add players of Smith’s caliber at this price to fill a glaring need. The Clippers’ bench has been a problem area for several seasons and has looked even more lacking in the frontcourt. Smith isn’t an All-Star candidate anymore, but L.A. doesn’t need him to be one. If he fills his role without complaints, breaks out in a few more playoff games and doesn’t cause major troubles, he will do just fine. Two weeks after Jordan appeared headed to Dallas, the Clippers have escaped also-ran status and look like a stronger contender than they were in June.

***

No. 3: Bucks and Henson negotiating an extensionJohn Henson is a developing front-line player with unique defensive skills, and because of that, the Bucks are high on his future. Despite signing Greg Monroe to a free agent contract this summer, Milwaukee is busy trying to lock up Henson, who plays the same position (and also center in certain situations). It’s further proof that the Bucks’ plan is to keep its nucleus intact and allow it to grow, rather than chase free agent superstars who are unlikely to leave their own teams anyway. Henson can play alongside Monroe on the front line if the Bucks go big, or be the first player off the bench. In either event, the Bucks are hoping the price is right with Henson, who’s eligible for an extension this fall. Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has some details …

John Henson is in line for an expanded role this season, playing behind Monroe but also next to him in certain lineups if Bucks coach Jason Kidd decides to pair the 6-foot-11 duo.

“We think John is a great complement to Greg with his defensive ability and his ability as a premier shot-blocker in the league,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said.

Monroe will provide the low-post offense while Henson can discourage opponents from driving the lane. The former North Carolina player averaged 2.01 blocks per game last season, ranking fifth in the NBA, and had four games with six or more blocked shots.

Last week Hammond identified the 24-year-old Henson as one of six young players comprising the Bucks’ core group, along with the 25-year-old Monroe, 20-year-olds Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, 23-year-old Michael Carter-Williams and 23-year-old Khris Middleton.

Henson, who spent a few days in Las Vegas as part of a large Bucks contingent at the NBA Summer League, admitted it felt good to hear that affirmation of his progress.

“It’s something I’ve been working toward,” he said. “I hope to keep improving.”

A source indicated serious talks between the Bucks and the fourth-year player are ongoing, with the goal of reaching an agreement on a multiyear contract extension. Henson is in the final year of his rookie-scale contract and is eligible to sign an extension this summer.

***

No. 4: Nuggets see Gallo in their future — The Nuggets are clearly a team in transition and will probably have a fair amount of turnover in the near future. But they locked up Wilson Chandler to a contract extension and apparently are willing to do the same with Danilo Gallinari, their oft-injured but still-dangerous shooter. Gallo is entering the final year of his contract at $11.4 million, and even though he missed a stretch of 18 months after a pair of knee surgeries, the Nuggets have seen enough since his return to have confidence in his ability to help. Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post has details …

The Nuggets are a team in need to raise their shooting profile, and Gallinari helps them reach that goal. Given the Nuggets current financial situation, an extension will have to be structured to kick in at the start of the 2016-17 season, similar to what Kenneth Faried did a year ago. And that would be advantageous to Gallinari, who could negotiate a deal based on the estimates of how the salary cap will rise, and it’s expected to make a huge jump. That’s what New Orleans star Anthony Davis did with his extension.

Gallinari is one of only two small forwards on the roster, so the Nuggets are thin in that area. And despite some injury worries — Gallo has played more than 60 games in just three of his six seasons — he’s a player just hitting the prime of his career.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA is looking to play some Saturday night games on ABC starting next season … Andre Iguodala had some fun demanding a trade … Luc Mbah a Moute failed his physical

 

Bucks deny report of Kidd adding GM job


An Internet report that Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd is expected this week to add the team’s general manager title and duties was denied by several league sources Sunday night.

“Unequivocally not true,” a source told NBA.com, echoing the words in the report itself from Jake Suski, the Bucks’ vice president of communications.

The piece, posted by OnMilwaukee.com Sunday evening and reported by longtime Milwaukee sports and news journalist Dave Begel, had heft for several reasons.

First, Begel has been a fixture on Milwaukee’s sports scene for nearly four decades. Second, Kidd’s clout within the organization is considerable. In his first season, he led the Bucks from a 15-67 finish in 2013-14 to a 41-41 mark and a Eastern Conference playoff berth. Kidd also was seen by many as one of the draws for free agent big man Greg Monroe, who left Detroit and spurned interest from both the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers to agree to a three-year, $50 million deal with Milwaukee.

And finally, Kidd’s arrival in Milwaukee happened so abruptly last June – being courted as head coach by co-owners (and Kidd friends) Marc Lasry and Wes Edens while Larry Drew still held the position – that it lent credibility to another possible grab at a job currently filled by John Hammond, the Bucks’ GM since 2008.

Here is an excerpt from Begel’s report:

The move will give Kidd the two titles he wanted and that played a part in his leaving the Brooklyn Nets for the job in Milwaukee.

Kidd had moved to get both jobs in Brooklyn to replace Billy King as general manager. He didn’t want King fired, but given a title in the organization.

The Nets turned him down and then the Bucks new owners asked permission to talk to Kidd and he moved to Milwaukee shortly thereafter.

Hammond was extended with a three year contract in 2013, an extension that paid him a total of $5.5 million. He has one year left on his contract and may either stay with the team in another capacity or move on. There are reports that he has been contacting other teams and may have a lead on a new job.

But even if the Bucks ownership cuts him loose, the final year of his contract is less than $2 million, an amount that they could be willing to eat.

There have been reports that this move was one of the things that lured Kidd to Milwaukee. Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Stan Van Gundy of the Pistons also hold both jobs.

It also cited a difference of opinion on draft night between Kidd and Hammond and his staff, with the coach favoring UNLV shooting guard Rashad Vaughn over Arkansas forward Bobby Portis. The Bucks chose Vaughn with the No. 17 overall pick.

One person familiar with Milwaukee’s draft room that night told NBA.com there was no disagreement over those two players.

Meanwhile, a league source did speculate that Kidd – based on his Brooklyn pursuit of personnel power – might one day add “something like they did with [Mike] Budenholzer in Atlanta, a ‘vice president or president of basketball’ title.” That wouldn’t necessarily mean a change in Hammond’s position within the team, the source added.

Turnovers give Bucks hope in Game 5


VIDEO: Bulls-Bucks Game 5 preview

CHICAGO – Given the errant manner in which the Chicago Bulls have been throwing the basketball around in their first-round playoff series against Milwaukee, you almost expect to glance at the roster and see: Jay Cutler, point guard.

A city whose sports fans are all too familiar with the NFL Chicago Bears quarterback’s penchant for interceptions and turnovers is braced for more of the same when the Bulls, up 3-1 against the Bucks, try to close out in Game 5 Monday night at United Center.

Through four games, the Bulls have turned over the ball 80 times. That includes the 28 forced and unforced miscues against the Bucks Saturday in Game 4, right up to Chicago’s last possession when Derrick Rose lost the ball to Khris Middleton digging down in a triple-team.

The Bucks had 20 steals Saturday, only the second team in the past 30 years to achieve that in a playoff game (Philadelphia did it against Orlando one night in May 1999). And they had 32 in the first three games.

That’s how Chicago has managed to pull off this unlikely statistical tandem: No. 1 so far in the postseason in team assist percentage (73.2 percent of the Bulls’ field goals have come from assists), No. 16 in assist/turnover ratio (1.30).

Or to frame what’s going on another way, Chicago has outscored Milwaukee in the series so far by 26 points (397-371). But it has been outscored by 33 in points off turnovers (96-63).

Approximately one-quarter (25.8 percent) of the Bucks’ offense has been aided and abetted by the Bulls losing the basketball; the Bulls have only been so gifted on 15.9 percent of their points.

Since Chicago wasn’t this butterfingered during the regular season – an assist/turnover ratio of 1.56 and 14.0 turnovers per game – much of the credit belongs to Milwaukee. The Bucks led the NBA in steals per game (9.6) and opponents’ turnovers (17.4), and they have dialed up their intensity the past 10 days.

“It’s what we’re built on, our defense,” coach Jason Kidd said between Games 4 and 5. “Did we do anything different? No. We were just playing hard and putting ourselves in position to win a game. The last two games we did that. … I wouldn’t say we’re getting a lot of easy points, but we’re getting some points off turnovers, which we need.”

Rose had eight turnovers Saturday, Pau Gasol had five, Jimmy Butler four and Nikola Mirotic three. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the Bulls have put in sufficient time on the basics, but haven’t done well executing them.

“We talk about fundamentals,” Thibodeau said. “Owning your space, passing with two hands, catching with two hands, tucking the ball, pivoting. And trust the pass. When you look at how they occur, it’s usually too much dancing or one-on-one or risky passes. Hit the first open man. Keep the ball moving. When we do that, we get great shots.”

Milwaukee’s tenacious defense has been a constant in their first season under Kidd and this coaching staff. It’s the less glamorous end of the floor and it doesn’t move the net, but it sure has moved the needle through four games.

“They’re swarming,” Gasol said after Game 4. “They’re doing a good job of putting pressure on us. We’ve got to do a much better job of taking care of the ball, individually and collectively. Twenty-eight turnovers are 28 we gave away. In a two-point game, that’s a big difference.”

 

Morning shootaround — April 26



VIDEO: Highlights from Saturday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up | No nonsense as Warriors sweep | Bucks graduate to winning | Sixers eyeing Russell in draft?

No. 1: Conley injury hex continues, Calathes steps up — Just when it appeared that Memphis point guard Mike Conley was getting healthier, he gets a whole lot more hurt. Conley had to leave Game 3 between the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers in Portland Saturday after being hit in the face (between the cheekbone and the eye) by an elbow from Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. He was taken to a local medical facility, and though he Tweeted out an encouraging prognosis later, his status for Game 4 and beyond remains uncertain (NBA concussion protocols might mandate a layoff).

With backup point Beno Udrih already out with a sprained ankle, it fell to Grizzlies deep reserve Nick Calathes to finish out Game 3 and keep Memphis in position to sweep. Mike Tokito of The Oregonian reported on Calathes’ stepping into the void:

All Calathes did was to contribute 13 points, six rebounds and four assists while committing no turnovers in 27 minutes of the Grizzlies 115-109 win that extended their series lead to 3-0.

“I thought Nick Calathes came off and gave us a big boost tonight,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

It wasn’t just a one-time feel-good story in the manner of, say, Troy Daniels of Houston in last year’s Blazers playoffs. Calathes could become a key to Memphis wrapping up the series.

Conley left the game with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and Memphis leading 74-64. Calathes played the rest of the game and provided a much-needed steadying influence.
A big key was that he did not hesitate to shoot when Portland left him unguarded, and he made two key three-pointers.

“I’m a shooter, I’m very confident in my shot,” he said. “If they’re going to play off me, I’m going to shoot the ball. And tonight I made them, and Monday I’ll do the same. I’ve been working on my shot with the coaches, and I’m ready.”

The 6-foot-6 Calathes is in his second NBA season and playing in the playoffs for the first time, but he’s no stranger to big games. Calathes was a college standout in two seasons at Florida, then played overseas, in Greece (born in the U.S., he holds dual citizenships because both his parents are Greeks) and Russia. In 2011, he helped Panathinaikos win the EuroLeague championship, and has played in all kinds of high-level international tournaments.

“He’s played in a lot of big games, you can tell – international competitions that he’s played in,” Joerger said. “He’s a very, very solid NBA point guard.”

Calathes would have made his NBA playoff debut last season, except for a bizarre circumstance: He incurred a 20-game NBA suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen, which is on the league’s banned substance list. The drug is not considered to be performance-enhancing, but rather, a masking agent. Calathes said he took it in an over-the-counter supplement, but whatever the case, he was not able to play in the playoffs, making Saturday’s performance even sweeter.

“It was real nice,” he said. “What happened last year will happen, but for me to be here with these guys, to be out there on the grind and go to battle with them, it’s a great feeling.”

***

No. 2: No nonsense as Warriors sweep — When a team wins 67 games, it doesn’t deal with much adversity over the course of the long NBA season. That means the opportunities to reach down in tough times are limited, leaving questions about what might happen if some team tightens the screw on them in the postseason. That’s why Golden State coach Steve Kerr seemed more satisfied by how the Warriors handled their two road games against New Orleans in sweeping through the first round, rather than the games in Oakland that so often wind up as feel-good affairs. Our own Fran Blinebury was at the Smoothie King Center Saturday to chronicle Golden State’s seriousness of purpose:

These were the Warriors at their hammer-on-the-anvil, bludgeoning best.

The threesome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and [Draymond] Green combined for 86 points, 21 rebounds and 18 assists while shooting 30 of 53 (.567) from the field and 13 of 21 (.619) on 3-pointers.

The Warriors defense was back to being its smothering, stifling best. Consider this stat: the Pelicans had zero fast break points.

Green and Curry couldn’t have done much more damage setting the tone in the first quarter if they were swinging clubs, filling up the bucket and not letting the Pelicans fill their heads with any more cute notions of pulling off the upset.

And when New Orleans put together a couple of runs to get what was a 24-point lead down to seven on a couple occasions late, Green took a feed from Curry for a tourniquet of a layup and then Thompson buried one more three.

“I’d say we reacted pretty well at the end of Game 3 being down,” Kerr said. “But that was a little different because it was desperation and we just had to let it rip.

“Tonight was more indicative of the feeling of being the favorite. You play a great game. You’re in control and all of a sudden you’re not…Yeah, it was good composure.”

***

No. 3: Bucks graduate to winning — Everyone knew the Milwaukee Bucks, winners of just 15 games in 2013-14, had much to learn about playoff basketball. Everyone figured the Bucks’ young players, such as forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Michael Carter-Williams, would take lumps from the Chicago Bulls in the teams’ first-round series and come back in October better for it. But a group of salty veterans, knocked around in their NBA travels, wanted more than moral victories and, as our Steve Aschburner noted, they got it in a buzzer-beating Game 4 victory over the rival Bulls:

[Bucks coach Jason] Kidd used a small lineup the entire fourth quarter, with forward Khris Middleton accompanied by four bench guys: Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and John Henson. Kidd liked their ball movement offensively, he liked their aggressiveness and mobility defensively. And frankly, he had to like the way they stiffened and executed and demonstrated for some of their fresher teammates who might have been halfway into their Hefty bags [to clean out their lockers at series end].

“This was a mental game,” Dudley said. “A lot of people, you start shipping your cars, planning your vacations. You’re down 3-0… But we’re still young. People don’t even know what to think. Today I think the veterans stepped up and said, ‘Hey, this is how you have to do it.’ “

Milwaukee’s bench — those four guys — scored 47 points of their team’s 90 points, had 13 of their 34 rebounds, passed for 16 of the Bucks’ 25 assists, accounted for seven of their nine 3-pointers, had five of six blocks and seven of the 20 steals.

The bench, for the second straight game, opened up a fat lead for Milwaukee, only to see it squandered by starters. Dudley was running hot at halftime but recalled thinking: “This is perfect to see where we’re at. If we can adjust and make changes [great] — if not, we’ll be home. It’s up to us.”

Dudley also was the Bucks inbound passer on the final buzzer-beating play. After Middleton dug the ball loose from Derrick Rose as the Bulls guard set up for what seemingly would be the last shot of regulation, Kidd called a timeout. That left 1.3 seconds, with the ball advanced, for Milwaukee to run what their coach drew up.

Dudley — whose mother never let him play tackle football, so forget the quarterback references — spotted Bayless behind Rose near the baseline. “I was kind of shocked that Bay’d be behind him,” said the 29-year-old, whose weekend-warrior look obviously is deceiving. “You know what, I made the good pass but Bayless made the play and he scored.”

Bayless’ reverse layup, with Rose going from startled to dejected in an instant, did the carpe diem thing for the Bucks while earning them a little more per-diem to spend in Chicago’s River North night spots.

“A lot of us have been in, I’m not going to say ‘unfavorable’ but we’ve been around,” Bayless said. “We’ve been around the league. O.J. has been on teams, I’ve been on teams, ‘Duds’ has been on teams and John … he’s had ups and downs. These guys and their will to keep fighting every night throughout the 82-game season and now in the playoffs — and try to win — it’s something I’m really happy to be a part of.”

***

No. 4: Sixers eyeing Russell in draft? — The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an unnamed league executive in its report that the Sixers might be targeting Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with their lottery pick, a wing player to complement the premium big-man prospects they’ve taken in the past two talent roundups. The Sixers are guaranteed no worse than the No. 6 selection and are hoping to do better than that in the May 19 draft lottery to move into position to pick Russell. Here’s more from the Philly news outlet:

“He’s the guy they want,” the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saturday. “That’s the word around the league. You know the Sixers. They won’t come out and say it, but he’s the guy they want.”

The executive called former Kentucky center/power forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell the top two draft prospects, ahead of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Mudiay played this season for the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.

“Russell has star quality,” he said of the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder.

Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 41.1 percent on three-pointers last season en route to being named a first-team all-American and Big Ten freshman of the year.

Five Sixers executives, including general manager Sam Hinkie, were on hand when the Louisville native collected 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds in a 79-60 victory at Rutgers in February.

He made 8 of 13 shots and had one steal and two turnovers in 35 minutes while handling the ball most of the game. A source said the Sixers were impressed by his performance.

It’s not surprising that they would want Russell.

A league scout and the executive say he is more NBA-ready than Mudiay, a 6-6, 205-pounder who struggles shooting from the outside. Mudiay would be a gamble, considering that he played only 12 games in China because of an ankle injury. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in what some have called a subpar league.

Unless the Sixers are secretly unhappy with Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid, they don’t need to acquire a center for a third straight draft. In addition, they desperately need a lead guard who can shoot from outside, and Russell can definitely do that.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his Blazers got pushed to the brink of elimination, Portland owner Paul Allen took a long, lonely walk Saturday night, as witnessed by The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick. … LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t feel like the next big thing in Portland during his first year there, no matter how Zach Randolph tells the story now. …Milwaukee and Brooklyn have avoided sweeps, now it’s Dallas’ turn. If it can do something to slow a Rockets attack that has put up 359 points in three games. … How ’bout some Kevin Love free-agent speculation from the city where the Cavaliers are playing? … First it was Roy Hibbert and the Pacers. Now the Toronto Raptors have a style question to answer, with big man Jonas Valanciunas‘ fit to be determined. …

 

Emotional Budenholzer praises Pop after Coach of the Year win


VIDEO: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer thanks Gregg Popovich for taking a chance on him

ATLANTA — He did everything he could to keep his emotions from getting the best of him.

Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is notorious for wanting to do any and everything he can to avoid the spotlight. Guiding his team to a franchise-record 60 wins and the top spot in the Eastern Conference is the worst way to accomplish that goal.

With the eyes of the basketball world on him Tuesday afternoon, Budenholzer stepped to the podium to accept the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2014-15 season, and from the minute he leaned into the microphone he had to fight back the tears. With praise for all of his mentors — most notably his own father, Vince Budenholzer, a legendary high school coach in Arizona, and San Antonio Spurs coach and his longtime boss and friend, Gregg Popovich — Budenholzer had to fight back the tears when speaking about what both men have meant to him throughout a lifetime immersed in the game that he loves.

He thanked his father for instilling in him a passion for the game that Popovich helped him hone as a longtime assistant, first as an intern with the Golden State Warriors and for 18 years after that with the Spurs.

“It seems only appropriate to finish with the real Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich,” Budenholzer said as he wrapped up his acceptance speech at Philips Arena. “This award has a permanent spot on his desk in San Antonio. He just takes it out every couple of years and shares it around with the rest of us. I might be able to sneak back into his office and put it back down.”

Appropriately enough, it was Popovich, at the urging of the Hawks after they found out Budenholzer had beaten out Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd for the top spot this season, who called and informed his former protegé that he’d won the award. Boston’s Brad Stevens was fourth and Popovich fifth.


VIDEO: Popovich explains how he told Budenholzer about the award

“There are some things better kept between Pop and myself,” a smiling Budenholzer said later how Popovich broke the news. “And I’ll go so far as to say … He was nice, really nice, and he assured me that he was not pulling my leg.”

Budenholzer’s surprising resuscitation of the Hawks’ brand after just two seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. A perfect January and a 19-0 stretch overall led to four All-Stars, Budenholzer and his staff coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars in New York in February. The Hawks’ 60-win season and dominance all season led to Budenholzer posing for pictures with Pop’s trophy.

From a 38-win team and No. 8 seed in the playoffs after his first campaign to their current status as the No. 1 seed is not something anyone forecasted this team in the summer as they were reeling from the drama caused by derogatory comments in emails from part-owner Bruce Levenson and insensitive comments from general manager Danny Ferry that led to Ferry’s indefinite leave of absence.

“There is a certain degree of satisfaction that adds to it,” Budenholzer said. “We feel like this is a group that they believe in what they are doing and we obviously believe in them as players. And we’re trying to build something together. A lot of us were put together, but there were some pretty important people that we joined in Jeff Teague and Al Horford and Kyle Korver and even John (Jenkins). This group has really come together and it does mean something extra.”

Budenholzer praised Ferry, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who introduced him Tuesday, ownership and the entire organization for giving him the opportunity. He’s stayed in contact with Ferry, who was not in attendance, and did not shy away from handing out credit where he felt it was deserved.

“He’s been incredibly supportive of me from Day 1,” Budenholzer said of Ferry. “He’s very happy for me and continues to be. So it was good. But it’s been a tough year for everybody and hopefully, everybody has handled it to the best of all of our abilities.”

On a team with balanced scoring and devoid of one individual superstar to garner MVP mention or first-team All-NBA mention, the one individual award the Hawks had the best chance of winning was Coach of the Year.

Horford called it an honor extremely well-deserved, knowing his coach would want nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance that comes along with NBA postseason awards.

“He is the type of person that is all about the team,” Horford said. “So he is not going to want to take any credit for it. But it’s because of him. He really deserves that award, so I’m very, very happy for him. I just think that the whole mindset of working as a team. That goes a long way. One through 15 all the guys here believe in what we’re doing and what he’s preaching.”

Budenholzer’s approach — each man as responsible as the next for not only his own individual improvement, but also the collective improvement of the entire group — is what resonates with his players.

He showed up with the sparkling credentials, but he didn’t get a free pass, particularly from the veterans. Sure, they saw the tremendous gains in player development from veteran guys like Teague, Korver, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll as well as youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala. Still, there was a connection that had to be made in order for the Hawks to take that next step as a group. And Budenholzer and his staff clearly put in all the necessary work to make that happen, following that Pop/Spurs blueprint as best they could.

“I’ve played for a lot of coaches, so I’ve seen plenty of situations and it wasn’t an instant thing,” Elton Brand said. “We didn’t get the head coach from San Antonio who won all the championships with the Spurs. It still took time. What’s his system about? Do we have the personnel to get it done? We had all the usual questions. And then we had a little success, started winning, made the playoffs and it takes off from there. But he still had to work for it. He had to earn the trust, just like any coach, even one from that background and that Spurs family tree. He didn’t just walk in the door and it was instant. He had to come in and earn everyone’s respect and show us his character. He did that, and that’s what makes this even more special.”

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

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Morning shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Curry wants MVP | Kidd opens up on Giannis benching | Blazers’ Afflalo injures arm vs. Warriors | George helped Pacers, even as he healed

No. 1: Kerr: ‘Better believe’ Curry wants MVP — If you missed it last night/this morning, Houston Rockets star James Harden chatted with our Fran Blinebury and didn’t pull any punches when it comes to talk of this season’s Kia MVP. Said Harden, “I feel as though I am the MVP. I think the MVP is the most valuable player to your team. Obviously you have to be winning and be one of the top teams in this league and we are.” Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors has yet to make such brash statements, but he has said plenty with his play — and did so again last night. He dropped 45 points on the Portland Trail Blazers and broke his own record for 3-pointers in a season to boot. Afterward, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that Curry is as hungry for the MVP as any other name in the mix, writes Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group:

Until the playoffs arrive, the Warriors will take motivation where they can find it. On Thursday night, fueled by a determination to avoid their first three-game losing streak in a long season, they rode 45 points from Stephen Curry to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 116-105 at Oracle Arena.

“We’re a prideful team,” said Curry, who added 10 assists for his first career 40-10 game. “We know we’ve clinched a lot already in the regular season. It’s just about how many wins can we get at this point … for us to build momentum into the playoffs.”

Curry scored 19 fourth-quarter points, 15 in the final 5:16 as the Warriors finally pulled away. He shot 8 for 13 from the 3-point arc to break his own NBA single-season record for 3-pointers. He has 276 and counting.

Asked about his star guard’s performance, coach Steve Kerr said, “Nothing left to say, except he’s the MVP. He never talks about it, but you better believe he wants it.”

Curry is aware of the constant MVP chatter but said he forces it out of his head when the game begins.

“Finally played a fourth quarter, so I wanted to get out there and make some plays,” said Curry, who has sat out 17 fourth quarters. “It was fun. Never go out there with that as a motivation. You get sidetracked if you start doing that, kind of playing outside of yourself.”

“He’s our MVP,” teammate Klay Thompson said, “and he should be for the league because he does it on a nightly basis and he’s at his best at crunch time.”

Oakland native Damian Lillard, who scored 20 points for the Blazers, was effusive after watching Curry shoot 17 for 23. “Our coverages didn’t matter,” he said. “He made shots with a hand in his face, off balance and deep. He made everything.”

 


VIDEO: Stephen Curry breaks his own mark for 3-pointers in a single season

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Steve Nash calls it a career, but impact on game will live on


VIDEO: Steve Nash was a two-time MVP and one of the greatest players of his generation

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The debates about Steve Nash‘s place in the history of the NBA can officially begin now that the two-time MVP has officially announced his retirement.

What is not up for debate, however, is the impact Nash had on the teams he played for and the game. He helped usher in the pace and space era of the game while in Phoenix, where he also collected those back-to-back MVPs, in Mike D’Antoni‘s system. A super team featuring Kobe Bryant, Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in Los Angeles Lakers uniforms never materialized as Nash and Howard battled injuries that derailed the championship aspirations for that group during the 2012-13 season.

Nash’s 19-year career comes to a close with him finishing third behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd on the all-time assists list at 10,355. But Nash could not suit up for the Los Angeles Lakers this season due to injuries. Nash told ESPN’s Marc Stein that it’s “really difficult to put it into words,” now that his career is over. But he did it better than anyone else could in a letter to The Players’ Tribune website, where he broke the news of his own retirement earlier today:

The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes. The obsession became my best friend. I talked to her, cherished her, fought with her and got knocked on my ass by her.

And that is what I’m most thankful for in my career. In my entire life, in some ways. Obviously, I value my kids and my family more than the game, but in some ways having this friend — this ever-present pursuit — has made me who I am, taught me and tested me, and given me a mission that feels irreplaceable. I am so thankful. I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons about myself and about life. And of course I still have so much to learn. Another incredible gift.

Nash went on to thank many of his coaches, teammates, family, friends and other influences, making it a point to identify those who helped him go from a Canada to college star at Santa Clara to a NBA star and eventually one of the all-time greats:

Don Nelson insisted that I score. I always wanted to pass but he said, “It’s goddamn selfish when you don’t shoot.” Or, “If you’re a dominant fucking player — dominate!” He insisted that I be aggressive. That growth was a turning point in my career.

Mike D’Antoni changed the game of basketball. There’s not many people you can say that about. No wonder I had my best years playing for him. His intelligence guided him to never over-coach, complicate or hide behind the game’s traditions. He deserves a championship.

When I dribbled by our bench as a rookie on the Suns, Danny Ainge would say, “Take him!” with intensity and contempt in his voice. That was a huge vote of confidence for a rookie.

I remember when Dirk [Nowitzki] and I were nobodies. He used to say over dinner sometimes, “How are us two stiffs gonna make it in this league?” Somehow we made something of ourselves. After all the wins and all the great times we’ve had around the world together, what really means the most to me are the late nights early in our careers when we’d go back to the Landry Center in Dallas, to play a few more games of HORSE and one-on-one. Dirk and the great city of Dallas got their championship, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

Michael Finley was twice an All-Star in his prime, when Dirk and I were young guys on the Mavs. Michael never played in another All-Star Game, but our team went from last place to the Conference Finals under his watch. Do you know how rare that unselfishness is in our game? A true friend and teammate.

The most accurate free throw shooter in NBA history, Nash served as the point guard for the top offense in the NBA for a staggering nine straight seasons (encompassing part of his time in Dallas, 2001-02, through 2008-09 in Phoenix). An eight-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA pick and five-time assists leader, Nash also won the celebrated J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2007.

His impact on the game, around the globe, will be felt for years.

His underdog story resonates, no matter what language one speaks, as Nash (in his own words) prepares himself for “Life After Basketball.”

I will likely never play basketball again. It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

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: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.