Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Caplan’

Blogtable: USA’s backup center

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: Risk/reward and the USA | Indy’s dilemma | Pick a center


> Now you’re Mike Krzyzewski. You have to pick a backup center for Team USA. DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee or Andre Drummond? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I’m Coach K, I find myself with a last name that gets misspelled and mispronounced more often than “Aschburner.” Wait, what? Oh, I take Cousins. And it doesn’t even have anything to do with the style of international basketball or World Championship glory. I take Cousins because he could benefit the most from the ultimate-team experience, maturing perhaps into a better NBA citizen and teammate. It’s the least Team USA can do for all that lavish talent at its disposal, a give-back — if “Boogie” were to pay attention and embrace the lesson — that would help the player, his team and the league.

DeMarcus Cousins (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

DeMarcus Cousins (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: DeMarcus Cousins. Just on all-around skills and innate talent. Cousins is a superstar waiting to break out and this experience could and should be the challenge that keeps him focused and brings out the best in him. If that happens, he’s got the greatest upside for now and for looking ahead to 2016 in Rio.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m pretty sure Andre Drummond is going to get the nod from my colleagues, but I’m picking DeMarcus Cousins as sort of the feel-good story with the most upside. We all know Cousins has tremendous talent. If Western Conference coaches didn’t view him as an immature malcontent he might have been an All-Star last season. So maybe Team USA, and with another year of age, is what makes it all click-in for Cousins. It certainly can’t hurt (I don’t think). And if it doesn’t happen, Colangelo and Coach K can reset next summer in preparation for Brazil in 2016.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably Plumlee. Team USA would have wanted to maximize its athletic advantage anyway, but the shortage of bigs increases the need to play fast. Plumlee is best suited for the end-to-end game. The other two have obvious appeals, though. Cousins’ range and passing ability is a great fit for a big in the international game, and Drummond as a rim protector and physical center would be a nice option for Mike Krzysewski against teams with size (Spain, Brazil). Plus, the lineup around Drummond would make up for his lack of offense. Meanwhile, the question of Cousins and his attitude must be factored in, except that we don’t really know how he has been behind closed doors.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAndre Drummond would be my pick. The U.S. is going to need added size and someone capable of not only protecting the rim but also serving as a bruiser around the basket on offense. Cousins is a more polished offensive performer right now but Drummond gets up and down the floor a little better and doesn’t necessarily need the ball in his hands to make an impact. Coach K needs someone he trusts to fill that role, which is why Plumlee is still in the mix. But when I hear Jerry Colangelo talk about picking the best team and not the best players, it lets me know that anything is possible when it comes to cutting the roster down.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: First of all, I’m waiting until after the next three exhibition games — against Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — so that I can see these guys in some close-to-real FIBA action. And I’d limit Anthony Davis‘ minutes in next Saturday’s game against Brazil, which could tell us a lot about the Cousins-Plumlee debate. If I had to make a decision now though, I’d go with Cousins, who showed enough in last week’s Showcase for me to take talent over fit in this discussion. He still has some work to do to secure that spot and nobody has a bigger spotlight on him in these next couple of weeks, but the talent discrepancy could ultimately be too tough to ignore.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI take none of them. Cousins needs the ball to be effective, Plumlee doesn’t stand out in any one facet, and Drummond is such a terrible free throw shooter that he’s too much of a liability. So I take none of them and instead keep Kyle Korver. Then if Anthony Davis gets into foul trouble, I go super small and put Kevin Durant at the 5 and try to trade 3 for 2s. And considering the USA is in the weaker bracket, you might only need a true backup center in the Finals against Spain and their monster Pau Gasol/Marc Gasol/Serge Ibaka front line. I’m not sure it’s worth using a roster spot on a guy you might not even have to use.

Ole Frerks, NBA Deutschland: This is a difficult choice. Cousins is the best jump-shooter of the trio, which is important for international basketball, but he also lacks lateral quickness in defending the pick and roll, which is equally essential. Drummond is a more frightening presence at the rim and a beast on the boards, but his poor free throw shooting could hurt the team in late-game situations. Plumlee has the same problem and also lacks experience. Personally, I’d go with Boogie and hope he hustles enough on defense. He has the best skillset for international basketball and should profit from the other guys like Durant or Rose, who should be able to teach him a thing or two about how to carry himself as the highest level.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I understand Mason Plumlee probably fits better with Team USA’s fast-paced style, but I would go for DeMarcus Cousins. There is no substitute for talent and Cousins has shown that with the right environment, he can make a huge impact. Cousins finished fourth in Player Impact Estimate (PIE) rankings for 2013-14, just behind the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love. Also, Cousins still hasn’t hit his ceiling in the league. There is a huge upswing that can be leveraged for the future by giving Cousins the experience of playing with Team USA now.

Blogtable: The price of patriotism

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: Risk/reward and the USA | Indy’s dilemma | Pick a center


> Paul George’s injury and playing for the USA: Is whatever risk involved worth whatever payoff for the NBA and its fans?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: In a better world for NBA owners, their players would compete for Team USA only when they’re free agents. In a better world for the players, they would participate only when they’re protected with a full-length, maximum salary contract (like George). So that dilemma remains. Meanwhile, forget about any “perfect” world — even going with a 22-and-under format would seem exploitative, exposing players to risk while they’re on their rookie deals, possibly jeopardizing future earning power. I don’t think the risk for either side is worth it — growing the game globally is good for business but filling the stands in Indianapolis 41 times plus playoffs is, too. As for fans, it’s a no-brainer: Give up a few weeks of diversion in alternating summers for greater peace of mind about the guys you enjoy for seven to nine months every year. Bring on the bubble wrap!

ABOVE: Paul George in his Vegas hospital room with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You’re not playing for the NBA, but for the United States. I’m not going to set a level of patriotism that anyone else must meet. It is up to the individual. But I don’t see any difference in the Pacers losing Paul George now from the Bulls losing Derrick Rose in the first weeks of the season or Blake Griffin being injured during a preseason game. Injuries happen. They are accidents.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’ve had mixed emotions about this for a long time. Yes, I want NBA players to be able to participate. The players have really exhibited genuine exuberance about playing for USA Basketball since Jerry Colangelo’s and Coach K’s sea-change, and the experience can only broaden their horizons as Americans. The players’ involvement is worth it for the NBA, but not so much for its teams when a star player is injured — and at this level it’s always a star player. Even if rules were put in place to where, say, NBA teams were paid for the use of their “borrowed” players, it wouldn’t solve the problem of that team missing a star player during the season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comDefinitely not for the fans. Most would rather see their team win the first game of the first round of the playoffs instead of the gold medal in the World Cup, and the same probably goes with the Olympics. And it’s obviously not worth it for the teams on the court; Mark Cuban nails it. But it is worth it to the NBA in other ways. Who knows how many future players came/will come to the game because they watched NBA players against their country or maybe even in their country. At the bottom line, the game is better because Team USA is sending stars.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In the name of Magic, Michael, Charles and Larry and the rest of the Dream Team, I have to say it’s worth the risk. As long as your favorite player comes home healthy, it’s absolutely the right thing to do, representing your country in international competition. The risk of serious injury has certainly been there forever, since the Dream Team. The reality of it didn’t hit home until last Friday night in Las Vegas, when in a flash we finally put a face on that risk. I do understand where Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is coming from, as far as the amount NBA teams invest in their superstars and having to incur all of the risk only to see the IOC and FIBA reap a ton of the benefits during competition summers. But you just cannot ask someone to turn their back on the flag, not in this instance and not ever.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That’s one serious injury in 23 years of NBA players suiting up for the U.S. National Team. (Pau Gasol missed 22 games after breaking his foot with Spain in 2006.) If basketball players don’t play basketball in the summer, they’re not going to be very good basketball players. The Olympics and World Cup are the highest level of hoops we’ll see in the offseason, and those experiences have often been springboards for big years in the league. So, yeah, before you even get into marketing and the growth of the game, the risk is worth the rewards, though I do agree with Mark Cuban that the league should have a more tangible piece of the pie if it’s supplying the best players in these tournaments.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I get the outcry over George’s injury — he’s one of the best players in the NBA and somebody who is impossible to replace. But I don’t understand all the questions about the basket stanchion at UNLV being a few inches shorter form the baseline than usual. Nobody had a serious injury playing on the same basket at summer league, right? The hard truth that nobody wants to accept is that injuries are going to happen. Sometimes during the NBA season, sometimes off the court. When Kevin Love broke his hand doing push-ups, I don’t recall anyone suggesting a ban on push-ups. If you can’t risk the injury, don’t play. But I think the majority of guys will still want to play high-level competition while representing their country and be willing to take that risk.

With time, work and patience, George can return to his All-Star self

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo talk about Paul George’s injury

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The  injury suffered by Paul George Friday night during the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas was shocking, but the Indiana Pacers’ All-Star small forward can make a full recovery and even regain the tremendous explosiveness and athleticism he displayed on the very play on which his lower leg snapped.

To get to that point is going to take time, perseverance and a lot of sweat.

Paul George

Paul George faces a long road to recovery from his injury.

He suffered what’s called an open tibia-fibula fracture of his right leg, meaning he fractured both the tibia and fibula. George was immediately taken to the hospital and underwent surgery performed by USA Basketball team physician Riley Williams (who is also the team physician for the Brooklyn Nets). The procedure typically involves inserting a titanium rod over the fracture and using screws to hold it in place.

The good for news George, an All-Star in each of the last two seasons, is that while the injury is rarely seen in basketball, it is a common sight among orthopedic surgeons. The procedure to repair it is also very common, according to Dr. T.O. Souryal, head physician for the Dallas Mavericks and a renowned orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine who is also president of the NBA Team Physicians Association.

“This is orthopedic surgery 101. They know what to do with an open tibia fracture,” Souryal said. “We see this injury in car accidents, we see this injury in motorcycle accidents, we see these injuries with people falling off a ladder, we see these injuries on the soccer field, so this is a relatively common orthopedic trauma injury. There’s a long track record of dealing with this injury and dealing with the issues that are unique to this injury.

“What makes this unique is that it was videotaped from five different angles.”

George, 24, faces an exhaustive rehabilitation process that begins immediately with simple, muscle-firing exercises that can be done from his hospital bed. As George moves away from early recovery challenges — such as infection — in the initial weeks following surgery, his rehab will escalate incrementally in intensity, complexity and duration as the bone heals over a period that typically spans 4-6 months. Souryal cautions that healing time for the tibia can be slow and involve complications, but he noted that for a young, well-conditioned athlete such as George, odds are high for a clean healing process.

Once the bone heals, the real work for George begins with what Souryal terms the late challenges. Regaining motion in his ankle and knee are crucial as George then begins the gradual strengthening process. A regimen that includes — at various phases — a stationary bike, walking on the underwater treadmill or zero-gravity treadmill and ultimately weight machines and leg presses is typical.

“During the recovery and healing, both of those joints can be involved in the injury, so he has to work on getting his mobility back, getting his knee moving normally and getting his ankle moving normally, and ultimately getting his strength back,” Souryal said. “During the stages, sometimes you’re on crutches, sometimes you’re in a machine or in a cast and you suffer a tremendous amount of atrophy. Part of the recovery is going to involve strengthening, and that by itself takes a long time to get your strength back.”

Will Carroll, sports injuries writer for Bleacher Report, recently spoke with Dr. Bert Mandelbaum about George’s injury. Mandelbaum is one of the top orthopedic physicians in sports medicine and said George can expect to be on crutches for six weeks.

“Then the athlete gradually progresses to rehabilitation, physical therapy and cross training,” Mandelbaum told Carroll. “Once the fracture healing is strong, the athlete will return for progressions to practice and games. Once completed, most athletes can perform at pre-injury levels.”

Souryal, who has not examined George, but has treated numerous similar injuries, agrees. Souryal said George’s final hurdle will be getting his explosiveness back, a goal that will challenge George both physically and mentally. But it is one that can be reached.

“That’s always the last thing to come back after a major injury like this,” Souryal said, “is your ability to explode and dunk the ball and have the confidence to land back on that leg.”

Once George completes the recovery process, one which Souryal cautions against setting a timetable because of the numerous variables in play at this early stage, Souryal said George can feel confident that he won’t re-injure his leg. Souryal said the bone heals stronger than it was prior to the injury and the titanium rod inserted during surgery reinforces it.

Unlike an ACL injury, Achilles injury or other soft-tissue injury in which consideration of re-injury is always present, Souryal said the risk of re-injury with a tibia fracture “is almost zero.”

George’s recovery process will be grueling and require patience. But through it he can remain focused on the likelihood of resuming his burgeoning career where it left off. How long that takes will depend on how quickly the bone heals followed by the rigorous, time-consuming strengthening process.

“Can he be back to his old self? Yes,” Souryal said. “How long will that take? I don’t know.”

As Parker’s deal proves, Spurs just keep doing things their way

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Relive Tony Parker’s top 10 plays from last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Leave it to the Spurs to take all the fun out of free-agent suspense. This franchise is so boring.

Four-time champ and six-time All-Star point guard Tony Parker won’t even make it to free agency next summer. He won’t even play to the players’ strength in the collective bargaining agreement and strong-arm his team into paying him more money over more years. He won’t even explore what other teams might offer him.

There’ll be no premature speculating of where Tony might go. Heck, no speculating at all. What are we, the media, supposed to do with that?

Great going, Tony.

Of course it is great for the San Antonio Spurs. The flawless organization with the executive of the year, the coach of the year, another championship and another young NBA Finals MVP keeps merrily rolling along. Earlier this summer, just weeks after dismantling the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals for the franchise’s fifth championship, the team announced in a two-sentence release that coach Gregg Popovich, had signed a multi-year extension. Popovich’s move followed star Tim Duncan‘s equally exciting decision to opt in with the Spurs — which came with the usual San Antonio fanfare.

And now they’ve done it again.

Parker, who is already playing on a below-market deal that will pay him $12.5 million on the last year of his current deal this season — or right about the amount that Phoenix Suns restricted free-agent point guard Eric Bledsoe seems to find insulting — has signed a three extension that will begin with the 2015-16 season.

Yahoo! Sports reports the deal is worth in the range of $45 million.

Parker, 32, turned in another sensational season last year, yet another quiet MVP-type season (even if his stats don’t shout it) in leading the game’s most artistic offense. He averaged 16.7 ppg, 5.7 apg and 2.3 rpg, but averaged just 29.4 mpg under Popovich’s watchful eye. Popovich has long lamented that his stars might finish their careers with lesser stats than some of their contemporaries simply because of the minutes he won’t play them.

For instance, Parker’s per-36 stats — meaning if he averaged 36 mpg like many in-their-prime starters do — might have looked more like this: 20.4 ppg and 7.0 apg. But that’s not the Spurs way.

The Spurs way is doing what’s best for the team. Parker’s extension virtually guarantees that he will eventually see Duncan, 38, and Manu Ginobili, 36 into retirement. Throughout the years, all three have passed on leaving small-market San Antonio for more lucrative deals elsewhere. Collectively, the Big Three has won four titles since 2003.

“It makes it all worth it,” Parker said following the NBA Finals. “All three, we took, like you said, less money to stay here and to win championships. So it makes it even better to have been able to play my whole career with Timmy and Manu and experiencing those great moments we’re never going to forget our whole life.

“That’s why we play basketball, to win championships and create moments that we’re never going to forget.  So I’ve been very blessed, and I don’t take it for granted. I enjoy every moment, especially with Timmy and Manu.”

Nelson happily moves on to fresh start with Mavericks

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Jameer Nelson

Jameer Nelson is moving on to Dallas after 10 seasons with the Orlando Magic.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Jameer Nelson is finally packing up. The moving trucks have been summoned to transport a decade’s worth of belongings and memories halfway across the country. It won’t be easy for Nelson and his wife, Imani, and their four children — Jameer Jr., two weeks from turning 13, and daughters Jamia, 8, Jayden, 6, and Jayce, 2 — to pick up and leave the city he’s played his heart out for, or the community the family loved … and that loved them back.

Yet sometimes even the youngest ones can sense when it’s time for a fresh start.

“My daughter is back there listening, my 8-year-old, she’s excited,” Nelson said during a phone conversation with NBA.com on Thursday afternoon. “My 6-year old, they’re both excited. My son hasn’t said too much, but I actually picked his brain a little bit when I was figuring teams out, asking him some questions. He said, ‘wherever you want to go, let’s do it.’

“So, yeah, we’re going to all move down and build up the population in Dallas.”

Nelson is leaving the Orlando Magic after 10 seasons to join the Dallas Mavericks. An intriguing team after a busy summer, Dallas hasn’t landed the superstar it covets. But it has added Nelson, center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. 

Nelson will earn $2.73 million this season and holds a player option for next season.

The missing man in the Mavs’ plans was a trustworthy, veteran starter to run coach Rick Carlisle‘s flow offense. They lost reliable Jose Calderon in the Chandler deal to New York, which foisted the erratic Raymond Felton upon Dallas to complete the trade. Dallas re-signed Devin Harris, but prefer to utilize him off the bench.

“I feel like one of the reasons I chose Dallas is I wanted to play a significant role on a good team and I felt like there’s opportunity there,” said Nelson, who averaged 12.1 ppg and 7.0 apg in 32.0 mpg last season.

“Nothing’s going to be given to me; nothing’s ever been given to me my entire life. I’m up for any challenge that’s in front of me, so if we got to battle for the [starting] spot, we’ll battle for the spot.”

Nelson, 32, was waived by the Magic on June 30, a salary-cap-saving move made by a franchise deep into a rebuilding movement. He responded by gracefully thanking the organization for all it had done for him and his family and the team responded in kind. In 2012, at the height of Orlando’s “Dwightmare,” Nelson opted out of the final year of his contract only to re-sign. Even after coach Stan Van Gundy was fired and Dwight Howard was traded, setting the stage for a ground-up rebuild, Nelson never asked out.

“That [loyalty] was something that was instilled in me through my younger years by my parents and the people who helped mold who I am,” Nelson said. “I was willing to stay the first year, and the second year got a little tougher. It was just time for me to go. It was time to go.”

In retrospect, he witnessed one of the more stunning free falls in sports. The Magic reached The Finals in 2009 — an injury-plagued season for Nelson, who missed the entire postseason before making a courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful Finals return against the Lakers — and then the Eastern Conference finals in 2010. From there, a series of personnel moves and the Howard disaster sent the franchise spiraling.

“I thought that team was going to be together forever,” Nelson said. “One of my good friends, Keyon Dooling, always preached to us as one of the veteran guys to never take things for granted because you might be on a good team now, but next year you might not be on such a good team. It’s the truth. You think things don’t end, but that obviously ended pretty quick.”

Nelson looks at yet another revamped Mavs roster and compares it to those potent Magic teams, boasting multiple shooters and scorers and a defensive backbone.

“And then fortunately,” Nelson said, “I’m in the mix of being there as the quarterback.”

The marriage of Nelson and the Mavs was a two-way street from the start. Nelson made a list of desirable destinations based on roster strength, need at point guard, organizational culture and location. While Dallas was linked for weeks to combo guard Mo Williams, who recently signed with Minnesota, Nelson was the team’s more pressing need.

His level-headed, team-oriented approach are the most desired traits in a Mavs locker room long led by Nowitzki, one of the league’s most down-to-earth superstars. The 7-footer proved it again this summer by agreeing to a massively below-market contract worth $25 million over the next three seasons. His willingness to take less allowed Dallas to make Parsons an aggressive offer and also add roster-wide depth.

“Dirk sets the tone, he’s a superstar and he takes a three-year, $25-million deal,” Nelson said. “Now it’s like who else can argue? Nobody can argue with that, nobody can complain. This guy is sacrificing a lot to win. That’s what it all should be about. That’s one of the major reasons I came to Dallas, to win.”

Nelson won’t end up being a career one-team player, and he must leave the community where and his wife raised a family.

But opportunity beckons in Dallas, where the population just increased by six.

His own man, KD will make own decision

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Take a look at Kevin Durant and Team USA as they practice

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Here’s what we’ve learned about Kevin Durant through his first seven seasons in the league: He’s his own man, capable of independent thought and making intelligent, well-reasoned decisions.

He chose to sign a five-year extension in 2010 without demanding an option for an early out. To ensure maximum appeal as a corporate pitchman, he strategically didn’t tattoo areas of his body visible when in uniform. A few years ago a stunned public discovered that Durant’s uniform-covered torso resembles Allen Iverson.

He is the league’s reigning MVP coming off a grueling season in which he logged a league-high 3,121 regular-season minutes followed by a postseason-high 814 minutes (even though his Oklahoma City Thunder lost in six games in the Western Conference finals), yet he remained committed to Team USA, currently holding camp in Las Vegas. Remember, this squad will compete in the upcoming world championships in Spain (recast as the FIBA World Cup). This is not an Olympic year or even an Olympic-qualifying year. Durant doesn’t have to be here. He chose to be here.

And he’s a big story in Vegas. Everybody wants to know if, inspired by LeBron James‘ homecoming, he’ll leave the Thunder for his long-suffering hometown Washington Wizards in 2016 when he becomes a free agent.

In the NBA it’s never too early to spin theoretical free-agent story lines. Mostly because NBA front offices are actively planning for the Durant sweepstakes. Teams have to align contracts today to ensure available salary cap in two summers just to be in the chase. The NBA is a star-driven league and Durant (with potential 2015 free agent Kevin Love likely headed to Cleveland in a trade) is the next available fast track to contention.

And yes, the up-and-coming Wizards are preparing. Who wouldn’t love to add Durant to the promising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal? Washington’s books are in line for summer ’16, and you might have heard they hired a new player development assistant, David Adkins. Adkins? He was an assistant at Durant’s alma mater Montrose Christian in Maryland, and is said to be close to Durant. The plot thickens.

Fine, but any insinuation that Northeast Ohio’s re-embracing of LeBron tugged Durant’s heartstrings toward D.C. is a reach. The Cavs drafted the locally loved Akron phenom out of high school. He elevated the hometown NBA franchise to a Finals appearance in 2007 and three years later stomped on the hearts of his faithful with the incredibly insensitive “Decision.” Four Finals runs and two championships with the Miami Heat later, LeBron, all grown up, decided it was time to mend fences. Great story.

It’s not Durant’s story. Durant did tell reporters Tuesday that he grew up taking the train to Georgetown games, although he left home to play college ball 1,300 miles away at Texas. He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 and the next season moved with the franchise to Oklahoma City, a close-knit town he’s professed his love for countless times, and as recently as his MVP speech for the ages.

The Thunder are perennial contenders. Durant holds close relationships with coach Scott Brooks, as well as teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and many others in the organization. Most of all, Durant willingly immersed himself in the community. When he won the MVP, the city declared him “OKC’s MVP.” The governor and state representatives attended the ceremony.

If he were to leave OKC, it’s not a stretch to suggest that community will be more devastated than D.C. will be elated. With Durant, 25, in a Thunder uniform, the championship window is open-ended.

But hey, a lot can happen in two years. The Thunder could win a championship. Or two. Or maybe they don’t and Durant’s patience runs thin, after all he’ll be nine years in by the summer of ’16. Maybe the Durant-Westbrook relationship sours. Maybe Brooks gets fired. Maybe Durant ultimately decides he wants to play for a billionaire owner more responsive to spending when the moment calls.

So maybe Durant does go home, even though the number of stars who have gone home pales to those who never do when given the chance. We’ve seen Durant don Washington NFL gear and — not sure if anybody’s pointed this out — he’s got a Washington Nationals logo tattooed above his belly button. Durant does love his D.C. sports.

So maybe he does go home. Or perhaps, as was speculated when Durant hired Jay-Z to represent him, he goes to the Knicks or Nets. They’ll all be in line (yep, even the Nets will be flush with cap space by then).

Yes, the script that has Durant riding a white horse into Washington, where the Wizards/Bullets haven’t won a title since a decade before Durant was born, is real. It could happen. Durant could also play 20 seasons in OKC.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant told reporters in Vegas. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does.”

Durant might as well memorize those lines. He’ll need to cue them up over and over during these next two years.

But what we’ve learned of him over the last seven years is Kevin Durant is his own man.

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – “Showtime” did, sort of, return to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

During the press conference to introduce former Lakers guard Byron Scott as the team’s 25th coach, old teammates Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes strolled into the Lakers’ practice gym to show their support. Johnson, a constant public critic of the last Lakers coach, Mike D’Antoni, nearly suffocated Scott with a massive, joy-filled hug.

Johnson declared this as “a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Lakers fans all over the world,” and then proclaimed the impossible: “Showtime’s back, baby!”

Scott, 53, flanked Magic in the Lakers’ backcourt for three of the Showtime Lakers’ four championship runs during the 1980s, plus three other Finals appearances through 1991. Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., home of the old Fabulous Forum and then the renamed Great Western Forum where those teams dazzled the senses, obviously has intimate knowledge of how those high-powered teams excelled.

Yet even Scott, who along with all Lakers fans can appreciate Magic’s exuberance for bringing a Laker Man back to the helm, had to tap the brakes on Magic’s “Showtime” giddiness here in the real world of 2014.

“We can’t play that way,” Scott said during his press conference. “We don’t have a Magic Johnson.”

Touché.

Remember, it was D’Antoni when hired five games into the 2012-13 season who embraced the faux return of Showtime, declaring his inherited edition would score 110 points a game or something ridiculous. Such bravado presumably came from either an attempt to capture angry Lakers fans enamored with Phil Jackson, or from his past successes running-and-gunning in Phoenix with two-time MVP Steve Nash, whom the Lakers had acquired that summer, only at a slightly more advanced age than he was in those heady Suns days.

Nash remains with the Lakers. He’s 40 now and has played 65 games in the last two seasons because of injuries, and just 15 last season. Kobe Bryant was a bushy-haired rookie during Scott’s final season. Scott returned to L.A. for the 1996-97 season for a final hurrah after playing a few seasons elsewhere a couple years after Magic’s initial stunning retirement.

The offense Kobe and Nash will run, Scott said on Tuesday, will be a mixture of everything he’s ever done at his previous stops with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland, where he was the poor sap who took the gig just before LeBron James declared he was taking his talents to South Beach.

His greatest chore, Scott said, going full anti-D’Antoni (who truthfully had no shot last season with the unending injuries that ravaged the team), will be turning this group into a defensive-minded unit. Scott probably choked just a bit as he glanced at the Lakers’ stats last season. They finished 28th overall in defensive rating, giving up 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

“The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” Scott said. “These three gentlemen [Magic, Kareem and Wilkes] that’s sitting in this front row, the first thing that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control.”

Just prior to making that statement, Scott said he told general manager Mitch Kupchak that he assembled a roster that will be “very competitive.” Hopefully Scott remembered the Lakers are still in the Western Conference. Anyway, there’s nothing like new-coach optimism.

On the bright side, the Lakers were so awful last season that it figures to be next-to-impossible to be as bad. The Lakers lost a franchise-record 55 games. Kobe played in six. He’ll be back. We know he’ll be paid a handsome $23.5 million next season, but we don’t know at what level he’ll perform or how he’ll adapt his game to his changing athleticism and physical capabilities following the torn Achilles tendon of two seasons ago and last season’s knee injury. Or how his patience will stand up to a mediocre team and a new coach, even one this time he personally endorsed.

Nash, as mentioned, is back, too, but how long he can play or how effectively is a total mystery.

Pau Gasol is out. Vetaran power forward Carlos Boozer is in.

The rest of Scott’s team looks like this: No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle, then Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre.

Showtime? The straight-faced Scott was right to tap the brakes.

Give him credit for that, and now give him time to implement a system and gain some cohesion, and time for trusted management to work some magic in the coming summers that missed the mark with available superstars this time around.

Only then will we know if Magic can truly crow that Showtime’s back, baby.

Plenty of time for Bledsoe to earn max

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the Phoenix media during last season’s exit interviews

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Electric point guard Eric Bledsoe one day might command an NBA max deal. It just doesn’t appear that day is today.

The Phoenix Suns want to pay Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, the same as what the Toronto Raptors paid Kyle Lowry earlier this month ($48 million over four years). It’s a pretty fair deal for a player like Bledsoe, who is entering his fifth season and spent three seasons as Chris Paul‘s backup. Plus, he missed half of last season, his first in Phoenix, with a knee injury.

The fearless, 6-foot-1 Bledsoe — when healthy — formed a dynamic backcourt with Goran Dragic and is seeing much bigger dollar figures for himself: max dollars over five years (reportedly $80 million).

He’s seen fellow point guards Kyrie Irving and John Wall break the bank when eligible for extensions (Bright Side of the Sun does a good job here of comparing Bledsoe to his contemporaries). This summer fellow restricted free agents Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward rode the market to max deals. Of course, they received the necessary help from other teams — the Dallas Mavericks and the Charlotte Hornets, respectively — making aggressive plays for their services (Parsons landed in Dallas for $46 million over three years when Houston declined to match; Hayward stayed with Utah when the Jazz matched the Hornets’ four-year, $63-million offer).

Sometimes the market embraces you. Sometimes it betrays you.

Bledsoe was counting on another team making him that max offer. In that case, the Suns were thought to be prepared to match. And if they decided otherwise, well, Bledsoe would happily cash his checks in another state.

But as is the case with Detroit big man Greg Monroe, a fellow restricted free agent, an offer sheet has not materialized. And at this late stage where most teams have shopped to their limit, it appears an offer sheet won’t walk through that door.

Bledsoe, 24, has been quiet throughout his free agency, but he did give a brief interview the other day to WVTM during a street-ball hoops event in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

“First off, I’m going to let my agent handle it,” Bledsoe said. “I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me. But I understand that.”

The Suns aren’t using restricted free agency against Bledsoe. They’re playing by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. They’ve made a good offer for a player who has started 78 games in his career, and are now sitting back and letting the market work. So far, no team has forced the Suns to increase their offer.

If no offer sheet comes, Bledsoe’s most likely path is to accept the Suns’ $48 million offer, grow with a team on the rise, play at an All-Star worthy level (as Dragic did last season) and and shoot for a max deal in four years.

Or he can take a riskier approach and accept the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer the Suns extended him at the start of free agency (making him restricted), and go for that max deal next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is playing this just as he should. He has to be mindful of his club’s salary cap situation this year and beyond.

Dragic, a bargain at $7.5 million this season, will surely decline his player option next summer for 2015-16. With another big year like he had last season, Dragic could double his annual salary. McDonough also traded for Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas this summer and will pay him $27 million over the next four seasons.

This obviously isn’t the way Bledsoe envisioned the summer unfolding.

Eventually he will have to make a decision, and it should be an easy one. He should happily accept the Suns’ $48-million offer. From there he can create his own value by evolving into a team leader and helping the Suns become bona fide Western Conference contenders over the next four seasons.

If he does that, then come four years from now, Bledsoe will have the max offer of his choosing.

Love’s knuckle pushups, twist of fate

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: News on Kevin Love

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Love‘s passive-aggressive ploy to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves and get to “a place that I can win,” will happen, although likely not until at least Aug. 23 when the Cleveland Cavaliers can, under NBA rules, trade their newly signed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins can’t be traded for 30 days after signing his contract, which he did Thursday. It instantly put a halt on a Minnesota-Cleveland trade (at least in terms of making one official before then). It also compelled Love, a three-time All-Star, to pull out of Team USA — on grounds of injury risk and scuttling a potential trade — which is now gathered in Las Vegas and will compete in the World Cup in Spain.

Other than missing out on the trip abroad, this does feel like a fortuitous Summer of Love in the making. LeBron James‘ surprise return to Cleveland opened the door for Love to walk in as a supporting star rather than a leading man somewhere else. Nobody imagined a LeBron-Love coupling before James’ announcement on July 11, and what could be more attractive to Love, who had already, it seemed, mentally checked out of Minnesota?

While attending a video game conference in Los Angeles on June 11, Love, who played at UCLA and has long been thought to want to play for the Lakers, was asked about joining the purple and gold. Above all, he said, he wants to go to where he can win. In the same interview with Fox Sports, Love was asked the Wolves’ chances for making the playoffs next season. His answer, whether conscious of his wording or not, clued everybody into his state of mind: “If they’re healthy,” Love said, “they can do a lot of damage.”

The omission of “we’re and “we” was easily interpretable as Love viewing himself as a free agent and not a player under contract next season with the Wolves for $15.7 million. Imagine the firestorm had Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard committed such a gaffe.

And what of Love suggesting the Wolves, if healthy of course, “can do a lot of damage?” If it’s true without him, what’s their potential with him? Seems exactly the situation Mr. Double-Double desires.

Since that interview, Love has gone silent. His representatives, citing a scheduling conflict, pulled him out of a July 13 celebrity softball game prior to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Target Field. The likelier conflict had more to do with a questioning Minneapolis-St. Paul media and a predictably hostile hometown greeting.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this mess, starting with the franchise’s bungling of Love’s contract extension in January 2012. Owner Glen Taylor and former general manager David Kahn refused to give Love the maximum five years he wanted and offered four, adding a player option after Year 3. Management’s unwillingness to commit angered and offended Love.

Love, meanwhile, has gone diva. Some fans sympathize with his dealing of years of organizational dysfunction. Mostly, the Minnesota fans have soured on him and his tactics. If current team president and coach Flip Saunders somehow doesn’t do a deal prior to the start of the season, there’ll be some awkward moments at Target Center.

History will show that Love’s botched contract to his now distancing from the franchise are only the bookends in a string of unfortunate events that truly sabotaged an era centered around Love and point guard Ricky Rubio before it could begin in earnest.

The year 2012 will go down as a debilitating one. Six weeks after Love’s contentious contract, Rubio tore the ACL in his left knee. He played just 41 games in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, a promising rookie start in which he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists. He wouldn’t return until Dec. 15 of the 2012-13 season, but the injury, admittedly, rattled Rubio and severely curtailed his progress.

The death knell for the anticipated 2012-13 season, however, occurred well before Rubio’s return. In October, Love broke his right hand while away from the team’s facility. How did it happen? The team announced he broke it doing knuckle pushups at home. As odd as it may seem for a basketball player to include knuckle pushups as part of his workout routine, Love claimed he had always done them.

He missed three weeks of the season, less time than anticipated. But in his 18th game back, Love broke the hand again. The Wolves were only 9-9 with him, but Rubio had just come back and there was optimism. Now Love’s season and the Wolves’ playoff hopes were done.

Team dynamics became more complicated when then-coach Rick Adelman left a team besieged by injury for stretches starting in January 2013 to tend to his wife, who was seeking medical answers related to unexplained seizures. Adelman contemplated retirement after the season, but returned. Minnesota continually lost close games and numerous times failed frustratingly to scratch above .500.

We’ll never know what might have been if Love had gotten a five-year deal, or if he had never taken up knuckle pushups, or if Rubio had never torn his ACL.

And now Love seems determined not to explore what still could be in Minnesota.

Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.