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Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Van Gundy’

Reports: Van Gundy out of Rockets’ coaching search; D’Antoni now favorite

Strike one name from the list of potential Rockets head coaching candidates. Jeff Van Gundy is no longer a candidate for the job, according Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

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There was reported to be mutual interest between Van Gundy and Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey. But team owner Leslie Alexander is said to have been less less convinced that a reunion with the man who coached the Rockets from 2003-2007.

Van Gundy told Barry Warner of ESPN 97.5 in Houston: “I have not spoken to the Rockets so speculation about me has been off base.”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle says that Mike D’Antoni has now become the favorite to land the job.

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Morning shootaround — April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff path | Durant: Cuban ‘an idiot’ for Westbrook comments | How bad is Curry’s injury? | Lakers hope to find new coach quickly

No. 1: Injuries derail Clippers’ playoff hopes — A healthy roster is often what stands between success or failure during the regular season and the same is true — perhaps even moreso — come playoff time. The Los Angeles Clippers entered last night’s Game 4 in Portland with hopes of returning to L.A. with a 3-1 series edge and, of course, a fully healthy roster. By evening’s end, they had neither. Star point guard Chris Paul suffered a broken hand in the third quarter and star forward Blake Griffin left the game early due to an issue with his troublesome left quadriceps. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for the game and has more on the state of L.A. after its many losses:

Chris Paul knew.

The way he sat on the bench, the way he stared into some far-away place as emotions appeared to ricochet around his brain, a mix of disbelief and disgust on his face, he could tell even before the short walk to the visitor’s locker room that the season had just turned in a staggering way.

Paul was leaning back in the chair midway through the third quarter Monday night, his left arm draped over the top of the adjacent chair, a relaxed position while his mood was anything but. It’s like he couldn’t believe how everything had gone so wrong so fast. Then, when CP3 did stand up and walk to the locker room to confirm the bad news, he didn’t get more than a few steps before lashing out in frustration with his right leg, kicking what appeared to be a cushion on the floor in front of the Clippers bench.

There was not any attempt to hide the emotions because they would be impossible to bottle up, not from Paul as he left the court in uniform for what may have been the final time this season and not from teammates as they dressed afterward in near silence for the charter flight back to Los Angeles and the new series against the Trail Blazers. The Clippers had been rocked Monday night at Moda Center and there was no way to deny it.

Paul was gone, the victim of a fractured right hand in as he tried to slow Gerald Henderson driving to the basket in the third quarter, an injury that could sideline him weeks, although the Clippers will wait for another evaluation Tuesday before putting a timeline on his return. And Blake Griffin may be gone, at least temporarily, with coach Doc Rivers saying Griffin is 50-50 for Game 5 in Los Angeles after re-injuring the quadriceps tendon in his left leg, the injury that cost him much of the regular season.

The chances of a long playoff run would have been reduced to a microscopic number without Paul, only now the Clippers have to come together in a big way just to get out of the first round while getting worked over by the likes of Mason Plumlee (21 rebounds and nine assists in Game 3, followed by 14 boards and 10 assists in Game 4), Al-Farouq Aminu (30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4) and Ed Davis (12 rebounds in Game 4).

L.A. doesn’t just have the health issues, after all. L.A. has the health issues mixed with a pressing opponent issue, a resilient Trail Blazers team that spent the regular season upending expectations. The Blazers have now charged back into the series and they enter Game 5 with the momentum and a real opportunity to do more than scare the Clips.

 …

“We have to take a very collective approach,” guard J.J. Redick said. “Everybody has to do a little more. We’ve been in this situation before. We played for a lot of stretches without Blake this year. I’m not saying he’s going to be out, but he’s obviously feeling something in his quad. And three years ago we had to play for a long stretch without Chris. Last year in the playoffs, the first two games in Houston we had to play without Chris. So we’ve done this before. It’s just got to be a collective effort.”

Starting right away.

“There’s no shellshock,” Doc Rivers said. “What it is is they love their players, their teammates, and Chris is taking this very hard. He’s worked all year to get back to the playoffs and for this to happen to him, he’s an emotional guy and so I think our guys, it’s a neat family and it’s things you don’t ever see, like you guys will never see, but it was a nice thing in the locker room. Everybody, the whole team, is in the locker room and it’s nice in that way. But the reality is that you don’t have Chris Paul.”

And, according to ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande, the prognosis for Paul is looking grim. Adande reports that Paul is ‘done’ for the playoffs:

“He’s done.”

Two different people with the same two words on the same subject: Chris Paul.

It appears the broken bone in his right hand will keep Paul out for the rest of the playoffs. What does that mean? Well, if we’ve learned from this postseason, it’s that we don’t know what anything means. The terms are too subject to change.

Last year, the Clippers split two playoff road games that they played without Paul. But that was with Griffin playing at a superstar level. Now Griffin can’t even guarantee he’ll play at all in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure,” Griffin said. “Tomorrow, I think we’ll take a better look and hopefully go from there.”

Asking Griffin to reproduce his 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists from Game 1 of last year’s Rockets series is probably asking too much. Asking him to match his 19-12-6 line from Game 1 of this series with Portland could be a stretch. On Monday night, he tried to take off the way he used to, when he dunked on people with reckless abandon. He got fouled by Mason Plumlee, didn’t come anywhere close to throwing the ball through the hoop and soon found himself rubbing his quadriceps on the sideline and even heading back to the locker room to get checked out. He returned to the game, but his gait was noticeably affected.

***

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Morning shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Time for Tyronn Lue and the Cavs to make a leap forward | Ricky Rubio’s days numbered in Minny? | Did the Heat come looking for Lance?

No. 1: Time for Tyronn Lue and the Cavs to make a leap forward — The Cleveland Cavaliers are still the class of the Eastern Conference but their hold doesn’t seem so vice-grip-like anymore. It’s not that the Raptors have overtaken Cleveland in the standings, but Toronto is close. And besides, in the big picture, the Cavs must compare themselves with the best of the West, if as expected Cleveland returns to the NBA Finals. Such is the life when you have LeBron James and the goal is title-or-bust. The problem is the Cavs still haven’t taken off since the coaching change to Tyronn Lue. ESPN.com‘s Dave McMenamin says the Cavs better get busy:

Lue has had precious little time to go on anything but instincts since taking over for the fired David Blatt as head coach of the Cavaliers some five weeks ago.

Not only was roaming the sidelines as a head coach new to him, but here he was doing it in the middle of the season without the benefit of a training camp or a coaching staff of his choosing. The team he was taking over needed someone to corral a collection of headstrong superstars in order to succeed, all the while adhering to a championship-or-bust decree. Simple, right?

Lue’s overall record of 12-6 is nothing to be ashamed of, but when you take over for a guy who went 30-11 to start the season, anything less than exemplary is a failure. Lue was reminded of that last week when the Cavs lost three out of four and it felt like the walls were caving in on Cleveland — at least from the outside looking in.

There was daily drama from questions about how much LeBron James has left in the tank after a deplorable performance in a loss to Detroit, to criticism directed at Kyrie Irving in a shoddy defensive showing against Toronto, to a condemnation of the entire team when they were walked all over in Washington.

There were also trade rumors about Kevin Love leading up to the trade deadline, a report detailing Irving’s discontent and his superstar, James, jetting down to Miami for a couple of days this week to get away from it all when the team had off.

There’s good reason the bags under Lue’s brown eyes are more noticeable these days. A split screen of Lue today next to a photo of him back in January when Blatt was at the helm and he was simply the highest paid assistant coach in all of basketball would show accelerated aging — as if someone placed a “U.S. presidential term” filter on his face on Instagram.

Yet he was able to rationalize each challenge.

Love and Irving? They’re still in uniform and won’t be going anywhere between now and June, which is all Lue is focused on anyway. The Raptors loss? “I was pleased about leading 46 minutes of the game and two of our Big Three not playing particularly well offensively,” Lue said.

The Wizards letdown? “LeBron [was] not playing, so I didn’t have any issue with it at all.”

***

No. 2:Ricky Rubio’s days numbered in Minny? — There have been rumors swirling for some time in Minnesota about Ricky Rubio. On the surface, it’s a bit of a surprise; Rubio is a very good passer who sees the floor and finds teammates, and his defense isn’t terrible (though not solid). He’s also young and still growing. That said, there are some in the organization, apparently some very influential voices, who feel the Wolves would be better off with a new point guard next season. Rubio’s name surfaced during the trade deadline (Kris Middleton of the Bucks was mentioned) but nothing was done. Here’s Zach Lowe of ESPN.com on the subject of Rubio and where he stands (or not):

After some initial talks, the Wolves told the Bucks they would swap Ricky Rubio for Middelton, and when the Bucks declined, the Wolves even discussed the possibility of tossing in a protected 2016 first-round pick, per league sources familiar with the matter. Other outlets have reported of the Bucks’ interest in Rubio — Bucks head coach Jason Kidd seems to have a thing for rangy point guards with busted jumpers — but they never seriously entertained trading Middleton, sources say.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker were never on the block, leaving the Bucks with only one real counter: a point guard challenge trade of Michael Carter-Williams for Rubio. The Wolves obviously weren’t doing that, and discussions died, sources say.

The theoretical Rubio-Middleton swap, and that the Bucks now see Middleton as the more valuable player, lands smack at the intersection of several on- and off-court trends executives are still trying to grasp. Going all-in for Middleton makes a ton of sense given the skyrocketing salary cap that will warp the NBA’s financial landscape in the next two years. He’s just 24, thriving in the first year of a five-year, $70 million contract with a declining year-over-year salary after 2016-17. Almost every deal signed last summer, under the current $70 million cap, will look like a bargain in two years — especially those attached to younger two-way players like Middleton just entering their primes.

We all focus on the next superstar that might become available via trade: DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, or whichever name flutters into the news cycle this week. One or two of those guys might even get traded in the next year. But most don’t, and when one becomes available, the Celtics and a couple of other teams are in position to outbid almost anyone.

Given that reality, I wondered before the season if a team might use its best trade ammo to chase a younger guy who had just signed a new contract. The two names I mentioned: Middleton and Tobias Harris. It took shockingly little ammo for the Detroit Pistons to snare Harris, but the Wolves appear to have been thinking along these lines in pursuing Middleton. It’s a bold gambit, and probably a smart one: leverage Milwaukee’s disappointing season and its well-known affinity for Rubio, still a starry name, into the sort of all-around wing shooter every smart team craves in the modern NBA.

Minnesota is in desperate need of shooting on the wing, especially since dealing Rubio would probably have required Zach LaVine to shift back to point guard and pretend he understands what in the hell he’s supposed to do. Andrew Wiggins is shooting 26 percent from deep, and passes up open shots. Tayshaun Prince has made four 3s all season, and Shabazz Muhammad, the Wolves’ other non-Wiggins option at small forward, is only a threat on short corner 3s. LaVine has a nice stroke, but he’s better off the ball, and prone to nutty off-the-bounce chucks when he controls it. Karl-Anthony Towns is already a plus shooter at center, and he’ll eventually shoot more 3s. The identity of Towns’ long-term front-court partner is a mystery, especially with Gorgui Dieng a year from free agency, and the answer will be key in determining the look and feel of Minnesota’s roster going forward.

***

No. 3: Did the Heat come looking for Lance? — Not sure what to make of Danny Granger‘s claim that his teammate on the Pacers, Lance Stephenson, was hunted down by a few Heat players following his infamous treatment of LeBron James. For one, Granger said Chris Andersen was one of the players who came looking for Stephenson after Game 3 of the East semifinals five years ago, but Birman hadn’t joined the Heat yet. Anyway, here’s Adam Wells of Bleacher Report, recapping the interview Granger’s recollection:

“They were protecting LeBron. They thought Lance had done something disrespectful to him,” Granger said.

Granger said that security prevented the Heat players from entering Indiana’s locker room, and the situation did not escalate.

According to Granger, the incident occurred after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Stephenson was captured on camera making a choking sign after James missed a free throw following a technical foul called against Granger during that game.

The Heat lost the game, 94-75, but they went on to win the series in six games en route to winning the NBA championship.

The rivalry between Stephenson and James continued as the Pacers and Heat met in the playoffs in each of the next two seasons. The most infamous moment occurred in Game 5 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, as Stephenson’s ear-blowing incident produced hundreds of memes that still follow him around.

If Stephenson was trying to play mind games with the four-time NBA MVP, it didn’t work. James’ Heat got the best of Stephenson’s Pacers in all three playoff matchups.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The plan in Houston is to bring Michael Beasley along slowly, but aren’t they running out of time? … Hornets assistant coach Patrick Ewing has some decent stories to tell about his boss, Michael Jordan … Memphis has begun the inevitable youth movement, which is refreshing, especially with Marc Gasol done for the year … You might have heard that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are pretty good together … The sale of a portion of the Wolves has hit a snagJeff Van Gundy has some things to say about his brother and as you might imagine, they’re very kind things.

Blogtable: Your pick for who will be Brooklyn Nets’ next coach, GM?

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: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOThe Starters have some pointers for the Nets moving forward

> Give me a good one-two combo – a GM and a coach – who can turn things around in Brooklyn if given the chance.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I’d love to see Troy Weaver (the assistant GM in Oklahoma City) get a shot at running his own shop. He’s smart and talented and knows everyone in basketball, and knows who can play. And if he got the job, you’d obviously think he’d look hard at bringing Scott Brooks in to coach. If he went another way, though, and went outside the list of the usual suspects (Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, etc.), someone like David Fizdale, the associate head coach in Miami, could do the job. Or, how about one Patrick Aloysius Ewing, once a basketball player of some accomplishment, but who is now an assistant coach in Charlotte — and an incredibly patient one — who’s been an NBA assistant for more than a decade. He should have been given shot to be a coach, about, oh six or seven years ago. I have no idea if Ewing would be a good coach or not. I had no idea if Erik Spoelstra could do it when Pat Riley gave him a chance to do it. And that’s what Ewing deserves–a chance, to succeed or fail on his talents and efforts. But none of those names/combos will work if owner Mikhail Prokhorov doesn’t give them the time to build the Nets from the bottom up. And, make no mistake — they’re at the bottom.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com My preferred package deal for this sort of intervention is Jeff Van Gundy as GM/POBO and buddy Tom Thibodeau as head coach. I doubt either would be interested in Brooklyn’s toxic combination of flawed roster, hobbled draft future and impetuous, now-more-inclined-to-tinker ownership. But they have the basketball chops, the street cred and the know-how to stage an impressive turnaround. And if it’s not in Brooklyn, maybe it ought to be in Minnesota, where both jobs are up for grabs this summer. My Plan B would be someone such as Jeff Weltman, currently working with Masai Ujiri in Toronto, getting hired and bringing in, say, Monty Williams (who should still be a coach in this league) or Luke Walton.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMy first thought was Jesus of Nazareth and his Father due to the near miracle it’s going to take to dig out of that hole dug by Billy King. But of this earthly realm, I’ll go with the no-nonsense pairing of Tom Thibodeau as coach and Jeff Van Gundy as G.M. Oooh, but they’d need time. Lots of it. And frankly, I don’t think either would want the job.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThere is a lot of heaving lifting ahead, with few trade assets and no 2016 lottery pick, so lets start with the clarification that “turn things around in Brooklyn” will be a wide, slow bend. The 76ers just beat the Nets to my choice, Jerry Colangelo, who would not have had a lot of years left with the necessary energy but could have provided the smart statesman the Nets desperately need. I would love to see John Calipari get the job as coach/GM. Not because it would be a good choice, but just imagine Cal in full power play in New York. I feel better about the coaching decision: Ettore Messina, with a long look at Tom Thibodeau as well.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Jeff Van Gundy and whomever he hand-picks to be his personnel guy. Van Gundy has been away from coaching long enough to miss it, and now that his daughter is in college, he’s free to chase the dollars, and there will be plenty of that in Brooklyn. Plus, Van Gundy has experience in dealing with New York, where he’s respected. Give him the same power that his brother has in Detroit, and it could happen.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere are more viable coaching candidates than GM candidates out there and success starts at the top, so I would open the vault for R.C. Buford and give him (and not Dmitry Razumov) final say on all basketball decisions, including the choice of who to coach this team. Scott Brooks, Mike D’Antoni and Tom Thibodeau are all fine picks in that regard. The one that can work best with my new GM should be the new coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m a firm believer in new blood when you’re dealing with the situation the Nets are facing right now. No retread general managers or coaches. Scott Perry (assistant GM in Orlando) has paid his dues after holding the same position in Detroit during their glory days under Joe Dumars, and doing a similar job in Oklahoma City before landing in Orlando. Perry has earned the right to sit in the first chair. He’s as well respected as any executive I can think of around the league, both by his peers, players, agents and anyone who moves and shakes in the world of basketball. He also has no ego, which I think is a prerequisite for the job today. As for the coach, who better than Cleveland assistant coach Tyronn Lue. He’s learned from some of the very best (Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers) and has been an invaluable asset for David Blatt as he transitioned from coaching internationally to the NBA. His years as an apprentice are over. He’s ready. And the Nets could use the infusion of new energy both would bring to their organization.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They should hire John Calipari for both roles. I have done a full 180 on this in recent years. It’s obvious now that his real strength is as a recruiter. He can bring recruiting in the NBA to an unprecedented level of sophistication. NBA teams tend to be amateurish when it comes to recruiting. Calipari understands that it is a science, and coaching in a market as big as Brooklyn will enable him to make the most of free agency. But it is only going to work if a team gives him total control – without the ability to reinvent the front office and change the entire point of view, Calipari will have little impact. Free agency is going to grow more important as NBA contracts are shortened and the cap is hardened. Someday someone is going to look like a genius for hiring Calipari.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Here’s the thing: You could bring in Red Auerbach as GM and Phil Jackson as coach, and a Brooklyn rebuild isn’t happening overnight. The Nets are really in dire straits, and there is no quick fix for this. So you need a GM who is patient and shrewd, with a track record for success. Thinking broadly and creatively, why not throw a lot of money at Jerry West, a former executive of the year now consulting with the champion Warriors? As for a coach, why not try a system that could be transformative, so how about getting Mike D’Antoni out of Philadelphia and let him turn his 7 seconds or less system loose to his heart’s content?

New offense energizes Wizards


VIDEO: Bradley Beal’s evolution is crucial to the Wizards’ season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Bradley Beal insists it’s the best the Washington Wizards have looked during his time with the team.

So what if he’s talking about the often flimsy sample size that is NBA preseason.

When you basically pass on free agency (until next summer’s Kevin Durant free-for-all), install a new offensive system and ask everyone to buy into new and tweaked roles heading into what is sure to be a pivotal season, a seamless transition to a decidedly different way of operating offensively should ease whatever tensions might have lingered.

A comfort zone for Beal and All-Star point guard John Wall has to be the top priority for a Wizards team few people mention a contender in the Eastern Conference this season. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are at the top of everyone’s list, followed in some order by the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat … and then the Wizards.

That dynamic backcourt is not only the key to the Wizards’ season, they’re also the selling point for the future, along with this new, player-friendly offense that coach Randy Wittman unveiled during the preseason. If the Wizards are serious about making noise this season in the Eastern Conference playoff chase and carrying that momentum into the summer of 2016, it all starts with this emphasis on the faster pace, which takes advantage of what Wall and Beal do best.

The Wizards had the highest offensive rating in the preseason (106.8 points per 100 possessions) and were fourth in pace (104.45 possessions per 48 minutes), a stark contrast from a team that finished 19th and 16th, respectively, in those categories last season.

We saw signs of the shift in the playoffs, when the Wizards threw a scare into the Hawks in the conference semifinals with their small-ball lineup. A summer of tinkering, training and a preseason of on-the-job training gives a team with basically the same core personnel (sans Paul Pierce, of course, who moved on to the Los Angeles Clippers) a chance to reinvent itself on the fly.

Otto Porter and Jared Dudley inherit the minutes and responsibilities Pierce handled last season, including the floor-stretching duties that opened things up for Beal and Wall in the postseason.


VIDEO: NBA.com’s John Schuhmann breaks down the Wizards’ new look on offense

Beal spoke of improved team camaraderie, better focus on the details and the always important good health that evaded him and the Wizards this time a year go. An improved and more efficient offensive system that the players “love,” according to Wall, paired with a top-10 defense that’s been a staple under Wittman, could serve as the wrinkle the Wizards need to move into the East’s upper echelon.

“Well, I think the Wizards obviously are a dangerous team, and they’ve proven that,” ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said, “and Randy Wittman has done an outstanding job coaching that team, leading that team, being strong in the face of tough times, holding on to the rope, which became contagious with the players where they bought in.

“I think it’s a different look for them because they certainly have post-up players that are skilled that they can take advantage of, at certain points of the game, but it really gives — adds versatility to that basketball team when you look at that dynamic backcourt in Wall and Beal, playing at a faster pace, creating an offense, stretching the floor is only going to make them tougher to defend, and I think ultimately a tough out in the Eastern Conference.”

If anyone knows about the importance of playing to the skills and abilities of a dynamic young backcourt duo, it’s Jackson. It’s what led to the rise of the Golden State Warriors during his tenure as he catered his system to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Wall and Beal are not Curry and Thompson, and there’s no one suggesting as much.

But they are talented in their own right and on a trajectory that could very well push the Wizards into the realm of teams capable of upsetting the projected East order before whatever free agent splash the team is planning for the summer.

Yes, we’re working on the fumes of the preseason, and that’s always a dangerous predicament.

But if you’re trying to both engineer a revolution and outperform expectations, as Beal and the Wizards are this season, you have to start somewhere.

Mission…

A photo posted by Bradley Beal (@bradbeal3) on

 

Morning Shootaround — August 9



VIDEO: The Billy Donovan Era begins in Oklahoma City

Donovan vs. Stockton | Karl ready for Rondo | Duncan’s latest sacrifice

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: When Billy the Kid met Stockton — Throughout his years as an ESPN color commentator, Jeff Van Gundy has made plenty of provocative statements. But maybe none was as off-the-wall crazy as those days nearly three decades ago when as a Providence College graduate assistant coach he told third-round NBA Draft choice Billy Donovan that he could go into the Jazz training camp and take that job from a young player named John Stockton. It’s all part of a wonderful profile package on the Thunder’s new head coach by the talented Darnell Mayberry in The Oklahoman:

But an unfavorable numbers game in Utah led Donovan to doubt he had a chance to see opening night. The Jazz already had 12 guaranteed contracts, and Donovan knew that in order to make the team someone else would need to be moved.

At least one person thought that could happen. It was Jeff Van Gundy, a graduate assistant during Donovan’s senior year at Providence. Van Gundy started chirping, gassing Donovan up about his chances as he helped prepare him for training camp.

“Jeff’s like, ‘Listen, man. I’m telling you. You’ve got a chance to make this team,’” Donovan remembered. “He said, ‘They’ve got a guy there that’s in, like, his third year named Stockton that I’m not so sure about. He hasn’t played very much.’

“Training camp starts and I call Jeff after, like, the first day of double sessions. I said, ‘Hey, Jeff, remember that comment you made to me about you’re not sure about Stockton? That’s the best guard I’ve ever played against in my entire life.’”

Donovan was waived three days before opening night. John Stockton went on to play his entire 19-year career in Utah, appearing in the third most games of all time while finishing as the NBA’s all-time assist leader.

“I’m not saying I didn’t say it, but I don’t remember saying anything specifically,” Van Gundy said of his alleged Stockton comment. “If I said something like that, I’m going to blame my sleep deprivation on coach (Rick) Pitino having us work 20 hours a night. That’s the only explanation for such a ludicrous statement like that.”

***

No. 2: Karl looks forward to the Rondo challenge — So much of the offseason talk about the Kings has focused on the rocky start to the relationship between coach George Karl and center DeMarcus Cousins. However, the dynamic between the fiery Karl and the independent Rajon Rondo will be just as critical to the success on the court next season in Sacramento. Speaking with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Karl pointed to his previous relationships with other headstrong, volatile point guards as proof that they can thrive together:

“My feeling is that [Rondo’s] a pass-first point guard, which I think is important and I think in the end it really excites me,” Karl said. “We have two guys who can take control of the team and play together and keep the pace of the game. We can play with a lot of freedom and creativity but also play without turnovers.”

Asked how he sold Rondo on Sacramento after Rondo’s bad experience last season with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, Karl said: “I just sold him on how I like to let my guys have freedom. I talked to him once before he signed and it’s going to be fun coaching him. I think he wants to lead our team but he also wants to be part of the decision-making, and that can be somewhat combustible but it can also work at a high level because I think we’re all trying to make the team the best.”

Karl pointed out his history of dealing with mercurial point guards during his 30-plus-year coaching career. The list is impressive.

“I had Gary Payton [in Seattle], Sam Cassell [in Milwaukee], Allen Iverson [in Denver], Chauncey Billups [in Denver]. Chauncey is challenging,” Karl said. “Andre Miller is probably not as challenging but he’ll be stubborn and wanting me to do it his way. I think all really good point guards have a trust and belief in themselves that sometimes causes conflict with the coaches.”

***

No. 3: Duncan ranks 6th on Spurs payroll — If you want to understand the full contribution of Tim Duncan to the success of the Spurs over the past two decades, it’s necessary to go beyond the shots, rebounds, blocks and solid defense. It is about his commitment to team and fostering an all-around attitude of sacrifice in the locker room. Nowhere is that more evident than in the very bottom line area of salary. According to the latest figures obtained by the great Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, the future Hall of Famer has taken yet another pay cut to help the Spurs assemble their upgraded roster to challenge for a championship and will make less than even Danny Green and Boris Diaw in the 2015-16 season:

Duncan, the Spurs’ highest-paid player from 2003-04 through 2011-12, returns for his 19th season after agreeing to another major pay cut that paved that way for the acquisition of Aldridge. At $5.25 million, he will be the team’s sixth-highest paid player behind Aldridge, Leonard, Parker, Green, and Boris Diaw at $7.5 million.

Signed to the salary cap room exception, veteran guard Ginobili is on the Spurs’ books for slightly more than $2.8 million next season, a cut of roughly $4.2 million.

Both Duncan’s and Ginobili’s contracts are fully guaranteed for the 2016-17 season, and both can opt out of their deals next summer if they so choose.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nancy Lieberman took the much longer road to reach the NBA … Lakers and Mavs are the frontrunners for Javale McGee … The Heat would love to unload Mario Chalmer’s contract to avoid cap hit … Jamal Crawford might have an eye on joining LeBron & Company in Cleveland … D’Angelo Russell dips into his bag of tricks at rookie photo shoot …. Dr. K?  Kristaps Porzingis gets a number change ... Pelicans make contract offer to veteran guard Jason Terry … Male dancer outshines the women at Miami Heat tryouts.

Game 3: 24-second thoughts

VIDEO: Matthew Dellavedova was all over the floor in Game 3

24
— Four quarters just isn’t enough in these Finals. Two games and two times we’ve gone to the fifth. If it happens again tonight, we just might need another fifth to survive.

23 — Nice job, but just asking: How many of the Warriors and Cavs have Rascal Flatts pumping through their headphones?

22Jeff Van Gundy on Stephen Curry: “It’s not like he’s in a slump.” Well, it’s not one bad night. In his last four playoff games, Curry has shot 29-for-82.

21Iman Shumpert to the locker room with shoulder injury. This “next man up” stuff for the Cavaliers only works as long as you have a next man.

20 — Two words: Tristan Thompson. And six points and seven rebounds. On a night when Cavs need to be big, nobody has played bigger in the first quarter.

19 — Happy Festus-vus! Off the Warriors’ bench comes Festus Ezeli for the Feats of Strength when Golden State needs it. He’s got a lot of problems with you people.

18 — Toss a coin. Tonight we get the “good” J.R. Smith. 3-for-3 start.

17 — How much Warriors’ frustration is showing? Curry has to restrain Draymond Green from going after a referee.

16 — More Tristan Thompson.

15 — How much more of the burden can LeBron James carry? Now he’s got to overcome his own teammate (Thompson) knocking the ball out of the basket.

14 — The series has been a reminder of just how much Andre Iguodala gave up of himself to come off the bench for the Dubs. Iggy has been sensational at both ends of the floor.

13 — Cavs’ defense is a dirty, gritty, grinding, relentless, suffocating thing of beauty. Warriors 15-for-44 (.341) and 3-for-18 (.188) at the half.

12 — If LeBron were 30 of 88 shooting in the last 4 1/2 playoff games as Curry is, just how much grief would he be taking?

11 — Warriors’ 37 points in first half is as much as Klay Thompson scored by himself in third quarter Jan. 24 vs. Kings.

10 — A spot-up 3 and then a gorgeous runner. Dellavedova-Curry is moving into Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson territory.

9 — MVP sighting midway through third quarter. Stephen Curry gets his first bucket since the opening Warriors score of the night.

8 — Controlling the pace, making the plays, hitting the fadeaway, blocking shots — LeBron has the game, the Warriors, The Finals in the palm of his hand.

7 — Curry caught with ball in his hands on layup as horn sounds to end third quarter. That sums up his night so far.

6 — Iguodala 3 from corner cuts the 17-point lead down to nine just 2:02 into fourth quarter. Laissez les bon temps rouler. Remember, Warriors came from 20 points in fourth (Game 3) at New Orleans way back in the first round of the playoffs.

5 — Doesn’t that guy on his way to 17-point fourth quarter look a lot like Stephen Curry? We should just hit fast forward and go to overtime.

4 — LeBron limps off court to the bench. One more injury and the Cavs should be able to clinch the championship by Thursday.

3 — The little Aussie isn’t the only one selling out with his hustle. After missed baseline jumper, the superstar LeBron (40-12-8) — sprints back to make the key deflection on Curry. He’s got 123 points in 142 minutes, most ever in first three games of Finals.

2Danny Crawford blew his whistle and then decided it was a good time to show the world his Rick Perry impersonation. “Ooops!”

1 — So what do you think the devil is going to do with that soul Delly sold him?

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

***

No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

***

No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

***

No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

***

No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Blogtable: Coaching Carousel

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: Playoff injuries | Lottery team(s) in 2015-16 playoffs? | Coaching carousel



VIDEO: Inside the NBA on Monty Williams’ firing

> We have a coaching vacancy in New Orleans (and possibly in Denver and Orlando, too). Who are the best candidates out there, and which job is most attractive?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think there’s any big hire just waiting to happen. Our man Sekou Smith is a believer in John Calipari for New Orleans, though I remain skeptical about the college peacocks who try to tackle this league. I think Scott Skiles would be a great fit in Orlando, but the Magic allegedly are waiting to see if they can scoop up Tom Thibodeau if he and Bulls management get divorced (with the Bulls eyeballing Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg). Monty Williams and Scott Brooks are in some conversations, though they might prefer to get paid to decompress. I’m wondering if we’re ever going to see Jeff Van Gundy coaching again. Let’s not forget top assistant coaches like Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue and Miami’s David Fizdale. As for the best job of the three currently open, that’s a Big Easy – only one offers the privilege of coaching Anthony Davis, the NBA’s Next Big Thing. Fly, Pelicans, fly.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Another layup.  The best job available is coaching Anthony Davis as he moves into the MVP phase of his career.  If the Bulls, as everyone expects, are dumb enough to show Tom Thibodeau the door, he’s just the guy to get the Pelicans to actually play defense and put some sharp edges on A.D.’s game.  The top candidates will be Alvin Gentry, Mike D’Antoni and Michael Malone and probably Fred Hoiberg out of the college ranks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Since Monty Williams is suddenly, unexpectedly “out there”: Monty Williams. And obviously anyone who works, has worked for or may one day work for the Spurs. Automatic hire, right? Also, the list changes when/if the Bulls break up with Tom Thibodeau. Keep an eye on Scott Brooks, Michael Malone, Tyronn Lue, Alvin Gentry and Adrian Griffin. They are all attractive jobs, a pretty atypical statement for teams changing coaches. Going to New Orleans is walking into a playoff team with an All-Star centerpiece. Denver can be good next season and, depending on the offseason moves, push into the postseason conversation. Orlando has an attractive foundation and the chance to coach in the Eastern Conference with an easier path to the playoffs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Pelicans job comes with The Next Tim Duncan and therefore has that going for it. But: I’m not sold on Anthony Davis re-signing with New Orleans and there are questions about management and ownership. If the Orlando job comes open, that could be the most attractive because there’s growth on the roster, no pressure to win right away, the benefit of playing in the weak East, another lottery pick coming and a smart GM in charge.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIf Tom Thibodeau’s days in Chicago are over, he should be the No. 1 candidate. Scott Brooks would help a young team (like Orlando) develop, Mike Malone could straighten out a team defensively, and assistants David Fizdale and Tyronn Lue look ready to sit in the big chair. Anthony Davis obviously makes the New Orleans job most attractive. And because the Pelicans ranked 22nd defensively and didn’t get Davis the ball enough, there’s room for immediate improvement.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThere are dozens of quality candidates for these openings, many of them serving in the same role as the reigning Coach of the Year, Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, did for years alongside Gregg Popovich. So it’s not hard for a quality organization to identify good candidates. It’s what they do once they have done so that matters. Too often ownership and management get caught up in the name game when they should do what the Memphis Grizzlies did in identifying a guy like Dave Joerger, a longtime assistant ready to take that next step, and making it happen. The best of the best out there right now would be Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue (he who saved the season over the weekend by doing David Blatt’s job) and the Orlando job is the perfect match. If the college route is your preference, John Calipari and New Orleans is a no-brainer, if you want to keep Anthony Davis in the Big Easy.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The highly-coachable Anthony Davis makes the Pelicans’ job No. 1. If you’re seeking a proven winner then go with Mike D’Antoni (four seasons of 54 or more wins in Phoenix), who will heighten the market value of your players like no other coach. If it’s a new look you want, then consider Ettore Messina, the Italian winner of four Euroleague championships who served as the Spurs’ lead assistant this season. You should also consider Scott Brooks, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan, Scott Skiles and Spurs assistant Jim Boylen. (And Tom Thibodeau, if the imminent rumors turn out to be true.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, of course the most attractive candidate is probably the guy still coaching right now that everyone assumes will be a free agent by July. I don’t want to name any names, out of respect for the living, but his name rhymes with Dom Dhibodeau. There’s also the complement of assistants ready for their big shot, like Atlanta’s Kenny Atkinson, or a D-League mastermind like Nate Bjorkgren, or a college coach like Billy Donovan, who already got swept up by the Thunder. The best gig out there? That’s easy: Which team is it that has Anthony Davis? New Orleans? OK, I’ll go with them.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge and Celebrity All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Players should vote for awards | Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics | Union fires shot across NBA bow | Mason’s condition shows some progress

No. 1: Durant: Players should vote for awards — It’s Valentine’s Day, so you might want to send some extra flowers or candy to your nearest sports media person after Kevin Durant hurt their feelings on Friday. The Oklahoma City star took the occasion of the NBA’s All-Star Media Availability at a New York hotel ballroom to question the media folks’ credibility as voters for the league’s annual awards, such as Most Valuable Player, Sixth Man, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com was among those to capture Durant’s critical comments:

“I think (the) media gets too much power to vote on stuff like that. Quite frankly I don’t think you really know a lot about as much we know about it,” Durant said when asked if MVP winners should be allowed to vote on the MVP like former Heisman Trophy winners are allowed to do with the annual award for the best college football player. “So we play against these guys every single night, we battle against these guys, we know what they say on the court, we know how they handle their teammates, we know how they approach the game, and our votes should count.

“Our opinions should count. I don’t think you guys know as much we do, and I don’t see why you have more power than we do.”

Durant won his first MVP for the 2013-14 season, totaling 1,232 points in voting, including 119 first-place votes. The award is decided by a 124-member panel consisting of sports writers and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. There’s also an NBA.com MVP fan vote that counts as one vote, making for a total of 125 ballots overall. The same panel of U.S. and Canadian sports writers and broadcasters also casts votes for the other awards, but the MVP award is the only one for which fans can vote.

Players are awarded 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for each second-place vote, five for each third-place vote, three for each fourth-place vote and one for each fifth-place vote.

“We really know these guys inside and out,” Durant said of why players should vote for the awards. “There are a lot of guys that deserve Defensive Player of the Year or Sixth Man of the Year but you guys (decide sometimes because) they are not the sexier names. A lot of people will see the names of these players and don’t look at the other guys that contribute to our game as well.

“You guys aren’t in the scouting reports, you’re not in the team meetings and the film sessions to really break down each player’s games. I don’t see why you have more power in voting than we do. We are out there on the court playing with them. We appreciate how you guys blow the game up and bring attention to the game but at the same time, to keep it pure, the players should have more say in that stuff.”

***

No. 2: Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics — For a lot of fans at Barclays Center in Brooklyn or viewing elsewhere, it probably took a moment to sink in that Andrew Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rookie participating in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday was on the right team. Wiggins played for the World squad, against the USA group of rookies and second-year players, because he was born and raised in Canada. He was feeling some maple-leaf pride after his swell performance, as chronicled by our man Scott Howard-Cooper:

Already at the forefront of Canada’s planned ascent on the global basketball stage — well under way with the recent influx of players in the NBA the last few seasons — Wiggins added to that with 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting to win the MVP award as the World beat the U.S. 121-112 on Friday nigh

Asked if he is looking forward to playing Team USA — the real one — in international competition, Wiggins said, “Definitely. That’s a game I dream of. And hopefully we can play in the Olympics.”

Pressed if he would play for his homeland this summer, in the tournament to qualify for the 2016 Olympics (as the reigning World Cup champion, the U.S. is exempt) Wiggins said, “Right now I’m taking it day by day. But it’s something I would love to do.” Coming attractions, indeed.

***

No. 3: Union fires shot across NBA bow — This is relative peacetime in the NBA, more than three years removed from the league’s last costly lockout, with a labor deal in place at least until July 2017. But businessmen and unions do what they do, so the National Basketball Players Association’s annual All-Star player rep meeting offered a glimpse into some jargon and rhetoric with which fans soon might become all too familiar. Our own Steve Aschburner explained a money issue that already has surfaced:

They’re here now, with the union’s rejection of two “smoothing” proposals from the NBA to manage the flood of new money from dramatically increased TV rights fees beginning with the 2016-17 season. Michele Roberts, the NBPA’s new executive director, said the team reps voted unanimously to reject both proposals during a meeting that included about 50 players.

What that could mean, if left unaddressed, would be an abrupt hike in the league’s salary cap from an estimated $68 million in 2015-16 to, say, $90 million for 2016-17. That’s when the new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal kicks in at nearly triple the current broadcast fees. Boosting the cap number that suddenly could make virtually every team in the NBA a bidder for the lucky free agents of 2016. Rosters could be entirely rebuilt, or completely destroyed, all in a few weeks time.

The NBA apparently had pitched two versions of a proposal to “smooth” that infusion of money into the system to avoid artificially bidding up salaries of the players who happened to hit the market that summer, at the expense of the majority who would remain under contract. By “smoothing” the increase — with the cap rising by lesser amounts, with the difference from the players’ CBA-guaranteed share of the league’s revenues divvied up proportionally among them all — those locked into contracts would benefit from the added cash.

But the NBPA’s economic consultants determined that a typical player would make less money overall by signing contracts into an artificially constrained salary cap (for example, $80 million vs. $90 million) while receiving “shortfall” checks, than he would signing a new deal without the smoothing constraints on the cap.

The NBPA also voted LeBron James onto its executive committee as first vice-president, teaming the Cleveland star with union president Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers to add heft to the hierarchy. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com had more on that:

With Paul, James and new, aggressive executive director Michele Roberts, the union has loaded up with high-profile faces for a fight for a bigger portion of what could be a $7 billion revenue pie two years from now.

Just how big a role James eventually will play, though, is yet to be seen. He did not attend the meeting because he was committed to a sponsor’s event across town. He talked to various members of the executive committee over the phone and plans to meet with Roberts this weekend.

The union believes having James and Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers’ All-Star point guard, on the front line will increase the pressure, both publicly and privately, on owners.

“I cannot tell you how delighted I am; the union is supported by players across the spectrum,” Roberts said after leading a meeting of approximately 50 players, including All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.

***

No. 4: Mason’s condition shows some progress — In a perfect world, Anthony Mason, longtime NBA forward who had helped the Knicks reach the Finals in 1994, would have been a visible presence this week during All-Star festivities. Instead, he continues to fight for his life in a hospital bed after suffering what his former agent Don Cronson called “congestive heart failure.” But Mason’s condition had improved slightly by Friday, as reported by ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley:

[Mason] has made “small, but real” progress the last two nights after being “near death” Wednesday, his former agent said.

“He isn’t out of the woods, but he’s had two good nights,” Don Cronson, Mason’s agent during his playing days, said by phone Friday night.

Cronson said he’s received updates from Mason’s family.

“It seems like he’s day-to-day now. Before it was hour-to-hour,” Cronson said. “Thankfully, the last two days have been better.”

The New York Daily News had more details of the events leading up to Mason’s incident Wednesday:

Before he was hospitalized, Mason, 48, was scheduled to attend a press event Wednesday at the Times Square Knickerbocker Hotel, where Mason’s former teammate, John Starks, announced his business partnership with the Zipway company. Cronson said he is sure Mason was preparing to be a visible presence during the NBA All-Star Game week in the Big Apple.

“This originally happened a week ago today,” Cronson said Friday. “(Mason) was in the hospital. I think he was having some discomfort, some kind of chest pain. One of his guys said, ‘You have to have yourself looked at.’ He goes into the hospital and the whole event took place there. I spoke to family members, and had he been in the (hospital) lobby as opposed to the third floor, where he was, he would have died. Fortunately, he was close enough to the emergency facilities that were brought to bear and saved his life.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers and Paul George let it be known last week that the All-Star wing player, out since Aug. 1 after suffering leg fractures in a Team USA scrimmage, planned to be practicing March 1. Now he’s targeting March 14 for a possible return to game action. … Washington’s John Wall has his eye on the All-Star MVP trophy and Magic Johnson’s single-game record of 22 assists. … Knicks boss James Dolan doesn’t quite apologize for tangling with an unhappy fan via email, but he knows he shouldn’t have done it. … If Jeff Van Gundy can air out the Bulls for alleged friction with coach Tom Thibodeau, it only follows that Stan Van Gundy can do the same with the Kings in their handling of Tyrone Corbin. … Anthony Davis isn’t participating, but he talked the other day about ways he hopes to improve and about NBA life in general. … Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousin concurs – George Karl is a good coach. … How Portland’s Wesley Matthews transformed himself from undrafted offensive liability to a serious scorer. … Atlanta interested in Gary Neal? The Budenholzer connection. … How could the NBA spruce up All-Star Weekend? Consider these suggestions.

 


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