Posts Tagged ‘John Calipari’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Lawson expecting big things in Denver | Griffin defends Cavs’ pursuit of Calipari | Trainer raves over Bryant’s pain tolerance

No. 1: Lawson sees big things ahead for Nuggets — In 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a 57-win team and boasted and up-and-coming, exciting team that seemed on the verge of being a contender. Last season, though, was a different story, as Denver fell to 36-46, most of which could be blamed on injuries decimating the roster. Point guard Ty Lawson was one of the players who dealt with the injury bug in 2013-14, but he’s on the mend and is expecting a Nuggets bounce back in 2014-15. Our Jeff Caplan caught up with Lawson, who talked about that and more:

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.


VIDEO: Ty Lawson runs wild in a win over the L.A. Lakers last season (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Tough choices loom for Team USA | Report: Suns willing to trade Bledsoe | Calipari backs Blatt as Cavs coach | Report: Durant weighing massive Under Armour offer

No. 1: Tough choices ahead for Team USA — A 43-point win against the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night might have not helped Team USA figure out who will be on the squad once FIBA World Cup play starts in a week or so. Our John Schuhmann was on hand for last night’s exhibition in New York City and gives his outlook on who may (or may not) make the U.S. team’s final roster:

The final, 12-man roster does not need to be submitted until Aug. 29. So the U.S. may take 13 players on the plane and wait to make a final decision.

The four players who did not play in Saturday’s win over Brazil each came off the bench on Wednesday. And three of them put up numbers that could help their cause.

After missing Saturday’s game with a knee bruise, DeMarcus Cousins scored just two points, but was the game’s leading rebounder with eight boards in less than 16 minutes.

DeMar DeRozan, who was the leading scorer in the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, tied for the team-high with 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting on Wednesday. He’s one of the players most likely to be sent home this weekend, but has flourished in these fast-paced games.

Andre Drummond also seems like a likely cut, but also seemed at home with the up-and-down style, racking up 12 points and five rebounds (four offensive) in 16 minutes.

Gordon Hayward, meanwhile, was the only player who didn’t see any action until the second half on Wednesday. He was his usual solid self, but didn’t make much of an impression with the game already well in hand.

And that, again, was the issue with Wednesday’s game. The U.S. needs players it can trust in a hostile environment against a quality opponent. Though the MSG crowd had a sizeable Dominican contingent that got loud with every early basket, this wasn’t much of a test for the U.S. team or any of its players.

So, the decisions that Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo have to make in the next few days will not be easy. Cousins, DeRozan, Drummond and Hayward appear to be in competition with Damian Lillard and Mason Plumlee for the final two roster spots. After playing strong against Brazil, Plumlee did not play Wednesday, so that Drummond could see some floor time.


VIDEO: Team USA runs away from the Dominican Republic in an NYC exhibition

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No. 2: Report: Suns open to trading Bledsoe — Much like Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe, fellow restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns hasn’t gotten the big payday or contract offer he was hoping for this summer. The buzz of late surrounding he and the team is that Bledsoe may take a one-year qualifying offer from the Suns in exchange for a shot at unrestricted free agency next summer. However, according to Jude LaCava of FoxSports AM 910 in Arizona, the Suns may be open to dealing the point guard:

“I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported,” Jude LaCava said on Tuesday, “I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.”

“That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.”

“I think it’s safe to say ‘open for business’,” LaCava said. “The decision makers, [managing partner Robert] Sarver and [PBO Lon] Babby and hopefully Ryan McDonough, they are open to that possibility. It’s got to be right. It’s got to be the right return in what they are looking for.

“It’s to the point that if they can accommodate Bledsoe and get something they want in return, trade possibilities are very, very real and they have been discussed.”

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No. 3: Calipari endorses Blatt as Cavs’ coach — On Monday, news came out that Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn‘t actually all that close to accepting the Cavaliers’ monstrous offseason offer to become their coach. With Calipari out of the picture, the Cavs eventually ended up hiring David Blatt to lead their new LeBron James-led crew. Calipari has nothing but compliments for Cleveland’s new leader, writes Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer:

“David Blatt can really coach,” Calipari told Frank Isola and Malik Rose during an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “He’s a better choice than me to coach that team. I coached against him. I’m not sitting here just saying it. I coached against him in FIBA basketball. I watched him coach Russia, the guy can coach, OK? Those players, all they want is respect. If they respect you as a coach they’re going to play like crazy.”

Calipari, who had one stint as a head coach in the NBA before returning to the collegiate ranks, believes the Cavs will return to prominence.

Dan Gilbert is a great guy who wants it for the right reasons, that’s why Cleveland will win,” Calipari said. “Now you just have to have really good players. Guess what? Cleveland has really good players.”

They could be adding one more in the near future when a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves becomes official, making All-Star forward Kevin Love the newest member of Cleveland’s talented roster.

“It’s going to be scary seeing how good Kyrie (Irving) is when now you gotta defer a little bit with this; how good Love is,” Calipari said. “We haven’t even seen how good those two are going to be. And it’s kinda like when Michael (Jordan) would grab guys and all of a sudden you saw Scottie (Pippen) how good he could be or (Dennis) Rodman. … All of them, all of them. That’s what LeBron will do. It’s crazy what’s going to go on in Cleveland.”

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No. 4: Report: Durant offered massive endorsement deal by Under Armour — Reigning MVP and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has been a pitchman for Nike joining the NBA. Under that company, his “KD” brand of shoes have become one of the company’s most popular sellers as his on-court play has raised his marketability to newfound levels. Proof of that growth is seen in the endorsement deal Durant has received from Under Armour that could pay him between $265 million and $285 million. ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell, who broke the story, has more:

Kevin Durant’s representation Roc Nation Sports informed Nike on Wednesday that he has a deal on the table with Under Armour worth between $265 million and $285 million over 10 years, sources told ESPN.com.

The deal includes Under Armour stock and other incentives, such a community center built in his mother’s name, whose exact worth will not be known for some time.

Nike, which saw its signature business related to the Oklahoma City Thunder forward grow to roughly $175 million at retail last season, will have the right to match, which is a condition of Durant’s current contract with the brand. Durant can still choose Nike if it doesn’t match but can’t legally choose Under Armour if Nike does.

If Under Armour wins the services of Durant, it would be the largest sponsorship deal the company has ever committed to. The average of $26.5 million to $28.5 million means that Under Armour would be devoting nearly 10 percent of its current annual marketing budget on him.

Should Nike pass and Under Armour win the battle for Durant, one has to wonder how much of a role Under Armour will play in Durant’s decision where to play next. After all, in money alone, Durant would be more an employee of Under Armour than he is of the Thunder.

Durant is due $41.2 million over his next two seasons with the team; his Under Armour deal would pay him at least $10 million more over that period.

If Durant’s relationship with Nike ends, it will be interesting to see how it liquidates his latest shoe, the KD7. Colorways are planned and have been sold through to retailers through the end of the year, and sources say Nike has the contractual right to liquidate its current line.

How it even has gotten to this point for Nike is a mystery. The company usually likes locking up its top talent and teams before those players can even go elsewhere. While its deal with Manchester United also came down to a situation where it declined the match Adidas’ bid, it’s more the norm that Nike renews before the competition can get a crack. Six years into James’ seven-year, $87 million contract, Nike and LeBron James agreed to terms on the next deal.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Count Nets center Brook Lopez among the growing legion of players who have slimmed down for next season … Pistons big man Greg Monroe denies ever receiving a five-year, $60 million deal from DetroitKevin Durant says Steph Curry‘s character is difficult to use in NBA 2K … Should Derrick Rose just pull the plug on being a part of Team USA? … Is Rajon Rondo ready for a superstar turn next season? … Wizards reserve forwards Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. are gunning for a bigger role next season

 

Morning shootaround — Aug. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Calipari wouldn’t have left UK, even for LeBron | Carter-Williams on the mend | How will Marion help Cavs?

No. 1: Calipari wouldn’t have left Kentucky … even for LeBron — While LeBron James and the Heat were squaring off against the San Antonio Spurs in The 2014 Finals, a storyline outside of that series was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ supposed interest in University of Kentucky coach John Calipari. According to one report in June, the Cavs were willing to offer Calipari $80 million to take the gig, but nothing ever came to pass between he and the team officially. Now that James is in the fold in Cleveland, would that have shaped Calipari’s choice? Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal talked to Calipari about that and more: 

Even if John Calipari had known LeBron James would eventually return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the University of Kentucky coach told The Courier-Journal he likely still would have signed his seven-year extension to stay with the Wildcats in June. He just couldn’t leave more than a half-dozen players who themselves passed on the NBA draft to return to UK for another season.

“They came back because it was good for them and their careers and they knew they needed more developing and coaching. That was by me. That’s what they wanted,” Calipari told the paper in an interview Sunday morning in the Bahamas. “So that made it a tough deal to say, ‘I’m just going to leave these guys here.’ With who? It may be somebody I don’t know that wouldn’t do the things for them that they needed to do.

“Now, obviously coaching at Kentucky is special. It is unique and special. But this, for me, becomes about these kids. I have no desire, nor am I out looking for (jobs). I got the job. I got the job. What would move me to stay was these kids need me here. That’s what I’m doing. At the end of the day, that was what (kept him at UK). It wasn’t money.”

Despite reports that he was in serious talks with Cleveland – and ultimately turned down the Cavs earlier this summer – Calipari was “not as (close) as everybody thought” to leaving for the NBA. But James, who Calipari has said he’d love to coach, had not made his decision at that point.

Would that have made a difference?

“No. No. I don’t think so. Because he and I have a great relationship, but it’s not based on me coaching him,” Calipari said. “We’ve got a relationship. I’ve known him for years and years. We’ve always been friends. But it was never based on that. I’ve said that. I’ve had a chance to coach Derrick Rose, John Wall and DeMarcus (Cousins), Anthony Davis and Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist). And I’m leaving names off, but I’ve coached some of the best players in basketball, and it is a thrill. There’s nothing better than that. Especially when those guys are all good guys.

“Well, LeBron is also that kind of player and that kind of person. But again, leaving guys who made decisions based on what’s right for their career was something I couldn’t have gotten by anyway.”

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No. 2: Carter-Williams plans to be ready for camp — Shortly after the Sixers’ season ended, Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams had surgery to repair a tear in his right shoulder. He’s been on the mend ever since and although he hasn’t been cleared to scrimmage yet, he’s improving quickly. Tom Moore of The Intelligencer has more on Carter-Williams and how he’s been faring of late:

Michael Carter-Williams isn’t 100 percent, but expects to be ready for the late September start of 76ers training camp.

During a five-minute interview Sunday at the Michael Carter-Williams Basketball ProCamp, he said he hasn’t scrimmaged, though he’s shooting and working out, and his right shoulder “still gets a little tight here and there” from the May 13 surgery to repair his labrum. He estimated the shoulder is “probably 80, 85 percent.”

“It’s going great,” said MCW, noting he won’t play fullcourt ball under he’s medically cleared.

He admitted that draft night in June was “a little confusing at the very beginning” when general manager Sam Hinkie took Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton at No. 10. He certainly seemed bewildered during a live interview on NBA-TV immediately after Hinkie selected Payton.

But Hinkie soon dealt Payton to the Magic for No. 12 (Croatian forward Dario Saric, who is committed to playing at least two seasons in Turkey), as well as a first- and a second-round choice from Orlando.

“As I thought about it, I’m a basketball player,” Carter-Williams said. “I’m going to be able to play with whoever. It was a move that the team made for reasons we know now. I wasn’t too shaken up by it.”

Carter-Williams claimed he never thought he’d be traded in the wake of the Payton pick because, “I think I would’ve got a little bit of a heads-up if that would’ve happened and I didn’t get anything. Me, coach (Brett Brown) and Sam are always on the same page.”

While he realizes expectations around the league are low for a young Sixers team coming off of a 19-63 campaign, Carter-Williams is eager for the upcoming season.

“I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things,” he said. “Last year was a long year. I’m really looking forward to this year and improving as a team.”

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No. 3: What will Marion add to Cavs? — Yesterday, free-agent forward Shawn Marion reportedly agreed to a deal with the Cavaliers, becoming the latest household name to join forces with LeBron James as he seeks to lead Cleveland to its first championship. While Marion is far removed from his All-Star days with the Phoenix Suns, he’s still a valued contributor on the court and our John Schuhmann details how Marion might help the Cavs in 2014-15:

Marion can back up both James and Kevin Love, who the Cavs are expected to get on or after Aug. 23, when rookie Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded. Marion could also play alongside the James-Love combo in a small-ball lineup.

In a summer when Ben Gordon got $4.5 million, signing Marion for the minimum is a great deal. He’s versatile, plays both ends of the floor, has championship experience, and has been pretty durable over the years.

But Marion is also 36 years old. Among 177 players who attempted at least 500 shots last season, only teammate Jose Calderon had a lower free-throw rate. Marion attempted just nine free throws per 100 field goal attempts.

And here’s a note that’s a little alarming: The Mavericks were better both offensively and defensively with Marion off the floor each of the last four seasons (2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14). When it came to on- vs. off-court numbers, Marion was in a tough spot as Dirk Nowitzki‘s backup. But the lack of impact on defensive numbers, in particular, should provide caution for anyone expecting him to be the stopper that he was earlier in his career.

Marion will be the Cavs’ Shane Battier. He can guard power forwards and allow James to play on the perimeter defensively in those small-ball, more athletic lineups. But he doesn’t quite space the floor as well as Battier did for the Heat. His 3-point shooting is shaky. Though it improved quite a bit last season (to 35.8 percent), it hasn’t been better than the league average in over 10 years.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Cavs remain optimistic about their hopes of signing Ray Allen … A great, lengthy feature on LeBron James‘ agent and friend, Rich Paul … Pistons big man Andre Drummond may not be on the U.S. Team much longer … Seven months after having surgery on a torn ACL, Nate Robinson is feeling good enough to dunk … The Morris twins talk about their bond and hopes of staying together as teammates their whole NBA career.

 

Morning Shootaround — June 10


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Spurs’ struggles late in Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lakers delaying coaching hire for LeBron?| Report: Cavs offered Calipari $80M | Various factors helped Fisher become coach | Suns’ brain trust shares bond

No. 1: Report: Lakers delaying coaching search for an Anthony-James push News broke yesterday that ex-Lakers guard Derek Fisher has agreed to become the New York Knicks’ new coach, thus taking a name once thought to be on the Lakers’ list off the market. Los Angeles continues to churn through names and interviews in search of its next coach, but could the delayed/slow search be due to its interest in landing Carmelo Anthony and/or LeBron James in free agency this summer? Sam Amick of USA Today has more:

The slow pace of the Lakers’ coaching search that began April 30 when Mike D’Antoni resigned has been timed deliberately with the upcoming free agency period in the NBA, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Specifically, the idea that the Lakers could beat the odds and land the likes of the Heat’s LeBron James, the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony or any of the other superstars who may be free agents on July 1 has led the Lakers to plod through their process so as to not limit their potential options. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the search.

But how much allure do the Lakers still have after their 27-55 season that was the franchise’s worst since they moved to Los Angeles in 1960? We’ll soon find out.

While it appears highly likely that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will remain with the Heat, the outcome of these Finals is expected to play a part in their decisions. And there is a strong hope outside of Miami — from Los Angeles all the way to New York — that the Spurs can pull off the series win and inspire some of the league’s best players to explore their options elsewhere.

Yet according to two people with knowledge of the situation, Anthony’s part in this fluid free agency situation is worth monitoring as James is known to be interested in eventually playing with his close friend. Anthony also has a player option on his deal for next season (worth $23.5 million), and his connection to James has teams like the Lakers, Knicks and even the Heat wondering whether he may be able to join the four-time NBA MVP. The people requested anonymity because of sensitive nature of free agency talk.

Should some iteration of the Heat’s Big Four decide to head West to join Kobe Bryant and offer the Lakers an instant rebuild, they would be more than welcome to the team that has only three players with guaranteed contracts on their roster for next season (Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre). The Knicks, meanwhile, would love for everyone to delay their plans for one season by opting in only to head for The Big Apple in the summer of 2015 when their payroll drops all the way down to about $17 million.

The reality that the Lakers may not hire a coach until July leaves their candidates in limbo, as they have already interviewed six former head coaches in Byron Scott (New Orleans Hornets, New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers), Lionel Hollins (Memphis Grizzlies), Mike Dunleavy (Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers), Kurt Rambis (Minnesota Timberwolves), George Karl (Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Seattle SuperSonics, Bucks, Denver Nuggets) and Alvin Gentry (Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Clippers, Phoenix Suns).

(more…)

D’Antoni resigns, Lakers need to go big (Coach K big) in search of his successor

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down what might be next in Lakerland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Before anyone asks, Phil Jackson is already taken. He’s got plenty of work to do in New York with the Knicks.

So the search for Mike D’Antoni‘s replacement as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers has to begin elsewhere. D’Antoni resigned tonight, ending his bumpy Hollywood ride 20 games below the .500 mark (67-87) and without fulfilling any of the ridiculous expectations that accompanied his arrival.

In fact, the Lakers have been reeling since they (well, Jim Buss) chose D’Antoni over Jackson when Mike Brown was fired five games into the 2012-13 season, a decision that was as curious then as it is now given the disastrous results. The Lakers were believed to be poised for a return to championship-level status when Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to form the nucleus of the revamped Lakers two years ago.

It never happened. Injuries and inconsistent play derailed that train before it ever got on the tracks. They scrambled their way into the eighth and final playoff spot at the end of the 2012-13 season, but Bryant suffered a torn Achilles and was unavailable for the postseason (they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs) and Howard bolted for Houston in free agency in July.

Reports that D’Antoni wanted the Lakers to pick up the team option on the fourth year of his contract, after a dreadful 27-55 season no less, surfaced in recent days. The Lakers reportedly refused to pick up the second year of his contract last week, per ESPNLosAngeles.com.

D’Antoni felt he wouldn’t have any chance at success without some job security, and you could argue he shouldn’t when you consider that he actually survived this season. Sure, there were injuries galore and drama that was beyond D’Antoni’s control. Bryant played just six games. Nash played 15. Gasol was in and out of the lineup and unable to find a rhythm or fill the leadership void.

But this Lakers’ crew wasn’t going far with Bryant and Nash healthy. They had absolutely no shot without those veteran stars leading the way. There was turmoil from the start and some of the most embarrassing moments in franchise history — that 48-point beating from the Los Angeles Clippers still stings — occurred under D’Antoni’s watch. The Lakers had the second worst season (.329 winning percentage) in their history and their lowest win total since moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis.

“Given the circumstances, I don’t know that anybody could have done a better job than Mike did the past two seasons,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “On behalf of the Lakers, we thank Mike for the work ethic, professionalism and positive attitude that he brought to the team every day. We wish him the best of luck.”

Other more famous folks with deep Lakers’ ties simply wished him good riddance …

Where the Lakers go from here is simple; back to school. College, specifically, to grab Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski. And before you go crazy, hear me out on this one.

With a top-10 Draft pick and plenty of salary cap space to work with this summer, the Lakers have everything working in their favor. And that’s why they need to go bold with this next hire. They need a program builder. They need someone to repair the culture and start over with whatever new and improved cast they can put together around Bryant, Nash and whoever else they consider a part of the core.

They’ve pursued Coach K before, unsuccessfully, of course.

They need to get it right this time around.

We’ve seen the way Krzyzewski handles himself with NBA players. He’s been masterful with USA basketball. The NBA’s biggest stars — from Bryant and LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony all the way down the line — not only respect him, they go all-out for him in ways that many NBA types feared they would not when he joined Jerry Colangelo‘s program.

I’m not saying Krzyzewski is the only choice. No one could blame the Lakers if they go the traditional NBA route and tap a George Karl, Jeff or Stan Van Gundy or even someone with Lakers ties like Byron Scott.

They could even try to lure Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo or even Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, guys with great relationships with certain NBA players who could be key free agents in the coming seasons.

But the two best men for the job already have pretty good or great ones. The Zen Master is making a mint in New York to fix the Knicks and insists he’s done coaching. He’s off the list.

Krzyzewski  could stay at Duke forever. And he might, if Bryant and the Lakers can’t convince the universally respected coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team to finally take the leap and give the NBA a shot!

Morning Shootaround — April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kupchak: Calipari not headed to Lakers | Irving, Waiters try to squash rift talk | Johnson to help NBPA | Report: Dumars set to resign soon | Suns making one last push for No. 8

No. 1: Kupchak: Calipari not headed to L.A. — Just before the start of last night’s NCAA Tournament national championship game between Kentucky and UConn, former Kentucky star Rex Chapman floated a little rumor/bit of potential news on Twitter about Kentucky coach John Calipari:

After the game — which UConn won 60-54 — both Calipari and the Lakers shot down the rumor. of the Los Angeles Times and Brian Hamilton of SI.com have more on the story:

Nothing like putting out a juicy oh-by-the-way rumor before the biggest college basketball game of the season.

But former Kentucky star Rex Chapman tweeted before Monday night’s national title game that Kentucky Coach John Calipari will be the next coach of the Lakers.

Chapman doesn’t site any sources or offer any timetable. Calipari said this week he was probably going to need his hip replaced shortly after Monday night’s title game between Kentucky and Connecticut.

The Lakers denied have any conversations with Calipari.

“I spoke to [General Manager] Mitch Kupchak and he said the rumor is untrue,” Lakers spokesman John Black said. “Mike D’Antoni is our coach. There have been no conversations about any specific names for any replacement.”

Calipari had a 72-112 in three seasons with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s.

And here’s Hamilton’s report after the national championship game, in which Calipari shot down the rumor:

To believe a former program star’s tweet shortly before tipoff Monday, John Calipari was coaching his final game on the Kentucky sideline before bolting to the Los Angeles Lakers.

To believe Calipari, he won’t need change of address forms anytime soon.

“The Lakers have a coach,” Calipari said after a 60-54 loss to Connecticut in the national title game. “Kentucky has a basketball coach. I got the best job in the country. I’m not going to even dignify that stuff.”

The Lakers reportedly denied any contact with Calipari. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart sounded unconcerned after the game.

“Cal’s been great, he’s been a great ambassador for this program and he cares a lot about Kentucky,” Barnhart said in the locker room Monday night. “So clearly we love how he represents what we do. He looks great in blue. You live day to day with people and you trust what they do. For five years now, I think I know him fairly well. If there was anything I need to be concerned with, he and I have had conversations, and in those conversations he’s been very, very focused on this tournament. His total focus this season, especially this last month and a half, has been to get the team to a spot where we could compete for something like this. I think he’s done a marvelous job doing that.”

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No. 2: Irving, Waiters try to squash talk of rift — The Cavs wake up on Tuesday morning and find themselves four games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 playoff spot in the East. Cleveland has plenty of talent — led by All-Star guard Kyrie Irving — but has never seemed to get on the right page on the court all season. Some of that may stem from a chemistry issue between Irving and second-year guard Dion Waiters. There were reports earlier in the season the duo fought at a players-only meeting, and now, other Cleveland-area sports figures are chiming in on the discord. The two players talked to the media after yesterday’s practice and, as Bob Finnan of The News-Herald & The Morning Journal reports, tried to quiet talk about their supposed discord:

It might be time for TMZ to swoop in.

Better yet, it might make for a new reality series.

The Cavaliers are on the verge of being eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race. One more Atlanta victory in its last six games will end the Cavs’ run.

Yet the Cavs were more intent on showing what bosom buddies Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are. They also wanted to deny a claim by Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon there is any kind of a rift between the two guards.

The Cavs propped up Irving and Waiters in front of the media on April 7 after practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts, just to promote an aura of unity.

Waiters said he was friends with Irving long before he came to the Cavs. They crossed paths in the AAU circuit.

“I just think, man, throughout this whole year with us two not liking each other, it’s total BS,” Waiters said. “We’ve been friends before we even made the NBA, before any of this. I just think y’all saying we don’t like playing with one another. … Yeah, we still need to learn certain things, but I think at the end of the day, we’re genuinely friends. I love him as a friend, teammate, everything. I just want everybody to know that. I don’t hate this guy.

“I’m pretty sure he don’t hate me. I know he don’t hate me. I hope he don’t hate me. Rome wasn’t built in one day. We’re still young. We’re still planning to stay together. We’re still working. As long as we’ve got great communication down, it’s fine.”

Waiters admitted he was neighbors with Gordon and the two often play pool. But he said that’s where the story ends.

“He plays football. I play basketball. Two different sports. At the end of the day, I’m not going to go down there running my mouth on something that he don’t even know what’s going on.”

Irving said he called Gordon and cleared the air.

“I just let him know that the whole situation kind of got blown out of proportion,” he said. “There was no disrespect on my end to him or anything he does. I have the utmost respect for him. But what I was just trying to clearly say was what Dion has been reiterating: What goes on with us, we want to keep it within us.

“We’ve had numerous occasions where we’ve been in the media about me and Dion’s relationship. I think me and him are just tired of it. I just want to move past it and play basketball.”

“I just hate when people put out stories that aren’t true,” he said. “Be man enough to come ask me. I’ll give it to you uncut. I don’t got nothing to hide. I think everybody knows my personality. I may not come off the right way, but I don’t mean no harm. Everybody gets tired of it, especially with our relationship. They don’t know what we do. You’re not going to always see eye to eye on the court.”


VIDEO: Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving address talk of a rift between them

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No. 3: Ex-Suns star Johnson to help NBPA exec search — Sacramento mayor and former Phoenix Suns All-Star Kevin Johnson already has an off-the-court NBA win, of sorts, by playing an instrumental role in helping keep the Sacramento Kings in town. Now, Johnson is trying to help the National Basketball Players Association find its next executive director as it recovers from the fallout of the firing of former NBPA president Billy Hunter. Our David Aldridge has more on the move:

Responding to criticism of its ongoing selection process to find a new executive director, the National Basketball Players Association announced Monday that former NBA player and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson would head a retooled search to fill the position no later than the start of the 2014-15 season.

Johnson, who spearheaded the effort that kept the Kings in Sacramento last year after the team’s former owners had agreed to a deal with a Seattle-based group that would have moved the team to Washington state, will chair a search committee of, according to a statement released Monday by the union, “outside professionals with unique NBPA and executive search connections and experiences to guide the Executive Committee.”

Johnson will continue to serve as mayor while helping the union pick a permanent successor to Billy Hunter, who was fired by the NBPA in 2013 amid investigations into his business practices while running the union.

“I have a deep passion for the NBA and the promise it has for everyone connected to it,” Johnson said in the statement. “Everything I’ve been able to achieve in life was a result of embracing the opportunities I had as an NBA player.”

Bringing in Johnson, a former star with the Suns who has credibility with players and displayed his coalition-building chops in putting together the unlikely group that kept the Kings in Sacramento, is a signal by the union that its membership—many of whom, including its president, Chris Paul, will be busy the next couple of months in the playoffs—may need outside assistance in getting its house in order.

During All-Star weekend in February, union members were introduced to two candidates that were believed to be the finalists for the job — David White, the executive director of the Screen Actors Guild, and Michele Roberts, a partner at the powerful law firm Skadden, Arps. But the process was decried as too secretive and not inclusive by agents and by potential candidates for the job, most notably former player Danny Schayes.

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No. 4: Report: Dumars poised to resign soon — Since June 18, 1985, Joe Dumars has known no other NBA franchise as well as he knows the Detroit Pistons. It was on that day that Dumars was selected by the team with the 18th pick in the 1985 Draft, starting a lengthy career in the Motor City. But after winning two championships as a player (1989, 1990) another one as the team’s president (2004), Dumars has had a rough go with the team as he’s tried — and failed — to rebuild them following that last championship run. Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News reports that Dumars, who has been rumored to be fired at season’s end, may resign once 2013-14 is in the books (if not sooner):

As the Pistons prepare to ride out the last two weeks of the regular season, the sun might be setting on Pistons president Joe Dumars’ reign with the only franchise he’s known.

Dumars has told multiple sources within the NBA that he plans to resign — possibly as soon as this week — after a busy offseason that included the signings of high-priced free agents Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and led to an underachieving 2013-14 season. The Pistons, who many experts picked to return to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, are 28-49 and out of playoff contention.

Pistons owner Tom Gores had expected before the season that the team would return to the playoffs.

Compared to his contemporaries, Dumars has been reluctant to be front and center with media as Pistons president of basketball operations and has been quieter than usual recently, perhaps another signal that his time with the franchise — 29 years of work as a player and executive — is coming to an end.

Dumars took over in 2000, one year after retiring as a player, and immediately began making changes, culminating in an NBA title in 2004 and a return trip to the Finals the next season.

After the Pistons’ run ended in 2008, Dumars began a plan to tear down his aging team, in an effort to prevent an extended period of irrelevancy — not unlike his Bad Boys teams after they fell from dominance.

Trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson in November of 2008 was the first salvo, as he wanted to build around second-year guard Rodney Stuckey, but months later, after Davidson fell ill and soon passed away, Dumars’ plan was put on hold indefinitely.

Davidson’s widow, Karen, soon announced her plans to sell, so Dumars couldn’t rebuild on the fly — or even reload. Dumars signed free agents Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to deals neither lived up to, and Davidson ceased all transactions soon thereafter.

In the 2009-10 season, the first with Gordon and Villanueva, the average salaries of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs was $74.37 million. The Pistons’ overall salary was $58.59 million, and they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and haven’t returned since.

Dumars didn’t execute a single transaction during the 2011-12 season, as Karen Davidson negotiated with local sports owner Mike Ilitch and Gores all season long.

It was a backdrop in the most tumultuous season in team history, as Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton began to openly defy then-coach John Kuester, even taking part in a team boycott in Philadelphia in February 2012.

A little over a month later, Karen Davidson and Gores reached an agreement, right before the NBA lockout, and Dumars was unable to create the same magic working with Gores that he’d accomplished with Bill Davidson.

Gores wanted Lawrence Frank as his coach, and Dumars wanted Mike Woodson, a former assistant with Detroit who’d just led the Atlanta Hawks to a string of playoff appearances.

Frank became the choice, and the sides have not been able to get on the same page. Gores was a new owner with his own ideas, often consulting others outside the Pistons organization for advice, such as Dave Checketts and later, Phil Jackson, acts that never occurred under Bill Davidson’s watch.

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No. 5: Suns hoping to seize their playoff moment — Who hasn’t loved the story of the Phoenix Suns this season? The squad was written off before the season as a group that would be lucky to win 20 games by some experts’ estimation (including some on this very site). But under the guidance of new coach Jeff Hornacek and their star guard combo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix finds itself with a tenuous grasp of the No. 8 spot in the West. As Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic writes, the Suns aren’t about to get all warm and fuzzy about their season — they’re too focused on finishing the job and making the playoffs:

With their best back-to-back wins of the season this weekend, over Portland and Oklahoma City, the Suns kept control of their fate.

“We know that time is running down and we just can’t fail,” Suns guard Gerald Green said. “It’s all or nothing right now. We don’t have a month left to try and make up. We’ve only got a few games left. It’s either win or go home for us.”

The Suns’ playoff picture seems to have been whittled to a three-team race for the final two spots in the Western Conference. The Suns are in the eighth and final playoff slot at 46-31, a half-game behind Dallas (47-31) and a game ahead of Memphis (45-32) with round-robin scheduling ahead when each of the three teams faces each other over the season’s final five nights, starting Saturday.

No team in the 16-team playoff era has failed to make it to the postseason with 49 wins (Golden State was left out at 48-34 in 2008). No 50-win team has ever been left out, although a 49-33 Suns team did not make the 1972 playoffs, when only four teams in the Western Conference qualified.

Although they just won two of the toughest games of their nasty April, tough tests remain: Four of the five remaining games are on the road, starting with a three-game trip this week to New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas. On Saturday, that crucial Dallas game falls on the second night of a back-to-back set.

If favorites won the remainder of the games, the Mavericks and Suns would finish 49-33 and advance to the playoffs as the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds, respectively, by finishing a game ahead of Memphis at 48-34. Unpredictability still probably lies ahead, which would be right in accord with a Suns team pegged for last place but in a playoff hunt.

While ESPN and other outlets’ playoff-probability odds leave Phoenix out, they do not account for momentum. The Suns are 8-2 in the past 10 games, while Dallas is 6-4 and Memphis is 5-5. The Suns shot a season-high 58.4 percent Sunday against a Thunder team that was ranked third in the NBA this season with a 43.3 opponent field-goal percentage.

As the Suns’ postseason chances grow, so does their support. The Suns had a sellout crowd Sunday for the third time since the All-Star break. Their ratings boom on Fox Sports Arizona continues with an average game broadcast rating of 2.2, nearly doubling last season’s 1.2 average. Sunday night’s average rating was 3.9 (70,301 Valley households), with a peak of 5.4 (97,340 Valley households).

Award votes are being cast around the league with growing sentiment for the Suns to pull off a sweep that would be unprecedented if the franchise had not already been the only one to do it.

Dragic, Markieff Morris and Jeff Hornacek could pull off a team sweep of the NBA’s Most Improved Player, Sixth Man and Coach of the Year awards for the first time in a quarter-century. When Hornacek played for the 1988-89 Suns, Kevin Johnson, Eddie Johnson and Cotton Fitzsimmons won the same awards for a team that went from 28-54 to 55-27. These Suns will wind up with nearly the same win increase after last season’s 25-57 eyesore.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down the race for No. 8 in the West

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tony Parker will be day-to-day with a back strain … Like it or not, it looks like the Atlanta Hawks are playoff-bound … Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has a challenging offseason of roster moves ahead of him … Sixers coach Brett Brown has learned a lot about analytics by working under GM Sam Hinkie

ICYMI of the Night: Yesterday was all about the NCAA Tournament and the national championship game (congrats to UConn, BTW), but before all of that took place, the Hall of Fame named its class of 2014. Among the names were NBA legends Alonzo Mourning and Mitch Richmond, both of whom chatted with GameTime last night about their hoops immortality … 


VIDEO: Alonzo Mourning and Mitch Richmond talk about their Hall of Fame election

 

Hang Time Q&A: John Wall On ‘His Wizards,’ The Evolution Of His Game And RG III




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — John Wall is far from a finished product. And he knows that better than anyone. 

The Washington Wizards’ point guard and one of the budding stars in a league filled with potential young stars, Wall is currently working through the process of handling responsibilities as the face of a franchise and a player capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Wall’s off-the-court leadership has grown considerably the past couple of seasons and might be the most critical component for a Wizards franchise that has invested in him for the future to the tune of five-years and $80 million.

Wall reflected on his journey, his future, the Wizards’ playoff hopes, Robert Griffin III and much more in a recent sit down with NBA.com:

NBA.com: What is different about this vibe of this group as opposed to last year or the year before?

JOHN WALL: I think how we came back as a group when I returned from my injury and just playing with the guys, we all liked each other as a team, even though we weren’t winning as much, and enjoyed playing with each other. It’s a trust thing. It’s the first time I can honestly say in my three years playing here that we all enjoyed one another. Nobody cared who scared who scored. We were all committed to what coach wanted us to do defensively and that’s how we came into this season and knew how good we could be.

NBA.com: What about the consistency factor, you guys had so many names and faces come in and out of the lineup? There’s been a lot of movement, personnel wise, since you were drafted.

JW: Basically, the biggest thing was staying consistent in everything we do. Me, trying to get healthy and doing the same things to get better. Staying consistent and knowing what guys you would have on the team in a given year and that guys weren’t going to get traded. We’ve got a good core of guys that we know will be there and what we want to do with those guys. It helps when you are planning long term because a plan is in place and you know exactly what your roles are and what you need to do.

NBA.com: Guys always talk about that turning point or that moment when the light goes on for them. For you, was that moment sitting out the start of the 2012-13 season, learning, watching, processing what goes on from a different perspective other than being on the court?

JW: I think that was the biggest turning point for me, sitting out that long, even though I didn’t want to sit out. Just getting the chance to study the game better helped me. Watching my teammates and seeing what they were great at and then knowing how I could come back and make the situation better, is what helped me. I think those guys made it a lot easier for me. Having Nene and Emeka Okafor knock down shots and finish. Having Brad [Beal] and Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza playing as well as they played. It was the first time I had guys do that and trust in me to lead the team and be their point guard. It makes a difference.

NBA.com: When you came into the league the East was loaded with top teams from Boston, Miami and Chicago to Atlanta and even Orlando. Things have changed dramatically since then. The Eastern Conference is wide open. Is there a now or never feel to this season for you guys, sort of like the door is open and you better get through it now or else …?

JW: It’s a great opportunity. And if you fall short right now, you are basically not committed to getting to where you want to be in this league, whether it’s the playoffs or whatever. My first three years, everybody was loaded. Now there is like four or five teams rebuilding at the same time. And that’s rare in this league. You have to make sure you have a good understanding of where you are as a team and be ready to jump in there if it’s your time. And I think it’s our time right now.

NBA.com: You had an owner (Ted Leonsis) who wasn’t shy about putting the pressure on his shoulders and also yours in terms of bringing the franchise back to a playoff level. He’s banked on you being an elite player and a franchise player. Does that add any extra pressure when you are already the No. 1 pick in your Draft and get the huge contract extension?

JW: I could tell the difference last season when I came back from my injury, just by the type of conversations I was having with my coach (Randy Wittman) and the things we were talking about and my owner and the meetings we were having. It wasn’t just about me improving and getting better, it was about a vision we all had for me and what that means for this team and this franchise. Being in on the planning process and being there from the start makes it different. The general manager coming to me throughout the summer and letting me know this is my team and making sure I understand that I have to lead, that’s all a part of the plan now. And I think I’ve put in the work to do it.

NBA.com: People always talk about putting in the work, but how has your work ethic changed since you’ve been in the league?

JW: My rookie season I didn’t know what to expect coming in. My second year was kind of tough because it was the lockout year. I was working my tail off but I really didn’t know what to do, because there was so much uncertainty. Last year was my first year to really understand the NBA game and comprehend what it was I needed to do and what I needed to work on. Then I get diagnosed with the knee injury and everything went sideways. So this summer I came in early and made sure everything was right, made sure I was healthy. And learning how to change the pace of a game, working on my body and improving my jump shot, those were the things I worked hardest on. I’m constantly getting better in all facets of my game and I think I can keep getting better and better.

NBA.com: Has the leadership component, particularly the vocal part, been tough for you? You’re not an older guy and you certainly don’t strike me as a very talkative guy. How hard do you have to work to remind yourself to be a leader in that respect?

JW: Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] helped me work on that. I’ve always been a guy that led by example. The vocal part I worked really hard on at Kentucky. He basically said you have to learn how to talk to certain guys. And you can’t go out and try to fuss and cuss guys out. You have to respect each and every guy in your locker room as a man. So I think that’s something I improved in. It helped that when I came back last year my teammates trusted me to be that guy, both with the ball in my hands on the court and without the ball in my hands off the court. Talking to them helped me improve in that area.

NBA.com: You’re also a part of USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team group. When you’re out there with all of the other best young players, all of the other top young point guards, what changes in terms of how you handle yourself and compete in that environment as opposed to being the face of the franchise in Washington?

JW: The toughest thing with that is you get to thinking like high school, especially when all the top point guards are out there. You want to battle it out with those other guys. But you are ultimately out there for USA Basketball, and that’s bigger than your name or the franchise you represent. So you try and just go out there and just play the game and get better, but also show the people in charge at USA Basketball that you can do whatever is asked of you if you are lucky enough to get the call and get asked to play in one of the international competitions. So it’s not an ego thing when you are in that environment.

NBA.com: You seem so much more measured and relaxed about things these days. Is this the most comfortable you’ve been on and off the court since you’ve been in the league?

JW: Yeah, 100 percent. I’d say 120 percent, the most comfortable I’ve been just talking to anybody and going into games, being on the court, and just feeling confident knowing this is the old me. My first three years, I was always kind of searching, how do I present myself and how do I do this or that the right way? The uncertainty is gone. This is the hardest position in the league to me. Every night somebody is coming at you. Seriously. You get no breaks. People can look at the schedule and you see Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon and those guys aren’t always talked about, but some of the toughest challenges I have is against guys like that. Because you have to show them the same respect you do a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.

NBA.com: You have a unique dynamic in D.C. right now, being the young face of a franchise in a city where another player in similar position (the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III) is going through a similar stage of his career at the same time. How strange is it to watch that roller coaster from so close and comparing it your own evolution?

JW: I feel for him right now, I really do. There are some parallels, but then again it’s totally different. He started off hot, Rookie of the Year and all of that stuff. My first couple of years there was a learning curve, some stumbles and a lot of learning to do. Now I feel like I’m finally getting there now, hitting my stride and now he’s struggling. It’s tough and it’s also a reminder of why you have to stay humble and hungry no matter what’s going on around you. Take nothing away from him, he’s still that same guy and still humble and hungry. But you have to be mindful of the fan base and what type of support they’re going to show you. When you’re struggling it gets frustrating for the fans and even more frustrating for us, because you know what you want to do for your city, the things you want them to experience with you playing your heart out day after day. It’s the same for him and the Redskins as is it for us, we’ve got a lot of young talent and people want that to turn into winning. The fans do and so do we.

Another Look: The 2010 Draft Do-Over!



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Once you’ve acknowledged the NBA Draft for the inexact science that it has been, is and forever will be, it makes looking back at past Drafts much easier.

You won’t be nearly as upset with the president or general manager of your favorite team when you glance back at a Draft and recognize just how many more misses there are than hits. Many guys pegged as future stars are barely holding on to starting spots just three or four seasons into their careers.

The hit-or-miss rate in the lottery is pretty staggering from year to year, especially when you consider the amount of financial and human resources teams spend on their Draft preparation. For every LeBron James or Derrick Rose as No. 1 overall picks and future MVPs, there is a Greg Oden or Andrea Bargnani to balance the scales — guys who for whatever reason simply are not able to live up to where they were drafted. And it goes on and on like that down each Draft board.

Most players only get two or three seasons to prove they are going to be a player to be reckoned with. Rookie deals are shorter these days, so the only way to curb the uncertainty is for a player to produce immediately. Three seasons of work is a quality sample in most cases.

Take the 2010 Draft class as Exhibit A. As of this morning, only two members of the class have extensions of their rookie deals: Washington’s John Wall and Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders are set. Indiana All-Star Paul George is a sure bet to get something worked out before the Halloween deadline and the Sacramento Kings would be wise to figure out their future with DeMarcus Cousins. But beyond those names, it’s unclear if anyone else in this class will be smiling when trick-or-treat season rolls around.

In the meantime, we’re going to examine the lottery selections from 2010 and unveil our the first in a series of our Hang Time Draft Do-Overs (lottery picks only), based on what we know now. Too bad the teams who made the original selections couldn’t do it this way.

Hang Time’s 2010 Draft Do-Over

Pick, Player, Position, College (where they were originally picked in 2010 Draft)

1. Paul George, SF, Fresno State (No. 10 by Indiana)

One of the brightest young stars in the league, George made his case for the top spot with a mercurial rise in his first three seasons that culminated with an All-Star nod last season and by battling LeBron James inch-for-inch in an epic seven-game Eastern Conference finals last season. It was a remarkable star turn for a player casual fans had barely heard of on Draft night.

2. John Wall, PG, Kentucky (No. 1 by Washington)

Plagued by uncertainty and a somewhat suspect supporting cast early on, Wall came on in the second half of the 2012-13 season. He shook off the after effects of knee surgery and played at an All-Star level in the Wizards’ final 49 games. He was the first member of the class to cash in with a five-year, $80 million extension earlier this month.

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3. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky (No. 5 by Sacramento)

Cousins has had more than his share of issues, on and off the court, but his raw talent remains undeniable. Whether or not he has the desire and work ethic to become the All-Star big man his talent suggests, however, also remains in question. Being dominant in flashes is not a sufficient existence for a player with his talent.

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4. Larry Sanders, PF, Virginia Commonwealth (No. 15 by Milwaukee)

Sanders was undervalued on Draft night, but you couldn’t tell by his first two underwhelming seasons with the Bucks. But he came alive last season, turning in a season worthy of the Defensive Player of the Year consideration he received and finally becoming the consistent force his abilities suggested he should be. The Bucks rewarded him with that $44 million extension.

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5. Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown (No. 7 by Detroit)

Monroe isn’t as physically dominant as either Cousins, Sanders or Derrick Favors, but there’s a good chance he could end up being the most polished and productive big man in this class. He quickly developed into a low-post anchor for the Pistons and will now get the chance to work alongside Josh Smith and Andre Drummond as the franchise moves back into the playoff picture.

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6. Avery Bradley, SG, Texas (No. 19 by Boston)

Undersized as a shooting guard at the NBA level, Bradley saw his stock dip on Draft night. It was a foolish assessment by many, because Bradley has evolved into one an absolute lock-down defender at his position and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. It will be interesting to see if he continues to improve under coach Brad Stevens the way he did under coach Doc Rivers.

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7.  Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech (No. 3 by New Jersey)

Favors had to play behind veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap after being traded to Utah. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to him, too. Now that those veteran bigs have moved on via free agency, Favors will become the low-post anchor for the Jazz. He’ll become the walking double-double he should be now that he’ll have an expanded role.

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8. Gordon Hayward, SG, Butler (No. 9 by Utah)

Hayward has improved as much as anyone in the class between Draft night and this summer. He stood out among the young stars assembled in Las Vegas last month for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s mini-camp. A young Jazz team in need of leadership will get a solid boost in that department, and others, from Hayward.

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9. Eric Bledsoe, PG, Kentucky (No. 18 by Oklahoma City)

John Calipari was operating with an absolute embarrassment of point guard riches with Wall and Bledsoe on the roster at Kentucky together. Bledsoe had limited opportunities in 38 starts in three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers. Traded to Phoenix this summer, he should thrive now that he won’t be overshadowed by Chris Paul.

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10. Greivis Vasquez, PG, Maryland (No. 28 by Memphis)

A solid back up in Memphis, Vasquez proved himself to be a capable starter in two years in New Orleans and will try to do the same in Sacramento this season. With his size, savvy and fearlessness in the clutch, it’s hard to see how many teams missed on the former ACC star on Draft night.

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11. Evan Turner, SF, Ohio State (No. 2 by Philadelphia)

Turner has been a solid pro in his first three seasons, but the No. 2 pick in any Draft needs to be much more than solid. The Big Ten Player of the Year in college, Turner struggled to find his fit early on with the Sixers. But he blossomed in his third season playing alongside All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who was traded away this summer.

12. Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina (No. 13 by Toronto) 

It was understood that Davis was going to be a project, a guy with fantastic long-term potential that might not be realized until his fourth or fifth season in the league. So he’s right on target heading into his fourth season, his first full season in Memphis. Davis is still coming into his own physically and just needs more time.

13. Quincy Pondexter, SF, Washington (No. 26 by Oklahoma City)

A quality role player from the moment he set foot in the league, Pondexter carved out a nice spot for himself in the Grizzlies’ rotation over the past two seasons. While he’s not necessarily a future star, Pondexter is one of those players who should spend the next decade or so playing a significant role for whatever team(s) he’s on.

14. Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati (No. 40 by Indiana)

Stephenson had a lottery grade coming out of high school but saw his stick drop dramatically after one season at Cincinnati. He’s still wildly inconsistent and was a flat-out liability at times against the Heat during the Eastern Conference finals. But Larry Bird saw something in him on Draft night and continues to believe in his ability to contribute on a championship-caliber Pacers team.

Grizzlies GM Envisioned A Future With Marc Gasol As A League Laughed

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Memphis Grizzlies’ six-year rise from bottom-of-the-barrel in the West to playing for the conference crown is a story of intuition, perseverance, patience and, some might rightfully say, vindication for general manager Chris Wallace.

“I never looked for vindication. That’s not something that motivates me,” Wallace said. “Winning takes care of all issues in this league. We felt we had to take chances.”

Hired by former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley to remake a 22-win team that was of no competition, popularity-wise, for John Calipari‘s Memphis Tigers, Wallace put his vision in motion. When the team takes the court Sunday afternoon to begin the Western  Conference finals against the old standby San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis roster will include not one player from the day Wallace took control.

Rudy Gay, the last survivor, was dealt to Toronto in late January.

The first move for Wallace back in 2007 was drafting Mike Conley, now considered one of the most underrated point guards in the league. Conley was the No. 4 overall draft pick after Portland selected Greg Oden and Kevin Durant fell into Seattle’s lap and Atlanta tapped Al Horford.

The next move came on Feb. 1, 2008 and will go down as the franchise’s moment of truth. At that moment, however, it was perceived more like the moment of ultimate doom.

Wallace agreed to a trade that unleashed shockwaves of ridicule from, yes, the media, but also shockingly from within the league. The backlash, Wallace said, was so fierce that it damaged the team’s ability to conduct business in its own city as it set out to sell critical sponsorships and arena suites for the following season.

“People [potential clients] would list off all the big-name people [in the NBA] that had ridiculed us,” Wallace said. “It was like running the 100-meter dash with a 20-pound leg weight.”

Everyone knows the deal: Pau Gasol to the Lakers for his chubby, unheralded younger brother Marc Gasol, bust Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and a couple first-round draft picks. Stunning criticism crushed Wallace for getting fleeced while being backhandedly credited for handing the post-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers the keys to certain championships.

“I expect the media to shoot from the hip and not study the deal. That’s to be expected,” Wallace said. “I just shook my head. I had never seen that kind of response from inside the league. I don’t deny that was the assist for two Lakers championships, but we had to shake things up. We had never won a playoff game. We had been in the 20s [wins] and there was complete apathy in our market. Calipari and the Tigers were roaring at the time.

“When we went around the league, we weren’t going to get a tit-for-tat deal. We wanted to bring our salary structure down, get assets and draft picks. And no one else had a Marc Gasol.”

Marc Gasol attended high school in Memphis as Pau was becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. At 18, he returned to Spain to begin his professional career in the Spanish ACB league, largely considered the world’s second-most competitive league. In 2007-08 he was tearing it up.

“He was trending up so much at the time. He was on pace to be the ACB MVP,” Wallace said. “I said it at the time, I felt like the little boy crying wolf. There was no question Pau was going to flourish next to Kobe and could win several titles, but this deal couldn’t be judged for several years.”

Wallace said what puzzled him most about the barrage of criticism was the lack of knowledge among media and league insiders regarding the 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol, who went on to become the MVP.

“It’s not like he was playing in Mongolia,” Wallace said. “He was playing in the ACB.”

Gasol, about 20 pounds lighter these days at 260, blossomed into a 2012 All-Star and is the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s become an offensive force, honing a dangerous post game with an old-school mid-range set shot. He’s averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg while averaging 40.3 mpg during the franchise’s most successful postseason run.

Gasol’s low-post partner Zach Randolph came next in a deal in 2009. Wallace was in the right place at the right time, nabbing Randolph for Quentin Richardson. Randolph, who had had his issues at previous stops,had become expendable after just 39 games with the Clippers because L.A. was set to draft Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick and wanted to clear out the power forward position.

Tony Allen was picked up in the summer of 2010. Darrell Arthur has been a constant presence off the bench since being acquired on draft day in 2008. Greivous Vasquez, the 28th pick in 2010, was flipped for key reserve Quincy Pondexter. Sixth man Jerryd Bayless was signed as a free agent last summer.

“We were winning 20 games a year just four or five seasons ago,” Conley said. “Management did a great job getting guys in, guys that care. We’ve worked every day, kind of fell down the radar and now we’re here.”

So much has gone right leading to this historic moment for the Grizzlies franchise that it would seem clear-cut that Wallace has a long-term home with Memphis. But with new ownership having taken over at the start of the season, both Wallace and coach Lionel Hollins – a raging success story in his own right as he’s developed an initially young group of players into a hard-working defensive juggernaut emblematic of the city itself — are uncertain of their futures.

Hollins has coached all season on the final year of his deal. Wallace said he has years left, but has no guarantees.

“I hope to be able to stay here,” Wallace said.

USA Basketball: Lights, Camera, Action!

LAS VEGAS – A normal meeting between a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team and a John Calipari-coached team includes both sides boasting a bevy of high school All-American types.

The Nov. 13 Duke-Kentucky clash will include many of college basketball’s best and brightest prospects.

But tonight’s exhibition matchup at UNLV between the U.S. Olympic team, coached by Krzyzewski, and the Calipari-coached Dominican Republic team (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) will be a decidedly one-sided affair in favor of Krzyzewski’s crew.

The U.S. boasts 10 gold medalists and 12 of the NBA’s biggest and brightest stars. The Dominican team has just two NBA players on the roster, Hawks All-Star center Al Horford and Kings swingman Francisco Garcia.

But Krzyzewski insists that logistics have prevented his team from getting the smooth start to the training camp process that they need to be ready for the start of the Olympic competition in London in just two weeks.

Instead of showing up here last week with the 12-man roster already set, the final team wasn’t settled upon until after the second day of practice. Injuries to superstars like Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put several new faces in the mix for roster spots for London.

A delayed NBA season coupled with an earlier than usual start (July 27, as opposed to Aug. 8) to the Olympics and the machinations of free agency forced a staggered start to this process as well.

“It’s a disjointed start because we had to use the first couple of days for selection, free agency and then injury. So the early start of the Olympics puts us in that window of the NBA free agency,” Krzyzewski said. “In ’08 our practices started the 20th. We never had to deal with that and we didn’t have an injury at one position and free agency at the same position. So that has an impact. It’s a negative impact that we have to overcome.”

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