Posts Tagged ‘Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’

Dirk keeps climbing ladder of history

VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki jumper moves him past Shaq to No. 6 in all-time scoring.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, as they say in the “Star Wars” saga, a skinny young kid in Germany used to turn on his TV to NBA games late at night and watch a hulking monster named Shaquille O’Neal outmuscle and outplay opponents and the entire league to write his name in the record books.
Now more than two decades later, Dirk Nowitzki has used the power of his step-back jumper and assorted other moves like a light saber to move past O’Neal and write his own name into the No. 6 spot on the NBA all-time scoring list.

Nowitzki took a set-up pass from J.J. Barea, turned and nailed one of his trademark high-arcing jumpers with 9:51 left in the second quarter for his 10th point of the night at Brooklyn to climb the next rung on the history ladder. That brought his career total to 28,597.

Nowitzki, who finished with 22 points, got the game-winning layup with 19.2 seconds left in overtime as the Mavericks beat the Nets, 119-118.

O’Neal, who finished his 19-year career in 2011 with 28,596 points, was just nominated for the Naismith Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

“He’s probably arguably the most dominant big man that’s ever played this game,” Nowitzki told Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “So yeah, it’s still kind of surreal that I’m up there among these all-time greats.”

Nowitzki is sure to follow O’Neal’s Hall of Fame path when he eventually retires, but for now is still productively enjoying his 18th NBA season with the Mavericks, taking averages of 17.3 points and 7.0 assists into the game against the Nets.

Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have scored more points in the history of the league than the 37-year-old forward. Nowitzki and Bryant are also the only players in the top 10 all-time ranking that have played their entire career with one team. He ranks No. 2 among active players, behind Bryant.

Nowitzki has come a long way since entering the league as the ninth pick out of Wurzburg, Germany in the 1998 draft by Milwaukee, going to Dallas in a prearranged deal and then struggling to find his footing in a rough rookie season.

But with a steady, relentless work ethic and a game that expanded the boundaries of what it was thought a 7-footer could do, Nowitzki was named an All-Star 13 times, won the MVP award in 2007 and took Dallas to the NBA Finals twice, leading the Mavs to the only championship in franchise history in 2011.

“It just speaks to how special he is, how special his career has been, the amount of work that he’s put into it, the level of which he really lives the game on a day-to-day basis,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “All of that stuff is just so historic it’s hard to put into words. And I know Shaq is a guy that he really respects, as we all do.”

TOP 10 ALL-TIME NBA SCORERS

1 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387
2 — Karl Malone 36,928
3 — Kobe Bryant 32,897
4 — Michael Jordan 32,292
5 — Wilt Chamberlain 31,419
6 — Dirk Nowitzki 29,609
7 — Shaquille O’Neal 28,596
8 — Moses Malone 27,409
9 — Elvin Hayes 27,313
10 — Hakeem Olajuwon 26,946

TOP 10 ACTIVE SCORERS

1 — Kobe Bryant 32,897
2 — Dirk Nowitzki 29,609
3 — Tim Duncan 26,211
4 — Kevin Garnett 26,025
5 — Paul Pierce 26,010
6 — LeBron James 25,572
7 — Vince Carter 23,636
8 — Carmelo Anthony 21,533
9 — Dwyane Wade 19,293
10 — Joe Johnson 18,642

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 219) Kobe Reflections

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has begun.

And for all of the shining moments he’s provided during his two decades in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, the end will not be pretty. Since announcing Sunday that this will be his 20th and final season, the Lakers have continued their woeful ways on the court — losing in Philadelphia Tuesday night to get the Sixers off the 0-for-everything snide.

However, remembering Kobe for who he was to the Lakers, to the game and to the world requires us to reflect not on the recent past and this season in particular, but his entire body of work. The mind-boggling numbers, the titles, the countless moments when a ferocious Kobe took your breath away. They are memories now, magical moments shrouded in an avalanche of struggles for star and a Lakers team that has no chance of competing at the championship level they had grown accustomed to throughout the years.

Yes, Kobe will take his place alongside Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Shaq, Elgin Baylor and all-time greats to have worn the Lakers’ purple and gold. And he remains the closest thing we’ve seen to Michael Jordan since MJ.

But he will spend his final season waving to adoring crowds and doing the rocking chair routine he swore he wouldn’t. There will be no glorious walk off, no storybook ending for one of the most accomplished players to ever lace ’em up.

Father Time spares no one, not even the all-time greats. There is a price to pay for pushing yourself, your body, mind and spirit, to the outer limits.

And Kobe is paying in full right now.

That’s why we are taking the time to reflect on his past, present and future today on Episode 219 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Kobe Bryant discusses his final game in his hometown after a loss to the 76ers

Blogtable: Kobe’s place among Top 5 Lakers of all-time?

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: Kobe’s place in Top 5 Lakers hierarchy? | What will Kobe’s legacy be? | What was Kobe’s defining moment? | Do you see coaching in Kobe’s future?



VIDEOKobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talk on GameTime after a game in 2012

> Where does Kobe rank in your Top 5 Lakers of all-time?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kobe ranks second on my top-5, all-time Lakers list. And since I give bonus points to those who spent their entire career with the franchise in question, my list is 1) Magic Johnson, 2) Kobe Bryant, 3) Jerry West, 4) Elgin Baylor and 5) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kobe’s talents, drive, capabilities and accomplishments are second to none but Magic helped to revive both the Lakers and the league, is the point guard on my by-position all-time NBA team (Kobe is a backup) and remains my word-association response when I hear “Laker.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comTwo decades, five rings, 17 All-Star teams. It’s certainly enough to put Kobe into the conversation and I’ll respectfully listen. But Kareem and Magic are at the top of my list. One is the all-time leading NBA scorer with six MVPs and the other was the spark that lit the flame on five championship teams, nine Finals appearances in 12 years and began the modern era of the Lakers as the league’s most dominant franchise. I’ll put him a tie for third with Jerry West.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Second or third. I have always said Jerry West is No. 1 because he was a positive for the organization at most every level, a superstar as a player and executive and good in a brief run as a coach. After that, it’s Kobe and Magic or Magic and Kobe. Years after this question became commonplace, I still don’t know how to split 2 and 2A. Johnson was a great player, a leader and merely had a hand in turning the NBA into a global brand. Their ruthless pursuit of winning is similar. They both had to fit in with other Hall of Famers. There is no wrong answer. After that, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain follow in some order. I would put Wilt a tier below because he only had five seasons with the Lakers. Then it’s a Chamberlain-Shaquille O’Neal debate for the start of the second five.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Here’s the order: 1. Magic, 2. Kobe, 3. Kareem, 4. Jerry, 5. George Mikan. I give Kobe the edge on Kareem based on Laker longevity (Kareem started in Milwaukee) and Kobe owns more titles than West, although as players, they rate very close in my opinion. Nobody touches Magic. He’s Mr. Laker.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Second, behind Magic Johnson and ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and either Elgin Baylor or James Worthy. Longevity puts him ahead of Kareem and West, but I can’t put him ahead of Magic, who also played his entire career in L.A., had a much better winning percentage (.728 vs. .635), and was more of a galvanizing force, for both his teammates and the Lakers’ fanbase.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As great as Kobe has been over the course of his career, I’ve always been a believer that Magic Johnson is the all-time iconic Laker, over Kobe, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq and any of their other Hall of Famers. Magic remains No. 1 on my list with Kareem a close second and Kobe third. Being in the top three with two of the greatest five players in NBA history speaks volumes about the legacy Kobe has built during his unbelievable 20-year run in purple and gold.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Kobe and Magic Johnson are tied for first. They can’t be compared directly – head-to-head – because their eras were so different. Some will downgrade Kobe’s first three championships because he had Shaq, but can’t the same be said of Magic’s partnership with Kareem throughout the early 1980s? This is going to make more sense in a few years, when it will be easier to put Bryant’s career into perspective, but for now I don’t feel right choosing between him and Magic.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Same as I had him last time — I think he’s the second-greatest Laker of all-time. But even if he won a title this season, I don’t know if he would leapfrog Magic Johnson, the greatest Laker in my estimation. (Then again, if Kobe could win a title with this Lakers team, he might be the greatest NBA player of all-time.)

Is Kobe the greatest Laker?

With Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement on Sunday, the string of praises and tributes are starting to pour in. Of course with any great player leaving the game one’s place in history will be debated. In August, we asked our stable of scribes across the globe if Bryant is the greatest Laker of all time. Here are their responses.


VIDEOPlayers around the league show their appreciation for Kobe Bryant

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOne’s first duty in answering any question of this sort is to be protective of the predecessors, whether it’s a ’68 Mustang supposedly being eclipsed by the 2015 model or in this case, Kobe Bryant elbowing ahead of Jerry West and Magic Johnson. It’s hard to argue against “The Logo,” one of the best and classiest acts in NBA history, but Bryant – with his rings, his stats totals and his MVP trophy – has climbed higher among the game’s notables, which moves him past West as a swell Laker. I’m holding firm on Johnson, though, as the face of that franchise. We can quibble about the “greatest” definition, but Johnson was remarkable as a 6-foot-9 point guard who helped revive both the Lakers and the league with his team play and his smile. He also is my point guard on any by-position all-time team I put together and Bryant is a backup. So that splits my final hair here.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You can put him in the conversation and I’ll listen. But Kareem and Magic are at the top of my list. One is the all-time leading NBA scorer with six MVPs and the other was the spark that lit the flame on five championship teams, nine Finals appearances in 12 years and began the modern era of the Lakers as the league’s most dominant franchise.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry West is. He was a star as a player and a star as a general manager. It would be hard to find anyone who  impacted any organization in any sport so much. West had massive roles in championships on different levels. He coached the team as well. There is no reason to diminish anything Kobe has accomplished. But “The Logo” is the greatest Laker.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Magic Johnson is No. 1. Kareem is No. 2 only because he spent a chunk of his prime in Milwaukee. Then Kobe. By giving Kobe the nod over Jerry West and Elgin Baylor speaks plenty about the brilliance of Kobe’s career, because Elgin and Jerry were certainly no slouches (from what I understand; they were before my time). Kobe got buckets, was clutch and raised his game in the post-season. And aside from injuries, he was all that for two decades.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s clearly on the short list, but I can’t put him ahead of Magic Johnson, who was the most important player on all five championship teams he played on, had one of the three greatest Finals performances of all-time (1980, Game 6), and was obviously more of a galvanizing force for the Lakers, making his teammates better. I’ll always wonder if Kobe could have won more if he trusted his teammates just a little bit more.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. 1? Wow. That’s a tough one. I can’t go there, though, having lived through the Showtime Lakers era and seeing the impact Magic had on not only Lakers fans, but fans everywhere. Kobe’s right up there among the franchise’s greatest players ever, and perhaps even a 1A to Magic, but I can’t give him that No. 1 spot ahead of Magic.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going to say that Kobe rates No. 1, based on his longevity and the fact that he never had so much talent around him as Magic Johnson had in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott and the rest. Kobe led from a more vulnerable position, in a league that was more competitive top-to-bottom.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think he’s top three. To me, the top trio is Kobe, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And within that trio, I’d have Kareem third. Magic and Kobe may each have five titles, but when you consider their places in history, Magic came into the NBA at a time when it was struggling, and he helped transform it into the international behemoth it is today. Purely as a basketball player, Kobe may retire with the better career numbers, but being a Laker isn’t only what happens on the court. And in that sense, to me I don’t know if anyone will ever surpass Mag

Morning shootaround — Nov. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Enes Kanter paying off in OKC? | Warriors owner Joe Lacob opens up | Jimmy Butler got tips from the greatest Bull | Pacers boss Larry Bird is still big on Boston

No. 1: Enes Kanter paying off in OKC? — He opened the season coming off the bench, is often back on the bench in a tight fourth quarter and at best is the No. 3 option for the Thunder. Is Enes Kanter really worth the massive contract he signed last summer? Well, it’s a matter of perspective. OKC was virtually forced to match the offer sheet and keep him, if only because you don’t surrender assets for nothing in return. Besides, he is a gifted offensive player. For those who feel the Thunder aren’t getting their money’s worth here in the early season, Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman has a different take:

Enes Kanter signed a max offer sheet with Portland this offseason, giving the Thunder three days to pick between two options — match or decline. Keep Kanter or don’t.

The argument against was simple. It was a four-year, $70 million overpay that included a dreaded player option at the back end. Even in a market flush with escalating money, the long-term pact seemed steep for a one-sided, defensively challenged skill set.

But it was never much of a choice. The Thunder’s eventual decision to match wasn’t just a smart one, but an obvious one and, to them, the only one. The alternatives made it so.

Let’s say OKC, entering a crucial year in the franchise’s history, declined to match, choosing to go cheaper on a big man. Because of salary cap restrictions, the Thunder’s only method to add a piece on the open market would’ve been through a minimum deal or the taxpayer mid-level exception.

Here’s a list of the 14 free agent big men who signed in that price range this offseason: Jeff Withey, Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, Kendrick Perkins, Amar’e Stoudemire, Cole Aldrich, Kevin Seraphin, Eric Moreland, Boban Marjanovic, Joel Anthony, JaVale McGee, Salah Mejri, Cristiano Felicio and Shayne Whittington.

Draw from a bargain bin of aged, severely flawed or unknown out-of-the-rotation fill-ins? Or retain a highly skilled 23-year-old offensive center with the capabilities of putting up Sixth Man of the Year-type numbers off the bench?

Wanting to maximize its talent ceiling around Kevin Durant, who is famously entering free agency this offseason, the Thunder chose Kanter. Eight games into that scrutinized mega-deal, Kanter is helping prove OKC correct.

“Enes has been great for us,” Durant said.

His positives are obvious and rarely disputed. Kanter is the most skilled interior offensive presence the Thunder has had in its short franchise history, notching all 11 of the organization’s 20-point, 10-rebound games from a center.

Kanter’s 26 offensive rebounds are tied for sixth most in the league this season. Multiple times per game, he flips an empty Thunder possession into two points with a crafty, position-based rebound-putback. He’s averaging 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds and doing it in only 21.4 minutes per game.

“He’s a force down there,” Durant said. “You can say what you want about him, but you can book him for (those numbers).”

Kanter’s 19.7 rebounds per 48 minutes trail only the outrageous Andre Drummond (24.9) and DeAndre Jordan (19.9). Among centers, his 27.5 points per 48 minutes trail only Jahlil Okafor (29.3) and Brook Lopez (28.2).

***

No. 2: Warriors owner Joe Lacob opens up — He’s the owner of the hottest team in the NBA and a fresh NBA championship ring, and that makes Joe Lacob a happy man. Lots has changed since he bought the Warriors five years ago and heard boos from the crowd (Rick Barry famously told the fans to pipe down, that Lacob was the best thing to happen to the club in a long time). The Warriors have reached the playoffs three times and won a title. Lacob has a new arena underway in San Francisco and a team that still hasn’t touched its prime. In so many ways, he’s sitting on a gold mine. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group hitched a ride with Lacob from his home to a recent game and took good notes:

When it was closing time, Lacob refused to get off the phone until it was officially done. They were supposed to be boarding a helicopter. The pilot — looking to complete his last route before he and his colleagues went on strike — pressured Lacob to get onboard.

“And where were we going that day?” Lacob asked, taking his eyes off the road to set up the punchline. “We were going by helicopter to Delphi in Greece. Which is famous for the Oracle. The Oracle of Delphi. To which I then said, ‘We’re off to see the Oracle.’ The irony, right?”

Reflection is how Lacob gets to the happy place he wants for this night. He starts reliving the crazy stories along the way.

The struggles that were debilitating at the time but are now hilarious, such as the painstaking task of replacing the franchise’s top executives.

The hours-long conversations with his cohorts in the trenches, like the hours he spends on the phone with Bob Myers.

The curve balls that came in the middle of the night, like the news of Monta Ellis being sued for sexual harassment.

“The reason this is so important is because of the process and how hard it’s been,” Lacob said as he merged onto Interstate 280 while driving to the arena. “Only Nicole knows fully how hard it’s been. All of that really is what I remember more. It’s the getting here. All the work. The firing of various people and the hiring. All the big trades. The booing. You remember all the things it took to get there, to get the championship. A lot of stuff had to happen, and it’s the details that make this meaningful.”

Lacob’s attention immediately shift to Highway 280. Sometimes it takes 50 minutes to get from his home to Oracle. Sometimes it takes 2 hours.

He likes to get to the arena by 6 p.m. for 7:30 pm games. He needed to be their earlier this night for the pregame ceremony. The worry shines through his eyes as he points to the logjam in front of him.

“Look at this,” he says with a twinge of irritation. “This is bad.”

Curran has seen much worse. That guy you see living and dying with every play on the sidelines at Warriors games, that’s a mild version. Curran sees the unfiltered version.

 

***

No. 3: Jimmy Butler got tips from the greatest Bull — He has improved gradually ever since he joined the club, morphing from a defensive specialist to one of the better all-around guards in the league, and then cashed in last summer. Life is good for Jimmy Butler, and that’s due in part to Michael Jordan. During his development, Butler sought out the six-time NBA champ and that was a wise move. Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has the details:

What Jordan lesson made the biggest impression on Butler?

“How hard you have to prepare,” Butler told ESPN.com recently. “The games are the easy part, man. You got to work every single day, put in extra work to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Practice isn’t enough, you got to get in early, you got to stay late. You got to come back at night. He’ll let you know that because he did it, and look what it did.”

No one is comparing Butler to Jordan, but the Bulls have to love to hear that coming from their emerging star.

John Paxson spent eight seasons sharing a backcourt with Jordan and saw that fierce competitor in practice every day. Now the Bulls’ executive vice president, Paxson won’t compare Butler to Jordan — or any other player, for that matter — but that’s not the point. It’s Butler’s aspiration to be a Jordan-like worker that makes him proud.

“The one thing with Jimmy is, that’s a great bar to have. It’s not about achieving it. It’s about following that example that Michael gave,” Paxson said. “And the example is simple, it’s a simple formula: work hard, compete, value the game, respect the game. And Jimmy has. I think the unfair thing to say with Jimmy right now is he wasn’t that way. He just didn’t get a lot of chances prior to the last couple years. From my vantage point, Jimmy’s always worked hard, played hard and valued the game, so it’s obviously not a surprise that he’s put himself in this position.”

The 26-year-old Butler and Jordan built up a relationship after Butler started endorsing Jordan Brand, Jordan’s company under the Nike umbrella. This summer, Butler posted a picture of himself and Jordan at Jordan’s camp in Santa Barbara, California, after they had a shootout with a couple of young campers.

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No. 4: Pacers boss Larry Bird is still big on Boston — He always talked a good game, whether he was preparing to drill a three-point shot over a late defender or when asked his opinion on the game of basketball. Larry Bird runs the Pacers, of course, but his heart and thoughts are also in Boston, where he spent his entire Hall of Fame career winning titles and respect with the Celtics. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe caught up with Bird who, of course, had something to say, and all of it interesting:

“They talk about Chicago and Philadelphia. No. They don’t ever compare to Boston. I mean, there’s ladies in their 90s and they can name every player on the Red Sox and Patriots team. You just don’t have it anywhere like that.

“It’s unbelievable out there, and my gratitude to the fans out there is that I’d never root against them because I know how important sports are to them.”

Larry Legend didn’t take it too seriously when he first heard the deflated footballs charge after the Patriots waxed the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game last January.

“It doesn’t really matter. It was written about a lot around the country, but here in Indianapolis, most people knew. We knew the Patriots was going to beat them anyway. I thought it was pretty chintzy. People finally realized they would have beat us anyway. I just laughed about it.

“They got the footballs they played with and we got our footballs. And their footballs beat our footballs.

“I watch every one of the Colts games. I really like them. But my son loves all things about the Patriots. And I never root against the Patriots.”

I reminded Bird that the deflated footballs debacle was reminiscent of accusations often levied against Celtics godfather Red Auerbach — such as Pat Riley believing that Auerbach rigged the thermostat at the Old Garden to torture the Lakers.

“Right,’’ Bird agreed. “If that’s what they think, then now we’ve got them.’’

It’s a love story, this thing between Bird and Boston. Hub fans loved Bird the first time he showed up at Camp Millbrook in Marshfield in the summer of 1979, and it never changed. He could do no wrong, right through his retirement from the Celtics in 1992.

Almost a quarter of a century later, while Bird has raised a family and excelled as coach and president of the Pacers, he remains loyal to the folks who cheered him all those years on the parquet floor.

“I even rooted for the Red Sox against the Cardinals in those World Series,’’ he said. “That one took me to the dirt because you know I love my Cardinals.’’

Bird’s Pacers beat the Celtics in Indianapolis earlier this month. What does he think of today’s Green Team?

“They’re young and they play together and they’re fun to watch,” he said. “I haven’t really watched them that much. They seem like they’re going to be all right.’’

The Celtics have a lot of players with similar skill sets. Speaking as an ex-coach, what’s that like when doling out the playing time?

“Guys are always going to be pissed off whether they’re playing 30 minutes or 40 minutes or 10 minutes,” said Bird. “It’s the same old thing. The players are never happy.

“It all depends on how they’re playing and how the team’s doing. You can run into that problem. I don’t know if they have that problem. They seem like they get along pretty well, but they do have a lot of guys that are young and want their chance.

“Everybody wants their minutes. We’ve got the same problem.’’

Celtics coach Brad Stevens brings a college mentality to the pro game and tries to make his team play hard for the full 48. Is this realistic in the NBA?

“That’s the only way you get better,” said Bird. “I think the players understand that. I don’t know much about Brad Stevens even though he’s right here in Indiana, close to us. I think I just met him one time in Orlando at Summer League. I know he did a good job here at Butler, so you got the right coach.’’

Most players don’t stay in college very long. In today’s draft, do you really know what you’re getting anymore?

“We spend a lot more time now and have a lot more background checks,” said Bird. “We’re probably more familiar with them than we were 25 years ago.

“But they come in so young. We’ve got a couple kids that are 19 years old, and one of them is playing 20 minutes for us. I couldn’t imagine playing in the NBA at 19 years old.

“It’s tough for these kids. They go from being high school All-Americans to one year of college and being drafted high, and then they come in here and they expect they’re going to walk in here and take over, and that’s not the way it’s going to be.

“It takes time. So there’s a lot of hit and misses out there.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hedo Turkoglu retires and will be honored by the Magic in some manner. No word on whether the Raptors will follow suit … Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won a title in Milwaukee and then forced his way out of town in a trade, returned recently to say he thinks the Bucks are on the way backTrey Burke‘s move to the bench has Utah going in the right direction.

 

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Saturday, Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No call means no Clippers’ comeback | George eager to challenge James | Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: No call means no Clippers’ comeback — We’re not going to take seriously that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words. If we did, this Morning Shootaround would wind up unacceptably short and fail to provide the minimum daily nutrients for hungry NBA fans. Still, if you sought out one thing to capture what happened to the Clippers in their game against Houston at Staples Center Saturday night, this shot of L.A coach Doc Rivers would pretty much cover it:

The trigger for that anguished, incredulous look was Dwight Howard‘s defense of the rim in the final half minute that wasn’t ruled a goaltending. Blake Griffin missed a layup and a tip-in, either of which would have tied the game at 107-107, but his tip never fully got a chance when Howard batted at the ball to send it across the rim and eventually squirting out of bounds. A review of the possession – reviewing Howard’s maneuver isn’t permitted per NBA rules – determined it was Rockets’ ball and Ty Lawson‘s free throws sealed it for Houston. There were other factors in the outcome, certainly – Chris Paul (groin) did not play for the Clippers, while Patrick Beverley (concussion), Terrence Jones (eye) and Donatas Motiejunas (back) were out for Houston – and James Harden‘s 46 points had a little something to do with it. Still, as reported by the L.A. Times’ Ben Bolch:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the play involving Howard should have been called goaltending.

“I just thought it was a very clear one to call, but that’s not why we lost the game,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think we played very well and I didn’t think we had a great sense of urgency.”

And the Associated Press chipped in:

Paul, dressed in street clothes, came on the court during a timeout to make a case with one of the referees.

“That’s textbook goaltending,” Griffin said

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No. 2: George eager to challenge James — When Paul George and LeBron James clash Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) in one of the day’s two matinee games, it will be more than just a meeting of two guys with first-name-worthy surnames. It will be George’s first time on the court in opposition to James in more than 17 months. And if it doesn’t yet rekindle the same rivalry that existed between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat during James’ time in South Florida, facing the Cavaliers star in his second tour with Cleveland still packs significance for the Pacers’ young cornerstone guy. George’s eagerness for the matchup was reported by the Indianapolis Star:

The NBA’s landscape, for years, has shifted on James’ play, his dominance and his free-agent decisions. Now back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James has built his hometown team into the clear favorite to advance through the Eastern Conference and return to the NBA Finals.

George, after missing almost the entire season last year, is eager to once again face James.
“I’m excited. I’m very excited,” he said after a brief practice Saturday. “I’m one of LeBron’s biggest supporters. I look up to him, and he’s always been great to me. It’ll be exciting to have that matchup again. I’m one person in this league that really enjoys big matchups and enjoys competition.”

Their last meeting was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. James wore a Miami Heat uniform, and the Pacers were anchored by Roy Hibbert and David West. George scored a game-high 29 points. James finished with 25 and led the Heat to a 117-92 win that clinched their spot in the NBA Finals.

Two months later, James returned to Cleveland. A month later, George suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg during an intrasquad scrimmage of the USA Men’s Basketball team.

This season, James and Kevin Love have led the Cavaliers to a five-game winning streak entering Sunday’s game. George, after struggling to score in the Pacers’ 0-3 start, has found his rhythm and has led the team to three consecutive wins.

George said the Cavaliers are the ideal opponent for the Pacers to gauge themselves against this early in the season.

“That’s exactly what it’ll be,” he said. “Just finding our way, seeing where we’re at, where we compete, where we match up against the team that went to the championship last year. That’s where this team is wanting to go late in this year, so to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

***

No. 3: Timberwolves throw OT shutout at Bulls — It’s still early enough in the season to attribute the Chicago Bulls’ offensive inconsistency to the new style they’re playing under a new coaching staff headed by Fred Hoiberg. Nonetheless, when a team is celebrating its 50th season as an NBA franchise and manages to do something it never had done before in all that time, it is worth noting: the Bulls went scoreless in the extra five-minute overtime period in losing at home Saturday night to the visiting, and apparently underestimated, Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago was outscored 9-0 in OT while suffering through a 1-for-20 shooting freeze that began midway through the fourth quarter. Mike McGraw of the suburban Daily Herald provided details of what bore little resemblance to the Bulls’ spirited victory Thursday over OKC:

“I just don’t understand it, how you can play with as much energy as we did two nights ago and then just to expect to show up, I guess, and win the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to even fathom how that can happen.

“You get 82 opportunities to put your uniform and go out and get up for the game, play for your teammates and do everything you can to win. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Hoiberg is a first-year coach, but basing effort on the quality of the opponent has been a Bulls problem for a few years. Last season especially the Bulls made a habit of losing to subpar teams at home. Maybe Minnesota will end up having a good season, but for now this counts as a bad loss.

Derrick Rose did most of the fourth-quarter scoring against Oklahoma City. He didn’t score at all down the stretch against Minnesota, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.

“It’s all about effort. We’ll get tired of getting our butt whupped one day,” Rose said. “It’s all about just bringing out that championship-caliber effort every night. We’ve got to stay more consistent. We have to stay together while we’re out there.”

Rose wasn’t the only one who struggled. Jimmy Butler went 4-for-15 from the field. Nikola Mirotic was 1-for-8. Pau Gasol led the Bulls with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

Gasol, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, had some pointed words in the locker room.

“There are certain things you have to bring every night in the NBA in order to win games, and we didn’t bring that tonight,” Gasol said. “We allowed them to hang around all game long and at the end we paid the price.

“We’ve got to make up our minds on what we want to do going forward, what kind of team we want to be. Do we want to be an up-and-down team and a team that does OK but doesn’t really have a chance to win a title?

“So far, that’s what we’re showing.”

***

No. 4: Bucks reach back to own the future — Some NBA teams drip with history. Others have to grab it where they can. The Celtics and the Lakers never are going to lack for impressive alumni clubs and legacies that date back 50 and 60 years ago to some of the league’s most revered names and moments. Then there are the Milwaukee Bucks, who have known some really good times with the likes of Don Nelson, Sidney Moncrief and Ray Allen, but only one stretch of greatness. That run included the franchise’s only NBA title in 1971 and another trip to The Finals in 1974, and it was all made possible by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The two Hall of Famers were in Milwaukee Saturday as part of new Bucks ownership’s ongoing, multi-faceted push to revive the NBA market. Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was there:

The Big O might be a few pounds over his playing weight and the Big Fella is looking a bit fragile physically after battling heart problems and leukemia, but if you squinted hard enough it was 1971 again and the Bucks were running roughshod over the NBA en route to a 66-16 record and the franchise’s only championship.

“Milwaukee was a great NBA town when I played here,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We won the title once and vied for it a couple other years. People didn’t like coming here to play. They got whipped, pretty much.”

Can Milwaukee be that town again?

You wouldn’t have bet on it a few years ago, but unless we’re being sold a slickly marketed bill of goods — and that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case — it almost seems inevitable.

The franchise has been infused with energy, and even though the team hasn’t won a thing yet there’s an unmistakable swagger that starts at the top and permeates the organization. On opening night, co-owner Wes Edens introduced the Bucks as the “2016 champions” — a joke, perhaps, but one with a serious undertone of “Just watch us.”

“In talking with the new ownership, I’m really impressed with their vision and the fact that they’re looking to go all the way to the top,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That’s their focus. They’re not going to wait for it to happen. They’re going to be proactive about it.”

The vibe seems to be catching on in a city that had been largely apathetic about its NBA franchise for far too long. Even Mayor Tom Barrett was emboldened at the tailgate party, shouting into a microphone, “The Bucks are back! The Bucks are back! Milwaukee is back!”

Of course, the most important piece of the puzzle is putting a good product on the court. Time will tell, but even Abdul-Jabbar thinks the Bucks are close to being a contender.

“I’ve seen them play a couple times this season,” he said. “I think they’ve got good players. They may be one or two players away from winning it all.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Coach Byron Scott said the Lakers, when evaluating Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis prior to the Draft, felt it would take the lanky young man a while to develop. Turns out the Lakers got that wrong. … Sometimes the most telling column on a score sheet is a fellow’s minutes played. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker logged 24 Saturday, just 24 hours after playing 17 Friday, and that quick turnaround meant something in the Bucks forward’s recovery from ACL surgery. … Meanwhile, Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll might have to yield to the plantar fasciitis foot pain that has hobbled him lately. … And if we’re talking foot pain, it’s a good bet we’re talking Brooklyn center Brook Lopez at some point. The Nets big man with the history of right-foot issues had one again that forced him off the floor Saturday. Nothing broken, it turns out, but his status still is to be determined. … Deron Williams and the Dallas Mavericks got some positive reinforcement in beating New Orleans that they hope nudges the former All-Star point guard to bigger, more satisfying performances. … It might not seem fair to focus the burden of a team’s luxury-tax liability on the last player or two on a roster, but that’s how it goes for the players whose salaries aren’t guaranteed. Consider Jared Cunningham, whose $980,00 contract could end up costing the Cavaliers about $5 million by the time it and the taxes it triggers are lumped onto Cleveland’s massive payroll. …

Former Suns center Walk dies at 67


VIDEO: Take a look back at Neal Walk’s life and career

From NBA.com staff reports

Former Phoenix Suns standout center Neal Walk — perhaps best known for being selected with the pick after Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1969 Draft — has died at 67. The big man played eight seasons in the NBA, six of them with the Suns and also spent time with the New Orleans Jazz (1974-75) and New York Knicks (1975-77) before embarking in an overseas playing career.

His best season came in 1972-73 when he averaged 20.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg and 3.5 apg for a 38-44 Suns squad that missed the playoffs. After that season, he would log one more campaign in Phoenix before he was traded in the offseason to the Jazz, who later dealt him to the Knicks in February of 1975 (where Walk finished out his NBA career).

Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic has more on Walk, his legacy with the Suns and his career:

The Phoenix Suns do not have many people who can claim working in the organization for about two-thirds of its 46-year history and there are only two players who can claim a 20-point, 12-rebound season for the Suns.

Neal Walk’s legacy includes both.

Walk passed away Sunday night at age 67. He was at a Phoenix hospital after being in poor health in recent weeks for various medical reasons, 28 years after surviving surgery to remove a tumor on his spinal cord.

Away from unfair comparisons to Abdul-Jabbar, Walk had an exemplary five-year run at center in Phoenix and played eight NBA seasons before finishing his pro basketball career in Israel and Italy.

“My answer on the coin toss was always, ‘I didn’t toss it and I didn’t make the call. I just play basketball,’ ” Walk once told azcentral sports.

And he played it well.

Walk is the only Suns player besides Charles Barkley to average 20 points and 12 rebounds in a season. The 6-foot-10 center did so in his fourth year (1972-73), when he averaged 20.2 points, 12. 4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 38.4 minutes per game. His 1,009 rebounds that season is nine shy of the franchise record set by Paul Silas. He also had a 26-rebound game that was one off Silas’ franchise record.

Walk was a gritty rebounder with a left-handed shooting touch and a hook shot. He was an exemplary passer for a big man to the point that he led the Suns in assists (4.0 per game) during his final Suns season in 1973-74.

The unfair shadow of Abdul-Jabbar’s greatness never left Walk, even though Walk held his own with the greats at times. Walk posted a career-high 42-point game against Abdul-Jabbar in 1972. He still was booed at home, where the lack of support affected him.

“People didn’t appreciate how good he was on the court,” said Steve Rich, Walk’s longtime friend and former roommate. “He felt unappreciated. Instead of appreciating him for what he could do, they always compared him to Jabbar. He was as smart as any athlete I’ve ever met. Neal like it when he was seen that way.”

The Suns traded Walk in the 1974 offseason to New Orleans, but he was not the same player after shedding 25 pounds because of a switch to a vegetarian diet. He dropped to a 7.2 scoring average in 1974-75, when he was traded to New York. The Knicks waived him after 11 games in 1976.

After playing in Europe, Walk could not find steady work after basketball. He legally changed his name to “Joshua Hawk” as a part of a spiritual journey and admitted drug use during his career.

In 1987, a tingly feeling in his feet prompted a doctor’s visit that led to surgery to remove bone chips in his neck. During that surgery, it was discovered that a disk was pressing against his spinal cord with a lump between his shoulder blades. A subsequent surgery removed the knuckle-sized mass, which was benign, but he lost use of his legs.

Walk was considered an “incomplete paraplegic” who still experienced leg spasms.

Walk is survived by his wife, Georgia, and a brother.

 

 

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 7


VIDEO: Day Six Wrap: 2015 FIBA Americas Championship

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The reinvention of Anthony Bennett is real | Minute reductions for LeBron, Kyrie | White ready to take his place in Hall of Fame | Is Bradley Beal worth the max?

No. 1: The reinvention of Anthony Bennett is real — Anthony Bennett‘s summer has been one positive step after another, as the former No. 1 overall pick works to reinvent himself and prove that he’s not the “bust” some have labeled him. His work with Team Canada has only bolstered his cause. He’s been a bit of a revelation during the FIBA Americas tournament, playing a vital role on his national team, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun writes:

Anthony Bennett didn’t have the loudest stat-line, but Canada’s resurgent star continues to be a key contributor for the squad.

Bennett quickly earned the confidence of head coach Jay Triano at training camp, was perhaps the best performer at the Pan Am Games in Toronto and was solid in Puerto Rico, before faring well here as well.

“I think Anthony Bennett’s summer has been absolutely fantastic for us,” Triano said after Canada defeated Panama on Sunday.

“He’s engaged in everything that we do on the floor, off the floor, rebounding. We’ve asked him to rebound, and he’s done it on a continuous basis. He runs the floor on a continuous basis. He provides help on the defensive end. He understands our defensive system.”

Confidence is important to Bennett and with Triano letting him just go out and play, he seems relaxed and is having fun. He looked relaxed before the game, throwing down a self-alley-oop reverse dunk in the layup line, and kept going from there.

“Coach was saying, ‘just line ’em up and knock ’em down,’ ” Bennett said.

“This is definitely a fun tournament to play in. A lot of competition, different teams, different styles so you’ve just got to adjust.”

Triano is pleased for the former No. 1 overall draft pick, who has had a tough first couple of NBA seasons.

“We told him earlier this summer if you do those things people are going to understand he’s got a lot of other offensive skills,” Triano said.

“His ability to pass the basketball, his ability to get teammates open. I’m really happy for him as an individual and we need him to continue to play that way.”

***

No. 2: Minute reductions for LeBron, Kyrie — The workload LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put in during their first season together in Cleveland won’t look the same this time around, and that’s not just because Kyrie might not be available until January due to injury. It’s time for a reduction in minutes for both of the Cavaliers’ stars, according to Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer:

There was a report about Kyrie Irving not being ready to play until January.

No one knows for sure, as Irving is recovering from surgery to repair a fractured knee cap. But the Cavs do expect him to play well before January. Of course, that can change once they see him in training camp.

Even if Irving’s knee is in excellent shape, they plan to cut his minutes early in the season. He ranked No. 3 in average minutes per game last season. LeBron James was No. 5. I recently wrote about this.

That’s too much for both players during the regular season.

The Cavs signed veteran Mo Williams, who has started 511 games in the NBA. That includes 33 at point guard last season. He averaged 14 points and can take some of the scoring load off Irving in the backcourt.

The Cavs also have Matthew Dellavedova coming back. So they have Williams and Dellavedova to help out at point guard, allowing Irving to miss some games. He also can play fewer minutes.

The re-signing of J.R. Smith should help the Cavs cut the minutes for James during the regular season. The 6-foot-6 Smith can play both shooting guard and small forward.

***

No. 3: White ready to take his place in the Hall of Fame — Jo Jo White has had Hall of Fame credentials for years, but only now is the former Boston Celtics great taking his rightful place alongside other Celtics greats in Springfield. Even though the honor seems long overdue, White is appreciative that his time has finally come. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

In playing in seven All-Star Games, being named MVP of the 1976 NBA Finals, and with a franchise-record 488 consecutive games played for the Celtics, White possessed Hall of Fame credentials. But it appears the Naismith committee has been slow to embrace some players from the 1970s who were perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Although White’s accomplishments in the game have always been greatly appreciated in Boston, it has taken years for others to recognize his career as more than just above average.

“I’m just excited and I loved playing sports,” White said. “To touch the athletes you’ve played with, coaches that you had to deal with, and you find you’re getting very, very close to the team that you’re working with. What I’ve went through as a player, I’m just excited.

“I’m still rejoicing from where I’ve gone to where I am to what I had to go through to get where I am. I’ve gone through it.”

***

No. 4: Is Bradley Beal worth the max? — The Washington Wizards will have to figure out an answer to that question soon enough. A maxed out backcourt tandem of All-Star point guard John Wall and the sweet-shooting Beal could be on the horizon for a team with grand designs of climbing the ladder in the Eastern Conference in the coming seasons. Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders ponders the question a full summer ahead of time:

In all likelihood, Beal, whom the Wizards can make a restricted free agent next summer, will command a maximum offer sheet from some team at that time. Quite a few teams will have truckloads of cap space and can have a Brinks truck arrive at the residence of Beal at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 2016. Until that time, though, since the Wizards will have the right of first refusal, it makes sense for them to wait—just like the Warriors did with Green, just like the Chicago Bulls did with Jimmy Butler and just like the San Antonio Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard.

Make no mistake about it, though, Beal is a maximum player in today’s NBA. That is true despite the fact that he has never played as many as 75 games in any one of his three seasons. It is also true despite the defensive ineptitude that he has shown on a fairly consistent basis over the course of his young career. And yes, it is true despite the fact that he has not consistently shown that he can impact the game on multiple fronts. Above all, he is regarded as a strong offensive player and a deadly three-point shooter (his career three-point conversation rate is about 42 percent). His ability to create his own shot has improved tremendously, and, still at just 22 years old, he is nowhere near his physical prime. As he ages and matures, he will only get better.

Indeed, in today’s NBA, contract impasses are nothing extraordinary. But as it relates to Beal, with his upside, his production thus far and the influx of money that the NBA will see over the next few years, even a blind man can see that this movie ends the same way as the ones we have just witnessed.

In Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Beal is a maximum player. Drawing that conclusion is the easy part. The difficult part, for the Wizards, is determining whether or not he will fulfill the lofty expectations that such a contract would yield and whether they want to be the team to roll the dice on him.

But best believe, in today’s NBA, someone will.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jahlil Okafor is ready to tote the load for the Philadelphia 76ers … The players had a huge hand in the look and design of the Hawks’ new uniformsKyle Lowry chats about his summer slim downDwyane Wade was in attendance for one of the craziest games on college football’s kickoff weekend

ICYMI: The Sixers have good reason to be excited about Nerlens Noel:


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel’s Top 10 Plays from his All-Rookie first team season

Blogtable: Is Kobe the greatest Laker ever?

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: Favorite Kobe moment? | Should Kobe do Rio? | Greatest Kobe feat? | Greatest Laker ever?



VIDEOPlayers around the league show their appreciation for Kobe Bryant

> Is Kobe the greatest Laker of all time?  Explain.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOne’s first duty in answering any question of this sort is to be protective of the predecessors, whether it’s a ’68 Mustang supposedly being eclipsed by the 2015 model or in this case, Kobe Bryant elbowing ahead of Jerry West and Magic Johnson. It’s hard to argue against “The Logo,” one of the best and classiest acts in NBA history, but Bryant – with his rings, his stats totals and his MVP trophy – has climbed higher among the game’s notables, which moves him past West as a swell Laker. I’m holding firm on Johnson, though, as the face of that franchise. We can quibble about the “greatest” definition, but Johnson was remarkable as a 6-foot-9 point guard who helped revive both the Lakers and the league with his team play and his smile. He also is my point guard on any by-position all-time team I put together and Bryant is a backup. So that splits my final hair here.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You can put him in the conversation and I’ll listen. But Kareem and Magic are at the top of my list. One is the all-time leading NBA scorer with six MVPs and the other was the spark that lit the flame on five championship teams, nine Finals appearances in 12 years and began the modern era of the Lakers as the league’s most dominant franchise.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry West is. He was a star as a player and a star as a general manager. It would be hard to find anyone who  impacted any organization in any sport so much. West had massive roles in championships on different levels. He coached the team as well. There is no reason to diminish anything Kobe has accomplished. But “The Logo” is the greatest Laker.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Magic Johnson is No. 1. Kareem is No. 2 only because he spent a chunk of his prime in Milwaukee. Then Kobe. By giving Kobe the nod over Jerry West and Elgin Baylor speaks plenty about the brilliance of Kobe’s career, because Elgin and Jerry were certainly no slouches (from what I understand; they were before my time). Kobe got buckets, was clutch and raised his game in the post-season. And aside from injuries, he was all that for two decades.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s clearly on the short list, but I can’t put him ahead of Magic Johnson, who was the most important player on all five championship teams he played on, had one of the three greatest Finals performances of all-time (1980, Game 6), and was obviously more of a galvanizing force for the Lakers, making his teammates better. I’ll always wonder if Kobe could have won more if he trusted his teammates just a little bit more.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. 1? Wow. That’s a tough one. I can’t go there, though, having lived through the Showtime Lakers era and seeing the impact Magic had on not only Lakers fans, but fans everywhere. Kobe’s right up there among the franchise’s greatest players ever, and perhaps even a 1A to Magic, but I can’t give him that No. 1 spot ahead of Magic.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m going to say that Kobe rates No. 1, based on his longevity and the fact that he never had so much talent around him as Magic Johnson had in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott and the rest. Kobe led from a more vulnerable position, in a league that was more competitive top-to-bottom.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think he’s top three. To me, the top trio is Kobe, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And within that trio, I’d have Kareem third. Magic and Kobe may each have five titles, but when you consider their places in history, Magic came into the NBA at a time when it was struggling, and he helped transform it into the international behemoth it is today. Purely as a basketball player, Kobe may retire with the better career numbers, but being a Laker isn’t only what happens on the court. And in that sense, to me I don’t know if anyone will ever surpass Magic.

Morning shootaround — July 28


VIDEO: David Lee talks about joining the Celtics

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A.D. OK with Pelicans’ flight path | Kentucky’s NBA influence pervasive | Did Jackson’s miscalculations cost Knicks? | So many jersey numbers, so few available

No. 1: A.D. OK with Pelicans’ flight path — Keeping your superstar happy is job No. 1 for any NBA general manager or head coach who aspires to job security and the latitude to purchase green bananas. So based on some comments Monday by New Orleans tent-pole guy Anthony Davis, GM Dell Demps and new bench boss Alvin Gentry are free to unpack and stay awhile. Davis, on a conference-call interview, talked to The Associated Press and others about his $145 million contract extension and the special relationship he had with the terminated (and relocated-to-OKC-staff) Monty Williams. But he apparently sounded just as enthused about the Pelicans’ new direction with Gentry:

Now Davis is eager to see how Gentry’s coaching philosophy will mesh with the Pelicans’ talent. Davis was a high-schooler when Gentry coached the Phoenix Suns to the 2010 Western Conference finals with a fast-paced, high-scoring offense featuring guard Steve Nash and power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. The Pelicans power forward remembers that squad fondly and also has been impressed by the influence Gentry, as a top offensive assistant, has had more recently on recent Western Conference contenders such as the Los Angeles Clippers and defending champion Golden State Warriors.

“I definitely love his playing style,” Davis said. “My teammates, they have a lot of confidence in Coach Gentry. I think that’s why everybody’s coming back.

“In order for us to be that contender that we want to be, we have to have a lot of chemistry, which we have from the past few years,” Davis added. “So it’s good that everybody’s going to come back and we’re going to be able to have that chemistry ready for Coach’s new system.”

Last season, the Pelicans qualified for the playoffs for the first time in Davis’ three years as a pro and lost to the Warriors in a sweep. But Gentry told Davis that he was nonetheless impressed with the Pelicans’ talent and had a plan to get the most out it.

“He stated several times he loved our team and was going to try to get everybody back,” Davis said. “That’s the first thing that he said, and I couldn’t agree more.”

It also meant a lot to Davis to see Gentry look into a TV camera during the Warriors’ locker-room celebration immediately after Golden State had won the title, saying, “AD, we’re going to be right back here!”

“That’s the biggest thing that really got me excited because he wasn’t just saying that to say it. He really believes that,” Davis said.

***

No. 2: Kentucky’s NBA influence pervasive — Excellence in college basketball doesn’t always translate to the professional ranks, particularly on a case-by-case basis. But in the aggregate, the “Kareem” generally rises to the top — that’s why UCLA, for example, and its John Wooden-produced players held sway for many NBA seasons, in terms of impact on the league. Other powerhouses of the NCAA game — North Carolina, Duke, Indiana — have had enviable influence as well. But according to ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle, no college program ever has asserted itself at the next level — in both quantity and quality — the way the University of Kentucky is and will, based on his projections of the near-term. Here are some pertinent excerpts of what Doolittle refers to as “historical stuff:”

…Beginning in the 1969-70 season — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s rookie year — Wooden’s players rose to the top of the NBA win shares list. Thanks to Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas had topped the list for much of the 1960s, though it was actually Indiana that held the No. 1 spot the year before UCLA took over. The Bruins proceeded to dominate the rankings for the next decade and a half, finishing No. 1 in every season through 1983-84. UCLA was then brushed aside by a long period of Michael Jordan/North Carolina dominance. Since then, the top slot has changed hands a number of times, with familiar blue-blood programs like UNC, UCLA and Duke usually winning out, but other programs like UConn, Georgetown and even Georgia Tech have taken a turn or two.

…The Bruins’ high-water mark was 71.3 win shares for the 1976-77 NBA season. UNC was No. 2 — at 28.6. Former Bruin Bill Walton led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA crown that season, and Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s best player. Jamaal Wilkes, Swen Nater and Sidney Wicks were other ex-Bruins producing at the time. Those 71.3 win shares stand as the record for one school in one season.

For now, anyway. Kentucky is coming on fast. Already, its totals for the past two seasons rank among the top 11 in league history.

That is indeed impressive, yet not as impressive as what might happen this season. To jump all this historical chatter back into the present, let me remind you of the obvious: [Coach John] Calipari most likely will have another seven rookies in the league this season. That could give Kentucky as many as 25 players in the NBA for 2015-16, though not all of them played for Calipari. …

The sheer number of players is impressive, but not as much as the quality. We mentioned [Karl-Anthony] Towns and [Anthony] Davis as possible award winners. Yet John Wall, [Eric] Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins could all join Davis in the top 15-20 on the win shares board. And WARP, too, for that matter. In fact, I did some rough translations of my WARP projections into win shares. That’s where the story gets really interesting.

The 25 former Kentucky players I’ve flagged as “active” collectively project to put up 90.3 win shares this season. Let me re-state that for emphasis, like I’m writing a big check: 90.3!

***

No. 3: Did Jackson’s miscalculations cost Knicks? — Five months can be an eternity, when something moves as quickly as the NBA economy. So perhaps one shouldn’t judge New York Knicks president Phil Jackson too harshly that some of the assumptions he held about his team and the league in February had changed significantly by July. But according to the New York Daily News, playing off interviews Jackson did with longtime friend Charley Rosen back in February, the Knicks boss was conservative in his estimates of the new salary cap and the skyrocketing contract numbers, up to and including Memphis free-agent center Marc Gasol. The report includes Jackson’s thoughts at the time, too, on Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, on the deal he did make sending J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland and on the city and state taxes that impact New York as a free-agent destination:

Specifically, Jackson told a friend in February that he was wary of giving Memphis’ Marc Gasol a contract with a starting salary of $18 million. Jackson later signed [Robin] Lopez to a four-year deal with an average salary of $13.5 million.

“It’s tricky. The question is who to offer the big money to?” Jackson said in the latest installment of his in-season interviews with his pal Charley Rosen, which was published Monday by ESPN. “A guy who’s an established player or someone who has sky-high potential? Also, there are, and always have been, really good players who are not winners − guys like Joe Barry Carroll, Glenn Robinson and many more whom I don’t care to name.

“And then there’s someone like Marc Gasol, who’s certainly a winner and would have to be paid somewhere around $18 million, a number that would severely limit what we could offer other players. We’d wind up with starters only getting about $5 million.”

It’s clear by that statement Jackson underestimated the rise in the salary cap, which jumped 11% to $70 million. As a result, the Knicks had more money to play with in free agency and Gasol signed a deal with the Grizzlies larger than Jackson’s estimate.

Gasol, a First Team All-NBA selection and former Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Grizzlies last season. Lopez, who lost to Gasol in the playoffs, averaged 9.6 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.

Jackson handed out contracts over the summer worth a combined $96 million to Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn. The only max-contract candidate who seriously considered the Knicks was Greg Monroe, who instead signed with Milwaukee.

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No. 4: So many jersey numbers, so few available — Some sociology major might be able to use the Boston Celtics’ jersey-number dilemma as a metaphor for a looming issue in the U.S. workplace: What happens when you’ve got more retirees than active workers? Or something like that. That seems to be a problem for the Celtics, who have retired the numbers of so many great individuals that the franchise is running short of options — at least in terms of traditional, basketball-familiar numbers — for its current and future players. The team’s introduction of some offseason signees had a couple sporting numbers seemingly more fit for the New England Patriots.

It’s a function of the Celtics’ excellence and their zeal in maintaining a tradition that soon might crowd on-court performers over the next century into triple digits. Here’s a synopsis as provided by the FriendlyBounce.com site:

Moving to the middle of the photo, we see Amir Johnson holding the No. 90 jersey. Johnson most recently wore No. 15 with the Raptors, and reportedly wanted the No. 5 shirt with Boston. Johnson had this (via NESN) to say about his number choice:

“Every number 1 through 34 is basically retired,” Johnson said. “My first initial number, I picked No. 5, but I know there was going to kind of be some controversy with that because Kevin Garnett won a championship. So I knew that was pretty much out of the water. My number (15), of course, was retired. And I recently posted a picture on my social network, I don’t know if you guys checked it out, it was a team back in the ’90s — like ’97, ’96 — I played for my first organized basketball team, which was the Burbank Celtics. It was a Celtics team. So I just kind of just put that together. The ’90s were good. I was born in ’87, but the ’90s were good.”

“I was born in ’87, but the ’90s were good” is an awesome sentence. Also, based on this list compiled by the great Basketball Reference, the best player in NBA history to ever wear the #90 is Drew Gooden. So it’s unique, at least!

Further left, [David] Lee chose the No. 42 he originally sported during his days with the Knicks. Nothing to see here.

And, finally, we have Perry Jones III donning that ever-so-rare No. 38. Jones wore the No. 3 shirt in OKC. Of course, Boston’s No. 3 is and forever will be that of the late, great Dennis Johnson. In case you were wondering, that same B-R list names Viktor Khryapa, Ron Knight and Kwame Brown as the best No. 38-wearers the league has ever seen. We’ve hardly even seen PJ3 play meaningful NBA minutes, yet already I feel fairly comfortable saying he’s probably better than all three of those guys.

In all, the Celtics have retired the following numbers already: 00, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 32, 33 and 35. No. 34 will surely be added to that list whenever Paul Pierce decides to hang ’em up.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Iceman shows he ain’t ready to go-eth quite yet … Roy Hibbert had some pointed things to say in an interview with our David Aldridge, including thoughts on Frank Vogel as a non-NBA-playing head coach … Would Mike Miller make sense back in Miami, even though his benefactor LeBron James is gone? … The late Manute Bol‘s son is developing some nice skills, something that pleased former NBA player-turned-broadcaster Eddie Johnson … Who do you consider the best undrafted players in league history? The HoopsHype.com crew ranks its top 30 (hint: Brad Miller is high on the list) …