Posts Tagged ‘Kelly Olynyk’

Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? | Pacers’ George treading lightly | Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardware | NBA season in ‘twilight time?’

No. 1: Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? — It is considered bad form for a restaurant server or anyone else in the service industry, frankly, to flat-out ask for a tip. But it was OK in OKC for Russell Westbrook Friday night, his suggestion to the scorekeepers paying off in nice, round statistical fashion for yet another triple-double. No one here at Hang Time HQ is accusing Westbrook of lowering himself to Ricky Davis levels, and there often have been different interpretations applied to assists and rebounds (remember all the home-cooking accusations about Jazz great John Stockton‘s dimes in Salt Lake City games?). But Royce Young reported on Westbrook’s big numbers against Minnesota, then concluded that they were bonafide. Or at least justified:

The Thunder were enjoying an impressive blowout over the young Minnesota Timberwolves, and Westbrook was going to be left to watch the final couple of minutes a single rebound short. That’s when he took matters into his own hands. He looked over at the Thunder’s official scorekeepers, holding his arm up.

“Tip?” he said, nodding his head. “Tip?”

A quick conference at the scorer’s table and right around the time the buzzer sounded on the Thunder’s 113-99 win, Westbrook suddenly had his triple-double: 29 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. His eighth of the season, sixth in the last eight games, and the first player since Jason Kidd in 2007-08 to have eight or more in a season (Kidd had 13).

The rebound appears to be a tad dubious, an offensive board awarded with 2:35 left where Westbrook went up to tip back a missed 3-point attempt by D.J. Augustin. Westbrook was given a missed shot on it, so everything is on the up and up, but still, hard not to raise an eyebrow.

So, was he campaigning for the rebound or what?

“Uhh, no,” Westbrook said.

The idea is that stat-padding breeds selfishness, a label Westbrook already battles against, but his play actually separates the two things entirely. The stats are a means to the end, a necessity in winning. Westbrook is single-minded when it comes to winning, and with that in the bag on Friday, there’s nothing wrong with wanting another bullet point added to the growing MVP resume.

Because while an extra “10” in the box score is pretty arbitrary, it means a lot when you start talking history. Westbrook became only the fourth player in the last 30 years to record six triple-doubles in a season with at least 25 points (LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson). As he continues to build an MVP case, that’s another feather in his cap. And we can’t act as if individual accolades don’t matter. It’s all part of the game, and Westbrook knows how to compartmentalize and separate that from the bottom line.

Westbrook actually nearly had a quadruple-double with eight turnovers, giving him an eye-popping 27 over his last three games. It has been a stat that has sort of been glossed over because of how much he’s doing for the Thunder, along with how he’s giving the ball away. It’s not really the classic out-of-control Westbrook that’s barreling down the lane and leaving his feet with no plan. It’s forced pocket passes, soft post-entry passes, unselfish extra passes fired at point-blank range.

“I do know one thing, I know I need to stop turning the ball over. I can tell you that much,” Westbrook said, unprompted. “It’s so frustrating, trying [to] find and make passes and turn the ball [over], but at the same time, we won, so I’ll go back to the drawing board and take care of it.”

***

No. 2: Pacers’ George treading lightly — Maybe Paul George had a late-night phone conversation with Derrick Rose. Maybe his anticipated return from the serious leg fractures suffered last August was a diversion all along, meant to take Indiana fans’ focus off its team’s struggles for most of this 2014-15 season. Or, most likely, George has seen the Pacers’ recent tear and move into playoff position in the Eastern Conference as the proverbial ain’t-broke object no longer in need of his fix. The Pacers’ All-Star wing player sounded a little conflicted Friday about making a comeback for what’s left of this season, less due to his own physical condition than to the team’s encouraging play of late. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com reported on George’s quandary after the player’s weekly media chinwag:

“I’m on the fence,” he told reporters following Friday’s light workout at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “They’ve come together. To shake up the chemistry and add another body, I don’t want to be that guy who destroys what these guys have going. And then there’s part of me who thinks I can definitely help turn these tough games into games we have fully under control.

“It’s difficult. It’s a difficult point right now…but we take it day to day.”

George still spoke optimistically of the physical improvement he’s made since breaking his leg on Aug. 1. He experiences some soreness “but I push through those days.” He’s worn an elastic sleeve on his right leg the past two days in practice because his leg feels better when he does, but he has no significant pain in the formerly broken leg.

George had thrown out a mid-March return as his goal during interviews over All-Star Weekend last month, but isn’t guessing at dates now. Coach Frank Vogel earlier in the week had nixed the possibility of him playing on Saturday, but nobody is saying yes or no to future dates. The Pacers’ first game next week is Monday at home against Toronto. They follow with road games at Chicago on Wednesday and Cleveland on Friday, and then have a home game against Brooklyn on Saturday.

“Is there a chance you’ll play next week?” he was asked.

“I have no idea,” he said.

If and when he does return, George will come off the bench and play spot minutes. He likely would continue to play as a reserve, potentially strengthening a unit that’s already one of the best in the NBA.

***

No. 3: Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardwareRudy Gobert, Utah’s blossoming 7-foot-2 French import, didn’t generate a lot of excitement when he first appeared on the NBA scene. As ProBasketballTalk.com’s Dan Feldman tells it, Gobert – despite remarkable size and wingspan, definite NBA attributes – was nursing a sore knee that hurt his performance in workouts. But whatever perceived lack of athleticism caused him to plummet to the bottom of the first round in the 2013 Draft, Gobert has more than made up for with his play lately. In fact, Feldman makes a case that the Jazz reserve big man could be a legit contender for multiple awards this spring:

Gobert is averaging 7.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In 11 starts since Utah traded Enes Kanter, Gobert’s averages have jumped to 10.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. The Jazz are 9-2 in that span, including wins over the playoff-bound Trail Blazers, Spurs, Bucks, Grizzlies and Rockets

If the 2013 draft were re-done – with consideration to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Mason Plumlee and everyone else – Gobert makes a compelling case to go No. 1 overall.

Now, in his breakout season, Gobert is a legitimate contender for three awards – Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player.

He might not win any, and two would be tough. Three would be unprecedented.

Just six players have won two of the major player awards – Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player – in the same season:

Darrell Armstrong, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1999
Hakeem Olajuwon, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1994
Michael Jordan, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1988
Alvin Robertson, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1986
Wes Unseld, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1969
Wilt Chamberlain, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1960

***

No. 4: NBA season in ‘twilight time?’ — Certainly there’s churning and jostling for playoff position taking place within the East and West conferences. But on a macro level, we know who most of the playoff teams are likely to be, same as we know who most of the lottery teams are this spring. That’s why longtime NBA writer Mark Heisler suggests in the L.A. Daily News that the 82-game schedule is too long, leading to this stretch of March and April where the NCAA game grabs basketball’s spotlight and even swipes Charles Barkley:

Most good teams are resting stars, easing injured players back in — this makes two weeks in a row that the Clippers’ Blake Griffin is expected back — and otherwise lying in the weeds.

All that remains is securing the final playoff slots.

Three teams are vying for the last West slot: New Orleans (just got Anthony Davis back) Oklahoma City (soon to get Kevin Durant back) and Phoenix (unfortunately not getting anyone back).

Then there’s the East dogfight for No. 7 and 8 among the Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Celtics and Nets. Two will get in even if they’re on pace to win 39-37-36-35-33, respectively.

That makes 13 teams assured of playoff slots with eight more aspiring to, even if five are in the farcical East race.

Lining the bottom of the cage are the seven marking time until the lottery (Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Magic, Kings, Nuggets).

That leaves the Jazz and Detroit, another team of comers that started late. The Pistons’ problem didn’t turn out to be paying Josh Smith $30 million to leave, but waiting until they were 5-23.

That’s all there is — with five weeks until the playoffs. In other words, thank heavens for the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, I’d say the NBA season is a little on the long side.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Hassan Whiteside felt bad enough to phone up Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to offer an apology. And after what Olynyk said to Whiteside, the Heat center felt even worse. … The Raptors broke through for their second victory in three weeks and old-school Charles Oakley was there to witness it – and sneer at today’s lack of physicality the way Oak does. … The Clippers have gone 9-6 without Blake Griffin, whom they hope to get back as soon as Sunday vs. Houston. They’ve also gone 42-24 without Spencer Hawes, essentially. … It’s impossible to separate Eric Gordon‘s recent swell shooting from the New Orleans guard’s recent swell health. …

Bosh shows Whiteside how it’s done


Video: Whiteside ejected after hit on Olynyk

There was a welcome sighting, and an unnecessary sighting, in American Airlines Arena involving a pair of Heat players at important junctions in their careers.

Chris Bosh made his first public appearance Monday since undergoing surgery last month to remove blood clots on his lung. He said he won’t resume normal basketball duties until the fall. Bosh held a pregame news conference first, then took the microphone before the Heat-Celtics tip and expressed thanks for all the well-wishes, almost choking up in the process. Bosh received an ovation, then spent the rest of the game on the Heat bench.

There, he watched Hassan Whiteside deliver an unprovoked cheap shot at Kelly Olynyk, which earned an easy ejection. A suspension is almost sure to follow for Whiteside, who rammed Olynyk from behind and sent the Celtics forward flying into the court-side photographers, dazed and certainly confused. What the heck?

“I don’t even know what happened,” said Olynyk.

Whiteside has been a pleasant revelation this season for the Heat, coming from basketball oblivion to collect double-doubles almost nightly and become the big man’s version of Linsanity. Still, he has plenty to learn about the game and being a professional. Just last week he was involved in a scuffle with Alex Len. Now this. While the Len incident was simply two centers rubbing each other the wrong way, and ended with Whiteside tackling Len to the ground, Olynyk did nothing to warrant an elbow to the back of the head, and could have been injured on the play.

“We’ll handle it and it will be corrected,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Everybody’s responsible to the team.”

Whiteside would do well to emulate one of the more upstanding players in basketball. The grace shown by Bosh, not only Monday but throughout his career, is the right example to follow. There’s no need to resort to being a knucklehead, not with his future, which seems bright. Better to be like Bosh.

Morning shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant waiting for pain to subside | Howard on schedule | James takes another hit | Noah working to stop violence in Chicago

No. 1: Durant waiting for pain to subsideRussell Westbrook is tearing through defenses and getting a triple-double every time he takes the floor. But the Oklahoma City Thunder are still in a fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, just a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans, who have won six of their last seven games and just got Anthony Davis back. That doesn’t mean that Kevin Durant is in a rush to return from surgery to replace a screw in his right foot. He spoke about his eventual return with Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman

You had a reevaluation yesterday. Were you happy with what you heard?

Um, I’m more so just focused on trying to get this pain out of it and coming back when I’m ready, when I’m 100 percent ready and not trying to force it or play with pain. Just trying to conquer this little stage I’m in right now, which is getting this thing right, working as hard as I can in the weight room and on the court. Yeah, it’s tough, but I just gotta be ready to go.

Was there any relief that the pain you were feeling, there was a reason for it?

Yeah, now I know what happened in that Memphis game, in that Dallas game. I know why I was having so much pain and to have that corrected feels so much better. It’s just a matter of when somebody digs in your foot, you’re going to have some pain. That’s what happened when they reinserted a different screw. The pain that I had before is gone, but there’s still some pain there obviously from them going in there and stitching me up. But I should be fine soon.

You feel very confident you will return this season?

No doubt. No doubt. I’m looking forward to returning this season. No doubt. I’m not packing it in at all.

***

No. 2: Howard on schedule — It’s been a month since Dwight Howard had a “bone marrow aspirate injection” on his right knee. Howard was reevaluated this week and his recovery is “on schedule,” but that doesn’t mean that he’ll be taking the floor for the Rockets any time soon, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes

Rockets center Dwight Howard’s “checkup” with the team physician, including an MRI, confirmed the team’s confidence that Howard is progressing “on schedule,” a person with knowledge of the process said, though reports from his workouts remain the most important measures of his progress.

Wednesday marked four weeks since Howard’s bone marrow aspirate injection, but Dr. Walter Lowe said last month that he expected the time out to be the key to healing the edema that had built up on Howard’s right knee, rather than the procedure.

“He’s coming along,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I saw him on the treadmill which is a good sign, but I haven’t seen him on the floor. Until you see him on the floor, who knows.”

***

No. 3: James takes another hit — Three days after getting kicked in the groin by James Harden, LeBron James got tackled by Jonas Valanciunas in the Cavs’ win in Toronto on Wednesday. James isn’t the type for retaliation, but he’s certainly getting a little frustrated with the physicality, as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes

After being the recipient of a second flagrant foul in his past three games, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said he might have to take matters into his own hands in the future.

“Maybe I got to protect myself a little bit more, too,” James said after the Cavs’ 120-112 win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas wrapped James up around the neck and shoulders as he drove the lane with 18.8 seconds left in the third quarter. The infraction was initially whistled as a common foul before being upgraded to a flagrant foul 1 after an official’s review of the video replay.

“I don’t want to get too much involved in it because I don’t want to cry about it because it’s not like I’m not able to get back up, but it’s a lot of plays that are just not basketball plays,” said James, who was kicked in the groin Sunday by Houston’s James Harden, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Rockets swingman.

***

No. 4: Noah working to stop violence in Chicago — Joakim Noah is from New York, but Chicago has been his home for eight years now. He’s been trying his best to help curb violence in his adopted city, and has a new initiative that he talked about after practice on Wednesday. K.J. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune was there

On the direct heels of Noah’s well-received, anti-violence video “You’re Not Alone,” produced by Noah’s foundation and award-winning journalist and author Alex Kotlowitz, Noah has launched another initiative.

“I think the video was very important for people from all shapes of life to look at it as it’s not just a problem that’s just going on the South Side or the West Side. It’s everybody’s problem,” Noah said. “So me and my mother started this movement, it’s called Rock Your Drop: The Drop of Consciousness. It’s a necklace that represents a tear drop. It’s something we’ve been working really hard on. It’s to bring awareness to all the violence that’s going on and also that we’re all in this together, and you’re not alone.

“It’s our movement and we’re very proud of it, and we just hope that it can spread. The more money we raise with these drops, the programs we can put in for these kids.”

The necklaces are available for purchase on www.rockyourdrop.com.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steve Kerr explains why David Lee didn’t play in the second half of the last two games of the Warriors’ road trip … Kevin Garnett says the Nuggets quit on Brian Shaw … Raptors coach Dwane Casey is using the last part of the season to do some experimentingKelly Olynyk returned from an 18-game absence in the Celtics’ win over the Jazz on Wednesday … and bidders for the Hawks continue to emerge.

ICYMI: Russell Westbrook, Western Conference Player of the Month for February, took an early lead for the same award in March with 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in the Thunder’s overtime win over the Sixers:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Russell Westbrook

Wiggins, Carter-Williams headline BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge


VIDEO: USA vs. World in new format for Rising Stars

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge has always served as All-Star Weekend’s showcase for first- and second-year NBA players, using a variety of different formats from rookies versus sophomores to a fantasy draft.

This year, though, it’s us against them. No matter which team you’re rooting for.

This season, the Rising Stars Challenge introduces a new format, with players from the United States going against a team of international players. The rosters were selected by the league’s assistant coaches, with one ballot for each of the NBA’s 30 teams. Both 10-man rosters include four guards, four frontcourt players and two players regardless of position. Each team also features a minimum of three first-year players and three second-year players among its 10 spots.

This year’s edition showcases 10 of the top 15 picks from the 2013 NBA Draft, and all four participants in the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the most represented team, with four Timberwolves split evenly between the two teams. The Utah Jazz will have three players involved, and the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic each are sending two players.

Team USA is heavy on perimeter and wing players, including Utah’s Trey Burke, Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, and Orlando’s starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.

The World Team will be heavy on big men, including Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. Canada will be the most represented international country with Olynyk and Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins.

The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 13, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The head coaches for the 21st BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge will be assistants from the 2015 NBA All-Star Game coaching staffs. Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson will lead the World Team, and Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry will coach the U.S. Team. The game will be televised live on TNT at 9 p.m. ET.

USA Team
Trey Burke (Utah)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit)
Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
Zach LaVine (Minnesota)
Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota)
Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia)
Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
Elfrid Payton (Orlando)
Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

World Team
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Bojan Bogdanovic (Brooklyn)
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota)
Dante Exum (Utah)
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
Nikola Mirotic (Chicago)
Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
Dennis Schröder (Atlanta)
Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota)

Two years later, Cook seeks a shot

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

ORLANDO — The summer leagues are full of stories.

There are well-known rookies such as, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Shabazz Napier trying to make the step up to the next level.

There are second-year pros Steven Adams and Kelly Olynyk looking to expand their skills and add polish.

There are guys like Maarty Leunen, drafted by the Rockets back in 2008, who has made a playing career for himself in Europen, but wants a crack at the big time.

Then there’s Brian Cook.

At 33, he’s not just the oldest player on the court at the Orlando Pro Summer League. He’s the only one who’s been away from the game for the past two years and is knocking on the door trying to get back in.

Cook’s wife, Victoria, had cancer and he stepped away from his NBA career to help her through the battle with the disease.

“It was something that I had to do and it’s the kind of thing that you don’t even think twice about,” Cook said. “There are bigger things than playing games.”

But now, two years later, the 6-foot-9 forward with 3-point range is here with the Pistons in an attempt to resurrect his career.

“I’ve really missed being out there on the court competing every day,” Cook said. “I know some people might think it’s kind of strange to try to do this at this point or it’s a long shot. But I kind of think that I still have something to contribute to the game and I’m looking to maybe get in a couple of years.”

Cook, who was a first-round draft choice of the Lakers in 2003 and played for five different teams — also Magic, Rockets, Clippers, Wizards — in nine seasons, reached out to Stan Van Gundy as soon his former coach took over in Detroit and asked for an opportunity in the summer league. He is here with no guarantees, no promises.

“I called him right away,” Cook said. “As a free agent, I can try to get on anywhere. But I’m comfortable with Stan’s offense and I’m also comfortable with the way he respected me and treated me and really cared about me when I played for him here in Orlando. Those are the kind of things that you take for granted as young kid and then come to appreciate more once you mature and have been around the block a few times in different situations. You really come to appreciate it even more when you’ve been at home like I have for the past several years helping my wife and being with the family.”

Cook has struggled to find his shooting stroke in his first two games, making just 5-of-18 shots and 3-of-12 from behind the arc. But he figures the shot will come with time and repetition and Cook is currently enjoying just being back in a locker room again, back wearing a jersey, back sharing the the highs and lows of game experiences, even if it is mostly with kids who are at least 10 years younger.

Van Gundy might not be able to provide the spot on his roster this season as he makes over the Pistons, but he is giving the veteran a chance to show other NBA teams that there is still something left after Cook gave the last two years to his family and wife, who is now cancer-free.

“I really believe that I’ve still got the ability to compete at this level and help a team,” Cook said. “I’m just hoping for a real shot.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

It’s an annual coming-out party for NBA rookies, other young pros looking to hone their skills and move up the pecking order and a handful of older veterans seeking another crack at the big time. In this case, it’s also the long-awaited pro debut of Nerlens Noel.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Saturday (9 a.m., NBA TV) with familiar names from the draft and plenty of other hopefuls hustling for an invitation to training camps in October.

Eight first-round picks from the 2014 draft — led by No. 4 Aaron Gordon of the Magic, No. 6 Marcus Smart of the Celtics and No. 10 Elfrid Payton of the Magic — will take part in the seven days of competition that will take place on the practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Another major headliner will be Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, who sat out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He’ll finally get to scratch that itch to play. Sixers fans might get their first glimpse into bright future.

The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

The 10 teams will each play five games, concluding with a championship day that will be based on standings. A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights for each of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s the second year of the rebuilding program under coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are hoping to get a big boost from their pair of first-round draft choices Marcus Smart and James Young. It’s not certain if Young will play after he suffered a strained neck in a car accident several weeks before the Draft. He’s been held out of early workouts at the Celtics’ training facility. Last year’s first-round pick Kelly Olynyk — the MVP of the Summer League last season — will return to Orlando, joined by fellow Celtics veterans Chris Babb, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey.

Brooklyn Nets — Last year’s summer appearance by the Nets was most notable for the coaching debut of Jason Kidd, who proceeded to answer a cell phone call on the sidelines of his very first game. Kidd has been replaced by Lionel Hollins, who did a masterful job giving the Grizzlies credibility as a playoff contender. The Nets were without first-round draft picks as a result of the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trades last year. But on draft night they dealt cash for second-round picks Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. Also playing for the Nets will be Mason Plumlee, who made a big impression a year ago and went on to become the All-Rookie first team center last season.

Detroit Pistons – It’s the beginning of a new era in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy’s arrival as both head coach and club president. Second-year Pistons players Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell will each be looking to tighten up their games to impress the new boss. Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler will practice with the team, but will not participate in games. The NBA D-League 2014 Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins will be on the roster, along with undrafted free agents Tristan Spurlock, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Heath and Markel Starks.

Houston Rockets — It’s been a long time since the Rockets made Maarty Leunen a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2008 draft, but the long-range bomber will be in Orlando to take his shot. Leunen has the shooting skill the Rockets seek, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers the past three seasons in the Italian League. He’ll join up with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, who both got their feet wet last season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward Covington was named the 2014 NBA D-League rookie of the year . The Rockets’ top draft pick Clint Cappela will not play, but second-round choice, Arizona guard Nick Johnson, will be on the court in Orlando.

Indiana Pacers – There’s not the usual summertime electricity in the air when you walk away from the draft without a single player. The Pacers’ roster will be anchored by last year’s holdovers Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill, who’ll be seeking to earn another season on the roster. Jake Odum was a four-year starter at Larry Bird’s alma mater Indiana State and will try to push Sloan for the third point guard spot. A back injury has scratched 10-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. from his scheduled appearance with the Pacers.

Memphis Grizzlies — Second-year shooting guard Jamaal Franklin will head up the Grizzlies’ entry. Franklin saw time in 21 games for the Grizzlies last season. He’ll be joined by 2014 draft pick Jordan Adams (No. 22 overall) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 35). Adams was rated a terrific scorer and good offensive rebounder ahead of the draft, but some scouts labeled him unathletic. This is his first chance to prove them wrong. The roster, led by assistant coach Shawn Respert for the first three games and assistant Jason March for the last two, will feature three native Memphians, including Stokes, former University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson and former Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Miami Heat – Gee, no pressure at all when LeBron James tweets that you were the best point guard in the draft. Assuming The King returns to Miami, everyone will be looking to see if Shabazz Napier can bring enough talent to South Beach to help make a difference for the point-guard poor Heat. Miami brass made its play for the guy who led UConn to another NCAA championship on draft night, swinging a deal with the Bobcats to get their man at No. 24. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton played seven games with the Heat last season. Point guard Larry Drew set the UCLA single season record for assists in 2013, but went undrafted and played last season for the Sioux City Skyforce in the NBA D-League.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder surprised many with their first round picks Mitch McGary (21) and Josh Huestis (29), mostly because they seemed to duplicate picks from a year earlier in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Plenty scouts were high on the big man McGary, and Huestis put his stamp on last season when he locked up and shut down No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Adams and Roberson are back for another summer league run and will be joined by Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett.

Orlando Magic — The hometown team will bring in a pair of top 10 talents from this year’s draft. The power forward Gordon has size and strength and a defensive nose. This is where he’ll start trying to add a jumper to his game that could vault him to the elite level in a couple of years. The Magic wanted Payton enough to give up a future first round pick for him at No. 10, and together with Victor Oladipo could give them an outstanding backcourt for years. Last year’s top pick Oladipo will be back on the summer league roster along with Stephen Curry’s brother Seth, who is still trying to carve out a place in the NBA. Matt Bouldin won the D-League championship with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants last season.

Philadelphia 76ers – He’s been champing at the bit to get out on the court wearing a Sixers jersey in game conditions for more than a year, so don’t be surprised if Nerlens Noel jumps through the ceiling when he finally gets on the floor. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft was rehabbed very conservatively, so now he’ll get to show off the all-around skills that had him listed as the No. 1 pick until his knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, will of course sit out following foot surgery. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be sidelined after surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Sixers roster will include the 32nd pick K.J. McDaniels, Jeremi Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52) and Jordan McRae (No. 58). Also suiting up will be Pierre Jackson, who set the single-game D-League scoring record with 58 points last season.

Taking A Crack at Rising Stars Draft

Do they pick Anthony Davis, who will have his chance to shine in front of the hometown crowd in New Orleans? Or jump at the chance to get reigning Rookie of the year Damian Lillard?

BBVA Compass Rising Stars ChallengeDo they go with point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who’s dazzled in his first year in the Eastern Conference, or Trey Burke, who’s lived up to the advance billing in the West?

Those are just a few of the questions confronting Grant Hill and Chris Webber when they act as “general managers” and pick the teams for the 2014 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge (tonight on TNT at 7  ET). The choices will be part of a special one-hour addition of TNT NBA Tip-Off.

Al the participants in State Farm All-Star Saturday Night (featuring the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk) will also be revealed, along with a revamped format.

But the heavy lifting will be done by Turner Sports analysts Hill and Webber in assembling their teams. So NBA.com colleague Steve Aschburner and I thought we’d lend a hand by providing a few tips in advance.

Here’s the way we stocked the teams, alternating picks, with me going first:

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

1 — Anthony Davis, F/C, Pelicans (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “One brow, one choice. It’s got to be the obvious hometown favorite who was snubbed for the big show.”

2 — Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Could dominate if he uses Friday as dress rehearsal for Sunday.”

3 — Michael Carter-Williams, G, Sixers (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Foundation to Philly future, a steal at No. 11, probably should have gone here in 2013 draft.”

4 — Jonas Valanciunas, C, Raptors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “On a roll lately: stats 16.7 ppt, 10.2. rpg, 58 percent last six games.”

5 — Tim Hardaway, G, Knicks (Rookie) — Blinebury: “From the D-League to NBA, baskets the same size and he can fill them.”

6 — Brady Beal, G, Wizards (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Mature beyond years, will be comfortable in second Rising Stars Game.”

7 — Steven Adams, C, Thunder (Rookie) — Blinebury: “You can’t teach height, or sharp elbows.”

8 — Giannis Antetokounmpo, G/F, Bucks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Re-draft the class of ’13 and this guy’s in the top three.”

9 — Andre Drummond, C, Pistons (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Young, tall and knows how to get me the ball.”

10 — Victor Oladipo, G, Magic (Rookie) — Aschburner: “East Rookie of Month in December, guards can thrive in this game.”

11 — Trey Burke, G, Jazz (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Comes off the injured list to be the everything the Jazz hoped.”

12 — Jared Sullinger, F/C, Celtics (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Stepping up as soph starter, he brings toughness.”

13 — Terrence Jones, F, Rockets (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “He’s filled the Rockets’ void at the 4, maybe making a trade unnecessary.”

14 — Harrison Barnes, F, Warriors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Coming off bench has been a challenge, he’s ready for reset button.”

15 — Dion Waiters, G, Cavaliers (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Since he doesn’t have to rely on Kyrie Irving to get him the ball, should get plenty of shots.”

16 — Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Celtics (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Averages half this, but per-36-minute numbers are: 13.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.”

17 — Mason Plumlee, F/C, Nets (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Up and down with limited playing time, but has a true shooting percentage of 64.8.”

18 — Pero Antic, C, Hawks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Lock as All-Star Weekend’s Macedonian MVP.”

G.M. Steve Aschburner: Since Team Fran cheated on the coin flip – funny how that can happen over the phone! – I picked second and lost out on host-city favorite Anthony Davis, who probably has the game’s MVP award half in the bag on sentiment alone. But that’s OK, because I managed to round up enough bigs to occupy Davis – Jonas Valanciunas with his size and skills inside 15 feet, Jared Sullinger with his burly game and Kelly Olynyk with pick-and-pop proclivities.

Besides, games of this All-Star ilk tend to be dominated by the guards, who have the ball in their hands and initiate plays. My backcourt of Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo is superior, and those three will spend a lot of time on the floor together to run his crew ragged in small ball. I’m counting on Lillard, who will participate Sunday in the big game, to take this one seriously and not save himself. Surely the 2013 Rookie of the Year doesn’t want any half-season wonders like Carter-Williams, Hardaway or Burke getting over on him.

My squad also has the game’s X factor: the Greek Freak. Given Milwaukee’s dreary season, this will serve as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s coming-out party on a national – wait, international – stage. As the youngest rookie, whose coltish skills and breathtaking moments inspire all sorts of enticing, five-years-from-now dreams, Antetokounmpo conceivably could challenge Davis in wowing the crowd and ride that adrenaline high to a special night.

Prediction: Team Asch 138, Team Fran 127.

G.M. Fran Blinebury: Maybe it was the good fortune that came with wearing my Broadway Joe Namath lucky coyote fur coat. Or maybe it was because when Team Asch, acting like wide-eyed rubes on their first trip to Bourbon Street, asked about having a coin flip, I quickly agreed and bounced a quarter off the coffee table. It was legit and I’d give you a link to the video, but we seem to have had some technical problems. Anyway, it was a no-brainer to make the Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick in the draft (again). With the hometown support he’ll have from the crowd, A.D. should pile up enough dunks and rejections to have the MVP award tucked safely inside his Pelican pouch by halftime.

Asch only thinks he’s got the most physical a lineup up front. I’ve got Andre Drummond and Terrence Jones, who like to mix it up on the inside and can get the ball off the backboard. And don’t forget those sharp elbows of Steve Adams that occasionally (oops!) deliver a message.

In a game where point guards control the ball and set the tone, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke will push the pace and take turns setting up A.D. for highlight reel dunks (and they’ll finish some themselves). If you want a dark horse contender to steal the spotlight, Tim Hardaway Jr. could carry the banner for the NBA D-League.

Prediction: Team Fran 152, Team Asch 131


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried was the MVP of the 2013 version of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in Houston

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Aldridge may pass on Team USA | Rondo mentoring rookie Olynyk | Jazz parents question lineups vs. Blazers | Charlotte to unveil new Hornets logo soon

No. 1: Report: Aldridge yet to talk to Colangelo about Team USA spot — Big man LaMarcus Aldridge has been a crucial reason for the Blazers’ early-season success and standing among the upper crust in the Western Conference. It was reported in October that Aldridge, who is among the names being bandied about for this season’s MVP, would want to play on Team USA for the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain. But so far, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, Aldridge hasn’t contacted USA hoops boss Jerry Colangelo about his interest:

Despite saying he would reach out to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and express interest in playing this summer, Aldridge has not done so, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because of the fluid nature of the relationship.

In October, Aldridge told CSN Northwest that he planned to contact Colangelo about playing for the U.S. in the summer. Earlier this year, Aldridge said, “If they call me, I’m definitely interested in doing it.”

But Aldridge hasn’t called, and if he truly wants to play (and he might not), he misread the situation. Colangelo is not going to call Aldridge and ask him to play, believing that USA Basketball doesn’t need solicit players.

Colangelo is a strong believer in what he calls equity, a term he uses repeatedly when discussing players who have shown a commitment to USA Basketball.

Aldridge has not built that equity. In 2010, he withdrew his name from the pool of candidates for the world championship team. And in May 2012 hip surgery took Aldridge out of consideration for the London Olympic team.

In 2007, Aldridge withdrew from with the U.S. select team, which scrimmaged against the national team before the FIBA Americas Championship, and in 2009, he pulled out of USA Basketball mini-camp, one year before the world championship.

Team USA could use Aldridge. But if he doesn’t want to play, Colangelo isn’t going to beg, not when others — such as Anthony Davis, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins — have shown a willingness to play.

***

No. 2: Rondo takes on mentoring role with rookie Olynyk — Celtics star guard Rajon Rondo ended his long media silence yesterday, providing Boston fans with a long-awaited update on how his recovery from ACL surgery is going. In short, Rondo isn’t about to rush back, but he’s seeing progress more and more each day. That means, for now, Rondo will continue to sit on the bench in a suit. But when he’s on the bench, Rondo often sits near rookie center Kelly Olynyk and does what he can to offer words of teaching and praise to the youngster, writes Jessica Camerato of HoopsWorld.com:

There are no assigned seats on the Boston Celtics bench, but the unspoken arrangement had been consistent early in the season. Team leader Rajon Rondo, sidelined by an ACL injury, had the first chair next to the coaches while 11th-year veteran Keith Bogans, who plays sparingly, sat next to him. The rest of the team followed after with levels of experienced mixed in across the sideline.

The order shifted when rookie Kelly Olynyk suffered a sprained right ankle on November 22 in a game against the Indiana Pacers. Dressed in a suit, he initially sat next to Bogans. During his injury, the order changed again. Olynyk began taking in games one chair up the bench flanked by Bogans and Rondo. Bogans made the decision to help the rookie learn in the midst of the action.

“[I gave him my seat] so he could talk to ‘Do (Rondo), sit in between the two of us,” Bogans explained. “We could talk to him about the game a little bit, educate him a little bit. He’s a young guy. He needs to learn. [I decided to] put him between us, listen to what we’re talking about.”

Even though he has not played in nine straight games, including Tuesday’s contest against the Brooklyn Nets, he is finding out about pro basketball from a different perspective.

“I try to learn as much as I can [watching the games next to my teammates],” Olynyk said. “It’s a great opportunity. You’re there for three hours, critiquing the game. … [It helps] just being able to see what drives success at this level and what works, what doesn’t work, how guys like to play, that sort of stuff. You can learn everything. A lot of times it just comes down to playing hard, playing smart, playing tough.”

Sitting in between a savvy veteran and one of the top point guards in the league has bolstered that learning experience. Both Olynyk and Bogans emphasized the educational value watching a game next to Rondo.

“He’s like a coach,” Bogans said. “He’s into the game the whole time, he knows everything that’s going on, pays attention to everything.”

Echoed Olynyk, “He’s real intellectual. I learn tidbits from the game, angles, good stuff, bad stuff. It’s like a tutorial basically.”

Olynyk is working to return to the court, and when he does he will have years of his teammates’ experience to add to his own.

“It’s a great opportunity, to learn to grow, to become a better player,” Olynyk said. “It’s something you can’t take for granted.”

***

No. 3: Parents of Jazz youngsters question lineup moves — This is perhaps all to be taken with a HUGE grain of salt, especially when considering much of the conversation took place via Twitter. That being said, Andy Larsen and the fine folks over at SaltCityHoops.com noted that both Jazz veteran Brandon Rush and the parents of rookie guard Trey Burke took to Twitter during Utah’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers to question either their role on the team or the team’s rotation. In short, Rush — who was a DNP-CD for the Portland game — was asked why he didn’t play while Ronda and Benji Burke (Trey’s parents) questioned why veteran Andris Biedrins were playing over rookie big man Rudy Gobert:

With the frontcourt of Richard Jefferson, Mike Harris, and Andris Biedrins starting the 4th quarter tonight, Alec Burks not getting playing time in crunch time after leading the team in scoring, and Rudy Gobert’s DNP-CD, there was much consternation surrounding the team, especially on the Twitterverse. Jazz Twitter, even nationally, is well known for its slightly kooky opinions, and general tendency for overreaction.

That being said, typically reaction does not come from personalities so close to the team. Brandon Rush, also the recipient of a DNP-CD, responded this way when he was asked why he didn’t play:

Then, both of Trey Burke’s parents got in the action. Trey’s mother Ronda started by calling for the rookie French center Rudy Gobert to receive playing time over Andris Biedrins and whatever Biedrins is at this point of his career:

Then Benji, Trey’s father and agent, got into the mix, denigrating the Jazz’s 3rd quarter performance and the overall veteran-heavy strategy:

.***

No. 4: Charlotte to unveil new Hornets logo before Christmas — During the offseason — on July 18, specifically — the NBA approved the Charlotte Bobcats’ request to switch their name and colors to that of the last NBA team in town: the Charlotte Hornets. That name change and color swap won’t take effect until the 2014-15 season, but in keeping with the team’s season-long push to drum up interest in the change, the team will reveal their new Hornets logo on Dec. 21. The Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell has more on the news:

The Charlotte Bobcats plan to unveil their new “Hornets” logo at halftime of the Dec. 21 home game against the Utah Jazz. This is the next step in their rebranding to the Hornets, which takes force at the start of next season.

The team previously revealed, in an interview with the Observer, that it will adopt the Hornets’ traditional teal-and-purple as primary colors next season. Uniforms will be the next step, sometime over the next few months.

Bobcats owner Michael Jordan will do the logo unveiling at a halftime ceremony for the game, which starts a half hour later – 7:30 p.m. – than most Bobcats home games at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The game against the Jazz is the first of five “Buzz City”-themed giveaway nights. The team will distribute long-sleeve “Buzz City” T-shirts that night to the first 10,000 fans through the doors. Later giveaways will include bobbleheads for former Charlotte Hornets Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues and Kelly Tripucka.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: So far this season, Sixers big man Spencer Hawes is hitting 3-pointers at a rate better than Ray Allen … Rockets guard Jeremy Lin says he’ll play against Portland … Fresh off a win over the Heat, the Pacers get more good news — Danny Granger says he should return soonShaquille O’Neal once put former Suns teammate Gordan Giricek in a sleeper hold

ICYMI Of The Night: There are fadeaway jumpers, and then there are faaaaaade-away jumpers like this one John Henson hit last night in Chicago …


VIDEO: John Henson clinches the win with a rainbow fadeaway jumper

Canada Market Booms as NBA Takes On World; ‘Down Under’ Next?

L

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Chances are good next June that for the second consecutive year, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft will have honed his skills and built his street cred on the asphalt courts of … Toronto, Ontario. And with Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins as a favourite to take the maple-leaf baton from UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, we might want to refer to the heated jockeying for position among likely lottery teams as tanquing, for this season anyway.

A rising interest in Canada in the NBA is the primary reason behind tonight’s game in Montreal, when the Boston Celtics (with first-round pick Kelly Olynyk, a 7-footer from Kamloops by way of Gonzaga) face the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Bell Centre. A year ago, the NBA staged its first-ever NBA Canada Series preseason games in that country (Knicks-Raptors in Montreal, Pistons-Timberwolves in Winnipeg) and the only thing surprising about that was that it took so long.

The Raptors, obviously, have been playing preseason games there since they entered the league via expansion in 1995. So did their newbie cohort Vancouver Grizzlies for six seasons, until their move to Memphis in 2001.

The NBA’s and basketball’s roots in the nation are undeniable. The man who invented the game in 1891, Dr. James Naismith, was a Canadian, after all. And what is accepted as the NBA’s inaugural game was played at Maple Leaf Gardens between the New York Knicks and the Toronto Huskies, who lasted one season in the precursor BAA.

Sixty-seven years later, the NBA has just the Raptors’ as its single toehold in Canada, and it stages its preseason games there much as it does in exotic lands like Taiwan and Brazil, with a missionary zeal that creates festivals of NBA basketball, stirring casual interest rather than relying on hardcore devotees of the league. The Grizzlies are gone, and expansion even in U.S. cities appears to be low on commissioner David Stern‘s or presumptive replacement Adam Silver‘s lists of priorities.

Beneath the surface, however, there may be something building.

(more…)