Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 18

Pop fires back at Sarver | No scoring title for ‘Melo in triangle? | Thunder’s Adams rising | Lin-sane-ty this season in LA

No. 1: Pop fires back at Sarver — You didn’t really think Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was going to let Suns owner Robert Sarver get the last word, did you?  Sarver fired shots at the Spurs after Pop and most of his biggest stars no-showed for an exhibition game in Phoenix Thursday. Pop addressed Sarver and his words before the Spurs knocked off the Miami Heat at home Saturday. Dan McCarney of the Express News explains:

It’s the kind of question Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, on any other day, would greet with an exasperated smirk.

And he definitely did that Saturday at the AT&T Center when asked about Phoenix owner Robert Sarver grabbing the mic late in Thursday’s exhibition blowout to apologize for the lackluster game and offer credit to ticketed attendees after the Hall of Fame coach and five Spurs players missed the game. But Popovich also had plenty to say.

“As I said, the silliness begins,” he said. “Most wise individuals would check facts before they made statements. Unless you’re interested in putting on a show. In that case, the facts get in your way, as in this case.

“We had five guys we didn’t send. Patty Mills had a shoulder operation over the summer. Tiago Splitter (calf) has been out the whole preseason. Kawhi Leonard (eye infection) was out and is still out for 10 more days. The other two, Duncan and Ginobili, are two of the oldest guys in the league who just came back from a 13-day European trip.

“The only thing that surprises me is that he didn’t say it in a chicken suit. I’ll just leave it at that.”

***

No. 2: No scoring title for ‘Melo in triangle? — Even with Kevin Durant sidelined to start this season, Knicks scoring star Carmelo Anthony does not expect to run away with the NBA scoring title. Not in his first year in the triangle offense installed by new coach Derek Fisher. Like everyone else on the Knicks’ roster Anthony is just trying to get adjusted to the new system. And that means fewer shots and a tougher road to the scoring title than usual. Ian Begley of ESPN New York has more:

Carmelo Anthony doesn’t expect to win the NBA scoring title this season, his first in the triangle offense.

In fact, he suggested Saturday that he may score less and take fewer shots in the Knicks’ new offense.

“I don’t think I’ll be the scoring champ. Especially with this system, the way we’re playing — the way that it’s going to be well-balanced, the style of play we’re going to have, I don’t think I’ll have to lead the league in scoring this year,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ practice.

Anthony has established himself as one of the top scorers in the NBA over his 11 seasons in the league. He won the scoring title in 2012-13 by averaging 28.7 points per game, two-tenths fewer than his career high. Last season, he finished second to Kevin Durant.

Anthony has averaged 21.8 field goal attempts per game over the past two seasons. He suggested that number, along with his scoring, may dip this season thanks to the triangle offense, which the Knicks hope will produce quality shots for Anthony’s teammates.

“I think shots will be fewer,” Anthony said. “I think it will be more effective shots. So if that means taking fewer shots, then that’s what’s going to happen.

“But I really don’t know. We’ve been playing preseason; it’s still early. It’s not until you get in the flow of the game that you start knowing the minutes you’re going to play, knowing the group you’re going to be out there with most of the time. Until you find that rhythm, you’re not going to really understand.”

***

No. 3: Thunder’s Adams rising — The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t need a savior with Kevin Durant on the shelf to start the season. They do need someone to step up, though. And who better to fill that void than second-year big man Steven Adams? That’s right, the bruising Adams has found his offensive niche in the exhibition season and aims to keep it going as the regular season draws near. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

As the locker-room crowd thinned out following the Thunder’s recent preseason win in Dallas, Steven Adams tried to sneak by the media.

Adams is a great talker. His quirky style and dry humor play well in interview settings. So he’s never shy. But there’s one thing Adams doesn’t seem to enjoy — speaking about his own success.

But when you’re the breakout player of the preaseason — including a 19-point performance during that win in Dallas — that’ll be tough to avoid.

“Really, 19?” Adams sheepishly asked, stumbling back toward reporters. “Gotta be a misprint.”

Not a misprint. And not a fluke.

Adams returned to training camp this year a much-improved offensive player. He showed flashes last season — even scored 17 points on an Andre Drummond-led Detroit Pistons frontline in his fifth career game.

But NBA life was new, the speed was different and the minutes fluctuated. His production was inconsistent and limited.

“I think he’s just settling down,” Kevin Durant said. “Getting more comfortable.”

And though it’s only preseason, the difference has been clear.

In the opener, Adams scored 15 points in 21 minutes against Denver. Two nights later, he had that 19-point outing against the Mavs, doing the brunt of his work against former defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler. Then, in his highest-scoring performance to date, Adams had 22 points in 21 minutes against the Grizzlies.

“I thought he made a leap last year in the playoffs,” Russell Westbrook said. “I think that’s when the leap started. If you kind of watch the games and see the different things he was doing in the playoffs, you could tell it was going to lead into the summertime and now into the preseason and now to the regular season.”

Overall, Adams is averaging 15.2 points on 74 percent shooting (34-of-46) in five preseason games.

***

No. 4: Lin-sanity? More like Lin-sane-ty this season in LA: — There won’t be a repeat of the craziness that was Linsanity in New York three years ago. Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin knows better.  That’s why he’s taking the sane approach to what could be his first and last season in a Lakers uniform. Again, there will not be a repeat of the hair-raising phenomenon that took place in New York, per Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:

That wild run in New York might as well have happened three decades, not three seasons, ago.

The Lakers guard now considers himself more Linteresting than Linsanity, in case you missed his online spoof of the debonair man in the popular beer commercial.

He’d rather be known as a hard worker than a flash-in-the-Big-Apple-pan who once had 38 points and seven assists against the Lakers in a frenzied, unbelievably overjoyed Madison Square Garden.

Lin was never arrogant — too much time in the Development League and too many appearances on the waiver wire took care of that — but the trek from Knicks star to Houston Rockets afterthought to a troubled Lakers team has reminded him of the importance of … let’s call it humility.

“Pretty much everything I expected or anticipated or hoped for didn’t happen,” Lin said.

The same could be said for the position he’s hoping to assume for the Lakers, a black hole for years.

They haven’t had a game-changing point guard since Derek Fisher, a turnstile that included Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake, and, of course, Steve Nash.

Lin will happily be a salve while looking for some personal salvation as well.

His savior status with the Knicks didn’t quite work out as expected when he left them as a free agent for more money in Houston. That didn’t end well either when he lost his starting job in year two to relative unknown Patrick Beverley.

All-Star shooting guard James Harden liked to play with the ball in his hands, leaving Lin as a spot-up shooter. Not his strength. Moving Lin to the second unit allowed him to assume his more natural point-guard role.

Also, quite simply, Houston liked Beverley’s defense better than Lin’s.

So the Rockets sent Lin to the Lakers in July as a salary dump, pure and simple. They were furiously trying to clear cap room to sign Chris Bosh and had to throw in their lottery-protected first-round pick next year to get the Lakers to bite on Lin’s $14.9-million salary this season.

A few days earlier, the Rockets added temporary insanity to insult in their attempt to woo free agent Carmelo Anthony, posting digitally enhanced images of him in a Houston jersey outside their arena. Anthony wore No. 7 in the images. That was Lin’s number.

“It was a time for me to go through some bumps and some hurdles and learn how to grow,” Lin said in retrospect. “When I first got there, I was supposed to be the guy and they were supposed to kind of hand the torch to me. And I ended up getting traded away basically for nothing. Actually, they had to give up a draft pick to convince someone else to take me. Pretty much given away for nothing. Definitely not how I envisioned it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Trail Blazers have decisions to make in the frontcourt … It’s Groundhog Day in Sacramento for Ray McCallum … The time is now for Jazz big man Enes Kanter … Shabazz Napier and the Heat reserves carrying their weight in the exhibition season … The Bulls’ McDermott-Dunleavy quandary …

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon joined Michael Jordan as the only two players in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

Morning shootaround — Oct. 17


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sarver sorry fans saw depleted Spurs | Five questions loom for OKC now | LeBron wasn’t a great recruiter early on in Cleveland | Report: Wolves shopping Budinger

No. 1: Suns owner sorry fans saw depleted version of Spurs — It’s not all that unusual for NBA teams to rest a few of their superstar, veteran players in the preseason so as to perhaps work in  younger guys, or, simply, just give their best guys a night off. At around 1 p.m. yesterday, the San Antonio Spurs tweeted that Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter would miss Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to injury and that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich would also not travel with the team for the game. That left Tony Parker as the only household name to suit up last night and with 2:31 left in the game, Suns owner Robert Sarver addressed fans and apologized for San Antonio’s star-less lineup. Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic has more:

During a time out with 2:31 to go in the Suns’ 121-90 victory at US Airways Center, Sarver came to scorer’s table to get on the public address system.

“Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight,” Sarver said. “This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I’ve got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you.”

The game’s official attendance was 13,552, although many of those paid tickets were unused. After the game, Sarver said the fans who mail in a ticket stub or proof of attendance would receive a gift certificate for tickets, merchandise or food. The amount had not been determined.

“I just felt that the fans paid good money for the game and they didn’t see the players that they anticipated seeing,” Sarver said. “It was just a gesture to let them know that we appreciate their support and want to do something to compensate for that.”

Sarver said the organization had heard from fans who were displeased that they would not see all of the available Spurs.

“But that wasn’t really the reason I did it,” Sarver said. “I just think it was the right thing to do.”

Sarver said he did not believe that any league fine or reprimand was in order for the Spurs not bringing all of their healthy players to the game, the Spurs’ first preseason game since returning from a trip to Germany and Turkey last week.

“It’s their decision and it’s my decision to decide what to do for our fans,” Sarver said. “I’m fine with it.”

Some fans thanked Sarver as he returned to his seat and excited the arena’s lower bowl to head to the locker room.

“People acknowledged it and feel good about it,” Sarver said. “They know you’re thinking about them and you realize that they spent a lot of money to buy these tickets.”

It was not the first time that Sarver had a reaction to the Spurs holding out Duncan and Ginobili. In 2005, he flapped his arms like chicken wings at the Spurs bench when San Antonio chose to hold out their two stars from a regular-season game. He again drew negative social media reaction Thursday night from Spurs fans.

“It’s not really about them (the Spurs),” Sarver said. “They control what they do. We have to control what we do.”

UPDATE, 11:35 a.m.: And here’s what Sarver will be giving those Suns fans who send him their ticket …

And further details on what Sarver is offering is available via Suns.com


VIDEO: Robert Sarver addresses Suns fans during last night’s Phoenix-San Antonio game

(more…)

Can LeBron’s new ‘mates stay healthy?

cavs

If the Cavaliers hope to win a championship this season, they’ll need both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the floor for the majority of games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Injuries unfortunately are making headlines again this preseason with seemingly a bushel of six-to-eight-week-type setbacks, Kevin Durant‘s right foot and Bradley Beal‘s left wrist being two of the most recent and most prominent.

Injuries to key players certainly can derail a season. Last year, Dwyane Wade‘s status was of constant concern to the Heat, and although he said otherwise, Wade seemed to labor through the NBA Finals. His ongoing knee maintenance and uncertainty of his availability week to week, and sometimes even game to game, was also the primary reason why it made sense for LeBron James to take his talents back to Cleveland and join a younger cast.

Wade missed 58 games over the last three seasons, 28 last year and there’s no guarantee this season he’ll be able to match the 54 games he played. But be careful. In Cleveland, the seemingly indestructible James (he’s never missed more than seven games in any of his 11 seasons) is paired with two All-Stars with something of an injury track record.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on Wednesday already sat out his third consecutive preseason game with a sprained ankle. In the first quarter of that game, Kevin Love left and did not return because of a stiff neck, an injury that isn’t believed to be serious.

Irving has missed 49 games over the last three seasons, pretty comparable to Wade, who has much more mileage on his body. Love missed 80 games over that same stretch with 64 coming during two different stretches of the 2012-13 season due to a twice-broken hand. He originally broke his right hand in the preseason by, he says, doing knuckle pushups. He returned earlier than expected, played 18 games, and then re-broke the hand. At the end of that season, Love had surgery on his left knee to remove scar tissue.

Love missed just five games in his final frustrating season with Minnesota, and Irving gave the 33-win Cavs 71 games, missing 11. If new coach David Blatt can get anywhere near that availability from each player he’ll be ecstatic.

It’s just impossible to know. Some players seem to be more susceptible to injury than others. Maybe their bodies just aren’t as durable and their body parts succumb more easily. Irving is just 22 years old, but his list of injured body parts from one year at Duke through three seasons in the NBA could fill a medical encyclopedia: toe, biceps, shoulder, hand, finger, jaw, knees and now ankle.

Does it make him injury prone, or snake-bit? Does it mean he’ll always be one misstep away from trading in his uniform for a sport coat and a spot on the bench? Or is he just as likely to play all 82 games this season as he is to miss 10 games, or 20 games?

As Durant, who had missed only 16 of 558 regular-season games through his first seven seasons, said just 12 days before the Oklahoma City Thunder medical staff informed him he fractured his right foot and will miss up to two months: “You can get hurt walking outside. You hear that a lot, but you can get hurt anywhere. Freak accidents happen. But I’ve been playing this game so long that I know at any moment that something can happen.”

Love logged 36.3 minutes in 77 games last season. His injury history isn’t as ominous as Irving’s, but again, injuries are fickle. Love was already a bit banged up before the neck issue after he banged knees with Jabari Parker the night before.

As a rookie, Love played in 81 games. The next season he missed 22 games after he broke his left hand after banging it against a teammate’s elbow (does one of the league’s best rebounders and sweetest shooters have weak hands, or inexplicably bad luck with his hands?). In 2010-11, he missed nine games and then 11 the next season.

Health of course is a must for all teams. But for the championship-dreaming Cavaliers, already feeling a slight pinch from the injury bug, the ability for Irving and Love to remain on the floor with LeBron in their first season together is critical.

Is it possible? No one can answer that.

Blogtable: LeBron’s MVP challenger

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> Kevin Durant is likely out of the MVP picture, making LeBron the clear frontrunner. Who is your darkhorse MVP candidate?

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think Durant is out of MVP contention simply because he’ll miss games — if OKC were to sputter along below .500 without him, then win at an .800 clip with him, that would make all the MVP case he’d need. But I’ll play along: If James doesn’t win his fifth MVP, I’m guessing Chris Paul pushes the Clippers to something special out West and snags it. Media voters love imbuing point guards will all sorts of bonus intangibles that say “valuable” (which is why Chicago’s Derrick Rose could get back in the conversation, too).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m not sure you would label Chris Paul as a dark horse. But in the  second year under Doc Rivers and with the door opened by OKC, the Clippers could make a run at best record in the West/league and that could push CP3 over the top. Way outside in dark would be Anthony Davis, if he can somehow lead the Pelicans into the playoffs.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comStephen Curry. I’ve been a believer since the day Steve Kerr was hired that Golden State is going to have a fun and loose squad that will play the same way. They’ll maintain the defensive principles, but Kerr will usher in a much more appealing, go-go offense that is going to play right into Curry’s hands. He’s set to go bonkers, folks, and the Warriors (health be with them) will follow.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: On the assumption that by darkhorse you mean “Anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant”: Anthony Davis. The problem for Davis is that this will depend a lot on his teammates — the Pelicans are in position to make the playoffs, but if they miss, AD MVP would be a hard campaign to win. The problem for the rest of the league, meanwhile, is that he is ready to burst to the next level. He is established as a superstar into the next decade. The only question is whether that future arrives in 2014-15.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose would likely split the vote in Chicago, while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul would do the same in L.A. The Spurs are too balanced and the Pelicans won’t be good enough for Anthony Davis’ candidacy. So I’ll go with Stephen Curry, with the idea that the Warriors will improve offensively (into the top seven in efficiency) and win 50-plus games again, with Curry averaging something in the range of 25 points and 10 assists.

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI don’t know that “darkhorse” is the right word to use for what Russell Westbrook will be this season, but he’s my guy. With Kevin Durant out of the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup for up to two months, Russ West will have the MVP platform that has eluded him the past couple of seasons. He’s certainly played like one at times. But there has always been the Durant factor that kept him from getting the sort of MVP love his production deserved. I know his performance comes with the high-risk, high-reward factor that has always driven his biggest critics a bit crazy. But he won’t be denied if the Thunder can stay afloat in the West without Durant the way they did last season when Westbrook was recovering from his knee surgery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Russell Westbrook? For basically his entire NBA career, Westbrook has been judged almost solely based in relation to the production of his teammate, Kevin Durant. But with Durant gone, we may finally get to see maximum Westbrook, where he can take as many shots as he wants and drive to the basket as often as he wants. Durant and Westbrook account for the bulk of OKC’s offense, so without Durant there’s a lot of making up to do. But if the Thunder manage to not just survive but thrive without Durant, it could go a long way toward proving Westbrook’s value to his squad.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: My dark horse is… Kevin Durant. I don’t see him out of the race, even if he’s going to miss the first 20 games of the season. But he’ll have 62 more games to show everybody he deserves the prize. He’s getting closer and closer to LeBron and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that when he’ll be back. If I have to pick a name different from LeBron and KD, then I’m going with Chris Paul: the Clippers have a new spirit thanks to Steve Ballmer and he can be the guy who guide them at the top of the West.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Tony Parker could win it! It can go down like the Oscars: you know, when an actor wins the award not for the movie that he just made, but for those he had done before that. If that’s the case, then Tony Parker could win the MVP trophy, one season after the spectacular things he did with the Spurs. It’ll help his cause if San Antonio will wrap up another 55+ season and finish at the top.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m going with Blake Griffin. His offensive repertoire expanded last season and with more improvement in his game this season he should be a top candidate. There’s more tricks to his game than just dunking, he’s now a legitimate post presence and has an expanding jump shot. The next evolution of his game could be a 3-point shot. Griffin attempted 44 threes last season, hitting just 27 percent of them, but it appears that he’s testing out a 3-point shot in the preseason. Last week he showed glimpses of an expanding shot from the corner, an element that will give his game and the Clippers’ offense a new dimension. Speaking of the Clippers, they’re a legitimate contender to win the West and that generally helps when the MVP is voted on.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Blake Griffin of the Clippers. He was in the running last season, and now is one of a real top candidate. His shooting skill seems like better than last season and he can score more points by jump shot from the perimeter this season. Kevin Durant’s injured and LeBron James will share the ball more than Heat era. So I think Griffin has a big chance to get MVP, if he keeps his condition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Chris Paul. I really believe the Clippers’ point guard, the best in the league, has to elevate his game this season if the Clippers are to go to the next level. Doc Rivers’ arrival changed the Clippers for better, but until Paul takes his game to a whole new level, these Clippers will continue to stumble in the poststeason. I think somewhere CP3 realises this as well. He will want to come out aggressive and leave his stamp on this season through an MVP performance.

Juan Carlos Campos, NBA Mexico: The theory would indicate that yes, LeBron James has a clear and relatively easy path to be the league’s MVP this year. With that said, I think that Stephen Curry is more than ready to take the leap into super stardom and compete hand to hand with “King” James to be named the most valuable this season. Already in the pre-season he’s shown signs of that – just ask Kobe Bryant.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: Blake Griffin. The Clippers and Cavs have the best roster and Blake has improved his game to an amazing level: he can dunk, shoot, rebound, assist … If LeBron relaxes a bit in Cleveland … the MVP goes to L.A.

Showing up is part of NBA skill set

John Stockton (here in 2002) played in every game in 17 of his 19 years with the Jazz. (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

John Stockton (here in 2002) played in every game in 17 of his 19 years with the Jazz. (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Regardless of how many tools your go-to handyman has in his belt, no matter his craftsmanship and creativity, it doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t show up to work. The same holds true for chefs, pilots, cubicle drones and, yes, NBA players.

“Staying healthy is a skill” is the way some old-school types have put it, and while that might be too broad – neglecting simple ingredients such as luck and good genes – there is no doubt that durability is an asset. To a player and to his team.

Injuries are back in the headlines due to Kevin Durant’s foot fracture, Bradley Beal’s wrist, Rajon Rondo’s hand, Paul George’s leg and assorted dings, bruises and sidelining setbacks around the league. The key word, unfortunately, is back.

In the first few months of 2013-14, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Al Horford and Russell Westbrook were ailing. The toll across several seasons before that included Rose, Horford, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Andrew Bynum, Chris Paul, David West and the sad arcs of Brandon Roy’s and Yao Ming’s careers.

Despite heavy media coverage, the NBA’s analysis suggested that the injury rate remained largely unchanged across multiple years. Numerous theories were floated in search of an explanation for what injuries there were. Too much year-round basketball at a young age, some said. Too many games in the NBA season, from pre- through regular right onto post-, argued others. Shoe technology, court size, strength training, nutrition — all were factors examined by some, ignored by others, without much consensus, never mind solutions.

And maybe that’s all the explanation we’ll ever get: Athletes get hurt.

“It’s not like they just started happening,” Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday, before his team’s preseason home game against Denver. “This is the way it’s been. If you look at anyone who’s played 10 years in this league, they usually have dealt with something. They had to get past something. Whether it was a knee injury, an ankle injury, a shoulder injury, wrist, finger, something. OK? So it’s all part of it.

“Hopefully you have the mental toughness to get through adversity. Most of these guys have it – you can’t get here without having that. But the injuries, it’s not like all of a sudden … we react like, we collect more data and injuries all of a sudden are something new. No, they’ve been a part of this league for a long time.”

How much a part? One way to gauge the durability of players is to check the rate at which they “showed up” for their teams on a given night. Call it a player’s “availability average,” as determined by his appearances as a percentage of his team’s total games during the same period.

Using regular-season games only, here are the availability averages for 25 NBA greats, all enshrined or likely to be in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame:

  • 98.6%: John Stockton (1,504 of 1,526)
  • 98.0%: Gary Payton (1,335 of 1,362)
  • 97.5%: John Havlicek (1,270 of 1,303)
  • 97.2%: Bill Russell (963 of 991)
  • 96.7%: Karl Malone (1,476 of 1,526)
  • 96.2%: Reggie Miller (1,389 of 1,444)
  • 95.1%: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560 of 1,640)
  • 93.4%: Michael Jordan (1,072 of 1,148)
  • 92.7%: Wilt Chamberlain (1,045 of 1,17)
  • 92.1%: Jason Kidd (1,391 of 1,510)
  • 92.1%: Magic Johnson (906 of 984)
  • 91.8%: Isiah Thomas (979 of 1,066)
  • 91.7%: Oscar Robertson (1,040 of 1,134)
  • 89.6%: Dominique Wilkins (1,074 of 1,198)
  • 86.5%: Scottie Pippen (1,178 of 1,362)
  • 85.7%: Hakeem Olajuwon (1,238 of 1,444)
  • 85.3%: Moses Malone (1,329 of 1,558)
  • 84.1%: Larry Bird (897 of 1,066)
  • 82.2%: Jerry West (932 of 1,134)
  • 81.9%: Allen Iverson (914 of 1,116)
  • 79.4%: Tracy McGrady (938 of 1,182)
  • 79.1%: Shaquille O’Neal (1,207 of 1,526)
  • 78.8%: Charles Barkley (1,073 of 1,362)
  • 75.7%: Elgin Baylor (846 of 1,117)
  • 67.9%: Grant Hill (1,026 of 1,510)

Here, for comparison’s sake, are 25 of the league’s top active players (we’re assuming Ray Allen signs with someone) and their rate for “showing up:”

  • 97.1%: Kevin Durant (542 of 558)
  • 95.5%: Dwight Howard (768 of 804)
  • 95.0%: LeBron James (842 of 886)
  • 94.0%: Dirk Nowitzki (1,188 of 1,264)
  • 93.2%: Tim Duncan (1,254 of 1,346)
  • 93.1%: Paul Pierce (1,177 of 1,264)
  • 92.4%: Russell Westbrook (440 of 476)
  • 91.2%: Kevin Garnett (1,377 of 1,510)
  • 91.0%: Ray Allen (1,300 of 1,428)
  • 90.8%: Vince Carter (1,148 of 1,264)
  • 90.2%: LaMarcus Aldridge (577 of 640)
  • 89.5%: Tony Parker (940 of 1,050)
  • 89.2%: Carmelo Anthony (790 of 886)
  • 87.2%: Kobe Bryant (1,245 of 1,426)
  • 86.2%: Pau Gasol (905 of 1,050)
  • 85.5%: Chris Paul (617 of 722)
  • 85.3%: Steph Curry (336 of 394)
  • 85.2%: Steve Nash (1,217 of 1,428)
  • 82.1%: Manu Ginobili (795 of 968)
  • 81.2%: Dwyane Wade (719 of 886)
  • 78.9%: Rajon Rondo (505 of 640)
  • 78.2%: Blake Griffin (308 of 394)
  • 76.5%: Kevin Love (364 of 476)
  • 75.9%: Amar’e Stoudemire (735 of 968)
  • 60.7% Derrick Rose (289 of 476)

Durant’s average is going to take a hit as soon as Oklahoma City’s schedule begins without him in two weeks. His sidekick Westbrook will have to pick up slack for the Thunder – and Westbrook’s rate actually might be better than you expected, since his most notable breakdown came in the 2013 postseason.

Rose will be trying to boost a number that, historically, has him well below one of the NBA’s poster guys for bad luck, Grant Hill. Meanwhile, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan — even if they never reach Stockton’s or Payton’s mad numbers — probably don’t get enough acclaim for enduring the rigors of their work as well as they do.

“I think your mindset has to be right,” Thibodeau said. “They say Duncan never leaves the gym. And when you look at great players, that’s usually when you read about guys who have achieved something great. It’s usually them getting past adversity, then making great effort, and their readiness to accept the challenge.”

Asked whether good fortune or good genetics plays the greater role in good NBA health, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy said: “Both. There’s also work that goes into it. The more you take care of your body year round, offseason and in-season, it directly affects your health, how many games you’re able to play and how many games you miss. But you can do the best job of that in the world and you can still get hurt.”

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw subscribes to the AAU-crazed, overuse theory and won’t let his kids play just one sport all year long because of that. He and his team are back after a 2013-14 season beset by injuries (Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Nate Robinson and others).

Shaw sees more attention focused on injury prevention and body maintenance, even if that gets circumvented by one awkward move or fluke moment. An NBA point guard for 14 seasons, Shaw said: “Before we kind of just did some jumping jacks, went down and touched your toes a few times, and went out and played. Now there’s a 15- or 20-minute period every day where the strength and conditioning coach activates the players’ muscles and warms them up.

“It takes some discipline to do those things that are monotonous to warm yourself up properly and cool yourself down after a practice, to ice and do all the things that are necessary for you to come back the next day.”

Thibodeau talked of two competing “schools of thought” for coping physically in the NBA. One loads up players with minutes and practices almost like weighting a baseball bat in the on-deck circle, so they’re in peak condition for what the schedules throws at them. The other preaches rest, recuperation and easing through the preseason and even the regular season to be as healthy as possible for the playoffs.

It’s no secret which school Thibodeau graduated from.

“The only way you can guarantee a guy not getting hurt is, don’t play him,” the Bulls coach said. “Don’t practice him, don’t play him. Don’t play him in the preseason, don’t play him in the regular season. Just don’t play him and he won’t get hurt.”

‘Jones fracture’ can be tricky, but odds are Durant heals just fine


VIDEO: OKC GM Sam Presti says it’s impossible to replace Durant

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The “Jones fracture” Kevin Durant sustained to his right foot is hardly unique to basketball players. However the bone in question — the fifth metatarsal — is unique, which is why pinpointing Durant’s return, plus potential complications, is met by sports medicine professionals with a certain level of caution.

“We don’t worry about this if it was, for example, the bone to the middle toe, because 100 percent of the time those heal. You never have the remote chance of nonunion when you’re considering the third or fourth metatarsals,” said renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. T.O. Souryal, the Dallas Mavericks team physician and president of the NBA Team Physicians Association. “The fifth [metatarsal] is very unique and it’s unique because there are tendons that attach there that are constantly pulling in the opposite direction that you want the healing to take place. None of the other metatarsal bones have that stress on them. Because of the mechanics, because of the blood supply, there is that little shadow of uncertainty.

“Those of us who do sports medicine on a regular basis have a tremendous respect for Jones fracture because it looks relatively innocuous, and 95 percent of them heal uneventfully, relatively quickly. But there are a few tricky ones that don’t heal uneventfully and don’t heal very quickly.”

Thunder general manager Sam Presti said on Sunday that Durant will likely undergo surgery, and he estimated the NBA’s reigning MVP will be sidelined six to eight weeks. Souryal said surgery is the most common treatment for athletes with a “Jones fracture,” and that Presti’s timeframe is on target for this type of injury.

The fifth metatarsal bone is the long bone on the outside of the foot that connects to the little toe. A “Jones fracture” occurs toward the back end of the bone in an area that receives less blood and therefore can be more prone to difficulties in healing. For most athletes, the “Jones fracture” is caused by overuse, repetitive stress or trauma. Presti said Durant alerted the Thunder’s medical staff to discomfort in his foot following Saturday’s practice.

Because of the tricky nature of the bone, Souryal said the actual time an athlete misses can vary, sometimes healing before the six-week timetable, but also sometimes taking longer than eight weeks.

“There are some [Jones fractures] that heal in four to five weeks, absolutely, but there are some that take three, four months,” Souryal said. “And it’s difficult to tell which is which in the beginning. It’s just difficult to tell. As a result, we all have a healthy respect for this injury. In Oklahoma City, they have an excellent medical staff and I will give them tremendous credit for making the diagnosis early, and I am sure that they are in deliberations right now trying to decide what is the best course of action.”

Once the bone heals, Souryal said it will be as good as new. That’s not a guarantee that Durant can’t re-injure the foot, but odds are in his favor that he will continue on with his career with no further difficulties.

Mavs fans remember up-and-coming guard Rodrigue Beaubois, who fractured the same bone while working out with the French national team several summers ago. Beaubois underwent surgery and was on the comeback trail, but he re-fractured the bone during a workout as his return date neared and missed another significant chunk of time.

“He was one of the few percentages that did not heal fully and re-broke,” Souryal said.

The fact that basketball players are constantly running and jumping, the factors that likely led to Durant’s injury in the first place, means there is always a risk of re-injury. However, most athletes returning from the fracture, Souryal said, do not experience a setback.

“The positive spin is that the vast majority heal this fracture uneventfully and come back on time,” Souryal said. “It’s only those tricky ones, those few percentage points, that don’t. So if you play the odds, I think six to eight weeks is exactly right.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC trying to figure out its Plan B | Bryant mentoring in a new way | Jackson: Dolan won’t ‘meddle’ in roster moves | Shaw monitoring Lawson’s ankle injury

No. 1: OKC searching for lineup solution in wake of Durant injury — In case you were under a rock yesterday, the Oklahoma City Thunder received some tough news mid-morning that their superstar (and the NBA’s reigning MVP) Kevin Durant will be out 6-8 weeks with a stress-related fracture in his right foot. It’s tough news for that team to swallow, but they must move forward as the start of the season approaches. One of the most well-informed OKC observers, The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry, offers up this view on what may be next in Thunder-land:

There is no Plan B for losing the NBA’s leading scorer four times over to injury. Still, the Thunder must come up with one.

Quick.

Five preseason games might remain, but Oklahoma City’s season opener arrives two weeks from Wednesday. And the Thunder, remember, hasn’t even determined — or at least hasn’t announced — who’ll be this year’s starting shooting guard and center.

Now tack onto that the chore of figuring out who will be the starting small forward. Figuring out who will replicate Durant’s 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Figuring out how to survive 20 games in the ruthless Western Conference.

“Replacing 30 points and high efficiency, that is not going to be easy,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said at a news conference discussing Durant’s injury Sunday. “It will be a collection of things.”

Presti pointed first to defense.

“One of the ways to improve your team and make up for loss offensively is to be play even better defensively and reduce the net rating between the offense and the defense,” Presti said.

Part of the shame in Durant going down will be the delayed unveiling of OKC’s revamped offense, which has looked phenomenal at times through two preseason games thanks to ball movement, spacing, cutting and off-ball action that has been missing for the better part of six seasons.

The challenge for the Thunder, and it will be a real challenge without the world’s best scorer standing on the wing striking nightly fear into defenders, is to maintain that offensive identity and allow it to lead to easier scoring opportunities. No longer can the Thunder rely simply on the two-headed monster of Durant and Russell Westbrook. For too long OKC has gotten by with their supreme talents bailing out the offense. Now, the offense will have to sustain what suddenly has become a far less talented active roster.

The basketball world already is on edge waiting to see what Westbrook will do as a ball-happy, shot-hungry point guard without Durant by his side. But if all goes according to plan, the basketball world will be disappointed. Because unlike the 2013 postseason, when the Thunder’s offense unsuccessfully went from a glorified two-man show with Westbrook healthy to a horrifying one-man show staring Durant after the infamous Patrick Beverley play, Westbrook and his teammates have displayed a commitment to better ball movement, better execution and, thus, better structure.

In time, it could lead to the Thunder becoming a better team.


VIDEO: Thunder GM Sam Presti discusses how OKC will move on after Kevin Durant’s injury

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 11


VIDEO: LeBron touches on Heat-Cavs in Rio and comments from Wade, Bosh

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron surprised by Heat talk | Parker: “I’m still hungry” | League plans aggressive marketing campaign | Ray Allen isn’t a lock for Cavs?

No. 1: LeBron caught off guard by former teammates’ comments — The Big Three that won two titles and played in four consecutive NBA Finals doesn’t seem so chummy anymore. Remaining Heat players Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have had some interesting things to say about what it’s like to play with the King while the Heat and Cavaliers are both in Brazil and will play an exhibition game Saturday. Apparently LeBron James has been surprised by their words. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal has the story:

RIO DE JANEIRO: Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise to LeBron James that his former Heat teammates are upset at his departure. After all, he went through this the first time he left a team.

When James bolted the Cavs for Miami in 2010, Daniel Gibson and Mo Williams were two of the most hurt and outspoken about it. Gibson implied his friendship with James was over, and Williams appeared in front of the media before James’ initial return game to Cleveland wearing a Boston Red Sox jacket — the one and only time he wore a Sox jacket in all his years in Cleveland. Even those within the Cavs organization took it as a subtle jab at James, who is a big Yankees fan.

Now that James has spurned his Heat teammates to return to Cleveland, the bitterness has shifted to the other side. James said Friday he was caught by surprise by some of the comments from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in recent days.
“I know a lot of words have been coming out of their camp as of late, and some of it is surprising,” James said Friday prior to the Cavs’ practice at Flamengo Club. “We’ve got so much history together.”

The three stars guided the Heat to four consecutive Finals appearances and two championships. But Wade recently said last season wasn’t much fun and Bosh earlier this week said he hasn’t spoken to James since he left and he doesn’t have time for guys who aren’t on his team.

Bosh has since clarified those comments, but he also told Bleacher Report this week that Kevin Love will have to make a huge adjustment playing alongside James.

“It’s going to be very difficult for him,” Bosh said of Love. “Even if I was in his corner and I was able to tell him what to expect and what to do, it still doesn’t make any difference. You still have to go through things, you still have to figure out things on your own. It’s extremely difficult and extremely frustrating. He’s going to have to deal with that.”

Bosh explained how dramatically he had to change his game to adapt to playing alongside James, essentially cutting out his inside game to leave room for James and Wade to operate.

“It’s a lot more difficult taking a step back, because you’re used to doing something a certain way and getting looks a certain way,” Bosh said. “And then it’s like, ‘Well no, for the benefit of the team, you have to get it here.’ So even if you do like the left block, the volume of the left bock is going to be different.”

There is merit to Bosh’s claims. He sacrificed the most of his game during the Heat’s Big Three era. But losing James clearly cripples the Heat’s odds at another deep playoff run, which could easily explain any lingering frustration among those teammates left behind.

By tipoff Saturday night, the Cavs and Heat will have spent more than 100 hours together in Rio, yet neither James nor the Heat players made any effort to see each other off the court this week.

While a handful of Cavs players joined a few Heat players on Thursday for a joint NBA Cares project, James was not one of them. Friday’s schedule provided a huge window between practices, so the Heat (which cut practice early) were long gone before the Cavs arrived at Flamengo Club.

“We don’t dislike each other or anything like that, it’s nothing like that,” Bosh said Friday. “On the court, he’s about the Cavs, we’re about the Heat. That’s where it ends.”

***

No. 2: Tony Parker isn’t satisfied yet — In a wide-ranging interview with Yahoo! France, Spurs point guard and four-time NBA champion Tony Parker talks about becoming a father and getting married, says he feels great physically and that it feels like he’s living a dream. Pounding The Rock delivers the translation of the French interview:

Question: You’re a father now, how has it changed your life ?

Tony: It changes your priorities so you don’t look at your life the same way. I’m very proud that he’s [Josh Parker] here and I hope that we’ll help him to grow up and be a good person.

Question: Do you take part in the parental tasks?

Tony: Yeah, sure. I am a father who’s involved in all the tasks. I like to help with the diapers, all of that… I like to be aware of what’s going on.

Question: You also got married. Is this important for you?

Tony: I think it is important for your balance. I’ve always been well supported. There’s always support behind every top sportsman from their family and friends…You can’t succeed all alone. I have always been very close to my family and it’s been important for me to have my parents and my brothers by my side throughout my career.

Question: How can you stay a bit French, which we’re proud of, considering that you’re more and more American?

Tony: I regularly come back to France to play with the national team, to work with my sponsors, or to help with my foundation. I’m also an ambassador for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I host my basketball camps in Fécamp, Normandy, which is the place where I started to play basketball. I always have a foot here.

Question: You’ve become a symbol of success in France. How do you handle that?

Tony: I always try to be a good representative of my country in the United States. You know, I left when I was a very ambitious 19 year old with “The American Dream.” I’ve always been a big dreamer. I’ve always had an entrepreneur-like approach and I wanted to succeed both on and off the court. I wanted to be an ambassador for French basketball.

My idol growing up was Michael Jordan. He was the perfect example for succeeding on and off the court. So at my level – of course I’m not going to compare myself to MJ – I want to do the same for French basketball.

Question: What is the reason for your success? Work?

Tony: I don’t want to sound too cliche, but yes, you’ve got to work hard. You have to be disciplined, take care of your body and watch what you eat. All of the things that you’re told about when you’re trying to become a pro athlete, all of that is true. There are many guys who are very talented but not disciplined enough. Partying too often is an example. There are many little things that can make the difference between a good career and a great career.

Question: At 32, sports wise, where do you think you are? At the top?

Tony: I feel really good physically. I don’t feel like I’m getting old or like I’m slowing down. I’m still hungry, even though I have won everything in my career. I want to continue to be challenged, and with the Spurs, we’ve got a great challenge now: try to repeat, which we have never done.

With Team France, there’s the Eurobasket 2015 tournament and getting to play it in your home country is huge. Defending the title is not going to be easy. And then, there’s an Olympic medal. For me, the perfect ending would be to win the European championship in France in 2015 and meet the US in the Olympic finals in 2016. That would be great.

Question: Do you feel like you’re still improving, or like you have reached your apex?

Tony: I feel like I reached the apex. Basketball players are commonly thought to have their best years between 28 and 32. Because you have the experience but you’re still strong and fast. So I think I reached the apex. Then, you can always try to improve, to become a better shooter, a better defender.

Question: Frankly, when you think about it… Four NBA titles [is quite an achievement]

Tony: I can hardly believe it. Sometimes I must pinch myself because I feel like I’m living a dream. When I see the names I have surpassed on the various lists – best scorers, best passers…and all of the things I’ve accomplished with Tim, Manu and Popovich…It feels odd.

***

No. 3: Following new TV deal, NBA targets casual fans — The league’s new chief marketing officer says it is increasing the marketing budget and planning to be more aggressive with its marketing to attract a larger fan base. The NBA debuts its new season-long campaign, “Everybody Up” tonight. E.J. Schultz of Ad Age has the inside look:

The National Basketball Association, which recently inked a lucrative media rights deal, will increase its marketing budget as it looks to lure more casual fans, according to the league’s new chief marketing officer.

Some of the new spending will back the league’s season-long campaign, which debuts Saturday and will run on a broader set of networks than in years past, said CMO Pam El, who joined the NBA in August after stints at insurance companies State Farm and Nationwide.

“We are going to be much more aggressive with our marketing. We want to go after a larger fan base,” she said in an interview.

While she declined to reveal spending figures, she said the new campaign, called “Everybody Up,” will run on news and entertainment networks such as BET, CNN, TBS and VH1 “just to name a few.”

The first ad of the campaign (above) is called “Roll Call” and will first air on Saturday during the Miami Heat vs. Cleveland Cavaliers preseason game that will be played in Rio de Janeiro and air on ESPNews. The ad is by Goodby Silverstein & Partners and features narration by hip hop artist Common.

Previously, the league had mostly confined its early-season campaign to ESPN and TNT, which both carry NBA games, Ms. El said. The league will still air ads on the two networks, but “we are going to branch outside of that media to reach not only the avid fan, but also our casual fan,” she said.

***

No. 4: Ray Allen’s still in no hurry to sign — While many assume Ray Allen will play this season and like do so with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge isn’t so convinced. A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast Sportsnet has more:

BOSTON — You can count Danny Ainge among those not convinced that Ray Allen will sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers … at least not right now.

“Ray can really help them, but I anticipate that Ray will wait and see the landscape of the NBA,” Ainge, the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, said during his weekly call-in to 98.5 the Sports Hub. “I just think he might wait and see how everybody’s clicking. There’s a handful of teams that would love to have Ray on their team right now that are trying to win a championship.”

In addition to the Cavaliers, Chicago, Oklahoma City and defending champs San Antonio are among the teams that have reportedly expressed interest in bringing in the former Celtic who has won NBA titles in Boston (2008) and Miami (2013).

“He may wait until All-Star break or January,” Ainge said. “And just see what teams are playing well, which teams are the healthiest and which team that he thinks that he might fit in, just in the style of play. With new coaches at some different places, he may just want to see how it unfolds before he makes a decision.”

Ainge, who won a pair of NBA titles (1984, 1986) with the Celtics, said he has no issue with veteran players choosing to latch on with clubs that they believe are title contenders.

“The rules sort of indicate that’s what you can do,” Ainge said. “Ray’s probably, if he goes to one of the contending teams he’ll be making minimum salary. He’s been a max player a couple times in his career. That’s his right, to try and win a championship. It’s just the way the collective bargaining agreement is structured. It’s different than how it was structured back in the ’80s and ’90s. I don’t blame a player like Ray, right now, for wanting to find a perfect fit for him as he finishes his career.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thunder’s Reggie Jackson left Friday’s game with a wrist injury … Ankle injury will sideline Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving for tonight’s preseason game against Miami in Brazil … Under new TV deal could salary cap reach $100 million? … LeBron still the one most GMs want to start a team … Lakers weren’t good enough to attract Carmelo Anthony … Mavericks guard Raymond Felton left Friday’s game with a sprained right ankle … Spurs forward Boris Diaw can earn an extra $500,000 my maintaining his weight throughout the season … Kevin Durant isn’t interested in giving up guaranteed money as a trade-off to do away with max contracts.

Jackson’s dreams await with patience

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

reggie-jackson

Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.1 assists last season in 28.5 minutes. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Reggie Jackson didn’t start the Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason opener Wednesday night at Denver, and that’s not likely to change regardless of how many impassioned pleas he makes.

“I want it. I feel strong about it. I want to be the starter,” Jackson said a couple of weeks ago during Media Day, delivering a rambling and emotional speech that spilled over the 10 minutes allotted for each player. “What I have always grown up just believing, I want a majority of my time to be spent playing against other starters. I want to play against the best, I want to play against Chris Paul, I want to play against Kyrie Irving, I want to be mentioned on the highest of levels.”

It’s certainly admirable. It’s just not practical. Three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook is the Thunder’s starting point guard, and coach Scott Brooks just anointed him best in the business.

But that’s not the point here. Oklahoma City has a starting job open at shooting guard, not point guard. Jackson, a quick, 6-foot-3 point guard, filled the 2-guard spot well several times during the second round and the West finals when Brooks benched longtime starter Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha moved on to Atlanta and OKC will replace him in-house. Just not with Jackson.

The overriding issue is — and this should make Jackson feel all warm and fuzzy — he’s too valuable right where he is. It’s more ideal for OKC to fill in the starting 2-guard spot (second-year player Andre Roberson, a defensive-minded two-guard with little offensive upside, and erratic Jeremy Lamb, a natural for the position as a lanky 6-foot-5 shooter if he can ever harness consistency, are the top options) than to replace Jackson’s critical production off the bench.

It’s unfortunate really. Here’s a young player so determined to make a name for himself but is convinced being a reserve is taking a back seat. Brooks and others try to tell him it’s more impressive to be a “finisher,” which he is, that he’ll log as many minutes as a sub and he’ll play many, many minutes alongside Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The decision to not start Jackson isn’t a personal one, or one made because there’s somebody better to do it. As shown above, there’s not. Keeping Jackson on the bench is purely strategic. OKC needs his aggression, penetration and scoring to lead the second unit. As they realized last season, the Thunder bench is compromised without him.

“For some people [starting is] important. To others it’s not,” Jackson said. “It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team, the head of the snake.”

Again, admirable, but not realistic. Intertwined in all this is Jackson’s eligibility for an extension by the end of the month as he enters his fourth season. If one doesn’t get done he’ll enter next summer as a restricted free agent, which seems the likely path, where other teams can set his value.

Comparisons have been made to James Harden‘s situation a couple of years ago when OKC stunned everybody and traded him to Houston before the start of the 2012-13 season. But lets not confuse Jackson for Harden, a No. 3 overall pick and an emerging star when he was dealt. Jackson, the 24th pick, barely got off the bench as a rookie. He averaged 14.2 minutes the next season before being thrust into the starting lineup in the first round of the playoffs after Westbrook injured his knee. He started 36 games last season when Westbrook was out and staked himself as key contributor. His 32 points in 37 brilliant minutes off the bench in Game 4 at Memphis, all but saved an embarrassing first-round exit.

A more accurate comparison is Eric Bledsoe, the 18th pick in 2010 (actually drafted by the Thunder and traded to the Clippers) who spent three seasons backing up CP3. He got his break last season after being traded to Phoenix. He played great in a two point-guard backcourt with Goran Dragic and the Suns made fast strides. Although Bledsoe missed half the season with a knee injury, he cashed in as a restricted free agent with the Suns — albeit rather contentiously — on a five-year, $70 million contract.

Jackson won’t get that chance to start, but what he has that Bledsoe did not is the opportunity to win a championship. If he does that, or even gets close, while being perceived as a selfless, super sixth man, all of Jackson’s boyhood dreams will be in front of him starting next summer.

Just not likely with the Oklahoma City Thunder.