Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Garnett’

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Steve Smith has the story of Lakers rookie Larry Nance, Jr.

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls | How will Rivers use the bench he’s built? | Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics | KG to start for Wolves in Season No. 21

No. 1: Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls — After four straight seasons of ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency, the Chicago Bulls fell to 11th last season. Fred Hoiberg is supposed to change up the offense upon taking over for Tom Thibodeau, but Pau Gasol knows that his team can’t lose focus on the defensive end of the floor, as ESPN’s Jon Greenberg writes

Bulls center Pau Gasol doesn’t know if his role will change next year under new coach Fred Hoiberg and his uptempo offensive system. He doesn’t even know if he’ll start.

But what the NBA veteran does know is the team can’t forget about former coach Tom Thibodeau’s calling card: Defense.

Hoiberg is known for a particular brand of basketball that encourages 3-point shooting and quick decisions, but while the Bulls offense under Thibodeau had too many lulls, they still managed to score 100.8 points per game. Hoiberg hired veteran NBA assistant coach Jim Boylen to help with the defense.

“Well, I think offense wasn’t really too much of an issue last year,” Gasol said on a conference call from South Africa, where he’s taking part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders event, which culminates with the first-ever NBA exhibition in Africa on Aug. 1. “We have a lot of talent offensively, and I think we’ll play with better flow offensively with Fred. We’ll have more freedom to play in transition and explore our abilities as individuals and as a team. As long as we understand that defense wins championships and makes the difference, and make sure we don’t neglect that side, we should be fine.”

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No. 2: How will Rivers sort out the bench he’s built? — Though he had little flexibility going into the summer, Clippers president Doc Rivers restructured his bench, adding Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, among others. The L.A. Times‘ Ben Bolch now wonders how Rivers will make all the pieces work together. He enlisted NBA TV analysts Mike Fratello and Stu Jackson to help him sort through the questions…

Stephenson comes with a history of having blown in LeBron James ear’ during a game. He’s also generated whispers about being a bad teammate, leading to more questions from Fratello.

“How is he going to fit in with the chemistry of this team and how will he handle the star factor of Chris Paul, of Blake Griffin, of Pierce’s experience and his Hall of Fame background?” Fratello asked. “How is he going to fit in with all that and does he bounce back from having a disappointing year last year? Has he grown up, has he matured, is he going to be a contributor?”

Jackson, a former coach and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies who is an analyst for NBA TV, said the presence of Paul, Griffin and Pierce should act as a buffer against bad behavior because they have created a culture of success and expectations.

“Teams that have veteran leadership can absorb almost any player into their culture and their environment,” Jackson said.

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No. 3: Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics — After initially saying that he was done as the coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team after the 2012 Olympics, Mike Krzyzewski came back for four more years. Now, as the team prepares to gather in Las Vegas for a three-day camp, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo makes it clear, in a Q & A with Yahoo’s Marc Spears, that he’ll need a new coach after next year’s Olympics in Rio.

Q: How much longer do you want to be executive director of USA Basketball?

Colangelo: For me, it is still a passion. I’ve been asked to continue beyond ’16, which means through ’20. My attitude is: if I’m still healthy, and I’m healthy now, my passion still exists.

Q: Is there any way you can convince Mike Krzyzewski to coach past the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: No. This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

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No. 4: KG to start for Wolves in season No. 21Kevin Garnett played in just five games after returning to Minnesota at the trade deadline this past February. The Wolves have a crowded frontcourt, with No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica joining Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Re-signed to a two-year deal, Garnett will join Robert Parish and Kevin Willis as the only players in NBA history to play more than 20 seasons, but won’t be coming off the bench for the first time since his rookie year. In a Q & A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Wolves president and head coach Flip Saunders says that KG is a starter.

Is KG going to start?

He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.

Does that include Towns, or is he a center? A hybrid? Does it matter?

It doesn’t matter. He’s a player. Good teams have guys that can play multiple positions. It makes them harder to guard. Besides, it’s not what position you play. It’s what position you can guard. Some nights, Towns will guard power forwards and KG will guard centers. Some nights, it will be the other way around.

It’s apparently Q & A day in Minnesota, because point guard Ricky Rubio also talked at length with Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver

SI: What excites you about 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns?

RR: “I like guys who can shoot the ball. Having Kevin Love really helped stretch the floor. I think Towns is a better fit [than No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor] because of that. Okafor is more like [Nikola] Pekovic, a strong guy down in the post. Towns is a guy we don’t have.”

SI: How do you see this developing core group of you, Wiggins, Towns and LaVine playing together?

RR: “We’re pretty young, first of all. We’ve got a lot to learn. We’re athletic, we’re starving, we’re hungry. That’s something that’s going to show in practice and the games. I think it’s going to be a fun team to watch. A point guard who can pass the ball to athletic wings and big guys who can do a lot of damage in the post. In the case of Towns, he can really shoot the ball and run up and down too. I think it will be fun basketball, exciting.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It’s been too long since we got an update from the Sixers on Joel EmbiidThe Pelicans still need to get Norris Cole re-signed … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha are both making progress as they recover from season-ending injuries … Perry Jones is happy to have a fresh start in Boston … The Thunder signed 2014 first-round pick Josh Huestis after sending him to the D-League for a year … Could the Warriors get Kevin Durant next summer?

Morning Shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: Members of Team Africa and Team World have arrived in Johannesburg

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ujiri leads the charge in Africa | Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves | Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’

No. 1: Ujiri leads the charge in Africa — Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is at the forefront of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative in Africa. It’s more than just an obligation from the Ujiri, it’s a passion project years in the making. Our very own Shaun Powell is on the ground in Johannesburg and captured the essence of Ujiri’s mission to serve as an ambassador for the game, and sports in general, on his native continent:

For anyone who might ask why the general manager of the Toronto Raptors is spending his summer threatening to go hoarse half a world away, well, you must know this about Masai Ujiri. When he’s in charge of an NBA franchise, he’s in his element, because his peers find him very astute and a few years ago voted him the game’s top executive. But when he’s developing basketball and teaching life skills to children and young adults in Africa, he’s in his homeland and his own skin, and there is no greater reward or satisfaction or privilege. When and if he wins his first NBA title, that might pull equal to this.

Might.

He was in Senegal last week, holding basketball clinics through his foundation, Giants of Africa. Next up: Stops in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and also Nigeria, his birthplace. He’ll spend three weeks on this side of the Atlantic with the hope of discovering the next Dikembe Mutombo from these clinics, but would gladly settle for the next surgeon.

This weekend is unique and special because here on Saturday the NBA will stage an exhibition game for the first time in Africa, and the participating NBA players and coaches are warming up by serving as clinic counselors.

One is Chris Paul, and the cheers he gets from campers are the loudest, but even an eight-time All-Star knows he’s not the star of the home team, not on this soil.

Ujiri ricochets from one group of campers to another like a blind bumblebee, carrying an air horn that blows when one session ends and another begins. After five non-stop hours of this he is asked if he’s tired, and no, he’s just amused at the question. Who gets tired from doing their passion?

“I look at these kids and they remind me of me of when I was a young kid,” he says. “I see me through them. All they need is a chance.”

It all runs with precision at this clinic, how the students are disciplined and determined, how their enthusiasm rubs off on the NBA players and coaches, how Ujiri’s vision seems so … right. As Ujiri gave pointers, a Hall of Famer who’s also the pioneer of African basketball stood off to the side, shaking his head, astonished at the spectacle and the man in charge.

“Masai has a lot of passion for this, and helping Africa year after year speaks about the person he is,” says Hakeem Olajuwon. “He is a prince. That’s what he is.”

***

No. 2: Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves — Kevin Garnett won’t be the only “old head” in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room this season. He’ll have some company in the form of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who agreed to a one-year deal to join the renaissance KG, Flip Saunders and Ricky Rubio are trying to engineer with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Miller’s role is more than just that of an adviser, though, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

It was less than two weeks ago that Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, said his team might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

He has arrived.

A source confirmed a report that Wolves had come to an agreement on a one-year contract with veteran Andre Miller, who visited the Wolves on Wednesday.

It marks an evolution in Saunders’ thinking. Immediately after moving up to draft former Apple Valley star Tyus Jones late in the first round of the draft, Saunders sounded like he might be happy with Jones as Ricky Rubio’s backup. But the fact that Rubio is coming off ankle surgery and Jones is a rookie ultimately changed Saunders’ mind.

“You don’t want to put the pressure on the young guys so much,” Saunders said two weeks ago. “Hey, listen, we’re always looking to upgrade. It could happen.”

And it did. Miller, 39, is nearing the end of a long career, but his experience should help both Rubio and Jones while giving the Wolves some peace of mind. Originally drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft by Cleveland, the 6-2 Miller has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 assists over 16 seasons while playing for seven teams. Last season between 81 games in Sacramento and Washington, Miller averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.

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No. 3: Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’: — There is no need for an autopsy on Wes Matthews‘ exit from Portland via free agency. He’s a Dallas Maverick now and apparently for good reason. Matthews told Jason Quick of the Oregonian that the Trail Blazers never made an offer to keep him, allowing the injured free agent to take the offer from the Mavericks and move on after being an integral part of the operation in Rip City.:

He had hoped he could return to the city that had embraced him, to the team with players he considered brothers, to the franchise where he grew into one of the NBA’s most well-rounded and respected shooting guards.

But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.

“I was pissed off,” Matthews said. “I felt disrespected.”

He believed he was a viable option for teams, even as he continued to rehabilitate a ruptured left Achilles tendon suffered in March. In the days leading up to free agency, Matthews’ camp released video to ESPN showing him jogging in place, utilizing lateral movement and shooting jumpers. He was, he wanted the league to know, ahead of the eight-month recovery time estimated by doctors.

A story also leaked that Matthews expected negotiations to start at $15 million a season, or almost $8 million more than he made last year.

It was a ghastly number for the Blazers, even though they could technically afford him. Paul Allen is the richest owner in sports, but after a lost era during which he paid more than a combined $100 million to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, only to see their knee injuries become chronic, Allen was wary of paying top dollar to a player coming off a serious injury.

The only chance the Blazers would pursue Matthews, top executive Neil Olshey later explained, was if free agent LaMarcus Aldridge chose to return, maintaining Portland as a playoff-caliber team. When Aldridge chose San Antonio, the Blazers decided to rebuild. Paying big money to a 29-year-old shooting guard coming off major surgery didn’t make long-term sense.

“I was angry,” Matthews said, “but I also realize that this is a business.”

He figured there would be trying times, with harsh realities, after he suffered his injury during the third quarter of a March 5 game against Dallas. Achilles injuries not only test one’s body, they challenge the mind.

He didn’t expect one challenge to come from the team to which he gave so much of his heart, so much of his sweat. Portland’s silence meant he was losing the greatest comfort of his career: a stable starting lineup, an adoring fan base and a rising profile.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chuck Hayes is headed back to Houston on a partially guaranteed one-year deal … Tyus Jones, the hometown kid, is leading the summer caravan for the Minnesota Timberwolves … A couple of Trail Blazers are going a bit Hollywood this summer … Amir Johnson was convinced Celtics fans would love him before he joined the team

Morning shootaround — July 14


VIDEO: What to make of the DeMarcus Cousins-George Karl situation

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl, Cousins meet | Blatt reflects on year one | Nets begin youth movement | Change in playoff seeding?

No. 1: Karl, Cousins meet One of the running subplots all summer has involved the Sacramento Kings, who continue to try and rebuild their roster. Coach George Karl and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins have publicly disagreed this summer, but yesterday at the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League, the two finally were face-to-face. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Karl says they can make the relationship work

“I just said hello to him this afternoon,” Karl told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t think it’s something we have to rush through. You got two guys that are very frustrated with losing, two guys that are somewhat stubborn and two guys that love to compete.

“Sometimes, that doesn’t work the first time you hang around. But you have to take your time to make it work. I’m very confident to make it work.”

Karl was given a four-year, $14 million deal to coach the Kings on Feb. 8. Days later, Cousins made his first NBA All-Star appearance. Karl had an 11-19 record coaching the Kings last season.

The rift between Cousins and Karl grew after Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported before the NBA draft that Karl wanted Cousins traded. Cousins responded by tweeting out an emoji of a snake in the grass. A day later, Karl said Cousins was the Kings’ best player but the franchise needed him to be “committed and dedicated to being in Sacramento.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive was so upset with Karl that he seriously considering firing him, a league source said. Cousins wanted to be traded before the draft, a source told Yahoo Sports, but no deal was consummated.

“Cousins felt like if Karl wanted [him] to be traded then he wanted to be traded, too,” a source close to the situation said.

Cousins declined comment when asked about Karl by Yahoo Sports on Sunday and simply said he was “straight” [good]. New Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports that he expects Karl to be the coach when next season begins.

When asked what he needed to do to reconnect with Cousins, Karl told Yahoo Sports: “Communicate. Get everything honest. Come to whatever you want to say, an agreement on what he wants from me and what I want from him. Just be professional about our jobs and communicate.”

Divac said he would play a strong role in helping Cousins and Karl get on the same page before next season.

“It’s going in a good direction,” Divac said. “I have a goal for the two to be in a great place. And they will be.”

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No. 2: Blatt reflects on year one Last season was Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt‘s first season as an NBA head coach. He’d spent decades as a coach in Europe, but as Blatt explained yesterday in Las Vegas, coming to the NBA was a completely different experience, writes Tim Reynolds for The Associated Press

Blatt – a wildly successful coach in Europe before getting his long-awaited chance to lead an NBA team for the first time last season – was a panelist on Monday at a scouting school in Las Vegas, part of a group that was discussing some of the ways coaches prepare for games at various levels. And he detailed several differences between the European game and the NBA one.

“When I came to the NBA I was under the impression that this was going to be a breeze,” Blatt said. “I’ve been coaching for 23 years at the highest level in Europe. I coached in the national-team environment, coached professional teams, coached Euroleague teams and I thought I thought I knew basketball and I thought I knew how to coach. Which, in my mind, I did.

“But I realized that when I came over here it was a very, very different game with a whole new set of problems and a whole slew of things to deal with inside and outside of the game.”

He figured out some of it, apparently, on the fly. The Cavaliers struggled for the first half of the season, then wound up rolling to the Eastern Conference title behind LeBron James. They fell in the NBA Finals to Golden State, a loss that came with point guard Kyrie Irving out for most of the series and forward Kevin Love out for all of it because of injuries.

“We were playing every game with a different team,” Blatt said. “We started off with one team, then we lost one guy so we had to change a little bit of the way we played. Played a few more games and another guy went down, played with a different team, that guy came back, then all of sudden we were playing with half of our old team and it just kind of went like that as we went along.

“I’m really (angry) we didn’t play the final series with all of our players,” he added.

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No. 3: Nets begin youth movement The Brooklyn Nets attempted to start in Brooklyn with a splash, assembling a high-priced team and promising to win a title. Three seasons later, after that big money dream didn’t come to fruition, the Nets are now going in a different direction, shedding contracts and going after young and athletic players. As Alex Raskin writes in the Wall Street Journal, the Nets’ new path is a youth movement

They still have Brook Lopez, who last week re-signed for three years and $60 million to remain the Nets’ longest-tenured player. But now general manager Billy King is pivoting away from the model that had the team spending an NBA record $90.57 million in luxury taxes in 2013-14 as it lost a reported $144 million.

Because of last week’s buyout of point guard Deron Williams, the Nets saved more than $40 million in wages and luxury taxes and are now under the luxury-tax threshold for the first time since moving from New Jersey. And instead of losses, the Nets’ profit margin might finally resemble their black uniforms.

According to several sources within the Nets’ various ownership groups, there is real hope that the team will turn a profit for the first time in over a decade.

Being profitable wasn’t necessarily the goal of the Nets’ new strategy. Billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov can afford to pay the losses. What he and the team can’t afford is another disaster like the 2013 trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over from Boston while denying the Nets control of their first-round pick until 2019.

Pierce wasn’t re-signed last summer and King officially began picking up the pieces at the Feb. 19 trade deadline when he dealt Garnett to Minnesota for power forward Thaddeus Young.

Now, after re-signing both Lopez and Young—Young’s deal is for four years and $50 million— for the foreseeable future, the Nets are on a completely different path.

“We needed to come to Brooklyn with a team that, I thought, could win a championship,” King said. Thursday when the Nets announced the deals. “Now we’re in the mindset of: we don’t have a lot of [draft] picks so we’re trying to find a lot of diamonds in the rough and guys that can bridge the gap for us, so to speak, with the youth movement.”

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No. 4: Change in playoff seeding? Each conference in the NBA has three divisions. Win your division, and you’re guaranteed a top-four seed in the NBA playoffs. Except, maybe not anymore? According to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, at yesterday’s meeting of the NBA’s Competition Committee, first steps were taken that could potentially change the NBA’s playoff seeding rules

The NBA’s competition committee closely examined the league’s playoff seeding procedures on Monday, potentially paving the way for a change to the rule that currently gives a top-four seed to a division winner regardless of record, league sources told CBSSports.com.

The Board of Governors, which meets Tuesday, will be updated on the discussion, though it’s possible that a specific change won’t be recommended to the Board for a vote until October, a person familiar with the discussions said.

As part of the discussion about whether a division winner should automatically qualify for a top-four seed, the committee also examined whether a division winner should get a tiebreak over a non-division winner with a better record. No consensus was reached on the issue, sources said.

This season, Portland received the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference by winning the Northwest Division with 51 victories. The Blazers were seeded higher than the Grizzlies (No. 5) and Spurs (No. 6), who each won 55 games.

Commissioner Adam Silver, who was present for the meeting, said during his pre-Finals address that giving a seeding advantage to division winners was a rule that could be changed “fairly quickly.”

“We are very focused on the divisional seeding process, and I think we are going to take a very close look at whether we should seed at least 1 through 8 by conference as opposed to giving the division winner that higher seed,” Silver said. “That is a vestige of a division system that may not make sense anymore.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Seth Curry is using Summer League to make his own nameLarry Nance Jr. has quickly emerged as a fan favorite in Las Vegas … Patty Mills will miss the Australian National Team’s upcoming tour …

Morning shootaround — July 11


VIDEO: Anthony-Towns, Russell square off in Vegas

D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding | Clash of the titans in Summer League | Jordan apologizes publicly | Evolution of the Kings

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding — The Brooklyn Nets planned to make a splash when they hopped a few rivers to get from Jersey to the city, and part of that impact was supposed to come from building around point guard Deron Williams. As our own John Schuhmann details, the Nets gave up a lot to get Williams, both in terms of finances and personnel, but things never quite worked out the way they’d hoped. With Williams’ departure (via buyout) for his hometown of Dallas, it’s time for the Nets to look for a different path to success…

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.

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No. 2: Clash of the titans in Summer League — It didn’t take long for the Las Vegas Summer League to produce drama: Just minutes into the tourney, number 1 overall Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers. And by all accounts, as Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, both players produced, and showed they have room to grow…

With a record-setting crowd of 12,422 fans in attendance at the Las Vegas summer league, all eyes were on Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns as he took his first shot as an NBA player.

Air ball.

“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” Towns said on his first shot — a 3-pointer — as a pro. “It’s just rookie jitters. Even though I’m the No. 1 pick, I’m not going to be perfect.”

It was a forgettable first attempt but the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft will likely laugh about it one day.

Towns finished Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, missed both 3-point attempts and made all but one of five free throws. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder averaged 21.1 minutes per game as a true freshman on a University of Kentucky team deep in talent.

In his Minnesota summer league debut, however, the 19-year-old played a challenging 31 minutes.

While Towns didn’t have the monster debut he hoped for, the Timberwolves finished with an 81-68 victory over the Lakers in a battle against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.

“I started out like any other rookie,” Towns said. “I ain’t going to lie. I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous. My legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out.”

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No. 3: Jordan apologizes publicly — DeAndre Jordan‘s 11th hour change of heart may have saved the immediate future for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it did something like the opposite for the Dallas Mavericks, making them scramble to change course and make the best out of what was left on the free agent market. Last night, Jordan took to Twitter to apologize to Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Mavs fans, as well as tell Clippers fans he was excited to be returning…

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No. 4: Evolution of the Kings — No one said it would be easy. Despite their best efforts, the Sacramento Kings have been stuck on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race the last few years. In their latest iteration, the leadership of Vlade Divac and George Karl hasn’t seemed to connect with star center DeMarcus Cousins. As Shaun Powell writes, that relationship may just remain a work in progress…

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”
And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.
“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Today Becky Hammon will make history as the first female head coach of an NBA team in a Summer League game … Perhaps overshadowed by the debut of Towns and Russell was the return of Julius RandleLeBron James hosted a premiere for his new movie Trainwreck in his hometown of Akron … Kevin Garnett is officially back in Minnesota

Report: Kevin Garnett to return for Timberwolves

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The Big Ticket is back.

According to a report from KSTP in Minnesota, Kevin Garnett has agreed to return to the Minnesota Timberwolves for what will be his 21st NBA season. Garnett, who recently turned 39, spent the first 12 years of his career with the T-Wolves, before being traded to Boston. The Brooklyn Nets traded Garnett back to Minnesota in February at the trade deadline, where Garnett could assume a mentoring role for Minnesota’s young roster, which included former number one overall picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. The Wolves have since added another number one overall pick, center Karl-Anthony Towns.

A 15-time All-Star, Garnett is perhaps the most popular player in Timberwolves history, and the return to Minnesota is thought to set Garnett up for a role with the franchise even after he’s finished playing. Garnett may not be the spry young forward he was when he entered the League, but his wealth of institutional knowledge about the NBA should more than serve his teammates well going forward.

 

Morning shootaround — June 29


VIDEO: The Lakers’ selected D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers boxed into a big man box? | Dollars and sense for LeBron | Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota | Ginobili will take his time making up his mind

No. 1: Lakers boxed into a big man box?  The selection of D’Angelo Russell on Draft night was celebrated by Los Angeles Lakers’ fans, luminaries and pundits alike. But did that risky move, passing up Duke’s low-post load Jahlil Okafor in favor of Russell, come at a larger price than expected? Marc Gasol has already made it clear that he is not interested in following in the footsteps of big brother Pau in a Lakers uniform. So that leaves slimmer pickings than expected for the Lakers (and Kobe Bryant) in free agency. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

The Lakers have enough money for only one big-name free agent, gathering about $23 million in spending power after declining the $9-million option on free-agent center-forward Jordan Hill in a couple of days. Aldridge would make almost $19 million next season after pulling down $16.3 million last season.

The Lakers’ only big men going into free agency are Tarik Black and Robert Sacre after they presumably make the latter’s sub-$1-million contract guaranteed by Tuesday’s deadline.

They boxed themselves into a big-man corner by passing on Duke center Jahlil Okafor to draft Russell, putting the Ohio State point guard next to promising Jordan Clarkson while setting up the Lakers’ backcourt “for the next 10 years,” according to a near-giddy team source.

Perhaps a quick shot of reality is needed.

The Lakers have had problems getting free agents to take their money in recent years. Dwight Howard spurned them for less money in Houston, Carmelo Anthony said thanks but no thanks, and Pau Gasol took less to go to Chicago.

The only big name they signed lately was Kobe Bryant, who accepted a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before returning from a torn Achilles’.

The Lakers need a Plan B if Aldridge says no. Two teams from his home state, San Antonio and Dallas, will reportedly court him too.

It would take some persuasion to get Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to take less money and leave L.A.’s more talented team. The Lakers love his rebounding and shot-blocking, like many teams, and Dallas will also recruit him heavily.

It’s harder to figure what to make of Love, who had an off year in Cleveland and said in February there was not a scenario where he’d play for the Lakers. He might meet with them next week even if it’s only a ploy to ensure a maximum offer from the Cavaliers, reportedly the favorites to retain him.

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

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No. 2:Dollars and sense for LeBron — Cleveland Cavaliers fans need to get used to hearing the words LeBron James and free agency in the same sentence. They’ll be married this time of year, every year, at least for the foreseeable future. Our very own John Schuhmann of NBA.com explains how the free agent dollars will make sense for the best player on the planet:

News broke Sunday afternoon that LeBron James has reportedly informed the Cleveland Cavaliers that he will opt out of the second year of the contract he signed last season.

This news was expected and doesn’t mean that James is leaving Cleveland again. All indications are that the best player in the world intends to re-sign with the Cavs. But even if he wants to stay with the wine and gold for the rest of his career, he’s probably going to become a free agent next summer and the summer after that, too. And it’s mostly about the money.

Free agency does give James some leverage. It keeps the pressure on Cavs management to do everything it can to give him the best supporting cast possible.

It also makes James a richer man.

James’ option for the 2015-16 season was for a little less than $21.6 million. A new contract this summer (for a player with at least 10 years in the league) could start at at maximum of about $22.0 million. (We’ll know the exact number when the 2015-16 salary cap is officially announced on or around July 8.) That’s not a huge raise (especially when you take income taxes into account), but it’s worth the paperwork.

James will have much more incentive to become a free agent in 2016 and 2017, when the salary cap is expected to make two big jumps, thanks to the new TV contract.

Assuming James signs another two-year, max deal with an option in the second year (a one-plus-one contract) again this summer, the ’16-17 option would be for about $23.0 million. But a new, max contract next summer could have a ’16-17 salary of more than $29 million.

That deal could have a second-year option (for ’17-18) of about $30.5 million. But a new, max contract in 2017 could have a starting salary of more than $35 million.

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No. 3: Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota — Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be back in Minnesota to oversee the rebuilding job that is underway with young talent like Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, new No. 1 Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and hometown kid Tyus Jones as the building blocks. Charley Walters of TwinCities.com provides some context:

Although it hasn’t been announced, pending free agent Kevin Garnett definitely will re-sign with the Wolves, and Saunders definitely will return as coach.

Terry Kunze, who was a Timberwolves season-ticket holder for 25 years, knows basketball. He figures the Wolves, who won just 16 games last season, were smart to draft Jones.

“I knew they would get Jones,” Kunze said. “The Wolves aren’t stupid — he’s a local kid and he’ll sell tickets. The best thing about losing 66 games is that 18,000 people watch.

“I think (the Wolves) are going to sell a lot of tickets. Tyus Jones has a big name, and I think he’s a good player. He’s under control.”

Kunze was a star guard for 1961 undefeated state champion Duluth Central, went on to start for the Gophers, was drafted by the then-St. Louis Hawks but opted for Europe for three times the salary, then played for the ABA’s Minnesota Muskies, then was a Gophers assistant who recruited Kevin McHale before coaching at East Carolina, then became head coach of the Minnesota Fillies women’s team.

“I like the pick of Towns,” said Kunze, 71, who resides in Fridley. “It was a good (Wolves) draft not only for players, but for public relations.

“What’s the most important thing for a pro franchise? Sales No. 1, winning No. 2. That’s true.”

Jim Dutcher, who coached the Gophers to the 1982 Big Ten championship before becoming a peerless Big Ten TV analyst, said of the Wolves’ drafting of Towns and Jones, “They couldn’t have scripted it better.

“They got the player they wanted in Towns,” Dutcher said.

Saunders had Dutcher, 82, watch some private workouts of draft prospects.

“And being able to tie in Tyus Jones, he’s a perfect fit for them with (Ricky) Rubio‘s health and his end-of-game turnovers in critical situations,” Dutcher said. “In critical situations, they’re directly opposite — Tyus is strongest in key situations at end of games, and to have a young point guard with his potential, particularly a kid from Minnesota, it couldn’t have been better for the Timberwolves.”

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No. 4: Ginobili will take his time making up his mind (and will do it in Spanish) — Manu Ginobili will inform the world of his intentions — to either come back for another season in San Antonio or to retire — on his own clock. And he’ll do so in his native tongue, via the Argentinian newspaper “La Nacion” in self-written letter. Take that LeBron James. Mike Monroe of the Express News has the details:

Spurs fans anxious to know if Manu Ginobili will be back for another season may want to brush up on their Spanish and bookmark the website for the Argentine newspaper, ‘La Nacion.’

The 37-year-old guard on Sunday told the Express-News he will announce his decision in a self-written sports column in ‘La Nacion’ “when the time comes.”

Presumably, that time will be before he hits the free agent market at the stroke of midnight, EDT, on Tuesday.

Ginobili acknowledged after the Game 7 loss to the Clippers that ended the Spurs season on May 1 that retirement “could happen easily.” He pointed out that the effects of a pro career that began in Argentina in 1995 has taken a physical toll that sometimes makes him question his ability to compete.

“Some days you feel proud and think you did great and other games I say, ‘What the hell am I doing here when I should stay home and enjoy my kids?’ ”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mason Plumlee could be the perfect fit for the Trail Blazers … The challenge issued in Orlando, Magic need to dare free agents to be different this summer … Houston rookie Sam Dekker‘s not too big to mow his Mom’s lawn … Time for ‘Melo to put up or shut up? …

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: Our experts review the 76ers’ pick of Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Okafor comes on big | Pierce a free agent | Melo OK with Porzingis | Gasol, Lakers don’t mix
No. 1: Okafor ready to deliver big — Like everybody else in the basketball world, Jahlil Okafor watched the Warriors and Cavaliers play an entertaining brand of small ball in The Finals. But the first-round pick of the Sixers says there will always be a prominent place for the talented big man in the NBA and he aims to prove that when he starts work in his rookie season. The 19-year-old No. 3 pick in the draft says nobody will have greater expectations than his own, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Some, however, think that dominant post players are no longer a cherished commodity. The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship earlier this month with a small lineup.

“I’ve been dealing with that question for a while,” he said. “Even when I went to Duke, everybody was asking: ‘Why are you going to Duke? They don’t have big men. They don’t throw the ball in the post.’ “

But he pointed out that he was the Blue Devils’ leading scorer.

“Now, they are saying, you don’t need a big man,” Okafor said. “But as far as I can remember, a big man has dominated the NBA. Tim Duncan won it [in 2014. That season] it was all about the big men with Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett.

“So people get a little excited because what [Golden State’s MVP point guard] Steph Curry and those guys did was great. It worked. Their formula was fantastic. But as long as I can remember, big men have been dominant, and the results have been championships.”

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No. 2: Pierce is back on the market — When his last-second bucket against the Hawks was ruled to be too late to rescue the Wizards, Paul Pierce hinted that it might have been his final game in the NBA. But the 37-year-old is now ready to look forward to next season and has put himself back up for grabs as the free agency period approaches on Wednesday. The Wizards, Clippers, Lakers and even his former team the Celtics are said to be in the running for the 17-year veteran, says Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post:

The 17-year veteran bypassed a $5.5 million player option but could still return to Washington for a second run with the Wizards. Pierce could choose to re-sign and Washington is willing to negotiate. The Wizards can offer Pierce 120 percent of the $5.305 million he made last year, which would work out to $6.366 million for next season.

Pierce, who will turn 38 in October, could also decide to play elsewhere. Going home to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers and Doc Rivers, who coached him for nine seasons with the Boston Celtics, is a possibility, though they can only offer him the taxpayer midlevel exception of $3.37 million. Another possibility is returning to play for the Celtics, according to a Yahoo Sports report. Boston drafted Pierce in 1998 and the swingman spent his first 15 seasons in Massachusetts.

Pierce averaged career lows in points (11.2) and minutes (26.2) per game and was a defensive liability at times in a diminished role last season, but provided the leadership the Wizards sought and became a fan favorite in the District with a memorable postseason performance. Logging more minutes at power forward, Pierce averaged 14.6 points in 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games and nailed a few clutch shots, including the game-winning buzzer beater off the backboard in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.

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No. 3: Anthony says no problem with Porzingis pick — Hold your horses. There’s no need to start choosing up sides in Knicks training camp between star Carmelo Anthony and first-round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis. Melo took to Instagram to try to defuse the notion that he felt “betrayed” by Knicks president Phil Jackson’s pick of the 19-year-old Latvian with the No. 4 pick in the draft. Seems his disappointment have been more at the loss of his buddy Tim Hardaway Jr. in a draft night trade, says Marc Berman of the New York Post:

In responding to fans comments, Anthony wrote late Friday night, “First of all I’m far from upset. Me replying doesn’t mean I’m upset. …Have you heard me voice my opinion about the draft. No. OK then. Get your facts straight.”

In another post, Anthony said, “I can’t wait to watch [Porzingis] either. He’s a steal.”

According to a source, Anthony was upset about losing another friend in Tim Hardaway Jr. on Thursday night more than Jackson’s selection of 7-foot-1 sharpshooting European project Porzingis, whom scouts think could be two years away from making an impact.

Anthony thinks Porzingis a good prospect, according to a source, but like scouts wonders about his timetable.

Hardaway, meanwhile, was traded for the draft rights to Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant. Hardaway, the Knicks’ 2013 first-round pick, averaged double figures in each of his first two seasons but the organization felt he didn’t fit the triangle offense. Anthony now has seen every teammate exit since Jackson took over 15 months ago.

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No. 4: Marc Gasol not interested in Lakers — The blunt truth often comes out around the dinner table and it seems that all of the talk among one family has led free agent Marc Gasol to conclude that he doesn’t want to be a part of the Lakers family. Younger brother Marc saw and heard all of the problems that older brother Pau had in his final two years in L.A. and has concluded that he doesn’t want to wade into those waters, says, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Kobe Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Willie Cauley-Stein wows them with a great first impression Sacramento…Kobe Bryant brags that he once made a Lakers teammate cry … Sixers have been ordered to pay up to Pelicans for fibbing on Holiday injury …Magic won’t bring back Ben Gordon … Stan Van Gundy happy with choice of Johnson over Winslow … Lance Stephenson has a new song to softly blow into your ear … Jackson wants to bring back Jason Smith as backup center for Knicks.

Blogtable: Star player today, NBA analyst tomorrow?

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: Thoughts on these Finals? | Best arena atmosphere? | Next player-turned-analyst?



VIDEOWhat are Kobe Bryant’s goals once his career ends?

> Kobe Bryant is working as a guest analyst for Chinese media company Sina during these NBA Finals. Besides Bryant, which current NBA player would you like to see working as an TV analyst after his playing days are over?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Kevin Garnett. And please, give me a cable network, but there’d be plenty of Not Suitable For Network comments if we got the real, unadulterated KG. He’d be a lot more fun this way than with a piece of Timberwolves ownership. Zzzzz

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Tim Duncan. All those years, all those championships, all that greatness. I would love if somebody could get him to sit in front of a camera and tell us really what goes on inside that head when he’s watching/analyzing a game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Jared Dudley. Elton Brand. David Lee. Pau Gasol. Jamal Crawford. Nick Young. Mike Conley. Ryan Anderson. Channing Frye. Wesley Matthews. Draymond Green. That’s a bunch of guys off the top of my head. I’m sure I’m forgetting many others.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com There aren’t many superstars other than Kobe who’d be refreshing and entertaining and honest. So I’ll go with someone who’s light on All-Star appearances but heavy on basketball wisdom (which is how I like my analysts): David West of the Pacers. He’s simply a smart man, and he would bring years of experience and a grasp of the language and honesty.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: For ratings, LeBron James would be pretty good. For entertainment value, give me Dirk Nowitzki. If HBO ever gets the rights to NBA games, Kevin Garnett could certainly provide some color. And for smart analysis (not that the previous three couldn’t provide it), Chris Paul would be the guy I’d want to hear from. Even as an active player, he watches tons of games and he would be able to tell you how to attack any kind of defense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Jamal Crawford has always been one of my favorite players to talk hoops with, as well as other topics. He’s a true connoisseur of the game and so observant. He’s got the perfect personality and basketball IQ to become an excellent television analyst when he’s done playing. I think Jarrett Jack and Jared Dudley possess those same traits and I could see all three of these guys going into coaching one day as well. But they’ve got all of the talent and skill needed to be fine analysts.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Actually, I’m going to span over to the WNBA and say that I would like to see Diana Taurasi commentating fulltime on NBA games. She is funny, smart and at ease; she loves the NBA and relates to the game and its players as an outsider with an insider’s perspective. I predict she is going to be the NBA’s next great media star — if she wishes to be.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Among the things make an analyst a must-listen for me are experience and candor. You want to hear from someone who’s spent decades around the sport, and you also want someone who isn’t afraid to tell the truth, even if that means sometimes burning a bridge in the service of the viewers. And while plenty of players these days pull punches because they want to maintain relationships, Paul Pierce isn’t afraid to speak his mind, he’s won titles, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s played with and against all the best the NBA has had to offer over the last few generations. I don’t know if a broadcasting future interests Pierce, but I bet he’d be great at it.

Wolves get another No. 1 to team with Wiggins, learn from KG


VIDEO: 2015 Draft Lottery Drawing

NEW YORK — There will likely be three straight No. 1 picks on the same roster next season.

The Minnesota Timberwolves won the No. 1 pick of the 2015 Draft at Tuesday’s Lottery, less than nine months after acquiring the No. 1 picks from 2013 (Anthony Bennett) and 2014 (Andrew Wiggins) in a trade with Cleveland for Kevin Love.

Minnesota is the first team to finish with the league’s worst record and win the Lottery since the Orlando Magic did it in 2004. They had a 25 percent chance to win it.

“I didn’t anticipate that it would go this way,” Wolves owner Glen Taylor said afterward, noting that it was far more likely that his team didn’t win the No. 1 pick. “I just feel really honored that we have a chance to be in this position.”

While Bennett is possibly a bust, Wiggins looks like a two-way star. And the Wolves have three more former Lottery picks under the age of 25 – Zach LaVine (No. 13 in 2014), Shabazz Muhammad (No. 14 in 2013) and Ricky Rubio (No. 5 in 2009) – on the roster as well.

They’ll likely add a big man – Duke’s Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns – to that young core. And that young big could have Kevin Garnett as a mentor. Taylor said he expects Garnett, a free agent this summer, to be back, saying that Garnett has already been working out.

“I see that he’s out working really hard to get his knees into shape,” Taylor said. “So I anticipate that he’s interested in coming back. I can’t say that for sure, but I don’t know why he would be out there doing what he’s doing if he didn’t want to come back.”

Taylor also believes that Flip Saunders, currently the Wolves’ president and head coach, will remain on the bench for another year.

“It’s not definite,” Taylor said, “but I think with the effort that he put in this year to bring this team along that it’s probably 90 percent, unless he sees somebody and he changes his mind and he can convince me.

“I think eventually I want a different coach. I want him to be the GM. My guess is that he’ll go another year.”

The New York Knicks, who were the worst team in the league (the spot that won the Lottery) with just five days left in the season, were the only team to move down from their spot on Tuesday. They fell from second to fourth, swapping spots with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Obviously, we would have liked to have a higher pick,” Knicks general manager Steve Mills said, “but we went into this knowing that, anywhere from 1-5, we were going to get a good player. And as we look at this, this is a player that’s complementary to a player that we have in place in Carmelo and what we’re going to do in free agency.”

At No. 2, the Lakers could add the big man that the Wolves don’t pick, teaming him with last year’s No. 7 pick Julius Randle for the post-Kobe-Bryant era, which will begin after next season.

At No. 3, the Philadelphia 76ers should get a guard to feed Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. But GM Sam Hinkie certainly isn’t going to say that he wouldn’t draft one of the bigs if he was available.

“History’s not so kind to drafting for need,” Hinkie said. “I think, wherever we are, we’ll pay a lot of attention to who we think is the best player and how that looks. Sometimes, it’s close, and that moves some things. And sometimes, it’s not close.

“A year ago, people would have reasonably said we don’t need Joel Embiid. I think we need Joel Embiid and I think what he’ll provide for us will be useful.”

Morning shootaround — April 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce says time with Nets was ‘horrible’ | Perkins says LeBron much like KG | Mavs worried about Parsons’ injury | Bucks’ Parker out for training camp?

No. 1: Pierce blasts time with Nets, questions Williams’ leadership — When the Boston Celtics dealt franchise mainstays Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn in the summer of 2013, the idea was those two would provide the veteran leadership needed to help the Nets realize their long-held Finals dreams. That’s not quite what happened, though. Brooklyn stumbled out of the gates in 2013-14, then turned things around and eventually won Game 7 in a first-round series against Toronto … and lost in the East semis to the Miami Heat. Pierce left as a free agent last summer to sign with the Washington Wizards and is enjoying life there today. He opened up to ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan about how much he disliked playing in Brooklyn and had some harsh words for Nets point guard Deron Williams, too:

“I’m much happier,” he said. “It was a tough situation (in Brooklyn) last year. Horrible, really.

“It was just the guys’ attitudes there. It wasn’t like we were surrounded by a bunch of young guys. They were vets who didn’t want to play and didn’t want to practice. I was looking around saying, ‘What’s this?’ Kevin (Garnett) and I had to pick them up every day in practice.

“If me and Kevin weren’t there, that team would have folded up. That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day.”

The player that puzzled him the most, said Pierce, was point guard Deron Williams.

“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,” Pierce said. “But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that.

“I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.”

Pierce said veteran Joe Johnson was an affable professional but also a reluctant leader.

“Joe is quiet,” Pierce noted. “He doesn’t want much attention. He doesn’t say much.

“There’s a lot of secondary guys on that team. KG and I went there looking at them as the main guys who would push us, because we were advancing in years. But we ended up doing all the pushing.”

When the season ended, they declined to sign Pierce to a new deal and let him walk as a free agent.

“I would have stayed in Brooklyn because of Kevin,” Pierce said. “I told him, ‘I don’t really like this situation but I would never leave you if you want me to stay.’ But they decided not to re-sign me so I never had to make a choice. I would never have left Kevin like that.”

Pierce still engages in group texts with former Celtics teammates (and coach) Doc Rivers, Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby Davis, but hasn’t talked to Ray Allen since he bolted from Boston to Miami in the summer of 2012.

Though much has been made of it, Pierce said, people don’t understand he wasn’t all that close to Allen to begin with.

“It was a weird relationship,” Pierce conceded. “We were all good friends on the court, but Ray always did his own thing. That’s just the way Ray was. Even when we were playing together, we’d be having a team dinner and Ray wouldn’t show up. We’d go to his charity events but Ray wouldn’t show up to somebody else’s.

“I called him on it. I said, ‘Man, Ray, we support all your stuff but when we ask you, you don’t come to ours.’ I remember when Rondo re-signed with Boston, we had a little dinner at a restaurant and Ray didn’t show up.

“I know Ray probably didn’t like Rondo that much, but it wasn’t a fact of not liking somebody. You don’t have to like everybody you play with — it’s a matter of showing support.”

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