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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Garnett’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

John Wall has more to say | Donovan on being one-and-done with Durant | Jason and Jason a tandem again in Milwaukee

No. 1: John Wall has more to say — The soap opera surrounding the Wizards and their starting backcourt is either an overblown story that’s dominating a quiet summer, or something real under the surface. If you believe John Wall, it’s the former. To recap: Wall and Bradley Beal, in so many words, see themselves as the face of the franchise based purely on their lead-singer personalities and determination. Also, Beal signed a deal this summer that makes him the team’s highest paid player, while Wall is making Ian Mahinmi money. Well, Wall insists he has no problem with that, and took to social media, specifically “Uninterrupted” to squelch any rumors of unrest regarding salary:

“I just wanted to clear the air for all these people talking about how I’m watching other people’s pockets and I’m not worried about basketball and getting better,” Wall said directly to the camera. “Listen, that doesn’t matter to me. If I produce like I’m supposed to on the basketball court and take care of myself and image, I’m going to be fine with making money. That’s not why I play the game of basketball.”

News of a rift between Wall and Beal came to light earlier this week, when both players acknowledged their difficulties in dealing with each other on the court. Wall point-blank stated the two “have a tendency to dislike each other on the court” in an interview that aired on Comcast SportsNet on Tuesday night.

Beal, meanwhile, described himself and Wall as two “alphas,” insinuating that their difficulties stem from their personalities.

Neither player mentioned Beal’s new contract, which will garner the 23-year-old $128 million over the course of five years. This makes Beal, who will earn more than $22 million this season, the highest-paid player on the team. Meanwhile, Wall, 25, remains the second-highest paid player, despite being a three-time all star. Under Wall’s current contract, a five-year deal that goes through the 2018-19 season, Wall is set to make just under $17 million this season.

“Me, talking about Bradley Beal [making] more money, I’m not mad. I’m happy. He’s my teammate,” Wall said Friday. “He came out at the right time when the contract money came up. I can’t control that.

Wall added that if he does what he’s “supposed to do and the Washington Wizards win,” he’ll get his own salary bump in the future.

Wall also addressed rumors that he was “rankled” over James Harden’s four-year, $118 million extension.

“I don’t care,” Wall said of the Houston Rockets star’s deal. “I’m happy for him. That’s my guy. I’m not mad at him. … Please stop saying I’m watching money. I’m not.”

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No. 2: Donovan on being one-and-done with Durant Billy Donovan left the University of Florida two summers ago to take his dream NBA job: Coaching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and a loaded Thunder team. Donovan did well as a rookie NBA coach, but once again OKC came up short of a championship after blowing a 3-1 lead on the Warriors in the West finals. Compounding matters, of course, was losing Durant to free agency weeks later. Donovan is now left holding the bag with just Westbrook inside, and the coach often wonders what-if he had that duo intact at least for another season. He recently spoke to the Vertical and shared his thoughts on Durant joining the loaded Warriors:

Billy Donovan did not go as far as saying that he thought Kevin Durant would definitely re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency, but the coach told The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski that he felt good about their chances after their meeting.

From The Vertical Podcast:

“I don’t know if I ever felt like he was going to necessarily come back, but I thought our meeting went very, very well. I think Kevin on the front end was very, very, honest that when the season ended, he was going to go through this process and he was going to take a meeting with us, obviously, first. And then he was going to have some other teams he was going to meet with. And I think a little bit later on, after the season ended, they decided to do it out in The Hamptons. But I thought the meeting that we had went very well. I think we talked about basketball, we talked about our team, we talked about direction, we talked about obviously his leadership, his role, all those kind of things.

“I think leaving the meeting it was very, very positive. I thought it was very, very clear. I think there was direction on both sides. But one thing I think with Kevin was going through nine years in the organization, he was at a point of time when he was allowed obviously to be a free agent and go through this process and start to gather some information. We were the first meeting. So obviously, I think being in college for so long and you go through recruiting, you know that during that process, things can change through some of these different meetings. And obviously after meeting with Golden State, things probably in his mind changed in terms of what he was evaluating.”

Essentially, as ESPN’s Royce Young reported, the Thunder were optimistic after speaking with Durant for five hours in Oklahoma City. They were less so after he started listening to other teams. Elsewhere in the podcast, Donovan says that he always knew there was a possibility that Durant would leave, but as a coach, he knew he couldn’t control that. In Donovan’s words, Durant earned the right to go through the process, so all he focused on was trying to make the team better. On the Fourth of July, Donovan’s job immediately became about what has to change next year.

Ever since Durant’s decision, there has been all sorts of conjecture about why he did what he did, what it means and whether he made the right or wrong call for his legacy. Donovan, though, sounded completely uninterested in that. He said he would have loved for Durant to return, obviously, but he wasn’t particularly concerned with why it didn’t work out. Now that he’s gone, it doesn’t matter how well Oklahoma City played in the playoffs last season, and it doesn’t matter how much planning and preparation went into its presentation to Durant. The pitch didn’t work, and the Thunder have to move on.

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No. 3: Jason and Jason a tandem again, now in Milwaukee — The last time Jason Terry and Jason Kidd needed each other was in Dallas. Neither had a championship ring for all of their years in the NBA, and the aging teammates helped produce one of the bigger Finals upsets when they beat the favored Heat in 2011. And now, as coach of the transitional Bucks, Kidd is leaning on his new veteran addition to help push the Bucks into steep territory in the East. Another championship doesn’t appear to be in the works right away, but the Bucks are building with youth and need guidance in the locker room and on the court. Terry recently spoke with Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the upcoming season and the challenge:

Terry believes his 17 years in the NBA will translate into a mentoring role with the young Bucks seeking a bounce-back season in 2016-’17.

“I think it’s very important,” Terry said in an interview after signing a one-year deal to rejoin former Dallas Mavericks teammate Jason Kidd, entering his third season as the Bucks coach.

“If you look at all playoff and championship teams, they have solid veteran guys to steer the ship. There are going to be times during the season when the coach’s voice, some of the young guys get tired of hearing it. That’s when the veteran leadership steps in and says, ‘No, we’re not going to go away from the ship. We’re going to continue to follow the right direction.’”

It will help that Terry and Kidd have such a close relationship. They played together on the 2011 Mavericks team that won the NBA championship, and Terry was on the Nets roster in Brooklyn during Kidd’s first year as a pro coach in 2013-’14.

“I just knew if I had an opportunity to either play again for him or coach with him, I would take it,” Terry said.

When Kidd was in Dallas, his advice proved valuable to the 6-foot-2 shooting guard. Now Terry believes he can play the same role in Milwaukee.

“It was him taking me in the weight room and just showing me another way to get longevity out of my career,” Terry said. “I didn’t know that if you lifted weights the morning of the game, that prolonged your career.

“That was something I really took to heart, because he didn’t have to teach me that. The respect level was there, No. 1.

“And No. 2, he’s a Hall of Famer. I had a chance to pick his brain and see what he’s seeing on the court. It was just phenomenal for me.”

Terry was coming off knee surgery when he played for Kidd in Brooklyn, but in the past two years he has been healthy and played in 149 games with the Houston Rockets.

He was part of the Rockets team that stunned the Los Angeles Clippers, erasing a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference semifinals in 2015.

Even though he will turn 39 years old before training camp opens in late September, Terry believes he still can contribute on the court.

“I stay in top condition,” Terry said. “I’m always watching film. I’ve already been watching some film on the Bucks last year.

“I may not be playing the point guard position, but I can still help guys get in position and calm them down, just like I did in Houston.”

Terry, nicknamed “The Jet,” ranks third all-time in three-pointers made with 2,169, behind only Ray Allen and Reggie Miller.

“I’ve always been a guy that came early and stayed late,” Terry said.

“If we’re on the road, I will go at night and get shots up in the other team’s arena. It familiarizes you with the environment. The rims are still 10 feet, but the shooting background and environment are different. Only shooters can understand that aspect.”

Terry said he learned from watching Miller and Steve Kerr, now the Golden State Warriors coach and former teammate of Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls. Another major influence was Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.

The increased emphasis on three-point shooting in today’s NBA is not surprising to Terry. Golden State’s success behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson is leading other teams to emulate its style of play.

“I love it,” Terry said. “A guy that’s 38 and still can shoot, it prolongs your career because you’re still valuable.

“You have to have shooting on the floor in today’s basketball. When you have great 1-on-1 players, it provides spacing for your guys to operate.”

The Bucks lagged behind in the three-point game last season, finishing last in the league in threes made and attempted.

But Terry sees that changing with the additions to the roster the Bucks have made in the off-season, including the signing of free agents Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova.

The Bucks still have the length featuring 21-year-olds Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, but teams will not be able to pack the paint as much if they can show legitimate three-point threats.

“When you have a guy like Giannis who can play point forward and Jabari, who is great off the dribble, you have to have spacing on the floor and guys who can knock down shots,” Terry said.

“Teletovic, he’s my candidate for sixth man of the year. I don’t know what their plans are, but he can flat out shoot this ball. He’s good.”

Terry is ready for the next chapter in his career and eager to arrive in Milwaukee after Labor Day to begin working out with his new teammates.

Last season the Bucks sorely missed the leadership of Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia, who were traded last summer as the youth movement took full flight.

Terry isn’t the bashful type and is nearly twice the age of some of the Bucks players.

“I have a routine and I will show them,” Terry said. “They already have the work ethic and that’s half the battle.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gregg Popovich should be OK in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics, you think? … Kobe Bryant essentially telling teams to man up when it comes to facing the Warriors … The Jazz-Sixers trade a few days ago was all about dumping salary … Reggie Jackson is bullish on the Pistons this year … Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson were almost teammates?

Morning shootaround — Aug. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mitchell unsure about KG’s future | Irving ready to seek gold with Krzyzewski | World Peace: ‘I can still play’

No. 1: Mitchell thinks Garnett is still weighing his future — As a player for the Minnesota Timberwolves from 1995-2002, Sam Mitchell was the veteran voice who often guided a young Kevin Garnett during his formative NBA years. When Garnett returned to the Wolves in the 2014-15 season via a trade deadline-day deal, Mitchell was an assistant coach on the team and, following coach Flip Saunders‘ passing before the 2015-16 season, Mitchell was the team’s interm coach. But Mitchell is no longer with the Wolves, having been fired at season’s end as Minnesota hired Tom Thibodeau. In an interview with Sirius XM NBA Radio (transcribed by CBSSports.com), Mitchell opened up about his former teammate/player:

Kevin Garnett has been in the NBA for 21 seasons. If he decides to come back for the final year of his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016-17, K.G. will have played more seasons than anybody in NBA history. That decision hasn’t been made yet, at least as far as anybody outside of Garnett knows. Sam Mitchell, Garnett’s former teammate and coach believes the way the 2015-16 season ended could possibly lead to Garnett’s retirement, rather than coming back for another season at the age of 40.

Mitchell is referring to the way he was fired as Minnesota’s interim coach and how general manager Milt Newton was pushed aside for the full-time position. They took over their respective interim positions after the passing of Flip Saunders right before the season ended. At the end of a strong finish to the season, Mitchell was informed a couple hours before the last game that he would not be coming back as coach in 2016-17. The Wolves would eventually hire Tom Thibodeau to be the president and coach of the team with Scott Layden helping him in the front office.

“Last time I talked to him, he hadn’t made up his mind. I just think the way last year ended with the owner at the very last minute — and people don’t understand, we all felt pretty good about us. Myself, Milt Newton, and the coaching staff, we all felt pretty good about us coming back. We felt like we did a good enough job to at least earn us a couple of years, a year or two, to keep that thing rolling. And I just think KG was just so hurt by the way things happened.

“For people to send you messages as if you were going to be back and your staff was going to be back and we had everything going in the right direction, and to get a phone call [from owner Glen Taylor] two hours before your last game basically saying, ‘I’ve changed my mind and I’m going in a different direction,’ it just kind of knocked us all for a loop. We’ve all recovered from it and moved on but if you know Kevin, Kevin is very sensitive and he’s very loyal. And there was a lot of people in that organization that was let go, and the way it was done just left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouth.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know how he’s going to deal with that. Kevin takes that stuff personally and it’s going to be interesting to see ultimately what he decides to do. It’s a shame that if he doesn’t come back and play, that his last year in Minnesota ended the way it did.”

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No. 2: Irving looking forward to run for gold with Krzyzewski — Five seasons into his NBA career, Cleveland Cavaliers guard and former Duke standout Kyrie Irving has amassed three All-Star appearance, a Rookie of the Year trophy, an All-Star Game MVP and, roughly two months ago, hit one of the biggest Finals shots ever to give Cleveland its first NBA title. Yet there remains a longing to accomplish a feat he missed out in college — winning a championship with coach Mike Krzyzewski. Kurt Helin of NBCSports.com has more on how a quest for gold is driving Irving as the U.S. team heads to Rio:

Kyrie Irving has gone all the way to Rio this summer seeking the culmination of a conversation that started in Irving’s parent’s New Jersey home back in 2009.

That’s when he and Mike Krzyzewski first talked of winning a title together.

“I did win a World Championship with him (in 2014), and this will cement our relationship of finally getting to play for a championship that we envisioned when I was 17 years old and he was recruiting me,” Kyrie Irving said. “I’m glad I have this opportunity with him.”

Seven years ago when that conversation began, Krzyzewski and Irving pictured that title as one in Durham — but the basketball gods were not going to let that happen. Irving played just 11 games at Duke due to a toe injury his freshman year. Rather than return to the Blue Devils, he went on to the NBA where he was the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 (the season after LeBron James left them to take his talents to South Beach).

Now, the culmination of that title conversation could come with a gold medal at the Rio Olympics — in Coach K’s final run as the coach of USA Basketball.

“It’s definitely emotional — and I don’t shy away from that at all,” Irving told NBC Sports during a break in the shooting of a Kids Foot Locker commercial in Las Vegas, after a Team USA practice. “The 2014 World Championships was great, but being this is his last hurrah, thinking about the storyline of him and Jerry Colangelo taking over USA Basketball and what they did just to shape American basketball in general, and the honor of playing for USA Basketball.

“We were all reminded when they took over. It was a prestige honor before, but once they came in and built up a culture, it totally changed into a different dynamic. Every generation that is coming up has to come through USA Basketball if you’re, quote/unquote, a top player in the country. I enjoy that it’s now a generational shift. Constantly, constantly, we’re getting kids coming in and playing a part of USA Basketball. I myself played when I was 17 years old going into Duke. I end up going (to college) for one year, then I end up playing on the select team that I’m playing against today (the NBA rookies and young stars that the USA scrimmages against). I get a chance to, every summer, get better with USA basketball.

“That it’s being his last year is definitely an emotional one, but I’m glad I could be part of it.”

Sure, it Coach K’s last run and they feel the pressure to win for him. However, just putting that USA on your chest brings pressure, Irving said — adding that he welcomes it.

“There’s pressure every single year,” Irving said. “I mean American basketball is at the top of everything, we’ve proven that through the World Championships as well as the Olympics, and as well as the NBA — everyone wants to be part of this. So for us it’s not any added pressure — because I don’t know what pressure is — all I know is going out there, going all out, leaving it all on the floor and living with the results after that.”

While the title didn’t change his summer plans for Rio, Irving admitted this summer has been different — being a champion raised his profile.

“Not any other summer in my life have I won an NBA championship, which has been great,” Irving said. “It’s just been awesome because of partnerships I’ve had throughout the years in my career, and now we get to put a lot of great ideas out there, and I get to be part of a lot of great things. I’m just thankful and I’m just trying to take advantage of it, but also do it in a creative space I’m comfortable with.”

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No. 3: World Peace: ‘I can still play’ — Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace is long since removed from his glory days as a top-flight scorer for the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings. His highly regarded defense remains there in flashes, but more or less, World Peace served as a veteran voice and mentor for the young Lakers last season. But even after 16 seasons of the NBA grind, he tells ESPN.com’s Ian Bagley that he can still play at a high level and even average double-figure scoring if given the chance:

Metta World Peace has been in New York City for the past few days playing in summer hoops tournaments, visiting with family, supporting his father’s Artest Foundation and spreading the word about his new clothing line, The Panda’s Friend. We caught up with World Peace and asked about his plans for next season:

Q: What are your plans for next season? Are you headed back to training camp with the Lakers? You’ve talked about a potential future in coaching. Is that on your radar?

A: Right now, I’m life coaching a lot of people that are in the NBA. I can’t say [who]. But I coach a couple players. But it’s not a thing where I’m going to hide and be that perfect mentor. I just give them the best advice I can and live my life accordingly. I’m doing that now and one day I would love to coach. The Lakers are tattooed in my heart. They gave me a second chance when everyone was down on me, they gave me a chance to win a ring. The city of Los Angeles, they put up with me. Because in our world, the world of corporate basketball, you should act accordingly, you know? And I don’t like to act accordingly (smiles). I’m just trying to be authentic. I’m trying, as much as possible, to keep that if I coach one day.

Q: So is the NBA on the back burner right now?

A: No, the NBA’s always on the front burner.

Q: Are you still planning to play next season?

A: Absolutely. The NBA is always on the front burner.

Q: Are you talking with teams right now?

A. I’m waiting for teams. I can still play. I can play, it’s not even a question man. But, you know, sometimes you don’t get in the game, man. What are you going to do? I’m not going to be upset, I’m going to support. So if I don’t play, like this year on the Lakers I could have averaged 15 or 20 on the Lakers if I played, easily. But you know, I’ll be supportive [if I don’t play]. But the only thing that gets me frustrated with the whole basketball is people think I can’t play anymore. So as a man, I take that personally. But at the same time I’m able to still focus on making sure Julius Randle is doing his thing, and he’s focused, making sure I can give back. But when the season’s over, then I like to explain that I can play, and I can bust people’s ass. But the fans have to understand, it’s not up to me. It’s so frustrating to keep hearing it from the fans. ‘Come back to New York, come to Chicago. Why didn’t you play.’ It’s so frustrating at times.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former New York Knicks star Latrell Sprewell says the thing he disliked the most about former Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller was that ‘he was a flopper’ … Back in the day, Michael Jordan was very, very unhappy when he wasn’t offered a front-office job with the Washington Wizards after he played for them …  Minnesota Timberwolves youngster Andrew Wiggins tried to throw down a 540-degree dunk

Morning shootaround — April 23


VIDEO: Top Plays from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thibodeau ready to roll | Wizards ready to spend big? | Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough

No. 1: Thibodeau ready to roll — Returning to the scene of where it all began for him as an NBA coach, Tom Thibodeau is all smiles these days, and why not? He just hit the motherlode: Millions to coach a game, lots of sway in personnel decisions and a solid young group of players on the Minnesota roster. Given all that, this is one of the best coaching vacancies to come along in a while, and Thibodeau is ready to get going. He spoke recently with Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who filed this:

An assistant on the expansion Wolves’ first two teams, Thibodeau on Wednesday agreed to coach what he calls the league’s “best young roster” and share management decisions with longtime friend and newly named GM Scott Layden, with whom he once worked in New York. He terms it a “partnership” with a man he calls “one of my closest friends” rather than total control over personnel decisions.

Fired by the Bulls in part because of conflicts with management, Thibodeau negotiated the president of basketball operations title into his Wolves deal.

“It wasn’t an absolute must, but I’m glad it has worked out that way,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I had a voice. The person I’m with, I trust Scott. He has great integrity. He’s a great worker and he has great experience.”

He cited that partnership, the team’s young roster — “and where it can go” — and owner Glen Taylor’s “commitment to winning” as the reasons he agreed to a reported five-year, $40 million contract only a week after the Wolves announced they’d search to fill two jobs and ended up filling three.

“When you look at the young guys, when you look at the [salary] cap space, when you look at the draft pick that’s coming, there’s great flexibility there,” Thibodeau said. “There are a lot of assets there. If you formulate a really good plan that studies and organizes everything, I think this situation is positioned great to go forward.”

He calls himself well-suited to coach such a young team, noting Derrick Rose was 22 and Joakim Noah 25 when he accepted his first NBA head coaching job in 2010. Often criticized for playing his starters too much, he answered Taylor’s inquiry on that matter by telling him to speak with former players. On Thursday, he said his Bulls players’ minutes compared to others at their position in the league.

“Some of it is more myth than fact,” Thibodeau said. “If you dig deeper, you will see that. A lot of other guys play a lot of minutes.”

Thibodeau’s objective with such a young team is what every coach seeks: maximize its strengths, minimize its weaknesses. He said this team can score, will get to the free-throw line and is willing to share the ball.

“We have to get turnovers down a bit,” he said. “You eliminate all the ways you beat yourself first.”

Thibodeau visited 13 different NBA teams during his season off and found enlightenment in not one revelation but many little things.

He also watched a lot of NBA games. Included were the Wolves under interim coach Sam Mitchell, who was not retained.

“I thought they improved, I thought they had some good, solid wins,” Thibodeau said. “You start looking at it and you’re just impressed.”

Those favorable impressions begin with 20-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns, 21-year-olds Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and 25-year-old point guard Ricky Rubio.

Thibodeau’s discussion about each player began with praise of their talents and ended with needed improvements, particularly defensively.

• On Towns: “It’s pretty amazing for a first-year guy to come in and do the things he did. There’s obviously room for growth. But his skill set is very unusual. He has the potential to be very good defensively, with his rebounding, his shot blocking. The way he plays the game, the way he sees the game, he has the ability to make other players better. He had a very impressive first year, but it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move the group forward.”

• On Wiggins: “He impressed me the way he scored against us when I was still coaching. He made it look easy. I think the challenge — not only him but for his teammates — is there’s going to have to be dramatic improvement defensively. You have to make a commitment in that area. The players are too good in this league to guard individually. You need to have five-man defense in all aspects. If one guy’s not doing his job, the group is going to look bad.”

• On Rubio: “All players have their strengths and weaknesses and Ricky has established himself as a very good player. So we’re excited about that. The point guard position is such an important position in the way the team functions. You need to have a good understanding where guys like to get the ball, who has a good matchup, what’s going on in the game and keep the team organized and I think Ricky’s really strong in those areas.”

• On LaVine: “I thought he improved a lot. I’m excited at what he can do. He improved his shooting, his defense and his rebounding as well.”

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No. 2:  Wizards ready to spend big? — There’s the very sound and sensible scenario where the Washington Wizards open the vault for Kevin Durant when he hits free agency this summer, but maybe it doesn’t stop there regardless if the Wizards get lucky or not. By bringing in Scott Brooks as coach, there’s the feeling Washington is ready to make big changes on a team that underachieved this year — or maybe was too tapped out to improve. With the rising salary cap and an anxious fan base, the Wizards could chase other free agents or make some splashy trades that bring in players with hefty salaries. Here’s the take of Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post:

Since Ted Leonsis became majority owner of the Washington Wizards in 2010, the franchise has been known for playing it safe.

That is what made the team’s single-minded pursuit of Scott Brooks over the past week, culminating with Brooks agreeing to a five-year, $35 million contract to become the team’s head coach, so fascinating. For a franchise long reticent for spending big and seldom going for the splashy hire, the Wizards did both in one fell swoop.

There are two ways to view the decision of Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld, the team’s president of basketball operations, to pursue Brooks. One is that they would have been better served to cast a wide net to try and replace Randy Wittman, fired last week at the conclusion of a disappointing season in which the Wizards went 41-41 and missed the playoffs after two straight second-round appearances.

The other is that the Wizards identified their preferred candidate, then did whatever it took to get him to join their organization. That kind of action has been uncommon for this team in the past, and could be a sign of things to come this offseason.

Washington had competition for its new hire. The Houston Rockets were interested in talking to Brooks, who was part of Houston’s championship-winning team in 1994 and who had coached star James Harden in Oklahoma City, and it was always possible the Lakers could decide to make a run at Brooks should they part with their current coach, Byron Scott.

But instead of letting the market settle – and giving the Rockets or other potential suitors a chance to woo Brooks – the Wizards pushed the issue. They never met with any other candidate, and they offered Brooks a contract that makes him one of the six highest-paid coaches in the league.

It was a deal that proved to be too good for Brooks to pass up.

The question now is what does the pursuit of Brooks – both getting him, and how they did so – mean for the Wizards moving forward. This summer has been the focus for the franchise and its fans for some time now, given that superstar Kevin Durant will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

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No. 3: Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough — Apparently the Oklahoma City Thunder are not only too talent in comparison to his Mavericks, says coach Rick Carlisle, but they’re too rugged. Illegally, so. Carlisle watched tape of Game 3 and felt OKC played dangerously close to the line, and maybe even crossed the line on a few occasions. He took exception to Kevin Durant‘s stray elbow and a few other things; feel free whether his complaints are legit or simply the rant of a frustrated coach. Anyway, Tim McMahon of ESPN filed this report on Thunder-Mavericks:

“There were four, what I would categorize as non-basketball physical escalations that were initiated by them, including one intentional, unprovoked elbow at the free throw line, which I didn’t understand,” Carlisle said Friday. “And I’ve never seen a guy like Kevin Durant ever do that to a player. Then ultimately, that led to two more escalations between the teams, the fact that that was missed. I’m concerned about that. There’s no place for that in our game.”

Late Friday afternoon, the NBA announced that Durant has been assessed a technical foul for a “physical taunt” as a result of his elbow to Mejri’s chest.

Felton, meanwhile, was angered after being elbowed in the face by Adams when they were boxing out under the basket. Adams, a 7-footer, laughed when confronted by the 6-foot-1 Felton.

“I’m not going to let you just elbow me in my face and I let it go,” Felton told ESPN after the game Thursday. “Whatever. I’ll take a technical or whatever, fine or whatever it is. I’m not going to back down for nothing. I’m definitely not going to let anybody hit me in my face freely for no reason. I’m just down there trying to battle a big 7-footer for a rebound and he elbows me to my face.

“Like, you’re that much bigger than me, what you need to elbow a little guy like me to get a rebound? I didn’t like it, so I let him know that. But whatever, it’s over with now. I ain’t trippin’ no more. You can smile and laugh all you want to. You ain’t just gonna hit me in my face and think everything’s sweet. But like I said, I’m gonna let bygones be bygones.”

Carlisle wanted to make sure the issues were raised again Friday, repeatedly referring to the Thunder as the initiators. Oklahoma City holds a 2-1 edge in the series entering Game 4 in Dallas on Saturday night.

“We’re not looking to do it unless it’s within the rules,” Carlisle said. “But there were some things that I know are going to be looked at today, that going into Game 4, we’re going to be ready for.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George isn’t ready to shut out his teammates and go one-on-one when it counts; with the Pacers against the ropes vs. the Raptors, he feels he needs them … also wants a 3-year deal … Seth Curry opted out of his deal with Sacramento and if you’re in the market for a Curry (no, not that one), he could be yours … Kevin Garnett knew Prince a little … Could the Knicks target Darren Collison in their point guard chase? … An Oregon politician thinks Chris Paul and the Clippers whine too much.

Morning shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ | Lakers’ youngsters will finally get to play through mistakes | Gentry comes to defense of beat up Davis | Mavericks say they owe it to Dirk to make playoffs

No. 1: Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ — The speculation won’t stop anytime soon. That’s just the way it is when a superstar like Kevin Durant is approaching free agency. So reading between the lines is the only thing Oklahoma City Thunder fans can do until July. They can take solace, though, in the fact that Durant continues to show love to the city he calls “home” right now. Royce Young of ESPN delivers the latest bread crumbs for those trying to figure out Durant’s thinking on Oklahoma City and what it means to him:

When the Oklahoma City Thunder visited New York a couple months ago, Kevin Durant was asked specifically what he thought about the city. When Durant was in Boston last week, again, he was asked about the city. The premise is easy to understand: Big market, big team, big future free agent. You can piece that puzzle together.

But on Sunday, standing on a red carpet next to his mom outside the front doors of his restaurant in Bricktown, just a few blocks from the arena he currently plays in, Durant stopped to answer a few questions.

One of which being: You get asked about all these other cities, but what about this one?

“It’s home,” he said. “It’s home.”

Like any other answer he’s given over the last few months, that’s no more a breadcrumb leading to answering what he’s going to do come July 1, but it is a reaffirmation of Durant’s affection for the place he’s called home the last seven years.

“I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me,” he said. “It has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart as well. And we want to do our justice by giving back and giving to the less fortunate. That’s how I was raised, that’s how my mom taught me, how my grandmother taught me, is to give back. I’ve been blessed with so much I want to be a blessing on someone else.”

As is the case whenever the Thunder do anything, virtually the entire organization was present for the event, including Russell WestbrookSerge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams.

“Since I’ve been doing this job we’ve walked into the same building every single day,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said of Durant, who he drafted at the age of 18. “I can honestly tell you there’s never a day that goes by that I take for granted that I work in an organization that has Kevin Durant representing it. His evolution as a person has been as steady, consistent and impressive as his evolution as a player. And that’s quite the statement.”

(more…)

Morning shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break – March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards owner says team can make playoffs | Ricky Rubio still showing growth | Sixers’ growth slower than that of their rival | Is Curry changing the game?

No. 1: Wizards owner says team can make playoffs — You can say the Wizards have been one of the more disappointing teams in the league and currently find themselves in the outside looking in regarding the playoffs. But Washington owner Ted Leonsis prefers to see the glass as being half full and believes the team can still make the playoffs, which mathematically is definitely possible. You wonder if “making the playoffs” sounds more like an ultimatum from the owner and whether heads will roll if Washington, which scored an upset over the Raptors last spring, fails to make the cut. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post reports:

The Wizards have strangled and then revived their playoff chances more times than I can count. Most recently, they imploded in Chicago, then won four straight games. Then they lost five straight — including three on a brutal West Coast swing — before rebounding with three straight wins, two against playoff contenders. Don’t worry about these details: just know that when they reach the absolute precipice of disaster, they recover just enough to keep us interested until the next disappointment.

Washington’s schedule still looks forgiving; seven of its final 14 games are against truly awful teams. But only an extreme optimist could continue to have total faith in this team after the past few months.

Ted Leonsis is an extreme optimist.

During a radio appearance this week, Leonsis was asked serious questions about the Wizards future: about how this team could both miss the playoffs and lose its first-round pick, about his commitment to patience, and about how he would decide whether General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman deserve to be back.

“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Leonsis told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan. “We have to believe that. We have to be focused on that. That’s all we’re looking at.”

Leonsis said this on Wednesday afternoon. That was before the Wizards beat the Bulls and Sixers to pull within a 1.5 games of the eighth seed. It wasn’t necessarily pretty; Washington tried like crazy to lose to Philadelphia on Thursday night. And the Wizards would still need to pass two teams to make the postseason. But Leonsis, like most of us, at least sees a path.

“This has been an outlier year, mostly because of how many injuries we’ve suffered,” Leonsis said. “We had a very poor road trip — Bradley Beal didn’t play at all — and then Bradley Beal plays 24 minutes [against Detroit] and the team just looks different. John Wall looks like a different player when he doesn’t have to be the first offensive scoring option, he can set other players up.

“And so we’ll take a look at how we end the season in the offseason,” the owner said. “But right now, we’re just focused on do we have our full contingent of players, can we play the kind of system that we want, can we amp up the energy defensively. And it seems trite, you hear this all the time, but we truly are in the mode of you’ve got to play one game at a time, and be totally focused and conscious of just that one impediment that’s in front of you tonight.”

 

(more…)

Report: Wolves, Miller finalizing buyout

NBA.com staff reports

Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince were the Minnesota Timberwolves’ only two additions to the roster in the offseason. The thinking then was both players — along with Kevin Garnett — could help teach a young crew in Minnesota headlined by Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Georgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns the NBA ropes.

While Prince has had a bigger role on the Wolves’ lineup than Miller has — at least in terms of raw stats — both have served the team’s youngsters well. With the March 1 playoff eligibility waiver deadline is less than a week away, Miller — who has appeared in 1,291 regular season games but just 63 playoff games — is reportedly seeking a buyout in hopes of latching on with a playoff team.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports’ The Vertical was the first to report the news.

Anthony Davis shines with transcendent performance


VIDEO: Anthony Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points on the Detroit Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Anthony Davis served up a reminder Sunday of why so many NBA pundits and observers pegged this season as his opportunity to take his game to the next level.

His 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over the Detroit Pistons was jaw-dropping in both effort and result. Davis became just the fourth player in NBA history to pile up that many points while also grabbing 20 rebounds (Shaquille O’Neal did it once, Elgin Baylor twice and the great Wilt Chamberlain did it 33 times, including 17 times during the 1961-62 season).

It was a transcendent effort from one of the truly unique talents the league has seen. Davis, just 22, and having barely scratched the surface of what he can do in this league, showed off all facets of his current offensive arsenal. He finished with authority around the rim, was precise off the dribble and with his mid-range game and even stepped out beyond the 3-point line a couple of times for good measure.

It was a virtuoso performance that left Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy shaking his head and accepting blame for his team not being able to contain Davis, who admitted to surprising himself with his performance.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical the same:

Ever seen something like it? “I haven’t,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told The Vertical in a text message. “Not by a big with that skill level.”

This season had been targeted as Davis’ MVP breakthrough, his time. Now, he’s nowhere near the conversation. Sit down with him, and the sense comes quickly: That’s the least of his concern. Winning matters to him, and that’s how Davis wants to be judged. Chris Paul pushed his way out of New Orleans, but Davis is starting a new five-year deal, and he’ll have to find a way to become part of the solution there.

Throughout All-Star weekend, Davis probed the biggest winners in the NBA. Throughout this lost Pelicans season, Kendrick Perkins has been guide to his personal inventory of franchise star stories – from Kevin Garnettand LeBron James to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“Perk tells me stories from 10 years ago, and says: As the franchise player and leader of this team, you have to do this, you have to do that,” Davis told The Vertical.

Davis listens, but here’s the truth of the matter: The franchise star job demands that you learn through experience. Otherwise, everything will devour you. Davis is so gifted, so dedicated. And he takes everything – the losing, the unrealistic insistences that he ought to be to able to win all alone – in the most personal way possible.

“It’s tough,” Davis told The Vertical recently. “You start hearing all the white noise. ‘They lost three in a row, and it’s Anthony Davis’ fault.’ The blame gets put on you. Of course, there are other factors that go along with it – like the praise when you are winning. But to handle that when you’re so young, and haven’t really accomplished anything, it’s tough – especially when people put you on a pedestal. ‘He should be doing this, he should be doing that.’ It’s frustrating.

“It’ll make you overthink your game. You start thinking too much. You start listening and trying to figure out, ‘Well, I’m going to try to do this,’ and it takes you away from your game. Now, you’re losing more because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Davis said Gentry challenged the Pelicans to be the best team in the league after the All-Star break, a task that will be difficult given the way the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs have been grinding all season.

The more realistic task, even with Stephen Curry playing the way he has all season, is for Davis to be the best player in the league the rest of this season.

That’s what many thought he’d do last summer, after his breakthrough effort in pushing the Pelicans into the playoffs. Injuries and the adjustments from an old system to Gentry’s didn’t allow that to happen early on this season. But Sunday’s effort could be the start of something spectacular for Davis the rest of the way …

***


VIDEO: Anthony Davis joins the Game Time crew after his 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over Detroit

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

***

(more…)

Nets remove King, Hollins, have long way to go


VIDEO: What’s next for Nets in wake of recent moves?

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — When Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the Brooklyn Nets in 2010, he promised fans that the team would win an NBA title within five years. Six years later, the Nets have collected no titles, and are currently floundering at 10-27.

And as of about an hour ago, the Brooklyn Nets no longer have a coach or general manager, either.

The Nets announced today that the team had “parted ways” with head coach Lionel Hollins and “reassigned” general manager Billy King. The interim head coach will be Tony Brown, who played a season for the Nets in ’86-87, and has been an NBA assistant coach for almost two decades. Brown becomes the Nets’ fifth coach in the last five seasons.

The Nets have been good over the last five seasons, making three consecutive playoff appearances, but they just weren’t good enough. During King’s tenure, the Nets never made it as far as the Eastern Conference finals, much less the NBA Finals. And that clearly wasn’t good enough for an owner with big-time aspirations.

“After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that it’s time for a fresh start and a new vision for the direction of the team,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “By making this decision now, it enables our organization to use the rest of the season to diligently evaluate candidates with proven track records. It’s clear from our current state of affairs that we need new leadership. With the right basketball management and coach in place, we are going to create a winning culture and identity and give Brooklyn a team that it can be proud of and enjoy watching.”

King was Prokhorov’s first significant hire, and he aggressively attempted to fashion the Nets into a team capable of winning immediately and meeting Prokhorov’s championship edict. He traded valuable combinations of draft picks and players to bring in Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. After Avery Johnson presided over the team’s move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, King surprisingly hired Jason Kidd, who had no head coaching experience, but led the team to the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals. When Kidd departed following one season, King went pragmatic and brought in Lionel Hollins.

In his only other head coaching job, with the Memphis Grizzlies, Hollins established a reputation for connecting with veteran players. In nearly one and a half seasons with the Nets, Hollins compiled a 48-71 record. The veteran-heavy Nets roster seemed to be a logical landing spot for Hollins, and he guided last year’s team to a 38-44 regular season record and playoff berth, where the Nets pushed the Atlanta Hawks to six games before a first round exit. This season, without veterans such as Garnett and Deron Williams, the Nets attempted to get younger and more athletic, although a recent season-ending injury to Jarrett Jack seemed to curb whatever enthusiasm remained in the borough.

One thing about the Nets is certain: Whoever replaces King has their work cut out for them. Thanks to the Garnett/Pierce trade, the Nets don’t control their own first round pick until 2019, which would seem to make rebuilding through the draft nearly impossible. The Nets also don’t have much of trade value on their current roster, other than perhaps Brook Lopez or the injured rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, making it difficult to acquire other first round picks.

With the luxury tax figure rising the next two seasons, the Nets will have cap space to sign free agents, although almost every team in the NBA will also be able to exploit the cap space bonanza. The Nets have trumpeted their new practice facility, opening along the Brooklyn waterfront in February, as a positive for a franchise in need of good energy.

The Nets may have started from the bottom, and now they’re here. And while ownership tries to figure out a new route to relevance, only one thing is certain: For all of their sound and fury, the Nets still have a long way to go.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

***

No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

***

No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

***

No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …


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