Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Pritchard’

‘Elite’ Pacers Ready To Rumble



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When coach Frank Vogel was thumping his chest about his Indiana Pacers this time a year ago, swearing to anyone that would listen that they would compete with the best of the best, most of us thought he was getting a little ahead of himself.

Sure, the Pacers were a solid young team, most likely a playoff regular for the foreseeable future. Perhaps they were even a team capable of contending in the Eastern Conference a few years down the line. But an elite outfit?

Not everyone was convinced. And lingering injury issues, namely Danny Granger‘s, kept them off of the 2012-13 preseason short list of championship contenders.

They’re in the middle of that mix heading into this season and eager to prove their elite status coming off of a season that ended in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat, sans Granger, in the Eastern Conference finals. Vogel, as confident as they come, doesn’t seem so crazy now. The Pacers belong on that short list this season, right behind the LeBron James-and Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat and right there with (and arguably ahead of) the Derrick Rose-and Joakim Noah-led Chicago Bulls.

“We’ve added a few more players with experience and our core group of eight or nine guys have improved,” said Granger, who is returning to the mix after playing five games in 2012-13. “We’re going to be a forced to be reckoned with honestly. As long as everybody stays healthy and everything … we’ve got a good team.”

When you can count four current or former All-Stars (Granger, Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West) amongst your ranks, not to mention quality additions like two-time former Spanish League MVP and veteran power forward Luis Scola, there is good reason for a collective confidence that borders on cockiness.

“We feel like we’re finally getting a little recognition, like we’re getting respected. We’re feeling elite now,” George said. “We always were a team on the outside looking in and now the tables have turned a little bit.”

That twist comes with some extra responsibility that was previously not a part of the equation for Vogel’s crew. It’s more than just raised expectations, it’s more like the pressure of incumbency. When you play deep into the playoffs in consecutive seasons, losing to the eventual champions in both instances, you know exactly where you stand.

“That’s why we have to be that team that’s ready every night.” George said. “We have to be that team that comes out and plays consistent every night, because teams are going to be gunning for us every night.”

Teams will do the same thing to the Pacers this season that they did to the Heat, Bulls and Boston Celtics while Vogel was pushing his team to claw their way up the league’s food chain.

The biggest difference this time around, though, is that there is a belief that the difference between the Heat and the teams chasing them in the East isn’t nearly as great as it was perhaps two seasons ago. The Pacers took note when James said last week that there is “tension” but the Heat have no rivalries in the Eastern Conference and when Rose suggested it would be a couple of years before the two Central Division teams could actually be considered true rivals.

“I think it’s wide open, a free-for-all in the East right now,” George said. “Remember we were just one game away. Had we done things better [in that Game 7], we might have won that series and gotten to The Finals. Who knows what happens? But we feel like it’s up for grabs. There is no clear-cut champion right now in this league or in the East. We just have to come out and prove it. Kick the rankings and all the talk aside and let our play do the talking. We just have to come out and do us.”

The Heat are obviously loaded for a three-peat … and most NBA GM’s think they’ll pull it off. Rose’s return means a Bulls team that was as dangerous as anyone in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season will likely be elite again. The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks loom as potential contenders, too.

But Vogel remains fixated on his team, their potential and the same things he saw in them a year ago. He sidestepped the rivalry talk between his crew and the Heat or Bulls, insisting, and rightfully so, that the Pacers just want to beat everyone in their path.

His concentration is on the continued fortification of the Pacers’ belief in themselves and the fact that they belong, on the things he saw in them early on in his tenure that led him to boast a bit — even before his team got in on the act.

“I like the number of two-way players we have, guys that are solid on both ends of the court,” he said. “I like our depth, I like our talent. Just look at our first five. I think George Hill could be an All-Star level point guard. Paul George has been an All-Star. Roy Hibbert has been an All-Star. David West has been an All-Star. Danny has been an All-Star. I think Lance Stephenson has the ability to be that level of player some day. I like our talent and how the pieces fit.”

And he’s a true believer.

“Belief is a critical element in success,” Vogel said. “Each of the last few years they’ve believed a little bit more and a little bit more that they can be a truly great team. And hopefully, that belief is as great as it’s been since I’ve been and we can have a great season.”

George Is A Perfect Fit For Pacers





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Paul George‘s birth certificate confirms what everyone already knows: he’s a Southern California native through and through, something the Indiana Pacers’ young star is extremely proud of. But he couldn’t be more of a Hoosier if he tried.

From his relentless work ethic to his off-court sensibilities (fishing over, say, celebrity party hopping), George is the ideal face of the franchise in Indianapolis, where the excitement and expectations surrounding George and the Pacers for this season are already off the charts.

That’s what makes the reported $90-plus million extension George and the Pacers are closing in on prior to the start of training camp the biggest no-brainer to date. George couldn’t have found a better fit — an up-and-coming franchise for an up-and-coming superstar — and the Pacers couldn’t have found a better ambassador for what should be their most promising team in a decade.

Pacers president Larry Bird told Pacers.com that the deal isn’t done yet, but expects it to be soon:

When asked whether the reported terms were accurate, Bird said, “I never heard that number. I wish it was my number instead of [Paul's].

Although a new deal isn’t complete just yet and George hasn’t signed on the dotted line, everything is expected to be resolved this week.

“I know Paul’s worth,” said Bird. “I’m not banking on what’s going to happen in the future, even though you do somewhat. It’s what he’s accomplished now and that what we’ll go off of.

“It’s always good to have the leverage but the number has got to be a number we both like. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about money. Yes, he wants to be here. He’s told me that a million times. We want him here so let’s just find a number that works for both.”

Bird, a Hall of Famer, completely understands George’s mindset.

“Well back when I played, if they brought me in and was talking to me, I wanted to get it done before camp,” he said. “So I know it’s important. Security is always the best thing to have in this league.”

With a new contract, there’s more to it than just the length and value of the deal. There’s all the legal items, player or team options, and more that goes into it.

“If you come to the number first, then all the other things sorta fall in place.”

I lived in Indianapolis and covered the team the last time the Pacers entered a season with a budding young superstar (Jermaine O’Neal), a deep roster and championship ambitions. Things are going to get even crazier for George at home than he probably realizes. O’Neal was a fabulous player then, and like George, was a somewhat underrated talent coming into the Draft. He outworked and eventually outplayed that profile and blossomed into an All-Star with the Pacers. The same is true for George.

A city and state that loves its basketball like no other has embraced George in ways it never did O’Neal, who led the Pacers to the best record in the league during the 2003-04 season. Pacers fans always seemed a bit indifferent to O’Neal, who had the misfortune of having to assume leading the team while Reggie Miller was still the franchise’s true face and Ron Artest was in the midst of his most tumultuous time with the franchise. Pacers fans don’t appear to have any such reservations where George is concerned.

They saw as George went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Miami Heat during Indiana’s run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. They saw George shine on the biggest and brightest stage alongside David West, Roy Hibbert and the rest of a rugged Pacers team that pushed the Heat to a Game 7.

They know that they have the genuine article in George, whose meteoric rise in three seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. His impact on this team last season, while Danny Granger was sidelined with injury, is well documented (courtesy of my main man and numbers guru John Schuhmann of NBA.com).

It’s a testament to the work Bird (as well as Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard) have done in rebuilding the franchise that George is stiff-arming the free agent process (and the lure of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers) that so many of his contemporaries would chase if they were in his shoes.

The best part for the Pacers is that they’ll have George locked up for what should be the prime of a superstar career. George is a true two-way player (not every All-Star plays defense as well as they do offense) on the short list that is headlined by James.

George is far from a finished product, another huge positive for the Pacers, and he understands that. He talked about it repeatedly in July during his time with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and their mini-camp. How he and Granger co-exist will go a long way in determining just how successful a season the Pacers can put together.

But those are issues Pacers coach Frank Vogel and his staff will gladly sort through with George as the centerpiece of a team that should compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.

In fact, none of those lingering issues seem terribly unsettling when you’ve got a perfect fit between a franchise and the (new and) true face of said franchise.

Bird Returning To The Pacers



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – One year away from the game was apparently all Hall of Famer Larry Bird could take. The former Boston Celtics star and Indiana Pacers coach and executive is returning to his Indiana roots once again and rejoining the Pacers’ front office.

The Pacers announced Wednesday afternoon that Bird is rejoining the franchise as president, giving the Pacers a front office “Big 3″ of sorts with Donnie Walsh , who will move into his role as a consultant, and general manager Kevin Pritchard already in place.

“We are all very happy to have Larry back,” Pacers owner Herb Simon said in statement released by the team. “When he left last July, Donnie and I both told him the door would be open for him to come back when he’s ready. Larry had a huge impact on this team and where it is now so it’s fitting that he comes back at this time. Donnie has been a friend and a valuable contributor to the franchise and will continue to be both. I wanted him to agree to stay in some capacity as I believe with Larry and Kevin, it gives us three of the best basketball minds in the business.”

The Pacers that Bird built during his previous stint as president, which culminated in NBA Executive of the Year honors in 2012, pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals this season. Bird is responsible for youngsters like All-Star Paul George and Lance Stephenson being in the Pacers’ fold alongside veterans like David West, George Hill and All-Star Roy Hibbert, not to mention coach Frank Vogel.

Bird took the Pacers to The Finals during his stint as coach, from 1997-2000. He left after that Finals trip in 2000 but returned in 2003 to work alongside Walsh in the front office as president. Walsh returned to replace Bird this past season and now they will team up again with Pritchard in a significant role as well.

Bird cited health reasons for his departure at the end of last year. He had been the Pacers’ president of basketball operations from 2003-12. The year off, however, served him well.

“The year off gave me a chance to reflect, to rest, to take care of some health issues and it re-charged me,” Bird said in that statement. “Donnie and Kevin did a great job and I will lean on both heavily as we move forward toward the goal of competing for a championship.”

Report: Roy Agrees To Deal With Wolves



After retiring in late 2011 because of recurring troubles with his knees, 27-year-old guard Brandon Roy decided Thursday night to return to the NBA, agreeing to terms with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a two-year deal worth $10.4 million, according to a league source.

Roy picked Minnesota over Dallas, Indiana, Golden State and Cleveland, which had gotten into his list of finalists, according to his agent, Greg Lawrence. Roy had originally considered the Bulls, but Chicago fell out of the running due to the severe limits on its payroll in the next few years. Derrick Rose‘s $95 million contract extension kicks in next season and the Bulls still owe Carlos Boozer $47 million over the next three seasons and Luol Deng $27 million over the next two. Chicago would not have been able to offer Roy anything more than the $3.09 million non-taxpayer’s cap exception next season, and the Bulls were put further under the gun earlier this week when the Rockets gave reserve center Omer Asik a commitment for a three-year, $25 million offer sheet, which Chicago will have three days to match when the free-agent moratorium ends next week.

Under the new amnesty rules, Roy could not re-sign with Portland even if he wanted to until the 2014-15 season, because the Trail Blazers were the team that waived him last December under the new amnesty provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Portland had to pay the remaining $63 million of Roy’s salary. After no one claimed Roy off waivers, he became an unrestricted free agent.

The Timberwolves were extremely aggressive in their pursuit of Roy, sending a party including owner Glen Taylor, team president of basketball operations David Kahn and coach Rick Adelman to visit Roy in Seattle last weekend. In addition, Roy was, and is, extremely close with Wolves assistant coach Bill Bayno, who had worked with him and with former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden tirelessly while an assistant in Portland. Bayno worked Roy out in the spring and said Roy looked almost like the old player that was a three-time All-Star for the Blazers, though he didn’t have quite the lift or explosiveness he had before.

The Wolves have been looking for a permanent solution at shooting guard for years, having gotten little consistency from players like Martell Webster or former first-round picks Wes Johnson and Wayne Ellington. Roy will take some of the scoring burden off of both All-Star Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio, who’ll be returning from a torn ACL next season. But Roy will likely not be a 30 to 35-minute player any more. The Blazers tried to limit his minutes and bring him off the bench when he returned in the 2011 season, but the arrangement frustrated Roy.

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Call It A Comeback For Brandon Roy





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Brandon Roy‘s retirement from the NBA looks like it might only last one season.

The former Portland Trail Blazers All-Star is apparently headed back to the league, with a host of teams interested in acquiring his services for the 2012-013 season and beyond.

The Bulls, Mavericks, Pacers and Timberwolves are all, according to Yahoo! Sports, among the teams doing their due diligence to investigate Roy’s readiness for action. And they are not alone:

Roy’s recovery from chronic knee problems has been recently spurred by undergoing the platelet rich plasma therapy procedure that Lakers star Kobe Bryant popularized with NBA players, sources said. The blood spinning procedure gave profound relief to the knees of Bryant, Tracy McGrady and baseball star Alex Rodriguez.

The Golden State Warriors have also expressed strong interest with Roy. The Warriors’ general manager, Bob Myers, was Roy’s agent with the Wasserman Media Group.

After Portland doctors pushed Roy to stop playing in 2011, the Blazers used the league’s new amnesty provision to pay him the remaining $63 million on his contract and made Roy a free agent. He’s been working out for several months and planning a return.

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Bird Leaving Pacers … Walsh Returning





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Indiana Pacers’ continued return to prominence will go on without the man who served as the architect of the project.

Hall of Famer and reigning NBA Executive of the Year Larry Bird is leaving the organization, per Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star, a move that opens the door for Bird’s predecessor and former boss, Donnie Walsh, to return to Indianapolis as the franchise’s new boss.

Unspecified health issues are reportedly among the reasons Bird is “100 percent sure” he will not stay on president of the team after meeting with Pacers owner Herb Simon today:

Bird, who is dealing with some health issues, will likely take a year off before deciding if he wants to return to any sort of front-office position.

His departure comes just three days after The Star reported that Bird’s predecessor, former CEO Donnie Walsh, is expected to return to the franchise in some capacity. There’s a possibility Walsh will take Bird’s title of president.

Simon always has respected Walsh, who spent 24 years with the Pacers before leaving to become president of basketball operations with the New York Knicks in 2008.

Walsh, who took last year off, attended several of the Pacers’ pre-draft workouts at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Kevin Pritchard, the team’s current director of player personnel, will likely work with Walsh as the team’s new general manager. Bird pushed for Pritchard to become general manager, citing Pritchard’s basketball knowledge.

David Morway, who had been the Pacers’ general manager, is no longer employed by the franchise, according to a source.

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PJax To Orlando Talks Back On?

HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – Maybe this Phil Jackson-to-the-Orlando Magic idea has legs after all.

A week after it was reported that Jackson had withdrawn himself from consideration to join the Magic in some front office capacity, Sam Amick of SI.com reports that the talks are still alive, but with a few new and interesting twists:

Former Charlotte coach Sam Vincent, who played for the Bulls during Jackson’s days as an assistant in Chicago and also played for the Magic, continues to captain the cause that would have Jackson work remotely (likely from Los Angeles, where his longtime girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, remains with the Lakers) most of the time. Vincent would operate in a front-office role in the plan, while the team would be coached by a protégé (or two) of Jackson’s.

According to the sources, the latest version of the proposal has Pacers assistant and ex-Lakers assistant Brian Shaw coaching the team and Hall of Famer and Bulls ambassador Scottie Pippen as the lead assistant. And as if Jackson’s potential price tag wasn’t daunting enough (he earned $12 million in his last year with the Lakers), one of the sources said he is asking for a slice of minority ownership in the franchise as well. The hope, of course, would be for Jackson to use his cachet to convince Dwight Howard to remain in Orlando for the long-term. Jackson’s agent, Todd Musburger, did not return a call for comment.

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The Future Is Always Now





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You could feel the vibe from 3,000 miles away.

That energy was real.

The Portland Trail Blazers were on the verge of something special with one of the league’s best young executives, Kevin Pritchard, best young coaches, Nate McMillan, two new young stars, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, already in the fold, and the new No. 1 pick, Greg Oden, smiling on the stage in front of a sea of thousands and the “Welcome To Rip City” banner hanging behind him.

Nearly five years later, Aldridge is the only one left amid the rubble that was the Trail Blazers’ championship blueprint. Pritchard was the first to go, fired on draft night two years ago. Injuries forced Roy into retirement in December, McMillan was fired Thursday and Oden’s injury-plagued career with the Trail Blazers (82 games is all they have to show for his actual game time in uniform) came to an end later that evening when he was waived.

This isn’t yet another savage poke at an already wounded rabid and wickedly loyal fan base in Portland. On the contrary, they have been the one constant and positive force surrounding this cautionary tale. Their plight is a reminder for any fan base, and the franchise they love, out there dreaming about what could be. The future is always now in the NBA, right now, in fact!

And if you operate with any other theories in mind, you do so at your own risk.

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Can you spot the Karma in Carmelo?

The new word today, boys and girls, is “karma.” I suspect even LeBron James, who wasn’t sure about “contraction,” has an idea what this means.

Now that karma is bold-faced and suddenly prominent in the basketball lingo, can we see some examples of such? Well, here’s a start:

Karma: Kevin Garnett (allegedly) calls Charlie Villanueva a cancer patient and then suffers an injury, misses a few weeks with a strained right calf.

Karma: Elton Brand reneges on a verbal pledge to re-sign with the Clippers (or so thought Mike Dunleavy), joins the Sixers, still looking to be who he once was. Meanwhile, back in L.A., heeerrreee’s Blake Griffin!

Karma: Michael Jordan criticizes Jerry Krause all those years for being a lousy general manager; Bobcats are floundering under Jordan’s rule.

Karma: Joe Dumars thinks Darko Milicic will turn out better than Carmelo Anthony; now trying to make a deal with Carmelo as the main figure.

Karma: Suns figure they’d be better off without Bryan Colangelo first and then Steve Kerr. Hmmmmm.

Karma: Ditto Trail Blazers and Kevin Pritchard.

Your turn, readers. Give us your examples of karma in the NBA.

Rip City Mystery II?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Rudy Fernandez kicked this thing off with his public grumblings about wanting to return to Europe.

Then came  Greg Oden‘s All-Star vow.

And now, Brandon Roy wants the ball “a lot more,” per my main man Jason Quick of the Oregonian:

Roy’s comments came in response to questions about the Blazers’ struggling offense during the preseason, where the Blazers are 1-3. He said several factors have led to the slow start: [Nate] McMillan has used several different lineups; no player-specific plays had been put into the gameplan until Sunday; and it’s only preseason.

“We haven’t really put in the offense we’re used to working with,” Roy said. “The first three games, we didn’t even have an offensive play. We’re not really the type of team that plays loose. I don’t play loose. I kind of need some plays, some organization there. That’s some of the reason why I think we’re not panicking, because we’re not really running plays yet.”

Wednesday was the second day of practices when the staff implemented plays designed to get a specific player a shot. Roy said he doesn’t expect the team to return to its Roy-dominated offense in the preseason.

“We’re talking about it, we’re working through it, but we’re not really committed to it now in the preseason,” Roy said.

Who’s messing with the water in Portland?

Every time we turn around there seems to be something strange creeping out of a team that we already have under surveillance for suspicious activities (Kevin Pritchard‘s strange departure still doesn’t jive).

One thing is clear, the vibe surrounding this team around the league has changed drastically in the past two years. This isn’t the same deep team that was overflowing with young talent and poised for what seemed to be a long stay among the league’s elite with Roy as the bell cow.

This was the team, not Oklahoma City, some people pegged as the potential heir to the Lakers’ throne in the Western Conference. They had all the ingredients — a good coach, talent up and down the roster and good chemistry. Now, no one seems quite sure what to make of what’s happening.

We got smoked for questioning the Blazers this summer, but our concerns were legitimate (we addressed them in the Rip City Mystery I).

They seem more and more legit with every day that passes.

Click here to check out NBA.com’s Trail Blazers season preview and previews of all 30 teams.