Posts Tagged ‘Knicks’

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 9


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Sunday, Nov. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG | Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night | Thunder embrace their true identity | Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times

No. 1: Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG — His first points in 1996. The 61 he dropped on the crowd in 2009. Some of Kobe Bryant‘s greatest memories have come on the floor at Madison Square Garden. He added 18 more in what could very well be his final time playing on that floor Sunday in a loss to the New York Knicks. Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted that he and Kobe have spoken about the fact that his 20th season could indeed be his final season in the league. If so, the farewell tour took a decided twist at MSG, where our very own Lang Whitaker was on hand to witness what could very well be Kobe’s final call at the Mecca:

Following Sunday’s game, Kobe reminisced about that first appearance at the Garden — “It was like one of those VHS tapes when someone hit the fast-forward button and the TV was moving really fast.” — as well as that ’98 All-Star game — “In the locker room, I look to my right and there’s Stockton, and I look to my left and there’s Drexler.”

“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said. “I mean, Frazier and Monroe and all those teams, DeBusschere and Reed and all those guys. I was like, truly, truly a fan of watching all these games. Then the Bulls, obviously, and the Pacers battles, and all that stuff. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had in this building, it feels extremely, extremely fortunate.”

Accordingly, Bryant is still respected like few opponents at MSG. Even Sunday, whenever he pulled up for a jumper, there was roar of anticipation. When Bryant pump-faked on the wing with three minutes left and the game in the balance, several fans sitting behind him leapt to their feet in anticipation of a big bucket, one that never came.

These days, the riddle the Lakers find themselves trying to unravel is exactly what they want and need out of Bryant. Do they need a volume shooter who occasionally flirts with a 40-point game? Or is the best course for the franchise to focus on the future? The Lakers used a lineup in the fourth quarter on Sunday featuring Kobe playing alongside a seven-year vet (Roy Hibbert), a second-year player (Jordan Clarkson), and two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are rookies (D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).

“I think they’re developing extremely well,” Kobe said of the younger players. “They continue to improve reading on both ends of the floor, actually. My communication with them has been very tactical. The little things.”

“All he has to do is be himself,” said Bryant’s long-time teammate Metta World Peace. “He doesn’t have to do anything extra. He don’t have to be what his fans want him to be. He don’t have to try to prove to the media that he can still jump over the rim, or he don’t have to prove to anybody that he’s not who he was a couple of years ago. All he gotta do is enjoy us, just be a part of us, and we’ll be a part of him. We’ll do it together. It’s not about any individual on the team, it’s about us. As long as we continue to have that mindset, we’ll be fine.

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No. 2: Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night — If you’ve overlooked a struggling Detroit Pistons team in recent years, now might be a good time to end that practice. The Pistons, 5-1 and off to their best start in eight years, look for real. They’ve got a wild card in point guard Reggie Jackson (who led the team with a career-high 40 points, 26 in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s comeback win in Portland) and an absolute double-double monster in center Andre Drummond (29 points and 27 rebounds in the win). Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds, the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970-71 to do so through the first six games of a season. He joins Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to record three 20-20 performances in the first six games of a season. Drummond is elevating his game, and his name, into the realm of giants with his start to this season, as Rico Beard of the Detroit News explains:

Another night with a double-double — and in the case of Sunday night’s 120-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, an almost-absurd 29 points and 27 rebounds. It’s becoming common for the fourth-year center, who boosted his jaw-dropping averages to 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds through the first six games.

He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games 20-20 games in the first six games of a season.

On the offensive end, he displayed a fluid jump-hook and was a menace on the offensive glass, with nine, fueling the Pistons’ double-digit comeback, for their second win on the six-game West Coast trip.

“Andre’s numbers are phenomenal. I just told somebody if he didn’t get a rebound the rest of the trip, he’d be in the top three or four in the league in rebounding — he’d be averaging over 12 a game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s doing on the boards is phenomenal; he was just swallowing the ball down the stretch. It was an incredible turnaround.”

But even as Drummond started to get more comfortable — hitting 14-of-19 from the field, Reggie Jackson started to break out, scoring 26 of his 40 points in the final period. Van Gundy said he wanted to get the ball to Drummond more, but with Jackson on a roll, there wasn’t a need.

All season, Drummond has focused on team success rather than individual stats, but with his All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s hard to ignore.

“Whatever night we win is a great win,” he said. “Individually, I’m just doing my part to help my team win, no matter what the numbers are — 5 rebounds or 20 rebounds. As long as we win the game, it was a good night for me.”

With his third game of 25 points and 25 rebounds, Drummond leads all active players, surpassing Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, who have two apiece.

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No. 3: Thunder embrace their true identity — Playing to your strengths is always the best plan for a team adjusting to a new coach and a new system. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly still adjusting to Billy Donovan and his system. But as long as the strength in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most explosive scorers in the game, and a lineup filled with quality scorers, there’s really no mystery as to what will make the adjustment period tolerable for a team with designs on competing for a championship this season. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman witnessed the Thunder’s offensive burst Sunday in a win over the Phoenix Suns:

Russell Westbrook entered at his customary time, early in the fourth quarter, and joined a unique but increasingly more customary lineup.

At shooting guard: Dion Waiters. At small forward: Kevin Durant. At power forward: Serge Ibaka. At center: Enes Kanter.

“Dangerous, man, dangerous,” Waiters said. “Lotta guys out there that can get buckets.”

When the group convened at the 7:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by 12. When the next substitution was made, at the 4:22 mark, the Thunder was up 22. In a spurt of fastbreaks and feathery jumpers, that offense-heavy five-man group sealed a much-needed 124-103 win over the Suns.

Westbrook started it with a layup off a nice Waiters assist. Then the favor was returned, with Waiters nailing a 3 set up by Westbrook.

Then it was Durant’s turn to take over. KD had 21 points at the time. He had 32 before the night was done.

Seven of those came within a 90-second span midway through the fourth, when he sandwiched a 3 and a 13-foot baseline turnaround with one of those patented Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways, uncontestable for 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe, who found himself stuck on Durant in the high post.

As he sauntered back down the court — his team on a 14-3 run, KD on a personal 7-0 run — Durant laughed and chirped at Bledsoe.

“E-Bled talks a lot of (stuff),” Durant said. “And I’m a (stuff)-talker myself.”

Durant followed his mini-spurt by turning from scorer to facilitator. His fourth assist of the night set up Kanter for a 12-foot jumper. Then the next possession down, the 12th of Westbrook’s 13 assists led to a Kanter dunk.

In less than four minutes, that five-man pairing rattled off a dominant 15-5 run, breaking away to a 22-point cushion. During the run, Ibaka, who had 10 himself on this night, was the only one who didn’t score.

“Everyone can score the ball crazy,” Kanter said. “Never played with a lineup like that.”

***

No. 4: Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times — Desperate times in Memphis require desperate measures from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who is trying to figure out why his team cannot seem to find a rhythm this season. Joerger’s response, at this early stage of the process, will be to tighten the rotation. Something had to give and the first thing is the rotation, despite some insisting that it might be Joerger who was on the hot seat. But the Grizzlies are experiencing an identity crisis that Joerger will solve by tweaking his rotation. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal details the looming changes:

Suddenly uncomfortable in their own skin, where do they stand?

The grit is all but gone.

The grind seems as fleeting as a gotcha moment.

Memphis (3-4) enters the final outing of a five-game trip perplexed as to how to get its mojo back. The Griz take more than a two-game losing streak into their game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

The Griz still are experiencing an identity crisis as they try to salvage a West Coast swing, having lost three of four. Last week began with an unfathomable 50-point loss to Golden State. Memphis beat Sacramento but dropped its next game to Portland.

That Memphis fell behind Utah by 21 points before an 89-79 loss last Saturday has coach Dave Joerger on the verge of shaking up the lineup because he can no longer stand by and watch his players not compete.

“I’m going to tighten the rotation,” Joerger said without saying which players will have minutes reduced.

However, Joerger did give a clue as to which way he’s leaning, based on his substitution pattern in that Utah game.

Joerger has routinely inserted Jeff Green for Tony Allen with the first substitution. But against Utah, Matt Barnes was the first to spell Allen, and Green later came in for Courtney Lee.

Joerger has increasingly grown fond of a lineup that has Barnes and Green at the wings. In fact, that combination was on the floor most of the fourth quarter. Allen didn’t play at all and Lee played just 94 seconds in the quarter.

“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ latest debacle. “We can get better. We know we can get better. We will get better and will keep plugging away.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James offered some constructive criticism to Kevin Love (egos checked at the door) and it worked. … Phil Jackson wanted more emotion from Derek Fisher and got exactly that in Sunday’s win over the Lakers. … Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a traveling man. … The Miami Heat’s second unit proves to be first rate. … The Washington Wizards have been extremely generous, but vow to end their frivolous ways with the basketball. …

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ICYMI: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson helped lift the Pistons to their fifth win in six games with yeoman’s work Sunday in Portland …


VIDEO: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson go off for the Pistons in a comeback win over Portland

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26


VIDEO: The NBA remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Saunders remembered as leader, cherished member of NBA family | Anthony, Knicks gain inspired by Mets | Parker ready for new, reduced role with Spurs | Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball?

No. 1: Saunders remembered as a leader and cherished member of NBA family — Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer Sunday at 60, succumbing to Hodgkins lymphoma on the eve of a NBA season he was going to start away from the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continued his four-month fight. Instead, he’s being remembered around a league where he touched many throughout his career. Our very own Steve Aschburner, a longtime former Timberwolves beat writer, shared some of his own reflections on Saunders:

Saunders had other pet phrases, things he’d coined or gleaned from the many coaches’ books he devoured during his trek through basketball’s trenches — seven years in the CBA in Rapid City, S.D., in La Crosse, Wis., in Sioux Falls, S.D., after college work at Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minnesota and Tulsa. “You are the position you can guard,” he’d say. And: “You give a player only as much responsibility as he can handle.” And: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Sometimes he’d footnote, sometimes he wouldn’t.

Flip also could prompt one back, typically when he’d claim that the only reason Marquette (my alma mater and first beat) won the NCAA men’s championship in 1977 (his senior year) was that Minnesota, despite its 24-3 record, was on probation and ineligible for the tournament. “But like Woody Allen said,” I’d remind him, “80 percent of success is showing up.” He’d wave his hand and we’d banter another day.

The fact is, Saunders disliked confrontations. It was the single biggest criticism of him as a coach and, when his teams in Minnesota and Detroit went through some tough times, it was cited as key to his undoing. When your best player, Kevin Garnett, is a blast furnace of motivation and improvement, there’s little about which a coach needs to confront him or the teammates intimidated into following. When some salty veterans such as Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell or Rasheed Wallace plant their heels, though, being player-friendly can get you pink-slipped.

Saunders was easily the most successful coach in Timberwolves history, particularly during his first stint. The Wolves went 411-326 and made the franchise’s only eight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004. All other seasons (including 2014-15 with Saunders navigating downward for lottery chances), they’ve gone 407-940 with zero playoff berths.

The good times were the product of Saunders’ coaching, Kevin McHale‘s acumen and Hall of Fame experience as VP of basketball operations, and the two college teammates’ and friends’ commitment to Garnett and, for as long as it lasted, to Stephon Marbury. That blew up in less than three seasons and, despite the subsequent playoff runs, Minnesota never got quite good enough.

A comment Flip made a while back in hindsight about that fizzled vision turned particularly poignant Sunday. “I hope years from now,” he said, “KG, Steph and I aren’t sitting around a table at All-Star Weekend saying, ‘We really screwed up.’ ”

He couldn’t push the Pistons over the top in three years, either, and the situation in Washington went sideways thanks mostly to Gilbert Arenas and his guns. And yet, while Saunders got fired three times at the NBA level — the Wolves dismissal, coming from McHale, stung all the way to the end — he got hired four times.

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No. 2: Melo, Knicks gain inspiration from Mets — Give Carmelo Anthony credit for thinking big — and we’re talking championship big — as the New York Knicks head into this season. He’s drawing inspiration from the New York Mets, who’ll battle the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. And in the Mets, Anthony says he sees similarities in how they have gone from rebuilding to competing for a championship. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details Anthony’s vision and how the fortunes of these two Big Apple franchises relate:

It wasn’t long ago that another New York sports team was selling hope over substance, building around a combination of youth and veterans while resisting the quick fix.

So can the Knicks draw inspiration from the World Series baseball team across the East River?

Carmelo Anthony thinks so.

“That’s very inspiring to me, what the Mets have done this season,” he said. “But that didn’t start this season. That was a process. That was a build that was happening the last couple of years. To see them now kind of at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a good feeling. Even if you’re not a Mets fan and you’re here, it’s a good feeling.”

The similarities between the Knicks and Mets also extend to championship droughts (43 and 29 years, respectively), although only the Jets can claim in New York that they’ve tortured their fanbase longer than the Knicks.

“I don’t want to say it’s similar but you can see some similarities in that,” Anthony said. “The way that they kind of broke everything down and kind of rebuilt piece-by-piece and all of it came together at the right time. I don’t want to say we’re in a similar situation, but we are. Right now we put pieces together and we have to go out there and build that.”

The big difference is the Knicks won 17 games last season and finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. So they’re not close to anything resembling a long playoff run, which took the Mets five years to accomplish since Sandy Alderson took over.

***

No. 3: Parker ready for new, reduced role for Spurs — The addition of All-Star help like LaMarcus Aldridge and the increased role of budding All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard could mean a new and reduced role for Tony Parker. And it’s a role Parker is prepared to embrace at this stage of his career. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News details the changes on the horizon for one of the Spurs’ staples:

Days before the Spurs start their quest for championship No. 6, the 33-year-old Parker acknowledged his role is finally changing. No longer will he be relied to do so much on offense, instead passing that torch to Leonard and Aldridge.

“I understand my role is going to change,” said Parker. “I don’t need to score as much and I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi (going). I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that (Tim Duncan) changed towards Manu (Ginobili), and Manu changed towards me, it’s the same thing with me now.”

Parker echoed the words of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who mentioned to the Express-News how the Spurs “equal opportunity offense” will now shift towards Aldridge and Leonard. Popovich was quick to point out that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker won’t be forgotten, but things will change.

Let Parker tell it, he’s fine with taking a backseat.

“The last four or five years it was my job to be aggressive and score, but this year is totally different,” said Parker. “I have to be the engine in another way.”

Parker has led the Spurs in scoring four of the last five seasons, before Leonard took over last season averaging 16.5 points (Parker averaged 14.4).

Asked his feelings when the offense was transitioning to Ginobili and Parker, Duncan admitted the competitor in him resisted, and still does a bit, but added his unselfishness took over.

“As an individual you got to try not to fight it,” said Duncan, who is entering his 19th season. “We’re all competitors and we all want to do what we’ve always done. You have to understand what’s best for the team and I think we’re all here for that. It’s just about accepting that and finding your niche in your new role.”

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No. 4: Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball? —  On a team headlined by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, might Serge Ibaka be the most unique talent for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season? It’s a great debate. One that Erik Horne of the Oklahoman argues in Ibaka’s favor with a new and crucial season for Ibaka and the Thunder on the horizon:

Catch Ibaka at the end of Thunder practice, and you’ll see the same guy who’s the active leader in blocked shots per game (2.58) outshoot fellow power forward Nick Collison from beyond the arc. At 34, Collison refers to the 3-pointer as something he’s tried to work on “to stay on the court” in the changing NBA.

Factor in the arrival of Billy Donovan, he of the pace and space offense and experience with the skilled big man, and the green light is even greener from 3 for the versatile Ibaka, who at 26, isn’t using the 3 to stay on the court, but expand his stranglehold on it.

“I feel very comfortable with him shooting threes, even corner threes, because of the time and effort he’s put into it,” Donovan said. “but also he’s a proven shooter – he’s a really good catch-and-shoot guy and that’s a unique combination for a frontcourt player in the league to have.”

Donovan couldn’t come up with a current or past comparison for Ibaka either, forced to look toward the future, a player who’s yet to play an NBA regular season game. Donovan said Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner has the skill set to mimic what Ibaka does on the floor.

Good luck, young fella.

“I coached him with the USA team. He’s somebody I think has a chance to maybe develop into that role,” Donovan came up with after a few moments of thought. “That would be the only guy I’ve been around and coached in the summer who I’d say is like that.”

What makes Ibaka even more of an outlier: He’s been capable of this longer than his uptick in 3-point attempts has indicated. He’s one of 11 players in NBA history taller than 6-foot-10 to shoot better than 35 percent from 3, 45 percent from the field and block 150 shots in a season. No big deal, except Ibaka’s the only one to do it three times.

The numbers summarize what left Jackson speechless when faced with the daunting question: Is anyone like Ibaka? Jackson knows what a great shotblocker looks like. He played with 7-footer Patrick Ewing, eighth all-time in blocks but someone who kept his game inside the arc offensively in an era where bigs weren’t encouraged to shoot from deep.

Last season, Ibaka attempted nearly twice the amount of threes Ewing hoisted in his entire career.

 

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who needs training camp and the preseason anyway? Tristan Thompson is ready for the Cavaliers’ season opener … Folks keep writing P.J. Tucker off in Phoenix and he keeps on grinding his way back into the mix … No one is sure what to make of the Sacramento Kings this year, which is exactly why they (DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Rajon Rondo in particular), are one of the truly intriguing must-see teams in the NBA this season … Serge Ibaka, the most unique big man in NBA history? … The Philadelphia 76ers don’t officially start this season until Wednesday and they are already limping …

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 19


VIDEO: Run through Sunday’s highlights with the Fast Break

NEWS OF THE MORNING:

Love makes long-awaited return for Cavaliers | Lakers shutting Kobe down for remainder of preseason? | Jordan’s great expectations for Jeremy Lin | Porzingis making progress despite growing pains
No. 1: Love makes long-awaited return for Cavaliers — While negotiations with Tristan Thompson remain in limbo, the Cleveland Cavaliers welcomed back their No. 1 option at power forward. Kevin Love made his 2015-16 debut Sunday, sporting a new look and finally getting back on the court after shoulder surgery cut last season short in the first round of the playoffs. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group was in Toronto for the first steps of Love’s comeback campaign:

Love, whose last game was April 26 against Boston in the playoffs when he separated his left shoulder, provided six points and four rebounds in 13 minutes of play.

On Sunday he displayed a new look with a curly hairdo and a black headband. But he also showed flashes of his old self to indicate it won’t take long to find his stride.

“Kev has been down and out since Game 4 of the playoffs last year and he’s worked very, very hard to come back,” Cavaliers head coach David Blatt said. “He’s in good shape, he’s in good basketball shape too and now it’s time for him to get his rhythm and his game experience back.”

The power forward nailed his first two field goals. Both of them were step-back jumpers over Luis Scola in low-post isolation sets. He missed his next five shots and was held out of the final two quarters. Blatt said his minutes would be at a minimum.

On the glass, Love demonstrated early on why he’s so dangerous. His first defensive rebound led to his patented outlet pass to Matthew Dellavedova at halfcourt, where the guard lobbed to Timofey Mozgov for an alley-oop dunk.

It was an easy bucket in the span of four seconds. Those scoring opportunities have been absent this entire preseason. Blatt said the plan is for Love to sustain his rhythm and play in the friendly finale on Monday at The Q against the Dallas Mavericks.

“I’m just happy he’s back,” Blatt said.

***

No. 2: Lakers shutting Kobe down for the remainder of the preseason? — Kobe Bryant‘s preseason is likely over. The Los Angeles Lakers don’t appear to be interested in taking any chances with their resident superstar heading into his 20th season in the league. Lakers coach Byron Scott is taking every precaution with Bryant heading into next week’s season opener, which Bryant is expected to be ready for. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com has more:

“To be honest with you, [Bryant] probably won’t play [Monday],” Scott said after practice Sunday. “I’d rather get him close to 100 percent as possible. These games don’t mean anything right now. It’s really giving me a chance to look at these young guys anyway.”

Scott said Bryant might not play again this preseason. The Lakers have two games left: Monday and Thursday against the Warriors.

“There’s a chance,” Scott said. “I’m not going to put a percentage on it, but there’s a chance.”

But Scott said he is confident that Bryant will “absolutely” play in the Lakers’ regular-season opener Oct. 28 against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center.

Scott said Bryant still has some soreness in his leg and that he is only jogging and shooting at the moment.

“When him and I talked, his only minor concern was just getting his running in,” Scott said. “He worked too hard this summer to sit down for a week or two as far as conditioning goes. That’s the only thing he’s really kind of thinking about.”

***

No. 3: Jordan expects big things from Jeremy Lin — Linsanity. Here we go again. If Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan is right, we could see it again from point guard Jeremy Lin, the newcomer Jordan expects to make the biggest impact on his team this season. Jordan said as much, and plenty more, in an exclusive interview with in an exclusive interview with Xinhua News Agency:

As for Hornets’ prospects for the new season, Jordan showed his sober optimism. “They should be ok. We changed a lot of personnel. Everybody is excited I’m very excited but I don’t want to get overexcited.”

Jordan made specific mention of Jeremy Lin, who joined in the Hornets from the LA Lakers this summer. Jordan saw it a successful deal, “We just got Jeremy Lin, who I think is going to be our biggest acquisition. His penetration, his shooting capability, his point guard savvy, he can really pass the basketball, his energy about the game of basketball something,” Jordan said.

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No. 4: Porzingis making progress despite growing pains — There are going to be growing pains in the basketball evolution that awaits Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis. Everyone involved knew that much the moment Phil Jackson took a chance on the young giant in the June Draft. How that roller-coaster ride plays out, however, was always going to depend on how quickly Porzingis adjusts to the rigors of the NBA game and all that comes with it, both on and off the court. Porzingis is making strides, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News:

Give Kristaps Porzingis this: the kid is confident.

It’s especially noticeable in interviews, the way the giant 20-year-old brushes off any suggestions of pressure or potential struggles.

Nothing, it outwardly seems, is a prohibitive obstacle. The NBA, the stronger frontcourt opposition, the injuries — they’re all just shrug-worthy motivations to put up more shots or ingest more calories.

Which brings us to Porzingis’ gutsiest moment on an NBA court, a dunk attempt Saturday in Charlotte with a liftoff point that was probably a bit premature.

Porzingis was all by himself on the right side of the court in the second quarter, retrieving a loose ball near the 3-point line. Instead of hoisting an open jumper — something he’s capable of doing from any reasonable range — the Latvian saw the lane, lowered his head and decided to challenge Cody Zeller.

The confrontation didn’t go well for Porzingis. His dunk attempt might’ve fallen short anyway, but Zeller, the Hornets forward, made sure by sending it on a different trajectory.

“Sometimes you get blocked,” the 7-3 Porzingis said. “I’m sure I’ll dunk on some people too.”

For coach Derek Fisher, it’s the thought that counts.

“I saw aggression. I saw him going to the rim strong. I saw him rebounding. I saw him changing shots,” Fisher said “He’s been in and out with injuries, so the shooting, like I said, is not really my issue. I don’t think we question whether he can shoot the ball. Seeing him try to dunk on somebody, to me, that means he played a good game.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pacers rookie Myles Turner is ready for more Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder continue to impress in the preseason … An injury could cost Mavericks rookie Maurice Ndour dearly after a strong showing in training camp and the preseason … James Harden is the face of the Rockers on and off the court (in case you didn’t already know) …

Morning shootaround — October 17




VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s preseason games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Embiid’s attitude a problem? | How Monroe chose Milwaukee | Harden to remain Rocket | Carmelo in a good place | Kobe, Lakers playing it safe
No. 1: Embiid’s attitude could be hampering recovery — The start to Joel Embiid’s NBA career has been a long, painful, well-documented tale of frustration that now extends into a second season on the sidelines. According to Brian Geltzeiler of SI.com, in addition the bones in his feet, Embiid’s attitude has gotten in the way of the rehab and recovery process and caused friction inside the Sixers organization:

The friction may come to a head, though, over Hinkie’s decision to select Kansas center Joel Embiid at No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft. Embiid was considered to have can’t-miss talent and upside, but was red-flagged by multiple teams that season because of back and foot issues that surfaced during and after his only, injured-shortened season as a Jayhawk.

Embiid was selected with the hope that he would follow the same pattern as (Nerlens) Noel, who was coming off an ACL tear when he was picked in 2013, and missed his rookie season (which helped the Sixers be bad enough again to land the Embiid pick). Noel was excellent as a rookie in 2014–15, especially as the anchor of a surprisingly decent Philadelphia defense. Hinkie certainly was aware of Embiid’s physical issues when he took a calculated risk to select him, but it’s unclear whether he understood the depth of Embiid’s attitude concerns, which have only worsened as a pro.

The fact that (coach Brett) Brown sent Embiid home from a West Coast road trip last season for being insubordinate to the team’s strength coach and training staff is well documented, but according to a source, the tipping point in the decision was Embiid physically threatening the strength coach on that road trip. According to sources, this followed a pattern of insubordination from Embiid during the rehabilitation of his initial foot injury that sidelined him for the entire 2014–15 season, where he would repeatedly refuse to answer questions from the training staff about his workouts and therapy sessions.

Embiid’s lax approach to his rehab and the circumstances surrounding the second foot surgery he needed this past summer — which appears like it will cost him the entire 2015–16 season — has caused the organization much anxiety. The simple task of getting Embiid to consistently wear his walking boot was a challenge for the franchise, and multiple sources suggested that some people in Philadelphia’s front office wonder whether a second surgery would have been necessary if Embiid had worn the boot as much as he was told to.

***

No. 2: Why Monroe spurned Knicks, Lakers — Sometimes it really isn’t about the highest pile of cash. Sometimes it’s not the allure of Hollywood or the bombast of Broadway that turns a player’s head. Free agent Greg Monroe could have chased the cachet of the glamor teams in Los Angeles or New York over the summer, but wound up choosing the Midwestern charm of Milwaukee. Michael Lee of yahoo.com caught up with the big man for an insightful look at the decision:

I don’t try to make rash decisions. I just try to take everything into account,” Monroe said. “Most people say, ‘Dang, how could you pass up on all that money?’ I come from a family where you always make do with what you have, you work for what you get. And talk about a regular job. What was the qualifying offer? Over $5 million? Everything is relative and people are different, but I know how I was brought up and how I was raised. I was living perfectly fine throughout my whole rookie deal, so that was still a raise.”

Before free agency began, Van Gundy called Monroe and both thanked the other for how they handled an awkward season. Monroe had just grown frustrated with a franchise continually in flux. He played for five different coaches, had to adjust his game when Andre Drummond emerged quicker than expected, when the team added an odd fit in Josh Smith and again, when Van Gundy implemented a more wide-open system in which Monroe wasn’t an ideal component.

Monroe remained so confident in his eventual payday that he finally bought his mother her dream home before entering free agency. For Monroe, it was his way of making good on the pledge made in a card he gave for Mother’s Day after he declared for the draft. “The card read, I gave to him all his life, now it’s his turn to give to me and whatever I want, or whatever I need, I got it,” Norma Monroe said in a phone interview. “It was overwhelming. I stood there, bust out in tears.”

Milwaukee was always a special place for Monroe since it was where he received the Morgan Wootten Award as national player of the year before participating in the McDonald’s All-American game at the Bucks’ home arena in 2008. In his short time since joining the Bucks, Monroe has quickly taken to the city, purchasing an apartment with a view of Lake Michigan. When he sat down to dine at a restaurant recently, a fan thanked him for picking the Bucks.

“I’m not sure what he was thanking me for,” Monroe said with a shrug.

Monroe wasn’t running away from expectations in New York or Los Angeles; he was lunging into the type of scrutiny he long desired. The pressure won’t be solely on him to elevate one of the league’s rising young teams, but Monroe won’t deny that some exists. “I always feel like I have to deliver, no matter what. I know they’re hungry, and I’m starving to get to the playoffs,” Monroe said. “But coming here, they’re asking me to do things that I’m already comfortable doing. And a guy like me, I have a lot of pride. So I always have the mindset that I want to be everything they think I am. I want to be worth every penny, however you want to say it. That’s what drives me. This is always a great opportunity in my eyes. I try not to take it for granted.”

***

No. 3: Harden plans to finish with Rockets — It’s difficult to find anything wrong with James Harden’s career these days. First team All-NBA, runner-up in the scoring race and for the MVP award. But just in case anybody had a doubt, the unstoppable scoring machine told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that he plans to finish his career in Houston:

“I’m at a good stage right now,” Harden said. “Everything is flowing. Everything is what I imagined it would be. My family is great. Friends. Everyone is in a good place right now.

“Obviously, my work place is amazing, people I’m surrounded with, that I come to work with every day. I’m in a happy place. Fans here in Houston show me so much love and support. Everything is flowing in a positive way right now. I’m all smiles.”

That all begins on the court, where Harden is coming off his best season and said that despite his happiness with how things have gone, is hungry for much more.

“Always,” he said when asked if he is still has the same desire. “I’m the last one on the court. I’m still hungry. I have a long ways to go. I’m just getting started.”

As for where it will all end, Harden did not entertain a thought of changing anything. Comfortable as he is in the spotlight, he showed no signs of a pull from Hollywood for a return to his native Los Angeles. He had little reason to want to want to change.

Signed through the 2017-18 season, when asked if he intends to play the rest of his career in Houston, Harden did not hesitate.

“Definitely,” Harden said. “Definitely it’s going to end here.”

***

No. 4: Anthony’s mind, body appear healed — Despite the injury problems that forced him to shut down the 2014-15 season early and despite the Knicks’ inability to sign a top tier free agent over the summer, Carmelo Anthony’s friends and teammates have been a star and leader in camp who is back in a good place mentally and physically, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

“Carmelo is in a great place,” says one friend. “I think he’s going to have a big year.”

Anthony is the Knicks’ longest- tenured player as well as the club’s most accomplished. He’s also coming off two straight seasons without a playoff berth and understands that if he’s healthy and at the top of his game the Knicks could go from being a 17-win team to a playoff club.

Anthony has publicly acknowledged that the Knicks did not land a top-tier free agent over the summer but knows that team president Phil Jackson did upgrade the roster.

There have been several reports that if the Knicks were to struggle, Anthony may eventually seek a trade. (He has a no-trade clause and would have to approve of any deal.)

But Anthony is a long way off from trying to orchestrate a move out of New York. Instead, he has talked about leading by example and even said he wants coaches to challenge him more.

“I think it’s well documented that when quote-unquote best players and star players allow themselves to be held accountable, it makes it easier for everybody else to fall in line and accept the coaching and teaching that every player needs,” Derek Fisher said.

“I don’t think that’s any different from any other situation and it works the same for us. In terms of the difference in feedback, we came into last year and were very intent on making sure guys had everything they needed from us to try and help them be the best they can be on the floor. That intent hasn’t changed. We’re just trying to be as efficient as possible. Hopefully it will work for Carmelo as well as all of our guys.”

***

No. 5: Kobe to sit out —When you’re 37 years old and entering your 20th NBA season, there’s no such thing as being too cautious. So the Lakers aren’t fretting about Kobe Bryant’s lower leg contusion, just being prudent in holding him out of tonight’s game against the defending champion Warriors, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“He came out [Friday] and got some shooting up, but, again, for precautionary reasons there’s no need to have him try to play [Saturday] when we’ve got two more preseason games after that and six days before the start of the regular season.”

(Coach) Byron Scott further framed the decision as precautionary by noting Bryant would stand a better chance to play if Saturday’s were a regular-season game.
“I think if [Saturday] was a regular-season game, there would be a much better chance of him playing, but since it’s not, there’s no need for him to play [Saturday] night.”

Bryant’s status moving forward will depend on how he feels, Scott said. After Saturday’s game, the Lakers have a preseason game Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center and then face the Warriors again on Thursday in Anaheim.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant would like to own the Washington Redskins…There are currently no talks between the two sides in the Cavaliers-Tristan Thompson standoff…Andrew Bogut believes Harrison Barnes will stay with the Warriors…Dirk Nowitzki feels good finally making his preseason debut on Friday night.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: James Harden and the Houston Rockets are ready to roar after a banner 2014-15 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard ready to take control in Portland | Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott | Melo ready for end to long summer in New York | Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind

No. 1: Lillard ready to take control in Portland — The leadership mantle in Portland is now Damian Lillard‘s and Lillard’s alone, as he enters his first training camp with the Trail Blazers without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum around to help shoulder the load. In preparation for his new role, Lillard made sure everyone understood that he was not only willing to take control and lead the way but ready to do so. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the story …

One by one across the country, their phones lit up and vibrated, a text message arriving to members of the Portland Trail Blazers with an idea that could change their upcoming season.

For some, like Meyers Leonard in Portland, the number with the 510 area code was already programmed into his phone. Others, like rookie Pat Connaughton in Boston, were perplexed until they opened the message.

“Yo Pat, it’s Dame. We are going to San Diego to get the team together and to get ready for the season …”

The texts were from Damian Lillard, the lone starter remaining from a popular and successful Blazers team that disintegrated amid a summer of free agency and trades. Now, as the undisputed star of the team, Lillard was wading into his first wave of leadership.

It was August, and he wanted to get the young and unproven roster together before players started reporting to Portland in September. After some collaboration with teammates CJ McCollum and Leonard, Lillard settled on San Diego.

Soon, 11 Blazers – some complete strangers to each other– were booking flights and hotel reservations.

A Blazers player had never, in the franchise’s 45 years, attempted an off-season team-building event of this magnitude. Then again, this summer marked one of the biggest transitions in team’s history, a swift and purposeful dismantling of a talented squad in favor of a rebuild with cheaper and younger players.

Success this season won’t be judged wholey on wins and losses, but rather player development and growth. Among the more visible and tangible storylines is how and what kind of leader Lillard will be, and how much his influence could improve the team.

It’s why his August text could determine the course of this season.

***

No. 2: Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott — Byron Scott doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this season in Los Angeles. He has the full support of the front office, so says his boss, Mitch Kupchak. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers reiterated his support for Scott on the eve of what should be one of the most interesting training camps in recent memory for the franchise. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has more …

For a franchise that usually evaluates itself on wins and losses, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has shifted his expectations.

Though Lakers coach Byron Scott oversaw the team going 21-61 last season in what marked the franchise’s worst record in its 67-year-old history, Kupchak has not wavered in his support for Scott. Kupchak remained mindful of the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries and a roster filled with unproven talent.

“He has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s. I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”

That will begin Tuesday in Honolulu. The Lakers’ nine-day camps will include seven days of practices and two exhibitions. Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp, the latest one including three two-a-day sessions.

That partly explains Kupchak’s support for Scott, who has three years remaining on his contract. Kupchak praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts. Even amid the losses, Kupchak also argued Scott improved the team’s culture.

“Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together,” Kupchak said of Scott. “They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”

***

No. 3: Melo ready for end to long summer in New York — When your names is tossed around the way Carmelo Anthony‘s has been all offseason, the start of training camp and actual basketball is welcome respite from the drama. Anthony said the drama is in his rear view as he readies himself and his team for camp, writes Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News

Over the past several months, Carmelo Anthony has sent mixed signals – publicly and privately – about his thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason.

Anthony’s concerns stemmed from Phil Jackson missing out on a bonafide star in free agency and drafting a project in 19-year-old Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in June. But on Sunday, with Knicks training camp a day away, Anthony voiced support for the organization’s offseason moves.

“I was very excited about what we did this offseason. I liked the moves that we made,” Anthony said at his youth camp in Manhattan. “Was it any of the stars that we wanted to go after and go get? No. But the pieces that we got, I’m really intrigued.”

The Daily News reported in June that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks’ decision to draft Porzingis, a pick that influenced Lamarcus Aldridge spurning the Knicks for the Spurs.

The Knicks wanted to play Aldridge at center to let Porzingis develop – something Aldridge was vehemently against. And at Team USA training camp in August, Anthony expressed frustration at how the entire situation unfolded, even saying he “threw” his headband when he found out the Knicks wanted Aldridge to change positions.

But now the offseason is in the past, and Anthony’s main concern will be returning from the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in February.

Anthony said Day 1 of training camp Monday will mark the end of a “long summer.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony said. “Just glad that I can be in the position I’m in right now.”

***

No. 4: Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind — Small ball? Not in Memphis, where the rugged Grizzlies are holding on tight to their grit and grind roots. The rest of the league is welcome to tinker with smaller lineups and the pace-and-space revolution. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchoring your middle, there is no need to stray. Griz coach Dave Joerger isn’t interested in tinkering with what’s worked in Memphis for years, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal …

Joerger’s mantra this summer has been for the already tough Griz to get “nasty,” doubling down on the grit-and-grind mentality that has made the team a perennial Western Conference contender.

The Griz remain committed to a bruising brand of basketball that’s served them well even as the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with 3-point shooting.

NBA.com recently wrote in a 2015-16 season-preview of the Griz: “They’d rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.”

That assessment might be selling the Grizzlies short. Despite the recurring theme of the need for long-range shooting, the Griz return with more versatility, the same expectation of winning 50-plus games and a place among the elite in the Western Conference.

There will, however, be challenges to work through during camp if the Griz are going to make good on their promise to contend:

1. Sorting out the wing positions: No one would ever accuse the Griz of lacking depth. They are deepest at the wing positions, meaning Joerger has a nice problem in determining who will get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes are veterans with meaningful careers. Last year, Joerger settled on starting the 6-5 Lee at shooting guard and the 6-4 Allen at small forward to start the season.

The coaching staff acknowledged concerns about such a small lineup given small forwards around the league typically stand 6-7 and taller. Green, 6-9, joined the roster around midseason. He played off the bench but was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and then went back to the bench. Green never found his footing and was inconsistent. With Green participating in a full camp, it’s conceivable that he will start at small forward. Joerger prefers the longer, more versatile Green. The question at camp will be who will start at shooting guard. Lee is a 3-point threat. Allen’s disruptive defense and infectious energy clearly make the Grizzlies “nasty.” As for second-year guard Jordan Adams? That’s a different topic.

.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are ready to take a (minimum deal) gamble on former No. 1 overall pick and native son Anthony Bennett … Year 2 of the (Jason) Kidd experience in Milwaukee comes with great expectationsMarcus Morris is still taking shots at the Phoenix SunsKlay Thompson is already taking full advantage of Steve Nash in his role as the Golden State Warriors’ part-time player development consultantThe Thunder have hired an assistant coach, Royal Ivey, with deep ties to Kevin Durant

ICYMI: The best alley-oops from last season:


VIDEO: 2014-15 Top alley-oops

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 210) Featuring Matt D’Agostino

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Comparing players and eras is always a risky proposition, given that everyone comes to the debate with their own perspective.

That’s why we’re extremely careful around here when it comes to connecting the dots between players with similar profiles but wildly different bodies of work. So just because Larry Johnson and Anthony Bennett were No. 1 overall Draft picks (generations apart, mind you) as undersized power forwards from UNLV, does not make them comparable on any level as NBA players.

Phil Jackson compared prized Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis to Shawn Bradley, a rather unfair comparison in the eyes of many. Time will tell if Porzingis is ready to assist Carmelo Anthony in the resurrection of the Knicks or if he’ll struggle as a rookie in the same ways that Bennett did in Cleveland.

But it’s another situation that requires time to resolve, time that Bennett will attest few players have in today’s NBA. We talk all of this and much more on Episode 210 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring NBA.com’s FanDuel guru Matt D’Agostino ...

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Will Kristaps Porzingis go the way of Anthony Bennett and struggle in his adjustment to the NBA or be an impact rookie for the New York Knicks this season?

Morning Shootaround — July 26


VIDEO: New Indiana Pacers swingman Glenn Robinson III leads the top 10 dunks from Summer League

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant’s health on the mind in OKC | Robinson III goes home with Pacers | Melo ready for USA Basketball minicamp | Pressure is on Jazz’s Burke

No. 1: Durant’s health on the mind in OKC — The obvious and most intriguing storyline in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant‘s health and availability for the start of training camp with the Thunder. Sure, there’s a new coach (Billy Donovan), the starting lineup to sort out and several other items of note. But it’s all about Durant right now, as members of the staff at the Oklahoman discuss (Blogtable style) here:

Darnell Mayberry (beat writer): Who will be the starting shooting guard and center. We grew accustomed to Scott Brooks’ way of doing things after seven seasons. His starting lineup was incredibly consistent and as a result became unbelievably predictable. But with first-year coach Billy Donovan we have no idea which direction the Thunder will go at shooting guard and center. Most assume Steven Adams will start. But who knows? And there’s not even educated guesses at this point about the starting shooting guard. With the Thunder set to return with the deepest team it’s ever had, the decisions Donovan makes regarding his first five will be what intrigues me most.

Anthony Slater (beat writer): The starting lineup and, more specifically, Andre Roberson’s role. Regardless of who starts at center, Adams and Kanter will play a ton. But if someone — Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow — usurps Roberson it may slice him from the rotation entirely. That could potentially free up some early opportunity for Cam Payne to get a test run or some intriguingly tall and lengthy units with Kyle Singler at the two. Shooting guard is the spot to watch.

Jenni Carlson (columnist): The health of the masses. Obviously, Kevin Durant is at the top of the list, but so many guys had so many issues that I’ll be curious to see how all of them look. You never anticipate lingering issues with procedures such as knee scopes, but you never know until you see. And of course, where Durant is in his recovery is paramount. The video evidence circulating out there on the interwebs is encouraging, but I’m sure everyone would like to see it with their own eyes.

Berry Tramel (columnist): Kevin Durant’s health. The Kanter/Adams minutes breakdown won’t be known until the real games begin. But we can see Durant’s progress from the foot problems in the exhibitions. If he’s healthy, the world is a bright and wondrous place. If he’s still hobbled, gloom, despair and agony on us all.

***

No. 2: Robinson III goes home with Pacers — Who says you can’t go home, or at least close to it? Glenn Robinson III, the former Michigan star and son of former NBA star Glenn Robinson, is headed back to his native Indiana on a three-year deal with the Pacers. Robinson III gives the Pacers an athletic swingman that fits perfectly with the up-tempo style Pacers boss Larry Bird wants his team to play going forward. Robinson III also pushes the Pacers’ roster to the 15-player limit allowed. Nat Newell of the Indianapolis Star has more:

Can’t wait to continue my journey in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers,” he tweeted, “couldn’t be more excited to play at home!! #OverlyDedicated

Robinson, 21, left the University of Michigan after his sophomore season and was selected 40th by Minnesota in the 2014 draft. It’s a three-year deal, his agents Austin Brown and Aaron Mintz told Yahoo Sports.

Robinson gives the Pacers 15 players under contract, the maximum they can keep during the regular season.

He fits the team’s plan to play faster and acquire more versatile players, providing depth on the wing. However, he averaged just 2.1 points in 35 games as rookie playing for two of the league’s worst teams in Philadelphia and Minnesota.

More curious is the move leaves Indiana with one player who has regularly played point guard in the NBA, George Hill. They will almost certainly bring additional point guards to training camp, but the team would have to release a player currently under contract to keep one. Expect Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey to serve as the team’s backup point guards. Second-round draft pick Joe Young could also see time at the point.

Robinson averaged 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds as a sophomore at Michigan. Minnesota waived him during the season, Philadelphia picked him up but made him a free agent when it declined to make him a qualifying offer.

***

No. 3: Melo ready for USA Basketball minicamp — Count Carmelo Anthony among the NBA stars who plan to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp in Las Vegas next week as they begin preparations for the next year of competition. The New York Knicks’ star is not cleared for full involvement after February surgery, but he plans on being there alongside the rest of the stars in the program, writes Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News:

In a sign that Carmelo Anthony should be ready for the start of training camp, the Knicks’ $124 million man plans to attend a USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas from Aug. 11-13 as part of the build-up for the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.

Next month’s event will serve as a “reunion” for former players who have played in the USA Basketball system, with non-contact workouts on the docket, culminating with a sort of all-star game featuring the top players, according to ESPN.com.

However, since Anthony is still recuperating from February’s surgery on his left knee to repair a torn patellar tendon, he’s not expected to participate in all the activities.

The Knicks told the Daily News in an email on Friday they are OK with his involvement in the minicamp. Anthony was given a timeline of 4-to-6 months to return from surgery.

While he is back to doing basketball activities such as shooting, Anthony is still not at full strength.

USA Basketball hasn’t finalized its list of camp invitees but expects a number of key players to attend even if they are injured as a way for the organization to get a sense of who wants to go for gold next summer, ESPN.com said.

“I think it’s important for those who want to continue with us and be under consideration for ’16 to be with us in Las Vegas for a couple days,” USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo told ESPN.com. “It’s going to be low key. Light workouts, no contact and then play an all-star game. No concern about competitiveness. We’re not evaluating anyone.”

***

No. 4: Pressure is on Jazz’s Burke — It’s one thing to make it to the NBA, be you a lottery pick, an undrafted free agent or anything between. It’s another altogether to thrive in the NBA, as Utah point guard and former college player of the year Trey Burke is finding out during his journey. Changes in the coaching ranks and philosophy, not to mention personnel, have put Burke squarely in the crosshairs for a Jazz team eyeing a move up the ranks in the rugged Western Conference. That makes his upcoming and third NBA season Burke’s most pressure-packed, to date. Kincade Upstill of The Deseret News provides some insight into Burke’s struggles:

Since being drafted by the Jazz, Burke’s jump shot has only made a few appearances. After his rookie season, he averaged 41 percent from 2-point range and a very unimpressive 33 percent from behind the arc. He was given a pass on his poor shooting as a rookie who needed to adjust to the NBA game; plus head coach Ty Corbin wasn’t known for development then and was let go shortly after the season’s end.

Then came in new head coach Quin Snyder, a former point guard who is known for player development. Former Jazz man Demarre Carroll credits Snyder with helping him improve his game and his jumper. The Jazz also hired Patrick Beilein, son of John Beilein, who was Burke’s college coach. Beilein was brought in as the Jazz’s shot doctor. The 2014-15 season seemed like it would be a brighter year for Burke.

But his poor shooting only got worse. Burke’s 3-point shot dropped to 31 percent. His 2-point shot also fell to 40 percent. Why has Burke struggled so much with his jump shot that has been a hindrance to his career? In college, Burke’s shot was pretty good, averaging almost 37 percent from three and 50 percent from two. Every indication is that he’s a hard worker and puts in the time to improve.

An article in Grantland by Kirk Goldsberry named Burke one of the league’s least-efficient shooters. One of the main reasons Burke’s percentage is so low is his inability to finish at the rim. Goldsberry wrote, “The Jazz have one of the least effective finishing guards in the league: When Burke attacks the rim, opposing interior defenders morph into [Rudy] Gobert.” Burke averaged only 42 percent at the rim last season. But Goldsberry does give some hope for Burke, citing “[Steph] Curry, who was really bad near the rim earlier in his career, only to turn into a very good close-range finisher.” Curry has become arguably the best shooter in the league.

It shouldn’t be expected that Burke will turn into Curry, but improvement can be made. Curry struggled his first three seasons in the league around the hoop but has figured it out. Burke and Snyder worked hard on a running floater last summer (that Jazz play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack mentions each time it’s used) to help him be more efficient around the rim; so far Burke has struggled with the new shot.

Let’s break down Burke’s shooting numbers: In catch-and-shoot situations, he averaged 46 percent from two and 35 percent from three, which are very solid numbers; but on pull-up jumpers he only shot 40 percent from two and 18 percent from three. The highest percentage of his shots comes from pull-up jumpers that require playing one on one, which is not his strength. If the Jazz can get Burke to become more of a spot-up shooter and less of a creator, then he might become a great role player for the Jazz. Burke has been an alpha dog his whole career, and switching to a role player could be a challenge and a blow to his ego.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: No offense to Gregg Popovich, but Richie Adubato recognized Becky Hammon’s coaching potential long before she led the Spurs to the title at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas … A silver medal at the Pan-Am Games is not a setback for the movement that is Canadian basketball … As much as they love the NBA Summer League, plenty of folks in Las Vegas want “their own” team

Report: Knicks get Kyle O’Quinn

The Knicks continued to re-work their front line Saturday by reaching a contract agreement with Kyle O’Quinn as part of a sign-and-trade that will send him from Orlando to New York, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported.

The contract is worth $16 million over four seasons, Yahoo said, with the Magic to receive money and the right to swap second-round picks in 2019.

The Knicks had previously drafted power forward Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 choice and agreed to terms on a four-year, $54-million deal with center Robin Lopez, the Trail Blazers’ starter in 2014-15.

O’Quinn averaged 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 16.2 minutes over 51 appearances last season as a reserve power forward-center in Orlando.

The deal will be made official when the league-wide moratorium is lifted Thursday.

 

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.

***

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.