Posts Tagged ‘Kobe Bryant’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

USA’s Rio Gold Rush | Popovich takes over Team USA | Gasol not ready to end international career | Wall continues making an impact off the court

No. 1: USA’s Rio gold rush With an experienced coaching staff and roster stuffed with NBA All-Stars, the United States Men’s Basketball Team entered the 2016 Rio Olympics as heavy favorites to win the gold medal. And with yesterday’s 96-66 blowout win over Serbia, Team USA did in fact win gold, although the journey may have been bumpier than many expected. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, several lessons were apparent along the way:

This team had some bad defenders, and too many of them were in the starting lineup together until head coach Mike Krzyzewski changed things up before the quarterfinals. On this team and in years past, we’ve learned how important it is to have an Andre Iguodala or a Paul George to complement the guys who can put the ball in the bucket. Kawhi Leonard, you have a 2020 roster spot if you want it.

This team also fell victim to an exhibition schedule that was too easy. That wasn’t necessarily a mistake, because they were only able to play teams that traveled through the U.S. on their way to Rio. But it was clear that the Americans weren’t prepared for a step-up in competition after cruising through the exhibitions and their first two pool play games.

And as much talent as the U.S. has, it’s impossible to make the most of it over the course of five weeks. The national team is made up of stars who aren’t used to playing with one another, and they were playing their first elimination game less than a month after they began training camp.

Other teams don’t train for much longer than that, but almost all of them have more roster continuity than the U.S. does. The U.S. had just two players back from its last Olympic Team, as well as four from the team that won the World Cup of Basketball in 2014. Serbia, meanwhile, returned nine players from the team that lost to the U.S. in ’14.

And that’s concern No. 1 for USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo. He knows that it’s always going to be difficult for the U.S. to flow freely offensively and play on a string defensively when they only have three weeks to prepare a brand new roster.

“Basketball is the ultimate team game,” Colangelo said. “And when you have 10 new people and you only have them for a few weeks, it’s not enough time. For me, I’m glad we’re past this. It’s justification for all that we’ve done. But it also says to me we need to continue with the continuity. We can’t go back again with 10 new players. It’s not going to happen.”

This year, the Americans were fortunate to have the two Olympic vets that they did. Durant put the team on his back in the gold medal game. Carmelo Anthony, who retired from the national team after Sunday’s game as the only player with three Olympic gold medals in Men’s Basketball, turned into a leader for the younger players to rally around.

Those younger guys will be asked to keep coming back. And continuity will become even more important down the line, because the rest of the world is continually getting better. While this tournament saw the final games of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in their national-team uniforms, there is more talent coming up behind them.

The 46 NBA players in these Olympics was an all-time high. Australia took a big step forward, put itself on the second tier of national teams, and has the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft in its pipeline. Serbia isn’t going anywhere, France has good, under-30 players in the backcourt and on the frontline, Croatia and Lithuania have young NBA talent, and it’s just a matter of time (and participation) before Canada breaks though.

The United States’ winning streak in international tournaments, which now stands at 53 games, will come to an end at some point. But this group of 12 didn’t let it happen on its watch.

There were close calls, but they still went 8-0, played their best game with gold on the line, and stood on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. Lessons were learned, but gold was earned.

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No. 2: Popovich takes over Team USA — After 11 years at the helm and a perfect record in the Olympics, Coach Mike Krzyzewski now hands over Team USA to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who will be Team USA’s new man on the sideline. As ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan writes, to truly understand Pop, you have to understand where he comes from and the disappointments that have helped shape him…

Gregg Popovich graduated with a degree in Soviet Studies in 1970 and joined the U.S. Armed Forces basketball team, touring Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, using his fluent Russian to brief his coach on helpful buzzwords.

His team won the AAU championship in 1972, and when he returned to the U.S., he learned the Olympic basketball trials would be held at the Academy. Jack Herron Jr., who was named to the 1972 U.S. Olympic selection committee, made it his charge to make certain Popovich received an invitation.

Herron, whose father Jack Sr. played for Olympic coach Hank Iba at Oklahoma A&M (later Oklahoma State), had just spent a year as an Air Force basketball assistant and recruiting coordinator. Popovich had earned rave reviews for his overseas performances, but they were neither televised nor publicized.

“It was a fight just to get him there,” says Herron. Back then the Olympic team was selected from a pool of players representing AAU, the NAIA, junior colleges, the Armed Forces, and both the university and college divisions of the NCAA. Players were split into groups of 10 to 12 and assigned a coach. Popovich played for Indiana coach Bobby Knight; one of his teammates was forward Bobby Jones.

Jones remembers that Popovich was in his group but could not recall particulars of his game, even though Popovich led all players with a .577 shooting percentage. What Jones recalls with clarity, though, was how, before the last scrimmage of the trials, Knight informed the group that only two of them had a shot at making the final Olympic squad and the rest should pass them the ball to enhance their chances.

“The two guys were Kevin Joyce and me,” says Jones. “I had never heard a coach be so honest. I don’t know how Gregg and the other players felt about it.”

Herron suspects the subtleties of Popovich’s game were lost among the other candidates who were jacking up shots and looking to put points on the board. “Gregg could have been more showy,” Herron says, “but he played the way Mr. Iba told him to play. It probably hurt him in the end.”

Herron says he attended every single Olympic selection committee meeting and that Popovich was among the top 14-16 players in each of those discussions. But as the committee began to vote on the final roster, members who hadn’t showed up at any of the previous meetings suddenly surfaced. When Herron asked why they were there, he says they told him, “We’re here to get our guys on the team.”

The process, Herron says, quickly dissolved into factions fighting for representation instead of choosing the top performers. When the final roster was announced, Popovich was left off.

“I’ve been aggravated about this for almost 50 years,” Herron says. “Gregg belonged on that team.”

Larry Brown was invited by Iba to attend the tryouts and was suitably impressed by Popovich’s moxie, so much so that he invited him to try out for his ABA team in Denver later that fall (Popovich was among the final cuts).

“Pop was real tough and tenacious, like [Cavs guard Matthew] Dellavedova, although a little more athletic,” Brown says. “But there were so many talented players there.”

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No. 3: Gasol not ready to end international career In other Olympic basketball action yesterday, Spain defeated Australia, 89-88, to win the bronze medal, behind 31 points from Pau Gasol. And while Gasol will be 40 years old by the time of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he’s not ready to say he’ll be finished with his international career by then:

Gasol, who will spend this upcoming NBA season in San Antonio and hasn’t committed to playing at Tokyo in 2020, and his teammates celebrated by piling on top of each other near center court. This wasn’t the medal they wanted, but after losing their first two games in Brazil, it beats nothing.

“Unbelievable,” forward Rudy Fernandez said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

It is a feeling Gasol wishes could last. He isn’t ready to shed his Espana jersey.

“I’m getting older and at some point I’m not going to be able to play,” said the 36-year-old. “So when that day comes, I’ll accept it. It’ll be hard, but I had an incredible run. I can’t ask for anything else. Everything I gave, everything I lived as a basketball player, it’s a plus. It’s a gift.

“I’m just enjoying the ride.”

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No. 4: Wall continues making an impact off the court Washington’s John Wall wasn’t able to participate with USA Basketball this summer because of offseason knee surgery, but his rehab from the injury hasn’t kept him from being involved off the court in D.C. As the Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner writes, Wall recently gave out backpacks at a local elementary school, his latest attempt to make a difference in his community…

John Wall remembers how as a child he had to strap on the same backpack from elementary age until seventh grade. It’s one of the reasons why Wall showed up in Southeast Washington on a blazing hot afternoon to give away 250 backpacks.

On Saturday at Malcolm X Elementary School, the John Wall Family Foundation hosted its third annual Back to School Block Party. The event featured local organizations that donated back-to-school items, a DJ blasting up-tempo tunes, a bouncy house, face painting and free food. However, the main attraction was Wall, who personally placed backpacks on children and posed for photographs.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to meet my favorite player or an NBA player [when] I was growing up,” Wall said. “But [now] I can see the smiles that I put on these kids’ faces.”

Wall arrived at the event with little fanfare — though the DJ dropped the beat to welcome the guest of honor with “Teach Me How To Dougie.” Wall then walked the perimeter of the parking lot and basketball court to shake hands with every volunteer.

Following his gratitude lap, Wall took the microphone and addressed the crowd.

“I’m excited to be at Malcolm X Elementary school to give back to the community,” Wall said. “Like I told a lot of people before, we’re not forced to do this. I do it because I want to. I do it to be involved and be involved with the kids.”

School Principal Zara Berry-Young said Wall’s foundation reached out to her school because it specifically wanted to help in the Southeast Washington community. Wall echoed this sentiment, saying he picked an area “where people and the kids are going through tough times. . . . It’s kind of easy because it’s kind of over here by where our practice [facility] is going to be. I’m going to be over here a lot and seeing these people.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In an emotional interview following the gold medal game, Carmelo Anthony announced his retirement from Team USACatching up with Brazilian hoops icon Oscar SchmidtYao Ming reflects on his Olympic experiencesAllen Iverson picks his top five players of all-time … The Heat and Chris Bosh are reportedly still discussing his returnKobe Bryant today will announce a venture capital fund for investing in technology, media and data companies …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21



NEWS OF THE MORNING
Melo’s long journey | Meet salary cap guru | The Coach K Effect | Embiid’s progress | Whiteside’s new expectations
No. 1: Carmelo values gold above all — He’s gone from the bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens to the doorstep of a third straight gold medal in Rio and Carmelo Anthony told Michael Lee of The Vertical that he wouldn’t trade his experience growing into a leader of Team USA for anything:

“I wouldn’t trade, hopefully my three gold medals, in for nothing,” Anthony told The Vertical. “I hope I’m never put in that position. That’s a tough position. But I always say, ‘Winning is winning is winning.’ No matter what level you win on. Hopefully, I do get an NBA ring, but that’s two things. … I wouldn’t try to compare or force myself to make that comparison.”

Anthony has come to rely on his summers with USA Basketball to provide some balance for his complex career and stumbles in his personal life. When he started recruiting talent to fill out the country’s pool for international competitions, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told Anthony he would overlook any past mistakes and give him a clean slate. Anthony raised his hand as one of the first to commit to what would require him to sacrifice three consecutive summers. They have proven to be beneficial: He made his first All-Star team the season after participating in the 2006 world championships. He led Denver to the conference finals the season following the 2008 Olympics. And he led the Knicks to their first division title the season following the 2012 Olympics.

“We ask the guys for a commitment and selfless service,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But Carmelo is a perfect example of commitment for the Olympics. That’s his entire playing career and to devote that amount of time is remarkable really, and it’s not been done. He’s been such a good guy to coach.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant willing to help Lakers’ youngsters | Report: Pierce likely to play next season | Holiday organizes Pelicans’ team workouts in L.A.

No. 1: Bryant talks Lakers’ future, next steps in career — Kobe Bryant couldn’t have written a better farewell to the NBA than his final game: a 60-point showing on April 13, 2016 against the Utah Jazz. Since then, Bryant has kept a fairly low profile, popping up here and there but for the most part easing into his retirement life. In an interview with Mike Bresnahan of TWC SportsNet, Bryant — who now sports a beard — opens up about what he’s been up to lately, the Lakers’ offseason (and rookie Brandon Ingram), and his willingness to help L.A.’s next generation of stars:

On Team USA: “I’m around for them and I still speak to several of them. I think they’ll be fine. It’s tough competition and basketball is a global game now. It’s not going to be easy.”

On he and his wife expecting child No. 3: “What a blessing. If I look at the month after retirement and all that kind of happened and all the blessings we’ve been enjoying to find out we’re having another baby girl coming, its icing on the cake.”

On transitioning from NBA life to retirement life: “It’s always hard for athletes to transition out of something that you’ve been identified with your entire life. Being able to transition into what comes next. That’s always a big challenge. Hopefully, I can kind of lead the charge there and show other athletes that it is possible to have something that you love and transition into something that you love equally.”

On the Lakers’ offseason and future: “They have a really young core and a really good core. Now it’s just a matter of them growing together and having those pieces mesh. I think It’s a great opportunity. Now at this age where their games are still developing, they can develop their games and their strengths around each other. They have a lot of potential. Hopefully they can put it together sooner rather than later.”

On Brandon Ingram: “I think he plays with great tempo, great pace. I like his length. His ball-handling ability is very good, he can get to spots on the floor. I think defensively he has the potential to be fantastic — he has long arms, long legs. So, hopefully he starts really paying attention to that just as much as the things he can do offensively.”

On D’Angelo Russell: “There are certain things he’s really picked up: body positioning, using his size to get to places, recognizing defensive packages and where to position guys on the floor. He’s developed very nicely over the summer.”

On new coach Luke Walton: “He’s going to have them play the game the right way. He’s going to have the foundation of the team is going to be a championship foundation.  It’s not going to be isolation ball. It’s going to be a lot of ball movement, but ball movement with purpose. Players are going to understand why they’re moving the ball in certain situations, which then makes you a very dangerous team. Because now you have players on the floor that can think on the fly and think together.”

On helping the Lakers’ youngsters develop their games: “If I can, yeah. I’m certainly busy doing a bunch of other things, but I would love to come by. I’ve spoken to Luke several times and B-Shaw [assistant coach Brian Shaw]. I let the players know I’m always around, man. I’m always around. If they want to come out and work out, we can get up early in the morning an work out, walk them through some things. The Lakers are in my blood. It’s family to me, so I’m always around.”

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Morning Shootaround — Aug. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? | Group B gets crazy in Rio | Lebron’s new deal about more than money | Thomas convinced rest of the league knows Celtics are on the rise

No. 1: Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? — All it takes is a couple of close calls in Olympic competition for the legion of doubters to appear for Team USA in Rio. That aura of invincibility vanishes with each and every tight game survived by this current group of All-Stars led by superstars Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving. Michael Lee of The Vertical shines a light on the turning tide in Rio as Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff continue to search for an identity for this particular group (perhaps in time for today’s game against France, 1:15 p.m. ET):

The hilarious Snapchat prank sessions, Facebook sing-alongs and Instagram video shenanigans were much more entertaining than the actual games for the United States men’s Olympic basketball team through a barnstorming exhibition tour and two effortless but sloppy beat-downs to start these games in Brazil. But just as this group was headed toward earning the playful title of the Meme Team, the Americans have encountered some genuine adversity in their past two games that – if mistakes aren’t corrected or adjustments not made – could find them on the wrong side of the joke.

Team USA might survive these Olympics unscathed. Ten All-Stars, including a former MVP, might prove to be all that the Americans need to escape the Rio games with gold medals around their necks. Getting shoved around by Australia and gasping for air until Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic’s potential tying 3-pointer drew iron, however, should give anyone pause that “the real world” – as coach Mike Krzyzewski has dubbed his team’s current predicament against superior opponents – is theirs to dominate. The Americans won’t be beatable until they actually lose, but the veil of invincibility has been exposed in too-close-for-comfort wins against Australia and Serbia.

“They are just players,” said Serbian center Nikola Jokic, the promising Denver Nugget who bludgeoned the U.S. for a game-high 25 points in a 94-91 loss. “If you think about who they are, you are not going to be good at this. Maybe Australia showed us they can get beat. They can get beat.”

Even without LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Chris Paul, the talent on Team USA is overwhelming in comparison to the other teams in this tournament. The performances have been extremely underwhelming, though, exposing the vulnerabilities and deficiencies without those aforementioned stars.

The off-court camaraderie that this group has developed appears authentic, as players have repeatedly discussed the bonds that have been formed in less than a month. But they are still learning to play with each other. Before confronting a fearless group from Australia, Team USA’s games were played at All-Star Game-level intensity and provided little in the form of preparation for what would be in store against legitimate competition outside the United States. The ease with which won made it easy to overlook that the team has 10 players making their Olympic debuts, including six who have never played any international competitions.

The Americans have all been asked to assume roles that are different than the ones they play on their NBA teams and the adjustment has been far from seamless. On the previous two Olympic gold medal-winning teams, Paul or James controlled the floor, Kobe Bryant embraced the role as defensive stopper, Dwyane Wade and later Westbrook came off the bench as cold-blooded assassins and Chris Bosh and later Tyson Chandler served as the defensive anchor protecting the rim and covering mistakes.

Through four games, this team is still waiting for those positions to be filled. Wins over Australia and Serbia were claimed in disjointed, grinding fashion. 

Team USA hasn’t looked sharp. Winning the past two games by a combined 13 points makes it obvious that something is amiss, but before trouncing Venezuela by 43, the Americans were tied with one of the worst teams in Group A after the first period.

“We got to expect this,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “Every time we step on the floor, guys are going to give us their best effort, everybody wants to beat Team USA. We know that coming in, but at the same time, we can’t crumble the way we’ve done the past two games. Right now, we’re hurting ourselves. Not taking away credit of how Serbia played, because they played amazing tonight. But we’ve got to be a lot stronger mentally.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 13




NEWS OF THE MORNING
USA talent prevails | Schmidt not shy | Noah still loves Chicago | Kobe changed Team USA culture
No. 1: U.S. talent survives teamwork — Sometimes it just pays to have more raw talent than the other guys. So many times in international competition that’s what enables the Americans to survive and advance and stack up gold medals. That’s what happened again when Serbia threw a big scare into Team USA Friday at the Olympics. The Americans got another lesson in teamwork, but survived, Paul George told our John Schuhmann:

“We relied on natural talent to get us over this one,” Paul George said after the U.S. escaped vs. Serbia, needing Bogdan Bogdanovic’s open 3-pointer to miss long to avoid overtime.

Sometimes, stats can deceive. On Friday, the U.S. made 27 field goals and was credited with 28 assists, because FIBA gives out assists for passes that lead to made free throws. But the ball moved much better on the other end of the floor.

With the U.S. having less than three weeks to prepare for the Olympics, they’re typically better defensively than offensively. With their superior speed and athleticism, along with the ability to shuttle new players in every five minutes, the Americans can overwhelm inferior opponents.

But aggressive perimeter defense can be susceptible to good pick-and-roll play and ball movement. And that’s exactly what both Australia and Serbia brought in the last two games. Matthew Dellavedova and Milos Teodosic got things started with smart pick-and-roll decision-making, and the ball didn’t stop moving until it found the open man.

“These international guys, they really know how to move and really know how to cut,” George said. “It’s more so about how they run their offense that’s wearing us down.

“In [the NBA], there’s movement, obviously. But with these guys, it’s constant. You don’t ever sit still. In our game, there’s moments when you sit still, you can have a rest period. There might be an action that guys just run on one side. [Here] you’re constantly moving from side to side and it’s like they don’t get tired. And that’s new to us. That’s very new to us.”

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No. 2: Oscar Schmidt ranks self top 10 — If you were ever fortunate enough to see Oscar Schmidt play for the Brazilian national team, you know he was not at all shy about shooting. Anytime. Anywhere. Any situation. Now 58, the Hall of Fame guard hasn’t changed at all. He told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports that if he had chosen to make the jump to the NBA during his career, he would have ranked among the best to ever play in the league:

At age 26, Schmidt declined playing for the New Jersey Nets after going in the sixth round of the 1984 Draft. Instead, Schmidt elected to continue racking up his more than 49,000 points, across four countries, until he was 45. Had he decided to come to the NBA and tested his talents against the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, Schmidt is fairly confident in what he would have done.

“I would be top 10. Ever,” Schmidt said, waving his hand near his chest for inflection. “For sure. One guy can’t defend me. You need two. At least.”

Schmidt will forever be revered in this futebol-crazed but basketball-hugging country, but he is somewhat envious of this current Brazilian national team, which has a chance to play Olympic games on their home soil. “That was my dream to play a competition like that,” Schmidt said.

The thirst to wear a Brazil jersey over one with the NBA logo has at times put Schmidt at odds with current players with different dreams and opportunities who delicately tried to balance both responsibilities. When Schmidt was coming up, the riches that came from being in the league weren’t nearly as lucrative, nor were the risks that come from participating with the national team in the offseason. Even if the pride and love for country were always there, to Schmidt, bypassing a summer spent playing for Brazil was reason to question someone’s patriotism.

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No. 3: Noah ready to tangle with Bulls — While he harbors no ill will toward the Bulls after spending the first nine years of his NBA career in Chicago, Joakim Noah told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that he’s already looking forward to his first trip back to the United Center with his new Knicks teammates:

“I think the Bulls-Knicks games are going to be good ones,” Noah said, smiling. “I’m looking forward to it. I think everybody is. It’s going to be a very competitive game with a lot of emotions. I’m trying to stay in the moment and focus on being as healthy as possible.”

It was clear during an interview last week in his Chicago residence, with its sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the skyline, that leaving the Bulls in the right way was important to him.

“I have no anger towards nobody,” Noah said. “If we had a couple rough years at the end, I’m just still so grateful for the opportunity the Bulls gave me. It’s like a family to me. Even though it’s a new chapter for the end of my career to be in New York, I think Chicago is always going to be a home to me.

“Everywhere I go in this city, it’s always love. If I’m walking in the airport, wherever I am and someone’s from Chicago, it’s never animosity or negative or why did you leave us? It’s always very appreciative. And it’s humbling. I know free agency is a business. But I feel I always show a lot of respect for this city and its people. And I get love back for it. And it feels good.”

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No. 4: Kobe restarted U.S. gold rushCarmelo Anthony is the team leader, now playing in his fourth Olympics. Kevin Durant is a driving force. Paul George and Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green and the rest are all key parts. But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo still credits Kobe Bryant with changing the culture and attitude of the club and getting it back on the gold track, according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News:

“His work ethic, approach and how he appreciates the game is infectious,” Team USA forward Kevin Durant said last month in Las Vegas. “He’s someone who loves to play so much. He’s competitive when he steps in between those lines. He wants perfection.”

Bryant logged ridiculous hours in pursuit of that perfection, just weeks after having poured himself into an NBA regular season that ended with a six-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. Watching Bryant work left Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh shaking his head, mindful that the future Hall of Famer had just logged extended minutes during that playoff run.

“I thought I was working hard,” Bosh said. “Now I have to get back into the gym.”
After training for three weeks together before heading to Beijing, former U.S. Olympic teammate Carlos Boozer noticed the entire roster had adopted Bryant’s routine.

“We all clung to it,” said Boozer, who later played with Bryant as a member of the Lakers in 2014-15 and recently agreed to a deal to play in China. “It soon became our workout, not just his workout.”

Before Bryant signed up for Olympic duty, doubts emerged as to whether his heavy focus on scoring would resonate with a team of fellow superstars.

So shortly after Bryant posted a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, Colangelo met with Bryant and asked him a pointed question.

“What if I said to you, I want you to be a distributor and not a scorer?” Colangelo asked.

Bryant answered exactly how Colangelo hoped he would.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Bryant said. “I just want to be on that team.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Monty Williams says he’s ready to coach in the NBA again … The Rockets might be interested in Rudy Gay … J.R. Smith got married, but still wants to get hitched again to Cavs … Oscar Robertson wants you to learn about another Dream Team … It looks like the NBA All-Star Game is heading back to New Orleans for 2017.

Curry named Players Association MVP

From NBA.com staff reports

The National Basketball Players Association announced their second annual Players Voice Awards on Thursday, with Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry being named MVP among a slate that ranged from the standard to the eclectic. The awards, listed below, were voted on solely by NBA players.

      • Best Rookie: Karl-Anthony Towns
      • Comeback Player Of The Year: Paul George
      • Best Off The Bench: Jamal Crawford
      • Best Defender: Kawhi Leonard
      • Toughest To Guard: Stephen Curry
      • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
      • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
      • Best Home-Court Advantage: Golden State Warriors
      • Coach You’d Most Like To Play For: Gregg Popovich
      • Clutch Performer: Stephen Curry
      • Best Social Media Follow: LeBron James
      • Most Influential Veteran: Tim Duncan
      • Global Impact Player: Kobe Bryant
      • Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry
      • Best Teammate, by team:

Morning shootaround — July 18





NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kyrie-Kobe BFFs | Grizzlies on the run | Howard says he’s healthy

No. 1: Kyrie has FaceTime with Kobe after Game 7 — After the jumping up and down on the court and then the champagne shower, newly crowned champions usually can’t keep up with all of the congratulatory phone calls and text messages from relatives and acquaintances. But Kyrie Irving made a very special connection following the Cavs’ Game 7 win over the Warriors. According to Jeff Eisenband of The PostGame, Irving had a face-to-face chat with none other than Kobe Bryant:

“I actually FaceTimed Kobe after the game as soon as I got in the locker room,” Irving says. “Other than seeing my dad and my sister right after we won, FaceTiming him was just a great thing, knowing how he has won five and I just won my first. Then realizing how hard it is just to win one, my respect for him is already high, but it went to another level knowing that he’s got five of them. I’m trying to get a second one.”

Irving credits Phil Handy, who was also on the FaceTime, for sparking his relationship with Bryant. Handy serves as Cavs Director of Player Development/Assistant Coach, a position he has held since 2013, previously serving as Lakers Director of Player Development.

“[Bryant] was telling me congrats,” Irving says of the FaceTime. “I had been speaking to him throughout the entire playoffs and during the season. During the Finals, we didn’t really talk as much, because for me, I wanted to experience it full on, and if I needed his help, I would reach out to him. He would send me some texts here and there, but mainly he kind of let me be, and let me grow into my own space.”

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No. 2: Fizdale wants Grizzlies to make connectionDave Fizdale may be a first-time head coach in the NBA, but he knows exactly what he wants from the Grizzlies. First off, it’s building on the success of the team’s core four, then playing at a faster pace and making an overall connection to each other. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal had the inside look at what’s coming:

“He spoke (to me) of culture and spoke of the commitment a team has to have to have a championship mindset,” Mike Conley said. “He explained to me the steps we need to take to achieve that goal. He wants to play faster. He wants to create more space. He’s very convincing.”

JaMychal Green agreed, saying, “The offense is quicker and we’re pressing more (on defense). Everything is quicker. I like everything about him so far.”

Fizdale is an even-keeled guy yet demanding. He expects two things that should be automatic: playing hard and communicating on the court. He demands accountability similar to former Griz coaches Hubie Brown and Lionel Hollins.

Fizdale is a stickler for detail, which is something that was evident during the film session between the second and third summer league games.

“I really got after them,” Fizdale said. “The film room is where I’m at home. You put film and players in front of me and that’s when I do my best work. I learned from the best (in Miami). Pat (Riley) is a huge film guy and Erik (Spoelstra) is an elite guy with film. So I feel very comfortable from that standpoint. I make film deliberate in cleaning up the areas we need to clean up.”

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No. 3: Howard says homecoming feels right — It’s been quite a while since Dwight Howard was leading the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009. Since then, there was the ugly break-up with the Magic, the one-year disaster with the Lakers and three aimless, mostly fruitless years in Houston. But now the big man is back in his home town of Atlanta and tells Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he’s healthy and it feels like the the perfect place to write the proper ending on his career:

Will his health hold up, specifically a back that was surgically repaired in 2012 (he also missed 52 games in his first two seasons in Houston with a variety of ailments, mostly knee)?

“My back hasn’t been an issue, and I don’t think I’ll ever have an issue out of my back for the rest of my career,” he said without pause.

And will he play nice with others, altering this image that has grown around Howard that he is a difficult teammate and a hot-and-cold competitor?

When Howard speaks of himself now, a changed man, the words are simple and clean, like the peal of church bells.

“All the things that happened the past couple of years really just made me stronger, made me have some thicker skin.

“All the things that have happened put me in a place of humility to where I needed God, to understand I needed him to really survive.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anderson Varejao plans to reject the Cavs’ offer of a championship ring…Timberwolves not ready to trade Ricky Rubio yet…Carlos Delfino is still hoping for an NBA comeback…It was Doc Rivers’ recruiting touch that got Brandon Bass to land with the Clippers…Brandon Ingram plans to seek out Kevin Durant for advice.

The Finals Live Blog — Game 7

OAKLAND — Respect the game.

Respect the moment.

Respect the opponent.

But have no fear.

There isn’t much more to say before what is the ultimate game in this sport, the Game 7 showdown in The Finals between two championship-caliber teams who have circled and stalked each other over the course of the past 12 months.

The reigning champion Golden State Warriors, led by their two-time and unanimous (this season) MVP Stephen Curry against the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James, playing for all the marbles on the final day of this NBA season is the ideal way to finish any NBA season.

This has only happened 18 times in the storied history of this league and the home team has the historical edge, owning a robust 15-3 record in said games, including six straight triumphs. The 19th playing of a Finals Game 7 brings us a player attempting to establish himself as one of the top two or three players to ever play the game in James, and another, in Curry, who is seeking to justify his place in that same conversation among the top current players in the game.

Sure, it’s more complicated than that. Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Love and plenty of others will play their roles in this epic, winner-take-all saga. All eyes early on, however, will be on the battle inside the battle between Steph and LeBron.

Whose will is greater?

Whose nerves survive the moment?

Whose supporting cast comes to the rescue first?

We find out in the next 48 minutes (and possibly more) of action. The world is watching, from right here in the Bay Area and back to LeBron’s beloved Cleveland and northeast Ohio and beyond.

We can sort out the impact on the winner and loser later, whose legacy gets the boost and whose takes the hit. Right now, it’s about this one game, just one game for the right to be called champion.

It’s all on the line tonight, here at Oracle Arena, a championship for the taking … HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!!

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He’s ready!

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You know he’s ready …

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Stephen Curry, pre-game.

A photo posted by John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) on

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Dwayne Wade in the building. He’s handled his business in a Game 7 before …

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This game is a kind of a big deal here in Oakland and the Bay Area.

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They are cranked up back in Cleveland, too. Trying to end that title drought.

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As I mentioned, there have been some memorable Game 7s before this one …

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Akron’s got your back LeBron!

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Hmmmm …

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It is a “young man’s game.”

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Time to get it in. Got your popcorn ready?

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A great Game 7 is all anyone’s asking for. In a strange series marked by blowouts, give us one down to the wire.

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Prime Time’s fearless prediction …

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By Any Means Necessary approach from Steve Kerr tonight.

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It’s early, relax peoples.

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Yes he does!

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LeBron turned the one over, too!

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Sorry, need one more look.

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His handle is wicked, too.

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Kevin Love came to play!

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Things change …

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Rebounding remains the most glaring issue for the Warriors.

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END OF FIRST QUARTER CAVALIERS 23, WARRIORS 22

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Ask and you shall receive #giveusoneclosegame

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He’s #CLEAN

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Steph going to the cup for the hoop and the foul.

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Draymond is 5-for-7 from the floor, a perfect 3-for-3 from deep and has 13 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.

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Dave is down with the Warriors!

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LeBron is just waiting on this one every time.

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Great players make great plays non-stop in a wild Game 7 environment. #ShowUpShowOut

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Steph picks up his third foul just before halftime on a questionable one …

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HALFTIME WARRIORS 49, CAVALIERS 42

The Global Game!

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Another look at Steph’s third foul … ?

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Warriors lead vanishes in mere minutes. JR cooking. Kyrie cooking. And Barnes and Ezeli continue to struggle on both ends.

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Steph on both ends, Warriors back up 59-54 … we seem to be getting that great game we’ve been looking for.

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Warriors bigs are struggling something terrible, on both ends.

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Kyrie taking control. Cavs put together a wicked 11-0 run to take a 65-59 lead. Warriors turning it over, missing shots and getting caught up in the moment?

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It could wild in Cleveland tonight …

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And then the Warriors tied the game on a Livingston dunk. We’re back to even at 71 with 1:56 to play in the third.

(Draymond sank three free throws and then hit a three before that.)

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END OF THIRD QUARTER WARRIORS 76, CAVALIERS 75 … Game 7 living up to the hype and then some.

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The Internet wins tonight no matter what, due to things like this …

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Back-to-back buckets from the Splash Brothers. Warriors take the lead 85-83 with 6:16 to play.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

A photo posted by Golden State Warriors (@warriors) on

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We’re tied at 89 with 2:50 to play … CRAZY!

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LeBron with the eraser of a potential go-ahead layup from Iguodala. UNREAL!

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Kyrie with the dagger from 3 with 53 seconds to play, Cavs up 92-89 and have the ball after a Steph heave that bounces wide.

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LeBron makes the second of two free throws and Cleveland is 10.6 seconds away from ending the title drought. It’s officially his city if they finish this off.

CAVALIERS 93, WARRIORS 89 … from 3-1 down to dethrone the champs. LeBron finally lives his dream and brings a title to The Land!

The Warriors cannot finish their dream season. The title they thought was theirs was not.

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We did it, Cleveland. #NBAChampions | #OneForTheLand

A photo posted by Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) on

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Blogtable: Lakers or Sixers under more pressure in Draft?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> Who’s under the most pressure to nail it on Draft night, the Sixers or the Lakers?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers aren’t what they used to be, but they still have a whole bunch of banners in Staples Center. They were lousy the last two years, but that was all about Kobe Bryant, and everyone knew it. Philly has spent the past three years conducting a referendum on exactly how much you can push a fan base before alienating large chunks of it forever. (I always suspected the “trust the Process” folk were more vocal minority than the status quo; people who didn’t like what the Sixers were doing simply didn’t use the product — they didn’t watch on TV and they didn’t show up at the arena. Hard to measure people who aren’t doing something.) So the 76ers’ new regime needs to hit the ground running, and take someone who’ll be ready to play — and play well — on opening night.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Los Angeles Lakers. What the Sixers have on their hands is going to require some untangling for most of next season and the expectations remain low. Los Angeles didn’t nail it, exactly, last June with D’Angelo Russell and the crowd at Staples Center is way less patient than most NBA fan bases.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Philadelphia 76ers are under more pressure for several reasons. First, they have the No. 1 pick, so they can make the bigger error. The Lakers are in the “Kevin Durant position” of sitting back and taking whichever player of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram falls to them. Second, after three years of intentionally failing miserably and alienating the fan base, they need to hit a home run and and show that the suffering was worth it. Third, the Lakers are still the Lakers and, now that Kobe Bryant is retired, helping free agents are far more likely to be lured to L.A than Philly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com The Philadelphia 76ers. Not that L.A. officials ever get actual reduced pressure, but Philly is the one that has to make the call at the top of the draft. The Lakers will take whoever the 76ers do not. Plus, it’s the first time on the clock for Bryan Colangelo as the new head of basketball operations. This is a particular proving ground for him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, since the Philadelphia 76ers have the No. 1 pick, the burden is completely on them. Draft night has worked out the best possible way for the Lakers, who really have no decision to make. They’ll just take either Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons, whomever the Sixers drop in their lap at No. 2, and thus be spared any second-guessing.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers, for multiple reasons. The Sixers are the team that needs to choose between the top two guys. They’re the team that has sacrificed the most to be where they are. They’re the team that didn’t have a Hall-of-Famer around this season to keep their fanbase engaged. And they’re less of a free agent destination, making the Draft more important.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers have the ultimate pressure with that No. 1 pick, because they set the tone for the remainder of the Draft. Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram? That choice provides built-in pressures that every choice that comes at the top of every Draft. That said, the Lakers cannot afford to pull the fast one they did last season, choosing D’Angelo Russell instead of Jahlil Okafor, neither of whom had a chance to unseat Karl-Anthony Towns (the unanimous Kia Rookie of the Year). There’s plenty of pressure on both the Sixers and Lakers to get it right, more importantly it’s important that whatever choices are made, the Sixers and Lakers have to move heaven and earth to make sure the players they draft are developed into the starts their talents suggest they could be.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The Los Angeles Lakers have to get this right for all kinds of reasons. They hope to go many years before drafting here again, so they have to score a great player either in the draft or with a trade. Jimmy Buss supposedly needs to be back in contention if he wants to remain in charge of the roster. Plus they need to win more games in order to devalue the pick that will be forwarded to Philadelphia in 2017. Having said all of that, however, the choice may not be difficult – if this really is a two-player draft, then the Lakers will be waiting to catch either Simmons or Ingram.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh, the Los Angeles Lakers. Last year they passed on Kristaps Porzingis to take D’Angelo Russell, and even though it’s only been one season, that choice already looks questionable. This year the choice between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram may not be entirely up to them, but they really need to nail it because they still owe a first round pick to the Sixers that will vest eventually. For the Sixers, despite the change in management and desire to put the pedal down on the rebuild, they’ve got a lot of assets to indulge in the next few seasons even if they don’t get it right this year. In Los Angeles, expectations already exist for the Lakers, even if they aren’t all that realistic.

Howard opens up on Harden, Rockets, Magic exit and more

HANG TIME BIG CITY — In a candid interview released today, Dwight Howard speaks freely about a number of topics relating to his career, his time with the Houston Rockets, as well as his future. While Howard says he hasn’t decided what to do this summer as far as his contract — Howard can opt out of the final year of his deal and become a free agent — a return to Houston doesn’t sound like a sure thing.

As the 30-year-old Howard tells ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan, there were times during last season when he felt “disinterested”…

Howard: “There were times I was disinterested because of situations that happened behind the scenes that really hurt me. It left me thinking, ‘This is not what I signed up for.'”

ESPN: What specifically are you referring to?

Howard: “I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to [Rockets general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said, ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect to what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.'”

According to ESPN, Houston GM Daryl Morey declined comment.

He also discussed his pairing with James Harden in Houston and how that relationship has gone since their first season together.

ESPN: What is your relationship with James Harden like?

Howard: “Before I got to Houston, I didn’t know him as a person. What made me really interested in James Harden was the way he attacked the basket when he was at OKC. He was the glue of the team, attacking, making plays, dunking. I was thinking, ‘Man, this guy could be special.’ When I hit free agency, I watched YouTube tapes of James for hours. I looked at us as a mini Shaq and Kobe. I was thinking, ‘Man, this could be a new life for both of us.’ And we had some good stretches together. Made it to the Conference finals last season.”

ESPN: Your relationship with Harden seems to have deteriorated along with the team’s performance this season. What happened?

Howard: “I don’t know. … I want to figure that out, too. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this season, what went wrong, and sometimes you can allow outside things to interrupt the circle. That probably happened with us.”

Before Houston, Howard was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he says things didn’t work out there in part because Howard and Kobe Bryant were in “different points of our careers.”

ESPN: Kobe also questioned your toughness when he urged you to come back and play through your shoulder injury.

Howard: “Kobe put some pressure on me. He said something like, ‘We don’t have time for Dwight to be hurt.’ The media is asking me, ‘Did you talk to Kobe about your injuries?’ I said, ‘I didn’t realize I was supposed to check with another player about my health.’ When I first got there, I said to Kobe in front of the whole team, ‘The only way we win is if we put our egos aside and play together.’ I wanted to play with him. I don’t know if he didn’t want to play with me — if he felt I wasn’t a killer like him.”

ESPN: You could have signed a new deal to stay with the Lakers. Why didn’t you?

Howard: “I just felt like it wasn’t a team. I wanted a team. There were things that went on during the season that made me feel like I wasn’t a part of it, like the thing with Kobe and my shoulder. People were saying, ‘Dwight’s so strong, he’s Superman, he should play through it.’ It was a torn labrum. I should have had surgery, but I didn’t. I came back instead. I’ll never forget the game we played against the Celtics in Boston (on Feb. 7, 2013). I hadn’t practiced for a while — I had just been working on the treadmill. But I played in Boston. We got blown out. Coach (Mike D’Antoni) still had me in when we were down 30. After the game, I’m walking off the court and a Lakers fan throws his jersey and hits me in the face. It was my name on that jersey. I will never forget that the rest of my life.”

Howard also addresses the deterioration of his relationship in Orlando with former coach Stan Van Gundy, after the Magic made it to the 2009 NBA Finals…

ESPN: Did you ask management to fire Stan Van Gundy?

Howard: “The back story is that months before that, before the [2011] lockout, I had a conversation with Magic owner Rich DeVos. They flew me out on a private plane to Michigan. I was talking to him about how we could grow the team. When I first got to Orlando, he called us the Orlando “Tragic” and I hated it. I wanted to talk to him about how we could grow our team. I was saying, ‘Let’s have Magic cereal, Magic vitamins with our players’ faces on it so they can get to know our team.’ In the course of our conversation, we started talking about what’s going on with our team.”

ESPN: What did you say about Stan in that meeting?

Howard: “I told Rich the truth. I told him, ‘I love Stan. I think he’s done a great job, but I think he’s lost his voice in the locker room.’ It wasn’t, ‘Hey, I want Stan fired or else.’ I was never upset with Stan at any point. It wasn’t anything personal against Stan. He knows that. It’s just over the past couple of years I could see a lot of the guys had lost their faith in him.”

ESPN: How long before the public comments from Stan saying you wanted him gone was your meeting with DeVos?

Howard: “Oh, it was months before. In late June, just before the lockout.”