Posts Tagged ‘LaMarcus Aldridge’

Morning shootaround — July 12

VIDEO: Porzingis’ Summer League debut

Opportunity for Okafor | Hammon makes history | Bargnani to Kings | Porzingis shines | Lillard stands ready

No. 1: Embiid loss changes rookie race — There are all sorts of implications that rise out of the news that Joel Embiid could miss another entire season following a second surgery to repair the broken bone in his foot. The biggest question, of course, is about the career of the Sixers big man. Does it mean another season of tanking in Philly? But Embiid’s loss could also open the door for this year’s top Sixer draft pick Jahlil Okafor to be the 2016 Rookie of the Year, according to our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

No Embiid means no crowded big-man rotation with second-year man Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, and that means an unquestioned clear path for Okafor to probably have the featured role in the Sixers offense.

In the coldest terms, the crushing setback for Embiid is a prime opportunity for Okafor with the largest portion of minutes at center and power forward now being split two ways instead of three. Not only that the good possibility that Okafor will be able to score inside immediately makes him the ideal fit alongside Noel, an impact defender as a 2014-15 rookie but offensively challenged.

Tony Wroten led Philly in scoring last season at 16.9 points a game, and that was with just 30 appearances. Michael Carter-Williams was second, at 15 per, and he got traded. Okafor, with advanced post moves and a pro body at 6-11 and 270 pounds, will likely generate offense this season, and will absolutely have the chance.


No. 2: Hammon breaks another barrierBecky Hammon got a baptism by fire in her history making debut as head coach in the Las Vegas Summer League, drawing up a play for her Spurs in the final seconds. The last-second shot missed, but  it was Hammon’s latest step to break down barriers for women in sports. Our Shaun Powell was on hand to document the event and discuss the possible importance down the line:

She fit like any male coach in Vegas, the only difference being her voice was softer. Last season, as the junior coach on staff, Hammon sat behind the Spurs’ bench, not next to Gregg Popovich. But Pop put her in charge of the Vegas operation, partly because he felt comfortable enough with her, and also because Pop wants to advance the notion of a woman coaching in a men’s league.

Nobody’s quite sure where this is headed or how quickly. Will the NBA have its first female head coach in the foreseeable future? And if so, will she be Hammon? Coaching on the highest level can get very political. There are only 30 jobs and they don’t come easily even to experienced coaches; Hammon has never been a coach on any level until now. It’s about timing and networking and persistence and sometimes they’re not always in your favor.

But Hammon’s ace card is Pop, the winningest active coach in basketball; and by extension, the Spurs organization, regarded as the finest in all professional sports.

If Pop one day gives another team a glowing recommendation of Hammon, how could that team resist?

Before that happens, Hammon will need to work her way up the Spurs’ bench and sit next to Popovich for at least a year. The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer, the reigning Coach of the Year, didn’t get his break until he served as Pop’s assistant for 16 years. Given the uniqueness of her situation, and the track record of the NBA as a progressive league, Hammon won’t need to wait that long once she gets the Popovich Blessing.

But first things first, as Lieberman said. Just getting to the point of coaching in the summer league qualifies as a breakthrough.

“She has such a great opportunity in front of her,” said Lieberman. “And it’s fantastic. They couldn’t have chosen anyone better than Becky. We’ve been friends for years and I’m so proud of her.”


No. 3: Kings closing in on Bargnani — If the smoking hole in the ground that has become of the Kings during offseason is going to be repaired at all, the team will need to put some shooters around center DeMarcus Cousins. To that end, Marc Stein of says the team is close to a deal with former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani that would take him to the Western Conference for the first time in his career:

The Kings are looking for additional shooting to surround big man DeMarcus Cousins, and have already imported former NBA 3-point shootout champion and fellow Italian Marco Belinelli in free agency, in addition to the looming signings of Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos and Caron Butler.

The Kings have also re-signed swingman Omri Casspi and, of course, selected Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein with the sixth overall pick in last month’s draft.

Bargnani has missed 160 games over the past three years with various injuries, but had a productive spell with the Knicks late last season to convince the Kings to extend his NBA career. The 29-year-old has struggled to live up to expectations since the Raptors selected him No. 1 overall in the 2006 draft.


No. 4: Porzingis solid in summer debut — The 19-year-old player that Phil Jackson made the No. 4 pick in the draft last month didn’t dominate in his first taste of NBA competition on Saturday. But Kristaps Porzingis was solid and competent enough to turn some of those draft night boos into cheers in a win over San Antonio at the Las Vegas Summer League. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News has the details:

It was the opposite of what I heard on draft night,” Porzingis said. “It was nice to hear some cheers out there.”
Porzingis, the player Phil Jackson selected fourth overall, didn’t dominate a team of mostly unknown and unproven San Antonio Spurs but the rookie certainly didn’t embarrass himself, that’s for sure. The 7-foot-3 forward finished with 12 points in the Knicks’ 78-73 win over the Spurs, who were coached by Becky Hammon and featured one player — Kyle Anderson — who was on San Antonio’s roster last year. Porzingis made three of five shots from the field, including a soft bank shot for his first basket with the Knicks. He also converted six of seven free throws but grabbed only three rebounds.

“I’m happy we won,” he said afterward. “It’s always good to win. I played physical so maybe I proved to some of the people who thought I was soft that I can play physical. It wasn’t my greatest game but I played OK.”
Jackson, the Knicks president, was seated along the baseline next to newly acquired forward Derrick Williams and several team officials, including general manager Steve Mills. In what has been a dreadful 16 months for Jackson, Porzingis’ first outing was by far the most positive development for the Jackson regime.

Porzingis played with confidence and had no issues with the pace of the game. His one glaring weakness is strength. The only thing in this town taller and thinner than Porzingis is a stripper pole. He can get away with that against the likes of Livio Jean-Charles and Cady Lalanne. The problem will arise when Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge are the opposing starting center and power forward, respectively.


No. 5: Lillard says he’s up to the challenge — The last time Damian Lillard saw his Trail Blazers they had won 51 games, the Northwest Division title and still had a bright future as a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. But in a blink-and-you-missed-it summer, Lillard turned back around to see a roster suddenly stripped of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. So the Blazers are, in essence, starting over. But Lillard tells Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports that he’s up to the challenge of leading the rebuilding job:

“We’re a young team,” Lillard said. “There are going to be ups and downs. But I’m not giving up on anything. I don’t doubt that we can still compete. We got a lot of young athletes. I don’t feel like it’s going to be me up there. I feel like we got guys capable of stepping up and doing more than they’ve done in the past.

“I don’t know how long it will take. I’m committed to the next six years to try to turn this around.”

Lillard has noticed plenty of people on social media disparaging the Blazers’ roster.

“I’ve been reading. Everything I worked for or received, nothing has been handed to me,” Lillard said. “I could take comfort in knowing that everything that happened isn’t by luck. It’s me working hard and me going after things, making it happen. Being doubted is not unfamiliar territory to me.”

With a new contract in hand, Lillard knows there will be pressure on him to lead the Blazers during their rebuilding. He said he never considered the possibility of attempting to leave Portland.

“Nope. I didn’t have a reason to,” Lilllard said. “I’m fully committed to playing in Portland. I’m committed to my teammates. I had no reason to wait. Not that it was about the money, but I’m not going to get any more money [later] than what I would get now. And what better way to show that commitment than doing that.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Timberwolves trade Chase Budinger to the Pacers…GM Billy Kings says it was just time for Deron Williams to leave the Nets…Aaron Harrison signs two-year deal with Hornets…Nuggets give Wilson Chandler multi-year extension.

Blogtable: Toughest (and easiest) division?

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League

VIDEODallas is one of the forces to be reckoned with in the Southwest Division

> Provided all the agreed-to free-agent deals happen, which division (as of today) looks toughest and easiest to traverse to the top in 2015-16? And give me a reason or two why you’re picking each one.

Steve Aschburner, You don’t want to go wandering into that Southwest Division, the NBA’s equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks. It’s nasty down there, full of rough-looking characters on playoff-tested teams. And they’re not just bad, they’re big, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan elbowing in alongside Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan. If it’s a stroll through the park you want, you head to the Atlantic, where Toronto was the only team above .500 last season and might have taken a step back in losing Amir Johnson and Lou Williams. Everyone else in that district is flawed as well, not ready for prime time, with Brooklyn headed down, Boston and Philadelphia still learning and New York pursuing mediocrity as an upgrade from last season.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Bermuda Triangle has nothing on the Texas Triangle for being a potential danger to travelers. Toss in Memphis and New Orleans and the Southwest is clearly the roughest, toughest neighborhood in the league. All five teams made the playoffs last season and they’ve only gotten better. I’ll give you five reasons why the Atlantic is the weakest division — Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Raptors and Sixers.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Toughest: Southwest, and it’s probably not even close. New Orleans won 45 games in 2014-15 and still finished last. Now imagine the division with the Spurs and Mavericks coming off their summers. Easiest: Northwest. Even with the Jazz on track to push past .500, with the demise of the Trail Blazers, it’s still OKC and everyone else.

Shaun Powell, Seeing as how the league is ready to devalue divisions, the rankings really don’t matter much anymore. But, as you will: The Southwest (Spurs, Rockets, Mavs, Grizz, Pelicans) will lap the field in terms of toughness. You could make an argument for every team making the playoffs, even the Pelicans. Just look at the stars: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kawhi Leonard, etc. It’s a division just steep with talent. The Atlantic will be the weakest if only because they’ll be dragged down by the Knicks and Sixers. In that division, only the Raptors are built to last into spring, and they lack the necessary franchise player to go deep.

John Schuhmann, The Southwest Division was already the best in the league (0.637 winning percentage last season), added LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, should have a healthier Rockets team, and has Anthony Davis getting better every year. The Celtics, Knicks and Raptors all made some improvements, but the Atlantic Division will remain the worst in the league, with at least three (and maybe four) teams under 0.500. The second best team (Boston) is still without a real impact player.

Sekou Smith, The Southwest is going to be a torture chamber. And I’ll give you five reasons, starting with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. All five should be playoff-caliber teams. All five have spent the summer either improving or at least fortifying themselves through the Draft and free agency. They will batter each other in the division and make life miserable for any team that has to pull a Southwest Division swing. The easiest division? I prefer terms like least treacherous. The Northwest and Atlantic both look like they’ll have several teams trying to recover from the offseason (Draft, free agency, trades, etc.), which will keep those divisions from being as strong top-to-bottom.

Ian Thomsen, The Atlantic remains the NBA’s weakling, in spite of its immense markets: its four big American franchises are rebuilding, while the Raptors have won no more than a single playoff series in 20 years. The powerhouse is the Southwest, which looks capable of producing five playoff teams for a second straight year — and possibly 50-plus wins across the board, pending the continued development of Anthony Davis. Any one of its teams would dominate the Atlantic.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog Well, the Southwest is now the Southbest. As if it wasn’t already tough enough, now you’ve got LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in San Antonio, James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, Dirk Nowitzki, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews in Dallas, and the Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies in Memphis. Poor New Orleans has to satisfy themselves with “just” having Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division is still the Atlantis. While the Knicks, Sixers, Celtics and Nets all search for a path to relevance, the Raptors should be on top for a few years to come.

Morning shootaround — July 7

VIDEO: What do the Cleveland Cavaliers have planned next in the offseason?

Okafor solid in Summer League debut | Continuity keeps Spurs chugging along | Parsons wants Jordan to be top-flight NBA center | Report: NBPA may fund health insurance for ex-players


No. 1: Okafor impresses overall in Summer League debut — The Philadelphia 76ers endured another awful season with the payoff coming in mid-June in the form of an NBA Draft lottery pick. That pick became Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, taken No. 3 overall, and in a rare turn of events of late for the Sixers, he is a rookie healthy enough to suit up for Summer League. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for Okafor’s debut in the Utah Summer League and says that after some early jitters, Okafor looked more than solid

His first game as a pro, his first five-on-five game since winning the national championship on April 6, his first time playing since the Philadelphia 76ers picked him third on June 25, but normal. The best possible outcome for Okafor and Philadelphia, in other words.

The Sixers desperately need the typical when 2015-16 arrives, the inside muscle with the ball that makes Okafor the ideal complement alongside the defensive presence of Nerlens Noel as an interchangeable power forward-center combination, no matter what happens with Joel Embiid and his uncertain recovery from a foot injury. The offense from anywhere, really, after they finished No. 29 in scoring, one-tenth of a point ahead of the Knicks for last. If Okafor can just be Okafor — and a lot of teams think the post game that abused defenses in the one-and-done at Duke will translate immediately because of that advanced skill level, along with being 6-11 and 270 pounds at 19 years old — Philly instantly moves forward.

Monday night inside EnergySolutions Arena, in the first game of the Utah Jazz Summer League, Okafor got the obligatory hit of nerves just before tipoff. And then he had a very slow start, making just three of 11 shots, mostly from close range, in the opening half. It was early July, so no big deal.

Then came the second half and the taking control inside and the seven baskets in 11 attempts, until he finished with 20 points and nine rebounds (five offensive) in a 74-71 loss to the Spurs. Okafor was being Okafor.

“I’ve been saying it for a week or so now, with every possession he’s going to just grow and grow,” said Billy Lange, the Philly assistant coach who is running the bench here. “We’ve been preparing him for — everybody’s going to come in and try to make a name for themselves against him. He wants to win and he wants to please. He’s a great kid, his heart is so pure that he’s probably pressing himself a little bit. But once he settled into the third quarter and we’re drawing plays up for him and he’s getting the ball in spots he probably hasn’t seen in a long time … I thought he did really, really well. And he pushed through. He played (29) minutes in this altitude and, I thought, competed pretty hard.”

That was the other thing. Actually, that was the bigger thing: After being knocked by some front offices for a lack of ideal conditioning last season, Okafor played his first organized game in exactly three months, played it at 4,300 feet, and not only lasted the 29 minutes but with his best moments in the second half.

VIDEO: Jahlil Okafor scores 20 points in his Summer League debut

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The right time for Donovan in OKC

VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks about his recovery and new coach Billy Donovan

ORLANDO, Fla. — Eight years after a head-fake that seemed to put him in charge of the Magic for several days, Billy Donovan was back in Central Florida as an NBA head coach.

Now 50, the one-time Billy the Kid, is trying to learn his way around Oklahoma City, shagging rebounds in practice for Kevin Durant and convinced that his shared ideas with general manager Sam Presti finally made this the right time to jump to the NBA.

“Knowing Sam over the years, I think the biggest thing for me in the decision was I really felt when I took the job at Florida, I felt like I was really aligned with (athletic director) Jeremy Foley and his vision,” Donovan said between games Monday at the Orlando Pro Summer League. “I think a lot of times in job situations you want to make sure that that’s the case.

“Sam, I thought, the first time we sat down and really talked about this, he really laid out what the organization stood for, what it was about, what the core values were about, what he envisioned going forward, how he wanted to go forward, the things that were important to him as a general manager. And I identify with all those things. I felt aligned with those things and I think I shared a lot of those same values with Sam. That was first and foremost the most important thing to me.

“Anytime you’re working with somebody, are you always going to agree on everything? No. Are there gonna be some differences? Yes. But at the core of it, we’re working in the same direction.”

Donovan, who had agreed to a non-compete clause with the Magic that banned him from taking another NBA job for five years, was hired just eight days after the Thunder fired Scott Brooks on April 22. It could, quite simply, be the most important hire the franchise ever makes.

That’s because the 2015-16 season is pivotal for OKC for far more than just wins and losses. Durant is entering the last year of his contract before becoming a free agent next summer. Russell Westbrook’s contract is up in two years. The Thunder now have less than 12 months to convince Durant to stick with the franchise that drafted him and then hope that his magnetism will be enough to keep Westbrook.

Fact is, depending on how those scenarios play out, the Thunder could be playing in the 2017 Finals or taking part in the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery. It’s that wide gap that’s at stake.

Donovan, who made the University of Florida a national power in his 19 seasons there, winning back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007, could be the key to it it. Durant has already said he likes the new coach’s hunger and attitude as a basketball junkie.

Theirs is a budding relationship that could literally determine the balance of power in the league in the coming years. Durant is on the record saying he approved of LeBron James returning to Cleveland to be close to home last summer and LaMarcus Aldridge leaving Portland for his native Texas in the past several days to play for the Spurs. He spoke of admiring those players for doing what made them happy. It brings up the possibility of Durant going to his native Washington, D.C., in a year or going to any other NBA city that might catch his fancy.

Therefore it’s all about Donovan, how much he can impress Durant, the kind of hooks he can sink into Westbrook.

Eight years after he could have made the jump to the NBA in Orlando, it’s the time, the place, the leap of faith the Thunder are making with the grown-up version of Billy the Kid.

Report: West agrees to deal with Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — David West said his next move would be about winning above all things. The veteran power forward meant what he said.

West has agreed to a deal for the veteran’s minimum, of $1.4 million, to join the San Antonio Spurs, a deal first reported by TNT’s David Aldridge. West turned his back on a $12 million deal with the Indiana Pacers to join the summer renaissance in San Antonio.

The Spurs have already agreed to deals with LaMarcus Aldridge and to re-sign both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. They also got confirmation earlier today from veteran sixth-man Manu Ginobili that he will return for the 2015–16 season alongside Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich.

West had grown disenchanted with the franchise meltdown he felt occurred in Indiana the past two seasons, when the Pacers went from back-to-back Eastern Conference finalists and one of the top teams in the league to a lottery team. He opted out of the final year of his deal with the Pacers and vowed that his next opportunity would be one that gave him the best chance to win a title and delivered with his decision today.


Continuity drives Spurs’ success

VIDEO: Manu Ginobili is back for another year, and another run at a title, with the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Manu Ginobili surely couldn’t bring himself to walk away from it all, not with the very real possibility that he and his San Antonio Spurs teammates could make yet another run at a Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Manu’s decision to saddle up for another season with the Spurs only serves to reinforce the driving principle that has sustained the organization during their decade and a half run of dominance. The continuity that comes with keeping the core group of a championship crew together is what allows the Spurs to absorb star talent, and sometimes discard it, and maintain their position as a league power.

While others lose franchise pillars — the Spurs’ biggest acquisition this summer, LaMarcus Aldridge, was exactly that in Portland — the Spurs keep their most critical pieces in the fold and keep finding ways to rebuild around them.

Witness the report later Monday that David West has agreed to join the Spurs for the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 million, opting out of a deal with the Indiana Pacers that would have paid him $12 million in 2015-16.

It’s masterful work, buoyed no doubt by having a future Hall of Fame and all-time great rock like Tim Duncan to build around. But it’s still work that has to be done, work that Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford and the rest of the Spurs’ brain trust has done masterfully for years.

While aging stars like Duncan, Ginobili and one day Tony Parker fade into the background in San Antonio, the baton will be passed to Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and others in much the same way that David Robinson passed it to Duncan a generation ago.

The only other team during the Spurs’ current run capable of duplicating this sort of succession of power, the Los Angeles Lakers, has failed miserably in that department. Their free agent work this summer, or lack thereof, is proof that they have been unable to find the right mix of stars, culture and continuity to sustain their success.

The sacrifice needed to keep the train rolling is what has kept the Spurs viable for so long. The sacrifice from players like Ginobili, who could have easily chased his fortunes elsewhere once he went from a starter and All-Star to a world-class sixth man and super sub.

We might not see a run like this again anytime soon in the league, this sort of cosmic mix of the right stars, with the right coach, in the right system at just the right time. It’s a lesson that championship crew in Golden State might want to pay careful attention to, if they plan on staying relevant for the long haul.

Ginobili understood as much while he was deliberating about his own future. All of the Spurs’ big dogs have over the course of their run.

And that’s why Manu had to come back for at least one more season of doing it the Spurs way.

Ginobili confirms he will play in 2015-16

VIDEO: Manu Ginobili’s 2014-15 season highlights staff reports

From the start, the offseason couldn’t have gone better for the San Antonio Spurs. On the first night of free agency, they came to an agreement with star forward/former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard on a five-year deal. Days later, they reached an agreement with 3-point shooter/perimeter defender Danny Green to stay in the Alamo City on a four-year deal. Shortly after that came word from franchise superstar and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan that he would return for the 2015-16 season.

Then, of course, came the Independence Day weekend in which they got an agreement with the crown jewel of their offseason — former Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

So, how could they top those moves? How about getting word that a long-held fan favorite, franchise legend and potential Hall of Famer will be back in the mix.

The Spurs got exactly that when Manu Ginobili tweeted today that he will be back with the Spurs for the 2015-16 season


Phoenix looks to rise from ashes of failed Aldridge pursuit

Finishing second in a free-agent sweepstakes is worse than doing the same in a pageant, where they at least gussy up the term as “first runner-up” and the penultimate person at least has a shot at ascending to the crown or tiara, pending a felony or a scandal.

You miss out on a premium free agent – the way Phoenix did in hoping to land LaMarcus Aldridge – and you’re stuck sifting through rubble and licking your own wounds. Whatever good comes of it from that point on, it’s on you. No one’s going to award Aldridge to the Suns, for instance, even if Gregg Popovich or Tim Duncan gets abducted by aliens a week from Thursday.

The Suns — on the preferred short list for NBA free agents 10 or 15 years ago — did reach an agreement with center Tyson Chandler, a solid acquisition, but that would have meant even more had it enticed Aldridge to suit up next to him. Now, as laid out by Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, it’s on Phoenix to get busy sifting and licking, while hoping some secondary moves or near-moves in pursuit of Aldridge don’t produce unpleasant ripple effects:

There is not a remaining free agent who could come close to the talent or fit that Aldridge would have given the Suns and their quest to end a five-year playoff absence. The best free agents – LeBron James, Marc Gasol and Tristan Thompson – are staying with their teams. Others like Reggie Jackson, Lou Williams and Rodney Stuckey do not appear to be fits. Kosta Koufos was possible until the Suns stocked center with Tyson Chandler alongside Alex Len. David West has been Suns small forward T.J. Warren’s mentor, but he is a veteran seeking a last shot with a top team. Josh Smith? There is a better chance of Aldridge changing his mind to Phoenix than the Suns pursuing him.

The Suns do have roster balance now with the 11 players soon to be under contract – Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight at point guard, Archie Goodwin and Devin Booker at shooting guard with Jerel McNeal (non-guaranteed), P.J. Tucker and T.J. Warren at small forward, Markieff Morris and Jon Leuer at power forward and Chandler and Len at center. It is not a mix that would have many predicting much of a rise in the West after last season’s 10th-place finish and expected improvement from the teams around them (San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Utah).

The Suns still will look to add shooting, experience, frontline help and a third point guard in free agency. They will remain open to using their cache of draft picks and young talent in a trade that lands an elite player, which they acknowledge needing to reach the next tier. Until that type of deal becomes available, it appears they will tweak the roster in free agency with role players and count on maturation from their young standouts.

That could mean pursuit of a free agent power forward like Brandon Bass, Jordan Hill, Darrell Arthur or Andrea Bargnani, a wing shooter like Rasual Butler or Dorell Wright, a defensive wing like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and a backup point guard like Ish Smith or a Euroleague player. There also are sentimental free agency options, like a Suns return for Amar’e Stoudemire, who is interested in doing so, or a hometown career finish for Richard Jefferson.

The Suns also now have an interesting situation with four-year power forward Markieff Morris. They clearly were trying to replace him with Aldridge. They traded away his twin and best friend, Marcus, to Detroit for next to nothing to clear the cap room for a possible Aldridge deal.

Markieff also knows he might have been the player the Suns would have dealt in a sign-and-trade with Dallas for Chandler.

Morning shootaround — July 5

VIDEO: Kevin Durant on Summer League and the move by LaMarcus Aldridge


Durant foreshadows own free agency? | Spurs can thank LaTim for LaMarcus | Tale of two centers, Pt. I (Jordan) | Tale of two centers, Pt. II (Hibbert) | Report: Raptors pick up Biyombo

No. 1: Durant foreshadows own free agency?Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City All-Star and 2014 MVP whose 2014-15 season largely was lost to foot injuries, showed up in Orlando on Saturday to catch the Thunder’s entry in that city’s Pro Summer League. He took the time to talk with reporters about his offseason, his rehab after two surgeries on his right foot and his thoughts on OKC and its ambitions for the coming season. But a lot of folks will zero in on his comments about LaMarcus Aldridge agreeing to a deal with San Antonio – Aldridge was the big free-agent catch of 2015, with Durant slated for that role next summer –and project 12 months out. Here are pertinent quotes, as provided by our own Fran Blinebury:

“You could kinda tell once this whole thing started that he was trying to go somewhere else,” Durant said. “In those decisions, man, you got to respect the guy for making the decision that was right for him. I know a lot of fans are probably upset in Portland at the decision. But at this point in your life and your career you’ve got to focus on you. I said this last year when Mr. (LeBron) James made his decision, it’s pretty cool to see a guy really do what he wants to do and not worry about what everybody else thinks.

Of course, it will be his decision next summer, when Durant becomes a free agent that will put him in the center of the storm.

“I haven’t thought about it, though I hear it all the time,” he said. “I’m really just focusing on rehab. I can’t get there unless I take care of today. That’s how I look at it. Even though I hear from every side thinking past to next summer. But I’m not even trying to focus on that. I’m excited about our team, our new coaches and just trying to get back right.

There is lots more in there, though, don’t hesitate to click on through for the no-longer-so-Thin Man’s thoughts on the Western Conference and his eagerness to get going again in games that matter.


No. 2: Spurs can thank “LaTim” for LaMarcus — Following in the massive footsteps of Tim Duncan as the San Antonio Spurs’ dominant and beloved big man didn’t scare off Aldridge. One reason: He won’t be “following” right away, instead playing alongside the Hall of Famer-to-be. An orderly transition was one of the things, in fact, that sold the four-time Portland All-Star on his stunning team-change back to his native Texas. That’s how veteran columnist Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News sees it, at least, and he wrote about that and what looks to be the Spurs’ ability to retool without rebuilding:

That is why Saturday’s news felt as if the Spurs had won a sixth title. They hit the reset button. With only one losing season since 1989, the Spurs reached a remarkable and unparalleled position for a franchise that has been successful for so long. The downturn still remains so far in the future that there is no timeline for it.

But this doesn’t happen if Duncan, once a free agent himself, had chosen Orlando in 2000. This doesn’t happen if Duncan had refused to change his role years later, or opted for the couch instead of taekwondo, or wasn’t as effective at age 39.

This also doesn’t happen now, this month, if Duncan wanted his rightful salary.

Duncan instead remained who he has been. Not coincidentally, that’s the kind of person Aldridge said he grew up idolizing.

[Coach Gregg] Popovich reportedly sold as much to Aldridge during their Friday meal. From ESPN’s Marc Stein in a tweet that same day: “Sources say pitch LaMarcus Aldridge got from Pop today about playing with Duncan AND taking over when Timmy’s gone resonated strongly.”

There are several layers to this, and one is basketball. Duncan makes everyone better, and he will make Aldridge better next season, too.

Duncan’s influence on Aldridge will also be felt in the locker room. Duncan can be quiet, and Aldridge took that further in Portland. Reports suggest he could be distant and insecure.

Duncan, always a nurturing leader, can fix that. His nature has always set a tone among teammates. He expects a certain professional behavior, and he gets it. Aldridge should be drawn to this.

Meanwhile, a veteran NBA personnel man provided the Express-News with an informal scouting report on Aldridge in San Antonio. Here’s a snippet:

On Aldridge’s reliance on the outside shot:

“When you have guys who are so good at something, you have to play to your strengths. Like Tim with the elbow jump shot, or Dirk [Nowitzki] with the pick and pop — that’s a shot you want them to take. That might go against what the new NBA trends are. But sometimes those concepts…it’s easier to find guys who get inside for layups or shoot 3s. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than to find a go-to, game-changer offensively who has a gift for putting the ball in the hole regardless of what defense you throw at them. Like Tony [Parker]; [as an opponent] you can say we’ll live with his jump shot, but if he’s making them he can kill you. (Aldridge) gives them more offensive firepower.

“Obviously his bread and butter is the jump shot. Being an offensive guy, I think if you get a good look in our league…do you wish it was a 3? Yes. Do you wish it was a layup? Yes. But if it’s an open look you know your guy can make, those are good, quality shots. I know Houston takes it to an extreme (with avoiding mid-range shots). But it’s easier to find a guy like Corey Brewer than it is a James Harden. So I think the Spurs got an offensive game-changer, without a doubt. They’re going to mesh his strengths to what the team is, which is one of the best passing teams in the league. Now you have to make a decision when him and Tim are on the floor, him and Boris [Diaw]. Those combinations are going to be lethal.”


No. 3: Tale of two centers, Pt. I (Jordan) — One tent-pole NBA center switches teams, his new team celebrates, his old team scrambles. Another tent-pole NBA center switches teams, his old team celebrates, his new team … shrugs? That was the dynamic in play this weekend involving DeAndre Jordan and Roy Hibbert. First, we’ll look at Jordan through the eyes of the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers, the teams that signed and lost him, respectively. Beat man Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News wrote about Jordan and his big-man game that should continue to blossom with the Mavericks:

When he was a raw NBA rookie, his one season at Texas A&M still a fresh memory, DeAndre Jordan was an unknown commodity.

Scouts wondered if he really had NBA skills beyond simply being 6-11 and 250 pounds.

Coaches wondered if he had the want-to.

Fans and critics wondered if he was another Erick Dampier.

As a rookie, Jordan had trouble getting on the court. He played behind Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman with the Los Angeles Clippers. He was looking very much like the second-round draft pick (35th overall) that he was.

He was an offensively challenged, can’t-shoot-free-throws project on a team that went 19-63.

This is one of the NBA’s best examples of why it’s dangerous to draw knee-jerk conclusions about young players.
Six years after the conclusion of that first season, Jordan is joining the Mavericks as the major piece of the organization’s new, young core, an $80-million cornerstone who qualifies as the most lucrative free-agent signee in the team’s history.

“We see him as the future of the franchise,” owner Mark Cuban said.

The Mavericks believe Jordan, who turns 27 on July 21, has untapped potential on the offensive end of the court. His defense and rebounding are not open to debate. He’s as good as anybody in the league in those areas.
Is his offense ready to take off, too?

Coach Rick Carlisle and Cuban believe it will. And that makes sense from the Mavericks’ perspective.

The league is going toward interchangeable players who can guard multiple positions. One area that is in decline is low-post scoring. When nobody else is doing it, that’s when Cuban and Co. try to pounce on an asset that makes the Mavericks unique.

Only Houston, with Dwight Howard, and perhaps Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, have what would be considered strong offensive forces in the paint. San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who agreed to terms with the Spurs on Saturday, and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, are more hybrid big men that can take their game outside the paint.

The Clippers, meanwhile, are hopeful they can find someone – uh, JaVale McGee? – to beef up a front line that suddenly looks awfully nekkid without Jordan. Until they do, and perhaps for some time after, folks might want to blame somebody for this blow to the Clippers’ title dreams. Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register pointed directly at point guard Chris Paul:

Never in his 10-year NBA career – not even in the disastrous deciding moments of Game 5 against Oklahoma City in 2014, not even in horrifically blowing Game 6 and then the series to Houston in May – has Paul looked as bad as he does right now.

One of the most gifted point guards in the league just had his worst turnover as a pro.

Jordan is officially leaving the Clippers for Dallas as a free agent, and, by all indications, the player who has led the NBA in assists per game the past two seasons, assisted mightily in Jordan’s franchise-stunting decision.

No one is saying that on the record, of course, but no one really has to say it on the record. The record speaks for itself.

Jordan is known to revere Doc Rivers and cherish his relationship with Blake Griffin. The Clippers were a team famously building toward something bigger, with an owner puffing money and optimism into a franchise that traditionally has had neither.

It is common knowledge that Paul and Jordan didn’t always get along, that Paul’s on-court edginess and demeanor agitated Jordan. Paul also reportedly thought Jordan was entirely too lax in addressing his free-throw deficiencies.

“Things aren’t good there,” a source told Fox Sports in May, referring to the Paul-Jordan dynamic. “(Jordan) might leave,” the source also was quoted as saying…

The concept of players struggling to coexist is only as old as the games themselves. Paul is hardly the first star to alienate a teammate, Kobe Bryant being another convenient example of someone who has left those around him begging for less.

Funny, though, how a teammate like Bryant, one who has won five championships, might be tolerated a little easier than a teammate like Paul, who never has advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs.


No. 4: Tale of two centers, Pt. II (Hibbert) — There was a different, nearly opposite vibe swirling about Hibbert’s trade – for a future second-round pick — from the Pacers to the Lakers. Back home in Indiana, the move was celebrated as a huge step forward in basketball boss Larry Bird‘s vision to have the Pacers playing faster; now both Hibbert and veteran power forward David West (who opted out) both are gone. Shedding Hibbert’s $15.5 million salary for the coming season, along with what might have become a brooding, distracting situation if the two-time All-Star wound up anchored to the bench, also suggested a going-away party without an invitation for the honored guest. As for Hibbert’s impact on the Lakers, no one was touting his arrival as the latest entry in the franchise’s famous timeline of great centers (Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal). First, here’s Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, rather harshly, on the Pacers’ side of this swap:

From something ugly, something beautiful is growing. You know the ugly. Paul George‘s gruesome broken leg, nearly a year ago, which triggered the Indiana Pacers’ slide out of the 2015 NBA playoffs, which led to …

Something beautiful growing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Pacers have done so much right, and gotten a little luck as well, and the result is pretty much every single thing falling their way since George fell so horribly, horribly wrong.

The departure of fraudulent center Roy Hibbert is the latest, greatest thing to happen to this team, the cherry on top of a sundae that will see the Pacers contend not just for a playoff spot next season, but for a top-four seed that would give them homecourt advantage in the postseason.

Hibbert is going to the Lakers, which takes his $15.5 million off Indiana’s books. What will the Pacers get for Hibbert, and what will they do with the leftover money? As of this writing I don’t know, and I don’t care. Get a backup power forward, a third-string guard, a lump of used ankle tape. Whatever.

Hibbert leaving is addition by subtraction, only it’s better than that. It’s multiplication by subtraction. Hibbert wasn’t going to play much this season, he wasn’t going to be happy about it, and he was going to prevent the Pacers from replacing his salary with one or — more likely — two or three players who can fill the team’s depth. A veteran point guard off the bench. Another power forward to spell George.

This, meanwhile, was the lukewarm coverage generated from the Los Angeles side, as chronicled by L.A. Times beat writer Mike Bresnahan:

They didn’t miss out only on Aldridge. They also met with DeAndre Jordan, who chose Dallas, and Greg Monroe, who curiously picked Milwaukee over the Lakers.

The Lakers netted Hibbert for a future second-round draft pick, giving them a post player with legitimate NBA experience, though he was coming off a poor season.

Hibbert, 28, is a good shot-blocker but an erratic scorer and a below-average rebounder for being 7 feet 2. His days in Indiana were numbered when team President Larry Bird all but guaranteed he would play a lesser role next season.

Hibbert has enjoyed some solid seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2014 and 2012. He had one of the more unique lines in recent years, compiling 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots for a triple-double against New Orleans in 2012.

He is not an accurate shooter from the field outside and made only 44.6% of his attempts last season, very low for a center, while averaging 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

Hibbert will be in the last season of his contract and eligible for free agency in a year. He joins a threadbare Lakers frontcourt that had Robert Sacre and Tarik Black as the only post players with NBA experience.

The addition of Hibbert, who has a trade kicker that increases his actual cap number to $17.8 million, leaves the Lakers with less than $5 million to spend on a dwindling free-agent market.

It’s hard to detract the focus from an unsettling pattern, the 16-time NBA champions unable to sign anybody of worth to upgrade their team in recent off-seasons.


No. 5: Report: Raptors pick up Biyombo — The Toronto Raptors lost stalwart big man Amir Johnson this summer to the Atlantic Division rival Boston Celtics. But even without that lost, they’ve been a little thin up front over the last few seasons and have reportedly found some help in the form of former lottery pick Bismack Biyombo. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

The journey has been little short of amazing — the Democratic Republic of Congo to Yemen to Spain to the United States Pacific northwest for a one-night coming out party.

Then Sacramento for less than 24 hours, to Charlotte to the unemployment line and now Bismack Biyombo finds himself in Toronto with another chance to prove his NBA worth.

The six-foot-nine Biyombo, cut adrift by the Charlotte Hornets last month because they feared he had reached his potential, will join the Raptors as a placeholder backup centre, a defensive presence and offensive nightmare who gives Toronto a shot-blocking rim-protecting presence to try to nurture.

Biyombo has agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth about $6 million (U.S.), a relatively low-cost, low-risk backup for Jonas Valanciunas.

According to league sources, Biyombo’s signing will have no impact on Toronto’s ability to sign other free agents with salary cap room. Biyombo’s deal will fit into what is known as the “mini-mid level” cap exception. Toronto still has something in the neighbourhood of $8 million to spend on a much-needed power forward and a backup point guard.

But in Biyombo, general manager Masai Ujiri has plugged one small hole in the roster, providing coach Dwane Casey with a solid defender who has exponentially more athleticism and potential than either Amir Johnson or Chuck Hayes, who manned that position a year ago.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Either there is a need in Cleveland for former Indiana forward David West or there isn’t, depending on which analysis — this one or that one — you prefer. … Here is a breakdown of the teams that still have salary-cap space to use on the players left in NBA free agency. … The Washington Wizards have gone about their offseason maneuvers with one eye on the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. … Might Lou Williams be a sign-and-trade possibility for the Miami Heat? … No less an authority than Patrick Ewing says Charlotte’s lottery pick Frank Kaminsky has gone from a “deer in the headlights” to potentially a deer to fear – for the Hornets, of course. … Aldridge is gone and now so is Portland assistant coach Kim Hughes for rankling the Blazers organization with some off-hand remarks. … Whether it says “Welcome!” or not, the New York Knicks got the floor mat treatment from the NBA’s free-agent A-listers, according to the New York Post.

Blazers’ assistant Hughes gone, too, in wake of Aldridge comments

LaMarcus Aldridge no longer is a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. And now, the same goes for assistant coach Kim Hughes just days after he made statements about Aldridge’s likely departure.

Hughes was terminated, a league source told, because of statements he last made about Aldridge’s free agency.

Portland’s president of basketball operations, Neil Olshey, confirmed Hughes’ departure to The Oregonian Saturday. “We can confirm Mr. Hughes is no longer with the team,” Olshey said. “It is our policy to otherwise refrain from commenting on personnel matters.”

Hughes made his comments last week, before NBA free agency began July 1, in an interview with a television station from Terre Haute, Ind., while working at a basketball camp for Blazers big man Meyers Leonard in Robinson, Ill. Video of the interview was posted on WTHI’s Web site Tuesday, a few hours before Aldridge officially was eligible to negotiate with any of the league’s teams.

“Well, people don’t realize we just went young,” Hughes said in the interview. “We didn’t publicize it, but we lost LaMarcus Aldridge. It hasn’t been declared yet, but I’m sure he won’t come back. We will go young.”

Last week, Olshey denied reports that Aldridge had told the Blazers he would not be re-signing with the team, even as Hughes was indicating otherwise. In a matter of days, the core of the Blazers’ roster has been overhauled: Aldridge reaching a verbal contract with the San Antonio Spurs, Nicolas Batum traded to Charlotte, Wesley Matthews agreeing to a free-agent contract with Dallas and center Robin Lopez heading to the New York Knicks.

Hughes, 63, had been a member of head coach Terry Stotts‘ staff since August 2012, working with the Blazers’ big men. He previously worked as an assistant coach and scout for the Denver Nuggets, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers. A 6-foot-11 center from the University of Wisconsin, Hughes played professionally in the ABA, NBA and Europe from 1975-1989.

Hughes has had several serious health issues in recent years, including a battle with prostate cancer in 2004 and a near-fatal intestinal condition requiring surgery in 2013. He currently has been diagnosed with pulmonary embolisms, the league source said.