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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 228) Featuring Klay Thompson and Arash Markazi

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — History will determine where these Golden State Warriors rank all time.

They have to finish the deal, of course. None of it will matter if the Warriors don’t break the NBA record for wins in the regular season (the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls still own the top spot at 72 wins)

But Klay Thompson and the Warriors are not intimidated by the task. Thompson told us during All-Star Weekend that the chase for 73 wins is on. And the Warriors are currently ahead of the pace, 50-5 and counting.

Where will the Golden State Warriors rank all time?

Ahead of those outlandish Michael Jordan-led Bulls? Certainly alongside them and the Showtime Lakers, the Larry Bird-led Celtics, the Shaquille O’NealKobe Bryant-led Lakers and others.

We debate that and so much more on Episode 228 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Thompson and Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, a Los Angeles native who provides a local perspective and also schools us on Echo Fox (owned by our very own Rick Fox).

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LISTEN HERE:

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

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

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VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Golden State Warriors historical chase for 73 wins

Morning shootaround — Feb. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors beef up big man ranksVan Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to Davis | Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way | Was Lebron was right about Waiters?

No. 1: Warriors beef up big man ranks — What do you get the (championship) team that seems to have everything? Another big man, if you are the Golden State Warriors. They’ve added former Cleveland center Anderson Varejao, a LeBron James favorite during their time together with the Cavaliers, who helps bolster their big man ranks with both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli ailing. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle provides the details on the Warriors’ big man insurance policy:

The Warriors went without a center in their starting lineup out of necessity in Saturday night’s victory over the Clippers.

The team, however, didn’t consider that a long-term option, and on Sunday, it reached an agreement to sign free-agent center Anderson Varejao to a veteran minimum contract, league sources confirmed.

The Warriors cut forward/center Jason Thompson to clear roster room for Varejao and complete the move, which first was reported by the website, the Vertical.

Varejao, who’s 6-foot-10, had spent all of his 12-season career with the Cavaliers before being traded last week.

He was averaging career lows in points (2.6), rebounds (2.9), blocked shots (0.2) and minutes (10) for Cleveland before being sent to Portland in a trade-deadline deal Thursday. The Trail Blazers immediately cut him in a salary-cap move, and the Warriors expressed interest in the 33-year-old. They beat out other playoff teams who tried to ink him once he cleared waivers Sunday.

“I have not been notified of that, but it makes perfect sense, right?” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Friday night when told that his team’s interest in Varejao had been reported by ESPN. “I don’t even know if I am allowed to even mention his name. I can get fined by the NBA. I don’t even know what the rule is.”

The interest increased when starting center Andrew Bogut was forced to miss Saturday’s win at Staples Center because of a sore right Achilles tendon. Backup center Festus Ezeli is on the shelf after undergoing left knee surgery and is expected to miss at least another month.

With Bogut and Ezeli out, it was thought that Kerr might give either Marreese Speights or Thompson a start in the middle against the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, who’s 6-11.

Instead, the Warriors went small with 6-6 swingman Brandon Rush joining the starting five. That moved Harrison Barnes to power forward and shifted 6-7 Draymond Green to the center spot. Green responded with his league-leading 11th triple-double in the Warriors’ 115-112 win.

Varejao twice averaged double-doubles in his career (2011-12, ’12-13), but his numbers have fallen considerably since then. He didn’t play in the Cavs’ six-game loss to the Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals.

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 No. 2: Van Gundy takes blame for Pistons’ surrender to DavisAndre Drummond had no chance. Neither did Tobias Harris or anyone else the Detroit Pistons tried to throw at Anthony Davis Sunday, when Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans’ win at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t blame his players, though. He owned up to this one, pointing the finger at the man in the mirror after Davis etched his name in the history books with his monster performance. John Niyo of the Detroit News explains:

There was no voiding Sunday’s result, though, and rather than ripping his team, the Pistons coach ripped himself for the effort against Davis, who finished 24-of-34 from the field to post the NBA’s single-game high for the season and the best ever at the Palace, topping LeBron James’ 48-point outburst in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. Davis had 51 points in the final three quarters alone, and later shrugged, “After a while, you feel like any shot you put up is going to go in.”

“That one’s on me,” Van Gundy insisted. “You’ve got to come up with something. A guy can’t get 59. That’s terrible coaching. Terrible.”

Whomever you want to pin it on, the Pistons have now lost eight of their last 10 games to fall two games below .500 for the first time all season — and two games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

And before you blame this latest skid solely on new faces and changing roles, remember the Pistons are 5-11 since that roof-rattling win over Golden State in mid-January.

They’re 6-13 in the last six weeks, with a road game at Cleveland on tap.

That might explain why Van Gundy had little interest Sunday in talking about the pending trade or the depleted lineup or the possibility changing roles might have something to do with his team’s disjointed performance at both ends of the floor.

Davis lighting up The Palace scoreboard certainly wasn’t the only issue Sunday. Marcus Morris, whose duties were altered the most by the trade with Orlando for Harris, finished with a season-low two points in 34 minutes. He and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — coming off a core-muscle injury — are a combined 10-for-45 from the field in the two games since the All-Star break.

“Why would the trade set it back?” Van Gundy countered, when asked about Morris. “He’s struggling. I don’t know if it’s with the multiple roles or if he just can’t get the ball in the basket. No excuses, though.”

But answers? We’ll see, especially now that Anthony Tolliver’s status is in limbo as well. In his second game as a starter following the trades — a place-holder for Harris as he gets adjusted to his new team — he limped off the court following a collision with Andre Drummond in the first half Sunday. Tolliver was headed for an MRI after the game, another troubling sight for a team that’s headed the wrong direction in the standings.

“I think everybody’s frustrated,” Van Gundy said. “Nobody likes to lose. Of course everybody’s frustrated. We’ve just got to keep playing through stuff.”

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No. 3: Lakers to start Russell the rest of the way — After a nearly three-month stint coming off the bench, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell is back in the starting lineup and apparently there for good. Russell and Lakers coach Byron Scott have had their issues this season, but with the team’s season headed for an ugly finish of the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, it’s time to let the rookie go. Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com has more:

“It was just time,” Scott said when asked why he moved Russell back to the starting lineup, where Russell spent the first 20 games before being moved to the bench in December.

“Each month he has seemed to get better,” Scott continued. “He’s really starting to understand what this game is all about. He still needs to pick it up at times. Obviously on both ends he needs to continue to work, but I like what I saw [Sunday], and I like what I’ve been seeing from him over the last couple months.”

Russell’s playing time — and lack thereof at times — has been the biggest hot-button issue surrounding the 11-46 Lakers in what is on pace to be the worst season in franchise history. Scott has often benched Russell in the fourth quarter or, in one instance, pulled him for “trying to take over the game.”

“I get this question asked all the time. I don’t really care,” Russell said of starting versus coming off the bench. “I just want to play the right way. If that’s coming off the bench or starting, I just want to make an impact right away. I wish we could’ve won, just so I could feel better about it. But I trust coach’s decision and go with it.”

What does Russell hope to accomplish in the final 25 games?

“I just want to get better,” Russell said. “Coach always said, you’ve always got something to play for no matter how many games we’ve got left. However many games we’ve got left, I feel like I’ve still got something to prove.

“And I don’t want anybody to take it the wrong way, but you feel like your best players are your starters. And I feel like I’m going to keep the confidence and say that I’m one of the best players, so I feel like I just want to keep proving that I deserve to start, deserve to be out there and play crunch time minutes.

“With these last few games, I want to show that I have to be out there, like build that trust with my coach that he has to put me on the floor.”

Russell said being in the starting lineup along with guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Julius Randle will allow the trio of promising young players to build even more chemistry together.

“We can grow. We can play a lot tighter,” Russell said. “There’s a time when you can learn from each other as far as when one or them or myself mess up, we can figure out how to grow or we can watch film together. We should’ve done it earlier in the year, but I guess we were caught up in different ways. We can really take this time to grow together.”

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No. 4: Was LeBron right about Waiters?Dion Waiters wasn’t a good fit in Cleveland once LeBron James decided to bring his talents home to northeast Ohio. So when the Cavaliers traded Waiters and went instead with J.R. Smith, much was made of the move. People wondered if LeBron and Cleveland had given up on Waiters too soon. But maybe LeBron was right, per Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman, who highlights the struggles of Waiters against his former team after the Cavaliers thumped the Thunder Sunday:

Waiters was awful for the second straight game. He followed a pointless Friday night game against Indiana with an equally fruitless game against his former team.

Waiters made LeBron the General Manager look incredibly wise. Waiters famously was traded by the Cavs to the Thunder 13 months ago because LeBron preferred to play with the mercurial J.R. Smith. The same J.R. Smith who made five of eight 3-pointers Sunday for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Waiters missed his first seven shots, including an air-balled 3-pointer and a wild drive in which the ball bounced off the backboard 13 feet off the ground. Waiters made only his last shot, a 16-footer with 3:40 left in the game. That basket came with the score 109-88.

By the third quarter, Billy Donovan was designing plays for Waiters to boost his confidence, the Cavaliers were letting Waiters shoot and he wanted no part of it, preferring to drive and pass and keep the embarrassment to a minimum.

Seemed clear that Waiters was pressing to produce against the Cavs, who discarded him. Just as he did back in December, when Waiters scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting and the Thunder lost 104-100.

“Nah,” Waiters said. “Shots I normally make, I just missed. It’s going to come around. I ain’t worried about it.”

You can’t blame Donovan if he’s worried about it, though the Thunder’s first-year coach stood by his man.

“I’ve got confidence in Dion,” Donovan said. “When a guy’s not shooting the ball well, to me, that’s when you gotta really trust him. Obviously Dion hasn’t shot the ball great, but the guys in that locker room still believe he can help us.”

Donovan is right. He has no choice but to trust Waiters.

Not in the starting lineup. As soon as Andre Roberson is healthy, he needs to get back to opening games. The Thunder starting lineup with Roberson has been fantastic two years running, so even when Waiters is hitting, Roberson should be the starter.

But the Thunder has to have Waiters contributing offensively. His defense is solid. And who else off the bench is doing anything? Anthony Morrow can’t defend, and he’s made just 5-of-20 on February 3-pointers. Kyle Singler? Newcomer Randy Foye is available, but he’s 32 and on the downslope.

Waiters has to play and play well for the Thunder to prosper. The Cavs proved that.

“They were loading up on Kevin and Russell quite a bit,” Donovan said. “I thought our offense was OK in the first half. But when we did move and share the basketball, and found Dion or found different players, we didn’t make enough shots. For Dion, I thought he had some good looks tonight and it didn’t go down.

“I think maybe pressing’s probably a good word. Maybe he was a little bit. I don’t think it had anything to do with Cleveland as much as it had to do with probably coming out of last game.”

Maybe. But I don’t buy it. Looked like Waiters desperately wanted to prove LeBron wrong and instead proved him right.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pistons are still waiting to get clearance on their trade for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus ThorntonKobe Bryant never shied away from the legacy of Michael Jordan in Chicago … Tonight’s Warriors-Hawks matchup (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at Philips Arena lacks the sizzle of last season’s tilt between the best of the best … The Indiana Pacers’ gamble on Myles Turner continues to pay off handsomely for Larry Bird … Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is looking forward to adding a quality veteran in David Lee today

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

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No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

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No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

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No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 223) Featuring Dominique Wilkins

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Comparing NBA eras, be it individuals or teams, is often a painstaking process that relies more on your intuition and sharp eye than it does any real science.

That’s one reason why Hall of Famers like Dominique Wilkins, do their best to stay away from the ghost chasing many of us do when we try to rate the basketball legends of the past and present. So when Larry Bird is asked to assess his vaunted 1986 Boston Celtics and the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, there’s really not a right or wrong answer.

There is only his perception of what those teams accomplish in their respective eras and the fantasy of what it would be like to see Bird, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson match up against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Same goes for any glorified rankings of the top players in league history at any position (#ESPNrank is stirring up fantastic debates these days) or any other attempt to reflect the current crop of superstars and teams against their historical counterparts. Too many of the dynamics have changed from say 30 or 40 years ago to now. There are fare too many variables to get a handle on anything other than a theory about who would come out on top in any hypothetical equation.

None of that stopped us from quizzing Wilkins about these very topics, and so much more, Episode 223 of The Hang Time Podcast. Just because there are very few easy answers doesn’t mean you don’t ask the question.

So see if you can make sense of it all on this week’s episode.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

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VIDEO: Dominique Wilkins talks about competing with Larry Bird in their collective primes

Can you imagine Kobe as a Celtic?


VIDEO: Closer look at Kobe’s biggest moments against the Celtics

Two decades wearing just one uniform. All those years and games and shots and heroics and histrionics in the purple and gold of the team he grew up idolizing.

Is it even possible to envision Kobe Bryant as anything but an L.A. Laker?

Well, close your eyes, clear you mind and try to think of Bryant as a — gulp! — Boston Celtic.

After a sizzling pre-draft workout and an impressive interview that included none other than the legendary team president Red Auerbach, the Celtics gave serious consideration to taking the high school phenom out of Lower Merion, Pa. back in 1996. But head coach M.L. Carr eventually opted for Antoine Walker or history could have been completely different.

Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com details the conversations and how the choice was made in a story that even surprised Kobe:

“That’s like the coolest thing I’ve ever heard, dude, because I grew up watching Red! You know what I’m saying? I read books about Red.

“I’ve never even known that he knew of my existence!”

Never mind that he calls the 2010 win over the hated Celtics the favorite of his five championships and that he even had trouble putting on the shamrock green practice gear of the Celtics for the workout way back then. Bryant said if Boston had drafted him, he’d have spent the past two decades trying to emulate the other side of the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry:

“I would’ve tried to carry on Bird’s legacy,” Bryant says without hesitation. “Absolutely. I would’ve done it with a tremendous amount of pride and honor.”

Bryant’s reverence toward Bird might come as a surprise to some, given the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, but Bryant says he studied Bird just as much as he did Magic and Jordan.

Anything specific?

“Timing. Reading situations. Tenacity with his teammates,” Bryant says. “I’ve really studied. That’s like the holy trinity for me — Bird, Michael and Magic. I really watched everything about them.”

And of Bird, Bryant says, “You have no idea how much I’ve studied this guy. Oh, man.”

Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, 83, dies


VIDEO: Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon on the competitiveness of Michael Jordan

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Meadowlark Lemon, who starred for the Harlem Globetrotters for more than two decades, died Sunday at 83, his wife Cynthia Lemon confirmed to The New York Times.

Known affectionately as the “Clown Prince of Basketball,” Lemon spent 26 years as the ringmaster for the Globetrotters, dazzling crowds with his trick shots and comedic antics for the barnstorming road show that captivated and entertained audiences worldwide.

Lemon’s website says he played in a staggering 16,000 games and in 100 countries with the Globetrotters, making him an international star and an American institution. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

“Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen,” NBA great and Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain said in a television interview before he died in 1999. “People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon.”

A world-class athlete and entertainer, Lemon was also a motivational speaker, author and ordained minister. Both his name and his patented hook shot became signature trademarks for the Globetrotters.  He joined them in 1954 and became an international ambassador for the game of basketball, playing up to 10 games per week and before 2 million paying customers around the world a year.

“To my fans across the globe, thank you for the memories,” Lemon wrote on his website. “I cherish the memories as much as you do! I continue to travel the globe to stay actively connected with you, my fans, through various events, personal appearances, speaking engagements and more. It’s the joy that counts in life, and the times spent with my fans are the memories that will live forever. I want you to always remember that life’s most meaningless statistic is the halftime score, and as far as I’m concerned it’s always half-time. I wish you joy, my friends. In the great game of life, Trust Your Next Shot.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 219) Kobe Reflections

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has begun.

And for all of the shining moments he’s provided during his two decades in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, the end will not be pretty. Since announcing Sunday that this will be his 20th and final season, the Lakers have continued their woeful ways on the court — losing in Philadelphia Tuesday night to get the Sixers off the 0-for-everything snide.

However, remembering Kobe for who he was to the Lakers, to the game and to the world requires us to reflect not on the recent past and this season in particular, but his entire body of work. The mind-boggling numbers, the titles, the countless moments when a ferocious Kobe took your breath away. They are memories now, magical moments shrouded in an avalanche of struggles for star and a Lakers team that has no chance of competing at the championship level they had grown accustomed to throughout the years.

Yes, Kobe will take his place alongside Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Shaq, Elgin Baylor and all-time greats to have worn the Lakers’ purple and gold. And he remains the closest thing we’ve seen to Michael Jordan since MJ.

But he will spend his final season waving to adoring crowds and doing the rocking chair routine he swore he wouldn’t. There will be no glorious walk off, no storybook ending for one of the most accomplished players to ever lace ’em up.

Father Time spares no one, not even the all-time greats. There is a price to pay for pushing yourself, your body, mind and spirit, to the outer limits.

And Kobe is paying in full right now.

That’s why we are taking the time to reflect on his past, present and future today on Episode 219 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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

***


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant discusses his final game in his hometown after a loss to the 76ers

Morning shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant reveals how he knew he’d retire | Rondo, Cousins have ‘powerful’ meeting with Karl | Wizards leave Cavs feeling exposed in loss

No. 1: Bryant explains how he knew he was going to retire — The road to Kobe Bryant’s retirement is underway and last night in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia marked the first of his many farewell stops around the NBA map. While the Sixers won the game (and ended both an 0-18 start and a 28-game losing streak that stretched to last season), Bryant received a warm greeting (as well as a fond farewell) from the Philadelphia crowd and called the game ’emotional beyond belief’. So how did Bryant come to know that this would be his final season — in the middle of said season. In an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, he talks about that, who would win a matchup between he and Michael Jordan and more:

“You know, going through my entire career, I’ve never really understood what athletes meant when they said, ‘You — when you know you know.’ But now I certainly understand it … So once I knew this was it, might as well say it,” he said in the interview that aired Wednesday on “GMA.”

The married father of two daughters told Roberts how he came to his decision.

“I try to have at least 15 minutes of still time and just kind of sit in my thoughts in the morning and just kind of meditate. And normally what happens with me is my mind would always drift to the game. Always,” he said in reply to Roberts’ question during the Tuesday interview. “And then I found myself sitting there. My mind wouldn’t drift towards the game all the time anymore. And that’s when I started realizing, ‘You know what? It’s getting close. It’s getting close.’ Because now I’m not obsessively thinking about the game anymore. It’s not wired into my subconscious the way it used to be.”

Bryant told Roberts that getting to the decision was “a slow process.”

“It was something that kind of evolved over the last three years, you know, with the Achilles injury, that really frightened me. Because you know, it was like, ‘My career could be over now.’ It scared me. ‘What am I going do next?’ sort of thing. So I took that time to start trying to figure that out,” he said, referring to his 2013 injury that left him unable to play for close to nine months.

After training hard, he returned to the game the following season and fractured his knee in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies in December 2013. He came back from that injury and then suffered a torn shoulder last January, sidelining him again for close to nine months.

“And it was just like, ‘Oh my,’ this is one thing after the next, you know? And so it was kind of a slow three-year process of kind of evolving to get to where I am,” he said.

Asked whether he had accomplished everything he want to on the court, he replied: “No. No. I wanted eight championships, as a dreamy kid, growing up … I wanted eight.”

Roberts asked him about the significance of the number eight.

“Because Magic (Johnson) had five,” Bryant replied. “And then Michael (Jordan) had six. And then I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to win eight.’ And had the opportunity to have seven and didn’t work out. But that was my — that was my childhood dream was to try to win eight (championships)– how ridiculous does that sound?”

Bryant has talked about wanting to have his place in the history of the game, and Roberts how he saw himself compared to other great players.

“Top five players of all time, who were those five players? And would you crack the starting five?” she asked.

“No, I would never put myself in the starting five ever,” he said. “I put the people that I’ve actually learned the most from, being Jordan, Magic, (Larry) Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Jerry West. Those are the players that personally I’ve learned the most from.”

“To be mentioned in the same breath as those players, honestly, to me is — I mean, that’s everything. I mean, we’ll sit and debate endlessly who was better, who would win in a one-on-one matchup between myself and M.J. And you can debate that till the cows come home,” he said.

Asked who would win that match-up, Bryant replied: “Oh, he would win some. I would win some.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kupchak knew all along this season was Kobe’s last | Warriors will experiment without Barnes | Kobe’s long walk has finally begun | Kings try to stay strong without Cousins

No. 1: Kupchak knew all along this season was Kobe’s last — The timing might have caught some off guard. But Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak knew all along that this season would be Kobe Bryant’s last in the NBA and in purple and gold. Kobe’s Sunday announcement, via poem on the Players’ Tribune website, stunned many in the sports world, though not anyone paying close attention to the struggles Kobe and the young and inexperienced Lakers have been going through. And certainly not Kupchak, whose charge it will be to craft the post-Kobe rebuilding plan in Los Angeles. ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes was there for Kupchak’s media session Sunday that provided some perspective on the past 19-plus years, the announcement and perhaps most important, what comes next:

Reaction [to the news]?

Kupchak:I’m not surprised. The surprising part of this is that he made the announcement today. My understanding all along was that this was going to be his last year. Certainly there’s been speculation and this puts an end to any speculation that he may come back for another year. But it was my understanding all along.

Right time?

Kupchak: We didn’t make it any easier for him with the group we have on the court. And that’s not to say that they’re not a talented group of players, but they’re certainly young and unaccomplished.

Awkward having Kobe and the young players — that balance?

Kupchak:It is awkward. It’s awkward, but there was really no other way to go about it. When you have a player of Kobe’s caliber that wants to continue to play and you think he can play at a high level, you’re going to let him play until he no longer wants to play. Yet it’s clear that we had to begin the process to rebuild the team. Now we were hopeful that we would get off to a better start this year. We think we added a couple veterans, along with a bunch of young players, and I thought we’d be better than two wins into the season. That’s not to say that we’d be on pace to win 50 or 60 games. But I thought we’d be a little bit better. But clearly we’re not playing at the kind of level that a player of Kobe’s age and experience finds challenging.

[It’s] kind of like, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not surprised that he would make the announcement now. I think the game will be easier for him now. I think he’l be able to enjoy the rest of the season. We haven’t had a chance to huddle up to see if we’ll use him any differently in terms of minutes. I don’t think that’s something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear [that] this is the last season for him, I think it will be more enjoyable. I think people will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building, which has always been [filled] with loads of love, but I think more so on the road.

Want him to change his approach and not be so shot-heavy?

Kupchak: I gave up hoping he would change his approach like 15, 18 years ago. He is what he is, and I’m thankful for it.

[When did you] find out the news?

Kupchak: This afternoon. My son is a freshman in college right now. He’s going to be 20 and he was born on the night of Kobe’s first game. So I did not see Kobe’s first game. So that kind of puts it in perspective. Twenty years. I have a son who’s a freshman in college, and that’s how long he’s been playing.

What has he meant to Lakers?

Kupchak: It is impossible for me to sit here and describe what he’s meant. Five championships, 20 years, 17 All-Star Games. MVP trophy. I’ve watched him get hurt, play hurt. We’ve watched the last three years with serious injuries [and] having to come back. Most players would not come back. So it’s hard to describe in two or three minutes. But he’s a winner. And he came into this league with an unprecedented desire to compete and get better and be the best and he remains that exact same person today and that’s with the good and the bad that come with it. But he remains that exact same person.

Did you think it would be this hard?

Kupchak: When he tore his Achilles, it took me completely by surprise. In fact, I thought it was a sprained ankle … Until John Black came to me and he’s walking to the locker room, I thought it was a sprained ankle. And he was 35, 34 years old then. So it’s not that surprising to think after a serious injury at 35 years old. Your body has a way of compensating or under compensating — if you hurt this leg, then you lean more that way and now that leg gets hurt and so forth and so on … at least this is what [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti tells me. So it’s not that surprising that one injury would lead to another. Inactivity for half a year, then come back — there’s no way to duplicate an NBA game. And he’s 36, 37. How surprising can it be?

Watching him last 15 games?

Kupchak: Like everybody else, I go back and forth. I talk to Kobe about it and he says it’s timing and getting my legs under me and conditioning, getting used to playing with different players. And I buy in. Then I watch the games on TV and I read the paper and I remind myself that he’s 37 years old and maybe it’s more than that. So I go back and forth on it.

What’s his role for the rest of the season?

Kupchak: Not sure yet. Once again, this is something that was brought to my attention late this afternoon and I have not discussed it with ownership or our coaches yet. I would hope that he has more fun and appears less frustrated and also gets more appreciation. He’ll get it at home, but on the road as well, because people will now have to recognize that this is the last year watching one of the all-time greats.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant speaks on his decision to retire at the end of this season

***

No. 2: Warriors will experiment without Barnes in the lineup — The Golden State Warriors will have to continue their undefeated march without Harrison Barnes for at least a week. It’s a basketball experiment the versatile and deep Warriors are prepared to deal with, but not one they are necessarily looking forward to. Barnes has fantastic start to his season and has played a huge role in the Warriors setting the record for the best start in NBA history. Now comes the tricky part for Luke Walton and Steve Kerr, figuring out what direction to go while Barnes rests that sprained ankle. Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group has more:

Harrison Barnes had been such a reliable component to the Warriors’ rotations — 205 consecutive games, 120 straight starts — that they hadn’t needed to do a lot of lineup experimentation that didn’t include him.

That all changed when Barnes missed his first game in nearly three seasons Saturday against the Sacramento Kings. Interim coach Luke Walton, after brainstorming with ailing head coach Steve Kerr, went to a number of novel lineups either rarely employed or never seen before in achieving the team’s 18th win without a loss.

The lineup laboratory work likely will continue on the Warriors’ seven-game road trip, which begins Monday night in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz, for as long as Barnes is out with a left ankle sprain. That is expected to be at least a week, which will cover four games of the trip, and he could possibly miss them all even though he’ll be along for the entire ride.

Brandon Rush, who started in place of Barnes and delivered an explosive 7½-minute third quarter stint, wasn’t the only revelation. Big man Marreese Speights, who has been aching to get back in the mix, played 17 minutes and was effective, scoring 13 with five rebounds. Veteran guard Leandro Barbosa played 21 minutes, including a good chunk alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Even end-of-the-bench guard Ian Clark got some important time, playing alongside Curry and Thompson in a three-guard alignment. Within the groupings, Draymond Green played both big and small forward, and Speights played both center and power forward.

“It’s kind of a learning curve right now, because we use Harrison at so many different positions, we’ve got to find rotations that we haven’t had to use before,” Walton said. “So we’re going to keep trying different things.

“We know we’re going to need contributions from Mo and other guys so we’re going to keep getting them out there,” he continued. “If it ends up an awkward lineup, we’re going to ride with it for awhile and see how it goes. We’ll get a better feel for life without Harrison until we can get him back.”

***

No. 3:Kobe’s long walk has finally begun — Father Time finally got his hands on Kobe Bryant and refused to let go. The news that this would be his final season hit hard in Los Angeles, where the love for Bryant is just about the only thing the masses in the Southland agree upon. Longtime Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke offers his unique perspective on the moment:

Bryant’s jersey will be going from his back into the Staples Center rafters, and his body will leave the court and be immediately bronzed for a Staples Center statue.

“I was shocked,” Coach Scott said upon hearing the news. “And then after I had a chance to kind of think about it, I was sad.”

There would have been more sadness in watching Bryant, whose $25-million-a-year deal expires after this season, attempt to earn another contract. Now, perhaps for the first time in the career of one of the greatest competitors in any sport, he can relax and enjoy the ride. Maybe, too, fans of opposing teams who have jeered him can enjoy that ride with him.

“The game will be easier for him now. I think he’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the season,” Kupchak said. “I hope he has more fun and appears less frustrated and gets more appreciation. People will now have to recognize this is his last year and they’re watching one of the all-time greats.”

An outpouring of affection from notoriously tough New York fans during the Lakers’ recent visit to Madison Square Garden felt like the beginning of the farewell tour. The first stop on the now-official tour will be Tuesday in Philadelphia, where Bryant attended high school.

The last stop will be at Staples Center on April 13 against the Utah Jazz, an otherwise meaningless game that will become one of the hottest tickets in Los Angeles sports history.

In the months between those games, here’s hoping Lakers fans will stop complaining about how Bryant is stealing minutes from the team’s younger players and hindering the team’s ability to rebuild. With his retirement imminent and the Lakers’ playoff hopes already dashed, here’s hoping fans will now cheer for Bryant to play as many minutes as his body will allow, understanding that they will never see a player like him again.

Even in his struggles, there is a certain nobility to Bryant attempting to squeeze the final ounces of greatness out of a body whose game has brought so much joy to so many.

“What we want from Kobe is basically his last game to be able to walk off the court, wave to all the fans, and be able to go into the locker room standing up,” Scott said.

That long walk has now begun.

***

No. 4:Kings try to stay strong without Cousins — Before this season there was a healthy debate about whether or not the Sacramento Kings would be better off without their enigmatic big man DeMarcus Cousins. That debate ended weeks ago. The Kings are just 1-7 this season without Cousins in the lineup and are struggling to find their identity without arguably the best big man in the game healthy enough to set the tone this season. Cousins has missed three straight games (lower back strain) and is questionable for tonight’s game against Dallas. Kings coach George Karl insists his team has to stay the course until Cousins returns and is healthy enough to do what he does. But that’s easier said than done when Cousins isn’t in the mix, as Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee explains:

“I think you’ve just got to stay strong,” Karl said. “This is the time of the year where Cuz has missed (eight) games. We’ll get back on the right track, but right now we’ve got to hopefully get healthy with Cuz, and once he gets in the lineup, I think we’ll get our confidence in a good direction.”

The Kings appeared to be heading in a good direction last Monday. They had a 22-point lead at Charlotte and looked poised to win back-to-back road games.

But Cousins did not finish the game because of his back, and Sacramento blew the lead and lost. The Kings won at Milwaukee last Wednesday but have since lost to Minnesota and at the Warriors.

Sacramento is 1-7 without Cousins this season. His status for Monday’s home game against Dallas is uncertain.

The Kings touted their improved depth as being key to withstanding injuries, but replacing Cousins’ 27.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and his impact on defense is difficult.

“I think everybody knows that we’ve got to continue to keep our poise, staying together,” said guard Ben McLemore. “Even though we don’t have the big fella right now, we’ve still got talented guys who can go out there and compete every night.”

The Kings avoid panicking by keeping perspective. Since starting the season 1-7, they have gone 5-5, so they feel they’re improving.

And they realize they will have issues over the course of the season.

“Never too high, never too low,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “It’s a long season There will be ups and downs; it’s a roller coaster. Hopefully we can get this thing smoothed out pretty soon.”

The Kings could use a stretch of improved health and better defense to begin meeting their expectations.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Just so we’re absolutely clear on what Kobe Bryant has accomplished in his stellar career, take a look at Kobe by the numbersMike Dunleavy‘s return from back surgery might have hit a bit of a snag, as the Bulls’ swingman is set to see doctors today about sorenessJahlil Okafor is in desperate need of some veteran assistance in that Philadelphia locker room, so says a couple of former prized veterans who helped their teams to championships … A strange scheduling quirk to test the Oklahoma City Thunder, who visit the Atlanta Hawks tonight at Philips Arena … No fear! The Utah Jazz are eager for a crack at the undefeated Golden State Warriors … Check out these archival images of Larry Bird like you’ve never seen him before

ICYMI of the Night: Dwight Howard welcomed Kristaps Porzingis to the NBA with a wicked facial …


VIDEO: Dwight Howard smashes all over Kristaps Porzingis

***

Morning shootaround — Nov. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Enes Kanter paying off in OKC? | Warriors owner Joe Lacob opens up | Jimmy Butler got tips from the greatest Bull | Pacers boss Larry Bird is still big on Boston

No. 1: Enes Kanter paying off in OKC? — He opened the season coming off the bench, is often back on the bench in a tight fourth quarter and at best is the No. 3 option for the Thunder. Is Enes Kanter really worth the massive contract he signed last summer? Well, it’s a matter of perspective. OKC was virtually forced to match the offer sheet and keep him, if only because you don’t surrender assets for nothing in return. Besides, he is a gifted offensive player. For those who feel the Thunder aren’t getting their money’s worth here in the early season, Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman has a different take:

Enes Kanter signed a max offer sheet with Portland this offseason, giving the Thunder three days to pick between two options — match or decline. Keep Kanter or don’t.

The argument against was simple. It was a four-year, $70 million overpay that included a dreaded player option at the back end. Even in a market flush with escalating money, the long-term pact seemed steep for a one-sided, defensively challenged skill set.

But it was never much of a choice. The Thunder’s eventual decision to match wasn’t just a smart one, but an obvious one and, to them, the only one. The alternatives made it so.

Let’s say OKC, entering a crucial year in the franchise’s history, declined to match, choosing to go cheaper on a big man. Because of salary cap restrictions, the Thunder’s only method to add a piece on the open market would’ve been through a minimum deal or the taxpayer mid-level exception.

Here’s a list of the 14 free agent big men who signed in that price range this offseason: Jeff Withey, Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, Kendrick Perkins, Amar’e Stoudemire, Cole Aldrich, Kevin Seraphin, Eric Moreland, Boban Marjanovic, Joel Anthony, JaVale McGee, Salah Mejri, Cristiano Felicio and Shayne Whittington.

Draw from a bargain bin of aged, severely flawed or unknown out-of-the-rotation fill-ins? Or retain a highly skilled 23-year-old offensive center with the capabilities of putting up Sixth Man of the Year-type numbers off the bench?

Wanting to maximize its talent ceiling around Kevin Durant, who is famously entering free agency this offseason, the Thunder chose Kanter. Eight games into that scrutinized mega-deal, Kanter is helping prove OKC correct.

“Enes has been great for us,” Durant said.

His positives are obvious and rarely disputed. Kanter is the most skilled interior offensive presence the Thunder has had in its short franchise history, notching all 11 of the organization’s 20-point, 10-rebound games from a center.

Kanter’s 26 offensive rebounds are tied for sixth most in the league this season. Multiple times per game, he flips an empty Thunder possession into two points with a crafty, position-based rebound-putback. He’s averaging 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds and doing it in only 21.4 minutes per game.

“He’s a force down there,” Durant said. “You can say what you want about him, but you can book him for (those numbers).”

Kanter’s 19.7 rebounds per 48 minutes trail only the outrageous Andre Drummond (24.9) and DeAndre Jordan (19.9). Among centers, his 27.5 points per 48 minutes trail only Jahlil Okafor (29.3) and Brook Lopez (28.2).

***

No. 2: Warriors owner Joe Lacob opens up — He’s the owner of the hottest team in the NBA and a fresh NBA championship ring, and that makes Joe Lacob a happy man. Lots has changed since he bought the Warriors five years ago and heard boos from the crowd (Rick Barry famously told the fans to pipe down, that Lacob was the best thing to happen to the club in a long time). The Warriors have reached the playoffs three times and won a title. Lacob has a new arena underway in San Francisco and a team that still hasn’t touched its prime. In so many ways, he’s sitting on a gold mine. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group hitched a ride with Lacob from his home to a recent game and took good notes:

When it was closing time, Lacob refused to get off the phone until it was officially done. They were supposed to be boarding a helicopter. The pilot — looking to complete his last route before he and his colleagues went on strike — pressured Lacob to get onboard.

“And where were we going that day?” Lacob asked, taking his eyes off the road to set up the punchline. “We were going by helicopter to Delphi in Greece. Which is famous for the Oracle. The Oracle of Delphi. To which I then said, ‘We’re off to see the Oracle.’ The irony, right?”

Reflection is how Lacob gets to the happy place he wants for this night. He starts reliving the crazy stories along the way.

The struggles that were debilitating at the time but are now hilarious, such as the painstaking task of replacing the franchise’s top executives.

The hours-long conversations with his cohorts in the trenches, like the hours he spends on the phone with Bob Myers.

The curve balls that came in the middle of the night, like the news of Monta Ellis being sued for sexual harassment.

“The reason this is so important is because of the process and how hard it’s been,” Lacob said as he merged onto Interstate 280 while driving to the arena. “Only Nicole knows fully how hard it’s been. All of that really is what I remember more. It’s the getting here. All the work. The firing of various people and the hiring. All the big trades. The booing. You remember all the things it took to get there, to get the championship. A lot of stuff had to happen, and it’s the details that make this meaningful.”

Lacob’s attention immediately shift to Highway 280. Sometimes it takes 50 minutes to get from his home to Oracle. Sometimes it takes 2 hours.

He likes to get to the arena by 6 p.m. for 7:30 pm games. He needed to be their earlier this night for the pregame ceremony. The worry shines through his eyes as he points to the logjam in front of him.

“Look at this,” he says with a twinge of irritation. “This is bad.”

Curran has seen much worse. That guy you see living and dying with every play on the sidelines at Warriors games, that’s a mild version. Curran sees the unfiltered version.

 

***

No. 3: Jimmy Butler got tips from the greatest Bull — He has improved gradually ever since he joined the club, morphing from a defensive specialist to one of the better all-around guards in the league, and then cashed in last summer. Life is good for Jimmy Butler, and that’s due in part to Michael Jordan. During his development, Butler sought out the six-time NBA champ and that was a wise move. Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has the details:

What Jordan lesson made the biggest impression on Butler?

“How hard you have to prepare,” Butler told ESPN.com recently. “The games are the easy part, man. You got to work every single day, put in extra work to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Practice isn’t enough, you got to get in early, you got to stay late. You got to come back at night. He’ll let you know that because he did it, and look what it did.”

No one is comparing Butler to Jordan, but the Bulls have to love to hear that coming from their emerging star.

John Paxson spent eight seasons sharing a backcourt with Jordan and saw that fierce competitor in practice every day. Now the Bulls’ executive vice president, Paxson won’t compare Butler to Jordan — or any other player, for that matter — but that’s not the point. It’s Butler’s aspiration to be a Jordan-like worker that makes him proud.

“The one thing with Jimmy is, that’s a great bar to have. It’s not about achieving it. It’s about following that example that Michael gave,” Paxson said. “And the example is simple, it’s a simple formula: work hard, compete, value the game, respect the game. And Jimmy has. I think the unfair thing to say with Jimmy right now is he wasn’t that way. He just didn’t get a lot of chances prior to the last couple years. From my vantage point, Jimmy’s always worked hard, played hard and valued the game, so it’s obviously not a surprise that he’s put himself in this position.”

The 26-year-old Butler and Jordan built up a relationship after Butler started endorsing Jordan Brand, Jordan’s company under the Nike umbrella. This summer, Butler posted a picture of himself and Jordan at Jordan’s camp in Santa Barbara, California, after they had a shootout with a couple of young campers.

***

No. 4: Pacers boss Larry Bird is still big on Boston — He always talked a good game, whether he was preparing to drill a three-point shot over a late defender or when asked his opinion on the game of basketball. Larry Bird runs the Pacers, of course, but his heart and thoughts are also in Boston, where he spent his entire Hall of Fame career winning titles and respect with the Celtics. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe caught up with Bird who, of course, had something to say, and all of it interesting:

“They talk about Chicago and Philadelphia. No. They don’t ever compare to Boston. I mean, there’s ladies in their 90s and they can name every player on the Red Sox and Patriots team. You just don’t have it anywhere like that.

“It’s unbelievable out there, and my gratitude to the fans out there is that I’d never root against them because I know how important sports are to them.”

Larry Legend didn’t take it too seriously when he first heard the deflated footballs charge after the Patriots waxed the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game last January.

“It doesn’t really matter. It was written about a lot around the country, but here in Indianapolis, most people knew. We knew the Patriots was going to beat them anyway. I thought it was pretty chintzy. People finally realized they would have beat us anyway. I just laughed about it.

“They got the footballs they played with and we got our footballs. And their footballs beat our footballs.

“I watch every one of the Colts games. I really like them. But my son loves all things about the Patriots. And I never root against the Patriots.”

I reminded Bird that the deflated footballs debacle was reminiscent of accusations often levied against Celtics godfather Red Auerbach — such as Pat Riley believing that Auerbach rigged the thermostat at the Old Garden to torture the Lakers.

“Right,’’ Bird agreed. “If that’s what they think, then now we’ve got them.’’

It’s a love story, this thing between Bird and Boston. Hub fans loved Bird the first time he showed up at Camp Millbrook in Marshfield in the summer of 1979, and it never changed. He could do no wrong, right through his retirement from the Celtics in 1992.

Almost a quarter of a century later, while Bird has raised a family and excelled as coach and president of the Pacers, he remains loyal to the folks who cheered him all those years on the parquet floor.

“I even rooted for the Red Sox against the Cardinals in those World Series,’’ he said. “That one took me to the dirt because you know I love my Cardinals.’’

Bird’s Pacers beat the Celtics in Indianapolis earlier this month. What does he think of today’s Green Team?

“They’re young and they play together and they’re fun to watch,” he said. “I haven’t really watched them that much. They seem like they’re going to be all right.’’

The Celtics have a lot of players with similar skill sets. Speaking as an ex-coach, what’s that like when doling out the playing time?

“Guys are always going to be pissed off whether they’re playing 30 minutes or 40 minutes or 10 minutes,” said Bird. “It’s the same old thing. The players are never happy.

“It all depends on how they’re playing and how the team’s doing. You can run into that problem. I don’t know if they have that problem. They seem like they get along pretty well, but they do have a lot of guys that are young and want their chance.

“Everybody wants their minutes. We’ve got the same problem.’’

Celtics coach Brad Stevens brings a college mentality to the pro game and tries to make his team play hard for the full 48. Is this realistic in the NBA?

“That’s the only way you get better,” said Bird. “I think the players understand that. I don’t know much about Brad Stevens even though he’s right here in Indiana, close to us. I think I just met him one time in Orlando at Summer League. I know he did a good job here at Butler, so you got the right coach.’’

Most players don’t stay in college very long. In today’s draft, do you really know what you’re getting anymore?

“We spend a lot more time now and have a lot more background checks,” said Bird. “We’re probably more familiar with them than we were 25 years ago.

“But they come in so young. We’ve got a couple kids that are 19 years old, and one of them is playing 20 minutes for us. I couldn’t imagine playing in the NBA at 19 years old.

“It’s tough for these kids. They go from being high school All-Americans to one year of college and being drafted high, and then they come in here and they expect they’re going to walk in here and take over, and that’s not the way it’s going to be.

“It takes time. So there’s a lot of hit and misses out there.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hedo Turkoglu retires and will be honored by the Magic in some manner. No word on whether the Raptors will follow suit … Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won a title in Milwaukee and then forced his way out of town in a trade, returned recently to say he thinks the Bucks are on the way backTrey Burke‘s move to the bench has Utah going in the right direction.

 


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