Posts Tagged ‘Larry Brown’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 10


An Epic Class | Born Ready in the Big Easy | Richardson suffers knee injury | Colangelo suggests “guarded optimism”

No. 1: An Epic Class — Each year sees a new class inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and by nature, some classes are more star-studded than others. But the class of 2016, inducted last night in Springfield, was as big as it gets. As our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes, last night’s induction ceremony was some kind of party …

These are the nights that make the Hall of Fame, when Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Walton, Alonzo Mourning, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo are under the same roof and all we need is for someone to run a play through center and dare the guy with the ball to get past Russell or Mutombo, when Allen Iverson can barely get through a syllable without choking up while mentioning Larry Brown, John Thompson and Julius Erving on stage with him as presenters, and when Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, of all people, is auditioning for “Saturday Night Live” while being enshrined.

“A Bar Mitzvah is the time in his life when a Jewish boy realizes he has a better chance of owning a team than playing for one,” Reinsdorf said, recalling his in 1949, the same year he would scrape together money to watch professional basketball at Madison Square Garden.

That was some Friday night at Symphony Hall. That was some party.

There hadn’t been this kind of star power at the enshrinement since 2010, probably the greatest of all, with Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, the 1960 Olympic team led by Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, plus the 1992 Dream Team that mostly came down from Mt. Olympus to attend. This time, O’Neal, Yao and Iverson were among the 10 members of the Class of 2017 and sparkle was everywhere in the audience, some just watching and some with ceremonial duty as presenters: Russell and the entire center depth chart, Dr. J, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Earl Monroe. On and on.

It wasn’t just the list of career accomplishments under one roof either. Put O’Neal, Iverson and Yao, the headliners among the inductees with NBA or ABA ties, in front of a microphone anywhere and good things will happen. Put them in front of a microphone at the same event, with historical figures engrossed or laughing along in the audience and a very good night for basketball happens.

Yao was dignified and humorous and smart and personable, everything he was as a Rocket, even in the trying times as the injuries piled up, until finally he had to retire early and his only chance for enshrinement was through the International committee, not on his NBA credentials. He successfully meshed growing up in China with growing in stature in Houston — “I’m a Texan, I’m a Houston Rocket for life” — and later, after returning to the audience to hear the nine speeches that followed, laughed along as O’Neal told the story of not knowing for years that he could converse with Yao in English.

Iverson was again the A.I. everyone expected, just as he had been the day before with a series of candid, thoughtful responses, especially in choking through his words and tearing up at the seemingly vanilla question on the importance to his career of having good teammates. He didn’t even get that far Friday. Iverson got emotional before even taking the stage, just from host Ahmad Rashad beginning the introduction. The audience cheered in support, backing him in a way few, if any, enshrinees had been cheered in recent years.

When Iverson did deliver his acceptance speech, he was The Answer in his prime, storming downcourt with the ball, on a laser line to the rim, no finesse, no pretense. He did 31 minutes straight from the gut. Iverson thanked Thompson, his Georgetown coach, “for saving my life” and listed dozens of family members, teammates, executives, coaches and media members. There were more raw emotions.

“I have no regrets being the guy that I am, a person my family loves, my friends love, my teammates love, my fans love,” Iverson said.

And Shaq. It may have been his best speech of the last 20 years, true appreciation of his place in basketball history without the loud stomping, the dramatics, that accompanied so many previous comments. It was strange to not mention Jerry West among many, many names who influenced his career, and any impression of a thawing with Kobe Bryant in recent seasons now must include O’Neal at the podium noting “the great Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant, a guy who will push me and help me win three titles in a row. But also help me get pushed off the team and traded to Miami.”


No. 2: Born Ready in the Big Easy — The last major free-agent domino seems to have fallen into place. According to his agent, Lance Stephenson has agreed to a one-year deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. As John Reid writes for, the Pelicans found themselves in need of backcourt help, although Stephenson may still have to earn a roster spot …

The move comes less than a week after point guard Jrue Holiday said he would miss the start of the 2016 season to care for his pregnant wife, former U.S. soccer star Lauren Holiday, who is facing brain surgery.

Guard-forward Tyreke Evans also is expected to miss the start of the season because he has not fully recovered after undergoing three surgeries on his right knee in a nine-month span.

Still, Stephenson will have to earn a roster spot because the Pelicans already have 15 players under guaranteed contracts.

Stephenson is a six-year veteran, most recently played with the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and three assists per game. The Clippers traded Stephenson, 26, to the Grizzlies in February after he played 43 games and averaged 4.7 points.

Stephenson, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, has ability to create off the dribble and provide needed scoring in the backcourt. The Pelicans put Stephenson through a workout at the practice facility last month to evaluate before offering him a deal.

A free agent, there was speculation that Stephenson might not land a NBA contract and would have to play in Europe.

Although talented, Stephenson has a reputation as a difficult player to coach. When he played for the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson got into a fight with teammate Evan Turner during a practice before their opening-round playoff series in 2014 against the Atlanta Hawks.


No. 3: Richardson suffers knee injury — The Miami Heat haven’t had the best offseason, losing several key players such as Dwyane Wade to Joe Johnson. And now they may be one more man down, at least for now, as explosive guard Josh Richardson suffered a knee injury yesterday during a workout. As Ira Winderman writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Richardson was in the mix for a starting spot …

An uneven offseason for the Miami Heat became a bit more challenging Friday, with second-year guard Josh Richardson suffering a knee injury during Friday’s voluntary workouts at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The injury was confirmed to the Sun Sentinel by a party close to the situation after Yahoo Sports reported Richardson sustained a partially torn MCL in his right knee.

A Heat spokesman said Richardson currently is being evaluated by the team’s medical staff.

The expectation is that Richardson will not be available for the start of training camp, which opens for the Heat on Sept. 27. He is tentatively still scheduled to make a promotional appearance Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, which indicates reduced concern about the injury.

Richardson downplayed the injury, posting on his Twitter account, “Thanks everyone for the tweets and texts. I see them. I’ll be back asap no worries.” He posted on his Snapchat, “Can’t hold a real one down!!!”

The Heat open their preseason schedule on Oct. 4 on the road against the Washington Wizards and their regular-season schedule on Oct. 26 on the road against the Orlando Magic.

An injury such as Richardson’s can take from two, three weeks to two, three months for recovery, depending on the grade of the tear.

A regular at the team’s offseason sessions, Richardson had been considered a candidate to emerge in the starting lineup this season, either at shooting guard or small forward.


No. 4: Colangelo suggests “guarded optimism” For the last few years, Philadelphia 76ers fans have been asked to trust the rebuilding process and look toward the future. Now that future is finally becoming the present, after two years waiting for former lottery pick Joel Embiid to get healthy enough to take the court. Speaking this weekend in Springfield, Sixers special advisor Jerry Colangelo said that Sixers fans should have “guarded optimism” when it comes to Embiid’s return…

“I’m sure that everyone should have optimism,” Colangelo told at the Basketball Hall of Fame. “But there’s a word I’ve always used over the years about optimism. It should be guarded optimism because things take time. When you’re building teams — and I’ve had the privilege of doing that quite a few times in my career — you’re adding pieces here and there, and then once in a while you strike out and get that last piece. I think where the Sixers are today is, this is the beginning of that particular process, and that is building what everyone would hope to be a championship team.”

Two focal points of the Sixers’ future are Ben Simmons and Embiid. Simmons, a 6-foot-10 point-forward, is ready to make an impact as a rookie. Embiid, on the other hand, has been waiting two years to play following foot surgeries. Last month Embiid said he feels “100 percent” and plans to participate in training camp.

“With all of the reports that I’ve seen and all the footage I’ve seen in terms of video, it appears that he’s headed in the right direction,” Colangelo said of Embiid. “I know that everyone’s excited about training camp because of all of the new faces. … The fortunate ability to have the first pick and select Ben Simmons, you put all those new players on paper and to add that to a roster, it’s going to be really interesting, exciting to see how it all plays out.”

When it comes to incoming international players, Colangelo’s involvement with Team USA gave him the opportunity to meet with Dario Saric and Sergio Rodriguez in Rio during the Olympics. Saric, who signed with the Sixers two years after being drafted, had a solid showing for Croatia, while Rodriguez helped Spain win bronze.

“I thought [Saric] played very well and I complimented him on his performances,” Colangelo said. “Both of them showed great enthusiasm about coming to training camp. I think it’s going to be exciting to have them in Sixers uniforms very shortly.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Wizards coach Scott Brooks says he isn’t worried about the relationship between John Wall and Bradley Beal … Phil Jackson pays tribute to Shaq … Draymond Green pays tribute to Allen IversonKevin Durant says he and Russell Westbrook are “still cool” … LeBron James‘ production company has sold a “sports medicine drama” to NBC.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 22


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“I’m just enjoying the ride.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Blogtable: Who should be Lakers’ next coach?

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: Can Warriors or Clippers better absorb loss of star guard? |
Thoughts on Spurs-Thunder? | Who should be the Lakers’ next coach?

> The Lakers have employed five head coaches in the last six seasons, and are looking to fill that position again. Who is the right man for the job this time? Why?

Steve Aschburner, Luke Walton seems like the right choice to me. He was remarkably calm and capable handling Golden State over the first half of the season. Granted, he was working within the league’s second-most respected organizational structure, with championship talent and a clear, achievable mission to repeat. Still, the slightest hiccup, whether injury or off-court mishap, could have been blamed on Walton. He’s at a point in his coaching arc — early — that synchs up with the Lakers’ roster and rebuild. If Walton doesn’t choose to leave the Warriors, though, someone like Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie would be a strong candidate, based on his NBA experience and his coaching apprenticeship.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLuke Walton. He’s young, smart, has roots that run through the Lakers, Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr and would be able to grow even more on the job while bringing along a new young core. The Lakers fan base would also be get fully behind a new era on the court and on the bench. The bad news: He’s not going there.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Ettore Messina. Smart, hard worker, respected by basketball people around the world even if he isn’t recognizable to most fans in the U.S., has Laker ties, well-liked within the organization, now has a wealth of experience on NBA benches — he checks all the boxes. It’s easy to see the appeal of Luke Walton, who would be a popular choice. Walton could also be a very good choice. But someone is going to be glad they gave Messina his first NBA job. It should be the Lakers.

Shaun Powell, I like the idea of hiring Jay Wright of Villanova because he’s got a lot of Brad Stevens in him: Calm, smart and ambitious and he can grow into the job while the team develops. Besides, the Lakers are loaded with young players, which makes them idea for a college coach. But if they feel NBA experience is paramount, then Jeff Van Gundy over Luke Walton. My only issue with Van Gundy is he hasn’t been on the bench in almost a decade.

John Schuhmann, Scott Brooks, who did a great job of developing young talent in Oklahoma City, would have been my initial pick. With Brooks heading to Washington, I would still make player development my most important factor. Therefore, I would look at Heat assistant David Fizdale, Blazers assistant Nate Tibbets, or someone of that ilk. Don’t take shortcuts. If you have D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and maybe another top-three pick this year, making them better should be your top priority. If you can get those guys playing together and playing something other than bottom-five defense, you can take a step forward, both in the standings and in your team’s development, without making a big splash in free agency.

Sekou Smith, All of the usual suspects will be mentioned. But if the Lakers are serious about grooming their youngsters for bigger and better things, they need a known player-development minded coach like David Fizdale, who is currently Erik Spoelstra’s top assistant in Miami. Fizdale has helped mold young talent, while also working with superstar talents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others. His understanding of the culture that is needed to facilitate the maturation process for elite young talent is proven. He’s got championship experience and he’s a Los Angeles native who understands what comes with coaching one of the marquee teams in all of professional sports.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe identity of the right man depends entirely on the Lakers. Are Jeanie and Jimmy Buss unified? If Jimmy leaves after next season – as Jeanie has insisted he will, if the Lakers fail to reach the second round of the 2017 playoffs — then who will be running basketball operations? Do the Lakers realize they are going to need several years of focused development in order to return to contention? Or are they going to turn into the Knicks and sabotage themselves by pursuing quick fixes and continuing their current trend of changing their approach every couple of years? If the Lakers cannot answer these questions appropriately, then they are not going to be worthy of a high-level candidate like Jeff Van Gundy, Ettore Messina or Luke Walton. I don’t know how to answer the question, because the Lakers don’t appear to know who they are and what they stand for anymore.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Well, Pat Riley ain’t walking through that door. And neither are Magic, Kareem and Kobe. Point being, the Lakers need a lot of help, and no matter who the coach is, their roster needs more renovating than an HGTV show. So I guess I’d look to what Boston did, and hire a young coach who’s willing to be patient with the process and lose games for a few years while you teach your system and develop your guys. So I’d put in a call to a Kevin Ollie or, and here’s a crazy idea, if you want a caretaker for a few years to stay competitive while you develop younger guys, I bet Larry Brown would take your call.

Another team for Tayshaun

The last time Flip Saunders coached Tayshaun Prince, the team went deep into the playoffs. Well, that’s unlikely to happen this time.

Still, Saunders felt the Timberwolves needed an extra infusion of veteran leadership, and so the reunion will happen this season. Marc Spears of Yahoo! reports Prince, 35, will get the veteran’s minimum to help show the young Wolves how to navigate the choppy waters of the Western Conference.

Prince was a member of those Detroit Pistons teams in the early part of the decade that had a string of decent runs in the East. He won a title in Detroit but that was with Larry Brown. Under Saunders for three seasons, the Pistons continued to win but never reached the NBA Finals again, and soon the team grew old.

The Wolves represent Prince’s fourth team in a little over a year, following stints in Memphis, Detroit and Boston. The Wolves now have 17 players with some sort of guarantee, which means the Pistons will likely make another deal or two before the season.


Morning Shootaround — July 27

VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders


Reluctant Popovich is a “lifer” | Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal | Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans | Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire

No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:

Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.

His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.

Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.

“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.

What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?

The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.

Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.

But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?

This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.

He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:

“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”

He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.

Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.

“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.

But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:

“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”

This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.


No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:

The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.

Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.

Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.

A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.

Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.

He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.

I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.

Times have changed.


No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:

It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.

According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.

His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.

“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”

Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.

“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”


No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:

Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”

Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.

Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition gameDennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 1

VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Friday night


Blatt airs out the Cavs! | Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play | Picking at that Chris Paul scab | Rubio gets (over)paid

No. 1: Blatt airs out Cavs! — One of the best things about the first week of the NBA season is that it’s followed quickly by the second week of the NBA season. Contrary to what we’ve just seen over the past four or five days – hands wringing, teeth gnashing, exaggerated expectations of all sorts and an overall whoop-de-doo-ness that no one possibly can sustain – life in and around The Association eventually settles into a less frenetic, more manageable pace. Here’s a perfect example: Just about every team will have some rugged, behind-closed-doors meetings between now and mid-April. But because the Cleveland Cavaliers had theirs Friday, after their Opening Night embarrassment on TNT 12 hours earlier (they celebrated LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland in every way except beating the Knicks), this qualifies as a big deal and a “Eureka!” moment for coach David Blatt and his troops. As you take a peek at Dave McMenamin’s report for, notice how ordinary it all sounds, as far as a new coach and his new team – check out, for instance, Anderson Varejao‘s blistering comment. It’s just that everyone’s sample size is small right now, so everything is bigger!

“He just got on us,” James said when asked about Blatt’s message. “He got on us from the time we started our meeting to the time we left. And it’s great. For a team like us, we need that. I love constructive criticism. I never took it personal. It’s just an opportunity for us to get better, and it definitely put a fire into us.”
After turning the ball over 19 times against the Knicks led to 26 points for New York — turnovers Blatt called “irresponsible” and “borderline inexcusable” — the Cavs cut that number to just 12 against Chicago.
Blatt also told the team he wanted more ball movement, as well as player movement, on offense going forward.
“Fiery and to the point,” one source told when asked to characterize the meeting. “[Blatt] was very direct with the group about the expectations and what we need to do day in and day out.”
The Cavs showed a greater team resolve while playing for the second consecutive night, this time on the road, and outrebounded the Bulls 52-42 after New York had controlled the glass 35-33 the night before.
“Today in our meeting, we said we have to play better than the way we played last night,” Anderson Varejao said. “We have to play harder, tougher, and that’s what we did tonight.”


No. 2: Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play — Many folks assume that the Oct. 31 deadline for contract extensions for players entering their fourth seasons is all about the money. While that’s often the case, it isn’t an absolute. Consider Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson, who didn’t get an extension Friday but could be better off because of it. Jackson and his reps perceive his value to be much higher than he’s been able to show playing behind Russell Westbrook in the Thunder backcourt. Now, with Westbrook hurt and a long season of opportunity in front of him – along with some teams’ opinions already about Jackson’s potential – the Boston College product and No. 24 pick in 2011 might be able to turn restricted free agency next summer not just into a big payday but into freedom to seize a bigger role with his own team. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports peeled back some curtain on Jackson’s situation in OKC:

As rival teams evaluate restricted free-agency candidates next July, league executives believe Jackson holds a distinct advantage among his peers: The Thunder’s investment into their star players may limit how far the franchise can go to match a rich offer sheet and make Jackson an ideal target to change teams.
“Bottom line,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo Sports, “how much are they willing to pay for Westbrook’s backup?”
The loss of Westbrook to a fractured hand on Thursday night – possibly for a month – will give Jackson a chance to showcase his skills in the near future, a platform that could make Jackson’s case for a free-agent deal. Some teams believe Jackson could command a deal in the $13 million-$14 million-plus annual range – especially because of a belief that investing more into an offer sheet could cripple the Thunder’s chances of matching it.
The Thunder’s past inability to re-sign two key players to rookie extensions – James Harden and Jeff Green – led to the organization trading both players. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti has insisted the Thunder would match any offer sheet for Jackson next summer, but skepticism exists throughout the league.
Jackson, 24, is sitting out with a sore ankle, and it is still unclear how soon he’ll be able to return to Oklahoma City’s lineup. Next summer, Jackson would pursue a three-year deal with a player option on a third year that would allow him to move into unrestricted free agency in 2017.


No. 3: Picking at that Chris Paul scab — Remember when the Los Angeles Lakers were above it all, that is, too successful and regal to engage in the “what if…” second-guessing common to lesser organizations? First, the Lakers rarely had much to second-guess, life tended to go so well for them. Second, the next great thing in Forum blue-and-gold always was just around the corner, so there was no great urgency to fret. But the Lakers have the time and the inclination now that they’ve dropped in status and in the standings – and let’s face it, Chris Paul plays in the same dang building. So Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times visited the topic of the Paul-to-the-Lakers trade that wasn’t, as the Lakers re-visited their close miss in landing the All-Star point guard:

Who could forget [former NBA commissioner David Stern] citing “basketball reasons” for vetoing the trade that was supposed to send Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom to New Orleans in December 2011?
The Lakers appeared to have acquired their most dynamic point guard since Magic Johnson, but then small-market owners raised a racket, Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert in particular calling the trade a “travesty” in a lengthy letter to the league.
David Stern said no. The deal was off.
“Sometimes you want to say, ‘Dammit, David Stern,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said before Friday’s game. “When they made the trade, before David kind of X’d it, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s going to be fantastic.'”
Then again, Scott might never have become the Lakers’ coach, the franchise going down a presumably more optimistic path with Paul than the one that took them through Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, not to mention Steve Nash, acquired from Phoenix in July 2012 for two first-round and two second-round picks.

Scott could only dream of Bryant and Paul in the same backcourt.
“Mmm-hmm. I could really imagine that,” he said Friday. “There would be a big smile on my face if that was the case.”


No. 4:Rubio gets (over)paid — There have been no David Kahn sightings around Target Center in Minneapolis in recent days, but some who closely watch the Minnesota Timberwolves might suspect that train-wreck of a basketball boss had returned. Kahn’s drafting of and presumed fixation on point guard Ricky Rubio led to Kevin Love‘s departure from that woebegone franchise (the Wolves refused to sign Love to a fifth year on his extension three years ago and instead traded him this offseason in advance of his freedom to leave). And now the Wolves – thanks to rapidly escalating player price tags, yes, but also their need to plant some personnel flags with someone besides youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine – have signed Rubio to a $56 million deal. Despite his troubles putting the ball through the hole. The Associated Press had more details:

About two hours before the midnight Eastern deadline, Rubio signed a four-year contract extension worth $55 million that includes another $1 million in incentives, bringing an end to a long and sometimes tense negotiation between the flashy Spanish point guard and the team that drafted him in 2009.
Rubio averaged 10.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2.3 steals but shot just 37 percent in his first three seasons. The shooting numbers led some to say the Timberwolves would have been better off waiting to see how Rubio performs this season before extending him an offer given that they would have had the ability to match any offer that he received on the open market next summer.
But owner Glen Taylor has long been big on loyalty, and he reached out directly to Rubio earlier this week to make one last push.
“I want to call Minnesota home for a long time,” Rubio said. “That’s why I signed the contract. My mom’s going to get mad at me, but I don’t leave home when I’m here. This is my second home. I really feel very welcome here.”
As salaries stand right now, Rubio’s $13.75 million average annual salary starting next season will be more than high profile point guards like Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry and Ty Lawson. Rubio’s representatives targeted Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe’s five-year, $70 million deal to eclipse, and ended up coming very close despite not having the leverage that Bledsoe had as a restricted free agent.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The ball’s not in Kyrie Irving‘s hands nearly as much these days, but the Cavaliers’ point guard sounds fine with that. … Three-a-days? former NBA forward Tyrus Thomas allegedly is putting in “at least” two workouts a day in the hopes of making a comeback. … Bulls fans will find out tonight in Minnesota just how “minor” Derrick Rose‘s latest injury (left ankle sprain suffered Friday vs. Clevelaned) really is.  …


Morning shootaround — Oct. 31

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 30


Westbrook could miss 4-6 weeks | Cavs fall flat vs. Knicks | Smith calls out Faried | Brown rips Sixers’ rebuilding plan | Report: Cavs, Varejao closing in on deal

No. 1: Westbrook could miss 4-6 weeks — All those questions about the depth of the Oklahoma City Thunder? The chatter is about to get even louder. The Thunder’s star point guard, Russell Westbrook, suffered a hand injury and had to leave the game last night against the L.A. Clippers. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper provided some context to what the injury might mean for OKC, and then comes this news: according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Westbrook could miss four to six weeks as he heals up. The loss of Westbrook, combined with Kevin Durant already being out with a foot injury, spells trouble in Oklahoma:

The early indication is that Russell Westbrook could miss four to six weeks after fracturing the second metacarpal in his right hand Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

It could keep the Thunder’s electric point guard sidelined through mid-December and add him to an already ridiculously long list of injured Oklahoma City players who are expected to miss the season’s first month.

The projected recovery time would cost Westbrook 15 games on the low end and as many as 21 contests. He would rejoin the lineup between Nov. 28 and Dec. 12.

Westbrook is scheduled to undergo further tests Friday in Oklahoma City.

“It’s just really pretty unbelievable. You’re kind of just shocked almost,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison of his team’s injury-riddled roster. “It’s not funny at all, but you almost have to laugh about it just because it’s so many guys.”

In all likelihood, the Thunder will go into its home opener Saturday against Denver with just eight healthy players. Only one is a point guard. Joining veteran Sebastian Telfair are Collison, Perry Jones, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson, Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Lance Thomas.

Under the league’s hardship rule, however, teams can be granted additional roster spots and exceed the maximum of 15 players if they have been depleted by injuries. At least four players must be injured for at least two weeks and must miss at least three regular season games for a team to qualify.

Oklahoma City, which the league recently denied the hardship exception because it had not yet met the games missed criteria, certainly will be eligible now with Durant, Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett all set to miss Saturday’s game against the Nuggets.

With Westbrook now out for an extended period, the Thunder could soon add two players to its roster, bringing the team’s total number of players to 17.

Still, the Thunder needs help. Now.

The eight remaining players consist of one borderline All-Star (Ibaka), two defensive-oriented big men (Perkins and Collison), three largely unproven players who possess promise (Adams, Roberson and Jones), one journeyman (Telfair) and one training camp survivor (Thomas).

“It’s unfortunate the way it is right now, but that’s the way it is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We have to figure out how we can improve and get better from all of our experiences. And this is going to be a tough one, but the good teams, good players bounce back through adversity.”

Westbrook ironically was the Thunder’s healthiest player before Thursday. Of course, Westbrook missed 36 games last season after undergoing three surgeries on his right knee in 2013.

VIDEO: Russell Westbrook suffers a hand fracture against the Clippers


Pop led Spurs out of Finals doldrums

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Gregg Popovich accepts his third Coach of the Year award

SAN ANTONIO — Last summer was unlike any of the previous 17 in Gregg Popovich‘s career as coach of the San Antonio Spurs. The long days passed, but the doldrums from the Spurs’ heartbreaking Finals defeat to Miami bogged down like a stagnant lake in the Texas heat.

The 2013 championship was right there, 28 seconds from glory for a proud San Antonio franchise, the model of the NBA if not professional sports as a whole. But everybody knows what happened next. Popovich lived with it every day thereafter until he finally could not any longer, when the players returned to begin, somehow, a brand new season.

“The way we lost in the Finals wasn’t an ordinary loss; it was pretty devastating,” Popovich said Tuesday afternoon at the Spurs’ practice facility as he received the Red Auerbach Coach of the Year trophy. “And we decided that we would just face that right off the bat at the beginning of the season and get it out of the way; don’t blame it on the basketball gods or bad fortune or anything like that. The Miami Heat beat us and won the championship and that’s that, and you move on. In all of our lives there are many things more important than winning and losing basketball games and that’s the perspective we had to take. And our team showed great maturity and resilience in being able to do that, so I’m very proud of them for that.”

Their resiliency also came during a period of transition on the bench. Popovich’s longtime aids, Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer, became head coaches.

But nothing seems to phase this group. With Manu Ginobili turning 36 over the summer and Tim Duncan celebrating his 38th birthday on Friday, neither had to return, or return in better shape than they finished the previous season. When this season could finally have been the one that signaled the inevitable descent it seems has been predicted for the past half-dozen seasons, the Spurs won 62 games, the second-most of Popovich’s 18-year career and earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with the league’s top record.

With the Spurs, everything is a collective effort. They win together, lose together and plan how to win again together.

“We’re fortunate,” Popovich said. “These guys don’t care about stats, they only care about winning basketball games. You might get a championship, you might not, but you give it your best effort. But these guys could all have better stats. I play them for 29 or 30 minutes a game in their careers and their stats suffer because of it, but that sacrifice helps our entire team. and this year, whatever adversity we had — every team has adversity — but our bench really helped us through that. We would not have had the same success without what our bench did. I think that and the leadership that our older players showed helped us get through the hard times.”

In accepting his third Coach of the Year trophy, joining only Pat Riley and Don Nelson as three-time winners, Popovich spoke sincerely. He praised owner Peter Holt for granting he and general manager R.C. Buford, who sat next to his friend of more than two decades at the table during the news conference, the freedom to do their jobs, and said he was humbled to be singled out among the many worthy candidates this season that included first-year coaches Jeff Hornacek at Phoenix and Steve Clifford at Charlotte, plus Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Portland’s Terry Stotts and others.

None faced quite the unpredictable psychological hurdle that Popovich did with his heartbroken team.

“I think his steadfast attention to detail and facing the realities of last season’s end and immediately getting it behind us was really important,” Spurs general manager Buford said. “And his approach with his staff was different because it was a different staff, but the energy and the leadership we’ve seen has been consistent throughout his time as a coach.”

But of course it wouldn’t be a Popovich press conference without a measure of snark, and Pop didn’t disappoint.

When asked about losing his two longtime assistants, he interrupted the questioner:  “Thank God.”

Asked where he displays his Coach of the Year trophies, Popovich said: “They’re on the hood of my car. … I’ve got three of those right on the hood.”

As a younger man, Popovich dreamed of a playing career in the NBA before turning to coaching, getting his start as an assistant at the Air Force Academy. Asked if he knew he wanted to coach in the NBA once he didn’t make it as a player, Pop responded: “Larry Brown screwed me as a player. He had the unmitigated gall to pick David Thompson over me back when he was the Nuggets coach.”

Brown, of course, is one of Popovich’s mentors and who helped him get to the NBA, a place Popovich said was never truly a goal. He said he would have been happy to live out his days where he spent his early coaching days at Division III Pomona-Pitzer College in California.

“For me, the NBA was watching on TV back when they had the long nets and watching the ball go through the long nets; I really enjoyed that,” Popovich said. “I was fat, dumb and happy as a Division III coach. I could do it the rest of my life, it was fantastic, I loved it. But all of us take a different road here and there. The NBA was never a dream or thought of, ‘I’m going to go to the NBA and be a coach and do this.’ I had no clue.

“We run a lot of the same drills to be honest with you, pivoting drills and sitting on chairs, silly things like that, but all fundamental basketball stuff. After that, let the players play. They know how to get it done.”

So, too, does Pop.

Phil Jackson’s first move in New York?

By Sekou Smith,

VIDEO: The Knicks have won a season-high six straight games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The New York Knicks’ optimists would tell you that the mere prospect of Phil Jackson joining their beloved team as the president of basketball operations has inspired a season-high six-game win streak.

Who knows? There might be something to that … the power of Zen is strong in Jackson.

In reality, the Knicks are just riding the ebb and flow of completely predictable season of unpredictability. When we assume these Knicks are ready for a dirt bath, they rise up and surprise us. And just when we’re ready to assume that they’re poised to give serious chase for that eighth and final spot (currently occupied by the Atlanta Hawks and their 3.5 game lead over the Knicks) in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, they’ll crash and burn in the coming days.

That’s why the focus in New York has to be on Phil and his first move(s) as boss of the Knicks. I know Mike Woodson has his heart and mind set on grinding to the finish and stealing that playoff spot from the Hawks. But it’s of little consequence to just about everyone else involved.

Jackson, of course, has more important matters to consider. He has Carmelo Anthony‘s future with the franchise to consider. He has Woodson’s future to consider as well. My suggestion, cut bait with one and build with the other. And I think it’s safe to assume that it’s easier to build around Anthony, something that wasn’t done strategically with this current Knicks team, than it is to mold and shape the philosophy of a proud coach like Woodson, who is a branch of the Larry Brown coaching tree.

Gauging the general mood of the Knicks, there seems to be genuine excitement about Jackson taking over. Melo called it a “power move” and lauded the Knicks for going after and landing the greatest winner the game has seen, coach or player, since Bill Russell.

“I’m a chess player. That was a power move right there. You know what I mean?” a smiling Anthony told reporters after a win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “So, now we’re going to see what’s the next move, but that was a great power move.”

Getting a buy-in from Anthony is the first order of business for Jackson. And he shouldn’t have a hard time convincing Anthony to get on board with the plan (provided there is one already mapped out), what with the $30-$34 million more the Knicks can pay him than he could stand to make in free agency.

As for future plans, this will be the most challenging endeavor in Jackson’s career. He had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as foundation pieces in Chicago, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Finding a competent and quality supporting cast for future Hall of Famers isn’t necessarily easy to do, but it is decidedly different challenge compared to crafting a championship roster around Anthony.

Is Anthony’s Horace Grant or Brian Shaw or Rick Fox or Ron Harper already on the roster? It’s hard to tell. I could see Tyson Chandler being a player Jackson would like to keep around, but Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and some of the other current high-dollar Knicks don’t seem to be good fits. We know that second superstar is not on the Knicks’ roster right now, so that’s already a huge void that must be filled by Jackson.

Jackson’s presence, in theory, has already led to that mini-surge mentioned earlier. Anthony swears by it, as Ian Begley of pointed out:

“Phil knows what to do, how to build teams, and how to win,” Anthony said. “That’s the most important thing. When you know how to win — whether you’re a coach, whether you’re in the front office — that stands out.”

Anthony said all of the speculation surrounding Jackson helped the Knicks focus in recent days. New York has won a season-high six in a row, including a 115-94 rout of the Bucks earlier Saturday.

“It’s not a distraction at all,” he said. “If anything, it made us come together more as a team, as a unit, to really kind of keep that on the outside. We’re excited and happy that it got done, instead of all the speculation that’s been going on. So finally, it’s signed, sealed and delivered.”

Jackson, one of the most brilliant basketball minds of all-time, has every reason to be cautious in his approach to reshaping the Knicls. But I would suggest that he be as aggressive as possible in taking this current roster apart. This group clearly does not operate with the same chemistry and synergy that it did a year ago, albeit with seven new faces added to the mix this time around.

Woodson didn’t suddenly become a bad coach during training camp this season. And Anthony, who was lauded for his relentless work a season ago, didn’t wake up this season with selective amnesia about his role.

That said, there is a chance Jackson will want to go in a different direction in both instances. He might want one of his own in that crucial position he knows so well. Woodson, of course, is saying all the right things …

“Anytime you can get a great basketball mind that comes into your organization, I mean, it can’t do nothing but help,” Woodson said. “I mean, Phil’s been through the ringer. He’s won titles. He’s dealt with players individually. He’s dealt with players as a team. I mean, there’s probably not a lot he hasn’t seen from a basketball standpoint, so I think it’s got to be a plus.”

Woodson’s words of praise might not matter. He’s under contract next season, but there was rampant speculation before Jackson came on board that his job security was dwindling and that he might be replaced at season’s end.

Anthony is the sort of high-scoring anchor Jackson-coached teams have been built around in the past. But no one will confuse Anthony for MJ or Kobe. He’s a great scorer and an extremely hard worker but not the sort of dynamic alpha dog that Shaq or those other guys were and, in Kobe’s case, still are.

It requires an exquisitely manicured plan, but letting Anthony test the free agent waters might be just the sort of escape hatch Jackson needs to restart the Knicks in a different image.

No one knows for sure what his plans are. But it’s safe to say Phil Jackson’s first move or series of moves with the Knicks will be telling. We’ll know much more about Front Office Phil after he starts chipping away than we do now.

VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses Phil Jackson and the Knicks

Morning Shootaround — March 6

VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 5


George wants to learn from James | Report: Nash unlikely to be waived | Durant adopts Nowitzki’s training methods | Knicks fans to protest game? | Brown sides with NCAA, not D-League

No. 1: George wants to learn from LeBron — Throughout the season, Pacers star Paul George has been in and out of an MVP debate that has recently shifted to LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. Still, there’s no denying the superstar turn George has experienced over the last two seasons and a big part of that rise came from Indiana’s last two playoff series against the Miami Heat and James. George and the Pacers are hoping for a third straight playoff series matchup with Miami this season and as George tells’s Jessica Camerato, he hopes he can someday learn from James, too:

They are two of the league’s most talented on the court: the king of the NBA versus the rising star, reigning MVP against future contender. There is no doubt George views LeBron James as fierce competition as they battle for the Eastern Conference. One day, though, he’d also like to call him his mentor.

“It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he’s a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level,” George told Basketball Insiders. “I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to—not during the season because I’m too competitive during the season—but maybe in the summertime.”

James has not been shy about his appreciation for George’s game since he was drafted by the Pacers with the 10th overall pick in 2010. He has expressed encouragement along the way, telling the 23-year-old to continue playing at a high level. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals James made a PDA (public display of appreciation, in this case) when he offered George a low five following a sequence in which George drove past him and dunked on Chris Andersen, and then responded by pulling up for a buzzer-beating trey against George.

They engage in small, casual conversations when they’re on the court together. Once the games are over, James will congratulate George and urge him to keep pushing. Other than those in-game exchanges, though, George explained “we don’t talk really.”

That’s something he would like to see change over time. While George already considers James to play a mentor role in the sense of being someone who has been positive toward him, he would also like to have the type of relationship where he can reach out to talk basketball. George said he could message James “if need be,” but hasn’t done so yet.

“He’s someone that motivates me,” said George, who is averaging 22.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. “This league is all about guys being competitive and competing. And don’t get me wrong, every time I’m matched up with him I’m going to try to get the best out of him and come out as the best player of that game. But at the same time, he’s been someone that I looked up to. He’s someone I’m going to continue to look up to because at the end of the day, the position I want to be in is where he’s at.”

George has his sights set high when it comes to his desired list of mentors. Along with James, he would like to add Kobe Bryant also.

“All-Star Weekend, he gave me a couple words and every time I do run into him he gives me a couple words,” George said. “He’s a player as well that I look up to and wish would mentor me.”

While there are basketball hopefuls of all ages who strive to reach George’s level of talent, he feels he has a ways to go before he is ready to assume the mentor position he is still seeking out for himself.

“I’m still young so there’s a lot of stuff I have to learn before I feel like I can help a young guy,” George said. “I’ve got to grow into my mentoring role and then I’ll be one of those guys that mentors young guys.”

VIDEO: Paul George and LeBron James talk about the Pacers-Heat rivalry


No. 2: Report: Lakers expected to keep Nash on board next season — In the most recent of’s solid video series with Steve Nash, the former two-time MVP guard spends a lengthy part of the video discussing how he expects to be waived from the team via the stretch provision this summer. The stretch provision allows a team to basically stretch out the amount owed on a player’s contract over multiple seasons instead of having to fork over a lump-sum payment upon being waived. Kevin Ding of reports that scenario is looking less and less likely for Nash, though:

And the fact is, as of this time, Nash will get one last chance to play next season with the Lakers, who are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer and are therefore thinking it does not make sense to use the stretch provision to waive Nash.

The Lakers would rather be done with the entirety of Nash’s $9.7 million salary next year if they’re not planning on spending much next season, as opposed to stretching that money across the next three seasons if they waive him and suffer future burdens.

That decision by the Lakers would give Nash one last season to get his body as right as possible, control the nerve-root irritation sapping his back and legs, and try to go out on something close to his terms.

“Yeah,” Nash said Tuesday night about the Lakers letting him play it out next season. “It sounds like it.”

If the Lakers change their mind and waive Nash, he intends to retire: “That would be it,” he said. “I’ll either be back here or I’ll be done.”

If he is granted this reprieve, though…

“It means that anything is still possible,” Nash said.

Nash is well beyond assuming anything with how his body heals now, and he was still cautious when discussing what he acknowledged looks to be one good tiding coming his way if the Lakers don’t cut him.

He did allow himself to smile about it.

“If I can get healthy and come back,” he said, “it’d be great.”

For the Lakers’ purposes, Nash being able to contribute next season would lessen the bust of his acquisition only slightly. The losing hedges with Dwight Howard and Nash are severely limiting the Lakers’ rebuilding options now, and as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last month, the one thing the franchise cannot afford is to gamble again and lose.

To Kupchak, paying maximum dollars to star players who the Lakers are not certain can deliver championship performances would be bad business—and is, in fact, exactly what has happened in New York with the Knicks struggling despite having Carmelo Anthony.

So don’t expect to see Anthony or Chris Bosh—if he opts out of his Miami Heat contract—getting epic offers from the Lakers.

Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.


No. 3: Durant has adopted some of Nowitzki’s training methods — Practically since he became an NBA player, Dallas Mavericks All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has leaned on help from his trainer from Germany, Holger Geschwindner, throughout his career. Nowitzki has become an all-time great in the game and an NBA champion thanks, in part, to Geschwindner’s tutelage and it appears that another star in the league — Kevin Durant — is adopting Geschwindner’s methods. Jared Zwerling of has more:

Even though they’ve been in Dallas the same amount of time, Mavericks scout Reggie Johnson still has a difficult time describing Dirk Nowitzki’s quirky workouts with his longtime German trainer Holger Geschwindner.

“Besides all the shooting, it’s hard to explain the types of things he does—because they are so unorthodox,” Johnson said. “It’s one of those things you have to see, but it’s like he’s working on balance, leg strength and shooting all in one motion. His personal coach from Germany thinks outside the box with the drills. Some drills with the ball, some without. He has a routine.”

Interestingly, because of Nowitzki’s connection to Kevin Durant’s trainer, Adam Harrington, who had a limited stint with the Mavericks in 2002-03, the Oklahoma City star has been utilizing some of Geschwindner’s drills since last summer.

“They’ve been paying off for KD,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely incorporated the one-legged fadeaway, and it’s working very well for him. Just ask his defenders. Also, his three-point shot looks a lot more natural and fluid.”

As for those exercises, they’re still coming in handy for Nowitzki, who at the end of the season could join Larry Bird and Steve Nash as the only players in NBA history to have multiple campaigns of shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.

“It’s great to watch Dirk play, but watching him work is incredible,” Johnson said. “Everyone has heard about his work ethic, but until you’ve witnessed it, you have no idea. He loves the game, and he loves getting better daily. The three things I’ve been most impressed with are his basketball IQ, passing and vision on the court, and his leadership.

“He’s also changed a few things over time. Dirk has an improved post game, he’s mentally and physically tougher and he has a more efficient all-around game. He was known as just a killer jump shooter, but now he’s a threat inside and out, as well as a better passer. He recognizes where double teams are coming from and when they’re coming, which allows him to react quicker and become a playmaker.”

VIDEO: Kevin Durant does his version of Dirk Nowitzki’s trademark shot during a game from 2011


No. 4: Knicks fans planning protest before March 19 game? — The New York Knicks beat the Minnesota Timberwolves last night to end their seven-game losing streak, but ICYMI, it’s been a pretty difficult season in New York. Fans are no doubt unhappy with the team’s surprising downfall this season after a banner performance last season and as such, may soon let team ownership know of their displeasure. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Knicks fans may be staging a protest of owner James Dolan before a March 19 date with the Pacers:

A rally to protest Knicks owner James Dolan’s handling of the sinking franchise is on tap for March 19 in front of the Garden before the team hosts the Pacers.

The organizers of the “KF4L Rally,” which has its own Facebook page, are promoting the rally via social media. The KF4L stands for “Knicks Fan for Life.’’

Knicks fans Michael Brown, who has staged demonstrations in the past, Anthony Samaroo, a Chicago-based Knicks fan, and Mark Griffin are the rally’s promoters.

In a statement, the organizers wrote the rally is being staged because of “Dolan’s failure to allow knowledgeable basketball people the autonomy/power to make basketball related decisions…His insistence on overriding the opinions of his basketball people by bidding against himself in negotiations and overpaying in trades.’’

The statement also took issue with “the rehiring of Steve Mills who has never been in the GM role before and presided over one of the most embarrassing eras in Knick history.’’


No. 5: Coaching legend sides with NCAA, not NBA D-League— As an NBA coach, Larry Brown amassed 1,198 victories and won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Today, Brown is the coach of the SMU Mustangs and as a collegiate coach, has amassed 300 wins and led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA championship. Suffice it to say that Brown is well-rounded enough to speak on whether the NCAA or NBA D-League is a better path for a talented player out of high school. As’s Tim McMahon notes, Brown is siding with the college game, unlike Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:

SMU’s Larry Brown, a Hall of Famer with 1,198 NBA coaching wins, strongly disagreed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s suggestion that elite prospects would be better prepared for the NBA by playing in the D-League instead of spending one season in college.

“I admire him and I think he’s one of the bright guys we have in our profession, but that was the worst thing I heard,” Brown, who has won titles in college and the NBA, said during an appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

“They don’t teach guys how to play, in my mind,” Brown said of the D-League. “The head coaches in the NBA and a lot of the assistants do, but [college basketball] is the greatest minor league system in the world. If you didn’t go to one class and just live in a college environment, then you’re way ahead. And I think most coaches are responsible enough to make them go to class, make them go to study hall, give them life lessons.

“How about being around [SMU assistants] Eric Snow and George Lynch? Those two guys played 13, 14 years in the league, have families, are successful. In all honesty, I love Mark, but [college basketball] is pretty good.

“Now, it’s our job to make [players] realize getting an education is something that’s important, because here’s the deal: Life after basketball is a real long time.”

Cuban emphasized the importance of life skills courses for prospects who might choose to play in the D-League straight out of high school, but Brown believes that sort of education is better delivered on college campuses.

“I always was amazed the NBA had this program before this season where they’d bring everybody in, similar to what you do in college before school starts, orientation,” Brown said. “I used to always ask my players what they got out of it, and it was comical. You’re not going to get anything out of four days of orientation, but play for Rick Pitino for a year or two or Tom Izzo or John Calipari or Bill Self, I think Cuban would be happy with what they’re getting.”

Brown did agree with Cuban’s suggestion that prospects be required to play three years in college before being eligible for the NBA draft. However, Brown would prefer to make exceptions for players who would like to jump to the pros out of high school.

“I want this to be like baseball,” Brown said. “If a kid is good enough, like LeBron or like Durant, to come right out of high school, let him go. Put it in his contract, though, that you’re going to make X amount of dollars if you go back to school. Then if you decide to go to school, stay three years. Then all these NBA people wouldn’t have to keep these workout coaches, because the kids would be prepared.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards coach Randy Wittman has Washington poised for a return to the playoffs, but will he get a new contract? … Like mama always said, all good things must come to an end. Such was the case for Kyle Korver and his streak of games with at least one 3-pointer, which ended at 127 last night in Portland … The Kings are reportedly going to sign troubled forward Royce White to a 10-day deal today … The Nets may soon call up guard Jorge Gutierrez from the NBA D-League … Cavs big man Anderson Varejao went through Wednesday’s practice and could return soon … Rockets center Dwight Howard hopes Magic fans can one day forgive him … Lakers forward Wesley Johnsonis hoping he’ll be back with the team next season … Blazers backup point guard Earl Watson, who has played in just 17 games this season, may soon explore coaching opportunities in the league …

ICYMI of the Night: You gotta feel bad for poor Jerryd Bayless on this play. He thinks he’s got a wide-open look at a 3-pointer and then … whammo! Andrew Bogut comes out of nowhere for the fantastic swat …

VIDEO:Andrew Bogut comes flying in to deny Jerry Bayless’ 3-point attempt