Posts Tagged ‘Larry Sanders’

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo the Bull? | East meets West? | Larry Sanders is back

No. 1: Melo the Bull?Carmelo Anthony was one of this summer’s marquee free agents, entertaining offers from teams like Houston and Chicago before eventually re-signing with the New York Knicks. But how close was Anthony to actually leaving the Knicks? According to a new documentary, he was halfway out the door before deciding to stick around. In the upcoming documentary, “Carmelo Anthony: Made In NY,” which will air on the MSG Network, Anthony talks about the choice. As the NY Post reports:

The Post obtained footage of the half-hour program, which was produced by Melo Enterprises Inc. and Tollin Productions, that shows inside conversations between Anthony, his manager, Bay Frazier, who normally keeps a low profile, agent Leon Rose and personal assistant Asani Swann. One person familiar with the program said edits are still being made to the film and it was not the final version.

“It came down to Chicago and New York,” Anthony said during the program. “Chicago was the one from Day 1 [and] was something I was very impressed with. They were looking for someone like me to come in and take them to the next level. So it was perfect.

“It was a perfect setup and perfect fit for me in Chicago. But also I had to think about just living in Chicago. Do I want to live in Chicago? Do I want to take everything I created in New York and move all of that? It came down to that. But there was one point in time I was like — oh, I’m going.”

During one conversation, Anthony and his entourage agreed they would need a sign-and-trade with the Bulls to get the maximum contract. During the show, Frazier states the Bulls could only offer $74 million.

On their plane ride from Chicago to Houston following the get-together with the Bulls, Anthony tells Rose, his agent: “Great meeting. You could see the culture they have over there. The seriousness they have, what they’re about. It comes down to winning to me, and that’s what they’re about. That’s what I like. They hit everything right on the nail. That’s hard to do.”

***

No. 2: East meets West? — During a media interview on Wednesday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban floated the idea of realignment. The West has generally been stronger the last few seasons, and Cuban’s plan would help restore some competitive balance between the conferences. As Tim McMahon writes:

In Cuban’s plan, the Mavs, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans would move to the Eastern Conference. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks would move to the West.

“It’s not like it’d be the first time we’ve ever realigned,” Cuban said. “It’s happened many times before, so there’s precedent and I just think it shakes things up and makes things interesting.”

Cuban, whose Mavs were the West’s eighth seed with a 49-33 record last season but would have been a No. 3 seed in the East, acknowledged that he had some selfish motivation for the plan. However, he believes the league would benefit as a whole.

“It’s not like you’re reducing competition,” said Cuban, who noted that the teams he suggested moving to the West are approximately the same distance from Portland as Dallas and closer than New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston. “You keep Cleveland, Washington and other good teams in the East. It kind of shakes things up in terms of not just interest but also in terms of how people rebuild.

“It just changes things up and it changes the thought process of a lot of teams. It makes both conferences very competitive, at least for the short term and I think, based on the history of the teams, for the long term as well.”

***

No. 3: Larry Sanders is back — After being one of the NBA’s most promising big men two seasons ago, last season was something of a lost campaign for Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders, who missed over half of the season with injuries and suspensions. But under new Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd, Sanders is reinvigorated, writes Charles Gardner:

Kidd and his staff made Sanders a centerpiece of their efforts from the beginning, working with him in Las Vegas during the summer and continuing during training camp.

“They came in and changed the culture; the (new) owners came in and changed the culture,” Sanders said. “It’s a whole different mind-set than I’ve ever had.

“We’re really trying to build something new here and you could feel it. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

The 26-year-old Sanders is not playing heavy minutes and that has helped him keep his energy flowing. He played 26 minutes against the Pistons on Tuesday and 28 against the Timberwolves.

Kidd has used him effectively in tandem with veteran Zaza Pachulia, who is adept in the offensive system and can battle bigger centers with his strength.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: The Pelicans are aiming to get the ball to Anthony Davis more often … Cuban also took a verbal jab at Knicks coach Derek Fisher … The 76ers appear close to bringing in Turkish big man Furkan Aldemir

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 17

Griffin reaching breaking point | No longball for Lakers | Dwight for MVP? | Pistons and Celtics make deal

No. 1: Griffin reaching breaking point — Clippers forward Blake Griffin is one of the most athletic and high-flying players in the NBA. And as frequently as he drives hard to the rim, he just as often finds himself at the end of a lot of hard fouls. Thus far, Griffin has managed to take the physicality in stride, keeping a cool head time after time. But after another incident last night in a preseason game against the Utah Jazz, Griffin noted that his patience is reaching its breaking point. Dan Woike of the Orange County-Register has more

After the game, Griffin was asked if it was difficult to keep things from escalating.

“I was going to (take things further), and I thought, ‘It’s preseason. It’s not worth it. That’s not the person I’m going to waste it on,’” Griffin calmly said.

[Trevor] Booker was called for a flagrant 1 foul, and Griffin, Booker and Chris Paul were all called for technical fouls for their roles in the incident.

After the game, Paul didn’t hide his amazement at picking up a technical, as he said he was trying to play peacemaker.

“That was ridiculous,” he said. “…He gave me a tech. He said it was because I escalated the fight. You can fine me, do whatever. I know Trevor Booker. I’m trying to keep him away. Like, I know him personally. And they give me a tech. It’s preseason. Everyone’s trying to figure it out.”

Griffin admitted to trying to figure out what to do with the extra contact he takes. Following the Clippers win, Doc Rivers said he thought Griffin gets hit with more cheap shots than anyone in the league.

“I don’t think it’s close,” Rivers said.

Griffin, who has been often criticized for his reactions to hard fouls, realizes he’s in a bit of a Catch-22.

“On one hand, everyone tells me to do something. On the other hand, people tell me to not complain and just play ball,” Griffin said with a smile. “That happens. You’re not going to please everybody. I just have to do whatever I think is right and use my judgment.”

***

No. 2: No longball for Lakers — Over the last decade, NBA teams have increasingly noted the importance of the 3-point shot, even designing offenses around the long-range shot. But just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean the Lakers under new coach Byron Scott will do the same. This is not only because the Lakers are currently coping with injuries to perimeter players such as Nick Young and Steve Nash, but it’s more of a philosophy Scott is embracing. Baxter Holmes of ESPN Los Angeles has more:

“You’ve got a lot of teams that just live and die by it,” Scott said after the team’s practice here Friday. “Teams, general managers, coaches, they kind of draft that way to try to space the floor as much as possible. But you have to have shooters like that; you also have to have guys that can penetrate and get to the basket, because that opens up the floor.”

But does Scott believe in that style?

“I don’t believe it wins championships,” he said. “(It) gets you to the playoffs.”

Seven of the last eight NBA champions led all playoff teams in 3-point attempts and makes.

And it’s not as though Scott isn’t familiar with the 3-point shot. During his second season with the Lakers as a player, he led the NBA in 3-point field-goal percentage in 1984-85 (43 percent) and was in the top-10 in that category in three other seasons. Scott also ranked sixth in the NBA in 3-point attempts (179) and ninth in makes (62) during the 1987-88 season.

But are the Lakers’ low 3-point attempts this preseason a reflection of injuries or of how the Lakers will really end up playing this coming season?

“I don’t think that’s an indication of what we’ll be when we’re fully healthy,” Scott said. “I think it will still be 12, 13, 14, 15 (attempts per game), somewhere in that area, when we’re fully healthy.”

***

No. 3: Dwight for MVP? — With Kevin Durant out with a fractured foot, the MVP race doesn’t have a clear leader at the start of the season, at least if you’re eating at our Blogtable. But with all the names being tossed around, former MVP Hakeem Olajuwon says don’t forget about Houston big man Dwight Howard, who by all accounts is healthy and ready to return to the dominant style of play he showed in Orlando. Dwight himself says he’s never felt better. Our own Fran Blinebury has more

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

***

No. 4: Pistons and Celtics make deal — Neither Detroit nor Boston are expected to contend for an Eastern Conference crown this season, but they found themselves able to do business together yesterday. The Pistons moved reserve point guard Will Bynum to Boston in exchange for reserve big man Joel Anthony. According to the Detroit Free Press, the trade clears room for recent draft pick Spencer Dinwiddie.

The first trade of the Stan Van Gundy era wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, but it does give insight into the Detroit Pistons’ thinking as the Oct. 27 deadline for roster finalization looms.

The Pistons today added frontcourt depth by acquiring NBA veteran Joel Anthony from the Boston Celtics in exchange for point guard Will Bynum.

The move signals that the team is comfortable with second-round draft pick Spencer Dinwiddie as the No. 3 point guard as he continues to rehab the left knee injury he suffered in January.

Dinwiddie is progressing nicely and recently took part in 5-on-5 drills for the first time. So Bynum, whose days were numbered when the organization hired Van Gundy as its president and coach, became expendable.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sixers organization is offering support for Joel Embiid, who’s younger brother was tragically killed in a vehicle accident in Cameroon … After undergoing “a minor outpatient surgical procedure,” Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders will miss the rest of the preseasonDeMarcus Cousins is dealing with achilles tendonitis … Glen “Big Baby” Davis is out indefinitely with a strained groin … Jason Kapono says if he doesn’t make the Warriors, he will “go back to chillin'” …

‘At 6-11, playing point guard…’ in Antetokounmpo’s future?


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo gets it done on both ends

MILWAUKEE – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich got laughs during The Finals when he talked about Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan’s undying belief that, deep down, he’s a 6-foot-11 point guard.

No one was goofing around Saturday night, though, when folks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center actually saw one.

Derrick Rose wasn’t on the court for Chicago; in fact, the Bulls used backups Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks the whole fourth quarter. The stakes were low in a contest played in the middle of October.

Still, there was significance to be found when Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo played point guard for the Bucks for the final quarter of their 91-85 loss to the Bulls.

Milwaukee lost the game but won that particular quarter, 24-17. And lest you forget, Antetokounmpo stands 6-11, courtesy of a two-inch growth spurt in the offseason.

“I feel like if I handle the ball it gives me the opportunity to go around the bigs and go to the basket,” the second-year teenager from Greece said afterward. “Not only that, but I tried to make my teammates better. That’s what I was thinking.”

It wasn’t 12 minutes of John Stockton out there on the throwback MECCA hardwood. None of the Bucks, frankly, benefited more from Antetokounmpo at the point than Antetokounmpo, who scored nine points but passed for no assists in the period. Then again, he made four of his seven shots while his teammates combined to shoot 5-of-17 in the fourth, so assists were hard to come by.

“I thought Giannis did a great job for us at the point, running the show, finding guys and also being able to find his shot,” said Jason Kidd – who ought to know, right? “We kind of fell into it with B. Knight being hurt [minor leg injury] and I didn’t want to run up [Kendall Marshall’s] minutes. So this was a perfect situation against a talented team to give him a chance to see what he can do at the point.”

The extra-long point guard is one of those NBA breakthroughs that pretty much began and ended with Magic Johnson. Given Johnson’s massive success as the 6-foot-9 ringleader of “Showtime,” people assumed the league would soon be dominated by converted shooting guards and small forwards as their team’s primary playmakers.

It never became a trend, because players with similar skills and aptitudes were in such short supply – and Johnson’s game came to be revered even more than before. Oh, we’ve had a few; Jalen Rose and Shaun Livingston come to mind. The term “point forward” still gets used – LeBron James and Kevin Durant surely have played that role, and Chicago’s Joakim Noah often looked like a “point center” in Rose’s absence last season.

But Antetokounmpo, who ran the point at times at the Las Vegas Summer League in July, is trying to cut his teeth at the position at least on a part-time, as-needed basis. His most memorable highlight Saturday was more garden-variety Giannis – blocking Taj Gibson’s shot at one end, then sprinting down the floor to finish with a dunk at the other end. And yet, Kidd praised the kid for a different scoring chance.

“Yeah, he showed, I thought it was, kind of that Magic Johnson baby hook,” the coach said.

With Knight, Marshall, Jerryd Bayless and Nate Wolters on the roster, there might not be an extreme need for Antetokounmpo to work as the consummate floor general’s floor general. Kidd mostly wants him and fellow teen Jabari Parker to slow down as they learn, even though he wants the Bucks to pick up the pace of their attack.

Antetokounmpo today isn’t the point guard – or the anything – he might become with more experience. But he’s getting a taste and giving a glimpse. Several Bulls players noticed a hike in Antetokounmpo’s confidence.

“I haven’t seen a small guard take the ball from him or give him too much pressure,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “He’ll start going more north and south than east and west, and we’ll start taking advantage of his size.

“It’s the ultimate weapon to me. He can post up and bang and exploit mismatches. … He expands our lineup, especially defensively.”

Milwaukee’s Sanders apologizes, but advocates for medical marijuana use

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Larry Sanders takes an elbow from the Rockets’ James Harden

CHICAGO – Larry Sanders, the Milwaukee Bucks center whose season has been as miserable due to injuries and off-court incidents as his team’s has been from losing, was suspended Friday for five games without pay for violating the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program.

But if it was up to Sanders, neither he nor any other player in the league would be penalized for smoking marijuana. While he said he would abide by the terms of the penalty, Sanders offered an enthusiastic defense of the drug for its medical benefits.

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me,” the 6-foot-11 player told NBA.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel prior to the Bucks’ game against Chicago at United Center Friday. “I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.

“I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.”

Per terms of the league’s illegal substance policy and random testing procedures, Sanders’ suspension means he has failed three tests in his career. It is unclear when his five-game hiatus actually will begin; he has been sidelined since undergoing surgery for a right orbital fracture sustained Feb. 8 against Houston. Recently, Sanders said he was out for the rest of this season and the Bucks had listed him that way in media reports – that would push his suspension into the start of 2014-15.

The team released a statement expressing its disappointment in Sanders, and Bucks coach Larry Drew echoed it Friday evening. He said that losing Sanders at the start of next season, when the player and the team might have hoped for a clean slate, would be difficult.

“Sure it would be tough. He’s a guy we count on,” Drew said. “If it does happen to start next year, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

Expectations were high for Saunders as Milwaukee’s defensive anchor. He had been rewarded for his breakout 2012-13 performance (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg) with a four-year, $44 million extension that kicks in next year. But he has played only 23 games, averaging 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.74 blocks and 25.4 minutes. He gained YouTube.com infamy for his involvement in a Milwaukee nightclub melee hours after playing poorly in the team’s home opener.

He returned in late December but struggled along with the Bucks, who were staking out the NBA’s basement in the standings. Sanders had only five games with 10 or more rebounds and only six with more than two blocked shots before suffering his facial injury in February.

Saunders also issued a statement Friday apologizing to fans and taking responsibility for his actions. He said he didn’t think the suspension, if it comes at the beginning of next season, would mar what he, too, hopes is a fresh start.

“Yeah I could [overcome that],” he said. “The recipe doesn’t change. It’s just more motivation to work harder. It’s something negative to deal with. But the recipe doesn’t change for me. I’m just as excited for the summer.”

Marijuana use, still illegal in the U.S. with the exception of Colorado and Washington, has gained supporters in recent months. Sanders said he understands that it is prohibited by the NBA and the players union, which have talked of strengthening their combined anti-drug program rather than easing it. He apologized for this latest incident’s impact on his teammates but said he does not believe marijuana use is wrong.

“The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that,” Sanders said. “Once this becomes legal, this all will go away.”

Sanders said that, in terms of social use, he sees smoking marijuana as similar to drinking alcoholic beverages. But his primary defense of the drug was for medical use.

“The great thing about that idea is that, then you could get prescribed for it and see a doctor and they could tell you,” he said. “You don’t have to self-medicate, you don’t have to over-medicate ourselves. Y’know, because we don’t know now. We can’t diagnose ourselves.

“Once it becomes legal … you sit down with a doctor and [he says], ‘You may need this three times a day. This dosage here.’ And you don’t over-medicate. It [addresses] those needs medically that you need. It’s natural.”

The Bucks said they would have no comment beyond their issued statement (“Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans. We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension.”).

An NBA spokesperson, contacted for reaction to Sanders’ defense of marijuana use, declined to comment Friday night.

Morning Shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sanders done for season | Might Nash play again this season? | Lowry’s long road to NBA stardom | NBA rules on Buss-Jackson relationship

No. 1: Bucks’ Sanders done for season — From start to what is now the finish, the 2013-14 season has been one to forget for Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders. A season after making a name for himself with the Bucks with his defensive play and flashes of offensive skill, Sanders struggled through an injury and off-the-court-incident marred season. Playing against the Rockets on Feb. 8, Sanders went up for a rebound and got hit in the right eye, suffering an orbital fracture. Sanders says he’s done for the season, writes Charles F. Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel, and is gearing up for 2014-15:

Sanders, traveling with the Bucks on their current four-game western trip, confirmed he would not return this season in a locker-room interview.

Now Sanders is focusing on the future and his role in helping the rebuilding Bucks. He will be starting a four-year, $44 million contract next fall, the extension he signed last summer.

And he said he has learned some things after being sidelined six weeks early in the season due to a torn ligament in his right thumb, an injury he suffered in a fight in a downtown Milwaukee nightclub.

“I think you just take from it what you can,” Sanders said of his unfulfilling season, with 23 games played and 20 starts. “It’s funny you go through things in life and they help mold us into better people, if you learn from things.

“I think that’s what this year was all about. Going through it is tough. But when you get through it you start to understand how you become better.”

Sanders said he has major goals to achieve in the off-season, including getting stronger to battle the centers he must face each night.

“I want to put on a lot of weight,” he said. “At least 15 pounds. I want to get to 240, 245, a good running weight. I want to be really strong. I want to feel unmoveable out there.

“I just see it being the hardest working summer since back when I was in college, maybe when I was going out for the draft (in 2010). That will be the only one I could probably compare to this one.”

A team source said Sanders could not do any activities over the last few weeks due to the delicate nature of the eye surgery. The repairs were needed to make sure Sanders would not suffer from double vision issues.

But the source indicated Sanders should be able to begin light activities (jogging, running on a treadmill) by mid-April and eventually return to the basketball court.

Sanders said fans have stuck behind him despite his travails.

“A lot of fans are still rooting for me,” he said. “I’m out and they’re looking for me to come back and be better. With that in mind, I’m going to carry it with me every day. I’m carrying it with me now. It’s building up.

“It’s going to be a good summer for work.”

Sanders said he’s optimistic about the team despite its 13-55 record this season.

“It can only get better,” Sanders said. “I guarantee you we’ll have a better season than this year. We’ll get a lot of time to spend together this summer, catch these guys out on the road, wherever they’re at. Try to get some team stuff going, too.”

***

No. 2: D’Antoni changes stance on Nash’s status — On March 13, it looked like Steve Nash‘s season with the Los Angeles Lakers — and perhaps his NBA career as we know it — was over. It was on that day that the Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan reported that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni had closed the door on Nash’s season, telling reporters he wouldn’t play this season. But it seems that may not be the case after all. According to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, D’Antoni could be reversing field on Nash’s status:

Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni opened the door for the chance that Steve Nash could return at some point this season after the veteran guard supposedly shut it down last week because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.

“It’s still a possibility,” D’Antoni said Wednesday when asked if Nash could play at some point in the Lakers’ final 15 games. “We have to see where he is physically. … We’ll have to see some practices and see how it goes.”

The Lakers are down to one healthy point guard in Kendall Marshall, with Jordan Farmar out for a minimum of two weeks because of a strained right groin.

The 40-year-old Nash told Time Warner Cable SportsNet on Tuesday, “I feel pretty good. I feel as though I could play now at a good level. The question is could I sustain it?”

Nash has not played since Feb. 11 when he exited just before halftime against the Utah Jazz.

“We’ll have to see,” D’Antoni said. “Again, we’re just trying to get him totally healthy. You just don’t want to send him out there and play him when he’s not healthy. The last time we tried, if you remember, he didn’t make it through a game. We can’t have him start the game and then at halftime not be able to come out. We got to look and see and maybe try it in a couple practices and see if he can get 100 percent healthy, but right now he’s not there.”


VIDEO: Mike D’Antoni talks after the Lakers’ home loss to the San Antonio Spurs

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No. 3: Inside Lowry’s long road to NBA stardom – If you are a Toronto Raptors fan or, for that matter, a Kyle Lowry fan, we’ve got the story for you. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has a fantastic, lengthy look at the career of Toronto’s star point guard who has gone from late Draft pick out of Villanova, to backup point guard in Memphis, to part-time starter in Houston, to part-time starter in Toronto to a full-fledged elite point guard this season with the help of some coaching from Pistons guard Chauncey Billups:

Once and for all, Masai Ujiri told Kyle Lowry the truth.

Oh, how Ujiri loves Lowry’s game – his talent, his ferocity, his intellect – and how he wanted him to understand: Spare your career this maddening, self-fulfilling prophecy and honor a relentless summer of conditioning and commitment with the best season of your life.

Ujiri didn’t hear excuses out of Lowry, only noticing his knowing nods and hurting eyes. Lowry was listening. Finally, he was listening.

From Ujiri to Lowry’s agent Andy Miller to his NBA mentor Chauncey Billups, this had been the summer of tough love and tougher introspection. Ultimately, the truths coated Lowry like a second skin: He was pissing his promise away, trading All-Star winning talent and long-term financial security for a loser’s legacy and journeyman status.

“I had to look at myself in the mirror,” Lowry told Yahoo Sports over a shrimp salad inside the e11even restaurant in Rogers Centre. “I know what people are saying now, ‘Oh it’s a contract year,’ but it’s bigger than that for me. Yes, I want a contract. And then I want to outgrow that one and get another one. But I want to win. I want to grow. And to grow, you’ve got to be able accept coaching.

“You’ve got to be able to be coached.”

Lowry, 27, has transformed himself and transformed a franchise this season. When everyone expected the Raptors to be liquidated for draft picks, young players and salary-cap space, Lowry played the biggest part of holding the team together and chasing an improbable Atlantic Division title. He does it all for the Raptors, and he’s rapidly validating himself as one of the NBA’s finest point guards.

For the season, Lowry’s been magnificent, averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Across the past 15 games, he been even better: 19 points, 9.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds. Most of all, the Raptors are winning – 37-29 and in third place in the Eastern Conference.

“I struggled to prove that I belonged,” Lowry says. “My first couple years in the NBA, my fear was that I was going to go to the D-League – and maybe never get back to the NBA. I was picked 24th and that’s not the cushion that a lottery pick gets in the NBA. You get a few chances, and then you’re done. Then you’re just a label, never to be a frontline guy.

This season, the seeds of a transformation were born out of the voice that carried the most credibility with Lowry: Billups, the Detroit Pistons guard. After Lowry left Villanova in 2006, Miller, his agent connected his most treasured client – Billups – with one of his most promising in Lowry. So much of the reason Lowry and Miller connected as agent and client had been Miller’s willingness to tell him the truth, to never placate Lowry over his early missteps with excuses. If nothing else, Lowry’s fiercely loyal, and part of him always knew he needed those voices in his life – even if he wasn’t fully ready to listen.

Nevertheless, Miller always understood Billups was his best chance to reach Lowry on the most important levels, that Billups’ mentoring of Lowry promised the best possible path for the young guard’s career. The thing was, Billups loved Lowry and saw so much of himself in him. Billups wanted to make Lowry understand the consequences awaiting at the crossroads of his career.

Between morning basketball workouts in Las Vegas and afternoon golf outings, Billups worked over Lowry. Billups’ story lent credibility, a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale of rising again. For everything Billups has become in the NBA, he had gone the way of Lowry in his first several years: rudderless, teetering and on the brink of fading into the league’s abyss. These weren’t lectures, but lessons.

“I told him, ‘If you squander this opportunity, this is it for you,’ ” Billups told Yahoo Sports. “I kept telling him, ‘You going go Toronto was like me going to Detroit.’ That was my last real chance, and that was the case for him there now, too.

“Kyle’s always been a little stubborn, a little bit of a know-it-all. Those things held him back. But I think he finally looked deep into the mirror and realized, ‘Hey, it’s not my game that’s causing problems, it’s everything else.’

“He had to learn to listen to constructive criticism. He had to learn to lead. In this league, perception is reality. Once you’ve created a reputation, it is hard – really hard – to shake it. He has an older generation mindset of competitiveness, with a younger generation skillset.

“Kyle has the perfect combination. And now he’s sharpened it.”

Two years ago, the Houston Rockets traded Lowry to the Raptors. Two stops, two bad endings. He had been the 24th pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006 but a year later, they selected Mike Conley fourth overall and it became clear whom the organization had committed itself. Houston made a deal for Lowry, and he flourished for a season under coach Rick Adelman. The Rockets made him a starter, and Lowry made everyone see his talent in the 2010-11 season.

Only Adelman left, and Lowry couldn’t get over it. He fought new coach Kevin McHale on everything – and relationships were even worse with the assistant coaches. Lowry lost his starting job and lost the clear-mindedness to lead the locker room.

“He never gave the coaching staff a chance,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson told Yahoo Sports. “He wouldn’t let Kevin coach him. Kyle’s greatest strength is the bulldog in him, and when that bulldog is channeled the in right direction, he’s tough to handle on the floor. And when it isn’t, he’s tough to handle everywhere else.”


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan talk about the Raptors’ success this season

***

No. 4: NBA addresses Buss-Jackson relationshipPhil Jackson is two days into his new gig as president of the New York Knicks. His fiancee, Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeannie Buss, has been in the front office of the team since 1998. The two started dating in 1999 and got engaged in December of 2012. But with both people in such high-profile roles with their respective teams, the NBA thought it appropriate to establish some parameters to the relationship as it pertains to NBA business, writes Darren Rovell and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN.com:

An NBA official has acknowledged that the league has put parameters in place to make sure that the high-profile relationship between Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson doesn’t create any issues.

“The Knicks’ hiring of Phil Jackson is subject to the league’s conflict of interest rules,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN.com. “To avoid even the appearance of a conflict, we have addressed the issue with the Knicks and Lakers to ensure that the relationship between Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson will not affect how the teams operate.”

Since the engagement, sources say the league has gotten more serious about the two being on the up and up.

Recently retired NBA commissioner David Stern had several conversations with Buss as Jackson entertained potential jobs with the Toronto Raptors, the potential Seattle franchise and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Buss acknowledged, in an interview that will air in its entirety on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet in Los Angeles on Wednesday, that she had dinner with new commissioner Adam Silver and the topic was broached.

“There is an understanding all trades are approved by the NBA, and I don’t anticipate any problem because I don’t make the basketball decisions on behalf of the Lakers,” said Buss, who has indeed previously ceded all basketball decisions to her brother Jim and team general manager Mitch Kupchak. “So I really don’t see where there would be a conflict.”

But the league is sensitive to the impression of any impropriety. On Tuesday, Lakers forward Pau Gasol told reporters that he isn’t allowed to talk to his former coach because he’ll be a free agent and any talks with Jackson could be considered tampering.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili takes the blame for his shoe malfunction a few weeks ago … Dirk Nowitzki has provided a lot of heroic moments in his Mavs career, but last night against the Wolves just wasn’t one of those nightsChauncey Billups is weighing whether or not to play next season or pursue a front-office job with the Pistons … Ricky Davis, the high-flying former standout of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was released by the NBA D-League’s Erie Bayhawks yesterday … The Pelicans don’t figure to be a big spender on the free-agent market this summer … Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still shunning Ray Allen, it seems … Markieff Morris has developed more confidence in his low-post game this season

ICYMI of the Night: With the words of the famous philosopher Tommy Boy (“brothers don’t shake hands … brothers gotta hug!“) in mind, we present this nice Marcus Morris-to-Markieff Morris alley-oop from last night …


VIDEO: Morris twins hook up on a nice alley-oop against the Magic

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul will play in All-Star Game | Evans, Williams mum on tiff | T-Mac solid in Sugar Land practice | Bucks’ Sanders out indefinitely

No. 1: Paul confirms he’ll play in All-Star Game– The Los Angeles Clippers finally got Chris Paul back in their lineup on Sunday night and while his stat line against the Philadelphia 76ers wasn’t overly impressive, his presence meant a lot to the squad. The Clips and their fans got some more good news Monday when Paul confirmed that he will take part in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans this weekend and is looking forward to the game for both sentimental and on-court reasons, writes Eric Patten of Clippers.com:

After returning to the court from a separated right shoulder in a 123-78 victory over the76ers Sunday, Chris Paul announced Monday that he will play in this weekend’s All-Star Game at New Orleans Arena.

“It was all about me getting healthy,” Paul said. “It was more important for me to get healthy and be there for my team and my teammates. The All-Star Game is an honor and a privilege, but being healthy is the most important thing. The All-Star Game was second, but it feels good to be ready to go.”

Paul was the 2013 All-Star MVP and was selected as an All-Star for the seventh time in his nine-year career when he was named as a reserve two weeks ago. But there was still some doubt about whether or not he would be ready to play in time for the game.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said there may not be a more perfect situation for Paul to get court time than a game that is traditionally bereft of defense.

“I like him playing in the All-Star Game, personally,” Rivers said. “I think this is a rare case where he’s ready to play and the All-Star Game is probably the safest venue for him to play because it’s such a defensive struggle. Guys are taking charges and diving on the floor. I think it will just be a good thing for him to just go up and down. It allows him to go up and down in NBA game with really good players that don’t play defense in the game.”

Paul’s appearance in New Orleans will come seven years after his first All-Star Game in the city. Of course, Paul also played six seasons with the Hornets, making his return to New Orleans a momentous occasion.

“For me in 2008, it was an unbelievable experience,” said Paul, who had 16 points, 14 assists and four steals in that game as a 22-year-old. “It was our first year back in New Orleans [after Hurricane Katrina], everyone on our team was excited to be back there and we had me and [David] West plus Byron [Scott] as the coach in the game. I am not sure what the NBA knew to expect coming to New Orleans, but once everyone got there, no one wanted to leave. It was one of the funnest times of my career and a game that I will never forget.”

***

No. 2: Evans, Williams mum on situation in New Orleans Former Rookie of the Year winner Tyreke Evans has had an up-and-(mostly) down first season with the New Orleans Pelicans as he has more or less struggled as the team’s sixth man. Perhaps the lowest point came Sunday night against the Brooklyn Nets, when Evans was a healthy scratch from the game and coach Monty Williams refused to offer up why he benched the swingman. Evans played Monday night in the Pelicans’ road loss to the Toronto Raptors and finished with 23 points, but both he and Williams remain quiet on what caused the Sunday benching, writes John Reid of NOLA.com:

Unlike Sunday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans swingman Tyreke Evans played Monday night against the Toronto Raptors.

And he finished with a game-high 23-points on 10-of-14 shooting in the Pelicans’ 108-101 loss to the Raptors.

But for the second-straight day, Pelicans coach Monty Williams would not elaborate other than to say it was an unspecified internal matter on why Evans was benched the previous night.

Evans declined comment before Monday night’s game about not playing against the Nets.

But he did say there is not a communication problem going on between Williams and him as been speculated.

“I just want to help the team anyway I can,’’ Evans said.“The media can put whatever they want to put. But I know what was said and here for my teammates. I want to help them win. I’m still hurting, but I’m out there still battling and fighting.”

Evans said he’s still experiencing pain from a cartilage tear between his ribs. But a team source said, Evans’ injury had nothing to do with why he was benched Sunday night.

Unable to shake injuries, Evans has not made the type of impact that was expected before the season started. In Monday’s game against the Raptors, Evans came off the bench but started the game by badly. Evans started slowly Monday night. He airballed a jump shot before getting cal for an offensive charging foul when drove the lane while crowded with Raptors defenders.

Throughout the season, Evans has shown ability to beat defenders off the dribble,but he has struggle to finish around the rim. Evans is averaging 12.4 points, but has made just 40 percent of his shots from the field.

Last week, Williams urged for Evans to become a better jump shooter.

“ I certainly feel like I’ve had to learn his game, learn how to use him and I’m still working on that,” Williams said earlier this week. “He’s also got to learn how we play basketball. He’s got to be a willing passer and understand that he doesn’t have to do it all by himself.

“For Tyreke to be an effective player, he has to play consistent on both ends. We know he can attack the basket, but he’s going have to become a better jump shooter.”

***

No. 3: McGrady solid in first minor league pitching task As our good friend Lang Whitaker covered a few weeks ago on the All Ball Blog, retired NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady is more than just pondering a career in baseball … he’s awful serious about trying to get into the big leagues. McGrady has been trying out with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters and threw to stand-in hitters yesterday. Mark Berman of KRIV-TV has more on McGrady’s debut and reports that T-Mac was impressive in his own right on the mound:

McGrady threw to hitters for the first time during a 20-minute bullpen session on Monday at Constellation Field, the home of the Sugar Land Skeeters.

The hitters did not swing, but they got a good look at what McGrady can bring.

“He’s so tall and his arms are so long. His downward slope, you’re not going to see that too often,” said Barrett Barnes, a minor league outfielder in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, in an interview with FOX 26 Sports.

“When you have a presence like that on the mound, it’s really hard to settle in and be comfortable hitting.

“Say his velo is 87, but with his arms and his body, it feels like it’s 90-91 (MPH),” Barnes said.

“His velo might by lower, but it feels like it gets on you way faster.”

Kansas City Royals minor league outfielder Daniel Rockett said it felt like McGrady could almost reach out and touch him from the mound.

“With a dude that big it’s like he’s in the box with you,” Rockett said.

McGrady, who is hoping to land a spot with the Skeeters, an Atlantic League franchise, is working with Arizona Diamondbacks pro scout Scipio Spinks, and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.

“(Spinks) taught me a lot, mechanics, and just a lot of things I didn’t know about pitching, and I’m using that to my advantage,” McGrady said.

“I also have Roger Clemens out here. What better person to have teaching you some things about pitching than Roger Clemens.”

***

No. 4: Bucks’ Sanders out indefinitely with eye injury — Whatever the opposite of a breakout season is in the NBA, that’s what Bucks big man Larry Sanders has experienced in 2013-14. After bursting onto the national NBA scene and becoming a Twitter (and Bucks fan) favorite last season, Sanders’ season has gone through a series of fits and starts that began with him missing six weeks of action after a bar fight in Milwaukee early in the season. Sanders has played in 23 games of the Bucks’ 51 games and had been coming into his own in February, but after suffering a hit to the right in Saturday’s loss to Houston, he’ll be out for a while, writes Andrew Gruman of Fox Sports Wisconsin:

Larry Sanders’ turbulent season has hit another bump in the road, as the Bucks center will be out indefinitely with a fractured right orbital bone.

The Bucks did not give a timetable for a potential return, saying Sanders will see a specialist Tuesday. Sanders suffered the injury when he took an inadvertent elbow from Rockets guard James Harden early in Saturday’s loss to Houston.

Bucks coach Larry Drew said Sanders is still experiencing blurred vision and will be out at least through the All-Star break.

“That’s really unfortunate because the kid has been play well,” Drew said. “He was starting to play with a rhythm and played two of his better games this year. It’s just real unfortunate that he sustained the injury.”

Sanders was beginning to regain form of late, averaging 14.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 63.3 percent from the field in three February games before having to leave just four minutes in on Saturday.


VIDEO: Larry Sanders suffers an eye injury in Saturday’s loss to Milwaukee

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson (rib) won’t play again until after the All-Star break … Warriors center Andrew Bogut has a shoulder injury and coach Mark Jackson‘s comments about it irked the Golden State big manEvan Turner‘s production has fallen off immensely since his hot start to the season … “Surgery” is planned for New Orleans Pelicans mascot Pierre the Pelican … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford has gotten Charlotte to buy-in on defense and one of the biggest contributors has been Al Jefferson … An SUV belonging to ex-Pistons star Ben Wallace was reportedly involved in a hit-and-run accident in Virginia …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Officially, the Pacers play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But there are times when you could call the arena “Rucker Park Midwest” with the kind of fancy dribbling moves Lance Stephenson is known to show off …


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson shakes free from Jordan Hamilton with some fancy dribbles


VIDEO: Stephenson puts some more moves on Hamilton en route to a layup

Bucks’ Neal And His Open Elevator Shaft

Gary Neal hasn't been getting the minutes he expected to get. (D. Williams/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gary Neal hasn’t been getting the minutes he’s used to or expected to get in Milwaukee. (NBAE via Getty Images)

MILWAUKEEAnd is better than or, the commercial tells us. That’s what the Milwaukee Bucks had in mind when they signed former San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal to a two-year, $6.5 million contract back in July.

In Neal, Milwaukee was getting a 6-foot-4 combo guard with 3-point range capable of starting or bringing firepower and energy off the bench. It also was adding a seasoned veteran who, at age 29, had been a key rotation guy for the San Antonio Spurs with 41 games of playoff experience, including his 24-points-in-25-minutes night in Game 3 of the 2013 Finals against Miami.

A contributor on the court and off it, with skills and intangibles?

“They didn’t hire me as a coach,” Neal said Friday night, effectively slamming the brakes on and.

How ’bout neither?

Right now, that’s what the Bucks are getting from Neal, who logged the 10th DNP-CD of the half-season in their 81-72 loss to the Chicago Bulls at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Eight of them have come in Milwaukee’s past 11 games, and a miserable season for the Bucks overall has been even worse for Neal. He is averaging 10.4 points per game while shooting 39.4 percent in 20.5 minutes, missed two games in December with left plantar fasciitis and otherwise has done a whole lot of sitting.

“I don’t know what their plan is or what Coach [Larry] Drew is doing. So it’s hard to show your experience getting DNPs,” Neal said, in a calm steady voice when asked about his switch of teams prior to Friday’s game. “You can’t say anything when you don’t get in the game. I’m gonna tell somebody to do something, and I ain’t playing?”

A qualifier is in order here: Neal was sought out Friday because of the plummet he has taken in the standings and in status, from his role with a pedigreed organization that came within seconds in Game 6 of an NBA championship to a mere spectator on many nights with the league’s worst (7-28) team.

Generally, he has been a solid citizen about the experience … with the exception of last weekend in Phoenix, when some frustrations within the Bucks boiled over in plain sight of reporters. Neal and center Larry Sanders got into a loud, heated postgame argument in the visitors’ dressing room and needed to be separated. At one point, Neal took a verbal shot at Sanders, yelling, “I earn my money. Why don’t you try it?”

Trouble is, Neal might feel on many nights as if he’s not earning his keep either. Not in the manner he had hoped when he traded NBA penthouse for current outhouse.

“I thought I’d be able to get a consistent 20, 25 minutes a night. But for whatever reason, that hasn’t panned out,” Neal said. “It’s a business. I could have stayed in San Antonio on the qualifying offer, but then you miss out on $6 million. Sometimes all the cards fall in your favor, sometimes they don’t. Right now, it’s hard with the record being [7-28] and my role basically being non-existent. It’s a tough spot. You’ve just got to fight through it.”

Drew, in his first season with a team whose October roster had 11 new faces and only four holdovers, still talks of Neal as the guy the Bucks signed. Or believed they were signing, anyway.

“Any time any player comes from a successful program, I think they have something to offer,” Drew said Friday. “Certainly he’s been in that Spurs system, so he has a great deal to offer. Also from his basketball ability. He’s a shot maker. He’s a guy who can get in a rhythm, he’s a guy who can get on a roll. So whenever he comes into a basketball game, I’m looking for A, B, C and D.”

Uh, Drew might have just misspelled DNP-CD.

Milwaukee does have a crowded backcourt and an array of potential gunners, from Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour to O.J. Mayo and Khris Middleton. One problem for Neal – for any of them at any given time – is that, other than injuries dictating the rotation, there is no real pecking order to the roster, too much evenness in skills and qualifications. So it’s about numbers and fit, with an overlap of strengths and weaknesses. That typically leads to odd men out, and right now Neal is that guy.

It hasn’t helped that, when he has gotten in games, his stints have been brief and at times he has tried to force results. Though his average minutes are down from his San Antonio days, the undrafted guard from Towson State is seeking his shot a little more – 16.3 FGAs per 36 minutes vs. 14.1 with the Spurs. His 3-point shooting (41.9 percent) has been better than on his 2-pointers (37.8).

“If you look at the stats, I’ve always been a scorer,” Neal said. “I mean, I’m not shooting the ball as good as I would like. But it’s always harder to get in a rhythm when you play those type of, y’know, six or seven spot minutes. The defense has a chance to focus in on you, the shots are harder.”

Again, Neal was talking about his well-compensated humbling because he was asked about it. He said several times he wasn’t trying to tell Drew or Bucks general manager John Hammond how to do their jobs. If that rumor out of the D-League Showcase in Reno proves true – that Neal is being shopped in advance of the February trade deadline, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported – the player knows he is just that, a player with a job to show up for every day.

“You don’t want to be a distraction. We have our share of distractions just by losing games,” Neal said. “When you look at [the limited opportunities] and you’re the only guy, coming from a situation where you’ve been on a winner the last three years and you were playing 30 minutes in The Finals, and the team is struggling and you haven’t been told a reason why you haven’t been given those extended minutes, y’know, it can be mind-boggling at times.

“But at the end of the day, you are a professional and you don’t want to be a distraction. So you just show up and hopefully the worm will turn and you’ll get minutes.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bynum-Gasol talk heats up | Rivers shoots down Griffin-‘Melo rumor | Sanders, Neal have postgame beef

No. 1: Bynum trade keys on Sunday — The on-then-off trade talks involving the L.A. Lakers’ Pau Gasol and their former big man Andrew Bynum, now on the outs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, might just be on again. And by on, we mean heating up big-time Sunday, since that represents the best last day to cross all t’s and dot all i’s by the end of business Tuesday. Trades of this nature typically take 48 hours to be finalized with NBA headquarters, and Jan. 7 is the date by which Bynum’s contract calls for another $6 million guaranteed for the balance of the season. The Cavaliers would prefer not to throw good money after bad, of course, and the Lakers are focused on the luxury-tax benefits of acquiring and then shedding Bynum to reduce payroll. ESPN.com reported the revival of talks that previously were said to be squelched, and USA Today offered a little more context of a deal that – despite the big names involved – is about as sexy as an investor culling stock losers from his portfolio with the IRS in mind:

The Los Angeles Lakers big man once again is the subject of trade talks, this time with the possibility that he’d swap spots with former teammate Andrew Bynum in a possible deal that is of very little relevance to this particular season when it comes to the competitive landscape. This is about failed ventures on both sides and mutually-beneficial attempts to fix bad teams.

… [According] to a person with knowledge of the talks between the two teams, the only asset Cleveland has offered as of Saturday night is a second-round pick, and that won’t be enough to get this deal done.

… By getting rid of Gasol in exchange for Bynum, the Lakers would escape the luxury tax territory this season while creating some badly-needed distance between them and the ‘repeater’ billing that is followed by such a huge, well, bill. …

… Whether it’s a first-round pick that the Lakers are pushing for or a young player who could be part of their cloudy future, the point of it all is that they want something besides the savings to hang their collective hat on. It’s a staring contest in that regard: the Cavs are well aware that the financial factor looms largest for the Lakers, and the Lakers are banking on Cleveland not wanting to cut Bynum for nothing in return and realizing that Gasol on a team that entered the season with playoff expectations but is now 11-22 would be a huge boon.

***


VIDEO: Doc sounds off on trade rumors

No. 2: Rivers disses favorite sports network — So stupid. A non-story. And “that network.” If anyone had any doubts about how L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers felt about speculation on ESPN’s various outlets about a Carmelo Anthony-for-Blake Griffin trade, Rivers removed them prior to his team’s game against the Spurs in San Antonio Saturday. In fact, while Rivers always is quick with the comic line about “Doc” merely being a nickname, he deftly performed a little-known surgical process, a rumorectomy, for the assembled media who were poking and prodding, as noted by Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times. Let’s all remember, too, how Rivers reacted to comments by ESPN basketball guy Bill Simmons‘ analysis of the coach’s departure (“quit on” was the pivotal phrase) from the Boston Celtics last summer:

Rivers said the Clippers aren’t engaged in talks to trade Griffin for Anthony and aren’t going to trade their All-Star power forward.

“My whole issue with any of that … is that that network to me reports a story that they created and then they do reports on it for the next two days, on a story that they created,” Rivers said. “But it’s stupid.”

The ESPN report, which was attributed to unidentified league sources, said the Knicks have discussed proposing an Anthony-for-Griffin trade with the Clippers, and that Clippers management has discussed such a deal internally. But the report said the teams haven’t spoken to each other about a possible trade.

With Chris Paul out three to five weeks because of a separated right shoulder he suffered Friday night at Dallas, Griffin becomes even more key for the Clippers.
Griffin leads the Clippers in scoring (22.1) and minutes played (36.6), and he is second in rebounding (10.6) and assists (3.1).

Griffin, 24, is in the first year of a five-year, $95-million contract that pays him $16.4 million this season.

Rivers said he didn’t talk to Griffin about the ESPN report.

“I didn’t say a word about it,” said Rivers, who is also the Clippers’ vice president of basketball operations and has the last word on trades. “I just thought it was such a non-story.”

***

No. 3: Bucks’ Sanders, Neal squabble in locker roomBad things happen with bad teams, and based on the unseemly scene in the visitors’ locker room in Phoenix late Saturday, you could probably guess without a glimpse at the standings that the Milwaukee Bucks (7-26) lug around the NBA’s worst record. After a 116-100 loss at US Airways Center, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders and Gary Neal got into what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel termed a “bitter argument,” with Neal “going” where few in the fraternity of millionaire athletes dare to go: attacking Sanders’ new contract extension (which doesn’t even kick in till next season). “I earned my money. Why don’t you try it?” Neal said postgame in earshot of reporters, after Sanders questioned his attitude. Anyone paying attention to the Bucks this season could make a case that no one there – from the front office down – has been earning his salary, based on the results. Sanders’ notorious and YouTubed nightclub incident cost him 25 games with a hand injury, while Neal has underperformed and been criticized for selfish play since arriving as a free agent from San Antonio. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel was there to chronicle some of the dreary ugliness:

It was the latest meltdown for a Bucks team that dropped to a 7-26 record as it lost for the second time in three games on its western swing.

And there were plenty of problems during the game as the Bucks committed a season-high 26 turnovers leading to 38 points by the Suns (20-12).

Bucks teammates did their best to downplay what was an ugly scene in the visitors’ locker room.

“Oh no, we’re good,” Bucks guard O.J. Mayo said. “A little team bonding, that’s all. A little kumbaya, man.

“It’s all good. When things aren’t going well, that’s when the real men reveal their true colors. Are you a grinder? Are you going to roll your sleeves up and get it done?

“People handle it different ways. We’re searching [for] ‘what do we need to do to get it going.’ “

.***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The downside of tanking (well, one more of the many downsides): Promising young players have to endure hard times. Pricey veterans often get shed by teams focused on the future, but a young desirable such as Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young winds up waiting for the 76ers’ plan to kick into action. … Veteran big man Kurt Thomas would like to get back in, yet at age 41, even he is turning up his nose at his old team in New York. … We’ll leave the digit jokes to you, but can report that Portland’s Nicolas Batum has broken the middle finger on his non-shooting (left) hand. He might not miss any time. … Veteran Hedo Turkoglu, who has played just one more game than Derrick Rose since the end of the 2011-12 season, might be on the Lakers’ radar. Turkoglu, 34, was waived Friday by Orlando, with the Magic saving half of his $12 million by shedding him now. Turkoglu reportedly is eschewing opportunities in Europe for a chance to stay in the NBA.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Grizz may re-sign Randolph | Gasol (illness) misses Lakers’ trip to Salt Lake City  | Bucks’ Sanders expected to play tonight | Cuban no fan of Christmas Day unis

No. 1: Report: Grizz may be open to re-signing Randolph — Just two weeks ago, Grizzlies All-Star forward Zach Randolph told our Fran Blinebury he was well aware of his name being bandied about in trade rumors. Said Randolph then: “The truth is there ain’t no loyalty or love, except in certain organizations where they keep players around, value them. Only a very few organizations seem like they want to keep players around to retire there.” As such, there’s a common thought around the league that Randolph, who has a player option on his contract this summer, will opt out and test the free-agent waters. But as Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports in a lengthy look at the Grizzlies’ up-and-down season, Z-Bo might be willing to stick around in Memphis:

With coaching change, modest roster turnover and a recent bout with injuries, the Grizzlies are 12-15 and 3 1-2 games out of a playoff spot. Is it time to panic?”When I got here, we were deep,” Randolph said. “We had O.J. [Mayo] and Rudy [Gay]. It’s different. But it gives guys a chance to play and have an opportunity to get better.”

Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince have been in and out of the lineup, and Gasol is likely out until mid-to-late January with a knee injury. Quincy Pondexter has a stress fracture in his foot that could keep him out for the rest of the season. But despite the potential riches that could be acquired in the 2014 draft, the Grizzlies aren’t looking to tear down in the short term. League sources say they’re active in trade discussions that would inject some wing athleticism into the mix and improve the team.

If Randolph exercises his player option for next season, the Grizzlies’ $62 million in committed salary will leave them comfortably under the tax but will afford no room to shop for free agents. League sources expect Randolph, 32, to opt out and try to score one more multi-year deal. But two people familiar with the situation say Memphis is not out of the mix to retain Randolph in such a scenario. The team is determined not to lose Randolph for nothing, so unless Randolph expresses a strong desire to leave — which he hasn’t — there’s no immediate pressure to trade him.

“It’s a business and we’ve got new ownership, but I’ve still got a job,” Randolph said. “That’s why I go out and play hard no matter what.”

***

No. 2: Lakers’ Gasol (respiratory infection) won’t play vs. Jazz — The Lakers got some good news on Christmas Day when point guard Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup, helping to offset L.A.’s recent loss of guard Steve Blake. But L.A.’s frontcourt will be thin for tonight’s game in Utah against the Jazz as power forward Pau Gasol stayed behind to deal with a lingering respiratory infection. Trevor Wong of Lakers.com has more:

The Lakers received good news when Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup on Christmas Day, but now they will be without Pau Gasol at Utah on Friday evening. Gasol has been dealing with an upper respiratory illness and is being listed as day-to-day, according to Lakers PR.

Gasol did not practice on Thursday in advance of the team’s flight and will not accompany the team to Salt Lake City.

“I think it’s lingering a little bit,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I think it does affect him.”

The 7-foot Spaniard missed the team’s game at Golden State on Saturday, Dec. 21, because of the same issue. Prior to the Warriors contest, he was the lone player to appear in the starting lineup through the first 26 games.

“Like anything else, you’re not 100 percent physically and you’re going to have shorter times of energy and stuff like that,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll get over it. He’ll be fine.”

***

No. 3: Sanders expected to return to Bucks’ lineup Friday — The last time Larry Sanders played a game for the Milwaukee Bucks, he scored four points and pulled down four rebounds in 21 minutes in a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 2. Since then, Sanders has been out as he recovers from a torn ligament in his right thumb that was suffered during an incident at a downtown Milwaukee bar after the loss to Toronto. He was expected to miss six weeks of action — which he roughly has — and should play tonight against as Milwaukee travels to Brooklyn. As Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out, though, Sanders is returning to a markedly different Bucks team and his role may be different as well.:

Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Drew received a late Christmas present when he arrived for work Thursday at the team’s Cousins Center practice facility.

Center Larry Sanders, considered a key part of the team’s rebuilding plans, was back on the practice court.

“It’s good to have him back,” Drew said after the practice session. “He was really good today. The energy, he was real bouncy. Defensively, he was very active and energized.”

Power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who did not play in the last three games while resting his sore right ankle, also returned to practice and should be available against the Nets.

Drew said he did not know what role Sanders would play against the Nets, only that he would play.

“We’ll think about it a little bit,” Drew said. “I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I like having the options.”

Milwaukee (6-22) has the league’s worst record but has played more competitively lately, winning once and losing three games in overtime.

Now, Sanders will join a young lineup featuring Brandon Knight, 19-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and John Henson.

“We’ll definitely have more bodies, so that will be good to give some guys some rest,” Sanders said. “Maybe we’ll be able to have that extra boost at the end of the game that we’ve been lacking. There’s a small margin of winning and losing. Hopefully, we can make that margin up a little bit.”

Sanders was asked if he learned anything from this experience, being injured off the court and being absent while his teammates struggled on the court.

“Definitely a lot of learning,” Sanders said. “I feel like I’ve recommitted myself to the game and other areas of my life. Things have been ironed out a little bit more. I’m looking forward to being out there with a clear mind and helping my team win.

“This team has a lot of fight in them. They’ve been fighting. It’s not like we’ve been getting blown out terribly in all of our games. I feel it and it makes me more excited to get back.”

Sanders will wear a tight glove with a hard plastic piece protecting his thumb, and a wrap will cover that.

.***

No. 4: Cuban no fan of NBA’s Christmas Day jerseys – You can always count on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to have an opinion on just about any topic. So it’s not surprise that when asked about the short-sleeved jerseys the Bulls, Nets, Heat, Lakers, Thunder, Knicks, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Clippers wore on Christmas Day, Cuban piped in with his view that is sure to please NBA brass. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com has more on Cuban’s view of the NBA’s new fashion venture:

As far as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is concerned, the NBA committed a major fashion faux pas by having all 10 teams that played Christmas Day suited up in short-sleeved jerseys.

“Hated them,” Cuban said before the Mavs hosted the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night. “I just thought it made our guys look more like a high school wrestling team or a college wrestling team.”

Cuban, whose Mavs had Christmas off, understands the NBA is attempting to market the short-sleeved jerseys to fans who might not want to wear tank tops. He just doesn’t believe it’s necessary for superstars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant to wear the T-shirt-style jerseys in games to get them to sell.

“I could have thought of better ways to sell [the short-sleeved jerseys] and a lot of different ways by having them in a casual-wear situation,” Cuban said. “We would have been better off, if we want people to wear them casually, to get the trainers and everybody else to wear them to show them in a realistic setting. So I would have done it a little differently, but we’ll see what happens.”

“I think the people that will buy them are more the jersey heads and the people who are trying to be hip and cool as opposed to the mainstream fan who just wants something to wear to work or something to wear to school,” Cuban said. “I don’t think schools are going to be happy if 16-year-old boys come in wearing skin-tight gym wrestling gear. My opinion, they’ll sell, but we could have sold more.

“You live and you learn. That’s just my opinion. Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe they’ll sell like gangbusters in China.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If you ever wanted to look like Chris “Birdman” Andersen, but didn’t want to have all those painful tattoos, there’s a new way to get his look without getting some ink … A statistical look at how those short-sleeved Christmas Day jerseys affected shooting … While we’re at it, here’s a cool infographic of the history of NBA uniforms … A great breakdown of how and why the Blazers’ starting five has worked so well together … The Mavs’ Devin Harris is shooting for a return in January

ICYMI Of The Night: Journeyman James Johnson has played all of five games for the Grizz this season, but his field goal percentage is a career-best 53.8 percent. Shots like this might be why he’s scoring so well …


VIDEO: James Johnson soars in for the one-handed power slam

Sanders Frustrated By Short Minutes

VIDEO: Larry Sanders might need more quality minutes for more quality work

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MILWAUKEE – It is pro sports’ chicken-or-egg quandary, setting up an eternal conflict between coaches and athletes: Does a player play more when he plays better, or does the player play better when he plays more?

Milwaukee center Larry Sanders is solidly in the camp of the latter. Bucks coach Larry Drew? Leaning more toward the former right now.

Sanders – the 6-foot-11 defensive savant whose breakthrough 2012-13 season included strong support for the Defensive Player (seventh) and Most Improved (third) awards, as well as a four-year, $44 million extension over the summer – is one frustrated shot-swatter and rebounder at the moment.

Through Milwaukee’s first three games, his production is down significantly: 2.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 17.3 minutes, compared to last season’s 9.8, 9.5, 2.8 and 27.3. After taking an average of 8.5 shots and making about half (50.6) in 2012-13, he has shot 4-for-16 so far, in a mixed bag of jump hooks, short jumpers and layups.

Sanders has been the opposite of smooth, offensively, looking at times like he’s wrestling a lawn chair. And in his view, he hasn’t broken enough of a sweat to do much better. He played 21:37 in the Bucks’ 97-90 loss to Toronto Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, contributing four points, four boards and one block.

“I feel like I’m capable of being in the game at the end and helping my team win, coming up with blocks and rebounds,” Sanders told NBA.com before exiting the locker room swiftly. “I haven’t been able to get my rhythm out there. I understand foul trouble situations, but tonight I wasn’t in foul trouble.

“Last year I finished so many games. I feel like that’s when I lock in the most. But I haven’t been able to get in the game to finish. That carries over to the next game. When you sit the last three quarters of each game, I can’t have no carryover. And it’s hard for me. I’m still a young player. It’s only my eighth year playing basketball.”

Sanders, 24, has played only 15 of his 52 minutes so far in the second half. He logged 3:12 at New York Wednesday, 5:34 at Boston Friday and 6:18 against the Raptors after the break. But then, the Bucks outscored the Knicks 52-34 after halftime and the Celtics 58-35. They had a 39-34 edge on the Raptors through 18 minutes of the second half Saturday before slipping back to lose the game by seven (and the half, 46-44).

Drew’s lineup in the fourth quarter Saturday primarly was O.J. Mayo and rookie point Nate Wolters in the backcourt, Khris Middleton, John Henson and 18-year-old project Giannis Antetokounmpo up front. That group, over the first 6:07 of the quarter, erased Toronto’s 12-point lead, getting the Bucks even at 85-85.

Drew subbed in Caron Butler for Middleton, who had missed a pair of free throws and a couple layups, over the final 3:04. Milwaukee got no closer than three.

“Throughout the game,” Drew said, “I just didn’t feel like we put a burst together, where we were really moving and flying around. So I elected to go smaller in the fourth quarter, move Khris to the four and Giannis to the three, and it got us going. At that point, I was really going to ride that group.”

Said Sanders: “That makes sense. But it’s not that group – Caron goes in. It’s about trust. Who you trust down the stretch, that’s who you’re going to play.”

If this is a trust issue, it may well be a temporary, evolving one. Drew has on his hands a roster that’s not just new to him but new to each other. He’s searching for combinations, with even his starting lineup fluid for now. His top two point-guard options – Brandon Knight (right hamstring strain) and Luke Ridnour (back spasms) – have been out, which messes with everyone’s rhythm.

Also, Drew has Zaza Pachulia as an option at center, a familiar face from the coach’s three seasons in Atlanta. Pachulia has averaged 13.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 26.0 minutes – though it’s a small sample size and the burly veteran didn’t play in the fourth quarter Saturday, either.

Drew suggested some of Sanders’ struggle on offense and frustration overall stems from adjusting to his third coach (after Scott Skiles and interim Jim Boylan) in 10 months. “It’s him still trying to learn this system and trying to learn his teammates,” Drew said. “He had some point-blank shots right around the basket – he just couldn’t get ‘em to drop.

“I thought that Larry played with some energy though. That’s the thing that, in my conversations with him, I want him to bring on a nightly basis. The other stuff will fall into place.”

Henson – the second-year forward who has had to scrape for his own minutes amid the newness, despite his strong summer in Las Vegas – said he has tried to calm Sanders, whose emotions sometimes outstrip his maturity.

“I talk to Larry, because he’s one of my best friends on the team,” Henson said late Saturday. “I told him, ‘You’re going to close 90 percent of our games.’ He’s just frustrated right now.”

Henson thinks Sanders might be pressing to show the world he’s worth the fat contract extension he received in the offseason. Sanders doesn’t feel that way, though. And Drew said, even if he did, he shouldn’t.

“Yeah, I’ve had that conversation,” the coach said. “There’s no need to press now. He’s in a good position. I know a lot of guys who get in that position of not knowing what their future holds, they do have a tendency to press. But for him, nah, there’s no need to press. Just go out there and play.”

And there’s the rub. Sanders puts the emphasis in that sentence on “go out there.” Drew, at the moment, is focused on the “play.”

This isn’t so much Larry vs. Larry as it is one Larry seeing things differently from the other Larry while serving separate agendas. One man’s chicken to the other man’s egg, with 79 games to go.