Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Atlanta mayor wants to keep Hawks in city | Report: Nowitzki to play in EuroBasket | LeBron banner may return to downtown Cleveland | Zeller hopes to start for Celtics

No. 1: Atlanta mayor determined to keep Hawks in city — The Atlanta Hawks are in a state of flux in many ways off the court (which our David Aldridge spelled out excellently in his most recent Morning Tip column) due to recent comments from GM Danny Ferry and an e-mail from owner Bruce Levenson. Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves are moving out of the city limits to a new stadium in the suburbs in the coming years and, just three years ago, the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg. As Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is determined to not let another team (namely the Hawks) leave the city limits, even if it means the city has to help the team out:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has already seen two professional sports franchises leave the city limits during his administration, is determined not to let a third get away.

Reed said Tuesday that the city will play a role in the sale of the Hawks and that he has committed to keep the NBA franchise in Atlanta even if that means anticipated public assistance.

The controlling interest in the Hawks – which Reed revealed to be 50.1 percent – is at stake after co-owner Bruce Levenson announced last week that he will sell his share in the team after he admitted writing a racially-charged email in 2012. The email was discovered after an independent investigation into racist comments made by general manager Danny Ferry during a conference call with ownership and management in June. Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence.

The revelations of the words of Levenson and Ferry have set off a firestorm that has engulfed the Hawks franchise. New ownership is inevitable. So is uncertainty about the Hawks future.

Reed pledged public money to keep the Hawks in Atlanta. He said the city was prepared to spend between $150 and $200 million to keep the Braves. The sale of Turner Field would provide further assistance.

“We also have an interest in making sure that the new buyer wants to keep the team in the city and in the city,” Reed said. “Let me be clear what that means — in the city and in the city. That means that a prospective owner that receives my support, and I believe the support of the Atlanta City Council, will make a long-term commitment to keep the Atlanta Hawks in the city of Atlanta and will make a long-term commitment not to move the franchise.”

Reed, flanked by area civil and human rights leaders and Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, said the city’s interest in the sale centers on the fact it owns Philips Arena and its approximate $124 million debt. Reed said he spoke to at least six prospective buyers, all of whom had the financial ability to buy Levenson’s 24 percent stake. However, with fellow Washington-based co-owners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman also intending to sell, the available percentage is now more than half of the franchise.

Reed said that Atlanta-based ownership of Michael Gearon Jr., Michael Gearson Sr. and Rutherford Seydel currently intend to keep their stake in the team.

Reed, who would not reveal those interested in buying the Hawks, said he expects the sale process to move quickly. The NBA has hired an investment banking firm that will vet all potential buyers. Reed said he is scheduled to meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Sept. 26.

Ensuring a diverse ownership group is important, Reed said. The mayor was in China last week and spoke to a businessman there interested in buying Levenson’s 24 percent share and said that he wanted at least five percent of the stake to be minority ownership.

Still, Reed said, “My sense is some assistance will be needed from the city of Atlanta in one form or another.”


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s recent comments (more…)

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

Stars of NBA.com Top 10 voting ending


VIDEO: Stars of the NBA.com Top 10 second team

By Beau Estes, for NBA.com

The clock is ticking and the ball is in your hands.  It’s now all down to fan votes.

Today we release the first half of the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.” There are five spots remaining on this list and we have a pool of five players for fans to vote among.

The player with the most votes from the fans will be crowned king this Wednesday.  The deadline for voting is Wednesday at midnight (ET), so send your vote — your one vote for the player that should be No. 1 — to @NBABeau and later on Wednesday we will release the Top 5.

The following, in no particular order, are the five players to choose from:

  • Russell Westbrook
  • Kevin Durant
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Blake Griffin

Once again, get your votes in to @NBABeau and we will reveal your choice for the Top 5 players on the “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

Thus far, the response has been as entertaining as much as enthusiastic.

Some fans were conflicted, but in the end honest.

Others were filled with certainty about their choice

Still others wanted to dive into the history books, which wasn’t precisely the exercise, but was fun nonetheless

Once again, get your votes in to @NBABeau by Wednesday at midnight and we will then reveal your choice for the Top 5 players on the first ever “Stars of the NBA.com Top 10.”

Favored U.S. keeps focus on Lithuania


VIDEO: FIBA: Day 2, Quarterfinals Wrap

BARCELONA — That fine line between confident and cocky, the one the favorites always walk, is being navigated carefully by the U.S. National Team here at the FIBA World Cup. Upsets have a way of forcing reality onto teams, even one filled with NBA stars who believe, no matter the odds, that they won’t come all this way without leaving with gold.

Mike Krzyzewski‘s unyielding respect for the process and the rest of the field makes much more sense now that France has toppled Spain on the other side of the bracket, leaving a golden opportunity in front of the U.S. as the Americans square off with Lithuania today (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the right to advance to the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

“We know what a great team Lithuania is and how well they’ve played the whole tournament,” U.S. guard Steph Curry said during a Thursday morning news conference alongside Coach K. “We obviously knew what happened (to Spain) but it didn’t affect in anything in our preparation. Nobody  really expected it, they beat pretty well in pool play. But that’s the beauty of the tournament. Everybiody gets another chance to get to the medal round and then it’s a one-and-done process. And that makes it even more important for us to come out and focus and take care of our business. Everybody knew about it (France upsetting Spain). But our job is to beeat Lithuania and worry about who we’re going to play in Madrid. That’s the mentality, it was yesterday and it stays the same today.”

During pool play, any mention of Spain drew a polite but curt no comment from Coach K, who  dutifully reminded anyone willing to listen that a place in Madrid had to be earned. Ask about a potential opponent two games away and Coach K wouldn’t let the questioner finish. He’d reiterate that his and his team’s sole focus was on the team they’d face next.

Peppering the players with similar questions resulted in similar responses.

“We’re not focused on Spain or anyone else but … “

It doesn’t seem so strange now, not after seeing Spain crumble under the weight of expectations Wednesday night in Madrid.

In the moments after their quarterfinal win over Slovenia, after TNT’s Charles Barkley picked Spain to win it all and just before Phoenix Suns All-NBA point guard and Slovenian catalyst Goran Dragic did the same, Coach K made it clear that his team is not invincible.

“We’re beatable,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

That wasn’t posturing. Coach K knows as well as anyone — Pau Gasol and his Spanish National Team teammates included — just how humbling it can be to live that reality.

The failures of the U.S. team in 2006 is fresh in the minds of those involved with USA Basketball at all levels.

“We’re not an arrogant group that thinks we don’t have to come out and play our hardest and our best every night. That’s just not who we are as a team,” James Harden said. “We respect all of the other teams here. We’re not the only group of NBA guys here, we know that. This is a tournament, a competition, and that means it’s wide open and anybody has a chance to win.”

Having a young team, relatively speaking, that doesn’t include the usual complement of superstars that was expected (Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, etc.) won’t save the U.S. from expectations now that Spain is out. The Americans go back to the top of the heap as the unquestioned favorite to capture gold.

And that means this team must compartmentalize in short order the new dynamics. Serbia and France both sprung upsets on the other side of the bracket. Who’s to say that either one of them couldn’t do it again?

So those slow starts and energy-deficient stretches this U.S. team has struggled through cannot be a part of the process any longer.

“I think we’ve played well,” Coach K said, defending his team. “I don’t know what everybody has been watching, but you know, our guys have played their butts off. They have great camaraderie. You all, some of you, think that flipping the switch, or whatever, is when we start hitting shots. If any team just had to wait for that, then they are flipping that switch all the time, because you don’t hit shots all the time. What you can do is play hard, play defense and rebound. And you can do those things all the time, and our team has done that all the time. So, then when you start hitting shots, everything looks good when you hit shots.”

Krzyzewski said he’s pleased with his team’s growth and maturity throughout the course of training camp and competition. The U.S. has maintained a sense of calm on the floor when things don’t come quickly. “So far they’ve been great about it, and I think part of it is how we handle things,” he said. “Like the mood we try to create. You want to be serious, but not to an extent where you become tight. They need to be loose.”

That was easier to do before France turned this competition upside down with that 68-52 beating of Spain. The seriousness of it all, the fact that if you don’t play your best in this one-and-done scenario could be the difference between playing to capture back-to-back titles or playing for third place.

There’s no extra motivation needed then.

“To play to get to the gold medal game, that’s the main motivation,” Klay Thompson said. “And [Thursday] is September 11, an infamous day in American history, so we just want to honor our country in that aspect.”

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer


VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.

Blogtable: The state of the States

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: The state of the States | Getting untracked | The Hawks



VIDEO: A “turrific” Spain team will not be intimidated by the U.S., says Charles Barkley.

> Charles Barkley is picking Spain at the FIBA World Cup. What if the U.S. doesn’t win gold? What does that say about the state of basketball in the U.S.?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comNo biggie. The whole Dream Team experience 22 years ago was intended, yes, to re-assert U.S. superiority in basketball but also to spread the gospel of the game around the globe. Well, mission accomplished on both fronts: That team shredded the competition but also upped everyone’s game internationally. If Coach K & Co. could just cake-walk over everyone in 2014, the second objective would have been a failure. Let’s not forget, either, Team USA doesn’t have the NBA’s very best participating.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: No time to panic and trade in your passport. It says what we already knew. The basketball world has changed dramatically since the 1992 Dream Team.  The talent gap has shrunk and the “awe factor” of Team USA is gone.  With a Spanish lineup of Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro, to name a few, it means the U.S. needs to put its very best — LeBron, Carmelo, Durant, etc. — to beat a first class Spanish team before a home crowd.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It says a group of Spaniards came together as a team better than this group of Americans, which, frankly, is our B/C team. These Spanish players are talented and many have played together for quite some time. This young American squad can’t say that. If Spain wins, great for them. The U.S. can begin plotting revenge at the 2016 Games when the American team will feature LeBron, KD, CP3, K-Love, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook … must I go on?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It would say Spain is definitely better than the United States’ backup squad. No LeBron James, no Kevin Durant, no Chris Paul, no Paul George, no Blake Griffin, no Kevin Love — there is no referendum on basketball in the U.S. if the Americans do not win the gold, as much as some people will pull a muscle straining to reach the conclusion. Maybe Spain would beat a Team USA at full strength, but we’ll never know. Based on actual events, if — if — the U.S. misses the gold, it will be more of a statement about the commitment of players to the program than the level of talent.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s no big statement about the state of the game in the U.S. Yes, there needs to be more practicing and less traveling at the AAU level. And yes, there needs to be more focus on the fundamentals, teamwork and passing skills that we see from some of these international teams. But the absence of both LeBron James and Kevin Durant makes such a huge difference that if the U.S. loses, it doesn’t mean that it’s not still the best basketball nation in the world.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAbsolutely nothing. As good as the 2014 FIBA World Cup team has been, and they are 40 minutes from playing or gold in Madrid on Sunday, the entire planet knows that the A-Team didn’t make the trip. Spain knows it. Lithuania knows it. Everyone knows that to the be the case. Coach K has made it clear that this team is no invincible. He learned that the hard way in 2006 against Greece. That’s why  I would argue that this team winning gold here would be as impressive a feat as any team under the Colangelo-Kryzyewski USA Basketball banner . No one outside of their own locker room expects them to win here. But let’s be real about this, if Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and a few other top flight NBA stars were here (I’m not even talking about LeBron, CP3, Carmelo and the guys who won gold in London), this discussion wouldn’t be taking place. And while everyone else is concinved the U.S. contingent cannot win here, I disagree. I think they can. All that said, I think the better question is what does it say about basketball in the rest of the world, and Spanish basketball in particular, if this U.S. team defies the odds and does walk away with gold against a better and more seasoned foe on its home soil?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It says we didn’t have our best team on the court. Not to take anything away from Spain or the other teams in the World Cup, but a Team USA with, oh, let’s say some permutation of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan, Russell Westbrook or even Paul George, I think it’s safe to say we would have a more powerful team. Are other countries catching up to the United States? Yes. Have they caught the United States? No. Not yet, at least.

Blogtable: Ranking the starts

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: The state of the States | Getting untracked | The Hawks


Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are working out in Spain. Will that help? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are working out in Spain. Will that help? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

> Rank, from the roughest to the smoothest, the start that these re-worked teams face this season, and why: Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, Houston.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll go Houston, Golden State, Chicago and Cleveland. The Rockets are dealing with offseason loss and dashed ambitions, a lousy way to open any new season. Golden State faces a learning curve under Steve Kerr and his staff and apparently some bruised feelings for Klay Thompson and David Lee. The Bulls didn’t get Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love but they’ve done this depth-and-new-parts thing before, assuming Derrick Rose flakes off his rust. The Cavaliers face all sorts of adjustments, but the big-risk, big-reward payoff is so enticing, their growing pains will feel like a brawny chiropractor’s adjustments, well worth it when they’re done.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Depending on the conditioning and the game feel of Derrick Rose after missing virtually two years of NBA play, the Bulls potentially have the roughest start just to get him back in the lineup, up to speed and meshing with everyone else.  I’d slot the Rockets next, because after Dwight Howard and James Harden they have a glaring lack of depth that the addition of Trevor Ariza doesn’t cover.  Houston will be relying on many young faces — Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Troy Daniels, Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson — to step up and deliver.  The Warriors roster is not re-worked — add Shaun Livingston — but they’ve got a new coach.  It always comes down to the health of Andrew Bogut.  But either way, they’re still likely in the mid to bottom of the West bracket.  Not much changes.  Then comes the Cavs.  A bump here, a loss there and, of course, every time it happens the world will panic.  But LeBron is back in Cleveland and that makes things smoother than a baby’s bottom.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I put the Rockets at the top of the list. There’s been a ton of turnover and I’m sure the remaining players at some point had to be shaking their heads at what had gone down. I’m not sure the Rockets really ever developed a true identity last year (they sure couldn’t close out a game regardless how big the lead), and now it’s up to Dwight Howard and James Harden to handle the pressure of expectations and lift the team even as it might overall be weaker. Next I’ll go with Chicago because of the Derrick Rose factor. I think he’s got double-duty in the sense that he has to get himself right, regain his confidence, find his shot, etc., while also figuring out his team. Cleveland is next as three All-Stars try to come together under a first-time NBA head coach. As for Golden State, I just see a pretty smooth transition here with Steve Kerr. The core roster is the same and I think Kerr’s style is going to be a fun and quick learn for his players.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Chicago (roughest), Houston, Cleveland, Golden State (smoothest). The Bulls are in the hardest position because so much of their success will depend on a player, Derrick Rose, coming back from a long injury absence. That will take time, even if he is doing well physically. The Warriors are in the best position because they basically return the same roster. New coach, so the system might be different, but Steve Kerr isn’t going to make dramatic adjustments that will cause players to grind gears. He isn’t going to install a slow-down, half-court brand of basketball. The Warriors are not that re-worked. Take Golden State out, and the Cavaliers have the smoothest start. A lot of new players, yes, but veteran players, unselfish players, mature players. There may be an adjustment period in Cleveland, but if you have to go through one, go through it with the best player in the world.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Warriors will have the roughest start, because they hired a guy who has never coached before. The Rockets lost two of their playmakers, so they will take a step back offensively. The Cavs have a new coach and new starting lineup, so it will take some time for them to be the juggernauts that we think they’ll be eventually. Derrick Rose won’t be at his best in October and November, but the Bulls have that defense to fall back on. This is now Year 5 for Tom Thibodeau, who will have his foot on the pedal from the start.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comCleveland should have the toughest time because they have the most change to adjust to from new stars to a new coach who is new to the NBA. Chicago is next with Derrick Rose coming back and Pau Gasol coming into the fold. Houston lost an important piece in Chandler Parsons but replaced him with a guy in Trevor Ariza who has played a similar role in a couple of spots, so his transition should be relatively smooth. Golden State’s major change came in the coaching ranks, so if Steve Kerr is as ready as people think, the Warriors should have the smoothest start of anyone on this list.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCleveland — They aren’t adding just one new player, they’re adding several starters, as well as a coach with zero NBA head coaching experience, plus expectations will be sky-high, despite LeBron doing his best to tamp those down. Golden State — There may be a moderately difficult adjustment period, but as they’re returning mostly the same roster, the level of familiarity between players will help as they adopt Kerr’s system. Chicago — Adding Pau Gasol may cause a bit of a wrinkle, as they lose Carlos Boozer who’d spent years in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system. But Gasol is smart and versatile enough that it shouldn’t be a major disruption. Houston — They may be swapping out Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza, but it’s essentially that, a swap. Houston pivots on Dwight Howard and James Harden, and as they go, so goes everyone else.

World Cup stint helps Irving hone leadership skills

Kyrie Irving is learning a lot in Spain (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images).

Kyrie Irving continues to hone his craft in Spain (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images).

BARCELONA — A hard fall late in a September game a year ago would have been just a part of the deal for Kyrie Irving, nothing out of the norm for an NBA player getting ready for the upcoming season.

But this summer has been anything but normal for the Cleveland Cavaliers star. From the moment LeBron James announced he was coming home until the day the Kevin Love trade was finally completed, things have been completely abnormal for Irving.

So he wasn’t surprised at the intense scrutiny that followed that hard fall in the U.S. National Team’s final pool play game last week against the Ukraine. Irving was back on the practice floor Friday and in the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 win over Mexico. But that didn’t stop Cavaliers Nation from worrying.

“We’ve got a few more followers now,” he said, laughing sarcastically as he spoke the truth. “I realize that everything that I do now interests a lot more people, even something like this.”

Irving’s work here, as the starting point guard on a team that boasts a former MVP in Derrick Rose and an All-Star in Steph Curry (who is also in the starting lineup but not as a point guard like he is for the Golden State Warriors) speaks volumes about Irving’s still evolving game.

It speaks the trust U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff have in Irving and the belief his teammates have in his abilities and leadership skills. This competition is the ideal place for Irving to hone those leadership skills. He’s directing traffic for a group of stars, All-Stars really, with the world watching.

It’s the same sort of thing he’ll have to do from now on in Cleveland, albeit with the biggest star in the game on his side.

Normal got flipped overnight.

Expectations changed in an instant, the moment LeBron said he was coming home. And that’s what makes this summer crash course in accelerated leadership the perfect preparation for Irving.

“This is awesome for me,” Irving said. “It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had up to this point in my career. This is one of the biggest things I’ve played for at this point in my career, so I’m just looking forward to the challenge.”

There’s never been any question about Irving’s talent. When healthy, he’s proven himself to be among the NBA’s truly elite point guards. A two-time All-Star before he’s ever tasted the intensity of playoff competition, this is his first time competing and running a team on a stage like this. And he admitted that it’s been an eye-opener in many ways.

“We all come from different organizations and we all have different roles on our teams,” Irving said of the leadership style on this U.S. National Team. “So it’s not more or less about picking and choosing when to say something. We all have respect for one another and tell each other the truth and look each other in the eye. That’s how we’ve come together as a group thus far. And that’s why we’re as close as we are after a month and a half together, because we have respect for each other’s games. Obviously, I’m a fan of all these guys games. And it’s a great opportunity to play with all of these other great players.”

The best part in the USA Basketball environment is that everything is earned. Irving was so good in training camp that even if Rose was 100 percent healthy, Irving would still have been the right fit with the first unit.

Either way, he’s learning a lesson in how to handle things from Rose, who has experience in this realm that Irving is just now seeing in the flesh.

“You have players like me, Klay [Thompson] and the rest of the starting five, almost all the players on our team, you have to sacrifice coming off the bench,” Rose said. “With me in the second unit, I believe there is no second unit that can stick with me when I’m on the floor, and that’s vice versa with Kyrie if he was to come off the bench, no one could stick him. That’s what makes us unique.”

How much of this translates to the NBA season and what Irving will be asked to do with LeBron and Love in the mix, remains to be seen. Roles will have to be adjusted. Chemistry will have to be developed. Sacrifices will have to be made.

But if it’s a choice between winning at the highest level and having to sacrifice a few of the comforts he’d grown accustomed to in Cleveland the past few seasons, it’s not even a debate.

“I’m all about winning, winning gold here and winning at the highest level in everything I do,” Irving said. “That’s the ultimate challenge for any of us, to find out if you have what it takes inside to win like that.”

Before he decided to return home to Cleveland, James was already a fan of Irving’s. A well-versed “student of the game” as he likes to call himself, he’d had an eye on the kid going all the way back to Irving’s high school days.

Playing against him while in Miami and alongside him during the All-Star Game, proved what he already knew about Irving.

“Kyrie’s special,” James said after watching Irving earn All-Star MVP honors in February. “It’s just that simple. Very special basketball player, very smart basketball player — his ability to shoot the ball, get into the lane, make shots around the rim. He has the total package. I’ve always known that, always witnessed that ever since he was in high school.”

What they’ll do together, with Love as the third member of the latest Big 3, could be special, too.

All those folks and new followers in Cleveland and around the world are counting on it.


VIDEO: Kyrie on injury, team chemistry

Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

***

No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

***

No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

Morning Shootaround — September 6



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.

***

No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

***

No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

***

No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors. NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

***

No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.