Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

Report: Thompson could bolt Cavs

Never mind the long hot days of August having everyone looking for a cool place to lie down. The representative for Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson is turning up the heat.

“A Tristan Thompson qualifying offer will be his last year with Cavs,” agent Rich Paul told Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

If that ended up being the case, Thompson would be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016.

The lengthy stalemate between the two sides is being viewed by Thompson’s camp as a level of disrespect. The power forward is seeking a contract of five years, up to $90 million.

In a summer that has seen NBA free agents sign contracts worth more than a combined $1 billion, Thompson is the biggest name left on the market, not to mention a key member of the rotation in Cleveland around LeBron James.

While a max level contract for a player who started just 15 of 82 games last season might seem high, Thompson did step up when Kevin Love suffered the first-round shoulder injury that sidelined him from the playoffs. Thompson’s strong offensive rebounding and his defense were a key part of the Cavaliers advancing to the NBA Finals before losing to the Warriors. In addition, if the 24-year-old Thompson were to sign a one-year qualifying offer for $6.8 million with the Cavs for next season, he would then become a 2016 free agent at a time when the salary cap is expected to increase by roughly $20 million and he could have no fewer than 20 teams with cap space bidding for his services.

Understandable that the Cavs, who are already looking at paying a tax bill for being over the cap, would look to hold the line and lessen the financial hit. But they could also be playing with fire by gambling that Thompson will eventually cave in. Last year at this time, Eric Bledsoe and the Suns went to the wall before the guard finally signed a new contract in September. But Detroit’s Greg Monroe signed one-year qualifying offer for 2014-15, became an unrestricted free agent and signed in July with Milwaukee, leaving his former team with nothing in return.

The Cavs are going to pay Thompson now or pay him more next summer. Time to end the drama.

Morning Shootaround — August 10


VIDEO: LeBron James’ top 10 plays from the playoffs

MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1 | Exum injury doesn’t destroy Jazz | Time to make room for women coaches in NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: MJ says he’d beat LeBron 1-on-1, all-time Bulls would top all-time Lakers — When Michael Jordan speaks, we all listen. And he said plenty over the weekend at his annual Flight School, answering plenty of pertinent questions for the campers in attendance, including how he’d handle LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 in his prime and responded to Shaq‘s challenge in regards to how the all-time great Bulls teams would fare against an all-time great team of Los Angeles Lakers. He poked Kobe Bryant, too, and even discussed Kwame BrownPatrick Dorsey of ESPN.com has the details: 

What did I think about when Shaq said that the all-time five of the greatest Lakers could beat the Bulls’ five greatest players?

“I just felt like he was just talking. It’s a debate. The thing is that we would never know. I think we would have killed them. He thinks they would have killed us. You guys decide. It’s just a debate.”

Favorite player to play pick-up games with?

“My best pick-up game I’ve ever played was the games and the practices with the [1992] Dream Team. … My team was myself, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Chris Mullin. We played against Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, David Robinson — that’s five, right? — and we killed ’em.

Note: That’s not five; the other player team’s fifth had to be either Karl Malone, John Stockton or Christian Laettner. There’s also a chance Jordan is misremembering a bit, and he’s talking aboutthis scrimmage covered in-depth by Sports Illustrated, which featured a Jordan-Malone-Ewing-Pippen-Bird five against Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin and Laettner (although a 40-36 final score in favor of Jordan’s team hardly constitutes a “killing.”)

If I had the chance to go one-on-one with Steph Curry or LeBron, which one would I choose to go one-on-one with?

“Right now, or when I was in my prime? Right now? Buddy, I couldn’t beat — well, I’d go against [Stephen] Curry because I’m a little bit bigger than him. So I could kind of back him in. But LeBron is a little bit too big.”

[Note: Take that, 34 percent of America.]

If I had a chance to add another member to team Jordan, who would I hire?

“I’m a big fan of [Mike] Trout, the baseball player. I absolutely love him. I wish I could hire him. But he’s Nike, so I can’t steal Nike’s guys.”

This is the ESPN question. I know it’s going to be all over ESPN. [Note: He was right.]If I was in my prime, could I beat LeBron in a one-on-one game?

[Long pause in which the campers mutter/shout their opinions.]

No question!

[Huge applause.]

What did I see in Kwame Brown when I drafted him [No. 1 overall for the Washington Wizards in 2001]?

“I, along with everybody that was in that draft room, wanted Kwame Brown because of his athleticism, his size, his speed. He was still a young talent, 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid.”

If you went back and you couldn’t play basketball or baseball, what sport would you play?

“Great question. I went to college, I got my degree in cultural geography, and everybody wanted to know what is cultural geography? Well it’s an introduction to meteorology. I always wanted to be the weather man. Don’t laugh. But that’s what I really wanted to do. So if I wasn’t playing basketball or baseball, I was going to tell you what the weather was going to be like tomorrow.”

[Note: Don’t think meteorology is a sport? Tell that to Jim Cantore!]

What kind of advice would I give Kobe Bryant?

[Uncomfortable laughter in the crowd.]

“Actually, Kobe and I are good friends. I like Kobe, we talk a lot, I hope he comes back healthy. I think he’s one of the great players of the game, I think he’s done a lot for the game, and he has a true love for the game of basketball. I absolutely have high regard for Kobe Bryant.

“Even though he stole all my moves, but that’s OK. I still love him like a brother.”

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — August 8


VIDEO: Jerry Colangelo breaks down the roster for USA Basketball’s minicamp

Tempered expectations for Stanley Johnson | Connaughton’s a rookie with two-sport dreams | Thompson calls trade to Warriors ‘bittersweet’

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Tempered expectations for Stanley Johnson — Any conversation about the rookies most ready to make an impact on their respective teams next season includes the name Stanley Johnson. The Detroit Pistons are counting on it. Johnson has the size, talent and based on what we saw from him in Summer League action the temperament to handle the rigors during his first season as a professional. But as always, the expectations for Johnson and many others in the celebrated Draft class of 2015 need to be tempered, writes Sean Corp in The Detroit Free Press

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy is even talking about a willingness to start Johnson at either shooting guard or small forward, as he mentioned during an interview with Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently.

However, if history is any indication, expectations for Johnson should be tempered. Rookies struggle, it’s just a fact of NBA life. It’s not a criticism it is an inevitability. Even last year’s All-Stars struggled to find much playing time as rookies. DeMar Derozan (1,664 minutes), LaMarcus Aldridge (1,392) and Paul George (1,265) played sparingly and looked lost on the court much of the time. If Johnson manages to eclipse even that modest amount of playing time (about 18 minutes per game) he will be the exception and not the rule.

Over the past 10 years, NBA lottery picks average just 1,457 minutes in their first NBA season. And Johnson isn’t a typical NBA lottery pick. Less than a month past his 19th birthday at the time of the draft, Johnson will be one of the younger rookies of the past 10 years. Just 12 lottery picks played most of their rookie season as teenagers, averaging just 1,213 minutes. Expanding the range to teens selected at any point in the draft, the average playing time is just 1,050 minutes. Even if you limit the analysis to those players selected 8th overall, like Johnson was, the average playing time is 1,292 minutes.

But what of his current head coach? Here is where a little excitement might be permitted. Van Gundy known nothing but success before arriving in Detroit, and as a consequence he has limited experience with rookies.

During a full season, Van Gundy has coached just six rookies in his career, including three first-rounders. The most prolific, unsurprisingly, is Dwyane Wade. Wade was selected fifth overall in 2003 and played 2,126 minutes, finishing third in the rookie of the year voting. The next year, the Heat selected Dorell Wright out of high school (19th overall) and he played a total of 27 minutes. Van Gundy’s other first-round pick was Courtney Lee in 2008, and Johnson and Lee make for an interesting comparison.

Lee came out of Western Kentucky as a 6-foot-5 combo guard-forward who could shoot the lights out and defend from day one, filling a glaring defensive need in Orlando’s high-powered lineup. He ended up playing 1,939 minutes as a rookie. Johnson, meanwhile, is 6-foot-7, capable of playing multiple spots on the floor, and is expected to be able to defend from day one. This defensive ability, on a team desperate to create the defensive identity Van Gundy is known for, could be Johnson’s ticket to regular playing time.

Is it fair to expect him to play 1,900 minutes like Lee did? No. A combination of competition on the roster, youth, and the history of rookies in the NBA says expecting more than that from Johnson would be an unreasonable expectation. Kevin Durant and LeBron James might have looked like stars from day one, but only because they grew from stars to superstars. For everyone else, a rookie year looks something like what Johnson is likely to experience – irregular playing time, regular mistakes and an invaluable learning experience.

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Report: Kobe says this could be his final season


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about whether this is the end of his era in the NBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The question will linger perhaps until this time next year.

Is it over?

Was the 2015-16 season Kobe Bryant‘s last?

And if it is the end, how will his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers and in the NBA play out with the likes of Lakers owners Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss, general manager Mitch Kupchak and new faces like D’Angelo Russell, Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams all having a say in his finale?

Kobe addressed those pressing issues, and much more, in an exclusive Q&A with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

Q: Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has hinted that next season can be your last. Could it be?

Kobe: “We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It’s tough to decide. It’s really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, ‘Kobe you will know.’

“I’m making this very simple. Either I like playing the game and going through this process or I don’t. I try to strip it down to the simplest form. Either I like playing some more or I don’t. But I think that decision needs to be made after the season. It’s hard to make a decision like that before the season.”

Q: Would you want a farewell tour?

Kobe: “It’s hard to do that type of stuff because I don’t know if I’m going to retire or not. It’s not a swan song when it all has not been written.”

Q: How does your body feel now and what is the difference between now and entering training camp last season?

Kobe: “The body is good. I feel good. … My lower body is solid. There are no question marks on what I can do. My body and my legs feel extremely strong and healthy. That’s the big difference. My upper body, I’ve been doing the weights and stuff like that. I’ve been kind of building up the upper body strength. The biggest change is I feel very, very solid in my legs.”

Q: Why do you still put your body through this after all the years and injuries?

Kobe: “I’m crazy. Ha, ha, ha. I love playing. I enjoy it. It’s weird. You go from as a kid loving the game, thinking you will be able to play forever to being where I am now and understanding there is some finality to it.

“It’s amazing to take a step back and look at that art. You’re kind of the opposite of starting out as a kid. You’re sitting here at 36 and soon to be 37 years old, it’s amazing.”

Q: How do you fight the pain and do the needed rehabilitation?

Kobe: “I just go. Once I make the decision I am going to take this challenge on, I never waver and I never question the investment. I already made the decision. You have those painful moments, but you just keep on moving.”

Q: When you see the mammoth money that could be available to you as a free agent next summer, does that make it more attractive to continue playing?

Kobe: “Zero. Zero. I’ve never played for the money. It’s never moved me. Money can come and go. I have a perspective about finances. The family is fine. What is more money going to bring other than more money? I have my family, I have my health and we’re comfortable financially and that is a massive blessing.

“I don’t want to undervalue the importance of generating any type of whatever. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m underappreciative of that or not thankful for that. But at the same, what is really important? What is the important thing? I never played for money. When I laced my sneakers up when I was a kid in Italy I wasn’t thinking about money. I had no idea how much Magic [Johnson] or [Larry] Bird got paid. I played it because I loved it.”

While Kobe insists there is nothing set in stone in terms of if this being his final season, the fact that he’s even entertaining the possibility is worth noting.

The end of an era, or perhaps the end of his era in the NBA, could be on its way soon.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 4


VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at Basketball Without Borders’ trip to Africa

Allen not quite retired yet | Mavs plan to take it easy with Matthews in first season | Report: Adidas offers Harden $200M shoe deal

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Allen not quite retired (yet) — Once LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers last season and other ex-Heat teammates (like Mike Miller and James Jones) joined him there soon after, it was thought that it wouldn’t be long before Ray Allen did likewise. But last season came and went without Allen on the Cavaliers — or any other NBA roster. So, is the all-time leader in 3-pointers made done with the NBA? According to Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant, don’t count him out just yet: 

Yes, Ray Allen cleaned out his closets this summer and gave away some of his shoes, leading fans on an Instagram-driven scavenger hunt around Hartford. But don’t read into it. He still has lots of shoes, and he’s not yet retired.

“I haven’t said anything about that and I won’t officially retire,” Allen said Saturday during a break in his basketball camp for kids at East Granby High. “Because if something came to the table, contractually and situational­ly, I want to be able to take a strong look at it. I don’t want to be that guy that says he’s retiring and then is coming back.”

Allen, the former UConn star and the most accomplished three­point shooter in NBA history, turned 40 on July 20 and has now been out of the game a full season, though, he said “a quarter to half” the teams in the NBA contacted him about coming back in time for the playoffs last spring.

“I didn’t miss it,” he said. “I realized how much time I missed not being home with my kids. I probably missed it in the Finals. Watching Cleveland and Golden State play, it just seemed like an epic battle that required a lot of precision on the floor and that’s when I felt, that was probably the only time thatI felt like, ‘Man, I should have been out there.'”

If he does not play again, Allen is comfortable with the run he’s had, which includes championships with the Celtics and Heat.

“It would be one thing if I played 10 or 11 years,” he said “But playing 18, I got a lot out of it. I like the feeling of knowing I don’t have to beat myself into the ground.”

His lifestyle hasn’t changed. Allen remains in playing shape. “I just stay in shape, period,” he said.


VIDEO: Ray Allen chats with Rick Fox

*** (more…)

Could LeBron James be returning to USA Basketball?

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Two years ago, there were rumblings that LeBron James was finished with his USA Basketball career. As Yahoo’s Marc Spears wrote at the time, USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo didn’t “expect James to play next summer — and doesn’t plan to ask him.” After all, James was coming off a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and understandably probably needed a break.

But perhaps absence made the heart grow fonder? This morning on Sirius XM’s NBA Radio, Colangelo was asked about James future involvement in the USA Basketball program, and Colangelo sounded as though James might not be done with USA Basketball.

“Well, I think LeBron wants to be part of it,” said Colangelo. “You know, when you talk about LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo [Anthony], they were the four young players who were, what, 19 years old, 20 at the best, who were added to the roster when some people dropped out at the last minute. They weren’t quite ready for prime time, if you think back. They just weren’t, and it’s a little bit of a disservice in some ways, but the NBA was looking to promote young, up and coming stars, and I get that. That’s one of the reasons why I was asked to take over the program. I said, ‘Look, I’ll do it, but it has to be complete autonomy, no more committees, no more politics. I’ll pick the coaches, I’ll pick the players if I’m going to be responsible.’ That’s the only way you can really turn the program and make it successful. So, we deal with it as it comes.”

Even without James taking part last summer, USA Basketball won gold at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. Next month, USA Basketball will hold a minicamp in Las Vegas, and Colangelo has said players hoping to be part of the 2016 Summer Olympics team in Rio will have to participate in Vegas. Recent reports say Blake Griffin will return to the USA Basketball program and take part in Vegas, along with several new faces.

James has added two more Finals runs since the summer of 2013, logging major minutes. As a 19-year-old, James was a reserve for the bronze medal-winning USA Basketball team in Athens at the 2004 Olympics. He has since played a much larger role under coach Mike Krzyzewski on the 2008 and 2012 gold medal squads.

Morning Shootaround — July 29


VIDEO: Grizzlies ‘ecstatic’ to have Barnes in Memphis

NEWS OF THE MORNING

New Bucks arena bill passes in Wisconsin | Grizzlies feel Barnes is perfect fit | Orlando’s Gordon working on game

No. 1: New Bucks arena bill passes in Wisconsin New ownership took over the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, and they began making over the franchise, changing personnel, uniforms, and beginning a campaign to get some public funding for a new arena. After a few months of public posturing and conversation with local and state lawmakers, the state assembly passed a bill yesterday that seems to guarantee the Bucks future in Milwaukee

Almost seven months after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed public money for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena, the Assembly Tuesday returned a $250 million bill to him, completing the last of the legislative challenges the presidential candidate laid out this year.

The Assembly approved the bill on a bipartisan vote of 52-34, leaving a healthy margin to spare because of absent lawmakers. The measure passed the Senate 21-10 on a bipartisan vote on July 15 and so it now goes to Walker.

While campaigning at two South Philadelphia cheesesteak joints, the governor said he would sign the much-revised measure, calling it a good deal for Wisconsin.

“It’s critical not only for those who love sports, but the main reason I got into it was because it protected state revenues,” Walker said, citing the income taxes Wisconsin would lose if the team leaves the state. “That just creates a big hole for everything else. … This was really about protecting the taxpayers of the state.”

Next up for the team is working out a land sale with Milwaukee County and getting approval for the arena from the Milwaukee Common Council. Speaking at the Capitol after the Assembly vote, Bucks head coach Jason Kidd and team president Peter Feigin praised the deal and said the remaining pieces could be assembled in time for construction to start in the fall.

“I’m not overly confident, but I’m confident,” Feigin said of reaching the land deal and getting city approval.

After months in which the measure struggled to gain support, the Assembly debate was anticlimactic, lasting about an hour and including not even a single floor speech by an opponent. In the end, 35 Republicans and 17 Democrats voted for the measure.

Two lawmakers from the greater Milwaukee area, Democrat Daniel Riemer of Milwaukee and Republican Adam Neylon of Pewaukee, missed the vote Tuesday while they were in Turkey as part of a cultural exchange for legislators but said they would have both voted against it. Regardless of party, most lawmakers from in and around the city voted for the proposal, except Democrats David Bowen and Jonathan Brostoff of Milwaukee and Republicans Chris Kapenga of Delafield and David Craig of Big Bend.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) kicked off the final debate by thanking both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and stressing that he believed that state taxpayers would get a good return on their share of the total subsidy package. Doing nothing would leave the city and state with a “black eye” and the loss of a promising team, he said.

“It is cheaper for us to pass this bill than defeat it and let the team leave,” Vos said.

***

No. 2: Grizzlies feel Barnes is perfect fit After a few years of playoff runs but not being able to get past the Conference finals, the Memphis Grizzlies have made moves to strengthen their bench this season. And perhaps the most important addition to the Grizzlies may be forward Matt Barnes, who the Grizz feel is a perfect match for their grit and grind mentality…

“This is a whole – not just team but city – with my ideal, a grind mentality,” Barnes said Tuesday. “I’ve been on teams that run-and-gun and dunk and shoot a lot of 3’s, but I’ve never been on a team that everyone has the same mindset I do. That’s very exciting from a player’s standpoint.”

The Grizzlies acquired Barnes, 35, from the Charlotte Hornets last month in exchange for guard Luke Ridnour.

Charlotte had picked up Barnes along with center Spencer Hawes less than two weeks earlier in a trade that sent guard Lance Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers. Barnes averaged 10.1 points, 4 rebounds and 1.5 assists while playing a career-high 29.9 minutes per game with the Clippers last season.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said the 35-year-old Barnes “wears his heart on his sleeve,” an approach that could make the 6-foot-7 forward an ideal fit for a franchise that relies on hustle and defense.

“If there’s any player that was destined to be a Grizzly, it’s Matt Barnes,” Wallace said. “He’s a guy that we had our dustups with when he was on the other side of the fence – particularly the Clippers – but now he’s one of us and we’re ecstatic to have him.”

The Grizzlies actually drafted Barnes in the second round in 2002, but they immediately traded him to Cleveland in a draft-night deal. Barnes has been moving around ever since. He’s played for both Los Angeles franchises as well as Sacramento, New York, Philadelphia, Golden State, Phoenix and Orlando.

This latest move has his twin sons somewhat confused.

“They’re just like, ‘Daddy, so do you not like DeAndre (Jordan), Chris (Paul) and Blake (Griffin) anymore?’ ” Barnes said. “I’m like, ‘No, they’re still my friends. They’re the enemy when the ball goes up.’ I’m a competitor. I have friends on the other team obviously, but for 48 minutes my only friends are my teammates.”

Barnes irritates opponents with his tenacious defense and fiery personality. The Grizzlies already have one of the league’s top defenders in guard Tony Allen. Having both could make the Grizzlies even peskier.

“The best compliment you can give somebody is that you just don’t like playing against him,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “Matt’s a guy we just did not like playing against. … We want those kinds of guys on our team.”

***

No. 3: Orlando’s Gordon working on game The Orlando Magic entered a rebuilding campaign a few years ago and have amassed quite a collection of young talent, from Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo to Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. Another player showing promise is Aaron Gordon, who followed his rookie season with a big Summer League performance, and is still looking to improve, writes NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury

His rookie season became a virtual washout almost from the moment last November when Gordon fractured a bone in his left foot and missed two months. Despite the first double-double of his career in April, there was plenty of work to be done.

But it was a different, a more comfortable, a more confident Gordon who took the floor for the Magic at the Orlando Summer League and began to show why he was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Gordon beat defenders off the dribble and finished with power dunks. He pulled up off the dribble and stroked jumpers like they were his calling card. He even nailed 3-pointers.

Put all those newfound skills together with the 6-foot-9, 230-pound body, explosive leaping ability and assorted athletic moves and Gordon is a candidate to make big strides next season.

“Last year there was a lot of being uncomfortable,” Gordon said. “This year I’m a lot more comfortable. So it’s easy for me.”

The transformation was only “easy” because Gordon has logged countless hours of hard work inside the Magic practice gym at Amway Center and on the West Coast near his home in San Jose, Calif.

“A lot of people don’t see the work that Aaron puts in,” said Mario Elie, one of the new members of Scott Skiles‘ Orlando coaching staff. “When I first came here in June, he’s in the gym working on his shot. I’m in the office all day. He’ll go home and come back to work on his game again and I’m not surprised he was one of the top scorers in the Summer League.

“He’s a young player who wants to be great. He has the right frame of mind, the right attitude,” Elie said. “He’s like a sponge. You tell him to do something, he goes out and does it. He can be a great leader for this young ball club. At 19 years old? This guy It’s fantastic to see.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James answered questions from fans on Twitter … Festus Ezeli moved from Africa to California to become a doctor. Instead he became an NBA champCraig Hodges has been let go as coach of the Knicks’ D-League team … Damien Wilkins is hoping to build off of his experience with the Pan-Am team …

Dellavedova accepts Cavaliers’ qualifying offer


VIDEO: Matthew Dellavedova had a special night in Game 3 of The Finals

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Matthew Dellavedova experience will continue for at least one more season in Cleveland. The backup point guard accepted the Cavaliers’ one-year qualifying offer of $1.2 million, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin.

Pressed into a starting role during The Finals, when Kyrie Irving was lost to injury after Game 1, Dellavedova had his shining moments on the biggest stage alongside LeBron James. Dellavedova’s individual matchup with KIA MVP Steph Curry became one of the central storylines during The Finals.

A restricted free agent, Dellavedova, will head to training camp with the Cavaliers as Irving’s primary backup but also in a rotation that could include veteran free agent guard Mo Williams. Dellavedova will become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

 

Morning Shootaround — July 27


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times have changed.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Report: Magic get Napier from Heat for 2nd round pick


VIDEO: Shabazz Napier shares some of the lessons learned from his rookie season in Miami

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Shabazz Napier‘s time with the Miami Heat is up.

He’s headed to Orlando in exchange for a second round pick, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, ending his brief tenure with the Heat after just one season. A first round Draft pick in 2014, and the player LeBron James declared his favorite heading into that Draft, Napier will join a crowded point guard situation in Orlando.

Orlando already has a budding young talent in starter Elfrid Payton and a veteran backup in C.J. Watson. Napier averaged 5.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds in just 19.8 minutes per game for the Heat, who have three point guards — Goran Dragic, Mario Chalmers and Tyler Johnson — remaining on their roster.

The Heat wills save money ($1.3 million salary for Napier) and give themselves some roster flexibility by making the move. The Magic, meanwhile, fill out their point guard rotation with yet another first round talent and a young player they can mold in whatever way coach Scott Skiles wants to in his first season on the job.