Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Smart’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson not a star yet | Suns point guards slow to adjust | Butler has risen against the odds | Lopez a perfect fit in Portland

No. 1: Stephenson not a star yet — With a 4-12 record and the second longest losing streak in the league, the Charlotte Hornets have been the most disappointing team outside of Cleveland. The arrival of Lance Stephenson was supposed to give their offense a boost, but they rank 25th on that end of the floor and have regressed defensively. Stephenson is still starting, but has seen his playing time drop quite a bit in the last week. After he logged just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Blazers, Hornets coach Steve Clifford provided a dose of reality regarding his team’s new “star,” as Michael Wallace of ESPN writes:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Clifford’s comments came after Stephenson was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a second consecutive game, this time during Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that extended the Hornets’ losing streak to seven straight games.

A combination of preseason injuries and struggles since then to find his rhythm and a consistent role in Clifford’s offense has made Stephenson’s transition much more difficult than some anticipated.

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No. 2: Suns point guards slow to adjust — At 10-6 after a win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns are in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. But they’re still trying to find their way, especially offensively, where they’ve taken a small step backward. One adjustment is the addition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who joins Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in an unconventional backcourt. Though the team is winning, it’s impossible for all three to get their deserved playing time every night. As Thomas tells CBS Sports‘ James Herbert, that can be tough to deal with:

With the Kings, he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, especially in his first two seasons. He watched Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette play the point in front of him. Thomas has learned that he can’t worry about the things he can’t control. Still, this is challenging. Thomas has proven he’s capable of producing like an All-Star, and so have Dragic and Bledsoe.

“It’s a tough situation,” Thomas said. “But you’ve just got to be ready for whatever circumstances coach puts you in. You gotta be ready when your name is called, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s tough.

“It’s not what I expected,” Thomas continued. “But coach has a tough job. Putting all of us on the floor and trying to mix up the minutes, it’s tough for him. So it’s not just tough for us as players, we just gotta be ready when our name’s called and just know, I mean, coach is trying to do what he thinks is best for the team to put us in a position to win. But the key word is it’s a tough situation. For all of us.”

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No. 3: Butler has risen against the odds — The Chicago Bulls have one of the most improved offenses in the league, despite the fact that Derrick Rose has played just 6 1/2 of their 15 games. One reason is the continued development of Jimmy Butler, who has the best field goal percentage of the five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft out of Marquette, where most teams didn’t see much talent in the 6-7 guard. ESPN’s Nick Friedell profiles Butler and his path to becoming a big piece of a title contender:

Jimmy Butler isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be in the NBA. He’s not supposed to be a key member of a Chicago Bulls team that has championship aspirations. He’s not supposed to be in the midst of an All-Star type season — the best of his career — in which he has carried the Bulls on both ends of the floor at various times. And he’s certainly not supposed to be on the verge of cashing in on a contract offer at season’s end that will likely pay him well over $50 million over the next four seasons.

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of “The Blind Side.” No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season.

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No. 4: Lopez a perfect fit in Portland — The Portland Trail Blazers made a 21-win leap from Lottery team to the second round of the playoffs last season, and have continued rolling with a 12-3 start this year. They’ve gotten improvement from all of their high-profile players, but the key to the transformation was the addition of a low-profile center. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details the importance of Robin Lopez to the Blazers’ success:

After 96 regular season games and one memorable playoff series victory, it’s become clear that Lopez was the missing link for this franchise. A city that has watched the downfall of the beloved yet brittle Bill Walton, and the depressing breakdowns of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, finally has a stabilizing force at the NBA’s most important position.

And while Lopez’s made-for-Portland personality and rugged, hustle-infused game have made him a Rip City fan favorite, it’s the things you don’t notice — the unselfishness, the unassuming disposition, the way he connects the Blazers’ chemistry — that have made the towering 7-foot, 265-pound center so important.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player. Lillard brings the big shots and big plays. Matthews provides defense, leadership and heart. And Batum is the glue, offering a touch of everything.

But Lopez is perhaps the most important piece, the linchpin to one of the most cohesive and talented starting lineups in the NBA. When general manager Neil Olshey shrewdly snatched Lopez in a trade for next to nothing, he didn’t just nab a starting center entering his prime, but also the 21st Century version of Buck Williams, a player plugged into an established core at just the right time that helped catapult the Blazers to the next level.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how long back spasms will keep him out of the Knicks’ lineupThe Thunder waived Sebastian TelfairThe Lakers are close to signing Earl ClarkDavid West hopes to make his season debut on FridayMarcus Smart started, but couldn’t finish practice on WednesdayThe Celtics are going to EuropeMark Cuban wants to join the Eastern ConferenceSome trash talk from Philly fans motivated Kevin GarnettKyrie Irving wants to guard the league’s best point guards … and The New York Times profiled TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”

ICYMI of The Night: Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to an overtime victory over his old team with 25 rebounds, an NBA high for the season:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tyson Chandler grabs 25 boards

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers struggling to live up to the hype | Rockets will be short-handed in battle of unbeatens | The “dark side” of the triangle

No. 1: Clippers struggling to live up to the hype — Don’t believe the hype, especially when it’s self-generated. The Los Angeles Clippers are finding that out the hard way this season, struggling early on to play up to expectations (both internally and externally) that had many folks picking them as the favorite to win the Western Conference and perhaps the NBA title. We’re barely two weeks into this NBA season, but it’s clear they are not playing at a level that was expected of them. Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times breaks it down in advance of the Clippers’ afternoon tussle with the Portland Trail Blazers:

Everyone, it seems, is playing pop psychologist, diagnosing the problems of a team widely expected to contend for the Western Conference title that has gotten off to an underwhelming start.

With the Lakers winless through the season’s first five games, the Clippers could color Los Angeles red and blue beyond their “BE RELENTLESS” ads adorning buildings and billboards. It hasn’t happened.

“This is a chance for the Clippers to take over the city and they don’t want it,” Hall of Fame shooting guard and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said Friday in a phone interview. “You should have people in the barber shop buzzing about the Clippers. As opposed to talking about their effort, they should be saying, ‘Did you see that play?'”

A more common refrain after the season’s first week: Oy vey.

The Clippers are 3-2 but were blown out by Golden State and lost at home to a Sacramento team that won only 28 games last season. They have been outrebounded in every game and couldn’t hold double-digit leads in four games.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers called his players “soft” after their 17-point loss to the Warriors and didn’t seem impressed by a team meeting afterward.

“When I read about team meetings in the league, I’m thinking, ‘I hope we play them next,'” Rivers said Friday. “We all know we didn’t play hard. I don’t think I need a team meeting for that.”

One observer who watched the Warriors’ demolition of the Clippers has remained Zen about the team’s prospects.

“I think everybody in Clipperland has to do the Aaron Rodgers thing right now,” ESPN analyst and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said, referring to the Green Bay Packers quarterback who told fans to loosen up amid a slow start. “Relax. Let it play out. If at 20 games, you get to a quarter of the year and there’s issues, that’s when I think you start evaluating more so than after five games.”

Van Gundy said what’s more important than the Clippers’ spotty play is what they do next. They play the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.

It’s a chance to start resembling the team the Clippers want to be. Of course, even a blowout victory wouldn’t end their concerns.

“It’s not like we go out against Portland, have a good game and we’re like, ‘Well, thank God that’s over,'” Griffin said. “We’ve just got to stay with it and keep working on the things we have to work on.”


VIDEO: Hornets guard Lance Stephenson sinks the game winner against the Hawks

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Celtics’ Smart carted on stretcher with ankle sprain

VIDEO: Celtics’ Marcus Smart injures leg

Celtics rookie point guard Marcus Smart was rolled off the court on a stretcher early in the fourth quarter Friday night.

Initial fears were that Smart might have broken his ankle while driving in transition and stepping on the foot of Indiana’s Lavoy Allen. But the Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett and CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely subsequently reported that tests showed the injury to be a “bad sprain.”

Smart stayed on the court in severe pain for several minutes as the stretcher was brought out. His left leg was immobilized as Celtics majority owner Wyc Grousbeck followed Smart and the medical staff off the court toward the locker room.

Smart, the No. 6 pick in the draft from Oklahoma State, is viewed as a potential replacement for All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, who will be a free agent this summer.

On opening night the Lakers lost rookie power forward Julius Randle, the No. 7 pick, to a broken leg. Now the Celtics were awaiting a diagnosis for their highly-rated rookie: A rough opening month for the NBA’s two winningest franchises.

Summer Dreaming: Rookie of the Year


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel put on a shotblocking show throughout Summer League

Late summer in North America is the start of hurricane season, a time when the weather forecasters keep their eyes peeled for potential tropical disturbances.

But with the season openers less than three months away, we’ll start looking farther out over the horizon for an early peek at the 2014-15 NBA official award winners and a few extra categories, just for fun.

Our second annual Summer Dreaming Series starts today with a look at my top five picks for Rookie of the Year. Send me yours.

Nerlens Noel, 76ers — While all eyes have been on the big-name talent arriving in the 2014 Draft class, the guy who had originally been projected as the No. 1 pick in 2013 just might take a page out of Blake Griffin‘s delayed gratification book to steal the thunder and the trophy. After being sidelined by an ACL injury, there were times late last season when he was clearly chomping at the bit and openly talking about his desire to get on the court. Yet, the Sixers held firm in resting him all season. When Noel finally got to play in Summer League, he showed his athleticism, his explosiveness and defensive skills. He’s an active big man and with the Sixers’ goal of playing at a fast pace, he’ll get plenty of chances to run the floor and put up numbers. With Philly’s top pick this year, Joel Embiid, likely sidelined for the season, Noel will also get his share of minutes and more. The Sixers waited decades to get their first Rookie of the Year winner last season in Michael Carter-Williams. Now they could make it two in a row.

Jabari Parker, Bucks – There will be questions to answer. Is his long-term future in the league as a small forward? Or does he slide over and use his shooting ability as a stretch four? The general consensus is there could be others in this year’s rookie class with greater potential, but Parker is the one most ready to step into the NBA and thrive, perhaps even star, from Day One. The Bucks franchise certainly needs a fresh face as a headliner as they move to a new era with new ownership and a new coach (Jason Kidd). He wasn’t as flashy as the neon signs in Las Vegas during Summer League, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds. However, Parker has everything in his offensive arsenal — from step-back jumpers to finishing inside — that enable him to be the main gun in the Bucks arsenal. He’s the chalk pick to win ROY.

Marcus Smart, Celtics — Big man Julius Randle is playing for the other rebuilding traditional powerhouse out West and could have his minutes blocked by free-agent signees Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis. Smart, however, will have no such problems getting (and staying) on the floor in Boston. He either learns playing alongside Rajon Rondo or takes his spot if the Celtics do pull the trigger and trade the veteran. Smart’s offense is streaky and he’ll have to learn discipline with his shots. But he’s a defensive bulldog who loves the challenge and is also a willing pupil that will quickly become the pet project of coach Brad Stevens. Smart should be a mainstay in Boston as it moves ahead in its reconstruction process.

Andrew Wiggins, Cavaliers – His chances of latching onto the rookie hardware will improve the minute he gets his wish and the trade from Cleveland to Minnesota goes through. While there may have been less pressure to be a role player alongside LeBron James on the Cavs’ roster, Wiggins will certainly get more chance to shine as the new face of the Timberwolves. There is a lot to learn and improve on. He’s got a questionable handle and really needs to improve his shot, but those are fixable areas. What you can’t teach is a leaping ability that goes through the roof. Plus, there’s his willingness to defend that is not far behind his offense. A big question, though: will the burden of carrying a remade Minnesota team built around him wear him down and make his stats suffer? There is smart money that says Wiggins could one day be the best of the the bunch, but chances are his raw talent alone won’t carry him to the ROY.

Elfrid Payton, Magic – He’s got a jump shot that needs plenty of work, but everything else about his game will make him an instant hit in Orlando. In fact, he could be a dark horse in the rookie race all season long. Payton’s place will be starting at the point, ending the experiment at converting Victor Oladipo. Doing so will allow both young guards to thrive. He had a lot of turnovers in his summer league debut, but also put up plenty of good numbers scoring, passing and rebounding. The rangy playmaker showed a real knack for delivering open teammates the ball, too. Payton has elite-level athleticism, plus a nose — and long arms — for racking up steals. He’ll take his lumps in the learning process. However, a young Magic team will give him all the minutes and opportunity he needs to show that he’s a star in the making.

USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

LAS VEGAS – There was a surprise for the media when we walked into USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. Mason Plumlee was playing with the Senior Team against the Select Team, instead of the other way around.

Plumlee’s promotion was about numbers, but also about his skills and performance. I wrote about him, the full crop of USA bigs, and the possibility of four of them being on the final World Cup roster here.

Scrimmaging was limited to just 10 minutes on Tuesday, with the addition of Plumlee allowing the Senior Team to split into two squads of 10 guys. The two squads simultaneously played against a portion of the Select Team.

Here were the lineups:
Blue 1: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond
Blue 2: Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Kenneth Faried and Plumlee
White 1: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
White 2: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins

And here are some more notes and quotes from the second day of camp…

  • White 1 built a 14-2 lead against its Select opponents, but then the group of Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Draymond Green and Cody Zeller came back against White 2 to win the 10-minute scrimmage, 22-21, with Oladipo hitting the scrimmage-winning three from the right wing with two seconds left off a Smart/Green pick-and-roll.
  • Fun little moment on the other floor: Millsap got the ball with a two-on-one opportunity with his Hawks teammate in transition. The defender pushed up on Millsap and Korver would have had an easy layup. But he flared out to the right corner instead of heading to the basket. Millsap hit him there for an open three.
  • Curry continues to play alongside another point guard. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo isn’t ready to say that Curry is strictly a two with this team, but had this to say about the point guard crop: “A couple of these guys are as much twos as they are ones. Curry is one and Damian Lillard is another. They’re one-twos, I think. Kyrie is more of a one, but he’s got a lot of two in him. Derrick is a one, there’s no question about that.”
  • Colangelo didn’t forget about Wall and said that the Wizards’ point guard made an impression in the first day of camp with “the look on his face, his pushing the ball up as well as he did, and defensively, he put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
  • Fans and the media weren’t the only ones who were curious about Rose. Both Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski told NBA TV that seeing what kind of shape Rose was in was the biggest thing about Monday. “It was like a performer who hadn’t been on the big stage for a while,” Krzyzewski said. “Yesterday, he belted out a song pretty darn good.”
  • Colangelo: “Derrick Rose was as good today as he was yesterday,” Colangelo said. So yeah, these guys are really excited about what they’ve seen from Rose.
  • This team is going to be aggressive defensively, but we saw some examples of them getting burned after bad gambles in the passing lanes on Tuesday. Good international teams will take advantage of defensive mistakes and there can be a fine line between making opposing offenses uncomfortable with your pressure and not staying in front of them because you’re too aggressive.

Things could still be ugly in Boston


VIDEO: Danny Ainge talks about the three-team trade

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens still has that six-year contract, which is good, because he still doesn’t have much talent to work with.

The Celtics haven’t stood idly by over the first two weeks of free agency. They re-signed guard Avery Bradley and picked up assets (a first round pick and a trade exception) by helping the Cleveland Cavaliers clear cap space and the Washington Wizards sign Kris Humphries.

The Celtics also added to their young core by drafting Marcus Smart and James Young, and adding Tyler Zeller in the Cleveland trade. They now have six first-round picks under the age of 25 on their roster (the others are Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger).

Celtics president Danny Ainge also has a bunch of extra future first round picks lying around. Few teams are as stocked with assets.

The potential is there for a very good team in the future. But the present is still pretty ugly. And though young players and draft picks are keys to trading for a star, the Celtics lack the one blue-chip asset that would make other teams salivate. If the Timberwolves eventually relent and trade Kevin Love, other teams can offer more tempting packages.

Celtics fans can take comfort in seeing the potential of a Smart/Young backcourt. They can anticipate further development from Olynyk and Sullinger. But they will also be watching a team that will rank in the 20s in offensive efficiency for the fourth straight season.

To succeed offensively, you need two things: a player or two that can draw double-teams and perimeter shooting. The Celtics lack both. They ranked 27th in offensive efficiency last season, and it’s hard to see them being much better this year, even with a healthy Rajon Rondo.

Rondo can be brilliant at times, but without potent scorers around him, he doesn’t put much pressure on opposing defenses. The Celtics were even a bad offensive team in their last two seasons with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. And Rondo made no impact on Boston’s offensive numbers upon his return last season.

Jeff Green has size and talent, but is neither consistent nor efficient. And Bradley is the only player on the roster who shot better than the league average from 3-point range last season.

Defensively, the Celtics have a strength on the wings (with Bradley and Gerald Wallace), but lack rim protection. With a season of Stevens’ system under their belt, they should be better than they were last season (when they ranked 20th) on that end, but probably not any better than the league average.

The 2014-15 Eastern Conference is going to be fascinating. All eight playoff teams from last season are still very much in the mix, while Cleveland and Detroit clearly improved with the additions of the best player in the world and one of the best coaches in the game.

Along with the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics will likely be watching from afar as those 10 teams (and maybe New York) fight for eight playoff spots.

Ainge’s options were limited this summer. Though it’s been a year since parting with Pierce and Garnett, his payroll is still well over the salary cap. He’ll have some flexibility next summer, but also Rondo to re-sign or let go and Green and Wallace on the books for another season.

So, Stevens will have at least another year to learn the league and implement his system. And it won’t be until at least Year 3 of his contract when we find out if he was worth a six-year commitment.

Smart moves are all there for Celtics


VIDEO: Celtics.com takes a look back at Boston’s Orlando Pro Summer League stint

ORLANDO — Marcus Smart came into the week with the goal of improving his shot selection.

Then he spun like top around Elfrid Payton, found just a crack between a pair of Magic defenders on the perimeter and finally finished at the rim with an improbable scoop that was one of the jaw-dropping highlights of the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“To be honest, I didn’t know I was going to scoop it with my left,” he said with a grin. “But I’m glad it went in.”

So much for shot selection.

Of course, the 6-foot-4 guard has never been anything close to a classic shooter, playing more like a tight end rumbling toward the goal line.

“I’m not your (average) point guard strength-wise,” Smart said. “I have a 6-9 wingspan so that helps me a lot. I have a little advantage over a lot of guards.”

Smart shot just 41.3 percent from the field (29.5 on 3-pointers) in his two college seasons at Oklahoma State and his shooting numbers have not been the kind to write home about. He made just 20 of 68 shots in five games this week.

Yet despite his offensive struggles, Smart repeatedly showed the the fire and aggression that were some of the biggest reasons why the Celtics made him the No. 6 pick in the Draft. His hands were constantly moving, reaching out and stripping the ball from the grip of his opponents. He used his strength and size to often smother opponents and was a willing and capable passer, averaging 4.2 assists per game. There are times when he simply out-muscles and overwhelms opponents on defense.

“Marcus has done a great job of picking the team up and giving them both defensive and offensive energy,” said assistant Jay Larranaga, who ran the summer league team.

Smart also demonstrated the knack for rising to the occasion down the stretch of games and taking — and making — big shots, no matter much he’d be struggling to find the basket earlier.

“I’ve always been told, if you want to be a good shooter, and I have a good shot, you can’t worry about the last play,” he said. “You have to move on. That’s Ray Allen, the best shooter in the NBA, I think. That’s why he’s so good. He can miss four in a row, but you know that fifth shot is just made for him. You just have to keep shooting.”

The shot will come. The coaching at the NBA level can work with Smart on his choices to make him more functional. But the Celtics have every reason to be happy with what they’ve seen from Smart this week.

“It’s still really early, but Marcus came in with a really good understanding of the defensive side,” said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. “That’s rare for rookies. Usually defense prevents them from getting on the court. I don’t think defense is going to prevent Marcus from getting on the court.”

Payton showing off hair and growth


VIDEO: Payton discusses his play at Orlando Summer League

ORLANDO — It was early in the second quarter of a loss to the Grizzlies when Elfrid Payton picked off a pass at one end of the floor, took off up the court, picked his way though traffic in the lane and then jammed home a dunk.

A short time later, just when 6-foot-11 Grizzlies center Jerrid Famous gathered in an offensive rebound and went up for a putback, the rail-thin Payton slipped up from behind and swatted the shot away with authority.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Payton glided across the mid-court line and delivered a slick, no-look pass to teammate Dewayne Dedmon for a dunk.

The first thing you notice about the 6-foot-3 point guard as he gets his baptism with the Magic in the Orlando Pro Summer League is that he can get just about anywhere he chooses on the court and do whatever he wants.

OK, maybe that’s the second thing. The first is that mop of hair that seems to be wildly growing in a head full of different directions.

Turns out it was part of a promise by his high school teammates back in Louisiana not to cut their hair until they won the state championship back in 2011. That dream was cut short in the semifinals of the state tournament, but the hairstyle lives on with the No. 10 pick in the 2014 as he embarks on his NBA career.

The point guard spent three years in college climbing up out of obscurity at Louisiana-Lafayette and now has the Magic feeling that he and second-year guard Victor Oladipo can be a backcourt combination that takes them to great places going forward.

While Orlando made power forward Aaron Gordon the No. 4 pick in the Draft, the 18-year-old is raw, unsure of himself and likely at least a season or two away from making a significant contribution.

That’s not the case with Payton, who says he takes inspiration from the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, who went from a below-the-radar college program at Weber State to winning NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2013 and an All-Star berth last season.

“The odds were stacked against him, and he just continued to work hard,” said Payton. “It pays off. He’s one of the best in the game right now. Seeing that just makes you want to work harder. Just because I’m here, I can’t get satisfied.”

It was a breakout performance in his sophomore year in college when Payton scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds in a near upset of Michigan State that first got him noticed. His coach sent video of that performance to Florida’s Billy Donovan in a bid to get him a tryout for the Team USA Under-19 roster. Even on a team that included the well-known and highly-rated Marcus Smart, Payton earned the starting berth at the point.

Gordon also played on that team and remembered being shocked at the showing of the unheralded guard from Louisiana-Lafayette.

“He was just cooking and killing on both ends of the court,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘This guy is the real deal.’ “

Payton was cooking again on Monday in leading a win over the Rockets, finishing with a near-triple-double of 12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. In Tuesday’s loss to the Grizzlies, he had just six points and three assists, but did a better job avoiding turnovers. While playing just under 22 minutes per through three games, he’s averaging 6.7 points, 5.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and shooting 72.7 percent from the field.

“It happened because of my self confidence and me having a dream,” Payton said. “You’re not supposed to stop chasing your dream and here it is for me.”


VIDEO: Payton named Player of Day for Day 3

Two years later, Cook seeks a shot

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

ORLANDO — The summer leagues are full of stories.

There are well-known rookies such as, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Shabazz Napier trying to make the step up to the next level.

There are second-year pros Steven Adams and Kelly Olynyk looking to expand their skills and add polish.

There are guys like Maarty Leunen, drafted by the Rockets back in 2008, who has made a playing career for himself in Europen, but wants a crack at the big time.

Then there’s Brian Cook.

At 33, he’s not just the oldest player on the court at the Orlando Pro Summer League. He’s the only one who’s been away from the game for the past two years and is knocking on the door trying to get back in.

Cook’s wife, Victoria, had cancer and he stepped away from his NBA career to help her through the battle with the disease.

“It was something that I had to do and it’s the kind of thing that you don’t even think twice about,” Cook said. “There are bigger things than playing games.”

But now, two years later, the 6-foot-9 forward with 3-point range is here with the Pistons in an attempt to resurrect his career.

“I’ve really missed being out there on the court competing every day,” Cook said. “I know some people might think it’s kind of strange to try to do this at this point or it’s a long shot. But I kind of think that I still have something to contribute to the game and I’m looking to maybe get in a couple of years.”

Cook, who was a first-round draft choice of the Lakers in 2003 and played for five different teams — also Magic, Rockets, Clippers, Wizards — in nine seasons, reached out to Stan Van Gundy as soon his former coach took over in Detroit and asked for an opportunity in the summer league. He is here with no guarantees, no promises.

“I called him right away,” Cook said. “As a free agent, I can try to get on anywhere. But I’m comfortable with Stan’s offense and I’m also comfortable with the way he respected me and treated me and really cared about me when I played for him here in Orlando. Those are the kind of things that you take for granted as young kid and then come to appreciate more once you mature and have been around the block a few times in different situations. You really come to appreciate it even more when you’ve been at home like I have for the past several years helping my wife and being with the family.”

Cook has struggled to find his shooting stroke in his first two games, making just 5-of-18 shots and 3-of-12 from behind the arc. But he figures the shot will come with time and repetition and Cook is currently enjoying just being back in a locker room again, back wearing a jersey, back sharing the the highs and lows of game experiences, even if it is mostly with kids who are at least 10 years younger.

Van Gundy might not be able to provide the spot on his roster this season as he makes over the Pistons, but he is giving the veteran a chance to show other NBA teams that there is still something left after Cook gave the last two years to his family and wife, who is now cancer-free.

“I really believe that I’ve still got the ability to compete at this level and help a team,” Cook said. “I’m just hoping for a real shot.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

It’s an annual coming-out party for NBA rookies, other young pros looking to hone their skills and move up the pecking order and a handful of older veterans seeking another crack at the big time. In this case, it’s also the long-awaited pro debut of Nerlens Noel.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Saturday (9 a.m., NBA TV) with familiar names from the draft and plenty of other hopefuls hustling for an invitation to training camps in October.

Eight first-round picks from the 2014 draft — led by No. 4 Aaron Gordon of the Magic, No. 6 Marcus Smart of the Celtics and No. 10 Elfrid Payton of the Magic — will take part in the seven days of competition that will take place on the practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Another major headliner will be Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, who sat out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He’ll finally get to scratch that itch to play. Sixers fans might get their first glimpse into bright future.

The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

The 10 teams will each play five games, concluding with a championship day that will be based on standings. A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights for each of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s the second year of the rebuilding program under coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are hoping to get a big boost from their pair of first-round draft choices Marcus Smart and James Young. It’s not certain if Young will play after he suffered a strained neck in a car accident several weeks before the Draft. He’s been held out of early workouts at the Celtics’ training facility. Last year’s first-round pick Kelly Olynyk — the MVP of the Summer League last season — will return to Orlando, joined by fellow Celtics veterans Chris Babb, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey.

Brooklyn Nets — Last year’s summer appearance by the Nets was most notable for the coaching debut of Jason Kidd, who proceeded to answer a cell phone call on the sidelines of his very first game. Kidd has been replaced by Lionel Hollins, who did a masterful job giving the Grizzlies credibility as a playoff contender. The Nets were without first-round draft picks as a result of the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trades last year. But on draft night they dealt cash for second-round picks Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. Also playing for the Nets will be Mason Plumlee, who made a big impression a year ago and went on to become the All-Rookie first team center last season.

Detroit Pistons – It’s the beginning of a new era in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy’s arrival as both head coach and club president. Second-year Pistons players Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell will each be looking to tighten up their games to impress the new boss. Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler will practice with the team, but will not participate in games. The NBA D-League 2014 Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins will be on the roster, along with undrafted free agents Tristan Spurlock, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Heath and Markel Starks.

Houston Rockets — It’s been a long time since the Rockets made Maarty Leunen a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2008 draft, but the long-range bomber will be in Orlando to take his shot. Leunen has the shooting skill the Rockets seek, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers the past three seasons in the Italian League. He’ll join up with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, who both got their feet wet last season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward Covington was named the 2014 NBA D-League rookie of the year . The Rockets’ top draft pick Clint Cappela will not play, but second-round choice, Arizona guard Nick Johnson, will be on the court in Orlando.

Indiana Pacers – There’s not the usual summertime electricity in the air when you walk away from the draft without a single player. The Pacers’ roster will be anchored by last year’s holdovers Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill, who’ll be seeking to earn another season on the roster. Jake Odum was a four-year starter at Larry Bird’s alma mater Indiana State and will try to push Sloan for the third point guard spot. A back injury has scratched 10-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. from his scheduled appearance with the Pacers.

Memphis Grizzlies — Second-year shooting guard Jamaal Franklin will head up the Grizzlies’ entry. Franklin saw time in 21 games for the Grizzlies last season. He’ll be joined by 2014 draft pick Jordan Adams (No. 22 overall) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 35). Adams was rated a terrific scorer and good offensive rebounder ahead of the draft, but some scouts labeled him unathletic. This is his first chance to prove them wrong. The roster, led by assistant coach Shawn Respert for the first three games and assistant Jason March for the last two, will feature three native Memphians, including Stokes, former University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson and former Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Miami Heat – Gee, no pressure at all when LeBron James tweets that you were the best point guard in the draft. Assuming The King returns to Miami, everyone will be looking to see if Shabazz Napier can bring enough talent to South Beach to help make a difference for the point-guard poor Heat. Miami brass made its play for the guy who led UConn to another NCAA championship on draft night, swinging a deal with the Bobcats to get their man at No. 24. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton played seven games with the Heat last season. Point guard Larry Drew set the UCLA single season record for assists in 2013, but went undrafted and played last season for the Sioux City Skyforce in the NBA D-League.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder surprised many with their first round picks Mitch McGary (21) and Josh Huestis (29), mostly because they seemed to duplicate picks from a year earlier in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Plenty scouts were high on the big man McGary, and Huestis put his stamp on last season when he locked up and shut down No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Adams and Roberson are back for another summer league run and will be joined by Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett.

Orlando Magic — The hometown team will bring in a pair of top 10 talents from this year’s draft. The power forward Gordon has size and strength and a defensive nose. This is where he’ll start trying to add a jumper to his game that could vault him to the elite level in a couple of years. The Magic wanted Payton enough to give up a future first round pick for him at No. 10, and together with Victor Oladipo could give them an outstanding backcourt for years. Last year’s top pick Oladipo will be back on the summer league roster along with Stephen Curry’s brother Seth, who is still trying to carve out a place in the NBA. Matt Bouldin won the D-League championship with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants last season.

Philadelphia 76ers – He’s been champing at the bit to get out on the court wearing a Sixers jersey in game conditions for more than a year, so don’t be surprised if Nerlens Noel jumps through the ceiling when he finally gets on the floor. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft was rehabbed very conservatively, so now he’ll get to show off the all-around skills that had him listed as the No. 1 pick until his knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, will of course sit out following foot surgery. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be sidelined after surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Sixers roster will include the 32nd pick K.J. McDaniels, Jeremi Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52) and Jordan McRae (No. 58). Also suiting up will be Pierre Jackson, who set the single-game D-League scoring record with 58 points last season.