Posts Tagged ‘Miami Heat’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m just enjoying the ride.”

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Blogtable: Should teams pursue Ray Allen?

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: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA? | Should teams pursue Ray Allen? |
Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?


> Ray Allen says he’s fit, healthy and interested in playing in the NBA this season. Should any teams be interested in him?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: In a league that has fallen head over heels with the three, how can I say teams shouldn’t take a look at Jesus Shuttlesworth? He keeps himself in ridiculous shape and is as smart as they come. I’m not sure how much he could have left in the tank, though; he was not quite the same in his last season with Miami, and that was two years ago. But, it’s his life. Fire away.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Sure. If he can put the ball in the basket that is the object of the game. Cavs? Spurs? Clippers?

Shaun Powell, NBA.comHe’s 41 and years removed from being a significant role player. It’s true that Allen takes great care of his body and that shooters are always the last to leave. Could he play 10-15 minutes for a contender? Perhaps. But I suspect most contenders are not a “Ray Allen away” from winning it all; they already have such a player in the rotation. I suspect his comeback window closed a year ago. I’d love for him to prove me wrong, though.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Yes. Even if he only played 10-15 minutes per game, he would be a threat that defenses would have to respect on any key offensive possession. Run him off a screen and he’s going to bend the defense and give your team a better chance to score, whether he touches the ball or not.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Absolutely, teams should be interested in Ray Allen. In a league where shooting is at a premium, perhaps moreso now than it has ever been, one of the all-time great marksman (even at his advanced age) should at least draw some interest. If nothing else, you find a gym and a ball rack and see how much Ray has left in his tank. If he’s as fit, healthy and interested as he says he is about lacing his Jordans up one more time, it’s worth investigating.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s see: You can offer your 15th roster spot to someone who might (or might not) play in garbage time; or you can invest in the most prolific 3-point shooter of all time with the potential of turning losses into wins. Allen sounds like a good gamble to me.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Every team. The man is arguably the best three-point shooter to ever play the game, and he famously keeps himself in tip-top shape. So to me, if Ray Allen wants to play basketball, I’d be happy to have him. Especially with the way the NBA is today, with three-point shots carrying so much value. There’s been a lot of money floating around this offseason. If I was an NBA team, I’d have no problem giving a fat slice of that to Jesus Shuttlesworth.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Don’t call Durant “villain” | Gores: Pistons are in a good place | Cuban behind Bogut’s Olympic run | Ray Allen may not be finished yet

No. 1: Kerr: Don’t call Durant “villain” The Golden State Warriors clearly hit the jackpot in free agency this summer, bringing in Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a move that not only made the Warriors stronger but also weakened the rival Thunder. But according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, in an appearance on ESPN Radio, calling Durant (or any of the Warriors, for that matter) villains would be “absurd.”:

“To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd. Especially Kevin,” Kerr said Sunday in an interview on ESPN Radio’s TMI with Michelle Beadle and Ramona Shelburne. “This is one of the most likeable people in this league. He’s just an awesome human being. What he did in Oklahoma City was just amazing for that community.

Kerr added: “Circumstances kind of dictate, I guess, that some people are going to see him as a villain. But it’s only because he decided to go elsewhere to play. He wanted to change his scenery, he wanted a new challenge. More than anything he wanted to play with our guys. He loves Draymond [Green] and Steph and Klay [Thompson] and Andre [Iguodala]. Seeing those guys in New York, he loved seeing the chemistry that exists and he wanted to be a part of it.”

Durant said last month that he didn’t leave the house he’d rented in the Hamptons for 48 hours after he announced his decision because he knew how strongly fans would react to him leaving.

“For a few days after, I didn’t leave my bed, because I was like, ‘If I walk outside somebody might just hit me with their car, or say anything negative to me,'” Durant said last month at Team USA training camp in Las Vegas.

“I mean, I’ve been somewhere for so long, and then to make a change like that, [which] nobody knew was coming, that nobody didn’t think I would do, of course I didn’t know how it would be received afterward. But at some point, I just said, ‘Look, man, life goes on. Life moves on, and I can’t hide forever,’ so I just had to face it.”

***

No. 2: Gores: Pistons are in a good place The Detroit Pistons won an NBA title in 2004, but rebuilding following that title run proved to be a tough task. But since becoming owner of the Pistons in 2011, Tom Gores has presided over a building project that finally has the Pistons a perennial postseason contender, with aspirations of much more. As Vince Ellis from the Detroit Free Press discovered in a wide-ranging Q&A with Gores, despite the solid foundation finally in place, Gores isn’t satisfied with just being a playoff team and talks about that, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s future and more:

Q: The Pistons appear to be on the rise. With downtown Detroit becoming more of a destination, it appears the time could be ripe for a move. You’ve never closed the door, but can you quantify the importance of the next year for the franchise?

Gores: “I think last year was the beginning of the important years. I think we began to set the course last year. We proved a point. We got into the playoffs. I really like the way we finished with the roster with (forward Tobias Harris) coming in. This year, everybody’s a year older, we’ve got the core set with our folks, so it’s an important year that we prove that we are making progress. I’ve always said patience with progress, so this is an important year because they really just jelled last year, if you think about it. Tobias was new, what a steal with (forward Marcus Morris), (point guard Reggie Jackson) as a true starter in his first year. (Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) is still a young man. (Forward Stanley Johnson) just turned 20. This a very young team and very, very talented. … It’s an important year for everybody to keep developing, and that’s what Stan’s been focused on, not sitting still to make sure everybody’s got a place to improve. … We have a very focused group. There’s nobody in the locker room that’s a problem for us. These are good guys.”

Q: What can you say right now on the potential to move downtown?

Gores: “We’ve always been open-minded. I’ve always respected (Mike and Marian Ilitch) in terms of what they’re doing. We do have an understanding of some of the things they’re developing down there. There’s a lot going on downtown. …”

Q: Dan Gilbert is doing a lot of business there.

Gores: “Dan (Gilbert), as well. Dan and I have been talking about the soccer team. Whatever we do, I’d like to be that third piece of the triangle between Dan and the Ilitches and then myself to really finish bringing the city together. I think we can do that. I think we have a lot of value to add. Not just the basketball team, but our business expertise. There’s a ton going on and Detroit is getting close to being in the red zone. I don’t know if we’re there quite yet, in terms of the city coming back, but we’re not on the other 20. (Detroit is) getting close, and I think I can be helpful there. We’re staying open-minded and I’ve always said in terms of the Ilitches and what they’ve meant to the city, I think definitely we could be good partners for each other. So we’re evaluating everything and I think we should. I’ve been paying attention to a lot going on in downtown Detroit.”

Q: With a possible KCP extension, you could threaten the luxury tax line (an NBA mechanism to curtail teams’ spending). Thoughts on being a luxury taxpayer?

Gores: “Look, if we weren’t building a core, there’s really no point in paying the luxury tax. Because we are building a core, would I do it? Yeah, absolutely. This is a tremendous team. If you go down the line, player by player, and especially our young folks, these are real players. You look at KCP as a very diverse player. He keeps working at his game and you look at his improvement and just like anybody else, he will improve in other areas. Part of Stan [Van Gundy]’s coaching philosophy obviously is defense. So you say go into the luxury tax for nothing, then that would be silly because then we’re putting the franchise behind. But given that we have such a good core, if that’s what it took, and we feel we’ve made such progress this year, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it because we want to keep getting better.”

***

No. 3: Cuban behind Bogut’s Olympic run Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has historically been critical of NBA players playing in the Olympics, rightfully reasoning that NBA teams have huge financial investments with little upside from Olympic success. But in the case of newly signed Mavs center Andrew Bogut, Cuban signed off on Bogut’s appearance with the Australian National Team, telling the AP that they view Bogut’s Olympic appearance as an important part of his comeback from the injury he suffered in the 2016 Finals:

Mark Cuban has been opposed to NBA players competing in the Olympics, but the Dallas Mavericks owner gave Andrew Bogut the clearance he needed to play for Australia after injuring his left knee in the NBA Finals.

And Cuban is pulling for his new center, who scored 18 points to lead the Aussies to an 87-66 victory over France on Saturday in the opening game of the tournament.

“We obviously were nervous and I’m still not a fan of NBA players in the Olympics, but Andrew was going to have to go through a process to get back on the court anyway,” Cuban wrote Sunday in an email to The Associated Press. “Our staff has communicated with him and we knew he would be cautious in his approach to returning.”

Bogut suffered bone bruises in Game 5 while playing for Golden State. Players need a release from their NBA teams to compete internationally if they have a pre-existing injury, and Bogut said he was a little worried he might not get it from the Mavs, who acquired him last month in a trade.

“They were very, very nervous obviously because my prognosis was six to eight weeks and this is right on six weeks right now, but I was open with them and honest,” Bogut said. “I said, ‘Look, if I know I’m not ready and the knee’s swelling up, I’m pulling the pin.’ And they said fine, we trust you.”

Bogut said he even received an email from Cuban before the Olympic opener.

“I told him make sure he has his green-and-gold jersey on watching the game, and he threw a couple of other words I can’t repeat and said let’s go,” Bogut said. “So it’s been a good relationship by email so far.”

***

No. 4: Ray Allen may not be finished yet — Sharpshooting guard Ray Allen hasn’t played in the NBA since the Miami Heat lost to the Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. But speaking to the Hartford Courant at a basketball camp this weekend, Allen said he may still be interested in playing if the situation was right:

“I worked out the other day in New York with a friend of mine,” Allen said Saturday, during a break from his annual instructional camp at East Granby High. “I was shooting, I was going through my routine just like I’d always done. Yeah, I was a little winded, but I was able to go through my routine like I’d always gone though my routine and I didn’t feel like I’d missed any time in doing what I was doing. For me, it’s not ‘Can I do it anymore?’ It’s how I feel after I do it. And yesterday, I felt great.

“I could not have learned all that I’ve learned in 20 years of my life, dealing with coach [Jim] Calhoun, and how to sleep right, eat right, and then go to the NBA and do what I’ve done there and then afterwards just drop the ball and let everything go. I still weigh the same I weighed in college.”

Allen, 41, the former UConn star who won two championships and was a 10-time NBA All-Star, is gearing up or a comeback after two seasons out of the league. While he is not certain he will suit up again, he made it clear that this is not just idle chatter.

“My decision is predicated on what is available,” he said. “I said that I was interested because I never retired for a reason. I’ve been watching, seeing what teams have been doing and I’ve been waiting to see if the opportunity presented itself where I think I could fit.”

It has been assumed that Allen, who last played for the Heat in 2014, would be most likely to join the champion Cavaliers, reuniting in Cleveland with LeBron James, or the runner-up Warriors, who have added Kevin Durant to the team that went 73-9 in the regular season.

The Spurs and Clippers have been mentioned, also, but Allen said he has spoken with the Celtics, with whom he won a championship in 2008, and the Bucks, his first NBA stop.

“I would love going back to those places if it worked out,” Allen said, “because both teams are good, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be championship-or-bust for me to go back to the NBA.

“I want to be in a situation where I thought I could help, play a little bit and help where they have good young talent.”

Allen, who lives much of the time in Miami, has opened a restaurant called Grown, said he is not yet sure what direction the Heat are taking. How about the Knicks? “Spike Lee has been trying to recruit me,” Allen said. “We’ve been texting.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George is trying to set up a meeting with the French gymnast who suffered a broken leg in the opening days of Rio 2016 … Nick Anderson made it out of the violence in Chicago, and wants to help bring it to an endJoel Embiid was excited by the game-sealing block in Croatia’s win over Spain from his potential 76ers teammate Dario Saric

Morning shootaround — Aug. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Why Westbrook re-upped with OKC | Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure | Wade’s wife excited about move to Chicago

No. 1: Inside why Westbrook re-upped with Oklahoma City — The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a major victory of sorts yesterday when All-Star guard Russell Westbrook put pen to paper and signed a contract extension. His new deal keeps him in town for as long as three more seasons and saves face for the Thunder after they watched former MVP Kevin Durant bolt for the Golden State Warriors this summer. So why did Westbrook avoid his chance a free-agency riches next summer and stick with OKC? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, who first reported Westbrook’s deal, has the details:

When Russell Westbrook traveled to Oklahoma City to meet with general manager Sam Presti in the aftermath of the franchise’s lost weekend in the Hamptons, Westbrook held no interest for a post-mortem on Kevin Durant. For a front office still mired in angst and anger, Westbrook delivered a sobering splash of ice water: What’s next?

No nostalgia, no reflection and no regret: In Westbrook’s world, Durant had been deleted like his old teammate’s text message saying goodbye on the way to Golden State.

So, what’s next?

Westbrook’s free agency loomed in the summer of 2017. The Thunder couldn’t afford to lose two All-NBA players for nothing in consecutive years. If Westbrook had left an impression that the loss of Durant left him unenthusiastic about the franchise’s future – never mind unwilling – sources say the next step would’ve come swiftly: Westbrook would have been moved into the marketplace, traded for a package of young players and draft picks.

And yet as the rest of the NBA expected Westbrook to begin executing his exit strategy – perhaps to the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks – his own mind kept returning to Oklahoma City. Westbrook felt invested in the franchise, reveled in the role of a young core’s leader and became intrigued with the challenge of persuading a co-star to join him in free agency.

“The idea of running out to find a super team, that isn’t who he is,” one source close to Westbrook told The Vertical. “He thought, ‘These are my guys here,’ and he wanted to go to battle with them.”

As much as Durant had people of influence coming and going in his life – a revolving door of agents and spiritual gurus, personal trainers and various hangers-on – Westbrook’s inner circle never changed. His parents, his wife and his agent. With Durant, there was perpetual calculation of who had his ear and who had nudged his way into prominence. This was important information for those recruiting him to stay, and those recruiting him to leave.

Trading for Westbrook was an immense risk, because there’s no penetrating his world. Rival players couldn’t recruit him as Draymond Green and the Warriors did with Durant, because Westbrook has never shown an inclination to become buddies with his competitors. He wants to destroy them. Durant’s best relationships were outside the team, but Westbrook counts Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Nick Collison among his closest friends in the league. He invited Victor Oladipo to train with him in Los Angeles, the Thunder’s new backcourt bonding over the sweat inside a Santa Monica gymnasium.

People always had it right with Durant: He was a community treasure, a gentleman who forever took time for those big and small within his orbit. Only, it happened that Westbrook’s fierce on-court disposition – and his sometimes brusque demeanor with the media – caused the outside to mistake his core.

If his fashion forays took him to runways in Paris and New York, he was still mostly comfortable tooling around Oklahoma City, delivering free Jordan Brand gear to lower-level team employees, bringing donuts to blue-collar workers and answering his front door to come out and play with the neighborhood kids.

For everyone waiting on Westbrook to unload on Durant, they could be disappointed. Yes, he has his thoughts and opinions on Durant’s move, but it is unlikely that he’ll be moved to share them in dramatic detail. What’s more, there’s a significant chance it could be years before Westbrook and Durant ever engage in a meaningful conversation again. Westbrook doesn’t do nostalgia, nor disregard slights – real or perceived.

Durant is deleted. Done and gone and no longer part of his world. “What’s next?” he asked – and the Thunder connected with Westbrook on a plan to construct their next act. Once, it was James Harden and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now, it’s a superstar solo act – with an eye upon Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin in 2017 free agency. Griffin is an Oklahoma kid gone Hollywood, a star who has his own tensions with Chris Paul on the Clippers.

For now, this is Westbrook’s chance to become a recruiter, a gatherer, and bringing back Griffin could make these Thunder a legitimate threat to Golden State in the Western Conference. Between now and then, Westbrook walks back into the Thunder’s downtown arena on Thursday, takes his seat on the podium and the image will be unmistakable: His franchise, his city.

***

No. 2: Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure — In eight seasons together, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook took the Oklahoma City Thunder to The Finals and both players accomplished more than a few personal accolades. Yet that duo is no more, what with Durant now on the Warriors and Westbrook staying put in OKC. So how did Westbrook learn of Durant’s exit? What is the status of their friendship now? Westbrook addressed those queries and more in his news conference Thursday, writes Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

Their paths, now different, still likely end in the same place: the Hall of Fame. Around OKC, the sting of Durant’s departure will slowly subside. Time will create perspective. The past eight years will eventually be remembered as a golden age in Thunder hoops.

But when it’s discussed, the relationship between Russ and KD will dominate the conversation, just like it has become Shaq, Kobe and not much else when you bring up the early 2000s Lakers.

The partnership was fruitful, the highlights electric, the friendship, for the most part, genuine. But the ending, well, has been surprisingly sour, adding another layer to a relationship that’ll long be remembered and debated.

Those around Westbrook say he fumed about it for a couple weeks, particularly how KD handled the exit and how little communication Durant maintained with him at the end.

“(I found out) like y’all found out,” Westbrook said. “On the news, on the cellphones, the social media. I talked to Kevin early on in the process. But nothing after. Just a text message from him, that’s about it.”

From their late teens to their late 20s, the two, together in a city random and new to both, built up a relocated franchise into their identity. Those around the team tell legends of their early-morning combo workouts, racing each other to the gym hours before practice and bonding in a quiet facility. Durant has talked about how both Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins were there for him a few years ago when he was going through some family issues. Durant attended Westbrook’s wedding last summer.

“Some people handle things differently than others,” Westbrook said. “That’s the way he wanted to handle it and it’s fine. My job now is to see what’s ahead of me.”

Durant’s landing spot, of course, added an extra dagger. He didn’t bolt for a random team in the East. He went to a rival. The team Westbrook and Durant had just battled in a 7-game bloodbath a month earlier. Did that make it sting more?

“Sting for who?” Westbrook said. “Listen, I understand free agency. I understand having the opportunity to go where we need to go. But once that happened, I told Sam (Presti): ‘What’s next?’”

Durant is currently in Brazil preparing for the upcoming Olympics. On Thursday, he was asked if he reached out to Westbrook to congratulate him on the extension.

“Nah, that’s a touchy subject, I’ll see once everything dies down,” he told reporters, before saying he was happy for him. “It’s good for him, man. It’s good for his family. It’s good for the people in Oklahoma City.”

A couple weeks ago, out at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas, Durant was pretty candid on a number of subjects about his departure. But when questions about Westbrook arose, he got visibly uncomfortable. It’s clearly a sore subject KD has little interest in speaking about. Durant was recently quoted as saying he was unsure if their relationship would ever be the same.

On Thursday afternoon, Westbrook was asked if it would be.

“We’ve been together eight years,” Westbrook said. “You don’t throw that away. Obviously he’s now with a new team. But we definitely will talk. Eventually. But, obviously, now we haven’t.”

***

No. 3: Union says Wade, family excited about move to Chicago — When a free agent makes a decision to switch teams in the offseason, his choice affects not only the team he’s leaving and the team he’s going to. The player’s family, friends and his life and general feel the aftershocks of the choice, too. Such is true for Dwyane Wade, his wife, Gabrielle Union, and his children after he moved from the Miami Heat to the Chicago Bulls. In an interview with BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy, Union talks about the move to Chicago and what she sees next for Wade:

Kennedy: Dwyane obviously surprised people this offseason by joining the Bulls. How much are you looking forward to the move to Chicago and the new opportunity for Dwyane and the family?

Union: “It was shocking. There’s no way around that word. It takes some getting used to. We had just built our dream home in Miami and everyone sort of had their life in Miami so it’s big move for everyone. We all love Miami so much and Miami will still be one of our homes. For Chicago, I think the biggest thing for everyone was winter. There was the fear of winter. It was like Game of Thrones, ‘WINTER IS COMING!’ (laughs) Once we moved on from that, we just found our home and we got the boys in school, it was good. We were afraid because we were thinking, ‘Oh, the boys are about to start high school and how is that going to work?’ And they were, by far, the most eager [to move]. They’re like, ‘Ah! Cool, let’s go!’ As long as they got to keep their South Florida AAU team, they were cool with it. Everyone is just kind of jumping in. We can either dip our toe into the pool or cannon-ball and we’re cannon-balling. I think they like that they got to practice at the Bulls’ facility too. They love it, they’re excited. The first month was cool; hit me back later and we’ll see if they still love it (laughs). No, we’re all really excited.”

Kennedy: You mentioned the dream home in Miami and Dwyane obviously had a ton of history there. When did you start to realize that Dwyane leaving Miami was a possibility?

Union: “Even when we were on vacation, I think me and everyone just kind of assumed [we’d be back]. Like, ‘It looks kind of bleak right now, but they’ll work it out. They always work it out! They’ll work it out.’ It probably wasn’t until Denver’s offer came in that I realized. That offer was… a lot. Then there was another offer and another offer and another offer. And it was like, ‘Oh wait, hold on. Are you thinking about this?’ I mean, how can you not? When there’s an offer on the table that is, what, $13-15 million more than to stay home, it’s like, ‘Wow. Okay. Wow.’ But even still I thought, ‘I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out!’ Really, even down to the hour that he made his decision, I just thought they’d work it out – like everyone else thought. But Chicago made the moves necessary to make his offer work. He didn’t go with the most money. Some people are saying it was just about money, but he would’ve taken Denver’s offer if that was the case. Denver’s offer was a lot, a lot – considerably more than even Chicago’s offer. It was just about finding a place where he’s comfortable, and he’s comfortable at home. Then, the rest of us had to get comfortable with it (laughs). It just seemed like after the season he had and then the postseason, he was just so excited – more so about his body and his health and that he was able to take his game to a different gear. Moving was the last thing on his mind, but yeah…”

Kennedy: You know Dwyane better than anyone. How determined is he to make this work in Chicago and silence his critics who are doubting him and the team?

Union: “I think more than making it work to silence the critics, he wants to put himself in a position physically, health-wise, to continue playing at a high level. That’s very important. Getting to know Jimmy [Butler] and [Rajon] Rondo is very important. But they haven’t even played together yet, so I don’t know where the criticism is coming from. You have Jimmy, who is an up-and-coming star and on the Olympic team. You have Rondo, who led the league in assists. I don’t know how a guy leads the league in assists and is an assist machine, but somehow gets no credit. You have my husband, who is already top five in shooting guards in the last two years in the NBA, but if you factor in what he accomplished and the amount of minutes he played, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league. What is there to criticize? But I get it. Everyone needs page views and things like that, and criticism does a lot better than raving endorsements so I get the business of criticism. But it’s kind of absurd. Now, if a few months in around the All-Star break it looks nuts, then, by all means, criticize! (laughs) But to criticize how it’ll work when these guys haven’t played together is just insane, in the same way that anointing the Warriors champions for adding KD. It’s like when the Big Three came together in Miami. Everyone was like, ‘Ugh, they’re going to win it all. Change the rules! We have to stopppp thissss!’ Cut to different teams winning championships. I mean, the Warriors have to get used to this because they haven’t all played together. Even in the Olympics, where you have three of them, it’s still not the whole team. They need time to get to know each other, to gel, to figure out the system and how it works with all of these moving parts.

“It’s all exciting though. I think the Warriors are exciting. Just like I think the trio of Jimmy, Rondo and D is exciting. I think Carmelo [Anthony] D-Rose, Joakim [Noah] and Kristaps [Porzingis] in New York is exciting. Seeing how the Spurs will do without Timmy [Duncan] is exciting. There are a lot of great storylines. To critique now is the lowest-hanging fruit. I’d rather err on the side of excitement.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: DeMarcus Cousins is messing with reporters’ minds in Rio … Fantastic read on the origins of Hall of Famer and NBA legend Spencer Haywood … In honor of Russell Westbrook‘s deal yesterday, Oklahoma City’s mayor made Aug. 4 “Russell Westbrook Day” … Things have come full circle for Jim O’Brien in Philadelphia … Here are six key questions to ponder about the Oklahoma City Thunder … New Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks thinks Bradley Beal and John Wall could comprise NBA’s best ‘two-way backcourt’ … Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker will miss  having Jeremy Lin on the team, but is happy for him, too … Why the Thunder may hold off on contract extensions for Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams

Morning shootaround — Aug. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stoudemire reflects on Knicks heyday | Wade says James was surprised Wade got on open market | Anthony steps up as leader for Team USA

No. 1: Stoudemire reflects on career, Knicks heyday — While his NBA playing days officially ended last week, former All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ready to hang it up altogether just yet. In a news conference with the New York Knicks yesterday, Stoudemire announced he will be playing for a team in Israel next year. Before that next chapter begins, Stoudemire took time to pen an essay about his career on The Players Tribune in which he remembered his Knicks days, playing along side Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal and more:

It was December 15, 2010. I had just scored 30 or more points for the ninth straight game — a Knicks record. Madison Square Garden was alive — I mean alive— cheering for me, cheering for us. I’d never heard anything like it. I’d never heard love like that before. For the first time in a long time, the Knicks were a team to be reckoned with. We lost by two that night (and only after my three had been waived off at the buzzer) to the Celtics. But more importantly, there was an awakening. Not just in MSG, but in the entire city.

Everyone was going to our games. And if they couldn’t go to the games, they were going to bars to watch them. People were enjoying themselves before and partying after. I swear we single-handedly revived New York’s economy. We were rock stars — me and Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and the rest of the team. Obviously, being celebrities wasn’t our job. It was fun, but our No. 1 job was to be great basketball players — to win. Still, you can’t beat being a rock star.

Millions of kids dream of playing in the NBA. Not many make it there. An even smaller number get to hear thousands of people chant “M-V-P!”

Let’s start with where it all started, in Phoenix, with Stephon Marbury. I was his rookie. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Too many people forget that he was an All-Star, a max-contract player. For a player that great to take me under his wing, it just meant so much to me.

Then there’s Steve Nash. Before he arrived, we already had a pretty strong nucleus in myself, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa. When we brought Steve on board, we reached a whole new level. Everyone else fed off him. Once you have a pass-first point guard, a guy who just focuses on getting the ball to where it needs to be —who’s just making his teammates better — it opens up the entire game.

We redefined the game of basketball. Before us, the center position was more like Shaq or Karl Malone. We didn’t have that size, but we had speed. Mike D’Antoni made a decision to go small. Teams weren’t ready for it. They weren’t ready for Seven Seconds or Less.

I don’t know how Steve made some of those passes. In the heat of the moment on the court, you don’t really appreciate a great pass. But once I got a chance to watch the replay, either on the jumbotron or in film sessions, I’d go up to him and say, “That was a hell of a pass!”

Steve was one of the best passers and shooters the game has ever seen, and I had the best seat in the house to watch him work. Steve took my game to a whole new level. He showed me what it meant to be a leader.

Can’t forget about the big fella, neither: Shaq. I idolized him growing up. And I got to play with him in Phoenix in ’08 and ’09. We did work, too. I was putting up insane numbers thanks to him and all the attention teams had to give him.

I got to play a bit this year with Dwyane Wade, yet another Hall of Famer. He keeps his dribble so low to the ground, and he’s deceptively quick.

Last, but definitely not least, Carmelo Anthony. I think he’s the best pure scorer in the NBA. It just comes so easy to him. When he’s at his best, he’s playing an entirely different game than the rest of us. That night when he scored 62 at the Garden, that was easy for him. He could have gotten 70, maybe more. He just flowed out there on the court. That’s what the game is all about, getting to a level like Carmelo is on. When a great player performs like that, it’s fun to watch. I should know, I was there.

***

No. 2: Wade says LeBron couldn’t believe Wade entered free agency — After spending his entire career with the Miami Heat, guard Dwyane Wade will spend next season with the Chicago Bulls after signing with them in free agency. The move stunned many across the NBA as Wade was perhaps the player most associated with the Heat in franchise history. In an interview with ESPN over the weekend, Wade revealed how his choice went down and how one former teammate was stunned Wade was even allowed to get to that point in free agency. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:

Dwyane Wade essentially condensed his decision to leave the Miami Heat into eight words during an interview that aired Sunday on ESPN: “They made a choice; I made a choice.”

And yet, with those eight words, clarity, more than three weeks after his decision to depart for the Chicago Bulls in NBA free agency, remained in limited regarding the end of his 13-year tenure with the team that drafted him in 2003.

“My time, the clock ticked out on me,” Wade said in the interview recorded in the wake of his Friday introduction to the media at the Bulls’ practice facility. “And whether they felt it, whether they wanted to do it, I did. And I respectfully walk away saying I tip my hat to their organization and to the city for embracing me and giving me the platform to be great. And I did that. I was great. It will always be there. But I’ve got more things to do.”

Between Wade’s departure from the Heat and introduction in Chicago, Heat President Pat Riley said of not taking an active involvement in the negotiations, “The buck really stops here. I’m not trying to fall on the sword for anybody. I have great regret that I didn’t put myself in the middle of it.”

Wade’s response in the ESPN interview after that quote was read to him was, “We all have choices. We make our choices.”

As he previously had done, Wade did not cast it as a clash of personalities with Riley.

“I respect Pat Riley to the fullest for what he’s done in this game, you know, drafting me, when a lot of people didn’t believe I was going to be as great as I’ve become,” he said. “But in this situation, we all have choices. So we choose not to put ourselves in the situation. He wasn’t the sole reason I left at all, but it was his choice.”

 

…Wade also reflected on being on vacation in Spain with former Heat teammate LeBron James and their mutual friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers guard, amid his free-agency issues with the Heat.

“I think they were in disbelief that I didn’t have any deal that I wanted,” he said. “They just were, ‘Why are you even a free agent? You shouldn’t even be.’ ”

He added of that time alongside James, who was coming off his NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. and Paul, “The biggest thing that came back from both of them was, ‘Follow your heart. Whatever you want you want to do, we’re going to support, we’re your friends. But there’s a reason you’re having these thoughts: follow your heart.’ “

***

No. 3: Anthony becomes leader of Team USA — The U.S. men’s national team wrapped up its exhibition schedule last night with a 110-66 romp against Nigeria in Houston. That moved Team USA to a perfect 5-0 in the warm-up portion of its schedule for the 2016 Olympics in Rio where the team will be the decided favorites against the rest of the field. Our Fran Blinebury was on hand last night and reports on how Carmelo Anthony is driving this current quest for gold:

Put the basketball into Carmelo Anthony‘s hands and it’s like watching a bird fly, a fish swim.

He knows what to do and how to do it and, to listen to him after Team USA closed out its cruising-over-America tour Monday night and now heads off to Rio for his fourth Olympic Games, there’s nothing new to see.

“I think (my role) is the same,” Anthony said after his 19 points led the way in a 110-66 thumping of Nigeria. “I think it’s to go out there to be myself and not be nobody else. Not try to do more than I have to. You do a little bit of a lot when it comes down to it. I feel comfortable in these situations, regardless of what type of game or style of play that these teams are going to bring to us. I think I’ve seen it all over all the years.”

A 20-year-old Anthony was there for the three-loss bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens that led to the total revamping of the USA Basketball program and he was there for the painful semifinal loss to Greece in the first year of the new regime at the 2006 World Championship in Japan.

Now that he’s 32 and the de facto leader of a roster that consists of so many new faces to the whole international atmosphere, it’s as if he has blossomed fully.

“The leadership comes natural to me,” Anthony said. “People are putting a lot on it because the whole world is seeing it. For me, I do this every day. It’s natural for me. It’s genuine. It’s nothing that I’m forcing myself to do. I do it every day all day. I’m the same person. I’m the same guy. Now it’s just more visible to you (media) guys because you’re seeing it a little more on my own team every season. There’s more cameras in practice now. We have practice that’s open and you guys have a chance to see how we react with one another. I think that’s the difference. I think you guys are starting to see more of me doing that rather than all through the season.”

While some of that may be true, there are signs even to some of his teammates that Anthony embraces the mantle of leader.

“Oh, he’s the guy that’s been there so much before,” said center DeMarcus Cousins. “We would all be foolish if we didn’t go to him, learn from him, lean on him as we take on this challenge. He knows the ups and downs, the little differences from this kind of game to what we all play in the NBA and those can pay off for us as we go through this.”

“Carmelo’s been sensational really as a leader and as a player, too,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This is his fourth Olympics and his fifth USA competition. For him to use his experience. He wants everyone to be good. He knows us. He knows the international game and everyone on the team respects him. I think he’s been terrific. I thought he would be good and he’s been better. Because he’s a smart guy and he gets it.”

“I actually feel excited about the journey we’re about to take on. A new group of guys. A much younger group of guys. Before I was one of the young guys and now I’m one of the older guys on the team that has been around a couple of times. For me, knowing that we have an opportunity to do something special with a new group of guys, new faces of our country, to be a part of it, I’m excited about that.”

“I think the whole experience has helped him, even playing-wise,” said Krzyzewski. “His toughness is even better. We’re lucky that he’s with us.”

Some things change, even they won’t admit it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Two former NBA centers chime in on the NBA retirees’ health insurance planAndrew Bogut wasn’t exactly thrilled about the lodgings in Rio … Former Sixth Man of the Year winner Ben Gordon is taking a long road to get back to the NBA

Morning shootaround — Aug. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant says Harden underappreciated | Team USA understands the gold standard | The return of Amar’e?

No. 1: Durant says Harden underappreciated — There are few NBA players who probably have as much appreciation for James Harden as Kevin Durant. They may be on different coasts and different teams these days, of course, but a few years back they played together on the Oklahoma City Thunder and made a run to the 2012 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat. Harden was traded soon after, and Durant left Oklahoma this summer in Free agency, but as a former teammate, Durant has a unique perspective on what it’s like to play alongside Harden. And with Team USA in Houston for tonight’s final exhibition (8:00 p.m. ET) before the Olympics, as Jonathan Feigan of the Houston Chronicle writes, Durant spoke about how he feels Harden can be underappreciated…

Kevin Durant and James Harden, former Oklahoma City teammates, opted against becoming teammates again this summer when the Rockets star chose not to play in the Olympics and Durant did not consider signing with Harden’s Rockets as a free agent. But before the USA Basketball practice at Toyota Center on Sunday, Durant argued that Harden is greatly underappreciated for his play in that arena.

“Nobody really appreciates what he does except for the players in our league,” Durant said. “Everybody on the outside doesn’t really appreciate what he brings. Anybody that can put up 29 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and not make the All-NBA team, that’s like a sin to even think about not putting a guy like that on the All-NBA team.

“As a player and someone that played with him and a fan of the game I was (angry) because somebody is right here in front of you and you can’t appreciate him. If he were to retire tomorrow, we would have so many stories and videos about how great he is, but he’s here right now doing it. Appreciate what he brings.”

***

No. 2: Team USA understands the gold standard With Team USA ready to head south to Brazil, where they are the favorites to win gold, it’s clear that the expectations haven’t changed through the years: Gold, or bust. But as our own Fran Blinebury writes, Team USA is playing to reach a standard that may be impossibly high…

It is the bar that was set impossibly high by the original Dream Team of 1992 that featured all-time greats Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, to name a few. They not only swept through the Olympic tournament in Barcelona winning by an average of 44 points per game and never once requiring coach Chuck Daly to call a timeout, but they left a mark on the wall that successive American teams will always be measured against.

“Definitely,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “You don’t want to disappoint. Since ’06, Team USA hasn’t lost a game. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) has only lost one game his whole coaching career with Team USA. We really don’t want to be that team that lets him down or the country down. People expect a lot out of us as they should.

“I think the world has gotten better since the Dream Team. You see it now in the NBA game. There’s so many international guys on every team. I think we had 100 last year. So I think the world influence is a little bigger than it was back then. Nobody’s gonna remember the score as long as we come along with the gold. But, yeah, living up to the reputation is always in the back of your head.”

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has become the de facto leader of the 2016 team, now playing in his fourth Olympics, a career that began with the desultory 2004 performance in Athens when Team USA limped home with a bronze medal that led to the revamping of the entire program.

“We try to keep that edge to know that if we do what we have to do it’s a very high chance that we could win games by 30 or more points every game,” Anthony said. “But if we come out and be too complacent and just think we got it from the jump, it won’t happen.”

It is both the driving force that pushes them on and a burden that each member of every new edition of Team USA must carry as they pick up the torch for the Olympics and World Cup.

“I know that’s out there,” said Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. “I don’t really try to think about it in terms of how much we’re beating people by or stuff like that. I think more about the tradition of how we do things. It’s doing things the right way, doing things as classy as possible and represent our country that way. That’s what we’re expected to do. It’s not about blowing guys out by 30.”

***

No. 3: The return of Amar’e? — Just days after announcing his retirement from the NBA, will Amar’e Stoudemire announce his return today? Apparently so, although it won’t be a return to the NBA. According to report from ESPN.com, Amar’e will return to play this season in Israel with Hapoel Jerusalem, a team he partially owns…

Sources told ESPN.com that basketball officials in Israel say Stoudemire’s move to join Hapoel Jerusalem as an active player is now a mere formality.

A report earlier Sunday from international ‎basketball reporter David Pick says the deal is done for Stoudemire to play for Hapoel Jerusalem in 2016-17 after he announced his NBA retirement last week.

Stoudemire is scheduled to travel to Israel next week as part of an NBA Cares initiative organized by the first Israeli to ever play in the NBA — Sacramento’s Omri Casspi — and has taken a great interest in the country over the past few years since revealing that he has Jewish roots on his mother’s side. He has held an ownership stake in Hapoel Jerusalem since the summer of 2013 after Israeli tech magnate Ori Allon became the club’s majority owner.

On Tuesday, Stoudemire signed a contract with the New York Knicks and was immediately waived in a move designed to allow him to retire as a Knick.

“I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that,” Stoudemire said Tuesday in a statement. “Carmelo [Anthony], Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, always a Knick.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his injury in the Finals, Andrew Bogut made his return to action with Australia … The Heat are looking at Dion Waiters as a presumptive starter at shooting guard … Former NBA forward Josh Howard has reportedly been hired as a college coach … Take a trip down memory lane with Richard JeffersonDirk Nowitzki wished Mark Cuban a happy birthday, although his math seems a little fuzzy

Morning Shootaround — July 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cuban: Mavericks got “lucky” with free agent Plan B | Careful challenging Michael Jordan, even now | Waiting paid off for Lue, Cavaliers

No. 1: Cuban: Mavericks got “lucky” with free agent Plan B — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been one to hold his tongue in matters of business, basketball or politics. So when he talks about the Mavericks getting “lucky” with their free agent contingency plans this summer, he means what he says. The Dallas Morning News provides some highlights of Cuban’s recent discussion with ESPN Radio 103.3 in Dallas, where he discussed the departure of Chandler Parsons, the acquisition of Harrison Barnes and more:

Chuck Cooperstein: Unfortunately the Plan A [in free agency] didn’t work out the way you had in mind, didn’t work out the way you hoped it would. Even you knew that it was going to be an uphill struggle to make it work. Yet again, you’ve been able to sort of cobble something together that looks just a little bit more than interesting.

Mark Cuban: Yeah, you know I keep a whole trunk full of rabbits so I can put them in my hat. We got lucky. There’s not other way to say it. We knew we were long shots with both Hassan [Whiteside] and with Mike Conley. We knew Mike Conley wasn’t going to turn down the largest contract in NBA history. But we also know that it’s not just about the short-term, it’s the long-term. We wanted to introduce the Mavericks, our style and our organization to both of them because you never know when they’re going to be available in a trade. You never know next free agency. So many things can happen over a period of time in an NBA.

Look what happened with D-Will [Deron Williams]. I think our presentation to him from coach and Donnie [Nelson] in particular really set the groundwork for him understanding who we are. On one hand, we didn’t expect to get them to come to the Mavs, but we still think it served a function. From there Harrison [Barnes] reached out to me at 12:01 like, ‘Dude I want to come there. You’re my first pick, my only pick.’ I went back-and-forth with him like, ‘Yeah, we’d love you too but you’re a restricted free agent. Here’s our course of action. Here’s what we’re going to do.’ I laid it all out for him. He was like, ‘Okay, we’ll see what happens but you guys are my team.’ Fortunately it turned out the way it did.

Matt Mosley: Mark, why did you essentially pick Harrison Barnes over Chandler Parsons? Parsons ends up getting very similar, if not the same money, from Memphis. Y’all had a great relationship. I saw quotes recently [where] you said, ‘It continues to be a great relationship.’ Did it simply come down to the knee, the medical, as comparing Barnes to Parsons or do you just feel like maybe Barnes has more upside?

Mark Cuban: Can’t go into any details, but I’ll just say it wasn’t a basketball issue. Chandler obviously is a very, very skilled player. There’s a lot of great things to his game. But he’s, in essence, a different player from Harrison. Harrison is longer, more athletic, younger. Just like Chandler really didn’t get a chance to have his game blossom when he was with the Rockets. He just showed glimpses of it because of Dwight [Howard] and James [Harden] being there. I think Harrison was kind of in the same role. I think we’re going to give Harrison the opportunity and I know he’s excited about the opportunity to really shine and be a featured guy for us.

Chuck Cooperstein: I don’t know if you saw the ESPN piece…about the summer ranking of the Western Conference teams in which they had the Mavericks ninth. I said something, ‘Well, here we go again.’ Right?

Mark Cuban: You never know until you know. That’s why we play the games. If you look at last year you look at New Orleans, you look at Houston, you just don’t know. I would have told you last year, and I think I did tell you guys, that we’re about eight sprained ankles away from being a top contender. Now we’re probably only three, maybe four. You just don’t know. Look at Portland and what happened there. You just don’t know.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — July 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA continues rolling | Wade, Bulls a convenient fit | Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs

No. 1: Team USA continues rolling — With the Olympics now a week away, Team USA continued their exhibition schedule last night in Chicago, where they squared off against Venezuela. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Team USA managed to overcome poor shooting to still coast to an easy 80-45 win…

A miserable shooting night by both teams kept highlights to a minimum, but the USA Basketball men’s national team beat Venezuela 80-45 Friday night at United Center.

A sellout crowd eager to see both the Chicago Bulls’ Olympic representative, Jimmy Butler, and newest acquisition, Dwyane Wade — watching from the front row after his Bulls introductory news conference earlier in the day — did most of its noise-making during introductions.

At least, that’s how it went until DeAndre Jordan‘s alley-oop throwdown of a pass from Kevin Durant gave them something to roar about, putting Team USA up 62-37 with 6:47 left. Then Butler threw one down with 1:47 left to satisfy the locals.

Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson scored 13 points each for Team USA.

Heading into that final quarter, though, the teams had combined to shoot 29-of-104 (27.9 percent). The Venezuela team was pesky enough defensively to disrupt Team USA’s offense, which had purred along shooting 49.8 percent in its first three tuneups.

The Americans won those games — the opener against Argentina, followed by two against China — by an average of 45.3 points, outrebounding those opponents by an average of 21.0. By halftime Friday, they were on pace in both those categories — leading by 18, with a 37-12 edge on the boards — but their scoring was way down due to abysmal shooting.

Their 36 points through two quarters came the hard way: 12-of-40 on field-goal attempts, including 2-of-18 on 3-pointers. The NBA stars even missed six of their 16 free throws.

The Venezuelans hung tough deep into the first quarter, trailing 13-12, before USA ran off the game’s next 12 points across the quarter break. Venezuela’s John Cox, who led all scorers with 12 points in the half, got his crew as close as 28-18 before Team USA closed the half with eight unanswered points.

***

No. 2: Wade, Bulls a convenient fit — One of the more surprising signings of the NBA free agency period was Dwyane Wade leaving the only team he had ever played for, the Miami Heat, in order to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Wade met with the media in Chicago on Friday, and Wade said that this was not about money as much as it was a return to where he watched the Bulls play as a kid…

Wade was introduced Friday — wait, that’s the wrong word for one of the NBA’s most familiar faces, so let’s say reacquainted with Chicago media at a news conference at the Bulls downtown practice facility. The theme of the 45-minute “presser” was hometown-kid-returns, and strictly speaking, there’s no denying the truth of that. Wade was born in Chicago, grew up in the south suburb of Robbins, and went to Richards H.S. in neighboring Oak Lawn.

But he left Chicagoland after graduating to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee. After leading that school to the Final Four, the 6-foot-4 guard was drafted fifth overall in 2003 by Miami. And over the past 13 years, Wade established himself as the face, heart and soul of the Heat, stacking up 12 All-Star appearances alongside those three Larry O’Brien trophies.

Because Wade’s Miami teams were in direct conflict with the Bulls for much of his career, his roots mattered less to the fans at United Center than the city and logos on his uniform. He routinely was booed and, more than once, rather awkwardly, he was cheered when he fell or was knocked to the floor and it appeared he might be hurt too badly to continue. Wade even let on how that stung, coming in the building where he once had dreamed of playing and winning.

That was the dream-come-true of which he spoke Friday.

“I’m a Chicago guy, Chicago kid. I grew up here,” Wade said, before a fleet of cameras, a gang of reporters and lots of family. “I remember sitting on the floor when I could sit Indian-style and watching the Chicago Bulls win their first championship. I was 9 years old.

“We had this little-bitty TV — it’s about as big as an iPhone now — I remember looking at it and saying, ‘That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be. I want to be a champion and that’s who I want to do it with.’ My dream of becoming an NBA player started here in my hometown.”

No one wants to be overly cynical, so if Wade really is scratching an itch — and maybe extending his brand to another major market for the growing conglomerate that he and many of his peers have become — by playing next season in Chicago, good for him.

That doesn’t paper over suspicions, though, that he signed with the Bulls out of spite when the Heat and president Pat Riley didn’t make him a higher priority when free agency opened July 1. Or that the Bulls had ulterior motives in their own right besides landing a player whom they’d had in their sights twice before.

Wade tamped down a few questions Friday about the breakdown in his negotiations with the Heat. Reminded that Riley later expressed — sincerely or not — some regrets that he hadn’t been more involved in the talks, Wade said he had been fine hashing out particulars with owner Mickey Arison and son Nick.

“This year, the direction and focus for that organization in Miami — which I have nothing but respect for and love for — was a little different than it has been in years past,” Wade said. “My focus and direction was a little different than it’s been in years past. … I had a contract offer in Miami I could have took. I decided not to take it. It was my decision to be selfish and live out a dream of mine.”

“So let’s clear up the notion that Pat Riley orchestrated me getting out of Miami because he didn’t offer me the money I wanted,” Wade added. “This was not a money deal for me.”

***

No. 3: Report: Monty Williams to return to sideline with Spurs — After his head coaching gig ended with the New Orleans Pelicans, last summer Monty Williams joined the Oklahoma City Thunder as their lead assistant coach. But tragedy struck midway through the season, when Williams’ wife was killed in a traffic accident. Williams took off the rest of the season to focus on their five children, but he recently returned to work with USA Basketball, and as ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, Williams is expected to return to the NBA next season as an assistant for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs.

Sources told ESPN that Williams — who left the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bench in February after the tragic death of his wife, Ingrid — has been urged by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to take as much of a role with the organization as he feels comfortable for the 2016-17 campaign.

The specifics of what role Williams would fill and how much time he could commit have not yet been determined, but sources say San Antonio has opened the door to either a coaching and player-development role or a front-office position (or a hybrid), depending on what he prefers.

One source close to Williams told ESPN that the 44-year-old “absolutely” intends to be a head coach in the league again after his expected stint with the Spurs. The source also said numerous teams, including Oklahoma City, have made similar offers to Williams for next season.

Williams’ in-laws live in San Antonio and have been assisting him with the couple’s five children in the wake of Ingrid Williams’ death after a Feb. 9 collision in which a car crossed over onto the wrong side of the road and struck her vehicle head-on.

The children also have been traveling with Williams during Team USA’s domestic stops on the road to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The team has played exhibition games in Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Oakland, California; and Chicago entering the final warm-up game in Houston against Nigeria on Monday.

The start of USA Basketball’s preparations for the Rio Olympics on July 18 in Las Vegas marked Williams’ return to the sport after five months away in the wake of the accident. In a SportsCenter interview with Hannah Storm that aired Friday, Williams said he’s “so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

“I’ve only had peace about a few things,” Williams told Storm. “I knew I had to take care of my kids and stop coaching, but also knew that I wanted to be a part of USA Basketball, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

“I can’t wait to get back and start coaching. I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to. My kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back.”

Last season was Williams’ first as the lead assistant in Oklahoma City under Thunder coach Billy Donovan. Williams previously posted a record of 173-221 in five seasons as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. After the Thunder’s seven-game exit to Golden State in the Western Conference finals this postseason, Donovan confirmed that Williams would not be returning to the Thunder bench.

Williams got his start in coaching under Popovich as a Spurs intern in 2004-05 before making his debut as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Reflecting on the accident that claimed his wife’s life, Williams told Storm, “I got the call that nobody wants to get. And I knew when I was talking to my daughter, because she answered the phone, I knew at that moment that my life was going to change. I can’t explain it, but I knew that everything was going to be different. I didn’t know what was going on at the hospital; I just knew that my life was going to change. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. I just felt that in my heart like this phone call was different.

“It’s one of those things you never get rid of. You never forget where you were. You never forget what you were doing. It’s the phone call you don’t want anybody to ever get. Certainly [it] could’ve broken me to the point of quitting. But God and his graciousness has given me the strength and good people to help us go forward.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Atlanta Hawks starting point guard Dennis Schröder joined this week’s Hang Time Podcast … The Warriors will reportedly offer JaVale McGee a chance to make the team in training camp … Nets guard Greivis Vasquez has withdrawn from the Olympics and the Venezuelan National Team … Jarrett Jack says he’s about a month away from returning to full-contact workouts

Morning shootaround — July 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Durant says he didn’t tell Westbrook he was coming back | Wade’s move shocks Anthony | Stoudemire wanted to retire with Suns

No. 1: Durant says he never made promise to Westbrook — Kevin Durant was one of, if not the biggest, names in free agency this summer. His decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors made ripples throughout the NBA that are still being felt today. On a recent podcast, ESPN.com’s Royce Young said Durant had essentially told his All-Star teammate in OKC, Russell Westborook, he was coming back to the Thunder. (Young has since clarified that statement back a bit.) Durant, in an interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, says he never said anything of the sort to Westbrook:

Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant refuted a report that he told his ex-Oklahoma City teammates – including Russell Westbrook – that he planned to re-sign with the Thunder.

“It’s false,” Durant told The Vertical on Thursday. “I didn’t say that – words about me telling Russell or Nick that I would stay or leave never came out of my mouth. We met as teammates, but no promises came out of it. In this day and age, I can’t control anything people claim out there. Someone can go out and say something random right now, and people will believe it.

“I never told Russell or Nick [Collison], ‘All right, guys, I’m coming back to the Thunder’ – and then a week later, I decide not to. Never happened. I don’t operate like that. I heard people say that story, but it’s not the truth.”

In a quiet corner before USA Basketball’s practice at the United Center, Durant admitted he has heard – and refutes – the perception that he turned his back on Westbrook and his former Thunder teammates. “There were never promises given in a meeting before July,” he told The Vertical. “I went through the process.”

He held meetings with six teams – the Warriors, Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat – and committed to a two-year maximum contract with Golden State. Since joining the Warriors, Durant and several teammates, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, have fielded questions about acclimating the one-time NBA MVP to the starting lineup.

“I’m not coming into a team where a guy is playing my position and we have try to fit in two guys playing the same position,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’m not coming in trying to play the point guard, trying to play the shooting guard. I’m a small forward. The team didn’t have a small forward when I signed. Steph, Klay, Draymond, the bigs, we all play different positions.

“Whether it’s minutes, shots, opportunities, any good team will have players sacrificing. That’s the nature of the game. I’m not coming into a game saying that I need my 18 shots and I need to get to the line 12 times. I let the game flow naturally.”

***

No. 2: Anthony shocked by Wade’s move to Chicago — New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and new Chicago Bulls signee Dwyane Wade have been friends for years, dating back to before both were taken in the top 5 picks of the 2003 Draft. The two have had their share of memorable one-on-one showdowns through the years, even moreso over the last six seasons since Anthony was traded to the Eastern Conference. While Anthony should continue to face Wade on a regular basis in 2016-17 and beyond, he was like many others this summer who found themselves surprised Wade left the Miami Heat to sign with the Bulls. ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell has more:

“I was shocked,” Anthony said before Thursday’s Team USA practice at the United Center. “I was shocked more from a standpoint it was just hard to see. It’s hard to see some players in different uniforms and he’s one of those guys who I never thought I would see in a different uniform other than Miami. But it happened, and I got a chance to talk to him and sit down with him and really dig deep about his feelings and what happened. He’s at peace now. And when he’s at peace, I’m at peace with it.”

Wade surprised many in the league by spurning the Heat to sign a two-year deal with the Bulls earlier this month. Anthony, who was wooed by the Bulls two summers ago but ultimately decided to re-sign with the Knicks, acknowledged that the free-agency process can be mentally taxing for players.

“I don’t think the masses really understand how difficult those decisions are,” Anthony said. “And what goes into those decisions. And as athletes what’s going through our mind during those decisions. A lot of people think we can just wake up and we can just make those decisions — it’s not that easy.”

Anthony’s comments come just a few weeks after two of the most successful Bulls in recent memory, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, landed in New York. Rose was dealt to the Knicks last month. Noah signed as a free agent.

“We love them,” Anthony said. “We love those additions. And we’re looking forward to getting the season going. And I think everybody is excited, the excitement is back. Right now there’s an adjustment on paper, but of course we have some work to do putting it all together, making it work. But we’re going to ride the wave of this excitement right now.”

As for a rekindling of a rivalry between the Bulls and Knicks, Anthony said he knows that it’s possible with all the moves both teams have made.

“I know you guys want that,” Anthony said. “I know you’re living for that. But we embrace that. I think as players, as competitors, we embrace all of those challenges and rivalries, that’s what makes the sport great again, so we embrace that.”

***

No. 3: Stoudemire says Suns weren’t receptive to him returning — After six All-Star Game apperances, a Kia Rookie of the Year trophy, and being named an All-NBA player several times, Amar’e Stoudemire retired from the NBA on Wednesday. Stoudemire was a free agent this summer and decided to hang it up as a member of the New York Knicks, whom he played for from 2010-15. Although Stoudemire had some memorable days in New York, most associate his peak seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him in 2002. Stoudemire told the Arizona Republic‘s Paul Coro he wanted to retire as a Sun, but the team didn’t seem receptive to that idea:

Amar’e Stoudemire gets sentimental the moment he reflects on his first eight NBA seasons spent in Phoenix, where a raw teenager became a skilled All-Star.

“Where do you want me to start?” Stoudemire said Thursday, shuffling through his mind’s fondest Suns memories. “It doesn’t stop.”

Stoudemire quickly recites Suns times like flying with a Phoenix contingent to recruit Steve Nash out of Dallas, watching Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic arrive in Phoenix from foreign countries, his career’s most successful seasons as an individual and a team, experiencing a preseason tour of Italy and Germany, watching Nash’s soccer skills on the Suns practice court and using his Hollywood connections to entertain teammates on the road.

All of that, dotted by conference finals runs and five All-Star Games as a Sun, will carry more weight in time than his decision to retire on a one-day New York Knicks contract for his less successful NBA home of 4 ½ years.

Stoudemire just did not feel the same love back in the past two offseasons, when he hoped to return to the Suns to close his career. That prompted him to reach out to New York this month for a ceremonial contract with a “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” quotation to cap his 14-year career.

“The last two years, we made phone calls to Phoenix but I wasn’t getting any positive response,” Stoudemire told azcentral sports on Thursday. “That would’ve been the perfect way to go out. I didn’t want to beg Phoenix. My heart was in two places – Phoenix and New York. I just went where I was wanted.”

“I love my fans in Phoenix. Most of my high times and highlights were in Phoenix. I put forth the effort to finish my career in Phoenix but it wasn’t well-received.”

Stoudemire watched Steve Nash be inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor last season and thought, “I might be next.” There are currently 14 members.

Even with missing nearly a full season during his eight-year Phoenix stay, Stoudemire ranks highly in Suns career annals – fourth in points per game (21.4), third in total rebounds (4,613), fifth in total blocks (722), third in free throws made (3,044) and seventh in field goal percentage (54.3).

“I’m praying for that,” Stoudemire said of a Ring of Honor induction, “because my glory years are in Phoenix. My best times are in Phoenix. I bleed purple and orange. My roots are in Phoenix and the tree bloomed from there.”

 

Stoudemire wanted to make it clear that his positive feelings for the franchise remain in tact, especially his respect for Suns fans and managing partner Robert Sarver.

“I never have received so much love and loyalty than I did with Suns fans,” Stoudemire said. “I love them unconditionally.

“I understand what Robert is trying to do. I know Robert is trying to win and I know the organization is trying to create a winning environment. I respect what they are trying to accomplish. If they need my help with anything, I am here for them.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers will square off in a regular-season game in London next season … The cost of the Washington Wizards’ new practice facility just went up … Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler says he no longer has a chip on his shoulder motivating him, but he’s just as driven as ever … Sacramento Kings VP Vlade Divac is predicting a big Olympics for his team’s star center, DeMarcus Cousins … Gerald Green is glad to be back where his NBA career started — with the Boston Celtics …

Waiters agrees to deal with Miami

For those casual NBA critics you run into occasionally – particularly the ones who finally have come off their hackneyed “no one plays defense” or “the regular season means nothing” salvos, only to replace them this summer by grumbling about the flood of TV money and overpaid mediocre players – we offer: Dion Waiters.

Waiters, a shooting guard who already was an object of bemusement for some NBA reporters on social media, appears to be adding another chapter. The Miami Heat have signed Waiters, who most recently played for Oklahoma City, to a reported two-year contract worth around $6 million.

Mediocre? Overpaid? Not in this instance. If the reported salary is correct, Waiters will play in 2016-17 for less than he was paid last season and not even half what he could have gotten by re-signing with the Thunder. But Waiters’ inconsistent play, and the gap between his skills and his perception of those skills, apparently meant less of a market for a guy who was the No. 4 pick overall in 2012. Waiters averaged a career-worst 9.8 points while shooting 39.9 percent and continuing a career-long trend as a minus player in net rating (99/108 in 2015-16).

Here is some context from Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman, including details on why the Thunder pulled their qualifying offer to Waiters:

The number is eye-popping. Waiters is a 24-year-old shooting guard who, despite his flaws, showed decent ability on both ends of the floor deep into the playoffs this past season. Many speculated that Waiters would get $10 million or more per year in this seller’s market.

But his restricted free [agency] dragged on deep into July. The Victor Oladipo trade last month, combined with the Kevin Durant departure, allowed the Thunder to take a new direction. After signing Alex Abrines, OKC had little interest in bringing Waiters back. So the Thunder rescinded a qualifying offer last week that, if Waiters accepted it, would’ve made him $6.8 million next season.

He then became an unrestricted free agent and, apparently, there wasn’t much interest out there despite available money from teams like the Nets and Sixers. So Waiters has agreed to a short-term, bet-on-yourself, pay-cut deal with the Heat.