Posts Tagged ‘Mike Conley’

Grizzlies GM vows to re-sign Conley

The wounded Grizzlies have no answer for the Spurs and very little chance of grabbing even a single game in their first round playoff series at the end of a star-crossed season that has worn them down and out.

But the grit and grind bunch has plans to be back at full strength for 2016-17 as general manager Chris Wallace vowed that the club will keep soon-to-be free agent point guard Mike Conley in Memphis. Wallace made his proclamation Wednesday on the Chris Vernon radio show on 92.9 FM ESPN in Memphis:

The 28-year-old Conley will be the top point guard on the free agent market this summer. He’s always been underrated and under-appreciated — not a single All-Star appearance — in the Western Conference that is crowded with talent at his position. But Conley is a smart quarterback of the offense, an excellent defender and is a solid 3-point shooter at 37.3 percent on his career. He did not play the final 20 games of the season after suffering continued soreness in his Achilles tendon.

There was a report earlier in the week that said Conley was ready to bolt Memphis in free agency and the Knicks might have him at the top of their off-season wish list. However, he played a pivotal role in getting teammate Marc Gasol to re-sign with the team last summer, it’s hard to see Conley heading for the door if the Grizzlies do the right thing and make a five-year maximum offer. Listening to Wallace, it sounds like that’s exactly the plan.

Spurs won’t take Grizzlies lightly

VIDEO: Gregg Popovich speaking on playoff preparation.

SAN ANTONIO — They know the Grizzlies come struggling into the playoffs with nine losses in their last 10 regular season games. They know that with key cogs Marc Gasol and Mike Conley missing, among so many others, that Memphis will trot out a lineup of journeyman and NBA D-League refugees for Game 1 on Sunday night.

But the Spurs also know far better than to take any playoff opponent. As if coach Gregg Popovich would let them. They are expecting a team ready to put up a fight.

“Same thing they always bring,” said Spurs captain Tim Duncan. “Very scrappy, very physical. They’ve got a lot of guys that are going to try to turn up the intensity and make plays with their energy, their steals, their physicality. They’re going to bring it in that respect, and they’ve got a lot of vets out there who have been in the playoffs enough, and they know what it takes to get over that hump.”

Guard Danny Green agrees that no matter the struggles the Grizzlies have had dealing with a spate of injuries coming down the stretch, there will be no taking anything for granted by the team that won a franchise record 67 games.

“Right now, the only two teams we are focused on is us and the Memphis Grizzlies,” Green said. “We don’t want to skip any steps or look ahead.”

Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Iverson, Yao, Shaq lead 2016 Hall of Fame class

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Warriors ‘not really pushing’ for 73 wins | Report: Conley’s season likely over | Carroll gearing up for return | Kobe reflects on rescinded Paul trade | Scott: Young ‘not here with us, mentally’

No. 1: Kerr says Warriors ‘not really pushing’ for 73 wins — Don’t misunderstand Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, here. Yes, he would love to see his Warriors break the NBA single-season wins mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (which Kerr was a key role player on). But in a chat with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, Kerr clarified that he isn’t pushing the team for the record, but instead playing out the season in hopes of getting it while also trying to keep the squad healthy as the playoffs approach:

Steve Kerr, the one-time Chicago Bulls sharpshooter turned Golden State Warriors coach whose past and present are racing to the regular-season finish this week, is pushing back against the idea that he’s pushing his current team toward what could be a record 73-win campaign.

“We’re not really pushing for this,” Kerr, whose Warriors (69-8) must win four of their final five games to best the 72-10 mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls squad on which he played a pivotal part, told USA TODAY Sports after practice Monday. “All we’ve said is, ‘Yeah, it’d be nice to get. We’d like to get it.’

“But if I were pushing for it, I probably wouldn’t be resting (backup point guard) Shaun Livingston and (center Andrew) Bogut, and I’d be playing our starters more. We’re just playing it out. I don’t understand if people are going to say that we’re pushing for this. I don’t think that’s the right word to use. We’d like to get it, but we’re still resting people and trying to get us set up for the playoffs.”

And if they happen to break the Bulls’ mark, Kerr will be as elated as anyone. No matter what Luc Longley has to say about it.

“He had a great line,” said a smiling Kerr, whose Warriors host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday before facing the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies twice apiece in the final four games. “He said ‘You know, you haven’t thought this through obviously.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Your coaching legacy is already established. You won a championship, so people are going to know down the road that you were a good coach. But as a player, you were mediocre at best. So if you break this record and you don’t have that record as a player, nobody’s ever going to remember you as a player, so what are you thinking?’ And I said, ‘Are you talking about you or me, Luc?’ He said, ‘both.’”

This week, in fact, former Bulls star Scottie Pippen said the 1995-96 team would sweep the Warriors in a playoff series. Pippen even detailed his own part in the hypothetical clash, saying he would hold Stephen Curry below 20 points a game with his length, athleticism and physicality. To that charge, Kerr decided not to push back.

“(What Pippen said) doesn’t bother me,” said Kerr, who had three titles with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. “Every player out there who is connected to that team is going to be asked that question, and my response is always the same. The rules are so different, and the game is so different. We take 30 threes a game, or more, but the defensive rules are totally different in terms of illegal defense.

“With the old illegal defense rules, we would’ve had a hard time guarding the post. But now we can flood the strong side in a pseudo-zone. Back then you could hand-check, now you can’t hand-check. It’s hard to make a comparison if you’re really looking at it objectively, so I don’t even bother.”


VIDEO: Curry, Kerr talk after Thursday’s practice

***

(more…)

Blogtable: What should Knicks do in free agency?

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: State of Karl-Cousins relationship? | Knicks’ free-agency plan is ___? |
Agree with Davidson’s decision to not retire Curry’s jersey?



VIDEOThe Starters on the state of the Knicks

> Carmelo Anthony says the Knicks “gotta do something” in free agency. What should that “something” be?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comPay out a maximum-salary contract to an aging star who needs the ball and mostly plays only one end of the floor. Wait, what? Oh yeah, the Knicks did that in 2014 when they re-upped ‘Melo. Here’s what the Knicks need to do: Get Anthony to sign a loyalty oath accepting his spot in the pecking order, henceforth and forthwith, as the team’s third-best player. Then procure as No. 1 or No. 2 to align with Porzingis, and rely on Anthony as a volume scorer and closer but not as the tent-pole guy anymore. That — and dialed-up defense — would have a chance at climbing in the East.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Trade Carmelo Anthony and start building all over the right way around Kristaps Porzingis and more young talent. There are no shortcuts. ‘Melo and the Knicks should know that by now — they have tried all of them.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Something for the long term. The Knicks have the chance to build something for the long term, with Kristaps Porzingis and the strong possibility of another lottery pick as starting points. The free agents they add should work for the long term, not for the quick fix that might get them into the first round. That’s probably not what a veteran like Anthony wants to hear.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I don’t know what the Knicks “gotta” do but I know what they shouldn’t: Make a rash decision based on desperation and buy another Jon Koncak. Even with a rise in cap room they should spend wisely and understand, despite Melo’s urging, this is a gradual process and unless Kevin Durant wants in, there are no shortcuts. ‘Melo’s not worth panicking over. He’s not going anywhere, unless he wants to, and then I gladly make a deal.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Figure out where Anthony wants to be traded. The Knicks probably aren’t going to get the free agents they need to compete for a top 3 or 4 spot in the East, and Anthony will 32 years old in May. He’s already lost trade value, it will only go down from here, and teams that are closer to a championship will have the cap space to take on his contract. They Knicks should try to get some building blocks in return, look at a realistic, 3-5 year plan for contending for a championship, and move on. ‘Melo could help get another team over the hump, but the Knicks aren’t building a contender around him.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Phil Jackson coaching home games only next season is certainly not the “something” Carmelo is talking about. The Knicks need a measured approach to what they do next. Their personnel staff should have spent this season studying potential free agents of every stripe (not just the marquee names), and figure out who the guys are that can thrive in the isosceles triangle offense Phil insists on using. They have two sound pieces to build around in Carmelo and Kristaps Porzingis, so a desperation move — overpaying someone with a name but a game that doesn’t fit — is exactly what they don’t need this summer. I know Carmelo’s clock is ticking, but he has to be patient if they’re going to get it right in New York.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It should be something smart. By this time next year we’re going to be saying that Porzingis is potentially the best player to ever team up with Carmelo. With two stars locked in at the forward positions, the Knicks absolutely must hire a coach worthy of commanding Anthony’s respect. This quality is more important than any knowledge of the triangle offense. The Knicks have a few high-level years to squeeze out of their best player, and that time cannot be wasted on an ideological pursuit. Give ‘Melo a boss in whom he can believe. Hire Tom Thibodeau, sign complementary free agents who will feed a winning mentality and aim for nothing less than the Eastern Conference semifinals next season – these are all reachable goals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Knicks still need to improve at several positions, including their bench, but to me the primary need is a point guard with the quickness to penetrate on offense and defensively keep up with other quicker guards. So at midnight on the first day of free agency, Phil Jackson should call Mike Conley and, if Conley’s not taking calls, perhaps someone like Brandon Jennings. To be clear, no one player is going suddenly make the Knicks champs again, but the point guard slot is where the Knicks can make an immediate impact.

Grizzlies’ woes grow as Chalmers hurt

VIDEO: Grizzlies’ Mario Chalmers hurts foot.

The road to the end of the regular season keeps getting longer, harder and also more dangerous in Memphis. The question might no longer be whether the Grizzlies can hang onto the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, but if they can just make it to the end of the regular season.

Two nights after they pulled off a stunning win at Cleveland with just eight healthy players suited up, the Grizzlies suffered another loss when backup point guard Mario Chalmers was helped off the floor midway through the third period in Boston on Wednesday with what described by the team as a “right foot injury.”

Celtics sideline reporter Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports tweeted:

For a Grizzlies team that suffered 30- and 50-point losses with a full roster in the first week of the 2015-16 schedule, the season has turned into a punishing, unrelenting grind where the roster has been ground down practically to the bone.

Memphis already was playing without Zach Randolph (sore knee), Mike Conley (sore foot), Chris Andersen (partially separated shoulder), Brandan Wright (knee), Marc Gasol (broken foot) and Jordan Adams (knee).

According to Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, the Grizzlies have applied for an injury exception and plan to sign point guard Briante Weber of the NBA D-League if the exception is granted.

The Grizzlies trailed the Celtics by just 64-61 when Chalmers left the game with 6:57 left in the third quarter, but eventually lost 116-96. Memphis is now 38-26 with a 4 1/2 game lead over No. 6 seed Portland.

Trade deadline rumblings — Feb. 17

We’re a day away from the NBA trade deadline and already we’ve seen two deals take place this week — the Detroit Pistons sending Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to the Orlando Magic for Tobias Harris and the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies hooking up on a trade that basically sent Courtney Lee to Charlotte.

As we close in on trade deadline day, we’ll keep track of the latest social media rumblings about deals right here, so check back often!

UPDATE, 2:25 a.m. — Jazz ready to ship Burke for Lawson

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein weighed in late Wednesday night that the Jazz and Rockets are nearing agreement on a deal that would send Ty Lawson to Utah in exchange for Trey Burke.

Of course, they Rockets are also still trying to move their big piece:

UPDATE, 12:15 a.m. — Gasol wants to stay put, but Sacramento pushing hard

The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski weighed in with further details on Pau Gasol’s future late Wednesday night, reporting that the Spanish legend has “significant interest” in staying put with the Bulls. That hasn’t deterred the Kings from lodging a firm offer.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman has been discussing trades on several fronts involving Gasol, although some teams interested in Gasol worry that his love for Chicago could cloud his motivation in fully committing to a short-term stay for the rest of the season, league sources said. Gasol, 35, plans to decline the player option on the $7.7 million owed to him in 2016-17, but has significant interest in signing a new deal to remain with the Bulls, league sources said.

The Bulls have discussed deals with multiple NBA teams on Gasol, but one discussion lingered on Tuesday, league sources told The Vertical’s Wojnarowski and Chris Mannix: Gasol and Tony Snell to the Sacramento Kings for Kosta Koufos, Ben McLemore and a lowering of the lottery protections on the 2016 first-round pick that Sacramento owes the Bulls.

UPDATE, 11:20 p.m. — Clippers like Anderson, but do they have enough assets? 

The Los Angeles TimesBen Bolch added the Clippers to the Ryan Anderson Sweepstakes late Wednesday. But as he notes, Doc Rivers probably doesn’t have the assets necessary to convince the Pelicans to part with their sharpshooting forward.

The Clippers had expressed interest in New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson and Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye leading up to the deadline to move players at noon PST on Thursday, according to an executive close to the situation who was not authorized to discuss possible trades publicly.

It wasn’t clear whether the Clippers could construct a package that would entice the Pelicans to have interest in a deal. The Clippers do not have a first-round draft pick they can trade before their 2019 selection and appear reluctant to part with any of their core players.

Perennial All-Star Blake Griffin, the target of recent trade speculation, is apparently staying put, according to Bolch. One player who might be leaving? Lance Stephenson, whose stock has plummeted dramatically since his breakout 2013-14 season with the Indiana Pacers. Still only 25 years old, he’s averaging just 4.7 points per game this season.

UPDATE, 8:30 p.m. — Do Hawks hold the key to this year’s deadline? 

At 31-24, the Hawks have been good but not great, as was the case last season when they won 60 games and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Speculation is high that they’re willing to move a high-value piece or two — specifically Al Horford and/or Jeff Teague — to recapture their 2014-15 form. Indeed, the Hawks are apparently so involved in trade talks that The Vertical’s Chris Mannix reports they’re holding up progress for the rest of the league.

Also, Mannix followed up reports from earlier in the day to corroborate that the Bulls are “motivated” to move All-Star power forward/center Pau Gasol.

UPDATE, 8:15 p.m. — Can Celtics finally land Love? 

With an abundance of assets at his disposal, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has made repeated runs at three-time All-Star Kevin Love in the past. Details are sparse, but he’s apparently making yet another one, according to CSN New England’s A. Sherrod Blakely, with a potential three-team deal that would deliver Love to Boston.

The deal is still “very fragile” at this point, but it does provide Boston the best shot it has had in landing a player the Celtics have coveted for some time now. Boston has spent a significant amount of time in recent weeks trying to convince the Cavs to part ways with Love, only to be rebuffed. The Celtics have pursued bringing a third team into the mix as a way of sweetening the deal to Cleveland’s liking.

Blakely cites New Orleans as the most likely third party with stretch four Ryan Anderson, whose shooting skills the Cavaliers covet (see below).

UPDATE, 7 p.m. — Rockets aggressively shopping Howard, Lawson; Jazz make Burke available

Desperate for a jump start, the hugely disappointing Rockets — currently ninth and out of the playoffs in the West at 27-28 — are looking to unload Dwight Howard and Ty Lawson according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. One of their targets for Lawson is Utah’s Trey Burke, who has shown signs of improvement in his third season with the Jazz.

UPDATE, 4:40 p.m. — Cavaliers remain active, eye Pelicans’ Anderson

It’s no secret that the Cavaliers hope to add some talent before Thursday’s deadline. And that help could come in the form of sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News and Marc Spears of Yahoo!

UPDATE, 3:48 p.m. — Martin hopes Wolves reward him for professionalism

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin hopes to land on a winning team after two-plus seasons with the young Timberwovles, per Marc Spears of Yahoo!

UPDATE, 2:47 p.m. — Vogel: Hill not being shopped

Indiana Pacers point guard George Hill was in some trade talk the last few weeks, but according to coach Frank Vogel, he’s not being shopped.

UPDATE, 2:36 p.m. — Millsap’s moment of levity

The Atlanta Hawks have had some of their star players — such as Jeff Teague and Al Horford — in trade rumors the last few weeks. Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap provides a good simile about how players take trade chatter.

UPDATE, 2:07 p.m. — Report: Conley not on block

The Memphis Grizzlies traded one guard yesterday (Courtney Lee) but don’t seem to be in a big hurry to deal star point guard (and free agent to-be) Mike Conley, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

UPDATE, 1:35 p.m. — Some clarity on Gasol chatter?

Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst say Bulls are open to trading Pau Gasol but doubt they are shopping him.

UPDATE, 1:12 p.m. — Report: Bulls ‘aggressively shopping’ Gasol

The Chicago Bulls entered the All-Star break on a skid, having lost four in a row and nine of their last 12 games. A trade wouldn’t be a total surprise, but dealing away their All-Star big man Pau Gasol might be. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has more on that and other trade rumors:

The Chicago Bulls are aggressively shopping All-Star forward Pau Gasol, league sources told The Vertical.

Gasol, 35, can opt out of his contract this summer and become an unrestricted free agent, and Bulls general manager Gar Forman seems determined to move him before Thursday’s trade deadline with the hope of bringing back value.

Gasol is expected to decline the player option on the $7.4 million owed him in 2016-17.

UPDATE, 12:46 p.m. — Pistons may still be seeking deals

As mentioned above, the Detroit Pistons pulled off a trade yesterday that netted it forward Tobias Harris. But it seems GM Jeff Bower may not quite be done dealing, per Matt Shepard of WDFN in Detroit:

Pistons General Manager Jeff Bower told Matt Shepard of WDFN in Detroit that his team was still actively looking at deals and would go all the way up to the deadline if necessary after obtaining Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic yesterday.

“We’d like to find one more move. The Harris trade makes us a higher-level team now and in the future,” Bower said.

The trade involving Harris makes the Pistons a little thin at point guard, however Bower said that would not be the only position the team looks for a talent upgrade

“We’re still looking at every position, but Stan [Van Gundy] has great confidence in Steve Blake at the point guard position.”

UPDATE, 12:39 p.m. — The great guard swap of 2015

If you forgot, last season’s trade deadline was marked by a lot of point guards getting swapped all over the NBA map. SI.com’s Jake Fischer has a great read on what it was like for the players involved.

UPDATE, 12:29 p.m. — Utah may hold tight at deadline

The Jazz have seen their name bandied about in trade talks, but as it their wont, they’ve been tight-lipped about any possible deals. Or, as one writer sees it, there may end up being no deals in Utah at all.

UPDATE, 12:18 p.m. — Best trades since 2000?

Fun little read at lunch time on the best deadline deals since 2000.

And if you missed it, our Fran Blinebury looked back at the 10 best deadline deals ever.

UPDATE, 12:05 p.m. — Report: Monroe staying put in Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Bucks stunned many in the offseason when they added big man Greg Monroe to a squad that reached the 2015 playoffs. The team itself has surprised this season as it has failed to live up to expectations, fueling questions about the roster and, to an extent, Monroe’s place in Wisconsin.

According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports, Monroe — who had been the topic of trade speculation — won’t be going anywhere:

Milwaukee Bucks forward Greg Monroe won’t be dealt before Thursday’s trade deadline, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Teams have placed calls to the Bucks to see if they can acquire Monroe, who is in his first year with the team. But those conversations didn’t advance, and one person said with emphasis there is zero chance Monroe is traded.

Monroe signed a three-year, $50 million contract with Milwaukee during free agency and is averaging 16.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the 23-32 Bucks, who have lost six consecutive games.

UPDATE, Noon ET — Pelicans’ Holiday essentially untouchable

Injuries made a mess of the New Orleans Pelicans’ season, but of late they’ve gotten banged up in the backcourt with Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon both out for the season. Those woes are likely what will keep oft-injured point guard Jrue Holiday out of any potential deals …

UPDATE, Noon ET — Report: Magic won’t break up young core

The Orlando Magic may be interested in some smaller moves, but don’t expect them to part with Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic or Elfrid Payton before tomorrow’s deadline …

UPDATE, 9:14 a.m. — Magic, Clippers talking trade

Our David Aldridge reports if the Magic pick up Lance Stephenson in a swap for Channing Frye with the Clippers, Stephenson won’t be in Orlando long …

 

 

One Team, One Stat: Inside the Arc


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Memphis Grizzlies

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Memphis Grizzlies, who continue to buck a trend.

The stat

20151024_mem_lowest_3pa

The context

20151024_mem_basics The NBA is shooting more and more 3-pointers every season, but the Grizzlies don’t seem to care. You can improve your offense by shooting better from 3-point range or by just shooting more 3s. But the Grizzlies have ranked in the bottom 12 in 3-point percentage each of the last eight seasons and in the bottom five in percentage of shots that were 3-pointers in each of the last seven.

Last season, Memphis only had four players with at least 100 3-point attempts: Mike Conley, Vince Carter, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green. Every other team had at least five and most teams (18 of the 30) had at least seven.

And though you could put together some floor-spacing lineups with all four of those guys together, the Grizzlies had more than two of them on the floor for just 723 total minutes, less than nine per game.

The lack of shooting has given Mike Conley and the Grizzlies’ bigs less space to operate on pick-and-rolls. Though both Conley and Marc Gasol are terrific playmakers, Memphis ranked 20th in points per possession on pick-and-rolls last season, according to SportVU.

The Grizzlies’ offense has improved over the last couple of years, but it was just average last season.

20151024_mem_last7

The addition of Matt Barnes this summer gives the Grizzlies another guy who took more than 100 3s last season, as well as more flexibility at the forward positions and an ability to play small (with Barnes or Green at the four) more often.

That should make for a higher ceiling offensively. But for the Grizzlies to really join the rest of the league beyond the arc, they’d have to abandon their grit-and-grind identity embodied by Tony Allen, a shooting guard who can’t shoot, and Zach Randolph, an interior four man.

That identity has taken the Grizzlies to the league’s fifth best record over the last three seasons, and it’s likely to stay for at least another year.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning shootaround — Oct. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Tristan Thompson and Cavs sweat out deadline | Dwight Howard feels silence is better this time | Back in the coaching chair, Sam Mitchell is ready | Big man pairing has Okafor and Sixers excited |

No. 1: Tristan Thompson officially a holdout — The midnight deadline came and went and nothing changed in the Tristan Thompson negotiations, or lack thereof. Thompson had until midnight to sign the Cavs’ qualifying offer, which he refused to do. And the sides are still apart on a new deal. Thompson can either sign a new deal or accept an offer from another team until March 1, which the Cavs would then be free to match. The Cavs expected Thompson to report to training camp Friday, although that’s uncertain now. Here’s Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal with a recap

The two sides remained separated this week on a long-term deal. If Thompson accepts the qualifying offer, he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Contracts are fairly rigid under the collective bargaining agreement, making holdouts rare in the NBA — although they do happen. Anderson Varejao’s bitter contract dispute spilled into December in 2007 before he finally signed a three-year, $17 million offer sheet with the Charlotte Bobcats that was quickly matched by the Cavs.

“It wasn’t easy for me. I missed the first 21 games if I remember,” Varejao said Thursday. “But I had to do it back then because I felt like I was disrespected with the offer they offered me. I don’t really know what’s going on with Tristan right now, numbers and stuff, I’m not sure. But I’m pretty confident he will be here soon.”

LeBron James twice in recent days also said he was optimistic the two sides would reach agreement on a long-term deal sooner than later.

James Jones is the secretary/treasurer of the players union and held the role when the current collective bargaining agreement was ratified. Players typically always stick together on financial issues, yet Jones is a veteran trying to win another championship and understands Thompson is a vital piece the Cavs need.

“First thing’s first. We understand that this is a business, and once the business is taken care of we can come in and work on the floor,” Jones said. “Until that’s resolved, he’s handling his business and we support him 100 percent. At the same time, the guys that are here are working, and we have a goal and a mission and we’re not going to let anything stop us from focusing. We’re staying on course.”

***

No. 2: Dwight Howard feels silence is better this time — When the summer arrives and if he becomes a free agent, there won’t be a big fuss made about Dwight Howard. For one, he perhaps isn’t the franchise player now than he was then. And he isn’t going to make the process a dramatic presentation, unlike a few years ago when he made a messy exit from Orlando. Older and wiser and certainly stung by the criticism, Howard has adopted a new approach this time: He’d rather leave well enough alone. Ken Berger of CBS Sports had a take on Dwight and what the future may hold…

Given that each of Howard’s pre-free agency go-rounds with the Magic and the Lakers turned into a full-on circus, this was a step in the right direction for the soon-to-be 30-year-old All-Star.

“There’s no need for me to focus on anything next summer,” Howard said. “My job is to focus on how I can get this team to be the best team in the NBA and win a championship.”

The Rockets didn’t get LaMarcus Aldridge, as there is only one LaMarcus Aldridge and he signed with the Spurs. But with a worthwhile gamble on Ty Lawson — who will take some of the play-making pressure and defensive attention away from James Harden — the Rockets will be among the better teams in a loaded Western Conference. According to Las Vegas oddsmaker Bovada, the Rockets’ championship odds are 16-1 — sixth in the NBA.

Though the team revolves around Harden, the Rockets need a healthy, committed and engaged Howard to be in the hunt to come out of the West. Healthy, committed and engaged, however, are not words that have been synonymous with Howard in recent years.

With the Lakers, he was hindered by after-effects of back surgery and an uneasy partnership with Kobe Bryant. Last season, he played only 41 games due to persistent issues with his right knee.

In many ways, Howard is a cautionary tale for marquee free agents who are thinking about leaving their teams when the TV revenue windfall hits the market over the next two summers. After forcing his way to the Lakers from Orlando in a 2012 trade, Howard spent one miserable season in LA before bolting to the Rockets. Howard, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are just a few examples of superstars who left for supposedly greener pastures (either through free agency or via trade) and still have yet to advance as far in the postseason as they’d been with their former teams.

Are you paying attention, Kevin Durant?

***

No. 3: Back in the coaching chair, Sam Mitchell is ready — The guy in charge of the Wolves at the moment never thought he’d be in this position so soon. But a year after joining the staff as the top assistant to Flip Saunders, Sam Mitchell is now coaching the Wolves while Saunders recovers from cancer treatment. Mitchell was a former Coach of the Year with the Raptors but flamed out shortly thereafter and found himself out of work until his old buddy Saunders reached out. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune recently did a question and answer with Mitchell…

Q. It has been seven years since you were a head coach. These obviously aren’t the circumstances you wanted, but did you always want to do this again?

A. Yeah, once I made the decision to come back into coaching, to prove myself and show people I want to be a head coach again. I enjoyed my time in the media. I learned a lot, got to watch a lot of basketball. It still tugs at me a little bit with the circumstances, but we all have a job to do and we’ve got to be professional and do our jobs.

Q. How did being away from coaching change the way you look at the game?

A. When you’re coaching, you just watch your team and the opponent. When you’re doing TV and radio, you’re watching everybody. I got a chance to talk to different coaches. Why do you do this or do that? It was a great learning experience and it proved to me I can do something else if I needed to. A lot of guys panic if they’re not in coaching, like that’s all I know, what am I going to do? It gave me confidence in myself that I can do other things.

Q. You said it at the news conference yourself and Glen Taylor said he has seen you mature. How will people who watched those Raptors teams see it now?

A. That’s not for me to say. I think every day you try to get a little better. That’s what I try to do. I’m probably not as hard on myself and not as hard on people as I used to be. I’ll probably still have my moments. But I appreciate life in different ways now. I can appreciate what these guys do, I can appreciate what assistant coaches do, I can appreciate what the media does now because I was there. Hopefully with that experience I have more patience and I look at things a little differently. But I’m not going to sit here and try to list how I’m different. I guess if you’re around me enough, you’ll see it.

Q. Were you too hard, too intense the first time around?

A. Well, I’m not going to lose my intensity. I was talking to my minister recently and he reminded me don’t lose what got you here. You’re an intense person, but you can do it a little bit different. I can communicate a little differently. Hopefully my language is better.

***

No. 4: Big man pairing has Okafor and Sixers excitedJahlil Okafor was a high lottery pick and so was Nerlens Noel and now these two found themselves playing next to each other for the team that drafted them. When that team is the Sixers, you can see what they’d be in position to score a pair of bigs in two years. Now many teams have the luxury of putting two promising young bigs on the floor and watching them develop, yet that will be one of the main themes of the Sixers this season while they use yet another 82-game season to search for a star from within. Marcus Hayes of the Daily News thinks Philly is on to something …

With skillful tanking and blind luck, the Sixers today find themselves in a nearly unprecedented position. Noel and Okafor were the two most coveted post players of their respected draft classes; each nearly 7 feet tall with wonderful athletic gifts, though slightly different; each hungry to prove he was more valuable than the slot in which he was drafted.

Ralph Sampson, the Virginia gentleman, and Hakeem Olajuwon, the Nigerian project, were drafted first overall a year apart by the Rockets, but they played only two full seasons together. Both No. 1 overall picks, they never had the extra incentive of being snubbed.

Charismatic Midshipman David Robinson had cemented his Hall of Fame berth by the time the Spurs added dour islander Tim Duncan in 1997.

“They were very different people,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, who worked with Duncan and Robinson briefly as a Spurs assistant.

Those pedigreed pairs had less in common than Noel and Okafor.

Both Noel (Boston) and Okafor (Chicago) are products of big American cities; AAU-groomed, highly touted, one-and-done products of elite college programs expected to lead their drafts.

Both also are still upset that other teams passed on them. Each was projected as the No. 1 overall pick but slipped; Noel, injured, to fifth two years ago; Okafor, his unmatched skill set out of vogue, to third this year.

So, they are angry.

So much common ground.

So much time to grow.

It shouldn’t take long.
***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Warriors will wear special jerseys in the opener … Mike Conley is sticking with the mask for now Serge Ibaka is coming back from an injury too, remember … Dorell Wright wrote a letter to his younger brother and NBA rookie Delon …

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: James Harden and the Houston Rockets are ready to roar after a banner 2014-15 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard ready to take control in Portland | Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott | Melo ready for end to long summer in New York | Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind

No. 1: Lillard ready to take control in Portland — The leadership mantle in Portland is now Damian Lillard‘s and Lillard’s alone, as he enters his first training camp with the Trail Blazers without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum around to help shoulder the load. In preparation for his new role, Lillard made sure everyone understood that he was not only willing to take control and lead the way but ready to do so. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the story …

One by one across the country, their phones lit up and vibrated, a text message arriving to members of the Portland Trail Blazers with an idea that could change their upcoming season.

For some, like Meyers Leonard in Portland, the number with the 510 area code was already programmed into his phone. Others, like rookie Pat Connaughton in Boston, were perplexed until they opened the message.

“Yo Pat, it’s Dame. We are going to San Diego to get the team together and to get ready for the season …”

The texts were from Damian Lillard, the lone starter remaining from a popular and successful Blazers team that disintegrated amid a summer of free agency and trades. Now, as the undisputed star of the team, Lillard was wading into his first wave of leadership.

It was August, and he wanted to get the young and unproven roster together before players started reporting to Portland in September. After some collaboration with teammates CJ McCollum and Leonard, Lillard settled on San Diego.

Soon, 11 Blazers – some complete strangers to each other– were booking flights and hotel reservations.

A Blazers player had never, in the franchise’s 45 years, attempted an off-season team-building event of this magnitude. Then again, this summer marked one of the biggest transitions in team’s history, a swift and purposeful dismantling of a talented squad in favor of a rebuild with cheaper and younger players.

Success this season won’t be judged wholey on wins and losses, but rather player development and growth. Among the more visible and tangible storylines is how and what kind of leader Lillard will be, and how much his influence could improve the team.

It’s why his August text could determine the course of this season.

***

No. 2: Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott — Byron Scott doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this season in Los Angeles. He has the full support of the front office, so says his boss, Mitch Kupchak. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers reiterated his support for Scott on the eve of what should be one of the most interesting training camps in recent memory for the franchise. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has more …

For a franchise that usually evaluates itself on wins and losses, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has shifted his expectations.

Though Lakers coach Byron Scott oversaw the team going 21-61 last season in what marked the franchise’s worst record in its 67-year-old history, Kupchak has not wavered in his support for Scott. Kupchak remained mindful of the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries and a roster filled with unproven talent.

“He has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s. I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”

That will begin Tuesday in Honolulu. The Lakers’ nine-day camps will include seven days of practices and two exhibitions. Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp, the latest one including three two-a-day sessions.

That partly explains Kupchak’s support for Scott, who has three years remaining on his contract. Kupchak praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts. Even amid the losses, Kupchak also argued Scott improved the team’s culture.

“Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together,” Kupchak said of Scott. “They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”

***

No. 3: Melo ready for end to long summer in New York — When your names is tossed around the way Carmelo Anthony‘s has been all offseason, the start of training camp and actual basketball is welcome respite from the drama. Anthony said the drama is in his rear view as he readies himself and his team for camp, writes Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News

Over the past several months, Carmelo Anthony has sent mixed signals – publicly and privately – about his thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason.

Anthony’s concerns stemmed from Phil Jackson missing out on a bonafide star in free agency and drafting a project in 19-year-old Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in June. But on Sunday, with Knicks training camp a day away, Anthony voiced support for the organization’s offseason moves.

“I was very excited about what we did this offseason. I liked the moves that we made,” Anthony said at his youth camp in Manhattan. “Was it any of the stars that we wanted to go after and go get? No. But the pieces that we got, I’m really intrigued.”

The Daily News reported in June that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks’ decision to draft Porzingis, a pick that influenced Lamarcus Aldridge spurning the Knicks for the Spurs.

The Knicks wanted to play Aldridge at center to let Porzingis develop – something Aldridge was vehemently against. And at Team USA training camp in August, Anthony expressed frustration at how the entire situation unfolded, even saying he “threw” his headband when he found out the Knicks wanted Aldridge to change positions.

But now the offseason is in the past, and Anthony’s main concern will be returning from the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in February.

Anthony said Day 1 of training camp Monday will mark the end of a “long summer.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony said. “Just glad that I can be in the position I’m in right now.”

***

No. 4: Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind — Small ball? Not in Memphis, where the rugged Grizzlies are holding on tight to their grit and grind roots. The rest of the league is welcome to tinker with smaller lineups and the pace-and-space revolution. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchoring your middle, there is no need to stray. Griz coach Dave Joerger isn’t interested in tinkering with what’s worked in Memphis for years, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal …

Joerger’s mantra this summer has been for the already tough Griz to get “nasty,” doubling down on the grit-and-grind mentality that has made the team a perennial Western Conference contender.

The Griz remain committed to a bruising brand of basketball that’s served them well even as the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with 3-point shooting.

NBA.com recently wrote in a 2015-16 season-preview of the Griz: “They’d rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.”

That assessment might be selling the Grizzlies short. Despite the recurring theme of the need for long-range shooting, the Griz return with more versatility, the same expectation of winning 50-plus games and a place among the elite in the Western Conference.

There will, however, be challenges to work through during camp if the Griz are going to make good on their promise to contend:

1. Sorting out the wing positions: No one would ever accuse the Griz of lacking depth. They are deepest at the wing positions, meaning Joerger has a nice problem in determining who will get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes are veterans with meaningful careers. Last year, Joerger settled on starting the 6-5 Lee at shooting guard and the 6-4 Allen at small forward to start the season.

The coaching staff acknowledged concerns about such a small lineup given small forwards around the league typically stand 6-7 and taller. Green, 6-9, joined the roster around midseason. He played off the bench but was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and then went back to the bench. Green never found his footing and was inconsistent. With Green participating in a full camp, it’s conceivable that he will start at small forward. Joerger prefers the longer, more versatile Green. The question at camp will be who will start at shooting guard. Lee is a 3-point threat. Allen’s disruptive defense and infectious energy clearly make the Grizzlies “nasty.” As for second-year guard Jordan Adams? That’s a different topic.

.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are ready to take a (minimum deal) gamble on former No. 1 overall pick and native son Anthony Bennett … Year 2 of the (Jason) Kidd experience in Milwaukee comes with great expectationsMarcus Morris is still taking shots at the Phoenix SunsKlay Thompson is already taking full advantage of Steve Nash in his role as the Golden State Warriors’ part-time player development consultantThe Thunder have hired an assistant coach, Royal Ivey, with deep ties to Kevin Durant

ICYMI: The best alley-oops from last season:


VIDEO: 2014-15 Top alley-oops

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 28


VIDEO: Darryl Dawkins passes away at age 58

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Remembering Chocolate Thunder | Davis bulks up | Buss believes Bryant worth big extension

No. 1: Remembering Chocolate Thunder — The NBA family lost one of its greatest ambassadors on Thursday when Darryl Dawkins passed away at the age of 58. Our own Fran Blinebury, who covered Dawkins with the Sixers and even collaborated with him on a weekly column, reflects on one of the biggest personalities the league has ever seen…

Some news makes you feel older, more than a glimpse at gray hairs or lines on a face looking back from the mirror ever can. Because Dawkins was the ultimate man-child, light-hearted and perpetually friendly long after he broke into the NBA in 1975 with the 76ers as an 18-year-old out of Maynard Evans High in Orlando, Fla.

Four decades later, little had changed except the age on his driver’s license and when I saw him last February at the All-Star Game in New York, he was still a true original and the most fun person I’ve ever covered in the NBA.

Stevie Wonder dubbed him “Chocolate Thunder,” and no label of sheer power coated in a kid’s shell of sweetness and joy was ever more appropriate.

***

No. 2: Davis bulks upAnthony Davis finished fifth in MVP voting last season and has seemingly just scratched the surface of his potential. New Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry will help Davis take the next step, but Davis is doing his part by putting on some weight, as Pelicans.com’s Jim Eichenhofer writes…

Imagine for a moment living in the foodie heaven of New Orleans and getting the green light from a trainer to eat larger portions at meals, including a recommendation to devour more seafood. It sounds like a dream scenario for any weight-conscious New Orleanian, but it’s been a reality this summer for All-NBA Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis. Entering his fourth pro season, the 22-year-old has worked to add more muscle and bulk to his frame. As a result, with training camp one month away, the 6-foot-10 Davis is 12 pounds heavier than he was last season, up to 253, while maintaining 10 percent body fat.

Without a lengthy commitment to USA Basketball this offseason, Davis has been able to consistently focus on a weight-training routine and modifying his diet. He spent a combined total of eight weeks in Los Angeles and Anguilla working daily with new Pelicans head strength and conditioning coach Jason Sumerlin, who continues to adjust the approach of Davis, a noted pizza lover.

***

No. 3: Buss believes Bryant worth big extension — The Los Angeles Lakers added some key pieces via the Draft (D’Angelo Russell) and trade (Roy Hibbert) this summer, and they’ll be getting Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle back from injury. But what’s supposed to be the league’s marquis franchise didn’t get any big names via free agency. One thing that may have gotten in the way was Bryant’s $25 million salary, which prevented the Lakers from approaching two big free agents with a package deal. Despite Bryant’s age and health issues, Lakers owner Jim Buss, in a wide-ranging interview with Eric Pincus of the L.A. Times, said that Bryant is getting what he deserves…

Bryant, with one year left on his contract, will be the highest paid player in the NBA this season at $25 million. Buss gave Bryant a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before he even returned from a torn Achilles’ tendon six months earlier.

Since then, Bryant has played in only 41 games over the last two seasons because of a fractured kneecap, followed by a torn rotator cuff last season.

Buss has received plenty of criticism for over-investing in the aging star, who just turned 37 as he heads into his 20th season.

“The man has done so much for the Lakers and the fans of the Laker nation, he deserves the money,” Buss said. “I don’t understand anybody trying to break down what I did for him. Let’s break down what he did for us, then say, what is he worth? To me, he’s worth that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephanie Ready will be the first full-time female NBA game analystChuck Hayes is not rejoining the RocketsAn Achilles injury has knocked Alexis Ajinca out of Eurobasket … Mike Conley likes mixing patters and colors … and the Kings are bringing Marshall Henderson to training camp.

ICYMI: The best of Chocolate Thunder:


VIDEO: Darryl Dawkins’ top 20 Dunks