Posts Tagged ‘Neil Olshey’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

CJ McCollum feels blessed | GM feels Blazers on right track | Colangelo anxious for Team USA

No. 1: CJ McCollum feels blessed — The Portland Trail Blazers are feeling great about themselves after a very uplifting season and CJ McCollum shares that sentiment. Not only is McCollum rapidly rising among the ranks of young guards, he just signed a four-year, $106 million extension this summer, so life is good. Not only is McCollum just touching his prime, he has a great relationship with backcourt mate Damian Lillard and the franchise. Here’s Joe Freeman of the Oregonian getting the goods from McCollum and his new fortune:

“I’m just thankful to be in this position, first and foremost. I want to thank Neil for having that patience and that trust in me. I want to thank Mr. (Paul) Allen for taking a chance on a 6-foot-3 skinny kid from Lehigh University and being patient as I was hurt early on. I was breaking fingers and not consistent with my performance. But I was consistent with my work ethic throughout. But thank you guys.

“I told (my agent) before, I said, ‘Do whatever you have to do to get me to stay here.’ I want to be here. I’ve been looking at houses since my rookie year, kind of picturing myself here for the long-term, so I’m thankful for the opportunity and looking forward to building something special with this young core group of guys we have. I think we’re going to be very good. We have a lot of work ethic, a lot of guys who were unproven, had one year of success and are looking forward to continuing to have success and continuing to kind of building a lasting legacy in the NBA. I think that’s the type of attitude all our players have, starting with Dame, a guy who’s come from a small school, who’s earned everything he’s received and looks forward to continue to build and to continue to win.

After a breakout season and signing this big contract, what will motivate and drive you moving forward?

“The biggest thing is just continuing to strive for greatness. I think that’s kind of my mindset. I want to continue to get better. I know there’s a lot of areas I can improve on, having only played, what, 80 regular season games. This was my first full season of understanding scouting reports, understanding that I’m actually on the scouting report now instead of being the guy, ‘Huh, he’s the backup and he can shoot.’ That’s kind of how the scouting report went for a lot of teams. So understanding now that the role is going to increase, the pressure is going to increase and I look forward to the challenge of continuing to represent my last name to the best of my ability, represent coming from a small school, continuing to try to keep that pipeline open for the next guy that plays like CJ McCollum and might have been undersized or not had a position in college.”

How do you keep underdog attitude now that you’ve signed a $106 million contract?

“That’s a good question. I think it’s how you’re wired. I think the money is circumstantial, it doesn’t change you. A lot of times it changes the people around you, it puts them in better position to succeed. It allows you to buy things you need and want. It allows you to kind of uplift people who need help. But for me, I already have money. I’m already in a good situation. Obviously I don’t have generational wealth. But I’m already in the top 2 percent. Now I move up to the 1 percent. But from the standpoint of basketball, this is what we love to do. We play for free all our lives. And a lot of guys would play for free at this point, just because of what the game means to them. You look at rec centers, you look at old man leagues, they’re playing, barely getting up and down the court. But they love the game. And that’s the kind of passion I have for the game. I told the story about the little kid coming to the game and being able to say he played for the first time and you want to impact his life and you want him to leave the gym saying, ‘Wow, CJ goes hard. He cares about the game. He loves basketball.'”

Can you elaborate on what you like about the team heading into next season?

“I think we have a little bit of everything. You look at the roster, the way we put different pieces together, bringing in Festus (Ezeli), a guy who has championship-level experience defensively, impacts the game right way. Can hedge ball screens. Can do a lot of things we’re not accustomed to. Then you look at (Mason) Plumlee, a big who can handle the ball, can initiate the offense, can kind of serve as our defacto point guard a lot of times in situations where Dame and I were getting trapped. Bringing back (Allen Crabbe) was big, a guy who can knock down shots, defend high-level wings. Bringing in Evan Turner, a versatile wing, who can pass, play-make, play on the ball, and I think he’ll be an improved three-point shooter. So we brought back Moe (Harkless), we brought back Meyers (Leonard), we brought back a lot of young guys who are thirsty, thirsty to get better, thirsty to prove that the success wasn’t a fluke, thirsty to prove they’re worth what they are getting. A lot of guys are looking forward to the challenge of, like Neil said before, exceeding expectations again and continuing to win and build. Because we care about the city, we care about where we come from, we care about what we represent. And I think that’s what you get, guys who are team-first.”

he day you actually signed your contract, did you have flashbacks to growing up and all the work you put into getting here?

“Yeah. My girlfriend kept asking me: ‘Are you happy?’ I was like, ‘I won’t be happy until I sign.’ Laughs. Because you’re programmed to continue to try to get better, to get more, don’t get content. And I just kind of blocked it out. And then when you start reading about it, then you get a little more excited. I did a little dance. Besides that, I just like to work out, I like to get better, I don’t like to get content. So I just try not to think about the money and try to think about the pressure, just because it’s a game I played since I was a kid and I tried to not talk the fun away from it. When you take the fun away from it, it becomes a job. When it’s a job, it feels like you’re forced to go. I’m not forced to go. I enjoy going. I love it. So I was happy about it, we celebrated, we had a nice meal, a little bit of pinot.”

Oregon pinot?

“Yeah. How do you say it: Willamette? Willamette. (Laughs) I’ll get it right eventually. She paid, too.”

Now that you have a contract and longevity here, does that increase your need to be a leader?

“I think from a leadership standpoint, you don’t just, ‘Oh, he got paid, he’s a leader now.’ I think you just have to continue to be who you are. And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be myself. When I see something and I think something should be said, I’m going to say it. Not because I just signed for $100 million, but because I think that’s the right thing to say. I think leaders are born. You develop as a leader; you don’t just appoint somebody. So for me, I just have to continue to build off what I’ve done to this point. When it’s time to lead, I’ll lead. When it’s time to follow, I’ll follow. But there’s not a rule or a saying to where he signed for $75 million, so he’s the third leader. I just go hoop and I’m not afraid to take advice from, say, Luis (Montero), who, no offense, is at the bottom of the depth chart right now. I’ll listen to anyone if it can help me.”

How would you compare your state of mind now to when you were injured and rehabbing your broken foot?

“You just stay paranoid. That’s the biggest thing. because there’s so much can happen. You look at the window of us trading for Arron Afflalo to me going to the bench, to Wes (Matthews) tearing his Achilles. I just try to be thankful and understand that anything can happen at any given time. So just stay paranoid and put your work in, knowing that there’s a guy on our bench, on somebody else’s bench coming up, that’s looking at you as a target, (thinking), ‘I want what he has.’ So I just continue to work and understand that I’ve got to put that same work in as when I was getting DNPs. Now that I’m a starter and established in the league after one year, I have to put that same work in and have that same work ethic. … I have to continue to remember what it felt like when I didn’t play. What it felt like when you show up the arena knowing you’re not going to play. Now that I know I’m going to play, when I get there, I have to have that same mindset and continue to take my game to the next level.”

***

No. 2: GM feels Blazers are on right track — These are good times in Portland. The two main players are now locked in long-term contracts after McCollum inked his extension this week. The Blazers had a rousing and unexpected run in the playoffs this summer and have a solid and relatively young core with a decent salary cap situation. Much of this is due to general manager Neil Olshey, who helped the team overcome the loss of four starters two summers ago. He recently spoke to Joe Freeman of the Oregonian on the state of the club:

From signing free agents Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli, to retaining restricted free agents Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless, to rewarding CJ McCollum with a contract extension, Olshey has carefully made the moves necessary to keep Portland among the Western Conference’s most competitive teams.

“Player retention was big this summer,” Olshey explained during a press conference Friday. “We did what we could in terms of free agency, bringing in skill sets more than players – skill sets from the outside. But at the end of the day when you’re the youngest team in the playoffs last year, you made the second round, we had a much better second half of the year than we did the first half, we felt like we were tracking up … it was imperative we keep this group together because we think it has tremendous upside and potential and it’s going to continue to grow.”

What was the advantage of doing this now?

(Laughs) “The advantage is that we now have a five-year commitment from CJ. More than anything, he earned it. One of the things we’re trying to establish here is that we take care of our players. Sometimes being in a market that is somewhat removed geographically from the core of other areas of the league, I think we end up in situation where it’s really important that players know when they come here, they’re treated well. And that’s not just with the resources we’re lucky enough to have because of an owner like Paul Allen and practice facility and travel and coaches and the expertise we have in the training room. But it’s also contractually. We want guys to know that when they come here, when they perform, that when they buy into our culture, that they are valued. And we want to make sure that we keep the guys that want to be here. We’ve talked about that all summer. CJ wanted to be here. When Dame (signed an extension), Dame wanted to be here. That’s why you see the chemistry on the floor. We don’t have mercenaries here. We have guys that choose to be here, buy into Terry’s system, buy into our culture and how we do things. It’s why we’re very selective with the kind of guys we bring in, whether it’s via trade, draft or free agency. Because we do have a culture that we really think is imperative to success. We have one of the youngest teams in the league still. We were the youngest team in the playoffs last summer. We didn’t get any older this year. We need guys that, when they come in, they know that if they do the right things, we’re going to do right by them.

“Also, look, strategically, you want to know you have consistency. We don’t want guys playing in contract years if they don’t have to. I don’t want that hanging over anybody’s head. I want it to be pure and about winning basketball games and competing at the highest level and for the good of the team. We talk about this all the time; we’re a players-first organization. As evidence by things we do for our players. But in turn, the quid pro quo is, they become team-first guys. And I think if you ask Dame and you ask CJ, who are the leaders of this team, we don’t have any non team-first guys in the organization. If we did, they’d be gone. Because that’s the culture we’re building, it’s why we overachieved last year and it’s why we’ll probably overachieve relative to expectations this year.”

Thoughts on what impact signing such a lucrative contract will have on McCollum:

“Just to piggyback on your question about the money with CJ. Just as an organization, we wouldn’t have given this kind of money to anybody we thought was about the money. I think when you look at the guys we have, there wasn’t one ounce of reticence about the amount of money we spent this summer. We’re blessed to have Paul as an owner that wanted to be aggressive, wanted to retain all of our players, wanted to maximize all of our cap room. But they were all guys that we know are going to walk into the gym no different than they did Day 1 as rookies, based on their approach to the game, the substance of their character, the way that they treat the game, the way they treat their teammates, the respect that they have for themselves and the organization. Any player that would be about the money, we wouldn’t be about. So I don’t think CJ is any different — or AC or Meyers or anybody else — other than I think the parking lot in front of building, I don’t know how good my 2012 (Toyota) Highlander is going to look our there this summer. But I have a feeling that the bar might be a little raised. But other than that, I know that our here, with Terry and the coaches, the same level of effort and commitment and respect for the game, is going to continue to exist absent any new contract information.”

***

No. 3: Colangelo anxious for Team USA — When he began working with Team USA, Jerry Colangelo had a hunch that it would add a satisfying chapter to a basketball career that was mainly rooted in Phoenix with the Suns. He had no idea. And now, with the Olympics ready to begin, Colangelo was feeling fortunate that he found something just as fulfilling as, if not more than, his time as a team executive and franchise part-owner. Colangelo recently spoke with collaborator Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic on the team as it prepares for Rio:

Never mind the NBA championship ring that has eluded him for nearly 50 years. Basketball has been very good to Jerry Colangelo.

The Valley icon has made sure to return the favor.

He helped launch the Bulls and buy the Suns. His name is on the court at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. And on the eve of his third Olympic tour as chairman of USA Basketball, Colangelo has restored the glory to Team USA.

With one unintended consequence.

“When we put this whole thing together back in 2006, we had no idea that players were going to connect with each other the way they have,” Colangelo said.

ranslation: The current trend sweeping the NBA, where star free agents are teaming up with other star players, choosing friendships and working conditions over everything else, much to the chagrin of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver?

It all began with Colangelo’s early work with Team USA, when he recruited marquee names to an idea gone stale. He convinced the NBA’s best players to give back to Olympic basketball, to play for zero compensation and forgo their summers.

Most of them had no idea how fun it would be.

I witnessed this phenomenon from behind the scenes in Beijing, where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony talked openly about collaborating in the near future, joining forces with some lucky NBA franchise. They often joked and laughed about the possibilities.

Shortly thereafter, James, Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up to play together in Miami, officially ushering in the age of empowerment in the NBA, where free agents no longer play by the same rules. They don’t feel wedded to the city that drafted them. They don’t feel overwhelming loyalty to a fan base or a cause. They don’t need to climb the highest mountain, carrying a team on their shoulders. They value the collective experience, the path of least resistance.

“The camaraderie was really neat to see, by the way,” Colangelo said. “Don’t assume all the players know each other intimately. They don’t. But when you’re together for a month, you get to really know a person and relationships are formed. And that’s what took place.

“When you look at the economics of pro basketball, the money is so great in terms of salary. The contracts being paid out today are over the top, but that’s what the system allows, and that’s a reflection of how well the league is doing financially. But the reality is, players are not going to be leaving for the money in most cases. Players are looking for what they want in terms of location, where they fit in and where they have the best chance to win.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jimmy Butler believes his former coach Tom Thibodeau will do just fine in Minnesota  … New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had some interesting things to say about the NBA’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Charlotte … The debate about the Sixers and their abundance of bigs continues on, and the Philly media just can’t get enough.

Morning shootaround — May 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Sixers explore trading Okafor, Noel | Warriors still facing steep odds | LeBron back to Miami? | Fizdale already impressing in Memphis

No. 1: Report: Sixers explore trading Okafor, Noel The Philadelphia 76ers own the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft but the suspense doesn’t stop there. Will the Sixers explore the possibilities of parting with two other lottery picks on their roster, Jahlil Okafor and/or Nerlens Noel? There does appear to be a glut of big men on the Philly roster, which is a great problem to have, and so it would be wise for the Sixers to see what value each brings. When you’ve been stuck to the bottom of the East for the last three years, and in the midst of a total overhaul, and have new management in charge, everything’s on the table. Here’s the report from Chad Ford and Marc Stein of ESPN:

In an interview with ESPN Radio’s Russillo and Kanell earlier this month, Sixers coach Brett Brown hinted at the club’s desire to be active.

“Think about these types of resources,” Brown said during the interview. “We have the first pick. We have the 24th and 26th pick. On our current roster, we have Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Jerami Grant [and] Robert Covington. We had a [2014] draft class that effectively redshirted in Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.

“For the first time in my four years, we’re going to enter a legitimate approach to free agency.”

Colangelo, for his part, told Bleacher Report Radio last week that “everybody is thinking about winning as opposed to prolonging the rebuilding process.”

‎Sources describe Okafor, at this early juncture, as the most likely of the two to be moved in the wake of his rocky rookie season off the floor.

But the Sixers are known to be considering a wide range of possibilities, given the prospect of fellow lottery picks Embiid and Saric finally making their Philadelphia debuts next season to add to the Sixers’ deep frontcourt and the well-chronicled concerns about whether Okafor and Noel can play together.

After winning the recent draft lottery, Philadelphia is in the process of choosing whether to take LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram with the first overall pick.

Among the options the Sixers have is trying to trade Okafor or Noel for another high pick in the looming draft to address their backcourt needs or building a package around either one in a trade for veteran talent, either in June or in July after free agency starts.

***

No. 2: Warriors still facing steep odds — Heading into Game 6, the Warriors have momentum, however small. They’ve won one game to stave off elimination, but now face another, even steeper task, of beating the Thunder in OKC, where the Warriors suffered through a lost pair of games. It helps that Stephen Curry found his groove in Game 5, but the Warriors are trying to do what only 9 teams have managed to pull off, rallying from a 3-1 deficit. Here’s Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle with the story:

With Thursday’s Game 5 ticking toward its final minute, Stephen Curry dribbled the ball on the right wing as Oklahoma City’s 7-foot center Steven Adams was defending him.

The Warriors’ point guard slashed left to beat Adams in an instant to the elbow of the free-throw line, glided toward the basket and then flipped in a right-handed reverse layup while being fouled.

Just in case his game-clinching play wasn’t enough, Curry marched near half court and yawped three times: “We ain’t going home.”

“That was great grammar, right? My Davidson people are very embarrassed,” Curry said … “We’ve got to bottle up that joy and take it with us to OKC. It’s going to be an electric atmosphere, and I think we’re ready for the challenge.”

Sure, in the moment, Curry’s syntax wasn’t pristine, but his points were on the mark. The Warriors aren’t going home, and they’re going to have to play with great joy that has been their identity to win in Oklahoma City.

The Western Conference finals will relocate for Game 6 to Great Plains, a place where the Warriors were embarrassed in Games 3-4 of the Western Conference finals and a place where they’ll have muster up some more magic, if they’re going to continue their historic run.

“Our guys have had a spectacular run, they’ve loved every second of it and they don’t want it to end,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “No matter how you look at it, if you’re not the last team standing, it’s tough. It’s a disappointing way to go out, so we want to hang in there. We want to win the next two and get back to the NBA Finals.

“We know how difficult it’s going to be, but we’ll give it a great shot.”

Curry’s shot with 62 seconds remaining Thursday helped get the best best-of-seven series deficit to 3-2, but the Warriors are well aware of the challenge they still face.

Of the 232 previous teams to dig 3-1 holes since the NBA switched to seven-game format, only nine have come back to win. Fifty of the 53 teams down 3-1 in conference finals have lost.

Still, the Warriors have been reminding anyone who would listen that in their 10th playoff series since Curry arrived on the scene, they’ve won at least one road game in each of the first nine. They haven’t won one at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“It will take all of our IQ, all of our gamesmanship and just 48 great minutes to get a win down there, considering how the last two games have gone,” Curry said.

The Warriors lost consecutive games for the first time all season in Games 3-4 at Oklahoma City. They lost by 28 in Game 3 and by 24 in Game 4.

The coaches differed on explanations for the results of Games 3-4 vs. Game 5. Kerr said it was Warriors center Andrew Bogut dominating the paint, and Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said it was the foul differential.

The Warriors shot 10 more free throws than the Thunder in Game 5. In the series, the teams have been whistled for an identical 108 personal fouls.

Oklahoma City has scored 21 more points at the free-throw line than the Warriors, and the Thunder are leading the series by an aggregate 22 points overall.

“We’ve still got a huge hill to climb, but it’s fun,” Warriors sixth man Andre Iguodala said. “It’s a fun journey.”

A journey that the Warriors ain’t trying to let end – just yet.

***

No. 3: LeBron back to Miami? — Of course, you knew it would happen, the talk of LeBron James returning to Miami. Why? Well, because that’s what subject-starved talk show hosts and writers do, they search for possibilities, the juicer the better, especially if there’s a shred of a chance that it could happen. In this case, LeBron is a free agent this summer and can sign anywhere. He has also whined at times about the Cavs and obviously has a bromance with Dwyane Wade. There are plenty of reasons why it wouldn’t happen, namely, the sight of LeBron bailing on Cleveland for the second time would be too much for even him to overcome. Anyway, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald wonders if LeBron will return if he wins a championship in Cleveland. Here’s his take:

Cheer for LeBron.

Pray he wins it all.

Hope he makes good on his promise of delivering a championship to Cleveland — the very thing that drove him to abruptly (and rather messily) leave Miami.

That would tip the domino that might make possible this franchise’s biggest blockbuster summer since LeBron first took his talents to South Beach in 2010.

I said possible. Skeptics might still place the likelihood somewhere between long shot and pipe dream. (Just like they also did before the Big 3 happened down here in ’10, it may bear noting.)

Riley already has said Miami’s offseason priority is re-signing center Hassan Whiteside long term. It has been speculated that doing that and also keeping Dwyane Wade probably would mean the Heat would have to put off its whale-watching excursion until the summer of 2017.

But the Heat isn’t buying that.

Riley has an impressive track record of getting bargains on luxury items and is hoping the club can lock up Whiteside perhaps for less than market value, crafting a deal that would allow the financial leeway to also sign James or Durant.

Whiteside would be the key figure in enticing James to return to Miami or Durant to come here — the whale magnet.

“You know we’re always looking for a whale if there’s one out there. It changes things,” Riley said in his recent postseason State of the Heat media talk. “We have the flexibility to do that.”

The supposition on James and/or Durant becoming available is twofold:

1. That LeBron winning a championship and fulfilling his dream for Cleveland would make him free to leave, but that he would stay with the Cavaliers and keep chasing that title if he fell short this year.

2. Oppositely, that Durant likely would leave Oklahoma City to seek a championship elsewhere if he fell short in these playoffs, but that he would not leave the Thunder as a champion.

And a Cavaliers-Thunder Finals that would have Heat fans begrudgingly rooting for LeBron looms as likely.

The Cavs were 2-2 with Toronto entering Game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday night but were overall betting favorites at 7-5 odds to win it all entering the game. Oklahoma City leads Golden State 3-1 entering Thursday’s game and is right behind Cleveland at 8-5 title odds.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith “reported” this week that LeBron might be agreeable to rejoin Miami if he is able to parlay these playoffs into an NBA title for Cleveland. I put “reported” in quotes not derisively or dismissively but because it was speculative in the “I’m hearing” category.

Still, remember it was Smith who broke the news of LeBron coming here in 2010 when the rest of the basketball literati harrumphed that it wouldn’t happen. Smith has his sources, and sources often are not the athlete or agent. Sometimes they are members of an entourage, or family. Sometimes information comes indirectly, indeed.

You know what the initial tip was in 1989 that first led to my knowing Jimmy Johnson was leaving the Miami Hurricanes to join the Dallas Cowboys? An assistant leaving with him, Dave Wannstedt, had a school-age daughter who told a friend who happened to be the child of a friend of mine.)

One thing Smith didn’t address in what he was hearing about James maybe coming back to Miami:

Would the Heat take him back? Specifically, would Riley, after the way LeBron left the Heat president feeling used and angry?

Answer: Very likely, if only because Riley’s bosses, Micky and Nick Arison, might take the rare position of overruling Riley for the good of the franchise.

But if Miami had its choice of signing Durant or taking back James, Riley would have every justification for opting for Durant — and take every delight imaginable in saying “no thanks” to LeBron.

That is the scenario that could play out — could — only if the starting point is LeBron James winning a championship for Cleveland.

***

No. 4: Fizdale already impressing in Memphis David Fizdale had many admirers in Miami during his time as an assistant to Erik Spoelstra and was just hired to steer the Grizzlies into their next era. In some ways he’s a mystery, if only because he’s never held a high profile job, other than being visible during the Big Three era in Miami. The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote a lengthy essay on Fizzle and here is Tom Schad‘s report:

David Fizdale and Lamont Smith were standing in line at a since-forgotten restaurant, waiting to order a since-forgotten meal, when a 6-foot-8 mass of muscle ran over to greet them.

It was summertime in Miami, about four or five years ago. Fizdale was an assistant coach for the Miami Heat. Smith, his close friend and old college teammate, was in town for a long weekend. They talked some ball, spent some time on South Beach and went to grab a bite to eat.

“There’s a chance we may run into Dwyane or LeBron,” Fizdale told Smith — as in, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, two of the NBA’s most popular superstars.

Cool, Smith thought. He expected a straightforward “shake hands, sit down, share a meal” type of thing. He did not expect to see James rush over and grab Fizdale in a bearhug like a long-lost friend.

“When’s the last time you saw him?” Smith later asked Fizdale.

“Oh,” Fizdale answered. “I saw him last week.”

To Smith, that moment showcased one of the greatest strengths of the man poised to be the next Grizzlies’ coach: An ability to build deep relationships with the players he coaches, whether it’s an undrafted rookie from a small-private school — or arguably the best player on the planet. It’s not so much friendship as it is a mutual understanding, Smith said. It’s the type of connection that can help a coach get the most out of his players.

“He has the utmost respect from those guys, but at the same time, he coaches them. He’s very critical of them,” Smith explained. “I think, again, it all stems back to having that relationship.”

Now, Fizdale will seek to build those same types of relationships in Memphis. A source told The Commercial Appeal on Thursday that the 41-year-old has accepted a four-year contract to become an NBA head coach for the first time. An introductory press conference is expected sometime next week.

Not much is known about Fizdale outside of NBA circles, but former teammates, coaches and players describe him as both fiercely competitive and naturally easygoing. He has the basketball savvy of someone who became a Division I assistant coach at 24, then sharpened his skills in the Miami Heat video room under the guidance of Erik Spoelstra. And he has a laid-back personality befitting his Los Angeles roots.

“You can’t be around Fiz and not feel positive and energized and enjoy his company,” said his college coach, Brad Holland. “You just can’t. That’s who he is.”

Beach ball, and an early start

Andre Speech always liked playing pickup basketball at a court down by the beach in San Diego. So that’s where he and a few friends were one day when Fizdale rolled up.

Speech and the rest of his group were getting ready to leave after a recent loss. Fizdale heard that and insisted they play a few more games.

“We probably ran the court for the next couple hours,” Speech said.

Fizdale and Speech played together at the University of San Diego and were roommates one summer. Speech said Fizdale was generally competitive in everything he did — epic video game battles initially came to mind — but on the court, “Fiz” took it up a notch.

“If his normal competitiveness level was a 7, on the court it was an 11,” Speech said.

Fizdale played point guard at USD, a small private Catholic school in the West Coast Conference, and averaged 8.5 points, 5.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. He wasn’t a dazzling offensive player but graduated as the program’s all-time career assists leader, with 465. More often than not, he made his mark on the defensive end.

“He’d get a step on you and be tipping balls, getting deflections,” said Smith, who is now the head coach at USD. “He was a monster defender.”

Holland always viewed Fizdale as his coach on the floor at San Diego, so shortly after the point guard graduated with a communications degree in 1996, Holland gave him his first coaching opportunity off the floor. In 1998, at 24 years old, Fizdale became a full-time assistant coach, instructing players barely younger than he was — many of them his former teammates. (Coincidentally, one such player was San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego, who was reportedly a finalist for the Grizzlies’ job before it was offered to Fizdale.)

Those first few years as an assistant were where Fizdale first found the balance between friend and coach. He remained close with many on the team — making late-night pizza runs with Smith, for example — but demanded respect at practice.

“I was impressed with how quickly he made that transition, but yet players loved to be around him,” Holland said. “Even though the players he was coaching were not that much younger than him, they were hanging on every word. They loved Fiz.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are the Knicks trying to trade back into the Draft? … It might be a decent idea of the Blazers re-signed free agent Mo Harkless … Speaking of the Blazers, here’s a Q&A with GM Neil Olshey … Mike D’Antoni has a few fans as he prepares to take over the Rockets.

Report: Blazers give Stotts contract extension

What began with the expectation of a rebuilding project ended with the Portland Trail Blazers as the surprise team of the season in the second round of the playoffs and now with coach Terry Stotts getting a contract extension.

The Blazers will exercise their team option on Stotts’ contract for the 2016-17 season, then add on three more years that will run through 2020, according to a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

Stotts finished second behind Golden State’s Steve Kerr in the 2015-16 Coach of the Year voting after leading the Blazers to a 44-38 record, the No. 5 seed and a win over the L.A. Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. It was the second time in Stotts’ four seasons in Portland that he took the team to the Western Conference semifinals.

It was a remarkable coaching job done by Stotts after the Blazers lost their top scorer LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio in free agency last summer, then continued a turnover of the roster that saw three other starters — Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez — also leave the team.

Stotts did not make it past a second season in either of his previous head coaching jobs in Atlanta and Milwaukee. But after spending four years as the offensive guru on Rick Carlisle’s staff in Dallas — including the championship season in 2011 — Stotts has posted a 182-146 (.555) mark in four years in Portland, including three straight winning records and trips to the playoffs.

His success in the standings has not only won Stotts fans in the Portland community, but more importantly within the Blazers’ locker room, where he’s developed a solid bond with his players and reputation as a developer of young talent.

There had been speculation about the team waiting to pick up the last year option on Stotts’ contract. But reportedly Blazers owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey just wanted to wait for the conclusion of Portland’s playoff run to make their offer of a new deal.

Lillard, McCollum still need help from others in Game 2 vs. Clippers


VIDEO: Previewing Game 2 of Blazers-Clippers

LOS ANGELES — They’re used to it by now, the basketball world shedding pity on them for losing four starters from last season and giving them a nice pat on the head and a wish for good luck. The Portland Trail Blazers had fallen from the A-list to the B-list — that’s the treatment that greeted them in training camp. But the basketball then took a funny bounce and now here they are, playing in the postseason instead of preparing for the Draft lottery.

Plenty had to go right for Portland in order for it to defy the odds and get this far, namely, the coaching of Terry Stotts and the blurry backcourt play of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Those three played a huge role in leveraging the Blazers to 44 wins and getting the fawning respect of opponents for overachieving.

But is that enough to stop Blake Griffin, a power forward determined to embark on a redemption tour? And Chris Paul, the best current player never to escape the second round? And coach Doc Rivers, who’ll have lots of ‘splaining to do if the Clippers fold prematurely once again?

Maybe not. If anything, the Blazers find themselves back at training camp, in a sense, trying to dispel a notion that they don’t belong in the Big Boy’s Club after falling behind 1-0 in this series and getting punched in the gut in that game, to boot.

“There’s no question we have to play better,” said Lillard, in an understatement.

But is that really possible?

When LaMarcus Aldridge took his talents to the Alamo last summer, and Nicolas Batum was shipped to Charlotte, and gimpy Wesley Matthews signed in Dallas without much resistance from Portland, the Blazers lost the guts of their team. Yes, Lillard is a vastly under appreciated point guard — just ask him — and McCollum is soaring toward stardom one day. Together they’re capable of generating 60-plus points through scoring and assists. But small-ball, Blazers-style, might only take this team so far. And if Lillard and/or McCollum struggle, as they did in Game 1, this series will be quick.

So much depends on Portland’s starting backcourt to haul the load, perhaps more than any backcourt in the NBA. Together they had 30 points and 11 assists in Game 1; Paul had 28 and 11 himself. The Clippers are rotating well and making it hard on them and Rivers assigned Luc Mbah a Moute, an agile small forward, to check McCollum.

When the backcourt doesn’t play to near-maximum, it puts pressure on everyone else to produce, which is a problem because “everyone else” isn’t as playoff-tested. When the Blazers lost Aldridge and Batum, it weakened their front line. As much praise as GM Neil Olshey gets for re-tooling the Blazers, none of the players he acquired last summer has made a major impact. This is still a Lillard-McCollum production, and if anything, Stotts, more than Olshey, has been the front-office difference.

Al-Farouq Aminu is a poor shooter, Mason Plumlee is a banger at best, Gerald Henderson is a backup, Ed Davis is inconsistent and second-year forward Noah Vonleh doesn’t get much playing time. Those are the replacements for Aldridge (who was again an All-Star) and Batum (who has been key in Charlotte). Again, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year of sorts, and by saving their money the Blazers can be in play for free agents. But odds of the stripped-down Blazers duplicating their regular-season surprise here in the playoffs appears slim.

So the Clippers will continue to tighten up on McCollum and Lillard and dare the supporting cast to be a hero.

You’ve got to love how the Blazers regrouped after a hectic summer, won the hearts of Portland fans with their hustle, and created a winner out of nowhere. They might be the biggest surprise of the season. But unless Lillard, McCollum and Stotts can recreate magic for Game 2 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and also when this series shifts to Portland, this uplifting story is about to end.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 26


VIDEO: A look at which ’12 draftees are next up for an extension

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers penalized for first Jordan meeting | Curry will be free | Augustin reflects on Katrina | Blazers starting over

No. 1: Clippers penalized for first Jordan meetingDeAndre Jordan‘s free agency was quite the saga, featuring many emojis, a camp-out at Jordan’s house, and ultimately, a change of heart. Before that change of heart, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $25,000 for publicly discussing the team’s deal with Jordan. And now, the Clippers have been fined 10 times that amount for discussing a possible endorsement deal in their initial meeting with Jordan. Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News has the story, also tweeting that the endorsement deal was with Lexus

The NBA determined in its investigation that this aspect of the Clippers’ presentation had no impact on Jordan’s decision to re-sign with the Clippers. But that did not stop the NBA from issuing a fine. The NBA’s anti-circumvention rules prohibits teams from providing any compensation for a player unless it is included in the player’s contract.

The specifics regarding the Clippers’ third-party endorsement opportunity isn’t entirely clear. But an NBA source familiar with the teams said the Clippers presented a “hypothetical deal” that was nearly worth the amount of the league’s $250,000. Since then, the NBA source said Jordan did not take advantage of any possible endorsement opportunity.

In a memo to Clippers employees (acquired by the Orange County Register), owner Steve Ballmer said that the violation of the CBA wasn’t intentional…

As I shared with everyone on day one of purchasing the Team, being part of the Clippers family means operating with the highest integrity. We believed we were doing this the right way, and any circumvention was inadvertent. In our effort to support our players in every way possible, we as an organization must be diligent in complying with the CBA.

***

No. 2: Curry will be free — MVP Stephen Curry said Monday that free agency isn’t appealing, but that doesn’t mean that opportunities won’t be presented to him in the summer of 2017. The Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami explains…

So when Curry says he’s not into free agency at the moment, again, that’s important and it’s logical, because he’s happy here and knows Joe Lacob and Peter Guber will be more than ready to pay him a max starting salary of $30M once July 2017 arrives and Curry hits free agency, presuming good health and all the things we have to presume over the next two seasons.

My point, though: Curry has to hit free agency in order to qualify for the $30M salary.

He has to let his current contract expire, has to play it out, even if he has every intention of re-signing with the Warriors at the first possible instance.

Which means there’s some outside chance that Curry will look at other options because… why not? The Warriors might not be coming off a 67-win season and a title in two years… other issues might prop up… other teams will surely be ready to pay him the max they can and then… who knows?

Kawakami also looks at a potential Harrison Barnes contract extension …

Kidd-Gilchrist might possibly be more valuable–younger, can really, really defend, if he ever figures out a jump shot he could be a long-time All-Star.

However… Barnes is only 23 and he already has a long history of carrying the Warriors through periods in huge playoff games, and yes, that includes Games 4, 5 and 6 vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers on the way to the Warriors’ first championship since 1975. That is rather important.

I’m not saying Barnes is a finished product or even one of the Warriors’ top three or four players.

But with the cap exploding, $14M per won’t be as large an investment as it looks now.

***

No. 3: Augustin reflects on Katrina — This week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which took more than a thousand lives and affected countless others. Thunder point guard D.J. Augustin, who was a high school senior in New Orleans at the time, reflects on his experience in a first-person account in The Player’s Tribune…

Before Katrina was Katrina, it was just another hurricane that hadn’t arrived yet. The week before Katrina hit, everyone was worried about Hurricane Ivan. Ivan was supposed to be really big. There was mandatory evacuation a few days before it got there. So we actually evacuated the week before Katrina — and then again one week later. We put the evacuation plan into effect: My mom, dad, two sisters and myself piled our luggage into our Chevy Trailblazer. We left New Orleans headed for Houston, with a car pool of relatives — my aunts, cousins, and two sets of grandparents all in different cars ahead of us and behind us. It was like a parade. Everyone had the same plan. It usually takes five hours to get to Houston, but it took us 24 hours that time. Everyone was trying to get out of New Orleans at the same time.

I still remember that evacuation for Hurricane Ivan so well. One reason is that it was kind of a false alarm for Katrina. Ivan was never as big as they said it was going to be. My dad was driving our car and the air outside was so humid. We had the windows down – he cut off the air so the car wouldn’t run hot — and I had my shirt off. It was bumper to bumper traffic the whole way. We stayed in a Houston hotel for a couple nights, got to swim in the hotel pool, and then returned home. It just felt like a family trip, like a little getaway. When we got away like that for those hurricanes, it was kind of fun at the same time, because nothing ever happened really, out of all the years we got away for hurricanes. Like previous evacuations, it was just a precaution.

Little did we know, way out in the Gulf of Mexico somewhere, Katrina was on its way.

***

No. 4: Blazers starting over — If you look at each team individually with a positive outlook, you can think of a reason or two why 29 of the 30 could be better this season than they were last year. The one exception is the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost four of their five starters to free agency this summer. The downfall started with Wesley Matthews‘ Achilles injury, but when LaMarcus Aldridge left for San Antonio, Blazers GM Neil Olshey had little choice but to push the reset button. Our Scott Howard-Cooper digs into Portland’s second rebuild in the last four years …

Neil Olshey didn’t blow up the Trail Blazers. He is sure of it. He is also right, if that detail matters. An injury with an impact that never could have been imagined followed by a bad playoff series followed ultimately by a franchise crossroads of a decision is to blame.

Except that detail may not matter. Someone has to be accountable for the most-wincing offseason in the NBA, for that crater where the roster of a Western Conference contender once stood, and Wesley Matthews’ previous left Achilles’ tendon is not a candidate. Brandon Roy and his knees, Greg Oden and his knees — been there, felt that.

“I think initially people were kind of caught off guard,” Olshey said of the summer developments. “I think people just assumed we’d be in a position to bring LaMarcus back. It’s my job to kind of look beyond that and do what’s best for the long-term health of the franchise. Our goal was to bring LaMarcus back. We were in the mix. He chose to take his career in another direction. But what we weren’t going to do was compound a negative situation and make it worse by signing long-term contracts and taking away flexibility for a team that, quite honestly, wasn’t going to be good enough.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers believe a new practice facility will help them compete with the rest of the leagueChris Andersen isn’t worried about a possible trade (to get the Heat out of paying the repeater tax) … Andrei Kirilenko is the new president of the Russian Basketball FederationKlay Thompson is an experienced traveler … and teammate Andre Iguodala took his trophy to Tokyo.

ICYMI: Rookies show Lang Whitaker their dance moves:


VIDEO: Lang With the Rooks: Signature Dance Move

Morning Shootaround — August 8


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

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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: Members of Team Africa and Team World have arrived in Johannesburg

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ujiri leads the charge in Africa | Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves | Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’

No. 1: Ujiri leads the charge in Africa — Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is at the forefront of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative in Africa. It’s more than just an obligation from the Ujiri, it’s a passion project years in the making. Our very own Shaun Powell is on the ground in Johannesburg and captured the essence of Ujiri’s mission to serve as an ambassador for the game, and sports in general, on his native continent:

For anyone who might ask why the general manager of the Toronto Raptors is spending his summer threatening to go hoarse half a world away, well, you must know this about Masai Ujiri. When he’s in charge of an NBA franchise, he’s in his element, because his peers find him very astute and a few years ago voted him the game’s top executive. But when he’s developing basketball and teaching life skills to children and young adults in Africa, he’s in his homeland and his own skin, and there is no greater reward or satisfaction or privilege. When and if he wins his first NBA title, that might pull equal to this.

Might.

He was in Senegal last week, holding basketball clinics through his foundation, Giants of Africa. Next up: Stops in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and also Nigeria, his birthplace. He’ll spend three weeks on this side of the Atlantic with the hope of discovering the next Dikembe Mutombo from these clinics, but would gladly settle for the next surgeon.

This weekend is unique and special because here on Saturday the NBA will stage an exhibition game for the first time in Africa, and the participating NBA players and coaches are warming up by serving as clinic counselors.

One is Chris Paul, and the cheers he gets from campers are the loudest, but even an eight-time All-Star knows he’s not the star of the home team, not on this soil.

Ujiri ricochets from one group of campers to another like a blind bumblebee, carrying an air horn that blows when one session ends and another begins. After five non-stop hours of this he is asked if he’s tired, and no, he’s just amused at the question. Who gets tired from doing their passion?

“I look at these kids and they remind me of me of when I was a young kid,” he says. “I see me through them. All they need is a chance.”

It all runs with precision at this clinic, how the students are disciplined and determined, how their enthusiasm rubs off on the NBA players and coaches, how Ujiri’s vision seems so … right. As Ujiri gave pointers, a Hall of Famer who’s also the pioneer of African basketball stood off to the side, shaking his head, astonished at the spectacle and the man in charge.

“Masai has a lot of passion for this, and helping Africa year after year speaks about the person he is,” says Hakeem Olajuwon. “He is a prince. That’s what he is.”

***

No. 2: Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves — Kevin Garnett won’t be the only “old head” in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room this season. He’ll have some company in the form of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who agreed to a one-year deal to join the renaissance KG, Flip Saunders and Ricky Rubio are trying to engineer with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Miller’s role is more than just that of an adviser, though, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

It was less than two weeks ago that Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, said his team might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

He has arrived.

A source confirmed a report that Wolves had come to an agreement on a one-year contract with veteran Andre Miller, who visited the Wolves on Wednesday.

It marks an evolution in Saunders’ thinking. Immediately after moving up to draft former Apple Valley star Tyus Jones late in the first round of the draft, Saunders sounded like he might be happy with Jones as Ricky Rubio’s backup. But the fact that Rubio is coming off ankle surgery and Jones is a rookie ultimately changed Saunders’ mind.

“You don’t want to put the pressure on the young guys so much,” Saunders said two weeks ago. “Hey, listen, we’re always looking to upgrade. It could happen.”

And it did. Miller, 39, is nearing the end of a long career, but his experience should help both Rubio and Jones while giving the Wolves some peace of mind. Originally drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft by Cleveland, the 6-2 Miller has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 assists over 16 seasons while playing for seven teams. Last season between 81 games in Sacramento and Washington, Miller averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.

***

No. 3: Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’: — There is no need for an autopsy on Wes Matthews‘ exit from Portland via free agency. He’s a Dallas Maverick now and apparently for good reason. Matthews told Jason Quick of the Oregonian that the Trail Blazers never made an offer to keep him, allowing the injured free agent to take the offer from the Mavericks and move on after being an integral part of the operation in Rip City.:

He had hoped he could return to the city that had embraced him, to the team with players he considered brothers, to the franchise where he grew into one of the NBA’s most well-rounded and respected shooting guards.

But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.

“I was pissed off,” Matthews said. “I felt disrespected.”

He believed he was a viable option for teams, even as he continued to rehabilitate a ruptured left Achilles tendon suffered in March. In the days leading up to free agency, Matthews’ camp released video to ESPN showing him jogging in place, utilizing lateral movement and shooting jumpers. He was, he wanted the league to know, ahead of the eight-month recovery time estimated by doctors.

A story also leaked that Matthews expected negotiations to start at $15 million a season, or almost $8 million more than he made last year.

It was a ghastly number for the Blazers, even though they could technically afford him. Paul Allen is the richest owner in sports, but after a lost era during which he paid more than a combined $100 million to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, only to see their knee injuries become chronic, Allen was wary of paying top dollar to a player coming off a serious injury.

The only chance the Blazers would pursue Matthews, top executive Neil Olshey later explained, was if free agent LaMarcus Aldridge chose to return, maintaining Portland as a playoff-caliber team. When Aldridge chose San Antonio, the Blazers decided to rebuild. Paying big money to a 29-year-old shooting guard coming off major surgery didn’t make long-term sense.

“I was angry,” Matthews said, “but I also realize that this is a business.”

He figured there would be trying times, with harsh realities, after he suffered his injury during the third quarter of a March 5 game against Dallas. Achilles injuries not only test one’s body, they challenge the mind.

He didn’t expect one challenge to come from the team to which he gave so much of his heart, so much of his sweat. Portland’s silence meant he was losing the greatest comfort of his career: a stable starting lineup, an adoring fan base and a rising profile.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chuck Hayes is headed back to Houston on a partially guaranteed one-year deal … Tyus Jones, the hometown kid, is leading the summer caravan for the Minnesota Timberwolves … A couple of Trail Blazers are going a bit Hollywood this summer … Amir Johnson was convinced Celtics fans would love him before he joined the team

Morning Shootaround — July 6



VIDEO: Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson is confident and focused on the challenge and his goals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire | Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul | Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? | Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story | Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers

No. 1: Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire — Desperation has set in for the Los Angeles Clippers, much like it did late last week for the Los Angeles Lakers, in free agency. With DeAndre Jordan bolting for Dallas and the four-year, $80 million deal they offered, Doc Rivers and the Clippers are left to scour the big man market for a replacement. They’re not exactly fishing in the same waters that Jordan swam in last season for the Clippers, when he was building block in the middle for a championship contender. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has more:

The Clippers, who lost center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, are taking a strong look at [JaVale] McGee, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Clippers have roughly $2.2 million in exception space left to pay a player beyond the league’s minimum salary slot of $1.4 million.

Rivers also is expected to speak with free agent Amar’e Stoudemire on Sunday, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Stoudemire strongly considered the Clippers before signing with the Dallas Mavericks after the New York Knicks agreed to a buyout of his contract in February. Stoudemire has interest with several teams, including the Clippers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, league sources said.

For McGee, the Clippers could be an opportunity with a contender to re-start his career. McGee had a couple promising years with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets before injuries and inconsistent play limited him to just 28 games over the past two seasons. The Nuggets traded him, along with a first-round draft pick, to the Philadelphia 76ers midway through last season. He played in six games for the 76ers before being waived.

McGee, 27, was close to signing with the Boston Celtics last season, but wanted a player option for the second season to preserve his flexibility with this summer’s free-agent market.

McGee signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Nuggets prior to the 2012-13 season.

In seven NBA seasons with the Washington Wizards, Nuggets and Sixers, McGee has averaged 8.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

***

No. 2: Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul — Omri Casspi is one player who is apparently on board with the master plan in Sacramento. The veteran forward broke the news of his agreement on a deal to return to the Kings and continue working as a role player in a rotation headlined by DeMarcus Cousins, who is fond of his sweet-shooting forward (Casspi shot 40 percent from deep last season). Casspi handled the general news (via Twitter). This is just a small piece of the drastic overhaul Vlade Divac is trying to engineer. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee provides some context:

The mandate for Vlade Divac was clear.

The Kings must improve drastically in 2015-16.

So the vice president of basketball and franchise operations has been overhauling the roster in an effort to boost the Kings from Western Conference doormat to playoff contender.

Adding point guard Rajon Rondo, small forward Marco Belinelli and center Kosta Koufos in free agency and drafting center Willie Cauley-Stein give the Kings a new look and appear to address the Kings’ biggest weaknesses.

Divac isn’t necessarily done. The Kings will try to add wing depth, which Sunday night entailed the re-signing of Omri Casspi, who confirmed via Twitter a two-year deal worth $6 million.

And All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins could be traded, as his issues with coach George Karl have not been resolved.

But as the roster is, the Kings expect to improve. Maybe not enough to make the playoffs but to win more than the 29 games they did last season.

With the new downtown arena set to open for the 2016-17 season, the Kings need an improved product to sell tickets.

The Kings wanted better passing, perimeter shooting and defense. Rondo was brought in to improve the passing and give Karl another ballhandler and facilitator.

Belinelli will be expected to help Sacramento’s shaky three-point shooting. Koufos and Cauley-Stein add depth, size and defensive versatility.

If Cousins stays, he and forward Rudy Gay are the only players certain to start. Divac has said Gay will play “a lot” of power forward this season, which necessitated adding another small forward.

Darren Collison was signed last summer to start at point guard, but with Rondo set to make $9.5 million next season, it seems unlikely the four-time All-Star will be a backup.

Karl wants to run more sets with two point guards, but Collison is only 6 feet, and Rondo is 6-1.

Ben McLemore started at shooting guard last season but could come off the bench or play small forward if Gay starts at power forward.

***

No. 3: Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? — Don’t let that little detail of LeBron James not having agreed to a deal yet deter the Cleveland Cavaliers from doing his bidding. The reported interest in Brooklyn veteran swingman Joe Johnson is legitimate and a very real possibility, given the Cavaliers’ ability to make it happen with the existing contracts of one of their prized (and another not-so-prized) big men. Our numbers man John Schuhmann breaks it down:

A trade of Haywood (with a salary of $10.5 million for 2015-16) and Anderson Varejao ($9.6 million) for Johnson would work under the league’s trade rules. Haywood’s contract is completely non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him, erase that $10.5 million from their books and save almost $70 million next season ($19.5 million in salary and $49.1 million in luxury tax, because they would be subject to repeater levels).

Of course, Johnson has been a very good and very durable player for the Nets over the last three years. The deal represents a decision of saving money vs. competing for a playoff spot.

It also represents a choice between saving money this season and saving cap space for next summer. Johnson has just this coming season left on his contract, but Varejao has three more years left on his deal. His 2017-18 salary is completely non-guaranteed, but $9.4 million of his $10.4 million salary for 2016-17 is guaranteed and would eat into their 2016 cap space.

The Nets could trade Varejao for an expiring contract. One suggestion from the Twitterverse: Varejao to the Los Angeles Clippers (who are desperate for a center to replace DeAndre Jordan) for Jamal Crawford, who has just one year left on his deal at $5.7 million. (The Clippers would have to include an additional piece).

Of course, the Cavs could make that swap themselves if they choose not to go for Johnson, who would take their own luxury tax to the sky. They will surely have other options with Haywood’s non-guaranteed contract. But this deal would create one heck of a lineup.

***

No. 4: Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story — The Raptors continued their summer revival with the addition of Cory Joseph, a native son formerly of the San Antonio Spurs. Joseph’s return to The North is more than just a good story, writes Michael Grange of the SportsNet:

At about 11:15 Sunday night Joseph announced to his 61,700 Twitter followers that he was leaving the San Antonio Spurs in free agency to sign with Toronto.

It was a simple message for an athlete who is known for his no-nonsense approach, but it spoke volumes about how far Canadian basketball has come and where it’s going. Joseph will be just the second Canadian to ever play for the Raptors, following Jamaal Magloire who suited up for one season at the end of his career.

He left as part of the first wave of elite Canadian basketball players who were convinced rightly or wrongly that if they wanted to make it to the top of the sport they needed to head to the United States as teenagers.

For Joseph it couldn’t have worked out better. He won national recognition at Findlay and a scholarship to the University of Texas, and in 2011 became the first Canadian guard to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft since Steve Nash when the San Antonio Spurs took him 29th overall. He learned his craft in one of the most respected organizations in any sport and has a championship ring to show for it.

The difference is that while Magloire was an outlier, Joseph represents the front edge of the wedge. Masai Ujiri has always said he won’t put a passport ahead of talent when building his team, but the number and quality of Canadians coming into the NBA – eight first-round picks in the past five years with more coming – means that recruiting homegrown players could provide the Raptors a competitive advantage going forward.

Calls to the Raptors GM and Joseph’s agent Rich Paul weren’t immediately returned but Joseph has been on the Raptors radar for years now. It’s believed they tried to trade for him twice but were rebuffed by San Antonio.

According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard the Raptors let their money do the talking, with Joseph signing a four-year deal worth $30-million, a huge jump in salary for a career backup who has earned just $5.3 million total in his four NBA seasons.

Is it worth it?

The Raptors love Joseph’s defensive acumen. By their analysis he immediately becomes their best perimeter defender. Moreover they love the humility he brings to the job and his simple passion for his craft. He made a believer out of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich when – as he was struggling for playing time as a rookie – he asked to be sent down to the NBA D-League to get some run.

But the Raptors see upside as well. The term of his deal extends past that of all-star Kyle Lowry’s, who will likely opt out of his contract two summers from now. While no one within the organization is prepared to declare Joseph ready to push Lowry as a starter, the dollars and term they gave him suggest they are betting that he’s still improving and could provide them an option there in time.

***

No. 5: Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers — The finger-pointing in Portland figures to go on for months, years even, in the aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to head home to Texas and the San Antonio Spurs in free agency. He said he wanted to be the best Trail Blazer ever, only to depart as soon as it became a possibility. There will no doubt be hard feelings, but John Canzano of the Oregonian insists Aldridge is not to blame for this breakup:

This all brings us back to the Blazers, ultimately. They have a difficult time attracting free agents. They’ve struggled with continuity. They have a general manager in Neil Olshey eager to make his draft picks shine, cementing his legacy. And I wasn’t surprised the news of Lillard’s five-year, $125-plus million contract extension was leaked on the opening day of free agency.

The Blazers had all summer to make that announcement. But it came on a day when a league record $1.4 billion in contracts were handed out in other NBA cities and — down deep — the Blazers knew Aldridge was a ghost.

Olshey long ago hitched the franchise wagon to Lillard. He drafted him in 2012, and when he became Rookie of the Year the following season, he was marketed and promoted to the point that it chapped Aldridge.

He was Bat Man. Lillard was Robin. Right? But the organization, led by Olshey’s own narrative, prematurely flip-flopped those roles. It cost them today.

I wrote a column two seasons ago about Portland alienating Aldridge by going too far with the Lillard-palooza. Aldridge reached and out told me how much he liked the column. The Blazers decided prior to last season that they’d spend Aldridge’s final season under contract celebrating his milestones, pitching him as the all-time Mr. Trail Blazer.

To their credit, Aldridge and Lillard worked well enough together on the court. They’re both too intelligent and socially aware to take their philosophical differences public. But they were co-workers, and not great friends. Those deeply entrenched in both camps told me on multiple occasions, basketball aside, that the two men were not huge fans of each other. Which only makes Lillard’s inability to get a face-to-face sit-down with Aldridge in that 11th hour trip to Los Angeles less shocking.

Aldridge and Lillard played together three seasons. Aldridge gave the Lakers and Kobe a few minutes of face time. He met with the Suns. He dined publicly with Gregg Popovich. Anyone else find it telling that Aldridge and Lillard didn’t even meet up? That he treated Lillard like the Knicks? That the franchise’s “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” weren’t in solid contact from the end of the season says a lot.

Even if Lillard and Aldridge had been tight, turning down the Spurs and the chance to finish your career in your home state would have been difficult. It’s why you can’t really blame Aldridge, can you? This is business, after all.

This break-up of the Blazers was bound to happen. You had Olshey’s players (Lillard, Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum, in particular) and you had a leftovers from all the general managers of owner Paul Allen’s basketball past. Last season had the feel of a finale all along. That Popovich and the Spurs benefit from the chaos inside another NBA franchise should come as no surprise. Uniformity of vision is what sets the Spurs apart. It’s part of how he’s built an empire.

Olshey won’t much like this column. Neither will Lillard or even Aldridge. But as long as we’re handing out blame for the breakup of a team that won 50-plus games, what’s fair is fair.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Free agent fever is proving the value of “3 and D” skillsets  The Hawks continue the house cleaning by firing long-time training staffers … Oh, and Happy Birthday Pau Gasol …

Blazers’ assistant Hughes gone, too, in wake of Aldridge comments


LaMarcus Aldridge no longer is a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. And now, the same goes for assistant coach Kim Hughes just days after he made statements about Aldridge’s likely departure.

Hughes was terminated, a league source told NBA.com, because of statements he last made about Aldridge’s free agency.

Portland’s president of basketball operations, Neil Olshey, confirmed Hughes’ departure to The Oregonian Saturday. “We can confirm Mr. Hughes is no longer with the team,” Olshey said. “It is our policy to otherwise refrain from commenting on personnel matters.”

Hughes made his comments last week, before NBA free agency began July 1, in an interview with a television station from Terre Haute, Ind., while working at a basketball camp for Blazers big man Meyers Leonard in Robinson, Ill. Video of the interview was posted on WTHI’s Web site Tuesday, a few hours before Aldridge officially was eligible to negotiate with any of the league’s teams.

“Well, people don’t realize we just went young,” Hughes said in the interview. “We didn’t publicize it, but we lost LaMarcus Aldridge. It hasn’t been declared yet, but I’m sure he won’t come back. We will go young.”

Last week, Olshey denied reports that Aldridge had told the Blazers he would not be re-signing with the team, even as Hughes was indicating otherwise. In a matter of days, the core of the Blazers’ roster has been overhauled: Aldridge reaching a verbal contract with the San Antonio Spurs, Nicolas Batum traded to Charlotte, Wesley Matthews agreeing to a free-agent contract with Dallas and center Robin Lopez heading to the New York Knicks.

Hughes, 63, had been a member of head coach Terry Stotts‘ staff since August 2012, working with the Blazers’ big men. He previously worked as an assistant coach and scout for the Denver Nuggets, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers. A 6-foot-11 center from the University of Wisconsin, Hughes played professionally in the ABA, NBA and Europe from 1975-1989.

Hughes has had several serious health issues in recent years, including a battle with prostate cancer in 2004 and a near-fatal intestinal condition requiring surgery in 2013. He currently has been diagnosed with pulmonary embolisms, the league source said.

Morning shootaround — June 26


VIDEO: How will Karl-Anthony Towns fit in with the Timberwolves

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Hibbert to opt in; West headed to Knicks? | Olshey denies talk Aldridge is opting out | Riley: ‘No doubt’ we want Wade backJames very engaged in Cavs’ offseason work

No. 1: Report: Hibbert opting in with Pacers; Report: West to Knicks?  The Indiana Pacers have watched center Roy Hibbert develop mid first-round pick in 2008 (No. 17 overall) to an All-Star in 2011-12 and 2013-14. However, as most Pacers fans will tell you, those accolades ring a little hollow as Hibbert has basically not been the same player since last season’s All-Star break. His stats have tailed off and last season, his blocks per game dropped to their lowest mark since 2008-09 (1.6). Indiana already has word that power forward David West is opting out, but according to GrantLand.com’s Zach Lowe, Hibbert will not do likewise.

And speaking of West, could he end up signing with one of the Pacers’ longtime rivals? According to Jared Zwerling of BleacherReport.com, the Knicks may be where West ends up:

***

No. 2: Blazers GM Olshey denies Aldridge says he’s leaving — We reported in this space yesterday that Portland Trail Blazers star forward LaMarcus Aldridge is all-but gone from Oregon this summer in free agency. While that storyline has gained a lot of traction in the last 24 hours, Blazers GM Neil Olshey isn’t buying it and spoke out about the chatter during last night’s post-Draft news conference. Mike Tokito of The Oregonian has more:

After all the recent reports that LaMarcus Aldridge was not going to return to the Trail Blazers, general manager Neil Olshey – in one of his regular telephone conversations with the All-Star power forward – asked Aldridge about it.

“I actually asked him how would you like me to address it,” Olshey said. “He said, ‘Just say it’s not true. You and I know where we’re at right now.'”

“I hung up with LaMarcus about a half hour ago,” Olshey said “LaMarcus and I speak multiple times every week. He was as bemused by the report as I was.”

An ESPN report indicated that the Blazers’ trade of Nicolas Batum to Charlotte on Wednesday was a sign that the Blazers were conceding that Aldridge was leaving, and that the Blazers were beginning to rebuild without him. Olshey reiterated several times that the reports were incorrect.

“It was misreported, it’s not true,” Olshey said. “I can tell you he has not informed anybody in this organization his intention not to return to this team.”

Olshey added that the Blazers knew that Aldridge, a four-time All-Star, would attract plenty of attention as an unrestricted free agent.

“We’ve always known that LaMarcus is going to have a robust free agent market,” he said. “It was a market we were going to compete in. It’s a market we’re still planning to compete in. But in no way has he given us any indication that he’s not returning to the Trail Blazers.”


VIDEO: GM Neil Olshey addresses the LaMarcus Aldridge rumors

***

No. 3: Riley: ‘No doubt’ we want Wade backDwyane Wade has yet to talk with the Miami Heat’s brass about what his future is with the team. Wade is pondering whether or not to opt out of his contract and has until Monday to do so. For his part, team president Pat Riley doesn’t want Wade going anywhere, writes Chris Wallace of ESPN:

Heat president Pat Riley insists retaining Dwyane Wade will be a top priority if the franchise’s most decorated player opts out of his contract and enters free agency next week.

But speaking on the Wade situation for the first time since reports of potential friction between the two sides surfaced last month, Riley said he hopes to reach a deal that keeps Wade in Miami for the rest of his career. Wade has spent all 12 seasons of his NBA career with the Heat since he was drafted in 2003.

“We want Dwyane back. There’s no doubt about that,” Riley said late Thursday night after the Heat completed their draft selections. “He’s been here 12 years. We’ve had cordial discussions with him. The one thing I learned about free agency is that when a player has an opportunity to be a free agent, I think you give him the space and time to think about that.”

Wade, 33, has declined interview requests about his future but said during an ESPN on ABC broadcast appearance at the NBA Finals that he would deal with his future after the July 1 start of free agency. Those comments seemed to indicate that Wade is planning to opt out of his deal. There also has been reported interest between Wade and potential free-agency suitors such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons.

Although Wade is believed to be seeking a three-year deal worth at least $45 million if he opts out, the Heat want to convince him to allow the team enough financial flexibility to pursue top free agents next summer, when Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant could be on the market. But Riley also acknowledged Thursday that Wade has sacrificed as much as any player in franchise history to help the team.

“Everybody in this organization over the years has had to sacrifice,” Riley said. “The one player [as much as anyone] that’s had to sacrifice for the sake of winning has been him. This is now getting down to business. We respect him. We want him back. We want him here for the rest of his career. And we’re going to try to do everything to make that happen.”

A year after enduring LeBron James‘ departure in free agency, Riley was asked whether he could envision a scenario in which Wade would walk away from the team he helped lead to three NBA titles.

“I’m not a pessimist when it comes to that,” Riley said. “We have a lot to offer here with all of our free agents — with Dwyane, with Goran, with [Deng]. Whatever I think today is really irrelevant. I want all of them to come back. I’d like to make a deal with all of these players and keep the team we built last year. We’ll find out on July 1. Before that, it really is all speculation. Everybody should just chill a little bit and wait until July 1.”

***

No. 4: LeBron ‘very engaged’ with Cavs about roster future — The Cleveland Cavaliers have some roster decisions to make this summer about several players — J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Matthew Dellavedova — key to the defending Eastern Conference champions. Of course, their star, LeBron James, can opt out this summer, too, but he is expected to stay in place. As for the other names here? No one knows what they’ll do, but according to ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, James has management’s ear often about the future of the roster:

J.R. Smith did not inform the Cleveland Cavaliers he planned on opting into his $6.4 million contract for next season by Thursday’s 11:59 p.m. ET deadline and thus will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 by default, according to Cavs general manager David Griffin.

“If it’s the right situation for us, yeah,” Griffin said late Thursday night when asked if the Cavs are interested in re-signing Smith. “We certainly intend to pursue those conversations.”

Smith, who turns 30 in September, is one of several key members of the Cavs team that came two wins short of a ring that will be seeking new contracts this summer. They include Kevin Love, who opted out of the final year of his contract earlier this week, as well as Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova, who will be seeking new deals this offseason.

LeBron James also has until June 29th to opt in to his contract for next season, worth $21.6 million, or join that aforementioned pool as an unrestricted free agent.

Griffin said James has yet to tell the Cavs his plans “relative to free agency” but added that there has been frequent communication between James and the franchise since the Finals ended.

“We’ve heard from him every day, pretty much, relative to our roster,” Griffin said. “He’s very engaged with us.”

When asked if he was concerned that Love could visit with other potential suitors — the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets have all been reported to have some interest in the power forward’s services — Griffin said, “not really, no.”

“Again, I think he’s been very clear with what his intentions have been all along,” Griffin said. “Certainly, anytime he’s stood in front of anybody, he’s said that. I’m not concerned about it, yet at the same time, we’re very much intending to pursue him the instant that we’re able to.”


VIDEO: GM David Griffin discusses the Cavs’ Draft night

2015/06/26/150626postdraftgriffinmov-3630429/

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Utah Jazz made a late run to try and trade up and get Justise Winslow in last night’s Draft … Does Ty Lawson think he’s being dealt to the Sacramento Kings? … Are the Kings pondering firing George Karl over all the DeMarcus Cousins chatter?