Posts Tagged ‘Nerlens Noel’

Morning Shootaround — September 6



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.

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No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

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No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

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No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors. NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

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No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.

Bracket set as group play wraps up


VIDEO: John Schuhmann talks to GameTime about the World Cup

GRANADA, SPAIN – The final day of group play at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup not only determined who made it to the round of 16, but who they would play … and who they could play after that.

Let’s make it clear. There are two great teams in this tournament. They are Spain and the United States, and you will have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t think they will meet in the gold medal game in Madrid on Sept. 14.

After that, however, there are at least nine teams that could think they have a shot at a bronze medal. But you can only get to the bronze medal game if you first make the semifinals. And it will be extremely difficult to make the semis if you face Spain or the U.S. before then.

So, for those nine teams, with Spain clinching spot A1 (for finishing first in Group A) and the Americans clinching spot C1 (first in Group C) on Wednesday, there are two desired quarters of the bracket to be in. In Madrid, there’s the A4-B1-A2-B3 quarter, which avoids Spain until the semifinals. And in Barcelona, there’s the C4-D1-C2-D3, which avoids the U.S. until the semis.

Brazil clinched its spot as A2 with its win over Serbia on Wednesday. Everything else was up for grabs on Thursday.

Group A

Final placement:

  1. Spain (5-0)
  2. Brazil (4-1)
  3. France (3-2)
  4. Serbia (2-3)

Thursday notes:

  • In the first game that didn’t matter, Brazil hammered Egypt, 128-65. After its big breakout on Wednesday, the Brazil offense continued to roll, with Leandro Barbosa scoring 22 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) and dishing out five assists in just 23 minutes.
  • Ultimately, the second game was the only game that counted for anything. After Wednesday’s win over Egypt, Iran had a shot at fourth place if it could pull off an upset. And it showed a lot of heart, cutting a 17-point deficit down to five with a late rally. But it fell short, and France prevailed 81-76.
  • France could have put itself in the more favorable A4 spot with a strategic loss. And it did try to get its best players some rest; Nicolas Batum sat for most of the second half. But when Iran made it close at the end, Batum and Boris Diaw were back on the floor and France played to win.
  • France coach Vincent Collet: “You can see we wanted to win this game, no question. We know, being third, we could cross with Spain in the quarterfinals. That’s basketball.”
  • The third game could have meant something, but was rendered meaningless by the Iran-France result, because even if Serbia tied France with a 3-2 record, the head-to-head tiebreaker went to France. Still, Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic get tossed and Marc and Pau Gasol each played 28 minutes in Spain’s 89-73 win.

Group B

Final placement:

  1. Greece (5-0)
  2. Croatia (3-2)
  3. Argentina (3-2)
  4. Senegal (2-3)

Thursday notes:

    • We got another thriller from the Philippines, and this time, they won! The overtime result locked Senegal into the fourth spot in the group and a matchup with Spain on Saturday.
    • Croatia clinched its spot in the round of 16 with a 103-82 win over Puerto Rico. Nets incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic had another big game with 23 points on just eight shots, getting to the line 17 times.
    • Sixers youngsters Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, along with GM Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown, were in Sevilla to support future Sixer Dario Saric, who shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and showed off his open-court skills one more time.
    • The final game was for first place in the group and avoiding Spain until the semis. Greece built an early lead and held off Argentina for a 79-71 victory, which left them as one of just three undefeated teams in group play.

    Group C

    Final placement:

    1. USA (5-0)
    2. Turkey (3-2)
    3. Dominican Republic (2-3)
    4. New Zealand (2-3)

    Thursday notes:

    • At the start of the day, all six teams were still alive.
    • New Zealand’s 67-65 victory over Finland sent the Haka to Barcelona and sent Finland and meant that Ukraine would have had to beat the U.S. to advance.
    • That didn’t happen.
    • So, after USA’s win over Mike Fratello‘s crew, we knew what Group C teams were in. And Turkey’s win over the Dominican Republic in the nightcap put them opposite the U.S. in the Barcelona side of the bracket.
    • Ultimately, what knocked out Ukraine was one point. Dominican Republic, New Zealand and Ukraine all went 2-3 and all went 1-1 against each other. In those three games, Dominican Republic had a point differential of plus-3, New Zealand had a point differential of minus-1, and Ukraine had a point differential of minus-2.

    Group D

    Final placement:

    1. Lithuania (4-1)
    2. Slovenia (4-1)
    3. Australia (3-2)
    4. Mexico (2-3)

    Thursday notes:

    • Here’s where we saw some shadiness. Australia appeared to tank itself into the D3 spot by losing to Angola in the first game of the day.
    • Neither Aron Baynes nor Joe Ingles played. Matthew Dellavedova and David Andersen each played just four minutes. And with a 13-point halftime lead, Australia seemingly escorted Angola to the rim in the second half, allowing what was a below-average offense through four games to score 62 points in 20 minutes.
    • Slovenia’s Goran Dragic didn’t like what he saw…
    • Mexico booked its ticket to Barcelona for a Sunday matchup with the U.S. by knocking off Korea. That result also eliminated Angola.
    • The final game in Gran Canaria was for first place in the group and placement on the non-USA quarter in Barcelona. Lithuania came back from 12 down and held the tournament’s No. 1 offense (through Wednesday) to just two points in the fourth quarter to pull out a 67-64 win over Slovenia.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 28


VIDEO: Relive the top 5 plays from the USA-Slovenia exhibition game

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Harden emerging as leader on U.S. team | Hinkie unsure if Embiid will play next season | Clips keep Rivers in the fold

No. 1: Harden emerging as Team USA leader — If you missed it yesterday, our John Schuhmann had an excellent stats analysis of Team USA and its rampage through exhibition play as it readies for the upcoming FIBA World Cup. One of the key points he noted is how well the squad has fared when James Harden and the rest of the starters set the tone in games. Aside from how his play is helping the U.S. team on the scoreboard, guard James Harden has also shown himself to be a leader in other ways for Team USA. Michael Lee of the Washington Post has more on that topic:

Harden’s responsibilities increased once more when Kevin Durant, his close friend and former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, backed out of his commitment, citing fatigue and not the injury to George as the reason. That left the lefty Harden as the only first-team all-NBA player remaining on the squad. The earlier withdrawals of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook also meant that Harden and Anthony Davis were the only holdovers from the 2012 London Olympics team.

“Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said as his team continues to prepare for the tournament in which the winner earns an automatic berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.”

Harden’s career changed dramatically after that summer as Oklahoma City traded the then-sixth man of the year to the Rockets. He became an all-star in his first season, playing so well that Dwight Howard forfeited a bigger pay day from the Los Angeles Lakers to join forces with him in Houston a year later. The constant adjustments have been so common for Harden that the steadily-evolving situation with Team USA over the past few weeks feels almost normal for him.

“It’s so many things these last couple of years that’s been thrown at me, from me being traded, to people talking, just everything,” Harden said. “I try to focus on myself and how can I be a better basketball player. It’s still basketball at the end of the day. I try to do it to the best of my ability and continue to work hard.”

Harden declared himself as the best player alive two weeks ago, expressing a sentiment that was neither delusional nor particularly serious. But it represented a mindset that is required for elite-level basketball players – especially one with obvious deficiencies on the defensive end who also happened to be a viable candidate for league most valuable player last season. When pressed about that opinion, Harden didn’t backtrack.

“I think everybody feels that way. Every NBA player. Even growing up, growing up youngins have dreams that they want to be the best basketball players in the world,” Harden said. “As a basketball player, or any athlete, you got to have confidence, you’ve got to have confidence the whole time. You just go out there and do your job and have confidence that your abilities are good enough. Whatever is thrown at me, I just try to take it for what it is and just have fun.”


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Team USA’s victory against Slovenia (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 17


VIDEO: USA postgame news conference: Coach K and Thibs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Davis leads USA over Brazil | Chicago gets first-hand look at new Rose | Noel credits Rondo for recovery assist

No. 1: Davis leads USA over Brazil — The U.S. National Team’s preparation for the FIBA Basketball World Cup ramped up on Saturday, as they played their first exhibition game at the United Center. Brazil’s frontline is one of the best in the world and was a good test for the diminished U.S. roster, but the best big man on the floor was Anthony Davis, who led the U.S. to a 95-78 victory with 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Our Steve Aschburner was there with the story:

The brightest lights were on Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls’ MVP point guard who is starting his second comeback in as many years from season-ending knee surgeries. As frustrated as some Bulls fans had grown with Rose during his extended layoffs – Rose had played only six games on the UC court since April 2012 – the folks who packed the joint Saturday night flexed oohs, aahs and MVP chants that were no more rusty than the hometown kid’s game.

Anthony Davis crashed their little party, though, turning in the most impressive performance of the night. Like Rose, Davis grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Unlike Rose, whose high school (Simeon) is one of the city’s basketball powerhouses, Davis’ Perspectives Charter School didn’t even have its own gym.

But the New Orleans Pelicans’ 21-year-old center made United Center his own against Brazil’s imposing front line, scoring 20 points on 10-for-16 shooting, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking five shots.

Local fans who’ve paid attention to Davis’ career – his single season and NCAA championship at Kentucky, his No. 1 draft selection in 2012 by New Orleans – might have been just as hungry to see him play. Davis missed the game in Chicago as a rookie while recovering from a concussion, then sat out the Pelicans’ visit last season with a broken hand.

So this was Davis’ first game back home since high school and he put on a show.

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No. 2: Chicago gets first-hand look at new Rose — Though the other Chicago native was the star of the game (and is more critical to the USA’s success this summer), it was Derrick Rose that most of the fans were there to see. Chicago was thirsty to see Rose back in action after a nine-month layoff, so much that they chanted for him to come back in the game in the fourth quarter. And though he missed a dunk and scored just seven points, Bulls fans weren’t disappointed with what they saw, as ESPN’s Jon Greenberg writes:

It wasn’t quite the D-Rose Tent Revival at the United Center during Team USA’s 95-78 exhibition win over Brazil, but the man the fans came to see put on a few classic moves to let the hometown crowd know he’s baaaaaaack.

That’s seven a’s, one for each point he scored. It was the best damn seven-point performance Chicago has seen in some time — because Rose was actually back in live game action.

Rose, who got a small cut above his eye in the first half, was pleased with his night and explained that his mission was “playing hard on defense, taking shots when I have the shots and letting the game come to me.”

It was all part of “a process,” Rose said, as he primes for the FIBA World Cup next month and (knock on wood) another return season for the Chicago Bulls.

He did all those things: play defense, push the ball, shoot when he had a good look. But I can speak for everyone in attendance when I write it was just good to see Rose play basketball in person again. He can have rust, lint, asbestos, whatever. But he played basketball in Chicago, and the normalcy of it — Rose fitting in — was welcomed.

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No. 3: Noel credits Rondo for recovery assist — In an extensive Q & A with James Herbert of CBS Sports, Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel gave credit to an Atlantic Division opponent for helping him recover:

Is it important to you now that you’ve been through it to talk to other guys if they go down with that same injury?

Oh yeah, yeah. Definitely, definitely. With all the support and love, certain guys, especially Rajon Rondo — he was definitely the biggest helper through this whole process, he actually gave me his phone number and told me I could hit him up whenever about it. Being from Boston, watching him growing up, and he went through it and he came back as strong as possible, actually before me, so it gave me a lot of confidence, having his good faith.

Is that kind of crazy, being a Celtics fan growing up, to get to know him on a personal level?

Yeah, definitely. That’s definitely what made it even more of a thrill. Being able to interact with Rondo and get good advice from him, ’cause he’s more of a veteran point guard now in this league, gone through so much with the Big 3, he’s a world champion, he’s a player who’s very mature in this league now. So definitely, it was crazy. I took a lot from him.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brazil’s Leandro Barbosa, who’s a free agent and still just 31 years old after 11 years in the league, will use the World Cup as an audition for NBA teams … France’s Nando de Colo, who signed with CSKA Moscow this summer, broke his hand and is out of the World Cup … If Shawn Marion is willing to sign for the minimum, the Clippers are interested … and the framework for a possible mid-season tournament could be coming into place.

ICYMI of The Night: Derrick Rose thrilled the United Center crowd with this drive to the rack:


VIDEO: Slash and score

Summer Dreaming: Rookie of the Year


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown is on for optimistic Noel


VIDEO: Noel discusses his play during Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Nerlens Noel gets an “A” for perseverance and patience and for somehow maintaining optimism throughout the most physically and psychologically challenging 17-month stretch of his young life. NBA schedules have yet to be released, but there’s roughly 100 days until the Philadelphia 76ers open the 2014-15 season and Noel is counting down every last one them.

The 76ers’ 6-foot-11 center (more like 7-foot-3, seriously, with his trademark flat top now elevating ever higher) sat out all of last season to rehabilitate the left knee he damaged late in his one-and-done campaign at Kentucky. The injury dropped him from the consensus No. 1 pick into Philadelphia’s lap at No. 6. He finally made it back on the floor earlier this month, playing three games at the Orlando Summer League, and he wrapped up an encouraging July tour playing two of five games at the Las Vegas Summer League where paint penetrators were quickly put on notice.

Though still months away, visions of how Opening Night will go down dance in his mind on almost a daily basis.

“It’s going to be something special,” Noel, 20, told NBA.com Friday after watching the Sixers’ final game in Vegas. “I know how passionate those fans are so I really can’t wait to step on the floor.”

Game 1 will be a milestone for sure, but the unanswerable question is how Noel will fare through 82 of them. His conditioning will take time and he acknowledged it “wasn’t great” early in Orlando, but built up as the games came and went. Before the start of Summer League, Noel had not played in an actual game since the night of the injury in February 2013.

“It’s been a process the whole time,” Noel said. “I’ve had to really have patience, not being able to play this past year, and finally being able to play and show what I’ve been working on. I didn’t get to show everything, but I’m going to continue working on my body and be able to come back in the regular season and be better.”

The Boston native will split the rest of the offseason between his hometown and Philly, where he’s stayed since the regular season ended in mid-April to continue working with the team’s coaches and training staff. Noel remains a thin, 228-pound pogo stick, still not strong enough to command the low block offensively, though in four of five games he scored in double figures and overall shot 49 percent (24-for-49).

That side of his game remains raw, even as it pokes through with parts of a multi-dimensional attack — including lefty hooks in the lane, a perimeter jumper that he spent countless pregame workouts with coach Brett Brown reconstructing his release, plus a quick first-step dribble-drive from the elbow. Still his offensive capabilities remain miles behind the type of force he delivers on the defensive end.

In his five summer games, Noel swatted 13 shots and altered dozens more. His quickness to elevate in the paint and meet shots at the rim can be astonishing. He’s so long and nimble that he glides almost effortlessly as a help-side defender. The 76ers, who surrendered more baskets from within five feet last season than only the Los Angeles Lakers, should see a major boost in that category next season.

He also showed he’s going to be difficult to deal with on the boards. In four games, he grabbed at least a half-dozen rebounds. Through it all, Noel said his rebuilt and cautiously monitored knee has passed every test with flying colors.

“I have no problems with it all,” said Noel, who has claimed he can actually jump higher now than before the surgery to repair the torn ACL.

It still likely won’t help the Sixers contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It will be months into the season before Noel will team with No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid, who has his own rehabilitation to endure following foot surgery. It’s a frontline pairing in which optimists crow about the possibilities and pessimists fret about durability.

“I talked to him a few times briefly over texts, he’s a great kid, great personality,” Noel said. “I’m really looking forward to getting on the court with him and really starting that relationship we’re going to need if we are going to be one of the best tandems in the future.”

Rookie of the Year point guard Michael Carter-Williams, a former AAU teammate of Noel’s, returns with veteran and consummate pro Thaddeus Young. From there, the roster remains perilously thin in Year 2 of general manager Sam Hinkie‘s ground-up reconstruction. It’s a plan that again came under scrutiny on Draft night when Hinkie selected the injured Embiid and then Dario Saric at No. 12. While Embiid hopes to play at some point next season, the 6-foot-10 Croatian will play in Turkey.

Philadelphia won just 19 game last season and Noel watched helplessly through a 26-game losing skid. But again, the optimism of youth sees past these facts that could be depressing and believes the program is in good hands and pointed in a positive direction.

“We have a great vision,” Noel said. “Me and Mike [Carter-Williams] are very close, we’ve known each other for years now, from high school playing with each other on the AAU circuit. “I think with me, Joel and Mike, that would be a great three-person core, and then it’s adding pieces that we need. I think Sam is going to make it all happen for us. We have a lot of faith in him and I think we’ll be fine.”

At least now the countdown is really on.

MCW feeling good about self, Sixers


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks with the NBA TV crew during Summer League

ORLANDO — It seems there are always questions about Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams in the offseason.

A year ago they were mostly about his struggling play and shaky start at the Orlando Pro Summer League. This year they revolve around his recent shoulder surgery.

“I’m good and I’m still ahead of progress,” Carter-Williams said when he dropped in at in the Amway Center to watch Philly’s youngsters. “I’ve been shooting the ball and I have full range of motion in my shot back, so I’ve just kept working out and do what the doctor has told me to do to get back to 100 percent.

“I really don’t have too many limitations. I really can’t do any heavy lifting right now, so I’ve been doing the simple things like swimming and shooting the ball and dribbling, things that don’t require a lot of weight or me to reach backwards. I’m going to start doing a lot of heavy lifting just to bulk up, once the shoulder gets there.”

Of course, last summer’s question marks turned into a debut NBA season that was an exclamation point as Carter-Williams became only the second Sixer to be named Rookie of the Year. He finished the season as the top rookie in scoring, rebounding and assist average.

He sat on the bench Wednesday watching last year’s fellow first-round Draft pick, Nerlens Noel, continue his comeback from a torn left ACL. All along, Carter-Williams was wishing he could be out on the court, too.

“It’s been tough (just watching),” Carter-Williams said. “I wish I could be out there playing and doing what I love, but I know it’s a process and it’s best for me to chill out a little bit and get healthy.”

His rehab schedule has him working three days a week and even though he will travel with the team the Las Vegas Summer League, Carter-Williams will only take part in practices and not compete in games. The normal recovery time from surgery for a torn labrum is two to four months, which means he should be at full strength and ready to go when training camp begins in late September.

Carter-Williams says he’s ignored rumors that have put his name into trades and didn’t panic when the Sixers chose point guard Elfrid Payton with the No. 10 pick in the Draft before trading him to Orlando a short time later, stressing that he’s kept in constant touch with general manager Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown.

“I’ve been with Sam and Coach this whole time,” he said. “Regardless of the rumors or who said what, we stayed in communication and we’re always on the same page. “I’m happy with what the team did. Sam and Coach still have a plan to be put in and I’m real excited.”

Morning Shootaround — July 6


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge reports the latest free-agent news

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers make move for Melo | Heat meet with Deng | Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call | Novak traded to Jazz

No. 1: Lakers make move for Melo — In the earliest days of free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers seemed to be the odd team out, as free agents and reps for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony met with and considered various franchises, from Chicago to Miami to Houston to Dallas, not to mention the incumbents — the Knicks and the Heat. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the summer with just a handful of players under contract and significant room to maneuver under the luxury tax.

But you can never count the Lake Show out. While many reports had Melo choosing between the Knicks and Bulls, last night Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers are definitely in the picture. After his meeting with Lakers execs, reports are that Carmelo is absolutely considering a move to the coast, to join Kobe Bryant in a west side connection…

The Los Angeles Lakers have ascended into serious contention to sign New York free agent Carmelo Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Lakers moved into strong consideration with the front-running New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls over this weekend, sources told Yahoo Sports.

No one with direct knowledge of the process would declare the Lakers had overtaken New York and Chicago in Anthony’s mind, but one source close to Anthony said of the Lakers, “They’re in the game now.”

The Lakers met with Anthony on Friday, offering him a four-year, $97 million contract. Lakers star Kobe Bryant has been in constant contact with Anthony, and the Lakers could re-sign Pau Gasol to pair with Anthony on the frontline.

This story kicked off when ESPN’s Bill Simmons noted via Twitter…

Of course, Melo signing with the Lakers would mean him leaving over $30 million from the Knicks on the table — as his former team, the Knicks can offer Anthony a larger and longer contract than any other team. There’s also the question of whether a pairing of Anthony and Bryant (with Gasol) in the rough-and-ready Western Conference would give Anthony the best and quickest chance to win.

Whatever happens, after weeks of speculation and simmering, free agency is finally reaching the boiling point. Get your popcorn ready.

***

No. 2: Heat meet with Deng — While several NBA teams are loaded with cap space, the Miami Heat are still a work in progress. While James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all opted out of their contracts and seemed interested in returning, the path forward for the Heat has seemed less clear, both in terms of financials and personnel. With an aging roster and burgeoning payroll, the Heat have to find a way to get their Big Three some help, without breaking the bank.

Yesterday, according to an ESPN report, Heat president Pat Riley took another step forward by meeting with one of the top free agents on the market, Luol Deng

The meeting was described as “preliminary,” according to a source, as Riley attempted to sell Deng on the benefits of joining the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions.

Sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard that Deng will not take a salary significantly below his market value, believed to be above $10 million annually, merely to sign with the Heat.

Deng has several suitors, including Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers, but a source said Riley’s pitch intrigued him.

Adding Deng would give the Heat experience, depth, and help on both ends of the court. It may also be something of a dream — can the Heat actually create enough room to make Deng an offer he can’t refuse?

The task facing Riley and the Heat is anything but easy. But then, the best things very rarely are. Four seasons ago, Riley defied many expectations when he successfully constructed the Big Three. Now he’s got a different kind of difficult task ahead of him.

***

No. 3: Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call — Not long before last season began, the Wizards gave up a first-round pick along with the rights to injured center Emeka Okafor in exchange for Marcin Gortat. While Gortat has always been a solid interior performer, he was going to be a free agent this summer, and the Wizards were gambling they’d be able to convince him to re-sign in D.C. After showing promise during the regular season and making a run into the second round of the playoffs, Gortat felt confident enough in the future of the Wizards to stick around.

In an interview yesterday from Orlando Summer League on NBA TV, Gortat said re-upping with Washington was a simple decision

“A lot of different reasons,” Gortat said, when asked why he elected to stay with the Wizards. “First of all, I like the city. I like the team. I definitely feel comfortable over there. The team really took me under the wing and they help me since the day one. I definitely love the chemistry between me and John Wall. I think Bradley Beal is going to be a great player one day. Coach Randy [Wittman] believes in me, and I have a great relationship with him. So, the decision was real easy for me. I believe that we will be a special team for the next four or five years.”

Gortat was asked about interest from the Miami Heat and bobbed his head side to side, “We had a few teams, but I don’t think it [makes] any sense to talk about that now.”

If they’re planning to get the entire band back together, the Wizards still have to convince Trevor Ariza to re-sign — and as an in-demand swingman, Ariza may take a little more convincing than Gortat.

***

No. 4: Jazz trade for Novak — Sweet-shooting swingman Steve Novak spent the last few seasons knocking down 3-pointers for the Knicks and the Raptors. While out enjoying the 4th of July holiday with his family in his hometown of Milwaukee, Novak found out he would have a new NBA home next season: The Raptors reportedly agreed to move Novak to the Jazz for Diante Garrett, who the Raptors could waive to create salary cap space.

One of the interesting bits of this story is how Novak discovered he was being traded: According to the Desert News, Novak found out via a series of text messages from his Toronto teammate Kyle Lowry

Novak, who was dealt to the Raptors from the Knicks just a year ago after thinking he’d finally found his long-term NBA home in New York, wasn’t expecting that news. He even wrote back to Lowry, “Are you kidding me?”

Traded again? To Utah? On Independence Day?

What!?!

“It was the Fourth of July. I didn’t have any idea that you could get traded on a national holiday,” Novak said, laughing, Saturday evening in a phone interview with the Deseret News. “I didn’t think GMs worked so hard.”

The gift and the curse for Novak is his combination of shooting and size (he is 6-10) simultaneously makes him a hot commodity and a tradeable asset. For his part, Novak seems to be embracing his new home…

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The long wait to see Nerlens Noel in a Sixers uniform may have been worth every second … If the Rockets need to move Jeremy Lin to create cap space, Philadelphia might be an option … You know who’s not happy about players being asked to take pay cuts? Their agents and their union. … Looks like Devin Harris will agree to a three-year extension with the Mavericks …

First Noel finally arrives in summer


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel scores 19 in his Summer League debut

ORLANDO, Fla. – You’d probably figure that after all the work, all the wait, all the anticipation of finally getting back out onto the court to play a game, the first thing Nerlens Noel would want to do is simply pick up the ball and jam it through the hoop.

So it he did.

It was just 20 seconds into his first summer league game, on his first offensive possession when Noel turned and made his first basket for the 76ers a resounding slam dunk.

“Oh yes, definitely,” Noel said. “It helped the jitters. It set the tone for the game. I was confident.”

He was also ready, active and rather effective playing his first real game in almost 1 1/2 years, following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. Noel shot 6-for-11 from the field, scored 19 points and made four steals in just over 26 minutes of an 83-77 loss to the Magic.

“It’s very validating,” Noel said. “It’s been 18 months since I was able to play and it felt great today. I didn’t do as much as I wanted to as far as rebounding and being active defensively. That will come through as I build more stamina, able to be more active and it felt good.

“No mental blocks. It’s been 18 months out. I haven’t been thinking about the knee for a long time. I’m definitely going to continue to work to get it stronger, strong as possible.”

Noel moved smoothly around the court, showed off some slick moves around the basket and was not at all reluctant to get down onto the floor for loose balls.

The 6-foot-11 center was the consensus choice for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft until suffering the knee injury on Feb. 12 of his only season playing college ball at Kentucky. His stock dropped on draft night until Noel was chosen No. 6 by New Orleans and promptly traded to Philly for Jrue Holiday.

“I’m a Philadelphia 76er,” Noel said. “I’m not focused on what happened on draft night. I’m just going forward and gonna continue to grow as a player, person and leader for this team. It motivates me for rehab, but I’m here, I’m a 76er and that’s all I’m focused on.”

Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce, who heads up the summer league team, was impressed with the long-awaited debut by Noel.

“One of the scary things with him is he had a couple of steals in the pick and roll coverage,” Pierce said. “That was one of the things I stressed early in the week: How would Nerlens do in the pick and roll coverage?

“He’s got great hands…We want him to be athletic. But we want him to stay disciplined in the scheme. He’s got great timing as a defender and you saw some of that tonight.”

After waiting so long to finally get a glimpse of a player the Sixers believe will be a foundation for the future, the NBA world also saw an impressive array of offensive moves. He was especially impressive on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. First, he caught the eye of forward Hollis Thompson in transition, took a pass just over mid court and drove through traffic for a nice layup, was fouled and converted the three-point play.

“I’m a little quicker than most big men,” Noel said. “I definitely saw the big man lagging back, so with my first step I was able to get by to my left and and at the end he wasn’t able to wrap me up and I was able to finish the play,” Noel said.

The next time down the floor, Noel scored on a feathery teardrop shot from about eight feet.

“I’ve got a lot of reps on those as well,” he said. “I think that’s gonna be big part of my game as well. I’m just expanding my game.”

That expansion included a perfect 7-for-7 night on free throws, the product of a totally reconstructed shooting stroke. He shot just 52.9 percent from the line at Kentucky and team president Sam Hinkie joked last year that 60 percent would a good goal.

“Yeah, I’m real happy,” Noel said. “But I can’t get too happy. It’s a long road ahead of me and I’ve got to stay focused and keep working to get better and better. It’s no time to celebrate now.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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