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Posts Tagged ‘Nerlens Noel’

Morning shootaround — July 17



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Owner Taylor likes Wolves | Sixers have “big” problems | Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls

No. 1: Owner Taylor likes Wolves— It’s all paper optimism right now, but there are plenty of reasons for the Wolves and their owner, Glen Taylor, to feel excited about the upcoming season. They have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Karl-Anthony Towns, a solid young core and incoming rookie Kris Dunn, the pride of the Vegas summer league. Taylor discussed the state of the Wolves recently with longtime Twin Cities columnist Sid Hartman, who filed this report for the Star-Tribune:

The Wolves didn’t make a splashy move in free agency like the Warriors, but they did make a number of smart moves, signing centers Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill and shooting guard Brandon Rush to low-risk contracts.

Taylor said those moves should help a team that believes its young core already is in place.

“We have some young guys that we see as our potential starting team, but we need players coming off the bench to hold us competitive with the other teams,” Taylor said. “I think both Thibs and Scott are looking at other players that can come in and play competitive minutes.”

While the team has started to take some shape, Taylor wasn’t ready to give his expectations for 2016-17 quite yet.

“A lot of people have asked me that and I just think it’s premature,” he said. “I’d like the coach to get to know his players better, I’d like to have him work with them, I’d like to have him decide who’s going to be on the team, and then that might be the appropriate time to put out expectations.”

One thing Taylor did say is that he doesn’t believe point guard Ricky Rubio will be traded at this point.

“I don’t see that as a likely possibility,” he said about a Rubio trade. “I just think the coach, everybody, likes Ricky. I think we want him to come in and improve on his shooting. But his other things, he plays defense, he gets assists, he helps the others get better. He has some wonderful qualities.

“I think the coach wants to bring an assistant coach to help Ricky on his shooting and I think that’s where we’re going to start out and go and we’ll see how good Kris Dunn is.”

Injured big men

With Aldrich and Hill signing, there have been some rumblings about what that means for both Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic, who struggled with injuries last season and are due combined $20 million next season.

“I know that he was going to get married this summer,” Taylor said of Pekovic. “I know he’s back at home. I know that we’re going to try to get him in here early to make sure he’s in physical shape and look at that foot and make sure it doesn’t reoccur again. But I don’t have any definite information other than that we’d like to have him in here early so the doctors and everybody can work with him.”

Has the team put any timetable on Garnett? “We haven’t,” Taylor said. “I think it’s more up to Kevin, a little bit. The sooner we know it’s helpful to us, but I mean Kevin is an important part of our past and came back last year to help us, and we all know Kevin was having some difficulty with his knees and legs or things like that.

“I think he’s the only one that can tell us if he can play or not play, and I don’t think we have put him under time frame. I mean we still have time on that, and we have some options. We have some options. But I think at the appropriate time when Kevin is ready we’ll have that discussion.”

Increased interest

There’s no doubt that the Wolves have become one of the most talked-about teams in the league because of players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Taylor said that excitement mixed with some moves this offseason should bode well for ticket sales.

“Yes, the season-ticket thing, I think because of bringing in Thibs as a coach and then everybody seeing the improvement we made last year has sparked renewed interest,” he said. “We look forward to a good season sale on tickets this year.”

Taylor has also been able to attract investors, bringing in Linzhang (John) Jiang and Meyer Orbach as minority owners, and while he said he isn’t planning to sell a large stake in the team at this point, that doesn’t mean he won’t listen to interest.

“We don’t have any plans on doing that today, but I wouldn’t want to say yes or no to that because I think if the right person came along and they had the right opportunity and they wanted to come in — like these fellows did on a limited base, and I still run the team and just have them help me — I might do that,” Taylor said.

***

No. 2: Sixers have “big” problems — The revamping of the Sixers has been a long time coming, and suddenly, there’s a level of hope not seen in Philly since Allen Iverson left. The influx of young talent coupled with the on-hand returnees bodes well for a team that has spent the last three seasons in the basement. That said, how are the Sixers going to find time up front with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and now Dario Saric? All four are forwards or center-forward combos. Of course, it sounds funny: Philly has too much intriguing talent. Anyway, the subject was raised and analyzed by Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor at the center position are at least one too many, and the rest of the league knows it. Each player brings a different mix of promise and peril. Which to choose? It is a quandary that, if solved properly, will set the team on the path to true contention. If botched, well, that path will still be lined with good intentions, but it will lead back to the nether world from which the team is slowly emerging.

If it is any consolation, the Sixers have seen worse. I had the great pleasure of covering every game of the Doug Moe era, a 19-37 slog that featured a roster with four centers, collectively referred to by Moe as “28 feet of [expletive].”

You haven’t seen dysfunction until experiencing the frontcourt stylings of Charles Shackleford, Manute Bol, Andrew Lang, and Eddie Lee Wilkins on one team. All four were gone when the following season began, as was Moe, who didn’t survive the previous one.

“He won 19 games with this team, and they fired him?” Wilkins said. “He should be coach of the year.”

That was a different problem for the Sixers, but deciding which of those guys to get rid of was easy: all of them. The current situation is a puzzler because the three centers are very valuable, each in his own way, or at least have potential value that could become enormous over time. Forecasting their futures is the first big test Colangelo faces.

“I think we could be a better basketball team if we could distribute the talent better and maybe take one of those assets and address other needs on the roster,” Colangelo said on SiriusXM NBA Radio while attending the summer league in Las Vegas. “Right now, it’s best to say we like all of them and want to see if we can make the most out of them in terms of their contribution to the team. But at the end of the day, the reality says that one has to go at some point, but only when the deal is right.”

The reality, however, doesn’t say that one has to go before the season begins, or even by the February trade deadline. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he set his sights on rebalancing the roster at the 2017 draft. That could be the wisest course of action, particularly since what the Sixers don’t know about their team is still a lot greater than what they do know.

“We’re top heavy, but we’ve got some good talent there,” Colangelo said, “whether it’s Nerlens, with a certain skill-set in terms of being more of a defensive player. You’ve got Jahlil, more of an offensive player, a lot of post action and now steps outside and hits that 15- to 18-foot shot, and then you’ve got Joel.”

Figuring things out is a process, and while fans might like to see a choice made immediately to start the contending process this season, that would make choosing the wrong piece more likely.

Most of what we know about Okafor and Noel so far is that coach Brett Brown couldn’t figure out a way to play them together because both operate best close to the basket. Now he needs to determine what mixture will work as Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are placed on the court, and as Embiid finally gets into uniform. It could be there will be plenty of offense to go around and Noel is the better fit. It could be that on a team of slashers, the dependable low-post presence of Okafor makes the most sense. And, of course, it could be that Embiid limps off in the first week of the season.

***

No. 3: Fred Holberg is pumped about the Bulls — Take Jimmy Butler and add Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, and what do you have? A very happy head coach. Fred Holberg‘s first season in Chicago was choppy; the Bulls floundered down the stretch and fell flat at the end of the season. Since then, the Bulls parted ways with Derrick Rose while adding another local player to assume his spot in Wade. Rondo comes from the Kings, where he enjoyed a rejuvenated boost to his career, and suddenly the Bulls have three proven players. KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune recently caught up with the coach about Wade, who made it official the other day:

“I’m really excited to get him on board,” Hoiberg said via phone from Las Vegas, where the Bulls played the Wizards in the NBA Summer League quarterfinals Saturday night. “Obviously, he’s a guy with championship experience and gives us another playmaker on the floor. I’ve been watching a lot of film to see how to best utilize the talents of the players on our roster.

“Dwyane is a tough matchup for opposing teams with him and Jimmy (Butler) on the wings and Rajon (Rondo) at the point. A lot of how we attack will be based on matchups and who the defender is and whose hands we’re going to put the ball in to make plays.”

Hoiberg left summer league to attend Monday’s dinner with Wade in Chicago, his first prolonged conversation with the 12-time All-Star. Hoiberg came away impressed, calling him a “rock solid person (with) great people around him.”

Hoiberg’s playing career overlapped with Wade’s for two seasons. In fact, Wade posted a picture on Instagram of himself from one of his two predraft workouts for the Bulls in 2003 at the defunct Berto Center. Now, Hoiberg will be coaching the future Hall of Famer.

“He’s so good at getting in the paint,” Hoiberg said. “He has a great floater and runner. He shot the 3 at a very high rate in the playoffs last year. He gives us another guy who can make plays. That’s huge.

“We have multiple playmakers now, multiple guys who can get in the paint. We do have floor spacing on this team. It will be important to have guys who can knock down shots.”

Hoiberg again referred to the 2003-04 Timberwolves, which he played for and featured Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell and advanced to the Western Conference finals, as an example of a team that can make three strong personalities work. He said he and his staff have been watching film of other teams that feature three players who need shots and touches.

“Great players always figure it out,” Hoiberg said. “It has to be about one thing, and that’s winning. Based on who has the hot hand on any given night, you play through that guy, and the rest of the team plays off him.”

Asked who gets the last shot in a tie game, Hoiberg laughed before answering.

“We’ll see who has it going,” he said.

Wade will turn 35 in January. He played in 74 games last season, his highest regular-season total since 2010-11. Wade averaged a career-low 30.5 minutes and then delivered a turn-back-the-clock postseason performance in which he averaged 21.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 14 games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: More on the death of Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, one of history’s underrated big men … Damian Lillard got skills with a mic in his hand … RC Buford loves him some Tim Duncan, and don’t we all? … Pelicans don’t expect Tyreke Evans will be healed and ready to go when season tips off …

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 241) Featuring Brett Brown

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — There’s no pressure on Brett Brown and Ben Simmons, all they have to do is oversee and inspire a basketball revival in a basketball-loving city.

No pressure. No pressure at all for the head coach and new face of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Well, there’s actually a ton of pressure on Brown and Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in last week’s NBA Draft. But they know that, each of them having signed on for hoops renaissance engineering duties in the City of Brotherly Love. Whatever plan was in place before under Sam Hinkie has changed with the Colangelo‘s (father and boss man Jerry and son and GM Bryan) at the controls now. But make no mistake, there is a plan.

An abundance of young talent (Simmons, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric in particular) has to be molded into a team capable of climbing out of the Eastern Conference basement. And it’s Brown’s responsibility to guide these youngsters through the ups and downs of this process.

Everyone involved knows it’ll be a bumpy ride early on and there’s no guarantee this young core will remain intact long enough to make it to their first training camp together. But there’s a glimmer of hope now that, quite frankly was not there before Simmons became a very real possibility with that No. 1 pick.

We dig deep with Brown on the young man from Down Under charged with leading the hoops renaissance in hoops-mad Philly and much more on Episode 241 of The Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***

Morning shootaround — June 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: ‘Better ingredients’ needed in Game 2 | George plans to give Team USA tryouts ‘a shot’ | Warriors sound off on Dellavedova’s foul | Report: Sixers, Hawks discussing trade

No. 1: LeBron: Cavs need ‘better ingredients’ in Game 2 The Cleveland Cavaliers had a solid chance to win Game 1 of The Finals, what with Golden State’s star guard tandem of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combining for 20 points on 8-for-27 shooting. But Cleveland missed its chance (in large part because of Golden State’s stellar bench play) and is in a 1-0 series hole. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more on the loss and what Cavs star LeBron James expects from his team come Game 2:

“We will have a better game plan going into Game 2 for sure offensively,” James said, commenting on Cleveland’s 17 assists on 32 baskets and describing the so-so as a lack of continuous ball movement. “Sometimes your offense dictates your defense, and the fact that we had 17 turnovers and that led to 25 points is not a good ingredient for our offense for sure.”

But just a short while earlier, at that same podium in the bowels of the defending champs’ arena, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue took a decidedly different tone.

“We didn’t finish around the basket, so we’ve just got to keep playing the same way we were playing,” Lue said. “I thought we were fine. I feel good about how we played.”

The star player is ripping the ingredients and the coach is OK with how the meal was cooked, even if it came out a little raw. If this were last season, we’d be talking about the obvious disconnect between James and David Blatt, about the Cavs’ floor general taking yet another swipe at his beleaguered coach.

This season, in these Finals, with James trusting the cool-under-pressure Lue, we’ll instead chalk this up to just two men choosing different ways to say everything will be better in Game 2. And they would know: Neither James nor Lue has ever won a Finals in which their teams won the first game.

Lue’s 2001 Los Angeles Lakers lost Game 1 to the 76ers before winning the next four (when the Lakers won the 2000 Finals, including Game 1, Lue was not active for any playoff games). Both of James’ titles with the Heat came after losng Game 1.

James, of course, is 2-4 all-time in the Finals, and he’s only won Game 1 once. In all that time, his teams have only gone down 2-0 in the Finals once, and that was when the Spurs swept the Cavs in 2007.

All of that is to say there is reason to suspect Cleveland will indeed have it together come Sunday, perhaps evening the series at one like it did last season.

Obviously, something has to be different when this series resumes in two days, or it’s going to be rather short. The bench scoring and defense, the turnovers, the short shots, the ball movement, sure. But what else?

James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love were all productive if not efficient. James nearly had a triple double with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists; Irving scored 26 and Love contributed 17 points and 13 rebounds. But none of them shot above 50 percent from the floor and they committed 11 turnovers between them.

Whichever changes James seeks, there was no panic either from him or Lue afterwards. Of course there wasn’t. As previously mentioned, they’ve been here before, plenty of times, and it was unrealistic to suspect that the Cavs could win this in a short series.

When it comes to track records, though, the Cavs have one with the Warriors that is troublesome. They’ve now dropped six in a row to Golden State, dating back to last year’s Finals.

“This is the same team who we had down 1-0 last year and they hit us twice,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Obviously last year in The Finals I think we won three in a row and kind of figured that out. And then this year, I mean, well, both games they didn’t even have the same coach that they have now. Not that I’m blaming anything on David Blatt, I don’t know their situation. But there’s been a lot of changes to this team. They’re not even really playing the same style of basketball they were before.

“They’re used to winning,” Green said. “They’re going to battle, they’re going to compete, and they’re super talented. So you can’t come out saying, oh, we beat them six in a row, we’re good. Absolutely not.”

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.

Blogtable: Outlook on 76ers’ future?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: State of Cavs as playoffs near? | Outlook on 76ers’ future? | Your All-Rookie team picks are?



VIDEOBryan Colangelo’s news conference

> The Philadelphia 76ers have turned to Bryan Colangelo to lead the franchise. Good move? And what does a successful 2016-17 season look like to Sixers fans?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Yes. There’s nothing Bryan Colangelo can do to deal with the nepotism charges that will surely come, but he’s established himself over the years as one of the better GMs in the league, and he’ll do a good job with the resources Sam Hinkie is leaving him: Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, Robert Covington and a whole bunch of first-round picks in the ’16 Draft. I have no doubt the 76ers will begin to resemble the Suns of Mike D’Antoni (hey, isn’t that Mike D’Antoni on the Sixers’ bench?) in philosophy if not in personnel, at least just yet. A successful ’16-’17 season would have Embiid getting through the season healthy, Saric coming over from Europe and contributing, a rookie point guard (Kris Dunn Kris Dunn Kris Dunn) who could develop into something special and 25-30 wins.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWonder of wonders, the best guy to take over the Sixers just happens to be related to the big-rep consultant they hired in search of a fix. I’m not big on nepotism, outside of Mom & Pop shops and Mumford & Sons, so maybe I’m a little too skeptical of Bryan Colangelo as turnaround artist. But heck, Philadelphia had to do something. In a league that has gone away from traditional post play, the Sixers have stocked up on big guys and still don’t have the proper trendy perimeter parts around them. Maybe Colangelo can parlay the roster’s assets into a better mix, maybe he has to embark on a rebuilding from the rebuild. Here’s a low bar for 2016-17 success: Try not to lose 60 games for a change. The Sixers have averaged 66 over the past three seasons.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comYes. Taking the baton from his dad, Jerry, Bryan has a solid track record and now he’s been left a cupboard full of very nice assets by the departed Sam Hinkie. A successful 2016-17 season is one where the Sixers get back into the business of actually trying to win and improve. More important than setting a bar at, say, 25 wins is getting Joel Embiid finally in uniform and playing, getting Dario Saric finally in the NBA, Jahlil Okafor growing up and making the most of their lottery pick in June, then convincing some veteran talent to take some of that huge money available under the salary cap join the cause.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Yes, good move. Bryan has the credentials to get past the claim that his hire was a nepotism pick because his father had a big role in the decision. I’m not guaranteeing a successful run as a GM, but I will guarantee he has credibility, is positioned to be successful and would eventually have been hired somewhere if not Philadelphia. There is no single definition of forward progress for Sixers fans. Getting to the mid-20s in the wins would be a good step based on what we know now, but I’ll hold off on that number until we have a better idea of the roster. For now, successful looks like a good outcome on the Okafor-Noel decision, Embiid finally getting healthy, adding at least one experienced contributor and encouraging signs from the 2016 lottery pick and Dario Saric as he comes from Europe.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Good move getting Colangelo, if only because he was the best among the unemployed. He’s a two-time Executive of the Year choice, so clearly he knows the turf, brings contacts and has had success. He’ll also reap the benefits of Sam Hinkie‘s pain, fair or not, provided he doesn’t screw up all the assets Hinkie left behind. A successful 2016-17 has a mature and improved Okafor, and a veteran addition who’s still in his productive prime, and a tight Rookie of the Year fight between Joel Embiid and whomever the Sixers take with their 2016 first-rounder.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com Time will tell. Colangelo has an eye for talent and put together the core that has set the Raptors’ franchise record for wins each of the last three years. But his ratio of good moves vs. bad moves isn’t necessarily better than that of Sam Hinkie, who was pushed aside because it took too long for his plan to come to fruition. A successful ’16-17 for Philly would include a young core that looks more like a team. The pieces need to start fitting together (there needs to be a playmaker or two to complement the frontcourt talent) and we need to see progress from Joel Embiid (he needs to play), Jahlil Okafor (he needs to defend) and Dario Saric (he needs to orient himself to the NBA).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Good move and potentially more than that, if Colangelo is able to craft a roster similar to the ones he put together in his previous stops. Success next season for the Sixers would include some tangible player development in youngsters like Nerlens Noel and Kahlil Okhafor and an actual Joel Embiid (in uniform and on the active roster) sighting. And, of course, whoever they use all of these assets on in the Draft showing up and making an immediate impact. The bar isn’t terribly high for Colangelo in his first season at the helm. No one’s asking for miracles. Just make the Sixers respectable and that’s more than enough for the first year.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s a fascinating switch. Hinkie was almost idealistic in his longterm approach; Colangelo lives in the here and now. If he has money to spend (or an extra big man to trade) and a good player is available, then the deal is going to be made. Success will hinge entirely upon the health of Joel Embiid: If he is healthy and dynamic, then we are going to be talking about the rebirth of the center position between him, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond. Because Embiid has the talent to change the outlook in Philadelphia – as Hinkie himself imagined.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I mean, I don’t think it’s a bad move. I understand that the plan was to bottom out and then rebuild, but they started from the bottom and they are still there. From afar, it would seem that Hinkie was pretty good at the obtaining assets part of his job, and perhaps wasn’t as good at the talent evaluation part of the job. He leaves the Sixers with a ton of draft picks and, basically, nothing but upside. Which is a nice place for Bryan Colangelo to suddenly find himself. I don’t know if Hinkie was planning on starting the rebuilding process in earnest just yet, but The Process is out the window. I think at this point, any measure of progress beats process.

Analytics Art: LaVine, Turner, Noel among best shooters of week


VIDEO: Zach LaVine finishes with authority vs. the Cavs

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

The announcement of 2016 NBA All-Star reserves stole most headlines Thursday, but participants for this year’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge were named a day before that. Two players in particular showcased their offensive skill in the week leading up to the release of those rosters.

Interactive data visualization site PointAfter will help illustrate the most efficient shooting performances of the last seven days from each position group (guard, wing, forward/center), which have a youthful flavor to them this week.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 22-28.

Best Guard: Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves

LaVine’s shooting stroke was icier than Winter Storm Jonas for most of January, as he reached double-digit scoring in just three of his first 12 games. After setting a Timberwolves record with 35 bench points on 14-of-17 shooting against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, it’s fair to assume the cold spell is over.

LaVine made all nine two-point attempts against the Thunder and sunk 5-of-8 shots from 3-point range to keep Minnesota close in an eventual 126-123 defeat. LaVine’s 82 percent shooting that night was the best by a Timberwolf since Kevin Garnett in 2006.

That followed a solid showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, when LaVine scored 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting and had six assists.

Two impressive performances against top-tier teams, getting mentioned in the same breath as a franchise icon, and making the cut for Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge? That’s a solid week for a 20-year-old backup guard.

Best Wing: Evan Turner, Boston Celtics

Miami Heat rookie Justise Winslow technically owns the second-best field goal percentage (63.2 percent) among wing players over the past seven days. But it would be a stretch to label Winslow the best shooter at his position with just one double-digit scoring performance to his name this month.

Instead, we’ll bestow that title upon Evan Turner, who isn’t exactly a slam-dunk choice himself. Even though he clanked his only two 3-point attempts of the week, Turner’s efficiency inside the arc was too much to ignore.

Note: You can hover over a shooting zone to see Turner’s percentages compared to the league average.

Turner averaged 13.3 points in Boston’s four games this week, all victories, and performed like a maestro from mid-range. The 27-year-old converted 22 of 38 shots overall (57.9 percent).
If you take issue with a guy who hasn’t even made 15 percent of his 3-pointers being classified as “shooter of the week,” realize Turner was agonizingly close to registering a ridiculous buzzer-beater as his first successful trey since Jan. 12.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

If Turner had just moved that foot back a couple inches, the monkey would have been off his back. At least he’s a good sport about it.

Best Forward/Center: Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers have won three of their last six games and produced one of the league’s hottest shooters for the second straight week. After point guard Isaiah Canaan carried the torch for Philadelphia last week, this time it’s Noel, who has matured into an efficient scorer this season.

Noel ended November with a dreadful 40.8 percent shooting percentage. He’s now in the top 10 of the field goal percentage leaderboard (52.7 percent) and is shooting 62.6 percent in January. That’d be good for second in the NBA if he maintained throughout the season.

 

The 21-year-old had to leave Philly’s Jan. 20 clash against Orlando with migraine symptoms, but he recovered shoot 20-for-27 in three games this week. That includes one savage posterization of newly crowned All-Star Andre Drummond on Wednesday night.

The absence of rookie Jahlil Okafor, who sat out two games this week with the flu, probably contributed to Noel’s improved play this week since he had more room to operate in the post. But he’s proven over the last couple months that he can be a valuable piece for the 76ers with or without Okafor on the floor.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic out at least 3 games, perhaps longer | Colangelo: Sixers could be better ‘sooner rather than later’ | Vitti wants to rest Kobe 1-2 weeks | Mavs’ Matthews miffed over rest day

No. 1: Dragic out three games (and perhaps longer) — Injuries haven’t made as much of a mess of the Miami Heat roster as it did a season ago. To date, the team’s most-used lineup of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside has logged a team-high 332 minutes together. Last season, that crew played didn’t play a single minute together. However, that continuity was disrupted last night as Dragic missed Miami’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers. He was sent home from the team’s road trip due to a calf injury and things may be a little bleak in terms of his injury. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:

Amid a stretch when he had been playing his best ball of the season, guard Goran Dragic has been lost to the Miami Heat for at least three games and possibly longer.

Coach Erik Spoelstra announced after Wednesday morning’s shootaround at Santa Monica High School that his starting point guard was being sent back to South Florida due to a strained left calf sustained in Monday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.

Spoelstra termed the injury “a slight calf strain” and added, “it’s not a tear.”

Dragic, however, said a doctor in Los Angeles termed it “a bad strain” and Dragic he is anxious for the results of an MRI scheduled for his Thursday return to Miami.

“We don’t know yet for sure,” Dragic said. “We’ll see when I’m going to have the MRI and we’re going to know a little bit more. We don’t know. We cannot do the timetable.”

“I mean, it’s a frustrating, of course,” he said. “I want to be here with the team. It’s part of the game. Now the only thing I can do is do my part of the job, and try to get healthy as fast as possible.”

“I don’t know which move it happened,” Dragic said. “It started hurting.”

Spoelstra said the team’s training staff has narrowed the injury down to Monday’s second half.

“We looked a couple of different plays that happened last game,” Spoelstra said, “but it could have been on either one of them in the second half, one of them where he slipped on the baseline, another one where he took off. But it started to tighten up during the game.”

Dragic said treatment began immediately.

“After the game we did some ice. We did tests,” he said. “And just said as soon as we got to L.A. we were going to go and see the doctor for the ultrasound and we did.”

Dragic said it is the first time in his career he has sustained this type of injury.

“We did some treatments with ultrasound and tried to get the swelling out,” he said.

Now the question becomes whether the comfort built with Dragic will be lost, with the Heat to utilize Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih in the interim.

***

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 9




VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Spurs survive close shave | Davis injures back | Brand goal is to teach | Raptors take down Wiz again | Mbah a Moute shines

No. 1: Spurs survive close call against Knicks — Admittedly, the blowout wins the Spurs have been enjoying at home this season are much easier on the nerves. But when Jose Calderon’s last-ditch shot missed and San Antonio survived a nail-biter against the Knicks Friday night, it might have been the kind of game the streaking Spurs needed as they head into the meat of their schedule. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the scoop:

That their latest victory took the full 48 minutes to secure was not lost on Spurs players, who in recent games had grown accustomed to playing fourth quarters with their starters’ feet propped up.

“I think we needed it,” David West said. “I think we figured out some execution stuff, some timing stuff you can only do in a tight game.”

Throughout a stellar start to the season that left them at 32-6 on Friday, keeping pace with the best start in club history, the Spurs have been on the lookout for cracks to fill.

Not everything New York threw the Spurs’ way will prepare them for what is to come.

It will be a while, for instance, before they face another 7-foot-3 Latvian who can shoot the 3-pointer.

Rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, all of 20 years old, scorched the NBA’s top-rated defense for 28 points and 11 rebounds. Porzingis was a thorn in the Spurs’ side on the offensive end, and an easy mark on defense. Aldridge got a batch of his points posting up the slender Porzingis.

The Spurs scored 60 points in the paint Friday, and Popovich thought they could have gotten more.

“It’s a strength that we have,” Popovich said. “And we’re getting better and better at recognizing it.” The Spurs did a better job against Anthony.

Tag-teamed by Leonard and Danny Green, Anthony started 2 for 12. The eight-time All-Star eventually found his way to 20 points and 12 boards, thanks to 10 trips to the foul line, but nothing came easy.

“I think they did a good job,” Popovich said of Green and Leonard. “As good as can be expected against a Hall of Fame player.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans lose A.D. to back injury — Another day, another injury for the Pelicans in what has rapidly become a painful and star-crossed season. Star forward Anthony Davis crashed into the seats while chasing a loose ball early in Friday’s loss to the Pacers and suffered a lower back contusion. He was unable to return to the game and according to John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Pelicans are still waiting on an update on Davis’s availability:

Davis initially returned to the game, but shortly afterwards Alvin Gentry was forced to call a 20-second timeout to get Davis out of the game. Davis headed to the locker room for treatment and did not return. He was not made available after the game and his status for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers has not been determined but an update may be issued by the team after Saturday’s practice.
But X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.

”I don’t know anything yet,” Gentry said after Friday’s game. ”He was telling me that he had back pains when he left the court. So I’m sure we’ll find out later on.”

Davis has missed three games this season due to injury, which included a right hip contusion injury and sore right left shoulder.

***

No. 3: Teaching is the thing for Elton Brand — If 36-year-old Elton Brand drops in a basket or two and chases down a rebound for the 76ers, that’s all just gravy. The veteran forward came out of retirement to join the team this week with one task in mind, says Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That’s to show the ropes to Jahlil Okafor and the other young members of the Sixers’ roster:

“He’s here to guide the young guys and anything else is a bonus,” coach Brett Brown said. “I see him at practice pulling Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil aside and showing them some of [Atlanta forward Paul] Millsap’s tricks, how he scored on him in practice, how can that not just be priceless?”

Brand has put a price on it, and it isn’t monetary. It’s about giving back to the game, about acquiescing to pleas from his college coach and his agent and, maybe a little bit, to the idea that he can get back on the court again for a few minutes at a stretch and show a little something one more time.

“Before practice yesterday, I dropped my son off at school at 8 a.m. I got to practice early, did some cardio, shot with the coaches, lifted, then had a whole long practice,” Brand said. “I ate lunch with the team, shot free throws afterward, and still picked up my son. I was home by 5 o’clock.”

It sounds so reasonable, and perhaps Brand can pull off this balancing act. If it doesn’t work, the season will be over in three months and he can look everyone in the eye and say he tried.

***

No. 4: Raptors keep getting back at Wizards — If you think players have short memories and easily forget things that happened last season, think again. That four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards last spring was a shocking eye opener to the Raptors. Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star says that miserable experience still motivated DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in Friday night’s win:

DeMar DeRozan didn’t blink before the words were out of his mouth.
“We got swept last year,” the Toronto Raptors shooting guard said, after he’d hung a season-high 35 points on the Washington Wizards, the offensive backbone in a defensively-sound 97-88 win. DeRozan’s previous season high was 34 and one of those games came against the Wizards too.

Last year’s playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards is old news by now, hammered home by 2016’s arrival. But being on the Verizon Center court, hearing a crowd of 17,064 cheering the Wizards on and seeing those painfully familiar red, white and blue jerseys, brings the burn of failure back to DeRozan, at least for one night.

“I was here for the playoffs, and that was a bad feeling to get swept,” he said. “Coming back here just playing against them (gives) the same reminder of what happened.”

The Raptors (now 23-15) know that avenging that loss can’t happen until the playoffs, whoever their opponent would be. Friday’s win was a testament to how different these Raptors look now, getting back to their defensive roots after two embarrassing losses earlier this week to the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

***

No. 5: Mbah a Moute helps Clippers thriveChris Paul has stepped up his All-Star level game. DeAndre Jordan has shouldered more of the burden. J.J. Reddick, Paul Pierce and others have made big shots. But a big part of the secret to the Clippers’ success in the absence of the injured Blake Griffin has been the below the radar efforts of Luc Mbah a Moute, says Dan Woike of the Orange Country Register:

“Luc is the most under-appreciated person on our team, in all honesty,” Paul said Friday. “We used to talk about DJ all the time, but everyone sees what DJ does on a nightly basis.

“But Luc is the guy. He does everything. He defends. He cuts. He does everything a coach would appreciate but a fan has no idea that he’s doing.”

And, technically, until Thursday his contract wasn’t fully guaranteed for the season.

Ultimately, the decision to keep him wasn’t much of a decision at all.

The Clippers lucked into Mbah a Moute last summer after the Sacramento Kings voided his free-agent deal due to a failed physical – the results of which have been disputed.

Looking for a landing spot, the former UCLA star ended up with the Clippers right before training camp, competing with veteran big man Chuck Hayes for the final roster spot.

Last season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers chose Jared Cunningham over Joe Ingles for the Clippers’ final roster spot. Cunningham was traded to Philadelphia in early January and was waived. Ingles, who was claimed by the Utah Jazz, ended up starting 32 games at small forward, a position where the Clippers could’ve used him.

This season, clearly, Rivers chose right.

Hayes hasn’t played this season, and Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ starting small forward.

Since inserting him into the starting lineup, the Clippers are 15-5 – the third-best record in the NBA. They have the fifth-best offense in the NBA during that stretch and the sixth-best defense.

“What I love about Luc also is Luc can play a lot of minutes in a game or he can play very little minutes in a game, there’s still no body language change or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He understands there are nights we need offensive guys on the floor, we need floor-spacers. There are nights where we need a stop, and Luc does it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry is now wearing soccer style shin guards to keep playing through his injury…One front row fan in Minneapolis got a little too up close and personal with Timofey Mozgov…Lamar Odom has been moved out of hospital as rehabilitation continues…Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ruling out a return to Phoenix to conclude his NBA career…LeBron James wants to see J.R. Smith the All-Star Weekend 3-point Shootout.

Morning shootaround — October 17




VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s preseason games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Embiid’s attitude a problem? | How Monroe chose Milwaukee | Harden to remain Rocket | Carmelo in a good place | Kobe, Lakers playing it safe
No. 1: Embiid’s attitude could be hampering recovery — The start to Joel Embiid’s NBA career has been a long, painful, well-documented tale of frustration that now extends into a second season on the sidelines. According to Brian Geltzeiler of SI.com, in addition the bones in his feet, Embiid’s attitude has gotten in the way of the rehab and recovery process and caused friction inside the Sixers organization:

The friction may come to a head, though, over Hinkie’s decision to select Kansas center Joel Embiid at No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft. Embiid was considered to have can’t-miss talent and upside, but was red-flagged by multiple teams that season because of back and foot issues that surfaced during and after his only, injured-shortened season as a Jayhawk.

Embiid was selected with the hope that he would follow the same pattern as (Nerlens) Noel, who was coming off an ACL tear when he was picked in 2013, and missed his rookie season (which helped the Sixers be bad enough again to land the Embiid pick). Noel was excellent as a rookie in 2014–15, especially as the anchor of a surprisingly decent Philadelphia defense. Hinkie certainly was aware of Embiid’s physical issues when he took a calculated risk to select him, but it’s unclear whether he understood the depth of Embiid’s attitude concerns, which have only worsened as a pro.

The fact that (coach Brett) Brown sent Embiid home from a West Coast road trip last season for being insubordinate to the team’s strength coach and training staff is well documented, but according to a source, the tipping point in the decision was Embiid physically threatening the strength coach on that road trip. According to sources, this followed a pattern of insubordination from Embiid during the rehabilitation of his initial foot injury that sidelined him for the entire 2014–15 season, where he would repeatedly refuse to answer questions from the training staff about his workouts and therapy sessions.

Embiid’s lax approach to his rehab and the circumstances surrounding the second foot surgery he needed this past summer — which appears like it will cost him the entire 2015–16 season — has caused the organization much anxiety. The simple task of getting Embiid to consistently wear his walking boot was a challenge for the franchise, and multiple sources suggested that some people in Philadelphia’s front office wonder whether a second surgery would have been necessary if Embiid had worn the boot as much as he was told to.

***

No. 2: Why Monroe spurned Knicks, Lakers — Sometimes it really isn’t about the highest pile of cash. Sometimes it’s not the allure of Hollywood or the bombast of Broadway that turns a player’s head. Free agent Greg Monroe could have chased the cachet of the glamor teams in Los Angeles or New York over the summer, but wound up choosing the Midwestern charm of Milwaukee. Michael Lee of yahoo.com caught up with the big man for an insightful look at the decision:

I don’t try to make rash decisions. I just try to take everything into account,” Monroe said. “Most people say, ‘Dang, how could you pass up on all that money?’ I come from a family where you always make do with what you have, you work for what you get. And talk about a regular job. What was the qualifying offer? Over $5 million? Everything is relative and people are different, but I know how I was brought up and how I was raised. I was living perfectly fine throughout my whole rookie deal, so that was still a raise.”

Before free agency began, Van Gundy called Monroe and both thanked the other for how they handled an awkward season. Monroe had just grown frustrated with a franchise continually in flux. He played for five different coaches, had to adjust his game when Andre Drummond emerged quicker than expected, when the team added an odd fit in Josh Smith and again, when Van Gundy implemented a more wide-open system in which Monroe wasn’t an ideal component.

Monroe remained so confident in his eventual payday that he finally bought his mother her dream home before entering free agency. For Monroe, it was his way of making good on the pledge made in a card he gave for Mother’s Day after he declared for the draft. “The card read, I gave to him all his life, now it’s his turn to give to me and whatever I want, or whatever I need, I got it,” Norma Monroe said in a phone interview. “It was overwhelming. I stood there, bust out in tears.”

Milwaukee was always a special place for Monroe since it was where he received the Morgan Wootten Award as national player of the year before participating in the McDonald’s All-American game at the Bucks’ home arena in 2008. In his short time since joining the Bucks, Monroe has quickly taken to the city, purchasing an apartment with a view of Lake Michigan. When he sat down to dine at a restaurant recently, a fan thanked him for picking the Bucks.

“I’m not sure what he was thanking me for,” Monroe said with a shrug.

Monroe wasn’t running away from expectations in New York or Los Angeles; he was lunging into the type of scrutiny he long desired. The pressure won’t be solely on him to elevate one of the league’s rising young teams, but Monroe won’t deny that some exists. “I always feel like I have to deliver, no matter what. I know they’re hungry, and I’m starving to get to the playoffs,” Monroe said. “But coming here, they’re asking me to do things that I’m already comfortable doing. And a guy like me, I have a lot of pride. So I always have the mindset that I want to be everything they think I am. I want to be worth every penny, however you want to say it. That’s what drives me. This is always a great opportunity in my eyes. I try not to take it for granted.”

***

No. 3: Harden plans to finish with Rockets — It’s difficult to find anything wrong with James Harden’s career these days. First team All-NBA, runner-up in the scoring race and for the MVP award. But just in case anybody had a doubt, the unstoppable scoring machine told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that he plans to finish his career in Houston:

“I’m at a good stage right now,” Harden said. “Everything is flowing. Everything is what I imagined it would be. My family is great. Friends. Everyone is in a good place right now.

“Obviously, my work place is amazing, people I’m surrounded with, that I come to work with every day. I’m in a happy place. Fans here in Houston show me so much love and support. Everything is flowing in a positive way right now. I’m all smiles.”

That all begins on the court, where Harden is coming off his best season and said that despite his happiness with how things have gone, is hungry for much more.

“Always,” he said when asked if he is still has the same desire. “I’m the last one on the court. I’m still hungry. I have a long ways to go. I’m just getting started.”

As for where it will all end, Harden did not entertain a thought of changing anything. Comfortable as he is in the spotlight, he showed no signs of a pull from Hollywood for a return to his native Los Angeles. He had little reason to want to want to change.

Signed through the 2017-18 season, when asked if he intends to play the rest of his career in Houston, Harden did not hesitate.

“Definitely,” Harden said. “Definitely it’s going to end here.”

***

No. 4: Anthony’s mind, body appear healed — Despite the injury problems that forced him to shut down the 2014-15 season early and despite the Knicks’ inability to sign a top tier free agent over the summer, Carmelo Anthony’s friends and teammates have been a star and leader in camp who is back in a good place mentally and physically, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

“Carmelo is in a great place,” says one friend. “I think he’s going to have a big year.”

Anthony is the Knicks’ longest- tenured player as well as the club’s most accomplished. He’s also coming off two straight seasons without a playoff berth and understands that if he’s healthy and at the top of his game the Knicks could go from being a 17-win team to a playoff club.

Anthony has publicly acknowledged that the Knicks did not land a top-tier free agent over the summer but knows that team president Phil Jackson did upgrade the roster.

There have been several reports that if the Knicks were to struggle, Anthony may eventually seek a trade. (He has a no-trade clause and would have to approve of any deal.)

But Anthony is a long way off from trying to orchestrate a move out of New York. Instead, he has talked about leading by example and even said he wants coaches to challenge him more.

“I think it’s well documented that when quote-unquote best players and star players allow themselves to be held accountable, it makes it easier for everybody else to fall in line and accept the coaching and teaching that every player needs,” Derek Fisher said.

“I don’t think that’s any different from any other situation and it works the same for us. In terms of the difference in feedback, we came into last year and were very intent on making sure guys had everything they needed from us to try and help them be the best they can be on the floor. That intent hasn’t changed. We’re just trying to be as efficient as possible. Hopefully it will work for Carmelo as well as all of our guys.”

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No. 5: Kobe to sit out —When you’re 37 years old and entering your 20th NBA season, there’s no such thing as being too cautious. So the Lakers aren’t fretting about Kobe Bryant’s lower leg contusion, just being prudent in holding him out of tonight’s game against the defending champion Warriors, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“He came out [Friday] and got some shooting up, but, again, for precautionary reasons there’s no need to have him try to play [Saturday] when we’ve got two more preseason games after that and six days before the start of the regular season.”

(Coach) Byron Scott further framed the decision as precautionary by noting Bryant would stand a better chance to play if Saturday’s were a regular-season game.
“I think if [Saturday] was a regular-season game, there would be a much better chance of him playing, but since it’s not, there’s no need for him to play [Saturday] night.”

Bryant’s status moving forward will depend on how he feels, Scott said. After Saturday’s game, the Lakers have a preseason game Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center and then face the Warriors again on Thursday in Anaheim.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant would like to own the Washington Redskins…There are currently no talks between the two sides in the Cavaliers-Tristan Thompson standoff…Andrew Bogut believes Harrison Barnes will stay with the Warriors…Dirk Nowitzki feels good finally making his preseason debut on Friday night.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you paying attention, Kevin Durant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, they are angry.

So much common ground.

So much time to grow.

It shouldn’t take long.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Warriors will wear special jerseys in the opener … Mike Conley is sticking with the mask for now Serge Ibaka is coming back from an injury too, remember … Dorell Wright wrote a letter to his younger brother and NBA rookie Delon …


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