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Morning Shootaround — Sept. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets | Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number | Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota | Jack ready to lead Nets

No. 1: Lawson ‘excited’ to join Rockets The Houston Rockets advanced to the Western Conference finals last season, and as part of their efforts to strengthen their squad for the coming season, they traded for former Denver point guard Ty Lawson, who had been charged with two driving violations and would seem to benefit from a change of scenery. As Lawson told Fox 26 in Houston, he’s looking forward to playing for Houston coach Kevin McHale and feels he can help push the Rockets to the next level

Guard Ty Lawson, acquired by the Houston Rockets in a trade with the Denver Nuggets in July, is already building a relationship with head coach Kevin McHale.

The two had dinner while Lawson was in Houston last week.

“Kevin McHale, he’s a cool coach,” Lawson said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. “I sat down and had dinner with him, probably like a week ago.

“He just keeps everything real. He’s played before, so he knows what we’re going through. He makes everything straight forward, no grey areas. It was fun. We talked about everything, not just basketball, just life. He even had some stories when he used to play. It was a fun dinner.

“So I’m excited to play for him.”

Lawson believes the trade to the Rockets will be good for his career.

“It’s a huge chance,” Lawson said. “(The Rockets) went to the Western Conference Finals and could have won, but you just needed a couple of extra pieces. So I’m excited to be playing in a situation where I know I have a chance to win.”

Lawson recently completed a 30-day program for alcohol rehabilitation after getting two DUIs in a seven-month span.

Rockets guard James Harden said at his basketball camp last month he spent some time with Lawson in California, and has no concerns about Ty’s off-the-court issues.

“He’s more focused that ever,” Harden told reporters in August.”

Lawson agreed.

“Definitely, I’ve been through a couple of things, going through it,” Lawson said. “He used to hang out with me. He knows the person I am. I feel like he has no worries about me or my game. So I’m just ready.”

Lawson looks forward to playing with Harden, especially because they are close friends and considers the move to Houston as a breath of fresh air.

“Oh yeah for sure,” Lawson said. “I was like before I even came to the team I was talking to James. I was like ‘man get me over there.’ I’ll be that piece to (help) get over the hump. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air.”

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No. 2: Hawks to retire Mutombo’s number During a ceremony yesterday to announce “Dikembe Mutombo Day” in Atlanta, the Hawks surprised their former center by announcing their plans to retire Mutombo’s number 55. As Chris Vivlamore writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mutombo was caught off guard by the announcement, but couldn’t have been happier

Dikembe Mutombo was at a loss for words.

The former center and soon to be Hall of Famer will have his No. 55 retired by the Hawks. The announcement was made by Hawks CEO Steve Koonin during a ceremony in Fulton County Tuesday declaring Sept. 1, 2015 as Dikembe Mutombo Day. The news came as a complete surprise to Mutombo.

Mutomobo’s No. 55 will be raised to the Philips Arena rafters on Nov. 24 during a nationally televised game against the Celtics.

“The most surprising, as you can see from the tears in my eyes, is the announcement that was made (that my jersey will be retired),” Mutombo said. “It’s the most shocking to me. … I didn’t know the Hawks were going to retire my jersey. I can’t believe it. It’s going to be a great day.”

Mutombo played from 1996-2001 as part of an 18-year NBA career. He will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next week.

“When you look at the history of the Hawks and you see a player who made such a positive contribution, who is going to be Hall of Famer and who resides in Atlanta, it was two simple (phone) calls,” Koonin said. “One to (general manager) Wes (Wilcox) and one to Bud (president of basketball operations/head coach Mike Budenholzer) saying what you think? They couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.”

Mutombo will have the fourth jersey number retired by the franchise joining No. 9 of Bob Pettit, No. 21 of Dominique Wilkins and No. 23 of Lou Hudson.

Mutombo was an eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year during his NBA tenure. He is the league’s second leading shot blocker and is 19th in rebounds. He was a two-time winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award by the league for his many humanitarian efforts.

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No. 3: Rubio hopes to stay in Minnesota — At four seasons in and at 24 years old, Ricky Rubio is still in the early stages of his NBA career. But the NBA rumor mill never stops, and this summer, with the Wolves still rebuilding, Rubio’s name has popped up a few times as a player being targeted by other franchises. While in Dubai at a basketball camp this week, Rubio spoke to Gulf News and said if it’s up to him, he plans to stick around in Minnesota

But Rubio, in Dubai to add star power to the BasicBall Academy summer camps at the Dubai World Trade Centre, denied he was about to move to the Big Apple or anywhere else.

He told Gulf News he believes he will stay with his first and so far only NBA team.

“I have confidence that the team wants me but you know in this league anybody can get traded,” said the flashy playmaker. “You don’t listen to the rumours. You just live day-by-day and that’s it.”

When asked if he wanted to stay with the long-suffering Timberwolves, Rubio gave a firm: “Yes.”

And why wouldn’t he? It is an exciting time to be a Minnesota Timberwolf — even after a 16-win season in which they failed to make the NBA play-offs for the 11th straight time, the longest streak in the league.

The reasons for optimism include a pair of youngsters for whom the NBA sky is the limit at this stage of their fledgling careers.

Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, 20, is coming off a superb debut campaign, in which he showed in flashes why he was once considered North America’s best high-school prospect since LeBron James. The 6ft 8in Canadian displayed the skill and athleticism to suggest he could soon become one of the league’s best wing defenders, as well as one of its most versatile scorers.

Next season, Wiggins will be joined by skilled seven-footer Karl-Anthony Towns, the first pick in July’s NBA Draft and a potential future star.

And Rubio, himself still only 24, said he can’t wait to take the court with the emerging duo.

“They have a lot of talent,” said the 6ft 4in guard. “I have a little bit more experience than them that I can share. I really can teach them what I learned. They have a great future and I can help them achieve their goals.

“I like to have athletic players next to me, the way I play. It suits my game.

“[Wiggins] can be as good as he wants. He has a lot of talent. What surprised me about last season is the quickness of how he adapted to the league. He was fearless about the big stage, to play against LeBron James and the bigger names. There are a lot of ways he can score. It is hard to stop him. If you stop one of the ways he scores, he can score in other ways.

“I have seen [Towns] working out this summer in Minnesota. I can tell he is a great player and not just like a big centre, he can really shoot the ball, he can play in the pick-and-pop and he is really going to surprise some people.

“We have a lot of young talent with a big future but we have got to start doing it because it has been a building process for the last couple of years. We have to start putting it on paper and start winning games.”

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No. 4: Jack ready to lead Nets The NBA is a point guard-heavy league right now, which means if you don’t have an elite point guard, you’re going to, at the very least, struggle night after night against some of the league’s top talent. This summer, the Brooklyn Nets bought out former All-Star point guard Deron Williams, and next season will hand over the reins to… Jarrett Jack? Jack certainly believes he’s the man for the job, as he explained to the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps

Though Jack is more than confident he will be able to prove his detractors wrong, he’s also aware that no matter what he says now, those questions won’t be answered until the regular season begins.

“It does [motivate me], but it’s not like I’ve got the article pinned up on my wall,” Jack said Tuesday after an appearance at a Nets basketball camp in Southampton. “But my thing is that all you can do is show and prove … wait for the opportunities and then take advantage of it, and just help your team win. That’s the only way you’re going to get people to realize it.

“When the season comes and I have my opportunities to go out there and show them that I believe different … that’s the response. You don’t have to respond to it, because your play is going to be the response to whatever they think.”

For a Nets team that will enter this season full of questions, the one surrounding its point-guard play — and whether the trio of floor generals it has assembled will be good enough to get it back into the playoffs — is as important as any outside of the health of Brook Lopez.

There were few tears shed when Deron Williams was bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer, allowing him to return home to Dallas. Though Williams’ personality won’t be missed, he was productive last season, averaging 13.0 points, 6.6 assists and shooting 36.7 percent from 3-point range.

Jack, on the other hand, had the worst plus-minus of any player on an NBA playoff team, with the Nets being outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions when he played, compared to outscoring their opponents by three points per 100 possessions when he sat.

“You never want that attached to your name,” Jack said. “It’s something I have to improve on. … Hopefully this year I can reverse it.”

The Nets are banking on it, as well as the fact that Jack, who went to Las Vegas last month with Joe Johnson to organize a team workout while the Nets were playing there during the NBA’s annual summer league — will help lead a group that will have better chemistry and cohesion this season with the lingering questions about Williams now behind them.

Jack simply sees it as an opportunity to prove he’s a full-time starter in the NBA, something he hasn’t done since starting 39 of 45 games for New Orleans in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

“I’m definitely excited,” Jack said. “I’m super excited for training camp to get here, and these daily tests I’m going to have to show people what I can do.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Eric Bledsoe says the Suns want a playoff berth, and they’re “not trying to get the last spot, either” … Carmelo Anthony has partnered with Vice media to launch his own sports channel … The Pennsylvania community he called home came out to remember Darryl Dawkins yesterday

Morning shootaround — Aug. 19


VIDEO: What’s the latest happening around the NBA?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Knicks, Heat, Cavs pursuing Crawford | Shaq picks MJ over James | Report: Rockets to re-sign Terry

No. 1: Report: Knicks, Heat, Cavs in pursuit of Crawford — Few players can get as hot off the bench scoring-wise in the NBA like Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. That attribute makes him someone who is always in demand and that’s true this summer, too. Although he’s still under contract with the Clippers, the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat are all interested in trading for him. The New York Daily NewsFrank Isola has more:

The Knicks have expressed interest in acquiring Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, according to a source.

The Knicks would use the trade exception that they obtained from Cleveland in last year’s J.R. Smith trade. But in order for the Knicks to complete the deal with the Clippers, they would have to get creative and would likely have to include a third team. Coincidentally, the Cavs are also pursuing a deal for Crawford, the 34-year-old former Sixth Man of the Year. Miami is another team that is also interested in Crawford.

Smith, 29, opted out of the final year of his contract and remains unsigned. Crawford becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016.

Crawford signed a free-agent deal with the Knicks 11 years ago and was one of then-President Isiah Thomas’ first signature moves. Crawford, who played his first four seasons with the Bulls, was traded in November of 2008 to Golden State by Donnie Walsh as the Knicks began clearing cap space.

Crawford has maintained close ties with several high-ranking officials in the organization, including Garden chairman James Dolan and Thomas, who currently runs the Liberty.

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No. 2: Shaq takes Jordan over LeBron … but neither is his No. 1 all-time — Shaquille O’Neal got a bit of a discussion started on the Internet earlier this summer when he said an all-time Lakers team would top an all-time Bulls team. Those statements irked ex-Bulls star Scottie Pippen and, later on, Michael Jordan chimed in on the topic, too. O’Neal was recently in Hong Kong to promote an energy drink and the question of whether he’d take Jordan or LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 emerged. Shaq didn’t hold back on his pick, either, reports Agence France Presse:

Shaquille O’Neal weighed into basketball’s great debate on Tuesday when he backed a young Michael Jordan to beat LeBron James one-on-one — but added that both were outshone by the legendary Dr. J.

O’Neal, visiting Hong Kong to promote an energy drink, faced both Jordan and James in their prime and when asked who would win a hypothetical match-up, he didn’t hesitate.

“Mike,” said O’Neal, winner of four NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-2002) and the Miami Heat (2006). “I think you have to go with a young Jordan every time.

“It would be an interesting game,” said O’Neal. “Young LeBron was more like (Lakers Hall of Famer) Magic Johnson. He was sort of like Magic with Jordan’s abilities. He liked to pass, and he liked to get it up.

“But Mike was Mike. He was just special, like no one else. He always did things no one else could do, and things you couldn’t compare to anyone else. So he was special, and he’d win.”

There has also been much debate over whether he, or the now-retired Jordan -– with six NBA titles and five NBA MVPs to his name –- could be labelled the greatest of all time.

But O’Neal threw another player into the mix when he said 1970s and 1980s superstar Julius Erving AKA Dr. J was the best he had ever seen.

“I’ve seen young Mike and young LeBron and I must say Dr. J is still my favourite player,” said O’Neal. “A lot of people today don’t even mention his name but to me I still think he was the best. But these are questions that we’ll never know the answer to.

“It’s a bit like if I met Bruce Lee in an alleyway. Who would win? You’ll never know. Some people say well Bruce would kick Shaq’s ass. Some people say well Shaq is two times bigger than Bruce Lee. It’s a good question, a good conversation. But we’ll never know.”


VIDEO: Open Court debates the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate

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No. 3: Report: Terry returning to Rockets — Combo guard Jason Terry has logged 16 NBA seasons and spent nine of those seasons with a team in Texas (eight with Dallas, one with Houston). For season No. 17, he’ll be staying in the Lone Star State. According to Shams Charania of RealGM.com, Terry will return to the Rockets for the 2015-16 season:

Jason Terry has agreed to re-sign with the Houston Rockets on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, league sources tell RealGM.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz also had strong dialogue to sign Terry with his agent, Byron Irvin. Ultimately, the opportunity to win and cohesive recruitment from Rockets players and coaches pushed Terry to return. Terry has played an immense role in the Rockets’ locker room, becoming an integral role player in the 2015 postseason alongside James Harden in the backcourt.

Terry averaged 21.3 minutes per game in 77 appearances last season with the Rockets and started all 17 playoff games. The Rockets acquired Terry during the 2014 offseason from the Sacramento Kings.

Terry turns 38 in September and is entering his 17th NBA season.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid had bone graft surgery on his right foot and will miss all of 2015-16 … The Atlanta Hawks have signed veteran high-flyer Jason Richardson … ICYMI, Australia has locked up a 2016 Olympics berth … New Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone genuinely wishes Ty Lawson well in HoustonEric Gordon will be taking part in the New Orleans Pelicans’ voluntary workouts

Morning shootaround — Aug. 18


VIDEO: NBA rookies reveal their favorite animal

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins not buying latest trade chatter | Jackson’s top concern about Porzingis | Report: Cavs signing Kaun ‘a matter of time’

No. 1: Cousins, Kings not buying latest trade chatter — Word that the Sacramento Kings want to trade star big man DeMarcus Cousins has been circulating for a few months now. Throw in the (also) often-reported drama between Cousins and coach George Karl and it seems like a deal remains a likely option. BleacherReport.com’s Howard Beck detailed the latest situation with Cousins in a video on that website, which apparently Cousins (and some of the Kings’ brass) saw and responded to. ProBasketballTalk.com’s Kurt Helin has more:

Nobody seems to be as sick of DeMarcus Cousins‘ trade rumors as DeMarcus Cousins.

Those rumors are not going anywhere in the short-term. The latest ones came from Howard Beck in a post at Bleacher Report in a video about guys who start the season on the trade block:

“Sacramento, I think, wants to hold onto him. Certainly the onwer Vivek Ranadive absolutely wants to hold onto DeMarcus Cousins. But I’ve been told if you polled the rest of the organization, the vast majority are in favor of trading DeMarcus Cousins and that would include, though he denies it, coach George Karl.”

Cousins’ reaction to this?

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No. 2: Jackson’s top concern about Porzingis — ESPN.com has been running a periodic series about how Charley Rosen, a former assistant coach under Phil Jackson during their Continental Basketball Association days, spent one day a month with Jackson (who is now the Knicks GM). The most recent one details how Jackson came to the conclusion to draft Kristaps Porzingis two months ago and why he’s a big fan of fellow first-round pick Jerian Grant:

“When we wound up with the fourth pick, I was hemming and hawing about how to choose,” Jackson says. “I knew there were several outstanding prospects that would be available, but I was focused on getting a big man. My decision was essentially made when Clarence Gaines, my primary adviser and a super scout, told me there was a game tape I had to watch. This turned out to be a Spanish League contest between [Baloncesto] Sevilla and a team from Barcelona, a game that Sevilla had to win to avoid being downgraded from Division I to Division II status.”

The main player Gaines was promoting was Kristaps Porzingis, or “KP,” as Jackson says he liked to be called.

“What I saw made up my mind” Jackson says.

“Although the competition in the Spanish League is more physical, more consistent and more advanced than even the best D-I college teams over here, KP more than held his own. He had a long, lively body, a well-developed basketball IQ, a soft shot with terrific range and he didn’t back down from anybody. Plus, he showed an amazing athleticism for somebody his size.”

Primarily powered by the heroics of Porzingis, Sevilla won the game. “The young man certainly stepped up,” says Jackson.

Jackson’s seconding of Gaines’ endorsement was confirmed during a pair of individual workouts, as well as Porzingis’ performance in the Las Vegas Summer League after the Knicks had selected him fourth overall. “He can score,” says Jackson, “but his natural bent is to be a team player. On defense, he can block shots from behind and is quick enough to stay in front of guards in screen-roll situations.”

Jackson projects that Porzingis will add at least 10 pounds of muscle before his first season commences, yet concerns still linger over his prize draft pick. “Like Shawn Bradley, who was nevertheless a pretty good player, KP might almost be too tall for the game. What I mean is that his core strength might never be good enough, and that he might not be able to get low enough to get himself into prime defensive position to body power rebounders or drivers.”

Overall, Jackson feels that Porzingis will inevitably evolve into a star-quality player. But he feels that Jerian Grant, the 22-year-old point guard whom the Knicks obtained via a draft-day trade with the Atlanta Hawks for Tim Hardaway Jr., is more NBA-ready.

“He knows the game and has a certain flair for it,” Jackson says of Grant. “He’s quick, has 3-point range, knows how to pass, can break a defense down with his handle, knows how to get through screens and is comfortable getting people involved on offense.”


VIDEO: Kristaps Porzingis gets off to a solid start in Summer League

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No. 3: Report: Cavs, Kaun pairing ‘a matter of time’ — Center Sasha Kaun was a solid reserve during his days at Kansas University and, eventually, wound up as the No. 56 pick in the 2008 Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. Weeks later, his rights were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers … and he hasn’t been in the U.S. basically since. That’s about to change, though, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group as Kaun could join the Cavs in time for the 2015-16 season:

Veteran Russian center Sasha Kaun embarked on a mini-tour of Cleveland on Monday, league sources informed Northeast Ohio Media Group.

His visit was for the purpose of house hunting, among other things, sources said.

Kaun, 30, and the Cavaliers have yet to reach an agreement. However, “it’s only a matter of time” before a deal is struck, according to a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations. The Cavaliers’ main focus is on locking up a longtime pact with restricted free agent Tristan Thompson.

Kaun is to depart town on Tuesday and it is anticipated that a deal will not be finalized before his exit, I’m told.

Kaun’s scoping out of the city almost certainly ensures he’ll finally make the jump to the NBA after playing seven years professionally for European powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

In Las Vegas, Cavs general manager David Griffin confirmed the team’s interest, saying “we would love to have him if something could be worked out.”

Griffin said then that the 7-foot Kaun, who posted career highs in points (9.9 per game) and rebounds (4.5 per game) in the Euroleague last season, was “somebody who could be rotational for us and if it could work out great.”

Kaun was a member of the 2012 Russian National team coached by the Cavaliers’ David Blatt. He would join Timofey Mozgov, Kevin Love, Thompson and Anderson Varejao as big men on the roster.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Portland Trail Blazers sharp-shooter Dorell Wright will play at least part of next season in China … Free-agent big man and former Los Angeles Clippers reserve Glen “Big Baby” Davis explains that whole Chris PaulDeAndre Jordan rift we heard about … ICYMI, the Chicago Bulls brought back ex-star Toni Kukoc in a front-office role

Morning shootaround — Aug. 12


VIDEO: Steve Smith and Stu Jackson review the first day of Team USA mini-camp

Durant returns for Team USA | Lillard understands why Aldridge left Portland | Anthony a fan of Knicks’ offseason | Report: LeBron may participate in Wednesday’s practice | Markieff Morris wants trade from Suns

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Durant returns for Team USA — Oklahoma City Thunder star and 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant hasn’t played in a basketball game since Feb. 19 when he was shut down for the season as he needed foot surgery. But word circulated yesterday that Durant would take part in some drills as Team USA holds its ini-camp in Las Vegas this week. Durant spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s mini-camp opener and says he’s feeling good and just happy to be playing again, writes our Steve Aschburner

Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s All-Star forward and the NBA’s 2014 Kia Most Valuable Player, had been sidelined by a right foot fracture that required bone-graft surgery. He played his last game of the 2014-15 season on Feb. 19, limping into the sunset with more than a third of OKC’s schedule remaining.

While the Thunder sank in the standings and missed the playoffs, while head coach Scott Brooks got scapegoated and fired, while teammates Russell Westbrook won the scoring title and attracted MVP votes, Durant was left to recuperate, rehab and reflect on the game he loved and missed like never before.

“You remember Christmas as a kid? It’s like that,” Durant told reporters after Team USA’s first session Tuesday.

“I can go 100 percent. I’m not going to play 5-on-5 just yet, but everything else is no restrictions,” he said. “I’ve got to play against some guys to see. But I feel like I’m back to myself.

“I haven’t played since February. So of course, I’m human. I’ll go through a little bit of rust. But I think after two trips down, I’ll be all right.”

“You take it for granted a little bit,” he said of the game to which he’s devoted so many hours. “I missed the routine the most. Getting up, going to practice, getting my shots up before practice, I missed all that part. Hanging out with the guys in the locker room before the game, I think that’s what I missed the most. You can take that type of stuff for granted. I think I did and I learned my lesson.”

OKC trainer Joe Sharpe is one of three NBA trainers working with Team USA. That should reassure Thunder fans that Durant won’t overdo things even in this controlled environment. Besides, the 6-foot-10 forward doesn’t want to go re-setting his own recovery clock.

“It’s a long process, man,” Durant said. “I just tried to stay patient with it. … I have my days where I’m like, ‘Man, it’s not getting any better. I’m sick of working out. I’ve been working out for a year, I’m ready to play.’ … Feels good to stretch my legs a little bit.”

Durant, 26, said that his layoff has been made to feel even longer by the number of strangers or acquaintances who suddenly seemed interested — with him way less than 100 percent — in testing him.

“So many people been trying me though,” he said. “I walk down the street, everybody wants to play me 1-on-1. … The competitive juices are just boiling in my body and I’m just ready to play.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 11


VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at the Rookie Photo Shoot

Report: Durant, Anthony plan to join Team USA workouts | Report: Harden to sign deal with Adidas | Report: Embiid to have surgery on foot soon

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Report: Durant, Anthony plan to join Team USA mini-camp drills — If there’s one thing that has been true about USA Basketball over the last few years, it is that the team is not lacking in talented players on the roster. As the team readies for this week’s mini-camp in Las Vegas, 34 NBA players will be a part of that session and range from young, up-and-comers (like Michael Carter-Williams) to established superstars (like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant). ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Durant and Anthony will not only be in attendance for the mini-camp, but will take part in drills there: 

‎Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are scheduled to make their first substantive on-court comeback steps at Tuesday’s opening day of USA Basketball workouts, according to USAB sources.

Durant told ESPN.com‎ here on Monday night that he intends to join in this week’s Team USA workouts.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Anthony, meanwhile, is likewise planning to jump into the light, noncontact practices scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday on the campus of UNLV.

Durant and Anthony are among the stars who were initially earmarked to report to the three-day minicamp solely to satisfy USAB’s mandatory attendance requirement in Vegas to remain eligible for the 2016 Olympic team. Neither Anthony nor Durant, sources said, will play in Thursday night’s intrasquad game at the Thomas and Mack Center (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2), but the low-intensity nature of what Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has planned for Tuesday and Wednesday, sources said, has been deemed sufficiently safe.

Durant played only 27 games last season because of a fractured foot. The NBA’s 2014 MVP, he was diagnosed with a Jones fracture in October and was ultimately forced to undergo three surgeries last season.

“Kevin has been incredibly disciplined in his return-to-play protocol, and he’s now at the stage where he can participate in noncontact drill work,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti told ESPN.com’s Royce Young. “We are excited he is at the point where he can take part in portions of the minicamp, as he has demonstrated great focus throughout his recovery efforts.”

Anthony, meanwhile, told ESPNNewYork.com in June that his recovery from left knee surgery is ahead of schedule. He underwent the season-ending operation to address a tendon issue shortly after playing in the All-Star Game in mid-February at Madison Square Garden.

 

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 6


VIDEO: Looking back on David Robinson’s epic career

Green sees Popovich staying with Spurs for life | Afflalo says Anthony helped recruit him to Knicks | Gallinari surprised Nuggets gave him extension

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Green doesn’t think Popovich will ever fully leave Spurs — Today is the 50th birthday of ex-San Antonio Spurs legend and Hall of Famer David Robinson. Robinson, of course, won two titles with San Antonio under the coaching of Gregg Popovich, who is the longest-tenured coach in the NBA and has led the Spurs to three more title since Robinson’s retirement. Given San Antonio’s stellar offseason in the free-agent marketplace, current Spurs swingman Danny Green tells Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News that he can’t envision Popovich ever fully cutting ties with the team: 

Still setting goals, Spurs guard Danny Green looks forward to playing for coach Gregg Popovich through the end of the four-year, $40 million Spurs contract he signed after becoming a free agent in July.

Like many Spurs players and fans, Green always had presumed Popovich would depart the Spurs bench as soon as team captain Tim Duncan opted for retirement. But with the signing of free agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and the new, five-year contract for teammate Kawhi Leonard signed in mid-July Green now believes Popovich will stick around past the end of 39-year-old Duncan’s career — whenever that comes.

“Without LaMarcus and Kawhi (Leonard) I think he’s out the door when Timmy leaves,” Green said on Wednesday after an appearance at the Spurs youth camp at George Gervin Academy. “Them being here I think extends his tenure just a little bit longer.

“Pop loves the game, obviously. I don’t see him stepping away fully. Even if he ever did he’d always be in the front office, or around or something. But him, or them — he and (general manager) R.C. (Buford) — bringing in the talent they brought in this past (off) season depending on how long they stay, I think we’ll be successful and LaMarcus will want to stay as long as possible and, hopefully, finish his career here with me, Kawhi and Pop.

“I think that keeps (Pop) here a little longer.”


VIDEO: Danny Green discusses the Spurs’ offseason

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Morning Shootaround — August 2


VIDEO: Team World rallies past Team Africa

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa | Knicks to sign Vujacic | Teague making impact off-court

No. 1: Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa Yesterday’s NBA Africa 2015 exhibition game was a success by any measure, but the game’s signature moment may have come midway through the second quarter when Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo checked into the game. As our Shaun Powell writes, it was a moment that almost didn’t happen

Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, the greatest players Africa ever produced, were asked by league organizers to come out of retirement and make a cameo in the exhibition. Olajuwon is a Hall of Famer and Mutombo will be enshrined next month. They would suit up for Team Africa, a squad of players with African blood, against Team World. Their jerseys, along with one belonging to the late Manute Bol, hung ceremoniously in the rafters above the court inside the arena.

Therefore: A simple and brilliant request, right?

Brilliant, yes. Not so simple.

Mutombo was receptive. Olajuwon said no. Olajuwon is 52, Mutumbo 49. They are fit and trim, but as basketball players, they were finished. It was not going to happen. Organizers pleaded. The answer, up to the day before tipoff, was no from Olajuwon. Truth be told? Both were afraid of being embarrassed on TV, in front of fans who knew them as legends. Neither wanted to play like chumps.

And then: Olajuwon weakened. He brought along his two pre-teenaged boys, who never saw him play, and so he agreed.

When they checked in midway through the second quarter wearing their throwbacks — Rockets for Olajuwon, multi-colored Nuggets for Mutombo — the NBA Africa game had its signature moment, its energy, its second-loudest applause of the day.

The biggest bedlam? That burst arrived when Olajuwon reeled back to 1993, executed the Dream Shake that froze Nik Vucevic, faded and shot a 15-footer that kissed the rim and fell in. Cray-zy. The crowd pounced. Players on both benches jumped.

“I made the move, I made the shot, it went in,” said Olajuwon. “I missed my first shot and was happy to make the next one. And I was really happy to participate.”

After a minute of action, Olajuwon playfully grabbed his chest, Fred Sanford-style. Gregg Popovich, who knows about coaching old players with the Spurs, did the humanitarian thing and allowed Olajuwon to wobble back to the bench and into re-retirement.

As for Mutombo? Didn’t one trademark basketball moment deserve another? As in, a blocked shot and finger wag? Popovich drew up a defensive play that you’ll never see in a Spurs game. He ordered his players to allow guard Trey Burke to reach the rim, where Mutombo awaited. The trap was set but the mouse didn’t cooperate. Burke passed the ball.

“So many of these young players don’t want to see themselves on YouTube,” said Mutombo, “so they run away.”

***

No. 2: Knicks to sign Vujacic The Knicks have made no secret that they’re trying to find players who fit into their “Triangle” offensive system. So who better to add to their roster than former two-time champ Sasha Vujacic, who played for Phil Jackson‘s Lakers? As Ian Begley writes, signing Vujacic should help the Knicks stretch opposing defenses

Vujacic played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2004 to 2011. He spent five of those seasons playing under Knicks president and then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and four playing alongside Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played point guard for the Lakers.

Vujacic, 31, has played overseas for much of the past four seasons. His lone NBA stint during that stretch was in 2013-14, when he played 10 minutes over two games for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Assuming he makes the regular-season roster, Vujacic could give the Knicks a needed threat from the perimeter.

He is a career 37.1 percent 3-point shooter in the NBA. Vujacic is also familiar with the Knicks’ triangle offense thanks to his time in Los Angeles. So he could help the Knicks’ younger players adapt to the system.

The 6-foot-7 Vujacic is the latest player coached by Jackson to sign a deal with the Knicks. New York has also signed former Lakers Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and DJ Mbenga — but none of those players had long stints with the team.

With Vujacic on board, the Knicks have 12 players signed to guaranteed contracts. Counting Langston Galloway, who has a partially guaranteed deal but is expected to make the regular-season roster, they have two open spots.

***

No. 3: Teague making impact off-court Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague took a visit last summer to Atlanta’s Hughes Spalding Children’s Hopsital, and ended up raising thousands of dollars for the hospital throughout the season. Teague has continued the partnership, and as Chris Vivlamore writes, Teague says the association has grown into something “beautiful”…

The Hawks guard felt compelled to donate $20 for each assist he had the previous season, a sum of $11,260. He felt he could do more. Teague and the hospital set up a program where he would match the figure again this year and challenge others to do the same. Those who matched his $20 per assist total would be All-Star sponsors. Others could give $2 per assist ($1,126) as Teammate sponsors. The money benefits the Hughes Spalding Hospital, according to a hospital representative.

“I went on a visit to Children’s to try to give the kids a little inspiration,” Teague said recently. “They go through a lot. I wanted to go there, see the kids, interact with them and have them interact with me. When I got there, I was touched. I wanted to do whatever I could to help out. That’s when we came up with the program.”

The giving will culminate with Teague’s inaugural Hoops for Hughes dinner Aug. 15 at Maggiano’s Buckhead. The event will feature a dinner, question-and-answer session, photographs with Teague and more for those who gave this year.

“When I met Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks during a recent visit to Hughes Spalding, his thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion impressed me even more than him being a young basketball superstar,” said Julia Jones, vice president for operations at Hughes Spalding. “His sensitivity towards the children we care for and his concern for their needs was very genuine. He seemed truly interested in gaining a greater understanding of the important work that is being done at Hughes Spalding and committed to supporting that work in every way he can.”

Teague said the Hawks also donated to the cause.

There are plans to continue the program next year — and for years to come. Teague finished last season with 620 assists in the regular season and playoffs combined. He finished 10th in the NBA in regular-season assists with 513 and added 107 more in the postseason. His donation will be $12,400. He will ask others to match or give $1,260 at $2 per assist.

“I just wanted to give back,” Teague said. “I didn’t think it would grow into something like this. It’s a beautiful thing. At first it was just something I wanted to do from my heart. I just wanted to give back. Now, it’s grown into something beautiful and large.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Derrick Rose is reportedly undecided on playing for Team USA … Glen Davis may be willing to sign a contract overseas if he doesn’t sign an NBA deal … Pacers center Jordan Hill was charged with driving violations outside Atlanta.

Morning Shootaround — July 29


VIDEO: Grizzlies ‘ecstatic’ to have Barnes in Memphis

NEWS OF THE MORNING

New Bucks arena bill passes in Wisconsin | Grizzlies feel Barnes is perfect fit | Orlando’s Gordon working on game

No. 1: New Bucks arena bill passes in Wisconsin New ownership took over the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, and they began making over the franchise, changing personnel, uniforms, and beginning a campaign to get some public funding for a new arena. After a few months of public posturing and conversation with local and state lawmakers, the state assembly passed a bill yesterday that seems to guarantee the Bucks future in Milwaukee

Almost seven months after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed public money for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena, the Assembly Tuesday returned a $250 million bill to him, completing the last of the legislative challenges the presidential candidate laid out this year.

The Assembly approved the bill on a bipartisan vote of 52-34, leaving a healthy margin to spare because of absent lawmakers. The measure passed the Senate 21-10 on a bipartisan vote on July 15 and so it now goes to Walker.

While campaigning at two South Philadelphia cheesesteak joints, the governor said he would sign the much-revised measure, calling it a good deal for Wisconsin.

“It’s critical not only for those who love sports, but the main reason I got into it was because it protected state revenues,” Walker said, citing the income taxes Wisconsin would lose if the team leaves the state. “That just creates a big hole for everything else. … This was really about protecting the taxpayers of the state.”

Next up for the team is working out a land sale with Milwaukee County and getting approval for the arena from the Milwaukee Common Council. Speaking at the Capitol after the Assembly vote, Bucks head coach Jason Kidd and team president Peter Feigin praised the deal and said the remaining pieces could be assembled in time for construction to start in the fall.

“I’m not overly confident, but I’m confident,” Feigin said of reaching the land deal and getting city approval.

After months in which the measure struggled to gain support, the Assembly debate was anticlimactic, lasting about an hour and including not even a single floor speech by an opponent. In the end, 35 Republicans and 17 Democrats voted for the measure.

Two lawmakers from the greater Milwaukee area, Democrat Daniel Riemer of Milwaukee and Republican Adam Neylon of Pewaukee, missed the vote Tuesday while they were in Turkey as part of a cultural exchange for legislators but said they would have both voted against it. Regardless of party, most lawmakers from in and around the city voted for the proposal, except Democrats David Bowen and Jonathan Brostoff of Milwaukee and Republicans Chris Kapenga of Delafield and David Craig of Big Bend.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) kicked off the final debate by thanking both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and stressing that he believed that state taxpayers would get a good return on their share of the total subsidy package. Doing nothing would leave the city and state with a “black eye” and the loss of a promising team, he said.

“It is cheaper for us to pass this bill than defeat it and let the team leave,” Vos said.

***

No. 2: Grizzlies feel Barnes is perfect fit After a few years of playoff runs but not being able to get past the Conference finals, the Memphis Grizzlies have made moves to strengthen their bench this season. And perhaps the most important addition to the Grizzlies may be forward Matt Barnes, who the Grizz feel is a perfect match for their grit and grind mentality…

“This is a whole – not just team but city – with my ideal, a grind mentality,” Barnes said Tuesday. “I’ve been on teams that run-and-gun and dunk and shoot a lot of 3’s, but I’ve never been on a team that everyone has the same mindset I do. That’s very exciting from a player’s standpoint.”

The Grizzlies acquired Barnes, 35, from the Charlotte Hornets last month in exchange for guard Luke Ridnour.

Charlotte had picked up Barnes along with center Spencer Hawes less than two weeks earlier in a trade that sent guard Lance Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers. Barnes averaged 10.1 points, 4 rebounds and 1.5 assists while playing a career-high 29.9 minutes per game with the Clippers last season.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said the 35-year-old Barnes “wears his heart on his sleeve,” an approach that could make the 6-foot-7 forward an ideal fit for a franchise that relies on hustle and defense.

“If there’s any player that was destined to be a Grizzly, it’s Matt Barnes,” Wallace said. “He’s a guy that we had our dustups with when he was on the other side of the fence – particularly the Clippers – but now he’s one of us and we’re ecstatic to have him.”

The Grizzlies actually drafted Barnes in the second round in 2002, but they immediately traded him to Cleveland in a draft-night deal. Barnes has been moving around ever since. He’s played for both Los Angeles franchises as well as Sacramento, New York, Philadelphia, Golden State, Phoenix and Orlando.

This latest move has his twin sons somewhat confused.

“They’re just like, ‘Daddy, so do you not like DeAndre (Jordan), Chris (Paul) and Blake (Griffin) anymore?’ ” Barnes said. “I’m like, ‘No, they’re still my friends. They’re the enemy when the ball goes up.’ I’m a competitor. I have friends on the other team obviously, but for 48 minutes my only friends are my teammates.”

Barnes irritates opponents with his tenacious defense and fiery personality. The Grizzlies already have one of the league’s top defenders in guard Tony Allen. Having both could make the Grizzlies even peskier.

“The best compliment you can give somebody is that you just don’t like playing against him,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “Matt’s a guy we just did not like playing against. … We want those kinds of guys on our team.”

***

No. 3: Orlando’s Gordon working on game The Orlando Magic entered a rebuilding campaign a few years ago and have amassed quite a collection of young talent, from Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo to Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. Another player showing promise is Aaron Gordon, who followed his rookie season with a big Summer League performance, and is still looking to improve, writes NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury

His rookie season became a virtual washout almost from the moment last November when Gordon fractured a bone in his left foot and missed two months. Despite the first double-double of his career in April, there was plenty of work to be done.

But it was a different, a more comfortable, a more confident Gordon who took the floor for the Magic at the Orlando Summer League and began to show why he was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Gordon beat defenders off the dribble and finished with power dunks. He pulled up off the dribble and stroked jumpers like they were his calling card. He even nailed 3-pointers.

Put all those newfound skills together with the 6-foot-9, 230-pound body, explosive leaping ability and assorted athletic moves and Gordon is a candidate to make big strides next season.

“Last year there was a lot of being uncomfortable,” Gordon said. “This year I’m a lot more comfortable. So it’s easy for me.”

The transformation was only “easy” because Gordon has logged countless hours of hard work inside the Magic practice gym at Amway Center and on the West Coast near his home in San Jose, Calif.

“A lot of people don’t see the work that Aaron puts in,” said Mario Elie, one of the new members of Scott Skiles‘ Orlando coaching staff. “When I first came here in June, he’s in the gym working on his shot. I’m in the office all day. He’ll go home and come back to work on his game again and I’m not surprised he was one of the top scorers in the Summer League.

“He’s a young player who wants to be great. He has the right frame of mind, the right attitude,” Elie said. “He’s like a sponge. You tell him to do something, he goes out and does it. He can be a great leader for this young ball club. At 19 years old? This guy It’s fantastic to see.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James answered questions from fans on Twitter … Festus Ezeli moved from Africa to California to become a doctor. Instead he became an NBA champCraig Hodges has been let go as coach of the Knicks’ D-League team … Damien Wilkins is hoping to build off of his experience with the Pan-Am team …

Morning shootaround — July 28


VIDEO: David Lee talks about joining the Celtics

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A.D. OK with Pelicans’ flight path | Kentucky’s NBA influence pervasive | Did Jackson’s miscalculations cost Knicks? | So many jersey numbers, so few available

No. 1: A.D. OK with Pelicans’ flight path — Keeping your superstar happy is job No. 1 for any NBA general manager or head coach who aspires to job security and the latitude to purchase green bananas. So based on some comments Monday by New Orleans tent-pole guy Anthony Davis, GM Dell Demps and new bench boss Alvin Gentry are free to unpack and stay awhile. Davis, on a conference-call interview, talked to The Associated Press and others about his $145 million contract extension and the special relationship he had with the terminated (and relocated-to-OKC-staff) Monty Williams. But he apparently sounded just as enthused about the Pelicans’ new direction with Gentry:

Now Davis is eager to see how Gentry’s coaching philosophy will mesh with the Pelicans’ talent. Davis was a high-schooler when Gentry coached the Phoenix Suns to the 2010 Western Conference finals with a fast-paced, high-scoring offense featuring guard Steve Nash and power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. The Pelicans power forward remembers that squad fondly and also has been impressed by the influence Gentry, as a top offensive assistant, has had more recently on recent Western Conference contenders such as the Los Angeles Clippers and defending champion Golden State Warriors.

“I definitely love his playing style,” Davis said. “My teammates, they have a lot of confidence in Coach Gentry. I think that’s why everybody’s coming back.

“In order for us to be that contender that we want to be, we have to have a lot of chemistry, which we have from the past few years,” Davis added. “So it’s good that everybody’s going to come back and we’re going to be able to have that chemistry ready for Coach’s new system.”

Last season, the Pelicans qualified for the playoffs for the first time in Davis’ three years as a pro and lost to the Warriors in a sweep. But Gentry told Davis that he was nonetheless impressed with the Pelicans’ talent and had a plan to get the most out it.

“He stated several times he loved our team and was going to try to get everybody back,” Davis said. “That’s the first thing that he said, and I couldn’t agree more.”

It also meant a lot to Davis to see Gentry look into a TV camera during the Warriors’ locker-room celebration immediately after Golden State had won the title, saying, “AD, we’re going to be right back here!”

“That’s the biggest thing that really got me excited because he wasn’t just saying that to say it. He really believes that,” Davis said.

***

No. 2: Kentucky’s NBA influence pervasive — Excellence in college basketball doesn’t always translate to the professional ranks, particularly on a case-by-case basis. But in the aggregate, the “Kareem” generally rises to the top — that’s why UCLA, for example, and its John Wooden-produced players held sway for many NBA seasons, in terms of impact on the league. Other powerhouses of the NCAA game — North Carolina, Duke, Indiana — have had enviable influence as well. But according to ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle, no college program ever has asserted itself at the next level — in both quantity and quality — the way the University of Kentucky is and will, based on his projections of the near-term. Here are some pertinent excerpts of what Doolittle refers to as “historical stuff:”

…Beginning in the 1969-70 season — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s rookie year — Wooden’s players rose to the top of the NBA win shares list. Thanks to Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas had topped the list for much of the 1960s, though it was actually Indiana that held the No. 1 spot the year before UCLA took over. The Bruins proceeded to dominate the rankings for the next decade and a half, finishing No. 1 in every season through 1983-84. UCLA was then brushed aside by a long period of Michael Jordan/North Carolina dominance. Since then, the top slot has changed hands a number of times, with familiar blue-blood programs like UNC, UCLA and Duke usually winning out, but other programs like UConn, Georgetown and even Georgia Tech have taken a turn or two.

…The Bruins’ high-water mark was 71.3 win shares for the 1976-77 NBA season. UNC was No. 2 — at 28.6. Former Bruin Bill Walton led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA crown that season, and Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s best player. Jamaal Wilkes, Swen Nater and Sidney Wicks were other ex-Bruins producing at the time. Those 71.3 win shares stand as the record for one school in one season.

For now, anyway. Kentucky is coming on fast. Already, its totals for the past two seasons rank among the top 11 in league history.

That is indeed impressive, yet not as impressive as what might happen this season. To jump all this historical chatter back into the present, let me remind you of the obvious: [Coach John] Calipari most likely will have another seven rookies in the league this season. That could give Kentucky as many as 25 players in the NBA for 2015-16, though not all of them played for Calipari. …

The sheer number of players is impressive, but not as much as the quality. We mentioned [Karl-Anthony] Towns and [Anthony] Davis as possible award winners. Yet John Wall, [Eric] Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins could all join Davis in the top 15-20 on the win shares board. And WARP, too, for that matter. In fact, I did some rough translations of my WARP projections into win shares. That’s where the story gets really interesting.

The 25 former Kentucky players I’ve flagged as “active” collectively project to put up 90.3 win shares this season. Let me re-state that for emphasis, like I’m writing a big check: 90.3!

***

No. 3: Did Jackson’s miscalculations cost Knicks? — Five months can be an eternity, when something moves as quickly as the NBA economy. So perhaps one shouldn’t judge New York Knicks president Phil Jackson too harshly that some of the assumptions he held about his team and the league in February had changed significantly by July. But according to the New York Daily News, playing off interviews Jackson did with longtime friend Charley Rosen back in February, the Knicks boss was conservative in his estimates of the new salary cap and the skyrocketing contract numbers, up to and including Memphis free-agent center Marc Gasol. The report includes Jackson’s thoughts at the time, too, on Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, on the deal he did make sending J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland and on the city and state taxes that impact New York as a free-agent destination:

Specifically, Jackson told a friend in February that he was wary of giving Memphis’ Marc Gasol a contract with a starting salary of $18 million. Jackson later signed [Robin] Lopez to a four-year deal with an average salary of $13.5 million.

“It’s tricky. The question is who to offer the big money to?” Jackson said in the latest installment of his in-season interviews with his pal Charley Rosen, which was published Monday by ESPN. “A guy who’s an established player or someone who has sky-high potential? Also, there are, and always have been, really good players who are not winners − guys like Joe Barry Carroll, Glenn Robinson and many more whom I don’t care to name.

“And then there’s someone like Marc Gasol, who’s certainly a winner and would have to be paid somewhere around $18 million, a number that would severely limit what we could offer other players. We’d wind up with starters only getting about $5 million.”

It’s clear by that statement Jackson underestimated the rise in the salary cap, which jumped 11% to $70 million. As a result, the Knicks had more money to play with in free agency and Gasol signed a deal with the Grizzlies larger than Jackson’s estimate.

Gasol, a First Team All-NBA selection and former Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Grizzlies last season. Lopez, who lost to Gasol in the playoffs, averaged 9.6 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.

Jackson handed out contracts over the summer worth a combined $96 million to Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn. The only max-contract candidate who seriously considered the Knicks was Greg Monroe, who instead signed with Milwaukee.

***

No. 4: So many jersey numbers, so few available — Some sociology major might be able to use the Boston Celtics’ jersey-number dilemma as a metaphor for a looming issue in the U.S. workplace: What happens when you’ve got more retirees than active workers? Or something like that. That seems to be a problem for the Celtics, who have retired the numbers of so many great individuals that the franchise is running short of options — at least in terms of traditional, basketball-familiar numbers — for its current and future players. The team’s introduction of some offseason signees had a couple sporting numbers seemingly more fit for the New England Patriots.

It’s a function of the Celtics’ excellence and their zeal in maintaining a tradition that soon might crowd on-court performers over the next century into triple digits. Here’s a synopsis as provided by the FriendlyBounce.com site:

Moving to the middle of the photo, we see Amir Johnson holding the No. 90 jersey. Johnson most recently wore No. 15 with the Raptors, and reportedly wanted the No. 5 shirt with Boston. Johnson had this (via NESN) to say about his number choice:

“Every number 1 through 34 is basically retired,” Johnson said. “My first initial number, I picked No. 5, but I know there was going to kind of be some controversy with that because Kevin Garnett won a championship. So I knew that was pretty much out of the water. My number (15), of course, was retired. And I recently posted a picture on my social network, I don’t know if you guys checked it out, it was a team back in the ’90s — like ’97, ’96 — I played for my first organized basketball team, which was the Burbank Celtics. It was a Celtics team. So I just kind of just put that together. The ’90s were good. I was born in ’87, but the ’90s were good.”

“I was born in ’87, but the ’90s were good” is an awesome sentence. Also, based on this list compiled by the great Basketball Reference, the best player in NBA history to ever wear the #90 is Drew Gooden. So it’s unique, at least!

Further left, [David] Lee chose the No. 42 he originally sported during his days with the Knicks. Nothing to see here.

And, finally, we have Perry Jones III donning that ever-so-rare No. 38. Jones wore the No. 3 shirt in OKC. Of course, Boston’s No. 3 is and forever will be that of the late, great Dennis Johnson. In case you were wondering, that same B-R list names Viktor Khryapa, Ron Knight and Kwame Brown as the best No. 38-wearers the league has ever seen. We’ve hardly even seen PJ3 play meaningful NBA minutes, yet already I feel fairly comfortable saying he’s probably better than all three of those guys.

In all, the Celtics have retired the following numbers already: 00, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 32, 33 and 35. No. 34 will surely be added to that list whenever Paul Pierce decides to hang ’em up.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Iceman shows he ain’t ready to go-eth quite yet … Roy Hibbert had some pointed things to say in an interview with our David Aldridge, including thoughts on Frank Vogel as a non-NBA-playing head coach … Would Mike Miller make sense back in Miami, even though his benefactor LeBron James is gone? … The late Manute Bol‘s son is developing some nice skills, something that pleased former NBA player-turned-broadcaster Eddie Johnson … Who do you consider the best undrafted players in league history? The HoopsHype.com crew ranks its top 30 (hint: Brad Miller is high on the list) …

Morning shootaround — July 19


VIDEO:
Stop and Pop with Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

NEWS OF THE MORNING

RHJ brings personality to the Nets | Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more | Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieving | Some Pau in Porzingis?

No. 1: RHJ brings personality to Nets — It hasn’t been the best of offseasons for the Brooklyn Nets. They bought out point guard Deron Williams‘ contract, paying him a reported $27.5 million not to play for them over the next two seasons. They signed Andrea Bargnani, the unfulfilling 7-footer who was found wanting by the Nets’ rivals across the river and whose third chance at NBA success might be his last. What had been a spend-now, win-now approach has been pushed aside for a youth movement, a much tougher sell in the big city. While fans patiently (or not) await a bunch of salary-cap space 12 months from now – when seemingly every team will have it, by the way – Brooklyn at least added a new player whose game and personality could be worth cheering. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the up-close-and-personal treatment from the New York Post‘s Tim Bontemps:

Anyone who meets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson today sees someone about as outgoing and confident in himself as a person as you can be. After all, it takes plenty of confidence to hop up onto the stage at the NBA Draft wearing plaid pants, or to end your initial press conference with reporters with a freestyle rap about being the newest member of an NBA franchise.

But there was a time when Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t so confident, when he did worry about what others said and thought about him. At least, that was the case until he was entering high school and grew tired of the way people were always discussing his afro.

“People would always talk about my hair,” he said. “They would always call me names or whatever, and I was just like, ‘I like it.’ As I got older, I just got really comfortable with [my personality] and said, ‘To hell with whoever doesn’t like it.’

“Growing up, sometimes you worry what people think, who is going to say something about me … but after that, I was like, ‘Whatever makes me happy, that’s what I’m going to do.’ ”

It’s a philosophy that has served Hollis-Jefferson well, helping carry him from his hometown of Chester, Pa., to the University of Arizona for two years then to the Nets — who sent Mason Plumlee to Portland to acquire the rights to the 23rd-overall pick, who the Nets feel is the best defensive player in the entire draft and could become a longtime fixture for them on the wings.

Though Hollis-Jefferson has all the traits you look for in a lock-down wing defender, he may also be the draft’s most effervescent personality — a bundle of energy who seems incapable of having anything but a smile on his face or a stream of entertaining dialogue tumbling out of his mouth.

Given that one of the biggest criticisms of the Nets recently has been a lack of emotion and passion, it’s not just his basketball skills that make him a welcome addition to the roster.

“He doesn’t hold anything back,” said Brandon Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson’s teammate at Arizona who played for the Hawks during summer league here. “Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s not the best [thing], but you always know what to expect from him.”

***

No. 2: Casey on Raptors’ ‘painful’ finish, more — Toronto’s dismal finish to 2014-15 – an 11-16 mark over the final two months, followed by an 0-4 ousting in the playoffs’ first round – had folks speculating about coach Dwane Casey‘s job security and the franchise’s viability as a contender. But a busy summer so far by GM Masai Ujiri has rounded up newcomers DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo, while bidding adieu to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez. That’s a lot of change, about which Casey spoke to our own John Schuhmann for an NBA.com Q&A. Here are some excerpts:

Q: What hurt you offensively in the playoffs?
DC: Physicality and size. We were small with Lou and Kyle [Lowry] on the floor at the same time. Size and length took us out. They made our big guys make plays. So a big emphasis this summer for them is learning how to play out of blitzes on the pick-and-roll, when they’re taking the ball out of DeMar’s and Kyle’s hands. They got to make plays and burn them if they’re going to bring two to the ball. We didn’t do a good job of that in the playoffs.

Q: What was your pitch to [DeMarre] Carroll when you met with him?
DC: We need you. You’re a defensive guy. We want to be a defensive team. We had been until last year. We moved from 30th [in defensive efficiency in 2010-11, the season before Casey was hired] to top 10, and then took a step back unwillingly. He’s a big part of us taking that next step. That was the pitch. I love his story, that he’s a self-made player. If you said six years ago that DeMarre Carroll would be one of the top players in the league, nobody would have believed you. But he’s made himself into that player. That’s my kind of guy and our kind of guy.

Q: Has Terrence Ross hit a ceiling?
DC: I don’t think so. What a lot of people don’t understand is that he had a lot of stuff in his ankle. He had that taken out this spring. He played through it last year. Whether that was why he took a dip defensively, I don’t know. I tell everybody that he was our best defensive wing player two years ago, and we were pretty good. He’s got to get back to that level more so than with his shooting. But I don’t think he’s hit a slump. He didn’t take that next big step. He hasn’t forgot how to shoot. Even with one leg, he was shooting this morning. So we’re looking for big things out of him and this is a big year for him, career-wise.

***

No. 3: Williams undrafted, undersized, overachieve — Everyone gets excited to see the stars of the NBA Draft in the weeks following their selections and destinations. A bunch of sophomores-to-be attract attention by showing what they learned as rookies (or what they didn’t). But for many hoops devotees, the summer leagues in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are about guys like Alan Williams. Williams, a 6-foot-8 big man from UC-Santa Barbara, put up some big numbers playing for the Houston Rockets’ entry in Las Vegas, including a 22-point, 20-rebound performance against Philadelphia’s team. Considered too small for the spot he plays, by NBA standards, Williams remains a free agent in search of a training camp in October. But he made sure no one outworked him in Vegas, per CBSSports.com:

His energy level on the boards has always been great, even going back to when he was one of the advanced metric darlings of college basketball over the course of the last three seasons. He’s been in the top-10 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate over each of the last three seasons, and led the entire country in PER in 2014 at 35.7.

But this week, he kicked it up a notch, largely due to some work he did in the offseason. [The first thing a scout] pointed out was that the 6-foot-8 big man seemed to have slimmed down, which may have pushed him into another gear as far as his endurance and athletic explosiveness. Williams himself confirmed as much after the game.

“I had to, I had to,” Williams said with a smile when asked if he’d lost weight. “That’s what the NBA guys want to see. Me being able to trim that baby fat that I had in college and continue to elevate my game and keep up with that same energy and intensity that I’ve had for so long.”
That hard work has been emblematic of Williams’ career to this point, as the big man went from a lightly recruited high school prospect all the way to this moment.

“You hear this about a lot of guys, I’m sure, he’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Williams’ coach at UC Santa Barbara, Bob Williams, told me prior to this 2014-15 season. “He’s a phenomenal kid.”

Williams did give a little blush [over] the superlatives that have been laid upon him as a teammate in the past, but he said his parents — his mom is a police chief and his dad a judge — instilled the best values in him possible to give him a shot at success.

“My parents did a really good job of making me the best man I can be,” Williams said. “Not only the best basketball player, but the best man. And I don’t know if that gives me a better chance [to make a team], but I definitely believe that it should be a contributing factor. Someone’s character is always taken into place because you never know who’s watching. You want guys that are going to go out there and put their best foot forward for the organization and I feel like I’m one of those guys who can be a model citizen, a great teammate, and go out there and bust my butt on the floor.”

***

No. 4: Some Pau in Porzingis? — Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was asked all sorts of unanswerable – or at least, not ask-worthy – questions in Las Vegas, with inquiring New York scribes wanting him to project the team’s starting lineup for November or discuss the perfect ratio of triangle vs. other geometric forms of offense for his squad in 2015-16. He mostly stayed away from comparisons of the Knicks’ new young players to known NBA quantities, based on the unrealistic expectations such comments spark. Fisher did acquiesce, though, when one such parallel was drawn between 7-foot-3 rookie Kristaps Porzingis and veteran All-Star Pau Gasol. Marc Berman of the New York Post relayed Fisher’s responses:

But Fisher only will compare the two Europeans as far as their mental makeup — not their on-court game and slight builds. And Fisher raves that Porzingis stacks up well with Gasol, the five-time All-Star, in all those vital intangibles.

“I’m very reluctant to throw around a lot of comparisons before a guy has played a [preseason] game,’’ Fisher said late Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center after the Knicks’ summer league was history. “But I would say the similarities are the character, that Pau’s an amazing person and Kristaps is the same type of guy in terms of a good teammate, good guy to be around, enjoys working hard and really wants to be the best.

“We’re very fortunate from that standing. His career will take care of itself because of those reasons.’’

Many of the post-draft questions about whether Porzingis would stand his ground defensively because of his ultra-skinny frame were answered in Las Vegas. Knicks president Phil Jackson was more worried than anyone. Porzingis sat out Friday’s summer-league finale, already having proven through the first four games that he was ready to mix it up and not back down.

With Fisher starting the perimeter-oriented Latvian at center purposely — to see how he dealt with the NBA’s inside physicality — Porzingis blocked shots, drew fouls and rarely looked out of his element. He averaged 10.5 points on 48 percent shooting and 1.8 blocks per game, earning loud cheers from Knicks fans in Sin City. His rebounding (3.3 per game) and boxing out needs work, as well as his hands.

Porzingis’ natural position will be power forward — maybe as a starter alongside center Robin Lopez — but he says he will play minutes at center. A starting frontline of Lopez-Porzingis-Carmelo Anthony may not be shabby in the mediocre East.

Sources say the goal is for Porzingis to put on 10 to 15 pounds by the opening of training camp Oct. 1 — which would put him at roughly 245 pounds.

“He’ll mature and fill out physically as he ages,” Fisher said. “We’re not obsessed at putting a lot of weight on him all at once. I think he’s in good position. I’m glad to have him healthy and so he can have a great 10-week stretch to get him ready for training camp.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA legend Jerry West, a.k.a., “The Logo,” considers the Golden State Warriors’ front office to be the “most healthy’ environment in which he’s ever worked. Which seems to say something about some portions of his long tenure with the Lakers. … Minnesota’s Zach LaVine didn’t play in the first quarter but scored 49 points in the final three, with a game-winning 3-pointer, in the annual Seattle pro-am game. … Paul George of the Indiana Pacers told a crowd in China that he wants to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If he repeats it on Pacers’ media day, it will generate bigger headlines. … Cady Lalanne, the Haitian-born forward who has played for San Antonio in the summer league, probably had a tougher trek to grab an NBA rung than your favorite player. … Phoenix center Alex Len isn’t bothered at all by the arrival of veteran Tyson Chandler, who will take some of Len’s minutes. … Mark Cuban shrugged off, once again, DeAndre Jordan‘s Re-Decision. … Utah’s Gordon Hayward did a pretty good job on his blog of providing play-by-play of Bernadette Marie Hayward‘s arrival into his and wife Robyn‘s lives. …


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