Posts Tagged ‘Pau Gasol’

Ten (or so) intriguing games for 2014-15

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, here in 2009, haven't squared off since February 2010 (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, here in 2009, haven’t squared off since February 2010 (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James is in Cleveland, Kevin Love soon will be (barring a startling change of direction), and so the eyes of the NBA world will focus there as well, from the very beginning of the season to around the middle and obviously to the bitter/glorious end.

When the Cavaliers go to Rio de Janeiro for an Oct. 11 preseason game, the Heat are the opponent, which should lead to the ultimate in commanding the spotlight: an exhibition game that will generate attention. It’s going to be that kind of 2014-15, with Cleveland dominating the 10 games (or so) to watch that initially jump out with Wednesday’s release of the full NBA schedule for 2014-15 (you can see the full 2014-15 national TV schedule here

HANG TIME: Digging deeper into the 2014-15 schedule

Cavaliers at Heat, Dec. 25, American Airlines Arena, Miami (5 p.m. ET, ABC)

It’s on the Christmas schedule, which is a big deal. It’s James’ first game back in Miami, which is a big deal. Put them together, it’s a very big deal. That goes for hype and network marketing more than anything, because this won’t be like the scorching emotions when LeBron returned to Cleveland for the first time while playing for the Heat. He didn’t just perform open-heart surgery without anesthesia on South Florida. Still, the buildup will be a sight anyway.

Mavericks at Spurs, Oct. 28, AT&T Center, San Antonio, (8 p.m. ET, TNT)

Another season opener, another banner raising. The Spurs get their latest celebration in front of an in-state rival and an opponent hoping to become a primary challenger in the Western Conference following the arrival of Chandler Parsons and the return of Tyson Chandler. Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio machine does not like pageantry. They’ll put up with nights like this, though.

Cavaliers at Timberwolves, Jan. 31, Target Center, Minneapolis (8 ET)

The teams first meet Dec. 23 in Cleveland — a nice schedule stretch for the Cavaliers, with the possible Love reunion game against the Wolves followed by the James reunion game against the Heat –- but the location of this second matchup makes it a much bigger deal. This would be Love as a Twin Cities visitor. This is fans having a chance to get a few things off their chest now that his situation has finally been untangled. If it gets untangled.

Bulls at Knicks, Oct. 29, Madison Square Garden, New York (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

This will be the return of Derrick Rose to the NBA, after the very promising return of Rose to Team USA and the opportunity to build more momentum with the international games before training camp. Because Rose matters so much to the team that could, health willing, become a serious threat in the East, this early read will be valuable. The Chicago start is particularly worth watching since the Bulls’ second game, Oct. 31, is at home against Cleveland.

Clippers at Warriors, Nov. 5, Oracle Arena, Oakland (10:30 ET, ESPN)

Not just this game, but the whole four-game season series, really, including one of the Christmas showcases. The teams had several confrontational moments that threatened to turn ugly last season, then went the full seven games in the first round of the playoffs in a series hijacked by the Donald Sterling mess. It was always a fun matchup. Now it could build into must-see TV, with the twist of L.A. native Steve Kerr new to the Golden State sideline.

Bucks at Nets, Nov. 19, Barclays Center, Brooklyn (7:30 p.m. ET)

Not that New York fans would ordinarily ever try to make life uncomfortable for an opponent, but this time the opponent is ex-Nets coach Jason Kidd, now manning the sidelines for Milwaukee. So the Bucks might want to pack ear plugs. One other bit of advice: This wouldn’t be a good night for Kidd to play the “Hit me” card. Someone not on his own team might take him up on it.

Five games, Dec. 25 (12 p.m. ET – 10: 30 p.m. ET)

The lineup for the Christmas extravaganza: Wizards at Knicks at 12 p.m. ET (ESPN), Thunder at Spurs at 2:30 ET (ABC), Cavaliers at Heat at 5 ET (ABC), Lakers at Bulls at 8 ET (TNT), Warriors at Clippers at 10:30 ET (TNT). Washington becomes a featured attraction around the league, San Antonio and Oklahoma City meet after likely opening the season as the two best teams in the West, LeBron to Miami and much more. Go ahead and just put the TV at the head of the table.

Bulls at Lakers, Jan. 29, Staples Center, Los Angeles (10:30 ET, TNT)

There was no animosity when Pau Gasol left — certainly nothing like the Lakers and the league have seen in other situations — so this game won’t come with much tension around the buildup. But Gasol’s 6 ½ seasons, three All-Star appearances and two championships in Los Angeles counted for a lot, in what the titles meant to the legacy of Kobe Bryant and the push that should land Gasol in the Hall of Fame (especially considering his international play). He will say all the right things about coming back. And, given the direction of the team he left behind, the L.A. fans who were so hard on him would be smart to show some appreciation.

Mavericks at Rockets, Nov. 22, Toyota Center, Houston (8 p.m. ET)

The Parsons exit from Houston as a restricted free agent was not smooth, from the front offices trading jabs to James Harden’s dig about role players to Mark Cuban and Parsons clubbing it the night the offer sheet was signed. With two Texas teams wanting to prove they belong in the upper-echelon of the conference, this would have been a good season series to watch anyway. It just got better.

Bucks at Timberwolves, Nov. 26, Target Center, Minneapolis (8 p.m. ET)

No. 1 draft pick (Andrew Wiggins) against No. 2 (Jabari Parker) was supposed to happen when the Cavaliers played the Bucks. Then came the reported agreement to send Wiggins to Minnesota as part of the James trade. So the draft-related focus shifted to the Twin Cities. The Bucks took Parker with the intention of playing him mostly at power forward, so actual head-to-head matchups may be rare. But this will still be a compare-contrast that will last for years.

Morning Shootaround — August 10


NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Alonzo Mourning delivers his moving Hall of Fame speech

Durant’s National Team dues have been paid | Ray Allen will play in 2014-15 season | Lakers still feeling the sting of deal that never happened

No. 1: Durant’s National Team dues have been paid — Eyebrows around the globe went up when Kevin Durant officially withdrew from the roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup late last week, citing physical and mental exhaustion. Folks will continue to debate whether or not it was the right decision. But our Jeff Caplan insists Durant’s dues have been paid:

In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

Kevin Durant‘s decision to walk away from Team USA little more than three weeks before the start of the 2014 world championships is hardly the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the Americans’ chances to defend their 2010 gold medal, when Durant cleaned up as tournament MVP.

So Team USA’s leading scorer on the 2012 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad will join LeBron James,LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight HowardKevin Love and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as stateside spectators. After participating in last week’s training camp in Las Vegas that opened with Durant inundated by questions about his coming free agency — in 2016! — and ended with the jarring snap of Paul George‘s right leg, Durant on Thursday informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski that he needed to take a “step back.”

In a statement, the Oklahoma City superstar explained his decision for reneging on his commitment to the national team. Mentally and physically worn down from last season and a busy summer of commitments, the NBA’s MVP said he needed these final 50 days or so of the offseason to recharge before beginning another long, expectation-laden season.

So get a grip.

Criticism of Durant having bailed on the national team, or worse, on his country, or of putting the squad in a bind weeks before departing for Spain are unjustified. Durant has for years been an enthusiastic supporter, a valiant competitor and a gracious ambassador for USA Basketball.

As I noted on July 30 as Durant was being grilled in Vegas about playing for his hometown Washington Wizards two summers from now, Durant didn’t have to be there. He chose to be there. With all due respect, the rebranded World Cup isn’t the Olympics, the créme de la créme of international competition as far as an American audience is concerned. And if we’re being honest, that goes for American basketball players, too. The world championships have always, and likely always will mean more to Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who, by the way, is foregoing the World Cup one year after leading France to its first-ever European championship.

It was Durant’s sense of commitment to USA Basketball in the first place that led him a year ago to announce his intention to anchor this squad. But the day after the Thunder lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Durant openly spoke of how physically and mentally grueling the season — half of which he carried the Thunder without injured co-star Russell Westbrook — had truly been. Nobody amassed more regular-season minutes and then more postseason minutes than the MVP.

(more…)

Durant has paid his Team USA dues

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Durant withdraws from Team USA participation

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

Kevin Durant‘s decision to walk away from Team USA little more than three weeks before the start of the 2014 world championships is hardly the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the Americans’ chances to defend their 2010 gold medal, when Durant cleaned up as tournament MVP.

So Team USA’s leading scorer on the 2012 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad will join LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight HowardKevin Love and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as stateside spectators. After participating in last week’s training camp in Las Vegas that opened with Durant inundated by questions about his coming free agency — in 2016! — and ended with the jarring snap of Paul George‘s right leg, Durant on Thursday informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski that he needed to take a “step back.”

In a statement, the Oklahoma City superstar explained his decision for reneging on his commitment to the national team. Mentally and physically worn down from last season and a busy summer of commitments, the NBA’s MVP said he needed these final 50 days or so of the offseason to recharge before beginning another long, expectation-laden season.

So get a grip.

Criticism of Durant having bailed on the national team, or worse, on his country, or of putting the squad in a bind weeks before departing for Spain are unjustified. Durant has for years been an enthusiastic supporter, a valiant competitor and a gracious ambassador for USA Basketball.

As I noted on July 30 as Durant was being grilled in Vegas about playing for his hometown Washington Wizards two summers from now, Durant didn’t have to be there. He chose to be there. With all due respect, the rebranded World Cup isn’t the Olympics, the créme de la créme of international competition as far as an American audience is concerned. And if we’re being honest, that goes for American basketball players, too. The world championships have always, and likely always will mean more to Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who, by the way, is foregoing the World Cup one year after leading France to its first-ever European championship.

It was Durant’s sense of commitment to USA Basketball in the first place that led him a year ago to announce his intention to anchor this squad. But the day after the Thunder lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Durant openly spoke of how physically and mentally grueling the season — half of which he carried the Thunder without injured co-star Russell Westbrook — had truly been. Nobody amassed more regular-season minutes and then more postseason minutes than the MVP.

And as Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry pointed out, Durant has pushed his body to the limit over the last five seasons — both for the Thunder and Team USA.

Durant came away from the Vegas training camp and looked ahead to the commitment that followed. Team USA continues training in Chicago on Aug. 14-16, moves on to New York on Aug. 18-22 for workouts and exhibition games and a few days later heads to the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, to complete its preparations and exhibition schedule. It begins World Cup play on Aug. 30 in Bilbao, Spain. The gold-medal game is Sept. 14 in Madrid. NBA training camps open two weeks later.

Did Durant’s decision come as a surprise to Team USA? Yes. Was his timing tough? Sure. But the American pool is deep even with many of its top dogs — and particularly at the forward positions — having withdrawn. Team USA’s candidates at the wing include Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver, Gordon Hayward and newest addition Rudy Gay. There’s not an MVP among them, in fact, not even an All-Star save for 2014 East reserve DeRozan.

But that’s OK. That’s what opportunity is all about. Gold isn’t a cinch, but why should it be? Team USA remains well-equipped to play on the final day in Madrid, and Durant, who has worn his country’s colors with honor, has earned the right to take a step back, regardless of when he came to that decision.

So everybody get a grip, and enjoy the games.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 171) … The Future!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What does the future look like for the Indiana Pacers?

The forecast is gloomy, even after a few sips of Rick Fox‘s homemade breakfast smoothie, which he needed to get through Episode 171 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Future.

Everything changed in an instant for the Pacers when their young All-Star Paul George went down with a compound-fracture of his right leg during last week’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas.

George could very well miss the entire 2014-15 season, and then some, recovering from the gruesome injury. And that leaves the Pacers, who also lost Lance Stephenson this summer via free agency, with huge holes to fill in their lineup with LeBron James (Kevin Love) and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Derrick Rose (Pau Gasol) and the Chicago Bulls hunting that No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.

We also talk about LeBron’s offseason weight-loss routine, Becky Hammon joining the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff, smoothie making and a plenty more on Episode 171 of The Hang Time Podcast … The Future:

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 and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– 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.

George injury shuffles East deck

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Long before the Indiana Pacers were dealt the wicked blow of losing All-Star swingman Paul George to a compound fracture of his right leg he suffered during Friday night’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, people were ready to write the Pacers off for the 2014-15 season.

The way the No. 1 seed Pacers finished last season, the wild swings in play throughout their run to the Eastern Conference finals, the upgrades that took place this summer in Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and elsewhere — all that already made it easy to assume that George and the Pacers would fall back to the pack.

But a Pacers team facing the prospect of playing an entire season without its leading scorer and best player — not to mention Lance Stephenson, who departed for Charlotte via free agency — shuffles the deck dramatically in the Eastern Conference.

A seriously wounded Pacers team makes it easier for LeBron James and the Cavaliers and a rejuvenated Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls to make up ground for that top spot. And if anyone knows what life is like without your superstar catalyst available, it’s the Cavaliers and Bulls.

When James left Cleveland for Miami via free agency in the summer of 2010, it devastated the Cavaliers, who didn’t recover until he decided to come home this summer via free agency. There was no way for the Cavaliers to compensate for the loss of the best player in basketball. No way.

The Bulls were able to remain among the Eastern Conference elite the past two seasons while dealing with Rose’s injury issues. But they’re the exception and not the rule when it comes to the loss of superstar talent, for whatever reason. And while they remained in the playoff mix, they couldn’t scale the mountain in the East without Rose and everyone knew it.

How Frank Vogel holds this Pacers bunch together in the face of this sort of adversity should prove to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2014-15 season. The Pacers have to brace themselves for assaults from all directions.

C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey were nice pick ups in free agency this summer. But they are not adequate replacements for either George or Stephenson. They certainly cannot be expected to deliver the 35.5 points, 14 rebounds or 8.1 assists George and Stephenson combined for last season.

Pacers veterans David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill will all have to take on more of the load, both on the court and off the court. The double whammy of losing Stephenson and then George no doubt makes that clear to the Pacers’ brass, who are right to make George’s recovery their No. 1 priority right now.

Pacers boss Larry Bird acknowledged as much in a statement released by the team (which can be seen in its entirety by clicking here):

“Our first thoughts are with Paul and his family. It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.

“There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back. Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.”

Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard got more specific with the Indianapolis Star on Saturday, expressing optimism that George will come back better than ever:

“What I’ve learned through this process is that it’s not [career-ending],” Pritchard said, when he spent time with George at the hospital. “It’s actually a good thing. It’s bone and bone only. It doesn’t look like any soft-tissue damage. We’re not trying to project when he’s coming back, just trying to get him through this week and then we’ll know more, but the biggest risk right now is infection. That looks really good right now. They just changed his dressing and it looks really good.

“I have no fear he’ll be back and back in a big way. We’re not going to put a timetable on it but I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll be back.”

The lingering question, of course, is what will the Pacers do in the meantime? What can they do to compensate for such a tremendous loss?

Those are questions that, quite frankly, do not have clear-cut answers right now.

What we do know is that the Pacers will have to fight for their playoff lives next season.

The last time a team that finished atop the conference standings during the regular season lost its top two scorers was when the Orlando Magic lost Nick Anderson and Penny Hardaway after the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, per Elias Sports.

After finishing with identical 33-17 records (Miami and Indiana were the other two teams), the Magic finished the 1999-2000 season with a 41-41 record and in the ninth spot, on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

I’m not ready to write the Pacers off before we know what their contingency plan entails. But they are mighty vulnerable now and until further notice.

Morning Shootaround — August 2



VIDEO: Paul George’s injury halts Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas

NEWS OF THE MORNING
George has surgery after suffering gruesome injury | Parker signs extension | Rose high on Bulls squad | Wade drops weight

No. 1: George suffers gruesome leg fracture — Indiana Pacers All-Star small forward Paul George suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture during Team USA’s scrimmage and is expected to remain hospitalized for about three days, USA Basketball confirmed in a statement released after surgery was completed. The gruesome injury sent George away on a stretcher with his parents by his side and ended the men’s national team scrimmage early in the fourth quarter. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was on the scene:

In the first minute of the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase on Friday, George attempted to block a James Harden layup on a fast break. On his landing, his right leg buckled as it hit the basket support.

Players around George were shaken by what they saw. As George received medical attention on the baseline of the Thomas & Mack Center, his mother and father came down from the crowd and were by his side. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was also in attendance.

“[George] appeared, like, stoic,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “They allowed his father to touch him and to comfort him. I thought our trainers did a great job, right away, of making sure, emotionally, he was as good as possible. But Paul reacted well.”

Both teams gathered together in prayer before George was taken away in a stretcher. And there was a universal decision to end the game with 9:33 to go.

“With the serious injury that we had,” Krzyzewski announced to the assembled crowd, “and the fact that we stopped playing for a long time and, really, in respect for Paul and his family, the scrimmage is done. We want to thank you for your support.”

Afterward, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said that there would be no decisions on the USA roster “for a while.”

“We need to just take a step back before we do anything at all,” Colangelo said. “Our first concern, our primary concern is Paul George.”

Colangelo and Krzyzewski said that they would be heading to the hospital immediately after speaking to the media. They had been set to cut the roster down from 20 to 15, likely early Saturday. But the team is not scheduled to reconvene until Aug. 14 in Chicago and there’s no urgency to make any decisions now.

Before George’s injury, Friday night was about the performance of Derrick Rose, who looked as quick and explosive as ever in his first game in almost nine months. But just as the USA and the NBA got one star back, it lost another. George was set to be the starting small forward for the U.S. Team at the World Cup, which begins Aug. 30 in Spain. And though there are no details on his injury as of yet, it is likely to keep him out several months.

“We are aware of the injury sustained by Paul George in Friday night’s Team USA game in Las Vegas and we are obviously greatly concerned,” Pacers president Larry Bird said in a statement. “At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with Paul.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Paul George’s injury (more…)

Blogtable: Free agent’s fine 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: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with Bulls.com about why he signed with Chicago

> Which free agent (not counting LeBron James) are you most interested to see with his new team? Why?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Easily Pau Gasol. He’s been in such a beatdown state the last two years on bad teams and under a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had little use for him. Gasol should be happy and energized once again playing on a team that can contend for the East crown. Plus, the Bulls will make great use of his low-post scoring and passing. This should be fun to watch.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson. I want to see if his act in Indiana was just a situational deal and if there is more to his game and personality than what we’ve seen. I recognize the talent. He’s got plenty and perhaps more in reserve. He’s going to a team where the owner (Michael Jordan), coach (Steve Clifford) and locker room leaders (Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker) won’t hesitate to let him know when they feel like he’s going off the rails. If he comes in and has half the impact on the court for the Hornets that he had for the Pacers last season, the Hornets will have gotten one of the steals of the free-agent summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I want to see how much of a boost Paul Pierce can bring to the Wizards’ offense, which ranked 18th last season. The Wiz should be able to build on last year’s improvement and contend for a top-four spot in the East. The additions they’ve made make them one of the deepest teams in the league. But they do need more playmaking, especially when they go to their bench. Pierce shouldn’t necessarily be a sixth man, but if coach Randy Wittman can stagger his and John Wall‘s minutes some, the offense will be better overall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He didn’t get the largest contract, but I really think Pau Gasol could be one of the most impactful free agents of the summer. He’s not the same defender he was a few years ago, but Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to be able to gameplan around that. And it should be on offense where Gasol makes the biggest contribution — he and Joakim Noah are probably the best-passing big man combo in the NBA, and with Noah setting up at the top of the key, Pau’s beloved low post will be open for him to do work. Most importantly, with Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls should finally be past the offensive malaise that has plagued them for years.

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – “Showtime” did, sort of, return to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

During the press conference to introduce former Lakers guard Byron Scott as the team’s 25th coach, old teammates Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes strolled into the Lakers’ practice gym to show their support. Johnson, a constant public critic of the last Lakers coach, Mike D’Antoni, nearly suffocated Scott with a massive, joy-filled hug.

Johnson declared this as “a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Lakers fans all over the world,” and then proclaimed the impossible: “Showtime’s back, baby!”

Scott, 53, flanked Magic in the Lakers’ backcourt for three of the Showtime Lakers’ four championship runs during the 1980s, plus three other Finals appearances through 1991. Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., home of the old Fabulous Forum and then the renamed Great Western Forum where those teams dazzled the senses, obviously has intimate knowledge of how those high-powered teams excelled.

Yet even Scott, who along with all Lakers fans can appreciate Magic’s exuberance for bringing a Laker Man back to the helm, had to tap the brakes on Magic’s “Showtime” giddiness here in the real world of 2014.

“We can’t play that way,” Scott said during his press conference. “We don’t have a Magic Johnson.”

Touché.

Remember, it was D’Antoni when hired five games into the 2012-13 season who embraced the faux return of Showtime, declaring his inherited edition would score 110 points a game or something ridiculous. Such bravado presumably came from either an attempt to capture angry Lakers fans enamored with Phil Jackson, or from his past successes running-and-gunning in Phoenix with two-time MVP Steve Nash, whom the Lakers had acquired that summer, only at a slightly more advanced age than he was in those heady Suns days.

Nash remains with the Lakers. He’s 40 now and has played 65 games in the last two seasons because of injuries, and just 15 last season. Kobe Bryant was a bushy-haired rookie during Scott’s final season. Scott returned to L.A. for the 1996-97 season for a final hurrah after playing a few seasons elsewhere a couple years after Magic’s initial stunning retirement.

The offense Kobe and Nash will run, Scott said on Tuesday, will be a mixture of everything he’s ever done at his previous stops with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland, where he was the poor sap who took the gig just before LeBron James declared he was taking his talents to South Beach.

His greatest chore, Scott said, going full anti-D’Antoni (who truthfully had no shot last season with the unending injuries that ravaged the team), will be turning this group into a defensive-minded unit. Scott probably choked just a bit as he glanced at the Lakers’ stats last season. They finished 28th overall in defensive rating, giving up 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

“The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” Scott said. “These three gentlemen [Magic, Kareem and Wilkes] that’s sitting in this front row, the first thing that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control.”

Just prior to making that statement, Scott said he told general manager Mitch Kupchak that he assembled a roster that will be “very competitive.” Hopefully Scott remembered the Lakers are still in the Western Conference. Anyway, there’s nothing like new-coach optimism.

On the bright side, the Lakers were so awful last season that it figures to be next-to-impossible to be as bad. The Lakers lost a franchise-record 55 games. Kobe played in six. He’ll be back. We know he’ll be paid a handsome $23.5 million next season, but we don’t know at what level he’ll perform or how he’ll adapt his game to his changing athleticism and physical capabilities following the torn Achilles tendon of two seasons ago and last season’s knee injury. Or how his patience will stand up to a mediocre team and a new coach, even one this time he personally endorsed.

Nash, as mentioned, is back, too, but how long he can play or how effectively is a total mystery.

Pau Gasol is out. Vetaran power forward Carlos Boozer is in.

The rest of Scott’s team looks like this: No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle, then Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre.

Showtime? The straight-faced Scott was right to tap the brakes.

Give him credit for that, and now give him time to implement a system and gain some cohesion, and time for trusted management to work some magic in the coming summers that missed the mark with available superstars this time around.

Only then will we know if Magic can truly crow that Showtime’s back, baby.

The new beast of the East … the Central


VIDEO: New Beast of the East

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any reasonable conversation about the balance of power in the NBA starts with the world champion San Antonio Spurs, the rest of the rugged Western Conference and spreads from there.

But no region of the NBA has seen the sort of influx of talent and energy that the Eastern Conference’s Central Division has this summer. From LeBron James coming home to team up with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland to Pau Gasol joining Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago to the top two picks in the June Draft — Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, for now, and Jabari Parker in Milwaukee — things have changed dramatically.

LeBron James' return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

LeBron James’ return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

The Indiana Pacers won the Central Division and finished with the best record in the East last season, but they have garnered more attention this summer for a player (Lance Stephenson to Charlotte) that they lost in free agency than they did for anything else they have done. They’ve been usurped, in the eyes of many, by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, before the summer/free agent business has been finalized.

If the Cavaliers can find a way to secure Kevin Love via trade from Minnesota, they will not only enter the season as the favorites to win the Central and the East, they’ll rank right up there with the Spurs as the favorites to win it all. (And had Carmelo Anthony chosen the Bulls over remaining with the New York Knicks, the Bulls would be in that mix as well.)

You have to wonder what Stan Van Gundy, the new team president and coach in Detroit, and Jason Kidd, who takes over as coach in Milwaukee, are thinking now. A rebuilding task in Detroit, whatever gains are made during the 2014-15 season, will likely be overshadowed by what goes on elsewhere in the division. Kidd’s shocking move from Brooklyn to the Bucks, and the ensuing fallout, lasted a couple of days before taking a backseat to all things LeBron and Love.

“It’s hard to rank them right now, before we know exactly what happens with Love and Cleveland. But I don’t think it takes any stretching of the imagination to assume there will be no more competitive division in the league than the [Central], and that’s based on just those top three teams alone,” a Western Conference advance scout made clear to me. “The Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are all going to be legitimate contenders. And I think the Pistons, with Stan running things, could be one of the more improved teams in the entire league. And there’s a chance no one will notice because of what the Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are doing.”

The most intriguing part of the entire transformation of the division is going to be watching if the Pacers, a fragile bunch by the time their season finished in the Eastern Conference finals against LeBron and the Heat, can get back on track with the increased competition. Frank Vogel and his crew took advantage of the opportunity to step into the void when Rose and the Bulls slipped from their top spot the past two seasons. Tom Thibodeau kept the Bulls among the East’s best without Rose available. Now he’ll have an energized Rose, whose confidence is soaring as he attempts to earn his spot on USA Basketball’s roster for next month’s World Cup in Spain, and the Windy City twin towers of Noah and Gasol to build around.

The key for the Bulls, of course, is a healthy Rose.

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that,” Rose told our John Schuhmann when asked how close he was to regaining his superstar form. “My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

I don’t know that Rose’s confidence is enough to convince me that the Bulls are truly ready to reclaim that top spot in the division. And I’m not completely sure LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland means the Cavaliers push past the Pacers for that No. 1 spot. But it’s clear that the Central Division is where we could see the best power struggle in the league next season.

The July 2014 ranking of the Central Division (based on what each team has on the roster as of July 29, 2014):

1) Indiana Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert and the crew won’t give up the banner without a serious fight. They’ve learned from last season’s mistakes and won’t have to worry about whatever distraction Stephenson might have been. A clean slate for 2014-15 is exactly what this team needs.

2) Cleveland  Sorry Cleveland, but LeBron coming home doesn’t automatically make you the top dogs in the division or the conference. Not around here. The pressure isn’t just on LeBron, either. New coach David Blatt, Kyrie Irving and that supporting cast are all shouldering that load as well.

3) Chicago Derrick Rose is feeling good. And that can’t be anything but a great thing for the Bulls. But we need more than good vibrations to push the Bulls up the food chain. If Rose lights it up in Vegas during USAB training camp and later in Spain, an updated evaluation will be in order.

4) Detroit Greg Monroe‘s future with the Pistons remains a bit uncertain. But the rock for the future is Andre Drummond, who is also on the USAB roster, working to earn a spot on the World Cup team. Van Gundy’s system requires shooters, which the Pistons added in Jodie Meeks, and to an extent Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. Josh Smith remains the wild card.

5) Milwaukee It’ll be fun watching Parker’s game evolve under a young coach like Kidd. But the Bucks are still at least two years away from being a factor. They simply don’t have the personnel to compete with the top teams. And there is a learning curve the entire organization will have to undergo before the Bucks get back into the mix.


VIDEO: Relive the Bulls’ top 10 plays from 2013-14

Blogtable: Summer’s most intriguing team

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: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. impressed for the Wizards at Summer League

> You’ve seen the Draft. You’ve seen some Summer League. Outside of the Cavs, what team most intrigues you now? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m intrigued by Charlotte, with its addition of Lance Stephenson, along with pick-up Marvin Williams. There’s talent there, especially if Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh can rev up their frontline contributions, and it’s possible the Hornets push for a top-4 spot in the East playoffs. Steve Clifford should be able to prevent them from becoming The Lance Show (in the event Stephenson decides to start playing for his next contract right away). And let’s face it, if an NBA team can’t find a way to move on from the loss of Josh McRoberts, well, then Charlotte becomes watchable in an odd, case-study sort of way.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: In the East, and thank the basketball gods for this, there’s actually several teams of intrigue. Toronto kept its momentum going by re-signing so many of its own starting with Kyle Lowry. Washington is on the come and adding a big-brother figure in Paul Pierce should be great for John Wall and Bradley Beal. And, of course, Chicago with Pau Gasol in the mix and Derrick Rose coming back should be great fun to watch (yes, and post-LeBron Miami). In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are my choice. They missed out on Gasol, who would have been an absolute game-changer for that squad, and instead only came away with Sebastian Telfair, an end-of-bench addition, and Anthony Morrow, a 3-point specialist who could fit in quite well. I’m really curious to see how Russell Westbrook‘s game continues to evolve after his powerful postseason, how Kevin Durant comes off his first MVP season (but a bit of an individually disappointing postseason) and if Scott Brooks can add some new wrinkles to one of the most efficient (yet also most criticized) offenses over the last several years. If healthy the last two postseasons, this conversation could be totally different.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Washington Wizards, mostly because they have put together a quality offseason and have a clear path up the Eastern Conference food chain now that the entire field has been thinned out by LeBron’s departure for Cleveland. The Wizards will have an ideal blend of youthful energy and athleticism to go along with a seasoned supporting cast capable of pushing this team over the top a year after making that surprise run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. For whatever was lost in free agency (Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker), the Wizards more than made up for it by keeping Marcin Gortat and adding Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJaun Blair. Toss in a ready-to-go Otto Porter Jr. and the Samsung Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr., and the Wizards have every reason to believe that John Wall and Bradley Beal have a legitimate shot to lead this crew to the top of the Southeast Division and perhaps beyond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wizards have a chance to be one of the top two or three teams in the East. John Wall and Bradley Beal are getting better every season and could be the clear No. 1 backcourt in the conference by the start of 2015. Marcin Gortat has great pick-and-roll chemistry with Wall, Paul Pierce brings another element to the offense, and they have a ton of depth on their frontline. The only question is if they can maintain a top-10 defense with Pierce (who’s a better defender at the four than the three) replacing Trevor Ariza.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Washington. They kept Gortat, they did not overpay for Ariza, and then they managed to add Paul Pierce to that mix. Plus, after watching them in Summer League, it seemed clear that Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr (who was terrific in Vegas) are ready to add perimeter depth off the bench and give them the athleticism that Pierce lacks. Is Randy Wittman the right guy to take them to the next level? To me that’s the bigger question. But after a second-round run last season, all the pieces are in place for the Wiz to continue to grow what they’ve already started.