NEWS OF THE MORNING
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. …