Posts Tagged ‘Phil Jackson’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 19


Sixers focused on developmentJennings hungry as ever | Lakers wont rush Ingram | Young relishes fresh start with Pacers

No. 1: Sixers focused on development— The “process” is in the next phase for the Philadelphia 76ers. Gone are the days of the tear down. And now comes the focus on development of talented youngsters like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and the rest of a talented young roster. Keith Pompey of details the Sixers’ plan and how coach Brett Brown plans to execute it this season:

Midway through his annual preseason media luncheon, Brett Brown was asked his expectations for the season. While the 76ers coach declined to disclose how many wins he expects, he revealed that this season will be sort of like the previous three – minus the tanking.

“The difference is everybody is going to want to win some games,” the fourth-year coach said Thursday in the second-floor dining room of Lo Spiedo at the Navy Yard. “Let’s call it for what it is. I feel like that we are going to want to see growth on the court as it relates to wins.”

But the team that won just 10 games last season and a combined 47 in Brown’s first three campaigns is still heavily focused on player development.

Yes, the Sixers will run a purposeful offense and defense.

“And we are going to see the path of these young guys slowly start to look like they belong on an NBA court,” Brown said. “And we all say, ‘Wow, project Joel Embiid out in two or three years.’ ”

Embiid was expected to be an elite player since the time the Sixers selected him third overall in the 2014 draft. However, two operations on the navicular bone in the 7-foot-2, 275-pounder’s right foot prevented him from playing in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

The Sixers will have him on a minutes restriction. Embiid also isn’t expected to play on back-to-back nights. They won’t know if he’ll start at center against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the season-opener until after consulting with the medical staff.

This year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, won’t have the same restrictions. Look for the 6-10 point forward to play 30-plus minutes a night while initiating the offense. There’s a lot of excitement because of his ability to play anywhere from power forward to point guard.

There’s also excitement surrounding Dario Saric. Acquired in a 2014 draft-day trade, the 6-10 power forward will make his NBA debut after playing the last two seasons in Turkey.

“I think we are all going to look back [on this season] and see did certain people improve,” Brown said. “I think we are all going to look back and see did we start to figure out a rhythm beat, a rhythm to our season of who’s actually playing.”

Ultimately, Brown’s job will be to win games. However, he probably won’t win more than 25 even with the free-agent additions of Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez. The team is young and still several seasons away from being a serious NBA title contender.

Brown’s goal is to help Embiid, Simmons, Saric, and the other young players reach their potential.

That’s why he remains focused on developing a culture and teaching his offensive and defensive philosophies. He and his staff also intend to show the proper way to put in work in the weight room and scout opponents.

“Those things ultimately matter,” said Brown, who won four NBA titles during five Finals appearances as a San Antonio Spurs assistant. “Maybe not so much to the outside world, but if you really want to grow a program [it does]. I’ve seen what championships look like. I’ve seen five times what it takes to play in June. . . . So the growth sometimes might not be as quantifiable to the outside world. But I know it.”



Morning shootaround — Sept. 10


An Epic Class | Born Ready in the Big Easy | Richardson suffers knee injury | Colangelo suggests “guarded optimism”

No. 1: An Epic Class — Each year sees a new class inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and by nature, some classes are more star-studded than others. But the class of 2016, inducted last night in Springfield, was as big as it gets. As our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes, last night’s induction ceremony was some kind of party …

These are the nights that make the Hall of Fame, when Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Walton, Alonzo Mourning, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo are under the same roof and all we need is for someone to run a play through center and dare the guy with the ball to get past Russell or Mutombo, when Allen Iverson can barely get through a syllable without choking up while mentioning Larry Brown, John Thompson and Julius Erving on stage with him as presenters, and when Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, of all people, is auditioning for “Saturday Night Live” while being enshrined.

“A Bar Mitzvah is the time in his life when a Jewish boy realizes he has a better chance of owning a team than playing for one,” Reinsdorf said, recalling his in 1949, the same year he would scrape together money to watch professional basketball at Madison Square Garden.

That was some Friday night at Symphony Hall. That was some party.

There hadn’t been this kind of star power at the enshrinement since 2010, probably the greatest of all, with Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, the 1960 Olympic team led by Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, plus the 1992 Dream Team that mostly came down from Mt. Olympus to attend. This time, O’Neal, Yao and Iverson were among the 10 members of the Class of 2017 and sparkle was everywhere in the audience, some just watching and some with ceremonial duty as presenters: Russell and the entire center depth chart, Dr. J, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Earl Monroe. On and on.

It wasn’t just the list of career accomplishments under one roof either. Put O’Neal, Iverson and Yao, the headliners among the inductees with NBA or ABA ties, in front of a microphone anywhere and good things will happen. Put them in front of a microphone at the same event, with historical figures engrossed or laughing along in the audience and a very good night for basketball happens.

Yao was dignified and humorous and smart and personable, everything he was as a Rocket, even in the trying times as the injuries piled up, until finally he had to retire early and his only chance for enshrinement was through the International committee, not on his NBA credentials. He successfully meshed growing up in China with growing in stature in Houston — “I’m a Texan, I’m a Houston Rocket for life” — and later, after returning to the audience to hear the nine speeches that followed, laughed along as O’Neal told the story of not knowing for years that he could converse with Yao in English.

Iverson was again the A.I. everyone expected, just as he had been the day before with a series of candid, thoughtful responses, especially in choking through his words and tearing up at the seemingly vanilla question on the importance to his career of having good teammates. He didn’t even get that far Friday. Iverson got emotional before even taking the stage, just from host Ahmad Rashad beginning the introduction. The audience cheered in support, backing him in a way few, if any, enshrinees had been cheered in recent years.

When Iverson did deliver his acceptance speech, he was The Answer in his prime, storming downcourt with the ball, on a laser line to the rim, no finesse, no pretense. He did 31 minutes straight from the gut. Iverson thanked Thompson, his Georgetown coach, “for saving my life” and listed dozens of family members, teammates, executives, coaches and media members. There were more raw emotions.

“I have no regrets being the guy that I am, a person my family loves, my friends love, my teammates love, my fans love,” Iverson said.

And Shaq. It may have been his best speech of the last 20 years, true appreciation of his place in basketball history without the loud stomping, the dramatics, that accompanied so many previous comments. It was strange to not mention Jerry West among many, many names who influenced his career, and any impression of a thawing with Kobe Bryant in recent seasons now must include O’Neal at the podium noting “the great Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant, a guy who will push me and help me win three titles in a row. But also help me get pushed off the team and traded to Miami.”


No. 2: Born Ready in the Big Easy — The last major free-agent domino seems to have fallen into place. According to his agent, Lance Stephenson has agreed to a one-year deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. As John Reid writes for, the Pelicans found themselves in need of backcourt help, although Stephenson may still have to earn a roster spot …

The move comes less than a week after point guard Jrue Holiday said he would miss the start of the 2016 season to care for his pregnant wife, former U.S. soccer star Lauren Holiday, who is facing brain surgery.

Guard-forward Tyreke Evans also is expected to miss the start of the season because he has not fully recovered after undergoing three surgeries on his right knee in a nine-month span.

Still, Stephenson will have to earn a roster spot because the Pelicans already have 15 players under guaranteed contracts.

Stephenson is a six-year veteran, most recently played with the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and three assists per game. The Clippers traded Stephenson, 26, to the Grizzlies in February after he played 43 games and averaged 4.7 points.

Stephenson, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, has ability to create off the dribble and provide needed scoring in the backcourt. The Pelicans put Stephenson through a workout at the practice facility last month to evaluate before offering him a deal.

A free agent, there was speculation that Stephenson might not land a NBA contract and would have to play in Europe.

Although talented, Stephenson has a reputation as a difficult player to coach. When he played for the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson got into a fight with teammate Evan Turner during a practice before their opening-round playoff series in 2014 against the Atlanta Hawks.


No. 3: Richardson suffers knee injury — The Miami Heat haven’t had the best offseason, losing several key players such as Dwyane Wade to Joe Johnson. And now they may be one more man down, at least for now, as explosive guard Josh Richardson suffered a knee injury yesterday during a workout. As Ira Winderman writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Richardson was in the mix for a starting spot …

An uneven offseason for the Miami Heat became a bit more challenging Friday, with second-year guard Josh Richardson suffering a knee injury during Friday’s voluntary workouts at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The injury was confirmed to the Sun Sentinel by a party close to the situation after Yahoo Sports reported Richardson sustained a partially torn MCL in his right knee.

A Heat spokesman said Richardson currently is being evaluated by the team’s medical staff.

The expectation is that Richardson will not be available for the start of training camp, which opens for the Heat on Sept. 27. He is tentatively still scheduled to make a promotional appearance Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, which indicates reduced concern about the injury.

Richardson downplayed the injury, posting on his Twitter account, “Thanks everyone for the tweets and texts. I see them. I’ll be back asap no worries.” He posted on his Snapchat, “Can’t hold a real one down!!!”

The Heat open their preseason schedule on Oct. 4 on the road against the Washington Wizards and their regular-season schedule on Oct. 26 on the road against the Orlando Magic.

An injury such as Richardson’s can take from two, three weeks to two, three months for recovery, depending on the grade of the tear.

A regular at the team’s offseason sessions, Richardson had been considered a candidate to emerge in the starting lineup this season, either at shooting guard or small forward.


No. 4: Colangelo suggests “guarded optimism” For the last few years, Philadelphia 76ers fans have been asked to trust the rebuilding process and look toward the future. Now that future is finally becoming the present, after two years waiting for former lottery pick Joel Embiid to get healthy enough to take the court. Speaking this weekend in Springfield, Sixers special advisor Jerry Colangelo said that Sixers fans should have “guarded optimism” when it comes to Embiid’s return…

“I’m sure that everyone should have optimism,” Colangelo told at the Basketball Hall of Fame. “But there’s a word I’ve always used over the years about optimism. It should be guarded optimism because things take time. When you’re building teams — and I’ve had the privilege of doing that quite a few times in my career — you’re adding pieces here and there, and then once in a while you strike out and get that last piece. I think where the Sixers are today is, this is the beginning of that particular process, and that is building what everyone would hope to be a championship team.”

Two focal points of the Sixers’ future are Ben Simmons and Embiid. Simmons, a 6-foot-10 point-forward, is ready to make an impact as a rookie. Embiid, on the other hand, has been waiting two years to play following foot surgeries. Last month Embiid said he feels “100 percent” and plans to participate in training camp.

“With all of the reports that I’ve seen and all the footage I’ve seen in terms of video, it appears that he’s headed in the right direction,” Colangelo said of Embiid. “I know that everyone’s excited about training camp because of all of the new faces. … The fortunate ability to have the first pick and select Ben Simmons, you put all those new players on paper and to add that to a roster, it’s going to be really interesting, exciting to see how it all plays out.”

When it comes to incoming international players, Colangelo’s involvement with Team USA gave him the opportunity to meet with Dario Saric and Sergio Rodriguez in Rio during the Olympics. Saric, who signed with the Sixers two years after being drafted, had a solid showing for Croatia, while Rodriguez helped Spain win bronze.

“I thought [Saric] played very well and I complimented him on his performances,” Colangelo said. “Both of them showed great enthusiasm about coming to training camp. I think it’s going to be exciting to have them in Sixers uniforms very shortly.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Wizards coach Scott Brooks says he isn’t worried about the relationship between John Wall and Bradley Beal … Phil Jackson pays tribute to Shaq … Draymond Green pays tribute to Allen IversonKevin Durant says he and Russell Westbrook are “still cool” … LeBron James‘ production company has sold a “sports medicine drama” to NBC.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 3


Chris Bosh situation far from settledKobe almost traded for Grant Hill? | Meet the godfather of the salary cap

No. 1: Chris Bosh situation far from settled As the NBA creeps closer to the start of training camp, perhaps the biggest mystery lies with the status of Chris Bosh. The 11-time All-Star forward and the last remaining member of the Big Three era last played right before the All-Star break last season, then sat with an illness linked to the blood clots that hampered him the season before. Bosh has played 44 and 53 games the last two seasons but he and the organization expect him to be in uniform this season. But is it that simple? Ethan Skolnick of CBS Sports takes a wide-angle view of Bosh and life in a new stage for him and the Heat:

It’s been one of the NBA oddities of the past couple of years, an organization that has done so much winning over the past couple of decades, and now keeps finding itself in no-win battles. The Heat really can’t afford the optics of another bad breakup, not while maintaining its reputation as one of sports’ model organizations.

Yet here it is again, even if its intentions are nothing but noble, concerned only about protecting Bosh’s health — essentially protecting him from himself, considering the medical consensus about the dangers of him playing on blood thinners.

Yet some close to Bosh are not convinced that the Heat’s motivations are quite so pure. They suspect that the franchise is more concerned about clearing Bosh’s salary from the cap, which it can do exactly one year after he last played (on February 9, 2016) provided that he doesn’t play more than nine additional games. That would give Riley more room to reload with fresh, younger talent next summer, to make at least one last title run before he — now 71 — retires.

What does Bosh think?

Well, it’s hard to explicitly know, other than that he desperately wants to play, and that it’s not about money, since he will receive the $76 million he’s still owed regardless. He wants to play so badly that he has crossed the country to find a doctor to clear him; according to the Miami Herald, one doctor has proposed him taking blood thinners in the morning and getting off them at night, but the Heat are not comfortable with that arrangement.

Bosh hasn’t spoken on any of that. Not on his treatment. Not on his frustration. Not on any reports.

He has communicated infrequently and cryptically about his situation since February, in Toronto, where he abruptly withdrew from the All-Star Game due to another calf strain. Bosh downplayed the apparent setback then, saying that “I just wanted to make sure I was taking the necessary precautions and being a good professional,” but the details ultimately emerged — he had suffered another blood clot. This came after his first blood clot ended his 2014-15 season.

Long one of the NBA’s most accessible players, Bosh has said nothing definitive about his condition in the months since, entirely avoiding media members with whom he has interacted for years, staring down at a book in the locker room while a Heat official stands guard. And the Heat haven’t offered much more detail, as the organization attempts to avoid violating his privacy and creating another controversy.

Even so, it’s been obvious since the spring that the sides have not been aligned.

Not with Bosh releasing a statement in March through a publicist rather than the team (and the team refusing to comment on it). Not with Adrienne posting #BringBackBosh on her Twitter account and Bosh associates wearing those T-shirts to playoff games.

Not even after the sides came to an uneasy truce in May, releasing a joint statement that he would not be playing in the remainder of the playoffs and that they were “working together” so they could “return Chris to playing basketball as soon as possible.”

Not even after Micky Arison, the Heat’s managing general partner, mentioned Bosh as one of the Heat’s core players in a post on the team’s official website, and then tweeted “Looking good CB @chrisbosh look forward to seeing in camp” in response to Bosh’s recent video posts.


No. 2: Kobe almost traded for Grant Hill? It’s always interesting when we get a sneak peek at the inner-workings of the NBA and teams and trade discussions, even when the facts and stories surface many years later, and especially when they involve big names. But Kobe Bryant and Grant Hill? For each other? Phil Jackson admitted the talks took place 17 years ago, just before the Lakers went on their Shaq-Kobe dynasty. Suppose Hill stayed healthy; would he be a solid mesh with Shaq? Here’s the dish, from Ian Begley of

That trade — a deal that would’ve changed the course of recent NBA history — was never close to consummation, according to Jackson.

It came about because Bryant wasn’t happy with the idea of coming off of the bench early in the 1999-2000 season — Jackson’s first with the Lakers — and requested a trade.

“For a few minutes, I thought about taking the Pistons up on an offer they made to trade Kobe for Grant Hill. Make that a few seconds,” Jackson told his friend, Charley Rosen, in an interview published Friday for Today’s Fastbreak.

Bryant, of course, would develop into one of the top players of all time, winning five titles along the way. Hill, who is nearly six years older than Bryant, had shown, at that point, the promise to be one of the top players of his era. But debilitating injuries derailed his career. Had it gone through, the Bryant-Hill trade would have altered Jackson’s legacy and the history of the NBA. But Jackson said the Lakers never seriously considered the offer.

“The thing was that Kobe already saw himself as being one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. I thought that, in time, he would indeed reach that goal.

“Anyway, he was not going to be traded,” Jackson said in the Today’s Fastbreak piece, in which he also mixed up the chronology of his run with the Lakers. “So we’d talk about being patient, and letting the game come to him. But Kobe would sometimes still go off on his own, disregarding the offense and trying to single-handedly take over the game. When I called him on this, he’d say that for us to keep on winning, there was a lot for him to do.”

This was just one example of the not-always-rosy relationship between Bryant and Jackson. Jackson has detailed many of his run-ins with Kobe in his books, and he gives an overview of his relationship with the recently retired Lakers star in the Today’s Fastbreak piece. Jackson and Bryant developed a mutual respect and admiration for one another as time passed.

“I’ll miss him, and the game will miss him,” Jackson said.


No. 3: Meet the godfather of the salary cap Most NBA fans wouldn’t know recognize the name Larry Coon and would be stunned to know how much respect and importance he carries within league circles. Well, he’s the Einstein of the league’s salary cap and is often consulted by league personnel and media when clarification is needed regarding the fine print. He’s aware of the rules, restraints and whatnot of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players and nothing stumps him. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register recently wrote a profile of the man who knows his way around the lingo:

A middle-aged man who’s more likely to buy a pocket protector than come off a screen-and-roll and throw a pocket pass, one who says he has no desire to even pick up a basketball, has become one of the most knowledgeable people in the NBA.

His hair has grayed, his shoulders tend to slouch, and this day in Vegas, he looks like any one of the thousand convention-goers in town, corporate polo and khakis included.

If Coon looks more the part of office-dweller than NBA revolutionary, there’s a reason for it.

He spends his days in the information technology offices at UC Irvine, managing major projects and evangelizing business analytics.

But over the course of more than 15 years, he’s used his nights to become an indispensable part of the NBA fabric, operating the go-to reference used by teams, players, agents and reporters.

When it comes to understanding the rules that get your favorite players to and from your favorite teams, Coon is the person people turn to.


“You think you know something? You really want to know it?” Coon says. “Explain it to others.”

After his office hours, Coon and one of his protégés load up in Coon’s silver Mazda and head over to the UNLV campus, which is hosting the Sports Business Classroom in addition to the NBA’s Summer League.

Coon starts to recount his journey, always staying on script, trying not to deviate from the linear order of events. He knows how he wants to explain things.

It’s his area of expertise.

His “CBA FAQ” has become a staple in web browsers around the league, breaking down the 154,274-word collective bargaining agreement – approximately the same length as “The Grapes of Wrath” – that lays out the financial rules for the NBA into more palatable terms.

Before Golden State general manager Bob Myers won the 2015 Executive of the Year award and built a team that won a single-season record 73 games and signed the biggest free agent available in Kevin Durant, he was merely a law student with a thirst for NBA knowledge.

To quench it, he tried to study the CBA.

“Anyone who knows and has tried to do it, it’s very dense,” Myers said. “Larry was the first person to break it down into layman’s terms, into ways that were succinct, efficient.

“It was like the CliffsNotes version of the CBA.”

People trying to find work in the NBA’s front offices now had the companion to a document that could make even the trained eye crust over. The phrase “in accordance” appears 259 times in the 2011 CBA; “notwithstanding” is there 128 times.

Neither appears in Coon’s FAQ.

“You can’t learn the cap by studying the collective bargaining agreement,” Portland General Manager Neil Olshey said. “Larry did that FAQ that had all the questions, and what Larry did better than anybody is he made it digestible for people who didn’t have that high-end mathematics background. That’s why I was able to use it.”

Coon’s trip to NBA celebrity began in a place so many Southern California basketball fans have been – watching the Lakers and listening to Chick Hearn.

But instead of being inspired to shoot jump shots, Coon’s love of basketball drifted to the mechanical side.

How, he wondered, were teams able to get certain players and not others. What could they pay them? Were there limits? What were the loopholes? And who are the people smart enough to exploit them.

Coon’s an obsessive, and he sought the answers with the same voracity that led his cycling habit to become, at one time, a 500-mile-a-week routine.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Harrison Barnes is ready for his close-up in Dallas and a chance to be a prime-time player … Some tweets by Karl-Anthony Towns bode well for his time with the Timberwolves … Sure, it’s nothing but talk now here in September, but Andre Drummond says he’s big on the Pistons this season.

Celtics’ Crowder rates as Jackson’s biggest Knicks ‘mistake’

If any player on Boston’s current roster could be said to bleed Celtics green, it would have to be forward Jae Crowder. Crowder, one of those guys credited with instilling “heart” into whatever team he’s on, turned the loyalist/”company man” stuff up to 11 with his reaction to Kevin Durant‘s decision not to join Gang Green as a free agent in July. The 6-foot-6, fifth-year man from Marquette was surprised that Durant turned down the pitch from a contingent that included Crowder, and he especially was peeved that the Celtics revealed some of the tactics they used against the former OKC star and his new team in Golden State.

Just because Crowder is long on Celtics pride, though, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t feel good about his near-miss at playing for the New York Knicks. That path-not-taken came up in an interview with Knicks team president Phil Jackson, conducted after the season by Jackson’s pal Charley Rosen and posted Friday by Today’s Fastbreak.

Jackson, in assessing this past season, looked all the way back to his earliest move in June 2014 and the regret that lingers over not grabbing Crowder when he had the chance:

“I don’t consider hiring [since-fired Derek Fisher as coach] a mistake because he worked hard and got the guys to stay as positive as possible while the losses piled up. I think the biggest mistake I made was actually this…One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics. In talking with Boston, I was given the option of taking that pick or else taking Jae Crowder. I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn’t get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo, so I took the pick which turned out to be Cleanthony Early. While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us, he still has the potential to be a valuable player. Even so, I should have taken Crowder.

“Anyway, for all of us, making mistakes are part of the learning process…”

Crowder’s value was harder to ascertain back then, coming off his second season in the league and filling a reserve role for the Mavericks. Even pro-rated to 36 minutes, Crowder then (10.2 ppg, 11.9 PER) wasn’t the player he’s become (16.2 ppg, 15.8 PER in 2015-16), his defense and leadership blossoming in Boston as well.

But to have a legend such as Jackson kicking himself publicly for passing you by – and then to know you’ve avoided the Madison Square Garden mess of the past two seasons that only now seems to be getting straightened out – has to rank as a double-blessing for the 26-year-old Crowder.

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 14


Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? | Group B gets crazy in Rio | Lebron’s new deal about more than money | Thomas convinced rest of the league knows Celtics are on the rise

No. 1: Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? — All it takes is a couple of close calls in Olympic competition for the legion of doubters to appear for Team USA in Rio. That aura of invincibility vanishes with each and every tight game survived by this current group of All-Stars led by superstars Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving. Michael Lee of The Vertical shines a light on the turning tide in Rio as Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff continue to search for an identity for this particular group (perhaps in time for today’s game against France, 1:15 p.m. ET):

The hilarious Snapchat prank sessions, Facebook sing-alongs and Instagram video shenanigans were much more entertaining than the actual games for the United States men’s Olympic basketball team through a barnstorming exhibition tour and two effortless but sloppy beat-downs to start these games in Brazil. But just as this group was headed toward earning the playful title of the Meme Team, the Americans have encountered some genuine adversity in their past two games that – if mistakes aren’t corrected or adjustments not made – could find them on the wrong side of the joke.

Team USA might survive these Olympics unscathed. Ten All-Stars, including a former MVP, might prove to be all that the Americans need to escape the Rio games with gold medals around their necks. Getting shoved around by Australia and gasping for air until Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic’s potential tying 3-pointer drew iron, however, should give anyone pause that “the real world” – as coach Mike Krzyzewski has dubbed his team’s current predicament against superior opponents – is theirs to dominate. The Americans won’t be beatable until they actually lose, but the veil of invincibility has been exposed in too-close-for-comfort wins against Australia and Serbia.

“They are just players,” said Serbian center Nikola Jokic, the promising Denver Nugget who bludgeoned the U.S. for a game-high 25 points in a 94-91 loss. “If you think about who they are, you are not going to be good at this. Maybe Australia showed us they can get beat. They can get beat.”

Even without LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Chris Paul, the talent on Team USA is overwhelming in comparison to the other teams in this tournament. The performances have been extremely underwhelming, though, exposing the vulnerabilities and deficiencies without those aforementioned stars.

The off-court camaraderie that this group has developed appears authentic, as players have repeatedly discussed the bonds that have been formed in less than a month. But they are still learning to play with each other. Before confronting a fearless group from Australia, Team USA’s games were played at All-Star Game-level intensity and provided little in the form of preparation for what would be in store against legitimate competition outside the United States. The ease with which won made it easy to overlook that the team has 10 players making their Olympic debuts, including six who have never played any international competitions.

The Americans have all been asked to assume roles that are different than the ones they play on their NBA teams and the adjustment has been far from seamless. On the previous two Olympic gold medal-winning teams, Paul or James controlled the floor, Kobe Bryant embraced the role as defensive stopper, Dwyane Wade and later Westbrook came off the bench as cold-blooded assassins and Chris Bosh and later Tyson Chandler served as the defensive anchor protecting the rim and covering mistakes.

Through four games, this team is still waiting for those positions to be filled. Wins over Australia and Serbia were claimed in disjointed, grinding fashion. 

Team USA hasn’t looked sharp. Winning the past two games by a combined 13 points makes it obvious that something is amiss, but before trouncing Venezuela by 43, the Americans were tied with one of the worst teams in Group A after the first period.

“We got to expect this,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “Every time we step on the floor, guys are going to give us their best effort, everybody wants to beat Team USA. We know that coming in, but at the same time, we can’t crumble the way we’ve done the past two games. Right now, we’re hurting ourselves. Not taking away credit of how Serbia played, because they played amazing tonight. But we’ve got to be a lot stronger mentally.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — July 10

Noah’s Knicks connection | Rockets extend Harden | Walton ready to grow | Wade no hard feelings

No. 1: Noah and Jackson have a historyJoakim Noah had been to Madison Square Garden many times as a kid to watch the likes of Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson in the glory days of the ’90s. But it was an unexpected and daresay unusual visit to Montana that providing the first meeting between Noah and Phil Jackson and eventually led to them reuniting now in New York. Christian Red of the New York Daily News detailed the long and winding road that brought them together:

About five years ago, Noah says he visited Phil Jackson at the Zen Master’s Montana retreat, after Jackson had left the Lakers’ bench and was semi-retired. The trip, which was sparked by mutual friends of both Noah and Jackson, now seems to have been a hint of things to come.

“My father used to make me read (Jackson’s) books when I was a kid. I hate reading books, but I read his books,” says Noah. “I had an opportunity to go to Montana and meet (Jackson). So I took the plane, went to Montana, and I knock on his door. We start talking and he goes, ‘Why are you here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ It was a great couple days. I got an opportunity to meet one of the legends and spend time with him. Life works in mysterious ways. Now we’re here.”


No. 2: Rockets bet on Harden — With the ill-fated Dwight Howard era in the rearview mirror, the Rockets have wasted no time in re-establishing James Harden as the face — and The Beard — of the franchise by extending the contract of the All-Star guard through 2020. Calvin Watkins of says Harden is looking to establish a lasting legacy in Houston:

Harden did some good on Saturday by staying. He keeps the team relevant with his superstar stature and he also displayed a sense of loyalty. No need for the Rockets to head to the Hamptons for visits with free agents.

“It’s just that feeling where everything feels comfortable,” Harden said. “You felt loved and people want you to be here, and that feeling right there outweighs anything.”


No. 3: Walton will grow with young Lakers — To twist a lyric from his father’s favorite rock and roll band, what a short, strange trip it’s been. But even though he’s just 36 years old and doesn’t have a long resume of coming up through the ranks and paying dues, Luke Walton says he’s up to the task to rebuild the Lakers. Our own Walton watched his young players get their first taste of summer league action in Las Vegas and our own Scott Howard-Cooper was there to catch up to him:

If someone told him nine months ago he would be coaching the Lakers, Walton would not have believed them. He would have taken it. But he wouldn’t have believed them. Yet there he was, walking through the black curtains of Thomas & Mack before their summer-league opener against the Pelicans, about to watch D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, two of the new franchise cornerstones, paired for the first time.

“It was unusual,” Walton said of the insta-path that led him from novice on the bench to the chance to be the No. 1 with a franchise and a front office he knows well in an area he loves and had kept his permanent home. “It happened faster than I would have guessed. I think obviously Steve’s health issues and being the interim head coach up there for 40-plus games this year was the main reason the process has sped up and obviously the success we’ve had up there. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I think everybody does, no matter how long you’ve been doing any job. I’m excited and I feel like I’m ready for this and I’m looking forward to it.”


No. 4: Wade-Riley have ties that bindDwyane Wade has read and listened to all of the analysis of the break-up with Heat president Pat Riley that led to his departure from the only NBA franchise he’s ever known. But the All-Star guard and three-time champion told Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel that there are no hard feelings over the break-up and there will always be love for Riley:

There were reports Wade and Riley were at odds during negotiations. Wade turned down the Heat’s two-year, $40-million contract, joining the Bulls for a deal worth roughly $7.5 million more.

“Because you love somebody so well, you guys love each other, but the business side comes out,” Wade said. “You know? And we have to deal with that. I’m not saying we’ve hugged and cried and shared tears at this moment. But I love Pat and I will always love Pat. And I know he feels the same way about me.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Grizzlies pick up another shooter in a trade for Troy Daniels … After helping Croatia punch its ticket to the Rio Olympics, Dario Saric said his next stop is Philadelphia to join the 76ers … Little Isaiah Thomas is looking for a big payday from the Celtics … The Warriors make it official with veteran forward David West … Darrell Arthur re-signs with Nuggets … Pelicans remembering Bryce Dejean-Jones.

Morning shootaround — July 9


Bird uses trade market to rebuild Pacers | Familiarity a key for Parsons’ move to Memphis | Knicks “activate” to get ‘Melo back to the playoffs | Ezeli’s journey leads him to Portland

No. 1: Bird uses trade market to rebuild Pacers — While other teams have made big changes through free agency, Larry Bird has taken the Indiana Pacers down a new path via the trade market. The Pacers did sign Al Jefferson this week, but they also added two new starters by making trades for point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Thaddeus Young, who give Indiana a quicker and more versatile roster, as Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star writes:

Rebuilding in the NBA can be a painstaking, rigorous process. The usual years of losing, the hopes and fate of the franchise decided by lottery balls.

A free agency signing can bring jubilation. A rejection in free agency can be crushing.

Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird has chosen a different path.

Every year for Bird is about winning, improving, contending. Forget a conventional rebuild. Bird, in many ways, is unconventional. The way the Pacers’ roster was built is the latest example.

For 24 months, Bird has been on a quest. He has transformed the Pacers from a big, traditional, lumbering team into a modern one that will spread the court and run whenever given the opportunity. Bird’s design, after two years and a long list of transactions, appears to be close to completion.


No. 2: Familiarity a key for Parsons’ move to Memphis — Chandler Parsons made his second free agency move in three years this week, leaving Dallas after just two seasons for Memphis. And for him, it was an easy decision thanks, in part, to his familiarity with new Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale and assistant J.B. Bickerstaff. Tom Schad of the Memphis Commercial Appeal was there as Parsons was introduced in Memphis on Friday:

Parsons picked Memphis over Portland, which also reportedly offered him a max contract, in part because of trust. He played for Fizdale during the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge and said they immediately established a rapport. He also spent three years in Houston with Bickerstaff, who is “like family to me,” Parsons said.

Former high-school teammate Nick Calathes and close friend Courtney Lee gave Parsons rave reviews about playing in Memphis, he said. The opportunity to play with point guard Mike Conley, who helped recruit him with text messages over the past several weeks, was another major factor.

“Any time that you’re comfortable with someone that’s already here, it makes things a lot easier,” Parsons said. “That’s someone that I wanted to talk to and I know who would shoot me straight and someone who I greatly respect. He’s been here for nine years. He’s had a great career here.”


No. 3: Knicks “activate” to get Melo back to the playoffs — Since last year’s Draft, the New York Knicks have been in a position where the timeline of their best player (Carmelo Anthony) hasn’t aligned with the timeline of their best asset (Kristaps Porzingis). But with the trades and free agency additions that he’s made this summer, Knicks president Phil Jackson has clearly decided to prioritize short-term success over the long-term outlook. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News writes that, even with all the changes the Knicks have made, it’s still all about Melo at Madison Square Garden:

It’s a player’s league. Not a coach’s league or a system league. The triangle doesn’t win a championship in Chicago without Michael Jordan, and the Knicks weren’t winning much of anything the last two seasons.

So Phil Jackson reached the correct conclusion after a recent meeting with an increasingly impatient Carmelo Anthony: As long as Anthony is here and All-Star capable, the 31-year-old’s career timeline should be placated. If not, what’s the point of paying him $124 million with a no-trade clause?

“One of my questions to Carmelo was, you know, we haven’t made the playoffs and now this is three years, two years, since I’ve been here — are we moving quickly enough for you and your anticipation of trying to be into a competitive playoff situation?” Jackson said. “I think that was our conversation and established the fact of his desire, the idea that he is getting into an age where things have to happen for him. So we decided to activate ourselves.”

This is Anthony’s responsibility now. His burden to win games. No more excuses or demands through the media. That was the implication Friday from Jackson, who reversed the roles after a year of Anthony publicly pleading that the team president be better at his job.


No. 4: Ezeli’s journey leads him to Portland — Festus Ezeli didn’t start playing basketball until he was 14 years old and has had some bumps in the road along the way. But after winning a championship with Golden State, Ezeli is expected to bring some toughness to the Trail Blazers. The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman chronicles the path that Ezeli took to get to Portland:

Ezeli chose Vanderbilt over several colleges because it offered an excellent blend of education and basketball. Also, coach Kevin Stallings agreed to his only request — that Ezeli be allowed to redshirt his first year to learn the game. It was an easy decision for Stallings, who knew he had a project on his hands.

“He had no basketball playing experience, so it was like having this really big, awesome piece of clay that we could help mold,” Stallings said Friday. “In the beginning, he was extremely raw and inexperienced. He literally didn’t know a lot of the rules of the game.”

And even after sitting out that first year, Ezeli was raw. Forget grasping the nuances of the pick-and-roll. Never mind figuring out when to leave your man on defense to offer help on the weakside. Initially, Ezeli couldn’t handle playing in front of a crowd. One of Stallings’ favorite stories about the challenges Ezeli faced on his path to the NBA came early during his redshirt freshman season, when Vanderbilt participated in a closed, preseason scrimmage against eventual-champion North Carolina. Ezeli played so well, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was amazed.

“Who is that guy and where did you find him?” Williams asked Stallings after the scrimmage, during which Ezeli held his own against the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and future Blazers big man Ed Davis.

A week later, however, during an exhibition game against the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a tiny Division II school, Ezeli was a shell of the player that had impressed Williams. He was so bad, Stallings had to pull him early in his first shift.

“He comes to the bench and he’s hyperventilating,” Stallings said. “I’m like, ‘We scrimmaged North Carolina and you were fine. What’s wrong?’ He goes, ‘I know Coach, but all these people weren’t there.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Kings are looking to make a trade … Damian Lillard is one of many players speaking out about the violence that has happened around the U.S. this week … Jackson wants Brandon Jennings to be the Sixth Man of the Year.

Morning shootaround — June 5

Hornacek gets the point | Wall still climbing | Work ahead for Presti | Too much LeBron? | The Ali Effect

No. 1: Hornacek emphasizes getting the point — During the most productive part of his playing career, Jeff Hornacek ran with John Stockton in Utah. During his only other stint as a head coach, he was able to choose from Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas on any given night. Now that he’s taken over on the bench with the Knicks, it’s sounding like Hornacek has a point guard at the top of his wish list in New York, says Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“We have a young player that’s obviously inexperienced after his first year,’’ Hornacek said at Friday’s press conference. “He’ll get better and better. Jose is kind of later in his career. If we can find a middle guy to bridge those two guys, it would be good. There’s a lot of guys out there. I’m sure Phil [Jackson, team president] and Steve [Mills, general manager] are looking at everything.’’

“If there’s something out there in free agency to bring in that guy, in between, that can help guide the younger guard and assist the older point guard, that would make the team better,’’ Hornacek added.

It’s not a strong crop of free-agent point guards, with Memphis’ Mike Conley leading the top tier. Resurgent Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony’s choice, is next, but some in the organization believe he hangs onto the ball too much. Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Ty Lawson, Jeremy Lin, Miami’s unsung Tyler Johnson, Aaron Brooks and Mario Chalmers are also free agents. Sources have indicated the Knicks consider Lawson’s off-court issues too big a risk and Lin’s defense too gaping.



Morning shootaround — June 2


Health, experience key in 2016 Finals | Curry: ‘Face of NBA’ talk ‘annoying’ | Report: Knicks to hire Hornacek | Durant’s teammates await his decision

No. 1: Health, experience at center of these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rolled into The 2015 NBA Finals without power forward Kevin Love (shoulder) and only had star guard Kyrie Irving for one game before he suffered a series-ending knee injury. The Golden State Warriors entered The 2015 NBA Finals healthy, but green in terms of experience on the big stage. Oh, but how those storylines have changed as Game 1 of The 2016 NBA Finals (9 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle details how wellness and familiarity will be key in this Finals rematch:

“We’re a better team than we were last year, based on experience and what we’ve been through,” Stephen Curry said. “We’re better equipped to handle the scene of the Finals — all of that is kind of thrown at you when you get to the Finals the first time. Obviously, they have some guys healthy, and they’re playing really good basketball, rolling through the Eastern Conference.”

On the periphery, this looks like a rematch of last year’s Finals, which the Warriors won in six games to bring home a title for the first time in 40 years. But the Warriors and Cavaliers are far different teams than the ones that arrived at Oracle Arena a year ago.

The Warriors are champions, a team that felt that target on its back all season and extraordinarily dodged the arrows to complete the best regular season in NBA history.

They went into last season’s NBA Finals with no players who had been there and only one who had advanced as far as the conference finals. This season, they have 13 men with rings.

“I think we’re much better,” Klay Thompson said. “I think we know what to expect on this stage. I don’t think anyone is going to be nervous, like we were last year. Now, we know to expect that shots can be a little harder to come by and fouls can be a little harder.”

The Cavaliers are healthy again.

Point guard Kyrie Irving, who left Game 1 of last year’s Finals with a fractured kneecap, has been unstoppable at getting to the rim this postseason. Kevin Love, who was lost early in last year’s playoffs to a dislocated shoulder, has nine postseason double-doubles this year.

Cleveland made an under-the-radar acquisition of Channing Frye near the trade deadline, and the 6-foot-11 center has a playoff-best 82.1 true-shooting percentage — a number that includes free-throw shooting and both three-point and two-point field-goal shooting.

“I think they’re dramatically different,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of the Cavs. “Obviously, they’re healthy, but not only are they healthy, they also changed their style. They tried to grind us to pulp last year, playing big. They were slowing the ball and the pace down. This year, they’ve added Channing Frye, and they’re not playing Timofey Mozgov. They’ve got shooting all over the place, so it’s a much different team.”

The Warriors are going to have to adjust, but Kerr wasn’t ready to reveal his plan just yet: “I won’t tell you what I’m going to do.”

Cleveland (12-2 this postseason) has outscored its opponents by 177 points in the first three rounds and opened by winning its first 10 games, the first East team to accomplish the feat.

That should be the narrative of the Finals, but this is a player-driven league, so it’ll come down to Stephen Curry against LeBron James — players who rarely will guard each other.

“I’m not in the business of ranking or debating who’s what,” Curry said. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning. The fact that we won the championship last year and were the last team standing obviously is what was most important to me. Us being back here against the Cavs again, there are obviously story lines that the basketball fans will think are pretty cool.”

Morning shootaround — May 31


Curry, Warriors finish off OKC | Buss says Jackson committed to Knicks | Biyombo wants to stick with Raptors

No. 1: Curry, Warriors complete their comeback story Just days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were one mere victory away from their first Finals trip in four seasons. But the Thunder never could get win No. 4 in the Western Conference finals and fell in Game 7 last night, allowing the Golden State Warriors to become the 10th team ever in NBA history to win a series after falling behind 3-1. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical has more on how Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Warriors etched their name in NBA lore and reached a second straight NBA Finals:

For Curry to flourish in the middle of it all Monday night at Oracle Arena – to close out a 96-88 victory with 15 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter – had been because Curry never let Klay Thompson believe the Splash Brothers no longer existed. Curry could’ve transformed one of the great individual seasons seasons ever – a unanimous MVP performance – and separated himself into a singular entity.

“Steph does not care about getting all the attention,” Draymond Green told The Vertical late Monday night. “Without Klay, there’s not that much success here. He’s always made sure that people understood: It’s about us, it’s not about me. That’s why this team is successful, because that our guy, that’s how he sees things.”

Curry needed middle relief in this series, and Thompson delivered it for him. Golden State never would’ve gotten out of Oklahoma City, out of Game 6, without Thompson’s 41 points. He was the hero. “What Klay did was [put] us on his shoulders and allow us to have this opportunity at home,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.

When the Warriors’ backcourt started together five years ago, Curry and Thompson were a true partnership. On the night Golden State traded Monta Ellis to Milwaukee, Thompson remembers Curry telling him: It’s you and me now. The Splash Brothers were born.

And as these past two years unfolded, it appeared to matter far less that Thompson had become a two-time All-Star guard – only because Curry had become a two-time MVP. This year, the term Splash Brothers had never been heard so less. And yet if that was the narrative outside the Warriors, it never became the reality within them.

Three weeks ago, Curry made his comeback from an MCL knee sprain. He had missed games in the series against the Houston Rockets and Portland, and struggled for most of Game 4 against the Trail Blazers. As it turned out, his closing performance transcended the moment: 17 points in overtime, an NBA record. Everyone swooned over Curry, only to find him swooning over someone else.

Before Curry left the podium that night, he leaned into the microphone and answered a question that no one had posed to him: Hey, what a series Klay Thompson has had for us, he told everyone. Big shots, big makes and chasing Damian Lillard everywhere on defense.

“I called him later, and told him, ‘That’s great leadership,’ ” Warriors GM Bob Myers told The Vertical on Monday night.

When the Warriors were down 3-1, Myers delivered Curry a gentle reminder. “Your body language matters,” the GM told him. “People are watching you.”

This was some scene in Oracle on Monday night, a culmination of a conference finals comeback the NBA hadn’t seen since the Boston Celtics survived the Philadelphia 76ers in 1981. The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the way for an NBA Finals rematch on Thursday night, only this time LeBron James is bringing a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Curry will need everyone on these Warriors, need them all, and that includes the full force of the Splash Brothers.

“When you’re down, like we were, the fabric of the team is easier to see,” Myers told The Vertical. “You see it when you hit some adversity. When you could splinter, and you don’t, well, that’s where you see the connectedness of the team.”

For these Golden State Warriors, it still begins and ends with Steph Curry. The Warriors had his back in these Western finals, because he’s always had theirs. In the end, the MVP stood in the middle of Oracle Arena and let the love wash over him, pounding his chest, screaming into the Bay Area night. Together, they had done it. Together, the Warriors had survived. Still standing, still champs.