Posts Tagged ‘Phil Jackson’

Morning shootaround — July 28


VIDEO: David Lee talks about joining the Celtics

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reluctant Popovich is a “lifer” | Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal | Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans | Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire

No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:

Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.

His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.

Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.

“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.

What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?

The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.

Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.

But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?

This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.

He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:

“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”

He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.

Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.

“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.

But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:

“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”

This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.

***

No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:

The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.

Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.

Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.

A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.

Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.

He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.

I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.

Times have changed.

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No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:

It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.

According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.

His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.

“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”

Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.

“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”

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No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:

Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”

Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.

Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition gameDennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …

Morning shootaround — July 18


VIDEO: Sophomores delivering at Summer League

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family | Project Durant on track in Washington | Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop | Smart to miss Africa game

No. 1: Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family — It’s too bad, when Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo writes about himself on his official blog, that he doesn’t lapse into third-person references to himself. If he did, he’d face the same challenge – spelling and typing that last name repeatedly – other scribes face. Nonetheless, the Bucks’ rising star posted Friday about the bond he feels with his team and how his sense of family extends these days to his workplace:

The Bucks and John Hammond chose me in the draft, got me in the NBA, kept me in the team with a role from my very first season and they are my basketball family. Not only that, but already at this young age, they have enough faith in me as a leader and they are doing everything in order to develop all of my potential. From my side, I feel that I want to be playing in the Bucks. I’m not talking about my next contract. The way I feel now, I want to keep playing for the Milwaukee Bucks for the next 20 years!

You never know how life turns out. Three years ago I was thinking that I might be playing for Filathlitikos forever! All of a sudden, the draft emerged, the NBA, the Bucks and everything that followed. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling and thinking in 2, 3 or more years. Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.

I’m a guy who doesn’t really care about glamour and big markets. I like to be home all day. I get up in the morning, I take a shower and I go to practice. When I’m finished, the only thing that’s on my mind is to go back home and spend time with my family. I usually feel that I prefer to hide from people.

Okay, if LeBron said to me ‘Come to my team and play with me,’ I’d think about it! (laughs) He’s the best player in the world and a member of that exclusive group of the best that have ever played the game. Still, though, the Milwaukee Bucks would come first. They will always be the team that gave me my chance and opened up the doors to paradise.

***

No. 2: Project Durant on track in Washington — The Washington Wizards aren’t running afoul of NBA tampering rules, but within the letter of the law, they’re not hiding the fact that they hope to be players in what most expect to be a Kevin Durant Sweeptakes next July. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post looked at the Wizards’ plan, which will be competing with approximately 28 other teams’ plans 11.5 months from now in trying to lure the NBA’s 2014 MVP away from Oklahoma City:

The Washington Wizards have meticulously prepared for the opportunity to coax Durant, born in the District and a product of Montrose Christian School, to Washington once the clock strikes midnight on July 1, 2016. But the courting of Durant, 26, will be wildly competitive: Thanks to the coming flood of money from a new television contract that will kick in next July, a bevy of franchises will have the salary cap space to offer the maximum possible contract to Durant, the 2014 league MVP. Other teams are only a couple moves away from getting in the mix. It could become a free-for-all, raising the risks of going all-in for one player.

“The one thing I know about my brother is he wants to win,” said Damion James, Durant’s best friend and a member of the Wizards’ summer league team. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win. Whoever gives him the best chance to win is where he’s going to end up.”

“It’s difficult to imagine him leaving [the Thunder],” said a Western Conference executive, who spoke under condition of anonymity because league tampering rules bar discussing potential free agents who are still under contract with another team. “That team is loaded. If they can stay healthy, they’re championship favorites.”

Oklahoma City is one of the NBA’s smallest markets, a factor that would’ve repelled a player of Durant’s caliber just a few years ago, but technology has altered the NBA terrain. No longer does a player need to play in a metropolis to become a superstar and procure endorsement dollars. Every game is available to anyone, anywhere. Highlights are instantly accessible on the Internet. Social media is replete with NBA fandom. Durant, a Nike pillar, and [Russell] Westbrook, a fashion impresario of sorts, are two poster boys of the shift. The fact that [LaMarcus] Aldridge spurned a meeting with the Knicks and turned down the Lakers to sign this month with the San Antonio Spurs seemed to solidify the change.

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No. 3: Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop — Lest anyone fret that Carmelo Anthony was being kept in the dark on the New York Knicks’ offseason maneuvers, the New York Post stepped up to report that the veteran All-Star scorer actually was in the loop on team transactions. Certainly no Knicks fan could aide Anthony not being consulted, considering how, er, well thing have gone around Madison Square Garden lately:

According to an NBA source, general manager Steve Mills has been in communication with Anthony across the free-agent process to explain the recent additions.

As president, [Phil] Jackson delegates a lot, and Mills is in charge of directly speaking with agents and other teams regarding potential trades or free-agent acquisitions. According to the source, Mills also handles reaching out to players on matters such as recent transactions.

In fact, Mills has said publicly Anthony spent a lot of time in his office going over “the boards’’ regarding potential free agents they were after. One of the combinations, Mills has said, was the trifecta of Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Kyle O’Quinn. The Knicks still had enough cap space to sign 2011 draft bust Derrick Williams and re-up with Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas for more than their minimums.

Jackson raised eyebrows on Monday when he said he had yet to speak with the vacationing Anthony, sparking speculation perhaps the Knicks rehabbing superstar was displeased with the signings. The Post reported on Wednesday Anthony had been in touch with Knicks officials this week and expressed frustration he was being perceived as a malcontent, and said he still “had trust in Phil.’’

After the draft, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported Anthony felt “hoodwinked’’ by Jackson’s selection of European project Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 overall pick. The Post reported Anthony was indeed disappointed on Draft night but more because his friend Tim Hardaway Jr. was traded for a college prospect he barely saw play — point guard Jerian Grant. No one, other than Anthony, remains from the roster since Jackson took over 16 months ago.

Since, Anthony has been outspoken about his “love’’ for Porzingis and called him directly to tell him he wasn’t upset. Anthony watched Porzingis’ Knicks workout and multiple sources said he felt the Latvian big man would be a good pick.

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No. 4: Smart to miss Africa game — The good news for Boston guard Marcus Smart and the Celtics was that the two fingers on his right hand that Smart injured Thursday in the Las Vegas Summer League won’t require surgery. The unfortunate news is that Smart will miss participating in the NBA’s exhibition game in South Africa Aug. 1. Here is some more on that situation from the Boston Globe:

Smart, guard Evan Turner, and coach Brad Stevens were to be among a contingent of NBA players and coaches taking part in the first NBA game played in Africa. But Smart will now stay in Boston as his fingers heal.

Smart has not been available to speak to reporters since suffering the injury. One source said the guard is disappointed about missing the game in Africa but relieved that his injury is not more serious.

With 6:34 left in the second quarter of Boston’s summer league game against Portland, Smart, guard Terry Rozier, and Trail Blazers forward Noah Vonleh all converged on a loose ball. Smart braced himself with his right hand as he fell, and his right index and middle fingers were dislocated.

A bone in Smart’s hand also punctured his skin, requiring five stitches. Those sutures could slow Smart’s recovery, as they will affect his ability to regain range of motion in his fingers. Still, the Celtics were relieved that the X-rays on Smart’s hand were negative.

Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry said Smart will remain with the team as long as they are in the summer league playoffs, partly because he wants to support his team, and partly because the medical staff is here. Smart will undergo further evaluation when he returns to Boston.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Cleveland Cavaliers might be adding another Russian center, this one a player whose NBA rights they’ve had for the past eight years. … Jimmy Butler said again, on yet another media platform, that his relationship with Derrick Rose is friction-free. … New Nuggets head coach Mike Malone talks with Grantland.com about Ty Lawson, what he learned in Sacramento and a little Boogie Cousins. … Seth Curry writes about what he hopes is the end of his D League days. … Everything old is new again, as some NBA rookies remind ESPN.com of certain predecessors. …

Attention-loving Porzingis made for New York City


VIDEO: First impressions of Kristaps Porzingis

LAS VEGAS — Not everything appears at it seems in this town, where fortunes can come and go in a flash and hopes can rise like the triple-digit temperatures. It’s a weird place for Kristaps Porzingis to begin selling himself as the future of the Knicks, yet he’s doing just that.

Let’s start with the one intangible that weighs heavily: Porzingis laughs easily and dismisses criticism with a disarming smile. Good. That skill will come in handy over the next year or so. In that sense, the 7-3 center from Latvia is made for the harsh city, a tabloid-fueled place that is likely to fall in love with the rookie, from a personality standpoint, even if the 19-year-old gets off to an understandably slow start.

“He handles himself well,” said coach Derek Fisher. “This kid won’t let anything get to him.”

We’re moving a bit to fast here, but if Porzingis ever becomes an All-Star someday, he will own New York more than Carmelo Anthony. A smart, funny foreigner with J. Crew looks who loves the city with all of its benefits and flaws? When’s the last time anyone could say that about a Knick?

When asked how he handled his nerves in his debut, Porzingis said quickly: “I told myself to chill out.”

His English is amazingly sharp and he carries himself well. Basically, he gets it, even at a very young age. of course, there’s still the big question: Can he play?

Well, that won’t be known in summer league, which should be taken for what it’s worth. Still, after four days in Vegas, he hasn’t backed down. He’s built like a Twizzler but isn’t afraid to mix it up. He goes in traffic with the ball and also after the ball for rebounds. He has challenged players at the rim and is showing a knack for blocking shots. Again, Summer League is all about learning if the player has the basics to survive in the NBA, and Porzingis is showing that.

The main drawback for Porzingis is his lack of strength. He’ll get easily boxed out for rebounds when the real games begin. And his dribble game is merely adequate.

The Knicks were smitten by his height, his athletic ability and his jumper, and so far have no reason to be disappointed. Porzingis has the shooting range to stretch defenses. He can be very useful in the pick-and-pop (assuming his body can withstand the pick part) and can be dangerous behind the 3-point line. And he gets to the free-throw line. Again, this is Summer League, and Porzingis is a work in progress. but the more you watch, the more you get the feeling that Phil Jackson didn’t draft the next Andrea Bargnani.

“He’s really interesting to watch and his growth is going to be interesting to see,” said Jackson. “It looks like he can hold his own out there. I think he’s going to find a comfort zone.”

OK, here’s the issue: Should Jackson have taken someone else, say Emmanual Mudiay, at No. 4? Willie Cauley-Stein? Both are also producing in Vegas and would’ve filled a need for the Knicks, who need everything.

Well, point guards aren’t too hard to find, so it’s understandable why Jackson decided to gamble on a 7-3 shooter instead of Mudiay (besides, Jackson took Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant later in the first round). Cauley-Stein, meanwhile, is every bit the project as Porzingis, although more offensively-challenged.

For the time being, the Knicks are looking rather smart and Porzingis is looking rather comfortable. For a player who didn’t get the shine of the NCAA tournament, he’s pretty popular in Vegas, and this reception will be nothing compared to what awaits in New York.

“I love the attention,” he said.

See? He fits.

 

Morning shootaround — July 12




VIDEO: Porzingis’ Summer League debut

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Opportunity for Okafor | Hammon makes history | Bargnani to Kings | Porzingis shines | Lillard stands ready

o
No. 1: Embiid loss changes rookie race — There are all sorts of implications that rise out of the news that Joel Embiid could miss another entire season following a second surgery to repair the broken bone in his foot. The biggest question, of course, is about the career of the Sixers big man. Does it mean another season of tanking in Philly? But Embiid’s loss could also open the door for this year’s top Sixer draft pick Jahlil Okafor to be the 2016 Rookie of the Year, according to our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

No Embiid means no crowded big-man rotation with second-year man Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, and that means an unquestioned clear path for Okafor to probably have the featured role in the Sixers offense.

In the coldest terms, the crushing setback for Embiid is a prime opportunity for Okafor with the largest portion of minutes at center and power forward now being split two ways instead of three. Not only that the good possibility that Okafor will be able to score inside immediately makes him the ideal fit alongside Noel, an impact defender as a 2014-15 rookie but offensively challenged.

Tony Wroten led Philly in scoring last season at 16.9 points a game, and that was with just 30 appearances. Michael Carter-Williams was second, at 15 per, and he got traded. Okafor, with advanced post moves and a pro body at 6-11 and 270 pounds, will likely generate offense this season, and will absolutely have the chance.

***

No. 2: Hammon breaks another barrierBecky Hammon got a baptism by fire in her history making debut as head coach in the Las Vegas Summer League, drawing up a play for her Spurs in the final seconds. The last-second shot missed, but  it was Hammon’s latest step to break down barriers for women in sports. Our Shaun Powell was on hand to document the event and discuss the possible importance down the line:

She fit like any male coach in Vegas, the only difference being her voice was softer. Last season, as the junior coach on staff, Hammon sat behind the Spurs’ bench, not next to Gregg Popovich. But Pop put her in charge of the Vegas operation, partly because he felt comfortable enough with her, and also because Pop wants to advance the notion of a woman coaching in a men’s league.

Nobody’s quite sure where this is headed or how quickly. Will the NBA have its first female head coach in the foreseeable future? And if so, will she be Hammon? Coaching on the highest level can get very political. There are only 30 jobs and they don’t come easily even to experienced coaches; Hammon has never been a coach on any level until now. It’s about timing and networking and persistence and sometimes they’re not always in your favor.

But Hammon’s ace card is Pop, the winningest active coach in basketball; and by extension, the Spurs organization, regarded as the finest in all professional sports.

If Pop one day gives another team a glowing recommendation of Hammon, how could that team resist?

Before that happens, Hammon will need to work her way up the Spurs’ bench and sit next to Popovich for at least a year. The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer, the reigning Coach of the Year, didn’t get his break until he served as Pop’s assistant for 16 years. Given the uniqueness of her situation, and the track record of the NBA as a progressive league, Hammon won’t need to wait that long once she gets the Popovich Blessing.

But first things first, as Lieberman said. Just getting to the point of coaching in the summer league qualifies as a breakthrough.

“She has such a great opportunity in front of her,” said Lieberman. “And it’s fantastic. They couldn’t have chosen anyone better than Becky. We’ve been friends for years and I’m so proud of her.”

***

No. 3: Kings closing in on Bargnani — If the smoking hole in the ground that has become of the Kings during offseason is going to be repaired at all, the team will need to put some shooters around center DeMarcus Cousins. To that end, Marc Stein of ESPN.com says the team is close to a deal with former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani that would take him to the Western Conference for the first time in his career:

The Kings are looking for additional shooting to surround big man DeMarcus Cousins, and have already imported former NBA 3-point shootout champion and fellow Italian Marco Belinelli in free agency, in addition to the looming signings of Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos and Caron Butler.

The Kings have also re-signed swingman Omri Casspi and, of course, selected Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein with the sixth overall pick in last month’s draft.

Bargnani has missed 160 games over the past three years with various injuries, but had a productive spell with the Knicks late last season to convince the Kings to extend his NBA career. The 29-year-old has struggled to live up to expectations since the Raptors selected him No. 1 overall in the 2006 draft.

***

No. 4: Porzingis solid in summer debut — The 19-year-old player that Phil Jackson made the No. 4 pick in the draft last month didn’t dominate in his first taste of NBA competition on Saturday. But Kristaps Porzingis was solid and competent enough to turn some of those draft night boos into cheers in a win over San Antonio at the Las Vegas Summer League. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News has the details:

It was the opposite of what I heard on draft night,” Porzingis said. “It was nice to hear some cheers out there.”
Porzingis, the player Phil Jackson selected fourth overall, didn’t dominate a team of mostly unknown and unproven San Antonio Spurs but the rookie certainly didn’t embarrass himself, that’s for sure. The 7-foot-3 forward finished with 12 points in the Knicks’ 78-73 win over the Spurs, who were coached by Becky Hammon and featured one player — Kyle Anderson — who was on San Antonio’s roster last year. Porzingis made three of five shots from the field, including a soft bank shot for his first basket with the Knicks. He also converted six of seven free throws but grabbed only three rebounds.

“I’m happy we won,” he said afterward. “It’s always good to win. I played physical so maybe I proved to some of the people who thought I was soft that I can play physical. It wasn’t my greatest game but I played OK.”
Jackson, the Knicks president, was seated along the baseline next to newly acquired forward Derrick Williams and several team officials, including general manager Steve Mills. In what has been a dreadful 16 months for Jackson, Porzingis’ first outing was by far the most positive development for the Jackson regime.

Porzingis played with confidence and had no issues with the pace of the game. His one glaring weakness is strength. The only thing in this town taller and thinner than Porzingis is a stripper pole. He can get away with that against the likes of Livio Jean-Charles and Cady Lalanne. The problem will arise when Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge are the opposing starting center and power forward, respectively.

***

No. 5: Lillard says he’s up to the challenge — The last time Damian Lillard saw his Trail Blazers they had won 51 games, the Northwest Division title and still had a bright future as a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. But in a blink-and-you-missed-it summer, Lillard turned back around to see a roster suddenly stripped of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. So the Blazers are, in essence, starting over. But Lillard tells Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports that he’s up to the challenge of leading the rebuilding job:

“We’re a young team,” Lillard said. “There are going to be ups and downs. But I’m not giving up on anything. I don’t doubt that we can still compete. We got a lot of young athletes. I don’t feel like it’s going to be me up there. I feel like we got guys capable of stepping up and doing more than they’ve done in the past.

“I don’t know how long it will take. I’m committed to the next six years to try to turn this around.”

Lillard has noticed plenty of people on social media disparaging the Blazers’ roster.

“I’ve been reading. Everything I worked for or received, nothing has been handed to me,” Lillard said. “I could take comfort in knowing that everything that happened isn’t by luck. It’s me working hard and me going after things, making it happen. Being doubted is not unfamiliar territory to me.”

With a new contract in hand, Lillard knows there will be pressure on him to lead the Blazers during their rebuilding. He said he never considered the possibility of attempting to leave Portland.

“Nope. I didn’t have a reason to,” Lilllard said. “I’m fully committed to playing in Portland. I’m committed to my teammates. I had no reason to wait. Not that it was about the money, but I’m not going to get any more money [later] than what I would get now. And what better way to show that commitment than doing that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Timberwolves trade Chase Budinger to the Pacers…GM Billy Kings says it was just time for Deron Williams to leave the Nets…Aaron Harrison signs two-year deal with Hornets…Nuggets give Wilson Chandler multi-year extension.

Blogtable: Do the Lakers or Knicks have a tougher road to respectability?

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League



VIDEOCharles Barkley isn’t convinced Roy Hibbert will help the Lakers

> Do the Lakers or Knicks have the tougher road back to respectability and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My hunch is, the Knicks are going to have a harder time getting back to a level at which they’re considered legitimate contenders for an NBA title. As shaky as the master plan might seem in L.A., it’s shakier in New York, what with James Dolan‘s can’t-help-himself meddling and Phil Jackson‘s half-in, half-out, triangle-devoted, smartest-guy-in-the-room theoretical approach. Carmelo Anthony‘s contract will be an albatross with legs compared to Kobe Bryant‘s one-more-season-of-fiscal-pain deal. The ex-Lakers as coaches, Byron Scott vs. Derek Fisher, that’s kind of a push, in my view. The respective rosters? Meh. What it finally comes down to, I suppose, is that I’ll take my chances with Mitch Kupchak over anyone at the Garden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOh, how the mighty have fallen. Now we’ve lowered the bar for the top two cities in the country from behind championship contenders to merely “respectability?” In that case, have to go with the Lakers, who are starting out with two young talents in Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell to just a single Kristaps Porzingas in New York. Also when Kobe Bryant leaves — it will happen eventually, won’t it? — the draw of the L.A. market, the Hollywood image and all that entails will allow the Lakers to attract talent.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Lakers have the tougher road, because they play in the tougher conference. As much as what was once a wide gulf has closed, the East is still more forgiving. If you want to use making the playoffs as a cutline for respectability, the Knicks can get there quicker. One other factor in the question: It is possible both teams could be in the lottery but not have their 2016 first-round pick.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s the Knicks with the tougher climb. Kristaps Porzingis will probably need more time to grow than D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant comes off the Lakers cap next summer while Melo will weigh it down for the Knicks at least 3 more years. The Lakers can start anew next summer with Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo plus tons of cap space to chase Durant. Who knows, in 2 years they could possibly sway Blake Griffin to switch L.A. teams and/or get ex-UCLA star Russell Westbrook to “come home.” Bottom line is, with their management situation, the Lakers don’t have an “easy” road to recovery, just easier than the Knicks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s the Knicks. As these two teams stand and given decent health, the Knicks will be the better team next season. But at best, that’s good enough to finish 8-11 in the East, which isn’t saying much. In regard to a five-year plan and eventually winning another playoff series, the Lakers have better pieces in place (Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell), as well as more financial flexibility in the next couple of summers, when they won’t be handcuffed by Kobe Bryant‘s contract.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Knicks, without question. This wasn’t the summer I expected the Lakers to remake themselves in free agency. Next summer is when they’ll have the flexibility to get that done and youngsters D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will have a full NBA season under their belts. We’ve already seen enough of the Knicks, and that’s without Arron Afflalo, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez in the mix. The Lakers have the luxury of their biggest salaries coming off the books for next summer while the Knicks will not have nearly as much financial flexibility.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Lakers have won championships recently, and Jeanie Buss is asserting leadership and demanding accountability. These are big advantages. Knowing how to win — and especially how to make winning the priority — is a huge deal in the NBA. Can Phil Jackson introduce that point of view to the Knicks? We won’t know until he’s actually done it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I suppose the answer here depends upon what we define as “respectability.” To me, being a playoff team would be respectable, and in that sense, the Lakers have really tough road ahead of them. The Western Conference is so stacked, it’s going to be a multi-year process for any franchise hoping to become a perennial playoff power. Just initially, take last year’s eight playoff teams, and then add Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Utah, Minnesota, who are all right there on the cusp. That’s a significant mountain for any team to climb.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 205) Featuring Pete Philo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kristaps Porzingis knows all of the names that came before him, all of the international big men who were supposed to be game changers that didn’t live up to the hype.

The ghost of Darko Milicic, and others, lingers for a youngster like the Porzingis, the Latvian 7-footer the New York Knicks selected with the fourth pick in last week’s NBA Draft.

But Porzingis insists he’s different. He’s prepared to break the mold and is ready to embrace the pressure of playing on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.

The question is does he have the chops to live up to his own words? 

And that’s a question guys like Pete Philo, the Indiana Pacers’ director of international scouting, get paid to figure out for their respective teams. Their work digging up the details on players most of us have never seen play in the flesh, can be the difference between success and failure for a guy like Porzingis.

Step 1 of the NBA’s summer hoops Holy Trinity is the Draft, which was handled last week with plenty of surprises, including Porzingis.

Step 2 is the Free Agent Fever (on NBA TV and NBA.com starting today and going strong until all of the big names agree to deals) going on right now.

Step 3, Summer League action in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas kicks off life fireworks on July 4.

We’ve got you covered on all three steps of the process on Episode 205 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Pete Philo. He joins us to talk Draft, the work that goes on behind the scenes and what that spawns in free agency, summer league ball and beyond.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: Does Kristaps Porzingis have what it takes to snap the international big man jinx? Knicks fans certainly hope so, as does Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ brain trust

Morning shootaround — June 29


VIDEO: The Lakers’ selected D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers boxed into a big man box? | Dollars and sense for LeBron | Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota | Ginobili will take his time making up his mind

No. 1: Lakers boxed into a big man box?  The selection of D’Angelo Russell on Draft night was celebrated by Los Angeles Lakers’ fans, luminaries and pundits alike. But did that risky move, passing up Duke’s low-post load Jahlil Okafor in favor of Russell, come at a larger price than expected? Marc Gasol has already made it clear that he is not interested in following in the footsteps of big brother Pau in a Lakers uniform. So that leaves slimmer pickings than expected for the Lakers (and Kobe Bryant) in free agency. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

The Lakers have enough money for only one big-name free agent, gathering about $23 million in spending power after declining the $9-million option on free-agent center-forward Jordan Hill in a couple of days. Aldridge would make almost $19 million next season after pulling down $16.3 million last season.

The Lakers’ only big men going into free agency are Tarik Black and Robert Sacre after they presumably make the latter’s sub-$1-million contract guaranteed by Tuesday’s deadline.

They boxed themselves into a big-man corner by passing on Duke center Jahlil Okafor to draft Russell, putting the Ohio State point guard next to promising Jordan Clarkson while setting up the Lakers’ backcourt “for the next 10 years,” according to a near-giddy team source.

Perhaps a quick shot of reality is needed.

The Lakers have had problems getting free agents to take their money in recent years. Dwight Howard spurned them for less money in Houston, Carmelo Anthony said thanks but no thanks, and Pau Gasol took less to go to Chicago.

The only big name they signed lately was Kobe Bryant, who accepted a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before returning from a torn Achilles’.

The Lakers need a Plan B if Aldridge says no. Two teams from his home state, San Antonio and Dallas, will reportedly court him too.

It would take some persuasion to get Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to take less money and leave L.A.’s more talented team. The Lakers love his rebounding and shot-blocking, like many teams, and Dallas will also recruit him heavily.

It’s harder to figure what to make of Love, who had an off year in Cleveland and said in February there was not a scenario where he’d play for the Lakers. He might meet with them next week even if it’s only a ploy to ensure a maximum offer from the Cavaliers, reportedly the favorites to retain him.

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

***

No. 2:Dollars and sense for LeBron — Cleveland Cavaliers fans need to get used to hearing the words LeBron James and free agency in the same sentence. They’ll be married this time of year, every year, at least for the foreseeable future. Our very own John Schuhmann of NBA.com explains how the free agent dollars will make sense for the best player on the planet:

News broke Sunday afternoon that LeBron James has reportedly informed the Cleveland Cavaliers that he will opt out of the second year of the contract he signed last season.

This news was expected and doesn’t mean that James is leaving Cleveland again. All indications are that the best player in the world intends to re-sign with the Cavs. But even if he wants to stay with the wine and gold for the rest of his career, he’s probably going to become a free agent next summer and the summer after that, too. And it’s mostly about the money.

Free agency does give James some leverage. It keeps the pressure on Cavs management to do everything it can to give him the best supporting cast possible.

It also makes James a richer man.

James’ option for the 2015-16 season was for a little less than $21.6 million. A new contract this summer (for a player with at least 10 years in the league) could start at at maximum of about $22.0 million. (We’ll know the exact number when the 2015-16 salary cap is officially announced on or around July 8.) That’s not a huge raise (especially when you take income taxes into account), but it’s worth the paperwork.

James will have much more incentive to become a free agent in 2016 and 2017, when the salary cap is expected to make two big jumps, thanks to the new TV contract.

Assuming James signs another two-year, max deal with an option in the second year (a one-plus-one contract) again this summer, the ’16-17 option would be for about $23.0 million. But a new, max contract next summer could have a ’16-17 salary of more than $29 million.

That deal could have a second-year option (for ’17-18) of about $30.5 million. But a new, max contract in 2017 could have a starting salary of more than $35 million.

***

No. 3: Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota — Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be back in Minnesota to oversee the rebuilding job that is underway with young talent like Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, new No. 1 Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and hometown kid Tyus Jones as the building blocks. Charley Walters of TwinCities.com provides some context:

Although it hasn’t been announced, pending free agent Kevin Garnett definitely will re-sign with the Wolves, and Saunders definitely will return as coach.

Terry Kunze, who was a Timberwolves season-ticket holder for 25 years, knows basketball. He figures the Wolves, who won just 16 games last season, were smart to draft Jones.

“I knew they would get Jones,” Kunze said. “The Wolves aren’t stupid — he’s a local kid and he’ll sell tickets. The best thing about losing 66 games is that 18,000 people watch.

“I think (the Wolves) are going to sell a lot of tickets. Tyus Jones has a big name, and I think he’s a good player. He’s under control.”

Kunze was a star guard for 1961 undefeated state champion Duluth Central, went on to start for the Gophers, was drafted by the then-St. Louis Hawks but opted for Europe for three times the salary, then played for the ABA’s Minnesota Muskies, then was a Gophers assistant who recruited Kevin McHale before coaching at East Carolina, then became head coach of the Minnesota Fillies women’s team.

“I like the pick of Towns,” said Kunze, 71, who resides in Fridley. “It was a good (Wolves) draft not only for players, but for public relations.

“What’s the most important thing for a pro franchise? Sales No. 1, winning No. 2. That’s true.”

Jim Dutcher, who coached the Gophers to the 1982 Big Ten championship before becoming a peerless Big Ten TV analyst, said of the Wolves’ drafting of Towns and Jones, “They couldn’t have scripted it better.

“They got the player they wanted in Towns,” Dutcher said.

Saunders had Dutcher, 82, watch some private workouts of draft prospects.

“And being able to tie in Tyus Jones, he’s a perfect fit for them with (Ricky) Rubio‘s health and his end-of-game turnovers in critical situations,” Dutcher said. “In critical situations, they’re directly opposite — Tyus is strongest in key situations at end of games, and to have a young point guard with his potential, particularly a kid from Minnesota, it couldn’t have been better for the Timberwolves.”

***

No. 4: Ginobili will take his time making up his mind (and will do it in Spanish) — Manu Ginobili will inform the world of his intentions — to either come back for another season in San Antonio or to retire — on his own clock. And he’ll do so in his native tongue, via the Argentinian newspaper “La Nacion” in self-written letter. Take that LeBron James. Mike Monroe of the Express News has the details:

Spurs fans anxious to know if Manu Ginobili will be back for another season may want to brush up on their Spanish and bookmark the website for the Argentine newspaper, ‘La Nacion.’

The 37-year-old guard on Sunday told the Express-News he will announce his decision in a self-written sports column in ‘La Nacion’ “when the time comes.”

Presumably, that time will be before he hits the free agent market at the stroke of midnight, EDT, on Tuesday.

Ginobili acknowledged after the Game 7 loss to the Clippers that ended the Spurs season on May 1 that retirement “could happen easily.” He pointed out that the effects of a pro career that began in Argentina in 1995 has taken a physical toll that sometimes makes him question his ability to compete.

“Some days you feel proud and think you did great and other games I say, ‘What the hell am I doing here when I should stay home and enjoy my kids?’ ”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mason Plumlee could be the perfect fit for the Trail Blazers … The challenge issued in Orlando, Magic need to dare free agents to be different this summer … Houston rookie Sam Dekker‘s not too big to mow his Mom’s lawn … Time for ‘Melo to put up or shut up? …

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: Our experts review the 76ers’ pick of Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Okafor comes on big | Pierce a free agent | Melo OK with Porzingis | Gasol, Lakers don’t mix
No. 1: Okafor ready to deliver big — Like everybody else in the basketball world, Jahlil Okafor watched the Warriors and Cavaliers play an entertaining brand of small ball in The Finals. But the first-round pick of the Sixers says there will always be a prominent place for the talented big man in the NBA and he aims to prove that when he starts work in his rookie season. The 19-year-old No. 3 pick in the draft says nobody will have greater expectations than his own, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Some, however, think that dominant post players are no longer a cherished commodity. The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship earlier this month with a small lineup.

“I’ve been dealing with that question for a while,” he said. “Even when I went to Duke, everybody was asking: ‘Why are you going to Duke? They don’t have big men. They don’t throw the ball in the post.’ “

But he pointed out that he was the Blue Devils’ leading scorer.

“Now, they are saying, you don’t need a big man,” Okafor said. “But as far as I can remember, a big man has dominated the NBA. Tim Duncan won it [in 2014. That season] it was all about the big men with Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett.

“So people get a little excited because what [Golden State’s MVP point guard] Steph Curry and those guys did was great. It worked. Their formula was fantastic. But as long as I can remember, big men have been dominant, and the results have been championships.”

***

No. 2: Pierce is back on the market — When his last-second bucket against the Hawks was ruled to be too late to rescue the Wizards, Paul Pierce hinted that it might have been his final game in the NBA. But the 37-year-old is now ready to look forward to next season and has put himself back up for grabs as the free agency period approaches on Wednesday. The Wizards, Clippers, Lakers and even his former team the Celtics are said to be in the running for the 17-year veteran, says Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post:

The 17-year veteran bypassed a $5.5 million player option but could still return to Washington for a second run with the Wizards. Pierce could choose to re-sign and Washington is willing to negotiate. The Wizards can offer Pierce 120 percent of the $5.305 million he made last year, which would work out to $6.366 million for next season.

Pierce, who will turn 38 in October, could also decide to play elsewhere. Going home to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers and Doc Rivers, who coached him for nine seasons with the Boston Celtics, is a possibility, though they can only offer him the taxpayer midlevel exception of $3.37 million. Another possibility is returning to play for the Celtics, according to a Yahoo Sports report. Boston drafted Pierce in 1998 and the swingman spent his first 15 seasons in Massachusetts.

Pierce averaged career lows in points (11.2) and minutes (26.2) per game and was a defensive liability at times in a diminished role last season, but provided the leadership the Wizards sought and became a fan favorite in the District with a memorable postseason performance. Logging more minutes at power forward, Pierce averaged 14.6 points in 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games and nailed a few clutch shots, including the game-winning buzzer beater off the backboard in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.

***

No. 3: Anthony says no problem with Porzingis pick — Hold your horses. There’s no need to start choosing up sides in Knicks training camp between star Carmelo Anthony and first-round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis. Melo took to Instagram to try to defuse the notion that he felt “betrayed” by Knicks president Phil Jackson’s pick of the 19-year-old Latvian with the No. 4 pick in the draft. Seems his disappointment have been more at the loss of his buddy Tim Hardaway Jr. in a draft night trade, says Marc Berman of the New York Post:

In responding to fans comments, Anthony wrote late Friday night, “First of all I’m far from upset. Me replying doesn’t mean I’m upset. …Have you heard me voice my opinion about the draft. No. OK then. Get your facts straight.”

In another post, Anthony said, “I can’t wait to watch [Porzingis] either. He’s a steal.”

According to a source, Anthony was upset about losing another friend in Tim Hardaway Jr. on Thursday night more than Jackson’s selection of 7-foot-1 sharpshooting European project Porzingis, whom scouts think could be two years away from making an impact.

Anthony thinks Porzingis a good prospect, according to a source, but like scouts wonders about his timetable.

Hardaway, meanwhile, was traded for the draft rights to Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant. Hardaway, the Knicks’ 2013 first-round pick, averaged double figures in each of his first two seasons but the organization felt he didn’t fit the triangle offense. Anthony now has seen every teammate exit since Jackson took over 15 months ago.

***

No. 4: Marc Gasol not interested in Lakers — The blunt truth often comes out around the dinner table and it seems that all of the talk among one family has led free agent Marc Gasol to conclude that he doesn’t want to be a part of the Lakers family. Younger brother Marc saw and heard all of the problems that older brother Pau had in his final two years in L.A. and has concluded that he doesn’t want to wade into those waters, says, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Kobe Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Willie Cauley-Stein wows them with a great first impression Sacramento…Kobe Bryant brags that he once made a Lakers teammate cry … Sixers have been ordered to pay up to Pelicans for fibbing on Holiday injury …Magic won’t bring back Ben Gordon … Stan Van Gundy happy with choice of Johnson over Winslow … Lance Stephenson has a new song to softly blow into your ear … Jackson wants to bring back Jason Smith as backup center for Knicks.

Morning Shootaround — June 27


VIDEO: The Knicks’ bold move to Draft Kristaps Porzingis will have long-lasting ramifications for the franchise

NEWS OF THE MORNING

July is even bigger than June for the Cleveland Cavaliers | Four-team race for DeAndre Jordan’s services | Sixers’ concerns about Embiid growing | Upset ‘Melo or not, Porzingis was right pick for Knicks

No. 1: July is even bigger than June for the Cleveland Cavaliers  Playing for a championship is one thing. Playing for the right to contend for more in the future, however, is another beast altogether. The Cleveland Cavaliers are just days away from a colossal offseason, a July even bigger than the June that saw them scrap and claw their way to within two wins of winning the NBA title, that rests on the franchise’s ability to master free agency. Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and whoever else needs tending to will be the focus for the Cavaliers and certainly LeBron James. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer sets the summer table for the Cavaliers:

1. I don’t expect J.R. Smith to be back with the Cavs. He turned down his $6.4 million player option, and is looking for a raise with a long-term deal. I doubt the Cavs would want Smith on an extended contract. His emotions are on edge. He was one more flagrant foul away from being suspended in the playoffs. Smith is best on a short-term deal. Smith is an unrestricted free agent.

2. Now that the Cavs will have a huge payroll, they would much prefer to keep Iman Shumpert over Smith. Shumpert is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer that he receives. They will extend the $3.9 million qualifying offer to the guard and try to work out a long-term deal.

3. Look for the Cavaliers to offer maximum contracts to both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. The two deals will be different because they are at different stages of their career. Love can receive a five-year deal in the $100 million range. The Cavs think Love will give it serious consideration. It’s possible that Love will sign a  “1-and-1″ contract. It would pay him the maximum salary in 2015-16, and a one-year player option for 2016-17. An agent wants the player option just in case your client has a horrendous injury in 2015-16, so he can at least pocket a maximum salary for 2016-17.

4. The Cavs believe Love came to a comfort level with the team by the end of the season. He knows that this is his best place to contend for a title. The top contenders in the Western Conference don’t have the salary cap room for him. It’s only the struggling or lesser teams (the Lakers, Boston, etc) that may be able to find a way to fit Love into their cap.

5. Love is coming off major shoulder surgery. His is expected to fully recover. He has also dealt with some back problems. Love missed seven regular season games in 2014-15. He missed five in 2013-14. He had a broken hand in 2012-13, missing 65 games. Injuries are a concern, but it’s not as if he has been Anderson Varejao — who simply can’t stay healthy.

6. The summer of 2016 is the “Money Summer.” It’s when the salary cap is expected to increase by at least 30 percent. So a maximum contract to Love this summer is considerably less than a maximum deal a year from now. It’s why LeBron James started the “1-and-1″ deal last summer, and it’s why he’s expected to sign another contract like that this summer with the Cavs.

7. Thompson’s long-term maximum deal would be about $70 million for four years. He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavs can match any offer that he receives from another team. Does Thompson play for a “qualifying offer” in the $7 million range and aim to be an unrestricted free agent in 2016 when they big money really flows? That’s something his agent Rich Paul (who also represents James) will have to discuss with Thompson. It was Paul and his chief negotiator, Mark Termini, who helped James design the “1-and-1″ contract approach last summer.

 

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No. 2:Four team race for DeAndre Jordan’s services — So there is a rift between Los Angeles Clippers free agent center DeAndre Jordan and All-Star point guard Chris Paul, or at least that’s the latest smoke rising from Hollywood. Even after Doc Rivers dismissed the rumors that two of his stars were not on the same page all season, the rumblings have not stopped. Jordan’s choice this summer in free agency could very well be influenced by his reportedly deteriorating relationship with Paul. There is apparently a four-team race for Jordan’s services. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times provides some context:

The Clippers’ main focus now is on keeping Jordan.

The season ended with Rivers denying reports Jordan and Chris Paul had a beef with each other.

But other NBA officials not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said there indeed is a rift between Jordan and Paul.

The officials said Jordan wants to be more involved in the offense and wants to be an All-Star, and he’s not sure whether those things can happen on the Clippers with All-Stars Paul and Blake Griffin.

Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons has been recruiting Jordan, the officials said. The two have been hanging out together in Jordan’s hometown of Houston.

When free agency starts at 9:01 p.m. PDT Tuesday, Jordan will be home in Houston.

The officials said four teams will visit Jordan at home — the Clippers, Lakers, Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Clippers can offer Jordan the most security.

He can sign a five-year maximum deal for $108 million with the Clippers. Other teams under the salary cap can offer Jordan a maximum deal of four years for $80 million, with an opt-out clause after the third season.

Jordan can also sign a two-year deal with the Clippers with a player option for after the 2016 season, giving him a starting salary of about $18.8 million for next season.


VIDEO: What’s up with DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers

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No. 3: Sixers’ concerns about Embiid growing? — Jahlil Okafor was more than just the obvious No. 3 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, he was a security pick for the Philadelphia 76ers. With growing concerns about the health and future of Joel Embiid, the 76ers had to make the right choice with that No. 3 pick. Sixers boss Sam Hinkie is as concerned as anyone about his prized big man from the 2014 Draft, writes John Smallwood of The Philadelphia Daily News:

Conspiracy theorists had looked at the timing of the Sixers’ announcement that redshirt rookie center Joel Embiid was not healing as well as anticipated from the foot injury and surgery that cost him last season and determined that it was a smokescreen to hide Hinkie’s true intentions for Thursday’s NBA draft.

Yesterday, that was put to rest. The concerns about Embiid are all too real.

Hinkie said selecting Duke University freshman center Jahlil Okafor third overall was not connected to Embiid’s situation. He said Okafor was the pick because he was the best player available.

But what if there was no issue with Embiid?

“I’d like to think we’d have had the courage to do it anyway,” Hinkie responded when asked if he would have still selected Okafor. “I knew and it’s hard to unknow where things stood with Joel, but I’d like to think we’d have the courage anyway.”

It would almost have been better had it been the mysterious Hinkie talking about Embiid. It would be easier on the concern meter to believe it was just Hinkie being Hinkie and not wanting to divulge any information that he feels might weaken his position.

The troubling thing about this is that it was clear that Hinkie does not know for sure what is going on with Embiid.

“[Embiid] feels really good,” Hinkie said. “That’s part of what makes this, um, maybe confusing is the right word.

“It’s certainly confusing for Joel. He said, ‘I can’t believe how good I feel and I’ve felt great for a while.’ It seems hard to believe that something is wrong.”

Something, however, is wrong – or rather, not quite right.

A CT scan of Embiid’s foot about a week ago led to the Sixers making the infamous Saturday night release saying things weren’t as healed as “anticipated.”

Hinkie pointed out that a year ago, while some had said it would be a 4- to 6-month recovery from surgery to repair the navicular bone in Embiid’s right foot, that he had a more conservative estimate, at that time, of up to 8 months.

Embiid had the surgery on June 20, 2014, which makes it more than 12 months and there are still issues.

“I’ll give a timeline that might help clear some things up but might also help show why we’re looking so hard to try to understand,” Hinkie said. “Joel we’ve watched like a hawk in rehab every day of the year.

“The nature of navicular injuries and the nature of stress fractures is that you see these slow improvements and then you slow [rehabilitation] down and check things.

“Anytime you get any kind of negative feedback, you unload, slow down and re-assess.

“As part of that, we have a set of pro-active MRIs on Joel, and each of those we sent out to a variety of doctors both internally and externally and ask, “What do you think?’ We get the consensus responses and move from there.”

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No. 4: Upset ‘Melo or not, Porzingis was right pick for Knicks — It doesn’t matter where you come down on the New York Knicks’ Draft night decision to select Kristaps Porzingis over several other more NBA-ready prospects. What’s done is done. And Phil Jackson believes that Porzingis was the right choice, even if his star player, Carmelo Anthony, does not. Porzingis was the only choice, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, for a franchise that can no longer operate strictly for the short-term:

The Daily News first reported on Friday that Anthony is upset over Jackson’s decision to draft Porzingis, a 19-year-old, 7-foot-1 project. Anthony, according to a source, doesn’t understand why Jackson would waste such a high pick on a player who can’t help immediately. That, of course, is just the point. It would be short-sighted of Jackson to draft, for example, Willie Cauley-Stein, who could make a bigger contribution in years one and two.

But when you’re picking that high in the draft, you’re looking for a future All-Star, even if that may not help the only current All-Star on your roster, who is 31 and is coming off major knee surgery.

On Friday, Anthony tweeted: “What’s understood doesn’t need to be spoken upon” #DestiNY #TheFutureIsNow.

Anthony should have considered “the future is now” last summer when his instincts told him to leave New York as a free agent to join a contender. The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets were both viable options.

Now Anthony’s stuck with the Knicks, a rebuilding team that barring a few major free agent moves won’t be a playoff team next season. Conversely, the Knicks are stuck with Anthony, his bad knee and his bad contract.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on SiriusXM Radio on Friday that Anthony feels betrayed and hoodwinked by Jackson.

Anthony is apparently upset specifically with Jackson’s decision to draft Porzingis, telling a close friend “are we supposed to wait two or three years for this guy?”

Since January, Anthony has seen his pal J.R. Smith along with Iman Shumpert get traded to Cleveland. And a Knicks source claims that Anthony called Tim Hardaway Jr. after the third-year player was traded to Atlanta for the draft rights to Jerian Grant to express his displeasure with Jackson’s moves.

“He doesn’t understand it,” the source said.

“The bond between mentor and protégé enables us to stay true to our chosen path,” Anthony tweeted along with a photo of himself and Hardaway smiling.

Knicks officials are aware of Anthony’s feelings about the moves. Early Friday, Jackson was asked if he thought about Anthony when picking Porzingis and said: “Carmelo’s always on my mind. He’s our favorite son.”

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VIDEO: Pat Riley and the Miami Heat got Justise out of the NBA Draft

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Lakers think they have a good shot at landing LaMarcus Aldridge … Portland’s Neil Olshey has a demanding juggling act that needs completing this summer …  Will the Pacers regret passing on hometown kids Trey Lyles and RJ Hunter?