Posts Tagged ‘Phil Jackson’

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Chandler gets defensive about rep | Free Eric Bledsoe! Please? | Wilt is ‘Forever’

No. 1: Chandler gets defensive about rep — The big man doth protest too much. It sure seemed that way, anyway, when Dallas center Tyson Chandler “fired back” Friday at Phil Jackson and the Knicks for what he perceived to be criticism of his character and effect on chemistry in the New York locker room. Jackson made his comments after the June trade that sent Chandler and guard Raymond Felton to the Mavericks, alluding to “looks” exchanged by players and accountability issues. The thing is, Felton’s reputation was a lot shakier in N.Y. than Chandler’s, and some insiders believe Jackson mostly was talking about the gun-toting point guard. With Chandler’s retorts through Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, he raised questions whether he was covering for his teammate or perhaps working from a guilty conscience:

“I did nothing but try to help the culture there the three years I was there,” Chandler said Friday. “You can say I didn’t live up to whatever or you didn’t like the way I played or anything. But to ever question who I am and the type of leader I am in the locker room, I don’t even know where that came from.

“I honestly don’t know where that came from. I don’t know if Phil put that out there or who put that out there, but to me, that was the ultimate shock. And you don’t have to say that to get rid of me or to trade me. The trade is over.

“So to judge my character and what I’ve done, you can go look at all my teammates and ask all of my teammates in the past, and the coaches I’ve played for, and I’ve never been a problem and never had a problem. So that was a shock to me that I didn’t appreciate.”

Mavs owner Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle all cited Chandler’s outstanding leadership ability as one of the motivating factors in bringing him back to Dallas. Chandler was widely recognized as the spiritual leader during Dallas’ 2010-11 championship season. He has always prided himself in being an unselfish player who demands the best of his teammates.

“It makes no sense,” Chandler said. “If you call holding people accountable daily being a bad influence, then hey, I’m a bad influence. But I’m going to be that as long as I’m going to strap up my shoes and step on the basketball court. And that was the big problem there.

“That’s the biggest thing. I guess if that’s why I was a bad influence, because I wanted to do things the right way, then I guess I’m a bad influence. But I’ve never heard of that. I thought that was being a professional.”

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No. 2: Free Eric Bledsoe! Please?Eric Bledsoe had no leverage when he entered restricted free agency in July and nothing has shifted the Phoenix guard’s way in the 12 weeks since then. Reports surfaced Friday that Minnesota wants to offer Bledsoe a four-year maximum-salary deal worth $63 million, even though the Timberwolves are capped out and can only add that sort of contract via a sign-and-trade. So far the Suns have turned up their nose at the Wolves’ proposals. Meanwhile, Bob Young of the Arizona Republic strongly favored spending Phoenix’s limited funds on Bledsoe’s backcourt mate, Goran Dragic, in a max deal of his own. That suggests more strongly than ever that Bledsoe might play in 2014-15 on a one-year qualifying deal of $3.73 million with the Suns, in anticipation of being unrestricted in free agency next summer. Here is part of Young’s case for Dragic, which can’t have thrilled the Bledsoe camp:

Unlike Bledsoe, Dragic has a proven track record on the court, a great reputation off of it and has shown a commitment to the Suns that Bledsoe has avoided since the Suns obtained him in a deal with the Clippers.

Heck, Dragic came back to the Suns as a free agent after they traded him to Houston for a lesser player — and at a time when there was very little reason to believe that a turnaround was coming anytime soon.

It is well documented that Bledsoe and his representative, LeBron’s “guy” Rich Paul, have demanded a maximum deal of five years and more than $80 million.

The basis for that demand is a mystery to all except Rich Paul.

Bledsoe hasn’t been an All-Star. He hasn’t been on an All-NBA team. He hasn’t led a team into the playoffs. He wasn’t a lottery pick (18th in 2010). His jersey isn’t among the top sellers in the league. He hasn’t been named to a USA Basketball national or select team.

And here is some background from the Minnesota end, from Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Keep in mind, Mark Termini, one of Bledsoe’s agents, had Wolves president/coach Flip Saunders as a longtime client. So it’s possible Minnesota is being used to nudge along the Suns-Bledsoe talks, which broke down after Phoenix’s four-year, $48 million offer. The plot thickens when you factor in guard Ricky Rubio and his desire for a max extension with Minnesota.

The Suns are not believed to be interested in either center Nikola Pekovic and his $12 million salary or Rubio. The Suns already have point guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, and they’d be back in the same situation they are with Bledsoe, negotiating with a player who believes he’s worth a maximum salary. (There’s no indication the Wolves are willing to trade Pekovic or Rubio, anyway.)

The Wolves likely will be unwilling to trade any of their top young players — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng — the Suns might want, and can’t trade Anthony Bennett or Thaddeus Young, who were acquired in the Love deal, for at least another month.

The expiring contract of guard J.J. Barea and veterans such as Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer or Kevin Martin won’t get the deal done, either.

The Wolves could play Rubio and Bledsoe in the same backcourt, much as the Suns did with Bledsoe and Dragic last season. But with Rubio also seeking a max contract, doing so would involve paying big money to players who naturally play the same position.

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No. 3: Wilt is ‘Forever’ – Actually, Wilt Chamberlain already is an NBA immortal. But he apparently will become one of the United States Postal Service’s “forever” stamps this winter. The Babe Ruth of basketball was pitched years ago to the USPS to be honored with his own postage stamp, perhaps as part of its Black Heritage series and pegged to Chamberlain’s legendary 100-point game. That project is in line for what looks to be a happy conclusion, based on sleuthing by a user of Reddit.com, or at least a stumbling-across of some USPS product rollouts. And that has to be good news for Donald Hunt, founder of the campaign and a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Tribune in Chamberlain’s hometown. Hunt and some of Wilt’s other family and friends talked with NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner about their ambitions back in 2011 to honor Chamberlain and refresh his memory for new generations of sports fans:

Like Jimmy Sadler, who played three seasons with Chamberlain at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, where they posted a 58-3 record. “It’s overdue, really. If any athletes should be on a stamp, it’s him,” Sadler said. “Wilt was it. When you say ‘it,’ Wilt was it. He could do it all.”

Sports, coaches and athletes have been among more than 5,000 subjects featured on general-release U.S. postage stamps dating to 1847. Last June, two stamps dedicated to baseball’s Negro Leagues were issued with one depicting founder Rube Foster and the other showing a play at home plate.

“They introduced those stamps at the Negro League museum in Kansas City,” Hunt said this week, “and I saw how they gave out so much information and history. They could get that in schools and kids could learn about Wilt. It would be great for the NBA, too.” Hunt has gathered signatures on petitions and recommendations from NBA commissioner David Stern, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Billy Cunningham and various Philadelphia and Pennsylvania officials, while hoping for President Obama‘s support as well.

“I don’t think people really know what Wilt was all about, as far as his charitable work and giving back,” Barbara Chamberlain Lewis, one of his sisters, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “When he got into the NBA, he really had to play the way they wanted him to play, to appeal to the crowds. But how he was away from games, I don’t think people really know.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas tries again to quell the violence in his native Chicago with the third annual “Peace Tournament” on the city’s South Side. … Retired NBA player and front-office exec Rex Chapman earned a reported $22 million in his career, but was arrested Friday on a $14,000 shoplifting beef in Scottsdale, Ariz. … As the NFL’s miserable week spiked by domestic violence was ending, Toronto’s Patrick Patterson tweeted out a reminder of another pro athlete’s brush with the law for the same category of offense. … Chicago’s Taj Gibson, meanwhile, took to Twitter to defuse a situation before it gained momentum, sharing his views of starting vs. subbing for the Bulls.

Free-agent story remains the same as ever for Kobe, LeBron


VIDEO: Where LeBron James goes, others (even former rivals) will follow

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Love. Mike Miller. Shawn Marion. And perhaps Ray Allen (at some point).

Is there anyone else?

Is there anyone else willing to follow LeBron James wherever the road leads?

Gather any number of NBA players and ask for a show of hands and I guarantee you arms will be raised in rapid fashion.

This much is clear: where LeBron goes, others will follow. Even former rivals (Marion played on the Dallas team that defeated James and the Heat in The 2011 Finals.)

Marion’s weekend decision to join the homecoming party in Cleveland is just the latest evidence that LeBron remains the pied piper of his generation. It’s in stark contrast to what has gone on and what is going on with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ superstar has always struggled to attract high-profile teammates willing to make sacrifices in order to play alongside a proven champion.

For two players who always find themselves grouped together in the same conversation of the all-time greats, the one glaring difference between them is the stampede of players that have run to play with one of them (LeBron) and the reluctance of so many to even consider playing with the other (Kobe).

Dwight Howard couldn’t get away from the Lakers fast enough when he was a free agent after the 2012-13 season. Fast forward to this summer and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as well as others, were willing to wait until LeBron made up his mind between Cleveland and Miami before they decided their own free-agent futures.

It speaks to the power James wields as the world’s best player. And it’s less of an indictment of Bryant, who will no doubt go down (along with Tim Duncan) as the face of his generation, than it is affirmation of the force of nature that LeBron is on the free-agent market.

A generation gap?

It should be noted that LeBron is in the prime of his career while Kobe is clearly in the twilight of his. Still, when Kobe was in the same position atop the league food chain, his contemporaries did not flock to Los Angeles.

They are, after all, from a different generation. They are from the era where this notion of partnering up with supposed rivals wasn’t nearly as commonplace or acceptable as it has become in recent years. Close relationships between players during the offseason didn’t lead to the Big 3s and super teams that have been formed in the wake of the USA Basketball-inspired conglomerates that came to fruition in Miami (as well as in Houston, Brooklyn and now, Cleveland). (more…)

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touché.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning shootaround — July 26


VIDEO: GameTime: News And Notes

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo: It wasn’t about the money | Noah excited about new-look Bulls | Report: Johnson steps away from NBPA search | A longer All-Star break?

No. 1: Melo: It wasn’t about the moneyCarmelo Anthony re-signed with the New York Knicks for five years and $124 million, a year and $28 million more than he could gotten from any other team. But, in speaking with ESPN on Friday, Anthony said that his decision wasn’t about the money and that he doesn’t think the Knicks are “that far away” from contending for a championship:

Carmelo Anthony said it was not the money, but instead his confidence in team president Phil Jackson and his belief that the New York Knicks “aren’t that far away from contending for an NBA title,” that made him opt to remain in New York instead of signing with the Chicago Bulls.

“I want to win. I don’t care about the money,” Anthony told ESPN.com. “I believe Phil will do what he has to do to take care of that.

“I don’t think we’re that far away,” he added. “People use ‘rebuilding’ too loosely.”

In what were believed to be Anthony’s first public comments since agreeing to a five-year deal worth $124 million earlier this month, he told ESPN.com that the decision was so agonizing in the final days that he could not watch TV or go on the Internet.

“It was overwhelming,” Anthony said. “It was stressful in the final days, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”

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Morning shootaround — July 19




VIDEO: Gasol excited about joining the Bulls

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bynum might sit out | Exum experiences bumps | Bulls take on international flair | Jordan challenges Lance | Wiggins not worried
No. 1: Bynum might sit out year to strengthen knees — Of course, the big question is if Andrew Bynum decided to sit out the entire 2014-15 season to have treatment on his bad knees, who would notice? After all, the big man has played just 26 games over the past two years while wearing different uniforms in Philly, Cleveland and Indiana. Now, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Bynum is considering undergoing the German-based therapy program that promotes cartilage growth that will require an extra long recovery time, with an eye on joining Phil Jackson and the Knicks in 2015-15:

Regenokine is a non-surgical program that promotes new cartilage growth through a series of injections. The FDA still hasn’t approved it in the United States. Bynum is considering doing the program with well-known doctor German doctor Peter Wehling, who worked with Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. It is similar but not identical to the PRP procedure.
Bynum has arthritic knees that have stalled a career that once flourished under Jackson in Los Angeles.
“If he’s healthy, Phil will be interested,” Lee told The Post. “Phil knew how to tap into Andrew. They got along famously.”

Bynum, the Jersey product who was a young stud center for two of Jackson’s Lakers title teams, would undergo the procedure as a means to extend his career.
“He would be looking at in a longer-term situation,” Lee said. “He’s still a baby. If he went to college, he’d be coming off his rookie contract at age 26.”

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No. 2: Strong Exum finds there’s a lot to learning in Las Vegas — Everybody with a grade school knowledge of world geography knows it’s a long way from Australia to the United States. Utah’s No. 5 pick in the draft Dante Exum got a first-hand taste of the miles he still has to travel to make the adjustment to the NBA with a rough experience in the NBA. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper watched all of Exum’s bumps in the road at the Las Vegas summer league and talks about what the experience meant:

Unlike the majority of every draft class that steels itself with years of AAU circuits and college play or leagues in Europe with older professionals, Exum not only has to make the transition at age 19 but with very little in his basketball background to prepare for the NBA. He has never been seriously challenged for weeks at a time, let the months waiting for him with the Jazz schedule as a rookie.
“The last games I played was high school games and I’m one of the bigger guys out there that can push guys around,” he said. “Here, I get into the paint and I’m getting knocked over.”
Literally and figuratively. Exum faced NBA competition for the first time and shot 30.8 percent in five games, ending with Friday’s victory over the Trail Blazers at Thomas & Mack Center, while averaging 7.2 points and piling up more turnovers (15) than assists (14). He had good moments, but nothing close to a good game, with making four of 10 shots and three assists against one turnover in the opener against Philadelphia probably holding up as the best.
“It’s been a big couple weeks for him,” said Brad Jones, the Jazz assistant coach who ran the team in the Summer-League games. “He’s got a lot going on. He’s had some ups and downs through this, but it’s also why we play Summer League, for him to go through the ups and downs. The little challenge, we talked to him at halftime about, we wanted to see him finish on a strong note. I thought he tried to play through and luckily made a great play and hit that little floater to kind of seal that game for us.
“Now he can go back and regroup a little bit. I know he’s going to his national team, but hopefully now he has a level of understanding of what he has to do every day to be successful. There were some times he showed some brilliant, brilliant things this last week. Then again, there’s been some times where he’s been kicked in the rear end a little bit. Hopefully he’ll take this, process it and come back in the fall ready to go and to help because we think he’s got a bright future.”

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No. 3: Gasol, Mirotic give the Bulls a taste of Spain — So much has changed since the time Spaniard Pau Gasol was a No. 1 pick in the draft back in 2001 to now when Nikola Mirotic signed on to join him for the upcoming season with the Bulls. Our Steve Aschburner talks about how the basketball world in general and the NBA in particular has embraced the contributions of international players:

“The infrastructure is a lot better now in Europe and the rest of the world,” Tony Ronzone said by phone Friday during a break in Las Vegas Summer League action. “And the world’s becoming smaller with the Internet and the video. You can see now how many games are televised all around the world.”
Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, is one of the league’s most experienced evaluators of international talent. He is director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, worked for Minnesota and Detroit in similar capacities and served as head coach of teams in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He also is director of international player personnel for the USA Basketball men’s team.
He has seen the growth and comfort level in both directions — international players and coaches becoming more NBA savvy, the league embracing more players and concepts from overseas — throughout his career.
Consider: In Gasol’s rookie season, 2001-02, there were 52 international players from 31 different countries on NBA rosters. By Opening Night 2013-14, the number had grown to a record 92 players from 39 countries.
“What’s happening now is, our game has grown and with the NBA as the best league in the world, these players internationally are able to watch athletes on the floor and mimic their moves,” Ronzone said.
“There’s a lot more player-development going on to create more foot speed. Because the biggest adjustment the Europeans have coming over to America is, defensively they’d be behind and their foot speed, they’d be behind. What they’re learning to do is, with less foot speed, they’re understanding angles and they’re doing a better job of watching these athletes and getting scouting reports on how to play them.”

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No. 4: Jordan throws down gauntlet to Stephenson — Before he officially signed off on the three-year, $27.4-million free agent contract, Hornets owner Michael Jordan laid down the law and told Lance Stephenson that he expects fewer shenanigans and more production this season. Stephenson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer that he definitely got the message:

“I bring more to the table than blowing in someone’s ear,” Stephenson said Friday of the incident with LeBron James that brought him so much notoriety.
Stephenson, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, brings scoring, defense, playmaking and an edge. The Hornets like his edginess, and believe it can help them win games. But only to a point.
Hornets owner Michael Jordan attended the meeting in Las Vegas on Tuesday night that resulted in Stephenson signing a 3-year, $27.4 million contract. Jordan spoke very directly with Stephenson before signing off on this contract.
“He told me what he likes about me, he told me what I need to calm down on,” Stephenson told the Observer after the news conference. “He told me how I can contribute to the team. And he told me he believed in my talent. He likes my competitive edge.”
There is plenty to like. The Hornets desperately need scoring and shooting from the wing positions. Last season Stephenson averaged 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists and shot 49 percent from the field. The Hornets needed a player of his wide skill set and playoff experience.
What they don’t need is some of the disruptive things that have come with Stephenson’s history. He committed 14 technical fouls last season, fourth-most in the NBA. He had two legal issues in the past, first when he was accused of groping a teenage girl and later an accusation he pushed a girlfriend down a flight of stairs.
The $9 million-a-season salary (the third season at $9.4 million is a team option) is a bargain for a player of Stephenson’s talent. The Hornets got that deal because of the ways Stephenson undermined his reputation entering free-agency.

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No. 5: Wiggins just playing, ignoring the rumors — Rookie Andrew Wiggins can’t turn on the TV or click on a website without confronting another rumor that he could be part of a blockbuster trade that brings Kevin Love to Cleveland. It’s an unusual position for the No. 1 pick in any draft to be in. But after finishing up his stint at the Las Vegas summer league on Friday night, Wiggins told our Jeff Caplan that the only thing on his mind is playing basketball and getting better:

“Nothing to me,” Wiggins said as he flashed a playful personality with a wide smile after taking the Cavs’ Friday night Summer League finale off following four promising performances in his debut as a professional. “I just know what you know. I just see what you see on TV. That’s about it.”
The 6-foot-8 swingman said he’s letting his “agent and support system” handle the off-court twists and turns while he focuses on preparing for his rookie season, wherever it may be.
“I just play basketball, man, wherever I go,” Wiggins said.
James’ intent seem clear. On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that James has reached out to Love about forming a superstar pairing few ever in thought about before a week ago. The Timberwolves have stood pat that there’s no deal unless Wiggins is the centerpiece. Whether or not the Cavs are now prepared to make their top pick available seems to change with the wind.
There’s just no clear indication yet of the Cavs’ position. It was only a week ago that James announced his return to the Cavaliers. Later that night Wiggins made his first appearance in Cavs colors at Summer League. Since then, Wiggins has been the at the main attraction in Vegas and at the center of constant trade rumors.
As he sat on the bench early in Friday’s game, a section of the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center stood and chanted: “We want Wig-gins!”
“It’s been crazy, but it’s all positive stuff,” Wiggins said. “With LeBron coming back, there’s nothing negative about that; the best player in the world coming to your team. The organization is on the rise right now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard says the Rockets won’t miss Chandler Parsons …Channing Frye never considered giving the Suns a hometown discount … Udonis Haslem signs two-year deal to stay with the Heat …LeBron James is asking for help on deciding which jersey number he’ll wear in his return to Cleveland.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 168) ‘After Dark’

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The center of the basketball universe these days is Las Vegas.

Yes, LeBron James has come and gone. So has Dwyane Wade. And they are no longer teammates (Chris Bosh stuck around in Miami).

But the party is still going.

So what better place for the Hang Time Podcast crew to convene for a timely summer interlude (Episode 168) than the NBA’s Summer League in Sin City? That’s right, we’ll be coming to you live from the Strip (well, close by) and on NBA TV on Friday, when we’ll broadcast tournament games from the event.

Our resident Renaissance Man, Rick Fox, is already there and hard at work on his new show, “After Dark,” which can be seen exclusively on NBA TV this weekend and Monday after the game action and The Starters.

Rick provides some details on “After Dark” and we discuss all of the free agency craziness, not to mention our ongoing debate (Bosh or Chandler Parsons), Summer League and whether or not the crew will make it through the weekend unscathed and more on Episode 168 of the Hang Time Podcast … “After Dark”

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

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Giving Melo in NY the benefit of the doubt


VIDEO: Knicks welcome back Carmelo Anthony

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s time to cut Carmelo Anthony some slack and stop cynically scoffing at his return to the New York Knicks as being, perceptually anyway, for no greater reason than to gobble the millions of dollars other teams couldn’t give him.

If we’re going to lather such thick praise upon LeBron James for the heartfelt letter as he told it to Sports Illustrated in which he was clear his return to Cleveland was more about the tug of his hometown and his family’s happiness there than his immediate quest to collect championships, then why can’t we be equally happy for Anthony for choosing the place he and his family feel most at home?

That the Knicks could offer more money, by rule of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, than the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers or any other team, is completely out of Anthony’s control. The $30 million or so more that he could earn in New York (Anthony signed for $124 million, about $6 million less than the max), plus getting a fifth year as opposed to a maximum of four years anywhere else, are both worthy enticements to return, just as they are meant to be.

But what if Anthony’s love for the city, where he spent his early years and where his wife LaLa grew up, and his son calls home, was his true calling? What if his desire to one day bring a championship to the long-struggling franchise, just like the one in Cleveland that James so admirably wants to lift up, was Anthony’s deeper motivation for re-signing?

Anthony, like James, talked about his family’s happiness in an interview with VICE Sports before his free agency tour of Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles began:

“The average person just sees the opportunity to say, ‘Melo should go here, Melo should go there.’ But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it, your livelihood, where you’re going to be living. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place? Do I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation, in that city?

“My son goes to school and loves it here (in New York). To take him out and take him somewhere else, he would have to learn that system all over again. I know how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age, having to work your way to try to make new friends and fit in and figure out the culture in that area.”

I can hear the scoffing from here. But why are James’ intentions viewed as pure, while Anthony’s as only greedy?

I understand. You don’t have to be John Hollinger to recognize that adding Anthony as the missing, high-scoring wing to the Bulls, with coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy stamped all over the club, with Joakim Noah as the fiery, emotional leader and former league MVP Derrick Rose returning, would mean big, big trouble in the Eastern Conference.

It seemed a natural fit. Of course, the Bulls, by virtue of the CBA and their own cap situation, could only offer Anthony around $75 million. That’s significantly less money than his New York deal and one likely any rational human being, or businessman, wouldn’t consider for long.

But because this is basketball and not a Fortune 500 company, we want Melo to take less and go to the Bulls because it just makes too much basketball sense. And clearly it seems Anthony grappled with the decision.

He knew he could join an instant contender in Chicago, while the 2014-15 campaign in New York will be a learning one with rookie coach in Derek Fisher and an incomplete roster. Reaching .500 would seem a realistic goal.

But what if Anthony decided to stick with the team that unloaded a package of talented players in the trade to get him out of Denver just three years ago? What if Anthony decided to trust in new president Phil Jackson — the franchise’s first respected voice of authority in years — and give him a chance to assemble a roster in 2015 and 2016 when for the first time under this CBA, the club will boast cap space?

What if the money wasn’t the overriding factor, and visions of becoming the first Knick to hoist the championship trophy since, well, a much younger Jackson in 1973? And how much more meaningful it would be to do it in New York than anywhere else (just as LeBron said about Cleveland)?

Again, I hear the scoffing.

Maybe in the end, the money really was the only thing that mattered.

But just maybe, at age 30 and with a family, and understanding his legacy is far from complete in the game, Anthony embraced the bigger picture, the greater challenge ahead in New York, the city he and his family call home.

Maybe, like LeBron’s sentimental decision we ate up, Anthony’s, too, came from his heart; the extra wallet padding only New York could provide being nothing more than a bonus.

Stop scoffing.

Bar for Gasol: Better than Boozer?


VIDEO: Two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol joins the Bulls

LAS VEGAS – We come not to praise Carlos Boozer but not to bury him, either.

The Chicago Bulls’ signing of Lakers free-agent Pau Gasol means that one veteran NBA power forward will be replacing another, with the benefit of the move to be measured, ultimately, in how much more success Chicago has as a team.

Here’s the bar Gasol has to scale: A .657 winning percentage (205-107) in four seasons, four postseason berths, one conference finals, no rings.

Some weight will be given, too, to the newness of it all and public relations aspect, with the 34-year-old Gasol coming in as a fresh face and personality for a team that tried and failed to land its primary target in free agency, Carmelo Anthony. He’ll be filling not just the position, then, but the role that Boozer had in salvaging something from Chicago’s free-agent plunge in 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson all declined the Bulls’ overtures.

Finally, the marginal superiority of Gasol’s game over Boozer’s will matter to a certain degree. Let’s presume superiority, anyway, since Gasol’s signing is coming directly at Boozer’s expense: The Bulls will be using the amnesty clause on the final year of Boozer’s contract, worth $16.8 million, to open the salary-cap space needed to sign the 7-foot Spaniard.

So is Gasol better than Boozer? And if so, by how much?

Over Boozer’s four-season run with the Bulls, he averaged 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 49.1 percent. He had a 17.4 PER, to go with a 102 offensive rating and 98 defensive rating.

Gasol’s numbers since 2010-11 with the Lakers: 17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 49.9 percent shooting. He had a 20.5 PER, a 112 offensive rating and a 104 defensive rating.

They’re different types of power forwards, clearly. Gasol is three inches taller and has pterodactyl arms, which explains his blowout victory in blocked shots over Boozer (1,484 to 334). Part of that might be due to his instincts and a few defensive IQ points, though Gasol’s limited mobility could find him planted next to coach Tom Thibodeau late in the games just like Boozer was. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson figure to remain the Bulls’ defensive closers among their bigs.

None of this is intended to sell Gasol short. He is a heady player, widely respected within the NBA and a solid citizen who drew heavy interest from Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New York, as well as the Lakers. He is considered to be a far better passer than Boozer, likely to thrive with Noah in the Bulls’ ball movement. He possesses great offensive skills overall, playing a finesse game that might hold up better to the ravages of time and mileage than someone who relies on explosiveness or vertical leap.

Gasol definitely is a quieter type than Boozer, which might or might not serve him well with United Center fans, depending on his early Bulls’ performances. (Boozer’s vocal exuberance has become the butt of jokes in Chicagoland.) But Boozer has been more durable of late, missing 32 games the past four seasons compared to Gasol’s 56.

Gasol’s decision to sign with Chicago was greeted with excitement on multiple fronts, including Noah and Gasol’s old coach in Los Angeles, Phil Jackson.

Gasol’s signing, however, could limit Chicago in what it can do financially on a couple other fronts. Money will be tighter now to spring stashed Euro star Nikola Mirotic and to upgrade their wing scoring.

Speaking of money, some might give the Bulls’ generally tight-fisted management some credit for being willing to swallow Boozer’s salary – amnesty only gets him off the cap, not the books for 2014-15 – for whatever marginal improvement Gasol brings. That’s a bold but not necessarily prudent move.

Even in his least productive Chicago season in 2013-14, Boozer was good for nearly 14 points, eight rebounds and 28 minutes. He’ll no doubt find work, and he’ll be double-dipping from both the Bulls and his new team’s payroll.

It would have been a tough sell to bring Boozer back, without some splashy signing or trade to provide cover and flip the organization’s script. It remains to be seen whether Gasol can help enough to flip it.

2014 Free Agency — The Other Dominoes

From NBA.com staff reports

Now that LeBron James is headed back to Cleveland, the belief is many of the other players in the free-agency pool are going to start making deals now, too. Here’s the latest from around the Twitter-sphere and the Internet as we get closer and closer to a real flood of free-agent news…

Update, 12:02 a.m. — They can handle The Truth

And just when you thought it was quiet for the night, big news drops: The Washington Wizards may have lost Trevor Ariza, but they look to be adding Paul Pierce. Whoa.

Update, 9:55 p.m. — Doing the Deng thing

Luol Deng is still on the market, and it seems like a couple of teams are in the mix. We noted earlier that the Heat seemed like a probable landing place for Deng, but now a few other teams are starting to get in the mix as well.

Update, 9:47 p.m. — Down with the King

And as the other free agents fall into place, LeBron now can sit back and enjoy a trip to Brazil for tomorrow’s World Cup final, alongside his new (and former) teammate Anderson Varejao.

Update, 9:02 p.m. — When it rains…

Pau Gasol announcing he was going to Chicago was tough not only for Lakers fans, but also for Knicks president Phil Jackson, who was hoping to lure Gasol to NYC. Phil reacted on Twitter…

Update, 8:11 p.m. — Born Ready…for Texas?

And now we’re at the point where one turn deserves another. If Houston matches on Parsons, and Deng ends up in Miami, could the Mavericks snag Lance Stephenson from Indiana on a shorter, richer deal?

Update, 8:05 p.m. — Miami Neat

As the Heat look to fill the void LeBron James left behind in South Beach, Marc Stein reports that the top small forward still on the market, Luol Deng, looks like a strong possibility.

Update, 7:56 p.m. — Reunited?

With LeBron back in Cleveland, might as well get the whole band back together, as the Cavs are apparently making progress on a deal with one of LeBron’s favorite former teammates, Mike Miller.

Update, 7:40 p.m. — The Hornets strike

The Charlotte Hornets tried to acquire Utah small forward Gordon Hayward as a restricted free agent, but the Jazz matched and kept him Salt Lake City. For a backup plan, today the Hornets came to terms with a different Jazz player, Marvin Williams, on a two-year deal. So Marv gets to return to the Tar Heel State, where he played college ball at UNC, and will likely serve as a floor spacer, living beyond the three-point line.

Update, 6:04 p.m. — Some details on LeBron

One interesting wrinkle on LeBron’s new deal with the Cavs: He’s only signing a two-year contract, which will technically make him a free agent again in 2016. Although he doesn’t seem to be signing a short deal with an eye for hitting the open market — he’s thinking about the economics of the salary cap when the NBA’s next TV deal will kick in.

Update, 5:34 p.m. — Pau runs with the Bulls

Looks like instead of a sign-and-trade, Pau Gasol is just going to sign with the Bulls, as he just confirmed the move on Twitter.

Update, 5:32 p.m. — Ariza finds a home

The Rockets weren’t able to sign Chris Bosh, and Chandler Parsons may be on the way out, but they’ve found another swingman who fits their athletic style and can knock down threes in Trevor Ariza.

Update, 4:15 p.m. — As Gasol turns

Instead of signing as a free agent with Chicago, it looks like the Lakers may try to sign-and-trade Pau Gasol with a third team involved so that they will get something out of the deal.

Update, 2:05 p.m. — Finally, Carmelo Anthony stays home

It is now official. After nearly two weeks of free-agent tours and contemplations, Carmelo Anthony isn’t going anywhere. The Big Apple native will continue to call Madison Square Garden home.

Update, 1:54 p.m. — Suns officially acquire Isaiah Thomas

Phoenix was happy to take the diminutive, but high-scoring point guard off Sacramento’s hands and add him to an already lethal pairing of Eric Bledsoe (who remains a restricted free agent) and Goran Dragic. Isaiah will earn a reported $27 million over four years.

Update, 1:45 p.m. — Thunder get their 3-point shooter — Anthony Morrow

Desperate for perimeter punch, the Oklahoma City Thunder have come to terms with 6-foot-5 wing Anthony Morrow.

Heading into his seventh season, Morrow has yet to find an NBA home as he joins his seventh team and fourth in just the last three seasons. But he’s a long and lanky dead-eye shooter with a career 42.8-percent mark from beyond the 3-point arc. And that’s exactly the Thunder will require of him.

Update, 1:15 p.m. — Melo set to make Knicks signing official

It’s been a long wait with some anxious moments for new Knicks president Phil Jackson, but it now appears that Carmelo Anthony is ready to make his commitment to the organization official.

Update, 11:32 a.m. — Gasol to ink deal with Bulls on Saturday

It’s looking more and more like All-Star Pau Gasol will be calling Chicago his home next season. According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, a deal with the Bulls should be completed later Saturday.

Update, 11:30 a.m. — Jazz keeping Hayward

The Jazz have matched the Hornets four-year, $63MM offer sheet to Gordon Hayward, league sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. Hayward will sign with Utah today.

 

Update, 11:28 a.m. — Miller nearing deal with Cavs?

After securing LeBron James, are the Cavaliers close to adding one of the King’s buddies, Mike Miller? Sam Amick of USA Today tweets that the Cavs are not yet close to a deal with Miller, and have only had cursory conversations at this point.