Posts Tagged ‘Phil Jackson’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 17

VIDEO: Recapping the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket quarterfinals


Porzingis ready to prove Jackson wrong | Curry re-signs with Under Armour | Wolves’ Jones expects playoff push | Chandler may help Morris, Suns mend fences

No. 1: Jackson’s comments get Porzingis fired up — In forging his legend as a Hall of Fame coach, Phil Jackson was known as a master motivator of his players. As president of the New York Knicks today, Jackson perhaps went to that well again over the summer with some criticism of the physique of the team’s first-round pick, Kristaps Porzingis. The New York Daily News Stefan Bondy has more from Porzingis, who used Jackson’s mini-barb as motivation:

Kristaps Porzingis isn’t sure why Phil Jackson compared him to draft bust Shawn Bradley, but the rookie is motivated to change those doubts from the Knicks president.

Porzingis, speaking Wednesday at an event to unveil his sponsorship partnership with Shifman Mattress, acknowledged that Jackson’s public concern over his lanky body, “fired me up.” The rookie also understands that reaction was probably Jackson’s intention.

“Yeah I saw it. I don’t know what to say. I guess that’s what Phil does, gets us to work hard and fired up. That fired me up. I’m like, ‘I’m not Shawn Bradley,’ you know?” Porzingis said, responding to a recent interview on where Jackson wondered if the Latvian was “too tall for the NBA” like the awkward 7-6 Bradley. “I want to be better than Shawn Bradley obviously and be stronger than him,” Porzingis added, “but I’m a different player.”

Porzingis, who is roughly 7-2, has aggressively been trying to adapt his body to the NBA, consuming roughly 5,000 calories (including three steaks) per day in hopes of gaining 15 pounds. He’s four pounds short of his goal, and there’s an understanding that he’s built for power forward in the NBA, rather than banging in the paint with centers.

“For now, I’m a (power forward) for sure because of the defense. I’ve got to be able to hold those (centers). So that’s the main thing,” the 20-year-old said. “Once I get stronger, I’ll be able to play (center). Offensively, I can play both positions. At (center), I’ll be way quicker than the defender. So I’ll get stronger and gain more weight, if I want to play (center).”

With less than two weeks before training camp, Porzingis has been participating in two-a-day practices at the team facility and recovering in a hyperbaric chamber. He also mixes in two sessions in the weight room per day. Before that, he was playing one-on-one against Carmelo Anthony and, “just asking him about the moves.”

VIDEO: Kristaps Porzingis talks about getting ready for the 2015-16 season

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 207) Featuring Brad Turner

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The flood of memories that Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant produced in their eight seasons together with the Los Angeles Lakers could fill five or six books, serve as the origin story for nearly as many movies or after school specials and keep your mind twisting and turning about “What might have been?” for a lifetime.

The greatest reality show ever told is how folks describe it now, a daily soap opera with all of the drama (on and off the court) that anyone could ask for. And it was groundbreaking stuff, ahead of its time even, given that this all played out long before social media became a part of our everyday lives.

Broderick (you might know him as Brad or BT) Turner of The Los Angeles Times was there before, during and after every second of it and is still chronicling the daily happenings of what goes on in and around LA’s basketball scene. And that includes keeping a watchful eye on DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers, Chris and Cliff Paul, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers, the latest and greatest hoops reality show to hit town.

We dive back into the Shaq-Kobe drama and all the people impacted by it (from Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Dr. Jerry Buss to their teammates and the fans who witnessed it and still discuss to this day), discuss DeAndre’s crazy summer and look ahead at what’s to come in LA and elsewhere around the league after a month-long hiatus from the booth (Lang’s still at the beach and Rick is all over the place, as always).

But with just weeks before teams show up for the start of training camp, it’s also time to start assessing the 2015-16 season and how the pecking order will break down on each side of the conference divide.

As always, we dive in on Episode 207 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times …


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of,  Lang Whitaker of’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: An emoji battle over the services of DeAndre Jordan broke out during free agency, a battle ultimately won by the Clippers

Shaq-Kobe cold war officially over?

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks about his relationship with Shaq

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The thaw began a while ago, with each side admitting to past wrongs and their own complicity in one of the coldest wars in the history of sports.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant feuded for years, first as teammates in Los Angeles with the Lakers, and later after they had parted ways. They won titles, three in a row, in spite of their very real beef that always seemed destined to derail one of the greatest 1-2 punches basketball had ever seen.

But now, with Shaq retired and settled in comfortably as a member of the Emmy Award-winning Inside The NBA on TNT and headed for the Hall of Fame, and Kobe in the twilight of his future Hall of Fame career, the good vibrations appear to be rolling between the two. When word surfaced last week that Shaq had Kobe on his “The Big Podcast” (available today) and the former dynamic duo had cleared the air, it became obvious that the longstanding battle between the two was officially over.

Shaq’s opening lines, per a report from Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times, said it all:

“I just want people to know that I don’t hate you, I know you don’t hate me. I call it today a ‘work beef,’ is what we had,” said O’Neal, who retired after the 2010-11 season. “I was young, you was young. But then as I look at it, we won three [championships] out of four so I don’t really think a lot was done wrong. So I just wanted to clear the air and let everybody know that, no, I don’t hate you. We had a lot of disagreements, we had a lot of arguments. But I think it fueled us both.”

With Shaq Week invading NBA TV this week, the unveiling of the full podcast sheds even more light on the recovery process for these former teammates and NBA titans. We’ve heard plenty of stories and theories from other folks who were there, involved and observing the reality show that was the Shaq-Kobe Lakers. This is the first time we’ve had the two stars of the show discuss it together.

Some 11 years after their nasty public break up, hearing both men reflect on their tumultuous time together is revealing. More from the Times:

Bryant, 37, recalled the time when he and O’Neal almost came to blows in 1999.

Bryant was 21 at the time, but he wasn’t going to back down to the 7-foot-1, 330-pound O’Neal.

“In ’99, I think Shaq realized that this kid is really competitive and he’s a little crazy,” said Bryant, who is heading into what could be his final NBA season. “And I realized that I probably had a couple of screws loose because I nearly got into a fistfight and I actually was willing to get into a fight with this man. I went home and I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve either got to be the dumbest or the most courageous kid on the face of the Earth.'”

O’Neal viewed it then as an affront to his authority as the team leader, but these days he sees it differently.

“That just showed me, ‘You know what, this kid ain’t going to back down to nobody,'” O’Neal said. “Kobe seen me punk everybody in the league. So when this kid would stand up every day [to me], I’m like, ‘This kid ain’t going to back down.’ I knew then, if I’m down by one and I kick it out to someone, he’s going to shoot it and he’s going to make it.”

Both Bryant and O’Neal laughed.

“He was either going to beat the . . . out of me or I was going to get it done,” Bryant said. “I was comfortable with either one.”

Clearly, time heals all wounds, even in the most bitter of disputes. And to their credit, these guys didn’t wait until they were ancient to do this. All of us who watched them in their primes, together and apart, know what might have been if they could have co-existed without all of the drama and certainly a little longer.


Morning shootaround — Aug. 18

VIDEO: NBA rookies reveal their favorite animal


Cousins not buying latest trade chatter | Jackson’s top concern about Porzingis | Report: Cavs signing Kaun ‘a matter of time’

No. 1: Cousins, Kings not buying latest trade chatter — Word that the Sacramento Kings want to trade star big man DeMarcus Cousins has been circulating for a few months now. Throw in the (also) often-reported drama between Cousins and coach George Karl and it seems like a deal remains a likely option.’s Howard Beck detailed the latest situation with Cousins in a video on that website, which apparently Cousins (and some of the Kings’ brass) saw and responded to.’s Kurt Helin has more:

Nobody seems to be as sick of DeMarcus Cousins‘ trade rumors as DeMarcus Cousins.

Those rumors are not going anywhere in the short-term. The latest ones came from Howard Beck in a post at Bleacher Report in a video about guys who start the season on the trade block:

“Sacramento, I think, wants to hold onto him. Certainly the onwer Vivek Ranadive absolutely wants to hold onto DeMarcus Cousins. But I’ve been told if you polled the rest of the organization, the vast majority are in favor of trading DeMarcus Cousins and that would include, though he denies it, coach George Karl.”

Cousins’ reaction to this?


No. 2: Jackson’s top concern about Porzingis — has been running a periodic series about how Charley Rosen, a former assistant coach under Phil Jackson during their Continental Basketball Association days, spent one day a month with Jackson (who is now the Knicks GM). The most recent one details how Jackson came to the conclusion to draft Kristaps Porzingis two months ago and why he’s a big fan of fellow first-round pick Jerian Grant:

“When we wound up with the fourth pick, I was hemming and hawing about how to choose,” Jackson says. “I knew there were several outstanding prospects that would be available, but I was focused on getting a big man. My decision was essentially made when Clarence Gaines, my primary adviser and a super scout, told me there was a game tape I had to watch. This turned out to be a Spanish League contest between [Baloncesto] Sevilla and a team from Barcelona, a game that Sevilla had to win to avoid being downgraded from Division I to Division II status.”

The main player Gaines was promoting was Kristaps Porzingis, or “KP,” as Jackson says he liked to be called.

“What I saw made up my mind” Jackson says.

“Although the competition in the Spanish League is more physical, more consistent and more advanced than even the best D-I college teams over here, KP more than held his own. He had a long, lively body, a well-developed basketball IQ, a soft shot with terrific range and he didn’t back down from anybody. Plus, he showed an amazing athleticism for somebody his size.”

Primarily powered by the heroics of Porzingis, Sevilla won the game. “The young man certainly stepped up,” says Jackson.

Jackson’s seconding of Gaines’ endorsement was confirmed during a pair of individual workouts, as well as Porzingis’ performance in the Las Vegas Summer League after the Knicks had selected him fourth overall. “He can score,” says Jackson, “but his natural bent is to be a team player. On defense, he can block shots from behind and is quick enough to stay in front of guards in screen-roll situations.”

Jackson projects that Porzingis will add at least 10 pounds of muscle before his first season commences, yet concerns still linger over his prize draft pick. “Like Shawn Bradley, who was nevertheless a pretty good player, KP might almost be too tall for the game. What I mean is that his core strength might never be good enough, and that he might not be able to get low enough to get himself into prime defensive position to body power rebounders or drivers.”

Overall, Jackson feels that Porzingis will inevitably evolve into a star-quality player. But he feels that Jerian Grant, the 22-year-old point guard whom the Knicks obtained via a draft-day trade with the Atlanta Hawks for Tim Hardaway Jr., is more NBA-ready.

“He knows the game and has a certain flair for it,” Jackson says of Grant. “He’s quick, has 3-point range, knows how to pass, can break a defense down with his handle, knows how to get through screens and is comfortable getting people involved on offense.”

VIDEO: Kristaps Porzingis gets off to a solid start in Summer League


No. 3: Report: Cavs, Kaun pairing ‘a matter of time’ — Center Sasha Kaun was a solid reserve during his days at Kansas University and, eventually, wound up as the No. 56 pick in the 2008 Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. Weeks later, his rights were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers … and he hasn’t been in the U.S. basically since. That’s about to change, though, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group as Kaun could join the Cavs in time for the 2015-16 season:

Veteran Russian center Sasha Kaun embarked on a mini-tour of Cleveland on Monday, league sources informed Northeast Ohio Media Group.

His visit was for the purpose of house hunting, among other things, sources said.

Kaun, 30, and the Cavaliers have yet to reach an agreement. However, “it’s only a matter of time” before a deal is struck, according to a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations. The Cavaliers’ main focus is on locking up a longtime pact with restricted free agent Tristan Thompson.

Kaun is to depart town on Tuesday and it is anticipated that a deal will not be finalized before his exit, I’m told.

Kaun’s scoping out of the city almost certainly ensures he’ll finally make the jump to the NBA after playing seven years professionally for European powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

In Las Vegas, Cavs general manager David Griffin confirmed the team’s interest, saying “we would love to have him if something could be worked out.”

Griffin said then that the 7-foot Kaun, who posted career highs in points (9.9 per game) and rebounds (4.5 per game) in the Euroleague last season, was “somebody who could be rotational for us and if it could work out great.”

Kaun was a member of the 2012 Russian National team coached by the Cavaliers’ David Blatt. He would join Timofey Mozgov, Kevin Love, Thompson and Anderson Varejao as big men on the roster.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Portland Trail Blazers sharp-shooter Dorell Wright will play at least part of next season in China … Free-agent big man and former Los Angeles Clippers reserve Glen “Big Baby” Davis explains that whole Chris PaulDeAndre Jordan rift we heard about … ICYMI, the Chicago Bulls brought back ex-star Toni Kukoc in a front-office role

Blogtable: Next coach for Team USA?

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?

VIDEOJerry Colangelo discusses Team USA

> Your nameplate says “Jerry Colangelo, Chairman, USA Basketball.” So tell me Mr. Colangelo, who’s going to coach the greatest basketball team on the planet after Coach Mike Krzyzewski steps down next summer? And why are you choosing him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d like to say Gregg Popovich and consider it done, but I’m not so sure Pop would want to take on that (minimum) four-year commitment, given his renewed opportunities in his day job. I do think it would be nice to get an NBA coach this time, one who appears to have respect across the league and also someone with enough job security to not face any awkward employment situations during his USA tenure. Here’s my pick: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics.

Fran Blinebury, Gregg Popovich. The greatest basketball team deserves the greatest coach on the planet. Even though he’s getting up in years, Popovich would relish and make the most of the challenge. And as the man who has done more to make the NBA and international league than any other, it would be the perfect cap on his career.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comYou mean after I’ve made the strongest push possible to retain K, of course. But if I do have to find a replacement, which would be understandable considering all the “offseason” time he has given up through the years, then Gregg Popovich is the choice. Why? Because I can’t think of a reason why not. Others deserve consideration, but Popovich checks every box, from a history with USA Basketball to immense credibility with players to a strong international background.

Shaun Powell, First, I run the idea past Gregg Popovich, who by then should be retired and bored. The reasons for choosing Pop? Do you really have to ask? If Pop is up to serving exclusively as Team USA coach during the Olympics and Worlds, then my job is done. If Pop is too busy sampling the vino to bother with coaching, then my next choice is John Calipari, who knows how to relate to stars, both established and up-and-coming. Heck, by then, half the team could be ex-Kentucky players.

John Schuhmann, My first call would be to Gregg Popovich. He’s the best coach in the game and he has the respect of players across the league. Guys will want to play for him and play hard for him. That he, like Krzyzewski, was a member of our armed forces, is a bonus.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo offense to younger, up-and-coming stars in the coaching ranks, but this is a job for a master motivator. That person’s understanding of superstar talent (and how it needs to be massaged in this environment) is far more important than anything you can draw up on a white board. I don’t think there is any question that Doc Rivers is the man that fits that job description. He is universally respected among among coaches and players at all levels. Coach K was an exquisite choice when he stepped into the void of that revolving door of big name coaches and helped me (Mr. Jerry Colangelo) resuscitate the program. He, too, had that something special needed to convince the best of the best to sacrifice for the greater good that Doc has shown throughout his time as a coach. And please know that I’ll make Doc an offer he can’t refuse.

Ian Thomsen, My pick is Doc Rivers, a championship coach, a former All-Star point guard and current team president in the NBA’s second-largest market. He is a student of coaching in all aspects, beginning with a constant desire for self-improvement, and the best players will continue to be drawn to USA Basketball by him. There will be more pressure than for any coaching job in the NBA — you are expected to win every game, with one failure akin to national disgrace — and Rivers will be up to the challenge.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: My first call would be to a former United States military man who is also a pretty good coach himself: San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. Pop could surely handle coaching a few extra games in the summer, would appreciate serving his country, and he would instantly command the respect of players from around the NBA. If Pop demurs, my next call would be a little out of left field: Phil Jackson. Considering the Zen Master has always liked coaching superstars, perhaps a Team USA situation would be perfect. Finally, if they both pass, here’s an idea that might prove to be a more long-term solution: Jason Kidd. Not only is Kidd a former two-time gold medalist as a player, he’s shown himself to be a creative thinker as a coach, with an ability to relate to players of all ages.

Morning shootaround — July 28

VIDEO: David Lee talks about joining the Celtics


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’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!


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.


No. 4: So many jersey numbers, 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 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.


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 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


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.


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.”


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 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.”


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


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.


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.


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.


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 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 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

Opportunity for Okafor | Hammon makes history | Bargnani to Kings | Porzingis shines | Lillard stands ready

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 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.