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Blogtable: Which rookie would you take slow approach with?

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: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> Lakers coach Luke Walton says he plans to bring rookie Brandon Ingram along slowly and not start him immediately. Is there another rookie you’d take a similar approach with and why?

Steve Aschburner, Kris Dunn, Minnesota. Why? To tamp down some of the raging expectations (Dunn is the rookies’ Rookie of the Year pick), to provide more classroom and simulator work at point guard before tossing him the keys for behind-the-wheel training, and to make sure this team gets the most out of Ricky Rubio before rushing or forcing a transition. Rubio is a unique offensive talent — OK, he’s a preternatural playmaker with shooting issues — and an underrated defender. He’s still young (26 on Oct. 21). And if he’s not going to hang onto his job — he is not new coach Tom Thibodeau‘s preferred type of point guard — he at least needs some time to demonstrate his trade value. As a four-year guy out of Providence, Dunn might not need much time, but I’d give him some regardless.

Scott Howard-Cooper, First of all, Walton saying he plans to bring Ingram along slowly doesn’t mean anything. “Slowly” could mean bringing the rookie off the bench for the first two weeks before making the move. Or the first two games. Ingram has a lot of developing to do, but could also hold his own as a rookie. And, sources say, the Lakers need talent. He will get an opportunity. Another rookie is a better candidate for a similar approach: Dragan Bender in Phoenix, at 18 years old and after a limited role in Europe last season. I don’t like the topic as a whole, though. This isn’t baseball, where teams will limit the innings of a pitcher selected in the first round and maybe even keep the prospect in the minors just to make sure he is not being rushed. Bender or Ingram are not going to throw out their arms. How much they play will be determined by how well they play, along with team needs. I guess in that sense, Joel Embiid is the ultimate example of an NBA rookie who should be brought along slowly.

Shaun Powell, I think the Sixers would be wise to do the same with Joel Embiid. Sure, he hasn’t played a meaningful game in two years, which is why there could be a tendency to press the gas pedal, especially by Embiid. But there’s nothing to gain by shoveling him 30 minutes a night. Ease him in, get him comfortable and confident, and allow his body and performance to dictate future playing time.

John Schuhmann, Obviously, Joel Embiid’s work load shouldn’t be too heavy early on. The guy hasn’t played real basketball in more than two years. The Nets, we know, are in no rush and will take it easy with Caris LeVert as he recovers from foot surgery. And it will be interesting to see how Brad Stevens uses Jaylen Brown, given how many solid guards and wings the Celtics have otherwise.

Sekou Smith, Ask Byron Scott how that easing the rookie into things theory works. And no, there isn’t another rookie that needs this same specific plan Walton and the Lakers have in mind for Ingram. In most cases, being cautious with a talent like Ingram would make sense. But the Lakers and Los Angeles don’t constitute most cases. There is a pressure that comes with the market that suggests it will be tough to ease Ingram into the mix. Every rookie is going to adjust to his situation and the NBA game differently. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to develop a young star. The Lakers don’t have to turn things over to Ingram now, not with other players like D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson already in line for increased roles with Kobe Bryant no longer a part of the process.

Ian Thomsen, The same long-term patience should be applied to every rookie in this class except Ben Simmons. The 76ers have no quarterback, and so they need to develop their new identity through the playmaking of Simmons this season. All of the other players in this draft should be brought along more slowly because none of them is ready to take on a major role — including Ingram, whose young Lakers will be struggling now that Kobe Bryant won’t be there to shield them from the pressure and criticism.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Considering how well it worked with D’Angelo Russell, I am against the whole “bringing guys along slowly” idea. You’ve just made a significant financial investment in a player, and the clock is ticking on when your contractual control is going to run out. If they can’t play right away, unless you’re a team like the Warriors or Spurs, why waste a pick? So that being said, I wish the Lakers would just throw Ingram out there and let him play from the start. Then again, I suppose if he’s good enough, he can force that to happen.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 9


Okafor hoping to re-enter NBA this season | How good can Saric be? | USA ready for stiff challenge in next game

No. 1: Okafor seeks NBA comeback — Just 10 or so years ago, Emeka Okafor was a former Rookie of the Year winner and one of the promising young big men in the NBA. Fast-forward to today and Okafor has been out of the NBA for three seasons and last played in an NBA game on April 12, 2012 as a member of the Washington Wizards. A herniated disc in his back has kept Okafor from playing in a game since that date, but in an interview with’s Jackie MacMullan, Okafor is working toward a return to the league:

Emeka Okafor, the former No. 2 overall pick who has been out of the NBA for three seasons, has decided to attempt a comeback with an eye toward joining a “contending team” in December or January.

Okafor’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, confirmed that Okafor, who last played for the Washington Wizards in 2012-13 before suffering a herniated disc in his neck, is in the gym training and working on his conditioning.

“He’s probably five or six months away,” Schwartz said. “He’s been working hard rehabbing. For some guys that means one thing. To Emeka, who understands his body as well or better than some trainers that have worked with him, it means something else. He’s healthy. He feels great, but he’s a perfectionist, and he wants everything to be right.”

Okafor, who had back surgery in college, struggled with neck pain, and when doctors discovered he had herniated the C4 cervical disc, the injury forced him to step away from the game. In October 2013, Okafor and his expiring $14.5 million contract were dealt to Phoenix in a five-player swap that netted the Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Okafor never played a game for the Suns.

His best years were with the Charlotte Bobcats, the team that drafted him as the second pick after Dwight Howard in the 2004 draft. Okafor averaged 15.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks as a rookie and posted double-double averages in all five of his seasons in Charlotte.

Retired University of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said he spoke with Okafor last week. According to Calhoun, his former player, who helped UConn win a national championship in 2004 (while leading the nation in blocks), is “really excited about getting back.”

“He’s in great shape,” Calhoun said. “He had offers last season from teams for $6-7 million to play just a portion of the season, but you have to know Emeka. He’s only coming back when he feels the time is right.

“He’s not going to make a decision based on money. He doesn’t need it. This is a kid who graduated with a 3.9 GPA. He wants to play a couple more years then go to business school at Harvard. He’s only going to play for a contending team.”

Warriors general manager Bob Myers, whose club lost big men Andrew BogutFestus Ezeli and Marreese Speights in the purge to make room for free agent Kevin Durant, said he had “a conversation” with Okafor a couple of months ago and will monitor the big man’s progress.

In the meantime, the Warriors have signed veterans David West and Zaza Pachulia to fill the void.

“We have 14 players right now, but you learn every year that someone you didn’t expect to be available becomes an option,” Myers said. “Ideally, you try to have the flexibility to keep a spot open in case that happens.”

The biggest hurdle for Okafor will be to prove to teams he’s both healthy and durable. Aside from his back and neck injuries, Okafor missed a chunk of 2005-06 with an ankle injury and part of 2011-12 with a knee injury.

San Antonio lost center Tim Duncan to retirement after 19 seasons and is likely in the market for big man insurance, but general manager R.C. Buford stopped short of expressing interest in Okafor.

“We always pay attention to whatever is out there,” Buford said. “But Emeka is three years removed from a time when his body was letting him down.

“It’s just hard to get enough information to evaluate a player like that, who won’t be in training camp, who hasn’t had game action for a prolonged period of time.”

Calhoun said the long layoff has not only rejuvenated Okafor physically, but also mentally.

“He misses the game,” Calhoun said. “Hey, he’s 6-10 and was a double-double guy in the NBA. He’s also the greatest guy you can find in the locker room. He’ll have plenty of teams lining up to talk to him.”


No. 2:

How will Saric’s game translate to NBA? — In NBA lore, the list of players from Croatia who have had success in the league includes former standout players such as Toni Kukoc, Peja Stojakovic, Dino Radja and Hall of Famer Drazen Petrovic. The Philadelphia 76ers are hoping they have one of the next players in line in that lore in rookie forward Dario Saric. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe is covering the Olympics and reported on how Saric’s abilities might work in the NBA:

As Pau Gasol reared up to launch the hook shot NBA fans have seen many times, it seemed a cinch he would loft it into the basket and force overtime between Spain and Croatia.

Suddenly, under the rim, a tall man launched himself, raising his right hand to meet the ball at the apex and swat it away. Dario Saric’s block of Gasol’s layup in the final second secured a 72-70 upset win for the Croatians and let the rest of the basketball world know what his homefolks already do.

Saric is headed to the Philadelphia 76ers this fall, and for the first 39-plus minutes Sunday at Carioca Arena he looked as if his transition to the highest level would be difficult. Yet, that block secured a momentum-boosting win for Croatia and perhaps answered some questions about the guile of the 22-year-old, 6-foot-9-inch power forward after being a draft-and-stash for the past two years.

Saric spent two years with his Turkish team after he was drafted 12th overall by Orlando and then acquired in a draft-night trade by the 76ers in June 2014. He took that trip to New York for the draft two years ago, participated in all the activities with the fellow lottery picks — including the Celtics’ Marcus Smart — and walked the stage to shake hands with commissioner Adam Silver, knowing full well he was headed back overseas.

The Croatian signed a two-year deal with Anadolu Efes in Turkey, finally agreeing to opt out of his deal and join the 76ers for next season.

And the pressure is coming from all sides. Philadelphia fans, after years of putrid play in former general manager Sam Hinkie’s “Trust the Process” philosophy that resulted in 47 wins in the past three seasons, want Saric to become an impact player. In Croatia, there also is pressure from his countrymen and the media to become the next Drazen Petrovic or Toni Kukoc.

“Maybe you guys are not aware,” Croatian guard Roko Ukic said. “But whoever comes from our country to the NBA is like our next big thing [in Croatia], so much pressure from the media and for us, if we are like sixth in the Olympic Games, it’s not great. It’s pressure for those kinds of kids [like Saric], so this kind of game can give him a push in the back for his career.”

In a key sequence late in the fourth quarter with the Croatians trailing by 1 point, Saric used his ball-handling skills to get to the basket, only to be tied up by Spain’s Felipe Reyes and Croatia lost the possession.

Until the final seconds, Saric appeared to be another European product not quite ready for the rigors of the NBA. And then that final play happened, and his international image soared.

“This last play from Saric, that’s like a picture of our team,” Ukic said. “Everybody thinks he needs to get the medal by himself. It’s not easy to play the first time in Olympic Games and things didn’t go well for him offensively, but the effort he made and saved the day with the last block, that shows character.”

Croatia is seeking to return to respectability. They did not qualify for the 2012 London Games and finished 10th in the FIBA World Cup in 2014. They needed three consecutive wins, including in the FIBA qualifying tournament final against host Italy, to clinch an Olympic berth.

So his comrades are accustomed to such clutch plays from Saric, and that block against a six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion perhaps catapulted Croatia to the favorite in Group B.

“He has no fear of anything,” Croatian coach Aleksandar Petrovic said. “[Sunday] he just wasn’t able to gain offensive rhythm, but he’s a guy who brings us a lot of different [things] so he maybe misses five shots but he [does] so many little things that makes my team better. I’m not afraid at all [that he won’t play well], not here, not in the future with his NBA team in Philadelphia.”


No. 3: True test lies ahead for Team USA on Wednesday — The U.S. men’s national team is 2-0 in their first two games in the Rio Olympics, having won both of those games by a combined 101 points. Those victories combined with how the team looked in its exhibition slate has left many wondering just how good the team is given the gap in talent and ability between it and its opponents. That will change in USA’s next game as it faces a solid Australia team, writes our John Schuhmann who is on hand for the Olympics:

The U.S. plays its final three pool play games against Australia, Serbia and France. And suddenly, Wednesday’s opponent looks like it will be the Americans’ toughest test in pool play … and maybe in the entire tournament.

Before the last few days, you might have overlooked Australia as a medal contender because it only had to outscore New Zealand in a two-game series last summer to qualify for the Olympics. Other teams, especially those in Europe, had a much tougher route. And before action tipped off on Saturday, the next tier of teams behind the United States appeared to be France, Lithuania, Serbia and Spain. In fact, Australia was below those three teams, Argentina and Brazil in the latest FIBA rankings.

But Australia has begun the tournament by beating two of Europe’s top four. It opened with an easy win over France on Saturday and followed that up by outlasting Serbia on Monday afternoon. Australia doesn’t just have six more NBA players than the Americans have faced in their first two games (zero), it’s been playing the best of any team not wearing “USA” on its chests. And there should be no intimidation factor on Wednesday.

“It’s the ultimate test,” Australia’s Andrew Bogut said. “They’re the best team in the world, best players in the world. I think if we go out there with the mindset that we can compete with them, win or lose, we will be happy with that. If we go out there and we’re intimidated by them, try to get our shoes signed before the game, and a signed jersey, we won’t win with that mindset.”

Australia will have two ball-handlers — Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills — who run the pick-and-roll better than anybody the U.S. has faced in its five exhibition games or its two games in Rio. Mills (47 points in two games) has been Australia’s leading scorer, while Dellavedova has tallied 23 assists and just one turnover in the two wins. They’re bench guys in the NBA, but they’ll still test a defense that has only been together for three weeks.

“Delly’s ability to read defensive coverage and systems over the course of games,” Australia coach Andrej Lemanis said, “is really, really impressive.”

“Offensively, we started to understand what was required in order for us to put some heat on the rim and find different ways to exploit their defensive schemes,” Lemanis said. “We got some really smart players and over the course of the game, they figure out what are the best offensive opportunities for us.”

Though he usually focuses on one opponent at a time, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has clearly been paying attention to what Australia has done so far. In talking about Dellavedova and Bogut, “two of the better passers in the tournament,” Krzyzewski said that they have “maybe 35 assists” and “four or five turnovers.” He almost nailed it, as the pair have combined for 34 assists and only four turnovers. The preparation for this particular opponent started early.

The U.S. beat Australia in the quarterfinals of each of the last two Olympics, winning by 31 points in Beijing and by 33 in London. But this will be the best Australia team the Americans have ever faced.

Australia has already put itself in position to finish second in Group A and be placed on the opposite side of the Americans in the elimination-round bracket. After Wednesday’s game against the U.S., it will complete pool play with games against China and Venezuela.

It’s playing its best basketball at the right time, both to compete for an Olympic medal, but also to give the Americans a much tougher challenge than they’ve faced thus far.

“They can beat us,” Krzyzewski said. “We know that, and we’ll prepare accordingly.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay is reportedly interested in being traded to the Miami Heat … Philadelphia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons could end up taking on some point guard duties next season … LeBron James has his own locker in Ohio State’s locker room … Former Sacramento Kings forward Kenny Thomas is opening a new restaurant near the Kings’ new Golden 1 Center … Former Utah Jazz big man Kyrylo Fesenko may be nearing a deal with an Italian league team … The Oklahoma City Thunder may have Ronnie Price on their radar

Morning shootaround — Aug. 2


Stoudemire reflects on Knicks heyday | Wade says James was surprised Wade got on open market | Anthony steps up as leader for Team USA

No. 1: Stoudemire reflects on career, Knicks heyday — While his NBA playing days officially ended last week, former All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ready to hang it up altogether just yet. In a news conference with the New York Knicks yesterday, Stoudemire announced he will be playing for a team in Israel next year. Before that next chapter begins, Stoudemire took time to pen an essay about his career on The Players Tribune in which he remembered his Knicks days, playing along side Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal and more:

It was December 15, 2010. I had just scored 30 or more points for the ninth straight game — a Knicks record. Madison Square Garden was alive — I mean alive— cheering for me, cheering for us. I’d never heard anything like it. I’d never heard love like that before. For the first time in a long time, the Knicks were a team to be reckoned with. We lost by two that night (and only after my three had been waived off at the buzzer) to the Celtics. But more importantly, there was an awakening. Not just in MSG, but in the entire city.

Everyone was going to our games. And if they couldn’t go to the games, they were going to bars to watch them. People were enjoying themselves before and partying after. I swear we single-handedly revived New York’s economy. We were rock stars — me and Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and the rest of the team. Obviously, being celebrities wasn’t our job. It was fun, but our No. 1 job was to be great basketball players — to win. Still, you can’t beat being a rock star.

Millions of kids dream of playing in the NBA. Not many make it there. An even smaller number get to hear thousands of people chant “M-V-P!”

Let’s start with where it all started, in Phoenix, with Stephon Marbury. I was his rookie. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Too many people forget that he was an All-Star, a max-contract player. For a player that great to take me under his wing, it just meant so much to me.

Then there’s Steve Nash. Before he arrived, we already had a pretty strong nucleus in myself, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa. When we brought Steve on board, we reached a whole new level. Everyone else fed off him. Once you have a pass-first point guard, a guy who just focuses on getting the ball to where it needs to be —who’s just making his teammates better — it opens up the entire game.

We redefined the game of basketball. Before us, the center position was more like Shaq or Karl Malone. We didn’t have that size, but we had speed. Mike D’Antoni made a decision to go small. Teams weren’t ready for it. They weren’t ready for Seven Seconds or Less.

I don’t know how Steve made some of those passes. In the heat of the moment on the court, you don’t really appreciate a great pass. But once I got a chance to watch the replay, either on the jumbotron or in film sessions, I’d go up to him and say, “That was a hell of a pass!”

Steve was one of the best passers and shooters the game has ever seen, and I had the best seat in the house to watch him work. Steve took my game to a whole new level. He showed me what it meant to be a leader.

Can’t forget about the big fella, neither: Shaq. I idolized him growing up. And I got to play with him in Phoenix in ’08 and ’09. We did work, too. I was putting up insane numbers thanks to him and all the attention teams had to give him.

I got to play a bit this year with Dwyane Wade, yet another Hall of Famer. He keeps his dribble so low to the ground, and he’s deceptively quick.

Last, but definitely not least, Carmelo Anthony. I think he’s the best pure scorer in the NBA. It just comes so easy to him. When he’s at his best, he’s playing an entirely different game than the rest of us. That night when he scored 62 at the Garden, that was easy for him. He could have gotten 70, maybe more. He just flowed out there on the court. That’s what the game is all about, getting to a level like Carmelo is on. When a great player performs like that, it’s fun to watch. I should know, I was there.


No. 2: Wade says LeBron couldn’t believe Wade entered free agency — After spending his entire career with the Miami Heat, guard Dwyane Wade will spend next season with the Chicago Bulls after signing with them in free agency. The move stunned many across the NBA as Wade was perhaps the player most associated with the Heat in franchise history. In an interview with ESPN over the weekend, Wade revealed how his choice went down and how one former teammate was stunned Wade was even allowed to get to that point in free agency. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:

Dwyane Wade essentially condensed his decision to leave the Miami Heat into eight words during an interview that aired Sunday on ESPN: “They made a choice; I made a choice.”

And yet, with those eight words, clarity, more than three weeks after his decision to depart for the Chicago Bulls in NBA free agency, remained in limited regarding the end of his 13-year tenure with the team that drafted him in 2003.

“My time, the clock ticked out on me,” Wade said in the interview recorded in the wake of his Friday introduction to the media at the Bulls’ practice facility. “And whether they felt it, whether they wanted to do it, I did. And I respectfully walk away saying I tip my hat to their organization and to the city for embracing me and giving me the platform to be great. And I did that. I was great. It will always be there. But I’ve got more things to do.”

Between Wade’s departure from the Heat and introduction in Chicago, Heat President Pat Riley said of not taking an active involvement in the negotiations, “The buck really stops here. I’m not trying to fall on the sword for anybody. I have great regret that I didn’t put myself in the middle of it.”

Wade’s response in the ESPN interview after that quote was read to him was, “We all have choices. We make our choices.”

As he previously had done, Wade did not cast it as a clash of personalities with Riley.

“I respect Pat Riley to the fullest for what he’s done in this game, you know, drafting me, when a lot of people didn’t believe I was going to be as great as I’ve become,” he said. “But in this situation, we all have choices. So we choose not to put ourselves in the situation. He wasn’t the sole reason I left at all, but it was his choice.”


…Wade also reflected on being on vacation in Spain with former Heat teammate LeBron James and their mutual friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers guard, amid his free-agency issues with the Heat.

“I think they were in disbelief that I didn’t have any deal that I wanted,” he said. “They just were, ‘Why are you even a free agent? You shouldn’t even be.’ ”

He added of that time alongside James, who was coming off his NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. and Paul, “The biggest thing that came back from both of them was, ‘Follow your heart. Whatever you want you want to do, we’re going to support, we’re your friends. But there’s a reason you’re having these thoughts: follow your heart.’ “


No. 3: Anthony becomes leader of Team USA — The U.S. men’s national team wrapped up its exhibition schedule last night with a 110-66 romp against Nigeria in Houston. That moved Team USA to a perfect 5-0 in the warm-up portion of its schedule for the 2016 Olympics in Rio where the team will be the decided favorites against the rest of the field. Our Fran Blinebury was on hand last night and reports on how Carmelo Anthony is driving this current quest for gold:

Put the basketball into Carmelo Anthony‘s hands and it’s like watching a bird fly, a fish swim.

He knows what to do and how to do it and, to listen to him after Team USA closed out its cruising-over-America tour Monday night and now heads off to Rio for his fourth Olympic Games, there’s nothing new to see.

“I think (my role) is the same,” Anthony said after his 19 points led the way in a 110-66 thumping of Nigeria. “I think it’s to go out there to be myself and not be nobody else. Not try to do more than I have to. You do a little bit of a lot when it comes down to it. I feel comfortable in these situations, regardless of what type of game or style of play that these teams are going to bring to us. I think I’ve seen it all over all the years.”

A 20-year-old Anthony was there for the three-loss bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens that led to the total revamping of the USA Basketball program and he was there for the painful semifinal loss to Greece in the first year of the new regime at the 2006 World Championship in Japan.

Now that he’s 32 and the de facto leader of a roster that consists of so many new faces to the whole international atmosphere, it’s as if he has blossomed fully.

“The leadership comes natural to me,” Anthony said. “People are putting a lot on it because the whole world is seeing it. For me, I do this every day. It’s natural for me. It’s genuine. It’s nothing that I’m forcing myself to do. I do it every day all day. I’m the same person. I’m the same guy. Now it’s just more visible to you (media) guys because you’re seeing it a little more on my own team every season. There’s more cameras in practice now. We have practice that’s open and you guys have a chance to see how we react with one another. I think that’s the difference. I think you guys are starting to see more of me doing that rather than all through the season.”

While some of that may be true, there are signs even to some of his teammates that Anthony embraces the mantle of leader.

“Oh, he’s the guy that’s been there so much before,” said center DeMarcus Cousins. “We would all be foolish if we didn’t go to him, learn from him, lean on him as we take on this challenge. He knows the ups and downs, the little differences from this kind of game to what we all play in the NBA and those can pay off for us as we go through this.”

“Carmelo’s been sensational really as a leader and as a player, too,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This is his fourth Olympics and his fifth USA competition. For him to use his experience. He wants everyone to be good. He knows us. He knows the international game and everyone on the team respects him. I think he’s been terrific. I thought he would be good and he’s been better. Because he’s a smart guy and he gets it.”

“I actually feel excited about the journey we’re about to take on. A new group of guys. A much younger group of guys. Before I was one of the young guys and now I’m one of the older guys on the team that has been around a couple of times. For me, knowing that we have an opportunity to do something special with a new group of guys, new faces of our country, to be a part of it, I’m excited about that.”

“I think the whole experience has helped him, even playing-wise,” said Krzyzewski. “His toughness is even better. We’re lucky that he’s with us.”

Some things change, even they won’t admit it.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Two former NBA centers chime in on the NBA retirees’ health insurance planAndrew Bogut wasn’t exactly thrilled about the lodgings in Rio … Former Sixth Man of the Year winner Ben Gordon is taking a long road to get back to the NBA

Morning shootaround — July 29

Durant says he didn’t tell Westbrook he was coming back | Wade’s move shocks Anthony | Stoudemire wanted to retire with Suns

No. 1: Durant says he never made promise to Westbrook — Kevin Durant was one of, if not the biggest, names in free agency this summer. His decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors made ripples throughout the NBA that are still being felt today. On a recent podcast,’s Royce Young said Durant had essentially told his All-Star teammate in OKC, Russell Westborook, he was coming back to the Thunder. (Young has since clarified that statement back a bit.) Durant, in an interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, says he never said anything of the sort to Westbrook:

Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant refuted a report that he told his ex-Oklahoma City teammates – including Russell Westbrook – that he planned to re-sign with the Thunder.

“It’s false,” Durant told The Vertical on Thursday. “I didn’t say that – words about me telling Russell or Nick that I would stay or leave never came out of my mouth. We met as teammates, but no promises came out of it. In this day and age, I can’t control anything people claim out there. Someone can go out and say something random right now, and people will believe it.

“I never told Russell or Nick [Collison], ‘All right, guys, I’m coming back to the Thunder’ – and then a week later, I decide not to. Never happened. I don’t operate like that. I heard people say that story, but it’s not the truth.”

In a quiet corner before USA Basketball’s practice at the United Center, Durant admitted he has heard – and refutes – the perception that he turned his back on Westbrook and his former Thunder teammates. “There were never promises given in a meeting before July,” he told The Vertical. “I went through the process.”

He held meetings with six teams – the Warriors, Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat – and committed to a two-year maximum contract with Golden State. Since joining the Warriors, Durant and several teammates, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, have fielded questions about acclimating the one-time NBA MVP to the starting lineup.

“I’m not coming into a team where a guy is playing my position and we have try to fit in two guys playing the same position,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’m not coming in trying to play the point guard, trying to play the shooting guard. I’m a small forward. The team didn’t have a small forward when I signed. Steph, Klay, Draymond, the bigs, we all play different positions.

“Whether it’s minutes, shots, opportunities, any good team will have players sacrificing. That’s the nature of the game. I’m not coming into a game saying that I need my 18 shots and I need to get to the line 12 times. I let the game flow naturally.”


No. 2: Anthony shocked by Wade’s move to Chicago — New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and new Chicago Bulls signee Dwyane Wade have been friends for years, dating back to before both were taken in the top 5 picks of the 2003 Draft. The two have had their share of memorable one-on-one showdowns through the years, even moreso over the last six seasons since Anthony was traded to the Eastern Conference. While Anthony should continue to face Wade on a regular basis in 2016-17 and beyond, he was like many others this summer who found themselves surprised Wade left the Miami Heat to sign with the Bulls.’s Nick Friedell has more:

“I was shocked,” Anthony said before Thursday’s Team USA practice at the United Center. “I was shocked more from a standpoint it was just hard to see. It’s hard to see some players in different uniforms and he’s one of those guys who I never thought I would see in a different uniform other than Miami. But it happened, and I got a chance to talk to him and sit down with him and really dig deep about his feelings and what happened. He’s at peace now. And when he’s at peace, I’m at peace with it.”

Wade surprised many in the league by spurning the Heat to sign a two-year deal with the Bulls earlier this month. Anthony, who was wooed by the Bulls two summers ago but ultimately decided to re-sign with the Knicks, acknowledged that the free-agency process can be mentally taxing for players.

“I don’t think the masses really understand how difficult those decisions are,” Anthony said. “And what goes into those decisions. And as athletes what’s going through our mind during those decisions. A lot of people think we can just wake up and we can just make those decisions — it’s not that easy.”

Anthony’s comments come just a few weeks after two of the most successful Bulls in recent memory, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, landed in New York. Rose was dealt to the Knicks last month. Noah signed as a free agent.

“We love them,” Anthony said. “We love those additions. And we’re looking forward to getting the season going. And I think everybody is excited, the excitement is back. Right now there’s an adjustment on paper, but of course we have some work to do putting it all together, making it work. But we’re going to ride the wave of this excitement right now.”

As for a rekindling of a rivalry between the Bulls and Knicks, Anthony said he knows that it’s possible with all the moves both teams have made.

“I know you guys want that,” Anthony said. “I know you’re living for that. But we embrace that. I think as players, as competitors, we embrace all of those challenges and rivalries, that’s what makes the sport great again, so we embrace that.”


No. 3: Stoudemire says Suns weren’t receptive to him returning — After six All-Star Game apperances, a Kia Rookie of the Year trophy, and being named an All-NBA player several times, Amar’e Stoudemire retired from the NBA on Wednesday. Stoudemire was a free agent this summer and decided to hang it up as a member of the New York Knicks, whom he played for from 2010-15. Although Stoudemire had some memorable days in New York, most associate his peak seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him in 2002. Stoudemire told the Arizona Republic‘s Paul Coro he wanted to retire as a Sun, but the team didn’t seem receptive to that idea:

Amar’e Stoudemire gets sentimental the moment he reflects on his first eight NBA seasons spent in Phoenix, where a raw teenager became a skilled All-Star.

“Where do you want me to start?” Stoudemire said Thursday, shuffling through his mind’s fondest Suns memories. “It doesn’t stop.”

Stoudemire quickly recites Suns times like flying with a Phoenix contingent to recruit Steve Nash out of Dallas, watching Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic arrive in Phoenix from foreign countries, his career’s most successful seasons as an individual and a team, experiencing a preseason tour of Italy and Germany, watching Nash’s soccer skills on the Suns practice court and using his Hollywood connections to entertain teammates on the road.

All of that, dotted by conference finals runs and five All-Star Games as a Sun, will carry more weight in time than his decision to retire on a one-day New York Knicks contract for his less successful NBA home of 4 ½ years.

Stoudemire just did not feel the same love back in the past two offseasons, when he hoped to return to the Suns to close his career. That prompted him to reach out to New York this month for a ceremonial contract with a “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” quotation to cap his 14-year career.

“The last two years, we made phone calls to Phoenix but I wasn’t getting any positive response,” Stoudemire told azcentral sports on Thursday. “That would’ve been the perfect way to go out. I didn’t want to beg Phoenix. My heart was in two places – Phoenix and New York. I just went where I was wanted.”

“I love my fans in Phoenix. Most of my high times and highlights were in Phoenix. I put forth the effort to finish my career in Phoenix but it wasn’t well-received.”

Stoudemire watched Steve Nash be inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor last season and thought, “I might be next.” There are currently 14 members.

Even with missing nearly a full season during his eight-year Phoenix stay, Stoudemire ranks highly in Suns career annals – fourth in points per game (21.4), third in total rebounds (4,613), fifth in total blocks (722), third in free throws made (3,044) and seventh in field goal percentage (54.3).

“I’m praying for that,” Stoudemire said of a Ring of Honor induction, “because my glory years are in Phoenix. My best times are in Phoenix. I bleed purple and orange. My roots are in Phoenix and the tree bloomed from there.”


Stoudemire wanted to make it clear that his positive feelings for the franchise remain in tact, especially his respect for Suns fans and managing partner Robert Sarver.

“I never have received so much love and loyalty than I did with Suns fans,” Stoudemire said. “I love them unconditionally.

“I understand what Robert is trying to do. I know Robert is trying to win and I know the organization is trying to create a winning environment. I respect what they are trying to accomplish. If they need my help with anything, I am here for them.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers will square off in a regular-season game in London next season … The cost of the Washington Wizards’ new practice facility just went up … Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler says he no longer has a chip on his shoulder motivating him, but he’s just as driven as ever … Sacramento Kings VP Vlade Divac is predicting a big Olympics for his team’s star center, DeMarcus Cousins … Gerald Green is glad to be back where his NBA career started — with the Boston Celtics …

Morning shootaround — July 28

Towns: ‘Things are about to change’ | Watson recalls Popovich scolding him | Divac responds to Gay’s comments

No. 1: Towns expecting big changes in Minnesota — You have to go back a dozen years to reach the last season in which the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs. That 2004 run to the Western Conference finals, led by Kevin Garnett, was the postseason high point for a franchise that has struggled to regain that success since then. But with reigning Kia Rookie of the Year winner Karl-Anthony Towns, plus former Rookie of the Year winner Andrew Wiggins, the athletic Zach LaVine, rookie Kris Dunn and new coach Tom Thibodeau in the fold for 2016-17, things can’t help but look up for Minnesota. Towns, for his part, is expecting the Wolves to be more than improved writes Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press:

Karl-Anthony Towns grew up in New Jersey. He loves it there.

But it’s not home anymore.

“A lot of times, I talk to my friends and family and I’m always trying to rush back to Minnesota,” Towns said Wednesday during his basketball camp at Hopkins High School. “This is where I call home.”

“I thank God every day that I get a chance to do all these great things in a Timberwolves jersey.”

Towns has carved out some court time to work on his game, too. He said he has worked on all aspects of his craft and added new moves to his arsenal.

He also has worked on his three-point shot. In New Jersey, he said, he was one of the top three-point shooters and now is moving “back to his roots,” using some shooting drills he used to do.

“It’s been paying dividends,” Towns said. “My shot has looked the best it’s looked in about four years, and I’m really happy.”

Towns’ focus already is centered on next season, which he talks about with Wolves teammates regularly. The primary topics are what the league looks like, how the division will look and what the Wolves need to do to accomplish their goals.

“We’re concocting a plan to be the best Timberwolves team that’s come around in a long time,” he said.

This month, Towns sent out a tweet that read, “Remember us.” He explained the reasoning Wednesday.

“A lot of people tend to think that we’re the Timberwolves, and we’re at the bottom of the barrel,” he said. “I just want everyone to know that we’re coming. Just remember us, remember who we were for the last 13 years, because things are about to change.”


No. 2: Watson recalls scolding he got from Popovich — By all accounts, the Phoenix Suns had a rough season in 2015-16, from the 23 wins they posted (their fewest since 2012-13), to the myriad of injuries they endured to stars such as Eric Bledsoe and others, to the mid-season firing of then-coach Jeff Hornacek. His ouster led to the team moving Earl Watson over as interim coach and although the team went just 9-23 under his watch, his ability to reach the team’s young players and regain a sense of direction for the franchise wasn’t lost on team officials. Watson was named Suns coach this summer and in an interview with Marc J. Spears of, he talks about how he got a stern talking to from legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich last season:

Watson was asked to interview with the Suns as an interim head coach for the rest of the season. As exciting as the opportunity was, he sought the blessing of Hornacek before agreeing to interview.

“I called Jeff because if he was discouraged about it, I would walk away from it,” Watson said. “You don’t want to ever interview for a job from a guy who brought you in. It’s torn emotions.”

Watson landed the interim opportunity and earned a 9-24 mark in what would end up being the second-worst overall record in Suns franchise history. One game of note was a 118-111 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 21 in which the Suns challenged the NBA power. Watson got scolded by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich afterward for being too hard on himself after not landing the big win.

“[Popovich] told me, ‘Great job.’ I said, ‘Coach, we have to win games. No one cares about great job.’ He got in my face and asked me if I was crazy. ‘Are you f’ing crazy. Great job. I really mean it. You were poised. Your team is playing great. They’re playing for you.’ I told him that I love him. He said, ‘I love you, too,’ ” Watson said.

While Watson was stressed about earning wins, the Suns actually were not judging him on wins and losses with the young and injury-riddled team. The hope was rather to improve the team’s attitude. And when the 2015-16 season concluded, the players’ attitude toward Watson was extremely positive. Several told Suns management before and during their exit meetings that they hoped he was retained .

“What he inherited is maybe one of the toughest situations that any coach has had to inherit,” Suns center Tyson Chandler told The Undefeated toward the end of last season. “What he has done is taking these young guys and put their focus in the right way. I love what he is doing. I love the way he approaches it.

“As just as serious as he was on the court, there is just as much passion [coaching]. His knowledge for the game is actually what I thought he would have been as a young coach. His leading ability … Young guys are usually feeling themselves out. But he surprised me.”

The Suns agreed with their players’ assessment and hired Watson on April 19 as the permanent head coach. He immediately became the NBA’s youngest head coach at 36 years old. Suns guard Devin Booker called it a “great move for our organization.”

“Going into next season we understand that it will be a process, but Earl is the best fit to lead our squad,” Booker said in a statement to The Undefeated. “He’s played the game before. He has experience. We trust him and he trusts us.”


No. 3: Divac responds to Gay’s complaints — Sacramento Kings swingman Rudy Gay was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2015-16 (17.2 ppg) and is one of the core pieces to a team hoping to get back into the upper crust in the Western Conference. Gay, however, is also entering his 11th season come 2016-17 and has just seven playoff games on his career resume. In an interview earlier this week with Sactown Royalty, Gay voiced his displeasure with the team’s direction, which Kings VP Vlade Divac responded to, writes James Ham of

Divac played cat and mouse, initially saying that he hadn’t heard Gay’s comments. Once informed of what the veteran wing had told the media, Divac weighed in.

“He has my number,” Divac told CSN California. “If I do something, I will call him. Obviously, if I didn’t call him, we didn’t do anything.”

In case you missed it, Gay went public on Monday with his frustrations over the uncertainty surrounding his future with the team and the current direction of the franchise.

“I think it’s pretty obvious what situation is going on here,” Gay told Sactown Royalty. “At this point in my career, I think I want some kind of consistency and we don’t have that here, at all.”

Divac has restructured the Kings roster in the offseason, bringing in eight new faces via the draft and free agency. Sources have confirmed that the Kings are shopping Gay and the team has fielded plenty of calls, but they have yet to find a deal that makes sense for the team.

The Kings GM has spoken with his small forward on this subject in the past and has nothing new to report. Divac has been on both sides of the table as both a player and now and an executive and he understands the frustration of being in limbo. But he also has a job to do.

“Look, I was a player, 16-17 years in the league, nobody called me everyday and tell me what management is doing,” Divac said. “Management was doing their job. If something big happened, they called and told me. Obviously, nothing big happened (so) I’m not going to call anybody.”

When asked whether the Kings’ roster is set so far, the 7-footer kept his cards close to the vest. He is working the phones trying to do what’s best for his team and be it Gay or Kosta Koufos or Ben McLemore, Divac is looking for value in return, not a salary dump.

“There’s always room to improve,” Divac said. “I’m happy for now, but down the road, we’re always trying to improve.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ben McLeMore is preparing for a bounce-back season in 2016-17 … ICYMI, a back injury will keep Anderson Varejao out of the 2016 Olympics … Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki reportedly signed a two-year, $50 million extension with the team yesterday …

Morning shootaround — June 7


Cavs looking for their defense | Turner: Mid-range shots are ‘the future’ | Presti confident about OKC’s offseason | Chandler says he’s ‘happy’ for now in Phoenix

No. 1: Cavs looking defenseless in these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rumbled through the Eastern Conference portion of the 2016 playoff bracket, shielding themselves from just about every blow the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors could throw at them. As Chris Haynes of points out, Cavs star LeBron James took that shield metaphor literally early on, giving each of his teammates a literal shield to illustrate how the team must stand strong together to reach its title goal. Yet as Cleveland faces a 2-0 series deficit in The Finals, it is left at a loss for what to do next:

Golden State is up 2-0 following a 110-77 battering of the Cavs Sunday night at Oracle Arena. After cruising through the first three rounds with a 12-2 mark, Cleveland has been outscored in this series by a staggering 48 points.

“What we’ve done these last two games doesn’t put a damper or a cloud over how we got to this point,” James argued. “We’re still here…”

Cleveland won’t be here for long if this continues.

Right now the Cavaliers, who possess the second-highest payroll in league history, are defenseless and the outcomes have shown as much. They’re absent of a shield, but most significantly they’re absent of fight. They’re going up against a Western Conference predator who’s equipped with an abundance of ammo and all the Cavaliers have done is scurried for cover.

Is home court at The Q going to make that huge of a difference come Wednesday? Cleveland had two days to prepare for Game 2, and yet still rolled up in a ball when adversity came knocking.

Before Kevin Love exited the game with concussion symptoms, he suffered from Draymond Green symptoms. The Warriors’ forward was in his head and made it a point to stay attached to Love more than he did in Game 1.

Love was 2-of-7 from the field with three boards in 20 minutes of play. He looked intimidated. It looked like he didn’t want any part of that game. Green was so glued to him that Love gave him a little shove in the first half. Green just smiled, and got right back in Love’s personal space.

Kyrie Irving struggled the most, going 5-of-14 for 10 points in 33 minutes. He’s now shooting 33 percent for the series. But the team typically goes as the leader of the team goes.

“LeBron is in a unique situation to where we all know how (bleeping) good he really is,” Channing Frye said. “The humility he has with us shows us, ‘Hey, I need you guys for all of us to succeed.’ We know he’s going to help us, but he needs everybody to be locked in.”

First and foremost, James needs to be locked in. In these two games, the four-time MVP is averaging 21.0 points on 42 percent shooting and has coughed the ball up 11 times. The Warriors have suddenly transformed into a scary defensive bunch.

The perimeter defensive mixture of Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Green has been a nightmare for James. Whether James wants to admit it or not, he is being contained. And if he’s contained, the Cavaliers will end up being ashamed when it’s all said and done. The series is far from over, but the poor body language and the disconnect in communication is in dire need of repair.

James and the Cavaliers are being exposed before our very eyes, and there’s no shield that can hide that.

Morning shootaround — May 22


Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”


No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.


No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”


No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Morning shootaround — April 20

VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games


No need to fret over Curry | Villanueva fires back at Westbrook | Nowitzki joins Mavs’ growing injury list | Suns happy to keep Watson

No. 1: Why not to fret over Curry’s ankle injury It is more than understandable if Golden State fans are a little edgy — even with their team up 2-0 on the Houston Rockets in their first-round series. Missing the reigning MVP will do that to a fan base. Stephen Curry got some good news on Tuesday, though as an MRI on his right ankle revealed no serious structural damage. Curry remains questionable for Game 3 on Thursday (9:30 ET, TNT), but as Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group points out, Curry’s body language reasons reveals this is no injury to fret over:

He’s not on crutches or wearing some bulky brace. He hasn’t needed a cortisone shot, which he took in the 2013 playoffs to play through a severely sprained ankle.

More than that, Curry’s mood is a sign of relief for those whose hearts bleed blue and gold. His entire disposition screams “everything is fine.” When he’s not fine, he can’t hide it well.

Past ankle sprains revealed a darker Curry, whose smile was wiped away by frustration, whose eyes revealed an inner war between faith and doubt.

He is not in that space now. After Monday’s game, he was his normally jovial self. His biggest concern right now is the boredom of having to watch instead of play.

Another sign this is not a big concern: Curry would have been holed up in the training room getting ’round-the-clock treatment. Under Armour would have been scrambling for custom shoes to prevent another injury. Doctors would have had him trying RoboCop contraptions to protect his precious wheel.

Instead, a giddy Curry was jumping off the bench in celebration. When James Michael McAdoo joined the bench (there is only room for one inactive player, and the second half was McAdoo’s turn), Curry relocated. He ended up sitting among fans, closer to the scorer’s table than his team. It didn’t stop him celebrating from his seat, jumping up for highlight plays and reloading his right arm, the imaginary barrel of a rocket launcher, on 3-pointers.

With his black blazer in a sea of gold T-shirts, he looked like a conductor of a cheer orchestra as his teammates beat Houston without him. He didn’t come close to resembling the guy of yesteryear who wasn’t sure if his ankle would stunt his stardom.

With all that said, Curry is not completely out of the woods for Game 3 — though it’s going to take an act of Congress to keep him off the court.

This is new territory for him. He is an ankle expert after dozens of sprains, several management techniques and two surgeries. His expertise is not so vast here, which explains his abbreviated pregame warm up before Game 2.

What’s unknown is what this foot injury requires to heal. Curry left room for the possibility he could be wrong about Game 3. Maybe four days off won’t be enough. Maybe the team shuts him down again to be extra cautious, especially since the Warriors know they can beat the Rockets without him.

Plus what we don’t know: Can he cut the same way? Will he be able to drive against a pressure defense, jump and land with the same fluidity? Or will he have to stay on the perimeter and hoist 3-pointers to keep his foot out of harm’s way?

Those are all the questions that will be answered in the coming days as his right wheel gets presidential attention. As of now, Warriors fans can be confident in this: This is nothing like it was in 2013.



Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team picks?

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: State of Cavs as playoffs near? | Outlook on 76ers’ future? | Your All-Rookie team picks are?

VIDEOKia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

> It’s awards time. Name your 2015-16 All-Rookie first team.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:

Karl Anthony-Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Towns is a no-brainer lock for Kia Rookie of the Year and looks like a cornerstone, franchise-level talent. Porzingis was sensational the first half of the season for the Knicks and displayed an all-around game that augers very well for his future. He not only could score and shoot from multiple places on the floor, he stuck his nose in there and rebounded quite well. Okafor was a one-dimensional offensive player, but displayed the low post skills that made him such a desirable Lottery pick. He’ll have to really dedicate himself to getting in better shape and giving a better effort defensively in future years, but there’s a lot to work with there. Mudiay (and fellow rookie Nikola Jokic) looks like a keeper in Denver and a solid point guard of the future. Winslow was outstanding at the defensive end for Miami and stepped in right away to play big minutes when the Heat was decimated by injury.

Steve Aschburner,

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Towns already was pushing for consideration as an all-NBA center on my ballot, and Timberwolves fans are understandably nervous — after years of letdowns and washouts — that so much has gone so right with this kid. I liked Porzingis from the first game I saw him play in the Las Vegas Summer League, and his demeanor kicks his potential to another level. Jokic and Booker managed to develop nicely in difficult situations and Winslow struck me as a no-nonsense, mature rookie even before he benefited from all those mature Miami vets. In a bumper crop of newbies, I had guys like Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, Detroit’s Stanley Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell and Utah’s Trey Lyles in my next five, with Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Miami’s Josh Richardson slipping in the rankings only for lack of game appearances.

Fran Blinebury,

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Does anybody need to justify KAT? He’s been the Kia Rookie of the Year since opening night. Porzingis has faded down the stretch, but showed all he needed to justify being the No. 4 pick and a foundational piece if the Knicks ever get around to rebuilding correctly. Jokic has been a double-double machine in Denver while playing low minutes. Booker came on in the second half to show star potential and now gives the perennially rebuilding Suns reason to get better by dealing away one of their other guards. Winslow was a solid defender right from the start and has shown steady improvement in his shooting to make him the first-round pick the Heat wanted.

Scott Howard-Cooper,

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat


Towns, Porzingis and Jokic should be automatics to underline what was expected to be and then turned out to be an unusually good year for rookie big men. Along those lines, I will be interested to see the real outcome — after the real vote, not the brilliance — for Jahlil Okafor in particular. He was one of the three or four best rookies when he played, but the season-ending knee injury after 53 appearances will almost certainly cost him. How much is the question.

Shaun Powell,

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

Admittedly, the last two on this list helped themselves in the final two months of the season, while there are two tough omissions: Nikola Jokic and Justise Winslow. Towns and Booker have the most star quality of the bunch.

John Schuhmann,

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat


It was a great rookie class in regard to production, potential and depth. Towns is already one of the best centers in the league and will be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor for a long time. Porzingis tore up whatever timeline we had for him and looks like he, too, will be an impact player on both ends. Jokic is a skilled big in the mold of Marc Gasol, Booker was the Suns’ best player when Eric Bledsoe got hurt, and Winslow was one of the best wing defenders in the Eastern Conference and helped unlock the Heat’s successful small-ball lineups before Chris Bosh‘s absence forced them to play that way full-time. Jahlil Okafor had the numbers to earn consideration, but was a disaster defensively.

Sekou Smith,

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

KAT should be a unanimous Kia Rookie of the Year winner for the job he’s done all season in Minnesota. Porzingis showed enough flashes to project as a future All-Star in New York, provided he continues to develop his frame and game. Okhafor’s off-court issues stained what was an otherwise solid first year. Booker and Mudiay could both see All-Star nods in the future. Booker looked like a long-lost Splash Brother the second half of the season and Mudiay played beyond his years from the start. Miami’s Justise Winslow and Detroit’s Stanley Johnson are my sixth and seventh men. They could easily have been in that first five had they been Drafted into situations that required them to play larger roles.

Ian Thomsen,

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Jahlil Okafor, Philaelphia 76ers
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns


Towns has a chance to be the NBA’s best player in a few years. Porzingis could join Chauncey Billups as the best teammate to ever play with Carmelo Anthony. Turner, who went No. 11, may turn out to rank among the three best players in the Draft. The disappointment is D’Angelo Russell, who may yet be a star. Amid this terrific class he has, in Year One at least, been a relative disappointment.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Filled out my ballot yesterday, and that’s the order I submitted to the NBA.  No surprises, I don’t think, other than maybe Jokic, who has mostly stayed under the radar but has been rather productive. For me the two toughest omissions were Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, who was basically thrown out there from the start of the season and competed all season, and Phoenix’s Devin Booker, who has impressed me all season, but particularly the last few weeks as he’s played an increasingly larger role for the Suns.

Morning shootaround – March 13

VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 12


Spurs clinch SouthwestWarriors win without Iguodala | Kyrie ready to “step up” | Grizz lose Conley, Andersen

No. 1: Spurs clinch Southwest — At this point we shouldn’t be surprised: The Spurs just win games. Some of the tertiary players might change, but the principals remain the same: Pop, Timmy, Tony, Manu. And last night in San Antonio, the Spurs did it again, coming from behind to beat Oklahoma City and clinch another Southwest Division title. As our Fran Blinebury writes, the Spurs just keep winning…

In a game when Danny Green took 10 shots and missed nine of them, it was the only one that mattered.

When Russell Westbrook gambled to come up with a steal, LaMarcus Aldridge found Green standing in the right corner, just the right place at just the right time.

There was only one thing to do and Green did it.

“He’s a pro and we made it very clear to him there’s only two outcomes,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “It goes in or it doesn’t, but he still gets his paycheck, his family still loves him. So screw it, let ’em fly. And he did.”

The Spurs won 93-85 on Saturday night in part because Green’s shot broke the last tie and broke the Thunder, but on the whole because the Spurs keep learning more and more about exactly who they can become.

Five months ago in the season opener at Oklahoma City, Aldridge, the new free-agent addition, might as well have been a lost puppy chasing his tail.

“I didn’t know my role, I was trying to find shots,” Aldridge said. “I think I took (12) shots that game. So it was very uncomfortable. I thought tonight was night and day [different] for sure.”

On the other hand, the Spurs are night and day the same, week after week, month after month, season after season.

They don’t get rocked, they roll. They don’t get shaken, only stirred.

This is how you keep doing what they do, pushing, grinding, forging an identity as the most solid, the most consistent, the best professional franchise in sports over the past two decades.

The win pushed the Spurs to a perfect 32-0 at the AT&T Center this season and they have now won 41 consecutive regular-season home games dating back exactly a year to March 12, 2015. They had already wrapped up a 55-win season for the 19th time in club history, trailing only the Lakers franchise (20) on the all-time NBA list. By beating the Thunder, they clinched another Southwest Division title and officially clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The advanced learning process continues, of course, because for all they have accomplished, the Spurs are still somehow looking up at Golden State in the standings.

It’s not the sheer numbers or the volume of pages they continue to fill up in the history books that keeps impressing. It’s the way they keep right on doing it as they evolve.

Here was a night when Tony Parker (0-for-4) went without a field goal for the first time in eight years, when Manu Ginobili (0-for-3) only scratched with a pair of free throws and Tim Duncan made just two shots after the first quarter. And yet the Spurs pulled it out and pulled away down the stretch.


No. 2: Warriors win without Iguodala — Hours after the Golden State Warriors found out they’ll be without star sixth man Andre Iguodala for at least a few weeks, the Warriors got put to the test by the lowly Phoenix Suns. No Iguodala? No problem, writes Rusty Simmons from the San Francisco Chronicle, as the Warriors rallied behind Stephen Curry to remain perfect at home and push their record to league-best 59-6…

Curry finished with a game-high 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, after having to sit out most of the third quarter with foul trouble. Steve Kerr considered bringing Curry back with two or three minutes remaining in the third quarter, but he decided to wait until the start of the fourth — after the Warriors had watched an 11-point, first-half lead turn into a nine-point deficit.

“Obviously it worked well, but man, we got outplayed for three quarters,” Kerr said. “ … It was a great fourth quarter, but for those first three, they really took it to us.”

Phoenix (17-49) got 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Brandon Knight, 26 points and 13 rebounds from Alex Len and 18 points and 11 assists from rookie Devin Booker. All of this from a team that has gone 3-14 since interim head coach Earl Watson replaced the fired Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.

The Warriors, even after finding out they’ll miss Andre Iguodala for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, committed only eight turnovers and were simply more talented than their competition.

Mareese Speights had 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench, Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Green put up 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.

The first quarter included four ties and nine lead changes, including free throws by Leandro Barbosa that ignited the Warriors’ 13-5 run in the period’s final 2:55. Curry scored five of his 13 first-quarter points in the closing 34 seconds to give the Warriors a 31-24 edge heading into the second.

Curry went to the bench with four fouls at the 7:55 mark of the third quarter, and the Warriors’ lead evaporated into a 92-82 deficit on a Knight three-pointer with 1:35 to play. The Warriors’ point guard returned at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Warriors had tied it 95-95 2:11 later.

Speights scored six points during the 9-0 run and added a three-point play that put the Warriors ahead 100-98 with 8:53 to play.

During Speights’ postgame interview in the locker room, Andrew Bogut brought him a towel to wipe his brow.

“That’s on me, man,” Bogut said. “You played good today.”


No. 3: Kyrie ready to “step up” — As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to try and find the perfect mix heading into the postseason, Kobe Bryant says someone on their team needs to create some “inner conflict.” And as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, the guy who grew up idolizing Kobe, Kyrie Irving, says he thinks he can be that person for the Cavs…

After Kobe Bryant played the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final time on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legend provided a parting take about the state of the Cavs.

“You have to have that inner conflict,” Bryant said. “You have to have that person that’s really driving these things. From the Cavs’ perspective, it’s hard for me to tell from afar who should be that person. LeBron [James] is not that person. LeBron, he’s a … he brings people together. That’s what he does naturally. He’s phenomenal at it. But you have to have somebody else who’s going to create that tension. Maybe it’s Kyrie [Irving].”

Cleveland’s point guard, who idolized Bryant when he was growing up, thinks he can indeed be the straw that stirs the Cavs’ drink.

“It’s in my personality, I would agree with that,” Irving told before Cleveland practiced on the campus of UCLA on Saturday.

“I think if one of the greatest players to play our game and has had championship runs and has been on teams where he’s either been that or he’s been the guy that has been the emotional voice of the team and holding guys accountable, I think he said it best. I think that in order for our team to be where we want to go, I have to step up and be that other leader on our team other than LeBron. So, I would agree with that. It’s definitely in my personality. It’s taken me a few years to kind of grow into that and kind of earn my teammates’ respect and also hold myself accountable when I’m out there.”

Irving is in his fifth season and turns 24 this month. James is a 13-year veteran and 31 years old. They are in vastly different stages of their careers, yet teaming together for the common goal of winning a championship. It’s accelerated Irving’s aging process.

“I have to grow up quick, especially with this team. In order for us to be successful, I have to be a lot older than what my years show,” Irving said. “So, it’s been a learning experience since Day 1 that Bron has come back and being a championship-caliber team, I’ve had to grow up quick. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I can bank on is when I get it, I get it and we get rolling. That’s the way it should be. It’s taken time but I’m definitely assuming that role of being one of the guys that’s the other voice other than LeBron and [Tyronn Lue].”

The Cavs’ coach has seen the dynamic play out between his stars and still pegs it as more of a mentor-mentee relationship than peer-to-peer.

“It gives him a chance to learn from someone who has won two championships, been to the Finals six times,” Lue said. “He’s been arguably the best player in the league for seven, eight years in a row. Having that type of guy around you every single day to help mold you to what you’re trying to do and that’s winning. Kyrie has taken to it greatly. I think he likes having LeBron around and teaching him different things that we need to do to become champions.”


No. 4: Grizz lose Conley, Andersen — The Memphis Grizzlies of recent years have adopted a “grit and grind” identity, meaning they play hard and never give up. That philosophy is being put the test right now, as injuries had whittled their rotation down to as few as 8 players in recent days. And now, with a fight to hang onto their playoff spot ahead of them, the Grizz look to be without Mike Conley and Chris Andersen for a while, writes Ronald Tillery in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Grizzlies were granted two injury exceptions by the NBA and used them Saturday to sign guard Ray McCallum and center Alex Stepheson to 10-day contracts.

Stepheson, 28, mostly recently played on a 10-day deal for the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 31 games with the Iowa Energy this season, averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes a game for the Grizzlies’ NBA Development League affiliate.

McCallum, 23, appeared in 31 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.1 assists. The 6-3 guard was the 36th overall pick during the 2013 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.

The Spurs waived McCallum Feb. 29 to create room for the signing of Andre Miller. McCallum would be eligible for the playoffs because his release happened before March 1.

The Griz now have three players with 10-day contracts after signing D-League point guard Briante Weber on Friday. Weber started and logged 40 minutes in an overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The additional transactions come as the Griz announced that point guard Mike Conley will miss another three to four weeks with a sore Achilles.

Conley and center Chris Andersen sat out the past three games. Andersen suffered a partially separated shoulder March 6 in a home game against Phoenix. He remains out and will continue to be re-evaluated.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade sat out last night to recover from a bruised thigh … The Knicks lost on Friday night, but they liked the aggressiveness down the stretch from Kristaps Porzingis … The Warriors were named Best Analytics Organization at the Sloan Sports Athletics Conference … Here’s Phil Jackson‘s favorite Kobe story