Posts Tagged ‘Rajon Rondo’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 1

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 30


Lillard, Paul both leave game with injuries | Rondo: Failed Dallas stint ‘made me hungrier’ | Evans, Cole expected to debut tonight for Pelicans

No. 1: Lillard, Paul both leave Monday’s game early — Last night’s Blazers-Clippers game from Staples Center featured a showdown between two All-Star point guards that ended prematurely. Both Los Angeles star Chris Paul and Portland standout Damian Lillard exited the matchup early as injuries shortened both players’ evenings. Casey Holdahl of has more on Lillard’s injury, which sounds like he was more or less sick to his stomach all game:

Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard played the fewest minutes of any game in his career Monday night versus the Clippers, and the results were about what you would expect.

Lillard played just 17 minutes Monday night and left the game midway through the third quarter due to “abdominal pain” as the Trail Blazers fell 102-87 to the Clippers in front of a sellout crowd at Staples Center.

Portland is now 7-11 for the season and 3-7 on the road.

Though he started Monday night’s game, as he’s done for all 264 games of his NBA career, Lillard looked ill from the opening tip despite not having any flu-like symptom until less than an hour before tipoff.

“I felt fine,” said Lillard. “When I was shooting (pregame) I even felt myself getting a little bit winded, stomach felt a little bit tight, but I thought it was maybe because I took a nap, my body was waking up. I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t feel sick. Then the game was about to start and going through warmups I started to feel a little bit sick. That was pretty much that.”

Though he played the entire first quarter, Lillard never looked like his usual self on the way to shooting 3-of-8 from the field for seven points.

“As soon as the game started I just felt weak,” said Lillard, who looked queasy while taking questions from the media postgame. “I played through it just to see if I’d be able to get myself going. I had never felt like that. Turning, running different directions, I wasn’t comfortable, stomach pain. I felt like at some point I was going to throw up on the court.”

Lillard would start the second half but played less than two minutes before calling it a night.

“I don’t know how serious it is but obviously (Lillard) wasn’t himself,” said coach Terry Stotts. “If he takes himself out you know he’s not feeling pretty well cause he’s played through a lot of things.”

Next up, the Trail Blazers head home for the second night of a back-to-back versus the Dallas Mavericks at the Moda Center Tuesday night. Lillard’s status for that game, which is the first time Wesley Matthews will return to the Moda Center since signing as a free agent with Dallas this offseason, is still to be determined.

“If I’m good enough to go then I’ll play,” said Lillard. “But I can’t go out there the way I was tonight. I know I can’t.”

VIDEO: Damian Lillard talks about why he left Monday’s game

As for Paul, he left the game with a strained rib muscle in the third quarter and was done for the night. Rowan Kavner of has more:

It was not immediately apparent how the injury occurred, but Paul was favoring his ribs and left the game early in the third quarter after posting 10 points, six assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes.

Paul will be reevaluated before a determination is made on the length of his absence. Portland point guard Damian Lillard (abdominal pain) also left the game early and didn’t return.

DeAndre Jordan said with Paul out, Blake Griffin has to become more of a passer, but he added that Austin Rivers has proven he can play.

“You can’t replace Chris, obviously,” Jordan said. “But we have to learn to play with somebody down. I may be down a game, Blake might be out. You have to learn to play without guys. That’s why we have such a deep team this year. Injuries happen, things happen, and we want to be able to fill that void.”

After playing all 82 regular season games last year, it’s been a tough injury stretch for Paul. The All-Star point guard strained his hamstring in the playoffs against the Spurs and has dealt with a fractured finger, a strained groin and now a rib issue early this season. The groin injury kept Paul out for three games earlier this year.

Head coach Doc Rivers liked the pace the Clippers still managed to play with when Paul left the game, and he thought Austin Rivers picked up his play defensively. Austin Rivers will have to be counted on to do that, and Doc Rivers said the Clippers will need to look to Griffin more now to handle the ball.

“Austin and Blake, it’s a combination,” Doc Rivers said. “They share the ball. Whenever Chris is out, Blake and the point guard do the ball-handling duties. It’s nice when you have a guy like Blake that can do stuff like that.”

VIDEO: Chris Paul leaves the game Monday against the Blazers

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 30

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 29

Kupchak knew all along this season was Kobe’s last | Warriors will experiment without Barnes | Kobe’s long walk has finally begun | Kings try to stay strong without Cousins

No. 1: Kupchak knew all along this season was Kobe’s last — The timing might have caught some off guard. But Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak knew all along that this season would be Kobe Bryant’s last in the NBA and in purple and gold. Kobe’s Sunday announcement, via poem on the Players’ Tribune website, stunned many in the sports world, though not anyone paying close attention to the struggles Kobe and the young and inexperienced Lakers have been going through. And certainly not Kupchak, whose charge it will be to craft the post-Kobe rebuilding plan in Los Angeles.’s Baxter Holmes was there for Kupchak’s media session Sunday that provided some perspective on the past 19-plus years, the announcement and perhaps most important, what comes next:

Reaction [to the news]?

Kupchak:I’m not surprised. The surprising part of this is that he made the announcement today. My understanding all along was that this was going to be his last year. Certainly there’s been speculation and this puts an end to any speculation that he may come back for another year. But it was my understanding all along.

Right time?

Kupchak: We didn’t make it any easier for him with the group we have on the court. And that’s not to say that they’re not a talented group of players, but they’re certainly young and unaccomplished.

Awkward having Kobe and the young players — that balance?

Kupchak:It is awkward. It’s awkward, but there was really no other way to go about it. When you have a player of Kobe’s caliber that wants to continue to play and you think he can play at a high level, you’re going to let him play until he no longer wants to play. Yet it’s clear that we had to begin the process to rebuild the team. Now we were hopeful that we would get off to a better start this year. We think we added a couple veterans, along with a bunch of young players, and I thought we’d be better than two wins into the season. That’s not to say that we’d be on pace to win 50 or 60 games. But I thought we’d be a little bit better. But clearly we’re not playing at the kind of level that a player of Kobe’s age and experience finds challenging.

[It’s] kind of like, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not surprised that he would make the announcement now. I think the game will be easier for him now. I think he’l be able to enjoy the rest of the season. We haven’t had a chance to huddle up to see if we’ll use him any differently in terms of minutes. I don’t think that’s something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear [that] this is the last season for him, I think it will be more enjoyable. I think people will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building, which has always been [filled] with loads of love, but I think more so on the road.

Want him to change his approach and not be so shot-heavy?

Kupchak: I gave up hoping he would change his approach like 15, 18 years ago. He is what he is, and I’m thankful for it.

[When did you] find out the news?

Kupchak: This afternoon. My son is a freshman in college right now. He’s going to be 20 and he was born on the night of Kobe’s first game. So I did not see Kobe’s first game. So that kind of puts it in perspective. Twenty years. I have a son who’s a freshman in college, and that’s how long he’s been playing.

What has he meant to Lakers?

Kupchak: It is impossible for me to sit here and describe what he’s meant. Five championships, 20 years, 17 All-Star Games. MVP trophy. I’ve watched him get hurt, play hurt. We’ve watched the last three years with serious injuries [and] having to come back. Most players would not come back. So it’s hard to describe in two or three minutes. But he’s a winner. And he came into this league with an unprecedented desire to compete and get better and be the best and he remains that exact same person today and that’s with the good and the bad that come with it. But he remains that exact same person.

Did you think it would be this hard?

Kupchak: When he tore his Achilles, it took me completely by surprise. In fact, I thought it was a sprained ankle … Until John Black came to me and he’s walking to the locker room, I thought it was a sprained ankle. And he was 35, 34 years old then. So it’s not that surprising to think after a serious injury at 35 years old. Your body has a way of compensating or under compensating — if you hurt this leg, then you lean more that way and now that leg gets hurt and so forth and so on … at least this is what [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti tells me. So it’s not that surprising that one injury would lead to another. Inactivity for half a year, then come back — there’s no way to duplicate an NBA game. And he’s 36, 37. How surprising can it be?

Watching him last 15 games?

Kupchak: Like everybody else, I go back and forth. I talk to Kobe about it and he says it’s timing and getting my legs under me and conditioning, getting used to playing with different players. And I buy in. Then I watch the games on TV and I read the paper and I remind myself that he’s 37 years old and maybe it’s more than that. So I go back and forth on it.

What’s his role for the rest of the season?

Kupchak: Not sure yet. Once again, this is something that was brought to my attention late this afternoon and I have not discussed it with ownership or our coaches yet. I would hope that he has more fun and appears less frustrated and also gets more appreciation. He’ll get it at home, but on the road as well, because people will now have to recognize that this is the last year watching one of the all-time greats.

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant speaks on his decision to retire at the end of this season


No. 2: Warriors will experiment without Barnes in the lineup — The Golden State Warriors will have to continue their undefeated march without Harrison Barnes for at least a week. It’s a basketball experiment the versatile and deep Warriors are prepared to deal with, but not one they are necessarily looking forward to. Barnes has fantastic start to his season and has played a huge role in the Warriors setting the record for the best start in NBA history. Now comes the tricky part for Luke Walton and Steve Kerr, figuring out what direction to go while Barnes rests that sprained ankle. Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group has more:

Harrison Barnes had been such a reliable component to the Warriors’ rotations — 205 consecutive games, 120 straight starts — that they hadn’t needed to do a lot of lineup experimentation that didn’t include him.

That all changed when Barnes missed his first game in nearly three seasons Saturday against the Sacramento Kings. Interim coach Luke Walton, after brainstorming with ailing head coach Steve Kerr, went to a number of novel lineups either rarely employed or never seen before in achieving the team’s 18th win without a loss.

The lineup laboratory work likely will continue on the Warriors’ seven-game road trip, which begins Monday night in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz, for as long as Barnes is out with a left ankle sprain. That is expected to be at least a week, which will cover four games of the trip, and he could possibly miss them all even though he’ll be along for the entire ride.

Brandon Rush, who started in place of Barnes and delivered an explosive 7½-minute third quarter stint, wasn’t the only revelation. Big man Marreese Speights, who has been aching to get back in the mix, played 17 minutes and was effective, scoring 13 with five rebounds. Veteran guard Leandro Barbosa played 21 minutes, including a good chunk alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Even end-of-the-bench guard Ian Clark got some important time, playing alongside Curry and Thompson in a three-guard alignment. Within the groupings, Draymond Green played both big and small forward, and Speights played both center and power forward.

“It’s kind of a learning curve right now, because we use Harrison at so many different positions, we’ve got to find rotations that we haven’t had to use before,” Walton said. “So we’re going to keep trying different things.

“We know we’re going to need contributions from Mo and other guys so we’re going to keep getting them out there,” he continued. “If it ends up an awkward lineup, we’re going to ride with it for awhile and see how it goes. We’ll get a better feel for life without Harrison until we can get him back.”


No. 3:Kobe’s long walk has finally begun — Father Time finally got his hands on Kobe Bryant and refused to let go. The news that this would be his final season hit hard in Los Angeles, where the love for Bryant is just about the only thing the masses in the Southland agree upon. Longtime Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke offers his unique perspective on the moment:

Bryant’s jersey will be going from his back into the Staples Center rafters, and his body will leave the court and be immediately bronzed for a Staples Center statue.

“I was shocked,” Coach Scott said upon hearing the news. “And then after I had a chance to kind of think about it, I was sad.”

There would have been more sadness in watching Bryant, whose $25-million-a-year deal expires after this season, attempt to earn another contract. Now, perhaps for the first time in the career of one of the greatest competitors in any sport, he can relax and enjoy the ride. Maybe, too, fans of opposing teams who have jeered him can enjoy that ride with him.

“The game will be easier for him now. I think he’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the season,” Kupchak said. “I hope he has more fun and appears less frustrated and gets more appreciation. People will now have to recognize this is his last year and they’re watching one of the all-time greats.”

An outpouring of affection from notoriously tough New York fans during the Lakers’ recent visit to Madison Square Garden felt like the beginning of the farewell tour. The first stop on the now-official tour will be Tuesday in Philadelphia, where Bryant attended high school.

The last stop will be at Staples Center on April 13 against the Utah Jazz, an otherwise meaningless game that will become one of the hottest tickets in Los Angeles sports history.

In the months between those games, here’s hoping Lakers fans will stop complaining about how Bryant is stealing minutes from the team’s younger players and hindering the team’s ability to rebuild. With his retirement imminent and the Lakers’ playoff hopes already dashed, here’s hoping fans will now cheer for Bryant to play as many minutes as his body will allow, understanding that they will never see a player like him again.

Even in his struggles, there is a certain nobility to Bryant attempting to squeeze the final ounces of greatness out of a body whose game has brought so much joy to so many.

“What we want from Kobe is basically his last game to be able to walk off the court, wave to all the fans, and be able to go into the locker room standing up,” Scott said.

That long walk has now begun.


No. 4:Kings try to stay strong without Cousins — Before this season there was a healthy debate about whether or not the Sacramento Kings would be better off without their enigmatic big man DeMarcus Cousins. That debate ended weeks ago. The Kings are just 1-7 this season without Cousins in the lineup and are struggling to find their identity without arguably the best big man in the game healthy enough to set the tone this season. Cousins has missed three straight games (lower back strain) and is questionable for tonight’s game against Dallas. Kings coach George Karl insists his team has to stay the course until Cousins returns and is healthy enough to do what he does. But that’s easier said than done when Cousins isn’t in the mix, as Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee explains:

“I think you’ve just got to stay strong,” Karl said. “This is the time of the year where Cuz has missed (eight) games. We’ll get back on the right track, but right now we’ve got to hopefully get healthy with Cuz, and once he gets in the lineup, I think we’ll get our confidence in a good direction.”

The Kings appeared to be heading in a good direction last Monday. They had a 22-point lead at Charlotte and looked poised to win back-to-back road games.

But Cousins did not finish the game because of his back, and Sacramento blew the lead and lost. The Kings won at Milwaukee last Wednesday but have since lost to Minnesota and at the Warriors.

Sacramento is 1-7 without Cousins this season. His status for Monday’s home game against Dallas is uncertain.

The Kings touted their improved depth as being key to withstanding injuries, but replacing Cousins’ 27.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and his impact on defense is difficult.

“I think everybody knows that we’ve got to continue to keep our poise, staying together,” said guard Ben McLemore. “Even though we don’t have the big fella right now, we’ve still got talented guys who can go out there and compete every night.”

The Kings avoid panicking by keeping perspective. Since starting the season 1-7, they have gone 5-5, so they feel they’re improving.

And they realize they will have issues over the course of the season.

“Never too high, never too low,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “It’s a long season There will be ups and downs; it’s a roller coaster. Hopefully we can get this thing smoothed out pretty soon.”

The Kings could use a stretch of improved health and better defense to begin meeting their expectations.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Just so we’re absolutely clear on what Kobe Bryant has accomplished in his stellar career, take a look at Kobe by the numbersMike Dunleavy‘s return from back surgery might have hit a bit of a snag, as the Bulls’ swingman is set to see doctors today about sorenessJahlil Okafor is in desperate need of some veteran assistance in that Philadelphia locker room, so says a couple of former prized veterans who helped their teams to championships … A strange scheduling quirk to test the Oklahoma City Thunder, who visit the Atlanta Hawks tonight at Philips Arena … No fear! The Utah Jazz are eager for a crack at the undefeated Golden State Warriors … Check out these archival images of Larry Bird like you’ve never seen him before

ICYMI of the Night: Dwight Howard welcomed Kristaps Porzingis to the NBA with a wicked facial …

VIDEO: Dwight Howard smashes all over Kristaps Porzingis


Morning shootaround — Nov. 24

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 23


LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen | Ainge pleased with Celtics’ direction | Spurs keep chugging along

No. 1: LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen — The topic of good fortune often comes up when discussing the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, a point some use to illustrate the squad was lucky to win the title for a variety of reasons. Wherever you stand on that point, one thing that is true in terms of Golden State’s good fortune is the team’s health during its championship era. Few player games have been lost due to injury and really, only coach Steve Kerr (back) has been out for a prolonged time. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who was defeated by the Warriors in the 2015 Finals, knows all too well how the Warriors’ health has helped them.’s Dave McMenamin has more:

LeBron James says there is a not-so-secret ingredient — beyond a talented roster that features reigning MVP Stephen Curry — to the Golden State Warriors’ success: avoiding injuries.

“I think it comes with a lot of health,” James said when asked about the Warriors tying the all-time mark for best start to a season at 15-0. “They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history, and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win, and that’s all that matters.”

James said that continuity in the lineup has led to consistency in their play.

“They’ve just been consistent,” James said. “I think the most impressive thing is the way they just they’ve been playing at a high level, man, for so long.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, are down four of their top eight rotation players at the moment with Kyrie Irving (left knee), Iman Shumpert (right wrist), Timofey Mozgov (right shoulder) and Mo Williams (right ankle) all sidelined.

“I’d much rather be on the other side and having guys in the lineup, having guys healthy,” James said. “I’ve always heard that saying of, ‘Is it a blessing that guys are out and guys can step in?’ I think it’s good for some of the guys that don’t get to play as much — they get an opportunity. But at the same time, I’d much rather be full and know what we’re going to have and play at a high level for most of the year so we know what we can fall back on at the end of the season.

“But that’s one thing you can’t control. You can’t control injuries. The one thing you can control is what you’re doing out on the floor, how well you’re playing, how hard you’re playing and how much you’re sacrificing and giving to your teammates.”

VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how health has aided the Warriors’ success

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 3

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 2


Warriors seek that ‘next level’ of play | Kobe gets break from practice after postgame rant | Emotions high at Wolves home opener | Rondo enjoying ‘underdog’ status

No. 1: Warriors all about that ‘next level’ of play — Just four games into the season of defending their NBA title, the Golden State Warriors are a team everyone is targeting (and everyone wants to play like). Our Fran Blinebury raised a good question the other day: will reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry surpass the season he put up in 2014-15? The better question is: are the Warriors as a whole better than they were in their dominant 2014-15 campaign? Ethan Strauss of was on hand for last night’s 50-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies and reports that surpassing 2014-15 is all part of the plan for Golden State:

Draymond Green stood before the media, arms akimbo, and gave the motto. “The one thing coming into training camp, Coach Kerr’s one go-to line was ‘next level,'” he declared. “Next level in the offense, next level in the defense, next level in focus, next level in intensity.”

This level isn’t supposed to exist. After a 67-win season and subsequent championship, the Golden State Warriors weren’t expected to get better. That’d be lunacy, especially in a climate in which many basketball pundits are still slow to accept last season’s greatness. Lunacy might be reality, though.

After beating their first four opponents by more than anyone has (plus-100), after strangling the Memphis Grizzlies into a 26-of-96 shooting night and 50-point loss — 119-69 — the champs are looking better than ever. They’re doing it without head coach Steve Kerr and center Andrew Bogut, and both could return at any moment.

Stephen Curry has been beyond impressive, scoring more points (148) through the first four games than anyone other than Michael Jordan. He has also done this in 127 minutes on 84 shots.

“It’s about us, it’s not about sending a message really,” Curry said of Golden State’s recent approach. It’s easy to draw conclusions from how the Warriors have battered four former playoff opponents, but Curry insists their motivation is internal. “We know that we’re capable of being a better team than we were last year. We have so much potential in here and so much talent that we don’t want to waste it.”

The Golden State defense has grown more comfortable, and they’re dabbling in new tactics. This early season has seen a lot of blitzing double teams from the baseline and traps further out. When asked about the trapping, Golden State assistant coach and defensive coordinator Ron Adams said, “We’re being a little more active this year in that regard.” He continued, “We can play in different ways defensively. I would say this about our defense: I think we have grown, and we’re still growing. That’s exciting.”

“I think we’re trying to get to that next level,” Green repeated, “but there are still more levels to get to.”

VIDEO: Warriors impress in rout of Grizzlies

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One Team, One Stat: Drop-off in Dallas

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Dallas Mavericks’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Dallas Mavericks, who couldn’t sustain the league’s best offense after making a big trade.

The stat


The context

20151021_dal_basicsThe Mavs’ regression actually began with the Rajon Rondo trade in December, a risky deal that clearly didn’t work out. They had the league’s best offense, by a pretty wide margin, at that point. In fact, at 10.1 points per 100 possessions better than the league average, the Mavs had the best offense of the last 38 years.

And it was on offense where they fell off the most once Rondo arrived. They scored almost 10 fewer points per 100 possessions after the trade than they did before it, regressing on that end of the floor in each of the “four factors” of efficiency (shooting, rebounding, turnovers and free throw rate).


Rondo’s inability to shoot hurt the Mavs’ spacing. Rondo (33.9 percent) shot a better percentage than Jameer Nelson (33.1 percent) with the Mavs. But because Nelson (sent to Boston in that December trade) took a lot more 3-pointers, he was a more effective shooter and floor-spacer.


Rondo had had the highest turnover rate on the team and made just 19 free throws in 46 games with the Mavs. On top of the bad numbers, he had issues with coach Rick Carlisle.

The Mavs’ defense did improve after the trade. In fact, Dallas ranked fifth in defensive efficiency for about a 10-week period between Dec. 20 and Feb. 24. But they couldn’t sustain that level against some tougher opponents down the stretch.

The Mavs will be a different team, especially offensively, this year. Monta Ellis‘ attacks and Tyson Chandler‘s rolls to the rim will be missed.

But Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews will provide much better spacing around Dirk Nowitzki. The pair attempted 312 more 3-pointers than Ellis and Rondo did last season, even though they played 20 fewer games. The Mavs can also run their offense through Matthews in the post.

Of course, neither Matthews (recovering from a torn Achilles) nor Williams (calf injury) has played in the preseason. Health is the biggest question for the Mavs.

If his team is whole, Carlisle will have some new tools to work with, a fresh start, and a chance to put last year’s regression in the rear-view mirror.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning Shootaround — August 9

VIDEO: The Billy Donovan Era begins in Oklahoma City

Donovan vs. Stockton | Karl ready for Rondo | Duncan’s latest sacrifice


No. 1: When Billy the Kid met Stockton — Throughout his years as an ESPN color commentator, Jeff Van Gundy has made plenty of provocative statements. But maybe none was as off-the-wall crazy as those days nearly three decades ago when as a Providence College graduate assistant coach he told third-round NBA Draft choice Billy Donovan that he could go into the Jazz training camp and take that job from a young player named John Stockton. It’s all part of a wonderful profile package on the Thunder’s new head coach by the talented Darnell Mayberry in The Oklahoman:

But an unfavorable numbers game in Utah led Donovan to doubt he had a chance to see opening night. The Jazz already had 12 guaranteed contracts, and Donovan knew that in order to make the team someone else would need to be moved.

At least one person thought that could happen. It was Jeff Van Gundy, a graduate assistant during Donovan’s senior year at Providence. Van Gundy started chirping, gassing Donovan up about his chances as he helped prepare him for training camp.

“Jeff’s like, ‘Listen, man. I’m telling you. You’ve got a chance to make this team,’” Donovan remembered. “He said, ‘They’ve got a guy there that’s in, like, his third year named Stockton that I’m not so sure about. He hasn’t played very much.’

“Training camp starts and I call Jeff after, like, the first day of double sessions. I said, ‘Hey, Jeff, remember that comment you made to me about you’re not sure about Stockton? That’s the best guard I’ve ever played against in my entire life.’”

Donovan was waived three days before opening night. John Stockton went on to play his entire 19-year career in Utah, appearing in the third most games of all time while finishing as the NBA’s all-time assist leader.

“I’m not saying I didn’t say it, but I don’t remember saying anything specifically,” Van Gundy said of his alleged Stockton comment. “If I said something like that, I’m going to blame my sleep deprivation on coach (Rick) Pitino having us work 20 hours a night. That’s the only explanation for such a ludicrous statement like that.”


No. 2: Karl looks forward to the Rondo challenge — So much of the offseason talk about the Kings has focused on the rocky start to the relationship between coach George Karl and center DeMarcus Cousins. However, the dynamic between the fiery Karl and the independent Rajon Rondo will be just as critical to the success on the court next season in Sacramento. Speaking with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Karl pointed to his previous relationships with other headstrong, volatile point guards as proof that they can thrive together:

“My feeling is that [Rondo’s] a pass-first point guard, which I think is important and I think in the end it really excites me,” Karl said. “We have two guys who can take control of the team and play together and keep the pace of the game. We can play with a lot of freedom and creativity but also play without turnovers.”

Asked how he sold Rondo on Sacramento after Rondo’s bad experience last season with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, Karl said: “I just sold him on how I like to let my guys have freedom. I talked to him once before he signed and it’s going to be fun coaching him. I think he wants to lead our team but he also wants to be part of the decision-making, and that can be somewhat combustible but it can also work at a high level because I think we’re all trying to make the team the best.”

Karl pointed out his history of dealing with mercurial point guards during his 30-plus-year coaching career. The list is impressive.

“I had Gary Payton [in Seattle], Sam Cassell [in Milwaukee], Allen Iverson [in Denver], Chauncey Billups [in Denver]. Chauncey is challenging,” Karl said. “Andre Miller is probably not as challenging but he’ll be stubborn and wanting me to do it his way. I think all really good point guards have a trust and belief in themselves that sometimes causes conflict with the coaches.”


No. 3: Duncan ranks 6th on Spurs payroll — If you want to understand the full contribution of Tim Duncan to the success of the Spurs over the past two decades, it’s necessary to go beyond the shots, rebounds, blocks and solid defense. It is about his commitment to team and fostering an all-around attitude of sacrifice in the locker room. Nowhere is that more evident than in the very bottom line area of salary. According to the latest figures obtained by the great Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, the future Hall of Famer has taken yet another pay cut to help the Spurs assemble their upgraded roster to challenge for a championship and will make less than even Danny Green and Boris Diaw in the 2015-16 season:

Duncan, the Spurs’ highest-paid player from 2003-04 through 2011-12, returns for his 19th season after agreeing to another major pay cut that paved that way for the acquisition of Aldridge. At $5.25 million, he will be the team’s sixth-highest paid player behind Aldridge, Leonard, Parker, Green, and Boris Diaw at $7.5 million.

Signed to the salary cap room exception, veteran guard Ginobili is on the Spurs’ books for slightly more than $2.8 million next season, a cut of roughly $4.2 million.

Both Duncan’s and Ginobili’s contracts are fully guaranteed for the 2016-17 season, and both can opt out of their deals next summer if they so choose.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nancy Lieberman took the much longer road to reach the NBA … Lakers and Mavs are the frontrunners for Javale McGee … The Heat would love to unload Mario Chalmer’s contract to avoid cap hit … Jamal Crawford might have an eye on joining LeBron & Company in Cleveland … D’Angelo Russell dips into his bag of tricks at rookie photo shoot …. Dr. K?  Kristaps Porzingis gets a number change ... Pelicans make contract offer to veteran guard Jason Terry … Male dancer outshines the women at Miami Heat tryouts.

Morning shootaround — July 17

VIDEO: Josh Smith signs with the Clippers


NBPA takes issue with NBA’s view on finances | Clippers willing to take low-risk chance on Josh Smith | Bucks and Henson negotiating an extension | Nuggets see Gallo in their future

No. 1: NBPA chief takes issue on NBA’s stance on finances — Well, figure that we’ll be occasionally hearing scattered back-and-forths from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and union chief Michele Roberts between now and possibly 2017. After Silver stated a few days ago that teams are losing money and cited rising expenses, Roberts insists the league is in far better shape financially than Silver indicated. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN took a stab at the latest between Silver and Roberts …

After the NBA’s Board of Governors met on Tuesday, Silver said that the league’s revenue “was much higher than we had ever modeled” but also said that a significant number of NBA teams are losing money because of rising expenses.

The league is set to receive a revenue windfall in the coming year when a new national broadcast deal kicks in. In turn, the salary cap will escalate rapidly and could near $90 million for the 2016-17 season.

The players union, if it chooses to, can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2017, though Silver said on Tuesday he didn’t believe such an outcome was certain.

“You know, I’m not sure if the players’ association is going to opt out,” Silver said. “Michele [Roberts] made some early remarks suggesting maybe they were leaning that direction, but she hasn’t told me that she plans to opt out. And I know that in discussions that she and I have had and I’ve had with players’ association representatives, it’s clear the goal on both sides is to avoid any sort of work stoppage whatsoever and maybe even to avoid the opt-out.”

The collective bargaining agreement between owners and the union stipulates that players receive a fixed percentage of the NBA’s overall revenue. The precise number was a battleground in the last negotiation between owners and players.

If the aggregate salaries committed to players fall short of that amount — as they currently do — the owners make up the difference. Silver said the league, despite being flush with revenue, is bracing for such a result.

“There are projections that for next year we could be writing a check moving close to half a billion dollars to the players’ association,” Silver said. “That’s not of course the ideal outcome from our standpoint. It’s not something we predicted when we went into this collective bargaining agreement.

In the past year, Roberts has challenged the underlying principle of a salary cap and mocked the suggestion of NBA owners losing money. On Thursday she took aim at Silver’s characterization that the NBA owners “largely are paying our players off the gross” under the current collective bargaining agreement.

“Under the CBA, we do not have a gross compensation system,” Roberts said. “The players’ 50 percent share is calculated net of a substantial amount of expenses and deductions.”


No. 2: Clippers willing to take low-risk chance on Josh Smith — The Clippers have had an interesting offseason to say the least. Much of it was tied up in the DeAndre Jordan drama, but both before and after Jordan reneged on a verbal deal with the Mavericks to return to the Clippers, LA made a few low-risk and potentially high-reward deals. First was trading for Lance Stephenson, and now signing Josh Smith on a one-year deal for the $1.5 million minimum. Both players were available because despite their talent, they were deemed expendable by their former teams for different reasons. Stephenson had a disappointing first season in Charlotte and, coupled with his goofy personality, was not worth the trouble (although Stephenson was mainly on good behavior in Charlotte). Smith had a decent showing with the Rockets after being dumped by Detroit, and even helped the Rockets beat the Clippers in the second round. For the Clippers, these deals could work because the issue with Stephenson and Smith aren’t talent-related. Here’s Eric Freeman of Ball Don’t Lie on the Smith signing …

With marquee signing Paul Pierce able to play as a stretch-4, Rivers can go super small with Griffin, Smith, or potentially Glen “Big Baby” Davis (still a free agent) as a nominal center or play more classic lineups without sacrificing much quickness. Smith also joins Lance Stephenson as a new reserve with a collection of skills, all while minimizing the likelihood that the Clippers will have to depend on one of these often frustrating players to their own detriment. Adding Smith increases what the Clippers can do while simultaneously diffusing risk.

That’s not to say that this is a can’t-miss pickup. Smith will probably have to see the bench when he threatens to shoot Los Angeles out of games, and his awful free-throw shooting ensures that teams will intentionally send him and Jordan to the line whenever it seems prudent. It’s also worth noting that Smith has not always had the best attitude, even if his reputation as a malcontent is overblown and the Clippers did just fine with Matt Barnes in the starting lineup.

But few teams add players of Smith’s caliber at this price to fill a glaring need. The Clippers’ bench has been a problem area for several seasons and has looked even more lacking in the frontcourt. Smith isn’t an All-Star candidate anymore, but L.A. doesn’t need him to be one. If he fills his role without complaints, breaks out in a few more playoff games and doesn’t cause major troubles, he will do just fine. Two weeks after Jordan appeared headed to Dallas, the Clippers have escaped also-ran status and look like a stronger contender than they were in June.


No. 3: Bucks and Henson negotiating an extensionJohn Henson is a developing front-line player with unique defensive skills, and because of that, the Bucks are high on his future. Despite signing Greg Monroe to a free agent contract this summer, Milwaukee is busy trying to lock up Henson, who plays the same position (and also center in certain situations). It’s further proof that the Bucks’ plan is to keep its nucleus intact and allow it to grow, rather than chase free agent superstars who are unlikely to leave their own teams anyway. Henson can play alongside Monroe on the front line if the Bucks go big, or be the first player off the bench. In either event, the Bucks are hoping the price is right with Henson, who’s eligible for an extension this fall. Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has some details …

John Henson is in line for an expanded role this season, playing behind Monroe but also next to him in certain lineups if Bucks coach Jason Kidd decides to pair the 6-foot-11 duo.

“We think John is a great complement to Greg with his defensive ability and his ability as a premier shot-blocker in the league,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said.

Monroe will provide the low-post offense while Henson can discourage opponents from driving the lane. The former North Carolina player averaged 2.01 blocks per game last season, ranking fifth in the NBA, and had four games with six or more blocked shots.

Last week Hammond identified the 24-year-old Henson as one of six young players comprising the Bucks’ core group, along with the 25-year-old Monroe, 20-year-olds Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, 23-year-old Michael Carter-Williams and 23-year-old Khris Middleton.

Henson, who spent a few days in Las Vegas as part of a large Bucks contingent at the NBA Summer League, admitted it felt good to hear that affirmation of his progress.

“It’s something I’ve been working toward,” he said. “I hope to keep improving.”

A source indicated serious talks between the Bucks and the fourth-year player are ongoing, with the goal of reaching an agreement on a multiyear contract extension. Henson is in the final year of his rookie-scale contract and is eligible to sign an extension this summer.


No. 4: Nuggets see Gallo in their future — The Nuggets are clearly a team in transition and will probably have a fair amount of turnover in the near future. But they locked up Wilson Chandler to a contract extension and apparently are willing to do the same with Danilo Gallinari, their oft-injured but still-dangerous shooter. Gallo is entering the final year of his contract at $11.4 million, and even though he missed a stretch of 18 months after a pair of knee surgeries, the Nuggets have seen enough since his return to have confidence in his ability to help. Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post has details …

The Nuggets are a team in need to raise their shooting profile, and Gallinari helps them reach that goal. Given the Nuggets current financial situation, an extension will have to be structured to kick in at the start of the 2016-17 season, similar to what Kenneth Faried did a year ago. And that would be advantageous to Gallinari, who could negotiate a deal based on the estimates of how the salary cap will rise, and it’s expected to make a huge jump. That’s what New Orleans star Anthony Davis did with his extension.

Gallinari is one of only two small forwards on the roster, so the Nuggets are thin in that area. And despite some injury worries — Gallo has played more than 60 games in just three of his six seasons — he’s a player just hitting the prime of his career.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA is looking to play some Saturday night games on ABC starting next season … Andre Iguodala had some fun demanding a trade … Luc Mbah a Moute failed his physical


Karl, Cousins remain work in progress

VIDEO: Kings coach George Karl talks the team’s off-season.

LAS VEGAS — The good news is they remain on the same team. The bad news is they’re not yet on the same page. Welcome to the world of the Sacramento Kings and life with their head coach and franchise player, who are stuck with each other, for better or worse, at least for the moment.

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”

And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.

“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

Divac would prefer that Karl be the adult in this situation because, well, that’s his job. Also, Divac didn’t hire Karl, who was chosen by Pete D’Alessandro, who then lost his job to Divac. In the ideal Kings world, Karl and Cousins would break bread — and not over each other’s head — and call a truce sometime this summer. There’s too much at stake for the Kings in their development for something to go wrong next season and force the franchise to take a step backward, Already, bringing Rajon Rondo to this situation is being met with snickers from around the league; Rondo clashed with Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle, a pair of coaches with NBA titles, how will he cope with Karl?

“He will help us,” Divac said. “I have confidence in him.”

But the real issue is Karl and Cousins. More and more, this appears to be a carbon copy of Chris Webber vs. Don Nelson two decades ago. The star player and veteran coach refused to seek a common ground and their feud changed the direction of a franchise. The Warriors traded Webber and soon began a sad, cursed stretch that lasted almost 15 years.


Morning Shootaround — July 6

VIDEO: Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson is confident and focused on the challenge and his goals


Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire | Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul | Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? | Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story | Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers

No. 1: Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire — Desperation has set in for the Los Angeles Clippers, much like it did late last week for the Los Angeles Lakers, in free agency. With DeAndre Jordan bolting for Dallas and the four-year, $80 million deal they offered, Doc Rivers and the Clippers are left to scour the big man market for a replacement. They’re not exactly fishing in the same waters that Jordan swam in last season for the Clippers, when he was building block in the middle for a championship contender. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has more:

The Clippers, who lost center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, are taking a strong look at [JaVale] McGee, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Clippers have roughly $2.2 million in exception space left to pay a player beyond the league’s minimum salary slot of $1.4 million.

Rivers also is expected to speak with free agent Amar’e Stoudemire on Sunday, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Stoudemire strongly considered the Clippers before signing with the Dallas Mavericks after the New York Knicks agreed to a buyout of his contract in February. Stoudemire has interest with several teams, including the Clippers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, league sources said.

For McGee, the Clippers could be an opportunity with a contender to re-start his career. McGee had a couple promising years with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets before injuries and inconsistent play limited him to just 28 games over the past two seasons. The Nuggets traded him, along with a first-round draft pick, to the Philadelphia 76ers midway through last season. He played in six games for the 76ers before being waived.

McGee, 27, was close to signing with the Boston Celtics last season, but wanted a player option for the second season to preserve his flexibility with this summer’s free-agent market.

McGee signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Nuggets prior to the 2012-13 season.

In seven NBA seasons with the Washington Wizards, Nuggets and Sixers, McGee has averaged 8.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.


No. 2: Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul — Omri Casspi is one player who is apparently on board with the master plan in Sacramento. The veteran forward broke the news of his agreement on a deal to return to the Kings and continue working as a role player in a rotation headlined by DeMarcus Cousins, who is fond of his sweet-shooting forward (Casspi shot 40 percent from deep last season). Casspi handled the general news (via Twitter). This is just a small piece of the drastic overhaul Vlade Divac is trying to engineer. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee provides some context:

The mandate for Vlade Divac was clear.

The Kings must improve drastically in 2015-16.

So the vice president of basketball and franchise operations has been overhauling the roster in an effort to boost the Kings from Western Conference doormat to playoff contender.

Adding point guard Rajon Rondo, small forward Marco Belinelli and center Kosta Koufos in free agency and drafting center Willie Cauley-Stein give the Kings a new look and appear to address the Kings’ biggest weaknesses.

Divac isn’t necessarily done. The Kings will try to add wing depth, which Sunday night entailed the re-signing of Omri Casspi, who confirmed via Twitter a two-year deal worth $6 million.

And All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins could be traded, as his issues with coach George Karl have not been resolved.

But as the roster is, the Kings expect to improve. Maybe not enough to make the playoffs but to win more than the 29 games they did last season.

With the new downtown arena set to open for the 2016-17 season, the Kings need an improved product to sell tickets.

The Kings wanted better passing, perimeter shooting and defense. Rondo was brought in to improve the passing and give Karl another ballhandler and facilitator.

Belinelli will be expected to help Sacramento’s shaky three-point shooting. Koufos and Cauley-Stein add depth, size and defensive versatility.

If Cousins stays, he and forward Rudy Gay are the only players certain to start. Divac has said Gay will play “a lot” of power forward this season, which necessitated adding another small forward.

Darren Collison was signed last summer to start at point guard, but with Rondo set to make $9.5 million next season, it seems unlikely the four-time All-Star will be a backup.

Karl wants to run more sets with two point guards, but Collison is only 6 feet, and Rondo is 6-1.

Ben McLemore started at shooting guard last season but could come off the bench or play small forward if Gay starts at power forward.


No. 3: Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? — Don’t let that little detail of LeBron James not having agreed to a deal yet deter the Cleveland Cavaliers from doing his bidding. The reported interest in Brooklyn veteran swingman Joe Johnson is legitimate and a very real possibility, given the Cavaliers’ ability to make it happen with the existing contracts of one of their prized (and another not-so-prized) big men. Our numbers man John Schuhmann breaks it down:

A trade of Haywood (with a salary of $10.5 million for 2015-16) and Anderson Varejao ($9.6 million) for Johnson would work under the league’s trade rules. Haywood’s contract is completely non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him, erase that $10.5 million from their books and save almost $70 million next season ($19.5 million in salary and $49.1 million in luxury tax, because they would be subject to repeater levels).

Of course, Johnson has been a very good and very durable player for the Nets over the last three years. The deal represents a decision of saving money vs. competing for a playoff spot.

It also represents a choice between saving money this season and saving cap space for next summer. Johnson has just this coming season left on his contract, but Varejao has three more years left on his deal. His 2017-18 salary is completely non-guaranteed, but $9.4 million of his $10.4 million salary for 2016-17 is guaranteed and would eat into their 2016 cap space.

The Nets could trade Varejao for an expiring contract. One suggestion from the Twitterverse: Varejao to the Los Angeles Clippers (who are desperate for a center to replace DeAndre Jordan) for Jamal Crawford, who has just one year left on his deal at $5.7 million. (The Clippers would have to include an additional piece).

Of course, the Cavs could make that swap themselves if they choose not to go for Johnson, who would take their own luxury tax to the sky. They will surely have other options with Haywood’s non-guaranteed contract. But this deal would create one heck of a lineup.


No. 4: Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story — The Raptors continued their summer revival with the addition of Cory Joseph, a native son formerly of the San Antonio Spurs. Joseph’s return to The North is more than just a good story, writes Michael Grange of the SportsNet:

At about 11:15 Sunday night Joseph announced to his 61,700 Twitter followers that he was leaving the San Antonio Spurs in free agency to sign with Toronto.

It was a simple message for an athlete who is known for his no-nonsense approach, but it spoke volumes about how far Canadian basketball has come and where it’s going. Joseph will be just the second Canadian to ever play for the Raptors, following Jamaal Magloire who suited up for one season at the end of his career.

He left as part of the first wave of elite Canadian basketball players who were convinced rightly or wrongly that if they wanted to make it to the top of the sport they needed to head to the United States as teenagers.

For Joseph it couldn’t have worked out better. He won national recognition at Findlay and a scholarship to the University of Texas, and in 2011 became the first Canadian guard to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft since Steve Nash when the San Antonio Spurs took him 29th overall. He learned his craft in one of the most respected organizations in any sport and has a championship ring to show for it.

The difference is that while Magloire was an outlier, Joseph represents the front edge of the wedge. Masai Ujiri has always said he won’t put a passport ahead of talent when building his team, but the number and quality of Canadians coming into the NBA – eight first-round picks in the past five years with more coming – means that recruiting homegrown players could provide the Raptors a competitive advantage going forward.

Calls to the Raptors GM and Joseph’s agent Rich Paul weren’t immediately returned but Joseph has been on the Raptors radar for years now. It’s believed they tried to trade for him twice but were rebuffed by San Antonio.

According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard the Raptors let their money do the talking, with Joseph signing a four-year deal worth $30-million, a huge jump in salary for a career backup who has earned just $5.3 million total in his four NBA seasons.

Is it worth it?

The Raptors love Joseph’s defensive acumen. By their analysis he immediately becomes their best perimeter defender. Moreover they love the humility he brings to the job and his simple passion for his craft. He made a believer out of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich when – as he was struggling for playing time as a rookie – he asked to be sent down to the NBA D-League to get some run.

But the Raptors see upside as well. The term of his deal extends past that of all-star Kyle Lowry’s, who will likely opt out of his contract two summers from now. While no one within the organization is prepared to declare Joseph ready to push Lowry as a starter, the dollars and term they gave him suggest they are betting that he’s still improving and could provide them an option there in time.


No. 5: Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers — The finger-pointing in Portland figures to go on for months, years even, in the aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to head home to Texas and the San Antonio Spurs in free agency. He said he wanted to be the best Trail Blazer ever, only to depart as soon as it became a possibility. There will no doubt be hard feelings, but John Canzano of the Oregonian insists Aldridge is not to blame for this breakup:

This all brings us back to the Blazers, ultimately. They have a difficult time attracting free agents. They’ve struggled with continuity. They have a general manager in Neil Olshey eager to make his draft picks shine, cementing his legacy. And I wasn’t surprised the news of Lillard’s five-year, $125-plus million contract extension was leaked on the opening day of free agency.

The Blazers had all summer to make that announcement. But it came on a day when a league record $1.4 billion in contracts were handed out in other NBA cities and — down deep — the Blazers knew Aldridge was a ghost.

Olshey long ago hitched the franchise wagon to Lillard. He drafted him in 2012, and when he became Rookie of the Year the following season, he was marketed and promoted to the point that it chapped Aldridge.

He was Bat Man. Lillard was Robin. Right? But the organization, led by Olshey’s own narrative, prematurely flip-flopped those roles. It cost them today.

I wrote a column two seasons ago about Portland alienating Aldridge by going too far with the Lillard-palooza. Aldridge reached and out told me how much he liked the column. The Blazers decided prior to last season that they’d spend Aldridge’s final season under contract celebrating his milestones, pitching him as the all-time Mr. Trail Blazer.

To their credit, Aldridge and Lillard worked well enough together on the court. They’re both too intelligent and socially aware to take their philosophical differences public. But they were co-workers, and not great friends. Those deeply entrenched in both camps told me on multiple occasions, basketball aside, that the two men were not huge fans of each other. Which only makes Lillard’s inability to get a face-to-face sit-down with Aldridge in that 11th hour trip to Los Angeles less shocking.

Aldridge and Lillard played together three seasons. Aldridge gave the Lakers and Kobe a few minutes of face time. He met with the Suns. He dined publicly with Gregg Popovich. Anyone else find it telling that Aldridge and Lillard didn’t even meet up? That he treated Lillard like the Knicks? That the franchise’s “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” weren’t in solid contact from the end of the season says a lot.

Even if Lillard and Aldridge had been tight, turning down the Spurs and the chance to finish your career in your home state would have been difficult. It’s why you can’t really blame Aldridge, can you? This is business, after all.

This break-up of the Blazers was bound to happen. You had Olshey’s players (Lillard, Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum, in particular) and you had a leftovers from all the general managers of owner Paul Allen’s basketball past. Last season had the feel of a finale all along. That Popovich and the Spurs benefit from the chaos inside another NBA franchise should come as no surprise. Uniformity of vision is what sets the Spurs apart. It’s part of how he’s built an empire.

Olshey won’t much like this column. Neither will Lillard or even Aldridge. But as long as we’re handing out blame for the breakup of a team that won 50-plus games, what’s fair is fair.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Free agent fever is proving the value of “3 and D” skillsets  The Hawks continue the house cleaning by firing long-time training staffers … Oh, and Happy Birthday Pau Gasol …

Morning shootaround — July 4

VIDEO: Mavericks busy adding Matthews and Jordan

Mavs are back | Lakers fading on Aldridge | Rondo picks Kings | Rockets keep pair | Hammon summer boss
No. 1: Jordan makes Mavs relevant again — They struck out on Deron Williams. They came up empty in their pursuit of Dwight Howard. But just when folks were starting to think Mark Cuban and the Mavericks had lost their mojo, they came up as big winners in the 2015 Free Agency by locking up prize center DeAndre Jordan to go along with guard Wesley Matthews. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News says one of the most significant days in franchise history put the capital “D” back in Big D:

The ghosts of Deron Williams and Dwight Howard and all the other free agents that snubbed the Mavericks in years past have been swept away. Any accusations that the Mavericks don’t have cache and that Dallas isn’t a free-agent destination no longer apply.

In the last three summers, they have reeled in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and now Jordan and Matthews.

Owner Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle, franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki and last year’s key free-agent signee Chandler Parsons were all part of the recruiting party that met with Jordan twice in Los Angeles since free agency began late Tuesday night.

Cuban is optimistic that Jordan will a foundation piece of the franchise.

“We told him that you’re capable of being a 20-20 guy,” Cuban said on an interview with KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket. “You’re just not being given the opportunity.”

The recruiting team sold Jordan, who was first-team all-defense and third-team all-NBA last season, on the Mavericks by emphasizing that he would be a focal point of the franchise at both ends of the court. Coach Rick Carlisle presented X’s and O’s that showed how Jordan could prosper in the Mavericks’ system.

They don’t see him as offensively challenged, although he obviously is a poor free throw shooter (41.7 percent for his career, 39.7 percent last season).

Jordan did not waste time making a decision. He met with the Los Angeles Clippers, with whom he played his first seven seasons in the league, Thursday night in LA. By noon, Pacific time, he had informed the Mavericks that they were the winners for his services.

And, my, how the outlook for an entire franchise can change so quickly. When Tyson Chandler left the Mavericks for Phoenix on Wednesday for a four-year deal worth more than $50 million, fans were worried that another year of free agency would go by with the Mavericks getting nothing but agony.

With Jordan’s decision, coupled with coaxing Matthews to sign for about $14 million per season, people who have dogged Cuban and Nelson for roster decisions since the 2011 championship certainly have to reconsider their position.

Cuban also admitted that had the Mavericks swung and missed on Jordan, they could have been staring at a season of doom. He also credited Texas having no state income tax as a significant recruiting tool for both Jordan and Matthews.

In Matthews, the Mavericks are getting a sensational shooter who is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in March. They included athletic trainer Casey Smith in the recruiting meeting with Matthews and you can be certain the Mavericks would not have been all-in with Matthews if Smith wasn’t convinced Matthews will make a full recovery in time to play most, if not all, of the 2015-16 season.

That set the table for Jordan, whose agents also represent Parsons. In addition, Cuban and agent Dan Fegan have worked together on numerous contracts, trades and other NBA dealings. That relationship didn’t hurt in the pursuit of Jordan.

Package it all together and the Mavericks ended up with one of the biggest days in franchise history Friday.


No. 2: Lakers hopes of landing Aldridge sinking fast — This is life among the other half. Long one of the NBA’s elite, the Lakers have grown accustomed to rejection as just one of the masses in recent seasons. Though they were granted a “do-over” second meeting with free agent LaMarcus Aldridge and things reportedly went well, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times says the Lakers don’t have much hope of landing the free agent plum:

It’s the third consecutive summer they’ve made a pitch — or pitches, in the case of LaMarcus Aldridge — in hopes of a successful off-season acquisition.

Their presentation to Aldridge was “much better” the second time, according to a person familiar with the hastily assembled meeting, but there could be only hope, not overt confidence, he would eventually sign on the dotted line of their four-year, $80-million offer.

They want Aldridge badly and genuinely need him because almost all the free-agent post players have allied themselves with other teams.

DeAndre Jordan chose Dallas over the Clippers, Kevin Love returned to Cleveland, and Greg Monroe went with Milwaukee over the Lakers and New York.

Even the second-tier big men are getting snapped up, including Robin Lopez for a reported $54 million over four years with the Knicks.

There’s still … Kosta Koufos? Bismack Biyombo? Cole Aldrich?

It’s a touch of deja vu for the Lakers — another July, another waiting period.


No. 3: Kings get Rondo, Belinelli — It’s been a tumultuous several weeks for the Kings with all the talk of trading center DeMarcus Cousins and whispers of firing newly-hired coach George Karl. But the downtrodden team finally got a bid of good news when free agents Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli — both with championship rings — agreed to new contracts with the Kings. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee breaks it down:

Point guard Rajon Rondo agreed to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million, according to a league source. Rondo met with the Kings on Friday, then agreed to the deal.

Rondo, 29, was the second player to agree on Friday to join the Kings. They also reached a three-year deal worth $19 million with free-agent swingman Marco Belinelli, a league source said. Belinelli confirmed his decision on Twitter.

The contracts can be signed July 9, when the league moratorium on deals is lifted.

Friday was a bounce-back day for the Kings. Thursday night, guard Wesley Matthews passed on their four-year, $64 million offer, and Monta Ellis, another top target, agreed to sign with Indiana.

The Kings, who had been looking for improved passing and three-point shooting, should get both from Rondo and Belinelli, respectively.

Their signings were made possible after the Kings cleared an additional $16 million in salary cap space on Wednesday, giving Sacramento about $26 million to work with in free agency, after trading Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to Philadelphia.

The Kings hosted Matthews on Thursday, hoping to persuade their top free-agent target to sign the lucrative offer.


No. 4: Rockets keep Brewer, Beverley — The Rockets are still considered darkhorse contenders to land free agent prize LaMarcus Aldridge. But while waiting for a decision, the team made significant moves in re-signing their own two key players Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets came to terms with starting point guard Pat Beverley and sixth man Corey Brewer, multiple individuals with knowledge of the deals said.

But a person familiar with the talks so far said they remained “in the mix” to also land Trail Blazers free-agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge, considered the top attainable free agent of the summer.

Aldridge seems most likely to land in San Antonio.

Even if the Rockets do convince Aldridge to sign on, that would take a difficult sign-and-trade deal with the Trail Blazers.
They can only hope that Aldridge feels anywhere near the way Brewer and Beverley did Friday.

According to individuals with knowledge of the deals, Brewer and the Rockets reached agreement on a three-year, $24 million contract and Beverley and the Rockets reached agreement on a three-year, $18 million deal with a fourth, non-guaranteed season worth another $5 million.

“I’m just happy to be back, man,” Beverley said. “This is the biggest contract I had in my life.

“Because of the numbers Dallas was throwing around, I was kind of worried that Houston wouldn’t be able to match it. I was getting so many calls at night I didn’t know what was going on. I was excited to be getting calls.

“It came down to God is good. I’m where I need to be and that’s in Houston.”

Beverley also received interest from the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks. Brewer met with the Knicks on Friday and also was targeted by the Kings and Lakers.

“I’m happy, so happy,” Brewer said. “Just glad to be a Rocket.”
The Rockets considered both keys to their rotation.

Brewer’s addition in December dramatically bolstered the Rockets bench, and he was a key to their post-season run, most vividly with his starring role in the Rockets’ Game 6 comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.


No. 5: Hammon to coach Spurs’ Summer League team — Another day, another barrier for Becky Hammon to break down. While the Spurs’ pursuit of free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge has consumed most of the headlines this summer, the forward-thinking franchise took another giant step toward the future by announcing that the NBA’s first full-time female assistant Becky Hammon be calling the shots from the sidelines for the Spurs at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the details:

Hammon said Friday she viewed her appointment from coach Gregg Popovich as a vital step in the development of her career.

“It’s a different role (from being an assistant),” said Hammon, 38. “You go from giving support and watching all the details going on during the game to, you’re the one calling timeout, you’re the one drawing up the plays, you’re the one the players get (mad) at when they get yanked. It’s a step over and a step up, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Will Hardy, the team’s video coordinator, will coach the Spurs’ entry in the Salt Lake City Summer League from Monday through Thursday, with Hammon assisting him.

The two will swap roles when the Spurs relocate to Las Vegas from July 10-20.

Traditionally, a stint as the Spurs’ Summer League coach has looked good on a résumé.

Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer and former Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn each took a turn during their time on the Spurs’ bench, as did Washington lead assistant Don Newman.

Last year’s Spurs summer leaguers were led by assistant coach Ime Udoka.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tobias Harris re-signs with the Magic…Knicks land Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams...C.J. Watson makes move to Orlando…The mayor of Phoenix is now part of the recruiting effort to lure LaMarcus Aldridge to the Valley of the Sun.

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

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