NEWS OF THE MORNING
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.