Posts Tagged ‘Ricky Rubio’

Stars align for Wolves’ rookie LaVine


VIDEO: Rookie LaVine carries Wolves over Lakers

There were times Friday night, Zach LaVine admitted, when he caught himself gawking upon Kobe Bryant the way he had in his, well, younger youth, when the 19-year-old was growing up in Washington state and idolized the Lakers scoring star. Fortunately for LaVine, rookie guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Bryant never fully made him and his team pay for such star gazing.

In fact, the raw newcomer who spent one undeveloped year at UCLA outscored his hero 28-26 in Minnesota’s 120-119 victory at Staples Center.

When it was over, the teenager who scored 18 points in reserve in the second quarter, had joined Bryant in a bit of NBA statistical history:

LaVine’s 28 points were the third-most by any bench player in the league this season. He joined Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and LaVine’s teammate Andrew Wiggins as the only four Wolves to score 25 or more before turning 20.

This one meant a little extra to LaVine because of where he did it and whom he was facing (Wiggins actually was the Wolves defender assigned to Bryant for much of the game). “I always want to come back and put a show on,” he told reporters after doing just that for about 10 family members and friends. “I know a lot of UCLA fans were here and a lot of UCLA fans are mad that I came out. I’m confident person. I like proving people wrong.”

LaVine still routinely proves some critics and even his coaches right with his unpolished game and mental mistakes. He is averaging 8.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 21.3 minutes, while shooting 42.9 percent, including an ill-advised 27.8 percent from 3-point range.

For all his athletic ability, vertical leap and YouTube wonderfulness, the rookie has only three dunks in 234 minutes, compared to team leader Shabazz Muhammad‘s 13 in 207. And LaVine’s per game plus/minus of minus-8.1 is Minnesota’s worst.

But then, Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders knew LaVine would serve a healthy apprenticeship learning his craft at this level when he drafted him 13th overall last June – and handed him over to head coach Flip Saunders to begin the heavy repetitions of development. Saunders saw point-guard potential in LaVine during the Las Vegas Summer League and told anyone who would listen about the slender, 6-foot-5 player’s skills and charisma. When Ricky Rubio badly sprained his left ankle earlier this month, the coach gave LaVine some trial by fire as a starter before flipping him back to the bench behind Mo Williams.

For a night, in 26 minutes – Russell Westbrook wasn’t the only guy scoring at greater than a point-per-minute pace Friday – it came together for LaVine. Right place, right time, right audience.

Said Saunders: “I think he showed a little bit of what he’s going to be able to do in this league.”

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers struggling to live up to the hype | Rockets will be short-handed in battle of unbeatens | The “dark side” of the triangle

No. 1: Clippers struggling to live up to the hype — Don’t believe the hype, especially when it’s self-generated. The Los Angeles Clippers are finding that out the hard way this season, struggling early on to play up to expectations (both internally and externally) that had many folks picking them as the favorite to win the Western Conference and perhaps the NBA title. We’re barely two weeks into this NBA season, but it’s clear they are not playing at a level that was expected of them. Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times breaks it down in advance of the Clippers’ afternoon tussle with the Portland Trail Blazers:

Everyone, it seems, is playing pop psychologist, diagnosing the problems of a team widely expected to contend for the Western Conference title that has gotten off to an underwhelming start.

With the Lakers winless through the season’s first five games, the Clippers could color Los Angeles red and blue beyond their “BE RELENTLESS” ads adorning buildings and billboards. It hasn’t happened.

“This is a chance for the Clippers to take over the city and they don’t want it,” Hall of Fame shooting guard and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said Friday in a phone interview. “You should have people in the barber shop buzzing about the Clippers. As opposed to talking about their effort, they should be saying, ‘Did you see that play?'”

A more common refrain after the season’s first week: Oy vey.

The Clippers are 3-2 but were blown out by Golden State and lost at home to a Sacramento team that won only 28 games last season. They have been outrebounded in every game and couldn’t hold double-digit leads in four games.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers called his players “soft” after their 17-point loss to the Warriors and didn’t seem impressed by a team meeting afterward.

“When I read about team meetings in the league, I’m thinking, ‘I hope we play them next,'” Rivers said Friday. “We all know we didn’t play hard. I don’t think I need a team meeting for that.”

One observer who watched the Warriors’ demolition of the Clippers has remained Zen about the team’s prospects.

“I think everybody in Clipperland has to do the Aaron Rodgers thing right now,” ESPN analyst and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said, referring to the Green Bay Packers quarterback who told fans to loosen up amid a slow start. “Relax. Let it play out. If at 20 games, you get to a quarter of the year and there’s issues, that’s when I think you start evaluating more so than after five games.”

Van Gundy said what’s more important than the Clippers’ spotty play is what they do next. They play the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.

It’s a chance to start resembling the team the Clippers want to be. Of course, even a blowout victory wouldn’t end their concerns.

“It’s not like we go out against Portland, have a good game and we’re like, ‘Well, thank God that’s over,'” Griffin said. “We’ve just got to stay with it and keep working on the things we have to work on.”


VIDEO: Hornets guard Lance Stephenson sinks the game winner against the Hawks

*** (more…)

Timberwolves’ Rubio sprains ankle; re-evaluation set for Saturday


VIDEO: Rubio injuries ankle against Magic

You hate to see this.

And this.

And definitely this.

But that’s what the Timberwolves were dealing with, after point guard Ricky Rubio turned his left ankle on a drive into the paint with 2:30 left in the second quarter Friday night in Orlando. Though a pair of Magic defenders closed on him, it appeared that Rubio’s ankle folded over from his own momentum. He was helped to the locker room, then used crutches to navigate between there and the X-ray room at Amway Arena. The Wolves’ official report: Rubio had suffered a sprain, would not return to the game and would be re-evaluated Saturday in Miami.

Which leads to this.

UPDATE (10:53 p.m.):

Morning shootaround — Nov. 3


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Beast of the East still in Miami? | Melo’s 20,000-point milestone | Cousins, Kings on the rise | Showtime for Nets’ Lopez

No. 1: Bosh back to a starring role — The last unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference is not that crew in Cleveland led by LeBron James or the group in Chicago headlined by Derrick Rose. It’s those guys in Miami, the ones who were supposed to falter out of the elite ranks after James skipped town. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the new-look Heat had other plans, of course. And it’s showed early on this season, with Bosh back in a starring role and the Heat soaring. Mike Wallace of ESPN.com explains:

For the better part of the past four years — even as LeBron James racked up regular-season and postseason MVP awards during four straight runs the NBA Finals — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly referred to Chris Bosh as the team’s most important player.

And each time, the muffled scoffs and eye-rolling would follow from those within earshot.

But Spoelstra always felt there was a clear distinction between LeBron’s value and Bosh’s impact.

“I don’t expect everyone to always understand it,” Spoelstra would say at least once every couple of weeks. “But in terms of what we do, how we want to play, what we need to happen on the court on both ends for us to be successful, C.B. is our most important player. That’s how we see him.”

What Spoelstra saw then is becoming abundantly clear to many now.

Bosh is off to the most productive three-game start of his Miami tenure, and the Heat have emerged from the first full week of the regular season as the lone unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference after Sunday’s 107-102 victory against Toronto.

While Bosh refuses to buy into the notion that LeBron’s departure to Cleveland in free agency is solely responsible for his initial statistical outburst, the 12-year veteran believes his development is part of a natural progression in his game that was inevitable, regardless of Miami’s personnel.

In other words, after four straight seasons of seeing his scoring and rebounding numbers decline as he settled into a role as primarily a spot-up shooter, something had to give.

“It’s just time,” Bosh said after he finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes against the Raptors. “I knew I couldn’t settle into that same position I’ve been in the past four years, floating outside and shooting a couple of jumpers. I know I had to switch it up a little.”


VIDEO: Chris Bosh  helps power the Heat to a win on Sunday (more…)

Who cashed in (and who didn’t) from the 2011 draft?

VIDEO: Klay Thompson extends with the Warriors

The best way to judge a draft is to wait a few years and see who gets paid the most and the quickest. Which means we know a lot more about the first round of the 2011 class, now that the deadline for contract extensions has passed.

And the verdict is … what, exactly?

Only six of the 14 players taken int the lottery beat the deadline and got richer. That means the draft was so-so at best and disappointing at worst. But complicating matters is the smell of big money down the road. Thanks to the new TV deal and the looming labor negotiations in a few years, some players are willing to place bets on themselves and hold out for a few extra dollars. It’s also known as the Kawhi Leonard route. The MVP of the 2014 Finals and 15th overall pick had hoped for a max deal, didn’t get one from the Spurs, and will try the market next summer during restricted free agency.

But he was the big exception, and so, we survey the scene for the first-round winners and losers.

Winners:

Klay Thompson (drafted No. 11): Got four years and $70 million from the Warriors to make a big, umm, splash. At roughly $17 million a season, he hasn’t made an All-Star team, yet he’s earning more than Paul George and Russell Westbrook. If you think that’s an overpay, well, the market, which is about to expand, says otherwise. Warriors didn’t want to chance Thompson going on the market and were very comfortable with his growth so far.

Kyrie Irving (1): The Cavs didn’t waste any time giving him the max this summer, and as a bonus, gave him LeBron James. If he gets a ring next June, then it will have been quite the 12-month stretch.

Kenneth Faried (22): There were six power forwards taken ahead of him, including three in the lottery. But Faried worked his way into a four-year, $50 million deal with rolled-up sleeves. The Nuggets are hoping this deadline deal works better than the one for JaVale McGee.

The Morris Twins (13 and 14): Markieff and Marcus Morris didn’t want to test the market, not necessarily because the money wouldn’t have been better, but because they didn’t want to separate. Unless you were born within minutes of your brother or sister, you wouldn’t understand. So the Suns’ forwards agreed to keep the family together. Markieff gets $32 million and Marcus $20 million. Oh, and they keep their money in the same bank account.

Nik Vucevic (16): It didn’t take long for the Magic to find Dwight Howard‘s replacement. Vucevic still needs to refine his skills but big men with double-double ability averaging 13.6 and 11.5 in two Magic seasons) are hard to come by, and that’s why Orlando forked over $53 million over four years. That’s a good, fair price for a young and developing center.

Kemba Walker (9): A day after agreeing to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Hornets, Walker hit the game-tying and game-winning shots in the home opener. He’s a small, shoot-first point guard but is a straight-up baller who craves big moments. A no-brainer for a team desperate for talent and a turnaround.

Ricky Rubio: He was drafted in 2009 but after two years playing in Spain is technically part of the 2011 rookie crop. After the Wolves lost Kevin Love, there was a concern whether Rubio would want to stick around for what could be a lengthy rebuilding process. Yet from the first day of camp, Rubio said he was excited to start a fresh era in Minnesota. His four year, $56 million deal is essentially Eric Bledsoe money, not bad considering Rubio is still looking for consistency and a stretch of good health.

Chandler Parsons (38) and Isaiah Thomas (60): Yes, they were second-rounders, but when one player gets roughly $16 million a season from Dallas and the last pick of the draft gets $6 million a year, as Thomas did this summer from the Suns, they sound like winners to me.

Losers:

Derrick Williams (2): He’s already on his second team and could fetch a few dollars next summer, but this so-called NBA-ready player from the draft struggles to find a comfort zone between the forward spots. He needs a solid season to decrease his flaws and prove that he can be more than a journeyman in this league. If he can’t do that in Sacramento, you wonder if he can do it anywhere. You only get so many chances before teams simply move on.

Enes Kanter (3): After the Jazz forked over big dollars for Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, they’re done paying for potential, at least for the moment anyway. Not only is Kanter inconsistent, he’s on a team with Derrick Favors, who got paid a year ago, and Rudy Gobert, whom the Jazz are high on. Kanter looks to be the odd big man out and could be bait at the trade deadline.

Jimmy Butler (30): He and the Bulls were a few million apart at the deadline, and even though Butler could get a decent offer next summer, it might not be from Chicago. The Bulls like his defense, but he lacks what they really could use: outside shooting from the two-guard spot. That’s why they didn’t blow him away at the deadline.

Kings: In addition to delaying Williams, they spent their first-round pick on Jimmer Fredette, who was taken one spot ahead of Thompson. In a weird twist, the Kings, whose brain trust comes from the Warriors, were hoping to steal Thompson next summer.

Wizards: Has anyone seen or heard from Jan Vesely, the No. 6 pick in 2011? There haven’t been many players drafted that high who failed to get a third-year qualifying offer. He’s now playing in Turkey after flaming out quickly with the Wizards, then Nuggets.

Conley wants All-Star, wants wins more

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Grant Hill are in Mike Conley’s corner

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – So yeah, Mike Conley, one of the truly Mr. Nice Guys in the NBA, wants to see his name in lights as a Western Conference All-Star.

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

“I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about making the All-Star team. That would be the ultimate honor,” Conley told NBA.com last week. “But I also understand the way things shake out, especially being in the West, there’s a lot of good guys out there. I’m going to put myself in position, that’s all I can do; just play well and do what’s best for the team first. If we win games, we as individuals get noticed, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Conley didn’t even get a sniff in fan voting last year, and West coaches again overlooked him as a backup. It didn’t matter that he was on his way to averaging a career-best 17.2 points; or continued to extend his range beyond the 3-point arc (he made 36.1 percent on a career-high 4.0 attempts); or committed to attacking the rack more (his 548 drives ranked 15th in the league and, for comparison’s sake, were more than All-Stars John Wall and James Harden); or that he rarely turned it over (his 8.6 turnovers per 100 possessions ranked third among point guards behind Chris Paul and Jose Calderon); or that he’s strong on defense; or that his leadership was key for a 50-win team that got off to a disturbingly sluggish start under a new coach and then lost center Marc Gasol for a good chunk of of the season.

The quiet Conley knows even his best might not be loud enough in a conference loaded with noise-makers. Think about it: Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook didn’t even play in last year’s All-Star Game because of injuries. Bryant is a virtual lock to be voted in by the fans and Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, is likely to regain his reserve spot, especially if he elevates his play with Kevin Durant out for the first month.

While Conley steers Memphis’ methodical, inside-out offense, he’s watched Stephen Curry zoom to superstardom — even beat out Paul as a starter last year — and cold-blooded youngster Damian Lillard make the All-Star team as a reserve in his second season in the league. Knocking on the door is a long list of hopefuls: Ty Lawson, Suns teammates Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, plus Ricky Rubio and Jrue Holiday, an East All-Star two years ago. Not to mention four-time champ Tony Parker.

And those are just the point guards.

“It’s fun to be in this era of basketball where there’s so many great players, so many great guards, especially in the West where I get to play against them four times a year,” Conley said. “Every night you have your hands full no matter who you’re playing. That goes across the board. Every night you’re playing against a top-notch guard or a top-notch-caliber player, so you have to have your mind right, be focused and be on your best game.”

Conley’s best bet to crash the Big Apple All-Star bash this season is, as he said, to get the Grizzlies off to a fast start and steal the headlines. He believes Memphis is positioned to do just that.

“We’re going to be a team that people are going to hate to face, and have a chance to be considered as one of the teams contending for a title,” said Conley, who is entering his eight season in the league. “Going into the end of [last] year we started finally playing our basketball. We fought our way back into the playoffs and feel like we’re still on the up-and-up from that last run that we had.”

All that seemed to be spinning out of the players’ control during a very strange start to the offseason. Young owner Robert Pera wiped out the front office that had wiped out former coach Lionel Hollins, and before that had wiped out newly reinstated general manager Chris Wallace. Coach Dave Joerger, who took over for Hollins last year, interviewed with Minnesota before agreeing to stay in Memphis, where he arrived as an assistant in 2007, two years before Hollins took over and began to turn the program around.

“It was a little weird right after being in the playoffs and the first month or so of the summertime was a bunch of uneasy, unsure feelings,” Conley said. “Not knowing what coach’s situation was, what management’s was, you just kind of had to sit back and let all that play out. Luckily, I think things worked out for the best for us, and I’m glad that’s behind us and we’re able to focus on going forward.”

Yes, there finally does appear to be a calm and optimism in Memphis. Zach Randolph, suspended for last year’s first-round Game 7 loss to Oklahoma City, received the extension he wanted. Vince Carter was signed to knock down 3-pointers and Quincy Pondexter, injured almost all of last season after starting to emerge in the 2013 postseason, is a key returnee around an ego-free core that’s come of age together.

“When Lionel was here, a lot of us were still young, still learning and still trying to improve in a lot of different areas,” Conley said. “Now with the help of Lionel grooming us, to now Joeger — we’re doing the same things — he’s got us in our prime and we’re playing great basketball.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 7


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron chimes in on NBA media deals | More minutes ahead for Garnett? | Horford continues to progress in rehab | Report: Wolves offering Rubio a four-year deal

No. 1: LeBron chimes in on new media-rights deals — If you somehow missed it yesterday, the big news around the league was the nine-year media-rights deals the NBA reached with broadcast partners ESPN and Turner Sports. The deal, which is reportedly worth $2.66 billion annually, dwarfs the last deal by several millions of dollars. The news of the day wasn’t lost on Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who had some pointed views on what needs to happen next. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

LeBron James might not hold an official title within the National Basketball Players Association, but his standing as the league’s best player put him in an important position to speak about the new television rights deal.

“I am kind of the guy that has the power, I guess, without even having to put a name on it,” James said Monday after the league announced a nine-year extension of its TV deal with ESPN and TNT that begins in 2016-17. “I’m very educated and I will use what I have to make sure our players are taken care of.”

Just as the NBA and its broadcast partners did in striking a deal years before the current one expires, James said that the NBPA and the owners — with the influx of TV revenue now promised — should begin hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement before both sides can opt out following the 2016-17 season.

“At the end of the day, we will negotiate,” James said. “We know it’s going to happen at some point because our deal is ending soon. We would love to do it sooner than later. We don’t want to it to happen like it happened last time when we went into a lockout.”

James said that the new TV deal, along with a spate of teams being sold for unprecedented sums (the Los Angeles Clippers went for $2 billion in July), will cause the players to dig in for their rightful portion of the profits this time around.

“The whole thing that went on with the last negotiation process was the owners was telling us that they were losing money. There’s no way they can sit in front of us and tell us that right now after we continue to see teams selling for billions of dollars, being purchased for $200 million, [selling] for 550 [million], 750 [million], $2 billion,” James said. “And now [Mikhail] Prokhorov is possibly selling his majority stake in the Nets for over a billion. So, that will not fly with us this time.”

While the current CBA seems to be skewed in the owners’ favor, James said that getting a deal done in order to salvage a 66-game shortened season in 2010-11 led to the explosion in revenue the league is seeing today.

“I think it was a good deal,” James said. “I think you can always want more and give less. But I think both sides kind of benefited from it, as you see in this new TV deal. Both sides continue to grow it, but there’s some things that we’d like to see changed as players going forward.”

James saw the new television deal coming down the pike when he signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers in July, opting for a two-year, $42.1 million deal rather than the full max available to him of four years, $88 million. While the shortened deal also presumably put pressure on Cavs management to adopt a win-now mentality, James acknowledged that the upcoming TV deal also dictated his decision.

“It was being a businessman,” James said. “I understand the business of this sport. It had a lot to do with it.”

(more…)

Rubio wants Wolves’ leadership reins


VIDEO: Rubio breaks down the upcoming season in Minnesota

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Yes, his jumper needs work and that’s why the Minnesota Timberwolves hired noted shot doc Mike Penberthy to help Ricky Rubio. Shots can be fixed, but when it comes to enhancing a player’s leadership, outside of hiring a team psychologist — which the Dallas Mavericks do, the Wolves do not and more teams should — there’s really not a coach, a sage or swami to bring in for a quick “fix.”

Leadership mostly has to evolve naturally to develop the maturity, self-assuredness and self-confidence that emboldens one to direct others. In Minnesota, that job is on Rubio. The Wolves, sans Kevin Love, are his team.

Nineteen-year-old No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins might one day become the face of the franchise, but in this transition season, it is up to the young Spaniard, still a couple weeks shy of his 24th birthday, to manage the emotions of an intriguingly athletic squad of relative pups who are likely to go through this season riding alternating waves of fun and frustration.

“It’s a different team, of course, but we have to move on,” Rubio told NBA.com in a phone interview Thursday. “We have to step up, especially me as a leader, be more vocal. Our young guys, they need someone to guide them. I think we have a lot of vets here that can do that. Mo [Williams] is a great example. Me and Kevin Martin can do the same thing.

“What I’ve been doing, since I am young, is leading by example, practicing hard and doing everything on the court. I have to learn how to be more vocal. I’m not good at that and I have to improve.”

One key for Rubio is to block outside noise. At the team’s media day earlier this week he didn’t want to discuss ongoing contract negotiations because he thinks it affects him on the floor. Last year he grew weary of the media’s inquiries into an increasingly restless Love.

“Of course we had a lot going on last year and the media was talking, they were wondering if Kevin wanted to be here, blah, blah, blah, and that hurt the team and hurt himself,” Rubio said. “Now that he’s not here, the media’s not going to talk about that anymore. I think that’s going to be good for him and for us.”

With the Love chapter closed, Rubio, fully healthy and now more experienced as an NBA player, could be headed for a big year, the year everybody has been waiting to see. For critics who wonder why he’s yet to make an All-Star team, it’s easy to forget the turbulence of his first three seasons.

A terrific start to his lockout-delayed rookie season — 10.2 points, 8.2 assists — ended abruptly in Game 41 with a torn ACL in his left knee. He didn’t return until December of the following season, one which Love played 18 games and Rubio never truly bounced back from the devastating injury.

“It was tough for me, physically, but mentally. That hurt me,” Rubio said. “When you come back, you’re thinking you’re going to be back 100 percent; you’re not. You can be in shape after a tough injury like I had, but you are not in game shape. That comes with games and it took me time to realize that. I was playing and I was going home thinking about what’s going on with me and all this stuff. So it was tough, plus people talking made it even tougher. So my second year was tough.”

There again he references “people talking” about his performance. And maybe such chatter has played mind games with his shot, too. Still, his Year 3, although ending again with no playoffs amid a slew of close losses and Love’s declining interest, finished strongly, with Rubio playing as assertively as he has in the NBA. He’s carrying that confidence into training camp, understanding the new responsibility before him.

He is excited about the new makeup of the team and the up-tempo style it will play. Whether an extension gets done by the end of the month or he goes into next summer as a restricted free agent (Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher predicts the Wolves will trade him), Rubio says he believes he can win in Minnesota. He said he’s not putting that type of pressure on his young team just yet. But, he said, ending Minnesota’s decade-long playoff drought is his focus no matter how improbable it might seem in a rugged Western Conference where Phoenix and New Orleans appear next in line to challenge for a final playoff spot.

“I feel more mature. I’ve been through good things and bad things that helped me grow up,” Rubio said. “Every season you can learn a lot of things even if you don’t make the playoffs like we haven’t done the last three years. Every time you don’t make the playoffs, you have something inside that you want to prove again next year. So it’s growing up. It’s something that we have to be patient, take our time and make it.

“I want to put my team in the playoffs, so all I’m thinking right now is growing up with my team and being the best I can to help my team win.”

Blogtable: Training camp showdown

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: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown



VIDEO: Dennis Scott previews some questions facing teams as camps open

> Training camps begin this week. Is there a looming camp showdown between teammates that you see as especially intriguing?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My top pick here would be in Phoenix, where Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe all are good-to-excellent point guards — but only if Bledsoe is back on a one-year qualifying deal. If he and the Suns actually come to terms on a more lucrative, long-term extension that was in the air Wednesday morning, then Thomas’ ability to challenge for minutes takes a serious hit, because contracts matter in this league. Here’s my backup: I expect Zach LaVine to see time and potentially push Ricky Rubio (another max extension seeker) hard at point guard for Minnesota, though training camp might be too soon.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comKobe vs. the Lakers. He’s got pent-up, inflated expectations and they don’t have the talent to match.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: A looming camp showdown? Hmm … Yeah, the Suns and Eric Bledsoe. If a long-term deal gets done here within the week, then I think all hard feelings can be smoothed over. However, if he signs the one-year qualifying offer, it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles himself on a team that has expectations of improving on last year’s surprising start under coach Jeff Hornacek. Bledsoe is going to want the ball in his hands a lot as he eyes unrestricted free agency and big money next summer. How will that jive with Goran Dragic and the Suns’ overall plans?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Kyrie Irving vs. Dion Waiters, Cleveland. Unless maybe you mean a position showdown? In that case, it’s the shooting guards in Oklahoma City. Open job, championship implications, young talents — that counts as especially intriguing. Reggie Jackson got the playoff starts when the Thunder pulled the plug on the Thabo Sefolosha era, but Jeremy Lamb will get a long look and Jackson is valuable as the backup point guard. Newcomer Anthony Morrow will also challenge for minutes.

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m curious to see who will replace Thabo Sefolosha in the Thunder’s starting lineup. Barring injury, Scott Brooks has used the same lineup for three years, and Sefolosha’s departure gives him a chance to shake things up, even if we have to wait another year before Kendrick Perkins is eventually replaced by Steven Adams. Brooks could go with Reggie Jackson for extra speed and playmaking, Anthony Morrow for shooting, Andre Roberson for defense, or Jeremy Lamb as a long-term investment that could pay off on both ends of the floor. OKC is a title contender that has historically gotten off to bad first-quarter starts. That could continue with Perkins still around, but there’s a chance to bring some more early energy with a new starter in the backcourt.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was a splendid fit in Phoenix, even if injuries prevented us from seeing those two young Thundercats at full strength for an extended period of time last season. Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, however, is a bit more complicated. I’m not sure if they have the same chemistry and synergy. Two ball-dominant point guards is one thing when their skill sets are as different as Dragic and Bledsoe’s were. But Dragic and Thomas have some serious work to do in that department. Do these ultra competitive guys treat camp as a chance to decide who the man is? Or will they spend that time finding ways to make each other better? It’s must-see action either way.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m keeping a watchful eye on what’s happening in Phoenix, where they have what feels like about two-dozen guards on their roster, all of whom are worthy of playing time. Assuming Eric Bledsoe comes back, he’ll be jockeying for playing time with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker. This is a good problem to have, sure, but I bet there will be knock-down games of two-on-two during practice.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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