Posts Tagged ‘Roy Hibbert’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 26




NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors | Questions abound for new-look Hornets | Pistons open camp in much better space | What’s next for KG?

No. 1: Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors — They can’t hide from it, the expectations or the obstacles. And Doc Rivers knows as much, has prepared for as much heading into the 2016-17 NBA season with designs on taking the Los Angeles Clippers to places they haven’t been before, even with the Golden State Warriors and their superstar-studded roster (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) standing in the way. Rivers insists his Clippers are ready to challenge the Warriors, no matter what the doubters think. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times breaks down the challenges facing the Clippers with training camps set to kick off around the league:

Last season the Clippers had another successful regular season (53-29) and had high hopes going in the playoffs. But that quickly evaporated when they lost a first-round series to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series.

Once again there were complaints that the L.A. Clippers still had never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

“You should never run from the truth. That’s true,” Rivers said. “But getting past the second round is such a [expletive] goal. That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the winner. So, to be the winner, part of that is getting past the second round. The second round talk does nothing for me. The endgame is being the winner.”

Rivers quickly pointed out that “we’re not” one of the favorites to win the 2017 NBA championship.

Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Warriors as the title favorites at 5-7 odds, with defending NBA champion Cleveland second (5-2), San Antonio third (6-1) and the Clippers fourth (20-1).

“We’re in the conversation,” Rivers said.

So much of the Clippers’ success will be determined by the health of Paul and Griffin, both of whom Rivers said are 100% healthy based on how well they have looked while playing in pickup games at the practice facility.

But Griffin has another cloud hovering over him. He broke his right hand in a fight last January with then Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Griffin penned a letter to Clippers fans on the Players’ Tribune Friday, apologizing for last season.

“It’s been a hard year for Blake – from the knee injury to the Matias thing,” Rivers said. “Blake had a year of life lessons. And that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that. We all have them. I actually will say Blake is in the best physical and mental place he’s been in since I’ve been here.”

The Clippers will gather together for media day Monday and open their training camp Tuesday at UC Irvine.

In recent weeks Rivers has watched as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken a knee during the the national anthem in his quest to raise awareness about racial injustice.

“When I hear people say, you have to stand with your team, that’s true. But there are certain issues that transcend everything,” Rivers said. “This is a very serious problem we have. And to me, none of us are smart enough to know the solutions. But what we can do is start the debate and the talk.

“And usually when enough people get to talking, there are usually results in some type of action. To me, whether you like what Kaepernick did or not – and it’s not for me to tell you if you should or shouldn’t – the fact that you’re reading about a statement that I’m making about it means what he’s doing has had an impact. Now we have to get to the endgame and that’s the hard part.”

On the basketball court, the hard part for the Clippers and the rest of the league will be getting past the Warriors with Durant and two-time MVP Stephen Curry as the expected super team of the NBA.

“There’s always going to be a competitor in our league. There’s never going to be one team that wins it every year,” Rivers said. “There’s always going to be someone that’s standing in front of you and our job is to stand directly in front of them and block their way.…

“But that’s fine, if that’s what people want to believe [about the Warriors]. We’re just not going to believe that crap.”

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(more…)

Morning shootaround — June 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotions | LeBron went home ‘for the kids’ | Report: DeRozan to test free agencyCan Thompson back up bold talk? | NBA stars battle bulge too

No. 1: Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotionsDraymond Green, the Golden State’s versatile and valuable, almost positionless forward, is considered to be the defending champions’ emotional leader. Losing him to suspension from Game 5 of the 2016 Finals (9 ET, ABC) would seem, at first glance, to be like stealing the batteries from a very expensive toy. But based on the Warriors’ reactions to Green’s suspension, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hand in it (subtle or not) and the obstacle thrown suddenly in their path to back-to-back championships, the home team at Oracle Arena might be playing Monday with all the emotion they need. And first and foremost, that will be anger, writes J.A. Adande of ESPN.com:

They feel disrespected once more. Put upon. Agitated.

In the Warriors’ worldview, LeBron James baited Draymond Green by stepping over him in Game 4. That prompted the retaliatory strike from Green which struck James in the groin area and drew a flagrant foul 1 penalty from the NBA in a review that was announced Sunday. James all but dared the NBA to do it after Game 4, and now Golden State feels the league capitulated to one of its biggest stars. The flagrant foul ruling put Green above the playoff limit of three flagrant foul points and brought an automatic suspension for Game 5 on Monday. It also brought up some fiery talk from the Warriors, who got an early start on making up for the absence of their emotional leader.

“We’re going to go out there and do it as a team and win for him,” Klay Thompson said.

Alrighty, then.

Other Warriors players and coaches said they noticed a ramped-up intensity after coach Steve Kerr informed the team of Green’s suspension during Sunday’s practice and they feel it will give them the necessary edge in what could have otherwise been seen as a mere coronation process after taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals following their victory in Game 4.

They do best when doubted, as they were when they fell behind 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. They also respond well to perceived slights. Example A would be their 24-0 start after having their championship credentials called into question for everything from lack of injuries to playoff strength of schedule.

Now that they have fresh motivation, the question is whether they have the means to prove their point without the versatile Green, the defensive anchor of their small-ball “Death Lineup” and an offensive facilitator prone to the occasional scoring outburst (such as his 28 points in Game 2).

Much depends on how the Cavaliers choose to prey on his absence: by going big with the likes of Kevin Love or even Timofey Mozgov, or by trying to lure the Warriors into a diminished smaller lineup by extending the minutes of Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. It also could be an opportunity for LeBron to break through now that he doesn’t have to worry about one of the Warriors’ most effective defenders.

Morning shootaround – Dec. 5


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steve Nash might be Steph Curry’s biggest fan | Byron Scott heard about Kobe’s retirement in unconventional way | Jason Kidd is starting to get concerned in Milwaukee

No. 1: Steve Nash might be Steph Curry’s biggest fan Steve Nash is an advisor with the Warriors and therefore has a point-blank view of one of the greatest shot artists of this generation, and maybe ever. That would be Steph Curry, who once again is proving that he belongs among the NBA’s elite shooters, both active and retired. Nash belongs in such company, too, and recently he discussed Curry with Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:

Steve Nash wonders, in both senses of the word. He has spent some time around the Golden State Warriors this season as an instructor, but he hasn’t spent a lot of time with Stephen Curry. They’ve spoken, talked about a few things, on and off the court, but Nash doesn’t want there to be any mistake.

“I would cringe if I got any credit for what he’s doing,” says the two-time MVP, on the phone from Los Angeles.
But the Victoria, B.C. native watches Curry play and, like the rest of us, has difficulty finding words to describe what’s happening. Curry is doing more than lighting up highlight shows, animating Vines and laying waste to the NBA one year after winning a title and the MVP as a significantly lesser player. Curry is going places no basketball player has ever gone, and it almost looks inevitable.

“It looks easy, but the shots he takes are insane,” says Nash. “The speed, range, dexterity, going left, going right, leaning, fading. It feels like the possibilities are limitless. I feel like I could shoot the ball in as wide an array of ways as anybody, but he’s been able to do it with more range and more speed. It’s remarkable. It’s the evolution of the game. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anybody be able to do this.”

Curry comes to Toronto Saturday as a circus. The seventh-year point guard has become the best show in sports, the most joyful player since Magic Johnson, and it starts with his peerless ability to shoot the basketball. His own league record for three-pointers in a season is 286. That broke his own record, set two years ago, of 272. He is on pace for 418.

Just eight players have shot .500 from the field, .400 from three-point range, and .900 from the line in a season; Nash and Larry Bird did it twice. Curry is shooting .524/.459/.943 while taking more shots, harder shots, longer shots. He is letting three-pointers fly through closing subway doors, over flailing giants, from the outer reaches of the NBA galaxy. Sometimes he, or a teammate, is walking back before the ball lands. Basketball is, as much as any sport, an evolutionary game.

“It’s a leap,” says Nash. “When you take all factors in, even without the accuracy, just to be able to take those shots at an acceptable rate is itself an evolution. We’ve had a lot of gunslingers, a lot of volume shooters. but to take the shots he takes, even without the accuracy, is a revolution. And then, the accuracy: it’s remarkable.”

 

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No. 2: Byron Scott heard about Kobe Bryant’s retirement in an unconventional way — You would think the first person, or among the first, to hear from Kobe Bryant about the star’s retirement would be the coach, and such was the case recently. But the way Kobe broke the news to Byron Scott was, well, probably an NBA first. Kobe and Scott go way back and their relationship is solid. Yet, did Kobe pull Scott aside in his office or after a practice or maybe on the team charter? not quite. We’ll let Baxter Holmes of ESPN tell all about it:

In an interview with ESPN on Friday, Scott revealed the details of that exchange, which he said occurred at the start of the third quarter of the Lakers’ 108-96 loss to the Trail Blazers on Saturday.

“I said, ‘KB, I played you 20 minutes in the first half. I’m going to cut those minutes down. I’ve got to cut them down,'” Scott said after his team’s morning shootaround ahead of their game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. “He said, ‘That’s good, coach. That’s all right. I’m going to announce my retirement after the game.'”

Scott said he was stunned.

“I said, ‘What?!'” Scott recalled. “That was the shock part. I was in that state for the rest of the game. Even when I was watching him play [and] I was watching him running up and down, I’m going, ‘Did he just tell me [that]?'”

Scott said he had no idea Bryant was going to give him that news, much less at that time.

“I told him the next day, ‘You know you shocked the s— out of me when you told me that,'” Scott said. “He just started laughing. I said, ‘You really did.’ He said, ‘I know. I could see it on your face.'”

What was most striking to Scott was Bryant’s demeanor in the moment.

“It was so casual. It was kind of cool,” Scott said. “[As a] matter [of] fact, he said, ‘You’re the first to know.’ He said, ‘Coach, you’re the first to know that I’m going to announce my retirement.’

“He was at peace when he told me,” Scott added. “That’s the only thing I could say. During that game, when I was watching him and putting him [in the game] and taking him out, that’s the most relaxed and at peace that I’ve ever seen him.”

 

****

No. 3: Jason Kidd is starting to get concerned in Milwaukee — Admit it, you figured the Bucks would be lurking around the top 4 or 5 in the East right now, but they appear miles away at the moment, struggling during a season in which was designed for the young team to take the next step in its development. And maybe that happens soon. Just the same, coach Jason Kidd is concerned enough to lean more on his veterans and prod them for leadership, both on and off the court. Here is Ananth Pandian of CBS Sports on the issue:

After such a strong season, the Bucks were, seemingly, able to build on that success in the offseason by signing Greg Monroe to a long-term deal. Monroe had several suitors including big market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks but he picked Milwaukee because he wanted to be part of the team’s burgeoning success.

However, the Bucks have started the season 7-12 and look nothing like a perennial playoff team. So what happened?

Well, Milwaukee was limited by injuries at the start of the season as Jabari Parker was still rehabbing from an ACL injury, O.J. Mayo was nursing a strained hamstring, John Henson was limited by an Achilles strain and Michael Carter-Williams had a sprained ankle. Monroe and Parker are also, at this point in their careers, liabilities on the defensive end contributing to Milwaukee’s status as one of the worst defensive teams in the league, giving up 102.8 points a game.

But perhaps the biggest issue for the Bucks, as head coach Jason Kidd repeatedly said at the team’s shootaround in San Antonio on Wednesday morning, is that Milwaukee is the second youngest team in the league and is still learning how to play together. With the Bucks overachieving last year, this may have gone overlooked, but this is an inexperienced team in many ways. Monroe, Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton are all under the age of 26 and, on average, have only been in the league for under three years.

Carter-Williams also joined the team at last season’s trade deadline and is still figuring out how to run the team from the point guard spot. The same can be said for Monroe, who is averaging roughly the same numbers (15.7 points and 9.4 rebounds) he was putting up in Detroit over the last couple of seasons but is now back to playing center, a role he wasn’t primarily playing with the Pistons.

“It takes time,” Kidd said when asked about Milwaukee’s early season struggles. “There is a process we have to go through, we are the second youngest team in the league and it’s going to take a little time. We have our good and bad but as long as we keep learning and understanding that it’s not easy to win in this league, no matter how good you are.”

The Bucks definitely had a bit of luck last year, surprising teams and playing with a tenacity that seems to be lacking now. The trade of Brandon Knight for Carter-Williams could be pointed at as one reason Milwaukee has taken a step back. But also last season Milwaukee had excellent veteran role players in Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley. In order to clear up the roster logjam, both players were traded in the offseason for second-round draft picks. In a separate earlier move, Milwaukee traded Ersan Ilyasova to clear up cap space to sign Monroe.

Now the only true veterans on the team are Mayo and Jerryd Bayless — who have each played eight seasons in the league. This has given Mayo and Bayless more responsibility on the team as Kidd is counting on both of them to help guide the young Bucks on and off the court.

“When you look at Bayless and Juice (Mayo),” Kidd said, “those guys have been in the league for a little bit and understand what we are trying to do. This is a situation where we are extremely young and we have to have our veterans be leaders and also be guys on the floor that the young guys can look at. They both are working at it. We ask them to do a lot and they’ve responded in a positive way. We are the second youngest team so our vets have to be responsible and also I think for them, they like this opportunity.”

 

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has suffered a setback to his back injury. Looks like he’ll return sometime in January at the earliest … Roy Hibbert‘s fortunes haven’t changed, just because he was traded from the Pacers to the Lakers … Look at the bright side, Sixers: Dario Saric is coming to the rescue, according to his father … Did Kobe Bryant come close to playing for the Bulls?Zach LaVine is thrilled to get tutoring from his childhood hero, none other than Gary Payton.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe to sit again with sore back and legs | LeBron rips Cavs | Marcus Smart stands up to Russell Westbrook and wins | Battle of the future … Davis vs Porzingis

No. 1: Kobe to sit again with sore back and legs — Father Time is winning his battle against Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar will sit for the third time in four games and miss today’s game against the Phoenix Suns to rest his aching body. Apparently 37 is not the new 27, as Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com writes:

“Right now, I’m barely standing up. My back and my legs, man, it’s killing me,” he said Sunday after playing a season-high 36 minutes in a 97-85 win over the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center.

Bryant, who is in his 20th season with the Lakers, finished with 17 points on an inefficient 6-of-19 shooting from the field. He added a game-high nine assists and eight rebounds.

“I’m not looking forward to walking to the car right now,” Bryant said. “Seriously.”

Lakers coach Byron Scott said he and Bryant agreed Bryant, whose past three seasons have been cut short by injury, would play the entire fourth quarter because the game was close.

“We needed this [win],” Scott said. “I just wanted him to go the rest of the game and see if he could get the [win].”

Bryant agreed with the approach.

“We hadn’t won one at home,” Bryant said. “To lose another one at home would be disastrous.”

Bryant said he was mildly concerned about playing too many minutes, given his injury history.

“But we talked about it … we had to push through,” Bryant said. “We had to get this one done and take a day tomorrow.”

The Lakers improved to 2-8 and avoided tying their worst 10-game start in franchise history, a mark they set last season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after the Lakers’ win over the Pistons

***

No. 2: LeBron rips Cavs — The words came from the mouth of the man running the show in Cleveland, so they should not be taken lightly. “We’re not a great team right now,” LeBron James said of his Cavaliers the day after  double-overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, it’s only their second loss of the season, their first since the season opener against Chicago. But if LeBron sees signs of slippage in his team, perhaps we should all listen. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

LeBron James is worried about the Cavaliers.

Or maybe he isn’t, maybe “worried” is too strong a word. Perhaps he’s challenging them. Or he’s using Saturday night as a teaching tool, an opportunity that has rarely presented itself in this young season because, for once, the Cavs lost.

Whatever the case, after Cleveland fell to the Milwaukee Bucks, 108-105 in double overtime, for its first loss since the season opener, James made one point very clear to the reporters whose attention he held around his locker afterwards:

“We’re not a great team right now.”

“I think we’re a good team. I think we expect we’re a great team, and we’re not,” James said, following his eye-popping 37-point, 12-rebound performance. “We have to get better in every facet of the game, and that’s every single facet of the game.”

It was just one loss. After eight consecutive wins. The Cavs equaled their best record (8-1) through nine games in team history. And they have injuries.

Isn’t this all a little, harsh?

“Records are meant to be broken, but that don’t mean you’re great,” James said. “It’s for us, we have to play a lot more sustainable effort throughout the 48 minutes. And we don’t do that.

“We give a half-ass effort sometimes and expect that we can just make a run at the end. We’re not good enough to do that right now.”

***

No. 3: Marcus Smart stands up to Russell Westbrook and wins — Has the NBA found a Russell Westbrook stopper in Marcus Smart? The Boston Celtics’ young guard certainly played that part Sunday in an impressive road win for his team over Westbrook and the Thunder, who are still playing without Kevin Durant (hamstring). It was a revealing performance from Smart, a defensive-minded competitor who was more than up to the challenge of dealing with one of the league’s most mercurial talents. Barry Tramel of The Oklahoman was impressed with Smart’s resolve:

Westbrook is always up for a mental macho game and usually prevails. Not Sunday night. Smart, picked sixth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, rarely has been tougher. He matched Westbrook’s physicality and intensity, and though no one can match Westbrook’s explosiveness, on this night, it didn’t matter.

Smart scored a career high 26 points, making nine of 14 shots to go with eight rebounds and three assists. Better yet was Smart’s defense — that’s his specialty, after all — which got plenty of help from Celtic teammates like Avery Bradley. Westbrook had 27 points, but he made just five of 20 shots, and his playmaking was minimal. None of Westbrook’s five assists came in the final 181/2 minutes, when a nine-point Thunder lead disintegrated.

Westbrook got to Smart early. Even drew a technical foul on Smart when Smart argued a call in which he wasn’t even involved. But Smart’s confidence grew the longer the game went.

“That’s the type of guy Russ is,” Smart said. “He loves challenges and he’s going to try to do his best every time. Vice versa with me. You put two guys like that going against each other, obviously you’re going to knock heads.

“Russ knows that and understands it. I know it. I love those type of challenges.”

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No. 4: Battle of the future … Davis vs Porzingis? — Is it too soon for the Anthony Davis vs. Kristaps Porzingis comparisons? Probably, given that Davis is mentioned in MVP conversations and Porzingis is still working to complete his first full month in the league. But that won’t stop folks in New York from projecting a future involving the two. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News details their historic first matchup:

So what was biggest takeaway from getting outplayed by Anthony Davis? At least the Knicks won.

“He had a great game, but we got the win,” Porzingis said after New York snapped a two-game losing streak Sunday by beating the Pelicans, 95-87. “That’s the important thing.”

Davis, the next super-duper star in the NBA, was as good as advertised while matched head-to-head with Porzingis, finishing with 36 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in 40 minutes.

Davis had missed the previous two games with a bruised hip, but returned just in time to give a lesson that included a block on Porzingis’ running hook in the second quarter.

Porzingis, meanwhile, struggled offensively while missing 11 of his 15 shot attempts, scoring 10 points with four rebounds in 22 minutes. He did block one of Davis’ attempts.

“He’s one of the guys that I look up and try to learn the game from,” Porzingis said. “He proved once again why he’s so good. He just — all the baskets he got, he knows what he’s doing. He shoots at the right time. He’s running fast breaks. It’s hard to stop him, his all-around game. I try to be aggressive at the beginning. He came back to me. I think he’s the best power forward right now in the NBA. It’s tough for sure, but it was a good experience for me.

“It was a bad shooting game for me. I shot the ball bad,” Porzingis added. “There’s other things that I can do on the floor without trying to score every shot I take. On the defensive end, offensively, try to get my teammates open, little stuff like that. Coach sees that, not everybody sees that, but coach sees it.”

Davis left impressed with a future nemesis.

“Porzingis is a great player. He can shoot, he can drive and he is active,” the Pelicans forward said. “It is going to be fun battling him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers got the win but remain behind the Pistons in the rebuilding effort … The Knicks paid tribute to the victims of the attacks in Paris with their hair … Where are they now? Zan Tabak is coaching in Israel … The young Utah Jazz are doing their best to turn the corner so many predicted they would this season … All DeMarcus Cousins has done since the Kings aired their issues is dominate, on and off the floor … Derrick Rose could have double vision for months, per Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg

One Team, One Stat: A New Identity


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Indiana Pacers

NBA.com’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 Indiana Pacers, who are going through an identity change.

The stat

20151019_ind_rest_def

The context

20151019_ind_basicsThe Pacers are the only team to rank in the top five in both defending and preventing the best shots on the floor over the last three seasons. And their rim protection was a big reason they’ve allowed the fewest points per 100 possessions (98.1) in that time.

Roy Hibbert was a big part of that league-best rim protection and that league-best defense. But great defense wasn’t enough for the Pacers the get out of the Eastern Conference these last three years. They’ve ranked first on that end of the floor, but 24th on offense, the most unbalanced team in the league.

Poor shooting and turnovers have been the Pacers’ biggest issues. They’ve ranked 25th in effective field goal percentage and 23rd in turnover rate over the last three years.

Among 56 players 6-10 or taller who attempted at least 1,000 shots over the last three years, Hibbert ranks last in effective field goal percentage. Considering his size (7-2), he’s been an awful finisher at the basket. He has improved from mid-range, but those shots aren’t worth much unless you shoot them extremely well.

20151019_ind_6-10_efg

David West has been a solid mid-range shooter over the years, but hasn’t shot threes. So, the Pacers didn’t space the floor all that well and couldn’t keep up with the league’s best offenses.

Now, Hibbert and West are both gone and no team is looking to change its identity more than the Pacers.

The Pacers’ used their Lottery pick on a center – Myles Turner – who can shoot from the outside and will ask Paul George to play power forward (at least some of the time). They’re looking to space the floor as much as possible for the newly acquired Monta Ellis, who has ranked fourth in the league in total drives over the last two seasons.

20151019_ind_drives

With Hibbert gone, the Pacers won’t have the rim protection they’ve had in the last three years. They may fall out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency for the first time in five years.

But their identity change should make them a more balanced team with a much higher ceiling on offense.

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

Hang Time Road Trip II: Going back to Cali!

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

OAKLAND — On the road again.

Part II.

The Remix.

California Dreaming.

We considered them all as theme’s for this season’s Hang Time Road Trip, the follow-up to last season’s raucous 3,600-mile trek that took us from Cleveland and through fellow Central Division hot spots in Chicago and Indianapolis and on to Philadelphia, New York and, eventually, Chapel Hill, N.C.

We’re taking a different route this time around. We won’t cover nearly as many miles but we’re going back to California, where we spent tons of quality time during the playoffs and, ultimately, The Finals. It is the state some would say is the epicenter of the NBA universe as we kick off the 2015-16 season.

The champs reside here, after all. Eyes around the league will be on KIA MVP Stephen Curry and his Splash Bros. partner, Klay Thompson, and the rest of the Golden State Warriors as they target on a repeat performance from last season, when they ended a 40-year title drought for the franchise.

Our eight-day sojourn kicks off in Warriors territory, where Luke Walton is filling in for Steve Kerr as interim coach as Kerr continues his indefinite leave of absence while recovering from summer back surgery. Before we finish we’ll have chewed up plenty of highway between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, where we’ll get up close and personal with the Lakers and Clippers.

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VIDEO: Pacers boss Larry Bird visited on the Hang Time Road Trip bus last year

Kobe Bryant‘s back from injury and for what, as of this moment, is his final season under contract with the only franchise he’s known in his future Hall of Fame career. We’ll find out what he has left in his tank and if his latest supporting cast is up to the task of sending him out the right way, if this is indeed his final campaign in purple and gold. Are youngsters D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, as well as veterans Roy Hibbert and Metta World Peace, capable of holding up their part of the deal?

And no one has had a more eventful offseason than Doc Rivers and his crew (no emoji’s from us, fellas), who figure to be one the biggest threats to the Warriors’ parade plans this season. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and their free-agent contingent did everything they could to make sure DeAndre Jordan didn’t go anywhere, not with reinforcements in the form of Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson ready to help with the heavy lifting this season.

You know there will be plenty of craziness along the road — it’s what we do on the Hang Time Podcast — but as always our mission remains hoops. And where better to get things started than the Great State of California, where the storylines are aplenty.

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook (using the hashtag #NBAHangTime):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Knicks boss Phil Jackson visits during the inaugural Hang Time Road Trip

Morning shootaround — Oct. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins likes his MVP chances | Whiteside a no-go tonight vs. Magic | Lakers’ youngsters lap up Bryant’s feedback | Booker, Hibbert scuffle in Hawaii

No. 1: Cousins says MVP is his ‘to grab’ this season — Success in the win column has been hard to come by for Sacramento Kings star center DeMarcus Cousins. While he was an All-Star last season, the Kings have never won more than 29 games in any of his five seasons with the team. A roster restocked with veterans and a full season under coach George Karl have given Cousins hope of not just the playoffs, but of the grandest piece of NBA hardware come season’s end. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report has more:

The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.

“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”

In five previous NBA seasons, Cousins has never gotten even a single fifth-place vote for MVP, and his vertical isn’t the kind to invoke visions of such a quantum leap over myriad more established superstars.

His approach transcends hard work on the court or powering ahead with a limp in camp despite a “real tender” left heel. Cousins has made a totally fresh commitment to being the best he can be, becoming a constant at the Kings training facility late in the offseason in search of every edge he can get for his team.

And if the professionalism continues, Cousins is right to believe he can be the best.

“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”

New teammate Rajon Rondo floated the same idea during Kings media day, telling reporters: “Not to put any pressure on him, but I expect nothing less but MVP.”

“I don’t trust the rebuilding system in the NBA,” Karl said. “It has failed about 80 percent of the time.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive wants to win quickly, too; the franchise moves to a new arena next season.

Most importantly, however, this is what Cousins wants.

He said his new veteran teammates are “incredible.”

“You’ve got guys who know how to play the game, guys that know the game,” Cousins said. “Coming out and building chemistry is even easier. Trying to do that with younger guys? They’re trying to figure out their game and learn how to play.”

Even so, and despite their recent discord, Karl, who reportedly worked to trade Cousins over the summer before the team decided to unite behind the young center, can’t resist criticizing this facet of Cousins that “cheapened the game” and cost the team key possessions last season.

“DeMarcus has got to make a commitment just not to allow frustration to cause a disruption in the game,” Karl said. “I don’t like negative emotion in a game. I think it’s a sign of weakness.”

Karl’s free-flowing offense figures to help Cousins tremendously with spacing on the floor, yet already in camp it has been Cousins often jacking up desperate three-pointers.

In ways big and small, Boogie’s poise and professionalism are going to decide this season in Sacramento.


VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at DeMarcus Cousins at training camp

*** (more…)

Metta World Peace rejoins the Lakers


VIDEO: Metta World Peace and the Lakers are set to do it again in Kobe Bryant’s final season under contract

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Go ahead, call it a comeback for Metta World Peace with the Los Angeles Lakers. After weeks of will-he-or-won’t-they speculation about him making a return to the NBA (and the Lakers), the organization is ready to make it official by signing World Peace to a one-year deal on Thursday.

On a team with plenty of fresh faces and looking forward to the return of Kobe Bryant for what could be his final season under contract with the Lakers, the return of World Peace will add another heavy dose of spice to what should be an extremely interesting training camp.

Prized rookie D’Angelo Russell has already produced plenty of headlines of his own, based strictly on his activity since Draft night and through Summer League. And veteran center Roy Hibbert trying to find his way back to an elite level in a Lakers uniform is a journey worthy of its own reality show. The news of his signing comes after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak suggested that it was only a “possibility” and that “nothing was imminent.”

But the Lakers must have seen something they liked from the 35-year old World Peace, who has reportedly been working out with Lakers players all summer. A 15-year veteran who has had stops with six different NBA teams, World Peace was out of the league last year, playing overseas in China and Italy.

By returning to the Lakers on this one-year deal, World Peace has a chance to ride out his career alongside Bryant. The pairing has worked before, with World Peace helping save the day in Game 7 of The Finals in 2010.

Critics will point out, and rightfully so, that was a lifetime ago in NBA years. And there are obviously some other crucial pieces (Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol, etc.) from that championship puzzle missing. The Lakers, however, are trying to scratch and claw their way back into the playoff mix in the Western Conference by any means necessary it seems.

If they believe a seasoned veteran like World Peace has enough left in him to aid that cause, then they are right to add him to their already intriguing 2015-16 mix.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 19


VIDEO: Recapping the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket semifinals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lithuania punches ticket | Catching up with Blake | Scott talks state of Lakers

No. 1: Lithuania punches ticket As we move closer to the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the field that will compete for the men’s basketball gold medal is beginning to take shape. After Spain qualified by beating France earlier in the week, at EuroBasket yesterday, Lithuania earned a trip to Brazil by beating a strong Serbia team. As our own John Schuhmann writes, sometimes in international basketball there’s a thin line between dominance and heartbreak …

Lithuania is heading to the Olympics after holding on for a 67-64 victory over the team that had won its first seven games by an average of 15.1 points. It wasn’t a pretty game (the teams combined to shoot 8-for-42 from 3-point range), but appropriately, it went down to the wire.

Lithuania beat up Serbia inside early and built a double-digit lead in the second quarter. Serbia climbed to within one at the half, but scored just nine points in the third quarter and trailed by nine early in the fourth.

Serbia came back again, but fell victim to two tough plays late. With 3:36 left, Stefan Markovic saved the ball under the Lithuania basket … right to Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who put Lithuania up four. Two possessions later, Bogdan Bogdanovic was called for a foul on what looked like a clean block, and Jonas Maciulis put Lithuania up six at the free throw line.

Milos Teodosic put Serbia within one with a ridiculous three with 14 seconds left, but Bogdanovic was bumped and stumbled as he tried to tie the game on a frantic drive after Lithuania missed one of two at the line.

The Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas led Lithuania with 15 points (on just six shots) in less than 27 minutes. Teodosic had 16 for Serbia, but didn’t get enough help from Bogdanovic or the Wolves’ Nemanja Bjelica.

Lithuania punched its ticket to Rio and to Sunday’s gold medal game against Spain. Serbia will play France for bronze on Sunday and will have another chance at the Olympics in one of the qualifying tournaments next July.

***

No. 2: Catching up with Blake Between ownership and coaching changes, the last few years for the Los Angeles Clippers have been filled with noise. And perhaps lost in the shuffle in some ways has been the development of Blake Griffin, who has met the high expectations that accompanied being a No. 1 overall draft pick, and made himself into the franchise cornerstone people projected him becoming. Alex Kennedy from Basketball Insiders caught up with Blake to talk everything from his work ethic to the Clippers’ offseason to his myriad off-court pursuits…

Basketball Insiders: You’ve added different things to your game each summer. Where are you working out this offseason and what aspects of your game are you working on?

Blake Griffin: “I did a lot of my offseason stuff here in L.A. I like to get out of the training facility and I work out with my trainer, doing strength and conditioning stuff in El Segundo in his gym. I’ll use just random gyms, like I use this high school gym down in Manhattan Beach sometimes. Then, I kind of bounced around a bit. I did some workouts in New York because I had to be there for a little bit so I worked out there. As far as what we worked on, a lot of face up, off the post, off the elbow, a lot of short roll stuff, getting into the lane, floaters – just because we get so much of that with our spacing of the court and how many pick and rolls we run with CP. [I worked on] a lot of stuff actually off the dribble too, just like one dribble pull-ups and things like that. A lot of post-ups too. This summer, I really did a whole lot and kind of mixed it up. Like last summer, I did so much shooting – a lot of catch and shooting, a lot of pick and pop – and I still did that this summer a lot, but I just tried to kind of focus on literally everything this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: As you mentioned, you spent a lot of time in the gym working on your jump shot last year and it translated to success during the season. Now, after another offseason of work, where is your confidence level with your jump shot?

Blake Griffin: “Every summer and every year, it really gets better and better. I feel a lot more confident going into this season, definitely more so than last season. Each year and each offseason, I try to kind of reflect on the last season and see what I did – what I maybe did too much of, what I didn’t do enough of – and I think last year sometimes I settled [for jump shots] a bit too much. This year, I’m really trying to perfect that balance of pick and pops versus putting it on the floor and making plays, so that’s kind of why I focused on everything this summer. Just being able to use the spacing of our floor, having J.J. [Redick] out there spacing the floor and the same thing with CP when he gets doubled team, [I] just really wanted to being able to have an array of shots and not just focus on pick and pops and catch and shoots.”

Basketball Insiders: I don’t think people realize how hard you work. I’ve known Jamal Crawford for years and he always raves about your work ethic, saying you’re always the first guy in the gym. Can you walk me through one of your typical summer workouts, just so people can get a glimpse of what you do?

Blake Griffin: “A typical day, when I’m really into the full swing of things in the offseason, starts early in the morning because I don’t really sleep in. I wake up around 6:45 a.m. and I’m starting by 7:30 a.m. or sometimes 8:00 a.m. Every now and then, I do kind of a crazy week where I start my workouts at 6 a.m. just to kind of mix it up and make me concentrate a little bit more, taking me out of my comfort zone a little bit. I do that for a week once a month. But once I start with my trainer, we do a lot of corrective stuff early like balance, all of my stuff for my back and any type of little problems I have, we just work on correcting those things. Then, we move on to weights and then for conditioning we do like basically a heart rate training program. It’s kind of a more efficient way of training and doing cardio. We mix it up though. I did a lot of pool stuff this summer, a lot of swimming this summer, which I love. I did a lot of that two summers ago, so I got back into the pool a lot, did a lot of swimming, I’ll do some sand workouts and just kind of mix up the cardio just so I’m not constantly just doing the same thing – running on the treadmill or on the court. After weights, we do that, then I go straight into basketball and we’ll do ball-handling and then we do a lot post-up moves like hooks and things like that and then kind of work our way out. So that’s probably another hour and a half. I try not to be on the court for a ton of time. For me, it’s more about me doing everything [in] game speed and [taking] game shots rather than just catching and shooting and going through the motions. That’s about an hour and half and then a lot of times I mix in yoga. And this summer I really focused a lot on my body, just unloading just as much as I loaded. I’ll do a lot of yoga, do a lot of deep tissue stuff, a lot of stretching and things like that. I thought last summer I worked really hard, but I also didn’t do as good as job of taking care of my body from a deep tissue and stretching standpoint so I made that more of an emphasis this year. It’s a long time working, like five or six hours a day, but I see the difference now in the way my body feels. Going into training camp, I probably haven’t felt better so I’m excited about the work we put in this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: You guys were very active this summer, adding players like Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and others. What are your overall thoughts on the offseason additions?

Blake Griffin: “I’m very excited, man. Obviously with the whole DJ (DeAndre Jordan) thing – that was a priority bringing him back and everybody kind of knows about that – that kind of almost overshadowed all the other things we did. Adding Josh Smith to our bench is huge, adding Lance Stephenson, adding Paul Pierce with all of his his experience, I thought we did a really good job this summer of just putting a plan together of guys that we wanted and positions that we wanted and then going out and actually getting it done. I feel really good about our bench, but obviously, like every team, we have to put it together. But I’m excited, especially since the past of couple weeks we’ve started having more guys in [L.A.] and our team is starting to take a little shape just through our workouts and playing pick-up. I think this could be a special season for us.”

***

No. 1: Scott talks state of the Lakers The Los Angeles Lakers are entering what appears to be Kobe Bryant‘s final season, and aren’t expected to contend for a title anytime soon. But do they feel they’re on the right path to once again becoming one of the NBA’s dominant franchises? Bill Oram from the Orange County Register sat down with Lakers coach Byron Scott for a long Q&A that hits on many topics, from their offseason to Kobe’s future…

Q. You guys missed on some pretty high-profile guys in free agency. After everything settled, how do you feel about roster construction and where you guys are going into October?

A. I don’t look at the summer as a big disappointment, to be honest with you. We missed on a guy we were after, obviously, in LaMarcus (Aldridge, who signed with the Spurs). But to get Roy (Hibbert) and to get Lou Williams and to get Brandon Bass, I think (General Manager) Mitch (Kupchak) did a hell of a job of recovering and making it a summer that you kind of looked back and said, ‘Man, that’s a pretty good recovery.’ I’m happy with the roster we have. We’ve got competition it seems like at every position, which I think is going to be fun to watch in training camp. We’re still very, very young, with the exception, obviously, of (37-year-old) Kobe (Bryant), so I’m excited about that.

Q. When you talk about trying to establish a defensive identity, last year 29th in defense. Do you feel like the moves that were made are moving you closer to that, and getting a team that is in your mold?

A. I think so, I think obviously it starts with Big Roy, Jordan (Clarkson) being a year older, understanding our philosophy on what we need to do on the defensive end, Julius not playing at all last year but understanding what we want to do. So, yeah, I think it is starting to be molded in that direction of being a much better defensive team. We still have a long way to go. We have a lot to work on. And I think we’re probably ahead of schedule right now. These guys have been coming in every day, working out for the past six-to-eight weeks. So that’s something I’m very encouraged about. But from the defensive standpoint everybody that is here, they know how I am about that. They know how important that is to me and to us as a team for us to have any type of success.

Q. How big of a difference does having a defensive-minded center in the middle make?

A. I think first of all it’s a mentality. And I think Roy has shown that from Day One. When he’s out here, the No. 1 thing is he’s a great communicator, which is something we didn’t have on the back end of our defense last year. Our No.2, he has a reputation for protecting the rim, so he knows that’s his bread and butter. And No. 3, the one thing I saw so far with him is that guys are going in for layups the first day he was like, ‘No easy layups.’ And that’s something we didn’t do a good job of last year, is protecting the rim or giving up easy layups. So I think he’s bringing that mentality to our young guys and to the rest of the team and I think hat’s going to be huge for us.

Q. What decisions are you facing with Kobe?

A. I think the biggest decision is playing time, trying to make that as limited as possible and also back-to-back games. That’s something we have to talk about. Other than that, there really is no other decision to make. He wants to play, and he wants to go out the way he wants to go out — if this is indeed his final year. He and I have talked a number of times on the phone, we’ve talked about playing time, we’ve talked about back-to-back, we’re going to probably sit down as we get closer to training camp or as we get in training camp and even talk more about it. Because the one thing I want, if this is his last year, I want him to go out standing. I don’t want him to go out hurt. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make sure we stick to the game plan, as far as his minutes and as far as back-to-back games.

Q. What do you mean by as “limited as possible?”

A. I didn’t mean play as limited as possible. Obviously we want to keep him as efficient as possible, but I know he knows his body better than anybody. When we start talking about those minutes, I want to listen to him more than anything. I’m not going to go by what I think he can play like I did last year, I want to really go by what he thinks he can play. Then I want to make sure we stick to that.

Q. To what extent do you regret the way that decision was made last year? There was a lot made about you playing him more minutes than he thought he should play. Is that a burden for you? Do you feel some guilt?

A. I felt bad about it. I don’t know if I would say guilty. I know Kobe’s a competitor and he’s going to play as many minutes as you want him to play. I’m also a competitor, so I want to win and I know having him on the court gives me the best opportunity to win. But I also know that I’ve got to think about him more than anything. And I thought there were points in time last year where I thought he could play a certain amount of minutes. He told me Day One the minutes that he thought he could play in and like I told him at the end of the day, ‘You were absolutely right and I was wrong.’ I won’t make that mistake again.

Q. How do you avoid making that mistake again when it’s December and you guys are on a bad run and Kobe’s playing well and he seems to be OK? You don’t do it?

A. I don’t do it. Stick to my guns. This is what we talked about, this is what we felt would be the best way to use you and to make you the most efficient that you could be, I’m going to stick to it. Win or lose, I’m going to stick to it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Warriors consultant Jerry West says as far as he’s concerned, talent trumps numbers … Former Pistons great Bill Laimbeer was named WNBA Coach of the Year for a second time … Former Cleveland Cavaliers great Zydrunas Ilgauskas found a new part-time gig: high school assistant coach …The Knicks are hoping Sasha Vujacic can help teach the triangleHarrison Barnes reportedly has a new agent

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gentry can’t wait to team with Davis | A new era for the NBA | Copeland moving forward in Milwaukee | Cousins gets key

No. 1: Gentry can’t wait to team with Davis NBA coaches are only as good as the players on their rosters. Which is why new New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is so excited: He has the chance to coach Anthony Davis, who is one of the NBA’s best players and is only 22 years old. As Gentry explained to our own Ian Thomsen, Davis is one of the few “generational” players in NBA history …

Magic Johnson. Larry Bird. Michael Jordan. Tim Duncan. Shaquille O’Neal. Kobe Bryant. LeBron James.

The dream of every NBA coach, as Alvin Gentry sees it, is to partner with one of those exceptional stars.

“They really are generational players,” Gentry says. “Anthony is a generational player, I think. And he is 22 years old.”

Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, whom Gentry will be coaching next season, has already earned an NCAA championship in 2012 (with Kentucky) and an Olympic gold medal four months later, in addition to two All-Star invitations, one first-team All-NBA selection and a breakthrough playoff appearance last season with New Orleans.

Coaches can navigate the NBA for decades and never connect with someone like him. Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan, George Karl and Rick Adelman — each with more than 1,000 wins — have coached many great players, but never that one transcendent star who could win the championship.

“Anthony is right in that category, and there is a lot of responsibility that comes with that,” says Gentry. “It is up to us to make him as good as he can possibly be, and not settle for him to be less than great in this area or that area. I told him that I have no doubt that he is going to be an MVP in this league. And I said to him, ‘We are going to be really, really good if you also win Defensive Player of the Year.”’

It is one thing to dream of coaching Davis. It is another thing to know how to coach him — to bring the experience and energy and wisdom that are crucial to the job. How do you make the dream come true?

***

No. 2: A new era for the NBA It’s something many NBA fans have probably taken for granted over the years: We all see the schedule — 30 teams criss-crossing the hemisphere in order to play 41 home games and 41 road games — but did anyone really consider how that tangled web of scheduling came together year after year? As Howard Beck writes, for the last three decades, the job of scheduling the NBA belonged to NBA executive Matt Winick, who is “moving on” after forty years with the NBA, and taking with him an era when things were done differently

The memorabilia has been bubble-wrapped—the autographed Willis Reed print, the kitschy poster from the 1978 Finals. A brawny typewriter, the Royal 440, rests on the radiator. An NBA staff guide, dated 1975-76, peeks out from a shelf.

And on the desk sits a yellowed Rolodex, jammed with four decades of key NBA figures. But the real power rests beside the Rolodex.

That’s where the PC is. The one with the spreadsheet containing all those arena dates and television commitments and grudge matches. The one that dictates where every NBA team will play, and when.

For the last 30 years, Matt Winick has punched the keys on this PC (or one like it) and arranged all of those dates, color-coding for home games (blue) and away (red), agonizing over every six-game road trip and every back-to-back set, bracing for the complaints that were sure to follow.

“I tell the teams, ‘Hey, that’s the way the computer did it,'” Winick said from behind his desk. “But it was never the computer. I was the computer.”

Officially, Winick has carried the title of senior vice president, but he is best known as the NBA’s Scheduling Czar—a role he alone has held since 1985, a role he is now relinquishing for good.

The 75-year-old Winick, who first joined the NBA in 1976, is stepping down (not retiring, he insists) at the end of the month, taking with him four decades of memories, mementos and scheduling wisdom.

The spreadsheet has been bequeathed to Tom Carelli, the league’s senior vice president of broadcasting. Carelli’s team produced the recently released 2015-16 schedule, the first without Winick’s fingerprints since the 1984-85 season.

“I always described it as a jigsaw puzzle with 1,230 pieces”—one for every game—”and if one of them doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work,” Winick said. “All 1,230 pieces have to fit.”

***

No. 3: Copeland moving forward in Milwaukee A few months ago in New York City, then-Pacers forward Chris Copeland was stabbed outside a New York City nightclub, necessitating emergency surgery and ending Copeland’s season. Now Copeland is a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, and as our Steve Aschburner writes, Copeland is looking forward to getting back on the court and playing for coach Jason Kidd and one of the NBA’s most promising young teams…

This is a guy for whom there were no bread crumbs marking his path to the NBA, no dots to connect in cooperation with a friendly GM that would help him realize a dream. Copeland got cut twice overseas and moved through teams in Spain, Holland, Germany and Belgium before turning himself — with some intense coaching from TBB Trier’s Yves Defraigne in Germany — into a player worthy of a Knicks summer league invitation in 2012.

With his solid play there and in camp that fall, Copeland won a roster spot. It all has gone so fast since then — 147 NBA appearances, 1,955 minutes played, 349 field goals — that getting derailed or even stuck with a reputation for one wrong-place, wrong-time mistake would have been cruel.

Instead, Copeland has focused on the positive.

“If I didn’t go through cold showers overseas or stuff like that, I wouldn’t understand as much what it is, when I say it’s a blessing to be here,” he said. “It’s different when you actually have an experience on the other side.

“Everything else that’s happened that’s led me to this point, I’m thankful for. I just keep it as a positive in my head.”

Reuniting with Kidd, who Copeland played with in the final year of his Hall of Fame-bound career as rookie, is the positive now. He said he learned much from the veteran point guard, from how to care for his body to proper positioning on the court. What Kidd helped the Bucks accomplish last season, improving from 15 to 41 victories, was no surprise to their new “stretch four” option.

“I knew he’d be someone I’d want to play for,” Copeland said. “He’s been a great basketball mind. Playing with him, I got to see his leadership abilities. A lot of things he did as a player, he was almost coaching then. You can see it over the last two years he’s been a head coach, he knows what he’s doing.”

Copeland’s strength, deep-threat shooting from a big, never has been more in demand. And Milwaukee has been eager to add some after finishing 26th in 3-point attempts and 23rd in 3-point makes. Golden State won a championship with shooters spacing the floor, so the Bucks are among the many hoping to replicate the success.

“I think with the guys we have on this team — [Giannis] Antetokounmpo, Jabari [Parker] when he gets healthy — we can make their jobs easier,” Copeland said.

Copeland hit 42 percent of his 3-pointers in his first two seasons, then dropped to 31 percent in 2014-15. It was a dismal year all around, from Paul George‘s ghastly summer injury and absence, through Roy Hibbert‘s continuing funk, to the regrettable incident in April.

“I always count blessings, but I always look forward,” Copeland said, happy for the fresh start. “I count on my blessing always — I’ve been like that before, after and in-between. I thank God every day for my life and for being able to be here as an NBA player. But I don’t look backwards in any way.”

***

No. 4: Cousins gets key There’s been plenty of drama in Sacramento, but the one thing nobody is arguing is that center DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most talented young players in the NBA. This week Cousins returned home to Mobile, Alabama, where the mayor gave him the key to the city and Cousins discussed plans to help revitalize parts of his hometown

The 25-year-old Cousins was born and raised in Mobile and this weekend he returned to hold a free youth basketball camp with free eye exams from VSP Vision. He held the same type of camp in Sacramento back in June.

“Teaming up with VSP is helping kids in Sacramento and Mobile see better and provides them with opportunities they may not otherwise receive,” Cousins said. “Having good vision is critical both on and off the court.”

Mayor Stimpson and Cousins spent two hours touring parts of the city on Friday. Part of Cousins visit was to share his vision of revitalizing Michael Figures Park in his old neighborhood.

The park has become dilapidated and over-run with graffiti, and it no longer serves a purpose for youth within the community.

Cousins, who played at LaFlore High School, is hoping to partner with the city to give the park a makeover. He wants to clean it up and add a new playground, as well as revitalize the basketball court, where currently one hoop is missing from the run-down court. He envisions turning the inner city park into something that would resemble New York’s Rucker Park.

The vision of the park restoration project is just the first of many that Cousins has planned for Mobile.

Also included of the hometown tour was a stop-off at Pritchard Prepatory, a charter school for elementary students. Cousins and the Mayor stopped in classrooms to visit with children and pose for pictures.

“Me growing up, I wish I would have had a chance to interact with an NBA player,” Cousins said. “This is just my way of giving back to them.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant joined Taylor Swift on stage at the Staples Center last night to present her with a “championship” banner … Michael Jordan won a lawsuit against a supermarket chain that used his likeness without permission … Tyrus Thomas is training for an NBA comeback … The Sacramento Kings will celebrate several #FlashbackFridays this season by bringing back their old baby blue uniforms