Posts Tagged ‘Russell Westbrook’

Morning shootaround — July 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Early reviews of Saric | Free-agent impact around NBA | Buddy Hield is ready to go

No. 1: Early reviews of Saric — It will likely be a while before anyone gets a handle on the most mysterious rookie of the 2016-17 season. That’s because Dario Saric is two years “late” coming to the Sixers and played out of sight of most NBA fans in Europe. All we know is he’s a fluid big man who brings hope to a Philly team that suddenly is stockpiling young talent. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News took a sampling of scouts’ take and here’s what he compiled:

Acquired on draft night in 2014 when the Sixers selected Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, then traded him for Saric, who was selected by Orlando at No. 12, Saric played two seasons for Anadolu Efes in Turkey, as anticipation of his arrival to Philadelphia rose with each passing season. It really didn’t seem to matter what type of player he was or whether his game could translate to the NBA. He was someone former general manager Sam Hinkie had acquired – along with a first-round pick from Orlando – and the faithful couldn’t wait for his arrival.

The wait is over: It appears his signing is imminent, as he arrived Thursday afternoon to meet with president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.

Sometimes, the anticipation is better than the event. Could that be the case with Saric, or might he turn out to be a big piece of this process moving forward? Fans who haven’t seen Saric will get to during the Olympics. He led Croatia to a win over Italy in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament last weekend by posting 18 points and 13 rebounds, garnering him MVP honors. He is a Philly player through and through, with plenty of toughness in his game that undoubtedly will make him a fan favorite.

But to look deeper into how he might fit into the NBA, I talked to numerous people who have seen him play since he became property of the Sixers. There are mixed reviews on just how good he will be in the league and how he might fit with the Sixers’ roster.

“I don’t see it,” said one executive. “To me, he’s a below-the-rim player who is going to be way behind, as far as speed and quickness. His shot isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good enough for defenses to really respect it yet. So to begin with, they’ll be playing him to get to the basket. Once he does that, he’s looking to draw contact more than anything else.

“He does have good passing skills. He’s a capable ballhandler where he was, but I’m not sure that he’ll be quick enough in the NBA to do what he wants when he gets the ball in his hands.”

Another executive saw it much differently: “He has great handle for his size, is a solid to good rebounder, is a special passer, is tough and is a winner.”

When broken down from the handful of people who have watched Saric in person, here is the kind of player the Sixers appear to be getting:

Offensively

There is little doubt Saric’s best offensive ability is passing the basketball. Like Ben Simmons, he can grab a rebound, start a break and hit long outlet passes, throwing bounce passes when necessary and hard chest passes at other times. He has a flare to his passing game, also; the no-look, over-the-shoulder pass seems to be a favorite. Oftentimes, his good ballhandling skills will get him to where he needs to be to make the pass. When standing on a wing, he often will send a soft, quick touch pass into the post when the ball comes his way.

One characteristic Philly fans will love about Saric is the physicality he brings at both ends of the floor. In that previous game against Italy, his team basically gave him the ball, put four guys down on the baseline and let him go to work. He got to the lane and, more times than not, was able to draw contact.

Defensively

This is where Saric’s struggles will begin right away. As one scout said, “He’ll be way better at the offensive end than he will be at the defensive end, where he could be a liability.”

The reasoning is twofold. One is his lack of speed and quickness. The other is that he’s not very long. He’ll have to play power forwards on defense because he simply doesn’t have the speed to chase small forwards. He is a very physical player, and the thought is that when he is getting beaten by speed, he will look to slow down opponents with contact, which could lead to a lot of fouls – especially as a rookie.

The plus side is that Saric possesses a strong basketball IQ, which leads many to think he will be able to overcome deficiencies with his mind and translate it to his style of play.

His best asset at the defensive end could wind up being rebounding. If he can rebound on the move defensively and start a break, whether himself or by getting the ball out to the likes of Simmons, that is where Saric could be at his finest.

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No. 2: Impact of NBA free agents for 2016-17 — The free-agent spending spree is nearly over and, billions later, we don’t know the scope of the impact and what’s in store for the immediate and distant future. Trying to make sense of it all is Bobby Marks of The Vertical; the former league executive takes a educated look at the decisions made and the ramifications that could and should follow:

ROSTER TURNOVER
One of the goals of the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2011 was to incentivize teams to retain their current free agents by allowing them to add extra years along with percentage salary increases.

Although player movement certainly occurs every summer, the cap rising to $94 million eliminated the incentive for players to remain with their own team as more than 70 percent of players switched franchises.

Had the players association agreed to the NBA proposed cap smoothing and not for the cap to jump from $70 million to $94 million, Kevin Durant likely would have remained with the Thunder.

THE $100 MILLION DOLLAR CLUB
The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets sent shock waves through the NBA with their $100 million-plus payroll.

Fast-forward three years and now there are 10 teams with $100 million payrolls with five more hovering north of $95 million.

The new TV money will certainly off-set player salaries in the future, but the financial picture of the NBA, with 15-man rosters, now looks more like the NFL’s with 53-man rosters.

LUXURY TAX BECOMES A NON-FACTOR
The days of the Cavaliers’ $54 million tax bill this past season and the Nets’ $90 million one in 2013-14 are long gone.

The rise in the cap, for at least one year, has eliminated the luxury tax that teams such as the Miami Heat once feared.

A major sticking point in the 2011 work stoppage was for the NBA to implement a progressive luxury tax that would penalize teams for overspending along with creating rules that would hinder player movement for tax teams.

Since going into effect in the 2013-14 season, the NBA has collected over $300 million in luxury tax with 50 percent of that amount distributed to teams that fell below the tax threshold.

Although teams such as the Clippers and Cavaliers, repeat offenders from last season, hover around the $113 million tax threshold, the rest of the NBA has little to worry about.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS STAYING PUT
Although the cap jumped $24 million from the previous season, restricted free agents continued the path of past summers and remained with their teams.

Even the large offer sheets the Nets agreed upon with Miami’s Tyler Johnson and Portland’s Allen Crabbe were matched.

The rise in the cap certainly played a role in the salary amounts each player agreed upon and could have lasting financial repercussions for Miami and Portland.

ROOKIE SCALE EXTENDED
From a headline perspective, a player drafted in the first round certainly has appeal. Along with the label of being a first-round pick also comes two years of guaranteed money.

The additional cap relief teams received this summer however unofficially extended the rookie scale into the second round.

Out of the nine second-round picks currently signed, eight mirror the rookie scale of a first-round selection.

Although there is no scale for players selected in the second round, teams have taken advantage of the additional cap space to lock up players to cap-friendly contracts.

Grizzlies second-round pick Deyonta Davis, for example, signed a three-year, $4 million contract that is similar to one signed by a first-rounder selected in the early twenties of the draft.

THE IMPACT ON THE 2017 FREE AGENTS
The excessive spending this summer will have an impact with the excellent free-agent class next summer.

The field of 27 teams with $20 million-plus in cap space this past summer could be sliced in half by the time next July rolls around.

Even with the cap rising from $94 million to a projected $102 million, early projections forecast only 12 teams having $15 million-plus in cap room.

With unrestricted free agents LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, JJ Redick and Derrick Rose set to hit the open market, free agents could be remaining with their own teams.

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No. 3: Buddy Hield is ready to go — Take Summer League for whatever it’s worth; the Pelicans aren’t sweating the inconsistent shooting of their top draft pick, Buddy Hield. There’s simply too much at stake for a franchise that’s trying to put important pieces around Anthony Davis to worry about 5-for-20 shooting in July; that was Hield’s first game. He has settled down somewhat since then, and the Pelicans love his aggressiveness. Here’s Justin Verrier of ESPN.com on the former Oklahoma star:

“Our message to Buddy all year was, ‘Don’t change, don’t change,'” said Lon Kruger, the Sooners’ head coach, in a phone interview. “When you start getting those national accolades and recognition and player of the year conversations, don’t change, don’t change.

“Even when he received the awards, we said don’t change anything. When you get drafted, don’t change anything. You’ve got something unique and special as a personality. When you get to the NBA, don’t change anything.”

Such a player would seem like an easy fit in a league trying to cash in on an everyman capable of superhuman shot-making. Like Stephen Curry, Buddy enters his pro career with a ready-made persona, a backlog of big-game highlights — including besting a “Mini-LeBron” in Ben Simmons with the almighty 3 — and the ability to walk the line between charm and confidence. He’s a supremely gifted athlete who also pulled himself up by the boot straps.

He’s your buddy, but he’s also an on-court killer who idolizes — and now shares an agent with — Kobe Bryant.

“The qualities Buddy has are the ones you’d want everyone to have,” Kruger said. “What I think balances it is sincerity and maybe the work ethic. His peers like him, the coaches like him, the administration likes him, the people in town like him. It’s not like he flaunts anything. It’s not like he gives off that he’s entitled. It’s not like he’s expecting anything back. Buddy’s a giver. Which is pretty rare when you think of a player with those abilities.”

The Buddy brand also comes complete with three self-given alter egos: “Buddy Fresh,” which he’s prone to belt out to spark self-motivation; “Buddy Love,” which is “for the ladies,” as he recently told The Starters; and “Buddy Buckets,” which on draft day lined his suit jacket in Bahaman colors.

“I’ve got good branding skills,” he said with a smirk. “Attracts the crowd a lot too.”

Even “Buddy” is an alias. His mother, in what is now Hield lore, saw a likeness between her infant son and the character Bud Bundy from “Married … with Children,” and so his given name Chavano became Buddy.

Those who know him well agree it fits.

“He’s always had that swag,” said Sacramento Kings rookie Isaiah Cousins, Hield’s former roommate at Oklahoma. “It’s just a part of his culture.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: How much can the loaded Warriors fetch from ads on jerseys? Early estimates have $15 million a season … Dwyane Wade said he has worn Bulls gear every day since signing.

Morning shootaround — July 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Iguodala says OKC should have won title | Lakers’ Nance Jr. injures handConley builds a legacy in Memphis

No. 1: Iguodala says Thunder should have won 2016 title — It will likely be a long time before any NBA fan forgets the epic seven-game series the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder waged in the Western Conference finals. From the storylines to the impact the Warriors’ rally to win the series had on both franchises, this playoff matchup will live on in NBA lore for years. One of the key performers in that series, Golden State forward Andre Iguodala, had some praise for the Thunder after the Warriors’ loss in The Finals has settled. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more on what Iguodala told Power 105.1 radio in New York:

More than a week later, Kevin Durant‘s stunning departure still stings Thunder fans for a variety of reasons. Andre Iguodala just added another one.

Appearing on a recent New York City radio show, Iguodala told the hosts that the Thunder, not the 73-win Warriors or NBA champion Cavaliers, was the best team in the playoffs and should’ve won the title.

Quite infamously, OKC blew a 3-1 series lead and a double-digit second half cushion in Game 6, melting away its title hopes to the same Warriors who snagged away the face of the franchise a month later.

“Now that we got KD, I can say it: They were the best team last year in the league in the playoffs,” Iguodala said. “They were better than us. They were better than Cleveland. They were the best team in the playoffs. They should’ve won a championship.”

Why didn’t they?

“I mean, we just hawked them down,” Iguodala said. “But they were better than us. They played us better than anyone. They played us better than Cleveland. Some of the stuff they was doing, it’s like…oh, man. We gotta play perfect.”

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Blogtable: More surprising move — Durant to Warriors or Wade to Bulls?

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: More surprising move: Durant’s or Wade’s? | Your lasting memory of Duncan? | Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?


> More surprising move: Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder to join the Warriors, or Dwyane Wade leaving the Heat to join the Bulls?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Wade leaving Miami after 13 years was the bigger surprise. Durant’s decision wasn’t entirely unexpected (although I was in the majority of folks who thought he would re-up with OKC on a short-term deal). But Wade taking his business with the Heat into the street struck me as a leverage ploy rather than an actual disintegrating relationship with Pat Riley & Co. Given the Bulls’ slide toward irrelevancy before they landed him, it makes sense that Chicago provided a comfortable landing spot for Wade and gave him the Kobe Bryant Golden Parachute contract for all he’d done … for a rival team?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Wade to Chicago, for sure. Because it just doesn’t make sense. I’m not talking about leaving Miami or anything to do with his legacy. I just don’t know what the hell they’re doing in Chicago and don’t see how this move makes the Bulls better. First time Wade’s legs act up, all the homecoming good feeling goes right out the window.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat. Durant’s move is more rim shaking for the league, but was an option all along, even if what seemed to be a slight one at times. Wade taking a one-way ticket out of South Florida never seemed like a real possibility, though, maybe because he had been there about as long as the Everglades and maybe because there had been previous July staring contests with the Heat and everything worked out. They needed him there and he wanted to be there. The same thing would happen this time, right? Wrong.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat isn’t as seismic as Duncan leaving the Spurs prior to retirement, but close. Few players identified more with a city than Wade with Miami, and I’ll even say Wade, three titles later, is the No. 1 athlete in South Florida history, ahead of former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. But he did the Heat a favor. Pat Riley didn’t want to tie up three years on an aging star. Riley’s allegiance is to owner Micky Arison, the guy who signs the checks, not Wade. So there are no bad guys here. Riley did what he had to do while Wade looked out for himself, even if he left Miami for just $3 million, the difference of his 2-year deal with Chicago and what Miami offered (no taxes in Florida).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As shocking as Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State might seem to some, the rumors of the two sides eying each other in free agency cranked up last summer. Dwayne Wade leaving the Miami Heat for his hometown Chicago Bulls was much more surprising, especially when you consider his final season in a Heat uniform. Wade was fantastic, vintage Wade even, as he guided the beat down Heat to the Eastern Conference semifinals. It’s hard to imagine either side wanting things to end the way it did. He’s one of those players you figured would finish his career with one team, a practice of yesteryear it appears in today’s free agent climate.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I always, always thought Wade would remain in Miami — that both sides would see the bigger picture and come to yet another contractual understanding for one another’s benefit. But it’s less and less that kind of world anymore. Which really puts Tim Duncan’s career with the Spurs into perspective.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Wade to Chicago. While I suspected Durant was likely to stay in Oklahoma City and was rather surprised to hear he was leaving, I don’t think most people even believed a Wade departure was anywhere near the table. In many ways, Wade *is* the Miami Heat, and his departure over a few million dollars is shocking. The Thunder haven’t even been in Oklahoma City all that long, but the Heat and Wade have won titles and made real history together in South Florida, a relationship which is now literally history.

Oladipo ready for new start in OKC

VIDEO: Meet Victor Oladipo

ORLANDO — Victor Oladipo was back in a familiar place among familiar faces, exchanging handshakes and hugs inside the Magic’s practice gym.

But three years after arriving as a key part of a youth movement with an eye on the future in Orlando, he’s packing up for a new location and a completely different attitude. It’s win-now in Oklahoma City.

A little more than a week since the draft night deal that sent the 6-4 guard to the Thunder, he’s still adjusting to the idea.

“I’ve dreamed about that stage, you know?” Oladipo said at the Orlando Pro Summer League. “Dreamed about the opportunity to be on that type of stage and have that opportunity to compete for a championship, and now I have that opportunity. So I’ve got to take full advantage of it.”

Since the Magic made him the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, Oladipo was named to the All-Rookie first team in 2014 and has averaged 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists. But none of the 224 NBA games he’s got under his belt have come in the playoffs and that is expected to change.

“It’s kind of funny from going from one extreme to another,” Oladipo said. “But it’s pretty cool. It’s all a blessing, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life. It was shock at first. But once it settled in I got really excited, really fast.”

Oladipo was on a plane enroute to Los Angeles to take part in Chris Paul’s basketball camp when the deal went down on June 23 and by the time he was back on the ground, his mailbox was full of phone messages, including one from his new teammate Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook sent out a Snapchat right after the deal was made public that said: “It’s curtains.”

“He reached out to me five minutes after the trade happened,” Oladipo said. “He’s excited. I don’t know if he’s as excited as I am. He just asked me if I was ready and asked me if I’m excited. I told him I’m ready. And I’m excited. It’s gonna be fun, man. Just can’t wait to put on that uniform and compete.”

An interesting part of the trade is the Magic were looking to abandon their youth movement and wanted to add the veteran presence and inside defense of Serge Ibaka after failing year after year to make the playoffs in their rebuilding process. It gave OKC an opportunity to pluck the still young Oladipo to put him in the backcourt with Westbrook.

The potential for combustion at both ends of the court is great. Westbrook is unique as basketball’s most athletic, off-the-charts dynamite stick of a point guard. Now the Thunder can pair him with the quick Oladipo at shooting guard to form a backcourt that could be positively explosive.

“It’s going to be fun to watch,” Oladipo said. “It definitely is going to be fun to play with him. We are similar in mentality. So it’s going to be very interesting to see how that works out.”

As word of the trade spread, Oladipo began sending out text messages to his friends with emojis of rings.

“Because that’s what my goal is,” he said. “To help this team win a championship. It’s like going from one extreme to another. Being part of something bigger than yourself.”

OKC’s Payne learning new steps

ORLANDO — For most of the Thunder’s playoff run to the Western Conference finals last season, Cameron Payne’s highest profile role was as partner for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the starters in regular pre-game dance routines as the lineups were announced.

But in the opener of the Orlando Pro Summer League on Saturday, Payne was in the spotlight for more than just fancy footwork, sinking in a 3-pointer from the left wing with 3.6 seconds left in the game to give OKC an 86-85 win over Dallas.

In 31 minutes, Payne shot 6-for-14 and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

“I haven’t done that, played so many minutes, in a long time,” Payne said. “It just feels good to get out there and play.”

The No. 14 pick in the 2015 draft, Payne missed the summer league a year ago due a fractured right hand and had to hit his rookie season on the run.

“I definitely wanted to play last year,” Payne said. “But I’m a lot more prepared. I know how the game works. I know how the game goes in the NBA.”

The 6-foot-3 guard averaged five points, 1.9 assists and 1.5 rebounds while playing 12.2 minutes per game for the Thunder.

He played often Saturday in tandem with fellow point guard Semaj Christon, spending time off the ball, which will obviously be a necessity to get more minutes in an OKC lineup with Westbrook.

“That (point) role for the Oklahoma City Thunder is a short role if you can’t play off the ball a little bit too,” said Thunder summer league coach Mark Daigneault, who also coaches the OKC D-League team. “That’s something that we’ve talked to him about. It’s definitely something that translates.”

In addition to continue adding weight and muscle to his slender frame, the Thunder have set goals for the summer league.

“Getting to the paint. Being athletic,” Payne said. “I feel like I do a pretty good job getting my teammates involved. I need to do better just seeing the floor. The main thing is I got to be able to play defense. I’m the nose of the defense, so I’ve got to be out there talking and playing physical. I also need to be vocal. I need to be a leader on and off the court.”

Much of Payne’s progress has come from simply being around the All-Star Westbrook and learning by watching and playing against him in practice.

“Choose when to do and when not to do things,” Payne said. “Like when to go, how to manage the game, how to read the shot clock, the game clock. It’s even knowing the foul count, knowing that you can get a little easy, quick foul to get you to the line. It’s all those little things that he’s helped me with.”

Thunder trade Ibaka to Magic in four-player deal

VIDEO: Proposed Thunder-Magic deal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In something of a Draft-night stunner, the Oklahoma City Thunder will part ways with Serge Ibaka in a trade with the Orlando Magic that will send Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis, the 11th pick in Thursday night’s Draft.

The deal was first reported by The Vertical.

Ibaka was a core member of a Thunder team headlined by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Ibaka served as the defensive anchor for the Thunder early on in his career before ceding that role to Steven Adams in the past two seasons. Moving Ibaka comes at an odd time, with Durant set to become a free agent July 1.

Ibaka immediately joins Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon in a Orlando frontcourt that should be a team strength under new coach Frank Vogel.

Oladipo gives the Thunder another young wing player to add to their rotation, a shooting guard who can play both ends of the floor at a high level. Ilyasova is a veteran floor spacing forward and Sabonis, the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, is a rugged big man who starred in college at Gonzaga.

 

Morning shootaround — June 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: LeBron leaning toward skipping Olympics | Durant to play in 2016 Games | Pippen, Rodman maintain ’96 Bulls are best team ever | Thompson, Green likely in for Olympics

No. 1: Report: LeBron leaning toward skipping Olympics — What a season it has been for LeBron James. The Cleveland Cavaliers star is fresh off perhaps the biggest win of his career after guiding the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title on Monday. Understandably, the reigning Finals MVP is a bit tired and according to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix, James may not take part in the 2016 Olympics in Rio:

In the aftermath of a grueling NBA Finals, LeBron James is leaning toward not competing at the Olympics in Rio this summer, league sources told The Vertical.

While James has not informed USA Basketball of his decision, team officials are operating with the expectation that it is unlikely James will be part of the team.

James, 31, has been a member of USA Basketball since 2004. He is one of three players – along with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony – to be part of three men’s Olympic teams and has been integral to the United State’s resurgence as a basketball super power.

James will likely join a growing list of notable players electing not to play in Rio this summer. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry withdrew earlier this month. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge have also chosen not to play.

Morning shootaround — June 4





NEWS OF THE MORNING
It’s all in Thunder’s heads | K.D. looms over champs | Cavs have need for speed | Can Porzingis be tops? | Kings deflated


No. 1:
Westbrook says Thunder need mental toughness — All through the playoffs we saw what the Thunder could do with their extraordinary length and athleticism and speed and ability to dominate on the glass. But after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, All-Star guard Russell Westbrook says that for OKC to be able to take the next step to winning a championship they have to get stronger in that one other key area — their heads. Westbrook made those observations to Berry Trammel and Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

“Mental toughness,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten very, very well at that point, but I think to make the next step, we have to constantly do that throughout the whole season, not just late in the playoffs, because I thought we turned the page when it got to this time of year, but I think if we constantly keep that from start to finish, it makes it easier for us in certain situations.”

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No. 2: Durant is on minds of Warriors — That might be LeBron James and the Cavaliers standings squarely in front of them. But the fact is that the specter of Kevin Durant’s free agency is something on the minds of the Warriors even as they bid for a second consecutive championship. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper caught up with several key figures who admitted that K.D. looms in the Golden State locker room:

“Guys have definitely asked questions,” center Andrew Bogut told NBA.com. “We’re not immune to it. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen the rumors, heard the rumors, all that kind of stuff. Different guys at different times have been scratching their head and thinking, ‘Why?’ The only way we can dispel all that stuff is maybe we’ve got to win five straight. Who knows? It’s one of those things we can’t really control, but we can control trying to make them make a tough decision.”

It clearly hasn’t been a problem that’s reached the level of distraction — again, check the Warriors’ recent resume — but the potential of a major roster jolt to the best team in the league, even for Durant, has been on players’ minds.

“Guys obviously ask questions at certain times,” Bogut said. “We’ve had two good years. Guys definitely find it interesting. But we understand that it’s a business and you’re not going to be able to stop. If an owner or a GM wants to do something, they’re going to do it.”

***

No. 3: Lue tells LeBron to pick up the pace — After scoring a playoff-low 89 points in Game 1 of The Finals and showing an offense that was stagnant and ineffective, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue had a simple solution after reviewing the game film. He told LeBron James to pick up the pace, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

“I just told LeBron I need him to play faster,” Lue said Friday. “I need him to pick up the pace for us offensively, getting the ball out and just beginning to play faster.”

James put up a strong stat line with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in Thursday’s Game 1. But the Cavs scored only 89 points, and their offense lacked the flow that saw them rip through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 12-2 record. The Warriors slowed them with their ability to switch defenders and force the Cavs into deliberate isolation sets. Twice in the first half the Cavs were called for 24-second violations, which is rare for them.

Lue’s message was reminiscent of January, when his first order of business when taking over the coaching job from David Blatt was to make a point of the Cavs’ need to put their foot on the gas. It contributed to the Cavs turning into the No. 1 offense in the league in terms of efficiency over the last two months of the season.
“They make you stagnant and make you play one-on-one basketball because that’s all you can get,” Lue said. “So if we pick up the pace and play with a faster tempo offensively, I think we’ll be fine.”

***

No. 4: Hornacek says Porzingis could be NBA best — Do you think Jeff Hornacek knows how to drum up headlines on the back pages of the New York tabloids? On his first official day on the job as the new boss of the Knicks, Hornacek is saying that second-year forward Kristaps Porzingis can be a top-five player and maybe the best in the league, according to Ohm Youngmisuk and Ian Begley of ESPN.com:

“His ceiling -– wow,” Hornacek said after his introductory news conference when asked about Porzingis’ potential. “I don’t want to put pressure on the kid, but let’s face it: At that size and his skills and his abilities — why can’t he be a top-five player in this league?

“Why can’t he be the best player in this league? He’ll continue to grow over these years. He’s 20 years old. He’s got a lot of things he’ll learn just from experience, and I’m sure five to six years from now you’ll be saying, ‘Look how good this kid is.’ He’s already good.”

***

No. 5: Non-firing of Karl finished Kings season — Ever since they lost to the Lakers in the playoffs way back in the early part of the last decade, it’s never been a good time to be a member of the Kings. But when the rumors of coach George Karl being fired before the All-Star break didn’t come to pass, things hit a new low in the locker room. That’s what veteran Caron Butler told the gang on ESPN’s First Take, as related by James Herbert of CBSsports.com

“As players, from All-Star break and everything, I mean, as far as we knew, he was fired,” Butler said. “We’re in Philadelphia a game before All-Star break and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘You’re not moving [on], I’m coming back.’ It was deflating to the locker room, it was deflating to the guys, and we tried to move forward and tried to do the best that we possibly could. But that was deflating to the team, it was a big blow and it was tough to move forward.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Even the Cavaliers felt ripped off by the price of tickets to see them lose Game 1 in Oakland… Charles Barkley says he’ll own up to being wrong if the Warriors win title again…Gordon Gund is selling his 15 percent share of the Cavaliers to Dan Gilbert…A young LeBron James was amazed by Muhammad Ali…Ex-teammate Anderson Varejao says Matthew Dellavedova needs to do those things to stay in the NBA...David Blatt is back as a head coach in Istanbul, Turkey…Who you gonna call?

Morning shootaround — June 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Health, experience key in 2016 Finals | Curry: ‘Face of NBA’ talk ‘annoying’ | Report: Knicks to hire Hornacek | Durant’s teammates await his decision

No. 1: Health, experience at center of these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rolled into The 2015 NBA Finals without power forward Kevin Love (shoulder) and only had star guard Kyrie Irving for one game before he suffered a series-ending knee injury. The Golden State Warriors entered The 2015 NBA Finals healthy, but green in terms of experience on the big stage. Oh, but how those storylines have changed as Game 1 of The 2016 NBA Finals (9 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle details how wellness and familiarity will be key in this Finals rematch:

“We’re a better team than we were last year, based on experience and what we’ve been through,” Stephen Curry said. “We’re better equipped to handle the scene of the Finals — all of that is kind of thrown at you when you get to the Finals the first time. Obviously, they have some guys healthy, and they’re playing really good basketball, rolling through the Eastern Conference.”

On the periphery, this looks like a rematch of last year’s Finals, which the Warriors won in six games to bring home a title for the first time in 40 years. But the Warriors and Cavaliers are far different teams than the ones that arrived at Oracle Arena a year ago.

The Warriors are champions, a team that felt that target on its back all season and extraordinarily dodged the arrows to complete the best regular season in NBA history.

They went into last season’s NBA Finals with no players who had been there and only one who had advanced as far as the conference finals. This season, they have 13 men with rings.

“I think we’re much better,” Klay Thompson said. “I think we know what to expect on this stage. I don’t think anyone is going to be nervous, like we were last year. Now, we know to expect that shots can be a little harder to come by and fouls can be a little harder.”

The Cavaliers are healthy again.

Point guard Kyrie Irving, who left Game 1 of last year’s Finals with a fractured kneecap, has been unstoppable at getting to the rim this postseason. Kevin Love, who was lost early in last year’s playoffs to a dislocated shoulder, has nine postseason double-doubles this year.

Cleveland made an under-the-radar acquisition of Channing Frye near the trade deadline, and the 6-foot-11 center has a playoff-best 82.1 true-shooting percentage — a number that includes free-throw shooting and both three-point and two-point field-goal shooting.

“I think they’re dramatically different,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of the Cavs. “Obviously, they’re healthy, but not only are they healthy, they also changed their style. They tried to grind us to pulp last year, playing big. They were slowing the ball and the pace down. This year, they’ve added Channing Frye, and they’re not playing Timofey Mozgov. They’ve got shooting all over the place, so it’s a much different team.”

The Warriors are going to have to adjust, but Kerr wasn’t ready to reveal his plan just yet: “I won’t tell you what I’m going to do.”

Cleveland (12-2 this postseason) has outscored its opponents by 177 points in the first three rounds and opened by winning its first 10 games, the first East team to accomplish the feat.

That should be the narrative of the Finals, but this is a player-driven league, so it’ll come down to Stephen Curry against LeBron James — players who rarely will guard each other.

“I’m not in the business of ranking or debating who’s what,” Curry said. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning. The fact that we won the championship last year and were the last team standing obviously is what was most important to me. Us being back here against the Cavs again, there are obviously story lines that the basketball fans will think are pretty cool.”

Blogtable: What’s next for Oklahoma City Thunder and for Kevin Durant?

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: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> So what now for free agent Kevin Durant? And what now for the Thunder?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: You’d be crazy to guess at this point, but the trend lines seem to be going in Oklahoma City’s favor, at least for one more year. As detailed in the Morning Tip on Monday, if Durant signs a two-year deal this summer with the Thunder with a one-year out, he’d set himself up for a potential five-year contract with OKC in the summer of 2017 for more than $200 million. Now, money isn’t the only thing driving Durant’s decision making, of course (and especially given the $250-plus million he’s already banking from Nike), but that’s not a sum you dismiss out of hand. More importantly, OKC’s rapid development the second half of the season and in the playoffs surely gives the Thunder more than a fighting chance of keeping its superstar. Coach Billy Donovan was more than comfortable matching Xs and Os with top-shelf coaches. Steven Adams went Beast Mode on opponents. Andre Roberson carried his weight offensively against the San Antono Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Serge Ibaka again asserted himself as a defensive force and Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter gave the Thunder one of the league’s best benches. And, oh yeah, Russell Westbrook was Russell Westbrook. So, if you’re Durant, and you already like living someplace where people basically leave you be, and your team showed itself a legit title contender…where can you go that’s better? The Los Angeles Clippers’ core is older and the Miami Heat’s future is uncertain with Chris Bosh‘s health concerns. The Spurs already have an All-Star small forward in Kawhi Leonard. OKC already had the power of incumbency. After its playoff run, I’d put its chances at retaining Durant at 3-1.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Kevin Durant is interested in pursuing a championship, he should stay right where he’s at. That team has the talent and depth to contend again next season, and the Thunder surely can find ways to complement Durant and Russell Westbrook‘s firepower in a more balanced attack. Durant won’t find a more committed organization or adoring fan base, either. Now if it’s lifestyle he’s seeking, then fine, go live and work where you want to, the way 99 percent of America’s workforce does it — or could, if people really looked at their options. I don’t think he can get much more famous or ever spend any difference in off-court income that a bigger market might provide, but that would be Durant’s choice. For theatre, it would be fun to see Durant land on one of about a dozen different rosters, just to feel the NBA landscape shift. But for sheer balling, OKC seems to suit Durant fine. And vice versa.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Thunder simply wait on Durant. They don’t campaign or twist his arm or send him love letters. They just wait for Durant to reach the conclusion — and he might already be there — that there is no better place for him than Oklahoma City, where he is appreciated, adored and, most importantly, has the pieces already on hand to come right back next season and make another championship run. Where does he find another Russell Westbrook to be his sidekick? Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson all are the real thing. And coach Billy Donovan showed he has the chops. Does Durant sign a long-term deal in July or take the LeBron James one-year option and cash in even bigger next season? That’s for him to figure out. But one way or another, I believe he stays in OKC. For good.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Nothing’s changed. Durant comes back for one season plus an option and goes through free agency for real in the summer of 2017. That has been my belief since before the playoff started, and nothing that happened in the postseason alters the opinion. There are a ton of reasons to stay in OKC well beyond 2016-17. He knows it and does not take the positives there for granted. What now for the Thunder? Respond to the ache of that elimination. How it changes them, if at all, will be one of the early storylines to watch for next season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Summer of Durant will fall flatter than OKC did late in Game 6 when Durant decides to return to OKC for at least another year. So much for drama. That’s the safe route, one that leaves him an out, if he so wishes to use it in 2017 when Russell Westbrook‘s deal is up. Meanwhile, OKC will be OK, provided the Thunder find a shooter (and he isn’t Dion Waiters, either). Folks need to calm down about this team. OKC beat a 67-win San Antonio Spurs team and took the 73-win Golden State Warriors to the brink. No shame in that, even if they were up 3-1.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLogic says that he should sign a two-year deal with the Thunder that gives him the option to be a free agent again next summer, when the max salary is projected to be higher than it is this year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs a long-term deal to remain in Oklahoma City. I would be surprised if he leaves after coming so close to a return to The Finals. The Thunder don’t need much to get over the hump. It would help to have a wing who can both shoot and defend at a high level.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kevin Durant knew the day would come when he could no longer duck the free agency questions. Yet he still found a way to do so even in the moments after the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their collapse in the Western Conference finals. He insisted that he hadn’t given free agency a thought. Sure. Just go ahead and sign the two-year deal with the player option for the second season so we can get not to the free agents that might actually be in play for all of these teams with cap space to use up. The Thunder have no choice but to wait Durant out and see what his final decision will be. They’re clearly closer to championship level right now that many of us thought prior to their playoff run. So they should feel much better about a future that includes Durant.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Doesn’t Durant have to return for at least one more year? Midway through the conference finals he and Russell Westbrook were playing the best basketball of their careers. It makes no sense to give up on their longterm investment when it is so close to paying off.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI’ve seen numerous people say that if Kevin Durant wants his best chance at winning a title, he would leave OKC and go to the Eastern Conference. Which I don’t think is correct. To get to The Finals in the East you have to go through LeBron James, and that is one heckuva roadblock. To me, as we just saw, as presently constructed the Thunder are nearly good enough to get to The Finals. So I think KD stays, at least for a year. Although, I feel like the Thunder are still one rotation player away, some sort of swingman type who can score when needed and reduce the land on KD/Westbrook. (An interesting name who might be motivated to make a fit work? How about Carmelo Anthony?) They just need one more contributor. For so long the Thunder had Derek Fisher as their off guard in crunch time, and this year they made a reach for Randy Foye who they couldn’t really use in crunch time. Making this an even tougher situation is that they don’t have time to develop a young player — this a team needs to win now. Good luck balancing all of that, Thunder GM Sam Presti.