Posts Tagged ‘Scott Howard Cooper’

Rick Barry recovering from bike crash

Rick Barry

Rick Barry was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in history by the NBA in 1996.

It’s the same Rick Barry in spirit. Seventy years old, 34 years removed from the final season of a Hall of Fame career as a scoring-machine small forward, his body is battered but he hasn’t lost any of his trademark tenacity.

The long recovery from a nasty July 19 bike crash in Colorado Springs, Colo., that resulted in fractures, stitches, surgery, layers of skin left on the ground in his adopted hometown and a cracked helmet as a reminder of how bad it really could have been? Just another opponent.

Not being able to put weight on the right leg for another two months or so because of a fractured pelvis, hours of physical therapy already in the books and countless more to come? Bring it on.

“I’ve always been very dedicated to things,” Barry said on the phone from his home. “I’ve always been very strong-willed. If I make my mind up to do something, I’m going to do it. Just like when I was a young kid. I was stupid and I smoked cigarettes. I just flat out said, ‘This is crazy. This is hurting my basketball.’ And so I just quit. I look at everything as a challenge. That’s the way I approach things, especially if it’s things I’m not especially fond of. I look at them as challenges and I hate to lose, so when I make it a challenge, it drives me and motivates me because I’m going to make sure I’m the one that comes out victorious.”

He is not especially fond of the rehab work, needless to say. He calls it extended training camp — and Barry hated training camps. But the strong will that helped drive him to 12 All-Star games in the NBA and ABA, the brash attitude that made him one of the game’s top personalities as well as a premier player, the determination that propelled the underdog Warriors of 1975 to their only West Coast title — it all helps now.

Barry is calling on the past at a time when his basketball is mostly limited to working with youngest son Canyon, who plays at the College of Charleston, wears his father’s No. 24 (retired by Golden State) and, in the ultimate hoops DNA, shoots free throws underhanded.

A month ago, Rick was on a ride with his wife and another couple. One minute, he was cruising downhill and turning a corner. The next, his front tire blew and there was Barry tangled everywhere and headed for five hours of surgery. The pelvis. A broken hand. Stitches and road rash.

“I just feel fortunate that it wasn’t worse than what it was,” he said. “I hit my head and the helmet cracked and all, but I didn’t have any head damage or anything at all, so that was a blessing. I could have had broken ribs and broken arms, other things that would have made it even worse trying to do the rehab. It’s hard enough with my broken left hand. That’s made it difficult enough. But, hey, everybody gets thrown. You get little bumps when you’re going down the road of life, and you deal with them and you move on. That’s the way it has to be. You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. I just feel grateful that it’s not worse than what it was.”

Being forced to slow down does give him more time to promote Ektio, a company that says its basketball shoes have been proven to reduce sprained ankles, as a minority owner. The accident forced him to miss hunting and fishing trips, as well as cancel plans to attend Hall of Fame ceremonies honoring his former Warriors coach, Al Attles. But Barry sees the positives, knowing that the crash could have been much worse.

“I should have a full recovery as long as I don’t put weight on my right leg and continue to do the things that I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve got two more months of that and then I can start to do 50 percent weight bearing. I don’t know whether I do crutches or a cane or do something and then I have rehab to do, but I expect to be back doing the things that I did before. I can assure you I will not be going fast downhill anytime.”

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> With so many new coaches — all but two teams have had at least one new coach in the last six years — is there anyone out there in danger of getting canned this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So you’re suggesting Scott Brooks suddenly has job security and is free from speculation about his continued employment? Well, that would be a first. Look, no coach is entirely safe once a team gets to the point of needing to do … “something.” If the roster and payroll are locked, people start to look to the sideline. Brooks and Kevin McHale both are working in environments of impatience, with the Thunder and the Rockets antsy for bigger prizes by now. Memphis’ Dave Joerger already was out of his job once — on the brink of being hired by the Timberwolves — but he went back to what might not be the most stable gig under owner Robert Pera. And since no team is facing expectations more goosed than Washington, a slow or even middling start by the Wizards could have folks looking cross-eyed again at Randy Wittman.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What if Jason Kidd quickly concludes that he doesn’t like it in Milwaukee and decides to stick a knife in the back of another coach for a different job? But seriously, this is the modern NBA, where patience and reason are always in short supply. Frank Vogel won’t get a totally free pass if he can’t at least keep the Pacers battling and competitive in the absence of Paul George. If New Orleans can stay healthy, Monty Williams will be under the gun to at least get the Pelicans back into the playoff race. And keep an eye on Kevin McHale, in the final year of his contract in Houston, with a Rockets team that now has fewer weapons.

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not only are there so many first- and second-year coaches out there, but coaches like Washington’s Randy Wittman, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Portland’s Terry Stotts all signed extensions so they’re seemingly safe if their respective clubs were to take a step back. In the East, Indiana’s Frank Vogel certainly seems vulnerable after last season’s fade, but the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to injury could alter thinking there. Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn will be working with an extraordinarily young team so not sure what can be expected there. In Milwaukee, I suppose Jason Kidd will determine his own fate. Out West, most everything is either well-established or brand new. But there are a couple situations to keep an eye on. Monty Williams’ future could get muddied if the Pelicans don’t rise up, assuming good health, and Sacramento could lose patience with second-year man Mike Malone if the Kings stumble early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bucks. Oh, you mean where the general manager fires the coach, not the other way around. Never mind. In that case, let’s see how new best buddies Dave Joerger and Robert Pera get along in Memphis if the losses start to fly. Maybe it doesn’t happen — the Grizzlies could be good. If not, though, how long before old tensions return?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I wouldn’t put anyone’s job in danger in this space, but Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale and Monty Williams need to deliver better results this season. Brooks has done a great job in Oklahoma City, but this is now his seventh season and Sam Presti needs to decide if he’s the guy to get the Thunder over the hump. McHale lost some of his roster’s depth this summer, but needs to coax a top-10 defense out of a team that features Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard. And speaking of that end of the floor, Williams has a defensive rep and a beast of a franchise player, but New Orleans has ranked 28th and 25th defensively the last two seasons. With the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans need to make a big leap on that end.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After the way Larry Drew was treated in Milwaukee, anyone not named PopovichRivers, Spoelstra, Van Gundy or Saunders has to at least be on alert that a change could be made under extreme circumstances. Coaches no longer have to be concerned only with external expectations impacting their job security. These days the perception from within (Mark Jackson in Golden State) can get you whacked suddenly. That’s why both Randy Wittman in Washington and Monty Williams in New Orleans will operating under unique circumstances. Both teams will be expected to be considerably improved from last season, not only in the win-loss column, but in the larger context of the league hierarchy. Even with an extension signed, Wittman cannot afford for his team to take any steps back. The Pelicans will be led by one of the brightest young stars in the league in Anthony Davis and will expect to at least be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture, albeit at the bottom of that rugged top eight mix. If at any point it becomes clear that these guys cannot get their teams to the next stage of development, the coaching hot seat will have two prime candidates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Even though so many coaches are still in that honeymoon period with their current teams, it seems like something crazy always happens. Who would have thought Jason Kidd would end up in Milwaukee, or that Dave Joerger would almost end up in Minnesota? Neither of those guys were fired, though, but I wouldn’t say the hot seat has completely cooled off. All it takes is for one owner to be unhappy with his team’s performance or placement in the conference — particularly in regard to wherever that owner believes they should be. I am not saying this will happen or should happen, but will ownership in Sacramento, where they are desperate to be competitive, be patient with Mike Malone? Will the Rockets continue to allow Kevin McHale to build what they’re working toward? I hope so. It would be nice, for a change, to have a season without any firings/hirings. I’m just saying, don’t bet on it.

Blogtable: Flourishing in a new place

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

> Which player who already has switched teams this offseason will best flourish with his new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m surprised there isn’t a “besides LeBron” qualifier on this, since James outflourishes pretty much everyone every year. He’s my easy answer in his first season back in Cleveland. After that, the guy who ought to flourish most is Lance Stephenson, since he’s a little older (presumably a little more mature) and will get every opportunity to be Charlotte’s go-to guy. But I’m not sure I trust him yet to fully “get it.” So I’ll say Spencer Hawes, Clippers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you are the best player in the game, you flourish wherever you go, which is why the easy answer is LeBron James, the returning, conquering hero who will put the Cavaliers immediately into title contention in the Eastern Conference.  But I also think Pau Gasol is a perfect complement on the Bulls front line with Joakim Noah and I’ve got an eye on the venerable Vince Carter, who could be the wing scorer that lifts the Grizzlies into the upper half of the West race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m going a bit off the radar here with Jameer Nelson in Dallas, a re-tooled team that believes it could be top-four in the West. He’s been in such a tough situation the last few seasons, from the “Dwightmare” to Stan Van Gundy‘s firing to a total rebuild, that getting to the veteran-laden Mavs will be a breath of fresh air. Plus, he’s a great fit. Dallas badly needed a starting point guard after losing Jose Calderon in the Tyson Chandler trade. Nelson eliminates the need to start Raymond Felton and allows Devin Harris to come off the bench. Offensively, Nelson just has to be steady. He’s got weapons all around in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Defensively he’ll provide some much-needed tenacity. Nelson’s only 32 and with good health he very well could put himself back on the radar.

Lance Stephenson (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson joins Charlotte for the 2014-15 NBA season. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson flourished last season in Indiana, so it’s not like this will be a breakout season. But the move to Charlotte opens possibilities he will reach a new level, certainly statistically beyond the 13.8 points a game last season. It lines up as a perfect opportunity. He will be especially motivated to prove the Pacers wrong for not spending more to re-sign him, and now Stephenson goes to a team that needs more scoring. He can do that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Other than LeBron James, right? Lance Stephenson looks like a great fit in Charlotte, with the ability to give their offense a boost. He’s improved dramatically over the last two seasons, will still be only 24 years old when training camp opens, and likes to get out on the break, where his new team wasn’t very effective last season. With a top-10 defense, Al Jefferson, and now two guys who can create off the dribble, the Hornets will be fun to watch … and very good.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I like how you excluded Kevin Love from this question, keeping us all from picking the same guy. And I’ll even refrain from choosing LeBron James, the most obvious choice of the century. I think Pau Gasol will ease into an opportunity to recharge his career. He looked worn out and worn down during his final seasons in Los Angeles. He’s still an unbelievably skilled big man with plenty left in his tank. The idea of Gasol and Joakim Noah working in tandem with a healthy and rejuvenated Derrick Rose should have folks in Chicago fired up. Gasol is free from the pressure of trying to be something he was not in Los Angeles. Expectations went through the roof for him after winning back-to-back titles alongside Kobe Bryant. When injuries and uncertainty changed the mood in LA, Gasol struggled with that burden. Rose and Noah are the leaders in Chicago. All Gasol has to do is what he does best, and that’s play the game he loves without any extra Hollywood drama involved.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the player who has the best chance to make an immediate impact is Pau Gasol. The last few years he’s slipped defensively, but in Tom Thibodeau’s stifling defensive system in Chicago, they should be able to game plan around Pau’s deficiencies and get the best out of him. But it’s offensively where I think he could really shine. Gasol is on record as preferring to work in the post, which is probably fine with the Bulls as Joakim Noah is so effective at the top of the key, giving Gasol plenty of room to operate down low. And Gasol and Noah are probably the two best passing big men in the NBA, and together, with Rose and Butler and other guys cutting off of them, this may be the first time in a while the Bulls will be able to mount a powerful attack on both ends of the court.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: You mean “which player that hasn’t won two rings, isn’t considered the best around the globe and isn’t having a good time in Greece right now”? When you have LeBron James changing jerseys, then you have the answer in all your questions.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: There’s been plenty of positive cases of players moving on in free agency with the opportunity to flourish with their new team. If I have to pick one, I’ll take Pau Gasol after signing with the Chicago Bulls. Gasol’s last few seasons in LA were tough, albeit productive, and now he can find himself on a team that really values his skills. I’m looking forward to seeing his partnership with Joakim Noah. They could legitimately become the best-passing big man duo in the NBA. Gasol’s varied offensive game will get the opportunity to shine in Chicago because he’ll be playing with an unselfish center in Noah. He has a nice back-to-the-basket game with varying moves, he’s still a decent mid range shooter and as always, he’ll look to set up his teammates. Gasol’s ability to operate and pass in tight spaces will work perfectly with Noah. The Bulls’ offense will look less cramped with four perimeter players surrounding one pick-setting big in Noah. They’ll be a lot better to watch offensively in 2014-15 and a lot of that is down to Gasol.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Lance Stephenson will surely relish his role with the Charlotte Hornets. He will be one of their main ball-handlers and creators. Stephenson has showed flashes of overall dominance when he gets it going and he will have more chances to prove his worth with his new team. Also a trio of small forwards will be do well in their new teams, that would be Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons for the Wizards, Rockets and Mavericks respectively. Pierce will be the veteran leader Washington needs, Ariza will be the do-it-all forward for Houston while Parsons will hopefully be the second scoring option to Dirk in Dallas (or third, depending on where Monta fits in this year).

Blogtable: Kobe hot, Lakers in playoffs?

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

> With Kobe healthy and playing like he was, say, two years ago, are the Lakers a playoff team this season? Why (or why not)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat Charles said. It’s over for the Lakers as a playoff team as currently constructed. They dare not use Kobe Bryant as heavily as they were before his Achilles injury, unless they’re looking for a way for insurance to pay a chunk of his noxious salary, for he surely would break down again. And he doesn’t have enough help, not in the West, not to be taken seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, a pair of All-Stars, joining him in the starting lineup, Kobe was pushing his body to the the limit two years ago — and still the Lakers barely made it into the playoffs. He’d played 92 consecutive minutes in two games on the night his Achilles tendon blew out. Howard left. Now Gasol is gone. Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle hardly fill their shoes. Steve Nash is broken and you just can’t sell me that Swaggy P is a difference maker. If Kobe can drag the Lakers to the No. 8 seed, it would be one of the great achievements of his career. But there aren’t enough margaritas left in the summer to get me to the point where I’d see that happening.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t think so. First off, which team that finished in the top eight is going to drop out? The bottom three teams — Golden State, Memphis, Dallas — all seem to be better off. Phoenix and New Orleans should continue to improve and challenge for a playoff spot. Anybody envision Portland or Houston free-falling out of the playoffs (barring significant injury)? Secondly, the Lakers roster is an odd mix of talent cobbled together after the franchise was shunned by the summer’s top free agents. Only then did L.A. hire new coach Byron Scott. If they do make the playoffs, mark me down for Scott as Coach of the Year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. Because they finished 22 games out of the playoffs last season and would need Kobe playing like he was eight or 10 years ago to come close to making up that difference when there are so many holes in other places. Because it’s not easy to identify a 2014 playoff team in the West that will drop out and Phoenix and New Orleans are easily ahead of the Lakers and the other hopefuls for “next in” predictions. And healthy or not, Kobe will still be 36. He can still be good, and anyone who counts him out right now is making a mistake, but he can’t be enough to lift this team that high.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Absolutely not, because their defense is going to be awful and the Western Conference is too good. The last time Kobe was healthy, he was pretty efficient offensively, but was often the source of L.A.’s defensive breakdowns. And at 36 years old and coming off of two leg injuries, he may be the best defender in the Lakers’ backcourt this season. The frontline, meanwhile, is lacking guys who erase mistakes on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. You are asking if we can put Kobe in a time machine and have him play healthy the way he did two years ago would this current Lakers’ crew be a playoff team, which is wholly unfair to Kobe and all of the players who will join him on this team. The Lakers from two years ago have been scattered to the wind. Dwight Howard is in Houston. Pau Gasol is in Chicago. Earl Clark is in … sorry Earl. The fact is, as good as the Western Conference was two years ago, it took Kobe pushing himself to the brink to help the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs with the eighth and final spot. The Western Conference is better and deeper now than it was two years ago. The Lakers, quiet frankly, are not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThey are not. Two years ago they squeaked into the playoffs, and that was with Kobe literally breaking himself down the stretch to try and will them into the postseason. They made it, Kobe didn’t. Even if Kobe is 100 percent this season, his supporting cast isn’t as strong as that 2012-13 team, that still had Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. This year’s Lakers team should see a rotation around Kobe including Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin. But in a stacked Western Conference, I just don’t think that’s enough firepower to carry these Lakers to the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Let’s be honest. Nobody can expect that Kobe will play like he used to. Many players have defeated injuries in the past, but none managed to beat Father Time. Bryant is 36 and that’s the bad news. Answering the “if” question, I think that the Lakers can become a playoff team, because Kobe has proven himself as a leader of a team that revolves around him. It will be interesting to see how Carlos Boozer will play (especially if he will be used at the 3 spot) and what kind of impact will Julius Randle, potentially one hell of a scoring big man, will have.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: They’re a better team with Kobe Bryant but I certainly don’t think they’re a playoff team. The West is so competitive right now that it would take a monumental effort for an aging Kobe to take this team all the way to the playoffs. Aside from, say, Phoenix, a lot of those borderline playoff teams like Dallas and potentially Memphis have improved in the offseason so you could legitimately have a 45-47 win team miss out on the playoffs again. Can you see the Lakers winning 48 games? It’ll be fun to watch Kobe try though, he’s probably the only guy in the organization with a ferocious win-now edict, while the rest of the organization looks to preserve money, sign guys on short-term deals and look ahead to free agency in 2015. Also, are there multiple defensive stoppers on this Lakers team? Didn’t think so.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Yes, if they stay healthy; that is the biggest issue they have the last two years. I think their rotation at the bigs this year is better with a healthy Jordan Hill and new additions; veteran Carlos Boozer, athletic forward Ed Davis and highly touted rookie Julius Randle. Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Clarkson will provide the help at the wings with specific strengths to their games to complement Kobe while Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash form a good combination at point guard. Although they will be at a disadvantage on defense they will surely be great on the offensive side of the court. But the main reason is Kobe himself: a healthy ‘Black Mamba’ is a complete player who will provide leadership, clutch shooting, defense and scoring outbursts thereby taking over some games.

Playoff loss now motivation for Blazers


VIDEO: Spurs dismiss Blazers in five games to reach West finals

This was months ago, and yesterday.

The Trail Blazers still feel it from May, still talk about that moment in San Antonio, what it was like to walk off the court the final time and what it will mean when they walk back on the court the next time. New season, same memories.

Portland is forgetting nothing from the playoff exit, and not just because the black-and-blue mark the Spurs left won’t allow it. More like because the Trail Blazers don’t want to. Keeping it close is the whole idea.

That won’t take much doing — it is close. Months later, they’re still talking about how the emotional high from the successful regular season and the rush of a 4-2 win over the Rockets in the first round despite not having home-court advantage gave way to feeling like roadkill after the 4-1 elimination at the hands of the Spurs. Months later, they’re still wanting to feel it for many more months, from training camp and into the new schedule.

“Our entire team enjoyed having a taste of success, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs and winning in the first round,” coach Terry Stotts said. “The fact that San Antonio not only beat us, but how they beat us and how they won the championship I think gave us the motivation to know that there’s a lot for us still to achieve and what we have to do to achieve it.”

How they beat us.

Game 1: Spurs 116, Trail Blazers 92. Twenty-four points.

Game 2: Spurs 114, Trail Blazers 97. Seventeen points.

Game 3: Spurs 118, Trail Blazers 103. Fifteen points.

Game 4: Trail Blazers: 103, Spurs 92. Avoiding the sweep, avoiding being eliminated at home.

Game 5: Spurs 104, Trail Blazers 82. Twenty-two points.

“We took some big losses,” said Meyers Leonard, a reserve center. “I think that we could have been much closer. But it was our first time, so I think we just have to realize we are that good of a team. We can compete with those teams. I think that’s what’s going to stick with us. We know that we’re more than capable. But they came out and came at us right away and we were kind of like, ‘Whoa.’ Now we just have to realize that we are at that level and we have to maintain that level or teams that have been there and done that will put us away.”

That the Spurs proved to be the team of the entire season and not just that series makes the Blazers look better in retrospect … but not feel better. Not when the gulf was that large and the memory that strong.

So 1-4 becomes motivation for the weight-lifting sessions the rest of the summer, the extra time in the film room in training camp, and then for real. Opening night, Oct. 29, is at home against the Thunder, an immediate test. But so is the entire first leg of the schedule, a gauntlet of the Thunder, Kings on the road, Warriors, Cavaliers, Mavericks, and Clippers on the road.

Even if the Trail Blazers have enough to worry about in October and November without reaching back to May, they will probably be keeping the end of 2013-14 close. That’s the plan right now. That’s the feeling right now, and maybe for a while.

Blogtable: Playoff teams falling

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman


> Which of last year’s playoffs teams is in for the biggest dropoff in ’14-‘15? One in each conference, please. And to make it tougher, let’s not include Indiana in this discussion.

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s important to know what constitutes a bigger dropoff: A slide of several spots while staying in the bracket or a fall of a place or two that takes a team out of the postseason entirely. In the East, I think Miami drops a few spots with LeBron gone and has to play from down under in the first round. But Brooklyn, whose weird one-season mojo needs an overhaul now, might slip out of the top eight entirely. In the West, Houston looks ripe for a fall to seventh or eighth after its poor offseason harvest. The Rockets’ best players bring talent but that team needs more heart and better locker-room leadership. Roll up your sleeves, Trevor Ariza.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn. Paul Pierce is gone, Kevin Garnett is wavering and Deron Williams might be through. Welcome back, Lionel Holllins.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIn the East, isn’t the obvious answer Miami? I mean, there’s no LeBron. And Luol Deng, while a solid two-way player, is no LeBron. Really, every other East team in the playoffs last season, with the exception of the aforementioned Pacers, should be on the rise. The West is a tougher call, but let’s go with Houston, which loses perfect-for-its-system small forward Chandler Parsons and a huge chunk of its bench. The pressure is on James Harden and Dwight Howard to be team-first leaders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Western Conference: Houston. I don’t think it will be a big drop off, but Chandler Parsons is a hit for a team that was facing increased scrutiny anyway after losing in the first round despite home-court advantage. Eastern Conference: Miami. If the Pacers are removed from consideration because it’s too obvious an answer with the Paul George injury, the Heat are not far behind for a quick response.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it has to be Miami, for obvious reasons. They should still be a very good team, but without LeBron James and if Dwyane Wade misses another 20-plus games, they’re probably not in the conference’s top four anymore. In the West, Houston will suffer offensively with the departures of Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, two of their best playmakers last season. And if either James Harden or Dwight Howard misses 10-plus games, they could be in serious trouble, because neither of those guys has a legit back-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a tough one without Indiana in the mix. In the Eastern Conference, Miami has to be the candidate to take the biggest tumble based solely on the loss of LeBron James and the fact that no one will be slotting them in the top two for the 2014-15 season. That said, I think the Heat will remain among the playoff elite in the East. They just have to get used to life on a floor other than the penthouse. No one in the Western Conference wants to give up an inch, making it much tougher to crack the top eight on that side of the conference divide. The top three — San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers — should remain the same, in whatever order. That leaves the Houston Rockets as the most vulnerable to an attack from teams trying to climb into that top four. The Rockets could conceivably be just as good or better than they were last season and finish lower in the pecking order in 2014-15.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMiami in the East. I really like Luol Deng and feel like he was one of the more underrated free agents this summer, but replacing LeBron and everything he did on both ends of the court is basically impossible. And can Dwyane Wade stay healthy enough to produce for 82 games, or is he only going to be able to play 50ish games again this season? And in the West, well, I don’t know. I feel like those teams are pretty much locked in atop the conference. The one team I think will be most interesting to watch will be Golden State. Mark Jackson brought so many intangibles to that team, and I am curious to see how Steve Kerr uses Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and how he’s able to get that roster to buy into his system.

Blogtable: The best place for Wiggins

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman



VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins shines at the Summer League in Las Vegas

> You’re Andrew Wiggins. How could it possibly be better for you, short term or long term, to play in Minnesota rather than in Cleveland with LeBron? Explain, please.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Uh, Minnesota is more like Canada, isn’t it? So that should help make Wiggins feel more at home with the Timberwolves. There’s this, too: With the Cavaliers, there would be an immediate tug o’ war between Wiggins’ pace of development and LeBron James’ readiness to win now. He’d be cast as the little brother whose game isn’t quite ready for prime time and there would be rumbles of impatience inside and outside the locker room. In Minneapolis, Wiggins will face none of that. The Wolves will be hitting the reset button with his progress and rookie-contract arc in mind. Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad are raw and unready too, and even Ricky Rubio has work to do. Minnesota’s ambitions are more in line with what Wiggins can produce short-term. Long-term, if he’s as good as he projects, he’ll be fine anywhere.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In an era when even established veteran players are looking for destinations where they can team up with other All-Stars, Wiggins’ talk boggles the mind. I guess I can see the ego part where the No. 1 overall pick in the draft wants to get the “top dog” experience. He certainly won’t get that as the No. 3 or 4 man in Cleveland behind LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  But he also won’t sniff at the playoffs either.  If it’s unconditional love Wiggins is seeking, he should just buy a dog.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Um, well, the summer months are beautiful in Minne … OK, this is going to be a tough sell. In Cleveland, Wiggins would play alongside LeBron and as a bonus he would be mostly free of the lofty expectations typical of a No. 1 overall pick. In other words, he wouldn’t be the focal point of the team. That’s all out the window in Minny, where a team desperate to get back into the playoffs for what seems like forever, will be looking to Wiggins to grow up quickly alongside Ricky Rubio, himself still growing into expectations following his unfortunate ACL injury.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The only way it’s better for me is because I get a lot more chances in Minnesota than I would have in Cleveland, especially right away. I am in the showcase for the Timberwolves, not a complementary piece for the Cavaliers after LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and maybe Dion Waiters are done with the ball. Because of that, though, there is no easy transition into the NBA, with LeBron’s return commanding so much of the spotlight that would normally go to my arrival as the No. 1 pick. And there is no opportunity to play alongside and learn about focus and preparation from James. And just imagine how many more seams I could have found in the defense if opponents had to worry about Irving and LBJ.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Well, he has an excellent chance to get to the playoffs more often than Kevin Love did in his six years in Minnesota, which could earn him some love in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. And he has a better chance of winning Rookie of the Year and putting up good numbers. But nothing beats competing for championships and there would have been no better player for Wiggins to play next to in his formative NBA years than LeBron James, who would have brought out the best in him, even if it was in a supporting role. We all know why that’s not going to happen and it’s hard to argue against the trade for Cleveland. But it’s still a shame that we won’t get to see the Wiggins/LeBron combo.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The one thing about playing in Minnesota for me, Andrew Wiggins, is the expectations for my rookie season are now much more manageable. Playing in Cleveland, alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, would have cast me in that No. 3 role. And there is no guarantee I’d be ready for that immediately. Long term, I’d never have my own identity playing in LeBron’s shadow. Cleveland is his city. That’s never going to change. The only thing I could be there is a part of the ensemble. In Minneapolis the canvass is blank. I can make my own legacy with the Timberwolves. I won’t be playing in June anytime soon, of course. But I also believe in my heart of hearts that you have to start your career in a place where you are valued not only for what you bring from the start but also the potential of what’s to come. That happens for me, Andrew Wiggins, in Minnesota.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re the man, now! If Wiggins stayed in Cleveland, he’d have played behind LeBron and Kyrie for a while, maybe even as long as they were on the same team. But with the T-Wolves, Wiggins has the opportunity to take a lot of shots and play meaningful minutes right off the bat. This is probably a good and bad thing — as a rookie, having the opportunity to be a third option would obviously be easier than having to be focus of defenses night after night and having the chance to develop slowly. But now we’ll find out exactly what we’re working with. Let’s throw Wiggins in the pool and see if he can swim.

Blogtable: Stars in dire need of help

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman


> Say Kevin Love joins LeBron in Cleveland. Who’s the NBA superstar (or near-superstar) next in line for a wingman? Anyone in mind who would fit well with him?

Carmelo Anthony is back with the Knicks, but still needs some help.(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony is back with the Knicks, but still needs some help.(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Who’s Kobe got now? It’s looking a little barren on that Lakers roster. Then again, Bryant has been blessed in his career with two of the best sidekicks in recent memory (Shaq and Pau Gasol). So it’s not his turn. As tempting as it is to say Derrick Rose or Carmelo Anthony, neither has ever seemed all that determined to find or recruit a partner/peer. So I’m going with Dirk Nowitzki, who hasn’t had a proper wingman since Steve Nash left. Who’d look good next to him? Michael Carter-Williams. Or a rehabbed Paul George. Or a healthy Rose.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Did I miss something or isn’t Carmelo Anthony still looking like a tall cactus standing all alone in that desert at Madison Square Garden? But he chose the bed. Hope all those Benjamins in the mattress can keep him company.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThere’s still that guy Carmelo Anthony, who passed on joining a variety of wing men this summer to re-sign with the Knicks. New York has cap space at its disposal next summer to add big-money free agents. So how about spending on point guard Eric Bledsoe, assuming he signs Phoenix’s qualifying offer and becomes a free agent in ’15, or Rajon Rondo? And why stop there? Melo needs a big man in the middle, too, so how about Greg Monroe (assuming he signs Detroit’s qualifying offer and becomes unrestricted in ’15) or go really big with Marc Gasol?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: We’re getting into the subjective land of deciding who gets the superstar label, and I like where his team is headed anyway, but Anthony Davis could use a scoring threat in New Orleans. He may have one already, but Ryan Anderson needs to show he is healthy in 2014-15. The Omer Asik acquisition is a nice move — no one scores inside on the Pelicans this season. Maybe Eric Gordon finds his old self. But take Anderson out of the conversation for the moment, and no one on the team averaged more than 15.4 ppg last season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Carmelo Anthony seems like the obvious answer here, but I’d really like to see Goran Dragic get an All-Star teammate. Dragic and Channing Frye were the most potent pick-and-roll combination last season, so imagine what he could do with an Anthony Davis, a Dirk Nowitzki or a Blake Griffin (not that any of those guys are going anywhere). The Suns are still set up well to add a star via trade or free agency next season, not only because of their payroll, but also because they have a terrific point guard.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If Carmelo Anthony is ever going to shed his reputation as a great player with the asterisk (killer numbers but no hardware to show for it), he’s going to need a first-class wingman whose games meshes well with his own. Since we’re operating in theory-ville, why not go deep down the rabbit hole? LaMarcus Aldridge and ‘Melo on the same team would be absolutely diabolical. Aldridge can stretch the floor from the post to the wing with his deadly face-up game. And he rebounds well. Melo is a dynamic scorer capable of working inside or out (beyond the 3-point line), stretching the floor in ways that can cause all sorts of problems for opposing teams. The way they both shoot it, you can have them work off of each other, one in the post and the other from outside, and shred teams with their two-man game.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCarmelo Anthony was the first name that came to mind. I guess the closest thing he’s had to wingman since coming to the Knicks has been Amar’e Stoudemire or maybe J.R. Smith? As solid as younger players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert have been, nobody on the Knicks current roster gives me much hope that they will develop into a perennial All-Star. Maybe he gets a running mate in 2015 when guys like Rajon Rondo or LaMarcus Aldridge hit the open market. Unless Phil has some mind tricks up his sleeve for Andrea Bargnani.

Richmond, Marciulionis entering Hall together is a fitting outcome


VIDEO: Sarunas Marciulionis gives his Hall of Fame acceptance speech

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The so-called introduction miles in the air led to South Korea, then Oakland, then to Jim Petersen throwing up an excessive amount of food and drink, then Sacramento, then to a connection that reached Eastern Europe, and then, finally and forever, to New England last week.

Why Mitch Richmond and Sarunas Marciulionis were reunited here in late-summer 2014, after all the decades and all the vodka that had gone before them, was certain: their membership in the same Hall of Fame induction class in a wonderful time collision made better for Marciulionis by the enshrinement of former commissioner David Stern, the man who turned the NBA into a global brand. How they arrived here together was far less clear.

Richmond and Marciulionis could have, and maybe should have, been life-long adversaries. A shooting guard from South Florida, a JC in Missouri and a university in Kansas, a shooting guard one year older to the month from Lithuania and the national team of the Soviet Union. The first time either saw the other was when someone in the Soviet traveling party handed Marciulionis a magazine during a plane ride. He doesn’t remember who gave it to him or where the flight was headed, only that it was 1988 and Kansas State’s Richmond was on the cover.

“This big guy with the pretty smile,” Marciulionis said.

They were face to face the first time months later, on Sept. 28 in Seoul, the semifinals of the 1988 Olympics in the first meeting since the controversial outcome at the 1972 Munich Games. The Soviet Union won 82-76 as Marciulionis scored 19 points. And then, starting in fall 1989, they were Golden State teammates going for minutes at the same position.

Richmond had the advantage of one season of NBA experience under coach Don Nelson, and one big season at that, the run to Rookie of the Year at 22 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Plus, Marciulionis had bad habits to break in the transition to the best league in the world at a time when a player coming from Europe, and especially from behind the Iron Curtain, was a curiosity. But Marciulionis was also fearless when he arrived in Oakland, a physical player backing down from no one.

Those practices. There was no tension amid the international intrigue, no carryover from the Olympics — “Sarunas is too nice of a guy,” Chris Mullin would say in 2014, still close enough to each former teammate that both asked him to be their presenter at the Hall induction ceremony. “He’s such a sweet guy. Two different people, on the court and off the court. On the court, yes, maybe. Tunnel vision and total focus, and Mitch is like that too. But off the court, you couldn’t be mad at Sarunas. There’s no way.” And the Warriors were a tight group that loved to be in the gym anyway, with Mullin and Richmond on board and Tim Hardaway added via the 1989 draft. But Marciulionis and Richmond head-to-head was a sight.

“Guys would say, ‘Man, we thought you guys were fighting on the court,’ ” Richmond said. “I mean, we would go at it. It was just the competitiveness in both of us that we made each other better…. We pushed each other. We fought like we didn’t like each other in practice. But after that, you might see me and Sarunas going to lunch. You might see us hanging out somewhere. But when we were between those lines, man, we played like we hated each other.”

“Sarunas was the toughest guy I ever coached and Mitch was one of the most talented,” Nelson said. “Same size, same position. They just competed and both got better because of it.”

It went on like this for two seasons of ferocious battles one minute, mostly behind the scenes at practice, and friendship the next.

“I had so many things to change and improve because my fundamentals were so far behind NBA teaching, and I came over when I was 25,” Marciulionis said. “Some habits and some basics were missed because our basketball, especially the defensive end, I can’t say were unimportant, but I guess not really explained to me…. During those workouts, practices, they were schooling me all the time. I had to learn how to defend, how to keep the man close, running around those picks all the time — so many details I had to learn the hard way. I was frustrated many times, but that was very, very good training for me.”

The split, for the entire Run TMC era in Golden State, came when Richmond was traded to the Kings with Les Jepsen and a second-round pick for rookie Billy Owens at the start of 1991-92, a deal Nelson would later call one of his basketball regrets. Marciulionis played two more seasons with the Warriors, was traded to Seattle, spent one season there, and became available again. When Richmond heard, he said, he lobbied the Sacramento front office for a reunion.

That happened in 1995-96, but lasted just one season, before Marciulionis was traded again, this time to the Nuggets for what would become his final season. He returned to Lithuania, which gained its independence from the crumbling Soviet bloc in 1990, opened a basketball academy and became a businessman involved in real estate, a hotel and a sports bar among other projects.

Richmond estimated he talked to Marciulionis three or four times a year across the miles, as Richmond played until 2001-02, established a permanent residence near Los Angeles and last season joined the Kings front office that was headed by former Warriors executive Pete D’Alessandro and included Mullin as a top advisor. It helped that Marciulionis would come to winter in San Diego every year, making it easy to swing by Oakland.

“I think we’re pretty close,” Richmond said. “When we see each other, we sit down, laugh and talk and joke and talk about the stories of Sarunas Marciulionis when he used to invite us over to his house (in the Bay Area) and drink that Russian vodka. Ohhhhh, man. He had this thing, when they drink, him and his friends, they liked to box and do crazy things. Who can take a punch in the face and (stuff) like that. Oh, yeah. Oh, they were crazy. They’d be punching each other.

“He had this game where you get one punch. He’ll let you punch him first. You’ve got to punch him anywhere around here,” Richmond said, motioning to the top of his stomach, near the rib cage. “You’ve got to brace yourself. It’s got to be a quick jab. I remember we went over to the house and he was like, ‘Anybody want to do it?’

” ‘No. No. We do not.’

“(Teammate) Jim Petersen says, ‘I’ll do it.’ We’re sitting around and Jim Petersen hits him. Rooney was like, [growling sound] ‘Errrrrr.’ He just turned all red. ‘My turn. My turn.’

“Man, he hit Jim Petersen [high in the stomach.] I thought he threw up everything he ate for two years. Oh, my God. I told my wife, ‘All right, it’s time to go. Everybody, let’s go. It’s time to go.’ That’s how he was. He loved those type of games.”

Suddenly it was Friday night in Symphony Hall, Richmond at the podium with Mullin standing nearby as an official presenter and noting the opportunity to be enshrined with Marciulionis, then later Marciulionis getting his turn and likewise acknowledging the fortunate timing, also with Mullin on stage. All the years, all the countries and all the Jim Petersen regurgitation had led them here, to an unlikely place. It had led them back to being together, now forever.

Mutombo tops first-time Hall candidates


VIDEO: Basketball Without Borders: Africa

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The look-ahead at the candidates with NBA ties eligible for the first time for the Hall of Fame’s potential Class of 2015 requires no squinting into the distance. It does not require looking at all, come to think of it.

That voice. No one mistakes the sound, part thunder, part Cookie Monster, often accompanied by a fog horn of a laugh.

The visual is so unique, though. No need to see the face, in smile or the scowl of an intimidating defender, or the imposing 7-foot-2, 265-pound frame or the signature No. 55 that followed him through 18 seasons and six teams. Only one form of ID is necessary.

A finger.

An index finger poked into the sky, wagging back and forth a few times, a windshield-wiper admonishment to whatever foolish, naïve opponent with an obvious need to be embarrassed tried to take the ball to the rim against Dikembe Mutombo.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time All-Star and college standout at Georgetown is not only the leading candidate for enshrinement among players eligible for the first time to be nominated, he is the only candidate. Not officially, of course, because the likes of Bruce Bowen and Brent Barry are among candidates beginning with the Class of 2015. But realistically, there is Mutombo alone among peers who last played in 2008-09.

Sitting in the audience Friday night at Symphony Hall as longtime friend Alonzo Mourning was inducted — along with, among others, former commissioner David Stern, a prominent supporter of Mutombo’s years of humanitarian work — may also have been Mutombo getting an advance look around. At the very least, he should breeze through the first round of voting, with results scheduled to be announced at All-Star weekend in New York, before an additional second balloting necessary for candidates in the North America and Women’s categories.

Several NBA carryover contenders will have strong cases, most notably Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway and Spencer Haywood. Bowen, Barry, Bobby Jackson, Matt Harpring, Tyronn Lue, Mark Madsen and others are now options. And Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway and Robert Horry could join the field after not being nominated for 2014 enshrinement despite being eligible. Mutombo, though, is the only new name with a chance to make it all the way to Springfield at the earliest opportunity, finger in tow.