Posts Tagged ‘Scott Howard Cooper’

Rejuvenated Barnes ready for new start


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers and players discuss upcoming season

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – One of the reporters at Clippers media day Monday asked about Blake Griffin.

“He has really nice hair,” Matt Barnes responded.

It was on.

“Did you guys see his abs in the GQ issue?” another teammate, J.J. Redick, jumped in.

Barnes: “Oh, my gosh.”

Redick: “They’re amazing.”

Barnes: “I couldn’t believe it.”

Redick: “Amazing. They had to oil those up.”

Barnes: “But I don’t think it’s Photoshopped. I think that’s real life.”

So it was that the Clippers had their first controversy of the season, and who knows if they have ever faced such an off-court distraction before.

Besides, Barnes should talk. He’s the one who reported about 20 pounds lighter than last season and re-energized despite never exactly lacking for energy in the first place. He’s the one who, pushed by losing 19 games to injury in 2013-14, spent his summer eating better, stretching more and reversing the aging process.

“It’s crazy because I keep feeling like I’m getting better, and I’m getting older at the same time,” said Barnes, who is 34. “This summer was amazing for me, just to be able to avoid all the injuries, kind of rebuild my body and understand my body and just being ready. I have so much (energy) built up from last year and the motivation, with everything we have going on and the opportunity we have this year. I’m going to be out there flying around.”

An increased contribution from Barnes would be a big lift for the Clippers, whether he returns to his usual role as a high-energy reserve able to defend multiple positions or the early plan comes true and he starts at small forward. The Clips know Barnes feeling better potentially means the rest of the Western Conference feels worse.

So even though the biggest 2013-14 injury problem was 16 games lost to problems with the left eye, not the kind of thing that can be helped by improved conditioning, he made the offseason about working on his body.

He went to his first yoga class, very out of place with tattoos and a white tank-top undershirt among the group of older women, and felt as foreign. He kept coming back and they kept encouraging him. The next thing Barnes knew, he was at 210 pounds, the lightest, he recalled, since 10th or 11th grade.

“Yoga. Eating right. A lot of stretching,” Barnes said. “I think the eating right kind of food went hand in hand with the weight program I was doing. For me to be able to drop 20 pounds and still feel strong and as fast as I’ve ever been and back to jumping how I used to jump. Just the whole package. I’m excited to get back and get my game legs and just get back to work with these guys.

“Last year was, personally for me, a tough season, to be hurt in the summer, hurt in training, hurt the whole (first) half of the season, and then kind of finally catch my groove after All-Star break. I just sat back and took some time off and just re-focused and re-dedicated myself to basketball as far as my body…. I feel great. It’s as fast as I’ve been, jumping. I feel good. I just took a step back and let the dust clear and really went hard this summer.”

Barnes is feeling better, has a new layer of energy and now a unique opportunity after starting more than 41 games just once in a career that began in 2003-04. Even if someone else on the team made GQ instead.

Not just another pickup game

Golden State GM Bob Myers (left, in green shirt) and assistant coach Jarron Collins (right) took on some inmates at San Quentin State prison over the weekend. (Photo courtesy Warriors)

Golden State GM Bob Myers (left, in green shirt) and assistant coach Jarron Collins (right) took on some inmates in a pickup game at San Quentin State Prison over the weekend. (Photo courtesy Warriors)

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. – They walked back out some two hours and 45 minutes later, past death row with the loud cadence of the Mexican Mafia counting off exercises, through the two metal-bar doors that slam shut with exactly the shock value portrayed in movies, and to the final check of sliding a wrist under the fluorescent light to make sure the underside of the lower arm had been stamped with “PASS” on the way in, indicating a guest allowed to leave.

“No glow, no go,” the guard manning the lamp said.

Nineteen Golden State Warriors players, coaches and executives had been inside San Quentin State Prison on Friday morning for a another pickup game against inmates, and it didn’t matter that they were back for the third year in a row. You don’t get used to San Quentin. About a 20-mile drive from Oakland, the prison boasts 3,873 inmates, 732 of them on California’s only death row for men. Some 400 convicts ringed the outdoor court to watch the game; an official estimated 80 percent of them were serving life sentences. So, no, you don’t get used to that.

The game was played in a yard near a baseball field, a tennis court, a track and weight-lifting equipment, the same kind of outdoor setting that could be found anywhere, except that this one also included razor wire looped along the top of the fence that ran the length of the sidelines and one baseline. Because blowing a whistle is a signal for trouble — inmates are required to hit the deck, everyone else must freeze — hunters’ duck calls are used. (In a non-Golden State game about five years ago, one of the refs with the visiting group, unaware of the rule, tweeted a regular whistle. Rifles flashed into view from towers in an instant.) Cell phones are not allowed without prior permission. Outsiders are prohibited from wearing blue, even jeans, or grey for fear of being confused with inmates’ wardrobes, so the Warriors, mostly dressed in the approved black and white as they arrive, slipped on green jerseys.

A unique basketball experience?

“Probably the No. 1,” said coach Steve Kerr, the former shooting specialist who did not play. “I spent about three years in Egypt when I was a freshman and sophomore in high school. We didn’t have a gym. We’d play on a dirt court, light bulbs hanging on cords to light the court. That was No. 1. This replaces it.”

A different vibe?

“I watch the TV shows, I watch the movies,” Festus Ezeli, the projected backup center this season, said. “To be here today is almost surreal.”

A scary situation?

“My sisters, they were nervous about it, to be honest,” assistant coach Alvin Gentry said. “My older sister called this morning to say, ‘Be careful.’ Obviously there are a lot of things associated with San Quentin.”

All of the above. The Warriors have never had anything close to a problem in the three visits, though, not so much as a member of the home team trying to stare them down on the court or hoping to get in their head by suggesting a special brand of prison justice as intimidation. As officials and convicts themselves note, the only people who get hurt if game action goes too far are the inmates. They don’t want the visit to go away.

“We’re in such awe of them being here that we don’t have time to process that,” inmate Juan Haines said while watching from behind the Warriors bench. “We’re the ones intimidated.”

The inmates were exceedingly polite Friday, greeting the visitors with waves of high fives, handshakes, embraces and conversation, participants and watchers alike. One said the appearance was like getting Christmas at a different time of the year. Another told Ezeli the appearance that had nothing to do with marketing to sell tickets or merchandise “made us feel a little human.” Bill Epling, who has been coming to San Quentin to play basketball for about 15 years and for the last 11 has led the outreach program that now extends to the Warriors, called the game “a little moment of escape today from the daily grind” as part of his pregame invocation at mid-court.

Kerr, just as he is everywhere he goes, was asked about playing with Michael Jordan. Rookie guard Aaron Craft was questioned about playing at Ohio State and about Ohio State football. General manager Bob Myers heard about the upcoming season. One inmate said he wanted to ask Jonnie West, the associate general manager of Golden State’s D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, about Jonnie’s father, Jerry. Ezeli, coming off a knee injury, was questioned when he was getting back on the court.

On and on. The usual fan stuff.

Inmate Rahsaan Thomas was asked during the second quarter what he would like to ask one of the Warriors.

“My question is,” Thomas said, “who talked you into walking into prison? It took guns and warrants to get me in.”

OK, so not always the usual fans.

Players — Craft, Ezeli, Ognjen Kuzmic, James Michael McAdoo, Marreese Speights, training-camp invite Mitchell Watt this year — attend strictly for the experience and the support, not to get on the court. General manager Bob Myers and assistant general manager Kirk Lacob, who organizes the Warriors group and comes to San Quentin other times as part of the outreach program, played, along with assistant coaches Luke Walton and Jarron Collins while Kerr and Gentry stayed on the sideline, with Gentry running the team. (Gentry, turning to the bench just before tipoff: “I’m going to show you how a real coach does it. Bob, Kirk, you can shoot any time you want.”)

The benefit from the Golden State perspective, Lacob said, “I think there’s an element of good community… and it’s a great learning experience. An educational experience, I’ll call it, for anyone who goes in, seeing how other people live and what else is out there, because we live in a pretty rosy world in sports. It’s basically you win or you lose but you’re still in a great environment. On top of it, the thing that I always come back to, it’s that mutual shared interest, that shared love of basketball that brings people together. There’s just something when you connect with people. It’s hard to explain, but that idea that you can connect with someone so different from yourself at such a deep level I think is valuable. But every year that we’ve gone with the Warriors, I think people have come out with a great appreciation for their own lives and what they do.” The team has even donated old practice gear to the inmates.

Death row is 300 yards away from the court. Guards are everywhere. The razor wire.

The game is lighthearted enough most of the way, with running commentary over a public-address system from one of the inmates, then becomes a close finish. It is a good, intense pickup run with a lot of contact, and Collins and Walton, with long NBA careers in their backgrounds, and Myers, a member of a national-championship team at UCLA, chug hard under the sun and light breeze coming off San Francisco Bay. Finally, the inmates close out the 92-86 victory, their first win in three tries.

Both sides consider the day a success. The convicts, after spending weeks talking about the upcoming game, got to go against players they had seen on TV and spend time in conversation. Plus, the win. The Warriors got to experience San Quentin — then got to walk out through the yard, up a slight hill into a courtyard within hearing range of death row, through the doors and, finally, to their cars.

They plan to be back for another game next year. It has become part of the annual routine. But it will never be something they get used to.

Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry (center) and new head coach Steve Kerr (in white shirt) go over some strategy in their pickup game with inmates at San Quentin over the weekend. (Photo courtesy Warriors)

Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry (center) and new head coach Steve Kerr (in white shirt) go over some strategy in their pickup game with inmates at San Quentin over the weekend. (Photo courtesy Warriors)

Clippers should welcome Baylor back

It has been 3 ½ years since the Los Angeles jury posterized Elgin Baylor and needed less than 4 hours to unanimously reject his claims against the Clippers. The team, as the Clippers of the time were wont to do, rubbed his nose in the outcome of the case when an owner with class would have let the results speak for themselves instead of having the team lawyer trash a good man on his way into retirement. Enough.

Enough time. Enough changes. Enough acrimony.

Baylor is 80, Donald Sterling is out as owner, Steve Ballmer is in, and it’s time for the next step in a successful offseason of Ballmer stabilizing and re-energizing the franchise and fan base that lived months like no other: Welcome Elgin Baylor back.

The new Clippers don’t have to hire Baylor, for basketball operations or community relations or anything. But they should extend an olive branch. Invite him to Staples Center for games, embarrass him with a hero shot on the video screen during a timeout, let the crowd take it from there with its own embrace. Have him at the team’s charity golf tournament or Christmas party or playoff pep rally.

It is not Ballmer’s problem to clean up. It is his opportunity for elegance, though.

The obvious problem for the team is that any increased Clippers-related visibility for Baylor will be a straight line to the Sterling past they’re trying to bury, complete with the ill-fated wrongful-termination lawsuit that initially included claims of racism but eventually went to trial with the assertion of age discrimination. As soon as Ballmer makes it about doing the right thing, that he’ll take the image concerns to bring an all-time great back in the family, his potential problem spins into a positive.

For all the abuse Baylor took for bad decisions as general manager from 1986 to 2008, which included a couple years as head of basketball operations in name only after the behind-the-scenes ouster by coach Mike Dunleavy, he was unfailingly loyal to the franchise. He took the hits for his boss and never once outed Sterling as the reason behind bad decisions.

Baylor wanted to take Sean Elliott at No. 2 in the 1989 draft and then, after doctors said knee problems would keep Elliott from having a career, Glen Rice. But Sterling insisted on Danny Ferry, who practically swam to play in Italy rather than suffer as a Clipper. Baylor negotiated an extension that would have kept Danny Manning in place, only to have Sterling and right-hand man Andy Roeser burn the relationship to the ground with a hard line on secondary issues — deferment schedules, other minor compensations — and cause Manning to realize the Clips would never change and that he needed to get out. (Manning’s agent, on the phone with Roeser, could hear Baylor in the background, imploring Roeser to stop talking already and take the deal in place.) There were a lot of those moments.

Under Sterling, closing a beneficial deal was never enough. He had to beat the other person, badly and publicly if the situation allowed, which could have made sense in his real-estate world but created avoidable problems when the deal is with someone on his own team. He had the same galling tact with fired coaches — make a flimsy argument to withhold a portion of what remained on the contract, dare the coach to sue and offer the choice between a reduced check or a legal wrangle that could drag out. Money saved.

Once it was Baylor on the other side of a lawsuit, he was instantly expunged from the organization. Employees knew not to mention his name in those uncomfortable times, as much as many liked him. There obviously would not be any reconciliation — under that management. There can be now.

Baylor was responsible for more mistakes than any other GM could have survived for two decades, and his name helped because Sterling was pretentious to gross extremes and loved being able to introduce the great Elgin Baylor to friends, but Baylor also stood up for the franchise with a terrible reputation as a man of ethics. He continued to work for Sterling by choice, of course, and so there are no straining sob songs of what he had to endure. But there should be an acknowledgement of the good he did.

Besides, he’s Elgin Baylor, Hall of Famer, 10-time first-team All-NBA, a man who in the 1960s helped build pro basketball in Los Angeles from the ground up. The Lakers, his team as a player, have him on the short list of the next person to get a statue outside Staples Center, the ultimate NBA tribute in town. The Clippers can at least invite him to a game. It’s an olive branch. It’s moving forward, not looking back.

Blogtable: Up-and-comer in the West

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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


> Which team has made the biggest offseason leap in the West? How high can they go?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Did San Antonio sweep the sidewalks and trim the hedges outside the AT&T Center? Winner! That’s plenty of improvement for the champs. … OK, I’ll play along. I would say Denver given the return to health of key guys (JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson), the emergence for Team USA of Kenneth Faried and the addition of Arron Afflalo. But the Nuggets overachieved through their setbacks last season, in my view, so their improvement might not be easily discerned in the standings. That’s why I’ll go with the trendy pick, New Orleans. Health matters to the Pelicans, too, and a crunch-time front line with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik protecting the rim could be as good as gargoyles on the glass, swatting away shots.

Anthony Davis' gold medal turn may pay dividends this season in New Orleans. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Anthony Davis’ gold medal turn at the World Cup may pay dividends this season in New Orleans. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’ve got an eye on the Mavericks. The addition of two Chandlers — Tyson and Parsons — could make them a threat. I don’t see Dallas as a championship contender, but if all breaks right the Mavs could make a run at a top four seed.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Mavericks added the most talent with center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons around Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. I really liked bringing in steady vet Jameer Nelson to run the point, eliminating them leaning heavily on Raymond Felton as a starter. That’s three new starters, which could mean some initial growing pains, but all these players are team-oriented, so it shouldn’t be too tough. They added some interesting depth with Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson. They’ll miss Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, but both players are well past their primes. If they stay healthy, Dallas could push for a top-four spot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Nuggets or Pelicans. Denver won 36 games last season and now expects to get Danilo Gallinari back after he missed all 2013-14, JaVale McGee back after all of five appearances, and adds Arron Afflalo in trade and first-round picks Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. That’s the possibility of three new starters and the certainty of much better depth. That’s worth the 12-14 extra wins it will take to make the playoffs. New Orleans won 34 and now not only gets Anthony Davis fast-tracking to stardom, but also Omer Asik next to him at center. Good luck scoring inside on the Pels. One of the keys is what they get from Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson coming off injuries.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Dallas has the potential to be a top-four team in the West with the additions it’s made. The Mavs already had an elite offense, which should be enhanced by the addition of Chandler Parsons. And Tyson Chandler and Al-Farouq Aminu should help them get back to being an above-average defensive team again. Rick Carlisle is a great coach, these guys gave the Spurs a scare in the first round, and Dirk Nowitzki still has some gas in the tank.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: While I didn’t agree with all of the moves they made, there’s no question the Dallas Mavericks were the most fearless and aggressive outfit in the Western Conference during the offseason. Bringing back Tyson Chandler. Snatching Chandler Parsons. And doing it all while making sure Dirk Nowitzki remained on board and believing in the resurrection plan. That’s a master class on how to stay true to your core superstar while changing nearly everything else around him (not named Monta Ellis). The Mavericks will go as far as the new pieces will allow Dirk and Monta to go as the offensive catalysts for this bunch. No offense to Parsons, but the Mavericks didn’t need another superstar. They needed another role player with superstar potential willing to sacrifice all of his ambitions for the greater good, right now. I think they definitely put themselves back into the playoff mix in the Western Conference and somewhere far north of the No. 8 seed they earned last year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I really like what Dallas did this summer. As Mark Cuban pointed out yesterday, they’ve picked up six players who started for other teams last season. They got a rim protector in Tyson Chandler, they got wing scoring in Chandler Parsons, two point guards in Felton and Nelson, and they add all those guys to a core that already included Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. And having Rick Carlisle on the sideline is a pretty good way to bring them all together. Last year they were a lower playoff seed that in the first round gave San Antonio their toughest postseason test. This just feels like one of those teams people forget about … until it’s too late.

Blogtable: Rondo’s future in Boston

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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


Rajon Rondo has appeared in only 68 games for the Celtics in the past two years. (Brian Babineau/NBAE)

Rajon Rondo has appeared in only 68 games for the Celtics in the past two years. (Brian Babineau/NBAE)

> You’re Danny Ainge: Why are you hanging onto Rajon Rondo? What would it take for you to part with him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Ainge hasn’t traded Rondo yet because he hasn’t gotten a good enough offer. Rondo is completely out of synch with the Celtics’ current blueprint, in salary, in demeanor, in his career arc. He totes baggage, too, as far as coachability and his freedom to sign elsewhere next summer. This is a job for Ainge’s old buddy Kevin McHale (and McHale’s boss, Daryl Morey). Picks and/or prospects would get ‘er done, if I were Ainge, no marquee names necessary.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: He’s an All-Star level point guard. He’s 28 years old, certainly not at the end of his rope. As you’re trying to build a new generation Celtics team, it doesn’t hurt at all to have a point guard with his talent and experience to show the way. He wants to stay. What would it take? Another All-Star in his prime or a young talent capable of getting there.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: For me, I always hate to part with an All-Star player. I would much rather try to build around that player. It rarely happens where a team trades its best player and gets better. It’s just not a concept I understand. To part with him, I would have to get back a player with clear star potential, such as Minnesota managed to do in obtaining Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I am not hanging onto Rajon Rondo. Definitely not giving him away either, because Rondo has value, but I am absolutely entertaining offers and initiating calls. Marcus Smart is in place as the projected successor (though needing to answer some doubts about his ability to distribute and shoot). Rondo is 28 years old and has championship experience, making him a fit on a team looking to win big now or build into something in a season or two. The obvious hurdles to getting what I want in return are the concerns from other teams over health and the request for a massive payday that will be coming soon. If I’m the Celtics boss, though, and I can get a young-ish starting center as part of the trade package, let’s talk.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Trading Rondo is a lot easier said than done. First, almost every good team already has a good point guard. Second, since Rondo is in the last year of his contract and the 2011 CBA has basically taken away non-rookie-deal extensions, any team that trades for him would risk losing him (and whatever assets they gave up for him) next summer. Third, Rondo made no impact on the Celtics upon returning from knee surgery last season. So other teams should want to see how he looks this fall. Even if he looks great, it would be hard for Ainge to get much in return (while also maintaining his team’s future cap space) for a guy on an expiring deal.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m hanging on to Rondo because I don’t yet know what I have in Marcus Smart, who might be my point guard of the future … I said might. There is no rush for me to do anything where Rondo is concerned. There is plenty of time to work the market and see what an elite point guard in his prime can fetch. Also, I want to make sure and do right by a guy who, no matter what kind of mess we had to deal with when he was coming of age in this league, brought a warrior’s mentality to the building every night. He played through all the aches and pains you could ever ask a guy to play through, so we’re not going to cast him aside for whatever we can get now when we can survey the landscape until the trade deadline and make a shrewd decision for both sides and make sure he lands some place where he can chase his championship dreams in return for a significant piece (or various other assets) that benefits our ongoing rebuilding effort here in Boston.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: If you’re willing to dangle an All-Star level talent on a rookie contract in exchange for Rajon Rondo, I’ll give you my cell phone number. If you’re willing to slide a couple of first round picks my way, I’ll actually answer your calls! Or maybe I don’t answer anybody’s calls because we’re in the era of the point guard which is as good a position to build around as any — you simply have to have a premium point guard to compete these days — and with a bunch of salaries coming off the books next summer, if I’ve got to sign someone to a max deal, why not reward Rajon Rondo?

Blogtable: Training camp showdown

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

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

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

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

Rating the rookies, position by position


VIDEO: The Starters grade the rookies after Summer League action

This is going to be a unique rookie class no matter what, with the No. 1 pick having already been traded and three of the top prospects from outside the 2014 draft, so a position-by-position ranking of first-year players less than a week before all training camps open is likewise a challenge to pin down.

The No. 1 point guard was the third point guard taken in June, if it turns out Dante Exum actually plays there, a TBA in Utah with Trey Burke in place but also after Exum insisted throughout the draft process that’s his position (and the absence of a perimeter game agrees he can’t handle shooting guard yet). It is possible, and even likely, that all of two centers will spend at least most of 2014-15 in the NBA or avoid getting cut altogether. And only one of the shooting guards, Nik Stauskas in Sacramento, can be in a conversation about potentially starting early.

The true impact of the newcomers will take years to determine. For now, before the Rookie Ladder returns closer to the regular season for the overall rankings, there are the position ratings heading into camp to gauge the greatest first-year impact, not predict the best careers.

Point Guard

1. Elfrid Payton, Magic

2. Exum

3. Marcus Smart, Celtics

4. Russ Smith, Pelicans

5. Shabazz Napier, Heat

Summary: Easy call. Payton has the clearest path, by far, to a starting job, under the assumption Victor Oladipo moves to become the full-time shooting guard, and having an opportunity is an obvious edge over others fighting for backup minutes. Smart would similarly greatly benefit if the usual Rajon Rondo trade speculation finally becomes reality now that a successor is in place. Smith could go from No. 47 directly into the New Orleans rotation. (more…)

New situations for second-year players


VIDEO: Learn more about the Greek Freak on ‘Inside Stuff’

What a difference a year makes. And another 60 draft picks. And coaching changes. And trades, free agency and retirement. And medical updates. Especially medical updates.

Paul George getting hurt creates an unexpectedly large opportunity for Solomon Hill with the Pacers, C.J. McCollum gets a training camp in Portland and a running start into 2014-15, Alex Len tries to keep up with the other Suns after missing almost all of a second consecutive summer league because of health problems, and that’s just a partial list. Many of last season’s rookies to watch are this season’s special intrigue, second-year players who will be under a spotlight beyond the usual tracking.

We’re talking playoff implications here and serious questions about career direction. Including:

Victor Oladipo, Magic — Oladipo greatly enhanced his draft stock by dramatically improving his perimeter game as a junior compared to the first two seasons at Indiana, then regressed to 32.7 percent on 3-pointers and 41.9 percent overall as an NBA rookie. That was either a typical difficult transition to the pros, compounded by playing a lot more point guard than before, or the start of chatter that he was a one-hit wonder as a college shooter.

That, in turn, matters in a big way in Orlando. The potential impact of the No. 2 pick in 2013 who at the time projected as a two-way player, based on that final season with the Hoosiers, would be stunted if opponents don’t need to break a sweat when he gets the ball 18 feet from the basket. Beyond that, the Magic need shooters. If Oladipo isn’t one, they need them even more.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — New coach Jason Kidd wants to give Greek Freak, a small forward as a rookie, a look at point guard, despite Kidd’s many options at the positions. There isn’t the same need after adding Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall later in the summer — in addition to returnees Brandon Knight, Ramon Sessions and Nate Wolters — but the implications of Antetokounmpo succeeding or failing at the point are big. If it works, Milwaukee could throw a matchup problem of historic proportions at a opponents and projected power forward Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick of 2014, would have more of an opening to show versatility at small forward.

Cody Zeller, Hornets — When Josh McRoberts went from Charlotte to Miami as a free agent, Zeller went from likely backup to the new starter after a 2013-14 of 17.3 minutes per game and a drop to 13.3 in the first round. He is a good fit next to center Al Jefferson, an athletic power forward to offset the center’s slower pace and post game, a good passer who will find Jefferson and new offensive threat Lance Stephenson, but Zeller needs to produce no matter what to help make the Hornets in a playoff a regular sighting.

Alex Len, Suns — Ankle problems last summer, a fractured right pinkie this summer. The 2014 issue isn’t nearly the concern in Phoenix, but the No. 5 pick in ’13 needs to show he can stay healthy. He played 42 games as a rookie, mostly watching as Miles Plumlee, just acquired from the Pacers, took complete control of the starting job at center. Len has a lot of ground to make up.

Anthony Bennett, Timberwolves — The good news is that the first pick in 2013 does not face the same pressure in Minnesota as he did in Cleveland, not with Andrew Wiggins, No. 1 this year, headlining the package that went to the Twin Cities for Kevin Love. Of course, that’s also the bad news. People are expecting that little of Bennett.

Counting him out after one season, even a season of 4.2 points and 35.6 percent from the field, is a mistake. Bennett may have been the top choice only because it was a bad draft and likely would have gone somewhere around the middle of the lottery this June, and there may still be questions about whom he defends, but this is a bounce-back opportunity. Then it’s up to him.

Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves — Speaking of Minneapolis big-man watches. The difference is Dieng went No. 21, was always going to be a good value pick in that range, and showed the kind of improvement the second half of his rookie season that makes a team look forward to what comes next. Nikola Pekovic, Dieng, Thaddeus Young, maybe Bennett — Minnesota has a chance for a center/power forward rotation.

Ben McLemore, Kings — Sacramento officials couldn’t stop celebrating its good fortune a year ago that McLemore was still on the board at No. 7. Then he was given a clear path to the starting job at shooting guard and couldn’t hold it, finishing at 37.6 percent from the field. Then the same Sacramento officials used the 2014 lottery pick on another shooting guard, Nik Stauskas. While saying all the right things about remaining committed to McLemore, of course.

Solomon Hill, Pacers — Even if Chris Copeland gets the start at small forward in place of the injured George, any measurable bench production from Hill, the No. 23 pick a year ago, will be important. To Indy, of course, in trying to turn longshot hopes for another playoff run into reality, but also to Hill in the wake of getting just 8.1 minutes in 28 regular-season appearances.

C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers — Limited to just 38 games by a broken left foot, a repeat injury from college, he is now an integral part of hopes in Portland. A solid (or better) contribution from McCollum and the Trail Blazers have a proven backup shooting guard who could play emergency point guard. Poor production and the Blazers have more depth problems with a bench built mostly on players trying to squeeze another season or two out of their career or prospects all about unrealized potential.

Trey Burke, Jazz — From the third-leading vote getter for Rookie of the Year, behind Michael Carter-Williams and Oladipo, to possible transition mode within months after Utah spent its 2014 lottery pick on Dante Exum, who has made it clear he is a point guard and wants the ball in his hands. Maybe Burke and Exum play together, especially with Exum projected as being able to defend shooting guard, although he has yet to show the consistent perimeter game to handle the role on offense. Maybe Burke’s relative experience and leadership skills keep him first on the depth chart as Exum makes the jump from high school ball in Australia. But one of the best parts of the Jazz last season is far from locked into the job.

Blogtable: Worried about Rose yet?

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: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason


Derrick Rose shot only 25.4 percent during his World Cup run. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Derrick Rose shot only 25.4 percent during his World Cup run. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

> Nobody seems all that worried about Derrick Rose, even after an abysmal (statistically speaking) FIBA World Cup tournament. Are you? Why or why not?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m based in Chicago, so yeah, I’m worried. Or rather, I’m surrounded by worry. Bulls fans legitimately wonder if Rose will be able to withstand a full schedule, if he’ll be his old self on the court (or 96 percent, anyway) and – gasp! – what the contingency plan is if he can’t or isn’t. They worry they’ll end up commiserating with Washington NFL fans over their own Robert Griffin III — a meteor-like star who flashes across their sky but falls to Earth too soon. Then again, there is a “rust” factor in play and Rose didn’t stick around long enough last season to entirely work through it. There, is my brow sufficiently unfurrowed?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: You have heard of rust, right? The guy was rusty. He didn’t have his shot. He’s spent practically two years rehabbing two separate knee injuries instead of playing. Check back around the All-Star break and let’s see where he’s at. The biggest positive was that he seemed to be moving well, had a burst, and that’s what’s key. He played, as far as I could tell, with relative abandon, he wasn’t hesitant to cut or jump. So, again, hit me up around the All-Star break.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Whatever worry I have — and I don’t think “worry” is the right word — has nothing to do with the World Cup statistics. I don’t care about his shooting percentage in September. This is a guy coming back after missing a majority of games two seasons in a row. How does the knee feel? How does it respond to playing two games in a row? Is Rose able to burst to the rim? That’s what matters. And that’s why the World Cup, including the exhibitions in North America and the practices along the way, should be viewed as a positive, not a worry.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t buy the theory that the FIBA ball was the primary reason he shot 1-for-19 from 3-point range, but I still wouldn’t be concerned about his numbers. Playing limited minutes as the back-up point guard, he didn’t have much of a chance to get into a rhythm in any of those games. And he knew that running the offense and playing aggressive on-the-ball defense were his primary duties. The key takeaway is that he got some full-speed games under his belt and moved further along in the process of getting back to being All-Star Derrick Rose than he would have if he didn’t play with the national team.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The first thing you have to do is ignore those statistics from the FIBA World Cup. They don’t translate to the NBA for a number of reasons, the most important being the fact that playing that limited time we saw from Rose in Spain is completely out of the question in Chicago. That rust Rose was working to knock off during the World Cup will go into hyperdrive once the Bulls kick off training camp. Rose wasn’t in Spain to show off or to try to get it all back at once. He was playing a role, nothing more and nothing less, and using his time there to round into game ready NBA shape. So no, I’m not particularly worried about Rose based on what I saw from him in Spain. If anything, he looks at least physically ready to return to form. He has plenty of time to sharpen his touch and get his timing down with his Bulls teammates. Plus, Tom Thibodeau was there every step of the way as a U.S. assistant and spoke to us regularly about Rose. If he’s not worried, I’m not worried.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Considering how much time he’s missed the last two seasons, I’m not worried about Rose’s timing being while off playing with people he’s never played with before, or shots that usually go down not going in, or his aggressiveness wavering throughout the tournament. What I was more focused on were those flashes of the old D-Rose — him tipping passes on defense, leading fast breaks, storming his way through traffic to the rim. I suppose it’s a half-full, half-empty type of thing. Call me an optimist, but I think he’s still on the way back, and he’ll get there if we give him time.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m not worried, the main thing is that he made it through unscathed. There’s going to be some growing pains with this recovery period and I’m sure Bulls fans are pleased that the majority of those were on display for Team USA. Yes, he averaged just 5.4 points on 27.3 percent shooting, including 1-for-17 from 3-point range, but he wasn’t playing the pivotal role that he will with the Bulls. The guy hasn’t suddenly lost the ability to play, he’s just dealing with a few minor issues as he works his way back to full confidence. There were enough little highlights in there to show that he hasn’t lost any of his athleticism, don’t worry Bulls fans, things will be OK.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: FIBA and NBA are two very different games, and Rose’s job description with the Bulls is also a lot different from his duties with Team USA. I’m optimistic his time with the national team was a step in the right direction. Not losing any more games is the goal with him.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Let me answer this one by taking us back to 2010, when Derrick Rose played in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, and statistically speaking, wasn’t anything amazing, even though the USA won the tournament. A few months later, he began the season that eventually became his finest, and by the time the 2010-11 calender concluded, he had become the NBA’s youngest-ever MVP. Now, I’m not saying that a tough World Cup performance equals an impressive NBA season, and circumstances are obviously different now since Rose is starting the 2013-14 season coming off of two lost years. But I am saying that we shouldn’t judge a player like Rose from the World Cup. This was true in 2010, and this is especially true now, since unlike his other USA teammates, he used the tournament as a way to get back into the shape and rhythm required for high-level basketball. I’m not worried about Rose — on the contrary, I’m optimistic that he made it out of the World Cup without breaking down and will now head into the regular season with much-needed basketball exposure.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: It’s true that Derrick Rose didn’t have a solid overall tournament and only showcased glimpses of his talent. But, he didn’t have either the role or the space to do more for his team. In Chicago he will have the ball in his hands and can then remind us more of his old self. I’m not worried about his peaks, I’m worried about his valleys, as John Wooden used to say. The knee injuries may not affect his game, but they have affected the time he needs to rest after matches. So, stability is the real test for him.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Worried? Not at all! You have to keep in mind that the guy has been out for almost two seasons. So there is a lot of catching up to do. I think what really mattered in Spain was not the way he played, it was the fact that he played. Every single game. For a guy with Rose’s injury history the schedule was tough, nevertheless he did not sit out one single contest and played without any sign of soreness or problems with his knees. That should be encouraging. And it is.  Of course Rose’s game needs a lot of polishing before the playoffs start. Yes: the playoffs. Because you can be sure, he won’t be there from day one of the regular season. He has not found his rhythm yet, is not really capable of controlling the pace. Offensively he made some wrong decisions; the shot selection was not too good either. But I guess, after two years of absence, that doesn’t come as a surprise. The two weeks in Spain allowed Rose to regain confidence in his body, to get used to serious competition again. I think that’s everything anybody could ask for. So again: I‘m not worried at all.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I believe that he will reach his best level by the start of the season.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA Mexico: For me, doubts about Derrick Rose’s performance continue. It seems the Bulls player still has a certain fear about his physical potential, and thus limits his own talent — the talent that once led him to become an MVP. During the tournament, he wasn’t the player we knew. The old Rose never hesitated when attacking the rim and, above all, used to be explosive and aggressive whenever he touched with the ball. And we did get a couple hints that Rose wasn’t quite himself (yet), when Coach K did not want to overwork or overexpose the Bulls star too early in USAB camp. This provokes great doubts for me in a season where the Bulls have invested so heavily to surround him with talent. However, if he fails to regain that confidence and hasn’t fully recuperated from his injury, it’s tough to see great times ahead.

 

Blogtable: The U.S. vs. the World

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: Rose’s comeback | The U.S. vs. the world | The NBA’s offseason



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not U.S. players are too dominant on the international stage

> What’s your takeaway from the whooping the U.S. put on the rest of the world at the FIBA World Cup? Is the gap widening again? Time for America to call off the dogs, let even younger guys play? Other thoughts?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: To heck with global supremacy and to heck with calling off the dogs. I favor a young-player Team USA and FIBA tournament in general so as to not expose franchise stars to undue risk of injury or fatigue. Basketball is a worldwide sport, the NBA is a league of nations, and it doesn’t turn on which country in a given year puts together the winningest roster. The Olympics doesn’t even move my needle on this. I’m a big believer in putting the day job first, and the NBA’s investment all around — for owners, for fans, for players — ought to be the 800-pound priority.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The gap has always been wide and likely will be for many years to come just as the U.S. men’s national soccer team remains miles away from contending for the World Cup despite making obvious gains. As for allowing the younger guys to play, I’ve always taken this side. To me it makes little sense for the NBA’s elite players to risk injury in a tournament that, frankly, holds little meaning in this country. Look, the World Cup championship game went up against Sunday NFL games. I haven’t seen the ratings, but I’m guessing they weren’t pretty. Now, having talked recently to Chandler Parsons and hearing his real disappointment at not making the team, I’m not here to tell anyone they can’t participate if they want to. But outside of the Olympics — and even then I’m not beholden to the drum beat that our best players must compete so the U.S. is guaranteed of winning gold — we should open the field to a much wider pool of players who can proudly represent the U.S.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No calling off. Send the best team possible and see who wins. It’s the world championships or the Olympics, not AYSO. If the United States wins for the next 20 years, then the event has served its purpose to determine the best. If someone else wins, the victory will have much more meaning than if it came against the D-League All-Stars or a mix of college players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It just seems that way. There are a lot of reasons why USA never got challenged. The next four or five best teams were all on the other side of the bracket. Spain would have provided a tougher matchup, but crumbled under the pressure of a close game in the quarterfinals. While Serbia was a good team, it had never played the U.S., so that was the first time most of its players had faced that kind of speed and athleticism. And finally, the gold medal game would have been more competitive had the U.S. not shot ridiculously well from 3-point range on that particular night. There’s still a gap in regard to both top-line talent and depth of talent, and Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have done a better job of making the most of that talent than previous regimes had. But the rest of the world certainly isn’t getting worse.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My biggest takeaway is that this rush to judge the team that USA Basketball sent to Spain was as twisted and relentless as anything I’ve seen in two decades in this business. The narrative about this team that was spun before they even left these shores for Spain was pretty comical. No stars = USAB, and more specifically the NBA, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewskiall getting their commeuppance from the rest of the world was pretty much the way I read it. Foolishness. Complete foolishness. The U.S. team was clearly better and deeper than anyone else in the field, including Spain. (I said it here last week.). Even the haters have to face the reality that the U.S. program is once again the measuring stick. The same built-in advantage certain nations have when the FIFA World Cup rolls around is the same decided edge the (wrongly stereotyped ugly) Americans have now when the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics pop up on the summer schedule. The pool of human resources at USAB’s disposal is as deep as it gets and arguably as deep as it has ever been. And some of these so-called future NBA stars or guys who have dominated internationally and could and would do whatever in the NBA are getting hype they don’t deserve. And it showed when they faced the U.S. “C-Team” that quite frankly trounced the competition in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The more I think about it, the less I understand these international competitions. I get it in soccer, when national teams are assembled every few years for the World Cup, because at least in between in soccer we get the Champion’s League, where we see the world’s best teams all compete against each other. And I think that might be a more interesting concept in basketball than a Basketball World Cup, where the Olympics are still considered the marquee tournament. With that said, just because the US breezed through this tournament without much trouble, using a banged-up roster, it’s probably too soon to say the US is beyond reproach. We never did, for instance, have to play against Spain or France, and we came through the tournament’s easier bracket. If there’s anything we should have learned from recent USA Basketball history, it’s as soon as you start thinking you’re untouchable, watch out.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The crazy thing about this World Cup was that this USA team was arguably second or third string and they still cruised. As someone from outside the U.S., representing a country that would receive a beat down if they faced off, I’m not concerned that they cruised through the tournament! I want to see the best players on the planet playing together. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant playing together at 2012 Olympics was incredible to see. I don’t want to see younger guys play to level up the playing field, I want to see the best team come together.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: I wrote about this at large for NBA Brasil. The gap is wide again because the rest of the world is in transition from the end of its first true NBA generation to the next wave. Just two years ago, a U.S. team with LeBron, KD, Melo and Kobe took all they could handle from Lithuania and Spain. Guys that have given trouble to the Americans in the past 10 years, like Ginobili, Jasikevicius, Kleiza, Papaloukas and Spanoulis are either retired from their national teams or took the summer off. Also, USA Basketball has done a remarkable job with its program, which sets it apart from everyone else. The rest of the world will come back: France, Serbia, Lithuania, Canada and Australia all have quality generations developing for the next Olympic cycle. But, as long as USAB keeps doing things right, the US will stay on top of it.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although I had expected the US to win the tournament, I was genuinely surprised that a young team without so many of America’s best talents were able to sweep through their competition with such ease. The gap has widened between the USA and the rest of the world for sure, but that is no need for alarm; basketball is a cycle and as a new generation of young international talents mature mature and improve, the gap will be narrowed again. The rest of the world is simply going through a phase where the old ranks (Ginobili’s Argentina, Gasol’s Spain, etc.) haven’t yet made room for the new. I don’t agree that America should call off the big dogs; on the contrary, I want USA to send their best players to the World Cup (which is ALL basketball) instead of the Olympics (where basketball is just one of dozens of sports). The more the US invests in the World Cup, the more the rest of the world will care about it.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: First of all Team USA was lucky not to face Greece, because everybody remembers that “Big in Japan” Greek team back in 2006. Sorry, I had to underline somehow the fact that we were the last country to beat the NBAers. Now, as for the gap-talk, it’s tough to say. On one hand we saw Team USA cruising through the gold medal. On the other hand there is no argument that this was the most FIBA-geared team the Americans have ever assembled. They didn’t thrive playing NBA game style, but they beat the world playing international basketball.  Team USA was so effective because it took bits and pieces from the entire world. These days when international players have become part of the NBA core and more and more European coaches are sitting on NBA benches, we cannot talk about “the gap widening”. The gap is closing in terms of talent, size, coaching and athleticism, but it’s still wide open when referring to administration, planning and management. We really like watching NBA stars on the floor every other summer, so I believe that nothing have to change.

Max Marbeiter, NBA Germany: Well, at first sight, it seems like there is no chance that we will see an international team beat the USA in the near future. And I guess that’s true at second and third sight as well. To me, Team USA simply got underestimated this time. People just saw who did not come to Spain and thought, “Well without all the big stars they might be in trouble.” Unfortunately they forgot that the NBA does not only consist of the LeBrons and Durants of this world. The team Coach K took to Spain was still miles deep and incredibly talented. I mean, James Harden, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are among the best players on their respective positions. So that was no Team USA Lite even with LeBron, KD, Paul George and Chris Paul missing. But, I guess you have to keep in mind that the draw kind of twisted the facts. Until the final, Slovenia was the toughest opponent Team USA had to face. At least on paper. All the other big nations played in the other half of the bracket. No one knows if the U.S. had beaten Argentina, Brazil or France as convincingly as they beat the Dominican Republic, Finland or Slovenia. I’m not saying they would have lost, but the games might have been closer. And maybe a final against Spain would have come down to the final minutes, although that’s something we’ll never find out. Nevertheless I don’t think the gap is widening. There’s always been a certain gap as soon as the U.S. sent some of their best players. The athletic advantage is huge. But to me it would be the wrong move to stop sending the best players to a world championship or the Olympics. The big tournaments should have the toughest competition possible. And who knows, maybe one day the United States do get beat by a team like Spain.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: I think the United States has re-opened the gap and that has been confirmed during this World Cup. I could see them heading into the Olympics with this group from 2014.