Posts Tagged ‘Scott Howard Cooper’

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.

 

Hall of Fame inducts unique group


VIDEO: David Stern’s Hall of Fame speech

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – They made for an eclectic group: two players who came from long distances to make their true legacy impacts, Alonzo Mourning and Sarunas Marciulionis; two non-players who never went anywhere, David Stern and Bob Leonard; and one player, Mitch Richmond, who uniquely rode a bad team into the Hall of Fame.

The Class of 2014 was officially enshrined Friday night inside Symphony Hall, and the newest living Hall members with NBA ties framed so much about the league and the game.

Mourning was the toughness. That would have been the case anyway, Zo and tenacity having become close acquaintances long before, but he retired, played again, and played well. After a kidney transplant. Briefly choking up early in his acceptance speech, Zo, also someone who goes way back with strong emotions, changed nothing.

Marciulionis was the globalization. Once named one of the 50 greatest players in FIBA history for leading roles with the national teams of the Soviet Union and his native Lithuania, he reached the Hall through the International Committee. But he reached a new level by refusing to back down from his dream of the NBA and became one of the symbols of expansion. What he fought through showed he could do the toughness thing, too.

Leonard and Richmond were the local ties, the grassroots feel of the league even as it grew into a conglomerate, Leonard home-spun Indiana as coach of the ABA and NBA Pacers and then a team broadcaster to this day, Richmond one of the reasons the link between the small-market Kings and the fans remained strong from one losing season to the next. Far from the bright lights, with Indy literally trying to save its pro basketball life and Sacramento screaming itself hoarse every home game with little payback in the standings, they were reason for optimism in hard times.

It’s like Leonard said in concluding his acceptance speech: “The only thing left to say is I’ve had a love affair with the fans and the people in the state of Indiana. We call ourselves Hoosiers. And they’ve been very supportive. It’s a love affair that has gone on for years, since I was [a player] at Indiana University. And I wish that it could last forever. But I know better than that. So as I look around this room, the Lord has had His hand on my shoulder. Here’s what I hope for all of you: That the Lord puts His hand on your shoulder and He blesses you all the years of your life. Thank you.”

Stern was pretty much everything, of course. Like Leonard, he was a constant, in Stern’s case as commissioner through the days drenched in money falling from the sky to the tumultuous moments that also define his rule from 1984 until 2014. And the swagger. There had to be a grand display because Stern could be so good at brash.

So display of power it shall be. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and other all-time greats appeared in the video introduction. Then five tall, bar-stool chairs were lined up on stage. Bill Russell sat in one, a few feet off Stern’s left shoulder. Magic Johnson sat next to Russell. Russ Granik, Stern’s former No. 2, sat next to Johnson. Larry Bird sat next to Granik. Bob Lanier sat next to Bird.

Some people get big names. Stern gets Mt. Olympus.

“You’ve got to love the game,” he told the crowd. “Everything we do is always about the game. Always about the game. When [wife] Dianne and I were in China, we had a guide that told us she was a big fan of the Red Oxen. Of course, she was corrected. She meant Bulls. When we were in Lithuania, the head of the Communist party of Kaunas, Sarunas’ hometown, wanted to argue with me. It was 1988. Didn’t I think the NBA salary cap was un-American because there was no room for Portland to sign [Arvydas] Sabonis. We were all over. When I was in Paris, I was sitting with the prime minister of France at a game. He said because it was the Bulls, could he go into the locker room? I thought, here it comes. Michael Jordan. He said, ‘I’d like to meet Dennis Rodman.’ It’s always about the game.”

There is a different feel to every induction class, and the 2014 group that also included the Immaculata women’s teams of the 1970s, Nolan Richardson, Gary Williams, the late Nat Clifton and the late Guy Rodgers was every angle, and sometimes every unusual angle, to the point of being comprehensive. They touched a lot of what makes the game special. They framed the league.

Team USA planning Paul George tribute

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Team USA will keep Paul George on the roster for the 2016 Olympics and is looking into options for a salute when the World Cup begins later this month, even if it means pushing for a change in international rules, the managing director of USA Basketball said.

While dismissing the possibility of the ultimate tribute of keeping George on the active roster for Spain and letting him likely win a medal without playing, saying each of the 12 spots are too valuable, especially with the United States thin on the front court, Jerry Colangelo said there are plans to make sure the injured star is a visible presence in Spain. Wanting to add to George’s motivation during the comeback from a broken right leg, Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have also already made it clear to the Pacers small forward that he is expected to be in the lineup in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“We’ve told him we have a spot for him in ’16,” Colangelo told NBA.com at festivities Thursday in advance of the Friday enshrinement of the Hall of Fame class.

Without seeing how he comes back?

“Right,” said Colangelo, also the Hall chairman. “That’s what we told him.

“We thought it’s the right thing to do,” Colangelo said. “That’s it…. We didn’t give thought to all the detail. Just that when a guy goes down and all these things, the circumstances, his career passes before him, he’s out for a year, a year-plus, he’s not able to participate now with us — we wanted to throw that out and say, ‘We’re counting on you. You’ve got a spot in ’16.’ “

Making George feel part of the team in Spain is more challenging. USA Basketball has looked into a uniform patch with his initials or jersey number, and adopting the NBA tradition of writing a message on shoes, but the rules of FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, prohibit altering uniforms. So USAB may move to change the rules.

“As far as the players are concerned, this is a rallying point in terms of what happened to Paul,” Colangelo said. “We just want to take some steps that are yet to be determined that we’re talking about to bring attention to Paul George and what his contribution has been.”

Other developments as part of three days of events highlighted by the enshrinement of the Class of 2014 …

  • The final list was released for the presenters on Friday night, the current Hall of Famers who will accompany the newest inductees to the stage Friday night but have no responsibility beyond standing to the side during a speech. Mitch Richmond picked Chris Mullin and Ralph Sampson, Bob Leonard picked Mel Daniels and Larry Bird, the family of the late Guy Rodgers picked Earl Monroe, Sarunas Marciulionis picked Mullin, Alonzo Mourning picked Pat Riley and John Thompson, and David Stern picked Bird, Magic Johnson, Bob Lanier and Russ Granik.
  • Among the Class of 2014 without NBA ties, Nolan Richardson picked Thompson and Nate Archibald, the Immaculata women’s team of the 1970s will be represented by Cathy Rush, the late Nat Clifton by Meadowlark Lemon, and Gary Williams picked Billy Cunningham.
  • While Marciulionis is happy to be in the same class as long-time friend and former teammate Richmond, he is especially pleased to note the timing of being inducted with Stern, the former commissioner who turned international players making the jump to the NBA from experiment to commonplace. “He helped European basketball, our basketball, so much by opening those gates with the Soviet Union,” Marciulionis said. “I remember him in ’86 when he arrived in Moscow and we had those Atlanta Hawks games. To be in the same line with him is a great, great honor. It’s destiny. Unbelievable.”
  • Mourning: “I’m truly excited about this enshrinement. There’s no other place to go from here but heaven, to tell you the truth. The beauty of it all is this. You wait all your life, you put your heart and soul into the game of basketball, truly put your heart and soul in. For some instances for me, I put blood, sweat and tears into it. This is the reward for your passion for the game and playing the game the right way and contributing to the game. This is the reward for doing that. I’m excited about celebrating.”
  • Near-perfect weather is forecast for Friday night and the outdoor red-carpet arrival, before moving inside for the actual enshrinement.

Attles, several others saluted by Hall


VIDEO: Al Attles is being awarded the John. W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – He accepted a job teaching at a junior high school in his hometown of Newark, N.J., coming out of North Carolina A&T and figured he’d play in the Eastern League for fun on weekends. That’s how sure Al Attles was he had no real future in basketball.

He packed for one week when he set off for Hershey, Pa., and training camp as a Philadelphia Warriors rookie in 1960. That’s how sure Attles was he would have a short NBA life.

And now look. The teaching thing never worked out. And that short life in pro ball turned into 54 years with the same organization, leading to Attles being saluted tonight with the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hall of Fame, the highest honor from the basketball museum short of enshrinement.

Attles played for the Warriors for 11 seasons, averaging 8.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He coached them for 13, resulting in six playoffs berths, two division crowns, the best mark in franchise history (59-23 in 1975-76) and the only championship in the West Coast era, the 1975 Finals win over Washington. He was general manager for three more seasons.

Now a community ambassador and a beloved member of the organization, he will be recognized as part of the Hall of Fame festivities that culminate with induction ceremonies for the Class of 2014 on Friday night at Symphony Hall.

“Alvin Attles contributed over 50 years to the Warriors and to the game of basketball,” John Doleva, the president of the Hall said when the honor was announced in February. “He impacted the lives of so many as a player, coach, ambassador and executive during his NBA tenure. We are honored to recognize coach Attles with this prestigious award.”

Others being saluted the next two days, in addition to Alonzo Mourning, David Stern, Mitch Richmond, Sarunas Marciulionis and Bob Leonard, in the Class of 2014:


VIDEO: Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton highlights

Nat Clifton, with induction via the Early African-American Pioneers of the Game committee. Clifton played for the Harlem Globetrotters and for eight seasons in the NBA, averaging 10 points and 8.2 rebounds. Also in the Black Athletes Hall of Fame, he passed away in 1990.

Guy Rodgers, with induction via the Veterans committee. Rodgers led Temple to a pair of Final Four appearances, was a unanimous All-America in 1958 and played 12 seasons in the NBA, twice finishing first in assists. He passed away in 2001.

Nolan Richardson, with induction via the North American committee. Richardson coached Arkansas to the 1994 national championship and three Final Fours as part of a career that also included an NIT title at Tulsa, a junior-college crown with Western Texas and a college coaching mark of 509-207.

Gary Williams, with induction via the North American committee. The Maryland coach made 11 consecutive tournament appearances in the 1990s and 2000s, won the national championship in 2002, led teams to seven 25-wins seasons and finished 668-380.

Immaculata University, with induction via the Women’s committee. The school won three straight AIAW championships, from 1972 to 1974, while going 60-2 and became the first women’s team to play a nationally televised game. The roster included three future members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame: Theresa Shank, Marianne Crawford and Mary Scharff.

Joe Gilmartin (print) and John Andariese (electronic), with the Curt Gowdy Media Award. Gilmartin was a columnist for the Phoenix Gazette for more than 30 years, wrote for the Suns’ website, was the team’s television analyst in the 1980s and was voted Arizona sportswriter of the year a record 16 times. Andariese has been a color commentator on Knicks games since 1972, when he teamed with Marv Albert, later joined TVS, ESPN, Turner, did radio broadcasts and currently handles Knicks duties for MSG Network.

Former referee Bob Delaney and former Charlotte owner Robert L. Johnson, with the Mannie Jackson-Basketball’s Human Spirit Award for “striving to improve the community, making a commitment to others, hard work and embracing the core values of the game.” Delaney, a former New Jersey State Police officer who worked undercover to fight organized crime, was cited for his work in providing awareness and education on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Johnson, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, is saluted for his philanthropic work.

Blogtable: Are the Pacers done?

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: Risk/reward and the USA | Indy’s dilemma | Pick a center


> You’re Larry Bird. Paul George is out. Lance Stephenson is gone. What are your plans for the Pacers? When can you make them a factor again?

The success of the Pacers next season will rest largely on Roy Hibbert's shoulders. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

The success of the Pacers next season will rest largely on Roy Hibbert’s shoulders. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The cupboard is too bare, I fear, for the Pacers to be much of a factor this season. The contender that most needed an offensive overhaul has suffered an offensive mugging, losing its starting and shot-creating backcourt. Shawn Marion wouldn’t be any real answer at this stage of his career, C.J. Miles is C.J. Miles, and unless Rodney Stuckey was holding back something brilliant from Pistons fans, he won’t be a savior either. David West is getting long in the tooth and Roy Hibbert remains a 7-foot enigma. On defense and muscle memory, Indiana can grab a lower playoff rung in the East. But that’s about it. Can Reggie Miller suit up again?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You take a page out of an old Western movie and circle the wagons. The Pacers don’t have to look outside their own division to see how the Bulls made no excuses and instead made a commitment to defense and team play the past two season. Hello, Roy Hibbert. It’s your time to step up and shoulder the burden. The challenge is to develop a stronger supporting cast for when George does return in 2015-16 and vaults Indy back into the Eastern Conference contender race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a lot of choices out there other than going out and playing with the hand they’re dealt. Maybe this can be Indiana’s David Robinson-Tim Duncan moment. Is there a Tim Duncan out there?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m screwed. There will be the chance to sign someone with the injury exception, but obviously anyone who can make the kind of impact the Pacers need now is gone. And any trade consideration only weakens me at another position (and there is no sense to give up a lot for a small forward if I believe George is back after one season). I can, however, set the tone, along with Frank Vogel, that this changes nothing in the expectation that everyone reports to work every day expecting to win. I’m good at that no-nonsense thing.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Tread water. Seriously. Just tread water in the Eastern Conference and do whatever it takes to try to make the playoffs with a roster that has been greatly reduced since last season. Doubt works as a great motivator. And these Pacers will be doubted by many, so they’ll have all the motivation they need. But Paul George could be out for not only the entire 2014-15 season and beyond, which means the Pacers will spend the next two seasons trying to recover from what has turned out to be a catastrophic summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Obviously, they’re not going to be a “factor” until at least the 2015-16 season. So Bird should listen to offers for his older vets, including David West, who turns 34 this month and could help another team (Phoenix?) more than he could help the Pacers. Indiana was already pretty brutal offensively. It got worse when they lost Lance Stephenson and now we may be looking at the worst offense in the league. Even if they can remain a top-10 defense without their best perimeter defender, the Pacers will be lucky if they hover around .500 this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You play to your strengths. You’ve still got Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola, so you slow the tempo as much as you can and pound the ball inside, over and over and over. One of Hibbert’s issues last season was gumming up the offense by wanting the ball in the post. Well, now you can have it as much as you want! The Pacers won’t contend in the East this season, but they can still defend the rim, and with more shots to go around, I wouldn’t be surprised if George Hill steps up and posts big numbers as well. So for now, you try and get by until Paul George is back out there.

Rubens Borges, NBA Brasil: The Indiana Pacers are in a pickle. They have already lost Lance Stephenson, one of the only shot creators in the 23rd best offense of the 2013-14 season, to the Charlotte Hornets. With Paul George hurt, Indiana loses the best weapon it had. Not only that, but the Pacers saw one of its best, if not the best, defenders in the team go down. Indiana has two options: pull a 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs and go for a high lottery pick or toil away at the season, hoping a weaker East can salvage 2014-15.  Option A: trade David West or Roy Hibbert for picks, young assets and hope they can land a high pick. Option B: hope that the East, weaker than the West but improved, can provide them with a playoff berth. If I were Larry Bird I would go with option A. Retool a bad offense without losing their defensive anchor, George, and come back stronger in 2015-16.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Larry Bird needs to challenge Roy Hibbert. The Indiana big man stumbled dramatically in the 2014 post-season, and with George injured, Hibbert has the opportunity to redeem himself. If Bird can get him to play big for Indiana now, it is a win-win for both. At the same time, Bird has to bring in some manpower and getting Shawn Marion, a proven, versatile forward, with tons of experience, would be a good place to start. As for making them a legitimate factor, Paul George has to return at the earliest.