Posts Tagged ‘Scott Howard Cooper’

Blogtable: Second-year leaps

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: Sophomore strength | Best new fit | A memorable summer


> Which of these second-year players do you expect to take the biggest leap forward this season: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. or Gorgui Dieng? Why?

Gorgui Dieng (David Sherman/NBAE)

Gorgui Dieng (David Sherman/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGive me Gorgui Dieng. The lively, defensive-minded center from Senegal by way of Louisville was a second-half revelation last season after spending the first four months of 2013-14 buried on Minnesota’s bench. He started 15 games late in the season, averaging 12.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, while turning his plus/minus from minus-14.0 to plus-4.5. Chicago already admits privately that passing on Dieng to take Tony Snell one spot earlier in the 2013 draft was a mistake — he would be a perfect complement to Joakim Noah and replacement for Omer Asik in Tom Thibodeau‘s defense. Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders knows what he has in Dieng, who mitigates the disappointing work so far by same-first-rounder Shabazz Muhammad. So Dieng will get a big minutes boost whether Nikola Pekovic stays healthy or, more likely, not.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Trey Burke is in a good position to make the leap, but I’m not sure he’s good the right passing instincts for a point guard yet. Gorgui Deng will get minutes as Nikola Pekovic’s backup, but the Wolves are a team starting over. So I’ll go with Tim Hardaway Jr., who can do one thing — shoot — very well.  If he gets better on defense, he could push for a spot in the starting lineup. Or he lights it up for Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson as a sixth man.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I really like Gorgui Dieng and how strong he came on last season, but since he’s playing behind Nikola Pekovic, I’m just not sure he’s necessarily going to get the impact minutes of the other two guys. Tim Hardaway Jr. should be an exciting player in New York, but my money’s on Trey Burke. First off all, he’s got the ball in his hands so he has an opportunity every time down the floor to make something happen. I think the Jazz will have a fun team under Quin Snyder. Also, he’ll be pushed by rookie Dante Exum, and that kind of competition will drive to Burke to really hone his game.

Trey Burke (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Trey Burke (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: All good candidates for forward progress. I’ll go with Dieng because I have been on the bandwagon since he as drafted and, and plus, he followed that up with a very good second half to the rookie season. That momentum could carry over, giving him a chance to play a big role in Minnesota. Burke will definitely have a big role in Utah, but also the most challenging situation of the three because he will be adjusting to the arrival of Dante Exum, who will have the ball in his hands a lot. Burke was smart, mature and made good decisions his first season, so he can contribute in a lot of ways, but  his path is subject to change.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Burke has the biggest opportunity of the three to build on his rookie year. He was handed the keys to the Utah offense as soon as he made his late-November debut last season, and Dante Exum probably won’t take too many point-guard minutes from him this year. Hardaway can be an explosive scorer, but is still in a mix with Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith on the wing in New York, where it will be especially crowded if Carmelo Anthony plays most of his minutes at the three. Dieng isn’t talked about enough when discussing the young Wolves, but is still playing behind Thaddeus Young and Nikola Pekovic.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Tim Hardaway Jr. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a trick question, right? You stick two Michigan guys in here and think I’m going to ignore my guys. I think Tim Hardaway Jr. has the highest ceiling of the three and the great opportunity in front of him in terms of what role he could potentially play this season. The new system and coach in New York will be an ideal fit for young Hardaway, whose ability to score in bunches and from deep, gives him the edge over two other guys who have a chance to have huge seasons of their own. But Hardaway Jr. is my pick to take flight this year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I really like Dieng, and he looked great at Summer League in Vegas. But to me the easier transition path belongs to Burke. After a season of going up against NBA competition at an unfamiliar position, he can build on that experience and move forward. Equally important, the other young Jazz players can take from last year’s rough experience and move forward. And don’t forget Utah has new coach Quin Snyder in place, presumably running some version of the offense used in his previous stops, San Antonio and Atlanta, where point guards Tony Parker and Jeff Teague had plenty of opportunities to flourish.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Logically, I think Trey Burke will have the biggest leap because the point guard position has been generally successful the past few years. Burke has all the tools to succeed in his position, although they have the highly touted Dante Exum on their squad, he’s still a raw project compared to Burke. With already one year under his belt, Burke has nowhere to go but up.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Tim Hardarway Jr. The New York Knicks guard has potential and was one of the bright sparks from the Knicks’ rough showing last season. Hardaway Jr. has shown that he can create his own shot, shoot on the first touch, moves well without the ball in his hand and can get open while eluding the defense. Then with the changes made by the Knicks, with Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher now around at MSG, Hardaway Jr. will have the right mentoring to help him reach his ceiling.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I say Gorgui Dieng. He had a very interesting second part of the season, a fantastic World Cup and plays for a rebuilding team in which everybody will get his chance. He’s going to be a double-double machine pretty soon, even coming off the bench behind Pekovic.

Blogtable: Pierce, Gasol, Parsons?

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: Sophomore strength | Best new fit | A memorable summer


Long-time Lakers center Pau Gasol bolted for Chicago over the summer. (Randy Belice/NBAE)

Long-time Lakers center Pau Gasol bolted for Chicago over the summer. (Randy Belice/NBAE)

> Which of these players will fit in best with his new team: Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol or Chandler Parsons? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I like them all in their new surroundings. Pierce seems energized by Washington’s youth and up-and-coming attitude, and he’s willing to be more old head than focal point. Parsons is versatile enough to fill different needs for Dallas on different nights. Gasol opens up new vistas for Chicago’s offense, especially in tandem with Derrick Rose, and is eager to put the past two sour Lakers years behind him. Forced to choose? I’ll go with Parsons because of his age, because of the opportunities he’ll get with the Mavericks and because he’s the least likely of the three to battle injuries.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: From the day he chose Chicago, I’ve thought Pau Gasol is the perfect complement to Joakim Noah. He’s a solid frontline scorer and rebounder, excellent passer and should give a Bulls offense that struggles to score points another option and big boost.

Paul Pierce (Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Paul Pierce (Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well, look, Paul Pierce is such a veteran that he’s going to walk into that locker room with some up-and-coming young dudes and just own it. Pau Gasol is a gentleman and so easy to get along with that he’ll fit in quickly in Chicago. But, Chandler Parsons is going to be a tremendous fit with the Dallas Mavericks. Playing off Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, and with Rick Carlisle figuring out the best ways to put him in a position to be successful, I really think Parsons is going to show a lot of versatility in Dallas and is headed for a big year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Gasol, because he can fit in most any situation. While I like the other two additions, especially Parsons in Dallas, Gasol is the perfect complementary player for a lot of teams. The Bulls can be one of those teams as long as Tom Thibodeau doesn’t go Tom Thibodeau on him and play Gasol into the ground. Gasol will pass at a level that will create opportunities for Derrick Rose and the wing shooters.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Parsons fits best as a secondary playmaker in a Mavs’ offense that already features the impossible-to-guard Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-roll. If the ball is swung to Parsons on the weak side, he’ll get open threes or be able to attack close-outs with the dribble, more effectively than Shawn Marion in both cases. He’ll need to be a better defender, but the Mavs have Tyson Chandler to help on that end. Gasol will be have more of Tom Thibodeau’s trust than Carlos Boozer did, but there’s some overlap with his skill set and that of Joakim Noah. I’d put Pierce last because I think he’s a more effective four than three these days and, while he gives the Wizards an offensive boost, he can’t replace Trevor Ariza‘s defense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After watching Pierce set the tone for the Wizards’ season by getting in the face of Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls in the exhibition opener, I’m even more convinced that he’ll slide into the perfect role in Washington. The Wizards are not going to ask Pierce to be the player he was five or six years ago, when he was still an All-Star caliber player. This team needs an edge, an agitator and a veteran player who can push the youngsters to go to that next level. Pierce is that guy.

Chandler Parsons (Glenn James/NBAE)

Chandler Parsons (Glenn James/NBAE)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I saw Pierce and Gasol go against each other last night in Chicago, and they both looked good. Pierce in particular gave Washington an aggressive edge, getting mixed up with Joakim Noah minutes into the preseason opener. But I’ve said all summer long that Pau Gasol will have a significant impact for Chicago, and I stand by that thought. Pau will unlock their offense — the other night I saw him attempt a few passes I’m not sure a Bulls center has even thought of in a decade. Most impressive to me was Pau’s demeanor. He made a reasoned and considered decision and truly believes he can affect change we can believe in for these Bulls.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Paul Pierce seems the right piece for the Wizards puzzle. A good veteran player than can be the glue that connects the yound and talented back-court (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr.) and the experienced front-line (Nene, Marcin Gortat, DeJuan Blair, Drew Gooden). Playing at the 3-spot and having that kind of experienced, means that he can fill all the dots and take his new team to the next level.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: It is a difficult question, but it seems to me that Pau Gasol’s the right answer, because the Bulls are a team where a full, well-rounded game is essential. Which Pau certainly does. Plus, he’ll have the help of a great post player in Joakim Noah.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Chandler Parsons will benefit the most in his new role. He is firmly entrenched in the starting small forward position that was vacated by Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, with Dirk Nowitzki spacing the floor and Monta Ellis driving inside the lane attracting the defense, look for Parsons to take advantage and perform well from the very start.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com Mexico: Pau Gasol will be the player who excels most on a new team, as he’ll have a system where he won’t be the one who has to do the dirty work under the table, something which was questioned during his tenure with the Lakers. He’ll also be able to play power forward, which brought him to the NBA, and be that dominant player with the mid-range shot that opens up spaces so that Rose and company could penetrate the paint more easily.

Trying to put Linsanity in the past

VIDEO: Jeremy Lin is introduced to Lakers media

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Linsanity is dead.

At least that’s the direction Jeremy Lin, the recipient/victim of the craze, is going. Then again, he shared the sentiment with a pack of a couple dozen reporters who rushed him at Lakers media day on Monday, a unique reception for a part-time starter in a different city a year ago, and a player L.A. hopes will have a backup role this season (because it will mean Steve Nash is healthy and productive).

Hoping to permanently move the past the madness is off to a slow start so far, but he is ‘so over’ Linsanity he said in even tones laced with a dose of imploring and a hint of groaning. That was, what, one lifetime, two teams and just about three seasons ago? Enough already.

This is a new team and a new start for Lin. There is no better place for a rebirth, actually, because it’s where it all started. Literally. Lin was born about 10 miles from the practice facility (in Torrance) and even though the family relocated to Palo Alto when he was 2 years old and he grew up in the Bay Area, being in California again is still being in California.

“Doesn’t matter where, I just want to be in California,” he said. “I’m happy to be back.”

Only everything has changed since he left. Waived by the hometown Warriors, he signed with the Knicks on Dec. 27, 2011, and went on a ride like few others in basketball history, and probably the history of any sport. The 35 games with New York was like an explosion: the run of at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first five starts, the game-winning 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining at Toronto, the publicity tornado that turned him into an international marketing sensation less than one year after grinding away in the D-League.

He went to Houston as a restricted free agent, and so did some of the attention. He went to Los Angeles with a first-round pick and a second in a Rockets salary dump for the rights to Sergei Lishchuk. And so did some more attention.

Los Angeles and its Lakers are the last place to go to get away from any Fill-in-the-blanksanity, the latest in Lin bouncing from one large media market to another, but there are benefits. It’ll pass for home, for one thing. For another, the two seasons in Houston provided some separation from the New York dream come true that now is all he is known for. He does not want the anonymity of Sergei Lishchuk. He just wants to be attached to something besides the momentary bright flash with the Knicks.

Maybe he could start a Winsanity, one of the members of the media pack suggested.

“Sure,” Lin responded. “Anything but Linsanity.”

So over it.

“I’ve been over Linsanity,” he corrected. “I’m ready for the upcoming season. For me, Linsanity’s more like a one-off thing. It’s a short duration of time. I’m really looking to build a legacy, a long-term thing in terms of who I am as a person, who I am as a player. It’s kind of irritating to always be referred to as something of the past or some short time of the past or something like that. I think I want to just continue to build who I am as a player.”

The Lin of training camp 2014 is longing for permanence. He appeared as a Warrior in 29 games, after all, with almost as many games in the minors, as a Knick for 35, and then two seasons as a Rocket before being traded to the Lakers to help Houston clear cap space. That doesn’t even count being signed by Houston and being waived after 12 days without playing.

That’s some twisted role — a phenomenon of a success story in going from undrafted Harvard product to instant popularity across continents, yet not able to sustain NBA success for more than a few months.

“I want to find a home,” Lin said. “I feel like, for me, I’m always moving every year, even multiple times in a year. I’ve been to the D-League. Cut. Traded. Waived. Whatever. Restricted free agency. I’ve done pretty much everything. I just want to find a home and be there. I think the best legacies are the ones where you stick on a team and you do a lot for that team year in and year out. That hasn’t been something I’ve been able to do.”

He is 26 now, about to play for his fourth NBA team in five seasons, and one campaign away from free agency and possibly another relocation. The Lakers present the opportunity of entering camp as the backup point guard on a team where the starter can’t stay healthy, and that he brings an intensity and experience they can use.

“If you look at stats,” coach Byron Scott said, “he’s one of the top point guards in this league as far as getting to the basket, so he’s not afraid of contact. On the defensive end, he’s very gritty and he takes a challenge. That’s going to sit real well with me as far as his playing time.”

There is hope on both sides the Lakers acquired something more than a memory. They need a player and he needs a permanent home, neither interested in being compared to the past. Enough already.

Blogtable: Finding Westbrook’s place

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


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.

> Scott Brooks says Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. We’re wondering if Westbrook should play 2 guard instead. What’s your thinking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Scott Brooks, former professional point guard by trade, considers Russell Westbrook to be a point guard, that’s good enough for me. What’s in a name, The Bard asked. That which we call a Rose (Derrick) by any other name would smell as sweet (if healthy). Same goes for Westbrook. No need to get hung up on position designation. The key is for Westbrook to complement Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup and for Brooks to build his backcourt to complement his irrepressibly athletic ball dominator. Time to move on from the John Stockton archetype, at least in this guy’s case.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With all of the great point guards currently in the NBA, who is the best is a classic barstool question that can have many different and valid answers. Russell Westbrook, with all of his flaws, is the correct one on any given night. No, he’ll never be linked with John Stockton as a classic set-up man or Chris Paul as an overall floor general, but the Thunder have been one of the league’s elite teams with him at the point. It seems to me that if you moved him to the 2 spot, you’d actually be turning him loose to shoot even more and eliminating a raw, physical mismatch that he has over most other point guards. I’m also wondering why anyone wants to change one of the two main cogs on a Thunder team that has a .688 winning percentage over the past five seasons?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would you play the, ahem, best point guard in the league at shooting guard? No. I’m leaving Westbrook right where he is. Westbrook is an All-Star, the guy does things no one else can do. OK, so some of what he does also makes you want to pull your hair out. He mentioned Monday that incorporating more player and ball movement into the offense is a high priority and suggested we might see something new from the Thunder in that regard. So we’ll see. But starting Reggie Jackson at the point and Westbrook at the 2 doesn’t make this team better. Westbrook averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 apg after all those surgeries last year. In the playoffs he averaged 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. Anyone else does that and we’re calling him the best point guard in the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: His career best for 3-point percentage is 33 percent and he’s been better than 44 percent overall twice in six seasons. So there’s that. Plus, he is uniquely effective because he is a PG with superior athleticism and better size than most on the other side of the matchup. Move Westbrook to the other backcourt spot and suddenly the Thunder have a small backdoor, a shooting guard who can’t spot up and concerns about not maximizing your second-best player. The only reason it should be discussed is if OKC wants to play Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Otherwise, no go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s certainly the most talented point guard in the league and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players, period. Westbrook without the ball in his hands is not the same Westbrook. There are possessions — sometimes when the game is on the line — when he needs to be more of a true point guard, but if you live by the Russ, you have to sometimes die by the Russ. It’s not like you can flip a switch in his head.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Of course, Scott Brooks is campaigning for Russ Westbrook, as any coach worth his whistle should. And he can make a great argument for the force of nature that Westbrook has become, warts and all. He doesn’t own the No. 1 spot on my list. That spot still belongs to Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. But Westbrook is easily in my top five. My bigger issue is  with this mysterious “we” who are contemplating whether or not Westbrook should play the 2? That’s like playing a high-risk, high-reward dual threat NFL quarterback at wide receiver. Makes no sense to me!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Russell Westbrook might be the most *talented* point guard in the NBA. I mean, his athleticism at the position is really unparalleled, both in the NBA today and historically. His combination of size and speed and explosiveness render him almost unstoppable in the open court. But that incredible package of skills also seems to dazzle Westbrook at times, and he doesn’t fully know how to consistently utilize those gifts in such a way as to lead the Thunder to titles. Westbrook is an amazing talent, but that doesn’t make him the best point guard in the NBA. Because that person’s name is Chris Paul.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Westbrook stays where he is. Look at Kevin Durant’s numbers — the current league MVP has four scoring titles, with Westbrook playing point-guard. Also, consider this, Westbrook averaged 8.1 apg in the 2014 postseason, only behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, both of whose teams did not proceed beyond the second round. How much better can Westbrook or anyone else at point-guard do? Moreover, with Westbrook playing the 2-spot, how often is he going to get the ball, with Durant definitely being OKC’s number one offensive option. OKC’s problems against the NBA’s best remains an overdependence on Durant and Westbrook for their scoring. They need to address that rather than tinker with Westbrook’s position.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: When it comes to ranking point guards, Chris Paul is 1A and Russell is 1B in my book. I think playing him at the 2 is nonsense. Even if you add a another point guard, that’s just gonna cut into the touches and times he and Durant get to bring the ball upcourt. I do like two point guard sets and think Russ could excel in them, but only if you don’t have a point-forward type player like KD. Free Westbrook!

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: These days there’s not a huge difference between a point guard and a shooting guard. It depends on the opponent and certain moments during the game, but Russell can play either position.

Blogtable: Knicks a playoff team?

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: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Defense, says Carmelo Anthony, is going to be a focus of the Knicks

> We’ve seen a lot of changes in New York, and a vow from new boss Phil Jackson that the Knicks will be in the playoffs. Your thoughts? Playoffs? Are they a better team than last year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Sure, the Knicks will make the playoffs. The East still isn’t the West and I think enough has changed with New York —  driven by Jackson’s arrival, altering the culture sufficiently — that it will be a little better. Carmelo Anthony got an awfully cushy call-out (five years, $124 million) but seems to get it now that his legacy will be limited unless his team wins big. My hunch: New York and Brooklyn share All-Star Weekend, then fight over the East’s final playoff spot

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The 37-45 Knicks missed the playoffs by one game last season, so Phil Jackson’s promise isn’t exactly going to register on the Joe Namath Scale in New York. Carmelo Anthony is re-signed and happy. That’s nice. Jose Calderon is at the point. That’s nice. They’ve swapped Tyson Chandler’s defense for Samuel Dalembert. That’s not so nice.  They’re counting on a resurrection by Amar’e Stoudemire and a recommitment by J.R. Smith. That’s unlikely. Can the sideline combo of Jackson and Derek Fisher get them to .500 if everything clicks?  In a glass-half-full world, I suppose. But hardly any more.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Yeah, I think they will be in the playoffs. They have a very motivated head coach and superstar. They’ve improved at point guard with steady Jose Calderon, and while losing Tyson Chandler in the middle theoretically hurts, he wasn’t healthy much last season and Sam Dalembert is serviceable, and I like the Jason Smith pickup. I really think Tim Hardaway Jr., can give the Knicks a real scoring boost and I’m eager to see Cleanthony Early bring some youthful elbow grease. Above all else, this team can have fun, and that was in short supply a year ago.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: They could be a little better, but the problem is, Cleveland will be a lot better. Milwaukee will be better. The team that finished just ahead of the Knicks last season, Atlanta, will be better. Indiana is a candidate to fall out of the top eight, and Miami will go backward as well, though maybe not lottery backward. New York and the playoffs will be a close call. For an October answer, I’ll say no.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey’re in the 7-10 range in the East with a decent shot of making the playoffs with good chemistry (especially defensively), or injuries to teams that would otherwise finish above them. Jose Calderon’s shooting should help an offense that was already pretty good. The loss of Tyson Chandler would seemingly hurt the defense, but any cohesion on that end of the floor would be more than they had last season. They certainly have a chance of improving on 37-45, but there are a lot of variables.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs? In New York? Listen, nobody loves having the Zen master back in the building more than I do. He is truly great for the game. But I’ll refrain from any playoff proclamation about the Knicks until at least Christmas. We need to see this crew in action before swimming in those deep playoff waters. I don’t know if this a better team than what we saw under Mike Woodson last year. Derek Fisher’s going to have to find his own coaching niche with this group and from a personnel standpoint there hasn’t been enough of an upgrade to automatically vault this team into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. It’s way too soon for playoffs chatter from new York.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I do think they’ve built a better roster than they had a season ago. But as my co-host Rick Fox has talked about several times on the Hang Time Podcast, getting a full understanding of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense takes years, not weeks or months. So it might take these Knicks some time to be able to fully grasp how to maximize their offensive system. An for all the talk about the West being better than the East, the East should be more competitive top-to-bottom this season than last. My top seven in no real order are Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Charlotte, Toronto, Atlanta and Miami. Maybe we see Indy and the Knicks fight it out for the eight spot?

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: One thing is for sure, Phil Jackson has the magic touch, so I would believe whatever he says. If Phil says that the Knicks will go to the playoffs, I am expecting the Knicks to go to the playoffs. They have the talent to do so. The things they lacked and are looking to regain this year are chemistry and health.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: I think that at this time they’re a real question. It seems to me that they can fight for eighth place to the playoffs, but are not a better team than last year and are going to be left out of the postseason.

Blogtable: Kobe, putting up numbers

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: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: How far can Kobe pull his teammates along? That’s a big question for the Lakers.

> Kobe Bryant has averaged 25.5 points a game on 45 percent shooting in his career. So take a guess: What should we expect from him this season? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We should expect Bryant to join an hyper-exclusive club this season, namely, Players Who Averaged 20 Points or More at Age 36 or Older. There have been only three — Michael Jordan (2), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3) and Karl Malone (4) — doing it a total of nine times. Given Bryant’s relentless drive, his Jordan obsession and his shortage of scoring help on the Lakers, I expect him to put up the point totals. Keep in mind, though, that Jordan shot a combined 43.1 percent in his two seasons, averaging 21.2 points with the lowest PER numbers (19.9 combined) of his career.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You’re asking this without a benefit of seeing a single preseason game, anything?  OK, going strictly on gut and what we know about Kobe, I have a hard time seeing him averaging less than 20 ppg. Maybe the shooting percentage is in the low 40s. Why? Because he’s driven to come back as the alpha dog. Because if his wheels are OK, he’s dead set on proving everyone who doubts him wrong. Because he’s going to get up his shots. Because he’s Kobe.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Here’s the thing, look at the Lakers roster, somebody’s got to score, right? Pau’s not even there anymore for an inside option. This show is going to be Kobe’s and as long as he stays healthy he’s going to get off a lot of shots and get his points. He hasn’t averaged fewer than 25 ppg since the 2003-04 season when he averaged 24. This might not be the same Kobe we’re used to, but honestly, we saw that coming as far back as the 2011 playoffs. This Kobe will still score points, and a lot of them because he’ll have to. He’ll average at least 22.0 a game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I can’t predict health. But if he plays, he plays well. If it’s a guess you want, let’s say 18 points a game and 42 percent. That’s not bad for a 36 year old coming off two major injuries and most of a season on the sideline. Plus, he will be playing with several teammates for the first time (Lin, Boozer, Randle, maybe Ed Davis and Jordan Clarkson). There will be a lot of timing issues moving forward, which is why the shooting numbers will take a hit.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: With 36-year-old legs, without much help on the Lakers’ roster, and with No. 3 on the all-time scoring list in his sights, I don’t think he’ll be all that efficient, unless Steve Nash can somehow play 1,500 minutes and create easy looks for him. I’ll guess 26 ppg on 43 percent shooting (45 EFG%).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m not ready to close the book on Kobe just yet. Not now, not when so many are sure to doubt him. That’s the stuff he thrives on, what’s made him great for so long. A reasonable expectation, as long as he’s healthy, is for Kobe to go for 24.4 points a night on 46 percent shooting on a Los Angeles Lakers team that will need that and more from its best player. There’s no doubt he’ll get all the shots he heeds under Byron Scott and his supporting cast will be eager to defer to a rejuvenated Kobe.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog23 points per game on 42 percent shooting, in about 33 minutes per game. Kobe’s not the player he was a decade, or two decades, ago. But knowing what we know about him, the Mamba will be primed and ready to strike. And I think this season, with experience behind him and trusting Byron Scott, the Mamba will be able to temper himself a bit more and not feel the need to play 40-plus minutes every night. Which, in the long run, benefits everyone.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: The 2014-15 version of Kobe Bryant will be the smartest, more passing…est version of the Kobe we’ve seen. I’m afraid part of his explosiveness is gone (due to his injuries but also his age), but he could still be a lethal weapon. He should share the ball more, play with his teammates and build from there. More or less what he tried to do in the six games he played in 2013-14, averaging 6.3 apg. My guess is 22.5 ppg and 6.5 apg, shooting 42 percent.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: If his body stays right, I think he may average similar points per game (maybe 20-22 PPG) but will be less efficient. I only say this because I legitimately want him to abandon whatever it is the Lakers want to do with their roster full of short-term contracts and genuinely make a run at the all-time scoring record. He’s a chance to pass Michael Jordan for third all-time this season and I’d love to see him have a crack at Kareem beyond 2015. My advice to Kobe, jack it up!

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.