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Posts Tagged ‘Shaquille O’Neal’

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 31


VIDEO: Settle in and watch the Top 100 dunks from the 2014-15 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rookie Russell continues to ruffle feathers with Lakers, fans | Bulked up Anthony Davis ready to stretch his game | Report: Raptors an option for Thompson in 2016

No. 1: Rookie Russell continues to ruffle feathers with Lakers, fans — The most intriguing training camp in the NBA might not involve the champion Golden State Warriors or their foe from The Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers. If rookie D’Angelo Russell‘s summer, on and off the court, is any indication all eyes will be on outspoken Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie and one Kobe Bryant. Russell’s been a busy man, ruffling feathers with every post on social media (never slight Kobe to the hometown fans, young fella, with Tweets calling Tracy McGrady the greatest player of all time), and this after an uneven Summer League showing. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News has more on Russell’s latest dust-up, which includes Russell calling a lot of Lakers fans “spoiled:

With one click of a button, Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell made an impassioned fan base more upset than anything regarding his Summer League play.

Russell suggested in a tweet nearly two weeks ago that Tracy McGrady is the greatest player of all time. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and his legions of fans expressed their disapproval over Russell’s since-deleted tweet, though Russell said Bryant “was cool” about the incident.

“There’s a lot of spoiled Lakers fans. I wasn’t downgrading Kobe at all,” Russell said Saturday in an interview with the Los Angeles News Group. “I was just watching a highlight tape of Tracy McGrady and I got excited. I tweeted and the whole state of California went crazy.”

At least some of the Lakers’ fan base has simmered down.

Russell signed autographs and took pictures with Lakers fans on Saturday at The Grove, where he made a promotional appearance for Birchbox, which gave him a box of the company’s fragrance and skin-care products. Russell hopes to hear cheers when he throws out the first pitch for the Dodgers-Giants game on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

But after spending the past month completing morning workouts and pickup scrimmages at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, Russell sounded eager for his workload to grow. Among the first items to check off: Russell wants to meet both with Bryant and the recently retired Steve Nash.

“I’m trying to figure out their mentality with each practice and each game. How do they manage to be around the game for so long and be successful?” said Russell, whom the Lakers selected second overall out of Ohio State in this year’s draft. “I want to learn how to stick around this league. I don’t think there’s a cheat code to it. But the sooner you find it out, the better you’ll be.”

Russell could find out in about a month, when the Lakers begin training camp. Then, Russell will have his first chance to rectify his Las Vegas Summer League performance. As the Lakers went 1-4 during that stretch, Russell averaged 11.8 points on 37.7 percent shooting and had more turnovers (3.5) than assists (3.2). But Russell suggested what happened in Vegas will stay in Vegas.

“A lot of guys translate it over when it’s time, and a lot of guys don’t,” Russell said about Summer League. “I just want to be one of those guys that bring it when it matters.”

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe, Shaq express regrets | MKG signs extension with Hornets | Stoudemire has high hopes for himself, Heat | Carrying on Lloyd’s legacy

No. 1: Kobe, Shaq express regrets Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant teamed up on the Lakers to win three championships, but their publicly contentious relationship sometimes seemed as through they won despite each other instead of because of each other. But in Shaq’s new podcast being released next week, Kobe Bryant visited as a guest, and as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, the two looked back on their relationship and the dissolution of it with some regret…

In the podcast, “The Big Podcast With Shaq,” the two expressed regret over the feud.

“A lot of stuff was said out of the heat of the moment,” O’Neal said in an excerpt from the podcast that was played on ESPN Radio on Wednesday. “I guarantee I don’t remember a lot of stuff that they said, because I changed my thought process of, you know what, we won three out of four, what the hell are you all talking about? This is not really even a story.”

Said Bryant: “Here’s the thing, though. When you say it at the time, you actually mean it, and then when you get older you have more perspective, and you’re like holy… I was an idiot when I was a kid.

“To me, the most important thing was really, ‘just keep your mouth shut.’ You don’t need to go to the press with stuff. You keep it internal, and we have our arguments and our disagreements, but I think having our debates within the press was something I wish would’ve been avoided. But it did kind of create this whirlwind around us as a team with myself and Shaq and the press and the media that just put so much pressure on us as an organization.”

***

No. 2: MKG signs extension with Hornets The Charlotte Hornets and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have supposedly been talking about a contract extension for a few days now, but yesterday they finally inked the five-year deal, which allowed both sides to meet the press. Hornets coach Steve Clifford has high goals for Kidd-Gilchrist, who explained to the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell that he figured why wait to play for another contract?

Charlotte Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist might have made some more off his second NBA contract by waiting until he reached restricted free-agency next July.

Instead he chose the security of a four-year, $52 million extension in a place and with a franchise that have become his home.

“Why wait?” Kidd-Gilchrist said at a Wednesday news conference to formally announce the signing. “I’m learning from the best. I don’t do this for the money.”

Perhaps not, but his second NBA contract will make the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft fabulously wealthy. Also Kidd-Gilchrist has some upside protection in the contract’s terms. A source familiar with the deal said Kidd-Gilchrist has a player option for the final season, so if his improvement coincides with the anticipated spike in the salary cap, he could become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019.

Kidd-Gilchrist would still be 25 – young by NBA standards – at that juncture.

Wednesday was a highly emotional day for Kidd-Gilchrist and his family. His mother frequently dabbed away tears during the news conference. He thanked numerous people including team owner Michael Jordan, the coaching staff and his family and agents.

“I’m learning from the best: MJ, Coach (Steve Clifford), Patrick Ewing, Mark Price,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.

Price, now coaching the Charlotte 49ers, was the Hornets assistant who worked diligently two summers ago to fix Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot. Price and Kidd-Gilchrist became so close through that experience that Kidd-Gilchrist skipped a team flight last season, flying to Washington later in the day at his own expense, to attend Price’s introductory news conference at UNC Charlotte.

Price returned that respect Wednesday, attending Kidd-Gilchrist’s news conference.

While Kidd-Gilchrist is still developing offensively (he averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds last season), he’s among the NBA’s top wing defenders. He told the Observer last season he aspires to be the best defender in NBA history, and didn’t back off that goal Wednesday.

“Aim for the stars; you’ll probably land on the moon. I have confidence in myself,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.

***

No. 3: Stoudemire has high hopes for himself, Heat Amar’e Stoudemire has spent a decade in the NBA, and gone from being a high-flying transition player into a more traditional, savvy post presence. After joining the Dallas Mavericks for their playoff run, Stoudemire signed with the Miami Heat, which he considers a return home. And as Stoudemire explained to the Associated Press, he believes the Miami Heat could have championship potential

He’s been texting and talking with Chris Bosh regularly. He’s considered himself close with Goran Dragic for years, going back to their time together with the Phoenix Suns.

Plus, he’s called Miami home for about seven years already.

So getting acclimated to being part of the Heat, that won’t be a big deal for the forward who will be entering his 14th NBA season – and first with Miami – when training camp opens in about a month. He knows many of his new teammates such as Dwyane Wade, Bosh and Dragic. He knows the city, and most of all he thinks that he can rekindle the All-Star form he had not long ago.

“We can be a really good team,” Stoudemire said. “No one thought that the Golden State Warriors would be champions this time last year. We knew they’d be a really good team, but no one thought they’d be world champions. With us, we know we’re a really good team. No one thinks we can be world champions, but you never know.”

Stoudemire went back to school on Monday, appearing with some other members of the Heat staff at an elementary school in Fort Lauderdale on the first day of the new academic year in South Florida.

He posed for photos and helped hand out some school supplies to ecstatic kids in what essentially was his first public appearance for the team since signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal last month. He also had to introduce himself to a few students; one asked Stoudemire if he was Bosh.

“I just live life,” Stoudemire said.” I try to enjoy it. I try to create positive energy when I can, I try to affect people in a positive way and just live life.”

For the kids, the new season of sorts started Monday.

For Stoudemire, while it won’t officially start for a few more weeks, prepping for 2015-16 in reality started long ago. He’s taking care of his body, but also said he believes that Heat President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra have the right formula to both extend the careers of veteran players while also getting the best from them.

“From playing against Miami, the thing that you learn is that they always have a competitive spirit,” Stoudemire said. “There’s an aura around here that everyone works hard, that you have to be in top shape which is great because I want to be in the best shape of my life going into this season. I want to surprise the world and have a very, very productive year.”

***

No. 4: Carrying on Lloyd’s legacy Back in 1950, Earl Lloyd became the first African-American to play in the NBA, as a member of the Washington Capitols. Lloyd passed away in February at the age of 86, but his son is working to make sure Lloyd’s legacy isn’t forgotten by attempting to have him commemorated on a postage stamp. As Donald Hunt writes in the Philadelphia Tribune, Kevin Lloyd and his family have a long process to go through

Lloyd is an excellent candidate to have his image on a postage stamp. Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain was immortalized on two limited edition Forever postage stamps on Dec. 5, 2014 making him the first basketball player to have his likeness on a stamp.

The stamp process is quite grueling. The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee is an organization appointed by the Postmaster General. The CSAC selects the stamp subjects for future consideration. The group submits them to the postmaster general who approves the subjects and designs for all U.S. postage stamps. The CSAC receives thousands of suggestions each year.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Postal Service has approved stamps for a number of athletes such as Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Althea Gibson, Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph and others.

In 2003, Lloyd was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. for integrating the NBA.

“Earl Lloyd was a true pioneer in the game as a breakout player, a coach, and an administrator who at every level led the integration of the professional game,” said John Doleva, president and CEO, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in a statement. “He had a great love and respect for the game and used his success and challenges within it to educate and motivate so many others to achieve at the highest level. His remarkable basketball career aside, he was also one of the greatest and most decent human beings to represent basketball and the game was fortunate to have him at its forefront.”

Letters supporting Kevin Lloyd’s campaign should be mailed to: Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300, Washington, D.C. 20260-3501.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jordan Clarkson is not yet eligible to represent the Philippines, but the process is underway … Russell Westbrook had fun at the Taylor Swift concert in Los Angeles … LeBron James sold his waterfront home in Miami …

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gentry can’t wait to team with Davis | A new era for the NBA | Copeland moving forward in Milwaukee | Cousins gets key

No. 1: Gentry can’t wait to team with Davis NBA coaches are only as good as the players on their rosters. Which is why new New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is so excited: He has the chance to coach Anthony Davis, who is one of the NBA’s best players and is only 22 years old. As Gentry explained to our own Ian Thomsen, Davis is one of the few “generational” players in NBA history …

Magic Johnson. Larry Bird. Michael Jordan. Tim Duncan. Shaquille O’Neal. Kobe Bryant. LeBron James.

The dream of every NBA coach, as Alvin Gentry sees it, is to partner with one of those exceptional stars.

“They really are generational players,” Gentry says. “Anthony is a generational player, I think. And he is 22 years old.”

Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, whom Gentry will be coaching next season, has already earned an NCAA championship in 2012 (with Kentucky) and an Olympic gold medal four months later, in addition to two All-Star invitations, one first-team All-NBA selection and a breakthrough playoff appearance last season with New Orleans.

Coaches can navigate the NBA for decades and never connect with someone like him. Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan, George Karl and Rick Adelman — each with more than 1,000 wins — have coached many great players, but never that one transcendent star who could win the championship.

“Anthony is right in that category, and there is a lot of responsibility that comes with that,” says Gentry. “It is up to us to make him as good as he can possibly be, and not settle for him to be less than great in this area or that area. I told him that I have no doubt that he is going to be an MVP in this league. And I said to him, ‘We are going to be really, really good if you also win Defensive Player of the Year.”’

It is one thing to dream of coaching Davis. It is another thing to know how to coach him — to bring the experience and energy and wisdom that are crucial to the job. How do you make the dream come true?

***

No. 2: A new era for the NBA It’s something many NBA fans have probably taken for granted over the years: We all see the schedule — 30 teams criss-crossing the hemisphere in order to play 41 home games and 41 road games — but did anyone really consider how that tangled web of scheduling came together year after year? As Howard Beck writes, for the last three decades, the job of scheduling the NBA belonged to NBA executive Matt Winick, who is “moving on” after forty years with the NBA, and taking with him an era when things were done differently

The memorabilia has been bubble-wrapped—the autographed Willis Reed print, the kitschy poster from the 1978 Finals. A brawny typewriter, the Royal 440, rests on the radiator. An NBA staff guide, dated 1975-76, peeks out from a shelf.

And on the desk sits a yellowed Rolodex, jammed with four decades of key NBA figures. But the real power rests beside the Rolodex.

That’s where the PC is. The one with the spreadsheet containing all those arena dates and television commitments and grudge matches. The one that dictates where every NBA team will play, and when.

For the last 30 years, Matt Winick has punched the keys on this PC (or one like it) and arranged all of those dates, color-coding for home games (blue) and away (red), agonizing over every six-game road trip and every back-to-back set, bracing for the complaints that were sure to follow.

“I tell the teams, ‘Hey, that’s the way the computer did it,'” Winick said from behind his desk. “But it was never the computer. I was the computer.”

Officially, Winick has carried the title of senior vice president, but he is best known as the NBA’s Scheduling Czar—a role he alone has held since 1985, a role he is now relinquishing for good.

The 75-year-old Winick, who first joined the NBA in 1976, is stepping down (not retiring, he insists) at the end of the month, taking with him four decades of memories, mementos and scheduling wisdom.

The spreadsheet has been bequeathed to Tom Carelli, the league’s senior vice president of broadcasting. Carelli’s team produced the recently released 2015-16 schedule, the first without Winick’s fingerprints since the 1984-85 season.

“I always described it as a jigsaw puzzle with 1,230 pieces”—one for every game—”and if one of them doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work,” Winick said. “All 1,230 pieces have to fit.”

***

No. 3: Copeland moving forward in Milwaukee A few months ago in New York City, then-Pacers forward Chris Copeland was stabbed outside a New York City nightclub, necessitating emergency surgery and ending Copeland’s season. Now Copeland is a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, and as our Steve Aschburner writes, Copeland is looking forward to getting back on the court and playing for coach Jason Kidd and one of the NBA’s most promising young teams…

This is a guy for whom there were no bread crumbs marking his path to the NBA, no dots to connect in cooperation with a friendly GM that would help him realize a dream. Copeland got cut twice overseas and moved through teams in Spain, Holland, Germany and Belgium before turning himself — with some intense coaching from TBB Trier’s Yves Defraigne in Germany — into a player worthy of a Knicks summer league invitation in 2012.

With his solid play there and in camp that fall, Copeland won a roster spot. It all has gone so fast since then — 147 NBA appearances, 1,955 minutes played, 349 field goals — that getting derailed or even stuck with a reputation for one wrong-place, wrong-time mistake would have been cruel.

Instead, Copeland has focused on the positive.

“If I didn’t go through cold showers overseas or stuff like that, I wouldn’t understand as much what it is, when I say it’s a blessing to be here,” he said. “It’s different when you actually have an experience on the other side.

“Everything else that’s happened that’s led me to this point, I’m thankful for. I just keep it as a positive in my head.”

Reuniting with Kidd, who Copeland played with in the final year of his Hall of Fame-bound career as rookie, is the positive now. He said he learned much from the veteran point guard, from how to care for his body to proper positioning on the court. What Kidd helped the Bucks accomplish last season, improving from 15 to 41 victories, was no surprise to their new “stretch four” option.

“I knew he’d be someone I’d want to play for,” Copeland said. “He’s been a great basketball mind. Playing with him, I got to see his leadership abilities. A lot of things he did as a player, he was almost coaching then. You can see it over the last two years he’s been a head coach, he knows what he’s doing.”

Copeland’s strength, deep-threat shooting from a big, never has been more in demand. And Milwaukee has been eager to add some after finishing 26th in 3-point attempts and 23rd in 3-point makes. Golden State won a championship with shooters spacing the floor, so the Bucks are among the many hoping to replicate the success.

“I think with the guys we have on this team — [Giannis] Antetokounmpo, Jabari [Parker] when he gets healthy — we can make their jobs easier,” Copeland said.

Copeland hit 42 percent of his 3-pointers in his first two seasons, then dropped to 31 percent in 2014-15. It was a dismal year all around, from Paul George‘s ghastly summer injury and absence, through Roy Hibbert‘s continuing funk, to the regrettable incident in April.

“I always count blessings, but I always look forward,” Copeland said, happy for the fresh start. “I count on my blessing always — I’ve been like that before, after and in-between. I thank God every day for my life and for being able to be here as an NBA player. But I don’t look backwards in any way.”

***

No. 4: Cousins gets key There’s been plenty of drama in Sacramento, but the one thing nobody is arguing is that center DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most talented young players in the NBA. This week Cousins returned home to Mobile, Alabama, where the mayor gave him the key to the city and Cousins discussed plans to help revitalize parts of his hometown

The 25-year-old Cousins was born and raised in Mobile and this weekend he returned to hold a free youth basketball camp with free eye exams from VSP Vision. He held the same type of camp in Sacramento back in June.

“Teaming up with VSP is helping kids in Sacramento and Mobile see better and provides them with opportunities they may not otherwise receive,” Cousins said. “Having good vision is critical both on and off the court.”

Mayor Stimpson and Cousins spent two hours touring parts of the city on Friday. Part of Cousins visit was to share his vision of revitalizing Michael Figures Park in his old neighborhood.

The park has become dilapidated and over-run with graffiti, and it no longer serves a purpose for youth within the community.

Cousins, who played at LaFlore High School, is hoping to partner with the city to give the park a makeover. He wants to clean it up and add a new playground, as well as revitalize the basketball court, where currently one hoop is missing from the run-down court. He envisions turning the inner city park into something that would resemble New York’s Rucker Park.

The vision of the park restoration project is just the first of many that Cousins has planned for Mobile.

Also included of the hometown tour was a stop-off at Pritchard Prepatory, a charter school for elementary students. Cousins and the Mayor stopped in classrooms to visit with children and pose for pictures.

“Me growing up, I wish I would have had a chance to interact with an NBA player,” Cousins said. “This is just my way of giving back to them.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant joined Taylor Swift on stage at the Staples Center last night to present her with a “championship” banner … Michael Jordan won a lawsuit against a supermarket chain that used his likeness without permission … Tyrus Thomas is training for an NBA comeback … The Sacramento Kings will celebrate several #FlashbackFridays this season by bringing back their old baby blue uniforms

Blogtable: The greater Kobe feat — winning with Shaq or without him?

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: Favorite Kobe moment? | Should Kobe do Rio? | Greatest Kobe feat? | Greatest Laker ever?



VIDEOThe Lakers’ dominance in the 2000s began with the Kobe-Shaq pairing

> The greater Kobe feat: Winning three in a row with Shaq, or two in a row without him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The two championships without Shaquille O’Neal are more impressive from a strictly-Kobe perspective. He had lots of help in 2009 and 2010 too, notably Pau Gasol and coach Phil Jackson, but those two Lakers teams also caught lightning in a bottle with the likes of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace. Let’s put it this way, if Kobe hadn’t led L.A. to those titles and finished his career with two fewer rings, he wouldn’t be in any GOAT or Rushmore conversations outside Lakersland. And Shaq would forever lord it over him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIs it easier to run on one leg or two? No brainer. Everything is harder when you don’t have Shaq around to do the heavy lifting.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: For a Bryant feat and not necessarily a Laker achievement, it’s the two without O’Neal. As much as Bryant has established himself as a star during the three peat, Shaq was still the player in the league no opponent could straight counter. When Kobe became the unquestioned leader of the best team, on the court and in the locker room, it meant something more because everything was on his shoulders. He had changed personally. His game had changed. And Bryant delivered to earn a credibility boost whether he needed one or not.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: No doubt, the two without Shaq weigh more in my mind. Understand where Kobe was at in his career. He was blistered (and rightly so to a degree) for being a selfish gunner. He recovered from that and became a better team player and leader. In so many ways, Kobe was more important to the Lakers for those two titles than he was for the three titles.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com Shaq’s numbers…

’00-02 playoffs (58 games): 29.8 PPG, 14.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 55% shooting.
’00-02 Finals (15 games): 35.9 PPG, 15.2 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 60% shooting.

So yeah, the two titles without him were the greater feat.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Winning titles without Shaq is easily the most impressive feat of Kobe’s career, in my eyes. Winning back-to-back titles without Shaq seems unfathomable, even after watching Kobe do it. His confidence, will — along with Pau Gasol‘s unbelievable work and Metta World Peace‘s game-saving heroics, among other things — and the joy it gave Kobe to win without the Shaq asterisk were undeniable during those title runs. It changed Kobe’s legacy to win those two other titles without Shaq.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Two in a row without him: Because the NBA was a much more competitive league when Kobe was winning his final two championships. The Shaq-Kobe teams never faced any opponent as talented, experienced and competitive as the 2009-10 Celtics.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWithout. I always used to make the argument back then that Shaq should have been the MVP every season, which is no slight to Kobe — Shaq was such a unique combination of size and speed and athleticism that he was virtually unguardable. At the same time, Shaq had plenty of teammates who were not able to win titles with him. To Kobe’s credit, he figured out how to play alongside Shaq and be a potent one-two punch. 

Morning shootaround — Aug. 19


VIDEO: What’s the latest happening around the NBA?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Knicks, Heat, Cavs pursuing Crawford | Shaq picks MJ over James | Report: Rockets to re-sign Terry

No. 1: Report: Knicks, Heat, Cavs in pursuit of Crawford — Few players can get as hot off the bench scoring-wise in the NBA like Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. That attribute makes him someone who is always in demand and that’s true this summer, too. Although he’s still under contract with the Clippers, the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat are all interested in trading for him. The New York Daily NewsFrank Isola has more:

The Knicks have expressed interest in acquiring Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, according to a source.

The Knicks would use the trade exception that they obtained from Cleveland in last year’s J.R. Smith trade. But in order for the Knicks to complete the deal with the Clippers, they would have to get creative and would likely have to include a third team. Coincidentally, the Cavs are also pursuing a deal for Crawford, the 34-year-old former Sixth Man of the Year. Miami is another team that is also interested in Crawford.

Smith, 29, opted out of the final year of his contract and remains unsigned. Crawford becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016.

Crawford signed a free-agent deal with the Knicks 11 years ago and was one of then-President Isiah Thomas’ first signature moves. Crawford, who played his first four seasons with the Bulls, was traded in November of 2008 to Golden State by Donnie Walsh as the Knicks began clearing cap space.

Crawford has maintained close ties with several high-ranking officials in the organization, including Garden chairman James Dolan and Thomas, who currently runs the Liberty.

***

No. 2: Shaq takes Jordan over LeBron … but neither is his No. 1 all-time — Shaquille O’Neal got a bit of a discussion started on the Internet earlier this summer when he said an all-time Lakers team would top an all-time Bulls team. Those statements irked ex-Bulls star Scottie Pippen and, later on, Michael Jordan chimed in on the topic, too. O’Neal was recently in Hong Kong to promote an energy drink and the question of whether he’d take Jordan or LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 emerged. Shaq didn’t hold back on his pick, either, reports Agence France Presse:

Shaquille O’Neal weighed into basketball’s great debate on Tuesday when he backed a young Michael Jordan to beat LeBron James one-on-one — but added that both were outshone by the legendary Dr. J.

O’Neal, visiting Hong Kong to promote an energy drink, faced both Jordan and James in their prime and when asked who would win a hypothetical match-up, he didn’t hesitate.

“Mike,” said O’Neal, winner of four NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-2002) and the Miami Heat (2006). “I think you have to go with a young Jordan every time.

“It would be an interesting game,” said O’Neal. “Young LeBron was more like (Lakers Hall of Famer) Magic Johnson. He was sort of like Magic with Jordan’s abilities. He liked to pass, and he liked to get it up.

“But Mike was Mike. He was just special, like no one else. He always did things no one else could do, and things you couldn’t compare to anyone else. So he was special, and he’d win.”

There has also been much debate over whether he, or the now-retired Jordan -– with six NBA titles and five NBA MVPs to his name –- could be labelled the greatest of all time.

But O’Neal threw another player into the mix when he said 1970s and 1980s superstar Julius Erving AKA Dr. J was the best he had ever seen.

“I’ve seen young Mike and young LeBron and I must say Dr. J is still my favourite player,” said O’Neal. “A lot of people today don’t even mention his name but to me I still think he was the best. But these are questions that we’ll never know the answer to.

“It’s a bit like if I met Bruce Lee in an alleyway. Who would win? You’ll never know. Some people say well Bruce would kick Shaq’s ass. Some people say well Shaq is two times bigger than Bruce Lee. It’s a good question, a good conversation. But we’ll never know.”


VIDEO: Open Court debates the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate

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No. 3: Report: Terry returning to Rockets — Combo guard Jason Terry has logged 16 NBA seasons and spent nine of those seasons with a team in Texas (eight with Dallas, one with Houston). For season No. 17, he’ll be staying in the Lone Star State. According to Shams Charania of RealGM.com, Terry will return to the Rockets for the 2015-16 season:

Jason Terry has agreed to re-sign with the Houston Rockets on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, league sources tell RealGM.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz also had strong dialogue to sign Terry with his agent, Byron Irvin. Ultimately, the opportunity to win and cohesive recruitment from Rockets players and coaches pushed Terry to return. Terry has played an immense role in the Rockets’ locker room, becoming an integral role player in the 2015 postseason alongside James Harden in the backcourt.

Terry averaged 21.3 minutes per game in 77 appearances last season with the Rockets and started all 17 playoff games. The Rockets acquired Terry during the 2014 offseason from the Sacramento Kings.

Terry turns 38 in September and is entering his 17th NBA season.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid had bone graft surgery on his right foot and will miss all of 2015-16 … The Atlanta Hawks have signed veteran high-flyer Jason Richardson … ICYMI, Australia has locked up a 2016 Olympics berth … New Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone genuinely wishes Ty Lawson well in HoustonEric Gordon will be taking part in the New Orleans Pelicans’ voluntary workouts

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reluctant Popovich is a “lifer” | Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal | Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans | Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire

No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:

Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.

His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.

Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.

“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.

What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?

The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.

Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.

But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?

This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.

He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:

“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”

He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.

Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.

“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.

But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:

“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”

This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.

***

No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:

The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.

Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.

Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.

A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.

Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.

He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.

I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.

Times have changed.

***

No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:

It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.

According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.

His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.

“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”

Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.

“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”

***

No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:

Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”

Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.

Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.

“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition gameDennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …

HOFer Ewing on Hornets rookie Kaminsky: Just call him a ‘stretch-big’


VIDEO: Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky scores and gets and one.

ORLANDO — The rookie NBA seasons of Patrick Ewing and Frank Kaminsky are 30 years apart, more than enough time for the role of the big man and the game itself to have changed dramatically.

The Warriors and Cavaliers finished the 2015 Finals seemingly trying to see which team could put the smallest lineup on the floor.

So here comes Kaminsky, at 7-foot-1 an outstanding 3-point shooter, taking his summer league cues from Ewing, who carved out much of a Hall Fame career with his fierce work down in the low post.

But the union of the No. 9 pick in the Draft and his Summer League coach has shown glimpses of what is possible for the Hornets next season.

Many of Kaminsky’s strengths will translate well to the current NBA. He is a 7-footer who is 11-for-20 on 3-pointers in his first four games, creating mismatches by stepping outside and challenging opponents come out and defend him.

“I’ve just got to figure out my role within the offense, and on the defensive end, too,” Kaminsky said. “Every game is different. Every team has different personnel, so you have to pay attention and really go with it.”

Kaminsky shot better from the outside in his first two games, but has been successful lately in putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket.

“I think he’s still learning,” Ewing said. “I think he’s going to be a very good player for us. I still want him to do a much better job on the rebounding, also on defense. Those are the things that he’s going to have to work on from here on out, because people are going to try to go at him on the defensive end.

“But I think he’s going to be a good player. He has a great feel for the game. He knows how to put the ball on the floor. He knows how to create and get shots.”

There was a time back in 1985 when Ewing was breaking into the NBA when any young 7-footer would have been encouraged to played more with his back to the basket in the traditional mode of the big man.

“No question, it’s a different situation when you’re talking about going against guys like Hakeem (Olajuwon) and David (Robinson) and Shaq (O’Neal) and me,” Ewing said. “You had to get down there inside and mix things up in order to survive.

“But no matter what era you play in and no matter where you’re playing, any coach, any good coach is going to utilize the skills that a player possesses.

“(Kaminsky) is a guy who can shoot the basketball. He’d probably be a lot like (Bill) Laimbeer. I mean, Laimbeer back in my day, was a big that shot the 3-point shot. He didn’t really post up that much. Frank has the ability to post up. But Laimbeer was a guy that stayed out there and shot 3s. Also Sam Perkins. So it’s not like there weren’t other guys who possessed those skills. It’s just that in this era, there’s a lot more more of them.”

It’s the era when everybody wants and needs the “stretch-four” to space the floor and open up driving lanes for the guards.

“He’s a stretch-big,” Ewing said of Kaminsky. “He’s what, 7-1? Yeah, he’s a stretch-big.”

Kaminsky has heard all of the questions, the criticism, the second-guessing of Charlotte spending the No. 9 pick to get him. They passed on Justise Winslow. They passed up a reported offer of four No. 1 draft picks from the Celtics.

All he’s done is kept his head down to move ahead when he’s not looking at the basket for his shot and listening to Ewing.

“He’s been great so far,” Kaminsky said. “He knows my strength. He runs plays to what my strengths are. He’ll get on me when I need it and there’s a lot of different things he knows about the game that I can just learn. He’s been around the game for so long and has so many tricks up his sleeve, a lot of knowledge that I can take away from him.”

Kaminsky had a double-double of 19 points, 12 rebounds in his first summer league game put up 13 and seven with a couple of blocked shot in Wednesday’s 81-68 loss to the Orlando White team and came away with more things to work on.

“On the defensive end mostly,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I have to work on. Just staying with it. At points in that game I let my emotions get to me a little bit, with fatigue and frustration. But just got to work through all of that.

“I know I need get better in pick-and-roll situations. On the offensive end, I just need to keep adding things to my game. I like being a matchup nightmare. That’s what I want to be in the NBA.”

Which translates in any era.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 203) Super Team Redux

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Maybe one superstar, one healthy, game-changing true superstar is all you need.

That one transcendent star might be just enough to get you into the building to compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Or at least that is the story they are telling today in Cleveland, where LeBron James has guided the Cavaliers back to The Finals for the first time since 2007.

He didn’t promise this when he returned home last summer, at least not right away. But the Cavaliers are here now, awaiting either the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets in The Finals next week.

And since we have a few days to ponder it, what does this feat for LeBron say about today’s NBA and what it takes to scale the mountain?

An hobbled Kyrie Irving and an injured Kevin Love should have been a recipe for disaster in the conference semifinals against Chicago. That was not the case. LeBron rendered that point moot with stellar work night after night and did the same against the Atlanta Hawks in the conference finals sweep. Can he do it again? We shall see.

In the meantime, let’s talk about the theory of a Super Team and whether or not that’s what you need to compete for it all, to win it all. Recent history is split on that (LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were 2-2 in the big series).

History says there are no guarantees for Super Teams, as our very own Rick Fox would know, having witnessed a Super Team meltdown of his own with the Los Angeles Lakers’ monster squad of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton — the one coached by the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson. The same star-studded crew that fell to the ultimate team, the 2004 champion Detroit Pistons.

Mix it up with us on Episode 203 of The Hang Time Podcast: Super Team Redux …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Atlanta Hawks and into The Finals for the first time since 2007

Morning shootaround — May 27


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron seeking new Finals narrative | Did Shaq really threaten to kill Kobe? | Myers: Curry passed concussion protocol twice | Hawks have plenty to prove

No. 1: LeBron seeking new narrative with this Cavs team — The wait to return to the NBA Finals for the Cavaliers is over, and it seemed even longer than it was. LeBron James took the Cavs to the 2007 Finals, where they were swept by the Spurs and admittedly weren’t ready in any way to challenge for a championship. Then LeBron went to Miami three years later, won a pair of titles and left the Cavs in a rut. Have things changed much since then? Well, the Cavs will once again be the underdog in the Finals, as they were against the Spurs, but LeBron likes the latest version to offer a lot more resistance. Bud Shaw of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

LeBron James understandably jumped into Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ arms that night in 2007, then climbed atop the scorer’s table. Austin Carr wept. Strangers hugged in the concourse.

Mike Brown stood at center court on a night much like the one that unfolded Tuesday at the Q, saying of the matchup with Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, “I’m in it to win it.”

This time, James was happy for sure, but also more subdued. David Blatt wasn’t nearly as bold as was Brown.

“We’re in Cleveland, nothing is easy here,” Blatt told TNT’s Ernie Johnson.

This time, though, the Cavs in it to win it is a narrative that might even be true.

They are 12-2 in the post season, winners of seven straight since James hit a corner buzzer beater in Game 4 against Chicago.

They swept a 60-win team in a series-clinching rout. They made the Hawks look like the Spurs made the Cavs look in 2007. As if they didn’t belong.

James was 22 when he vanquished the Pistons in a much tougher series. He’s 30 now. For five consecutive years, he’s treated the NBA Finals like a time share, showing up every June and twice putting up his feet as if he owned the place.

If it’s Golden State this time around, as we expect it will be, James isn’t going in early to visit wine country. This is happening sooner than he thought before the midseason makeover. But nothing about this is especially surprising.

Another title puts him halfway to Michael Jordan. More importantly — and I believe it is for him — a NBA title ends a half century drought in a city that once cursed him.

There are so many themes involved in what’s to come. Happy to be there isn’t one of them.

Good for James that he has a much better supporting cast, even without Kevin Love and with Kyrie Irving hobbled, though we suspect Irving will need to have two pretty good legs under him for the Cavs to win.

Against San Antonio, the Cavs scored 76, 92, 72 and 82 points. This Cavaliers’ team can score 10 different ways. (Eleven if it’s safe to now count the Tristan Thompson rebound, and stepback buzzer beater from 18 feet).


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with the Cavs throughout their Game 4 win

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Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

***

No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

***

No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

***

No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.


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