Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Blogtable: Free agency winners & losers

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: Free agency winners & losers | Thoughts on LeBron | Lakers’ coaching search



VIDEO: Carmelo, LeBron, Pierce … The Starters review the big offseason deals

> Who are the winners & losers in free agency thus far? Also, which free agent on the market is still ripe for the picking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d like to get clever here, but I’ll leave that to the crew below and stick with the “A” material here. LeBron James made the Cavaliers the biggest free-agency winners since the Heat four years ago. Losers? Either the Lakers, who got snubbed as if they still were back in Minneapolis, or the Rockets for their mighty whiffs on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, and what I think were shaky decisions adding Trevor Ariza (contract year!) and subtracting Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Best guy left? I understand why he’s still on the board – can you say “restricted?” – but as an impact addition, if someone managed to pry him loose, I’d go with big man Greg Monroe of Detroit.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Winners: Cavs, obviously. Champion Spurs kept their core together for another run in 2015. Bulls didn’t land Carmelo, but that’s a nice consolation prize in Pau Gasol.  Mavs did a good job with combined salaries of Dirk and Chandler Parsons and plugged that hole in the middle with Tyson Chandler. Losers: Pat Riley and the Heat. Despite keeping Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, then signing Luol Deng, you are always losing when the best player in the game gets away. The Rockets were left holding an empty bag when Bosh spurned off and also let Parsons go to Dallas. Lakers wind up with Jeremy Lin, but still have no coach and are without Gasol. Hard to see them being relevant again by October. Eric Bledsoe is now the top name still out there, but the Suns insist they’ll spend what it takes to match and keep him. Since Stan Van Gundy also insists he’s keeping Greg Monroe and Lance Stephenson is headed to Charlotte, who else is out there?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Obviously the big winner is Cleveland. They got the King Fish. Chicago nabbing Pau Gasol and Dallas winning a restricted free-agent game of chicken with rival Houston to get Chandler Parsons are also winners. Miami, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers are the big losers. As for free agents still out there, Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe has yet to receive an offer sheet, and probably because teams know the Suns will match. As for unrestricted free agents, Andray Blatche is a pretty talented big man, who comes with baggage, and there seems to be very little talk of him. There’s also 36-year-old Shawn Marion, who seemed to be a perfect fit in Miami had LeBron strayed, but now appears to running short on options.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Cavaliers are obviously the winner. Getting LeBron James not only changes a roster, it alters the mood of an entire organization. Plus, while Kyrie Irving was not a free agent, getting his extension done at the same time, and done quickly in another positive statement, made it the best July possible. Loser: Rockets. Most every team misses on a free agent, but Houston moved assets and still came up empty on Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, lost Chandler Parsons and turned to Trevor Ariza as a save. We’re still waiting to see what happens with Eric Bledsoe and Phoenix.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest winner is obviously Cleveland. The biggest loser is Houston. Not only did the Rockets miss on the big free agents they were targeting, but they traded away their depth in order to do so. Defense and shooting should be priorities across the board, so Shawn Marion and Mo Williams are two available guys that could contribute meaningful minutes. Either would be a good fit in Houston and Williams could also help Atlanta’s backcourt. (For the record, my original answer was Anthony Tolliver, writing that he’d be a good fit with the Suns. Right after I sent that in, he agreed to terms with them.)

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think it’s still a bit too early to declare an extended list of winners and losers. But there is no doubt the Cleveland Cavaliers came up in a major way with LeBron James deciding he was ready to come home. Anytime you score the No. 1 player on the planet, you’re the official winner of free agency. Surprisingly, the Heat rank high on my list. They rebounded nicely from losing LeBron by keeping Chris Bosh from going to Houston. The Bulls make my winners list, too, snagging Pau Gasol. The Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, two of the biggest aggressors for superstar players on the market this summer, came up empty. And while I love risk takers, they’ve landed themselves on top of the losers list for me. This list is fluid, though, and could continue to grow depending on how several teams finish off their free agent summers.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe loser has to be Houston. (Well, Miami, too, but other than that.) The Rockets gave away Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, and let Chandler Parsons go as well, all to clear room for Chris Bosh, who stayed in Miami. Then they overpaid (for a second time) Trevor Ariza to fill that void. For a winner, how about Washington? They lost Ariza but picked up Paul Pierce, who will be terrific to be in John Wall‘s ear for two seasons, at a completely reasonable price. I also like Atlanta getting Thabo Sefolosha, the Human Lisp, at a reasonable price, giving them two (with DeMarre Carroll) stoppers on the wings. And I love Memphis getting Vince Carter to fill that wing scoring void they’ve had forever.

Blogtable: Thoughts on LeBron?

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: Free agency winners & losers | Thoughts on LeBron | Lakers’ coaching search



VIDEO: Cavs GM David Griffin talks about LeBron James’ return to Cleveland

> It’s been five days since LeBron James shook the NBA with his latest decision. What are your last thoughts on his move and its effect on the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Even commissioner Adam Silver said he was “moved” by James’ homecoming essay. That’s great, and because of it, I trust the two-year term of his Cavs contract is solely about signing a fresher, bigger one in 2016 – he cannot leave Cleveland again that quickly and have a shred of credibility left. But I think this was about basketball more than James let on, because the Cavs have a budding supporting cast on the fast track now. Impact on the NBA? We’re back to a “tandem” rather than “trio” world again, as far as superstars congregating. With 30 needy teams, spreading the firepower thinner is a good thing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The two-year contract he signed in Cleveland with an out next summer could have the longest-lasting effect. It signals that he’s playing year-to-year from now on and it could be the first step toward the elimination of max contract ceilings in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: He definitely took the sentimental approach over the business approach in terms of picking a team. He took the business approach in terms of structuring a two-year contract in which he can opt out after NEXT season. Now, the thinking on this is to maximize his salary as the salary cap increases with each season, and perhaps by leaps and bounds once the league’s new TV deals are secured. But if James hesitates at all to re-sign with the Cavs, his talk about coming home for all the reasons he listed will be hot air. The effect on the league is that now Cleveland holds the ace and not Miami. Veterans seeking a ring will be drawn to the Rust Belt instead of South Beach.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That there can’t be any last thoughts yet. James’ decision could still have a ripple effect, with players who previously might not have been interested in signing for less to join the Cavs now more open to the possibility. Kevin Love wouldn’t have sent Cleveland a signal before that he would be very interested in staying as a free agent next summer. The presence of LeBron changes that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The reason I was surprised LeBron left Cleveland in 2010 is the same reason I wasn’t surprised he returned in 2014. He’s a loyal dude. Akron and his friends and family from Akron/Cleveland have always been close to his heart. He knows that he needs more than one more championship to get in Michael Jordan territory, but he also knows that Cleveland hasn’t won a championship in 50 years. To bring a title to that city would mean more (to him and to the people he cares about) than winning two or three more somewhere else.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In retrospect, and after reading LeBron’s own words, his return to Cleveland should not come as a surprise to anyone. It’s clear that even while he was taking the Miami Heat to The Finals year after year, his heart was actually somewhere else. Northeast Ohio in particular. It’s a game-changer for the league, no doubt. The Cavaliers go from afterthought to an Eastern Conference contender with LeBron’s return. In fact, the impact his homecoming will have cannot be quantified in any traditional manner. Just by returning to Cleveland, this guy is going to lift the spirits of an entire fan base, region and, really, a state. I lived in Cleveland (for a short 14-week stint) when LeBron was still in elementary school. And I’ve had family there my entire life, so I know how serious they take their sports teams and heroes. They’ve never had anyone like LeBron, homegrown, to latch on to. So to lose him four years ago in dramatic fashion only to see him win it all twice in Miami, their joy in getting him back now cannot accurately be displayed in words. If he actually comes home and wins a title, brace yourself for absolute pandemonium.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It makes the East much more competitive from top to bottom. There isn’t that same excellence in the top teams as in the West, but it makes it much harder to delineate the best teams in the conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago, Indiana, Cleveland, Toronto or Washington won the Conference, with Atlanta, Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte in the mix as well. LeBron returning home is a nice narrative, but that doesn’t give Cleveland a rim protector or a coach proven in the NBA just yet.

Lance takes talents, drama to Hornets, while Pacers sift through options


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson talks with the media after Indiana falls in Game 6 of the East finals

LAS VEGAS – Lance being Lance.

That’s how some will explain free-agent shooting guard Lance Stephenson‘s decision to sign with the Charlotte Hornets for $18 million guaranteed vs. the $44 million offered by his previous team, the Indiana Pacers.

Given Stephenson’s occasionally erratic behavior and impulsive thinking – the blowing-in-LeBron‘s-ear stuff that drove down his market value just weeks before free agency – the idea of leaving $26 million on the table to switch teams might seem so … so Lance. According to the Charlotte Observer, Stephenson will be paid $9 million in each of his first two Hornets seasons, with a slight raise in 2016-17 if the team exercises its option to retain him.

As confident as Stephenson is in his truly impressive talents, that might just permit the brash Brooklyn native with the “Born Ready” nickname to market himself again sooner at a higher price. Heck, it might keep him relatively hungry and focused on his next deal, mitigating the fears many in Indianapolis and around the NBA had that Stephenson, if validated with major money, might go from incorrigible to unmanageable.

Then again, maybe he was just bored. And with such a short guarantee, if the mercurial Stephenson (who will be 24 in September) undermines the image-conscious Hornets on the court or elsewhere, he might face even more frustration the next time he hits free agency.

He is Charlotte owner Michael Jordan‘s challenge to handle now, after four years of Larry Bird‘s TLC in Indiana – if Stephenson still requires or accepts mentoring from an all-timer.

Assuming Stephenson locks in while on the court, Charlotte – in this fallback move after its offer sheet to Utah’s Gordon Hayward was matched by the Jazz – has added a formidable talent. Stephenson is a multiply skilled wing player who is a natural scorer, a terrific athlete, a crafty (and sometimes wild) passer when he spies the opening and a lively, tenacious defender who welcomes the task of stifling big scorers. He has good range that can get better after shooting 49 percent overall and 35 percent on 3-pointers, while averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

At its best, Stephenson’s energy served as jumper cables for an Indiana team that could be too calm, too centered for its own good some nights. At its worst, that energy had the effect of Tasering his own team. The Pacers’ locker room was full of veteran players who could rein Stephenson back in; with the Hornets’ loss of Josh McRoberts and several young players trying to make their bones like Stephenson, who knows if Charlotte has the necessary steadying influences needed for Lance.

Indiana had offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal two weeks ago that, by all reports, had not been amended. Its average value of $8.8 million was only marginally different from the $9 million for which Stephenson is uprooting.

Even as players such as Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Trevor Ariza were getting bigger deals, Stephenson never pushed into eight-figure territory because of the risks associated with his behavior. He ranked among the league’s leaders in technical fouls and flopping fines, and was stats-centric enough to steal rebounds from teammates Roy Hibbert and David West (and to complain at the scorers table if he felt something was missed). Even Bird criticized him at the end for his distracting antics against Miami in the East finals, where Stephenson whipped up media scrutiny for days on end.

Now, however, the Pacers have a different sort of headache. Replacing good Lance might be just as challenging as handling bad Lance. There are precious few options left among free agents – especially since Indiana already cut loose former Philadelphia guard Evan Turner, who disappointed after his acquisition by Bird in February.

The latest Lance insurance policy is C.J. Miles, a 6-foot-6 veteran of nine NBA seasons with Utah and Cleveland. Last season, Miles averaged 9.9 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 43.5 percent. He hit 39.3 percent of his 3-pointers but isn’t comparable to Stephenson as an athlete, defender or offense generator.

Outside options? Rodney Stuckey still is available after moving into a bench role with the Pistons. Ray Allen at 39 wouldn’t be able to handle the workload Indiana needs from Stephenson’s spot. There’s always a chance the Pacers could indulge George Hill‘s inner off-guard dreams and find another point guard, like former Magic playmaker Jameer Nelson.

Barring a stealthy save by Bird late in free agency or via trade, Stephenson has gone from blowing in LeBron’s ear to boxing the Pacers’ ears … all at a head-scratching bargain price.

 

Silver: Sterling ouster moves slowly


VIDEO: Commissioner Adam Silver talks about the Sterling case

LAS VEGAS – It’s possible Donald Sterling still will own the Los Angeles Clippers next month. It’s even possible, NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged after the league’s Board of Governors meeting here Tuesday, that the publicly disgraced Sterling and his estranged wife Shelly still might own the team when the league opens training camps in October for the 2014-15 season.

As troubling as that might be in terms of public perception, given Sterling’s racially bigoted comments back in April, and as incendiary as that could become as an issue with the NBA’s players, Silver said the methodical pace of the probate trial in Los Angeles between the Sterlings could further delay the Clippers sale to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

“No, I cannot say it with certainty, and I cannot say it with certainty because it’s in the hands of the probate court,” Silver said.

“I can say with certainty, we are doing everything in our power to move Donald out as an owner in the NBA. If the probate ruling doesn’t go in our favor, we’ll recommence our procedures under termination.”

It was Shelly Sterling’s swift sale of the franchise for $2 billion to Ballmer, to which Donald allegedly acquiesced, that prompted the NBA to cancel its termination hearing among the other owners. Only later did Sterling balk at the arrangement and file lawsuits against his wife and the league.

The termination mechanism in the NBA’s constitution and by-laws still is available to Silver and the owners. But the probate trial in L.A. – with Donald challenging Shelly’s right to remove him as a co-trustee of the family trust and to sell the team, based on two doctors’ findings that the 81-year-old billionaire was mentally incapacitated – is grinding slowly.

And based on Sterling’s broken relationship with the league and his plan to sue the NBA for $1 billion, another courtroom decision could thwart or delay any forced transfer beyond the tentative Sept. 15 deadline.

“It’s possible that some court would step in and stop us,” Silver said during the news conference. “I think it’s highly, highly unlikely because we are absolutely acting within our rights. And I think what’s transpired in probate court so far has made it even clearer that we’re acting not only within our rights but doing what is right and appropriate in this situation.”

The NBA has monitored the probate trial, to the point of having a lawyer in the courtroom reporting back regularly to the league. Silver said his sense was that, once the judge hears all testimony, a ruling could follow quickly. But no end date currently is known.

Three days after Sterling’s ugly comments about blacks were made public, Silver imposed a lifetime ban on the man who has owned the Clippers since 1981. He fined Sterling $2.5 million and said that, with his “offensive and hurtful views,” Sterling had violated league rules and damaged the NBA as a business enterprise. The Board of Governors supported Silver’s recommendation that Sterling be forced to sell.

Silver said he has talked both with Kevin Johnson, the Sacramento mayor and former all-NBA point guard who is representing the players in this process, and with some players directly to let them know the timeline of Sterling’s ouster might be delayed. In the days after Sterling’s comments, a number of players reacted angrily. The Clippers staged a symbolic on-court protest and there was at least talk of boycotting a playoff game.

Silver said, however, that those with whom he has spoken have been patient. “They understand it’s very difficult to say anything with certainty in a situation like this,” the commissioner said.

Asked if the NBA considered lessening Sterling’s lifetime ban – which blocks him from even attending games as a spectator – to expedite the Clippers sale, Silver said the league had been open to that early in the process. But there was no follow-through. “I never received any proposals,” Silver said.

Silver touched on a variety of topics that flowed from Tuesday’s four-hour meetings and other league sessions going on in Las Vegas this week:

  • The competition committee met for 10 hours Sunday and Monday, discussing the draft lottery, the playoff system, conference and division structure and details of the centralized replay system to be used starting in 2014-15. Silver said a trial run would start in September using WNBA games. Replays will be cued up at the league’s division in Secaucus, N.J., but game officials in each arena still will make the determinations.
  • The popularity of the summer league in Las Vegas – with attendance up 25 percent, Silver said – has the league open to ideas for a greater role in the nation’s gambling capital. One possibility, mentioned without details as a brainstorm from the competition committee: A midseason tournament of some sort.
  • Negotiations of the NBA’s national TV contracts continue, with Silver expessing confidence that relationships with the current partners would be maintained, perhaps with some additions. He understood the desire by players and their agents to make decisions on contract length this offseason according to an anticipated bump in TV revenues and, thus, a boost in the salary cap. Several, including LeBron James, have signed two-year deals.
  • Silver sees the league’s collective bargaining agreement, which was hammered out only after a rancorous lockout in 2011, working fine in 2014 free agency. “I think for the league, all the speculation, all of the chatter around Carmelo [Anthony] and what other players would do, Pau Gasol, [has been] very exciting,” he said. “You want to strike the right balance. I think a certain amount of free-agent movement is positive. It creates a sense of renewal for a lot of markets.”
  • The board approved a slate of minority owners for the Milwaukee Bucks to join majority owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, who purchased that team in April for $550 million. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, rumored to be interested in a piece of the franchise, was not mentioned at the meeting, Silver said.
  • As for James’ decision to go back to Cleveland, Silver said he was “moved” by the first-person essay on SI.com in which the four-time MVP shared his love for home and northeast Ohio. But Silver added: “What I heard from a lot of owners in the league was, ‘I wish my city was his hometown.’ “

Wade goes home, too, by staying put


VIDEO: Wade lets the basketball world know his plans

LAS VEGAS – “Home is where the heart is,” Dwyane Wade wrote on Twitter, announcing his decision to re-sign with the Miami Heat and taking the pressure off a whole lot of people in the wake of LeBron James‘ decision to return to Cleveland.

It never was James’ intent, of course, to apply that pressure when he made such a splash – heartfelt, even touching (while allowing for some legit basketball reasons) – with his essay on SI.com about going home. To James, he was, is and always shall be someone entwined with northeast Ohio, from his boyhood in Akron to the seven NBA seasons he played for the Cavaliers. Millions of people are like that – wouldn’t think of living or working elsewhere, like our own David Aldridge – so for James to yield to that tugging on his sleeve and his heartstrings is an admirable thing.

For millions of others, though, home is where you make it. Maybe it’s where you work, a place perhaps unknown to you when you said yes to the job offer but vibrant and embracing enough to make you feel as if you always belong. Maybe it’s where you attended college, deciding to stay for some post-post-post-graduate work in life.

Maybe it’s some part of the country where the scenery or the climate is completely different from where you grew up. Just because your parents didn’t mind six months of winter, or four months every year where you never set foot outside without AC, doesn’t mean you’re bound to.

Me, I feel like home is where my wife is. And for many, it’s the spouse’s life that dictates the location, whether for career, family or simple preferences. For many others, though, home is where the relatives and folks who knew you when aren’t. Some people prefer to leave family and friends behind to build lives and seize adventures purely of their own making. Others want distance for its own sake.

Plot enough points among all those variables and you’ll find Wade, anchored in south Florida regardless of the All-Stars and teammates who choose to join or leave him. He has spent 11 years there and, from all signs, will always consider it home. It doesn’t matter that he grew up in Robbins, Ill., a suburb south of Chicago, or attended Marquette University in Milwaukee for three years. Miami is the place Wade became a man, began and is raising a family, has enjoyed all his professional success (three Heat championships) and will be honored in a few years in bronze outside AmericanAirlines Arena.

So if LeBron cast a vote for roots and homecomings Friday, Wade cast one four days later for adopted hometowns, fresh beginnings and career mobility. That speaks to a lot of NBA fans too.

Now, as far as the basketball aspect of this, there’s nothing surprising about Wade re-upping with the Heat. There never was a market for him to go elsewhere, based on a couple of things.

First, the entire league knew Wade would stay put and only opted out of the two years, $42 million left on his contract to provide team president Pat Riley with some salary-cap flexibility. James and forward Chris Bosh did the same, though the plan changed dramatically when James decided to go back to the Cavs.

The other reason for Wade’s lack of suitors was the sense around the NBA that his best days, and even his good ones, might be behind him. The 10-time All-Star still was productive for much of the regular season – when he played, that is.

Wade missed 28 games due to, and as a precaution for, his long-aching knees. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 20.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.3 blocks, not far off his career numbers, except his average and total minutes were down. And all that sitting in the regular season ultimately did not pay off; Wade had three lackluster games to finish out The Finals against San Antonio.

The idea all along was that Wade might give up some dollars in the short term – Riley referred to the shooting guard’s “sacrifice” in announcing his re-signing – and be rewarded with a deal stretching beyond 2016-17. Initial reports Tuesday, however, suggested that wasn’t the case – the Associated Press estimated Wade’s new deal to be for two years at $16 million to $17 million per year.

That’s less than he had coming to him, guaranteed, had he never opted out. It allows the Heat to stay nimble, and avoid committing a fat eight-figure salary to a player whose knees likely won’t be NBA-healthier when he’s 34 or 35 than they are right now. It also lightens the needle on this sort of social-media snark:

At this point, it’s pretty clear Wade – who refers to himself as a “Heat lifer” – can have a job with the Miami franchise for as long as he chooses. If that continues into his post-playing days, well, whatever he, Riley and the Arison family work out then won’t be subject to the salary cap or luxury tax. From that perspective, home is where the $$$ is.

Still, there’s no need to be cynical here. Chicago, and the Bulls, never did anything wrong to keep Wade away from the market in which he grew up – in fact, he rooted and dreamed of playing for the Bulls (and would have been drafted there if they had been able to sneak up from No. 7 to snag him).

Like so many people, Wade left college, moved to start a job and put down roots. Those are the ones to which he stayed true Tuesday. It’s a Derek Jeter thing on MLB All-Star Tuesday, and who’s to quibble with that?

At peace, West seeks another chance


VIDEO:
Delonte West talks about trying to get back into the NBA

LAS VEGAS – As undrafted rookie Tyler Johnson left the arena Monday, he shouted out to the guy he’d spent most of the night chasing around, and vice versa, in the clash of Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers summer league squads. “All right, Delonte,” Johnson, a 22-year-old from Fresno State, said.

Delonte West interrupted a conversation to get him back. “Good game, young fella,” said West, in that moment transporting himself back a decade.

“When I was a young guy,” said West, “and an older guy would say, ‘Aw man, I saw you play at St. Joe’s,’ I’d be like, ‘Appreciate, appreciate.’ I’d go home and text [friends], ‘Paul Pierce used to watch me in college?!’ “

That’s time, y’know, and it passes quickly. One moment you’re the rookie looking to impress and hoping to get noticed, the next you’re a veteran of eight NBA seasons and five teams trying to revive that career. It’s gone fast and it’s been bumpy for West, who will turn 31 on July 26 and whose travels and most recently two-year absence from the league had little to do with his basketball skills and everything to do with off-court issues and the bipolar disorder from which he suffers.

West’s bouts of mental health problems spoiled his three-year run in Cleveland, where he played with LeBron James but got enmeshed in scurrilous rumors related to James’ mother Gloria. He also was arrested in 2009 for riding a motorcycle while carrying a large number of firearms.

His disorder clouded a second chance in 2010-11 with Boston, the team that had drafted him No. 24 overall in 2004, and it finally put him out of the league after getting sideways with the Dallas Mavericks in October 2012.

West gathered himself enough to spend a year in China, playing for the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese Basketball Association. He played well and added facets to his game. Last summer, he and his wife Caressa became parents to an infant son. That was another step in West’s maturation and new found stability.

“That’s a part of the game,” West said. “The life game for me. It was great going out there, going and growing up. Put the toys behind me. Being grown up and being a man, sometimes there’s things you have to do… take the trash out. But that’s what going away for me did.”

In his eight NBA seasons, West played in 432 games, scored 4,198 points, made 58 playoff appearances and, according to basketball-reference.com, earned about $16.2 million. Whether it was the game, the paydays, a shot at redemption or some combination of all three, West reached out to Clippers coach Doc Rivers for this latest, perhaps last chance.

“It wasn’t hard. He called me and I said yes,” Rivers said, watching as a spectator as the Clippers squad beat Miami, 91-85. “Literally, that’s how it happened.

“I think we all knew he could play. But it’s good for people to see it again. He’s in a great place in his life. A new baby… And because his life is doing well, his basketball’s good.”

West played well against Johnson and the Heat, scoring 12 points with eight rebounds and five assists. While all the young guys were running around at 100 mph, trying to do everything at once, the 6-foot-3, something-less-than-180-pound West was a stabilizing influence, orchestrating and letting the ball find him.

Except for plays such as this: Just before halftime, West leaped for a defensive rebound, then dribbled through a swarm of three Miami defenders. Clearing the pack, he found Amath M’Baye for an alley-ooped and-1. It stuck out as an NBA pearl among, let’s face it, more than a few swine in raggedy summer-league action.

More of the same and West might land the training-camp invitation he’s seeking.

“The next step is teams, including us, are looking at him, and he’ll get a lot of interest,” Rivers said. “I was sitting over there with Thibs and Flip [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Minnesota president/coach Flip Saunders]. Delonte scores three buckets in a row and you can hear them talking about him. ‘Damn, he can still play.’ That’s good.”

Said Thibodeau: “To me, that’s the beauty of summer league. There’s something for everybody. Like a guy comes out of college, maybe he wasn’t drafted, so he goes overseas or plays in the D-League and he gets better. You see him three years later and he’s a lot better. There are guys trying to revive their careers. So the picture of him is not from three or four years ago, it’s where he is now.”

West these days is in a good place. He’s grateful for the chance Rivers has given him. He spoke at length about the relationship he forged in Dallas with Mavs owner Mark Cuban, even as he spiraled out of the league. He even mentioned the NBA per diem he got and the steak he ate Sunday, helping him get back to proper playing weight.

Generally, West sounds like a man with no expectations now, appreciating what he has and what he survived to reach this point.

“It’s already been a success,” West said of this summer-league stint. “I got an opportunity to put a jersey on and be back in the fraternity. The chance to get up there and get some NBA bump, hey, anytime you’ve got a jersey on – it don’t matter who you’re playing for – you’re there. You’ve got a Clippers jersey on.

“This is big for me and my family. We’re going to celebrate. It’s one step to more steps.”

Zeller’s timeline, urgency need to synchronize with Charlotte’s


VIDEO: Knicks blow out Hornets in Las Vegas; Zeller scores 18 in defeat

LAS VEGAS – Cody Zeller‘s personal timeline doesn’t seem to be in sync with his team’s. And that not based simply on the fact that his 2014 Summer League experience began four days after the Charlotte Hornets’.

Zeller’s brother Tyler, recently traded from Cleveland to Boston, got married over the weekend, so the Hornets’ 7-foot center/forward had permission to show up late for the team’s slate of games in the desert. But the tardiness needs to end now, because Charlotte is growing weary of waiting for Zeller.

After the Hornets used the No. 4 overall pick on Zeller in the 2013 Draft, he proved to have a more prolonged learning curve than they had expected. He averaged 6.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 17.3 minutes. Some things clicked as the season progressed, but he shot 42.6 percent and was no factor in the playoff sweep to Miami.

Now, with versatile and valued Josh McRoberts gone from Charlotte’s front line, Zeller is being counted on to contribute far more. Beginning, like, yesterday.

Though he wasn’t even ready for today.

“He played like he just came off the plane,” said Patrick Ewing, Hall of Fame center and the Hornets assistant coach who worked Charlotte’s 95-72 spanking by New York’s summer squad. Zeller scored 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting in nearly 31 minutes, but those points are misleading; by halftime, he had just six points and zero rebounds in 16 minutes. Charlotte was getting thumped 62-31 and dominated on the boards, 19-5. So yeah, Zeller made most of his impact in garbage time.

Ewing was as honest in his assessment as Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is when talking about the big guy from Indiana – actually, the roster now has two, with rookie forward Noah Vonleh arriving with the No. 9 pick last month.

“We need for [Zeller] to do it on both ends, not just look to score,” Ewing said. “I told him a couple times, ‘If we’re gonna go to you and you don’t have anything, and there’s a man right there, pass the ball to the open man.’ [Play] the way that he’s gonna have to play during the season. Even though this is summer league, this summer league is important to all three of those guys – him, P.J. [Hairston] and Noah. We still need for them to make plays.”

Zeller, 21, didn’t share the sense of urgency. In fact, he sounded a little above the fray for what goes on at Summer League, as if a gentleman of his breeding needn’t overdo it this week.

He might want to rethink that stance.

“Summer league is no indication of how the team or individually how you’re going to be in the season,” Zeller said. “Everyone is trying to use it to get better at this time of year. But for me, I’ve got two or three months till the beginning of the season.”

Zeller sounded like he had to handicap his game Monday so the hopefuls and wannabes playing with him could keep up. “It feels like I’m going back from making the adjustment from the NBA back to college now,” he said. “I’ve got to take a second and slow down, and try to help guys along.”

Sounds nice of him, but Zeller has no time to lose. There already are rumblings in Charlotte that the momentum of last season, off a 43-39 record and playoff berth against the Heat, may be lost with McRoberts’ departure and the inability to pry restricted free-agent Gordon Hayward away from Utah. Clifford relied on McRoberts for stability and smarts whenever his talented but inexperienced squad lost its way. In signing with Miami, he left a hole bigger than his 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

It’s largely on Zeller and Vonleh to plug it. Otherwise they both might get to pad their numbers in far too many games with garbage time.

“He’s gonna have to grow up real fast,” Ewing said of Zeller. “With Josh not being there, I’m not sure who our starting four man is going to be … but we need for him to improve in all the areas where he didn’t do well last year. He has to continue to rebound and block shots – he’s 7 foot tall – running on the break, developing a go-to move. Just all the things a normal basketball player’s supposed to have.”

Told that Zeller doesn’t seem to be fast-tracking this project – he’s counting on the team’s chemistry and character to fend off slippage, while focusing this offseason on his offensive moves – his coach for the day Monday nodded.

“There’s time,” said Ewing, one of the hardest-working big men in league history. “Hopefully not too long.”

McDermott gets buckets, seeks minutes


VIDEO: McDermott scores 31 to lead Bulls past Nuggets

LAS VEGAS – Convincing people that Doug McDermott is more than a shooter is like buying a Corvette and touting its fuel economy.

That was the case with McDermott Sunday in his second Summer League performance. The Chicago Bulls’ first-round pick out of Creighton lit up the Cox Pavilion so brightly – 7-for-12 overall, 5-for-9 from the arc, 12-for-12 from the line and 31 points against Denver’s squad – that anyone making a case for all the alleged other things in his game would have been drowned out, anyway, by the crowd’s reactions to each bucket.

Or would that be McBucket?

“I’m fine with that,” McDermott said afterward, his proficiency outside sparking the Bulls’ group to 19-for-36 on 3-pointers. “Really, that’s my biggest strength right now.”

On the night they drafted him, Bulls GM Gar Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau went out of their way to talk up other facets of McDermott’s game. They cited his ball skills, his movement without the ball, his ability to post up and even his defense, though it likely wasn’t up to Thibsian standards yet. “If you view him as strictly a shooter, you’re not casting the proper light on him,” Thibodeau said.

That’s fine. Some pageant winners really are whizzes at calculus, too. But that generally isn’t why you notice them.

The Bulls ranked last in the NBA in 2013-14 in field-goal percentage, 28th in 3-point attempts, 24th in 3-point percentage, last in effective field-goal percentage and 28th in offensive rating. So it’s OK if McDermott, especially this season, does mostly what he does best, without apologies.

“I’m trying to add things to my game every day,” McDermott said. “I feel like I’m a lot more than a shooter. I feel like I’m a complete player. And having a coach like Tom Thibodeau, he’s only going to help me.”

McDermott, a 6-foot-8 small forward who led the nation in scoring (26.7 ppg) this season and scored 3,150 points in his four years of college, did show other parts of his game. He posted up effectively, he worked well with Bulls second-year guard Tony Snell (23 points) in some two-man action and he moved his feet sufficiently on defense, one time forcing a Denver shot-clock violation when he kept Carlon Brown in front of him without options.

McDermott finished with one rebound and one assist, but he took contact better than in his debut, earning his dozen trips to the line. He also filled the wing and finished a break with an impressive dunk. Overall, he felt he played a better, more relaxed game this time.

“Definitely, that first one, just a little uptight,” he said. “Just so excited for my first game. Today it slowed down. Today, it felt more like basketball. Back to normal.”

McDermott spent some time with Bulls assistant coach Andy Greer Sunday morning, going over video of his play against the Clippers Friday. He scored 10 points on 2-for-8 shooting, missed his three attempts inside the arc and turned over the ball four times.

One big adjustment: Spacing. He said he was “awful” at that in the opener. “Coming off screens, playing off others, spacing is huge,” McDermott said. “Tonight I was able to get a lot better looks because I was in the right spots.

“Last night [Saturday], I was being too quick around the rim, forcing some stupid plays. Tonight, I was much more calm and able to get to the rim a little easier, and finish.”

Given the big tease to this point – that’s what summer league proficiency often is – the next question will be, can McDermott get on the floor enough to get to the rim and show all those other marvelous skills besides shooting?

He is, after all, a rookie and rookies do not play a lot under Thibodeau. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom – with which Thibodeau takes some issue.

“Do the research,” he said, after suggesting that, league-wide, few rookies log long minutes, especially those drafted to winning teams.

OK, here goes:

  • No rookie last season cracked the top 20 in minutes played. Only four topped 1,900 minutes – MVP Kevin Durant led the league with 3,122 – and only three averaged as many as 27 minutes.
  • Only nine rookies averaged 20 minutes or more. Chicago’s Snell, the No. 20 pick, ranked 13th in total minutes (1,231) and 14th in average (16.0).
  • The top 10 players taken in 2013 – 11, but not factoring in Nerlens Noel – averaged 20.5 minutes as rookies. The bottom 10 picks in the first round averaged 12.4 minutes. In 2012, those numbers were 25.5 for the top 10 and 9.7 for the bottom 10.
  • Since Thibodeau was hired in June 2010, his rookies have been picked 30th (Jimmy Butler), 29th (Marquis Teague) and 20th (Snell).

McDermott was the No. 11 pick, so his minutes might be expected to fall closer to the top 10 than the bottom 10. If he earns them, that is, by not making mistakes that outweigh his contributions.

But the way he shot the ball Sunday, he might make it hard for Thibodeau not to play him.

Bennett starts strong as summer soph


VIDEO: Anthony Bennett talks about his double-double in Cavs’ win

LAS VEGAS – David Blatt, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ new head coach, was backed up to the concrete-block wall as far as he could go. A semicircle of media folks, with flip-cams, records and the stray pen and notebook, pressed forward Sunday afternoon at the Cox Pavilion.

Made sense Blatt was in high demand. After all, barely 48 hours had lapsed since LeBron James stunned the sports world with his announcement that he was returning to Cleveland. Andrew Wiggins, the intriguing No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in late June, had just played his second pro game. Then there was Blatt himself, a rookie in this league after building an extensive and impressive reputation internationally, who just learned he would have the planet’s best basketball player at his disposal.

Only, no one wanted to talk about that stuff. The first three or four questions Blatt took all were about a guy who averaged 4.2 points, appeared in only 52 games last season and missed 145 of the 225 shots he launched.

“What is this, the Anthony Bennett Show?” Blatt said, laughing.

Actually, yeah, it kinda was. Moments earlier against San Antonio’s Summer League squad, Bennett scored 13 points and hauled in 14 rebounds in the Cavaliers’ second victory of this event. In the opener Friday, he scored 15 points with seven rebounds against Milwaukee.

Bennett reined in his shot a little Sunday, shooting 5-for-8 compared to 6-for-16 in the opener. But he still oozed confidence, along with the sweat that glistened off a body in far more professional shape these days. The No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft has shed 15 pounds, as he tells it, but it actually looks like more; he has leaned down and worked hard to gain definition and more freedom of movement.

“It wasn’t really that tough,” Bennett said. “My body is kind of weird. I can gain weight fast, I can lose weight fast. So it was just me maintaining it. Watching what I eat at night.”

The way he looks and has played so far, if that was the Anthony Bennett who had shown up for training camp in October, the Cavaliers might have been on to something. Then again, they might not have Wiggins right now because a productive Bennett might have meant more victories and fewer lottery balls.

Instead, offseason shoulder surgery wiped out summer league for Bennett and a slow uptick in picking up the pro game and his dubious conditioning ganged up on the regular season. He was a non-factor, nowhere to be found in Rookie of the Year voting or on the all-rookie teams. The meager stats he got were often of garbage time variety.

Everywhere the Cavs went, Bennett said he was doing fine, biding his time, ignoring the critics. But after his happier performance Sunday, he admitted that wasn’t entirely true.

“Most definitely,” he said. “Just putting a lot of pressure on myself. Things weren’t going right for me. Just everything just collapsing, just building up. I got down on myself. I spoke to the coaches, they helped me out a lot. Told me to keep working.”

Those were the Cavs’ old coaches. The new coaches feel the same way – what a shock! – and Blatt, the newcomer, says it is clean slate time all around.

“AB has been good since Day 1, since I came,” Blatt said. “He’s really working hard to get himself in shape. He’s really, really trying to do a lot of different things on the court to help the team win, and not be under pressure to do one thing. … It’s a work in progress but he’s doing a great job and I hope he continues in the same fashion.”

Bennett, a native of Toronto who attended high school in Las Vegas before his single season at UNLV, has plenty of support in the stands. That has boosted his confidence even more.

“I see my high school principal here,” Bennett said. “A couple of teachers here, my AAU coach, a couple of friends. I just feel more relaxed, more calm.”

Calm before a potential storm. James’ return to Cleveland has changed the entire Cavs atmosphere, and a young guy like Bennett – along with Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving and Wiggins – might find themselves winning more and speeding along their learning curves.

The alternative, though, is that Bennett might wind up instead in a trade package with a couple of those teammates, should Cavs GM David Griffin and Timberwolves president/coach Flip Saunders ever see eye-to-eye on a possible Kevin Love deal.

If that means Bennett is showcasing himself for Minnesota rather than Cleveland, so be it. Showcasing is better than warehousing, which is how his 2013-14 season went.

Wizards sign Pierce, think Durant in 2016?

VIDEO: Pierce leaves Brooklyn for DC

LAS VEGAS – They’re signing Paul Pierce but thinking Kevin Durant.

If the Washington Wizards’ decision to budgetarily hold the line on Trevor Ariza Saturday didn’t tip their hand on Durant ambitions in the summer of 2016, their move to land Pierce in free agency later in the day sure did.

Signing Pierce to a two-year, $10 million deal, a move reported by multiple outlets, looks like a potentially perfect maneuver to plug the hole in Washington’s starting lineup opened up by Ariza’s departure for the Houston Rockets. The longtime Celtics and one-year Nets star might not have a lot left in the tank – he averaged 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 28 minutes for Brooklyn – but he might not be asked to do too much for the Wizards.

That club’s backcourt, John Wall and Bradley Beal, drive the offense and second-year forward Otto Porter already is being counted on to pick up much of Ariza’s slack. Pierce can ease Porter’s transition – the No. 3 pick in 2013, Porter played sparingly as a rookie – while providing leadership among the youngish team.

The Wizards want Porter to flourish, but that doesn’t mean they won’t keep their options open should Durant decide to weigh his options beyond Oklahoma City in two years. Given LeBron James‘ decision announced Friday to return to Cleveland, fans in Washington and team management might try to pitch Durant – a DC native – on a similar homecoming. As laid out by CSNWashington.com:

But make no mistake, this isn’t conjecture anymore. It’s real. The hiring of David Adkins, who coached Durant in high school, from the University of Maryland’s women’s team as assistant coach to player development for the Wizards this past week isn’t a coincidence.

The building blocks are being put in place now. Ariza is off the books and Porter, who is playing on a rookie scale contract, is a much cheaper option. Nene, who will make $26 million for the next two seasons, will be off the books as well.

So what had been whispered or at least kept to a low roar evolved into some full-blown rumbling Saturday.