Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 1


VIDEO: The Fast Break, Oct. 31

Curry re-inventing NBA highlights | Failure to launch in Houston | Melo owes Dudley thank-you note | No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson

No. 1: Curry re-inventing NBA highlights — Perhaps the second biggest knock against the NBA among casual and non-fans – the first being the fallacious need to only see the final five minutes of any game to know what happened – is that the highlight reel of any given night’s action is merely a montage of dunk after dunk after dunk. It’s never been all that accurate, but Golden State’s Stephen Curry has been putting the lie to it like never before. The Warriors point guard can and regularly does dazzle in a dozen ways without ever getting above the rim, from his long-distance splashes to ridiculous blind passes that can turn a series of quick-cut throw-downs into a CSPAN snooze-fest. After Curry lit up the New Orleans Pelicans for 53 points Saturday, our own Fran Blinebury wrote about Curry’s continued ascendancy. And Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ recapped Curry’s early-season domination:

“How far was I off?” Curry, now done with his phone, wanted to know how his 118 points through the first three games stacked up next to Wilt Chamberlain’s record through three. When told it was 156 points, Curry recoiled, “Oh God!” So yes, there are limits to what this guy can do. It’s just not clear we’ve found those limits yet. This is true maybe for the third season in a row. Curry is the rare NBA player who wasn’t expected to become a superstar until the day he became one. [Anthony] Davis? LeBron James? Kevin Durant? They were anointed prior to greatness. Curry has rudely jumped the line. And as he embraces the new reality, he’s only improving, it seems.

“He’s getting to the hole a lot better,” [teammate Draymond] Green assessed. “He can choose the spots when to go, he’s turning the corner like crazy, getting to the hole.” With each game, Curry develops a keener sense of how defenses react to his 3-pointer. The headline after this particular outing might be “53 points” or “28 points in the quarter.”

For much of the second half, Curry also devastated the Pelicans with his passing. If you require attention from half court forward, that attention can be leveraged in many ways. Curry is finding the ways.

To hear him tell it, the recent explosion isn’t about being ranked fifth among MVP candidates by NBA GMs, or what Ty Lawson said, or what Kyrie Irving said, or even what Alvin Gentry said when the current Pelicans coach and former Warriors assistant called Davis and James the league’s two best players.

When asked about his motivation, Curry, ever the optimist, says, “Take advantage of the opportunity.” He continues, “People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year, I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

The improvement is somehow starting to perpetuate. Rhetorical savant Green, between pregnant pauses, says it best: “You know it’s one thing to play like it. It’s one thing to score like it. It’s one thing to have a season like he had last year. But you get that mindset and everybody know? And see it?” His face contorts, as though moved by sympathy for the victims. “It’s tough. And I tell him, ‘You acting like it.’ That’s dangerous.”


No. 2: Failure to launch in Houston — Missing key pieces through the preseason was a strong indicator that the Houston Rockets might not get the sort of lift-off their talents and past experiences suggested for this 2015-16 season. But getting pummeled the way they did by the Nuggets and the Warriors went beyond even tamped-down expectations, and had Houston’s players and coaches working hard and thinking harder in practice Saturday to find solutions before their game Sunday at Miami, as reported by Jonathan Feigen:

The Rockets would not make excuses, or even cite reasons for their stumbling start to the season. With the bulk of their rotation out for the majority of the preseason, they were not ready for the start of the regular season. But why they have crashed no longer was the point.

Instead, Dwight Howard said the Rockets needed to be humbled and have been. James Harden said he needed more work and then worked overtime. Ty Lawson cited pace and pushed it through a practice that even Kevin McHale called “great.”

The problems, and probably their cause, had been obvious. The search for solutions had them pointing to attitude and execution.

“We got to lock in and get to business,” Harden said. “No more cooling around. We’re too cool, walking around cool. Even myself, as a leader. I just have to pick up my mojo a little bit.”

Whether attitude adjustment, extra work or mojo elevation will be enough to turn things around, with a back-to-back beginning Sunday in Miami, is less clear. But if the Rockets needed to learn the hard way, as Howard, contends, they have gotten hard lessons part out of the way quickly.

“There’s only one way, that’s up,” Howard said after the Rockets opened the season with consecutive 20-point losses. “We got to keep fighting, trust each other and things will change. The two losses are something we needed. We needed a wake-up call. We needed to humble ourselves, come in every day at practice, forget what happened last season, any accolades that we won in the past. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is this moment.”

The formula to turn things around is not complicated. The Rockets have done too many things badly to correct them all in one practice, but focused on playing with more pace, spacing and ball movement offensively and on closing off the paint defensively.

“We had a great practice,” McHale said. “We watched film. Guys moved the ball, moved their bodies. But we’ve had some good practices. We haven’t had any carry over to the games. At a certain point, you are either going to get it and play up to your potential or we’re going to get waxed by 20 again.

“This is a no-mercy league. Nobody cares if you’re hurt or whatever. You didn’t have enough guys for training camp. No one cares about that stuff. They care about trying to kick your tail that night. We had (ours) handed to us the last two games.”


VIDEO: Anthony dominates Wizards on Saturday

No. 3: Melo owes Dudley thank-you note — There was talk of payback and revenge in the New York Knicks’ post-victory locker room in Washington Saturday, with Carmelo Anthony‘s big game against the Wizards seemingly motivated by some barbs tossed his way by Washington’s newly added forward Jared Dudley. “Overrated” was the one-word summary of Dudley’s comments, yet Anthony was anything but that in lighting up the Wizards for 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Of course that’s what Dudley had been talking about – Anthony’s inconsistency not at getting buckets but in boosting the play of his teammates by using his overall game. Key boards and dimes were part of the veteran New York forward’s repertoire in this one, reported Newsday’s Al Iannazzone, basically validating what Dudley had said:

Carmelo Anthony rediscovered the shooting rhythm he had been looking for, and the sight of Jared Dudley helped him find it.

Over the summer, the Wizards forward called Anthony the most overrated player in the NBA. He later retracted it and apologized, but Anthony heard about it and said he circled this game on the calendar.

Anthony played brilliantly and scored 37 points to lead the Knicks to a hard-fought 117-110 road win Saturday night, spoiling the Wizards’ home opener at Verizon Center.

“It becomes competitive at that point. You just want to go out there and show what you are made out of,” Anthony said. “[This] is one of those nights. It had nothing really to do with him, but this was a game that I circled on my calendar. I’ll see him three more times.”

At the morning shootaround, Anthony made it sound as if it would be a little while before he got his stroke back. He entered the game 14-for-43 from the field and missed his first two shots Saturday night.

But he made his next eight attempts and finished 11-for-18 from the field and 4-for-5 from three-point range. He hit a huge jumper over Dudley with 1:35 to go that gave the Knicks (2-1) the lead for good.

Anthony, who had seven rebounds and four assists, iced the game with four free throws in the last 20.4 seconds.

“There was a composure and a poise to everything that he did,” Derek Fisher said. “He got the shots that he wanted when he wanted them. He also made plays to make other people better.”


No. 4: No holdout hangover for Cavs’ Thompson — Even though Tristan Thompson got his business done in time to preserve the consecutive-games-played streak of which he is justifiably proud, it seemed almost certain that his contract holdout through much of the preseason would lead to a slow start off the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bench. That has not, however, been the case. In fact, through Cleveland’s first three games, Thompson not only was doing the same things – rebounding, defending, hustling – he did so well in The Finals to boost his offseason price tag to $82 million, he arrived late but in shape and had added a new wrinkle in rim protection. Folks at The Q vividly saw that Friday against Miami, as Marla Ridenour of chronicled:

In the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ 102-92 victory in Friday’s home opener at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs’ sixth man was incensed that the Heat’s Dwyane Wade had just “crammed it” on him. Thompson said he was determined to get even and didn’t care who would pay.

So when [Chris] Bosh took a pass from Goran Dragic and drove the lane for what looked to be a left-handed slam, Thompson launched and blocked the shot with his right hand. The post-play celebration of the monstrous rejection included a mini-salute from LeBron James.

Those who wondered how long it would take Thompson to get back in the flow after his training camp holdout ended on Oct. 22, just five days before the season opener, might have been saluting as well.

Thompson finished with a season-high 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds and one assist in 26 minutes.

That was his only blocked shot, but it showed the emphasis Thompson is putting on that part of his game, especially when center Timofey Mozgov is not on the court.

“Going into the playoffs last year they were saying we don’t have rim protectors outside of Moz,” Thompson said after the game. “I took that challenge upon myself going into this season, if Moz isn’t in I’m still rim-protecting. Let the guards know it’s OK if they get beat off the dribble because I’ll meet them at the rim.”

Thompson ended his holdout by signing a five-year, $82 million contract and he didn’t need long to shake off the rust. But the Cavs expected that from Thompson, who ran his string of consecutive games played to 291, second-longest in the league behind the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (324).

“He’s one guy that never gets out of shape. We know how durable he is,” James said, knocking on the blond wood of his locker. “It’s like counting, counting, counting how many games continuous he’s played.

“When you have someone who knows the system … he’s learned the offense really fast. He’s one of our best defenders and he plays above the rim. We love it.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In two games and a little more than 24 hours, Phoenix’s backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight got the better of Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, boding well overall for the Suns. … Josh Smith didn’t have any problem when DeMarcus Cousins recently said he hated the L.A. Clippers. Smith hates all his opponents. … Speaking of Cousins, the Sacramento big man is listed as day-to-day while dealing with a sore right Achilles tendon. But that might not adversely affect his newfound knack for launching 3-pointers, a trend our Scott Howard-Cooper noted. … As his former running mate LeBron James copes with some physical nods to Father Time, Miami’s Dwyane Wade spoke about aging and adaption in a piece by our Steve Aschburner. … In one more staff ICYMI,’s Shaun Powell looks at Kent Bazemore and the shoes of DeMarre Carroll that the Atlanta Hawks would like to see him fill. … Many from the NBA’s coaching fraternity – Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers, George Karl, Mike Malone, Fred Hoiberg, Tom Thibodeau and others – paid their respects Saturday at a funeral service for Minnesota’s Flip Saunders. Earlier in the week,’s Britt Robson shared personal thoughts on Saunders that you might have missed in the outpouring of grief and memories. … You can’t exactly clip-and-save digital content, but you might want to print out the 2015 D League draft board that featured Jeff Ayres and Jimmer Fredette. Then again, you might not. … James put Halloween to extra-good use, partying like it was “Nineteen-ninety-nine.” …

Blogtable: What’s the best number of preseason games?

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: Top international newcomer? | Most entertaining team? | Too many preseason games?

VIDEORelive the top 10 plays of the preseason

> Adam Silver hinted last week that we could see a reduced preseason schedule soon. What’s the right number of preseason games for an NBA team?

David Aldridge, TNT analystI won’t be a smart aleck and say zero. Teams can get the work in they need for their squad with 2-4 games, max. 

Steve Aschburner, Four. That’s plenty. We’ve seen the league get prepped with just two tune-up games coming out of lockouts, and I don’t recall players and coaches griping about the ones that got away back then. Four preseason games would provide enough game exposures for everybody to get their work in, yet free up anywhere from a week to 10 days of time that could be sprinkled through the regular season to loosen the schedule for added rest. Way overdue change.

Fran Blinebury, Two to three, and I’m leaning toward the lower end. As the league gets younger and the 82-game schedule remains the same, there is scant time during the season for coaches to actually teach and coach philosophies and fundamentals in practices. Keep the 28-day training camp, but use it for real training and stop wasting time on traveling and playing meaningless exhibitions.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Five, maybe six. Count me among the vast majority in favor of reducing the number of exhibitions, but let’s not forget they have value. Players need some run just because and especially if they are coming back from an injury, coaches need time to make roster decisions and front offices need a body of work before a ruling that could end a player’s career. If you get down to, say, four games, that might not be enough bad basketball to reach important conclusions and get ready for the regular season.

Shaun Powell, The fewer games, the better. How about 3? Thirty and 40 years ago, NBA players needed training camp and exhibition games to whip into shape. Nowadays, players are fitter, more aware of their diets and are on the court for a good portion of the summer. They don’t need preseason as much, and exhibition games are only important for the one or two players trying to make the roster.

John Schuhmann, Four games sounds good to me. That’s one per week, allowing for less travel, more practice time, a few more days off, and fewer (or no) absences from the league’s best players.

Sekou Smith, Five is plenty and I’d be willing to see that number shrink to as few as three or four. I’m a fan of the NBA spreading the love to places where folks don’t normally see the game live and in person (I once covered a preseason game in South Dakota, it was an experience I’ll never forget). It’s always fun seeing the reaction of kids who are seeing these guys in the flesh for the first time. But I understand the grind that comes with an 82-game marathon season. It’s a beast. And anything that can be done to alleviate some of that physical stress on all involved certainly makes sense.

Ian Thomsen, Many coaches prefer a limited schedule of four exhibition games. But I’m going to add at least one more game on behalf of Mark Cuban, who sees positive returns from creating minutes for young players as well as for his management staff to work out the snags in their game presentation. In addition, think about the opportunity for teams to visit communities in their markets – the Raptors have played throughout Canada this month. So let’s go with a goal of five or six preseason games per team.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog People who are upset about the number of preseason games clearly need to get involved in a fantasy draft or find some other form of entertainment. The thing that’s really interesting to me is that complaining about too many games doesn’t really give credit to the actual NBA coaches, who (allegedly) understand how to manage minutes and not wear out their key players. Do I want the regular season to get here as soon as possible? Sure! But it’s also the appetizers that makes the entree taste so great.

Blogtable: Most entertaining team to watch in 2015-16?

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: Top international newcomer? | Most entertaining team? | Too many preseason games?

VIDEOWho are the must-watch teams on League Pass in 2015-16?

> The ________ will be the most entertaining team to watch this season, and here’s why.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Warriors. They already were, and they brought the band back together. Steph Curry spent the summer trying to become even more efficient, and dropped 40 on New Orleans in the opener. The second and third years in a new offense are when a truly smart and skilled team blossoms. Which means trouble for the other 29 teams.

Steve Aschburner, For the second straight season, the NBA’s most entertaining team probably will be its best team — the Golden State Warriors. A club like the Clippers might pack more personality and purists might find entertainment value in the care and nurturing of a young, developing crew such as Milwaukee or Orlando. Personally, I still get my kicks watching 40 percent of the Memphis Grizzlies – that is, big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol playing old-millennium ball in a 3-crazed NBA. But night in, night out, for pace and production and their undersized leader out top (Steph Curry), Golden State is sports’ DWTS.

Fran Blinebury, The defending-champion Golden State Warriors. Have we forgotten so quickly, the ball movement, the shot-making the versatility, the sheer beauty of the Warriors that practically begged for a musical score in the background?  Play it again, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The Warriors. I considered the Thunder because it’s Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka joined by the uncertainty of a new coach, and that wonder of how Billy Donovan will work out adds to the good theater. But c’mon. Golden State is a fun watch anyway, and now the defending champs have the entire league chasing them … while hearing about how the title was luck … and firing back at doubters … with a coach who routinely dishes snark. That’s entrainment.

Shaun Powell, The Thunder. So much at play here, with Kevin Durant returning and seeking to restore his MVP glow, and how Russell Westbrook tries to top what he did the last three months of last season, and what Billy Donovan has in store for a system. Oh, and there’s also the backdrop of KD’s pending free agency. To me, entertainment means points and wins and showdown games against top competition, and OKC will hit that trifecta.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Warriors are the easy answer, and the Thunder are a distant second. But in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards could be Warriors Light. John Wall can’t shoot anything like Stephen Curry, but he’s one of the league’s best passers who will thrive with more space to operate. If Bradley Beal and Otto Porter can build on their postseason performances, this can be a pretty potent offense led by one of the league’s five best point guards.

Sekou Smith, The Clippers have all the ingredients you need to be the No. 1 reality TV show in basketball, both on and off the court. They’ll be the most interesting team to watch, as coach Doc Rivers tries to tinker with the chemistry of a championship-caliber group that has added three ridiculously strong personalities in Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. This is still Chris Paul‘s team, but he might have to share the leadership load with others in ways that he has not been accustomed to recently. They’ll put on a show when they are at their high-flying best.

Ian Thomsen, The Clippers are going to be the edgiest and therefore most entertaining team. Their impatience will be their strength: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are fed up with hearing about what they haven’t done, while DeAndre Jordan, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith all want to be taken seriously. They are going to play with more attitude than any rival contender.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogHere’s the thing: Whichever team is the correct answer to this question is a team we aren’t talking about right now. Last season the Atlanta Hawks quickly evolved into a sweet passing tribute to Jogo Bonito, which transformed them into darlings of the basketball nerd set. And then there are the young teams that play entirely on spirit and fire with a style that may be unsustainable, but no less watchable. So I’ll take a guess and say a team that might be worth tuning in for, if healthy, will be the Minnesota Timberwolves. Between Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine performing nightly high-wire acts, Ricky Rubio splashing the ball around with abandon, and Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns in the post, what’s not to like?

Blogtable: Top international newcomer?

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: Top international newcomer? | Most entertaining team? | Too many preseason games?

VIDEOMario Hezonja finishes the fast break with authority

> There are 100 international players on NBA opening-night rosters. But who’s the top international newcomer we should keep an eye on, the player who’s going to have a huge impact on the league this season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Emmanuel Mudiay. He’s going to be dynamic in Denver once his head clears and he gets used to the speed of the NBA game. Mike Malone will give him the ball and push through his mistakes. A lot of talent and potential there.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHuge impact? I’m not sure any international newcomer is going to be able to qualify by that standard. But the one I’m most intrigued to track is Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica. The 27-year-old Serbian forward was the 2015 Euroleague MVP and is said to possess an NBA-ready offensive game, not just as a shooter but as a facilitator. Then there is his nickname: Professor Big Shots. I know NBA broadcasters are pulling for Bjelica to live up to that over here, just so they can substitute it for attempts to pronounce his name. Assuming Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell gives him sufficient minutes in the rotation.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’m not sure “huge impact” is the right description. But I’ll definitely be watching Mario Hezonja in Orlando. The 6-foot-8 forward from Croatia is quick, athletic, fearless and downright cocky. He’ll make shots. He’ll make plays. He’ll make his teammates angry at times by going off the reservation. He’ll make highlight reels. As they used to say in the old days at Disney World, he’s an “E-ticket ride.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAt the risk of getting into semantics, but also the actual answer, no newcomer will have a huge impact this season. But a couple names that fit into the keep-an-eye-on category: Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks and Mario Hezonja of the Magic. Porzingis has a slight edge in immediate impact because he will have more opportunities in New York, even on the same frontline as scorer Carmelo Anthony, than Hezonja will have while trying to push his way to the forefront on an Orlando roster with Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon. But I would not be surprised if both have that huge impact you’re looking for, just un future seasons.

Shaun Powell, I’m not sure if any newcomer will have what can be defined as a huge impact, but I’ll be mostly curious about Mario Hezonja in Orlando. This kid has some swagger about him, won’t hesitate to fire away and will dunk in your grill if he gets the chance. Does Emmanuel Mudiay qualify asa n international newcomer? If so, then him as well.

John Schuhmann, The only international newcomer who could possibly have a “huge” impact on this season is Kristaps Porzingis, and that’s if he’s not making an impact at all. If Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks decide that Porzingis’ timeline doesn’t match that of Anthony, they could demand (in Anthony’s case) or explore (in the Knicks’ case) a trade by the deadline. So Porzingis would have then indirectly changed the landscape of the league. Among those that aren’t going to make much of an impact, I’ve long been a fan of Marcelo Huertas‘ pick-and-roll passing, though he might be driven crazy by the Lakers’ second-unit gunners.

Sekou Smith, Kristaps Porzingis has enough upside for 100 newcomers, but I’m going with Mario Hezonja in Orlando. He showed off skills in summer league that opened eyes around the league. The bounce and confidence definitely stood out. His willingness to challenge anybody at the rim really impressed me. Even with his deep shooting range, the trait that will serve him best this season is his fearlessness. He’ll need it playing for coach Scott Skiles, who has a history of being extremely tough on rookies. As for the huge impact, I don’t see “huge” happening for any of these guys.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI don’t know if his impact will be huge, but the best international newcomer is going to be Kristaps Porzingis. He is a longterm project, of course, but his shooting range and length advantage will enable him to help the Knicks as a rookie – and they’re going to need him as they show improvement from last year’s 65-loss season.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog I’m not big on the Magic for this season — they are in a tough spot, trying to climb their way up through a highly competitive division — but I love their newcomer Mario Hezonja. A 20-year-old guard from Croatia, Hezonja plays as though nobody’s told him he’s not supposed to be doing the things he does on the court. Oh, you want to drive and dunk on someone? Do it, Super Mario. I know the Magic have Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton in the backcourt and that’s the future they’re building on, but I think it’s going to be tough to keep Hezonja off the floor.

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26

VIDEO: The NBA remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders


Saunders remembered as leader, cherished member of NBA family | Anthony, Knicks gain inspired by Mets | Parker ready for new, reduced role with Spurs | Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball?

No. 1: Saunders remembered as a leader and cherished member of NBA family — Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer Sunday at 60, succumbing to Hodgkins lymphoma on the eve of a NBA season he was going to start away from the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continued his four-month fight. Instead, he’s being remembered around a league where he touched many throughout his career. Our very own Steve Aschburner, a longtime former Timberwolves beat writer, shared some of his own reflections on Saunders:

Saunders had other pet phrases, things he’d coined or gleaned from the many coaches’ books he devoured during his trek through basketball’s trenches — seven years in the CBA in Rapid City, S.D., in La Crosse, Wis., in Sioux Falls, S.D., after college work at Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minnesota and Tulsa. “You are the position you can guard,” he’d say. And: “You give a player only as much responsibility as he can handle.” And: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Sometimes he’d footnote, sometimes he wouldn’t.

Flip also could prompt one back, typically when he’d claim that the only reason Marquette (my alma mater and first beat) won the NCAA men’s championship in 1977 (his senior year) was that Minnesota, despite its 24-3 record, was on probation and ineligible for the tournament. “But like Woody Allen said,” I’d remind him, “80 percent of success is showing up.” He’d wave his hand and we’d banter another day.

The fact is, Saunders disliked confrontations. It was the single biggest criticism of him as a coach and, when his teams in Minnesota and Detroit went through some tough times, it was cited as key to his undoing. When your best player, Kevin Garnett, is a blast furnace of motivation and improvement, there’s little about which a coach needs to confront him or the teammates intimidated into following. When some salty veterans such as Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell or Rasheed Wallace plant their heels, though, being player-friendly can get you pink-slipped.

Saunders was easily the most successful coach in Timberwolves history, particularly during his first stint. The Wolves went 411-326 and made the franchise’s only eight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004. All other seasons (including 2014-15 with Saunders navigating downward for lottery chances), they’ve gone 407-940 with zero playoff berths.

The good times were the product of Saunders’ coaching, Kevin McHale‘s acumen and Hall of Fame experience as VP of basketball operations, and the two college teammates’ and friends’ commitment to Garnett and, for as long as it lasted, to Stephon Marbury. That blew up in less than three seasons and, despite the subsequent playoff runs, Minnesota never got quite good enough.

A comment Flip made a while back in hindsight about that fizzled vision turned particularly poignant Sunday. “I hope years from now,” he said, “KG, Steph and I aren’t sitting around a table at All-Star Weekend saying, ‘We really screwed up.’ ”

He couldn’t push the Pistons over the top in three years, either, and the situation in Washington went sideways thanks mostly to Gilbert Arenas and his guns. And yet, while Saunders got fired three times at the NBA level — the Wolves dismissal, coming from McHale, stung all the way to the end — he got hired four times.


No. 2: Melo, Knicks gain inspiration from Mets — Give Carmelo Anthony credit for thinking big — and we’re talking championship big — as the New York Knicks head into this season. He’s drawing inspiration from the New York Mets, who’ll battle the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. And in the Mets, Anthony says he sees similarities in how they have gone from rebuilding to competing for a championship. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details Anthony’s vision and how the fortunes of these two Big Apple franchises relate:

It wasn’t long ago that another New York sports team was selling hope over substance, building around a combination of youth and veterans while resisting the quick fix.

So can the Knicks draw inspiration from the World Series baseball team across the East River?

Carmelo Anthony thinks so.

“That’s very inspiring to me, what the Mets have done this season,” he said. “But that didn’t start this season. That was a process. That was a build that was happening the last couple of years. To see them now kind of at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a good feeling. Even if you’re not a Mets fan and you’re here, it’s a good feeling.”

The similarities between the Knicks and Mets also extend to championship droughts (43 and 29 years, respectively), although only the Jets can claim in New York that they’ve tortured their fanbase longer than the Knicks.

“I don’t want to say it’s similar but you can see some similarities in that,” Anthony said. “The way that they kind of broke everything down and kind of rebuilt piece-by-piece and all of it came together at the right time. I don’t want to say we’re in a similar situation, but we are. Right now we put pieces together and we have to go out there and build that.”

The big difference is the Knicks won 17 games last season and finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. So they’re not close to anything resembling a long playoff run, which took the Mets five years to accomplish since Sandy Alderson took over.


No. 3: Parker ready for new, reduced role for Spurs — The addition of All-Star help like LaMarcus Aldridge and the increased role of budding All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard could mean a new and reduced role for Tony Parker. And it’s a role Parker is prepared to embrace at this stage of his career. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News details the changes on the horizon for one of the Spurs’ staples:

Days before the Spurs start their quest for championship No. 6, the 33-year-old Parker acknowledged his role is finally changing. No longer will he be relied to do so much on offense, instead passing that torch to Leonard and Aldridge.

“I understand my role is going to change,” said Parker. “I don’t need to score as much and I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi (going). I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that (Tim Duncan) changed towards Manu (Ginobili), and Manu changed towards me, it’s the same thing with me now.”

Parker echoed the words of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who mentioned to the Express-News how the Spurs “equal opportunity offense” will now shift towards Aldridge and Leonard. Popovich was quick to point out that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker won’t be forgotten, but things will change.

Let Parker tell it, he’s fine with taking a backseat.

“The last four or five years it was my job to be aggressive and score, but this year is totally different,” said Parker. “I have to be the engine in another way.”

Parker has led the Spurs in scoring four of the last five seasons, before Leonard took over last season averaging 16.5 points (Parker averaged 14.4).

Asked his feelings when the offense was transitioning to Ginobili and Parker, Duncan admitted the competitor in him resisted, and still does a bit, but added his unselfishness took over.

“As an individual you got to try not to fight it,” said Duncan, who is entering his 19th season. “We’re all competitors and we all want to do what we’ve always done. You have to understand what’s best for the team and I think we’re all here for that. It’s just about accepting that and finding your niche in your new role.”


No. 4: Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball? —  On a team headlined by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, might Serge Ibaka be the most unique talent for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season? It’s a great debate. One that Erik Horne of the Oklahoman argues in Ibaka’s favor with a new and crucial season for Ibaka and the Thunder on the horizon:

Catch Ibaka at the end of Thunder practice, and you’ll see the same guy who’s the active leader in blocked shots per game (2.58) outshoot fellow power forward Nick Collison from beyond the arc. At 34, Collison refers to the 3-pointer as something he’s tried to work on “to stay on the court” in the changing NBA.

Factor in the arrival of Billy Donovan, he of the pace and space offense and experience with the skilled big man, and the green light is even greener from 3 for the versatile Ibaka, who at 26, isn’t using the 3 to stay on the court, but expand his stranglehold on it.

“I feel very comfortable with him shooting threes, even corner threes, because of the time and effort he’s put into it,” Donovan said. “but also he’s a proven shooter – he’s a really good catch-and-shoot guy and that’s a unique combination for a frontcourt player in the league to have.”

Donovan couldn’t come up with a current or past comparison for Ibaka either, forced to look toward the future, a player who’s yet to play an NBA regular season game. Donovan said Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner has the skill set to mimic what Ibaka does on the floor.

Good luck, young fella.

“I coached him with the USA team. He’s somebody I think has a chance to maybe develop into that role,” Donovan came up with after a few moments of thought. “That would be the only guy I’ve been around and coached in the summer who I’d say is like that.”

What makes Ibaka even more of an outlier: He’s been capable of this longer than his uptick in 3-point attempts has indicated. He’s one of 11 players in NBA history taller than 6-foot-10 to shoot better than 35 percent from 3, 45 percent from the field and block 150 shots in a season. No big deal, except Ibaka’s the only one to do it three times.

The numbers summarize what left Jackson speechless when faced with the daunting question: Is anyone like Ibaka? Jackson knows what a great shotblocker looks like. He played with 7-footer Patrick Ewing, eighth all-time in blocks but someone who kept his game inside the arc offensively in an era where bigs weren’t encouraged to shoot from deep.

Last season, Ibaka attempted nearly twice the amount of threes Ewing hoisted in his entire career.



SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who needs training camp and the preseason anyway? Tristan Thompson is ready for the Cavaliers’ season opener … Folks keep writing P.J. Tucker off in Phoenix and he keeps on grinding his way back into the mix … No one is sure what to make of the Sacramento Kings this year, which is exactly why they (DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Rajon Rondo in particular), are one of the truly intriguing must-see teams in the NBA this season … Serge Ibaka, the most unique big man in NBA history? … The Philadelphia 76ers don’t officially start this season until Wednesday and they are already limping …

Ads on game uniforms a crucial topic on Board of Governors’ agenda

NEW YORK – The city that’s home to some of the priciest rental properties in the world has been the site this week for some NBA discussions on square-footage rates that dwarf even the most tony Park Avenue addresses.

How does $3 million to $5 million for 2.5 square inches sound?

The league’s Board of Governors reportedly was talking about the use of adverstisers’ logos on game jerseys at its annual October meeting. The topic dates back several years, with the NBA studying the economics of such a move as far back as 2012.

That’s when Kiki Vandeweghe – now the NBA’s executive vice-president of basketball operations, then working under president Rod Thorn – penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal noting that advertising is common internationally on soccer jerseys and, of course, on NASCAR cars and fire suits. The WNBA has featured ads and logos on uniform tops for years.

Details – sizes, prices, navigating conflicts with other corporate partnerships and more – were just starting to be explored when Vandeweghe wrote in his defense of the strategy:

It’s time Jerry West, the Hall of Famer widely regarded as the inspiration of the NBA’s logo, got some company on league jerseys. And it’s time for fans to recognize that, no matter how much they view their favorite teams as public trusts, those teams are businesses first.


Besides, the quality of the game on the court wouldn’t change one iota. Would the uniform look better without it? Slightly. But the NBA hasn’t grown to a global icon by ignoring revenue possibilities.

That last thought might figure into questions NBA commissioner Adam Silver is expected to field at the conclusion of the Board’s meetings Friday on daily fantasy Web sites. Silver recently spoke with about the league’s equity stake in FanDuel, with the commissioner saying he still sees such gaming sites as a legitimate and lucrative revenue stream and supports federal regulation of the industry.

The owners also were expected to hear reports from the financial and competition committees, along with reviewing the recent collective-bargaining agreement with the NBA’s referees.

Commissioner Silver defends NBA stake in daily fantasy site

For decades, gambling was considered the third rail of professional sports in the way Social Security is the third rail of politics – namely, a topic better left untouched. The NBA, like other major North American sports leagues, distanced itself from illegal gambling, not just adhering to federal law but maintaining integrity and hanging onto the moral high ground. Historically, the league aggressively monitored state-run lotteries with hoops tie-ins and grappled with the issue of legal sports-book operations when considering Las Vegas as a potential NBA market.

That was then. These days, Las Vegas is a major destination on the NBA itinerary, hosting the 2007 All-Star Game along with annual league meetings, National Basketball Player Association events and the ever-growing Las Vegas Summer League. With the advent of daily fantasy Web sites, some old concerns specific to illegal gambling do not apply. The major sports leagues have agreed to partnerships with such sites – the NBA’s has an equity interest in FanDuel – with an eye on new, lucrative and legal revenue streams.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke with Wednesday on the topic, calling for federal regulation of daily fantasy operators. As reported by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, Silver affirmed the league’s partnership with FanDuel while the industry continues to be investigated for conforming to federal and state gambling laws:

In the first extended comments by the leader of a major sport since daily fantasy became engulfed in scandal two weeks ago, Silver told Outside the Lines that he is “nervous” about the recent developments but welcomed the growing scrutiny as a path to regulation that will protect fantasy players.

“There should be a regulatory framework; there should be increased transparency for consumers,” Silver said in a telephone interview. “I think it would ultimately aid the industry. In fact, I think we’re seeing the marketplace impacted, because there’s not a clear regulatory framework right now.”

FanDuel issued a statement echoing some of Silver’s remarks: “FanDuel and our partners believe some regulation may be warranted and want to work with lawmakers to ensure fans continue to have access to all the fantasy games they love.”

[This is] a pivotal time for the industry, which is facing federal investigations in New York and Florida, regulatory scrutiny in several states, the possibility of Congressional hearings and a spate of lawsuits, all at a time when FanDuel and its rival, DraftKings, are blanketing airwaves with advertising.

Silver said the NBA is “not considering withdrawing or backing off our relationship with the industry. It’s something that we’re monitoring very closely. And it’s something that we’re deeply engaged in on the broader subject of daily fantasy-slash-sports betting.”

Silver and the NBA have sought to lead the national debate on sports betting. Last November, in a New York Times editorial, he called for legal, regulated sports betting, a dramatic departure from the previous position of every major sport. His public stance coincided with the NBA’s announcement that it had acquired an ownership stake in FanDuel, a deal that the company’s founder described as “a true partnership.”

But after a DraftKings employee admitted that he released privileged information and subsequently won $350,000 on FanDuel, the NBA, like other stakeholders, found itself swept up in the fallout. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a New York prosecutor is examining whether daily fantasy violates federal gambling laws. A Florida grand jury is reportedly investigating similar issues, including the handling of insider information, along with the FBI.

Silver said the NBA decided to get involved with FanDuel to have a better understanding of the mushrooming business.

“It was our view that we’re much better off inside the tent than outside the tent and understanding exactly what’s going on with these businesses and being able to take knowledgeable positions in terms of how these business can become more transparent and ultimately develop a regulatory framework that makes sense for consumers,” he said.

It’s an ongoing story and there’s a lot more to it, which you can check out here.

Pelicans’ wings clipped again with Evans sidelined 6-8 weeks

The hits just keep on coming to the New Orleans Pelicans. And even if it’s not franchise guy Anthony Davis suffering the physical damage, it’s naïve to think that Davis’ psyche and development might not sag a bit with so many fallen teammates.

After the Pelicans announced Wednesday that guard Tyreke Evans would be sidelined for an estimated six to eight weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, Davis and the remaining New Orleans players still standing had to deal with yet another setback.

Already in the preseason, centers Omer Asik (calf) and Alexis Ajinca (hamstring) have missed time, as have guard Norris Cole (ankle) and forward Luke Babbitt (hamstring). Reserve Quincy Pondexter still is recovering from offseason knee surgery, while point guard Jrue Holiday is playing on a minutes restriction that could linger deep into the regular season.

Now it’s Evans, the latest bit of bad news. Davis, a likely candidate for Most Valuable Player this season, sounded rightfully glum, as reported by’s Michael Wallace:

“It’s tough,” Davis told Wednesday. “Now with Tyreke going down, we won’t have our complete team until January sometime. … It’s tough because you’re coming in with high expectations, thinking everybody is healthy. And then, stuff happens.”

The Pelicans enter the season looking to build on Davis’ first trip to the playoffs last spring. New Orleans is widely projected to again contend for one of the final spots in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Davis, who finished fifth in MVP voting last season at age 22, was voted in a poll of NBA general managers entering this season as the player they would chose first to build a franchise around.

But the Pelicans are already struggling to maintain a healthy supporting cast for Davis, who signed a five-year, $145 million extension in July to remain the franchise cornerstone. The injuries have been piling up around Davis almost from the moment the Pelicans opened training camp last month at a West Virginia resort. They’ve tempered some of the excitement and energy that surrounded the team under first-year coach Alvin Gentry, an assistant on the Warriors staff during their championship run last season who left to install his up-tempo playing style in New Orleans.

“That’s been the main thing that’s been a little bit frustrating,” Gentry said Wednesday. “I like our team. I think we have depth. We have not been able to put those guys out there together … there’s always somebody missing. We’ll just have to battle until we get the cavalry group back.”

Gentry does not believe the injuries are the result of players adjusting to his preferred playing style while pushing through camp. “In all honesty, it’s the easiest training camp I’ve ever run,” he said.

And now, probably, the gimpiest.

For Evans, this most recent knee surgery is his second since May and third dating back to the 2014 offseason. The versatile 6-foot-6 wing player averaged 16.6 points and a career-best 6.6 assists last season, and had even greater value revealed by more advanced metrics:

John Reid, beat writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, shared on social media some background on Evans’ resiliency. Meanwhile, the player himself went glass-half-full for Pelicans fans.

Cavs sign holdout Thompson, should welcome ‘overpaid’ tag

The Cleveland Cavaliers will know Tristan Thompson‘s new $82 million contract is a success if they hear, non-stop from now through the Finals, that the backup power forward is overpaid.

Maybe not “vastly overpaid” and definitely not “outrageously overpaid.” That would suggest some dramatic under performance from what Thompson has been in his first four NBA seasons. But if Thompson winds up giving the Cavaliers something close to what they’ve been getting from him – 12.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, at adapting last season to contributing off the bench – and he merely stays tagged as “overpaid,” that will mean mostly good things for Cleveland.

It will mean that Thompson wasn’t pressed into starter’s duty by a debilitating injury again to Kevin Love. It will mean that his playing time didn’t have to jump up to the 39.1 minutes he logged over the Cavs’ final 16 playoff games after Love’s shoulder injury in the first round against Boston. It will mean that Timofey Mozgov, Anderson Varejao and (yikes!) LeBron James likely didn’t miss significant time either to thin the roster’s complement of big men.

The bottom line on Thompson’s new deal – a $2 million bump from what reportedly was discussed with the Cavs at the start of free agency – is that, if it seems a little painful to the organization’s bottom line, a bunch of basketball-related things likely will have gone right.

Here was the initial report on the end of the restricted free agent’s holdout as offered by Cavaliers beat writer Chris Haynes of

The two sides agreed Wednesday to a five-year, $82 million pact, ending a lengthy stalemate that should ensure Thompson’s presence in Northeast Ohio through the deals already in place with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and, most likely, LeBron James.

Cleveland will have the highest payroll in NBA history with the signing, opening training camp next week with a commitment this year of approximately $115 million.

The dollar amount may baffle some, but Thompson earned his new contract. He bet on himself at the beginning of the 2014-15 season by turning down a four-year, $52 million extension.

Knowing he was stepping into a season in which he was Kevin Love’s backup, Thompson, advised by his agent Rich Paul, decided he was better off playing his hand at restricted free agency.

Critics mocked him for rebuffing such a lucrative offer, citing his “limited skill set.” Nevertheless, he played on and accepted his new reserve role. He was the league’s leading rebounder off the bench with 8.0 boards a night, while also continuing his streak of not missing a game in his four-year career.

Thompson led the playoffs with 88 offensive rebounds. With Love and Irving sidelined, those extra offensive possessions proved invaluable for a shorthanded Cavalier squad.

His motor on the backboards was a constant irritant to opponents. In the Finals, the Golden State Warriors decided they often had to box him out with two guys.

That helped Thompson’s resume and encouraged him and his agent to wait out the league’s Oct. 1 deadline for signing a deal or playing on a one-year qualifying offer. It seemed likely

Thompson could cash in next summer as an unrestricted free agent, shopping in a market flooded with fatter TV revenues that will send the salary cap soaring again. That would, however, almost certainly mean the end of Thompson’s days in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers will be paying dearly to make another run at the Finals in 2016 and keep the core of this championship contender together well beyond that. In addition to the $115 million payroll cited by Haynes,’s Brian Windhorst reported that Cleveland’s luxury-tax obligation for 2015-16 will approach $65 million. That’s a big check to write for owner Dan Gilbert and a big swallow for general manager David Griffin.

So while this sort of thing is undeniably true…

… there is the concept of insurance, and how the best policies are the ones you never actually cash in.

There’s a saying in the NFL that the most valuable player on the team is the starting quarterback and the second-most valuable player is the backup quarterback. Those guys get paid, too, even though no one really wants to see them prove their value on Sundays – that would mean the starter got hurt or stinks.

That’s how the Cavaliers and their fans need to look at Thompson’s deal now. The more he actually plays up to that $82 million figure, the more likely something else will have gone wrong in their championship plan.

Blogtable: One thing you’re watching early in 2015-16?

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: One thing to watch early on? | Predicting Golden State’s season | First-time All-Stars

VIDEOOpen Court’s discusses Billy Donovan’s impact on OKC’s future

> There are a lot of great storylines heading into the season, but what is the one thing you will be watching very closely, very intently, the first two-to-three weeks of this new campaign?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Can the Bulls get off to the same kind of white-hot start that Golden State did last season with a new coach? The same dynamic is at work: excellent defense team that needs to diversify its offense. I have no doubt Fred Holberg will make it work, but how long will it take? With all the injuries the Cavs are playing through at the moment Chicago has a great chance to jump to the top of the east. But with Derrick Rose‘s status for the start of the season also uncertain, the Bulls may struggle. A lot of pressure on Jimmy Butler to be dominant from jump.

Steve Aschburner, Kobe Bryant’s latest return. Let’s face it, the NBA has been a more fascinating, competitive place because of Bryant’s game and tenacity. It’d be nice to see him finish strong, relatively healthy and providing lots of snapshots and, OK, plenty of GIFs before it’s all over. I think we’ll have a pretty good feel by Thanksgiving as to how it’s going to go for him.

Fran Blinebury, Kevin Durant’s health and how he fits in with the new offensive plans of Billy Donovan. No other team or franchise in the league is under more pressure than the Thunder this season with Durant’s happiness and his impending free agency looming over it all. If K.D. can’t return to his old form and the Thunder don’t make it to The Finals, everything about the NBA world in OKC could change.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe first two or three weeks is a pretty small window into a season, since everyone may still be living off the positive vibes, but to pick one situation with implications for the much longer term: Tristan Thompson and the Cavaliers. He is an important part of a championship contender. Nothing has changed so far, through the summer and about a month of camp and preseason. Games starting to count for real and missed paychecks adding up, though, that has a way of shaking things up.

John Schuhmann, The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat are two teams that can vault from the Lottery to (near) the top of their conference if they’re healthier than they were at end of last season and if they make the most of what they got. For Miami, I want to see how well their offense is clicking with Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh playing together for the first time. And for Oklahoma City, I want to see if their defense automatically returns to a top-10 level with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka back in the lineup, or if Enes Kanter is still a big issue on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, It’s hard to turn away from the drama that will unfold in Los Angeles this season with the Clippers. They had a wild and crazy summer, added what appears to be quality depth and the expectations are through the roof. But they’re admittedly still in the process of trying to figure it all out and fold the new faces into their “culture,” as coach Doc Rivers put it. They don’t have the sort of time you need to nail down championship chemistry in a training camp and preseason that some other teams have enjoyed in recent seasons. This is going to be the best reality show in the league this season.

Ian Thomsen, I’m fascinated by the Thunder, the influence of NBA rookie coach Billy Donovan and the comeback of Kevin Durant in his free-agent year. There are a lot of moving parts — and in spite of them OKC could yet win the championship. This is going to be the most interesting reality show of the new season.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogI know the Atlanta Hawks, despite winning 60 games last season, still are mostly overlooked. But I am very curious to see how the Hawks will replace the departed DeMarre Carroll. I actually think Carroll’s offensive contributions are being a bit overrated a bit in hindsight — he was a nice offensive player for the Hawks, but so much of his scoring came as a result of Carroll cutting to the basket and receiving smart passes from his teammates. Where I think the Hawks will miss him more acutely is on the defensive end, where Carroll was their best option and could stop multiple positions. Thabo Sefolosha brings a different skill set to the starting five, and the Hawks will have to figure out how to incorporate him. I don’t think the Hawks will win 60 games again this season without Carroll, but I do think fifty-plus is well within reach.