Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Wolves opt for litter of Timberpups


VIDEO: Flip Saunders talks about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new additions

Building a serious contender around one superstar power forward named Kevin wasn’t working for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It didn’t work with Kevin Garnett ultimately, despite a string of eight consecutive playoff appearances from 1997-2004. And it surely didn’t work with Kevin Love, whose six-season stay in the Twin Cities merely extended the Wolves’ postseason drought from four years to a full decade.

So now Minnesota is trying another way. It’s going to raise a litter of Timberpups and hope there is success in numbers.

By acquiring Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett on Saturday in the long-awaited, two franchise-shifting trade of Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and adding him to their own 2014 lottery pick Zach LaVine, a still-young Ricky Rubio (24 in October) and last year’s first-rounders Gorgui Dieng and, er, Shabazz Muhammad (for the moment, tick tock), the Wolves have youth and hope and dreams. But mostly youth.

They have it in numbers, too, as if seeding their organization for a bountiful harvest in a few years. Oh, Flip Saunders, the team’s president of basketball operations and its coach, will talk about excitement and development in the meantime – he is, after all, a masterful amateur magician talented in the sleight of hand.

But the real payoff, if it comes at all, will come between the games as his group of raw, talented players coalesce around each other.

Synchronizing things has always been a problem for Minnesota.

It snagged Garnett in a dice-roll Draft decision 19 years ago and had a dozen years to assemble a championship-caliber team around him, but never managed to fully do so. The initial vision of Garnett and Stephon Marbury as a new-millennial Karl Malone-John Stockton (or at least Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton), with first Tom Gugliotta (and then Joe Smith) as third stars, never achieved full focus. Gugliotta left, Smith was no more than a role player and Marbury torpedoed his own career in one of sports’ many examples of $100 million airport, $10 control tower.

Kevin McHale, the Wolves’ basketball boss, kept patching around Garnett and got them as far as the 2004 Western Conference finals by hiring mercenaries Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. That approach had no better legs than Sprewell and Cassell themselves, though, and after the usual death spiral – coaching changes, contract squabbles, missing the playoffs in Garnett’s last three Minnesota seasons – the big guy participated in the trade to Boston that got him his ring. And left the Wolves as, well, the Wolves.

The Love years were even worse. McHale got the UCLA forward in a Draft night switcheroo with Memphis for O.J. Mayo and seemed to be the perfect mentor for Love.

But McHale’s own tenure in Minnesota was out of sync with his new young big, and when Wolves owner Glen Taylor dumped McHale in favor of David Kahn, bad downshifted to worse. Erratic Draft picks and personnel moves followed, along with an uneasy atmosphere – or creepy culture, if you go by some Wolves insiders – during Kahn’s four lost seasons in charge.

It’s quicker to note what went right in that time than what went wrong – the Wolves didn’t pass on Rubio, Love developed himself into an All-Star and Rick Adelman stabilized the coaching position for a time – but it wasn’t enough. By the time Saunders was brought back 15 months ago to do some serious sweet-talking, Love already had one foot and half of his other out the door.

So now they’ll try it this way: Round up as many young players as possible, fold in a key veteran or three (new acquisition Thad Young, plus current Wolves Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin until they can shed the contract), and bake.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to build not an individual, we’re trying to build a team,” Saunders said Saturday. “That’s the thing that we’ve sold to the players or anyone that we bring in here.”

For an outpost franchise like Minnesota, a big part of the plan is that the players – in growing up together – see ways in which their whole can end up greater than the sum of their parts. The risk is that someone feels slighted by being a spot or two down in his own ideal pecking order – if Bennett or LaVine feels stunted because of Wiggins, or if Rubio locks in on max-contract dreams when he hasn’t earned one yet – and blows up the blueprint.

That’s akin to what happened in Oklahoma City, which took a similar approach until James Harden chafed at being neither Batman nor Robin. He wound up with his own team in Houston, but at least the Thunder reached The Finals once and have managed to stabilize the roster since his departure.

Then again, maybe OKC proves that it all eventually comes full circle. And building around a superstar forward named Kevin really is the way to go.

Cavs seek Love, Wiggins seeks NBA home


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins was a sensation for the Cavs during Summer League play

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking for Love. All Andrew Wiggins wants at this point is an NBA home.

A raw talent so alluring that several franchises sabotaged their 2013-14 seasons for a shot at landing him, Wiggins has been treated for the past six weeks like somebody’s backup date for the prom. As soon as James stunned and, in many quarters, delighted the NBA by announcing his return to Cleveland, Wiggins became less a piece of the Cavaliers’ bright future and more a means to an end — that being Kevin Love.

A deal that will deliver Love, the all-NBA power forward, from the Minnesota Timberwolves to James’ insta-contender in Cleveland already has been struck, according to many sources, awaiting only a formal announcement once Wiggins is eligible to be traded Saturday. Draftees who sign their rookie contracts cannot be traded by NBA rule for the first 30 days and Wiggins put his name on a five-year, $24.8 million deal on July 24.

Soon thereafter, Cavs general manager David Griffin and Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders reportedly agreed on the much-anticipated trade. Wiggins will go to the Wolves with last year’s No. 1 overall pick, forward Anthony Bennett and a future first-rounder for Love, according to the reports. The Wolves are said to have a deal set to trigger, too, with the Philadelphia 76ers; multiple outlets have reported that Thad Young will head to the Twin Cities for that future No. 1 pick, along with forward Luc Mbah a Moute and guard Alexey Shved.

All of which means Wiggins, a wing player with preternatural leaping skills and a gift for stifling on-the-ball defense, will be part of a future-focused rebuilding effort after all. It will just be Minnesota’s, not Cleveland’s, and the cupboard will be slightly more bare. (more…)

Ref Bavetta got overruled on final call

After 39 years reffing games on NBA courts, Dick Bavetta is calling it a career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

After 39 seasons reffing games on NBA courts, Dick Bavetta is calling it a career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

It was time for another family meeting, no different from the annual confabs they’d had for the previous half dozen years. Every Fourth of July weekend, at their log cabin retreat in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, Dick Bavetta would put the question to his wife Paulette and daughters Christine and Michele:

What d’ya think? One more season?

“We usually put it to a vote,” Bavetta said this week. “And I don’t get a vote. They basically listen to what I have to say and then they vote. The last six years, it’s always been 2-1 to go back. Christine, who’s like our Wall Street wizard, she’d always say, ‘Daddy, why are you subjecting yourself to all this travel and everything?’

“This year when we met, it was 3-0 to retire.”

Whoa. That result rocked Bavetta in his chair, the idea that after 39 years running the courts of the NBA as one of its most durable and most visible referees, Bavetta would be done. But after a record 2,635 consecutive regular-season games — a streak that earned Bavetta attention and kudos rare during most of his working years -– along with 270 playoff appearances and 27 Finals games, now seemed as good a time as any.

Season after season, Bavetta was out there, a familiar face to players, to coaches and to certain diehard fans around the league who, whether they realized it or not, had become familiar faces to him. This season, he won’t be.

“I said, ‘What’s the thinking here?’ ” Bavetta recalled. “They said, ‘You’re 74 years old’ — and I say this with humility — ‘and you’ve pretty much accomplished everything there was to accomplish.’ ” (more…)

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> With so many new coaches — all but two teams have had at least one new coach in the last six years — is there anyone out there in danger of getting canned this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So you’re suggesting Scott Brooks suddenly has job security and is free from speculation about his continued employment? Well, that would be a first. Look, no coach is entirely safe once a team gets to the point of needing to do … “something.” If the roster and payroll are locked, people start to look to the sideline. Brooks and Kevin McHale both are working in environments of impatience, with the Thunder and the Rockets antsy for bigger prizes by now. Memphis’ Dave Joerger already was out of his job once — on the brink of being hired by the Timberwolves — but he went back to what might not be the most stable gig under owner Robert Pera. And since no team is facing expectations more goosed than Washington, a slow or even middling start by the Wizards could have folks looking cross-eyed again at Randy Wittman.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What if Jason Kidd quickly concludes that he doesn’t like it in Milwaukee and decides to stick a knife in the back of another coach for a different job? But seriously, this is the modern NBA, where patience and reason are always in short supply. Frank Vogel won’t get a totally free pass if he can’t at least keep the Pacers battling and competitive in the absence of Paul George. If New Orleans can stay healthy, Monty Williams will be under the gun to at least get the Pelicans back into the playoff race. And keep an eye on Kevin McHale, in the final year of his contract in Houston, with a Rockets team that now has fewer weapons.

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not only are there so many first- and second-year coaches out there, but coaches like Washington’s Randy Wittman, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Portland’s Terry Stotts all signed extensions so they’re seemingly safe if their respective clubs were to take a step back. In the East, Indiana’s Frank Vogel certainly seems vulnerable after last season’s fade, but the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to injury could alter thinking there. Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn will be working with an extraordinarily young team so not sure what can be expected there. In Milwaukee, I suppose Jason Kidd will determine his own fate. Out West, most everything is either well-established or brand new. But there are a couple situations to keep an eye on. Monty Williams’ future could get muddied if the Pelicans don’t rise up, assuming good health, and Sacramento could lose patience with second-year man Mike Malone if the Kings stumble early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bucks. Oh, you mean where the general manager fires the coach, not the other way around. Never mind. In that case, let’s see how new best buddies Dave Joerger and Robert Pera get along in Memphis if the losses start to fly. Maybe it doesn’t happen — the Grizzlies could be good. If not, though, how long before old tensions return?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I wouldn’t put anyone’s job in danger in this space, but Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale and Monty Williams need to deliver better results this season. Brooks has done a great job in Oklahoma City, but this is now his seventh season and Sam Presti needs to decide if he’s the guy to get the Thunder over the hump. McHale lost some of his roster’s depth this summer, but needs to coax a top-10 defense out of a team that features Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard. And speaking of that end of the floor, Williams has a defensive rep and a beast of a franchise player, but New Orleans has ranked 28th and 25th defensively the last two seasons. With the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans need to make a big leap on that end.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After the way Larry Drew was treated in Milwaukee, anyone not named PopovichRivers, Spoelstra, Van Gundy or Saunders has to at least be on alert that a change could be made under extreme circumstances. Coaches no longer have to be concerned only with external expectations impacting their job security. These days the perception from within (Mark Jackson in Golden State) can get you whacked suddenly. That’s why both Randy Wittman in Washington and Monty Williams in New Orleans will operating under unique circumstances. Both teams will be expected to be considerably improved from last season, not only in the win-loss column, but in the larger context of the league hierarchy. Even with an extension signed, Wittman cannot afford for his team to take any steps back. The Pelicans will be led by one of the brightest young stars in the league in Anthony Davis and will expect to at least be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture, albeit at the bottom of that rugged top eight mix. If at any point it becomes clear that these guys cannot get their teams to the next stage of development, the coaching hot seat will have two prime candidates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Even though so many coaches are still in that honeymoon period with their current teams, it seems like something crazy always happens. Who would have thought Jason Kidd would end up in Milwaukee, or that Dave Joerger would almost end up in Minnesota? Neither of those guys were fired, though, but I wouldn’t say the hot seat has completely cooled off. All it takes is for one owner to be unhappy with his team’s performance or placement in the conference — particularly in regard to wherever that owner believes they should be. I am not saying this will happen or should happen, but will ownership in Sacramento, where they are desperate to be competitive, be patient with Mike Malone? Will the Rockets continue to allow Kevin McHale to build what they’re working toward? I hope so. It would be nice, for a change, to have a season without any firings/hirings. I’m just saying, don’t bet on it.

Blogtable: Flourishing in a new place

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


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

> Which player who already has switched teams this offseason will best flourish with his new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m surprised there isn’t a “besides LeBron” qualifier on this, since James outflourishes pretty much everyone every year. He’s my easy answer in his first season back in Cleveland. After that, the guy who ought to flourish most is Lance Stephenson, since he’s a little older (presumably a little more mature) and will get every opportunity to be Charlotte’s go-to guy. But I’m not sure I trust him yet to fully “get it.” So I’ll say Spencer Hawes, Clippers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you are the best player in the game, you flourish wherever you go, which is why the easy answer is LeBron James, the returning, conquering hero who will put the Cavaliers immediately into title contention in the Eastern Conference.  But I also think Pau Gasol is a perfect complement on the Bulls front line with Joakim Noah and I’ve got an eye on the venerable Vince Carter, who could be the wing scorer that lifts the Grizzlies into the upper half of the West race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m going a bit off the radar here with Jameer Nelson in Dallas, a re-tooled team that believes it could be top-four in the West. He’s been in such a tough situation the last few seasons, from the “Dwightmare” to Stan Van Gundy‘s firing to a total rebuild, that getting to the veteran-laden Mavs will be a breath of fresh air. Plus, he’s a great fit. Dallas badly needed a starting point guard after losing Jose Calderon in the Tyson Chandler trade. Nelson eliminates the need to start Raymond Felton and allows Devin Harris to come off the bench. Offensively, Nelson just has to be steady. He’s got weapons all around in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Defensively he’ll provide some much-needed tenacity. Nelson’s only 32 and with good health he very well could put himself back on the radar.

Lance Stephenson (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson joins Charlotte for the 2014-15 NBA season. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson flourished last season in Indiana, so it’s not like this will be a breakout season. But the move to Charlotte opens possibilities he will reach a new level, certainly statistically beyond the 13.8 points a game last season. It lines up as a perfect opportunity. He will be especially motivated to prove the Pacers wrong for not spending more to re-sign him, and now Stephenson goes to a team that needs more scoring. He can do that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Other than LeBron James, right? Lance Stephenson looks like a great fit in Charlotte, with the ability to give their offense a boost. He’s improved dramatically over the last two seasons, will still be only 24 years old when training camp opens, and likes to get out on the break, where his new team wasn’t very effective last season. With a top-10 defense, Al Jefferson, and now two guys who can create off the dribble, the Hornets will be fun to watch … and very good.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I like how you excluded Kevin Love from this question, keeping us all from picking the same guy. And I’ll even refrain from choosing LeBron James, the most obvious choice of the century. I think Pau Gasol will ease into an opportunity to recharge his career. He looked worn out and worn down during his final seasons in Los Angeles. He’s still an unbelievably skilled big man with plenty left in his tank. The idea of Gasol and Joakim Noah working in tandem with a healthy and rejuvenated Derrick Rose should have folks in Chicago fired up. Gasol is free from the pressure of trying to be something he was not in Los Angeles. Expectations went through the roof for him after winning back-to-back titles alongside Kobe Bryant. When injuries and uncertainty changed the mood in LA, Gasol struggled with that burden. Rose and Noah are the leaders in Chicago. All Gasol has to do is what he does best, and that’s play the game he loves without any extra Hollywood drama involved.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the player who has the best chance to make an immediate impact is Pau Gasol. The last few years he’s slipped defensively, but in Tom Thibodeau’s stifling defensive system in Chicago, they should be able to game plan around Pau’s deficiencies and get the best out of him. But it’s offensively where I think he could really shine. Gasol is on record as preferring to work in the post, which is probably fine with the Bulls as Joakim Noah is so effective at the top of the key, giving Gasol plenty of room to operate down low. And Gasol and Noah are probably the two best passing big men in the NBA, and together, with Rose and Butler and other guys cutting off of them, this may be the first time in a while the Bulls will be able to mount a powerful attack on both ends of the court.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: You mean “which player that hasn’t won two rings, isn’t considered the best around the globe and isn’t having a good time in Greece right now”? When you have LeBron James changing jerseys, then you have the answer in all your questions.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: There’s been plenty of positive cases of players moving on in free agency with the opportunity to flourish with their new team. If I have to pick one, I’ll take Pau Gasol after signing with the Chicago Bulls. Gasol’s last few seasons in LA were tough, albeit productive, and now he can find himself on a team that really values his skills. I’m looking forward to seeing his partnership with Joakim Noah. They could legitimately become the best-passing big man duo in the NBA. Gasol’s varied offensive game will get the opportunity to shine in Chicago because he’ll be playing with an unselfish center in Noah. He has a nice back-to-the-basket game with varying moves, he’s still a decent mid range shooter and as always, he’ll look to set up his teammates. Gasol’s ability to operate and pass in tight spaces will work perfectly with Noah. The Bulls’ offense will look less cramped with four perimeter players surrounding one pick-setting big in Noah. They’ll be a lot better to watch offensively in 2014-15 and a lot of that is down to Gasol.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Lance Stephenson will surely relish his role with the Charlotte Hornets. He will be one of their main ball-handlers and creators. Stephenson has showed flashes of overall dominance when he gets it going and he will have more chances to prove his worth with his new team. Also a trio of small forwards will be do well in their new teams, that would be Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons for the Wizards, Rockets and Mavericks respectively. Pierce will be the veteran leader Washington needs, Ariza will be the do-it-all forward for Houston while Parsons will hopefully be the second scoring option to Dirk in Dallas (or third, depending on where Monta fits in this year).

Blogtable: Kobe hot, Lakers in playoffs?

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

> With Kobe healthy and playing like he was, say, two years ago, are the Lakers a playoff team this season? Why (or why not)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat Charles said. It’s over for the Lakers as a playoff team as currently constructed. They dare not use Kobe Bryant as heavily as they were before his Achilles injury, unless they’re looking for a way for insurance to pay a chunk of his noxious salary, for he surely would break down again. And he doesn’t have enough help, not in the West, not to be taken seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, a pair of All-Stars, joining him in the starting lineup, Kobe was pushing his body to the the limit two years ago — and still the Lakers barely made it into the playoffs. He’d played 92 consecutive minutes in two games on the night his Achilles tendon blew out. Howard left. Now Gasol is gone. Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle hardly fill their shoes. Steve Nash is broken and you just can’t sell me that Swaggy P is a difference maker. If Kobe can drag the Lakers to the No. 8 seed, it would be one of the great achievements of his career. But there aren’t enough margaritas left in the summer to get me to the point where I’d see that happening.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t think so. First off, which team that finished in the top eight is going to drop out? The bottom three teams — Golden State, Memphis, Dallas — all seem to be better off. Phoenix and New Orleans should continue to improve and challenge for a playoff spot. Anybody envision Portland or Houston free-falling out of the playoffs (barring significant injury)? Secondly, the Lakers roster is an odd mix of talent cobbled together after the franchise was shunned by the summer’s top free agents. Only then did L.A. hire new coach Byron Scott. If they do make the playoffs, mark me down for Scott as Coach of the Year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. Because they finished 22 games out of the playoffs last season and would need Kobe playing like he was eight or 10 years ago to come close to making up that difference when there are so many holes in other places. Because it’s not easy to identify a 2014 playoff team in the West that will drop out and Phoenix and New Orleans are easily ahead of the Lakers and the other hopefuls for “next in” predictions. And healthy or not, Kobe will still be 36. He can still be good, and anyone who counts him out right now is making a mistake, but he can’t be enough to lift this team that high.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Absolutely not, because their defense is going to be awful and the Western Conference is too good. The last time Kobe was healthy, he was pretty efficient offensively, but was often the source of L.A.’s defensive breakdowns. And at 36 years old and coming off of two leg injuries, he may be the best defender in the Lakers’ backcourt this season. The frontline, meanwhile, is lacking guys who erase mistakes on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. You are asking if we can put Kobe in a time machine and have him play healthy the way he did two years ago would this current Lakers’ crew be a playoff team, which is wholly unfair to Kobe and all of the players who will join him on this team. The Lakers from two years ago have been scattered to the wind. Dwight Howard is in Houston. Pau Gasol is in Chicago. Earl Clark is in … sorry Earl. The fact is, as good as the Western Conference was two years ago, it took Kobe pushing himself to the brink to help the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs with the eighth and final spot. The Western Conference is better and deeper now than it was two years ago. The Lakers, quiet frankly, are not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThey are not. Two years ago they squeaked into the playoffs, and that was with Kobe literally breaking himself down the stretch to try and will them into the postseason. They made it, Kobe didn’t. Even if Kobe is 100 percent this season, his supporting cast isn’t as strong as that 2012-13 team, that still had Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. This year’s Lakers team should see a rotation around Kobe including Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin. But in a stacked Western Conference, I just don’t think that’s enough firepower to carry these Lakers to the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Let’s be honest. Nobody can expect that Kobe will play like he used to. Many players have defeated injuries in the past, but none managed to beat Father Time. Bryant is 36 and that’s the bad news. Answering the “if” question, I think that the Lakers can become a playoff team, because Kobe has proven himself as a leader of a team that revolves around him. It will be interesting to see how Carlos Boozer will play (especially if he will be used at the 3 spot) and what kind of impact will Julius Randle, potentially one hell of a scoring big man, will have.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: They’re a better team with Kobe Bryant but I certainly don’t think they’re a playoff team. The West is so competitive right now that it would take a monumental effort for an aging Kobe to take this team all the way to the playoffs. Aside from, say, Phoenix, a lot of those borderline playoff teams like Dallas and potentially Memphis have improved in the offseason so you could legitimately have a 45-47 win team miss out on the playoffs again. Can you see the Lakers winning 48 games? It’ll be fun to watch Kobe try though, he’s probably the only guy in the organization with a ferocious win-now edict, while the rest of the organization looks to preserve money, sign guys on short-term deals and look ahead to free agency in 2015. Also, are there multiple defensive stoppers on this Lakers team? Didn’t think so.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Yes, if they stay healthy; that is the biggest issue they have the last two years. I think their rotation at the bigs this year is better with a healthy Jordan Hill and new additions; veteran Carlos Boozer, athletic forward Ed Davis and highly touted rookie Julius Randle. Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Clarkson will provide the help at the wings with specific strengths to their games to complement Kobe while Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash form a good combination at point guard. Although they will be at a disadvantage on defense they will surely be great on the offensive side of the court. But the main reason is Kobe himself: a healthy ‘Black Mamba’ is a complete player who will provide leadership, clutch shooting, defense and scoring outbursts thereby taking over some games.

Nene mends ways with Brazilian team


VIDEO: Rose, Davis lead U.S. to 95-78 win over Brazil

Getting booed at United Center was better than getting booed at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro.

At least it was for Nene. Last October, when the Washington Wizards played the Chicago Bulls in Rio in one of the NBA’s preseason global games – and the first staged in South America – the Wizards big man took loud and cutting heat from the sellout crowd. No matter that he was the first player from Brazil to participate in the NBA – people were unhappy that Nene had played only twice for the country’s national team since he was drafted in 2002.

It mattered little to them that the 6-foot-9, 260-pound fellow – listed on the official roster in last Saturday’s game vs. the United States by his full name, Maybyner Rodney Hilario – had aggravated a foot injury in the 2012 Olympics that lingered into the regular season. Nene also reportedly had been at odds with the program over insurance policies and other decisions.

So the fans in Rio booed him pretty much from start to finish. Legendary Brazilian player and Hall of Famer Oscar Schmidt criticized him, and Nene bristled back – and clearly was rattled – on that awkward night in October.

What he heard Saturday then, by comparison, was a breeze. Nene was booed during the introductions for Brazil’s game against Team USA, the first tuneup for both squads for the 2014 FIBA World Cup tournament that begins Aug. 30 in Spain. And that reaction was driven by respect from Bulls fans who recalled his work (17.8 ppg, 54.8 percent shooting, a one-game suspension for headbutting Jimmy Butler) in the teams’ first-round series last spring, won by the Wizards in five games.

But that was it. The rest of the evening was straight basketball, with Nene scoring eight of his 11 points in the first half, to go with five rebounds, three steals and one block in 19 minutes. Even after Brazil lost 95-78, the big man was effusive as he came off the court.

“It doesn’t matter if they have big men or not, they still sharp outside,” he said of his fellow NBA players on Team USA. “They’re so athletic. So talented. But it was a good game to have an idea.”

What, Nene was asked, did he think of Anthony Davis, the young New Orleans center who dominated (20 points, eight boards five rebounds) at both ends?

“He looked like Dhalsim,” Nene said.

Who?

Dhalsim. The street fighter. Like a cartoon. With both hands. He was catching everything. Yeah.”

It was a disappointing night for Brazil, which lost the street fight. It wasn’t able to flex what some figured to be an advantage up front, with Nene lined up in various combinations with Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao, two more proven NBA bigs. Davis went MMA underneath and Kenneth Faried, who backfilled in Denver after the Nuggets traded Nene to Washington, added 11 points and nine rebounds.

Team USA had superior wings and guards, but the onus will still be on Brazil’s front line when, after playing France in its World Cup opener Aug. 30, it faces Spain – and the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc – two days later.

Having Nene – who will turn 32 on Sept. 13 and has two years and $26 million left on his Wizards contract – clearly is better for Brazil than not having him. His NBA buddies made that clear when talking to the Wizards’ Monumental Network during their squad’s stay in Chicago.

“Nene’s a guy who’s very talented, very strong, who knows how to play the game,” said Splitter, San Antonio’s second big next to Tim Duncan. “Every day you get better playing with him and of course he’s learning our system too. That’s important for him.”

Varejao told the network: “Nene’s been great. He had a great playoffs this last season. He’s a big piece of the Brazil national team. He’s a guy who can defend, who can score, who can be a leader on the court too. When you have a guy like Nene on the court, the other team has to always worry about him, what they’re going to do to try to stop him.”

This much is clear: Not having a guy like Nene on Brazil’s roster is worse. Then he’s the one worrying about how he’s perceived, and how he’ll be be received, back home. In the U.S., players such as Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and other stars opting out of the competition have wiggle room because of the depth of talent. For Nene, opting out in the past meant squirming, not wiggling.

Chicago’s finest lead USA past Brazil


VIDEO: Rose, Davis lead U.S. to 95-78 win over Brazil

CHICAGO – They came for one of Chicago’s own and got wowed by another.

As important as the exhibition game might have been to USA Basketball and the Brazilian national team for all the expected team-building and measuring-stick reasons heading toward the 2014 FIBA World Cup tournament, Team USA’s 95-78 victory at United Center was mostly a framework for the fans to do some star gazing.

The brightest lights were on Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls’ MVP point guard who is starting his second comeback in as many years from season-ending knee surgeries. As frustrated as some Bulls fans had grown with Rose during his extended layoffs – Rose had played only six games on the UC court since April 2012 – the folks who packed the joint Saturday night flexed oohs, aahs and MVP chants that were no more rusty than the hometown kid’s game.

Anthony Davis crashed their little party, though, turning in the most impressive performance of the night. Like Rose, Davis grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Unlike Rose, whose high school (Simeon) is one of the city’s basketball powerhouses, Davis’ Perspectives Charter School didn’t even have its own gym.

But the New Orleans Pelicans’ 21-year-old center made United Center his own against Brazil’s imposing front line, scoring 20 points on 10-for-16 shooting, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking five shots.

Local fans who’ve paid attention to Davis’ career – his single season and NCAA championship at Kentucky, his No. 1 draft selection in 2012 by New Orleans – might have been just as hungry to see him play. Davis missed the game in Chicago as a rookie while recovering from a concussion, then sat out the Pelicans’ visit last season with a broken hand.

So this was Davis’ first game back home since high school and he put on a show. He had several throw-down dunks battling Brazil’s NBA bigs Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Nene. He ran the court with ferocity and, in the second half, turned in two of his most impressive plays defensively. On one, he blocked a driving foe’s shot, saved the ball from falling out of bounds and pumped his fist when James Harden finished at the other end with a fast-break layup. On another, Davis crashed over a woman in the first row, catching one foot on the chairs and taking impact where, er, men don’t like to take impact.

“I’m good, I’m fine,” Davis said afterward. “I hope she’s fine, because that was 240 pounds coming right at her. That’s the type of plays we need, hustle plays, and that really got us going.”

Said Rose: ” ‘Ant’ played great. That’s what we need from him. We didn’t know how he was going to play with the bigs that they had, because he’s kind of smaller than they are weight-wise. But he came out and hooped.”

Rose’s numbers were more modest: seven points, just five field-goal attempts, four boards, two assists and three turnovers in 24 minutes. He even missed a rushing, two-handed dunk in the second quarter.

But his two buckets were memorable. The first came just before the half ended, when he streaked downcourt and put up a running bank shot. In the third quarter, Rose got isolated on the left wing against Brazil’s Raul Neto and spun him silly, crossing over and changing hands for a lefty layup. Both were flashes of what Chicago fans remember and look forward to again.

That one normally would have brought Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to his feet, if he hadn’t been planted on the USA bench as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski‘s staff. Still, it – and Rose’s overall play since the first workouts in Las Vegas three weeks ago – had Thibs excited. Much of the NBA is pulling for Rose to stay healthy in 2014-15 but no one more than his head coach.

“He’s steadily getting better,” Thibodeau said. “This is the perfect setting for him. I think his first [USA] experience in 2010 was a springboard to his MVP season. It was so positive for him. And I know how important it is to him.

“He went through the comeback last year and I think he learned a lot from it. And I love the way he’s playing. He’s finding the rhythm of the game. He’s playing to his strengths and he’s recognizing who’s on the floor with him and what their strengths are. He made several good plays, particularly against the zone in the fourth quarter. He showed great patience.

“He’s shaking some rust off. His explosiveness is back. He’s playing well off the ball. I think he’s in a really good place. He’s prepared himself extremely well. It’s unfortunate what he’s gone through, but that adversity has made him a lot stronger.”

The first tuneup game provided a baseline for the USA team, with Krzyzewski most satisfied with the effort and the defense. His squad led by 14 at the end of the first quarter, settled for jump shots and let the lead slip to just two in the second. It was 68-63 through three quarters, after which the home team pulled away.

Davis’ production, on an every-night basis, might spoil the USA coaches. Then again, their team might need it, given the absence of bigs such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. DeMarcus Cousins sat out Saturday’s game with a bruised knee and Kevin Durant, who at least has length, withdrew from the competition last week.

Davis worked himself into the game offensively after a poor shooting start. “Kyrie [Irving] asked me, ‘Are you going to stop shooting the ball because you missed three jump shots?’ ” Davis said. “I told him no. We came out and ran a play for me and made the first one, and he said, ‘That’s all you needed.’ Then I hit the next three or four, whatever.”

Not that Krzyzewski needed any convincing.

“He’s one of the best players in the NBA,” the Duke University coach said. “Anthony is one of the emerging stars. We hope that, like what happened to a lot of those guys in 2010, will happen to him in this competition. Where we just watch what should be kind of a storied career form.”

That’s when the native Chicagoan in Krzyzewski seeped out, as he played to the home media. “Another great guy,” he said of Davis. “You talk about these two Chicago guys, he and Derrick. The best guys, easy to coach, team guys. Dreams to coach, both those guys.”

Said Rose, all smiles at the end: “I probably won’t get any sleep tonight. I’m excited for the city.”

The city is excited back. And New Orleans should be too.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul George starts long road back | Did Durant “withdraw” or “quit?” | Searching for USA’s sixth man | Wait till it’s your home, not Ray Allen’s

No. 1: Paul George starts long road back — Two weeks removed from the gruesome (sorry if we’re overusing that word, but it’s the best adjective available) injury that shut down Paul George‘s Team USA experience, wiped out his plans for the 2014-15 NBA season and had many onlookers worried about his pro career, the Indiana Pacers’ All-Star wing player met with media in Indianapolis on Friday. Through them, he spoke to the fans – not just to those who root for the Pacers and him but for the league and for dazzling young athletes of any kind who might endure such a cataclysmic mishap. And the 24-year-old put a lot of minds at ease with his optimism, as chronicled by Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star:

“A bump in the road,” he called it at one point. “I’ll be able to battle through this. There will be a story I can tell, a testimony I will have.”

And yes, he has seen the video.

“I watched it one time,” George said, “and that’ll be the last time.”

At what was largely a feel-good gathering at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, George even talked about playing again before the end of the coming season. That might have been emotions running ahead of the prognosis, of course, and no one’s holding him to it:

What remains, of course, is the cold reality: A metal rod was planted in George’s right leg, pins screwed in his knee and ankle to hold it in place. His coming season is all but lost. A rigorous road of rehabilitation awaits.

“I’m very aware of not being able to play this year; that’s a huge possibility,” George said. “[But] if I have the opportunity, I’d love to make a comeback.”

He firmly resisted doling out any blame — not to USA Basketball, not to the stanchion at the Thomas & Mack Center he fell on that originally appeared to be considerably closer to the court than one at a typical NBA game. This was nothing more than a freak accident, George said.

“It sucks I was on the bad side of it, but USA Basketball doesn’t deserve any criticism because of this,” he said, noting several times that after a successful recovery, he would still love to suit up for Team USA in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

***

No. 2: Did Durant “withdraw” or “quit?” — Words matter, and there currently is a little war of them going on as far as Kevin Durant‘s decision to end his participation with Team USA this summer in its pursuit of the 2014 FIBA World Cup title. Durant notified USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo on Aug. 7 that he felt too mentally and physically drained from Oklahoma City’s long 2013-14 season and his other activities to continue. Unfortunately, his decision came after Team USA laid its X’s & O’s foundation for this summer’s tournament in a week of workouts and walk-throughs in Las Vegas. That – and what some perceive as outside business interests creating a tail-wags-dog situation for Durant – has Chris Sheridan favoring the latter word on his SheridanHoops.com Web site (click through to Sheridan’s site for coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s intriguing assessment of Durant’s work while in the USA camp):

Yes, Durant quit the team.

It is semantics, but “withdrew” is reserved for players who told the federation before training camp began that they would not be attending. If you attended camp in Las Vegas, and if you called coach Mike Krzyzewski to ask for advice on how to be a “leader” when camp resumed in Chicago, and then you blindside Coach K and every other member of the national team, you have “quit.”

What Kevin Durant did was shameful.

And what I have discovered in talking to members of the U.S. federation over the past two days is this: Durant and his agency, Roc Nation, are more interested in cashing in on his MVP award and his expiring Nike deal than they are in having Durant keep his word to the people who were with him in 2010 in Turkey at the World Championship and in 2012 in London at the Olympics.

Team director Jerry Colangelo said he could see signs in Las Vegas that Durant was distracted. Krzyzewski reiterated Friday that Durant’s actions blindsided everyone.

“Looking back, if you could turn back time. you would like for him to make that decision before Vegas. We might have invited somebody different,” Krzyzewski said. “But saying that, that’s in the past, we’re forward, and it puts us a little behind, just like the injuries.”

***

No. 3: Searching for USA’s sixth manCarmelo Anthony never got better reviews than when he voluntarily and affably accepted a reserve role for the 2012 USA squad that won gold at the 2012 London Olympics. The Knicks’ scoring star proved invaluable with his production, points and otherwise, off the bench. He showed, to some, how he might play if he had better talent around him than the rosters in Denver and New York have offered. Anyway, it’s time for some other top-tier talent on a roster full of stars to fill Melo’s sneakers as Team USA’s sixth man and spark plug. Our Steve Aschburner looked at possible candidates as Krzyzewski’s rotations begin to take shape now:

“I really think there are a lot of guys who would be willing to do it,” [Kyle] Korver said. “I don’t think it’s a hard thing. It’s one thing for a guy to be the sixth man on his NBA team, but there have been a bunch of guys [to do that for Team USA]. Every time someone’s done it, it seems that person has gotten a lot of praise and a lot of credit.”

Having a green light to shoot, at the urging of the coaches, at a rate that probably would lead the stellar squad in attempts-per-minute? Yeah, someone might raise his hand for that.
“We’ve got so many guys who can come in and contribute in any aspect of the game,” said [James] Harden, who might pick up some of Durant’s shots in Team USA’s reworked offense. “From Klay Thompson to Kyle Korver to Damian Lillard, so many guys who can be effective at what they do.”

Harden was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 before getting traded to Houston and emerging as an All-Star the past two seasons. He knows a little about managing one’s ego from the bench.

“It’s all about your mindset,” he said Friday. “If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to impact the game, that as soon as you step out there you’re going to make your presence felt, then you’ll be more effective and your team will be better off. We won’t have that problem with this team – I’m sure guys will be ready and super-prepared at all times.”

***

No. 4:  Wait till it’s your home, not Ray Allen’s — The initial reaction of local authorities struck some of us as a tad too casual after the intrusion into longtime NBA sharpshooter Ray Allen‘s luxury home in Coral Gables, Fla. Overnight Wednesday/Thursday, seven males in their late teens entered Allen’s home while his wife and children slept (Allen was not home), waking and alarming Shannon Allen. After she shouted out, the intruders allegedly exited without incident and, when rounded up by police, were not charged with a crime. And that seemed disproportionately light to Allen and his family, who have sought legal representation in the matter and released a statement, carried by the Miami Herald, that included this harrowing description of a scene to which no one should wake:

“She heard male voices loudly discussing our personal property and sat up in a state of alarm to find at least five people inside our bedroom with large flashlights. She was immediately fearful for the safety of her own life, but more importantly the lives of our young children. When she screamed at them, the intruders quickly fled the scene and laughter was heard as they made their way out of our bedroom, down the stairs and out of our house.

“As these individuals were fleeing our house, Shannon immediately called security and the police for help. Shannon and I believe that a number of the public statements made through media outlets have mischaracterized certain important facts and what we believe to be the seriousness of this potentially devastating invasion upon our lives, home and family.

“The suggestion that anyone can unlawfully enter into someone’s locked home and then into an occupied bedroom in the middle of the night without consequences is unsettling…”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: DeMarcus Cousins‘ sore knee won’t let him play for Team USA against Brazil, but he’s on his way back Andre Drummond would love to pounce on the opportunity Cousins’ layoff opens for a big man. … Itinerary change for Team USA: Taking no chances with Ebola in Senegal. … Greg Oden, who once might have been a Team USA big man, gets a trial date instead.

USA Basketball seeking sixth man, among other things, in Chicago

VIDEO: Team USA gets together for posterity

CHICAGO – Team USA doesn’t have Carmelo Anthony this summer in its quest for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. It doesn’t have a Carmelo Anthony, either, as in an established NBA scoring champion, a volume scorer – 25.3 ppg in 11 seasons – and a bail-out option who can make something out of nothing, inside or out, to salvage possessions. Kevin Durant was that guy but he withdrew last week. USA Basketball, which faces its first real competition vs. Brazil on Saturday (9 ET, ESPN),  is once again looking for “that guy.”

That complicates the task of finding even a “Carmelo Anthony 2012 Edition,” a.k.a., that potent scorer off the bench who harnesses his ego even as he’s unleashing his skills in game-changing spurts.

Anthony filled that role expertly for the USA Basketball squad that took gold at the London Games. In the process, the New York Knicks scoring star – a polarizing player for what some see as me-first tendencies in his NBA work – wound up generating some of the best media clippings of his career and altering a few critics’ assessments.

“I don’t think he needed to do that. He always had respect from me,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a Team USA assistant who had Anthony in his only NCAA season, 2002-2003. They won the national championship that year.

“Back then, he was content. If he got 10 points and we won, he was fine,” Boeheim said Friday after Team USA’s workout at a West Side sports complex. “I think his main role in the NBA has been to score. I don’t think you should be criticized when a coach asks you to score and you score. That’s what he does.

“He’s a great offensive player. He’s not LeBron James. He can help, he can make passes. But his primary focus and what he does best is score. He did it for us when we needed him. He’s great under pressure.”

That’s one of the reasons coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted Anthony in that sixth-man role two years ago. Then there was that other reason.

“He was willing to do it, that’s No. 1,” said Jerry Colangelo, Team USA’s managing director.

There’s an esprit de corps each time the U.S. national team revs up nowadays, with All-Stars and franchise players generally accepting whatever roles Krzyzewski and his staff ask of them. But it’s not automatic and it certainly didn’t jibe with Anthony’s profile as an NBA dilettante whose teams in Denver and New York were, and needed to be, built around him.

Yet just two summers ago, with egos as assertive as Durant’s, James’ and Kobe Bryant‘s on board, Anthony agreeably took on the job of super sub. He came off the bench in all eight games and played less than half-time (17.8 mpg), but averaged 16.3 points, trailing only Durant (19.5 ppg in 26.0 mpg) in U.S. scoring.

Back in 2008, in Beijing, Anthony ranked fourth in scoring (11.5) behind Dwyane Wade (16.0), James (15.5) and Bryant (15.0). That year, it was Wade who did the sixth-man thing, outscoring each of the starters while averaging just 18.8 minutes.

And in 2004, Anthony’s first Olympics, he averaged just 2.4 points while appearing in seven of the eight games. The scoring load then was carried by Allen Iverson (13.8 ppg), Tim Duncan (12.9) and Stephon Marbury (10.5).

“These guys will do anything that you need ‘em to do to win,” Krzyzewski said. “Carmelo, for U.S. basketball, was really as good a ‘stretch 4′ as there was in international competition, starting or coming off the bench.”

With Durant tapping out and Paul George getting hurt two weeks ago – after other top candidates such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin opted not to participate – Team USA’s roster has been thinned.

As Colangelo said: “We originally thought we had guys coming off the bench – on paper – who would bring something to the table. Up tempo. A little more quickness. A little more shooting. But because of some injuries, they might end up starting.”

After Friday’s workout, Krzyzewski did not name his starting lineup for the tune-up game against Brazil’s national team Saturday at United Center. That’s part of what this pre-medal round schedule is for, flipping through the various combinations. But four of the five spots seemed heavily penciled in – Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis.

Candidates for the fifth starting spot include Chandler Parsons, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan. Big man DeMarcus Cousins (right knee bruise) will not face Brazil, so going small against that team’s big front line – Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter and Nene – might yield better results in a counter-programming way.

The candidates for sixth man – this squad’s ‘Melo – are in that above group, too, along with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Korver, pending the cutdown next weekend to 12 players. Krzyzewski’s substitution pattern Saturday won’t necessarily reveal anything, because the first game is all about “what if?” lineups. Even the game’s outcome – beyond setting, perhaps, a winning atmosphere – matters less than using the exhibition as a measuring stick.

“We’ll find out some things by trying new things, which will help us,” Krzyzewski said. “The main thing is medal round in Barcelona. We need to keep improving until we get to Barcelona, then it’s one and done. By that time hopefully we’ll be healthy, have whatever is good for our team in and then be ready to go for a World Cup.”

That includes a viable sixth man.

“I really think there are a lot of guys who would be willing to do it,” Korver said. “I don’t think it’s a hard thing. It’s one thing for a guy to be the sixth man on his NBA team, but there have been a bunch of guys [to do that for Team USA]. Every time someone’s done it, it seems that person has gotten a lot of praise and a lot of credit.”

Having a green light to shoot, at the urging of the coaches, at a rate that probably would lead the stellar squad in attempts-per-minute? Yeah, someone might raise his hand for that.

“We’ve got so many guys who can come in and contribute in any aspect of the game,” said Harden, who might pick up some of Durant’s shots in Team USA’s reworked offense. “From Klay Thompson to Kyle Korver to Damian Lillard, so many guys who can be effective at what they do.”

Harden was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 before getting traded to Houston and emerging as an All-Star the past two seasons. He knows a little about managing one’s ego from the bench.

“It’s all about your mindset,” he said Friday. “If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to impact the game, that as soon as you step out there you’re going to make your presence felt, then you’ll be more effective and your team will be better off. We won’t have that problem with this team – I’m sure guys will be ready and super-prepared at all times.”

Super-willing, it sounds like, to accept whatever role. From starter to sub, from sixth man to 12th man, and anything in between if the minutes change from night to night. Colangelo and Krzyzewski have worked wonders selling these guys on the honor of participating. They’re all fully marinated.

“When we started coaching NBA players,” Boeheim said, “everybody said, ‘Well, they won’t do this and they won’t do this.’ We found out they would do ‘this’ and they would do ‘this.’ They would come off the bench. They would play defense. They would sacrifice. Dwyane Wade came to us the first year [2008] and said, ‘I’ll come off the bench.’ Kobe Bryant came to us and said, ‘I’ll take the toughest guy defensively.’ Chris Paul came off the bench.

“These are great players. They do what they can to help us win and that’s why we’ve been successful. These guys have sacrificed, they’ve worked hard, they play defense and, really, I’ve never had a better experience in basketball than working with NBA players.”