Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Report: Raptors, Valanciunas discussing 4-year, $60M contract extension

Big man Jonas Valanciunas and the Toronto Raptors reportedly are in advance discussions on a contract extension, according to’s Marc Stein, with terms said to be hovering in the DeMarre Carroll neighborhood of four years/$60 million.

As Robert DeNiro‘s character says in “Midnight Run,” that’s a very respectable neighborhood. It’s also a potential bargain for the 7-foot, 255-pound center’s services if the Raptors can lock him in before the salary cap bellows next summer, when Valanciunas would hit restricted free agency.

But, assuming this extension gets done, it won’t qualify as a steal unless the Raptors figure out better ways to deploy Valanciunas.

The big guy posted solid stats last season: 12.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 26.2 mpg. His PER climbed from 15.9 in his first two seasons to 20.6. But he stuck out from much of what the Raptors did, or how they preferred to play, like the proverbial sore thumb. Their commitment to Valanciunas typically waned as games went on. Though he made 80 appearances, he played in the fourth quarter only 57 times and he averaged just 5.1 of his minutes in that period. His usage percentage in the first quarter: 22.7 percent. In the fourth: 17.0.

That’s why some close to the team could joke that, based on the first few minutes of games, Valanciunas seemed a lock some day to break Wilt Chamberlain‘s single-game scoring mark set that 1962 night in Hershey, Pa. Invariably, his involvement and production would fizzle fast, Wilt’s mark safe again.

There has been speculation that some personnel changes in head coach Dwane Casey‘s staff were made due to Valanciunas’ lack of progress. Hopefully, there’s truth to that, because if there isn’t, you’d hate to think that keeping a lid on him was all about keeping his asking price within reason.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16

VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Rockets’ acquisition of Ty Lawson, who is welcomed by Harden


‘Red Mamba’ turns superhero DJ | Tskitishvili seeks NBA comeback | NBA dreams vs. European careers | Rockets’ Harden welcomes Lawson

No. 1: ‘Red Mamba’ turns superhero DJ — Generally here at the Hang Time HQ, we try to focus these Morning Shootarounds on topics around the Association that pack significant news value or delve into the NBA’s many fascinating feature angles. Every once in a while, though, we have to present something for no better reason than its goofiness. And of course, the photos and/or video it generates on social media. So without further ado, here’s an update from on veteran San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, his alter ego “Red Mamba,” and how he spent his Saturday at the Rock On Festival back home in Concord, N.H., commemorating that city’s 250th anniversary. It is worth noting that the executive director of the Rock On Foundation, which presented the free one-day festival, is Matt’s brother Luke:

San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner nicknames himself as “The Red Mamba.” This is likely because of two reasons: First, he perfectly fits the prototype for the old term “redheaded stepchild.” Second, the nickname “Black Mamba” was already taken.
But Bonner apparently compensates in deejaying— and creating ridiculous costumes— for what he lacks in originality when creating self-donned monikers. The two-time NBA champion dressed up like a caped crusader and deejayed a set at Concord, New Hampshire’s annual Rock On Festival.
Surely, he’s no DJ Premier nor Kid Capri, but according to the Twitter reactions from this event, The Red Mamba made his hometown crowd proud as they danced to his selections ranging from artists like The Isley Brothers, Taylor Swift, David Bowie, to Outkast.


No. 2: Tskitishvili seeks NBA comeback — When we last saw Nikoloz Tskitishvili, he was being waived out of the NBA in July 2006, a few months past his 23rd birthday. The slender 7-footer selected No. 5 overall by Denver in 2002 was considered a draft bust then and now, nine years after his fifth NBA team gave up on him, he regularly appears on lists of the biggest flops in league history. Unlike a lot of those unfortunate (and undeniably talented) fellows, though, Tskitishvili is still of a mind and body to do something to change opinions. At least, that’s why he was in Las Vegas, hoping to attract interest via Summer League for an NBA comeback. That’s where Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post caught up with older, wiser former phenom:

His body is bigger and leaner. He’s smarter. He’s much more mature.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili is trying to convince his lunch guest at the Hard Rock Hotel that he should get another chance in the NBA, listing the reasons this time will be different.

“I just turned 32, but I’m better,” he said. “I’m better at this age. I got stronger. I’ve got confidence. I got smarter.”

And, as Tskitishvili admits, he did little in his three seasons in Denver to convince anyone he belonged on an NBA court. He averaged 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds and shot 30 percent in 143 games. He was 19 years old, a 7-footer lean and not close to being ready mentally and physically for the NBA when the Nuggets drafted him. Thirteen years later, he still carries the burden of failed expectations.
“It’s very tough to make that decision, to draft a young guy with no experience, not ready physically, mentally,” Tskitishvili said. “You risk a lot. They trusted me so much, but I didn’t give them a chance.”

Kiki Vandeweghe, then the Nuggets’ general manager, made the call that would haunt the franchise.

“I feel like it was my fault, not Kiki’s fault,” Tskitishvili said. “I had to take care of myself better and stay patient. I should have listened to him. I used to tell him: ‘I want to get traded. I want to get a new chance.’ He was against that. This is why I respect that guy. He liked me, he loved me and I should have listened to him.”

Vandeweghe was in his first year as Denver’s GM.

“We had a lot of things going on at that time,” Vandeweghe said in a phone interview. “We had the Nene-Antonio McDyess (trade) with the Knicks. We had about five other deals that were close to happening. We had one other small deal. And then focused on the draft. I had not seen Skita play basketball in person. And so that’s not something that I probably would repeat ever, drafting somebody I hadn’t seen.”

Tskitishvili was in Las Vegas recently for summer-league play. He continues to show up nine years after he last played in the league, hoping for a longshot chance to prove his worth.

“I’m 100 times better than I was,” he said. “It’s just very difficult for teams to understand that, because they are looking at the number, the age. If you ask me, this is the best shape I’ve ever been in and the best I’ve been playing in my career.”

And if he got to choose a team to make his comeback? Yes, it would be the Nuggets.

“If I could get a chance to show that it was not a mistake …” he said, his voice trailing.


No. 3: NBA dreams vs. European careers — Tskitishvili was a Euro prospect who got a chance, however pressurized, to chase his dream of playing in the world’s greatest basketball league. But a lot of players in Orlando and Las Vegas in the offseason face the flip side of that dynamic, deciding between their pursuit of an NBA dream vs. a legitimate livelihood playing the game overseas. Our own Ian Thomsen delved into that quandary through the eyes and experiences of one such player in particular, undrafted Davidson product Tyler Kalinoski. It’s worth checking out the full story here on, but here are some highlights:

“I don’t know if scary is the right word,” he was saying. “It’s a game of chess, of making the right moves. You never know what is going to be the right decision.”

Kalinoski, a high-energy 6-4 guard, was used to exceeding expectations. As Davidson’s final recruit four years ago — discovered at the last minute when a higher-rated player failed to qualify academically — he had risen to become the Atlantic 10 player of the year while contributing in all areas. He had always seemed to know where he was going, even if others failed to recognize his potential. But this next step was something different.

“In college you know where you’re going to be,” Kalinoski said. “But now, really for the first time in my life, I have no idea what I’m going to be doing next year. So it’s exciting because of all the possibilities. But I’m also getting kind of anxious about where I’m going to be.”

He was surrounded by all kinds of virtual doorways. Several of them led directly to a variety of career paths in Europe — two professional clubs in Belgium, one in Italy, another in France. Those clubs were pursuing him, and he was grateful for their interest; but at the same time, what intrigued him most of all were the less-welcoming portals that might lead to a career in the NBA. He had gone undrafted in June, he knew the NBA was a longshot, and still he did not want to walk away from the possibility.

He was 22 years old, with a face that looked even younger. He was wearing with pride the red cap and T-shirt that had been supplied by his Summer League team, the Miami Heat. He was setting out on his own with more questions than answers.

Was he going to go play in Europe? Or hold out for the NBA?

One of [agent Kenny] Grant‘s specialties was to help young American players make the most complicated decision: To choose the fork in the road that separated the dream of playing in the NBA from the reality of a career in Europe. The strategy for Kalinoski entering his first summer of professional basketball was to create maximum exposure on both sides of the ocean. Summer League was the perfect venue because it was swarming with European coaches and executives in addition to the host NBA teams.

“We are willing to ride with whatever Tyler wants to do,” Grant said. “We give our advice, but we respect that people have their dream. If it works, if it doesn’t work, we’re okay with it either way. We will go forward with what we have. You don’t want someone to go forward with regrets.”

During the opening weekend of Summer League in Orlando, the coach of the French club Elan Chalon wanted to speak with Kalinoski. Their meeting went well, and Chalon became Kalinoski’s most aggressive and persistent recruiter.

“Some people go to Europe and they’re really happy playing there,” Grant said. “Others, it’s not for them. With these European teams, if you don’t show interest, they’re gone.”


No. 4: Rockets’ Harden welcomes Lawson — Most of the Houston Rockets players, coaches and executives, and certainly the vast majority of their fans, have only unanswered questions about Ty Lawson and what the troubled former Denver Nuggets point guard might bring to their team this season. But Houston’s All-Star guard James Harden feels he already has a few answers and believes in Lawson as a solid acquisition because he had a chance to meet up with him in California recently. He spoke to the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen over the weekend about it:

Harden and new Rockets guard Ty Lawson “spent some time together,” enough for Harden to be convinced that his new teammate will overcome his off-court issues and be a valuable addition to the Rockets’ backcourt.

“Ty is definitely going to help us,” Harden said during a break in the Kroger Unplug and Play James Harden Basketball ProCamp in The Woodlands on Saturday. “He gives us that quickness, that speed, playmaking ability, something that we were missing, especially deep in the playoffs. We’re going to welcome him with open arms. We’re happy to have him.”

Lawson completed a 30-day rehabilitation program ordered after his second DUI arrest this year. Harden said he has already spent enough time with Lawson to be “not at all” concerned that Lawson will have similar issues.

“He’s out in California right now working out,” Harden said. “We’re happy to have him. He’s going to be a great addition to our team. I’ve been with him these last couple weeks. He’s more focused than ever. He has a great opportunity with a really good team to showcase his talents and help us with that push that we need.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: He’s no Deron Williams, at least not the Williams who used to make NBA All-Star teams, but journeyman Jarrett Jack will be logging more minutes at point guard for the Brooklyn Nets in Williams’ absence. And he feels ready for a greater leadership role. … Veteran guard Jason Richardson, at 34, isn’t getting any guarantees but he will get a contract with and a serious look from the Atlanta Hawks. … Former Miami wing Dorrell Wright still is on the Heat’s radar. … When Michael Jordan signed his first Nike endorsement deal for $2.5 million, the shoe-and-apparel company required a opt-out clause if the NBA newcomer didn’t translate into profits. Thirty years later, the Jordan Brand – generating an estimated $2.5 billion in annual revenues – will get its own store in Chicago. …

Report: Embiid’s surgery set for Tuesday

When fans and media resort to arguing over the merits of having a season-ending surgery sooner vs. later, nearly three months before said season even begins, you know you’ve reached the dog days of the NBA offseason.

That debate provided the only real energy to what remains a drag of a story: Philadelphia center Joel Embiid reportedly will have surgery Tuesday on his right foot, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, had his rookie season wiped out by surgery to repair a stress fracture in that foot. Now the need for a second procedure, followed by his recovery and rehab, will wipe out his 2015-16 season as well.

A piece earlier this week on provided some background on the delay between the 76ers’ official acknowledgement that Embiid would need additional surgery and when it actually will take place:

In early July, the Philadelphia Inquirer first reported that Embiid will require another surgery to address the navicular bone injury in his right foot. The team confirmed that report in a statement and said it anticipated “the procedure will take place in the next 7-10 days.” That was nearly a month ago, and Embiid has yet to have the surgery.

The holdup has led to speculation in the media. When asked about the delay, one source said it was partly because Embiid — who is 21 and who, according to president/general manager Sam Hinkie, has been pain-free — was coming to terms with the decision. The source indicated that Embiid and his confidants wanted more time to review the matter and select a doctor. A doctor has been chosen, though the source declined to provide that information.

The source said Embiid also reached out to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. The Thunder star underwent a bone graft on his right foot in late March. That surgery was performed at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, home to one of at least 12 doctors the Sixers and Embiid have so far consulted about Embiid’s hyper-complicated situation.

Whether the surgery took place last month or this month doesn’t seem to affect Embiid’s revised timeline, which will have him competing (maybe) for the NBA’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award at age 23 against rivals who, at the moment, haven’t moved into their freshman dorms yet. It might provide some third- or fourth-guessable grist for a Philadelphia rebuilding/tanking operation that’s been second-guessable for a while.

But it’s the middle of August, so as the memes like to say, “like if you think the Sixers waited too long, share if you think they timed Embiid’s surgery just right.”

Meanwhile, there’s this:

Morning shootaround — Aug. 15

VIDEO: LeBron helping out kids in Akron


LeBron supports 4 years in college | Mixed messages from Team USA | Bad form in Rivers’ self-challenge | Kobe schools D’Angelo (smiley face)

No. 1: LeBron supports 4 years in college — OK, our headline is a little bit of a tease. The idea that LeBron James, arguably the greatest preps-to-pros NBA player ever, might be advocating for young prospects to attain their college degrees could make for an interesting sports story. In this case, though, it makes for a fascinating story, period, because James’ focus is not on future NBA performers – it’s on regular kids from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, who otherwise not attend college at all. We’ll assume he’s getting a volume discount and not paying retail, per this piece on

The NBA star has partnered with the University of Akron to provide a guaranteed four-year scholarship to the school for students in James’ I Promise program who qualify.

The scholarship will cover tuition and the university’s general service fee — currently $9,500 per year.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, as many as 2,300 children could potentially benefit from the scholarships.

It’s the latest example of James, who often refers to himself “as just a kid from Akron,” giving back to a community that helped raise him.

“It’s the reason I do what I do,” said James, who announced the program Thursday while hosting an event for students at Cedar Point Amusement Park. “These students have big dreams, and I’m happy to do everything I can to help them get there. They’re going to have to earn it, but I’m excited to see what these kids can accomplish knowing that college is in their futures.”

The university and the LeBron James Family Foundation are still finalizing the criteria for the scholarships. The students will have to graduate from high school within Akron’s public school system, achieve standard testing requirements, and fulfill a community service obligation.

James has had a long-standing relationship with the university. As his celebrity soared in high school, James played many game on the school’s campus, and the four-time MVP deepened his connection with Akron soon after he turned professional.

“It means so much because, as a kid growing up in the inner city and a lot of African-American kids, you don’t really think past high school,” said James, who bypassed college to jump to the NBA. “You don’t really know your future. You hear high school all the time, and you graduate high school, and then you never think past that because either it’s not possible or your family’s not financially stable to even be able to support a kid going to college.”


No. 2: Mixed messages from Team USA — There’s no denying that USA Basketball has come up with a formula for success, built by managing director Jerry Colangelo and men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski and driven by the commitments it requires from the NBA’s best players. But there were several mixed messages put out by the time this week’s mini-camp and intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas were completed. “Everyone hoping to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics had to attend” … except maybe not Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose. “Some players will be permitted not to play in the scrimmage Thursday” … except then participation was made voluntary and so many guys opted out – 20 of the 34 on this week’s roster – that organizers had to truck in four more NBA players just to flesh out the Blue and White squads to nine men each. There seems to be some slippage going on in what words like “mandatory” and “commitment” mean, as kicked around in this report, and it opens the door for other players to test the program’s vaunted culture in the future:

Earlier this week, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said that because Derrick Rose chose not to attend minicamp this week in Las Vegas, the Bulls star would not be considered for Team USA’s Olympics squad for Rio 2016. In the same interview session where he revealed that he’s interested in Kobe Bryant returning for a final run with the team (despite Bryant also missing the minicamp), all of a sudden, Colangelo says he’s open to it.

“I always said you never shut the door entirely on anyone. I mean, why? To prove what? Was I disappointed Derrick [Rose] wasn’t here? Sure. Because, we want the best for him. We want the best for him. We want him to get back to the level that he once was. So let’s just see how things go in the future.”

OK, this doesn’t seem cool. Colangelo made a big deal to everyone saying how in order to be considered for Rio in 2016 you have to attend this minicamp. It was mandatory. So a bunch of players dropped what they were doing and shuffled out to Las Vegas in the middle of their offseason to run some drills and have some meetings. Most were happy to do it, and that’s a testament to the culture that Colangelo has helped build.

At the same time, many did so because Colangelo made it clear that attendance was mandatory. Now, on top of him saying that he’s not going to hold minicamp next year and that instead the team will simply be chosen, all 12 spots, it turns out that the players didn’t actually need to attend anyway. Rose didn’t attend, and he can get in if he stays healthy this year. Bryant didn’t attend, same deal.


No. 3: Bad form in Rivers’ self-challenge — We’ve all come to understand the role that confidence and even ego play in how far a person can take some natural ability and hard-earned prowess. The days of athletes – or artists or innovators or anyone else, frankly – having to hew the “Aw, shucks” line of false modesty are long over. We get it when someone says he or she aspires to be the “GOAT” (greatest of all time), that’s it a highly effective method of motivating oneself. But what even the most brash among us need to remember is that it remains bad form to call out or put down others while issuing such self-challenges. That’s a line L.A. Clippers guard Austin Rivers crossed on Twitter the other night. Fueled apparently by seeing the “extras” who were summoned to help out at the Team USA “Showcase” scrimmage — Arron Afflalo, Terrance Jones, Amir Johnson and Elfrid Payton, with C.J. Watson listed initially but scratched — Rivers’ comment as framed by veered into arrogance:

It’s quite possible that Rivers’ eyes lit up when he saw C.J. Watson on the roster. Kidding aside, it’s tough to see where Rivers is coming from as far as saying he’s better than many on the roster, given that he hasn’t shown a whole lot during his first three years in the league (bare in mind, he’s not comparing himself to superstars like Stephen Curry and James Harden, who weren’t a part of the showcase).

To be fair, he was never quite enabled by Monty Williams – the only coach he has ever played for before being traded to the Clippers last year by his father Doc Rivers. Under his father, Rivers shot a career-high 42.7 percent from the field and had some shockingly good performances in the playoffs that actually made you wonder if you’ve had it all wrong about the guy.

Objectively, Rivers probably isn’t better than most on the roster from Thursday as of right now. Still, if that’s what he wants to believe, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, particularly if it drives him to want to become better (that clearly is the case if he wants to become MIP).


No. 4: Kobe schools D’Angelo (smiley face) — This one is pretty self-explanatory, a moment or two between new teammates Kobe Bryant and No. 2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell played out in social media. Apparently inspired after watching some of former NBA All-Star and scoring champ Tracy McGrady‘s exploits, Russell lavished some Twitter praise on the former Orlando and Houston star. Bryant then reined in Russell’s enthusiasm a bit:


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan’s name and image are worth millions, and yet a bootleg grocery ad didn’t sell much meat with it. … Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins probably has been working out harder than you. … If you’re still digesting the massive NBA schedule served up all at once Wednesday, here’s a primer on the best of the best that might help. … Clippers forward Blake Griffin, not bad as a power forward and a commercial pitch man, talks about yet another role: Web site story editor. … Griffin, in case you missed it, also had some of the most interesting thoughts among the Team USA players who talked about the relative appeal of Olympic gold medals vs. NBA championship rings. …

No injuries, light ‘Showcase’ and updated cutdown info for Team USA

VIDEO: White tops Blue in dunk-filled USAB Showcase

LAS VEGAS — No one got injured in USA Basketball’s “Showcase” scrimmage Friday, not even the basketball scribe who narrowly avoided getting beaned by a TV monitor knocked off the table behind him in the tiered media section. (I did feel the breeze and flinch when it crashed, though).

A year ago, Indiana’s Paul George suffered a gruesome leg fracture that cut the Team USA scrimmage short and raised questions about players’ willingness to assume such risk – or their NBA teams’ cooperation with the process – for relatively little reward (exhibition rather than competition).

So, when a representative sampling of the USA roster took part Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus and none of them limped off afterward, the event felt like a success. The White squad beat the Blue, 134-128, in a game that seemed time-shifted from an NBA All-Star Weekend, with a whole lot of alley-oops and dunks, barely a whiff of defense and no apparent physical trauma.

“You wanted to come out here and put on a show for people,” said Golden State forward Harrison Barnes, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue. “But at the same time, if a guys on a fast break, let him go. You didn’t want to give any hard fouls.”

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who merely observed while assistants Tom Thibodeau (White) and Monty Williams (Blue) worked the sidelines, joked that neither the offense nor the defense on display Friday was what Team USA intends to take to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.

That will get installed and honed next summer when the final 12-man squad shows up in mid-July for training camp.

To that end, Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball managing director, made news in this realm when he said during the ESPN2 telecast that the final roster will be announced in late June after the NBA Finals and Draft. That means no cutdowns from 18 or 22, no mini-camp for final auditions.

“Rather than … ask six to 10 players to go home – that just didn’t sit well with us – we’re going with the game plan from [2008 in announcing the official 12 at the start],” Colangelo said.

VIDEO: Jerry Colangelo explains how the 2016 Team USA roster will be chosen

The pool of Team USA talent will still be about 28 players strong, with that group identified in the coming months. By late June, though, impediments that might prevent a player from heading to Rio – injuries, contract complications or personal situations – would be known to him and the selectors. A number of Select Team players will be invited to Las Vegas as in the past to provide competition during the training camp.

The “Showcase” game did stray from some of the one-for-all, all-for-one culture so important to Team USA in the players who participated: Only 14 of the 34 who took part in meetings or light workouts this week played. When Colangelo and Krzyzewski deemed the scrimmage “voluntary,” some of the program’s biggest names – LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and a dozen others – opted out.

In fact, four NBA players were trucked in as late additions to flesh out the Blue and White rosters to nine men each. So Arron Afflalo, Amir Johnson, Terrance Jones and Elfrid Payton played in jerseys that didn’t sport their names on the back.

The fans at the Thomas & Mack were grateful for the big names who did play, including Clippers forward Blake Griffin, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Barnes and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan. Cousins had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the winning White squad, while Andre Drummond led the Blue with 27 and 16.

“For me, I came all the way from Florida, so I was playing,” Gay said.

Krzyzewski and Colangelo, while noting George’s “horrific” injury last year, said that Team USA players trust them as far as safety issues or the workload demands. Because of how George got hurt – jamming his foot against one of the basketball stanchions – many folks in the gym noticed the stanchions farther back from the baseline, with fewer cameras and photographers close to the court and ample “exit lanes” for players venturing into that area.

Blogtable: Team USA’s point guards for 2016?

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?

VIDEOStephen Curry is looking forward to playing for Team USA

> Team USA has an embarrassment of riches at point guard with Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley and Michael Carter-Williams. Assuming they’ll take only three point guards to Rio, which three should it be? And why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWe’ve heard it from the USA brain trust that this team isn’t just a positional thing. So I’m not too bound up in strict point-guard duties or qualifications. Of that group, I know I’m going to have Chris Paul and Steph Curry on board. John Wall is hitting his prime and we’ll all know it by next spring, so I like him as my third PG. And then I still find a roster spot for Russell Westbrook (mentioned fourth here not in any pecking order but because he’s such a hybrid).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comFirst off, I’m not buying your assumption that Team USA will take only three point guards. But if if have to play by your rules, I want Steph Curry, the best shooter in the game, Chris Paul, the best handle and distributor, and Russell Westbrook, because there are times when you just need the best athlete to overpower the opponent and make plays.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’m not sure three is the final number, but for the sake of conversation: Stephen Curry, because that shooting will be invaluable as Team USA constantly faces zones. Chris Paul, because he is arguably the most complete package among players in the league (passing, shooting, defense, leadership). And Russell Westbrook, because athleticism is one of the factors that will set the Americans apart and Westbrook can overwhelm opponents in that way. But it will be hard to complain about any of those names on the final roster.

Shaun Powell, I want Curry, Paul and Westbrook. Steph Curry, because he’s the best shooter of the bunch. Chris Paul, because he’s the best leader of the bunch and the one most likely to keep his cool if times get tight. And then there’s Russell Westbrook, because of his attack-ability. Can’t really go wrong with that trio.

John Schuhmann, Chris Paul is the best floor general in the league. Stephen Curry is the best shooter. And Russell Westbrook has the speed and athleticism that overwhelms most international opponents. Though Irving was the MVP of the World Cup last year, Wall would be ahead of him on my list of alternates, because he’s the better passer and better defender.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThis is an excruciating choice given the extreme embarrassment of riches available here, provided that everyone on this list is healthy at the time of selection. After watching Curry work in Spain at the FIBA World Cup last summer and ride that wave into a MVP and championship season with the Golden State Warriors, he’s my number one pick in this point guard draft. Chris Paul gives me a steady hand who has the experience and leadership qualities that are necessary in international competition of this sort, so he’s my second pick. And Russell Westbrook edges out John Wall for the third and final spot. He provides the experience, versatility and raw energy to change the game as my third point guard and utility man extraordinaire. I can use him in any number of ways in the international game and would do so liberally while Curry and CP3 concentrate on floor general duties. If any of these guys cannot make it to Rio for any reason, I want Wall to keep a packed bag ready.

Ian Thomsen, Curry, Paul and Wall should be the point guards because all are excellent passers and floor leaders – attributes that will be crucial to the success of this team. (If one of them is injured next summer then Conley should be the first alternate.) And then add Westbrook to the roster too – but mark him down simply as a guard, because he transcends traditional positioning.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogStephen Curry is a no-brainer. He’s the most valuable player in the NBA, so he’s going to Rio. With him, I’m bringing Chris Paul, who can run a team better than any of the other options, and is probably the best leader available to Team USA. Finally, I’m bringing Russell Westbrook. He’s the most dynamic point guard in the world when healthy, and bringing Westbrook off the bench and allowing him to terrorize second-string point guards from other teams would be must-see TV. (I also like that Westbrook or Curry can play the 2 alongside Paul.) Nothing against Irving, Wall, Conley or MCW, but like the question said, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Blogtable: Thoughts on NBA, referee’s new agreement

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?

VIDEOJoe Borgia explains the changes for next season

> While not yet official, it appears the NBA has reached agreement with its referees through the 2022 season. Is this a big thing, a little thing, or much ado about nothing?

Steve Aschburner, It’s a big thing, because we hear the whining and grumbling that goes on when even the best in the business make calls that some player, coach, executive or owner doesn’t like. Imagine the decibels and frequency of such fussing and fuming if suddenly the league were policed by replacements or newbies. Besides, the completely electronic, eye-in-the-sky, make-every-foul-call-from-Secaucus-replay-center system isn’t quite up and running yet. That’ll kick in around the 2029-30 season.

Fran Blinebury, It’s only a big thing if it didn’t get done and the game was tarnished and diminished by replacement referees. It’s a very big thing if the league and the Players Association can now learn from this experience and get to work on a new collective bargaining agreement to avoid a work stoppage.

Scott Howard-Cooper, A pretty big thing because it eliminates the possibility of a very big thing. Important labor deals should never be shrugged off, just because it came without hard-line comments or a work stoppage. In addition to being a pretty big thing, it’s a good thing.

Shaun Powell, I say it’s a little thing. You can’t dismiss the significance of it because anytime the league can tie up the refs for a reasonable length of time is great. Why risk having the game soiled by inexperienced refs? But it’s not a big thing because, with all the money coming into the league, it was only a matter of time before the refs got their cut. They were in no danger of holding out. Everyone wins in this deal.

John Schuhmann, Big thing. It’s good that the best refs in the world are her for another seven years. It’s comforting that there was never a hint of an issue that would affect the season. And it’s important that the league continues to give these guys what they need behind the scenes as they put them under more scrutiny, via the Last Two Minute reports, in public.

Sekou Smith, I think it’s big enough. Any time you can broker labor peace ahead of a deadline, it’s a victory. And in an effort to make sure that men charged with one of the most difficult jobs in sports (you try keeping up with the tallest and most graceful group of professional athletes on the planet) understand the investment the league has made in them is for the long haul, this goes a long way. I’m not here to disparage replacement referees, but I want to see them under the bright lights about as much as I do replacement players … and that’s never!

Ian Thomsen, It is big. The NBA is seeking to deepen its partnership with referees by pursuing greater transparency and self-reflection. The league wants referees to continue to view themselves as servants to the game to an ever-increasing degree. An extended and bitter contract negotiation would have undermined the big-picture goal; by agreeing to new terms without public drama, the league and its referees can move forward with less acrimony than in previous years.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogI guess it’s something, but I don’t think it’s a big thing. Even if the NBA had to use replacement refs, there are so many replay and review mechanisms currently in place that I’m not sure how much damage they could have done. I guess it does put an end to my feature idea — “NBA Behind the Scenes: I was a replacement ref.”

Blogtable: Next coach for Team USA?

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?

VIDEOJerry Colangelo discusses Team USA

> Your nameplate says “Jerry Colangelo, Chairman, USA Basketball.” So tell me Mr. Colangelo, who’s going to coach the greatest basketball team on the planet after Coach Mike Krzyzewski steps down next summer? And why are you choosing him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d like to say Gregg Popovich and consider it done, but I’m not so sure Pop would want to take on that (minimum) four-year commitment, given his renewed opportunities in his day job. I do think it would be nice to get an NBA coach this time, one who appears to have respect across the league and also someone with enough job security to not face any awkward employment situations during his USA tenure. Here’s my pick: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics.

Fran Blinebury, Gregg Popovich. The greatest basketball team deserves the greatest coach on the planet. Even though he’s getting up in years, Popovich would relish and make the most of the challenge. And as the man who has done more to make the NBA and international league than any other, it would be the perfect cap on his career.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comYou mean after I’ve made the strongest push possible to retain K, of course. But if I do have to find a replacement, which would be understandable considering all the “offseason” time he has given up through the years, then Gregg Popovich is the choice. Why? Because I can’t think of a reason why not. Others deserve consideration, but Popovich checks every box, from a history with USA Basketball to immense credibility with players to a strong international background.

Shaun Powell, First, I run the idea past Gregg Popovich, who by then should be retired and bored. The reasons for choosing Pop? Do you really have to ask? If Pop is up to serving exclusively as Team USA coach during the Olympics and Worlds, then my job is done. If Pop is too busy sampling the vino to bother with coaching, then my next choice is John Calipari, who knows how to relate to stars, both established and up-and-coming. Heck, by then, half the team could be ex-Kentucky players.

John Schuhmann, My first call would be to Gregg Popovich. He’s the best coach in the game and he has the respect of players across the league. Guys will want to play for him and play hard for him. That he, like Krzyzewski, was a member of our armed forces, is a bonus.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo offense to younger, up-and-coming stars in the coaching ranks, but this is a job for a master motivator. That person’s understanding of superstar talent (and how it needs to be massaged in this environment) is far more important than anything you can draw up on a white board. I don’t think there is any question that Doc Rivers is the man that fits that job description. He is universally respected among among coaches and players at all levels. Coach K was an exquisite choice when he stepped into the void of that revolving door of big name coaches and helped me (Mr. Jerry Colangelo) resuscitate the program. He, too, had that something special needed to convince the best of the best to sacrifice for the greater good that Doc has shown throughout his time as a coach. And please know that I’ll make Doc an offer he can’t refuse.

Ian Thomsen, My pick is Doc Rivers, a championship coach, a former All-Star point guard and current team president in the NBA’s second-largest market. He is a student of coaching in all aspects, beginning with a constant desire for self-improvement, and the best players will continue to be drawn to USA Basketball by him. There will be more pressure than for any coaching job in the NBA — you are expected to win every game, with one failure akin to national disgrace — and Rivers will be up to the challenge.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: My first call would be to a former United States military man who is also a pretty good coach himself: San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. Pop could surely handle coaching a few extra games in the summer, would appreciate serving his country, and he would instantly command the respect of players from around the NBA. If Pop demurs, my next call would be a little out of left field: Phil Jackson. Considering the Zen Master has always liked coaching superstars, perhaps a Team USA situation would be perfect. Finally, if they both pass, here’s an idea that might prove to be a more long-term solution: Jason Kidd. Not only is Kidd a former two-time gold medalist as a player, he’s shown himself to be a creative thinker as a coach, with an ability to relate to players of all ages.

Hibbert focuses on his inner game

VIDEO: Roy Hibbert on what he plans to bring to the Lakers

No one really knows what to expect this season from Roy Hibbert as the former All-Star center moves from the Indiana Pacers to the Los Angeles Lakers in search of a clean slate. But when the answers – rather than just theories – come, they likely will have much to do with the enigmatic big man’s mood and mental outlook.

Those were factors that acted at least as contributing factors, along with Hibbert’s inconsistent play and the Pacers’ ambitions to play faster and smaller in 2015-16, when the 7-foot-2 center moved to L.A. at a bargain price. The Lakers were willing to take on Hibbert and his $15.5 million salary this season because they had salary-cap room and, frankly, they only had to give up a future second-round pick.

Getting Hibbert back on track – the Georgetown alum is only 28 and still represents a gold standard for rim protection, on most nights – won’t just be a job left to training camp or the regular season, or reliant only on Byron Scott‘s coaching or Kobe Bryant‘s, er, pep talks. Hibbert already has undertaken methods to boost his confidence and abilities by focusing on the mental part of the game and of himself, as addressed by’s Baxter Holmes. Here’s an excerpt, with Hibbert clearly cautious in discussing what in professional sports remains a touchy subject:

Mental health is a subject Hibbert doesn’t seem to enjoy discussing. His words come slowly, each carefully chosen. At times, it seems like there’s more he wants to say, but he doesn’t. He has his reasons, which he declines to share. But Hibbert is interested in the field. He says he first visited a psychologist when he boarded at Georgetown Prep, where he was one of the top high-school prospects in the nation.

“I was a black kid in an all-white school, so I had to deal with some of that stress and pressure,” Hibbert told in November 2014. “If I didn’t do that back in high school, I probably wouldn’t be open to it later on.”

He was also an only child, sheltered by two parents who each worked multiple jobs, and admittedly socially awkward, spending much of his time playing video games.

The visits helped Hibbert shed any fear of being labeled as “having a couple of screws loose,” a stubborn perception that persists in the world of sports, in which “mental strength” — however abstract the definition — is fetishized.

“Stigma is an issue [in the NBA],” Hibbert said then. “But sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘You know, I need help. I may need to look at [therapy and mental exercises] in a different light.’ That’s how I go about it.”

Hibbert saw mental health counselors and a team performance psychologist throughout his career with the Pacers, in large part to discuss the stress that accompanies life in the NBA as a high-profile young player — the acquisition of wealth, the strain of a career on personal relationship, the pressures to perform.

He says he doesn’t have a mental health condition or diagnosis and characterized himself as merely someone who believes in the value of sharing with a professional and engaging in mental exercises whose goals are not unlike physical training. He praised the Pacers’ approach, which he says excelled at not making players feel defensive.

During the second half of last season, Hibbert says he experienced “a lot of mental stuff.” He started using an app called “Headspace,” which guided him through meditative exercises. “You count your breaths,” Hibbert says. “You focus on certain things. Even if the mind wanders, that’s OK. You just bring it back to that space where you feel positive.”

He also picked up a trick from the BBC series “Sherlock,” in which the protagonist accesses his “mind palace” — a mnemonic technique in which the subject transports his thoughts to a place where he stores memories and impressions. These days, he uses the singing of the national anthem prior to tipoff as an opportunity to count his breaths and enter his mind palace.

After learning that some “elite” NBA players have hired their own full-time sports psychologists, Hibbert “decided to put my money where my mouth is” and hire one on a part-time basis.

Hearing that others were seeking assistance gave him confidence that the discussion about mental health in the NBA is moving in the right direction, but he’s still unsure if the taboo has been lifted.

“I mean, I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that point because people just think you’re mentally weak,” Hibbert says. “And when I’m secure about using it and talking about it, I feel like I’ll be OK, but I’m not sure we’ll get to that point. … I’m not sure when we’ll get there.”

Blogtable: Playoff teams poised for a fall?

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: Rising second- or third-year player? | Playoff teams set to stumble? | Your all-lefty team

VIDEOSteve Smith takes stock of the NBA offseason

> Which of last season’s playoff teams is in for the biggest dropoff in 2015-16? Name one from each conference, please.

Steve Aschburner, I could start by asking for our working definition of “big,” because in the East, the Brooklyn Nets could win 38 games again (or something close) and slip out of the playoffs with another sub-.500 record. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks could fall from 60 victories down to 50 or fewer in the wake of roster changes, yet still claim a top-4 seed. In the West, the obvious candidate figures to do both: Portland will tumble from the playoffs and win a lot less often than last season (51-31). Four of five starters gone, that’s all the heavy analysis needed.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn and Portland. The Nets will be down there scraping the bottom of the East barrel with Philly. Portland won’t fall as far, but the drop will be harder for a team that looked like a rising contender two seasons ago before losing 4 of 5 starters over the summer.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, this is easy, like summertime. The Blazers are due for a sizable dip after losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. We’re talking a possible 20-game slide. And then there’s Brooklyn. While the Nets probably won’t fall much from winning 38 games a year ago, making the playoffs again as a 30-something-win team will be sketchy, even in the shoddy East. Just imagine how poor they’d be had they kept Deron Williams.

John Schuhmann, Brooklyn and Portland are the obvious answers. The Nets were the eight seed in the weaker conference and weren’t even that good. They had the point differential (minus-236 for the season) of a 31-win team, with a bunch of narrow wins and blowout losses. And though he had the worst season of his career, Brooklyn was a much better team when Deron Williams was running point than when Jarrett Jack (the new starter) was out there. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are quality players, but they need a real point guard to maximize their production. The Blazers have the point guard (used with a pick the Nets traded for Gerald Wallace), but not much else after losing four starters in free agency.

Sekou Smith, The Portland Trail Blazers will have to work a miracle not to take a giant step back given who and what they lost this summer. Damian Lillard is one of my favorite players in the game today, but without the core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum and Lillard together this season, I can see some struggles for coach Terry Stotts and his crew. The Atlanta Hawks are going to be a playoff team and one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, but a 60-win team again … I don’t know if they’ll be able to match the majesty of the finest season in franchise history. They had so many things fall into place last season. I just don’t know if they can count on all of those good things lining up the way they did for a second straight season, given all that has happened since they melted down against Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, After dominating the East during the regular season, the Hawks are going to find it difficult to win 60 games again in the absence of DeMarre Carroll – especially with several conference rivals appearing to have improved this summer. Even so, Atlanta is certain to return to the playoffs – the same can’t be said of the Blazers, who have already gone younger since the departure of Aldridge.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog The obvious team to watch in the West is the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez and traded Nic Batum, and now have to figure out a path to rebuilding around Damian Lillard. In the East, how about the Atlanta Hawks? Which is to say, I don’t think they’ll miss the playoffs entirely or anything like that, but last season they had that magical January, had a mostly injury-free regular season, and ended up winning 60 games. This year they’ll have to learn how to get along without DeMarre Carroll, hope they get lucky lucky with health, and have to play most of the season with a target on their backs. A 50-win season would still put them in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, and it would also be a significant drop from last year.