Posts Tagged ‘Steve Nash’

Abdul Jeelani, who scored first hoop in Mavericks history, dies at 62

The pass came in the left corner and it was a simple 17-foot jumper that looked like so many others.

Except for the time and the place.

When Abdul Qadir Jeelani made the bucket on Oct. 11, 1980, it was the first basket scored in the history of the Dallas Mavericks expansion franchise and the crowd of 10,373 at old Reunion Arena went wild.

Jeelani, 62, died Wednesday night, according to the Racine Journal Times.

“Absolutely one of the highlights of my career,” Jeelani told the Dallas Morning News in 2011. “For a journeyman like myself, that’s like the Hall of Fame, to be forever linked to a franchise in such a manner.”

From Dirk Nowitzki to Steve Nash to Mark Aguirre to Detlef Schrempf to Austin Carr to Rolando Blackman to Brad Davis, there have been plenty of big buckets made in Mavs history. But only Jeelani could carry the distinction of the first.

It was part of a two-year NBA career that saw him play one season each in Portland and Dallas, but it helped carry Jeelani through a continued professional career in Europe then a difficult post-playing life that included alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, diabetes and cancer.

“That certainly wasn’t in my plans,” Jeelani said. “To say that you have nowhere to go. To say you don’t have any keys to your own place, that you have to depend on the generosity of others to house and feed you.”

Born Gary Cole on Feb. 10, 1954 in Bells, Tenn., the 6-foot-8 forward graduated from Park High School in Racine in 1972. He went on to earn NAIA All-America honors in college at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1975 and ’75.

Jeelani was chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliersin the third round of the 1976 draft, he was the last pick in that year’s Draft and was waived before the regular season. He was signed by the Detroit Pistons in September 1977, but waived prior to that season. He played three seasons in Italy before catching on in 1979 and then moved to Dallas in the expansion draft in 1980. After the one season with the Mavs, he signed a four-year contract worth $750,000 to return to Italy with Liberto Livorno.

It was after his playing career when Jeelani reportedly became addicted to drugs and alcohol in the 1990s amid turmoil in his personal life.

Jameel Ghuari, a high school and college teammate of Jeelani, told the Journal Times: “To me, he was easily the best scorer to ever come out of Racine. Scoring for him was such a natural thing.”

No bucket ever meant more than the one that gave Jeelani unique his place in Mavericks history.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stoudemire reflects on Knicks heyday | Wade says James was surprised Wade got on open market | Anthony steps up as leader for Team USA

No. 1: Stoudemire reflects on career, Knicks heyday — While his NBA playing days officially ended last week, former All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ready to hang it up altogether just yet. In a news conference with the New York Knicks yesterday, Stoudemire announced he will be playing for a team in Israel next year. Before that next chapter begins, Stoudemire took time to pen an essay about his career on The Players Tribune in which he remembered his Knicks days, playing along side Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal and more:

It was December 15, 2010. I had just scored 30 or more points for the ninth straight game — a Knicks record. Madison Square Garden was alive — I mean alive— cheering for me, cheering for us. I’d never heard anything like it. I’d never heard love like that before. For the first time in a long time, the Knicks were a team to be reckoned with. We lost by two that night (and only after my three had been waived off at the buzzer) to the Celtics. But more importantly, there was an awakening. Not just in MSG, but in the entire city.

Everyone was going to our games. And if they couldn’t go to the games, they were going to bars to watch them. People were enjoying themselves before and partying after. I swear we single-handedly revived New York’s economy. We were rock stars — me and Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and the rest of the team. Obviously, being celebrities wasn’t our job. It was fun, but our No. 1 job was to be great basketball players — to win. Still, you can’t beat being a rock star.

Millions of kids dream of playing in the NBA. Not many make it there. An even smaller number get to hear thousands of people chant “M-V-P!”

Let’s start with where it all started, in Phoenix, with Stephon Marbury. I was his rookie. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Too many people forget that he was an All-Star, a max-contract player. For a player that great to take me under his wing, it just meant so much to me.

Then there’s Steve Nash. Before he arrived, we already had a pretty strong nucleus in myself, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa. When we brought Steve on board, we reached a whole new level. Everyone else fed off him. Once you have a pass-first point guard, a guy who just focuses on getting the ball to where it needs to be —who’s just making his teammates better — it opens up the entire game.

We redefined the game of basketball. Before us, the center position was more like Shaq or Karl Malone. We didn’t have that size, but we had speed. Mike D’Antoni made a decision to go small. Teams weren’t ready for it. They weren’t ready for Seven Seconds or Less.

I don’t know how Steve made some of those passes. In the heat of the moment on the court, you don’t really appreciate a great pass. But once I got a chance to watch the replay, either on the jumbotron or in film sessions, I’d go up to him and say, “That was a hell of a pass!”

Steve was one of the best passers and shooters the game has ever seen, and I had the best seat in the house to watch him work. Steve took my game to a whole new level. He showed me what it meant to be a leader.

Can’t forget about the big fella, neither: Shaq. I idolized him growing up. And I got to play with him in Phoenix in ’08 and ’09. We did work, too. I was putting up insane numbers thanks to him and all the attention teams had to give him.

I got to play a bit this year with Dwyane Wade, yet another Hall of Famer. He keeps his dribble so low to the ground, and he’s deceptively quick.

Last, but definitely not least, Carmelo Anthony. I think he’s the best pure scorer in the NBA. It just comes so easy to him. When he’s at his best, he’s playing an entirely different game than the rest of us. That night when he scored 62 at the Garden, that was easy for him. He could have gotten 70, maybe more. He just flowed out there on the court. That’s what the game is all about, getting to a level like Carmelo is on. When a great player performs like that, it’s fun to watch. I should know, I was there.

***

No. 2: Wade says LeBron couldn’t believe Wade entered free agency — After spending his entire career with the Miami Heat, guard Dwyane Wade will spend next season with the Chicago Bulls after signing with them in free agency. The move stunned many across the NBA as Wade was perhaps the player most associated with the Heat in franchise history. In an interview with ESPN over the weekend, Wade revealed how his choice went down and how one former teammate was stunned Wade was even allowed to get to that point in free agency. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:

Dwyane Wade essentially condensed his decision to leave the Miami Heat into eight words during an interview that aired Sunday on ESPN: “They made a choice; I made a choice.”

And yet, with those eight words, clarity, more than three weeks after his decision to depart for the Chicago Bulls in NBA free agency, remained in limited regarding the end of his 13-year tenure with the team that drafted him in 2003.

“My time, the clock ticked out on me,” Wade said in the interview recorded in the wake of his Friday introduction to the media at the Bulls’ practice facility. “And whether they felt it, whether they wanted to do it, I did. And I respectfully walk away saying I tip my hat to their organization and to the city for embracing me and giving me the platform to be great. And I did that. I was great. It will always be there. But I’ve got more things to do.”

Between Wade’s departure from the Heat and introduction in Chicago, Heat President Pat Riley said of not taking an active involvement in the negotiations, “The buck really stops here. I’m not trying to fall on the sword for anybody. I have great regret that I didn’t put myself in the middle of it.”

Wade’s response in the ESPN interview after that quote was read to him was, “We all have choices. We make our choices.”

As he previously had done, Wade did not cast it as a clash of personalities with Riley.

“I respect Pat Riley to the fullest for what he’s done in this game, you know, drafting me, when a lot of people didn’t believe I was going to be as great as I’ve become,” he said. “But in this situation, we all have choices. So we choose not to put ourselves in the situation. He wasn’t the sole reason I left at all, but it was his choice.”

 

…Wade also reflected on being on vacation in Spain with former Heat teammate LeBron James and their mutual friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers guard, amid his free-agency issues with the Heat.

“I think they were in disbelief that I didn’t have any deal that I wanted,” he said. “They just were, ‘Why are you even a free agent? You shouldn’t even be.’ ”

He added of that time alongside James, who was coming off his NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. and Paul, “The biggest thing that came back from both of them was, ‘Follow your heart. Whatever you want you want to do, we’re going to support, we’re your friends. But there’s a reason you’re having these thoughts: follow your heart.’ “

***

No. 3: Anthony becomes leader of Team USA — The U.S. men’s national team wrapped up its exhibition schedule last night with a 110-66 romp against Nigeria in Houston. That moved Team USA to a perfect 5-0 in the warm-up portion of its schedule for the 2016 Olympics in Rio where the team will be the decided favorites against the rest of the field. Our Fran Blinebury was on hand last night and reports on how Carmelo Anthony is driving this current quest for gold:

Put the basketball into Carmelo Anthony‘s hands and it’s like watching a bird fly, a fish swim.

He knows what to do and how to do it and, to listen to him after Team USA closed out its cruising-over-America tour Monday night and now heads off to Rio for his fourth Olympic Games, there’s nothing new to see.

“I think (my role) is the same,” Anthony said after his 19 points led the way in a 110-66 thumping of Nigeria. “I think it’s to go out there to be myself and not be nobody else. Not try to do more than I have to. You do a little bit of a lot when it comes down to it. I feel comfortable in these situations, regardless of what type of game or style of play that these teams are going to bring to us. I think I’ve seen it all over all the years.”

A 20-year-old Anthony was there for the three-loss bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens that led to the total revamping of the USA Basketball program and he was there for the painful semifinal loss to Greece in the first year of the new regime at the 2006 World Championship in Japan.

Now that he’s 32 and the de facto leader of a roster that consists of so many new faces to the whole international atmosphere, it’s as if he has blossomed fully.

“The leadership comes natural to me,” Anthony said. “People are putting a lot on it because the whole world is seeing it. For me, I do this every day. It’s natural for me. It’s genuine. It’s nothing that I’m forcing myself to do. I do it every day all day. I’m the same person. I’m the same guy. Now it’s just more visible to you (media) guys because you’re seeing it a little more on my own team every season. There’s more cameras in practice now. We have practice that’s open and you guys have a chance to see how we react with one another. I think that’s the difference. I think you guys are starting to see more of me doing that rather than all through the season.”

While some of that may be true, there are signs even to some of his teammates that Anthony embraces the mantle of leader.

“Oh, he’s the guy that’s been there so much before,” said center DeMarcus Cousins. “We would all be foolish if we didn’t go to him, learn from him, lean on him as we take on this challenge. He knows the ups and downs, the little differences from this kind of game to what we all play in the NBA and those can pay off for us as we go through this.”

“Carmelo’s been sensational really as a leader and as a player, too,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This is his fourth Olympics and his fifth USA competition. For him to use his experience. He wants everyone to be good. He knows us. He knows the international game and everyone on the team respects him. I think he’s been terrific. I thought he would be good and he’s been better. Because he’s a smart guy and he gets it.”

“I actually feel excited about the journey we’re about to take on. A new group of guys. A much younger group of guys. Before I was one of the young guys and now I’m one of the older guys on the team that has been around a couple of times. For me, knowing that we have an opportunity to do something special with a new group of guys, new faces of our country, to be a part of it, I’m excited about that.”

“I think the whole experience has helped him, even playing-wise,” said Krzyzewski. “His toughness is even better. We’re lucky that he’s with us.”

Some things change, even they won’t admit it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Two former NBA centers chime in on the NBA retirees’ health insurance planAndrew Bogut wasn’t exactly thrilled about the lodgings in Rio … Former Sixth Man of the Year winner Ben Gordon is taking a long road to get back to the NBA

Morning shootaround — April 2




VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors’ home streak snapped | Lakers try to heal No. 2 | Morris lost trust | Barea delivers for Mavs | Rookie fires back at Durant

No. 1: Celtics take down Warriors — After setting an NBA record with 54 consecutive home wins, going undefeated at Oracle for more than 14 months, dominating many visitors and wriggling off the hook in handfuls of other testy situations, what did the Warriors do when they were finally beaten on their home court by the Celtics Friday night? Applaud, of course. That was the reaction of Golden State coach Steve Kerr as a tribute to both the Celtics’ effort and to the historic feat that had been accomplished by his own team in establishing such a run of dominance. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle was there to document the end of the streak:

“I congratulated them,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after one of the quickest postgame locker room meetings of the season. “Are you kidding me? We won 54 home games in a row. What our guys have accomplished is incredible. I don’t know if people understand the intensity and the work that it takes to put together a streak like that.

“To compete night in and night out, when you’re worn out, it takes a lot out of you — especially when every game is the opponent’s biggest game. People are coming after us. I told the guys how proud I am of putting together an amazing streak.”

The Warriors (68-8) were the first team among the four major professional sports leagues to reel off a home streak of 50 games, and they were five games from becoming the first NBA team to finish an undefeated home season.

They hadn’t lost at home in the regular season since Jan. 27, 2015, when Chicago knocked them off in overtime. The Warriors now need to win five of their final six games to break the NBA’s single-season victories record, which was established by the Bulls in 1995-96.

Despite being down nine points with fewer than 5½ minutes to play, it looked briefly as though the Warriors might at least send Friday’s game into overtime. Trailing 109-106, Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes missed game-tying three-pointers in the closing seconds.

“We’ve gotten away with some games that we probably shouldn’t have won on shots like that,” Curry said. “Tonight, it wasn’t our time.”

***

No. 2: Russell and Young trying to pick up the pieces — While a forgettable season inexorably winds down to the end of Kobe Bryant’s career, the Lakers are trying to move past the unforgettable controversy involving rookie D’Angelo Russell and teammate Nick Young. Russell, who secretly videotaped a private conversation with his teammate, said he’s giving Young his space to let the festering wounds heal, but added that he would have been willing to defend himself if it had come to that. Bill Oram of the Orange County Register has the details:

Russell has been contrite and poised when addressing the awkward situation. But if the issue had escalated to more than a verbal altercation?
“I’d get physical back,” he said.

Russell said he and Young have tried to solve their problems “the right way,” and that the issues in the locker room never got to the point of violence, “but if it does you’ve got to deal with the consequences.”

Russell and Young both practiced Friday, (coach Byron) Scott said. It remains unclear how willing to forgive Young is, with various gossip outlets reporting that his engagement to Australian rap star Iggy Azalea is on the brink of collapse.

“It’s kind of at this point where you need your space,” Russell said, “and you can’t force peace if it’s not there. You’ve got to let the time heal it.”

Scott said he did not know what would happen to Russell’s relationship with Young, who is under contract for two more seasons. Before the video surfaced last week, the two were exceptionally close, with Russell among those attending a birthday party for Young’s son.

“Will they ever be buddy-buddy again?” Scott said. “I don’t know. But they do have to coexist as long as they’re both here, and I think they can.”

***

No. 3: Morris says he could no longer trust Suns — Before going out and scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help the struggling Wizards keep their Eastern Conference playoff hopes alive, Markieff Morris took the occasion of his return to the desert to say he wanted out of Phoenix because he just didn’t trust the Suns any longer. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic caught up to Morris:

“I always felt free to play,” Morris said before his first game against the Suns, his NBA home for 4 ½ seasons. “It was just tough to do certain things with no trust and play for people that you really don’t trust.”
Morris would not specify whom he mistrusted.

“I ain’t getting into that but I’m happy where I am now,” Morris said. “I look back on the happy years I had here. It was definitely a great time.”

Morris, 26, was considered a key building block for the Suns and he backed up that assertion by improving his play annually. He became a candidate for the NBA Sixth Man Award and NBA Most Improved Player and was empowered as a future leader of the franchise.

When an assertion was made that the Suns traded their best player in February 2015, Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough contented that the Suns’ best players – Morris and Eric Bledsoe – were still on the roster.
“I’ve seen this play out before,” Morris said. “There have been a couple players I’ve been here with that have been the best players on the team that came back next year in a new uniform so it’s nothing new.”

During Morris’ tenure, Goran Dragic asked to be traded because he was disgruntled, Isaiah Thomas was traded because he was not content with his role and Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Channing Frye said they wanted to stay in Phoenix before negotiations soured them on returning.

“I’ve seen so many do it,” Morris said. “I just didn’t think it would be me like that but it is what it is.”

Morris was traded to Washington in February for the Wizards’ first-round draft pick, which conveys to Phoenix if it is No. 10 or lower. The draft slot is working out ideally for the Suns with Washington currently slotted at No. 12 unless long-shot draft lottery odds changed that.

***

No. 4: Barea leads another big Mavs win — Point guard J.J. Barea spent Thursday back at home in the Dallas area for the birth of his daughter, but arrived at The Palace of Auburn Hills in time to deliver another clutch performance that keeps the Mavericks in the thick of the tight Western Conference playoff race. Barea has been on a scoring tear of late and Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News was on hand to see the latest outburst:

What the Mavericks did have going for them was J. J. Barea, who continued one of his hottest streaks of his career with 29 points. He’s averaged 24 points in the three-game winning streak and this game came after he was in Plano Thursday for the birth of his daughter, Paulina Barea Ortiz.

“One of the best (weeks) ever,” Barea said. “My daughter’s healthy and everybody’s happy and we’re winning some games. I’m playing pretty good. Other than 2011 championship week, this is pretty good.”

Barea’s play was crucial. He had a huge second quarter when the Mavericks scored 15 consecutive points to go up 40-25.

Detroit, playing their ninth consecutive home game, came back to tie the game at 58 in the third quarter.

Barea refused to go down, however. His 3-pointer and midrange jumper rebuilt the Mavericks’ advantage to 86-79. The Pistons hung around, but Wesley Matthews’ three-point play with 2:38 to go made it 93-85 and the Mavericks walked out of the Palace at Auburn Hills winners for the fifth season in a row.

It was against some tough odds with only Barea and Devin Harris available at point guard.

“Our guys are dropping like flies,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Hopefully Ray will be OK. J.J. flew in today and was big for us. I thought defensively we played a solid game. It was a big win for us with some key guys out.”

On Barea, coach Rick Carlisle added: “He was tremendous. We’re all very happy for him. He’s got to be really happy and I think there was probably a little inspiration seeing his daughter come into the world. It’s a great day.”

This also was the third consecutive game that the Mavericks have held an opponent under 90 points, easily a first for this season. Zaza Pachulia and Salah Mejri also had a nice defensive night against Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ dominant big man who had 17 rebounds, but only 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

“A combination of (a slower) offensive tempo and defensive intensity,” Carlisle said about what’s brought about the defensive uptick. “The guys are buying into a style of play that puts us in a better position to defend. Going forward, sometimes, we got to go a little faster, sometimes we got to tempo it down. We’re trying to do whatever it takes.

***

No. 5:Pistons rookie “not scared” of K.D. — The war of words continues between the Pistons and Thunder. First the OKC players didn’t like the way their former teammate Reggie Jackson celebrated a bit too much after a win on their home floor. First Russell Westbrook and then Kevin Durant expressed their displeasure. Now it is Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson who is fanning the flames in the verbal skirmish as he fires back at Durant, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

At first, Stanley Johnson could see the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point.

Maybe teammate Reggie Jackson enjoyed himself a bit too much toward the end of the Detroit Pistons’ 88-82 victory Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

But things changed when he read the comments from Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who said “I wanted to play against Detroit, for sure, but you know, it’s Detroit. Who cares about Detroit?” to explain his reasoning for skipping the game.

Johnson said such comments were “uncalled for” and said Durant “disrespected” the franchise.

“If he wanted to have an impact on the game, he should have just played,” Johnson said after this morning’s shootaround.

He continued.

“No one is scared of playing against him on this side of town,” Johnson said. “Next year we have two games scheduled, and I know, for me, it’s circled on my schedule from now on.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James moved ahead of Oscar Robertson for 11th place on the all-time scoring list … Isaiah Thomas is wasting no time making his mark on the Celtics … Keith Smart hopes to return to Heat soon following battle with cancer … Festus Ezeli gets his April Fools Day revenge on Andre Iguodala … Obscene gesture costs Lakers’ Julius Randle $15K … Steve Kerr’s attempt at humor falls flat in Warriors locker room … NBA veteran Terry Porter takes over as new head coach at University of Portland.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs air grievances in players-only meeting | Report: Nash passing on full-time coaching for now | Scott defends Russell’s minutes limit

No. 1: Report: Cavs held players-only meeting after Blatt ouster — To date, the players-only meeting has been employed in two NBA cites — Sacramento and Washington — and was done in Cleveland, too, just last week. That’s the word from ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe, who report the meeting was an airing of grievances/accountability session took place shortly after coach David Blatt was fired and that it has been one of the big reasons behind the Cavs’ play of late:

Following a meeting called by general manager David Griffin to inform the team that coach David Blatt had been fired, Cavs players held an extended and spirited players-only meeting, sources told ESPN.com. It turned into an airing of grievances, including stars LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but eventually led to an agreement that has been a basis for the Cavs’ recent strong play.

“It was like ripping off a scab,” one team source said. “And it was exactly what needed to happen. I think it was what [Griffin] was hoping for.”

Said another source: “It was very healthy for the team. It probably needed to happen weeks ago.”

A central issue in the discussion, sources said, was the need for accountability within the team. One of the issues that was keeping the team from enjoying some of the successes of the season was the different set of rules for some players compared to others.

In what could turn out to be a key moment in their tenures together, James, Irving and Love came to an understanding that they needed to police each other on certain matters and use their influence within the team to set a standard for accountability, sources said. That was frequently a missing component over the past season and a half, sometimes creating friction.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin that James, Irving and Love led the conversation, owning up to personal faults and using the open forum to express what they expected out of their teammates.

“It’s the type of conversation that only comes out when it’s time for that conversation, if you know what I mean,” a source said. The discussion got contentious at times, though sources said that it was expected.

Veteran James Jones played a key role in the gathering, both in bringing the players together and encouraging discussion, sources told McMenamin. Jones, whom players call by his nickname, “Champ,” carries significant respect in the locker room.

Griffin asked Jones to organize the meeting. Players were told they were being called together to report to the Cavs’ practice facility on their off day for a team matter. After Griffin addressed the team for 15 minutes and told them Tyronn Lue was being promoted to head coach, the players stayed and discussed matters for around an hour. Lue did not address the team until the following morning at shootaround.

***

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr getting closer to return | Report: Nash, Sarver to buy Spanish soccer team | Early opens up about robbery, shooting | Time for Kings, Cousins to shape up

No. 1: Kerr getting closer to return to Warriors’ bench — Last year couldn’t have gone much better for the Golden State Warriors. Not only did they close out the 2015 portion of this season with an NBA-best 30-2 mark, but they finished with the second-most wins in a calendar year in NBA history, too. Last night, they handled the Houston Rockets on the road in a game that may very well have been interim coach Luke Walton‘s finale as the lead man. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more on coach Steve Kerr potentially returning to the bench this weekend:

Head coach Steve Kerr, who has been on a leave of absence while recovering from two offseason back surgeries and a spinal fluid leak, traveled with the team for its back-to-back set in Dallas and Houston — something he hadn’t done since the Warriors played at the Clippers on Nov. 19.

During the 17-day home span before the Texas two-step, Kerr was more involved in practices and game-planning. He even addressed the team after Monday’s sloppy first half against Sacramento.

Most signs are pointing toward Kerr’s return to the bench in the near future, maybe even Saturday for a home game against Denver.

Walton said Kerr wanted to make the trip to see how his body and mind would respond to the travel and because he was going stir crazy when the team was on the road.

“He seems good,” Walton said. “He’s in good spirits. He’s furious at me for getting him another loss (Wednesday) night, but other than that, he seems like he’s handling it pretty well.

“If it is (my last game), it was a lot of fun. I’ll be thrilled to have Steve back coaching us again, but I haven’t spent any time thinking about this possibly being my last game as head coach.”

The Warriors responded to their 114-91 loss in Dallas on Wednesday by getting contributions from nine of their 10 healthy players. Stephen Curry (lower leg) and Festus Ezeli (toe) missed their second consecutive games, and Leandro Barbosa(shoulder), Harrison Barnes (ankle) and Kevon Looney (hip) were left in the Bay Area to continue their recoveries.

The Warriors (30-2) haven’t lost consecutive regular-season games since April 5 at San Antonio and April 7 at New Orleans, and they seemed determined not to let it happen again.

 

“I can’t wait to have Steve back. When he’s back in the gym, we’re on extra edge, because it’s like, ‘Oh shoot, we don’t want to disappoint Coach,’” Klay Thompson said. “When he does come back — whenever that is — I hope he gets a huge ovation, because he’s the one who puts this all together.…

“Shoot, this won’t be Luke’s last game as a head coach. He’s got a great future in this league. His record exemplifies that, and he’s a lot of fun to play for. He keeps it light around here, but we also respect his knowledge. There’s a reason we’re 30-2.”


VIDEO: Golden State handles Houston on the road

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: Friday night’s Fast Break, recapping a 12-game night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Brad Stevens doing work for the Celtics | Sixers hope Mike D’Antoni helps trigger a change in culture | Zach Randolph still believes in the aging and suddenly average Grizzlies | Steph Curry likes 5 Warriors for All-Stars?

No. 1: Brad Stevens is doing work for the Celtics — The Celtics are playing well and winning games and doing it without a certified star, although Isaiah Thomas might have a vice grip on Best Sixth Man in the league. Anyway, when Brad Stevens was hired away from Butler, there were the usual doubts about whether a college coach could make a smooth transition to a league where their voice and presence doesn’t carry as much weight, and where dealing with men is a lot different than 19-year-olds. Well, Stevens is clearly an asset for the Celtics; almost everyone would agree to that. Here’s Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe on what makes Stevens tick:

There was a reason the Celtics brass secretly traveled to Indianapolis 3½ years ago to negotiate with Brad Stevens, their longtime target as a successor to Doc Rivers.

There was a reason they left Indiana ecstatic about signing Butler’s coach to a six-year, $22 million contract to become the Celtics’ coach, even though he was an NBA neophyte who had never even coached a summer league game.

They knew Stevens had a humility and passion for the job and not a sense of entitlement. He was not like Rick Pitino or John Calipari, who came to the NBA from the college ranks feeling as though their mere presence was going to change the landscape of the professional game.

Stevens was more about substance than style. He was an evenhanded technician and teacher of the game, constantly searching for methods to give his team an advantage.

His search for those edges, ways to get extra possessions, creative times to call timeouts, and his constant tinkering with lineups has led the Celtics to their resurgence. Following Cleveland’s 89-77 victory over the Celtics Tuesday night at TD Garden, Stevens’ performance left LeBron James to remark, simply, “They’re a well-coached team.”

But Stevens’ search for these advantages has been a process of trial and error.

In Wednesday night’s 119-116 loss at Detroit, the Celtics were in the midst of a rally when Stevens decided to cap the surge by intentionally fouling one of the Pistons’ poorer free throw shooters, one of his favorite tools.

The Pistons had the ball and a 106-102 lead with 2:54 left when Stevens called for Isaiah Thomas to intentionally foul Reggie Jackson. It created an inbounds situation where Stevens planned to intentionally foul Andre Drummond, a 36.8 percent free throw shooter, before the inbounds pass.

With more than two minutes left in the game, that strategy would have merely resulted in two free throws. Since the chances of Drummond hitting both free throws were minimal, the Celtics would have received the ball back facing perhaps a 5-point deficit.

Stevens’ plans were foiled when Jackson spun and fired a 3-pointer. The shot had no chance, but that didn’t deter the officials from rewarding him a trip to the foul line for three free throws. It didn’t necessarily ruin the Celtics’ chances of winning, but it certainly did hinder them.

Conventional thinkers might have asked why Stevens didn’t just just bank on his team getting a defensive stop, a defensive rebound, instead of relying on intentional fouls.

The Celtics’ defense has shown — although not Wednesday — it is good enough to make consistent stops.

But Stevens is not conventional. He has devised some inventive ways to create extra possessions or limit opponents to zero or 1-point possessions instead of potentially 3.

***

No. 2: Sixers hope Mike D’Antoni helps trigger a change in culture The Sixers lost again Friday and are seemingly speeding toward another year of infamy. But when Jerry Colangelo assumed a measure of front office control a few weeks ago, one of his priorities was to make sure the coaching staff was ripe for the challenge. So he brought in Mike D’Antoni to serve as the top assistant to Brett Brown (who was given a contract extension). The idea was to not only help Brown’s offense, but lend an experienced presence to a basketball operation that desperately needed one. Ken Berger of CBS Sports likes the idea:

“I’m definitely exploring everything,” D’Antoni told me recently. “I’m really at ease, but at the same time I do clinics and watch teams, talk to teams, try to get better as a coach see what happens. I can only control what I can control.”

The Sixers’ hodge-podge of point guards will no doubt benefit from D’Antoni’s counsel; there has perhaps never been a more point guard-friendly coach in the sport. So, too, will budding star Jahlil Okafor, who at this early stage certainly has all the physical tools to be an elite offensive force. What he’s been lacking is leadership, and the Sixers finally have someone who exudes credibility besides Brown.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it odd that D’Antoni will be sitting one seat over from Brown, who came to Philly from Gregg Popovich’s bench in San Antonio. If not for the Spurs, D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns might’ve had the championship that would have, in some eyes, validated D’Antoni’s genius. That honor went belatedly to the Warriors, who rode something D’Antoni never had in Phoenix (an elite defense) and the pillars of his offensive playbook to their first NBA title in 40 years last season.

“I can tell you right now, I’m a huge disciple of Mike’s and what he did offensively,” said Alvin Gentry, D’Antoni’s former assistant in Phoenix who ran the Warriors’ offense last season and now is the head coach in New Orleans. “I think he changed the NBA, if you want to know the truth. If you go back and look and see what happened in 2004 and ’05, nobody was playing like that. Nobody thought you could be successful playing like that. And we got all the way to the Western Conference Finals and lost to the eventual champion. And the next year, we lost to the eventual champion. And the next year, we lost to the eventual champion …”

Nobody is thinking championship in Philadelphia, as a painful rebuilding process has accounted for lots of draft picks and assets but only 38 wins across three seasons — including a 1-26 record this season. After a dozen more losses or so, D’Antoni might find himself longing for a one-stroke penalty to get out of the woods at the Greenbrier.

But the Sixers do have people with track records in positions of power, and cap room and first-round picks as far as the eye can see. The impact of the latest addition to the hierarchy will be measured with a calendar, not a shot clock, but it’s reasonable to wonder if the Sixers finally have some hope.

***

No. 3: Zach Randolph still likes the Grizzlies There were two teams that gave the champion Warriors fits in the postseason last summer: The Cavaliers and Grizzlies. One of those teams is still among the elite and would likely have an even greater chokehold on the East if Kyrie Irving were healthy. The other team has reached a fork in the road. The Grizzlies are still true to their grit and grind but has that style, which helped Memphis assume a 2-1 lead against the Warriors in a best of seven, turned obsolete? Or will the Grizzlies eventually overcome their Achilles heel — outside shooting — and once again use defense and toughness to advance in the playoffs. Here’s a decent Q&A with Zach Randolph by Scoop Jackson of ESPN:

Scoop Jackson: You all are hard to figure out. From game to game, you all can look like totally different teams. Can you put your finger on this team?

Zach Randolph: Man … not being the prettiest team, not being the most athletic team, not the best shooting team, I think it’s our heart. That’s what defines us, that’s who we are. It’s our grit and our grind. Honestly. That’s how we started, that’s how we started winning, that’s how we are going to win.

I came here, and we started changing the organization around. That’s that grit and grind and hard work and believing, man. You forget there was a time when nobody believed in us, counted us out. People used to think of the Memphis Grizzlies, they’d be like, “Ah, they ain’t nobody.” And now, even when we lose, it’s not like that anymore.

Scoop: That’s expectations. That happens to every team once the culture of the organization starts changing. Have you grown along with those expectations?

Randolph: In our minds everybody still counts us out, but we still believe in ourselves. Even though we haven’t been playing our best, the way we want to play, the season is still early. We still believe that we are one of the best teams in the league. We believe that. But we have to accomplish that [on the court]. Our confidence is high. We know we can compete with anybody.

Scoop: It’s just a matter of proving it.

Randolph: That’s all it is, man.

Scoop: What’s the fundamental difference in you all now than, say, two seasons ago — let’s go there — since Rudy [Gay] has been gone and since Lionel [Hollins] has been gone?

Randolph: I think our maturity and being together. You know that core being together so long — me and Marc [Gasol], then Mike [Conley] and TA [Tony Allen]. And everyone’s work ethic has improved.

***

No. 4: Steph Curry likes 5 Warriors for All-Stars? — One of the fringe benefits of having the best record in the NBA is supposed to be realized in February when the All-Star Game rolls in. Last season, the Atlanta Hawks ran the table for an entire month and saw their starting five named as Players of the Month, and then four members of the team suit up for the All-Star Game. Well, Steph Curry wants to do one better — and who could blame him? — and put 5 Warriors in the All-Star Game. Far-fetched? Well, we probably can count on at least three. Five might be a stretch, but, well, stranger things have happened. Here’s Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News …

Stephen Curry wonders if there should be a ceiling for the 25-1 Warriors.

“Why not five?” he said.

All-Star voting has begun and MVP Curry is a sure thing a year after being the leading overall vote-getter. Backcourt mate Klay Thompson also made the Western Conference team last year, and do-everything forward Draymond Green seems like a strong candidate.

“The way they we play, every given night we all want to have an impact on the game,” Curry said. “Stats may look a certain way and you can make judgments off of that. But when a team goes 25-1, and hopefully we keep that trajectory going, hopefully individual guys are recognized for what they mean to the team.”

Curry said Green — who is averaging 14.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.1 assists and shares the NBA lead with four triple-doubles — now has the respect of fans across the country.

“It means a lot to have the support of fans, but the importance for him is we’re winning games and he’s helping us do that,” Curry said. “Whatever comes of that is just a bonus.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ellie Day, the wife of professional golfer Jason Day, is out of the hospital and doing fine. She holds nothing against LeBron James, who crashed into her sitting courtside and sent her to the hospital on a stretcher … So what’s the story about Justin Bieber getting baptized at Tyson Chandler‘s house?Stan Van Gundy likes where the Pistons are headed, even though his team is tired after a 4-OT win over the Bulls … Steve Nash is lending a helping hand to Klay ThompsonMeyers Leonard is in a serious slump in Portland …

Morning shootaround — Nov. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant closing in on return | Nash lauds Curry’s play to date | Ainge: McHale has a ‘spot’ with Celtics

No. 1: Durant closing in on return to lineup — Oklahoma City Thunder star forward Kevin Durant hasn’t played in the last four games, but OKC has held down the fort pretty well in his absence. They are 2-2 in that stretch after last night’s win against the New Orleans Pelicans and may not have much longer to go until Durant returns to the fold. The Oklahoman‘s Erik Horne has more:

Kevin Durant looks like he’s getting closer to making a return to the court with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

A week after he was diagnosed with a left hamstring strain, Durant was seen after Thunder practice Wednesday taking some jump shots and showing more mobility than the last time we saw him on the practice court late last week. Last week, Durant was only seen taking a few set shots, but on Wednesday, he went through a series of drills with assistant coaches Monty Williams and Royal Ivey.

In addition to jumpers, Durant also went through a drill with Ivey and Williams in which he had to beat the double team while dribbling from halfcourt then pull up for a 3-pointer in transition. Williams and Ivey also did some light jogging with Durant the length of the court.

“I hadn’t really talked to anybody medically about him,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think he’s doing more than certainly he was a week ago. How close he is to being able to return, I’m not really sure; I haven’t been updated on that, but I know that he’s doing more physically just me watching and seeing what’s happened over the last week.”

The Thunder initially said last Wednesday that Durant would be re-evaluated in seven-to-10 days following the MRI on his strained hamstring.

“Looking good,” Anthony Morrow said of Durant. “Looks like Kevin Durant.

“I think that our staff is doing a good job with him. He’s doing a great job of being patient. I’m glad to see him getting up shots, taking it one day at a time. One thing he’s doing is really staying in guys’ ear, even from the sideline when he’s out. To me, that’s a sign of growth and leadership. He’s doing that even more so than last year.”

Durant’s return could come in the next two games. The Thunder plays the New York Knicks on Friday and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, both at Chesapeake Energy Arena.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook discusses OKC’s win against New Orleans

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Oct. 31


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench | Brook Lopez is strictly a post player but an all-around person | Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC | A Q and A with Gordon Hayward

No. 1: Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench — The Bulls are looking a bit different under new coach Fred Hoiberg than they did under Tom Thibodeau. Specifically, Joakim Noah isn’t starting. As the Bulls try something new, there was a bit of a mixup. Did Hoiberg tell Noah to be a sixth man, or did Noah volunteer? The center set the record straight, when asked if he took himself out of the starting lineup: “No.” Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has further details:

The topic has been hovering around the Bulls since training camp, as Hoiberg explored all his options and ultimately decided to insert second-year big man Nikola Mirotic into the starting lineup on opening night instead of Noah. The story line came back to light on Thursday when a Hoiberg Q-and-A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe was posted. In the exchange, Hoiberg said Noah was the one who started the conversation about coming off the bench this season.

“Jo actually came to me and talked to me about that,” Hoiberg told Lowe. “He said, basically, ‘I’ve always played well with Taj [Gibson].’ He said he thought Niko and Pau played very well together, so let’s go that route. It was actually Jo that started the whole conversation. He came to me. That says a lot about him.”

Before the Bulls’ 98-94 overtime loss at Detroit on Friday, Hoiberg said he didn’t feel a need to clear the air with Noah.

“Did he specifically say I want to come off the bench? No. Nobody wants to come off the bench, but it’s the decision that we came up with,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been great. He’s been as enthusiastic as anybody over there on the bench when he’s not in the game, and he’s always going to bring it when he’s on the floor, so no, things are fine.”

For his part, Noah has never seemed outwardly angry about what’s going on and doesn’t want to rock the boat as a team leader.

He has struggled in his first two games off the bench to find his rhythm, though, failing to register a point. Noah does have 15 rebounds and six assists in his first two games and appears to be feeling good after struggling with the effects of offseason left knee surgery a year ago.

“I just want to do what’s best for the team,” Noah said. “I think we’re 2-0 right now. We still have a lot of room for improvement. What I said doesn’t matter. I think right now we’re doing what’s best for the team, and we just got to keep building off that.”

***

No. 2: Brook Lopez is an all-around person — The Renaissance man of New York works in Brooklyn and stands over seven feet tall. They don’t come more educated or diverse than Brook Lopez, the Nets’ center who might be one of the bright spots for the rebuilding team this season. The former All-Star opened up recently about his upbringing, his twin brother Robin (who plays across town with the Knicks) and his passion for many things. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York was there to write it all down:

He reads. He writes. He sketches. He loves Batman comic books, Disney movies and Michael Jackson’s music.

He already has pitched an animated television pilot, politicked to play a Wookiee in a future Star Wars picture and hopes to pen an action-adventure novel someday.

Oh, and you likely didn’t know, Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez is also learning to play the piano and speak Japanese.

Yes, Japanese.

“I always go to Japan in the offseason, so I’m trying to get better at it,” Lopez told ESPN.com recently, noting that he’s also working on learning “the Kanji,” Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.

“I know some words. I’m getting there.”

Basically, if Lopez isn’t the most fascinating man in the NBA, he’s certainly up there. His best competition might be his own 7-foot twin brother Robin, who now plays for the rival New York Knicks.

Brook Lopez made up his mind pretty early on — he was going to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

“I can remember in second grade coming back from school and telling my mom, ‘You know what, before I play in the NBA, I want to go to Stanford,'” Lopez said. “Because of her, I had everything figured out.”

To her comic book aficionado sons, Deborah Ledford might as well have been Wonder Woman, raising the four of them — Alex, Chris, Brook and Robin — as a single mother on a high school mathematics teacher’s salary.

“She sacrificed so much for us,” Brook said. “She’d always be driving Alex and Chris around, getting them to basketball practice, and then she’d go pick them up and get Robin and me to wherever we needed to be. She was constantly chaffeuring us around. And then she’d get groceries for us and come back with bags upon bags upon bags, just loads and loads, and they’d last for like…two days.”

At 6-feet, Ledford had flirted with swimming in the 1968 Olympics before not making the squad and eventually attending Stanford herself.

“Our mom used to read to us every night,” said Chris, who has lived with Brook in New Jersey ever since he was selected by the Nets with the No. 10 overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft.

“And she just went through a plethora of children’s books and stories, so that was instilled in us from an early age.”

The Lopez’s maternal grandmother, Inky Ledford, had a massive library of children’s books at her Fresno, California, home — and the boys were frequent visitors.

***

No. 3: Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC — Well, here we are, one week into the NBA season and Billy Donovan hasn’t changed his mind and gone back to the University of Florida. That’s what happened years ago when he took the Orlando Magic job and then called it quits just, oh, 10 seconds later. Anyway, you can hardly blame Donovan for waiting until the right gig opened up. And when you have the chance to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their primes, that qualifies as the right gig. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

 He was hired to lead an even stronger NBA club — the Oklahoma City Thunder. This time, he’ll coach three players with All-Star Game credentials: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

“This opportunity came across that was very unique in my opinion,” he said. “If it didn’t, I’d still be at Florida.”

Donovan, who won back-to-back national championships at UF, said other NBA teams had reached out in the ensuing years. Reportedly, Cleveland (pre-LeBron’s return), Minnesota and Detroit were among the suitors.

He insists that there was no grand plan to leave the Gators for the pros.

“I’ve always believed you wake up and where you are that day, you do the best job you can,” he said. “Then if opportunities open up, they open up. It wasn’t anything about having a plan.”

The OKC job surprisingly opened after Scott Brooks was fired with another year on his contract.

Donovan was lucky because a lot of terrific college coaches – from Rick Pitino to John Calipari – usually are stuck with bad teams.

“The one thing for me..I knew it was a good team, but you have to feel good about it. Happiness inside a job has to do with the people you work with everyday,” Donovan said.

Especially if those people are named Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka.

Donovan’s no dummy. He’s also aware of the pressure coaching the contending Thunder, particularly since Durant can become a free agent this summer.

Durant says he “enjoys” being around Donovan, who seems to be adjusting well to life as an NBA coach.

“I’m working equally as hard or harder as I was in college,” he said. “It’s just things are a little bit different.”

***

No. 4: Gordon Hayward opens up with Q and A — The Utah Jazz are off to a decent start, which includes a blowout victory in Philadelphia, and one of the intriguing players is Gordon Hayward, naturally. After having his big contract matched by the Jazz two summers ago, Hayward was a borderline All-Star last season and hopes to take the next step this season. He discussed that and more when he sat for a quick interview with Scoop Jackson of ESPN:

Scoop: How big of an adjustment can it be to inherit that “No. 1 option” role for a franchise?

Hayward: It’s just a learning curve, honestly. I think it’s one of those things where, you know, if you play one way probably the first three years in the league and then you are asked it do something different. It’s just a role change, something you have to get adjusted to. You know, defenses are now keying on you and playing things differently to where you are at all of the time. That’s a huge step and something, like I said, that I was able to kind of learn and do for two years.

Scoop: Have you ever walked into an opponent’s locker room before a game and seen your name at the top of the white board just to see their defensive strategies they have planned for you?

Hayward: I have not [laughing]. I’ve never seen that. Or a scouting report on me or on our team.

Scoop: You have to sneak and do that. It’s one of those “No. 1 option” things.

Hayward: I should definitely do that.

Scoop: Do the media and other players underestimate you?

Hayward: I don’t think they do anymore. I think they probably did when I first came in the league — 100 percent did. But this is my sixth year, and I think they definitely respect me as a player now.

Scoop: I’ve heard you referred to you as “the Jazz’s version of LeBron James” in that you do everything for the team. When you hear that, how does it make you feel?

Hayward: It’s definitely pretty humbling to think that someone would say that, but I think it’s just something where I just try to be an all-around player and try to do a lot for the team. And yeah, I think LeBron’s a guy that obviously does that for his team no matter which team he’s on, and he’s probably one of the best ever to do that. So, but for me, if I’m not scoring I need to be assisting or making plays for other people or rebounding or just doing whatever I can to get guys in position where they can be successful.

Scoop: Do you think of yourself in that vein? In that, you “have to be LeBron” for this franchise?

Hayward: I think so. I think that it is a lot of responsibility but something that they have trusted me with and I definitely have to be active and have to affect all parts of the game in order for us to be a successful team. I’ve never been a guy that’s going to go out and just affect one part of the game. I think that I’ve always been somebody that tries to affect multiple parts of the game, and I think we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things, so it’s not just me. We’re a versatile team. I’m excited about where we can go.

Scoop: Utah went 19-10 after the All-Star break while holding opponents to a league-low 94.8 points per 100 possessions. Was that just a good two months or was that indicative of what this team had become?

Hayward: Yeah, I think that’s definitely our identity and definitely what’s going to have to be our identity moving forward if we want to be successful, especially in the West. Defense is something that can go with us wherever we are at. We are going to have times when people’s shots are off and we’re just not feeling it offensively, but if we continue to play defense like we did at the end of the year — something that I think we are very capable of doing — we can always stay in games and give ourselves a chance.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jodie Meeks will be out for a while in DetroitSteph Curry is about to be immortalized in wax … The Suns were “equipped” to show their respect for Steve Nash, whose jersey has been retired … There was a Mother Nature problem in San Antonio so Tony Parker had an excuse to miss practice.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nash’s big moment in Phoenix arrives | Report: Pistons to retire jerseys of Billups, Wallace | Cuban downplays rivalry with Clippers | Carlisle: Williams’ return unknown

No. 1: Nash gets his moment in sun in Phoenix — Tonight, during halftime of the Phoenix Suns’ home game against the Portland Trail Blazers (10:30 ET, League Pass), former two-time MVP Steve Nash will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor. To call this a big event for the franchise is to vastly undersell it as Nash’s impact on the team revitalized the franchise at a low point and also, helped spark an offensive revolution of sorts in the NBA over the last decade. (Suns.com alone has Q&A’s with Nash’s old teammates, his former coach, Mike D’Antoni, a two-part hour-long special on Nash’s career and more.) One observer who was part of Nash’s golden age with the Suns in the 2000s, Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, tries to put into context a player who meant so much to so many:

From draft-night boos to “We want Steve” curtain-call chants. From a bloody nose to a swollen-shut eye.

From flying hair to finger-licking free throws. From a sweet shot with a soft touch to a sweet side with a soft spot.

From the nickname “Two-Time” (for his MVP awards) to the Ring of Honor now to the Hall of Fame later.

Dallas borrowed him, but this Canadian snowbird is eternally colored in purple and orange for 10 winters in Phoenix that produced a franchise rebirth. Friday night, Nash the basketball retiree returns, stirring memories of every other version of No. 13.

Entering his prime belatedly at age 30, Nash redefined point-guard play, combining with the offensive genius of coach Mike D’Antoni, who put his stamp on changing tempo, spacing and lineup innovation.

“It was the start of what we see now by the majority of teams in the league,” Nash said of the 62-20 season. “The style was new. The speed and pace was shocking people. They had a hard time adjusting.”

“Sometimes, I watch what (Stephen) Curry is doing and think, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy is incredible,’” said Nash, now a player development consultant for Golden State. “But in that Dallas series, it was kind of similar. It was a great will to win the series. It was obviously personal for me – not in a vindictive way, but a personal way.”

Nash made the Suns the NBA’s most efficient offense for six seasons and remained an All-Star at age 38. That included another vengeful moment in 2010, when he shot 56 percent and averaged 22 points and eight assists to lead a Suns sweep of the San Antonio team that had ousted his Suns from three previous postseasons. That Suns team had the NBA’s most prolific offense per possession in three decades.

Think Nash edged Shaquille O’Neal for MVP by the benefit of his surrounding talent in 2005? In the next season, he repeated the MVP feat over Kobe Bryant even after losing each starting teammate except Shawn Marion.

The Suns won 54 games and again reached the conference finals during the first of Nash’s four 50-40-90 seasons. The only other player to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent at the free-throw line in a season multiple times is Larry Bird, who did it twice. The only other point guard to be a repeat MVP was Magic Johnson.

 

His background in soccer, hockey and lacrosse gave him unique vision to go with underrated athleticism. Nash was cognizant to keep all of his teammates involved and they learned to be on their toes for passes that would come around his back, underhanded, ambidextrously or through defender’s legs.

Nash showed both strength of his game in a classic 2006-07 season duel with Jason Kidd, whose 38 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists were outdone by Nash’s 42 points, 13 assists and six rebounds with a clutch 3-pointer that saved a double-overtime Suns road win.

For pure passing, the quintessential game came in that season’s first-round playoff series. Nash dished out 23 assists against the Lakers and tied an NBA playoff record with 15 in the first half.

“When you’re at this stage of your life, I’m like, ‘Man, I used to do that? What?’” Nash said. “You forget. Those type of nights happened quite a lot.”


VIDEO: A look back at Steve Nash’s glory days in Phoenix

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: James Harden and the Houston Rockets are ready to roar after a banner 2014-15 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard ready to take control in Portland | Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott | Melo ready for end to long summer in New York | Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind

No. 1: Lillard ready to take control in Portland — The leadership mantle in Portland is now Damian Lillard‘s and Lillard’s alone, as he enters his first training camp with the Trail Blazers without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum around to help shoulder the load. In preparation for his new role, Lillard made sure everyone understood that he was not only willing to take control and lead the way but ready to do so. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the story …

One by one across the country, their phones lit up and vibrated, a text message arriving to members of the Portland Trail Blazers with an idea that could change their upcoming season.

For some, like Meyers Leonard in Portland, the number with the 510 area code was already programmed into his phone. Others, like rookie Pat Connaughton in Boston, were perplexed until they opened the message.

“Yo Pat, it’s Dame. We are going to San Diego to get the team together and to get ready for the season …”

The texts were from Damian Lillard, the lone starter remaining from a popular and successful Blazers team that disintegrated amid a summer of free agency and trades. Now, as the undisputed star of the team, Lillard was wading into his first wave of leadership.

It was August, and he wanted to get the young and unproven roster together before players started reporting to Portland in September. After some collaboration with teammates CJ McCollum and Leonard, Lillard settled on San Diego.

Soon, 11 Blazers – some complete strangers to each other– were booking flights and hotel reservations.

A Blazers player had never, in the franchise’s 45 years, attempted an off-season team-building event of this magnitude. Then again, this summer marked one of the biggest transitions in team’s history, a swift and purposeful dismantling of a talented squad in favor of a rebuild with cheaper and younger players.

Success this season won’t be judged wholey on wins and losses, but rather player development and growth. Among the more visible and tangible storylines is how and what kind of leader Lillard will be, and how much his influence could improve the team.

It’s why his August text could determine the course of this season.

***

No. 2: Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott — Byron Scott doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this season in Los Angeles. He has the full support of the front office, so says his boss, Mitch Kupchak. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers reiterated his support for Scott on the eve of what should be one of the most interesting training camps in recent memory for the franchise. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has more …

For a franchise that usually evaluates itself on wins and losses, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has shifted his expectations.

Though Lakers coach Byron Scott oversaw the team going 21-61 last season in what marked the franchise’s worst record in its 67-year-old history, Kupchak has not wavered in his support for Scott. Kupchak remained mindful of the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries and a roster filled with unproven talent.

“He has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s. I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”

That will begin Tuesday in Honolulu. The Lakers’ nine-day camps will include seven days of practices and two exhibitions. Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp, the latest one including three two-a-day sessions.

That partly explains Kupchak’s support for Scott, who has three years remaining on his contract. Kupchak praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts. Even amid the losses, Kupchak also argued Scott improved the team’s culture.

“Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together,” Kupchak said of Scott. “They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”

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No. 3: Melo ready for end to long summer in New York — When your names is tossed around the way Carmelo Anthony‘s has been all offseason, the start of training camp and actual basketball is welcome respite from the drama. Anthony said the drama is in his rear view as he readies himself and his team for camp, writes Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News

Over the past several months, Carmelo Anthony has sent mixed signals – publicly and privately – about his thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason.

Anthony’s concerns stemmed from Phil Jackson missing out on a bonafide star in free agency and drafting a project in 19-year-old Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in June. But on Sunday, with Knicks training camp a day away, Anthony voiced support for the organization’s offseason moves.

“I was very excited about what we did this offseason. I liked the moves that we made,” Anthony said at his youth camp in Manhattan. “Was it any of the stars that we wanted to go after and go get? No. But the pieces that we got, I’m really intrigued.”

The Daily News reported in June that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks’ decision to draft Porzingis, a pick that influenced Lamarcus Aldridge spurning the Knicks for the Spurs.

The Knicks wanted to play Aldridge at center to let Porzingis develop – something Aldridge was vehemently against. And at Team USA training camp in August, Anthony expressed frustration at how the entire situation unfolded, even saying he “threw” his headband when he found out the Knicks wanted Aldridge to change positions.

But now the offseason is in the past, and Anthony’s main concern will be returning from the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in February.

Anthony said Day 1 of training camp Monday will mark the end of a “long summer.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony said. “Just glad that I can be in the position I’m in right now.”

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No. 4: Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind — Small ball? Not in Memphis, where the rugged Grizzlies are holding on tight to their grit and grind roots. The rest of the league is welcome to tinker with smaller lineups and the pace-and-space revolution. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchoring your middle, there is no need to stray. Griz coach Dave Joerger isn’t interested in tinkering with what’s worked in Memphis for years, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal …

Joerger’s mantra this summer has been for the already tough Griz to get “nasty,” doubling down on the grit-and-grind mentality that has made the team a perennial Western Conference contender.

The Griz remain committed to a bruising brand of basketball that’s served them well even as the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with 3-point shooting.

NBA.com recently wrote in a 2015-16 season-preview of the Griz: “They’d rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.”

That assessment might be selling the Grizzlies short. Despite the recurring theme of the need for long-range shooting, the Griz return with more versatility, the same expectation of winning 50-plus games and a place among the elite in the Western Conference.

There will, however, be challenges to work through during camp if the Griz are going to make good on their promise to contend:

1. Sorting out the wing positions: No one would ever accuse the Griz of lacking depth. They are deepest at the wing positions, meaning Joerger has a nice problem in determining who will get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes are veterans with meaningful careers. Last year, Joerger settled on starting the 6-5 Lee at shooting guard and the 6-4 Allen at small forward to start the season.

The coaching staff acknowledged concerns about such a small lineup given small forwards around the league typically stand 6-7 and taller. Green, 6-9, joined the roster around midseason. He played off the bench but was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and then went back to the bench. Green never found his footing and was inconsistent. With Green participating in a full camp, it’s conceivable that he will start at small forward. Joerger prefers the longer, more versatile Green. The question at camp will be who will start at shooting guard. Lee is a 3-point threat. Allen’s disruptive defense and infectious energy clearly make the Grizzlies “nasty.” As for second-year guard Jordan Adams? That’s a different topic.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are ready to take a (minimum deal) gamble on former No. 1 overall pick and native son Anthony Bennett … Year 2 of the (Jason) Kidd experience in Milwaukee comes with great expectationsMarcus Morris is still taking shots at the Phoenix SunsKlay Thompson is already taking full advantage of Steve Nash in his role as the Golden State Warriors’ part-time player development consultantThe Thunder have hired an assistant coach, Royal Ivey, with deep ties to Kevin Durant

ICYMI: The best alley-oops from last season:


VIDEO: 2014-15 Top alley-oops