Posts Tagged ‘Thabo Sefolosha’

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Steve Smith has the story of Lakers rookie Larry Nance, Jr.

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls | How will Rivers use the bench he’s built? | Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics | KG to start for Wolves in Season No. 21

No. 1: Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls — After four straight seasons of ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency, the Chicago Bulls fell to 11th last season. Fred Hoiberg is supposed to change up the offense upon taking over for Tom Thibodeau, but Pau Gasol knows that his team can’t lose focus on the defensive end of the floor, as ESPN’s Jon Greenberg writes

Bulls center Pau Gasol doesn’t know if his role will change next year under new coach Fred Hoiberg and his uptempo offensive system. He doesn’t even know if he’ll start.

But what the NBA veteran does know is the team can’t forget about former coach Tom Thibodeau’s calling card: Defense.

Hoiberg is known for a particular brand of basketball that encourages 3-point shooting and quick decisions, but while the Bulls offense under Thibodeau had too many lulls, they still managed to score 100.8 points per game. Hoiberg hired veteran NBA assistant coach Jim Boylen to help with the defense.

“Well, I think offense wasn’t really too much of an issue last year,” Gasol said on a conference call from South Africa, where he’s taking part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders event, which culminates with the first-ever NBA exhibition in Africa on Aug. 1. “We have a lot of talent offensively, and I think we’ll play with better flow offensively with Fred. We’ll have more freedom to play in transition and explore our abilities as individuals and as a team. As long as we understand that defense wins championships and makes the difference, and make sure we don’t neglect that side, we should be fine.”

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No. 2: How will Rivers sort out the bench he’s built? — Though he had little flexibility going into the summer, Clippers president Doc Rivers restructured his bench, adding Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, among others. The L.A. Times‘ Ben Bolch now wonders how Rivers will make all the pieces work together. He enlisted NBA TV analysts Mike Fratello and Stu Jackson to help him sort through the questions…

Stephenson comes with a history of having blown in LeBron James ear’ during a game. He’s also generated whispers about being a bad teammate, leading to more questions from Fratello.

“How is he going to fit in with the chemistry of this team and how will he handle the star factor of Chris Paul, of Blake Griffin, of Pierce’s experience and his Hall of Fame background?” Fratello asked. “How is he going to fit in with all that and does he bounce back from having a disappointing year last year? Has he grown up, has he matured, is he going to be a contributor?”

Jackson, a former coach and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies who is an analyst for NBA TV, said the presence of Paul, Griffin and Pierce should act as a buffer against bad behavior because they have created a culture of success and expectations.

“Teams that have veteran leadership can absorb almost any player into their culture and their environment,” Jackson said.

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No. 3: Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics — After initially saying that he was done as the coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team after the 2012 Olympics, Mike Krzyzewski came back for four more years. Now, as the team prepares to gather in Las Vegas for a three-day camp, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo makes it clear, in a Q & A with Yahoo’s Marc Spears, that he’ll need a new coach after next year’s Olympics in Rio.

Q: How much longer do you want to be executive director of USA Basketball?

Colangelo: For me, it is still a passion. I’ve been asked to continue beyond ’16, which means through ’20. My attitude is: if I’m still healthy, and I’m healthy now, my passion still exists.

Q: Is there any way you can convince Mike Krzyzewski to coach past the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: No. This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

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No. 4: KG to start for Wolves in season No. 21Kevin Garnett played in just five games after returning to Minnesota at the trade deadline this past February. The Wolves have a crowded frontcourt, with No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica joining Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Re-signed to a two-year deal, Garnett will join Robert Parish and Kevin Willis as the only players in NBA history to play more than 20 seasons, but won’t be coming off the bench for the first time since his rookie year. In a Q & A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Wolves president and head coach Flip Saunders says that KG is a starter.

Is KG going to start?

He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.

Does that include Towns, or is he a center? A hybrid? Does it matter?

It doesn’t matter. He’s a player. Good teams have guys that can play multiple positions. It makes them harder to guard. Besides, it’s not what position you play. It’s what position you can guard. Some nights, Towns will guard power forwards and KG will guard centers. Some nights, it will be the other way around.

It’s apparently Q & A day in Minnesota, because point guard Ricky Rubio also talked at length with Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver

SI: What excites you about 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns?

RR: “I like guys who can shoot the ball. Having Kevin Love really helped stretch the floor. I think Towns is a better fit [than No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor] because of that. Okafor is more like [Nikola] Pekovic, a strong guy down in the post. Towns is a guy we don’t have.”

SI: How do you see this developing core group of you, Wiggins, Towns and LaVine playing together?

RR: “We’re pretty young, first of all. We’ve got a lot to learn. We’re athletic, we’re starving, we’re hungry. That’s something that’s going to show in practice and the games. I think it’s going to be a fun team to watch. A point guard who can pass the ball to athletic wings and big guys who can do a lot of damage in the post. In the case of Towns, he can really shoot the ball and run up and down too. I think it will be fun basketball, exciting.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It’s been too long since we got an update from the Sixers on Joel EmbiidThe Pelicans still need to get Norris Cole re-signed … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha are both making progress as they recover from season-ending injuries … Perry Jones is happy to have a fresh start in Boston … The Thunder signed 2014 first-round pick Josh Huestis after sending him to the D-League for a year … Could the Warriors get Kevin Durant next summer?

Irving questionable for Game 3 during injury-filled postseason


VIDEO: Blatt on Irving, Game 3

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hobbled point guard, worked on his shooting at the team’s morning shootaround but still was listed as questionable to play in Game 3 Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks at Quicken Loans Arena.

Irving missed the second game of the teams’ Eastern Conference finals series Friday and hasn’t been fully healthy since spraining his right foot early in the first round against Boston. Of course, teammate Kevin Love suffered his dislocated left shoulder in the finale against the Celtics, leading to postseason-ending surgery.

The Hawks got similar bad news Saturday when sharpshooter Kyle Korver was ruled out for however long Atlanta stays alive, his right high-ankle sprain from Game 2 requiring more recovery than the Hawks have time this spring. DeMarre Carroll, their primary defender against LeBron James, is trying to play on a badly sprained knee – “It’s a leg,” he said again Sunday when asked for an update – and another key perimeter defender, Thabo Sefolosha, has been out with a leg fracture since an incident with New York police last month.

Injuries have played a big enough role in these playoffs that the catch phrase “last team standing” might apply literally this year. Perhaps more than ever, the NBA championship could go not necessarily to the league’s best team but to the one least derailed by bad breaks. And sprains, strains and tears.

“Obviously, going into the postseason and going through the postseason, health is always the No. 1 thing,” Cavs star LeBron James said Sunday. “Luck comes into play a lot – you get lucky – and then [it’s] the team that’s playing at the highest level, that’s playing great basketball.”

Out West, Golden State has been playing without backup forward Marreese Speights (calf). Houston has done without guard Patrick Beverley (wrist) and forward Donatas Montiejunas (back), while center Dwight Howard has been touch-and-go daily after a knee sprain.

But the Cavaliers aren’t feeling any more sorry for the others – despite James’ back-pat gesture to Carroll when the Hawks guard was helped off late in Game 1 – than those rivals are for Cleveland. Even James has been playing through dings that have been noticeable on the court, including an ankle he rolled and a sore back he endured against Chicago.

Asked about setting an example in playing through pain for younger teammates such as Irving, James said: “I can’t speak on someone else’s injury. Everyone’s body is different. For me, if I felt like I was hurting the team, then I shouldn’t play. But if I felt like I could give something to the team, I wanted to be on the floor. Obviously I’m playing trough injuries right now, multiple injuries right now. I mean a lot to this team and I understand my presence, and if I can give something, I’m going to be out there.”

James added: “We haven’t been the healthiest. Had a little luck here and there. But we’ve been playing at a high level. So we’ve got like one-and-a-half out of the three.”

Kind of like having a sturdy James, the scaled-back contributions of Irving and no Love. One-and-a-half out of the three.

Injured Sefolosha briefly discusses N.Y. incident

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha has made his first public statement since being arrested outside a nightclub last week in New York City, following the stabbing of Pacers forward Chris Copeland. Sefolosha, who was accused of interfering with the establishment of a crime scene and resisting arrest, suffered a broken fibula and ligament damage during the incident, ending his season with the first-place Hawks one week away from the playoffs.

In a statement released Tuesday via the Hawks, Sefolosha notes he can’t discuss the ongoing case in detail, but also says his injury was caused by the New York Police Department.

Sefolosha’s statement in full …

“I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to my family and friends, the Hawks organization and my teammates. This has been a difficult time for me and I truly appreciate the support I have received from everyone. I am extremely disappointed that I will not be able to join my teammates on the court during the playoffs and apologize to them for any distraction this incident has caused. I will be cheering for them every step of the way and will be diligent in my rehabilitation.

On advice of counsel, I hope you can appreciate that I cannot discuss the facts of the case. Those questions will be answered by my attorney in a court of law. I will simply say that I am in great pain, have experienced a significant injury and that the injury was caused by the police.”

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry for MID award | Duncan hands Father Time first loss? | Cavs or not, Celtics can’t be choosy | Hawks’ Antic, NBPA talk N.Y. incident

No. 1: Curry for Most Improved Defender award — By now, most NBA observers expect Golden State’s floor leader and marvelous 3-point shooter Steph Curry to finish first or second in balloting for the league’s Most Valuable Player. But if you look closely at Curry’s performances on the other end of the court, listen to his coaches and study the Warriors’ numbers in thwarting the opposition, Curry might merit consideration for a wholly fictitious award: Most Improved Defender. Breaking down the components of good individual and team defense with Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss enumerated the many ways in which Curry has tightened up his game that way, and concluded:

The Warriors challenged their top player to get better, and it worked. They’re having the best regular season — in terms of point differential — we’ve witnessed since Jordan‘s Bulls.

The notion of Curry as defensive ace might be subversive, but perhaps not as subversive as the next statement: Curry got better not just because he wants to be the best player alive, but also because he thinks it’s within his reach.

“He wants to be the best,” [coach Steve] Kerr said. “He knew that to be the best he had to be better at that end.”

Even as Curry is favored to win an MVP award, the concept of a skinny, 6-3 point guard as league alpha strikes people strangely. That spot is usually reserved for physical freaks like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It all just smacks of basketball heresy.

Curry’s star continues to rise in defiance of convention, though. He markets himself as “the patron saint of the underdog” for a reason. Curry doesn’t look like a good defensive player, but then again, he never looked like a Division I college player, he never looked like an NBA draft pick, and he never looked like an NBA superstar. But he has accomplished all of those things. If reputations are often based on appearances, Curry aims to forge a reputation as someone who transcends that expectation. And his aim is excellent.

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Morning shootaround — April 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mistakes spoil Rose’s return to Bulls’ lineup | Report: Copeland in ICU | Cuban bemoans state of college hoops | Noel suffers ankle injury

No. 1: Mistakes mar Bulls in Rose’s return to lineup Derrick Rose returned to the Chicago Bulls’ lineup last night after a 20-game absence and overall, he looked rusty. Still, just getting him out on the court was a net positive for the Bulls (as our Fran Blinebury noted last night). What wasn’t a positive for Chicago was how sloppy the team played against a low-level team as the season winds down. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has more:

With minutes left in the Bulls’ 105-103 collapse to the Magic on Wednesday night, at a time he used to dominate, Derrick Rose rose from his seat on the bench and implored his teammates to communicate better on defense.

That Victor Oladipo followed shortly thereafter with a blow-by of Jimmy Butler for the game-winning layup over late-arriving help from Joakim Noah should be as troubling as another late-game fade to a sub-.500 team.

Simply put, the Bulls couldn’t follow Rose’s lead in his return from missing 20 games to arthroscopic right knee surgery, whether that be on the court in an active first-quarter stint or off it with his late words.

The loss not only spoiled Rose’s return, which featured nine points, four turnovers and two assists on 3-for-9 shooting in 19 minutes, 24 seconds, it dropped the Bulls into the East’s fourth seed with four games remaining. The Cavaliers also clinched the No. 2 seed and the Central Division title.

“We were scoring, matching them, but defensively, we weren’t getting there,” Rose said. “Communication or whatever, it just wasn’t there. Win the game on a layup so we just got to make sure we talk a little bit more and make sure that someone is over there.”

“I felt good,” Rose said. “I didn’t feel any discomfort at all, so that’s a good sign. I’m just happy to be playing.”

“It’s upsetting,” Pau Gasol said. “There’s a time when you have to be sharp. You can’t have these type of games. We’re trying to figure a lot of things out right now with guys coming back and different rotations and guys sharing minutes. That’s what happens when you have a deep team. But we have to figure it out quickly.

“Continuity has been tough, for sure. At times, we look like we’re a little bit all over the place. That’s why we had so many turnovers pretty much all season long.”

The Bulls dropped to 15-5 in games with their starters intact.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose reflects on his return to the Bulls’ lineup

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Blogtable: Worried about Hawks?

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: Remembering Nash’s career | Next moves for Thunder? | Worried about Hawks?



VIDEOHow the Spurs diced up the Hawks in Atlanta

> The Hawks have lost three in a row for the first time all season. Is this team simply in neutral, coasting to the finish line, or have the Hawks run out of gas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Some of the Hawks’ remarkable achievements have caught up with them, in terms of trying to maintain such excellence so long (think Indiana last season), and some of what befalls any NBA team has been in play too. As in injuries to Kyle Korver and Mike Scott. Once a lot of us in the media started saying, “Yeah, we’re convinced now that Atlanta is good. But let’s see what happens in the postseason…,” it seemed only fair that the Hawks might embrace a little of that attitude, too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’ll go with neither. The Hawks are hardly coasting and I don’t believe they’ve hit the wall. It’s a long, long season and virtually every team goes through some kind of funk. But I’m thinking that by the time the playoffs start in three weeks, the Hawks will have rediscovered their Uptown Funk and gon’ give it to you.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFirst of all, the losses were to the Warriors and Spurs (plus also the Thunder with Russell Westbrook getting a triple-double). Secondly, it’s was three games. So, no. I’m not seeing running out of gas yet. I’m not seeing coasting either. If this continues for a couple weeks, if the Hawks start falling over face first against Orlando, Charlotte and Detroit within the next five games, then we’ll have something to talk about. Right now, it’s nothing beyond the same tough stretch every team navigates.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comLook, the Hawks simply couldn’t play any better than they did from December through February. Eventually, a slide was coming; the only question was how much? It’s tough to place a sense or urgency on their latest performance only because we’re in the dog days. I trust Al Horford will snap out of it as well as the Hawks once the games take on a greatest sense of importance. That said: Cleveland and LeBron are the favorites coming out of the East, and I thought that way even at the height of Hawksmania.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey lost to the Warriors, Thunder and Spurs, and they were missing Kyle Korver in the first two games. Questions about how well their defense (which has been really bad in the three games) will hold up in the playoffs are legit, but it’s not time to panic just yet.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com They are certainly not out of gas. And you don’t win 55 games with a month left in the season coasting or stuck in neutral. The Hawks simply ran into that tough stretch of the season where you get exposed a bit. It’s nothing that cannot be cured with some intensive film study, a little introspection and the return to health of several key players who have dealt with injury concerns since the All-Star break. Beyond that, there is nothing to see here folks … until the playoffs get underway.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThere is no shame in losing at Golden State and OKC or at home to the Spurs. And there was no way for the Hawks to maintain their high level of efficiency all season long — as the Warriors have also discovered recently. This little dip should have no bearing on the playoffs, when the Hawks’ success will be defined by the matchups.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh, so here it comes. All Atlanta fans knew this was in the cards, because no matter how great things are going, this is how it always ends for Atlanta sports teams — in disaster and sadness and disappointment and despair. Except maybe not this time? Because even though the Hawks have lost three in a row, I’m not ready to count them out just yet. They’ve been without Kyle Korver, Mike Scott and Thabo Sefolosha, three of their best eight players. If anything, their absence has highlighted how important having a full complement of players is for this team. It’s not any one guy, it’s not the four All-Stars, the Atlanta Hawks are a team where guys one through 15 each matter.

Opportunity knocks for Teague, Hawks


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew believes Jeff Teague and the Hawks are poised for big things this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Teague is a man of few words.

He chooses his wisely and knows that two sometimes do the job better than a few. But the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard isn’t shy about his team. Not after what the Hawks did last season, sliding into that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and then scaring the daylights out of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in an entertaining seven-game series that served as yet another showcase for Teague.

He’s one of the league’s best young point guards who never seems to find his way into that conversation. With top 10 rankings in several key statistical categories, you could make the case that Teague should be included in any conversations about the top current point guards in the Eastern Conference, at least.

Teague, however, is content to let his play speak for him and keep his focus on the opportunity that awaits the Hawks in a revamped Eastern Conference. With an All-Star in Paul Millsap and a returning All-Star in Al Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system as their frame, Teague says that team people enjoyed watching last season and during that playoff series against the Pacers is back and ready for more.

I caught up with Teague Monday and pressed him for more than a few words …

NBA.com:  The lasting image of this team for many people is what we saw of you against the Pacers in the playoffs. How is this team any different without any big offseason moves to speak of?

Jeff Teague: It’s definitely different right now because we have everybody healthy. So it’s definitely going to be a little different. Having Al back  and in there to be a rim protector changes things for us. We’re definitely going to be better defensively with Al back in the mix. And just getting more comfortable with the system and having Thabo [Sefolosha] and Kent [Bazemore], who are really active defenders, come over really makes us a different team, a better team. For the offensive part, we’re still going to be exciting.

NBA.com: Is that the biggest change you’ve experienced since you’ve been with the Hawks, going from the previous systems to the one Bud brought here?

Jeff Teague: I just think this is a fun way to play basketball. We enjoy playing with one another. And the fans, if you watch the game it’s enjoyable. You don’t have to see one guy take all the shots or dominate the ball and post it up and do that all night. There’s going to be a lot of movement in this system, a lot of ball movement and plenty of guys touching the ball. It’s a beautiful game when it’s played that way. And it’s enjoyable for everybody, the guys on the floor and the folks in the stands. (more…)

Jackson’s dreams await with patience

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

reggie-jackson

Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.1 assists last season in 28.5 minutes. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Reggie Jackson didn’t start the Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason opener Wednesday night at Denver, and that’s not likely to change regardless of how many impassioned pleas he makes.

“I want it. I feel strong about it. I want to be the starter,” Jackson said a couple of weeks ago during Media Day, delivering a rambling and emotional speech that spilled over the 10 minutes allotted for each player. “What I have always grown up just believing, I want a majority of my time to be spent playing against other starters. I want to play against the best, I want to play against Chris Paul, I want to play against Kyrie Irving, I want to be mentioned on the highest of levels.”

It’s certainly admirable. It’s just not practical. Three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook is the Thunder’s starting point guard, and coach Scott Brooks just anointed him best in the business.

But that’s not the point here. Oklahoma City has a starting job open at shooting guard, not point guard. Jackson, a quick, 6-foot-3 point guard, filled the 2-guard spot well several times during the second round and the West finals when Brooks benched longtime starter Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha moved on to Atlanta and OKC will replace him in-house. Just not with Jackson.

The overriding issue is — and this should make Jackson feel all warm and fuzzy — he’s too valuable right where he is. It’s more ideal for OKC to fill in the starting 2-guard spot (second-year player Andre Roberson, a defensive-minded two-guard with little offensive upside, and erratic Jeremy Lamb, a natural for the position as a lanky 6-foot-5 shooter if he can ever harness consistency, are the top options) than to replace Jackson’s critical production off the bench.

It’s unfortunate really. Here’s a young player so determined to make a name for himself but is convinced being a reserve is taking a back seat. Brooks and others try to tell him it’s more impressive to be a “finisher,” which he is, that he’ll log as many minutes as a sub and he’ll play many, many minutes alongside Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The decision to not start Jackson isn’t a personal one, or one made because there’s somebody better to do it. As shown above, there’s not. Keeping Jackson on the bench is purely strategic. OKC needs his aggression, penetration and scoring to lead the second unit. As they realized last season, the Thunder bench is compromised without him.

“For some people [starting is] important. To others it’s not,” Jackson said. “It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team, the head of the snake.”

Again, admirable, but not realistic. Intertwined in all this is Jackson’s eligibility for an extension by the end of the month as he enters his fourth season. If one doesn’t get done he’ll enter next summer as a restricted free agent, which seems the likely path, where other teams can set his value.

Comparisons have been made to James Harden‘s situation a couple of years ago when OKC stunned everybody and traded him to Houston before the start of the 2012-13 season. But lets not confuse Jackson for Harden, a No. 3 overall pick and an emerging star when he was dealt. Jackson, the 24th pick, barely got off the bench as a rookie. He averaged 14.2 minutes the next season before being thrust into the starting lineup in the first round of the playoffs after Westbrook injured his knee. He started 36 games last season when Westbrook was out and staked himself as key contributor. His 32 points in 37 brilliant minutes off the bench in Game 4 at Memphis, all but saved an embarrassing first-round exit.

A more accurate comparison is Eric Bledsoe, the 18th pick in 2010 (actually drafted by the Thunder and traded to the Clippers) who spent three seasons backing up CP3. He got his break last season after being traded to Phoenix. He played great in a two point-guard backcourt with Goran Dragic and the Suns made fast strides. Although Bledsoe missed half the season with a knee injury, he cashed in as a restricted free agent with the Suns — albeit rather contentiously — on a five-year, $70 million contract.

Jackson won’t get that chance to start, but what he has that Bledsoe did not is the opportunity to win a championship. If he does that, or even gets close, while being perceived as a selfless, super sixth man, all of Jackson’s boyhood dreams will be in front of him starting next summer.

Just not likely with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Blogtable: Training camp showdown

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: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown



VIDEO: Dennis Scott previews some questions facing teams as camps open

> Training camps begin this week. Is there a looming camp showdown between teammates that you see as especially intriguing?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My top pick here would be in Phoenix, where Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe all are good-to-excellent point guards — but only if Bledsoe is back on a one-year qualifying deal. If he and the Suns actually come to terms on a more lucrative, long-term extension that was in the air Wednesday morning, then Thomas’ ability to challenge for minutes takes a serious hit, because contracts matter in this league. Here’s my backup: I expect Zach LaVine to see time and potentially push Ricky Rubio (another max extension seeker) hard at point guard for Minnesota, though training camp might be too soon.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comKobe vs. the Lakers. He’s got pent-up, inflated expectations and they don’t have the talent to match.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: A looming camp showdown? Hmm … Yeah, the Suns and Eric Bledsoe. If a long-term deal gets done here within the week, then I think all hard feelings can be smoothed over. However, if he signs the one-year qualifying offer, it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles himself on a team that has expectations of improving on last year’s surprising start under coach Jeff Hornacek. Bledsoe is going to want the ball in his hands a lot as he eyes unrestricted free agency and big money next summer. How will that jive with Goran Dragic and the Suns’ overall plans?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Kyrie Irving vs. Dion Waiters, Cleveland. Unless maybe you mean a position showdown? In that case, it’s the shooting guards in Oklahoma City. Open job, championship implications, young talents — that counts as especially intriguing. Reggie Jackson got the playoff starts when the Thunder pulled the plug on the Thabo Sefolosha era, but Jeremy Lamb will get a long look and Jackson is valuable as the backup point guard. Newcomer Anthony Morrow will also challenge for minutes.

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m curious to see who will replace Thabo Sefolosha in the Thunder’s starting lineup. Barring injury, Scott Brooks has used the same lineup for three years, and Sefolosha’s departure gives him a chance to shake things up, even if we have to wait another year before Kendrick Perkins is eventually replaced by Steven Adams. Brooks could go with Reggie Jackson for extra speed and playmaking, Anthony Morrow for shooting, Andre Roberson for defense, or Jeremy Lamb as a long-term investment that could pay off on both ends of the floor. OKC is a title contender that has historically gotten off to bad first-quarter starts. That could continue with Perkins still around, but there’s a chance to bring some more early energy with a new starter in the backcourt.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was a splendid fit in Phoenix, even if injuries prevented us from seeing those two young Thundercats at full strength for an extended period of time last season. Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, however, is a bit more complicated. I’m not sure if they have the same chemistry and synergy. Two ball-dominant point guards is one thing when their skill sets are as different as Dragic and Bledsoe’s were. But Dragic and Thomas have some serious work to do in that department. Do these ultra competitive guys treat camp as a chance to decide who the man is? Or will they spend that time finding ways to make each other better? It’s must-see action either way.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m keeping a watchful eye on what’s happening in Phoenix, where they have what feels like about two-dozen guards on their roster, all of whom are worthy of playing time. Assuming Eric Bledsoe comes back, he’ll be jockeying for playing time with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker. This is a good problem to have, sure, but I bet there will be knock-down games of two-on-two during practice.

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)