Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau’

Blogtable: Your pick for who will be Brooklyn Nets’ next coach, GM?

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: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOThe Starters have some pointers for the Nets moving forward

> Give me a good one-two combo – a GM and a coach – who can turn things around in Brooklyn if given the chance.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I’d love to see Troy Weaver (the assistant GM in Oklahoma City) get a shot at running his own shop. He’s smart and talented and knows everyone in basketball, and knows who can play. And if he got the job, you’d obviously think he’d look hard at bringing Scott Brooks in to coach. If he went another way, though, and went outside the list of the usual suspects (Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, etc.), someone like David Fizdale, the associate head coach in Miami, could do the job. Or, how about one Patrick Aloysius Ewing, once a basketball player of some accomplishment, but who is now an assistant coach in Charlotte — and an incredibly patient one — who’s been an NBA assistant for more than a decade. He should have been given shot to be a coach, about, oh six or seven years ago. I have no idea if Ewing would be a good coach or not. I had no idea if Erik Spoelstra could do it when Pat Riley gave him a chance to do it. And that’s what Ewing deserves–a chance, to succeed or fail on his talents and efforts. But none of those names/combos will work if owner Mikhail Prokhorov doesn’t give them the time to build the Nets from the bottom up. And, make no mistake — they’re at the bottom.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com My preferred package deal for this sort of intervention is Jeff Van Gundy as GM/POBO and buddy Tom Thibodeau as head coach. I doubt either would be interested in Brooklyn’s toxic combination of flawed roster, hobbled draft future and impetuous, now-more-inclined-to-tinker ownership. But they have the basketball chops, the street cred and the know-how to stage an impressive turnaround. And if it’s not in Brooklyn, maybe it ought to be in Minnesota, where both jobs are up for grabs this summer. My Plan B would be someone such as Jeff Weltman, currently working with Masai Ujiri in Toronto, getting hired and bringing in, say, Monty Williams (who should still be a coach in this league) or Luke Walton.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMy first thought was Jesus of Nazareth and his Father due to the near miracle it’s going to take to dig out of that hole dug by Billy King. But of this earthly realm, I’ll go with the no-nonsense pairing of Tom Thibodeau as coach and Jeff Van Gundy as G.M. Oooh, but they’d need time. Lots of it. And frankly, I don’t think either would want the job.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThere is a lot of heaving lifting ahead, with few trade assets and no 2016 lottery pick, so lets start with the clarification that “turn things around in Brooklyn” will be a wide, slow bend. The 76ers just beat the Nets to my choice, Jerry Colangelo, who would not have had a lot of years left with the necessary energy but could have provided the smart statesman the Nets desperately need. I would love to see John Calipari get the job as coach/GM. Not because it would be a good choice, but just imagine Cal in full power play in New York. I feel better about the coaching decision: Ettore Messina, with a long look at Tom Thibodeau as well.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Jeff Van Gundy and whomever he hand-picks to be his personnel guy. Van Gundy has been away from coaching long enough to miss it, and now that his daughter is in college, he’s free to chase the dollars, and there will be plenty of that in Brooklyn. Plus, Van Gundy has experience in dealing with New York, where he’s respected. Give him the same power that his brother has in Detroit, and it could happen.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere are more viable coaching candidates than GM candidates out there and success starts at the top, so I would open the vault for R.C. Buford and give him (and not Dmitry Razumov) final say on all basketball decisions, including the choice of who to coach this team. Scott Brooks, Mike D’Antoni and Tom Thibodeau are all fine picks in that regard. The one that can work best with my new GM should be the new coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m a firm believer in new blood when you’re dealing with the situation the Nets are facing right now. No retread general managers or coaches. Scott Perry (assistant GM in Orlando) has paid his dues after holding the same position in Detroit during their glory days under Joe Dumars, and doing a similar job in Oklahoma City before landing in Orlando. Perry has earned the right to sit in the first chair. He’s as well respected as any executive I can think of around the league, both by his peers, players, agents and anyone who moves and shakes in the world of basketball. He also has no ego, which I think is a prerequisite for the job today. As for the coach, who better than Cleveland assistant coach Tyronn Lue. He’s learned from some of the very best (Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers) and has been an invaluable asset for David Blatt as he transitioned from coaching internationally to the NBA. His years as an apprentice are over. He’s ready. And the Nets could use the infusion of new energy both would bring to their organization.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They should hire John Calipari for both roles. I have done a full 180 on this in recent years. It’s obvious now that his real strength is as a recruiter. He can bring recruiting in the NBA to an unprecedented level of sophistication. NBA teams tend to be amateurish when it comes to recruiting. Calipari understands that it is a science, and coaching in a market as big as Brooklyn will enable him to make the most of free agency. But it is only going to work if a team gives him total control – without the ability to reinvent the front office and change the entire point of view, Calipari will have little impact. Free agency is going to grow more important as NBA contracts are shortened and the cap is hardened. Someday someone is going to look like a genius for hiring Calipari.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Here’s the thing: You could bring in Red Auerbach as GM and Phil Jackson as coach, and a Brooklyn rebuild isn’t happening overnight. The Nets are really in dire straits, and there is no quick fix for this. So you need a GM who is patient and shrewd, with a track record for success. Thinking broadly and creatively, why not throw a lot of money at Jerry West, a former executive of the year now consulting with the champion Warriors? As for a coach, why not try a system that could be transformative, so how about getting Mike D’Antoni out of Philadelphia and let him turn his 7 seconds or less system loose to his heart’s content?

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 21


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors’ Thompson: We’re the best backcourt in NBA | Kyrie’s comeback and LeBron’s promise to Love | Butler finding his voice … time for Hoiberg to do the same? | Bucks turn to Prunty in Kidd’s absence

No. 1: Warriors’ Thompson: We’re the best backcourt in NBA — Ask Klay Thompson a question and prepare for the Golden State Warriors All-Star to tell you the truth, his truth. When asked to identify the best point guard and shooting guard in the NBA, Thompson picked his Splash Brother counterpart and reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry and himself, without hesitation. It’s hard to argue against one half of the league’s most dynamic shooting/scoring duo. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group asked the questions and explains Thompson’s answer:

Asked to name the best player at each position in the NBA, Klay Thompson picked Warriors teammate Stephen Curry as the point guard and then paused.

“I’m going to go with myself,” Thompson said of his pick for the top shooting guard, throwing up his hands. “We’re 26-1.”

He noted that the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and Houston Rockets’ James Harden were among the candidates in his mind before reiterating his choice.

“I have confidence in myself,” Thompson said Saturday.

Thompson projected plenty of confidence this week, scoring more points than any player on the floor with his 43-point game against the Phoenix Suns and 27-point outing in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Thompson, after a slow start to the season while dealing with back and ankle injuries, is shooting a career-best 47.3 percent from the field.

“When you play with a free mind and you play thinking you’re not hurt and you’re healthy, that’s when you’re playing your best,” Thompson said. “I want to continue playing like this, get better every month.

“I know I’ll have a great year.”

Curry’s exploits might have taken away from some of Thompson’s numbers during the Warriors’ historic start. The shooting guard is averaging 19.3 points after averaging 21.7 during an All-Star campaign last season.

With 80 made 3-pointers, Thompson is still tied for second in the league. Curry is first with a whopping 131.

“Right now, Steph’s a better shooter,” Thompson said. “I’m trying to catch him. Just by a little, though. Not by a lot. I can’t say he’s way better than me. He is one of the greatest, and it’s an honor to be in the same backcourt with him.”

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No. 2: Kyrie’s comeback and LeBron’s promise to Love — Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving back in the lineup and the roster is at full strength, we’re going to see just how effective this team is playing up to the promise LeBron James made earlier this season. He vowed that he would do everything in his power to keep Kevin Love more involved in the offense and to share the (ball and the) load equally between the three of them, something that didn’t appear to be the case in Kyrie’s season debut and first game since he fractured his knee cap in Game of The Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com examines the performance of Cleveland’s refreshed Big 3 after Sunday’s blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers:

Cleveland wasn’t threatened after the second period and Irving played nearly five of his 17 total minutes in the fourth while James and Love rested comfortably. James was easily the leader of the bunch with 23 points in a season-low 25 minutes; Irving added 12 after missing his first five shots and Love contributed 10 despite missing much of the first half in foul trouble.

But the truth is James and Irving iso’d their way to a dominant second half last season while Love was visibly frustrated as a distant third wheel. The Cavs were the NBA’s best team during that stretch and of course reached the Finals, so it’s not as though there was a demand for change.

Rather, there was a promisemostly by James on the former, more an urging from coach David Blatt with the latter — to keep Love more involved and to better move the ball as a team than the Cavs did in stretches last year. Love signed his five-year, $113 million deal to return to Cleveland last summer knowing that James and Blatt were dedicated to more utilizing his lost-post skills, which should make it easier on him to get more open threes.

James is still third in the NBA in isolation scoring and his team is 10th, but last season he and Irving were second and third in the league in running isolation and the team scored more points that way than anyone else.

This season, Cleveland’s total assists (23.0 per game, 7th in NBA) and assist ratio (17.6 assists per 100 possessions, 5th in NBA) are both up. And Love’s numbers (17.3 points per game, 13.4 shots per game) are better.

One notable difference: until Sunday, Irving hadn’t been on the floor. With him back in the fold, the question remains whether Irving’s presence will allow James to keep his promise to Love?

“We just made the change from me and ‘Bron being ball dominant last year to us having a lot more options on our offense and utilizing our weapons,” Irving said.

Only James Harden and Carmelo Anthony have scored more than James’ 134 points in isolation this season. James runs an iso play on 21 percent of the Cavs’ possessions. And yet he’s clearly ceded some of the ball-handling duties he assumed last season with Irving on the floor to Mo Williams and Matthew Dellavedova.

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No. 3:Butler finding his voice, time for Hoiberg to do the same? — Much was made of Jimmy Butler‘s comments about the Chicago Bulls, himself included, needing to be “coached harder” this season. It seemed like a shot at Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, whose style differs dramatically from the man he replaced, Tom Thibodeau. There’s another way to look at it, though. Butler is clearly finding his way as a leader and potential superstar and in finding his voice in that Bulls locker room he’s sure to endure a few missteps. But perhaps it’s time for Hoiberg to do the same, in terms of finding his voice with his team. Bulls Insider Vince Goodwill of CSNChicago.com tries to make some sense of the fallout:

Butler isn’t a player who’s been coddled or someone who was projected as a star at every turn. He’s turned into a max player because he poked and prodded at his limits while being poked and prodded by influential figures who brought out the best in him at that time (Buzz Williams at Marquette, Thibodeau in Chicago).

He’s a worker, a grinder in every sense.

Butler is a great player, and great players at every level of sport want to be coached. They know they don’t know everything, and there are times when the effort or concentration isn’t up to par.

Great players don’t mind being held to that standard, even through gritted teeth and rolled eyes, because of what’s waiting on the back end of that foul language.

This doesn’t look like a max player who’s now feeling himself deciding to make it known he’s the new sheriff in town, as some will make it appear to be.

Fans have longed for a player of his caliber to show the emotional investment to the results in the way they do with their pocketbook and their voices on various mediums.

Being upset that it comes from Butler dilutes that thought, or believing this hasn’t been simmering for quite some time. One can probably surmise Butler has been holding this frustration in for quite awhile, and that he’s so invested in the franchise he could no longer find it tolerable.

Butler has entered the strata where he’s put in the work to make his voice heard, and shouldn’t apologize for it, no matter what he says Monday before the Bulls’ next game against the Brooklyn Nets.

For all the personnel changes that will likely take place over the next couple of years, Butler will be the constant, a rock of consistency whose thoughts will matter at all levels of hierarchy.

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No. 4:Bucks turn to Prunty in Kidd’s absence — The news that Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd would be sidelined indefinitely after hip surgery came as a surprise. It also puts Joe Prunty in the middle of the mix as Kidd’s replacement until he recovers and is able to return. The “interim” coach thing worked wonders for Luke Walton, Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors this season (a record 24-0 start and a 26-1 mark to this day). Now the Bucks, the team that provided the only stain on the Warriors’ record, have to navigate a similar path. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel has more:

The pain in Kidd’s hip stems from his time with the Dallas Mavericks late in his playing career. He said he has controlled it with cortisone shots and other measures, but he said the pain has become too much and caused him to be unable to sleep at night.

“It’s been chronic for the last three to four years, since I was in Dallas the last time,” Kidd said. “The pain has been to the point where I can’t function.

“I’ve taken all the medicine I can do. Talking to the doctors, there’s really no good time to do the surgery. I have to fix myself and then we move on and get back to work.”

Kidd said assistant Joe Prunty will lead the Bucks in his absence and keep his responsibilities for the offense while Sean Sweeney will continue in his role as the team’s defensive guru.

“We’re all set,” Kidd said. “Joe Prunty will take over and he will run the team. But nobody gets out of their lane. Joe will still be offense and Sweeney will still be defense.

“The guys have to continue to develop. It’s in good hands with the coaching staff. We’re built as a roundtable. Joe is well-qualified to keep these guys going in the right direction.”

Kidd said the surgery will be performed by Edwin Su, one of the leading hip specialists in the country, at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

“Some would say it’s the 55,000 minutes that I tried to play,” Kidd said. “A lot of wear and tear on my body. I’ve been blessed not to have too many surgeries. This is just one that has taken away from me being able to sleep and function.

“Especially when I’m trying to help these guys be the best they can be.”

Kidd said when he played with the Mavericks he was able to control the pain with medicine.

“I’ve taken enough of the cortisone shots that they don’t work,” he said. “We put it off as long as we could.”

Kidd, 42, ended his 19-year NBA career with the New York Knicks after the 2012-’13 season and played with the Mavericks, the team that drafted him in 1994, for a second time from 2008-’12. He won an NBA championship with Dallas in 2011.

Kidd said he won’t know when he can return to coaching until after the surgery.

He joked that Prunty should model himself after Luke Walton, who has posted a 26-1 record with Golden State while coach Steve Kerr recovers from off-season back surgery.

“It wouldn’t be bad for Joe to take what Luke has done,” Kidd said. “I wouldn’t be mad.

“No pressure for Joe.”


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Jason Kidd’s situation in Milwaukee

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Billy Donovan might roll out the Hack-a-Jordan strategy tonight when the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers square off … Indiana’s Paul George misses the guidance he could always count on from David WestKevin Garnett says Boston fans are better than New York fans … Hawks officials are touring other arenas this season to gather ideas for their own arena renovation projectCaron Butler and the Sacramento Kings are prepared to part ways … The Utah Jazz are finally playing a game at home before Christmas

Morning shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisis | Welcome back, Kyrie | Tweaking the Trail Blazers | Taking Celtics from solid to super

No. 1: Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisisJimmy Butler‘s criticism Saturday night in New York of new head coach Fred Hoiberg‘s work style seemingly peeled back the curtain on an issue that is costing the Chicago Bulls chemistry and ultimately victories. If, as Butler alleges, Hoiberg hasn’t been tough enough on the Bulls in practices or on game nights, the responsibility for that falls … everywhere in the organization. Certainly it’s on Hoiberg to do whatever it takes, even if riding herd on grown men isn’t what earned him this job via his success in college at Iowa State. It’s on the Bulls players, who have been less than professional in their preparation and focus on multiple nights, whether they’ve won or lost. And it’s on management – chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, VP of basketball John Paxson and Gar Forman – for giving the locker room the license to drift sideways last season during the Cold War with since-fired Tom Thibodeau, and still sees the team saddled with some of the bad habits that produced. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com analyzed the team’s plight overnight:

First and foremost, it’s not every day that an NBA player calls out his head coach so publicly. Former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was a taskmaster, and the relationship between his players, including Butler, frayed last season before he was fired at the end of the season. But despite all the friction, no player ever called out Thibodeau publicly. They couldn’t stand him at times because of his domineering ways, but they always respected him because of his work ethic. Twenty-five games into Hoiberg’s tenure, he has to face the reality that his best player just called him out on a public stage.

While it has been clear to many around the team that the Bulls are struggling to adjust to Hoiberg’s style after five years under Thibodeau, that storyline, at least in the short term, will ride shotgun next to this one: How will Butler’s comments be received within the organization?

It’s possible that Butler might face some disciplinary action for calling out his coach in the media. But it’s also possible that Butler was speaking not just for himself, but for other teammates who also feel that Hoiberg’s style isn’t working for them. Either way, the foundation for Butler’s future as the face and voice of the Bulls will either be cemented or crushed by his comments on Saturday. They might serve as a turning point for a player who desperately wants to be seen as the focal point of the organization — a final vocal push to get out from underneath Derrick Rose’s long shadow.

Or, Butler’s comments may become the beginning of the end for a talented player who bit off more than he can chew within the organization. To say that Hoiberg has the full support of the front office would be an understatement. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson have supported Hoiberg both publicly and privately at every turn. He signed a five-year, $25 million contract six months ago and is entrenched as the coach for the future.

But that’s where this saga gets tricky for the Bulls. Butler was supposed to be the future king of the roster, the player they would build around, after signing a five-year extension worth over $90 million in July. Along with Hoiberg, Butler was supposed to be at the forefront of everything the Bulls did. Now, those questions will be left under a microscope for the rest of the basketball world to see.

So with Monday’s game against Brooklyn looming before a couple days of practice and the Christmas date at Oklahoma City, the Bulls and their fans are waiting for the next shoe to drop like…

***

No. 2: Welcome Back, Kyrie! — As excited as NBA fans are for the Christmas Day slate of games, with Cleveland at Golden State as the holiday’s centerpiece, they ought to be at least a little jazzed about the Philadelphia at Cleveland matinee today. OK, the Sixers will be responsible for 50 percent of the basketball offered up at Quicken Loans Arena, but the game marks the 2015-16 debut of Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Back finally from his recovery from knee surgery, which ended his playoffs in June in Game 1 of the Finals, Irving hardly could be more eager. “I’m pretty [expletive] excited to be back out there,” he told reporters Saturday. Our man Shaun Powell wrote about Irving’s comeback challenge and so did Jason Lloyd, the Cavs beat man for Ohio.com:

It has been a long time coming.

He fractured his kneecap in Game 1 of June’s NBA Finals after fighting knee problems throughout the postseason. The Cavs and Irving remained cautious and conservative during his rehab. He was finally cleared for full practices a couple of weeks ago and he kept building for this moment.

It has been clear for about a week Irving would make his debut against the 76ers. Realistically it’s an easier opponent to begin against since they’re the worst team in the league and it will serve as a way for Irving to ease back into competitive basketball. He’ll be on a minutes restriction to start, but doesn’t anticipate problems falling back in rhythm with his old teammates.

“There is no specific reason on why now,” he said. “Just wanted to take the doctor’s precautions as well as our team’s precautions. Obviously, as a competitor, you want to get out there. But for me, I let go of all my selfish, inside emotions and just put them aside and did what was best for my body and did what was best for the team.”

The Cavs went 17-7 in Irving’s absence and remain atop the East despite not having a full roster for any game this season. They ended the Oklahoma City Thunder’s six-game winning streak Thursday night despite missing Irving, Mo Williams and Iman Shumpert.

That just reiterated to Irving a team that finds ways to win regardless of who is on the floor.

“There’ll be an adjustment period, but knocking the rust off is something I’m looking forward to,” Irving said. “It’s not like I’m coming in and just trying to take 15 to 20 shots right after I come off injury. It’s just trying to gel back in and continue to play the right way. My basketball knowledge, I’m pretty confident in coming in and not trying to overdo it in any single way and just be aggressive.”

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No. 3:Tweaking the Trail Blazers — There was some player-on-coach criticism in Portland, too, though it didn’t rise nearly to the level of Butler’s comments about Bulls boss Hoiberg. Big man Mason Plumlee had made a plea after Friday’s loss in Orlando for the team to add variety to its 3-point-heavy attack. So by Saturday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts was responding to Plumlee’s remarks and the player was rephrasing some of the things he said or meant, as reported by Jason Quick of CSNNW.com:

After Saturday’s practice in Miami, Plumlee clarified that he wasn’t taking a shot at Blazers coach Terry Stotts and his offensive system, but rather pointing out the Blazers have to do more than just shoot threes.

“We have guys who are really shooting the three well, but you can’t live and die by the shot,’’ Plumlee said in Miami. “We have to add to it. I’m not being critical. Guys like Dame, CJ and A.C. do that very well, and we have to complement that in some way.’’

When the notion of broadening the offense was later brought up to Stotts, it was apparent the coach had heard Plumlee’s suggestion.

“Is that Mason’s interview?’’ Stotts interjected before the question was finished.

When told it was, Stotts had an answer ready.

“I’m open to expanding the offense, but the truth is we’ve been in the top 10 most of the year in offense, and offense has not necessarily been a problem,’’ Stotts said. “We are in the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage … that’s a strength of ours. Our passing, moving and cutting has been good, so my biggest concern … obviously I’m always concerned about both ends of the court … but my biggest concern is where we are defensively and how we improve defensively.’’

Plumlee’s answer in Orlando was generated from a question asking whether the Blazers have figured out their identity. He noted on Saturday that his answer Friday suggested the Blazers could make defense one of their traits.

“I guess when I was saying that, I’m thinking offensively and defensively,’’ Plumlee said. “We got our butts kicked in the paint last game and it puts pressure on those guys to be perfect from three-point range. You can’t do that.’’

Plumlee also noted that he could help the Blazers in forging a more well-rounded offensive identity by becoming more consistent inside. He pointed to his last two offensive games –- 4-for-14 at Oklahoma City and 2-for-6 at Orlando – as evidence.

“As a big guy, you should be around 50 percent,’’ Plumlee said. “So, speaking to myself, I’ve got to convert better, because I’ve had opportunities. Just finishing plays and getting more second shots. Getting offensive rebounds. But we have to find some kind of presence other than three’s … I guess that’s what I’m saying.’’

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No. 4:Taking Celtics from solid to super — The rebuild in Boston has gone well, fairly smoothly and relatively quickly. The Celtics are admired for the energy and teamwork they bring on most nights, and coach Brad Stevens already is considered one of the league’s best despite his modest tenure. But good doesn’t stay good for long, not in an NBA market so accustomed to great. Writing for SBNation.com, Paul Flannery looked at the challenges facing Boston as it tries to take the next, ambitious step:

When they play well together they can beat anyone in the league and when they don’t, they can get “exposed,” to use Stevens’ word from the Atlanta loss. One can look at their net ratings and other exotic measures and say that they’ve underachieved a bit, but it’s hard to look at their roster and reach the same conclusion.

The Celtics have a lot of solid players, but with the exception of [Isaiah] Thomas, they lack the kind of scorers who can take over games. Thomas has been great this season, but he’s the only one who is truly capable of creating his own shot in their halfcourt offense and his size limitations are an issue when teams switch taller defenders on him in the closing moments.

That’s not to say they have a bunch of scrubs. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are both having wonderful seasons, arguably the best of their respective careers. Every team in the league would love to have them on their side. Evan Turner has become a valuable and trusted reserve. Amir Johnson has been everything they hoped when they signed him in free agency and Jared Sullinger has put his career back on track. Marcus Smart was playing well before a knee injury kept him out of the lineup and Kelly Olynyk has had a breakthrough year defensively. (Seriously, he’s been very good on that end of the floor.)

That’s a solid team most nights, and Stevens has consistently said that he’s happy with the team’s progress. He hinted on Saturday that a lineup change may be coming and one possibility would be limiting David Lee’s minutes in favor of Jonas Jerebko and playing more smallball. Lee is the only regular with a negative net rating and the C’s have been more than five points better when he’s off the floor.

But that’s tinkering on the margins. If the Celtics are going to move beyond this stage then Danny Ainge will have to make a move. There’s been speculation for months — years even — about Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, but that seems unlikely at this juncture. There has never been universal agreement in the team’s front office that Cousins is the player to go all in for and it’s not even certain that Cousins would be available at all.

A knockdown shooter would definitely help matters, considering their woeful 33 percent mark from behind the arc, but there aren’t many of them available right now. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari, for example, can’t be traded until February. Not that the Nuggets have shown any interest in moving him either. The NBA’s version of parity has produced a number of interesting side effects and one of them is the notion that with more teams competing for playoff spots, there are fewer sellers than usual.

As it stands, the Celtics’ best chance to land a game-changing player is in this summer’s draft where they own Brooklyn’s pick without protection as the latest installment of the KG/Paul Pierce heist. In addition to their own choice, they also have Dallas’ first round selection (top-7 protected) and Minnesota’s first rounder if it falls out of the top 12 picks (doubtful, but not out of the realm of possibility). They’ve also got a bunch of second rounders with protections too numerous and complex to list here. Suffice to say, they’ve got a lot of picks coming and more on the way in the future from Brooklyn and Memphis.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Look out, rest of the NBA! LeBron James has a new obsession and all you can do while he pursue it is to line up and stand idly by: he’s working on his free throws. … No one needs to worry about the L.A. Clippers, according to point guard Chris Paul, except maybe the Clippers and their fans. … Kevin Durant, an unabashed Kobe Bryant fan, had a whole new batch of raves about the Lakers guard after their dinner together Friday night in OKC. … Trevor Ariza was just a local kid when he met Bryant, who eventually would become a teammate and rival, and he lauds the Lakers’ retiring star as well. … The Miami Heat have taken strides this season but aren’t quite ready to say “kumbiya!” … John Wall had to play a whole bunch of minutes to get Washington past Charlotte, but if the Wizards aren’t careful, Wall might join their long list of injured players.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 28


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors just keep winning | Jackson returns to OKC | Heat embracing life after LeBron | Davis goes down

No. 1: Warriors just keep winning The Golden State Warriors went into Phoenix Friday night with their historic season-opening winning streak on the line. Seventeen wins in a row? No problem, apparently, as the Warriors cruised to a 19-point win, 135-116, and keeping their streak alive. This included a typically impressive 41-point effort from Stephen Curry, who didn’t even get off the bench in the fourth quarter. What made this win even more outrageous, writes ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, is that the Warriors didn’t even play particularly well, and yet they still won easily …

Here’s an illustration of what’s terrifying about the 17-0 Warriors, aside from the fact they’re 17-0. On Friday night, Golden State was torched on defense, ceding 116 points on 92 shots to the host Phoenix Suns. The Warriors were sloppy on offense, lousy with unforced errors, coughing it up 23 times. A bad game for them, in a few respects.

Still, they won by 19, 135-116. Also, they didn’t even need to play Stephen Curry in the fourth quarter. As in, the game ceased being competitive after three stanzas. The Suns were done. An unholy torrent of 3-point shooting had snuffed them. In his three quarters, Curry delivered 41 points and nine 3-pointers. The team set a record, splashing 22 from deep.

The Suns went small, attempting to best Golden State at its preferred style. What resulted was an aesthetically pleasing, fast-forwarded look at basketball. Phoenix already had dug a hole by then and couldn’t keep pace with Golden State in rhythm, hitting so many 3s. The Suns had a great night beyond the arc, draining 10 3-pointers on 26 attempts. Other teams just aren’t supposed to top that figure by 12.

Golden State, despite all the “streak” questions, continues to focus on process. Interim coach Luke Walton said, “We turned the ball over too much, we still have to get better at that.” Breakout All-Star candidate Draymond Green, who claimed a triple-double Friday, said, “I don’t think our performance was great tonight. You can’t let fool’s gold fool you.” It makes sense. The Warriors hit some 3s they won’t usually hit. They need to tighten up, fix certain things that might hurt them later.

If it’s fool’s gold though, what glitters still has to make other teams shiver with woe. Curry was brilliant, which would seem redundant, possibly even boring, if not for his propensity to unveil a new trick every game. This time, with Ronnie Price attempting to pressure him, Curry evoked three gasps on one play from the “away” crowd. First, with a behind-the-back dribble that left Price grasping. Then, with a pump fake that sent Price flying. And finally, the punctuating swish. Gasp. Gasp. Gasp. Cheer.

“Afterward, it felt like a neutral site game at that point,” Curry said of what his play did to the crowd.

So when will the Warriors lose? It could be sooner rather than later because of an injury to Harrison Barnes. While subbing at center, Barnes’ ankle gave way when he landed on Markieff Morris. The team says it’s a sprain and that X-rays are negative. Still, the expectation is he will miss some time, and Golden State will be without its dominant “death lineup” of Green-Barnes-Andre IguodalaKlay Thompson-Curry. That could end the streak, as could the basic law of averages. No team goes undefeated, no matter how great.

***

No. 2: Jackson returns to OKC It may not have been on the level of, say, LeBron James returning to Cleveland with Miami for the first time, but Friday night saw a significant homecoming nonetheless. Last season, former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson made his displeasure at his back-up role known, and was traded to Detroit, where he signed a long-term deal and has become an integral part of their core. With the Pistons in Oklahoma City last night, the Thunder seemed happy to get the big win, 103-87, and make something of a statement along the way, writes The Oklahoman‘s Erick Thorne

Former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson didn’t leave Oklahoma City on the best of terms.

Kevin Durant wasn’t afraid to say it.

“It was tough. I didn’t like some of the stuff he said in the media and how he went about it,” Durant said Friday before the Thunder’s 103-87 win over Jackson’s Detroit Pistons. “… But at the end of the day you’ve got to respect a guy who wants that opportunity and I can appreciate a guy who wants that opportunity.”

The Pistons were able to offer Jackson the opportunity he wanted to become a starting point guard, and rewarded him with a five-year, $80 million contract in July. Jackson was dealt to the Detroit in February after not being able to agree with the Thunder on a contract extension and following a report that his agent requested a trade out of OKC. The trade landed the Thunder Enes Kanter, as well as Steve Novak, Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin.

Jackson, who called Friday night’s tilt against the Thunder “just another game,” was asked if he had any regrets about how his tenure in Oklahoma City ended.

“I don’t look back to last year,” Jackson said. When asked if there was regret that the Thunder didn’t get over the top, the one thing Jackson said he does look back on is “four years and I don’t have a ring.

“But like I said, I’m focused on the season so I can reflect in the summer,” Jackson said.

When asked if the trade was beneficial for both Jackson and the Thunder, Durant said he never really thought about it that way.

“We’ve got a really great team, we’ve got some great guys back. Reggie’s doing well in Detroit,” Durant said. “We had a rough ending last year with Reggie, but I can just think about when he first got here how hard he worked, how great of a teammate he is, and every guy wants an opportunity.”

***

No. 3: Heat embracing life after LeBron — It’s going on two seasons now since LeBron James left South Beach to return to his native Ohio. And while last season the Heat battled injuries and a major mid-season trade, this year the expectations are higher for the Heat, including from the Heat themselves. As Michael Lee writes for Yahoo, the Heat are actively looking at their legacy in the post-James era …

“I expect to be in the playoffs every year from now on,” Chris Bosh told Yahoo Sports. “We want it. After my ordeal last year, it’s a lot easier grinding it out, having a good time, playing out your dreams. It’s tough, but it’s a lot of glory in it. That’s what we’re about. People remember your name. And for me personally, it’s a chance to write our legacy without Bron, to be honest.”

LeBron James was better off without Miami than the other way around in their first season apart. While James flourished in his return to Cleveland, making his fifth consecutive NBA Finals run, the Heat floundered through an injury-plagued campaign in which trouble lurked around nearly every corner. Despite unearthing a rebounding and shot-blocking gem in Hassan Whiteside and trading for Goran Dragic, a third-team all-NBA guard two years ago in Phoenix, the Heat were doomed to the lottery once Bosh’s season came to an end. But the playoff reprieve had a surprise on the other side as Miami landed a seemingly ready-made contributor in promising rookie Justise Winslow, a defensive menace who won a national title at Duke and was available with the 10th overall selection in the draft.

The Cavaliers at full strength don’t appear to have a capable challenger to supplant James’ reign, but the Heat are certainly one of the more intriguing candidates in a much-improved Eastern Conference. Miami usually finds a way to avoid the recidivist rate of most non-playoff teams, making repeat trips to the lottery once in Pat Riley’s 20 years with the franchise and winning a championship within four years of its past two lottery appearances.

“If you’re not going to win a championship, that whole run through June sucks anyway,” Dwyane Wade said earlier this season. “We weren’t going to win a championship last year, so it wouldn’t matter if we went out in the first round or April 17, when our last game was. That’s kind of what I think at this point in my career. I don’t play to get into the first round of the playoffs. We’re still a young team, together trying to grow. We have a lot of potential and we see that.”

The Heat have the sort of talent that has the potential to be sensational or go sideways.

Wade and Bosh, neighbors and partners on two championship teams, are still capable of special nights but both are north of 30 and can no longer consistently carry teams as they have in the past. Dragic, whom Miami awarded with a five-year, $90 million extension last summer, is still navigating how to be aggressive while serving as the point guard on a team with multiple offensive options. Veteran Luol Deng, 30, has a résumé that includes two all-star appearances, but Tom Thibodeau may have squeezed out the best years of his career in Chicago. Amaré Stoudemire, 33, signed with the Heat believing they gave him the best chance to grab that elusive title, but he is being used sparingly to save him for the postseason.

“If we would’ve been together in our 20s, it would’ve been a real problem,” Stoudemire told Yahoo about teaming with Wade and Bosh, “but as we’ve gotten older, we’ve found ways to still be successful.”

***

No. 4: Davis goes down The New Orleans Pelicans may have gotten off to a slow start under new coach Alvin Gentry, as they’ve suffered through injuries to nearly everyone, but they got their biggest scare yet last night, when young franchise player Anthony Davis went down with a knee injury following a collision with Chris Paul and had to be carried from the floor. Davis eventually returned to the bench, though not the game, and the Pelicans weren’t thrilled with the injury itself, writes John Reid of NOLA.com …

Davis did not return to play after he was taken to the locker room to be treated. The Pelicans were assessed three technicals following the play in which they apparently thought Paul took a cheap shot to cause the injury.

Pelicans officials said Davis suffered a right knee contusion and he initially was listed as questionable to return. Late in the fourth quarter, Davis returned to the bench, but did not get back in the game.

Davis was in obvious pain after it appeared Paul knocked knees with Davis, who was trying to defend him in transition.Davis fell holding his right knee in pain.

”I wouldn’t had put him back in, it’s not worth the risk,” Alvin Gentry told reporters after the game.

It appeared Paul didn’t avoid trying to collide into Davis near the midcourt lane after Clippers forward Josh Smith blocked Ish Smith‘s layup attempt with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter.

When Gentry was asked what he thought about the play, he said he didn’t have anything to say about it.

”You saw it, so make your own judgement,” Gentry said. ”When you are a great player, they are going to come at you. We just have to match the physicality and find a way to stay off the injured list.”

After the game, Paul admitted that he drew the foul on the play.

”We (Davis and I) knocked knees and I hope he is alright,” Paul said.

Davis’ status for Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz has not been determined. Before the injury occurred, Davis played 28 minutes, scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

Gentry said they will know more about Davis’ status after he gets evaluated by the Pelicans’ training staff on Saturday. It is the third injury Davis has suffered after the first 16 games.

Davis missed two games earlier this month with a right hip contusion. On Nov. 18, Davis missed the Oklahoma City Thunder game because of a left shoulder injury.

”It’s part of the NBA, he’s hurt and we’ll see where he goes,” Gentry said. ”If he doesn’t play, then we’ll put somebody else in and they’ll have to step up. That’s what it is.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, Jahlil Okafor‘s recent incident in Boston wasn’t his late-night altercation … Luke Walton might get credit for the Warriors winning streak after all … No better how bad things get for the Lakers this season, Kobe Bryant won’t be getting benched … If O.J. Mayo and DeMarcus Cousins had a verbal spat earlier this week, Mayo isn’t talking about itJ.R. Smith was thinking of Shaquille O’Neal when he went one-on-one against Frank Kaminsky.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 7


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins to return vs. Spurs? | For Kobe, victory lap beats farewell tour | Imagine Celtics’ Stevens with All-Stars | Joerger on the hot seat?

No. 1: Cousins to return vs. Spurs? — The good news for the Sacramento Kings and their fans is that center DeMarcus Cousins, sidelined since suffering a right Achilles tendon strain on Halloween, expects to play Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs. The bad news is, that timetable would mean Cousins will miss the Kings’ meeting Saturday night with Golden State. Sacramento is 0-3 since Cousins went out last weekend and 6-31 in its last 37 games forced to play without him. So this injury update from Yahoo! SportsMarc Spears arrives not a minute too soon:

“I feel good. If it were up to me I would be playing tonight,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports prior to the Rockets game.

Cousins averaged 26.5 points and 12 rebounds the first two games before injuring his right Achilles tendon in 15 minutes of play against the Clippers on Oct. 31. Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports there was a “50-50 chance” Cousins would play on Monday and said he would return no later than Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons. Cousins shot prior to the Rockets game.

“Our doctors are worrying about Cousins over the long haul,” Divac told Yahoo Sports.

***

No. 2: For Kobe, victory lap beats farewell tour — He isn’t looking for any Harley-Davidson motorcycles or vintage rocking chairs as lovely parting gifts. The applause from rival teams’ fans is appreciated and a little surprising to him but certainly not expected. Overall, in fact, Kobe Bryant would be fine if folks made a small deal rather than a big deal out of what could be his final NBA season. Were it entirely left up to him, he would settle for toting back to Los Angeles a steamer trunk full of W’s, in the way his Lakers team picked up its first victory of the 2015-16 season at Brooklyn Friday. What could be Bryant’s last weekend in New York as an active NBA player triggered all sorts of interesting stories, including this one from Yahoo! SportsAdrian Wojnarowski:

The long goodbye for Kobe Bryant made it out onto the road on Friday night, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn playing the part of the prelim to a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden. Bryant could feel the strength starting to regenerate in his legs here, delivering him a modest improvement over a dreadful Staples Center performance on Tuesday.

As Bryant begins what appears in every way to be his farewell tour, the truth becomes clearer and clearer to him. He isn’t chasing the playoffs, nor a championship. Kobe Bryant is chasing a ghost.

“I get held to much higher standards than most of my peers,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports on his walk out of the Barclays Center. “If I have a bad shooting night, it’s, ‘He’s in the grave. He’s in the coffin.’

Look around the league, and other players have bad shooting nights – and it’s just a bad shooting night.”

But the expectations that they have for me, they’re actually something that I appreciate. Achilles injury. Fractured knee. Torn shoulder. Twentieth year in the league. Thirty-seven years old. All that, and the expectations are that I average 30 points.

“But I appreciate those standards, because it’s something that still pushes me, still drives me.”

He laughs and nods in agreement with himself.

“Let’s see what I can do,” Bryant said.

***

No. 3: Imagine Celtics’ Stevens with All-Stars — Before USA Basketball announced its wise and proper choice of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich to take over as coach of Team USA when Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski steps down after the 2016 Olympics, much speculation about Coach K’s replacement included Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Stevens’ reputation as a respected and admired sideline strategist, teacher and mentor got polished a little more with Washington forward Jared Dudley‘s comments. Dudley talked up Stevens’ coaching chops to MassLive.com:

On top of all that is Stevens’ ability to manage a team, which Dudley said is obvious to players around the league.

“With Stevens to do what he’s done here (in Boston) — I mean, imagine, give this guy a couple of All-Stars, what he could do,” Dudley said. “But that being said, he hasn’t had that. He has good players, young players, hungry. And to be able to, with a young team where guys want to get stats, and sometimes that’s a little more important than winning, buying in, he’s done a great job.”

“Just knowing his Xs and Os, ball movement, giving players chances to play,” Dudley said. “Obviously it’s a lot easier when you don’t have any stars, technically, on this team, but they can play 15 guys on any given night, any given day. His Xs and Os out of timeouts are great.

“They were first half of the season dead in the water. To have a young team compete, come back, make the playoffs, and we saw them improve year by year. So when it comes to the rest of the body, taking days off, knowing when to prepare, put the time in, Xs and Os. Then he’s a young coach on a young team that would be hard to win. He found ways, and that puts him up there.”

Over the summer, Dudley told Grantland’s Zach Lowe he would put Stevens in his “top two or three” coaches to play for. Coaching isn’t the only factor when players decide where to sign, of course, but Dudley estimated it’s about “30 to 40 percent” of the equation.

“Obviously the big thing here is money,” Dudley said. “The big thing is how good the team is, and city and coach go hand in hand. You’ve seen LeBron (James) go back to Cleveland and it was a rookie coach. So obviously it didn’t matter to him to a certain degree. But you saw guys go to Doc Rivers. You saw LaMarcus Aldridge go to Pop (Gregg Popovich). So it does matter. And usually when you have a good coach, more times than not it’s a winning situation. So it makes it a lot easier.”

***

No. 4: Joerger on the hot seat? — A 1-2 record in their past three games and a 3-3 start to this season through six is not what the Memphis Grizzlies and their followers had in mind. Nor was hearing head coach Dave Joerger comment on how “old” his guys were looking. But with veteran stars who look a little out of place in the new, smaller, long-distance NBA, the Grizzlies aren’t apologizing or protesting too much over the urgency that’s leaked into their season a mere 7.3 percent of the way through their schedule. Beat writer Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal looked not just at Memphis’ record but at the way in which the team has been losing:

[General manager Chris] Wallace, though, sounds confident that what ails the Grizzlies is easily fixable.

“Overall, we’re not playing extremely well on either side of the ball. No one is satisfied with the start,” Wallace said. “But we’re a team that’s faced adversity in the past. It’s a very resilient group that’s proven we can get off the mat and win games. We’re 3-3. We’re not 0-6. Granted, the aesthetics in three losses haven’t been good, but those losses don’t count three times in the standings.”

The Griz have lost by 30 points (against Cleveland), 50 (Golden State) and 19 (Portland). Memphis trailed by 26 late in that road loss at Portland. The Griz have been out-hustled and flat-footed in every defeat. The extended times of disinterest and lack of fight are major concerns.

Players routinely express frustration about a sudden lack of chemistry and execution.

Opponents are shooting better from 3-point range against the Griz (41.5 percent) than the Griz shoot overall from the field (41.4 percent). And Memphis is nowhere near its defensive prowess of the past five seasons. The Griz rank 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

In other words, the first six games have made it look as though the Grizzlies’ patented grit-and-grind style is just about in a grave.

A recent ESPN.com article even suggested that Griz coach Dave Joerger is on the hot seat, a candidate to be fired early this season because Memphis has trailed by 20-plus points for 62 minutes over the first six games.

The Griz operated from a 20-point deficit for a total of 88 minutes during the entire 2014-15 season.
Wallace defended his coach.

“When things aren’t going well, there’s always a lot of noise from the outside,” Wallace said. “You can’t let it permeate the air you’re breathing as a team. You just have to keep your head down and do what you’ve done in the past to be successful.

“I don’t see Dave on the hot seat. We’re six games into the season. We’re struggling right now, but Dave’s a proven commodity and he’s got a talented staff.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The flip side of the Lakers’ first victory of the season in Brooklyn was the Nets’ continued slide toward irrelevance. … Chris Bosh is making his own comeback this season but the Miami forward spoke in Indianapolis Friday of Paul George‘s for the Pacers. … An 0-3 start for Indiana has been spun more recently into a 3-0 stretch that has the players and coaches accentuating the positives. … “Old school” Lakers coach Byron Scott and “new age” draft pick D’Angelo Russell may have found their time machine to help close philosophical or personality gaps between them. … ESPN.com theorizes on how life might have been different had the Nets drafted Kobe Bryant 20 years ago. … Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker is said to be in the market for new representation, severing his ties to agent B.J. Armstrong and the Wasserman Media Group. … By the time this season is half over, former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau probably will have had contact, inside and outside the gym, with most of the coaches and teams of the NBA. And we’ll still likely see dispatches informing us of Thibodeau’s travels and meals with notable league executives. …

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.

One Team, One Stat: The Thibs Effect


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Chicago Bulls

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Chicago Bulls, who continued to do one thing really well defensively.

The stat

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The context

20151025_chi_basicsFor the second time in Tom Thibodeau‘s five seasons as head coach, the Bulls were the best in the NBA at defending the easiest shots on the floor. League-wide, restricted-area shots yielded 1.20 points per attempt last season. Against the Bulls though, that number was just 1.12 points per shot.

Among 98 players who defended at least 250 shots at the rim last season, Taj Gibson (45.5 percent, ninth) and Pau Gasol (48.0 percent, 22nd) both ranked in the top 25 in opponent field goal percentage there.

The Bulls didn’t just defend shots at the rim well, they were also above average in regard to preventing them. And they were the best in the league at forcing mid-range shots (31 percent of their opponents’ shots came from between the paint and the 3-point line), the least efficient looks on the floor. That comes, in part, from being the best at keeping side pick-and-rolls from getting to the middle.

In all five of Thibodeau’s seasons in Chicago, his team ranked in the top five in effective field goal percentage defense. And keeping your opponents to a low effective field goal percentage is the most important thing you can do defensively.

But the Bulls fell out of the top five in overall defensive efficiency last season for the first time in Thibodeau’s tenure, because they ranked 29th in forcing turnovers and didn’t rebound as well as they had in the past.

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New coach Fred Hoiberg has put in a new offense and could go with a starting frontline of Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol for additional floor spacing. But while there’s potential for an improved offense, there’s also potential for more regression on defense. Mirotic ranked as one of 10 worst rim protectors among those 98 who defended at least 250 shots at the basket last season.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Value of Ice


VIDEO: GameTime: The top training camp questions around the league.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — If you watched any Chicago Bulls game over the last five years with the TV volume on, you heard Tom Thibodeau screaming his favorite word over and over again.

“Ice! Ice! Ice!” was the call whenever the Bulls’ opponent ran a pick-and-roll on the side of the floor, instructing the ball-handler’s defender to keep his man from dribbling toward the middle by almost defending him sideways.

Here’s Derrick Rose “icing” a Dallas side pick-and-roll, trying to direct Devin Harris toward the baseline. Other teams call this “downing” a pick-and-roll.

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Thibodeau believed that, if his defense could keep the ball on the side of the floor, it was more likely to get a stop. And the numbers back him up.

SportVU tracks every pick-and-roll, no matter when it happens in a possession. It knows where the pick-and-roll happened, what direction the ball-handler went, and what happened afterward.

Data from last season tells us that pick-and-rolls that start on the side of the floor and go toward the middle yield more points per possession than those that stay on the side or those that start in the middle.

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So the value of “Ice” is more than 2 1/2 points per 100 possessions, the difference between being an elite defense and being an average one.

A pick-and-roll is generally not designed to get the ball-handler a shot. No matter where a pick-and-roll occurs or in what direction it goes, the ball-handler passes the ball about 2/3 of the time and scores about 1/4 of his team’s points on those possessions.

But he’s a little more likely to hold on to the ball when he stays on the side of the floor than when he goes to the middle. If he gets to the middle of the floor, all four teammates are one pass away. If he stays on the side, some passes are more difficult (or impossible) to make.

And when the ball-handler does shoot the ball off a side pick-and-roll, he shoots worse and shoots fewer 3-pointers when he goes toward the middle of the floor.

20150930_side_shooting

Those shooting numbers are pretty bad – Dion Waiters territory – either way. Good shooting on pick-and-roll possessions comes after a pass. And there are more passes available from the middle of the floor than from the side.

Fairly simple stuff, but it’s the basis for the way a lot of teams defend the floor.

Not surprisingly, the Bulls were the best team in the league at keeping side pick-and-rolls on the side last season. Those “Ice! Ice! Ice!” calls are hard to ignore, apparently.

20150930_pnr_lowest

The five teams above were all above-average defensive teams. There is a correlation between defensive efficiency and keeping pick-and-rolls on the side of the floor in last season’s numbers.

Thibodeau was fired by the Bulls in May, of course. New coach Fred Hoiberg is expected to bring more offensive creativity to the Bulls, but changes on defense could be just as important. Those “Ice! Ice! Ice!” calls might not be missed by those of us watching Bulls games, but the lack of them could make Chicago a worse defensive team.

The anti-Bulls were the Toronto Raptors, who allowed side pick-and-rolls to get to the middle more than twice as often as Chicago did last season.

20150930_pnr_highest

All of the five teams above were below-average defensive teams. Four of the five (all except the Heat) ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency.

Here’s DeMar DeRozan squaring up on Monta Ellis as Dirk Nowitzki comes over to set the screen…

20150930_pnr_tor

Patrick Patterson is hedging the screen to keep Ellis from getting into the paint on a straight line, but isn’t necessarily directing Ellis toward the side like downing a screen does.

The Raptors didn’t down screen two seasons ago, when they ranked ninth in defensive efficiency. But their defense fell apart last season, they went from top 10 to bottom 10, and they couldn’t stop John Wall and the Wizards in the playoffs.

Here’s Wall getting into the middle of the floor on a side pick-and-roll and finding Marcin Gortat for a layup. He also had the option of hitting Bradley Beal in the opposite corner.

The additions of DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph will certainly help the Raptors’ defense this season, no matter how coach Dwane Casey wants them to defend side pick-and-rolls. But a change in scheme could also be in order.

Of course, keeping the ball on the side of the floor is a lot easier said than done. First, the big defender has to let his teammate know that the screen is coming.

The real work starts with the guy guarding the ball, who has to put himself between his man and the screener. If he’s just a little late in doing that, his man will get to the middle of the floor, he’ll get caught up in the screen, and the screener’s defender won’t be in position to cut off the paint.

If the ball-handler’s defender is successful in downing the screen, there’s still pressure on the big defender to cut off the paint. According to SportVU, side pick-and-rolls that stay on the side result in a drive by the ball-handler more often (19 percent of the time) than those that go toward the middle (15 percent).

And once he does, he has some work to do to get back and challenge a pick-and-pop jumper if the screener was Dirk Nowitzki or Chris Bosh.

Here’s Dennis Schroder downing a screen and Mike Muscala cutting off the paint, leaving Nikola Mirotic (who never set much of a screen) wide open.

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That’s why offenses that can put four shooters on the floor are generally better than those that can’t. But the only pass that E’Twaun Moore could have made on that play was to Mirotic, and the Hawks could have been quicker with help from the weak side, preventing such a wide open shot.

Defending the whole floor for 24 seconds is hard work, no matter what scheme you employ. But the numbers say that it’s better to push that screen toward the baseline, which is what most good defenses do.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 27


VIDEO: Boston Celtics media day

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from Lucas | John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant | Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one hit wonder | David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston

No. 1: Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from John Lucas — The one theme you hear every year around this time is “so and so has lost x-amount of weight.” It’s usually met with a ho-hum, although in certain situations, a drastic fitness shakeup is a rather big deal. Al Jefferson of the Hornets recently revealed he has given up fried chicken which allowed him to drop pounds, and now here comes Jared Sullinger and his weight-loss pledge. Although, in this case, it comes with a twist: He was whipped into shape by John Lucas. Sullinger is at a crossroads in his young NBA career; better fitness could make him see a breakthrough season. Here is Chris Mason of the Boston Herald with the details …

Sullinger’s weight has been a talking point since the Celtics drafted him three years ago, and it came to a head last season when he was reportedly tipping the scales at 300 pounds. The C’s want to see their 6-foot-9 forward around 260. For Sullinger to stay in green, something had to change. His family and Lucas saw that.

“(Lucas) personally came down and he told me ‘ you’ve got all the talent in the world, but you’ve forgotten what working hard is,'” Sullinger said. “For somebody to come all the way from Houston to Colombus Ohio, to stop whatever he was doing, he was there for me, and that’s what made me go and workout for John.”

Lucas is no stranger to interventions. The former Houston Rocket almost lost his entire career to drugs.

While he was in the NBA, Lucas was an alcoholic and a drug addict. In 1986, the guard tested positive for cocaine, and was released by the Rockets after a decade in the league. Lucas volunteered to go to rehab, straightened his life out, and now helps other basketball players do the same.

Sullinger doesn’t have a problem with drugs, but he’s had his career threatened by his weight.

“I think John’s biggest thing, with everything he went through – being the first NBA player to be kicked out of the NBA (for) drugs – I think John’s biggest focus was to not let me make the mistake. Sometimes, it’s not always drugs, it can be other things,” Sullinger said. “And he wanted to just clear my mind and understand that I could be whoever I want to be, I’ve just got to make the right choices.”

Sullinger was sold.

He went to Houston to workout with Lucas four different times in the offseason, for a total of eleven weeks. Sullinger was put through a series of unorthodox basketball workouts, and his exercising was coupled with a strict diet.

“I went from boxing, to swimming, to on the court basketball, to running track. I did so many other sports – other than basketball – there was one point where I was down in August for two weeks and I didn’t touch a basketball. He wouldn’t let me be on the basketball court and we just got in shape other ways,” Sullinger said.

***

No. 2: John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant — OK, take a wild guess about who will be subject to a Free-Agent Watch this season? Yes, it’s Kevin Durant and the obvious choice, besides OKC, competing for his services is the hometown Wizards. Durant learned the game in the DC suburbs and makes no secret of his love for his home base. Besides, the Wizards will have enough cap room next summer and they have John Wall, who’d be a capable replacement for Russell Westbrook should Durant bolt OKC. The odds have Durant staying put, but if so, it won’t be because Wall didn’t try to convince him. CSN spoke with Wall on a video story; here’s a snippet …

“There’s gonna be an opportunity to throw a pitch at him to try and get him to come back home,” Wall said. “But knowing him he’s really going to be focused on taking care of Oklahoma City this season, and I’m going to be focused on taking care of the Washington Wizards.

“When the time is right and he can get away from all that, we’ll probably have some conversation and throw a pitch.”

 

Rather than reveal the rest, take a few seconds and listen for yourself.

***

No. 3: Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder — What can a surprise performer do for an encore? We’ll all be watching and wondering about Hassan Whiteside, the journeyman big man who came out of nowhere to bolster the Heat in the wake of LeBron James‘ departure. There will be lots on the line for Whiteside, most notably money; he can cash in big time next summer, when he’ll be a free agent and the salary cap will rise. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel spoke with him…

By now, we all know the story. Last year Whiteside rose from D-League reject to the talk of the NBA. After being out of the league, he captivated the media by sharing tales of growing tired of eating rice while playing in China and witnessing car-bombings in Lebanon.

He endured these sometimes-uncomfortable experiences abroad, and spent time in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Des Moines, Iowa, before earning another shot in the NBA. And Whiteside took advantage of the Heat’s gamble by averaging 11.8 points and 10 rebounds in 48 games.

As he prepares for an encore performance, Whiteside will no longer have the surprise element. No more playful stories about his unlikely path here. No more candid talk about his rating on the NBA 2K video game.

All everyone is focused on is whether he can produce All-Star numbers, a situation Whiteside is comfortable with.

“There’s never any pressure on me,” Whiteside said. “There were people who never believed in me anyway, so I don’t expect you to start believing in me now.”

The 7-foot Whiteside sounds as if he’s spent the summer listening to uplifting Journey songs on repeat. He expects the success “goes on and on, and on, and on.” A year older, his boyish attributes evident when he arrived last December are long gone. His shoulders are less like a clothes hanger and more like Dwight Howard.

Most days, he’s worked out twice daily at AmericanAirlines Arena. Some of it is fine-tuning. Some of it is adding new dimensions he hopes will surprise competitors.

***

No. 4: David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston — After grabbing a championship ring in Golden State, where his role was reduced with the emergence of Draymond Green, David Lee is looking for a recharge in Boston. It wasn’t too long ago when Lee was a double-double guy who could get 25 points or 15 rebounds on any given night. He still believes he’s that type of player, and recently spoke with Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com

The Celtics believe that Lee, acquired this offseason in a swap with the Golden State Warriors, can help a young and impressionable team take a step forward in large part because of his NBA experiences, particularly after winning a title last season.

“I don’t think David wants to think of himself as old, because he’s not — he’s still a young guy in a lot of ways,” said Stevens. “But I think that, any time you have guys that have seen it and been there, I think what they can share is important. And the challenge is being able to share that within what you’re doing because he’s got a transition to make with regard to learning me and learning how we’re trying to play and learning our guys that he’s playing with and everything else. I think he’ll make that transition smoothly. He’s a really bright guy. And I will encourage him to be open in communicating to all those younger guys because I think that’s important.”

The Celtics are hopeful that Lee, a two-time All-Star who was averaging nearly a double-double at 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game just two seasons ago, can not only provide leadership but get back to being an impactful player a season after he accepted a reduced role to aid Golden State’s title hunt.

Lee moved to the Boston area a month ago to get acclimated and joined many of the team’s younger players for what he playfully called the “preseason to the preseason” with daily workouts. While Boston brought back 10 total players from last season’s squad that utilized a second-half surge to earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, Lee has begun trying to establish himself as a veteran leader despite learning a new system.

“I think, for me, it’s just about being myself,” said Lee. “I’ve been in the league a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things, both good and bad. And I think that I’m a guy that, a lot of times, leads by example. I’m a hard-working guy and I think that’s something that’s good for the young guys to see, when their veterans are hard-workers, because at that point they have no choice but to fall in line and do the same. For the veteran guys, it sets the tone, both in training camp and preseason as the season goes along.

“I’m just going to be myself. I think I’m a pretty likable guy and a guy that can set a good tone by my work ethic.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer sat for a Q&A and addressed Al Horford’s free agency next summer … Gerald Wallace waived by the Sixers … Tom Thibodeau is sitting in on Bobcats practices … the Sixers thought about chasing Jimmy Butler last summer, but didn’t.

 

Morning shootaround — August 3


VIDEO: Steve Smith shines a light on the offseason winners and losers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Noah active, energized this summer | Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come | Okafor has great expectations for Sixers

No. 1: Noah active, energized this summer — Change has been good for Joakim Noah. The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man has been active this summer and energized this summer, both in the community and where basketball is concerned. Noah feels good. His mind is clear and his focus is sharp. And as far as his new coach, Fred Hoiberg, is concerned, the vibes are good. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune has more on Noah’s big summer:

Given that Joakim Noah spoke Saturday at an anti-violence community event his foundation organized, the Bulls’ big man placed last season’s personal struggles in perspective.

“Last year was a tough year for me. I feel it was very humbling,” Noah said. “We went through a lot. Right now, I’m feeling healthy both physically and mentally. I’m really excited about our upcoming opportunity. I never take anything for granted.”

Noah, who attended Saturday’s ONE CITY youth basketball tournament at the Major Adams Community Center near the United Center with his mother and sister, has been working out this offseason in California. Recently, new coach Fred Hoiberg visited.

He’s confident his summer at a sports science academy has put the health issues he experienced last season after May 2014 left knee surgery behind him.

“I feel great,” Noah said. “This is the first time I’ve taken a lot of time for myself to just focus on what I need to get done. Sometimes when you go through humbling experiences, (you) hungrier than ever. And I feel ready to prove I can help this team win big.”

Noah said he enjoyed “vibing” with Hoiberg.

“We got to break bread together,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to the coaching staff, spending time with Fred. I think it’s going to be very different.”

Asked to elaborate, Noah smiled.

“Time will tell,” he said. “But it will definitely be different. We had a lot great times with Tom Thibodeau. He’s a great coach. I learned a lot from him. I’ve experienced a lot with him. I only have good things to say about him. I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my career.”

Before the tournament, Noah and his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, unveiled his Noah’s Arc Foundation’s latest public service announcement centered on its “Rock Your Drop” movement. It’s centered on peace, unity and positive change in the face of Chicago’s rampant gun violence.

Spike Lee, Bears running back Matt Forte, “Chicago Fire” actor David Eichenberg and St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger are some of the spot’s prominent cameos.

“‘Rock Your Drop’ is a movement that started with my mother. It has been part of my vision as a basketball player since I was a kid,” Noah said. “For it to be finally here and feel this love really means so much to me and to my family. To launch this PSA is huge. To be able to play for the Chicago Bulls is something other than just basketball. When I see people wearing their drops, it means the world to me and my mom.”

Rodhe, an artist, chiseled the small drop out of stone 18 years ago. Noah wore one on a necklace.

“We’re all one. We’ve all been given life,” Rodhe said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re from. I’m from Sweden. You may say, ‘What are you doing here, blonde lady, on the South Side of Chicago? This isn’t your problem.’ I say no. When something is as strong as gun violence and you see the pain of moms, that’s all of ours problem.”

Noah is very hands-on with his foundation. He joked about converting now-teenage kids who razzed him about Kevin Durant fans five or six years ago.

“This will be my ninth season here and I don’t take that for granted,” Noah said. “Guys move around in my profession. They get traded. To be with a team for that long is special.

“I’m working as hard as I can on the court and this is a part of what I wanted to do since I started playing basketball. This is like home. We’ve been putting in a lot of work here. This is not a gimmick. It’s for the right reasons. To be able to do all this work makes me happy.”

***

No. 2: Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come — Anybody wondering what kind of transition Billy Donovan will make to the NBA after years as one of the nation’s elite college coaches need only peek into his past. Donovan is as tough as they come, having honed his game and his basketball sensibilities in Queens and, later, the Big East. If Donovan’s pedigree is any indication, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the Co. are in good hands. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

After the Big East formed in 1979, basketball interest in the northeast spiked. The early ‘80s produced a golden age for high school point guards in NYC, meaning the 1983 Wheelchair event, the 10th annual, was a must-see edition.

That graduating class had Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, the playground legend and soon-to-be Syracuse star, and future NBA starters Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson.

But it was a sub 6-foot white kid from an affluent area of Long Island who stole the show in that showcase game. His name was Billy Donovan.

“Oh, Billy went off,” said his high school teammate, Frank Williams.

Donovan’s Queens team faced the Brooklyn squad led by Pearl Washington, the game’s headliner. Months earlier, Donovan battled Washington’s in a six-quarter high school scrimmage. Pearl had 82 points.

“We pressed the whole game and he just weaved in and out,” Donovan said. “I learned a lot.”

Donovan was a game-control point guard. Slick ball-handling was his greatest strength. Pearl was a wizard with the ball, his moves legendary. At the Wheelchair Classic, Donovan put his mental notes from the scrimmage to use.

“I don’t think Pearl was ready for it,” Williams laughed.

In the highlight play of his highlight day, Donovan sent Pearl sprawling on a left-handed, inside-out crossover dribble, cruising past him for a layup.

“Pearl nearly fell down,” said Billy’s childhood best friend Kevin Quigley. “The crowd went nuts. Just hooting and hollering. The little white boy just juked Pearl out of his shoes.”

Billy Donovan made a career out of willing himself to success. Too small and athletically limited to compete against premiere athletes? He molded himself into a player and led Providence to an unlikely Final Four run. Florida is a second-tier hoops program at a football school? He quickly turned them into a national powerhouse. Too inexperienced to coach in the NBA? Sam Presti just handed him the keys to the most important season in the Thunder’s brief franchise history.

But before there was Billy Donovan the iconic coach or Billy The Kid bombing 3s at Providence College there was Billy the kid, a Long Island youth addicted to basketball.

“It was almost an obsession,” Quigley said.

***

No. 3: Okafor has great expectations for Sixers — Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor is well aware of the struggles that have gone on prior to his arrival in the City of Brotherly Love. But that has not soured him on what could be. He has great expectations for what he and the Sixers will get done in his rookie season. Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the details:

Okafor averaged 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two Las Vegas Summer League games. Before that, he averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in three summer league games in Utah.

“I was satisfied,” Okafor said of his summer performance. “I got better every game and worked on everything.”

Covington said Okafor has already made an impact.

“He has brought a whole lot of excitement to this team,” Covington said. “He is a big man who has made his presence known already.”

Another big man, Joel Embiid, will miss a second straight season because of another procedure on his foot.

“It is hard to do, but he is doing well, and he is keeping his head high,” Covington said.

Just as the focus last season was on Nerlens Noel, this season it will be on Okafor. He said he can’t wait to get settled in the Philadelphia area and is looking for a place to live.

Okafor won’t lack confidence. He expects a lot from a Sixers team coming off an 18-64 season. He knows the expectations will again be low, but he doesn’t care.

“Everybody knows we have expectations, and the fans have expectations, and that is all that matters,” he said.

Okafor will be a trendy choice for rookie of the year because he is expected to play major minutes.

“It’s definitely a possible goal,” he said about earning the award. “Definitely.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan is still the G.O.A.T., just ask Jimmy ButlerNancy Lieberman called Muhammad Ali after joining the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach … Got cash? You’ll need plenty of it to buy the New York penthouse of former Brooklyn star Deron Williams