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Morning shootaround — Nov. 24

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 23


LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen | Ainge pleased with Celtics’ direction | Spurs keep chugging along

No. 1: LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen — The topic of good fortune often comes up when discussing the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, a point some use to illustrate the squad was lucky to win the title for a variety of reasons. Wherever you stand on that point, one thing that is true in terms of Golden State’s good fortune is the team’s health during its championship era. Few player games have been lost due to injury and really, only coach Steve Kerr (back) has been out for a prolonged time. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who was defeated by the Warriors in the 2015 Finals, knows all too well how the Warriors’ health has helped them.’s Dave McMenamin has more:

LeBron James says there is a not-so-secret ingredient — beyond a talented roster that features reigning MVP Stephen Curry — to the Golden State Warriors’ success: avoiding injuries.

“I think it comes with a lot of health,” James said when asked about the Warriors tying the all-time mark for best start to a season at 15-0. “They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history, and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win, and that’s all that matters.”

James said that continuity in the lineup has led to consistency in their play.

“They’ve just been consistent,” James said. “I think the most impressive thing is the way they just they’ve been playing at a high level, man, for so long.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, are down four of their top eight rotation players at the moment with Kyrie Irving (left knee), Iman Shumpert (right wrist), Timofey Mozgov (right shoulder) and Mo Williams (right ankle) all sidelined.

“I’d much rather be on the other side and having guys in the lineup, having guys healthy,” James said. “I’ve always heard that saying of, ‘Is it a blessing that guys are out and guys can step in?’ I think it’s good for some of the guys that don’t get to play as much — they get an opportunity. But at the same time, I’d much rather be full and know what we’re going to have and play at a high level for most of the year so we know what we can fall back on at the end of the season.

“But that’s one thing you can’t control. You can’t control injuries. The one thing you can control is what you’re doing out on the floor, how well you’re playing, how hard you’re playing and how much you’re sacrificing and giving to your teammates.”

VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how health has aided the Warriors’ success

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Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 1

Houston, we have a problem | Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond | No worries for the Warriors | Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly

No. 1: Houston, we have a problem — A rough start to the season is one thing. It could happen anywhere, even in a place like Houston, where James Harden and the Rockets were supposed to be ready for prime time after a deep playoff run last season. Well, this might be more than just a rough start. No team in NBA history has lost its first three games of a season by 20 or more points. The Rockets lost to Miami by 109-89 Sunday after leading by as many as 21 earlier in the game. Per Elias, that’s the first time a team has lost a game by 20 or more after leading it by 20 or more since the Los Angeles Clippers did so on March 18, 2000. Three straight 20-plus point beatings is as many as the Rockets had all last season. Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted in the aftermath of Sunday’s third straight clunker:

Remember all the times last season that the Rockets, playing with Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones out, argued James Harden’s MVP case by asking to imagine them without Harden to carry them?

There is no need to imagine any longer.

With Howard and Jones unavailable on Sunday, Harden’s spectacular shooting slump to start the season moved to new brick-laying levels that the shorthanded Rockets could not begin to overcome.

The Rockets blew a 21-point second half lead and were blown out by the Miami Heat, 109-89, their third 20-point loss to open the season as Harden scored just a pair of second half points, both from the line.

Harden took 10 3-pointers and missed them all, falling to 2 of 33 from beyond the arc. Yet, despite his shooting problems, five of his seven second-half shots came from beyond the arc, the last easily swatted away by Heat center Hassan Whiteside.

Harden was 2 of 15 overall, scoring 16 points with 12 coming on free throws.

With Howard unavailable to rest in the first game of a back-to-back and Jones out because of a cut on his right eyelid, the Rockets went with a small lineup and got 21 points from Marcus Thornton in his first start. But he had just two in the second half as the Rockets offense crashed and burned.

The Rockets had just 26 second-half points, making 11 of 36 shots with 12 turnovers.


No. 2: Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond — Louisville natives Rajon Rondo and D’Angelo Russell share more than just the same position, city roots and high school coach (Doug Bibby). They also share similar hoop dreams for this season, as both hope to help lift their respective teams from the lottery and into the Western Conference playoff mix. As much as the Sacramento Kings’ veteran Rondo will battle against the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Russell, and Rondo schooled Russell and the Lakers in their first meeting Friday night, he’s also willing to serve as a mentor for someone who has followed in his footsteps. Baxter Holmes of details the connective tissue shared by Louisville’s finest:

“Their games are definitely different: D’Angelo is a little more methodical; Rajon is cat quick,” Bibby said. “But their passing and their basketball IQ was definitely something that I noticed that was very similar when I first got D’Angelo.

“Their ability to see two plays ahead and their passing ability to see things that a very few percentage of ball players and point guards can see — it was very, very similar.”

Bibby wanted to guide Russell along Rondo’s path, but he didn’t need to show Russell much film of Rondo, since all Russell needed to do was turn on the television and watch Rondo star in nationally-televised games with the Boston Celtics alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

“It was great, just knowing that he was so successful from the same city, the same high school,” Russell said.

Rondo feels the same way, and he’s intrigued. He recently picked Bryant’s brain about Russell, and Rondo and Russell have now exchanged numbers. A potential mentorship appears to be underway.

“He’s a great young kid,” Rondo said. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy another kid from my city made it.”

Russell mentioned Rondo as a player that he wants to model his game after, but things are a bit different now that he will face Rondo in head-to-head matchups.

“It’s hard to say that at this level now when you’re competing, because I’m looking at it like, that’s a weakness,” Russell said. “Like [Rondo could say], ‘This kid looked up to me, I’ve got him.’”


No. 3: No worries for the Warriors — Lucky, huh? The Golden State Warriors don’t need luck when they have the reigning KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, shredding the opposition. Any worries about how this team would handle success, the adversity of losing coach Steve Kerr or big man Andrew Bogut have been answered emphatically by the reigning champs hardly any anyone picked to do it again. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains why those in the know in the Bay Area were never worried about this team:

Rather than showing signs of a championship hangover, MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors appear to be better than ever.

No Steve Kerr? No Andrew Bogut? No problem.

The Warriors are 3-0, winning by almost 17 points per game as they return home to face Memphis on Monday night for a fourth straight game against a 2014-15 playoff team.

“People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year,” Curry said Saturday night after scoring 53 points at New Orleans. “I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

Curry has scored 118 points in the three games (39.3 average) and is shooting 58.8 percent. His 53 points Saturday night — one short of his career high — came in 36 minutes. Nobody since Kobe Bryant in 2005 has scored so many points in so few minutes; Kobe had 62 in 36.

“I’m feeling pretty energetic, pretty strong out there on the floor,” Curry said. “I’m playing free, just having fun. Usually good things happen when all that comes together.

“I’m in a good spot right now.”


No. 4: Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly — The Cleveland Cavaliers will face plenty of trap games and sticky situations this season, such is the case for a team nearly every pundit is picking to win it all this season. And they’ll face one of those instances today in Philadelphia, where a 76ers team that has issues of its own wouldn’t appear to present much of a challenge to the visiting Cavaliers. That’s exactly why the Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. Chris Haynes of provides some context:

It’s been hard for players to get up for games in Philly.

Instead of putting their players through such an uninspiring contest, opposing teams typically sit their best players against the Sixers. Why risk an injury?

Philadelphia presents a challenge some coaches believe isn’t worth the hassle, but the Cavaliers will accept.

“Everybody will play,” Cavs coach David Blatt said after Sunday’s practice. “…”We know that we have an opponent to play and a job to do.”

If the Cavaliers are a legitimate title contender, games like these are what a championship mentality and culture. The objective is to dominate your opposition early and make it an easy night.

“It’s something that we addressed,” Cavs power forward Kevin Love said of staying focused. “We know that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot so in that regard, we know they’re going to come out and fight. But we have to be in the right mindset every single game. And I think it helps that we’re on the road as well because we’ll have that us-against-the-world mentality.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Move over everyone else, the Spurs Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are now the winningest trio in the NBA history … It’s early, of course, but the Milwaukee Bucks did not script the opening stages of this season this way. … Jeremy Lamb is close to locking up an extension with the Charlotte Hornets, a reported 3-year, $21 million dealDeMarcus Cousins has even more reason to hate the Los Angeles Clippers now that he’s listed as day-to-day after suffering an Achilles injury against Blake Griffin and Co. … The Toronto Raptors are perfect, so far this season, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey insists that he doesn’t really know where his team is right now in the grand scheme of things. …

Morning shootaround — Oct. 31

VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action


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 recently, noting that he’s also working on learning “the Kanji,” Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Hayward: I should definitely do that.

Scoop: Do the media and other players underestimate you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26

VIDEO: The NBA remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders


Saunders remembered as leader, cherished member of NBA family | Anthony, Knicks gain inspired by Mets | Parker ready for new, reduced role with Spurs | Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball?

No. 1: Saunders remembered as a leader and cherished member of NBA family — Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer Sunday at 60, succumbing to Hodgkins lymphoma on the eve of a NBA season he was going to start away from the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continued his four-month fight. Instead, he’s being remembered around a league where he touched many throughout his career. Our very own Steve Aschburner, a longtime former Timberwolves beat writer, shared some of his own reflections on Saunders:

Saunders had other pet phrases, things he’d coined or gleaned from the many coaches’ books he devoured during his trek through basketball’s trenches — seven years in the CBA in Rapid City, S.D., in La Crosse, Wis., in Sioux Falls, S.D., after college work at Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minnesota and Tulsa. “You are the position you can guard,” he’d say. And: “You give a player only as much responsibility as he can handle.” And: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Sometimes he’d footnote, sometimes he wouldn’t.

Flip also could prompt one back, typically when he’d claim that the only reason Marquette (my alma mater and first beat) won the NCAA men’s championship in 1977 (his senior year) was that Minnesota, despite its 24-3 record, was on probation and ineligible for the tournament. “But like Woody Allen said,” I’d remind him, “80 percent of success is showing up.” He’d wave his hand and we’d banter another day.

The fact is, Saunders disliked confrontations. It was the single biggest criticism of him as a coach and, when his teams in Minnesota and Detroit went through some tough times, it was cited as key to his undoing. When your best player, Kevin Garnett, is a blast furnace of motivation and improvement, there’s little about which a coach needs to confront him or the teammates intimidated into following. When some salty veterans such as Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell or Rasheed Wallace plant their heels, though, being player-friendly can get you pink-slipped.

Saunders was easily the most successful coach in Timberwolves history, particularly during his first stint. The Wolves went 411-326 and made the franchise’s only eight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004. All other seasons (including 2014-15 with Saunders navigating downward for lottery chances), they’ve gone 407-940 with zero playoff berths.

The good times were the product of Saunders’ coaching, Kevin McHale‘s acumen and Hall of Fame experience as VP of basketball operations, and the two college teammates’ and friends’ commitment to Garnett and, for as long as it lasted, to Stephon Marbury. That blew up in less than three seasons and, despite the subsequent playoff runs, Minnesota never got quite good enough.

A comment Flip made a while back in hindsight about that fizzled vision turned particularly poignant Sunday. “I hope years from now,” he said, “KG, Steph and I aren’t sitting around a table at All-Star Weekend saying, ‘We really screwed up.’ ”

He couldn’t push the Pistons over the top in three years, either, and the situation in Washington went sideways thanks mostly to Gilbert Arenas and his guns. And yet, while Saunders got fired three times at the NBA level — the Wolves dismissal, coming from McHale, stung all the way to the end — he got hired four times.


No. 2: Melo, Knicks gain inspiration from Mets — Give Carmelo Anthony credit for thinking big — and we’re talking championship big — as the New York Knicks head into this season. He’s drawing inspiration from the New York Mets, who’ll battle the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. And in the Mets, Anthony says he sees similarities in how they have gone from rebuilding to competing for a championship. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details Anthony’s vision and how the fortunes of these two Big Apple franchises relate:

It wasn’t long ago that another New York sports team was selling hope over substance, building around a combination of youth and veterans while resisting the quick fix.

So can the Knicks draw inspiration from the World Series baseball team across the East River?

Carmelo Anthony thinks so.

“That’s very inspiring to me, what the Mets have done this season,” he said. “But that didn’t start this season. That was a process. That was a build that was happening the last couple of years. To see them now kind of at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a good feeling. Even if you’re not a Mets fan and you’re here, it’s a good feeling.”

The similarities between the Knicks and Mets also extend to championship droughts (43 and 29 years, respectively), although only the Jets can claim in New York that they’ve tortured their fanbase longer than the Knicks.

“I don’t want to say it’s similar but you can see some similarities in that,” Anthony said. “The way that they kind of broke everything down and kind of rebuilt piece-by-piece and all of it came together at the right time. I don’t want to say we’re in a similar situation, but we are. Right now we put pieces together and we have to go out there and build that.”

The big difference is the Knicks won 17 games last season and finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. So they’re not close to anything resembling a long playoff run, which took the Mets five years to accomplish since Sandy Alderson took over.


No. 3: Parker ready for new, reduced role for Spurs — The addition of All-Star help like LaMarcus Aldridge and the increased role of budding All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard could mean a new and reduced role for Tony Parker. And it’s a role Parker is prepared to embrace at this stage of his career. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News details the changes on the horizon for one of the Spurs’ staples:

Days before the Spurs start their quest for championship No. 6, the 33-year-old Parker acknowledged his role is finally changing. No longer will he be relied to do so much on offense, instead passing that torch to Leonard and Aldridge.

“I understand my role is going to change,” said Parker. “I don’t need to score as much and I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi (going). I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that (Tim Duncan) changed towards Manu (Ginobili), and Manu changed towards me, it’s the same thing with me now.”

Parker echoed the words of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who mentioned to the Express-News how the Spurs “equal opportunity offense” will now shift towards Aldridge and Leonard. Popovich was quick to point out that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker won’t be forgotten, but things will change.

Let Parker tell it, he’s fine with taking a backseat.

“The last four or five years it was my job to be aggressive and score, but this year is totally different,” said Parker. “I have to be the engine in another way.”

Parker has led the Spurs in scoring four of the last five seasons, before Leonard took over last season averaging 16.5 points (Parker averaged 14.4).

Asked his feelings when the offense was transitioning to Ginobili and Parker, Duncan admitted the competitor in him resisted, and still does a bit, but added his unselfishness took over.

“As an individual you got to try not to fight it,” said Duncan, who is entering his 19th season. “We’re all competitors and we all want to do what we’ve always done. You have to understand what’s best for the team and I think we’re all here for that. It’s just about accepting that and finding your niche in your new role.”


No. 4: Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball? —  On a team headlined by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, might Serge Ibaka be the most unique talent for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season? It’s a great debate. One that Erik Horne of the Oklahoman argues in Ibaka’s favor with a new and crucial season for Ibaka and the Thunder on the horizon:

Catch Ibaka at the end of Thunder practice, and you’ll see the same guy who’s the active leader in blocked shots per game (2.58) outshoot fellow power forward Nick Collison from beyond the arc. At 34, Collison refers to the 3-pointer as something he’s tried to work on “to stay on the court” in the changing NBA.

Factor in the arrival of Billy Donovan, he of the pace and space offense and experience with the skilled big man, and the green light is even greener from 3 for the versatile Ibaka, who at 26, isn’t using the 3 to stay on the court, but expand his stranglehold on it.

“I feel very comfortable with him shooting threes, even corner threes, because of the time and effort he’s put into it,” Donovan said. “but also he’s a proven shooter – he’s a really good catch-and-shoot guy and that’s a unique combination for a frontcourt player in the league to have.”

Donovan couldn’t come up with a current or past comparison for Ibaka either, forced to look toward the future, a player who’s yet to play an NBA regular season game. Donovan said Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner has the skill set to mimic what Ibaka does on the floor.

Good luck, young fella.

“I coached him with the USA team. He’s somebody I think has a chance to maybe develop into that role,” Donovan came up with after a few moments of thought. “That would be the only guy I’ve been around and coached in the summer who I’d say is like that.”

What makes Ibaka even more of an outlier: He’s been capable of this longer than his uptick in 3-point attempts has indicated. He’s one of 11 players in NBA history taller than 6-foot-10 to shoot better than 35 percent from 3, 45 percent from the field and block 150 shots in a season. No big deal, except Ibaka’s the only one to do it three times.

The numbers summarize what left Jackson speechless when faced with the daunting question: Is anyone like Ibaka? Jackson knows what a great shotblocker looks like. He played with 7-footer Patrick Ewing, eighth all-time in blocks but someone who kept his game inside the arc offensively in an era where bigs weren’t encouraged to shoot from deep.

Last season, Ibaka attempted nearly twice the amount of threes Ewing hoisted in his entire career.



SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who needs training camp and the preseason anyway? Tristan Thompson is ready for the Cavaliers’ season opener … Folks keep writing P.J. Tucker off in Phoenix and he keeps on grinding his way back into the mix … No one is sure what to make of the Sacramento Kings this year, which is exactly why they (DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Rajon Rondo in particular), are one of the truly intriguing must-see teams in the NBA this season … Serge Ibaka, the most unique big man in NBA history? … The Philadelphia 76ers don’t officially start this season until Wednesday and they are already limping …

Morning shootaround — Oct. 9

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 8


Butler squashes talk of rift with Rose | Kobe ignores his ranking | Parker wants to play 20 yearsAnderson expecting big things from Pelicans

No. 1: Butler sounds off about rumored discord with Rose — The Chicago Bulls have one of the best backcourts in the NBA with All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose leading the way there. But since last season’s East semifinals ouster at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, there has been lingering chatter that Rose and Butler do not get along. According to sources in a story appearing in Wednesday’s Chicago Sun-Times, Butler is supposedly not a fan of Rose’s work ethic. Well, things came to a head last night and Butler stood up for himself and his relationship with his teammate after a preseason loss to the Denver Nuggets. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has more:

“I don’t understand why everybody wants to find a problem with me and Derrick,” Butler said. “Let us be the fierce (expletive) competitors that we are (and) just let us play together. There’s nothing going on.”

Ever since the funky ending to last season’s playoffs, in which a passive Rose took four second-half shots in the final game against the Cavaliers, the storyline has lingered. Butler has spoken about it several times, including during a lengthy sit-down in August at the USA Basketball minicamp.

He did so again Thursday in perhaps his strongest fashion, the words coming in a torrent.

“I’ll try to keep my cuss words to a minimum, but it’s making me mad,” Butler said. “I love having Derrick as a teammate. I think we can be one of the best — if not the best — backcourts in the NBA.”

“Derrick and I are two great players who play well together,” Butler said. “We do have to adjust a bit to each other’s game because we haven’t played a lot together. But we will continue to get better as we play more games and get the feel for this new offense.”

Butler also has emphatically expressed his intention to become a more vocal leader, even mentioning a shortage in that department despite the presence of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.

“I’m not taking a shot at anybody,” Butler said. “If you ask Jo, he will tell you, ‘Jimmy needs to lead more.’ If you ask Pau, he’d say, ‘Jimmy needs to lead more.’ It’s not just me saying it; it’s everybody on this roster, (including) the coaches. I have to man up because I’ve been here longer than a lot of guys now. There have to be some leader aspects coming out of that sooner or later.

“Everybody wants to talk about how this is my team, (but) that’s not the case. I’ve said it multiple times: I don’t care whose team it is. My job is just to help (us) win — when we win, everybody looks great. Everybody gets a ring.”

VIDEO: Jimmy Butler comes up with a steal and jam vs. the Nuggets

*** (more…)

Spain wins EuroBasket title

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Spain is back atop European basketball, winning the 2015 EuroBasket title with an 80-63 victory over Lithuania on Sunday.

After losses to France in the 2013 EuroBasket semis and 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, Spain came to EuroBasket without Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Ricky Rubio. But it avenged those losses to France in Thursday’s semifinal, beating the previously undefeated French on their home floor and earning an Olympic bid in the process. And on Sunday, they took the gold by running out to a 19-6 lead and never allowing Lithuania to make it interesting. It was Spain’s third EuroBasket title in the last seven years.


EuroBasket MVP Pau Gasol outplayed Jonas Valanciunas and led Spain with 25 points and 12 rebounds. He averaged 25.6 and 8.8 for the tournament, shooting 57 percent (10-for-15 from 3-point range). Valanciunas was named to the all-tournament team, along with teammate Jonas Maciulis, Spain’s Sergio Rodriguez and France’s Nando De Colo.

Earlier on Sunday, France beat Serbia for the bronze medal, breaking things open with a 21-12 third quarter. Rudy Gobert had 15 points and 14 rebounds for France and De Colo (13.1 points per game, 63 percent eFG% over nine games) again outplayed teammate Tony Parker (12.0, 38 percent).

France and Serbia were, statistically, the two best teams at EuroBasket (see below). And they will be two of the favorites in the three Olympic qualifying tournaments next July. The winners of the three six-team tournaments will claim the final spots in the Olympic field.


One more will be claimed this year by the winner of the Oct. 3 gold medal game of the FIBA Asia championship (16 teams), which tips off on Wednesday in China. China has won 15 of the 27 Asia titles and Iran has won three of the last four, but the Philippines could also be a contender, with Andray Blatche suiting up for them once again.


Spain And France Still Battling … On Twitter!

VIDEO: Spain and France served up an instant classic in Thursday’s EuroBasket semifinal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Apparently, an overtime thriller in a EuroBasket semifinal wasn’t enough for certain members of the Spanish and French national teams. Hours after Pau Gasol led Spain to a rousing comeback win over Nic Batum, Tony Parker and the host nation team, members of their respective camps turned to Twitter to continue the fight after Thursday’s game.

Both Ricky Rubio and Rudy Gobert lobbed shots (nothing vicious) back and forth in an intense rivalry that stretches back years, highlighted in the last year by a French upset of Spain on their home soil in last year’s FIBA World Cup and now Spain’s return of serve today.

Spain locked up their spot in next summer’s Rio Olympics with the win. France will have to earn a spot in a FIBA qualifying tournament in 2016. In the meantime, we need the players on both sides to, uh … keep it classy.


Spain comes back to beat France and earn spot in ’16 Olympics

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Eurobasket semifinal between France and Spain, with an Olympic bid on the line, lived up to the hype. Spain escaped with a 80-75, overtime victory to book its ticket to Rio, and France can only look back at a blown opportunity on its home floor.

France had been the better team all tournament and the better team through 34 minutes on Thursday. But it all came crashing down quickly.

The knockout round hosts led by nine with six minutes to go in regulation and by two late in overtime, but missed four free throws in the final 1:14 to blow their first chance at a trip to the Olympics.


In the fourth period, Pau Gasol led a 14-2 Spain run to turn that nine-point deficit into a three-point lead. France survived with a Nicolas Batum 3-pointer with 14 seconds left. But with a chance to tie the game with three free throws with 15 seconds left in overtime, Batum missed the all three (the third intentionally) and a Gasol dunk gave Spain its five-point win.

Gasol finished with 40 points and 11 rebounds, with Spain running most of its late-game offense through him in the low post against Rudy Gobert. Batum (3-for-14 shooting) and Nando De Colo (6-for-12) each had 14 points for Spain. Tony Parker had a big bucket in overtime, but shot 4-for-17.

Not only did Spain earn an Olympic bid, but they avenged last year’s loss in the World Cup quarterfinals on their home floor. Spain is now 6-3 against France in major tournaments over the last seven years.

With how it went down at last year’s World Cup and with two early losses in this tournament, Spain looked like it had lost its grip on its status as the best national team outside of the United Stats. But it will now play for its third Eurobasket championship in the last seven years.

Spain will play the winner of Friday’s semifinal, Lithuania vs. Serbia, in the gold medal game on Sunday. France moves on to the bronze medal game and will still have a chance to qualify for next year’s Olympics. As a 3-7 finisher at Eurobasket, they’ll be entered into one of next year’s qualifying tournaments.

Earlier on Thursday, Greece beat Latvia and Italy beat the Czech Republic to earn bids to the qualifying tournaments. Latvia and the Czech Republic will play for seventh place and Europe’s final automatic bid to the qualifying tournaments on Friday.


Blogtable: NBA’s best international player?

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: New coach with toughest gig? | Best international player today? | Mozgov or Thompson?

VIDEOTop 10 plays from Grizzlies center Marc Gasol

> The NBA had 101 international players on its opening-day rosters last season, and could add another 10-12 this season. Who is the best international player in the NBA right now, today?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWe’re not talking lifetime achievement (Dirk Nowitzki), right? Nor are we going with the foreign-born guy we’d draft No. 1 for the career he’ll put together (possibly Andrew Wiggins)?  Fine. For today and this season, give me Marc Gasol, the first-team All-NBA center and a top-10 finisher in Kia MVP balloting last season. At 30, he’s at the peak of his power and in his best physical shape ever. He’s got size, he boasts multiple skills and he’s a tremendous teammate and individual.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Marc Gasol. Tony Parker is still in the conversation with his overall shooting and 3-point range plus the intangibles as one of the centerpieces of all that is right in San Antonio (the underwhelming per-game numbers in other categories are misleading because the Spurs don’t assign him a heavy workload). And there were times in the past it seemed that Joakim Noah was ready to make a push up the ranking. Gasol’s 2014-15 earned the top spot, though. Offense, defense, professionalism. That’s deserving of No. 1.

Shaun Powell, Marc Gasol at one point wasn’t even the best foreign-born player in his own family. But now he has squeezed ahead of not only Pau Gasol but Dirk Nowitzki (on the downside of a great career), Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, etc. In a few years he may pass the baton to Andrew Wiggins. We’ll see.

John Schuhmann, If Tim Duncan counts as an international player, he’s still No. 1, with Marc Gasol a close second. Duncan is still an impact player on both ends of the floor, and his leadership and coachability can’t be discounted. Tony Parker is more important to the Spurs’ offense than Duncan is at this point, but isn’t the two-way player that his teammate is. Dirk Nowitzki, meanwhile, has become a real liability on defense.

Sekou Smith, This is Marc Gasol’s honor and mantle to carry until someone else from the international pool takes it. A physical brute and an absolute technician as the backbone of the Memphis Grizzlies, Marc is no longer playing in the shadow of big brother Pau. The ultimate testament to Marc’s journey is that you don’t have to make a case for him by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of any of the other candidates. He’s earned his spot at the top of the international heap by working his tail off and becoming an All-Star and All-NBA player without any glaring flaws in his game.

Ian Thomsen, Tony Parker is the best today, and right beside him is teammate Tim Duncan (born and raised in the Virgin Islands) in the present day – in addition to being the undisputed best international NBA player of all time.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogThe first player to come to mind was Dirk Nowitzki, because he’s been the best international player in the NBA for so long. But with Dirk aging and playing less of a role with the Mavericks, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere. Al Horford? Andrew Wiggins? Pau Gasol? (Does Kyrie Irving count, since he was born in Australia?) But even considering all of those guys, I think I might have to go with Marc Gasol. It’s easy to forget about him because while he was one of the top free agents this summer, he stayed below the radar and re-signed with the Grizzlies. But at just 30 years old, Marc Gasol is still one of the top centers in the NBA, with one of the most diverse skillsets in the league.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 8

VIDEO: Day 3 of the FIBA EuroBasket tournament


Parker makes EuroBasket history | Report: Nets add veteran Jones | The hard times of Bulls fandom

No. 1: Parker makes EuroBasket history — As we inch ever closer to the start of the 2015-16 NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs are seen as one of the favorites to win it all once again. They had a great offseason, adding LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to a core that includes mainstays Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Speaking of Parker, he’s been busy in the summer himself, powering France through the EuroBasket tournament. At the start of 2015-16, Parker will have played in 1008 regular-season games and 203 playoff games. But in yesterday’s game against Poland, he became the all-time leading scorer in EuroBasket history. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more:

Tony Parker became the all-time leading scorer in EuroBasket history as France held off Poland on Monday to improve to 3-0 in group play.

Parker scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half of France’s 69-66 victory to push his career EuroBasket total to 1,046. He entered Monday’s game, his 62nd in the tournament, tied with long-time record holder Nikos Galis of Greece.

Galis played in just 33 games at EuroBasket, leading Greece to the 1987 championship before retiring in 1994. His scoring average of 31.2 points will likely never be broken.

“I’ve seen Galis do things I never saw in the NBA,” three-time NBA scoring champion Bob McAdoo once said as he finished his professional career in Europe.

Parker, in contrast, has steadily amassed his total since his first appearance at EuroBasket in 2001.


No. 2: Report: Jones signs deal with Nets — Despite averaging less than 6 points and 2 rebounds in the NBA, Dahntay Jones has carved out an 11-season career thanks to his defensive skill and ability to fit in on just about any squad. He’ll get a crack at a 12th season come this fall as he has a non-guaranteed deal with the Brooklyn Nets, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Free-agent guard Dahntay Jones has agreed to a non-guaranteed deal with the Brooklyn Nets, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Jones, 34, will have a chance to make the Nets in training camp. Brooklyn has 12 guaranteed contracts, and several players on partial guarantees, including Markel Brown, Quincy Miller and Ryan Boatright.

Jones is familiar with Nets coach Lionel Hollins, who was a Memphis assistant during Jones’ stint with the team from 2003-07.


No. 3: Being a Bulls fan isn’t always easy — By the measure of success in The Finals, the Chicago Bulls are perhaps the gold standard in the NBA considering they are 6-0 all-time on the championship stage. But the times before and since those title runs of the 1990s have been up and down for Chicago fans. One famous supporter — David Axelrod, a former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama — details his memories of the good (and not-so-good) days as a Bulls fan:

I moved to Chicago in the early ’70s to go to college, where I spent more time in the gym playing pickup games than the library, excelling in neither. The first thing I did when I got a job after graduation was buy two Bulls season tickets. After the Garden, the Chicago Stadium seemed familiar to me; another creaky, cacophonous relic where, in 1932, the Democrats first nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt for President. My seats were in the second row of the first balcony, which hung right over the court and cost, if memory serves me, $6 apiece. These were the days before the need for luxury skyboxes made the old vertical, coliseums obsolete, and when working people could still afford the price of admission.

At first, I was simply a basketball-loving refugee, tacitly embracing the hometown team, but mostly just happy to see pro games. The Bulls had some scrappy teams in the early to mid ’70s: Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier, lockdown defenders who turned every encounter with opposing backcourts into something approaching a mugging; the smooth, sweet-shooting Bob Love and Chet Walker; and Tom Boerwinkle, a hulking seven-footer, who once grabbed 37 rebounds off Kareem but, improbably, could also throw gorgeous, backdoor passes from the post. And then I lived through some mostly horrendous seasons. That is, until Michael arrived.

Our 13 years with Jordan, especially the last eight, were a basketball fantasy. When Michael was on the court, with his all-world talent and an otherworldly will to win, the extraordinary became commonplace; the heroic, expected. The Bulls, with Phil Jackson as ringmaster, were perennial favorites, and their annual march through the playoffs was, for Chicagoans, a joyous, annual civic communion.

Ten years later, when the Bulls miraculously cashed in on a 2 percent chance to win the lottery, they drafted Derrick Rose, and we thought it was the beginning of the rebirth; the native son and local schoolboy hero, returning home to restore the Bulls to their rightful place atop the NBA . And two years later, when the team hired the brilliant and relentless Tom Thibodeau as coach, it seemed as if a New Bulls Era was at hand.

But the basketball Gods giveth and they taketh away. After showing messianic promise as the league’s youngest MVP, Rose blew out one knee and then another, dooming the team and a stout supporting cast to a permanent state of “respectability.” And to paraphrase the late Harry Caray, respectability is like kissing your sister — nice, but not all that satisfying.

So now the Bulls are at a crossroads. Thibodeau is gone after five winning seasons, shoved out the door by a management that tired of his sullen “my way or the highway” approach. In his place, they’ve hired the anti-Thibodeau — Fred Hoiberg, a popular ex-Bull and Iowa State coach, as genial as Thibs was dyspeptic. Hoiberg is an exponent of an uptempo game the Bulls brass believes is better suited to the league and the personnel they have today. Whether he can install his system and still maintain the withering defense that was Thibodeau’s trademark is an open question. So, too, is whether the talented group of players the Bulls have assembled can cohere as a unit.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Los Angeles Lakers guard Dwight Buycks is considering a deal with a team in China … Former UCLA standout Lazerick Jones has agreed to a non-guaranteed deal with the Memphis Grizzlies … Philadelphia 76ers second-rounder J.P. Tokoto has signed a one-year deal with the team