VIDEO: The NBA’s connections in Africa are as strong as they are deep, courtesy of Basketball Without Borders
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Reluctant Pop is a “lifer” — His life is much more than just basketball, but that doesn’t mean San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will escape the lifelong grip the game of basketball has on so many. Pop almost escaped in recent years, but a huge free agent summer (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West join, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard all sign new deals, etc.) will keep him on the sideline for the foreseeable future. It turns out that Pop will end up being a “lifer” (like his mentor and good friend Larry Brown) after all, as the great Buck Harvey of the Express News details:
Popovich goes to Africa this week to coach an exhibition game, proof the energy inside this 66-year-old man is real. It’s also proof he is far past the challenge he faced last year, when both his health and the health of his franchise were in doubt.
His hip surgery had gone well, but there was a hiccup with a heart condition that was not unlike the atrial fibrillation that Fab Oberto had. Popovich underwent a procedure, and, after he had done everything the doctors had asked, palpitations returned.
Brown says the episode occurred during the preseason tour in Europe. That eventually culminated with Popovich missing two games in late November for a second procedure.
“I really believe he was close to retiring then,” Brown said.
What if Popovich had been forced to walk away? Would Tim Duncan have returned for another season? Would LaMarcus Aldridge have ever considered signing with the Spurs?
The same dynamic is also in place for a healthy Popovich. The Spurs aren’t the Spurs without him. He stays, in part, because he feels an obligation to.
Popovich long ago told Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker he would coach them through the end of their careers, although Parker gave him an out. Given that he’s younger than Duncan and Ginobili, Parker told Popovich he would understand if he retired earlier than he did.
But the obligation went further this summer. How could Popovich sell Aldridge on the franchise, and on the culture of winning he had created, if he said he might not stick around?
This was never the way Popovich saw his life playing out. For all the success he has had, and so much he never could have imagined, he couldn’t shake the idea there was more than basketball out there.
He said almost a decade ago, for example, he wasn’t built like a Jerry Sloan. And in a recent ESPN article he revealed this was his thinking after the 2013 Finals:
“I thought about retiring. Not so much because of the loss, but because there are other things to do in life.”
He went through similar soul-searching after the 2014 championship. Popovich talked to Brown about it then.
Brown, 74 and eager to begin another season at SMU, calls himself a lifer. Brown acknowledges he and his good friend are different on this.
“Pop can separate himself better than I can,” he said.
But Brown thought leaving a year ago would have been a mistake. He told Popovich to wait before making a decision, and Brown asked him this question:
“You just won a championship. Who is going to follow you?”
This gets back to his obligation. Leave, and the Spurs are forever changed.
No. 2: Cavaliers finally complete Haywood deal — The move surprised no one. Brendan Haywood has been caught in trade rumors since the February trade deadline. So the Cavaliers finally moving the veteran big man, in a deal for trade exceptions of $10.5 and $2.85 million and two future 2nd round Draft Pick, is no surprise. The addition of veteran swingman and LeBron James friend, collaborator and confidant Mike Miller, was an added twist that comes as a mild surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group provides some context:
The Cavaliers had a deadline of Aug. 1 to trade or release Haywood before his salary for the 2015-16 season became guaranteed. Portland will waive Haywood before the guaranteed deadline.
Haywood’s departure was inevitable. He played a grand total of 119 minutes for the club last season. The shocker of the transaction is Miller’s involvement.
Statistically, all across the board, Miller just endured the worst season of his 15-year NBA career.
A league source says Miller approved the trade, as he wanted to play for a team where he would have a chance to see significant minutes. Miller will seek a buyout from the rebuilding Trail Blazers to pursue a team that will promise him a spot in a rotation.
Miller exercised his $2.8 million player option for next season at the end of June.
He is a great friend of LeBron James. The four-time MVP recruited Miller last offseason to provide shooting assistance, but he never found his shooting stroke and David Blatt was reluctant to commit playing time to the veteran.
I’m told James understand Miller’s situation and is “OK with the move.” He was not OK with the Miami Heat when they traded Miller to Memphis in the summer of 2013 in order to avoid major luxury tax penalties.
Times have changed.
No. 3: Lillard “not a part of” USA Basketball plans — For all of the stars who are set to attend USA Basketball’s minicamp next month in Las Vegas, there is one who seems to have little interest in going through the process again. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been there and done that and does not feel like he’s in the program’s master plan after missing out on a roster spot last year. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian has more:
It appears that one Trail Blazers player will participate in an August minicamp for USA Basketball. But it won’t be Damian Lillard.
According to ESPN, center Mason Plumlee has been invited to participate in a three-day minicamp for the US National Team that will take place next month in Las Vegas. It will be the second consecutive summer that Mason, who played on Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, will don red, white and blue.
His participation in next month’s event ensures that he will have the chance to make the 12-man team that will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Meanwhile, it appears that Lillard, the Blazers’ All-Star point guard, will not participate in next month’s minicamp. During a Saturday night appearance on CBS Radio, Lillard told host Jody Mac he would “probably not” play.
“I did it the last few summers and last summer I didn’t make it,” Lillard said, when Mac asked why he wouldn’t participate. “I don’t know why I would go. After I got cut last summer, I don’t think I’m a part of it.”
Lillard did not respond to a text message from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.
Last summer, Lillard was one of the final cuts on the FIBA World Cup team. And while he publicly expressed appreciation for the chance to represent his country — and said he was not “worried or down about the situation” — he privately felt slighted by his omission from the team.
“More wood on the fire,” Lillard told The Oregonian/OregonLive last summer. “Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.”
No. 4: Longtime Lakers trainer Vitti set to retire — A golden era will come to an end after next season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, Kobe Bryant is entering the final year of his contract. But it’s longtime trainer Gary Vitti, a fixture on the sideline in Los Angeles for decades dating back to the Magic Johnson and “Showtime Lakers,” who is retiring. Again, this will mark the end of an era, as Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times reports. Kurt Helin of Probasketballtalk.com summarizes the scope of Viti’s time with the Lakers:
Vitti, a part of the Laker fabric, talked about it with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
“From a basketball standpoint, the greatest championship would be 1985, the first time we beat Boston,” Vitti said as he slowly consumed an open-faced gyro at an upscale Manhattan Beach restaurant near his home. “We lost to the Celtics the year before and should have beat them. A lot of my interview with Riley was him talking about that. He said to me, ‘We need to win.’”
Vitti has had a special place within the Lakers. He’s a liaison between the players and coaches/front office. He sits close to Byron Scott on the bench. It’s a job he has grown into and is passionate about. When the Lakers health fortunes turned on the team in the past few years, some of the louder than smart Lakers fans online blamed Vitti. Wiser fans knew that what happened to Steve Nash’s nerves, Kobe’s Achilles, Julius Randle‘s leg, and on down the list were not on the training staff.
Vitti could have stayed on as long as he wanted. But it’s time, he said.
“When somebody gets hurt, I blame myself. That’s the Laker way — you’ve got a problem, you go in the bathroom, you look in the mirror, you start with that person,” Vitti said. “The one that really affected me and maybe even affected this decision [to retire] was Julius Randle. All of his doctors and his surgeon are saying that nothing was missed, but the guy goes out there and breaks his leg the first game [last season]. That one really bothered me.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both to attend USA Basketball minicamp, though they are not expected to play in exhibition game … Dennis Rodman defends his former tag team partner Hulk Hogan … The Lakers’ Nick Young, aka“Swaggy P” is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was serious trade bait this summer …