Posts Tagged ‘Training Camp’

Rose’s First Practice: Hard Fouls, Old Instincts

 

DEERFIELD, Ill. – Derrick Rose was back practicing with the Chicago Bulls last winter, halfway through his 17-month rehab layoff following knee surgery. So the team’s morning session on two-a-day Saturday was a little blurred as a milestone.

What the media folks saw when the gym door opened at the tail end of practice this time, well, the whole NBA world saw before most of the Bulls’ games over the second half of last season: Rose in workout clothes, working on his shooting range and his free throws. No drama there, either.

But for a couple hours, in the Bulls’ initial practice of training camp, there were some differences – some subtle, others obvious – from what last spring mostly was shadow-boxing for Rose and his teammates.

The All-Star guard, whose May 2012 ACL surgery unexpectedly wiped out his entire 2012-13 season, stuck around for the 5-on-5 scrimmaging Saturday. Neither he nor the other players shied away from contact. He read, reacted, misfired in his timing and even made mistakes – but his instincts were triggering and he wasn’t overthinking.

“There were some hard fouls,” Rose said. “You got to get used to it. I didn’t think nothing of it. Just got up and shot the free throws.

“I was able to do a little bit more [than last season]. I was attacking a lot, getting to the line. … It’s just the way I play. I came in this league a driver, I’m going to continue to drive.”

Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “I’d say he doesn’t have to pace himself like he did. … The driving and finishing looked a lot better. And his timing’s still not there, but it’s a good start.

“The drills, working on the defense, he was fine. When we got to the scrimmage part, as it went along, he got better and better. I think the big thing, he has to get used to the contact, the physicality. Then of course, we haven’t put in our double-teams and things like that – we’re going to add that in so he gets comfortable with it.”

It’s not as if Thibodeau has posted an anti-bounty, with a fat fine for every guy who bangs into Rose. “The one big thing about him practicing last year, they got comfortable with that,” the coach said. “So they’re playing, they’re not thinking about [not hitting Derrick]. They’re going pretty hard.”

Rose said he planned to participate in Saturday’s evening session and every other scheduled practice, “pushing hard” through camp. His priorities are to boost his wind and – unrelated to his left knee – to get his legs in game shape. But after more than a year spent grinding through rehab, and that summer work in Los Angeles with peers such as Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, Rose is in stellar shape overall.

He has added a morning-and-night stretching regimen. Rose, who averaged 25.1 ppg in four seasons before sitting out 2012-13, also said he has added 10 pounds across his chest and arms, his waist now a bit smaller.

“I had workouts – don’t tell Thibs – harder than this [practice], man,” Rose said. “For real. I worked out like three times a day. So for us to actually go through practice and have water breaks and all that, that’s something I normally don’t do in my workouts.”

Like a lot of elite athletes forced by injuries to confront their physical vulnerability, Rose said he wished he knew about his body and training techniques what he has been forced to learn since the ACL blowout.

“I wish I would have learned this when I was a rookie,” said Rose, who will turn 25 Oct. 4. “People would always tell me, ‘Stretch’ and ‘Take care of your body.’ But when you’re healthy and talented the way some of these guys are … I was like, ‘I’m 22 years old, I don’t [need that.]’ It took an injury for me to really take care of my body.”

LeBron Plays The “Ace” Card?

FT. WALTON BEACH, Fla. — A quiet training camp for LeBron James grew a bit edgy today, which is always the case whenever race is the subject.

In yet another example of how LeBron just can’t let go of the backlash he received this summer, LeBron answered “I think so, at times” when asked by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien if he thought race was behind the storm of criticism that followed him from Cleveland to Miami.

Well, you can imagine how this’ll go over with those who had beef with the man and his Decision. Just more ammunition for those looking to use it against a player who enjoyed a generous amount of respect, for the most part, prior to 2010.

LeBron is stretching it when he says race played a factor. And anyone who says race is never a factor is stretching it, too. Basically, we have no idea what’s in the hearts of those who complain about black athletes. We all have our suspicions, one way or another. But we don’t know. Is there something sinister behind the anger? Maybe among some people. Maybe not among others.

There’s a bigger issue, which LeBron and other athletes never grasp. It’s about love. The love they get from the public is purely conditional, that condition being as long as the athlete performs well, stays humble and follows a level of acceptable conduct, he will be “loved.” The problem is many athletes, LeBron included, mistake this for real love, and when it stops gushing, as it did for LeBron this summer, they feel offended and betrayed and get defensive.

It’s probably best they don’t fall so hard for conditional love in the first place.

LeBron evidently is still having a rough time coping with or understanding why he went from wearing a halo to wearing horns. This week, he’s been cooperative but often curt in media sessions. He tweeted about having an enemy list and seems to have adopted a me-against-them mentality. And none of this will serve him well in the short run, or long run.

My advice for LeBron? Don’t cite race anymore, unless you can give examples or prove you possess the power to look into someone’s soul, because the (white) fans doesn’t want to hear it. Also, let go of the summer. Lighten up. And show some humility, which often goes a lot further with the public than wins.

That’s if you care about what people are saying, if you still buy blindly into conditional love. Which I suspect he does.

Heat mellow on ‘Melo

FT. WALTON BEACH, Fla.Dwyane Wade treated the topic like a hot stovetop, recoiling quickly, saying, “Oooh, I ain’t going there.”

LeBron James? He whistled, as in “wooooo,” as in “that’s a tough one.”

While three of the league’s most coveted free agents tucked securely and comfortably in Miami, their former Olympic teammate, who followed a different contractual path, remains in limbo in Denver. And just think, had Carmelo Anthony only listened to Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron back when …

Well, he didn’t. For reasons that he can’t even sufficiently explain, ‘Melo signed a 4-year deal while the others went for three. They had talked about going short-term on their next contract, and riding out free agency, and making their teams squirm, and shaking the foundation of the NBA at its core, and possibly even — get this — hooking up on the same team and collecting more rings combined than their idols. Three of them went one way, ‘Melo another.

They’re whooping it up right now, squealing like kids at summer camp. He’s grinning and bearing it in a Nuggets uniform, not quite sure where he’s headed.

So, the question is, will ‘Melo ever get his own Miami Heat situation?

An NBA general manager told me that ‘Melo will not agree to a contract extension with the Nuggets or any team, which essentially kills most if not all chances of Melo being traded. No GM in his right mind would trade for ‘Melo, give up assets, and then possibly lose him next summer to free agency. It’s not about money, since Melo will get the max from whatever team wants him. It’s about bringing ‘Melo to a potential championship team to make it all worthwhile. And Melo understands any team that trades for him will be weakened, perhaps considerably, by giving up assets in a trade. He might not like what that team looks like by next July.

So apparently, he’ll wait. Why sign up for four years with a team that’ll lose assets in any trade, and spend most of those four years in a rebuilding process? Instead, he can join the Nets next summer and have Derrick Favors as a teammate, rather than play with Brook Lopez and a roster of filler material.

But what about the labor agreement? Wouldn’t ‘Melo lose millions? Well, what’s a million or two to a player who has already made millions, and his next contract (and the one after that) will be worth millions more? No matter what the labor landscape will look like in the next labor deal, superstars will get paid. Superstars are exempt from any strife, when it comes to labor contracts.

You get the feeling ‘Melo wants a LeBron-Bosh-Wade situation for himself, or close enough, and he’s willing to be patient and allow it to happen. He had the chance to do that this past summer, had he followed the original plan, and he blew it. He doesn’t want to blow it again.

Change On The Way In Jersey?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We want to believe in this renovation plan in New Jersey.

We really do.

When Avery Johnson speaks, we listen. And not just because he has one of the most unusual (or unique, if you will) speaking voices ever heard.

He believes every single word he speaks about the Nets’ revival that is underway right now, sans Carmelo Anthony despite a torrent of rumors to the contrary last weekend.

Maybe it doesn’t happen right away. Any time you have an owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, with some of the deepest pockets on the planet, we’re willing to invest in the plan, long-term or not.

But the rebuilding effort has to be a ground-up process. And that’s where Johnson’s influence enters the frame. You should have seen him and heard him during his media day speech, preaching the gospel of discipline, hard work and belief in the system and the team.

Clearly, Johnson was courting believers and non-believers alike.

Whether a deal for ‘Melo ever gets done or not (just because he showed up for media day doesn’t mean the trade rumors will go away), Nets fans could look back at this training camp in a couple of years and locate the lift off of a new era. They’ll be in that shiny new arena in Brooklyn before you know it. Anthony or Derrick Favors, or maybe even some other young star, will have his name on the marquee by then and these dog days of 2010 will be a distant memory.

See, Avery’s even convinced me that change is on the way!

Hey, don’t forget Mike Miller



FT. WALTON BEACH, Fla. –
After he walked on the set of a photo shoot for LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller felt compelled to bull-horn his arrival.

“Heads up,” he said. “Token white boy coming through.”

Well, doesn’t the public perceive everyone on this team not named Bron, Wade and Bosh as a token, regardless of color?

That’s the perception outside the locker room. There’s three guys on the roster, then everyone else. The trick for Miami is to make the other nine players feel welcome and a reasonable part of the scheme of things, because Miami will not win a championship unless the cheaply hired help chip in.

This was always a chore for the Bulls in the Michael Jordan era. Especially when Dennis Rodman came aboard. That’s where all the attention went, Jordan, Rodman and Scottie Pippen, and for good reason. Those guys won the majority of the games. Luc Longley probably still has footprints all over him, the result of the media trampling through him to interview Jordan.

But remind me again: Didn’t Steve Kerr hit a big shot to help win one of those rings? And earlier, John Paxson?

Neither Miller, Udonis Haslem nor Zydrunas Ilgauskas are the reason fans will Tivo the Heat 82 times this year or fill the seats. But there will come a time or two when a key rebound or big shot falls in someone’s hands other than the Big Three. Maybe next summer, deep in June. Then what?

“This is not just about us three,” said Wade. “It’s about the whole team. Three guys have never won an NBA championship.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said if the clock is winding down, and there’s time for one shot to win, the ball will go to whoever’s open. He meant Bron, Wade or Bosh. I think. But those guys might be covered (if the defense is smart) and Miller could be the one waving his arms. Just saying.

The Heat Has Landed

Fort Walton Beach, Fla. – The male bonding experience known as NBA training camp will begin today for the Miami Heat on an air force base, strange in one sense, appropriate in another. Isn’t this the team everyone expects to take off?

The club landed late Monday night at Eglin, tucked away on the Florida Panhandle and far removed from the ruckus the Heat left behind in Miami. Although the escape will be in the physical sense only. A media swarm that numbered at 350 for Media Day on Monday afternoon will shrink only by 150 this week at Elgin, because as coach Erik Spoelstra correctly noted, “this team wasn’t built to go under the radar.”

Heat vs. Pistons on NBA TVThe Heat will stay until camp breaks Sunday. And yes, they will stay on the base, bunking up in rooms that are less spacious and luxurious than most millionaires are used to. Their practices are closed to the media, and since the general public isn’t allowed on the base, peace and security will be the order. And that’s an order!

Each media member was put through a security and criminal check that lasted anywhere between 24 and 48 hours, or roughly the length of the longest Heat losing streak this upcoming season (you think?). Reporters will be bused to the base daily for interviews, which will last no more than 20-30 minutes. Then it’s back on the bus and toward the exit for the scrum while the players do whatever one does on an air force base.

“We look forward to it,” said Spoelstra, “spending time with the men and women who protect us and embrace sacrifice and service commitment. We can learn a lot from them, in that sense.”

An intra-squad scrimmage is scheduled for Thursday, which raises a question: How do you evenly split up the Big Three, so the sides are fair? Figure LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be placed on separate teams, and maybe Chris Bosh will change jerseys at halftime.

Anyway, the idea was to spend a week in isolation, perhaps the last stretch of tranquility  before the Heat spend 6-plus months traveling like rock stars.  Where the beds will definitely be plusher.

Watch the Heat’s first preseason game, Tuesday at  7 p.m. on NBA TV.

LeBron Has Plenty Of ‘Motivation’

Coral Gables, Fla. – Remember that “hit list” LeBron James was supposedly keeping? The one he posted on Twitter, saying he’d remember each and every knock he took this summer, and those who delivered them?

Well, maybe on his way to taking his “talents” to South Beach, LeBron traveled the high road, because any anger he felt from the backlash was suspiciously missing on media day.

He had nothing for Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson who, in so many words, chastised LeBron for taking the easier way to a championship. And nothing for Charles Barkley, either, even though Charles used edgier words to describe the way LeBron left Cleveland.

Heat vs. Pistons on NBA TV“It’s all in the past” was a common response from LeBron whenever the fallout from “The Decision” was raised.

“I’ve heard everything this summer,” he said. “Things I expected. Some I didn’t expect. Well, I make my own decisions and live with them. I still respect Mike, still respect Magic, Charles and the rest. They paved the way for guys like myself, on and off the court.

“But I can’t live through those guys. This is the path I chose to go.”

Agreed. While the greats certainly made their points about competition and wanting to beat the best, rather than join the best, there’s also another way to see LeBron’s choice to align himself with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. How many of those same players would bury their ego in this manner and give up being the focal point of their team? Also, it’s easy for Magic (and Larry Bird) to say what they wouldn’t do; they were surrounded by talent much of their careers. So there was no need for Magic to ponder being Bird’s teammate, or vice versa. They weren’t pressed for championships; they already have rings. LeBron doesn’t.

“It’s funny how things happen and how people react to it,” LeBron said. “A lot of people try to tell you what to do with your life and they don’t even have their own life in order. That’s funny to me.”

If LeBron is simmering underneath from the treatment he took, going from a respected and generally adored athlete to something more sinister, it’s well hidden under his tattoos. And maybe we’ll have to wait until next June — assuming Miami wins it all — for him to flush it out.

“I’ve got a lot of motivation inside me,” he said. “Put it that way.”

Watch the Heat’s first preseason game, Tuesday at  7 p.m. on NBA TV.

Remember the Alamo and the Spurs

SAN ANTONIO – It’s been three years since they last collected a set of expensive, flashy rings like the Lakers will pick up on opening night. They didn’t boost their roster over the summer with the addition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. They didn’t land a future Hall of Famer in Shaquille O’Neal.

But the Spurs, who finished as the No. 7 seed in the West last season, feel that they should be on the short list of championship contenders.

“I think so,” said Tim Duncan to a gathering of reporters at Media Day. “I think it is definitely a year we can do it. Of course, that’s talking without even having a practice under our belt. I think we’re a better team than we were last year. We were in the mix last year, obviously at the lower end. We come out and we get a first round win and a lot of the teams, especially in the West, I don’t know that anybody’s gotten that much better. So I think we’re right in the mix.

“I think it’s the way we ended last season. Not losing in the second round, but playing well in the first round and feeling that we didn’t even play our best basketball. So we come in this year and we have a whole ‘nother season to get everybody in line and get everybody playing the way we want them to. That gives me the hope.”

The Spurs are buoyed by the fact that it’s the first time in several seasons that Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are both healthy and feeling fit as training camp begins.

“I think we have a shot. I truly believe it,” Ginobili said. “We are probably not the No. 1 favorites. But heading into the playoffs, we can beat anybody. Nobody’s that much better than us. So if you play well, you make the shots you have to make, you always have a chance.

“I trust this organization. I trust our talent and so far all nine times I’ve been in this situation, I’ve really thought we had a chance to win it. So I don’t see that changing.”

Get ready to meet R.J. … again

Is it possible to make a new first impression?

Much of the optimism that San Antonio fans are carrying into media day that precedes the opening of training camp surrounds Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter, the 2007 first-round Draft pick who has finally arrived in the Alamo City.

But it is last year’s new face who could give the Spurs a real kick-start this season. That’s Richard Jefferson, who struggled through his first season with the team, then opted out of $15 million on the last year of his contract and eventually signed a new four-year, $38.8 million deal.

Opting out, he told the San Antonio Express-News, was never about leaving San Antonio.

“I really enjoyed my first year here,” Jefferson said. “Obviously, you risk going into a different situation, but I was optimistic things would work out in a positive way and I would stay here.

“If you look at it from an intelligent perspective, last year I didn’t have as much success as you’d like, but we won 50 games and got to the second round of the playoffs,” he said. “In San Antonio, that’s not good enough, but all the travails I went through last year will make me better this year.”