HANG TIME, Texas — After attacking the rim and filling up the basket last week in Reno, Damion James became the first player to get a call-up after the NBA D-League Showcase and will join the Nets on Sunday night when they host Indiana.
A 2010 draft pick by Atlanta, the 6-foot-7 James was asked what he could bring back to the NBA.
“Heart,” he said. “You can’t draft that. (I’m) a warrior. A lion.”
Here are two more fistfuls of players that might be ready to roar at the next level. They caught my eye, impressed scouts and execs at the Showcase and could make the jump to the NBA in the coming weeks, along with breakdowns from D-League experts Kevin Scheitrum and Anthony Oliva.
Travis Leslie, G, 6-4, 205 — An athletic specimen even by NBA standards, Leslie’s raw talent has grown more refined in the NBA D-League, with the Georgia grad turning into one of the league’s most efficient scorers and a far above-average rebounder for his position. Fast and explosive, Leslie belongs among the league’s elite. Played just one game at the Showcase and suffered a groin injury.
Chris Wright, G, 6-1, 210 — One of the few true point guards in the NBA D-League, Wright excels in orchestrating an offense and setting up his teammates for easy buckets. The Georgetown product is also a capable scorer who can hit from outside, though he does most of his damage by getting into the lane and finishing or drawing contact.
DaJuan Summers, F, 6-8, 240 — Summers has the size to compete in an NBA lane and the touch to spread out a defense. He does have difficulty creating his own shot, often relying on his teammates to set him up, but the veteran of 81 NBA games has shown a newfound commitment to rebounding in the NBA D-League.
Chris Wright, F, 6-8, 235 — Wright can get it done on both ends of the floor. Though he still needs work from 3-point range, his strength and explosiveness combined with a mid-range game make him a threat from 18 feet and in. A hungry rebounder and a sheriff in the paint, Wright can jump out of the gym.
Courtney Fortson, G, 5-11, 185 — Fortson surprised a lot of people when he left Arkansas early. Then he surprised even more people when, after going in the 4th round of the 2011 NBA D-League Draft, he earned two NBA Call-Ups. Fast as a rumor, he can get into the lane as well as anyone, though he can be prone to forcing shots once he’s there. Undersized at 5-foot-11, Fortson makes up for it with energy and athleticism.
Andrew Goudelock, G, 6-3, 200 — once near the top of the nation in scoring while at the College of Charleston, Goudelock is now one of the best pure scorers in the NBA D-League. Dubbed “Mini Mamba” by Kobe Bryant himself, Goudelock can stretch the defense and also slash and get into the lane.
Jerome Jordan, C, 7-0, 253 — Big and active, the Jamaica-born Jordan finished his career at Tulsa as the C-USA leader in blocked shots. Still in need of polish on the offensive end, despite a high career field goal percentage, the former Knick ranks in the top flight of big men in the NBA D-League.
Tim Ohlbrecht, C, 6-11, 255 — The 24-year-old center from Germany has proven to be tougher on the inside that many had originally thought. With Rio Grande Valley he’s starting to learn how to throw around his 6-foot-11, 255-pound frame and he’s developed into a solid rebounder and efficient scorer from the low block.
Shelvin Mack, G, 6-3, 207 — Back after a call-up to the Wizards — the team that drafted him in 2011 — Mack is back in the NBA D-League as one of its most dangerous point guards. Still evolving as a creator (though he’s made strides), the former 2-guard’s combination of athleticism, power and finishing ability can tie a defense into knots.
Luke Harangody, F, 6-8, 240 — The former Notre Dame star tore up the NBA D-League last year when he was on assignment from the Cavs, going for a double-double nightly. His skill has never been in question. But he’ll need to develop an outside game to make up for a lack of height and raw athleticism.
The mood has yet to strike us here at the hideout. Sure, we’ve got all the Turkey Day fixings ready for Thursday.
Inside our own little basketball world here, there is little to be thankful about these days. We’re thankful the entire season hasn’t been canceled (yet). We’re thankful there is still a scrap of hope that the sides will come to their collective senses and put an end to this dreadful lockout.
But without either side giving an inch in the coming days and weeks, we won’t have that scrap to hold onto. Time is running short and not even the holiday season seems to be affecting the mood of the major players in this drama.
Many of these owners know how damaging a lockout can be, having gone through the 1998-99 lockout. There are 33 active players living through the second lockout of their careers — Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Grant Hill among many others — an average of slightly more than one player per team. You’d think they would know exactly how costly this current fight will be on the collective psyche of fans that don’t care about the particulars and just want their game back.
But while millions of people will spend Thursday carving that Thanksgiving turkey and watching NFL games with family and friends, enjoying every second, our game will remain dormant. Someone needs to wake up and breathe life back into the game. All it takes is one phone call to get the proverbial ball rolling …
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: The NBA season is now in the hands of lawyers who can’t even figure out how to start a game of phone tag. That’s where we are. In a media briefing Monday to announce that the players have consolidated and refiled two separate antitrust claims into one class action in Minnesota, attorney David Boies lamented the slow response and virtual silence from the NBA since the actions were first filed last Tuesday. In fact, he scoffed at the league’s response — delivered to reporters via email from NBA counsel Rick Buchanan, and not commissioner David Stern — as evidence for why making a phone call to begin settlement talks would be “a waste of time.” ”I think they’ve made pretty clear, including by the statement that they just made, that they’ve got no interest in talking to us,” Boies said at his Manhattan office. “It takes two people to negotiate.” But it only takes one person to pick up the phone and dial a number to get the ball rolling. And Boies said neither side had done that as of Tuesday, at least not at the highest levels of the law firms involved — the law firms that now hold the future of a sport in their hands. Legal protocol says that Stern can’t really call former union director Billy Hunter, and the attorneys for either side can’t call one of the clients on the other. It’s a tangled web they’ve woven, one that has made tracks in four district courtrooms in three states since the NBA first sued the players in August. As to whether the players’ attorneys should call the NBA’s attorneys, or vice versa, there is protocol for that, too. The players have sued the NBA, and thus it is incumbent upon the NBA to respond. The league has until Dec. 5 to formally respond to the lawsuit in the U.S. District Co in Minnesota. Or, its legal representatives can at any time pick up the phone and call Boies or any of his associates working on behalf of the players to initiate settlement talks. This would not only bring the league closer to stopping the clock on potential damages, but also would start the clock on possibly having a basketball season.
Howard Beck of The New York Times: The N.B.A. will argue that the players’ disbanding of the union is a sham perpetrated solely as a bargaining tactic, and that the antitrust laws should not apply. Boies said the primary goal remained a quick settlement that would save the 2011-12 season. “If the league’s approach is to ignore this litigation and try to go into a state of denial and hope it goes away, I think that will not be in anybody’s interest,” Boies said. “I don’t think it’s in our interest, I don’t think it’s in their interest. It’s certainly not in the fans’ interest.” Boies said he originally considered filing the lawsuit in Minnesota, which is in the Eighth Circuit, before choosing Northern California, which is in the Ninth Circuit. Both jurisdictions have a history of player-friendly rulings, with one notable recent exception. Last spring, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected N.F.L. players’ bid for a permanent injunction to end that league’s lockout. Boies represented the N.F.L. in that case. The Minnesota court provides two advantages over the Northern California courts, Boies said. It generally has a less congested docket, and it has a history of moving cases along swiftly. Although antitrust cases can sometimes take years to resolve, Boies said he believed he could get a declaration of summary judgment much sooner, perhaps in three months. “This is not a complex antitrust suit,” Schiller said, adding, “It’s not going to take years. It’s going to take months, if not weeks.”
Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com: The next logical step in the illogical NBA lockout is for David Boies to call Jeffrey Mishkin, or for Jeffrey Mishkin to call David Boies. The latter attorney, Boies, who represented Al Gore against George W. Bush in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, now represents NBA players, and Mishkin is the outside counsel for NBA commissioner David Stern and the owners. It would take approximately 2 minutes for their secretaries to put that call together. And after obfuscating and posturing for the better part of an hour in a meeting with reporters Monday night, Boies finally yielded to the relentless logical questioning of yours truly, put his hands to his temples for 13 seconds and then said he may just go ahead and make that phone call sometime in the next day or two. “Some lawyers say to pick up the phone is a sign of weakness,” Boies said. “But if you’re weak, you’re weak, and if you’re strong, you’re strong. It doesn’t make you weak or strong by your calling or not calling. On the other hand, until they’re prepared to say something other than what they just put out in this statement, the question is, why are you calling?” This particular episode of peacocking … oops, I mean news briefing … was designed to be a show of strength from the players’ new lead attorney, an epic billable hour ($1,225 is Boies’ going rate) of rhetorical posturing about how the NBA owners are now in really, really big trouble because they are leaving themselves open for triple damages — about $6 billion if the entire 2011-12 season is missed.
Marcus Thompson II of the Oakland Tribune: Warriors rookie Klay Thompson, drafted No. 11 overall, crossed that bridge last week when his beloved Washington State Cougars took on rival Gonzaga. Watching from home, he said had he known the lockout would have come to this, “it probably would have affected my decision” to leave college early. Whether they should have stayed college isn’t the only nagging question. Should they go overseas? Should they borrow money or tough it out? It is common practice for rookies — especially first-rounders, millionaires-in-waiting — to get a loan from their financial adviser. Some, like Thompson, however, don’t want to accumulate debt. So he’s “living like a broke college student” while staying at home with his parents. Tyler is living with his brother in Cupertino. The hard part about the waiting, they say, is they have no idea when it will end. Eventually, they’ll get paid, get to play on the big stage. Until then, their time is filled trying not to go insane. ”They need to work out,” Oakland-based agent Aaron Goodwin said. “Take a class or two online. Do some work towards finishing their degree.” Both Warriors rookies said they work out daily. Preparing for camp, whenever it starts. Training for their debut, whenever it comes. Tyler, who’s been training at Cal, said he is embracing the center position. He’s trying to get in the best shape possible and work on his low-post game. Thompson trains at various spots in Southern California and plays pick-up with various NBA players in the area. Still, he acknowledged the monotony of it all. ”It’s de-motivating,” Thompson said. “Not knowing when the season is starting. Not knowing how long this will go on. We’re doing the same thing every day. I’m not going to lie. It’s hard to stay motivated.”
Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com: Hope of a partial season springs from the fact in the next few weeks (likely after Dec. 5) we can expect the judge to order more mediated negotiations between the two sides, PBT was told. Mandated mediation is commonly part of anti-trust lawsuits, essentially a chance for the judge to make sure the two sides really want to go down this path. To give the sides one more chance to settle their differences without a judge involved. (It is possible one side picks up the phone and calls the other to ask for a negotiating session, but that is the less likely scenario. The owners have said they wouldn’t do that and players attorney Boies said he would not because the league is not receptive.) A judge likely will order mediated negotiations by the middle of December if not before, according to the source. Talks would start soon after. This would be similar to the talks when federal mediator George Cohen sat down with the sides last month. The one key difference would be the level of pressure on both sides to figure this out — the players do not want to lose a season of salary ($2.2 billion), the owners do not want to lose a season of revenue (at a much higher percentage for them than the last deal), plus neither side wants to damage the game by costing a full season. What is the point of fighting over how to divide up the revenue pie if the pie itself gets smaller? In addition, the threat of summary judgment — which would certainly be a huge loss for whichever side did not convince the judge of its case — is another motivation for both sides to figure this out.
Lee Benson of the Deseret News:Derek Fisher isn’t unique or alone. He simply serves as a convenient and highly visible example of the serious dysfunction that is the NBA, a place where for decades well-paid, well-fed employees have constantly snapped at the hands that feed them. Here in Utah we’ve been watching it up close and personal since the Jazz first arrived in 1979. It’s been like living next door to the expensive house on the hill where the parents continually and lavishly spoil their children. They give them whatever they want, treat them like royalty — and in turn the children behave like ungrateful brats. We’ve all watched as salaries have increased like Argentinian inflation, as amenities that range from plush practice and playing facilities to charter jets have grown exponentially, as players have become so pampered they don’t even drive their own Escalades to the arena and wouldn’t think of paying full-price for anything. (And as the price of tickets and concessions rise year after year.) And yet, it’s never enough. Right now, the average NBA salary is $5.1 million, the median NBA salary is $2.4 million (half of the players make more, half make less), and the least anyone can make is $500,000 (the rookie minimum). And the players are revolting at the owners’ notion that they need to scale back because there’s a Great Recession going on, almost a 10th of America is unemployed … and by the way, two-thirds of the league’s franchises are losing money every year. In a way you can’t fault the players. Isn’t this how the overindulged always behave? By the same token, the owners have only themselves to blame. They purchased their season of discontent through their decades of constant pampering and acquiescence.
Michael Lee of The Washington Post:Andray Blatche may have missed out on his first NBA paycheck of the season last week – and might lose out on $6.4 million if the NBA lockout wipes out the 2011-12 campaign – but that hasn’t stopped him from trying to make Thanksgiving special for some families in need. Blatche plans to join Roger Mason Jr. and the National Basketball Players Association on Tuesday to hand out 100 turkeys on a first-come-first-serve basis at the Laurel Boys and Girls Club from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Blatche has given away turkeys through his charity foundation in the past, but he rarely had the opportunity to connect with people since he was busy playing for the Wizards. But already this year, Blatche has given turkeys to single-parent mothers, breast cancer survivors and battered woman in his hometown of Syracuse, in South Carolina and Florida. He also volunteered over the weekend at a round-robin basketball challenge sponsored by the Maryland-National Capital Park Police. “I’m at a point in my life where I’m straight,” Blatche said in a recent telephone interview. “I’m just doing what me and my family believe in, which is giving back and always count your blessings. That’s why I’m out here doing as much stuff as possible. Even though it’s not the season, I’m still continuing to do what I’ve been doing.” Blatche has been a steady presence over the past few months at the Laurel Boys and Girls Club, where he has worked out with trainer Joe Connelly four to five days a week. Mason and Wizards teammates John Wall and Hamady Ndiaye have also trained with Blatche in recent weeks. “They let me work out there, so I’m showing some love back,” Blatche said of his turkey giveaway.
Iman Shumpert for the New York Post: Friday night, I headed out to Bridgeport, Conn., to play in another charity game for us locked-out players. The people who came out — maybe 2,000 — provided us plenty energy with cheers and competitive boos. I decided to sit out the last part of the game after going up for a dunk and feeling an awkward pain in my knee. I could have kept playing, but decided just to ice it to ensure I was OK. Nothing major. I think it was due to not warming up at half because I was hanging out with fans and doing photos and autographs, which is partly why we were there. Some of the many participants were Tyreke Evans, Sam Young, Josh Selby, Wes Mathews, Nolan Smith, Howard Thomkins and Travis Leslie. My team won, 171-169. The best part for me was getting a chance to connect with more Knicks fans praying for a season! It was a great turnout. The last couple days, I’ve spent time in the studio where Tupac was shot — Quad Recording Studios in Midtown. Definitely a magical feeling in that sort of work environment. I did a collaboration with Billz, an up-and-coming, unsigned Brooklyn group. This Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be thankful for. The lockout has given me a chance to for once have a lot of down time to spend with family and friends.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While listening to Blake Griffin reflect on his Rookie of the Year season just minutes after he was presented with the T-Mobile Rookie of the Year award weeks ago in Los Angeles, it became clear that the Clippers’ big man was interested in so much more.
He wants to be more than just a dunker, more than just a highlight staple and much more than just one of the freshest and best pitchmen in all of sports (you’ve seen his commercials, you know he’s hilarious).
Already an All-Star, Griffin could have eased up this summer and basked in a little of the glow of his maiden campaign in the league, one that saw him average 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists en route to near universal acclaim as one of the brightest young stars in the professional sports world.
But instead he’s in the gym (check the video above), leading the Clippers’ young cast through workouts and trying to take the next step and become the true leader of an outfit in need of exactly that.
CHICAGO – He is a prospect and a legacy and a former Bullets ball boy and a son. Absolutely a son. That is especially true these days.
Nolan Smith is heading from Duke to the NBA, possibly as a first-round pick and definitely with his father’s memory close in ways the tattoo of Derek Smith on Nolan’s right arm does not do justice. The elder Smith was a national champion at Louisville in 1980 and a nine-year pro with the Warriors, Clippers, Kings, 76ers and Celtics. Later he was an assistant coach with the Bullets, a job he held at the time a massive heart attack took his life at age 34 in 1996.
And now Nolan is about a month away from the June 23 draft that will allow him to follow Derek into the NBA.
“Getting to that day will be an emotional day,” Nolan said at the pre-draft camp here. “It will feel like I did something that I started because of him.”
Finishing his Duke career advanced the feelings. Being here and going through drills in front of a crowd of executives and scouts, some of whom knew his father, brought the emotions even closer. Now, he will travel the country as the final step before the draft, and the thoughts will likely grow more prominent still.
His will be no ordinary draft night. Smith would have been one of the interesting names to track anyway – a name player from a name program, with his stock rising after a senior season largely spent moving from shooting guard to the point to replace an injured Kyrie Irving. The personal impact of the instant, though, will make it extraordinary.
“It’s going to be an incredible moment to spend with my family,” Nolan said. “Just to feel like I’ve reached the ultimate level and to definitely reflect back on everything that I’ve been through. My dad isn’t here to witness it. But I know that he’s looking down on me and it’s going to be a great moment.”