Posts Tagged ‘Utah Jazz’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 30


Kevin Garnett returns…to coach? | DeRozan still motivated | Joe Johnson looking to contribute in Utah | Nets embrace holistic approach to health

No. 1: Kevin Garnett returns…to coach? Just days after announcing his retirement from the NBA, Kevin Garnett resurfaced yesterday at Los Angeles Clippers training camp to impart some of his considerable wisdom, accumulated over his two-decade NBA career. According to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Garnett’s talents apparently extend to the teaching realm

Garnett was asked by Clippers Coach Doc Rivers to come to practice to work with big men Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and rookies Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone.

But as it turned out, all of the Clippers were interested in learning from one of the NBA’s all-time greats at the practice in the Bren Events Center on UC Irvine’s campus.

“K.G. was phenomenal today,” Rivers said. “This morning, before practice, he had a teaching clinic that you would pay a lot of money to see. It was great. It was great for Blake and D.J., and the young guys as well. It’s great to have him around. He’s a great teacher. … He’ll be really good for us.”

Over the 21 seasons Garnett played in the NBA before retiring last week from the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 6-foot-11 power forward was known for his intense nature, his defense-minded approach, his team-oriented ways and a persona of toughness.

Garnett and Clippers forward Paul Pierce were teammates for six seasons in Boston, winning the NBA title in 2008 with Rivers. Paul Pierce was happy to see his old friend.

“He’s been a major inspiration in this league for a long time,” Pierce said. “A lot of guys look up to him. He has so much to share, and it’s good to see him come here and share some of the things with some of our guys, especially D.J. and Blake. He’s working with them right now. All that helps.”

Garnett’s impressive resume meant all of the Clippers listened when he spoke.

He was the 2004 league most valuable player, the defensive player of the year in 2008, a 15-time All-Star and nine-time All-NBA player.

Jamal Crawford called Garnett one of his “10 favorite players” and said it was “unbelievable” to have the future Hall of Famer at practice.

“That’s one of the best players to ever play the game,” Crawford said. “So every second you’re around a guy like that you’re listening to every single thing that he says. You’re a sponge. You’re like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Kevin Garnett.’ No matter what, they’ve watched him playing growing up. They’ve seen the highlights.

“He’s one of the best to ever play basketball. He just has a certain aura about him once he walks in that there is a certain respect that he demands. For him to be here and to give them that kind of knowledge, it speaks volumes about him as well.”


No. 2: DeRozan still motivated Toronto swingman DeMar DeRozan signed a long-term contract extension earlier this summer, a validation of all the work he’s put in thus far in his career. But according to DeRozan, he’s not ready to accept that the work is finished. If anything, he’s still finding motivation to keep improving, as he told TSN Sports…

“Honestly, I don’t think about the contract for motivation or anything like that,” said the Raptors’ guard. “My motivation is knowing what it feels like losing in the playoffs, being two games away from making it to the Finals, knowing how hard we worked to get there, being able to try to be better so we can see that moment again and prevail.”

“Just using all the motivations on a daily [basis] to be there. It’s not about the contract, it’s about everything we do to compete on the court.”

As those that have followed his eight-year NBA career know, DeRozan has never lacked for motivation. Unlike many professional athletes, who claim to avoid or just ignore criticism from fans and the media, DeRozan gets a kick out of reading what’s written about him. He reads it. He listens to it. He remembers it.

Certainly, there hasn’t been a shortage of opinion when it comes to his game and, as a result, most people – fans and pundits alike – are split on his value.
His latest perceived slight came from a familiar source:’s recent NBA player rankings, which have DeRozan slotted 46th going into the new season. After sharing his disapproval of the ranking on Twitter earlier this month, he doubled down when it came up after practice on Thursday.

“It’s always going to be extra motivation,” said DeRozan following the morning session on his team’s third day of training camp at Fortius Sport & Health in Burnaby, BC. “And it’s things like that that you can use to add fuel to the fire, but at this point I’m so self-motivated that don’t do nothing but make me laugh at it. Whoever came up with that is stupid in my opinion.”


No. 3: Joe Johnson looking to contribute in Utah As he’s become one of the NBA’s most reliable stars, Joe Johnson has started every NBA game he’s played over the last dozen years. But this season in Utah, it looks likely that Johnson may come off the bench, which he says is fine with him as long as it is what’s best for the team. As the Deseret News reports, Johnson believes he can have an impact in more ways than just playing…

“I’m not coming here trying to be a star or starter,” Johnson said. “Me and coach Quin Snyder have talked from time to time through texts or phone calls. He understands where I’m at and I understand what he wants from me as a player and that’s to help these young guys such as Rodney (Hood) and Gordon. I’m here to tell them about some of the things I’ve been through and help them out with their experiences.”

Johnson has played for five other NBA teams, most recently the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat last season. He was acquired in July as a free agent to a reported two-year, $22-million contract by the Jazz, who wanted some scoring punch as well as a veteran leader, something they got in Johnson.

“The fit is a really good one,” said Snyder. “What he brings is a confidence and experience and as much as anything, maturity. This is a player who has started every game for the past 10 years. He knows that the situation here could be different, but that wasn’t a deterrent to him coming here.

“Everything I heard about him has been positive. He knows how much I respect him. I think he looked at this team and said, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for me to have an impact and help build something.’ That’s satisfying. Credit him, the guy’s got no ego.”

One thing the Jazz like most about Johnson on the floor is his versatility. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Johnson normally plays small forward but with his shooting ability, he can play the off-guard spot and the Jazz say they can even use him as a power forward when they want to go smaller.

“Joe’s a guy who gives us a bigger wing capable of scoring in the post and is capable of playing the four position,” Snyder said. “The thing that gets lost about him, is he can play a lot of different ways. He’s an excellent passer, he takes pride in his defense.”


No. 4: Brooklyn Nets embrace holistic approach to health As part of the new Sean Marks/Kenny Atkinson regime in Brooklyn, the organization is embracing a holistic approach to player health, looking at everything from sleep patterns to diet. It’s just another step in looking for any edge possible, although as Brook Lopez notes, he dearly misses his Slurpees

“I’ve never seen an organization care for their players holistically, from a 24/7 standpoint, versus when we’re on the court or when we’re practicing or at the arena,’’ Jeremy Lin said. “It’s all-encompassing … like the way you sleep or little stuff like how you set up your bedroom and how it impacts your sleep.

“All of that impacts your performance as an athlete. … They’re really trying to do things right, to establish culture not just from when you step on the floor.”

Establishing that culture — especially on a team that won just 21 games last season — means improving not just strength, but agility and mobility, and monitoring everything from sleep patterns to diet.

“The No. 1 thing is buy-in. That’s the biggest thing in the NBA, [if] you get them to buy in, and the performance team has gotten buy-in,’’ Atkinson said. “The players enjoy being in the weight room. … Out here on the court [working on] agility, mobility. That’s part of building the total program.

“It’s such an athletic league, and we feel like it’s a big part of what we do. I was joking with one of the coaches, the performance team is going to move us out of our offices pretty soon.”

That team includes director of player performance Zach Weatherford, who spent the past two years as human performance manager at the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command; strength and conditioning coach Dan Meehan, who had done the same for the North Melbourne Football Club in Australia; athletic trainer/physical therapist Lloyd Beckett; and director of physical therapy Aisling Toolan.

It’s an eclectic mix, but one that has gotten rave reviews.

“I look at the positive feedback I’ve gotten from the players, and just the fact [they’re] consistently coming in on their own and we’re seeing changes in guys’ bodies,’’ general manager Sean Marks said. “They’ve either slimmed down, toned up, whatever. They’re buying into the processes.”

From the slimmed-down like Lopez and Sean Kilpatrick to the toned-up like Chris McCullough, the changes are apparent.

“It’s just changing the way my body moves. We’re looking for any way we can improve,’’ Brook Lopez said. “It’s all across the board, preventing future injury, stamina, diet as well. We have specialized people all across the board, and we’re already reaping the benefits.”

In the case of Lopez, the benefit is he’s seven pounds lighter and clearly leaner, and has better mobility as a result of a better diet.

“I don’t like to talk about it, it’s so sad,’’ Lopez said ruefully. “My Achilles’ heel when it comes to my diet are Slurpees, Icees, like Sonic Route 44 slushes with the Nerds or popping candy inside. That had to take a backseat.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyronn Lue has a standing invite for Kevin Garnett to join his coaching staff in Cleveland … A rule change will now allow teams to access data directly from the bench … There’s a “better vibe” in Chicago this season, according to Doug McDermottCameron Payne suffered a broken footMike Dunleavy loves being with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season … The Rockets have signed P.J. Hairston to a non-guaranteed deal …

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 28


Curry confident he’ll remain a Warrior | Hornets looking for a revitalized Hibbert | Parker hopes to create change | Jazz looking to pick up the pace

No. 1: Curry confident he’ll remain a Warrior — Now that one offseason is over, the questions about the next one will begin. And apparently, it’s Stephen Curry‘s turn to answer them. So, on the first day of practice, Curry was asked about his “impending” free agency, which is only nine months away. ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss has the story…

Stephen Curry indicated Tuesday he’ll likely re-sign with the Golden State Warriors after this season.

“Yes. Yes,” Curry replied to questions whether he’s optimistic about returning to the Warriors. Next offseason will be the two-time reigning NBA MVP’s first time as an unrestricted free agent.

Curry re-signing would be in contrast to decisions made by the other two most recent MVPs, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, who both went elsewhere after their rookie extensions expired. Durant decided to join Curry with the Warriors, while James jumped from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, only to return to Cleveland in 2014 after four seasons in Miami.

Asked if he’ll consult with Durant on contract matters this season, Curry said, “Maybe, but I’m not going to let it distract me at all.”

“I want to be back here. I like playing here, and that’s it,” he said.

As far as this season goes, you know that Curry will use the end of last season as motivation, as Michael Lee writes for Yahoo

Curry never used any excuses for his poor performance on the game’s biggest stage, never sought sympathy for his struggles – even as the Finals version of Curry rarely, if ever, came close to resembling that euphoric, fun-time version of Curry that challenged our definitions of heat checks and deep range before that unfortunate slip on a sweaty court in Houston derailed a dream season.

As he drifted into an offseason filled with the disappointment from surrendering to James an NBA title and his brief hold on the title of the game’s best player, Curry said he wouldn’t allow himself to wallow in the what-coulda-beens related to being at full strength. The Golden State Warriors lost. He lost. And that was enough to keep him motivated and focused on trying to avoid duplicating those feelings next June.

“That was the situation,” Curry said Tuesday about playing with knee and ankle injuries last postseason. “There are certain situations that everybody has to deal with and whoever is at the end … there is no need for any other storylines. I hated that I was asked about it that much, because at the end of the day, I was on the floor playing. If we would’ve won, the situation would’ve been different. Obviously, the question would’ve been a little different: ‘How did you overcome such a catastrophic injury and win a championship?'”


No. 2: Hornets looking for a revitalized Hibbert — Roy Hibbert was the anchor of a defense that ranked No. 1 in the league for two straight seasons, making “rim protection” a permanent part of the NBA lexicon. But, looking to get better offensively, the Indiana Pacers decided to move on last year and Hibbert fell off the map in one season in L.A. In fact, he was the center on three of the league’s four worst lineups that played at least 100 minutes last season. Now Hibbert is in Charlotte, looking to resurrect his career, as Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer writes…

The Hornets got Hibbert for less than a third of what he was paid last season — he’s on a one-year, $5-million deal. He and Cody Zeller will mostly man the center position for the Hornets, with Zeller likely starting but Hibbert playing significant minutes. Hibbert will give Charlotte something the Hornets have lacked since they let Bismack Biyombo walk in 2015 — an imposing presence at the rim on defense.

But does that even still matter in today’s NBA? The Hornets obviously think it does.

Said Ewing, a Basketball Hall of Famer who was one of the best big men to ever play the game: “One of the first things I told Roy when we signed him was ‘Look, no more negative things about how the game has changed.’ Forget that. Forget it!”

Ewing smiled.

“I may not have used those exact words, though,” he said, leaving no doubt some of his initial speech to Hibbert wasn’t suitable for a family newspaper.


No. 3: Parker hopes to create change — Jabari Parker is only 21 years old and doesn’t have the kind of profile that Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James have. But Parker isn’t going to take a backseat in regard to having his voice heard about race and inequality issues in his home city of Chicago and across the United States. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel spoke to Parker about his efforts to make a difference …

While at times he can be reticent to talk to the media in basketball settings, Parker said Monday at Bucks media day that speaking out this summer wasn’t a challenge. It’s something he said he’s done at some level since high school and feels strongly about continuing now that he has a larger platform as a professional athlete.

“It’s been easy as me being a pro trying to create change, trying to help my neighbor, trying to help my community because honestly if I don’t stand up for something I know nobody else will,” said Parker, whom the Bucks drafted in 2014 out of Duke with the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA. “It’s part of my responsibility to come back and create awareness and create change.”

Parker took action this summer to back up his words. On Aug. 26, he hosted Pickup for Peace at Quest MultiSport in Chicago, an event featuring some Chicago AAU teams as well as a pickup game with Parker and other notable basketball players from Chicago, including Shawn Marion and Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley.

He called that event the most rewarding thing he did over the summer.

“That can make a lot of difference,” Parker said. “(It’s) three hours away from the streets. I just wanted to do my role, do what I know to do and that’s to play basketball and that’s what I’m going to do for a long time.”

Though the decision to add his voice to the discussion was a simple one, Parker noted he has received backlash for sharing his views. He’s heard criticism, especially on social media, from people saying he should stick to playing basketball and stay out of the social and political discussion. That’s something he won’t do.


No. 4: Jazz looking to pick up the pace — The Utah Jazz led the league with 3.79 passes per possession last season, but that was in part because their possessions took so long. The Jazz ranked last in pace and only 35 percent of their shots came in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock, the lowest rate in the league by a wide margin (the league average was 51 percent). League-wide, field goal percentage drops as the shot clock goes down, so the Jazz can improve an offense that ranked 17th last season just by getting more shots early in the clock. And that’s what Quin Snyder‘s plan is, as Tony Jones writes in the Salt Lake Tribune

Snyder would like to see his team play at a faster pace this season, especially with the added depth. Added pace means added possessions, which leads to added depth coming more into play, which Snyder hopes can lead to his team wearing the opposition down when it matters.

As such, much of the scrimmage portion of Tuesday’s morning practice was played with a 14 second shot clock, instead of the normal 24 second clock. That forced quicker tempo and reactions from his team. Snyder said he wants to run more initial pick-and-roll sets out of transition, and forcing his team to shoot the ball within 14 seconds was a way to get the players into that mindset.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyronn Lue stole a page from Doc Rivers‘ coaching book during The Finals … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak isn’t concerning himself with VP Jim Buss‘ timeline for contending for a titleIsaiah Thomas is sleeping more and eating McDonald’s lessMike Krzyzewski was at Wolves practiceFred Hoiberg says that there will be an open competition for the Bulls’ starting power forward spot … and there’s a similar situation at small forward with the Clippers.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 27

Miami moves on from Bosh | Wall, Beal downplay rift | Spurs missing their ‘In-Tim-idator’ | Losing Middleton stymies Bucks

No. 1: Miami moves on from BoshPat Riley, Miami Heat president, went so far as to mention Magic Johnson‘s stunning HIV diagnosis. That’s how seriously and emotionally Riley and his organization were reacting to what they consider to be the end of Chris Bosh‘s NBA career in south Florida. The latest chapter in Bosh’s ongoing health concerns, stemming from blood clots that have snuffed the second halves of his past two seasons, came Monday as Riley confirmed the Heat no longer are open to bringing the All-Star power forward back. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel had the details:

President Pat Riley said Monday that the team views Chris Bosh’s career with the team as over, that the team no longer is working toward his return.

“We are not,” Riley said in his office at AmericanAirlines Arena. “I think Chris is still open-minded. But we are not working toward his return.

“We feel that, based on the last exam, that his Heat career is probably over.”

Asked if he felt Bosh’s NBA career was over, as well, Riley said, “that’s up to him.”

Bosh has been sidelined for the second half of each of the past two seasons due blood clots, recently failing the Heat’s preseason physical.

“It’s pretty definitive from us, in our standpoint, that this is probably going to be a time where we really have to step back,” Riley said

“His health, playing and economics — it’s been health, health, health,” Riley said before the start of the team’s media day at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Whatever the cap ramifications are, they are there, but we never ever thought about that.”

Of going forward, Riley said, “This one is cloudy, the environment, because of the C.B. situation, and we have to deal with that.”

The Heat would receive salary-cap relief going forward on Feb. 9 if Bosh is ruled medically unable to play by an NBA specialist.

Bosh said over the weekend he planned to continue his comeback attempt, posting on Twitter, “Setbacks may happen, but my intentions remain the same. Thank you all for the warm wishes and support.”

He then on Monday released the latest chapter of the video series chronicling his comeback attempt on the Uninterrupted digital-media platform.

“I put in all the work, so let’s see where I’m at,” Bosh said in the piece, which apparently was completed before his failed Heat physical. “I’m still hoping to have my moment.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said the situation with Bosh has been emotionally grueling.

“I love C.B. dearly,” he said. “It was tough to watch C.B. and his family go through this the last couple of years. Your heart just goes out to him.”



Blogtable: Which two teams are most intriguing in the West?

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: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> As the start of Western Conference training camps near, which two teams are you most intrigued by? And what depth chart battle/storyline/offseason move(s) by those teams will you be watching most?

Steve Aschburner, Golden State and Oklahoma City, largely for the same reason. It’s impossible not to go full gawker on Golden State to see how Kevin Durant fits in, as well as how the Warriors’ other scorers and staff adapt to areas of redundancy while plugging holes opened primarily by departing bigs Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili. Curious to see how they go 83-0 too. For OKC, it’s all about addition by subtraction (not just Durant but Serge Ibaka), Russell Westbrook unleashed as an early MVP favorite for all he’ll be asked or freed to do, the ongoing, entertaining saga of Steven Adams‘ NBA journey, Victor Oladipo‘s ascending star and Billy Donovan forced to work in his second pro season without one of the league’s top 3 players.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The Warriors and the Timberwolves. Golden State is obvious — fans love the addition of Kevin Durant, enemies will make it the reason to hate the defending West champions even more, but no one can deny it will be amazing to watch the adjustment play out. Win or lose, the Dubs are changing and what happens next is captivating. While I wouldn’t make Minnesota a preseason pick for the playoffs, tracking the next step on the very promising future is mandatory viewing. So is the depth chart at point guard, with veteran Ricky Rubio and rookie Kris Dunn.

Shaun Powell, Wolves and Warriors. So much is expected of both teams, to different levels of course, and training camp will unlock some mysteries. How will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, a pair of MVPs, develop harmony? And Durant and Klay Thompson, for that matter? All three are terrific shooters and you wonder if they’ll be too unselfish initially. Meanwhile in Minnesota, camp comes down to one position and two names: Point guard, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn.

John Schuhmann, Houston and Minnesota. Putting James Harden‘s pick-and-roll playmaking in Mike D’Antoni‘s offense seems ideal, and having Ryan Anderson at the four only makes the Rockets more difficult to defend. But I’m curious to see if they can be an average defensive team or better. They still have some good defenders on the perimeter, but took a big step backward on that end of the floor last season, lost Dwight Howard, and will obviously need better defensive effort from Harden. I just want to know if Donatas Motiejunas is going to get a contract (or sign his qualifying offer), because D’Antoni could make good use of his skills. In Minnesota, I think Tom Thibodeau will take the Wolves from 27th in defensive efficiency to at least average on that end of the floor. And that, along with the development of their young talent, should have them in the playoff picture all season. They shouldn’t be shopping Ricky Rubio just yet, because he’s proven to be a key for them on both offense and defense. Zach LaVine should only be considered a two (he was a much improved shooter playing alongside Rubio), so there’s room for both Rubio and Kris Dunn at the point.

Sekou Smith, This isn’t fair to the rest of the teams in the Western Conference. With Kevin Durant joining that All-Star cast the Golden State Warriors already had in place, the Warriors are easily the most intriguing team in basketball. They’ll have to redefine their chemistry, of course, and work through whatever issues that will arise from adding a player on KD’s caliber. But it should be loads of fun watching it all go down. A surprise team last season, the Portland Trail Blazers return this season with some fresh faces and plenty of momentum (generated by their impressive playoff showing). We know Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the real deal. That underrated supporting cast that showed up in the playoffs last season is the question mark. I want to see how Evan Turner fits in that mix and see how the competition for rotation spots works out among all of that young talent.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHow quickly will Kevin Durant adapt to the move-the-ball style of the Warriors? Will their new bench serve as an extension to that style, or will we see the personality of the Warriors becoming more traditional this season? The 82 games are going to serve as a kind of extended preseason for the Warriors, in the sense that nothing can be proved until the playoffs. As fascinating as it will be to watch the Spurs and Thunder move on without their franchise stars, I’ll be focused more on the Clippers. Is this the year it all comes together for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? They have the talent and depth — their bench looks like a strength now — but do their leaders have the necessary resolve? Have their troubles of the last couple of years strengthened them to outfight the Warriors and other contenders?

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: The Utah Jazz, and I choose them not only because they drafted me in the franchise mode of NBA 2K17. I really love the addition of Joe Johnson to provide a steadying veteran influence, as well as George Hill. (And if I learned anything else from 2K, it’s that Michael B. Jordan is no Michael Jordan.) For a second squad, I’m really interested to see what the Grizzlies do this season under new coach David Fizdale. They’re finally healthy, and the addition of Chandler Parsons should give them some scoring help which it feels like they’ve needed forever.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 12


Report: Optimism growing about Bosh’s status | Report: Howard falls ill on flight | Hill ready to lead Jazz back to playoffs

No. 1: Report: Optimism growing that Bosh will play in 2016-17 — The Miami Heat and star forward Chris Bosh seem to have the same goal in mind — him playing in the 2016-17 season. However, enacting a plan both sides agree on to reach that goal hasn’t always gone well. Bosh missed the last half of the 2015-16 season with a heart condition and still needs clearance from the team to play again. According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Bosh and the Heat may be getting close to that approval status:

There is growing optimism about Chris Bosh being cleared by the Heat to resume his career while remaining on blood thinners, according to a union source.

Bosh pitched the Heat on playing late last season, while taking a new form of blood thinner that would be out of his system in eight hours or so. The Heat resisted that approach at that time but is now more open than it had been to Bosh playing while on blood thinners, according to the source.

Bosh wouldn’t be the first athlete to do that: Former Florida Panthers player Tomas Fleischmann takes anticoagulant injections after games that are out of his system by game time.

Whether Bosh would be able to play in every game, such as the second set of back-to-backs, remains to be seen.

But barring a setback in the next few weeks, it would be surprising if Bosh isn’t cleared to play.

That would mean a Heat starting lineup of Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic and likely Dion Waiters.



Morning shootaround — Sept. 4


Ujiri focuses on building African basketball | Holiday to miss time to care for wife and child | Riley says Shaq was most important Miami move | Curry watches Game 7 for fuel | Reasons to be excited about Love

No. 1: Ujiri focuses on building African basketball — Masai Ujiri earned Executive of the Year honors for the job he did in Denver and has guided the Toronto Raptors to three straight years of setting a new franchise record for wins. For that, he earned a contract extension this week. But Ujiri’s basketball work on the continent of Africa will ultimately be more impactful. And it’s the job of growing the game back where he came from that brings out the perfectionist in Ujiri, as Bruce Arthur writes in the Toronto Star

When the film was shown the first time, during that Arctic all-star weekend, it felt like the entire NBA was in town. Masai Ujiri was the headliner, glad-handing and chatting with the other luminaries of his professional world like the confident politician he can be but, underneath it all, his stomach was leaping and jittering. Afterwards, he shook hands and embraced friends and accepted compliments, seeming at ease. But he was still shaking inside.

“Honestly, I’m not nervous about anything I do with the Raptors,” Ujiri says from Angola, where he is the camp director for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp, after nearly a month spent running his own camps for his charity, Giants of Africa.

“I’m nervous about everything I do with Africa. You almost want it to go good all the time, and you don’t want to disappoint.”

The general manager of the Toronto Raptors cares deeply about his day job. But he feels he has more control in the NBA. He has also spoken about how if he is the only African-born general manager in NBA history, then he will have failed in some way, and about how much responsibility he feels to the kids who remind him of himself. Ujiri has just finished his annual charity tour, which has been running for 13 years now. When the Hubert Davis-directed documentary was shot last year, Giants of Africa ran basketball camps in four countries. This year they started in Senegal, then went on to Ghana, his native Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and Botswana. They helped build a court in Rwanda. It was a good trip.



Blogtable: Where do Thunder rank in West now?

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: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?

> In the loaded Western Conference, where do the Thunder rank going into this season?

Steve Aschburner, Second-tier playoff team. I think the Clippers and the Trail Blazers bump up into the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in the West, with OKC now in the mix with the likes of Memphis, Utah, Houston and Minnesota for the remaining four spots. Not only has Westbrook been a terrific catalyst when playing without Durant, averaging about 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds over the past two years in such games, but GM Sam Presti, coach Billy Donovan and the rest will be extra-motivated to demonstrate how good the Thunder still are and how well they can remodel a legit contender around Westbrook. They dare not slip into lottery land, at this point.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWestbrook has already proven that he can anchor the team and lead it to a winning record (45-37) two seasons ago when Durant missed 55 games due to injury. While the Thunder are no longer a championship contender, they battle the Portland Trail Blazers for first place in the Northwest Division. If all goes very well, they’re fighting for the No. 4-5 spots in the Western Conference. If not, OKC is scrambling for the No. 7 or 8 holes. Either way, this is still a playoff team, though the young Minnesota Timberwolves under Tom Thibodeau are coming up fast. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI always dislike August predictions, knowing rosters can still change before the opening of camp, but since you asked: They could still be a playoff team. Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson’s defense, Enes Kanter’s offense and rebounding — there are big holes at both forward spots, but that’s also a respectable starting point. To try and pinpoint it, I’ll say OKC is in the 8-9 conversation. I think they’re going to be very motivated and focused. They are not going away quietly, that’s for sure. Getting a boost from a second-year player (Cameron Payne) or rookie (Domantas Sabonis, Alex Abrines) would be a big help, especially since Sabonis can play power forward and Abrines small forward. It’s just tough to count on dependable play from newcomers, though.

Shaun Powell, Top 5. Russell Westbrook will have an MVP type season and he and Victor Oladipo will mesh in the backcourt.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey still a good amount of talent, but their defense is going to take a big step backward with the departures of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. I would put them behind Golden State, San Antonio, LA Clippers and Memphis, in the mix for lower seed with Portland, Dallas, Utah, and Minnesota.

Sekou Smith, The top six is a realistic starting point. Scanning the list of contenders in a top-heavy Western Conference we have to start with that new-look crew at Golden State, followed by the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and then the Thunder. I’m not sure what to make of the Dallas Mavericks and their revamped roster. And the Houston Rockets still have James Harden to lean on. The Thunder are in that same mix with the Mavericks and Rockets, without the benefit of knowing how all of the new pieces will fit on each of those teams.

Ian Thomsen, The sure thing — health permitting — is that they’re going to make the playoffs. The top three contenders are going to be the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers, which leaves the No. 4 spot wide open. Who’s to say that the Thunder won’t be able to grab it — with the promise of a delicious Western Conference semifinals rematch vs. Golden State in which virtually everyone outside the Bay Area will be rooting for OKC.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogLet’s do this by process of elimination. Eliminating health concerns, I’d say as presently constructed, the very best teams in the Western Conference are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers. I would place the Thunder within the next tier of teams, which includes (in no particular order) the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, and maybe Minnesota Timberwolves. Can the Thunder make the playoffs? Even if everyone stays healthy, I think it may require Russ averaging 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. I don’t know if he can do that over an entire season, but it sure should be fun to watch.

Morning Shootaround — June 26

Jazz seek depth | More straight talk, less Bull, please | Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax

No. 1: Jazz seek depth  — The reported addition of George Hill allows the Utah Jazz to turn their focus to role players, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, after a 2015-16 season in which injuries pulled back a curtain on a roster lacking depth:

Though Utah brass like their young core — including rehabbing Dante Exum and Alec Burks, both expected to be healthy by training camp — the organization has an offseason objective of fortifying the roster.

That means, if possible, acquiring more talent via free agency and/or trades.
Securing veteran playmaker George Hill — whom ESPN’s Zach Lowe described as “a really good point guard” — was a good start for this playoff-hungry franchise.

But Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has even more in mind. He’s used words like “active” and “aggressive” in describing how his staff will approach the upcoming free-agency period.

In retrospect, Lindsey took responsibility for not having enough depth on the Jazz roster in 2015-16 to help Quin Snyder deal with the unexpected rash of injuries that the team experienced, including to Exum, Burks, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

“We’re not going to sit here and alibi. Every single sports team has injuries,” Lindsey said the day after the team’s 40-42 season ended a couple of wins shy of a playoff spot. “Ultimately, I’m the most responsible up here on the dais — not Quin, not the coaches, not the players — about roster construction.”

The Jazz’s plan last offseason seemed to make sense. The team had finished the 2014-15 season on a tear, winning 21 of their final 32 games led by a dominating defensive surge.

Instead of rolling the dice on acquiring experienced free agents to bolster the up-and-comers, Lindsey & Co. opted to gamble on youth. Injuries — and a late-season collapse — made that plan backfire on a team that came oh-so-close but not close enough.

“If we do this the right way with the right character — and Quin’s such a good communicator — we’ll be able to manage the season better,” Lindsey said. “The players are like everybody else. They saw what happened last season and they know that we know that we need some reinforcements. Come early July, we plan on being very active in the free-agent market.”


No. 2: More straight talk, less Bull, please — A year ago, it was the coach’s fault. This season, it was the players’ fault. At some point, it’s going to be management’s fault, even if the Chicago Bulls’ top-heavy down management style doesn’t acknowledge that. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has a reputation for backing the suits in his front-office, be it with the Bulls or the MLB White Sox. But sooner or later, general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson are going to face some measure of scrutiny and have to ‘fess up for the team’s underperformance the same way former coach Tom Thibodeau did in 2015 and the way Derrick Rose did with his trade last week to New York. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looked at the Bulls’ monolithic approach and the growing distrust from many of the teams’ fans:

The bigger issue that emerged is this: Will Bulls fans trust a rebuilding plan designed and executed by a man so many find hard to believe?

With Rose gone, Forman instantly becomes the most polarizing member of the organization, lacking Butler’s popularity while eliciting the most emotional reaction. Lately, it’s Grrrrrrr, Forman. Chicagoans can detect BS as easily as they can spot red-light cameras, and they dislike both.

Forman first sounded disingenuous when he insisted on saying the Bulls are retooling, not rebuilding. Then consider Forman’s muddled confirmation of the Bulls’ interest in Providence point guard Kris Dunn, selected fifth by the Timberwolves

“We liked him. … We had talks like we do about moving up,” Forman said.

Of course the Bulls did. On draft day, teams in flux as much as the Bulls weigh a variety of options, which is what made Forman’s flat denial of [Jimmy] Butler trade talks so implausible. How did the Bulls admittedly explore trading up for Dunn with the Celtics and Timberwolves without dangling Butler — whom both teams wanted?

Forman comes across to those of us who know him as likable and funny, but you never will hear the words candid or transparent used to describe the Bulls GM. With a return to respectability the most realistic goal for 2016-17, the Bulls could use a little candor and a lot of transparency. Anything less threatens to turn people off. A team likely to struggle on the court need not give fans another reason to look away.

The Bulls have no worries related to attendance — the United Center regularly sells out — but the Rose deal reminds us that this is the wrong week to ignore how perception can shape reality in Chicago sports. No metric accurately measures civic confidence, but experience tells me the Bulls rank lower in that category than any other professional sports team in town, at least rivaling the lack of faith in the White Sox. Since the day the Bulls replaced coach Tom Thibodeau with Fred Hoiberg — Forman’s hand-picked candidate — skepticism has surrounded a team whose dysfunctional decline only intensified the scrutiny

Everybody understood how badly Rose needed a change of scenery because of his incompatibility with Butler. But isn’t it fair to wonder how Hoiberg’s arrival exacerbated the problems that hastened Rose’s departure? And who is most responsible for Hoiberg coaching the Bulls? The same executive who just added “I Traded Derrick Rose” to his legacy.

Yet the Bulls have left no doubt whom they want associated most with their latest plan to get past LeBron James. To articulate the Bulls’ biggest transaction of the post-Jordan era, Forman appeared alone to face questions. To discuss drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, an excellent pick that created a positive ripple, Forman again sat solo behind the microphone.


No. 3: Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax — Reputations matter. So do resumes. So when a successful team completes a trade with an unsuccessful team, there might be some bias involved when folks on the outside evaluate the deal, tilting its apparent merits ever so slightly. That’s what Orlando Sentinel columnist Brian Schmitz sees in the reactions to the Magic-Thunder trade in which veteran power forward Serge Ibaka was shipped to central Florida in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft pick that became Domantas Sabonis. What allegedly looks so lopsided to some doesn’t appear that way to Schmitz:

This is what happens when you lose as much as Orlando has the past four seasons: You lose credibility locally and nationally.

A lot of what you do will be panned by the public – no matter if essentially trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka makes sense for the Magic.

The Magic had, as [GM Rob] Hennigan called it, a “logjam” of wing players, thus making Oladipo expendable. The Thunder had a stable of big men, thus making Ibaka expendable. The underlying theme in both scenarios is that Oladipo and Ibaka will be looking for new contracts after next season. Neither player was particularly happy at times with their role last season.

So instead of the trade being portrayed more as good for both teams – ESPN’s Chad Ford did call it that — it is being hailed as a win for the Thunder.

“We need to call the cops — OKC robbed Orlando,” tweeted HBO Sports’ Bill Simmons.

“I don’t bet against [Thunder GM] Sam Presti when it comes to picking players. Trading Ibaka for Sabonis/Oladipo/Ilyasova? Advantage, OKC,” tweeted Skip Bayless of Fox Sports.

After I lauded Hennigan’s move, I received an-email from a ticked-off Magic fan that echoed others: “That’s a bad trade and a bad column. Let’s face it. This Magic GM is just as bad as the last one.”

Perception is a funny thing.

The trade made by the Thunder is largely considered genius because they’re contenders. The deal made by the Magic is largely considered wrong-headed because they’re bottom-dwellers.

Orlando also is perceived as a somewhat dysfunctional franchise, and it’s not without merit. They couldn’t keep Dwight Howard or — most recently — Scott Skiles from walking out.

I get it: OKC earns the benefit of the doubt.

But when you have All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, any move the Thunder make tends to look brilliant. They skew the evaluation system.

Why, all of a sudden, Oladipo has morphed into Dwyane Wade and Ibaka is viewed as a spare part. An article even suggests that this trade moves OKC ahead of Golden State in the West. Wow, if Oladipo had that kind of impact, the Magic should have won more games.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes on board, Team USA’s roster finally looks set. … There is a Minnesota media crush on Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio that might not be shared by new coach Tom Thibodeau and it has some in the Twin Cities fretting. … What is life like for Knicks’ prospect Kristaps Porzingis back home in Latvia? Esquire magazine with the answer to everyone’s most pressing question.

Morning shootaround — June 22


Report: Celtics rebuffed in attempt to acquire veteran | Calipari says Murray wants to play for Wolves | Report: Embiid cleared for 5-on-5 scrimmages

No. 1: Report: Celtics denied in attempt to deal for veteran — If you haven’t checked out the piece by our Ian Thomsen on how Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge has no shortage of assets to play with in the 2016 draft and beyond, it’s a must-read. According to’s Marc Stein, Ainge apparently tried to leverage at least the No. 3 overall pick in his draft and possibly others to try and pry some young superstars away from the Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, but was rebuffed on all fronts:

The Boston Celtics have been pursuing a number of established veterans in the buildup to Thursday’s NBA draft, offering trade packages built around the No. 3 overall pick, according to league sources.

But sources told ESPN that the Celtics, to date, have been rebuffed in their efforts to assemble a sufficiently enticing deal to acquire any of these four prime targets: Chicago Bulls All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler, Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward and Milwaukee Bucks teammates Jabari Parker or Khris Middleton.

Who the Celtics like at No. 3, if they end up keeping the pick, has likewise emerged as one of the bigger mysteries of draft week, sources say.

The Bulls, sources say, continue to show little interest in dealing Butler to the Celtics, who previously tried to trade for him before the league’s annual deadline in February.

Sources say the Celtics are one of just a number of teams trying to convince Utah to surrender Hayward — Phoenix, which holds two lottery picks (No. 4 and 13) in Thursday’s draft, is another — but the Jazz have been telling interested teams that he is not available.

The same, sources say, goes for Parker and Middleton in Milwaukee, since the Bucks regard both of those young cornerstones, as well as Giannis Antetokounmpo, as untouchables.



Jerry Sloan, K.C. Jones named winners of Chuck Daly Award

CLEVELANDJerry Sloan and K.C. Jones were named the winners of the 2016 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Basketball Coaches Association announced tonight before Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Sloan played for just over a decade in the NBA, and was a two-time All-Star with the Chicago Bulls. After three years coaching the Bulls, from 1979-82, Sloan became head coach of the Utah Jazz in 1988, where he remained until 2011. Sloan led the Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, and retired with 1,221 career wins, third-all time. Earlier this year, Sloan disclosed that he has been battling Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia.

“I’m not one that likes to be in the shadows of what goes on in this business sometimes,” said Sloan, “but I’m really honored by the fact that that would be thought of at this stage of my life, to receive an award. I always thought the awards should go to the team and not to me. With that, the MVP Award should go to people who go play and do the hard work. Assistant coaches I think deserve to be recognized as much or more than the head coaches. The head coaches get to be talked to every day.”

K.C. Jones played for the Boston Celtics from 1958-67, winning eight consecutive NBA titles from 1959 through 1966. Jones then went into coaching, winning two NBA championships as an assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers (1972) and the Celtics (1981). Jones became Boston’s head coach in 1983, and won titles with the Celtics in 1984 and 1986. Jones eventually retired with a career record of 522-252 as an NBA head coach. Jones was unable to attend the ceremony due to health reasons; Jones was represented by his son, Kip.

When asked about the job longevity (or lack thereof) for NBA coaches today, particularly when compared to his extended run in Utah, Sloan said he always knew he could rely on support from above.

“When I stood in front of our team at the beginning of training camp,” said Sloan, “Larry Miller, who owned the team, would say, ‘He’s going to be here and you guys might not be.’ That’s a true story. Every season I was a head coach, that’s what we opened the season up with. I see that as one of the main things that seems not to happen a great deal any more.”

The award is named for longtime Detroit coach Chuck Daly, who won two titles with the Pistons and coached the Dream Team to a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics.