Morning shootaround — August 3


VIDEO: Steve Smith shines a light on the offseason winners and losers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Noah active, energized this summer | Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come | Okafor has great expectations for Sixers

No. 1: Noah active, energized this summer — Change has been good for Joakim Noah. The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man has been active this summer and energized this summer, both in the community and where basketball is concerned. Noah feels good. His mind is clear and his focus is sharp. And as far as his new coach, Fred Hoiberg, is concerned, the vibes are good. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune has more on Noah’s big summer:

Given that Joakim Noah spoke Saturday at an anti-violence community event his foundation organized, the Bulls’ big man placed last season’s personal struggles in perspective.

“Last year was a tough year for me. I feel it was very humbling,” Noah said. “We went through a lot. Right now, I’m feeling healthy both physically and mentally. I’m really excited about our upcoming opportunity. I never take anything for granted.”

Noah, who attended Saturday’s ONE CITY youth basketball tournament at the Major Adams Community Center near the United Center with his mother and sister, has been working out this offseason in California. Recently, new coach Fred Hoiberg visited.

He’s confident his summer at a sports science academy has put the health issues he experienced last season after May 2014 left knee surgery behind him.

“I feel great,” Noah said. “This is the first time I’ve taken a lot of time for myself to just focus on what I need to get done. Sometimes when you go through humbling experiences, (you) hungrier than ever. And I feel ready to prove I can help this team win big.”

Noah said he enjoyed “vibing” with Hoiberg.

“We got to break bread together,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to the coaching staff, spending time with Fred. I think it’s going to be very different.”

Asked to elaborate, Noah smiled.

“Time will tell,” he said. “But it will definitely be different. We had a lot great times with Tom Thibodeau. He’s a great coach. I learned a lot from him. I’ve experienced a lot with him. I only have good things to say about him. I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my career.”

Before the tournament, Noah and his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, unveiled his Noah’s Arc Foundation’s latest public service announcement centered on its “Rock Your Drop” movement. It’s centered on peace, unity and positive change in the face of Chicago’s rampant gun violence.

Spike Lee, Bears running back Matt Forte, “Chicago Fire” actor David Eichenberg and St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger are some of the spot’s prominent cameos.

“‘Rock Your Drop’ is a movement that started with my mother. It has been part of my vision as a basketball player since I was a kid,” Noah said. “For it to be finally here and feel this love really means so much to me and to my family. To launch this PSA is huge. To be able to play for the Chicago Bulls is something other than just basketball. When I see people wearing their drops, it means the world to me and my mom.”

Rodhe, an artist, chiseled the small drop out of stone 18 years ago. Noah wore one on a necklace.

“We’re all one. We’ve all been given life,” Rodhe said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re from. I’m from Sweden. You may say, ‘What are you doing here, blonde lady, on the South Side of Chicago? This isn’t your problem.’ I say no. When something is as strong as gun violence and you see the pain of moms, that’s all of ours problem.”

Noah is very hands-on with his foundation. He joked about converting now-teenage kids who razzed him about Kevin Durant fans five or six years ago.

“This will be my ninth season here and I don’t take that for granted,” Noah said. “Guys move around in my profession. They get traded. To be with a team for that long is special.

“I’m working as hard as I can on the court and this is a part of what I wanted to do since I started playing basketball. This is like home. We’ve been putting in a lot of work here. This is not a gimmick. It’s for the right reasons. To be able to do all this work makes me happy.”

***

No. 2: Thunder coach Donovan tough as they come — Anybody wondering what kind of transition Billy Donovan will make to the NBA after years as one of the nation’s elite college coaches need only peek into his past. Donovan is as tough as they come, having honed his game and his basketball sensibilities in Queens and, later, the Big East. If Donovan’s pedigree is any indication, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the Co. are in good hands. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:

After the Big East formed in 1979, basketball interest in the northeast spiked. The early ‘80s produced a golden age for high school point guards in NYC, meaning the 1983 Wheelchair event, the 10th annual, was a must-see edition.

That graduating class had Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, the playground legend and soon-to-be Syracuse star, and future NBA starters Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson.

But it was a sub 6-foot white kid from an affluent area of Long Island who stole the show in that showcase game. His name was Billy Donovan.

“Oh, Billy went off,” said his high school teammate, Frank Williams.

Donovan’s Queens team faced the Brooklyn squad led by Pearl Washington, the game’s headliner. Months earlier, Donovan battled Washington’s in a six-quarter high school scrimmage. Pearl had 82 points.

“We pressed the whole game and he just weaved in and out,” Donovan said. “I learned a lot.”

Donovan was a game-control point guard. Slick ball-handling was his greatest strength. Pearl was a wizard with the ball, his moves legendary. At the Wheelchair Classic, Donovan put his mental notes from the scrimmage to use.

“I don’t think Pearl was ready for it,” Williams laughed.

In the highlight play of his highlight day, Donovan sent Pearl sprawling on a left-handed, inside-out crossover dribble, cruising past him for a layup.

“Pearl nearly fell down,” said Billy’s childhood best friend Kevin Quigley. “The crowd went nuts. Just hooting and hollering. The little white boy just juked Pearl out of his shoes.”

Billy Donovan made a career out of willing himself to success. Too small and athletically limited to compete against premiere athletes? He molded himself into a player and led Providence to an unlikely Final Four run. Florida is a second-tier hoops program at a football school? He quickly turned them into a national powerhouse. Too inexperienced to coach in the NBA? Sam Presti just handed him the keys to the most important season in the Thunder’s brief franchise history.

But before there was Billy Donovan the iconic coach or Billy The Kid bombing 3s at Providence College there was Billy the kid, a Long Island youth addicted to basketball.

“It was almost an obsession,” Quigley said.

***

No. 3: Okafor has great expectations for Sixers — Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor is well aware of the struggles that have gone on prior to his arrival in the City of Brotherly Love. But that has not soured him on what could be. He has great expectations for what he and the Sixers will get done in his rookie season. Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the details:

Okafor averaged 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two Las Vegas Summer League games. Before that, he averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in three summer league games in Utah.

“I was satisfied,” Okafor said of his summer performance. “I got better every game and worked on everything.”

Covington said Okafor has already made an impact.

“He has brought a whole lot of excitement to this team,” Covington said. “He is a big man who has made his presence known already.”

Another big man, Joel Embiid, will miss a second straight season because of another procedure on his foot.

“It is hard to do, but he is doing well, and he is keeping his head high,” Covington said.

Just as the focus last season was on Nerlens Noel, this season it will be on Okafor. He said he can’t wait to get settled in the Philadelphia area and is looking for a place to live.

Okafor won’t lack confidence. He expects a lot from a Sixers team coming off an 18-64 season. He knows the expectations will again be low, but he doesn’t care.

“Everybody knows we have expectations, and the fans have expectations, and that is all that matters,” he said.

Okafor will be a trendy choice for rookie of the year because he is expected to play major minutes.

“It’s definitely a possible goal,” he said about earning the award. “Definitely.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan is still the G.O.A.T., just ask Jimmy ButlerNancy Lieberman called Muhammad Ali after joining the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach … Got cash? You’ll need plenty of it to buy the New York penthouse of former Brooklyn star Deron Williams

Morning Shootaround — August 2


VIDEO: Team World rallies past Team Africa

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa | Knicks to sign Vujacic | Teague making impact off-court

No. 1: Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa Yesterday’s NBA Africa 2015 exhibition game was a success by any measure, but the game’s signature moment may have come midway through the second quarter when Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo checked into the game. As our Shaun Powell writes, it was a moment that almost didn’t happen

Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, the greatest players Africa ever produced, were asked by league organizers to come out of retirement and make a cameo in the exhibition. Olajuwon is a Hall of Famer and Mutombo will be enshrined next month. They would suit up for Team Africa, a squad of players with African blood, against Team World. Their jerseys, along with one belonging to the late Manute Bol, hung ceremoniously in the rafters above the court inside the arena.

Therefore: A simple and brilliant request, right?

Brilliant, yes. Not so simple.

Mutombo was receptive. Olajuwon said no. Olajuwon is 52, Mutumbo 49. They are fit and trim, but as basketball players, they were finished. It was not going to happen. Organizers pleaded. The answer, up to the day before tipoff, was no from Olajuwon. Truth be told? Both were afraid of being embarrassed on TV, in front of fans who knew them as legends. Neither wanted to play like chumps.

And then: Olajuwon weakened. He brought along his two pre-teenaged boys, who never saw him play, and so he agreed.

When they checked in midway through the second quarter wearing their throwbacks — Rockets for Olajuwon, multi-colored Nuggets for Mutombo — the NBA Africa game had its signature moment, its energy, its second-loudest applause of the day.

The biggest bedlam? That burst arrived when Olajuwon reeled back to 1993, executed the Dream Shake that froze Nik Vucevic, faded and shot a 15-footer that kissed the rim and fell in. Cray-zy. The crowd pounced. Players on both benches jumped.

“I made the move, I made the shot, it went in,” said Olajuwon. “I missed my first shot and was happy to make the next one. And I was really happy to participate.”

After a minute of action, Olajuwon playfully grabbed his chest, Fred Sanford-style. Gregg Popovich, who knows about coaching old players with the Spurs, did the humanitarian thing and allowed Olajuwon to wobble back to the bench and into re-retirement.

As for Mutombo? Didn’t one trademark basketball moment deserve another? As in, a blocked shot and finger wag? Popovich drew up a defensive play that you’ll never see in a Spurs game. He ordered his players to allow guard Trey Burke to reach the rim, where Mutombo awaited. The trap was set but the mouse didn’t cooperate. Burke passed the ball.

“So many of these young players don’t want to see themselves on YouTube,” said Mutombo, “so they run away.”

***

No. 2: Knicks to sign Vujacic The Knicks have made no secret that they’re trying to find players who fit into their “Triangle” offensive system. So who better to add to their roster than former two-time champ Sasha Vujacic, who played for Phil Jackson‘s Lakers? As Ian Begley writes, signing Vujacic should help the Knicks stretch opposing defenses

Vujacic played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2004 to 2011. He spent five of those seasons playing under Knicks president and then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and four playing alongside Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played point guard for the Lakers.

Vujacic, 31, has played overseas for much of the past four seasons. His lone NBA stint during that stretch was in 2013-14, when he played 10 minutes over two games for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Assuming he makes the regular-season roster, Vujacic could give the Knicks a needed threat from the perimeter.

He is a career 37.1 percent 3-point shooter in the NBA. Vujacic is also familiar with the Knicks’ triangle offense thanks to his time in Los Angeles. So he could help the Knicks’ younger players adapt to the system.

The 6-foot-7 Vujacic is the latest player coached by Jackson to sign a deal with the Knicks. New York has also signed former Lakers Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and DJ Mbenga — but none of those players had long stints with the team.

With Vujacic on board, the Knicks have 12 players signed to guaranteed contracts. Counting Langston Galloway, who has a partially guaranteed deal but is expected to make the regular-season roster, they have two open spots.

***

No. 3: Teague making impact off-court Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague took a visit last summer to Atlanta’s Hughes Spalding Children’s Hopsital, and ended up raising thousands of dollars for the hospital throughout the season. Teague has continued the partnership, and as Chris Vivlamore writes, Teague says the association has grown into something “beautiful”…

The Hawks guard felt compelled to donate $20 for each assist he had the previous season, a sum of $11,260. He felt he could do more. Teague and the hospital set up a program where he would match the figure again this year and challenge others to do the same. Those who matched his $20 per assist total would be All-Star sponsors. Others could give $2 per assist ($1,126) as Teammate sponsors. The money benefits the Hughes Spalding Hospital, according to a hospital representative.

“I went on a visit to Children’s to try to give the kids a little inspiration,” Teague said recently. “They go through a lot. I wanted to go there, see the kids, interact with them and have them interact with me. When I got there, I was touched. I wanted to do whatever I could to help out. That’s when we came up with the program.”

The giving will culminate with Teague’s inaugural Hoops for Hughes dinner Aug. 15 at Maggiano’s Buckhead. The event will feature a dinner, question-and-answer session, photographs with Teague and more for those who gave this year.

“When I met Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks during a recent visit to Hughes Spalding, his thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion impressed me even more than him being a young basketball superstar,” said Julia Jones, vice president for operations at Hughes Spalding. “His sensitivity towards the children we care for and his concern for their needs was very genuine. He seemed truly interested in gaining a greater understanding of the important work that is being done at Hughes Spalding and committed to supporting that work in every way he can.”

Teague said the Hawks also donated to the cause.

There are plans to continue the program next year — and for years to come. Teague finished last season with 620 assists in the regular season and playoffs combined. He finished 10th in the NBA in regular-season assists with 513 and added 107 more in the postseason. His donation will be $12,400. He will ask others to match or give $1,260 at $2 per assist.

“I just wanted to give back,” Teague said. “I didn’t think it would grow into something like this. It’s a beautiful thing. At first it was just something I wanted to do from my heart. I just wanted to give back. Now, it’s grown into something beautiful and large.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Derrick Rose is reportedly undecided on playing for Team USA … Glen Davis may be willing to sign a contract overseas if he doesn’t sign an NBA deal … Pacers center Jordan Hill was charged with driving violations outside Atlanta.

Rose undecided on Team USA camp

The list is getting longer with each passing day. Dwight Howard said he’ll attend the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas this month with an eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Kevin Durant, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Blake Griffin were already in. LeBron James has not made it official, but is a likely participant.

That leaves one prominent A-list star still very much on the fence. Derrick Rose is still trying to decide if he would rather rest his wheels for training camp rather than risk them for the red, white and blue, according to Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:

Rose has indicated in the past that he would like to play for Team USA in the Olympics, but sources told ESPNChicago.com that he is weighing the potential benefits of taking more time off before the start of Bulls training camp in late September.

Rose was on track to play for the 2012 Olympic team that won gold at the London Games before tearing the ACL in his left knee in Chicago’s first game of the 2012 playoffs.

Rose, who helped Team USA win gold at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, made his return to the national team last summer in Spain as part of the gold medal-winning U.S. squad at the inaugural FIBA World Cup.

Bulls GM Gar Forman and former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau — an assistant on Team USA’s staff to head coach Mike Krzyzewski — have both publicly supported Rose’s decision to play for Team USA in years past.

But the decision to go to Las Vegas for two days of non-contact workouts and an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 13 ultimately rests with Rose.

Morning shootaround — August 1


VIDEO: 2015 Basketball Without Borders Africa

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Howard to Team USA camp | Just a start in Africa | Johnson won’t miss D-Will | NBPA files grievance
No. 1: Dwight Howard on road to Rio? — It looks like the old gang is getting back together. Dwight Howard is the latest big name to toss his hat into the ring for a spot on the USA Basketball team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Rockets center had to pull out of the 2012 Games in London due to back surgery, but Marc Stein of ESPN.com says Howard will join Houston teammate James Harden and a galaxy of other stars for what managing director Jerry Colangelo is calling a “mandatory” camp in Las Vegas Aug. 11-13:

Howard will join Rockets teammate James Harden and a slew of top stars on the campus of UNLV for two days of noncontact workouts and an intrasquad scrimmage on the night of Aug. 13.

Colangelo is billing the gathering more of a “reunion” than a typical full-speed USAB camp. But the fact that attendance is compulsory to be considered for a spot on the 12-man squad coach Mike Krzyzewski takes to Rio next summer is expected to attract more than 30 players to UNLV.

The following is an alphabetical listing of players who, according to sources, are known to have informed USAB they plan to attend the minicamp: Carmelo Anthony, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Michael Carter-Williams, Mike Conley, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Draymond Green, Blake Griffin, Harden, Tobias Harris, Gordon Hayward, Howard, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love, Victor Oladipo, Chandler Parsons, Mason Plumlee, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook.

In an interview this week with SiriusXM NBA Radio, Colangelo said he expects near-perfect attendance after extending invitations to an overwhelming majority of the 34 players who were in the program as of last September as well as a number of younger newcomers.

Although LeBron James’ attendance at the minicamp has not yet been confirmed, Colangelo told Sirius, “I think LeBron wants to be part of it [in 2016].”

***

No. 2: More big things on horizon for NBA in Africa — Saturday’s game featuring a slew of big name NBA stars in Johannesburg, South Africa is big. But it’s just a start. Imagine if the game could continue to grow exponentially from top to bottom throughout the large continent. Imagine if the NBA could harness that growing enthusiasm for basketball and turn it into millions and millions of Twitter users and dyed-in-the-wool fans. That’s the driving force behind the first game on the African continent, writes our own Shaun Powell, as the league looks toward the future:

Therefore, what’s the incentive for the NBA to spend time and resources on a continent where the hurdles are high and the interest, compared to other sports here, is low? Well, that’s easy. If Africa ever warms up to basketball, and that’s slowly happening, basketball will win big. And when basketball wins, the NBA wins. Call it an investment into the future.
But man, those hurdles …

“We have to build leagues, we have to get coaches, we have to train coaches, we have to build programs,” said Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who is Nigerian-born and has stayed active in the cause for two decades. “It just doesn’t happen overnight.”

African interest in basketball is growing

The power brokers in basketball are undaunted. The alliance of FIBA and the NBA and sponsors such as Nike are forging ahead and they keep coming back. There’s just too much to gain, they feel, and too many people — just over a billion, actually — for Africa not to create good and great players. Again, this isn’t a continent the size of Australia. This is Africa. This is a billion. Even with shaky infrastructure, those are delicious odds.

***

No. 3: Departure of D-Will makes Johnson happy — Never mind all the rumors — many of them real — that the underachieving Nets were looking to move Joe Johnson and his whopping contract for next season. The word now coming out of the Brooklyn bunker, according to Nets Daily, is that the team is now expecting big things from the All-Star shooting guard. One of the big reasons is that Johnson is said to be much happier after the Nets bought out moody, mopey, discontented point Deron Williams. If harmony and happiness are cures, maybe there are sunnier days ahead in Brooklyn:

Moreover, various sources inside the Nets have suggested that the departure of D-Will is likely to help Johnson rebound. It was no secret that Brooklyn’s Backcourt didn’t get along.  That famous Johnson tweet back in early November was believed to be about his relationship with Williams.

One insider, asked after the buyout if the Nets were still pursuing a Johnson trade, firmly said no. He volunteered there was probably no one more pumped about the buyout than Johnson.  “I am sure Joe will have a tremendous season,” he added with a smile.

Johnson was indeed unhappy with the Nets situation, as he laid out the day after the season ended.

“Something’s going to happen. I don’t know what. I don’t see us coming back as the same team. This is my third year here. I could see if we were getting better each year, but it’s kind of been the opposite. So to not even be a .500 ball club in the East, it’s disheartening.”

***

No. 4: Mbah a Moute protests voiding of contract — The summer of turmoil for the Kings just seems to go on and on. The latest involves the free agent signing — and subsequent dropping — of Luc Mbah a Moute by Sacramento. Just two days after making a $1.5 million deal official with him, the Kings voided the contract because he didn’t pass their physical. As a result, the National Basketball Players Association plans to file a grievance against the Kings, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Perhaps small potatoes compared to repairing the rift between franchise player DeMarcus Cousins and coach George Karl, but just one more headache that president of basketball operations Vlade Divac doesn’t need:

Mbah a Moute has been meeting with NBPA executive director Michele Roberts in Johannesburg this week, where Mbah a Moute, a Cameroon native, has been medically cleared to play for Team Africa against Team World in the first NBA exhibition game in Africa.

Mbah a Moute signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Sacramento on July 14 – only two days later to have Kings officials inform him that concerns over his right shoulder had caused the franchise to void the deal, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Mbah a Moute’s representatives at Wasserman Media Group and NBPA officials, armed with independent medical examinations that produced playing clearances, are disputing the legitimacy of the Kings’ process and the findings to declare a failed physical, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The defending champion Warriors give their bench a big boost by trading Gerald Wallace for Jason Thompson … Nancy Lieberman makes it official that she’s joining the Kings … Hawks’ Mike Scott arrested on drug charge … Jordan Hill nabbed for driving 107 mph … Michael Jordan’s last basket — literally — draws more than $41,000 in auction … Bernard James headed to China to play for Shanghai Sharks … Hedo Turkoglu would like to officially end his NBA career in Sacramento … Sasha Vujacic signs a one-year contract with the Knicks.

Remembering Bob Kauffman

VIDEO: Remembering Bob Kauffman

Three-time All-Star Bob Kauffman died at the age of 69 last Saturday.

Kauffman, a New York native, was drafted with the third overall pick by Seattle in the 1968 Draft. He played one season with the Sonics and another with the Chicago Bulls before earning three straight All-Star appearances with the Buffalo Braves. He averaged 19.0 points and 10.7 rebounds from 1970-71 through 1972-73, the first three seasons of the franchise that would eventually become the L.A. Clippers.

After one more season in Buffalo, Kauffman finished his career in Atlanta. He coached a partial season in Detroit and was also an assistant GM with the Hawks.

Kauffman was remembered this week in both upstate New York and in Georgia, where he raised four future college basketball players…

From the Buffalo News

Kauffman’s death went largely unnoticed in the sports world. But his daughter wanted to make sure the people of Buffalo were aware that the first star in the history of the Braves had passed on. She said Bob’s four years in Buffalo, during which he made three straight NBA all-star teams, were among the best of his life. In his heart, he remained a Buffalo guy to the end.

“My dad left his heart in Buffalo,” said Lara, one of Bob’s four children, all daughters. “He just loved the fans there. He loved the people. He felt embraced by the community and he felt like he was a part of it all. He wanted to make a difference, and so I think it wasn’t the same before or since, really.”

“The Buffalo fans from all over, people who moved to Atlanta or wherever I go, they all remember my dad,” Lara Kauffman said. “What people remembered about my dad was he played very blue-collar. I think he was sort of a reflection of a lot of people in the Buffalo community the way he played. He wouldn’t back down from anybody. He played against Lew Alcindor at the time. He matched up against Wilt Chamberlain. My dad would go head-to-head with those guys.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post

Standing 6-foot-8 and tipping the scales at 240 pounds during his days as a professional basketball player, it’s easy to understand how Bob Kauffman could be described as being “larger than life.”

That is how the former three-time NBA All-Star and longtime Lilburn resident, who passed away Saturday at the age of 69, is being remembered.

Kauffman always was a noticeable presence, whether it was on the court during his seven-year NBA career, his stints as an NBA executive or as the father of one of the most prominent families in the history of Gwinnett County high school basketball.

“The thing I remember most about Bob and his wife Judy were that they raised four great children,” said former Brookwood girls coach Ron Thomas, who ended his long coaching career this past spring after coaching Athens Christian’s girls team the past three seasons. “His kids were all exceptional young ladies, and that’s a tribute to him and his wife. … Something I’ll always remember about Bob was that while sometimes as a parent you can get caught up in just your kids, he truly cared about the other kids in the program. He had a kind heart and always cared about other people.”

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Steve Smith has the story of Lakers rookie Larry Nance, Jr.

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls | How will Rivers use the bench he’s built? | Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics | KG to start for Wolves in Season No. 21

No. 1: Gasol knows defense is still key for Bulls — After four straight seasons of ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency, the Chicago Bulls fell to 11th last season. Fred Hoiberg is supposed to change up the offense upon taking over for Tom Thibodeau, but Pau Gasol knows that his team can’t lose focus on the defensive end of the floor, as ESPN’s Jon Greenberg writes

Bulls center Pau Gasol doesn’t know if his role will change next year under new coach Fred Hoiberg and his uptempo offensive system. He doesn’t even know if he’ll start.

But what the NBA veteran does know is the team can’t forget about former coach Tom Thibodeau’s calling card: Defense.

Hoiberg is known for a particular brand of basketball that encourages 3-point shooting and quick decisions, but while the Bulls offense under Thibodeau had too many lulls, they still managed to score 100.8 points per game. Hoiberg hired veteran NBA assistant coach Jim Boylen to help with the defense.

“Well, I think offense wasn’t really too much of an issue last year,” Gasol said on a conference call from South Africa, where he’s taking part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders event, which culminates with the first-ever NBA exhibition in Africa on Aug. 1. “We have a lot of talent offensively, and I think we’ll play with better flow offensively with Fred. We’ll have more freedom to play in transition and explore our abilities as individuals and as a team. As long as we understand that defense wins championships and makes the difference, and make sure we don’t neglect that side, we should be fine.”

***

No. 2: How will Rivers sort out the bench he’s built? — Though he had little flexibility going into the summer, Clippers president Doc Rivers restructured his bench, adding Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, among others. The L.A. Times‘ Ben Bolch now wonders how Rivers will make all the pieces work together. He enlisted NBA TV analysts Mike Fratello and Stu Jackson to help him sort through the questions…

Stephenson comes with a history of having blown in LeBron James ear’ during a game. He’s also generated whispers about being a bad teammate, leading to more questions from Fratello.

“How is he going to fit in with the chemistry of this team and how will he handle the star factor of Chris Paul, of Blake Griffin, of Pierce’s experience and his Hall of Fame background?” Fratello asked. “How is he going to fit in with all that and does he bounce back from having a disappointing year last year? Has he grown up, has he matured, is he going to be a contributor?”

Jackson, a former coach and general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies who is an analyst for NBA TV, said the presence of Paul, Griffin and Pierce should act as a buffer against bad behavior because they have created a culture of success and expectations.

“Teams that have veteran leadership can absorb almost any player into their culture and their environment,” Jackson said.

***

No. 3: Krzyzewski done after ’16 Olympics — After initially saying that he was done as the coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team after the 2012 Olympics, Mike Krzyzewski came back for four more years. Now, as the team prepares to gather in Las Vegas for a three-day camp, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo makes it clear, in a Q & A with Yahoo’s Marc Spears, that he’ll need a new coach after next year’s Olympics in Rio.

Q: How much longer do you want to be executive director of USA Basketball?

Colangelo: For me, it is still a passion. I’ve been asked to continue beyond ’16, which means through ’20. My attitude is: if I’m still healthy, and I’m healthy now, my passion still exists.

Q: Is there any way you can convince Mike Krzyzewski to coach past the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Colangelo: No. This time I know it’s done. I’m already working on the future. But my focus is on ’16. I have so much time on my hands that I’m already working on it.

Q: Do you already have a next coach in mind?

Colangelo: I always have a guy already in my head. Always did and always will.

***

No. 4: KG to start for Wolves in season No. 21Kevin Garnett played in just five games after returning to Minnesota at the trade deadline this past February. The Wolves have a crowded frontcourt, with No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica joining Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Re-signed to a two-year deal, Garnett will join Robert Parish and Kevin Willis as the only players in NBA history to play more than 20 seasons, but won’t be coming off the bench for the first time since his rookie year. In a Q & A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Wolves president and head coach Flip Saunders says that KG is a starter.

Is KG going to start?

He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.

Does that include Towns, or is he a center? A hybrid? Does it matter?

It doesn’t matter. He’s a player. Good teams have guys that can play multiple positions. It makes them harder to guard. Besides, it’s not what position you play. It’s what position you can guard. Some nights, Towns will guard power forwards and KG will guard centers. Some nights, it will be the other way around.

It’s apparently Q & A day in Minnesota, because point guard Ricky Rubio also talked at length with Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver

SI: What excites you about 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns?

RR: “I like guys who can shoot the ball. Having Kevin Love really helped stretch the floor. I think Towns is a better fit [than No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor] because of that. Okafor is more like [Nikola] Pekovic, a strong guy down in the post. Towns is a guy we don’t have.”

SI: How do you see this developing core group of you, Wiggins, Towns and LaVine playing together?

RR: “We’re pretty young, first of all. We’ve got a lot to learn. We’re athletic, we’re starving, we’re hungry. That’s something that’s going to show in practice and the games. I think it’s going to be a fun team to watch. A point guard who can pass the ball to athletic wings and big guys who can do a lot of damage in the post. In the case of Towns, he can really shoot the ball and run up and down too. I think it will be fun basketball, exciting.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It’s been too long since we got an update from the Sixers on Joel EmbiidThe Pelicans still need to get Norris Cole re-signed … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha are both making progress as they recover from season-ending injuries … Perry Jones is happy to have a fresh start in Boston … The Thunder signed 2014 first-round pick Josh Huestis after sending him to the D-League for a year … Could the Warriors get Kevin Durant next summer?

Report: Lieberman expected to become Sacramento Kings assistant


The first time something notable happens, that’s big news, the sort of stuff that would have them saying “Stop the presses!” in old movies.

The second time it happens, that can be a big deal as well, especially when it’s something like this: Nancy Lieberman, a Naismith Hall of Famer and one of the all-time greats of women’s basketball, is expected to become an assistant coach this season with the Sacramento Kings.

The third and the fourth and the fifth, and so on? That’s when the news value will wane and the impact will grow. Here at Hang Time HQ, we’re looking forward to that inverse relationship kicking in, for that time when there’s no more novelty effect to such a hire.

But being No. 2 still merits headlines, especially given Lieberman’s platinum-level hoops career. The Sacramento Bee’s Ailene Voison reported that Kings vice president Vlade Divac offered Lieberman a position on coach George Karl‘s staff. Assuming she takes it, she would join San Antonio’s Becky Hammon as the NBA’s only two female assistant coaches.

Here are particulars from the Bee report:

“Definitely I’m going to offer her a job,” Kings vice president Vlade Divac said Thursday. “George (Karl) and I talked about bringing her back after she helped us at Summer League (in Las Vegas). She was terrific. She brings a different dimension. I think is a nice opportunity for her.”

Lieberman said Thursday she will accept the offer. Divac said he expects to make an announcement next week.

Lieberman has a storied and expansive basketball history. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native has been an Olympian, college star at Old Dominion, among the original players in the WNBA and former coach of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock. Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson hired her to coach the [Dallas] Legends of the NBA Development League in 2009 and she became the assistant general manager in 2011.

Josh Smith sets the record straight


VIDEO: The Starters evaluate Josh Smith’s addition to the Clippers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Josh Smith doesn’t do Twitter, Instagram or emojis, which makes him a bit of an odd fit with the social media savvy Los Angeles Clippers.

With Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Pierce and others around to show him the ropes, Smith might very well learn his way around the social media universe. In the meantime, he’ll stick to the “old-fashioned” method of just making clear what he meant via the written word. And that’s exactly what he did today, finally setting the record straight on comments he made after his introductory news conference last week in Los Angeles.

He was roundly criticized for comments attributed to him that suggested he and his family would have to struggle on the nearly $7 millions he’ll earn next season in salary, both the veteran’s minimum of $1.5 million the Clippers will pay him and the money he’s owed (an additional $5.4 million) from the Detroit Pistons after they waived him last season.

Smith insists his words were taken out of context that day, and he set the record straight to The Players’ Tribune:

 

Apparently the headline was: Josh Smith went to the Clippers press conference and said he didn’t make enough money? Even the idea of it is kind of ridiculous. Anyone who knows me, or knows how one-year contracts work in the NBA, understood what I was saying. This is my third team in less than a year. I was talking about how moving affects my family. But the headline about greed was the one everyone ran with.

Let’s just look at what I actually said so we don’t get it twisted. This is the quote people shared:

“It wasn’t about the money because of the Detroit situation, but at the end of the day, I do have a family, so it is going to be a little harder on me this year. But I’m going to push through it and try to do something long-term after this year.”

The whole thing about it being “harder on me” comes down to family. It seems obvious to me, but maybe I could have said it more clearly. If you know the NBA, you know that moving to a new team is a decision that affects an athlete’s whole family. That’s even more true when you’re signing a one-year deal. With a one-year deal, there’s less stability because you know you might be moving again in a year.

So I’m out there power-walking with the fam. My first response was, OK, who cares how a few people interpreted it? I know everyone on the Internet likes to be judgmental at one point or another. I try not to be too sensitive to any one thing. But it’s funny, because if you look at my whole statement, no one present at the press conference had any issue with it. Everyone seemed to know what I meant. It wasn’t until later that it took on a life of its own.

Smith, never one to share much about his personal life, didn’t hold back:

When I was waived from Detroit this year, it meant I had to move to Houston in the middle of the year. Like any parent, you think about how your work affects your kids. You want consistency for your kids — consistent teachers, consistent friends, a consistent home. You want some normalcy for them. I wanted to go to the Clippers (that’s a business decision), but I also wanted to be sensitive to how it affected my kids (that’s a personal one). I can tell you that the conversations this offseason between me and my wife were more about where they’d go to school than about finances.

Every athlete has had articles about them that aren’t 100 percent true. Most of the time, it’s not anyone’s fault — it’s just the reality. Earlier this year, everyone was making a big deal about how Detroit went on a winning streak right after I was waived. People had fun with that story. I get it. But to be honest, I wasn’t even mad. Detroit wasn’t the right fit for me at that time. I knew it, they knew it. So they waived me. I never said much in public because I was thinking, Just give me some time to prove myself. A couple months later, at playoff time, look at the damage Houston did. In the league, you just have to be patient.

I came to the Clippers to be part of an exciting team that I know I can play well for. I came to compete for a championship this year. I’m the first person to tell you how grateful I know I am. I’m grateful to have played in this league for going on 12 years — I’ll always have love for the Hawks, where I started — and to have earned a good living. I didn’t grow up wealthy, so I know how much it means to have security.

Now, I’m moving on to basketball, but thanks for reading. I don’t speak up that often, but I felt I needed to clear the air. I wish someone had just asked me for clarification before everyone immediately jumped to negative assumptions. A couple people sometimes ruin it for everyone else. I’ve got no hard feelings, but I do see why some guys are more skeptical about opening up when this type of thing happens.

Smith even joked about joining Twitter. But knowing him the way we do here at HT, that just doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility … unless his new Clippers teammates can convince him otherwise!

 

Bazemore, Hawks not looking back as they strive for more success


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore talks about the Hawks’ new uniforms

By Nick Margiasso IV, NBA.com

The Hawks had a pretty unforgettable season in 2014-15. So, how do they follow it up this campaign?

By forgetting about it.

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore and his teammates are ready to turn the page, confident they know the way now after pushing their success to a high point.

“The good thing about pro sports is that every season is a new season,” the third-year defensive specialist said. “We understand what it takes to win 60 games in this league. It’s not any extra pressure or anything different other than to go out and play hard. Every team starts out 0-0 and has the same 82-game grind.”

Bazemore, and surely the Hawks’ faithful, are clamoring to see how the new pieces (and old pieces) fit with the proven ones going into a new season. Whether the squad can keep building on the league’s second-longest playoff streak (behind the Spurs) will largely be up to those fresh faces and how ex-Spurs assistant and reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer maneuvers them into his plan.

“We get Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha back, we added Tiago Splitter, Justin Holiday and Tim Hardaway Jr. — it’s going to be interesting” Bazemore said. “But now we are young, deep, long and athletic. We have a group of guys that will be ready to roll night-in and night-out.”

A lot is made of chemistry in the NBA, especially it would seem on a sort of star-less group like the Hawks, but Bazemore downplays the effort it takes to build that up. If you’re ready to play, it’ll come in due time around Philips Arena, it seems.

“Continuity is not as pertinent in the NBA as people think it is,” Bazemore said. “With all the new money, players want more and teams are trying to move people around to open things up, most teams aren’t bringing the same guys back every year.

“If you love winning, it brings everyone together. You can have the best character people in the world, but winning plays a big part in that chemistry.”

Bazemore is focused on being one of those locked-in, winning players that bring a successful mentality every night. He’s determined to better his nearly across-the-board best campaign of 2014-15 — career highs in games played, minutes, rebounds, steals and blocks — by doing what he knows best.

“I’m just going to continue to try to be one of the best defenders in the NBA,” Bazemore said. “I’ve been doing a lot of alternate training this offseason, playing tennis, golf and certain things to shape my brain to think differently.

“Basketball is always go, go, go, but the best players can see it differently and slow it down. So, I think working on tempo and other things is going to take my game to the next level.”

With talk like that, Budenholzer may have found himself just the kind of floor presence that will be in tune with the mentality the Hawks are betting on to keep on their pedestal atop the East.

Morning Shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: Members of Team Africa and Team World have arrived in Johannesburg

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ujiri leads the charge in Africa | Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves | Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’

No. 1: Ujiri leads the charge in Africa — Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is at the forefront of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative in Africa. It’s more than just an obligation from the Ujiri, it’s a passion project years in the making. Our very own Shaun Powell is on the ground in Johannesburg and captured the essence of Ujiri’s mission to serve as an ambassador for the game, and sports in general, on his native continent:

For anyone who might ask why the general manager of the Toronto Raptors is spending his summer threatening to go hoarse half a world away, well, you must know this about Masai Ujiri. When he’s in charge of an NBA franchise, he’s in his element, because his peers find him very astute and a few years ago voted him the game’s top executive. But when he’s developing basketball and teaching life skills to children and young adults in Africa, he’s in his homeland and his own skin, and there is no greater reward or satisfaction or privilege. When and if he wins his first NBA title, that might pull equal to this.

Might.

He was in Senegal last week, holding basketball clinics through his foundation, Giants of Africa. Next up: Stops in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and also Nigeria, his birthplace. He’ll spend three weeks on this side of the Atlantic with the hope of discovering the next Dikembe Mutombo from these clinics, but would gladly settle for the next surgeon.

This weekend is unique and special because here on Saturday the NBA will stage an exhibition game for the first time in Africa, and the participating NBA players and coaches are warming up by serving as clinic counselors.

One is Chris Paul, and the cheers he gets from campers are the loudest, but even an eight-time All-Star knows he’s not the star of the home team, not on this soil.

Ujiri ricochets from one group of campers to another like a blind bumblebee, carrying an air horn that blows when one session ends and another begins. After five non-stop hours of this he is asked if he’s tired, and no, he’s just amused at the question. Who gets tired from doing their passion?

“I look at these kids and they remind me of me of when I was a young kid,” he says. “I see me through them. All they need is a chance.”

It all runs with precision at this clinic, how the students are disciplined and determined, how their enthusiasm rubs off on the NBA players and coaches, how Ujiri’s vision seems so … right. As Ujiri gave pointers, a Hall of Famer who’s also the pioneer of African basketball stood off to the side, shaking his head, astonished at the spectacle and the man in charge.

“Masai has a lot of passion for this, and helping Africa year after year speaks about the person he is,” says Hakeem Olajuwon. “He is a prince. That’s what he is.”

***

No. 2: Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves — Kevin Garnett won’t be the only “old head” in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room this season. He’ll have some company in the form of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who agreed to a one-year deal to join the renaissance KG, Flip Saunders and Ricky Rubio are trying to engineer with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Miller’s role is more than just that of an adviser, though, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

It was less than two weeks ago that Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, said his team might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

He has arrived.

A source confirmed a report that Wolves had come to an agreement on a one-year contract with veteran Andre Miller, who visited the Wolves on Wednesday.

It marks an evolution in Saunders’ thinking. Immediately after moving up to draft former Apple Valley star Tyus Jones late in the first round of the draft, Saunders sounded like he might be happy with Jones as Ricky Rubio’s backup. But the fact that Rubio is coming off ankle surgery and Jones is a rookie ultimately changed Saunders’ mind.

“You don’t want to put the pressure on the young guys so much,” Saunders said two weeks ago. “Hey, listen, we’re always looking to upgrade. It could happen.”

And it did. Miller, 39, is nearing the end of a long career, but his experience should help both Rubio and Jones while giving the Wolves some peace of mind. Originally drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft by Cleveland, the 6-2 Miller has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 assists over 16 seasons while playing for seven teams. Last season between 81 games in Sacramento and Washington, Miller averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.

***

No. 3: Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’: — There is no need for an autopsy on Wes Matthews‘ exit from Portland via free agency. He’s a Dallas Maverick now and apparently for good reason. Matthews told Jason Quick of the Oregonian that the Trail Blazers never made an offer to keep him, allowing the injured free agent to take the offer from the Mavericks and move on after being an integral part of the operation in Rip City.:

He had hoped he could return to the city that had embraced him, to the team with players he considered brothers, to the franchise where he grew into one of the NBA’s most well-rounded and respected shooting guards.

But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.

“I was pissed off,” Matthews said. “I felt disrespected.”

He believed he was a viable option for teams, even as he continued to rehabilitate a ruptured left Achilles tendon suffered in March. In the days leading up to free agency, Matthews’ camp released video to ESPN showing him jogging in place, utilizing lateral movement and shooting jumpers. He was, he wanted the league to know, ahead of the eight-month recovery time estimated by doctors.

A story also leaked that Matthews expected negotiations to start at $15 million a season, or almost $8 million more than he made last year.

It was a ghastly number for the Blazers, even though they could technically afford him. Paul Allen is the richest owner in sports, but after a lost era during which he paid more than a combined $100 million to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, only to see their knee injuries become chronic, Allen was wary of paying top dollar to a player coming off a serious injury.

The only chance the Blazers would pursue Matthews, top executive Neil Olshey later explained, was if free agent LaMarcus Aldridge chose to return, maintaining Portland as a playoff-caliber team. When Aldridge chose San Antonio, the Blazers decided to rebuild. Paying big money to a 29-year-old shooting guard coming off major surgery didn’t make long-term sense.

“I was angry,” Matthews said, “but I also realize that this is a business.”

He figured there would be trying times, with harsh realities, after he suffered his injury during the third quarter of a March 5 game against Dallas. Achilles injuries not only test one’s body, they challenge the mind.

He didn’t expect one challenge to come from the team to which he gave so much of his heart, so much of his sweat. Portland’s silence meant he was losing the greatest comfort of his career: a stable starting lineup, an adoring fan base and a rising profile.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chuck Hayes is headed back to Houston on a partially guaranteed one-year deal … Tyus Jones, the hometown kid, is leading the summer caravan for the Minnesota Timberwolves … A couple of Trail Blazers are going a bit Hollywood this summer … Amir Johnson was convinced Celtics fans would love him before he joined the team