Fordham’s Jon Severe: ‘I Can’t Win Unless We Win’

Fordham’s Jon Severe is in the beginning stages of what could be the most important season of his basketball career.

Severe was a star in high school, averaging 21.6 points as a senior at Christ the King in Queens, where he led the school to multiple titles and was named New York State’s Mr. Basketball in 2013.

As a freshman at Fordham, he found himself in much different circumstances.

Severe is one of the most talented players Fordham has been able to land in its 19 years in the Atlantic 10. In many ways, he hasn’t disappointed. In some ways, however, he still has a lot to prove.

Last week, at the A-10′s media day, Severe was named third team All-Conference, on the heels of being named to the conference’s All-Rookie Team following his freshman season.

“I’m pretty happy about being third team,” Severe told Bleacher Report after practice last Saturday, “but this season I want to be more consistent.”

“I can’t win unless we win,” he added.

Here’s what he means.

Last year, though he averaged 17.3 points per game (second on the team), his field-goal percentage was only .331 and his shot selection came under scrutiny.

Tom Pecora, Fordham’s head coach, is hoping to get a more balanced player this year.

“He had a good offseason,” Pecora said at the league’s media day, the New York Post’s John DeMarzo reported. “He approached things maturely in the way he had to work and the things he needed to do, and because of our greater talent and balance this year, he won’t have to look [to] score every time down the floor.”

So could the solution to Severe’s shooting issues—field-goal percentage and shot selection—be that simple? Surround him with more talent and you’ll get a more team-oriented player? Severe thinks so.

“I think this year, I won’t have to force a lot because I have a lot of good teammates around me,” he said.

“Last year my mindset was scoring, but that’s not my type of game.”

He described his type of game as “making the extra pass, getting in lanes, rebounding, just mixing it up.”

Severe said it’s more about changing his approach than undergoing any type of major overhaul. He expects that, while his points per game might go down, his assists and rebounds will go up, something he’s talked with Pecora about.

“It’s not really adjusting because that’s how my game was in the beginning,” Severe said. “[Last year] I felt like I had to shoot. Now I don’t have to force it.”

It shouldn’t surprise you that a talented basketball player who had so much success before he got to Fordham would be focused on winning. Clearly, Fordham didn’t do enough of that in Severe’s first season, winning 10 games and losing 21.

Severe is confident the tide is turning.

“The No. 1 goal is to win games,” he said.

“There’s a vibe. Everybody wants to win. You can feel it.”

With seven freshmen and only four upperclassmen expected to play, Severe, a sophomore, finds himself somewhere right in the middle: too young to be considered a veteran but old enough to expect more. At this point in his career, Severe spoke honestly about the strides he still needs to make.

“I’m still learning,” he said. “I can’t show by example right now because I’m still learning myself. I don’t know everything. As time goes by, when I know more, I can take that leadership role.”

As Severe enters his second season in the Bronx, the Rams haven’t gotten much respect from A-10 coaches and media. They were picked to finish last in the conference. But don’t expect Severe to pay close attention to that.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said about the preseason poll. “We could be picked first or last; it doesn’t matter. It’s what we do on the court. I don’t listen to that.

“I like being the underdog. All we have to do is win. We play basketball. A win is a win—that’s how I look at it.”

 

Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. A full archive of his articles can be found hereTwitter: @CFCostello

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Shamed by Ouster, Mike Rice Trying to Coach Way Back into Game He Can’t Quit

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — The coach who hurled a basketball at a player’s head and called another a “fairy” sits in a back corner booth at Ruby Tuesday, sipping from a glass of peach tea.   

Fifteen months after leaked footage of Mike Rice’s startling practice behavior went viral, the former Rutgers coach is still a bit uneasy in public.   

“The majority of the world thinks I’m a crazy, out-of-control person,” says Rice. “Does that bother me?

“Absolutely.”

Time can heal a lot of wounds—but it hasn’t mended Rice’s image. The coach knows it could be damaged beyond repair.

Snippets of Rice angrily shoving, kicking and cursing at players—and throwing balls at them—was scrutinized on CNN and SportsCenter and spoofed on Saturday Night Live. Everyone from LeBron James to Rick Pitino bashed him in the media. Within 24 hours, Rice had lost his job.

“I went overboard,” Rice says. “I deserved to be fired.”

In his first extensive interview in more than a year, it’s clear that Rice doesn’t seek sympathy for what transpired. He doesn’t harbor a woe-is-me attitude. If Rice is bitter at anyone, it’s himself.

Rice’s “lowlight reel”—provided to ESPN in the spring of 2013 by a former assistant—features 19 clips of questionable behavior culled from more than 500 hours of practice tape spanning two seasons. Considering how they defended him immediately after he was terminated, most players seemed accepting of Rice’s style, perhaps because they were showing marked improvement on the court.

Still, whether the blowups were merely a handful of regrettable hiccups or a reflection of the true Mike Rice doesn’t matter. There are no excuses, the coach said. For the rest of his career, those videotapes will hover over Rice’s head like that cloud above Pigpen. He’ll never be able to run from them.

 

So he’s stopped trying.

Instead, Rice is surging forward. He’s undergone anger management counseling in Houston with former NBA player and coach John Lucas, who runs a treatment program for troubled sports figures. He’s coaching his children’s AAU teams and training other players in private sessions.

Rice has also landed a job at the Hoop Group, a New Jersey-based organization that puts on clinics throughout the country. This summer, Rice served as an instructor at the NBPA Top 100 camp. He spoke with Bleacher Report during an hour-long lunch between sessions.

Rice wants to get back into coaching, but he can’t help but wonder if he’ll have that chance.

“I’m sure most people have their mind made up about me,” Rice told Bleacher Report. “The housewives who saw the clips on their afternoon talk show or the casual fan who watched it on SportsCenter, that’s all they’ll ever know of me.

“But hopefully there are other people who are more open-minded. Those are the people I want to reach. I want change the narrative of who Mike Rice was.”

He pauses.

“I want to change the narrative,” he says, “of who Mike Rice is.” 


Some of college basketball’s most successful coaches readily admit they hone their leadership skills and learn motivational tactics from books by legends such as John Wooden and Bob Knight.

Mike Rice was different.

Rice read books about war.

“D-Day, Operation Overlord…I devoured anything about the military,” Rice said. “Whether you’re talking about a Navy SEAL or someone storming the beach at Normandy back in the old days…soldiers all develop a certain mentality. No matter what percentage of guys get wounded or killed in battle, those men are trained to believe that they’re going to be the one that doesn’t get shot, the one that doesn’t lose his life.

“That was my thought process with my team. It was, ‘How do I train these men to do things they don’t want to do? How do I make them tougher than they ever thought they could be?’”

Mental strength and intensity became trademarks of Rice’s squads during his first head coaching stint at Robert Morris, where the Colonials won the Northeast Conference title in each of his three seasons. But when he was hired at Rutgers in 2010, Rice felt he needed to stress those traits even more.

The season before his arrival, the Scarlet Knights had gone 5-13 in the Big East, which at the time was considered to be the toughest conference in college basketball. The record didn’t concern Rice as much as the way it was achieved, as Rutgers’ 13 league losses had come by an average of 17.9 points.

“I watched tape of their games,” Rice said. “Every time they got hit in the mouth, they laid down. They had no fight. We were the punching bag of the Big East. My No. 1 goal was to change our mentality.”

Prior to the season, Rice hung a punching bag in the Scarlet Knights’ locker room to remind them of their reputation. He wanted to make his practices “brutal,” he said, to test—and strengthen—his team’s will. There was screaming and cursing and name-calling. Occasionally, during a demonstration, Rice would put his hands on a player and move him in a way that some would consider forceful.

“I wasn’t surprised that Mike was really fiery,” ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas told B/R. “I’ve seen him get nose-to-nose with guys in practice and challenge them. But I was surprised that it rose to a level that I would consider abusive. I talked to a bunch of people that he knew really well, some of whom he’d worked for, and everyone felt the same way I did: a really good person, a really good family man; this doesn’t add up.” 

In some instances, Rice may have been genuinely angry with someone’s effort. Other times, he says, the tantrums were manufactured to put pressure on the Scarlet Knights to see how they would react. 

“Sometimes I was just acting,” Rice said. “I was trying to create chaos in practice. I wanted our guys to become comfortable and composed in chaos. And it worked. Every single game, we fought as hard as we could. We got to be great in chaos.”

Rutgers went 5-13 in the Big East in Rice’s inaugural campaign, the identical record of the previous squad. But the margin of defeat dipped from 17.9 points to 8.8 points. A team that had been labeled as “The Leftovers” before the season was suddenly viewed as a dangerous opponent. Rutgers was still years away from being one of the Big East’s upper-echelon teams, but its direction appeared promising.

Rice said his practice style was hardly a secret. It wasn’t uncommon for his son (Michael) and daughter (Katie)—who are now 16 and 14—to attend Rutgers workouts along with his wife, Kerry. Even with them in the stands, Rice cursed like a sailor. He says using foul language is a “bad habit” that was formed during a childhood spent on playgrounds and in gymnasiums. Rice’s father, Mike Sr., was the head coach at Youngstown State and Duquesne and is now a broadcaster with the Portland Trail Blazers.

“I had been on him about his language for years,” Kerry Rice said in an interview with B/R. “I used to say, ‘Your mouth is going to get you in trouble one day.’”

Rice indeed ended up in a prickly situation, and he had more than his language to blame.

In the summer of 2012, after his second season at Rutgers, Rice chose not to renew the contract of the team’s director of player development, Eric Murdock. After being told he was losing his job, Murdock, a former NBA player, went to athletic director Tim Pernetti and accused Rice of verbally and physically abusing members of the team. Murdock gave Pernetti practice tapes he felt validated his claims.

Rutgers spent the ensuing months investigating Rice and his program. Each player on the squad was interviewed individually. Pernetti was told about Rice’s behavior—including the language and ball-throwing incidents—but many of the Scarlet Knights seemed to understand the tough-love approach.

“He wasn’t a guy we hated or despised,” forward Wally Judge told The Associated Press. “After practice, we would all go in the locker room and laugh. It was never a sad face or a hung head. What he did was he separated the court and he separated life. When we were on the court, we were locked in. That’s why you see so many intense moments, because he was so locked in on turning this program around.”

In December, Pernetti announced that he was suspending Rice for three games and fining him $50,000.

“Even before the suspension was announced, there were times when [Mike] thought, ‘Maybe I’m going too far. Maybe I need to take a step back,’” Kerry Rice said. “That whole last season, he worked on balancing his intensity and passion with not crossing the line. He worked on his language and on trying to correct someone’s mistakes in a different manner.”

Reportedly unhappy that Rice had not received a harsher punishment. Murdock turned over the practice tapes to ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

Rice said he had heard rumblings that Murdock, who did not return a message left by B/R asking for comment on this story, intended to make the accusations public. Months before the tapes became public, Rice said he showed the footage to recruits that were considering Rutgers and promised he was a changed man. He had already addressed his practice behavior with the media after he was suspended in December, and he knew he may face further questions if the tapes were released.

Still, nothing could’ve prepared Rice for what happened on April 2, 2013.

Immediately after Outside the Lines ran its story, Rice became a public outcast. Rutgers had announced in December that Rice had thrown balls at players, but seeing actual video of it and hearing Rice curse was so much more jolting than reading about it in print.

It also didn’t help that the footage was released during the week leading up to the Final Four, when college basketball was at the forefront of the national discussion.

“This is an isolated incident that doesn’t happen in college basketball,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino told reporters at the Final Four. “Those things do not happen. I’ve seen some coaches that may use rough language. But that (other stuff) just doesn’t go on. It’s just an aberration that doesn’t go on in college basketball.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expressed his concern after the tapes went viral, and the LGBT community joined in the criticism and called for Rice’s job because of his insensitive references to homosexuals.

One day after the Outside the Lines story aired, Rice was fired. With television trucks lining his street, Rice emerged from his home and issued a statement of apology on his front lawn. Television networks sent fruit baskets and other gifts to his home in an effort to get Rice to give them an exclusive interview. When reporters knocked on his door, Kerry Rice answered and told them her husband wasn’t interested in talking.

“The whole thing was surreal,” Rice said. “Unless you’ve lived through something like that, there’s no way to describe what it’s like.”

Countless times, Rice expressed remorse to his family. When his son tried to defend him to critics on Twitter, Rice made sure to tell him that Dad made a mistake.

“I stepped across the line of what was common sense,” Rice said. “You can make them run, you can make them do push-ups and you can choose not to play them. But you can’t throw balls at players. That’s what I did wrong.

“They got every instance of it [on film] in the first two years I was coaching there. But no matter how few times it happened, it’s still indefensible.”

Most of Rutgers’ players stood by Rice’s side immediately after his termination. Guard Austin Johnson said the videos were “a highlight reel of [Rice's] worst moments” and that they weren’t a true depiction of the atmosphere at Rutgers’ practices. Judge agreed.

“You can’t let those individual moments define what he was,” Judge told the AP. “I have grown from the moment I stepped in these doors, not only as a player but as a person, because of how he treated me.” 

Rice appreciated the support, but it wasn’t going to help him get his job back. Kerry Rice still becomes emotional when talking about her husband’s firing.

“He felt like that was his opportunity to get into the higher realm of coaching,” she said. “Basically, you have four or five years in a job like that. If you can’t turn the program around in that amount of time, the program moves on. The pressure to get it done may have been the reason that, at times, he boiled over a little bit.

“He certainly paid for it in a grand way.”

Unless he was coaching his daughter’s seventh-grade basketball team, Rice spent most of that April and May at home. He tried to avoid watching television and was rarely in good spirits. Months earlier he was a head coach in the nation’s toughest conference making a base salary of $650,000 per year. Now he was without a job and, even worse, his name was toxic inside basketball circles. And out of them, too.

“Part of me just wanted to curl up in a little ball and hope that it would all go away,” Rice says. “But then pride kicked in.”


During his final two years at Rutgers, Mike Rice used to get annoyed whenever he coached against St. John’s. The Red Storm’s leading scorer, D’Angelo Harrison, had a habit of whining during games, throwing fits on the bench and complaining to referees.

“His body language was so bad,” Rice says. “I couldn’t stand watching him play.”

That’s why it almost felt ironic when, three months after his firing, Rice found himself sitting next to Harrison in anger management classes in Houston, addressing the same issues within himself that he once detested in his former opponent.

“We were no different,” Harrison told B/R.

Taking the advice of friends who said he needed to do some “soul searching,” Rice had come to Houston to see John Lucas, who leads a highly regarded rehabilitation program for athletes and coaches battling various addictions and issues.

Lucas, who has battled his share of demons in a career that saw him go from college star at Maryland to 14-year NBA veteran and later a head coach, has been referred to as “The Sports Whisperer.”

“There’s nothing worse than a dilapidated spirit,” Lucas told B/R, “and that’s what Mike had. His spirit had been broken.”

Lucas’ first goal was to get Rice to forgive himself for what he did. The chore was a difficult one. As upset as he was about losing his job, Rice harbored even more guilt and shame because of the embarrassment he’d brought to his wife and family.

“My wife is the best wife and mother in the world,” Rice says. “She volunteers for everything. The whole thing became so public that she couldn’t go anywhere. My son had to switch schools five times as I’ve moved up the coaching ranks and he never complained.

“Everyone had sacrificed a lot for me to fulfill this dream I had. For me to ruin all of it with a dumb mistake was very disappointing, very hard to accept.”

Throughout the summer of 2013, Lucas and other counselors worked to get Rice to forgive himself. Lucas shared his own story of drug addiction and recovery, and Rice benefitted from listening to others in group sessions.

“Recovery and mental health is an oxymoron,” Lucas says. “You have to surrender to win, but surrendering is a foreign concept to athletes and coaches. They don’t know how to do that. They just find another way to compete.”

Although he certainly didn’t condone Rice’s actions, Lucas helped the coach realize why he made some of his mistakes.

Along with the pressure he put on himself to succeed, Rice also felt his style was working. Practices were intense and productive, the team was more competitive and, for the most part, he said, everyone got along. It wasn’t uncommon for players to eat dinner at Rice’s house. Guys weren’t transferring en masse and Rice felt he had a good off-court rapport with most everyone on the team.

“What none of those tapes show is me hugging guys after a good play in practice or joking with them,” Rice said. “There were times when guys would play around and put me in a headlock two minutes after I’d screamed at them.”

Certainly, Rice said, there were times when players were despondent after he yelled at them and needed a pep talk from an assistant. But that’s common in almost any program run by a fiery coach.

“There wasn’t a team mutiny,” Lucas said. “People weren’t running away. No one had a problem with it. His intentions were out of love, but it came across as malice. That’s another reason it was all so tough for him to accept.

“He did all these things out of love and affection, but he took it too far and everyone around him got hurt because of it.”

During anger management counseling multiple times each week in Houston, Rice and others were asked to list things that had made them angry in recent years and to reveal how they handled those issues.
Most times, the instructor would suggest different, less combative ways to solve problems. There was also role-playing in the classes, where participants were thrust into various situations to see how they would react.

“Mike was one of the most vocal guys in the class,” says Harrison, who still keeps in touch with Rice and has visited him in New Jersey. “He knew he’d messed up and he was eager to get better, eager to change. Eager to get his life back on track.”

One of the perks of Rice’s time in Houston was the opportunity to get back on the court. Lucas conducts camps each summer for players of all ages and also runs an open gym each weekday at a local high school. Rice became the lead instructor.

At times, Rice found himself running drills that included second-grade boys, eighth-grade girls, Division I men’s prospects and college stars who had returned to their hometown for the summer.

“It got to the point where, if I was out of town, I’d leave my gym with him,” Lucas said. “The parents absolutely loved him. They had no problems with him or his intensity. In fact, they demanded he coach like that.”

When Rice left Houston in August, he was in high spirits.

“[Lucas] got me to talk about things that I didn’t want to talk about,” Rice said. “When I got there, I was beating myself up. I didn’t want to move on. But by the end that had all changed.

“He also allowed me to get back in the gym, to my comfort level. It felt good to be on the court without having people looking at me and thinking, ‘There’s that guy.’”


Instead of answering his phone, Mike Rice responded to a call last Wednesday afternoon with a text.

“Sorry,” the message read. “Doing a workout with six D-1 girls right now.”

Rice’s voice was filled with energy when reached later that afternoon.


”I’m having a blast,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to teach the game again. It reminds me of why I got into coaching in the first place. It’s rewarding to work with young people and watch them get better.”

Now Rice hopes to do it again on a bigger stage. He wants to coach in college again. The hard part will be finding a school willing to give him a chance. While it seems unlikely Rice could land a head coaching job in a major conference, there’s always the possibility someone could hire him as an assistant. Even then, he knows he would be viewed as a risk.

Rice said he hasn’t received any college coaching offers since his firing at Rutgers.

“Am I completely healed? No,” Rice says. “You’re never going to be a completely different person. I’m going to fight that intensity every time I step on the court. But the sport means too much to me.

“I will make a change.”

Rice’s best hope may be landing a job at a smaller, mid-major school—much like where he started at Robert Morris.

“The challenge for a guy like [Rice] is…look at Bobby Petrino; he may be an a–hole, but he’s proven he’s a hell of a football coach,” an athletic director at a high-major Division I school told Bleacher Report. “But what does Mike Rice have on his resume that’s such an enormous, redeeming factor that you’re going to go through the hassle of dealing with the PR aspect of it to have him on your staff?

“He’s not going to get hired as a head coach at a high major university. He’s going to have a hard time out-running that video. But sooner or later, someone at some level is going to give him a second chance.”

Rice certainly appears to have backing.

 

While some colleagues have bashed him, others have voiced support. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon and Indiana’s Tom Crean are among those who have contacted Rice to wish him well. 

Bilas noted that it’s a sensitive time in the sports world, meaning it could be increasingly difficult for a school to consider a coach with a tainted past.

“There is nobody out there that doesn’t have any blemishes,” Bilas said, “although what Mike went through is a little bit more than a blemish. It certainly left some scars, but he’s done everything you could ask to prove he’s better than that.

“That doesn’t excuse what happened. Nobody is asking that it be excused. But you move on and you forgive. There have been a lot of lessons learned by everyone. They were hard lessons. He’s worthy of the risk some people perceive him to be.”

Rice said he’s kept in touch with some of his former players from Rutgers. Other relationships have been strained. Guard Derrick Randall, who transferred to Pittsburgh, filed a lawsuit against Rice in December for assault and battery. And in February—nearly a year after his firing—Rice learned that three other former players had retained attorneys. Rice said he hasn’t been served papers in those cases.

“Everyone wants to cast judgment so fast,” Crean, the Indiana coach, told B/R. “It’s not our place to cast the blame or to press the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ button, especially on things we don’t know much about or have only seen parts of. That’s up to the people that are involved in it.

“Mike is a very talented coach. He has an edge to him. I would bet that he’s going to be a very strong comeback story.”

No matter where Rice ends up, he knows that the tapes of his practice tirades will always follow him. When he’s calm on the sideline, people will be watching from the stands, waiting for him to erupt. Facial expressions will be scrutinized and slaps on the arm might be deemed a shove. If Rice yells at a player, he’ll be accused of losing his composure.

Something similar actually happened this summer. Lucas received a call from a friend who had watched Rice coach an AAU game. At one point, Rice became upset with a player for talking back to a referee and made him sit in the stands for the remainder of the game.

Lucas called Rice to find out what had happened. The player, Lucas said, turned out to be Rice’s son.

“I said, ‘Couldn’t you have waited to do that outside after the game?’” Lucas said. “And he said, ‘No, it had to be dealt with right then.’ He was right. He didn’t do anything wrong.

“When I coached, I walked out onto the court and pulled my son out for the rest of the game and people applauded me. When Mike does, they think he’s lost it.”

Lucas pauses.

“Mike shouldn’t have to completely change into something he’s not,” he said. “When you can forgive yourself, you don’t care what others think.”

If anything, Rice is motivated by the negative perception that most people have of him. Everyone has seen the clips of him going ballistic in practice. Perhaps someday soon, people will get to see the new Mike Rice, the guy who is eager to prove that his strengths still remain but that his weaknesses are a thing of the past.

Rice smiles when asked to name the biggest change he will make if he returns to the court. In some ways, his new coaching philosophy mirrors his approach to life.

“Sometimes losing has a bigger impact than winning,” Rice says. “Losing hammers home a lesson. Your weaknesses get exposed. You learn from your mistakes.

“And then you come back stronger.”

 

Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.

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MJ: ‘You can’t make the same money playing fewer games’

TweetThis preseason the NBA is experimenting with a shoter 44-minute game between the Celtics and Nets, which had led to some of the league’s superstars — LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki specifically — calling for a shorter season instead. Charlotte Hornets owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan isn’t a fan of the idea, stating that his love of basketball made playing 82 games easy. “I love both of those guys, but as an owner who played the game, I loved playing,” Jordan said during an interview with ESPN. “If I wasn’t playing 82 games, I still would’ve been playing somewhere else because that’s the love for the game I had. As a player, I never thought 82 games was an issue.” “I would never shorten the game by four minutes,” Jordan said, “unless guys were having physical issues. “It’s not like football,” he said. “We don’t really have to worry about concussions and some of the physical damage that football players deal with after they retire. I can understand football players

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Golden State Warriors Can’t Balk on Committing to Klay Thompson Now

The Golden State Warriors have consistently supported two-way star Klay Thompson throughout his race to a maximum contract, but now—mere steps before the finish line—they may be getting cold feet.

Apparently, treating Thompson as an NBA superstar and paying him as such are two different things. With so much energy expended on the former, though, the Dubs have to bite the bullet on the latter.

Frankly, it’s a surprise this message even needs to be delivered. The Warriors had to see this coming after watching Thompson, who has until October 31 to sign an extension that would keep him out of restricted free agency next summer, spend his offseason securing a max-level raise.

His market seemed to be set once Gordon Hayward (four years, $63 million) and Chandler Parsons (three years, $46 million) scored megadeals from the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets, respectively. Thompson was a better scorer (18.4 points per game), shooter (41.7 three-point percentage) and defender than either one last season.

Thompson was also one of 12 players selected to Team USA’s 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup roster, which both Hayward and Parsons tried out for but didn’t make. More than that, though, Thompson was also one of the gold-medal-winning group’s most important players.

“[Thompson] has been, really, as good a player as we’ve had,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told USA Today‘s Sam Amick last month. “He’s consistent. … He’s become our most versatile defender. … He’s had a terrific stay with us.”

Before Thompson even had the chance to raise his profile on the international stage, the Warriors had already lifted it for him.

They were engaged in trade talks for perennial All-Star Kevin Love, but the deal hit a snag due to an “organizational split” on the team’s willingness to part with Thompson, sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne. Love was later sent to the revamped Cleveland Cavaliers in a package that brought back, among others, this year’s No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins.

Love, for the record, finished the 2013-14 campaign ranked fourth in scoring (26.1), third in rebounding (12.5), third in player efficiency rating (26.9) and third in win shares (14.3). That is the caliber of player the Warriors had a chance of acquiring, and they passed up that opportunity—at least in part—because of Thompson.

While that seems like a firm commitment to Thompson’s future, the team has yet to (literally) put its money where its mouth is. Despite interest from both sides in getting something done, Comcast SportsNet’s Monte Poole reports that contract negotiation talks have stalled:

There has been no movement in recent weeks. As of Thursday morning, the sides remain $2-3 million a year apart, according to NBA sources.

The dithering seems pointless when all parties consistently state their desire for a deal. The Warriors want it. Thompson wants it. His teammates want it. And there is no indication Klay‘s agent, Bill Duffy, has lost the optimism he expressed last month.

If that sounds puzzling, it should.

All previous signs have pointed not only to Thompson inking a max extension but also to the Warriors being the team to cut the check. As Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin observed, there seems to be a disconnect between what has transpired and what is now taking place:

It’s not as if Thompson has done anything to lower his price tag.

He has 45 points in 51 preseason minutes. The three-point cannon responsible for the most perimeter makes in NBA history over the first three seasons of a career (545) has flashed with regularity, as he has connected on six of his eight long-range looks.

Overall, he has converted 57.1 percent of his field-goal attempts. While most of his damage has come from distance—and given his three-point proficiency, why wouldn’t it?—he has also showcased an off-the-dribble attack he has been routinely criticized for not having.

His 25-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night even drew rave reviews from five-time champion Kobe Bryant, per Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group:

Thompson’s offensive arsenal is deeper than most think, but critics routinely point to the statistical holes in his game.

Last season, his 18.7 passes per game were the fewest among any player to see at least 30 minutes of action a night, per NBA.com’s SportVU player tracking data. His 4.7 rebounding percentage was the second-lowest out of all players 6’7″ or taller with the same workload requirement.

Those sound like critical weaknesses, but these numbers are a bit deceptive.

On the rebounding front, Thompson’s opportunities are limited by his role. The Warriors try to maximize his impact as a floor spacer. Of his 1,357 field-goal attempts last season, over 42 percent came from beyond the arc. Another 34.6 percent came between 10 feet away from the basket and the three-point line.

That positioning doesn’t exactly lend itself to putting in work on the glass, and neither does chasing point guards around the perimeter to keep Stephen Curry fresh at the defensive end.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of players Thompson’s height or taller don’t man the shooting guard position. Among those who do, his rebounding average (3.1) is in the same ballpark as guys like Joe Johnson (3.4) and Kevin Martin (3.0). So, it’s not as if Thompson is missing out on a ton of boards other 2-guards are tracking down.

Plus, the Warriors ranked ninth in rebounding percentage last season (51.1). They were eighth (51.3) the year before. With Andrew Bogut (10.0 rebounds) and David Lee (9.3) manning the middle, Golden State isn’t exactly hurting on the glass.

As for Thompson’s paltry passing numbers, those can largely be dismissed by the way he has been utilized in this offense.

Last season, no one attempted more catch-and-shoot jumpers per game than Thompson (7.6), via SportVU. Only former MVP Dirk Nowitzki averaged more catch-and-shoot makes (3.5 to 3.4). Considering Thompson knocked down those shots at a 44.7 percent clip (44.2 percent from three), the Warriors don’t have a lot of motivation to move him away from that play type.

Thompson could stand to tighten his handles and improve his dribble-penetration game, but even that isn’t a major concern in today’s NBA.

With the movement of Spurs Basketball sweeping through the league (as it should) the need for shooting guards playing off the bounce, one-on-one, a la Allen Iverson is much more of a lessening need than is the high IQ ball movement and extremely efficient shooting ability,” wrote HoopsHype’s David Nurse.

Thompson can be both a specialist and a star. There is plenty to be said for maximizing one’s strengths, especially when those strengths grade out as elite.

Not every player is going to have a perfectly well-rounded game. Most of them don’t, in fact.

Golden State hasn’t asked Thompson to step outside of his lane; the masses have mistakenly made that request. As Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver wrote, Thompson has excelled in the exact areas the Warriors need him most:

Even if his off-the-dribble game is limited and he doesn’t really get to the line that often, Thompson’s spot-up shooting and his ability to create good looks with his off-ball movement are more than enough to make him a deadly secondary threat alongside Curry. The widespread credit he has received recently for his effort level and fundamentals on defense is deserved, and he cleanly fits the prototype of what a shooting guard should be.

In other words, Thompson is about to get paid—both for what he does and what he means to this team.

The Warriors have to know this, and truth be told, they probably do. It’s hard to blame them for trying to save a few pennies at the negotiating table, and it still seems likely he will remain a part of their long-term plans.

But this situation needs to end with Thompson’s signature on the dotted line. And that means following through with his superstar treatment by putting a max offer on the table.

The Dubs could wait to see if one surfaces next summer and then match it, but that’s only delaying the inevitable. It is definitely coming.

“League sources are adamant in saying Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders was prepared to give Thompson a max deal if Minny were to pry to Klay away from the Warriors as part of a deal for power forward Kevin Love,” Poole reported.

The Wolves wouldn’t be the only ones willing to cross that bridge, either. Not with the salary cap exponentially increasing in the coming seasons thanks to the league’s new $24 billion TV deal.

The Warriors need Thompson, and they haven’t tried to mask that fact.

“We love Klay,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob told Amick. “He is clearly an integral part of our team and our future.”

Thompson, meanwhile, has no worries. He is in a great situation with Golden State, and anything capable of luring him away from the Bay would come with a fat contract attached.

“I don’t think he’s too concerned,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, per Leung. “He knows something really good is going to happen one way or the other.”

For the Warriors, this can only have one solution: paying Thompson what he has earned and continuing their quest toward a world title. Even if they feel the rate is a little steep, they do not want to find out what the alternative would be.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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20 ‘Midnight Madness’ Celebrations We Can’t Wait to See for the 2014-15 Season

In college basketball, the madness isn’t just reserved for March.

Though we’re months away from the NCAA tournament and all its wild and crazy glory, we’re only a few weeks from the start of the 2014-15 season. And to celebrate that upcoming beginning, many Division I programs have special events set up to introduce the new versions of their teams to fans.

Collectively, these events are known as “Midnight Madness” since they were able to happen as soon as the clock turned midnight on Friday, Oct. 3, the official start of preseason practice sessions. However, only a few teams took advantage of that earliest moment to hold their celebrations, and most have festivities planned sometime in the next few weeks.

We’ve found 20 of the best Midnight Madness gatherings planned and put them all together for you to scan in anticipation of what should be another amazing college basketball season.

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Kevin Durant Says He Can’t Palm a Basketball

A height of 6’9″ with a 7’4″ wingspan—add the skills of a shooting guard, and you have Kevin Durant.

The man can cross you up, soar in for a highlight-reel dunk or even knock down an effortless three.

Yes, the reigning MVP can do it all.

Except palm a basketball.

According to Oklahoma City Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry, KD surprisingly cannot grip an NBA basketball with one hand:

Some of you may remember an old photo where Durant is palming two basketballs while wearing a Montrose Christian jersey:

He explains how he was able to accomplish the feat:

So the man can’t palm a basketball, folks.

Something tells me the Thunder can live with that.

[Darnell Mayberry]

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Boston Celtics Can’t Rebuild Without Making Rajon Rondo Trade

After eight seasons with the Boston Celtics, Rajon Rondo‘s days are numbered—or at least they should be.

While the organization has indicated otherwise, its first priority should be parting with the four-time All-Star on its own terms, ideally terms that entail trading for up-and-coming assets.

It’s hard to know what to make of the comments that have emerged from Boston’s front office and others with a stake in Rondo’s relationship with the franchise. Public appearances can be deceiving, particularly when the Celtics may indeed hold out some hope that Rondo will remain a centerpiece and potentially attract premier talent.

By now, however, those hopes should be measured—if not dismissed altogether.

Speculation about Rondo’s future with the team was renewed in August thanks to an online segment from ESPN’s Around the Horn (h/t CBSSports.com’s James Herbert) in which Boston-based scribe Jackie MacMullan disclosed Rondo’s disaffection, saying, “He’s told them [the Celtics] he wants out. And no one believes me, but that’s the truth.”

That suggestion was subsequently refuted in multiple corners.

The Boston Herald‘s Mark Murphy tweeted, “Spokeswoman for Rajon Rondo’s agent, Bill Duffy, said both men deny that Celtics guard has demanded a trade.”

And while CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely rejected the notion of an imminent split, he did report, “Multiple league and team sources agree the most likely scenario has Rondo beginning the season in Boston. Then, depending on how the team does, both sides will mutually agree to either ride it out or part ways sooner rather than later.”

Unsurprisingly, team president Danny Ainge has been confronted with a steady dose of questions about his star point guard’s fate.

Most recently, he told the media, “We expect Rajon to be in Boston for the long term.”

Just days earlier, he offered a more pensive response that at least theoretically left the door open to trading the 28-year-old.

The truthful answer is I really don’t know,” Ainge told reporters when asked about the possibility of dealing Rondo. “I have no intention. I’m not trying to trade Rondo, but because he’s a free agent this summer, he assured me that he wants to stay in Boston. We’d love to keep him in Boston.”

“The possibility of a trade is not out of the question,” Ainge added. “Nobody is untradeable, but I don’t see that happening.”

Owner Wyc Grousbeck sounded similar in tone.

Absolutely it’s my goal to keep Rondo here,” Grousbeck said to the press“We all want that, and I actually honestly think—he should speak for himself—I think Rajon wants to stay and would be very happy to stay. We’ll see how the season goes and how the negotiations go, but he’s proud to be a Celtic, I know that, and he’s proud to win that ring, and he deserved it.”

So it’s not clear to what extent the organization has entertained the notion of dealing Rondo, and it’s even less clear whether he wants to stick around.

But aHerbert put it, “Regardless of what Rondo has or hasn’t expressed to Celtics management, trade rumors are bound to persist throughout this coming season if he’s not moved beforehand.” 

If Celtics fans are lucky, there will be something to those rumors.

The worst-case scenario would be losing Rondo for nothing next summer when he’s due to become an unrestricted free agent. Were there particularly good reason to believe the eight-year veteran was intent on remaining in Boston, one could argue Ainge and Co. should roll the dice and maintain the status quo

Unfortunately, there have been few indications Rondo is committed to staying.

It’s true that the Celtics can offer him more money than alternative suitors, and it’s also true Rondo himself has grown accustomed to life in Boston.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” Rondo told reporters in June. “I have a beautiful home here. I love it here. I have a great neighbor, the best neighbor in the world. I don’t want to leave. It’s just part of the process that I’ll talk about once the season’s over. As of now I’m a Celtic.”

That said, even “the best neighbor in the world” won’t change the fact this franchise is nowhere close to reclaiming its championship form. If Rondo’s principally interested in winning, that may weigh more heavily on him than any interest in comfort, loyalty and money alike.

Back in January, ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required) suggested that while Rondo wasn’t yet committed to leaving Boston, he had no interest in discussing an extension with Ainge.

“It didn’t even get to the numbers stage,” Broussard wrote. “Rondo is looking forward to becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in the summer of 2015.”

That’s not necessarily a bad sign for the Celtics. Rondo can earn more money by re-signing as a free agent than he would via extension. Simple economics dictate that he wait this out and cash in when the time is right.

But nor is there any guarantee Rondo will elect to take the money when potentially faced with the allure of pastures even greener than his jerseyand the cash that could come with them.

Losing Rondo via free agency would deal a serious blow to the organization’s attempts to extricate itself from a rebuilding process it’s undergone since the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013.

On paper, rookie point guard Marcus Smart—taken with the No. 6 overall pick this summer—is poised to replace Rondo and potentially become a star in his own right given time. The problem is that Rondo is the only Celtic with the kind of pedigree that might convince other elite free agents to join the program.

Boston’s only acceptable outcomes are either keeping Rondo around long-term or trading him for assets that would further the rebuilding process.

Given the risk he’ll leave during free agency, the trade route increasingly appears to be the only option that makes viable sense.

It might even be for the best.

At best, the current mix of talent could make a run at a No. 8 seed in a relatively weak Eastern Conference. That kind of middling ceiling would come at the expense of prime draft position and undermine the organization’s ability to build upon its stockpile of solid prospects.

Take a close look at the Celtics’ roster.

Outside of Jeff Green (age 28), Brandon Bass (29) and Marcus Thornton (27), the rest of the rotation is primarily 25 and under. The youth movement includes Smart, fellow rookie James Young, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller and most recently Evan Turner.

That creates something of a timing issue for Ainge. By the time younger assets reach their prime years, Rondo may be well past his. The smart move seems to be going all in on the future, adding as many assets as possible to an already impressive list.

Assets that very well might be acquired in exchange for Rondo.

What kind of haul could the organization expect? Probably one that’s more modest than those sought thus far.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported back in February that pre-deadline talks between the Celtics and Houston Rockets fell apart because of Boston’s insistence that Chandler Parsons be included in a deal for Rondo.

Stein similarly indicated during the summer of 2013 that discussions between the Celtics and Dallas Mavericks were something of a nonstarter on account of Boston’s demands for franchise face Dirk Nowitzki.

It’s unlikely that Ainge will get his hands on an established star—or even someone on the verge of becoming one.

That doesn’t make the trade route any less essential, though. The opportunity to land any assets—including draft picks—remains far more attractive than the prospect of Rondo walking out the door as a free agent. 

While the Celtics are undoubtedly well aware of all this, reasons for patience abound.

Pushing a decision closer to February’s trade deadline may allow for the development of a more robust trade market. Would-be buyers often become more desperate as a season goes on. As needs become clearer (or, perhaps, exacerbated on account of injuries), willingness to sacrifice up-and-coming talent typically increases.

More importantly, the Celtics could use another couple of months to audition a healthier Rondo.

He only played in 30 games last season after recovering from surgery on his right knee. While his subsequent production—11.7 points and 9.8 assists per contest—was solid, Rondo made a career-low 40.3 percent of his field-goal attempts. 

Though most onlookers probably understand that result to be a consequence of rust, seeing Rondo regain his rhythm would likely alleviate any lingering concerns—thereby increasing his value and Boston’s chances of coming away with some legitimate talent (or the draft rights thereto).

This isn’t a question of whether the Celtics should keep Rondo. It’s a question of whether they can afford to lose him without getting anything in return.

In turn, the coming months are no time to get sentimental. The Boston Celtics’ long-term future demands otherwise.

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Where Does OKC Thunder Turn If Scott Brooks Can’t Get Job Done This Season?

If the Oklahoma City Thunder decide that head coach Scott Brooks isn’t the man who can lead them to a championship, who should they look to replace him with?

Since taking over as head coach during the 2008-09 season, Brooks has compiled a regular-season record of 293-170 (63.3 percent). In the playoffs, his mark is 39-34 (53.4 percent). He’s finished under .500 once and has led the Thunder to the postseason every year for the past five seasons. He’s been to the Western Conference Finals twice, including a trip to the Finals during the 2011-12 season.  

Despite all of that, Brooks is one of a handful of coaches that are on the hot seat this season, according to BasketballInsiders.com’s Steve Kyler:

There is no question that the Thunder are on the clock, especially with star forward Kevin Durant inching closer to free agency in the summer of 2016. The Thunder have preached a message of continuity and instituted a strong development program, and that has paid dividends in OKC, but failing to reach the NBA Finals again before Durant’s free agency could spell disaster for the Thunder as the outside voices creep into the discussion and try to lure Durant out of OKC.

If Brooks were to get fired, Oklahoma City would become arguably the most attractive coaching destination in the league. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and a slew of young prospects, the right guy could turn the Thunder into a dynasty. However, if things don’t work out with Brooks, what should general manager Sam Presti look for in his next coach?

While the current coaching fad has been to hire players fresh out of retirement or the next hot assistant, the Thunder need someone a bit more seasoned. He should have considerable postseason experience and be able to bring the best out of this talented roster. Most importantly, he should be someone respected enough to keep Durant and Westbrook from considering playing elsewhere when their contracts are up. 

Here are a few candidates that would fit those requirements.

 

Mark Jackson

Prior to Mark Jackson’s arrival as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2011, the team had made the postseason just once during the previous 17 seasons. In three years, Jackson led the W’s to the playoffs twice.

During the last two seasons, the Warriors were a combined 98-66. Jackson helped transform them from an NBA laughingstock to an exciting young squad that was solid at both ends of the court. Jackson’s teams were in the top 12 of both offensive and defensive ratings the past two seasons. 

Still, those numbers couldn’t spare Jackson from the firing squad this past season. According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Jackson’s dismissal was less about the team’s inability to make deep postseason runs and more about personal conflicts:

Jackson clashed constantly with management and struggled to manage his coaching staff during his Warriors tenure. Jackson’s lack of interest in game preparation and reluctance to practice despite a mostly young and gifted roster played a part in management’s reluctance to commit long term to him, league sources said.

While Jackson’s personality and lax practice habits are certainly red flags, the hope here is that Jackson would learn from his mistakes in his second coaching stint. As much as he battled with the front office and his fellow assistants, his players seemed to adore him.

Point guard Stephen Curry, during a promotional event for the upcoming NBA 2K15 video game, called Jackson’s firing “hard to deal with.”

As an NBA point guard for 17 years, Jackson’s vast experience would come in handy developing one of the league’s most explosive floor generals, Russell Westbrook. His commitment to excellence on offense and defense would be great for a team with the NBA’s best scorer in Kevin Durant and one of its best shot-blockers in Serge Ibaka

Jackson’s coaching legacy shouldn’t end with the fatal flaws he made with Golden State. Very few young coaches hit the ground running the minute they are handed a clipboard. Doc Rivers had to fail with the Orlando Magic before becoming an NBA champion with the Boston Celtics.

However, Jackson’s ability to take the Thunder to a higher level would be dependent on him raising his game as well. Unlike in Golden State, he would be inheriting a team with a mandate to win now. The feuding with coaches and sub-par training habits aren’t going to fly in Oklahoma City.  

He would need to bring his uptempo style to a team that was built to run. With a stronger commitment to the game, Jackson could find redemption on his way to an NBA championship.

 

Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy hasn’t manned an NBA sideline since the 2006-07 season with the Houston Rockets, but his name seems to pop up every year when there’s a coaching vacancy. Earlier this offseason, his name was linked to the Memphis Grizzlies, per ESPN’s Marc Stein.  

Van Gundy has spent the last seven years as an analyst for ESPN. Even in the booth, Van Gundy’s love for the game shows through in his opinionated style. Every time he’s on the mic, you get the feeling that he wants to come back to coaching.

Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, in a May appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, suggested that his brother is waiting for a good spot to come along: 

“I was only going to take a great job and I think Jeff’s the same way. If the right situation came around, where he really felt aligned with ownership, I think he would do it.” 

The chance to take over one of the NBA’s elite sure seems like the “right situation.” He would take over a group with far more talent than any of his teams with the Rockets or the New York Knicks. During his 11 years coaching both squads, Van Gundy missed the playoffs just twice. 

During the 1998-99 season, he famously led the eighth-seeded Knicks to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Tim Duncan’s Spurs in five games. He has a career record of 430-318 in the regular season (57.5 percent) and 44-44 in the playoffs (50 percent). 

Van Gundy would be an intriguing choice for the Thunder. Throughout his career, his forte has been a commitment to defense and preparation. His teams in New York and Houston didn’t rate very high offensively though. 

It would be interesting to see what Van Gundy could bring out of Durant and Westbrook defensively. Together, they could carry an offense with their ability to score from anywhere. Imagine how great both would be if Van Gundy could sharpen their skills on the other end of the court as well. 

Van Gundy also built his teams around strong big men, which was a testament to his defensive approach. He had Patrick Ewing and Marcus Camby on the Knicks. On the Rockets, he had Yao Ming. In Oklahoma City, he’d have to build around wing players like he did with Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston in New York. 

What truly makes Van Gundy a solid candidate is the reputation he built with those he coached in the past. His former players talk about him with the utmost respect and have fond memories of their time together (h/t Moke Hamilton of BasketballInsiders.com). 

I loved playing for him. There was no situation that I have faced in a game that I wasn’t prepared for,” said Shane Battier, who played under JVG in Houston. “Our teams were always prepared, always played hard and if you wanted a winning culture, he was your guy.”

Hamilton also added this:

That’s a sentiment that all of Van Gundy’s former players would agree with, even those who he had a tough time motivating, including, at times, the aforementioned (Tracy) McGrady. The same can be said about Steve Francis. Francis and Van Gundy had a major falling out in Houston immediately prior to Francis’ trade to the Orlando Magic back in June 2004, but Francis is on record as saying that he never doubted that the changes that Van Gundy requested of him were all done in the name of winning.

After a long time away from coaching, the key to Van Gundy’s success in today’s NBA will be his ability to adapt. In Oklahoma City, he’d have the best one-two punch in basketball in Durant and Westbrook, as well as the big man he typically covets in Ibaka

Together, the mixture of Van Gundy’s defensive teachings and the bevy of scorers on the roster should combine for one of the most balanced teams in the league. 

 

George Karl

If Brooks’ job were to become available, the search for the Thunder’s new leader should begin and end with George Karl. During his last 21 seasons as a head coach, Karl’s teams have never finished below .500. The last time he had a losing season was when he coached the Golden State Warriors…during the 1987-88 season.  

When we last saw Karl, he was leading the Denver Nuggets to a franchise-best 57 wins en route to earning the 2012-13 NBA Coach of the Year award. Despite that, the team still fired Karl after the season because of a contract dispute.

Karl has the sixth-most wins of any coach in NBA history with 1,131 wins. His career winning percentage is 59.9 percent. If there’s a knock on Karl’s illustrious career, it’s that his playoff record is 80-105 (43.5 percent). 

Still, throughout his career, Karl has been the brains behind some fantastic teams. He coached the Seattle SuperSonics from 1991-1998 with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton leading the way. During the 1995-96 season, Karl led the Sonics to the NBA Finals before falling to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in six games. 

From there, he coached the Milwaukee Bucks for five seasons, molding such rising talents as Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson. He was one win away from his second Finals appearance in 2000-01, when he lost the Eastern Conference Finals to Allen Iverson‘s Philadelphia 76ers in seven games.

The last nine years of Karl’s coaching career came in Denver. During his tenure, he presided over the likes of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson and other young stars. For the most part, those Nuggets teams struggled to get out of the first round. The lone exception came in 2008-09, when the team made the Western Conference Finals and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

After a year away from the game, Karl is interested in returning to coaching, per ESPN.com.

I’d be interested in the right coaching opportunity, but I respect the coaching profession too much to become a distraction to the process,” Karl said. “I would love the opportunity to probably talk to people, when they think I’m a person they should be talking to.”

Karl is 63 years old and not far removed from a battle with cancer. While his desire to coach again is understandable, there’s the issue of: for how long? His time with the Nuggets was the longest he’s ever spent with any one team and, at this point in his career, he’s more of a short-term fix than a long-term solution.

Still, with his history of winning and guiding young players, he’d be the perfect coaching upgrade for the Thunder. Even if Oklahoma City only got a handful of seasons out of Karl, they could feel safe knowing they have a respected veteran with a long track record of success at the helm.

One potential problem that could arise is Karl’s desire to play more proven players over developing young talent. He was criticized by the front office during his final season in Denver for not playing the team’s younger players, which was a claim he disputed in an interview with The Denver Post‘s Benjamin Hochman following Karl’s firing.   

We won 57 games and are in a great place. Continuity, consistency, togetherness all are so much more valuable than what they have on their priority list of playing JaVale McGee or the young players. And first of all, it shouldn’t be that I didn’t play young players. It’s I didn’t play young players enough, because we played a lot of young players—Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, Evan Fournier at the end of the year, Ty Lawson. And, I never had a meeting where there was disappointment, in that part of it, voiced to me. I heard through whispers. I’m sorry that 57 wins doesn’t make you happy.

Regardless of which side you believe, Karl’s hesitance to play someone like McGee shouldn’t tarnish his record with young players, nor should it give the Thunder a reason to steer clear of him. Karl’s time developing legendary talents like Payton, Allen and Anthony should speak for itself. 

If Karl is ready to come back and Oklahoma City has a spot for him, he should be the Thunder’s guy. 

As for Brooks, this is a make-or-break season for him. His reluctance for change as well as his commitment to declining veterans such as Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have been his downfall in the past. 

The Thunder have a roster capable of winning a championship. Durant and Westbrook are top 10 players. Ibaka continues to get better. Reggie Jackson is playing for a new contract. The team has depth now with Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb and Anthony Morrow. There are no more excuses. 

The clock is ticking for Brooks. With plenty of qualified candidates ready to take his spot, he will either adapt or become a casualty. 

(All statistics courtesy of BasketballReference.com, unless noted otherwise. 

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Los Angeles Lakers Can’t Afford to Make Ed Davis the Odd Man out

Someone is going to be disappointed on the Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt.

With the athletic Ed Davis, the scrappy Jordan Hill, the seasoned Carlos Boozer, the bruising building block Julius Randle, the sharp-shooting Ryan Kelly and the sideline-celebrating Robert Sacre all hungry for playing time, someone is going to be left starving.

The Lakers cannot let that someone be Davis, the 25-year-old who has often appeared an opportunity away from breaking through since being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

With intriguing physical tools (6’10″ with a 7’0″ wingspan, via DraftExpress) and promising small-scale production (career 11.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes), he looks like a potential building block for a franchise in need of young talent.

The fact that he came by way of a clearance-rate, two-year, $2 million deal (player option for the second) solidified his standing as one of the summer’s best signings:

“Ed is a versatile, young frontcourt player who, if he continues to work hard, will be a valuable contributor,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a team release. “We look forward to him furthering his development with the Lakers and are excited by what we think he can offer our team.”

Judging by the executive’s words, the Lakers will not—and certainly should not—earmark major minutes for the former lottery pick. As promising as his past appears, his resume reads free of any guarantees.

Davis needs to earn his spot, and the Lakers must figure out why he hasn’t before.

“A guy that talented—who can score at the basket, rebound outside his area and turn away shots effectively—shouldn’t have spent his career looking for a way to crack a rotation,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes. “Make no mistake, there’s some mystery surrounding Davis.”

Davis is something of an oxymoron: a multimillionaire professional athlete who can’t quite seem to catch a break. He’s fortunate enough to live out his dream, only that dream life hasn’t really started yet.

He made 65 appearances for the Toronto Raptors as a rookie in 2010-11, averaging respectable per-game marks of 7.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and one block in 24.6 minutes a night. Throw in a stellar 57.6 field-goal percentage and above-average 15.8 player efficiency rating, and he seemed on the fast track to something quite solid or perhaps even special.

But his numbers haven’t moved a lot since, and the changes that have taken place haven’t always been positive.

Whether struggling to progress on the Raptors’ second team or getting buried behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with the Memphis Grizzlies, Davis has had a hard time finding the momentum needed to spring his career forward.

While his decrease in minutes shouldn’t be completely overlooked, the important thing for his new team is that he has retained his efficiency through his ups and downs.

Over the last two seasons, he is one of only seven players to average at least 13 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting at least 53 percent from the field. Davis’ 17.1 PER during that stretch ranks ahead of two players on that list, including Marcin Gortat (16.7), who signed a five-year, $60 million pact to stick with the Washington Wizards this summer.

Given Davis’ age (25), athleticism, upside and track record, there are reasons to believe in his chance at upward mobilityif the Lakers give him the type of opportunity he’s never had before.

He seems to think that vacancy exists, and he even cited it during an interview with Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy as one of the biggest things that led him to L.A.:

I just wanted to find the perfect situation for this upcoming season and for the future. I didn’t want to take a deal just because it was more money and it might look better – I really wanted to go somewhere that had a need for me and wanted me rather than just joining a team to fill out the roster. For me, it was really just waiting it out and seeing which team had the most interest and seeing where I could go to really help the team and get a chance to play.

They just told me that the opportunity is going to be there. They weren’t going to promise me anything or any type of minutes, but all you can ask for as a player is a fair opportunity to be able to go out there and compete for a job and minutes, either as a starter or off the bench. I felt that of all the teams that had interest in me, this would be the best fit for me.

Whether Davis will get that fair chance he’s after remains to be seen.

New Lakers coach Byron Scott told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News he already has ideas for four of his five starters: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Boozer and Hill.

The only job currently up for grabs is small forward, where Wesley Johnson, Nick Young and Xavier Henry will likely lock horns for the final spot during camp.

That would put Davis on the pine before he’s even had a chance to fight for a starting gig:

Davis’ fate should not be predetermined.

Not for a team coming off an abysmal 27-win season. Not to make room an aging Boozer, coming off the least efficient season of his 12-year career (14.4 PER), or a “prospect” like the 27-year-old Hill, whose resume has as many question marks as Davis’.

And certainly not with Scott declaring at his introductory press conference that “The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team.”

Davis has a history of being a deterrent. He has a higher career block percentage (3.6) and lower career defensive rating (104) than Hill (3.1 and 107, respectively).

Boozer made the Chicago Bulls defense three points worse per 100 possessions when he was on the floor (99.2) than when he was off it (96.2), a staggering statistic considering Boozer spent 71.7 percent of his minutes alongside the Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah.

If the Lakers want defense, then Davis deserves a look.

According to 82games.com, he held opposing 4s (13.8) and 5s (14.8) to below-average PERs last season. Considering the Lakers finished the campaign 25th in field-goal percentage allowed, 28th in defensive efficiency and 30th in rebounding percentage, they need help all over that end of the floor.

Davis could provide a lift at the opposite side as well.

There’s a chance his offensive game is limited, but even that is hard to tell due to his small sample size.

What can be gleaned from his stat sheet, though, is that he stays within himself (career 54.2 field-goal percentage) and does damage as a pick-and-roll screener. His 1.26 points per possession on those plays was the sixth-best in the business, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

All of his production seems, at worst, sustainable in an expanded role. There’s always the chance his numbers could improve with more playing time as well.

The Lakers need to find out exactly what they found in the NBA bargain bin this offseason: a cheap part-time contributor, a steady force for a reserve role or perhaps a pivotal piece of their rebuilding project.

That doesn’t mean he should be handed a starting spot, but he shouldn’t enter camp with a cap on his role, either. He deserves a chance to showcase his ability, and the Lakers stand to gain as much as him if he maximizes his potential.

Boozer’s best days are behind him, Hill’s might have a short shelf life and Randle’s could be a couple of years down the road. Davis has a shot to be the bridge that brings everything together, and the Lakers have little to lose by seeing if he’s up for the challenge.

There won’t be enough minutes to keep every Lakers big man happy, but the only thing dictating Davis’ floor time should be his performance. If he’s hurting for action again, he should have only himself to blame.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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5 NBA Players Who Are Demanding Checks Their Production Can’t Cash

It’s never a bad way to do business, hitting the negotiation table and asking for as much as one could possibly get.

Of course, securing a significant raise and actually earning that money are two different things. There’s a decent chance the five players on this list will secure beaucoup bucks in their next deal but far slimmer hopes of them actually living up to the deal.

Teams won’t be paying these players for what they have done, they will try to compensate them for what they will do going forward. It’s an inexact science, one that could lead to bargains (Stephen Curry, $44 million for four years), rip-offs (Roy Hibbert, $58 million for four years) or anything in between.

Given the shelf life of professional athletes, it’s hard to fault them for attempting to maximize their earnings potential. But those massive checks will come with similar-sized expectations these five will struggle to ever fill.

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