If Rajon Rondo knows whether he will play in the Boston Celtics opener on Wednesday night, he isn’t saying. The star point guard, who has missed most of training camp with a broken bone in his hand, told reporters that he will make up his mind after he awakens from his usual pregame nap on Wednesday afternoon.
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In a way, Paul Pierce was part of the move that sparked the current era of NBA “super teams,” starting with the formation of the Boston Celtics’ new “Big Three” in 2007. But Pierce, entering his second season since departing Boston, still sees a distinction between him and the league’s new guard. “This is a different era,” Pierce, now with the Washington Wizards, told The Washington Post’s DC Sports Blog. “Guys are playing a lot more together in the summer. You see more friendships in the league. It’s not like in the ’80s when you had enemies, or you couldn’t stand this guy, and there were fights all the time. “These guys, they all get along. It’s a new generation. They all want to play with each other. They all want to win. They’re in USA Basketball all summer, they play in the summer leagues all summer, so they get to know one another and they try to join one another and try to win a championship. It’s a new era that we’re seeing and this is the way it’s going to be,
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They’ll be lucky to grab a spot in the playoffs and may even finish near the bottom of the league standings.
Surprisingly, though, the best thing about the Lakers of 2014-15 is not the NBA draft next summer. It’s the intriguing individual stories of players, young and old, rookies and veterans, who make up the current roster that will keep interest high.
There’s a first-round, lottery draft choice and a second-rounder with a chip on his shoulders who may push the veterans and bring the sort of youthful energy this Lakers team has been lacking for several seasons.
There are reclamation projects and unheralded, yet talented, journeymen who will have a golden opportunity to grow with this club or find themselves a new home elsewhere in the league.
What we won’t get to see this season is a legend in Steve Nash. Just this week, the Lakers and Nash agreed that his season on the active roster was over before it even started due to health reasons. Reached before his team’s final preseason game Friday night against the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas, head coach Byron Scott said (via ABCNews.com):
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to coach him. Steve has always been one of my favorite people in the league because he’s such a professional, such a gentleman. Just like everybody else, I’m wishing him all the best.
The same sentiment needs to be conveyed to Scott, who takes over a team in transition with a number of question marks. Kobe Bryant and company may surprise us—they have nowhere to go but up.
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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.
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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?
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.”
“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.”
“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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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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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.
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 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.
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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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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.
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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 as Herbert 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 jersey—and 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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