Kobe Bryant Finds Inspiration to Change, Prepare for Future, in Tracy McGrady

LOS ANGELES — It happens all the time with all sorts of people. On occasion it can be as graphic as what has happened to Donald Sterling and Ray Rice with their livelihoods. At other times it happens gradually, when an athlete faces the march of time or the struggle to bounce back from the wear of thousands of games played at an elite level.   

Only when the enjoyment of something those in sports, or those in every walk of life, have grown accustomed to is taken away does the real cherishing and coveting sink in.   

Take Tracy McGrady, who popped back on the radar last month when he told Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski that McGrady, with an eye toward another run at the NBA, had been working out last month with Kobe Bryant.

It was difficult not to feel a little pity and sympathy for McGrady, 35. Poor T-Mac, desperate to take advantage of Kobe’s ongoing relevance. It’s a shame the guy can’t let go and keeps trying to recapture the past.

Inspiration can be found in McGrady’s determination, but it’s hard to take too seriously someone who earlier this year had dabbled in independent league baseball and was quoted there as saying: “It feels good to be celebrated again.”

Bryant and McGrady, preps-to-pros jumpers who joined the NBA a year apart, are longtime friends, so it’s not shocking to hear of them working out together. What Bryant might be able to get out of it, though, is what’s really interesting.

Bryant needs more work than usual this offseason, which is why, besides his usual early morning workouts at the Los Angeles Lakers‘ training facility in El Segundo, he has been hosting sessions near his Orange County home—some with Lakers teammates Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Ed Davis.

Bryant played only six games all last season between his Achilles and knee injuries, and although he is viewed as completely healthy now, he needs extra work.

But it’s not that simple.

In a broader sense, Bryant is very much determined not to become McGrady…or anything close to McGrady.

First of all, Bryant is resolute about maximizing and relishing the latter years of his career. Anything less would taint the bar he has set for himself so far.

McGrady doesn’t motivate Bryant, per se, yet his presence a year after retiring at age 34 can’t help remind what disappointment could await if Bryant doesn’t adhere to his same standards now that his body and game have changed.

Allow Bryant’s trusted longtime physical therapist Judy Seto to explain.

“What’s the secret? What’s the inside scoop?” Seto said. “It’s not something fancy. He works at it. He works at it consistently. He works at it religiously.

“Some people work hard because someone’s watching or someone’s pushing. His motivation isn’t someone else. It’s within him. It’s this internal drive that he has.

“And he’s smarter now. He’s not one to sugarcoat things. I think he has a very good handle on what his abilities are and what he’s able to accomplish and what he’s not. He realizes that there is a certain amount of mileage; he’s not the same person—no one is—from when he was 10 years ago.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t other attributes that he can’t tap in to. He’s got 10 more years of basketball knowledge and experience. His basketball IQ is 10 years better. He’s not saying, ‘This is all I can give. Oh, my gosh, I’m approaching the end! What will I do?’”

There is no doubt that McGrady failed to bring Bryant’s level of attentiveness, both mental and physical, to a career that infamously lacked postseason success and ended with him bouncing to five different NBA teams down his stretch, going to China and then missing a coattails ring in 2013 with the San Antonio Spurs.

McGrady didn’t score in a handful of playoff appearances as the Spurs fell just short against the Miami Heat in an NBA Finals series so close that McGrady could rightly imagine being a champion if he could have given the Spurs just a little help.

The Spurs redeemed that without him this year, while McGrady tried his hand at pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, a team name straight out of a screenwriter’s imagination and a place close enough to McGrady’s former Rockets fans in Houston for the Skeeters to derive some publicity out of the stunt.

When McGrady retired from baseball right on the spot upon finally recording his first strikeout, the small-time sideshow could be summed up in the fact that the radio reporter who got the quotes about it was the father of the Little Leaguer who partnered with McGrady in a home-run derby competition that night.

One of those quotes, it’s worth noting, started this way: “Not having my basketball career end the way I wanted…”

So McGrady, more than a year younger than Bryant, is back entertaining thoughts of the one thing he has been able to trust in his life: playing basketball.

Which brings us to the second key point in comparing and contrasting Bryant and McGrady.

When it does end, Bryant will not live in or for the past.

He prides himself on having delivered a consistency that Michael Jordan and his two failed retirements never could, never needing or seeking any breaks. And even though it is a veritable certainty that Bryant’s obsession with competition will give him some trouble without that basketball fix, he’s not nearly as single-minded as is often portrayed.

Bryant has been plotting this out for years and years, determined to maintain his relevance in a real, different and earned way.

Now that the Kobe Inc., office building is a reality in Newport Beach and he has invested to own 10 percent of BodyArmor sports drink, the vision he has been reluctant to discuss sans any accomplishment is taking shape.

“There’s so much more to him than just being a basketball player,” Seto said. “He’s not the same person that he was when he entered the league. What people don’t realize about him is he’s already put in motion the things in his life that he wants to pursue and move into.

“It’s not like suddenly it’s over and then there’s nothing. He’s already made preparations for what he wants to do with his life. It’s a natural continuum.

“Maybe it’s because I’ve seen behind the curtain, but I already see that his life is just going to keep on going and evolving. He’s not going to go back and try to relive it.

“You’ve got to realize one thing: When basketball ends, his competitive drive doesn’t end. It’s just going to shift to other things. He’s competitive as a basketball player. He’s focused.

“Wait till you see him in the business world.”


Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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Milwaukee Bucks: The future is now with Parker and Antetokounmpo on board

Milwaukee Bucks fans should not just be excited that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are on the team now, but that they could stay on the team for a long time.
Milwaukee is not the most desirable city to play basketball, but Antetokounmpo and Parker have both expressed their feelings in sticking with the Bucks.
I’ll never leave the team and the city of Milwaukee till we build the team to a championship level team..
— GiannisAntetokounmpo (@G_ante34) July 17, 2014

In the world of sports today, it is common to see players of all caliber switching teams over the course of their careers. Antetokounmpo said that he will commit himself to improving the Bucks, which could certainly be a long and stressful process. This kind of commitment is not seen often in today’s sports, so having one of the Bucks’ young potential stars say this is a great thing for Bucks fans.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks had the 1st and 2nd picks respectively of the 2014 NBA draft. With the injury to Joel E

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Chicago Bulls, Jimmy Butler Facing Future Sooner Than You Think

Jimmy Butler’s future is arriving sooner than most of us are ready for. Next summer, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

Butler came of age quickly with the Chicago Bulls. Thrust into a starting spot as a sophomore after Richard Hamilton’s repeat injuries in the 2012-13 season, he became a playoff-ready defensive warrior before our eyes, clocking memorable performances against Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, among other.

Butler’s gritty style, cut from the blueprint of Tom Thibodeau’s league-influencing system, has since come to be a culture-defining presence for the Bulls and fans in Chicago. Averaging a whopping 38.7 minutes per game as the anchor to Thibodeau’s perimeter stronghold in 2013-14, Butler tied with Carmelo Anthony for most time per contest in all of the league. Butler won All-Defensive Second Team honors for the year. 

But while Butler’s defense and intangible hustle are unquestionable strengths, plenty of doubt remains about his abilities on offense. After shooting 38 percent on three-pointers in 2012-13, Butler dropped all the way down to 28 during his most recent campaign. From Kevin Ferrigan of CBS Sports:

That 356 attempt figure, as it turns out, is not a significant enough sample to tell us all that much about how good a shooter Butler really is. The 105 attempts he took in 2012-13, when he looked so good, is clearly an even smaller sample, and thus has even more potential to be the result of statistical noise. It turns out that to have a meaningful sense of how good a three point shooter a player truly is, you need to see at least 750 three point attempts from them, according to research done by Darryl Blackport of Nylon Calculus.

Three-point shooting isn’t the only factor that goes into measuring offensive worth, but it’s a huge one for Butler. The Bulls need crack shooters to put around Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, who are sure to be their top playmakers. Butler’s best chance at contributing is to hone his catch-and-shoot capacities, and there’s no jumper more important than the three.

If Butler hopes to get a lot more than the $3 million qualifying offer the Bulls will need in order to retain him next summer, he’ll have to do better than 28 percent from beyond the arc. It’s unlikely he’ll have many chances at creating shots for himself next to Rose, Noah and Gasol, so his ability to stretch the defense is paramount.

And while Butler is one of the top perimeter defenders in the game, he gets a lot less credit for that status under Thibodeau, who enhances every defender he’s handed. Outside of the coach’s steely, domineering system, it’s unclear whether Butler is as valuable.

In other words: Butler is worth more to the Bulls than he is to other teams. A classic “culture guy,” his continuity, familiarity and comfort with both the bodily and interpersonal standards of Thibodeau’s ever-intense locker room wouldn’t necessarily transfer over to other teams. But in Chicago, Butler is a pillar.

That’s why the most likely result is Butler and the Bulls’ front office working out a deal that behooves both sides. Like Tony Allen, the “Grindfather” defensive maniac who’s found a home and an indelible sense of identity with the Memphis Grizzlies, Butler has entrenched himself as a Bull in ways that extend well beyond the box score. And it’s been just as beneficial for him as it has for his team.

Whether Butler can collect more points and shoot his price up in 2015 remains a mystery. But, either way, it’d be surprising to see him leave Chicago.

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Pau Gasol ponders future with Spanish national team

Could Pau Gasol’s glory days with the Spanish nation team be in it’s final stages? The seven-footer seems to question his future with the team after their recent 65-52 loss to France basketball World Cup on Wednesday. Gasol isn’t getting any younger, and the time to bring in some new blood seems like it could be a real option, or at least that is the way Pau makes it sound. “You never know when it is your last game or your last tournament,” Gasol told reporters after the 65-52 loss. The 34-year old big man is entering his 14th season in the NBA. Gasol will suit-up for the Chicago Bulls this season, a change of scenery that seemed necessary after a second-consecutive losing season with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bulls will be Pau’s third team in the NBA, and will give the career 18.3 ppg forward a real chance at his third championship for his career. “I would like to play until I am 50 but I doubt I will. It is an honour to play for my country but you never know…We have great young players com

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Will Eric Bledsoe Contract Standoff Derail Phoenix Suns’ Bright Future?

It was supposed to be the easy part of Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough’s offseason.

Attracting premier talent, handling three first-round picks for a roster that doesn’t need to get any younger, that was the hard stuff. But sitting back and letting Eric Bledsoe‘s restricted free agency settle his present and his future? That should have been effortless executive work if there is such a thing.

Yet for all the items marked off McDonough’s summer to-do list—adding four players on draft night, landing Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Tolliver in free agency, keeping P.J. Tucker aroundBledsoe‘s box remains unchecked. With weeks left until the start of training camp, the Suns’ simplest summer task is still not completed.

The story hasn’t changed since the first sign of trouble.

ESPN The Magazine‘s Chris Broussard reported in July that a wide gap existed between the money Bledsoe wanted ($80 million for five years) and what the Suns were willing to offer ($48 million for four). Last month, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne wrote that Bledsoe was still seeking max money either from the Suns (five years, $85 million) or in a sign-and-trade (four years, $64 million).

Then again, it’s hard for the parties to make any type of progress when they aren’t even on speaking terms:

“Bledsoe has not spoken with Suns staff since the season ended,” wrote Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic. “Talks with his representation have been limited and unproductive. He also has not signed another team’s offer sheet, which the Suns were expected to match to keep him if he did.”

Both sides have stubbornly refused to rework their numbers. And both are correct for acting as such.

Professional athletes have a finite earnings window. Bledsoe and his representatives can and should seek as much money as they can possibly get.

The Suns, meanwhile, have their own reasons for steadfastly refusing his requests.

“Taking the long view, Phoenix’s hardball approach to the Bledsoe negotiations makes perfect strategic sense,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Jim Cavan. “From its perspective, Bledsoe‘s stellar season was, at this point, less a bellwether than a promising outlier—a hint rather than a guarantor of things to come.”

Each camp has numbers supporting its view.

On Bledsoe‘s end, the number is nine, as in the amount of players other than Bledsoe to average at least 17 points, five assists and four rebounds last season. There are two notable numbers for the Suns: 78 (career starts) and two (surgeries to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee since 2011).

If the two came together on a surprise last-minute contract agreement, one side would need to risk something. Either Bledsoe would commit to a future where he could easily wind up outperforming his wages, or the Suns would bet the farm on a player with a limited track record and a troubling medical history.

At this stage of the game, reconnecting on his one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer feels like the only logical ending still in play.

Except this wouldn’t be the end of the story. There’s still another chapter to be written, one sure to start on rough terrain given how poorly this process has played out.

The qualifying offer isn’t a one-year commitment so much as an eventual ticket out of town. Bledsoe‘s 2014-15 campaign will suddenly shift to a season-long tryout for the potential suitors with max money to spend next summer, coin that backcourt mate Goran Dragic could also collect once he declines his bargain $7.5 million player option for 2015-16.

Whatever money the Suns saved this summer, they’ll need to part with the next. That or risk watching both backcourt stars bolt and bring back nothing in return.

As ESPN.com’s Marc Stein explained, teams are ready to chase the Suns’ guards on the open market:

If Bledsoe elects to go the rare qualifying offer route, Phoenix would suddenly face the very real possibility of losing both of its two best assets without compensation in 2015 free agency. 

The Lakers, for example, are just one team league sources say would likely make a hard run at both of them, based on the premise that the Suns couldn’t afford the cost of paying both at that point, theoretically making either Bledsoe or Dragic gettable. Sources say that Houston, furthermore, has Dragic on its list of potential targets next summer given how he’s blossomed since leaving the Rockets for Phoenix in the free-agent summer of 2012. 

If Bledsoe signs the qualifier, furthermore, you can pretty much bank on him leaving Phoenix as soon as he gets the chance, because players don’t take that sort of gamble and then bury the bad feelings months later to re-sign with the incumbent team. And that would naturally increase Dragic‘s leverage in the process, because Phoenix simply couldn’t stomach losing its two most valuable players, who both happen to play what is routinely regarded as the most important position on the floor in the modern NBA.

That’s obviously a worst-case scenario, and the stat sheet captures what a crushing blow that would be.

Dragic (20.3 points per game) and Bledsoe (17.7) contributed more than 36 percent of the Suns’ nightly offense (105.2) off their scoring alone. The pair also dished out a combined 11.4 assists per game, nearly 60 percent of the team’s total distributing (19.1).

The Suns can credit the bulk of last season’s 48 wins to their efficient offense, and no players ignited this attack better than these two.

Losing both would be a deathblow in terms of what the Suns are aiming for now and what they’re trying to build down the road.

It’s also probably not going to happen. Dragic seems content to stick around in the desert, provided Phoenix ponies up the appropriate offer.

But that means he has a major contract to earn this season. Ditto for Bledsoe, even if his will likely come from outside. Thomas, now a member of coach Jeff Hornacek’s three-headed point guard monster, has 82 games to prove he can handle a starting role in the future as opposed to serving as a complementary spark plug.

Moving outside of the backcourt doesn’t quiet Phoenix’s free-agency questions.

Gerald Green is working on an expiring deal and could be looking to parlay another career year into a jackpot payday. The Morris twins (Markieff and Morris) are slated for restricted free agency next summer, their first chance to really strike it rich since they will no longer be bound by the rookie-contract scale.

A lot of players on this team have incentive to do well in 2014-15, but the motivation to succeed together will only be as strong as they allow it. There is a ton of money at stake, along with the chance there isn’t enough of it around to keep everyone happy.

The Suns’ chemistry, which looked spandex-tight last season, could be at risk if players let different priorities pull them in opposite directions.

Phoenix sounds confident that won’t happen. Or as confident as it can sound without its full array of talent on hand.

Thomas, the backcourt’s third wheel until proven otherwise, told Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy he’s ready to fit the puzzle however he’s needed:

People always ask me, ‘What’s going to happen with you, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic?’ At the end of the day I’m going to play, we’re going to play together, we’re going to have fun with it and we’re going to figure it out. I mean whatever happens, it’s for the best, and that’s how I’m going about it. We’re going to compete each and every day, we’re going to make each other better and we’re going to do what’s best for the team.

That sentiment sounds nice for now, but is it one shared by all his teammates? Is everyone willing to sacrifice in pursuit of a common goal with the knowledge it could impact their bottom line?

The Suns can only hope they are. Given the incredible depth of the Western Conference, the slightest bit of friction could sink this playoff ship before it ever sets sail.

Phoenix is likely looking at a future without one of its primary building blocks, but it needs that foundation to hold together for one more season.

Collective success may not impact every individual the same way, but a collapsed structure would help no one. Whether that message sticks will determine how bright the Suns’ present and future really are.

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

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Should LA Lakers Be Chasing Wins or the Future This Season?

The Los Angeles Lakers, as a franchise, are in a bit of precarious situation.

On one hand, the Lakers should be all-in on competing for the playoffs and giving Kobe Bryant the best possible chance at playoff success in the last few years of his career. He deserves as much.

On the other hand, the Lakers should be preparing for life after Kobe, and developing young players to better the future and make sure the franchise doesn’t tailspin like it did last year after losing Bryant for nearly the whole season.

That isn’t to say the two goals need to be mutually exclusive, but it puts new head coach Byron Scott in a somewhat difficult position. Should he siphon away minutes from rookie Julius Randle to play a veteran like Carlos Boozer? What’s the primary objective?

Here’s what Byron Scott told Mike Trudell at Lakers.com:

I know it’s going to be a tough road, but when I start training camp, the first thing I’m going to tell our guys is that our goal is to win the championship. I want them thinking that way from day one. People aren’t picking us to make the playoffs, sure, but that’s not how we’re going to approach it. We have to change the mindset. I know it may take a year or two, and I think Kobe knows that, but he already has that championship mindset. It’s not hard to convince him. Convincing everyone else is the biggest trick we have to do, but that’s how we have to do it.

As you can see, it’s not a black and white situation. The Lakers can play for the future without tanking. They can try and compete by playing young players. It’s a delicate balance, one that will require trust and patience from both Bryant and the rest of the front office.

One thing we know is certain: So long as Bryant is in a Lakers jersey, the Lakers are his team. Everything will run through him.

Here’s J.M. Poulard for Bleacher Report on how Scott’s hiring impacts that:

It’s probably safe to say the Lakers were already going to revolve around Kobe Bryant’s talents, but the hiring of Scott transformed whatever assumptions anyone might have had into fact.

If Scott implements the Princeton Offense, there might not be a team in the league capable of even slowing down Kobe…

Bryant will get the lion’s share of the load, which will give him an opportunity to put up numbers and make impact plays. Kobe should have one of the most efficient seasons of his career because he’ll be operating a little more off the ball, where he is devastatingly efficient.

Is it possible that Bryant has effectively rehabbed his Achilles and is in prime shape for one last run? Absolutely. There’s no underestimating or writing off a player of his caliber. If he’s the Kobe we know, the Lakers could sneak into the playoff picture.

While none of that seems likely, necessarily, you always have a puncher’s chance with Bryant, even in a stacked Western Conference. That’s part of the reason why the Lakers stayed somewhat in the middle this offseason. By re-signing players like Nick Young and Jordan Hill, the Lakers brought back established role players with clear-cut strengths and weaknesses. 

Still, the Lakers didn’t go out and blow all their future financial flexibility, either. Instead, they snatched up guys like Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer to fill roster spots for virtually nothing. This was some solid thrift shopping by Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, especially given the circumstances.

The presence of guys like Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer and even Bryant himself doesn’t mean that the Lakers won’t find minutes and teaching experiences for the younger players on the roster.

Here’s what Carlos Boozer told Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles about Randle:

‘I think first you got to get in the league and see where you fit and find a niche for yourself,’ Boozer said. ‘I watched Randle a lot in college. He had a great, great college run. Great rebounder. Great scorer inside and polished. But sometimes you just have to be thrown in the fire and play. Ed Davis is extremely athletic. I played against him a few times throughout my career. And he’s a good rim protector. So I’m excited to be playing with him too.

‘But experience, sometimes you have to be out there. When you’re playing in the league a long time, this is my 13th season, I have little tidbits about different players that we’ll be competing against. I can help them with that. It will be fine. It will be a fun process.’

What’s important here is the attitude. If Bryant were surrounded by fresh faces without legitimate experience, perhaps there would be potential for everything to blow up. Having some veterans on the roster could level things out a bit and keep everyone a little more even-keeled.

Having veterans on the roster in important roles also gives Scott a chance to succeed, something you’d think the front office would want to do after signing him this offseason.

It’s obviously difficult to remain patient, given the time ticking on Bryant’s career and the anxiousness of fans for the Lakers to restore their image as one of the league’s best teams.

Kupchak and the Lakers are doing this the right way, though. The balance is key, and depending on the results of the season about midway through, Scott can shift to what’s more appropriate. If the Lakers are out of the race, then throw heavy minutes to guys like Randle and Jordan Clarkson.

Playing time doesn’t always equate to successful development for young players anyhow, and so it’s commendable that the Lakers would try and build a winning environment in the hopes that Bryant is recovered first and foremost.

Like most teams, the Lakers should start the season as eternal optimists and plan on being successful by trotting out the best lineup possible. If the season goes awry and it doesn’t work out, that’s when the shift in objective can take place. 

It only makes sense for a team led by Kobe Bryant to take a shot at winning big this season, no matter how improbable it may seem. 

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Time for Oklahoma City Thunder to Embrace Young Front Line of the Future

The time has come for the Oklahoma City Thunder to unleash their crop of young big men and put their aging veterans out to pasture. 

In Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Perry Jones III and rookie Mitch McGary, the Thunder have arguably the best collection of frontcourt talent in the league. The problem is the growth of most of that group is blocked by the presence of diminished veterans such as Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison

At one point in their careers, Perkins and Collison were serviceable role players. Perkins was once a solid defender in the post, but he has become more of a liability as the league has transitioned away from traditional centers.

Meanwhile, Collison will turn 34 years old in October. His days as a tenacious rebounder and occasional interior scoring option are coming to a close. Last season, the former Kansas star contributed 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 81 games. Someone like Jones or McGary could easily match those numbers in the 16.7 minutes Collison was logging each night. 

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has been stubborn to a fault, especially when it comes to lineup changes. During last year’s playoffs, it took him a while before he decided to take defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha out of the starting lineup and replace him with offensive spark plug Reggie Jackson. 

Brooks’ attachment to Perkins has been even more mind-boggling. While never much of a scorer, Perkins’ offensive numbers were his worst since the 2004-05 season. He averaged 3.4 points per game and shot a career-low 45.1 percent from the field. Perkins also faded on the boards, grabbing 4.9 rebounds per contest. 

Despite the lack of production, Brooks still thought it was a good idea to have the 29-year-old Perkins start 62 games in the regular season and all 19 playoff games. In both instances, he played 20 minutes per game. 

On the flip side, Adams played 14.8 minutes a game in the regular season, and his numbers were comparable to Perkins’ (3.3 points, 4.1 rebounds). Unlike Perkins, though, Adams turned it up in the postseason. He averaged 3.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 18.4 minutes (as opposed to Perkins’ 3.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 0.3 blocks in 20.3 minutes). 

In his exit interview following the Thunder’s elimination at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, Brooks said that “positions are available” this upcoming season. He also said that he wouldn’t let outside criticism dictate how he’ll coach, per ESPN.com’s Royce Young

I don’t listen to ‘they.’ I always focus on what I do and try and do it to the best ability I can. I’m not looking from nobody other than doing my job and living with the results. I love what I do, and I love the team I’m with. I know I have to get better and I know the team has to get better,” Brooks said. 

While Brooks’ ability to tune out the naysayers is admirable, his reluctance to change could lead to his upheaval. Brooks will be entering his seventh season as the Thunder head coach. He’s won Coach of the Year honors (2010) and helped lead Oklahoma City to an NBA Finals appearance (2012).

However, despite having the league’s best one-two punch in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Brooks hasn’t been able to bring a championship to Oklahoma City. While the team’s failure to win a title doesn’t fall solely on Brooks or his reliance on guys like Perkins and Collison, his decision-making deserves a fair share of the blame. 

That all becomes moot if Brooks embraces the youth movement this season. The team already has a star on the front line in Ibaka. The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 this month) seems to get better every year. Last season, he averaged career highs in points (15.1) and rebounds (8.8) per game.

While he’s not exactly Kevin Love from the perimeter, Ibaka has started to come along as a three-point shooter, as well. He shot a career-high 38.3 percent from behind the arc last year. Ibaka initially came on the scene as a shot-blocker, leading the league in swats twice and earning All-Defensive First Team nods three times.

Now, with his offensive game evolving, Ibaka has become more well-rounded and gives the Thunder a legit third scoring option. With Ibaka now established, the next Thunder breakout star should be Adams, the second-year man out of Pittsburgh (by way of New Zealand).

Adams was a raw prospect when Oklahoma City drafted him with the No. 12 overall pick in last year’s draft (acquired from the Houston Rockets in the James Harden trade). However, the 21-year-old was able to contribute sooner than expected and showed flashes of being a solid starting center. 

The highlight of Adams’ rookie campaign came in the Thunder’s series-clinching win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The big man played 40 minutes, finishing with 10 points, 11 boards and a block. That game was Exhibit A in the case to make Adams the starter over Perkins. 

Adams still has a long way to go, obviously. Offensively, he’s still a work in progress, as even he admitted to The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry in a recent interview:

I’ve definitely seen improvements now from summer league. But there’s still a long way to go. I’m on the right track, though, I guess you could say that. But as I’ve said before, it’s still a part of what I’m learning. They’re still developing it [his offensive game].” Adams said.

Even if Adams’ contributions this season come mostly on defense, he’s still a better play at center than Perkins. He’s a superior athlete with good strength and quickness. He has a 7’5″ wingspan and has already flashed the capability to be a shot-blocking presence inside. 

With Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka already in the starting rotation, the Thunder don’t need Adams to contribute much offensively. He can spend this season continuing to get adjusted to the pro game and learning from the guys around him. 

There will still be occasional moments where he puts it all together, which is more than we can say for Perkins at this point. The upside to putting Adams in the starting lineup clearly outweighs any potential downside that would stem from his lack of experience. 

Lastly, there’s McGary and Jones. Jones has been woefully underutilized since being selected with the No. 28 overall pick in 2012. The former Baylor standout has averaged just 10.5 minutes per game during his first two seasons in the league. 

Jones’ skill set is different from the other members of Oklahoma City’s future frontcourt. At 6’11 and 235 pounds, he has the size to play power forward, but he has the outside jumper to play the 3 as well. During his time in the Orlando Summer League, Jones went 9-for-19 from three (47.4 percent). 

With the Thunder in need of depth and scoring on the second unit, it seems only right that Jones gets an extended look. His versatility on the offensive end could come in handy, and he has the length to contribute defensively. All he needs is the opportunity. 

As for McGary, one of his main obstacles will be maturity. The Michigan man declared for this year’s draft after the NCAA was preparing to suspend him for the entire season after testing positive for marijuana (per Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel)

In McGary‘s defense, he’s handled the situation well. After being drafted by the Thunder with the No. 21 overall pick this past June, he seemed somewhat contrite in his interview with Vice Sports.

“I get people on Twitter and Instagram still commenting and stuff saying, ‘Oh, You did drugs,’” McGary said. “Well, you know what? I did. Whatever. So what? I learned from it.” 

The other issue for the 22-year-old big man will be health. A back injury kept him out for all but eight games during his sophomore season with the Wolverines. He managed to put together a solid showing in Orlando during the summer league, averaging 14.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. 

Provided his health isn’t an issue, McGary could be a decent contributor as a rookie. He’s similar to Collison in the sense that he’s a limited athlete who plays with a lot of energy. He can be a factor on the boards and could offer something on the defensive end as well. 

He’ll probably never be a star, but he could eventually inherit Collison‘s role as the second unit’s frontcourt linchpin. 

Perkins and Collison will make a combined $11.35 million this season (per Spotrac). Both are in the final year of their contracts, and neither has much trade value. Perkins could be an interesting trade target for a team wanting a decent post defender, while Collison‘s $2.2 million salary makes it justifiable to leave him at the end of the bench. 

The Thunder will never know what they have in their young players if they don’t give them the opportunity to show what they can do. Even in a deep Western Conference, the tandem of Durant and Westbrook should be good enough to make up for any growing pains and still make the playoffs. 

The team has tried to get by with guys like Perkins and Collison for years. It hasn’t worked out. With Brooks’ job potentially on the line, the future is now. It’s time to throw caution to the wind and see what guys like Jones, Adams and McGary can do.

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Is There a Future in Los Angeles for the Clippers’ Young Shooting Guards?

The Los Angeles Clippers’ selections of shooting guards C.J. Wilcox and Reggie Bullock in the first round of the 2013 and 2014 NBA drafts are not hard to dissect. The Clips want spot-up shooters.

But with so much talent in that regard, is there a future for the youngsters? 

J.J. Redick is firmly in place as the starting 2-guard and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford is on hand to back him up. Those are two veterans chewing up 28.2 and 30.3 minutes per game, respectively, and deservedly so.

The disclaimer here is that Redick missed significant time due to injury, but the heavy minutes average still illustrates how each is a key component in the rotation. 

If that weren’t enough, there’s this: 

Doc Rivers had been in contact with Ray Allen earlier this summer. Expect the Clippers to make a run at him again.

Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) August 29, 2014

What all that means is that Wilcox and Bullock are the odd men out on a roster loaded with talent. But will the situation stay that way, and did the Clips waste two first-rounders on players with no real shot at making an impact on this championship contender? 

Before looking into the crystal ball, it’s important to examine where both players came from and why the Clippers chose them.


Bullock: A natural shotmaker

According to DraftExpress.com, Bullock ranked No. 1 among his 2013 top-100 peers with an average of 1.29 points per shot-on-catch. Considering he fell to the Clippers at pick No. 25 in 2013, it’s not hard to see why he was coveted as a potential role player who could benefit from playing alongside a world-class distributor like Chris Paul:

(One note here–Bullock was projected as a small forward but has played primarily at shooting guard in the NBA. It’s conceivable that with his 6’7″ frame, he could move over and find some playing time at the 3.) 

Just weeks after selecting Bullock on June 27, 2013, the Clippers found an NBA-ready version of the then-rookie in Redick. The three-team deal that sent the sharpshooter over from the Milwaukee Bucks made sense from the Clippers’ perspective. They were built to win immediately, and Redick brings a career 39 percent mark from the three-point line and superb off-ball ability that complements Paul. 

That set of circumstances limited Bullock’s opportunities. His 9.2 minutes per game in 43 appearances last season serve as evidence he didn’t have a chance to show what he could do consistently, even with Redick missing 47 games due to injury. 


More of the same with Wilcox

A look into what Wilcox brings to the table is eye-opening in terms of the Clippers’ intentions. The former University of Washington star is another catch-and-shoot projected role player who can help space the floor with his perimeter game.

In fact, DraftExpress pointed out that he ranked second in the top-100 of the 2014 draft class on catch-and-shoot jumpers in his final collegiate season with a healthy mark of 43 percent. What’s more is that he shot 39 percent from deep in 32 games while hoisting 7.2 attempts per contest. 

Here’s another player who’s a systematic fit alongside a master assist-in maker like Paul. Wilcox can shoot with accuracy off screens and thrives off-ball situations. If he learns a few tricks from Redick, he’ll get even better in that key area. 

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Los Angeles brass made a calculated move to load up on these types of players by first acquiring Bullock and Redick. The Clippers covet shooters, and in Doc Rivers’ offense, the half-court sets he employs will work best with players who can keep defenses stretched at the wing. 

More evidence of how Wilcox fits that mold:


The plan

With the Clippers built to win right away, it’s clear the youngsters will have to exercise some patience. Both Wilcox and Bullock bring unique attribute to the table. The release of newly acquired shooting specialist Carlos Delfino further substantiates the notion that there may be room for them to grow within the Clippers organization. 

In addition, Wilcox understands the challenge of coming into a logjam at guard and has personal experience to draw on. As Wilcox said, via Eric Patten of Clippers.com:

When I got to UW, there were like six guards ahead of me at that time, so I had to kind of figure my way out and work my way into the rotation. I think being in that situation helped me prepare for a situation like this. So, I’m going to take it as a challenge and work hard and try to squeeze my way in.

As far as what’s next for the Clippers’ young wings, Rivers summed it up expertly when pressed on the question of having solid depth at one position: 

Once camp starts, you just go and compete. That’s what makes our league so neat. Once the contracts and everybody is signed, then it’s who plays the best. You just see that, at least from a coaching standpoint.

So, is there a future for both players?

At this point, the answer is still yes. Crawford and Redick are both north of age 30. Redick’s recent injury history could leave the door open for either player to have a considerable impact. And even if Allen does come to Hollywood, he’ll be a short-term option at the tail end of his career.

As Rivers said, training camp will help determine whether Wilcox or Bullock, if not both, will see chances to prove their worth come the start of the season. At this point given their potential, there’s plenty left to learn about where they fit in within the framework of the Clips’ rotation. 

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Minnesota Timberwolves: 5 reasons why Gorgui Dieng will be a future All-Star

It might not happen this year, but there are multiple reasons why it is only a matter of time before Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves becomes an All-Star center. Dieng hails from Senegal, and was drafted 21st overall in the 2013 NBA draft after playing three years of college basketball at the University of Louisville. He has only played one year for the Timberwolves, but  he demonstrated at the end of last season that he has the tools to be a dominant NBA center.
Reason number one: The first reason that Dieng will develop into an All-Star center is that his stats already put him close to the stats of the best NBA centers. Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard  both made their respective All-Star teams last year and their statistics per 36 minutes are very close to Dieng’s. Last year, Hibbert per 36 minutes averaged 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks, while Howard stats per 36 were 19.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. In contrast, Dieng 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes

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Ray Allen reportedly in ‘no rush’ in deciding on future


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