John Wall, One of LeBron James’ Pupils, Now Turning into a Leader Himself

It is common for top overall picks to endure some losing at the inception of their NBA careers, as an extension of the circumstances that led to their selection. LeBron James lost 54 of his first 100 games in the NBA, and while that seem remarkable in retrospect, it was nothing compared with the cruel awakening that awaited John Wall—who had won 34 of his 37 games at the University of Kentucky—after the Washington Wizards, winners of just 26 of their previous 82 contests, took him in 2010.

Complemented—or more accurately, compromised—by a cast of green bigs (Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee) and gunning guards (Nick Young, Jordan Crawford), Wall dropped 72 of his first 96 games as a professional, including a 17-point home loss to the Miami Heat on Feb. 10, 2012. 

After that defeat, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade strolled out to him on the court, Wade putting a hand on Wall’s shoulder, and James pulling his shirt up to his nose so the television cameras couldn’t capture the advice he was offering. But, the way the trio told it, that counsel was consistent with what James had been sharing with the point guard pretty much from the time he entered the league:

Don’t let the losing get to you. 

Don’t lose focus.  

Mostly, don’t lose hope. 

And while the tables haven’t entirely turned—since James has since captured two championships while Wall has won only one playoff series—it’s hard to ignore the recent shift in their relative positions as they face each other again Wednesday night. It’s not just that the Wizards beat the Cavaliers last Friday in Washington or that, even after a home loss to Atlanta, they lead Cleveland by three games early in the Eastern Conference chase. It’s that Wall, still the central figure of a tweaked but largely-familiar squad, has already done much of what James is now attempting to do in Cleveland, in terms of helping to cleanse the organization of its selfish habits, its collective fragility, its losing ways. 

So much so that, after scoring 28 points with six rebounds, seven assists and four steals in Friday’s 91-78 win against the cratering Cavaliers, Wall was asked how long it would take Cleveland to click.

“I have no idea,” Wall said. “LeBron’s a great leader. He’s proven that he can do it when he was in Miami. Their coach is a new coach, but they have a new coaching staff, and they have great guys on that coaching staff. It’s just about them getting it together. Like LeBron said, it’s tough for him to be patient with it. That’s something he has preached to me since his rookie year. When you’ve won two championships, you really want to win right away.” 

Wall is winning now, at a higher rate than he ever has, even as his major statistics so far are nearly identical to what he’s produced the past two seasons. How close? Entering Tuesday, he averaging 19.4 points (compared with 19.3 in 2013-14) and 9.1 assists per game (compared with 8.8 in 2013-14) while taking the same number of shots (16.3) as in 2013-14, and shooting the exact same 45.8 percent from two-point range. So the evolution has been more subtle, and only noticed by those who matter most: his coaches and teammates. 

“Taking responsibility, taking control on the floor, from an offensive standpoint, getting guys where they need to be,” coach Randy Wittman said. “Defensively, being able to pressure, he’s the head of our snake. It starts with him and it feeds down into the other four guys. Those kind of things, he’s steadily, each year, improved. He’s got a great understanding of what I want, which makes it nice. I don’t have to be up there and orchestrate everything. And I don’t ever want to coach that way. Sometimes you have to. (But) he has a great understanding of where we need to attack at times, and gets up into that.” 

Marcin Gortat joined the Wizards in a trade late last October, after spending his first six seasons playing with point guards such as Jameer Nelson and, more notably, Steve Nash. 

“What I see as the difference from last year to this year?” Gortat said, repeating the question. “Last year, (Wall) had those days where he would let it slip. Maybe he’d be a few minutes late to practice, or wouldn’t be there from the first minute, or maybe he wouldn’t be tying his shoes until he got out there on the court. As the leader, you always have to be the first guy to set an example. Last year, he didn’t really lift a lot. This year, he is in there lifting with us every day. This is really huge. And on the court, he is leading much better. His decision-making is much better. Everything he does is much better. Overall, he’s on a good path, to become a good leader.” 

But Gortat believes Wall can become a better one still. On the court, Gortat wants Wall to continue to progress as a passer; admittedly, the Polish product got a little spoiled with Nash, since “I don’t think there was any pass he couldn’t make; his left hand was a copy of his (right) hand.” But Gortat also wants Wall to trust him more, to throw more passes in traffic; and to use him more, by allowing Gortat to screen for the point guard in the middle of the court, before screening again and maybe even again, until Wall can find a seam to dart through to the hoop. 

“We don’t have to rush,” Gortat said. 

Some things can’t be rushed, especially when you come into a losing situation at age 20. 

Wall admitted, in a conversation with Bleacher Report late Friday night, that he wasn’t comfortable early in his career with all the requirements of leadership.

The most unnerving aspect? 

“Just learning how to talk to people,” Wall said. “You know what I mean? It’s very tough. Because coming in, I was a No. 1 pick, everybody said I was this-and-that, so I just came in quiet, led by example. But when I got Trevor Ariza and those guys on my team, they told me, you’re our franchise guy, and you’ve got to be more vocal, we want to hear you talk, tell everybody what your role was. Since that day, my life has changed. So I give a lot of credit to Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington.”

Ariza was with the Wizards in 2012-13, when they started 0-12 and finished 29-53. Harrington joined during the 2013 offseason, before the Wizards started 2-7. Then they had a players’ meeting that Wall credits for his change in perspective, his greater understanding of how he needed to act, and play. 

“It wasn’t about me scoring 40 points or 30 points, but just leading, knowing how to talk to guys,” Wall said. “It’s something I work at. A lot of guys see me from the outside-in. I just wanted to change people’s perceptions of John Wall.”

He largely has but, here, again, Gortat calls for even more.

“Just the relationships off the court, how to develop with people, how to respect people,” Gortat said. “I think he knows better how to talk to people. He’s got to continue to grow. He’s got to become more open, to older players, to advisors, and he’s doing a tremendous job with that. He definitely needs to get better as a motivator, the stuff he’s saying, the speeches, but he has been in the league four, five years. That has to come with age.” 

No longer is Wall the youngest Wizard, not with Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., around, but he’s not the oldest either, even with Ariza now in Houston and Harrington—a free agent—reportedly an option to join the Rockets too. That’s Paul Pierce, born nearly 13 years prior, with a dozen more years of NBA experience. 

“I mean, everybody is growing from Paul,” Gortat said. “He is a living and playing legend. Being around him automatically gives you a lot of confidence, and knowledge and experience. It’s great. You are becoming a teammate with someone who has won the championship, who has played 17 years. You just got to eat all this experience with a big spoon. And he’s a great dude off the court too.” 

But Pierce has made it clear that Wall is the dude in charge on it, warranting that privilege, bearing that burden. 

“He’s our leader, man,” Pierce said. “He’s asked to carry a big load for this ballclub. He’s an All-Star, he’s going to do the scoring, he’s going to do the assists, he’s going to be a defender. That’s why he gets paid the way he gets paid, that’s why you see a lot of his jerseys in the stands. He’s going to be asked to deliver.”

Wall said that Pierce has reiterated that the time of arrival, and that the respect and communication has run both ways. 

“I’m  trying to be what he is. Hall of Fame, championship,” Wall said. “He was telling me, like (against the Cavaliers on Friday), he said, ‘That’s what I’m talking about. You started being aggressive.” He wants me to know that I’m the best player on the court every night. He wants me to be aggressive, in the right way, getting teammates involved, getting to the basket. When you have a guy like that, that wants you to be great, after telling (me) that, when I came in the league, ‘You ain’t getting no calls, you’re a rookie,’ and things like that, it’s pretty exciting. It’s huge. Big time.” 

Naturally, a huge part of a leader’s responsibility is presentation to the public, and it was clear Friday, at shootaround and after the game, that Wall has improved in that area as well.

He spoke in platitudes for sure, but they sounded convincing, and he was always under control.

He credited teammates for the recent collective success. He admitted his disappointment with his shooting performance in the previous game, a loss to Dallas, and his determination to get extra shots up at practice. He refrained from gloating that Cleveland’s Dion Waiters, after declaring that the Cavaliers had the NBA’s best backcourt, was now coming off the bench: “Nah. Still got to go out there and play. He could come off the bench and get 20 points, you never know.” He related the reality that “just this whole year, anybody we play, we’re not sneaking up on anybody like we were last year. Everybody knows we’re a pretty good team, what we’re capable of. But it all starts when we step between those lines. It doesn’t matter what anybody says in the media, about being the best backcourt, or having the best player in the world. It’s when you step between those lines, who is having the best game that night, and whatever team wins.” 

He echoed his coach’s sentiments, by reminding reporters, and in turn teammates, of the need for greater team maturity than the Wizards had shown against the Mavericks, since “good teams don’t hold back when you got emotions going, and you’re mad that you’re not playing well and you got a turnover or something. They’re gonna keep it moving. And they showed that to us on Wednesday when they went up 10 in like a minute span. They’re not waiting for nobody. And that’s something you got to do if you want to be a winning-caliber team.”

He emphasized the irrelevance of individual statistics.

“If I would have lost this game and had those same amount of points, I wouldn’t be talked about,” he said. “As long as my team is winning games, that’s all I can do. Is try to go out there and lead my team the right way, passing, assists, scoring if my needs me to.” 

And he challenged the notion of complacency, noting that the Wizards needed to follow up their wins with strong performances in the next outing, and needed to remember the rough times fairly recently behind them.

“Well, (we) could never get complacent, because (we) know where we were a couple of years ago, well, I do, definitely being here,” Wall said. “So we know what we’re capable of, and what we can do. Just got to go out there and prove it on the court. Any given night, anybody can be beat.” 

 

He wasn’t beaten on Friday by the Cavaliers, not when he kept confidently stepping into jumpers every time the defense sagged off him—a strategy many of the scouting reports on him still suggest. And he’s only been beaten three times all season, four fewer than Cleveland so far. Yet Wall certainly hasn’t gloated about that either. He and the Cavaliers’ superstar have been more than friends since meeting at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron when Wall was a teenager. 

“He’s like a bigger brother to me,” Wall said. 

And a big influence.

“Just seeing how he was vocal,” Wall said. “He has always been a guy who has led by example, but he was a very mature guy who was very vocal at a young age. Just seeing the tough times, where I was losing, and he would tell me, keep your head up, keep working, don’t get caught up into the losing and the bad habits that are going around. Always working, wanting to improve.”

That’s what he’s sharing with his squad now. Wall noted that James didn’t go through quite the same adversity in his first few seasons, even though Cleveland didn’t make the playoffs in the first two, and James didn’t win his first title until his ninth. James hasn’t had the same sort of injuries. He didn’t suffer through as many seemingly hopeless stretches. Even now can’t compare. The Cavaliers are enduring some growing pains, for sure. But James isn’t playing with McGee and Blatche. he’s playing with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Everyone assumes they’ll get it right.

Wall does too. 

“I think the key is, well, they’re starting off in the right place,” Wall said. “You got to have a great veteran guy that comes in and knows what it takes to win.”

The 24-year-old mentioned Ariza and Harrington again, specifically how Ariza had been around a championship environment with the Los Angeles Lakers, and taught the Wizards how they needed to work, how they had to change their habits, how they might need to sacrifice some of their games, to make the team better. “And that’s something we had to deal with at the beginning of last year, going 2-7, and changing around after a team meeting,” Wall said. “It takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight.” 

Not even if the Cavaliers win Wednesday night, against Wall’s Wizards.

“Patience is the biggest key,” Wall said, sounding sage, a student starting to become a teacher. 

 

Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.

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Chris Bosh Shines as Heat Leader and Other Takeaways from Saturday’s NBA Action

Any speculation regarding Chris Bosh‘s inability to serve as the Miami Heat’s offensive alpha dog in place of LeBron James can officially be put to rest. 

Following a 26-point, 15-rebound opening statement against the Washington Wizards, Bosh totaled 30 points (9-of-17 shooting) and eight rebounds in Miami’s 114-96 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night.

So for those of you keeping score at home, Bosh is 2-of-2 this season in terms of crossing the 25-point threshold. Last season, he did so all of seven times, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post provided some additional stats on Bosh:

Operating as Miami’s offensive fulcrum, Bosh has been simply electric, burning opponents from nearly every spot on the floor.  

Case in point: Bosh has opened the season 5-of-9 from three-point range after drilling two of his five attempts against the Sixers. 

No longer functioning as a supplementary scorer from the corners who serves to take pressure off his teammates, Bosh has continued to make opponents pay for not respecting his range. But now, the looks are coming primarily from above the break. 

Whether he’s acting as a covert trailer in transition ready to spot up at a moment’s notice or simply flaring out to the three-point line off pick-and-rolls, Bosh is an absolutely lethal weapon. 

Which is exactly why he wants opponents to continue disrespecting his range, according to The Palm Beach Post‘s Jason Lieser: 

But that’s not all.

Through two games, Bosh has attempted 16 free throws, 11 of which came on Saturday against Philadelphia. 

After watching his free-throw rate steadily decline each of the past four years in a more marginalized role, Bosh has the ability to work his way back toward a career average of .460, according to Basketball-Reference.com

There’s also the matter of Bosh’s polished work below the charity stripe, which was on full display Saturday evening. 

It didn’t matter if he was facing up, backing down, falling away or taking defenders off the dribble. Bosh simply had his way against a Philadelphia frontcourt comprised of Nerlens Noel, Henry Sims and Brandon Davies. 

And you can expect that to become a trend no matter who the Heat are playing now that Dwyane Wade is receiving added defensive attention. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman, Wade discussed making an impact now that defenses are game-planning as if he’s the alpha dog. 

“They were putting two men on me coming off the pick-and-roll,” he said. “When your shots aren’t falling, you’ve got to find different ways to impact the game.”

If teams continue drafting defensive schemes to thwart Wade’s expertise in the pick-and-roll, expect Bosh’s numbers to balloon like crazy. 

Bosh will look to score at least 25 points for the third straight game when the Heat host the Toronto Raptors Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. 

 

Around the Association 

Dallas Withstands Anthony Davis’ Reign of Terror

Anthony Davis finished with 31 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, but the New Orleans Pelicans were unable to hang with the Dallas Mavericks late, despite outscoring the opposition by 17 in the third quarter. 

In a good old-fashioned Western Conference shootout, Dallas was able to close out New Orleans after dropping 66 points in the first half and outscoring the Pelicans by eight in the final frame. 

All told, the Mavericks finished with six players in double figures, but it easily could have been eight. Jameer Nelson and J.J. Barea each finished with eight points, while Chandler Parsons led the way with 20. 

 

Jimmy Butler Steps Up in Derrick Rose‘s Absence

In his season debut, Jimmy Butler nailed a pair of go-ahead free-throws with 0.2 seconds remaining in regulation against the Minnesota Timberwolves to hand the Chicago Bulls a thrilling 106-105 victory. 

With Derrick Rose sidelined due to two sprained ankles, Butler seized the moment a day after failing to agree to terms on a contract extension, dropping a team-high 24 points on 6-of-12 shooting (11-of-15 from the free-throw line).  

However, Ricky Rubio, who agreed to a four-year, $55 million extension Friday, tied a franchise record with 17 assists in the loss. Kevin Martin finished with a game-high 33 points as the Timberwolves fell to 1-2. 

 

Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett Turn Back the Clock

Joe Johnson matched the Detroit Pistons’ fourth-quarter output by himself with 15 points, propelling the Brooklyn Nets to a 102-90 win. He finished with 34 points (14-of-23 shooting), eight rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes. Johnson’s point total set a couple of personal records, per a Brooklyn Nets tweet:

More surprising, though, was the play of Kevin Garnett. In 35 minutes, Garnett scored 18 points (a Nets career high) and grabbed 14 rebounds. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Saturday marked just the third time since 2010 that Garnett tallied at least 18 points and 14 rebounds in a regular-season game. 

 

Klay vs. Kobe

Klay Thompson made good on his four-year, $70 max extension by exploding for a career-high 41 points on 14-of-18 shooting (5-of-7 from three) to lead the Golden State Warriors over the Los Angeles Lakers, 127-104. 

Highlights of Thompson’s career night can be viewed here:

Stephen Curry pieced together an excellent performance, as well, scoring 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting (3-of-8 from three). 

However, Kobe Bryant didn’t go quietly into the night. 

True on 12 of his 28 shots, Bryant finished with 28 points, including 19 in the third quarter, in an epic duel between respected marksmen.  

 

No Durant, No Westbrook, No Problem

Behind 23 points apiece from Perry Jones and Serge Ibaka, the Oklahoma City Thunder downed the Denver Nuggets 102-91. 

While Jones’ rapid emergence continued as he shot 9-of-18 from the field and 3-of-7 from three, the Thunder’s most surprising stat line came courtesy of Kendrick Perkins. 

In 20 minutes off the bench, Perkins scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting while pulling down five rebounds. ESPN.com’s Royce Young tweeted that Perkins’ tied a personal best with his point total: 

Since joining the Oklahoma City Thunder, Perkins has now scored at least 15 points just three times in the regular season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

 

Offensive Futility Abounds 

The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Charlotte Hornets 71-69 to start a season 3-0 for the first time in franchise history. However, the 71 points were the fewest Memphis has scored in a winning effort since 1996, according to Basketball-Reference.com

Elsewhere, the Boston Celtics shot 1-of-25 from three (4 percent) in a 104-90 loss to the Houston Rockets. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Celtics became the first team in league history to attempt at least 25 threes and make a maximum of one in a single game. 

 

Paul Pierce Doesn’t Last Long in D.C. Debut

Paul Pierce’s home debut with the Washington Wizards left plenty to be desired because he never gave himself the chance to impress, according to The Washington Post‘s Michael Lee: 

Here’s the proof: 

Sans Pierce, the Wizards held on to beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 108-97, and second-year man Otto Porter scored a career-high 21 points on a night when Washington’s offense fired on all cylinders. It was a record-setting game for the Wizards as it relates to the number of players scoring at least 18 points, per a team tweet: 

The D.C. crowd couldn’t get enough of the Georgetown product:

 

Circus Shot of the Night: Kobe Bryant Edition

With time running down in the second quarter, Bryant split two defenders and knocked down one of the most spectacular reverse layups you’ll see this season: 

 

Dunk of the Night

Feast your eyes on K.J. McDaniels, athletic wunderkind.  

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LeBron’s vision: Leader of men

LeBron James has his own team in his return to Cleveland, which he never did in Miami.

      
 

 

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Bradley Beal Injury Impact: ‘John Wall Has Got to Be a Better Leader’

The Washington Wizards will be without shooting guard Bradley Beal for up to two months after the young star was forced to have surgery to repair his wrist. Can John Wall and the rest of the Wizards step up in Beal‘s absence?

J. Michael of CSN Washington joins Stephen Nelson to give his take in the video above.

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Ty Lawson Blossoming into New Role as Denver Nuggets Leader

DENVER — If the Denver Nuggets are adopting a universal theme for the 2014-15 season, one that figures to see them right in the thick of the competition for a coveted playoff spot in the Western Conference, it would easily be leadership. 

This is a team with no established superstars but plenty of depth, quality players and veteran talent. Nonetheless, during what’s widely viewed as a do-over after last year’s injury-plagued campaign, someone has to emerge as a leader. 

That player is Ty Lawson

The speedy point guard who averaged 17.6 points and 8.8 assists per game during the 2013-14 season is ready to take on a new role. Now in his sixth season, re-joined by Arron Afflalo and the hordes of players who suffered season-ending injuries last year, Lawson is ready to become a true leader for this team, both on and off the court. 

We’ve had a lot of conversations this offseason, and we had a lot of conversations at the end of last season,” Denver head coach Brian Shaw said during his press conference at Nuggets media day. “That’s the position I played—I mean, obviously, we were different players—but I expect more from him than anybody on this team because he’s our first line of offense and our first line of defense.”

It’s a sentiment that doesn’t faze Lawson in the slightest. When he was asked about Shaw’s view of him and whether those expectations were a bit unfair, he didn’t hesitate before accepting the responsibility, even noting that it was understandable because his coach played the same position he now does.

And it’s a tricky position, due to the weight of on-court pressure.

Especially in today’s NBA, a point guard isn’t necessarily just a player who’s going to dribble the ball up the floor before passing it off to someone who can do the heavy lifting in the scoring column. There are plenty of floor generals who have become dynamic scorers, and there are likewise quite a few who excel when they’re allowed to serve as distributors.

Lawson doesn’t necessarily want to pigeonhole himself into either role. In fact, he recognizes that the team’s success will often come from him willingly involving his teammates.

I don’t want to average 20 and 10 because then I’m taking too much away from my teammates,” he explained, though he also noted that he expects to lead the team in scoring. Shaw wouldn’t commit to naming a player as the likely scoring leader, instead pointing to the wealth of options as a strength of the team and an aspect that made the Nuggets difficult to plan for.

But Lawson would, and it’s a healthy mix of aggression and assertiveness that he’s striving for.  

With a horde of assembled microphones and television cameras encroaching on what little personal space he was granted, the dynamic but diminutive point guard was asked how many players in the league were better than him at his position.

Six? Seven? Eight? 

“Maybe one,” Lawson said, allowing a slight grin to creep across his face. When pressed, he would reveal that player as Russell Westbrook, largely due to the jaw-dropping exploits of this past postseason. He also gave explicit credit to Kyrie Irving, the “up-and-comer,” and Tony Parker, “the champion.” 

For what it’s worth, I had him at No. 9 among point guards in the B/R NBA 200, based solely on his work during the 2013-14 season. 

I need to be more assertive,” he explained when I asked him what he could do to leave no doubt in his mind that he was the very best. “I waited until the third quarter too often, and I need to start off strong.”

Improving his left hand is important. So too is continuing to attack the basket and making defenders pay for coming off their men, especially now that Danilo Gallinari and Afflalo are back in the lineup and set to rain in deep jumpers. But it’s still that mental game that is so key for the 5’11″ point guard who will be 27 years old at the start of the season. As fast as he is, and as much attention as his churning legs draw, it’s the inches between the ears that matter more than anything else this season. 

We’ve talked about leadership, and if he’s not a vocal guy, I’m fine with that,” Shaw told the media day masses. “But you have to lead by vocally leading, or you have to lead by example. And he understands that in order for everybody to follow him, he has to lead by example. They’re not going to listen to him if he’s not in there putting in the work and getting after it.”

One change that may fall under the radar is a scheduling one.

Lawson is an admitted night owl, a player who prefers to come into the gym at midnight and work on his shooting. But this year, he has to set an example for those around him, which might mean altering his schedule and allowing the impressionable young players—Garry Harris and Quincy Miller, for example—on the Denver roster to see him drip sweat onto the practice court. 

As important as it is for Lawson to thrive as an individual and continue climbing the statistical leaderboards in Denver history—he (career assists and three-pointers made) and Afflalo (three-pointers made) are the only active players listed among the franchise leaders on the walls of the practice gym in the Pepsi Center—it’s even more vital that he make an impact on everyone else.

The six-year vet isn’t just going to do what’s comfortable. He’s not content to fill the same role any longer. 

Lawson acknowledges that leadership is something that can be learned, and the Nuggets are hellbent on making that happen, even if the route that leads them to such an achievement is an unorthodox one. But hey, when there’s a natural leader at your disposal, why not take advantage of him? 

“One of the things I wanted to do with him and still may do with him before we get too heavy into it, I wanted to take him to a Broncos practice so he can see Peyton Manning and how he directs traffic and everybody follows in line behind him,” Shaw said. “But they only do that because they know the work ethic and the time that he puts in. And his teammates respect that.”

Lawson is on board. Nate Robinson, though, is not. Well, unless the Nuggets will let the Seattle-born point guard wear his Seahawks jersey, which might not go over so well given the results of Super Bowl XLVII and Denver’s overtime loss in Week 3 of this current season. 

“I think so [that he's committed to working harder],” espoused the Denver head coach near the end of his press conference. “He’s excited about Arron coming back and having some more weapons on the floor. Having Gallo and JaVale back, and the rest of the guys healthy. He’s said all the right things, and he’s working hard, so I’m looking forward to him having a big year.

“He wants to be an All-Star, and so it’s just that time where he should start feeling it and understanding what it’s going to take.”  

So far, it seems as though Lawson certainly does. He’s buying into everything, whether it’s the system Shaw is running now that he’s gained explicit knowledge of his players’ strengths and weaknesses, the ability of his teammates or the need for him to step into his new role. 

How can he be an All-Star, though? Lawson knows how tough that is, especially after putting up such stellar numbers in 2013-14. As a guard, it requires being on a playoff team, he explained. Ideally one that’s primed to earn home-court advantage for the first round of the postseason.

If leadership can help these dark-horse Nuggets make such a gargantuan step, well, there’s a nice goal for the upcoming season. 

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Jerry Colangelo Calls James Harden the Leader of Team USA

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo was just answering a question, but in the process he may have given this team both guidance and a slick slogan.

Don’t fear the beardfollow it.

Those are my words, not his, but what he actually said about starting swingman James Harden wasn’t too much different.

Colangelo, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post, said he wants Harden to lead this team and feels he has the tools for the task:

Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader. Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.

… I don’t know if he’s been waiting [to lead]. It’s evolved. He came in as a pretty high draft pick. Got off to a great start in Oklahoma City. Whether he was disappointed or surprised by what transpired, he found himself in another uniform and that’s part of life in pro sports and the NBA, and I think he’s adjusted to that and his numbers get bigger and he’s being recognized more and more as the player he is. And this is a great platform for him to come out as a leader.

In some ways, Harden would be an obvious choice.

He is the only player on the roster to have earned All-NBA first-team honors last season. Harden is also one of the two players left from the 2012 Olympic gold medalists, along with Anthony Davis.

Then again, Colangelo may have had to put some thought into this. There are areas that could have given him some hesitations about handing over the keys to the bearded baller.

“Harden is only 25 years old, and he has only been a starter in the NBA for the past two seasons,” noted CBS Sports’ James Herbert. “He’s not known as a big rah-rah guy, and his lackadaisical defense has attracted so much attention over the past few months that his offensive brilliance has become underrated.”

Add Harden’s foot-in-mouth comments from earlier this summer—he called himself and Dwight Howard the Houston Rockets “cornerstones” and dubbed the rest of his teammates “role players or pieces that complete our team,” via Joaquin Henson of The Philippine Star—and he might seem as more of an awkward choice than an obvious one.

However, this call may have been made for Colangelo.

This team was supposed to be following the leads of Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, but both withdrew from the roster earlier this summer. Paul George’s two-way play might have put him in the running for a leadership role had a gruesome leg break not ended his run.

Frankly, there weren’t any conspicuous leadership candidates left. Anthony Davis is 21 with two years of NBA service on his resume. Derrick Rose is a major question mark after losing all but 10 games to knee injuries the past two seasons. Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry have shown some of the same defensive deficiencies as Harden.

Not to mention that Harden’s defense has looked significantly better on Team USA’s game film than it did on a certain viral video that pushed his problems under the spotlight. He looks more engaged now, and he says there’s a reason for that.

“First of all, you got the top players in the world on your team, so if you’re not focused and locked in on defense, they are going to embarrass you,” Harden said, via Lee. “I think our coach has done a phenomenal job of making sure we’re keyed in.”

If he can add defense and leadership to his already versatile skill set, he could serve as a reminder of the positive changes that can come out of this experience.

 

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Kyrie cops to not being leader that Cavs needed

The Cavaliers point guard opened up in an interview.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NBA Top Stories

Irving: ‘I haven’t been a leader – not at all’

The Cavaliers point guard opened up in an interview.

      
 

 

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New York Knicks Look Like Leader for Carmelo Anthony in Free Agency

In the end, when the frenzy of free agency subsides and the biggest stars once believed to be “on the market” return, inevitably, to their former teams, we’ll wonder why we ever believed Carmelo Anthony when he said he was out for more than money.

As a starting point, we should never begrudge athletes for maximizing their earning power. Their careers are short, injuries can make them even shorter and we’d never be so critical of employees in another profession for trying to collect as much cash as possible.

What we can do, though, is continue to roll our eyes when athletes say they want to win, that money doesn’t matter, and then conduct themselves in a way that says money does, in fact, matter very much.

For Anthony, a whirlwind tour of teams offering a better shot at contention than his New York Knicks is nearing its end. He was transported by limo, wined and dined, pitched on the formation of new Big Threes and offered everything a competitive NBA player could want.

He was even provided visual aids, just in case he couldn’t quite picture how he’d look in different duds.

But in visiting the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, he was never once offered a five-year deal worth $129 million, which is why it’s starting to look like he’ll return to the one team that can give him such a gargantuan financial commitment:

Now, Anthony could prove us all wrong if he suddenly decides to take $17 million per year from the Bulls. But even then, we’d still know it was never only about winning for Melo.

The Bulls would give him a much better shot at reaching the Finals than any other team currently on his radar, but taking up every cent of available cap space to sign with them doesn’t square with team success being Melo‘s sole priority.

If it were, he’d already be locked into a verbal agreement with the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs for a dirt-cheap rate. And really, the fact that neither of those scenarios ever felt remotely possible suggests that, deep down, we all knew Anthony wasn’t serious when he said money didn’t matter.

The rest of the NBA seems to be catching on as well, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Plenty of speculation exists throughout the league that Anthony, despite publicly saying he would take a pay cut to play for a winner, still desires a maximum or near-maximum offer.”

Despite that intuition, Phil Jackson did some of his best subtextual needling in recent weeks, repeatedly bringing up Melo‘s commitment to take a pay cut in order to build a winner in New York.

Per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com, Jackson said:

When I take his word, he’s the one who opened that up, that it wasn’t about the money. So I challenged him on that, because I wanted our fans to see he’s a team player, that he was going to do what’s best to get our team ahead farther and faster.

That’s a play on Melo‘s pride, one Jackson hopes will make Anthony feel like he’s going back on his word if he insists on the max from the Knicks.

Of course, even Jackson realizes how unlikely keeping Anthony for less than $129 million is. In virtually the same breath, he also mentioned the NBA’s changing financial landscape—one that could soon make $129 million look like chump change.

Per Youngmisuk, Jackson continued: 

But you know, that’s not going to be an issue. I think there’s gonna be things happening in the league in the near future in the NBA that’s gonna grow this league, and monetarily it’s not going to be an issue for us to do it.

He’s referring to the impending renegotiation of the NBA’s national broadcast rights, which will happen after the 2016-17 season. With player salaries tied to league revenue, they could spike dramatically after a new TV deal is signed.

Maybe we’ve got Melo all wrong. Maybe he’ll believe Jackson has the power and vision to reshape the Knicks, and he’ll take less money to return to New York. If that happens, we’ll owe Anthony an apology.

But the signs aren’t pointing that way.

They’re pointing the way they’ve been pointing all along. Anthony, despite his very clear comments to the contrary, wants to be paid.

And the Knicks are in the best position to pay him.

That’s fine. We can’t fairly call Anthony greedy for cashing in—if that’s what he ultimately does. It’s possible Jackson will also lure Pau Gasol as a complementary piece, and who knows what other useful free agents might be drawn to New York if Melo returns?

If that’s how things play out, maybe Anthony will get his money and a shot at contention in the weak East all at once.

The Knicks still have the appeal of their big market, and Jackson’s presence can only help their attractiveness. And, perhaps most importantly, they’ve shown a willingness to spend wildly—a willingness that re-signing Anthony would only reinforce.

And if we’ve learned one thing from all of this, it’s that players—good ones, especially—tend to end up on teams that are willing to pay them as much money as possible.

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Richmond loses scoring leader for rest of season (Yahoo Sports)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Richmond scoring leader Cedrick Lindsay will miss the rest of the season because of knee injuries.

View full post on Yahoo Sports – NCAA Men’s Hoops News

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