WATCH: Paul George takes court for first time since leg injury

Clear signs of a speedy recovery from Indiana Pacers perennial All-Star Paul George. Three months after suffering a harrowing compound fracture this past July, George was recently filmed letting shots up during a Pacers shoot-around Monday night after practice. George seemed overjoyed to rub off the three month rust with a variety of mid-range and three point jumpers. Many are ruling the injury to cost George the entire 2014-15 NBA season, but the anxious George is pushing for a mid-season return. Although he looks to move extremely well this early in the recovery process, Paul George is nowhere near game shape. I repeat, nowhere near! To risk a quick comeback at 80% for a meaningless couple of matchups at the tail end of season could turn into Derrick Rose 2.0! Come back fully restored next season at superstar level to help the Indiana Pacers compete for a strong playoff run, in the race for a Eastern Conference title. The post Paul George Takes The Court For First Time…

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Chicago Bulls Will Get More Dangerous With Time

Frustration with the slows starts the Chicago Bulls have suffered through is mounting.  Best advice?  Take a breath and calm down.  Here is why.
Derrick Rose Just Got Back
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not easy to switch from one philosophy to another for any pro sports team.  Over the past two years the Bulls have had to alter their style of play in order to make due without the presence of point guard Derrick Rose.  It requires an entirely different mind set with different rules.  Now that he is back from his second knee surgery, it inevitably was going to take time for him to reintegrate with the team and for the team to reintegrate with him.  That can often lead to all sorts of unusual issues, slow starts being one of them.
They fell behind early to Denver on October 13th before recovering for a 20-point win and then had to overcome a 20-point deficit to stun Atlanta at the buzzer on the 16th.  Even though it’s just preseason and both games were wins, it has many people nervous about what t

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Byron Scott’s Return to Lakers Has Taken Time but Seems Right on Schedule

LOS ANGELES — The eldest child is the one you assume to be the first one coached by the father.   

Thomas Scott says no. He remembers when the notion of his father, Byron, being a coach gained its real toehold.   

And Thomas remembers the kid who was the first to be coached by Byron Scott.   

“My dad’s last year here playing with the Lakers [was] Kobe Bryant‘s first year,” Thomas said. “There was a relationship there. There was an understanding. I think my dad saw a lot of himself in Kobe—not necessarily the basketball part, just the mentality, the attitude, the focus he had at 18. It was really intriguing to my dad.

“Kobe saw somebody that he could look at as a role model in the NBA: How are you supposed to work here? How are you supposed to lift? Just somebody he could watch and see, someone leading by example at 35 years old and going harder than the guys at 22. That’s what Kobe got.

“I noticed Kobe would ask him questions here and there, and he always had something. And Kobe would apply it. I saw that early on.”

Now in the coaching business himself, serving as the Lakers’ and his father’s assistant coach for player development, Thomas was a young teenager at the time. But he still noticed the connection between Byron and Kobe.

And in that relationship from 1996-97, the son saw a glimpse of the father’s future.

“There was something there,” Thomas recalled. “He has a way of communicating his experience—and knowledge.”

Byron Scott had by then already been told by mentors Pat Riley with the Lakers and Larry Brown with the Pacers that his communication skill could translate to coaching. Before Bryant came along, Scott had been willing to help other teammates or kids, too.

Some even joined Scott for his offseason workouts. Elden Campbell didn’t last a week. Reggie Miller forged an 18-year NBA career.

But it was Bryant who really shaped Scott’s future at a time when Bryant was thinking it was all about “Mr. Scott” guiding him. Indeed, Bryant still refers to Scott, not Del Harris or even Jerry West, as “my rookie mentor.”

In that way, it was the best sort of relationship—a real give and take, each benefiting and growing from being around the other.

And for it to have come all the way around to now, with both men at a point when they need each other and their beloved franchise needs the most help of all, it’s downright poetic.

Bryant’s last coach is his first coach.

Scott returns just before Bryant leaves.

The glorious Pat Riley era is meshing with the even more glorious Phil Jackson era.

This is not mere nostalgia. This is synergy.

 


 

If it’s such a logical fit, then why did it take the Lakers so long to settle on Scott as the head coach? There was a three-month wait for his hire. It sure didn’t feel as seamless as Scott becoming this staple of the Lakers when his childhood home sat just 14 blocks from the Forum. (Yes, he counted.)

The Lakers went into this search determined to be move slower and be more open-minded after being quickly impressed by Mike Brown’s DVDs on defense and Mike D’Antoni’s history with Steve Nash.

And…the reality that clubs will do just about anything to get LeBron James.

In 2010, the Cavaliers were desperate to re-sign James. They were led to believe that James wanted a coach with playing experience and a history of winning, maybe even one in particular whom James’ buddy Chris Paul would endorse from his time in New Orleans. So the Cavs fired Mike Brown and hired Scott.

Given that James didn’t elect to join Scott then, the Lakers understandably had pause now that they were coveting James in 2014 free agency and thinking to hire Scott.

So the decision was made to wait for free agency to play out, to open the door for someone such as James, who recently admitted he didn’t choose to return to the Cavs based on their coach, or Carmelo Anthony to help determine who would succeed D’Antoni either through input or playing style.

Indeed, the Lakers’ express elevator back to the penthouse hinged—and will hinge—far more on free-agent recruiting than coaching hires. As general manager Mitch Kupchak said after the dust settled without an incoming star this time, “If you don’t try, you don’t know…We’ll get somebody. At some point in time we will.”

When James and Anthony made their decisions, the Lakers finalized theirs with Scott, who outlasted Lionel Hollins, Kurt Rambis, Alvin Gentry, Mike Dunleavy and George Karl. Scott signed a four-year deal worth $17 million, the last year a team option, on July 28.

Until the marquee changes, Scott is reinforcing the foundation with his emphasis on sound defense and high expectations. Even if the timing might never be right for Scott and James to connect, Scott and this franchise do have a way of falling in easy step together.

The Lakers and Scott really have former Clippers owner Donald Sterling to thank for getting this ball rolling. After the San Diego Clippers drafted Scott fourth overall in 1983, Sterling wasn’t too jazzed about the pick or the money the kid would be paid, so he made the sort of penny-pinching, short-sighted decision he often did: The Clippers traded Scott to the Lakers for a declining Norm Nixon. The Lakers won three NBA championships with Scott and won five more with Scott’s protégés Bryant and Derek Fisher—and the Clippers most definitely did not.

Sterling had another chance at Scott in 2013, interviewing him for the Clippers’ coaching vacancy. Sterling wound up reviving a trade to get Celtics coach Doc Rivers, which left Scott to fall back into the Lakers’ arms.

Scott took a job as TV analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the Lakers’ regional network, and it offered him a platform to observe—and allowed a sort of words-eye view for “Scotty” to criticize—the lack of defensive consistency in Mike D’Antoni’s team.

“He’s the right guy at the right place, to me, at the right time,” said Paul Pressey, Scott’s assistant in New Orleans and Cleveland and now with the Lakers.

Pressey is as aware as anyone they could’ve been in L.A. in 2011—with Scott coming home to coach a contending team as Jackson’s successor—if Scott had just passed on coaching a likely-to-be-LeBron-less dead-end Cleveland team in 2010.

But Scott’s way is not to game the system. He is a regimented man whose code says that success comes via steps, not slipping through some back door. After rebuilding accomplishments with the Nets and Hornets, Scott wanted to get back to work and tackle the mountain in Cleveland.

Except the terrain featured an NBA-record 26-game losing streak (tied by the 76ers last season) with James off in Miami, top scorer Mo Williams injured and Kyrie Irving still at Duke. The Cavaliers didn’t win the next year (21-45) or the year after that (24-58), either.

Still, Pressey thinks the timing has worked out just right, that the Cavaliers’ failures better prepared Scott for rebuilding in Lakerland today.

“Going through what he went through in Cleveland really strengthened him,” Pressey said. “He was successful in touching a lot of young men’s lives. But it was a painful thing, because he wanted to be more successful in terms of the public eye. He had to learn how to deal with those painful things that he didn’t want to deal with. He had to take the hit for the players. He had to help them get through it.”

It’s the story of Scott’s career: failure leading to balance and helping his voice grow into a broader range of tonalities.

Before coming to his dream job with the mighty Lakers, Scott went to coach three organizations with little history to speak of in the Nets, Hornets and Cavaliers. Before returning to the Lakers for that final season as an NBA player and showing Bryant how you show up at 9:30 a.m. for an 11 a.m. team practice, Scott’s mark of 12 playoff berths in 12 years was marred by a humiliating, humbling season with the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies.

Sometimes the best timing for someone with an ego is after he has gotten it checked.

 


 

Scott made his debut as Lakers coach Monday night in San Diego. Even though expectations for this team are no higher than a low-top sneaker, there was still a clear gauge for this job’s value.

Scott had to say, “Excuse me,” to reporters just so he could enter a 30-strong throng of media waiting to hear him speak.

In contrast, Brian Shaw, passed over by the Lakers to be Jackson’s successor and now head coach of the Denver Nuggets, waited patiently behind a glass door for Scott to finish before emerging—but didn’t wait for Steve Nash.

When Shaw came out, not a single reporter went to him.

Who knows what would’ve happened for Scott as a player and as a future coach if Sterling hadn’t traded him away from San Diego right at the start? Who knows if Scott would’ve already been history if he had taken the challenge of replacing Jackson as Lakers coach—facing the pressure of “going on after Frank Sinatra,” as Rudy Tomjanovich called it?

Even more so than regular jobs, the coaching carousel can turn on a trifle.

Scott would never have been in the initial position to mentor Bryant in 1996 if not for a sense from West and Lakers owner Jerry Buss that something just felt right about Scott returning to the Lakers.

After that awful season in Vancouver, Scott wasn’t sure he was OK with a make-good-in-training-camp offer to rejoin the Lakers—and Scott didn’t show up for a morning, pride-swallowing meeting with Harris at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica.

That could’ve been that. Instead, West and Buss told Harris to give Scott another chance and go back the next morning.

This time, Scott was there.

And now, Scott is here…again with Bryant…and with another teenage future star to mold: Julius Randle was one year old when Scott and Bryant began that first season together.

Perhaps it’s destiny. Maybe it’s just oddity. But Scott is home—and it feels like he’s right on time.

 

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

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Boston Celtics: Rookie James Young’s Injury Comes at Inopportune Time

James Young of the Boston Celtics may miss an extended period of time with a hamstring strain—a disappointing turn of events for the rookie following an impressive NBA debut.

Per ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg, Young said he felt “a few pops” while stretching before the Celtics’ preseason opener, and he described the situation as follows:

I’m still learning. I guess I should have talked to [team trainer] Ed [Lacerte] right away. … I was just going off adrenaline, so I really couldn’t feel it. The next day when I woke up, that’s when I really felt it. 

It’s kind of frustrating, but this stuff happens.

The No. 17 selection in this year’s draft showed no effects of the injury during the game, registering 10 points, an assist and a steal in 20 minutes of action.

From A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Young is “probably more week-to-week than day-to-day.”

A player sitting out a week or two before the season starts wouldn’t normally be of much concern, but in Young’s case it could diminish his chances of making an impact in Boston during his rookie season.

The Celtics have a lot of depth at shooting guard.  Lottery pick Marcus Smart played the point in Boston’s first two exhibitions, but when Rajon Rondo returns from a broken hand, Smart will likely see some time at the 2.  Avery Bradley is the incumbent starter at that position, and newcomers Evan Turner and Marcus Thornton will compete for minutes there as well.

Due to the crowded Celtics backcourt, the case can be made that it might serve Young better to play consistently on a nightly basis in the D-League, rather than fight for garbage-time scraps in Boston.  Mass Live’s Tom Westerholm writes:

Common sense dictates that Celtics rookie James Young will probably end up playing in Portland, Maine with the D-League Red Claws this season. Young is only 18, and despite his obvious potential as an NBA scorer, he’s still very raw and unlikely to be able to contribute at a high level at the start of the season.

However, in Young’s very first game, he displayed flashes of talent that might earn him a spot in the Celtics’ regular rotation.  In particular, during one sequence in the fourth quarter, he converted a fast-break layup, forced a steal and threw down a dunk in scintillating fashion.

Unfortunately for Young, this injury strips him of the opportunity to demonstrate he belongs right away. Through two preseason contests, both Turner (24 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in 53 minutes) and Thornton (26 points, two rebounds and one assist in 34 minutes) look eager to prove they are each worthy of considerable court time.  Their performances going forward could make Young the odd man out.

In the long run, Young’s hamstring strain is not anything to worry about.  But in the short term, it might be the reason he ends up in Maine instead of contributing off Boston’s bench.

 

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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Dick Vitale says he won’t be prime time but won’t slow down

Dick Vitale has done primetime Saturday games since 2005 and been with ESPN nearly 40 years.

      
 

 

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OKC Thunder Running out of Time to Keep Core Together

The Oklahoma City Thunder‘s rapid ascension to the heights of the Western Conference was the first step.

Now comes the hard part.

Even as the organization attempts to negotiate a contract extension with guard Reggie Jackson prior to an Oct. 31 deadline, one can’t help but look ahead to Kevin Durant‘s looming free agency in 2016. Oklahoma City’s ability to contend for the foreseeable future depends upon keeping both players in the fold.

And while their respective circumstances really aren’t analogous, they share something important in common.

Neither courtship will come down to money alone.

In Jackson’s case, finances are certainly part of the equation. With a similarly situated guard like Eric Bledsoe commanding a five-year, $70 million contract in September, Jackson may well expect a colossal raise over the $2,325,680 he’s scheduled to make this season. 

The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry argued in July, “As of today, Jackson is not a max player. But a stellar 2014-15 season could change the perception and put him closer to that coveted eight-figure salary.” 

That’s one reason Jackson’s camp may put off an extension and explore free agency next summer. He’d have another season to prove himself, and there would be a legitimate market for his services replete with suitors who could drive up his price in a bidding war.

That doesn’t mean the Thunder will let Jackson walk.

As Mayberry put it: ”The good news for the Thunder is it has prepared for this day for years. It’s why Oklahoma City hasn’t chased free agents or exceeded the tax level. Whether Jackson’s number comes in big or small, the Thunder is in position to handle it, especially with Kendrick Perkins’ contract coming off the books next summer.”

The franchise’s bigger concern is whether it can accommodate Jackson’s aspirations to be a central part of the team’s plans.

It’s not just that he wants to be a starter—he also wants to be a leader.

Jackson told Mayberry in September:

I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team. The head of the snake. I guess that’s just how I’m encrypted DNA-wise. I played quarterback in high school. I had a year I was a receiver. But I was more comfortable playing quarterback. I’ve just always been good leading my team. That’s how I’ve always been, being vocal. And when the ball’s in my hand, I feel like I can make the right plays and just impact the team.

With Durant, three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka on the floor, it’s hard to envision much opportunity for Jackson to really take the reins. 

Hopefully he’ll be satisfied with a starting job, assuming head coach Scott Brooks agrees to that particular request.

Jackson told reporters at media day:

I want to be a starter. I’ve always wanted to be a starter. I’ve always wanted to be great. All the greats I’ve seen started, so that’s kind of the mold.

[...]

I think me and everybody else has a reason and a chance to go out there and be great in whatever aspect they want in life, and I’ve always tried to do my best. That’s kind of how I approach life. My family taught me, and especially my brothers growing up, that I always wanted a chance to be great. That’s my destiny.

Bold, yes.

But Jackson is coming off a breakout season in which he started 36 regular-season games in place of an injured Westbrook, posting career highs across the board with 13.1 points, 4.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per contest.

The 24-year-old started another four games alongside Westbrook in the playoffs when Brooks opted to adopt a different look midway through OKC’s conference finals matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. With a history of particularly strong performances against those Spurs, Jackson responded with three strong performances—including a 21-point Game 6.

In his eyes, this is a sign that he and Westbrook are the backcourt of the future. It’s a strong assumption, too, especially in a post-James Harden era in which the team could use another wing option on the offensive end.

Jackson may more naturally be a point guard, but—like Westbrook—he’s comfortable looking for his own shot and has served as a valuable sixth-man spark plug accordingly.

You could make an argument for starting Jeremy Lamb at the shooting guard spot on account of his superior length, but the 22-year-old is a far less-proven product at this point—averaging just 19.7 minutes in his second season after seeing negligible action as a rookie.

So Jackson may well get his wish.

Durant seemed to sympathize with Jackson’s plight, but he also notes the importance of anchoring a second unit and finishing games.

“Yeah, I mean, as kids we’re taught that being a starter means that you’re it,” he told USA Today‘s Sam Amick in September. “But I’ve seen starters average 10 minutes a game, and not finish games. But Reggie finishes games for us, and I think that’s more important.”

Brooks’ ultimate decision on the matter could play an important role in determining Jackson’s future with the club. The organization may not control whether an agreement is hammered out before that Oct. 31 deadline, but—even if the two sides kick the can to next summer—the Thunder can make an impression on Jackson in the meantime.

Keeping this core together (and happy) is increasingly critical.

With just two seasons to sell Durant on this team’s championship pedigree, the Jackson subplot could go a long way toward determining OKC’s viability as a near-term contender.

KD has consistently said all the right things, but he’s also steered clear of making any promises.

“I’m taking it day by day with the Oklahoma City Thunder,” Durant told Amick. “That’s my main concern. And whatever the future holds, I don’t know, because I can’t tell you the future. I’m going to take it a day at a time.”

“I enjoy being here,” he added. “I enjoy my teammates. I like the direction we’re going in, and that’s not just a cliché (expletive) answer. That’s real.”

And no one doubts it.

Durant’s MVP acceptance speech quickly became a thing of legend. There’s no question he cares for this franchise and those who wear its uniform. His humble, team-first disposition remains the perfect fit for an organization that’s made every attempt to stay classy under general manager Sam Presti.

But storybook endings are no guarantee in this business. Should the Thunder take a step back between now and 2016, Durant will have opportunities—and perhaps reasons—to go elsewhere.

So there’s an urgency to retaining and placating Jackson. An urgency for Brooks to take this team to another level, perhaps making adjustments to his suspect approach to half-court offense. Now’s the time to take advantage of the league’s most talented young core as it enters its collective prime.

That core’s future in Oklahoma City may depend on it.

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Dickie V.: I won’t be prime time but won’t slow down

Dick Vitale has done primetime Saturday games since 2005 and been with ESPN nearly 40 years.

      
 

 

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Dick Vitale says he won’t be prime time but won’t be slowing down

Dick Vitale has done primetime Saturday games since 2005 and been with ESPN nearly 40 years.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NCAA Top Stories

Is It Time for Blake Griffin to Take Charge of Los Angeles Clippers’ Fate?

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Clippers‘ media day brought with it a predictable peppering of questions concerning the team’s fourth-quarter collapse in Game 5 of last season’s second-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What went wrong? What could they have done differently? What did they learn from that heartbreaking—and, ultimately, championship chase-ending—experience?

“I understand last year we had a great opportunity, and Game 5 was horrible,” Chris Paul recalled. “It’s no secret why we lost Game 5, but I think this year gives us an opportunity to get right back there.”

Presumably, Paul will be the one to lead the way. After all, this Clippers team has been his since he first arrived in the fall of 2011. Among the team’s talented trio, including Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, he’s easily the most veteran and the most accomplished, with enough All-Star appearances (seven) and All-NBA (six) and All-Defensive nods (six) to comprise an impressive resume.

What he lacks, of course, is a trip to the conference finals, much less a Larry O’Brien Trophy. As it happens, those fateful few minutes in OKC, the ones the Clippers spent the summer simultaneously contemplating deeply and trying to forget, could prove instructive as Paul and company look to take the Clippers into uncharted territory.

Lost amid Paul’s poor play, in his attempt to do it all for the Clippers in crunch time, was the absence of any meaningful contributions from Griffin. The four-time All-Star didn’t make a single shot from the field in that fourth quarter and didn’t so much as attempt one during the final five minutes of play.

His lone contributions in the clutch? A pair of rebounds, a block and one made free throw, with another miss during his trip to the stripe.

This, from a guy who finished third in MVP voting, behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James. This, from one of the faces of the franchise.

“It shouldn’t fall on one person,” Griffin said of this particular shortfall. “You hear this all the time, but one guy can’t win or lose on his own. It’s not fair to put any type of blame on anybody, because we were all out there playing.”

They’ll all be back in 2014-15, with a greater need than ever for Griffin to be The Guy.

Part of that has to do with Paul. He’s 29 now, with the big 3-0 awaiting him in early May. He’s fought through more than his fair share of injuries over the years. And as great as it can be and often is to watch him take over games down the stretch, there are those times, as in Game 5 against OKC, when his performance suffers under the weight of tired legs and tough defenses. According to NBA.com, Paul hit just 40.6 percent of his attempts in the clutch (i.e. the final five minutes of a game, with a margin of five points or fewer) during the regular season and saw that number slip to an even 40 percent in the playoffs.

But those CP3-centric concerns merely open the door for another star to step in as support. Griffin would seem as ready, and as obvious a choice, as any Clipper to do just that—certainly after the campaign he put together in 2013-14.

“Blake was terrific,” Doc Rivers said of his power forward’s prolific campaign. “I thought he got better and better as the year went on.”

On the whole, Griffin took on more offensive responsibility than he ever had. The Oklahoma native registered career highs in points (24.1), field-goal attempts (17) and usage rate (29.0), all of which doubled as tops on the team.

Some of those increases stemmed from the month Paul missed with a shoulder injury. During that time, Griffin averaged a whopping 27.5 points (on 55.4 percent shooting) and 4.4 assists while leading L.A. to a 12-6 record.

With or without Paul, Griffin was no longer the late-game liability he’d been under Vinny Del Negro. The 4.6 points he averaged in the fourth quarter were nice, but it was Griffin’s free-throw shooting that opened the most eyes. He hit 71.5 percent of his freebies during the regular season, including 74.8 percent in the final frame, and upped the ante to 74 percent and 76.5 percent, respectively, in the playoffs.

Those aren’t exactly earth-shattering numbers, but for a guy who’d made just 61.1 percent of his foul shots during his first three seasons as a pro, those percentage points constitute a considerable difference in both accuracy and trustworthiness. And it’s possible, if not probable, that Griffin will continue to improve in this regard after another summer spent working closely with his shooting coach.

There’s much more to Griffin’s game than just shooting free throws, though. And there’s certainly more to winning games and competing for championships than having a particular set of skills. The secret about basketball, as Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas relayed in Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, is that it’s not about basketball; it’s about relationships and personalities, managing egos and demonstrating leadership, among other things.

“As far as leadership goes, I think we all three lead in different ways,” Griffin said, referring to Paul and DeAndre Jordan, both of whom sat to his right onstage. “For me, it’s about trying to lead by example, doing things. I’m not always the guy that’s going to be talking a lot in the huddle, but every game I want to be a guy the guys can depend on down the stretch and depend on to work hard and take care of myself and do the things I need to do.”

The idea of Griffin being the strong, silent type doesn’t comport so easily with his public persona. To those whose exposure to him is limited to car commercials and YouTube clips, Griffin comes off as a gregarious goofball. To those who know him, though, Griffin is far from William Wallace

“It’s hilarious to see Blake on SNL and doing sketch, you know, because if you just seen him in the locker room, you wouldn’t even think that this is who he was,” explained Chris Douglas-Roberts, whose relationship with Griffin dates back to well before CDR’s arrival in L.A. this summer. “He’s very quiet, very reserved. You have to really get to know him to understand that he’s really a funny guy.”

Not that Griffin hasn’t changed, that he hasn’t grown more comfortable in the spotlight now that he’s been in it for as long as he has.

“I don’t think people understand that Blake had so much so fast that people think he’s 30,” said Matt Barnes. “Blake’s 25, if I’m not mistaken [Note: He's not mistaken], so he’s had a lot on his plate from the beginning, and I think being a leader is something that’s obviously in you but you have to learn as well, and I think he’s doing a great job of that.”

Fortunately for Griffin, he doesn’t have to step outside of his comfort zone in this regard in order for the Clippers to thrive. He can lean on Paul and Jordan, both of whom serve as seminal voices among the players, to do the talking.

“You can lead in your own way,” Griffin went on. “You just have to be comfortable with it, because at the end of the day, it’s not the guy who’s going to talk the most or who’s going work out the hardest or yell at everybody. It’s the guy that guys want to follow.”

Griffin just might be that guy this season. He’s already one of them, and if Blake takes that all-important next step—from productive star to crunch-time killer, from quiet leader to bona fide ringleader—the Clippers could be well on their way to leaving their failures, recent and distant alike, well behind them.

As Barnes put it, “We go as far as he takes us.”

 

Follow me on Twitter for all your Clippers coverage!

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Could San Antonio Spurs Be Even Better This Time?

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is already devising plans to keep his 2014 champions motivated after a historically one-sided, five-game series against the Miami Heat.

“I’m worried for one reason,” Popovich told longtime San Antonio Express-News scribe Buck Harvey. “They are human beings. They are going to feel satisfied.”

According to Harvey, San Antonio’s practice facility was adorned with “a framed picture of the Game 6 scoreboard” last season—one that depicted a 13-point lead the Spurs held late in the third quarter. 

The message was unmistakable: This was a game the Spurs should have won.

It was a message that resonated with the team, including a 38-year-old future Hall of Famer with seemingly nothing left to prove.

Tim Duncan told reporters this after clinching an appearance in the 2014 NBA Finals: 

We’re happy to be back here this year. We’re happy to have another opportunity at it. We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ll be ready for them. We’ve got some experience, obviously, from last year against them. And we’ll go back and look at some film. … We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still.

Five games later, that bad taste was replaced by victorious champagne.

One can understand Popovich’s concerns. His team was on a mission last season.

Now it’s on a victory tour.

Even Manu Ginobili acknowledged this team won’t be reeling like it was a season ago, saying, “We have to work on our mentality,” at media day on Friday.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to be optimistic. ESPN officially forecasted the Spurs as Western Conference champions once again this summer, and why not? No team in the West is more proven.

While San Antonio has yet to claim back-to-back championships, the 2014 Spurs were arguably the very best of the Duncan-Popovich era. 

And they’ll return intact for the season ahead, perhaps even better.

“It’ll be fun to have everybody back here and start up where we left off,” Duncan said on Friday at the team’s media day. “That’ll be a huge boost for us in terms of not having to get reacclimated with whose role is what…and everything else. I think that brings a comfort level for us and for Pop and for everyone.”

Duncan conceded that—as champions—the team will have a target on its back, eliciting maximum effort from competition looking to establish its credentials against the league’s best.

“That wears on you over a season,” he said. “So I think it’s just about us trying to find our rhythm, find our consistency and trying to deal with that and not being worn out by it.”

Indeed, San Antonio’s experienced leadership is well-prepared to deal with the challenges that await. Duncan and Co. understand the expectations that come with championships, and they aren’t about to shy away from them.

Even as Popovich grows concerned about the potential complacency one might expect from “human beings,” he’s reassured that his particular human beings are in good, veteran hands.

“I’m not worried a bit about Tony and Manu and Timmy,” Popovich told NBA.com’s Jared Greenberg on Friday. “They know how hard it is to get there [to a championship]. And I think it sounds odd, but it’s ironic. The more times you’re there, the more you appreciate how hard it is. But they’re not going to try to take a victory lap or anything like that this year. They’ll come ready.”

It’s the kind of leadership and championship pedigree other Western Conference contenders are missing, and it could very well translate into a 2014-15 campaign that looks an awful lot like the one that came before it.

As Duncan suggested, continuity will be pivotal.

The Spurs understand their roles, and they understand how to execute them against elite competition. That kind of corporate knowledge has been a cornerstone for the organization.

Rather than perpetually embarking upon a quest to acquire new talent, general manager R.C. Buford has placed a premium on retaining the guys already familiar with the system.

Formerly a key piece to San Antonio’s front office, Sam Presti has incorporated those principles as GM of the highly successful Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Continuity has become a lost currency,” Presti recently explained, per The Associated Press‘ Cliff Brunt (subscription required). “It’s very hard to maintain that, given the rules. You’re going to lose players, there’s going to be changes. I think how you adapt to that, how you’re able to absorb loss, but also add without having to lose players, is important.”

Though backup point guard Patty Mills will have to spend a few months recovering from shoulder surgery, San Antonio’s roster is virtually identical to last year’s iteration. It now includes rookie forward Kyle Anderson, but no one was lost to the free-agency or trade markets.

The video game generation of NBA fans may be tempted to view that kind of offseason as stagnant. 

Would-be contenders like the Los Angeles Clippers tweaked their way to an improved roster. The Dallas Mavericks—who took San Antonio to an opening-round Game 7 last season—made significant strides with the acquisitions of Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler.

Can the Spurs really afford to stand pat when the rest of the league is doing just the opposite?

As San Antonio Express-News scribe Dan McCarney put it in 2013, “If any team knows the benefits of staying the course, it’s the Spurs.”

It’s a franchise philosophy that’s proven viable, and it’s a vital foundation for the kind of chemistry on which this ensemble cast thrives. Crisp ball movement and sound defensive rotations don’t happen by accident, and nor are they the products of innate talent alone.

These skills are learned—and learned collectively.

But they’re also skills that can have transformative effects on individual growth, perhaps obviating the need to add outside talent in the name of improvement.

Entering his fourth season with the club, 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard arguably stands to benefit most from the familiar faces around him.

By now, the 23-year-old has had a sustained opportunity to absorb the Spurs’ methods, and he’s poised to emerge as an increased focal point of the team’s offense.

As Leonard begins enjoying the prime of his career, the Spurs stand ready to reap the dividends.

Backup swingman Marco Belinelli could also make a jump. This will be the 28-year-old’s second season in San Antonio, and he reasons to be increasingly assimilated into a motion-based offense where timing is key.

Fourth-year point guard Cory Joseph may similarly take another step forward after starting 19 games last season. The University of Texas product will be especially valuable early in the season as Mills recovers.

And in classic Spurs fashion, it’s ultimately the synergistic combination of those individual efforts that could keep this team on top. Together, these guys are far more than the sum of their parts.

If you thought their seamless harmony was a thing of beauty last season, there’s no telling what they’re capable of after another year of pounding the rock—and doing so together.

“For more than 15 years, they’ve stayed true to their core philosophies, as the best organizations do, even as they’ve innovated to remain competitive,” ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz wrote in 2013. “For the Spurs, stability and serenity emerged as the organization’s defining qualities from the top down, so they were adopted as edicts in the team’s manifesto.”

It’s the paradox that keeps these Spurs fresh. While they stubbornly adhere to that manifesto, they’re always growing—this season with the help of two new assistant coaches: European legend Ettore Messina and former WNBA standout Becky Hammon.

“They’re two new faces, and they’re going to try to get themselves acclimated, and it will be interesting to see what they bring to the table,” Duncan said of the new coaches on Friday. “It’ll be fun to add to our coaching staff, and Pop’s really excited about it.”

So while San Antonio’s roster remains basically unchanged, the organization still infused new talent in its own way. The mix of new ideas along with tried-and-true wisdom may raise this club’s already-stratospheric ceiling to altogether new levels.

It may even pave the way for that elusive repeat.

“Why haven’t we repeated? Because we haven’t,” Popovich told reporters on Friday. “If we do, it’d be great. If we don’t, life will go on, and everything’s cool.”

Don’t let Popovich’s nonchalance fool you. 

He wants this. His Spurs want it.

Should an in-house growth spurt elevate them to greater heights, they just might get it, too.

 

Unattributed quotes collected by Bleacher Report at Spurs media day on Sept. 26.

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