Pacific preview: Kobe vs. the world

The Clippers or Warriors will win the division, but the Lakers’ leader won’t be happy about it.

      
 

 

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NBA Needs to Change Its Stance on Domestic Violence in Post-Ray Rice World

Before blossoming into a borderline All-Star and a nightly triple-double threat, Lance Stephenson earned a more dubious distinction: domestic violence suspect.   

In August 2010, Stephenson, then 19 years old, was accused of pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs in her Brooklyn apartment building. According to police reports at the time, Stephenson then grabbed her and hit her head against the bottom step.   

The woman sustained head, back and neck injuries. Stephenson was charged with third-degree assault.

The case was dropped six months later. And Stephenson, then a rookie for the Indiana Pacers, quietly resumed his career—without ever being suspended, fined or otherwise disciplined by the NBA.

There was nothing surprising about the league’s inaction.

The NBA has long abided by a basic American principle of jurisprudence: that everyone is innocent until proven guilty; that the legal process must take its course before the league renders judgment. No conviction? No suspension.

This may sound prudent and rational, but it is no longer adequate in a post-Ray Rice world.

The Rice videotape brought the graphic horror of domestic abuse into every living room. The bungling of the Rice case exposed the limits of the criminal justice system and the fecklessness of NFL leadership, and now the question becomes: What will the NBA do when its turn comes?

That moment has arrived far too quickly. On Thursday, police in Michigan arrested Jeff Taylor of the Charlotte Hornets and charged him with domestic assault.

Commissioner Adam Silver this week promised “a fresh look” at the NBA’s approach to domestic violence. Michele Roberts, the new executive director of the players union, said she would push for more education and preventive measures.

Yet neither of them addressed the league’s greatest blind spot: discipline. The NBA won’t punish its players until the courts do. As a result, NBA players are almost never suspended or fined for domestic violence—a stance that has left the league looking passive and ineffectual.

“To wait for the conviction in these cases is basically to decide to do nothing,” said Tania Tetlow, a law professor and director of Tulane’s domestic violence center.

The fact is, the criminal justice system fails miserably when it comes to domestic violence. Abusers go free. Fearful victims refuse to testify. Cases rarely go to trial. Prosecutors file charges in just three of every 10 cases, according to the FBI.

Even a videotape doesn’t guarantee a convictionRice had his criminal charges dropped, in exchange for entering counseling.

And we know, too, that a dismissal of charges is not the same as a declaration of innocence—only a concession that the case was too difficult to prove.

The system is broken, and waiting for a court verdict “is a decision to defer to that broken system,” said Tetlow, who previously worked as a federal prosecutor. That is, sadly, the NBA’s de facto policy.

Every year, a player or two is charged with domestic violence. Every time, the NBA defers to the courts and ends up doing nothing.

Consider this stunning fact: No NBA player has been suspended for domestic violence since Ron Artest in 2007, and before that Eddie Griffin in 2004.

In the last three years alone, nine players have been charged with some form of domestic assault: Greg Oden (most recently with Miami), Ty Lawson (Denver), Jared Sullinger (Boston), Jordan Hill (then with Houston), James Johnson (then with Memphis), DeAndre Liggins (then with Oklahoma City), Terrence Williams (then with Boston), Dante Cunningham (then with Minnesota) and Taylor.

None have been disciplined by the leagueessentially because none of them have been convicted. Some cases are pending. Some were dropped. But dismissal is not proof of innocence.

In trumpeting “due process,” the NBA has, intentionally or not, given itself a free pass.

Even when a player has pleaded no contestas Hill did, to charges that he assaulted his girlfriend in 2012the league has done nothing.

The NBA proudly points to its policy of a minimum 10-game suspension for any violent felony conviction. Yet Hill evaded discipline by getting his charge reduced to a misdemeanor as part of his plea deal.

The Sullinger case provides an interesting counterpoint. Sullinger was accused of assault and battery after an incident with his girlfriend in September 2013. The case was dismissed when the woman refused to testify, as often happens. The Celtics suspended Sullinger for one game anyway, declaring that he had “failed to meet the high expectations we have for all Celtics employees.”

“We’re trying to send a message,” Celtics president Danny Ainge told reporters at the time, “not just to Jared, but the rest of our playersthat their behavior has an effect on all of us.”

In the NBA, it is usually the commissioner’s office, not the individual teams, that metes out punishment in legal matters. Ainge took a bolder and more proactive stance and made an important statement: It’s a player’s conduct that matters, not whether a prosecutor can build an airtight case.

Silver should follow Ainge’s example. If the NBA can reasonably conclude that something happened, it can and must act. The NBA has no obligation to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubtonly that the player’s conduct was wrongful and detrimental to the league.

And the NBA has the ability to conduct, within limits, its own investigation, through its security division, which is stocked with retired police detectives and FBI agents. Those agents can interview witnesses—including the alleged victim—and review police reports, photos of injuries and any other available evidence.

“It’s not often that there are videotapes,” Tetlow said, “but when you have a witness, covered in injuries, telling you what happened, that’s as much evidence as we have in most criminal trials. And it’s absolutely enough evidence to convict in these cases. The difference is, the criminal justice system historically has not prioritized or particularly cared about these cases. So you can be complicit in that.”

Will someone file a false charge? Will a wife or girlfriend lie to police as a means of extortion or retaliation? Perhaps. But it is unreasonableindeed, dangerous and irresponsibleto presume that every dropped case was the result of a false charge.

Nine (counting Taylor) NBA players have been accused of domestic violence in the last three years. Were all of those women lying? Or is it more likely that some (or several) of these players were, in fact, guilty of assault but evaded punishment because of a broken justice system and a league office that abdicated its responsibility?

“I think they have failed,” Tetlow said of the NBA. “By looking the other way in cases of domestic violence, and rape in particular, they’ve really sent a signal, whether they intended to or not, that this is not a big deal.”

There will be some resistance to change, an impulse to protect players’ current rights, and any new policy will require union participation. So far, Roberts has stressed increased education over increased discipline.

“I do think people need to stop worrying about punishment to the exclusion of prevention,” Roberts told Bleacher Report. She added, “In my view, what we should be doing is figuring out some ways to prevent [violence], as opposed to figuring out who can be tougher in the event it happens.”

These are complicated issues, to be sure. The NBA can’t rush to judgment for the sake of public relations; it cannot act on accusations alone. Players’ civil rights must be respected. But so must the rights and welfare of the women in their lives, and it’s impossible to argue that the NBA has sufficiently done so.

In his brief time as commissioner, Silver has proved more progressive than his mentor, David Stern, and less beholden to long-held practices. One can only hope that his “fresh look” will result in a more principled and muscular stand against domestic violence.

The NBA can do better. We shouldn’t need a videotape.

 

Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.

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PHOTO: Metta World Peace’s new shoes feature panda heads

The last we heard from Metta World Peace, he signed a contract with the Sichuan Blue Whales in China and announced he’d go by the name “Panda’s Friend” throughout his stay in China. Now, to kick off his new career overseas, the man with a history of names has released new basketball shoes featuring a stuffed panda head along with two panda arms. “Welcome to Metta’s World China! Available in Mettaworldpeace.com tomorrow,” the caption read. It was originally reported that the panda head was detachable and that he would be throwing the head to the crowd before each game. However, World Peace, AKA Panda’s Friend, later confirmed that the head is not removable. The bear is not detachable. The Teddy bear is a permanent and is the pandas friend! The ears on the side are also not detachable. Enjoy— mettaworldpeace.com (@MettaWorldPeace) September 22, 2014 Too bad. Even without the detachable characteristics of the shoe, you can’t make this stuff up. Here’s the guy who was part of arguably t

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Metta World Peace Will Wear Shoes Featuring Pandas in China

Metta World Peace is really going all-out with his new Chinese name.

Last month, it was revealed that Metta World Peace was changing his Chinese name to “The Panda’s Friend.” Given that he loves pandas so much, he wants to get his fans in on the fun.

 

Update from Monday, Sept. 22

Metta World Peace explains that the panda bear is not detachable.

–End of Update–

 

When the former NBA star takes the court for the Sichuan Blue Whales, he will wear shoes with detachable pandas on them. Seriously.  

Instead of making a shoe that includes both white and black, The Panda’s Friend went with two different pairs that feature each color. Again, he’s going all-out with this idea.

Here’s the reasoning behind the detachable pandas, via Angela Koussian of Courtside Access: “…before every game, I will be wearing the white or black shoes. The top part of the shoe has a panda on it…it is removable. I will be throwing it to a friend in the crowd. The person who catches it will be the Panda’s Friend of the day.”

If you want to be “the Panda’s Friend of the day,” here’s your chance. All you have to do is go to one of his games over in China and catch the panda doll that he throws into the crowd. Hopefully there are some other perks that go along with the honor.

[Courtside Access, h/t CBS Sports]

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Team USA and Coach K are on top of the basketball world

Basketball is one of the few sports the United States rules these days. And the man in charge of it just happens to run the most polarizing college basketball team in the nation.

      
 

 

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How Will Klay Thompson’s Standout FIBA World Cup Performance Affect This Season?

The Golden State Warriors had the rare distinction of sending not one but two of their players to Spain for the FIBA World Cup this year. Stephen Curry was the household name, the rising star who had cemented his name amongst the game’s elite. Klay Thompson was his sidekick, the Luigi to Curry’s Mario.

While it was Curry in the starting lineup and Thompson coming off the bench, however, it was Thompson who made the bigger impact in the tournament.

Thompson didn’t just play well in the gold medal run; he thoroughly outplayed Curry.

He was second only to James Harden in points on the USA roster at 12.7 per game and scored them at an efficient 52 percent clip. His defense proved to be invaluable, and it earned him time on the court, as only Kyrie Irving topped Thompson’s 23.4 minutes per game.

On a team flush with guard depth, Thompson rose to the top.

Thompson’s strong play couldn’t have come at a better time, as it was only a few months ago that the Warriors made the decision to pass on Kevin Love in favor of keeping him on their roster. Many doubted that decision, but if he takes that level of play into the upcoming season, those doubts will be put to rest.

What was promising during the tournament was that Thompson did not simply rely on his outside shot as he so often has in his career. Even when sharing the court with playmakers like Harden, Irving and Curry, Thompson attacked the hoop relentlessly and finished with both hands.

That is a good omen going into the season. While his outside shooting will always be the most potent part of his game, expanding his game will keep defenses honest and open up scoring opportunities for his teammates.

The offense, however, was only part of the equation. Thompson has committed himself to being the best two-way shooting guard in the NBA, and while his offense isn’t on par with players like Harden, his defense puts him in the conversation.

An argument could have been last season that Thompson was the best defender at his position, and playing under defensive-minded coaches like Tom Thibodeau and Mike Krzyzewski during the tournament only made him better. After the tournament, Coach K raved about Thompson’s contribution on that side of the court, courtesy of Sam Amick of USA Today:

(Thompson) has been, really, as good a player as we’ve had. He’s consistent. Everyone had talked about his offense, but he has been consistently excellent on the defensive end. The fact that he’s tall, he’s been able to play defense on the one, two, and three. He’s become our most versatile defender. … He’s had a terrific stay with us.

Those are strong words coming from the leader of the greatest team in the world. Thompson has the size to compete against larger guards and small forwards but also has the speed to counter quicker point guards. Defensively, he’s the total package.

Although Andre Iguodala will always be the name that comes to mind when thinking about perimeter defenders, Thompson very well may have already surpassed him in that regard. Steve Kerr will no doubt take advantage of his hunger to guard the opposition’s best player, and Thompson will reward his faith.

The future is bright for the Warriors, and with rising stars like Thompson, they’re closing the gap between themselves and the elite teams in the West. The experience of playing with some of the best players and coaches in the world will propel Thompson to his best season yet. 

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Surprises and Disappointments of the 2014 FIBA World Cup

Team USA rolled to a gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, dominating from the opening game of the tournament. Who were some of the competition’s surprises and disappointments?

Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders joins Stephen Nelson to give his picks in the video above.

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What Did the FIBA World Cup Teach Us About Derrick Rose?

Derrick Rose made his return to the court during the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, helping Team USA to a gold medal. What did the tournament teach Chicago Bulls fans about the status of their young superstar?

Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders joins Stephen Nelson to offer his take in the video above.

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United States takes home gold at FIBA World Cup

The United States Men’s National Team completed a dominating performance at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain on Sunday by defeating Serbia 129-92. GOLDEN! @KyrieIrving (26 pts) & @JHarden13 Harden (23 pts) lead USA, which shot 15-30 from 3-point, past Serbia 129-92 in FIBA World Cup. — USA Basketball (@usabasketball) September 14, 2014 As you can see above, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving paced the team with 26 points. The 37-point victory represented the United States’ ninth 20-plus point victory in as many games. The team averaged nearly 105 points per game in the two-week tournament. Irving, who led the team in scoring on Sunday, was named MVP. During the tournament, James Harden led the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game, while Klay Thompson came in second at 12.7 points per outing. It’s the United States second consecutive FIBA World Cub Gold Medal and their 33rd gold in the history of international basketball tournaments, which includes the Olympics. It’s Mike Krzyzewski’s

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How Did FIBA World Cup Win Prepare USA Basketball for 2016 Rio Summer Olympics?

The United States scored a tournament-high 129 points on Sunday, easily outpacing Serbia’s 92 points en route to a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup in Spain. It was the club’s 63rd consecutive victory and secured the team a spot at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. Bleacher Report highlighted the win and Irving’s performance:

Team USA’s latest rout comes on the heels of gold-medal victories at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the 2010 FIBA World Cup in Istanbul and the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The faces have changed, but the unrivaled results remain the same.

And with the lessons learned this summer, those results may be remarkably similar come 2016.

Only two members of the 2012 Olympic team joined Team USA this time around, but that didn’t seem to affect the bottom line. Eight Americans scored in double figures on Sunday, and all but one member of the 12-man roster—Derrick Rose—scored in the contest. If this is a sign of things to come, the future of USA Basketball remains in good hands.

Much of the club’s continuity can be attributed to head coach and college basketball legend Mike Krzyzewski, the closest thing to a common denominator in all of USA Basketball’s recently sustained success.

Indeed, the United States took gold this time without a slew of the NBA’s most recognizable names—including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and others. One might have expected the Americans to take a step back without some of their most cherished weapons, but that was hardly the case.

In fact, Team USA managed to establish some firsts along the way after remaining undefeated during tournament play. ESPN Stats & Info and SportsCenter shared some historical stats:

Attempting to give credit where it’s due isn’t easy.

This was an ensemble effort drawing on major contributions from Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and—especially in the final—Kyrie Irving.

Even DeMarcus Cousins seemed to play with maturity that was—for him—unprecedented, especially against Serbia.

CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore writes:

The real story of the gold medal game, though, should be DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins…came in with Anthony Davis in foul trouble and made a huge impact. He protected the rim, disrupting all sorts of shots, crashed the glass and controlled the game. He also walked away from every brush-up and conflict, never overreacting to fouls or controls.

At the moment, there’s no telling which of those standouts will join the 2016 effort in Rio. Those decisions will be made by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo in due time.

But the first takeaway from the United States’ adventures in Spain is that Colangelo should have some flexibility when making those decisions. Missing superstars had little impact on this squad’s fortunes, and that could pave the way for a slightly less star-studded affair two years from now.

Colangelo recently told USA Today‘s Sam Amick:

What we talked about (in 2006) was putting an infrastructure in place that could fend off a lot of things that would come your way.

It’s the depth that we have with our national team concept, that we would accept players from that national team, which is a fluid roster of roughly 28 players, a fluid roster that we would delete and add depending on who’s doing what and Select (team) players.

Irving, the latest hero, proves as much.

He was named the tournament MVP after making all six of his three-point attempts on Sunday. Through nine games, the 22-year-old averaged 12.1 points and 3.6 assists per contest—making him one of six players on the team to average double-figure scoring throughout the tournament.

Though the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard began cementing star credentials with MVP honors at the 2014 All-Star Game, he certainly doesn’t boast the kind of veteran or winning pedigree as some of those absentee floor generals—such as Paul or Westbrook. Performances like this one against Serbia will change that before long.

Faried was an even more unexpected difference-maker. The Denver Nuggets forward averaged 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game during tournament play. His unyielding motor translated into 3.9 offensive rebounds per contest and made him a perfect fit for the club’s up-tempo style of play.

I just love to play basketball,” Faried told reporters earlier during tournament play. “Every time I step on the basketball court, you never know it could be your last game, so I like to play my hardest in every game. When you love the game like that it tends to reward you back.” 

That passion for the game catapulted the 24-year-old to the forefront of a roster he might not have made had big men such as Griffin, Love or Aldridge participated this summer.

The other breakout star who likely earned himself a ticket to Rio was Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson.

Thompson averaged 12.7 points per game during FIBA play and converted on 52.3 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 41.5 percent of his team-high 5.9 three-point attempts per contest. To hear him explain his success in a journal entry published by The San Francisco Chronicle courtesy of Rusty Simmons, defense has also played a pivotal role. Thompson wrote in August:

I thought I was competing for a spot on the team from the beginning, because there were so many good wing players. I think I earned it by the way I showed up every day.

I think my shooting ability helped – especially being able to stretch the floor in the international game – but I think my defense was the key. I’ve competed on every possession and proven that I can guard multiple positions. 

These are Krzyzewski types through and through, hard-working players who’ve made names for themselves on a global stage while their respective NBA careers are coming into their own.

Perhaps the biggest revelation from this FIBA World Cup is that the United States boasts a wealth of leadership, even without MVP-caliber talent such as James or Durant on board. 

Colangelo and Krzyzewski should both take something away from that, crafting and coaching the 2016 roster with a profound awareness of just how deep the NBA is. Perhaps it’s time to rely on some motivated young up-and-comers rather than (or in addition to) the league’s most established names.

The ostensible crisis of U.S. leadership has paradoxically served to highlight one of the United States’ strengths: Its seemingly endless supply of top-shelf talent just waiting for an opportunity to shine.

“I like my team a lot,” Krzyzewski told reporters prior to the final. “I trust my team. … We’ve had a lot of interruptions and [these players have] never made any excuses. They should be in this position to play for a world championship.”

Earning that trust may not have happened overnight, but when all was said and done, this team positioned itself to take Rio by storm—with or without LeBron, KD, CP3 and those of their ilk.

There’s a strong case to be made that this was a learning experience all along. 

As CBSSports.com’s Zach Harper put it:

Since Jerry Colangelo overhauled the program following the embarrassment in the 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball has been about continuity, chemistry and growth with the youth of the roster becoming the stars of international basketball.

The FIBA World Championship, which has now become the FIBA World Cup, is the perfect situation to foster that growth with the young players and help them adapt to the attitude and professionalism expected of USA Basketball.

From that perspective, mission accomplished.

Here’s to hoping the guys who proved themselves in Spain aren’t crowded out by USA Basketball’s usual suspects in 2016. Some of those larger-than-life names will return to the fold, but we shouldn’t forget the lesser names who picked up their slack in a bid to win FIBA gold.

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