Tag:Suns
Posted on: February 5, 2012 12:39 am
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Jeremy Lin: From teammate's couch to career night

NEW YORK – This was partly about Jeremy Lin and his own personal party at Madison Square Garden Saturday night. It was about Lin, the first NBA player from Harvard in 58 years and only the fourth American-born Asian to play in the league, putting on a show with 25 points, seven assists with the crowd chanting his name.

And then Pearl Jam singing his name over the PA system as thousands stayed in their seats for the on-court TV interview.

He had toiled in the D-League, been tossed aside by the Warriors and Rockets, and wasn’t sure he’d be long for this part of the basketball world, either. How unsure was he? Lin had been crashing at his brother’s place when coming home late from road games, as the Knicks did after a crushing loss in Boston Friday night. But there was no room at the inn – his brother had ample house guests, Lin said – so he slept on teammate Landry Fields’ couch the night before the best game of his life.

“I think I may just go move in with him,” Lin said.

Or get his own place. It’s only one game, but it was precisely the spark the Knicks needed after losing 11 of their previous 13 with an offense predicated on quality point-guard play “grasping at straws” without one, coach Mike D’Antoni said.

“The biggest thing is, he’s got a point guard mentality,” D’Antoni said. “He has a rhyme or reason to what he’s doing and players can kind of play off that. Whereas when you don’t know, you’re just grasping at straws. He gives us a good feel. Again, it’s one game, so let’s not get too excited. But he gives us what we sorely need.”

And this is where the story of Lin having a career night turns into a story that is really about something else. Having a point-guard play the way Lin did Saturday night – attacking and beating pick-and-roll double teams, aggressively getting into the paint and scoring – only underscored how lost the Knicks were without that.

And how lost they will continue to be if they don’t keep getting it.

“We’ve got to make sure we continue to keep the floor spaced and move the ball,” said Amar’e Stoudemire, limited to 17 points and in foul trouble in the Knicks’ third game in as many nights. “We’ve got to continue to do that consistently. We can’t do it one game and then the next game go back to what we’ve been trying not to do.”

Stoudemire was a factor only sporadically due to foul trouble and the grueling stretch of games. Carmelo Anthony was 3-for-15 for 11 points. In the Knicks’ third consecutive game against the kind of elite point guard they lack – Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams – somehow Lin was the best player on the floor. If you’d told Stoudemire before the game that Lin would’ve had almost as many points as Stoudemire and Anthony combined Saturday night, “I would’ve woken up from a bad dream,” he said.

Was it a fluke that Lin made 13 of 19 from the field – jumpers, floaters, reverse layups – on his dream night? Yeah, that’s not going to happen again. But the way Lin directed the Knicks’ directionless offense? The way he gave it purpose and an actual method of attack? Having seen him a time or two in the D-League, where he was the best player on the floor of every game I’ve seen in person, Lin can do that.

But the fact that D’Antoni already said he was thinking seriously about starting Lin Monday night against the Jazz? That speaks more to the Knicks’ state of desperation than anything else. They’re going nowhere without a point guard to run the offense, and who knows when Baron Davis is going to be ready. And when he’s ready, who knows how much of Baron Davis is going to show up.

So for now, for this snapshot in time, the Knicks have a point guard. Dare I say it was the best a point guard has played for D’Antoni since a gentleman named Steve Nash was doing stuff like this every night for him. So Jeremy Lin saved the Knicks from their 12th loss in 14 games, saved D’Antoni from another day of speculation that he’ll be fired, and generally just took a tense, desperate situation and let everyone breathe a little.

“I’m just thankful to be here right now for this team,” Lin said.

Believe me, the team feels the same way.
Posted on: September 30, 2011 8:56 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 12:31 pm
 

Star power stirs up NBA talks

NEW YORK -- Flanked by some of the biggest stars in the game, players' association president Derek Fisher stood in a ballroom at a Park Avenue hotel Friday and declared that the willingness to reach a new collective bargaining agreement is there on both sides.

Next will have to come the movement, the tipping point that pushes the negotiations to the point of compromise. And that point did not come Friday, when stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen got to see for themselves what the owners are asking of them as they seek a system that gives all 30 teams an opportunity to compete and be profitable.

After some initial ugliness -- a person familiar with what happened in the negotiating room told CBSSports.com that some players were initially infuriated by how little the owners' stance has changed -- the bargaining session took on a tone of cooperation that signaled to some players that a deal was within reach.

UPDATE: But not before it appeared that Friday's bargaining session would be short-lived, and that there wouldn't be any more talking this weekend.

According to a person familiar with the negotiations, the owners and players met initially at about 2 p.m. ET and broke up to discuss the situation privately among themselves. The players, furious at seeing first hand the owners' offer of 46 percent of basketball-related income (BRI) -- down from their previous level of 57 percent -- were unanimous about what to do.

"Let's go," one of the players said, according to a source. "There's no reason to go back in there."

The players decided to return to the bargaining room with a much smaller group. Among those joining Fisher for the second session were James, Wade, Anthony, Kevin Durant, Baron Davis and committee member Chris Paul. None of the players joining Fisher sat down during this portion of the talks, a person with knowledge of the meetings said.

It was at this point that Wade took exception to commissioner David Stern's tone and gesturing -- the commissioner evidently was pointing his finger while speaking to the players -- and "stood up for himself," a person with knowledge of the meeting said. According to two people familiar with the incident, Wade warned Stern not to point his finger and made reference to not being a child.

Several versions of the quote were reported. According to a witness, Wade's tone was not threatening. But the upshot was clear: This was a potentially galvanizing moment for the players, who finally got the kind of star participation -- and leadership -- that they've lacked at key moments in these talks. In Wade, the players have found their Michael Jordan circa 1999, when the Bulls star famously told the late Wizards owner Abe Pollin to sell his team if he couldn't afford to run it.

After the confrontation, union chief Billy Hunter and Stern met privately, seeking a way to calm nerves and preserve the rest of the negotiations. Hunter, according to the person with knowledge of the talks, convinced the players to go back in -- selling them on the idea that the negotiating process had to be respected and telling them that the two sides would switch from the split of basketball-related income (BRI) to system issues.

It was after session that began at 6 p.m. and ran for about an hour that the two sides agreed to return to the bargaining table Saturday. The takeaway for the players, sources said, was the definite impression that the owners want to have a season.

"I don’t think it was a sense of now or never, but I think there was definitely a sense of, 'It’s time to stop throwing ideas around and let’s actually work towards making these ideas happen,'" said the Heat's Udonis Haslem, attending his first bargaining session. "I heard enough to really believe in my heart that both sides will work tirelessly to find a middle ground. I don’t know if that will happen."

Indeed, both sides tamped down expectations that a deal had to be achieved by the end of the weekend to prevent cancellation of some -- and perhaps all -- regular season games. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, "There are a lot of issues on the table," and questioned whether a deal could be consummated by Sunday strictly from the standpoint of "the number of hours in the day."

The rhetoric about the entire season being in jeopardy if a deal wasn't reached this weekend was "ludicrous," Stern said Friday -- just two days after pointing out that there would be "enormous consequences" from a lack of progress and that they "won't be a question of just starting the season on time."

The two sides will meet again Saturday morning with nearly the full committee of owners and multiple players on hand in addition to the NBPA's executive committee.

Joining the big stars with Fisher, Hunter, and several committee members in the union's post-meeting news conference were Davis, Elton Brand, Ben Gordon, Andre Iguodala, and others as Fisher challenged those who've questioned the involvement of the game's biggest names in the bargaining process.

"Some of our guys have been questioned in terms of their commitment to this process, to the players' association and to the game," Fisher said. "Their presence here today, we all know for picture’s sake says a lot. These guys have always been with us."

James, Wade and Anthony abruptly left the news conference without speaking with reporters, climbing together into an idling SUV waiting for them outside the hotel.

But their presence, without question, was felt in the bargaining room. According to two people involved in the talks, several owners who typically are the most boistrous in the meetings -- including Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and Suns owner Robert Sarver -- were noticably subdued. "Much tamer," said one of the sources. "They know it's time."

The owners were represented by nine of their 11 committee members, with Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban absent. Heat owner Micky Arison, facing the potential destruction of his Big Three (two of them being in the room), was the only owner not on the committee who attended.

The only progress described by anyone Friday (other than the fact that they'll meet again Saturday) was the state of the owners' revenue sharing plans. Stern revealed for the first time that the league is prepared to triple the current revenue sharing pool in the first two years and quadruple it starting in the third year.

But even that issue is clouded in big-market, small-market politics and the issue of when the high-revenue teams will begin to substantially increase their sharing. According to two people familiar with the owners' revenue sharing plans, the Lakers and Knicks would be called upon to pay the lion's share -- with the Lakers paying roughly $50 million and the Knicks $30 million -- into the new pool. But some big-market teams are increasingly reluctant to share their growing local TV revenues; the Lakers, for example, recently signed a 20-year, $3 billion deal with Time Warner that dwarfs some teams' total revenue.

Stern said Friday the players "know precisely" what the owners' revenue sharing plan will look like.

"They know as much as we know," Stern said. "We’ve told them about generally how it’s going to work. We haven't given them a piece of paper, but that will not be the issue that separates us."

So what happens now? After the cleansing process of stars voicing their opinions, threatening to walk out and calling out Stern in front of his owners, the time comes now for smaller groups, cooler heads and compromise. It is the only thing we know at this point about these talks: Both sides want a deal. Both sides want to play.

Both sides have room to move on the economics, too. The owners will quickly lose their appetite for certain non-negotiable system changes once they realize that addressing their losses is within reach. And the players will prove to be willing to negotiate on certain key system points -- such as a modest reduction in the mid-level exception and a more punitive tax system -- once they get the anticipated economic move from the owners.

The owners having witnessed the star players' resolve, and the players having witnessed the owners' willingness to make a deal, won't hurt. Because there will have to be a deal eventually, so why not soon? Why not now? Because, as one source offered, it would be "crazy not to."

And he might as well have been speaking for both sides.



Posted on: June 27, 2011 11:55 am
Edited on: June 27, 2011 12:12 pm
 

Labor update as NBA heads for 'ugly' lockout

NEW YORK -- The NBA owners' planning committee is meeting by conference call Monday to tackle one of the most significant sticking points that have kept the league's imperiled labor negotiations from progressing toward any chance of a deal: revenue sharing.

The committee, led by chairman Wyc Grousbeck of the Celtics, had been scheduled to meet last Friday in conjunction with a full-blown bargaining session with players, but the session was rescheduled.

The status of owners' work on a revamped revenue sharing program -- and the sharing of that information with the National Basketball Players Association -- is viewed as paramount to any slim chances the two sides have of progressing toward a new collective bargaining agreement by midnight Thursday, the expiration of the current deal. Commissioner David Stern last week disputed the union's assertion that owners have not shared "one iota" of their revenue sharing plan, and the upshot was this: not only can owners and players not agree on the league's financial losses, they cannot even agree whether revenue-sharing information has been shared with the players.

The owners' full Board of Governors is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Dallas in preparation for either one last push toward a deal or the lockout that executives on both sides have viewed as all but inevitable for the better part of two years. The owners and players are tentatively scheduled to convene in New York Wednesday and/or Thursday to take one final stab at making a deal. If enough progress is not made to at least prompt an extension of the negotiating deadline, owners are prepared to impose a lockout at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday. The Board of Governors could conduct a procedural vote Tuesday in Dallas to authorize the labor relations committee to lock the players out, although Stern said such a vote could be taken at any time and wouldn't have to be done in person.

At the Tuesday meeting, the labor relations committee -- led by Spurs owner Peter Holt -- will update the full board on the progress in collective bargaining talk with the players. That presentation should take about as long as it takes Tony Parker to get to the basket from the foul line. Despite bargaining sessions in Dallas and Miami during the NBA Finals, and three sessions last week in New York, the two sides appear no closer to a deal than they were in January 2010 -- when owners first presented a draconian proposal calling for a $45 million hard salary cap, the elimination of fully guaranteed contracts, and a more than 33 percent rollback of player salaries.

Owners have since moved about $650 million annually on their salary demands, offering to guarantee players no less than $2 billion in salary and benefits over the life of a 10-year CBA. They also have relaxed their insistence on banning fully guaranteed deals -- though contracts would be for a maximum of three or four years under their proposal, as opposed to the five- and six-year deals free agents can sign under the current CBA, with the extra year in both cases going to a player re-signing with his current team.

Owners also made what they portrayed as a significant concession in offering a "flex cap" concept with a $62 million target for all teams and a top and bottom range to be negotiated with the players. The NBPA rejected this proposal during a week filled with incendiary rhetoric, with union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers calling it a hard cap in disguise and saying it was a "total distortion of reality."

The players have made two significant economic moves during the recent talks, first offering to take a $318 million pay cut over a five-year deal and then raising that offer to $500 million. Stern referred to the latter move as "modest," infuriating union officials and galvanizing the players to the point where more than 30 of them showed up at Friday's bargaining session at the Omni Berkshire Hotel wearing NBPA T-shirts with the word "STAND" printed on the front.

The players also were rankled by the league's offer of a flat $2 billion in annual compensation in the owners' 10-year proposal. Not only do the players oppose a CBA of that length, they also allege that they would not regain their 2010-11 mark of $2.17 billion in salary and benefits until the final year of the owners' 10-year plan. The owners' offer to phase in their salary reductions -- first for two years, and then for three -- was viewed by the players as a non-starter because they would receive less than 50 percent of basketball-related income (BRI) by the midpoint of the deal and would be below 40 percent in the final years. The players currently are guaranteed 57 percent of the league revenues, which are expected to come in at $3.8 billion for the '10-'11 season.

Players also viewed the owners' request to keep the approximately $160 million in salary collected by the league in an escrow fund for the '10-'11 season as part of their most recent proposal. Money earned by players under the existing CBA should be "off the table," according to Fisher, who said this request by the owners "speaks to their arrogance." League officials were dismayed by Fisher's comments and believe it would've been more productive for the players to reject the idea during negotiations rather than air it publicly.

But a key tipping point in bargaining could be what revenue-sharing details the owners come forward with this week. Owners have long rejected the players' request that revenue-sharing be collectively bargained, but the players believe many of the issues owners have addressed with regard to improving competitive balance could be satisfied by redistributing revenues from successful to struggling teams. In Friday's bargaining session, the Celtics' Paul Pierce crystallized the players' perception that owners have cloaked their determination to slash salaries behind the more benign concept of competitive balance.

"If it’s about being competitive, let’s come up with a system we can all be competitive in," Pierce told the owners, according to Suns player representative Jared Dudley. "If it’s about money, that’s a different story that we’re talking about."

Although NBA owners have enhanced their revenue-sharing plan in recent years, the league continues to have one of the most inequitable systems in professional sports, with big-market teams holding enormous advantages because local gate and broadcast revenues are not included in the revenue-sharing pie. Owners view the current luxury-tax system as akin to revenue sharing, but it is not enough to address the disparity between teams like the Knicks and Lakers, who make more than five times what teams like Memphis and Minnesota bring in through ticket sales. Those glamour-market teams also enjoy local broadcast deals that exceed some small-market teams' total revenues, according to a person familiar with league finances.

It has been difficult for the NBPA to justify the massive salary reductions the league is seeking without knowing how owners plan to address this enormous disparity among teams. One option at the NBPA's disposal would have been to file a request with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a ruling that revenue sharing should be a "mandatory subject" of collective bargaining. Sources say union officials have opted not to go this route and instead have trusted the owners to come forth with an effective and transparent approach to getting their own financial house in order before getting further salary concessions from the players.

After declining to make a counter offer to the owners' latest proposal Friday, the players have put the onus on owners and league negotiators to reveal their revenue-sharing plans as part of the next scheduled bargaining session in New York. As of Monday, sources said NBPA officials had no plans to travel to Dallas for an additional bargaining session.

In any event, it may already be too late to get a deal in place and avert a lockout. Even if the two sides unexpectedly made significant progress Wednesday and Thursday, there would not be enough time for lawyers to craft a new agreement before the deadline. In that case, the league would impose a moratorium on business while final details were hammered out and the contract was drafted.

But far more likely is that both sides will be unwilling to move off their most recent positions until the pain of a work stoppage is experienced.

"They've got to go through the process," said a person who has been heavily involved in past labor negotiations. "It's going to be ugly."
Posted on: June 24, 2011 6:21 pm
Edited on: June 24, 2011 8:10 pm
 

No counter from players; 'one more shot' at deal

NEW YORK – NBA owners and players ended a contentious week of negotiations and rhetoric Friday without a counter-offer from the players, leaving a slim chance that a deal can be reached by the June 30 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement.

Despite reaching a stalemate on economic issues and the split of the league’s $4 billion in annual revenues, the two sides agreed to meet again Wednesday in Manhattan for one, or possibly two more days of bargaining before the current CBA expires at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday.

"We think we’ll have one more shot at it," National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter said. "Obviously, we’ll have some idea as to where they are in terms of owners -- whether there’s a chance to make a deal or whether there isn't."

Practically speaking, sources said it would be nearly impossible to write a new CBA in that time frame, leaving only two likely scenarios – a lockout imposed by the owners that would shut the sport down for the first time since the 1998-99 season, or an extension of the deadline to negotiate, which neither side has ruled out. But the latter option would require progress on narrowing the gap between the two sides’ bargaining positions, which remains hundreds of millions of dollars a year – and billions over the length of a new deal.

“There's still such a large gap,” said NBPA president Derek Fisher of the Lakers. “We feel that any move for us is real dollars we'd be giving back from where we currently stand, as opposed to where our owners have proposed numbers that in our estimation don’t exist right now. They're asking us to go to the place where they want us to go. We've expressed our reasons why we don't want to continue to move economically.”

In a display of unity and force that commissioner David Stern said he welcomed, more than 30 players arrived for meetings at the Omni Berkshire Hotel wearing tan NBPA T-shirts with the word, “STAND” printed on the front. The bargaining session included various player representatives who previously had only been briefed by union officials and executive committee members on the progress – or lack thereof – in negotiations.

The players streamed out onto 52nd Street around 3:30 p.m. after a four-hour bargaining session, many of them boarding a luxury touring bus and declining to comment. Several stopped to sign autographs. The scene – including a throng of media camped out on the sidewalk – caused such a spectacle that at one point, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo cut a swath through the crowd and was noticed by only a couple of reporters.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett of the Celtics, among the most vocal players in the room Friday and the players who devised the T-shirt idea, were driven away in a black SUV with executive committee member Theo Ratliff. In the meeting, Pierce accused the owners of taking a disingenuous stance by disguising their insistence on slashing salaries under the cloak of creating a new system that would allow more teams to be competitive.

“Is it more about money or being competitive?” Pierce said to the owners, according to Suns player rep Jared Dudley. “What does this have to do with? If it’s about being competitive, let’s come up with a system we can all be competitive in. If it’s about money, that’s a different story that we’re talking about.”

Hunter reiterated that he expects the owners to vote on imposing a lockout during the meeting of their full Board of Governors Tuesday in Dallas, but sources said there were no plans for such a vote – which would be procedural, anyway, and no surprise to anyone given that the threat of a lockout has loomed over the negotiations for more than two years. But with the attendance and engagement of a large group of players Friday, Hunter said owners “may find it difficult to pull the trigger” on a lockout vote.

“Even though we didn’t make an progress, I think they felt that the energy and attitude within the room was such that it might necessitate further discussion,” Hunter said.

In a softening of the rhetoric that marked the week of labor meetings -- the tone of which Stern said became "incendiary" at times -- Stern declined to discuss details of Friday's bargaining points. It was his public revelation of a $62 million "flex cap" system proposed by owners, along with a guarantee of no less than $2 billion in salary and benefits during the league's 10-year CBA proposal, that infuriated union officials who felt blindsided -- and subsequently conducted one small and one large media briefing to go on the attack.

Stern also sidestepped the possibility of a lockout vote, which typically would be taken by the Board of Governors to authorize the owners’ labor relations committee to impose one upon expiration of the current CBA.

“We can do whatever we need to do, whenever we need to do it, however we need to do it,” Stern said. “It's not about the formality of a meeting. … For us, the best time we're going to spend next week hopefully is on a meeting with the players on Wednesday that with any luck goes over to Thursday. And that’s where we are.”

The primary purpose of the owners’ meetings in Dallas Tuesday is for the labor relations committee – featuring such big-market representatives as the Knicks’ James Dolan and Lakers’ Jeanie Buss and small-market owners such as the Thunder’s Clay Bennett and Spurs’ Peter Holt, the committee chairman – to update representatives from all 30 teams about the state of negotiations. The owners’ planning committee also will brief the board on the status of a new revenue sharing plan, the lack of inclusion of which in the bargaining process has been an irritant for union officials.

Hunter told reporters this week that owners have not divulged “one iota” of their plans to enhance the sharing of revenue as a way to help small-market teams compete, and that rancor among high- and low-revenue teams continues to divide the owners. Stern disputed that notion Friday, saying, “We’ve had a full discussion with the players about everything, and we're prepared to discuss everything with them.”

The players and union officials have tried to get the owners to include their revenue-sharing plan as part of the new CBA, saying competitive balance could be improved through sharing more revenue – such as gate receipts and local broadcast revenues – without trying to solve the league’s stated annual losses of at least $300 million strictly through salary reductions.

“As we've said repeatedly, if we lose money on an aggregate basis, we can’t possibly revenue-share our way to profitability,” deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.

Stern would not divulge whether owners would reveal to the players the substance of their revenue-sharing plan that will be discussed among owners in Dallas. And sources told CBSSports.com that the union seems disinclined to use a legal tool at their disposal – asking a court to rule on whether revenue-sharing should be included as a “mandatory subject” in collective bargaining.

“We can’t make the final sort of push on revenue sharing until we know what the yield or not of the labor deal is,” Stern said. “… The revenue sharing is moving as well. We're setting things up, I would hope, on both fronts.”

Setting things up for a deal or a lockout? After two years of negotiations with no results, you be the judge.

Posted on: June 22, 2011 10:40 am
 

Draft buzz: Nash, Smoove, and more


NEW YORK -- Suns president Lon Babby put the brakes on Steve Nash trade speculation Wednesday, saying, "We are not trading Steve Nash. Period. Exclamation point."

Despite the questionable syntax, the otherwise clear dictation from Babby to the Arizona Republic quashed the latest Nash trade discussions, which had him going to Minnesota for the No. 2 pick in Thursday's draft. The Timberwolves have been among the most active teams in trade discussions leading up to the draft, offering the second pick to several teams with a list of demands that included Nash, the Lakers' Pau Gasol, and the Wizards' JaVale McGee, league sources said Wednesday. The proposed Gasol trade is "not happening," one of the sources said, and Washington has been unwilling to seriously discuss trading McGee.

A person close to Nash said of a possible trade to Minnesota, "I can't believe (Phoenix) would do that to Steve." Nash, 37, would be relegated to mentoring point guard Ricky Rubio on a rebuilding team that won 17 games last season.

If Minnesota is unsuccessful in procuring a veteran star for the second pick, sources said the Wolves are comfortable selecting Arizona's Derrick Williams, who team officials strongly believe will be on the board after the Cavaliers select Duke point guard Kyrie Irving.

Babby also told the Republic that the Suns "are not trading Marcin Gortat," whose name was included in the discussions with Minnesota.

A source also said discussions between Atlanta and Orlando with Josh Smith going to the Magic are "totally legit." Executives say the Hawks have expressed an eagerness to move Smith and would like to shed salary in the process.

Several executives were surprised to learn the Spurs are fielding offers for point guard Tony Parker, whose infamous statement that San Antonio's championship window has closed could usher in some significant changes for the four-time champions. An integral piece of the puzzle for the Spurs is the pending early-termination option for Tim Duncan, who has yet to act on his $21.2 million option for next season. It would clearly benefit Duncan to agree to an extension before the collective bargaining agreement expires at 12:01 a.m. ET July 1, though Spurs officials are currently focused on the draft -- with one obvious priority being whether Parker or other assets could get San Antonio into the high lottery on draft night.

With top prospects in New York Thursday for media and service responsibilities, a person familiar with the draft discussions said the Pistons appear to have zeroed in on Texas small forward Tristan Thompson with the eighth pick. Thompson canceled other scheduled workouts after working out for the Pistons with five other players Wednesday.



Posted on: June 20, 2011 10:55 pm
Edited on: June 20, 2011 11:07 pm
 

NBA draft buzz: Kyrie No. 1

Three days before the NBA draft, here’s a smattering of news, info, and informed opinion culled from conversations with team executives, agents, and others in the know:

• Sources would be stunned if the Cavaliers did anything but use the No. 1 pick to select Duke point guard Kyrie Irving. He’s the perfect package of talent and presence to shoulder the burden of carrying the franchise to new heights after the departure of LeBron James. The Cavs, however, are more than open to trading the No. 4 pick.

• The Timberwolves are comfortable with the outstanding consolation prize that comes with the No. 2 pick, and will get one of the only impact players in the draft in Derrick Williams. Plus, they won’t have to deal with the burden of having to choose between Irving and Williams. The Cavs, after all, could be wrong. The Wolves can’t. The only way Minnesota trades the pick is if someone “blows them away,” according to a source, and that would have to be a trade involving a superstar-caliber player.

• The Jazz and Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight are a sensible match with the third pick, as Utah looks to replace the gaping hole left by the trade of Deron Williams to the Nets. Some execs have gotten indications that Utah also is considering Enes Kanter.

• The Raptors, who agreed in principle Monday with defensive-minded coach Dwane Casey to replace Jay Triano, are sending out signals that they’re all about Bismack Biyombo with the fifth pick, but rival executives are skeptical. One such exec is banking on Toronto taking 6-11 forward Jan Vesely, regarded as the best international prospect in the draft.

• If Toronto passes on Biyombo, some execs believe he could slide as far as 14-18, and the Knicks, with the 17th pick, are known to be high on him. But the apple of the Knicks’ eye is BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette, and New York officials are trying to compute how far they’d have to trade up for him and what it would cost. The Knicks also like Michigan point guard Darius Morris, and one exec said the word Monday had New York looking into trade-up options for Georgia Tech shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

• One rival executive is “almost positive” the Wizards will take Kanter with the sixth pick, or look to trade down. Washington would grab Biyombo with the 18th pick if he’s still available, and otherwise would be comfortable with Kenneth Faried.

Kings officials are split between Fredette (beloved by ownership) and Alec Burks (favored by the basketball staff).

• The Pistons have a key workout scheduled for Tuesday, hosting Biyombo, Marcus Morris, Tristan Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard. Word among rival execs is that Detroit will take one of those players or Kemba Walker with the eighth pick.

• The Bobcats are said to be all over Chris Singleton with the ninth pick, but would take Marcus Morris if they’re stuck. Nicola Vucevic would be Charlotte’s choice with the 19th pick if he’s still there.

• It’s sort of the opposite situation with the Bucks, who are looking to trade the 10th pick but would take Burks if they can’t.

• The Warriors are enamored of Washington State shooting guard Klay Thompson, which would seem to cast doubt on GM Larry Riley’s denials of exploring trade scenarios for Monta Ellis. Singleton and Biyombo also are on Golden State’s list with the 11th pick.

• Singleton would be the pick for Utah at No. 12 if he’s still there, sources say.

• The Suns appear to be focused on Thompson or Walker with the 13th pick. But this is the area to start thinking about Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas, whose touchy buyout situation is the only thing knocking him out of being a top-five pick.

• The Pacers appear to be comfortable with either Thompson or Fredette with the 15th pick, but if neither is there, they’d take Markieff Morris, sources say.

• Jordan Hamilton appears headed to Philly with the 16th pick, and sources said Monday the Timberwolves have offered point guard Jonny Flynn in a package deal for swingman Andre Iguodala. Philadelphia officials, however, have let it be known that they are not interested in a salary-dump deal for Iguodala and want an impact veteran in return.

• Faried also is on the Trail Blazers’ wish list at No. 21, but the Blazers also are said to be high on Marshon Brooks.
Posted on: June 1, 2011 5:19 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 5:22 pm
 

Shaq: The Last Big Interview

MIAMI – With Shaquille O’Neal announcing his Big Sayonara on Wednesday, it was the perfect time to reminisce about the Big Fella’s impact. Nobody ever did it like Shaq, or will ever do it like Shaq again.

He was one of a kind, an original. He was the last of the dominant centers, the first to market himself across platforms – from sports, to hip-hop, to movies, to pop culture.

I thought back to my last great interview with O’Neal, last October when he was embarking on what would become a frustrating, unfulfilling, and ultimately failed one-year experiment in Boston. After failing to get a “ring for the King” in Cleveland, O’Neal had hoped to capture his fifth championship and the 18th for the Celtics by teaming with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. In the end, father time came calling for Shaq and sent him exiting, stage left.

Before he goes, a detailed look at that last interview in New York – a particularly candid moment that harkened back to a time when Shaq’s game was as loud and penetrating as his voice and ideas:

On the era of the dominant center: “I think I killed off all the centers, and now all the centers want to play the European-style basketball. There’s only one-and-a-half or two real centers left -- Dwight Howard and Yao Ming. Every now and then, Yao Ming steps outside and wants to shoot jumpers. But it’s gone more toward the European style. The days of the Patrick Ewings and Rik Smits and Kevin Duckworth and Robert Parish, those days are over, thanks to me.”

On whether it will ever come back: “No. Never.”

On his hip-hop career: “I was the one that did everything right and made it to the top and did it respectfully and kept it going. A lot of guys tried to come in, but I actually came in from the bottom, worked my way up with the crew and did this and did that. I was just a young kid coming from the projects of Newark, N.J., fulfilling one of his dreams.”

About the opportunities basketball has given him: “The good thing about being a humble athlete and a humble guy is, you get to meet people and you get to shake people’s hands. We all know that we all come from the same place. For me growing up, on the way to the court I was mimicking LL Cool J, and once I got to the court I was Dr. J. So it was pretty much even. And I always stated that the thing that made me a great athlete is because I’m a great dancer. I have rhythm.”

On any individual goals he had left: “If I did have an individual goal, it probably would be to pass Wilt Chamberlain in scoring. … Then I could feel complete with myself saying that I was the most dominant player if I had more championships and more points than him. But I don’t have any other individual goals that I’m going for. I’m just trying to get No. 5 this year.”

On whether centers can still be difference-makers: “No, not shooting jumpers. … I’ve never lost a series to a guy shooting jumpers – besides Pau (Gasol), but Pau has a couple of extra weapons with him. There hasn’t been a center that has won shooting jumpers. Pau is 60-40 – 60 inside and 40 shooting jumpers. So I think the centers are getting a little more Pau Gasolish.”

On whether that could change: “Dwight Howard plays like a true big man like we all played. … He’s actually in my eyes a true center. The game has changed, but to me he’s 95-5 – 95 inside and every now and then he’ll try to face up and shoot it off the glass. That’s how I like to see dominant big men play.”

On his love of sports cars: “I’ve always loved sports cars. I had a couple of Ferraris and had a Lamborghini. But I was coming off the 395 one night trying to get to the beach – chillin, looking good, smelling good. I don’t know why, but I hit something and spun around and the only thing I was thinking about was hitting that ___ wall and going into the water. I closed my eyes and when I stopped a ___ truck was coming this way, so I had to get in my mode and put that ___ in reverse and do like some Bruce Willis ___ and I traded it in the next day. No, as a matter of fact, when I came to Phoenix, I sold it to Amar’e (Stoudemire). I was speeding and I was trying to get to a party and I don’t even know what happened. I was just thinking about hitting a wall and thinking about all the courses I took, like if the car hit the water, what the ___ you gotta do.”

On being so critical of Howard in the past: “I wasn’t critical. It’s just that I know how to add fuel to the fire. But he does play like a true big man. I can’t say that he doesn’t play like a true big man. I was just saying last year that when I was his age, I didn’t have the luxury of calling a double to help me on Patrick Ewing. I would’ve loved to have help on ___ Pat Ewing and Rick Smits and all those guys, but I played them straight up. So if you want my respect, play straight up. That’s all I said.”
Posted on: May 11, 2011 1:27 pm
Edited on: May 11, 2011 1:53 pm
 

Big Hurt: End of the line for a legend

MIAMI – The end comes fast sometimes, and Shaquille O’Neal has reached it. Just like that, on a sunny Wednesday morning in South Florida, one of the giants of the game arrived at the finish line. Or rather, the finish line arrived at him.

Shaq didn’t retire Wednesday or suffer some unmistakably career-ending injury. There was no farewell news conference, no roast in a fancy banquet hall somewhere. But Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who’d hoped against hope that one of the best centers who ever lived might give him something – anything – in this playoff series against the Heat, said the words that needed to be said. They are the words that no legend wants to hear, words that no coach wants to have to muster the courage to say. But Rivers said it, right there in front of a black curtain in a staging area of American Airlines Arena, in the hours before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In so many words, Rivers said Shaq is done. Finished. Can’t play anymore. One of the last true post-up centers still roaming the Earth has reached the end. Through nobody’s fault but Father Time’s, Rivers had to admit Wednesday that the Celtics’ experiment with the Big Shamrock was a Big Failure.

“Yeah, there’s just nothing he can do,” Rivers said. “It’s not like he’s not trying. I told our team that yesterday. He’s done everything you possibly can do to get healthy. Unfortunately for him, he just hasn’t been able to do it. When he was originally injured, no one even thought it was that serious. … I think I remember saying it was no big deal, that he’d be back in four or five days. But it just never healed and it still hasn’t, and now every time he plays, it gets worse. There’s just nothing you can do about it, and we haven’t, really.”

And with that, an admission from Rivers that the Celtics have given up hope that any more treatment or hours on the exercise bike will make a difference. In all likelihood, O’Neal logged the last 12 minutes of his career in this series, scoring one basket, grabbing no rebounds, and committing four fouls. Like the last living member of a species facing extinction, O’Neal propelled himself forward until he literally could not move anymore.



It is not the first time Rivers, one of the great protectors of players and their egos in the coaching business, has had to deliver such grim news. 

“I had Patrick Ewing in his last year in Orlando, and I played with him,” Rivers said. “And I was the coach telling him, ‘We’re not going to play you anymore.’ That’s an awful position, because what makes them great is their pride. Even when they’re barely walking, in their minds they still think they can actually change the outcome of a game. And sometimes you have to be the one to tell them they can’t. And that’s very tough.”

After 19 seasons, O’Neal, 39, has one year left on a $1.4 million player option for next season. On a steady decline since his last productive season in 2008-09 with Phoenix, it is difficult to imagine O’Neal earning that money on the court. For an icon of his stature, pride and going out with dignity mean more than a seven-figure pay day – especially if you’ve already made close to $300 million in your career, not to mention hundreds of millions in endorsement money.

“You can never take away anything he’s done in this game as a champion, the way he set the blueprint for guys like Dwight Howard on and off the court,” said Dwyane Wade, who shared the 2006 NBA title with O’Neal. “He’s a living legend. It’s unfortunate you get to a point in your career where you have to be hawked by injuries.”

The guy sitting next to Wade at the interview table played one season with Shaq, and also had his differences with the big fella. When I asked Wade and LeBron James to weigh in on this being the end of the line for one of the NBA’s greats, James put his head in his hands offered silence. After Wade volunteered to go first – “Since I played with him first,” he said – James also took a crack at summing up one of the most dynamic figures the NBA has ever seen.

“Talk about someone who does it on both sides of the floor, and on and off the court, he did it as far as using his personality to get out to the world,” James said. “He made fans believe they were one with him. … If he was a complete stranger and you saw how big he was, you wouldn’t be afraid to go talk to him because you saw how likeable he was and how his personality was, how outgoing he was. Definitely like D-Wade said, he laid the blueprint for a lot of people, not only on the court, but off the court. Still to this day, he’s still a great person and it’s unfortunate, like D-Wade said, when you get to a point in your career where you have injuries.”

Whatever happens to the Celtics, Rivers said Shaq should “walk away for the summer and then decide what he wants to do.” But O’Neal has reached the point where the decision is out of his hands. Time stands still for no one, no matter how many championships (four), All-Star appearances (15), or nicknames (countless) he has.

“I just know that this has been emotionally draining to him, more than you guys would know,” Rivers said. “He feels awful about this because this is why he came here, to get to the playoffs and then play in the playoffs. And then not being able to do that has really hurt him.”

At training camp in Newport, R.I., many months and miles ago, O'Neal recalled his offseason phone calls to the Celtics' Big Three before signing with Boston.

"I basically was like, 'Help me help you,'" O'Neal said. "So I'm gonna help them get two and I'm gonna get five."

A few weeks later, in the locker room at Madison Square Garden, O'Neal declared the era of the dominant center a thing of the past.

"The days of Patrick Ewing and Rik Smits and Kevin Duckworth and Robert Parish, those days are over," O'Neal said. "Thanks to me.”

It turns out he was right, though a few months early. 
 
 
 
 
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