Posted Sep 23, 2013 10:23 AM
But it was three months ago. And this week, we start up again, with Miami looking to become just the third team in the last 48 seasons (the 2001-03 Lakers; the 1991-93 and '96-'98 Bulls) to win three straight titles. The Heat added two unlikely young vets, Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, to try to ease the burden off a core group that's played 68 postseason games the last three years, but Miami's chances at a three-peat (coined in 1988 by one James Patrick Riley) will rest, as they always do, on the health of the SuperFriends.
As always, there are worthy challengers in queue.
Indiana was thisclose to beating Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. After having been embarrassed in Game 7, do the Pacers now have the necessary bile to go with their size and defensive chops? Chicago expects to be in the mix again in a serious way with Derrick Rose back. The Knicks are counting on import Andrea Bargnani to give Carmelo Anthony help. The Nets, by the time you finish reading the Tip, will have signed five more free agents for another $393 million.
The Clippers gave up a Draft pick to get Doc Rivers from the Celtics, which in turn assured the return of Chris Paul. With an upgraded roster plus Rivers and Paul, can the Clips, finally, make a postseason run to equal or better the exciting regular-season moments they've delivered since Paul's arrival?
Rivers' departure led to Celtics GM Danny Ainge shocking just about everyone by hiring 36-year-old Brad Stevens from Butler University, promising he'll have the time to learn the NBA and go through almost certain significant growing pains. Stevens is one of 13 new coaches in the league, with new blood also on playoff teams in Memphis (Dave Joerger), Denver (Brian Shaw), Brooklyn (Jason Kidd), Atlanta (Mike Budenholzer) and Milwaukee (Larry Drew), among others.
With Rose back, the injury watch starts in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant will try to stare down an Achilles' injury at 35, and continues to Oklahoma City, where Russell Westbrook is recovering from a meniscus tear. Can they get back, quickly, to their All-Star form? Can Rajon Rondo come back from his ACL tear to help the young Celtics stay the course?
• I can't wait for opening night in Sacramento. The good people of that city have had their hearts toyed with for three seasons, waiting for that horrible day when their Kings were officially taken from them. But the city's political and business leaders finally got on the same page, and then they made the Kings' plight not just Sacramento's, but the state of California's. They convinced the NBA their city was worth investing in. With a new owner (Vivek Ranadive), new management (including GM Pete D'Alessandro), new coaches (Michael Malone and his staff), a new arena in the pipeline and new blood throughout the organization, let's see what Sacramento can do without a hand tied behind its back.
• I can't wait to see what coach Mike D'Antoni can do with the Lakers this season. Dwight Howard is a thousand miles away, Steve Nash is healthy and D'Antoni has a full training camp to implement his philosophy. It's going to be an odd menagerie of talent in Staples this season (Chris Kaman on the court with Nick Young?), and who knows how Kobe will be when he comes back. But it still shouldn't be dull.
• I can't wait to visit the Spurs, and look 'em in the eyes, and see what's there. I know what they will say: they've put Games 6 and 7 of The Finals behind them, and they're looking forward, and why do we keep bringing it up? We will keep bringing it up because none of us believe they're over Games 6 and 7. Being human, how could they be? How could they be so close to a championship, and lose it, and not be affected? It doesn't matter that they're a veteran team and they'll be in the mix again this season. That kind of defeat haunts even the strongest of minds. We will see.
• I can't wait to measure what the Wizards really have with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Is this combo a dynamic, winning backcourt that is ready to lead Washington to the playoffs? Or were the last 30 games of last season an outlier, signifying nothing?
• I can't wait to look at what the Cavs have put together. A full season (we hope) of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, with Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao up front, plus No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, and whatever Andrew Bynum has to offer -- and my man Jarrett Jack, for my money the best free-agent pickup this side of Houston. It could be a very tasty stew.
• I can't wait to see Indy and Miami throw down. Preferably in late May.
• I can't wait for Halloween night in Chicago, when the lights go down, the animation comes up on the JumboTron and we finally get to see Derrick Rose take off his warmups and play again, for real. The NBA is never big enough that it doesn't need a talent as dynamic and exciting as Rose. And after all the criticism he took for waiting until he was healthy in mind as well as in body, I can't wait for him to shut people up.
• I can't wait to take the train up to Brooklyn and see what a $188,462,395 payroll looks like. Who knows if owner Mikhail Prokhorov's unprecedented financial commitment will work? Who knows if Kidd will be able to make the incredible, and also unprecedented, adjustment from active player to coach, having no previous experience? Who knows what Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry have in the tank? Who has more unanswered questions than the Nets? Nobody.
• I can't wait to watch James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard figure things out together. I think you'll see the Howard of three years ago, the active defensive beast who looked like he'd turned the corner as an effective halfcourt player. I think. With Harden and Lin a much better fit emotionally than Kobe, and with a max contract, there are no more excuses for Howard. He complained his way out of Orlando and he never seemed to give L.A. a real shot. Houston is it.
• And, I can't wait to get out to the Bay this season, and watch the most exciting team in the NBA -- the Golden State Warriors. All due respect to the Heat and LeBron, there's nothing better in the Association right now than Steph Curry and Klay Thompson raining 3-pointers on the break, and the league's most boisterous home crowd going nuts. Add a new Andre Iguodala, a healthy Andrew Bogut and a slimmer Draymond Green ... yeah, this could be fun.
Will Derrick Rose's return be followed next summer by Luol Deng's exit?
The Bulls start training camp Friday with their focus, understandably, on the return of Rose after the 2011 MVP missed all of last season recovering from his ACL tear. A return to form by Rose makes Chicago a title contender again.
But the Bulls may -- may -- just get one more season out of Deng. The two-time All-Star forward is part of the guts of what makes Chicago so formidable -- a strong defender, a pressure release on offense and a great teammate. Opponents shot just 39.5 percent from the floor against him last season, according to Synergy Sports. And, entering the last year of his $71 million contract, he was looking for an extension in the offseason. But Chicago opted not to give him one, which will allow him to explore unrestricted free agency next summer.
It doesn't mean Deng is gone for sure. But it introduces the possibility.
Deng was asking for something that very few non-superstar veterans have received in recent years, though there have been exceptions -- such as Andray Blatche's extension with the Wizards in 2010. Most deals have involved elite players.
Kobe Bryant got a three-year extension from the Lakers in 2010 for around $88 million, a year after teammate Pau Gasol got a three-year extension worth $57 million. San Antonio gave Tony Parker a four-year, $50 million extension in 2010, the same year they signed Manu Ginobili to a three-year extension for $39 million. New York gave Carmelo Anthony a three-year, $65 million extension in the "extend-and-trade" deal that sent him from Denver to the Knicks in 2011. Boston gave Kevin Garnett a three-year, $34 million deal in 2012 that was, technically, an extension, since it came just before the start of free agency.
But the new collective bargaining agreement has made such deals almost non-existent for most veterans. After some perfunctory discussions in which the two sides found themselves way, way apart, Bulls general manager Gar Forman informed Deng's agent, Herb Rudoy, that Chicago wasn't going to do anything before the start of the season.
Neither side would comment for the record on what Deng was asking for, though the Bulls have maintained they'd be willing to pay him at or above market value. Given that Andre Iguodala, a player with some similarities to Deng, got a four-year, $48 million free agent deal from Golden State as part of a sign-and-trade deal with Utah, Deng's floor would be at $12 to $13 million per year.
Anything above that is likely to be too rich for the Bulls, given the possibilities Chicago can entertain after this season.
"We never negotiated," Rudoy said Friday. "We had several meetings. One was to discuss the medical care he got, or did not get, after his spinal tap [in May], which was of great concern to him."
Deng missed the last two games of the Bulls' first-round series against Brooklyn and all of Chicago's East semifinal series against the Heat after suffering debilitating headaches following a spinal tap that was taken to determine whether he had developed meningitis. But he was upset that the Bulls' team physicians accompanied the team to Miami for the start of the series, leaving him alone in a Chicago hospital as he lost 15 pounds and became violently ill as spinal fluid leaked into his body. Deng was sick for weeks afterward.
"And we had another meeting to discuss whether they would discuss a contract," Rudoy said. "He [Forman] called me a week or two ago and decided they did not want to discuss a contract and that it would have to wait until after the season. I told them they'd have to wait until after July 1, because he would have to see what the market is, and that he would become a free agent. And I couldn't promise he wouldn't sign somewhere else. Now, he loves being there, and he loves playing for [coach Tom] Thibodeau. Loves playing for him. But he has to see what the market is."
The Bulls surely know that there will be at least a few legit suitors for Deng, despite injuries like last year's broken thumb, and other ailments throughout his 10-year career. Deng says his long-standing wrist ailment is fine, though his offensive numbers have dropped noticeably since he initially tore a ligament in the wrist in January, 2012.
But a player with his skills would help any contending team, or be a boon for a young team looking to make a jump. Like Iguodala with the Warriors, most teams would not be looking for Deng to be a first or second offensive option.
But Chicago feels it must take the risk, even though it wants to keep Deng. The Bulls have a number of attractive assets in place, from Rose and Joakim Noah (who is also eligible for an extension in October) to emerging swingman Jimmy Butler, Carlos Boozer (coming off of one of his best seasons) and Taj Gibson (under contract for four more years).
They also have a 2014 first-round pick coming from Charlotte as part of the Tyrus Thomas trade (the pick will remain Charlotte's if it is one of the top 10 picks in next year's Draft, but go to the Bulls if it is 11 or lower) and maintain the rights to Nikola Mirotic. The 22-year-old Montenegran was MVP of the powerful Spanish ACB League last season and is one of Europe's top players. With a large buyout with his current team, Real Madrid, Mirotic won't come over to the NBA until at least the 2014-15 season.
Yet Chicago also has the potential to have significant cap room in 2014 if it uses its still-available amnesty provision, as many expect it will, on Boozer. Doing so shaves his $16.8 million for 2014-15 off the books. (Chicago will be in the luxury tax this season, as it was in 2012-13, but won't be in 2014-15, and thus won't be subject to increased "repeater tax" penalties.)
And that would -- potentially, depending on cap holds and the like -- make Chicago a potential suitor for free agents up to and including the likes of LeBron James. Or, it would be able to make unbalanced trades, or to, at least, be able to sign Mirotic. (For his part, Rose reiterated last week that he's not at all interested in recruiting James or any other big name free agents.)
Any extension for Deng would cut greatly into that potential flexibility. So, no extension.
Deng will be a good case test next summer. He is a very good player, but not a superstar. He is the sort of player that teams with financial advantages used to be able to outspend others for. Will that happen next summer, with teams increasingly unwilling to be tax payers, with the repeater tax kicking in?
Rudoy believes so.
"I know there will be a terrific market for Luol Deng," Rudoy said. "Bulls fans should know he loves playing in Chicago. But if the Bulls don't want to give him an extension, he's obliged to take a look at the market and make a decision that's best for him."
Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in. From Gary Woller:
I understand that as a national writer, you cannot be expected to know intimately the details and goings on of every team in the NBA. That said, your analysis of the Jazz's offseason strikes me as the analysis of someone looking only at the surface of things without taking the time to understand what is going on below the surface. As a long-time season ticket holder, avid fan (though I hope a rational one), and consumer of all news Jazz related, I consider this offseason to have been a brilliant one. Here's why:
After two years viewing a team led by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, we know what the ceiling is with those two guys as the centerpiece: 7-8 seed in playoffs.
We don't know what the ceiling is for a team lead by the current "core 4' or now 'core 5,' Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. AND we would never know as long as the Millsap and Jefferson were on the team. I strongly suspect that the ceiling will be higher, though it might take a year or two to get there.
For the last two years, Utah's 'Alfense' has been boring to the point of almost being unwatchable. It is painful game after game to watch the offense devolve to dumping it down to Jefferson in the left block while the rest of the team stood around hoping for the leftovers. Plus, Al (great guy that he is) was a huge liability on defense with no ability to defend the pick and roll. Team after team just killed us on the high pick and roll. For what Al gave us on O, he more than gave away on D. Fans by and large wanted Al gone for this reason and because we want to see what Favors and Kanter can do with more minutes.
Millsap would not have graciously accepted a reserve role on the team. It would have been an ongoing distraction and source of tension and controversy. He was clearly not the future of the team, so why keep him around, particularly when we think (not certain) his contribution on both O and D can be at least replicated and probably increased by giving Favors and Kanter more minutes?
Ty Corbin has an obvious bias toward veterans. (How else to explain the minutes given washed up retreads like Raja Bell or Josh Howard over clearly superior talent, e.g., Hayward?) Had we kept Jefferson and/or Millsap, Corbin would have played them at the expense of developing the youth, who are the future of the team. It would have been yet one more year of treading water in the sea of mediocrity. Yahoo! Management essentially forced Corbin's hand by not resigning either Jefferson or Millsap, I think in part because even they don't trust him to play and develop the youth.
To Jazz FO's credit, it got rid of (or did not resign) poor to average veteran FAs. Mo Williams was turrible in nearly every facet of the game. He, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley formed the single worst PG combo in the entire league. Randy Foye is a good shooter, but a poor defender and even poorer rebounder. We did not do well when Foye was on the floor (neither Jefferson). The only FA I would liked to have kept was DeMarre Carroll, but he was really nothing more than a good energy player who helps at times but disappears at others. But he would come very cheap. Good for the Jazz FO for not resigning these stiffs. I think most Jazz fans agree.
I think at the beginning of the draft, if you have asked most fans and Jazz FO who they wanted, the consensus would have been Burke. That the Jazz were able to land him was a huge deal. We think we now have the PG of the future. THAT is a much much better outcome than resigning Jefferson or Millsap would have been, who are nothing but stopgaps in any case leading the Jazz to mediocrity. (I don't put much stock in Burke's summer league performance, though I do fully expect he will struggle initially.)
The Jazz FO resisted the temptation to sign an high priced FA into a LT deal, which both means that the Core 4-5 will get the playing time they need to see if it will work and that we retain the financial flexibility we need in the future IF the Core 4-5 don't pan out like we hope.
That was an exemplary, exhaustive recap of the last few years in the Wasatch, Gary. (He wrote more, but even in the interwebs, there are limits to what people are willing to read.) I will, once more, reply: I know why Utah did what it did this summer, in letting Jefferson and Millsap go. We get NBA League Pass back East. I watched the Jazz a lot, as I watch every team, because it is part of my job to, as you say, know intimately the details and goings on of every team. It may well turn out that the Jazz's decisions turn out to be game-changers, that Kanter and Favors and Hayward and Burke are all All-Stars or, at the least, significant contributors to a championship-level contender.
I understand that putting more money into either Jefferson or Millsap would have hamstrung future flexibility, and that Utah should have incredible cap room in 2014. None of that, however, changes the fact that, from April through August, Utah lost three of its top six or seven players (I, too, like Carroll's energy) and got nothing in return. It doesn't change the fact that, as much as people in the 801 don't want to believe it, I believe the front office is already resigned to the fact that it won't be a player for the major free agents next summer, and that the only way to get a superstar is to amass as much young talent as possible in order to potentially swing a KG-to-Boston type of swap.
And the Jazz certainly now have that kind of young depth -- not just the core guys you mentioned, but still-intriguing pieces like Jeremy Evans and Burks and Rudy Gobert. But that does not guarantee Utah will be able to swing such a deal next summer, or in the future. The most overrated quantity in the league is cap room. It guarantees nothing. I can only deal with what's actually happened, not what could happen.
And then, just when things looked hopeless, a voice of reason. From Bill Jensen:
...I heard you got some complaints about ranking the Jazz 29th out of 30 for the off-season. Thanks for your honesty. We here in Utah are so used to getting journalists and broadcasters that are simply homers and don't have the courage to say when things aren't going well. So, I apologize for my fellow Jazz fans who are so zealous that they can't see the truth when it smacks them in the face.
Comes with the territory, Bill, but thanks for the note. Almost everyone who's written defending Utah's moves has, like Gary above, done so politely and passionately -- both of which are fine.
But Kenny's out of practice; he's been predicting Carolina victories for years. From Glorindo Atangan:
(In) January of this year, analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley predicted that the Heat wouldn't even reach the championship round because "they are too small in sizes". Smith categorically stated that there was no way the Heat would retain the championship when pitted against the like of the Spurs, Indiana and Chicago because those teams have big men. Well, what do you know...
The Heat defended its title and once again, the two loudmouths were proven wrong. The Heat as we know played mostly small ball and was able to beat other teams and even established 27 successive winning games in a season.
This time, another TNT analyst is predicting what Smith and Barkley said last year. Steve Kerr stated in yesterday's papers that the Heat will not be able to play in the championship and will be bumped by other teams. He predicted it despite the fact that the season has not yet started.
My suggestion to these TNT analysts ... Make your predictions after about 30 or more games in the season. How many times was Charles Barkley rebuffed as well as Kenny Smith. Let the games be played first before you guys predict the winner.
Yes, Glorindo, Steve predicted that the Heat will not three-peat, and history is certainly on his side. He could well be wrong. But if you wait until the season starts to make a prediction, people will say you're bandwagon jumping and didn't have the guts to do so beforehand. So you can't win no matter what you do.
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13 -- NBA majority owners on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans -- led, again, by Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, estimated to be worth $15.8 billion by the magazine, and ranked 26th-richest overall. Also on the list were Orlando's Rich DeVos (60th overall, $6.8 billion), Miami's Micky Arison (70th, $5.9 billion), Denver's Stan Kroenke (84th, $5.3 billion), New York's Dolan family, which owns the Knicks (151st, $3.3 billion), Detroit's Tom Gores (201st, $2.7 billion), Dallas' Mark Cuban and Philadelphia's Josh Harris (tied for 222nd, $2.5 billion each), Memphis' Robert Pera and Indiana's Herb Simon (tied for 293rd, $1.95 billion each), the Clippers' Donald Sterling (296th, $1.9 billion), Minnesota's Glen Taylor (327th, $1.7 billion) and New Orleans' Tom Benson (356th, $1.3 billion). AEG chairman Philip Anschutz, whose company has a minority stake in the Lakers, was 38th overall, at $10.3 billion. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who joined the unsuccessful bid of Seattle hedge fund manager Chris Hansen to buy the Kings, is ranked 18th overall, with an estimated worth of $18 billion.
$4,800,000 -- Price that Larry Bird wants for his Naples, Fla., home. Bird has put the house on the market after moving back full-time to the Indianapolis area now that he's once again running the Pacers full-time.
$15,000,000 -- Amount the Pelicans reportedly spent on their new practice facility in nearby Metairie, which was shown to reporters last week. The 50,000-square foot facility, replacing the temporary quarters in which the team has practiced for years, has the usual modern amenities, including thumbprint entry allowing 24-hour access and an expanded players' lounge. It will be completed in two or three months.
1) Camps begin this week! Which means the start of the season is in sight. Hallelujah.
2) Rick Barry keeps telling it like he thinks it is, even when we disagree. I understand both his frustration at never getting a chance to coach or be an executive for a team -- most every other superstar save him and Oscar Robertson has gotten a shot to do so -- while also understanding why teams were reluctant to hire him.
3) Congrats to Candace Parker for winning her second WNBA MVP award.
4) As I will never likely shoot 81 at any age, all props to Slick Leonard for doing it ...at age 81!
5) This is clever.
1) Happy that Chris Andersen was exonerated from some very serious accusations leveled earlier this year, and was shown to be the actual victim. But it's depressing that there are people out there who will go to such lengths to make a buck, with no regard to who they harm.
2) I don't have a problem with the new media guidelines for access to teams, players and coaches, with one exception -- the 45-minute postgame window players will now have before they have to be available. Most players will come out well before then; they want to get something to eat or see their families as soon as possible. But a few well-known stragglers (I'm looking at you, KG) will have to be prodded.
4) While Barry isn't wrong to welcome new coaching blood, there's still something odd about a season beginning without George Karl, Lionel Hollins and Vinny Del Negro not on the bench. This is different from the Van Gundys choosing not to coach at the moment; these are accomplished guys who each won 50 games last season and weren't looking to sit out this season.
5) You hope that this is all a big misunderstanding coming out of Tate George's fraud trial in Jersey, and that this is just about some bad investments and not malicious swindling. You hope.
It's still one of the most amazing runs to a national championship, 25 years later: the 1988 Kansas University team known as "Danny and the Miracles." That team dealt with injuries, suspensions and a shorthanded roster (the Jayhawks had to import a couple of football players during the season to play), but ran the table in the NCAAs, and beat heavily favored Oklahoma in the title game behind all-America Danny Manning, who led the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals. The second-leading scorer on that team was junior guard Milt Newton.
Like almost everyone on that team, Newton didn't have much of a pro playing career. But like so many from that squad, Newton has had a stellar second life in the front office. Larry Brown, the coach of that team at Kansas, is still the only coach to win both an NCAA and NBA title, his Hall of Fame credentials unimpeachable. Brown's staff that season included R.C. Buford, who went on to build the Spurs' dynasty (with coach Gregg Popovich, who had, the year before, been an unpaid "observer" on Brown's Kansas staff while on sabbatical from coaching) and Alvin Gentry, who became an NBA coach in Miami, Detroit, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Gentry is now Doc Rivers' top assistant with the Clippers. The team's student manager, Bill Pope, became an NBA advance scout for years with the Pistons before joining the Kings this summer. Manning is now the coach at Tulsa. Kevin Pritchard is the general manager of the Pacers.
And Newton, who worked three years in the league office helping get the NBA Development League off the ground, and spent the last decade in Washington as the Wizards' vice president of player personnel, made the move earlier this month to Minnesota and the Timberwolves' GM job. He was hired by Flip Saunders, who knew Newton from their three years together in Washington, where Saunders was the coach from 2009-12.
Me: How is the mental adjustment going from being focused on one thing primarily to having your hands and mind involved in several different areas?
Milt Newton: To me, it's going well. To be honest with you, I always felt like I was capable of this. When you say "GM," you really break it down, it's not just necessarily dealing with personnel or Draft picks. That's the majority of it. But when you say GM, you're talking about marketing, ticket sales, community relations, working with all of those departments. There's no, "This is my turf, this is your turf." In order for an organization to be successful, everyone has to work together.
Me: What did you learn during your 10 years in Washington that will translate to your new job?
MN: I have really good relationships with a lot of the people in the different departments. Seeing when you work together. When you come to me and say, "Can I speak to this group," or "Can I go in the community and speak to that group," it's all for the betterment of the organization. When I started in the league, I was with the Nuggets in community relations. If you show you want to engrain yourself in the community, they'll show you that loyalty, that love. It's a two-way street. What I brought was that teamwork, helping out the other departments, making the other team better. I've always been the one to leave no stones unturned. Something that you may think is trivial is the thing that gets the deal done. You may think a team won't consider a situation, but until you ask them, you don't know.
Me: What was the big lesson you took from helping get the NBA D-League up and running?
MN: The biggest lesson I learned is you have to be persistent. When we got there, there was nothing. We had to build it from scratch. You have to have a goal. Without a goal, you're spinning your wheels and wasting your time because you're going in all these different directions. It makes it easier to focus your energies on this one thing, and also, it helps everyone get on the same plane as far as realizing that goal. Having to go out and deal with all the different cities, you have to work well with people. If you do that, people want to work with you. From a basketball standpoint, I realized there were a lot of players who had NBA talent. A lot of guys in the D-League, if you put them in the right situation in the NBA, they'll make the team. A lot of times, it's not like that. They have to go to three or four different teams to find that situation. They're lacking that one little thing that makes them able to make any team. Maybe he doesn't shoot it that well. He's a two guard who has to shoot well. If you're a point guard, you have to be able to distribute the ball and be a better ball handler. Those little things that they're lacking, those are things they have to work on.
Me: Does that background put you more in tune with the D-League and the kinds of players you may have to sign and develop in Minnesota in future years?
MN: Those are the type of players who are more likely going to be available to us for the money that will be available. Myself having that background, and Flip coming from that background, when we say "minor league," that doesn't mean you can't play. You have an opportunity to show what you can do. Now, don't get me wrong -- there's a reason that you're there. You have to work on your game.
Me: What do you think of your roster?
MN: We have a good core, obviously. We've got Ricky [Rubio] and Pek [Nikola Pekovic] and Kevin [Love]. And then with the addition of Kevin [Martin] and Corey [Brewer] and Ronny [Turiaf], that adds a little more depth. But it's a roster that needs to improve, for the very fact that if you're not improving, you're regressing. But it's not something you can do right away with the draft picks and with free agency. You have to give it time to see if it can gel. And also with the injuries last year, the core guys haven't had a chance to play together at all, to gel. So you have to give that a chance.
Me: You are tangentially linked to the "San Antonio Brand," having played for R.C. Buford at Kansas. Why does it seem like every executive hired for an NBA front office job these days has some relationship with the Spurs?
MN: I know R.C. Buford very well. We've had conversations all through the years. What they've done, not only having players on their team, and growing them together, if a guy doesn't work out, he's not there. Just from talking to R.C. and some of the guys that were there in management, they try to grow from within. If you grow from within, you know what we're about. You know how we do things. That leads to consistency in your message in your goals. You have a sense of this is who we are, and this is how we do things. That's why they've been considered the best in the league. They've been doing things for years and years and years.
Me: Were you at all concerned that, despite your own personal work ethic and beliefs, that being on a team in Washington that struggled for so long to win and put together a good group would harm your chances to get a GM gig?
MN: You want to hear my honest answer on that? No, I did not. As a Christian, I believe that my destiny is already set in place. I believe, for instance. This was the perfect spot for me, working with a guy I really like, who I've known for a while, in a place where my wife's from. This is perfect, for me and for my family. I may not have gotten an interview here or there, those places weren't a fit. They weren't where I was supposed to be. With my belief, I think I'm where I'm supposed to be. Sometimes, you go somewhere else, and it doesn't work out. Well, maybe you weren't supposed to be there. I knew I would become a general manager. I just had to wait, persevere, and get better at what I do.
Me: Owners no longer seem to have any difficulty hiring coaches of color, but you will be one of just nine higher-ranking minority executives in the league. (Billy King, Brooklyn; Masai Ujiri, Toronto; Joe Dumars, Detroit; Rich Cho and Rod Higgins, Charlotte; Dell Demps, New Orleans, Gersson Rosas, Dallas, and Doc Rivers, who has the final say with the Clippers). Was that ever a concern?
MN: My dad has always said to me, if you work hard, people will notice. Why should it be any different for management than for players? We always tell players, it doesn't matter if you played Division III; if you're a good player, we'll find out where you are. I had a GM friend of mine who once told me, with owners, they have to feel comfortable with the people they're hiring. Some times it's just a matter of getting in that interview process, getting in front of the decision-makers so they can see who you are and what you're about.
Me: How will you approach the task of keeping Kevin Love happy and in Minnesota?
MN: I think it starts with our owner, Mr. [Glen] Taylor. He's showing guys his commitment by the amount of money he spent last summer. Sometimes, when players see that, they know you're committed. Two, we want to show him and express to him that we're going to do everything we can to make the team better, from improving the practice facility, making the practice facility better, but also being on the cutting edge of tech, things like that. At the end of the day, players will see that. They'll see there's a commitment from management and from the coaches. You're committed to making them better, making the team better. When he's healthy, he's probably the best rebounder in the league. And I think he's got a good relationship with Flip.
Me: How will you and Flip divide the labor, so you're not stepping on each other's toes?
MN: Me and Flip, we speak every day. We speak every night. With the vision that has been expressed to me from him and Mr. Taylor, I know that as the president of basketball ops, he's my boss. My job is to make his job as easy as possible, easier for him. There are things he's going to have to deal with, like the practice facility and all of those things. With me being on board, it allows him time to do things like that. But also being a basketball person, he can delegate things to me. We won't be crossing over each other. I'll know what my duties are as directed by him. That won't be a problem at all.
Me: What did you learn from the Gilbert Arenas affair? (Arenas was suspended by the NBA for the final 50 games of the 2009-10 season after bringing guns into the Wizards' locker room in December, 2009, and getting into a confrontation with teammate Javaris Crittenton, who was also suspended for the rest of that season.)
MN: That was an unprecedented situation. Players, they're grown men, and they control their own behavior in a sense. There's nothing you can do. Even now, there's situations where players are getting into certain situations that management can't control. Just being in a situation like that, there are things that you learn. It helps you deal with situations that are, I don't know, comparable? The only thing I learned was when a crisis comes up, you can learn from it in a positive way or a negative way. You have to work with the staff and make decisions that are the best, not only for the organization but your staff and your players.
Me: What will a Milt Newton-influenced organization look like?
MN: To me, I believe character is the foundation of everything. I was brought up like that. In that regard, if we have a goal, and there are duties to be performed by everyone, you have to be accountable for your duties and your input. So, character, accountability, and giving what I like to call a championship type effort. If everyone gives that type of effort, you're definitely going to move toward your goal. Along those lines, if people work hard, you have character people in your organization and your team, people who are accountable for their actions. If you're saying you want to be a part of this, you have to be responsible for your actions. If you're not doing that, you're cheating yourself and the organization.
Me: Why do you think so many people from that 1988 Kansas team have gone on to be so successful as coaches and/or front office people?
MN: It boils down to one person: Larry Brown. When he says, "I want guys to do things the right way; I want us to play the right way," that's not talk. He lives that 24/7. You see examples in games, in practices, how he interacted with and treated his assistants. We all grew up in that mold. Whether it's interactions with the coaches, with fans, doing things that way. There's a right way and a wrong way. His mantra was always that. I want you to set a screen at this spot. And if you're six inches off, no, I want you to do it right here. And if you do it the right way, you give yourself a chance to be successful. We were molded like that.
Hate to admit it, but so could I. It's inexplicable.
"Many coaches spend their summers going to basketball workshops, trying to learn new techniques and get an edge on the competition. But for me the lake is my clinic."
-- Phil Jackson, in the Wall Street Journal, on the healing effects of his home in Western Montana, to which he returns with his family every offseason.
"You know what I would change? The name on the ball. His name's coming off."
-- Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, in a conversation with Milwaukee broadcaster Jim Paschke, on what he would change if he were "commissioner for a day." The name on the basketball, of course, is that of David Stern, the current Commish and whom Silver will replace on Feb. 1.
"Ultimately, what I would like to do is have a business in Boston. Maybe like a sports bar. I would love to do something like that here. None of the former Celtic great players have come and done that. I thought about it, and why hasn't anyone come and opened up a nice restaurant? You see the Don Shula restaurant, the Michael Jordan restaurant, and Magic [Johnson] got the theaters in L.A. Why nobody here? All this history, all these championships and love, why has nobody done that?"
-- Paul Pierce, to the Boston Globe, on his plans for his post-playing career. Hopefully, his palate will evolve to a more sophisticated selection than wings and nachos.
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