Posted Oct 7, 2013 10:25 AM - Updated Oct 17, 2013 8:08 AM
There are several compelling storylines to follow this season, and most of them center around the defending champion Miami Heat. Will LeBron James stay or go after he becomes a free agent? And what about the futures of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and even team president Pat Riley? (Did I cover them all?)
There may be a few others, including Derrick Rose's return, Doc Rivers' arrival in Los Angeles and Grant Hill's departure ... to Inside Stuff, starting Nov. 2 on NBA TV, co-starring Kristen Ledlow! (See what I did there?)
But a league as diverse as the NBA has a thousand different stories percolating beneath the surface. Many will not amount to anything. But we're dealing with human beings here -- with ambitions, strengths, jealousies, often possessing insatiable work ethics. Anything is possible, and nothing should ever surprise you.
Here, then, are 10 things to keep an eye on as the season begins.
No. 1 -- OK, what do you C?: The Thunder is still the gold standard on how to build a franchise from the bottom up. This revisionism that anyone could have done what Sam Presti and his staff have done building around Kevin Durant is bull. And yet, there's the unmistakable feeling that the team's seemingly inevitable march to a title is at a crossroads. Whether or not you buy the notion that OKC couldn't pay James Harden, or that it's hamstrung by the new CBA, the bottom line is that Harden is gone and the main player the Thunder got in return, Kevin Martin, left one of the NBA's most stable franchises for Minnesota. With Durant and a healthy Russell Westbrook, OKC is still formidable. But without that established third star, the Thunder is no longer frightening. And they won't even be that until Westbrook's return in December.
No. 2 -- The Gregg Popovich Line of Succession: For more than a decade, the league-wide assumption was that Mike Budenholzer, the Spurs' longtime top assistant to Gregg Popovich, would take over in San Antonio whenever Popovich retired or kicked himself upstairs. But Bud is now in Atlanta running the Hawks, and a number of potential heirs to the throne, including Jacque Vaughn (Orlando) and Brett Brown (Philadelphia), have been hired elsewhere. There's no obvious person in the pipeline, and the Spurs have always preferred hiring from within. Although, old friend Avery Johnson is between jobs right now. I'm just sayin'.
No. 3 -- Sacramento, Reborn: You can't have a more complete offseason than the Kings did -- saved from a move to Seattle with the league's considerable help, which led to the team being sold to Vivek Ranadive, a billionaire with a fantastic back story and who wants to make them a worldwide brand. (On Sunday night, Ranadive had the whole team and coaching staff over for dinner at his mansion in Atherton, California, near the home office of one of his biggest companies, Tibco.)
The Kings are now taken very seriously when they court free agents; Andre Iguodala listened long and hard to the Kings' pitch before signing with Golden State. A new downtown arena has been fast tracked by local lawmakers; Ranadive has embraced DeMarcus Cousins and greenlighted a $62 million extension for the enigmatic big man; the team inked an offseason deal with Kaiser Permanente that will be the biggest in the franchise's history; it was number one in the league in new season ticket sales this summer and expects to double the five sellouts it had last season. But can first-year coach Mike Malone keep the momentum going on the court?
Sacramento is, charitably, a ways away from being a playoff contender. The Kings were fortunate to get Ben McLemore with the seventh pick in the first round, and Greivis Vasquez should settle things down at the point. But is the Era of Good Feelings unending? Perhaps McLemore turns into the Kings' version of Steph Curry -- a telegenic star in the making. But the talent base still needs improving.
No. 4 -- Rubio, On Notice: Ricky Rubio is quite talented. But can he become a superstar, good enough to lead the Timberwolves toward the playoffs this season? He's a year and a half removed from his ACL tear, so his health should not be an issue. He will be playing next to the best two (Kevin Martin) he's had since coming into the league. So there should be no reason for him not to improve on a very poor Player Efficiency Rating (tied for 28th last season among point guards with Detroit's Brandon Jennings), and a horrible True Shooting Percentage of .482.
No. 5 -- The First Team to call Bristol or Atlanta Will Be ...?: There are too many good coaches -- George Karl, Lionel Hollins, the Van Gundys, and on and on -- currently unemployed for someone not to pull the trigger if their team gets off to a slow start. The top candidates would have to include Washington, where owner Ted Leonsis (see below) looks like he's out of patience, and Toronto, where new GM Masai Ujiri didn't hire incumbent coach Dwane Casey...and unfortunately, you know how those things tend to end.
No. 6 -- Who's Adam Silver's No. 2?: With Adam Silver set to become Commissioner next Feb. 1, the question of who will replace him as deputy commissioner is an open one. (The person I thought was destined for the spot, NBA International president Heidi Ueberroth, considered one of the smartest people at Olympic Tower, decided instead to leave at the end of the year. I don't know the league's internal politics and power bases, but Silver surely has made it clear who he wants working with him going forward.) The restructuring of the league office, with Rod Thorn coming back to run operations, certainly signals bringing in people with whom Silver will be comfortable working. Will Silver go outside the league office to bring in a marketing whiz/CEO type from the private sector, or a TV exec with whom he's done business, or maybe raid one of the other sports leagues for a top-shelf thinker/innovator?
No. 7 -- The Injuries, Continued: Which star -- Kobe Bryant, Westbrook, or Rajon Rondo -- will be back to his old self the quickest? Bryant went back to Germany for more platelet replacement therapy ("Yes we knew and gladly gave our blessing for him to go," Lakers spokesman John Black e-mailed Sunday. "We do not have any timetable for him yet"). Rondo has professed his love for new coach Brad Stevens, though we remain ... cautious about the long-term prospects. There are also the likes of Danilo Gallinari (not yet cleared to do anything on-court, and still rehabbing his torn ACL, though he's predicting he'll be back on the court by the end of November), Atlanta's Lou Williams (torn right ACL, Jan. 18; reconstructive knee surgery in February), Andrew Bynum (arthroscopic surgery, both knees, March, 2013) and three of the top first-round picks in last June's Draft -- top selection Anthony Bennett (torn left rotator cuff, surgery in May, 2013), and centers Nerlens Noel (torn ACL, left knee, Feb. 13; surgery in March, 2013) and Alex Len (stress fracture, left ankle; surgery in May, 2013; stress fracture, right ankle, surgery in July, 2013).
No. 8 -- The Next Step in Seattle: The Bucks are the only team at the moment with a seemingly intractable arena situation, but Silver said a couple of weeks ago that it's "critical" the Bucks stay in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Washington state Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling of a state judge that dismissed a lawsuit that had been filed by a local union seeking to delay construction of a proposed new arena in Seattle. But the fact remains that construction on the building cannot begin until an NBA or NHL team announces it will come to Seattle, or until one of those leagues commits an expansion team to that city. And in the meantime, hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, who unsuccessfully tried to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle, has to undo the PR damage he created when it was discovered that he'd given a group in Sacramento money that used part of that money to issue petitions seeking signatures of local voters to put the Kings' arena initiative up for a vote next year.
No. 9 -- The Marcin Gortat Goodbye Party Raffle: The Suns' veteran center is the most likely player who will be dealt before the trade deadline, though there will be interest in big-salaried players in the final year of their deals like Boston's Kris Humphries ($12 million), Utah's Richard Jefferson ($11 million) and Dallas' Shawn Marion ($9.3 million).
No. 10 -- There's only nine storylines, 'cause the man would never give me 10.
We restart our top 15 power rankings this week, taking into account all of the moves made by teams since the end of the postseason -- the Draft, trades, free agent signings, coaching hires (and firing), everything. Now you can get on me if I have your team ranked too low (or not at all); this is my top 15 in the league with preseason play underway.
1) Miami (66-16, first place, Southeast Division; won NBA championship): As Shane Battier said this week, complacency is not going to be the Heat's issue this season. What will be is the wear and tear of three straight years that ended in The Finals (not to mention USA Basketball competition) on James, Wade and Bosh. But the Heat is well-positioned to sacrifice regular season wins (the rending of garments by the 24-hour media following a Miami loss no longer registers in SpoelstraWorld) to assure health going into the postseason.
2) San Antonio (58-24, first place, Southwest Division; lost NBA Finals): It says here that Marco Belinelli is going to be a perfect fit for the Spurs, providing Popovich with some special moments with great offensive plays and all kinds of new cussing out opportunities when he blows the occasional defensive assignment.
3) Indiana (49-32, first place, Central Division; lost Eastern Conference Finals): The Pacers are the quintessential team-with-no-holes entering this season. They're deep, they're big, they're experienced, they play championship-level defense, they like their coach and they addressed their bench shortcomings. And, they get Danny Granger back. There's no reason they shouldn't be right where they were last season: playing in late, late May for a shot at The Finals.
4) L.A. Clippers (56-26, first place, Pacific Division; lost in first round): Can you imagine what the Clippers would be like if they'd pulled off the Doc Rivers-KG Daily Double? As it is, just adding Rivers to bring his coaching and psychological chops to a team that hasn't heard them over and over is worth a few more regular season wins -- and more importantly, a real chance to go deep into the playoffs. The Clips have all they need.
5) Memphis (56-26, second place, Southwest; lost in Western Conference finals): On the surface, the Grizz should switch relatively seamlessly from coach Lionel Hollins to Dave Joerger, who has won wherever he coached in basketball's minor leagues. But you can't know how a coach will do in the NBA until you see him do it under the most intense spotlight and pressure. At the least, Joerger is certain to try and get more offense and more Ed Davis into the Memphis rotation.
6) Golden State (47-35, second place, Pacific Division; lost in conference semifinals): My only question with the Warriors is the whole Harrison Barnes-Andre Iguodala dynamic, which Mark Jackson (see below) doesn't seem to think will be a problem. Time will tell. But a healthy Andrew Bogut could be a difference-maker in the West. He is one of the best two-way centers in the game when he's on, which hasn't been the case for the last three seasons.
7) Oklahoma City (60-22, first place, Northwest Division; lost in conference semifinals): Presti insisted last week that Westbrook's repaired meniscus is fine, and that it was a "loose stitch" that caused the soreness which required another arthroscopic procedure on Westbrook's knee. Any hopes of a return to The Finals hinge on Presti and Westbrook's doctors being right.
8) Brooklyn (49-33, second place, Atlantic Division; lost in first round): The greatest experiment since Mike Farrell replaced Wayne Rogers on M*A*S*H begins on Atlantic Avenue. Could it work? Sure; any team with an in-shape Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Garnett and Brook Lopez as its starting five, with Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry coming off the bench, is one to be reckoned with. Will it work? I have no earthly idea. I don't know if any of those starters will stay healthy all season. I don't know what kind of coach Jason Kidd is going to be. I don't know if Pierce is still capable of staying in front of his man. I don't know who takes the shot with the game on the line. We'll all find out together.
9) New York (54-28, first place, Atlantic; lost in conference semifinals): Why James Dolan decided to shake up a perfectly good front office by demoting Glen Grunwald is beyond knowing. (And this is nothing against Steve Mills, who I know and like a lot.) The Knicks have a strong team and a superstar that people pay top dollar to see, and a very good coach in Mike Woodson. What exactly was the problem?
10) Houston (45-37, third place, Southwest; lost in first round): Dwight Howard has all the money, a superstar entering his prime playing next to him (James Harden), a point guard who should thrive playing screen-roll with him (Jeremy Lin/Patrick Beverly), shooters that will surround him (pick one) and give him space to operate in the paint, a coach (Kevin McHale) who understands the plight of a big man and the low-post game better than anybody and a fan base that will adore his every move and utterance because he spurned the Lakers to come to Houston. Nothing less than an MVP-caliber season in return will suffice.
11) Chicago (45-37, second place, Central; lost in conference semifinals): Rose is back. The Bulls are contenders again. 'Nuff said.
12) Denver (57-25, second place, Northwest; lost in first round): The Nuggets will still be more than athletic enough to give most teams fits on many nights, even with Iguodala gone and Danilo Gallinari coming back from his ACL tear. But Ty Lawson has to avoid the shooting slumps that plagued him at points last season.
13) Atlanta (44-38, second place, Southeast, lost in first round): Danny Ferry now has a coach of his choosing in ex-Spur Budenholzer and started remaking the roster, bringing in Paul Millsap and Elton Brand and rookie guard Dennis Schroeder. With holdovers Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, the Hawks shouldn't drop off too much from last season.
14) L.A. Lakers (45-37, third place, Pacific; lost in first round): For the first time, probably, since 1998 -- the year before Phil Jackson's arrival -- the Lakers enter a season with no expectations or belief that they're a legit title contender. They have some talent here and there, but it's hard to see it all fitting into something cohesive that will scare anyone -- especially until Kobe Bryant's return.
15) Dallas (41-41, fourth place, Southwest; did not make playoffs): The Mavs got Dirk Nowitzki some help, especially at point guard, bringing in a ball handler in Jose Calderon that does not -- does not -- turn the ball over. That will make coach Rick Carlisle happiest of all.
I have a ball covering baseball.
October is odd for me. The rest of the civilized world is getting ready for the NBA season to start, visiting training camps, going to exhibition games, trying to convert dollars to the various international currencies as teams jet all over Earth for games that mean absolutely nothing. But I'm poring over stats, stories and summaries of baseball's best teams for our Turner Sports coverage of MLB's postseason. And it's an enriching experience.
We all think that the sports we concentrate on are the best ones, the most demanding physically or mentally, the best exhibition of an athlete's dedication, achieving some kind of deeper meaning beyond the scoreboard -- when, really, they're all just games. But covering another sport up close, if even just for a couple of weeks, fills in a lot of the blanks that you don't see watching on TV.
For the last six years, I've been fortunate enough to cover the Division Series round for TBS and TNT. This year, our crew is covering the Oakland-Detroit ALDS. And every year, something has stood out:
2007 Division Series, Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies: The lights go out during Game 3 at Coors Field for 14 minutes when a computer goes kablooey. Philly's bats have long since lost power; the Phillies bat .172 and strike out 26 times in three games.
2008 Division Series, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Milwaukee Brewers: The City of Brotherly Love hadn't won a championship in a major team sport since the Sixers in 1983. But with their four-game win over Milwaukee, the Phillies started their run to the '08 World Series title, culminating in a five-game victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
2009 Division Series, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Colorado Rockies: Game 3 of the series was postponed ... by snow. The game was rescheduled for the following night, began at 8:07 local time, with a balmy first-pitch temperature of 35. The game lasted more than four hours and was the longest nine-inning postseason game ever. I know. I was outside the Rockies' dugout, watching every pitch.
2010 Division Series, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds: Baseball people are very protective of their numbers and records, which they use more to make comparisons and judgments than anyone else does in any other sport. (Really: do you hear arguments about whether Don Hutson could play in the NFL today?) But even I could appreciate the fact that, since Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956, there had never since been a postseason no-hitter. That is, until Roy Halliday no-hit the Reds in Game 1. He only faced one batter above the minimum 27, walking one guy.
The NBA lockout kept me on the sidelines in the fall of 2011, but in 2012, I was back to see the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series. In Game 4, Jayson Werth hit a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth for Washington, forcing a winner-take-all fifth game. The Nationals jumped off to a 6-0 lead after three innings and looked home free.
But I was by the Cardinals' dugout. They scored one run in the top of the fourth to make the game 6-1. And you would have thought they tied it. They were locked in and as intense as any group of athletes I've ever seen. And it was easy to determine that they had a lot left, which they displayed over the next six innings, chipping away, chipping away.
In the top of the ninth, they trailed 7-5. With one on and two out, the Cards then put on the most incredible display of plate discipline I've ever seen. Three, four five times, the Cards' batters, with two outs and two strikes -- their season down to one strike -- wouldn't swing at pitches an inch off the plate by Washington reliever Drew Storen. And, ultimately, they broke him, rallying for four in the top of the ninth to win the decisive fifth game.
We're only two games into the A's-Tigers series, and it's already been amazing.
The crazy intensity of the Tigers' dugout when Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander were blowing away A's hitters with knee-buckling curves, disappearing changeups and blistering heat was something to see up close -- as was Verlander's Alpha Male fist pumps when he came off the mound late in the game, still throwing 96 with ease.
But Verlander was matched, pitch by pitch, by the A's Sonny Gray, a kid -- he was nine when 40-year-old teammate Bartolo Colon made his first postseason start, in 1998 -- who throws heat and a 12 to 6 curve that defies physics. Verlander blew the A's away; Gray punched the Tigers out. Inning after inning, the intensity rising.
Oakland's fans were incredible, led by Section 149 of Oakland's O.co Coliseum, a collection of free spirits, drum beaters and hell raisers. I had never seen their "Balfour Rage" dance, named in honor of closer Grant Balfour -- who came on in the top of the ninth and did his job, leading to the heroics of catcher Stephen Vogt in the bottom of the ninth. Vogt, who'd been in the minors for seven years, and who'd been acquired from Tampa earlier this year, and who was Gray's battery mate at AAA Sacramento this year, and who'd already thrown out Detroit's Jose Iglesias in the fifth inning on Saturday.
And then, in the ninth, with the bases loaded, up walked Vogt, looking for something to put in play. He found it.
And, in the postseason, this happens on occasion. (If you're curious, it had an earthy, oaken essence.)
I'm down with it as long as I don't have to refer to anyone by the name "Kaka." From Habib Ajala:
What do you think about the NBA implementing an "advantage" rule like football (soccer for you Americans) does? Basically, what happens is that rather than stopping play by calling a foul, the referee allows play to continue IF doing so will benefit the player/team against which the offense was committed. More specifically, in the NBA, this will be correlated with the fast break. I say this because many teams are now just grabbing LeBron and Wade or even Blake Griffin on a fast-break opportunity and the ref blows the whistle, which ruins the fun of the game to me (I love the dunks and what not) and probably many other fans. How about letting the foul go during regulation in the first 46 minutes if the play benefits the player/team, but if it doesn't -- like if the player actually loses the ball because of the foul, or the defensive player commits a hard/flagrant foul -- then blow the whistle? However, in the last two minutes of the game, if the score is close (maybe six points or less perhaps?), then don't apply the advantage rule so that the other team gets a chance to stop the clock?
You know, Habib, this is a pretty good idea. I am familiar with the rule in soccer, and I would have absolutely no problem with the NBA implementing such an interpretation. Certainly no one pays to see the defense grab a player to stop a fast break from occurring. And you've even created a reasonable exception at the end of the game (though some would surely argue this would only continue to lengthen the ends of games). Good thinking!
Just because they're shaded dark pink doesn't necessarily make them rose-colored glasses. From Sagar Mittal:
So a lot has been made about the Lakers team this year and not knowing how well they would do, but I have just one question. Three years ago, a team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol as the centerpieces would have been penciled in as a championship contender. They're all healthier (minus Kobe), had a year to gel together and are surrounded by decent players. Although they probably won't win the championship, is a playoff appearance really too far out the window? Yes, the West has gotten a lot better (with at least six sure-fire playoff teams), but minus the Mavericks, none of the remaining teams have as much experience with getting to the postseason.
The key phrase in your post, of course, is "three years ago," Sagar. Unfortunately, there is no actual Wayback Machine, as far as I know, so Nash, Kobe and Gasol have to play with the bodies they have now, which have each suffered some pretty serious injuries during that time frame. Of course, the Lakers will be better this season; a full training camp for Mike D'Antoni to put in his system, combined with improved chemistry, and L.A. should be much more cohesive at both ends. But until we know for sure when Kobe comes back, and what he'll look like when he does, there can be no optimism that the Lakers can be anything other than a treading water, .500-ish squad.
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25 -- Years that the Orlando Magic have been in the NBA. The team has won 979 regular season and 57 playoff games in that quarter century, making two (1995, 2009) NBA Finals.
116,341 -- Per the NBA, combined miles that the 12 teams that are playing preseason and regular season games abroad will travel. Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Houston, Indiana, Chicago, Washington, Golden State and the Lakers will play exhibitions in Istanbul, Bilbao, Spain, Manchester, England, Manila, Rio de Janeiro, Taipei, Taiwan, Beijing and Shanghai in October, with Minnesota and San Antonio playing a regular season game Dec. 4 in Mexico City, and Atlanta and Brooklyn playing in London Jan. 16.
2 -- Games that Nets coach Jason Kidd was suspended for by the league after pleading guilty to a DUI charge. Kidd will miss Brooklyn's season opener against Cleveland and the Nets' game against the Heat.
1) Three weeks until the start of the season. (Which reminds me: why is it that there is just one week of training camp for teams, and three weeks of exhibition games? It should be exactly the other way around.)
2) Yeah, that shot Ray Allen made in Game 6 was just luck. Pure lucky. His insane work habits had nothing to do with it. Walter Ray Allen, luckiest man in the world.
3) Happy for Channing Frye. Frye returned to Phoenix's team last week and took part in training camp after missing all of last season when doctors discovered he had an enlarged heart. By the end of last week, Frye was playing in full-court, five-on-five scrimmages with his teammates.
4) Roger Mason, Jr., found himself in a pretty good spot, now didn't he?
5) Didn't Peyton Manning have, like, a bolt in his neck and have all the bones in his head fused together or something a couple of years ago? You watch him, as many did Sunday in that 51-48 shootout over Dallas, and you see someone completely in control of their craft. Whatever mistakes he makes on a football field aren't because he doesn't know exactly what he's doing out there. He's an amazing football player.
1) Tough, tough break for C.J. McCollum, and that is not a pun. But he's a tough, tough kid, too, and he'll come back from this broken foot suffered during camp just as he came back from it last year as a Lehigh senior.
2) Pulling for you, Ryan Anderson.
3) Any story including the phrase "the unusual step of air surveillance" cannot be good for the subject being surveilled -- in this case, the mayor of Toronto.
4) Indeed, in the grand scheme of things, this is small potatoes. But it still stinks.
4A) Do I have to go into the reasons why shutting down the government to protest the implementation of a law that has already been debated by Congress, passed by Congress, signed by the President and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court -- the trifecta, in sports parlance -- is a maddening act by a minority of one party of one branch of that very government? (And, in the interests of full disclosure, I have family members who are now working for nothing, and who have bills and obligations that are a little more important to me than the presidential aspirations of Ted Cruz. Sorry. The "keep your non-sports opinions out of sports" line forms to the right.)
In another era, Mark Jackson might have roamed the countryside, offering miracle cures for diseases with an elixir made of snake oil and the mysterious Balabushka plant. And people would happily hand over their money and believe themselves whole again. Today, his constant, positive, challenging patter is exactly right for the Golden State Warriors, who have changed their fortunes seemingly overnight behind their third-year coach.
But there was no miracle: Jackson is demanding and tough, but fair, offering his players his Queens background and unshakable faith that guides him.
On Jackson's watch, Golden State has become a serious defensive team, with stops the bedrock of the Warriors' turnaround 47-35 regular season last year, that ended after a thumping of the favored Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs and six tooth-and-nail games with the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals before San Antonio hung on for a 4-2 series win. And if Manu Ginobili doesn't make a dagger of a three with 1.2 seconds left in double overtime, Golden State would have had a 2-0 series lead and probably wouldn't have looked back.
With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors may well indeed have, as Jackson opined last season, the best-shooting backcourt in league history. Andrew Bogut is finally healthy after dragging his surgically repaired elbow and ankle around the last two years. Harrison Barnes looks like a star in the making. And Golden State took the gamble that Olympian and free agent forward Andre Iguodala is the final piece, giving him a four-year, $48 million deal.
But can Jackson find time for Barnes and Iguodala? How will he use a remade bench now featuring Jermaine O'Neal and Toney Douglas? And how will his team handle the change from being the underdog to a challenger?
Me: What's the rotation looking like right now?
Mark Jackson: We'll figure it out. We know our top seven or eight guys, especially with Klay, Harrison and Andre. To me, there's 96 minutes, split between the three of them. Which is more than enough. So it won't be a concern.
Me: Can all three of them interchange between the two and the three?
MJ: Yes. Harrison is probably the one guy that can handle two, three, four. And he's more so a three. With either one of them (on the court), he's a three. But to me, yeah, they can all do it. With our system, there's no difference, really. So it's just that you're the two and you're the three. But they're doing the same thing.
Me: What is your challenge to Steph this year?
MJ: My only thing with Steph, and he knows it, is that he has to do a better job taking care of the basketball. I asked him before camp started, what's the biggest thing for him in camp? And he said 'taking care of the basketball.' And I said, no. And he looked at me like I was crazy. And I said, no -- coming out of camp healthy. That's the biggest thing. So I don't want to put any demands on his body, or doing crazy stuff in the middle of practice, trying to split two guys and spin. Take care of the basketball, continually get better, and stay healthy. That's our biggest thing, anyway. We've got guys who was here a month early. So I don't have to run 'em crazy or go two a days five times. We did it twice the first two days, and in those situations, our night practices were moreso dummy offense, no contact. So there was no need. They came here early. I'm not going to punish them. They should get rewarded.
Me: What can Draymond Green do for you now that he's dropped so much weight?
MJ: He's a guy that stays ready. He's a great leader, he's vocal, he competes and he's a big-time defender and rebounder...this guy finds a way. So I'm not worried about it. He'll find a way to make me put him on the floor.
Me: How is Jermaine O'Neal looking so far?
MJ: Very good. Very good. He battles in the post. He gives us a real post presence off the bench. Carl (Landry) was a post presence, but Carl was a jump shooter, pick and pop. There were matchups that people figured him out. You put a bigger body on him, it was tough. Because he wants to overpower you, and now you have a bigger body on him, the guy is still there. Jermaine is tough on the block. He's physical. He's going to help us a lot. He's looked great. I go to him on some days and say 'how you feeling?' He says 'I'm feeling fine, I'm feeling fresh.' And some days, if it's not there, I say 'take today off.' He's not used to that. I'm shutting it down. As a veteran, veterans, rookies, it doesn't matter. It's a breath of fresh air. You're like, really. Yesterday's practice, at night, I say 'this is what we're doing. I'd prefer you do this, this and this. Stay out of this.' And he says, 'actually, I want to do it.' So now, you put him in position now, since you've done them well, they want to do more.
Me: I know you're a Toney Douglas guy, and this is no slam on him. But Jarrett Jack was huge for you last year. He finished games and made huge shots in the playoffs. How do you replace that?
MJ: Jack was huge for us. Jack was off the charts. He was incredible, both on and off the floor, and in the locker room. We can't replace that. I'm not asking Toney Douglas to be Jarrett Jack. But he impacts the game differently. I don't need a guy now to play 25, 30 minutes. You go get Andre Iguodala, the truth be told, Jarrett Jack's role would not be the same if he was here. And that Jarrett Jack would not be happy. And, deservedly so, he got a boatload of money. So I'm thrilled to death for him, happy, and it's a win for all of us.
Me: Will Andre play a lot of point forward, then?
MJ: It just depends. It might not be any. It might be some. But Toney Douglas is the guy who's going to be our backup point guard. He'll impact the game defensively. He'll change the tone, pushing it, and the way he plays. He's going to be real good for us.
"I'm tired of losing. It's not a lot of fun coming to games knowing, 'This is going to be a tough night.' We're just at that point now, it's the fourth year, we've retained our players, we've added players, we've spent a lot of money. And I expect us to be a playoff-caliber team. I think our fan base expects that too and that's the pressure I've placed on our organization, that we have to meet the expectations of our fans -- and it's time."
-- Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, to local reporters, throwing down the gauntlet for his team to improve upon its dismal showings of the last few years. Both general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach Randy Wittman are entering the final years of their respective contracts.
"You'll see a smile on his face. But you'll also see one on each and every one of ours."
--Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler, on the return of Derrick Rose to the court this week with the start of the preseason schedule.
"Obviously, I wasn't close to myself, but I can't even look at that. I have to look at it as motivation where I got my ass kicked, and next time I'm not going to let that happen."
-- Knicks center Tyson Chandler, acknowledging to reporters last week that Indiana's Roy Hibbert got the better of him in the Pacers' six-game victory over New York in the playoffs last spring.
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|Sounds of the Game|
Go courtside and into the huddles during this week's NBA action with the Sounds of the Game.
|Shaqtin' A Fool|
Shaq rolls out this week's nominees for "Shaqin' A Fool".
|Inside the NBA: Chariots of Backfire Odds|
EJ breaks down the odd for the Chariots of Backfire race with Underdog and Hal.
|Inside the NBA: The Line Up|
Reese Waters from Bleacher Report runs down the lineup for handicapping the Chariots of Backfire race.
|Inside the NBA: Grant's Freestyle|
The Guys put Grant on the spot after watching him freestyle on Inside Stuff.