Interest piques on many topics ranging from Bosh's health to resurgence of legendary yet plummeting franchises
POSTED: Sep 28, 2015 11:29 AM ET
UPDATED: Oct 13, 2015 12:02 PM ET
Bosh On His Love For The Game
After being sidelined with illness, Chris Bosh speaks on his increased appreciation for playing the game he loves.
Also This Week
When we last saw the NBA, the Golden State Warriors stood atop the landscape, a triumph of spacing and defensive excellence, led by -- it is hard to reach any other conclusion -- the greatest shotmaker in the history of the game, Stephen Curry. They had to be the best team in the league, because they defeated the best player in the league, playing as ferociously as any of his greatest-ever brethren ever had in The Finals. And he did so without his two star teammates.
Now, LeBron James is back, in his LeBron 13s. Soon, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will rejoin him, making the Cavaliers as close to a prohibitive favorite in the Eastern Conference to return to The Finals as we've had since ... well, since James was with the Heat. The West, of course, is a different animal. There are a half-dozen teams that can realistically find themselves playing in June if they don't have major injuries and their best players flourish -- Golden State, San Antonio, the Clippers, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Houston.
Who will represent the West -- or the East if the Cavaliers, somehow, stumble -- is but one of a hundred questions that will determine who holds Larry up high in June 2016 -- the month before all hell breaks loose in the Association. The expected rise in the salary cap next summer to $88 million, with the money from the new network television deals finally kicking in -- as well as a concurrent rise in the cap floor, with every team needing to spend at least 90 percent of the limit, or $79.2 million -- will mean not only max offers for the likes of Kevin Durant, but huge paydays across the board.
So many questions. Here are some more.
1. Who is likely to emerge from the (relative) shadows and take a "star turn" this season?
A few candidates:
McCollum's Career High
Highlights from C.J. McCollum as he scores a career high 33 points in the Blazers Game 5 loss.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: My Patriot League dude was injured throughout his rookie season, but last year, the 10th pick in the 2013 Draft got significant playing time down the stretch in the regular season and in the playoffs, after both Wes Matthews and Arron Afflalo went down with injuries. McCollum was strong in the final three games of the Blazers' first-round loss to the Grizzlies, averaging 25.7 points, including 33 in the elimination game -- with a franchise record seven 3-pointers.
With Matthews gone to Dallas and Afflalo to New York, McCollum will be the starter at two-guard this season alongside Damian Lillard.
Top 10: Elfrid Payton
See why Orland Magic guard, Elfrid Payton was selected to the 2014-15 NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic: The 2014 first-round pick was a first team All-Rookie pick last year, but had to do a lot of work fixing his jumper, which let him down to the tune of 26 percent on 3s last season. He's spent the offseason firing away, and he should flourish at the head of Scott Skiles' defense. With more finishers on the floor this season (a returning Aaron Gordon; first-round pick Mario Hezonja), Payton should have more room to operate.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Will the No. 6 pick in this year's Draft be "revolutionary," as trainer to the stars Idan Ravin told Basketball Insiders recently? Who knows. But George Karl has a pretty good track record when it comes to big men blossoming on his watch (Shawn Kemp, Vin Baker, Kenneth Faried). For all the angst about Karl and DeMarcus Cousins, and whether they can co-exist, it's Cauley-Stein who could be unleashed on an unsuspecting NBA world. WCS has amazing defensive chops, and he displayed a rapidly improving offensive repertoire during Summer League in Vegas.
Jeremy Lamb, Charlotte Hornets: For whatever reason, Lamb could never find his footing in Oklahoma City. He never lived up to the potential the Thunder hoped he'd display after coming from Houston in the James Harden trade. There are far fewer expectations on the still-just-23-year-old Lamb in Charlotte, but there are substantial minutes available at the two-guard spot with Gerald Henderson off to Portland. Steve Clifford has named Nicolas Batum the starter at the two for now, but with the entire western world playing small ball, the likelihood of Batum moving down to his natural small forward position at times this season remains large, which would give Lamb a shot.
2. Can the Suns and Markieff Morris patch things up?
Markieff Morris has been sideways with the Suns since they traded his twin brother Marcus Morris to Detroit in June. Markieff has told anyone who'd listen that he was done with the Suns, that his future wasn't there, and on and on. Yet he will report for the start of training camp, and at least for the time being, he will be in Phoenix.
That doesn't mean the Suns are in the clear. No one wants a disgruntled player on their roster, even one in the midst of a very team-friendly four-year, $32 million deal (that team-friendliness is one of Markieff's grievances against them now; having given the franchise a good deal a couple of years ago, he feels especially alienated after the team moved his brother, who got a $20 million deal at the same time Markieff got his new contract).
Phoenix has personnel in place to replace Markieff, who set career highs in scoring and rebounding last season, but also tailed off down the stretch, getting a bunch of technical fouls in the process. He also was charged, along with his brother, with two counts of felony assault in Maricopa County last April, stemming from a fight in January at a high school basketball game.
Though they didn't get LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency to play power forward, the Suns got ex-Net Mirza Teletovic from Brooklyn, and have 2014 first-rounder T.J. Warren in the wings. And a talented player on an $8 million per contract like Markieff Morris will draw attention (Hinkie!!!) from talent-hunting teams.
The Suns "will lean on the coaches and players," GM Ryan McDonough texted Sunday. "They had nothing to do with trading his brother so how hard he plays and how he feels about them shouldn't be any different than it has been the past few years."
3. Will Chris Bosh get through the season?
GameTime: Chris Bosh Update
NBA TV recaps the Chris Bosh news conference held by the Heat on his return to basketball.
Bosh has been working out with teammates for the past few weeks after missing the last three months of last season after blood clots were discovered on his lungs. He said at a news conference last week that he was off of blood thinners, but will have to wear compression socks and tights and get up frequently to walk during long flights.
Bosh detailed to Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins that his stay in the hospital last spring was more harrowing than anyone knew, that he had fluid in his lungs as well -- a nice little bonus to go with the clots. It makes thinking about the rigors of getting through a full season difficult. Yet Bosh insists he's good to go for the long haul.
A healthy Bosh would complete what could be one of the league's best starting lineups, along with Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside. Yet Wade, Deng -- and, now, Bosh -- have all dealt with very serious injuries the past few years. And Miami isn't known for the velvet glove approach; it's Next Man Up down on South Beach.
Yet Bosh says the time away from playing allowed him some perspective while sitting on the bench.
"I was able to really take in different aspects of the game while the game's going on," he said in the news conference. "It was amazing. Just to be able to do that, I know it's a very tough job and it's tough on all sides. It's given me a chance, I guess, to be more empathetic to people in all positions."
4. How will the Hawks replace DeMarre Carroll?
When Carroll signed for four years and $60 million with Toronto (and Harrison Barnes thanks you, sir!), his departure from Atlanta left the Hawks with major holes at both ends of the floor. Carroll was not only a top-shelf defender (among small forwards, Carroll was eighth overall in the league in Defensive Win Shares, per basketball-reference.com, and third in the Eastern Conference behind Milwaukee's Khris Middleton and LeBron James), but had become one of the Hawks' best perimeter shooters and floor spacers, living for the corner 3.
But the Hawks may be getting Thabo Sefolosha back soon. The veteran forward missed the entire postseason after being arrested by police in New York City, along with former teammate Pero Antic, in an early morning altercation outside a nightclub. (Bucks forward Chris Copeland, who was then playing with the Pacers, was stabbed at the club the same night, in a separate incident.)
Sefolosha's right leg was broken as he was arrested by the police, and he also suffered ligament damage. Sefolosha was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct, and Antic was charged with obstructing governmental administration, menacing and disorderly conduct. The charges against Antic, who signed this summer to play with Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey, were dropped earlier this month; Sefolosha's trial begins Oct. 5.
Sefolosha was cleared to begin basketball activities last week, but it's not clear exactly how much he can do yet on the court. Yet word is he may be closer to returning than anyone would have figured. A healthy Sefolosha wouldn't immediately replace Carroll's 3-point production unless he reverts back to the form he displaced in Oklahoma City behind the arc. But along with holdover Kent Bazemore, Sefolosha could at least give Mike Budenholzer some continuity on the floor.
5. Can Anthony Bennett restart his career at home in Toronto?
Who knows? But at the minimum vet salary, what's the gamble for the Raptors to find out?
Last week's buyout by the Timberwolves will allow the still-22-year-old Bennett to try and find a niche with a third team in three years, after he failed to do so in Cleveland and Minnesota. The difference in Toronto will be that Bennett won't be the first pick in the Draft (Cleveland), or a key piece in a deal for Kevin Love (Minnesota). He'll be the kid from nearby Brampton, coming to a team that's made the playoffs two years in a row. No one will expect big things out of him.
The Raptors have people to play power forward -- Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, perhaps Carroll when they go small. But there's no obvious incumbent. Bennett could find minutes there, provided he's still as productive as he was playing for the Canadian national team in the Pan Am Games in July.
"He was better, because he played a role," an observer of Bennett in the tournament said. "He played a bigger role. And when he went to FIBA (where Canada failed to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics), his role had to come down a little bit. His numbers were less, but he still did okay."
6. Which "Blue Blood" franchise will have a bigger renaissance: the Celtics, Lakers, Knicks or 76ers?
Knicks Under Construction
Jared Greenberg and Dennis Scott discuss the Knicks' off season moves and look towards the 2015-16 season.
A lot of smart money says Boston, which came on strong the second half of last season under Brad Stevens to make the playoffs. The Celtics added two solid vets in David Lee and Amir Johnson with still more young talent in guards Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter, and forward Jordan Mickey. Others might say Philly, which had Jahlil Okafor fall into its lap with the third pick of the Draft, and which looks like it's finally going to keep a core group together for more than five minutes this season and let Brett Brown have some stability on his roster. And Kobe Bryant's return from injury, along with getting a rim protector in Roy Hibbert, can only mean things are looking up in L.A.
But it says here that the Knicks -- the laughingstock, woebegone, why does Spike keep his season tickets Knicks -- will make the biggest jump of the four. It shouldn't be that hard -- New York only won 18 games last season, and they're in the East; it's much easier to find winnable games night in and night out.
Many dismissed the Knicks' major offseason additions -- center Robin Lopez, guard Arron Afflalo, forwards Derrick Williams and Kyle O'Quinn, center Kevin Seraphin, and Draftees Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant. But those vets, particularly Lopez and Afflalo, are solid fits for the triangle offense. Grant has the kind of size Phil Jackson likes in a guard, and he can apprentice Jose Calderon unless and until the Knicks move Calderon by the trade deadline.
If Carmelo Anthony is all the way back from his injuries, he'll carry the offensive load, of course. But Lopez is a legit defensive presence at center, which should begin to improve New York's awful defensive numbers from last season (28th in defensive rating, 22nd in points allowed). O'Quinn and Seraphin should provide depth off the bench. Porzingis may struggle for a while, but he won't struggle forever. Neither will the Knicks. A 15-win jump would only make them a 33-win team next season. Nothing to write home about, to be sure. But it's a start.
Can the Rockets help Ty Lawson as the season begins?
At some level, the answer is no.
Lawson is a grown man, and unless he's impaired before he gets behind the wheel of a car, the Rockets can't very well tell him he can't drive, or he can't go to places that serve alcohol. Those are decisions that the 27-year-old will have to make for himself in Houston, where he is getting a shot to play for a championship contender after being traded from the Nuggets to the Rockets in July.
It is up to Lawson to demonstrate that he can be trusted after two separate arrests this year for driving under the influence and a month-long stay in a rehab facility that he agreed to take soon after his July arrest in Los Angeles. That followed an arrest in Colorado in January, when he was arrested after driving at nearly double the speed limit. It was the fourth time that Lawson has been pulled over for drinking-related incidents since 2008, when he pleaded guilty to underage drinking and driving while playing at the University of North Carolina.
Houston wanted and needed a point guard upgrade after Beverley was injured again late season, with ligament damage in his wrist, and missed the playoffs. That left the Rockets with 38-year-olds Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni to try and chase Stephen Curry around in the Western Conference finals.
Ty Lawson Traded to Rockets
Did the Rockets get a steal with this pickup or is Lawson "damaged goods?"
Coaches wanted Terry's grit and shotmaking back this season, but everyone agreed that while Prigioni gave all he could against Golden State, Houston had to do better this season. Re-signing Beverley for four years and $25 million was a no-brainer ("We wanted Patrick back, because you've got to have somebody to at least make Curry work," a source said), but the Rockets had long coveted Lawson as well.
And when it became clear that Sacramento -- whose coach, George Karl, had Lawson in Denver during Lawson's first four seasons in the league -- was working the Nuggets for a deal (leading Lawson to famously opine "I'm going to Sacramento, bro" after Denver took point guard Emmanuel Mudiay in the Draft), the Rockets beat the Kings to the punch. And they did so without having to move any of their core personnel.
During Lawson's month-long rehab stint in July, the Rockets acquired him from Denver, along with a 2017 second-round pick from the Nuggets for Prigioni and Nick Johnson, forwards Kostas Papanikolau and Joey Dorsey and a protected 2016 first-round pick. (The Nuggets waived Prigioni almost immediately; he subsequently signed with the Clippers. Denver waived Dorsey in August, and waived Papanikolau last week before having to guarantee his $4.79 million salary for this season.)
Lawson's talents when right were obvious in Denver. He's as fast as anyone in the league with the ball, capable of getting to the basket and scoring in bunches. He's been a willing and able passer throughout his pro career, even on a dreadful Nuggets team last season, and despite his issues off the floor, he was still third in the league in total assists (720) and assists per game (9.6).
Lawson has, according to a source, rented a place close to Toyota Center in downtown Houston, so driving will be less of an issue for him this season. What happens after this season will be up to him, as he agreed to make his 2016-17 salary of more than $13 million unguaranteed. The Rockets, looking for cap flexibility next summer (cough)KevinDurant(cough), then, basically have Lawson as a one-year rental, while he could be unrestricted in what should be a free-for-all free agency summer next year.
The Rockets have told Lawson they'll provide rides for him whenever and wherever he needs to go. It's up to him to take them up on it.
Lawson has met with John Lucas, the former No. 1 overall Draft pick in 1976 and 13-year vet and former head coach, himself a recovering substance abuser, who has spent the better part of the last 20 years in Houston working with at-risk players from all sports, as a counselor, a coach, an erstwhile parole officer/Father Confessor, and anything else they need. They get the truth from Luke, and try to get their heads screwed back on correctly.
Lucas did not want to speak specifically about Lawson's rehabilitation. But he said in general, the very qualities that make so many athletes special performers on the court, or field, or ring, work against them when facing substance abuse.
"The hardest part about living life on life's terms, especially for an athlete, is that we've never been taught, surrender the win," Lucas said last week. "We find another way to win. So we keep fighting. In this, I always say to all athletes, life is a game you play. You don't win. You have to learn to be, you can't be unhappy with the crap that happens in life. You learn with the crap that does happen to you in life. You've got to be able to be all right with that. And if you do that, you'll be able to understand that you're just another person in the world. You're not anything special. And for him, or for anybody, it's just the process of getting through time. I tell athletes all the time, the more you work on your jump shot, the better it becomes. Well, the more you work on living life on life's terms, situations that once baffled you, whether it's relationships, whether it's franchises, all the things that come up in life, you'll learn how to handle them differently than you did before, without medicating yourself."
Even after Lucas admitted he had a problem, it took him six years to get clean for good.
"Saying there's a problem doesn't mean you accept that there's a problem," Lucas said. "Sometimes, we can't get off the elevator until it hits the bottom."
Everyone's path is different. Players like Chris Mullin were able to deal with their alcoholism early in their careers, and with help, continue playing at a high level.
But former NBA player Doug West didn't realize he needed help until it was almost too late to save his career.
West was a major contributor to some of the Timberwolves' earliest teams after the expansion franchise began play in 1989. In 1992, West averaged more than 19 points per game, and was there for Kevin Garnett's first couple of years in the league.
But West's drinking began to affect his play. He kept it to himself, and never got into any legal trouble because of it. But when the Wolves traded him to another expansion team, the Vancouver Grizzlies, in 1998, West's world fell apart. He says he drank 17 beers that day, and refused to report to Vancouver. Ultimately, he checked into rehab for six weeks, and played parts of three seasons for the Grizzlies before retiring in 2001.
"When I went through my situation, there was a lot of immaturity on my part as a 30-year-old man," West, now the head coach at Penn State-Altoona, said in an e-mail over the weekend.
"I was selfish, obnoxious and felt that I would always be in Minnesota. There was never the thought that I could be traded!! I became comfortable and allowed my off the court activities and to some part my surroundings to get the best of me. I wasn't a good husband and had just recently became a father. I could mask my partying because it didn't show in practice. It did show in game situations and this was something that I didn't realize until I was probably out of the league."
As Lucas says, the idea is internalizing the practice doing the next right thing, not sometimes doing the next right thing. Only Lawson knows why this has happened to him so many times.
"So many people don't think it's a problem," Lucas said. "Bad luck, bad times. Well, the only time you had an issue was when the time was bad. And what was causing it when times was bad? I was either drinking or smoking, or doing something I wasn't supposed to be doing. Well, if you ignore that, nothing never happened bad. And that's the problem."
So far, Lawson has been on time for everything, according to sources -- his meetings with Lucas, his workouts with teammates. He completed the 30-day rehab without incident, with the website TMZ reporting last month that Lawson was commended by the presiding judge in the Denver DUI case for "excellent progress" in the past few months.
Lawson didn't come to town not knowing anyone; he played in Denver with Rockets teammate Corey Brewer, and he's good friends with James Harden. The Rockets reached out to Lawson's AAU coach, Keith Stevens, with whom he is very close; they had dinner with Lawson and Stevens after Lawson came to town.
No one thinks Lawson is a bad guy. By all accounts, he never did anything malicious to his teammates while in Denver, and he's said to be a good father to his young daughter. But good people still can be a danger to themselves and others when they get behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle while impaired.
Could concerns about Lawson impact a team that general manager Daryl Morey believes is the best he's had since coming to Houston in 2006? Sure, if Lawson were again popped for DUI, or something worse. But if it doesn't work out, the Rockets are free after this season, and would gain cap room to boot. At the worst, Houston hopes to have Beverley annoying opposing point guards again.
Lawson's family and teammates will be there for support. But what happens next in his life is up to him. He has top 10 point guard talent, and he's never been on a team as good as the Rockets could be this season. Can he rise above his problems and resume his career before he really hurts himself or someone else? Being an elite athlete doesn't make him any different from anyone else who has had to straighten up.
West worked in the Rockets' organization as an assistant coach at their D-League affiliate, Rio Grande, in 2012, and said the Rockets are "solid from top to bottom." But it's up to Lawson to understand the opportunity he has, West said.
"He has to realize they don't need him," West said in the e-mail. "They've won without him...They care about their players and their families, but this is a business. I don't know how long Ty was in rehab or how long he's been out. The team part is not the issue in the NBA, its the time from noon until 8 a.m. the next day where the problems can happen. That's when you have to concentrate and put yourself in the correct situations. Everywhere he goes, people know the story and eyes will be on him. That's why I mention his support group and surroundings. I had people who cared about me around 24/7 and moving to a new city and at the time working on my marriage made it easier."
Said Lucas: "What's different is people don't know the culture of which an athlete has been raised, so they have a hard time identifying. And probably most athletes, from the time they were in the fifth or sixth grade, they've been told where to be, what to do, where to show up. They get a sprained ankle, somebody else takes care of it. Their uniforms get washed. So it's a different culture. You try to hit them with the cold splash of reality. They aren't prepared for that yet."
Fourteen and a half feet of...what, exactly? From Travis Stevens:
Two centers, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside, seemed to come out of nowhere last season and gain some national attention. Both are fairly young, and while they both seem to be defensive oriented, they've shown flashes of offensive potential. The stats show the two are close, but Whiteside had a better PER, more WS/48, and a better rebounding percentage, while Gobert had a better Real Plus-Minus, WAR, and assist percentage. If you had your pick, who would you take, and do you think either one has the potential to surpass the current crop of elite centers (Gasol, Jordan, Bogut, etc.)?
Good question, Travis. I would go with Gobert. He's a little younger (23; Whiteside is 26), and I think he has a touch more upside offensively -- though neither is going to be dominant. No question, Whiteside is the superior rebounder, but Gobert covers so much ground at the defensive end. It's close. I don't see either of them cracking the elite level at center, though. Marc Gasol is so productive and tough at both ends of the floor, and Jordan is a lethal finisher at the rim. Nor are they as good as Boogie Cousins, or a healthy Dwight Howard. (And, what are we calling Tim Duncan these days?)
If there's one thing a writer knows about, it's deadlines. From Michael Thomas:
Do you think Commissioner Silver will give the Bucks the time they need to finish the arena? Their work has been delayed a couple months; and they may not have it finished by the 2017 season. I assume Commissioner Silver will give them a little extension considering it will be 3/4 done.
I think Milwaukee is in the clear. Under the terms of the sale agreement of the team from former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl to the group including Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the league has the right to buy the team back from the Lasry/Edens group if there was not an arena deal in place by November, 2017. But there is a deal in place; the final pieces of public funding for the $500 million arena were approved last week. The language only speaks to the completion of the deal, not the building.
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future. From Eric Lemus:
Bryant, Dirk, Pierce, Garnett, Duncan. Who keeps playing after this season?
Duncan, KG and Dirk. That's just a guess, though. They're all in control of their own decisions, though, and as long as they stay healthy, it wouldn't surprise me to see them all in uniform in 2016-17.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and snack suggestions in case I run into this little fella on the way to a Magic game to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
Jason Richardson Highlights
Check out some of the best highlights from Jason Richardson's NBA career.
1,608 -- Career 3-pointers by guard Jason Richardson, who announced his retirement last week after a 14-year NBA career. Injuries limited Richardson later in his career, but young heads should realize how capable a scorer he was in his prime, when he won consecutive Slam Dunk Contests in 2002 and 2003 during All-Star Weekend. In 2005-06, Richardson averaged 23.2 points a game for the Warriors, who were a year away from shocking the world and the top-seeded Mavs in the first round of the 2007 playoffs.
$22,105,000 -- "Dead" money the 76ers will have on their cap this season for forward Gerald Wallace, waived on Friday, and center JaVale McGee, whom the team waived in March, just a couple of weeks after acquiring him from Denver. With Wallace gone, the Sixers' highest-paid player going into this season will be veteran forward Carl Landry, at $6.5 million.
15 -- Per game minutes limit for Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, coming back this season after playing just 40 games last season following an ankle injury. Holiday has missed 90 games for New Orleans the past two seasons.
1) If this is K.B. Bryant's last season as a player, I hope he gets an appropriate sendoff for what he has accomplished on the floor. No one should ever be compared to Michael Jordan and what he accomplished as a player. It is not an insult to Kobe to say he is, far and away, the closest I've ever seen anyone come to Jordan's dominance, physically and mentally.
2) The great Richard Lapchick on his friend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I am guilty of not figuring out a way to unlock the puzzle that is KAJ, so I'm more than willing to listen to those who have.
3) Forgot to post this last week: Gus Johnson and Marques Johnson are calling Bucks games this year? Yes, please!
4) Remember: pro athletes were once kids who needed inspiration, too.
5) I remain a sucker for stories like these, especially in a time where it is so hard for so many families to be able to fund their childrens' education.
1) When Chicago lost Mike Dunleavy, Jr., for 19 games last season with an ankle injury, I wrote and said it was one of those sneaky injuries that could really impact a good team. And it did. Now, he's going to miss 8-10 weeks following back surgery Friday. His absence could really impact a good team. And it will.
2) Sounds like Paul George needs some convincing.
3) Really don't care about this one way or the other, but had to put it somewhere: you can bet that Kevin Durant will break the news of what he does next July, one way or the other, on The Players' Tribune.
4) And, by the way: no. No. Hell, no.
5) Hard to believe this occurred 20 years ago this week. I was in a brief hiatus from covering the NBA at the time; I was covering the Washington Redskins, and I was at their practice facility with the team's young star quarterback, Heath Shuler -- who didn't make it in the NFL, but went on to become a Congressman. The verdict cleaved America at the time along racial lines, and while time has since produced something more approaching consensus over the years, the dismay many felt at that verdict never really went away.
Turns out, Plaxico Burress isn't the first pro athlete to shoot himself. Of course, Burress was already in the NFL when he accidentally pulled the trigger on a gun in his pants while at a nightclub in 2008, while Caron Butler was a teenager, at a dance in his hometown of Racine, WI.
Butler was lucky he didn't hurt himself worse, a thread that ran throughout his young life. Selling drugs at age 12, arrested 15 times by the time he was 15, Butler was headed nowhere, fast. After spending some time in solitary confinement at age 14, and seeing several of his friends killed in the streets, Butler decided this was no life, and went straight. Yet he still needed an improbable piece of luck to reach adulthood intact, and enjoy a 15-year NBA career that will continue this season in Sacramento.
Today, Butler is one of the most respected players in the league, a friend of Kobe Bryant's and Dwyane Wade's. But if not for that break, none of it would have happened.
At 15, Butler hadn't slung drugs for more than a year, and was getting clowned by his buddies for working at a Burger King. One day in 1998, Racine police received a tip that there were drugs present at the home in which Butler was living with his mother and brother. The cops raided the home and found Butler, who had a cold and wasn't in school that morning, in the house. They also found crack cocaine in the garage. Lt. Rick Geller, a 24-year veteran of the force, had more than enough probable cause to arrest Butler -- who swore up and down that the drugs were not his, and that he hadn't put them there -- and put him back in jail, where he would have been instead of starring on the basketball court, where he played against the likes of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and got a scholarship to the University of Connecticut.
Yet Geller didn't go by the book. He believed the teenager, took the cuffs off, and let Butler go. Butler, understandably, hasn't looked back -- until now, when he's telling that and other stories of his life in the autobiography "Tuff Juice -- My Journey From the Streets to the NBA." The book will be released by Lyons Press on Oct. 7. Bryant wrote the book's forward.
Now 35, Butler has seen crazy things in the NBA as well -- most notably, the day in 2010 when he witnessed his Washington Wizards teammates, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, draw guns on each other in the Wizards' locker room. Nicknamed "Tuff Juice" by former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, Butler survived that bit of insanity as well, able to share his story with kids who are growing up today in similar hard circumstances as that teenage kid in Racine who got a second chance.
Me: Why now? Why write this book?
Caron Butler: I've sat on this since 2007, 2008, man. I never was too comfortable talking about my past, and reflecting on all of the things that I went through. Now, you see so many things happening in the world, man, it's like straight up and down. You see so much happening in the world, and you say, well, what is my real legacy going to be as a player? You go through all of these things. You do all of these unbelievable things. You get paid millions of dollars to do something that you love. But what is your legacy really going to be? And I've been placed on this platform, and been chosen, and I navigated my way through all of these circumstances, and I've been extremely fortunate. There's so many people out there that has gone through exactly what I'm going through right now, when I was growing up. So I was like, I'm in the position to plant these seeds, and people will actually receive the message, because you actually made it through that. It took a lot of convincing. It took my mother, and I got the message numerous ways -- going to church, and people just trying to convince me, hey, put it out there. Be brave about it, be strong, and be prideful. This is your journey, and you should talk about it. It's my testimony, and hopefully it'll inspire a lot of people.
Me: So, after you and Steve Springer (Butler's co-author, the longtime former L.A. Times sportswriter and author) did all of your interviews, and you had the material in front of you, what did you think you had?
CB: Once I really reflected, and Steve came in and laid everything out, and once it was all in front of us, it was amazing. That's all we kept saying to each other. So many people don't read or accept information when it's given to them, so we just hope that people accept it. It's about all the timing in all these things. People kept saying, like the publishing company, everything's about the timing. I was like, man, when it's done and it's ready, put it out. And people accepted it. When it was being released, people were posting, and re-Tweeting about it, all my peers. It's a feeling like no other, to see that. People from all different walks of life just showing you love and support. They know your testimony is going to be amazing. And I played in a lot of cities, so the energy is coming from all over.
Straight up, I could have been gone, because of my priors, my record, I could have been gone for 10 to 15. Gone. I would have got out when I was about 25, 26, you know. My life would have been just ... I don't know.
– Caron Butler
Me: What's the feedback been like from your peers, your fellow players?
CB: A lot of them are familiar with the story, because I always talk to them about where I come from. Or they probably just knew a lot about me because we was teammates. And they were like, we're so proud of you, just laying it all out there and just being honest. You have a lot to tell, and a lot of people can learn from you, and learn from the information that you're putting out there. And seeing is believing. It's a real good testimony, and it feels even better that it's being received in the right way.
Me: Was there any part of it, even though you wanted to be as honest as possible, that you still found hard to think about, or write about?
CB: I'd have to say the deaths of my friends growing up. I would have to say talking about my family situations, and what we was going through, and how we was living at the time, and reflecting on that. A situation in which I had a firearm on myself, and I hurt myself, and another person hurt himself, and stuff like that. All of them things. Opening up about that stuff is tough. And talking about Gilbert's situation in the locker room, stuff like that. It was stuff you didn't want to talk about, but it was part of your journey, part of your story. Steve said, 'You have to open up about these things. People are going to want to know about these things, why you didn't put these things out there.' It's like, all right, let's talk about it
Me: Did you let Gilbert or Antawn (Jamison) or any of those guys know that that was going to be in the book?
CB: I don't talk to Gilbert often. Maybe through Instagram or social media. We may like someone's picture, or something like that. But we don't have no contact on the daily or anything like that. My wife and his ex-baby mother talk all the time. That's the only connection we've got. And when I was in Los Angeles we would see each other a lot. You know, I didn't put nobody out there in a crazy way or nothing. It was nothing but the truth, and it was real.
Me: What do you hear from kids who have read the book?
CB: The main thing I get, like when we did the release here (in Racine), people from the community already had the book. It was amazing. It inspired me that no matter what my circumstance, anything is possible. I can make it out of my situation, and I can achieve and accomplish anything. Being determined and being dedicated and being disciplined is the way to go about it. Consistency is very important. And no matter what happened around me, I have to stay mentally focused. All of these things. Different messages from different kids, whether they're athletes or A students or someone trying to find their niche. They're all speaking on this platform. They've given me a lot of feedback. It was all positive. It meant a lot. Because that's what it's out there for.
GameTime: Caron Butler At The White House
Caron Butler visits The White House for a great cause.
Me: Have you ever sat down with Rick Geller and asked him why he did what he did for you?
CB: I did, probably about six months ago. I asked him why. Things like that just don't happen. You're in a car with a gun, people jump out, they run, everybody gets charged with possession of a handgun. That's what usually happens. I was like, in my situation, you raid a house, you find drugs, and you placed it upon yourself to show me favor. I was like, 'Where did that come from?' And he had told me that, 'I just couldn't charge you. Plus, an informant had purchased drugs that morning, and the description didn't fit you. So how can I charge you for something that, the reason why I raided the house, you wasn't responsible for?' He was like, I honestly couldn't charge you. And he told the other officers, 'If he's guilty of something else, we'll arrest him then. Now, he's not guilty. And I can't arrest and charge this kid for this.'
Me: There's a million pivot points in all of our lives. There's a hundred people who help us at different times. But that seems like an especially important moment in your life.
CB: Straight up, I could have been gone, because of my priors, my record, I could have been gone for 10 to 15. Gone. I would have got out when I was about 25, 26, you know. My life would have been just ... I don't know. I would have been trying to pick up the pieces, probably still at 35 right now, probably still been trying to pick up the pieces. That really altered and changed my life, that decision. There were a multiple of things leading up to that that (also) changed my life, because my thought process was different. But just escaping that whole situation, because it was an escape. Because I was not guilty. But at the same time, we know what happens to anybody in that situation, whether you're black or white, whatever, if you don't get shown that type of favor.
Me: How many Burger King franchises do you have now?
CB: We just sold two, so we only have four now. But I've been franchising and things like that, probably since 2005.
Me: Did you specifically do Burger Kings because that where you wound up working after you were let go?
CB: That's what I knew. I'm a safe investor. I'm real conservative. So the thing that I went off into was franchising restaurants. And I was comfortable doing Burger King because I knew Burger King inside and out. I worked on everything from the broiler and steamer to stocking, the drive-through, to cashier, everything. And I worked my way to being a shift manager. I kind of knew the system inside and out, and what it took to run the restaurant.
Me: Have you compared notes with Junior Bridgeman?
CB: Raymond (Brothers, Butler's agent) talks to him all the time. I was supposed to do this speaking engagement with him this summer, with the NBA, in early August, but I couldn't make it because of my anniversary. I was looking forward to doing some stuff with him.
Me: What do you think of the Kings? What do they need, and how can you help them?
CB: I say the same thing like just about every smart analyst out there. I see a whole lot of potential and talent. It's all going to come down to just people meshing together, and being on board and being honest and being real. Having a lot of selfless vets in the course of the season for it to be successful. My role, being in the locker room and being on the court, when I'm out there, performing at a high level, spark the guys. And when I'm on the sidelines and on the bench, just always giving that positive energy. Giving a chance for them roots to be formed, and just staying on them in a positive way.
Me: How many more years do you think you can go?
CB: Man, I love the game. Honestly, it ain't even about the money. Raymond's put me in a situation where I did really well. I'm just trying to plant them seeds with the young fellas, and continue to perform and participate. I just love the game. I'd be doing it for free if I wasn't doing it. I don't know, man. As long as I can.
"I think what happened with D.J. was he decided to choose substance and character over smoke and mirrors."
-- Doc Rivers, in the latest back-and-forth salvo with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on why he thinks DeAndre Jordan chose to come back to the Clippers after reneging on a verbal agreement to play with Dallas in July. Earlier in the week on Colin Cowherd's radio show, Cuban said of Rivers: "It shows you what someone will do when their entire future is vanishing in front of them. And I give him credit for that. His professional life was over if he didn't get DJ. His back was against the wall and he did what he needed to do."
"As I've told Steph, his skill level is so high that although we'll be on the court together, I don't know how much I can help him on the court. But through watching a little bit of film and talking, maybe I can help him with situations. But his skill level is incredible, and hopefully I'll learn as much from him as he will from me."
-- Steve Nash, to the Oakland Tribune, in confirming his role with the Warriors as a player development consultant. Nash will periodically come to the Bay Area to work with players, including league MVP Stephen Curry, on their games.
"I think the initial reaction is to be offended by the notion that you are not playing by the same rules, but we never really dealt with those things publicly while sort of smiling inwardly that, well, I guess we're inside their heads. It wasn't as though we had a master plan to do that, but if that was the end result, that was fine."
-- Former Celtics general manager Jan Volk in a Boston Herald column detailing the similarities between NFL teams believing the Patriots are cheating one way or another, and how NBA teams used to view the Celtics and Red Auerbach with paranoia during their heyday.
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